entête

Mark 1: 21-28

I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the evangelical text, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.


 


  1. Translation of the Greek text (28th edition of Kurt Aland)

    Greek textTransliterated Greek textLiteral translationTranslation in current language
    21 Καὶ εἰσπορεύονται εἰς Καφαρναούμ• καὶ εὐθὺς τοῖς σάββασιν εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὴν συναγωγὴν ἐδίδασκεν21 Kai eisporeuontai eis Kapharnaoum• kai euthys tois sabbasin eiselthōn eis tēn synagōgēn edidasken.21 And they go into Capernaum. And immediately on the Sabbaths, having entered in the synagogue, he was teaching.21 Jesus make his way to the city of Capernaum. On the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and began to teach.
    22 καὶ ἐξεπλήσσοντο ἐπὶ τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ• ἦν γὰρ διδάσκων αὐτοὺς ὡς ἐξουσίαν ἔχων καὶ οὐχ ὡς οἱ γραμματεῖς22 kai exeplēssonto epi tē didachē autou• ēn gar didaskōn autous hōs exousian echōn kai ouch hōs hoi grammateis.22 And they were astounded at his teaching. For he was teaching as having authority and not as the scribes.22 People were upset by his teaching because he taught them out of his own authority, and not in the manner of Bible scholars.
    23 Καὶ εὐθὺς ἦν ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ αὐτῶν ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύματι ἀκαθάρτῳ καὶ ἀνέκραξεν23 Kai euthys ēn en tē synagōgē autōn anthrōpos en pneumati akathartō kai anekraxen23 And immediately was in the synagogue of them a man with a spirit unclean and he cried out23 For example, there was in the synagogue a man with a disturbed mind who began to scream,
    24 λέγων• τί ἡμῖν καὶ σοί, Ἰησοῦ Ναζαρηνέ; ἦλθες ἀπολέσαι ἡμᾶς; οἶδά σε τίς εἶ, ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ24 legōn• ti hēmin kai soi, Iēsou Nazarēne? ēlthes apolesai hēmas? oida se tis ei, ho hagios tou theou.24 saying, What to us and to you, Jesus the Nazarean? Did you come to destroy us? I know you who you are, the holy (one) of God.24 "What are you doing here, Jesus the Nazarene?" Have you come to exterminate us? I know who you are: you are inhabited by God.
    25 καὶ ἐπετίμησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων• φιμώθητι καὶ ἔξελθε ἐξ αὐτοῦ25 kai epetimēsen autō ho Iēsous legōn• phimōthēti kai exelthe ex autou.25 And he scolded him Jesus saying, Be silent and get out from him.25 Jesus rebuked him saying, "Shut up and free this man!"
    26 καὶ σπαράξαν αὐτὸν τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἀκάθαρτον καὶ φωνῆσαν φωνῇ μεγάλῃ ἐξῆλθεν ἐξ αὐτοῦ26 kai sparaxan auton to pneuma to akatharton kai phōnēsan phōnē megalē exēlthen ex autou.26 And having convulsed him the spirit the unclean and having cried in a voice loud he got out from him.26 Then, after convulsive movements and great screams, the disturbed mind disappeared from him.
    27 καὶ ἐθαμβήθησαν ἅπαντες ὥστε συζητεῖν πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς λέγοντας• τί ἐστιν τοῦτο; διδαχὴ καινὴ κατʼ ἐξουσίαν• καὶ τοῖς πνεύμασι τοῖς ἀκαθάρτοις ἐπιτάσσει, καὶ ὑπακούουσιν αὐτῷ27 kai ethambēthēsan hapantes hōste syzētein pros heautous legontas• ti estin touto? didachē kainē katʼ exousian• kai tois pneumasi tois akathartois epitassei, kai hypakouousin autō.27 And were astonished all so as to question among themselves saying, What is this? A Teaching new with authority. And to spirits the unclean he commands, and they obey him.27 Everyone was in shock and questioned each other: "What does all this mean?" This is a totally new teaching given from his own authority. And this authority is exercised even on disturbed minds, and these submit themselves".
    28 καὶ ἐξῆλθεν ἡ ἀκοὴ αὐτοῦ εὐθὺς πανταχοῦ εἰς ὅλην τὴν περίχωρον τῆς Γαλιλαίας28 kai exēlthen hē akoē autou euthys pantachou eis holēn tēn perichōron tēs Galilaias.28 And got out the new of him immediately everywhere in the whole neighbourhood of Galilee28 Immediately his fame spread throughout the region of Galilee.

  1. Analysis of each verse

    v. 21 Jesus made his way to the city of Capernaum. On the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and began to teach.

    Literally: And they go into Capernaum. And immediately (euthys) on the Sabbaths, having entered in the synagogue, he was teaching.

Capharnaum
Literally: "City of Nahum". It is the first city that is named when the story of Jesus ministry begins. It is his headquarters, because Mark refers to it as his home. Jesus was very active there.
  • Mark 2: 1: When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. (he teaches, and then he cures a paralytic who is put through the roof)
  • Mark 9: 33: Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was at home he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?"

