Monday, May 02, 2011

Translation Note: Mark 2:15a

Last Friday I was working through Mark chapter 2 with my children in their Greek class and we got into an interesting discussion regarding the translation of Mark 2:15a.

The issue here is not so much over the text [though there is significant textual variation here] but translation. The question here is the reference in Mark 2:15a to the house in which Jesus dines with tax collectors and sinners. Is it his house or is it Levi’s house?


First, let’s look at the texts:

Traditional Text: kai egeneto en to katakeisthai auton en te oikia autou

It is supported by codices A and C and the vast majority of manuscripts.

Modern Critical Text: kai ginetai katakeisthai auton en te oikia autou….

It is supported by p88 and codices Sinaiticus and B.

This textual variation is not addressed in the NA 27th ed. textual apparatus or in Metzger’s Textual Commentary. This is probably due to the fact that the variation makes no significant difference in the translation of the passage. Both texts would be literally rendered, “And it so happened as he was reclining in his house….”].


The primary issue with regard to translation comes with the rendering of the pronoun in the prepositional phrase en te oikia autou [literally, “in his house”]. In whose house is Jesus? Does autou refer to Jesus? Is it Jesus’ house? Or does it refer to Levi, who has just been called to follow Jesus in 2:14? The pronoun might refer to either Jesus or Levi, and the text does not clearly indicate whose house is being identified.

There might be good doctrinal and contextual reasons for arguing that the house could not be Jesus’. Matthew 8:28 and Luke 9:58 both record Jesus’s saying that the foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. Mark, however, does not include this saying. Mark 2:1 records that when Jesus entered Capernaum he was “in the house [eis oikon].” If the pronoun refers to Jesus in Mark 2:15a it could possibly mean that he was merely in the house where he was staying or he was in the house of a relative, as opposed to a house which he owned.

Some translations are sensitive to leaving ambiguity in the translation of the text. They add the interpretation that the house where Jesus is belongs to Levi.

Here is a comparison of translations of Mark 2:15a in various English translations (bold emphasis added):

Literal renderings:

KJV: “And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house….”

NASB: “And it came about that He was reclining at the table in his house….”

ESV: “And as he reclined at the table in his house…”

Interpretive renderings:

NIV: “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house….”

NKJV: “Now it happened, as he was dining in Levi’s house….”


The literal translations are preferred, since they faithfully maintain the ambiguity of the pronoun in the original text. The reader can ponder whether or not “in his house” refers to Jesus’ house (or the house where he was staying) or to Levi’s house. In this case the ESV is better than the NKJV [NB: Never let it be said that I have not commended an ESV reading, even if, on the whole, I believe the ESV should be rejected for devotional use and public worship]. The NKJV is better than the NIV, however, in that it, at least, places “Levi’s” in italic.


1 comment:

Chris Kelly said...

I'm a recent NIV "deserter". I do appreciate you sharing this. Not being a Greek scholar, it is helpful to see others' thoughtful analysis. Blessings to you and your ministry.