by Al Maxey

Issue #611 ------- March 14, 2014
There is something about the outside of a
horse that is good for the inside of a man

Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Did Jesus Snort Like A Horse?
Reflecting on a Powerful Greek Word
as it Relates to the Attitude of Jesus
in Two Synoptic Healing Accounts

Over the centuries, many disciples of Christ have been confused, and even troubled, by the fact that a certain Greek word is used a number of times to depict an aspect of our Lord's character. In the minds of some students of Scripture, this term seems to show Jesus in a rather unfavorable light, portraying Him as being overbearing, harsh, angry, and in possession of an explosive temper. One writer suggested He might even be bipolar -- calm, caring and compassionate one moment, then filled with a fierce fury the next. The Greek word in question is "embrimaomai," and the two passages of particular concern, in which this word is employed, are: Matthew 9:30 and Mark 1:43. The word itself appears a total of only five times in the NT writings, four of which are connected to Jesus Himself (in the fifth, it is linked to some who were with Him -- Mark 14:5). The other two times it is used are in the account of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, as He prepared to raise the latter from the dead (John 11:33, 38). For an in-depth analysis of the use of this word in this passage, I would refer the reader to Reflections #279 -- "The Tears of Jesus: A Reflective Analysis." In our current study, however, we will focus on the use of this word in the two accounts of healing recorded by Matthew and Mark, for it is these two incidents that seem to trouble people the most. In fact, one commentator, as he considered these accounts, wrote, "Here is a matter which might seem strange at first glance" [Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible: The NT, vol. 1, p. 170].

"Embrimaomai" is an intensified form (due to the preposition "en" being added as a prefix) of the word "brimaomai," which "primarily signifies: to snort with anger, as of horses" [The New Strong's Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words, p. 1079 ... also: Vine's Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, p. 182]. In time, this horse-like snorting came to be used "as an expression of rage; become indignant, be furious," depicting an emotional excitement of the inner man [Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, p. 442]. Dr. Charles Ellicott states, "The word, implying originally the panting breath of vehement emotion, is one of the strongest used by the New Testament writers to express repugnance, displeasure, or annoyance" [Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 56-57]. The Expositor's Bible Commentary characterizes it as a "rather violent verb" [vol. 8, p. 233]. "In the classics it meant 'to be very angry, to be moved with indignation.' In the Bible it has a use unknown to profane authors: 'to charge with earnest admonition, sternly to charge, threateningly to enjoin'" [Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest, Wuest's Word Studies from the Greek New Testament, vol. 1, p. 42]. Dr. Kretzmann concurs, stating that Jesus, in the case of the healed leper in Mark's account, spoke to him "in a most severe manner, assuming a threatening aspect" [p. 170]. Although some scholars, in an attempt to distance the word from its meaning of an intense inner indignation (perhaps to protect the character of Jesus), have suggested that in the NT writings this word simply suggests "a stern and severe warning," yet such a meaning fails contextually in the John 11 passage, where Jesus gave no such charge or warning at all; rather, the term depicted what He was personally feeling. Clearly, the term has shown evolution of meaning and usage, as most words do in most languages, and thus the operative interpretive principle is that "meaning is determined by context." Whereas the passage in John's account indicates the term depicts the inner emotions of Jesus in an emotionally charged setting, the contexts of both the Matthew and Mark passages link the term not only to the Lord's feelings, but also to His words directed to those whom He had healed. This, therefore, will have a bearing on our understanding of how the term is to be understood -- i.e., whether it refers primarily to the emotional state of Jesus Himself, or more properly to some aspect of the warning or charge given by Him.

In Matthew 9:27-31 we find the first account: "As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, calling out, 'Have mercy on us, Son of David!' When He had gone indoors, the blind men came to Him, and He asked them, 'Do you believe that I am able to do this?' 'Yes, Lord,' they replied. Then He touched their eyes and said, 'According to your faith will it be done to you;' and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, 'See that no one knows about this.' But they went out and spread the news about Him all over that region" (NIV). The second account is found in Mark 1:40-45 -- "A man with leprosy came to Him and begged Him on his knees, 'If You are willing, You can make me clean.' Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man. 'I am willing,' He said. 'Be clean!' Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 'See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.' Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly, but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to Him from everywhere" (NIV).

