Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Imperatives of Discipleship

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Mark 8:31-38, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the second Sunday of Lent. In my mind, this is the most critical text and epicenter of Mark’s gospel.  

31Καὶ ἤρξατο διδάσκειν αὐτοὺς ὅτι δεῖ τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου πολλὰ 
παθεῖν καὶ ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων καὶ τῶν ἀρχιερέων καὶ 
τῶν γραμματέων καὶ ἀποκτανθῆναι καὶ μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας ἀναστῆναι: 
Then he began to teach them, “It is necessary for the son of man to suffer greatly and to be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and to be killed, and after three days to rise.”
ἤρξατο : AMI 3s, ἄρχω, 1) to be chief, to lead, to rule
δεῖ: PAI 3s, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten  1a) to bind, fasten with chains, to throw into chains  1b) metaph.  ..1b2) to bind, put under obligation, of the law, duty
διδάσκειν: PAInf, διδάσκω, 1) to teach  1a) to hold discourse with others in order to instruct them,  deliver didactic discourses
παθεῖν: AAInf, πάσχω, 1) to be affected or have been affected, to feel, have a  sensible experience, to undergo  1a) in a good sense, to be well off, in good case  1b) in a bad sense, to suffer sadly, be in a bad plight  1b1) of a sick person 
ἀποδοκιμασθῆναι: APInf, ἀποδοκιμάζω, 1) to disapprove, reject, repudiate 
ἀποκτανθῆναι: APInf, ἀποκτείνω, 1) to kill in any way whatever  1a) to destroy, to allow to perish  
ἀναστῆναι: AAInf, ἀνίστημι, 1) to cause to rise up, raise up  1a) raise up from laying down  1b) to raise up from the dead  
1. The ὅτι can either be translated as “that” (see the NRSV) or signify the beginning of a quote. Because v.32 makes a reference to what Jesus says here, I’m interpreting it as a quotation.
2. The phrase “Son of Man” is in the accusative case, which means that it is the object of the verb δεῖ. There may be an idiomatic speech pattern here where nouns in the accusative case act as nominative cases when paired with δεῖ. I am translating it more literally, as a substantive verb (“It is necessary for”) with “son of man” as the object.
3. While I am using “It is necessary for,” the δεῖ could be something like “It is fated for” or “It is destined for.” The verb δέω means to be chained or fastened to something. This is a critical verb here and elsewhere in Mark’s gospel.
4. For what, then, is the Son of Man destined? The verb δεῖ is followed by four infinitives: to suffer, to be rejected, to be killed, and to rise. The first and last infinitives are active, the second and third are passive.

32 καὶ παρρησίᾳ τὸν λόγον ἐλάλει. καὶ προσλαβόμενος  Πέτρος αὐτὸν ἤρξατο ἐπιτιμᾶν αὐτῷ. 
And he says the word openly. And, taking him aside, Peter began to censure him.
ἐλάλει: IAI 3s, λαλέω, 1) to utter a voice or emit a sound  2) to speak  2a) to use the tongue or the faculty of speech  2b) to utter articulate sounds
προσλαβόμενος: AMP nsm,
ἐπιτιμᾶν,v   3sg, PAI 3s, ἐπιτιμάω, See v. 30  1) to show honor to, to honor  2) to raise the price of  3) to adjudge, award, in the sense of merited penalty  4) to tax with fault, rate, chide, rebuke, reprove, censure severely  4a) to admonish or charge sharply 
1.  This verse has two quite different remarks. First, it notes that Jesus gives the disclosure of v.31 openly. Throughout Mark’s gospel, Jesus silences remarks about him – a feature that is often called the “Messianic secret” in Mark. The words, “It is necessary for the son of man to suffer …” is no secret. Perhaps it is because Jesus names names (elders, chief priests, scribes) that Mark finds Jesus’ candor in this disclosure so remarkable. This is the only use of παρρησίᾳ in Mark.  
2.  Verse 32 seems to be a contrast to v.30 (not in this week’s lection). Just after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, v.30 says, “And [Jesus] censured them that they may tell no one about it.” Now, however, Jesus is quite open about his forthcoming suffering. 
3.  Likewise, when Peter begins to “censure” Jesus, Mark uses the same verb as in v.30, ἐπιτιμάω.It is curious that the verb ἐπιτιμάω can mean either ‘to show honor’ or ‘to rebuke.’ Context determines the translation and I think most translations have it right that vv. 30 and 32 are meant to be confrontational.

