Mark Chapter 10:17-31

There is no logical break, so I left this as one longish piece. I don’t think this will require a lot of comment, at least in the sense that it’s all rather a single block, so the comment will likely come in large chunks.

17 Καὶ ἐκπορευομένου αὐτοῦ εἰς ὁδὸν προσδραμὼν εἷς καὶ γονυπετήσαςαὐτὸν ἐπηρώτα αὐτόν, Διδάσκαλε ἀγαθέ, τί ποιήσω ἵνα ζωὴν αἰώνιον κληρονομήσω;

And having gone out onto the road, (a man) ran to (him = Jesus), and genuflecting he (the man) asked him (Jesus), “Good teacher, what shall I do in order that I will inherit eternal life?”

First and quickly, this time the supplicant genuflects (lit= bends the knee; perhaps kneels); prior supplicants have fallen, presumably prostrate, at his feet. This is, as we find out, an man of some social status, so perhaps he doesn’t feel compelled to grovel as the others have. Although checking back to 5:22, even Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, feel at Jesus’ feet. Apparently, this man’s wealth carried more status than being a leader of the synagogue? Because this is very much a status issue. The giver has status; the recipient is dependent. The degree of dependence would dictate the degree of supplication. Or–this just occurred to me–perhaps Mark is signalling to us that this guy is not entirely serious; even Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet, but this guy only kneels. It’s possible, I suppose.

But the real issue here is ‘eternal life’. We saw this phrase in Gal 6:8, and Paul uses it three times in Romans. Thus we know that Paul was talking about eternal life some twenty years before Mark was written. But this is the first use of the term in Mark. Back at the end of Chapter 9, we were told about entering life/the life lame or one-eyed, but it was not eternal life. So why hasn’t this been part of the story so far? To me, that is the real question of the passage, or of the whole gospel so far.

Really, the concept salvation leading to eternal life is arguably the central tenet of Christianity. That’s kind of the whole point. For a lot of Christians, for Paul, for Martin Luther, being saved was it; good works, leading the Christian life were important, but it was justification, which led to salvation, based on faith that was the real issue. So where has this been? Or even, why didn’t Paul stress this more? The idea comes up only in two of his authentic–which means early–epistles. Where this idea really comes into its own is in John; Matthew and Luke sort of echo Mark without adding anything; it’s John that develops the idea and gives it the central role that the concept has had ever since.

And this is what I mean about the development of ideas. One would think that this would be the Grand Prize right from the start. Or, rather, that if this was what Paul was preaching,  then why wasn’t it the main idea of Mark and the rest? Why did Mark wait until Chapter 10–two-thirds of the way through–to bring it up? I suppose this discussion should be saved for Romans, but Romans sort of represents the apex and culmination of Paul’s work and thought. So, even for Paul, this idea only came, seemingly, late to the party. I find this odd, because who doesn’t want to live forever? This is a powerful idea, and a very desirable one. Why not put it front-and-center right from the start?

And this is also, IMO, further indication of how fragmented Jesus’ message had become. I am of the opinion that Mark was probably aware of Paul’s thought, even if it was by way of oral summary. If eternal life was the centerpiece, or even a significant part of Jesus’ teaching, then why do we not hear about it until Chapter 10? Why does Paul wait until Romans to talk about the idea, aside from the one-off in Gal 6:8? IMO, this all means it probably wasn’t all that central to Jesus’ teaching. Rather, this was something that was worked out over time, so that it did not take pride of place until sixty or seventy years later, when John wrote. Every0ne was aware of it, but it was sort of a second-tier idea until the turn of the Second Century CE.

Trust, me, reading The Christian Tradition: A History Of The Development of Doctrine, Vol 1 by Jaroslav Pelikan, will give you tremendous insight into how a lot of the ideas of the Nicene Creed did not exist until 200 or 300 years after Jesus’ death. 

My thoughts here do not feel quite complete. There is more to be said about this. It’s like taking your main thesis and putting in a footnote a hundred pages into the book.

17 Et cum egrederetur in viam, accurrens quidam et, genu flexo ante eum, rogabat eum: “ Magister bone, quid faciam ut vitam aeternam percipiam? ”.

