Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of Mark/Chapter 3
Provide the information in the following categories:
a. Background Information: i. Historical Context: What do contemporary readers need to know that author assumed his first readers probably took for granted? ii. Literary Context: How may the constituent parts of a given chapter be better appreciated by information about the structure of the book as a whole?
b. Explanation: i. Analysis: What does a verse-by-verse examination of the constituent words and phrases suggest about the meaning of the chapter? Consideration will be given to their use in the Old Testament and other nearly contemporary literature. ii. Paraphrase: In light of these considerations an expansive, highly interpretive paraphrase of each chapter will be offered. The paraphrase attempts to avoid technical, theological jargon so as to allow contemporary secular English readers to understand the point of the chapter.
c. Implications: i. Reception: How has this chapter been received and understood by readers across the centuries since its origin? ii. Influence: What are the apparent theological and practical implications of this chapter within the entire Christian canon of Scripture? What has this chapter contributed to the views of contemporary Christianity?
- 1 Basic Introduction to the Chapter
- 2 VV. 1-6: Healing on the Sabbath
- 2.1 Background Information
- 2.2 Analysis
- 2.3 Implications
- 3 VV. 7-12: Jesus interacting with the crowds
- 4 VV. 13-19: The appointing of the Twelve
- 5 VV. 20-30: Jesus is accused of being Beelzebub
- 6 VV. 31-35: The true mothers and brothers of Jesus
- 7 References
Basic Introduction to the Chapter
Chapter three of Mark further continues the author's habit of jumping from scene to scene, which is a trend that can be observed elsewhere in the book as well. Each scene is something of a "snapshot," depicting with much brevity only the most important aspects. Because of this general trend, the chapter has many transitional words and phrases that are used as cues to trigger the next scene.
The chapter begins amidst the larger context of Jesus challenging the cultural status quo--particularly in regard to how the Sabbath is to be observed. Chapter three is also a continuation and ultimately the end of a series of accounts of him healing various persons. There are no parables in the chapter, as there have been none in the preceding two. Rather, the parables of Mark begin in chapter four.
The chapter is broken up into five sections. Because of the above-mentioned style of the writing, the sections are clearly broken up with the transitional words and phrases. The sections are as follows:
- Healing on the Sabbath: 1-6
- Jesus interacting with the crowds: 7-12
- The appointing of the Twelve: 13-19
- Jesus is accused of being Beelzebub: 20-30
- The true mothers and brothers of Jesus: 31-35
Jesus is in a synagogue, speaking to a crowd who is closely watching his every move to catch him violating religious law by healing on the Sabbath. He is accompanied by a man with a "shriveled hand." As usual, Jesus makes use of the opportunity as an object lesson. He challenges the onlookers by inquiring which would be the lawful thing to do on the Sabbath: good or evil. But no response comes. This stubbornness provokes Jesus to anger. Jesus then heals the man, therefore causing the Pharisees to begin plotting with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus--an interesting development, considering how early it comes in the book.
Following this event, Jesus withdraws to "the lake" (which is presumably the Sea of Galilee, but this is not specified) with a large crowd following him from the whole geographical region surrounding the lake. The crowd has come due to word spreading of Jesus' various healing miracles. In fact, the crowd was so large that it was necessary to prepare a boat to escape the crowded shore. Of the most persistent and pressing in the crowd were the diseased, who pushed forward to touch Jesus. Of particular note in this scene is the mention of exorcised evil spirits proclaiming Jesus the Son of God. Jesus, for the second time already in Mark (the first occurrence being in 1:34), prohibits the demons from telling people who Jesus really is.
Following the lake scene, Jesus now is situated on a mountainside, amongst only his disciples--no huge crowd of miracle-seekers seems to be present here. It is here that Jesus appoints the Twelve with the expressed purposes of being with him, being sent out to preach, and driving out demons. The last of those three brings up interesting questions about the modern conception of the role of apostle (missionary/pastor).
