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We read in Mk 3:20-21 (KJV)

And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.

But, we read the same verses in NRSVCE as:

and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”

In KJV, it is Jesus' friends who speak of him as having gone out of mind, but in NRSVCE it is the general public which does so.

In flashback, we see how a plot to kill Jesus develops after he heals a man on Sabbath:

And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.(Mk 3: 6) .

It is possible that Jesus' family members sensed the plot and wanted to save Jesus in the pretext of insanity . The general public, on the other hand, did not have a ground for such an opinion of Jesus in that they had crowded around him expecting miracles .

That said, it appears that KJV presentation of Mk 3: 21 is more faithful to the original text, as compared to NRSVCE version. My question therefore is: How do Catholic scholars explain the difference in wording of Mk 3: 21 in NRSVCE vis-a-vis KJV versions ?

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    How do you know it's more faithful to the original text? Do you have a copy of the Greek text to share?
    – eques
    Mar 14, 2022 at 12:37
  • These are not Catholic translations.
    – Ken Graham
    Mar 14, 2022 at 22:29
  • Thanks, eques. Many translations like Complete Jewish Bible, Christian Standard bible, 1599 Geneva Bible, NASB and International Standard Version-- to name just a few, attribute the source of the statement (that Jesus has gone out of his mind) to his kith and kin. NRSVCE therefore is , the odd man out. Mar 15, 2022 at 4:50

1 Answer 1

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It is a good question. To resolve this, I identify the following issues and relevant points:

  1. Whether there is a difference in the underlying Greek text edition used by KJV (Textus Receptus) vs. NRSVCE (Nestle-Aland).

    Answer: NO. So it is not the case that KJV is more faithful to the original text.

    • First, the manuscript witnesses for Mark 3:21 don't show variants (see the Wikipedia listing of Textual variants in the Gospel of Mark which identifies only 2 variants in Mark 3: verses 7 and 14).
    • Therefore, both the Textus Receptus and the Nestle-Aland editions agree on the Greek text:
      • Stephen's 1550 Textus Receptus: 20 και συνερχεται παλιν οχλος ωστε μη δυνασθαι αυτους μητε αρτον φαγειν 21 και ακουσαντες οι παρ αυτου εξηλθον κρατησαι αυτον ελεγον γαρ οτι εξεστη
      • Greek New Testament SBL Edition, 2011-2013: 20 Καὶ ἔρχεται εἰς οἶκον· καὶ συνέρχεται πάλιν ὁ ὄχλος, ὥστε μὴ δύνασθαι αὐτοὺς μηδὲ ἄρτον φαγεῖν. 21 καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ παρʼ αὐτοῦ ἐξῆλθον κρατῆσαι αὐτόν, ἔλεγον γὰρ ὅτι ἐξέστη.
  2. Whether the ambiguity is due to the Greek text itself.

    Answer: YES. The underlying Greek text left it as "they" (see BibleHub interlinear Greek for Mark 3:21).

  3. Whether the translation difference you see in NRSVCE vs. KJV is about Catholic vs. Protestant.

    Answer: NO, because as you can see in a list of English Translations the translations that use "people" are mostly RSV (denomination-neutral) based and a few newer dynamic Protestant translations (ERV, GNT, ICB, MOUNCE, and PHILLIPS).

  4. Whether in the history of Mark 3:21 interpretation, Catholic interpretation of the referent of "they" differs from Protestants.

    Answer: PROBABLY, as they tend to protect the implication that the Blessed Virgin Mary thought Jesus was "out of his mind" (see Dave Armstrong's 2020 article Did the Blessed Virgin Mary think Jesus Was Nuts? which points out the ambiguity mentioned above, citing the 1953 Catholic Commentary edited by Dom Bernard Orchard as well as recent dynamic translations).

  5. How did the early church interpret Mark 3:21?

    Answer: According to a journal article by Methodist Drew S. Holland The Meaning of Ἐξέστη in Mark 3:21 from the 2017 Issue 1 of The Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies) pages 27-29, it turns out that there was an East and West differences in the interpretation, with the West tended to be guided by Jerome (Jesus was out of his mind) while the East tended to be guided by Pseudo-Chrysostom (the crowd was amazed) whose view is preserved in Aquinas's Catena Aurea: Gospel of Mark:

    Ungrateful indeed were the multitudes of princes, whom their pride hinders from knowledge, but the grateful multitude of the people came to Jesus.

CONCLUSION: Although both KJV and RSV strives to be literal, the RSV translator apparently tried to resolve the ambiguity inherent in the unspecified referent of "they" in the original Greek Text. Recent Catholic scholars (such as the 1953 Dom Bernard Orchard commentary), recent denomination-agnostic Biblical scholars (such as the 2017 paper by Drew S. Holland mentioned above), and recent dynamic translations (such as ERV, GNT, ICB, MOUNCE, and PHILLIPS) started to interpret the "they" as referring to "the crowd". Even the term Ἐξέστη itself is ambiguous, not necessarily meaning "out of His mind".

The aforementioned scholarly article has the following abstract (emphasis mine):

In examining Mark 3:21, scholars over the last century have focused their attention on the identity of οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ. The consequence is that scholarship has reached an impasse in determining who claims that Jesus has gone mad (ἐξέστη). The following paper attempts to focus instead on the meaning of ἐξέστη in Mark 3:21 as a key to solving the interpretational difficulties that have surrounded this verse and the pericope in which it is found (Mark 3:20-30). I propose that ἐξέστη means “he has amazed” as opposed to the traditional sense of “he has gone mad.” Moreover, it is the crowd, not οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ, who makes this claim about Jesus. This eases the exigency of locating the identity of οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ since we are no longer required to explain why either of these groups would claim Jesus’s insanity. This approach is strengthened by a literary pattern spanning Mark’s Gospel from the beginning until the passion narrative in which the crowd responds positively to Jesus, especially in contrast to religious leaders.

and thus makes the case to translate Mark 3:21 as:

“And having heard, the ones near him [the disciples or his family] went out to take hold of him; for they [the crowd] were saying that he has amazed [us].”

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  • Thanks, GD, for the well-researched answer. Please also enlighten the readers as to whether Mk 3:6 has any relevance to 3:21. Mar 15, 2022 at 2:32

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