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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?

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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 '20 at 20:33
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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 '20 at 0:28
  • The canceling up and down votes shows the difficulty of this passage. – Perry Webb May 27 '20 at 1:22

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