Take up the cross. Mark 10:21
Did Jesus address a specific problem in the life of this rich young man, or did He inform him of the requirements for following Jesus? Did Jesus mention one requirement or two? Did he only have to give up his trust in earthly possessions and riches, or also have to take up the cross?
These are the questions confronting us when we study the reasons why older versions of the Bible like the KJV and modern versions like the NIV differ in Mark 10:21.
KJV: “Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. “
NIV: “…and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
There are three criteria to evaluate the evidence in order to discern whether the modern versions of the Bible leave out an important word God had given Mark to write down.
The first criterion we look into is the evidence that concerns the manuscripts themselves. We compare manuscripts that originated during the same period. It is obvious that older manuscripts, nearer to the original autographs would be free of variations that could have originated later, and passed on from copy to copy.
Six Greek manuscripts up to 500 A.D. are known today to contain Mark 10, five of them lacking this phrase. Only the Codex Washington (±450) has this phrase. This codex of the gospels has a peculiar compilation. It corresponds with no other known manuscript and even contains a long paragraph found in no other document whatsoever. Parts of this manuscript correspond with different text types. The first part of Mark, up to chapter 5:30 corresponds with western texts while the rest closely resembles papyrus 45 (±220 A.D.). Unfortunately chapter 10 falls in a section of papyrus 45 that did not survive. H.A. Sanders proposes that codex Washington could have been copied from a manuscript compiled from different parts of manuscripts that survived the onslaught by Diocletian (245 – 313 A.D.) when he tried to destroy Christianity by burning their sacred books.
Only after 700 A.D. this clause is found in more manuscripts. Of the eleven manuscripts between 500 to 900 A.D. five are without this clause. Apart from codex Washington, it looks as though the addition of this clause in Mark ten occurred only at a late date.
The manuscript evidence gives a clear indication that this clause could not have been part of the original autograph.
With the second criterion we try to discern how the variation could have originated. We look at the typical procedures and habits of scribes. One possibility is that this clause could have been carried foreword from a previous similar phrase. It can easily happen that one could remember what had been written previously and from memory add familiar words without noticing. In Mark 8:34 we have a comparable incident: “And calling near the crowd with His disciples, He said to them, ‘Whoever will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.’”
Both Matthew and Luke made use of Mark when they compiled their gospels. In their renderings of the incident Mark describes in chapter eight, they both quote this clause. Yet in their renderings of Mark ten, not one includes this clause. Why would both remove something so fitting, yet quote the rest almost word for word? There is no logical ground to explain or comprehend such an alteration. That this clause is lacking in both Matthew and Luke is a strong appeal that it had not been part of Mark ten at the time when they utilised this gospel.
Now we look at any matter coming forth from the text and context itself.
Jesus specifically mentions to this young man: “one thing you lack” – why would He then add a second?
Jesus clearly revealed to this young man what his personal flaw or hindrance was, namely building his security on earthly possessions and riches. That is what he had to sacrifice. To add “taking up the cross” shifts the attention away from the actual problem Jesus is addressing. It does not fit the context.
However, in Mark eight from where this clause is carried forward, it is of cardinal importance. After Peter testified that Jesus is the anointed One, Jesus made it clear that His followers would be persecuted like Himself. “Taking up the cross” is not merely accepting an unpleasant situation like poverty as one’s burden, but really putting one’s life on the line. Jesus emphasised this in the next verse: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” This Paul also explains in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”! In Mark eight the call to take up the cross is fitting, but not in Mark ten!
The external, internal as well as the intrinsic criteria make a strong appeal that these words are not authentic to the original autograph of Mark ten.
The effect of this addition.
Jesus addressed the Achilles heel in this young man’s life. The demands for discipleship were not Jesus’ concern in this conversation. The addition of “taking up the cross”, can cause one to miss the point and draw the attention to something else.
The addition of something from another part of Scripture, no matter how crucial it might be there, can diminish or even hide the actual appeal at hand.
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