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ἐν παραβολαῖς


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As we saw in our gospel readings earlier in the year Matthew does not announce how Jesus teaches so particularly until the late, 13th chapter.


Here in Mark it's early, before the 3rd chapter ends:


καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος αὐτοὺς ἐν παραβολαῖς ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς· Πῶς δύναται Σατανᾶς Σατανᾶν ἐκβάλλειν;


The crowds are pressing in, being healed, invisible demons being expelled from many. His critical opponents are reinterpreting his actions publicly. And so Jesus responds in this suffocating context with calling "them" in closer. It's not entirely clear to whom he refers as Mark uses the pronoun, αὐτοὺς.


But to this audience, whether the crowd of healed ones, or the critics, or the 12 newly commissioned disciples, or the demons, or all of the above, Jesus is declaring something. It starts with this rhetorical question, Πῶς δύναται Σατανᾶς Σατανᾶν ἐκβάλλειν; And we, even Mark's readers, eventually are given a punchline to such a lead up - whether or not we "get it" is another matter.


At any rate, at this very point, so very early in the Greek gospel of Mark, there's the characteristic of what Jesus is doing here:


ἐν παραβολαῖς 


Aristotle had much to straighten out with his own disciples about using this rhetorical device. His own teacher Plato had written of his own teacher Socrates using such. Not a very direct way of presenting an argument, of making it, of sustaining it, of delivering a point. It was akin to those fables of Aesop, of the Libyan. 

If we're one of Mark's readers more accustomed to reading the Septuagint, then we've come across this phrase in the Pentateuch. It's not always a positive thing. Balaam in Numbers (23 and 24) is taking up the Oracle and is issuing curses. The Lord is also declaring curses, another time through Moses, in Deuteronomy:

28:37 καὶ ἔσῃ ἐκεῖ ἐν αἰνίγματι καὶ παραβολῇ καὶ διηγήματι ἐν πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν εἰς οὓς ἂν ἀπαγάγῃ σε κύριος ἐκεῖ

The Greek translation of the Hebrew Torah here retains how enigmatic, how parabolic, how diegmatic this all is.


A puzzle, a tall tale, a spun yarn.

A characteristic of Mark's Jesus early on. He's intentionally gathering a crowd in as his audience. What he tells has a rhetorical arc to it. It starts with a startling question. It's meant, it seems, to make a point, to go deep in the ears and into the thought of the listeners. It's somehow countering the points his critics are making of him as they try to accuse him, to size him up.

And Mark describes all that rather simply, with this prepositional phrase in which the preposition is rather abstract and in which its noun is plural:

ἐν παραβολαῖς

The earliest of translators daring to render the gospel into English don't merely transliterate. These are not simply something we might mimic Greek sounds with by calling them "parables."

Jesus is talking "on bigspellum" and "on bispellen" in West Saxon. In William Tyndale's description he's talking "in similitudes"; likewise in Miles Coverdale's rendering "in symilitudes." (And Robert Young later keeps this as "in similies.") Whatever pluralities the Greek has in Mark, this English expresses. It could be a single "bispel" or just one "similitude." And that would be plural enough. But Mark's Jesus is making his declaration, his point, in not just one. Rather

ἐν παραβολαῖς



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