Category Archives: Julie M. Smith

Review of The Gospel according to Mark

Thanks to Dan Peterson, who wrote a feature in the Deseret News about our newest book, The Gospel according to Mark, by Julie M. Smith. He writes:

Each commentary volume includes a substantial introduction, followed by the King James Version translation, a fresh “New Rendition” from the original Greek in a parallel column, and detailed notes drawing on both mainstream modern biblical scholarship and uniquely Latter-day Saint sources.

Smith’s newly published commentary on Mark’s gospel weighs in at nearly 1,000 pages, with extensive explanations covering the entire text. Although it cannot be dismissed as a work of merely feminist scholarship, one of its welcome contributions is to provide a woman’s perspective on Mark and, thereby, on Jesus.

A case in point comes in a section titled “Jesus Heals a Woman and Raises a Girl” (pages 336-370) where Smith gives insightful and sensitive attention to the famous account in Mark 5:25-34 of the woman with “an issue of blood,” a story that, as she points out, “requires male audience members to relate to and sympathize with uniquely female concerns” and “suggests that Jesus shared these concerns.” Moreover, she says, “The intertwined stories of the bleeding woman and Jairus’s daughter may be Mark’s most intricately plotted and symbolically rich text.”

According to Jewish law, the bleeding woman’s touch should have made Jesus ritually unclean. However, it doesn’t. Or, if it does, he appears not to care. This, says Smith, “is a commentary about Jesus’ relationship to the law of Moses.” Moreover, discussing Jesus’ question about who had touched his clothes, Smith remarks that “A Jewish audience may have thought that Jesus wanted to know who had touched him so that she could be rebuked for transmitting impurity.” But “the story plays out very differently.”

“Mark,” Smith observes, “had introduced the woman by calling her a woman with ‘an issue of blood.’” She had no name, no relationships, no geographical location; her disease is the sole marker of her identity. But in this verse (5:34), Jesus gives her a new identity marker: she is his daughter.

I cannot begin to summarize or even outline the richness of Smith’s discussion of this episode, which includes fascinating parallels and contrasts with Zechariah 8:23, 1 Samuel 1, Jeremiah 8 and, intriguingly, Genesis 3.

And space permits me only to hint at the intriguing suggestions that Smith offers about the women witnesses of Christ’s Resurrection and the possible role of women in the transmission of Mark’s gospel itself. Read the book! Or its e-book!

For an earlier example of Smith’s approach to the story of the bleeding woman that is accessible at no charge online, see her article “A Redemptive Reading of Mark 5:25-34,” in “Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship” 14 (2015): 95-105; online at

News: January 2019

Our conference “In the Beginning Were the Words: A Closer Look at Key New Testament Terms” is January 26 at BYU. Information here. 

Julie Smith’s commentary on Mark has finally arrived! It is for purchase at BYU Studies. 

Our commentaries contains our “New Rendition,” which is a new version of the New Testament text. We’re offering it free as ebooks via Kindle and Deseret Bookshelf. So far we have Mark, Luke, First Corinthians, and Revelation. Here are the links. 

Readings from the New Testament Commentary to accompany LDS Come, Follow Me, for Individuals and Families are listed by our publisher, BYU Studies. Have a look! 

Julie Smith’s interview about her Mark book is available from Interpreter Radio. Follow the link here.  

The Gospel of Mark: What does the Gospel indicate about its author?

Sea of Galilee

Excerpted from The Gospel according to Mark, by Julie M. Smith.

The Gospel of Mark is formally anonymous, meaning that the name of the author does not occur within the text (contrast Rev. 1:1). The writer may not have felt any need to include his or her name, being well known to the community or may have omitted a name for rhetorical reasons, perhaps to focus the text on Jesus Christ instead.[1] The author does not claim to be a follower of Jesus, an eyewitness to his ministry, or to have any specific personal connection to the people in the Gospel.[2] Nothing indicates how the author learned the stories that are in the Gospel. Apparently, the author did not think that the reader needed to know his or her name or connection to Jesus’ life. This has not stopped scholars from trying to figure out as much as possible about who wrote the Gospel.

