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Jan 21, 2017

Welcome to this Joy of Translating podcast, covering the second half of Mark chapter 2! This is the podcast where I invite you collaborate with me to create a new Bible translation that faithfully communicates the meaning of the Biblical text in clear and natural English. There’s nothing that helps you dig deeper into God’s Word than trying to translate it so that it doesn’t sound like a translation. Let’s make a translation that promotes the enjoyment of God’s Word, and one that can be understood by children and podcast listeners. In reaching toward this goal,we’ll definitely be standing on the shoulders of others who have created good Bible translations.

There are three words that encapsulate our goal in creating a good meaning-based Bible translation, and I have already used them above. They are clear, natural, and accurate (or faithful). Hopefully the first word— clear, is clear. It means that people understand it without extra effort, and they don’t misunderstand it. By ‘natural’ I mean that the language doesn’t sound stilted to native English speakers. Our translation shouldn’t give itself away as a translation by using strange words, or putting the words together in a strange order. And finally, we want an accurate and faithful translation. This means that the message received is what the author or speaker intended. The translation doesn’t add or take away from what was originally intended. If the original instruction said to build a dog house, the reader or listener doesn’t build a garage or condominium instead.

These are not usually quite the same goals of someone producing a literal translation. The translator will be working in a word-by-word fashion, chooses each word according what he considers the best sense in the Biblical context. But inevitably, even when trying to re-arrange the words in the best order, a word-for-word translation will always put words together in ways that seem unnatural or strange sounding. This also results in the translation being unclear. The translator will say that his translation is accurate, but by this he means that each word was a really good choice to translate each word of the text. And nowadays, I am sure the translators for literal versions know that the publishers are planning to produce an edition with study notes that will explain what his word-for-word accurate translation is supposed to mean.

It actually is rather helpful if a literal translation is unnatural sounding and a bit unclear, because those two things might alert the reader to look for some footnote that might help him understand what is being said. But unfortunately, there are hard verses in literal Bible translations, which don’t give such a clue! Because of an unperceived degree of unnaturalness or ambiguity, readers can come away with a very wrong impression of what the writer was meaning. The problem is made worse because our modern culture is so far removed from ancient Biblical culture.

So again, it is important for every believer to have a literal Bible translation that will show the form of the original text, and to also have a meaning-based translation that will give the meaning in a clear, natural, and accurate manner.

Jesus answers a question about why His disciples don’t fast
(Mat. 9:14-17; Luke 5:33-39)

18 On another day, John the Baptist’s disciples were following the Jewish tradition of abstaining from eating.9 The sect of the Pharisees were also doing this. So some people came to Jesus and said, “John's disciples often abstain from eating. The Pharisees also do the same. Why don't your disciples?”

19-20 Jesus answered by giving this comparison, “The guests at a wedding feast would not be expected to abstain from eating, would they?! While the groom is still part of the celebration, that would be highly unlikely! But if enemies came in and killed the groom, then everyone in the wedding party would abstain from eating. Someday I will suddenly be taken away, and that’s the time when my disciples will mourn for me and abstain from eating.”

21 Then Jesus gave them two more comparisons: “No one is going to patch a big hole in an old shirt using a brand new piece of cloth. The next time the shirt was washed, the patch of new cloth would shrink and pull away from the old cloth, making an even bigger hole. 22 Let’s also use new wine1 as an example. New wine can’t be put into an old wineskin, because the gas given off by the new wine would not be able to escape from the old wineskin. The skin would burst open and spill all of the wine. New wine has to be put into new wineskins.”2

Jesus is Lord over the Sabbath

(Mat. 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5)

23 One Sabbath day, Jesus and his disciples were walking through a large wheat field. Because they were hungry, his disciples picked some stalks of wheat and ate the grains. 24 Some Pharisees were with them and said to Jesus, “Look what your disciples are doing! They’re forbidden to do that on the Sabbath!”3

25 Jesus answered them, “You ought recall the story about David, when he and the men who were with him were in need and were hungry. 26 David went to the Lord’s Tent and asked the high priest Abiathar for bread. David was given the sacred presentation bread that is always put in the Holy Place in the Lord’s Tent. Only the priests are permitted to eat that bread.4 But David and his men ate it, and in their situation no one considers what they did to be a sin.”

27 Then Jesus added, “God gave the command about the Sabbath day in order to benefit people, not to make people slaves of the Sabbath day! 28 For that reason and since I am the Son of Man, my authority as Lord5 extends to what may or may not be done on the Sabbath.”


