Nitpicking Mark 5 in the Common English Study Bible #CEB

demoniacIt’s not always nice to nitpick, but when it comes to the Bible, I feel a certain obligation. After all, my schooling was in the Bible, I use the Bible every day, so if not a resident theologian like myself, who will do the nitpicking?

My nitpick addresses the release of the Common English Bible’s Study Bible. The CEB was launched with much fanfare by the United Methodist Publishing House and Cokesbury–little wonder, because a new translation is like printing money for a publishing house–and is soon to be put into a study bible form.

The CEB has a sample PDF out on the Gospel of Mark (issuu here). So just like always ordering enchiladas at a new Mexican restaurant, I turned to my tried and true passage that I adore for its complexity: the healing of the Gerasene Demoniac in Mark 5. There’s a textual nuance there that I wanted to see if they framed “correctly” (quotes meaning my interpretation, of course).

Here’s the passage in the Common English Bible (5:14-16):

People came to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the man who used to be demon-possessed. They saw the very man who had been filled with many demons sitting there fully dressed and completely sane, and they were filled with awe. Those who had actually seen what had happened to the demon-possessed man told the others about the pigs. Then they pleaded with Jesus to leave their region.

So the test comes at the bottom of the page, where for this passage the Common English Study Bible has this commentary:

5:15 filled with awe: or they feared. The people’s response to Jesus’ throwing out the demons is the same as the disciples’ response to Jesus’ power over the wind and sea (see Mark 4:41).

You see my problem? The text reads that the people were not in awe of Jesus throwing out the demons.  They were in awe of seeing the Demoniac sitting normally and in his right mind. The awe was at the Demoniac, not at Jesus’ action. They are told of Jesus’ action in the very next line, and their response is to ask him to leave. No “awe” there.

Thankfully, my church’s library is by far the best church library I’ve ever seen, curated by a five-person committee every week. Really! So a brief trip there yielded three other Study Bibles that directly address this passage (many other study bibles do not, sadly):

The Discipleship Study Bible:

5:15 Afraid The people  do not trust this new circumstance of wholeness; they fear the disruptive power that brought it about. Change is threatening, even change for the better.

The Harper-Collins Study Bible:

5:15 They were afraid: either awestruck in the presence of the supernatural or fearful of Jesus’ power .

The Oxford Annotated Bible (4th Edition):

14-17 They feared: the people were apprehensive that Jesus had disrupted their delicately balanced adjustment to the alien possession.

You see the difference? The purpose of a Study Bible is to offer background when there’s support, and open-ended commentary when there is nuance. For the Harper-Collins and the Oxford, they recognize the “awe”  as directed towards the situation not Jesus directly. The Discipleship study bible gets it most accurately, in my opinion, because the “awe” is at the man not Jesus.

It’s a nitpicky line, but one of those distinctions that I look for. I’m not saying “Don’t buy this book” but I do want to caution against study resources that miss little nuances like this. Again, in my opinion.


 (Picture: “Demoniac” found on the Internets–source needed)
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  1. says

    Why did you leave out the first half of verse 14?

    “Those who tended the pigs ran away and told the story in the city and in the countryside.”

    The pig herders went and reported what Jesus did – cast the demons out. Then the people came and saw the man sitting there normal, which confirmed the story of the pig herders.

    I read the CEB interpretation as quite plausible. The people had heard the story of what Jesus did.

    At least that is what it looks like to me.

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