Did the Disciples Have Any Faith in Jesus? (Mark 4:38) – Mondays with Mounce 326

Bill Mounce on September 10th, 2018. Tagged under ,,.

Bill Mounce

Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at BillMounce.com.

I have had a great summer off from my daily routines and have been busy on some major writing projects. They will be announced at this year’s ETS annual meeting (2018). You’ll like them.

But during the summer, Robin (my wife) and I were listening to some sermons from an excellent preacher. I want to emphasize that he is really good. But even really good exegetical preachers can make mistakes, and his mistake, as subtle as it was, should serve as a reminder that we should always check the Greek before we preach.

I have no doubt that this preacher knows the Greek rule I am going to share with you, but I don’t think he checked the Greek this time.

Jesus is out on the sea with his disciples, the storm comes up, and the disciples wake up Jesus to ask him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (NIV). The preacher preached this passage as an open question, one in which the disciples showed no faith in Jesus. But is that right? This certainly is the impression that the NIV gives (as well as all the other major translations). Even the NLT is at fault here, making the disciples’ faith even harder to see. “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

The Greek is, διδάσκαλε, οὐ μέλει σοι ὅτι ἀπολλύμεθα; What do you see?

The question is introduced with οὐ, which means the disciples assumed that Jesus did in fact care. They assumed that his answer would be, “Yes, I do care.” That’s what the οὐ is doing.

I know we can’t always carry this piece of information over into our translations all the time, but it seems to me that this is one of those situations in which we should. “Teacher, you do care if we drown, don’t you?”

It wasn’t a question based only on fear. Sure, they were afraid, but what was really bothering them was that they had a certain view of Jesus and his care for them, and his sleeping in the midst of the storm did not line up with their faith in him. So they didn’t ask a totally open-ended question. Their question shows a budding faith, a faith in his care for them, a faith that was being tested by the storm.

That’s something different, and something that each of us faces on a regular basis. We have a basic understanding of the Lord’s care and protection for us, and then life happens. The pains and tragedies of our lives raises the question of our faith in him, but in the midst of that pain we can certainly cry out to him, expressing our faith in him, and yet asking for his help.

After all, that’s what Jesus did on the cross.

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Bill is the founder and President of BiblicalTraining.org, serves on the Committee for Bible Translation (which is responsible for the NIV translation of the Bible), and has written the best-selling biblical Greek textbook, Basics of Biblical Greek, and many other Greek resources. He blogs regularly on Greek and issues of spiritual growth. Learn more about Bill’s Greek resources at BillMounce.com.

  • Steve Owens 2 months ago

    This is an interesting bit of information. Given that the meaning is significantly different in English when the question is phrased the way you posit it could be, why is it that none of the major translations use that approach?

  • Chris Wright 2 months ago

    Two comments: First, spelling error in your third paragraph, unintentionally pluralizing “preacher”. As you yourself wrote just before that, “even really good exegetical preachers can make mistakes”. Second, could you expand your conclusion? It’s a little unclear what specifically you are referring to when you write, “After all, that’s what Jesus did on the cross.” Meaning that Jesus cried out to the Father, expressing his faith in him while asking for help? Or, that what Jesus did on the cross is the provision for our help when we too cry out to him? Both I believe are certainly true. Perhaps your conclusion was intentionally open-ended. Blessings.

  • Bill Combs 2 months ago

    I don’t need to add that you are certainly correct about the rule, but, if so, I wonder why every translation has it wrong?

  • Patrick Hooker 2 months ago

    No need for retranslated my, as both your “before” and “after” translations perfectly clearly grammatically “expect an affirmative answer,” no less than the Greek. So why doesn’t it have the same confident ring as “Isn’t your dentist’s appointment tomorrow?” Well, it’s the fact that the question is being asked. If I ask my wife, “Don’t you still love me?” then — grammatically! — I expect an affirmative answer. But something must have made me ask. Same in ou melei?, no more and no less.

  • Herman Grobler 2 months ago

    Thank you Bill for this important perspective.
    Even in checking the Greek, one often do not realize the subtle difference in meaning that is portrayed by the Greek itself. This very verse troubled me quite a few times, but now I am at rest.

    Thank you.
    Herman Grobler of bibledifferences.net,
    Pretoria, South Africa.