Mark 10: 2-16
I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: first a look at the Greek text, which sometimes contains variants, before proceeding to a study of each Greek word of the gospel passage, 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.
Jesus is asked a question by the Pharisees about a common Jewish practice of a man divorcing his wife. After having the Moses prescription to issue a divorce bill explained, Jesus gives the reason for this prescription: the hardness of the human heart, and then contrasts this practice with God's vision of the couple as explained in the book of Genesis: the human being was created male and female, and therefore it is natural for the man to leave everything to join his wife and form a single being with her. Jesus sums up his position to the Pharisees in this way: "Let no man go and divide what God has joined together". A general rule to the disciples follows: neither the man nor the woman should initiate a divorce, otherwise they are adulterers.
This story is completed by a second one where they want to present to Jesus small children or babies, but the disciples are opposed to it. This provokes Jesus' outrage and he asks them to let these children come to him, because they are a model in welcoming the kingdom of God. The story ends with Jesus embracing these little children and calling down God's blessing on them.
At the beginning of the story on divorce (vv. 2-6), Mark seems to be using a tradition, but he takes it up in his own way. We see his imprint through a few words that are part of his vocabulary, such as "to question" (eperōtaō), "it is lawful" (exesti), "in the beginning" (archē), "creation" (ktisis). Then he inserts verbatim the Greek text of the Septuagint from Gen 1:27 (v. 6b), then Gen 2:24 (v. 7-8a). It is at this point that he picks up the pen with hōste (therefore) to expand on the Septuagint citation, before inserting a Greek version of a word that seems to come from the historical Jesus ("what God has joined together, let no man separate," v. 9). In v. 10 we find the storyteller-evangelist with the literary device of a meeting at home and the vocabulary that is proper to him: "house" (oikia), "disciples" (mathētēs), "to question" (eperōtaō), "again" (palin). And in the mouth of Jesus, Mark will then place the text of the mini-canon law in force in the Roman community concerning the divorce of man and woman, which he will introduce with an expression of his own: "Whoever perchance" (hos an).
In the second narrative, the one around the place of the little children (vv. 13-16), we must distinguish three parts, the heart of the narrative (vv. 13-14), a solemn affirmation (v. 15) and the finale (v. 16). The heart of the narrative is strongly marked by Mark's vocabulary such as "little child" (paidion), "to touch" (haptō), "to rebuke" (epitimaō), "to let" (aphiēmi), "to come" (erchomai), "such" (toioutos). This is followed by a solemn affirmation by Jesus that Mark introduces with an expression of his own: 'Whoever perchance' (hos an). Mark here takes the same approach used in the issue on divorce to introduce the mini-canon law in force in the Roman community, this time it concerns the place of small children in the community. Finally, the ending of v. 16 does not belong to his vocabulary and seems to be a copy of the tradition he received.
Structure and composition
Our pericope contains two distinct narratives, concerning two beings who, in Palestinian society, were considered to be minors and without any real place in society: the woman, the little child. In the first story Mark brings together scattered elements: a tradition of Jesus' interaction with the scribes-Pharisees concerning divorce that ended with his position: "what God has joined together, let no man separate", and justified by a reference to Gen 1:27 ("male and female he made them"); to this Mark adds a reference to Gen 2:24 ("For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and they shall be both in one flesh"), a reference that probably comes to him from the early church that sought to better understand Jesus' position, a reference he will insist on by adding: "so they are no longer two, but one flesh". While the story itself is finished, Mark insists on adding the legislation in force in his Roman community concerning divorce, and thus introduces it by the geographical artifice of a return to the house, symbol of the Christian community, and the questioning of the disciples, symbol of the reflection of Christians on the message of Jesus, and then by the term "perchance" typical of legislation that deals with hypothetical cases; this legislation is in the mouth of Jesus, for Mark it has the same authority as if it were Jesus himself who had issued it.
Our second account of the place of little children also has different elements. The heart of the story (vv. 13-14), in which Jesus is presented with children and the disciples are opposed to them, leading to Jesus' intervention, which presents them as a model for the kingdom of God, could come from a tradition he had in hand, but his way of telling the story bears so much of the stamp of his pen and seems to echo so much of the community question of the access of little children to the community, and thus to baptism, that it becomes difficult to see what could be traced back to the historical Jesus. With this intervention by Jesus, the story is over. But Mark adds what appears to be a solemn affirmation (v. 15), but he introduces it with an expression typical of community legislation, "whoever perchance", which suggests that we are dealing with a decision of the early church concerning the access of infants to the community, and thus to baptism. To give this community decision its full authority, Mark puts it in the mouth of Jesus and introduces it with: "Amen, I say to you". Finally, the finale, v. 16, where Jesus embraces with his arms the little children and calls God's blessing on them by puttiing his hands on them, presents a vocabulary that is completely foreign to the evangelist and most likely comes from a very ancient tradition. Why did Mark insist on adding this ending to his story, which has little theological or Christological value? Perhaps he wanted to give us the tradition from which he created the beginning of our story, and from which the Church could infer the position Jesus would have taken if he had been asked about the place of children in the community.
Intention of the author
Through Jesus' journey to his death in Jerusalem, Mark focuses our attention on the legacy Jesus left to his followers, and in particular in our pericope, on two practices of the early church, one on divorce, the other on the place of little children in the community, both of which the first Christians established based on Jesus' teaching.
Pharisaioi is the noun Pharisaios in the masculine plural nominative, the nominative being required, since this noun is subject of the verb approach. In our textual criticism, we have already noted that the word is not preceded by the definite article. And so it should be translated as "Pharisees", or "some Pharisees", not "the Pharisees", which means that Mark wants to refer to a group of Pharisees, not to the Pharisees in general.
For a presentation on the Pharisees, we refer to J.P. Meier. Let us summarize the main elements.
It is not known how well Mark knew the Pharisees. This does not matter, since what matters to us is the role he has them play in his narrative. This role sometimes conflicts with what we know historically: Mark places several scenes of Pharisee interaction with Jesus in Galilee, when it seems that Pharisees were only to be found in Judea, especially in Jerusalem; Mark gives the impression that the Pharisees, along with the Herodians, were the cause of Jesus' death, when historically they seem to have played no role.
Let's consider the role Mark has the Pharisees play. The evangelist presents us with seven scenes where the Pharisees intervene with a question.
How can we summarize what we have just said? In his composition, Mark introduced the character of the Pharisees to represent Judaism in its orthopraxis and intransigence. This allowed him to contrast the attitude, the message and the mission of Jesus. Let us take the example of Jesus eating at Levi's (Mk 2:13-17). In itself, the scene is banal and not worth mentioning. But by mentioning that the Pharisees "followed him" (2:16), this scene becomes something of an anomaly, an unusual reality: Jesus' attitude breaks with the behavior of the most religious of the Jews. Thus, with the character of the Pharisees, Mark is going to highlight the attitude, the message and the mission of Jesus, which stands out in contrast to pure and hard Judaism. Even if it makes little sense to introduce Pharisees into Galilee, the important thing is to create a framework in which opposition to Jesus grows; time reveals more and more the incompatibility between the gospel and the cast in stone attitude of Judaism. Through his gospel, Mark takes a stand in the debate within his own community.
|Noun Pharisaios in the Bible|
|proselthontes (having come near)||
Proselthontes is the verb proserchomai in the aorist participle tense, nominative masculine plural form, agreeing with the noun "Pharisees." It is formed from the preposition pros (to) and the verb erchomai (to come, to go), and thus means: to come to, to go to, and thus to approach, to advance toward. It occurs infrequently in the New Testament outside of the Gospels-Acts, but it is central to Matthew's vocabulary: Mt = 55; Mk = 5; Lk = 10; Jn = 1; Acts = 10. The verb expresses the idea that one character wants to interact with another, and thus serves as an introduction to an action or a word.
In Mark, only one occurrence has Jesus as the subject as he approaches Peter's mother-in-law to make her stand up (1:31); the verb "to approach" introduces Jesus' miraculous intervention. The other occurrences serve as an introduction either to an action, first the one requested by the disciples to send the crowd away (6:35), then that of Judas who came to give the kiss of the traitor (14:45), or to a word, like that of the Pharisees (10:2) or of a scribe (12:28), two cases where Jesus is asked a question. Note that the verb "to come near" is always in Mark in the aorist participle ("having come near"), which indicates the somewhat stereotyped character of its use, an echo of his somewhat clumsy style.
Here, the verb "having approached" expresses the idea that the Pharisees want to interact with Jesus, and thus serves as an introduction to their question.
|Verb proserchomai in the New Testament|
|epērōtōn (they were asking)||
Epērōtōn is the verb eperōtaō in the 3rd person plural imperfect tense. It is formed from the preposition epi (on) and the verb erōtaō (to make a request), and thus means: to question. It appears only in the Gospels-Acts, except for a quotation from Isaiah in Rom 10 and a non-Pauline addition in 1 Cor: Mt = 8; Mk = 25; Lk = 17; Jn = 2; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. As we can see, it belongs to Mark's vocabulary. Here, the verb is in the imperfect tense, so it designates a continuous action that lasts in time: it is a discussion that is started with a back and forth movement between the characters.
It is rare that Mark's gospel, the shortest of all, has a higher frequency of words than the others. How can we explain this situation with the verb "to question"? We propose three answers.
Here, in v. 2, it is the Pharisees who question Jesus. This is a case where Matthew, who takes up this scene, transforms the sentence and avoids using the verb "to question" with the formula: "(the Pharisees) putting him to the test and saying: "If it is permitted...". But Mark sees no problem with the formula: "they (the Pharisees) asked him if it is permitted...".
|Verb eperōtaō in the New Testament|
|exestin (it is lawful)||
Exestin is the verb exesti in the 3rd person active present indicative tense. It is an impersonal verb that means: it is lawful. It is not very frequent and appears only in the Gospels-Acts, except for a few occurrences in the two epistles to the Corinthians: Mt = 9; Mk = 6; Lk = 5; Jn = 2; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
We are dealing with the vocabulary of Mark who introduced it into the gospels: in fact, the 5 occurrences in Luke are dependent on Mark, and in Matthew, out of his 9 occurrences, 7 come from Mark.
When we examine the use of this verb in the New Testament, we note that it appears in a number of contexts that can be grouped into 5 categories:
Here, the verb "it is lawful" introduces us into the context of matrimonial laws. But then we may ask: what does this legal question have to do with the gospels? Are we not far from the preaching of the kingdom of God? And above all, why do we go to Jesus to get an answer to a legal question?
First of all, it seems that Jesus was willing in his public life to interact with the scribes, whether Pharisees or not. Now, these scribes were specialists in the Law, and therefore, like all jurists, liked to debate the points of the Law, both written and oral. According to J.P. Meier, who has analyzed the historical value of the gospel texts on the subject, Jesus would have agreed to discuss and take a stand on two issues, that of the oaths, and that of divorce. Thus, the Gospels would have preserved a tradition about Jesus' interventions in the area of the Law. Unfortunately, the details of the context in which Jesus would have made his interventions are not known, as the gospel context has quite visible editorial work. For Mark, the scene takes place in Judea when opposition to Jesus is growing and traps are being laid for him. The fact remains that Jesus' response, as we shall see, is not that of a jurist, but of a prophet who recalls God's vision of the union of man and woman, and in this, evokes the kingdom of God.
|Verb exestin in the New Testament|
Andri is the noun anēr in the masculine dative singular, the dative being required by the verb "it is lawful", as the noun here plays the role of an attributive complement. It refers to a male, as opposed to a female. It is of course frequent in the New Testament, especially in Luke: Mt = 8; Mk = 4; Lk = 27; Jn = 7; Acts = 100; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
In the Greek language, two words are usually translated as "man": the word anthrōpos, which gave us the word "anthropology" and refers to man in general or the human gender, while sometimes being more specific in referring to the male gender, and the word anēr, in the genitive: andros, which gave us the words androgynous, andropause, android, and the proper noun Andre, which refers to a male.
In the Gospels-Acts, we can identify four contexts where the word anēr is used.
A general impression emerges when one goes through the use of the words anēr and anthrōpos in the Gospels-Acts: they appear together more than 500 times, while the word gynē (woman) is limited to 128 occurrences. We are in a patriarchal society.
The word anēr does not belong to Mark's usual vocabulary. Of the four occurrences of the word in his gospel, two are found in our pericope concerning the marital bond, another is used to refer to John the Baptist (6:20), and finally, in the scene of the feeding of the crowd, it refers to the male participants. Here, in v. 2, the word anēr should be translated as "husband," since we are in a context of a marital bond.
|Noun anēr in the Gospels-Acts|
|apolysai (to release)||
Apolysai is the verb apolyō in the aorist active infinitive tense. It is formed from the preposition apo (from, away from) and the verb lyō (to tie), and thus literally means: to untie or remove the bond. It exists almost exclusively in the Gospels-Acts in the entire New Testament (the only exception is Hebrews 13:23): Mt = 19; Mk = 12; Lk = 14; Jn = 5; Acts = 15. Its meaning is determined by its context. And when we look at all the texts, we can group the contexts into four main categories:
As we can see, the idea is always the same: a link exists, and this link is broken. From the whole of the Gospel-Acts texts, we can establish the following table.
Despite the number of occurrences of the verb apolyō in the Gospels, it appears mostly during three events:
In Mark, the use of "to untie" is limited to the three contexts just named, and this verb does not seem to belong to his usual vocabulary; it was probably part of the tradition he received, especially on the issue of divorce. For example, Mark could have used the verb aphiēmi (dismiss, send away, repudiate), a verb in his vocabulary that he uses 34 times in his gospel, to speak of divorce, as Paul does in 1 Cor 7:11: "let not the husband put away (aphiēmi) his wife." We can imagine that the tradition he receives spoke of "untying".
To speak of "untying" (apolyō) carries a legal note: for marriage is a social contract that binds two parties, and so it is quite right to see the breaking of this contract as the action of untying the parties.
But we must hasten to add that in Palestine only the man could take the initiative of a divorce, i.e. to untie the woman, because the latter, as well as the children, remained minor all their life, not being subjects of right (the women could not for example testify in a lawsuit, their testimony having no legal value).
In order to understand divorce in the Palestinian environment, one must first understand what marriage was. Marriage was a family practice in which the state was not involved. In the Jewish world, the matrimonial process took place in two stages: 1) the formal exchange of consents before witnesses, and after about a year, 2) the departure of the bride to the groom's family home and the beginning of the cohabitation. The consent usually took place when the girl was 12 or 13 years old. The exchange of consents in step 1 constituted the legally ratified marriage in modern terms, as it gave the man all rights over the girl; she was now his wife and any violation was adultery. This is exactly the situation Matthew 1:18 speaks of ("Her mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, but before they began to live together, it turned out that she was with child"): Joseph and Mary have passed the stage of consent, and thus are considered legally married, even though cohabitation has not yet begun, and therefore the only option for Joseph in the face of his pregnant wife is divorce. This is what Matthew writes in the next verse, "Her husband Joseph was an upright man, but he did not want to expose her to public disgrace; so he decided to untie (apolyō) her [from the bonds of marriage] quietly.
|Verb apolyō in the New Testament|
Gynaika is the noun gynē in the accusative feminine singular, the accusative being required because the noun is a direct object complement of the verb untie: it is the man who unties the woman. The noun has given us the words gynaecology or gynaeceum. It has two meanings, a female person, and the wife of a man. Of course, it comes up regularly in the gospels: Mt = 29; Mk = 17; Lk = 41; Jn = 22; Acts = 19; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. These statistics give some idea of the respective place that these evangelists give to women: Luke can be considered the evangelist of women because of the place he gives them, followed surprisingly by the Jew Matthew, and finally John and Mark.
When we go through the Gospels-Acts, we notice that the two main meanings of the word are distributed as follows:
The occurrences of gynē as a wife would be even much lower if it were not for the narrative around the Sadducees who want to ridicule faith in the resurrection, and thus evoke the situation of a man who died without children, and whose seven brothers have the duty to take her as a wife, a narrative present in the three synoptic narratives where the word appears a total of 17 times. However, let us ask ourselves: who are these women? What roles do they play? If we eliminate the generic references, we get the following picture:
Woman as a wife:
Woman as a female:
This compilation gives the impression that women occupy a significant place in the Gospels-Acts, despite the fact that we are in a patriarchal society. It shows us that Jesus regularly interacted with women, and tradition has recorded that they were the first witnesses to his resurrection.
Mark's gospel is not the one in which women are most frequently mentioned. Nevertheless, four scenes feature them: Herodias in the death of John the Baptist (6:17), the hemorrhoid whose faith will cause his healing (5:25), the Syro-Phoenician woman whose persistent faith will bring healing to her daughter (7:25), the woman who pours pure and very expensive nard perfume on Jesus' head (14:3), an expression of her feelings for him that becomes for Mark the announcement of his death. And a fifth scene can be added: women well identified with Jesus' death, women "who followed him and served him when he was in Galilee" (15:41) and who had gone up with him to Jerusalem; they will want to complete the embalming, and will experience the empty tomb and be the first to receive the announcement of Jesus' resurrection. Thus, apart from Herodias, the portrait of the women is very beautiful: people of faith who attached themselves to Jesus and believed in him, and followed him to the cross.
However, our v. 2 mentions women in a completely different context: that of a man who wants to break the bond with his wife, in a way to expel her. Let's remember that according to Ex 20:17 the woman was a man's possession in the same way as his field, his ox and his donkey.
|Noun gynē in the Gospels-Acts|
Peirazontes is the verb peirazō in the present active participle tense, in the masculine plural nominative form, the nominative being required because the verb qualifies the noun Pharisees. It primarily means "to try" or "attempt" an action. For example:
But "to try" means to test, to make tests, and thus to verify the quality of a thing, and for people, to examine and test them. For example, Paul asks the Christians to test the quality of their faith:
When the testing comes from a malicious intent, then it's more like "tricking" someone or setting a trap:
The verb is not very frequent in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 6; Mk = 4; Lk = 2; Jn = 2; Acts = 5; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. In fact, in the synoptic narratives, the verb only appears in two types of situation. The first situation is the one where Jesus undergoes the trials organized by Satan according to Mark, by the devil according to Matthew and Luke (source Q), and according to the latter, these trials covered the desires for power, possession, and those related to biological needs; the idea is to present Jesus undergoing, like any normal human being, various contrary impulses and who knew how to remain faithful to God and the mission entrusted to him in all of that. The second situation is that created by the Pharisees, presented as adversaries of Jesus, who ask him various questions in order to trap him and accuse him. Only John offers us a scene where Jesus takes the initiative to test his disciples (Jn 6:6), in order to verify the degree of their faith.
