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Yeshua in Context » Detailed Commentary, DHE (Delitzsch Gospels), General, Greek Text and Translation » Mark 1:1, Greek-Hebrew-English

Mark 1:1, Greek-Hebrew-English

If you don’t know Greek or Hebrew, no problem. Each time I do one of these there will be a few notes and nuggets of value for you even without facility in biblical languages. I will be concise in my notes, so these should be quite readable even if you are not technically oriented in your Bible reading. Who knows? By the time we get to some sayings of Yeshua, perhaps one of my mentors, Rabbi Carl Kinbar, will be willing to supply a theoretical Aramaic original (along the lines of Maurice Casey’s work). For now, a simple exegesis of Mark 1:1.

The Society of Biblical Literature Greek Text (minus accents):
’Αρχη του ’ευαγγελιου ’Ιησου χριστου.

Note: See below regarding the missing phrase “son of God.”

The Delitzsch Hebrew text (from the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels, Vine of David):
תְּחִלַּת בְּשׂוֹרַת יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁחַ בֶּן–הָאֱלֹהִים

Tekhillat besorat Yeshua HaMashiakh ben-haElohim.

The English Translation RSV:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The English Translation DHE (Delitzsch Hebrew English, Vine of David):
The beginning of the good news of Yeshua the Mashiach, the son of God.

SHOULD “SON OF GOD” BE HERE?
Adela Yarbro Collins (Hermeneia Commentary) gives a compelling answer: the phrase “son of God” was almost certainly added by a scribe. It does exist in some good manuscripts (including Sinaiticus and Vaticanus). But it is virtually impossible to explain how a scribe would omit “son of God” on the introductory verse of the gospel, whereas it is easy to explain how a scribe would add “son of God” (since similar additions to add sanctity in depicting Yeshua happen in other places in the gospels).

If you are not used to the idea that manuscripts of the Bible vary in numerous details, a quick glance at the Wikipedia article, “Textual Variants in the New Testament,” should give you the idea.

WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES “SON OF GOD” MAKE?
Mark’s introductory verse is, arguably, a statement of his purpose throughout the gospel.

The way Mark tells the story of Yeshua, we see again and again the lofty but hidden identity of Yeshua. Every single pericope (scene) in Mark seems designed to explore who he is. And the titles “Messiah/Christ” and “Son of God” both fit well with Mark’s writing.

If we assume Mark 1:1 did not originally say “son of God,” this does not necessarily weaken the view that the introductory verse is a statement of purpose. For Mark, we can guess that the whole issue of Yeshua’s hidden but lofty identity is wrapped up in the word Christ or Messiah. His gospel is about Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus the Christ). And “son of God” is appropriate to the way he reveals Yeshua later.

DELITZSCH’S TRANSLATION OF “BEGINNING”
Delitzsch could have used reshit for beginning but opted for tekhillat instead. Some commentators think Mark was evoking the beginning of Genesis (bereshit, or “in the reshit“). Delitzsch chose instead tekhillat, a word used 21 times in the Hebrew Bible for the onset of a period of time.

This is rather more like Hosea 1:2 (“when the Lord began to speak through Hosea” or “when the Lord first spoke through Hosea”) than Genesis 1:1.

In other words. Delitzsch considered (presumably) and rejected the idea of an allusion to Genesis. He saw Mark 1:1, rather, as referring to the beginning of a new era, the era of the good news. Collins and some other commentators think “beginning” refers not just to the period covered in the book of Mark itself, but even beyond the end of Mark. The place where Mark picks up the story is the beginning of something new in the history of the world. It is tekhillat besorah, the beginning of the [era of] good news in Messiah.

BESORAH-GOSPEL-GOOD NEWS
In the Hebrew Bible, the word for tidings from a messenger can be neutral (good or bad tidings) or in some cases it seems to imply good tidings (even without the adjective good being used). This is an example of a confusing and vague connotation for a word in another language. If you were to ask, “Does besorah mean simply news or good news?” the answer would have to be, “It depends on context.”

Besorah is used 6 times in the Hebrew Bible and its verb form, mevasser, is used also 6 times.

There is something significant in that the earliest language describing the impact of Yeshua on the world (Mark and Paul as examples) uses besorah (“good news” or “tidings from a messenger”) and not simply davar (“word” or “message”). A word from a messenger is inherently important, about something crucial and perhaps even a matter of life or death. The story of Yeshua is not just any word or message. It is world changing, as in the inscription about Caesar Augustus at Priene in Asia Minor: “the birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of joyful tidings which have been proclaimed on his account” (cf. Daniel Harrington, Sacra Pagina commentary).

