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Bible Studies/yet another question about the Greek definite article


In "Jesus and the Eyewitnesses", Richard Bauckham makes the interesting argument that the presence of the definite article in all passages concerning "the servant of the high priest" whom John identifies as Malchus, indicates that this person must be of some importance. Otherwise, the definite article would be absent, and thus the translation would be "a servant of the high priest." Could you evaluate the merit of this for me? (See Matt 26:51; Mark 14:47; Luke 22:50; John 18:10)

I would agree with Bauckham that the presence of the definite article in the accounts of all four gospels indicates that this story, from the beginning, concerned a particular known individual, not an unknown person struck in the darkness and never subsequently identified (Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, pp. 194-95). Bauckham even suggests, and this seems reasonable, that the servant may have been the person in charge of the arrest party, which implies that he was a person of very significant responsibility. After all, the high priest was the senior legal official of Israel, equivalent to the president of the supreme court. The definite article, I suspect, indicates that this person (named as "Malchus" in John's Gospel) was unique--not one among many, but the only one of his kind--in the position "servant of the high priest." In contemporary cultural terms, I think there might be a reasonable analogue in the position of personal assistant. Less likely, but not impossible, would be to suggest that the weight of the article is to imply that this person was the servant (one among various) to whom the high priest delegated the duty to lead this particular arrest party.

Bauckham goes on to speculate that both Peter and Malchus are named by John because John writes when Peter is no longer living, and therefore the identity of the person who committed the "crime" of striking Malchus no longer needs to be kept secret. This too seems reasonable.  

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J. Webb Mealy


Qualified to answer questions about the New Testament, including ones that require expert knowledge of Greek, New Testament History, and New Testament Theology. Particular area of expertise is New Testament eschatology (teachings on the end of the world), the Book of Revelation, and the Gospel and epistles of John. Questions about English translations--how they are arrived at, whether they are accurate, and whether there are alternative possibilities. Textual criticism.


Have taught the Bible and New Testament to lay people for 20 years. Translator of the Spoken English New Testament (, author of After the Thousand Years: Resurrection and Judgment in Revelation 20 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992). Senior Biblical Studies Editor, Sheffield Academic Press, 1990-1995.

Instructor, Seminary of the Street, Oakland, CA

See my online publication,, which gives an easy-to-understand but thorough introduction to the Christian Good News. See, home of the Spoken English New Testament, the most accurate available translation of the New Testament into natural contemporary English.

PhD, Biblical Studies, Sheffield, UK MA (Honors), Humanities, Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, KY BA (Cum Laude), Religious Studies/New Testament, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, CA

Awards and Honors
Research Paper, "Tracing the Rise of Modalism in Rome," named best graduate paper of the year, Western Kentucky University, 1981

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