Textual Criticism - Lesson 29

Some Famous Textual Problems: Mark 1:41

Was Jesus "moved with compassion" or "indignant" when he saw that his disciples could not heal the man with leprosy?

Daniel Wallace
Textual Criticism
Lesson 29
Watching Now
Some Famous Textual Problems: Mark 1:41

I. Variants

A. “Move with compassion?

B. “Becoming indignant”


A. Transcriptional Probability

1. Unintentional Error

2. Intentional Change

3. Matthew and Luke are prone to soften Mark’s rough-hewn Jesus

B. Intrinsic Probability: Style

C. Solid A for “becoming angry”


A. Date and Character

B. Genealogical Solidarity

C. Geographical Distribution

D. Solid A for “moved with compassion”


A. Choose the reading that best explains the rise of the other

B. Verdict: Jesus was angry in Mark 1.41


  • Since the original autographs of the Bible no longer exist, the primary goal of Biblical Textual Criticism is to determine the exact wording of the original inspired text dispatched from the author with as much accuracy as possible. As a secondary goal, we desire to trace changes to the text and get a window into ancient Christianity.

  • Contrary to popular textual critics, the wrong way to record textual variants is to count each unique variant and multiply by the number of existing manuscripts, rendering millions of variants. On the contrary, the correct method is to count the same variant that occurs across all manuscripts as one variant, rendering not millions but hundreds of thousands of predominantly minor variants.

  • Compared to other ancient literature, the field of Biblical textual criticism possesses “an embarrassment of riches.” New Testament TC absolutely dwarfs the resources of other ancient literature, not only in number of manuscripts and the recent time in which they were produced, but also confirming quotations by extra-biblical writings.

  • The vast majority of NT Variants are minor, easily explained scribal errors that don’t affect the meaning of the text. Among 400,000 textual variants of the NT, over 99% make no difference to the meaning, and less than 1% are both meaningful and viable.

  • Recent attempts to change the goals of NTTC such that critics no longer seek to obtain the original autographs in favor of understanding a writer’s historical contexts undermine the original goal of NTTC. However, faithful textual critics must not subscribe to the notion of a “multivalence” of the original text, but instead pursue the primary goal: to get as close as possible to the original autographs.

  • The vast majority of all copies of the New Testament were probably recorded on scrolls, but copied in codex format. This may lend to the theory that Christians used cutting-edge, easier-to-use media technologies to further the word-based faith.

  • Various materials were used in creating NT manuscripts. Wallace discusses papyrus, parchments, and paper, each with advantages and disadvantages for transmitting the text faithfully.

  • There are three fundamental issues that significantly affect the transmission of the NT Text: early copies and causes of corruption, the role of canon in shaping the text, and the emergence of localized text forms.

  • Because of the radical nature of Christianity, it took some time for OT-based Jews to accept the NT as canonical. But over time, coinciding with the progressive development of a certain “canon-consciousness,” scribes were compelled to modify texts in various ways, not for malicious reasons, but in efforts to clarify, preserve, and revere the sacred scriptures.

  • Although questioned by some critics, most TCs acknowledge four major localized forms of the NT text: Alexandrian, Western, Byzantine, and (questionably) Caesarian. These “cross-pollinated” text families have arisen from diverse historical, cultural and socio-political factors, but all serve to strengthen, and not weaken the integrity of the NT text.

  • While it is undeniable that NT scribes made mistakes of various types in copying the inspired text, understanding the often simple reason for these mistakes renders much reward in understanding the sacred text. The fundamental principle of textual criticism is this: select the reading that best explains the rise of the other readings.

  • Contrary to popular belief, intentional scribal changes were not malicious in nature, but rather displayed pious intentions and a high view of scripture. Scribal corruptions for the most part, did not reflect a desire to obfuscate, but to clarify the scripture.

  • This lecture introduces papyri, critically important as the earliest witnesses of New Testament text. Papyri are some of the most important documents of NT MSS.

  • Since papyri are the earliest records of NT text (containing 50% of NT) they are critical in revealing the original text shape of the NT text. Even Codex Sinaticus and Vaticanus, the two most important NT MSS in the world, are confirmed by Papyri.

  • This lecture describes the most important new Testament manuscripts: the Majuscules, formerly known as uncials. These documents contain the full text of the NT written many times over, on parchment, written in all caps.

  • This lecture continues the discussion about the most important New Testament manuscripts: the Majuscules, formerly known as uncials. This lecture describes Codex Alexandrinus - A, Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus - C, Codex Sinaiticus (Aleph), and Codex Washingtonianus - W - 1906.

