Sunday Morning Greek Blog

January 2, 2022

2021 Reflection and Summary

I wanted to take a moment and thank the readers of Sunday Morning Greek Blog (SMGB) for tripling the number of views from 2019 to 2021! I went from 2,856 views in 2019 to 9,130 views (across 130 countries) in 2021. The theme of my blog has always been “Dig deeper, read smarter, draw closer.” I hope that whichever one of those goals brought you to my site will continue to be something I am able to meet for you. And, if you ever have a request or a question about a biblical topic, I would be happy to research it for you. I’m always excited to dig deeper into God’s Word to help others understand it better.

Having said that, the blog was also a blessing to me as well this year. As 2021 kicked off and more churches started to resume in-person services, I was called to preach at a couple smaller churches that lost pastors during the pandemic through attrition (thankfully not to COVID). One is the (now) inner-city church I grew up in and which some of my family still attend, and the other is a rural country church in Iowa. For me, the blog turned out to be (way-in-advance) sermon prep! This blog was helpful in that I still have been working my full-time day job, so it was nice not to have to a lot of new research for sermons. What sermons I did write this past year wound up as new blog posts.

Top 5 Posts

My top post for 2021 surprised me, because it was a little more academically technical than my typical posts, but it must have struck a chord with some. I had written “Indignant Jesus: The Variant Reading of Mark 1:41” in January 2019 in part because I wanted to know for myself why the NIV translators had changed the translation from “compassion” to “indignant” The other reason is that I wanted to provide an example of how translators use internal and external clues to determine the quality or genuineness of a textual variant. I figured with all the NIV readers out there, many of them would be curious about an “indignant Jesus,” so I wanted to provide what I hope was an explanation of the thought process in layman’s terms.

“Indignant Jesus” had 86 views that year. In 2020, it saw a 360% increase to 310 views. In 2021, it nearly had another 360% increase to 1,106 views! That was over 12% of total blog post views for 2021. Judging from the access peaks, I’d say it wound up on a few recommended reading lists for college syllabi. If you happen to know who used it on a syllabus, I’d love to thank them. I don’t want any royalties; I’d just like to know what they found redeeming about it, or even if they thought it needed some work.

The second most popular post was “Seer” in the Old Testament. This has been a perennial favorite, having been the number one article for at least 6 years through 2018, again, most likely because it appeared on someone’s college syllabus. Obviously, it’s not a Greek word study, but a Hebrew word study, and it was one I had sent out in an e-mail thread long before blogs were a thing. I never expected much from it on the blog, primarily because I had been looking for something different to post and pulled that one out of the archives. I’m both surprised and pleased that it continues to generate great interest.

My third most popular post (just 23 views behind #2) was 2020’s top post: “Take Heart!” That had slowly been growing in popularity, but it really caught hold in 2020, most likely due to the pandemic. I got one comment from a reader who said they had shared it with several health care workers at the time. They of all people had and continue to have a need for encouragement and endurance in the face of COVID and (if I may) the current lack of gratitude and sympathy from those at the highest levels of government for those hardworking heroes.

Number 4 is one that has steadily grown in popularity, but really began to take off in 2019, having three times the views in 2017. “Falling Away” tackles the difficult section of Hebrews 6 that at first glance seems to address the concept of losing your salvation. But a closer look at the text, grammar, and sentence structure (yes, there’s a classic sentence diagram attached; also an epilog post) shows the passage has quite a different meaning that isn’t so harsh theologically. Monthly views jumped dramatically in beginning in mid 2020, which makes me think the article also wound up on someone’s syllabus. I recently had a lively exchange with one reader who was asking for some clarification on a couple points, which also helped me sharpen my thinking and conclusions on the passage.

The fifth one was a total shocker to me. “Speaking in Tongues” averaged 49 views per year in the first 10 years it was online. In 2021, the post had 691 views, averaging over 57 views per month! Again, I’m not sure what sparked the sudden interest, but as with the other posts, the only thing I can think of is someone put it on their syllabus or perhaps cited it in a widely read paper.

Looking Forward

For 2022, I anticipate preaching about once every month, so I’ll continue to post sermon texts to the blog. I’d also like to break into the podcast sphere and start posting some videos or audios that can generate some ad revenue for me. I’m not really set up for that yet, and I’ll have to seek out some technical help most likely, but I’m pretty sure that won’t be a difficult learning curve.

I also have a blog called “Sustainable America,” which is my outlet for the intersection of politics, ethics, and faith in my life. That has never really taken off, although it has seen some modest growth. I’ve had just over 100 views the last two years, and 2020’s views (106) were a little more than double 2019’s views. Although it hasn’t really had many views, I do find it personally therapeutic as an outlet for what I’m thinking and feeling on such subjects. The founding fathers didn’t put “separation of Church and State” in the Constitution because they understood instinctively people’s politics derive from their religious and moral convictions (or lack thereof). The purpose of Sustainable America, however, is to analyze cultural and political issues and apply Scripture to them, while SMGB is all about analyzing the biblical text and discerning how it should affect and inform our lives all around, not just in the political or cultural spheres.

My most-viewed post on Sustainable America was “Why I’d Rather Not Work from Home Full Time.” After having spent much of my early career either working from home or working in a ministry setting where I was the only staff member, I found it quite enjoyable to transition to working in an office setting with lots of interesting people around. When the pandemic hit, all of that was defenestrated. I do miss working around other people. Somewhere along the way, I lost my introversion.

As such, one final goal for me for 2022 is to get back into the adjunct professor space, or full-time college instruction nearby, if someone wants to take a chance on my M.Div. degree with OT & NT concentrations. I found it ironic that, in 2020, the third-party supplier through whom I had been teaching Biblical Studies courses at St. Louis Christian College was bought out, and the acquiring company dropped the online adjunct service at a time when everything was moving online. Teaching Biblical Studies is really my first love, but it’s been tough landing positions without a Ph.D.

I wish you, my readers and blog followers, a happy and prosperous new year. Thank you for continuing to read, interact with, and spread the word about Sunday Morning Greek Blog!

Scott Stocking

My opinions are my own.

January 20, 2019

Indignant Jesus: The Variant Reading of Mark 1:41 (NIV & TNIV)

Filed under: Greek,Life of Christ,Mark Gospel of,New Testament,Textual Criticism — Scott Stocking @ 6:40 am

[Author’s Note: Thank you to all who’ve made this the #1 post for 2021 through June. I trust you’re finding it helpful. I’m always curious to know how my posts are used and how you were referred to them, especially if they’re used as an assigned reading in a college class. I’m not seeking any compensation for such use; I’m trying to collect some data I can use to show potential employers my articles have academic value.]

