Over time I've worked on three posts related to this passage.
- First, a smattering of Greek tid-bits that will one day become a more coherent post
- Second, an investigation into the brilliance of Mark's Greek tenses
- Third, an reflection on Mark's Greek to highlight the nature our confession (This post!)
I also have a longer post on this passage from Matthew's Gospel that goes into more detail on Caesarea Philippi and the claim of Messiah.
Summary: Mark masterfully uses Greek to emphasize the dramatic nature of our confession of Christ. Our confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, will consume our life and finally consume us.
The Greek behind Jesus' question:
* Use of tenses: Mark carefully selects his tenses in this passage. When Jesus asks the question, he is using the imperfect tense, which implies repeated action. Jesus repeatedly asks them: "Who are people saying that am?" and "Who do you say that I am?" In our life, we will repeatedly be asked who Jesus is.
* Use of pronouns: In Greek, the verb conjugation contains the subject pronoun. Thus, it is not necessary and it used primarily for emphasis. Here Jesus adds in the pronoun "You"; as if to say, "You - I mean you -- who do you say that I am?" In our life, we cannot simply say, "Christianity teaches XYZ" but each will have to say, "I believe..."
* Use of a town name: Mark could have just told us about this confession, but he adds in the detail of its location. Casearea Philippi was a major center of pagan worship: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesarea_Philippi
To put all these together, Mark lets us know about the confession of faith: Where it will be done (in the face of paganism), when it will be done (again and again), and who will do it, we the disciples of Christ.
The Greek of Jesus demand:
* Play on words: οπισω ("after", verses 33 and 34). Jesus has just told Peter to get behind him. Now he commands Peter once again to get behind him. Earlier Peter was told to get behind Jesus and become a fisher of men (8:33). The invitation to get out of the boat (kind of fun and scary) leads to the invitation to die (very scary).
* Use of tenses: The verb tenses are helpful here -- deny (απαρνησασθω) and carry (αρατω) are in the aorist tense, but follow (ακολουθειτω) is in the present tense. Following Jesus is an on-going task. So, to the Greek it probably sounded like: "If any of you want to follow after me, let him deny himself, pick up his cross and day-after-day follow me," (Okay day-after-day is a bit of a Lutheranism...)
* Use of verbs: To translate απολλυμι in verse 35 as "lose" is perhaps one of the most watered down translations possible. The verb can mean lose but more likely it means destroy (as in Herod wanted to destroy the child). Something more active is called for here than simply misplacing our life.
Grammar: Accusative cases in the infinitive
8:27 and 8:31 contain infinitive clauses. Notice how the subject is in the accusative? This is especially complex in 8:27