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A little text criticism - Mark 1:41 (Monday with Mounce 180)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with MounceI was teaching on the end of Mark 1 a couple weeks ago in Sunday School, and I hadn't read the text as carefully as I should have. I was using the NIV; because I am more familiar with this story in the ESV, I wasn't ready for the surprise.

So lesson #1: prepare for Sunday School by reading the entire passage in the Bible version from which you are teaching.

It is the healing passage of the man with leprosy. He says to Jesus, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” V 41 in the NIV says, "Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' he said. 'Be clean!'”

"Indignant"? That's what caught me off guard. Every other translation has something like, "moved with compassion."

The issue is a variation in the Greek texts. The NIV is following the reading of ὀργισθείς, and everyone else reads σπλαγχνισθείς. So let's walk through this.

External evidence. ὀργισθείς is read by Codex Bezae (D), and a few Latin mss (a ff2 r1*) . σπλαγχνισθείς is read by א B D it sa(mss) bo(pt) and others. Very little question here that the external evident supports σπλαγχνισθείς. Neither Matt 8:43 or Luke 5:13 include either word. In fact, the external evidence is so strong that I am surprised it didn’t solve the debate in and of itself.

I suspect that the main argument for the NIV reading is internal evidence. Which reading would have more likely been changed to the other? ὀργίσθεις is clearly the harder reading; how strange to think of Jesus becoming indignant (“angry”) when the leper expresses faith in Jesus' ability to heal, but lacked confidence that Jesus would actually want to do the miracle. (We are at the beginning of Jesus' ministry and he was still an unknown quantity.) More likely to see a scribe softening ὀργισθείς to σπλαγχνισθείς.

And yet, in Mark 3:5 we read, “after looking around at them in anger (μετ᾿ ὀργῆς), grieved at the hardness of their heart.” In Mark 10:14 it says, “But when Jesus saw it,  he was indignant (ἠγανάκτησεν) and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me. Do not prevent them,  for of such is the kingdom of God.’” But BDAG give this as the semantic range for ἀγανακτέω: “be indignant against what is assumed to be wrong, be aroused, indignant, angry.” One could argue from this that Mark 1:41 originally read σπλαγχνισθεὶς and it was changed to ὀργίσθεις for harmonization.

It is interesting BDAG does not list the softened “indignant” but only the harsher “be angry.” Can you really lessen the strength of ὀργισθείς to “indignant”?

Even if you could, was Jesus really "indignant" with the leper? I can't conceive of any situation in which this would have been his response, which is why the commentaries direct his indignation toward the destructive influence of sin in this world. Jesus had made all things, and had made them good. He had created a world that would be the perfect place for you and me to live in community with one another and with him, and with his Son and with the Spirit. He had created it carefully, meticulously, beautifully, with loving care.

And then came sin, horribly corrupting his work. You bet he was angry (see Mark 3:5). He wasn't indignant; he was mad. So why not keep “angry” in Mark 1:41 if you are going to read ὀργισθείς?

I love the countryside. I was raised in the suburbs, but have always been uncomfortable in the city where I can see almost nothing of the Lord's creative work. Just concrete and steel. For me, real beauty is to see what Jesus made, unaltered, where a simple high hill across from our cabin seems to be the greatest source of beauty. Why is it so beautiful? Because God made it, and my spirit knows that I am looking at what my Savior has created. It is why we call this hill, ὁ ὄρος τοῦ θεοῦ.

Not only does our sin cause Jesus great pain as he watches his children struggle, but I think looking at his creation, what it was, and what it has become due to the ravages of our sin, causes him great pain, even anger.

Skin diseases are just one example of the corrupting influences of our sin on his good creative work. But someday, all will be made new, and we will live as perfect people in his perfectly re-created world, just as he intended so many centuries ago.

And anger will be a thing of the past, as will indignation.

MouncewWilliam D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more about Bill at, and visit his other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at

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