According to Mark’s Gospel the young man who seeks Jesus’ prescription for eternal life leaves saddened or distressed (Mark 10:22). Mark also adds the note that “the man’s face fell (stugnasas),” at least this is how the NIV renders it. However, this is not the only way in which this Greek term is rendered. The NRSV has “he was shocked” and ESV glosses this as “disheartened.” BDAG indicates that this verb means either “shocked/appalled” or “gloomy, darkened.” There is quite a semantic distance between these two lexical proposals. Does this young man leave Jesus in a gloomy/sullen mood or is he in fact schocked/appalled at Jesus’ proposal? Can we see whether the evidence from word usage or perhaps Mark’s discourse would tip the scales one way or the other?
The other context in the New Testament where this verb (stugnazō) occurs in Matthew 16:3 where Jesus discusses weather forecasting. When the Pharisees and Sadducees demand a “sign from heaven,” Jesus observes that “when evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast (stugnazōn)'” (NIV). The verb in this context describes gloomy or dark atmospheric conditions, corresponding in some sense with the prior noun “stormy.” It seems that most New Testament scholars seem the participle lupoumenos (grieved, saddened, distressed) in Mark 10:22 and then reflect upon the usage of stugnazō in Matthew 16:3 and conclude that this verb must connote some sense of disheartened gloom or depression. However, is this all there is to say?
The cognate verb form stugneō means “hate, abhor” according to the Greek Classical Dictionary edited by Liddell and Scott (see usage in 2 Maccabees 5:8 and 3 Maccabees 2:31). In 2 Maccabees 5:8 Jason (the brother of Onias, the high priest) because of his sinful acts is “hated (stugoumenos) as a rebel against the laws and abhored (bdelussomenos) as the executioner of his country and his compatriots.” Note the use of the parallel verb with the sense “abhored.” Similarly the cognate adjective stugnos means “hateful, abhorent” or “gloomy, sullen.” We see this sense in the adjectival form stugnētos (Titus 3:3) which generally is translated as “loathesome, despicable.” It is followed by the participle misountes “hating.” In Wisdom of Solomon the plague of darkness that came over Egypt is described as “that abhorent (stugnēn) night” (17:5).
The combination of stugnazō (I am gloomy/shocked) with a form of the verb lupeō (I offend, am sad, grieve) in Mark 10:22 is reflected twice in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. In Greek Isaiah 57:17 the prophet describes Yahweh’s treatment of Israel’s sinful behaviour and he says that Israel “was grieved/vexed (elupēthē) and went sullen (stugnos) in his ways.” Similarly according to Daniel 2:12(LXX), when the Babylonian seers could not tell the king his dream and its meaning “he became anxious (stugnos) and very sad (perilupos).” I am not sure why the NETS translator rendered stugnos as “anxious,” rather than “gloomy/sullen.” The parallel translation in Daniel 2:12 says that he spoke “in anger and great rage,” which suggests quite a different response.
The verb stugnazō, which Mark used, also occurs three times in the Greek translation of Ezekiel. In his lament over Tyre (27:35) Ezekiel describes its destruction under the judgment of God. He says “all the inhabitants of the islands became sullen (estugnasan) (the Hebrew expression shmm ‘l means” to be struck dumb, petrified with horror”) over you.” A similar statement occurs at Ezekiel 28:19 and 32:10 (cf. 26:16 also). As well in 32:10 the parallel verbal formation is ekstasei ekstēsontai (“amazed with amazement”). These occurrences in Greek Ezekiel are the first occurrences of this verb form in Greek that we have found. In each case the term describes the response that humans experience when they see God’s judgment exercised against wealthy cities or empires who do not acknowledge God.
According to Smyth, “Greek Grammar,” denominative verbs ending in -azō “denote action” (p.245). For example, the verb biazō “I use force” is formed from the noun bia, “force,” or the verb gumnazō, “I exercise,” is based upon the adjective gumnas, “stripped, naked.” In the case of stugnazō the base form is the adjective stugnos, “hateful, abhorent; gloomy, sullen” and comes to mean “I am appalled, I am sullen/gloomy.”
The Septuagintal texts I have cited suggest that the sense of stugnazō in Mark 10:22 leans more to the idea of sullenness or being appalled at some event or message. Jesus has prescribed action which to the young man appears quite appalling, because, as Mark reveals at the very end of the story, “the man had many possessions.” A.Y.Collins in the Hermeneia Commentary on Mark agrees and indicates that this man left “appalled and distressed.” J. Marcus indicates a possible note of “resentment” in the man’s response. If this interpretation is correct, then it marks a significant change in the man’s appreciation of Jesus through the progress of the story.