18 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Τί με λέγεις ἀγαθόν; οὐδεὶς ἀγαθὸς εἰ μὴεἷς ὁ θεός.

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God.”

Sorry, this is borderline bizarre. Which, by the rules of the QSJ folk, means it’s probably authentic Jesus. I mean, this is a snarky answer. It’s the sort of smart-ass comment that I would reprimand my kids for making. Yes, it’s true, but it’s really kind of beside the point, isn’t it? I mean, we can understand Jesus saying this. And maybe if he was the Cynic Sage that Burton Mack (The Gospel of Q) suggests, this may give us some idea of how Jesus actually spoke. Diogenes the Cynic, the founder of the Cynic movement, is famous for his reply to no less than Alexander the Great: when Alexander asked what he could do for Diogenes, the latter’s response was “stand out of my light” because Diogenes was in the bath, and Alexander was blocking the sun. 

18 Iesus autem dixit ei: “ Quid me dicis bonum? Nemo bonus, nisi unus Deus.

19 τὰς ἐντολὰς οἶδας: Μὴ φονεύσῃς, Μὴ μοιχεύσῃς, Μὴ κλέψῃς, Μὴ ψευδομαρτυρήσῃς, Μὴ ἀποστερήσῃς, Τίμα τὸν πατέρα σου καὶ τὴν μητέρα.

“The commandments you know: do not kill, do not adulterize, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not defraud, honour your father and mother.”

About half of the Decalogue.

19 Praecepta nosti: ne occidas, ne adulteres, ne fureris, ne falsum testimonium dixeris, ne fraudem feceris, honora patrem tuum et matrem ”.

20 ὁ δὲ ἔφη αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε, ταῦτα πάντα ἐφυλαξάμην ἐκ νεότητός μου.

He (the man) said to him (Jesus), “Teacher, I have guarded/conserved all of these from my youth.”

Note he doesn’t have to be told twice. This time it’s just ‘Teacher’.

20 Ille autem dixit ei: “ Magister, haec omnia conservavi a iuventute mea ”.

21 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἐμβλέψας αὐτῷ ἠγάπησεν αὐτὸν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Εν σε ὑστερεῖ: ὕπαγε ὅσα ἔχεις πώλησον καὶ δὸς [τοῖς] πτωχοῖς, καὶ ἕξεις θησαυρὸν ἐν οὐρανῷ, καὶ δεῦρο ἀκολούθει μοι.

And Jesus looking upon him loved him and said to him, “There is a final (one/thing): take up whatever you have, sell it, and give (it) to the poor, and you will have your treasure in the sky, and follow after me.”

The “Jesus loved him” is interesting. This, I think, is meant as a second clue that the guy just isn’t going to cut it. The fault isn’t on Jesus’ side, for he loved the man, but the man is not quite up to it.

Now, ‘treasure in the sky’. We’ve discussed this before. That is what <<ἐν οὐρανῷ >> truly means. And the Latin is the same: << caelo  >> “Our Father who art in heaven” could properly be translated as “who art in the sky”. In English, we use ‘the heavens’ as a synonym for ‘the sky’. The English ‘heaven’ is a Germanic root, from a word that originally meant ‘sky’. So when did it become ‘heaven’ as in pearly gates and harps? For the most part, a glance through the places and ways this is used, ‘the sky’ would almost always be an appropriate translation. This is one of the few places where it doesn’t quite work. Why would you have treasure in the sky?

In fact, this equation of sky = heaven (as in, where God–or the gods–live) was probably taking place in pretty much all of the Mediterranean world at the time Mark wrote. So the mystery of when/why the evolution of meaning took place is not, or should not be, isolated solely to Christian usage.

Note: I was looking for some other reference, when I happened to notice that Matthew seems to prefer “Kingdom of Heaven” to the phrase “Kingdom of God” as Mark uses. This may help answer the question posed about when “sky” became “heaven”, because “kingdom of the sky” really doesn’t make a lot of sense. That is just not a usage one finds. In fact, Liddell and Scott show the word as meaning of “home of the gods” as far back as the Odyssey. So my questioning of the usage is not exactly proper. This is one of those situations where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. My bad! And my apologies. But this is a voyage of discovery.