The first clue is the title. The Gospel was likely originally without title since “in ancient book production and publication, the title belonged more to the stage of reception than to that of production.”[3] Perhaps the Gospels were initially without titles because the titles would have been obvious to all readers, because the authors hoped to avoid persecution from having their names associated with Christian writings, or because they did not consider the text their unique creation but rather a communal project. It may have been that a title was only added after other Gospels were written and it became necessary to distinguish them. Or a title may not have been necessary until the Gospel circulated beyond its original location.[4]

The title of Mark’s Gospel is very old, but it is not attached to all ancient manuscripts. It was most likely added in the late first century or early second century, although there were some copies even in the fourth century that did not have a title.[5] The oldest manuscript of the second Gospel does not have a title, although many other manuscripts from that era do contain titles.[6] The title is likely to date from before the mid-second century because by then Gospels were normally attributed to apostles to increase their authority and prestige. Presumably, had a title-less Gospel of Mark been circulating and someone had decided to give it a title at that point, it would have been given the name of an apostle.

Because the title appears at the beginning, the end, the side, or both the beginning and the end, depending on the manuscript, it seems that the title was not there originally but was added later and thus placed in a variety of locations. The fact that the only author associated with this text is Mark is an indication of the accuracy of the attribution; by contrast, Galen, a second-century physician, had an untitled work that was later given more than one title, which is precisely what one would expect to happen if many different hands were generating a title for a book.

There is a curious situation regarding the title of this Gospel in the Joseph Smith Translation: while Latter-day Saint Bibles indicate in the footnotes that the JST titles the book “The Testimony of St. Mark,” this is apparently an error; the JST does change the titles of Matthew and John from “The Gospel of ” to “The Testimony of,” but apparently the titles of Mark and Luke were not changed. Some Latter-day Saint scholars conclude that the title change, limited to Matthew and John, reflects their apostolic status.[7]

So there is very good—but not airtight—evidence that the author of this Gospel was named Mark. Unfortunately, “Mark” was one of the most common male names in the Roman Empire.[8] (It was, however, rare for Jews.[9]) What else can be known about him? Some characteristics of the author can be deduced from the text, although most of these conclusions are not without counterpoint:

  1. Latinisms. Mark’s use of Latin terms[10] suggests that (some of) the audience was more familiar with Latin than Greek, especially since there are two occasions when Greek words are explained in Latin terms.[11]
  2. Aramaic Words and Phrases. Mark’s Gospel contains a surprisingly high number of Aramaic terms[12] for a text of its length. In all cases, these are translated into Greek, leading to the conclusion that the author, but not (all of ) the audience, knew Aramaic.
  3. Geographical Descriptions. Some scholars find errors in Mark’s descriptions of geography,[13] which might indicate a lack of familiarity with Palestine. (Other scholars point out that ancient people would not have known their own geography nearly as well as those who have access to maps.[14]) On the other hand, it is likely that Mark is more concerned with theology than geography and therefore adapts the physical setting to fit the rhetorical needs.
  4. Understanding of Judaism. Mark explains some Jewish customs. Traditionally, it was assumed that this was because Mark (but not the audience) was familiar with them.[15] Alternatively, some scholars feel that these descriptions show a limited understanding of Judaism,[16] perhaps implying that Mark was not Jewish, but this is disputed,[17] especially since Mark contains many biblical allusions. It is also possible that these descriptions are provided for dramatic effect and not because they provide new information to the audience.[18]
  5. System of Timekeeping. In 6:48 and 13:35, Mark uses the Roman system of four watches per night, instead of the Jewish reckoning of three watches per night, to delineate time, perhaps serving as further evidence for a Roman setting of the Gospel. But it is also possible that Mark used Roman time either in order to make the text understandable to gentile audience members, or because he or she was not being precise, or perhaps because Jews used the Roman system as well.
  6. Writing Style. Mark’s Gospel is written in very poor Greek.[19] For example, in 16:6, the word “behold” is in the singular form despite the fact that more than one person is being addressed. It can be difficult to evaluate what some of this evidence implies about Mark, and scholars draw opposite conclusions from it. Perhaps it is safe to say that the data suggests that the author knew (at least some) Aramaic, knew Greek (but wrote it poorly), was likely to have been a Jew, and is associated with Rome.