33 δὲ ἐπιστραφεὶς καὶ ἰδὼν τοὺς μαθητὰς αὐτοῦ ἐπετίμησεν Πέτρῳ καὶ 
λέγει, Υπαγε ὀπίσω μου, Σατανᾶ, ὅτι οὐ φρονεῖς τὰ τοῦ θεοῦ ἀλλὰ τὰ τῶν 
But having turned and having seen his disciples, he censured Peter and says, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not reflecting on the things of God but on the things of humans.”
ἐπιστραφεὶς: APP nsm, ἐπιστρέφω, 1) transitively  1a) to turn to  1a1) to the worship of the true God  1b) to cause to return, to bring back 
ἰδὼν: AAP nsm, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know  3) to see, i.e. become acquainted with by experience, to experience
ἐπετίμησεν: AAI 3s, ἐπιτιμάω, 1) to show honor to, to honor  2) to raise the price of  3) to adjudge, award, in the sense of merited penalty  4) to tax with fault, rate, chide, rebuke, reprove, censure severely  4a) to admonish or charge sharply
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
Υπαγε: PAImpv 2s, ὑπάγω, 1) to lead under, bring under  2) to withdraw one's self, to go away, depart 
φρονεῖς: PAI 2s, φρονέω, 1) to have understanding, be wise   2) to feel, to think   2a) to have an opinion of one's self, think of one's self, to be modest, not let one's opinion (though just) of himself exceed the bounds of modesty
1. The phrase “having seen his disciples” indicates that Jesus is arguing with Peter with the disciples in view. Remembering that Peter has just made the profession that Jesus is the Christ, Peter seems to be emerging as the leading voice among the disciples. But, that leadership comes with significant responsibility and a huge learning curve. In vv.29-30, Peter’s confession is immediately followed by Jesus censuring them not to tell anyone about him. In our pericope, Jesus and Peter are censuring one another back and forth. In the next pericope (the transfiguration story of 9:2-9), Peter again speaks out and is silenced by the voice out of the clouds. Peter has a lot to learn.
2. Here’s that word ἐπιτιμάω (“censured” or “rebuked”) again! It is in vv. 30, 32, and 33, to speak of Jesus-to-Peter, Peter-to-Jesus, and Jesus-to-Peter again.
3. Note the use of “behind me” in this verse … and the next!
4. In Matthew 4:10 (temptation story) Jesus uses the phrase, Υπαγε, Σατανᾶ (“Get, Satan!”) Here it is Υπαγε ὀπίσω μου, Σατανᾶ, (“Get behind me, Satan!”)
5. By using the name “Satan” with reference to Peter here, Jesus/Mark may be showing that “Satan” is less a proper name, and more of a reference to anyone who tempts Jesus not to do that for which he is destined. Mark’s other uses of the term are in the temptation story (1:13), a discourse in when Jesus is accused of having a demon (3:22-28), and as part of the parable of the sower (4:15).
6. This is Mark’s only use of the verb φρονεῖς. It indicates action of the mind (φρήν) and has a long tradition in philosophy as what we might call “practical wisdom.” It may be what is indicated today as “mindfulness.” Here, Jesus indicates that it can be applied toward divine concerns or human concerns.
7. I am not comfortable drawing too hard of a line between the divine and the human. The distinction here is clearly between Jesus’ journey toward death and Peter’s censure, which (I suppose) would be about self-preservation.

34Καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος τὸν ὄχλον σὺν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, 
Εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἀκολουθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν 
σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι. 
And having called to the crowd with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone wants to follow behind me, let that one deny oneself and take up one’s cross and follow me.
προσκαλεσάμενος: AMP nsm, προσκαλέομαι, 1) to call to 2) to call to one's self  3) to bid to come to one's self  
θέλει: PAI 3s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend  1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose  1b) to desire, to wish  1c) to love  1c1) to like to do a thing, be fond of doing  1d) to take delight in, have pleasure 
ἀκολουθεῖν: PAInf, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant, accompany him  2) to join one as a disciple, become or be his disciple  2a) side with his party 
ἀπαρνησάσθω: AMImpv 3s, ἀπαρνέομαι, 1) to deny  1a) to affirm that one has no acquaintance or connection with someone  1b) to forget one's self, lose sight of one's self and one's  own interests.
ἀράτω : AAImpv 3s, αἴρω, 1) to raise up, elevate, lift up  1a) to raise from the ground, take up: stones  1b) to raise upwards, elevate, lift up: the hand
ἀκολουθείτω: PAImpv 3s, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes, join him as his attendant,  accompany him  2) to join one as a disciple, become or be his disciple  2a) side with his party 
1. Notice the audience here: Having seen the disciples, he spoke to Peter and now having called to the crowd he speaks to them with his disciples.
2. My translation is awkward, “One … oneself … one’s ..”, etc. I am trying to pick up on the fact that this is singular, yet I’m trying to keep it gender-neutral. Most translations use the plural in order to keep it gender neutral, which I think is wise.
3. This is the first mention of the cross in Mark. The words “follow” and “behind” are key here. When Jesus called his disciples, he said, “Come behind me and I’ll make you fishers of people.” Then, Mark says, “They followed him.” These are discipleship terms throughout Mark. Reading Mk. 14 and seeing how the disciples ‘fled’ and how Peter ‘followed at a distance’ we see how difficult this call was for the disciples.
4. In vv.33 Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!” In v. 34: He calls disciples to line up behind him and Peter/Satan.
5. The imperatives, “deny, take, follow” are in the 3rd person, which is odd in the NT. Imperatives are typically in the 2nd person voice. The first two imperatives, ‘deny’ and ‘take,’ are aorist, but he third, ‘follow’ is present. I think that gives the command to ‘follow’ a more ongoing quality.
6. Regarding the verb ἀπαρνησάσθω: The distinction between φρονεῖς (v.33) on “human things” v. on “divine things” seems to hinge on this willingness to “deny oneself.” The only other use of this verb is in c.14, when Peter (Peter!) denies, not himself, but Jesus.  

35ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν: ὃς δ' ἂν 
ἀπολέσει τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ καὶ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου σώσει αὐτήν. 
For whoever who wants to rescue one’s life will destroy it, and whoever destroys one’s life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will rescue it.
θέλῃ: PASubj 3s, θέλω, 1) to will, have in mind, intend  1a) to be resolved or determined, to purpose  1b) to desire, to wish  1c) to love  1c1) to like to do a thing, be fond of doing  1d) to take delight in, have pleasure
σῶσαι: AAInf, σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction  1a) one (from injury or peril)  1a1) to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one  suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health
ἀπολέσει: FAI 3s, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy 1a) to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin  …  2) to destroy  2a) to lose 
σώσει: FAI 3s, σῴζω, 1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction 1a) one (from injury or peril)  1a1) to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one  suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health
1. The key terms here are the oppositional terms σῴζω and ἀπόλλυμι, which the NRSV translates as “save” and “lose.”
2. For σῴζω I am using “rescue,” because the term “save” has often lost its original meaning and has become a “religious” word, only to indicate “save from sin and go to heaven.” In Mark 3:4 it is the opposite of “to kill.” In other places (5:23ff or 10:52) it could be translated “to make whole.” Even in 13:13 when Jesus says whoever endures to the end “shall be saved,” it seems to indicate saving one’s life, not simply saving one’s soul. (Cf. 13:20 as well)
3. Here, σῴζω is the opposite of the very difficult term ἀπόλλυμι. You can see from Mark’s use of this term that it can mean “lose” but typically has a much sharper edge (1:24, 2:22, 3:6, 4:38, 9:22, 9:41, 11:18, 12:9). I am trying to retain the harshness and opposition of these words.
2. Pertaining to the word There seems to be an operational understanding among Mark’s readers of what it means to ‘rescue’ or ‘destroy’ one’s psyche.
3. Some of the oldest manuscripts omit the words “for my sake.”
4. The use of “the gospel” as an unexplained referent, not uncommon in Mark, indicates that the term was easily familiar to Mark’s audience.   

36 τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖ ἄνθρωπον κερδῆσαι τὸν κόσμον ὅλον καὶ ζημιωθῆναι τὴν 
ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ; 
For what does it profit a person to acquire the whole world and forfeit one’s life?
ὠφελεῖ: PAI 3s, ὠφελέω, 1) to assist, to be useful or advantageous, to profit 
κερδῆσαι: AAInf, κερδαίνω, 1) to gain, acquire, to get gain 2) metaph. 2a) of gain arising from shunning or escaping from evil
ζημιωθῆναι: APInf, ζημιόω, 1) to affect with damage, do damage to 2) to sustain damage, to receive injury, suffer loss
1. The words κερδαίνω and ζημιόω (“acquire” and “forfeit”) seem to be other ways of stating “rescue” and “destroy” in v.35. My guess (another way of saying “this is thin ice”) is that this question echoes a familiar saying or proverb. These are Mark’s only uses of the verbs κερδαίνω and ζημιόω, so I would venture that he is drawing them from a familiar source.
2. The term ψυχὴν can be translated “life” (in a different sense than biotic life) or “soul,” or it can be transliterated as “psyche, ” as in psych-ology. It is often translated “soul,” but, I am a little hesitant to use “soul” because it has become another “religious” word that signifies a part of the human person, as opposed to a common word that refers to one’s being more holistically.
3. An example in this gospel of one who acquires yet loses his soul may be Judas, about whom Jesus says in 14:31, “It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” Forgetting images of judgment and punishment for a moment, this may be the saddest summary statement about a human life that could ever be expressed. In the rat race to gain it all, one loses one’s essential humanity.

