Bill Mounce

For an Informed Love of God

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

A little text criticism (Mark 1:41)

I was teaching on the end of Mark 1 a couple weeks ago in Sunday School, and I hadn't read the text as carefully as I should have. I was using the NIV; because I am more familiar with this story in the ESV, I wasn't ready for the surprise.

So lesson #1: prepare for Sunday School by reading the entire passage in the Bible version from which you are teaching.

It is the healing passage of the man with leprosy. He says to Jesus, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” V 41 in the NIV says, "Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!'”

"Indignant"? That's what caught me off guard. Every other translation has something like, "moved with compassion."

The issue is a variation in the Greek texts. The NIV is following the reading of ὀργισθείς, and everyone else reads σπλαγχνισθείς. So let's walk through this.

External evidence. ὀργισθείς is read by Codex Bezae (D), and a few Latin mss (a ff2 r1*) . σπλαγχνισθείς is read by א B D it sa(mss) bo(pt) and others. Very little question here that the external evident supports σπλαγχνισθείς. Neither Matt 8:43 or Luke 5:13 include either word. In fact, the external evidence is so strong that I am surprised it didn’t solve the debate in and of itself.

I suspect that the main argument for the NIV reading is internal evidence. Which reading would have more likely been changed to the other? ὀργίσθεις is clearly the harder reading; how strange to think of Jesus becoming indignant (“angry”) when the leper expresses faith in Jesus' ability to heal, but lacked confidence that Jesus would actually want to do the miracle. (We are at the beginning of Jesus' ministry and he was still an unknown quantity.) More likely to see a scribe softening ὀργισθείς to σπλαγχνισθείς.

And yet, in Mark 3:5 we read, “after looking around at them in anger (μετ᾿ ὀργῆς), grieved at the hardness of their heart.” In Mark 10:14 it says, “But when Jesus saw it,  he was indignant (ἠγανάκτησεν) and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me. Do not prevent them,  for of such is the kingdom of God.’” But BDAG give this as the semantic range for ἀγανακτέω: “be indignant against what is assumed to be wrong, be aroused, indignant, angry.” One could argue from this that Mark 1:41 originally read σπλαγχνισθεὶς and it was changed to ὀργίσθεις for harmonization.

It is interesting BDAG does not list the softened “indignant” but only the harsher “be angry.” Can you really lessen the strength of ὀργισθείς to “indignant”?

Even if you could, was Jesus really "indignant" with the leper? I can't conceive of any situation in which this would have been his response, which is why the commentaries direct his indignation toward the destructive influence of sin in this world. Jesus had made all things, and had made them good. He had created a world that would be the perfect place for you and me to live in community with one another and with him, and with his Son and with the Spirit. He had created it carefully, meticulously, beautifully, with loving care.

And then came sin, horribly corrupting his work. You bet he was angry (see Mark 3:5). He wasn't indignant; he was mad. So why not keep “angry” in Mark 1:41 if you are going to read ὀργισθείς?

I love the countryside. I was raised in the suburbs, but have always been uncomfortable in the city where I can see almost nothing of the Lord's creative work. Just concrete and steel. For me, real beauty is to see what Jesus made, unaltered, where a simple high hill across from our cabin seems to be the greatest source of beauty. Why is it so beautiful? Because God made it, and my spirit knows that I am looking at what my Savior has created. It is why we call this hill, ὁ ὄρος τοῦ θεοῦ.

Not only does our sin cause Jesus great pain as he watches his children struggle, but I think looking at his creation, what it was, and what it has become due to the ravages of our sin, causes him great pain, even anger.

Skin diseases are just one example of the corrupting influences of our sin on his good creative work. But someday, all will be made new, and we will live as perfect people in his perfectly re-created world, just as he intended so many centuries ago.

And anger will be a thing of the past, as will indignation.


