strong textAccording to this Answer... https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/a/27001/28347

It is argued that The ESV mistranslates the phrase αλωπεκι ταυτη as "that fox" instead of "this fox". ταύτῃ is the dative singular of the pronoun οὗτος, meaning "this", not "that". The word for the demonstrative "that" in Greek is ἐκεῖνος. There is no manuscript variant that uses ἐκεῖνος here. The ESV is not alone: the KJV, NIV, RSV, and NRSV all make the same error. The Orthodox New Testament translates the verse correctly, as do English translations of the Greek Church Fathers who quote the verse

How true is this?

Luk 13:31 BBE At that time, certain Pharisees came to him and said, Go away from this place, because Herod's purpose is to put you to death.

Luk 13:32 BBE And he said, Go and say to that fox, I send out evil spirits and do works of mercy today and tomorrow, and on the third day my work will be complete.

Luk 13:32 BGB Καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς “Πορευθέντες εἴπατε τῇ ἀλώπεκι ταύτῃ ‘Ἰδοὺ ἐκβάλλω δαιμόνια καὶ ἰάσεις ἀποτελῶ σήμερον καὶ αὔριον, καὶ τῇ τρίτῃ τελειοῦμαι.’

  • demonstrative adjective or noun, that, this, he, etc., Mt. 17:27; 10:14; 2 Tim. 4:8; in contrast with οὗτος, referring to the former of two things previously mentioned, Lk. 18:14 Mounce.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 8, 2023 at 12:44
  • I think you mean to ask "Does 'That Fox' refer to Herod or the Pharisee?" -- as it stands the question asks whether whether Jesus was calling Herod a Pharisee or a fox. Nov 8, 2023 at 15:31
  • Thanks Dan. I have edited the question for clarity sake Nov 18, 2023 at 17:20

3 Answers 3


Your question is actually two questions:

  1. What do we do with ⲟⲩⲧⲟⲥ?
  2. What is the referent of ⲟⲩⲧⲟⲥ in context?

Demonstrative Pronouns in Greek

Greek has two demonstrative pronouns:

  • ⲟⲩⲧⲟⲥ
  • ⲉⲕⲉⲓⲛⲟⲥ

ⲟⲩⲧⲟⲥ is the near demonstrative (this). ⲉⲕⲉⲓⲛⲟⲥ is the far demonstrative (that).

So then, in translation, we would expect that the english versions would use “this” instead of “that”, since ⲟⲩⲧⲟⲥ is the word used in the verb. There are a couple of complications though. In usage these demonstrative pronouns don’t just signal relationship (near vs. far), they also signal tone.

The ESV (along with many others, e.g. CSB, NIV, NLT, NET) are, evidently, striving to carry over the tone. While we would have expected Luke to have used ⲉⲕⲉⲓⲛⲟⲥ to convey “contemptuous tone”, there are times that the near demonstrative (ⲟⲩⲧⲟⲥ) can convey “contemptuous tone”. The grammar, BDF puts is this way:

  1. Οὗτος is used

(6) Οὗτος appears to be used in a contemptuous sense (like iste) of a person present: Lk 15:30 ὁ υἱός σου οὗτος.

(F. Blass, A. Debrunner, and Robert W. Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Accordance electronic ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1961), 151.)

So, most translators conclude that, since we’re talking about a person with an odious character such as Herod is being referred to, then the “contemptuous tone” is fitting in context.

What is the referent of ⲟⲩⲧⲟⲥ in context?

“Is Herod the Fox or the Pharisee?”. That’s what you ask. The referent, in context, is Herod for the following reasons:

  • The number: If the Pharisees were the referent, then we’d expect a plural pronoun
  • The gender: If the Pharisees were the referent, we’d expect a masculine pronoun (ⲟⲩⲧⲟⲥ). instead we have a feminine one written (ⲧⲁⲩⲧⲏ)
  • The context: Previously, the Pharisees speak of Herod wanting to murder Jesus. Jesus then (in vs. 33) speaks about his death. Sure, Jesus’ response is one that would shock both Herod and the Pharisees. But in context, the source of the murder message is Herod, not the Pharisees.

