Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Beloved Tested Son

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary comments regarding Mark 1:9-15, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the first Sunday of Lent, Year B.

Those who follow this blog or the lectionary will see that this reading is related to the reading from the first Sunday after Epiphany, when the gospel text was Mark 1:4-11, and to the third Sunday after Epiphany when the reading was Mark 1:14-20, with two verses overlapping this week’s pericope. At the end of my translation and comments, I will babble briefly on what it might mean to preach about the baptism of Jesus when the parameters of the pericope are shifted from vv.4-11 to vv. 14-20 to vv.9-15. Your comments are always welcomed.

9 Καὶ ἐγένετο ἐν ἐκείναις ταῖς ἡμέραις ἦλθεν Ἰησοῦς ἀπὸ Ναζαρὲτ τῆς 
Γαλιλαίας καὶ ἐβαπτίσθη εἰς τὸν Ἰορδάνην ὑπὸ Ἰωάννου. 
And it happened in those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John.
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
ἦλθεν : AAI 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 
ἐβαπτίσθη : API 3s, 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  3) to overwhelm 

10 καὶ εὐθὺς ἀναβαίνων ἐκ τοῦ ὕδατος εἶδεν σχιζομένους τοὺς οὐρανοὺς καὶ τὸ πνεῦμα ὡς περιστερὰν καταβαῖνον εἰς αὐτόν: 
And immediately coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the spirit as a dove coming down into him;
ἀναβαίνων: PAPart nsm, ἀναβαίνω, 1) to cause to ascend, to go up, climb up, mount, ascend (from βαίνω used of all motion on the ground, go, walk, tread, step, the direction being determined by the preposition prefixed; here by ἀνά up or back).
σχιζομένους: PPPart apm, σχίζω, 1) to cleave, cleave asunder, rend  2) to divide by rending  3) to split into factions, be divided 
καταβαῖνον: PAPart asn, καταβαίνω, 1) come down, 2. descend to go or come down, to descend from a higher to a lower place.
1. Jesus and the spirit move in contrasting directions. The verb for “coming up” and for “coming down” have the same root with opposing prefixes. I think the word choices in English ought to show the same relation: “coming up, coming down,” or “ascend, descend,” or something like that.
2. The ambiguity of “coming up” can and will be translated by some folks as “coming up from being immersed” and by others as “coming up to the shore out of the water.” Have at it!
3. The verb σχίζω is where we get the English prefix for schizo-phrenia, a ‘divided’ mind. It also is related to schism, a ‘divided’ people. I can’t help but feel a tone of force – like the heavens were “torn open” (NIV, ESV) or “torn apart” (NRSV) – more that simply a separation – that the heavens “opened” (KJV). 
3. The word σχίζω is used in Mk.15:38 to refer to the veil of the temple that is torn in two.

11καὶ φωνὴ ἐγένετο ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν, Σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου  ἀγαπητός, ἐν σοὶ 
And a voice happened out of the heavens, “You are the my son the beloved (or ‘my beloved son’), in you I am well pleased.”
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
εὐδόκησα: AAI 1s, εὐδοκέω, 1) it seems good to one, is one's good pleasure, 2) to be well pleased with, take pleasure in, to be favorably inclined towards one
1. The words spoken on the mountain in the “transfiguration” story are Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἀκούετε αὐτοῦ - “This is my son the beloved (or ‘my beloved son’), listen to him.” Mark 12:6 also speaks of a “beloved son” in the parable of the evil tenants.
2. The visionary portion of v.10 – the spirit as a dove coming down – is set off as “he saw,” which seems to indicate that this was a private vision, rather than something that everyone saw. The audial portion of this verse could have been heard by everyone, but it is spoken directly to Jesus (“you” 2x), so I imagine it as also being private.

