Monday, March 10, 2008

The Gospels of Mark

Many ancient versions of Mark, written in the original Greek, have survived to the present day . No two agree perfectly in their wording. Usually, the differences are trivial and do not impact our understanding of Jesus' personality , messages, and ministry. However, some do. For example, consider Mark 1:41 -- the passage where a leper approached Jesus begging to be healed. Some of the earliest manuscripts say that Jesus became angry or indignant at the leper's intrusion. Later copies indicate that Jesus showed compassion or pity to the leper. Usually, Bible translators consider the earliest manuscripts to be the most accurate, because they are less removed from the original autographs. Thus, there was less opportunity for copyists to alter the original text. But in many cases, like the King James Version, the New International Version, and many others, 1 the translators followed the later, apparently incorrect, manuscripts, and describe Jesus as reacting with compassion and pity, rather than with indignation and anger.

Theologian Morton Smith discovered a copy of an ancient letter in a monastery near Jerusalem in the 1940s. The original letter was apparently written by Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-213 CE). It referred to three versions of the Gospel of Mark circulating during the second century CE:

A full version "....for those who are advancing with respect to knowledge," and
A shorter version for the common believers who were new to Christianity.
A forgery based on the full version which was circulated by a Christian group in the second century.
The shorter version is like the text of the Gospel that we now have in the Bible. The full version is often referred to as the "Secret Gospel of Mark: " Two of the fragments which were quoted in the letter from the full version of Mark are quite controversial . One refers to Jesus spending the night with a near-naked man. Another passage refers to "the young man whom Jesus loved."

Most conservative Protestant theologians believe that Clement's letter is a forgery, perhaps because of its homoerotic overtones. Most Clementine scholars believe that the letter was written by Clement.

Topics covered in this section:

The content of the Secret Gospel of Mark

How Clement's letter was found and studied

What happened to Clement's letter?

Morton Smith's interpretation of Secret Mark

Beliefs of conservative Protestant theologians


The Living Bible, Revised English Bible, New English Bible, and Annotated Scholars Version use the phrases "sternly," "anger," "in warm indignation" and "indignant." The Amplified Bible, Contemporary English Version, English Standard Version, James Moffatt Translation, Jerusalem Bible, King James Version, Living Bible, New American Bible, New American Standard Bible, New Century Version, New Living Translation, New Revised Standard Version, New World Translation, Phillips Modern English, Revised Standard Version, Rheims New Testament, Today's English Version, and Young's Literal Translation all use terms like " pity, " and " compassion. " To their credit, the New Living Translation includes a footnote indicating that some early manuscripts state that Jesus was angry.

Key resources:

An extensive index to Internet articles and other resources on Secret Mark is at:
Morton Smith, "The letter of Clement of Alexandria to Theodore; Transcription of the Greek text," at: This includes the Greek text and Smith's photos of the letter.
Yuri Kuchinsky, "Why it is impossible that Morton Smith could have forged Clement's letter
& the SecMk fragment." at: