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In John 17, Jesus prays and says of his disciples,

12 While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled.

That was the New American Standard Bible. The phrase there is a literal translation from the Greek, "ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας"; "the son of X" is an idiom for "one who personifies the nature of X", and "ἀπωλείας" (Strong 684) can mean "perdition", "loss", "destruction", "ruin", and so on.

Translations differ in how they render this reference to Judas (though they often have a footnote saying that "son of perdition" is the word-for-word equivalent). Examples:

  • the son of perdition: King James and many of its derivatives; also Douay-Rheims, from the Vulgate's filius perditionis
  • the son of destruction: English Standard Version, World English Bible, New American Bible
  • the one doomed to destruction: New International Version
  • the one destined to be lost: New Revised Standard Version, New Jerusalem Bible
  • the man who was bound to be lost: Good News Bible
  • the one who chose to be lost: Jerusalem Bible
  • the one who was already lost: Christian Community Bible

It seems to me that there are differences in how much agency is assigned to Judas here. If he is "doomed to destruction" or "destined to be lost" then he is being painted as a victim of fate. If he is "the one who chose to be lost" or "the son of perdition/destruction", then he could be a more active participant in his own downfall. The "son of perdition/destruction" seems like an obvious translation, but it's not clear to me whether (in Greek or English) it should connote that he is a destroyer, or the one who is destroyed, or both.

Do these English translations faithfully express the meaning of "son of perdition" in Greek? Related to that, is there any real doctrinal difference between the phrases above?

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2 Answers 2

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Interesting question!

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The Greek words used here are huois tes apoleias

"houis"
The Strongs number for this is G5207. Looking at the Vines entry, this definitely means "son". This can mean both "male offspring" or, more generically, "descendant".

"tes"
Strong G3588. This word means "of the". It's just a very simple word.

"apoleias"
Strong G684. This means "destruction", "perishing" or "ruin".

Translation

The literal translation of this phrase would be "son of destruction" or "son of ruin". The choice of using the word "perdition" is acceptable in the old form of the word ("utter destruction"), however it has taken on the connotation of "eternal damnation" and so it's no longer an appropriate translation, in my opinion.

In Context

If we look at what Jesus is saying here, he's saying that he saved and protected all of his disciples except for Judas. He refers to Judas as the "son of perdition" saying that he was the only one who he did not protect.

If we look at this in light of Luke, we find this verse:

Luke 22:3 (NIV)
Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve.

Here, we see that Satan entered Judas. After that point (in John 17), Jesus calls Judas the "son of destruction". What he's referring to here is clearly that Judas was of Satan and not of God.

Was Judas innocent?

The problem with looking at things too closely is that we often lose sight of the bigger picture. The question being asked was, essentially, was Judas a product of circunstances or did he play an active role in betraying Jesus. If we read further in Luke we see this passage:

Luke 22:4-6 (NIV) Emphasis added
4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. 6 He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.

Clearly, there was plotting involved, a conscious effort to betray Jesus, and a choice that Judas made. While, yes, he was a "son of destruction" this was due to his actions and his choices.

Jesus was protecting the twelve apostles, except for Judas. But what was he protecting them from? He was protecting them from Satan! Once he stopped protecting Judas, the temptations and desires of Satan entered into him and he was overtaken by the overwhelming temptations, to which he succumbed.

Jesus allowed Judas to be tempted--he withdrew his protection from Judas so that Satan could enter into his heart--and Judas chose to turn away from God and from Jesus.

Summary

Jesus was protecting the apostles from being tempted by Satan. With Judas, he withdrew that protection so that Satan could enter into his heart and tempt him. With that temptation, Judas was allowed to choose to betray Jesus--which he did.

Judas intentionally plotted against Jesus and consented to the betrayal. Therefore was fully guilty of the betrayal.

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Are you saying that e.g. "the one doomed to destruction" is wrong, and that we should stick with the literal "son of destruction", or do you think it is acceptable? –  James T Oct 4 '11 at 16:33
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Given my full explanation, I think all of the translations are acceptable. Paraphrases tend to pull theology from other places in the bible in order to interpret specific phrases. So, the literal translation is most accurate to the original. The other translations tend to reflect theology found in other parts of the bible rather than the original language. –  Richard Oct 4 '11 at 16:46
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The main doctrinal difference between the various interpretations is the one already mentioned: the question of free will. I think some perspective on the matter can be found in Luke:

Luke 17:1

1 Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!

(See also Matthew 18: 7.) This is a warning: even though it's inevitable that "offenses" will happen, do not be the offender! It was necessary that one of the Apostles would become a Son of Perdition and betray Jesus, and it's likely that the Pharisees would have accepted (and even tried to solicit) help from several of the members of their hated rival's inner circle, but Judas was the one who accepted the job.

Given that, it looks like the closest translation into plain English is the one given by the Jerusalem Bible.

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protected by Community Jan 27 at 10:57

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