12Καὶ εὐθὺς τὸ πνεῦμα αὐτὸν ἐκβάλλει εἰς τὴν ἔρημον. 
And immediately the spirit throws him out into the wilderness.
ἐκβάλλει: PAI 3s, ἐκβάλλω, 1) to cast out, drive out, to send out  1a) with notion of violence  1a1) to drive out (cast out)  1a2) to cast out  1a2a) of the world, i.e. be deprived of the power and  influence he exercises in the world  1a2b) a thing: excrement from the belly into the sink  1a3) to expel a person from a society: to banish from a family  1a4) to compel one to depart; to bid one depart, in stern  though not violent language  1a5) so employed that the rapid motion of the one going is  transferred to the one sending forth  1a51) to command or cause one to depart in haste  1a6) to draw out with force, tear out  1a7) with implication of force overcoming opposite force  1a7a) to cause a thing to move straight on its intended goal  1a8) to reject with contempt, to cast off or away  1b) without the notion of violence  1b1) to draw out, extract, one thing inserted in another  1b2) to bring out of, to draw or bring forth  1b3) to except, to leave out, i.e. not receive  1b4) to lead one forth or away somewhere with a force which he  cannot resist 
1. I’ve included an extended set of definitional possibilities of ἐκβάλλω (from, because this word is used so often in the gospels and presents the translator with some decisions. The root, βάλλω, typically means “to throw.” Some of the translations try to describe ‘force’ without ‘violence’ (perhaps the reference to vomiting is the best way to imagine a forceful action that is not carried out with swords or spears.)  Other definitions describe violent force.
2. In that respect, the NRSV and ESV say “the Spirit drove him” and the KJV says similarly “the Spirit driveth him.” They are opting with the stronger sense of ἐκβάλλω. The NIV says “the Spirit sent him” and YLT says the Spirit “put him forth.” They are going with a softer sense of ἐκβάλλω.
3. In Matthew, Jesus is “led up” (ἀν/άγω) by the Spirit into the wilderness, while Luke uses “led” άγω. Only Mark uses ἐκβάλλω.
4. If one sees the stronger form of ἐκβάλλω at play in this story, then I would suggest looking at the Definition of “Harpies” from In earlier versions of Greek myth, Harpies were described as beautiful, winged maidens. Later they became winged monsters with the face of an ugly old woman and equipped with crooked, sharp talons. They were represented carrying off persons to the underworld and inflicting punishment or tormenting them. Those persons were never seen again. Certainly Jesus was seen again, but the transformation of the Spirit alighting like a dove to the Spirit throwing Jesus into the wilderness for testing is not a small thing. (Incidentally, in Acts 8:39, after the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch, it says that the “spirit of the lord seized/carried off Philip” using the verb ἁρπάζω, pronounced “harpadzo.”)  I think the harpy tradition and the seizing/carrying off/throwing out Spirit tradition have common ancestry. However, let me quickly and decisively distance myself from the way that the "harpy" tradition uses perceived beauty and ugliness as signs of good and evil. I don't play that tune. 

13καὶ ἦν ἐν τῇ ἐρήμῳ τεσσεράκοντα ἡμέρας πειραζόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ Σατανᾶ, 
καὶ ἦν μετὰ τῶν θηρίων, καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι διηκόνουν αὐτῷ. 
And he was in the wilderness 40 days being tempted by the Satan, and was with the wild beasts and the angels served him.
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
πειραζόμενος : PPPart nsm, πειράζω, 1) to try whether a thing can be done 1a) to attempt, endeavor 2) to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining  his quantity, or what he thinks, or how he will behave himself 2a) in a good sense 2b) in a bad sense, to test one maliciously, craftily to put  to the proof his feelings or judgments 2c) to try or test one's faith, virtue, character, by  enticement to sin 2c1) to solicit to sin, to tempt 1c1a) of the temptations of the devil 2d) after the OT usage 2d1) of God: to inflict evils upon one in order to prove his  character and the steadfastness of his faith  2d2) men are said to tempt God by exhibitions of distrust,  as though they wished to try whether he is not justly  distrusted 2d3) by impious or wicked conduct to test God's justice and  patience, and to challenge him, as it were to give proof  of his perfections.
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
διηκόνουν: IAI 3p, διακονέω, 1) to be a servant, attendant, domestic, to serve.
1. Again, I am including an extended set of definitional possibilities from in order to show the decisions that face the translator regarding the ‘temptation’ or ‘testing’ of Jesus which includes ‘in a good sense’ or ‘in a bad sense.’ Because he was ‘tempted’ by Satan, we may hear the strongest and worst sense of the term. But, when we do so, we have to remember that Jesus was thrown into this situation by the Spirit, so there is divine complicity in these trials. (I do wish the lexicographers would leave the preaching to preachers. Sigh.)   
2. The reference to “wild beasts” may be an echo of the distinction in the 2nd creation story (beginning in Genesis 2:4b) of domesticated and wild animals. That distinction, I think, was a way of describing animals after certain breeds of animals had been domesticated – not just the seemingly harmless animals like sheep, but also strong and potentially lethal animals like the oxen and bulls. The “wild beasts,” that had yet to be domesticated, posed danger.
3. The ‘wilderness’ here is a place of wild beasts, temptations by Satan, and service by angels. The other synoptics will add details regarding the temptations themselves.   
4. It should not go unnoticed that many religious traditions have some sort of testing as a part of the redemptive story. A fun example is the children’s book, Arrow to the Sun.

