The Corpse

Okay. When it comes to “translator privilege” I’m usually pretty compliant. I marvel when I consider those men and women who commit together to translate the Scriptures. I don’t pretend to understand all the nuances they have to deal with in translating the original languages from the right texts into understandable English which is true to the intent of God. And I’m no Greek or Hebrew scholar (or any other kind of scholar for that fact), so I don’t have much basis for being hyper critical of why some translations chose the words or phrases or sentences they chose. But I know what I like . . . and what, from my limited understanding and use of Bible helps, seems to be the more accurate and consistent translations. For that reason, I read the ESV.

So . . . why go into all this? It’s because the translators of the ESV did something in translating a word in Mark 15 that really caught my attention this morning. Not just because of the word they used and the mystery as to why they used it (though I am intrigued as to why they did what they did) but because of how it was juxtaposed against my reading in 2Samuel.

Here’s what the ESV translators did. They translated the word for “body” as “corpse.”

And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that He should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether He was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that He was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph.    (Mark 15:42-45 ESV)

Joseph of Arimathea asked for “the body” (Gk. soma) of Jesus. Pilate granted him “the corpse” (Gk. soma). The same transaction is recorded in the other three gospels . . . and in each of those the ESV translators write that Pilate gave to Joseph “the body” of Jesus. But in Mark, he gave “the corpse.” As near as I can tell, after a quick examination, every other translation says that Pilate handed over “the body” of the crucified Christ. So, while well within the range of translation, I’m intrigued as to why the ESV translators chose to use “the corpse” in this one instance only.

But that’s what the dead body of Jesus was . . . a corpse. When I read it this morning it hit me like a ton of bricks. Of all the names given to the One whose Name is above every name . . . of all the ways that we describe Him . . . at that moment, after having endured the wrath for my sin and having paid the penalty for my transgression, Jesus was the corpse.

Jesus, second Person of the Triune God. The God I had just read about in David’s song of victory in 2Samuel 22. The God David calls “my Rock, my Fortress, and my Deliverer” (22:1) The One who caused the earth to reel and rock, and the foundations of the heavens to tremble and quake, because He was angry (22:8). He who rides on the cherub (22:11). The Most High who utters His thunderous voice from heaven (22:14). The One who goes into battle for His own and rescues them with might and with power. Behold our God!

And Pilate granted to Joseph the corpse. Behold our God.

To what depths did the Most High descend so that our Rock and our Fortress might be our Deliverer from the bondage of sin and death? What power, though clothed in apparent weakness, was exerted upon that cross that day so that the battle for eternal life might be fought and won? What victory, though shrouded in seeming defeat, was wrought that day because of “the corpse?”

Don’t know why the ESV translators did it, but it causes me to pause and wonder . . . not only at their translation decision . . . but to wonder and marvel and worship afresh because of God’s loving and grace-fueled determination to offer His Son as my atoning sacrifice.

For this I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations, and sing praises to Your name. Great salvation He brings . . .     (2Samuel 22:50-51a ESV)

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