I was rather surprised the other day when I read Mark 1:41 in the NIV (2011 edition). A man with leprosy came to Jesus and asked him to heal him. The NIV text says “Jesus was indignant,” but he still “reached out his hand and touched the man.” The obvious question here is, “Why was Jesus indignant?” After all, most other English translations of the Bible, as well as the eclectic Greek text, say “Jesus had compassion.” So how did the NIV committee arrive at the “indignant” translation?

The Variant Reading: External Evidence

In Mark 1:41, the editors of the United Bible Societies (UBS) Greek New Testament (GNT; Third and Fourth editions) have settled on σπλαγχνισθεὶς (splanchnistheis, from σπλαγχνίζομαι splanchnizomai, “I have compassion on”) for the original text. All but one Greek manuscript uses this word. The only Greek manuscript that doesn’t is Fifth Century Codex Bezae (identified as “D” in the UBS apparatus), which uses ὀργισθεὶς (orgistheis, from ὀργίζομαι orgizomai, “I am angry”). The parallel Latin text on the opposing page has iratus (pp. 557–8).

In the third edition, the editors were unsure they had restored the original text, and gave it the lowest certainty rating possible: D (not to be confused with the apparatus designation of the same letter). In the fourth edition, however, the editors upgraded their certainty of σπλαγχνισθεὶς to B.

Now one might think the volume of the “external” evidence (that is, all of the documents that have σπλαγχνισθεὶς, and the relative age of those documents) might be enough to convince translators that Mark 1:41 should be translated “Jesus had compassion,” but external evidence does not always have the final word. Translators must also consider the “internal” evidence in support of a particular reading. Internal evidence considers such things as the surrounding context, parallel or similar passages, and any structural considerations.

Internal Evidence

Bill Mounce has a summary of the external issues in this passage, but he did not delve very deep into internal issues that may have influenced the Mark 1:41 NIV translation. In fact, I’m a bit surprised that Mounce himself was surprised to find the NIV had “Jesus was indignant,” because he was on the NIV translation committee! He may not have translated Mark, though, so I can’t be too hard on him, and the intermediate TNIV translation had already switched to “indignant” from the original NIV’s “compassion” before Mounce joined the NIV committee. One of the principles of determining the original reading (a process called “textual criticism”) is that the translator prefer the most difficult reading of the text. “Jesus was indignant” certainly fits that given the immediate situation in the verses. Add to that that it would have been very tempting for a copyist to “soften the blow” of ὀργισθεὶς by substituting σπλαγχνισθεὶς, since that is exactly what Jesus does in this situation.

According to Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (the GNT editorial committee’s explanation of choices made among variant readings), they thought that Jesus’ “strong warning” in vs. 43 might be one piece of internal evidence to support ὀργισθεὶς. The editors also cite similar statements in Mark 3:5 and 10:14. I would add to this that the broader context of the passage would seem to hint that Jesus may indeed be indignant. In 35–37, Jesus goes off to a solitary place to pray, but his disciples come looking for him because everyone else is looking for Jesus. Jesus’s response in vs. 38 is telling: “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” And so he went out preaching and driving out demons. Verse 39 says nothing of Jesus healing people. In other words, it seems that Jesus wanted a break from the healing, because that wasn’t his main purpose while on Earth.

And so we come to the scene with the man with leprosy. Could it be that Jesus is indignant because he knows what will happen if he heals another person? It’s not that Jesus does not want to heal the man: it’s clear he’s willing to. But the man fails to heed Jesus’s “strong warning” not to tell anyone, and v. 45 says, “As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places.” He wanted to preach, but the crowds he was attracting with his healing were hindering that mission. I can see how that would make him indignant.

One other point that Mounce makes is that the BAGD lexicon does not list “indignant” as a meaning for ὀργισθεὶς. However, a couple other Scriptures outside of Mark may imply “indignation” more so than “anger.” The most significant of the 8 other occurrences of ὀργίζομαι is found in Luke 15:28, at the end of the story of the Prodigal Son. The older brother is “angry” for sure, to the point of “righteous indignation” for how his prodigal brother is treated. Luke 14:21 seems to carry the idea of indignation as well, where the master of the banquet brings in the commoners after his invited guests have turned down his generous invitation. Another Greek word, ἀγανακτέω (aganakteō), usually carries the sense of “indignant.”

Weighing the Evidence

Although between Metzger, the NIV translation, and my own contributions here, I think I’ve made a pretty solid case for choosing the less common variant ὀργισθεὶς, it is difficult to overlook the preponderance of external evidence for σπλαγχνισθεὶς. The most prominent uncial manuscripts are all contemporary with or earlier than D, so that is a significant strike against the argument from internal evidence. It is also possible that, if this was copied as someone read the text to roomful of scribes, the copyist of D misheard the person who was reading the text and used the wrong word. It’s possible the copyist still had in his mind words like ERCHetai and pARAKalōn from vs. 40 and prefixed the wrong, but similar sounding, root (ORG) to the istheis ending he heard. The parallel passages in Mt 8:2–4 and Lk 5:12–14 say nothing of Jesus’s attitude toward the situation, so there is no reason the copyist would have tried to change the word to harmonize the passage with parallel accounts.


As such, as much as I like the NIV and respect those I’ve read and have met on the translation committee, I must disagree with the translation “Jesus was indignant.” I think the weight and character of the external evidence outweighs the logic of the internal evidence. If we had more Greek manuscripts that had ὀργισθεὶς in that verse, it might be more compelling to accept “indignant.” But as it stands, I think the solid tradition of most English translations accepting the settled text of the GNT wins the day. Mark 1:41 should be translated “Jesus, having compassion, stretched out his hand….”


My opinions are my own.

