Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Jesus

     The surviving manuscripts of Mark 1:42 preserve two variant readings.  Here is the passage as Bart Ehrman has translated it.  He writes, “And he came preaching in their synagogues in all of Galilee and casting out demons.  And a leper came to him beseeching him and saying to him, ‘If you wish,you are able to cleanse me.’  And feeling compassion (Greek splangnistheis)/ becoming angry (Orgistheis), reaching out his hand, he touched him and said, “I wish, be cleansed.’  And immediately the leprosy went out from him, and he was cleansed.” (1)  I will differ in the way that Ehrman translates some of this passage, but we will come to that later.  But first, let’s hear what he has to say.  The oldest manuscript which preserves’, “becoming angry” is the codex Bezae.  Now, Dr Ehrman doesn’t give us much external evidence about this particular codex, so I will.

     This manuscript is also known as the “Codex Cantabrigiensis.”  It was “presented in 1581 to the library at Cambridge University by Theodore Beza, the celebrated French scholar who became the successor of Calvin as the leader of the Genevan Church.  Dating from the fifth century, this codex contains most of the text of the four gospels and Acts, with a small fragment of 3 John.  The text is presented in Greek and Latin, the two languages facing each other on opposite pages, the Greek being on the left and the Latin on the right…The Gospels stand in the so-called Western order, with the two apostles first and the two companions of the apostles following, (Mathew, John, Luke and Mark)…No known manuscript has so many and such remarkable variations from what is usually taken to be the normal New Testament text.  Codex Bezae’s special characteristics are the free addition (and occasional omission) of words, sentences, and even incidents…Codex Bezae is the principal representative of the Western text.” (2)  Did you catch what that quote said?  It said that it has more variants than any other manuscript available, which, makes it somewhat of a sketchy source on occasion.  This is somewhat relevant to our point because it is this manuscript that is the primary evidence for Ehrman’s thesis.  I’m not saying that Ehrman’s points are to be dismissed; I’m only presenting a flow of data that Ehrman glosses over.  As far as the Western texts are concerned, they represent a certain group of manuscripts.  There are three groups of text; they are the Western, the Alexandrian, and the Caesarean.  Regarding the Western group as a whole, of which Bezae is the poster child, are considered to be the “undisciplined and wild growth of manuscripts” (3) where many folks where translating as “seemed good to him.” To reiterate, the manuscript for Dr. Ehrman’s thesis may not exactly be the most reliable from an external evidential standard.  Nevertheless, he will make a brilliant argument to support his position.  Hence, we will accept Bezae for the moment as containing the most “accurate reading.”

  He writes, “The fact that one of the readings makes such good sense and is easy to understand is precisely what makes some scholars suspect that it is wrong.  For, as we have seen, scribes also would have preferred the text to be non-problematic and simple to understand.  The question to be asked is this:  which is more likely, that a scribe copying this text would change it to say that Jesus became wrathful instead of compassionate, or to say that Jesus became compassionate instead of wrathful?  Which reading better explains the existence of the other?  When seen from this perspective, the latter is obviously more likely.  The reading that indicates Jesus became angry is the ‘more difficult’ reading and therefore more likely to be original…Mark begins his Gospel by portraying Jesus as a physically and charismatically powerful authority figure who is not to be messed with.  He is introduced by a wild-man prophet in the wilderness; he is cast out from society to do battle in the wilderness with Satan and wild beasts; he returns to call for urgent repentance in the face of imminent coming of God’s judgment, he rips his followers away from their families, he overwhelms his audiences with his authority, he rebukes and overpowers demonic forces that can completely subdue mere mortals; he refuses to accede to popular demand, ignoring people who plead for an audience with him…It is possible that Jesus is being portrayed in the opening scenes of Mark’s Gospel as a powerful figure with a strong will and an agenda of his own, a charismatic authority who doesn’t like to be disturbed?  It would certainly make sense of his response to the healed leper whom he harshly rebukes and then casts out.” (4) Love it!!!

