Sunday Morning Greek Blog

June 9, 2013

εὐθύς in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1:3, Isaiah 40:3)

Filed under: Isaiah,Mark Gospel of,New Testament,Septuagint — Scott Stocking @ 6:08 pm

In this post:

  • A personal note on my hiatus
  • Summary of the projects I’ve been working on
  • The prophetic quotes in Mark 1:2–3
  • Thematic use of εὐθύς

A Personal Note on My Hiatus

I’ve been on a hiatus from the blog because my schedule got bogged down last summer. I took on an assignment in addition to my full-time job to edit and comment on Greek-English lexicon/concordance that is in the works (I can’t say anything more than that at this point, at least not until there’s a release date publicized). The concordance part was actually built into the lexical entries, which made for time-consuming reading. The author would list all occurrences of a word, often without the context lines. Add to that the extra time it takes to read numbers relative to words of the same character length on the page. Consider the difference between the following:

A reference would appear like this:

Mt. 22:36–38

As I was editing, I would read:

Matthew twenty-two, thirty-six through thirty-eight

Now imagine 600+ pages filled with a couple hundred references like that on each page, and the reading time per page nearly triples! Needless to say, I had to take a break after almost every page just to maintain my sanity! Fortunately, it was not my job to check the accuracy of each reference (although I did find the occasional error there on familiar passages), otherwise, I’d still be at it. The other challenging part of the edit was that the author’s preferred texts for the English translations were the King James Version and Darby’s translation, which resulted in some interesting entries (I had never heard or seen the word “dropsical” until I saw this dictionary).

The other project that came up is a new study Bible (again, I can’t go into details about who at this point). It’s been challenging, rewarding, and even a little fun reviewing the notes, primarily for Old Testament books, and making suggestions and comments. I’m learning a great deal more about the OT and translation in general. I’m collaborating with a team of other reviewers; I even used one reviewer’s book on Bible study methods early in my teaching career. When that study Bible gets published, I’ll let you know.

I did finish reading through the Greek New Testament a second time in the process, but I’ve taken a break from a stringent schedule and had turned again to reading the Old Testament (in English, but still consulting the Hebrew) until I started participating in a men’s discipleship group. I set up a reading schedule for the guys that starts us in Mark’s Gospel. I also asked them to hold me accountable for getting back into the blogosphere, and rereading Mark 1 provided the perfect occasion for doing so.

Prophecy in Mark 1

As I started through Mark’s Gospel last week, looking at it in English and Greek, I noticed a few things worth mentioning. Mark opens his Gospel with a quotes from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. I want to put the Isaiah and Mark passages side by side in Table 1 so you can see some interesting but relatively benign punctuation differences. Keep in mind that punctuation is a much later addition to the biblical text. The ancients didn’t waste papyrus and parchment with commas, dashes, quotation marks, or spaces between words!

Table 1

Isaiah 40:3 (NIV) Mark 1:3 (NIV)

3 A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God.

“a voice of one calling
in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.'”

Notice, for example, that the Isaiah quote has the one calling saying, “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord,” while the editors of Mark obviously see a reference to John the Baptizer here: “a voice of one calling in the wilderness.” The punctuation in the Isaiah passage is consistent with the accenting and format of the printed BHS text, but again keep in mind that these are editorial decisions, not a part of the original text.

The Septuagint (LXX, Greek translation of OT which is the source of all OT quotes in the NT) has the quotation beginning at “Prepare,” but again, an editorial decision, since the beginning of a quotation in Greek is marked by a capital letter in the modern text, and the original Greek text was in all capital letters!

I don’t really perceive a significant difference in the meaning of the text one way or the other. In the Isaiah version, “wilderness” is probably figurative for any place or person who needs to be revived by God. In the LXX/Mark version, “wilderness” is a literal reference to the place where John was preaching. The important part of this verse in my mind is the last half: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

εὐθύς

In one of my earliest blog posts, I made a passing reference to the fact that Mark uses the Greek adverb εὐθύς 41 times in his Gospel (by contrast, the word is used only 17 times in the rest of the New Testament). [NOTE: Strong’s has the adverb form as εὐθέως from the textus receptus, but modern eclectic texts use εὐθυς.) The word means “immediately” or “at once” as an adverb. However, the word is also an adjective that means “straight,” which is found in Mark 1:3 and the LXX translation of Isaiah 40:3. The Hebrew word in Isaiah 40:3 (ישׁר) has the idea of no turning to the left or right, and perhaps even making something level (see Prov. 4:25–27; cf. Heb. 12:13).

So what’s the big deal? Here it is: Mark is using the adverb form as thematic connection to the prophecy with which he opens his Gospel. Many probably think John the Baptizer is the one “preparing the way of the Lord,” but Mark’s repeated use of εὐθύς suggests that he’s portraying Jesus as the one “making straight” the way of the Lord. In Mark’s Gospel, then, εὐθύς represents the urgency with which Jesus went about his ministry. Aside from Jesus’s miracles, the fact that he was clearing the way of the legalism and unreasonable rules of the religious elite shows that Jesus was making the path to God more direct; he was making “straight paths” in wilderness of Jewish legalism. That was ultimately symbolized when the veil of the temple was rent at Jesus’s crucifixion. Man no longer needed an intermediary to get to God because of what Jesus had accomplished on the cross.

Conclusion

Mark, in all its simplicity as the shortest Gospel, seems to have a singular focus on making “straight paths” for the Lord. Matthew has a definite emphasis on the broad view of prophecy in his Gospel, while Luke is concerned more with historical accuracy and detail. But Mark’s Gospel should not be ignored just because it is short or abridged. He shows a sophistication in style comparable to Matthew and Luke.

June 24, 2012

Scandalous Living

This past weekend, I finished leading our men’s group in a nine-week study through John Eldredge‘s Beautiful Outlaw. The subtitle of the book is “Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus,” which should clue you in as to the subject of the book. The basic premise of the book is this: because Jesus is the incarnation of God, every aspect of his personality has the divine imprint. If God the Father could be human, Jesus is the ultimate and unique example of how God the Father would live on this earth. Every aspect of Jesus’s personality is perfect in human form: his sense of humor, generosity, conversation, passions, playfulness, love, relationships, and so forth all emanate from his Father, God the Father (John 5:19).

