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.


The story

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.

The vocabulary

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.


  1. Establishing the Greek text

    Since the ancient manuscripts were copied by hand, there are variations between them. We have opted for the Greek text of the 28th edition of Kurt Aland, who has made certain choices among the variations. We thought it appropriate to highlight the most important variations in our pericope.

    V. 2

    1. Kai proselthontes Pharisaioi - "And having come near Pharisees". We have here the reading of the most important manuscripts, i.e. the codices Vaticanus (4th c.), Alexandrinus (5th c.), Mosquensis (9th c.), Angelicus (9th c.), Sangallensis 48 (9th c.), Athous Lavrensis (8th/9th c.), Tischendorfianus IV (10th c.), the family 13 of the manuscripts Vaticanus (4th c.) and the family 13 of the manuscripts Alexandrinus (5th c.), Athous Lavrensis (8th/9th c.), Tischendorfianus IV (10th c.), the family 13 of medieval minuscule manuscripts, the Coptic Bohairic translation (3rd c.) and the Ethiopian translation of the 6th c.

    2. Kai proselthontes oi Pharisaioi - "And having come near the Pharisees". Some manuscripts offer a definite article before the word "Pharisees": the codex Sinaiticus (4th c.), Ephraemi Rescriptus (5th c.), Byzantine texts, some old Latin translations of the 6th and 7th c., and Syriac translations of the 5th and 6th c.

    3. Oi de Pharisaioi proselthontes - "Then, the Pharisees having come near". Other manuscripts, in addition to having the definite article, have replaced the conjunction kai (and) with the particle de (then), a usual hook word for Greek narratives (then..., then..., then...), while putting the subject at the beginning of the sentence: the Pharisees: the Washingtonianus codex (3rd/4th c. ), Koridethi (9th c.), the Sahidic Coptic translation (3rd c.) and Armenian (5th c.).

    4. Kai - "And". Some manuscripts simply have the conjunction "and" followed by the rest of the verse: the Codex Bezae (5th c.) as well as old Latin translations of the 4th and 5th c.

    All biblical scholars have retained the reading "And having come near Pharisees" which we have put first, given the value and number of the witnesses. Moreover, in textual criticism, the more difficult reading is usually preferable: this is the case here, because Mark almost always puts the definite article before the word "Pharisee" and it is difficult to understand why he did not do so here; a copyist would therefore have wanted to "harmonize" Mark's text. As for Codex Bezae (reading d), it takes the liberty of changing the character who asks the question: by eliminating the Pharisees as the subject, it is now the crowd, mentioned in v. 1, who asks the question.

    v. 6

    1. epoiēsen autous - "He made them" (the whole sentence: "from the beginning of creation, man and woman, he made them"). This is the reading of the most important manuscripts: the codex Sinaiticus (4th century), Vaticanus (4th century), Ephraemi Rescriptus (5th century), Angelicus (9th century), Sangallensis 48 (9th century).

    2. epoiēsen o Theos - "God made". This is the reading of the Codex Washingtonianus (3rd/4th c.) and Bezae (5th c.) and of old Latin translations of the 5th and 6th c.

    3. epoiēsen autous o Theos - "God made them". This is the reading of the Alexandrinus codex (5th c.), Athous Lavrensis (8th/9th c.), Koridethi (9th c.), and of a long list of manuscripts in minuscule characters, of Byzantine lectionaries, of the Vulgate and of old Latin, as well as what seems to be the texts of Saint Augustine.

    The most difficult reading is the first, because it is the most succinct: in fact, the subject of the verb "made" is implicit. It is therefore understandable that copyists wanted to make the subject explicit by adding: "God", to avoid any ambiguity. The majority of biblical scholars consider that reading (a) is the most authentic.

    v. 7

    1. heneken toutou kataleipsei anthrōpos ton patera autou kai tēn mētera [kai proskollēthēsetai pros tēn gynaika autou] - "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and be united towards his wife]. The part of the verse in square brackets is the disputed part. The following manuscripts support this version: codex Bezae (5th c.), Washingtonianus (3rd/4th c.), Koridethi (9th c.), the family 13 of manuscripts in minuscule characters, the Byzantine texts, the lectionaries of the old Latin, the Vulgate and the old Syriac, Coptic and Armenian. Note that this version of all of verse 7 corresponds exactly to the Greek translation of Genesis 2:24, called the Septuagint.

    2. [kai proskollēthēsetai tē gynaiki] - "[and will be united to his wife]". This reading is very similar to the previous one, except that the preposition pros (towards) followed by a word in the accusative has been eliminated, leaving only the expression "his wife", but this time in the dative, i.e. a complement of attribution, rendered in English by "to". This is the version also found in Matthew 19:5. This reading is supported by the codices Alexandrinus (5th c.), Ephraemi Rescriptus (5th c.), Petropolitanus Purpureus (6th c.), Zacynthius (6th c.), Angelicus (9th c.), Sangallensis 48 (9th c.), family 1 of the minuscule manuscripts, and a number of old Latin translations.

    3. Finally, in a certain number of manuscripts, the whole sentence in the square parenthesis is absent. This is the case in important manuscripts such as the Sinaiticus (4th c.), the Vaticanus (4th c.), and the Syriac version of Sinai (3rd/4th c.).

    Biblical scholars are divided on the choice of the most authentic reading, i.e. the one that would go back to Mark. The majority has opted for reading (a). On the subject, see the six translations we offer; it will be seen that the NRSV, the American Standard Version, the New International Version and the King James have chosen reading (a), while the Jerusalem Bible Reader Edition have opted for reading (c), and the New American Bible presented reading (a) but with the addition in brackets. It must be recognized that reading (c) is supported by two of the most prestigious, reliable and ancient codices, i.e. the Sinaiticus and Vaticanus codices, whereas reading (a) is supported by the Bezae codex, which often shows creativity.

    One might then ask: which is more plausible, that a copyist added this phrase to the original text, or on the contrary, that a copyist cut it out of the original text? The most difficult reading is reading (c): for Mark's verses 7 and 8 are a word-for-word copy of Genesis 2:24 according to the Septuagint translation, and thus include the passage "and shall be united towards his wife" which appears in the middle of the sentence; the difficult reading is that of the omission of a piece of verse for no apparent reason in the middle of a complete sentence. In our opinion, this reading is to be preferred: for some unknown reason, Mark would have omitted "and shall be united towards his wife", and a copyist, having seen what was missing from a complete citation of Genesis 2:24, would have repaired the omission. As for reading (b), it is easy to explain: a copyist sought to harmonize Mark 10:7 with Matthew 19:5.

    In any case, as Kurt Aland did, we have kept the phrase "and shall be united towards his wife" but put it in square brackets to emphasize that it is probably an addition, but does not change the meaning of the verse.

    v. 13

    1. hoi de mathētai epetimēsan autois - "Then the disciples rebuked them". This is the usual reading retained by our bibles. It is supported by the Sinaiticus codex (4th c.), the Vaticanus codex (4th c.), the Ephraemi Rescriptus (5th c.), the Angelicus codex (9th c.), the Athous Lavrensis codex (8th/9th c.) and the Sangallensis 48 codex (9th c.), a few old Latin translations, including the Bobiensis codex (5th c.), and a few Coptic translations, such as the Bohairic Manuscript. Note that we find the identical phrase in Matthew 19:13.

    2. hoi de mathētai epetimōn tois prospherousin - "Then the disciples were rebuking those who presented them". We find in this reading two changes from reading (a).

      • First of all, the verb "to rebuke" is no longer in the simple past tense (aorist in Greek), but in the imperfect tense, i.e. past continuous, to indicate an action that continues in time. Now, this is exactly what Luke 18:15 does when he takes up this passage from Mark. By changing the verb tense here, a copyist probably wanted to harmonize Mark and Luke.

      • Then, instead of having the personal pronoun "them" to indicate to whom the action is addressed, the object of the action is specified with the verb "to bring" (prospherō) in the present participle preceded by the definite article "the" (tois): the (i.e. those who) presented. In other words, this reading makes a point of removing any ambiguity by making it clear that it is those who were bringing the children who are rebuked, not the children themselves. This reading is supported by the codex Washingtonianus (3rd/4th c.), Alexandrinus (5th c.), Bezae (5th c.), a number of minuscule manuscripts, Byzantine texts, lectionaries of old Latin, Syriac, and Vulgate. It is noteworthy that the King James version followed that path.

    3. hoi de mathētai epetimōn tois pherousin - "then the disciples were rebuking the bringers". This reading is very similar to reading (b), except that we have the verb pherō (to carry, bring), rather than the verb prospherō (to present, offer, bring up). This reading is supported only by the Codex Koridethi (9th c.) and families 1 and 13 of the lower-case manuscripts. It is difficult to determine whether the copyist responsible for this reading knew reading (b). If he did know it, then he considered the verb pherō more appropriate to express, for example, the gesture of bringing babies to Jesus, rather than the verb prospherō often used to express the gesture of presenting offerings in the temple. If he did not know reading (b), then he had a reflex similar to this copyist, that of harmonizing Mark with Luke and removing ambiguity from the original text by specifying who was being rebuked.

    There is a consensus among biblical scholars to prefer reading (a). For readings (b) and (c) represent typical cases where a copyist tries to harmonize one evangelist with another (in this case Mark and Luke), and where a copyist wishes to add precision to an ambiguous description.

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

    Greek textTransliterated Greek textLiteral translationTranslation in current language
    2 Καὶ προσελθόντες Φαρισαῖοι ἐπηρώτων αὐτὸν εἰ ἔξεστιν ἀνδρὶ γυναῖκα ἀπολῦσαι, πειράζοντες αὐτόν. 2 Kai proselthontes Pharisaioi epērōtōn auton ei exestin andri gynaika apolysai, peirazontes auton. 2 And Pharisees having come near to him, they were asking him whether it is lawful for a husband to release a woman (from a marriage bond), testing him.2 To set a trap for him, some Pharisees went to Jesus to question him, asking him if it was lawful to divorce his wife.
    3 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· τί ὑμῖν ἐνετείλατο Μωϋσῆς; 3 ho de apokritheis eipen autois• ti hymin eneteilato Mōusēs? 3 Then, him, having answered, he said to them, "What did Moses command you?"3 In his answer, Jesus said to them, "What rules did Moses give you?"
    4 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν· ἐπέτρεψεν Μωϋσῆς βιβλίον ἀποστασίου γράψαι καὶ ἀπολῦσαι. 4 hoi de eipan• epetrepsen Mōusēs biblion apostasiou grapsai kai apolysai. 4 Then, them, they said, "Moses allowed to write a roll of divorce and to release (from a marriage bond].4 They replied, "Moses gave us permission to write a divorce certificate."
    5 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· πρὸς τὴν σκληροκαρδίαν ὑμῶν ἔγραψεν ὑμῖν τὴν ἐντολὴν ταύτην. 5 ho de Iēsous eipen autois• pros tēn sklērokardian hymōn egrapsen hymin tēn entolēn tautēn. 5 Then, the Jesus said to them, "Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote this commandment to you. 5 Jesus then said to them, "It is because you are hard-hearted that Moses gave you this rule.
    6 ἀπὸ δὲ ἀρχῆς κτίσεως ἄρσεν καὶ θῆλυ ἐποίησεν αὐτούς· 6 apo de archēs ktiseōs arsen kai thēly epoiēsen autous• 6 Then, from the beginning of creation, male and female he made them.6 Yet, at the creation of the universe, God made human beings male and female.
    7 ἕνεκεν τούτου καταλείψει ἄνθρωπος τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ καὶ τὴν μητέρα [καὶ προσκολληθήσεται πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ], 7 heneken toutou kataleipsei anthrōpos ton patera autou kai tēn mētera [kai proskollēthēsetai pros tēn gynaika autou], 7 On account of this a man will leave his father and mother and stick towards his woman;7 It is exactly for this reason that a man will leave his father and mother to be united with his wife.
    8 καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν· ὥστε οὐκέτι εἰσὶν δύο ἀλλὰ μία σάρξ. 8 kai esontai hoi dyo eis sarka mian• hōste ouketi eisin dyo alla mia sarx. 8 and they shall be both in one flesh, therefore that they are no longer two, but one flesh.8 The two become one; they are no longer two beings, but one.
    9 ὃ οὖν ὁ θεὸς συνέζευξεν ἄνθρωπος μὴ χωριζέτω. 9 ho oun ho theos synezeuxen anthrōpos mē chōrizetō. 9 Thus what God has joined together, let no man separate.9 Thus, let not human beings go and divide what God has joined together.
    10 Καὶ εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν πάλιν οἱ μαθηταὶ περὶ τούτου ἐπηρώτων αὐτόν. 10 Kai eis tēn oikian palin hoi mathētai peri toutou epērōtōn auton. 10 And into the house the disciples were asking him again about this.10 When the disciples got home, they began to ask him about it.
    11 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς· ὃς ἂν ἀπολύσῃ τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ γαμήσῃ ἄλλην μοιχᾶται ἐπʼ αὐτήν· 11 kai legei autois• hos an apolysē tēn gynaika autou kai gamēsē allēn moichatai epʼ autēn• 11 And he said to them, "Whoever perchance would release (from a marriage bond) his woman and would marry another, he is an adulterer to her;11 Jesus said, "If a man divorces his wife and marries another, he commits adultery against her.
    12 καὶ ἐὰν αὐτὴ ἀπολύσασα τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς γαμήσῃ ἄλλον μοιχᾶται. 12 kai ean autē apolysasa ton andra autēs gamēsē allon moichatai. 12 And if she, having released (from a marriage bond) her husband, would marry another, she is an adulteress.12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.
    13 Καὶ προσέφερον αὐτῷ παιδία ἵνα αὐτῶν ἅψηται· οἱ δὲ μαθηταὶ ἐπετίμησαν αὐτοῖς. 13 Kai prosepheron autō paidia hina autōn hapsētai• hoi de mathētai epetimēsan autois. 13 And they were presenting little children to him, that he might touch them. Then, the disciples rebuked them.13 Afterward, some people brought little children to Jesus to touch, but the disciples rebuked them.
    14 ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἠγανάκτησεν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· ἄφετε τὰ παιδία ἔρχεσθαι πρός με, μὴ κωλύετε αὐτά, τῶν γὰρ τοιούτων ἐστὶν ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ. 14 idōn de ho Iēsous ēganaktēsen kai eipen autois• aphete ta paidia erchesthai pros me, mē kōlyete auta, tōn gar toioutōn estin hē basileia tou theou. 14 Then, having seen, the Jesus was outraged and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them. For to such (people) is the kingdom of God.14 When Jesus saw this, he was outraged at the attitude of his disciples and said to them, "Let the little children come to me; do not hinder them. For it is to such as these that the domain of God belongs.
    15 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ὃς ἂν μὴ δέξηται τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ ὡς παιδίον, οὐ μὴ εἰσέλθῃ εἰς αὐτήν. 15 amēn legō hymin, hos an mē dexētai tēn basileian tou theou hōs paidion, ou mē eiselthē eis autēn. 15 Amen, I say to you, whoever perchance would not welcome the kingdom of God as a child, no, he would not enter into it.15 Truly I assure you, whoever does not welcome the domain of God as a child has no access to it.
    16 καὶ ἐναγκαλισάμενος αὐτὰ κατευλόγει τιθεὶς τὰς χεῖρας ἐπʼ αὐτά.16 kai enankalisamenos auta kateulogei titheis tas cheiras epʼ auta.16 And having embraced them in his arms and called blessing on them, putting his hands on them.16 When he had embraced them in his arms, he began to bless them by putting his hands on them.

