John uses the word τελέω twice at the time of Jesus’ death: [ESV throughout]

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished (τετέλεσται), said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28)

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished (τετέλεσται),” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)

The word is universally translated with the sense of “finished” or “done” or “completed,” consistent with the use in the New Testament [G5055-τελέω] There are several questions on this site over the meaning and use of this word. For example: John 19:30 - What did Jesus say "was finished"? and Was "Τετέλεσται" actually stamped on paid bills and debt certificates in the first century? and Is there an allusion to Psalm 22 in John 19:30, ‘It is finished’?

However, the first time this word is used in the LXX it conveys a different sense:

Numbers 25:3
So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.
וַיִּצָּמֶד יִשְׂרָאֵל לְבַעַל פְּעֹור וַיִּֽחַר־אַף יְהוָה בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל
Και ετελεσθη ισραηλ τω βεελφεγωρ και ωργισθη θυμω κυριος τω ισραηλ [LXX_WH]

Numbers 25:5
And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.”
וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־שֹׁפְטֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הִרְגוּ אִישׁ אֲנָשָׁיו הַנִּצְמָדִים לְבַעַל פְּעֹֽור
και ειπεν μωυσης ταις φυλαις ισραηλ αποκτεινατε εκαστος τον οικειον αυτου τον τετελεσμενον τω βεελφεγωρ [LXX_WH]

This same sense is used in Psalm 106(105) when the incident described in Numbers is recalled:

Psalm 106:28 (105:28)
Then they yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor, and ate sacrifices offered to the dead
וַיִּצָּמְדוּ לְבַעַל פְּעֹור וַיֹּאכְלוּ זִבְחֵי מֵתִֽים
καὶ ἐτελέσθησαν τῷ Βεελφεγωρ καὶ ἔφαγον θυσίας νεκρῶν [LXX_WH]

The use in Numbers and Psalms indicates another meaning of the word. Perhaps this is similar to meanings identified as "archaic" in a modern dictionary and raises the question:

  1. How does τελέω describe the Israelites joining or yoking themselves to Baal of Peor as described in the Septuagint translation of Numbers and Psalm 106(105)?

There are contextual similarities between how the word is used in John and Numbers:

John:                          Numbers: 
Used twice                     Used twice
First use by narrator          First use by narrator
Second use spoken by Jesus     Second use spoken by Moses

In Numbers, Moses is recorded as speaking to "the judges of Israel." Given statements Jesus made about judgement (12:47, 12:48, and 16:11) shortly before His crucifixion, seeing the use in John implies: He said [to the judge of the ruler of this world] "It is τετέλεσται."

  1. Does this indicate John has the LXX in view and so the better translation in the Gospel should be the one following the meaning used in the Greek translation of Numbers?

1 Answer 1


In Num. 25:3, the LXX translators used the Greek word ἐτελέσθη, a conjugation of the lemma τελῶ (contracted form of τελέω), to translate the Hebrew verb וַיִּצָּמֶד, a conjugation of the lemma צָמַד. The Hebrew verb צָמַד occurs only 5 times in 5 verses in the Old Testament. In 3 of the 5 occurrences,1 it is conjugated in binyan Nifʿal, a binyan typically conveying the passive voice.

According to Gesenius, this verb conjugated in binyan Nifʿal means “to be fastened, i.e. to adhere.”2 In the phrase “he adhered to Baʿal Peʿor,” Gesenius elaborates that it means “he devoted himself to his worship.” A similar idea is expressed by the binyan Nifʿal of the verb נָזַר in Hos. 9:10 wherein it is written, הֵמָּה בָּאוּ בַעַל פְּעוֹר וַיִּנָּזְרוּ לַבֹּשֶׁת—“they came to Baʿal Peʿor and consecrated themselves to the shame.”3

Similarly, LSJ provides one sense of the Greek verb τελῶ as,4

Pass., to have oneself initiated, Ar.Nu.258; “τετελεσμένος” Pl.Phd.69c, Berl.Sitzb.1927.169 (Cyrene), etc.; “ἐτέλεις, ἐγὼ δ᾽ ἐτελούμην” D.18.265; Διονύσῳ τελεσθῆναι to be consecrated to Dionysus, initiated in his mysteries, Hdt.4.79

Concerning Num. 25:3, W. Edward Glenny commented,5

According to Num. 25:3 they consecrated themselves or entered into the mysteries (τελέω) of Beel-Phegor.

Quite some time after the production of the LXX, the apostle Paul later wrote the following concerning idolatry to the Corinthians,6

20 But [I say] that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God. But I do not desire you to become sharers with the demons.

The idea is that a sacrifical offering is a meal shared by the offerer with the god (to whom the offering is offered)—the offerer partaking of the meal by eating a portion of it himself, and the god (or idol) partaking of the meal by means of its consumption upon the altar. Accordingly, when the Israelites offered sacrifices (meals) upon altars to Baʿal Peʿor, they joined themselves (i.e., had communion) with Baʿal Peʿor while consuming the sacrifices. Hence, צָמַד denotes fellowship with Baʿal Peʿor.

Robert Baker Girdlestone wrote,7

Girdlestone, p. 310

As far as its relevance to the fourth gospel, there is nothing that suggests the author had this meaning in mind when it was written in John 19:28 and 19:30. Not only does the context not suggest it, but also the syntax precludes it, for no dative is associated with the verb to indicate the god to whom someone was consecrated (or into whose mysteries someone was initiated).8 The “contextual similarities” you mention are indeed similarities—or coincidences—but nothing specific enough to suggest the author was intentionally referencing the Numbers narrative.


Gesenius, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm. Gesenius’s Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures. Trans. Tregelles, Samuel Prideaux. London: Bagster, 1860.

Girdlestone, Robert Baker. Synonyms of the Old Testament: Their Bearing on Christian Faith and Practice. London: Longmans, 1871.

Glenny, W. Edward. Hosea: A Commentary Based on Hosea in Codex Vaticanus. Boston: Brill, 2013.

Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; et al. A Greek-English Lexicon. 9th ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1940.


1 Num. 25:3, 25:5; Psa. 106:28
2 p. 712
3 בּשֶׁת, or “shame,” refers to an idol.
4 p. 1171
5 p. 140
6 1 Cor. 10:20 cp. 1 Cor. 10:5–10
7 Ch. 16, p. 310
8 e.g., Διονύσῳ τελεσθῆναι (“to be consecrated to Dionysus”); ἐτελέσθη Ισραηλ τῷ Βεελφεγωρ (“and Israel was consecrated to Baʿal Peʿor”)


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.