Breaking Barriers

Jesus went places where good Jews of his day avoided. Jesus spoke to men and women of ethnic backgrounds the Jews despised. Jesus broke the barriers of cultural taboos by reaching out to and even touching the “untouchables.” Jesus challenged the religiosity of the status quo to shed a fresh new light on what it meant to be a God-follower. Unfortunately, too many Christians, both individually and collectively in various expressions of the church, have exalted Jesus to so heavenly a status that they have forgotten he had his human side. Lest I be misunderstood, Jesus’s human side was kept in check by his divine nature, something you and I don’t have. He had no sin. We can get away with saying, “I’m only human.” But Jesus can’t. Jesus was humanity at its best because he was divinely empowered to live the human life. So the church needs to take a closer look at not just the words he said, but the things he did and the way he lived here on terra firma.

The Samaritan Taboo

The story of Jesus’s encounter with the woman at the well in John 4 is a perfect example. In vs. 4, John says of Jesus, “It was necessary for him to travel through Samaria” (my translation). Similar constructions elsewhere in the New Testament are often translated “He must.” If Jews wanted to go north and south from Galilee to Jerusalem, the direct route was through Samaria. But since Jews hated Samaritans with such a passion, they would often cross over to the east side of the Jordan River and travel the longer route rather than set foot in Samaritan territory. Why was it necessary for him to go through Samaria? Because that’s what his Father wanted him to do!

Now when Jesus and the disciples arrive, Jesus breaks two taboos (at least). First, he talks to a Samaritan, the most despised class of people to the Jews. That’s bad enough in the eyes of the religious elite of the day. But this Samaritan is also a woman, and it was certainly not the norm for a Jewish male to talk to any woman alone in public (the disciples had gone off to buy food). I think it is important to note that in talking with this woman who in on her sixth “husband,” who has come out to the well at an unusual time of day, that Jesus never actually condemns the woman in any way or outright says that she’s living a sinful life, although the latter could be implied from his statement that her current “man” is not her husband. Historical and modern scholars have mostly inferred that the woman has a questionable character from the circumstantial evidence in the text. But just as he would later refuse to condemn the woman caught in adultery (variant reading in John 8), he does not speak words of condemnation here, only words of life.

A third taboo may be implied as well, although I find some mixed evidence in the Mishnah (the written interpretation of Jewish oral law generally accepted or debated at the time of Jesus). Drinking or eating from a Samaritan vessel may have been frowned upon as well. In some passages in the Mishnah, Samaritan offerings are acceptable, whereas some gentile offerings are specifically forbidden or given a lower status. However, Shebiith 8:10 says that Rabbi Eliezer considered eating Samaritan bread equivalent to eating the flesh of swine. If the disciples went off to a Samaritan town to get food, it’s most likely that R. Eliezer’s opinion was in the minority and not widely accepted.

The Sinful Anointer

This wasn’t Jesus’s only “scandalous” contact with a woman. In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, we have parallel accounts of a woman anointing Jesus’s head with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, which Jesus says is part of his preparation for burial. In Luke 7, we have a similar story, except in Luke’s account, the woman pours the perfume on Jesus’s feet after washing them with her tears and her hair. Not only that, this woman kisses Jesus’s feet as well. Luke mentions that Simon considers the woman a sinner. In the Matthew and Mark accounts, the disciples and other dinner guests are indignant with the woman and treat her rudely. But Jesus hardly bats an eye at the event. He considers it a beautiful thing and even says that the woman’s actions would be immortalized in the Gospels.

Standing with the Leper

Jesus’s “scandals” were not limited to women, though. Many are familiar with the story of Jesus healing lepers. That’s something we would expect a compassionate healer like Jesus to do. But not only does he heal some of them merely by his words, he also reaches out and touches a leper. In the normal course of Jewish life, lepers had to walk around with their faces covered and shout “Unclean!” so that Jews would not be ceremonially defiled by them. But Jesus chooses to skirt the custom rather than the leper. When he touches the leper, the leper is healed. So is Jesus unclean or not? Or does Jesus even care if he’s unclean? Jesus chooses compassion over custom so that the world can know the deep, deep love that he and his Father have for creation.

Jesus, Lord of Life

I’ve blogged before about Jesus’s “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. Three of them are relevant here: “I am the Bread of Life,”
“I am the Resurrection and the Life,” and “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Jesus came to bring life to a world that was looking for it in the wrong places. The religious leaders of the Jews thought it was found in absolute strict adherence to the law, so much so that they built a “hedge” around the law so that people might know when they were close to crossing the boundary (the word “Mishnah” means “hedge,” and the book is just as thick as a Bible with tinier print!). But Jesus blows that all to smithereens by simplifying it all for us: “Love God and love your neighbor.” If you do those two things, you don’t have to worry about the hedge.

Scandalous Living in the 21st Century Church

For many years, I pastored in small, rural congregations in Illinois. As you might expect in a small town, everyone knows your business whether you want them to or not. In some ways that’s good, but in other ways, that can be a great hindrance to ministry. Why? Because you can’t go to the places where those not religiously inclined hang out to share what’s important. I decided early in my Christian walk that it would be okay for me to hang out in bar with friends and acquaintances. I really don’t have a problem with Christians (or people of any other faith or nonfaith for that matter) drinking alcohol in moderation. Jesus, the true vine, did change water into premium alcoholic wine at the wedding in Cana. In my journey to be like Jesus, I want to be where the people are.

My half-siblings play in a trivia league in Omaha. Most of the trivia contests take place in bars. I love trivia, and I’m a pretty smart cookie, so I think I’d do pretty well in that setting. So last week, I joined the trivia league that meets at Maloney’s Irish Pub. It’s fun, and it’s great interaction with family and new friends and acquaintances. And it certainly beats staying home alone playing Words with Friends and Hidden Chronicles. I enjoy the company and the challenge. If Jesus can supply a couple hundred gallons of premium wine for a celebration, certainly I can enjoy a Sprite with friends!