There are obviously many things in these two accounts from which we could personally profit by more in-depth examination and reflection (for example: the importance of faith in the securing of the desired healing/cleansing, and the lack of any prior personal meritorious work on the part of those favored by the Lord). However, in light of our focus in this study, we will limit ourselves to just a few relevant observations. In both accounts, the Greek word "embrimaomai" is linked contextually to the charge/command issued by Jesus to those whom He had healed. Thus, although it may indeed provide some insight into His emotional state at that specific point in time (both usages appear in the aorist tense, by the way), it more specifically seems to reflect the strong nature of the warning itself, and the fact that Jesus was quite serious about this warning and wanted these men to take it seriously as well. Most translations and versions tie the term to the words of Jesus, rather than making it a statement about His emotional state. Such phrases as the following are the norm: "Jesus sternly warned them" (NASB, ESV) ... "Jesus strictly charged them" (ASV) ... "Jesus dismissed him with strict orders" (The Message) ... "a straight commandment" (The 1599 Geneva Bible) ... "a stringent charge" (Williams' NT in the Language of the People), although one or two versions seek to link the term far more to the emotional state of Jesus Himself: "Jesus threatened them" (Wycliffe Bible).

I really see nothing in either account suggesting to us that Jesus flew into a sudden fit of rage here, lashing out violently at the men whom He had just shown great compassion for in these acts of healing. Indeed, in Mark 1:41, we read: "Filled with compassion" (Greek: "splanchnizomai"), Jesus reached out and touched the leper, healing/cleansing him. For Jesus to go immediately from compassion to rage would certainly seem to be a shocking transformation. However, there are a few manuscripts that have a different word in this verse: "orgizo," which means "anger, wrath." Some scholars feel this may be a scribal change made in an attempt to make the feelings of Jesus consistent with the "stern warning" two verses later. There is little support for this alternate reading, however. Dr. Bruce M. Metzger observes, "The character of the external evidence in support of orgizo is less impressive than the diversity and character of evidence that supports splanchnizomai" [A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 76]. Nevertheless, The Expositor's Bible Commentary has taken the view that Jesus was indeed angry with the leper, even before He healed him, and therefore the word orgizo should be accepted as the correct reading in vs. 41, "for Jesus knew that the man would disobey Him" [vol. 8, p. 630]. For the record, I disagree with this view.

There is no question, on the other hand, that Jesus took His two warnings (on these two separate occasions) very seriously, and that He sought to impress upon these men just how important it was to His ministry at this time that they obey His instruction. Thus, He gave His charge "sternly," and it would not be lost on His hearers that Jesus felt very strongly about what He was saying, His words being invested with strong emotion emanating from His innermost being. This wasn't just a random request on His part; it was heartfelt and intense. The question that arises is: WHY was it so important to Jesus that these men remain silent about the blessings they had received? What specifically was Jesus so concerned about that He would issue such warnings with such emotional intensity? "Our Lord frequently gave such prohibitions (Mark 5:43; 7:36; etc.), and His reasons for doing so varied according to circumstances" [C. E. W. Dorris, A Commentary on the Gospel According to Mark, p. 39]. However, in these two accounts His prohibition is linked with a strong emotional concern, which again leads to the above questions regarding His intent.

A number of explanations have been suggested. "This rather violent verb reveals Jesus' intense desire to avoid a falsely based and ill-conceived acclaim that would not only impede but also endanger His true mission" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 233]. It is speculated that since Jesus still had much work yet to do in His earthly mission, the time was not yet right to make dramatic revelations as to His true identity or ultimate mission. In other words, if the word got out that the Messiah, the long-awaited King of the Jews, had finally arrived, many would no doubt seek to place Him on the throne and expect the ushering in of a physical kingdom and the expulsion of the Romans, which expectation could seriously jeopardize His spiritual mission to mankind. Thus, at this stage of His work, the less public acclaim He received the better. This seems to be suggested later in Matt. 12:15-21, where we find Jesus "warning them not to tell who He was" (vs. 16), which, in fact, was "to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah" (vs. 17). At the right time, and under the right circumstances, His identity and mission would be revealed. That time had not yet come, which Jesus even stated to His mother at the beginning of His ministry (John 2:4).

