Does the Gospel of Mark Reveal Jesus’ Anger or His Compassion?

What the Codex Bezae reveals about Jesus’ temperament

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in May 2012. It has been updated.—Ed.


 
Codex Bezae

In the fifth-century C.E. Codex Bezae, an early edition of the New Testament written in Greek, the Gospel of Mark describes Jesus’ anger before healing a leper (Mark 1:41). While later scribes changed Jesus’ anger to compassion, it is likely that Codex Bezae preserves the original reading. Image: Cambridge University Library/ff.288v & 289r from Nn.2.41.

Textual variants among ancient manuscripts aren’t usually as controversial as chapter 1, verse 41 of the Gospel of Mark. Sometimes one scribe spelled a word differently on his manuscript, while another might have accidentally skipped or repeated some of the text he was copying. These cases are minor variants and don’t really change the meaning of the text. Other times, however, scribes added to or even changed text to clarify a passage or suit the theological preferences of their communities. That’s when things get interesting, and this passage in the Gospel of Mark offers an especially intriguing example.

In Mark 1:41, a leper has approached Jesus seeking to be healed. Most Greek manuscripts (the New Testament was originally written in Greek), as well as later translations, say that Jesus was moved with compassion and healed the man. A few manuscripts, however, say that Jesus’ anger was kindled before he healed him. So did the verse mean to convey Jesus’ anger or his compassion? If this were a popularity contest, the “compassion” reading would surely win. In 1998, the authoritative book Text und Textwert recorded only two Greek manuscripts (and a few early Latin ones) that contained the reading expressing Jesus’ anger. But, as Dr. Jeff Cate recently announced in The Folio,* the bulletin of the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center at the Claremont School of Theology, close examination of one of those two Greek manuscripts has shown that it does not contain the word for either anger or compassion. Just as Matthew and Luke did when retelling Mark’s story in their gospels (cf. Matthew 8:2–4; Luke 5:12–16), the scribe of this Markan manuscript simply left it out.

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Mark

Mark composes his account of the life of Jesus in this scene from a 12th-century manuscript from Constantinople.

This now leaves the other Greek manuscript, the fifth-century C.E. Codex Bezae, as the sole Greek witness to the reading expressing Jesus’ “anger.” Much like the cheese in “The Farmer in the Dell,” Codex Bezae stands alone.

But most interesting of all, the Codex Bezae may in fact have the better (i.e., original) reading. As New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman pointed out in a 2005 article in Bible Review, “one factor in favor of the ‘angry’ reading is that it sounds wrong.”** It is much easier to believe that early scribes were troubled by Jesus’ anger and changed it to his feeling compassion, rather than the other way around. Later scribes also would have preferred the easier “compassion” reading and copied it until it became the more popular reading. (As Ehrman explains, there are other passages in the Gospel of Mark that seem to support the reading conveying Jesus’ anger.) Thus does Codex Bezae now stand as a lonely witness to what is very likely the original Greek text of Mark 1:41.

——————

Based on Strata, “Jesus’ Anger Rewritten as Compassion,” Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2012.
 

 

Notes

* Jeff Cate, “The Unemotional Jesus in Manuscript 1358,” The Folio 28, no 2 (2011), p.1.
** Bart D. Ehrman, “Did Jesus Get Angry or Agonize?” Bible Review, Winter 2005.
 


 

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  1. Gayle says

    Yes, Jesus got angry at those who would attempt to silence the blind man or keep him from coming to Jesus. This is similar to the anger he showed to those who didn’t want him to heal the man with the withered hand at the synagogue in Mark 3.

  2. Selah says

    If Yahshua was angry, it was with the Priesthood as they are not doing their Spiritual duties or the man with leaper would have went to them! That’s why he told the man to go the Priest and ask for the offering according to Laws of Moses as a witness to THEM the priest! As the Priesthood under Herod were not good shepherds or healers!

  3. Danny says

    Do not put too much into Ehrman’s reading or telling. For a long time, he has shown that he is not with Jesus but instead is against Him and the Gospel.

  4. Douglas says

    “Thus does Codex Bezae now stand as a lonely witness to what is very likely the original Greek text of Mark 1:41.”

    What? How do you get from 1 quote (by 1 sketchy authority) to this conclusion?

  5. george says

    Has anyone ever considered the potential problem, mentioned many times in Holy Scriptures that the Sicknesses could be actual manifestation of Curses upon Men of God! Would Jesus express Anger that a man had been Cursed without Mercy during his entire Life! Does God the Father get Angry at a Lack of Mercy & hardness of Men’s hearts!