  • Since the field of TC is so small, obtaining resources are very expensive. However the internet is still a great place to conduct free TC research. In this lecture, major internet resources for studying NT manuscripts are compared and contrasted.

  • Founded 2002 by Daniel Wallace, the mission of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM) is to be a premiere resource in the great and noble task of determining the wording of the autographa of the New Testament. This is facilitated through high-resolution digital photography of extant Greek New Testament manuscripts so that such images can be preserved, duplicated without deterioration, and accessed by scholars doing textual research.

  • The KJV has been rightfully called “the single greatest monument to the English language,” but this is more from a literary rather than a translation standpoint. This is because the Greek MSS behind the KJV text is far inferior to that of modern translations in terms of textual basis, late MSS dates, and a less than perfect process of creation.

  • The arguments used to position the Textus Receptus as the sole textual basis for the true word of God range from questionable to downright irrational. Proponents of this position rely on view of the so-called “doctrine of preservation,” which illegitimately uses certain Bible texts to argue its dubious claims.

  • This lecture describes the major problems of TR-only people, who subscribe to an unbiblical Doctrine of Preservation, which as defined, effectively emerges as a Marcionite view of the Bible. Wallace claims that while there is no biblical, exegetical, or empirical basis to argue for the doctrine of preservation, God has overwhelmingly preserved Scripture in a way that is not true of any other ancient literature.

  • In this lecture, Daniel Wallace describes the discovery of Sinaiaticus, and its importance to the field of textual criticism. He recounts fascinating details about his visits to St. Catherine’s, the oldest Christian monastery, at the base of Mount Sinai, Egypt.

  • This lecture summarizes the life of Constantine von Tischendorf [1815-1874], and his very important discovery of Codex Sinaiticus.

  • This lecture describes highlights of the history of NT TC since the TR. Describing the formation of the textus receptus, Wallace also characterizes major players in the process of arriving at the modern text.

  • This lecture describes Westcott and Hort, and how they dethroned the Textus Receptus by proving that the Textus Receptus was late, inferior, and secondary.

  • This lecture is 1 of 3 lectures on reasoned eclecticism. Eclecticism is the process of compiling a text from multiple sources, while reasoned eclecticism consists of rectifying the differences and evaluating variants based on both their attestation and intrinsic merit.

  • This lecture is 2 of 3 lectures on reasoned eclecticism.

  • This lecture illustrates the principles of reasoned eclecticism.

  • Was Jesus "moved with compassion" or "indignant" when he saw that his disciples could not heal the man with leprosy?

  • Why was the man waiting for so many years at the pool of Bethesda? Was there really an angel stirring up the waters and healing the first one in?

  • Do these two passages call Jesus “God”? Thankfully, the Bible affirms the divinity of Christ many other ways and in many other passages than these two.

  • This lecture presents some very technical arguments for why Daniel Wallace believes that the phrase “ουδεουιός” (nor the Son) is not an authentic part of Matthew 24:36.

  • This lesson teaches you to appreciate the rigorous historical research required in biblical studies and the importance of respecting dual authorship. It sharpens your understanding of external and internal textual evidence and their implications for a passage's authenticity.
  • The text of Mark 16:9-20 is most likely not part of the original inspired text of scripture, and v 8 is Mark's intended ending.

  • This lecture evaluates popular translations of the Bible in terms of their textual basis. The bottom line is that while all translations are interpretations, The Spirit of God has ensured that the truth of the scriptures can be found in any one of them, and reading widely among different versions is good to promote understanding about different concerns of TC.

  • As time progresses in the field of Textual Criticism, we continue to get razor-thin closer to the original manuscripts. The good news is that with all the known variants, no essential doctrine of the Christian faith is jeopardized by any viable variant, so we can have great confidence in the text of our Bibles to provide us all we need for life and godliness.

Dr. Daniel Wallace is one of the world's leading textual critics. His ministry, the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts (CSNTM.org) is currently the most prolific organization for discovering, photographing, and cataloging ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament. In this class, he discusses the issues of textual variants, how ancient manuscripts were made, the types of errors that we can see in the manuscripts, the issue of the Textus Receptus and its role in the King James translation of the Bible, the historic work of Westcott and Hort, and ends with discussions of the most famous textual problems.

Dr. Wallace gives a three hour summary of this class in our Academy program. The first of the lectures is here.

Please visit Dr. Wallace's ministry, Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts and support them financially. 

