April 1: Mark 8:31 (continued)

Mark 8:31, continued

“…and to be removed from consideration under [i.e. by] the elders and the top sacred officials and the writers”

This is the second of the four components of the Passion-prediction in Mark 8:31 par. Like the first component (cf. the previous note), it is governed by a verbal infinitive that summarizes what will take place in Jerusalem. The conjunctive particle kai/ (“and”) connects this statement (and its verb) to the one preceding: “to suffer” => “and to be removed from consideration”. The second verb develops and further defines the action of the first. That is to say, Jesus’ suffering will involve his being “removed from consideration” by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem.

I have attempted to translate the compound verb a)podokima/zw in a literal manner above. The primary verb dokima/zw refers to the recognition of the value of something by examining and testing it. The prefixed preposition a)po (“from”) then adds the idea of removing something from consideration (as being unworthy, of no value, etc). In simpler and more conventional English, we might translate the compound verb as “disapprove [of], reject”. It is relatively rare in the New Testament, its usage being essentially limited to the Passion-prediction(s) by Jesus and to citations of Psalm 118:22 [LXX].

The three groups of people who will do this removing/rejecting of Jesus are: (1) the Elders (presbu/teroi), (2) the Chief Priests (lit. “top sacred officials,” a)rxierei=$), and (3) the “Writers” (grammatei=$). I have translated grammateu/$ according to its simple meaning (“writer”); however, here the plural would perhaps be better rendered “literate men”. Yet even that translation is misleading, since the main point is not simple literacy, but knowledge of writings—especially of the Scriptures.

These three groups comprise the Jewish ruling Council (Sanhedrin) in Jerusalem. In other words, they represent the leading Jewish authorities—those who will be in a position (and with the authority) to examine Jesus, and to reject him (as unworthy), removing him from consideration (vb a)podokima/zw, cf. above). Josephus, in War 2.411, includes as part of the triad of Jewish leadership “knowledgeable Pharisees” —that is, with knowledge of the Scriptures (and other writings). This would be an apt description of the “Writers” (grammatei=$), as the term is used here (and throughout the Gospels). These “Writers” (or ‘Scribes’), men with knowledge of the Scriptures, etc, are closely connected with the Pharisees in the Gospel tradition, and should be seen as more or less equivalent with the ‘learned Pharisees’ (Pharisees with knowledge of the Writings) mentioned by Josephus.

Clearly, this statement in the Passion-prediction is meant to foreshadow the interrogation (or ‘trial’) of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. At the literary level of the Gospel, it thus connects the reader with the upcoming Passion narrative, with its central episode of Jesus’ interrogation before the Sanhedrin (which would result in his mistreatment and ultimate condemnation). However, at the historical level of the early tradition, it also reflects the experience of Jesus during his time of ministry in Galilee.

The Synoptic tradition records a number of conflicts and disputes Jesus had with the Jewish religious authorities, usually represented as Scribes (lit. “Writers”) or Pharisees, or, on occasion, by the specific pairing ‘Scribes and Pharisees’. These men were considered to be experts in the Scriptures (and the Old Testament Law [Torah]), and it was they who discussed and disputed with Jesus (on the fine points of the Torah regulations, etc). If we use the Gospel of Mark as representative of the core Synoptic tradition, these disputes were relatively frequent during the Galilean period of Jesus’ ministry, and make up a significant portion of the first half of the Gospel narrative—cf. 2:6-10, 15-17, [18ff], 23-28; 3:1-6, 22-23ff; 7:1-13ff; 8:11-12, 15ff.

Some of these episodes are located toward the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, though the sequence in the Gospel may be literary as much as historical/chronological. In any case, the idea is that, from a relatively early point, long before his climactic journey to Jerusalem, Jesus had come into conflict (repeatedly) with the religious leaders. According to the Synoptic narrative, it was the Sabbath-controversy episodes (Mk 2:23-3:6 par) that ignited this conflict, to the point that even some of the authorities in Galilee became fiercely opposed to Jesus and sought to ‘destroy’ him (3:6 par). It was the ‘learned Pharisees’ (i.e., the Writers/Scribes) who seem to have taken the initiative in this regard.

The Lukan version of the Passion-prediction (9:22) here is identical to Mark, with the exception of the preposition a)po/ (“from”) instead of u(po/ (“under”). The Markan wording essentially means that the rejection of Jesus will occur “under” the authority of the Sanhedrin (i.e., by their power and judgment), whereas in Luke the doubling of the preposition a)po/ (which is also prefixed to the verb) may perhaps emphasize the action of the rejection itself. Jesus will be cast out from the Council, where he will then be led off to the Roman authorities to be tried as a criminal.

Matthew’s version (16:21) also uses the preposition a)po/, but simplifies the statement by eliminating/omitting the preceding verb, and joining together the first two components of the Passion to form a single statement: “it is necessary for him to suffer many things from the Elders…” . The point is thus emphasized that Jesus’ suffering comes primarily from the Jewish leaders (i.e., at their hands).

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