John Quoting Jesus: Where Does It End?

John Quoting Jesus: Where Does It End?
John Chapter 3

Bible scholars and translators have decisions to make when interpreting Hebrew and Greek original manuscripts and translating that interpretation into English. One of these difficulties is the lack of punctuation in the scribal pen of ancient writers and copyists, and one of these missing punctuation markers is quotation start and stop points.

The original language texts do not include commas, semicolons, periods, exclamation points, and quotation demarcations. The New Testament Greek manuscript originators did not even use helpful red colored ink when presenting the words of Christ.

So here is a little exercise for you. You get a taste of translator interpretation and decision-making. We’ll give you a block of text and you figure out where the quotation marks go.

Chapter 3 of the book of John includes a quotation of Jesus. It is straightforward to see where Christ begins speaking, but it is not clear where Jesus stops speaking and John picks up with his own words.

Your job is to make this determination.

We provide you here the American Standard Version translation, but we have removed paragraph breaks, verse numbers, and quotation marks. Your job is to determine and insert paragraph breaks and the beginning and ending marks of quotation. (Actually, the ASV has not quotation marks to begin with.)

Three persons speak here. The first is the writer John. John quotes Nicodemus and Jesus.

Where do the quotes begin and end? Especially one of these quotes from the mouth of Jesus. Where does Jesus stop, and John’s narrative begin?

From John 3, beginning at verse 1:

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: the same came unto him by night, and said to him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except one be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born anew. The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou the teacher of Israel, and understandest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I told you earthly things and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you heavenly things? And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth may in him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God sent not the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through him. He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their works were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his works should be reproved. But he that doeth the truth cometh to the light, that his works may be made manifest, that they have been wrought in God. After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. For John was not yet cast into prison…. (ASV)

So, was it obvious or not?

The section of interest runs from verse 10 through verse 15 and then on through verse 21. Does the quote end after 15? Or following 21? Translators do not agree.

After taking a stab at formatting the ASV text yourself, examine several translations and see how the various translators and publisher choose to break the paragraphs, place quotation beginnings and endings, and (for those which use red color fonts for the words of Christ) start and stop red-letter text.

Older translations, including the King James, tend to not use quotation marks at all. One modern translation following this practice is the New Matthew Bible (2016). The American Standard Version (1901) we used above does not include quotation marks.

The Good News Translation is an anomaly, ending the quote after verse 13.

Those ending the words of Christ after verse 15 include:

  • God’s Word Translation
  • Lexham English Bible
  • New American Bible Revised Edition
  • New English Translation
  • New International Version

Those extending the quote from verse 10 through 21 include:

  • Amplified Bible
  • Blue, Red & Gold (BRG) Bible
  • Complete Jewish Bible
  • English Standard Version
  • Holman Christian Standard Bible
  • J.B. Phillips New Testament
  • Living Bible
  • The Message
  • Berean Bible
  • New American Standard Bible
  • New King James Version
  • New Living Translation
  • New Revised Standard Version
  • World English Bible
  • Young’s Literal Translation
  • New Jerusalem Bible

Blessings to you, and read the actual Bible for yourself!