The Displeasure of Jesus

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled.

— John 11:33


We shall take first the passage, Mark 1:43—in the authorized version, “And he straitly charged him;” in the revised, “And he strictly charged him,” with sternly in the margin. Literally, as it seems to me, it ought to be read, “And being angry,” or “displeased,” or “vexed” “with him, he immediately dismissed him.” There is even some dissatisfaction implied, I think, in the word I have translated “dismissed.” The word in John 9:34, “they cast him out,” is the same, only a little intensified. This adds something to the story, and raises the question, Why should Jesus have been angry? If we can find no reason for this anger, we must leave the thing as altogether obscure; for I do not know where to find another meaning for the word, except in the despair of a would-be interpreter. Jesus had cured the leper—not with his word only, which would have been enough for the mere cure, but was not enough without the touch of his hand to satisfy the heart of Jesus—a touch defiling him, in the notion of the Jews, but how cleansing to the sense of the leper! The man, however, seems to have been unworthy of this delicacy of divine tenderness. The Lord, who could read his heart, saw that he made him no true response—that there was not awaked in him the faith he desired to rouse: he had not drawn the soul of the man to his. The leper was jubilant in the removal of his pain and isolating uncleanness, in his deliverance from suffering and scorn; he was probably elated with the pride of having had a miracle wrought for him. In a word, he was so full of himself that he did not think truly of his deliverer. 


The Anger of Our Lord
by Dave Roney

Disclaimer: This reading has to do with the displeasure, a mild word, more truthfully the anger, of our Lord; at the outset I must say that though I understand Him aggravated I have no idea what that “deep anger which welled up within Him” looks like.  That His anger did not look at all like my anger I am sure, and to that I can add little or nothing more by way of explanation.  Thus admitted, we begin:

In yesterday's reading MacDonald began his sermon titled “The Displeasure of Jesus” by drawing attention to the Greek word ἐμβριμάομαι (em-brim-άh-o-my) and gave a typical lexical definition to which he says “I believe the statement a blunder.”  And small wonder, for in most of the English translations the word is rendered, in several passages, as “strictly, sternly, straitly” or “strongly charged.”  Consider that the 33rd verse begins with Mary weeping with the effect that Jesus was, as the translator has it, “deeply moved;” then in the 35th verse it says “Jesus wept;” sandwiched between these two weepings is the reaction of Christ relayed by the word ἐμβριμάομαι.  Thus bookended by the weeping of Mary and the weeping of Jesus, the translators have supposed the reaction of Christ to be sympathetically the same weeping, for the same reasons, as theirs, and rendered the word in phrase as “His spirit was greatly troubled” or “He was deeply moved.”  (Have not the sermonizers always said that He wept because His friend had died?)

In the ancient Greco-Roman world of Christ's day the horse was both a preferred and a common means of locomotion, thus was a much more familiar beast to people then than it is in our urban day of motorized transport.  The word under our scrutiny came by an association drawn from the behavior of an agitated, or angry, horse; the word meant “I snort!”—as an angry horse snorts; a show of choler, indignation, and even antagonism toward someone.  In other words, the Lord's reaction here was not one of sympathy but an overt display of His aggravation.

In describing the scene, Ellicott puts it “The original meaning of the word is “to snort, as of horses. Passing to the moral sense, it expresses disturbance of the mind—vehement agitation” whereas in his commentary Matthew Henry entirely misses the meaning by beginning “Christ's tender sympathy with these afflicted friends appeared by the troubles of his spirit” and concludes “And we have not a High Priest who cannot be touched with a feeling of our infirmities.”  Ellicott based his commentarial explanation on the actual meaning of ἐμβριμάομαι whereas Henry ignored it, choosing instead to insert his own preconceived opinion rather than, as is my notion, dealing with the passage honestly by allowing Scripture to say what it is saying.  And, as MacDonald says of Grimm, so say I of Henry; “I believe the statement a blunder.”  Our author says in today's reading, with reference to Mark 1:43, where the same Greek word ἐμβριμάομαι is used (in another form; ἐμβριμ-ησάμενος)  in the sending away of the healed leper:  

“Literally, as it seem to me, it ought to read 'And being angry,' or 'displeased,' or 'vexed with him, He immediately dismissed him.'  There is even some dissatisfaction implied, I think, in the word I have translated as 'dismissed.'”