Concluding Thoughts

The post that you reference here is a prime example which shows us that the Church Fathers were not infallible. We cannot put their interpretation above what the manuscripts hand down to us. As one reads through the fathers we can put their writings in three categories:

  • Stuff that coincides with scripture
  • Stuff that vitiates against scripture (Cyril in this example)
  • Stuff that lacks lucidity (no one has a clue what to do with it)
  • Flagged for Moderator attention due to the transposition errors.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 8, 2023 at 12:41
  • @NigelJ What, specifically, do you mean by "transposition errors?"
    – Epimanes
    Nov 8, 2023 at 12:54
  • The squares is the problem.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 8, 2023 at 13:21
  • @NigelJ, what are "the squares"? Nov 8, 2023 at 14:27
  • 1
    @RayButterworth Some of the text is appearing as squares on my PC. I assume it is an ASCII fault with the OP.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 8, 2023 at 14:31

Grammatical evidence

Grammatically, the clear referent is Herod. The Pharisees are informing Jesus that Herod wants to kill him, then Jesus said to them (εἶπεν αὐτοῖς; i.e., the Pharisees) to go and say (εἴπατε; 2nd person plural, i.e., you [plural] Pharisees are the subject of the verb) "to this fox" ("τῇ ἀλώπεκι ταύτῃ"; singular, i.e., Herod). The grammatical gender also aligns (feminine, for fox in Greek).

"This" (the "near" demonstrative pronoun) doesn't sound as natural in English, so many translations have opted for the "far" demonstrative pronoun ("that," which would correspond to the Greek ἐκείνη in this context), but this may have more to do with the Greek near/far pronouns simply not mapping to English quite the same in usage (there is no perfect equivalence between languages, and any such notion would be anglocentric). αὕτη simply means "the person or thing comparatively near at hand in the discourse material."1

Which is used ("this" or "that") is largely ambiguous in these and many similar contexts (I identified over 40 examples in the New Testament based on common English translations). Examples where the "near" demonstrative pronoun (οὗτος, αὕτη, τοῦτο) has been commonly translated as "that" instead of "this" in English include:

  • Luke 17:34 ("in/on that night")
  • Luke 23:7 ("at that time" / "in those days")
  • 1 Corinthians 3:17 ("God will destroy that person/one")

With that said, Greek does have a far pronoun that could have been used in this context, but wasn't. At least one Greek Church Father noticed this, so perhaps it is notable.


Herod is also the immediate referent in context. The Pharisees are warning Jesus to go elsewhere because Herod wants to kill him, but Jesus indicates that he will continue his mission regardless.

Orthodox translation and Greek Church Fathers

What remains then is this claim: "The Orthodox New Testament translates the verse correctly, as do English translations of the Greek Church Fathers who quote the verse." It is unclear to me if this claim is about "this" vs. "that" or the intended referent (Pharisees vs. Herod). If the contention is "this" or "that," I've addressed this in the "Grammatical evidence" section above and also somewhat herein. In case the claim is concerning whether the pronoun refers to Herod or the Pharisees, I address that below.

Without knowing which specific translation the author is referring to, it is hard to validate part of this claim. But let's look at the evidence:

  • The Orthodox Study Bible in English follows the NKJV which says "that fox."

  • St. Clement of Alexandria (a Greek Church Father) clearly understood "fox" to refer to Herod:

He called those evil and earthly men who are occupied about the wealth which is mined and dug from the ground, foxes. Thus also, in reference to Herod: "Go, tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and perform cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected."2

  • St. Basil the Great (a Greek Church Father who is one of the Cappadocian Fathers) understood "fox" to refer to Herod:

The deceitful man is compared to a fox, as Herod was....3

  • St. Irenaeus (a Greek Church Father), also understood Herod to be the referent of fox:

Speaking of Herod, too, He says, "Go ye and tell that fox," aiming at his wicked cunning and deceit.4

  • St. Cyril of Alexandria (a Greek Church Father) likewise understood the fox to be Herod:

And Christ Himself somewhere says of Herod, who was a bad man, and crafty in his wickedness; "Tell that fox."5

Herein lies the point of contention, though, because the person who made this claim identified another homily of St. Cyril's wherein he makes a slightly different argument. Specifically, St. Cyril said:

What then does Christ answer to these things? He replied to them gently, and with His meaning veiled, as was His wont: “Go and tell, He says, this fox.” Attend closely to the force of the expression: for the words used seem forsooth to be directed, and to have regard, as it were, to the person of Herod: but they really rather refer to the craftiness of the Pharisees. For while He would naturally have said, “Tell that fox,” He does not do so, but using very skilfully a middle sort of expression, He, so to speak, pointed to the Pharisee, who was close beside Him, and said, “this fox.” And He compares the man to a fox: for it is constantly a very crafty animal, and, if I may so speak, malicious, such as were the Pharisees.

Given that (a) we have evidence in another sermon of St. Cyril that he understood Herod as the clear (at least grammatical) referent of the passage (see above); and (b) herein St. Cyril acknowledged that Herod seems to be the intended referent; St. Cyril could here be arguing for a sort of double entendre, wherein the referent is both Herod but also a reference to the craftiness of the Pharisees. However, this is an example of a Greek Father indicating the referent of "fox" is the Pharisees (albeit inconsistently so).