Conclusion

Although I enjoyed my time as a pastor, I’m not sure I was really cut out for the rural scene. I am glad I’m not a pastor now, because I feel freer than ever to share the life of Jesus in places where my previous congregations would have surely fired me for going. I feel like I can truly have a ministry of the mundane (as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it) among friends, family, and coworkers while I live the scandalous life of Jesus.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

May 27, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Trial of Jesus (Luke 22:67–70 and parallels)

Something interesting struck me as I read Jesus’s response to the illegal council called to accuse him of blasphemy and condemn him to be crucified. Jesus tends to be a little tight lipped in the Gospel accounts of his Passion, so the words the Gospel writers attribute to Jesus are important for understanding why he responded the way he did when he did. Let me cite the relevant passages in a vertical parallel, all from the NIV (with the exception of the plural “you” modified in Luke):

Parallel Accounts of the Trial Statement

Matthew 26:62–64

62Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” 64“You [singular] have said so” (Σὺ εἶπας), Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Mark 14:60–62

60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 61But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62“I am” (Ἐγώ εἰμι), said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Luke 22:67–70

67“If you are the Messiah,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” 70They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “Y’all say that I am” (Ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι).

John’s account of this meeting (John 18:19–24) is so different that it won’t be a factor in my comparison here, but I will return to it in a later post. Let me illustrate the key differences in the three Synoptic passages in Table 1:

Table 1: Parallel accounts of the “Son of Man” statements in the Gospel trials

Matthew 16:63–64

“Tell us if you are the Messiah…”

[follows]

“You (sg) have said”

[omits]

“Son of Man sitting…”

“coming in the clouds of heaven”

Mark 14:61–62

“Are you the Messiah…?”

[follows]

[omits]

“I am”

“Son of Man sitting…”

“coming in the clouds of heaven”

Luke 22:69–70

“Are you the Son of God?”

“Son of man will be seated…”

“You (pl) say that…

… I am”

[precedes]

[omits]

Explanation

Luke only has Jesus quoting Psalm 110:1 (109:1 LXX) about sitting at God’s right hand before saying “You say that I am.” Matthew and Mark both add Daniel 7:13, “coming in the clouds of heaven” (a clear reference to the Messianic portion of Daniel) after the Psalm 110:1 quotation, but they put those quotations after the “You say” (Matthew) or “I am” (Mark). The little bit about sitting at God’s right hand may seem perfectly innocuous to us, unless we, like the Jewish scribes, understand the full context of Psalm 110:1. The very next phrase after “Sit at my right hand” in that verse is “until I make your enemies your footstool.” Wow! Here we have the Pharisees accusing Jesus, and Jesus responding with a statement that essential signals his accusers are enemies of God! Not exactly a soft-spoken answer when you come to think about it. Add to that the quotation from Daniel, and Jesus is really putting the Sanhedrin in its place: By saying the Son of Man will come on the clouds, he is equating himself with the “Ancient of Days” in Daniel, leaving no doubt about his divine mandate and divine nature.

Add to that Mark and Luke’s account of Jesus using the phrase Ἐγώ εἰμι, which some in Jesus’s day (or even in the modern day) see as an intentional reference to God’s divine name in Exodus 3:14 (see discussion below), and we’ve got Jesus essentially giving the Sanhedrin the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Jesus proved it over and over again (in John’s account, Jesus chides the Sanhedrin for doing this in secret when he taught publicly everywhere he went), but the Pharisees have to say it as well, especially the high priest (see, for example, John 11:51).

One thing to keep in mind when examining the modern eclectic Greek New Testament: punctuation was added at a much later date. It didn’t exist in the autographs. Have you ever thought about why, after the Sanhedrin “asks” Jesus a question (in the NIV, anyway), Jesus treats the “question” like a regular statement? There is no “question” word that one might expect to find if the one asking the question expected a certain answer. Granted, not all questions need one of these special words to be understood as a question, but in the case of the Gospel writers, I would suggest that the phrase Σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ εὐλογητοῦ be taken as a statement, not a question. This accomplishes two things in my mind if it is true:

  1. If John 11:51 has a broader application, then the high priest not only must prophesy about Jesus’s death, but he must also prophesy about his nature: The high priest prophesies that Jesus is the Son of Man; that means there is now another witness to Jesus’s true nature, but
  2. Without Jesus ever directly stating it in trial (with the possible exception of Mark, who may have a shortened version of Luke’s account), Jesus stealthily gets the Sanhedrin (or at least the high priest) to commit “blasphemy” by declaring Jesus to be the Son of Man. When Jesus says “You have said it,” he is in fact turning the tables on them and accusing them of very “blasphemy” they’re trying to pin on him! (I recognize there’s no real blasphemy here, because Jesus really is the Son of Man, but the Sanhedrin doesn’t want to see things that way.)

I think this latter point especially is fully in keeping with the nature of how Jesus responded to the religious rulers of his day. He always turned the tables on them to show them their erroneous thinking and oppressive religious “leadership,” if one can call it that. If Jesus had said outright the full phrase in their hearing, it would have been over and done, and the Sanhedrin would have been fully justified in their own minds in sentencing Jesus to death. Jesus was not wont to leave them with that kind of self-satisfaction. The reason the Sanhedrin gets so angry is precisely because Jesus has tricked them into committing the very “blasphemy” of which they are accusing him. Jesus had said that the demons believe he is the Son of Man, and they tremble. Here, the Sanhedrin apparently believes it as well, but instead of trembling in fear, they steel themselves against the possibility and (mis)use their authority to have Jesus arrested and eventually crucified.

Is Ἐγώ εἰμι a Direct Reference to Exodus 3:14?

As tempting as it is to always assume that when Jesus says Ἐγώ εἰμι, he is always referring to the divine name in Exodus 3:14, I have to reject that notion to be universally true in the Gospels. There are clearly times when Jesus uses the phrase simply to indicate his presence or his existence without the theological weight. Given the full statement in Luke that includes those words (and since I think Luke is on most things more thorough than Mark), I don’t think Jesus saying Ἐγώ εἰμι here has much theological weight. What seems to upset the Sanhedrin is Jesus’s quotation of Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13 more than anything else. Of course, Jesus could have said it in isolation (as Mark has it recorded) to get the Sanhedrin’s dander up, to make them think that’s what he meant even though he didn’t. It’s a word play that’s not intended to deceive, but to drive home the point.

Conclusion

These parallel accounts in the Synoptic Gospels raise some interesting issues in my mind. I think Jesus remains consistent with his approach to the religious elite of his day by not giving them the satisfaction of thinking they are right. A more detailed treatment of John’s version of these events goes beyond the scope of this blog post, but as I’m reading through John again now, I’m already finding things in the earlier part of his Gospel that tie into that account, so you can be sure I will have another post on these events from John’s perspective.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

March 11, 2012

The Passion Week of Christ

I have been swamped this past week or so with an albatross of an edit. I haven’t had time to put anything new together, but I thought with Resurrection Sunday coming up, I’d index the links to my blog posts on the final week of Christ’s earthly ministry. I’m guessing there might be a minister or two out there struggling for some sermon ideas.

