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Does Jesus always do things “immediately” (Monday with Mounce 175)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with MounceOne of the strange literary characteristics of the gospel of Mark is the apparently inordinate use of εὐθύς. It is an adverb I memorized as meaning “immediately.”

It occurs 59 times in the NT, 41 being in Mark, 11 of them in chapter 1. The explanation I have always heard is that Mark was written for the Roman church, and part of the Roman psyche is an admiration for being a person of action. So Jesus does this, and then immediately rushes off to do that. It is exhausting just reading Mark 1.

It makes translation work hard since this frequency of repetition starts to sound mundane to the English reader. The ESV, true to its philosophy, always translates it with “immediately” or “at once.” The NIV characteristically has more variation: “at once” (1:12, 18, et al.); “without delay” (1:20); “just then” (1:23); “quickly” (1:28); “as soon as” (1:29). Twice the NIV doesn’t translate εὐθύς at all, assuming it from the context (1:21, 31).

I was at a pastor’s conference the other day and heard Ben Witherington speak on the gospel of Mark. He brought up this topic and said something I did not know, that εὐθύς has a wider semantic range than “immediately.” With all that I have written about semantic range, you would have thought this might have occurred to me. Oh well.

Checking in BDAG, you can see the semantic range. They list Mark 1:10 and 12 under the first heading, “immediately, at once.” They list Mk 1:21, 23, and 29 under the second heading, “For the inferential use, weakened to then, so then.” In other words, εὐθύς can simply indicate continuance, which makes a lot more sense in many of the occurrences of εὐθύς, including those outside Mark 1.

In the parable of the sower, we read, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately (εὐθὺς) receives it with joy” (Matt 13:20). In the next verse: “when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately (εὐθὺς) he falls away.” I wonder if Jesus meant to say that the second soil receives the seed immediately, or if it hears and then eventually receives it joyfully, but not necessarily immediately. Does the falling away of the third soil happen the instant persecution comes, or eventually?

Part of my frustration with this sort of thing is making me think about the glosses we memorize. They are necessarily short due to the needs of first year Greek, but shouldn’t we be memorizing more complete meanings that reflect semantic range in our second year? This is part of my thinking behind the Greek dictionary I am toying with at Teknia.com. Take a look at it and send me your suggestions.

Yesterday (Feb 17th) I turned 60. Ugh! I don’t normally struggle with birthdays, but I feel old. I don’t do much of anything “immediately” any more (except last night when I forgot I was filling the bathtub and got involved with programming on BiblicalTraining.org; I immediately ran to the bathroom and immediately started throwing every towel and rug we have on the floor to mop up the water that was immediately overflowing). Maybe I should immediately start working out more so my age doesn’t immediately affect me.

My wife (who is 8 years younger than I) would immediately be filled with joy if I immediately did so.


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 BillMounce.com, and visit his other blog on spiritual growth, Life is a Journey, at BiblicalTraining.org.

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