In Mark, of the four occurrences of the verb, one refers to Jesus' trial at the beginning of his mission (1:13) and the other three describe the Pharisees' desire to ensnare him; the latter appear toward the end of Jesus' mission as the Pharisees' hostility grows: he is asked for a sign from heaven (8:11), thus "a small miracle," an ironic request after Jesus feeds 4,000 men; there is the question about divorce in our verse 2; and finally there is the political question of Caesar's tax where Jesus could be accused of either being a revolutionary, if he proposed to stop paying the tax, or of being a pro-Roman, and thus anti-Jewish, if he proposed to pay the tax.
How is the question about divorce in our verse 2 a trap? This question comes up suddenly without us knowing why. And afterwards, there is no reaction from the Pharisees, giving us the impression that the original context of this question has been lost, Mark having inserted it somewhat superficially into a new context as Jesus approaches Jerusalem. In any case, we know that the issue of divorce was vigorously debated in Jewish legal circles, and we can think that the Pharisees wanted to force Jesus to take a stand for one side and against the other, and thus attract some opposition. It is also possible that this question was debated in the Christian community in Rome, as we know it was debated in Corinth, as witnessed by 1 Corinthians 7:1-16.
|Verb peirazō in the New Testament|
|v. 3 In his answer, Jesus said to them, "What rules did Moses give you?"
Literally: Then, him, having answered (apokritheis), he said to them, "What did Moses (Mōusēs) command (eneteilato) you?"
|apokritheis (having answered)||
Apokritheis is the verb apokrinomai in the aorist passive participle tense, nominative masculine singular form, agreeing with the masculine noun Petros. It is formed from the preposition apo (from) and the verb krinō (to decide, to choose, to judge, to interpret): literally, to make a decision or judgment based on what has been said, hence "to answer". It is extremely frequent (the 10th verb for number of occurrences) in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 55; Mk = 30; Lk = 46; Jn = 78; Acts = 20.
But what is remarkable in the gospels is that we regularly find the literary structure: "to answer and to say", the first often in the aorist participle and the last expressed by the verb legō (to say) or phēmi (to declare), often in the past tense, for example: "But having answered, he (Jesus) said" (Mt 15:24); to convince ourselves of the frequency of this structure, we need only look at the figures: Mt = 50; Mk = 19; Lk = 40; Jn = 32. As we can see, Matthew is somewhat the champion of this style.
Why add the verb answer when the verb say is already used to introduce what an interlocutor is about to express in direct style, i.e. why lenghten the sentence with "answer and say" when we could simply have "say"? It seems that for the evangelical author, this accentuates the "dialogue" aspect or the interaction between the agents. Indeed, the mention that an agent "answers" accentuates the link with what precedes.
In Mark the expression "answer and say" is present, as it is here in v. 3, but less so than in Matthew and Luke. There is a use of the verb "to answer" in Mark that might surprise us, since this use does not necessarily follow a question to which someone would answer. In fact, on several occasions this verb expresses the simple fact of reacting. For example, when Jesus is told that his mother and brothers are outside looking for him, Mark expresses Jesus' reaction as follows:
No question was asked; the verb apokrinomai simply introduces Jesus' reaction. Similarly, the verb apokrinomai is sometimes simply synonymous with "to speak". For example, Mark begins a new scene as Jesus goes to the temple to teach people, and so writes:
Again, there is no question, but simply an indication that one is beginning to speak. This could be attributed to the somewhat "sloppy" style of Mark, where precision of words is not so important. This is why Matthew and Luke, in copying Mark, have often eliminated the verb "to answer", as in this example where the disciples point out to Jesus, who is preaching, that the hour is late and that the crowd should be sent away to get supplies from the nearby villages:
As we can see, in Mark "to answer" is here synonymous with "to react", and Matthew and Luke perceived that this was not appropriate. We could add this other example where Mark uses "respond" as a synonym for "speak" and Luke, in copying this passage, perceived that this was not appropriate.
When we examine the cases where Jesus is the subject of the verb "to answer" in Mark, we note that there are three scenes where Jesus actually answers a directly asked question:
It will have been noted that the first two questions Jesus had to answer were among the topics of discussion in the milieu of the Jewish scribes, and it is likely that Jesus interacted with them. Thus we would have a historical note here, even if the whole context is perhaps artificial.
|Verb apokrinomai in the Gospels-Acts|
|eneteilato (he commanded)||
Eneteilato is the verb entellō in the middle active aorist tense, 3rd person singular form. It means: to prescribe, command, order. It is a very little used verb in the New Testament and the few occurrences appear almost exclusively in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 4; Mk = 2; Lk = 1; Jn = 4; Acts = 2; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
In the Gospels-Acts, if we discard the two occurrences (Mt 4:6; Lk 4:10) that are a quotation from the text of the Septuagint of Psalm 71, we are left primarily with two subjects to the verb "to command": Moses and Jesus.
Let us begin with Moses. For a Jew, all practical life is regulated by the rules of the Law which are all attributed to Moses. The gospels refer to two of these rules: the rule on divorce (Mk 10:3; Mt 19:7), and the rule on adultery (Jn 8:5).
The first Jewish Christians saw Jesus as the new Moses, which is quite clear in Matthew. Therefore, it is no longer Moses who gives his rules, but Jesus. These rules concern the whole Christian life. Thus, in his last scene of the risen Jesus, Matthew writes:
We have similar language in John: "You are my friends if you do what I command (entellō) you... I am giving you these commands (entellō) so that you may love one another" (Jn 15:14.17). Even when it is the Father who prescribes (Jn 14:14), it is also Jesus who prescribes, for he and the Father are one.
And in the Acts of the Apostles we find the same language as Matthew with this phrase: "until the day when, having given his commands (entellō) to the apostles whom he had chosen under the action of the Holy Spirit, he was taken up into heaven" (Acts 1:2).
In v. 3, it is a command from Moses about divorce, and so we are in a Jewish setting. This fact, along with the consideration that "to command" (entellō) is not part of the Marcian vocabulary, gives us the clue that we are looking at a motif that could go back to the historical Jesus.
|Verb entellō in the New Testament|
In Greek this word may also have the form Mōsēs or Mōuseus, and translates the Hebrew Mōše. It may surprise us to learn that the word appears least often in the most Jewish evangelist: Mt = 7; Mk = 8; Lk = 10; Jn = 13; Acts = 19. And even there, of the seven occurrences, four are a simple repetition from Mark, and as for the three mentions which are proper to him, two come from the extension which Matthew gives to Mark's dispute on divorce; this leaves a truly unique case, Mt 23:2.
When we look at the Gospels and Acts, we see that the term has two main meanings: on the one hand, it refers to the historical person of Moses (22 times, for example Mk 9:4: "Elijah appeared to them with Moses and they were talking with Jesus"); on the other hand, it refers to the Pentateuch, those first five books of the Old Testament that were believed to have been written in their entirety by Moses (35 times, e.g., Mk 12:26: "As for the fact that the dead are raised, have you not read in the Book of Moses". In the latter case, we speak of the Law or Book of Moses (e.g., Lk 2:22), or of Moses and the Prophets (the entire Hebrew Bible is sometimes divided into three parts: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings or Psalms, see Lk 24:44), or of Moses having said (e.g., Mk 7:10), or commanded (Mk 1:44), or written (Mk 12:19)
What is fascinating is to note that, in spite of the latent or open conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities, between the first Christians and the whole of the Jewish community, the figure of Moses and his writings are never presented in a negative way. Let us take the example of the gospel according to John, where Jewish opposition is the most sustained and the figure of Moses very present. The gospel puts in Jesus' mouth these words: "Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses (Mōusēs), on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses (Mōusēs), you would believe me, for he wrote about me." (5:45-46). To affirm that to truly believe in Moses is also to believe in Jesus, is to express the conviction that there is continuity between the Old and New Testaments, not a rupture ("He of whom Moses wrote in the Law and the prophets, we have found him: Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth," 1:45). The events surrounding Moses foreshadow the events surrounding Jesus: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (3:14). Of course, between Jesus and Moses there is a huge qualitative leap: "For the Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (1:17); but this is not an opposition.
What we have just said about Moses applies to the gospel of Mark. Of the eight occurrences of the word, only two concern the person of Moses as such in the scene of the transfiguration (Mk 9:4-5), the other six referring to the Torah or book of Moses, also called the Pentateuch; these references concern the following subjects
Thus, in v. 3, when Jesus says, "What did Moses command you?" he is referring to one of the books of Moses, Deuteronomy.
|Noun Mōusēs in the New Testament|
|v. 4 They replied, "Moses gave us permission to write a divorce certificate."
Literally: Then, them, they said, "Moses allowed (epetrepsen) to write (grapsai) a roll (biblion) of divorce (apostasiou) and to release [from a marriage bond].
|epetrepsen (he allowed)||
Epetrepsen is the verb epitrepō in the aorist active indicative tense, 3rd person singular form. It is formed from the preposition epi (on) and the verb trepō (to turn, to cause to turn, to return), and thus conveys the idea of turning a reality to someone else, hence to convey, to entrust, or to hand over to someone, and when it comes to conveying a right, the verb means: to permit, to grant, to allow. It is very rare in the whole Bible, including the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 4; Jn = 1; Acts = 5; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
The verb epitrepō does not seem to belong to the evangelists' usual vocabulary. Mark presents only two occurrences, one in the mouths of the Pharisees in response to Jesus' question about divorce (Mk 10:4), a theme that seems to come from an ancient tradition, and the other in a story that seems to come from a folk tradition in which Jesus allows the devil to enter pigs (Mk 5:13). In his two occurrences, Matthew first takes up a pericope from the Q tradition (Mt 8:21) about the disciple who asks permission to bury his father before following Jesus, and then Mark's text on divorce (Mt 19:8). Similarly, Luke's three occurrences come from the same pericope in the Q tradition as Matthew (Lk 9:59.61) and from Mark's account of the pigs (Lk 8:32). As for John, there is only one occurrence, where Pilate allows Joseph of Arimathea to take the body of Jesus (Jn 19:38).
Throughout the New Testament, the meaning of epitrepō is very clear: someone has authority, and by virtue of that authority, he allows an action. This person with authority is Jesus (Mk 5:13 || Lk 8:32; Mt 8:21 || Lk 9:59.61), the procurator Pilate (19:38), Moses (Mk 10:4; Mt 19:8), a tribune of a cohort (Acts 21:39-40), King Agrippa II (Acts 26:1), the centurion Julius (Acts 27:3), some Roman authority (Acts 28:16), God (1 Cor 16:7; Heb 6:3), Paul as founder and leader of a community (1 Cor 14:34; 1 Tim 2:12).
Here, in v. 4, the authority is Moses. But for a Jew, the authority of Moses is not only that of a person, it is also that of God: the legislation that he drew up for all the people is considered to be the very word of God; so his authority has the weight of God.
|Verb epitrepō in the New Testament|
|grapsai (to write)||
Grapsai is the verb graphō in the aorist infinitive active tense. It means: to write, and appears fairly regularly in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 10; Mk = 9; Lk = 20; Jn = 22; Acts = 12; 1Jn = 13; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 3. In more than half of the cases, the verb is used to refer to Scripture in the passive perfect form: "it is written" (gegraptai). We know that the Christian communities scrutinized Scripture to understand the Jesus event, and so we can assume that they regularly used the expression: as it is written, to share their understanding and discoveries; moreover, in the gospels it is primarily under the pen of the narrator that this expression appears.
This is also found in Mark. Of the nine occurrences of graphō, seven appear in the form gegraptai (it is written) to refer to Scripture. But there are only two exceptions, and they are in an identical form: 'Moses wrote for us/you'. The first is our passage (Mk 10:4) where Moses wrote a rule about divorce in Deut 24:1; the second is the passage on the levirate (Mk 12:19) where Moses wrote a rule about the obligation of the brother of a man who has died without children to marry his wife in Deut 25:5-10. As much as the form "it is written" is typical of the Christian vocabulary reflecting on the Jesus event, this form "Moses wrote for us/you" seems to echo an ancient tradition and does not belong to the usual vocabulary of the evangelist.
|Verb graphō in the Gospels-Acts|
Biblion is the neuter noun biblion in the accusative singular. The accusative is required because it acts as a direct object complement to the verb "to write". It is a rare word in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 3; Jn = 2; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Biblion is short for biblos which refers to a papyrus scroll; it is this name that gave us the word "Bible". Biblos thus refers to the large scroll, biblion to the small scroll. But in the Bible, biblion can actually refer to either the short written document that is a deed or certificate, or the longer document that is the book, while biblos refers to a specific book, such as the book of Moses or Isaiah or the book of life.
In ancient times, the book could be made with prepared skin, then parchment, or papyrus that was rolled to form a volume. A book contained from 1,800 to 3,000 stics (lines of 35 or 36 letters). Thus the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) consisted of four to five scrolls. It was the Greek translators of the Septuagint who first separated Genesis and Deuteronomy, which formed natural units, and then the rest into three parts (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers) or volumes, and the five volumes were arranged in a five-compartment box (Pentateuch). Samuel, Kings and Chronicles were also separated by length, giving us 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles. It is only in the second century of our era that the scroll was largely replaced in Christian circles by the codex, i.e. a form of notebook where the pages are laid out and tied together, in short the form of the modern book. Note finally that the division of the Bible into chapters dates from 1205 and first appeared in 1226 in the Bible of the University of Paris, while the division into verses was the work of Robert Estienne in 1551 (see L. Monloubou and F.M. Du But, Dictionnaire biblique universel. Paris-Quebec: Desclée-Anne Sigier, 1984, pp. 426-427).
When we go through the Septuagint, we note that the term biblion remains a very generic term for any writing, which is why it is translated in multiple ways. For example, it can refer to letters:
It can refer to books of the Bible:
And it can refer to books in general:
Any document where things are recorded is a biblion :
And this is especially true of the chronicles where the actions and decisions of kings were recorded:
The New Testament reflects this description of biblion which is in fact all writing. It can refer to the book in general in the form of a leather scroll (Rev 6:14: "and heaven disappeared like a book being rolled up") or more specifically to the Torah (Gal 3:10: "For it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not hold to all the precepts written in the book of the Law in order to practice them'"), or to the book of John's gospel (Jn 20:30: "Jesus did many other signs before the eyes of his disciples, which are not written in this book"), or even Revelation (Rev 22:19: "And who would dare to cut off from the words of this prophetic book, God will cut off his lot from the tree of Life and from the Holy City, described in this book! "). Metaphorically, God uses books to collate the deeds of humans for the day of judgment, and those who do good works have their names recorded in a separate book, called the book of life: "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne; and books were opened, and then another book, the book of life; and then the dead were judged according to the contents of the books, every one according to his works...and whoever was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire" (Rev 20:12. 15).
Mark has only one occurrence of biblion, a reference to Deut 24:1, where the word refers to a small text expressing the husband's decision to repudiate his wife. Our various Bibles have translated biblion as "certificate" (NRSV, NIV), "bill" (NAB, ASV, KJB), "writ" (JB). In any case, this is a document that the repudiated woman could use to demonstrate her status as a woman free to remarry.
|Noun biblion in the New Testament|
Apostasiou is the neuter noun apostasion in the genitive singular, the genitive being required because apostasion is the noun complement of biblion (document). It is formed from two words, the preposition apo (from, away from) and stasis (to stand), and means to stand away from someone, thus break, sedition, divorce. It is a rare word in the whole Bible, and in the New Testament it appears only in Mark, which Matthew copied in two passages: Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0; in the whole Bible it is always accompanied by biblion to refer to the attestation of divorce.
Let us provide some clarification on divorce in Palestine (on the subject, reference should be made to J.P. Meier). In the Old Testament, it is in Deuteronomy that the legislation on divorce appears, more particularly Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (LXX):
1 IF (protase) a man takes a woman and becomes her husband
First of all, it should be noted that only the man can initiate a divorce. Secondly, this text in Deuteronomy is not so much intended to explain the possible grounds for divorce as to explain the rule that a man cannot take back the wife from whom he is divorced. Also, the expression "if the husband finds in her a shame of a thing (=something shameful)" is so vague that it opens the door to all possible reasons. Thus, for Philo of Alexandria (The Special Laws, 3.5 #30-31) this blemish could be anything, including the fact that he found a woman more beautiful than his wife. For Rabbi Hillel (Mishna, Nachin), this blemish can be anything, including overcooking her husband's meal. All this gives us the context in which Jesus intervenes.
Note that all of these words, biblion and apostasion are not part of Mark's usual vocabulary, and thus are indicative that he is simply taking up a tradition that he receives.
|Noun apostasion in the Bible|
|v. 5 Jesus then said to them, "It is because you are hard-hearted that Moses gave you this rule.
Literally: Then, the Jesus said to them, "Because of the hardness of your heart (sklērokardian) he wrote this commandment (entolē) to you.
|sklērokardian (hardness of your heart)||
Sklērokardian is the noun sklērokardia in the accusative feminine singular. It is formed from two words: the adjective sklēros (hard) and the noun kardia (heart), and thus means: hardness of heart. It is very rare in the whole Bible, and in the Gospels-Acts it appears only in Mark, Matthew merely copying Mark: Mt = 1; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. The word sklērokardia is not part of Mark's usual vocabulary, and its presence in Mk 10:5 probably comes from the source he uses; the occurrence of the word in Mk 16:14 is not Mark's, since his gospel ends in Mk 16:8, with the rest of the gospel being the addition of an anonymous author, no doubt inspired by Luke's gospel.
What is meant by "hardness of heart"? In order to understand the expression, it is necessary to understand what is meant by "heart" in the Jewish world. First of all, the heart refers to the whole person, but seen in different aspects.
In this context, what is a hard heart? On the level of feelings and emotions, it would be for example a being without compassion and violent. On the level of reflection and understanding, it would be a being who closes himself to the truth and refuses to understand. On the moral level, it would be a being deviated and destructive.
