Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Sore Amazed": What Does This Mean?

With this post we begin a new series. We will be meditating on Jesus in Gethsemane.
The King James Version uses an odd phrase to describe Jesus’ experience in the garden of Gethsemane. “And he taketh with him Peter and James and John, and began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy.” (Mark 14:33)
“Sore amazed.” What does that mean? That is 1611 English. Did people in 1611 know what “sore amazed” meant? Probably. But we don't today.
Other Uses of the Phrase
Perhaps other uses of the phrase would help. The phrase “sore amazed” appears in Mark 6:51 like this: “And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.” That happened when Jesus walked on the windy sea in the fourth watch of the night. They thought he was a ghost coming towards them, and they cried out. Is that what it means to be sore amazed?
This experience of the disciples on the sea tells us something about the phrase “sore amazed” in 1611 English. It tells us something that heightens an interest in the phrase and in what happened to Jesus in Gethsemane. But there is both a problem and a catch. The problem is, the phrase appears in total only twice. Mark 6:51 is the only other use of the phrase for comparison. That is not enough. That catch is, in the two verses, Mark 14:33 and Mark 6:51, the translators are translating different Greek words.
Other English Translations
Another approach is to read Mark 14:33 in other English translations. In the New King James Version the clause reads, “He began to be troubled and deeply distressed.” The English Standard Version is similar, "greatly greatly distressed and troubled." The word “troubled” does not sound like a match with “sore amazed.” Are we to take as the answer that, not to worry, sore amazed does not mean all that much, it just means troubled?
Weymouth’s New Testament says, “began to be full of terror.” The Montgomery New Testament has it the same way. The New Living Translation says, “He began to be filled with horror and deep distress.” Sore amazement. Fullness of terror. Fullness of horror. Williams’ New Testament says, “He began to feel completely dazed.” Jesus completely dazed? What’s going on?
It’s All Greek to Me
Apparently, we won’t resolve this in English. We need to get at the original language. We can lay the Synoptic accounts of Jesus in Gethsemane side by side (Matthew 26:36-44, Mark 14:32-39, and Luke 22:39b-46), pick out the words that describe his state, look up what Greek words they translate, and study those words.
The words are:
  • lupeo (loo-peh'-o)
         Matthew 26:37
  • ademoneo (ad-ay-mon-eh'-o)
         Matthew 26:37, Mark 14:33
  • perilupos (per-il'-oo-pos)
         Matthew 26:38, Mark 14:34
  • ekthambeo (ek-tham-beh'-o)
         Mark 14:33
  • agonia (ag-o-nee'-ah)
         Luke 22:44
The word translated as “sore amazed” is ekthambeo. There is another word, thambeo, but here Mark uses the more intensive form ekthambeo. It means “to throw into terror or amazement; to alarm thoroughly, to terrify or astound.”[1]
A Sudden, Assaulting, Horrifying Terror
This is not an ordinary word for being troubled or distressed. Frederick W. Krummacher says Mark,
makes use of a word in the original which implies a sudden and horrifying alarm at a terrific object. The Evangelist evidently intends to intimate thereby that the cause of Jesus’ trembling must be sought, not in what might be passing in his soul, but in appearances from without which forced themselves upon him; something approached Him which threatened to rend His nerves, and the sight of it to freeze the blood in His veins.[2]
There was something outside himself that he saw. It appeared suddenly. It approached him. It already was approaching him when first he saw it. It got the drop on him. It forced itself upon him. It was a menacing horror. Jesus saw a living nightmare.
The text says, “he began to be sore amazed.” This reinforces the suddenness of the object’s appearance. Frederick S. Leahy says of the Man of Sorrows, “Christ has known sorrow before this, but the assertion that in Gethsemane he began to be sorrowful indicates a sudden steep decent into the billows of distress.”[3]
Stop the Bus
Something happened that brings us completely out of our depth. Can this even been studied? Should we be treading here? This “is not a place for hurried theological tourism,”[4]
And yet, Jesus chose to have Matthew, Mark, and Luke record it for us. We sense that it has such a distinct bearing on our redemption that we dare not pass it by. Our behavior should not resemble a pick pocket, who snatches salvation from Jesus' pocket and puts it in the bank, without recognizing the suffering that put such wealth into his pocket and ours.
We have done what we can for one day. We will meditate on this further on another day.


1.  The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, Strong’s Number 1568, p. 80.
2.  Frederick W. Krummacher, The Suffering Saviour: Meditations on the Last Days of Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977 printing of 1855 English translation from the 1854 German original), pp. 106-107.
3.  Frederick S. Leahy, The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), p. 1.
4.  Ibid., p. 12.

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