Mark Chapter 6:7-16

We’re coming up on a long story about John the Baptist, with a short preface about the sending out of the twelve. This is much too long for a single post, but it was difficult to break; as a result, the second part will be a bit longer than the first.

7 καὶ προσκαλεῖται τοὺς δώδεκα, καὶ ἤρξατο αὐτοὺς ἀποστέλλειν δύο δύο, καὶ ἐδίδου αὐτοῖς ἐξουσίαν τῶν πνευμάτων τῶν ἀκαθάρτων:

And he called to him the twelve, and he began to send them out two-by-two, and he gave to them the authority over (lit = ‘of’) unclean spirits.

First the Greek.  <<  ἀποστέλλειν >> which is the verb “to send out” is transliterated as “apostellein”. The origin of “apostle” is pretty clear. We are used to thinking in terms of a gradation difference between an “apostle” and a “disciple”, the former being of a higher level than the latter. However, the original distinction is functional: apostles were sent out to expel demons. Disciples followed Jesus around and learned. Now, you are not going to send out people who are not competent for the job, so there is some legitimacy to the whole gradation idea. But we do not know who the apostles were; we are not told.

Why are we specifically told that he gave to them the authority to cast out demons? There is altogether too much made of demons (= unclean spirits) in this tale. I can assure you that Graeco-Roman authors did not go on and on about unclean (or any kind, really) of spirits. Now, maybe that’s because I’ve read primarily historical works, of men (always men) with pretensions. But even Josephus, who was Jewish and lived a decent chunk of his live in Judea/Palestine does not really mention demons.

I’ve spoken rather facetiously, on more than one occasion, about the epidemic of unclean spirits that had First Century Judea in its grip, but, really, what else are we to conclude? Why is it not mentioned that they were given power (rather than authority) over diseases? To make the blind see, and the lame walk, and to cleanse lepers? Jesus has performed feats such as those a couple of times already. But even Jesus is primarily about expelling demons. We had the first time in the synagogue, the Legion story, and three or four mentions in passing about expelling demons.

Why?

In the QHJ literature, I came across discussions about whether Jesus’ authority over demons was meant to indicate the eschaton, the coming End Times. It has been argued that the emphasis on demons is evidence that Jesus was, primarily, about the End Times; that was the purpose of his mission, and that is why so much is made of demons. I’m beginning to think there might be something to this.

In the last section I posed the rhetorical question about whether Jesus should be seen primarily as a preacher of End Times, to which Jesus-as-wisdom-teacher was added, or vice-versa. I tend to suspect so. The wisdom teacher aspect got more of the emphasis once two generations had passed, and most of Jesus’ immediate associates were dead, and the Temple and Jerusalem had been destroyed, and the End Times still had not come. This was, I suspect, embarrassing to a degree. So we started to get the other stories, Jesus’ pithy aphorisms, etc. But buried rocks of the End Times story remained: the emphasis on demons being one of the most prominent.

Another question is why the Twelve are given “authority” rather than “power”, << ἐξουσία >> as opposed to <<δύναμις>>.  The latter is the word used in 5.30, when the “power” went out of him to heal the bleeding woman. Of course, on some level, this is a distinction without a difference: the upshot is that they can expel demons; but on another level, it is legitimate to ask why a different word is used. My impression, based on numerous years in the corporate America is that you can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate innate power. That is, a charismatic leader can give authority to a subordinate to make decisions, but the leader cannot delegate her/his charismatic power, because that is innate to the leader.

If this is correct, what does this say about Jesus and his innate capability? Does this give any insight into his divinity? I tend to suspect it does. If Jesus is divine, he should be able to give power, and not simply grant authority. But, maybe that’s reading too much into this.

Then there is the whole notion of the Twelve. The QHJ literature, and stuff written about Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls talk about the 12 as representative of all Israel: the Twelve Tribes. But symbol of Twelve more basic: it is the Zodiac. For those unfamiliar with astronomy, the Zodiac are the twelve constellations that serve as the backdrop or background for the rising sun. In April, the sun is in front of Aries when it rises; in October, Libra is behind the sun. Astronomical observation went way back in Near Eastern history, to allow the powers that be to predict the annual floods of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Hebrews spent time in Babylon, which was a center for astronomical science. “Twelve” was a number shared by many, many cultures.

And it’s interesting how Mark sets this up: he has Jesus sends out the twelve; then we go to John the Baptist, then the twelve return at the end of that story. Were Peter and James and John sent out? If so, what did Jesus do in the meantime? If not, the same question.