A form of the Greek euangelion translates the Hebrew mevasser of Isaiah 52:7 in the Septuagint (LXX). Isaiah 52:7 in the RSV reads, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings.”

“Gospel” is a word deriving from Middle English (God-spell) and seems to be based on the idea that hearing the story of Jesus can put you under the God-spell (change your life with divine power). It is one of those religious words we probably ought to use less often. It is one of many examples of perfectly normal words that have become confusing due to religious use (favor-grace, rescue-salvation, gospel-tidings).

CHRISTOU: NAME OR TITLE?
Delitzsch’s Hebrew translation puts the definite article into Yeshua HaMashiakh whereas the Greek text has not definite article (Iesou Christou). In other words, Delitzsch seeks to clarify Christ-Messiah as a title and downplay the possibility it came to be used like a name.

Mark can distinguish between the two kinds of usage. Compare Mark 1:1 with Mark 8:29:
1:1, Iesou Christou, Yeshua Messiah.
8:29, su ei ho Christos, you are the Messiah.

Collins thinks that “Christ” came to be used as a name in the early movement, though its roots clearly came from the title, “the Christ” or “the Messiah.”

EVALUATING DELITZSCH
Delitzsch has made some decisions with which I disagree. He opts to keep “son of God” in the verse in spite of the more likely explanation that it was added later. He opts to make “Messiah” and title and not reproduce it as a name, though evidence is to the contrary.

Still, all translation involves reproducing the original idea from one culture into a different one. In making a Jewish edition of the gospels in Hebrew, it is reasonable that Delitzsch would use “Messiah” in the more familiar Jewish manner.

Delitzsch has also made decisions with which I agree: using tekhillat for beginning instead of trying to evoke Genesis and using besorah for gospel/good-news.

SUMMARY
Mark 1:1 is statement of purpose, a statement about the identity of Yeshua, and a statement about the impact of Yeshua on the world. Mark’s purpose will be to show Yeshua the Nazarene as Yeshua Messiah (or Yeshua the Messiah). He will define “Messiah” by the things he shows Yeshua doing and saying.

Mark also makes a statement about Yeshua’s identity: he is worthy of the name Messiah.

And he makes a statement in this verse about the impact of Yeshua on the world: he is good tidings from heaven, a world changing figure whose life story begins a new era.

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Filed under: Detailed Commentary, DHE (Delitzsch Gospels), General, Greek Text and Translation

11 Responses to "Mark 1:1, Greek-Hebrew-English"

  1. Andrew T. says:

    Hi Derek,

    The mindset of the early Christian copyist was not like that of the traditional Jewish sofer stam, whose halachic duty is to precisely re-copy letter for letter, or it’s posul. While making his copy, he saw a passage that could be rendered more holy-sounding and/or theologically correct were he to add a few choice words, and went for it. Siniaticus and Vaticanus are the earliest extant New Testament manuscripts, but they’re fourth century. Think of how many additions and redactions might have been made between the first and fourth centuries. The trinitarian formula at the end of the Book of Matthew certainly wasn’t in the original manuscript (and is contradicted elsewhere in the NT), but whole theologies have been spun from it. Then you try to argue with fundamentalists who say “it’s in my KJV Bible, and that’s that”, and you can’t win.

    Very interesting info about the name/title issue. I’ve wondered a great deal about this myself. Some ignorant (and/or nominal) Christians are even wont to think it’s his last name, as if he were the kid of Joseph and Mary Christ! But I wonder what you think: was Christos simply the Greek way to say “Messiah”, or did Paul have something loftier than the Jewish Moshiach in mind?

  2. Andrew T. says:

    And just in case you’re wondering, no, I don’t believe any of that sensational junk about an “original Hebrew New Testament” (maybe Matthew was originally in Hebrew or Aramaic, if Eusebius had his story straight). The evidence is not there, and the Peshitta is clearly a translation from the Greek.

  3. yeshuain says:

    Andrew T.:

    I appreciate the sentiment, but there are a few inaccuracies in your comment and I’d be remiss not to point them out. The customs involved in copying a Torah scroll today have nothing to do with the practices of Jewish scribes in ancient times. You see, the textual variants in Hebrew manuscripts are every bit as common an in New Testament manuscripts. In fact, even after Jewish Bibles started being printed on presses there were variations. Roughly speaking, the theory in text criticism of the Hebrew Bible is that three families of Hebrew text existed (that we know of): the proto-Septuagint text, the proto-Masoretic, and a third category which differs from both but has not survived in a text family (just some readings here and there in the DSS, if I remember correctly).

