Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Beginning of the Gospel

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Mark 1:1-8, the reading for the second Sunday of Advent in year B. This text seems to gave been worked over a good bit, but remains an excellent introduction to an excellent gospel. 

1 Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ [υἱοῦ θεοῦ]. 
A beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ [son of God].
1. There is no verb in this verse, hence there is a subject, but no object. My sense is that it is meant to serve as a title, rather than a first verse, but that’s pure speculation.
2. There is no definite article for ‘beginning,’ so “a beginning,” not “the beginning.”
3. “son of God” seems to have been added later by a ‘fixing’ scribe. I am thinking of a document, noted by Bart Ehrman, where one scribe was weary of a previous scribe’s ‘helpful’ emendations and wrote in the column, “Fool and nave, stop trying to fix the text!”
4. As pointed out by Clayton N. Croy ("Where the Gospel Text Begins: A Non-Theological Interpretation of Mark 1:1," Novum Testamentum, 2001), T.W. Manson, followed 50 years later by John P. Meier, argue that there are a number of grammatical and syntactical problems with this pericope. It does seem that these few verses have been worked over pretty well by scribes and those who added period, capitals, and other indicators throughout the history of the text.

2 Καθὼς γέγραπται ἐν τῷ Ἠσαΐᾳ τῷ προφήτῃ, Ἰδοὺ ἀποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν 
μου πρὸ προσώπου σου, ὃς κατασκευάσει τὴν ὁδόν σου: 
Just as it has been written in the prophet Isaiah, “Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way;
γέγραπται: PerfPI 3s, γράφω, 1) to write, with reference to the form of the letters 
Ἰδοὺ:  AMImpv εἶδον, a particle serving to call attention.
ἀποστέλλω: PAI 1s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed
κατασκευάσει: FAI 3s, κατασκευάζω, 1) to furnish, equip, prepare, make ready, 1a) of one who makes anything ready for a person or thing
1. The particle Καθὼς (just as) makes this a dependent clause. Manson argues that there is no subsequent main clause, but that has been rectified by modern translations, such as the NRSV, by omitting the periods at the end of vv. 2 and 3 (per KJV), thereby making v.4’s “John came” the main verb of the sentence that begins in v.2. I don’t think the NIV handles this well at all by putting a period at the end of v.3 and starting v. 4 with “And so John the Baptist appeared ….” The whole point of the mashup of quotes, as I see it, is to explain how/why John appeared, which seems softened by “And so….” 
2. The first part of this quote is from Exodus 23:20, not Isaiah: καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν μου πρὸ προσώπου σου ἵνα φυλάξῃ σε ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ ὅπως εἰσαγάγῃσε εἰς τὴν γῆν ἣν ἡτοίμασά σοι (LXX), translated by the NRSV as “I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” This text refers to the presence (filled with God’s name) that leads Israel into the Canaan. God also promises to send “terror” and “pestilence” before them, to drive out the residents so that Israel will not make covenants with them or serve their gods. The quote is also akin to Malachi 3:1: ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἐξαποστέλλω τὸν ἄγγελόν μου, καὶ ἐπιβλέψεται ὁδὸν πρὸ προσώπου μου, καὶ ἐξαίφνης ἥξει εἰς τὸν ναὸν ἑαυτοῦ κύριος, ὃν ὑμεῖς ζητεῖτε, καὶ ὁ ἄγγελος τῆς διαθήκης, ὃν ὑμεῖς θέλετε· ἰδοὺ ἔρχεται, λέγει κύριος παντοκράτωρ, translated in the NRSV as “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” The messenger in Malachi will come like a refiner’s fire and fuller soap.