     Paul tells us to “be angry and do not sin.” (Eph 4:26).  For far too long have the church sat castrated in pews sticking to the meek and the mild side.  If Ehrman is correct, the Jesus, on occasion, was far from the meek and mild.  He was a, pardon the expression, a “bad-ass!”   And we, as His followers and imitators, ought to be bad-ass about the things that he was bad-ass about.  We should be angry at unbelief, the devil, disease, sin, doubt, spiritual blindness, demonic oppression, and anything else that sets itself against the mind and will of God. There are only two camps in the spiritual realm.  For far too long has the church lived in compromise with its holiness, lifestyle, and relationship with a cursed and dying world.  We should be angry at the flesh, the world, and the devil. Not only should we be angry towards it, we should act towards it as Jesus acts.  John tells us in no uncertain terms that, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (I John 3:8)  Peter tells us the secret of Messiah’s success, “God anointed Jesus o f Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil,.” (Acts 10:38)  We, As His people, should be rightly related to God in such as way that we do the same.  In fact, Jesus tells us that, “the works that I do you will do also, and greater works than these will you do because I go to the Father.” (John 14:12)  I’m beginning to drool here!!!  This is an awesome presentation of Messiah and I think it time that thechurch became angry about some things.  We should respond as He did.  Be angry and do not sin.

     There is some other corroborative evidence for Jesus being angry in the Greek text.  If you will grant me the leisure to perform a little Greek exegetical syntaxical dissection of the verse, a reason for His angry blatantly presents itself.  The Greek of verse 40 reads:

“Kai ercetai pros auton lepos parakalwn auton kai gonupetwn kai legwn autw oti      ean qelns dunasai me kaqarisai.”  

     Indulge me a little and we will quickly come to a plausible reason for Messiah to be angry.  The first two words read, “and coming.”  The etai ending indicates the progressive middle voice.  This means that the action may have repeated over and over again, implying that the leper kept coming and coming and coming.  The middle voice tells us that the subject of the sentence, the leper, identified by the os ending in lepros, makes it the nomitive case.  So, the leper is coming over and over again and something is going to act upon him.  The direct object is generally the one who will do the acting.  In this verse the word auton meaning “Him” is the direct object as evidenced by the “on” ending.  This ending represents the accusative case which is the case for the direct object.  Hence, Him will be doing something upon the leper as the leper keeps coming and coming.  The word pros means to or toward Him.  There are three additional verbs that are written describing the action of the leper and they are parakalwn, gonupetwn, and legwn.  Notice the wn ending with the verbal stem means that this word is a participle written in the nomitive singular.  This tells us that it will describe the action of the subject of the sentence which is the leper.  In English, participles are made by adding “ing” to a verb.  Participles are verbal adjectives.  Hence, the adjectives describing the actions of this beggar are basically, begging, and kneeling, and speaking.  The picture that we have so far is “A leper keeps on coming and coming towards Him and begging, kneeling, and saying over and over again.”  This is the essence of what he will be saying.  “Ean” which means “if” introduces a new mood into the verse.  It is the subjunctive mood.  The subjunctive mood, in Greek, represents an unfulfilled statement in the mind of the speaker.  It bespeaks of a possible future but one that is not certain.  For the passage at hand, our leper has zero faith in the willingness and power of Messiah to heal.  Here is how we know this.  First, he uses the words “qelhs” which would be “if you will it, or have the ability to will it.”  Another definition is, “to be resolved, determined, to purpose.” (5)  The leper is unsure of Messiah purpose, His determination, and His resolve to restore that which has been lost.  And in this case that the “lepers will be cleansed.” (Matthew 11:4).  The next word makes the case even stronger.  The man doubted Jesus “dunasai.” This word means, “the inherent power residing within a thing by the virtue of its nature.” (6)  The leper is not only doubting Messiah ability and willingness to heal but he even doubts if Jesus has the ability to do it.  All of this, probably, takes place in the synagogue as Jesus is attempting to teach.  This might be enough to upset someone.  While this is an issue in and of itself, there were many who came to Jesus in unbelief without His becoming angry.  Perhaps there was something else at work here.  Even though, this might be enough to upset someone who was so spiritually blind that they couldn’t see the things taking place right before their eyes.  The angry could be directed at the hardness of a heart which is so solidified in unbelief that even if miracles were taking place right in front of them, they still wouldn’t have faith.  Remember, it is always those who “had faith” that Jesus praised.  Why?  Because their hearts were open and soft to the movement of God that was taking place before their very eyes.  Much could be said about this in our own day, but it is not really the subject at hand.  Suffice it to say here, that Messiah, and subsequently, we, as His church, should get angry at the hardness of the world’s heart to the movements of God within our own time.  Not only the world’s, but also of those who say that they are Christians and yet they are hardened to the movements of God today.  Having said that, there may be more at issue here than just the hardness of heart of one of God’s people.   Although, this would be enough to spark some anger, there is even more here