Here, in this verse, another aspect of ἐμβριμάομαι is evident; in addition to anger and indignation is also that of coercion—that Christ forcefully sent the man away from Him.  And, back to our original verse, John 11:33, one discovers a ubiquitous mis-translation of the word ἐμβριμάομαι in nearly every popular translation; I found in Eugene Peteron's translation, “The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language,” perhaps the one most true to the Greek meaning of the word:

“When Jesus saw her sobbing,and the Jews with her sobbing, a deep anger welled up within Him.  He said, 'Where have you put him?'” (Italics mine for emphasis)

To further demonstrate the true meaning of ἐμβριμάομαι, “to snort in anger,” consider the blind man whom Christ had healed, called to appear before the Jewish leaders, confessing that Christ had healed him, and suffering the indignant retribution from them of being “cast out” (it is the Greek word ἐκβάλλω, which MacDonald says “is the same” (as ἐμβριμάομαι) only intensified:”

“They answered him, 'You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us? And they (ἐκβάλλω) cast him out.  (John 9:34, Italics mine for emphasis)

Now, the fact is, Jesus was indignant in a situation which we might expect to discover Him entirely sympathetic.  Why is that?  We are not told; the Lord offers no explanation, neither does the Apostle elaborate on or extend to us any meaning.  I suspect that the Lord did not reveal the reason to him, and I believe St. John was honest enough in relating the account that he dared not enter any speculation of his own; he was content to simply write, to the best of his ability, an accurate history of what he had witnessed.

The translators, on the other hand, in the main, have not been content to merely reiterate in our language—they have gone beyond both Jesus and the Apostle to lend to it their own interpretation, and supplement the text with meaning based on their opinions.  But if a man comes to the translator's table, he ought to have clean hands, hands that will not take the Word of God and admix into it interpretation based on theory or doctrines worked out by men, relying on undue speculation and opinion.  Though no man—either translator or student—can exactly approach the Scripture without at least some preconceptions, as much as he can that man's goal ought to be to come to the table with a clean heart, an openly honest mind and heart malleable by the Spirit; to say, then, with a Tabula Rasa, a blank slate unbiased by any conclusions of his own, lest he handle the Scripture badly in areas key to right understanding.  To this point MacDonald says:

“This adds something to the story, and raises the question, 'Why should Jesus have been angry?'  If we can find no reason for this anger, we must leave the thing as altogether obscure; for I do not know where to find another meaning for the word [ἐμβριμάομαι], except in the despair of a would-be interpreter.”  (Italics mine for emphasis)

The desperare spoke of here, the losing of hope, could be that of the “would-be interpreter,” the translator and the commentator, although I think not; I think it is MacDonald's own despair of ever finding a right translation, one that is straightforwardly honest, void of presuppositions and unclouded by doctrines accepted by those publishing their works, which they have routinely woven into the Writ and, thereby, often through their writings, preaching, and teaching, have distorted the original meaning of God's word to say what it is not saying, and to present for us a God quite unlike Himself.

By today we, the children of our Father, have entered into what might be termed as a new Age of Theological Enlightenment such as the world had not enjoyed since the first several centuries of Christianity; at our fingertips are interlinear  helps, are authors, are translations, are spokesmen, teaches, preachers, who have formed the avant garde of a return to the theology of first century Christianity, and other resources which more truly represent the things of God, which were not often available to the former generations of believers, but are now made readily available and through technologies placed at the fingertips of every honest seeker.

Yet, even so, there are and shall remain areas and passages of which we will not know precisely the meaning; and in such places it is allowable that we form opinions (as long as such concur with what else we know to be true in Scripture) —yet we must always maintain that our opinions are but that, opinions, and not definitive conclusions.  In today's reading MacDonald paid much more attention to Mark 1:43 than have I in this commentary; tomorrow he will resume treatment of that verse...  

End note:

 At the head of this writing was my Disclaimer that, whatever the consternation of Christ might be, I do not know; only that it is surely unlike mine.  I have sought to show what the condition of Christ actually was by informing according to the actual meaning of the Greek verb chosen by St. John; yet I am not at all certain the verb is itself any more than an approximation, that perhaps even the best human-made word in the old vocabulary (or in our own) is but somewhat inadequate, or amiss, or both.  But upon what do I predicate such doubt?

It is because I am sure the “wrath” of God has been largely misunderstood, made by the theologians to be too much like their own, or my own, anger, with His consequent rectification through judgment and justice, to be more that of a sinful, retributionally minded man than the pure and loving emotion and feeling of the Redeemer and His child-gathering Father.  Somehow, the wrath of God is that of Christ in this setting only appearing differently to us; somehow the “displeasure” (a paltry word) of Christ in John 11:33 is the same “displeasure” He will display at His coming; somehow the meek and lowly Christ is the same Lord as St. John describes in the first chapter of Revelation.  Somehow the Lion is the Lamb even as the Lamb is the Lion, and we can never understand either except we include the other, for they are one and the same in essence and aspiration, in purpose, in plan, in every way.

These are things I, as the angels, have “a desire to look into,” yet for now my vision is as limited as theirs, perhaps more so.  And I would have told you what “He groaned in the spirit and was troubled” actually means, but to do so would find me guilty of what MacDonald terms in this reading as an effort “of the “would-be interpreter.”