Mark Chapter 2:18-28

We come to the end of Chapter 2.

18 Καὶ ἦσαν οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰωάννου καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι νηστεύοντες. καὶ ἔρχονται καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Διὰ τί οἱ μαθηταὶ Ἰωάννου καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ τῶν Φαρισαίων νηστεύουσιν, οἱ δὲ σοὶ μαθηταὶ οὐ νηστεύουσιν;

And there were learners (disciples) of John and the Pharisees fasting. And they came and said to him, “Why do the learners of John and the learners of the Pharisees fast, but your learners do not fast?” 

I’ve probably made my point; the word that is always translated as “disciples”, which is <<discipuli >> in Latin, literally means ‘learners’ in both Latin and Greek.  I’ll switch back to the standard translation, but it seemed like a good idea to remind everyone what the word really means.

18 Et erant discipuli Ioannis et pharisaei ieiunantes. Et veniunt et dicunt illi: “ Cur discipuli Ioannis et discipuli pharisaeorum ieiunant, tui autem discipuli non ieiunant? ”.

19 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Μὴ δύνανται οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ νυμφῶνος ἐν ᾧ ὁ νυμφίος μετ’ αὐτῶν ἐστιν νηστεύειν; ὅσον χρόνον ἔχουσιν τὸν νυμφίον μετ’ αὐτῶν οὐ δύνανται νηστεύειν:

And Jesus said to them, “How are the sons/children (guests?) of the bridegroom in which the bridegroom is with them able to fast?  

A word about << υἱοὶ >>. The base translation of this is “sons.” However, there is a chance that it’s metaphorical here. Of the four crib translations, two translate as ‘guests’, one as ‘attendants’, and the KJV taking it literally as ‘sons’. It probably matters in some way, but I don’t think it’s at all critical.

19 Et ait illis Iesus: “ Numquid possunt convivae nuptiarum, quamdiu sponsus cum illis est, ieiunare? Quanto tempore habent secum sponsum, non possunt ieiunare;

20 ἐλεύσονται δὲ ἡμέραι ὅταν ἀπαρθῇ ἀπ’αὐτῶν ὁ νυμφίος, καὶ τότε νηστεύσουσιν ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ.

“The day (lit = ‘days’) will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.”

20 venient autem dies, cum auferetur ab eis sponsus, et tunc ieiunabunt in illa die.

21 οὐδεὶς ἐπίβλημα ῥάκους ἀγνάφου ἐπιράπτει ἐπὶ ἱμάτιον παλαιόν: εἰ δὲ μή, αἴρει τὸ πλήρωμα ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ τὸ καινὸν τοῦ παλαιοῦ, καὶ χεῖρον σχίσμα γίνεται.

“No one sows a new patch upon an old garment. If one does, in time the new from the old raises up, and the tear grows worse.”

21 Nemo assumentum panni rudis assuit vestimento veteri; alioquin supplementum aufert aliquid ab eo, novum a veteri, et peior scissura fit.

22 καὶ οὐδεὶς βάλλει οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς παλαιούς εἰ δὲ μή, ῥήξει ὁ οἶνος τοὺς ἀσκούς, καὶ ὁ οἶνος ἀπόλλυται καὶ οἱ ἀσκοί ἀλλὰ οἶνον νέον εἰς ἀσκοὺς καινούς.

And no one puts new wine into old skins; if you do, the wine rips open the skins, and the wine is spoiled and the skins also; rather new wine (is put) into new skins.

Several different and interlocking ideas/concepts here. First, the parables.  Some claim that the parables represent the oldest stratum of Jesus’ teaching. The thinking is that these are the sorts of things that those hearing him would remember. This has a certain amount of credibility. It’s a classic form of wisdom teaching; so, if one believes Jesus was a wisdom teacher, then there is a good case that the parables do represent a low stratum of Jesus’ teachings.  Against this, it sometime seems that these are the sorts of things that would grow up around a legendary figure. Think the story of Alexander the Great and Diogenes, in which the only thing the latter wants from the King of the World is that he stop blocking Diogenes’ sun. The analogy is not completely accurate, but stories do accumulate around legendary figures. For the moment, I will remain agnostic about this; when it becomes necessary, I will take my stand.

