Translation commentary on Luke 3:19 – 3:20


ho de Hērōdēs ho tetraarchēs ‘but Herod the tetrarch,’ cf. on v. 1. For de and the connection with the preceding verse, cf. on men oun in v. 18. The verb of which ho Hērōdēs is the subject is prosethēken ‘added,’ see below.

elegchomenos hup’ autou ‘being reproved by him,’ going with ho Hērōdēs. The present tense of the participle suggests that this reproving happened more than once.

elegchō ‘to reprove,’ ‘to show somebody his fault.’

peri Hērōdiados … kai peri pantōn ‘concerning Herodias … and concerning everything.’ The idea of the clause appears to be that John used to reprove Herod because of every wicked thing he did but that his reproval of Herod because of Herodias (cf. Mt. 14.4) was what made Herod have John arrested.

tou adelphou autou. According to Josephus Herodias’ first husband, referred to in this verse was Herod, son of Herod the Great and Mariamne (the second wife of that name). Herod the tetrarch was the son of Herod the Great and Malthake, whom he married after Mariamne, cf. IDB II, 586ff. Hence adelphou refers to an older brother of a different mother.

peri pantōn hōn epoiēsen ponērōn ‘concerning all the wicked things he did.’ ponērōn goes with pantōn and hōn is attraction of the relative pronoun into the case of its antecedent.

ponēros ‘wicked,’ ‘evil,’ ‘bad,’ always with a moral connotation.

prosethēken kai touto epi pasin ‘added also this to all (the wicked things he did).’ pasin refers back to the preceding clause peri pantōn … ponērōn. kai touto refers to the next clause. The clause represents John’s arrest by Herod as the crowning of all his other wicked deeds, cf. New English Bible, An American Translation.

prostithēmi ‘to add,’ ‘to grant.’

katekleisen ton Iōannēn en phulakē ‘he shut up John in prison,’ asyndetic clause, taking up and explaining touto.

katakleiō ‘to lock up,’ ‘to shut up.’ For phulakē, here meaning ‘prison,’ cf. on 2.8.


The syntactic structure will have to be changed more or less radically in some languages, e.g. ‘John also reproved Herod … for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all … done. After that/Then he/Herod added to all his crimes this (one): he shut up John in prison.’

To reprove, or, ‘to rebuke’ (for which cf. on 4.35), ‘to scold’ (Kituba, similarly Tae,’ using a verbal derivation of ‘angry’), ‘to hit-with words’ (Batak Toba); or analytically, ‘to say that he had done evil.’

For Herodias. Luke says less than he probably knew, and than we can know from Mk. 6.17f. Style, or decodability may require some clarification, e.g. “over the affair of … H.” (New English Bible, similarly Lü Zhenzhong.), ‘for his doings with H.,’ ‘because of what Herod did about the woman Herodias’ (Manobo, which has to add ‘woman,’ because the proper name and the rendering of “brother’s wife”, i.e. ‘sibling’s spouse,’ do not specify the sex), but Luke’s allusive way of speaking should be preserved as far as possible; if one wishes to state the case overtly, one should do so in a footnote.

His. If Herod has been clearly in focus in the preceding clauses the pronoun will usually be sufficient as reference to him here; if not, one will have to use the proper name, or to change the sentence structure so as to keep one’s references straight.

His brother’s wife, or, ‘whom his brother had married,’ ‘who was married (or, had been given in marriage) to his brother.’

The evil things Herod had done, or, ‘the crimes/misdeeds Herod (or, he) had done,’ ‘Herod’s (or, his) crimes/misdeeds/wicked doings.’ Some versions (e.g. New English Bible, Kituba, Hindi) add ‘other,’ to bring out that ‘his doings with Herodias’ were a crime also.

(V. 20) Added this to them all, or, ‘to all his evil doings/crimes,’ ‘to (lit. on top of) all other bad things he had done’ (Kituba); or, ‘extra added one item’ (Chinese Union Version), ‘did something even worse’ (Western Highland Purepecha, similarly Good News Translation), ‘put crime on top of crime’ (Sranan Tongo).

He shut up John in prison, or, ‘he imprisoned/locked-up J.,’ or, ‘he gave J. rope in the rope house,’ as the idiom is in Alekano. That Herod is not the direct agent, may lead to, ‘he caused-to-be-put J. in prison’ (Kituba, similarly Western Highland Purepecha).

The connexion between “added this to them all” and “shut up J. in prison” is indicated by the forward pointing deictic element “this” in the first sentence, to which the next sentence is epexegetic. To express this relationship more overtly one may add a connective, e.g. ‘namely,’ ‘that is’ (Chinese); elsewhere subordination is preferable, either of the second sentence, e.g. “by throwing J. in prison” (The Four Gospels – a New Translation, similarly some other English versions, Bahasa Indonesia), or of the first sentence, e.g. ‘locked-up J., in-addition-to all those crimes’ (Balinese), ‘imprisoned J., (as) the worst of all the evil things he did.’

Quoted with permission from Reiling, J. and Swellengrebel, J.L. A Handbook on the Gospel of Luke. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1971. For this and other handbooks for translators see here . Make sure to also consult the Handbook on the Gospel of Mark for parallel or similar verses.

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