Now Mark jumps to Jesus being at a house with a crowd. Teachers of the law from Jerusalem had come to this house, apparently to see the Jesus of the stories that were beginning to circulate. Jerusalem to the region of Galilee was not a short trek, and so their presence in the story must be noted as out of the ordinary. These teachers are calling Jesus Beelzebub, saying that by the power of Satan he is driving out the demons--thus denying any divine involvement in the actions of Jesus and discrediting his actions as ultimately stemming from evil, not good. Jesus responds to this accusation, pointing out how illogical it really was. He supports his counter-point with illustrations of a kingdom divided ultimately collapsing, as well as a divided house sharing the same fate. He then makes a last illustration of how one can rob the house of a "strong man": the strong man must be subdued to be able to make off with the mans possessions. The especially notable part of this scene is Jesus' exegetically difficult statement about how one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit is guilty of the unpardonable sin, an eternal sin.
Lastly, the passage ends a short scene where Jesus' mother and brothers are attempting to gain access to Jesus through the large crowd. But Jesus does not respond to their summon, pointing out that he already is amongst his mother and brothers, sating that those who do God's will are ultimately his true brother, sister, and mother.
VV. 1-6: Healing on the Sabbath
Something that the modern reader most likely will not know when reading this section on Jesus in the synagogue is that, at that time in Judaism, minor acts of healing (particularly of the medical sort) on the Sabbath was not considered acceptable, except in situations of life-threatening emergency. The reason for this was that it was considered to be working on the Sabbath--something punishable by death according to Ex. 31:14. Thus, the first century Jewish reader would understand that Jesus healing the man could be considered a serious rebellion against one of the Ten Commandments.
This passage is technically a miracle story by genre, but as pointed out by Hooker, the story is not primarily intended to give a simple account for the miracle. Indeed, it is certainly not included by the verbally parsimonious Mark just to show that Jesus could cure--that had already been demonstrated in chapter one--but rather because there was a specific significance to the fact that Jesus did cure the man with the shriveled hand on the Sabbath, in the synagogue, in front of Pharisees and others who are wanting to catch him in his words. Jesus' act of curing (as well as the words and events surrounding the situation) is a controversial theological and political statement. More on this in the analysis.
To fully understand the meaning Mark is attempting to convey, one needs to look at the parallel accounts in the other two Synoptics and the place this story has in each of them as well as any possible differences between the other two. This same story of Jesus in the synagogue with the man with a shriveled hand occurs in Matthew 12:9-14 and Luke 6:6-11. The story is not present in the gospel of John.
Mark vs. Luke
Mark's account more closely mirrors Luke's, with only a few notable difference between the two accounts. First, Luke specifies that it was the man's right arm that was withered. This would have meant much in an ancient world that did not assume that there were legitimately left-handed individuals. To have a paralyzed right arm would mean that one could do very little in society.
Second, Luke is explicit about what Mark only seems to imply about Jesus' knowledge of the crowd's thoughts. In Luke 6:8, Jesus is said to have known what the onlookers were thinking. This is indeed a significant step beyond what Mark states. In the Mark passage, it only seems hinted that Jesus calls the man forward because of the crowds watching him, but this is not as explicit as it is in Luke.
The last difference worth noting is that Luke’s account says nothing about the Herodians. This is important for understanding Mark’s account and will be elaborated in the analysis later.
Mark vs. Matthew
The differences between Mark’s account and Matthew’s account are far greater. In Mark (also in Luke), Jesus is being silently watched by the crowd and, knowing this, asks a rather pointed question of the crowd for which there is no response. Because of the silence, Jesus heals the man to make a point about their Sabbath theology. But this is not how Matthew describes the scene.