[1] It is theoretically possible that the author of Mark was female, but given the extremely low rates of female literacy in the ancient world, this is unlikely.

[2] Older scholarship often associated the author of the Gospel with the young man who flees when Jesus is arrested in 14:51, but this is unlikely. The association probably stemmed from a desire to explain the function of the young man in the narrative, but there are now better readings of this enigmatic character. See the Notes on that verse for more information.

[3] Collins, Mark, 129.

[4] For a general discussion of Gospel authorship from a Latter-day Saint perspective, see Frank F. Judd Jr., “Who Really Wrote the Gospels? A Study of Traditional Authorship,” in How the New Testament Came To Be: The Thirty-fifth Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Frank F. Judd Jr. (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 129–30.

[5] Marcus, Mark 1–8, 17.

[6] Collins, Mark, 3.

[7] Barney, “Joseph Smith Translation,” 88.

[8] Marcus, Mark 1–8, 17.

[9] David E. Garland, A Theology of Mark’s Gospel: Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, ed. Andreas J. Köstenberger (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2015), 50.

[10] Latinisms in Mark’s Gospel include legion (5:9, 15), speculator (KJV: “executioner”; 6:27), denarius (KJV: “penny”; 6:37; 12:15; 14:5), quadrans (KJV: “mite”; 12:42), flagellare (KJV: “scourge”; 15:15), praetorium (15:16), and centurion (15:39, 44, 45). See also Stein, Mark, 11–12.

[11] “Two mites, which make a farthing” (12:42); “the hall, called Praetorium” (15:16).

[12] “Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder” (3:17), “Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise” (5:41), “Corban, that is to say, a gift” (7:11), “Ephphatha, that is, Be opened” (7:34), “hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched” (9:43), “Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus” (10:46), “Abba, Father” (14:36), “Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull” (15:22), “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (15:34).

[13] In 5:1, the earliest texts of the Gospel have the pigs running 35 miles (!) to “Gerasa.” Later texts read “Gadara,” but that area has no cliffs (Stein, Mark, 250). In 7:31, the journey from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee by way of Sidon is an unnecessary detour (Stein, Mark, 357). In 11:1, a similar “detour” is described (Stein, Mark, 503).

[14] Collins, Mark, 8.

[15] For example, washing customs of Pharisees (7:3), explanation of the Passover (14:12), and preparation for the Sabbath (15:42).

[16] Mark 15:42 can be read to suggest that Mark did not understand that the Sabbath began at sundown, therefore preparation for the Sabbath would not have occurred during the evening as that would have already been considered the Sabbath; Luke 23:56 may be a commentary on this (see Marcus, Mark 1–8, 20). Mark 1:2 (which ascribes quotations from Isaiah and Malachi to Isaiah only) and 2:26 (which names Abiathar as the high priest when the high priest was Ahimelech [see 1 Sam. 21]) may show a lack of familiarity with Jewish scripture (although there are other explanations for these “mistakes”; see the Notes on each verse).

[17] For example, 7:3–4 (washing customs of the Pharisees) is widely regarded to be erroneous, but some disagree with this assessment. Marcus, Mark 1–8, 20.

[18] For example, the description of Judas as one of the Twelve in 14:10 does not provide the audience with new information but rather serves to emphasize Judas’ treachery. Similarly, the description of Jewish custom in 7:3–4 may not be new information to the audience but rather serve to emphasize the reliance on the tradition on the elders and the absurdity of washing dining couches.

[19] To the extent that the KJV translation sounds refined and elegant to modern ears, it does not represent Mark’s writing style.

Interview with Julie Smith on “The Gospel according to Mark” on Interpreter Radio

On December 9, Julie Smith was interviewed regarding her new publication, The Gospel according to Mark. The book will be available from BYU Studies in early January 2019.

Here is the link to the broadcast:

The interview starts at 15:40 and continues to 46:15. Thanks to Terry Hutchinson, Dan Peterson, John Gee, and Kevin Christiansen and to Interpreter Radio for this interview!

BYU NTC Conference Saturday, January 26, 2019

“In the Beginning Were the Words: A Closer Look at Key New Testament Terms”

The BYU New Testament Commentary committee announces that on Saturday, January 26, 2019, they will present a conference at the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni Center at BYU in Provo, Utah. The conference is free and open to the public and will be held from 9 am until 4 pm. No registration is required. A video will be made of the presentations and posted on this website. Parking is available in the lot across the street to the east.

