Mark 12:27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living...

Greek : 

Literal Verse: 

No, he is not a God of the dead but of the living: you are leading yourselves very much astray.

KJV : 

Mark 12:27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: you therefore do greatly err.

Interesting and Hidden Aspects: 

One hidden key to this verse is that Jesus doesn't use an article before the word for God as he usually does. He doesn't say "the God" but "a god." This is consistent with his point, which is about the differences between the Greek and Judean views of the Divine. For context on this verse, see this article on the concept of Gods of Death and Life.

Also hidden is the relationships between the adjective translated as "greatly," "badly," or "serious," and the final verb, translated as "err," "mistaken," and "error."  The verb means "to lead astray." When used for distances, instead of numbers, the adjective means "far" or "long." So the sense of the phrase is that his challenges are being lead or leading themselves a great distance from the truth. Its form can mean either that that his challenges have been led astray or have led themselves astray.
 

NIV : 

Mark 12:27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!

NLT : 

Mark 12:27 So he is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.

Wordplay: 

The joke here is about wandering a great distance, specifically the distances between life and death. This is lost in the standard English translation. Jesus even gets in a little alliteration to make his point even more entertaining. The terms translated as "greatly err," which really means "wander" or "go astray" "a great way" is polus planao.

Related Verses: 

Greek Vocabulary: 

οὐκ (partic) "Not" is ou which is the negative adverb for facts and statements, negating both single words and sentences. The other negative adverb, μή applies to will and thought; οὐ denies, μή rejects; οὐ is absolute, μή relative; οὐ objective, μή subjective.

ἔστιν (verb 3rd sg pres ind act) "He is" is eimi, which means "to be", "to exist", "to be the case," of circumstance and events "to happen",  and "is possible." (The future form is esomai. The 3rd person present indicative is "esti.")

θεὸς (noun sg masc nom)  -- The word translated as "God" means "God" and "deity." It is introduced with an article, so "the God." Jesus often uses it this way perhaps to indicate the one God as opposed to the pagan gods.

νεκρῶν (adj pl masc gen) "Of the dead" is nekros, which specifically means "a corpse" as well as a "dying person", "the dead as dwellers in the nether world", "the inanimate," and "the inorganic"

ἀλλὰ (adv) "But" is alla, which means "otherwise", "but", "still", "at least", "except", "yet," nevertheless", "rather", "moreover," and "nay." --

ζώντων, (part pl pres act masc gen ) "Of the living" is zao, which means "to live", "the living," and "to be alive." It is a metaphor for "to be full of life", "to be strong," and "to be fresh."

πολὺ ( adj sg neut acc ) "Greatly" is polus, which means "many (in number)", "great (in size or power or worth)," and "large (of space)." As an adverb, it means "far", "very much", "a great way," and "long."

πλανᾶσθε. (verb 2nd pl imperf ind mp or verb 2nd pl pres subj mp  or verb 2nd pl pres ind mp ) "Do...err" is planao which means "to cause to wander", "to lead astray", "to mislead", "to wander", "to stray," and "to be misled."

KJV Analysis: 

He -- This is from the third-person, singular form of the following verb.

is -- The verb "is" here is the common form of "to be" in Greek. It means to have a certain characteristic or remain in a certain condition. It also equates terms or assigns characteristics. 

not -- The Greek word translated as "not" is the Greek negative used to deny objective facts, not opinions. It makes a negative statement of fact. Adding "really" to the sentence captures the same idea. This word begins the verse, making it seem like he is answering a question with a "no."

the -- (IW)  There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. It was added for theological reasons.  There is no indefinite article in Greek, but when a word doesn't have a definite article, the indefinite article can be added in English translation.

God -- The word translated as "God" means "God" and "deity." It is introduced with an article, so "the God." Jesus often uses it this way perhaps to indicate the one God as opposed to the pagan gods.

of -- This word comes from the genitive case of the following word(s) that required the addition of a preposition in English.  The most common is the "of" of possession, but it can also mean "belonging to," "part of", "which is", "than" (in comparisons), or  "for", "concerning" or "about" with transitive verbs. 

the -- There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. It was added for clarity because in English we often use "the" with plural nouns.

dead,  -- The word translated as "the dead" means "corpse", "a dying man," and "inanimate, non-organic matter." Christ uses it in all three senses, referring to the actual dead, the spiritually dead, and inanimate matter. The word is a plural adjective used as a noun. 

but  - The Greek word translated as "but" denotes an exception or simple opposition. It is used to emphasize the contrast between things like we use "rather". It is the Greek word "other" like we use "otherwise".

the -- (IW) There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. It was added for theological reasons.  There is no indefinite article in Greek, but when a word doesn't have a definite article, the indefinite article can be added in English translation.

