In Luke 9, Jesus interrupts a discussion among the disciples as to who is greatest. But then, John seemingly "answers" Jesus with a non sequitur:

An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, "Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great."

John answered, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you."

Luke 9:46-50 ESV (emphasis mine)

Is this just a seam in the writing? The ESV puts a section title between Jesus' remark in verse 48 and John's answer in 49. Or is John's statement somehow an (albeit wrong) answer to Jesus' remarks?

2 Answers 2


Luke 9:49 Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ Ἰωάννης εἶπεν· ἐπιστάτα, εἴδομέν τινα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου ἐκβάλλοντα δαιμόνια καὶ ἐκωλύομεν αὐτόν, ὅτι οὐκ ἀκολουθεῖ μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν. (Luk 9:49 BGT)

In context the verb Ἀποκριθεὶς carries the sense of 'responded to' or some times just to speak up (Mk 9:5; J 5:19; Ac 5:8) also according to Friberg it can be used as "as a formula to control the flow of discourse; (a) continue (MT 11.25); (b) begin, speak up (MT 14.28); (c) answer or often left untranslated"

I would suggest that in this instance Luke is recording John's response to Jesus' words without comments how good (or related) John's answer is. Responding to what another has said with something that seems relevant to us, but no one else sees the relevance is common enough in discourse.

In support of this see:

(49) Luke links the story closely to the preceding one with ἀποκριθείς. John, as one of the leading members of the Twelve, intervenes with his story.[Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Gospel of Luke: a commentary on the Greek text (pp. 398–399). Exeter: Paternoster Press.]


  1. Master, John said, we saw a man casting out demons in your name … On the surface it might seem that between the preceding paragraph (verses 46–48) and this one (verses 49, 50) there is no thought connection of any kind. It has been suggested that the apostle John, embarrassed by the implied reprimand which he and the rest of The Twelve had received, brought up this incident concerning an exorcist merely to change the subject. Others are of the opinion that the insertion of the present little paragraph, not found in Matthew but only in Mark and (abbreviated) here in Luke, was suggested by the phrase “in my [or your] name” which occurs both in verse 48 and in verse 49. However, another possibility must not be ignored. John’s conscience may have been aroused by Christ’s remarks of implied disapproval (verse 48), so that he now wondered whether he, John, and others had behaved properly toward a certain exorcist. Whether there is any truth in any of these guesses as to the nature of the connection or lack of connection cannot be ascertained.[Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, p. 520). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.]

Hendriksen notes some possible ways that John might have felt his comments were relevant even if they don't immediately appear so to us.

  • So in other words, it's a bad word choice by the ESV.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 15, 2015 at 21:34
  • @curiousdannii not really, producing a new translation includes other considerations like reader familiarity and the reading contained in the base version - the ESV is not a brand new translation but an update of an older translation. Jul 16, 2015 at 7:23
  • But to mistake responses and answers for a word that is very common in the Nt seems like a clear mistake. And it's not the kind of word where concordant renderings would be important.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 16, 2015 at 7:25
  • 2
    @curiousdannii Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dict. is a standard secular English dictionary, as such it shows the semantic domain of English words, so, with all due respect your acceptance of a meaning is irrelevant :-D Jul 16, 2015 at 7:55
  • 1
    And as a linguist I have no qualms saying that dictionaries are, on the whole, inconsistently accurate.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 16, 2015 at 8:00

Dr. Steve Runge, working in the recent field of discourse analysis would call a phrase like "but when John replied, he said" an "attention-getter". That is, the flow of the story is purposefully slowed slightly in order to allow the reader to collect their thoughts and prepare for an important statement, or a new direction in the conversation.

In this case, it isn't a seam in the writing, but a seam in the translation, where the two words "Ἀποκριθεὶς ... εἶπεν" are stitched together into one word "answered" in the ESV. John's redirection of the conversation is expressed in the otherwise spurious participle "when...replied".

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