“Why Have You Forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34, par. Psalm 22:1)

Thieves, Robbers, or Rebels?

“I Am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25)

Judas’s Kiss (Matthew 26:48–49; Mark 14:45)

“If I’ve Told You Once, I’ve Told You a Thousand Times…”

εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν (eis aphesin hamartiōn, ‘for the forgiveness of sins’)

Let the Sleeping Saints Arise!

“Father, Forgive Them…” (Luke 23:34)

A Truly Open Communion?

Peace to all!

Scott Stocking

February 27, 2012

Deciphering the Mark 1:4 Variants

Details matter. Acts 28:13 and 1 Corinthians 13:3 each have variant readings that differ by only one letter each. Those differences make a huge difference in how the respective passages should be translated. Mark 1:4 is a little more complicated than that. Two small words are part of the variant readings for this passage: the one-letter definite article and a three-letter conjunction. Such small words only seem small, however. In reality, there is a big difference in how the passage is translated. Do we call John “the Baptizer” or just John in this passage?

Illustrating the Issue

I have listed the variant readings in Table 1 (only up to the word after the variant), with literal translations below each word. I put it in table form so those of you not familiar with what “variants” are can visualize the issue. The lexical forms of the individual words are the column headings for the verse, and each is linked the Strong’s entry on www.blueletterbible.org.

Table 1: Three Best-Attested Variant Readings of Mark 1:4a (as ordered in the UBS 3 apparatus)

Eclectic Greek Text

Primary Ancient Witness

γίνομαι

Ἰωάννης

βαπτίζω

ἐν

ἔρημος

καὶ

κηρύσσω

UBS Text

א (Sinaiticus)

ἐγένετο

Ἰωάννης

ὁ*

βαπτίζων

ἐν

τῇ

ἐρήμῳ

καὶ

κηρύσσων

It was

John

the

one baptizing

in

the

wilderness

and

[the] one preaching

[none]

B (Vaticanus)

ἐγένετο

Ἰωάννης

βαπτίζων

ἐν

τῇ

ἐρήμῳ

κηρύσσων

was

John

the

Baptizer

in

the

wilderness

preaching

Stephen’s Textus Receptus

A (Alexandrinus)

ἐγένετο

Ἰωάννης

βαπτίζων

ἐν

τῇ

ἐρήμῳ

καὶ

κηρύσσων

was

John

baptizing

in

the

wilderness

and

preaching

*This is in the ancient text (Sinaiticus), but the UBS 3rd/4th editions have it in brackets with a grade of C indicating uncertainty it was in the autograph.

At the end of this post, I have included sentence diagrams (Figure 1) illustrating these variant readings.

The two main issues are:

  1. Was the definite article (ὁ) originally in the text before the participle βαπτίζων?
  2. Was the conjunction καὶ originally in the text before the participle κηρύσσων?

Textus Receptus (A Alexandrinus)

I will start with the Textus Receptus reading, because that seems to be the easiest to explain to English readers. A participle in English is a verb that usually adds –ing for the present participle or –ed for the past participle. They are usually used with a helping verb in the perfect tense (I have waited; I have been waiting) or passive voice (I was waited on by the butler; I am being waited on by the butler). Essentially in this reading, Mark uses the long form of the perfect tense (called periphrastic) instead of using a perfect tense verb. Here is how the King James renders the passage from the Textus Receptus:

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

Notice that without the definite article, the participles are seen to function as verbs that complete the past-tense helping verb ἐγένετο. The helping verb is translated various ways in English depending on context. The KJV phrasing sounds a bit archaic to 21st-century ears, but a more contemporary way to put it might be “John was baptizing…and preaching.” In other words, the translators don’t see this as a title for John. It’s neither “John the Baptist” nor “John the Baptizer”; it’s just “John” with a double predicate. Two of the three “preferences” used when deciding between two or more variants are prefer the shorter reading and prefer the more difficult reading. This passage is shorter than the UBS text, but is not as difficult as that text or the B text. Another poorly attested variant based on the D text is similar to A but changes the order of the text. I don’t detail that in the text of this post. It is diagrammed in Figure 1, however.

B (Vaticanus)

The B (Vaticanus) text has the definite article with βαπτίζων, and the passage can then be read like “John the Baptizer” is a title, especially without the καὶ (“and”; I will cover why that is important in the discussion of the א [Sinaiticus] text). The lack of a καὶ suggests that the two participles should not be taken as a compound predicate, as in the A text. The second participle describes what John was doing in the wilderness and functions very much like an adverb, as anarthrous (=without the definite article) participles often do. So the B passage could be translated like this:

John the Baptizer was in the wilderness preaching baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

or

In the wilderness, John the Baptizer was preaching baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

This would be an acceptable translation if the B variant were not so poorly attested.

א (Sinaiticus)

I think that the reading of the א (Sinaiticus) text is the more difficult reading, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. For the most part, the καὶ is accepted as original to the text. If this is so, then it makes perfect sense to have the definite article before βαπτίζων. How are the two words related? It’s a rule I’ve discussed before in the blog, the Granville Sharp rule. If two singular, personal, non-proper nouns or substantives (words that can function as nouns; in this case βαπτίζων and κηρύσσων) are joined by καὶ, and only the first noun has the definite article, then the two nouns refer to the same person. This reading is slightly more difficult than the A text reading, because the construction is a bit more sophisticated. Since the two participles refer to the same person, the definite article would not be out of place. That doesn’t negate the reading of the A text necessarily, but since adding the definite article would not have been necessary to make sense of the text, it would seem to me that someone removed it somewhere along the way to make it a little easier to understand. In this case, the difficult passage is preferred over the shorter passage.

Given Mark’s penchant for shorter statements more to the point, the passage could be rendered like this:

There was John, the one baptizing in the wilderness and preaching baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

or

There was John, the Baptizer in the wilderness, the Preacher of baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The former option isn’t much different from the A text reading above, but instead of just doing a straight noun/verb translation, I assumed Mark was using the participles to explain which John he intended (“There was John, you know, the guy who baptizing and preaching”). Note that the last option, for consistency, treats both “Baptizer” and “Preacher” as titles, because the definite article before βαπτίζων governs κηρύσσων as well. Mark does use the phrase Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτίζων in 6:14 as well, so there is precedence for the phrase as a title. My translation of 1:4 with the titles sounds a little bit awkward to our English ears, but Greek speakers would have understood the construction immediately.