In the Matthew account, the crowd directly confronts Jesus. This time, it is the crowd asking the pointed question (the reverse of the Mark and Luke accounts). They inquire of him as to the lawfulness of healing on the Sabbath. He responds with a rhetorical question about whether it is lawful to save a sheep that has fallen into a pit on the Sabbath (contrast this with the ‘’actual’’ question he asks in Mark and Luke). This response is not present in either the Mark or Luke accounts. He then states that a human being is more valuable than a sheep and finally concludes that yes, it is indeed lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Coincidentally, the man with the shriveled hand is there and Jesus seizes the opportunity to heal him, putting actions to his words.
This difference is rather important, as it changes the way we understand the whole scene. Is Jesus responding to an actively engaging crowd and giving an unexpected and theological, albeit controversial response (as any important rabbi might do—-though Jesus is later differentiated from a rabbi with the miracle at the end of the account)? Or is Jesus actively engaging a secretly watching crowd whose thoughts he knows and boldly performing a miracle to directly challenge them and their religious assumptions? Mark, who seems to share a common source document with Matthew, chooses the latter.
Despite the great difference, both accounts are very useful in understanding Jesus. The Matthew account seems to show Jesus as being a very important re-interpreter of Jewish law and practice, thus setting the stage for how Jewish Christians were to understand Old Testament laws from a Christian perspective. The Mark account, on which we will henceforth focus, depicts a revolutionary Jesus who turns society, complete with its religious assumptions, upside-down. Mark (with Luke) seems less interested in upholding the importance and legitimacy of Jewish law. This likely can be attributed (at least partially) with the target demographic of the books.
Verse one describes a man with a debilitation in his arm. This is an important detail, as it is included in the very introduction to the section. The NIV says says that the man's arm is "shriveled" while the NRSV says it is "withered." These are actually rather incomplete translations of a very pictorial word in the Greek, "ξηραίνω." This word is used in Greek literature to describe the loss of life and vitality by means of drying up. It is most frequently applied to plants, describing the loss of sap, thus the loss of life. Other times, it is used to describe land that had dried up, such as when a stream ceases to flow. The word is used elsewhere in the New Testament to describe the withering of the plants in the parable of the sower (Mt. 13:6; Mk. 4:6; Lk. 8:6), the withering of the fig tree (Mk 11:20; Mt 21:19-20), and the drying up of scorched grass (Jas 1:11), among other similar things. When the word is used in reference to the human body, it describes paralysis, but the kind of paralysis that has occurred to a person.  As a stream that has dried up was once flowing, and a tree that has dried up was once living, an arm that has "withered" was once functional. Thus, it can be inferred that the man was not born with this condition, but rather it has come upon him.
Furthermore, the word frequently carries the understanding of ceased up stiffness. And while there is no modern medical understanding conveyed in the text, this understanding most likely refers to an onset neuromuscular dysfunction. Thus when interpreting the passage, it should then be noted that when Jesus asks him to reach out his hand, this was not a first time the man has used his now withered hand. Instead it is likely a refreshing return to health from times past, something for which, perhaps, the man had hoped for a long time. This should influence the way we understand the man's response in faith.
Verse two sets the other half of the context of passage: Jesus is being closely, albeit silently watched to verify suspicions that he has no regard for Sabbath law. It seems as if Mark intentionally depicts Jesus as being aware of such suspicions, which is thus the impetus for his calling out the man with the withered hand. The watching party in this verse is simply the pronoun “they.” However, the antecedent to this pronoun should be understood to be particularly inclusive of the Pharisees, a party who have already been frequently present in the Mark account and who are also mentioned in verse six as responding to Jesus’ actions by plotting against him. With this said, it would be presumptuous to interpret the suspicious onlookers ‘’only’’ as the Pharisees, as the text certainly is not that specific. It is likely that there were many who were suspicious of Jesus’ actions on the Sabbath, though not all reacted as strongly in verse six.