    There is a Culture in the World & in Israel, of hardness in hearts of Men!

    Jesus knew Sons of Whore in the Wall of Jericho had come to a level of Power as Scribes in Israel! This happened in II Chronicles when the Sons of Cain, Kenites became Scribes! Joshua, after Jericho, warned against making Agreements with the Sons of the Land! He said that if Israel made agreements with them, they’d loose spiritual Vision! Jesus called them Sons of the Evil! This means Sons of Cain, or Kenites! I believe many in Israel, including King Saul, we’re pushed by Evil Spirits because of Curses by Kenites!

  6. Clark says

    This reminds me of Jesus weeping at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35). Why would Jesus weep if he were about to raise a man from the dead?

    If you consider that Jesus was complete in his humanity, he would have grieved over the compulsory indignity of death.

    If the Codex Bezae is the original reading of Mark, there is no difficulty resolving the problem. Jesus’ anger would be over the suffering human sin imposed on the leper.

    For the believer, Jesus’ reactions make sense. He can be seen as human, and yet Holy, under the ancient curse, yet able to free every one of his friends.

  7. Paul says

    The conclusion that Jesus got angry is based on 1 text? Since when do we assume that must be correct when all other available texts of Mark say Jesus was “moved with compassion”?

    In addition it seems to me the context dictates our reading it as “compassion”. In the verses immediately preceding the on in question, Jesus tells His disciples He wants to leave Capernaum (vs. 21) and go to nearby towns so that He could preach since “that is what I came for.” (vs. 39)

    The vs. 40 tells us Jesus went throughout Galilee preaching and healing the sick. So if this is what Jesus was doing why would He suddenly show anger toward this individual when He was healing the sick throughout the entire area? No, given the context and the fact that there is only one text saying anger, I will stick with Jesus showing compassion.

  8. Bob says

    If we are to swallow the “anger” trap, then Jesus sinned and disqualified Himself from being the sinless, innocent Lamb of God. That thought is not consistent with His compassionate lifestyle, love of His fellow man, or his temperament, as shown in many other scriptures, both Old and New Covenant sources. I wonder if this topic is a good example of academia straining at a gnat?

  9. Chris says

    The NIV renders this verse as Jesus being indignant. The man had asked Jesus if he were willing to heal (presumably questioning Jesus authority or compassion) and straight afterward did precisely what Jesus had told him not to do. Later we hear Jesus chastising the disciples for their lack of faith.

    Its entirely consistent for Jesus to be angry. After all, how else would the people understand the depth of his feeling when confronted with sin and sickness. Its good to see Jesus as a real man not as God playing at being a man.

  10. Christopher says

    First of all, the sin in being angry according to Jesus, is being angry with your brother. This, as early Christian spiritual testimony as found in the Desert Fathers demonstrates, goes on to show a difference between anger that leads to sin and anger as used spiritually, righteous anger and using “enmity” against sin and the devil. So I have no problem with an angry Jesus.
    That being said, the argument that some scribe came along and covered up Jesus’s anger in the other texts is preposterous because if the scribe covered up one instance of anger then why are other instances of anger still present in Mark?
    The question that should be raised concerning the variant reading is not whether Jesus was actually angry but rather whether anger (tar-as’-so) in the Koine Greek understanding of it was as much a visceral response as the Greek word for “compassion” is (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee). If so, the idea behind both readings would be that Jesus became emotional.

  11. Robert says

    I don’t take anything Bart Ehrman says too seriously. Here are some reasons why, http://www.alwaysbeready.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=200&Itemid=165

  12. C says

    I don’t want to comment on the article so much except we are not given examples of the text, save one photograph. My comment has to do with the commenters…#2 Selah, where do you get your rendering of ‘Yah’shua? Obviously you have no background in Hebrew or Aramaic, but if you can add ‘Yah’ to Yeshua, (the common Syriac rendering) you come out with a name more pleasing to you but with no basis in truth. The Hebrew name is Yehoshua, not Yahushua either BTW.
    #5 george, Cain’s progeny would have been wiped out in the flood. Cain’s name means ‘I got him’, Where do you get evil from? Not even close to the word evil in Hebrew. But thanks anyway for your ‘language lesson’.

  13. Charles says

    It is always interesting to me to read articles that are commenting on the translation of an ancient language into English. Without going into what each one is there are homonyms, homophones, and homographs in theEnglish language. Example: pray and prey. So if one hears that word, unless he has heard the context in which it has been given etc. he may interpret it incorrectly.

    Additionally, if, at the time the scribe was writing and he used a word, the meaning of which could not be translated into another language, what did he use?