  1. Analysis of each verse

    v. 2 To set a trap for him, some Pharisees went to Jesus to question him, asking him if it was permissible to divorce his wife.

    Literally: And Pharisees (Pharisaioi) having come near (proselthontes) to him, they were asking (epērōtōn) him whether it is lawful (exestin) for a husband (andri) to release (apolysai) a woman (gynaika) (from a marriage bond), testing (peirazontes) him.

Pharisaioi (Pharisees)
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.

  • The Greek term Pharisaios attempts to render the Hebrew perûsîm (perîsayya in Aramaic) and literally means: "the separated" or "the separatists" and can refer to different groups, such as extremely pious or ascetic people, or sectarian or heretical people
  • More specifically, it is a politico-religious group of devout Jews who formed at the beginning of the Hasmonean period (around 150 BC) in response to the crisis of the Hellenization of Palestine
  • It is mainly located in Jerusalem and its presence in Galilee does not seem to have been significant
  • This group emphasizes the zealous and careful study and practice of the Mosaic Law, especially its legal obligations regarding ritual purity
  • But to justify all these observances, it develops a theory that it possesses a collection of normative traditions from the ancients going back to Moses. And so, in parallel with the Torah, an oral tradition develops of which it is the guardian
  • Their concerns can be summarized as follows:
    • Purity rules for food and vessels containing food and liquids
    • The rules of purity on bodies and coffins
    • The purity and holiness of the furnishings for worship in the temple in Jerusalem, as well as the proper way to practice one's religion and to offer a sacrifice in the temple
    • The tithe and the shares due to the priests
    • Proper observance of the Sabbath and holy days, especially in the context of work and travel
    • Marriage and divorce, including the act itself and its reason
  • Jesus and the Pharisees could agree on a number of points
    • the election of Israel,
    • the need to respond wholeheartedly to the requirements of the law
    • God's promise of his Messiah
    • the resurrection of the dead accompanied by the final judgment
  • But the Pharisees could not understand and accept that
    • the eschatological times had already begun with Jesus' actions, including his healings
    • the beginning of this restoration of the world as God originally intended it to be entailed a new morality, including the prohibition of divorce, a place for celibacy, the relativization of fasting and ritual purity practices
  • Historically, we must reject the idea that the Pharisees played a role in the arrest and execution of Jesus
  • After the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem around the year 70 by the Romans, the Essenes and Sadducees disappeared from the map as a group, but the Pharisees survived and played a fundamental role by gathering in Jamnia to write down all their religious tradition and to become the basis of the rabbinic movement that would last for centuries.
  • Also, Jesus' conflict with the Pharisees in the Gospels is more a reflection of the conflicts of the early Christians with the Jewish community in the 70's to 90's than Jesus' conflict with them

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.

  1. In 2:16, they ask Jesus' disciples why their master is eating with sinners and tax collectors, while he is at table in the house of Levi with his guests. This question is explained by the very definition of the Pharisee, the "separated one", i.e. the one who stands apart from all those who do not follow the letter of the practices they claim to come from Moses, and therefore from God. Jesus, who has heard, answers: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. Let us not forget that the first audience of Mark's gospel is probably the Christian community in Rome. In this cosmopolitan environment, this community must certainly have been a mixed bag. So what does Mark do? He takes a tradition about Jesus' behavior and emphasizes it by introducing a group of people, the Pharisees, to represent the hard-line Jews, thus introducing a phrase from Jesus about the meaning of his mission, which at the same time justifies the face of the present Christian community.

  2. In 2:18 Mark puts this question into the mouths of the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist: "Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, and your disciples do not? "Jesus' answer is twofold: first, he distinguishes between two periods, that of Jesus when fasting is not appropriate, and the period after Jesus, when fasting will return; then he seems to distinguish between two religious practices, the old one which comes from Judaism, and the new one inaugurated by the gospel. What role does Mark intend this scene to play? By the very fact of associating the Baptists and the Pharisees together he puts them in the same basket to represent Judaism. Even if this is not in itself a negative figure, the scene affirms a distance from the practice of Judaism, and at the same time undoubtedly justifies the attitude of the Roman community.

  3. In 2:24, the Pharisees ask Jesus this question: "See? Why do they do on the Sabbath what is not allowed? ". The "what is not allowed" refers to the disciples plucking ears of corn in a field for food. In his analysis of this story, Meier concludes that it does not go back to the historical Jesus, but rather is a Christian composition taking a stand in the controversy within the Christian community itself over the Sabbath. In any case, what interests us is Mark's gesture of inserting it into his gospel. The Pharisees have the role of reminding us of the Jewish practice of the Sabbath, and the scene then becomes a distancing of the Christian community from this practice.

  4. In 7:5, the Pharisees ask Jesus this question: "Why do your disciples not behave according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with unclean hands? ". This question is followed by a long answer from Jesus, who refers to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, to the fact that they nullify the commandment of God by their traditions, and finally affirms that it is not what enters a man that defiles, but what comes out of him. After his analysis of this passage, Meier concludes that 7:1-23 does not go back to the historical Jesus, but is a collection of different Christian texts around the theme of purity and sewn together by Mark to support the church's position against the Judeo-Christians. Once again, the Pharisees represent the Jewish fundamentalists, and the scene supports the christian distancing himself from this attitude, especially with regard to ritual ablutions.

  5. In 8:11 there is no direct question addressed to Jesus by the Pharisees, but it is the narrator who says: "The Pharisees came and argued with Jesus, asking him for a sign from heaven to test him". Mark places this request after Jesus had fed four thousand men, giving this request an ironic character, because Jesus' action was precisely a sign. But through this request of the Pharisees, the evangelist takes up the attitude of many Jews at the time of the Christian community, to which Paul testifies: "The Jews ask for signs" (1 Cor 1:22). Now there was a large Jewish community in Rome, and a certain number of them had become Christians, so much so that this caused a great deal of tension and upheaval to the point of leading the emperor Claudius to issue a decree, around the year 49-50, which the writer Suetonius summarizes as follows: "He drove out of the city the Jews who were constantly rising up at the instigation of a certain Chrestus" (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, XXV, 4). The Acts of the Apostles gives us an echo of this with Priscilla and Aquila who had to leave Rome and went to Corinth where they began to collaborate with Paul (Acts 18, 2). Thus, the Pharisee becomes the typical Jew who, faced with the Jesus event, asks for a sign from God to be convinced. Here we can see the picture of a number of Jews who, despite the preaching of the first Christian communities, refused to join them.

  6. In 10:2 the Pharisees ask Jesus this question, the evangelist noting that the purpose was to test him: "Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife? To understand the question, one must know that in Jewish circles, only the man could take the initiative to divorce his wife, and the reason for divorce could be anything, including overcooking a meal. After his analysis of this passage, Meier concludes that some elements probably go back to the historical Jesus who took a stand in the divorce issue. Note that the scene takes place in Jerusalem, the normal place to find Pharisees. In this setting, the Pharisees represent the traditional Jewish position, and once again Mark puts forward a Jesus who distances himself from it, and thereby supports the approach of the Christian community.

  7. Finally, in 12:14, the Pharisees with the Herodians ask Jesus a question, the evangelist noting that the purpose was to trap him: "Is it permissible, yes or no, to pay tribute to Caesar? We know Jesus' answer: "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's". The question introduces a political dimension, which is not surprising, since the Pharisees are a political-religious organization. This is the last intervention of the Pharisees in Mark's account, a transition to a trial that is first religious and then political. The Pharisees represent both the religious and political face of Judaism.

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

J.P. Meier on the Pharisees

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.

  1. First of all, Mark's style is somehow simple and rustic, without any embellishment, so he doesn't mind repeating the same words often. This is the case with the verb "to question". A typical example is the interrogation of Pilate: in 15:2 "Pilate questioned Jesus", then in 15:4 "Pilate questioned him again"; what does Matthew do when he copies this passage? In Mt 27:11 we have: "Matthew refuses to repeat this verb in 27:13, and so he writes: "Pilate said to him".

    When we examine the passages of Mark taken up by Matthew and Luke, we note that in eight of them (i.e. 7:5; 8:29; 9:28; 10:2; 11:29; 14:60. 61; 15:4) Mark's verb "to ask" has been replaced by another verb in the other synoptic evangelists, mostly by the verb "to say"; Matthew and Luke have probably judged that the fact that a sentence is a question does not require that it be introduced by the verb "to ask", so obvious is this. But this does not interfere with Mark's unrefined style.

  2. In the years following the experience of Jesus' resurrection, theological reflection evolved considerably, so that there is a great gap between the Christology of Mark, the first gospel written around 67, and that of John, the last, which can be dated around 90 or 95. Over the years, Jesus' appearance "grew in height", i.e., his divine features were more and more emphasized. Now, the face of Jesus in Mark has something primitive about it: one has the impression of being in front of a village healer who, in front of a deaf-mute, puts his fingers in his ears and with his saliva touches his tongue, before raising his eyes to heaven and moaning with the words: "Ephphatha" (7:33-34); and even this healer sometimes has to go through two steps to get a complete healing, as with this blind man in Bethsaida who, after Jesus' saliva on his eyes and the laying on of hands, still only sees partially, and it is only after Jesus puts his hands on his eyes again that he finally sees clearly (8:22-26). This is a far cry from Matthew, where Jesus heals by word alone, or John, where Jesus heals at a distance.

    Now, of the 25 occurrences of the verb "to question", 8 occurrences have Jesus as their subject. The fact that Jesus can question his disciples or an interlocutor for pedagogical or polemical purposes in order to get them to take a position (e.g. 8:29 with "Who am I for you?" or 11:30 "Did John's baptism come from heaven or from men?") is normal and does not pose a problem. But to present Jesus as someone like any other human being who has to ask questions in order to get the desired information may seem shocking to a proponent of a high theology where Jesus is the son of God. In Mark, Jesus questions the blind man of Bethsaida about what he sees after an initial attempt to heal him (8:23), Jesus questions his disciples after his return from the transfiguration about the dispute between his disciples and the people (9:16), Jesus questions the father of an epileptic child about the time period when he has these symptoms (9:21), Jesus questions his disciples about the subject of their discussion on the way (9:33). All these passages in which Jesus has to ask questions seemed so shocking that Matthew and Luke left them out when writing their gospel. But this was not a problem for Mark's early Christology.

  3. Throughout his gospel, Mark uses a pattern of his own in which the disciples receive additional and special instruction, a pattern always introduced by the formula: "When Jesus had returned home, his disciples questioned him" (see 7:17; 9:28; 9:33; 10:10). This formula allows Jesus to clarify a parable, or a failure to heal on the part of the disciples, or the prospect of his suffering and death, or the issue of divorce. This stereotypical pattern is a creation of Mark's where the house refers of course to the Christian community after Easter in its effort to deepen Jesus' teaching and present a form of theological reflection; the disciples' questioning is the questioning of Christians. Note that Mark, from the beginning of his gospel, wanted to involve the disciples in his mission, so that the first calls to discipleship immediately follow his initial proclamation of God's reign (see 1:14-20). These disciples are now the Christians who have a special knowledge of their teacher's teaching, as the stereotypical formula indicates ("when they got home, the disciples asked him..."). Matthew and Luke did not see fit to retain this pattern because their theological perspective was different.