Thank you to our friends at Credo House for sharing this class with us. You can purchase their workbook or the DVDs for the class from them.



A. Four Famous Textual Problems 

We are beginning a new session in this lecture as we look at some special problems of the text from four different passages. First will be Mark 1:41 that talks about whether Jesus was angry when he healed the leper or whether he was compassionate. Then John 5:3b-4 in which we read about the angel of the Lord that stirred up the waters so that the first person who got into the Pool of Bethesda was healed. We want to see whether those verses are authentic or not. The third set of verses is 1st Timothy 3:16 where it either says that he was revealed or God was revealed. In both instances, it is clearly speaking about Jesus but one of them is an explicit affirmation of the deity of Christ while the other one probably an implicit one. Finally, in John 1:18 along with 1st Timothy 3:16 together where John 1:18 speaks of the unique son or the unique one himself God. This is the final text we will be looking at and making some comparisons.

1. Mark 1:41 

Now a leper came to him and fell to his knees, asking for help. If you are willing, you can make me clean, he said. So, Jesus responds and in reading this, this is found in the vast majority of manuscripts including the Alexandrian and Byzantine but not in the early Western manuscripts. Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him saying that he was willing and healed him. Reading number two, a distinctively Western reading says, becoming indignant, Jesus stretched out his hand and touch him saying, I am willing, ‘be clean’. That is the difference between the two. Now, Mark 1:41 have received a great deal of air time in the last ten to fifteen years in scholarly circles. There hasn’t been any new evidence uncovered but instead there has been a lot of argument and debate over this. Just to show you how serious these things are; scholars don’t look at this stuff capriciously. There have been whole dissertations on some of these textual problems. There was a dissertation on which word was correct in Mark 1:41. Can you imagine writing three hundred pages on that? So, the scholars take this very seriously.

a. Internal Evidence and Transcriptional Probability 

We will start with the internal evidence and with that we start with the transcriptional probability. Is there a possibility of an unintentional error in the Majuscule letters where both the ends of the words where the ‘istice’ is similar but frankly is the ending of a standard passive participle from a particular Greek verb set? I don’t think that it is particularly likely a scribe would confuse one of these for the other, especially in a context like this. Jesus is doing the healing and some scribe who misreads this and decides to make Jesus angry. There are so many other possibilities of where that scribe could have gone; but to say accidently, I’m going to read compassion as though it means anger when you have a lot more text of being compassionate as opposed to being angry.

So the ending isn’t enough to argue for an unintentional error. What about an intentional change? The harder reading clearly is ‘becoming indignant or getting angry.’ We will look closer at the harder reading here. We are going to actually look at synoptic parallels in regards to this and also Matthew 24:36. I am going to treat these in a way that most scholars view the Gospels assuming that Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke borrowed from Mark. This will involve looking at the transcriptional probability and thinking about the harder reading. Mark was the first Gospel used by Matthew and Luke which is largely a consensus among most New Testament scholars although there are some scholars who disagree with this.

What is interesting here; in the synoptic parallels, both Matthew and Luke have this same periscope, this same story. However, neither one of them say that Jesus got angry which is to be expected. Matthew and Luke don’t like having a picture of Jesus which Mark portrayed at times. More importantly, neither one of them says that Jesus is compassionate. So, how is this possible? When Mark says that Jesus is compassionate, Matthew and Luke say that Jesus is compassionate. When Marks says that Jesus is angry, Matthew and Luke say nothing. This is the pattern that we see. So what does that tell us Mark had here? The transcriptional evidence suggests that Mark actually wrote that Jesus was angry. Matthew and Luke are prone to soften Mark’s words of Jesus, especially by deleting them or changing them at times as well. And yet, what is really significant, even though they do that, in terms of historicity they are telling us the truth about Jesus but they are packaging it in such a way that doesn’t tell us everything that Mark is going to lay out. Part of the reason for this has to do with what Mark’s purpose is as opposed to what Matthew’s purpose is in particular. Six hundred of the six hundred sixty verses in Mark’s Gospel are found in Matthew. So Matthew has cannibalized it extensively. Mark’s Gospel is meant to be a dialogical Gospel. He is trying to get the reader to get engaged in thinking about who Jesus is and to come to have ownership over Jesus; that is coming to be one who is close communion with Jesus as a Christ-follower by thinking through the issues and thinking through how people are going to speak about Jesus in their own community. He doesn’t go against anything. Matthew isn’t a dialogical Gospel but instead a pedagogical Gospel. He is trying to teach people.

