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How you translate the verbs in ἐνεβριμήσατο τῷ πνεύματι καὶ ἐτάραξεν ἑαυτὸν in 11:33 affects how you interpret the surrounding verses, especially when answering the question why did Jesus weep (11:35). Translations vary significantly on how they translate the verb ἐνεβριμήσατο.

ἐμβριμάομαιc: to have an intense, strong feeling of concern, often with the implication of indignation—‘to feel strongly, to be indignant.’ Ἰησοῦς οὖν ὡς εἶδεν αὐτὴν κλαίουσαν καὶ τοὺς συνελθόντας αὐτῇ Ἰουδαίους κλαίοντας, ἐνεβριμήσατο τῷ πνεύματι ‘then when Jesus saw her weeping and saw those Jews who were with her weeping, his feeling was intense’ or ‘… he was indignant’ Jn 11:33. Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 293). New York: United Bible Societies.

Some translations emphasize strong feelings of concern, while others emphasize indignation or even anger. Can we translate these phrases before we interpret this passage?

Looking at the senses from Logos Bible Software:

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especially combined with τῷ πνεύματι, the meaning appears to be restrain oneself or a smoother translation *held back his emotions. Thus, Jesus' weeping in 11:35 was reserved compared to his deep feelings.

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  • This is the struggle with hermeneutics; how to let the facts lead to the translation, then the translation lead to the interpretation, instead of the interpretation leading to the translation. I'm not sure that is possible with this question.
    – Perry Webb
    May 25, 2020 at 20:33

3 Answers 3

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Many thanks, Perry Webb, for this superbly crafted question. I am not sure this answer it but it may be the spark that helps someone else along to finish the job.

The verb ἐμβριμάομαι (embrimaomai), as the OP would be aware, only occurs five times in the NT, Matt 9:30, Mark 1:42, 14:5, John 11:33, 38. BDAG offers little to advance our understanding beyond listing the common translations in the most popular versions.

All occurrences of this verb use either middle or passive voice and none is active. In such circumstances I like to examine the subtle but literal translation of David Bentley Hart who often employed brilliant (but Herculean) efforts to render the nuances of the Greek verb which are listed below including the verb tense, mood and voice.

  • Matt 9:30 (Aorist Indicative Passive - 3rd Person Singular) Jesus sternly commanded them …
  • Mark 1:43 (Aorist Participle Middle - Nominative Masculine Singular) And, sternly admonishing him …
  • Mark 14:4 ( Imperfect Indicative Middle or Passive - 3rd Person Plural) some who expressed indignation to one another
  • John 11:33 (Aorist Indicative Middle - 3rd Person Singular) He groaned in His Spirit and yielded Himself to His turmoil …
  • John 11:38 (Present Participle Middle or Passive - Nominative Masculine Singular) So Jesus, again groaning within Himself, come to the tomb …

I think the key to understanding this very nuanced verb is (as usual) the context. Note that in Matt and Mark, the situation is some one expressing emotion to some one else; while in John, it is Jesus that experiences the deep emotion without trying to convey that to anyone else (although they notice his emotional state).

The root of the verb is clearly deeply felt passion. But note the surrounding language - Jesus is clearly deeply moved by the emotion, specifically grief, of His surrounding friends. In John 11:32, 33, it is Mary's obvious grief that moved Jesus; Jesus was "deeply moved in his spirit and was troubled in himself" (my translation).

Thus, John's use of ἐμβριμάομαι (embrimaomai) appears to be emotionally internal; while Matthew and Mark use the same verb in an attempt to convey deeply felt passion to others. Thus we find the versions desperately trying to covey this translating John 11:33 as "deeply moved", or "groaning", within himself (or similar); while Matt and Mark are translated, "sternly warned", "scolded", etc.

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  • What seems to be key is John used the word twice in ch 11 and you expect the meaning to match here. The different translations usually do match their translation here. One can understand angry or indignant in v33, but it seems a stretch to have that meaning in v 38. John observed Jesus' emotion without it being verbal as you mentioned. The only non-verbal expression that John records is Jesus wept. Thus, I think you are correct "deeply moved" and "groaning within himself" [in spirit v33] is the best fit. The qualifying phrases "within himself" and "in spirit" means internalized.
    – Perry Webb
    May 26, 2020 at 0:28
  • The canceling up and down votes shows the difficulty of this passage.
    – Perry Webb
    May 27, 2020 at 1:22
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I'll start with Carson's comments in the Pillar commentary:

(1) What does the crucial word embrimaomai actually mean? In extra-biblical Greek, it can refer to the snorting of horses; as applied to human beings, it invariably suggests anger, outrage or emotional indignation. In the New Testament, it occurs twice in this chapter (cf. v. 38), and elsewhere only in Matthew 9:30; Mark 1:43; 14:5; and in a textual variant to Matthew 12:18. Not only this word but its cognates as well move in this sphere of meaning. Beasley-Murray (pp. 192–193) points out that German translations get it right; most English translations soften the passage to ‘he groaned in spirit’, ‘he sighed heavily’, ‘he was deeply touched’ or, as here, ‘he was deeply moved in spirit’—all without linguistic justification. The phrase in spirit is not in dispute. It does not refer to the Holy Spirit, but is roughly equivalent to ‘in himself’: his inward reaction was anger or outrage or indignation. John adds that he was troubled,12 the same strong verb used in 12:27; 13:21. It is lexically inexcusable to reduce this emotional upset to the effects of empathy, grief, pain or the like.