God -- (IW) There is no Greek word that is translated as "God" in the source we use today but it does exist in the source that the KJV translators used.

of -- This word comes from the genitive case of the following word(s) that required the addition of a preposition in English.  The most common is the "of" of possession, but it can also mean "belonging to," "part of", "which is", "than" (in comparisons), or  "for", "concerning" or "about" with transitive verbs. 

the - There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. It was added for clarity because in English we often use "the" with plural nouns.

living:  "Living" is a verb that means  "to live", "the living," and "to be alive." It is a metaphor for "to be full of life", "to be strong," and "to be fresh." The form is that of an adjective, "living." The adjective is used as a noun.

you -- This is from the second-person, plural form of the following verb.

therefore -- (IW) There is no Greek word that is translated as "therefore" in the source we use today but it does exist in the source that the KJV translators used.

do -- This helping verb indicates the present tense of the following veb, but the tense of that verb could also be the simple past or the verb of possibility.  Helping verbs are not needed in Greek since the main verb carries this information in its form.

greatly -- The word translated as "greatly" means many in number, great in power or worth, and large in size. It is not in the form of an adverb, but adjectives and adverbs are more exchangeable in Greek.

err. "Err" is a verb that means "to cause to wander", "to lead astray", "to mislead", "to wander", "to stray," and "to be misled." The form is clearly either the passive or the middle voice, indicating a person acting on themselves. The tense is uncertain.

KJV Translation Issues: 

4
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "the" doesn't exist in the source and isn't otherwise justified.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "the" doesn't exist in the source and isn't otherwise justified.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The second word "God" doesn't exist in the source and isn't otherwise justified.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "therefore" doesn't exist in the source and isn't otherwise justified.

NIV Analysis: 

He -- This is from the third-person, singular form of the following verb.

is -- The verb "is" here is the common form of "to be" in Greek. It means to have a certain characteristic or remain in a certain condition. It also equates terms or assigns characteristics. 

not -- The Greek word translated as "not" is the Greek negative used to deny objective facts, not opinions. It makes a negative statement of fact. Adding "really" to the sentence captures the same idea. This word begins the verse, making it seem like he is answering a question with a "no."

the -- (IW)  There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. It was added for theological reasons.  There is no indefinite article in Greek, but when a word doesn't have a definite article, the indefinite article can be added in English translation.

God -- The word translated as "God" means "God" and "deity." It is introduced with an article, so "the God." Jesus often uses it this way perhaps to indicate the one God as opposed to the pagan gods.

of -- This word comes from the genitive case of the following word(s) that required the addition of a preposition in English.  The most common is the "of" of possession, but it can also mean "belonging to," "part of", "which is", "than" (in comparisons), or  "for", "concerning" or "about" with transitive verbs. 

the -- There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. It was added for clarity because in English we often use "the" with plural nouns.

dead,  -- The word translated as "the dead" means "corpse", "a dying man," and "inanimate, non-organic matter." Christ uses it in all three senses, referring to the actual dead, the spiritually dead, and inanimate matter. The word is a plural adjective used as a noun. 

but  - The Greek word translated as "but" denotes an exception or simple opposition. It is used to emphasize the contrast between things like we use "rather". It is the Greek word "other" like we use "otherwise".

of -- This word comes from the genitive case of the following word(s) that required the addition of a preposition in English.  The most common is the "of" of possession, but it can also mean "belonging to," "part of", "which is", "than" (in comparisons), or  "for", "concerning" or "about" with transitive verbs. 

the - There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. It was added for clarity because in English we often use "the" with plural nouns.

living:  "Living" is a verb that means  "to live", "the living," and "to be alive." It is a metaphor for "to be full of life", "to be strong," and "to be fresh." The form is that of an adjective, "living." The adjective is used as a noun.

you -- This is from the second-person, plural form of the following verb.

are -- This helping verb indicates the passive voice and present tense of the following veb, but voice could also be active, and middle, the tense of that verb could also be the simple past and the verb could be the mood of possibility.  There is not verb "to be" int he text. Helping verbs are not needed in Greek since the main verb carries this information in its form.

badly-- (WW) The word translated as "badly" means many in number, great in power or worth, and large in size. It is not in the form of an adverb, but adjectives and adverbs are more exchangeable in Greek.

mistaken. --  (WF) "Mistaken" is an active verb not an verb in the form of an adjective that means "to cause to wander", "to lead astray", "to mislead", "to wander", "to stray," and "to be misled." The form is either the passive or the middle voice, indicating a person acting on themselves. The tense and mood also offer several possibilities.

NIV Translation Issues: 

3
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "the" doesn't exist in the source and isn't otherwise justified.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "badly" means "greatly."
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "mistaken" is an active verb not the past participle, "mistaken."