Let us recall that this city, on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, was a border post between the territory of Herod Antipas and his brother Philip, and thus customs officers exercised their trade there. There was also a Roman garrison, hence the presence of centurions. The four gospels are unanimous in presenting an important activity of Jesus.

euthys (immediately)
The word euthys (immediately) is Mark's "fetish" word, which he uses 40 times in his gospel, or 80% of all the uses in the four gospels. The word is used for different purposes: to establish a stitch to link two scenes together, to express the urgency of proclaiming the reign of God, to express the power of Jesus' intervention. Let's look at some examples:
  • Mark 1: 10: "And immediately as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him"
  • Mark 1: 12: "And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness"
  • Mark 1: 18: "And immediately they left their nets and followed him"
  • Mark 1: 42: "Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean"
  • Mark 5: 29-30: "Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, 'Who touched my clothes?'"

having entered in the synagogue
In Mark, Jesus regularly goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath. For more details about the synagogue and the Sabbath service, see Glossary. Suffice it to remind us that following the reading of the Law and the Prophets, there was an instruction. Mark seems to claim that Jesus was involved in this period of instruction. Here are the main references in addition to the actual text.
  • Mark 1: 39: "And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons"
  • Mark 3: 1: "Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand"
  • Mark 6: 2: "On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!"

he was teaching
Instruction was part of the synagogal office. But Mark makes the act of teaching the main activity of Jesus in addition to healing, especially exorcisms. Thus, compared to the four evangelists, he is the one who uses the word "teach" the most often (Mt = 13 times, Mk = 17 times, Lk = 15 times, John = 10 times). Mark rarely mentions the content of this teaching, except a few times to mention the parables or to question the scribes' attitude. Let's give some examples:
  • Mark 2: 13: "Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them"
  • Mark 4: 1: "Again he began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land"
  • Mark 6: 2: "On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!"
  • Mark 6: 6: "And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching"
  • Mark 6: 34: "As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things"
  • Mark 10: 1: "He left that place and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan. And crowds again gathered around him; and, as was his custom, he again taught them"
  • Mark 11: 18: "And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching"
  • Mark 12: 35: "While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, "How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David?"

v. 22 People were upset by his teaching because he taught them out of his own authority, and not in the manner of Bible scholars.

Literally: And they were astounded (exeplēssonto) at his teaching. For he was teaching as having authority (exousian) and not as the scribes (grammateis).

exeplēssonto (they were amazed)
Mark likes this expression which means: to be struck, to be amazed; he is even the one who uses it the most (Mt = 4 times, Mk = 5 times, Lk = 3 times, John = 0 times). Thus, not only is teaching the regular activity of Jesus, but his teaching has an immense impact and stands out from others. This teaching leads people to question his identity. Here are a few examples.

  • Mark 6: 2: "On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded (ekplēssō). They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!"
  • Mark 7: 37: "They were astounded (ekplēssō) beyond measure, saying, 'He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak'"
  • Mark 10: 26: "They were greatly astounded (ekplēssō) and said to one another, "'Then who can be saved?'"
  • Mark 11: 18: "And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound (ekplēssō) by his teaching"

exousian (authority)
The word exousia is often used to talk about political authority and the right to do things. Here it is used to affirm that Jesus is the author of what he says: in other words, he does not repeat what others have said, or simply comment on what others have said. So there is something original and new about him. There is another aspect of the meaning of this word that we will see a little later: Jesus' teaching is a transforming and liberating action. Let us look at some examples.
  • Mark 2: 10: "But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority (exousia) on earth to forgive sins" - he said to the paralytic"
  • Mark 6: 7: "He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority (exousia) over the unclean spirits"
  • Mark 11: 28: "and said, "By what authority (exousia) (chasing away vendors and bankers from the temple) are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority (exousia) to do them?" "

grammateis (scribes)
Grammateus is usually translated by scribe. I prefer to translate by: Bible scholar. On the justification of my translation, see the translation page.
Noun grammateus in Mark
v. 23 For example, there was in the synagogue a man with a disturbed mind who began to scream,

Literally: And immediately was in the synagogue of them a man with a spirit unclean (akathartō) and he cried out (anekraxen)

akathartō (unclean)
Usually translated as: unclean, impure, dirty, soiled. The adjective has both a cultic (unfit for worship) and moral (immoral) meaning. In both cases, the word wants to describe a person who does not fit in with the rules, hence my proposal to translate by "disturbed", which can have a social meaning. For this choice in translation, see also the translation page. Mark has a preference for this adjective to describe a certain number of people that Jesus will heal (Mt = 2 times, Mk = 11 times, Lk = 6 times, John = 0 times). These disturbed minds are sometimes described as having epilepsy or mental illness, which the Jews of Jesus' time attribute to the work of the devil. Jesus himself will be called a disturbed mind (3:30) by his family, who did not understand that he was teaching and who said, "He has lost his senses" (3:21); he is therefore considered to be one of the madmen. Here are the references to this adjective outside of the three cases of our pericope.
  • Mark 3: 11: "Whenever the disturbed (akathartos) mind saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, 'You are the Son of God!'"
  • Mark 3: 30: "for they had said, "He has an disturbed (akathartos)"
  • Mark 5: 2-13: "And as soon as Jesus disembarked, a man with a disturbed (akathartos) mind came to meet him from the tombs: he had his dwelling in the tombs and no one could bind him, even with a chain.... He would say to him: 'Come out of this man, disturbed (akathartos) mind' ... And he allowed them to do so. When they came out, the disturbed (akathartos) mind entered the pigs and the herd rushed from the top of the escarpment into the sea, numbering about 2,000, and they were drowning in the sea"
  • Mark 6: 7: "He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the disturbed (akathartos) mind"
  • Mark 7: 25: "but a woman whose little daughter had an disturbed (akathartos) mind immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet"
  • Mark 9: 17-25: "One of the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, I have brought you my son who has a mute mind. When he seizes him, he throws him to the ground, and he froths, gnashes his teeth and becomes stiff... When Jesus saw that a crowd was pouring in, he rebuked the disturbed (akathartos) mind, saying, "Dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and do not go in again"

