Sunday Morning Greek Blog

February 21, 2011

Mark 1: More on “For the Forgiveness of Sins”

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Mark Gospel of,Matthew Gospel of,New Testament — Scott Stocking @ 6:36 pm

February 20, 2011

 It seems odd that just a little more than 1/8th of the year is already gone, but I only just finished the first book of the NT. In fact, according to my reading plan, I will be in the Gospels until almost the end of June, and then I won’t be done with Acts until the middle of August. Some of you have sent some special requests, and I will address those as I’m able. School kicks into full gear this week for me. I’m teaching two online classes now, followed by one online class after that.

 (Just in case you missed it, I had a bonus blog entry last Thursday on the “sleeping saints.” Please check it out when you have time.)

 I spent the last two days poring over Mark 1. One of the first things I noticed is how, when Mark begins the story with Jesus’ immersion by John the Immersing One ([ὁ] βαπτίζων, ho baptizōn, a participle verb form), he (through divine inspiration???) uses some of the very language that Matthew used at the end of his story with Jesus.

 Last week’s entry highlighted the phrase εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν (eis aphesin hamartiōn ‘into the forgiveness of sins’) and its use in both Matthew 26:28 in connection with the blood of Jesus and Acts 2:38 in connection with repenting and being immersed. Peter did not pull that connection out of his exegetical magic hat.

 Mark 1:4 uses the same phrase in connection with John’s immersion ministry. Mark says that John was “preaching an immersion of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In the next verse, Mark says that people were coming to John to be immersed in the Jordan “confessing their sins.” Then in verse 8, Mark makes a statement that has been one of the sources of the debate surrounding the efficacy and signification of immersion. John the Immersing One says, “I am immersing you in water, but he [Jesus] will immerse you in the Holy Spirit.”

I use the word “but” there, because that is how most English translations render it. But this “but” (δε de in Greek) is considered to be a “weak” conjunction. It is not as powerful as καί (kai ‘and’, ‘also’), but when it can be used as a disjunctive, it is not as powerful as ἀλλά (alla ‘but’). The latter usually indicates a complete or emphatic break. But δε is often used to connect actions that happen in sequence. The primary example of this is Matthew’s use of  δε in his opening genealogy: “Abraham was the father of Isaac; then Isaac was the father of Jacob” and so on.

So when Mark records John using δε with respect to the signification of how Jesus will “immerse” us, he is not saying that his own “baptism of repentance” will be null and void once Jesus starts immersing. In some respects, John could be making a play on words here. But John (and Mark) could also be looking forward to Acts 2:38. (We shouldn’t ignore the fact that Peter and Mark were close companions in the early days of the church, so there is most likely some of that influence represented here, but Luke’s objectivity in Acts makes any possibility of collusion for Mark to redact John’s words to support Peter’s message or to match Matthew’s wording unlikely.)

The bottom line translation or interpretation here is this: John says, “I am immersing you in water, then he [Jesus, when he immerses you] will immerse you in the Holy Spirit.” John 4:1–2 indicates that Jesus’ disciples continued John’s immersion ministry, although Jesus himself apparently never immersed anyone in water. Additionally, John indicates later in his Gospel that Jesus will send the Holy Spirit after his death, so Mark’s words indeed do look forward to Peter’s declaration in Acts 2:38.

Other notes on Mark 1.

The word εὐθὺς (euthys ‘immediately’) occurs 11 times in chapter 1 and 41 times in the entire Gospel. One of the early lessons I learned in seminary was the urgency with which Mark presented the good news: Jesus couldn’t wait to get the word out.

Jesus casts out (ἐκβαλλω ekballō) many demons in Mark 1. But what I found interesting is that this same word describes what the Holy Spirit did to Jesus when he “sent him out” into the wilderness to be tempted (vs. 12). Mark also uses that word later in the chapter when Jesus “sent away” the cleansed leper and warned him not to speak. The point is that the word has diverse usage: it’s not only used to cast off evil things or entities. But it is a little stronger than simply using the more common words for “come” or “go.”

One last point regarding the cleansing of the leper: it is significant, I think, that the word for “cleanse” (καθαρίζω katharizō) is used rather than the word for “heal” (θεραπεύω therapeuō) in Mark 1:40-45. Healing would have only involved the physical or even emotional scars or wounds. But cleansing took healing to a whole new level. Jesus not only healed the leper, but he made the leper socially acceptable by removing the stigma of his uncleanness. (See Leviticus 14:1–32 where Moses describes the procedure for making an offering for being cleansed of leprosy.)

As we go about our respective ministries, may we offer that same cleansing and acceptance to those who need the restorative power of the good news of Jesus.

1 Comment »

  1. […] Mark 1: More on “For the Forgiveness of Sins” | Sunday Morning Greek Blog […]

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