Mark Chapter 8:27-38

We conclude Chapter 8. This is a very long segment, but it’s mainly due to the length of the comments. There is a lot of very important information in this section.

27 Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὰς κώμας Καισαρείας τῆς Φιλίππου: καὶ ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ ἐπηρώτα τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ λέγων αὐτοῖς, Τίνα με λέγουσιν οἱ ἄνθρωποι εἶναι;

And Jesus and his disciples went out (of Bethsaida) to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And upon the road he asked his disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say me to be?”

<< ἄνθρωποι>> = “anthropoi” (e.g., “anthropology) should literally be “men”; but really, the closer sense, both in Greek, and with the Latin “homo/homines” would be more closely rendered as “human” in English. The situation is analogous to proper grammar, which says “does everyone have his pencil?”. The masculine is the default setting in Greek, Latin, and traditionally in French and Spanish. I find that using “men” here, which would be more consistent with my principle of showing the Greek, is simply too anachronistic at this point.  My apologies for the inconsistency.

Note the placement of this: after the ambiguous story of Jesus needing two iterations to heal the blind man.

27 Et egressus est Iesus et discipuli eius in castella Caesareae Philippi; et in via interrogabat discipulos suos dicens eis: “ Quem me dicunt esse homines? ”.

28 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ λέγοντες [ὅτι] Ἰωάννην τὸν βαπτιστήν, καὶ ἄλλοι, Ἠλίαν, ἄλλοι δὲ ὅτι εἷς τῶν προφητῶν.

They answered him saying that, “John the Baptist, and others Elijah, but other that (you are) one of the prophets.”

I pointed out once before that, for Jews, Elijah takes precedence over Isaiah. Christians tend to think the other way around because Isaiah was mined so heavily for quotes that could be taken to indicate the coming of the Messiah, and perhaps Jesus. Again, though, we get the connection with John the Baptist (the Dunker).

I find this a little interesting. Did people not know that John had been executed? That is entirely possible. It’s not like there were news agencies reporting on things. If Herod didn’t want word to get out, it would only come out gradually, in widening circles, starting as a rumor. And it’s not like everyone would have known what John looked like, exactly. So a man doing and saying similar things could have been seen as the same man. Or, was Mark simply putting words into people’s mouths to underline again that Jesus was connected to John.

Which leads us back to the relationship between Jesus and John. How close was it? What did it constitute? A similar message? We were told that John preached repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins; so far, we haven’t had a lot of that from Jesus. So who would be more likely to make the connection between Jesus and John: the ubiquitous “they” who “say”, as in “they say…”; or Mark, wishing again to show that Jesus had roots, which would impress an audience of pagans?

28 Qui responderunt illi dicentcs: “ Ioannem Baptistam, alii Eliam, alii vero unum de prophetis ”.

29 καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπηρώτα αὐτούς, Ὑμεῖς δὲ τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι; ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Πέτρος λέγει αὐτῷ, Σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστός.

And he asked them, “But who do you say me to be?” Answering, Peter said to him, “You are the Christ.”

And there it is. We finally get the declaration, more than half-way through the gospel. Why did this take so long? Since I don’t have an answer to this question, I suppose it becomes rhetorical.

Then compare this definitive statement with the ambiguity we discussed in the last post.

One thing occurs to me. In discussing the occurrence of certain words, I’ve noticed that some very charged words have not shown up in this gospel up until close to half-way through; even then most of the incidents occur in the final 2-3 chapters. Offhand, I can’t recall what the other words were for which I noted this phenomenon; however, I will try to look back and see what I can find. I’ve had a flash of insight on this. It’s long been known that Mark, as first written, did not have a Resurrection story. Mark originally ended at the end of Chapter 15. At some point, however, Chapter 16 was added to the text, which told of the Resurrection. What if some of the later chapters were either added, or heavily amended, in order to make sure that all the “proper” words and themes were included? Or sections that, as in the case of this verse, that clear up ambiguity by inserting a definitive statement?

As of this moment, I have not thought this through. More will follow.

29 Et ipse interrogabat eos: “ Vos vero quem me dicitis esse? ”. Respondens Petrus ait ei: “ Tu es Christus ”.

30 καὶ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτοῖς ἵνα μηδενὶ λέγωσιν περὶ αὐτοῦ.

And he rebuked them, so that they would tell no one about him.

Now that we have the declaration, we’re back to a policy of secrecy. Why? How does this make sense?