It is important to note as well here that Jesus’ ability to heal is apparently assumed by the onlookers. It is not doubted as to whether he ‘’could’’ heal or not, but rather whether or not his power to do so would be used on the Sabbath. This is important to note in understanding the significance of this passage. See the “Literary Context” section for more information on the genre of this story.
Again, in verse three, a rather visual phrase is being used in the Greek that is not well translated. Perhaps the NIV translates it best of the modern English translations by saying "Stand up in front of everyone." However, a Western mind that is accustomed to a stage-and-audience sanctuary layout of a church with all eyes faced forward will likely misinterpret this. The phrase in the Greek is “έγειρε εις τὸ μέσον,” which is literally translated as "rise up into the middle." Mark is thus depicting the action taking place in the very center of a synagogue filled with people; Jesus calls the man to come stand before everyone in the middle of the room as the center of attention. This is not a miracle that Jesus performs and coincidentally some people are watching him. No, Jesus calls him to the center specifically to confront his silent accusers in ‘’’verse four’’’. One can visualize a large, hushed crowd to whom Jesus boldly addresses his pointed question: "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" (NIV). But there is no response; the crowd, seeing this great offense to Jewish law about to commence, is silent.
Chrysostom, in his homily on St. Matthew, comments on Jesus' act of calling the man to the center and makes a relevant point. Of course Jesus could have healed the man from afar--such was the case with Jesus healing the centurion's servant, but Jesus calls the man to the center of the room. This seems to have significance; Chrysostom contends that Jesus does this because
He hoped that the mere sight of the misfortune might soften them, that they might become a little less spiteful by seeing the affliction, and perhaps out of sorrow mend their own ways. But they remained callous and unfeeling.
The offensiveness of the act about to take place is amplified by the setting of this story: in a synagogue, on the Sabbath, in front of the Pharisees. For Jesus to do this act of healing at that place and time would be a bold and shameless insult to those watching him.
Verse five states that Jesus looks around “with anger.” This is a phrase unique to the Mark account—-neither of the parallel passages state that Jesus felt this emotion. The Greek word for anger here is “ὀργή,” which emphasizes anger as an emotion. The word is also frequently used to refer to the kind of indignation that arises in view of wrongdoing. Jesus is thus looking around him at the hardened hearts, so locked up with legalism that they are incapable of compassion.
It must be noted here that Mark seems to be specifically affirming the humanity of Jesus; He is filled with both anger and grief, two very human emotions that Jesus feels and responds to. See the comments below in the "Reception" section for a discussion of how Jesus' humanity in this verse has been interpreted.
Regarding verses four and five, St. Athanasius points out that there seems to be a juxtaposition presented between the man with the withered hand and the silent onlookers: "In the synagogue of the Jews was a man who had a withered hand. If he was withered in his hand, the ones who stood by were withered in their minds." This is a valuable insight. Mark's point in this story seems to be one of comparison; the real paralysis present in the story is not that of the man, but of the crowd of onlookers. Their minds were hard and seized up, incapable of actually loving the man and thus justifying the healing.
Hooker points out that there is a pointed irony about verse six in that Jesus' actions are controversial because he chooses to "save life" on the Sabbath and yet immediately after this (on the Sabbath as well) the Pharisees choose to go off and plan to kill. Mark expresses this immediacy with the word "ευθύς," which literally means "straight." This could be seen as absolute hypocrisy--which is rather consistent with the typical Gospel portrayal of the Pharisees.
Something unique to the Mark account of this passage which, to original readers, would have been an obvious and shocking detail, was that the Pharisees plotted with the Herodians. The Pharisees, the dominant Jewish group in the area, tended to be very nationalistic in that they wanted returned national sovereignty to Israel. The Herodians, in contrast, were those who held allegiance to Herod, a vassal of the Roman empire, the current occupying force of the area. Because of these conflicting interests, such cooperation would have been especially rare. It could be postulated that the reason for Mark's note of such odd cooperation is because he is trying to pointedly state that Jesus posed both a threat to popular conformity to Jewish Sabbath law and also a threat to civil order. If Jesus would cause civil disorder, it would have caused Rome to tighten its rule on the region, thus restricting the governing autonomy and freedom of the Herodians. In such a situation, cooperation amongst these two usually opposing groups would have served the best interests of both. This coincides with Marks typical portrayal of Jesus: a controversial figure who turned society upside down in his preaching of the Kingdom, in his miracles, and in his associations.
