Was Jesus Ever Indignant?
Aug 08, 2011 by Craig Blomberg | 2 Comments
“. . . Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" (Mark 1:41, updated NIV).
Unfortunately, many Bible readers today form opinions about the merits of various translations based on hearsay rather than firsthand examination of the text of Scripture, even if that hearsay is quite mistaken or slanted in what it claims. Sometimes people just accept the opinion of a trusted authority in their lives. Maybe they base their decision solely on the rendering of a single verse, or collection of verses on the same topic or involving the same issue. Some people stress very literal renderings at the expense of clarity of meaning, or freshness of style at the expense of faithfulness to the original languages.
Having read large swaths of many of the major English translations of the Bible and having been involved in the production of four of the major recent translations (ESV, HCSB, NLT and updated NIV), I am convinced that the updated NIV achieves the best combination of accuracy and clarity of meaning most frequently. Each translation has its appropriate niche, but the NIV seems to serve best the broadest cross-section of purposes and audiences. This is the fifth in a series of blogs, appearing more frequently than in the past, which looks at a diverse collection of texts and topics that I believe support my conviction.
In his least skewed (and first) book, emerging out of his doctoral dissertation, Bart Ehrman discussed The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. Early scribes, wanting to magnify and exalt Jesus at times added extra titles for him as they copied the sacred text. “Jesus” might become “the Lord Jesus” or “Jesus Christ” and each of these latter two forms could in turn become “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Sometimes they sought to harmonize parallel gospel texts by the change of a word or phrase. Once in awhile they might even make a decision based on what they thought was more honoring to Jesus’ deity than to his humanity. Many King James Version Only people, picking up on the return to the more original, shorter forms in modern translations, mistakenly think that this is a sign that all versions but the KJV are “liberal”!
A unique instance of this trend appears in Mark 1:41. The vast majority of manuscripts record that when Jesus was confronted by the leper who asked for healing (v. 40), splanchnistheis. Most translations accept this as the correct reading and translate that Jesus was “moved with pity” or “compassion.” But the Western tradition (one of four main text-types of ancient manuscripts and the third most important of the four) includes a number of manuscripts, including its most important representative, Codex Bezae (D), that read orgistheis—meaning that he was “enraged” or “indignant.” It is a verb that comes from the same root as the noun orgē, often used throughout the Greek Bible to speak of God’s “wrath.”
The verb is less common, especially in the New Testament, and especially in the Gospels, and it appears nowhere in Mark. Could Mark have actually used it of Jesus? Matthew 22:7 and Luke 14:21 both use it of the master in the two great banquet parables who is angry at the invited guests who are no-shows, and in each of those parables the master is a God (or Jesus)-figure. Mark uses orgē, the cognate noun, in 3:5, when he writes that Jesus looked around with anger at those who were trying to test him and who didn’t want the man with the withered hand healed on a Sabbath. There seems to be no reason why he could not have reacted with indignation in Mark 1:41 as well—perhaps at the debilitating effects of the skin disease, perhaps at what he perceived to be the man’s doubt as to whether he had the power or desire to make him whole again. In John 11:33 and 38, the verb used of Jesus’ emotions is a form of embrimaomai—to scold, censure or warn sternly. Only secondarily does it have the more bland sense of to be deeply moved, as in many translations (including the updated NIV, with which we just ran out of time before addressing all the issues that we might have, though there are also other complicating exegetical issues in the John text). Indeed the verb appears two verses after our passage in Mark 1, where most translations read that Jesus “sternly warned” or “charged” the man after his healing to keep quiet about it (v. 43).
Mark could very well have used a sharp word like orgistheis, then, in verse 41 as well. Had a scribe gotten the idea from the emotion of the form of embrimaomai in verse 43, we might have expected him to duplicate that verb, just as John 11 does, using it twice in close proximity. We can easily understand why many scribes, embarrassed by what could have been viewed as almost uncontrolled rage, changed orgistheis to splanchnistheis (“had compassion”): it occurs twelve other times, just in the Gospels. But it is extremely hard to imagine a scribe ever seeing “had compassion” and changing it to “was indignant.” This defies all of the principles of textual criticism that have been traced in biblical studies. What are perceived as “harder” readings are made “easier,” not the other way around. Of course, a reading can be judged to be “too hard” to ever have been original and chalked up to an accidental mistake of some kind. But we have nothing near to that with this passage.
Some translations “play it safe” and stick with the traditional rendering but give a footnote to alert careful readers to the other option. The TNIV and now the updated NIV have reversed that procedure. So, too, has the brand new Common English Bible, which uses “incensed” as its rendering of orgistheis. After all, there really is nothing “unorthodox” about this concept, despite Ehrman’s book title, sensationalizing like most of his tend to do. Indeed, one could argue that those who have no room in their understanding for a fully human Jesus, who demonstrates righteous indignation, are those whose views of Christ are too docetic, and thus unorthodox.
At any rate, here is one more small reason why the updated NIV is the best all-around translation available in English today.