anekraxen (he cried out)
The word anakrazō means: to cry out, to shout out loud. It is rarely used throughout the New Testament, as its twin brother krazō is prefered. The prefix "ana" often adds the idea of repetition. It would sound like a long scream. There are only five references, two in Mark, three in Luke, one of which only copies Mark. From all of this comes out the image of irrational and uncontrolled screams. Here are these passages.
  • Mark 1: 23: "Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit and he cried out (anakrazō)" || Luc 4: 33
  • Mark 6: 49: "But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out (anakrazō)"
  • Luke 8: 28: "When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted (anakrazō) at the top of his voice, 'What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me'"
  • Luke 23: 18: "Then they all shouted out (anakrazō) together, 'Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!'"

v. 24 "What are you doing here, Jesus the Nazarene?" Have you come to exterminate us? I know who you are: you are inhabited by God.

Literally: saying, What to us and to you (ti hēmin kai soi), Jesus the Nazarean (Iēsou Nazarēne)? Did you come to destroy (apolesai hēmas) us? I know (oida) you who you are, the holy (one) of God (ho hagios tou theou).

ti hēmin kai soi (what to us and to you)
It is a typically Semitic expression for pushing a relationship away: we have nothing in common, why should we have a relationship. Here are some examples (Old Testament texts are taken from the Septuagint)
  • Judges 11: 12: And Jephthah sent envoys to the king of the children of Ammon, saying : What to us and to you (Ti emoi kai soi), that thou comest hither to bring war into my land.
  • 2 Samuel 16:10: But the king said, "What to us and to you (Ti emoi kai hymin), son of Serviah? Leave him alone, and let him continue to curse, for the Lord has told him to curse David; who then will go and say to him, 'Where did you come from that you are doing this?
  • 2 Samuel 19:23: But David said, "What to us and to you (Ti emoi kai hymin), son of Sarvia, that today you have laid a snare for me? No man in Israel this day shall be put to death; do I not know that I am king over Israel?
  • 1 Kings 17, 18: And the woman said to Elijah, "What to us and to you (Ti emoi kai soi), man of God? Have you come to me to remember my sins and to kill my son?
  • John 2:4: Jesus said to her, "What to us and to you (Ti emoi kai soi), woman? My hour has not yet come."

Thus, the question of the disturbed mind clearly tells Jesus that he is not welcome, that his presence will be disastrous, a bit like the widow of Sarepta when she addresses Elijah. Under Mark's pen, it is easy to understand that the evangelist affirms the incompatibility between the action of Jesus and that of the disturbed mind, and that there is a war to end.

Iēsou Nazarēne (Jesus the Nazarean)
The qualifier "Nazarene" or "Nazarean" is very rare throughout the New Testament, only six times, four in Mark and two in Luke (including one time when he only copies Mark). The expression "Jesus the Nazarean" is also found only once (Acts 10:37). Apart from this verse and its parallel in Luke 4:34, here are the other cases:
  • Mark 10: 47: "When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarean, he began to shout out and say, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!'"
  • Mark 14: 67: "When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, 'You also were with Jesus, the man the Nazarean'"
  • Mark 16: 6: "But he said to them, 'Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarean, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him'"
  • Luke 24: 19: "He asked them, 'What things?' They replied, 'The things about Jesus the Nazarean, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people'"

To sum up: the expression is thus found in the mouth of the man with the disturbed mind, in the mouth of the people of Jericho, in that of the servant of the high priest, in that of the young man at the empty tomb, and in that of the disciples of Emmaus. The expression seems very old, as it disappeared from the vocabulary of the first Christian communities. Since Jesus came from Nazareth and his name is associated with this small town without prestige (on Nazareth, see Glossary), it is plausible that this is how the crowds identified him as he traveled the roads of Palestine in the manner of the prophets.

As for our scene of the man with the disturbed mind, the expression "Jesus the Nazarean" creates a contrast with the rest where we speak of an exceptional being: behind this ordinary figure hides a being that we can hardly imagine.

apolesai hēmas (to destroy us)
One may be surprised by the "us", because the word comes from one man. One must imagine that the disturbed mind belongs to a group that shares the same characteristics. This has the effect of presenting Jesus to us as engaged in a fight against a whole group, not against a single individual. In Mark's mind, Jesus intends to destroy the forces of evil. This is the meaning of the Greek expression apollymi (Uses among evangelists : Mt = 20 times, Mk = 10 times, Lk = 28 times, John = 12 times). Let's see some examples where Mark uses this expression: it is clearly about elimination and death.

  • Mark 3: 6: "The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him"
  • Mark 4: 38: "But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, 'Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?'"
  • Mark 8: 35: "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it"
  • Mark 9: 22: "It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us"
  • Mark 11: 18: "And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching"
  • Mark 12: 9: "What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others"

oida (I know)
Let's first talk about knowledge (oida). This term is not used as much in Mark as in the other evangelists, especially John, or Paul (Mt = 26 times, Mk = 23 times, Lk = 27 times, John = 77 times, Acts = 19, Paul = 101, the rest of the NT = 42). Most of the time, he has the banal sense of everyday knowledge. We have identified three uses related to the knowledge of God and Jesus.
  • Mark 1: 34: "And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him"
  • Mark 2: 10: "But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" - he said to the paralytic"
  • Mark 12: 24: "Jesus said to them, 'Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?'"