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:

  1. There is the context of the religious laws concerning the Sabbath, about what is allowed or not on this day (Mk 2:24 || Mt 12:2 || Lk 6:2; Mk 3:4 || Mt 12:10 || Lk 6:9 || Lk 14:2; see also Jn 5:10)

  2. There is also the context of the temple and its objects, on what one can do or not, and which is limited to this reference to David who ate the loaves of meat, which was unlawful (Mk 2: 26 || Mt 12, 4 || Lk 6, 4), except for this scene in Matthew where the chief priests evoke a religious law in order to refuse to allow Judas to hand over the money for the betrayal (Mt 27: 6)

  3. The context of matrimonial laws offers the opportunity to address the question of what is permitted, and this is done in two different passages, first the one that evokes the situation of King Herod Antipas who married Herodias, the wife of his half-brother, Herod Philip (son of Mariana II), which would have led John the Baptist to tell him that this was not permitted (Mk 6:8 || Mt 14:4), and then the passage where the Pharisees ask Jesus the question whether it is permitted for a man to divorce his wife (Mk 10:2 || Mt 19:3)

  4. The verb also appears in a context that could be considered political, and which in the synoptic gospels revolves around the question put to Jesus about tribute to Caesar (Mk 12:14; Mt 22:17; Lk 20:22); there is also the context of Roman law as evoked by Jn 18:31, which does not allow the Jewish authorities to put someone to death, or to which Paul has recourse in order to avoid being whipped (Acts 22:25)

  5. Finally, the verb can simply mean the freedom enjoyed by every human being to do as he or she pleases (see Mt 20:15; Acts 2:29; 21:37; 1 Cor 6:12; 10:23; 12:4).

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 (husband)
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.

  1. The most common context is when the author intends to refer to a male person. Often, he has first taken care to identify this person, for example:
    • Lk 5:8: "But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, 'Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man (anēr)!'"

    When no specific identity has been provided, it is the type of work or the role the person plays that allows us to recognize that we are looking at a male being. For example:

    • Mt 7: 24: "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man (anēr) who built his house on rock."

    Sometimes it is the synonyms or words associated with anēr that leave no doubt about the gender of the people intended to be referred to. For example:

    • Acts 7: 2: "And Stephen replied: "Men (anēr) brothers and fathers, listen to me. The God of glory appeared to our ancestor Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran"

  2. It is the word anēr that is used to refer to the man in a couple's relationship, and is usually translated as "husband." For example:
    • Mt 1: 19: "Her husband (anēr) Joseph, being righteous and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly."

  3. Sometimes the word is used explicitly to contrast the man and the woman, without reference to any conjugal bond. For example,
    • Acts 5: 14: "Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men (anēr) and women"

    The word is not only used to distinguish between man and woman, but also between man and children, regardless of the gender of the children. For example:

    • Mt 14: 21: "And those who ate were about five thousand men (anēr), besides women and children."

  4. Finally, on a few rare occasions, anēr appears in the same context as the word anthrōpos, and the author seems to use it synonymously. For example:
    • Acts 10: 28: "and he said to them, "You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew man (anēr) to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that no man (anthrōpos) should be called profane or unclean"

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:

  1. The context is that of an arrest or imprisonment, and "to untie someone" means: to set him free. For example: At every Feast, the governor used to release (apolyō) to the crowd a prisoner, the one they wanted (Mt 27:15)

  2. The context is people in one place, and "untie people" means "to send people away," or "to give them leave," or "to separate from them." For example: After having sent away (apolyō) the crowds, Jesus got into the boat and came to the territory of Magadan (Mt 15:39)

  3. The context is that of a matrimonial union, and "to relese someone" means: to repudiate a person or to divorce someone. For example: He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to repudiate (apolyō) your wives; but from the beginning it was not so (Mt 19:8)

  4. The context can be that of a debt one has contracted or a sin one has committed (which is a debt before God), and "to untie someone" means: to remit that debt. For example: Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned; remit (apolyō), and it shall be forgiven (apolyō) (Lk 6:37)

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.

Being gathered64406
Bond of debt/sin/sickness00300

Despite the number of occurrences of the verb apolyō in the Gospels, it appears mostly during three events:

  1. The trial of Jesus before Pilate and the decision to release either Jesus or Barabbas, a scene recounted by Mark, taken up by Luke and Matthew, and also recounted by John, monopolizes the "prison/arrest" context (the only exception being a parable in Mt 18:27);

  2. the scene of the feeding of the crowd, narrated by Mark and taken up by Luke and Matthew, monopolizes a good part of the "crowd/person" context;

  3. the divorce dispute, recounted by Mark, and taken up by Luke and Matthew, almost totally monopolizes the "marital union" context (the only exception is in Matthew, who speaks of apolyō in his discourse on the mount and in his infancy narrative in which Joseph intended to repudiate his fiancée).

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 (woman)
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:

  • Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah (Lk 1:5)
  • Herodias, the wife of Herod Antipas' brother (Mk 6:17; Lk 3:19; Mt 14:3)
  • Joanna, wife of Chuza, Herod's steward (Lk 8: 3)
  • Lot's wife (Lk 17:32)
  • Mary, wife of Joseph (Mt 1:20)
  • Pilate's wife (Mt 27:19)
  • Sapphira, wife of Ananias (Acts 5: 1)
  • Priscilla, wife of Aquila (Acts 18: 2)
  • Drusilla, wife of the procurator Felix (Acts 24: 24)

Woman as a female:

  • Widow of Zarephath (Lk 4:26)
  • A woman who bathes Jesus with a very expensive perfume (Mk 14:3; Lk 7:37; Mt 26:7)
  • Mary Magdalene healed by Jesus (Lk 8:2)
  • A woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, healed by Jesus (Mk 5:25; Lk 8:43; Mt 9:20)
  • Martha and Mary, friends of Jesus (Lk 10:39)
  • A bent woman healed by Jesus (Lk 13:11)
  • A woman who challenges Peter and leads him to deny Jesus (Lk 22:57)
  • The women who accompanied Jesus from Galilee (Mk 15:41; Lk 23:55)
  • A Canaanite/Syro-Phoenician woman who asks for the healing of her daughter (Mk 7:25; Mt 15:22)
  • The women who look at the tomb from a distance: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph (Joses), the mother of the sons of Zebedee / Salome (Mk 15:40; Mt 27:55)
  • The women who discover the empty tomb and witness the resurrection of Jesus: Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James / Salome witness the empty tomb (Mk 16:4; Mt 28:1; Lk 24:22)
  • Mother of Jesus at Cana and at the cross (Jn 2, 4), then assiduous in prayer (Acts 1: 14)
  • The Samaritan woman in dialogue with Jesus (Jn 4:7)
  • The adulterous woman who receives Jesus' forgiveness (Jn 8:4)
  • Mary of Magdala who experiences the risen Jesus (Jn 20:13)
  • Many women join the Church (Acts 5: 14)
  • Noble and rich women, followers of the Jewish religion, drive Paul out of Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13: 50)
  • A Jewish woman, mother of Timothy (Acts 16: 1)
  • Women gathered for Jewish prayer to whom Paul preached (Acts 16, 13)
  • Lydia, a businesswoman, who opens herself to Paul's preaching (Acts 16: 14)
  • Women of the nobility join the Christian community (Acts 17: 4)
  • Damaris, from Athens, joins the Christian community (Acts 17: 34)

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 (testing)
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:
  • Acts 9: 26: "When he had come to Jerusalem, he tried (peirazō) to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple"

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:

  • 2 Cor 13: 5: "Test (peirazō) yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Examine yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test!"

When the testing comes from a malicious intent, then it's more like "tricking" someone or setting a trap:

  • Mt 22: 18: "But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test (peirazō), you hypocrites?"

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:

  • Mk 3: 33: "And answering (apokrinomai) he said to them, 'Who are my mother and my brothers?'"

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:

  • Mk 12: 35: "answering (apokrinomai), while Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, 'How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David?'"

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:

Mark 3: 33Matthew 14: 16Luke 9: 13
But, answering (apokrinomai), he said to them, "Give them food yourselves."But Jesus said to them (legō), "They need not go away; give them something to eat yourselvesBut he said to them (legō), "Give them something to eat yourselves.

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.

Mark 12: 35Luke 20: 41
Having answered (apokrinomai), Jesus said while teaching in the Temple, "How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?Now he said to them (legō), "How do they say Christ is the son of David?"

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:

  1. Mk 10:3: Jesus answers the question of the Pharisees whether it is permitted for a man to divorce his wife

  2. Mk 12:29: Jesus answers a scribe's question: "Which is the first of all the commandments?

  3. Mk 15:2: Jesus answers Pilate's question if he is the king of the Jews: "You say so.

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:

  • Mt 28: 20: "and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded (entellō) you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

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
Mōusēs (Moses)
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

  • The rules of cleansing of the leper mentioned in Lev 14:2-32 (Mk 1:44)
  • The duties towards one's parents inscribed in the decalogue or ten words or ten commandments, to which Ex 20:12 and Dt 5:16 testify (Mk 7:10)
  • The rules on divorce according to Deut 24:1 (Mk 10:3-4)
  • The law of levirate according to Deut. 25:5-10 by which a man had to marry the wife of his dead brother without leaving any children (Mk. 12:19)
  • The scene of the burning bush where God identifies himself as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob (Mk 12:26)

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 (roll)
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:

  • 1 Maccabees 1: 44: "And the king sent letters (biblion) by messengers to Jerusalem and to all the cities of Judah, that they might follow there the laws of the nations of the earth."

And similar to a letter, it can refer to a short document:
  • Deuteronomy 24: 1: "If a man has taken a wife, if he has cohabited with her, and if it happens that she has not found favor before him, because he will have noticed in her some deformity; if he has written about her a bill (biblion) of divorce, if he has delivered it to her, and if he has expelled her from his house."

It can refer to books of the Bible:

  • 1 Maccabees 1: 56: "and they burned in the fire the books (biblion) of the law of God, after tearing them."

And it can refer to books in general:

  • Ecclesiastes 12: 12: "And it is profitable, O my son, to keep them; in making many books (biblion) there is no end; and too much study is fatigue of the flesh."

Any document where things are recorded is a biblion :

  • Joshua 18: 9: "And they went and walked through and saw the land, which they described in a book (biblion), in which they indicated seven parts, and brought it to Joshua."

And this is especially true of the chronicles where the actions and decisions of kings were recorded:

  • 2 Chronicles 35: 27: "And his deeds, first and last, are written in the book (biblion) of the Kings of Israel and Judah"

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

Noun biblos in the Bible

apostasiou (divorce)
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
and (if) it happens that, if she finds no favor in his eyes
because he finds in her a shame of a thing (=something shameful),
he writes her a certificate of divorce (biblion apostasiou)
and puts it in her hand and sends her from his house,
2 and (if) she leaves his house and goes her way
and becomes the wife of another (man),
and puts it in her hand and sends her from his house
(or if the second man who took her to be his wife dies),
4 Then (apodosis) her first husband, who sent her away,
cannot take her again to be his wife after she was defiled,
for this is an abomination before Yahweh,
and you shall not bring sin upon the land
that Yahweh your God is giving you as an inheritance.

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.

  1. The human being is capable of feelings and emotions, and the heart is the seat of them, for example:
    • Jn 16: 6: "But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts (kardia)."

  2. Human beings are capable of reflection and understanding, and for a Jew, this reflection and understanding takes place in the heart, for example:
    • Mk 2: 8: "At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts (kardia)? "

  3. The human being is a moral being, inhabited by values, capable of making decisions and taking action. For a Jew, the origin of these decisions and actions is the heart. For example:
    • Mk 7: 21: "For it is from within, from the human heart (kardia), that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder"

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:

  • "He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness (pōrōsis) of heart and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored." (Mk 3: 5)

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:

  • Ex 11:10: "Now Moses and Aaron had done all these signs and wonders before Pharaoh in the land of Egypt; but the Lord had hardened (sklērynō) the heart of Pharaoh, and he had not consented to dismiss the sons of Israel."

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

Noun kardia in the Gospels-Acts

Noun pōrōsis in the Bible

Verb pōroō in the Bible

Adjective sklēros in the New Testament

Verb sklērynō in the New Testament

Noun sklērotēs in the Bible

entolēn (commandment)
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

  • three (Mk 7:8-9; 10:19) refer to the Decalogue, the ten words given by Yahweh at Sinai (Ex 20:2-17; Deut 5:6-21),
  • another (Mk 12:28 "What is the greatest commandment") refers to the traditional Jewish prayer, called Shema', which is an amalgam of Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41,
  • another (Mk 12:31: the second commandment on love of neighbor) refers to Leviticus 19:18,
  • and finally our v. 5 refers to Deuteronomy 24:1-4.

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 (beginning)
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.

