A New Translation: Mark 1

I must admit, I am a beginner (and for various reasons, not really that good) at translation – too technical for me, so, feel free to destroy it as you see fit. But, before you do, let me give you the reasons why this particular translation sounds odd. We know that the Gospel of Mark is unique among the Gospels for several reasons, and one of them being the use of the historical present tense of the verbs. While the historical present tense is often used as a literary device to reinforce the idea of urgency, to make past events more vivid, I hope that it served another purpose of the writer of this gospel. I note that while Matthew uses it 20 times and Luke uses it once, Mark uses it 151 times (Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, pg 19 n62). Is this a personal writing style?

The Bishop Papias, a contemporary of Ignatius and Polycarp, whom Tradition reports as the scribe to the Apostle John awhile he wrote his Gospel, tells us that Mark wrote as Peter preached. Perhaps, then, the historical present tense as used by Mark is more than an antique literary device. Just perhaps, for the Apostle Peter, as he preached, the stories continued to happen presently, so that Christ never departed from him. Maybe Peter preached the stories as if they were really happening. And this hopeful theory is the basis of this translation. I tried to translate it as Papias said it was – a dictation of preaching.

This translation was done a few years ago, sitting in Indiana, following the TR MSS. I am posting it for feedback (kind, gentle, loving feedback).

The beginning of the good news concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God:

(As it stands written in the prophets: “Behold! I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you, He is the voice crying in the wilderness: Make ready the way of the LORD; turn his paths straight!”)

John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And to him all people of Judea, and those who lived in Jerusalem, kept going out, being baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins. Now, John, who clothed himself with camel hairs and a leather belt around his waist, eating locusts and the honey of the field, began preaching:

“He who is greater than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to bend down and loose, is coming after me.

“I indeed baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the holy Spirit!”

And it was happening in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth (of Galilee), and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately, coming up from the water, Jesus sees the heavens rent asunder, and the Spirit, as a dove, descending upon himself. And there came a voice from within the heavens, saying: “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Then immediately the spirit drives him out into the wilderness. As he remains there, in the wilderness for forty days, Satan tries to tempt him to evil. He is there with the wild beasts, being  constantly ministered to by the angels.

Now, after John had been arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, saying, “The appointed time is complete and the kingdom of God draws near; repent and believe this good news!”

Now, walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother, Andrew, casting a net into the sea, for they are fishermen. Jesus said to them: “Come after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” Then immediately, forsaking their nets, they follow him.

Having gone on from there a little, he saw James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee, repairing their nets. Immediately he calls them and they leave their father in the ship — with the hired workers — going after him, going into Capernaum.

And immediately, on the Sabbath, having gone into the synagogue, he is teaching. They are overwhelmed with astonishment at his teaching, for he is teaching them as one who possesses authority, unlike one of the scribes.

And in their synagogue  there is a man under the power of an unclean spirit. The spirit cries out, saying: “Leave us alone! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Are you come to destroy us? I know you, who you are! You are the Holy One of God!”

Jesus rebukes him saying: “Silence! Come out of him!” Then the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying out with a loud voice, comes out of him.

And they were all so shocked that they debated among themselves saying:

“What is this?”
“What new doctrine is this?”
“With what authority does he commend even the unclean spirits and they obey him?”

(And immediately a report of him spreads abroad throughout all the whole region of Galilee.)

Then immediately, coming out of the synagogue, they go into Simon and Andrew’s house, with James and John.  Now, Simon’s mother-in-law was lying on her back being sick with a fever. Immediately, they tell him of her. He comes near, taking her hand and raising her up and immediately the spirit leaves her! She then waits on them.

At evening, when the sun had set, they began bringing to him all of those diseased, possessed, of demons. The whole city is gathered together near the door, And he heals many that are sick with different diseases, casting out many demons, but not allowing them to speak, because they know him. And very early, deep into the night, having risen up, he goes out and departs to a solitary place, and there he prays.

Then Simon, and those with him, search eagerly for him, And finding him, they say: “Everyone searches for you.” There he says to them: “Let us go into the neighboring towns that I may preach there also, as I have come forth for this reason.”

He comes and is preaching in their synagogues, in all of Galilee, and he is casting out demons. Then there comes to him a leper, calling on him and falling on his knees, saying: “If you want, you are able to make me clean.”

Jesus, being moved inwardly with compassion, stretches out his hand, takes hold of him, saying: “I am willing — be clean!” As soon as he speaks, the leprosy immediately departs him – he is clean! Then he sternly warns the man, immediately sending him away. He says to the man: “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go your way and show yourself to the priest, bringing an offering for your cleansing the things which Moses directed, as a testimony to them.” But he, as he goes out, begins proclaiming it greatly, and spreading the news around, so that Jesus was no more able to enter the city openly, but was in the deserted places, and they kept coming to him from all directions.