     As we have already determined, the coming, begging, and proclaiming of doubt and unbelief by this leper was possibly of a repetitive nature related to the tense of the Greek verbs.  One additional factor should be included.  Mainly, the place where all of this was happening.  Dr. Timothy Jones writes, “It’s important to notice where Jesus was teaching when this healing occurred.  Apparently Jesus was in a synagogue (Mark 1:39) where the Jews of that town had gathered to hear God’s Word.  If so, this man’s presence could have rendered an entire Jewish community unclean!  Although Jesus challenged the traditions that had been added to the Law O Moses, he consistently called his people to live by the laws that God had graciously given them through Moses ( see Mark 1:44)  According to these laws, the leprous man was supposed to have sequestered himself away from his fellow Jews (Leviticus 13).  Instead he placed an entire Jewish community in danger of ceremonial uncleanness.  Is it any wonder that Jesus became angry?” (7)  This paints a totally different picture than that which appears in the English translations.

     This leper had absolutely no concern for the instructions of the Torah regarding leprosy.  He is so caught up in the selfishness of his own condition that he cares little about God and about others.  He completely disregards Torah and completely disregards his fellows and repeatedly came bringing defilement, doubt, and unbelief with him into the most sacred place in the town, the synagogue.  No wonder Messiah gets angry.  It awesome to see that Jesus heals him despite this lepers own plethora of issues. (Grace is not about the behavior and attitude of the leper; it is unmerited favor despite his own problems)  However this is not the end of the story.

     In verse 43, Jesus “sternly charged” the leper according to the English Standard Version.  The actual Greek word is “embrismhsamenos.”  This is a first aorist middle particle as evidenced by the “samenos” ending.  The aorist use here conveys the idea of “afterward.” (8)  (Oftentimes a participle is translated with an English temporal relative clause to give the sense of the time that is being used in Greek.  The Greek doesn’t explicitidly state afterward, but it is understood as such by the use of the first aorist participle.  Hence, to make it translate into English, we would add “afterward.”)  The basic meaning of this word is, “An expression of anger and displeasure…to scold…to be indignant.” (9)  Ehrman translates it “rebuked him severely” and this seems to be the case, and, rightfully so.  Then, after this scolding, Jesus will “cast him out.”  This is the literal readings of verse 43.  (I will spare you all of the gory and perhaps even boring Greek details that render it such as I have already subjected you to the tortuous dissection of verse 42)  The word used for “cast him out” is the verb “ekballw” which also conveys the idea of anger.  This is the same word that is used in verse 39 and is most often associated with the casting out of demonic spirits.  Its basic meaning is, “to cast out, to drive out, and to send with the included notion of more or less violence.” (10)  So, after healing him and severely rebuking him for his actions and attitudes Jesus then throws him out of the synagogue.  But, cast him out to where?  To the priest.   Why? To offer the sacrifices for his cleansing as commanded in the Law of Moses.  Jesus re-orients and disciplines his people away from his misguided and selfish mindset back toward the attitudes and inclinations of God which can be summed up in “love your neighbor as yourself” and “love the Lord thy God.”  Messiah sends the cleansed leper to perform an act of obedience to re-orient him back to the law and the attitudes of God.  Not only does this leper receive his physical healing, he also receives spiritual instruction as to the attitudes of God. This is awesome!!  It is also an expression of His love.  The scriptures tell us that those whom He loves He disciplines.  I love this interpretation of the passage and it seems to fit with evidence from internal as well as external witnesses.

Endnotes

  1. 1.       1. Ehrman, Bart, Misquoting Jesus, The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Harper Collins Pub, New York, NY, 2005, page 128.
  2. 2.       Metzger, Bruce, Ehrman, Bart, The Text of the New Testament, Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2005, page 70-71, 73.
  3. 3.       Ibid, 307.
  4. 4.       Ehrman, MJ, page 137-138.
  5. 5.       Thayer, Joseph, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, 2005, page 285.
  6. 6.       Ibid, page 159.
  7. 7.       Jones, Timothy Paul, Misquoting Truth, a Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus.” Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2007, page 73-74.
  8. 8.       Mounce, William, Basics of Biblical Greek, Zondervan Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI, 1993, page 202.
  9. 9.       Bauer, Walter, Gingrich, F.W., Danker, Fredrick, A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Early Christian Literature, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, second edition, 1979, page 254.
  10. 10.   Ibid.
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