But how does Scripture define "hard heart". Let's start with the phrase sklērokardia. According to the author of Mk 16:14, the risen Jesus would have reproached his disciples for being hard-hearted for not believing those who had seen him risen earlier, especially Mary Magdalene and the disciples on Emmaus. The lack of faith of the disciples would therefore be linked to their hardness of heart. How can this be? Let's remember the scene with the disciples of Emmaus where they also mention that some women had a vision of angels saying that Jesus is alive and they did not believe it. What does Jesus say to these disciples? "Spirits without understanding, hearts (kardia) slow to believe all that the prophets have declared" (Lk 24:25). Hardness of heart is a refusal to enter into a right understanding of Scripture, especially the word of the prophets about the messiah having to go the way of suffering; it is therefore fundamentally a refusal to enter into God's plan, a plan different from human thoughts. It is in this sense that Deuteronomy speaks of circumcising the "hardness of heart", i.e. of stopping being stiff-necked and rebellious, in order to welcome the word of God with joy and understanding (Deut 10:16). In fact, all dimensions of the heart are involved if we are to believe the story of the disciples of Emmaus: feelings ("Was not our heart burning within us as he spoke to us on the way?", Lk 24:32), understanding ("And beginning with Moses and the prophets, he explained to them in all the Scriptures what concerned him", Lk 24:27) and action ("They urged him, saying, 'Stay with us, for evening is coming and the day is already advanced'", Lk 24:29).
Another word in Scripture that can shed light on our search is the name pōrōsis (hardening). For Mark puts these words in the mouth of Jesus:
The context is a healing on the Sabbath and Jesus' question to the Pharisees: "What is permitted on the Sabbath, is it to do good or to do evil? To save a living being or to kill it?", a question that is answered only by silence. The Pharisees' refusal to answer is a refusal to enter into Jesus' understanding of the Sabbath and thus to accept his action. By remaining stubborn in their understanding of the Law, the Pharisees fundamentally refuse the face of God proposed by Jesus. We can understand in a similar way what Paul writes, for example in his letter to the Romans (11: 25: "So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: hardness (pōrōsis) from a part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in") where hardness of heart is attributed to his fellow Jews who refused to recognize in Jesus the Messiah promised by God, especially because of the stumbling block of death on the cross.
A similar result is obtained when we analyze the verb pōroō (to harden). After the scene of Jesus feeding 5,000 people, Mark relates that he joins his disciples in a boat by walking on the sea and explains the disciples' upset at this walk on the waters thus: "they had not understood the miracle of the loaves, but their hearts were hardened (pōroō)" (8:17). The failure to correctly interpret Jesus' action of feeding the crowd, and thus to see in it a revelation of Jesus' identity, has as its cause a "hardened heart." Today we would speak of a closed mind, or to use the Jerusalem Bible translation, a "clogged mind. But Mark's expression of "hardened heart" is probably even more accurate: for the heart refers not only to the seat of understanding in the Jews, but also to feelings and action. What do the disciples experience before Jesus walking on the sea? Fear, the exact opposite of the trust and surrender required in faith. Their hearts are incapable of trust and surrender, so they are hardened, and this prevents them from opening up to the full identity of Jesus and following him wherever he wants to take them. This understanding of the scene is confirmed by another, that of Mk 8:17, where the disciples are dismayed at having forgotten to bring bread for the road and to whom Jesus says: "Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened (pōroō)?".
We can complete our analysis with words around the verb sklērynō (to harden), which gave us the verb "to sclerose", the adjective sclerosed, and the noun sclerosis. It is not a word that belongs to Mark's vocabulary like pōroō or pōrōsis, but it conveys a similar idea, especially since the root is part of the word sklērokardia that we are analyzing. In Acts (19:9) Luke tells of Paul going to the synagogue at Ephesus to convince his fellow Jews about the good news of Jesus, and he writes, "Some, however, were hardened (sklērynō) and remained unbelieving, decrying the Way before the audience"; refusing to believe comes from hardening of the heart, as we saw earlier. The book of Exodus uses this verb the most to explain why Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go:
We have a situation similar to that presented by Mark after the scene where Jesus fed 5,000 people and the disciples failed to interpret Jesus' action correctly; this time Pharaoh was unable to grasp in the gesture of Moses and Aaron a word from God, and to act accordingly.
Two other words have the same root as sklērynō, the adjective sklēros (hard) and the noun sklērotēs (hardness). Let's start with sklēros (hard). Two texts shed some light on our search, first that of Jn 6:60: "After hearing him, many of his disciples said, 'This is a hard word (sklēros)! Who can hear it?'" Even though there is no mention of a "hard heart", the fact that the content of Jesus' words is difficult to accept, colliding head-on with the usual horizon of the human being, explains the need to break down this horizon in order to open up to a different reality, which a "hard heart" is incapable of. The other interesting text is Proverbs 28:14: "Blessed is the man who religiously fears always: but the hard of heart shall fall into mischiefs". The idea is that the man of faith is sensitive to all things in life, and therefore able to interpret them as a word from God, unlike the hard heart which is closed to all words.
There is little to say about sklērotēs (hardness) other than that for Paul, refusal to accept the word of the gospel stems from a hard and unrepentant heart (Rom 2:5: "By your hardness and unrepentant heart you are storing up a treasure of wrath against yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed").
It is time to conclude. Recall that sklērokardia is not part of Mark's usual vocabulary, who prefers to use pōroō and pōrōsis to speak of the hardness of the heart. But he is undoubtedly picking up a word he receives from tradition. The context is that of a response of Jesus to the Pharisees. In our analysis, we have been able to specify that hardness of heart in the Jewish milieu and that of the first Christians refers to the inability to understand correctly the word of God manifested either in the actions and words of Jesus or in Scripture. This inability comes from the fact that this word of God requires the human being to abandon his usual horizon in order to open up to a greater reality, and this opening up is impossible without a trusting heart ready to abandon itself to this new horizon, and therefore impossible for a hard heart that holds on to its familiar world. Here, in v. 5, this word of God will be clarified in v. 6-8.
|Noun sklērokardia in the Bible|
Entolēn is the noun entolē in the accusative feminine singular, the accusative being required because it is the direct object complement of the verb "he wrote". It means: order, command, precept, instruction. It is not very frequent in the gospels-Acts, with the exception of the Johannine tradition: Mt = 6; Mk = 6; Lk = 4; Jn = 10; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 14; 2Jn = 4; 3Jn = 0.
In itself, this is not a technical term. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew term miṣwâ derives from the verb ṣāwâ: order, command. It applies to a variety of things, e.g., contracts (Jer 32:11: "Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms (miṣwâ) and conditions, and the open copy"), wills (Gen 50: 16: "So they approached Joseph, saying, 'Your father gave this instruction (ṣāwâ) before he died'"), to the royal edicts (Isa 36: 21: "But they were silent and answered him not a word, for the king's command (miṣwâ)"), 'Do not answer him'"), to the instructions of wisdom (Prov 2: 1: My child, if you accept my words and treasure up my commandments (miṣwâ) within you"). (On this topic, see Jean-Pierre Prévost, Nouveau vocabulaire biblique. Paris-Montreal: Bayard-Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 161)
It was Deuteronomy that made it a theological notion that refers to God's requirements and that are part of his covenant with the people: "Keep statutes and commandments (miṣwâ), today, for your good, that you may live, remember" (Deut 4:40). The word appears there more than 60 times, and makes Judaism an orthopraxy, i.e. a religion focused on action, more precisely focused on fidelity to the various commandments of the Law, that Law expressed by the whole Pentateuch. Subsequently, in the era of Rabbinism after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the various commandments would multiply so much that the Talmud (tractate Makot 23b) teaches us that there are 613 commandments in the Torah; 248 positive commandments ("do") and 365 negative commandments ("do not").
In the synoptic gospels, entolē (command, order, instruction, commandment) mostly has the same meaning as it has in Deuteronomy and then has a uniquely religious connotation, i.e., it refers to the requirements of the Torah (the Pentateuch), and thus of God. In Mark, of the six occurrences of the term
As we can see, these are always references to the Pentateuch or Torah. And contrary to what we find in Paul, the notion of instruction or commandment retains all its value and authority. This is also the case here. Even though Jesus justifies the existence of this commandment on the divorce bill because of the hardness of men's hearts, he does not say that this commandment is void and should be abolished.
|Noun entolē in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 6 Yet, at the creation of the universe, God made human beings male and female.
Literally: Then, from the beginning (archēs) of creation (ktiseōs), male (arsen) and female (thēly) he made (epoiēsen) them.
Archēs is the noun archē in the genitive feminine singular form. It is a word that we find occasionally in the synoptic gospels, but more regularly in the Johannine tradition: Mt = 4; Mk = 4; Lk = 3; Jn = 8; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 8; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 0. It means first of all: beginning, origin, start, and therefore refers to what is first in time. But that which is first can also refer to figures in the political world, and so archē is translated as magistrate or prince. Similarly, in the supernatural world, and often in the plural, archē refers to certain deviated celestial forces and often translated as Principalities. Finally, archē is sometimes applied to objects, such as Luke in Acts in reference to the "beginnings" of a piece of cloth, thus its "corners" (Acts 10:11; 11:5).
When we limit ourselves to archē refering to time, we can distinguish six moments in the gospel-acts.
For the young Christian community, these references to time are important landmarks. They are also indicative of the linear vision of time typical of the Jewish world.
In the synoptic gospels, it is Mark who primarily uses archē as a reference to time, first to refer to the beginning of Jesus' ministry (1:1), then to the beginning of the end times (13:8), and finally to the beginning of creation (10:6; 13:19). Matthew only copies Mark, while in Luke the only reference to the temporal dimension of archē is in the introduction to his gospel where he speaks of eyewitnesses from the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Also, we must recognize that archē belongs to Mark's vocabulary. This means that it is possible that what follows is Mark's work, or an echo of Christian thinking.
Here in v. 6 archē refers to the beginning of creation as told by the book of Genesis in chapter one.
|Noun archē in the Gospels-Acts|
Ktiseōs is the noun ktisis in the genitive feminine singular form, the genitive being required because it is the complement of the noun "beginning." It is an infrequent word throughout the Bible and appears only in Mark in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 0; Mk = 3; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It refers to the act of founding or creating or establishing something. In the biblical world, it usually refers to the work of God who, according to Genesis, created the heaven and the earth (Gen 1:1). It is translated either as "creation" or "creature". In fact, the biblical authors intend this word to designate six different realities:
With this idea of creation, we are in a thoroughly Jewish setting. And in v. 6, ktisis refers to the moment of God's founding action of the universe. Mark uses the same word and with the same meaning in the great apocalyptic scene about the end of time (13:19), which suggests a very Marcan word. Why evoke this moment of creation? In the Jewish world, God is the architect of the universe, and it is he who has fixed its contours and rules. This is what the book of Genesis tells us. But later on, the spirit of rebellion manifested itself in men. By going back to the moment of creation, we come back before the moment of rebellion and to the original intention of the creator.
|Noun ktisis in the Bible|
Arsen is the neuter noun arsēn in the accusative singular form, the accusative being required because it is the direct object complement of the verb "to do". It is rare in the whole New Testament, and in the Gospels-Acts it is found only in Mark and Luke, Matthew having taken it from the text of Mark: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is in the Septuagint that the word is found primarily, where it translates the Hebrew word zākār (male); but translators have sometimes translated zākār by the Greek word arsenikos. It is used to refer to any male being, both in humans and animals.
To highlight our verse, it is worthwhile to go through the mentions of the male in the Bible to bring out the perception of the male in the Jewish milieu. As one can imagine in a patriarchal society, men and women are not considered as equals, and this is reflected in the texts where the male is mentioned.
A modern mind may find this portrait of male-female inequality distressing. But it bears the mark of its time and of a patriarchal culture. However, such a context highlights other texts where males and females are equated.
This journey through the Bible highlights our v. 6 which is a quote from Gen 1:27 and where male and female are presented equally as an integral part of the human being and image of God.
Note that from the word "male" to the end of the verse, we have a word-for-word citation of the end of Gen 1:27. First of all the beginning of Gen 1:27, which is not repeated in Mark's text, said this: "And God created man (anthrōpos); he created him in the image of God". Two things to note. First, the human being is referred to in Greek as anthrōpos which is translated as "man," but which, as can be seen with the rest of the verse, includes both man and woman. Second, the expression "image of God" implies not only that man and woman are images of God, but that, conversely, God's being includes both male and female. Let us now consider the end of Gen 1:27.
Such a word-for-word citation of the text of the Septuagint obviously does not go back to the historical Jesus who spoke Aramaic. But it may be thought to be the product of Christian reflection from Jesus' position on divorce that we will see in v. 9.
|Noun arsēn in the Bible|
Thēly is the neuter noun thēlys in the accusative singular form, the accusative being required because it is the direct object complement of the verb "to do". It is rare in the whole New Testament, and in the Gospels-Acts it is found only in Mark, Matthew having taken it from the text of Mark: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is in the Septuagint that the word is mostly found, where it translates the Hebrew word nĕqēbâ (female, both in humans and in animals). But translators have sometimes translated nĕqēbâ as the Greek word thēlykos, which also means "female," but is much more rare.
What we have said about the "male" also applies to the "female," since these are the two sides of sexual reality. The presence of thēly in this v. 6, as well as arsēn, is explained by the citation of the Septuagint text of Gen 1:27.
|Noun thēlys in the Bible|
|epoiēsen (he made)||
Epoiēsen is the verb poieō in the active aorist tense, 3rd person singular form. It basically means "to do" with all that this implies: to complete, to achieve, to accomplish, to perform, to create. It is the fifth most frequent verb in the Gospels-Acts, after legō (to say), eimi (to be), erchomai (to go), and ginomai (to become), with a total of 405 occurrences: Mt = 86; Mk = 45; Lk = 87; Jn = 108; Acts = 68; 1Jn = 9; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 2. John uses it the most, because it is an all-purpose verb, and it suits the simple and rudimentary language of the fourth evangelist.
The presence of "make" here is explained by the citation from Genesis 1:27 according to the Greek version of the Septuagint. Now this one translated the Hebrew verb bārāʾ which means: to create, form, shape. This was the same process for Gen 1:1: "In the beginning God created (Gr. poieō, Heb. bārāʾ) heaven and earth." There is something surprising in that the translator of Genesis opted for the verb poieō to translate the Hebrew bārāʾ, because there is in Greek the verb ktizō which means precisely: to create. Moreover, this is how, for example, Isaiah 45:8 was translated by the Septuagint: LXX "I the Lord have created (Gr. ktizō, Heb. bārāʾ) it"; or again Ezekiel 28: 15: LXX "You were blameless in your ways from the day that you were created (Gr. ktizō, Heb. bārāʾ)". It is possible that for the translator of Genesis the verb poieō (to make) better captured the idea of God as a craftsman who shapes the universe as one shapes a work of art, who forms human beings to be in his image.
|Verb poieō in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 7 It is exactly for this reason that a man will leave his father and mother to be united with his wife.
Literally: On account of (heneken) this a man (anthrōpos) will leave (kataleipsei) his father (patera) and mother (mētera) and stick towards his woman;
We have here a word-for-word citation from Genesis 2:24. To understand this passage from Genesis, let us recall the context. First, there is a first account of creation (1:1-2:4a) which biblical scholars attribute to the priestly tradition and which tells of God's creation of the world based on the seven days of the week, with light on the first day, heaven and earth on the second day, the continents and the vegetable species on the third day, the creation of the sun, the moon and the stars on the fourth day, the animal species and the insects on the fifth day, the human being, man and woman, on the sixth day, before the great rest on the seventh day. It is from this first account that the first quotation is taken (1:27: "male and female he made them") which we have in v. 6.
The second creation account (2:4b-2:24), which biblical scholars attribute to the Yahwist tradition, ignores the existence of the first account. In half a sentence ("on the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heaven", 2:4b) it assumes the creation of heaven and earth presented on the third day in the first account, and then immediately turns to the creation of man, which was urgent because there was no one to cultivate the soil. Thus Yahweh fashions man out of the dust of the ground (Heb. ʾădāmâ, Gr. gē) as a potter shapes a vessel (2:7), and when the work is finished, he breathes into the nostrils (Heb. ʾap, Gr. prosōpon: face) of the man the breath (Heb. nĕšāmâ, Gr. pnoē: breath, wind) of life (Heb. ḥay, Gr. zōē). Yahweh then creates a lush garden and places man in the middle (2:8), but realizes that it is not good that man (Heb. ʾādām, Gr. anthrōpos) is alone (2:18), and so in the same way that he fashioned man as a potter with the soil, Yahweh molds all the variety of the beasts of the field and the birds of the air, but man does not find the help he was looking for (2:20). Then Yahweh, after having put the man to sleep, removes a rib from him and transforms it into a woman (Heb. ʾiššâ, Gr. gynē). When the man saw the woman, he cried out: "This is the bone (Heb. ʿeṣem, Gr. osteon) of my bones and flesh (Heb. bāśār, Gr. sárx), of my flesh, the one shall be called (Heb. ʾiššâ, Gr. gynē) for out of man (Heb. ʾîš, Gr. anēr) this one was taken (2: 23)".
This is the context of the Genesis text quoted by Mark. It is an etiological account, that is to say that it starts from the actual observation of the proximity and complementarity of man and woman, and builds a narrative to provide an explanation. First, to explain that man is made of matter that is found everywhere in nature, and that in Hebrew the word "man" is said ʾādām, the author presents the creation of man from the ʾădāmâ (the ground, the solid earth), a nice play on words with the name ʾādām. To explain that man and woman are two soul mates, already reflected by the kinship of the terms ʾîš (man, husband) and ʾiššâ (woman, wife), he presents the creation of woman from a part of the man's skeleton. And when the man exclaims: it is bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh, it is the affirmation of the same being.
Now consider the citation from Gen 2:24 with the Hebrew text and the translation of the Septuagint alongside.
|heneken (on account of)||
The text begins with a link to what precedes, the affirmation that man and woman are one being, and so Gen 2:24 expresses the consequence of this affirmation. The word kēn was used earlier in Gen 1:7 ("He separates the waters under the ceiling from the waters on the ceiling. And it is thus (kēn)") to show that the action of God is followed by its result. The translator of the Septuagint opted for the preposition heneken: because of. This preposition is used in the story of the negotiations between God, who wants to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham: "And Abraham said, 'Lord, shall I speak once more? If there be ten (righteous)? And the Lord said: On account of (heneken) ten, I will not destroy it" (Gen 18:32). This is the same meaning found in the New Testament, especially in Mark where heneken serves to make the connection between the gospel and the reasons for giving one's life. In short, why does a man have to leave everything to be joined to his wife? Because he forms a single being with her; he finds the half that he lacks to be complete.
|The preposition heneken in the New Testament|
The Septuagint citation from Gen 2:24 continues with the word man (anthrōpos). It is not easy to translate ideas from one language into another, and the word "man" is a typical example. In the Gospels-Acts, the word anthrōpos generally has three meanings:
Now, throughout the early chapters of Genesis in the Hebrew text, man is referred to by two terms: ʾādām (he who comes from the ground or the earthy) and ʾîš (the male man, husband), as opposed to ʾiššâ (woman, wife). The first mentions are found in the first creation account (Gen 1:26-27), that of the priestly tradition, which states that God created the "earthy" (ʾādām) in his image, "male and female he created them". And when the priestly tradition takes up this first account in Gen 5:1-2 it writes: "This is the book of the generation of the "earthy" (ʾādām). The day God created "earthy" (ʾādām), he created him in the image of God. He created them male and female, he blessed them. And he called them "earthy." (ʾādām), the day he created them". According to this priestly tradition, there is no ambiguity, ʾādām is always male and female. But how does the Septuagint translate this priestly tradition into Greek and in particular the word ʾādām? It will always use the term anthrōpos, thus in the generic sense of "mankind," except in 5:1-2 where it translates, "On the day that God created Adam, he created him in the image of God. He created them male and female, he blessed them. And he called them (autōn) Adam, in the day in which he made them". Suddenly translating ʾādām by Adam, a name that is associated with a particular individual, introduces an ambiguity, even though the expression "gave them" indicates that the name Adam is given to both the man and the woman.