Nominative Absolute?

On a more technical note, it is entirely possible that the entire verse was intended as a nominative absolute. That’s basically a phrase in the subject case that stands apart as a separate clause and serves as the antecedent for a pronoun. The first four words of vs. 5 give the verb and the pronoun for John (καὶ ἐξεπορεύετο πρὸς αὐτὸν “and [everyone] went out to him”) before Mark states the subjects of the verb, so that’s a good clue that 1:4 might be functioning as a nominative absolute. If that is so, the editors of the Greek New Testament should put a comma instead of a period at the end of verse 4. This would further support the reading of the א text.

Conclusion

Talking about textual variants may not be the most exciting topic in the world for a blog, but I think it is important that people understand the care scholars take to restore the original text of Scripture. I hope that I have made this understandable for most audiences, but if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me through the comments or e-mail link. Thank you for reading!

Peace

Scott Stocking

Appendix

Figure 1: Sentence Diagrams for Mark 1:4 Variants

February 20, 2012

Judas’s Kiss (Matthew 26:48–49; Mark 14:45)

Introduction

Those of us who read the Scriptures with any regularity (and even with some irregularity) have noticed the phenomenon of selective attention. What I mean by this is, when you read a passage of Scripture you know you’ve read before, you notice something that speaks to your heart in such a way that you say, “Why didn’t I see that before.” That has happened to me quite often in reading the English translations of the Bible, even though English is my native tongue. You’d think I’d remember more than I do when I read Scripture. But now on my second time through the Greek New Testament (GNT), I am experiencing that same phenomenon. Of course, having that full year of experience has seasoned me to notice certain features of the text that the occasional reader of the GNT might not notice.

Matthew 26:48–49

The subject of this blog post is one such passage. Matthew 26:48–49 is part of the story of Judas betraying Jesus to the authorities. My discussion in this post centers around the nature of the “kiss” by which Judas identified Jesus to the authorities. Here is how the text reads in the NIV, with the Greek words translated “kiss” identified:

Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss [φιλήσω from φιλέω] is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed [κατεφίλησεν from καταφιλέω] him.

The “Kiss”

New Testament Usage

Some may think the different words used for “kiss” here represent merely a stylistic difference, but an examination of the second word, καταφιλέω, reveals an interesting nuance that is lost in translation but not in context. The word is used six times in the New Testament: once each by Matthew and Mark (14:45) in their respective betrayal pericopes; and four times by Luke—three in his Gospel (Luke 7:38, 45; 15:20) and once in Acts (20:37).

Luke mentions the φιλέω kiss in his passion story, but he never outright says that Judas kissed Jesus. But it is Luke’s use of καταφιλέω that reveals the important nuance in Matthew and Mark. Luke 7 is the story of the woman who washes Jesus feet with perfume, tears, and her hair. The kissing is portrayed as a repeated action that at the same time indicates a sort of “sorrowful joy.” She is both truly repentant and truly grateful for the forgiveness Jesus would proclaim to her. In vs. 45, Luke even contrasts the φιλέω kiss he should have received from Simon as a customary greeting with the woman’s repeated καταφιλέω kissing. So Luke was fully aware of the contrast between the two words, just as Matthew and Mark were.

In Luke 15, Jesus uses καταφιλέω of the father welcoming home the prodigal son. In Acts 20:37, Luke again uses the word to describe what happened when Paul departed from Miletus after saying farewell to the Ephesian elders. Paul is facing grave danger as he returns to Jerusalem, and many of his friends think they will never see him again. This is no peck on the cheek. Strong emotions always accompany this kind of “kiss.”

Old Testament Usage

The use of this word in the Septuagint (LXX) is no different. It describes the affection Laban showed his grandchildren when Jacob departed (Genesis 31:28, 32:1). It also describes Joseph’s reunion with his brothers in Egypt (Genesis 45:15). Naomi parted with Orpah with this kind of kiss, and the bond was so strong that Ruth insisted on returning to Bethlehem with Naomi (Ruth 1:9, 14). The word describes David’s friendship with Jonathan as well (1 Samuel 20:41). But lest I be misunderstood or misinterpreted, there is absolutely no sexual connotation in these farewell “kisses.” They reveal the very deep bond of friendship that the people experienced.

Judas’s Kiss: What It Means

So what does this all mean for Judas’s kiss? The fact that Matthew and Mark use καταφιλέω to describe Judas’s betrayal kiss reveals a couple things in my mind. First, Judas seems to have genuinely loved Jesus. I don’t think it’s fair to suggest he wasn’t genuine about the show of affection, especially given the desperation of his remorse after the fact. Second, because of that love, I have to wonder if Judas was trying to force Jesus’s hand by having him arrested. Judas wanted as much as anyone to throw off Roman rule, but Judas apparently didn’t like where things were headed. I think it is within the realm of reason to suggest that Judas thought by having Jesus arrested, Jesus’s followers would rise up rebellion against Rome. Or perhaps he even thought that Jesus would make a mighty show of divine power to overthrow Rome.

His actions do not strike me as those of a man who had a traitorous heart from the beginning. Rather they seem to be desperate measures by a disillusioned man who was trying to make one last attempt to have things go his way. When he failed miserably and realized he had condemned his friend to death rather initiating a new world order, he killed himself in an ultimate act of desperation.

Conclusion

How many times do you and I get disillusioned about the way God is working in our lives? I know I have done my share of complaining to God that he’s not doing things the way I think he should be doing them. Then in desperation, I do something in an attempt to force God’s hand and realize after the fact how foolish I really was. I need to work on developing that deep and abiding trust in God that makes me want to melt into his καταφιλέω affection for me, just as the prodigal experienced when he returned home.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

March 20, 2011

“Why Have You Forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34, par. Psalm 22:1)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Christology,Greek,Mark Gospel of,Old Testament,Psalms — Scott Stocking @ 8:40 am

In Mark 15:34 (parallel Matthew 27:46), Jesus cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (the Aramaic version is given in the text: ʾEloi, ʾEloi, lama sabachthani; Hebrew:אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי
ʾEliy, ʾEliy, lamah ʿăzăbtāniy; Greek: Ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με; ho theos mou ho theos mou, eis ti enkatelipes me?). Jesus is quoting Psalm 22:1 [22:2 MT, LXX] here, but is he quoting it in utter despair? Having just finished reading The Screwtape Letters, I learned again that despair is probably the worst sin with which Satan can tempt us. But we know Jesus did not give into sin, not even the sin of despair. So why does he quote it on the cross, in the hour of his greatest pain?