There are a few important theological themes in this section that require some comment on their various interpretations throughout history.
The humanity of Jesus
In a 21st century theological context, it is rather simple to assume that what is believed always has been believed. The council of Chalcedon, in which the Church ultimately affirmed the perfect divinity and perfect humanity of Jesus Christ, did not actually occur until the 5th century. It is easy to take this for granted today rather than understanding that it took a very long time with many debates and cries of "heresy!" to come to such a conclusion.
Mark, in verse five, states that Jesus was both anger and grieved. These are emotional traits commonly described as "human"--a robot, for example, cannot feel anything. This ascription of some characteristics of humanity has been difficult for many theologians to interpret and fit within their Christologies throughout the history of the Church. In Reformation theologian, John Calvin's commentary on verse 5, he attempts to impose a separation between the anger and grief experienced by humans and the anger and grief experienced by Jesus. Calvin holds that, because of human corruption (of which Christ was free), human anger is never free from sin. He states it this way:
...that Christ was not free from human passions, we infer from it, that the passions are not sinful, provided there be no excess. In consequence of the corruption of our nature, we do not preserve moderation; and our anger, even when it rests on proper grounds, is never free from sin. With Christ the case was different; for not only did his nature retain its original purity, but he was a perfect pattern of righteousness.
This seems to be is an arbitrarily imposed division, however, as it is reading into the text something that needs not be there. There is no reason not to interpret Jesus' anger and grief in any way other than being of the type common to humans. The picture this comment paints is that Jesus' emotions were not as intense as the emotions a normal human would feel (do you detect the divergence from Chalcedon here?); Jesus' indignation at the hardened hearts was not of the same level as any other human's would be. But Mark does not seem to depict this at all--Jesus is looking on the crowd with the love-informed wrath of God--something that is not tempered; indeed--the words in no way connote a different kind of anger.
St. Augustine also comments on the humanity of Jesus as portrayed in this episode. He, like Calvin, brings up the notions of vice and virtue--but does not come to the same conclusion of Jesus' "tempered anger." He notes that insofar as anger springs forth from love, it mustn't be called a vice but rather a virtue. (It is implied here, however, that anger that does not spring from love should be considered a vice--and with this Calvin would likely agree.) Augustine doesn't accept that anger is uniquely different for Jesus:
Surely the One who assumed a true human body and soul would not counterfeit his human affections. Certainly, the Gospel does not falsely attribute emotions to Christ when it speaks of him being saddened and angered by the lawyers because of their blindness of heart.
Anger is anger; there cannot be a difference if Christ is fully human. What varies is the source of anger. For Jesus, the source was divine love, and in this there was no sin.
Jesus as a radical, counter-cultural figure
The Jesus that Mark depicts should be identified as a radical and revolutionary figure. Mark seems intentional about showing Jesus as unabashedly challenging the religious status quo. Mark's Jesus is not one who works to support and defend cultural values and virtues. Instead, Jesus' actions work to further his own agenda, which is ultimately the agenda of God (known in recent church literature as the Missio Dei, meaning "mission of God")--which is blatantly contradictory of the various laws and thus also of the onlooking pharisees.
This brings up something very relevant to Christianity today. Oftentimes, our "Jesus" conforms to our culture. We interpret Jesus as the perfect church member who doesn't cuss, have tattoos, and who willfully succumbs to religious standards. But Mark tells us that this just isn't so. Jesus is not the cultural status quo; Jesus bucks against the cultural status quo. Jesus would fight just as much against our religious rules and regulations that tell us what to do and what not to do and when such actions/non-actions should take place.