9:00 Welcome by Virginia Pearce Cowley, conducting the conference.

9:15 Eric D. Huntsman, Disciplemathētēs (μαθητής) Mathētēs is a word that John appeals to much more often than do the Synoptic Gospels. In particular, I will be stressing how John uses it for a much wider group than the Twelve, and how the different characters represent different walks of faith and different types of discipleship.

9:45 Julie M. Smith, Wayhodos (ὁδός) One of the earliest designations for the community of those who followed Jesus was “The Way.” The Greek word translated as “way,” hodos, exhibits a rich, multi-layered presence in the New Testament. In this presentation, we’ll examine the literal and figurative interplay of this word in order to gain insight into Jesus’ ministry and message.

10:15 John W. Welch, Blessed, Happymakarios (μακάριος)  Building on the treatment of the adored Beatitudes in chapter 3 of my book titled The Sermon on the Mount in the Light of the Temple (Ashgate, 2009), I shall examine how this term played a perhaps unsung but indispensable role in the Gospel of John, the book of Acts, Paul’s epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians, as well as in Revelation and elsewhere.

10:45 Break

11:00 Brent Schmidt, Gracecharis (χάρις) My earlier study of the term grace, published under the title Relational Grace, demonstrated that the original field of meaning was distorted as soon as it fell into the hands of the Christian fathers of the third and fourth centuries AD. Rather than describing a reciprocal relationship between God and believers that was undergirded by covenants, it became “cheap grace” that only depended on a passive, neo-Platonic and mysterious belief.

11:30 Richard D. Draper, Loveagapē (ἀγάπη) Of the words discussed today, the term agapē may be the most important. On it, Jesus affirmed, “hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40). In his turn, Paul treated this intriguing term in the moving, beloved hymn to Charity (1 Corinthians 13). We shall probe these sources and more.

12:00 Lunch on your own, available at the Cannon Center at Helaman Halls or the food court at the Wilkinson Student Center

1:00 John Gee, Scribegrammateus (γραμμματεύς) Scribes were one of the major groups opposing Jesus during his mortal ministry. Unlike the Pharisees, however, the dogmas that they held are not clearly defined. We will explore who the scribes were and why they hated Jesus.

1:30 Michael D. Rhodes, Mysterymystērion (μυστήριον)  A word that is found 28 times in the New Testament, the overall general sense is “secret knowledge revealed by God.” The term  mystērion occurs in a single significant setting in the synoptic Gospels when Christ explains to his disciples why he taught in parables. The remaining 25 occurrences are in the book of Revelation and the writings of Paul. I will examine the various nuanced meanings found in all 28 cases.

2:00 Brent Schmidt, Faith — pistis (πίστις) The earliest occurrences of the word “faith” embrace meanings such as knowledge, faithfulness, trust, and loyalty to covenants, all concepts that involve action on the part of the possessor. But in the third century AD, all this changed. From that point on, faith was seen as an inner, passive acceptance of whatever the early church taught termed “the Rule of Faith,” which later became the authoritative and solitary sola fide. This topic will be presented in detail in a forthcoming publication.

2:30 Break

2:45 Kent Brown, Inheritance: Who Owns All That Land? — klēronomia (κληρονομία)  One of the most important terms in scripture that dates from Abraham’s era, the word “inheritance” and associated terms underwent an important change in New Testament times, moving from a transfer of real estate and other property to the reception of a spiritual home in heaven.

3:15 Panel discussion on Mark’s Gospel and Julie M. Smith’s new commentary. Panelists are today’s presenters joined by Tom Roberts.