4 + 2:10 Son of Man Jesus often spoke of himself “Son of Man.” This term, which Mark literally translates in Greek, really is an idiom from the Hebrew Old Testament. In Hebrew, ‘son of man’ means ‘normal human being’. Jesus called Himself that to remind his listeners about what the Prophet Daniel had witnessed in a vision of the King of Salvation. (Dan. 7:13-14) Daniel saw Jesus in heaven in the form of a ‘son of man’, meaning in the form of a ‘normal human being’, when God appointed him King over everything. Note that when Jesus speaks of himself in the third person in Greek, this translation will always make it clear that he is speaking about himself.

5 + 2:14 collect taxes At this time, Israel had already been conquered and colonized by the kingdom of Rome. Jewish people who became tax collectors for the Roman government were considered traitors to their own people. They were also hated and considered sinners because they liked to collect more taxes than the actual amount due. (Luke 3:12-13) That is how tax collectors became so rich.

6 + 2:14 Matthew/Levi Mark wrote only “Levi.” His other name is given in the text because he is much better known today by that name, as he is called in Mat. 9:9-13 and 10:3.

7 + 2:15 also considered to be sinners All tax collectors were considered to be sinners. See the footnote for verse 14.

8 + 2:16 the religious group called the Pharisees a group of Jews who maintained that all of Moses’ Law and all the commands added by the Jewish forefathers had to be strictly followed. They prided themselves in their devout devotion to all the Jewish Laws and traditions. Because of this, many of them didn’t like Jesus, because He didn’t join their group. And they were jealous because many people followed Him. Jesus rebuked the Pharisee group along with the Law experts in Mat. 23, because they just pretended to be good people.

9 + 2:18 Jewish tradition … The original instructions in the Torah say to “humble yourselves/deny yourselves” on certain high holy days like the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27, 29; 32), and the way the Jews did this was to abstain from eating. But devout Jewish Rabbis extended this practice to a regular fast on Tuesdays and Fridays. The original purpose of denying or humbling themselves before God was to express sorrow for sins and seek God's favor.

1 + 2:22 new wine New grapes were pressed, then the grape juice was called new wine and it tasted sweet. New wine that was kept for a certain time would undergo the process of fermentation. The longer it was stored, the higher the alcohol content became. In Bible times, what was called ‘new wine’ might contain some alcohol, but not as high of a content as old wine.

2 + 2:22 the old and the new In these last two comparisons, Jesus compared something old with something new. This teaching was given in the context of him being asked about the Jewish forefathers’ tradition of fasting. Like new cloth and new wine, Jesus’ teaching cannot be completely harmonized with the old teaching of the forefathers. The same thing may be seen in the story that follows.

3 + 2:24 forbidden … According to Deut. 23:25, what the disciples were doing is explicitly permitted on normal days, and it is hard to see how eating a few grains of wheat would break any law in the Torah concerning the Sabbath. So the opinion expressed would be based on Jewish tradition, not the Law.

4 + 2:26 Lev. 24:9; 1Sam. 21:1-6

5 + 2:28 Son of Man … Lord As the footnote in NET points out, the word ‘lord’ is in emphatic position in the Greek text. It is therefore rather astonishing that NET doesn't capitalize the word in either the footnote or in their text! This points to a translational problem: The original Greek text does not distinguish between capital and small letters. There was only one size of letter used at the time Mark wrote this. The word ‘kyrios’ didn't just mean the divine Lord, but also was used to refer to people like the English word ‘Sir’, and it could refer to a human owner, master, or boss. And the title Jesus used for himself both revealed and concealed his identity because it could be understood in the sense of an ordinary human, or as a reference pointing to Daniel 7. (See the footnote above for Mrk. 2:10.) So many people listening to Jesus would not have understood the basis for the authority Jesus claimed as the ‘boss’ of the Sabbath. But others, and especially his disciples, would have understood what Jesus said. The use of capitals in this translation reflects how his disciples would have understood Jesus.


We can find some good examples in chapter 2 of the cultural difficulties I mentioned above for modern readers. A meaning-based translation can tell the reader a little more about why old wineskins would crack if you put new wine in them. The original readers understood without a footnote, and I want my readers and podcast listeners to understand without having to resort to a footnote.

In the case of the story of the disciples walking through a wheat field, I give a footnote to explain that the picking of grain by hand was not really forbidden by the Mosaic Law, but might be a debatable prohibition from Jewish tradition, at best. Then when Jesus gave the example of David getting bread from the Tabernacle, I’m afraid that many modern readers would miss the whole point of why Jesus gave that example. Mark’s readers and Jesus’ audience would have understood his point without his making it explicit. In a meaning-based translation, it is permissible for implicit information that would have been understood by the original audience to be made explicit for modern readers. (This can be done in the text or in a footnote. In this case I chose to put it right in the text.)

There is other information about the title Son of Man and his use of the word ‘lord’ that I give in a footnote. This is a case where Jesus’ meaning would have been ambiguous for his original audience. So I invite you to look at the footnote for verse 28 that is found in the episode notes.