So there is a perception in Mark that some people have a particular knowledge of Jesus' identity and others are completely ignorant. In our verse, the man with the disturbed mind would have this particular knowledge.

ho hagios tou theou (the holy of God)
The word "holy" is known both in biblical literature, in the ancient Near East and in the Greek world (see Glossary). Above all, it designates an exclusive relationship with God, a life consecrated to God in the case of persons. This is why we have chosen the translation: "you are inhabited by God," which means more or less the same thing as "you are totally given or consecrated to God, so that you are practically identified with God. In the Gospels, the attribute "holy" is usually associated with the Spirit of God, called the Holy Spirit. It is extremely rarely associated with a person. Jesus is called "holy of God" only here, in the healing scene of a man with a disturbed mind (with a parallel in Luke 4:34) and in Peter's mouth when he makes his confession of faith in the discourse on the bread of life ("We believe and have acknowledged that you are the Holy One of God (hagios tou theou)," John 6:69). The only other person who is called holy is John the Baptist: "because Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man (hagios), and he protected him; and when he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and gladly listened to him" (Mark 6:20). What can we conclude from all this?

  • The expression "Holy of God" seems to have an ancient flavor where Jesus appears as a prophet, inhabited by God and totally consecrated to Him; this must have been the image he projected around him, like John the Baptist.
  • The very fact that the man with the disturbed mind rejects this encounter accentuates the incompatibility between what Jesus represents and what the disturbed mind represents; there is therefore a war to end.

v. 25 Jesus rebuked him saying, "Shut up and free this man!"

Literally: And he scolded (epetimēsen) him Jesus saying, Be silent (phimōthēti) and get out from him.

epetimēsen (he scolded)
The verb epitimaō in the mouth of Jesus appears in circumstances where he is confronted with opposing forces that could be identified with the forces of evil. On the one hand, there are cases where these forces of evil are represented either by a disturbed mind, as here, or by phenomena of nature, such as the storm in the middle of the sea; on the other hand, there are cases where these forces of evil are embodied in a false representation of the person of Jesus and his mission: this representation is false because it is incapable of integrating suffering and death. Let us look at a number of examples:
  • Mark 3: 12: "But he sternly ordered (epitimaō) them not to make him known"
  • Mark 4: 39: "He woke up and rebuked (epitimaō) the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm"
  • Mark 8: 30: "And he sternly ordered (epitimaō) them not to tell anyone about him"
  • Mark 8: 33: "But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked (epitimaō) Peter and said, 'Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things'"
  • Mark 9: 25: "When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked (epitimaō) the unclean spirit, saying to it, 'You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!'"

Thus, Jesus is committed here against the forces of evil, and by his word he confronts them head on.

phimōthēti (be silent)
This is a rarely used word (Mt = 2 times, Mk = 2 times, Lk = 1 time, John = 0 times). In Mark, the only other mention is the following, which Luke copied: "When he woke up, he threatened the wind and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be silent (phimoō)!' And the wind died down and there was a great calm." (Mark 4: 39 || Luke 4: 35). In Matthew, the word appears in a totally different context that does not shed any light on our passage (Mt 22:12: in a parable, the guest without wedding garments is speechless; Mt 22:34: mention that Jesus closed the Sadducees' mouth).

It is legitimate to ask the question: why did Jesus ask the man to be silent? What did he say that was wrong? What is wrong with saying: "I know who you are: you are inhabited by God (hagios tou theou, literally: Holy of God)"? In the eyes of the evangelist Mark, this word is misleading as long as one has not accepted in faith the place of suffering and death in the destiny of Jesus. Biblical scholars usually describe Mark's approach under the title of "Messianic secret": until this place of suffering and death is understood, the titles of Messiah or Son of God are a source of confusion. Here are a few examples:

  • Mark 1: 34: "And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him"
  • Mark 1: 43-44: "After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, 'See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them'"
  • Mark 3: 11-12: "Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, 'You are the Son of God!' But he sternly ordered them not to make him known"
  • Mark 5: 43: "He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat"
  • Mark 7: 36: "Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it"
  • Mark 8: 29-30: "He asked them, 'But who do you say that I am?' Peter answered him, 'You are the Messiah.' And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him"
  • Mark 9: 9: "As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead"

v. 26 Then, after convulsive movements and great screams, the disturbed mind disappeared from him.

