Mark Chapter 12:18-27

We continue Chapter 12 with another attempt to trip up Jesus, the trap this time laid by some wily Sadducees.

18 Καὶ ἔρχονται Σαδδουκαῖοι πρὸς αὐτόν, οἵτινες λέγουσιν ἀνάστασιν μὴ εἶναι, καὶ ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν λέγοντες,

And (some) Sadducees came to him, those who say that the resurrection (of the body) will not be, and they asked him, saying

18 Et veniunt ad eum sadducaei, qui dicunt resurrectionem non esse, et interrogabant eum dicentes:

19 Διδάσκαλε, Μωϋσῆς ἔγραψεν ἡμῖν ὅτι ἐάν τινος ἀδελφὸς ἀποθάνῃ καὶ καταλίπῃ γυναῖκα καὶ μὴ ἀφῇ τέκνον, ἵνα λάβῃ ὁ ἀδελφὸς αὐτοῦ τὴν γυναῖκα καὶ ἐξαναστήσῃ σπέρμα τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ.

“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if the brother of someone should die and leave a wife, and if he doesn’t have children, that the brother should take the woman of him (the deceased) and raise up the seed (i.e. children) of  his brother.”

OK, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the body; the Pharisees, however, did. Ergo, Jesus’ interlocutors enter into this little game of ‘what if’ with ulterior motives.

Second, it’s interesting to note that the brother who marries the widow will be raising up the brother’s progeny, rather than his own. Perhaps this isn’t remarkable to anyone else, but I find it a bit odd. Has to do with some fairly ancient ways of looking at things, I suppose? 

19 “ Magister, Moyses nobis scripsit, ut si cuius frater mortuus fuerit et reliquerit uxorem et filium non reliquerit, accipiat frater eius uxorem et resuscitet semen fratri suo.

20 ἑπτὰ ἀδελφοὶ ἦσαν: καὶ ὁ πρῶτος ἔλαβεν γυναῖκα, καὶ ἀποθνῄσκων οὐκ ἀφῆκεν σπέρμα:

“There were seven brothers, and the first left the woman behind (as a widow), and he died without leaving progeny.

20 Septem fratres erant: et primus accepit uxorem et moriens non reliquit semen;

21 καὶ ὁ δεύτερος ἔλαβεν αὐτήν, καὶ ἀπέθανεν μὴ κατα λιπὼν σπέρμα: καὶ ὁ τρίτος ὡσαύτως:

“And the second received (= married) her, and he died without leaving progeny, and the third in the same way.

21 et secundus accepit eam et mortuus est, non relicto semine; et tertius similiter;

22 καὶ οἱ ἑπτὰ οὐκ ἀφῆκαν σπέρμα. ἔσχατον πάντων καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἀπέθανεν.

“And the seven did not leave progeny. Last of all and the woman died.

22 et septem non reliquerunt semen. Novissima omnium defuncta est et mulier.

23 ἐν τῇ ἀναστάσει [,ὅταν ἀναστῶσιν,] τίνος αὐτῶν ἔσται γυνή; οἱ γὰρ ἑπτὰ ἔσχον αὐτὴν γυναῖκα.

“In the resurrection [when they rise ], to which of them will the woman be? For seven held the same woman”.

The bracketed words are doubtless interpolations in some mss traditions.

Well, now, isn’t this a puzzler? First, did this exchange–or anything vaguely similar–actually happen? You know, I think it’s just–but only just–possible. The subtext here is that the Sadducees are a bit clueless; they lack understanding; and why not? They don’t believe in the resurrection. As such, why not come up with something like this?  But, (un)likelihood aside, the point of this story is to make the Sadducees look foolish, and Jesus look wise, and that goal was certainly accomplished.

Because what we have to ask is when the idea of eternal life really took hold. Paul didn’t talk about it all that much; there was the bit in 1 Thess where Jesus will come down on the clouds with the angels (1 Thess 4:16). We were not explicitly told of what would happen after Jesus came down, but there is an implicit sense, at least, of an afterlife. Why would there be such concern about those who’ve already died, and why would Paul so concerned to reassure that the dead would rise, and precede the living up into the clouds? (Which are called ‘clouds”, and not ‘heaven’.)