If you read all of Psalm 22, you will find many parallels to the negative and agonizing aspects of the crucifixion event. In 22:7, we see the mocking (Mark 15:20, 31), insulting (ὀνειδίζω oneidizō; Hebrew is literally: ‘open wide their lips’; Mark 15:29, 32), and shaking of heads (Mark 15:29). In Psalm 22:15, David prophesies, “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” Jesus sums that up in John 19:28 (the only one to record this) when he says “I am thirsty.” Psalm 22:16 is explicit: “They pierce my hands and my feet” (although there is a variant reading here; see TNIV footnote). The casting of lots to divide Christ’s clothes (Psalm 22:18) is referenced by all four Gospel writers (Mark 15:24, Matthew 27:35, Luke 23:34, John 19:23–24). Psalm 22:24 hints at Isaiah’s suffering servant, especially Isaiah 53. The final verse of Psalm 22 (v. 31) has the declaration, “He has done it!” That sounds very much like John 19:30: “It is finished.”

My point in citing all these is that Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 not because he is in despair, but because he wants to call attention to the entire Psalm. (Matthew does something similar when he quotes Isaiah 7:14 about the virgin being with child; he is bringing to his readers’ attention the whole prophetic, messianic narrative of Isaiah 7–12.) Psalm 22 is also filled with great hope. It has many positive statements in it that would have served to encourage and strengthen Christ in his final moments on the cross: vv. 4–5 speak of deliverance and salvation; vv. 9–10 speak of God’s closeness throughout life; vv. 11 and 19–20 are pleas for God to stay near and bring rescue in times of trouble; vv. 22–31 look forward to the proclamation of the Gospel message.

Christ gave it all for our salvation. Even when we think we have it bad, look at the example of Christ on the cross, who, in the face of death, did not consider himself forsaken, but held on to the promise of help and deliverance of Psalm 22.

Other Tidbits from the Crucifixion Stories

As I was checking parallel Gospel accounts, I happened to notice in John 19:23 that Jesus’ undergarment was woven in one piece, “from top to bottom,” so the soldiers did not want to tear (σχίζω schizō) this as they did the rest of his clothes. Similar language is used when the curtain of the temple is torn (σχίζω
again) “from top to bottom,” although Mark and John use different words for “bottom.”

Mark records in 15:47 that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses both saw the tomb where Jesus had been placed by Joseph of Arimathea. This is an important apologetic element, as “every testimony is established by two or three witnesses.” Someone had to have seen where Jesus was placed to know the tomb had indeed been miraculously vacated.

One more thing (not “finally,” because there is so much more I could say): I find it interesting that when the soldiers mock Jesus before taking him to Golgotha, they beat him on the head (Mark 15:19) with a reed (καλάμος kalamos). In 15:36, the same word is used of the stick on which they place the sponge to offer Jesus one last drink. Is it possible that was the same stick or reed? Things that make you go “hmm.”

Peace!

March 13, 2011

Thieves, Robbers, or Rebels?

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Mark Gospel of,New Testament — Scott Stocking @ 8:43 am

About a year ago, I had the privilege to edit (and read, of course) the fiction novel The Butane Gospel by Michael Hinkle. The main character in the story, redneck trucker Leon Butane, finds himself on a life-or-death mission after his own near-death experience to discover the names of the two men crucified with Jesus. As Hinkle himself described the story, it is a cross between The Big Lebowski and The DaVinci Code. What captured my interest in the story was one of the underlying questions Butane and his associates had to answer: Were the two men crucified with Jesus simple thieves, or were they rebels? I’ll let you read the book for yourselves to find out how Hinkle resolves the issue.

I was reminded of this question this week as I read Mark 11. Mark 11:15–19 records the story of Jesus cleansing the temple (parallel passages are Matthew 21:12–17; Luke 19:45–48; and John 2:13–22). In the three synoptic Gospels, all authors record Jesus’ reference to Jeremiah 7:11, which in the TNIV reads: “Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?” (All Scripture citations are from Logos 4.0 versions of the references, unless I indicate I have used my own translation.)

At issue here is the word translated “robber” in a majority of the English translations, both in Jeremiah 7:11 (Hebrew: פָּרִיץ pārîṣ, ‘violent one’, from the verb פָּרַץ pāraṣ, break (through, down, over), burst [TWOT 1826]) and Mark 11:17 and synoptic parallels (λῃστής lēstēs, ‘robber’, ‘rebel’, ‘highwayman’; also used in the LXX translation of Jeremiah 7:11). For both the Hebrew and Greek words, “robber” is an appropriate translation, but it only has a real impact on those who understand the legal, technical difference between a “robber” and “thief” (in Greek, the latter is translated from κλέπτης kleptēs, used 16 times in the NT). A robber uses violent force against a person to take something, while a thief does not.

In Nehemiah, the Hebrew word is used to contrast the efforts of those rebuilding the wall. The enemies of the Jews wanted to level and break down the walls, as indicated by the verb definition above. In other places in the Hebrew text, the word has much more violent overtones. In Isaiah 35:9, the word refers to “ravenous” beasts. In Ezekiel 7:22, it refers to those who would desecrate the temple (the TNIV uses “robbers” there as well). In Psalm 17:4, it is used in parallel with those who bribe, an action always associated with violence in the OT. And in Daniel 11:14, the word is used of those “violent” ones who would rebel against the divine visions.

The use of the Greek word lēstēs in the LXX and NT has similar connotations. The translation “highwayman” above can be aptly illustrated in the character of Vizzini in The Princess Bride. Although comic and eventually benign, his character represents the kind of violence implied by lēstēs. Luke (10:30, 36) uses the word to describe the bandits who robbed and beat the man in the story of the Good Samaritan. John (10:1, 8) uses the word to describe those who break into the sheepfold. He also uses the word of Barabbas in 18:40. Interestingly, Matthew identifies Barabbas as “Jesus Barabbas” in 27:16–17, although “Jesus” is an uncertain variant in both places and not well attested in the most prominent manuscripts.