Indeed, this passage is not included in the canon today so we can know just how bad the Pharisees were; It is not included in the canon so we can place ourselves on the side of Jesus and point our fingers. No, this passage is important as a caution against the Church being Pharisaic. As soon as we begin to place rules and regulations upon ourselves that ultimately choke off the life from others, Jesus looks at us with anger and grieves the hardness of our hearts.
The real significance of Sabbath law
This passage provides an important one for understanding the Christian interpretation of Sabbath law. Worship and other sorts of good things are to take place on the Sabbath. Saving lives and helping people is included in this. In this passage, it seems Jesus is at once affirming and elevating the importance of the Sabbath and yet also calling into question Sabbath regulations that prohibited certain activities. We need to understand the significance of this notion in the Church. It seems Jesus is saying that more freedom is better as long as the heart is intent on doing actions out of worship.
VV. 7-12: Jesus interacting with the crowds
Verse eight refers to numerous towns and regions. It is important to note that, according to Hooker, this list comprises the entirety of Jewish populated ancient Palestine, including even the non-Jewish regions of Tyre and Sidon that, nonetheless, had large Jewish populations. It should thus be noted that Mark's intention in including this list is to show both the size and the great regional diversity of the crowds Jesus attracted.
This section of text seems to break break the flow that is building from verses 1-6. However, this section must not be seen as out of place or as something entirely self-contained (against France). It functions well to present a contrast with the previous. Many classical commentators (such as Augustine, Calvin, and Aquinas, among others) actually begin this section a verse earlier at verse six, to make the section span from vv. 6-12. This, however, is likely due to the attempt of these earlier commentators to harmonize the passage with the parallel in Matthew (noted below) where the reason for Jesus' departure to the sea is explicitly because of the plotting of the Pharisees and Herodians. Because this author takes the position that such an interpretive move is not permitted by the actual text of Mark, this section in this commentary begins with verse seven, considering verse six to better fit in the context of the previous section. More on this difference will be in the section below and in the Analysis.
In the previous section, Jesus is among the religious elite, in the setting of the religious elite, and is plotted against by religious elite. Verse five sums up Jesus' response to those who supposedly have the whole faith figured out: anger and grief. Verse six plants the seeds of the passion later on in the book.
But then, beginning in verse seven, Jesus is so well received by so many people that he must escape into a lake on a boat to avoid being crushed. These people are the common people, the people who are ordinarily rejected by those mentioned in verse six. They are these people who seem to be the primary object of Jesus ministry and those to whom his message is most explicitly addressed within his parables and preaching.
Mark vs. Matthew
Matthew does not seem to give as much attention to the story of what happened, as Mark does, but instead focuses on the significance of it as understood as a fulfillment of prophecy. Indeed, He sums up the content in the six verses that are in Mark with only two verses, and then cites Is. 42:1-4. But this is consistent with the difference in agenda from Matthew to Mark. Matthew is concerned primarily with a Jewish audience being able to recognize Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Mark is intending to show the radical and revolutionary Jesus.
Other than that which is noted above, there is one major difference between the two, which is apparently an interpretive move that Matthew makes while Mark remains silent. Mt. 12:15 states that Jesus' departure "to the sea" was specifically because Jesus became aware of the plotting against him. Mark does not seem to interpret things this way. Perhaps this is because Mark's Jesus seems intentional in provoking their "Sabbath sensors" and thus their plotting was not surprising nor was it something to escape. Instead, as Hooker proposes, Mark implies that "Jesus deliberately abandoned the official representatives of Judaism in order to concentrate on the ordinary people." This proposal seems consistent with the difference between the two gospels. Mark seems to show a greater attention to the kinds of people who responded both negatively (vv. 1-6) and positively (vv. 7-12) to the ministry of Jesus.
