Tuesday, November 2, 2010

John 14:14: To "me" or not to "me", that is the question

With apologies to Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Many modern Bible translations are based on a critical text like the Nestle-Aland 27 (NA27). At John 14:14 such texts read: ἐάν τι αἰτήσητέ με ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί μου ἐγὼ ποιήσω, "If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." (English Standard Version)

New Testament textual scholars consider the Alexandrian text to be generally "the best text and the most faithful in preserving the original." (Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 5) The "me" reading is found in a number of such ancient textual witnesses, including p66 (2nd century).

The Sahidic Coptic text (2nd/3rd century) is also in the Alexandrian text family. Like still other ancient witnesses, it does not have "me" at John 14:14.

Rather, the Sahidic Coptic text reads: ЄΤЄΤΝϢΑΝΑΙΤЄΙ ΝΟΥϨШΒ ϨΜ ΠΑΡΑΝ ΠΑΙ ϯΝΑΑΑϤ, "If you should ask anything in my name, this I will do."

Some scholars think that "ask me" is original because it is the more difficult reading. That is a consideration, but a more important consideration would be if it squares with everything else that Jesus said and did.

"Ask me" would be logical in the immediate context of Jesus' speaking with his disciples while he was still with them. Even the first Christian martyr Stephen implored Jesus as if he were still present. (Acts 7:59) But it is not unusual that Jesus as a living presence would still resonate with Stephen, since Jesus' ministry and resurrection were recent events for Stephen.

However, beyond that context, Jesus directs Christians to pray to "Our Father" (Matthew 6:9), and the apostle Paul said "I bend my knees to the Father." (Ephesians 3:14)

There is no other verse in the New Testament where Jesus requests or directs that prayer as an act of worship should be addressed to him. If the "me" reading is original, it would be an anomaly that is out of character with the whole New Testament.

"Ask me...in my name" is tautological, a needless repetition that is also ambiguous. Further, in the context of the Gospel of John as a whole, "ask me...in my name" is strange doctrine, if it is taken to refer to prayer.

But the Sahidic Coptic reading, ЄΤЄΤΝϢΑΝΑΙΤЄΙ ΝΟΥϨШΒ ϨΜ ΠΑΡΑΝ ΠΑΙ ϯΝΑΑΑϤ, "If you should ask anything in my name, this I will do," harmonizes with the rest of Jesus' teaching. -- John 15:16; 16:23


  1. Solomon,I believe not to "me" is the answer. So I have to agree with your comments above.

    A Textual Commentary On The Greek New Testament by Bruce M. Metzger under John 14:14 [me], page 244, I found this statement: "Either the unusual collaction, 'ask me in my name' (yet it is not without parallel, cf. Ps 25:11; 31:3; 79:9, where the psalmist prays to God for his name's sake), or a desire to avoid contradiction with 16:23, seems to have prompted (a) the omission of me in a variety of witnesses (A, D, K, L, II..)or (b) its replacement with ton patera (249, 397). The word me is adequately supported (p66, Aleph, B, W etc).."

    Unquestionably,there are manuscripts with "me" and others without it. This fact must be acknowledge. The New World Translation Reference Bible does just that in the footnote. The ESV does the same exact thing.

    Further, Bruce Metzger notes the contradiction posed by John 16:23. For the mainstream Trinitarian who believes that the Father and Son are two Different Persons in the One Godhead, it certainly poses a problem: To Which Person in the Trinity do we pray?

    By the way, I checked on Bruce Metzger’s quote and I found this update:

    ”Argument one: “Parallel texts in the book of Psalms…” Metzger listed three verses in the Psalms as parallels to Jn 14:14. In the second edition of Metzger’s textual commentary (1994), this argument is omitted.”

    Many people prefer to reject the truth, even though it is right in front of them. How anyone can honestly say that 'Jesus taught us to pray to him,' on the basis of just one verse, stretches the imagination. Such a teaching would have been found consistently over several verses, not just one. And it certainly would not contradict what is written elsewhere in the same Gospel.

  2. The main problem I have with "me" isn't whether Jesus is telling us to pray to him, but that "ask *me* in *my* name" doesn't make much sense.

    We generally ask a person to do something in someone else's name (ie. ask Bob to do X in Billy's name) rather than their own (ie. ask Bob to do X in Bob's name).

    Regardless of whether it's proper to pray to Jesus I rather doubt it's here.

  3. Thanks, I agree.

    That's what I meant when I said, "'Ask me...in my name' is tautological, a needless repetition that is also ambiguous."

    Also, this idea is not corroborated in any other verse of Scripture.

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  5. Personally I don't have a problem with "me" being in the main text of Nestle-Aland. It is, after all, in some of the earliest extant manuscripts. The editors were Trinitarian, so who can blame them? But, in light of the fact that the ancient evidence is split, this is something that should always be pointed out to the reader, such as putting "me" in brackets to indicate it may not be original, or at least discussing it in a footnote.

    Interestingly, the NET Bible with its 60,000 footnotes doesn't mention any variants. They go to great lengths on ambiguous verses to present their Trinitarian interpretation of the text. But when there is conflicting evidence in John 14:14, they are silent. Their bias shows on that one.

  6. I thought you might be interested in a book published by the Pontifical Biblical Institute, soon to be available in Logos Bible Software:

    The Coptic Versions of the Minor Prophets