(2) At what, then, was Jesus angry? The suggestion that the grief of the sisters and of the Jews is almost forcing a miracle upon him, arousing his wrath (so Barrett, p. 399; cf. 2:4; 4:48; 6:26) is countered by the fact that Jesus has already expressed his own determination to perform the miracle (v. 11). It is equally unjustified to think that Jesus is upset because he judges the mourning of the Jews to be hypocritical. The text does not cast their mourning in a different light to that of Mary, and in any case John, unlike the Synoptists, does not focus on the hypocrisy of the Jews (he never uses hypokrisis and related words). Even if we note that Jesus’ visceral response occurs when Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, two interpretations are possible. Some think that Jesus is moved by their grief, and is consequently angry with the sin, sickness and death in this fallen world that wrecks so much havoc and generates so much sorrow. Others think that the anger is directed at the unbelief itself. The men and women before him were grieving like pagans, like ‘the rest of men, who have no hope’ (1 Thes. 4:13). Profound grief at such bereavement is natural enough; grief that degenerates to despair, that pours out its loss as if there were no resurrection, is an implicit denial of that resurrection.

(D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, Pillar New Testament Commentary. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 415.)

ἐμβριμάομαι

As Dottard notes, the word only occurs five times in the NT corpus. That limits its usage and our certainty.

For my own part, I don't see any reason to move away from the "being angry at". But, I do admit that, with such a short body of usage, there's a case to go the other way.

It's interesting to look at the apparatus and see the variants. Evidently this issue is nothing new. In the NA apparatus, we read:

εταραχθη τω πνευματι ως εμβριμουμενος (εμβριμωμενος 𝔓66c Θ 1) 𝔓45vid.66c D

(Holger Strutwolf, eds. Novum Testamentum Graece. 28th, Accordance electronic ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2012), 339.)

Evidently, in an effort to soften the harshness of the language, the scribe of Bezæ and P45 & P66 changed the text.

ⲧⲱⲡ̅ⲛ̅ⲓ̅

  1. When then, do we do with dative, "“τῷ πνεύματι” (Ἰωάννην 11·33 THGNT-T)"? The basic options are...
  • Dative of respect ('in' his/the spirit)
  • Dative instrument/means ('by' his/the spirit)
  1. What do we do with πνεύματι?

The basic options are...

  • spirit (inside of Jesus)
  • Spirit (The Holy Spirit)

Options for translation:

As we put it all together, here are some options to work with

  • He was angry IN his spirit
  • He was angry by the Spirit
  • Deeply moved = dubious

Angry at what?

If, as Carson promotes, that 'anger' is the proper understanding, we have to ask what, in fact, Jesus is angry at. Carson gives his own options for the objects of Jesus' anger. But I look to a parallel context for my conclusion. In Luke we read:

“καὶ ἰδὼν αὐτὴν ὁ κύριος ἐσπλαγχνίσθη ἐπ’ αὐτῇ καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ· μὴ κλαῖε” (Λουκᾶν 7·13 THGNT-T)

The English versions take σπλαγχνίζομαι as "have compassion" on. But that isn't exactly the force of the verb. NIDNTTE gives this as a description/definition:

Because strong emotions produce sensations in the abdomen, the bowels and other organs were regarded as the site of the natural passions (cf. the use of gut in Eng.). Thus σπλάγχνα came to have the same fig. meaning as heart (see καρδία G2840), referring to the seat of the affections, both negative, such as anger and fear, and positive, such as love and compassion (cf. the use of σπλάγχνα alongside κέαρ [= κῆρ, “heart”] and φρένες [pl. of φρήν G5856, with a sim. meaning] when speaking of fearful premonitions, Aesch. Ag. 995–98).

(The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and Exegesis, s.v. “σπλάγχνον σπλαγχνίζομαι εὔσπλαγχνος πολύσπλαγχνος,” 4:351-352.)

Having one's guts torn up with extreme emotions could be sadness. But it could just as well be anger. Here in the Luke context, I conclude that what Jesus was angry 'on her behalf' (for her), was death itself. How tragic for this widow to have lost her son to death.

Conceptually and contextually we have the same sort of context in John 11. I agree with Carson that the better choice is anger. But the anger is directed at death itself. This is reinforced in John 11:38, where we read:

“Ἰησοῦς οὖν πάλιν ἐμβριμώμενος ἐν ἑαυτῷ ἔρχεται εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον· ἦν δὲ σπήλαιον, καὶ λίθος ἐπέκειτο ἐπ’ αὐτῷ.” (Ἰωάννην 11·38 THGNT-T)

It is exegetically possible to take Jesus' reaction at seeing the tomb as deep sadness. But, for my own part, I'm convinced that Jesus here, seeing the tomb of his dear friend, with his dear friend in the tomb because of death, is angry.

Christological Significance

Gregory Naziansus wrote,

ⲧⲟⲁⲡⲣⲟⲥⲗⲏⲡⲧⲟⲛ

ⲁⲑⲉⲣⲁⲡⲉⲩⲧⲟⲛ

Translations options:

  • That which Jesus did not assume he did not save
  • That which Jesus did not receive he did not redeem

Jesus took on all of our humanity, not just the flesh and bones, but also the intellect, will, and emotions. Here we see Jesus angry in the proper time and way in our place to redeem us from our sins (Jesus' active obedience).

Conclusion

For my own part, I conclude that the proper translation would be that Jesus was angry.

And I conclude that Jesus was angry 'within his spirit' (not by the Holy Spirit) since we have the parallel construction in vs. 38 "ἐμβριμώμενος ἐν ἑαυτῷ".

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Jesus is a few days from the cross and not even those closest to Him understand Who He is. He is deeply moved that they don't understand. Irritated maybe at the way the crowd is carrying on about Him failing to keep Lazarus alive.

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