What about the second creation story (2:4b - 2:24), from the Yahwist tradition, where the text of our citation, Gen 2:24, is located? The Hebrew text always uses the term ʾādām, except in 2: 23-24 where he uses the term ʾîš (the male, husband). How is this story translated in the Septuagint? In the story of the creation of the earthy (ʾādām) from the ground, the gift of the breath of life and the placement of this new creature in the middle of the Garden of Eden, the Septuagint always translates ʾādām with anthrōpos. But when it comes to the interaction between Yahweh and the "earthy one" and all the beasts, and in the whole story where Yahweh makes the "earthy one" fall into a lethargic state in order to extract a rib from which he will fashion a woman, the Septuagint translates ʾādām by Adam. Then, with the creation of the woman, the author concludes: "This one will be called woman (ʾiššâ), because it was taken from the very flesh of man (ʾîš). The Septuagint translates here îš (male, husband) by anēr (male, husband). But in the next verse, verse 24 of our citation where the Hebrew text uses îš ("Because of this a man will leave his father and mother"), the Septuagint reverts to the term anthrōpos, whereas it would have been more logical to translate îš in the same way as in the previous verse by anēr. All of this creates a context in which anthrōpos refers not to human beings in general, but to the male. Admittedly, the narrative of the Yahwist tradition makes it difficult to do otherwise, since originally the "earthy" was created to cultivate the soil, a traditionally male job, and it was one of his ribs that was used to create the woman.
|Noun anthrōpos in the Gospels-Acts|
|kataleipsei (he will leave)||
What does the man do in our citation from Gen 2:24 after the statement that he is one with the woman? The translation of the Septuagint uses the term kataleipō which means: to leave behind, to give up, to forsake, to abandon. In the Gospels-Acts, the verb is used to describe, for example, Levi's leaving everything to follow Jesus (Lk 5:28), the shepherd forsaking his 99 sheep to search for his lost sheep (Lk 15:4), or the young man forsaking his sheet in which he was clothed to flee (Mk 14:52). But what about in the Septuagint?
The Septuagint translated kataleipō the Hebrew term ʿāzab (leave, lose, forsake). But it did not systematically translate the ten occurrences of ʿāzab in the book of Genesis in the same way. Let's look at the cases where ʿāzab has been translated as kataleipō apart from Gen 2:24. In fact, there are only two events, first the narrative around Joseph and his run-ins with the wife of his Egyptian master Potiphar, as she grabs his garment to hold him and sleep with him, and Joseph leaves his garment in her hands and flees (Gen 39:12-13. 15.18); then there is the account of Joseph in Egypt and his brothers, as Joseph, unrecognized by his brothers, asks that the youngest, Benjamin, remain with him, and is answered by Judah: "This boy can't leave (Heb.: ʿāzab, Gr. kataleipō) his father (Jacob), for if he should leave (Heb.: ʿāzab, Gr. kataleipō) his father, his father would die" (Gen 44: 22). In both situations, for the garment or for the boy, there is a form of rupture.
It is probably in the same sense that we must interpret Gen 2:24, where the man leaves his father and mother to be with his wife. Knowing the importance of the family in the Jewish world, the term "leave/forsake" had something radical about it. But this radicalness was justified by the definition of the human being, i.e. he is male and female, therefore a couple. It is not a man who takes possession of a woman, but it is the man who finds his completeness.
We can ask the question: Why is only the man mentioned in this rupture of the family link to form the conjugal cell? And in fact, was it not the woman who left her family to follow her husband? One possible answer comes from the status of the woman in ancient Jewish society who remained a minor all her life in civil terms, and therefore her displacement was normal and not significant to be mentioned. Moreover, in our context it is the man who has the important role of being the one who has just given the name of "woman" to this new creature, and therefore the very fact that he has to leave the family fold is extremely significant. All this enhances the value of the woman: even if she remains a minor, she is worth the man leaving everything to form a couple with her.
|Verb kataleipō in the New Testament|
|ton patera autou kai tēn mētera (his father and mother)||
The significance of the man leaving the family home cannot be understood without mentioning the place of the father and mother in Jewish society. Let us remember that we are in a patriarchal society, to the extent that the house is "the father's house", and that sons are defined by the fact that they are "sons of such and such a father". And often one of the sons, often the eldest, took over the father's job, and in an agricultural world, the whole family collaborated in the activity of the house.
The value of parents is such that it has its place in the basic legislation as defined in the ten words given by Yahweh to Moses at Sinai: "Honor your father and your mother so that your days may be prolonged in the land given to you by the Lord your God" (Ex 20:12), and which is accompanied by various rules such as this one: "And whoever insults his father or his mother shall be put to death" (Ex 21:17)
Such a context highlights the break required of the man to join his wife: in the scale of values, the link with the spouse is more important than the link with the parents.
|Noun patēr in the Gospels-Acts|
|proskollēthēsetai (he will stick)||
To translate the Hebrew term dābaq (to stick, to cling), the Septuagint used the Greek verb proskollaō, a verb formed from the preposition pros (towards) and the verb kollaō (to stick, join), and therefore means: to stick, to be joined to an entity. In Genesis, we find four occurrences of dābaq. What are the other three?"
What do we find? Of the four occurrences of dābaq, two have a similar meaning: 2:24 with the man "sticking" to his wife and Gen 34:3 with Shechem "being drawn" to Dinah; the verb then conveys the desire for a life together. According to the biblical scholars, these two stories belong to the Yahwist tradition. On the other hand, the Septuagint did not see fit to translate these two occurrences in the same way, resorting to prosechō (to occupy oneself with, to apply oneself to, to devote oneself to, to take care of) for the last occurrence, a way of attenuating the intensity of Shechem's action.
As for the other two occurrences of dābaq, Gen 19:19 where disaster "sticks" to Lot, possibly from the Yahwist tradition, and Gen 31:23 where Laban "sticks" to Jacob on Mount Gilead, probably from the Elohist tradition, it is the idea of catching someone or something, and which the Septuagint translated with the verb katalambanō (to reach out to, to grasp at, to seize from).
What to conclude? First of all, dābaq is not a technical term that would concern only human relationships. Its 54 occurrences in the Hebrew Bible serve to describe situations where there is a rapprochement between entities, and hence the Septuagint translated them in various ways, except for twelve occurrences where it resorted to proskollaō.
Second, it is worth noting that dābaq was used a number of times to describe the relationship of the human being to his God. But the Septuagint used a variety of verbs to translate dābaq in these instances. There is, of course, the verb proskollaō : Deut 11:22 ("if you walk in all his ways, if you cling to him"), Josh 23:8 ("But stay cling to the Lord our God"; there is also its synonym of the same root, kollaō : 2 Kings 18: 6 ("He (Ezekiel) sticked to the Lord, he did not cease to follow him"); but the Septuagint resorted to other verbs like echō (have, possess, hold to): Deut 30:20 ("Love the Lord your God, be obedient to his word, and hold to him"); or prostithēmi (add, adjoin), Deut 13:5 ("You shall follow the Lord your God; you shall fear him; you shall be docile to his word; you shall join him"); or proskeimai (to be near, to abide by), Josh 22:5 ("to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to keep his commandments, to abide with him, to serve him with all your mind and with all your soul"). In short, the various translators of the Septuagint opted for the words of their choice.
The fact that dābaq was used to describe the relationship of the human being to his God enhances the description of the relationship of the man to his wife, just as that relationship will be enhanced in the epistle to the Ephesians when it serves as a picture of the relationship of Christ and the church.
One final note is in order. If we usually translate dābaq and proskollaō by attach to, stick to, join, we can also translate by "unite with", provided that we avoid any sexual connotation, as both the Hebrew and Greek terms do not contain any.
|Verb proskollaō in the New Testament|
Gynaika is the feminine name gynē in the dative singular. The dative is required because gynē is an indirect complement of attribution of the verb proskollaō (stick to, attach to). The word means "woman", and refers here to both a female person and the wife. But the context of this quote from the Septuagint clearly specifies that the term refers to the wife; even though the subject of the sentence is anthrōpos (man), a generic term, the fact that the man is "sticking" to the woman puts us in the context of a couple.
The Greek term gynē translates the Hebrew ʾiššâ which, as in Greek, designates both a woman and a wife. For example, Gen 12:11: "Now when Abram reached Egypt, he said to his wife (Heb. ʾiššâ, Gr. gynē) Sarai: 'See, I know that you are a woman (Heb. ʾiššâ, Gr. gynē) beautiful to see'". Now, our story, in v. 22, is the one that introduces for the first time the term ʾiššâ which, thereafter, will run throughout the Bible, and in particular the book of Genesis with 151 occurrences.
Let us consider the immediate context by comparing the Hebrew text with the Septuagint text.
A first observation is necessary when considering the evolution of names. In the Yahwist narrative, the human being, ʾādām, which we have translated as "earthy", because it is made of earth (ʾădāmâ), is at first a "neutral", "undefined" being. God's action, by removing a rib, happens to divide him. But by dividing him, God gives him an identity, he will be a îš, a man, but this identity only exists in terms of ʾiššâ, a woman; there can be no îš without ʾiššâ, and no ʾiššâ without îš. Man and woman were created in some way at the same time.
A second observation is necessary when we consider the structure of these three verses which could be established as follows:
There are two movements, that of God who moves towards the man to offer him the gift of a woman, then that of the man who moves to join his wife. God's action is that of dividing the earthy one by extracting a rib, the man's action is that of joining his wife and forming a couple; the division operated by God did not lead to a separation, but on the contrary to a new unity under a new identity.
|Noun gynē in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 8 The two become one; they are no longer two beings, but one.
Literally: and they shall be (esontai) both in one flesh (sarka), therefore (hōste) that they are no longer two, but one flesh.
|esontai (they shall be)||
Esontai is the verb eimi (to be) in the future tense, 3rd person plural. Why is the verb in the future tense? Remember that in Hebrew there is no future tense, because the only two tenses that exist are "completed" and "not completed", i.e. an action is either completed or not completed. Yet the translator of the Septuagint translated with a future tense the Hebrew verb hāyâ (to be) which is in Gen 2:24 at the "completed" time tense, and therefore should have been translated: "they are both one flesh".
Let us take a brief moment to analyze the future tense in Greek by going through the Gospels-Acts in order to grasp the different nuances that it allows to express.
In the Jewish and Christian world, because of the prominence of the day of God's judgment, which Christians have associated with the return of Christ and the general resurrection, the occurrences of the verb "to be" in the future tense to designate this moment is extremely present. The future tense indicates this point in time which we are unable to determine, but which we believe will nevertheless be reached one day:
The gospels record the words and actions of Jesus that are now in the past. This means that, from Jesus' perspective, the time of the Church is a future reality, even though for the evangelist it is a present time. Thus, the evangelist uses the future tense to speak of his present:
The future tense is not only used to indicate a point in time towards which one is moving, but sometimes states that a present state continues indefinitely:
Sometimes the future tense is used only to express the consequences of an action. No specific tense is in view, but the future tense intends to describe simply the sequence of a series of actions:
Greek does not have a specific tense to express a hypothetical situation, a situation that is verbalized in English for example in the form: "Suppose you were given a large sum of money". Such a situation would be expressed by a future tense:
Finally, in the Greek language, the future tense is also used to express an injunction or an obligation, which is often verbalized by the imperative, as in English when we say: "You will bring me bread", an indirect way to say: "Bring me bread".
How is the future tense of the Septuagint translation of Gen 2:24 to be interpreted: "they shall be the two in one flesh"? No point in time is intended, i.e. it does not say: "One day they will be the two in one flesh". A first answer comes from the fact that the future tense is used to express an injunction, which could be translated as follows: "Let them both be in one flesh". It is a call, a demand, an imperative. It is on the same level as this phrase from Matthew 5:48: "You therefore shall (eimi) be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect," a phrase often translated as: "Be perfect...".
A second answer comes from the fact that future, as we have seen, does not always serve to indicate a point in time towards which one is moving, but rather affirms that a present state continues indefinitely, and expresses the idea that a state develops and progresses. Thus some have translated Gen. 2:24 in the Septuagint: "They shall become both in one flesh"; the couplet exists, but is called to deepen, just as Jesus' "you shall be perfect".
Thus, to do justice to the two aspects of the future in the Septuagint text, it would be necessary to translate: "Let them both become one flesh". Life as a couple is a state that continues, but also a call to become what one is.
|Verb eimi in the future tense in the Gospels-Acts|
Sarka is the feminine noun sarx in the accusative singular, the accusative being required by the preposition eis (to, into) which indicates a local movement, a specific direction: the man and the woman will go to one flesh. It is mostly translated as "flesh," but it is a word with multiple meanings.
The Greek sarx translates the Hebrew bāśār. It is enough to go through the 31 occurrences of this word in the book of Genesis to realize that the word designates different realities.
In short, bāśār is not a technical term, but a general term to designate the different aspects of the human being as a created being, who possesses a living body in the same way as animals, and therefore a limited being subject to the great biological laws, including suffering and death (on the subject one may consult J.-P. Prévost, Vocabulaire de théologie biblique : Basar. Paris-Montréal: Bayard-Médiaspaul, 2004, p. 101)
In our analysis, we must include the New Testament as well, since our Genesis citation was read in Christian circles, and it is important to clarify the mental universe regarding the word "flesh". And let us begin by mentioning that the word sarx is not very common in the Gospels-Acts, with the exception of the Johannine tradition: Mt = 5; Mk = 4; Lk = 2; Jn = 13; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0; the term will be much more prevalent in the Pauline tradition, especially in the epistles to the Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans.
A first observation can be made: the gospels and the whole of the New Testament take up almost as they are the main perceptions about the bāśār of the Old Testament.
That said, a second type of observation is in order when considering the meaning of sarx in the New Testament. Indeed, up to this point "flesh" in itself had nothing negative about it, and its limitations and fragility were part of the human condition, without implying human responsibility. But it is necessary to believe that the path followed by Jesus and his message had something that went beyond understanding and escaped human logic, and from then on not only the limits of the "flesh" will be insisted upon, but also the fact that it can be an obstacle and an adversary with regard to the Christian life.
This long detour from the analysis of bāśār/sarx allows us to provide a context for "and they shall be both in one flesh." First of all, "flesh" refers to the whole human being as a body, which in the Jewish universe really defines the human being. But "flesh" also refers to the human being in his or her everyday existence, in his or her fragility and vulnerability, in the vagaries of biological life as well as in social life. Therefore, to become one body is to assume a common destiny, a common history.
|Noun sarx in the New Testament|
Hōste is a conjunction that introduces in the subordinate proposition the consequences of the main proposition, and it is translated according to the contexts as: thus, that is why, so that, therefore, to the point. It appears a few times in the gospels-Acts, especially in Matthew and Mark: Mt = 15; Mk = 13; Lk = 4; Jn = 1; Acts = 8; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0; but note that of the 15 occurrences in Matthew, five are a copy of Mark.
We can say that hōste belongs to Mark's vocabulary. It appears in passages that are unique to him and reflect his style. For example, Mark built his gospel around what is called the messianic secret of Jesus' identity that is slowly revealed through his actions and words; throughout his gospel, people are called to question his identity. The conjunction hōste allows him to create a connection between what Jesus does or says and the crowd's question. For example:
Mark likes to emphasize the popularity of Jesus. In his colorful style as a great storyteller, he creates images that capture the imagination about this popularity. The conjunction hōste allows him to show the impact of this popularity. For example:
Even a passage like Mk 2:28 ("therefore (hōste) the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath") might give the impression of a tradition going back to Jesus that Mark simply copied, but the biblical scholar J.- P. Meier after his analysis of Mk 2:23-28, comes to the conclusion that vv. 27-28 were added later by the Christian community to strengthen the somewhat weak arguments of the original Sabbath narrative.
In short, we can affirm that we are here in v. 8 before a word that comes from the pen of Mark. What does this mean? From the beginning of v. 7, we were faced with a citation from Gen 2:24 from the Septuagint translation. This citation has just ended with the expression "and they shall be both in one flesh". Abruptly, hōste (so, therefore, accordingly) is added to give us the impact of this citation. It is as if there is a debate, and after laying out the main argument from Gen 2:24, one wants to end the debate with a conclusion that follows logically from the main argument. This gives us something like this: since Genesis tells us that the man shall cleave to his wife and the two shall be one being, then logically, as you can see, they are no longer two beings, but one being. It should be noted that the Greek citation from Genesis has the verb "to be" in the future tense ("they shall be"), whereas the explanation of the consequences has the verb "to be" in the present tense ("they are"); we are no longer talking about a project, but about a present state.
Thus, this last part of v. 8 which begins with hōste is redactional, it is the work of Mark, who perhaps gives us an echo of the debates in the Christian communities on divorce. But what is clear is that this addition, which is a way of emphasizing and drawing consequences from Gen 2:24, serves primarily as a transition to what follows, v. 9, which in turn, according to Meier's analysis, most likely dates back to the historical Jesus.
|Adverb hōste in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 9 Thus, let not human beings go and divide what God has joined together.
Literally: Thus what God has joined together (synezeuxen), let no man separate (chōrizetō).
|synezeuxen (he has joined)||
Synezeuxen is the verb syzeugnymi in the active aorist indicative tense, 3rd person singular. It is an extremely rare verb in the entire Bible, being present only in Mark, taken up by Matthew, and in the prophet Ezekiel: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is formed from the preposition syn (with) and the verb zeugnymi (to join under one yoke).
Unfortunately, the only other true occurrence of this verb besides Mark is in Ezekiel (1:11:23) and concerns angels whose wings are joined. Therefore, we have broadened our examination to include words of the same root.
