Thursday, January 3, 2013

Is "The Son of Man" Lord of the Sabbath or is Man? An interesting look at Mark 2:27-28.

A while ago I was reading the book Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth by Bart D. Ehrman and I came across an interesting part. Dr. Ehramn was discussing whether or not the oral histories that would eventually become the four canonical gospels could have originated in Judea in the first century, and he gave as evidence the passage found in Mark 2:27-28, which reads:
27 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 
28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
This particular passage deals with an event where the pharisees confronted Jesus and complained that his disciples were walking through fields of grain on the Sabbath and plucking and eating the grain from the field. This they said, was a violation of the commandment to "keep the Sabbath day holy". To this Jesus responds by mentioning the story of king David and how he ate the shewbread from the tabernacle, which he was not supposed to do according to Jewish law. Jesus is essentially saying, "If David, who you revere can do that and you do not condemn him, why do you condemn my disciples for eating food that does not come from the sanctuary, and is not holy?"

To finish up his argument Jesus tells them "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath". Up until now his argument makes sense but then he adds, "Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath." In the book of Mark the phrase "Son of man" clearly refers to Jesus, who is understood to be the Messiah. But this phrase does not follow from his previous argument. It seems to be a non sequitur, because why would the fact that the Sabbath was made for man make Jesus (the Messiah) Lord of the Sabbath? But this is precisely what the word therefore implies, that because of the previous argument Jesus concluded that He is Lord of the Sabbath.

I remember years ago in Sunday School classes this scripture was talked about and debated because no one could really make sense of it. I heard a number of different explanations regarding verse 28, but none of them seemed satisfactory and felt like the explanation was stretched just a little too far.

If you go and look at the text in Greek the text is clear, the υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (son of man) is the Lord of the Sabbath. So looking at the original Greek does not help since the confusion is still there. But interestingly enough if you take the text and translate it into Aramaic then the sense of verse 28 changes. As explained by Dr. Ehrman in his book Did Jesus Exist? we discover,
"Aramaic uses the same word for man and for son of man. It is the word barnash. And so the two-liner originally said, "Sabbath was made for barnash, not barnash for the Sabbath. Therefore barnash is lord of the Sabbath." Now the therefore makes sense. The reason that humans (barnash) are the lords of the Sabbath is because of what he just said: Sabbath was made for humans, not the other way around. Moreover, now the last line makes sense in the context of the story. The disciples (the barnash) are masters of the Sabbath, which was created for their sake." (p. 89)
So even though the earliest texts of the book of Mark are written in Greek, Dr. Ehrman uses this passage to point out that the original stories told by the disciples of Jesus were told in Aramaic, because occasionally they make more sense when translated into Aramaic. I think this version (from the Aramaic) is very interesting and really clarifies this passage. The theological implications of this change are interesting.

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