June 9, 2013

εὐθύς in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 1:3, Isaiah 40:3)

Filed under: Isaiah,Mark Gospel of,New Testament,Septuagint — Scott Stocking @ 6:08 pm

In this post:

  • A personal note on my hiatus
  • Summary of the projects I’ve been working on
  • The prophetic quotes in Mark 1:2–3
  • Thematic use of εὐθύς

A Personal Note on My Hiatus

I’ve been on a hiatus from the blog because my schedule got bogged down last summer. I took on an assignment in addition to my full-time job to edit and comment on Greek-English lexicon/concordance that is in the works (I can’t say anything more than that at this point, at least not until there’s a release date publicized). The concordance part was actually built into the lexical entries, which made for time-consuming reading. The author would list all occurrences of a word, often without the context lines. Add to that the extra time it takes to read numbers relative to words of the same character length on the page. Consider the difference between the following:

A reference would appear like this:

Mt. 22:36–38

As I was editing, I would read:

Matthew twenty-two, thirty-six through thirty-eight

Now imagine 600+ pages filled with a couple hundred references like that on each page, and the reading time per page nearly triples! Needless to say, I had to take a break after almost every page just to maintain my sanity! Fortunately, it was not my job to check the accuracy of each reference (although I did find the occasional error there on familiar passages), otherwise, I’d still be at it. The other challenging part of the edit was that the author’s preferred texts for the English translations were the King James Version and Darby’s translation, which resulted in some interesting entries (I had never heard or seen the word “dropsical” until I saw this dictionary).

The other project that came up is a new study Bible (again, I can’t go into details about who at this point). It’s been challenging, rewarding, and even a little fun reviewing the notes, primarily for Old Testament books, and making suggestions and comments. I’m learning a great deal more about the OT and translation in general. I’m collaborating with a team of other reviewers; I even used one reviewer’s book on Bible study methods early in my teaching career. When that study Bible gets published, I’ll let you know.

I did finish reading through the Greek New Testament a second time in the process, but I’ve taken a break from a stringent schedule and had turned again to reading the Old Testament (in English, but still consulting the Hebrew) until I started participating in a men’s discipleship group. I set up a reading schedule for the guys that starts us in Mark’s Gospel. I also asked them to hold me accountable for getting back into the blogosphere, and rereading Mark 1 provided the perfect occasion for doing so.

Prophecy in Mark 1

As I started through Mark’s Gospel last week, looking at it in English and Greek, I noticed a few things worth mentioning. Mark opens his Gospel with a quotes from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. I want to put the Isaiah and Mark passages side by side in Table 1 so you can see some interesting but relatively benign punctuation differences. Keep in mind that punctuation is a much later addition to the biblical text. The ancients didn’t waste papyrus and parchment with commas, dashes, quotation marks, or spaces between words!

Table 1

Isaiah 40:3 (NIV) Mark 1:3 (NIV)

3 A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God.

“a voice of one calling
in the wilderness,

‘Prepare the way for the Lord,

make straight paths for him.'”

Notice, for example, that the Isaiah quote has the one calling saying, “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord,” while the editors of Mark obviously see a reference to John the Baptizer here: “a voice of one calling in the wilderness.” The punctuation in the Isaiah passage is consistent with the accenting and format of the printed BHS text, but again keep in mind that these are editorial decisions, not a part of the original text.

The Septuagint (LXX, Greek translation of OT which is the source of all OT quotes in the NT) has the quotation beginning at “Prepare,” but again, an editorial decision, since the beginning of a quotation in Greek is marked by a capital letter in the modern text, and the original Greek text was in all capital letters!

I don’t really perceive a significant difference in the meaning of the text one way or the other. In the Isaiah version, “wilderness” is probably figurative for any place or person who needs to be revived by God. In the LXX/Mark version, “wilderness” is a literal reference to the place where John was preaching. The important part of this verse in my mind is the last half: “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”


In one of my earliest blog posts, I made a passing reference to the fact that Mark uses the Greek adverb εὐθύς 41 times in his Gospel (by contrast, the word is used only 17 times in the rest of the New Testament). [NOTE: Strong’s has the adverb form as εὐθέως from the textus receptus, but modern eclectic texts use εὐθυς.) The word means “immediately” or “at once” as an adverb. However, the word is also an adjective that means “straight,” which is found in Mark 1:3 and the LXX translation of Isaiah 40:3. The Hebrew word in Isaiah 40:3 (ישׁר) has the idea of no turning to the left or right, and perhaps even making something level (see Prov. 4:25–27; cf. Heb. 12:13).

So what’s the big deal? Here it is: Mark is using the adverb form as thematic connection to the prophecy with which he opens his Gospel. Many probably think John the Baptizer is the one “preparing the way of the Lord,” but Mark’s repeated use of εὐθύς suggests that he’s portraying Jesus as the one “making straight” the way of the Lord. In Mark’s Gospel, then, εὐθύς represents the urgency with which Jesus went about his ministry. Aside from Jesus’s miracles, the fact that he was clearing the way of the legalism and unreasonable rules of the religious elite shows that Jesus was making the path to God more direct; he was making “straight paths” in wilderness of Jewish legalism. That was ultimately symbolized when the veil of the temple was rent at Jesus’s crucifixion. Man no longer needed an intermediary to get to God because of what Jesus had accomplished on the cross.


Mark, in all its simplicity as the shortest Gospel, seems to have a singular focus on making “straight paths” for the Lord. Matthew has a definite emphasis on the broad view of prophecy in his Gospel, while Luke is concerned more with historical accuracy and detail. But Mark’s Gospel should not be ignored just because it is short or abridged. He shows a sophistication in style comparable to Matthew and Luke.

June 24, 2012

Scandalous Living

This past weekend, I finished leading our men’s group in a nine-week study through John Eldredge‘s Beautiful Outlaw. The subtitle of the book is “Experiencing the Playful, Disruptive, Extravagant Personality of Jesus,” which should clue you in as to the subject of the book. The basic premise of the book is this: because Jesus is the incarnation of God, every aspect of his personality has the divine imprint. If God the Father could be human, Jesus is the ultimate and unique example of how God the Father would live on this earth. Every aspect of Jesus’s personality is perfect in human form: his sense of humor, generosity, conversation, passions, playfulness, love, relationships, and so forth all emanate from his Father, God the Father (John 5:19).

Breaking Barriers

Jesus went places where good Jews of his day avoided. Jesus spoke to men and women of ethnic backgrounds the Jews despised. Jesus broke the barriers of cultural taboos by reaching out to and even touching the “untouchables.” Jesus challenged the religiosity of the status quo to shed a fresh new light on what it meant to be a God-follower. Unfortunately, too many Christians, both individually and collectively in various expressions of the church, have exalted Jesus to so heavenly a status that they have forgotten he had his human side. Lest I be misunderstood, Jesus’s human side was kept in check by his divine nature, something you and I don’t have. He had no sin. We can get away with saying, “I’m only human.” But Jesus can’t. Jesus was humanity at its best because he was divinely empowered to live the human life. So the church needs to take a closer look at not just the words he said, but the things he did and the way he lived here on terra firma.