    You tell me. Do I rely on someone who is “suppose” to be an expert to interpret the Bible?

    We are to read the Bible and pray. God will give us the meaning. I heard a priest give a homily on vs 40-41 and he put it into this context. The leper ask Jesus “if you are willing”. In other words you (Jesus) are God, I know you can do it, so I (the leper) will accept the outcome. THAT, is what we need to do in our lives: to accept, when we pray, what God’s answer will be.

    Jesus reached out to people who were lost, forgotten, sinful or hurting and to think that there was any other kind of emotion really needs to be investigated.

  14. Charles says

    By the way, if the interpretation of how Jesus felt was so important how come in Matthew 8:1-4 (NIV) it doesn’t mention the word anger?

    These modern interpretations are bogus.

  15. tom says

    If Jesus was a man whose soul was fully immortal and fully divine, and whose body was fully physical and fully animal and and fully human and fully mortal and fully divine, then I think he was just like all humans, and I think his mission was to show us this, even if it takes us 2,000 or more years to get it. If he asked us – all – to love one another as he had loved us, I do not think he was trying to set us up to fail, us being mere humans incapable of a love which only a child of God is capable of.

    I find it surprising that stories pointing to Jesus ego have managed to survive in the canonical gospels handed down to us, at all. But they have.

    Even though Jesus, of all people, knew that we ought to forgive one another endlessly for, after all, we know not what we do when we act less than fully lovingly, he himself appears to have fallen into the trap of not instantly forgiving others their lapses, especially when infected by their fear, their hardheartedness, and their disbelief.

    Even after his resurrection, as a ghost with a body (as aren’t we all?), Jesus is said to rebuke the remaining apostles for their disbelief, before asking for food.

    Apparently infected by Peter’s fear, he addresses him, “Get behind me, Satan!” Perhaps he was joking? If not, he seems to have been angry, or to have shown “indignation”,” which is surely a form of anger? Likewise in clearing the temple, in repeatedly rebuking his followers for their disbelief, their hardness of heart, their failure to have faith even as a mustard seed and to heal others accordingly, in cursing the fig tree, in asking his companions to steal – or “borrow” – an ass or colt for him, in asking that this cup pass and in asking his Father why he had forsaken him.

    Jesus had an ego. We all do. Like everything else, it is a blessing. We can learn to use it more and more wisely but, as long as we live, we are unlikely to ever lose it completely, and that is okay. But, if we wish to be like him and greater than him, rather than being like his disappointing followers in the Bible, as recounted to us, we can try to remain calm when others rebuke or test us, show us fear or hatred, forget their Christitude, their own divinity, as Peter famously did, remembering that it may more likely have been an observation than a command, not a Hey, YOU! Love your neighbor as yourself! so much as a, “Hey, you love your neighbor as yourself, at any moment, for that is how we are all – ALL – created.

    Much love.

    Tom.

  16. Nemoque says

    Be angry but do not sin.

  17. Rick says

    I wonder if the text originally meant “He was filled with emotion” and then *later* the Greek came to mean “emotion of anger”.

    Witness the change in meaning of the English word “awful”.

  18. Kris says

    I would question the total validity of Greek text, due to the fact that the Israel of that day, among the common Jewish population, Aramaic Hebrew would have been the language of preference. The transcribing of Hebraic to Greek would have in itself presented problems if there were no written Hebraic documents from which to use in translation. It is also possible, via oral communication (mouth to ear to interpreter, to paper) that a Greek version could have been made but it would surly lack the fullness of Hebraic implications, given that some word in Hebrew will not translate to Greek. So the best that could be done here, is to use a Greek word silimalar which may or may not reveal the “Intent” of the speaker. I think the Mark question is one of those instances in which “intent” is lost due to translation. I would suggest a proper approach to Biblical studies would be: 1. Become a student of the Hebrew language 2. Become a student of the Torah of Moses 3. Understand the difference between the Torah of Moses and the Oral Rabbinic Laws (Talmud) 4 Don’t be quick to propound doctrine in defense of a demonimation, but secretly ponder things for yourself, you will not find the truth, the Truth will find you…

  19. GJ says

    I have a different take on this. Having been in the ministry for over 45 years and having prayed for many seriously ill people I don’t find anger to be inappropriate. I is well within the area of the possible and may even be probable. Many times in ministering to the sick I have found an emotion of anger rise up within me, not anger at the person, but anger at the devil who brings the sickness to attack a persons body and in this case bind them for years with it. Acts 10:38 mentions Jesus going about healing all who were oppressed of the devil. This could be one of those events.

