Severian of Gabala on Mark 10:17-18 and John 20:27-29


Recently, I was contacted by a regular commenter here, Stephan Huller, about translating a passage from a sermon attributed to John Chrysostom.  The sermon, entitled “On the Ascension,” was edited by Montfaucon, and eventually appeared in the PG 52.773-92.  Though originally attributed to Chrysostom, in the past century it has been definitively assigned to his rival, Severian of Gabala.  Ironically, most of Severian’s surviving works come to us under Chrysostom’s name.  More information can be found in De Aldama’s Repertorium Pseudo-Chrysostomicum.  This homily is n. 415 in that work, and the entry may be translated:

Montfaucon had advised that this homily (which appears variously in different manuscripts) was a pastiche of several homilies, perhaps composed from several authors, and that the second part (sections 8-10) mostly consists of material taken from Chrysostom’s lost second homily on the beginning of Acts.  Marx, however, in OCPer5 (1939) 283-291 showed that this homily actually belongs to Severian of Gabala, though granting the possibility that two homilies may have indeed been conflated into one.  Altendorf admits the attribution to Severian in a letter.

I don’t have the CPG number on hand, but it appears there under Severian’s name.  

Stephan asked me to translated section 6, along with the last bit of section 5 and the first bit of section 7.  His own interests, as I understand them, relate to early understandings of Mark 10:17-18, where Jesus rebukes his interlocutor for calling him “good teacher” by saying “why do you call me good?  No one is good except God, who is one.”  

In our homily here, Severian takes aim at Arians by using John 20:27-29, where Thomas calls Jesus “my Lord and my God”  after seeing him resurrected.  Arians, who taught that Christ was a created being, rather than co-eternal with the Father, naturally turned to Mark 10:18, as it seems that Jesus is refusing divine honors.  Severian compares the passage in Mark with the passage in John, as in John, Jesus accepts the title “Lord and God.”  Severian’s solution is that in Mark, Jesus is really rebuking his interlocutor for calling him “good teacher” rather than “good Lord.”  In Severian’s mind, “teacher” is an unworthy epithet for the son of God, and so he rejects it.  

My translation here is fairly literal.  We’re not dealing with highly polished rhetoric (like Gregory of Nazianzus), so putting the work into highly polished English prose would be disingenuous.  I’ve occasionally added bits for clarity, but I’ve tried to put [square brackets] around what I’ve added.  The bolded numbers in parentheses denote section numbers.  I’ve modified the paragraph structure from the PG (by ending section 5 sooner) because it’s clear (at least to me) that a new topic begins with the citation of Jn. 20:27.  

English Translation

(5) Thus Thomas’s finger has ended the quarrel of the heretics, for this is the finger, over which the the Egyptian magicians could not prevail, saying “this is the finger of the Lord” (Ex 8:15).  It was thus fitting for St. Thomas, after this assurance, to proclaim the words of David, “in the day of my affliction I have pursued God” (Ps. 77:2/76:3 LXX), and after enquiring with his hands to declare also what follows, “in the night, my hands are stretched out before him, and I have not been deceived” (Ps. 77:2/76:3 LXX) [1].

“Do not disbelieve, but rather believe” (Jn. 20:27).  Thomas, then, having recognized from the wound the one who suffered, due to Jesus’ foreknowledge, called him God, saying, “my Lord and my God” (Jn 20:28). (6) Let the heretics hear this!  If the son had actually rejected this, and does not possess identical honor with the Father, why then does he not dismiss this all-surpassing honor?  For he heard from someone else, “good teacher,” and he said, “why do you gall me good? No one is good, except God, who is one”  (Mk. 10:17-18), even though the word “good” is in use among us.  By your understanding, he refused the epithet “good.”  How much more should he have refused to accept “Lord and God”? [In that passage, the man says] “Good Teacher,” and [Jesus] replied, “why do you call me good?” But here we have, “my Lord and my God,” but he did not say, “why do you call me ‘Lord and God?’” In the prior case, since the word used was unworthy of him (for [the man] did not say, “Good Lord,” but “Good teacher”), he dismissed the worthless title and accepted the honorable one.  In this instance, he also offers a rebuke, but on opposite grounds: he rebuked Thomas because [Thomas] spoke too late.  He did not rebuke him for saying “my Lord,” but because he spoke later than he should have.  “After you have seen, you have believed, but blessed are those who do not see, yet believe” (Jn 20:29).  Though only one man [Thomas] has been summoned, all of us have been blessed, for this blessing was spoken over all of us and those after us.  Because we have not received these miraculous things by sight, but rather received them in faith, we become fellow partakers in this great and renowned blessing.  


(7) But let us turn from this story, which we have treated succinctly, and move on to another word of the prophet, lest you all grow weary from an abundance of words. Which passage shall we discuss? “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord” (Is. 2:3 / Micah 4:2)…  [2]



[1] The Greek reads, “I have not been deceived” at the end of this verse, which differs from the Hebrew (or at least our English translations of the Hebrew), which reads something like, “my soul refused to be comforted.”


[2] Severian discusses in this section the “mountain of the Lord” and the Mount of Olives, before turning back to a discussion on Acts.

If anything is unclear, let me know in the comments.

ἐν αὐτῷ,

5 thoughts on “Severian of Gabala on Mark 10:17-18 and John 20:27-29

  1. Thank you so much, Alex. I owe you a big favor.

    Everything is perfectly clear. it is interesting to find this variant interpretation of the material. The usual interpretation (or at least the early interpretation) is that Jesus is saying that only God the Father is good, based as it is on the common Alexandrian reading ‘God the Father’ in place of merely ‘God.’ The reading appears in Clement, Origen (before he arrived in Caesarea), Marcion and I believe Marcus the heretic. The question I have now is whether this is a sensible reading of the material. A man runs up to Jesus and says ‘Good Teacher’ and – the interpretation of the material by Severian – is that the point of what follows is that Jesus wants the man (and us as voyeurs to the narrative) to learn that it is inappropriate to identify Jesus as a ‘good teacher.’

