Mark Chapter 9:41-50

Chapter 9 concludes. This probably could have been squeezed into the last post, but better too short than too long. Or maybe not. (Update:  on second thought, this could not have been squeezed into the previous post! Much longer than I’d anticipated.)

41 Ὃς γὰρ ἂν ποτίσῃ ὑμᾶς ποτήριον ὕδατος ἐν ὀνόματι ὅτι Χριστοῦ ἐστε, ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐ μὴ ἀπολέσῃ τὸν μισθὸν αὐτοῦ.

For who (gives) you a drinking-measure of water to drink in the name that is the Christ,  amen I say to you that you will not destroy your recompense (often translated as ‘reward’, which is a legitimate, if secondary, meaning.)

This really should have been included with the previous verse, the one about “who is not against us is with us”. The idea here concludes the notion of being united in the Christ. Now, there’s the old joke about the kid skipping school who calls up to say he won’t be there. He tries to deepen his voice to sound like a man. But then the school asks who’s calling, and the kid says, “this is my father” and gives the game away. 

Here, Jesus says ‘he who does this in the name of the Christ’. This is definitely  a third-person construction. Why does he not say ‘in my name’? What this suggests is one of two things: this is a corruption; that a copyist, accustomed to thinking about “the Christ”, wrote “the name of the Christ.” Or, that this was added to the record between the time of Jesus and Mark, and Mark made much the same initial error as the copyist. Hard to say, and doesn’t really matter, but it’s the sort of thing that should give one at least a moment’s pause.

“Destroy your recompense” is stilted, but that’s what the Greek says. The question is, what does it mean? For us–or for me, anyway–it’s impossible to read this and not think ‘eternal reward in heaven’. The problem is, we have seen nothing in Mark to make us think that we are getting any reward in heaven, or anywhere else. We are told to believe, and on occasion to behave in a certain way (sort of), but we are not told what this will get us. We were told that we would save our lives back at the end of Chapter 8, but that doesn’t seem at all like the same thing. Or, perhaps it doesn’t feel like the same thing, to me, anyway.

The word translated as ‘reward’ is << μισθὸν >>. This is the only time the word is used in Mark; it is, however, used several times, and specifically as ‘reward in heaven’ in Matthew. This story is also repeated, more or less verbatim, in Matthew. And while Paul does use it a couple of times in 1 Corinthians, it’s more like the base meaning of ‘recompense’, as in ‘wages’.

So my conclusion is that this passage, or some portion of it, was inserted into Mark at a later time. Now, I am probably making a fool of myself with this sort of speculation; I have not really seen it suggested that Mark continued to evolve after it was first written, but I find it impossible to believe it did not evolve. There was no central printing press where the words were set in type and then copies were mass-produced. Each copy was copied by hand, and it seems highly unlikely that there wasn’t some effort, even if unconsciously, to make the different gospels merge together as time went on. I realize there have been a hundred years (or more) of form and/or literary criticism of the NT, but I really and truly get the impression there has been way too little historical analysis.

41 Quisquis enim potum dederit vobis calicem aquae in nomine, quia Christi estis, amen dico vobis: Non perdet mercedem suam.

42 Καὶ ὃς ἂν σκανδαλίσῃ ἕνα τῶν μικρῶν τούτων τῶν πιστευόντων [εἰς ἐμέ], καλόν ἐστιν αὐτῷ μᾶλλον εἰ περίκειται μύλος ὀνικὸς περὶ τὸν τράχηλον αὐτοῦ καὶ βέβληται εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν.

And he who may offend one of the least of these believers [in me], better it is for him if  a mill stone lies in a circle around his throat and he be thrown into the sea.

This is interesting. The verb << σκανδαλίσῃ >> is a creation of the NT. It does not really exist in Classical authors. As such, it’s really difficult to know exactly what to do with this. And the Latin is no help, since it’s basically a transliteration from the Greek. And this is a popular word in the NT; at least, it is in Matthew. This is the second usage in Mark; the first was back in 6:3, when the residents of Jesus’ home town were offended by Jesus’ presumption to teach with such authority. It’s interesting that I didn’t give the word much thought; it appears I became desensitized to the word after translating Matthew.

The root of the word is “skandalon”, which is a snare, or a trap such as one would use militarily. So we can see where it evolved to be used as ‘stumbling block’ in the NT.

42 Et quisquis scandalizaverit unum ex his pusillis credentibus in me, bonum est ei magis, ut circumdetur mola asinaria collo eius, et in mare mittatur.

43 Καὶ ἐὰν σκανδαλίζῃ σε ἡ χείρ σου, ἀπόκοψον αὐτήν: καλόν ἐστίν σεκυλλὸν εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν ζωὴν ἢ τὰς δύο χεῖρας ἔχοντα ἀπελθεῖν εἰς τὴν γέενναν, εἰς τὸ πῦρ τὸ ἄσβεστον.