Then we get to the topics. We start with John’s disciples, and the Pharisees and the issue about fasting. This was a time-honored tradition in Jewish practice, and very much a part of Mainstream Judaism (MSJ), whatever that might be. And yet, Jesus eschews it. What does this imply?  I have also started reading E.P. Sanders’ book Jesus and Judaism.  This came as a reference from Bond’s book.  Kind of interesting about Sanders’ book is that the introduction takes up the first fifty pages. In this, he surveys the state of the argument to date. Since the book was published 25 years ago, there’s a bit less of it than is presented by Bond; however, this allows him to go into a bit more depth. One of the main areas of contention is “What was Jesus’ Intention?” Was he planning to overturn the practices of Judaism? Judging from this story, we might say that the answer is “Yes”. Of course, the reality is more complex than that, but that seems the prima facie idea behind Jesus’ disdain for fasting.

Or is it? The second part, the parable, hints at something more. We don’t fast while the bridegroom is at the feast; rather, we wait until he has left. What does this mean? One of the favorite conceptions of the historical Jesus is that he was a preacher of apocalypse, predicting the end of times and the coming of judgement. Paul mentioned the coming wrath several times. However, this doesn’t seem to fit that category, either, because people will fast after the bridegroom has departed. This implies that there will continue to be people. So, this seems to fall into another category: Jesus’ prediction of his death. You can fast, he says, after I’m dead.

What does this say about Jesus’ relation to the Baptist?  Has he stepped away? Or, was he never that attached to begin with? There was an implied connection in the early part of the gospel, and Jesus seemed to take John’s place, but was that an actual relationship? Or one that the evangelists created to provide Jesus with a pedigree? Given his quick disavowal of John’s practice, perhaps my whacky suggestion might seem a little less whacky now?

As for the disavowal of the Pharisees, this is blatant, but it’s in character with his previous attitude towards the Scribes. These were not the same group, but both could be said to represent Mainstream Judaism (MSJ). So, is this the point? Whatever the intent was, the result is that Jesus has separated himself from both the Baptist, and MSJ. Personally, I suspect this is something added by later tradition, as part of the gradual divergence of the Jesus Assemblies from MSJ.

Then there are the parables of the cloth, and the new wine. The analogy is the same in both cases: the new is separating itself from the old. In this way, they both fit in rather nicely with the separation from John and the Pharisees. The new patch will not readily attach to the old cloth, and the new wine will burst the old skins. IOW, Jesus is the new thing; the old has been superseded and is now out-of-date. 

22 Et nemo mittit vinum novellum in utres veteres, alioquin dirumpet vinum utres et vinum perit et utres; sed vinum novum in utres novos ”.

23 Καὶ ἐγένετο αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς σάββασιν παραπορεύεσθαι διὰ τῶν σπορίμων, καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἤρξαντο ὁδὸν ποιεῖν τίλλοντες τοὺς στάχυας.

And it happened on the Sabbath (that) he was passing through the fields, and his learners began to make way plucking the ears of grain.

Quick note about the Greek: <<αὐτὸν ἐν τοῖς σάββασιν παραπορεύεσθαι>> is a construction known as accusative and infinitive.  This is a very common grammatical construction in Latin, but doesn’t get used nearly so much in Greek. It’s a method of subordinating a clause.  

23 Et factum est, cum ipse sabbatis ambularet per sata, discipuli eius coeperunt praegredi vellentes spicas.

24 καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι ἔλεγον αὐτῷ, Ἴδε τί ποιοῦσιν τοῖς σάββασιν ὃ οὐκ ἔξεστιν;

And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are you doing on the Sabbath what is not allowed?”

24 Pharisaei autem dicebant ei: “ Ecce, quid faciunt sabbatis, quod non licet? ”.

25 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Οὐδέποτε ἀνέγνωτε τί ἐποίησεν Δαυίδ, ὅτε χρείαν ἔσχεν καὶ ἐπείνασεν αὐτὸς καὶ οἱ μετ’ αὐτοῦ;

And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he needed to eat and to feed also those who were with him?”

25 Et ait illis: “ Numquam legistis quid fecerit David, quando necessitatem habuit et esuriit ipse et qui cum eo erant?

26 πῶς εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ θεοῦ ἐπὶ Ἀβιαθὰρ ἀρχιερέως καὶ τοὺς ἄρτους τῆς προθέσεως ἔφαγεν, οὓς οὐκ ἔξεστιν φαγεῖν εἰ μὴ τοὺς ἱερεῖς, καὶ ἔδωκεν καὶ τοῖς σὺν αὐτῷ οὖσιν;

“How he came to the house of God under Abiathar the high priest and they ate the bread having been purposed/set aside = consecrated, which is not allowed to eat except the priests, and he took and gave it to those being with him.”