So here are the conclusions that you need to come to about Jesus. We have Matthew and Luke being prone to soften Mark’s words on Jesus by especially deleting words. So Mark 3:5 says that Jesus speaks with anger and this is absent in Matthew 12:13 and Luke 6:10. In Mark 10:14, Jesus was indignant but

this again is absent in Matthew 19:14 and Luke 16:18. So this is predictable in what we see in Mark 1:41. You also have other places where they don’t remove a verb, but instead, sometimes they will change it. Mark 1:12 is really interesting where you have right after Jesus is baptized; he comes up out of the Jordan River and God says that you are my beloved Son and then the next verse says that the Spirit drives him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Well, that is only in Mark; both Matthew and Luke independently using different verbs and tenses say that the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness. It is a much softer statement. Both of them are true but driving Jesus sounds initially that Jesus may have been unwilling or surprised as to what happened next. I think he was trusting the Spirit of God to guide him, and at times that meant that the Spirit was going to take him places that he didn’t want to go. Remember, he had asked God to let this cup of death pass from him. Mark just gives us additional information about Jesus.

Mark 2:26 is also a very famous passage of which Bart Ehrman says in what caused him to reject the Bible as an errant and fallible text. When he was in the Seminary program at Princeton working on his Master’s program, he wrote a paper on Mark 2:26 where Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees. The

Pharisees was talking to Jesus about picking heads of grain on the Sabbath which was unlawful. Jesus replied, have you never read when David went into the House of God, he and his men ate the show-bread when Abiathar was high priest. This is a reference back to 1st Samuel 21 where David and his men go into the House of God when Ahimelech was the priest. So, in Matthew 12:4 and Luke 6:4, both places eliminated the words: when Abiathar was high priest. In studying this, there are six different views that are taken on how we should treat this. Both Matthew and Luke apparently didn’t want to deal with this issue. I don’t think in any sense that Jesus made a mistake but they may be thinking that some people may read this as a mistake and that is one of the distinctions that we need to think through. This gives us some ideas in regards to what is going on with the Mark and Matthew and Luke synoptic relationships.

b. External Evidence and Intrinsic Probability 

We will now look at style in regards to intrinsic probability. Two other times in Mark’s Gospel, Mark says that Jesus was angry in 3:5 and 10:14. In each one of those places, it is easy to determine and see why Jesus was indignant at his disciples and others on that occasion. This is much more difficult but it fits in with Mark’s style as well. He is often ambiguous; twenty-one times, for example, Mark uses an indefinite ‘they’ when we don’t know who they are. He is the only one who does this in being so ambiguous. He has eighty-nine verses in a row for Mark 6-8 where he never mentioned Jesus by name or by title. You have later manuscripts that punctuate this by adding the name of Jesus four times in there. He is often ambiguous; one such classic place where if you have an angry Jesus, there is great ambiguity. So, why is Jesus angry? We just don’t know. This all suggests that we really have a solid A for becoming angry from my scale of A through D score. So, on the internal basis, it really looks that it is going to be authentic.

The external evidence includes the date and character of these manuscripts. You already know about Codex Bezae, designated by siglum D ea or 05; I am giving you some other witnesses because this is all we have got. These little A and FF2 and RL1; those are old Latin manuscripts. In combination with D,

they really tell us that were the earliest form of what the Western text had to say. D Codex Bezae is early 5th century and has Greek on the left and Latin on the right side and contains most of the four Gospels and Acts and a small part of 3rd John. Iffrom wrote a commentary on Tatian’s New Testament which was a document written in the late 2nd century. We don’t have the whole thing but Iffrom’s commentary that comes later discusses it. One of the interesting things about Tatian’s Diatessaron which was a harmony of the four Gospels and in it, he created his own narrative sequence different from the Gospels thinking that it would be a service to the church, but the church went against it saying that it shouldn’t be read. Iffrom says that Tatian’s Diatssaron speaks here of Jesus as being angry. If he is right, then Tatian’s Diatessaron in the late 2nd century which combined Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John into one new written document; at least in this place, it is combining just Matthew Mark and Luke because John doesn’t read in this passage. So what Tatian is saying, let’s combine Matthew, Mark, and Luke and he comes up by saying that Jesus is angry. This tells us fairly conclusively that in Mark’s Gospel, according to what Tatian had in the 2nd century, says that Jesus was angry. The remainder of the witnesses has ‘moved with compassion’ as we have discussed. So, genealogical solidarity, Alexandrian and Byzantine texts solidly behind the compassionate Jesus whereas the Western text strongly in support of the angry Jesus. Geographical disposition ‘moved with compassion’ is wide-spread and becoming angry was largely isolated to the Western text but not entirely with Taitian’s Diatessaron which is eastern as well. The external evidence is given a solid A for ‘moved with compassion.’ So, we have a solid A on one side for internal evidence and a solid A for the external evidence.

So, let’s think about a conclusion and postscript on this. We are always trying to choose the reading that best explains the rise of the other reading. The synoptic parallels show clearly that Mark’s Jesus was angry. By the way, this is just a side note. Bart Ehrman wrote a chapter in Gerald Hawthorne’s document on ‘A Sinner in the Hands of an Angry Jesus.’ One of the things that Ehrman argued in that chapter; we actually do have a 1st century manuscript of Mark’s Gospel. Elsewhere, Ehrman says that we don’t have anything earlier than the 3rd century. But in this chapter, he says that we actually to have a 1st century manuscript of Mark. They are Matthew and Luke. That is, Matthew and Luke used Mark and the very fact that they don’t speak of Jesus as being compassionate shows that is what Mark didn’t say. I think that Ehrman is correct as it is very convincing argument, but it proves too much for his use because he likes to say that we can’t get back to the 1st century documents or the 2nd century documents but when it serves his purpose, he will say, yes, we have 1st century documents.

Well, these scribes would be prone to change a text to a compassionate Jesus as we have already talked about. Although the Western text is wild, it is also very early. Some have suggested that the Western text may have confused one for another in regards to Greek ‘istice’. But when you look at the text of Bezae, this is the one scribe that we would expect that to happen the least of. That scribe was not writing out syllable by syllable or even word for word. He wrote many words at a time within sentence lines. In looking at Codex Sinaiticus where he was writing more like syllables, I could see how the scribe could make the mistake between Greek spontistice and organistice, but not Codex Bezae. It was Hort who said that knowledge of manuscripts must precede decisions about these readings. We need to know what each of these scribes is doing and the best way for scholars to do this is to spend a lot of time with each individual manuscript. Years ago in collating through a number of different Majuscules just for fun because that is what I like to do in my spare time; I felt that if I knew these scribes I would understand the manuscript better. The Western text also doesn’t have an angry Jesus anywhere else. So, it is an intentional proclivity nor unintentionally. So, how do you explain that Jesus was angry in the Western manuscripts and Taitian’s Diatessaron and not in Matthew and Luke where they don’t even mention that he is compassionate? So, what we are seeing in Mark 1:41, Jesus truly was angry. So, I think that this is the authentic reading.

Let me give you a postscript on this in order for us to think about this in other ways. So, why was Jesus angry? The ambiguity is in keeping with Mark’s style. More than a dozen reasons have been suggested and even one dissertation argued that even though he was a leper, it has all the signs of perhaps being

demon-possessed and that Jesus was angry at the demon. Ehrman says that Jesus was always angry when his desire or his ability to heal was challenged. Frankly, that is so overstated that it is amazing. I have dealt with this writing an article for the Journal of Evangelical Theological Society called the Gospel

According to Bart. I have a lengthy footnote where I discussed this in some detail saying that this is an unsupportable conclusion. I think a better option, but I am not absolutely sure of it because we are dealing with the ambiguity of Mark. This leper came to the Synagogue to be healed and thus he defiled

the people who were there. In Mark 1:39, two verses earlier, Jesus went throughout Galilee preaching in their synagogues. If that verse is setting up this scene which it looks as if it is; when this leper came to Jesus, this was in the synagogue and so Jesus would have been angry at him for completely disrespecting the Old Testament Law. Remember, Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill the Law. So when people disrespected these important tenets, there was good reason for Jesus to be angry.

Now, in terms of English translations; there are only two translations today that have an angry Jesus, the TNIV and the NIV 2011. Both on the same textual basis, Gordon Fee was the textual critic for these two versions. I think that the Net Bible in its next edition will have an angry Jesus whenever that happens. This is a significant variant and yet we see that Jesus is angry at other times for various reasons. Anger is not the same as sin. We need to keep this in mind; he had righteous indignation. So, this gives us a good sense in what is going on in this passage which I think helps us to under Jesus better and yet to understand him less. It is like the kids in the Chronicles of Narnia when they love Ashland the Lion where he is their best friend and yet they are still nervous around him. That is the kind of a picture I get of Jesus in Mark 1:41.