Translation commentary on Mark 9:35


kathisas (10.37, 40; 11.2, 7; 12.36, 41; 14.32; 16.19) ‘sitting down’ – perhaps as a teacher.

tous dōdeka (cf. 3.14, 16; 6.7) ‘the Twelve’: a title, not simply a number.

ei tis thelei (cf. 8.34) ‘if any one wants’: as in 8.34, this translation is to be preferred to Revised Standard Version ‘if any one would.’

prōtos (cf. 6.21) ‘first,’ used with the idea of rank and position (cf. also 10.31, 44, where the word is used with this same meaning).

estai pantōn eschatos kai pantōn diakonos ‘he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.’ This statement is not in the nature of a threat against the selfseekers, as though it meant, “This is what will happen if anyone wants to be first!” It is rather Jesus’ teaching on how really to be ‘first’: ‘If you want to be first, become the last, become the servant of all’ (cf. Gould). The future estai ‘shall be’ has the force (as often) of an imperative ‘must be.’

eschatos (10.31; 12.6, 22) ‘last’ in rank or position, as in the case of prōtos ‘first’; therefore, ‘least,’ ‘most insignificant.’

diakonos (10.43) ‘servant.’


Called the twelve must be carefully translated, for ‘calling’ may imply shouting to, which obviously is not the meaning here. Rather, the meaning is that Jesus told his disciples to gather around him or to come to him to listen to what he had to say.

The twelve must be expanded in many languages to ‘the twelve disciples,’ since numerals cannot be used as substantives in this type of construction.

If any one would be first may require some more specific delimitation, since ‘first’ may not imply rank or relative position among persons, as it does in Greek and English. For example, in Tzeltal one must translate, ‘if any one wishes to raise himself up to the first place’ (implying relative height), but in other languages, e.g. Punu, one may say ‘if any one wishes to be at the face,’ meaning the front of the line of men going down a trail; cf. Toraja-Sa’dan ‘when someone wants to be in the forefront’; Javanese ‘leading-man.’ Still another ordering is found in some languages ‘if any one wishes to be the elder,’ employing age grading as a basis for rank in any group. It makes no difference whether a language employs space or time as a basis for distinction – the important thing is the ranking of members within a group.

Last of all must be translated in contrast with ‘first.’ For example, in Punu one may say ‘he must return to the back of all,’ thus preserving the figure of the trail.

Servant of all may need some cultural adaptation, e.g. ‘do errands for everyone’ (Copainalá Zoque).

Quoted with permission from Bratcher, Robert G. and Nida, Eugene A. A Handbook on the Gospel of Mark. (UBS Handbook Series). New York: UBS, 1961. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

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