21 Iesus autem intuitus eum dilexit eum et dixit illi: “ Unum tibi deest: vade, quaecumque habes, vende et da pauperibus et habebis thesaurum in caelo; et veni, sequere me ”.

22 ὁ δὲστυγνάσας ἐπὶ τῷ λόγῳ ἀπῆλθεν λυπούμενος, ἦν γὰρ ἔχων κτήματα πολλά.

He having saddened at this speech went away sorrowing, for he was having many possessions.

This is very significant, too. This is the first time we are told that being wealthy is an impediment to salvation. And, interestingly, this sentiment does not seem to be present in Paul. Why would that be? Because Paul wasn’t as fixated on a code of behaviour? But we saw that Paul seemed to have sexual promiscuity as an issue; he seemed to go out of his way to enjoin against it. But sexual misbehaviour is very different from the sins of greed that the wealthy would be most prone to committing.

It is very tempting to see this injunction against wealth as something that was more of a issue for the living Jesus. It would be something that a Cynic Sage would complain about. We have noted that Paul was not overly concerned with Jesus before the Resurrection; as such, the message about ‘poor in spirit’ would not have been something that  he would have necessarily given much heed. The whole message of the Beatitudes, and the Sermon on the Mount in general are thought to have been preserved in Q, which the QHJ folks believe are mostly traceable to the living Jesus.

Which leads us once again to the question, why do we not get to this theme until Chapter 10?

22 Qui contristatus in hoc verbo, abiit maerens: erat enim habens possessiones multas.

23 Καὶ περιβλεψάμενος ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγει τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, Πῶς δυσκόλως οἱ τὰ χρήματα ἔχοντες εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελεύσονται.

And looking around, Jesus said to his disciples, “How difficultly those having money will enter into the kingdom of  God.”

Jesus leaves us no doubt here. 

Had to twist a bit to get the English to give a sense of the Greek. The word for “difficult” is an adverb in Greek.
 
23 Et circumspiciens Iesus ait discipulis suis: “ Quam difficile, qui pecunias habent, in regnum Dei introibunt”.

24 οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἐθαμβοῦντο ἐπὶ τοῖς λόγοις αὐτοῦ. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς πάλιν ἀποκριθεὶς λέγει αὐτοῖς, Τέκνα, πῶς δύσκολόν ἐστιν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν:

The disciples marveled at his words. But Jesus again answering said to them, “Children, how difficult it is to get into the kingdom of heaven.”

First of all, addressing them as ‘children’ is unique. He doesn’t do this again. Second, he’s changed up the syntax here, so ‘difficult’ is an adjective.

Third and most importantly, he does not qualify the difficulty. It’s simply ‘difficult’, for everyone (understood). Again, this seems or feels rather different from ‘the kingdom of God is at hand’ from Chapter 1. You may not agree with that assessment of mine, but it feels very different.

24 Discipuli autem obstupescebant in verbis eius. At Iesus rursus respondens ait illis: “ Filii, quam diffficile est in regnum Dei introire.

25 εὐκοπώτερόν ἐστιν κάμηλονδιὰ [τῆς] τρυμαλιᾶς [τῆς] ῥαφίδος διελθεῖν ἢ πλούσιον εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰσελθεῖν.

“It is easier for the the camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter into the kingdom of God.

25 Facilius est camelum per foramen acus transire quam divitem intrare in regnum Dei ”.

26 οἱ δὲπερισσῶς ἐξεπλήσσοντο λέγοντες πρὸς ἑαυτούς, Καὶ τίς δύναται σωθῆναι;

They were even more amazed, saying to each other, “But who can be saved?”

Taking verses 25 & 26 together: in 25, Jesus once again stresses that it’s difficult specifically for the rich. More interesting, though, is the disciples’ reaction. For, couched in their amazement is the assumption that it should be easier for the wealthy. Throughout pretty much all of the ancient world, the equation of wealth = moral stature was an underlying assumption. The Romans were, perhaps, the most explicit about this. There, the Senatorial class was the wealthiest class of citizens. They came to be called “Optimates”, which should be recognizable as the root of “optimum”, or simply, “the best”. But this is the assumption that underlies the story of Job: his wealth was a mark of God’s favour. He was assumed to be an upright man because he was so wealthy. That’s why his adherence to YHWH was so striking; the outward favour had fallen away, but he remained steadfast. 