37τί γὰρ δοῖ ἄνθρωπος ἀντάλλαγμα τῆς ψυχῆς αὐτοῦ; 
For what can one give in return for one’s life?
δοῖ: AASubj 3s, δίδωμι to give, present (with implied notion of giving freely unforced; opposed to ἀποδίδωμι). Hence, in various connections, to yield, deliver, supply, commit, etc.
1. I think the meaning of this verse retains the ‘comparative value’ sense from v.36. Perhaps “What would be a fair exchange for one’s life?” And I think the implied answer is “Nothing. Not even the whole world.”

38 ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν ἐπαισχυνθῇ με καὶ τοὺς ἐμοὺς λόγους ἐν τῇ γενεᾷταύτῃ τῇ 
μοιχαλίδι καὶ ἁμαρτωλῷ, καὶ  υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐπαισχυνθήσεται αὐτὸν 
ὅταν ἔλθῃ ἐν τῇ δόξῃ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ μετὰ τῶν ἀγγέλων τῶν ἁγίων.
For whoever might be ashamed [of] me and of my words in the adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed [of] that one when he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels.”
ἐπαισχυνθῇ: APSubj 3s, ἐπαισχύνομαι, 1) to be ashamed 
ἐπαισχυνθήσεται: FPI 3s, ἐπαισχύνομαι, 1) to be ashamed 
ἔλθῃ: AASubj 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons  1a1) to come from one place to another, and used both of  persons arriving and of those returning 
1. Verses 35, 36, 37, and 38 all have the word γὰρ as their second word. γὰρ is a “post-positive” word, meaning that while it appears second in Greek order, we typically translated its “position” as first. And it is also typically translated as “For”.
2. The γὰρ signifies that vv.35-38 are making an argument or an explanation for what has already been said, namely they explain the words in v.34, “If anyone wants to follow behind me, let that one deny oneself and take up one’s cross and follow me.”

There is so much going on in this brief pericope and its centrality to Mark’s gospel makes it central to the story of Christ in general. This is Jesus’ first ‘disclosure’ of his forthcoming suffering and death. I shy away from the word ‘prediction’ – as some translations put in their subtitle – because this is not a matter of guesswork. It is a description of what the Son of Man must do. If Jesus had yielded to Satan-Peter’s temptation to try another path, then he would not have been the Son of Man. He might have gained things, perhaps even the whole world, but he would have lost who he is as the Son of Man, bound to suffer rejection and death. Moreover, the essential identity that Peter/Satan tempts Jesus to forego – taking up his cross – is the identity and temptation that faces anyone who would be his disciple.


  1. It's been too long since I studied Greek, so I really appreciate the work you do. Very helpful in getting through some of the words we take for granted.
    Rescue and destroy add a fresh dynamic to this text.

    1. Thanks Jenny. Blessings on your ministry.

  2. ψυχὴν -- rather than life or soul, what about "identity" as a possible translation of this concept? (I'm borrowing from preaching by Tim Keller). Maybe it's too loaded, but it works for this generation I think. Thanks for your work!

  3. This is going way, way out there. But I am wondering with the use of the term opizo (get behind, and follow), and the use of the term epitiman (censure, honor)--AND the fact that Satan is named, could this, could this possibly be an invitation even to the Evil One to repent? Does God's realm or kingdom stretch that far? I ask this because one of the things Satan can't stand to be is truly a person--truly human. I quote from a lecture at LTS Gettysburg by Robert Jenson years ago: "God is fully and richly embodied for himself, and then for us, as Jesus the Son. Just so, he can give himself over to us and be maltreated by us. Just so his omnipotent rule is not tyranny. A purely disembodied consciousness, on the other hand, a consciousness that was always looking at us and never letting us look back, that always fixed its gaze and never let us see what he looked like, that would be a universal tyrant. And it is, of course, that to which Satan hopelessly aspires. A disembodied spirit with no object to give others, to to see himself in, would be, necessarily, a sort of universal hatred. Which is what ails the devil" p. 37, Lutheran Theological Seminary Bulletin, Winter 1989.

  4. thanks for your work. parrhesia. thanks for the work of knowing/checking that this word is only used here. you always offer insights and fresh perspective.

  5. Mark,
    I am a Lutheran Pastor in Helena and I want to thank you for your insight translations and comments. You are one of the sources I go to on a weekly basis for exegetical preparation! Great work Mark! Thank you. Brad

    1. Thank you, Brad. May your service to the folks in Helena be blessed.


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