Mark Chapter 9:30-40

The rest of this chapter is pretty much Jesus talking for much of the time. As such, it’s likely to be programmatic, and to require a fair bit of comment. So, while there’s no real logical break in here, I inserted one anyway. I hope it doesn’t spoil the continuity too much.

30 Κἀκεῖθεν ἐξελθόντες παρεπορεύοντο διὰ τῆς Γαλιλαίας, καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν ἵνα τις γνοῖ:

And then coming out (of wherever it was that Jesus exorcised the mute spirit from the boy) they proceeded through Galilee, and they didn’t want anyone to know.

The first word, << Κἀκεῖθεν >>, is a compound of two words, <<καί>> (= ‘and’) and <<ἐκεῖθέν>> (= ‘then’). I point this out because this is the first use of this in the NT. Mark uses it twice; Luke, perhaps once, and then it’s used nine times in Acts. I only mention this because it’s a great example of how words come into fashion.

Jesus is trying to move about incognito. Why? Is not the mission to preach? Then why not announce oneself? Would he not reach more people by being open? Or are we to take this that he was coming under the tightening scrutiny of Herod? Some of the QHJ folks have taken this need for secrecy to mean just that.

30 Et inde profecti peragrabant Galilaeam; nec volebat quemquam scire.

31 ἐδίδασκεν γὰρ τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς ὅτι Ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου παραδίδοται εἰς χεῖρας ἀνθρώπων, καὶ ἀποκτενοῦσιν αὐτόν, καὶ ἀποκτανθεὶς μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἀναστήσεται.

For he taught his disciples and he said to them that “The son of man will be handed over into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and three days after having been killed he will rise.

Well, should have been more patient. This is why Jesus didn’t want anyone to know his whereabouts: he wished to teach the disciples in private. 

There are a few things we can take from this. First, that he’s teaching his disciples things that are not revealed to the rest of the world. This is exactly the definition of a ‘mystery’ religion, in which the initiate are made privy to a secret. In such a religious context, the Greek word << μυστηρίον >>, which transliterated is mysterion‘, may be better rendered as ‘secret’ than our word ‘mystery’, given that this latter now has connotations of detectives andAgatha Christie. So, technically, telling the disciples of his impending death and resurrection is, technically, a “mystery’.

Given that he’s imparting a secret that is not for the common mass to know, we can see how this would give impetus to the Gnostic tendencies that are latent in some of Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings. As we have discussed, ‘gnostic’, in its narrow meaning, can almost function as a synonym for ‘mystery’; however, ‘gnostic’ has a lot of other connotations.  But, we can see, perhaps, how some who followed Jesus in this direction ended up as Gnostics.

Finally, we have to understand that this was probably added to the underlying message after Jesus’ death. Those who had come to believe that Jesus was also divine–a process by no means complete in Mark’s gospel–felt the need to layer in these ex-post predictions. These lines may not even date to Mark “himself”, but may have been added in as the message of Jesus’ divinity took deeper hold. The idea of Jesus the Man also being Jesus Is God was simply not present in Paul, but had more or less become the prevailing belief by the time Matthew and Luke, and certainly by the time of John’s gospel.

31 Docebat enim discipulos suos et dicebat illis: “ Filius hominis traditur in manus hominum, et occident eum, et occisus post tres dies resurget ”.

32 οἱ δὲ ἠγνόουν τὸ ῥῆμα, καὶ ἐφοβοῦντο αὐτὸν ἐπερωτῆσαι.

But they did not know (understand) the thing having been said, and they were afraid to ask him.

Think about this. They were afraid to ask him. Why? Because they didn’t want to seem like dullards? Is this the fear of the ill-prepared schoolboy who doesn’t understand what the teacher just wrote on the board? Or the junior executive who didn’t follow the CEO’s line of reasoning at the big meeting? Where they both sit there, pretty sure that no one else understood, either, but damned if they’re going to be the one who actually asks.

That, IMO, seems like a fairly plausible explanation; however, I can’t but wonder if there isn’t something else to this.