Well, it does make sense if Jesus were concerned to fly under the radar of the secular authorities. That is, if he wanted to spread the Good News without undue interference from said authorities. Or, if he wanted the Good News to be heard on its own merits, and not followed because he was the Messiah. Not that declaring himself the Messiah would have been immediately believed, or that the authorities would have arrested him for making the claim, but it may have garnered unwanted interference. He might have been scrutinised a bit more closely.

There had been uprisings after the death of Herod the Great in 4 BCE. These uprisings required Roman intervention, and resulted in the establishment of a Roman official–who would be Pilate, at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. And certainly the period between Jesus and the writing of Mark saw the great rebellion of 66-67, which resulted in the total destruction of Jerusalem and the changing the name of the province from Judea to Palestine. So political considerations are not out of the question.

30 Et comminatus est eis, ne cui dicerent de illo.

31 Καὶ ἤρξατο διδάσκειν αὐτοὺς ὅτι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου πολλὰ παθεῖν καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων καὶ τῶν ἀρχιερέων καὶ τῶν γραμματέων καὶ ἀποκτανθῆναι καὶ μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἀναστῆναι:

And he began to teach them that the son of man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and after three days to rise.

δεῖ…παθεῖν καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι… καὶ ἀποκτανθῆναι καὶ…ἀναστῆναι: The initial word, <<δεῖ >> means ‘must’. In English, the best rendering would probably be ‘have to’ because that allows the remaining verbs, to suffer, to be rejected , to be killed, to rise to fall into the infinitive form, which all of these are in Greek.

Here are some more: elders and chief priests are words we have not encountered before in Mark. At least, we have not seen ‘elders’ in this sense, as in elders of the religion. We did see it back in 7:5, but there it was more in the sense of ‘ancestors’. It has a very different, much more specific sense here.

And honestly, this is ex-post prophecy. Mark’s grammar is generally pretty basic, so it would be difficult (for me, anyway) to say that this is stylistically different from what we have seen to this point. So it could easily be true that Mark wrote this. But I very much do think it’s significant that we are suddenly running into a bunch of new vocabulary, especially when it’s related to ex-post prophecy.

I do want to underscore that ‘to rise’ is in the active voice here. That Jesus would be rising, not that he would be raised (by God), as we saw in Galatians.

31 Et coepit docere illos: “ Oportet Filium hominis multa pati et reprobari a senioribus et a summis sacerdotibus et scribis et occidi et post tres dies resurgere ”;

32 καὶ παρρησίᾳ τὸν λόγον ἐλάλει. καὶ προσλαβόμενος ὁ Πέτρος αὐτὸν ἤρξατο ἐπιτιμᾶν αὐτῷ.

And in frankness he spoke this speech. And Peter taking hold of him began to rebuke him.

<< τὸν λόγον >> here translated as ‘this speech’.  “Logos” is one of those words that can mean so many different things. “In the beginning was the Logos…” as John says. Here, the meaning is much more prosaic. “This speech” is a bit awkward, but that’s because << τὸν λόγον >> is singular. I would prefer ‘these words’, but that throw this into the plural.

And there is a lot of rebuking going on. It’s all the same word, << ἐπιτιμάω >>. With the dative, as all these are, it means ‘rebuke’. 

32 et palam verbum loquebatur. Et apprehendens eum Petrus coepit increpare eum.

33 ὁ δὲ ἐπιστραφεὶς καὶ ἰδὼν τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ ἐπετίμησεν Πέτρῳ καὶ λέγει, Υπαγε ὀπίσω μου, Σατανᾶ, ὅτι οὐ φρονεῖς τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τὰ τῶν ἀνθρώπων.

He (Jesus) turning and seeing his disciples rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan because you are not considering the things of God, but the things of humans (lit = ‘men’).

Oddly, this little exchange has a very authentic feel to it. Peter rebuking Jesus, then Jesus rebuking Peter…That doesn’t mean it is authentic; it could just mean that Mark has a keen writer’s insight.

33 Qui conversus et videns discipulos suos comminatus est Petro et dicit: “ Vade retro me, Satana, quoniam non sapis, quae Dei sunt, sed quae sunt hominum ”.

34 Καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος τὸν ὄχλον σὺν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσωμου ἀκολουθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι.

And calling the crowd with his disciples, he said to them, “If someone wishes to follow after me, he must deny himself and let him take up his cross and follow me.”

A couple of things here. First, where did the crowd come from? He was on the way to Caesaria Philippi with his disciples, and they were having what sounded like a private dialogue. Now, suddenly, we are told there is a crowd. It’s certainly not impossible that one accumulated, but it is rather jarring.

