Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mark 8:34-37: Life or no life?

Μάρκον 8·34 Καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος τὸν ὄχλον σὺν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἀκολουθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι.  35 ὃς γὰρ ἐὰν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι ἀπολέσει αὐτήν· ὃς δ᾿ ἂν ἀπολέσει τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ καὶ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου σώσει αὐτήν.  36 τί γὰρ ὠφελεῖ ἄνθρωπον κερδῆσαι τὸν κόσμον ὅλον καὶ ζημιωθῆναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ;  37 τί γὰρ δοῖ ἄνθρωπος ἀντάλλαγμα τῆς ψυχῆς αὐτοῦ;
And after calling the crowd with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone wishes to follow after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for my sake and the Good News will save it.  For what benefits man to gain the whole world and lose his life?  For what would a man give in exchange for his life?”
Mark 8:34-37
There are times in my learning of greek, that I become amazed at how the author sets up words or phrases to drive a point home.  I’m also amazed at what the author may be alluding to in some of the passages or what word plays that he may be using to drive points home.  In this blog, I will attempt to show some of those things that I will teach in my upcoming study in Mark.
I was translating the above passage and had to stop at verse 35.  The reason was because I didn’t see: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it”.  I saw: “For whoever wishes to save his life will destroy it.”  I was well justified in this as ἀπολέσει is the future active indicative of ἀπόλλυμι.  Most of the time, ἀπόλλυμι means “to destroy”.  So you can see how I may be taken back by this.  So, I pull out my BDAG (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature) and looked up ἀπόλλυμι.  As I said before, the word normally means “to destroy,” but it also can mean “to fail to obtain what one expects or anticipates”.  BDAG also said that there was a passage written from a greek poet named Tyrtaeus (500BC?) that talked about soldiers “losing their life” on the battlefield” and how they should really go about saving their life in battle.  Here is that passage.
“One who risks his life in battle has the best chance of saving it; one who flees to save it is most likely to lose it.”  Tyrtaeus, 8 Diehl lines 11-14 (BDAG)
All of a sudden, the passage made total sense.  A christian is to continually (ἀκολουθείτω carries a continual action) follow Jesus and to fight to do the things that are commanded that we must do.  If we wish to save our mortal, worldly lifestyle*, then we will lose our eternal lifestyle*.  If we lose our mortal, worldly lifestyle* for the sake of Jesus, then our eternal lifestyle* will be saved.  We can’t expect to save one and to save the other one as well.  Jesus could have been using allusions to Tyrtaeus’ passage to put it into a context that his followers could understand.  Remember, Jesus called all of them together so that he could tell them this.  Within the context, Jesus had already been teaching them how he would suffer many things.  Peter tried to get him to stop saying those things, but Jesus rebuked him heavily (called him Satan, ouch!).  That event lead to this teaching and he expected all of them to understand it.  He was teaching “plainly” about what he was to suffer, there would have been no reason for him to change from “plainly” to “obscurely.”
But wait, there’s more! (way more than I can put in this already too long blog)
Mark switches “to lose” verbs in verse 36.  He now uses ζημιωθῆναι.  I didn’t know the word, so I had to look it up.  It is from ζημιόω which means “to experience the loss of something with implication of undergoing hardship or suffering.” (BDAG)  So why did Mark change words?  They both mean “to lose,” so why change from ἀπόλλυμι?  I believed he changed it to set up the next question.  “For what would a man give in exchange for his life?”  In other words, what is the value of an eternal lifestyle that a man may give it up in order to not suffer mortal lifestyle loss and hardship?  Is there anything more valuable than eternal life?
Peter was looking for a “worldly” kingdom and not a “spiritual” kingdom.  He didn’t want Jesus to speak of being rejected and killed by the very people he was suppose to rule over.  He wanted Jesus to become King and drive the Romans out of Israel.  Jesus came to offer himself and to give us “real” life; Eternal life.  Eternal life has a price, but it is worth it.  Are worldly things really worth giving up eternal life?  Οὐ οὐδεὶς**!  NO WAY!
*ψυχὴ can mean soul, life, or living being.
**I guess it should have been μὴ μηδείς.  These are used to indicate a "no" answer.

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