Sunday, June 17, 2018

Avast ye scurvy elements!

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Mark 4:35-41. Once upon a time I had this post and another called "Piety and Panic" that linked to one another. This year I have just combined the content on both posts, so they are essentially duplicates of one another. I would have eliminated one of them, except that some web sites have links to them from 3 and 6 years ago, and I don't want to take away those links. 

We will begin with the rough translation and after I will pose some more general comments about preaching this text. 

Also, if you'd to read it, I have an essay on this text called "The Politics of Chaos" right here

35Καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ὀψίας γενομένης, Διέλθωμεν εἰς τὸ πέραν.
And he says to them in that day evening having begun, “Let us go over to the other side.”  
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak 
γενομένης: AMPart gsf, 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
Διέλθωμεν: AASubj 1p (hortatory subjunctive), διέρχομαι, 1) to go through, pass through
1. The time and space of this chapter are somewhat confusing. Initially, Jesus is teaching the crowd, which is so large that he has to climb into a boat to teach them along the shore. Then, in v.10, Mark says “When he was alone …” the disciples and those with them asked about the Parable of the Sower, and Jesus explains both the parable and the use of parables when speaking with the crowd. However, this may be more a matter of ‘layering’ conversations than ‘sequencing’ them, because in vv.33-34 it says, “With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them (the crowd), as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them (the crowd) without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples (not the crowd), he explained everything.”  

36καὶ ἀφέντες τὸν ὄχλον παραλαμβάνουσιν αὐτὸν ὡς ἦν ἐν τῷ πλοίῳ, καὶ ἄλλα πλοῖα ἦν μετ' αὐτοῦ.
And sending the crowd away they took him as he was in the boat, and other boats was with him.
ἀφέντες: AAPart npm, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away  1a) to bid going away or depart
παραλαμβάνουσιν: PAI 3p, παραλαμβάνω, 1) to take to, to take with one's self, to join to one's self  1a) an associate, a companion
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. “as he was” – This is a curious descriptive detail. What is the point? Was he ill? Tired? Not wearing sea clothes?
2. I know that the grammar sounds incorrect – “other boats was with him,” but the sentence does have a plural noun and a singular verb.
3. Wondering why the KJV and YLT add the adjective ‘little’ to boats/ships. Is there a textual variant here?
4. The word “sending” (sometimes translated “dismissing”) is the same word that is often translated as “forgiving” in the NT. It’s the word used by a questioner to speak of Moses’ law allowing a man to “divorce” his wife. My point is not to suggest that it should be ‘forgive’ or ‘divorce’ here. I DO think, however, that recognizing the multivalent nature of this term should caution us against making too strictly a “religious” term when it is translated as “forgive.” It’s a capacious term in many respects.

37καὶ γίνεται λαῖλαψ μεγάλη ἀνέμου, καὶ τὰ κύματα ἐπέβαλλεν εἰς τὸ πλοῖον, ὥστε ἤδη γεμίζεσθαι τὸ πλοῖον.
And a great tempest of wind began, and the waves were splashing into the boat, so much so that the boat is to be filled already (or ‘now’).
γίνεται: PMI 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
ἐπέβαλλεν: IAI 3s, ἐπιβάλλω, 1) to cast upon, to lay upon  1a) used of seizing one to lead him off as a prisoner
γεμίζεσθαι: PPInf, γεμίζω, 1) to fill, fill full 
1. This verse tempts me to try to sound like a sailor and call it a ‘gust,’ ‘gale’ or ‘squall’ of wind. If I knew the differences between those terms, I might use them more precisely. “Tempest” sounds a bit Shakespearean to me.
2. I use ‘splashing’ to capture the active voice of ἐπέβαλλεν, which usually means something like ‘to throw out.’ What’s the liquid equivalent of ‘throw out’?
3. The last verb, γεμίζεσθαι, is a present, passive infinitive and is awkward to translate literally. I would refine it in later stages of the process.

38καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν ἐν τῇ πρύμνῃ ἐπὶ τὸ προσκεφάλαιον καθεύδων: καὶ ἐγείρουσιν αὐτὸν καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε, οὐ μέλει σοι ὅτι ἀπολλύμεθα;
And he was in the stern sleeping on the pillow; and they awaken him and say to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we perish?”
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
καθεύδων: PAPart nsm, καθεύδω, 1) to fall asleep, drop off to sleep
ἐγείρουσιν: PAI 3p, ἐγείρω, 1) to arouse, cause to rise  1a) to arouse from sleep, to awake 
λέγουσιν: PAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
μέλει: PAI 3s, μέλω used impers.; impf. ἔμελεν; it is a care: τινί, to one; as in Grk. writ. with nom. of the thing,
ἀπολλύμεθα: PMI 1p, ἀπόλλυμι, 1) to destroy  1a) to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to ruin  1b) render useless  1c) to kill  1d) to declare that one must be put to death  1e) metaph. to devote or give over to eternal misery in hell 
1. I wonder if the note that Jesus is sleeping on a pillow has something to do with that curious note that Jesus got into the boat ‘just as he was’ in v.36. Was he exhausted?
2. “Stern” is the back part of a ship. The aft. The poop. My kids would love for me to read “poop” from the Bible in church one day.
3. So far, this story sounds conspicuously like the story of Jonah, who was asleep when the storm at sea began.

39καὶ διεγερθεὶς ἐπετίμησεν τῷ ἀνέμῳ καὶ εἶπεν τῇ θαλάσσῃ, Σιώπα, πεφίμωσο. καὶ ἐκόπασεν ἄνεμος, καὶ ἐγένετο γαλήνη μεγάλη.
And having been awakened he rebuked to the wind and said to the sea, “Avast, be muzzled!” And the wind ceased, and a great calm began.
διεγερθεὶς: APPart nsm, διεγείρω, 1) to wake up, awaken, arouse (from sleep)
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
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
Σιώπα: PAImpv 2s, σιωπάω, 1) to be silent, hold one's peace 1a) used of one's silence because dumb  2) metaph. of a calm, quiet sea
πεφίμωσο: PerfPImpv, φιμόω, 1) to close the mouth with a muzzle, to muzzle   2) metaph.   2a) to stop the mouth, make speechless, reduce to silence   2b) to become speechless   3) to be kept in check [PERFECT PASSIVE IMPERATIVE??]
ἐκόπασεν: AAI 3s, κοπάζω, 1) to grow weary or tired 2) to cease from violence, cease raging
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
1. Homiletical Question: Jesus rebukes the wind and speaks to the sea. This is great storytelling, but troubling reality for a 21st century worldview. Do we really think the wind and the sea have any sort of agency, whereby a command to them can be obeyed (or not)? Is a responsible preacher compelled to ask these sorts of questions? We can be sure that – even if we have our own hermeneutical apparatus for letting a story speak in literal language and believing it in symbolic language – some of our listeners will believe this story in literal language and others will dismiss it because it seems like we are believing it in literal language. What is more beneficial – to address these kinds of issues out loud or to let them fester underneath the surface?  
My personal approach is to see this story as pointing beyond itself to something else. A storm at sea is the most expressive sense of ‘chaos’ that seafaring people know. There is literally nothing stable to grasp when one’s entire ship is engulfed in wind and waves. Anything that might offer stability – like a large stone cropping out of the sea – is a threat more than a help in this kind of trouble. Truly, everything is in flux. Hence, a storm as sea is perfectly illustrative of a situation when it seems that all of our possible moorings are far away and we are helpless against the elements.
In Jesus’ time, this may be the kind of many-tentacled, unavoidable reach of the Roman Empire, which has upended every know support that the people of Israel had known. Everything had been usurped and engulfed for Rome’s use. But, here is one who can overcome those seemingly undefeatable elements.
2. Re “rebuked” (ἐπετίμησεν). The possible definitions range from “to show honor” to “to censure.” Now, that’s a versatile word that needs context for translation!
3. Re "Avast" (Σιώπα). This is not the word that is typically translated "peace" in the NT (εἰρήνη).
4. Re “be muzzled” (πεφίμωσο). I don’t know if I’ve ever seen (or recall seeing) a PERFECT PASSIVE IMPERATIVE when translating before.
  A. PERFECT: In the imperative mood, there is no distinction of time in the tenses. Rather, they signify whether an action is ongoing or one time. I don’t know what a perfect imperative signifies, but it makes more sense for this to be one time, rather than ongoing.
  B. PASSIVE: YLT suggest “Be stilled!” which captures the passive voice well. Most others seem to treat it like an active imperative, “be still!”  
5. The word for “wind” here and in v.37 is ἀνέμῳ, not the pneuma of Acts 2.

40καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τί δειλοί ἐστε; οὔπω ἔχετε πίστιν;
And he said to them, “Why are you timid? Have you no faith?”
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
ἐστε: PAI 2p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἔχετε: PAI 2p, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold  1a) to have (hold) in the hand, in the sense of wearing, to have
1. The word for “timid,” δειλοί, is only used 3x in the NT - Here, in the parallel text of Matthew 8:26, and in Revelation 21:8, to indicate those who had fallen away from the faith. I use a word other than ‘fearful,’ only to distinguish this word from the two φόβος-related words used in the next verse. Ironically, ‘timid’ may be too timid of a word to capture the meaning of δειλοί based on its use in the Revelation text. It’s hard to say, since it is used so sparingly.

41καὶ ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν, καὶ ἔλεγον πρὸς ἀλλήλους, Τίς ἄρα οὗτός ἐστιν ὅτι καὶ ἄνεμος καὶ θάλασσα ὑπακούει αὐτῷ;
And they were afeared great fear, and said to one another, “Who the hell is this that even the wind and the sea listen to him?”
ἐφοβήθησαν: API 3p, φοβέω,; to terrify, frighten, to put to flight by terrifying (to scare away). Pass. 1. to be put to flight, to flee, 2. to fear, be afraid; Sept. very often for יָרֵא; absol. to be struck with fear, to be seized with alarm:
ἔλεγον: IAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ὑπακούει: PAI 3s, ὑπακούω, 1) to listen, to harken  1a) of one who on the knock at the door comes to listen who it is,  (the duty of a porter)  2) to harken to a command  2a) to obey, be obedient to, submit to 
1. I’m not going for shock value when I translate Τίς ἄρα οὗτός ἐστιν as “Who the hell is this?” ἄρα,c  1) a prayer/supplication or an imprecation/curse/malediction. Furthermore, as an interrogative particle it implies anxiety or impatience on the part of the questioner.
2. Re: “afeared.” My North Carolina-bred grandfather would use terms like “a-whistling, a-going, a-talking,” quite often, to my brother’s and my giggling delight. I am not intending to pick up on his linguistic pattern by using “afeared.” I am trying to use a term in the passive voice to reflect ἐφοβήθησαν, while retaining the kinship between ἐφοβήθησαν and φόβον. The words “affrighted great fright” would work, too. The phrase “great fear” is the object of the verb in the accusative case.

There is some kinship between this story and the a story from “The Testament of Naphtali,” which is one of the books that was discovered among the Qumran Scrolls.
The Testament of Naphtali, c.2 
9 And again, after seven days, I saw our father Jacob standing by the sea of Jamnia, and we were with him.
10 And behold, there came a ship sailing by, without sailors or pilot; and there was written upon the ship, The Ship of Jacob.
11 And our father said to us: Come, let us embark on our ship.
12 And when he had gone on board, there arose a vehement storm, and a mighty tempest of wind; and our father, who was holding the helm, departed from us.
13 And we, being tost with the tempest, were borne along over the sea; and the ship was filled with water, and was pounded by mighty waves, until it was broken up.
14 And Joseph fled away upon a little boat, and we were all divided upon nine planks, and Levi and Judah were together.
15 And we were all scattered unto the ends of the earth.
16 Then Levi, girt about with sackcloth, prayed for us all unto the Lord.
17 And when the storm ceased, the ship reached the land as it were in peace.
18 And, lo, our father came, and we all rejoiced with one accord.

Now, here are some thoughts about preaching on this text. Your comments are always welcomed. 

1. What I hope not to do in my sermons is to depict the disciples as whining in the maelstrom while Jesus is just placidly trusting God. People really do die in storms at sea.

2. It is tempting to pair the story of Jesus calming the sea to the story of Jonah to compare and contrast. Both Jesus and Jonah are asleep during a raging storm at sea. I wonder if the fact that Jesus is asleep says less about his disposition or fatigue in the story and is more of a device to make this an echo of the Jonah story. However, in Jonah's case his transgression against the will of God is the cause of the storm. In Jesus' case, the storm comes up without evident cause and the issue is whether Jesus cares or not. The RCLectionary, however, pairs this story with the encounter between David and Goliath - a different kind of story involving fear and panic.