Second, where does this come from? I suppose it follows from Peter’s rebuking Jesus. Peter did not understand the divine plan, so he tried to tell Jesus that the latter should not accept death, and so, as a result, Jesus announces this bit about following him and taking up one’s cross. But does that mean that the crowd overheard Jesus and Peter? Or is Jesus just announcing this to the crowd, without introduction? The point is that Peter does not want Jesus to face death. That is certainly understandable. But Jesus uses this announcement to the crowd to tell Peter what must be done.

34 Et convocata turba cum discipulis suis, dixit eis: “ Si quis vult post me sequi, deneget semetipsum et tollat crucem suam et sequatur me.

35 ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν: ὃς δ’ ἂν ἀπολέσει τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ καὶ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου σώσει αὐτήν.

“For he who may wish to save his life will lose it. But he who loses his life because of me and the Good News will save it.”

So yes, this all follows from Peter’s rebuking of Jesus. Matthew who tells us explicitly that Peter was perhaps more remonstrating than rebuking, denying that Jesus should, or had to, accept death. Mark does not give us that detail. Why not? Did he simply feel it was not necessary? That the context made clear that Peter was talking about Jesus accepting death? If it’s so clear, then why did Matthew have to put words in Peter’s mouth? Luke omits the scene.

But this is beside the point. What is the message: it sure seems to be an intimation of martyrdom. By the time Mark wrote, Peter and Paul and others had been executed because of Jesus and the good news. (Note: I’ve been capitalizing Good News, but that really isn’t appropriate. Or, rather, it’s only appropriate in hindsight. In short, it’s anachronistic  and exactly the sort of thing we’re trying to get past.) So again, this is ex-post prophecy. 

35 Qui enim voluerit animam suam salvam facere, perdet eam; qui autem perdiderit animam suam propter me et evangelium, salvam eam faciet.

36 τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖ  ἄνθρωπον κερδῆσαι τὸν κόσμον ὅλον καὶ ζημιωθῆναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ;

“For what will it profit a man to gain the entire world (lit = ‘cosmos’, but the idiomatic meaning in Greek is ‘the world’), but lose his own life?”

This is a big one. The standard–all four of my crib translations–translate this as “lose his own soul”. But note that the word  <<ψυχὴν >>, ‘psyche’, is used for ‘life’ in V-35.  Now, obviously, there is a very real sense in which ‘life’ and ‘soul’ are absolutely interchangeable. But there is also, in modern idiom, a very real sense in which they are, obviously, different. And using ‘life’ here in V-36 drastically changes the meaning of the sentence. For Christians, ‘losing the soul’ implies losing eternal life, the forfeiture of salvation. Losing one’s life, OTOH, simply means ‘to die’, without any implications for eternity. Even on a secular level, losing one’s soul has non-physical implications; it means selling out, often for material gain, and betraying one’s inner self and values. Plus, there’s the wonderful distinction between gaining the material (= bad) at the cost of one’s spiritual (= good) soul.

OTOH, this is the fourth time the word is used in Mark. In the previous three (3:4, and twice in 8:35 that we have just read). In these three (one? two at the most.) previous uses, the meaning is taken to be ‘life’. So why does it suddenly switch meanings here? Does it change meaning in this verse? From our point of view, the answer to the second question is ‘yes, of course’. But what about the ‘why does it change?’ Also: the next usage, in 10:45 is also most naturally translated as ‘life’.

It can be well argued that my translation here doesn’t really make sense. How can one gain the world, if one dies by doing it?  One has to be alive–but/if corrupted–for the gain to become malevolent, or at least tragic. 

Does it?

I grant that it has much more poetic resonance when translated as ‘soul’. But I’m not sure it’s what Mark was thinking. Because read my translation and interpretation of the translation again: what’s the profit if you gain the world but die trying? Obviously, and very explicitly, and very…well, obviously, there is no gain. One does not have to consider the secular implications of living in vast wealth but feeling all empty inside, nor the implications of eternity, gaining vast wealth but suffering damnation. Rather, gaining the world but to die trying is as obvious as a slap in the face. There is no gain.

Now here is where a discussion of what this word meant to contemporary audiences would be completely appropriate. It would also be very lengthy. Aristotle is the first to consider the concept of life from anything like scientific principles. The point is that ‘psyche’ was identified mainly with the breath of life, but was not necessarily considered the immortal part of a human. In the OT, ‘psyche’ is used to translate ‘nephesh’, which also means ‘breath of life’. In NT Greek, the word that most closely resembles our modern ‘soul’ is actually << πνεῦμα >>, ‘spirit’, which is why we have a ‘holy spirit’ and not a ‘holy psyche’. For classical-era Greeks, the immortal part of a human was often <<νοος>>, ‘mind’ or ‘intellect’. I’m not really competent to comment on the state of Jewish beliefs at the time, except to say that they seem to have been evolving, moving towards the Greek idea of a mind/soul/body/spirit split. Such a development is not surprising, given both the generally Hellenized milieu of the Near East at the time, and the ancient Iranian/dualist distinction between spirit and flesh.

