Monday, August 23, 2004

Exegetical Moment: Mark 1:15

I've been working my way (very slowly) through the Gospel of Mark in Greek. I just finished up my formal Greek training at Iliff this last term, so I thought reading through Mark would be a good summer project to keep my skills fresh. Well, I haven't gotten very far, but here are some brief insights.

It's right at the beginning of the Gospel. Jesus has been baptized by John and been in the desert being tested by satan. Once John has been arrested, Jesus is ready to come out of the wilderness and begin his ministry. He comes into Galilee and starts preaching the good news, or gospel (euangelion in greek) of God (not Christ), and saying,

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."

That's what the NRSV says, anyway. The Greek actually packs quite a bit more meaning in than can be easily conveyed in English.

First is the word "time." In Greek, there are two kinds of time. Chronos, like chronometer, is clock time. Not that there were a lot of clocks around in Jesus' time, but it's everyday sort of minute to minute time. Kairos, on the other hand, is more of a seasonal time. "The right point of time, the proper time or season of action, the exact or critical time" says the Liddell-Scott lexicon. This is the kind of time that is used here. "The appointed season of action is fulfilled."

Second is the "kingdom" of God. The Greco-Roman audience probably would have heard "the Empire of God," the same way one would refer to the Empire of Rome. Not a crucial point in the this passage, but interesting.

Now we come to the real meat of that passage: "repent, and believe in the good news." Let's look at "repent" first. The Greek word is metanoeite. It is an imperative verb -- Repent! However, it is in the second person plural -- y'all repent! Also, it is a continuous verb, which means that it refers to continuous action -- y'all keep on repenting, or y'all be continuously repenting. That's quite a different meaning than the once-and-forever sort of repenting that we hear about from many Christians. No one time giving your life to Jesus here; this kind of repenting is continuous and something that we do together. But what does it mean to repent, anyway? Well, metanoeite is a compound word, and it means "to change one's mind or purpose." Wait a minute, did he just say that repenting is changing your mind? Yes! "All y'all keep on continuously chanding your minds." That's right, Jesus is calling us to be continuously changing, to learn and to grow. That's what repenting is, to keep turning around as we understand better, to keep on changing the way we believe and live.

Now, the word for believe, pisteuete is in the same tense, mood, person, and number as metanoeite is -- y'all keep on continuously believing. But it doesn't really mean "believe" either. It's really the verbal form of pistis, which is the word for faith. We don't have a verb for this in English. We would have to say "to faith" -- I was faithing, she will faith. Even to say "to have faith" isn't quite right, because we're really talking about an action here, not just a static belief. It's not something that just happens in the mind, but something that happens in the life. "All of you keep on continuously living out your faith." This is not something you can do once in your dormroom when the evangelists come through, but something that we all have to do continuously -- acting out our faith in our lives.

So, we're left with a translation that looks a bit more like this:

"The appointed season of action has been brought about, and the Empire of God has come near; all of you be continuously changing your ways and minds and be continuously living out your faith in the good news."

A little more clumsy than the NRSV, but bringing out more of the subtlety and meaning.

I should credit my professor, George "Tink" Tinker, for pointing me in this direction, but I confirmed it all in my own study.

3 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

That's really interesting. It presents a message that makes a lot more sense to me. I kind of feel like the Bible has stolen from us by people who insist their way is the only way. But hearing that there are other ways to read it is liberating!

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