3 φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ, Ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου, εὐθείας ποιεῖτε 
τὰς τρίβους αὐτοῦ 
A voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the lord, make straight the path of him.’”
βοῶντος: PAPart gsm, βοάω, 1) to raise a cry, of joy pain etc.  2) to cry, speak with a high, strong voice  3) to cry to one for help, to implore his aid. 
Ἑτοιμάσατε: AAImpv 2p, ἑτοιμάζω, 1) to make ready, prepare 
ποιεῖτε: PAImpv 2p, ποιέω, 1) to make
1. Isaiah 40:3 (LXX) reads: φωνὴ βοῶντος ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ ἑτοιμάσατε τὴν ὁδὸν κυρίου εὐθείας ποιεῖτε τὰς τρίβους τοῦ θεοῦ ἡμῶν, translated in the NRSV as “A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” The NRSV is not translating the LXX, but the Hebrew text, where “In the wilderness” is part of what is cried out and so the location of where one is to prepare the way. Mark’s Greek text follows the LXX, which makes “in the wilderness” part of a participial phrase of the voice’s location, since the participle ‘crying out’ is in the genitive case, as is ‘wilderness.’
3. The first imperative, “prepare” is aorist while the second, “make” is present. In the imperative voice, tenses do not indicate time as much as aspect. I point this out because I typically think the second part of this sentence says essentially the same thing as the first, but perhaps there is more to it than that.

4 ἐγένετο Ἰωάννης [ὁ] βαπτίζων ἐν τῇἐρήμῳ καὶ κηρύσσων βάπτισμα 
μετανοίας εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν. 
John came, who was baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance to forgiveness of sins.
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen 
βαπτίζων: PAPart nms, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge
κηρύσσων: PAPart nms, κηρύσσω, 1) to be a herald, to officiate as a herald 
1. The [ὁ] is not in all of the ancient manuscripts. My guess is that it was added later, after John’s activity became commonly used as a title, ‘the baptizer.’
2. ‘Baptizing’ and ‘preaching’ are participles with identical case, number, gender, and tense. That is why I use them similarly, to modify “John” and each with a predicate.
3. If one puts this whole sentence (vv. 2-4) together, it flows like this: Just as it is written … John came. Then, what is written (a voice crying out, a messenger coming to prepare) is aligned with what John is doing (baptizing and preaching). Contra Manson, as one long sentence, I think these three verses hold together quite nicely.

5 καὶ ἐξεπορεύετο πρὸς αὐτὸν πᾶσα  Ἰουδαία χώρα καὶ οἱ Ἱεροσολυμῖται 
πάντες, καὶ ἐβαπτίζοντο ὑπ' αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ Ἰορδάνῃ ποταμῷ  ἐξομολογούμενοι τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν. 
And all the Judean region and all the Jerusalemites were going out to him, and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River confessing their sins. 
ἐξεπορεύετο: IMI 3s, ἐκπορεύομαι, 1) to go forth, go out, depart  2) metaph.  2a) to come forth, to issue, to proceed 
ἐβαπτίζοντο: IPI 3p, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge (of vessels sunk)  2) to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean  with water, to wash one's self, bathe
ἐξομολογούμενοι: PMPart npm, ἐξομολογέω, 1) to confess  2) to profess 

6 καὶ ἦν  Ἰωάννης ἐνδεδυμένος τρίχας καμήλου καὶ ζώνην δερματίνην περὶ τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐσθίων ἀκρίδας καὶ μέλι ἄγριον. 
And John was clothing himself with hair of camel and skin belt around his hips, and eating locusts and wild honey. 
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐνδεδυμένος: PerfMPart nms, ἐνδύω, 1) to sink into (clothing), put on, clothe one's self 
ἐσθίων: PAPart nms, ἐσθίω, 1) to eat  2) to eat (consume) a thing  2a) to take food, eat a meal  3) metaph. to devour, consume
1. I’m not entirely sure how to honor the main verb, ἦν (‘was’, in the imperfect), since it seems to be serving as a linking verb to a perfect middle participle, making “was … having been clothing himself.”
2. See II Kings 1:8 where Elijah the Tishbite is described as “A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.” The use of the middle voice, John was “clothing himself” may indicate that John was very self-consciously dressing to fill the role of Elijah. Was John being somewhat theatrical in order to fulfill his role, or was he simply an ascetic, whose appearance was aligned with Elijah’s by others?