This underlying assumption was brought to the New World in particular by the Puritans. Sober living and hard work were seen as the means to a good life, the outward mark of which was material wealth. Not only that, but the Puritans were Calvinists, believers in double predestination. People were either saved or damned, and there was nothing one could do to change one’s destiny. However, it was assumed that material wealth was an indication that the holder of the wealth was in God’s favour. IOW, the wealthy were saved, and the poor were reprobate, and were damned. Unfortunately, this idea has run like a scarlet thread throughout the history of the US; the Robber Barons of the late 1900s were taken to be men of high moral value because they were men of high material wealth. And this attitude still pervades a lot of the attitudes in the US, which is why the whole argument over the social safety net is so bitterly contested.

So the disciples reflect this attitude.

26 Qui magis admirabantur dicentes ad semetipsos: “ Et quis potest salvus fieri?”.

27 ἐμβλέψας αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγει, Παρὰ ἀνθρώποις ἀδύνατον ἀλλ’ οὐ παρὰ θεῷ, πάντα γὰρ δυνατὰ παρὰ τῷ θεῷ.

Looking at them Jesus said, “For humans, they cannot, but not for God. All things are possible for God.”

This sentence has gotten a lot of play as a statement of God’s omnipotence. That is the apparent implication. But there’s a bit more than that as well, and it’s gotten attention for other reasons. In time, the discussions about salvation, who would and/or should be saved came back to this statement. At its narrowest, it is probably to be taken as ‘God will save whom he pleases”. That may sound arbitrary, but for folks like Augustine, God was arbitrary because humans are so vile and depraved we all deserve damnation.

27 Intuens illos Iesus ait: “ Apud homines impossibile est sed non apud Deum: omnia enim possibilia sunt apud Deum ”.

28 Ἤρξατο λέγειν ὁ Πέτρος αὐτῷ, Ἰδοὺ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν πάντα καὶ ἠκολουθήκαμέν σοι.

Peter began to speak to him, “Look, we have given up everything and followed you.”

This is a really human reaction. It captures exactly the sort of feeling someone like Peter would have experienced, but it also reinforces the whole wealth = moral value. Because as Peter sees it, if the rich can’t be saved, how can someone who has nothing be saved?

28 Coepit Petrus ei dicere: “ Ecce nos dimisimus omnia et secuti sumus te”.

29 ἔφη ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, οὐδείς ἐστιν ὃς ἀφῆκεν οἰκίαν ἢ ἀδελφοὺς ἢ ἀδελφὰς ἢ μητέρα ἢ πατέρα ἢ τέκνα ἢ ἀγροὺς ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦκαὶ ἕνεκεν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου,

But Jesus said to him, “Amen I say to you, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields on account of me and because of the good news, 

29 Ait Iesus: “ Amen dico vobis: Nemo est, qui reliquerit domum aut fratres aut sorores aut matrem aut patrem aut filios aut agros propter me et propter evangelium,

30 ἐὰν μὴ λάβῃ ἑκατονταπλασίονα νῦν ἐν τῷ καιρῷ τούτῳ οἰκίας καὶ ἀδελφοὺς καὶ ἀδελφὰς καὶ μητέρας καὶ τέκνα καὶ ἀγροὺς μετὰ διωγμῶν, καὶ ἐν τῷ αἰῶνι τῷ ἐρχομένῳ ζωὴν αἰώνιον.

“unless you receive a hundredfold in this season, and brothers and sisters and mother and children and fields with persecutions, and in the age to come life everlasting.”