The Samaritan Taboo

The story of Jesus’s encounter with the woman at the well in John 4 is a perfect example. In vs. 4, John says of Jesus, “It was necessary for him to travel through Samaria” (my translation). Similar constructions elsewhere in the New Testament are often translated “He must.” If Jews wanted to go north and south from Galilee to Jerusalem, the direct route was through Samaria. But since Jews hated Samaritans with such a passion, they would often cross over to the east side of the Jordan River and travel the longer route rather than set foot in Samaritan territory. Why was it necessary for him to go through Samaria? Because that’s what his Father wanted him to do!

Now when Jesus and the disciples arrive, Jesus breaks two taboos (at least). First, he talks to a Samaritan, the most despised class of people to the Jews. That’s bad enough in the eyes of the religious elite of the day. But this Samaritan is also a woman, and it was certainly not the norm for a Jewish male to talk to any woman alone in public (the disciples had gone off to buy food). I think it is important to note that in talking with this woman who in on her sixth “husband,” who has come out to the well at an unusual time of day, that Jesus never actually condemns the woman in any way or outright says that she’s living a sinful life, although the latter could be implied from his statement that her current “man” is not her husband. Historical and modern scholars have mostly inferred that the woman has a questionable character from the circumstantial evidence in the text. But just as he would later refuse to condemn the woman caught in adultery (variant reading in John 8), he does not speak words of condemnation here, only words of life.

A third taboo may be implied as well, although I find some mixed evidence in the Mishnah (the written interpretation of Jewish oral law generally accepted or debated at the time of Jesus). Drinking or eating from a Samaritan vessel may have been frowned upon as well. In some passages in the Mishnah, Samaritan offerings are acceptable, whereas some gentile offerings are specifically forbidden or given a lower status. However, Shebiith 8:10 says that Rabbi Eliezer considered eating Samaritan bread equivalent to eating the flesh of swine. If the disciples went off to a Samaritan town to get food, it’s most likely that R. Eliezer’s opinion was in the minority and not widely accepted.

The Sinful Anointer

This wasn’t Jesus’s only “scandalous” contact with a woman. In Matthew 26 and Mark 14, we have parallel accounts of a woman anointing Jesus’s head with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume, which Jesus says is part of his preparation for burial. In Luke 7, we have a similar story, except in Luke’s account, the woman pours the perfume on Jesus’s feet after washing them with her tears and her hair. Not only that, this woman kisses Jesus’s feet as well. Luke mentions that Simon considers the woman a sinner. In the Matthew and Mark accounts, the disciples and other dinner guests are indignant with the woman and treat her rudely. But Jesus hardly bats an eye at the event. He considers it a beautiful thing and even says that the woman’s actions would be immortalized in the Gospels.

Standing with the Leper

Jesus’s “scandals” were not limited to women, though. Many are familiar with the story of Jesus healing lepers. That’s something we would expect a compassionate healer like Jesus to do. But not only does he heal some of them merely by his words, he also reaches out and touches a leper. In the normal course of Jewish life, lepers had to walk around with their faces covered and shout “Unclean!” so that Jews would not be ceremonially defiled by them. But Jesus chooses to skirt the custom rather than the leper. When he touches the leper, the leper is healed. So is Jesus unclean or not? Or does Jesus even care if he’s unclean? Jesus chooses compassion over custom so that the world can know the deep, deep love that he and his Father have for creation.

Jesus, Lord of Life

I’ve blogged before about Jesus’s “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. Three of them are relevant here: “I am the Bread of Life,”
“I am the Resurrection and the Life,” and “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Jesus came to bring life to a world that was looking for it in the wrong places. The religious leaders of the Jews thought it was found in absolute strict adherence to the law, so much so that they built a “hedge” around the law so that people might know when they were close to crossing the boundary (the word “Mishnah” means “hedge,” and the book is just as thick as a Bible with tinier print!). But Jesus blows that all to smithereens by simplifying it all for us: “Love God and love your neighbor.” If you do those two things, you don’t have to worry about the hedge.

Scandalous Living in the 21st Century Church

For many years, I pastored in small, rural congregations in Illinois. As you might expect in a small town, everyone knows your business whether you want them to or not. In some ways that’s good, but in other ways, that can be a great hindrance to ministry. Why? Because you can’t go to the places where those not religiously inclined hang out to share what’s important. I decided early in my Christian walk that it would be okay for me to hang out in bar with friends and acquaintances. I really don’t have a problem with Christians (or people of any other faith or nonfaith for that matter) drinking alcohol in moderation. Jesus, the true vine, did change water into premium alcoholic wine at the wedding in Cana. In my journey to be like Jesus, I want to be where the people are.

My half-siblings play in a trivia league in Omaha. Most of the trivia contests take place in bars. I love trivia, and I’m a pretty smart cookie, so I think I’d do pretty well in that setting. So last week, I joined the trivia league that meets at Maloney’s Irish Pub. It’s fun, and it’s great interaction with family and new friends and acquaintances. And it certainly beats staying home alone playing Words with Friends and Hidden Chronicles. I enjoy the company and the challenge. If Jesus can supply a couple hundred gallons of premium wine for a celebration, certainly I can enjoy a Sprite with friends!


Although I enjoyed my time as a pastor, I’m not sure I was really cut out for the rural scene. I am glad I’m not a pastor now, because I feel freer than ever to share the life of Jesus in places where my previous congregations would have surely fired me for going. I feel like I can truly have a ministry of the mundane (as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it) among friends, family, and coworkers while I live the scandalous life of Jesus.


Scott Stocking

May 27, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Trial of Jesus (Luke 22:67–70 and parallels)

Something interesting struck me as I read Jesus’s response to the illegal council called to accuse him of blasphemy and condemn him to be crucified. Jesus tends to be a little tight lipped in the Gospel accounts of his Passion, so the words the Gospel writers attribute to Jesus are important for understanding why he responded the way he did when he did. Let me cite the relevant passages in a vertical parallel, all from the NIV (with the exception of the plural “you” modified in Luke):

Parallel Accounts of the Trial Statement

Matthew 26:62–64

62Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 63But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” 64“You [singular] have said so” (Σὺ εἶπας), Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Mark 14:60–62

60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” 61But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62“I am” (Ἐγώ εἰμι), said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Luke 22:67–70

67“If you are the Messiah,” they said, “tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68and if I asked you, you would not answer. 69But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” 70They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “Y’all say that I am” (Ὑμεῖς λέγετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι).