7 καὶ ἐκήρυσσεν λέγων, Ἔρχεται  ἰσχυρότερός μου ὀπίσω μου, οὗ οὐκ εἰμὶ 
ἱκανὸς κύψας λῦσαι τὸν ἱμάντα τῶν ὑποδημάτων αὐτοῦ: 
And was preaching saying, “One greater than me comes after me, for whom I am not worthy to loosen the laces of his sandals.
ἐκήρυσσεν: IAI 3s, κηρύσσω, 1) to be a herald, to officiate as a herald  1a) to proclaim after the manner of a herald 
λέγων: PAPart nsm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come
εἰμὶ: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
λῦσαι: AAInf, λύω, 1) to loose any person (or thing) tied or fastened
1. These words of John the Baptizer are repeated in all four of the gospels, as well as in a sermon by Paul in Acts 13:25.

8 ἐγὼ ἐβάπτισα ὑμᾶς ὕδατι, αὐτὸς δὲ βαπτίσει ὑμᾶς ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ. 
I baptize you with water; but he will baptize you in a holy spirit.
ἐβάπτισα: AAI 1s, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge
βαπτίσει: FAI 3s, βαπτίζω, 1) to dip repeatedly, to immerse, to submerge1.
1. The KJV and YLT begin this verse, “I indeed baptize …” because the ἐγὼ (ego: I) is not necessary, given that the verb is in the 1st person singular. Often, in that case, the ἐγὼ  seems to add stress and can be interpreted as “I indeed.” I suspect that it is not so much intended here to stress the “I” as much as to set up a parallel construction between “I …, but he …,” since the whole point of the verse is to subordinate John’s baptism to the baptism of the coming one.
2. The phrase πνεύματι ἁγίῳ is tricky. In this instance  both πνεύματι and ἁγίῳ are in the dative case, making it rightly ‘in a holy spirit.’ In many other instances in the NT the word for ‘spirit’ may be nominative/accusative while the word for ‘holy’ will be genitive, making it ‘spirit of holiness.’ Nonetheless, since “the Holy Spirit” has been made a point of dogma in the history of the church, translators often add a definite article, capitalize both words, and ignore any differences in case that might be in the text.

3. Here, for example, there is no definite article, so “a holy spirit” not “the Holy Spirit” (as in KJV, YLT, ESV, NIV, and NRSV). 


  1. There appears to be a "not this, but that" rhythm. Elijah/John
    Water/spirit of holiness, which I like set next to repentance to forgiveness of sins. It sounds like a cadence of pairs. It makes me think we might need points of reference to understand new things.

    Thanks for your work!

    1. Excellent comment, Anonymous one. Thanks.

  2. I believe that holy spirit in v. 8 are the instrumental dative. Not that it makes any translation difference.

    1. That ... may be intriguing, Rebecca. I'm not sure what exactly determines that a dative is 'instrumental,' or if that is determined by context. If it is instrumental, that would raise the question of 'to what end?', perhaps suggesting that being baptized in a holy spirit is toward a specific end.

  3. Out of curiosity, I checked the "fool and knave" marginal comment. It's in Codex Vaticanus, next to Hebrews 1:3.

    1. It is one of my favorite scribal stories. I bought a used book once that had some dumb comments written in it by someone who, frankly, would have been happier reading a different book. I wish I had known of this story then, because I would have known what to write in response.

  4. I meant to get in last week to say, welcome back! I always miss you when you're gone, and when you are able to write, it always enriches my study.

  5. Perhaps the "prophet" the interrogators refer to is the one Moses mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15? That's generally assumed to be a Messianic prophecy, but perhaps they interpreted it differently...


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