Lending support to this (especially in the Matthew account) is the fact that the blind men called Jesus: "Son of David" (Matt. 9:27), which at the time was a phrase associated with Messianic expectation. "This is the first time Jesus is called 'Son of David,' and there can be no doubt that the blind men were confessing Jesus as Messiah" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 233]. Thus, "the reason for this sternness lies in the manner in which these men called Jesus the Son of David" [R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel, p. 379]. Dr. Kretzmann notes, "The danger of a carnal movement, by which the people of Galilee would be roused into rebellion against the Romans, made it necessary for Him to impose silence upon them" [p. 52]. The Greek scholar, Dr. Marvin Vincent, in his classic Word Studies, says, "The reason for this charge and dismissal lay in the desire of Jesus not to thwart His ministry by awaking the premature violence of His enemies" [e-Sword]. Our Lord's concern was not unfounded either, for after these men, in their joy, spread the good news far and wide, we are informed: "As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly, but stayed outside in lonely places" (Mark 1:45). Thus, it was because of just such concerns that Jesus sought, in the strongest possible terms, to prevent the premature pronouncements of His identity and mission. To suggest, as some have, that these verses reveal a negative side of our Lord's nature (that He was unstable and given to sudden emotional swings from compassion to rage) is unfounded.

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Readers' Reflections

From Ray Downen in Missouri:

Al Maxey is convinced that God's grace is given to every person regardless of that person's wish or desire. He writes, "Some seemingly don't understand the concept of a 'free gift,' and insist on 'paying for' this gift of grace. Little do they know that the price of this free gift was 'paid in full' by Jesus at the cross. To suggest that we must pay something in addition to what He has already paid is to imply that the price He paid in His precious blood was somehow insufficient, and the difference must be 'made up' by us." Those who reject Jesus as Lord of their life will not be saved. God's grace is conditional. Al says it's universal. Al is wrong.

From a Reader in Tennessee:

I have just finished reading and studying Reflections #610 -- "Purchasing the Gift of Grace." You are right on target! I have been a deacon in two congregations, an elder in one, and a Bible teacher in three. It took me quite a while, and many hours of study, to get where I am today. I was a student at Lipscomb when Clay Pullias was the president. I studied under Batsell B. Baxter, as well as under many other very conservative teachers. It has taken me 40 years of study of the Bible on my own, and many hours of prayer, to come to the understanding of the Bible that I have today. I am so glad that I did not stop studying when I left Lipscomb. I agree with your teachings completely. You are right on target. Keep up the good work. Al, please do not let the critics get to you and discourage you in any way!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Your Reflections article "Purchasing the Gift of Grace" was REALLY good! You explained grace so well. Last Sunday, I began teaching, in one of the adult classes, an extended verse-by-verse study of Galatians. I have already planned to spend a good bit of time on grace. My intent now is to pass out copies of this Reflections article in toto to the class members, with full credit to you as the author, and spend some time talking about it. Thanks, Al.

From a Reader on the Island of Barbados:

I say AMEN to your article "Purchasing the Gift of Grace." This is just what the Great Physician ordered. You have packaged it concisely and precisely. The Scripture references used nail it down. It is my belief, however, that it will take some believers a lifetime before they believe what you have stated so clearly in this episode of Reflections. By and large, as a denomination we have not come to grips with this truth. Thanks for this remarkable, Scripture-supported explanation of the Wonderful Grace of Jesus.

From a Noted Leader/Author in Churches of Christ:

Al, Thank You for your amazing article on the amazing grace of our loving God (Reflections #610 -- "Purchasing the Gift of Grace"). Sadly, some have dropped the G from grace and stressed the RACE to be won on their own merit, and then dropped the R, thinking that if they play their ACE right, then maybe, just maybe, if they are one of the lucky ones, they might win the game and be invited to sit on the back row in heaven! Most of the sermons I have heard on grace are then quickly nullified by about TEN sermons on how you can "fall from grace," and thus why you need to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." We dare not ever leave the impression that salvation is a FREE GIFT, rather than something one must earn through brownie points and staying on the good side of brethren who are looking for specks in each other's eyes. Brother Al, keep up the great lessons that challenge us to THINK and to STUDY the Word. Truth has nothing to fear from such!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Let me personalize the following passage: "For by grace I have been saved through my faith in God, not because of anything I have done or will do, but it is a gift from my heavenly Father; no works I could have done would merit it, thus, I have no room to brag." I know I took some liberties in translation, but isn't this exactly what the Spirit is trying to each us?! Grace is a free gift from God, and we can never repay Him for that wonderful, precious gift! We can only love and serve Him with our lives, tell others about His Son, and count the days until we sit at His feet for all eternity. Won't it be wonderful there?! I appreciate you, brother!