    The Hebrew Bible has major variants in the manuscript tradition.

    Also, there is no truth to the idea that Matthew’s trinitarian formula shows evidence of being a later addition. It is in the early manuscripts (and I think in all manuscripts). It was missing in a citation by Eusebius, but this in no way is evidence that it is a scribal addition.

    Now, depending on what you believe about how the gospels were composed, it is possible to argue that Matthew 28:18-20 is secondary material, but no evidence suggests it is a late, pious, scribal fiction.

    Christos is almost certainly used as a synonym for Mashiakh. The apparent usage of Christos as part of Yeshua’s name is an unusual example of how ideas develop, I guess. Yeshua the Messiah became Yeshua Messiah in the parlance of the early movement. But even if they used it as a name, it originated as a title.

    Derek Leman

  4. Andrew T. says:

    Derek,

    First of all, thanks for that correction about scribal variances. Another sacred cow bites the dust. :P

    As for the trinitarian formula, various scholarly voices have come out against its authenticity. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia and the current Pope have stated that it was a later addition. In a couple of other places in the NT (can’t recall which passages), baptism was done or called for in the name of the Son alone, begging the question of which baptismal formula is the “right” one. As for Eusebius, he actually an earlier manuscript of Matthew in his library, and the text said: “Go, and make disciples of all nations in MY NAME, teaching them to observe all things whatsover I have commanded you.” See: http://www.onenesspentecostal.com/matt2819-willis.htm

    You can probably tell at this point that I’m no trinitarian, but of course we all have strong biases.

  5. yeshuain says:

    Andrew:

    Please provide documentation that the Catholic Encyclopedia and/or the Pope say the trinitarian formula in Matthew is a late addition. I think someone duped you.

    If you get a Greek text such as the UBS or Nestle-Aland, you can just look in the apparatus and see if there are textual variants. The only variant in that verse concerns one letter in the spelling of Βαπιζοντες.

    No manuscript we possess is missing the trinitarian formula. I don’t make this stuff up. I promise.

    Derek Leman

  6. Andrew T. says:

    Derek,

    This might be a case of my having a bias, and then searching the Internet for confirmation until I hit an agreeable biased webpage that doesn’t cite its sources well, and assuming that I haven’t been duped when in fact I don’t know that THEY haven’t been duped themselves. I looked up the Baptism article in the Catholic Encyclopedia myself and, behold, it only defends trinitarian baptism. And the fact that they never mentioned where Ratzinger ever wrote that quotation is an obvious indication that it’s a dupe. I mean, why omit that? But as for the Eusebius quote, I went ahead and looked up the text (http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/eusebius_de_05_book3.htm). Indeed, it says “in my Name.” He repeats that phrase several times and discusses it at length. Eusebius’s manuscript predated Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, so why is this not good evidence that earlier (and thus more pristine) non-extant manuscripts lacked the trinitarian formula?

    I certainly don’t doubt that you are telling it to me straight. You are being sincere, that I know.

  7. yeshuain says:

    About the Eusebius citation:
    (1) It would be a bad idea to choose a citation by a writer over all the manuscripts. We don’t know if Eusebius was attempting to quote it verbatim or not.
    (2) I am not a patristics expert, but Eusebius followed Origen on matters relating to Yeshua’s divinity and may have had some problems with the trinitarian formula (not sure about this).

    Derek Leman

  8. Andrew T. says:

    Derek,

    Thanks for the opinion. If the trinitarian formula is not a scribal edit, I still think it is a rather large leap from the words of that passage (found nowhere else in the Bible) to the fully mature Christian doctrine that the Godhead comprises three unique and equal “persons”.

  9. Jared S. says:

    Derek,

    In your opinion, what is the best English bible translation available today? I own the DHE and consider the ESV my first choice in study and reading. However, I would appreciate your opinion.

    Also, on a separate note do you ever read N.T. Wright? I find his work fascinating. I’ve been a reformed thinker for a while and find it somewhat small in view what the whole story of God is portraying. More curious than anything.

    Thank you!
    Jared

  10. jeff marx says:

    Blessings Derek!
    What a great joy to read your work. Just wanted to put a plug in for the Blue Letter Bible which is on line. It provides English text as well as Greek or Hebrew original. What makes it wonderful is each ancient word is next to the english so one can click to get definition, synonyms and every use of the word in the Bible.
    That is how I learned that the Ark of Noah and the ark of the covenant are not the same word (but that the ark of Noah and the ark of Moses are! Ruining that old tricky joke) Because of the depth of info there it may be overwhelming, but it really is a user friendly tool. Peace brother.

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