John’s account of this meeting (John 18:19–24) is so different that it won’t be a factor in my comparison here, but I will return to it in a later post. Let me illustrate the key differences in the three Synoptic passages in Table 1:

Table 1: Parallel accounts of the “Son of Man” statements in the Gospel trials

Matthew 16:63–64

“Tell us if you are the Messiah…”


“You (sg) have said”


“Son of Man sitting…”

“coming in the clouds of heaven”

Mark 14:61–62

“Are you the Messiah…?”



“I am”

“Son of Man sitting…”

“coming in the clouds of heaven”

Luke 22:69–70

“Are you the Son of God?”

“Son of man will be seated…”

“You (pl) say that…

… I am”




Luke only has Jesus quoting Psalm 110:1 (109:1 LXX) about sitting at God’s right hand before saying “You say that I am.” Matthew and Mark both add Daniel 7:13, “coming in the clouds of heaven” (a clear reference to the Messianic portion of Daniel) after the Psalm 110:1 quotation, but they put those quotations after the “You say” (Matthew) or “I am” (Mark). The little bit about sitting at God’s right hand may seem perfectly innocuous to us, unless we, like the Jewish scribes, understand the full context of Psalm 110:1. The very next phrase after “Sit at my right hand” in that verse is “until I make your enemies your footstool.” Wow! Here we have the Pharisees accusing Jesus, and Jesus responding with a statement that essential signals his accusers are enemies of God! Not exactly a soft-spoken answer when you come to think about it. Add to that the quotation from Daniel, and Jesus is really putting the Sanhedrin in its place: By saying the Son of Man will come on the clouds, he is equating himself with the “Ancient of Days” in Daniel, leaving no doubt about his divine mandate and divine nature.

Add to that Mark and Luke’s account of Jesus using the phrase Ἐγώ εἰμι, which some in Jesus’s day (or even in the modern day) see as an intentional reference to God’s divine name in Exodus 3:14 (see discussion below), and we’ve got Jesus essentially giving the Sanhedrin the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Jesus proved it over and over again (in John’s account, Jesus chides the Sanhedrin for doing this in secret when he taught publicly everywhere he went), but the Pharisees have to say it as well, especially the high priest (see, for example, John 11:51).

One thing to keep in mind when examining the modern eclectic Greek New Testament: punctuation was added at a much later date. It didn’t exist in the autographs. Have you ever thought about why, after the Sanhedrin “asks” Jesus a question (in the NIV, anyway), Jesus treats the “question” like a regular statement? There is no “question” word that one might expect to find if the one asking the question expected a certain answer. Granted, not all questions need one of these special words to be understood as a question, but in the case of the Gospel writers, I would suggest that the phrase Σὺ εἶ ὁ Χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ εὐλογητοῦ be taken as a statement, not a question. This accomplishes two things in my mind if it is true:

  1. If John 11:51 has a broader application, then the high priest not only must prophesy about Jesus’s death, but he must also prophesy about his nature: The high priest prophesies that Jesus is the Son of Man; that means there is now another witness to Jesus’s true nature, but
  2. Without Jesus ever directly stating it in trial (with the possible exception of Mark, who may have a shortened version of Luke’s account), Jesus stealthily gets the Sanhedrin (or at least the high priest) to commit “blasphemy” by declaring Jesus to be the Son of Man. When Jesus says “You have said it,” he is in fact turning the tables on them and accusing them of very “blasphemy” they’re trying to pin on him! (I recognize there’s no real blasphemy here, because Jesus really is the Son of Man, but the Sanhedrin doesn’t want to see things that way.)

I think this latter point especially is fully in keeping with the nature of how Jesus responded to the religious rulers of his day. He always turned the tables on them to show them their erroneous thinking and oppressive religious “leadership,” if one can call it that. If Jesus had said outright the full phrase in their hearing, it would have been over and done, and the Sanhedrin would have been fully justified in their own minds in sentencing Jesus to death. Jesus was not wont to leave them with that kind of self-satisfaction. The reason the Sanhedrin gets so angry is precisely because Jesus has tricked them into committing the very “blasphemy” of which they are accusing him. Jesus had said that the demons believe he is the Son of Man, and they tremble. Here, the Sanhedrin apparently believes it as well, but instead of trembling in fear, they steel themselves against the possibility and (mis)use their authority to have Jesus arrested and eventually crucified.

Is Ἐγώ εἰμι a Direct Reference to Exodus 3:14?

As tempting as it is to always assume that when Jesus says Ἐγώ εἰμι, he is always referring to the divine name in Exodus 3:14, I have to reject that notion to be universally true in the Gospels. There are clearly times when Jesus uses the phrase simply to indicate his presence or his existence without the theological weight. Given the full statement in Luke that includes those words (and since I think Luke is on most things more thorough than Mark), I don’t think Jesus saying Ἐγώ εἰμι here has much theological weight. What seems to upset the Sanhedrin is Jesus’s quotation of Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13 more than anything else. Of course, Jesus could have said it in isolation (as Mark has it recorded) to get the Sanhedrin’s dander up, to make them think that’s what he meant even though he didn’t. It’s a word play that’s not intended to deceive, but to drive home the point.


These parallel accounts in the Synoptic Gospels raise some interesting issues in my mind. I think Jesus remains consistent with his approach to the religious elite of his day by not giving them the satisfaction of thinking they are right. A more detailed treatment of John’s version of these events goes beyond the scope of this blog post, but as I’m reading through John again now, I’m already finding things in the earlier part of his Gospel that tie into that account, so you can be sure I will have another post on these events from John’s perspective.


Scott Stocking

March 11, 2012

The Passion Week of Christ

I have been swamped this past week or so with an albatross of an edit. I haven’t had time to put anything new together, but I thought with Resurrection Sunday coming up, I’d index the links to my blog posts on the final week of Christ’s earthly ministry. I’m guessing there might be a minister or two out there struggling for some sermon ideas.

“Why Have You Forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34, par. Psalm 22:1)

Thieves, Robbers, or Rebels?

“I Am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25)

Judas’s Kiss (Matthew 26:48–49; Mark 14:45)

“If I’ve Told You Once, I’ve Told You a Thousand Times…”

εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν (eis aphesin hamartiōn, ‘for the forgiveness of sins’)

Let the Sleeping Saints Arise!

“Father, Forgive Them…” (Luke 23:34)

A Truly Open Communion?

Peace to all!

Scott Stocking

February 27, 2012

Deciphering the Mark 1:4 Variants

Details matter. Acts 28:13 and 1 Corinthians 13:3 each have variant readings that differ by only one letter each. Those differences make a huge difference in how the respective passages should be translated. Mark 1:4 is a little more complicated than that. Two small words are part of the variant readings for this passage: the one-letter definite article and a three-letter conjunction. Such small words only seem small, however. In reality, there is a big difference in how the passage is translated. Do we call John “the Baptizer” or just John in this passage?