First, there is the name zygos (yoke), which refers to the wooden piece securing the heads of a pair of oxen, and by extension, the yoke of draught animals. But in the New Testament the word has mostly a metaphorical meaning, expressing the authority under which one submits one's life, e.g. the Law, or the master in a master-slave relationship.
There is also the name zeugos which means "pair" and is often associated in the Bible with a pair of animals or a team of animals: a pair of oxen, a pair of donkeys, a pair of turtledoves.
Finally, let us mention the one occurrence of syzygos, which means "companion," but in Eph 4:3 could just as easily mean a person's proper name.
At the end of this brief journey, we find ourselves with a somewhat confusing verb that has its roots in the animal world where animals are joined together under a yoke for a common task. Is this the image of the couple and what God intended?
As mentioned earlier, it is highly likely that this verse 9 goes back to the historical Jesus according to J.P. Meier, for the following reasons:
But Jesus spoke Aramaic, and so the Greek verb syzeugnymi (to join under the same yoke) certainly did not come out of his mouth. We must conclude, then, that the author of this tradition that reached Mark thought it appropriate that syzeugnymi could well translate the image of a man joining with his wife, and together they form a couple who face the vagaries of life together, like a pair of animals harnessed to the same task.
One last question: what is the subject of syzeugnymi? It is God who would be the subject of the verb join. Yet the Septuagint citation in Mark simply said that the man will leave his father and mother after considering the woman to be bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh, and thus presented no precept of God. We must therefore believe that the historical Jesus, no doubt steeped in the Genesis account, saw God's plan in what is presented as the initiative of a man joining with his wife to become one flesh. And as a prophet, he had to recall God's plan.
|Verb syzeugnymi in the Bible|
|chōrizetō (let separate)||
Chōrizetō is the verb chōrizō in the present active imperative tense, 3rd person singular. In the New Testament, it is a verb found especially in Paul, while in the Gospels it appears only in this word of Jesus in Mark, which Matthew copies: Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. The verb means: to separate.
When we examine the various uses of chōrizō, we note that only Paul offers us a situation similar to that reported by Mark. Indeed, in chapter 7 of the first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul has to address the issue of marital relationships submitted by the Corinthian community, especially in the context where some enthusiasts would like to reproduce now in their lives what their future life will be like in God's world, especially in the faith that this world of God is about to arrive: Paul has to invite caution in the face of the project of some men to practice abstinence (v. 1) because of the possible exacerbation of sexual desire and the possible disturbances (v. 5), even though he would like people to practice celibacy as he does (v. 7). His golden rule is that no one should change their status (v. 8), i.e., that unmarried people should not marry, and that married people should remain married, and it is at this point that he appeals to the Lord's teaching (v. 10): that the woman should not separate from her husband, and that the man should not put away his wife (v. 11).
While Paul's text has similarities to Mark's, it is not identical. Paul writes, "let not the wife separate (chōrizō) herself from her husband" (v. 10). Such a situation is only possible in the Greek world of Corinth, not in Palestine in the world of Jesus where only the man could take such an initiative. The action of breaking up on the part of the man is expressed thus in Paul: "let not the husband repudiate (aphiēmi) his wife" (v. 11). Paul's exhortation could be paraphrased as follows: let not the wife leave or run away from her husband, and let not the man send his wife away (to his family) or forsake her.
What to conclude? Jesus and Paul belong to two different worlds. Jesus answers the question of the Pharisees about the right of the man to expel his wife by releasing her from the marital bond, and Jesus' answer is clear: no, because according to the Genesis account, by joining with the woman the man has become one with her, and therefore the woman is no longer an accessory that can be expelled. Jesus acts as a prophet who recalls the word of God.
On the other hand, Paul does not act as a prophet but as a pastor of a community to whom concrete cases are submitted. One of these concrete cases is the enthusiasm of some who would like to live in the world beyond, including sexual abstinence and celibacy. Pastor Paul knows human nature and considers this project to be dangerous, given the possible sexual disorders. But above all, in view of the imminent prospect of Christ's return, it is not worthwhile to change anything in his marital situation. This is where Paul brings up the Lord's words about the prohibition of divorce. And his first application is to a woman (v. 11). This is surprising, since Jesus' word was about the man's expulsion of the woman. Secondly, so far in his letter Paul always started with the man before moving on to the woman (v. 2 let every man have his wife, and every woman her husband; v. 3 let the man pay his debt to his wife, and the woman to her man). It is therefore possible that Paul is dealing here with the concrete case of a notorious woman in the community. And this plan of separation would have been caused by a conflict, since Paul speaks of reconciliation ("let her be reconciled to her husband"). Not having the latest news, Paul has to consider the case where she has already separated, which leads him to ask that she not remarry, in accordance with his general principles that one should not change state and that celibacy is preferable.
Thus, as a pastor, Paul made a first adaptation of the word of the Lord by applying it to the Corinthian milieu where the woman could take the initiative to leave the marital bosom. But he made a second adaptation. What to do in the case of a couple where one of the partners is not a believer in Christ? Paul's answer is simple: if the unbelieving partner consents to this union with a believing partner, let there be no divorce; on the other hand, if the unbelieving partner wants separation, let there be a divorce. This is what is called the "Pauline privilege". Note that the verb "separate" (chōrizō) is synonymous with "divorce"; it is not simply a distancing, but a severing of the marital bond. What is the reason? "God has called you to live in peace" (v. 15). In other words, when peace is no longer possible, and the couple has become a "mismatched pair" (2 Cor 6:14: "Do not form a mismatched pair with unbelievers"), the husband or wife are no longer bound to the union.
This comparison between Jesus and Paul has allowed us to provide a context for Jesus' statement. In the Palestinian environment, the man had all the rights and only he could initiate a divorce for any reason, including that he found a more beautiful woman or that his wife overcooked the meal. The prophetic word of Jesus, by returning to God's original plan for the conjugal union, re-establishes the role of the woman in all its greatness, where she is no longer an object that can be expelled according to the man's mood, but constitutes the equal of the man and forms with him one being. Since the word of Jesus is situated in a precise context and is meant to be a prophetic word, it would be a travesty to apply it without nuance in all circumstances, and especially to give it a legal meaning. This is why a man like Paul will not hesitate to adapt it to his environment and to include exceptions. The church of Matthew (Mt 5:32; 15:19) will do the same thing by including the exception of porneia, a general term that covers a range of sexual immorality according to the standards of the time.
It is worth mentioning that the verb chōrizō is not a technical term related to marriage, as the verb "to divorce" is today. For example, Luke in Acts uses this verb to speak of Paul who is leaving (chōrizō) Athens (Acts 18:1). The same observations can be made when looking at synonymous verbs formed from the same root. For example, the verb apochōrizō formed from the preposition apo (from) and chōrizō is used by Luke to describe Paul's eventual "separation" from Barnabas (Acts 15:29). Similarly, the verb diachōrizō, formed from the preposition dia (through) and chōrizō is used by Luke to describe the fact that Moses and Elijah, at the end of the transfiguration scene "separate themselves" from Jesus (Lk 9:33), or again in Genesis in the creation story: "God saw that the light was good, and he separated (diachōrizō) the light of darkness" (Gen 1:4).
Finally, what is the subject of the verb chōrizō? In other words, who does Jesus ask not to break the marriage bond? In Greek, the subject is anthrōpos which, as we saw earlier, can refer both to human beings in general and to an individual male. But here, in v. 9, who is he? On the one hand, since there is a contrast between two subjects, God ("what God has joined"), and man ("let no man separate"), one might think that anthrōpos refers to the human being in general who must not thwart God's intention. But on the other hand, since only the husband (anēr) can break the bound, one could suggest that anthrōpos refers to the male. Unfortunately, we do not have the Aramaic words spoken by Jesus. In Aramaic, "man" is said ʾĕnāš. For example, in the Aramaic section of the book of Daniel, we have this sentence: MT 4: 17; LXX 4: 14: "This is the sentence of the watchman and the word of the saints, that the living may know that the Lord is the ruler of the kingdom of men (Aram.: ʾĕnāš, Gr.: anthrōpos), and that he will give it to whomever he pleases, and that he will raise up to govern him who is in contempt among men (Aram.: ʾĕnāš, Gr.: anthrōpos). The Aramaic term ʾĕnāš is the equivalent of the Hebrew ʾîš (the male man). But when the Greek-speaking Christian tradition took up this word of Jesus, it probably wanted to take into account the Greek context where the woman could also initiate divorce, and so the term anthrōpos in the sense of human beings in general allowed it to include women as well. This is probably the meaning we have here in Mark's gospel.
|Verb chōrizō in the New Testament|
|v. 10 When the disciples got home, they began to ask him about it.
Literally: And into the house (oikian) the disciples (mathētai) were asking (epērōtōn) him again (palin) about this.
Oikian is the accusative singular of the feminine noun oikia which means: house. Two words refer to the house in Greek, the masculine name oikos, and the feminine name oikia. All the evangelists use the two terms: oikos (Mt = 10; Mk = 13; Lk = 33; Jn = 5; Ac = 25; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0) and oikia (Mt = 25; Mk = 18; Lk = 24; Jn = 5; Ac = 11; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 1; 3Jn = 0). As we can see, Matthew and Mark prefer oikia to oikos, while Luke prefers oikos to oikia, while John uses them in an equivalent way. There does not seem to be any nuance between the two terms. A typical example comes from John where the house of Martha and Mary is called first oikos, then oikia:
When we look at the use of oikia by evangelists, we note four possible meanings.
The name oikia is well and truly part of Mark's regular vocabulary. We may have noticed that Mark uses the definite article "the" to designate the house, as if everyone knew which house it was. In fact, right at the beginning of his gospel Mark tells us about the house of Simon and Andrew in Capernaum, on the shores of Lake Galilee: "As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house (oikia) of Simon and Andrew, with James and John" (Mk 1: 29).
But here, in v. 10, we seem to be faced with a literary device by Mark around the symbolic value of "house". In fact, on several occasions in his gospel Mark uses the following structure:
What does this mean? Through this literary device, Mark distinguishes two things: Jesus' teaching and its related events, on the one hand, and the reflection that followed on the part of the Christian community, on the other. Moreover, the symbolism of the house or of being apart suggests the "church community" or the "reflection" afterwards. This is particularly obvious with the parable of the sower, which was allegorized in church times, where each element of the story takes on a symbolic value.
Our v. 10, introduces a reflection of the Christian community around the word of Jesus on divorce which it tries to specify and apply to its concrete situation. As the following verses show, which speak of divorce initiated by the woman, an impossible situation in Palestine, we are no longer faced with a word of Jesus, but with the way in which the Christian community has applied the word of Jesus to its situation.
|Noun oikia in the Gospels-Acts|
Mathētai is the masculine noun mathētēs in the nominative plural, the nominative being required as it is the subject of the verb "to question". It means: to be a disciple or a learner; it is someone who is a student of a master. As one can imagine, the word is very frequent in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 72; Mk = 46; Lk = 37; Jn = 78; Acts = 28; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It can be the disciples of Jesus, of John or even those of the Pharisees (Mk 2: 18)
The question was asked: is the word "disciple" comes from the first Christian community to designate members of the community, or does it really reflect how people called all those who were attached to Jesus when he preached? After his analysis, J.P. Meier concludes that this term really belongs to Jesus era, since the first Christians rather got rid of this term to define themselves. Moreover, among those who have considered Jesus as a master, three different groups of people can be distinguished
It should be noted that although several women are mentioned, none of them are given the title of disciple, no doubt because of the culture of back then.
What about Mark? The first point to make is that he involves the disciples at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, as soon as he starts teaching.
After John was delivered up, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the Gospel of God and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe in the Gospel". As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon's brother, throwing the hawk into the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Come after me and I will make you fishers of men." (1, 14-17)
Yet the group of Twelve is not formalized until much later in 3:13-14, although nine times he has already referred to the disciples. Mark's intention is clear: Jesus' ministry cannot be conceived without his disciples, with whom he is closely associated. And for his Christian community, the message is equally clear: in this ministry of Jesus, they must see themselves.
There is a second point to be made in Mark's role for the disciples: they are the object of special teaching by Jesus. This idea is introduced with the teaching in parables when Mark writes: "and he did not speak to them without a parable, but in particular he explained everything to his disciples" (4:34); thus, they are privileged to gain a deeper understanding of Jesus' teaching. This theme continues throughout the Gospel, introduced by the words: "When he had gone into the house away from the crowd" (7:17; see also 9:28; 10:10); at the house Jesus takes time to explain what he has just said. Similarly, throughout the Gospel, Mark refers to the fact that "Jesus was teaching his disciples" (9:31), that he calls them to teach them (8:1, 34; 10:42; 12:43).
Here, in v. 10, the disciples have the privilege of questioning Jesus and receiving special teaching. For Mark, every member of his community must identify with these disciples.
|Noun mathētēs in Mark|
|epērōtōn (they were asking)||
Epērōtōn is the verb eperōtaō in the third person plural of the imperfect tense, and its subject is the disciples. We have already analyzed earlier in v. 2 this verb when the subject was the Pharisees. Let us remember that the verb in the imperfect tense means a continuous action, and therefore the questioning and reflection is an action which continues in time, which is not finished.
|Verb eperōtaō in the New Testament|
Palin is an adverb that means "again," "once more," or "back" i.e. to repeat the same action. Whatever word is chosen, it is the idea of a repetition that is expressed by the adverb palin. John uses it the most, but Mark also uses it a lot, which is significant for a shorter gospel: Mt = 17; Mk = 28; Lk = 3; Jn = 45; Acts = 5; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. We are faced with a word that belongs to the typical vocabulary of Mark.
What leads Mark to use the adverb palin so regularly? The evangelist is distinguished first of all by his great art of storytelling, and the ternary structure is typical of tales. For example, in the parable of the murderous vinedressers, it is three times that the owner sends someone to receive fruit from the vineyard, and so Mark writes: "Again (palin), he sent them another servant" (12:4); or it is three times that Jesus goes aside to pray in Gethsemane, and so the evangelist writes: "Then he went away again (palin) and prayed, saying the same words. Again (palin) he came and found them asleep, for their eyes were heavy" (14:39-40); similarly, it was three times that Peter swore that he did not know Jesus, and the evangelist then writes: "The maid, when she saw him, said again (palin) to those present, 'This one is!' But again (palin) he denied it. Shortly thereafter, the assistants said again (palin) to Peter, 'Truly you are of it; and besides, you are a Galilean.'" (14, 69-70).
Another reason for the regular use of palin seems to be Mark's intention to describe to us the usual activity of Jesus. Already in 1:21-39 he had presented us with a typical day of Jesus. Subsequently, he writes that Jesus enters again Capernaum (2:1), goes out again to the seashore (2:13), goes again to the Sea of Galilee (7:31), embarks again to the other shore (8:1; 8:13). Jesus not only moves, but he does not stop teaching: he enters again a synagogue (3:1), he begins again to teach (4:1), he calls again the crowd near him to speak to him (7:14). And the word palin allows Mark to emphasize Jesus' phenomenal success: again the crowd gathers to the point that he cannot eat (3:20), again a large crowd gathers, a crowd that Jesus will later feed (8:1). This is what the evangelist Mark seems to emphasize.
But the adverb palin also has another role. Recall the general plan of the evangelist Mark where Jesus experiences growing opposition that will culminate in Jerusalem with his trial and death. In this journey to Jerusalem and the cross, the disciples are afraid, and so Jesus has to repeat his teaching, which hardly finds a place in their minds: "Taking again (palin) the Twelve with him, he began to tell them what was going to happen to him" (10:32). The same is true of the requirements for following him, especially concerning wealth, and Jesus must keep returning to the subject: "The disciples were amazed at these words. But Jesus answered again (palin) and said to them, 'My children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!'" (10: 24).
It is in the same sense that we must interpret our v. 10, which is a continuation of a word of Jesus on divorce. Of course, the reaction of the disciples in Mark is different from that in Matthew where the disciples say: "If this is the condition of a man with a woman, it is not expedient to marry" (Mt 19:10). But the fact remains that for a man this is a word that clashes with a whole tradition and appears demanding. Just as in the word about riches, Mark presents us with the disciples who question again, a way of showing that this word is difficult to swallow.
|Adverb palin in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 11 Jesus said, "If a man divorces his wife and marries another, he commits adultery against her.
Literally: And he said to them, "Whoever perchance (hos an) would release [from a marriage bond] his woman and would marry (gamēsē) another, he is an adulterer (moichatai) to her;
|hos an (whoever perchance)||
Hos an is an expression formed by the relative pronoun hos (whoever, the one or the one who) and the particle an which means "perchance" and which gives the proposition a conditional meaning. It is found a few times in the Gospels-Acts, especially in Mark: Mt = 8; Mk = 11; Lk = 7; Jn = 0; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0 (for this analysis, we have not taken into account the form hos d' an, "whoever by whom perchance"). Occurrence statistics can be misleading, for of the eight occurrences in Matthew, five are a copy of Mark, just as of the seven occurrences in Luke's gospel, three are a repeat of Mark. We are thus faced with a Marcan expression.
The phrase hos an is used to consider hypothetical situations and determine the consequences that follow.
It is worth pointing out this expression here, not only to remind us that we are no longer faced with an echo of a word of Jesus, that of v. 9, but to become aware that we have just entered into the casuistry that developed in the first Christian communities. In fact, Jesus left us this pithy sentence: "What God has joined together, let no man separate". But how to apply this proposal in a different environment from that of Jesus' Palestine, where both the woman and the man could initiate a divorce. Nor did Jesus speak of the consequences of not respecting this proposal. Reflecting on all that Jesus taught, especially his presentation of God's original intention for the married couple, the early Christians began to think of different scenarios (if such and such a situation...) and to apply (then) Jesus' word to each of the scenarios.
Here, in v. 11, we consider the hypothetical scenario where, in spite of Jesus' word, a Christian initiates a divorce to marry another woman. Faced with such a scenario, here is the Church's judgment: the man is an adulterer with respect to his first wife. The idea of being an adulterer in front of the first wife is foreign to the Palestinian world and perhaps reflects Mark's Roman milieu, since neither Matthew nor Luke saw fit to use the expression "adulterer to her".
|Expression hos an in the Gospels-Acts|
|gamēsē (he would marry)||
Gamēsē is the verb gameō in the active aorist subjunctive tense, 3rd person singular, the subjunctive being required by the particle an which introduced a hypothetical, hence unreal, situation. It means "to get married" or "to marry someone". It appears infrequently throughout the New Testament; in fact, outside of the synoptic gospels, it is only seen in chapter 7 of the epistle to the Corinthians where Paul explicitly addresses this issue, and in the epistle to Timothy.