Literally: And having convulsed (sparaxan) him the spirit the unclean and having cried in a voice loud (phōnēsan phōnē megalē) he got out from him (exēlthen ex autou).

sparaxan (having convulsed)
The word sparassō is rare and unique to Mark: (Mt = 0 times, Mk = 2 times, Lk = 1 time, John = 0 times). The only use of Luke (9: 39) is a copy of Mark's story (9: 20) about the healing of a mute and epileptic man. The only difference between Mark's two accounts is that the man experiences convulsions when the evil spirit leaves him in the present account, and in ch. 9 the dumb man will experience convulsions at the sight of Jesus. On the medical level, we will of course speak of a case of epilepsy. But if we take the evangelist's viewpoint, we would speak of a confrontation and war between the world of Jesus and the forces of evil, so that the whole body is shaken by it.

phōnēsan phōnē megalē (having cried in a voice loud)
Statistically, Mark, Luke and John use the verb phōneō (to shout) equally: (Mt = 7 times, Mk = 14 times, Lk = 14 times, John = 14 times). But given the smaller size of his gospel compared to the other gospels (if we count the number of characters in the 28th Greek version of Nestle-Aland, we get this : Matthew = 92,854 characters (29%), Mark = 58,282 (18%), Luke = 96,516 characters (30%), John = 73,946 characters (23%)), he becomes the one who uses it the most in all proportion. This reflects the compact and intense character of his gospel; the cry is a powerful expression of Jesus' identity and his struggle against evil. On this point, the four uses of the expression "loud voice" are revealing. They occur in two specific circumstances: when the evil spirit recognizes his identity, and when he dies on the cross and the centurion proclaims that he is a son of God. Let's take a closer look.
The evil spirit that recognizes Jesus' identityJesus dies on the cross
Mark 1: 26: And shaking him violently, the unclean spirit cried out in a loud voice (phōnēsan phōnē megalē) and came out of him.

Mark 5, 6-7: Seeing Jesus from afar, he (the man with the unclean spirit) ran to him, bowed down before him and cried out in a loud voice (kraxas phōnē megalē): "What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me."

Mark 15: 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud cry (eboēsen phōnē megalē): "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani", which translates as: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?".

Mark 15: 37 Now Jesus, crying out with a loud cry (apheis phōnēn megalēn), expired.

The four texts have similar characteristics:

  • They are set in the context of an important statement about Jesus:
    • The two accounts of the man with the disturbed mind include a statement on the identity of Jesus (1:14: "Holy of God"; 5:7: "Son of the Most High God").
    • The cry of Jesus on the cross ends with the proclamation of the centurion: "Truly this man was the son of God! (15: 39)
  • They are also situated in a context of confrontation with the forces of evil.
    • Jesus wins his battle against the disturbed mind by driving it out in both stories.
    • Jesus wins his battle against the forces of evil at work through his condemnation to death the same way he faces suffering and death by living it freely and in love.

The symbolism of the loud cry thus expresses the importance of the statement on the identity of Jesus and the intensity of the struggle against the forces of evil. On the cry of Jesus on the cross, see Lorraine Caza ("The prominence Mark gave to the cry on the cross", Science et Esprit, XXXIX / 2 (1987) 171-191.

exēlthen ex autou (he got out from him)
This expression concludes Jesus' battle and echoes his words:
OrderJesus scolded him, saying, "Be silent and get out (exerchomai) from him.
ExecutionAnd having convulsed him... the disturbed mind got out (exerchomai) from him.

The evangelist insists on the authority of Jesus: he speaks, the evil forces obey.

v. 27 Everyone was in shock and questioned each other: "What does all this mean?" This is a totally new teaching given from his own authority. And this authority is exercised even on disturbed minds, and these submit themselves".

Literally: And were astonished (ethambēthēsan) all so as to question (syzētein) among themselves saying, What is this? A Teaching new with authority (exousian). And to spirits the unclean he commands, and they obey him.

ethambēthēsan (they were astonished)
The word thambeō is unique to Mark: (Mt = 0 times, Mk = 3 times, Lk = 0 times, John = 0 times). Let's look at the other two uses:
  • Mark 10: 24: "And the disciples were perplexed (thambeō) at these words (How difficult it will be for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God). But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!"
  • Mark 10: 32: "They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed (thambeō), and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him"

When the three references to "thambeō" are put together, the source of the shock varies:

  1. It is a totally new teaching, so authoritative that it overcomes evil;
  2. It is a reversal of values where wealth is an obstacle to entering the Kingdom of God.
  3. It is the proposal of a mission that passes through suffering and death.

The shock comes from the confrontation between two visions of the world, that of our usual expectations, and that proposed by Jesus. It is clear from this shock that Mark's listeners are confronted with rejection and persecution, whereas they would have liked a peaceful and quiet life, immersed in the surrounding world.

syzētei (to question)
This verse confirms what we have just said. The reaction of the audience is not to marvel at this teaching and the healing that has taken place, but to question themselves, as if they don't fully understand what is going on. This is the meaning of "syzēteō" of which Mark is the main user: (Mt = 0 times, Mk = 6 times, Lk = 2 times, John = 0 times, Acts = 2 times); the word is used in debates where one is trying to clarify an obscure point (for example, Mark 9: 10: "They kept the recommendation, while wondering (syzēteō) among themselves what 'rising from the dead' meant"). This questioning touches on two points
  • The teaching of Jesus, which is different from the traditional Jewish teaching, i.e. it is no longer a simple commentary on Scripture, but a teaching whose source is his very person.
  • His ability to defeat the forces of evil

exousian (authority)
This questioning is catalyzed around the authority (exousia) of Jesus. The word "exousia" can be translated by capacity, power, authority, right; its semantic field is very broad. For example, when Jesus drives the vendors out of the temple, he will be asked who gave him this authority or right (11:28). Mark will talk about the authority (or ability) given to the disciples to cast out demons (3:14; 6:7). And there is the word of Jesus affirming his power or ability to forgive sins (2:10). In our narrative, the semantic richness of the word allows it both to qualify Jesus' teaching as originating within himself and to qualify his action with its capacity to overcome the forces of evil.

v. 28 Immediately his fame spread throughout the whole region of Galilee.