Illustrating the Issue

I have listed the variant readings in Table 1 (only up to the word after the variant), with literal translations below each word. I put it in table form so those of you not familiar with what “variants” are can visualize the issue. The lexical forms of the individual words are the column headings for the verse, and each is linked the Strong’s entry on

Table 1: Three Best-Attested Variant Readings of Mark 1:4a (as ordered in the UBS 3 apparatus)

Eclectic Greek Text

Primary Ancient Witness








UBS Text

א (Sinaiticus)










It was



one baptizing





[the] one preaching


B (Vaticanus)
















Stephen’s Textus Receptus

A (Alexandrinus)

















*This is in the ancient text (Sinaiticus), but the UBS 3rd/4th editions have it in brackets with a grade of C indicating uncertainty it was in the autograph.

At the end of this post, I have included sentence diagrams (Figure 1) illustrating these variant readings.

The two main issues are:

  1. Was the definite article (ὁ) originally in the text before the participle βαπτίζων?
  2. Was the conjunction καὶ originally in the text before the participle κηρύσσων?

Textus Receptus (A Alexandrinus)

I will start with the Textus Receptus reading, because that seems to be the easiest to explain to English readers. A participle in English is a verb that usually adds –ing for the present participle or –ed for the past participle. They are usually used with a helping verb in the perfect tense (I have waited; I have been waiting) or passive voice (I was waited on by the butler; I am being waited on by the butler). Essentially in this reading, Mark uses the long form of the perfect tense (called periphrastic) instead of using a perfect tense verb. Here is how the King James renders the passage from the Textus Receptus:

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

Notice that without the definite article, the participles are seen to function as verbs that complete the past-tense helping verb ἐγένετο. The helping verb is translated various ways in English depending on context. The KJV phrasing sounds a bit archaic to 21st-century ears, but a more contemporary way to put it might be “John was baptizing…and preaching.” In other words, the translators don’t see this as a title for John. It’s neither “John the Baptist” nor “John the Baptizer”; it’s just “John” with a double predicate. Two of the three “preferences” used when deciding between two or more variants are prefer the shorter reading and prefer the more difficult reading. This passage is shorter than the UBS text, but is not as difficult as that text or the B text. Another poorly attested variant based on the D text is similar to A but changes the order of the text. I don’t detail that in the text of this post. It is diagrammed in Figure 1, however.

B (Vaticanus)

The B (Vaticanus) text has the definite article with βαπτίζων, and the passage can then be read like “John the Baptizer” is a title, especially without the καὶ (“and”; I will cover why that is important in the discussion of the א [Sinaiticus] text). The lack of a καὶ suggests that the two participles should not be taken as a compound predicate, as in the A text. The second participle describes what John was doing in the wilderness and functions very much like an adverb, as anarthrous (=without the definite article) participles often do. So the B passage could be translated like this:

John the Baptizer was in the wilderness preaching baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.


In the wilderness, John the Baptizer was preaching baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

This would be an acceptable translation if the B variant were not so poorly attested.

א (Sinaiticus)

I think that the reading of the א (Sinaiticus) text is the more difficult reading, but perhaps not for the reasons you think. For the most part, the καὶ is accepted as original to the text. If this is so, then it makes perfect sense to have the definite article before βαπτίζων. How are the two words related? It’s a rule I’ve discussed before in the blog, the Granville Sharp rule. If two singular, personal, non-proper nouns or substantives (words that can function as nouns; in this case βαπτίζων and κηρύσσων) are joined by καὶ, and only the first noun has the definite article, then the two nouns refer to the same person. This reading is slightly more difficult than the A text reading, because the construction is a bit more sophisticated. Since the two participles refer to the same person, the definite article would not be out of place. That doesn’t negate the reading of the A text necessarily, but since adding the definite article would not have been necessary to make sense of the text, it would seem to me that someone removed it somewhere along the way to make it a little easier to understand. In this case, the difficult passage is preferred over the shorter passage.

Given Mark’s penchant for shorter statements more to the point, the passage could be rendered like this:

There was John, the one baptizing in the wilderness and preaching baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.


There was John, the Baptizer in the wilderness, the Preacher of baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The former option isn’t much different from the A text reading above, but instead of just doing a straight noun/verb translation, I assumed Mark was using the participles to explain which John he intended (“There was John, you know, the guy who baptizing and preaching”). Note that the last option, for consistency, treats both “Baptizer” and “Preacher” as titles, because the definite article before βαπτίζων governs κηρύσσων as well. Mark does use the phrase Ἰωάννης ὁ βαπτίζων in 6:14 as well, so there is precedence for the phrase as a title. My translation of 1:4 with the titles sounds a little bit awkward to our English ears, but Greek speakers would have understood the construction immediately.

Nominative Absolute?

On a more technical note, it is entirely possible that the entire verse was intended as a nominative absolute. That’s basically a phrase in the subject case that stands apart as a separate clause and serves as the antecedent for a pronoun. The first four words of vs. 5 give the verb and the pronoun for John (καὶ ἐξεπορεύετο πρὸς αὐτὸν “and [everyone] went out to him”) before Mark states the subjects of the verb, so that’s a good clue that 1:4 might be functioning as a nominative absolute. If that is so, the editors of the Greek New Testament should put a comma instead of a period at the end of verse 4. This would further support the reading of the א text.


Talking about textual variants may not be the most exciting topic in the world for a blog, but I think it is important that people understand the care scholars take to restore the original text of Scripture. I hope that I have made this understandable for most audiences, but if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me through the comments or e-mail link. Thank you for reading!


Scott Stocking


Figure 1: Sentence Diagrams for Mark 1:4 Variants

February 20, 2012

Judas’s Kiss (Matthew 26:48–49; Mark 14:45)


Those of us who read the Scriptures with any regularity (and even with some irregularity) have noticed the phenomenon of selective attention. What I mean by this is, when you read a passage of Scripture you know you’ve read before, you notice something that speaks to your heart in such a way that you say, “Why didn’t I see that before.” That has happened to me quite often in reading the English translations of the Bible, even though English is my native tongue. You’d think I’d remember more than I do when I read Scripture. But now on my second time through the Greek New Testament (GNT), I am experiencing that same phenomenon. Of course, having that full year of experience has seasoned me to notice certain features of the text that the occasional reader of the GNT might not notice.