In the synoptic gospels (Mt = 6; Mk = 4; Lk = 6; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), there are two issues that led the evangelists to speak about marriage, first that of divorce, and second that of marital status in the afterlife world. Otherwise, the reference to marriage is totally secondary. In Mark, the only occurrence that is not related to the question of divorce and marital status in the next life is the allusion to the marriage of Herod Antipas to the wife of his half-brother Philip. In Matthew, the only mention that is really his own is the reaction of the disciples to Jesus' saying about divorce, "If this is the condition of a man toward a woman, it is not expedient to marry (gameō)" (Mt 19:10), a reaction that is not to the credit of marriage and the disciples. In Luke, the only situation that is unique to him is that of the man who gives a great meal, but receives a refusal from a guest because he has just gotten married (Lk 14:20). In short, apart from the reference to Gen 2:24 and the words of Jesus, we have little material to establish a theology of marriage.
What about the Pauline tradition? In chapter 7 of the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul addresses two situations, that of married people and that of those who are not married. For married people, he asks them to stay together and fulfill their conjugal duty, and of course, referring to the word of Jesus, refuses the possibility of divorce, except in the case of a "mixed" marriage with an unbelieving party who no longer wants the marriage; a new marriage is possible, but only with a Christian partner. For the unmarried, whether never married or widowed, Paul recommends remaining single as he himself is. He offers two main reasons for this: first, the time before Christ's return is very short and God expects each person to deal well with the situation in which he or she finds himself or herself at the present time; second, marriage can be a distraction from one's present and urgent mission, especially when one's partner does not share the same faith, and this leads to great tension in the couple. However, if celibacy opens the door to sexual immorality, it is better to marry. The first epistle to Timothy goes in the same direction, encouraging young widows to marry, to avoid the overflow of sexual desire. One would look in vain in all this for material celebrating the beauty and greatness of marriage.
One could mention Ephesians 5:32, which is part of the Pauline tradition, even though many biblical scholars do not believe that Paul is the direct author, and which, after the reference to Gen 2:24 ("a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh"), writes: "This is a great mystery; I declare it to be the mystery of Christ and of the Church". A theology of marriage has been built from this sentence. But on the one hand, this text from Ephesians simply refers us to the word of Jesus and its source in the Genesis account, and on the other hand, it is still dependent on a patriarchal culture where male-female relationships are not equal: the man has authority over the woman as Christ has authority over his Church (5:21), so that the woman is invited to submit to her husband as the Church submits to Christ, and if the man is invited to love his wife as Christ loves his Church, the woman is called to respect/revere her husband (5:33). This vision is dependent on the man as provider, and the woman as the one who needs to be taken care of.
Let us return to Mark's text. The hypothetical situation he envisages is that of a man who, after having repudiated his wife, marries another. We must assume that this "second" wife was free, either because she had never been married before, or because she had received her divorce papers from her ex-husband. Matthew, on the other hand, considers the two situations at two different points in his gospel: first the general situation mentioned by Mark where he does not specify the status of the new wife (Mt 19:9), then the situation where a man marries a divorced woman (5:32). Perhaps he found Mark's sentence ambiguous, and so he wants to cover all the angles to make things clear: a second marriage is not possible either with "a virgin" (Mt 19:9) or with a woman who has received her divorce papers and is considered "free" (Mt 5:32). Luke did the same as Matthew, but covered both situations in the same verse: "Every man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced by her husband commits adultery" (Lk 16:18).
However, this casuistry, coming from the first Christian communities and applying Jesus' words to concrete situations, changes the emphasis of what Jesus said. In fact, Jesus said: "What God has joined together, let no man separate". In other words, Jesus said: let there be no divorce. In spite of this, all the evangelists write: "Whoever divorces his wife..." What does this mean? Jesus is not a jurist, but a prophet who recalls God's vision, while the first Christian communities were confronted with the concrete reality and asked themselves the question: if such a situation, what shall we do? In other words, Jesus' role was to remind us of the greatness of the vocation of marriage, not to set the rules for failure. Here, in v. 11, we are faced with a situation of failure and the decision of the Christian community about the rules to follow.
Note that there are two other words for marriage in Greek, gamizō (Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), which means "to be given in marriage," and thus applies in antiquity only to the woman, and always appears in the couple "(the man) marries and (the woman) is given in marriage" except in Paul, and the verb gamiskō, synonymous with gamizō, which appears only in Luke throughout the Bible (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0).
|Verb gameō in the New Testament|
|moichatai (he is an adulterer)||
Moichatai is the verb moichaō in the present indicative tense, middle form, 3rd person singular. The middle form is required because it is not a transitive verb: it is the subject itself that is affected. It means: to commit adultery or to become adulterous. It is a very rare verb in the Bible, and more specifically in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. To be more specific, it was Mark who introduced this word in this passage on the prohibition of divorce, and Matthew only copied it in the reference to divorce in Mt 5:32 and Mt 19:9. Elsewhere in the Bible, it only appears in the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel in the Septuagint, if one ignores the Psalms of Solomon; it has mostly a symbolic meaning in reference to the people's unfaithfulness to the covenant with Yahweh as they succumb to idol worship.
But in Greek there is a more frequent synonymous and related verb: moicheuō, which also means "to commit adultery": Mt = 4; Mk = 1; Lk = 3; Jn = 1; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. There seems to be no difference between the two verbs, and the biblical authors use them alternately. In translating the Hebrew nāʾap (to commit adultery), the Septuagint translators used either Greek verb interchangeably. In the presentation of the tables of the Law at Sinai (LXX "You shall not commit adultery," Ex 20:13 || Deut 5:17), it is the verb moicheuō that was chosen and that Mark uses in his account of the rich man's call (10:19), copied by Mt 19:18 and Lk 18:20; it is because he refers to these tables of the Law that Paul in his epistle to the Romans (2:22; 13:9) and the author of the epistle of James (2:11) also use the verb moicheuō. In the Septuagint, among the prophets, it has primarily a symbolic meaning in reference to the people's unfaithfulness to the covenant with Yahweh, as they succumb to idol worship.
This linguistic analysis would not be complete without mentioning some related words. First, there is the adjective moichalis (Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0) which is used in the gospels in the phrase "adulterous generation" and elsewhere in the Septuagint the word refers to the adulterous woman.
Then there is the feminine noun moicheia which refers to the act of adultery (Mt = 1; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 1; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0) and often appears in the midst of a list of the various reprehensible acts of human beings.
Finally, the masculine noun moichos refers to the adulterous man, but appears only in Luke in the Gospels (Mt = 0; Mk = 0; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0), and elsewhere in the Bible is scarcely present, other than to refer very generally to adulterous men.
In the Jewish world, adultery is unanimously condemned. It is part of the fundamental covenant between God and his people as spelled out in the ten words of Sinai. Note that adultery is first seen as a theft of a man's possession ("she has sinned against her husband", Sir 23:23). It is such a reprehensible act that Lev 20:10 calls for the man and woman involved to be put to death. And if a child is ever born of this illicit union, that bastard is not allowed to be part of the Jewish community. This reprehensible act has been used extensively as a symbolic image by the prophets to describe the perversion of the people who refuse to attach themselves fully to Yahweh and instead put their trust in foreign gods and, politically, in foreign powers.
What does our v. 11 mean? Let us remember that marriage at that time, and therefore divorce, was a family affair, without any requirement of registration in a state register. Let us also remember that Mark's gospel was primarily aimed at Christians in Rome, and therefore at Christians who were subject to Roman law. But in Rome as in Palestine, adultery was associated with an act of infamy. It seems that in principle, in Rome as in Palestine, people involved in adultery were liable to death at the hands of the injured party, like an honor killing. But we have no evidence that such a punishment was applied historically. When John's gospel reports the case of a woman caught in adultery and recalls the Mosaic law of stoning in such a case (Jn 8:3-11), no action is actually taken against the woman. In Rome, an adulterous woman could be banned from remarriage (according to T. McGinn, "Concubinage and the Lex Iulia on Adultery. Transactions of the American Philological Association. 121 (1991)335-375), and had returned to her parents with only half her dowry (C. Edwards, The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome. Cambridge University Press, 1993, p. 38). But Paul, when addressing the Romans, alludes to the infamy of adultery in the wife, but this infamy disappears upon the death of the husband: "So it is while her husband is alive that she will bear the name of adulteress, if she becomes another's wife; but in case of the husband's death she is so well freed from the law that she is not an adulteress in becoming another's wife" (Romans 7:3).
What is Mark aiming at when he reports this decision of the Christian community to declare adulterous a Christian who divorces his wife in order to marry another? We know that according to the Roman world, which allowed divorce, there is no adultery here. But in the Christian world, this declaration of adultery is simply meant to throw discredit and infamy on divorce; there is no mention of the consequences at all, not even exclusion of the community, which includes the eucharistic assembly.
|Verb moichaō in the Bible|
|v. 12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.
Literally: And if she, having released (from a marriage bond) her husband, would marry another, she is an adulteress.
V.12 repeats v.11 almost verbatim, but with the roles reversed: it is now the wife who expels her husband. Let us compare the two verses.
The parallelism is not perfect, starting with the introduction. Indeed, in v. 11, we have the classic case of introducing a jurisprudence where a hypothetical case is envisaged in the future: whoever perchance (hos an), which implies a verb in the subjunctive tense (would release). But in v. 12 various situations are instead envisaged (ean = "if"), which took place with a verb in the aorist participle (having released). What is this? V. 11 and v. 12 do not have the same source. One can imagine that in v. 11 Mark would take up a Christian tradition from Palestine concerning a decision on divorce following the word of Jesus, while in v. 12 he has to adapt this decision to the Roman situation where the woman could also initiate a divorce, just as in the whole Greco-Roman milieu (see 1 Cor. 7:10: "Let not the woman separate from her husband"): v. 12 would therefore be a creation of Mark himself extending to the Roman milieu a Palestinian tradition. Note that the ending is not the same. The tradition he receives speaks of adultery "against" the wife (epʼ autēn), an aspect that he doesn't think it's worth taking back.
|v. 13 Afterward, some people brought little children to Jesus to touch, but the disciples rebuked them.
Literally: And they were presenting (prosepheron) little children (paidia) to him, that he might touch (hapsētai) them. Then, the disciples rebuked (epetimēsan) them.
|prosepheron (they were presenting)||
Prosepheron is the verb prospherō in the active imperfect indicative tense, 3rd person plural. It is infrequent in the New Testament as a whole, and especially in the Gospels-Acts, except in Matthew and the epistle to the Hebrews: Mt = 15; Mk = 3; Lk = 4; Jn = 2; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. The verb is composed of the preposition pros (toward, in view of) and the verb pherō (to carry), and thus means: to carry toward, i.e. to offer, to present. When it is an object, it is most often translated: to offer; when it is a person, it is most often translated: to present.
Let's take a brief look at the two main meanings of the verb prospherō in the Gospels-Acts.
Here, in v. 15, the object of the verb prospherō are children, and so the verb should be translated "to present". The verb is in the imperfect tense (past continuous), and so it is an unfinished, ongoing action. What does this mean? We are faced with a different situation from the one where a sick person is presented to Jesus to be healed, a one-time action. Here, the action of presenting the children is prolonged in time. If the first Christian communities wanted to keep in mind Jesus' relationship with children, and to describe this presentation as a gesture that continues over time, it is because it supported one of their practices, that of welcoming children into the community, and the welcome par excellence being baptism.
Note that the verb prospherō does not belong to Mark's usual vocabulary. It appears only twice with a person as the object (the presentation of the paralytic in 2: 4 and here), and this is the only instance in the imperfect tense. It is easy to imagine that he is simply repeating what he receives from tradition
What is the subject of the verb prospherō? It is not specified. We can imagine that it is the parents of the children. To keep it anonymous, we can translate it as "they" or "people".
|Verb prospherō in the New Testament|
|paidia (little children)||
Paidia is the neuter noun paidion in the accusative plural, the accusative being required because it is the direct object of the verb "to present. In the Greek world, according to Herodotus (reported by Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon), paidion refers to the child up to seven years of age. It is more frequent than pais (child, boy), since there are 52 occurrences, especially in the Gospels: Mt = 18; Mk = 12; Lk = 13; Jn = 3; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0; 1 Co = 1; He = 1. Let us recall that in the New Testament there are six words to designate the child: teknon (child) and its diminutive teknion (small child), pais (child) and its diminutive paidion (little child), nēpios (infant) and brephos (baby). On the subject, see our glossary.
The following table shows the different names used to designate the child according to age.
As can be seen, chronologically, childhood takes place from birth to the age of 13, at the time of the bar mitzwah (son of the Law), when the child, by becoming subject to the Law, passes into adulthood. This childhood is divided into two parts, paidion, which refers to the child under the age of 7, and pais, which refers to the child between the ages of 7 and 13. Nēpios is the baby at the very beginning of its paidion phase, as are brephos, but the latter may include the embryo in the mother's womb. As for the term teknon, the most frequent in the New Testament, it is the child without any connotation of age. And teknion, its diminutive, concerns an adult to whom one wants to express affection and attachment, as one is referred to as Babe or Charlie or Chuck.
As for the number of occurrences in the Gospel-Acts according to the different names, we can make the following observation.
It should be noted that in Mark's work, only two terms are used to talk about the child, the generic term of teknon, and paidion. But Mark does not present any scenes with a teknon as a character: The teknon are mentioned in a general way ("Let the children first (teknon) be satisfied, for it is not fitting to take the bread of children (teknon) and throw it to the dogs" 7: 27), or used metaphorically toward adults as a term of endearment ("My children (teknon), how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of God", 10: 24).
Thus, Mark uses only one term in the child scenes: paidion, which appears in five accounts: Jairus' daughter's resuscitation (5:35-43), the healing of the Syrophoenician woman's daughter (7:24-30), the healing of an epileptic child (9:24), Jesus' gesture of presenting the child's attitude as a model with respect to the kingdom of God and embracing them (9:36-37), and our scene where Jesus welcomes them and blesses them. All of this has the effect of creating a great deal of vagueness about the age of these children. For example, at the end of the scene of the raising of Jairus' daughter we learn that the child was twelve years old, which contradicts the custom of reserving the term paidion for children under seven. When the Syrophoenician woman refers to the little dogs under the table eating the children's crumbs, the children must be around two or three years old, an age when one scatters food all around when eating.
With so much vagueness in Mark's account, it is difficult to get a sense of the age of the children in our account of v. 13. We imagine them to be very young, because they are "presented" to Jesus, not "brought to him," which presupposes that they cannot walk; and at the end of the scene Jesus will take them in his arms, which directs us to babies. When Luke copies this scene from Mark he removes any ambiguity by replacing Mark's paidion with the Greek word brephos, i.e. "baby."
|Noun paidion in the New Testament|
|hapsētai (he might touch)||
Hapsētai is the verb haptō in the aorist subjunctive tense, middle form, 3rd person singular, the subjunctive being required because the proposition was introduced by the conjunction hina (so that), and thus intends to express the purpose of the action of introducing the children. This verb has two meanings, first "to touch" and then "to light" (a lamp). In the New Testament, it appears especially in the synoptic gospels: Mt = 9; Mk = 11; Lk = 13; Jn = 1; Acts = 1; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
We are dealing with a very Marcan word in its meaning of touching. Even though there are 13 occurrences in Luke, three of them mean "to light", four are a simple copy of Mark, so that there are only three scenes that are proper to him: Jesus touching the coffin of the widow of Nain's son (Lk 7:14), Jesus allowing himself to be touched by a sinner at a meal in a Pharisee's home (Lk 7:39), and Jesus touching the ear of the high priest's servant who had just been blown away by a sword (Lk 22:51). In Matthew, of the nine occurrences, five are copies of Mark's, so that there are only four occurrences that are his own: Jesus' gesture of touching the hand of Peter's mother-in-law to heal her (Mt 8:15), the healing of two blind men when Jesus touches their eyes (Mt 9:29), at the end of the transfiguration narrative as Jesus touches his three disciples prostrated with fear to invite them to rise (Mt 17:7), and the healing of the two blind men of Jericho when Jesus touches their eyes (Mt 20:34).
Of the eleven occurrences of "touch" in Mark, seven refer to the gesture of people touching or wanting to touch Jesus for the purpose of healing, as if a transforming force were coming out of him (3:10; 5:27-31; 6:56), as this passage summarizes: "And wherever he entered, villages, towns, or farms, they put the sick in the squares and begged him to let them touch (haptō) even the fringe of his cloak, and all who touched (haptō) him were saved." Conversely, there are two occurrences where Jesus is the one who takes the initiative to touch (1:41: he touches a leper to heal him; 7:33: he touches the tongue of the deaf-mute after spitting), and two occurrences where Jesus is asked to touch, first a blind man to heal him (8:22), then children (10:13).
All this underlines the uniqueness of our passage. Why ask to touch children? This gesture is usually always linked to healing, yet no one is sick in this scene. Matthew saw the problem, so he anticipated the ending of this scene by writing, "so that he laid his hands on them and prayed" (Mt 19:13). Luke inserted this scene after the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, which ends: "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted" and connects it with the story of the children with the phrase: "they also presented the babies to him"; the babies join the humbled who will be exalted, and so the gesture of touching establishes a relationship and an acknowledgement of the value of the children's attitude, and thus they are "exalted". In Mark's case, the significance of the request to touch the children is less clear. At first glance, the only clue given is the scene that precedes it about the fact that a woman was at the mercy of her husband's will who could repudiate her for any reason, and to which Jesus contrasts God's vision of man and woman becoming one flesh; both woman and child were considered socially minor. The request to touch the children is a request to recognize their value. The full answer will be given at the end of this scene.
|Verb haptō in the New Testament|
|epetimēsan (they rebuked)||
Epetimēsan is the verb epitimaō in the aorist active indicative tense, 3rd person plural. In classical Greek, the word means "to honor" or "to award", but in New Testament Greek it means: to rebuke, to scold, to threaten. In our literal translation, we have opted for "to rebuke", in the sense of addressing someone rudely, rebuffing him with harsh words and an abrupt tone. In the New Testament, this verb appears almost exclusively in the synoptic gospels: Mt = 6; Mk = 9; Lk = 12; Jn = 0; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. This is another word that is quite Marcan. The six occurrences in Matthew all come from Mark, while in Luke, of the 12 occurrences, six come from Mark.
There are three different situations where this verb is used.
Here it is the disciples of Jesus who rebuke adults who present Jesus with babies. Of the three instances of people rebuking in Mark, this is the only one where it is the disciples as a group who rebuke. Why does this happen? The symbolism is quite clear: the group of disciples represents the young Christian community. It is therefore this community, through those who exercise a certain authority, who object to giving the babies access to Jesus. What kind of access are we talking about? The normal access to Jesus in a Christian community is first of all baptism.
