ἐμβριμαομαι αυτω: Was Jesus Really “Snorting Angry,” With the Leper in Mark 1:43-44 After Healing Him?
Kerry A. Shirts, MM, 32°, CM, RAM, KT
Eagle Rock Lodge #19
Idaho Falls, Idaho
January 1, 2011
When we begin reading the Gospel of Mark, we soon run into the story of Jesus healing the leper (after he had healed many at Simon Peter’s Mother-in-law’s house – vss. 30-34), and Jesus says to him after he heals him - Και εμβριμησαμενος αυτω ευθεως εξεβαλεν αυτον – “And having strictly charge him, immediately he sent him away. ”
The Greek brings up something that is not grasped at all in the English translations. Kenneth Wuest noted the verb in the phrase “He straightly charged him,” “is embrimaomai (ἐμβριμαομαι) from brimaomai (βριμαομαι) “to be moved with anger.” The word Mark uses means “to snort,” and was used of horses. In the classics it meant “to be very angry, to be moved with indignation.” Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer described this scene, based on the Greek as “After he had been angry at him, wrathfully addressing him… we are to conceive of a vehement begone now! Away hence! With this is connected also the forcible εξεβαλεν (exebalen – [KAS notes – from the verb ἐκβάλλω (ekballō) meaning “to throw out,”
The anomaly arises because in verse 41 Jesus was said to have been moved with compassion for the leper’s plight! Here is how Wuest so beautifully expresses it:
Jesus, moved with compassion, splagchnizomai (σπλαγχνιζομαι), passive voice. The pitiful state of the leper aroused in our Lord’s heart the feeling of pity and love. Expositors says, “Watch carefully the portraiture of Christ’s personality in this Gospel, Mark’s specialty.” Luke, describing the same incident, does not have the words “moved with compassion,” but has the same construction that Mark uses “having stretched out His hand,” an aorist participle, and “touched him,” an aorist verb, but instead of using the finite verb “saith” of Mark, he uses the present participle “saying.” This gives us a wonderful truth. The rule of Greek grammar that governs this construction is that the action of the present tense participle goes on simultaneously with the action of the leading verb. That is, Jesus was saying “I will” at the time He was touching the leper. But the thought “I will,” the determination to follow out His desire to cleanse the leper, and the act of cleansing him, all preceded the spoken words and the outstretched hand. All of which means that our Lord did not touch the leper in order to cleanse him, but to show him and the people around, that he was cleansed of his leprosy. The Levitical law forbad a Jew to touch a leper. Our Lord lived under that law and obeyed it. The first kind touch of a human hand that leper ever experienced, was the gentle touch of the Son of God.
How all this illustrates the sweet old story of the gospel. Leprosy is a type of sin. The sinner comes crying, “Unclean, unclean, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” And the Lord Jesus, moved with compassion, stretches out His hand and touches him, saying, “I will, be thou clean.” And, as in the case of the leper, He cleanses us from sin before He touches us. In John 1:12, justification precedes regeneration in the divine economy. Mercy is only given on the basis of justice satisfied. So it is, “But as many as appropriated Him, to them gave He a legal right to become born ones of God, to those who put their trust in His name.” And so, as the sinner recognizes the Lord Jesus as the One who through His outpoured blood on the Cross, procured for sinful man a legal right to the mercy of God, he becomes the recipient of regeneration and of all the other parts of salvation.
Be thou clean. The verb is in the aorist passive imperative. That is, “be cleansed at once.” It was an immediate cure.
So what gives? How come Jesus became so angry all the sudden? Even Moulton and Milligan noted the papyri discovered at the turn of the last century in heaps of garbage dumps dating back to ancient times (the famous Oxyrinchus papyri, among others) that the Greek verb we are dealing with, ἐμβριμαομαι is “difficult… in the New Testament, but the LXX usage… is in favor of the meaning ‘am angry,’ ‘express violent displeasure,’ perhaps with the added idea of ‘within oneself.’ ” John P. Meier noted that ἐμβριμαομαι gives us the impression of “snorting or puffing with sterness bordering on anger. ” F. J. A. Hort said “it is used of the expression of various kinds of strong feeling here = ‘sternly charging.’”
