Thursday, May 1, 2008

An angry Jesus

On of Bart Ehrman's favorite examples (judging from how often he uses it) is Mark 1:41 (NASB):

Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, ``I am willing; be cleansed.''

The trouble is, one Greek manuscript reads: "Moved with anger". Normally, if the majority of manuscripts, including the very best, agree on a word, it's safe to ignore a variation. But in this case, the variation is also very difficult to explain unless it was part of the original text. Last night, I performed a quick experiment with my men's Bible study. I gave them a copy of the text with "anger" instead of "compassion" and told them they had the power to change one word. Each of them spotted the word "anger" very quickly and proposed: "pity", "compassion", "love", and "passion" to replace it. There's no doubt in my mind that ancient scribes would have had a difficult time resisting the temptation to alter the emotion that Mark ascribes to Jesus.

But if the hard reading is true (a good bet in most cases), what does that say about Jesus? To some, merely the thought of Jesus having a strong emotion, especially anger, seems to deny His deity. But surely the God of the Old Testament was angry at times, even (or maybe especially) with His righteous servants. And later in the gospel Jesus becomes angry with the Pharisees, at the temple, and perhaps the fig tree that He cursed. So the fact of His anger can't really be the problem.

More likely the problem the scribes had with the text was know why Jesus was angry. Perhaps our Lord was angry that the law required the leper to be isolated, that the leper interrupted His preaching, that the leper violated the law when he entered the town, that no one but He could cleanse the leper, or because he was tired of healing. In each case, it appears as if Jesus has momentarily succumbed to temptation in the heat of the moment. But we know that Jesus endured forty days of temptation and Mark begins his biography with a proclamation that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God.
Therefore, if we read "anger", we can assume Jesus did not sin by that emotion.