Literally: And got out the new of him immediately everywhere in the whole neighbourhood of Galilee

 
One might ask: what have people retained from this scene, its teaching or its ability to heal? The details of v. 32 that follows point us to his ability to heal as the sick and demonic are brought to him. Finally, Mark limits Jesus' ministry to Galilee.

  1. Analysis of the narrative's structure

    The discerning reader will have noticed that our story points in two different directions: the Jesus who teaches and the Jesus who heals. It is likely that Mark has merged two different stories here. Let's try to disentangle them from each other.

    1. Jesus, the teacher who teaches with authority.
      1. Circumstances (place and time)
        v. 21a In Capernaum, in the synagogue, on the Sabbath day
      2. Action of Jesus
        v. 21b Jesus teach
      3. People's reaction
        v. 22 People are astonished by his authoritative teaching, which is different from that of the scribes.
        v. 27b People are questioning the meaning of this new teaching
        v. 28 Its reputation is spreading all over Galilee.

    2. Jesus, the Healer
      1. Circumstances (place and character)
        v. 23 In the synagogue, a man with a disturbed mind
      2. Word of the man with the disturbed mind
        v. 24 I know your identity: the Holy of God and I know your intention to destroy us.
      3. Jesus' reaction
        v. 25 Jesus addresses the disturbed mind to ask him to be silent and to come out of the man.
      4. Result of the word of Jesus
        v. 26 The disturbed mind is expelled from the man
      5. Audience Response
        v. 27a People are in a state of shock

    One can guess Mark's intention by merging these two stories. For he wants to speak of the particular teaching of Jesus, a teaching different from all the teachers of the time, scribes or philosophers. How can he illustrate the unique strength that characterizes this word? The healing story gives him the material to demonstrate that this word brings about real change, that it pushes back the forces of evil. For it is only through his word that Jesus drives away the evil spirit. Thus, with him came a new reality, different from anything we have seen so far. In him, teaching and action are one.

  2. Context analysis

    How to define the context? Let's take the rule of unity of place and time: Capernaum, on the Sabbath day.

    1. In the synagogue on the Sabbath day vv. 21-28
      • Teaching with authority from Jesus
      • Healing of a man possessed by a disturbed mind
      • Its reputation is spreading

    2. In the house of Simon and Andrew, on the same day v. 29-31
      • Healing of the mother-in-law who had fever
      • This one starts to serve them

    3. In the same house, after sunset v.32-34
      • One brings him sick and demonic
      • Jesus heals and performs exorcisms
      • But he asks for silence from the spirits who know him.

    4. In the region of Capernaum, a deserted place, in the morning v. 35-39
      • Jesus goes out to pray
      • Simon questions him about the crowd looking for him.
      • Jesus leaves the city to go and proclaim the Gospel to the whole of Galilee.

    Thus, in Mark 1: 21-39 we have a coherent set marked by Capernaum and a 24-hour cycle. We are presented with a typical day of Jesus. Five elements make up this typical day.

    1. Jesus teaches with authority
    2. He heals
    3. People run to him
    4. Jesus asks to keep his identity secret
    5. Jesus withdraws to pray

    Our story marks the beginning of this typical day and introduces us to three of the five components. It is Mark's way of schematizing everything and expressing Jesus' ministry in concise formulas.

  3. Parallels

    Underlined words show what is identical in both texts.

    Mark 1 : 21-28Luke 4 : 31-37
    21 They go into Capernaum. And immediately, on the Sabbaths, having entered into the synagogue, he was teaching.31 He went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, and he was teaching them on the Sabbaths.
    22 And they were astonished at his teaching, because he was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.32 And they were astonished at his teaching, for with authority was his word.
    23 And immediately there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit, and he cried out,33 And there was a man in the synagogue with the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out in a loud voice,
    24 saying, "What to us and to you, Jesus the Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy of God. "34 "Ah! What to us to you, Jesus the Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy of God. "
    25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent and come forth out of him. 35 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, "Be silent and come forth out of him.
    26 And the unclean spirit having thrown him in convulsions, and having cried out with a loud voice, it came forth from him.And the demon, having thrown him in the midst, it came forth of him, having hurt him in nothing.
    27 And they were astonished all, as to question among themselves, saying, "What is this new teaching with authority, even to unclean spirits he commands and they obey him! "36 And came astonishment upon all, and they were speaking to one another, saying, "What (is) this word that with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out!"
    28 And the news immediately went out everywhere into all the neighbourhood of Galilee.37 And the report was spreading about him into every place of the neighbourhood."

    Only Luke has a parallel story to that of Mark. Like the majority of biblical scholars, we believe it likely that Mark was the first gospel written, and that Luke and Matthew had him before them when they wrote their own gospel. This means that Matthew did not think to retain this account; rather, he simply summarizes it in these words:

    "He went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every disease and every sorrow among the people. His fame spread throughout all Syria, and they presented him with all those who were sick with various ills and torments, demons, lunatics, and paralytics, and he healed them" (4:23-24)
    This allows him to move on to the famous discourse on the mountain, which is the true beginning of Jesus' mission, his programmatic discourse.