3. The image of the disciples wakening Jesus in my head for many years was similar to when Dorothy wakes up from her concussion and everyone from her Kansas farm were gathered around her bed looking down at her. If these are modest fishing boats - not big Yankee Clippers made to sail across the ocean - I would guess that I have to have a more disturbing image than that. Jesus is not far away, but right there where they can yell their inquiry while the disciples are throwing over extra cargo or battening the loose stuff, etc. to survive. It is not really the time for processing Jesus' feelings. It's time for panicked cries for help.

4. The disciples' question intrigues me: "Do you not care that we perish?" I can hear it two ways:
A. "What? You can't sleep through this storm while we try to keep the boat from capsizing! If this boat goes down, we're all going down. Do you not care about that?" In that sense, the disciples' tone reflect their care for Jesus as well as for their own survival.
B. "Oh, it's fine for you! You can do things that we can't; you have some special ring of protection that lets you sleep in a time like this. But, what about us? Don't you care about the rest of us?" In this case, the disciples are still asking a reasonable question, even if it does sound a tinge whiny.
The difference would be whether the "we" is "You and us alike" or "Us, not you."

5. I've often been intrigued by the complex image of a parent, whose child just almost ran out in front of a car or almost fell down a flight of stairs, etc. A loving parent might scream some of the most ugly words at a child in a moment like that. I remember my mother yanking my arm and smacking my bottom with each word: What. Is. Wrong. With. You? when I did something like that. I generally feel that, under calmer circumstances, a mother ought to refrain from yanking, smacking and questioning a child's sanity. But, in that moment, those ugly words and all the physicality were actually how my mother was expressing love in a frightened, panicked way.
In the same way, I think it disingenuous for a pastor, on a calm Sunday morning when everyone is quietly listening, to treat the disciples' words as the silly expressions of those who don't really trust in Jesus' love. I think perhaps we ought to imagine ourselves and our entire congregation in an airplane that has lost its engines when we preach this text. Then we can explore panic and pious together.


  1. Perfect (passive) imperative: "shut up already"? The perfect is about completed action, as if Jesus is annoyed that the storm hasn't already been calmed?

  2. "4. The word “sending” (sometimes translated “dismissing”) is the same word that is often translated as “forgiving” in the NT."
    It seems to me that aphiemi is a much more important verb than is generally recognized. Here it should be translated 'released' - i.e., the crowd, having come under Jesus' teaching authority, is not free to just wander away. Like any real class they must be released or dismissed.
    I think this usage actually does relate to the 'release' or 'forgive' usages of the Lord's Prayer or of Luke 4 and Matthew 3.

  3. Mark Rich: I agree that aphiemi is incredibly important. That Jesus could 'send' them or 'release' them suggests a kind of subjection to him by the crowd. At the very least, it suggests that the crowd was willing to stay if Jesus had more to say at that time.
    When it is translated elsewhere as 'forgiveness,' I feel like we too quickly make it a 'religious' word, by which I mean that we act as though it has special, limited significance to specific, limited religious acts. If we used more common terms - like release - then we might see a wider, more multi-valent meaning of how we deal with sin and how God deals with our sinfulness than simply 'forgive.' It could, for example, include restitution, or speak to the pain that the forgiver has to endure in order to let go, release one's transgression, etc.
    But, perhaps that is a discussion for another text. My point here is simply to show how widely that verb can be used and I agree entirely with your comments.

  4. Thanks, as usual, Mark! Two further thoughts: The word 'sea' is used rather than 'lake'(Gk has a perfectly good word for 'lake') in part because of its mythic connotations: Chaos, anti-G-d forces etc.(cf Rev 21:1: no sea in the new creation!). The sea is the region of Leviathan, the demon, who can therefore be addressed as Jesus elsewhere addresses the demons - with 'rebuke'.

    It's always Jesus' idea to cross the sea/lake in Mark and the crossing is always difficult. The sea = transition (from clean to unclean) and it's symbolic of what is expected of the disciples of Jesus - that they leave their safe, 'clean' land and risk the crossing to the side where the 'others' live.

    There are also some interesting parallel stores of Caesar telling fellow-sailors not to be afraid because he's there with them. But the storm wins! A(nother) example of Mark taking the mickey out of Rome's claims to rule (in this case, the seas).


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