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.

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March 23, 2012

Helmet of Salvation (Isaiah 59:17, Ephesians 6:17)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Ephesians,Isaiah,Old Testament,Spiritual Warfare — Scott Stocking @ 7:37 am

NOTE: I beefed this up from a Word of the Week e-mail originally sent in May 2001.

When my kids were learning how to ride their bicycles, I was a bit obsessive about them using a helmet. Now when I was a kid (many moons ago, now), neither my parents nor I ever gave a second thought to riding my bike without a helmet. Helmets were for football, not bike riding. Granted, the helmet cannot save you from any and all injuries, which is one of the common arguments used by motorcycle riders opposed to mandatory helmet laws. But it is a measure of protection that gave me an added sense of security as a parent as my kids were learning how to be more independent. Now that my son has his driver’s license and my daughter is only weeks away from getting her learner’s permit, I’m obsessing about safety all over again. I’m not making everyone wear helmets when he drives, obviously. But Solomon was right. “There is nothing new under the sun.”

In three passages of Scripture, God uses the “helmet” (Heb. כֹּובַע) image to describe the salvation he freely offers (Isaiah 59:17; Ephesians 6:17; and 1 Thessalonians 5:8). In Isaiah 59:17, the prophet says that God “put[s] on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on His head.” In the context of Isaiah 59, God is “displeased that there [is] no justice” (vs. 15b). God’s salvation and righteousness are necessary to turn the tide of injustice in Israel. This word for helmet is only used six times in the Old Testament, but the Isaiah passage is the only time where God is said to wear this piece of armor. If God is all powerful, he doesn’t need armor, so obviously this is figurative language here. But this also betrays another myth we have about spiritual armor. We think it is defensive. But in this passage, God is not on the defense. He is moving forward in an offensive against injustice. He’s getting ready to execute his vengeance!

As I have mentioned before in other contexts, God’s salvation here goes far beyond our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, each of us individually can personally receive God’s salvation, but not solely for our own benefit. God’s salvation here has national (and international) implications. God wants the nation of Israel to be saved, as well as the individuals within the nation.

The apostle Paul has this multifaceted view of salvation-justice as well. In 1 Tim 2:1–4, Paul urges everyone to pray for “kings and authorities” so we may lead “peaceful lives,” because God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Isaiah’s image of the helmet fits well here. God wants you and I to serve as ambassadors who will proclaim his salvation not only to individuals, but his justice to our leaders as well (see also Eph 3:8–11, Romans 13:1–7). We do this by our behavior as well as by the words we speak. As Christians, we are not primarily on defense. We should be advancing in the power of the gospel, taking every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:3–6) and storming the gates of hell (Matthew 16:18).

For too long the more conservative, non-mainline denominations have put justice on the back burner, usually treating symptoms (soup kitchens, used clothing stores, etc.) while not addressing the causes (economic oppression, government policies, waste, etc.). Fortunately, more and more Christians are beginning to recognize that a witness of social justice is an important part of declaring God’s salvation to the lost, hopeless, and oppressed. And interestingly enough, the more it seems we concern ourselves with social justice, the more intense the persecution becomes against Christians. I’d say that means we must be doing something right to concern ourselves with God’s salvation-justice.

The bicycle helmet cannot protect us from skinned knees and elbows. We need kneepads, elbow pads and wrist braces if we are really serious about protecting ourselves as we ride the highways and byways of this nation. God’s helmet of salvation is only part of the “whole armor of God” that defends us against the onslaught of Satan and his forces. Not only is it defensive, but His armor terrifies our foes and causes them to retreat as they see us advancing against them in God’s might.

Peace!

Scott Stocking

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