    Luke, on the other hand, has retained this account, but he has slipped it in after Jesus' proclamation of the good news in the synagogue of Nazareth, when he announces that it is now the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy, in a way his programmatic discourse. Because of the negative reactions of his audience, he is led to leave Nazareth for Capernaum, which allows Luke to now integrate Mark's account. So what do these initial considerations tell us?

    • The Jew Matthew makes the Sermon on the Mount with its beatitudes and its proclamation of the New Law the starting point of the mission of Jesus, the new Moses.
    • The Greek Luke makes the proclamation of the good news for the poor and the wounded of life the starting point of Jesus' mission, his keynote address
    • Mark, who seems to be speaking to Greco-Romans, presents us with a typical day in Jesus' life marked by a teaching-action whose authority allows the powers of evil to be turned back and provokes crowd movements; his action is so intense that he barely has time to find a moment of prayer, if not early in the morning, while it is still dark.

    Even though Luke had Mark's story in front of him, the choices he made in not retaining some of Mark's words, or in modifying them, give new relief to its source. Let us make a number of observations.

    • They" (Mk 1:21), "He" (Lk 4:31). For Mark, the disciples are so important that they are present from the beginning of Jesus' mission and are witnesses to his first healing actions; at the time the gospel is written, it is the successors of these disciples who continue Jesus' mission. For Luke, the spotlight remains on Jesus alone; the addition of the disciples occurs in the next chapter.

    • "go into" (Mk 1:21), "went down" (Lk 4:31). As Luke preceded our story with the scene of the teaching in Nazareth, he must therefore move Jesus from that city in the hills (1,150 feet above sea level) to Capernaum on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, hence the verb "to descend". One sometimes wonders if the evangelists were familiar with the topography of Palestine. In the case of Luke, it can be said that he could locate Nazareth and Capernaum.

    • "city of Galilee" (Lk 4:31). Since Luke is probably speaking to Greeks unfamiliar with Palestine, he must locate Capernaum geographically. If Mark is addressing the Christians in Rome, as is commonly believed, how can he assume that they know where Capernaum is located? There are two possible hypotheses: many Christians in Rome were of Jewish origin; or Mark uses an older story or stories that originated in Palestine.

    • "having entered into the synagogue, he was teaching" (Mk 1:21), "and he was teaching them on the Sabbaths" (Lk 4:31). Luke's sentence is more fluid and reflects his concern to improve Mark's jerky style. Mark, on the other hand, presents us with an atmosphere where action dominates.

    • "because he was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Mk 1:22), "for with authority was his word" (Lk 4:32). Luke simplified Mark's sentence and replaced "teaching" with "word", in keeping with his figure of Jesus the prophet, the man of the word. Of course, he dropped "not as the scribes" an expression without resonance in a Greek community. All this highlights the importance of Mark's teaching. Again, the expression "not as the scribes" only makes sense if his Greco-Roman community was of Jewish origin or if he is using an older story born in Palestine.

    • "And immediately" (Mk 1:23), "" (Lk 4:33). Luke does not retain the expression abundantly used by Mark as a connection sentence and to express the urgency of Jesus' action.

    • "Their synagogue" (Mk 1:23), "the synagogue" (Lk 4:33). The possessive adjective "their" is astonishing. It is understandable that it is sometimes used to locate a synagogue, as it is used to designate the synagogues of Galilee (And he went out into all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues, Mk 1:39). On the other hand, we note a systematic use of the expression "their" or "yours" in Matthew: Mt = 6 times, Mk = 2 times, Lk = 1 time, John = 0 times). It denotes a separation within the Jewish community itself, when Christians of Jewish origin were excluded. The very fact of finding this expression here suggests that this narrative was born in a Jewish milieu.

    • The expression "a man... with an unclean spirit" (Mk 1:23), "a man... with the spirit of an unclean demon (daimonion)" (Lk 4:33). It should be noted that in the Greek world the word "demon" denoted a spiritual force and was associated with various deities. It was not necessarily negative, since Plato saw it as the source of inspiration for Socrates. We can understand Luke's intention to translate for his Greek audience the meaning of this spirit taking possession of a man.

    • "And the unclean spirit having thrown him in convulsions, and having cried out with a loud voice, it came forth from him" (Mk 1:26), "And the demon, having thrown him in the midst, it came forth of him, having hurt him in nothing" (Lk 4:35b). As is his custom, Mark gives us a very colorful account, with contrasting angles: we have a scene of epilepsy with violent shaking and shouts that resemble screams. On the other hand, as is his habit, Luke likes to soften the angles and prefers peaceful and harmonious scenes: convulsions and screams are eliminated, and it is without doing any harm that the spirit comes out of the man.

    • "What is this new teaching with authority, even to unclean spirits he commands and they obey him!" (Mk 1:27), "What (is) this word that with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out!" (Lk 4:36b). As he did earlier, Luke eliminates the teaching and replaces it with the exercise of the word, more in keeping with his image of Jesus as a prophet. He also eliminates the word "new" because it only made sense in relation to the teaching of the scribes, which he did not retain. Furthermore, he adds "power" (dynamis) to "authority": on the one hand, the word "power" is more accurate to describe what has just happened, since authority is often used in a context of political authority (perhaps Mark wants to emphasize the lordship of Jesus); on the other hand, having been a companion of Paul, he knows the abundant use of Christian preaching of "power" to describe the power of intervention of God and his Spirit. Finally, consistent with the whole story, Luke reminds us that the spirit came out of the man, thus emphasizing the healing aspect, while Mark brings our minds back to the lordship of Jesus who has authority over evil spirits, so that they appear as his subjects in obedience to him.