  1. The beginning of Jesus' ministry. For example:
    • Lk 1:2: "(compose a narrative) from what has been handed down to us by those who were from the beginning (apʼ archēs) eyewitnesses and servants of the Word"; see also Mk 1:1; Jn 2:11; 6:64; 8:25; 15:27; 16:4)

  2. The beginning of a period in a person's life, like that of Paul who recalls his beginnings in Jerusalem.
    • Acts 26: 4: "All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, a life spent from the beginning (apʼ archē) among my own people and in Jerusalem"

  3. The beginning of the end times and the upheavals that are linked to it. For example:
    • Mk 13: 8: "For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning (archē) of the birth pangs"

  4. The beginning of the believing life, and in many cases it is a reference to baptism. For example:
    • 1 Jn 2: 7: "Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning (apʼ archē); the old commandment is the word that you have heard." (see also Acts 11: 15; 1 Jn 2: 24; 3: 11; 2 Jn 1: 5-6)

  5. The beginning can refer to the creation, as told in the book of Genesis. For example:
    • Mt 19: 4: "He answered, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning (apʼ archē) 'made them male and female,'" (see also Mt 19: 8; 24: 21; Mk 10: 6; 13: 19; Jn 8: 44; 1 Jn 3: 8)

  6. Finally, there is the absolute beginning, out of time. For example:
    • Jn 1: 1: "In the beginning (archē) was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (see also Jn 1: 2; 1Jn 1: 1; 2: 13-14)

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 (creation) 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:

  1. First, there is the unique act of God who made heaven and earth, an act that the book of Genesis places in time, and in this creative act God created the attributes of what exists. The word ktisis then designates this founding moment.
    • Rom 1: 20: "Ever since the creation (ktisis) of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse;"

  2. Noun ktisis also refers to the result of this creative action, i.e., the whole universe in general, which the Bible presents with the expression "heaven and earth". For example:
    • Sir 16: 17: "Say not thou, I will hide myself from the Lord: shall any remember me from above? I shall not be remembered among so many people: for what is my soul among such an infinite number of creatures (ktisis)?"

  3. In some cases, ktisis refers only to human beings within creation. For example:
    • Mk 16: 15: "And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation (ktisis)"

  4. On several occasions, ktisis intends to point to the various objects created by God. For example:
    • Rom 1: 25: "because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature (ktisis) rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen"

  5. There are a few rare instances where ktisis is used to refer not to God's creation, but to human creation, specifically political institutions. For example:
    • 1 Pet 2: 13: "For the LORD's sake accept the authority of every human creation (ktisis), whether of the emperor as supreme"

  6. Finally, there are the unique cases in St. Paul where ktisis names the being of the person who can be transformed. For example:
    • 2 Cor 5: 17: So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation (ktisis): everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

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 (male)
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.

  • The male child is the one who is circumcised, and therefore bears the physical sign of God's covenant with his people (Gen 17:23)
  • The eldest male child is worthy to be consecrated to the Lord (Lk 2:23)
  • The male child is the future of the Jewish people, and that is why Pharaoh asks the wise women to kill them, while the girls can live (Ex 1, 16)
  • For the Passover meal, a lamb or kid must be a year-old male (Ex 12:5)
  • For the burnt offering, the sacrifice of an animal in the temple morning and evening, as well as on many other occasions, the herd had to be a male without blemish (Lev 1:3)
  • When a prince commits a sin against one of the negative commandments, he makes reparation by offering a goat, a male without blemish (Lev 4:23)
  • Of course, the priests of the temple were only men (Lk 6:22)
  • If a woman gives birth to a boy, she is considered unclean for seven days, but if she gives birth to a girl, she is unclean for twice as long, that is, for two weeks (Lk 12:2-5)
  • For the redemption of a vow that one has made, the sum to be paid in the temple is smaller for a woman than for a man (Lk 27:1-7)
  • In the censuses, only men were counted (Num 1: 2)
  • The genealogy is limited to the male elements (Josh 17:2)
  • The joy of childbirth for a woman is that of giving a male child (Isa 66:7; Jer 20:15)
  • A man can choose any woman he wants, but not the other way around (Sir 36: 26)
  • When we want to honor a woman, we say about her that she shows a male courage and that she is more virile than a man (2 Macc 7: 21; 4 Macc 15: 30)

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.

  • It is the case of Gen 1: 27 where God created the human being in his image, "he created them male and female"
  • To face the flood and save the living on earth, God asks Noah to bring into the ark pairs of different species, "males and females" (6:19-20; 7:2-16)
  • And above all there is Paul's phrase in Galatians 3:28: "There is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

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.

LXX Gen 1: 27Mk 10: 6bLiteral translation
arsen kai thēly epoiēsen autousarsen kai thēly epoiēsen autousMale and female he made them

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 (female)
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. ) 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.

Heb. MT Gen 2: 24LXX Gen 2: 24Mk 10: 7-8a grecMk 10: 7-8a
On this (kēn: so, thus, therefore) a man (ʾîš : man, husband) leaves (ʿāzab : to leave, forsake) his father and mother and clings (dābaq: to cleave, cling, join) to his wife (ʾiššâ: (woman, wife) and they are (hāyâ: to be) one (ʾeḥād) flesh (bāśār)heneken toutou kataleipsei anthrōpos ton patera autou kai tēn mētera autou kai proskollēthēsetai pros tēn gynaika autou, kai esontai hoi dyo eis sarka mian.heneken toutou kataleipsei anthrōpos ton patera autou kai tēn mētera [kai proskollēthēsetai pros tēn gynaika autou], kai esontai hoi dyo eis sarka mianFor this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [and he shall be bound to his wife;] and they shall be both in one flesh

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
anthrōpos (man)
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:
  1. It refers to the human species or human nature, without any sexual connotation; it applies to every human being as a human being, and distinguishes him or her from animals or from God. The word is also used in reference to Jesus in the expression: son of man. It appears mostly in the singular. For example:
    • Mt 4: 4: "But he answered, 'It is written, 'Man (anthrōpos) does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.''"

  2. The word refers to society in general, to the individuals who compose it, to all those who surround us. Our Bibles often translate this word as "people". Of course, the word includes both women and children, and it is often in the plural. For example:
    • Mt 6: 1: "Beware of practicing your piety before men (anthrōpos) in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven."

  3. Finally, it designates a male being, a particular and well identified individual. Often, it is the context that makes it possible to determine that it is a male. For example:
    • Mt 9: 9: "As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man (anthrōpos) called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him."

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

Noun mētēr in the New Testament

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?"

  • Gen 19: 19: Two angels invite Lot to leave Sodom and Gomorrah as soon as possible, for God is about to destroy these two cities, and Lot replies, "Behold, thy servant has found favor in thy sight, and thou hast shown me great friendship in preserving my life. But I cannot flee to the hills, for fear the disaster overtakes (dābaq) me: and I die!" What Lot responds is that fleeing to the mountain is not an option, because the misfortune sticks to him. Now, the Septuagint has translated this last phrase as "may misfortune not reach (katalambanō) me and I die."

  • Gen 31:23: In conflict with Laban, Jacob flees, but on the third day Laban is informed: "He (Laban) takes his brothers with him and continues behind him seven days' journey until he caught up (dābaq) with him (Jacob) in the hill country of Gilead". Now, the Septuagint has translated this last phrase thus: "and taking all his kindred with him, he followed him closely for seven days, and reached (katalambanō) to Mount Gilead.

  • Gen 34:3: Shechem, a chief of Canaan, sees Dinah, a daughter Jacob had with Leah, abducts her, sleeps with her and rapes her. The narrator continues: "And his soul was drawn (dābaq) to Dinah daughter of Jacob. He loves the teenager. He speaks to the heart of the teenage girl". Now, the Septuagint has translated this last phrase as "And he took care (prosechō) of the person of Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke to her according to the will of the girl."

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 (woman)
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.

Massoretic text of Gen 2: 22-24Septuagint text of Gen 2:22-24
Yahweh God made the rib, which he had taken from the earthy (ʾādām), into a woman (ʾiššâ) and he brought her to the earthy.The Lord God built the rib, which he took from Adam, into a woman (gynē) and brought her to Adam.
And the earthy (ʾādām) said, this now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called woman (ʾiššâ), because out of man (îš) this one was taken.And Adam said, this now bone of my bones, ans flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called woman (gynē), because out of her husband (anēr) she was taken, this one
On this man (îš) leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife (ʾiššâ) and they are one fleshOn account of this a man will leave his father and mother and he will stick to his wife (gynē) and they two will be one flesh

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:

God's Action:he transforms the rib of the earthy into a woman
and he brings her to the earthy
Earthy reaction:she is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh
Human action:He leaves his parents
he goes to the woman to stick to her

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:

  • Lk 10: 12: "I tell you, on that day it will be (eimi) more tolerable for Sodom than for that town."

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:

  • Mt 16: 19: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be (eimi) bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be (eimi) loosed in heaven"

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:

  • 2 Jn 1: 2: "because of the truth that abides in us and will be (eimi) with us forever"

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:

  • Mk 12: 7: "But those tenants said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be (eimi) ours.'"

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:

  • Mt 12: 11: "He said to them, 'What will be (eimi) among you a man who has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out?'"

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".

  • Mt 6: 5: "And whenever you pray, you will not be (eimi) like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward."

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 (flesh)
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.

  • It appears for the first time in Gen 2:21 when God "fills" the hole left by the removal of a rib from Adam with "flesh": this refers to the muscles and viscera found in that part of the human body.

  • Then, two verses later, the earthy man cries out when he sees the woman: "This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh". Note that the flesh is different from the bones and seems to compose one of the two parts of the human body. And the expression is used to designate the relationship between the man and the woman, as it will designate the relationship between Laban and Jacob (Gen 29:14: "Laban said to him, 'You are surely my bones and my flesh' "); we find ourselves saying "we have the same body" to express the relationship, as today we speak of consanguinity.

  • In Gen 2:24, the expression "they shall be both in one flesh" clearly conveys the idea that the man and the woman will become one being, and so bāśār refers this time to what constitutes the human person.

  • A little further on, in the account of the flood (Gn 6, 1 - 9, 17), the word bāśār denotes both human beings ("God looked upon the earth and saw it corrupt, for all flesh had perverted its conduct on earth," Gen 6:12), so that in 6:13 sarx will be translated anthrōpos in the Septuagint, and at the same time the entire animal kingdom ("It was a male and a female of all flesh that entered the ark," 7:16).

  • But bāśār can also refer to meat: "But you shall not eat the flesh with its life, that is, its blood", Gn 9:4; the Septuagint has translated here bāśār by kreas (meat).

  • Sometimes, bāśār refers to the biological reality of the human being, in particular by addressing the subject of circumcision: "You shall have the flesh of your foreskin circumcised, which shall become the sign of the covenant between me and you", Gn 17:11.

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.

  1. The "flesh" is one of the components of the human body along with the bones:
    • Lk 24: 39: "Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh (sarx) and bones as you see that I have"

    or with blood:

    • Eph 6: 12: "For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh (sarx), but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places"

    In this sense, to eat the flesh and drink the blood is to consume the whole body:

    • Jn 6: 54: "Those who eat my flesh (sarx) and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day"

  2. The word "flesh" is often presented as synonymous with the whole body, sōma in Greek.
    • Acts 2: 31: "Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, 'He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh (sarx) experience corruption"

    And since the Jewish world does not have this dichotomous view of the Greek world that divides the human being into a body and a soul, the human being in his body is the total human being. This is probably the meaning of Jesus' gesture of inviting his disciples to eat his body, i.e., to make his being his own, which the synoptics translated as sōma (body), but which was probably bāśār on the lips of Jesus and of which John gives us an echo (on the subject, see R.E. Brown, The Gospel According to John, p. 285).

    • Jn 6: 51: "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (sarx)"

  3. As is often the case in the Old Testament, "flesh" refers to all humans, without any distinction, especially when preceded by the adjective "all":
    • Mk 13: 20: "And if the Lord had not cut short those days, all flesh (sarx) would not be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days"

  4. The fact that a human being has a body subjects him to the vagaries of biology, from his birth to his death:
    • Rom 1: 3: "the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh (sarx)"
    • Eph 2: 11: "In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh (sarx) in the circumcision of Christ"
    • Gal 4: 13: "You know that it was because of infirmity of the flesh (sarx) that I first announced the gospel to you"

  5. The word "flesh" is also used to refer to the social and community life that gives a human being his identity. In this sense, it also refers to the vagaries of his social existence.
    • 1 Cor 1: 26: "Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise according to the flesh (sarx), not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth"
    • 1 Cor 5: 5: "you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (sarx), so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord"
    • 1 Cor 7: 28: "But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in their flesh (sarx), and I would spare you that"

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.

  1. The passion narrative in Mark's gospel had already warned us that the human being is crossed by opposing forces, one that wants to listen to the word of God, the other that submits to the vagaries of contrary impulses. The word "spirit" represents the human being stretched towards God, and the word "flesh" represents the human being crossed by these contrary impulses.
    • Mk 14: 38: "Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh (sarx) is weak"

  2. It was Paul who gave the word "flesh" an interpretation unknown in the Old Testament and which has a truly negative connotation. For the flesh refers to the human being left to himself, and left to himself, he becomes the object of various passions which not only make him incapable of following the Law revealed by Moses, but lead him to physical and spiritual death:
    • Rom 7: 5: "For even when we came into Macedonia, our flesh (sarx) had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way - disputes without and fears within"

    It is in this context that he places the intervention of Christ giving his life to the point of death on the cross, and releasing the life-giving spirit of God, to which we have access through faith. From then on, there is an opposition between "flesh" and "spirit of God":

    • Rom 8: 9: "But you are not in the flesh (sarx); you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him"

  3. We must also mention the evangelist John. For him, "flesh" has a certain value, since the Word became flesh, i.e., he took on a body to assume the life of a man (Jn 1:14), and he invites us to eat this flesh in order to resurrect in the last days (Jn 6:54). But the fact remains that the "flesh", defined as the human being left to himself, as in Paul, is incapable of understanding and accepting the word of the Gospel; it needs the spirit of God.
    • Jn 6: 63: "It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh (sarx) is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and 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 (therefore)
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:

  • Mk 1: 27: "They were all amazed, so as (hōste) to keep on asking one another, 'What is this? A new teaching - with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him'"

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:

  • Mk 3: 20: "and the crowd came together again, so that (hōste) they could not even eat"

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:

  • The sentence is concise with an antithetical parallelism, which would be typical of Jesus (what God has joined together / let not a man separate)
  • The first Christians were not really interested in this question and it is not clear why they would have taken the initiative to create such a statement
  • This sentence is consistent with the radical orientation of Jesus' teaching on behavior in daily life
  • According to the criterion of discontinuity, Jesus' position deviates from the ambient Jewish position
  • And our phrase reflects the prohibition of divorce in Jesus that relies on the multiple attestation criterion by appearing not only in Mark, but also in the Q Document (Mt 5:32 || Lk 16:18: "Every man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery") and in Paul (7:10-11: "This is what I command, not I, but the Lord: that the wife not separate from her husband").