14Μετὰ δὲ τὸ παραδοθῆναι τὸν Ἰωάννην ἦλθεν  Ἰησοῦς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν 
κηρύσσων τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τοῦ θεοῦ 
Yet with John having been arrested Jesus came into Galilee preaching the good news of God
παραδοθῆναι: APInf, παραδίδωμι, 1) to give into the hands (of another)  
κηρύσσων: PAPart, nms, κηρύσσω, 1) to be a herald, to officiate as a herald  1a) to proclaim after the manner of a herald 
1. While παραδίδωμι can be as harmless as a tree ‘bringing forth’ its fruit, it is a very significant verb in Mark’s Gospel aligning John’s and Jesus’ fates. It can be translated neutrally as “hand over,” but means many things, including ‘betray”:
Mark 1:14     Now after that John was arrested, Jesus came into...
Mar 3:19  ...Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they...
Mar 4:29  ...when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth...
Mar 7:13  ...your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such...
Mar 9:31  ...Son of man is delivered into the hands...
Mar 10:33     ...Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief...
Mar 10:33 death, and shall deliver him to the...
Mar 13:9 yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils;
Mar 13:11     ...lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought...
Mar 13:12     Now the brother shall betray the brother to...
Mar 14:10     ...chief priests, to betray him unto them...
Mar 14:11     ...he sought how he might conveniently betray him.
Mar 14:18     ...eateth with me shall betray me.
Mar 14:21     ...Son of man is betrayed! good were it...
Mar 14:41     ...Son of man is betrayed into the hands...
Mar 14:42 go; lo, he that betrayeth me is at...
Mar 14:44     And he that betrayed him had given...
Mar 15:1  ...him away, and delivered him to Pilate...
Mar 15:10     ...the chief priests had delivered him for envy...
Mar 15:15     ...unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he...
2.  There is significance to this timing – John’s arrest precedes Jesus’ coming to preach. At this point, we do not know the story of John’s arrest (that comes in c.6), so the parallel is that John came preaching “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v.4) and was arrested. Now Jesus comes, taking up that same message in v.15.

15καὶ λέγων ὅτι Πεπλήρωται ὁ καιρὸς καὶ ἤγγικεν  βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ: 
μετανοεῖτε καὶ πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ. 
and saying, “The time has been fulfilled and the reign of God is at hand. Repent and believe/trust in the good news.”
λέγων: PAPart nms, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
Πεπλήρωται: PerfPI 3s, πληρόω, 1) to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full 1a) to cause to abound, to furnish or supply liberally
ἤγγικεν: PerfAI 3s, ἐγγίζω, 1) to bring near, to join one thing to another  2) to draw or come near to, to approach
μετανοεῖτε: PAImpv 2p, μετανοέω, 1) to change one's mind, i.e. to repent 
πιστεύετε: PAImpv 2p, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place confidence in.
1. The participle “saying” in v.15 corresponds with “preaching” in v.14, since those two verses are one sentence.
2. Note the temporal and spatial references. Temporally, the ‘time’ is fulfilled. Spatially, the Reign of God is ‘at hand’ (or ‘near’).
3. The words “repent” and “trust” are in the imperative voice, following the proclamation in the indicative voice. Robert Gundy (1993, p.70, per Michael Turton) says the phrase for “believe in” (πιστεύω ἐν) occurs nowhere else in Mark, once in John, and then nowhere else in all of Greek literature or Greek papyri. (Many translations make Mark 9:42 “believe in me” but there is no “in me” in the Greek text.)

