The Wartburg Project

March 23rd, 2021

67. John 13:27: "What you are about to do, do more quickly."

Why does the EHV have “more quickly” in John 13:27? The EHV says that Jesus told Judas, “What you are about to do, do more quickly.” More quickly than what? What does that mean?

The Greek word (tachion) translated “more quickly” in the EHV is a comparative adverb. Translating that comparative form mechanically into English would yield “more quickly.” Yet, EHV is not simply translating mechanically. When we examine how this Greek word (tachion) is used in other places, it becomes clear that it could also be translated, “quickly” or “very quickly.” Context is our guide to determining which translation fits best here. In this case, all three meanings can make sense in the context. This is a case when translators have to make a choice.

Most Bible translations read, “What you are about to do, do quickly.” Because so many versions use these same words, that translation is likely most familiar to most people. Another possible translation would be: What you are about to do, do very quickly or as quickly as possible. These translations can make good sense. The last one is very close in meaning to “more quickly.”

Recall the schedule that the Jewish leaders were planning. They wanted to arrest Jesus and put him to death, but when? “Not during the Festival, or else there might be a riot among the people” (Matthew 26:5). They didn’t want it to happen during the Passover, so it would seem that Judas did not intend to turn Jesus over during the Passover. Yet Jesus said that he would be handed over to be crucified during the Passover (Matthew 26:2). So, it makes good sense that Jesus would say something like, “Do it more quickly than you intended.”

This contextual background has led a good number of Bible commentators to prefer the comparative translation, “What you are about to do, do more quickly.” So, the EHV is not alone in understanding it this way. For example, Leon Morris wrote that it seems probable that the sense is more quickly in John 13:27. He explained that Judas was apparently not originally intending to consummate the betrayal that night. Apparently, Jesus caused him to carry out the betrayal more quickly than he had intended. It is Jesus, not Judas, who determines the time of the passion. Yet Morris also properly grants that it is possible that it means very quickly or something similar” (The Gospel According to John, 1995, p. 557). Many pastors are familiar with the commentaries of Lenski and Hendriksen, who both favor the meaning, “more quickly” in this verse.

D.A. Carson indicates that do more quickly (than you were planning) may be the meaning here (The Gospel According to John, 1991, p. 475). A.T. Robertson also wrote that the sense of the term may, in fact, be more quickly than Judas would have done (Greek Grammar, p. 664).

Werner Franzmann seems to sum it up well with the following helpful explanation:

The Greek here can be translated: “do more quickly.” We naturally ask: “More quickly” than what? We find our clue in the words: “What you are about to do.” Judas was planning to betray his Master. He had met with the [Jewish leaders] and made a pact with them to betray Jesus to them. We know that the Jewish leaders did not want Jesus arrested at Passover time. (Matthew 26:5) Judas must have agreed to betray Jesus at some date after the Passover. So when Jesus told Judas to carry out his design “more quickly,” he meant that Judas was to do it sooner than what the plan agreed upon with the [Jewish leaders] called for… Jesus was the master of all events connected with his Passion. Judas would be able to carry out his dastardly act, not when he chose, but when Jesus wanted it done. He had decided that he would die exactly on the Passover, sooner or “more quickly” than Judas and the [Jewish leaders] had planned (Matthew 26:2, Werner Franzmann, Bible History Commentary, New Testament, p. 752).