10 And when he was alone1, the ones around him with the twelve were questioning2 him about the parables. 11 And he was saying3 to them, “The secret4 of the Kingdom of God has been given to you, but to those whom are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that
While seeing, they may see and not perceive,
And while hearing, they may hear and not understand,
lest they turn back and may be forgiven5.6
1 ὅτε ἐγένετο κατὰ μόνας (when he was alone)
Greek: “when he became throughout only places”. It’s an idiom that means to be alone. (Louw & Nida)
2 ἠρώτων (were questioning)
This verb is in the imperfect and carries a “continual” aspect. I’m breaking with some scholars who say that this verb should be simply translated as “questioned”, which in the aorist, which has an undefined aspect. Looking at the context of the passage and what is going on in this narrative, it would make sense for the people around Jesus to ask about parables more than one time. And as they continually ask about them, Jesus continually answers them. See note 3.
3 ἔλεγεν (he was saying)
This verb is in the imperfect and carries a “continual” aspect. This dove-tails with the “were questioning” phrase asked by the people who were around Jesus. Since those people were continually asking him about the parables, Jesus had to continually answer them.
4 τὸ μυστήριον (the secret)
In Greek, it also means “the mystery”. Secret fits much better in this context. Our english word mystery is “something that is not known, but many have tried to discover it, but it remains hidden”, where as a secret is “something that is known, but hidden from others until it is revealed”.
5 ἀφεθῇ αὐτοῖς (are forgiven)
Greek: “it may be forgiven them”
6 This is a paraphrase taken from Isaiah 6:9-10. The interesting part about this is that the paraphrase is taken from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Here is my translation of the Septuagint version of Isaiah 6:8-10:
8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Who might I send, and who will go to this people?” And I said, “Behold, I am here, send me. 9 And he said, “Go and tell this people, ‘You will hear a hearing (a report), and may never understand, and while seeing, you will see and may never perceive.’ 10 For the heart of this people has grown thick, and they have heard with their ears with difficulty, and they have closed their eyes, lest they may perceive with their eyes and may hear with their ears and may understand in their heart, and may turn back, and I will heal them.”
Contrast that with the NIV version which translates the passage from Hebrew:
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 9 He said, “Go and tell this people: “ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (NIV)
Why are the two passages so different? My opinion is that God was being ironic when he told Isaiah to speak to the people in this way. Later, when this was being translated into Greek, the Jewish translators also felt that God was being ironic and decided to “soften” the passage to indicate that. Also notice that Mark switches phrases around. He places the “seeing” passage first where Isaiah places the “hearing” passage first. This is probably due to the fact that the people that Jesus is directing this saying to were first and foremost, seeing the miracles that he was doing, but were not really perceiving what all of that meant.
Μάρκον 4·10 Καὶ ὅτε ἐγένετο κατὰ μόνας, ἠρώτων αὐτὸν οἱ περὶ αὐτὸν σὺν τοῖς δώδεκα τὰς παραβολάς. 11 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς· ὑμῖν τὸ μυστήριον δέδοται τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ· ἐκείνοις δὲ τοῖς ἔξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὰ πάντα γίνεται,
βλέποντες βλέπωσιν καὶ μὴ ἴδωσιν,
καὶ ἀκούοντες ἀκούωσιν καὶ μὴ συνιῶσιν,
μήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσιν καὶ ἀφεθῇ αὐτοῖς.