Other (non-Greek) Church Fathers also understood Herod to be the referent, including St. Augustine of Hippo ("Our Lord himself called King Herod a fox," and then he went on to cite Luke 13:32).7

I also consulted a modern Orthodox commentary and it likewise understood the fox to be referring to Herod.8 I further consulted another Orthodox English New Testament translation, which likewise translated it as "that fox."9

The claimant mentioned that the commentary of the Blessed Theophylact of Ohrid also indicates the Pharisees are the intended referent, but I unfortunately do not have access to that commentary to confirm. Even so, there is clearly precedent for such an interpretation within the Christian tradition.


Based on the Greek grammar, the context, modern Orthodox English translations and commentaries, and the testimony of the majority of Greek Church Fathers: Herod is the grammatically understood referent of "fox." However, St. Cyril opens the possibility of Jesus making a subtle slight at the Pharisees and intending them as the referent of this insult. So both are valid interpretive choices here.

English translations commonly use "that" for clarity when translating the pronoun in this context, even though "this" is typically how the "near" demonstrative pronoun is translated. However, at least one Greek Church Father found this to be odd, so perhaps this was a skillful way of insinuating that the Pharisee(s) were the referent, perhaps via a double entendre.

The Church Fathers believed in layers of meaning in a text, so there is interpretive depth that does not invalidate the "plain" reading of the text, but merely adds upon it. As such, there is no one fixed meaning of any given text. Further, the Eastern Orthodox view insists on the purity of the interpreter as an essential element of biblical hermeneutics. One's devotional life of prayer and ascetic effort impacts his ability to "see" and understand the biblical texts. There are deeper spiritual meanings that go beyond the words on the page.


1 William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 740.

2 Clement of Alexandria, "The Stromata, or Miscellanies," in Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire), ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 4.6: 414.

3 Basil of Caesarea, Exegetic Homilies, trans. Agnes Clare Way, vol. 46, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1963), Homily 17.1: 276.

4 Irenaeus of Lyons, "Irenæus against Heresies," in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 4.41.3: 525.

5 Cyril of Alexandria, A Commentary upon the Gospel according to S. Luke, trans. R. Payne Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1859), Sermon 57: 260.

6 Ibid., Sermon 100: 468.

7 Maria Boulding with Saint Augustine, Expositions of the Psalms 51–72, ed. John E. Rotelle, vol. 17, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2001), Exposition of Psalm 62, vv. 10–11, 19: 245.

8 Lawrence R. Farley, The Gospel of Luke: Good News for the Poor, The Orthodox Bible Study Companion (Chesterton, IN: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2010), 270–271.

9 Metropolitan Fan S. Noli, The New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: Translated into English from the approved Greek text of the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Greece (Boston, MA: Albanian Orthodox Church in America, 1961), Luke 13:32, 149. Available on archive.org.


Unfortunately, BDAG does not seem to mention Luke 13:32, but he does show that the usage in Luke 13:32 as "that fox" is not unusual:

...β. w. ref. to someth. that has immediately preceded, this one (who has just been mentioned) Lk 1:32; J 1:2; 6:71; 2 Ti 3:6, 8.—At the beginning of a narrative concerning a pers. already mentioned Mt 3:3; Lk 2:36, 37 v.l., 38 v.l.; 7:12 v.l.; 8:42 v.l.; 16:1; J 1:41; 3:2; 12:21; 21:21a; Ac 21:24; Ro 16:2 v.l.; 1 Cor 7:12 (on the interchange of αὐτή and αὕτη s. B-D-F §277, 3).—Emphasizing a pers. already mentioned this (very) one Mt 21:11; J 9:9; Ac 4:10 (ἐν τούτῳ); 9:20; 1J 5:6; 2 Pt 2:17. καὶ τοῦτον ἐσταυρωμένον and him as the crucified one 1 Cor 2:2. καὶ τούτους ἀποτρέπου avoid such people (as I have just described) 2 Ti 3:5. καὶ οὗτος this one (just mentioned) also Hb 8:3 (JosAs 7:3 καὶ αὕτη). ...

Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). In A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 740). University of Chicago Press.

Also relevant is this from Thayer's:

ἀλώπηξ, -εκος, ἡ, a fox: Matthew 8:20; Luke 9:58. Metaphorically, a sly and crafty man: Luke 13:32; (in the same sense often in the Greek writings, as Solon in Plutarch, Sol. 30, 2; Pindar Pythagoras 2, 141; Plutarch, Sulla 28, 5).

THAYER’S GREEK LEXICON, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission. BibleSoft.com

So the answer to the question is that the BBE is correct and the objectors are not.

  • Dear downvoter... May I ask why you downvoted this post? Were you hoping for a particular point of view?
    – Ruminator
    Nov 10, 2023 at 22:40

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