32 At illi ignorabant verbum et timebant eum interrogare.

33 Καὶ ἦλθον εἰς Καφαρναούμ. καὶ ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ γενόμενος ἐπηρώτα αὐτούς, Τί ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ διελογίζεσθε;

And they came to Caphernaum, and they were in the house/in his house, and he asked them “What on the road were you debating?”

In the house. Whose house? The house. My sense is that the most natural way to read this is that they were in Jesus’ house. But for once, let’s defer till V-36.

33 Et venerunt Capharnaum. Qui cum domi esset, interrogabat eos: “ Quid in via tractabatis? ”.

34 οἱ δὲ ἐσιώπων, πρὸς ἀλλήλους γὰρ διελέχθησαν ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ τίς μείζων.

But they were silent, for amongst themselves they had been discussing on the road who was the greatest.

About the Greek: because there is no verb in the “who was the greatest” part (the last two words–who greatest), it is possible–indeed, it’s imperative–to supply the tense, voice, and mood of the verb: “who was” being pretty neutral and pretty idiomatic to American usage; but the KJV renders this as ‘who should be’, which is subjunctive, and takes us into a whole other realm of the unreal-but-possible.

Note how this comes out of nowhere. We went from being afraid to ask Jesus to them discussing who was, or should be, the greatest of them. One sense that I get is that the three verses at the beginning of this post, 30-32, feel very much like they’ve sort of been stuck in at a reasonably opportune moment, but perhaps not an ideal moment. We had the prediction about the son of man having to suffer in V-12, as they were coming down from the mountain; and then we get it again half-a-chapter later. Does it feel like someone is sort of making up for lost time? Cramming a bunch of these predictions in whenever it’s possible?

This is what I mean about Mark weaving things together. It’s almost like he had several different records, written documents, stories that he’d heard, and he was trying to make them all fit, whether they did or not. Verses 30-32 sure feel like a seam to me.

34 At illi tacebant. Siquidem inter se in via disputaverant, quis esset maior.

35 καὶ καθίσας ἐφώνησεν τοὺς δώδεκακαὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Εἴ τις θέλει πρῶτος εἶναι ἔσται πάντων ἔσχατος καὶ πάντων διάκονος.

And sitting, he called the Twelve, saying to them, “If someone wishes to be first, he must be last of all, and the minister to all.”

Before I get into what this all means, I’d like to make note of what we can call the stage directions for want of a better term. In V-31, he was talking to his disciples. Here, he is calling the Twelve. Are they the same group? It almost doesn’t feel that way. What I get out of this is that the narrative as Mark found it, and re-created it, was fairly short on detail. So Mark either had to work from a limited palette, or make stuff up to suit his needs. Some of the time, here perhaps, he wasn’t all that concerned with internal consistency. He said what needed to be said, without a lot of attention to how it all fit together. But again, this could be another seam. 

The word here that I’m translating as ‘minister’ is ‘diakonos’ (the final word of the sentence). If you say it aloud, you will recognize it as the root of our word ‘deacon’. For the most part, the ancients did not have ‘servants’; generally, they had slaves. We discussed this in Paul, who often talks about being a ‘servant’ of Christ; or, at least, that’s how it’s often now translated. The word used, however, is ‘slave’.

The root meaning of ‘diakonos’ is ‘messenger’. It’s secondary meaning, per Liddell & Scott, is the attendant, or official at a temple. The KJV, NASB, ESV, and NIV–my four ‘crib’ translations’–all translate this as ‘servant’.  Latin chooses ‘minister’, which has a lot of the same connotations: it’s someone who is responsible for taking care of–for ministering to–the needs of others, but it’s not a slave. I dislike the word ‘servant’  because it has too many anachronistic connotations. Generally, people did not work for wages in the sense that we think of it. Yes, there were wage-earners, but they were generally not household help, which is what ‘servant’ means in modern English.