We have already pointed out that the vocabulary of the whole of v. 13 is very Marcan. But nevertheless Mark seems to take up an ancient tradition which he repeats in his own words. For the content of this tradition echoes a reflection of the Christian community and a decision concerning babies or young children in relation to baptism, and a decision was made with reference to what Jesus might have said concerning babies or young children.
|Verb epitimaō in the New Testament|
|v. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant at the attitude of his disciples and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them. For it is to such as these that the domain of God belongs.
Literally: Then, having seen, the Jesus was outraged (ēganaktēsen) and said to them, "Let (aphete) the children come (erchesthai) to me; do not stop(kōlyete) them. For to such (toioutōn) [people] is the kingdom of God (basileia tou theou).
|ēganaktēsen (he was outraged)||
Ēganaktēsen is the erb aganakteō in the aorist active indicative tense, 3rd person singular. Originally this verb expresses the feeling of violent irritation due to the effect of the intense cold on the body. And so, in a metaphorical way, it expresses the pain of being offended or hurt by something or someone. It is usually translated as: to be indignant, to be irritated, to be offended, to be outraged. It is an extremely rare verb in the whole Bible; in the New Testament, it appears only in the synoptic gospels: Mt = 3; Mk = 3; Lk = 1; Jn = 0; Ac = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Note that of the three occurrences in Matthew, two come from Mark, so that Mark is the one who uses this verb the most.
To better understand its meaning here in v. 14, let's take a quick tour of the synoptics:
What do we notice? First of all, outrage occurs when certain fundamental values are attacked, or a religious environment and its rules are questioned. outrage is experienced as a wound that hurts one's world. Secondly, in the four cases we have mentioned, two of them have the disciples being outrage, and the other two have the Jewish authorities being outraged. And in all these instances the outrage is not praiseworthy and do not come from a heart worthy of being a disciple of Jesus.
All this is in contrast with our v. 14 where it is Jesus who is outraged, which highlights its uniqueness in the gospels. What does this mean? First of all, such a strong reaction on Jesus' part highlight that pushing away babies reflects a deep misunderstanding of Jesus' world and his message. Once again, the disciples are presented as obtuse people, who cannot understand their master well and whose hearts do not yet have the expected attitude. But at the same time, one senses here the pen strokes of Mark, who presents a very human Jesus who can be outraged, and disciples who once again do not understand anything, as what happened earlier in the section of the loaves ("You do not yet grasp and understand...", Mk 8:17). Matthew and Luke, in copying this scene, no doubt embarrassed by Jesus' outrage, have both eliminated this detail.
In presenting Jesus' reaction in this way, Mark probably intends to support a decision by the early Christian community to welcome young children to baptism and community gathering, a decision he sees as being in line with Jesus' entire message.
|Verb aganakteō in the Bible|
Aphete is the verb aphiēmi in the aorist imperative tense, 2nd person plural. It is very frequent in the New Testament, but is found almost exclusively in the gospels: Mt = 47; Mk = 32; Lk = 31; Jn = 15; Acts = 3; 1Jn = 2; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is quite a Marcan verb, for taking into account that in Matthew of its 47 occurrences, 16 are a copy of Mark and 10 are from the Q Document, and in Luke, of its 31 occurrences, 14 are a copy of Mark and 9 are from the Q Document, Mark uses it the most. Basically, it means: to leave, in the sense of letting go, allowing. But its meaning varies according to the contexts in which it appears. These contexts can be grouped as follows.
So what is the meaning of aphiēmi here in v. 15? The situation is one where an action is allowed or authorized to take place. We are in a context similar to that of the anointing in Bethany where a woman breaks an alabaster bottle with very expensive perfume to sprinkle on Jesus' head, which arouses the outrage of the disciples, and to whom Jesus says, "Let (aphiēmi) her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me" (Mc 14, 6). In both cases, aphiēmi is not merely a permission or authorization, but a form of command and requirement. Moreover, in the majority of cases where aphiēmi is in the imperative, the verb is in the mouth of Jesus, and when it is a matter of allowing an action (Mt 3:15 allow his baptism; Mk 7:28 let the children be filled before the dogs; Lk 17:3 if the brother repents, forgive him; Jn 12:7 let Mary bathe his feet with precious perfume; Jn 18:8 allow the disciples to leave Gethsemane at the time of his arrest), Jesus' tone is unmistakable.
Thus, in v. 15 as in a few other places, aphiēmi appears in Jesus' mouth not only as an authorization or permission for the children to have access to his presence, but also as a request and a command. And as we see in similar passages, this authorization/order is followed by a justification. This is what we will see a little later.
|Verb aphiēmi in the Gospels-Acts|
|erchesthai (to come)||
Erchesthai is the verb erchomai in the present infinitive tense and middle voice. After legō (to say) and eimi (to be), erchomai (to come, to go) is the most frequent verb in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 113; Mk = 85; Lk = 99; Jn = 155; Acts = 50; 1Jn = 3; 2Jn = 2; 3Jn = 2. As we can see, it is in the Johannine tradition that it appears most often, reflecting the limited vocabulary of the evangelist who sticks to the basic words. But Mark is not outdone, for despite the fact that his gospel is the shortest, the number of occurrences of erchomai is impressive and compares with the other Synoptics, especially since in Matthew his own occurrences of this verb are limited to 51, and in Luke to 56, the other occurrences being a copy of either Mark or the Q Document. We are thus faced with a word that belongs entirely to Mark's usual vocabulary.
The verb erchomai is used very often to describe a geographical move: one comes from such and such a place, and comes to such and such a place. But it can be used symbolically to describe the object of a mission ("I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners," Mk 2:17) or the manifestation of an event in the future ("Blessed be the Kingdom that comes, from our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!", Mk 11:10). But the verb takes on a special meaning when it is used to describe movement toward Jesus. Obviously, to go towards someone one must move, but the gesture expresses much more than a physical movement: it is the expression of an interaction with Jesus. This interaction can have a negative aim ("Then came to him some Sadducees - those people who say there is no resurrection - and they questioned him," Mk 12:18). But it can have a positive aim. Let us look at two representative examples:
Both examples show faith in Jesus on the part of the person who comes to him, and in return he receives either a healing or a teaching.
Our verse 14 speaks of children coming to Jesus. Of course, these children are carried by the faith of adults, probably their parents (but the fact that the parents are not explicitly named could suggest that the adult introducing the child to the community is a godfather). But that does not detract from the overall significance of the whole process, which is a process of faith. And in return, as we have just seen, this interaction with Jesus transforms the person, either through healing or through teaching. This aspect will be clarified at the end of the story.
All this confirms our proposal to read this story at a second level: it is probably a reference to the baptismal process in primitive communities.
|Verb erchomai in Mark|
Kōlyete is the verb kōlyō in the present imperative tense, 2nd person plural. It is an infrequent verb in the New Testament. In the gospels it is used only by Luke and Mark, since the only occurrence in Matthew is a copy of a text from Mark: Mt = 1; Mk = 3; Lk = 6; Jn = 0; Ac = 6; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 1. And in the gospel of Luke, three of the six occurrences are a copy of Mark. The verb means "to prevent" something from happening.
In Mark, the verb appears in two scenes. First, there is the scene in which John, a disciple of Jesus, tells his master that his group objected to someone who was not his disciple performing an exorcism, only to be told that he should not be prevented from doing so, because his action has the same trust (Mk 9:38-39). And there is our scene where the disciples object to Jesus being presented with babies and small children. We will have seen the same paradigm at work in both scenes: on the one hand, there is the very restrictive vision of the disciples, and on the other, the much more open vision of Jesus. Why did Mark choose these two scenes in the composition of his gospel addressed to the Christian community, primarily that of Rome? This choice is not neutral. One cannot help but think that certain widespread visions in the Christian community are challenged here. First of all, there is perhaps the somewhat sectarian one in which one refused to collaborate with non-Christians in the fight against evil. Then there is the one that found it unacceptable to offer baptism to babies and small children. Mark presents us with a Jesus who opposes these restrictive visions.
When we broaden our investigation to the whole of the New Testament, we realize that there are other situations which are quite similar. First of all, there is the one related to baptism, when an Ethiopian, probably a God-fearing convert to Judaism, sees no obstacle to his Christian baptism (Acts 8:36), and then when Peter affirms that the centurion Cornelius and his family, a Roman pagan, cannot be refused baptism (Acts 10:47; 11:17). There is also that of speaking in tongues in Christian gatherings, about which Paul asks not to oppose (1 Cor 14:39). Then there is the ascetic trend, perhaps marked by enthusiasm who are ready to start now the afterlife, and so wanted to forbid marriage, to which the author of the first epistle to Timothy is opposed. Finally, we can mention the Christians of Jewish origin who opposed the proclamation of the good news to the Gentiles (1 Thess 2:16). On the whole, it is always the same paradigm: some support a restrictive vision of the Christian life which it is important to oppose.
Thus, the presentation of Jesus who opposes a restrictive view of Christian membership in the person of infants and small children is consistent with many other situations observed in early communities.
|Verb kōlyō in the New Testament|
Toioutōn is the demonstrative pronoun toioutos in the genitive neuter plural, the neuter plural being required because toioutos here refers to paidia (babies, young children), and the dative being required because this pronoun plays the role of indirect object complement of attribution to the verb eimi (to be). It is not very frequent in the Gospels-Acts, but it appears most often in Mark, while Matthew and Luke have only one occurrence of their own, the others being a copy of Mark: Mt = 3; Mk = 6; Lk = 2; Jn = 3; Acts = 4; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 1. It can be either adjective or pronoun. Literally, it means: such.
We want to point out this pronoun/adjective because of the number of occurrences in Mark, an indication of a word in his vocabulary that reflects his style. Of the six occurrences, four appear as a demonstrative adjective, and two as a demonstrative pronoun.
The role of toioutos is, of course, to make it clear who or what is being referred to to avoid ambiguity. But at the same time, a category of things or people is established to serve as a reference point. Consider the use of Mark.
This analysis now allows us to shed light on our v. 14: "For to such is the Kingdom of God". The demonstrative pronoun "such" refers to the little children or babies we have just mentioned, but at the same time it establishes a category of people to whom the Kingdom of God belongs. What characterizes this category? Here we have few clues, except that they are totally dependent, having been presented to Jesus by adults. Earlier (Mk 9:33-37) Mark had associated the little children (paidion) with those who are last, and presented them as a counterexample to the ambition of the disciples; they are beings not only without great social worth, but without ambition or competitive spirit.
For whom is the Kingdom of God intended? For people who recognize their dependence and know that they have received everything, people who accept that they are the last in society and therefore refuse to follow the path of ambitious success in order to be noticed.
|Adjective / pronoun toioutos in the New Testament|
|basileia tou theou (kingdom of God)||
Expression basileia tou theou recurs regularly in the synoptic gospels: Mt = 36; Mk = 14; Lk = 32; Jn = 2; Acts = 6; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. Note that in Matthew it takes the form of basileia tōn ouranōn (Kingdom of Heavens), because in Jewish circles one avoided pronouncing the word "God," which is here replaced by "Heavens," the place considered to be God's residence: the plural was required, for this world above the firmament had several floors, with God occupying the top floor (on Heaven, see the glossary).
It is worthwhile to understand the expression "Kingdom of God" well, because Jesus makes it the central theme of his preaching (on the subject, see Meier). In the first place, it should be noted that the expression is absent from the Hebrew Bible and is first encountered in the Greek Bible through Wis 10:10: "When the righteous fled from his brother's wrath, she (wisdom) guided him in right paths, shewed him the kingdom of God, and gave him knowledge of holy things, made him rich in his travels, and multiplied the fruit of his labours." The Old Testament speaks rather of God as a king who reigns by saving his people. A prophet like Jeremiah speaks of the promise of a new David who will reign over the kingdom of Israel, after God has reunited the twelve tribes of a broken people. This being said, it remains that this kingship of God is not a dominant theme of the Old Testament, and indeed of all intertestamental literature. What does this mean? Jesus seems to have grasped an image and language that was not central in Judaism and consciously decided to make it his central message.
What characterizes this reign or kingdom of God? First of all, it is a future reality that we wish to see happen, as expressed in the petition of the Lord's Prayer: "May your kingdom come". It is the expectation of the coming of God to liberate his people, as we find everywhere in the OT. And at his last supper, Jesus proclaims his hope: "Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God" (Mk 14:25): in spite of the failure of his life project, confirmed by his violent death, the Kingdom of God will come. When this reign will take place, people will come from all over the world to join the Jewish community in the kingdom of God (Mt 8:11-12; Lk 13:28-29). And there will be a reversal of the situation for the disadvantaged of life, as expressed in the beatitudes: "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; blessed are those who hunger, for they will be filled" (Mt 5:3-13 || Lk 6:20-23).
At the same time, Jesus claims that the reign of God has somehow already arrived, at least partially and symbolically. According to Meier, the following passages probably go back to the historical Jesus.
Thus, this reign of God is already manifested in the person of Jesus, even if it is incomplete. Such a kingdom is not a state of mind, but a dynamic event of God coming with power to reign over his people Israel at the end of time, an eschatological drama already partially begun through the ministry of Jesus.
This journey, which seeks to go back to the historical Jesus, provides us with the context for understanding our v. 14, which states that the Kingdom of God is for those who belong to the category of little children. Let us remember that for Jesus the afflicted of life will see their situation reversed at the coming of this Kingdom, and that this reversal has already begun with the healings and exorcisms of Jesus; in this way we join the Old Testament idea of a God who intervenes with his liberating power. But with v. 14 we move away from the idea of God's liberating intervention to speak of the characteristics of the members of this kingdom: the emphasis has shifted from what God does to what is expected of the human being.
Let us look at Mark again with this change of emphasis. First we find Mk 4:11: "And he said to them, 'To you the mystery of the kingdom of God has been given; but to those outside it all comes in parables'". The scene takes place "at home", a symbolic figure of the Christian community and the expression "those outside" refers to non-Christians (see in particular 2 Cor 13:5; 1 Thess 2:7); the members of the Christian community are those who can understand the coming of God's reign.
Then there is Mk 9:37: "And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to be cast into hell with both eyes". This pericope is introduced by the mention of being responsible for the fall of one of the little ones who believe, and thus refers to the fragile members of the Christian community in terms of their faith. Then we go through all the limbs of the body, the hand, the foot and the eye, which can be the source of this fall, a symbolic evocation of all the situations where the faith of the most fragile members of the community can be shaken. The pericope ends with the image of salt that loses its flavor, an image of the baptized person who no longer plays his role.
Then there is Mk 10:23: "Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, 'How difficult it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!'" The context is that of a man who desires to receive eternal life, and when Jesus began to love him and asked him to follow him after having given up all his possessions, he went away sad. According to the Acts of the Apostles, there was this custom among the first Christians: "All who believed were united and held everything in common. They sold their possessions and goods and shared them out among themselves according to their needs" (Acts 2:44-45). Based on Jesus' preaching and example, Mark considers attachment to possessions to be an obstacle to living one's faith.
Finally, there is Mk 12:34: "When Jesus saw that he had made a meaningful remark, he said to him, 'You are not far from the kingdom of God'". Let us recall the context in which a scribe asks Jesus about the first of the commandments, and when Jesus answers in a way that pleases him, he goes on to say that love of God and neighbor is more important than all the sacrifices and burnt offerings. This scribe represents the best of Judaism. What does he lack, since he is not far from the Kingdom of God, but not within it? To recognize in Jesus the promised Messiah. The language is that of the first Christian communities.
How does this pathway inform our v. 14 with the affirmation that the Kingdom of God is for one who belongs to the category of little children? If Jesus' emphasis was on the good news of a kingdom that was coming and had partly arrived, the evangelist Mark and the first Christians associated this kingdom with the existence of the Christian community, they who understood Jesus' message, and with the requirements for membership: to support the weakest in faith, to be free with regard to one's possessions, to welcome Jesus as the promised Messiah. It is in this context that we must read again v. 14, i.e. the kingdom of God is for those who belong to the category of children, and therefore the child is a model for the Christian community. We have already noted that the child is characterized by dependence and lack of competitive spirit. In this he adds new elements to the requirements for belonging to the Christian community: the awareness that this belonging has nothing to do with personal value, because it is a gift, just as the kingdom of God is a pure gift; then, the rejection of the spirit of competition by accepting to be the last. But at the same time, the model of the child consolidates the other elements, such as the one related to wealth: the child does not possess anything.
Thus, in taking the decision to welcome infants and small children at baptism, the first Christian community was aware that it was welcoming beings who truly represented it, even if the recognition of Jesus as Messiah was done through the mediation of the adult-parents, and they were the face of the kingdom of which Jesus spoke.
|Expression basileian tou theou or basileian tōn ouranōn in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not welcome the domain of God as a child has no access to it.
Literally: Amen (amēn), I say to you, whoever perchance (hos an) would not welcome (dexētai) the kingdom of God as a child, no, he would not enter (eiselthē) into it.
The term amēn recurs regularly in the gospels, except in Luke: Mt = 31; Mk = 13; Lk = 5; Jn = 50; Acts = 0; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It is always followed by the expression "I tell you". It has already been analyzed in the glossary and we will refer to it. Let it suffice to remind us that the term comes from the Hebrew ʾāman, whose root 'mn refers to that which is solid and firm (Ps 89:53 "Blessed be Yahweh forever! Amen! Amen!"). This final "amen" was translated by the Septuagint as genoito (let it happen, let it be so), from the verb ginomai (to happen, to arise). The verb, for its part, describes the idea of that which is solid, stable, and therefore reliable, as we see in Gen 15:6: "Abram trusted (hé'émin) in Yahweh, who counted it to him as justice." The presence of amēn in the New Testament is explained by two sources: the language of Jesus, and its use in the synagogue liturgy, when Jewish Christians continued to attend the synagogue.
By introducing the word amēn into his gospel, Mark is not only showing himself to be a good storyteller by introducing exotic terms, but he is especially seeking to give a certain value and solemnity to what Jesus is about to assert and, at the same time, is an appeal to take him at his word. Of the 13 occurrences of the word in Mark, eleven refer to a future event. And in the two occurrences that are focused on the present, Jesus addresses only his disciples: whoever does not welcome the Kingdom as a child will not enter it (10:15); the widow who put two coins in the temple treasury put in more than all the others (12:43). These two cases concern a fundamental attitude of the human heart which Jesus discerns in people and which he emphasizes.
