Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. I am willing, he said. Be clean! Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.
Jesus was indignant? That’s what my New International Version of the Bible says. Was Jesus having a bad day? Was he particularly grumpy about lepers? Or just lepers who had the temerity to speak to him? This just doesn’t seem like the Jesus that we read about elsewhere in the Gospels–and perhaps most to the point elsewhere in Mark. In most translations, Jesus is full of compassion–the proper translation of that tongue-spraining word in the title–but in the NIV, he’s indignant, translated thus from a different but similar Greek word that appears in only one early Greek manuscript.
Recently, Bart Ehrman, the scholar who has made a healthy career out of churning out a series of books skeptical about the veracity of the Bible, has argued that, despite the many manuscripts that read “compassion,” the lonely one reading “indignant” is to be preferred. Why? Because it is the more difficult one to read and accept. That’s a great piece of logic. If we could find a manuscript that said Jesus was a space alien, Ehrman would undoubtedly jump on that as well.
While the scholars in seminaries and universities around the land can write their books and articles full of Greek letters and arcane references, we need to be sure not to miss the point. I don’t know why Jesus would be indignant, but perhaps he was. But the key thing is that, indignant or compassionate, Jesus reached out and healed this man.
My emotions are not always as predictable as Jesus’, but whether I am in a good mood or bad, living my best or worst day, I cannot reach out and heal a leper in the easy, almost offhand way that Jesus did this man.
Despite the fact that God’s Word was recorded by fallible men and then copied and translated by a series of more fallible men, it does reveal the character, the nature, and the power of Jesus. Those qualities have survived the Bart Ehrmans of twenty centuries and they will long outlive the current one, articulate and clever as he is.