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

Noun zygos in the New Testament

Noun syzygos in the Bible

Noun zeugos 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

Verb apochōrizō in the Bible

Verb diachōrizō in the Bible

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 (house)
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:
  • Jn 11: 20: "When Martha learned that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained seated at the house (oikos)"
  • Jn 11: 31: "The Jews who were with her in the house (oikia), consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there."

When we look at the use of oikia by evangelists, we note four possible meanings.

  1. There is first the reference to the physical house which largely dominates. For example:
    • Mt 2: 11 "On entering the house (oikia), they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage"

  2. But the term sometimes designates, not the physical house, but all the people who live there. For example:
    • Mt 12: 25 "He knew what they were thinking and said to them, 'Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house (oikia) divided against itself will stand'"

  3. There is the special case where the term symbolically refers to the residence of God:
    • Jn 14: 2 "In my Father's house (oikia) there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?"

  4. Finally, there is the unique case where house designates the goods or possessions of a person:
    • Mk 12: 40 "(the scribes) devour widows' houses (oikia) and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation"

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:

  1. Jesus gives a teaching that surprises his disciples or the disciples do not understand a situation,
  2. Then, once at home or away, the disciples ask him again about the subject
  3. Jesus gives his disciples an additional teaching that clarifies

Par exemples:

  • Mk 4:10: (the parable of the sower) "When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables"
  • Mk 7:17: (after Jesus' teaching on the clean and the unclean) "When he had left the crowd and entered the house (oikos), his disciples asked him about the parable"
  • Mk 9:28: (the disciples were unable to heal a possessed child) "When he had entered the house (oikos), his disciples asked him privately, "Why could we not cast it out?"
  • Mk 10:10: (the teaching on divorce) "Then in the house (oikia) the disciples asked him again about this matter."

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 (disciples)
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

  1. First, the small group of those who accompanied him physically on the roads, leaving work, family and home behind,
  2. Those who welcomed him into their home, offering him lodging and food and money when he visited their region,
  3. Finally, the crowd of onlookers who attended his preaching and expressed some kind of interest

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 (again) 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.

  • (situation) Doing God's will: (consequence) this creates the true bond of kinship with Jesus
  • (situation) An environment that would not welcome those sent by Jesus: (consequence) leave immediately (Mk 6:11)
  • (situation) To welcome a little child motivated by Jesus: (consequence) it is fundamentally to welcome God (Mk 9: 37)
  • (situation) Give a Christian a drink: (consequence) a reward is promised (9: 41)
  • (situation) To scandalize a believer: (consequence) better to disappear (9: 42)
  • (situation) To put away one's wife: (consequence) adultery (10: 11)
  • (situation) Not welcoming the kingdom of God like a child: (consequence) impossible to enter (10:15)
  • (situation) Wanting to become great: (consequence) one must become a servant (Mk 10: 43)
  • (situation) To want to be first: (consequence) one must become the slave of all (Mk 10: 44)
  • (situation) To want to lift a mountain: (consequence) you need to believe (Mk 11: 23)

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

Verb gamizō in the Bible

Verb gamiskō in the Bible

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

Verb moicheuō in the Bible

Adjective moichalis in the Bible

Noun moicheia in the Bible

Noun moichos 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.

v. 11v. 12
Whoever perchance (hos an)
would release [from a marriage bound] his wife
and would marry (gamēsē) another,
he is an adulterer (moichatai)
to her
And if she (ean autē),
having released [from a marriage bound] her husband,
would marry (gamēsē) another,
she is an adulteress (moichatai)

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.

  1. The circumstances for translating this verb as "to present" are diverse: the sick, the paralyzed, the demon-possessed are presented to Jesus so that he can heal them (Mt 4:24; 8:16; 9:2, 32, etc.), a debtor is presented to his creditor (Mt 18:24), children are presented to Jesus so that he can touch them (Mt 19:13; Mk 10:13; Lk 18:15), Jesus is presented to Pilate during his trial (Lk 23:14). But sometimes objects, such as coins, are also presented (Mt 22:19; 25:20).

  2. "To offer" expresses the idea that a reality, especially an object, passes into the hands of another, because it is a gift. Thus, a present is offered (Mt 2:11), an offering for the altar or a gift for the temple (Mt 5:23-24; 8:4; Mk 1:44; Lk 5:14; Acts 7:42; 21:26), vinegar to the crucified one (Lk 23:36; Jn 19:29), or money (Acts 8:18)

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.

Authorteknon teknionpaispaidionnēpiosbrephos
Ep. John970200

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.

  1. In the words of Jesus, it is used to repel the forces of evil, either in the form of an unclean spirit, or in the form of natural phenomena, such as a storm or disease, seen as the expression of evil spirits. For example:
    • Mk 4: 39: "He woke up and rebuked (epitimaō) the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm."

  2. In the mouth of Jesus, it serves to demand silence about his messiahship. When unclean spirits cry out: "You are the Son of God" (Mk 3:11), Jesus commands silence, because such an affirmation is misleading without understanding the cross. It is the same when Peter says he is the Messiah (Mk 8:29) or refuses to see the cross coming (Mk 8:32). For example:
    • Mk 8: 33: "But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked (epitimaō) Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things"

  3. In the mouths of people other than Jesus, it is used to reject or prevent a word or action that one finds unacceptable, such as Jesus' announcement of his suffering or death, or the blind man Bartimaeus who calls on Jesus to intervene with him, or the presentation of babies to Jesus. For example:
    • Mk 10: 48: "Many sternly rebuked (epitimaō) him (the blind man) so that they would be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!'"

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:

  • The disciples were outraged that two of their colleagues were so ambitious that they wanted to sit on the right and left of Jesus in his kingdom (Mk 10:41; Mt 20:24); they were hurt

  • The disciples are outraged to see a woman break the alabaster bottle and pour a very expensive perfume on Jesus' head (Mk. 14:4; Mt. 26:8); it is considered a waste of money, which deeply offends their value

  • The chief priests and scribes are outraged at Jesus' healings in the Temple and at hearing children shouting, "Hosanna to the son of David" (Mt 21:15). What is so shocking about this? It seems to be the whole of what is happening in the Temple, the religious place par excellence of Judaism: the healings of Jesus and the messianic proclamation by children, people of little value, are seen by the Jewish authorities as a frontal attack on Judaism and its sclerotic cult, and this in its most precious place

  • A synagogue leader is outraged that Jesus healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath (Lk 13:14). Why this outrage? One would look in vain in pre-70 CE Judaism for a prohibition against healing on the Sabbath either with a word or with a gesture of the hand. According to Meier, although the narrative may have been constructed from some historical elements, the whole thing is a creation of the early church, particularly to reflect its disputes with the Jewish milieu. Thus, the outrage is primarily the outrage of Judaism at this group of Christians considered heretical.

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 (let)
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.

  1. The most common context is that of forgiveness of faults, which is often presented as a forgiveness of debt. In this case, aphiēmi translates the idea of "letting go" the debt, i.e., handing over to the debtor the bill where the debt is written, and thus forgetting or erasing it. Our Bibles usually translate this as "forgiving" sins or debts.
    • Mk 2: 5: "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are left: i.e. forgotten or forgiven).'"
    • Mk 4: 12: "in order that 'they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be left (aphiēmi: i.e. their faults be forgotten or forgiven) to them '"

  2. Another common situation is when "leaving" means giving up something, possessions, relationships, or rules, often because of a choice for something else. It is easy to imagine, for example, that Jesus' call to follow him leads people to leave their jobs, their possessions, their families.
    • Mk 1: 18: "And immediately they left (aphiēmi) their nets and followed him"
    • Mk 7: 8: "You leave (aphiēmi) the commandment of God and hold to human tradition"

  3. On a regular basis, the verb "to leave" is used to mean "to let go", i.e. to allow or permit an action to take place. Very often aphiēmi is followed by an infinitive verb, and on several occasions aphiēmi is in the imperative, i.e. in the form of a command.
    • Mk 5: 37: "He let (aphiēmi) no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James"
    • Mk 7: 27: "He said to her, "Let (aphiēmi) the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs"

  4. A number of times, the verb "to leave" simply means to move away from a person, place or thing, which is usually translated as "to leave".
    • Mk 1: 31: "He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left (aphiēmi) her, and she began to serve them"
    • Mk 12: 12: "When they realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowd. So they left (aphiēmi) him and went away"

  5. Occasionally, the verb "to leave" means "to leave something to someone", thus to give.
    • Mk 12: 20: "There were seven brothers; the first married and, when he died, left (aphiēmi) no children"
    • Jn 14: 27: "Peace I leave (aphiēmi) with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid"

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:

  • Mk 1: 40: "A leper came (erchomai) to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, "If you choose, you can make me clean"
  • Mk 2: 13: "Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd came (erchomai) toward him, and he taught them"

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 (stop)
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 (such)
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.

  • Jesus proclaims the kingdom with "such parables" (4:33); Jesus has just told the parable of the sower and the parable of the mustard seed, so "such" does not refer to these two parables, but to a particular type of parable

  • The people are amazed at "such deeds of power", i.e. miracles (6:2); there is a general reference to Jesus' healings, but after Mark has recounted the healing of the hemorrhoid and the raising of Jairus' daughter. Thus, Jesus is associated with one type of intervention.

  • Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees for disregarding God's commandments in the name of their tradition, which they say goes back to Moses, and gives the example of not helping one's parents under the pretext of reserving resources for the temple before concluding: "And you do many such (toioutos) things" (7:13). The adjective "such" refers of course to the example given, but at the same time designates a whole attitude.

  • Jesus reacts to the disciples' attitude of arguing among themselves about who is the greatest by saying that whoever wants to be first must be the last and the servant of all, and by placing a child in their midst while saying, "Whoever welcomes one such (toioutos) child in my name welcomes me" (9:37). The demonstrative adjective "such" points to the child in the midst, but at the same time designates a category of people considered the last in society. At the same time, Jesus identifies himself with this category.

  • In his apocalyptic discourse, Jesus announces painful times at the end of time, specifically "suffering, such (toioutos) as has not been from the beginning of the creation" (13:19). The demonstrative pronoun "such" encompasses both the suffering announced for the end times and a type of suffering that stands out from the others, probably by its intensity.

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.

  • "Jesus said to them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind see and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor; and blessed is the one who will not stumble for my sake!" (Mt 11:2-6 || Lk 7:18-23)
  • "But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God (basileia tou theou) has come to you" (Mt 12: 28 || Lk 11: 20)
  • "Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God (basileia tou theou) was coming, and he answered, "The kingdom of God (basileia tou theou) is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, 'Look, here it is!' or 'There it is!' For, in fact, the kingdom of God (basileia tou theou) is among you" (Lk 17: 20-21)
  • "and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God (basileia tou theou) has come near; repent, and believe in the good news'" (Mk 1: 15)
  • "Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, 'How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God (basileia tou theou)!' And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, 'Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God (basileia tou theou)!'" (Mt 13: 16-17 || Lk 10: 23-24)
  • "(And) they came and said to Jesus, 'Why do John's disciples fast, and your disciples do not?' And Jesus said to them, 'Can the bridegroom's companions fast while the bridegroom is with them?'" (Mk 2:18-20 || Mt 9:14-15 || Lk 5:33-35)

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.

amēn (amen)
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.
  • Mk 9: 37: "Whoever perchance (hos an) welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever perchance (hos an) welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
  • Mk 10: 15: "Truly I tell you, whoever perchance (hos an) does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it"

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.

  • The evil spirit or demon or Satan that enters a person (Mk 9:25; Mt 12:45; Lk 11:26; 22:3; Jn 13:27)
  • The unclean spirits that enter the pigs (Mk 5:12-13; Lk 8:30-33)
  • The food that goes into a person's mouth (Mt 15:11; Acts 11:8)
  • A thought that enters a person (Lk 9:46)
  • A man entering his mother's womb again (Jn 3:4)

Finally, there are cases where the place belongs to the spiritual world. On this point, each evangelist has his particular touch.