4:00 Closing


Exploring Jesus’ Question in Mark 3:4

By Julie M. Smith

             In Mark 3:4, Jesus asks if it is acceptable to save life or to kill on the sabbath as part of a response to those who would criticize him for healing a man’s withered hand on the sabbath. Jewish tradition permitted breaking the sabbath in order to save a life,[1] so the Pharisees would have readily agreed that one can save a life on the sabbath no matter what rules have to be broken to do so. But the man’s hand is unlikely to cause his death in the next day, which raises questions about how this saying would apply here and leads to several different interpretations of Jesus’ statement:

  1. Jesus is alluding to Deuteronomy 30:14-19 (where the Lord sets out two paths, one of life and the other of death) which implies that this situation has two paths: one where the man’s full life, including temple worship, is possible, and one with a wooden examination for sabbath violations, ending with the goal of killing Jesus. Because the Deuteronomy text mentions cursings, Jesus is suggesting that the Pharisees have chosen to curse themselves by choosing (Jesus’) death over (the man’s) life. Jesus’ allusion makes clear that the Pharisees are on the side of the wicked, a truly remarkable accusation. Deuteronomy 30:14 mentions the mouth, heart, hands, and doing, all four of which are also mentioned in this story in Mark.[2] In the Hebrew Bible text, references to the hand are prominent in the context of the violation of covenants as a result of failing to act; if this is paralleled to Mark’s text, it implies that the man with the withered hand is literally suffering the consequences of the curses of inaction, from which Jesus rescues him by his own action. As is typical in Mark’s healing miracles, atonement theology comes into play as Jesus exchanges roles with the man.
  2. The passage implies that withholding healing is a form of killing: “Jesus makes withholding the cure of the man’s paralyzed hand, even for a few hours, tantamount to killing him, and performing the cure immediately tantamount to saving his life. For Mark’s Jesus, the [last days] war is already raging, and on that battlefield every human action either strikes a blow for life or wields one for death; the cautious middle ground, upon which one might wait a few minutes before doing good, has disappeared.”[3]
  3. Jewish tradition held that if there is any doubt concerning whether life is in danger, it is acceptable to heal on the sabbath—and the example offered is a sore throat![4] Since there is at least a hypothetical chance that the withered hand could cause the man’s death before the sabbath is over and it would show callous disregard for the man’s life to take the risk, healing him constitutes saving a life. And the objectors’ actions are all the more venal since Jesus’ healing was permitted under the law.
  4. “Life” is to be understood as “quality of life.” The man’s withered hand would have prevented him from participating in temple worship.[5] So Jesus is not merely restoring a hand, but restoring his ability to engage in temple worship. This reading links this story to Mark 2:1-12, since restoring the man’s hand makes worshiping possible, just as the forgiveness in Mark 2:1-12 restores the man’s spiritual wholeness.
  5. “Save” can have a theological meaning in Mark.[6] This would imply that Jesus’ miracle will increase the man’s faith and therefore “save” his soul—an action most appropriate to the sabbath. This reading creates a nice link to this controversy story’s chiastic partner (Mark 2:1-12), where the issue is forgiveness of sins.
  6. This statement is an example of exaggeration to make a point.[7]

Regardless of which interpretation is correct, Jesus’ reference to taking a life applies to the plot against his own life (see Mark 3:6). Obviously it is a violation to kill someone on any day of the week, and yet they are closely watching Jesus so they can level an accusation that will result in his death. In this sense, the contrast between his actions and theirs is clear: to any extent that Jesus is guilty of violating the sabbath, they are guilty of much, much worse.

One implication of Jesus’ statement is that the categories that they have adopted (“do” and “don’t do”) create horrifying outcomes since the man can be left disabled on the sabbath but it is permissible to plan a murder.

[1] See Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (New York:  Doubleday, 2002), 248.

[2] See Kurt Queller, “‘Stretch Out Your Hand!’ Echo and Metalepsis in Mark’s Sabbath Healing Controversy,” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, no. 4 (December 1, 2010): 737-758. The parallel to “doing” is found in the man’s action of stretching out his hand.

[3] Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (New York:  Doubleday, 2002), 252.

[4] See Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark:  A Commentary (Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 2007), 209.

[5] See Leviticus 21:16-23.

[6] See Mark 5:34, 10:26, and 13:13.

[7] See N. T. France, The Gospel of Mark:  A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans, 2002), 150.