I am just as surprised as you are that the strength of the external evidence did not end the debate. I would, however, conclude that there is no question concerning which reading the external evidence supports, rather than "very little question" as you put it. I also believe that your suspicions concerning internal evidence being the primary basis for the NIV 2011 reading are well founded. I am disappointed that you chose in this post to deal primarily with the internal evidence, and gave the appearance that you were defending the NIV's decision. I fail to understand why anyone would argue against the preponderance of external evidence for σπλαγχνισθείς cited in the UBS, 4th rev. ed. (1994), pg. 122, and the NA, 27th ed. (1898, 1993), pg. 91. The subjectivity involved in concluding in favor of a reading found in no papyrus, only one uncial, not a single miniscule, only four other manuscripts in the Old Latin, and the Diatessaron (which has its own set of problems, see the UBS, 4th rev. ed., pp. 38-39), in my opinion is extreme. Regardless of one's approach to textual criticism, or what family of manuscripts one might be prejudiced in favor of, the reading that has been preserved in all but one of the uncials, all of the miniscules, all of the Lectionaries, all of the versions (except for the four examples of the Old Latin previously referred to, while the other six contain the reading cited in the text), and the only two Fathers cited cannot be so easily dismissed. The two word note, "Many manuscripts", in the 2011 NIV at this place is an gross understatement the reality of which renders their decision inexplicable to me. It is also significant that the degree of certainty was increased by the UBS editors from a D in the 3rd ed. (corrected, 1983), "the Committee had great difficulty in arriving at a decision", to a B in the 4th rev. ed. (1994), "the text is almost certain". Apparently the committee involved in textual decisions for the 2011 NIV was moving in another direction altogether. Nevertheless, see the following for other discussions of this issue: 1. Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament: A Companion Volume to the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament (third edition) (Stuttgart, Germany: United Bible Societies, 1971), pp. 76-77, including footnote 2 on pg. 77. 2. Daniel B. Wallace, "The Gospel According To Bart: A Review Article Of Misquoting Jesus By Bart Ehrman", Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49:2 (Jun 2006), pp. 340-342, "IV. The Problem With Problem Passages", 3. In footnotes 50 and 51 of this article Wallace refers to the following two works that address this issue, respectively: "Bart D. Ehrman, “A Leper in the Hands of an Angry Jesus,” in New Testament Greek and Exegesis: Essays in Honor of Gerald F. Hawthorne (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003) 77-98." "Mark A. Proctor, “The ‘Western’ Text of Mark 1:41:A Case for the Angry Jesus” (Ph.D. diss., Baylor University, 1999). Even though Ehrman’s article appeared four years after Proctor’s disser tation, Ehrman did not mention Proctor’s work." 3. NET Bible note 74 on this verse at [accessed 26 MAR 2013]: tc The reading found in almost the entire NT ms tradition is σπλαγχνισθείς (splancnisqei", “moved with compassion”). Codex Bezae (D), {1358}, and a few Latin mss (a ff2 r1*) here read ὀργισθείς (ojrgisqei", “moved with anger”). It is more difficult to account for a change from “moved with compassion” to “moved with anger” than it is for a copyist to soften “moved with anger” to “moved with compassion,” making the decision quite difficult. B. M. Metzger (TCGNT 65) suggests that “moved with anger” could have been prompted by 1:43, “Jesus sent the man away with a very strong warning.” It also could have been prompted by the man’s seeming doubt about Jesus’ desire to heal him (v. 40). As well, it is difficult to explain why scribes would be prone to soften the text here but not in Mark 3:5 or 10:14 (where Jesus is also said to be angry or indignant). Thus, in light of diverse mss supporting “moved with compassion,” and at least a plausible explanation for ὀργισθείς as arising from the other reading, it is perhaps best to adopt σπλαγχνισθείς as the original reading. Nevertheless, a decision in this case is not easy. For the best arguments for ὀργισθείς, however, see M. A. Proctor, “The ‘Western’ Text of Mark 1:41: A Case for the Angry Jesus” (Ph.D. diss., Baylor University, 1999). Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria, John T. "Jack" Jeffery, Pastor, Wayside Gospel Chapel Greentown, PA)