So, what are the differences of reading about Jesus’ baptism when in one case the pericope is vv. 4-11 (1st Sunday after Epiphany), in another vv.14-20 (3rd Sunday after Epiphany) and in another case the pericope is vv.9-15 (1st Sunday of Lent)? The lections for the season of Epiphany are intended to be read as stories that reveal who Jesus is. When the pericope ends with v.11, it seems to be a proclamation text, demonstrating that Jesus is the son of God, that Jesus is beloved by God, and – perhaps to some of John the Baptist’s disciples – that Jesus is the greater one to whom John was pointing.  When the pericope is vv. 14-20 during the season of Epiphany, the lection seems to reveal Jesus as the one who takes up the message of John the Baptizer after John’s imprisonment (which strikes me as a dangerous thing to do), and who calls disciples to follow him in that role.

Now, during Lent, when the pericope vv. 9-15, it begins with the baptism, includes the testing in the wilderness, and ends with Jesus stepping in after John’s arrest and calling for the great turnaround because the time is fulfilled and the reign of God is at hand. Christologically, this pericope combines the baptism and the testing in the wilderness. The beloved son is the one who is tested. Pneumatologically, the spirit is both the alighting dove and the harpy. Kerygmatically, to turn around and participate in the reign of God is to ascribe to the message that resulted in John the Baptizer’s arrest. My sense is that when the pericope includes vv.9-15, we get the full sense of the implications of the message: The tone is ominous and urgent, tempered by both the proclamation of the beloved son in the baptism and the immediate testing of the beloved son in the wilderness. It is this one who proclaims the reign of God to be at hand and urges repentance.


  1. Much thanks for your continued good work. Appreciate your faithfulness to the text.
    Mark Quanstrom, Ph.D.

  2. I am in a Lay led worship team and value your points on how the text is translated. Your comments make it easier when I find myself with the task of a sermon/talk for next Sunday

    1. Thank you, Bronwyn. I hope your ministry flourishes.

  3. Blimey. Get to grips with that lot! Thanks as ever for the sheer amount of work that must go into this, and thanks for the link to Onwards...

  4. I'm a young pastor from Indonesia and greatly helped by your translation + interpretation. Thank you so much, Mark..

  5. Mark, I join in the chorus of thanks. I use your study as starting point almost every week, and love wrestling over the Greek with you. As a one time Classics major, I especially adore your vision of the harpy-like (but so very different) Spirit. I wonder if your namesake Mark had this in mind, consciously or subconsciously. Surrounded as they were with Greco-Roman culture, I think it's a possibility. But not one I would have thought of. Again, thanks. -- Jenny Reece, episcopal priest in Maine.

    1. Jenny, Thanks for such a kind note.
      We cannot know what is in Mark's mind regarding the spirit and harpies, but I think we can assume that both images were at least available to his community as familiar references. And, I think it is unquestioned that the pneumatology of the NT is dynamic, more than static. Not only is the subject matter itself by nature elusive, the attempt to give narrative or explanatory voice to something that is a phenomenal lived experience is sure to result in multiple images. These are inspired folk, trying to give voice to that spirit that lives within and among them. Any language or image will only be part of the whole, I'm thinking.
      Thanks again for your note. I envy your choice to be a Classics major, because I feel like such a novice at many of the great texts/stories/myths that lie behind the Scriptures. Blessings on your ministry.


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