Matthew 26:48–49

The subject of this blog post is one such passage. Matthew 26:48–49 is part of the story of Judas betraying Jesus to the authorities. My discussion in this post centers around the nature of the “kiss” by which Judas identified Jesus to the authorities. Here is how the text reads in the NIV, with the Greek words translated “kiss” identified:

Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss [φιλήσω from φιλέω] is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed [κατεφίλησεν from καταφιλέω] him.

The “Kiss”

New Testament Usage

Some may think the different words used for “kiss” here represent merely a stylistic difference, but an examination of the second word, καταφιλέω, reveals an interesting nuance that is lost in translation but not in context. The word is used six times in the New Testament: once each by Matthew and Mark (14:45) in their respective betrayal pericopes; and four times by Luke—three in his Gospel (Luke 7:38, 45; 15:20) and once in Acts (20:37).

Luke mentions the φιλέω kiss in his passion story, but he never outright says that Judas kissed Jesus. But it is Luke’s use of καταφιλέω that reveals the important nuance in Matthew and Mark. Luke 7 is the story of the woman who washes Jesus feet with perfume, tears, and her hair. The kissing is portrayed as a repeated action that at the same time indicates a sort of “sorrowful joy.” She is both truly repentant and truly grateful for the forgiveness Jesus would proclaim to her. In vs. 45, Luke even contrasts the φιλέω kiss he should have received from Simon as a customary greeting with the woman’s repeated καταφιλέω kissing. So Luke was fully aware of the contrast between the two words, just as Matthew and Mark were.

In Luke 15, Jesus uses καταφιλέω of the father welcoming home the prodigal son. In Acts 20:37, Luke again uses the word to describe what happened when Paul departed from Miletus after saying farewell to the Ephesian elders. Paul is facing grave danger as he returns to Jerusalem, and many of his friends think they will never see him again. This is no peck on the cheek. Strong emotions always accompany this kind of “kiss.”

Old Testament Usage

The use of this word in the Septuagint (LXX) is no different. It describes the affection Laban showed his grandchildren when Jacob departed (Genesis 31:28, 32:1). It also describes Joseph’s reunion with his brothers in Egypt (Genesis 45:15). Naomi parted with Orpah with this kind of kiss, and the bond was so strong that Ruth insisted on returning to Bethlehem with Naomi (Ruth 1:9, 14). The word describes David’s friendship with Jonathan as well (1 Samuel 20:41). But lest I be misunderstood or misinterpreted, there is absolutely no sexual connotation in these farewell “kisses.” They reveal the very deep bond of friendship that the people experienced.

Judas’s Kiss: What It Means

So what does this all mean for Judas’s kiss? The fact that Matthew and Mark use καταφιλέω to describe Judas’s betrayal kiss reveals a couple things in my mind. First, Judas seems to have genuinely loved Jesus. I don’t think it’s fair to suggest he wasn’t genuine about the show of affection, especially given the desperation of his remorse after the fact. Second, because of that love, I have to wonder if Judas was trying to force Jesus’s hand by having him arrested. Judas wanted as much as anyone to throw off Roman rule, but Judas apparently didn’t like where things were headed. I think it is within the realm of reason to suggest that Judas thought by having Jesus arrested, Jesus’s followers would rise up rebellion against Rome. Or perhaps he even thought that Jesus would make a mighty show of divine power to overthrow Rome.

His actions do not strike me as those of a man who had a traitorous heart from the beginning. Rather they seem to be desperate measures by a disillusioned man who was trying to make one last attempt to have things go his way. When he failed miserably and realized he had condemned his friend to death rather initiating a new world order, he killed himself in an ultimate act of desperation.


How many times do you and I get disillusioned about the way God is working in our lives? I know I have done my share of complaining to God that he’s not doing things the way I think he should be doing them. Then in desperation, I do something in an attempt to force God’s hand and realize after the fact how foolish I really was. I need to work on developing that deep and abiding trust in God that makes me want to melt into his καταφιλέω affection for me, just as the prodigal experienced when he returned home.


Scott Stocking

March 20, 2011

“Why Have You Forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34, par. Psalm 22:1)

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Christology,Greek,Mark Gospel of,Old Testament,Psalms — Scott Stocking @ 8:40 am

In Mark 15:34 (parallel Matthew 27:46), Jesus cries out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (the Aramaic version is given in the text: ʾEloi, ʾEloi, lama sabachthani; Hebrew:אֵלִ֣י אֵ֭לִי לָמָ֣ה עֲזַבְתָּ֑נִי
ʾEliy, ʾEliy, lamah ʿăzăbtāniy; Greek: Ὁ θεός μου ὁ θεός μου, εἰς τί ἐγκατέλιπές με; ho theos mou ho theos mou, eis ti enkatelipes me?). Jesus is quoting Psalm 22:1 [22:2 MT, LXX] here, but is he quoting it in utter despair? Having just finished reading The Screwtape Letters, I learned again that despair is probably the worst sin with which Satan can tempt us. But we know Jesus did not give into sin, not even the sin of despair. So why does he quote it on the cross, in the hour of his greatest pain?

If you read all of Psalm 22, you will find many parallels to the negative and agonizing aspects of the crucifixion event. In 22:7, we see the mocking (Mark 15:20, 31), insulting (ὀνειδίζω oneidizō; Hebrew is literally: ‘open wide their lips’; Mark 15:29, 32), and shaking of heads (Mark 15:29). In Psalm 22:15, David prophesies, “My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” Jesus sums that up in John 19:28 (the only one to record this) when he says “I am thirsty.” Psalm 22:16 is explicit: “They pierce my hands and my feet” (although there is a variant reading here; see TNIV footnote). The casting of lots to divide Christ’s clothes (Psalm 22:18) is referenced by all four Gospel writers (Mark 15:24, Matthew 27:35, Luke 23:34, John 19:23–24). Psalm 22:24 hints at Isaiah’s suffering servant, especially Isaiah 53. The final verse of Psalm 22 (v. 31) has the declaration, “He has done it!” That sounds very much like John 19:30: “It is finished.”

My point in citing all these is that Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 not because he is in despair, but because he wants to call attention to the entire Psalm. (Matthew does something similar when he quotes Isaiah 7:14 about the virgin being with child; he is bringing to his readers’ attention the whole prophetic, messianic narrative of Isaiah 7–12.) Psalm 22 is also filled with great hope. It has many positive statements in it that would have served to encourage and strengthen Christ in his final moments on the cross: vv. 4–5 speak of deliverance and salvation; vv. 9–10 speak of God’s closeness throughout life; vv. 11 and 19–20 are pleas for God to stay near and bring rescue in times of trouble; vv. 22–31 look forward to the proclamation of the Gospel message.