Anointing in Bethany in Mark 14:3-9

By Julie M. Smith

Structure of Mark 14 This lengthy chapter contains some of the most significant events of Jesus’ story: his anointing, his observance of Passover, his prayer in Gethsemane, his abandonment and betrayal by his disciples, his arrest, his examination by the Jewish leaders, and Peter’s denial of him. While other options are possible, this is one option for understanding the structure of this chapter:

  1. Death Plot (14:1-2)
  2. Anointing of Jesus (14:3-9)
  3. Death Plot (14:10-11)
  4. Preparation of the Passover (14:12-16)
  5. Prediction of Judas’ Betrayal (14:17-21)
  6. Last Supper (14:22-25)
  7. Prediction of Peter’s Betrayal (14:26-31)
  8. Preparation for the Passion (=Gethsemane Prayer) (14:32-42)
  9. Jesus Is Arrested (14:43-52)
  10. Peter Positioned to Deny Jesus (14:53-54)
  11. Jesus Is Examined by the Sanhedrin (14:55-65)
  12. Peter Denies Jesus (14:66-72)

The chapter has three main scenes (14:3-9, 14:22-25, and 14:55-65); each one focuses on the topic of Jesus’ identity (see the commentary below). Each is bracketed by reference to the betrayal of Jesus (14:1-12, 10-11, 17-21, 26-21, 53-54, 66-72). In between the three main scenes are scenes focused on the idea of preparation: first, the preparation for the Passover (14:12-16) and then preparation for the Passion (including Jesus’ arrest; 14:32-52). The framing of the Gethsemane scene in Mark’s story of Jesus as noteworthy: it prepares Jesus to face his suffering and death and it should have prepared the disciples as well (see the commentary below). Continue reading

Allusions to Isaiah and Exodus in Mark 3:1-6

by Julie M. Smith

Mark 3:1–6 reports Jesus healing a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath and provoking the anger of the Pharisees. Words in this passage bring to mind two passages from the Hebrew Bible.

Isaiah 56:1-8. This passage from Isaiah has several resonances with this story in Mark, including references to the sabbath, the hand, and being dried up. If Mark wrote with that story in mind, it suggests the following:

  1. In the Isaiah passage, the main concern is the exclusion of a physically imperfect man (a eunuch) from being counted among the people of the Lord. In Mark’s passage, the man with the withered hand would have been excluded from temple worship. So the topic at hand is not so much working on the sabbath but the inclusion or exclusion of people from the house of God. Mark’s story makes the point that restoring this man to the blessings of full participation in the house of Israel was a most appropriate act for the sabbath. Isaiah 56:3 emphasizes that the Lord’s ministry will not and must not exclude anyone, so by analogy, Mark’s story implies that Jesus will not allow this man to be excluded from the blessings of full participation.
  2. The Isaiah text is focused on the will and actions of the Lord, who is the one who restores the eunuch. Thus, Mark’s text focuses attention on Jesus as the Lord who reveals righteousness (see Isaiah 56:1).
  3. Immediately after issuing the command to promote justice (Isaiah 56:1), the Lord commands the people to keep the Sabbath. This parallel ensures that Mark’s story is not interpreted as encouraging lawlessness, but rather as promoting honoring the Sabbath by saving a life.
  4. The Isaiah passage ends with a reference to the Lord gathering all people who will follow him. In the Markan context, the withered man is one of those people (at least literarily if not literally). The position of the Pharisees is that it is acceptable to exclude this man; Jesus’ position is that including this man supersedes the need to follow the Sabbath rules. Because the prevailing interpretation of Sabbath rules permitted violations when life was at stake, Jesus’ point here is that exclusion from the temple rituals constitutes a sort of living death.

Exodus 14. The following points of contact between this story and Exodus 14 have been identified:[1]