Thus, v. 15 must be seen as a solemn affirmation to which Mark's community must pay attention.
|The word amēn in the Gospels-Acts|
|hos an (whoever perchance)||
Hos an is an expression formed by the relative pronoun hos (whoever, the one who) and the particle an which means "perchance" and which gives the proposition a conditional meaning. We have already analyzed the expression in v. 11 to point out that we are before a Marcan expression where the evangelist presents a hypothetical situation and the consequences that follow; we would have here a casuistry that developed in the first Christian communities. Now this is the second time that, among the hypothetical situations mentioned, reference is made to little children.
In these two examples, we are not only talking about little children (paidion), but we are using the same verb "to welcome" (dechomai); in the first case, we are before a positive affirmation (to welcome), and in the second case before a negative affirmation (not to welcome). But it remains that we are before related entities: little children, Jesus, God, Kingdom of God.
|Expression hos an in the Gospels-Acts|
|dexētai (he would welcome)||
Dexētai is the verb dechomai in the middle aorist subjunctive tense, 3rd person singular, the subjunctive being required by the particle an (perchance) which introduced a hypothetical situation, thus unreal for the moment. It means: to welcome, to receive, to take. This verb basically presupposes that an object is offered, and that one should therefore welcome, receive or take. It appears occasionally in the Gospels-Acts, especially in Luke: Mt = 10; Mk = 6; Lk = 16; Jn = 1; Acts = 8; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0.
In Mark, this verb appears in two other situations besides our passage, first in the sending out on mission where Jesus gives instructions to the disciples in case a place does not welcome them (6:11), and in his teaching on the greatest where he presents a child as an example and affirms that to welcome such a child is to welcome him and the one who sent him (9:37).
What does it mean to welcome? In the case of the sending of the disciples on mission, the action of a community to welcome those being sent means that it wants to listen to the preaching of the disciples and intends to believe in it; this is the meaning often found in the New Testament. To welcome a child, as Mk 9:37 asks, is to give value and importance to what is lacking in the society of the time, and to take care of a totally dependent being; it is therefore to give without expecting any return. Here, in v. 15, we are talking about welcoming the kingdom of God, and the child serves as an example of how to welcome. The difficulty in understanding this verse is that this kingdom of God is not a tangible reality, but is presented in Mark as a dynamic force like a seed that produces fruit; it is therefore the action of God at work, which Mark calls "good news", a gospel. In Mark, welcoming the kingdom of God is synonymous with welcoming the good news. Now, it is normal for a child to receive a gift, without imagining hidden motive, to receive it in total trust, and thus to allow himself to be transformed by this gift without too much resistance or suspicion.
Thus, the hypothetical situation put forward by Mark is one in which the good news of God's intervention is welcomed as a free gift, and one surrenders to it in total trust to the point of letting oneself be transformed by it.
|Verb dechomai in the New Testament|
|eiselthē (he would enter)||
Eiselthē is the verb eiserchomai in the active aorist subjunctive tense, 3rd person singular, the subjunctive being required, since we are always in a hypothetical situation of welcoming the kingdom of God like a little child. The verb eiserchomai, composed of the preposition eis (to, into) and the verb erchomai (to come, to go), means: to enter, to penetrate. It is found regularly in the Gospel-Acts, especially in the Lucan tradition: Mt = 33; Mk = 30; Lk = 50; Jn = 15; Acts = 33. But it can be said that the verb is as frequent, if not more frequent, in Mark than in the other evangelists, knowing that of Matthew's 33 occurrences, only 14 are his own, and in Luke, of his 50 occurrences, 28 are his own, the others coming either from Mark or from the Q Document. We are looking at a very Marcan word.
When we speak of entering, we are referring to a situation where one enters a place. And in fact, of the 161 occurrences of the verb in the Gospels-Acts, 24 refer to entering a city or town, and 85 to entering a house, a synagogue, a temple or a tomb, i.e. nearly 70% of the cases. This place may not be geographical, and then it is a question, for example, of entering the Christian community (access is through the door that is Jesus, Jn 10:9; wolves can enter, Acts 20:29). And there are certain Hebrew expressions such as "to enter and leave" which designate the activity of a whole life (Jn 10:9; Acts 1:21), or "to enter into the labor of others", a way of expressing that the Christian mission inherits what Jesus sowed (Jn 3:5). But it happens that the place where one enters is more unusual with a symbolic value. This is the case when one enters an animate being.
Finally, there are cases where the place belongs to the spiritual world. On this point, each evangelist has his particular touch.
Luke - gospel:
Luke - Acts:
How does this biblical journey shed light on our v. 15? Entering the Kingdom of God is a complex reality, because this Kingdom is both a present reality and a future reality. Because it is a present reality, the first step is to welcome this good news. It is Mark who insists on this step by presenting the model of the little child, capable of accepting a free gift, without merit on his part, with total confidence, and thus allowing himself to be transformed by this gift and to become a new being; thus to accept this Kingdom as a child is already to enter into it. Matthew and John point in the same direction, one speaking of changing to become children (Mt 18:3), the other of being born from above and being born of water and the Spirit (Jn 3:5). This new birth brings with it new behavior and demands of its own, which Matthew develops to a great extent, which the Q Document presents polemically by describing the Jewish legists as anti-models who block the knowledge of this Kingdom, and which Luke considers a time of suffering in the manner of Jesus. But at the same time, because this Kingdom is also a future reality, entering it fully will only take place in the afterlife, and in the Jewish mentality, at the end of time when God will exercise his role as judge.
This is the framework in which we must situate our v. 15. Whoever does not welcome the good news of the free gift that is the Kingdom of God as a child, is unable to take the first step of entering this Kingdom, where we confidently allow this dynamic force to transform us on the way to becoming a new being.
|Verb eiserchomai in the Gospels-Acts|
|v. 16 When he had taken them in his arms, he began to bless them by putting his hands on them.
Literally: And having embraced them in his arms (enankalisamenos) and called blessing on (kateulogei) them, putting (titheis) his hands (cheiras) on them.
|enankalisamenos (having embraced in his arms)||
Enankalisamenos is the verb enankalizomai in the aorist participle tense, middle voice, in the nominative masculine singular form, the nominative being required because the participle acts as an attribute to the subject that is Jesus. It is a verb formed from the preposition en (in, into) and the verb ankalizomai (to take in one's arms), whose noun ankalis means: arms. It therefore means: to embrace or make an embrace with one's arms. It is very rare in the entire Bible, appearing only in Mark 9:36 and 10:16, and in the Septuagint in Proverbs 6:10 and 24:33.
It is therefore difficult to get an idea of what Mark intends to express by this verb. In the book of Proverbs, the two occurrences belong to the description of a lazy man who slumbers and wraps his arms around his chest, i.e. crosses his arms, as a sign that he is doing nothing. In Mark, the only two occurrences belong to two scenes that feature children whom Jesus embraces in his arms. When Matthew (18:2-5 and 19:13-15) and Luke (9:46-48 and 18:15-17) take up these two passages from Mark, they both omit this mention of Jesus hugging children. Why does this happen? We can speculate that they were uncomfortable with this overly "human" side of Jesus. Let us not forget that more than 20 years passed between the publication of Mark's gospel and those of Matthew and Luke, leaving room for an evolution of Christology. In Matthew, we note a high Christology where Jesus has more divine than human features, where Jesus does not need to be informed and can heal by his simple word. Luke insists more on the face of a great sage in Jesus, constantly led by the Holy Spirit. Over time, the features of the human Jesus have faded.
In Mark we might have a vestige of the historical Jesus. For Jesus' gesture of embracing children in his arms does not seem to serve any theological purpose, and only seems to mean that these beings, whom they propose as models for welcoming the Kingdom of God, were dear to him.
|Verb enankalizomai in the Bible|
|kateulogei (he called blessing on)||
Kateulogei is the verb kateulogeō in the active imperfect indicative tense, 3rd person singular. It is a verb composed of the preposition kata (describing a top-down movement) and the verb eulogeō (to bless), which in turn is composed of the adverb eu (well) and the verb logeō (to say). Kateulogeō is usually translated by our Bibles as "to bless," but to express the movement from above downward, it should be translated literally: to call down blessing from above. It is an extremely rare verb in the entire Bible, appearing only here and in the Septuagint in the book of Tobit (10:14 and 11:17).
In the book of Tobit, both occurrences follow Tobias' marriage to Sarah, as Tobias calls the blessing from above on his in-laws as he leaves them to return home, and then once home, Tobit his father calls the blessing from above on Sarah, his daughter-in-law, whom he welcomes home. Yet the book of Tobit is familiar with the usual verb for blessing eulogyō (to bless). But the verb eulogeō is used only when the object of the verb is God (as in 10:14, "Tobias went away blessing (eulogeō) God," never a human person. Now, in both occurrences of kateulogeō, it is always a person who calls down the blessing from above on another person.
Our v. 16 in Mark seems to follow this logic, for the object of the blessing is not God, but children. To continue our analysis, we must now turn to the meaning of the verb eulogeō, a verb that the Septuagint used to translate the Hebrew bārak (bless).
The action of blessing in the Old Testament
To understand the verb to bless in the Old Testament, we will refer to the glossary. Let's summarize what it says there. Blessing is the exclusive prerogative of God by which he fills human beings with blessings. Thus, from the very beginning, "God blessed them (bārak) and said, 'Be fruitful, multiply, fill the waters of the seas, and let the birds multiply on the earth'" (Gen 1:22). A human being cannot bless another human being, except by delegation, except by praying that God blesses him; thus, when Isaac blesses his son Jacob, he says: "May God give you the dew of heaven and the rich soil, wheat and wine in abundance! May the peoples serve you, may nations bow down to you! (27: 29). The king himself is only a mediator, even though in the sentence he is the subject of the action of blessing: "Then the king (Solomon) turned around and blessed (bārak) the whole assembly of Israel, and the whole assembly of Israel stood up" (1Kgs 8:14); it must be implied: in the name of God.
But there are also times when a person blesses God. For example, "Solomon said, "Blessed (bārak) be Yahweh, God of Israel, who has fulfilled with his hand what he promised with his mouth to my father David" (1Kgs 8: 15)? How can a human being bless God? In fact, such a sentence is always accompanied by a relative proposition "who" where all the benefits granted by God are listed. In other words, the sentence could be summarized as follows: This is how the man or the people were blessed. In this case, the word "blessed" is an acknowledgement of what God has done; it is part of a prayer of praise. But it cannot simply be translated as "praise" because it is not simply saying good words about God. It is a confession of faith in which someone acknowledges God's action, as seen, for example, in Psalm 135, which, after listing the wonders God has done for his people, ends with: "Blessed (bārak) be Yahweh from Zion, he who dwells in Jerusalem!" (Ps 135:21); it is a proclamation of faith.
The action of blessing in the Gospels
In the gospels, there is no scene like in the Old Testament where God speaks and blesses his creation; this type of anthropomorphism has been eliminated. But the idea remains that it is God and God alone who can bless. A typical example is found in the parable of the last judgment in Matthew: "Then the King will say to those on the right, 'Come, you that are blessed (eulogyō) by my Father, receive for your inheritance the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world'" (Mt 25:34); those whom God has blessed receive the inheritance of the kingdom.
There are two types of situations where we speak of "blessing". First, there is the situation where Jesus pronounces the blessing over the bread: "taking the five loaves and the two fish, looking up to heaven, he blessed (eulogeō), broke the loaves and gave it to the disciples" (Mk 6:41 || Mt 14:19 || Lk 9:16); in Mark eulogeō has no direct object complement, and therefore cannot be translated: he blessed the loaves. Some have translated it as: he says the blessing, a reference to the eucharist. In fact, this is how John presents his version of the scene to us: "So Jesus took the loaves and, having given thanks (eucharistō), he distributed them" (Jn 6:11). In his second scene where Jesus feeds the crowd, Mark (as well as Luke who merges the two scenes into one) will say this time: he blessed them (the fish); but as we have noted for "blessing" in the Old Testament, it is here a proclamation of faith that the loaves or fish are a gift from God. This vocabulary will be taken up by Mark and Matthew, at Jesus' last meal with his disciples: "And as they were eating, he took bread, blessed, broke and gave it to them, saying, 'Take, this is my body'" (Mk 14:22 || Mt 26:26). Luke preferred to use the verb "to give thanks" (eucharistō) for this scene, and kept the verb "to bless" for a meal of the risen Jesus with his disciples (Lk 24:50). Whether one speaks of "blessing" or "giving thanks," the idea is the same, the recognition in faith of the gift of God, the only one who can bless.
The other situation in which "bless" appears is the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem where people say: "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! (Mk 11:9-10; Mt 21:9; Lk 19:38; Jn 12:13). This is a citation from Psalm 118:26 (LXX 117:26: "Blessed (Gr. eulogeō, Heb. bārak) be he who comes in the name of the Lord!"). The Q Document also gives us an echo of this scene: "Yes, I tell you, you will not see me again, until the day comes when you will say, 'Blessed (eulogeō) be he who comes in the name of the Lord!" (Mt 23:39 || Lk 11:35). This is a messianic interpretation of the psalm: the messiah is blessed, i.e. he is a gift from God, and for the first Christian community, it is Jesus.
Let's go back to our verse 15. Jesus' gesture of calling down a blessing on the children from above is a way of acknowledging God's beneficent action on the little children. It is a rather extraordinary gesture, for it is an affirmation that they are so important that God intervenes in their favor. This point must have seemed incongruous to Matthew and Luke who, in copying this passage, eliminated this gesture of Jesus.
Note that the verb kateulogeō does not belong to Mark's usual vocabulary and could go back to an ancient tradition and would give us an echo of Jesus' relationship with little children. Moreover, the verb is in the imperfect tense, expressing an action that continues over time, and thus accompanies the whole phase when a person is a little child.
|Verb kateulogeō in the Bible|
|titheis tas cheiras (putting his hands)||
Expression titheis tas cheiras (putting his hands) is unique in the entire New Testament and appears elsewhere only ten times in the Septuagint. And here the phrase is followed by the Greek preposition epi (upon) to express the fact that it is on the little children that Jesus lays his hands. What exactly does this gesture of Jesus mean? When we turn to the Septuagint, we find only a few passages where we have titheis tas cheiras epi (putting hands upon).
It is difficult to find a parallel in the Septuagint to shed light on this passage from Mark. The closest text is that of Daniel (version of Theodotion) where hands are placed on Susanna's head, but this is a transfer of guilt onto the young woman to accuse her, which is unthinkable from Jesus. What can we conclude? Mark's expression is unique and not part of his vocabulary; he probably received it from a tradition that may have intended to express in this way, in the form of a gesture, the fact that Jesus calls down God's blessings on the children. This is how Matthew understood it, who, when he copied this passage from Mark, replaced the verb tithēmi with epitithēmi (to impose, see Mt 19:13.15), the standard verb in the expression "to lay hands on." But then, why did Mark not opt for the verb epitithēmi if he wanted his reader to see Jesus' gesture as a laying on of hands? For, let's not forget, epitithēmi is indeed part of his vocabulary and he uses it five times (if we eliminate Mk 16:18, which is not by Mark) to speak of the laying on of hands, more than the other evangelists.
To offer an adequate answer, let us take the time to analyze the expression "laying on of hands" (epitithēmi tas cheiras). The gesture of laying on hands has various meanings. Note first that in the biblical world the hand is a symbol of strength, and it is with his hand that God leads and protects his people. The gesture of laying on hands almost always expresses a form of transfer. If we were to limit ourselves to the gospels, and forget the passage in Matthew that repeats Mark's scene with the children, all 9 occurrences concern the transfer of a healing force. For example:
Luke, in his Acts of the Apostles, introduces two new types of transfer. First, there is the transfer of the power of the Holy Spirit:
Then there is the transfer of authority and capabilities related to a mission:
None of these three types of laying on of hands apply to the scene of Jesus with the children. Let us now turn to the Septuagint. The most common instance is when hands are laid on the head of the animal that is brought to the temple as a sacrifice. The laying on of hands conveys the idea of a transfer of the very being of the person offering to what is offered, indicating that the animal mediates the offering of his being to God:
In the ritual of the annual feast of the Day of Atonement, the gesture of laying hands on a goat which is then sent to wander in a desert place expresses the transfer of all the sins of the people onto an animal which will then join the demons of the desert places:
But we also find in the Old Testament the gesture of laying on of hands in two situations encountered in the New Testament. First, there is the transfer of authority and abilities related to a role that we are assigned:
One could see in the following two scenes a laying on of hands that would be a precursor to the idea of the transfer of the Holy Spirit and the healing power:
At the end of this investigation in the Septuagint on the Greek expression "laying on of hands", nothing has been found that could shed light on the gesture of Jesus over the children. On the other hand, if we detach ourselves from the strict gesture of laying on of hands, we can find in the book of Genesis a gesture of blessing.
The Septuagint used the verb epiballō (to lay on, to throw on) to translate the Hebrew word šît (to put, set), while the same Hebrew word had been translated as tithēmi (to put on) for Psalm 139:5 that we saw earlier.
It is time to conclude. First of all, in v. 16, the expression "laying hands on them" is in the present participle and accompanies the verb that calls for a blessing, and therefore the gesture of laying hands on the children must be understood as a gesture of blessing. But our investigation has shown us a number of things.
First, there is no New Testament equivalent of a gesture of blessing by laying on of hands. Moreover, the verb tithēmi (to put, lay) is not standard for expressing a laying on of hands, which Matthew understood by replacing it with epitithēmi (to lay on). But at the same time, in a non-technical world, the choice of terms easily fluctuates. The best example is the story about Susanna (Dan 13:34): the Theodotion version uses the verb tithēmi (to put, to lay) to describe the gesture of the elders who place their hands on Susanna's head to accuse her, while the Ancient Greek version uses the verb epithēmi (to lay on) to describe the same gesture. Similarly, the Septuagint translated the Hebrew term šît (to put, set) as epiballō (to lay on, to throw on) the gesture of Jacob placing his hand on Ephraim's head to bless him, while the same Hebrew term had been translated as tithēmi (to put, to lay) in Psalm 139:5 to describe God's gesture of putting his hand on the psalmist to accompany him.
All of this is to say that the author of the tradition Mark uses does not seem to know any "dedicated" terms to describe a transfer of God's blessings, and perhaps feels uncomfortable using with children the technical expression "laying on of hands" (epithēmi tas cheiras) found in the Septuagint for the laying on of hands on the heads of beasts in temple sacrifices, and in early Christian communities for the gift of the Holy Spirit, healings, or sending on mission. Mark may also have seen the problem and would therefore have been content to insert this tradition into his gospel without modifying it.
|Verb tithēmi followed by the direct complement cheir in the Bible|