Re: telelestai

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Mon May 18 1998 - 16:24:47 EDT

At 3:19 PM -0400 5/18/98, Vince Endris wrote:
>To whom it may concern:
>I heard a sermon last week that spoke of the way that Jesus' death on
>cross paid for our sins. To illustrate his point, he gave the word
>tetelestai. He translated the word as "paid in full". The reason he
>for this is that on some receipts they found at Galilee in ancient times
>the word "tetelestai" was stamped on them to indicate that they were
>One pastor said that the word is still used this day on receipts. If I
>mixing up the story, please let me know. My question is because I know
>that the word "tetelestai" comes from the root word "teleo" which means
>complete". Therefore the perfect infinitive of the word would mean "It
>been completed".
>Are these stories true, and is "paid in full" a possible translation.
>it is not, then why do so many pastors today use it?
>Please send responces to "" because I have
>yet been able to subscribe to b-greek.

I haven't heard that TETELESTAI was used with that particular sense as a
"paid" marker, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were true. A common
classical idiom was LUEIN TELOS, "to pay off/satisfy a debt" and there's
another idiomatic 3rd sg. impersonal, LUSITELEI from a fusion of the two
elements of that expression, LUSITELEW: LUSITELEI means "it is profitable,"
"it pays." The TETELESTAI of John's gospel, however, is a perfect passive
3d sg. meaning literally, "It has been completed." What has been completed?
Presumably "the work" that Jesus was given to do (cf. John 17:4). But one
might question whether John's soteriology is fully in harmony with a notion
of paying off a debt as a ransom; the image of Jesus as a Passover lamb
belongs to John's gospel, and to be sure, the death of Jesus on the cross
is salvific, but the question whether JOHN's gospel conceives of that death
as paying a ransom is hard to find evidence WITHIN JOHN'S GOSPEL to
support, in my opinion. We've got to be careful in responding to this one,
as it will be difficult to stay away from hermeneutic assumptions when what
we're really after is the precise sense and intent of TETELESTAI in John

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243 OR

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