I recently came across this "translation" in my new NIV Bible, and I prefer the "indignant" translation. Why? The leper states to Jesus, "If you are willing, you can make me clean." Jesus was "indignant" because of course He is willing. This is the same reaction Jesus had to the father of the mute epileptic boy, When the boys father said "if you can" Jesus replied with a stern "IF I CAN?" Jesus, as the Word made flesh, represents the incarnate will of the Father on earth, and Jesus healed ALL who came to Him. This is pertinent today for those who when praying for healing say, "If it be your will, Lord?" and today the Lord replies "IF?!" This is even more relevant when we read 1 John 5:14,15 where it is written, "if we pray according to His will we know He hears us, and when he hears us he does what we ask of Him."

If someone questions a doctors willingness to heal, would not that doctor be indignant? Was there ever any time when Jesus turned away anyone who asked for healing? Ever? Jesus is peregect theology.

Your pints are solid. The evidence of context supports your conclusion. Jesus understood not only the man’s faith and nature but his thoughts and circumstance. Speculation is a poor tool but here may prove useful. If Pharisees had hired this leper (the more pitiful the better) to challenge this new teacher into exposing real power or none. Jesus in perfect character, irritated (‘iratus’-Bazae’s Latin text) at the motive yet compassionate towards the man, healed him yet instructed him NOT to tell anyone...of course knowing the result which puts pressure on His ultimate timeline. Sometimes contextual imagination, not excluded by the context, can be a helpful (if not entirely instructive) tool of understanding the human heart.

I first discovered this in a Bible study and all others responded with compassion and I thought I had read the wrong passage. Recently I found a few others that change the focus. Matt 18:15. NIV 2011 takes out the words *sins against you*. It completely changed the focus of our discussion. and Malachi 2:16. Changes from the Lord saying *I hate divorce* to *the man who hates his wife and divorces her.* NIV 2011... really changed things.

I just ran into this myself. The dictionary definition of indignant is "to be angry or annoyed" or both. Jesus already knew what his future held if he healed this man. If you knew, in advance, that healing the leper would cause them to go out and spread word about you such that you could no longer enter towns but have to "live out in lonely areas," you too would probably be annoyed/upset. It is possible to be both annoyed/irritated AND be compassionate at the same time. My father has a favorite saying, "An emergency on your behalf does not constitute an emergency on my behalf" but then he proceeds to help the person anyway. That saying demonstrates his both being annoyed/indignant/upset at having to do some task that perhaps could and should have been done sooner (i.e. better time management on the other person's behalf) but also demonstrating sufficient compassion at the same time to actually proceed to help out anyway. If my dad simply said the phrase and then didn't take any action, then that would probably upset the person he said it to. Many people have learned to manage their time well because of that particular saying followed up with the assistance they requested. So maybe both interpretations are equally applicable. Jesus was annoyed and perhaps ticked off knowing what his future held of not being able to enter towns/villages to carry out his mission despite the apparent attempt to change it with this man - that is, telling the man to not spread word about his healing, knowing the man would do so anyway. And yet he healed the man because of his deep compassion for those who are suffering. Mark is a weird book. It's very different from the other gospels and almost lives in its own universe. It has the feeling of "Oh maybe I should get on this gospel writing bandwagon" but then wrote it like someone who was jotting down a diary. I agree that NIV 2011 changed a number of things - perhaps not for the better or more accurate. I keep a NIV 1984 handy for strange scenarios and a web browser handy for looking stuff up online. Thanks for the breakdown of the original materials and the helpful insights here.

I'm not a Greek scholar, so I appreciate Mr. Mounce explaining what lies behind the New International Version. As I write in a short web log, I like both texts! ( -- but this might be removed which is fine). Again, thank you - Louis