  • There is the entry into Life, understood in the sense of Eternal Life and synonymous with the Kingdom of God, presented as a future reality beyond death, and which requires in the present moment to avoid shaking the faith of the weakest (9: 43-46)
  • The alternative to entering life is eternal fire or Gehenna (9: 43-46)
  • The entrance into the Kingdom of God, which seems to be a present reality, presupposes that we first welcome it as a child (10: 15)
  • But entry into the Kingdom of God, presented as a future reality in the hereafter, will be very difficult for those who possess wealth (10: 23-25)
  • Even though he does not use the word "enter" exactly, Mark speaks of an entry into the trial that is asked to be avoided in prayer (14:38)


  • He copies what Mark writes about the entry into Life, which requires not shaking the faith of the weakest, and its alternative, the gehenna of fire (18: 6-11), and the entry into the trial that is asked to be avoided in prayer (26: 41); and he also picks up on the Q Document that speaks of a narrow door to enter this Life presented as a future reality (7: 13)
  • When he takes up the image of entering the Kingdom of God, he transforms it into the Kingdom of Heaven, taking up the warning about the obstacle that the possession of wealth represents (19: 23-24), but at the same time he emphasizes the requirements to enter this future reality: it is necessary to behave properly (justice), to do the will of the Father or to return to the state of children or to observe the commandments, and the Pharisees and the scribes will be excluded (5: 20; 7: 21; 18: 3; 19: 17.23-24; 23: 13)
  • But he also mentions the present dimension, taking up elements from the Q Document: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you lock up the kingdom of heaven before men! You certainly do not enter, nor do you allow those who want to enter" (23:13); we are at the level of knowledge of this Kingdom

Luke - gospel:

  • He copies Mark on the entry into the Kingdom of God, which presupposes that he is first welcomed as a little child (18:17), and the obstacle that riches represent (18:25), just as he takes up the entry into the trial that he asks to avoid in prayer (22:40,46)
  • There is the entry in the cloud by Peter, James and John at the transfiguration (9, 34)
  • Like Matthew, it takes up elements of the Q Document on the entry into the Kingdom of God presented as an access to its knowledge today, from which the legists are excluded (11, 52)
  • This Kingdom of God is associated with future salvation and to enter it one must pass through the narrow gate (13:23-24), an image that he takes from the Q Document
  • Finally, there is the entry into glory for the Messiah after having passed through the sufferings (24: 2)


  • Entry into the Kingdom of God is not possible unless the person is born of water and the Spirit, i.e. without allowing the Holy Spirit given by Jesus to transform him or her, which is symbolized by the acceptance of baptism (3: 5)

Luke - Acts:

  • The only mention of the entry into the Kingdom of God is to underline that this entry is preceded by many distresses, an echo of the adversity that Christians encounter (14: 22)

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

Verb eulogeō in the Gospels-Acts

Adjective eulogētos in the New Testament

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).
  • 2 Kings 4: 34: "And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put (tithēmi) his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands (cheir) upon (epi) his hands; and bowed himself upon him, and the flesh of the child grew warm." (the prophet Elisha revives the son of the Shunammite by warming his whole body)
  • Daniel 13: 34 (Theodotion): Then the two elders stood up in the midst of the people, and put (tithēmi) their hands (cheir) upon (epi) her head" (these elders put their hands on Susanna's head to point out her guilt)
  • Job 21: 5: "Look upon me, and wonder, putting (tithēmi) your hand (cheir) upon (epi) your cheek (putting his hands on his cheeks is typical of his expression of surprise)
  • Job 40: 4b: Why do I yet plead? being rebuked even while reproving the Lord: hearing such things, whereas I am nothing: and what shall I answer to these arguments? I will put (tithēmi) my hand (cheir) upon (epi) my mouth" (to put the hand on the mouth is to say that one will not speak any more)
  • Esther 4: 17o: "But now they have not been contented with the bitterness of our slavery, but have put (tithēmi) their hands (cheir) on (epi) the hands of their idols, in order to abolish the decree of thy mouth, and utterly to destroy thine inheritance, and to stop the mouth of them that praise thee, and to extinguish the glory of thine house and thine altar" (to put the hand in the hand of another is the expression of a pact)
  • Psalms 139: 5: "the last and the first: thou hast fashioned me, and put (tithēmi) thine hand (cheir) upon (epi) me" (God's hand on the psalmist means that he establishes a relationship with him)

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:

  • Mk 5: 23: "and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay (epitithēmi) your hands (cheir) on her, so that she may be made well, and live"

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:

  • Acts 8: 17: "Then Peter and John laid (epitithēmi) their hands (cheir) on them, and they received the Holy Spirit"

Then there is the transfer of authority and capabilities related to a mission:

  • Acts 13: 3: "Then after fasting and praying they laid (epitithēmi) their hands (cheir) on them and sent them off"

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:

  • Lev 1: 4: "And he shall lay (Gr. epitithēmi, Heb. sāmak) his hand (cheir) on the head of the burnt-offering as a thing acceptable for him, to make atonement for him"

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:

  • Lev 16: 21: "and Aaron shall lay (Gr. epitithēmi, Heb. sāmak) his hands (cheir) on the head of the live goat, and he shall declare over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their unrighteousnesses, and all their sins; and he shall lay them upon the head of the live goat, and shall send him by the hand of a ready man into the wilderness"

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:

  • Num 27: 23: "And he laid (Gr. epitithēmi, Heb. sāmak) his hands (cheir) on him, and appointed him as the Lord ordered Moses"

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:

  • Deut 34: 9: "And Joshua the son of Naue was filled with the spirit of knowledge, for Moses had laid (Gr. epitithēmi, Heb. sāmak) his hands (cheir) upon him; and the children of Israel hearkened to him; and they did as the Lord commanded Moses"
  • 2 Kings 5, 11: "And Naiman was angry, and departed, and said, Behold, I said, He will by all means come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of his God, and lay (Gr. epitithēmi, Heb. nûp : to wave) his hand (cheir) upon the place, and recover the leper"

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.

  • Gen 48: 14: "Then Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it (Gr. epiballō, Heb. šît) on the head of Ephraim, who was the youngest, and he laid his left hand on the head of Manasseh"

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

Verb epitithēmi followed by the direct complement cheir in the Bible

  1. Analysis of the narrative's structure

    This long pericope could be structured as follows.

    1. The issue of divorce v. 2-12

      1. Setting the scene: v. 2
        • Introduction of the characters: Pharisees
        • Introduction of the problem: is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?
        • Introduction of the goal: to trap Jesus

      2. The Mosaic Law v. 3-5
        • Jesus' counter question about the Mosaic Law v. 3
        • Summary of the Mosaic Law by the Pharisees: the divorce bill v. 4
        • Judgment of Jesus on this Mosaic Law: due to the hardness of the heart v. 5

      3. The will of God 6-8
        • The human being was created male and female v. 6
        • This explains the fact that the man joins with his wife to form one flesh v. 7-8

      4. Answer to the Pharisees and conclusion v. 9
        • What God has joined, let no man separate

      5. Application to the casuistry of Christian communities v. 10-12

        1. Setting the scene v. 10
          • The scene takes place at home
          • The disciples ask for further explanations

        2. Jesus' answers v. 11-12

          • The man who marries another woman after having divorced his wife is committing adultery against her v. 11
          • The woman who marries another man after having divorced her spouse is an adulteress v. 12

    2. The place of children v. 13-16

      1. Setting the scene v. 13
        • Children are presented to Jesus for him to touch
        • The disciples are opposed to it

      2. Intervention of Jesus v. 14
        • Command: Let the children come to Jesus without stopping them
        • Rationale: the kingdom of God belongs to those who are like them

      3. Community application in the form of a solemn teaching by Jesus v. 15
        • One cannot enter the kingdom without welcoming it as a child

      4. Conclusion v. 16
        • Jesus embraces the children
        • He calls on them God's blessing

    This structure highlights the fact that we are faced with two independent narratives, one around the issue of divorce, the other around the place of children. These two stories are brought together by the Eucharistic liturgy of the Catholic cycle. But bringing these two stories together in this way can be justified, for Mark himself has placed them side by side, without explanation, as if it were natural to move from one to the other. As we have already noted, the question of divorce addresses the question of the place of the woman, considered a minor, who can be repudiated at will, and the question of the place of the little children, beings considered as minors, addresses the question of their role in the community.

    The section on divorce begins, as any story does, with a set-up: it is the Pharisees who question Jesus, and according to Mark, the question is intended to embarrass Jesus. Unfortunately, Mark does not explain how the question is embarrassing, especially since no reaction from the Pharisees is presented at the end. One can imagine that the Pharisees expected an answer for or against divorce, and so an affirmative answer would have forced Jesus to agree with the Pharisees, and a negative answer would have put him at odds with all Jewish tradition.

    The heart of the story unfolds in three stages. First, Jesus' counter-question takes us into the context of the Mosaic Law as spelled out in Deut 24:1, which Jesus, without denouncing it, explains by the hardness of heart of the people. Then Jesus introduces his own context, which is that of the creative work of God as presented in the book of Genesis. Finally, Jesus offers his answer to the Pharisees' initial question by affirming the superiority of God's will over human will.

    With v. 9, the original story is finished. But Mark wanted to add an "extension" to the narrative to show us how the Christian communities applied Jesus' request to their practice. This new narrative receives its own setting, which is that of the house, symbol of the Christian communities, and the disciples, symbol of the Christians. And as we have seen, the mini-code of Christian laws that follows is introduced by the expression "whoever perchance", typical of casuistry. It is not impossible that Mark had this mini-code of Christian law in mind first, and that the whole story with the question of the Pharisees was inserted later to offer a justification for it.

    The account of the children's place is much shorter. After the setting in which the disciples are opposed to the children having access to Jesus, it is Jesus who gives the order to open access to the children, reversing the position of the disciples, and then justifies his decision by taking as a criterion their role as models in welcoming the kingdom of God. Mark introduces this solemn affirmation with the same vocabulary that introduced the mini-canonical law on divorce, which suggests that we are faced with a practical decision on community life. With v. 15 the story is over, but Mark wants to add v. 16 with Jesus holding the little children in his arms and calling God's blessing on them, a piece of information that he probably has from tradition, and which in his eyes supports the story he has just given us.

  2. Context analysis

    Here should be inserted several comments that will come in due time after some deep and long analysis

    Let us proceed in two stages, first by considering a possible plan of the whole of the Gospel and by observing where our passage fits in this great plan, then by considering the immediate context of our narrative, ie what precedes and what follows.

    1. General context

      There are several ways of grouping the various sections of the Gospel. We propose one which has the advantage of taking up the words of the evangelist expressed by his first words: "Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God". Thus, our plan is divided into two large parts, each of which takes up the two titles attributed to Jesus: Christ and Son of God; and each of its parts ends with the recognition of this title, first Peter who recognizes in Jesus the Christ (end of the first part), then the centurion who recognizes in Jesus the Son of God (end of the second part). We use the word "mystery" for each of these parts, because Mark's Gospel is a long journey to gradually discover the identity of Jesus. We have indicated in red our pericope.

      The mystery of Christ (messiah) 1: 1 – 8: 30

      • Invitation to conversion by John the Baptist (1: 2-8)
      • Baptism of Jesus and his election by God (1: 9-13)

      1: 1 – 1: 13
      Jesus and the people
      • Proclamation of the Kingdom of God (1: 14-15)
      • Choice of the first disciples (1: 16-20)
      • A typical day of Jesus (1: 21-39)
      • Multiple healings and disputes, and decision of the Pharisees to kill him (1: 40 – 3: 6)

      1: 14 – 3: 6
      Jesus and his family
      • Summary of Jesus' activity (3: 7-12)
      • Institution of the Twelve (3: 13-19)
      • Dispute about the source of Jesus' power (3: 20-30)
      • The true parentage of Jesus (3: 31-35)
      • Teaching in parables (4: 1-34)
      • Various miracle stories (4: 35 – 5: 43)
      • Conclusion: His own people do not believe in Jesus (6: 1-6)

      3: 7 – 6: 6
      Jesus and his disciples
      • Sending the Twelve on mission (6: 7-13)
      • Herod and the death of John the Baptist (6: 14-29)
      • Section on bread (6: 30 – ; 8: 21)
        • 1st feeding of the crowd (6: 30-41)
        • Walking on the waters (6: 45-52)
        • Summary of the healings of Jesus (6: 53-56)
        • Dispute with the Pharisees (7: 1-23)
        • Faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman and healing (7: 24-30)
        • 2nd feeding of the crowd (8: 1-10)
        • Refusal of the signs and blindness of the disciples (8: 11-21)
      • Healing of a blind man (8: 22-26)
      • Peter recognizes in Jesus the Christ (8: 27-30)

      6: 7 – 8: 30
      "You are the Christ (messiah)" (8: 29)

      The mystery of the son of man (8: 31 – 16: 8)

      The way of the son of man
      • 1st announcement of his death (8: 31-33)
        • Teaching on discipleship (8: 34-38)
        • Anticipation of death: the transfiguration (9: 1-13)
        • Healing of a possessed child (9: 14-29)
      • 2nd announcement of his death (9: 30-32)
        • Teaching on the Christian life (9:33 - 10:31)
          • Being great in the community (9: 33-37)
          • Be open to collaboration (9: 38-41)
          • Avoid destroying the faith of the weak (9: 42-50)
          • Respecting God's plan for marriage (10:1-12)
          • The child as model (10: 13-16)
          • Wealth as an obstacle (10: 17-31)
      • 3rd announcement of his death (10: 32-34)
        • Teaching on the servant attitude of the disciple (10: 35 - 45)
      • Healing of a blind man and the way to Jerusalem (10: 46-52)

      8: 31 – 10: 52
      Judgment of Jerusalem
      • Triumphal entry into Jerusalem (11: 1-11)
      • Judgment in deed and word (11: 12-26)
        • The barren fig tree (11: 12-14)
        • The sellers driven out of the temple (11: 15-19)
        • Teaching about the barren fig tree (11: 20-26)
      • Five disputes (11: 27 – 12: 44)
        • On the authority of Jesus (11: 27 – 12: 12)
        • On the tax due to Caesar (12: 13-17)
        • On the resurrection of the dead (12: 18-27)
        • On the first commandment (12: 28-34)
        • On Psalm 110 (12:35-37)
      • Final teaching: warning and the true gift (12: 38-44)
      • Apocalyptic Discourse on the Ruin of the Temple (13: 1-37)

      11: 1 – 13: 37
      Passion and resurrection
      • Introduction (14: 1-2)
      • The anointing of Bethany (14: 3-9)
      • Betrayal of Judas (14: 10-11)
      • The Passover meal (14:12-31)
      • Gethsemane and the arrest of Jesus (14: 32-52)
      • The trial before the Sanhedrin (14: 53-72)
      • The trial before Pilate (15: 1-20)
      • The crucifixion and death of Jesus (15: 21-41)

      14: 1 – 16: 8
      "This man was truly son of God!" (15: 39)

      • The burial (15: 42-47)
      • The women at the tomb (16: 1-8)

      Non-Marcan addition by an author who knows the Gospel of Luke: Mk 16: 9-20

      In the context of this whole gospel of Mark, we can make some observations about pericope 10:2-16.

