4

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)

2 Answers 2

1

I believe it is correct to say that the consensus in antiquity was that this person was a Jew and not a Roman. It was understood that the nobleman was somehow connected to the court of Herod Antipas.


The Eusebian Canons place John 4:46-54 alongside Matthew 8:5-10 and Luke 7:1-9, which identify the person in question as a centurion - implying that the noblemen were Roman. There is an inconsistency in this, however, since the person healed in John is said to be the man's son, whereas in Matthew and John it is his servant.

In the Diatessaron of Tatian the passage corresponding to John 4:46-54 is placed in 6:26-34, whereas Matthew 8:5-10 and Luke 7:1-9 are distributed together in Chapter 11, which means that it was understood this was a different person. John Chrysostom comments:

And there was a certain nobleman whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judæa into Galilee, he went unto Him and besought Him that He would come down and heal his son.

This person certainly was of royal race, or possessed some dignity from his office, to which the title “noble” was attached. Some indeed think that this is the man mentioned by Matthew (8:5), but he is shown to be a different person not only from his dignity, but also from his faith. That other person, even when Christ was willing to go to him, entreats Him to tarry; this one, when He had made no such offer, draws Him to his house. The one said I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof, but this other even urges Him, saying, Come down ere my son die. In that instance He came down from the mountain, and entered into Capernaum; but here, as He came from Samaria, and went not into Capernaum but into Cana, this person met Him. The servant of the other was possessed by the palsy, this one’s son by a fever (Homily XXXIII on the Gospel of John).

There does seem to be consensus that this nobleman was connected directly or indirectly with the court of Herod Antipas. Echoing Origen's opinion, Augustine wrote:

Who this nobleman was, who came to Jesus to pray Him to heal his son, we know not. Some suppose him to have been one of the courtiers of Herod, to whom the administration of the affairs of the tetrarchy had been entrusted. For we are told that he was a nobleman. Others think he was one of the citizens of Capernaum, a city in that neighborhood, which was in possession of royal authority, and was, therefore, called the royal city. But the matter is uncertain, and may be left undecided (Treatise XXIX on the Gospel of John).

Cyril of Alexandria also understood the Greek βασίλικος to mean a royal personage. Since Galilee would have been under Herod Antipas rather than a Roman at the time, this would have made the nobleman a Jew and not a Gentile:

Now it is probable that the nobleman who came to Christ and entreated Him to heal his son, was one of the principal persons among the Jews, and belonged to that city, which was called Capernaum, and was at that time a very renowned place. For the Evangelist says that he was a royal officer, that is, one of those who were appointed by the king to have the management of affairs of state. It is also plain that he was a person of no small power and influence, for the Jews generally had great respect for their kings, and honored those who were about them as if they were kings themselves (Book IV, Commentary on John).

1

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.

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.