Posted by: chuckbumgardner | June 20, 2012

“And they were amazed”

One of Mark’s themes is amazement as a response to Jesus.  One particular word (and its cognate) for being amazed, thambeo/ekthambeo, are used only in Mark in the NT, but Mark uses them seven times throughout his narrative, usually in response to Jesus’ words and/or works.

One interesting use is found in Mark 9, when Jesus and his inner circle come toward a large crowd surrounding his other disciples as they are involved in an argument with some scribes.   Mark records the reaction of the large crowd as Jesus approaches:

And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him.
(Mark 9:15 ESV)

As I read the narrative, I naturally asked myself, “Why was the crowd greatly amazed?”  After all, there was nothing apparent to bring this amazement about–the demonized young man who was at the center of the dispute (9:16-18) had yet to be delivered from his affliction.

Robert Gundry offers a cogent suggestion:

What then does the present context identify as the reason for the extreme awe of the large crowd who see Jesus at the base of the mountain?  What else than the glistening white garments of his transfiguration?  Mark has not indicated that they have dimmed . . . And something so striking as the heavenly whiteness of Jesus’ garments seems required to account for a word so strong as [“were greatly amazed”].  The extremity of the circumstances leading to later use of this word support this judgment.  The immediacy of the crowd’s extreme awe, the inclusion of ‘all’ of them–large crowd though they are–and the placement of ‘all the crowd’ before both the circumstantial participial phrase and the verb emphasize the impact which the sight of Jesus makes on the crowd.  Further emphasis on this impact accrues from their hailing Jesus and from their running to hail him . . . If the imperfect tense of [“greeted”] carries an iterative meaning–i.e. they were hailing Jesus one after another–yet further emphasis accrues to the impact that Jesus’ appearance makes on the crowd. (Robert Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross [Eerdmans, 1993], 487-88)

Contextually, Jesus was indeed coming down from the mountain after his transfiguration (Mark 9:1-10).  Parallels with Moses’ experience in Exodus 34 make it very possible that the radiance of the transfiguration had not yet gone away.  A residual radiance would require some nuance to Jesus’ command (Mark 9:9) to the inner circle not to share what they had seen until after the resurrection had occurred, but the command would not be strictly incompatible with the visible evidence that something had happened on the mountain.

(After setting these thoughts down, I notice Ardel Caneday has an excellent post on the same matter)

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