So I believe we are justified in inferring that the message of life, some, perhaps unspecified, afterlife dates back to Paul (at least) in the tradition. That actually makes this exchange slightly more probable.

23 In resurrectione, cum resurrexerint, cuius de his erit uxor? Septem enim habuerunt eam uxorem ”.

24 ἔφη αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Οὐ διὰ τοῦτο πλανᾶσθε μὴ εἰδότες τὰς γραφὰς μηδὲ τὴν δύναμιν τοῦ θεοῦ;

Jesus said to them, “Is it not because of this you wander not seeing the writings nor the power of God?”

“To wander” = “to err”.  It transliterates as ‘planasthe, and it’s the root of  the word ‘planet’. The planets appear to ‘wander’ amongst the fixed stars.

24 Ait illis Iesus: “ Non ideo erratis, quia non scitis Scripturas neque virtutem Dei?

25 ὅταν γὰρ ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῶσιν,οὔτε γαμοῦσιν οὔτε γαμίζονται, ἀλλ’ εἰσὶν ὡς ἄγγελοι ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς.

“For when the resurrection of (the) dead (occurs), there will be neither marrying, nor being married, but (all) will be as the angels in the heavens.”

I really need to get off the whole ‘heaven/heavens’ thing, since ‘the sky’ was seen as the home of the gods since the days of Homer. But here, it’s plural: the heavens. Now again, this is not unknown in English: the heavens opened. But it’s just that the word ‘heaven’ is so fraught with connotations for us that it’s hard to look at the word with any kind of a neutral set of assumptions.

But beyond that, we have here a bit of content: the resurrection will not be exactly that of the physical body. That is hugely important. I do not know if or how this idea varies from the way the Pharisees thought of the matter. Our bodies, according to Jesus, will not be corporeal as they are, but like the bodies of angels, whatever exactly that means, or meant to Jesus and then Mark. Honestly, I tend to suspect (without solid evidence, admittedly), that Jesus’ position here goes beyond what the Pharisees believed. My sense is that the belief was more of a resurrection of the physical body. However, I could easily be wrong. [Note: a quick Google survey seems to indicate that there is a certain amount of uncertainty about what, exactly, the Pharisees believed. However, the resurrection of the physical body seemingly was the key for the Pharisees. ] 

25 Cum enim a mortuis resurrexerint, neque nubent neque nubentur, sed sunt sicut angeli in caelis.

26 περὶ δὲ τῶν νεκρῶν ὅτι ἐγείρονται οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε ἐν τῇ βίβλῳ Μωϋσέως ἐπὶ τοῦ βάτου πῶς εἶπεν αὐτῷ ὁ θεὸς λέγων, Ἐγὼ ὁ θεὸς Ἀβραὰμ καὶ [ὁ] θεὸς Ἰσαὰκ καὶ [ὁ] θεὸς Ἰακώβ;

“For regarding the dead that arise, was it not written in the book of Moses under the rubric, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?” 

26 De mortuis autem quod resurgant, non legistis in libro Moysis super rubum, quomodo dixerit illi Deus inquiens: “Ego sum Deus Abraham et Deus Isaac et Deus Iacob”?

27 οὐκ ἔστιν θεὸς νεκρῶν ἀλλὰ ζώντων: πολὺ πλανᾶσθε.

“For God is not (the God) of the dead, but of the living. You err much.”

27 Non est Deus mortuorum sed vivorum! Multum erratis ”.

Once again, very cleverly argued. Except it feels like we’re getting into angels on the head of a pin territory, where Jesus (more likely Mark) is really pulling a bit of a fast one here, extracting some meaning out of this sentence that I don’t think was intended. This is known as the logical fallacy of ambiguity, which means pretty much what you think it means: it’s when you play on an ambiguous word, or phrasing to extract a meaning that’s not really there, or that was likely not intended. 

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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 June 21, 2013, in gospel commentary, gospels, mark's gospel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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