OK, this is a bit confusing. The natural reading is ‘fields with persecutions’, but that’s over-literalising, I believe. But the points to be gotten is that Jesus seems to be promising that, in this season–as in, ‘in this life’–his followers will receive tangible rewards; that is, the hundred times return. I am not sure how that is supposed to work. Now, the return of mothers and brothers (but not fathers) is easy to explain, in the sense of the new community of believers that would come into being. But he’s promising a hundredfold and all this with persecution. Now it’s possible that this all means that you’ll get the hundredfold return in being persecuted, but this is all rather awkward Greek. But, awkward or not, it seems to be the most likely way to take this? Jesus is being somewhat ironic, promising that, if you give up everything, you get a whole heap of trouble in return.

Then, though, Jesus picks up on the eternal life theme brought up by the young man. So, maybe the ironic reading is correct? In this world, you get trouble; in the next, eternal life. Maybe not such a bad deal after all?

Please realize that I’m making this up as I go along. My intent is to look at this and see what it says, and what that reading could imply. As such, I’m necessarily pushing the envelope; as a result, I’m bound to go off the rails from time to time. And forgive the mixed metaphor!

30 qui non accipiat centies tantum nunc in tempore hoc, domos et fratres et sorores et matres et filios et agros cum persecutionibus, et in saeculo futuro vitam aeternam.

31 πολλοὶ δὲ ἔσονται πρῶτοι ἔσχατοι καὶ [οἱ] ἔσχατοι πρῶτοι.

“For many (who are) first will be last, and those last (will be) first.

 31 Multi autem erunt primi novissimi, et novissimi primi”.

Good epigrammatic Greek. Just get the essentials in. Much is made of how crude the grammar is; perhaps, but Mark can pull off the occasional mot, as it were.

Aside from that, we get the linking of the last in this life, being first in the eternal life. That is a new piece of information, or a new concept. We got the last/first paradox a while ago, but we didn’t get the explicit connection with the eternal life. Thinking about it now, we can fill in the part about eternal life after the fact. It seems like that implication is there when we read back into it. But that’s exactly the problem with too much biblical analysis: it assumes that what came later was there explicitly from the start.

Is this getting confusing? From where I sit, it seems to be getting more convoluted, with the back-and-forth between the what was said before, and what’s being said now. These are, I think, the seams giving us a rough ride.

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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 26, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I recently had read that the “eye of the needle” was a term used for some ancient city gates that were too narrow for the camel to pass through without unloading its baggage. When searching for the reference, I discovered that some people thought the Greek words for “camel” and “knot” caused a mis-copy. Another claimed that the Aramaic for “camel” and “thick rope” are the same words. None of these variations change the meaning of “difficult-to-impossible”.

    Does Jesus feel that materialism got in the way of the enlightenment that led to salvation, like Buddha? Or did he feel that materialism led to associations with evil institutions, putting oneself on the wrong side of the apocalyptic coming of the Lord, where the rich will become poor and the poor will become rich, matching good riches with good behavior? The interpretation may have started with the apocalyptic meaning but evolved into the enlightened way.

  2. I too have run across the interpretation of “eye of the needle” as a very narrow gate. I’ve never expended much energy on finding the “real” meaning because it’s really difficult to be anything like certain one has come up with the definitive answer. Did a quick look; the standard Greek word for camel is “kamelos”. It appears that the word for ‘knot’ may be “kampos”, but thatt may be modern Greek. In Classical Greek, “kampos” means “sea-monster”. As such, I’m not sure I’d put much faith in the “knot” theory. Dont think the words are that close to begin with; the scribe’s eyes would have to be pretty tired, I think, or the light especially bad. Or more likely, both.

    The materialism question is a doozy. Once again, this is something “everyone knows’: that Jesus was non- (if not anti-) materialist. The problem is that there aren’t nearly as many passages relating to this as one might think; or, as many as I would have expected. There is also the passage in Matthew (6:21) about “where your treasure is, there also is your heart”. But note that’s in Matthew; it’s not in Mark. As such, I cannot answer your question effectively. All I can say is that there is not as much non/anti-materialistic material as I would have hoped. As such, I don’t think it’s fair to compare Jesus to the Buddha; honestly, I think that Diogenes the Cynic may have been more overtly anti-materialistic that Jesus.

    Saying that, I do realize there are other, less explicit passages dealing with materialism, at least obliquely. However, I don’t think they suffice to put Jesus in the category of either of these other two.

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