  1. “Stretch out your hand” (Mark 3:5) is the same phrase as in LXX Exodus 14:16. This parallel puts the man with the withered hand in the role of Moses and Jesus in the role of the God of the Hebrew Bible. In Exodus, the stretched hand introduces plagues, but in Mark’s story, it ends one; this inversion speaks to Jesus’ power to right wrongs and perhaps even subtly alludes to the Atonement. Much as the plagues were a witness to Pharaoh, the ending of the man’s plague should be a witness to the Pharisees of Jesus’ power. (One of the most remarkable—and yet rarely remarked upon—aspects of Mark’s story is that the scribes seem completely unaffected by witnessing a miracle.) Just as Moses and Aaron stretch forth their hands to enact plagues that condemn Pharaoh, the man’s stretching out of his hand seems like it will condemn Jesus (to the death plot) but, ironically, ends up condemning the Pharisees.
  2. The word for “restored” (Greek: apokathistemi) is the same word used in LXX Exodus 14:27, where the waters are “restored.” There are two possible ways to understand this parallel: First, much as the restoring of the water resulted in the death of the Egyptian army, the restoring of the man’s hand results in Jesus death (as a result of the Pharisees’ plot). Unlike Pharaoh’s army, however, Jesus is innocent of wrongdoing, a fact which encourages the reader to draw some conclusions here about the atonement, mainly that Jesus’ suffering is unjustified. Second, the restoring of the waters is what made it possible for the children of Israel to be free. Similarly, the restoring of the man’s hand frees him to fully participate in life and worship. (And in a typical example of Mark’s irony, it has precisely the opposite effect on Jesus since it will ultimately lead to his death.)
  3. “In the midst of the sea” (LXX Exodus 14:16, 22, and 23) might explain the odd phrasing in Mark 3:3 inviting the man to appear in the middle (Greek: meson, midst). Much as the focus in Exodus 14 is on the miraculous action that affects the sea, the focus in Mark’s story should not be on the watching Pharisees or the death plot but on the miracle that happens to the man.
  4. The reference to hardness of heart parallels Pharaoh’s hardness of heart (despite the fact that the LXX uses different language to describe it).
  5. The “withered” (=dried out) hand might allude to the Red Sea, which also becomes “dried out,” although the same word is not used. In both cases, the “restoration” points to miraculous powers and divine care.
  6. Just as Pharaoh’s plot to enslave the Hebrews failed because of divine intervention, the Pharisees’ plot to kill Jesus will ultimately fail because of the Resurrection.


[1] See Kurt Queller, “‘Stretch Out Your Hand!’ Echo and Metalepsis in Mark’s Sabbath Healing Controversy,” Journal Of Biblical Literature 129, no. 4 (December 1, 2010): 737-758.

Is There a Mistake in Mark 2:26?

by Julie M. Smith

And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?”

             Many manuscripts omit the phrase “in the days of Abiathar the high priest,” presumably because in 1 Samuel 21, the priest in question was Ahimelech and not Abiathar. (Some variant readings state that it was during the lifetime of, not during the high priesthood of, Abiathar.[1]) There are many theories to explain the reference to “Abiathar” in this text:

  1. It did not refer to the time of the high priest but rather to the section of the scroll where the story about the bread could be found.[2] (Most are not convinced by this theory.)
  2. The phrase meant “in the lifetime of Abiathar.”
  3. It originally read “the father of Abiathar” but “the father of” dropped out because the beginning of the words “father” and “Abiathar” were similar.[3] (But why would Jesus refer to “the father of Abiathar”?)
  4. The whole phrase is a later addition. Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the text is that it is difficult to understand why Jesus would have made reference to any high priest, as it is not relevant to the story. So perhaps this phrase was an early (and incorrect) gloss. This would explain why the line is missing from Matthew and Luke: it was not included in their copies of the Gospel of Mark.
  5. The earlier reading, referring to Abiathar, is a textbook example of “the mistakes of men”[4] that can occur in a record: either Mark (or his source) erred in naming Abiathar here.[5] Because Abiathar was associated with David as the high priest during his reign,[6] it is an understandable mistake.

Most scholars agree that the text is in error; the other theories come mostly from those committed to the inerrancy of scripture. While the error is not terribly significant, it does raise an interesting question:  does the mistaken referent stem from Jesus or from Mark (or his source)? If it was Mark’s or his source’s error, then we have an instance where Mark did not correctly record Jesus’ words. If it was Jesus’ error—an option most LDS would not find acceptable, although perhaps some readings of Luke 2:52 (“and Jesus increased in wisdom”) would permit such a position—then that would speak to the nature of his mortal limitations.

[1] See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart:  United Bible Societies, 2001), page 68.

[2] See William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 116.

[3] See Robert H. Stein, Mark (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Academic, 2008), 146.

[4] Title Page, The Book of Mormon.

[5] Note that both Matthew and Luke omit any reference to the high priest.

[6] See C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to St Mark (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1959), 116.