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Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

30 thoughts on “A New Translation: Mark 1”

  1. Thank you, Joel, for posting this – I really wish we had more translations that let the unique voices of the authors come through instead of flattening them into a generic literary form. I’ve seen a few other efforts that take your approach – though the names of the translators escape me right now – and they really add a new dimension to the gospels. It’s easier to see Matthew and Luke taking Mark’s “sermon notes” and recasting them into thematic literary documents (if you’re of that text source persuasion).

  2. Joel,

    You may have noticed that I did a series on a part of this chapter recently. My translation and yours are not that far off. However, in at least one instance you take a past tense in the Greek and render it as a present tense. In another instance, you seem to assimilate the diction of Mark to that of Matthew. I could go on nitpicking like this, but really, I just want to agree with ElShaddai, with whom I have been in agreement for quite some time.

    On another matter, you might want to clarify at some point what your stance is towards thinking about the New Testament, its composition, sources, content, and so on, in historical terms. I thought I read a comment from you recently implying that you were against it. I guess I haven’t read enough of your blog to know whether you are, as it were, a student of Ned Stone and Peter Enns or a mere apologist. Yes, I stacked the deck by asking the question like that.

  3. Joel,
    I am not going to enter on the blog, any “nitpicking” lol or feedback. The Greek Text is itself the way God has chosen to speak His Word here in St. Mark and the NT. As we have spoken before, I follow the literal approach, “cognitive equivalence”, love that term.

    I was taught the “Q” stuff myself. It seems plausible and credible, but we just don’t really know the sources? But one thing is sure, i.e. the Synoptic problem! Since my presuppositions are conservative, my approach to the Text is very cautious and circumspect. I tend toward the place of E.W. Bullinger on the Holy Scripture, and seek to look closely at Greek Word studies, rather than ideas and theory. Just “the” Text and it’s words for me! I know strange for an Anglican now, lol.
    Fr. R.

  4. Joel,
    I have no problems with your translation of Mark 1. It is “yours”! I will just quote from R.T. France’s intro to his NIGTC on Mark: “My concern is with the exegesis of the text of Mark, not with theories about its prehistory or the process ot its composition.” (page 1) But as I said, you should have the freedom and liberty to what both your conscience and intellect-study tell you. Translate away! I know already your Christian commitment. This to me is an important issue! I am not always sure with other so-called Christian bloggers?
    Fr. R.

  5. Yes, France himself goes out there too, he must with the NIGTC. It is just a place I will read about, but not make a personal written venture on a blog. Who knows, I might change my mind? lol I have done that in my Christian life and expereince. For the most part, history and of course context will always help us to understand the text. But often there is just the reading and spiritual reality of the text. Which is where must people are at simply. I have seen godly men & women that don’t know a wit about textual theology, etc. Here we are back again to that place of existential reality, but it is over the Scripture text for sure! I hope ya get my point in what I am saying?
    Fr. R.

  6. I do not have a problem with Markan priority – I think that Luke’s intro acknowledges that he uses others sources.

    When I first started translating, and I ran across this unique trait of Mark, I felt that it was best to highlight it.

    Thanks for the kind words, ElShaddai.

  7. I wonder if Jesus used this same “camp fire” storytelling method to tell Paul about His gospel while Paul was up in the third heaven…

  8. John, this translation attempt is about 2 years old. I did purposely render a past tense into a present tense, rationalizing that since the reverse has always been done…. As far as rendering the diction, maybe – again, 2 years old. Could you point that out? What you term nitpicking is feedback, I hope.

    I have yet to fully find my stance on such issues. On some things, I can understand a historical approach while on other things, not so much. I would tend to be quite Traditional in composition, however. While I do believe that a ‘Q’ is possible, and indeed, in some ways very probable, I still see the Gospels as written to and by four different communities, following the Traditional line after that. What I am against is scholarship intending to discredit Christian Tradition; I can easily say that.

    Does this answer, as I didn’t intend to dodge any questions.

    Again, I welcome feedback – as I am still new and learning this translation bit.

    A ‘mere’ apologist? Yes, perhaps, but one who likes to discover the evidence of my position.

  9. Fr. Robert, the point of translation, as I understand it, is to bring the word of God to the ‘ploughboy.’ Since most people cannot read the Greek, translations are needed – and frankly, I want one which is authentic to the text. While literalism is necessary at times, I believe discovering the intent and relaying that intent to the reader, just as first reader(s), is the essential goal of any translation effort. Some succeed, some do not. I chose to focus on the historic present found so often in this Gospel – as I note, 151 times for such a short work – which if you translate it literally, would leave you reading in the present tense.

  10. But, Fr. Robert – to a point – exegesis of the text includes some of those areas outside of France’s concern. As the original text itself demonstrates, it is unique among the Gospels for a variety of reasons. What does this tell us about the community for which Mark was written? And, about the writer, or rather, as I believe, recorder of the Gospel.

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