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Translating Meaning (Monday with Mounce 171)

Categories Mondays with Mounce

Monday with MounceWorking in the gospel of Mark, I am impressed once again
with the responsibility of the scholar to convey with accuracy not only the
words of the Greek text but also the truth that is being communicated. 

We find a good example in the first six verses of Mark 6 where Jesus returns with his disciples to Nazareth (the text says πατρίδα, one’s
native place, hometown
-- but wouldn’t it be helpful to identify the place
for those who might not know?) and on the Sabbath begins to teach in the synagogue. 

Those in attendance are astonished (ἐξεπλήσσοντο) at what
they hear. Their first question is the somewhat cryptic, ‪whence to this one
these things? (
πόθεν τούτῳ ταῦτα‪), which is normally
translated  with something like “Where did he get all this? (TEV) or
“Where did he get these ideas?” (NET.)

The location of touto in the
clause and the reaction that follows suggests something like “And where did
this fellow come by all this?” Then they ask, “What (sort of) wisdom has been
given to this man?” (τούτῳ once again) and “How are such mighty works
done through his hands?” (The NLT sees these two attributes, wisdom and mighty
works, as describing what is intended by ταῦτα; “Where did he get all this
wisdom and the power to perform such miracles.”) Truly, they are astonished at
what they are hearing and what they see happening before their eyes.

The question is, in what way are they astounded?

Are they
astounded out of deep respect for the message that Jesus brings, or are they astounded
by the hubris of this young upstart? In the first case their questions would be
straight forward and honest but in the second they would be cynical. Up to this
point in the narrative it is difficult to know. Verse 3 begins to clarify the
situation. “Don’t forget, he is simply the carpenter from down the street. We
know his mother, Mary, his brothers - all four of them - and his sisters as
well. He’s simply one of us.”

Then the text says that they were “scandalized” (ἐσκανδαλίζοντο,
from skandalidzo) by him. It will be well to look at that verb because
along with the former ἐξεπλήσσοντο, “astonished” (vs. 2) we learn the two
reactions of the group. To be “astonished” is one thing but to be “scandalized”
is something that suggests a step beyond. In the Greek text of the New
Testament σκανδαλίζω ‪occurs 28 times in the Gospels and twice elsewhere.
Its basic meaning is “to be offended, or caused to fall away or sin.” 

In our context, the people’s reaction to Jesus’ works and
wondrous acts of healing was to be profoundly offended by what they had seen
and heard. This would suggest that their questions did not arise from any
desire to know the truth but as a resort to mockery to protect them from the
truth. This conclusion is supported by Jesus’ remark in verse 4, that a prophet
is not held in honor in his hometown, and his inability to do a mighty work
there because of their unbelief (vv. 5-6). 

So what is the point? Simply that Biblical interpretation
calls not only for an understanding of words and grammar but also for a
sensitive regard for context. 

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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