26 Quomodo introivit in domum Dei sub Abiathar principe sacerdotum et panes propositionis manducavit, quos non licet manducare nisi sacerdotibus, et dedit etiam eis, qui cum eo erant? ”.

27 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Τὸ σάββατον διὰ τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἐγένετο καὶ οὐχ ὁ ἄνθρωπος διὰ τὸ σάββατον:

And he said, “The Sabbath because of man has become and not man because of the Sabbath.”

27 Et dicebat eis: “ Sabbatum propter hominem factum est, et non homo propter sabbatum;

28 ὥστε κύριός ἐστιν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ τοῦ σαββάτου.

“In this way the son of man is also the lord of the Sabbath. “

28 itaque dominus est Filius hominis etiam sabbati ”.

After the stated separation of the section before, now we get positive identification. Rather than distinguishing himself from the past, Jesus is claiming to be the heir–spiritual, perhaps–of King David. This is a really bold move, for reasons that are probably obvious. David was The King. He was The Pinnacle of Israel’s worldly prowess, the Golden Age of Israelite History. To do as David did was to place himself in very rarefied company. What does he mean by this? That he will re-institute the kingdom of David?  One has to believe that any Jew in the First Century would have drawn that conclusion. What else could it mean?  And then he has the nerve–the nerve!–to overturn the traditional–or, at least, the way it had been normalized in his day–view of the Sabbath. This, certainly, is nothing more than a radical revision of what it would mean to be Jewish.

So radical, perhaps, that the intent wasn’t to address Jews, but Gentiles. This is Paul’s preaching to the Gentiles to the next level. Personally, all of this strikes me as later interpretations of Jesus, as a programme that was written back into the record from a viewpoint of someone living forty years after-the-fact. Look, “Mark” seems to be saying, “Even Jesus didn’t go for all that Jewish heritage.”

Now,  let’s take these two together. Jesus has separated himself from MSJ, and even the “reforming” variety as preached (probably) by John. Then he associates himself with David. The way this sequence is understood would have been very different, I believe, for a Jew and for a Gentile. For Jews, Jesus is taking on the authority of David; for Gentiles, he would be seen as stepping away from Judaism. Either way, the message is (relatively?) clear: there is a new sheriff in town.

This leaves us with “The Son Of Man”, who is the “Lord of the Sabbath.” I have separated these because they are two separate concepts. First, who is the Son of Man?

This is the second time Mark has used the term. The first time was in 2:10, when Jesus heals the paralytic to show the authority of the Son of Man to forgive sins. Here, he’s the Lord of the Sabbath. The first time is clearly meant to be Jesus. Here, it’s pretty clearly Jesus as well. So, uses #1 and #2 point to Jesus. Paul was pretty emphatic about Jesus being the son of God; Mark, for whatever reasons, prefers this term. Regardless, Mark is using the term to indicate Jesus’ authority–granted by whom we have not yet been told explicitly, unless it was breathed upon him at Jesus’ baptism.

The usual genesis of the term is cited as Daniel 7:13, in which “one like the son of man” comes down from the clouds, very much resembling what Paul predicted in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, when Jesus would come down from/on the clouds to meet those saved. In Daniel, the implication is that it simply means that the being is in human form–like a son of man; i.e., like a man. In Mark, we’ve stepped away from this. Some say that the term is an affirmation of Jesus’ humanity, as opposed to ‘son of God’, which stresses his deity. Others say that the term does not always and everywhere reflect back to Jesus in an unambiguous manner.  We will pay attention to this. Here, Mark is referring to Jesus. He forgave the paralytic’s sins, and he showed himself lord of the Sabbath.

So, if Mark is clearly referring to Jesus, why not use the more obvious “Son of God”? Here, perhaps, is where Mark’s ability as a weaver of different narratives comes into play.   What the ‘ambiguity’ of the term tells me is that, a) the term was in use; it seems highly unlikely that Mark made it up; and b) that the tradition that used this term was, perhaps, a bit hazy on whether Jesus was divine. Paul predates this; he does not use the term. Therefore, I believe we are justified to infer that a different tradition did. Mark retains the term; why, is difficult to say. But I believe the tradition he used was not completely clear on whether or not Jesus was divine; this is why we don’t get a birth narrative, or a resurrection story.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on January 5, 2013, in Chapter 2, gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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