Footnotes to the Gospels


The Prophet Joseph Smith said that “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.” Since the 1611 A.D. publication of the King James version, many documents of biblical books have been found. Occasionally, this new background information sheds different meaning on selected passages or words than does the language provided by the King James translation.

The Church is fortunate to have Brigham Young University scholars who specialize in comparing various texts and languages. The Ensign has invited Brothers Brown, Griggs, and Mackay to share background data where such information might be stimulating and informative for readers of the New Testament.

Matthew, Chapter 10 [Matt. 10]

Matt. 10:27 —“What ye hear in the ear” The Greek strangely uses the singular “in the ear” where a plural form would be expected. Parallel passages in early Christian literature suggest that what one hears in one ear is for public dissemination; the sacred—and private—material spoken to the other ear is not for the public. Here, Jesus was directing his listeners to share their information with others.

Chapter 11 [Matt. 11]

Matt. 11:6 —“be offended in me” This is better translated “take offense at me” or “stumble over me.”

Matt. 11:12 —“the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” The meaning is best rendered “violent men are seizing control of it, are plundering it.”

Matt. 11:20 —“the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done” We have no scriptural account of Jesus’ miracles (mighty works, wonders) or teachings at Chorazin, one of the three cities “wherein most of his mighty works were done.” (See Matt. 11:21.)

Matt. 11:26 —“for so it seemed good in thy sight” This is the equivalent of “so your will decreed it.”

Matt. 11:27 —“neither knoweth any man the Father” The Greek verb translated “knoweth” should better be rendered “fully knows.”

Chapter 12 [Matt. 12]

Matt. 12:1 —“began to pluck the ears of corn” Corn here means not corn on the cob or maize, which was unknown in the ancient world, but merely “grain”; the “ears of corn” are “heads of grain.” (See Luke 6:1.)

Matt. 12:19 —“He shall not strive” This means “contend,” “dispute”; “or cry” means “shout for help.”

Matt. 12:21 —“shall the Gentiles trust” This means “nations shall hope” (i.e., firmly expect).

Matt. 12:29 —“spoil,” and “will spoil” This means “to plunder,” “plunder thoroughly,” a reference to Isa. 49:24–26, a Messianic prophecy.

Matt. 12:1 —“began to pluck the ears of corn” Corn here means not corn on the cob or maize, which was unknown in the ancient world, but merely “grain”; the “ears of corn” are “heads of grain.” (See Luke 6:1.)

Chapter 13 [Matt. 13]

Matt. 13:15 —“For this people’s heart is waxed gross” This means to make fat, hard, thick, or impervious.

Matt. 13:25 —“his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat” Tares or darnel are troublesome weeds which resemble wheat. Thus, the tares are persons who resemble Saints but who are not.

Matt. 13:52 —“every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom” This means “everyone versed or expert in the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom.”

Chapter 15 [Matt. 15]

Matt. 15:19 —“evil thoughts” The Greek means “wicked arguments, disputations.”

Chapter 16 [Matt. 16]

Matt. 16:4 —“sign of the prophet Jonas” This sign was that Christ was “swallowed up” in the earth for three days and then came forth. Early Christian art greatly favored the stories of Jonah and of Daniel in the lions’ den as prefiguring the resurrection.

Matt. 16:17 —“for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee” This is better translated, “it is my Father who is in heaven, and not a mortal, who has revealed this knowledge to you.”

Matt. 16:18 —“thou art Peter, and upon this rock” In Greek this is a subtle word-play between “Peter” (petros—small rock, pebble) and “rock” (petra—huge rock, bed rock). Christ is the stone of Israel (Acts 4:10–12; 1 Cor. 10:4; Matt. 21:42–44), the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20; Ps. 118:22) on which the righteous build (Matt. 7:24) but the wicked stumble (1 Pet. 2:7–8; Isa. 8:14–15), for he is the source of revelation to his church.

Matt. 16:19 —“I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom” The promise of the keys of the kingdom was made good on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17; see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 158).

Matt. 16:21 —“began Jesus to shew unto his disciples” Now that the apostles recognize him as the Messiah, Jesus openly explains just what he must do.

Chapter 17 [Matt. 17]

Matt. 17:4 —“let us make here three tabernacles” In Greek this would read, “if you so desire I will make here three tents,” i.e., a temple. (See following note on Mark 9:5.)

Matt. 17:20 —“unbelief” Several good manuscripts instead give “little faith.”

Matt. 17:25 —“Jesus prevented him, saying” In Greek, “Jesus spoke to him first.”