And if your hand offends you, cut it off. It is better to enter the life debilitated than having two hands to go down to gehenna, to the fire that never burns out (lit = the asbestos fire).

The life. What life? Where did this come from? How is it that we are introduced to the idea of “the life” without any sort of prelude, or warm-up, or hints? It’s just dropped on us.  And, this is the first time this word is used in Mark.  It will be used twice more. OTOH, it crops up in Matthew 7:14, and again six more times after that.

My first impulse is to speculate that this is another case of ‘reverse chronology’, where later editors sought to bring  Mark more into line with Matthew and Luke. To reiterate: this view that I am putting out is wholly my own (as far as I know). As such, to the best of my knowledge, it has no support from any reputable scholars anywhere. That being the case, I could be flat, dead wrong on this. I put this forward as a possibility based on what I think is likely to have happened. The earliest manuscript of Mark that we have dates to 250 CE, but this is only a substantial fragment. As such, we have no way of knowing how many revisions the ‘original’ text underwent between the first writing and the mss that we have.

Now, we know that there were a multitude of different gospels written. Given that, why do we think that there weren’t multiple versions of Mark floating around?  IMO, to think that Mark was transmitted without revision for 250 (at bare minimum) years without undergoing ‘corrections’ is to ignore completely human nature. The final canon of the NT was not set until the Fourth Century CE. Until that point, different church traditions accepted different books as canonical; the “Shepherd of Hermes” was considered canonical by some traditions. Given that there was no agreement on which books to include, why do we assume there weren’t different versions of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John passed down in different traditions?

The temptation to smooth out differences between Mark, Matthew, and Luke must have been enormous. And remember, the person making such corrections would have seen himself as divinely inspired, carrying out the will of God to spread the Good News. Our notion of ‘forgery’ would have been incomprehensible to such a man. He would not see himself as trying to deceive, but as trying to illuminate.

For the life of me I can’t find the reference, but there was a piece of Isaiah that contained a few extra sentences in all the MS traditions. But the Dead Sea Scrolls contained a version of Isaiah that was a thousand years older than any other MS, and this older version was missing these sentences, which, apparently, had started as a gloss that was eventually incorporated into the text of the prophet. Unless and until an earlier version of Mark is found that is absent these verses, my theory will remain a crackpot idea. But it is an idea that is based, IMO, on likely–very likely–probabilities, even if the probabilities are based on analogy.

The alternative explanation is that Matthew found the more minimal ideas in Mark, and then Matthew elaborated the ideas, fleshing them out with more detail, and more uses of some of these key words. This is what most people will tell you happened.

Next we have gehenna. I’m not even going to try to explain this; I’m by no means clear on it. Suffice it to say that it demonstrates a significant step in the development of what JB Russell would call the concept (as separate from the doctrine) of Hell. This is the first inkling we have of eternal punishment for sins. There is nothing about this in Paul. It shows up, again, more frequently in Matthew than in Mark. Luke uses the word once, and in a sense that shows even further development of the concept. 

IMO, this supports my idea that this was back-filled into Mark. The idea of Hell was slow to come about. In actuality, Gehenna started as a physical place outside of Jerusalem. The transition to a place of damnation took time, perhaps longer than the amount of time between Jesus and Mark.

But the other thing to note is that Gehenna is below us, just as Hell was later seen to be. Indeed, the Greek underworld was, well, under the world. So we’re seeing, IMO, a bit of syncretism, as Greek ideas percolate into Jewish thought. More generally in the First Century, demons were often believed to inhabit the air rather than the underworld, and I believe we will see a few inklings of this belief in Matthew, and maybe moreso in Luke.

But the big step is the idea of the unquenched, or unquenchable fire. Burning was part of the idea of Gehenna, so it is once again a logical connection to make, but it’s still significant. Someday I will make a more thorough examination of the Jewish ideas about the afterlife.

43 Et si scandalizaverit te manus tua, abscide illam: bonum est tibi debilem introire in vitam, quam duas manus habentem ire in gehennam, in ignem inexstinguibilem.

44 καὶ 45 ἐὰν ὁ πούς σου σκανδαλίζῃ σε, ἀπόκοψον αὐτόν: καλόν ἐστίν σε εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν ζωὴν χωλὸν ἢ τοὺς δύο πόδας ἔχοντα βληθῆναι εἰς τὴν γέενναν.

And if your foot offends you, cut it off; it is better for you to go into the life lame than having two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.

First, there are some mss differences, which is why we have 44/45 and 46/47 compressed together. Second, this verse and the next (or next two) are rhetorical reiterations of the sentiment expressed in V-42.

I really do need to take another, deeper look at <<  σκανδαλίζῃ >> “skandalize”; “offend” really isn’t the best. I’ve seen this as ’causes you to offend’ or even ’causes you to sin’. The idea is that it leads you to do things you shouldn’t. “To become a scandal” might be better. But I don’t want to belabor it here; the comment is already very long for the section.

