Tag Archives: the cross

Envy and the Cross (Mark 15:10)

Envy and the Cross (Mark 15:10)

Mark says that because of envy, the chief priests sought to kill Jesus.
Mark says that because of envy, the chief priests sought to kill Jesus.

Did you know that, biblically speaking, there is a difference between envy and jealousy? In fact, envy was considered one of the great evils of the ancient world, while jealousy, in the proper context, was considered a natural and proper response. Many people use these words interchangeably today. So what is the difference and what does this have to do with the Cross as our title suggests? First, we will look at the biblical meanings of the words jealousy and envy, and then, in honor of Passion Week, we will notice the connection between envy and the Cross.

The Greek word for jealousy in the NT is “zelos” from which we also get our word “zealous.” One can be jealous of something or jealous for something. In other words, context determines whether the jealousy spoken of is a positive or negative quality. Jealousy for something speaks of the positive quality of protecting and nurturing what naturally belongs to us. If a husband or wife doesn’t care about their spouse having other lovers, we would (rightly) consider this bizarre. After all, when two people have committed themselves in marriage to belong only to each other, then a husband or wife has the right to be jealous for that special relationship they share. Similarly, we are jealous for our children. If we wanted a baby-sitter for the evening, we would not consider just asking any stranger off of the street to watch them. Our jealousy for our children demands that we find someone we can trust. When the Scriptures speak of God being a jealous God (e.g., Exod. 20:5), it is this positive kind of jealousy that is in mind. The relationship between God and His people is often described as a marriage relationship in both the Old and New Testaments, and God has gone to extreme measures (i.e., the sacrifice of His Only Son), to make that special relationship possible. Therefore, God is jealous for us, a perfectly natural expression of His deep love and concern for us.

The Negative and Dangerous Emotion of Envy

On the other hand, the word “zelos” can also be used in the negative sense of “to be jealous of,” or in other words, “to envy.” As mentioned above, context is the determining factor. So what exactly is envy? A popular definition of envy is, “my pain at your gain.” Envy involves a grudging feeling toward another person that desires to take what is theirs, or, at the very least, to see them stripped of what they have and to perversely enjoy their being deprived of it (“If I can’t have it, no one should” kind of attitude). Besides the word “zelos” sometimes carrying this meaning in the NT, another Greek word “phthonos,” (translated “envy”) always carries a negative connotation.[1]

Not only is envy a negative emotion, more importantly, it leads to destructive behavior. In particular, there are at least six harmful ways that envy came to expression in the ancient world: 1) ostracism; 2) gossip and slander; 3) feuding; 4) litigation; 5) the evil eye (placing a curse on someone); and 6) homicide.[2] The danger with envy is that it is not simply an internal emotion; it has a way of finding expression in harmful behavior, and this is why it is considered such a great evil. Thus, envy always seems to find a place among those NT passages that list a catalogue of the worst sins (e.g., Rom. 1:29; Gal. 5:21).

Sketched against this background, Mark’s statement, concerning the trial of Jesus before Pilate, takes on even more sinister overtones as he writes, “For he [Pilate] knew that the chief priests had handed Him over because of envy” (Mark 15:10). This declaration, easily overlooked by moderns, is a resounding condemnation of the Jewish leaders’ intentions and motives. It was not a concern for holiness or righteousness that motivated these men, according to Mark, but one of the baser qualities of human nature: envy.

This story can challenge us to check our motives. These religious leaders could put on a false facade of spirituality. They could pretend to act for God and for the good of the community, but in reality their actions were motivated by the flesh. God sees through our actions to the heart of the matter. As Hannah sang long ago: “For the Lord is the God of knowledge; and by Him actions are weighed” (1 Sam. 2:3b).



[1] One possible exception to this is James 4:5 which is a notoriously difficult passage to translate. But see, for example, the NET, which is probably the correct way to translate this passage.

[2] This information is taken from Anselm C. Hagedorn and Jerome H. Neyrey, “It was out of envy they handed Jesus over’ (Mark 15:10): The anatomy of envy and the Gospel of Mark,” JSNT, 69, 1968 (p. 32).

Cross Examination: The Cross of Christ in the Roman World

Cross Examination: The Cross of Christ in the Roman World

Did you know that those who study the history and culture of the Roman world of the first century affirm that the Roman Empire (consisting of Romans, Greeks, Jews, Egyptians, etc.) was founded on the cultural values of honor and shame? To quote David deSilva, “A person born into [this] culture was led from childhood to seek honor and to avoid disgrace. Honor comes from the affirmation of a person’s worth by peers and society, awarded on the basis of the individual’s ability to embody the virtues and attributes his or her society values” (An Introduction to the New Testament, IVP, 2004, p. 125). Words such as “honor,” “glory,” “praise,” and other synonyms, as well as “shame,” “reproach,” “mock,” and their synonyms, are part of the daily vocabulary of people who live in such a society. One can hardly turn a page of the Bible without finding one of these words, which suggests how an understanding of honor and shame might impact our understanding of Scripture. These articles are meant to be short and so I will not delve into the many ways in which our Bible reading can be enriched by understanding this cultural dynamic. Instead, I want to focus on how our understanding of crucifixion and the cross of Christ is enhanced when seen against this cultural background.

Shame and the Cross of Christ

Although none of us in the western world are exposed to crucifixion as a form of capital punishment, we are aware of the slow and horribly painful death experienced by its victims. But in the Roman world, a painful death was only one reason, and probably not the most important reason, for crucifixion. In a society built on honor, the cross was the most shameful death possible. The cross was not only intended to torture its victim, but to shame them so that no one would want to be affiliated with them. This is why a person was crucified naked, was beaten, mocked, and spit upon (e.g., Matt. 27:29-30, 39-44). If the Jewish leaders had only wanted Jesus dead, they could have sent someone into the throngs that surrounded him to stab him. Jesus’ death, however, was not enough; that would simply make a martyr of him. The Jewish leaders realized that he must die the most shameful death possible so that all of his followers would scatter and it would put an end to his influence. This idea of the shame of the cross is the backdrop for all of the passion narratives in the gospels and for passages such as Acts 18:32; 1 Cor. 1:18; and Heb. 12:2, to name only a few.

The Cross of Christ: A Sign of Victory

The fact is, Roman crucifixion was so effective that it quelled every rebellion in the ancient world. Whether we are talking about the slave rebellion under Spartacus, which saw the crucifixion of 6000 men, or the uprisings of would-be deliverers and messiahs, every movement was put down and silenced by the use of the cross. Every movement that is…except for one! The fact that the early disciples went about preaching “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) is an astonishing fact, given the cultural dynamics of honor and shame. No one in this society would think, “I believe I’ll start a new religion and base it on a man who was crucified.” Everyone wanted to stay as far away from the shame of crucifixion as possible. Even if, one person was crazy enough to imagine such an idea, it would never have gained a following. To identify with the cross was to guaranty a life of persecution and shame. This is why Paul said the “message of the cross [was] foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18). How then do we explain the fact that the cross of ChristChrist-on-the-Cross-Painting-by-Eugene-Delacroix, not only transformed many lives, but ultimately conquered the Roman Empire itself? The only logical explanation for this phenomenon is that there was a power behind the cross of Jesus that was not of this world; a power that went far beyond human intellect, social mores, and cultural norms. It was in fact, as Paul affirms, the power of God!

For a further explanation of honor and shame and how it impacts our understanding of the books of 1&2 Samuel, please see my book, Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel, especially chapters 4 and 18.