Word Study #127 — Tear, Divide, Split, Break, Open

This study started at church, too:  with the question, “Is the word about heaven being ‘torn open’ in Mark 1:10 the same as what happened to the temple veil when Jesus died (Mt.27:5, Mk.15:38, Lk.23:45)?”  A quick check confirmed that it is.

I was surprised to discover that schizo, (L/S – to separate or divide, physically or intellectually; to split wood, to have differing opinions, to shatter, tear, or cut) appears only ten times in the New Testament.  Four of these are cited above.  Five times, it is translated “rend” – the three above regarding the temple, and again in the Mt.27 reference speaking of rocks shattered by the earthquake, and the guards’ decision (Jn.19:24) not to tear apart Jesus’ robe.  Twice, it is rendered “divide” – Ac.14:4 and 23:7, of divided opinions in the crowds;  once “make a rent” (Lk.5:36) of a new patch on old fabric; once (Jn.21:11) when the fish-net was not broken; and once “open”, in the Mt.1:10 with which we began.
The noun, schisma (L/S – “a tear in a a garment, a division of opinion, plowing, or cloven hoofs”) occurs only eight times.  It is translated “division” 5x – Jn.7:43, 9:16, 10:19; I Cor.1:10, 11:18 – all referring to divisions of opinion among people; “rent” twice – Mt.9:16,  Mk.2:21 – which are parallel to Luke’s use of the verb (5:36) above; and “schism” once – I Cor.12:25 – regarding divisions in the Body.

Schizo / schisma seems to share the more drastic end of a spectrum of words describing breaking or dividing, with regnumi (5 uses) and its prefixed form, diarregnumi (also 5 uses).  Both are listed by L/S as “burst, break, rend, or shatter”, and in passive form, “to be wrecked, broken, torn, or disjointed.”

They also refer to the dramatic tearing of clothing (Mt.26:65, Mk.14:63, Ac.14:14), the bursting of wineskins by the fermentation process (Mk.2:22,Lk.5:37), the destructive activity of evil spirits (Lk.8:29, Mk.9:18, 9:42)  or pigs (Mt.7:6), as well as Luke’s account of a broken fish net (Lk.5:6).

The idea of “division” is usually less dramatic, and much more frequently represented by merizo (14x) or diamerizo (12x).  L/S lists “to divide, to distribute,or separate” groups of people, objects, ideas, or animals.  This may involve simple sharing of goods and/or responsibilities (Mk.6:41, Lk.12:13, Ac.2:3, II Cor.10:13, Heb.7:2), but also with a more hostile slant, a “house divided against itself” (Mt.12:25,26;  Mk.3:24,26), or serious divisions in the church (I Cor.1:13).

Aphorizo (L/S “to mark off boundaries, to separate species, to determine or define”) shares much of this sense (Mt.13:49, 25:32, Lk.6:22,19:9, Rom.1:1, II Cor.6:17, Gal.1:15), or “to set apart for office” (Ac.13:2), but can also have the sense, also noted in L/S, of “to banish, or set apart for rejection (Gal.2:12).

Dichostasia (L/S “dissension, sedition”), appearing only 3x (Rom.16:17, I Cor.3:3, Gal.5:20), seems to include only the negative aspects of division.

I had previously assumed that Mark’s use of schizo in his account of Jesus’ baptism was just the effusive vocabulary of an excited young man, which is evident in so much of his writing.
Matthew and Luke say simply that “heaven was opened”, and John reports the descent of the dove, but does not mention “heaven” at all.
, the word used in Mt.3:16 and Lk.3:21, is a very ordinary word,  used of opening doors (literal and figurative), prisons,  eyes, mouths, treasures, and also of visions (Ac.7:56, 10:11, and frequently in the Revelation).  It appears 70 times in the New Testament, sometimes referring to miracles, but only part of the time.

 Looking at all of these word uses, however, leads me to suppose that Mark is really much more insightful that he usually gets credit for.  Maybe more so than all the rest!

Consider:  these are Mark’s only uses of schizo.  Might he not have intended that we make a connection?  Might the “heavens” have been “split open”, not so much to let the dove / Spirit out, but to allow people to see IN?
The Gospel accounts vary as to who saw what.  The Matthew passage is  not conclusive with respect to  the reference of “he”.  Jesus and John have both just been named.  The “voice” saying “this is my Son” would give the impression that it is being addressed to John.

Mark, however, (1:11) quotes “You are my Son” – obviously addressed to Jesus.  Luke follows Mark.  John does not connect the vision with the baptism at all, but he bears clear testimony to what he saw, and its correspondence to what God had told him previously.
No one reports whether the crowd saw or heard anything.  With the testimony equally divided, I think it is safe to say that at least Jesus and John saw and heard what had happened, and possibly others.

Now fast-forward to the scene in the temple at the time of Jesus’ death, which must surely have caused enormous consternation.  Remember, that huge, thick curtain was designed to prevent people from seeing or entering “the place where God dwelt”.  (Please refer to Citizens of the Kingdom, chapter 8).
But Jesus had spent the last three years trying to show the Father to anyone who was willing to look!(Jn.14:9).
His death, and subsequent destruction of both death, its power, and the one who controlled it (Heb.2:4), also destroyed the last vestiges of any validity for any pretense of the separation of people from their God!  The veil was deliberately destroyed so that those who had so long been excluded could not only see in, but also enter in to the very presence of the One we worship!
The writer to the Hebrews also notes that the temple / tabernacle was “a representation of the heavenly things” (Heb.9:23,24), but  Jesus has transported his people to the “real thing”!

In both the cases, the dramatic splitting open of the curtain and of heaven itself is not the work of any earthly power.  Jesus’ ministry of restoration is gloriously bookended by two displays of the gracious hand of God, crashing through aeons of separation and tearing them to shreds, in his mighty, amazing gesture of welcome – not only to his Son, but to his people!

Thanks be to God

3 Responses to Word Study #127 — Tear, Divide, Split, Break, Open

  1. Ruth,
    the tearing open of the temple veil may also have served to show the people that God was not in the temple. The sham of temple worship was over.

  2. ruthpmartin says:

    Excellent point. Thank you.

  3. Spanish New Testament Four…

    […] ver, leads me to suppose that Mark is really much more insightful that he usuall […]…

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