Mark, Chapter 6 [Mark 6]

Mark 6:3 —“Joses” This is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joseph.

Mark 6:8 —“scrip” A scrip is a knapsack or, more likely, a begging bag. The disciples were not allowed to beg on the way.

Mark 6:9 —“two coats” The Greek word translated here as “coat” refers to the garment worn next to the skin.

“he did many things”

The notion is that Herod used to ask many questions of John whenever John spoke to him.

Mark 6:21 —“chief estates of Galilee” A clearer translation would be “leading men of Galilee.” (Revised Standard Version.)

Mark 6:25 —“by and by” The Greek word means “immediately.”

“in a charger” This phrase is better translated “on a platter.” (See also Mark 6:28.)

Mark 6:37 —“two hundred pennyworth” The name of the Roman coin referred to here is denarius. The denarius was worth about 20 cents.

Mark 6:46 —“sent them away” The Greek words convey a notion of a friendlier parting: “said farewell to them.”

Mark 6:50 —“were troubled” The Revised Standard Version makes the intended meaning clearer: “were terrified.”

Mark 6:52 —“they considered not” A better translation is “they did not understand.”

Chapter 7 [Mark 7]

Mark 7:5 —“unwashen hands” The intent is to say that Jesus’ disciples ate with “defiled” hands. (See Mark 7:2.) The defilement referred to was a breach of ritual nature rather than a breach of ethics. However, one who flaunted laws of ritual purification was thereby guilty in an ethical sense. We should note that this sort of ritual washing which Jesus condemns was not prescribed in the law of Moses, but was an innovation of Jewish traditions.

Mark 7:24 —“Tyre and Sidon” This is the first time Jesus went into Gentile territory during his ministry, clearly foreshadowing the universal spread of the gospel message. That Jesus, a Jew from Galilee, performed miracles among the Gentiles must have made a significant impact on the minds and hearts of those who witnessed. It was a common notion in antiquity that divine power did not extend beyond the territorial boundaries of the people who worshiped the divinity. Compare Naaman taking soil from Israelite territory so that he could worship Jehovah in his native Syria. (2 Kgs. 5:17.)

Mark 7:26 —“a Greek” This term has religious rather than ethnic meaning since the woman’s nationality is mentioned immediately after this, “a Syro-phenician by nation.” The word “Greek” here is roughly equivalent to the notion “pagan.”

Mark 7:31 —“coasts” The word is better translated as “boundaries.”

Chapter 8 [Mark 8]

Mark 8:17 —“have ye your heart yet hardened” The sentence is “Do you still have hardened hearts?”

Mark 8:22 —“he cometh” The Greek reads “they came.”

Mark 8:23 —“if he saw ought” A better rendition is “if he saw anything.”

Mark 8:28 —“Elias” This is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Elijah. (See note on Matt. 11:14.)

Mark 8:33 —“thou savourest not” The phrase is more accurately translated, “you are not concerned about.”

Mark 8:34 —“whosoever will come after me” This is better translated “whosoever desires to come after me.” “take up his cross” Jesus’ use of the word “cross” takes on important meaning when we recall that the ensign Isaiah mentions frequently was made of a long pole with a crossbar near the top. (See Isa. 5:26; Isa. 11:10, 12; Isa. 18:3; etc.) Such a pole was carried at the head of an army entering battle, the pennants that hung from the crossbar serving to identify the soldiers’ tribe or people. Its lofty position in a town or camp would signal a place of safety and refreshment to the weary traveler or warrior. The Hebrew word for “ensign” is the same term which is translated as the “pole” upon which Moses fashioned the brass serpent. (Num. 21:9.) This brass serpent, Nephi tells us, pointed forward to the Messiah. (Hel. 8:14–15.) In Ex. 17:15, Moses, using the same Hebrew word, names a sacrificial altar “Jehovah, my Banner.”

Chapter 9 [Mark 9]

Mark 9:3 —“fuller” This is the occupation of one who cleans or bleaches woolen cloth.

Mark 9:5 —“three tabernacles” The mention of “tabernacles” or “tents” not only recalls the Feast of Booths which commemorated the period of Israel’s wandering in the desert when the Lord had his own dwelling in their midst (Lev. 23:42–43; Ex. 25:8–9), but it also looks forward to the time when the Lord will dwell, or “tabernacle,” with his people (Zech. 14:16; Rev. 7:15; Rev. 21:1–3).

Mark 9:39 —“lightly” The Greek word means “soon afterwards” in this passage.