NLT Analysis: 

So -- (IW) There is no Greek word that can be translated as "it" in the Greek source.

he -- This is from the third-person, singular form of the following verb.

is -- The verb "is" here is the common form of "to be" in Greek. It means to have a certain characteristic or remain in a certain condition. It also equates terms or assigns characteristics.

the -- (IW)  There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. It was added for theological reasons.  There is no indefinite article in Greek, but when a word doesn't have a definite article, the indefinite article can be added in English translation.

God -- The word translated as "God" means "God" and "deity." It is introduced with an article, so "the God." Jesus often uses it this way perhaps to indicate the one God as opposed to the pagan gods.

of -- This word comes from the genitive case of the following word(s) that required the addition of a preposition in English.  The most common is the "of" of possession, but it can also mean "belonging to," "part of", "which is", "than" (in comparisons), or  "for", "concerning" or "about" with transitive verbs. 

the - There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. It was added for clarity because in English we often use "the" with plural nouns.

living:  "Living" is a verb that means  "to live", "the living," and "to be alive." It is a metaphor for "to be full of life", "to be strong," and "to be fresh." The form is that of an adjective, "living." The adjective is used as a noun. This translation flips the "living" and "dead" adjectives so living comes first. In the Greek, "dead" comes first.

untranslated "but"-- (MW) The untranslated word "but" denotes an exception or simple opposition. It is used to emphasize the contrast between things like we use "rather". It is the Greek word "other" like we use "otherwise".

not -- The Greek word translated as "not" is the Greek negative used to deny objective facts, not opinions. It makes a negative statement of fact. Adding "really" to the sentence captures the same idea. This word begins the verse, making it seem like he is answering a question with a "no."

the -- There is no Greek word that is translated as "the" in the source we use today nor was there one in the source that the KJV translators used. It was added for clarity because in English we often use "the" with plural nouns.

dead,  -- The word translated as "the dead" means "corpse", "a dying man," and "inanimate, non-organic matter." Christ uses it in all three senses, referring to the actual dead, the spiritually dead, and inanimate matter. The word is a plural adjective used as a noun.

You -- This is from the second-person, plural form of the following verb.

have  -- (WT) This helping verb "have" indicates that the following verb is the tense indicating an action competed in the past. While this verb could be several tenses, it is not this past perfect.

made -- (IW) There is no Greek word that can be translated as "made" in the Greek source.

a -- (IW) There is no Greek word that can be translated as "a" in the Greek source.  This word can be added before singular nouns without a definite article, but there are not nouns here in the Greek.

serious -- (WW) The word translated as "serious" means "many" in number, "great" in power or worth, and large in size. It is not in the form of an adverb, but adjectives and adverbs are more exchangeable in Greek.

error. --  (WF) "Error" is not a noun, but an active verb that means "to cause to wander", "to lead astray", "to mislead", "to wander", "to stray," and "to be misled." The form is either the passive or the middle voice, indicating a person acting on themselves. The tense and mood also offer several possibilities.

NLT Translation Issues: 

8
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "so" doesn't exist in the source and isn't otherwise justified.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "the" doesn't exist in the source and isn't otherwise justified.
  • MW - Missing Word -- The conjunction "but" is not shown in the English translation.
  • WT - Wrong Tense - The verb "have" seems to indicate an action completed in the past, but the tense not that.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "made" doesn't exist in the source and isn't otherwise justified.
  • IW - Inserted Word -- The word "a" doesn't exist in the source and isn't otherwise justified.
  • WW - Wrong Word -- The word translated as "serious" means "greatly."
  • WF - Wrong Form -  The "error" is an active verb not a noun, "to err."

Possible Symbolic Meaning: 

Jesus actually sets up the wordplay here back in Mark 12:24 by asking the rhetorical question, "Aren't you going astray?" After answering the specific question about marriage after resurrection, Jesus returns to this idea of going astray here, pointing out that the real problem is that people don't understand the nature of life and death.

To understand Jesus here, we have to understand a little about the Greek (and Roman) view of the afterlife and how it influenced the understanding of the resurrection in Christ's time. The Greek believed in an afterlife, but it wasn't a very pleasant vision. The dead were like wraiths, leading a half-life in the land of the dead. The god of the dead was Hades (Greek) or Pluto (Latin). This vision influenced the Jewish religious leaders of Christ's time. They either imagined that people lingered in this half-life of the dead (as the Greek saw it) or in the ground until the resurrection when they were reincarnated into physical bodies.

This means that, until the final judgment, the dead, including Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were either ghosts or corpses. (The word that Jesus uses for "dead" also means "corpse."

Jesus clearly rejects this vision. I will leave it to each of my readers to say what his alternative might be. I will only suggest that either time (as we understand it) does not exist between our deaths, the final judgment, and resurrection or that immediately upon our deaths, we are given a new life but not the life in the body of resurrection, which we get at the final judgment. The later vision is supported by Jesus 's statement earlier about Elijah being reborn (Mat 17:12), but personally, I don't think we are meant to know what actually happens at death.

Front Page Date: 

Nov 27 2019