    Surely this is an unusual – if not implausible – interpretation of the material. I don’t deny that it is Severian’s. I am just saying that it is curious to say the least. Clement of Alexandria for one identifies Jesus openly as ‘the Instructor’ (admittedly a Παιδαγωγός is something different than a ‘teacher’). But still since it seems the word ‘good’ is the subject of Jesus’s response it seems a little forced to imagine that Jesus was demanding recognition as a Lord rather than a teacher. The variant Alexandrian reading ‘God the Father’ denies the association with Jesus entirely.

    The only point in Severian’s favor is the difficulty with believing that Jesus wasn’t good or that Jesus ascribed all goodness to the Father – even to the point of rebuking someone for identifying him as ‘good’ or a ‘good teacher.’

    The Latin of Tertullian (= Praeceptor optime) is interesting too because it departs from the Vulgate and the Old Latin (= Magister bone). A praeceptor has as its primary meaning interestingly enough (= One who seizes beforehand, an anticipator). The second meaning is “commander, ruler.” The third is “teacher, instructor, preceptor.”

    I am not sure that Tertullian’s meaning here is ‘teacher’ given the way the Vulgate translates Luke 17.13

    They lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

    et levaverunt vocem dicentes Iesu praeceptor miserere nostri

    The Greek here is:

    καὶ αὐτοὶ ἦραν φωνὴν λέγοντες· Ἰησοῦ ἐπιστάτα, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς.

    ἐπιστάτα as I am sure you know is from ἐπιστάτης. Here are the examples in Luke:

    Luke 5:5 N-VMS
    BIB: Σίμων εἶπεν Ἐπιστάτα δι’ ὅλης
    NAS: and said, Master, we worked hard
    KJV: unto him, Master, we have toiled
    INT: Simon said Master through whole

    Luke 8:24 N-VMS
    BIB: αὐτὸν λέγοντες Ἐπιστάτα ἐπιστάτα ἀπολλύμεθα
    NAS: Him up, saying, Master, Master,
    KJV: saying, Master, master,
    INT: him saying Master Master we are perishing

    Luke 8:45 N-VMS
    BIB: ὁ Πέτρος Ἐπιστάτα οἱ ὄχλοι
    NAS: said, Master, the people
    KJV: him said, Master, the multitude throng
    INT: Peter Master the people

    Luke 9:33 N-VMS
    BIB: τὸν Ἰησοῦν Ἐπιστάτα καλόν ἐστιν
    NAS: to Jesus, Master, it is good
    KJV: unto Jesus, Master, it is good
    INT: Jesus Master good it is

    Luke 9:49 N-VMS
    BIB: Ἰωάννης εἶπεν Ἐπιστάτα εἴδομέν τινα
    NAS: and said, Master, we saw
    KJV: answered and said, Master, we saw one
    INT: John said Master we saw someone

    Luke 17:13 N-VMS
    BIB: λέγοντες Ἰησοῦ ἐπιστάτα ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς
    NAS: Jesus, Master, have mercy
    KJV: Jesus, Master, have mercy
    INT: saying Jesus Master have compassion on us

    The Vulgate consistently translates each one of these examples of ἐπιστάτα with Præceptor. Interestingly Mark does not render the first two of these examples of ‘Lord.’ In Mark 1:16 – 20 Peter’s Lord does not appear. In Mark 4:39 – 41 the disciples cry is silenced. With Luke 9:33 Mark renders it ῥαββί while Matthew has κύριε interestingly enough. With 9:49 Mark renders it Διδάσκαλε. Luke 17:13’s ten lepers narrative appears nowhere else but Luke.

    It seems curious to me that either Tertullian or Marcion might have had something other than ‘teacher’ in the equivalent of Mark 10:17. Thanks again for your assistance.

  2. Glad you found the passage helpful. Severian’s interpretation is somewhat curious, though his dilemma is clear enough: how does one explain Mark 10:17 in light of John 20?

    I wonder if Severian’s comments might be more understandable in light of his Syriac background (his native language was Syriac, and apparently he spoke Greek with a Syriac accent). My Syriac is scanty, but from what I understand there are at least two words for teacher in Syriac: ܡܠܦܢܐ (malpana), which is probably the best equivalent for the Greek διδάσκαλος (which the Peschitta uses in Mk 10:17), and the more expected ܪܒܝ (rabi), the Syriac equivalent of rabbi, which can mean teacher or master (as I understand it). Severian’s comments are perhaps then more understandable: it’s not bad that the man called Jesus “teacher,” but that he picked the less honorific form of teacher. That said, I don’t know how much difference there really is between the words, and if “rabi” would be more “honorable” than “malpana.” Of course, that still doesn’t account for Jesus taking issue with “good” rather than “teacher.” Maybe he’d say that since the interlocutor failed to show proper respect (and hence, wasn’t genuine), Jesus retorted with a cryptic reply.

    Severian’s own Syriac is presumably much closer than Greek to the Aramaic that this conversation presumably would have taken in, but I’m really just speculating at this point about his use of Syriac. If he’s using it, though, he might be onto something.

  3. Your homily (CPG n° 4187, PG 52. 773-792) has been translated in french by Bareille (Oeuvres complètes de S. Jean Chrysostome, Traduction nouvelle par M. l’abbé J. Bareille, chanoine honoraire de Toulouse et de Lyon, Bareille Tome tome 3, 1867 , p 623 ) and this translation can be found here. https ://

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