So, the point is, the one who would be first, has to be the one looking after the others. This is certainly a revolutionary idea for the time. The ancient world was class-conscious to a degree that we can’t begin to imagine. Royalty was tended to like, well, royalty, and a social ‘better’ could literally have the power of life and death over all manner of commoners. So, for Jesus to suggest that the first should be last, was a very big deal, to a degree pretty much beyond the comprehension of most modern folk, and especially (I think) for Americans, given the whole mythos of our republican form of government.

What is interesting, is that this is the first bit of social engineering we’ve come across since back in Chapter 2, when Jesus was consorting with sinners and tax collectors. That is, IMO, an interesting observation. It’s also another bit of the behavior code that was expected of the followers of Jesus. This is another theme that has largely been left to languish for much of the gospel so far.

35 Et residens vocavit Duodecim et ait illis: “ Si quis vult primus esse, erit omnium novissimus et omnium minister ”.

36 καὶ λαβὼν παιδίον ἔστησεν αὐτὸ ἐν μέσῳ αὐτῶν καὶ ἐναγκαλισάμενος αὐτὸ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς,

And taking a child, he stood him in the midst of them, and embracing him he said to them,

A child? Where did the kid come from? This goes back to the question in V-33: whose house is this? My point there was that the most natural reading of this was that it was Jesus’ house. So whose kid is this? Is it Jesus’ kid? Wouldn’t that explain the gesture of love that follows? Now, I’ve never read the DaVinci code; did Dan Brown pick up on this?

The idea of Jesus having a house, and seemingly not having to work to support it is one thing. It means he was a man of some substance. But Jesus having a kid is entirely a different matter altogether. Did he move to Caphernaum after he got married? Where’s his wife? Not, it’s not Mary Magdelene. Jesus’ wife is like Peter’s: someone entirely behind the scenes.

36 Et accipiens puerum, statuit eum in medio eorum; quem ut complexus esset, ait illis:

37 Ὃς ἂν ἓν τῶν τοιούτων παιδίων δέξηται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου, ἐμὲ δέχεται: καὶ ὃς ἂν ἐμὲ δέχηται, οὐκ ἐμὲ δέχεται ἀλλὰ τὸν ἀποστείλαντά με.

“He who one of these sorts of children receives in my name, he receives me. And he who receives me, does not receive me, but the one who sent me.”

One almost gets the sense that this somehow got truncated. The message is good, but it seems to be too short, needing some follow-up, or a lesson of some kind at the end of this. 

Now, what does it mean to be ‘received’? As much as I want to read into this, I don’t think it’s necessary. I think this can be taken on a purely worldly level. Remember back in Chapter 2, when Jesus and the crew were eating with taxpayers and sinners? There was nothing beyond that. And remember when Jesus sent out the Twelve back in Chapter 6? The idea of being received by someone in the community played a significant role, and that was purely a here-and-n0w thing.

I mention all of this because we have not yet had a discussion on the idea of the Kingdom. We were told back in Chapter 1 that ‘the kingdom of God’ was at hand, but we haven’t had a lot of follow-up, or explanation of this concept. What, exactly, did Jesus mean by this? Here’s my thought: Consorting with sinners, being welcomed into a new town, receiving a child, these are acts that could be seen as sort of the fellowship of humanity. And there was Chapter 3, when Jesus says that whoever does the will of God, those are his siblings and his mother. This will require a further stand-alone post, probably when I finish Mark, but here’s my thought.

The QHJ people have spent a lot of time in the past few decades explaining how Jesus fit very well into the milieu and attitudes of a Jew of the First Century. This has corrected the previous century of thought that did everything possible to distinguish Jesus from the Jewish world-view. Jesus was a Jew; but, he also stood apart from the Jewish community. That is why we are Christians and not Baptists. John was wholly Jewish, and most likely so were the Essenes. Jesus shared common beliefs with both these groups, but he had something else that set him apart. It was something that, ultimately, won over the pagan community. The pagans were the future of Christianity.

