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Was the official (βασιλικὸς) in John 4:46 Roman or Jewish?

So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. (Jn 4:46, ESV)

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The commentaries quoted at the end show a wide variation in answering this question. Some reference early church fathers. This official appears to be different than the Centurion in Matthew 8:5–13 and Luke 7:1–10 because here it is the official’s son rather than a servant, and here the official asks Jesus to come with him, while the centurion said Jesus could heal him without coming, probably because a Jew would consider his house unclean (John 18:28).

The official appears to have been from Herod’s court, but still could be Jew or Gentile. What makes him appear to have been a Jew is Jesus’ statement: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” (John 4:48, ESV)

Nobleman (βασιλικος [basilikos]). One connected with the king (βασιλευς [basileus]), whether by blood or by office. Probably here it is one of the courtiers of Herod the tetrarch of Galilee, Chuzas (Luke 8:3), Manaen (Acts 13:1), or some one else. Some of the manuscripts used βασιλισκος [basiliskos], a petty king, a diminutive of βασιλευς [basileus].

Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 4:46). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

“Royal official” (NASB, NIV) probably means that this man is one of Herod Antipas’s court officials, although Herod’s official title was tetrarch rather than king. Jesus was extremely unfavorable toward Antipas (Lk 13:32; 23:9; for reasons, cf. Mk 6:17–29); this man who comes to Jesus would be a wealthy aristocrat, probably much influenced by Greco-Roman culture and not very religious by general Palestinian Jewish standards.

Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Jn 4:46). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

The man is called a βασίλικος (basilikos, v. 46) from Capernaum. The term may be an adjective (royal) or a noun. Many exegetes, therefore, have viewed the man as an officer in the army or government service (such as a revenue collector) of Herod Antipas (4 B.C.–A.D. 39), who was not really a king, though he did belong to the royal house of Herod the Great, and sometimes was called king by the people (cf. Mark 6:14). If so, he very likely was a Gentile, though the text never calls him that. Some have attempted to identify him and this whole story with the centurion in Matthew 8:5–13 and Luke 7:1–10, but the accounts differ in important ways. That he was Chuza (Luke 8:3) or the Manean (Acts 13:1), as older exegetes often suggested, is surely not accurate. The royal official had heard that Jesus was returned from Judea and was at Cana, so the official left his ill son, traveled to Jesus at Cana, and begged him to come and heal his son.

Bryant, B. H., & Krause, M. S. (1998). John (Jn 4:46–47). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.

And there was a certain nobleman [royal officer, βασιλικός].—An officer of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch (whom the common people considered and called a king, Matt. 14:1, 9), The title βασιλικός combines civil and military dignity; hence some have taken this βασιλικός to be identical with the centurion of Capernaum (Irenæus, Semler, Strauss, Baumgarten-Crusius).

Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: John (p. 173). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Lange points out the similarities and distinct differences in detail, and he concludes:

Accordingly this miracle has been in fact by most expositors (from Origen down) made distinct from the other.

Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: John (p. 173). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

The Greek word translated “nobleman” is Basileukos, from Basileus, a king, and implies one connected in some way with royalty. “Origen thinks he may have been one of Cæsar’s household, having business in Judea at this time. But the usage of Josephus is the safest guide. He uses the word Basileukos to distinguish the soldiers, or courtiers, or officers of the kings (Herod and others), but never to designate the royal family. He may have been Chuza, Herod’s steward (Luke 8:3), but this is pure conjecture. This man seems to have been a Jew.—“Alford. He was probably a king’s officer of Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, and was stationed at Capernaum.

Johnson, B. W. (1886). John: the New Testament commentary, vol. III (p. 81). St. Louis, MO: Christian Board of Publication.

MOST of the commentators think this is another version of the story of the healing of the centurion’s servant told in Matthew 8:5–13 and Luke 7:1–10; but there are differences which justify us in treating it as quite independent. Certain things about the conduct of this courtier are an example to us all.

Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of John (Rev. and updated., Vol. 1, p. 203). Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press.

This man was undoubtedly a Jew employed by Herod, the king.

MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1489). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

The certain royal official is not identified. He could have been a Gentile or a Jew, a centurion, or a minor official in Herod’s court. Possibly he was a Jew because Jesus included him among the people who desire signs and wonders (v. 48; cf. 1 Cor. 1:22).

Blum, E. A. (1985). John. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 288). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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