Re: Syntax of Mark 2:2

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Wed Apr 14 1999 - 07:01:13 EDT

At 12:17 AM -0300 4/14/99, Carlos Navarro wrote:
>Moon-Ryul Jung wrote:
>> I asked the same question on Mark 2:2, to which Carl gave the same
>> answer as he did this time.
>Dear Moon-Ryul Jung.
>I want to start this letter explaining that I am not a scholar in
>I have been pastor of the Third Baptist Church until 1979, when I
>resigned. Now, I am a teacher of music at the MG State School of
>As you can see, I am not qualified to make deep a linguistic and
>criticism of Greek texts. On the other hand, Carl has studied Greek
>at Harvard, and is a researcher and professor of Greek litterature.
>I didn't read his interpretation of Mark 2:2, but I am sure that it
>the correct one. As for my interpretation, it is almost certainly
>if it does not match Carl's reading of the passage.

I want to say that, while I appreciate what Carlos is saying here, I am
very uncomfortable with the assertion that educational qualifications must
necessarily assure the correctness of one's opinion on any matter within
that range of 'expertise'--and I've said the same thing before with regard
to Jonathan's self-deprecatory epithet for relative beginners, 'little
I don't think that education and experience are negligible, to be sure, but
it is dangerous for anyone, particularly for an educated and experienced
person, to assume that his or her opinion holds an authoritative status and
doesn't need to be demonstrated: anybody can be wrong, even on a matter
within his or her normal range of competence. And a beginner can be right.
What validates an opinion (insofar as it can be validated) is not the
authority of the holder but the plausibility or demonstrability of the

Now, there were two matters in the understanding of Mark 2:2 in question.
I've said that I think CWREIN in this verse is impersonal in the same way
that a very like DEI or EXESTI is impersonal: that one doesn't need to
assume that there is a real subject for it. I have seen instances in the
lexicon entry for CWREW of impersonal usage; on the other hand, there are
clearly far more instances wherein the verb is used not used impersonally
but with an explicit subject. So although I am inclined to believe that
        CWREIN here is impersonal, there's no way I can prove that OIKON or
TA PROS THN QURAN cannot be the acc. sg. subject, although the phrasing of
MHKETI CWREIN with a following MHDE TA PROS THN QURAN leads me to suspect
that MHDE TA PROS THN QURAN is not the subject but an adverbial comment on
just how jam-packed the chamber actually is wherein Jesus and his audience
are assembled. I would nevertheless not rule out the possibility that TON
OIKON is, as Carlos puts it, an implicit subject, or hUPOKEIMENON KRUPTON.
I think either explanation is plausible.

The second question in Mark 2:2 is the meaning of TA PROS THN QURAN. I have
no disagreement with Carlos over the nature of this very common kind of
Greek substantival expression (and "substantive," I think, is the normal
English equivalent of the KAQAREUOUSA Greek term he used, OUSIATIKON, in
yesterday's message). The fact is that Greek exploited the
substantive-creating power of the article beyond any other language of
which I am aware (I like to call attention to Bruno Snell's chapter in _Die
Entdeckung des Geistes_ (Eng. "The Discovery of the Mind") on the
"invention" of the article in 6th-century Greece as a device to transform
any part of speech into a substantive that can be manipulated in prose). I
don't dispute that TA PROS THN QURAN CAN or COULD mean "courtyard"; what I
would dispute is that it MUST refer to an area on the OUTSIDE of the door;
I see no reason why it could not refer just as easily to an area near the
doorway but on the inside of the house. As I imagine the situation, it
would be rather like that which Plato describes in his dialogue,
Protagoras, where Socrates and his young friend are ushered into the house
of an Athenian nobleman into the presence of three renowned Sophists who
are entertaining a large audience. In such a situation, one expects the
figure who is talking or entertaining to be in the middle and for the
audience to be gathered as closely around him as possible; under such
circumstances the area closest to the entryway would be far less crowded if
there's any extra room in the chamber at all; I imagine the situation in
the pericope of Mark 2 that way, only that in this instance, the chamber is
so packed that, as a result, even the area near the doorway is jam-packed.
SO: while granting the possibility that TA PROS THN QURAN surely COULD
refer to the area just outside the doorway, conceivably a courtyard, I
don't see anything in the situation described in this very brief setting
for the episode of the paralytic that DEMANDS an understanding of TA PROS
THN QURAN as referring to a courtyard. There is, of course, a perfectly
good Greek word for courtyard, AULH, which does appear, so AcCordance tells
me, 12 times in the GNT. It's not altogether clear to me that the house in
Capernaum so very briefly sketched in Mark's setting is likely to have a
courtyard, although I wouldn't rule that out either. It evidently has a
thatched roof that is easily removed by the friends of the paralytic so
that they can let the litter down with ropes through the opened roof; this
makes it more plausible to me that it is a simple dwelling place, somewhat
less likely to have a courtyard.

Having said all that, however, I want to underscore, in conclusion, that I
don't think we can have certainty on either of these matters: (1) whether
CWREIN is impersonal or must be understood with an implicit subject, or (2)
whether TA PROS THN QURAN must refer to a courtyard OUTSIDE the doorway or
to an area within the chamber INSIDE the doorway. Mark's description is
about as spare as could be, wasting no words; he wants us only to hear
enough to grasp the necessity for the paralytic's friends to undertake the
extraordinary effort to bring the paralytic to Jesus through the room
because there's no chance of getting him through the doorway: that, I
think, is all that is underscored in these two simple expressions, and I
don't think we need worry too much about which interpretation of those two
expressions is grammatically more plausible. The Greek phrasing here is, to
put it rather freely, "loose." If these items were more central to the
narrative, I suspect that they might be stated more precisely.

So my disagreement with Carlos is not over the POSSIBILITY of understanding
these expressions as he understands them but over the NECESSITY of
understanding either of them one way rather than the other. Where the Greek
is ambiguous, I don't think we need to push it farther than it will carry

Now, let me ask whether anyone has ever pondered the strange formulation in
the verse immediately following? KAI ERCONTAI FERONTES PROS AUTON
PARALUTIKON AIROMENON hUPO TESSARWN. I've always wondered, when I come to
this verse, how many persons are involved in getting this paralytic to
Jesus: are the four who carry his KRABATOS the same as those who ERCONTAI
FERONTES? This is, of course, another of these fringe questions that has
absolutely no bearing upon the central focus of this narrative, but it has
nevertheless always piqued my curiosity whenever I read it.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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