  20. Bellisima says

    This ‘learned man’ has submitted a document with ‘credentials’ and his paper will be examined by future generations. From the response of the discerning readers and believers, the author’s argument for ‘anger’ cannot stand. Shamefully, this is not the only example of academic authors who have disputed the validity of the scriptures and have strayed form the intent and truth of the gospel, poisoning the waters and stirring up strife. Can this one example stand up to the character of Christ revealed in other scriptures? I don’t think so, therefore this interpretation is not valid.

  21. Paul says

    Some Bible translations render this passage as “moved with pity”.

    The book “Insight On The Scriptures” (vol. 2) makes this observation:
    Jesus Christ perfectly reflected the personality of his Father in the display of pity. He “felt pity” for the crowds, even when his privacy was interrupted, “because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mt 9:36; Mr 6:34) The sight of persons who were bereaved or who had leprosy or who were blind moved Jesus to feel pity, so that he brought them miraculous relief. (Mt 14:14; 20:30-34; Mr 1:40, 41; Lu 7:12, 13)

    Another reference work makes this comment:
    On another occasion, a leper approached Jesus and pleaded: “If you just want to, you can make me clean.” How did Jesus, a perfect man who had never been sick, respond? His heart went out to the leper. Indeed, “he was moved with pity.” (Mark 1:40-42) He then did something extraordinary. He well knew that lepers were unclean under the Law and were not to mingle with others. (Leviticus 13:45, 46) Jesus was certainly capable of healing this man without any physical contact. (Matthew 8:5-13) Yet, he chose to reach out and touch the leper, saying: “I want to. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy vanished. What tender empathy Jesus expressed!

    Then there is this observation:

    Thayer’s Greek Lexicon
    STRONGS NT 4697: σπλαγχνίζομαι

    σπλαγχνίζομαι; 1 aorist ἐσπλαγχνίσθην (cf. Buttmann, 52 (45)); (σπλάγχνον, which see); properly, to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence, to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity): absolutely, Luke 10:33; Luke 15:20; σπλαγχνισθείς with a finite verb, Matthew 20:34; Mark 1:41

  22. Luana says

    It would help me if you gave the words for angry and compassion in Greek, Hebrew, Latin and any other language that my affect it. What were the scribes native language ? Etc.
    What would Jesus have to be angry about.?

    Thanks: Sincerely Luana

  23. Peter says

    ‘Mar 1:41, NIV: “Filled with xxxxxxxxx, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”

    Yes, our Lord was willing to heal this man of LEPROSY and reached out and TOUCHED him and healed him. … No, you just don’t do that, unless you are ANGRY at his CONDITION of being leprous, or COMPASSIONATE toward him because he was leprous and desired healing.

    Either way, Jesus’ anger or compassion relate to the leprosy. He can be angry because of the man’s suffering and need, and he can be compassionate because of the man’s suffering and need.

    …. and he reached out and touched him and healed him. Who among us would risk doing that?

  24. WJessen says

    I would consult New Testament scholar Dr Craig Evans on this because Bart Ehrman’s scholarly integrity is up for question as he himself has indicated that he has purposefully obscured the truth in order to persuade people on certain topics. See debates between both men.

  25. James says

    One of the problems with the “angry” variant is that the theory that it is the original implies not only that the major transmission-lines altered the text, but that the text was altered in the same way. It’s kind of like looking at a tree with multiple branches with oranges on them, and seeing one branch that is bearing one lemon. It seems more likely that one is looking at a tree which is an orange tree down to the roots but on which a lemon-branch has been grafted.

    “But where did Codex Bezae’s reading come from then?” someone is sure to ask. From retro-translation from Latin. Codex D/d is not just a “Greek manuscript,” article-writer. It is Greek-Latin. Please adjust the text of the article accordingly, preferably with a note that Codex D is notoriously inaccurate.

    What happened:
    (1) Someone, attempting to translate the Gospel of Mark from Greek into Latin, encounters the word “Splangchistheis” and is not sure what to do with it: “Moved in his gut?” — “Gut-wrenched??” — “Churned within”???. He rendered it as “angry.”
    (2) Later, someone familiar with this Latin (mis-)translation tidied up a Greek text of Mark in the ancestry of Codex Bezae by tweaking the Greek word in Mk. 1:41, replacing the question-raising “splangchistheis” to the clearer and less nuanced “orgistheis” (angry).

    And that’s all there is to that. Codex Bezae is simply wrong at this point, as it always is when it has no allies among the Greek manuscripts that have not been influenced by the Old Latin transmission-line(s).


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