7 Et convocat Duodecim et coepit eos mittere binos et dabat illis potestatem in spiritus immundos;

8 καὶ παρήγγειλεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδὲν αἴρωσιν εἰς ὁδὸν εἰ μὴ ῥάβδον μόνον, μὴ ἄρτον, μὴ πήραν, μὴ εἰς τὴν ζώνην χαλκόν,

And he instructed them in order that they take nothing on the road except for a stick only; they (were not to take) bread, nor bag, nor money in their belt.

8 et praecepit eis, ne quid tollerent in via nisi virgam tantum: non panem, non peram neque in zona aes,

9 ἀλλὰ ὑπο δεδεμένους σανδάλια καὶ μὴ ἐνδύσησθε δύο χιτῶνας.

But having bound on sandals and they were not allowed two tunics.

For both 8 & 9: here is the foundation for what became known as ‘apostolic poverty’. They were to take nothing. The idea is that God would provide. Or is it? 

9 sed ut calcearentur sandaliis et ne induerentur duabus tunicis.

10 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς, Οπου ἐὰν εἰσέλθητε εἰς οἰκίαν, ἐκεῖ μένετε ἕως ἂν ἐξέλθητε ἐκεῖθεν.

And he said to them, ‘Where you may come into a house, there remain until you leave that place”.

Translator’s note: “place could probably be more idiomatically translated as “town”.  However, the root meaning of the word is generic.

10 Et dicebat eis: “ Quocumque introieritis in domum, illic manete, donec exeatis inde.

11 καὶ ὃς ἂν τόπος μὴ δέξηται ὑμᾶς μηδὲ ἀκούσωσιν ὑμῶν, ἐκπορευόμενοι ἐκεῖθεν ἐκτινάξατε τὸν χοῦντὸν ὑποκάτω τῶν ποδῶν ὑμῶν εἰς μαρτύριον αὐτοῖς.

“And whichever place (= “town” again) does not receive you, nor listen to you, going out of there shake the dust from off your feet as witness to them.”

I found the Latin word for “dust” to be amusing.  << pulverem >>, as in “stuff having been pulverized.” Ah, the simple pleasures one gets by being a Classics nerd.

11 Et quicumque locus non receperit vos nec audierint vos, exeuntes inde excutite pulverem de pedibus vestris in testimonium illis ”.

12 Καὶ ἐξελθόντες ἐκήρυξαν ἵνα μετανοῶσιν,

“And leaving, preach in order that they may repent,”

Not sure if this is a comment on the Greek or on the text. But it comes down to how this affected the development of doctrine in the Western Church, so I’ll use this format.  << μετανοῶσιν >> here is an intransitive verb. “Repent”, or “be penitent” would catch the sense. It’s what the Baptist urged back at the beginning of Chapter 1. However, the Latin is rendered as << paenitentiam agerent >>, which is a transitive verb, most literally meaning “do penance”. “Penance” is a direct object.  The difference is perhaps best summed by the choice between “change your attitude” as contrasted with  “pay a fine.”

The first describes an internal process; the second an outward act that does not necessarily require a change of heart. From my studies of the Reformation, the realization that the original does not say “do penance” was a very big deal. I have the sense that the “mistranslation” of the Greek into “do penance” occurred somewhere else as well, in a more pivotal location. Perhaps I’ll run across this as we progress.

One of the most egregious sins of the Roman Church in the eyes of the reformers–the Protestants–was the insistence on “doing penance”, especially as it came to be practised in the sale and purchase of indulgences. This is an outward act that requires no internal change on the part of the sinner. This seemed bad enough when everyone was working from the Latin, but once it was realized that the underlying Greek had a very different sense, the reformers really went ballistic. They were thus convinced that the Church of Rome had become like the Pharisees as portrayed in the Gospels: adhering to the letter, but not the spirit, of Jesus’ message.

12 Et exeuntes praedicaverunt, ut paenitentiam agerent;

13 καὶ δαιμόνια πολλὰ ἐξέβαλλον, καὶ ἤλειφον ἐλαίῳ πολλοὺς ἀρρώστους καὶ ἐθεράπευον.

And they cast out many demons, and they anointed with oil many being sick and they healed (them).

“Many demons”. Once again, the demon epidemic. I’m becoming increasingly convinced that these demon references do indeed have some “further” meaning beyond the obvious that people had demons. I think that Jesus’ power over demons is indicative of eschatology. People are possessed; Jesus could expel the demons, and, moreover, could grant this authority to others. The time was turning.

Also, the anointing is a new twist. Jesus has not anointed anyone in order to heal them. He simply heals them. So what is the significance of this? Is it significant? Given that Mark tells us this explicitly, one assumes it is significant, but how or why is a much more difficult question, and I’m not sure I can answer it. I can speculate, but that’s about all. At this point, though, I believe that it’s important to recognize the need to ask.

13 et daemonia multa eiciebant et ungebant oleo multos aegrotos et sanabant.