Christ gave it all for our salvation. Even when we think we have it bad, look at the example of Christ on the cross, who, in the face of death, did not consider himself forsaken, but held on to the promise of help and deliverance of Psalm 22.

Other Tidbits from the Crucifixion Stories

As I was checking parallel Gospel accounts, I happened to notice in John 19:23 that Jesus’ undergarment was woven in one piece, “from top to bottom,” so the soldiers did not want to tear (σχίζω schizō) this as they did the rest of his clothes. Similar language is used when the curtain of the temple is torn (σχίζω
again) “from top to bottom,” although Mark and John use different words for “bottom.”

Mark records in 15:47 that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses both saw the tomb where Jesus had been placed by Joseph of Arimathea. This is an important apologetic element, as “every testimony is established by two or three witnesses.” Someone had to have seen where Jesus was placed to know the tomb had indeed been miraculously vacated.

One more thing (not “finally,” because there is so much more I could say): I find it interesting that when the soldiers mock Jesus before taking him to Golgotha, they beat him on the head (Mark 15:19) with a reed (καλάμος kalamos). In 15:36, the same word is used of the stick on which they place the sponge to offer Jesus one last drink. Is it possible that was the same stick or reed? Things that make you go “hmm.”


March 13, 2011

Thieves, Robbers, or Rebels?

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Mark Gospel of,New Testament — Scott Stocking @ 8:43 am

About a year ago, I had the privilege to edit (and read, of course) the fiction novel The Butane Gospel by Michael Hinkle. The main character in the story, redneck trucker Leon Butane, finds himself on a life-or-death mission after his own near-death experience to discover the names of the two men crucified with Jesus. As Hinkle himself described the story, it is a cross between The Big Lebowski and The DaVinci Code. What captured my interest in the story was one of the underlying questions Butane and his associates had to answer: Were the two men crucified with Jesus simple thieves, or were they rebels? I’ll let you read the book for yourselves to find out how Hinkle resolves the issue.

I was reminded of this question this week as I read Mark 11. Mark 11:15–19 records the story of Jesus cleansing the temple (parallel passages are Matthew 21:12–17; Luke 19:45–48; and John 2:13–22). In the three synoptic Gospels, all authors record Jesus’ reference to Jeremiah 7:11, which in the TNIV reads: “Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you?” (All Scripture citations are from Logos 4.0 versions of the references, unless I indicate I have used my own translation.)

At issue here is the word translated “robber” in a majority of the English translations, both in Jeremiah 7:11 (Hebrew: פָּרִיץ pārîṣ, ‘violent one’, from the verb פָּרַץ pāraṣ, break (through, down, over), burst [TWOT 1826]) and Mark 11:17 and synoptic parallels (λῃστής lēstēs, ‘robber’, ‘rebel’, ‘highwayman’; also used in the LXX translation of Jeremiah 7:11). For both the Hebrew and Greek words, “robber” is an appropriate translation, but it only has a real impact on those who understand the legal, technical difference between a “robber” and “thief” (in Greek, the latter is translated from κλέπτης kleptēs, used 16 times in the NT). A robber uses violent force against a person to take something, while a thief does not.

In Nehemiah, the Hebrew word is used to contrast the efforts of those rebuilding the wall. The enemies of the Jews wanted to level and break down the walls, as indicated by the verb definition above. In other places in the Hebrew text, the word has much more violent overtones. In Isaiah 35:9, the word refers to “ravenous” beasts. In Ezekiel 7:22, it refers to those who would desecrate the temple (the TNIV uses “robbers” there as well). In Psalm 17:4, it is used in parallel with those who bribe, an action always associated with violence in the OT. And in Daniel 11:14, the word is used of those “violent” ones who would rebel against the divine visions.

The use of the Greek word lēstēs in the LXX and NT has similar connotations. The translation “highwayman” above can be aptly illustrated in the character of Vizzini in The Princess Bride. Although comic and eventually benign, his character represents the kind of violence implied by lēstēs. Luke (10:30, 36) uses the word to describe the bandits who robbed and beat the man in the story of the Good Samaritan. John (10:1, 8) uses the word to describe those who break into the sheepfold. He also uses the word of Barabbas in 18:40. Interestingly, Matthew identifies Barabbas as “Jesus Barabbas” in 27:16–17, although “Jesus” is an uncertain variant in both places and not well attested in the most prominent manuscripts.

Another place where we find the Greek word used is in the Garden of Gethsemane when the soldiers come to arrest Jesus. The three synoptic writers (Matthew 26:55; Mark 14:48; Luke 22:52) all have Jesus asking a question (my translation): “You come after me as rebel?” Note that in those contexts, the arresting party brings clubs and swords, thinking Jesus to be a violent man. (Did some have him confused with Jesus Barabbas? I’m not sure that is plausible.) In Matthew, Jesus admonishes them, saying that he sat in the temple courts teaching every day. But I have to ask a question at this point: Was Jesus’ temple outburst, just though it may have been, the watershed event that led to his arrest and crucifixion? And if so, is it possible that the two men crucified with Jesus (whom Matthew and Mark identify as lēstoi; Luke has κακοῦργοι kakourgoi, lit. ‘workers of bad’) were not criminals, but men who had “zeal for God’s house” (John 2:17, quoting Psalm 69:9) comparable to that of Jesus? Had they jumped on the bandwagon when Jesus started overturning the tables of the moneychangers? Or had they just taken advantage of the general upheaval caused by Jesus and done their own plundering? (I must here give credit to Hinkle’s The Butane Gospel for bringing these questions to the forefront, but my conclusions are slightly different from those of the characters in his book.)

It should be noted that when Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables, he did not actually steal any of the goods for himself, so technically, he could not be classified as a lēstēs.

I find it significant, then, that lēstēs, used only 15 times in the NT, is found 10 times total in the three stories of the temple cleansing, arrest, and crucifixion. The word seems to tie these stories together, not to portray Jesus as a lēstēs, but to acquit him of the charge and thus defend his innocence as the Lamb of God.

4Surely he took up our pain

and bore our suffering

yet we considered him punished by God,

stricken by him, and afflicted.

5But he was pierced for our transgressions,

he was crushed for our iniquities;

the punishment that brought us peace was on him,

and by his wounds we are healed.

6We all, like sheep, have gone astray,

each of us has turned to our own way;

and the Lord has laid on him

the iniquity of us all.

7He was oppressed and afflicted,

yet he did not open his mouth;

he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,

so he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53:4–7, TNIV).

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