Things that are Pangs in the Birth
Below is my translation of Mark 13:1-8, the Revised Common Lectionary’s Gospel reading for the 26thSunday after Pentecost. This text is the beginning of what some scholars call Mark’s “little apocalypse,” where Jesus speaks of cataclysmic signs, persecutions, the “abomination of desolation,” and “the son of man coming in the clouds.” Much of this language and texture comes from Daniel – particularly that part of Daniel that was written when the Selucid General Antiochus IV Epiphanes overthrew Jerusalem and desecrated the temple.
It is my reading that apocalyptic literature is protest literature, particularly at times when imperial powers try to usurp that which is rightly God’s. That is, I read the last half of Daniel as a protest against the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes, when he desecrated the temple in 167 BCE. And I read Mark 13 as a protest against the actions of the General and future Caesar Titus, as he destroyed the temple in 70 CE to squash a rebellion.
This particular pericope begins with the unnamed disciple marveling at the seeming indestructibility of the temple. As Mark’s audience knows, that indestructibility is far from certain. This pericope also follows the story from last week, where the poor widow is contributing to a temple system that is destructive. As some readers pointed out last week, in light of that passage, this week’s text may be read as judgment on the temple.
1 Καὶ ἐκπορευομένου αὐτοῦ ἐκ τοῦ ἱεροῦ λέγει αὐτῷ εἷς τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ, Διδάσκαλε, ἴδε ποταποὶ λίθοι καὶ ποταπαὶ οἰκοδομαί.
And as he was exiting out of the temple one of the disciples says to him, “Teacher, look what stones and what buildings!”
ἐκπορευομένου: PMPart gsm, ἐκπορεύομαι, 1) to go forth, go out, depart
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἴδε: Impv of aorist 2 of εἶδον,see! lo! behold! as calling attention to something present.
1. The pronoun ποταποὶ is interesting. It could be a general exclamatory, “What ...”or “What manner of ...” or it could be reflective of origin, “From what country ....” The disciple seems to be marveling, but at what, exactly, is hard to say. Some translations flavor it with adjectives like “marvelous” or “large.”
2. I’ve always heard this disciple as a Gomer Pyle type of Galilean country boy, going to the big city for the first time and saying, “Well Gol-ly! Look at them stones and buildings!” But, given how Jesus has been quite candid about going to Jerusalem and being betrayed by the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees, I should give this disciple more credit. It could be more akin to, “Seriously? We’re going to take this on?” I’m guessing that this temple by Herod the Great was a show of power as much or more than a show of piety. If the term ποταποὶ still retains its early sense as referring to the origin of a stone/building, this disciple could be reckoning with the notion that the temple is that “house of prayer for all peoples,” and not just a Galilean/Judean matter.
3. I’ve read that some of the stones of the temple measured 40 feet long – a single stone! That would seem formidable even in times of modern architecture and, following the violence of this text, modern warfare.
2 καὶ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῷ, Βλέπεις ταύτας τὰς μεγάλας οἰκοδομάς; οὐ μὴ ἀφεθῇ ὧδε λίθος ἐπὶ λίθον ὃς οὐ μὴ καταλυθῇ.
And Jesus said to him, “See these large buildings? Not a stone may be left on a stone that may not be demolished.”
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Βλέπεις: PAI 2s, βλέπω, 1) to see, discern, of the bodily eye
ἀφεθῇ: APSubj 3s, ἀφίημι, 1) to send away 1a) to bid going away or depart
καταλυθῇ: APSubj 3s, καταλύω, 1) to dissolve, disunite 1a) (what has been joined together), to destroy, demolish
1. At this level of rough translation, this last sentence is a very awkward construction to translate word for word. I think the sense is clear enough – Jesus is picking up on the ‘stone’ and ‘building’ reference by the disciple and countering his amazement with an expectation of utter destruction.