14 Καὶ ἤκουσεν ὁ βασιλεὺς Ἡρῴδης, φανερὸν γὰρ ἐγένετο τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔλεγον ὅτι Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτίζων ἐγήγερται ἐκ νεκρῶν, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ἐνεργοῦσιν αἱ δυνάμεις ἐν αὐτῷ.

And King Herod heard, for his (Jesus’) name became apparent (=known) to him (Herod), and he said that “John the Baptizing has been raised from the dead and because of this his (John’s) powers are operating in him (Jesus, who = the risen John).

If I’m reading this right, the implication here is that John was also able to a)expel demons; b) heal the sick; or c) do both.  This is a logical inference, since the activities Herod heard about led him to conclude, or believe, or worry that John had been raised since John’s powers  (and it’s powers) are once again operating. Now, that John had such powers is news to us; there has been no hint of this previously; we were told only that John preached repentance and baptized.

The second point here is the voice of the verb “to be raised”. As with Paul in Galatians when he said that Jesus was raised from the dead by God, we are told that John was raised, by actor unnamed, but presumably God. Now, the question is whether this is something Herod (or anyone of the time) would have actually thought of as a possibility, or if this is something the evangelist put into the mouth of Herod in light of Jesus having been raised from the dead. Or, the third possibility is that someone would think in terms of someone coming back from the dead, but only metaphorically. Given that  in the next verse, and again in Mk 8.28,  people saying that Jesus is Elijah returned, perhaps it’s best not to read too much into this, that the meaning is more metaphorical than literal.

14 Et audivit Herodes rex; manifestum enim factum est nomen eius. Et dicebant: “ Ioannes Baptista resurrexit a mortuis, et propterea inoperantur virtutes in illo ”.

15 ἄλλοι δὲ ἔλεγον ὅτι Ἠλίας ἐστίν: ἄλλοι δὲ ἔλεγον ὅτι προφήτης ὡς εἷς τῶν προφητῶν.

But others said that he was Elijah; but others said that he is a prophet, as one of the prophets (presumably, a ‘prophet of old’, as it were).

There’s a point in here somewhere, but not entirely sure what it is exactly.

15 Alii autem dicebant: “ Elias est ”. Alii vero dicebant: “ Propheta est, quasi unus ex prophetis ”.

16 ἀκούσας δὲ ὁ Ἡρῴδης ἔλεγεν, Ὃν ἐγὼ ἀπεκεφάλισα Ἰωάννην, οὗτος ἠγέρθη.

Hearing this, Herod said, “I am (lit = I am being) the one having beheaded (literally) John, he has been raised.”

The interesting point here, IMO, is that the Greek once again says “has been raised”, while the Latin puts it into active voice, so that it says “John has resurrected”, as in, “he has done this himself”. Maybe that is just some quirk of Latin, but I would like to see the argument for this. So, once again, some slippage between the Greek text, and the text that the Western Church would use for the next thousand years.

16 Quo audito, Herodes aiebat: “ Quem ego decollavi Ioannem, hic resurrexit! ”.

Overall, there was a lot of stuff packed into a fairly short section.

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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 March 3, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I would not use Josephus as negative evidence for the existence of demonology in 1st Century Judean culture. Josephus took great pains to purge anything that was “superstitious” from Jewish history, because of the attacks of Apion of Alexandria on Judaism, who petitioned the Romans to remove first-class status for Jews in Alexandria by denigrating them for “superstitious” beliefs.

  2. Excellent point. And this fits with the trend of Graeco-Roman historiography of the time, which was also pretty much silent on demons. There is other evidence, such as offerings found in temples, etc., however that indicate a thriving belief in demons. J. Pelikan said, “the sky hung low in the ancient world, and the traffic was heavy in both directions”.

  3. I agree there is much evidence for spirits of many types – such as angels, devils, and jinn – in the folk level of monotheistic Semitic cultures. Are the daemons in the pigs devils? Which type? Or are they captured souls of humans? Syrian religions had spirits embedded in “living” rough stones, similar to the rough standing stones of Israelite/Judaic ritual.

    Spirits and gods embedded in stones were still worshiped by the Roman-Syrian emperor Elagabalus in 222 AD, who worshipped the Syrian-Emesa (modern day Homs) god Elagabal. El(a) is “god” and Gabal is “mountain” (the name Gibraltar comes from the equivalent Arabic word Gebel or Jebel). Emesa also happens to be the first Christian kingdom, just before Armenia.

  4. FYI. If you skip ahead to the discussion of 1 Corinthians 12:9, Paul says that one of the gifts of the spirit is the ability to tell the difference between spirits. That is, to judge whether a spirit is malign or benevolent. So here we get some primary evidence that the belief in spirits was fairly well entrenched in the world-view of the time.

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