All that being said, Swete noted what perhaps ἐμβριμαομαι means within the semantic range of meaning within the New Testament and the Jewish world’s understanding of the term. Word’s meanings change through time, and this one is no exception. “But the idea of anger is not inherent in the word; see John 11:33, 38 where it is used of our Lord’s attitude towards Himself; rather it indicates depth and strength of feeling expressed in tone and manner. A close parallel to the present passage is to be found in Matthew 9:30. In neither case can we discover any occasion for displeasure with the subject of the verb… (Wycliffe – ‘thretenyde hym’ [threatened him] is too harsh… we may paraphrase ‘He gave him a stern injunction.’”
Wuest once again noted that “Vincent says, ‘The reason for this charge and dismissal lay in the desire of Jesus not to thwart His ministry by awaking the premature violence of His enemies; who, if they should see the leper and hear his story before he had been officially pronounced clean by the priest, might deny either that he had been a leper or had been truly cleansed.’ Expositors says, ‘He (Mark) does not mean to impute real anger to Jesus, but only a masterful manner dictated by a desire that the benefit should be complete—, away, out of this, to the priest; do what the law requires, that you may be not only clean but recognized as such by the authorities, and so received by the people as a leper no longer.’ Robertson says that embrimaomai (ἐμβριμαομαι) ‘expresses powerful emotion as Jesus stood here face to face with leprosy, itself a symbol of sin and all its train of evils.’ Mark has been shown to be displaying his own “character sketch” of Jesus, as opposed to how Matthew or Luke tended to portray Jesus through the grammatical usage of narrative, the use of imperfects, and other such devices, which portrays a Jesus more in action, more in sympathy and compassion. As C. S. Mann noted, “Mark’s version, with its vivid detail, may owe far more to an original oral reminiscence than to the other evangelists.”
Another interesting angle by Mann is simply that Jesus’ “indignation” may not be focused on the poor leper and his suffering at all, nor at his supposed “disregard of legal prescriptions for isolation of such sufferers… but more likely is an indignation at the Satanic disorder in God’s creation.”
One thing is certain. Jesus was a passionate person. He was a compassionate person. He also was a law abiding citizen of his society as in this particular instance, “In compliance with the law given to Moses (Lev 14:1), he charges the newly restored man to show himself to the priest…(cf. Lev. 13:49).” He was not out for personal vain-glory which is reinforced by the Greek verb ὅρα in the imperative mood which Hanna shows “is only a sort of particle adding emphasis to the imperative, ‘see that you say nothing to anyone.’ ”
Analyzing the lexical semantics, grammatical descriptions, and linguistic interpretations of the Greek has, however, given us a deeper appreciation for this story. It has gotten us “behind” the scenes of the English a little better, with a deeper understanding of the emotional, spiritual, and seriously personal significance of this event for both, the leper and the Lord.
- Wuest, K. S. (1997, c1984). Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament (Mk 1:43). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
- Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Hand-Book of the Gospels of Mark and Luke, Alpha Publications, reprint in 1979 of the 6th edition of 1884: 24.
- Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996, c1989). Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.) (1:435-436). New York: United Bible societies.
- Wuest, K. S. (1997, c1984). Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament (Mk 1:41). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
- J. H. Moulton, G. Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, 2nd ed., 2004:206.
- John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Vol. 2, Anchor Bible Reference Library, Doubleday & Co., 1994: 700.
- F. J. A. Hort, Expository and Exegetical Studies, Compendium of Works Formerly Published Separately, Including the Gospel According to Mark, Kloch & Kloch Christian Publishers, Limited Classical Reprint Library, 1980: 67.
- Henry Barclay Swete, Commentary on Mark: The Greek Text with Introduction, Notes, and Indexes, Kregel Publications, 1977, reprint, 1981: 30.
- Wuest is quoting [accurately I might add] The Expositor’s Greek Testament, The Synoptic Gospels, by Alexander Balmain Bruce, Eerdfmans reprint 1976: 349.
10. Wuest, K. S. (1997, c1984). Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament (Mk 1:43). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
11. See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, Zondervan, 6th edition, 1996: 502.
12. C. S. Mann, Mark, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible, Doubleday and Co., 1986: 218-219.
13. Mann, Ibid., p. 219.
14. G. K. Beale, D. A. Carson, editors, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Baker Academic, 2007: 129.
15. Robert Hanna, A Grammatical Aid to the Greek New Testament, Baker Book House, 1983: 61.