Strong's defines the verb μαρτυρέω (martureo) as "to bear witness, testify", and notes usage including to "witness, bear witness, give evidence, testify, give a good report".

In Luke 4, the people in the synagogue in Nazareth hear Jesus apply the opening words of Isaiah 61 to Himself. The first thing reported of the listeners is that they "ἐμαρτύρουν αὐτῷ". Do the verb, and the pronoun in the dative case following it, permit us to determine whether this statements means:

  • They simply witnessed what He said
  • They testified in His favor: they're impressed by "Joseph's son"
  • They testified against Him: they don't take "Joseph's son" seriously

The KJV rendering of verse 22 is:

And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?

Inspired by discussion from this post.

1 Answer 1


The OP's question reduces to the the specific structure of the clause:

πάντες ἐμαρτύρουν αὐτῷ = all were bearing witness/testifying to/for/about him.

  • The verb ἐμαρτύρουν (were bearing witness/testifying) is imperfect indicative active, 3rd person plural
  • πάντες (all/everyone) is nominative masculine plural and is the subject of the above verb
  • αὐτῷ (to/for him) is dative masculine and thus forms the object of the verb.

Thus, I would translate this clause as (given the context):

all were testifying about him ...

The meaning is unambiguous: the people were saying/testifying things either to/for/about Jesus. The rest of the verse enumerates the things they were saying:

  • marveling at the words that proceeded from Jesus' mouth,
  • Is this not the son of Joseph?

Benson sums this well -

Luke 4:22. And all the congregation bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words, &c. — By this it appears, that our Lord proved and illustrated his assertion, (that the passage he had read was that day fulfilled,) in a discourse of considerable length, the subject of which only is mentioned by Luke. And it seems also, that on this occasion he delivered his thoughts with such strength of reason, clearness of method, and, perhaps also, beauty of expression, that his townsmen, who all knew he had not had the advantage of a liberal education, were so astonished, that in their conversation one with another they could not forbear expressing their admiration. At the same time, however, their carnal and worldly spirit, not to say the malevolence also of their disposition, led them to mingle with their praises a reflection, which they thought sufficiently confuted his pretensions of being the Messiah, and showed the absurdity of the application which he had made of Isaiah’s prophecy to himself, in that character; And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son? &c.

Barnes is similar:

All bare him witness - All were witnesses of the power and truth of what he said. Their reason and conscience approved of it, and they were constrained to admit the force and propriety of it, and on this account they wondered.

Thus, of the OP's options, I would select the second as closest to the meaning of the Greek.

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