The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Oct 1, 2015

Divinely Inspired Puns? You Bet!

These past two weeks I have had the privilege of teaching "General Epistles" (minus Hebrews, which deserves its own class) for the first time in the history of Baptist College of Ministry (textbook is the excellent Letters to the Churches by Karen Jobes). In the process of researching for this class, I found out something: the Apostle Peter likes to "pun."

Well, ok, technically it's a wordplay, since I don't think Peter was looking to get a laugh, but close enough. Wordplays are, of course, nothing new in the Biblical text (especially in the Hebrew), but 1 and 2 Peter have at least 1 wordplay each (or, if the reader will indulge me, puns); there is also a fantastic "inter-textual pun" between 2 Peter and Jude (if 2 Peter comes first, then Jude makes the pun; if Jude comes first, then Peter claims credit to 3 puns).

First off, in the first few verses of 1 Peter 2, the apostle has been describing how we are to put off sin and pursue the "rational, pure milk," Jesus Christ (I follow Karen Jobes in arguing that the "milk" refers to Jesus Christ, not the Bible per se; for a thorough discussion of this context, see her article in Westminster Theological Journal vol. 63 (2002) entitled "Got Milk? Septuagint Psalm 33 and the Interpretation of 1 Peter 2:1-3." Peter, continuing the metaphor of a newborn infant craving its mother's milk, then quotes Psalm 34:8 (LXX 33:8)--the concept of "tasting" that the Lord is good. In Greek, Peter writes, Chrestus ho Kurios. The pun, of course, is that there is only one letter difference between "good" and "Christ." Consequently, by quoting the LXX Chrestus ho Kurios ("Good is the Lord"), Peter is also saying Christus ho Kurios--Christ is the Lord!

For a discussion of the next two puns, one of the best sources is Richard Bauckham's Word Biblical Commentary on 2 Peter and Jude.

Secondly, in 2 Peter 2:15, Peter speaks of "Balaam son of Bosor." Now everybody knows that Balaam is actually the son of Beor, not "Bosor." This is why a small handful of manuscripts actually have a textual variant here, "Beor" for "Bosor." Yet the answer is that Peter makes a pun off of the Aramaic (and Hebrew) word b's'r. Balaam is, in fact, "the son of the flesh" (basar is the Hebrew and Aramaic word for "flesh"). This idea of Balaam being the "son of the flesh" fits well with Peter's overall tirade against these false teachers who do indeed follow the way of the flesh.

Finally, a much more subtle pun that involves reading Jude and 2 Peter side-by-side. As conservative scholarship acknowledges, there is a lot of inter-textuality between these two books. One of them is borrowing material from the other (this is not a problem for inerrancy: it's not like the Holy Spirit can plagiarize from Himself, after all). In fact, as an exercise I had my students compare 2 Peter 2:1-3:3 with Jude and notice all the places that overlap. Now, most scholars believe that Jude came first, though I beg to differ (among other things, it makes more sense for Jude to combine the "water-less wells, tempest-carried clouds" of 2 Peter 2:17 into Jude 12's "water-less clouds" rather than the reverse, that Peter would split up Jude's metaphor). However, that's another issue altogether.

So the pun is this: in parallel verses (2 Peter 2:13 compared to Jude 12) covering the exact same topic, with remarkably similar language, Peter says "Reveling in their own deceptions while feasting together with you"; Jude says "These are spots [or: dangerous reefs] in your love feasts." Remember, either Jude or 2 Peter is borrowing concepts and terminology from the other (under the perfect inspiration of the Holy Spirit). Interestingly, Peter prefers the verb "feasting together"; the word for "deception," however, is apatais. Significantly, rather than using the verb for "feasting together," Jude uses the plural of agaph as a technical term for a (weekly?) feast of charity. Thus Jude uses agapais to mimic Peter's apatais! Result? Sophisticated inter-textual pun!!

One more thought. In regards to the pun in 2 Peter 2:15, I am dismayed at how so many modern translations, in an attempt to "harmonize" Peter with the Old Testament, prefer to go with a mere handful of manuscripts (and not even the Alexandrian "heavy hitters") with the reading "Beor." This includes the ESV (which I normally really like!), the NLT (with a note that says "Some manuscripts read Bosor"--how about, like, "Almost every single manuscript in existence reads Bosor??!?!??!"), the NASB, etc. On the plus side, the NET, Holman Christian Standard, and KJV all read "Bosor," as they should. On the other hand, to my unfathomable disappointment, the New King James inexplicably has "Beor" (extremely disappointing to me, especially since I've been telling folks that it was basically just an updating of the King James; I still really like the New King James, mind you, but this is disappointing). In summary, this may be one of the few places that the NET and the KJV are going to agree against most other modern translations (including the NKJV)! [For the record: The superiority of a reading is not determined by what any translation has, but rather by whatever is determined to be the superior Greek manuscripts; and that, of course, is a different debate for a different time!]


  1. Hebrews needs to be back in the Pauline corpus. :)

  2. Paul,

    In relation to inspired puns, you should take a look at my 1975 Biblica article on "Spermologos" in Acts 17.18, where I suggest the Athenians were playing on words they were hearing repeated by Paul based on his presumably giving the interpretation of the parable of the Sower (particularly the Lukan version; no surprise there) where "seed" and "word" are consistently juxtaposed, thus leading to a pun involving "babbler" (the "seed-word" becoming "seed-collector").