Re: Mk 2:21

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Apr 17 1999 - 06:43:33 EDT

At 12:20 AM -0500 4/17/99, Moon-Ryul Jung wrote:
>Dear B-Greekers,
>I am puzzled over Mk 2:21b:

It is indeed a bit strange and I recall puzzling over this as a Freshman
first learning Greek in 1952!

>1) I understand TO PLHRWMA to be the thing that fills the original
>hole of the old garment. But still I find this expression strange?
>Any helpful comments?
>2) What kind of accusative is TO KAINON?
> The translations take TO KAINON TOU PALAIOU as a kind of
> circumstantial clause.

I think there may be more than one way of understanding the grammatical
construction here: (a) TO PLHRWMA may, as you suggest, refer to the
"patch"--to what fills the whole; but alternatively (b) TO PLHRWMA may mean
the whole garment which shrinks when it is washed and dried; if the patch
is not "pre-shrunk" fabric, then it will shrink when the garment is washed
and dried. If that is what is intended, then the sense must be that the
"fullness" of the washed & dried garment pulls apart the NEW cloth (TO
KAINON, here used as an accusative neuter suabstantive) FROM THE OLD (TOU
PALAIOU another neuter substantive, here used in the ablatival genitive. I
think this second alternative is more likely, but if PLHRWMA is taken to
mean the "patch," then we'll have to understand TO KAINON as an attribute
of TO PLHRWMA and AIREI either absolutely or with an implicit object, the
patch. To sum up the alternataives:

(a) TO PLHRWMA (the whole patched garment, which shrinks after being washed
and dried) pulls the new (piece of cloth) away from the old (piece of


(b) TO PLHRWMA TO KAINON--the new patch pulls away from it--AIREI--from the
old--TOU PALAIOU. This is somewhat awkward and requires AIREI to be
understood either absolutely or with an only implied object. If this is
what was intended, then we must understand TO KAINON TOU PALAIOU as a
quasi-parenthetical clarification of the meaning of AIREI TO PLHRWMA AP'
AUTOU: "the patch pulls away from it, i.e., the new piece from the old."

> I wonder if it is so, because SCISMA lacks the article TO.
> Or should we understand it to mean "It (the garment) became
> a worse SCISMA"?

Most likely, yes, and in that case CEIRON will be a predicate adjective:
"the tear gets worse." Alternatively, but less likely, I think, take CEIRON
as an attributive adjective to SCISMA (and one commonly enough finds the
article required with an attributive adjective lacking in terse proverbial
statements like this): "and a worse tear appears/comes into existence."

This is one of those passages leading some readers to believe that "Mark"
(whoever actually penned this gospel) was not a native Greek-speaker or
didn't know Greek very well; I used to think that myself, but have come to
believe it more likely that these rather inelegant constructions are
elements of an oral tradition incorporated by the evangelist into his(/her)
composition--since there are sentences in the gospel that would appear to
be the evangelist's own composition that are in perfectly good grammatical
Greek. But admittedly, all this is speculative and outside the scope of
B-Greek; I mention it only because it seems to me to be linked in
discussion to passages in GMk where the Greek seems as questionable as it
does here.

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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