Another place where we find the Greek word used is in the Garden of Gethsemane when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus. The three synoptic writers (Matthew 26:55; Mark 14:48; Luke 22:52) all have Jesus asking a question (my translation): “You come after me as rebel?” Note that in those contexts, the arresting party brings clubs and swords, thinking Jesus to be a violent man. (Did some have him confused with Jesus Barabbas? I’m not sure that is plausible.) In Matthew, Jesus admonishes them, saying that he sat in the temple courts teaching every day. But I have to ask a question at this point: Was Jesus’ temple outburst, just though it may have been, the watershed event that led to his arrest and crucifixion? And if so, is it possible that the two men crucified with Jesus (whom Matthew and Mark identify as lēstoi; Luke has κακοῦργοι kakourgoi, lit. ‘workers of bad’) were not criminals, but men who had “zeal for God’s house” (John 2:17, quoting Psalm 69:9) comparable to that of Jesus? Had they jumped on the bandwagon when Jesus started overturning the tables of the moneychangers? Or had they just taken advantage of the general upheaval caused by Jesus and done their own plundering? (I must here give credit to Hinkle’s The Butane Gospel for bringing these questions to the forefront, but my conclusions are slightly different from those of the characters in his book.)

It should be noted that when Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables, he did not actually steal any of the goods for himself, so technically, he could not be classified as a lēstēs.

I find it significant, then, that lēstēs, used only 15 times in the NT, is found 10 times total in the three stories of the temple cleansing, arrest, and crucifixion. The word seems to tie these stories together, not to portray Jesus as a lēstēs, but to acquit him of the charge and thus defend his innocence as the Lamb of God.

4Surely he took up our pain

and bore our suffering

yet we considered him punished by God,

stricken by him, and afflicted.

5But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed.

6We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

each of us has turned to our own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

7He was oppressed and afflicted,

yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,

so he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53:4–7, TNIV).

March 6, 2011

Feeding, Walking, and Transfiguring

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Mark Gospel of,New Testament — Scott Stocking @ 2:02 pm

Mark’s versions of the feedings of the 5000 men plus women and children (Mark 6:30–44) and 4000 men plus women and children (Mark 8:1–10) proved to have some interesting “grist for my mill,” as one of my college professors used to say. Mark has a couple interesting features not found in Matthew’s account. One minor difference I noted is that in Mark 6:39, Jesus commands the crowd to sit down on the “green grass” (χλωρος χόρτος chlōros chortos), while Matthew just has them sitting down on the grass (in Mark 8, they sit on the ground, γή ). The disciples make a point that they are in a “wilderness” or “remote place” (ἔρημος ὁ τόπος erēmos ho topos). Often, we may have an image of the region as a dry desert, but not so here. This seemed to be a very verdant place where it would have been quite comfortable to sit for some time.

The other implication here is that while Jesus was teaching, the crowd apparently was standing. Otherwise, why would he instruct them to sit down? But this command is qualified by another part of the story unique to Mark: in 6:38–39, Jesus instructs the crowd to sit down in “groups [by] groups,” and they sat down in “blocks [by] blocks]” of fifty and one hundred each. Those of you who know the Exodus story might recognize that this is how Jethro instructed his son-in-law Moses to divide the responsibility of judging the people in Exodus 18. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you feed a hungry crowd? One group at a time. Jesus was reiterating Moses’ crowd management philosophy.

Not only does Mark’s account look back to the Exodus story, but it also looks forward to the Last Supper (as all of the Gospel accounts of the feeding of the masses do). In chapter 6, Jesus blesses (ευλογέω eulogeō) and breaks in pieces (κατακλάω kataklaō) the bread. In chapter 8, Jesus gives thanks for (εὐχαριστεω eucharisteō) and breaks (κλάω klaō) the bread. In Mark 14:22–23, Jesus blesses and breaks the bread and gives thanks for the cup.

If you’ve been going to church for a while and have been paying attention to the preacher, you may have already heard this next feature of the story, common to all Gospel accounts. The baskets used to collect the leftovers are not the same in each story. In the feeding of the 5000, the twelve baskets are more like lunch or grocery baskets (κοφίνος kophinos), while in Mark 8, the seven baskets there are large enough to hold a man (see Acts 9:25). Scholars are fairly certain that the seven larger baskets held more than the twelve smaller baskets. Later, in 8:19–21, after talking about the yeast of the Pharisees, Jesus queries his disciples about the two feeding events: The number of baskets (twelve and seven) may be as significant as the bountiful leftovers. Both numbers are used frequently in the Bible for symbolism: twelve for the number of tribes of Israel and seven for a number of completeness or perfection. After the disciples answer the questions about the number of baskets successfully (again, significant that the numbers stick in their minds), Jesus asks, “Do you still not understand?” What point is he getting across? God’s Word was not meant to be understood by a select few Phrarisees! God’s Word is practical and it satisfies (χορτάζω chortazō; note the similarity of this to the word for “grass”)! God provides! (I think my resistance to tithing at this point in my life may have just gone out the window. I need to pause and reflect on that.)

Okay, done reflecting; still unsettled, but not as much. I must move on from the feeding of the masses, because time always seems to slip away from me while I’m writing this.

By way of transition, I find it interesting, although not surprising for Mark (see earlier posts), that the disciples put out to sea after each of the feeding events. In the first story, Jesus sends his disciples out by themselves, this after the terrifying event of the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, after which the disciples were apparently afraid to go back out on the sea. In Mark 6, we have the story of Jesus walking to them on the water (see another earlier post). Mark is filled with other scary demoniac stories as well, and I think this whole section here (Mark 5–9 at least) is not just about showing Jesus’ power, but about showing Jesus’ need to get away from the crowd for a while. That may be why sailing back and forth across the lake was so popular with Jesus. He could just hang out, maybe cast a line or a net over the side and do some fishing. (Do you suppose Jesus had a bumper sticker on his boat that said, “I’d rather be fishing”?)

Getting away from the crowd had its ultimate expression in the transfiguration story (Mark 9:2–13). Jesus took his “inner circle” (Peter, James, and John) with him up to a mountain, where his glory was revealed, and where he also spoke to Moses and Elijah. Now I don’t know how I would have reacted, but I’d like to think I would have reacted differently than Peter. Here are Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest figures in Jewish history, talking to Jesus, and Peter wants to get out his hammer and nails and make a racket building booths! If I had been there, I think I would have wanted to listen in on the conversation! The story has some connection to Exodus 34:29–35, the radiant face of Moses, which is probably why Peter wanted to build a shelter: Moses was the only one permitted to see the glory of God, and that indirectly, in the innermost part of the tabernacle.

But the story also comes right before the strongest demon that Jesus had yet to face and is a turning point as Mark begins the last half of his Gospel leading up to the parousia. When Jesus returns from the mountain (9:15), he finds his disciples “discussing” (Peter, James, and John do the same kind of “discussing” in 9:10 about Jesus’ prediction that he would rise from the dead; the word is unique to Mark and Luke-Acts) with the Pharisees about a deaf-mute demoniac. The disciples were not strong enough to cast out the demon, and when they later ask why they could not, Jesus tells them that that kind can only come out by prayer. It is interesting, though, that nowhere in the story do we have a direct reference to Jesus praying before he casts out the demon. But Jesus had also just come down from the Mount of Transfiguration, and the people were “astonished” (ἐκθαμβέω ekthambeō, a word found only in Mark—here, of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and twice in Mark 16 of the women who found the tomb empty) to see him. I take from that that Jesus may have still been glowing a bit, just as Moses did after he left the presence of God. Jesus was fully prepared to take on Satan’s strongest minions. I don’t think it is accidental or coincidental that Mark places these two stories side by side.

Well, that wraps up the post for this morning. Church time approaches, and I have to put the finishing touches on my PowerPoint for my Ephesians Sunday school class. Peace to all!

Scott Stocking

February 27, 2011

Of Crowds, Thorns, and Broadcasting God’s Word

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Mark Gospel of,New Testament — Scott Stocking @ 2:18 pm

Mark is the shortest of all the Gospels, but in the first five chapters, I have found much to unpack. Mark has many repeated exegetically significant words. I have already mentioned the use of εὐθὺς (euthys ‘immediately’) in a previous blog entry, and that occurs another four times in Mark 4:1–20, which I will discuss below.

Another pattern of repeated words I have seen has to do with Jesus’ audience and apparently favorite place of ministry. The word “crowd” (ὄχλος ochlos) appears 38 times, evenly distributed, in the book of Mark. In Mark 1–5, which I read this week, it occurs 13 times. Along with that, the words “sea” or “lake” (θάλασσα thalassa) occurs 19 times in 15 verses in Mark, with 13 occurrences in Mark 1–5; the word “boat” (πλοῖον ploion) appears 17 times in 15 verses in Mark, with 10 occurrences in Mark 1–5. Maybe, just maybe, God is calling me to a seaside ministry. NOT!

I spent much of my ministry career with smaller congregations. I served a couple congregations that had been stuck in the 150–200 range. But most of the congregations I served for any length of time were well under 50. Small may be cozy, comfortable, and easy to manage, but small is not what Jesus was after when he went out to preach. Small is fine for teaching (Jesus often went off with his disciples alone to teach them more thoroughly (e.g., Mark 4:10ff), but he wanted to get God’s word out to as many people as possible.

We’ve been reading The Screwtape Letters in Wednesday night class at my congregation. In chapter VII, Screwtape says this about small churches to his nephew Wormwood: “We [the demons] want the church to be small not only that fewer men may know the Enemy [God] but also that those who do may acquire the uneasy intensity and the defensive self-righteousness of a secret society or a clique.” How many times have I heard that criticism of smaller churches from the world?!?

Before moving back to Omaha, I spent two years in a growing, vibrant congregation whose attendance was about one-third the population of the town. We drove 30 miles to get there, because it was the best thing going in the area for one, and I had known the pastor for several years as well (it was my ex-wife’s home church).

When I moved back to Omaha, I jumped right in to my former congregation. When I attended there in the 80s, attendance was hovering at about 200. When I came back last September, I discovered that my little Timothy church had become a megachurch, averaging 1200 in three services in a new building, and they’re still bursting at the seams (with a new addition on the way). I have experienced first-hand the benefit of being part of the “crowd.” I am seeing lives changed (my own included) daily because a crowded congregation has virtually unlimited resources to get things done and make a powerful impact on its community.

The crowd is great, and the crowd is necessary, but I have also been able to experience the intimacy (without the cliquishness) of a small group setting. I have a wonderful small group that is growing, and I’m part of a great “Men’s Fraternity” group that is helping me reach new levels of spiritual maturity I never thought possible for myself. What a joy to be part of a vibrant community promoting God’s kingdom!

The Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1–20)

One of the “crowd/intimate” stories is the Parable of the Sower and Soils in Mark 4:1–20. Jesus tells the story of the farmer who “broadcasts” his seed (as opposed to carefully planting it in rows) onto four different types of soil: the hard-trodden path, the rocky ground, the thorns, and good, fertile soil.

I find in this passage a description of spiritual warfare, especially as Mark relates it. I mentioned above that the word εὐθύς occurs 4 of 41 times in Mark in this pericope. Its first occurrence is in vs. 5, where Jesus says the seed (i.e., God’s Word) that landed in rocky soil “immediately” dries up, because it had no root. However, when Jesus explains the parable further to his disciples, he uses the word three times in vv. 15–17. Satan “immediately” snatches the Word from the hardened path. By contrast, the person with rocky soil receives the Word “immediately” with joy, but because it has no root in that person’s life, the first sign of trouble causes that person to “immediately” fall away.

The spiritual battle is fierce here: Satan wastes no time trying to choke out the Word of God from our lives. But notice the progression: the greater the chance of the seed getting to some soil, the greater the effort needed to choke out or uproot God’s Word. Notice that in three of the four soils, God’s word starts to take root. But the degree of cultivation determines how well the root takes and how successful its growth will be. Notice that even among the thorns, God’s Word grows, but because of the thorns, it cannot bear fruit.

I think many of us can say that our lives have been represented by each of these types of soils at one point or another. But hopefully we’ve had someone else there to “break up the fallow ground” (Hosea 10:12), clear away the rocks, remove the thorns, and prepare us for not only receiving God’s Word with joy, but allowing it to extend deep roots into our lives, “like a tree planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:3).

To tie this entry together, let me conclude with this: A large congregation can cast a wide net, bringing in people of all types of soil. But it also has the “saintpower” to counteract the enemy who would try to snatch away God’s Word before it has a chance to take root in someone’s life. The church should be “broadcasting” God’s Word to as many as possible, but we also need the intimacy of close relationships to make sure the Word takes root deeply and produces much fruit.

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