(44) 45 Et si pes tuus te scandalizat, amputa illum: bonum est tibi claudum introire in vitam, quam duos pedes habentem mitti in gehennam.

46 καὶ 47 ἐὰν ὁ ὀφθαλμός σουσκανδαλίζῃ σε, ἔκβαλε αὐτόν: καλόν σέ ἐστιν μονόφθαλμον εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ ἢ δύοὀφθαλμοὺς ἔχοντα βληθῆναι εἰς τὴν γέενναν,

And if your eye offends you, cast it from you; it if better being one-eyed to go into the kingdom of God than having two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,

(46) 47 Et si oculus tuus scandalizat te, eice eum: bonum est tibi luscum introire in regnum Dei, quam duos oculos habentem mitti in gehennam,

48 ὅπου ὁ σκώληξ αὐτῶν οὐ τελευτᾷ καὶ τὸ πῦρ οὐσβέννυται:

where the worm of them does not end and the fire is not extinguished.

In this case, I think that the NIV’s more loose translation actually gets the point across better: what I render as “their worm” comes out in the NIV as “where the worms that eat them do not die”. That, I think, is the sense in which to take this. I was otherwise a bit perplexed by the idea of them having a worm. This is exactly the sort of imagery that the late Middle Ages was very fond of: corpses being eaten by worms and such.  “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi”.  (Thus passes the glory of (this) world).

48 ubi vermis eorum non moritur, et ignis non exstinguitur;

49 πᾶς γὰρ πυρὶ ἁλισθήσεται.

for all will be salted with fire.

Now, why ‘all’? All who go to Gehenna? Or all of us? It is one-off passages like this that led the Roman Rite to infer the idea of Purgatory. If we’re all to be salted (as in, cured–but in the sense of ‘cured’ meat), then would this not imply that we all have to pass through some sort of transition before entering Paradise?

49 omnis enim igne salietur.

50 Καλὸν τὸ ἅλας: ἐὰν δὲ τὸ ἅλας ἄναλον γένηται, ἐν τίνι αὐτὸ ἀρτύσετε; ἔχετε ἐν ἑαυτοῖς ἅλα, καὶ εἰρηνεύετε ἐν ἀλλήλοις.

Salt is good: but if the salt becomes unsalty, how will you season it? Have salt within yourselves, and be at peace within yourselves.

First, I took the ‘en’ in the << ἐν ἑαυτοῖς…ἐν ἀλλήλοις >> to be a dative of condition, especially interior state, as of feeling(s). The second part makes sense enough, ‘be at peace with yourself’, but, ‘be salty within yourself’?

I guess the thing to realize here is that salt was a valuable commodity; the Latin for for ‘salt’, << sal >> is the root of our English word ‘salary’, as in wages. Roman soldiers were often paid in salt. So it’s essentially telling them to feel valued within themselves, sort of like the self-esteem mantras that have become cliché in 21st Century America.

But that’s not the real point. Is it me, or does this last line not really go with the rest of it? We jump from Gehenna to an aphorism about salt. In Matthew and Luke, this passage is set in much better context. It is likely that this (or something similar) may have been one of the things Jesus supposedly said. In order to fit it in, Mark saw the ‘salted with fire’ as a segue, however awkward. Or, a later editor saw the opportunity to back fill some of the Q stuff in Matthew and Luke here in Mark. In fact, it’s entirely possible, from a textual perspective, that the passage about the worm and the fire were also added.  It is unique to Mark; Matthew and Luke do not repeat it. The passage seems a bit clumsy, not so much in the grammar, but in the way the thought is constructed. It seems belabored, as if someone had to work in a way to make this all fit, and wasn’t able to do a good job. In short, it’s one of the seams between the disparate narratives that I’ve been discussing. Except, IMO, this seam is so rough, that I’m not sure that Mark should take the blame for it. He’s usually better than this.

50 Bonum est sal; quod si sal insulsum fuerit, in quo illud condietis? Habete in vobis sal et pacem habete inter vos ”.

Advertisements

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 14, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. “Gehenna” is literally the Valley of Hinnom on the south of Jerusalem, where the Phoenician temples were located, including the “tophet” (sacrificial cemetery). Over time, the Phoenician religion was considered wicked and this became a “valley of wickedness”, and finally a “place where the wicked go after death”. I don’t know when references to “fire” came about, but possibly the fires in the temples were “wicked fires” from the beginning.

  2. Yes, thanks. I’m currently working on Matthew 5:21-30 and came across another reference to Gehenna. This time I actually used Google and did a bi of research. What you say is correct. The fire part is that this is where worshippers of Baal and Moloch sacrificed their children to these gods by burning them on an altar. So this is why Gehenna became associated with fire. The other interesting thing is that in the NT fire can be an instrument of purification (Paul), or punishment (as here).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: