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It Depends What the Meaning of the Word “As” Is: Mark 1:2-4 as a Single Sentence

???????????????????????????????There is a certain beauty in translation. It is not only a science, but also an art… some would say not even a science. There are all kinds of philosophies that govern how a given translation attempts to render one language into another, and while I don’t have time to discuss all of them here in one short blog post, I would like to consider one passage and how well the original intention of the inspired author is represented in them.

The fact is that Mark 1:2-4 is a single sentence… one complete statement complicated by a rather lengthy quote and some questionable translation choices in both words and punctuation.

First, let’s consider a few different translations, some just for fun.

The ESV is outstanding. It reads:

“As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3  the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” 4  John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Notice the commas that both introduce and conclude the large quotation. This translation goes out of its way to connect the “As it is written,” with the corresponding, “John appeared.” John’s appearance in the wilderness preaching is regarded in this quote as a direct fulfillment of the prophetic passages quoted here. No question. One sentence.

The NASB is similar, but has a few minor difference that can throw off the casual reader. It reads: “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way; 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight.’”4 John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The translators have chosen to introduce the quote with a colon. They have also chosen to conclude the quote with a period. Now in some contexts, a period inside the final quote means that the period is for the quote itself and not the sentence, while a period outside the final quote represents the close of the whole sentence. In America, however, we like to put the period inside the quotes no matter what… cuz it looks better. Yes, we are vain. The connection between “As it is written,” and “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching,” is not destroyed, but this translation easily throws off the reader.

The NIV and CEV travel yet farther afield.

The NIV reads: “as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”  And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

The CEV reads: “happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah: Look, I am sending my messenger before you. He will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.’  John the Baptist was in the wilderness calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.”

Notice that both have used small letters not capitals to begin the verse… this means that they link the quotes from the Old Testament, less with John’s arrival to preach, and more with “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” The NIV is rather ambiguous, linking the “…as it was written” with Mark 1:1, but also including “And so,” at the beginning of Mark 1:4, (which is not present in the Greek) also linking it with John’s arrival.

The CEV, however, completely disconnects the prophecy quotes from John, by removing the “as it is written,” from the Greek, replacing it with “happened” (which is not in the Greek) and making Mark 1:1-2 a sentence. Thus, for this translation, the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus happened as it was written about in Isaiah the prophet. John’s arrival is not specifically recorded in direct regard to the prophecies at all.

Okay, so what’s the point?

Point 1: If you’re in the ministry or simply want to take your Bible study to a new level, learn Biblical languages. It’s not as hard as you think.

Point 2: Read a lot of translations and make comparisons. Really read them and note every little change. Then, ask yourself, “What are the practical differences between these translations?” & “Which, if any of these, is correct?” The questions are the beginning of a potentially great discovery.

Point 3: John’s arrival in Mark 1:4 is the logical completion of the “As it is written,” in Mark 1:2. They are in the same sentence and, even though the complex quote separates them, are a clear prophecy fulfillment. John’s arrival in the wilderness to preach is clearly pictured as a fulfillment of the prophecies quoted in Mark 1:3.

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