For an Informed Love of God
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he came across a leper who said, “If you are willing, you can make me clean!” (Mark 1:40). The next verse gives an interesting insight into Jesus’ personality.
The NIV and NET are alone at saying, “Jesus was indignant” (ὀργίζω). The NIV has a footnote, “Many manuscripts Jesus was filled with compassion” (σπλαγχνίζομαι). “Indignant” is a toned-down word for “be angry.” So was Jesus angry or compassionate?
In Misquoting Jesus, Ehrman uses this as one of his main proof-texts that an early scribe changed our understanding of Jesus’ personality, even suggesting that Jesus was angry much of the time and only gave his time begrudgingly to help others. So this is an important question.
The Greek words are sufficiently different, so it is doubtful this was an unintentional change.
The external evidence is on the side of “compassion”; so if “indignant” was original, the change must have happened quite early.
Metzger suggests that the strong language of v 43 might have prompted the change from “compassion” to “indignant.” “Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning (ἐμβριμάομαι),” which was not an uncommon response of Jesus, who did not always want people to talk about his healing power.
But it seems more likely that “indignant” was original, and that a scribe thought Jesus’ response was inappropriate. After all, wasn’t Jesus a loving person?
(1) “Indignant” is the much more “difficult” reading, since it is more likely that a scribe would have changed “indignant” to “compassionate.”
(2) It is clear from preceding verses that Jesus was already well-known as a generous healer (v 34), and the leper’s question is therefore a bit odd and perhaps off-putting since people knew he was willing.
(3) In Mark 3:5, Jesus did respond in anger (μετ᾽ ὀργῆς), but this time it was with the Jewish leaders, a common object of his anger (cf. Matt 23).
(4) When the disciples did not allow children to come to him, Jesus became “indignant” (ἀγανακτέω) and “said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these’” (Mark 10:14). ἀγανακτέω has a range of meaning, to “be indignant against what is assumed to be wrong, be aroused, indignant, angry” (BDAG).
(5) There are no variants for Mark 3:5 and 10:14, so it can be argued that sometimes Jesus did respond somewhat in anger (frustration?), as perhaps is illustrated in his cleansing of the temple, and Paul later says that proper anger is acceptable and perhaps even appropriate (Eph 4:26).
Does this change our understanding of who Jesus was? Was he, in essence, an angry man? Of course not. A response of anger, whether it be directed at questioning his willingness to heal or directed toward the effects of sin on his good creation, does not make him “an angry man.” Certainly a compassionate person, once in a while, can respond in anger and yet not be characterized as “an angry man.” Sometimes anger is the right respond to a bad situation, and in this verse he did respond compassionately by healing the leper.