From a Reader in Georgia:

I wonder if people have ever thought about Peter's other sermon?! Everybody points to Acts 2:38 in the first sermon, but as I was reading in Acts this morning it dawned on me that Peter preached another sermon that was very closely patterned after his Pentecost message, but either he forgot what he had said just days earlier, or the dog ate his notes! "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19, ESV). Repent -- same message as Acts 2:38, and I would assume nobody would repent, turning to Him, unless they believed. What?! No mention of baptism?! Yet, sins are said to be "blotted out"? I assume the "times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord" would be a reference to receiving the Holy Spirit. It's the same message as Acts 2:38 ... except for the water. So, what would the people who only heard the second sermon think they needed to do to have their sins blotted out?! Just curious if you had ever commented on this before.

From a Reader in Alabama:

In your last issue of Reflections, in the readers' section, a person from Alabama wrote, "It seems to me you are teaching baptism as less important than the role given it in Scripture. ... I do not understand your efforts to separate the timing of God's work of salvation from the act of baptism in water." I just wanted to tell you that your answer to that reader's questions was absolutely brilliant. The analogy of the wedding ceremony is perfect. The Lord is truly blessing your studies of His Word. I'm so thankful that He has given you the wisdom and the ability to share your learning with the rest of us!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Dearest Al, Thank You for your wonderful sermon yesterday! Even now, I don't have words to describe what it meant to me (and not only to me, but also to the guests I brought). I was very impressed by all the research you had done for the message. I would gladly hear that sermon again! I've also made copies of the handout you provided to the congregation, and am sending it to family and friends. I thank you again for your good lessons and for all you do for us here at Cuba Avenue. We love you!

From a Reader in California:

I shuddered when I read the statement that "grace follows obedience." I hope this brother who made this statement (which you quoted and commented upon in your last Reflections) will think things through on this. I am grateful that I came to an understanding of Christ's sacrifice and God's grace, and I pray that this person does too. Thank you, Al, for standing firm on God's true message of love for mankind.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

I have a question, and so I'm turning to you, whom I perceive to be very knowledgeable about the strict Church of Christ beliefs. My brother is always using 2 Timothy 2:15 ("Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" -- KJV) to support his belief that the Church of Christ is the ONLY "true church." I need to know your thoughts on this.

From a Reader in Texas:

Al, I just read Reflections #501 -- "Can We OBEY The Gospel?" What an outstanding article! You have shown yourself to be unsatisfied with just unthinkingly accepting certain phrases and/or sayings oft-repeated among Church of Christ brethren. You clearly want to delve deeply into what the Scriptures actually say in relation to such phrases or expressions. You want to explore the actual words in Greek and find out what those words meant to the one who first wrote them. You probe. You dig. You try to get at the real intent of the terms. You did that in Issue #501, and you did a similar outstanding job at dissecting and properly understanding a phrase/concept in your recent article about coming into contact with the blood of Jesus Christ (Reflections #608). You do this over and over, Al; you write such great, informative articles! I don't agree with you on everything you write, but so much of what you write is spot on! So many of your Reflections are like a breath of fresh air; like discovering a beautiful orchid in the snow; a delight of reason and understanding in a barren landscape of tradition and legalism and mindless repetition of "right sounding" phrases (such as "obey the gospel," which is just used by "us" as a code phrase to mean "get baptized"). Yet, you are not satisfied, Al, with just accepting such metaphors and expressions. You take these metaphors and expressions and peel them back layer by layer, examining them to see what, if any, deeper truths may be there, and for that I thank you! Keep on doing the great work you're doing!

From a Minister in Texas:

Al, I agree with you that baptism in water is not a sacrament. That is just false on a number of levels. I also agree that there is nothing we can DO to earn or merit God's gift. However, what do you think of this illustration that I have used in sermons? -- I choose to give a new car to a friend; it is a free gift. He doesn't have to pay me anything. However, he still has to go to the DMV and sign the papers transferring ownership. If he refuses to sign those papers, the vehicle is not legally his. True, he didn't do anything to earn the car (he didn't pay for it), but there was still something he had to DO before he could own it. I tell people that baptism is like signing the papers at the DMV. Salvation is a free gift; you can't do anything to earn it. But, until you get baptized that salvation isn't yours. Does this illustration make sense, or am I missing something somewhere?

From a Minister in Ohio:

If I understand your Reflections article, salvation is wholly a gift of God's grace and is unconditionally given to sinful men without any need on their part to do anything to receive it. If that be correct, the work you do in preaching is pointless and a total waste of everybody's time, including your own.

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