      • It belongs to the second part of the gospel which leads to the discovery of Jesus as the "Son of God" through his death on the cross; it is therefore the shadow of his suffering and death that hangs over this section which begins with the first announcement of his passion. It is a section marked by growing opposition to Jesus, an opposition that will reach its climax with his arrival in Jerusalem. At the same time, Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure by giving instructions on how to live after his death.

      • This context marks our pericope. First of all, it appears after the second announcement by Jesus of his passion. The growing opposition to Jesus takes the form of the Pharisees' trick question to Jesus about the husband divorcing his wife. It is a period when Jesus gives his instructions on the life that the disciples will have to live after his departure and which take the form of the teaching on divorce and the expected attitude of the Christian, that of welcoming community life as a pure gift, anticipating the kingdom of the end of time.

    2. Immediate Context

      First of all, in 10:1 we see a change of scene: "Leaving there (Capernaum), Jesus goes into the territory of Judea beyond the Jordan". And the next geographical note comes in 10:17: "As he set out on his journey, someone came running and fell on his knees before him". All this has the effect of constituting the whole of 10:2-16 as a small independent island, our pericope.

      Nevertheless, let us consider what precedes from the second announcement of the passion (9, 30-32). The whole of 9:33-50 is marked by conflict: conflict between disciples (9:34 "they had quarreled") to determine who was the greatest, and therefore about precedence (9:33-37), conflict with rival groups who perform the same exorcisms (9:38-41), conflict with the weakest in the community (42-48), and the whole ends with a conclusion around the role of salt, symbol of the role of the Christian, and a call to keep this property and to live in peace with one another (49-50). Even if 10:1, with Jesus moving up on the road, announces a new set of stories, and therefore a new theme, the theme of conflict of the set 9:33-50 nevertheless rubs off on our pericope: the repudiation of the wife by the husband appears under the color of conflict in the couple, just as the rejection of the children by the disciples appears as a conflict in the community over the place of the little children.

      The story (10:17-31) that follows our pericope is about a man who wants to inherit eternal life and whom Jesus calls to follow him. His refusal because of his wealth gives Jesus the opportunity to teach about the obstacle to the Christian life that is wealth, and about what those who are willing to give it up will receive. Then comes the conclusion: "Many who are first will be last and the last will be first". We are faced with a conflict between two worlds and two scales of value. Now this opposition also colors our pericope: opposition between the vision of marriage in the Jewish world and that of Jesus, opposition between the vision of the community authorities on the place of little children and that of Jesus.

  3. Parallels

    Recall that, according to the most accepted theory in the biblical world, Mark would have been the first to publish his gospel, Matthew and Luke would have reused much of Mark's work in their gospel, while incorporating another source, known to both of them and referred to as the "Q Document," as well as other sources of their own, and finally John would have published an independent gospel at a later date, with no knowledge of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, even though he seems to have had access to similar sources.

    In this context, the study of parallels allows us to better identify what is specific to each evangelist. Here is our convention: we have underlined the words of Mark found as well under the other evangelists' pen; we have put in blue what is common to Matthew and Luke only. The verses of Matthew in square brackets have been placed out of sequence for the sake of comparison.

    Mark 10Matthew 19MatthewLuke
    2 And Pharisees having come near to him, they were asking him whether it is lawful for a husband to release (from a marriage bond) a woman, testing him.3 And Pharisees came near to him, testing him and saying, whether it is lawful for a man to release (from a marriage bond) his woman for any cause?  
    3 Then, him, having answered, he said to them, "What did Moses command you?"4a Then, him, having answered, he said  
    4 Then, them, they said, "Moses allowed to write a roll of divorce and to release (from a marriage bond).[7 they say to him: "Why therefore Moses did command to give a roll of divorce and to release [her] (from a marriage bond)]5: 31 It was said, "Whoever shall release (from a marriage bond) his woman, let him give to her a (letter) of divorce. 
    5 Then, the Jesus said to them, "Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote this commandment to you.[8a He says to them that: Moses, because of the harness of your heart allowed you to release (from a marriage bond) your woman.]  
    6a Then, from the beginning[8b Then, from the beginning it did not happen this way.]  
    6b of creation, male and female he made them.4 Did you not read that the creator from the beginning male and female he made them.  
    7 On account of this a man will leave his father and mother [and be united towards his woman;]5a And he said, "On account of this a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his woman  
    8a and they shall be both in one flesh,5b and they shall be both in one flesh,  
    8b so that they are no longer two, but one flesh.6a so that they are no longer two, but one flesh.  
    9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.6b Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.  
    10 And at home the disciples were asking him again about this.   
    11 And he said to them, "Whoever releases (from a marriage bond) his woman and marries another, he is an adulterer to her;9 Then, I say to you that " Whoever releases (from a marriage bond) his woman, apart from sexual immorality, and marries another, he is an adulterer5: 32a Then, I, I say to you that everyone releasing (from a marriage bond) his woman, except for on account for sexual immorality, makes her to be adulteress,16: 18a Everyone releasing (from a marriage bond) his woman and marrying a different commits adultery.
      and whoever shall marry her having been released (from a marriage bond), he is an adulterer.16: 18b and who marrying her having been released (from a marriage bond) by a husband commits adultery.
    12 And if she, having released (from a marriage bond) her husband, marries another, she is an adulteress.   
    13 And they were presenting children to him, so that he might touch them. Then, the disciples rebuked them.13 At that time, were presented to him children, so that he might put on his hands on them, and he might pray. Then, the disciples rebuked them. 18: 15 Then, they were presenting also to him the babies so that he might touch them. Then, having seen, the disciples were rebuking them.
    14 Then, having seen, the Jesus was outraged and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not stop them. For to such (people) is the kingdom of the God.14 Then, the Jesus said, "Let the children and do not stop them to come to me. For to such (people) is the kingdom of the heavens.18: 3a and he said,18: 16 Then, the Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the children come to me and do not stop them. For to such (people) is the kingdom of the God.
    15 Amen, I say to you, if anyone does not welcome the kingdom of the God as a child, no, he should not enter into it. 18: 3b "Amen, I say to you, if you do not change and become as the children, no, you shall not enter into the kingdom of the heavens.18: 17 Amen, I say to you, if anyone does not welcome the kingdom of the God as a child, no, he should not enter into it.
    16 And having taken them in his arms and blessed them, putting his hands on them.15 And having put on hands on them, he went from there.  

    In view of these parallels, some remarks are in order.

    • Only Matthew has taken up this passage from Mark, since Luke probably did not consider it to be of interest to his community; he will keep only the one verse on the prohibition of divorce, which he will include in a list of instructions on the Christian life (Lk 16:18). In Matthew this passage follows the fourth of Jesus' five great discourses, which deals with fraternal life and belongs to a set of instructions addressed to the disciples.

    • (v. 2) In the introduction to the narrative, the main difference is the addition by Matthew of the expression: "for any reason". The rationale is easy to understand, because for him there are grounds for which a man can repudiate his wife and which he will later make explicit, i.e. the ground of porneia, which we have translated as "sexual immorality".

    • (v. 3) Matthew eliminated the cross-examination of Jesus, asking about Moses' prescription for divorce. Why did he do this? One can think that because of his high Christology, Matthew cannot conceive that Jesus would need to inquire, and therefore would not know the prescription of Moses. Moreover, in his Jewish community, everyone knows this prescription, unlike Mark's Roman community, where many pagan Christians could be found. Thus the Jesus of Matthew immediately goes on the attack, reproaching the Pharisees for ignoring what the book of Genesis says about the couple.

    • (v. 4) Mark gives the details of what Moses had prescribed, information that his audience may not have known. In Matthew's case, where the prescription was well known, the scene takes the form of a question about the "why" of such a prescription. In answering the question of why, Jesus puts the prescription into perspective. Let us note that Matthew evokes the question of divorce twice, in ch. 19 where he takes up the main lines of Mark's text, and in his Sermon on the Mount in ch. 5 where he confronts his Jewish audience with a "you have learned this" and "I tell you this", and so among the things his audience has learned is to issue this divorce bill when a man repudiates his wife.

    • (v. 5) The big difference between the two evangelists is that Matthew changes Mark's verb "wrote" to "allowed" (Gr. epitrepō: to allow, to grant). Matthew insists that this rule is actually a concession, a concession because of the hardness of men's hearts; he likes to be specific.

    • (v. 6a) A minor difference comes from Matthew's addition of "it did not happen this way" to Mark's "from the beginning," a feature of his effort at precision to demonstrate that Moses' rule does not come from the time of creation.

    • (v. 6b) Matthew adds "have you not read", which is normal for his Jewish audience who have certainly read this passage from Genesis, while giving a note of reproach to Jesus' words.

    • (v. 7) When we did the textual criticism of this verse in Mark, we said that "and be united towards his woman" was probably the addition of a copyist to make his text consistent with that of Matthew. The full text is normal in Matthew, who is well acquainted with this passage from Genesis.

    • (v. 10) Matthew has completely ignored that part of Mark's narrative where Jesus is at home being questioned by his disciples. He probably saw that this was a literary device of Mark's, that is used from time to time to insert a particular teaching of Jesus to his disciples, and thus addressed to the Christian community; Matthew preferred to go directly to Jesus' teaching. Moreover, Mark's text introduces a great geographical inconsistency, since he tells us in 10:1 that Jesus has left Capernaum, hence the house, and is now on the other side of the Jordan, in Perea, to follow this road along the Jordan river that will lead him to Jerusalem in ch. 11.

    • (v. 11) The most striking point that distinguishes Mark and Matthew is the case of porneia, which in Matthew becomes an exception to the rule regarding divorce. In Greek, porneia means sexual immorality, debauchery, fornication, prostitution, in short any sexual relationship that is illicit according to the norms of the time, which includes homosexuality and incest. And so we must assume that for Matthew a man can repudiate his wife if she is guilty of sexual immorality. Another peculiarity of Matthew is the expression "makes her to be adulteress" (5: 32a). What does this mean? A woman without a husband means that she is without a breadwinner, and so must seek another man who will provide for her and protect her; in this sense divorce forces her to commit adultery. Luke, on the other hand, differs from Mark in two ways: the phrase "marry another (allos)" is replaced by "marry a different (heteros)," an adjective Luke loves; the verb "to be adulterous" (moichaō) is replaced by "to commit adultery" (moicheuō), a synonymous verb Luke prefers.

      Note the surprising parallels between Matthew and Luke that we pointed out with the color blue. Recall that there is a consensus among biblical scholars that Matthew and Luke did not know their respective gospels. The commonality between the two gospel writers would come from a source known to both, called the Q Document. It is possible that this is the case here, as it considers a case not mentioned by Mark, that of a man marrying a divorcee.

    • (v. 12) Neither Matthew nor Luke take up the case of a woman who repudiates her husband. In Matthew this is understandable, for in a Jewish environment only the man had the right to repudiate. It is more surprising in Luke, who is addressing a Greek audience; either this was a very rare situation (but Paul is clearly referring to such a situation in his first letter to Corinthians 7: 10-11), or it was one that did not interest him.

    • (v. 13) Both Matthew and Luke have taken over this account from Mark, but with some alterations. In Matthew's case, the most important is the replacement of Mark's term "touch", a term he must have found vague and perhaps even inappropriate, because the gesture of touching in the rest of the gospels, either by the people or by Jesus, is related to healing, and it is not about healing with children. Matthew has therefore substituted the motive for this encounter with Jesus, which Mark specifies at the end of the narrative and rephrases as follows: "so that he might put his hands on them and pray"; the gesture and the prayer are an appeal to God's blessings for the little children. Luke introduces two changes: first, he clarifies that these little children are in fact "babies" (brephos), a logical conclusion from the fact that Jesus will embrace or hold them in his arms, and second, he makes a point of mentioning that the disciples will intervene after they have seen what is happening, a perfectly logical observation.