2. Most likely, Mark is writing this text long after the death and resurrection of Jesus, at a time when the temple is either undergoing destruction, is already destroyed, or is in imminent threat of being destroyed. Mark’s own language throughout this chapter – when he slips from the future to the present or past tense (see v. 20) – seems to indicate that this is not merely a ‘prediction’ or ‘prophecy’ of Jesus, but a text whose narrator is embedded in the destructive event itself. Mark even interjects himself as the narrator in one place, when he interrupts Jesus’ words to the disciples to offer words to the readers (v.14). I would argue that Mark is quite deliberately using these changes of tenses and self-reference, thus this is less a predictive prophecy – as some are wont to read it – and more of a theological interpretation of an event that is devastating both literally and theologically.
3 Καὶ καθημένου αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν κατέναντι τοῦ ἱεροῦ ἐπηρώτα αὐτὸν κατ' ἰδίαν Πέτρος καὶ Ἰάκωβος καὶἸωάννης καὶ Ἀνδρέας,
And seating himself in the Mount of Olives over-against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew interrogated him in private,
καθημένου: PMPart gsm, κάθημαι, 1) to sit down, seat one's self 2) to sit, be seated, of a place occupied 2a) to have a fixed abode, to dwell
ἐπηρώτα: IAI 3s, ἐπερωτάω, 1) to accost one with an enquiry, put a question to, enquiry of, ask, interrogate
1. The verb ἐπερωτάω could be translated “asked,” as most translation put it. But, it often has a ring of confrontation or at least some kind of challenge. I’ve listed the Markan uses below.
2. The verb ἐπερωτάω is also curious, because it appears here in the 3rdperson singular form and the most obvious subjects are Peter, James, John, and Andrew. Perhaps Mark is using the very collectively, but I would have expected a plural verb with plural subjects.
3. It is curious that Andrew is added to the usual triumvirate of Peter, James, and John.
4. I tend to use ‘curious’ when I don’t have a judgment to make – have you noticed?
5. We have seen the phrase κατέναντι before (see last week’s post, when Jesus sits over-against the treasury). κατέν/αντι literally means over/against. But, as I suggested last week, it seems to be more than a location and implies an attitude or stance of opposition.
4 Εἰπὸν ἡμῖν πότε ταῦτα ἔσται, καὶ τί τὸ σημεῖον ὅταν μέλλῃ ταῦτα συντελεῖσθαι πάντα.
“Tell us, when will these things be and what [will be] the sign when all these things may be about to be fulfilled?
Εἰπὸν: AAImpv 2s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔσται: FMI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
μέλλῃ: PASubj 3s, μέλλω, 1) to be about 1a) to be on the point of doing or suffering something 1b) to intend, have in mind, think to
συντελεῖσθαι: PPInf, συντελέω, 1) to end together or at the same time 2) to end completely 2a) bring to an end, finish, complete
1. I’m kind of shaky on this translation. The latter part of the sentence seems to need something, so I supplied a carry-over ‘will be’ from the first half.
2. The words ποτέ and ὅταν are both temporal terms: ποτέ, “once i.e. formerly, aforetime, at some time”; and ὅταν, “when, whenever, as long as, as soon as.”
5 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἤρξατο λέγειν αὐτοῖς, Βλέπετε μή τις ὑμᾶς πλανήσῃ:
Yet Jesus began to say to them, “See that someone may not lead you astray.
ἤρξατο: AMI 3s, ἄρχω, 1) to be chief, to lead, to rule
λέγειν: PAInf, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Βλέπετε: PAImpv 2p, βλέπω, 1) to see, discern, of the bodily eye
πλανήσῃ: AASubj 3s, πλανάω, 1) to cause to stray, to lead astray, lead aside from the right way
1. This is the second time Jesus begins a sentence with “See” (Βλέπετε). The first time (v.2) it is in an interrogative; this time in an imperative form.
6 πολλοὶ ἐλεύσονται ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου λέγοντες ὅτι Ἐγώ εἰμι, καὶ πολλοὺς
Many will come with my name saying ‘I am,’ and many shall follow.
ἐλεύσονται: FMI 3p, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come 1a) of persons
λέγοντες: PAPart npm, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
εἰμι: PAI 1s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
πλανήσουσιν: FAI 3p, πλανάω, 1) to cause to stray, to lead astray, lead aside from the right way
1. The “I am,” (Ἐγώ εἰμι) is similar to the repeated usage in John’s Gospel, as well as an echo of the conversation between God and Moses in Exodus 3, where God answers the question of his name with “I am whom I am” (or, “I will be whom I will be”). Here, Jesus speaks of many who come both "in my name" and using that phrase which we so often identify with the unnamable God. Does this mean that many will come claiming to be God/Jesus/the Christ? Or, does it refer to those who will come invoking the name of God/Jesus/the Christ in vain (i.e. for their own purposes)?
2. Jesus himself will use the phrase, "I am," in 14:62, in answer to the High Priest's query, "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?"
7 ὅταν δὲ ἀκούσητε πολέμους καὶ ἀκοὰς πολέμων, μὴ θροεῖσθε: δεῖ γενέσθαι, ἀλλ' οὔπω τὸ τέλος.
Yet when you may hear of war and sounds of wars, do not be alarmed; the end is necessary to happen, but not yet.
ἀκούσητε: AASubj 2p, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
θροεῖσθε: PPImpv 2p, θροέω to cry aloud, to make a clamor. Here, passive, to be frightened so as to be made to cry aloud or make a clamor.
δεῖ: PAI 3s, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten
γενέσθαι: AM(dep)Inf, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being
1. Mark seems to use δεῖ to indicate a kind of divine necessity - e.g. in 8:31, “The Son of Man must suffer many things.”
2. The word order for the last phrase perplexes me a bit. The verb δεῖ can either take a subject (“X must”) or be substantive (“It is necessary that ...”). I think it works best to use ‘the end’ as the subject of both verbs “it is necessary” and “to happen,” as well as the cautionary “but not yet.” The KJV and NIV supply “such things” as the subject of “must happen,” but δεῖ is not plural.
8 ἐγερθήσεται γὰρ ἔθνος ἐπ' ἔθνος καὶ βασιλεία ἐπὶ βασιλείαν, ἔσονται σεισμοὶκατὰτόπους, ἔσονται λιμοί: ἀρχὴ ὠδίνων ταῦτα.
For nation shall be raised against nation and kingdom against kingdom, there will be earthquakes along places, there will be famines; these things [are] a beginning of birth pangs.”
ἐγερθήσεται: FPI 3s, ἐγείρω, 1) to arouse, cause to rise 1a) to arouse from sleep, to awake
ἔσονται: FMI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. The last phrase lacks a verb, so I supplied ‘to be’.
2. I’m puzzled why so many translations make ἐγερθήσεται active “shall rise”, when it is passive “shall be raised.”
Here are the uses of ἐπηρώταin Mark. Many of them indicate a kind of challenge as opposed to simple inquiry.
And he asked him, What is...
...Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk...
...people, his disciples asked him concerning the...
And he asked them, How many...
...hands upon him, he asked him if he...
...by the way he asked his disciples, saying...
And he saith unto them, But...
And they asked him, saying, Why...
And he asked the scribes, What...
And he asked his father, How...
...house, his disciples asked him privately, Why...
...and were afraid to ask him.
...in the house he asked them, What was...
...to him, and asked him, Is it...
...house his disciples asked him again of...
...to him, and asked him, Good Master...
...unto them, I will also ask of you one...
...no resurrection; and they asked him, saying,
...answered them well, asked him, Which is...
...after that durst ask him any question...
...John and Andrew asked him privately,
...the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest...
...the high priest asked him, and said...
And Pilate asked him, Art thou...
And Pilate asked him again, saying...
...him the centurion, he asked him whether he...