In John 20:17 does Jesus intent ἀναβέβηκα to have a secondary meaning related to sacrifice? This question is not intended to question the correct way translations have translated this word, but to point out how the first century Hebrew follower might understand Jesus’ statement, especially considering Jesus probably spoke to them in Hebrew/Aramaic. The prominent Hebrew word ἀναβαίνω translates in the Septuagint (LXX) is עלה.

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While עלה primarily means to go up or ascend, it also means to offer a burnt offering, such as in Genesis 8:20.

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Note also the meaning of the Hebrew noun form in Genesis 8:20:

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One might dismiss the secondary meaning implied in this verb if it were the only case, but it is not. In John 19:30, Jesus said Τετέλεσται (it is finished). The Hebrew word that this word best translates is שָׁלֵם, which is how the Syriac Peshitta and modern Hebrew translations translate Τετέλεσται in John 19:30. ` enter image description here

While שָׁלֵם in the context of translating Τετέλεσται in John 19:30 has the meaning, “It is finished,” שָׁלֵם in the Torah has the meaning to make restitution. Thus, in the Jewish mind this word also brings up the thought of to pay or make restitution, to restore or make peace, to make whole.

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The fact is Jesus’ words having a secondary meaning often more important than the primary is not foreign in the Gospel of John. Here Jesus’ own words seem to point his disciples to Jesus’ sacrificial death and atonement. Thus, this method of looking for the historic Jesus using Jesus’ words points to the same Jesus portrayed in the New Testament.

[Charts made with Logos Bible Software 8.]

  • many thanks, Perry, for this truly excellent question.
    – Dottard
    May 9, 2020 at 2:13

1 Answer 1


Other places where this same verb ἀναβαίνω (anabainó) is used with overtones of a sacred duty and sacrifice

  • John 7:8, You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.
  • Jer 31:6, 'Come, let us go up to Zion, to the LORD our God
  • Gen 35:3, Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God

See also Luke 18:10, John 7:8, 10, 14, 12:20, Acts 3:1, etc.

However, it is also used of very mundane things like the rising of smoke (Rev 8:4, 9:2, 19:3), but even here it is the smoke of incense or sacrifice.

If the overtones of sacrifice in John 20:17 are valid, and Jesus' sacrifice was complete (as I believe it was Heb 10:10, 9:12, 26, 7:27, Rom 6:10, Peter 3:18), then it could not have been to present another sacrifice. The only suggestion I have is something to do with Jesus' ministry in the heavenly sanctuary, Heb 9:12, 10:10.

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