    • (v. 14) Both Matthew and Luke delete the mention that Jesus was outraged with his disciples. They probably found the term too harsh on the disciples. And in particular Luke has eliminated from his gospel all the scenes in which the disciples are not presented in a favorable light, especially the scene in Gethsemane where his disciples abandon him, a scene he ignores entirely. Here, instead of reproach, the scene becomes a moment of teaching by Jesus to his disciples: "Jesus called them (to him), saying

    • (v. 15) Luke reproduces Mark's verse on a solemn affirmation by Jesus as it is. Matthew, on the other hand, has simply eliminated it. Why? Matthew likes a well-structured story and hates repetition. Mark has two scenes of Jesus interacting with the children, the first in the scene of the disciples' conflict over who is the greater, and the second following the scene about the divorce. Matthew has preferred to flesh out Jesus' first interaction with the children by moving there this solemn affirmation of Jesus that begins with "Amen". But at the same time he changes the meaning of Jesus words: it is no longer a question of welcoming the kingdom as a child, but of changing and becoming children again; we are now on the moral level and before an invitation to become new beings. What does this new being consist of? It was made clear in the Sermon on the Mount. Here we find Matthew the Jew with his emphasis on orthopraxis, i.e. acting.

    • (v. 16) It seems that this verse, without much theological value, has embarrassed Matthew and Luke a little. The latter simply ignored it. Matthew, for his part, first eliminated this moment of tenderness on the part of Jesus, which had nothing catechetical about it. Second, he probably found redundant the mention that Jesus blessed the children and then put (tithēmi) his hands on them, and so rewrote the whole thing using the standard language of laying (epitithēmi) of hands.

  4. Intention of the author when writing this passage

    Most biblical scholars agree that Mark's Gospel was published before the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70, because the author seems to be unaware of this event, and so we tend to place this publication around the year 67. According to tradition and by the type of reader that the Gospel assumes, Mark addresses first of all the Christian community in Rome. Now, this community was to experience tragic events under the reign of Nero from 54 to 68, in particular during the burning of Rome in 64, for which they were made the scapegoats. On the subject, the Roman historian Tacitus (Annals, 15, 44) writes:

    But no human means, no imperial largesse, no expiatory ceremonies silenced the public outcry that accused Nero of having ordered the burning. To appease these rumors, he offered other culprits, and made a class of men, hated for their abominations and called Christians, suffer the most refined tortures. This name comes from Christ, who, under Tiberius, was delivered to the torture by the procurator Pontius Pilatus. Suppressed for a moment, this execrable superstition overflowed again, not only in Judea, where it had its source, but in Rome itself, where all that the world encloses of infamies and horrors flocked and found supporters. Those who confessed their sect were first seized, and, on their revelations, an infinite number of others, who were convinced not so much of arson as of hatred for the human race. Some were covered with animal skins and devoured by dogs; others died on crosses, or were smeared with inflammable substances, and when the day was over, they were burned in place of torches. Nero lent his gardens for this spectacle, and at the same time gave games in the Circus, where he sometimes mingled with the people in the clothes of a coachman, and sometimes drove a chariot. Also, although these men were guilty and had deserved the last rigors, the hearts opened with compassion, while thinking that it was not with the public good, but with the cruelty of only one, that they were immolated.

    This context is important for understanding Mark's Gospel: it is a Gospel that is addressed to a community that is torn apart, that does not understand that the one in whom they put their faith, and whom they believe to have risen from the dead, did not intervene to save them from persecution, suffering and death. This is why Mark, as pastor of this community, tries to introduce them progressively to the mystery of life that must pass through suffering and death, a path first traced by their master. Mark's Gospel has something dark and tragic in its plan: all of Jesus' ministry takes place in Galilee, but this ministry is in some sense a preparation before he sets out for Jerusalem where he will be condemned to death; there is in some sense only one road, the road to Calvary.

    Remember that a gospel is not a diary of Jesus' activities, so it is not possible to establish a chronology of what happened during those two and a half years of his ministry. According to John, Jesus went to Jerusalem several times. According to Mark, he went there only once to die: this is not a historical plan, but a theological one, in which, after having made known the power of God's reign at work in his action and teaching to all the people and having associated his disciples with it, he agrees to face suffering and death. Although he did not know Jesus directly, he seems to have a wealth of written and oral traditions. According to tradition, he knew Peter. Thus, he reorganizes the material at his disposal, imprinting his talent as a great storyteller, especially since the gospel was intended to be proclaimed aloud in the Christian assembly. And above all, he wants to be a catechist for his newly baptized to whom he wants to help discover in whom they have put their faith.

    Our pericope belongs to that moment when Jesus leaves Capernaum to take the road to Jerusalem. The best way to avoid the mountains of Samaria was to go down into the Jordan valley and follow the river on the eastern side, the present Jordan, and thus go as far as Jericho, before going up to the heights of Jerusalem. Thus Mark writes: "From there Jesus went into the territory of Judea beyond the Jordan" (10:1). According to Mark, setting out for Jerusalem means setting out for the place of his trial and death. A few verses earlier, Mark has already inserted Jesus' second announcement of the suffering and death that await him. This is the moment Mark chooses to talk about divorce. Why does he do this? After this time when Jesus addressed the crowds and faced with the refusal of many to welcome him, Jesus now reserves the majority of his teaching for those who have agreed to welcome him, his disciples. Moreover, the prospect of his death makes it important to train those who will constitute the first Christian communities and continue the proclamation of his message. We can also add that Mark insists on the intensification of Jesus' conflicts with the representatives of Judaism. Now, historically, we know that Jesus debated with the scribes on a number of points of the Law and Jewish traditions, and the question of divorce was a much debated point in Pharisaic circles. So, while Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, Mark saw fit to insert a question about divorce from the Pharisees, even though the presence of Pharisees on the other side of the Jordan is unlikely, since they were most likely to be found in Jerusalem.

    Mark probably had some bits of tradition and some words of Jesus that he will try to string together. Tradition has left us with an echo of Jesus' style of interacting with people that has something of the Socratic about it, i.e. the use of the question to answer a question. One can imagine a tradition about Jesus' interaction with scribes, perhaps Pharisees, where they want to know his position on divorce. The introduction to v. 3 bears the mark of Mark's vocabulary. But the bulk of vv. 4-6 seems to come from a tradition in which Jesus was asked a question about divorce and answered with a counter-question about the Mosaic rule, then explained it by the hardness of men's hearts and ended by referring to the Genesis text ("male and female he made them"), indicating his position: what God has joined, let no man separate (v. 9). According to Meier, this sentence that Mark receives through the Greek tradition has a good chance of being an echo of the Aramaic word of Jesus. This would be the content of the tradition that Mark receives and reflected somewhat in v. 2, but especially in verses 4-6 and 9.

    But Mark wants to flesh out this basic story. First, the early Christians reflected on Jesus' words and teaching by reading again the Old Testament from this perspective, and among Greek-speaking Christians, by reading it through the text of the Septuagint. To understand Jesus' position on divorce, they read the book of Genesis, specifically Gen 2:24, from which they extracted this: "Because of this a man shall leave his father and mother, and they shall be both in one flesh". It is this version of the Septuagint that Mark inserts. And to emphasize this understanding of the early church, Mark adds (8b), "therefore" (hōste, a very Marcan conjunction) they are no longer two, but one flesh." And this allows him to introduce the position of Jesus, which he places in v. 9.

    Finally, at the end of this account, Mark finds it logical and appropriate to introduce now the ecclesiastical legislation of the early church concerning divorce, in particular that in force in his Roman community: "Whoever perchance would release (from a marriage bond) his woman and would marry another, he is an adulterer to her; And if she, having released (from a marriage bond) her husband, would marry another, she is an adulteress" (v. 11-12). Here we have the beginning of canon law. But to make it clear that we are in a context of Christian community, after Jesus' departure, Mark uses the geographical device of being at home, symbol of the Church, and the disciples question Jesus, symbol of Christian reflection (v.10). Why put this canon law in Jesus' mouth when it comes from the early church? For Mark, the Christian community's decision on divorce has the same authority as if it came from the mouth of Jesus.

    It can be pointed out that Mark merely reflected Roman casuistry, supporting it with a tradition of Jesus' position on divorce. One would look in vain for some nuances, as we find in Paul in 1 Corinthians 7, where he takes up Jesus' position on divorce, but admits that certain situations, such as a conflict with an unbelieving spouse, allow for divorce and remarriage, even if the new spouse must be a Christian. Similarly, Matthew, reflecting his Eastern Christian community, perhaps Antioch, allows an exception to Jesus' position in a case of sexual immorality. What do these exceptions tell us? The position of Jesus is situated in a very precise context: that of a total domination of the man over the woman, and that of a Jesus who proposes a prophetic word. By referring to the Genesis account in which God created human beings as men and women, thus on an equal footing and reflecting both how God sees them, Jesus showed himself to be revolutionary and attacked head-on the abusive practice of men treating women as objects and getting rid of them as they pleased. Jesus' words cannot be properly interpreted without knowing this context. Secondly, Jesus' perspective is not legal, but prophetic: he gives us God's vision of the couple, which, by forming one flesh, anticipates what God wants for humanity. A prophetic word is not a legal word, i.e. it does not answer the practical question: what do we do if it fails? Paul, as a pastor, answered this question. Matthew, as a pastor, answered it as well. This was not Jesus' mission, it is ours.

    Nevertheless, Mark gives us his perspective on Jesus' words about divorce by adding another story, one about little children. Mark seems to have known a tradition concerning children. He gives us an echo of it in the story about a dispute among the disciples about who is the greatest (9:33-37). And now he inserts it after Jesus' position on divorce. One may be surprised and find it hard to see how both stories are related. But there is a connection between the woman who is divorced and the child who is denied access to Jesus. Both are minors in the society of the time, unimportant beings to be disposed of as one pleases. And so, in his own way, Mark gives us the context to understand the word concerning the repudiation of the woman, i.e. not a legal context, but the context of Jesus' view of human beings.

    Mark's text on the little children (vv. 13-16) has two parts. The first part, vv. 13-15, is very marked by Marcan vocabulary, and v. 16 contains rare words or expressions not found elsewhere in Mark. Where did Mark get the scene in which Jesus is presented with children and the disciples reject them, followed by Jesus' presentation of them as a model? It is possible that the evangelist knew of a tradition on the subject, but the scene bears so much of Mark's vocabulary that it is not possible to isolate it. And above all, its intention is clear: to present the position of the early church on the access of small children and babies to the Christian community, and thus to baptism. In particular, in v. 15 he uses the same legal language we had about divorce, this time to present to us the need to have the same attitude as that of a child, totally open, with trusting gratitude, to enter the kingdom of God, and thus for the time being, the Christian community. It is as if Mark had transposed to the time of Jesus the debate that the first Christians had about the place of children in the community. And to justify the church's final position, he could use what tradition has left us of Jesus' interaction with children, which he presents to us in v. 16: "And having embraced them in his arms, he blessed them and put his hands on them.

    Thus, through this journey of Jesus to his death in Jerusalem, Mark focuses our attention on the legacy that Jesus left to his disciples, 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 the teaching of Jesus.

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

    1. Suggestions from the different symbols in the story

      The symbols in this story are extremely numerous. Let's choose a few of them.

      • "Woman". In the patriarchal world of the Bible, the woman remained a minor all her life and the man could expel her when he did not like her anymore. Today we are faced with feminicide. All eras, all civilizations and all religions are confronted with its vision of women. What light does our story shed?

      • "Marriage Bond". A bond can exist on several levels. There are sentimental bonds, practical bonds required in a collaborative work, there are bonds of solidarity, there are contractual and legal bonds. We can live all these bonds at the same time. What is our perception of this bond called "matrimonial"? Where do we place it in relation to what Mark's story reveals to us?

      • "Repudiation". It is the gesture of sending away someone who no longer fulfills one's needs, it is to put an end to a relationship of any kind: to repudiate a friend, a collaborator, a supplier, a parent, a spouse. Is this not sometimes justified? When is repudiation an appropriate action, when is it not? Can our story shed any light on this?

      • "One flesh". This expression, which comes to us from Genesis, is very strong, because it means two people become one being. First of all, is this possible? Is it desirable? On what condition? Why would we want to become one, and why would that be part of God's plan? Is this not what our story proposes?

      • "Child". The child of which the New Testament speaks does not refer to an innocent being, pure and without moral imperfection, but to a being totally dependent and without great social value? This symbol of total dependence may offend a society where the ideal is to become independent and control everything. But can we control what is beyond us? Isn't the only option when faced with what is beyond us to receive it with gratitude? Isn't this what our story teaches us?

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

      The challenge here is to consider how an evangelical passage can shed light on events such as these:

      • The pandemic caused people to be confined, which created a lot of stress for couples. There has been a lot of tension, if not conflict. What makes it possible for couples to survive these difficult times, and even grow? Can our story contribute to this?

      • It seems that there is no limit to the misfortunes of people. Haiti has seen its president assassinated, before experiencing another earthquake. The harshness of life marks its face. How can such people welcome the words of Jesus: "whoever does not welcome the domain of God as a child has no access to it"? Can they believe in better days, and that these better days will be given to them freely?

      • The Taliban are about to control all of Afghanistan. This means that women will no longer be allowed to go to school and will have to wear the burqa or niqab. This is the return of their oppression, a great setback. What place does our story have in maintaining hope in the expression of women's greatness?

      • During the pandemic-induced lockdown, many lost their jobs, creating a crisis about the possibility of losing their homes. Some of the laws that prevented eviction only delayed the problem. It is a great fragility to not be sure of being able to find housing. In such a context, isn't it brazen to propose the dependent child as a model? But isn't it the way to a profound change in society?

      • In Canada, it is estimated that there is a femicide (a woman or girl killed because of her gender) every two and a half days. In 2020, this represents the murder of 160 women. Doesn't this point to a problem in male-female relationships? How can this be changed? Can our story help?


-André Gilbert, Gatineau, August 2021