So, what does Mark mean here? I believe that the proper translation here would be ‘life’. I base this on previous and subsequent usage, and the fact that dying in the attainment of a goal–especially something like wealth, which is what ‘gaining the world’ generally implies–is pretty much the definition of futility.

And trying to resolve so complex a question in so short a space is also an exercise in futility. I will revisit this in a longer post dedicated specifically to this topic.

36 Quid enim prodest homini, si lucretur mundum totum et detrimentum faciat animae suae?

37 τί γὰρ δοῖ ἄνθρωπος ἀντάλλαγμα τῆς ψυχῆς αὐτοῦ;

For what might a man give in exchange for his life?

Again, this is generally translated as ‘soul’. The question is: has the meaning shaded to the point that soul becomes the appropriate translation? If so, do we not have to ask whether this is truly a later insertion? ‘Psyche’ = ‘soul’ does not, generally, fit the way it is used in most of Mark. Indeed, it’s barely used in Mark, until this point. It’s used thrice more; as mentioned, = ‘life’ in 10:45, and two occurrences in consecutive verses where the formula, ‘with all your soul’ is repeated.

This would seem to imply one of two things: a) that the translation should be ‘life’, largely based on probability, given that Mark generally uses the word that way; 0r b) that this means ‘soul’ and was inserted later.

I believe I’ve mentioned Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition series, especially Volume 1, which deals with the years 100-600. The book is invaluable if only because it’s a really good description of the process by which most of the fundamental tenets of Christian belief developed, and how long some of these “fundamental” beliefs (like the Holy Spirit, and so the Trinity) took several centuries to evolve into their present state.

37 Quid enim dabit homo commutationem pro anima sua?

38 ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν ἐπαισχυνθῇ με καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὺς λόγους ἐν τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ τῇ μοιχαλίδι καὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ, καὶ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπαισχυνθήσεται αὐτὸν ὅταν ἔλθῃ ἐν τῇ δόξῃ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀγγέλων τῶν ἁγίων.

For he who ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, so (lit = and) the son of man will be ashamed of him when he (son of man) may come into the glory of his father with the angels and the holy ones (= saints).

38 Qui enim me confusus fuerit et mea verba in generatione ista adultera et peccatrice, et Filius hominis confundetur eum, cum venerit in gloria Patris sui cum angelis sanctis ”.

We’re back to the present generation, and it’s a sinful and adulterous one! IMO, this is something stuck here that completely lacks any organic context. Now, whether it was Mark who stuck this here, or some later editor, is very difficult to say. My sense is that this represents an addition to the original text of Mark. Why? Because Mark is generally much better at weaving his disparate threads, where this looks and feels like something altogether different.

The sentiment expressed in this verse is very close to one of the verses of Q as reconstructed by Burton Mack in his Gospel of Q. Now, this is not to say that it was actually something Jesus said, but Mack (who is a participant in the QHJ) seems to believe it dates back to Jesus. If this is true, or if this were believed at the time, it would be a good explanation for why this has been added–assuming that this verse was not in the original gospel as written by Mark.

Just so there is no misunderstanding, this sort of speculation is exactly that. I do not have credentials in this, but I truly believe these are questions that need to be asked if the QHJ is to get anywhere. From what I’ve read about QHJ, and about a lot of the history of the events in the Bible, I’m not entirely impressed. The people writing much of the work in these disciplines are well versed in Scripture, or perhaps archaeology, but there aren’t many historians among them. Akenson is an historian, and his views, IMO, showed a keen historical insight, even if NT times are not his specialty.

My apologies if this offends anyone. 

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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 April 18, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Jesus and his followers are still outside Galilee and Herod Antipas’ control, starting with his move into Phoenicia and around the north side of Galilee into the Decapolis and Gaulanitis, where Caesarea Phillippi is located.

    Since Satan (or Shaitan) means “tempter”, if I remember correctly, isn’t Peter tempting Jesus with the title of “Christ” in this passage?

  2. It is my understanding that “Satan” means “adversary”. (Wikipedia agrees on this point.)

    Honestly, though, your point doesn’t really lose much. The fact is that Peter is tempting Jesus, and this is the work of an adversary.

    I discussed the itinerary, and whether Jesus was avoiding Antipas on the thread for the previous section of this chapter.

  1. Pingback: Matthew Chapter 16:21-28 | Commenting on the Bible

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