  4. Intention of the author when writng this passage

    • It is worth recalling the probable context in which Mark's gospel was written, according to multiple clues offered by his account. We are in front of a violently persecuted Christian community. It is likely that many Christians are unable to hold out and do not understand why God does not intervene to help them. With the announcement of God's reign through Jesus, we expected to see the Promised Land for tomorrow. Instead, suffering and death are happening. It is in this context that Mark's catechesis should be listened to again.

    • In presenting us with a Jesus who teaches, Mark wants to put this activity at the heart of Christian life: Christian catechesis is fundamental, it was begun by Jesus, it continues through his disciples. Without it, the community will not survive, especially in a context of persecution. This is why Mark uses the word "immediately" when Jesus goes to the synagogue to describe the urgency of the situation.

    • But at the same time, he wants to distinguish this catechesis from that of other teachers of the time, of course the scribes, specialists in Jewish law, but also all the sophists and philosophers of the time. For it is not a teaching on a point of the Law or on a point of human reality, but a teaching that brings about a transformation of reality itself: it is a teaching about Jesus himself. Merging an exorcism narrative with a teaching scene only illustrates the fact that one comes out of this teaching totally transformed: the forces of evil are receding.

    • Mark insists that there is an incompatibility between Jesus and the forces of evil. This is so true that his presence alone makes the evil spirit react. One can easily imagine the impact of such a statement in Mark's persecuted community. Mark says, "Why are you surprised at what is happening to you? If Jesus triggered a reaction from the forces of evil, how do you think you can avoid it?"

    • There is another confusing point that Mark must enlighten: if Jesus is victorious over the forces of evil, why must we suffer and die? To underline this paradox, Mark warns us about certain titles of Jesus that can throw us off track: messiah, lord, christ, holy. That is why his Jesus asks the unclean spirit who knows his identity to keep silent. For we will only be able to understand what all these titles mean at the end of his suffering and death. And in writing his gospel, Mark reminds his community of this, surprised at the adversity that befalls him.

    • On the whole, Mark's scenes are very colorful with sometimes quite violent expressions. This perhaps reflects two features of the community: a working-class milieu, and a milieu subject to the violence of those around them. Thus Mark tends to dramatize this struggle between Jesus and the forces of evil.

    • At the end of our story, how can we summarize Mark's response to what his community is going through? His response focuses on the person of Jesus and reminds us that he has authority over the forces of evil. However, this authority will pass through suffering and death. But the faith that in the end the forces of evil will be defeated is enough to continue to live and to walk, and to never give up. That is why continuing this teaching or catechesis on Jesus is fundamental for the Christian. One does not teach a philosophy, but a person.

  5. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

    1. Suggestions from the different symbols in the story

        The fundamental role of teaching offers various avenues for reflection. It is the pillar of our modern societies. Islamists use it for recruitment. For Christians, continuous catechesis is the only way to evolve towards an adult faith that is capable of integrating everything that circulates as an idea: one can no longer isolate oneself.

      • Teaching based on one's own authority. Christian catechesis is about Jesus. Unfortunately, some teach more about morality or casuistry than about the very person of Jesus, his living presence in the world, following him. One no longer feels the strength of this presence that helps one to get up and walk, but the guilt and crushing weight of religious and moral obligations.

      • Disturbed mind. Under this symbol we can put so many things: our mental, physical and moral illnesses. Very often, these illnesses lead us to see the world differently, to be more sensitive to a dimension of life that is truer. Don't you find here an affirmation of Mark's story? The disturbed mind is able to recognize a special quality of Jesus.

      • Be silent. As Christians, we carry a message that is greater than ourselves, that we misunderstand, that we often betray. It is important to remind us of this. Why be surprised by adversity, when this is the road that Jesus took? It is by meditating all this and living it that our word will be the source of life.

      • The disturbed mind came out of him. It is fundamental to believe that evil will be defeated. It may not be as magical as the story suggests. It is a long struggle that Jesus led and that continues today through us. With him, we will overcome, provided our faith remains.

    2. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

      • The political world is currently torn between supporters and opponents of so-called austerity. It is a global phenomenon. Of course, the gospel has no recipe to offer. But can it not support a reflection on certain fundamental values? Certainly, today's gospel proposes a path where we never give up.

      • The barbaric attack of certain Islamists, such as the Boko Haram group, offends our sensibilities. We have the impression that we are before an example of the forces of evil that we have spoken of in our story today. Several Christians are living what Mark's community experienced. Can Mark's answer support them?

      • The image of a baby killed during a fight in the Ukraine with the separatists has gone around the world. This image is a symbol of the path that leads to the decisions of minds obsessed with false values and the impatience to solve everything by force. What does today's story teach us about Jesus healing a man with a disturbed or unclean spirit?

      • In my immediate environment, another couple breaks up: twenty years of evolution (or non-evolution) has led two beings to no longer belong to the same world. A lot of resentment and frustration is suddenly expressed. What does this say about the human being, about life as a couple, about our world? The Gospel does not offer a magic recipe. But doesn't the image of a Jesus who feels the urgency to teach point us towards the importance of always evolving, of constantly reflecting, of continually nourishing ourselves intellectually, psychologically and spiritually, of walking unceasingly towards the stature of an adult, capable of facing winds and tides?

 

-André Gilbert, Gatineau, January 2015