What was this? My thought is that what Jesus included that his more completely Jewish contemporaries lacked was the idea of a Universal Brotherhood (Siblinghood?) of the human race. Remember, being Jewish was to be part of a corporate idea, a chosen People. And Greeks, to some lesser extent, separated themselves from those wretches who babbled because they did not speak Greek, calling them “barbarians”. But the expansion of Greek thought and culture into the wider world had led Hellenistic philosophers to a more universal sense of the human condition. The mystery religions admitted anyone (mostly), which was part of their popularity. And so I think that, perhaps, this is an attitude that Jesus inculcated and shared, one that became a greater part of the message as time went on.

This idea of a Universal Siblinghood was also a leading tenet of the Stoics, especially as exemplified by Marcus Aurelius in his masterpiece of reflection, “The Meditations”. But Marcus wrote 150 years after Jesus’ death; I don’t know this for certain, but my sense is that the idea of a Universal Siblinghood was really just starting to take hold at the time of Jesus, and that it didn’t flourish for another century. Jesus, I think, tapped into this concept as it was born.

37 “Quisquis unum ex huiusmodi pueris receperit in nomine meo, me recipit; et, quicumque me susceperit, non me suscipit, sed eum qui me misit”.

38  Ἔφη αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰωάννης, Διδάσκαλε, εἴδομέν τινα ἐν τῷ  ὀνόματί σου ἐκβάλλοντα δαιμόνια, καὶ ἐκωλύομεν αὐτόν, ὅτι οὐκ ἠκολούθει ἡμῖν.

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone in your name casting out demons, and we stopped him, since he does not follow us.”

This is a complete change of course from the bit about the child. Or is it?

And the other thing, someone is able to cast out demons in Jesus’ name. One suspects that he was able to do this by virtue of his very strong faith.

38 Dixit illi Ioannes: “Magister, vidimus quendam in nomine tuo eicientem daemonia, et prohibebamus eum, quia non sequebatur nos”.

39 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν, Μὴ κωλύετε αὐτόν, οὐδεὶς γάρ ἐστιν ὃς ποιήσει δύναμιν ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου καὶ δυνήσεται ταχὺ κακολογῆσαί με:

But Jesus said, “Do not stop him. For there is no one who does these miracles in my name is then able to speak badly of me.”

Overall, the part after ‘do not stop him’ is impossible to render into English in any way that even vaguely resembles the grammar of the Greek. Well, impossible for me, anyway.

If I’ve mentioned this before, it’s worth reminding: the word that gets translated as ‘miracle’ literally means ‘power’. And in Latin, it’s ‘virtus’, the root of ‘virtue’. So, ‘by virtue of conquest’ = ‘by power of conquest’.

39 Iesus autem ait: “ Nolite prohibere eum. Nemo est enim, qui faciat virtutem in nomine meo et possit cito male loqui de me;

40 ὃς γὰρ οὐκ ἔστινκαθ’ ἡμῶν, ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐστιν.

“For he who is not against us, is for us.”

To be honest, I find this a bit problematic, simple as it seems to be. The problem is the preposition, << ὑπὲρ >>. The basic meaning of this is ‘above’, and it is the same word as the Latin ‘super’. But the Latin reads “pro“, which is ‘for’. Really, though, prepositions are enormously elastic, and Greek as a language is also very elastic. It’s a language of metaphor, not of science and precision. One function that << ὑπὲρ >> frequently fills is the idea of “among”. Literally, it means ‘over/above’; transliterated, it’s ‘hyper’, as in ‘hyperactive’. So here, someone not against us is ‘over’ us, which stretches to include is ‘among’ us, which gets pinned down in Latin to mean ‘for’ us.

40 qui enim non est adversum nos, pro nobis est.

Let that last bit sink in: If you’r not against him, you’re for him. Doesn’t this sound like Universal Siblinghood? Notice how Mark did that? He made the (seemingly) abrupt transition from accepting a child, to someone driving out demons in Jesus name, which led Jesus to make this proclamation: he who is not against us, is with/for us.

Or, to paraphrase, we’re all in this together. This is very, very good writing. Subtle, but it sure gets the point across; but only if you have ears and use them.

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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 May 6, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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