Mark vs. Luke
Luke is different from Matthew and more similar to Mark in that he includes much more detail. Luke 6:17-19, however, places this story right after Jesus' calling of the Twelve. In contrast, Mark includes the event just prior to the calling of the Twelve. In the end, this placement is hardly significant. The biggest difference between Mark and Luke, however, is that in the Luke account, the crowd came not just for healing, but also for hearing. Luke states that the crowd came to hear what Jesus had to say. And it is in this way Luke begins the Beatitudes, something completely absent from Mark's gospel. Luke's account seems to portray a far more placid and reverent mood in the crowd than Mark's portrayal of crowded chaos. Furthermore, the crowds in the Luke account are tame enough that Jesus nowhere mentions having a boat made ready to escape the crowd.
Verse seven begins with Jesus departing to the "sea." As noted above, Matthew attributes Jesus' departure to the growing danger of staying where he was. Mark, however, does not include that fact. It seems that Jesus was in no way escaping, but rather he simply left for the next stop in his ministry. The text gives no indication of an escape, and so inferences as to Jesus' motivation are simply speculation at best.
It should be noted that this is not specifically referring to the Mediterranean Sea (as some might interpret). In fact, considering that Jesus' ministry mostly took place in the region of Galilee, the Sea of Galilee is a more likely place. But the text is very unspecific as to where exactly the passage takes place. The Greek word used for "sea" here is "θάλλασσα," which can mean either sea or lake. Thus, the location is only limited by where there is a body of water large enough to take a boat onto it to escape from the crowds. This could be any one of many places. As noted in the "literary context" section, the mention of large crowds following him functions as a contrast to the silent onlookers at the synagogue of verse two.
Something that is perhaps relevant in verse eight is that the only regions of Palestine left out of the list are Samaria and the Decapolis. It has been suggested that the reason for such omissions might be because these regions were mainly gentile and were not areas that would be normally entered by Jews who took their ethnic identity seriously. Nonetheless, little theological value can be found in this small detail; it would not have seemed unusual to Mark's original audience.
Verse nine seems to make clear just how large and forceful the crowd was. They were pressing upon him to the point where Jesus had to leave onto the lake in a boat. Many modern translations say that Jesus was simply being too crowded. This, while still an accurate translation of the Greek, nonetheless can be interpreted so as to makes Jesus seem annoyed and wanting more space. This is a bad understanding. Other translations say "press" or "crush." These also bring in important nuances to the word. The Greek word being used is "θλίβω," which can mean "press," "crowd," and "crush," as just mentioned, but can also mean more than this. It is also often used figuratively in literature to mean "oppress" and "afflict" with the connotation of being troubled and vexed by external forces and pressures. Thus, the image Mark is depicting is one in which the crowds are all pressing toward Jesus to the point where it is hazardous to his safety. With everybody looking to get their hands on him (more on this in the next verse), Jesus is in danger of being trampled to his injury or possibly even death.
This crushing crowd mentioned in verse nine is further described in verse ten, where Mark says that the hardest pressers in the crowd were those who were diseased, wanting to touch Jesus to be healed. The healing activity in this passage is neither initiated by Jesus, nor does it seem to even be at all Jesus' desire. Instead, the people are not even focusing on who Jesus was or what Jesus had to say; the crowd, particularly the diseased, had objectified him to be no better than a "pill" to be used for their healing. Jesus, in this situation, was no longer able to lovingly minister and heal people while teaching them the message of the Kingdom. Instead, his power is treated as a source of magic to be accessed and used.
Verse eleven states that whenever unclean spirits saw Jesus, they fell down and shouted that he was the son of God. This should be interpreted as people possessed by unclean spirits. This falling down and shouting is best understood as a proclamation of Jesus' authority over them, a demonstration of submission. Robert H. Stein points out that in Mark, demons are often an authoritative spokesperson for Mark's Christology. If this is the case, then perhaps Mark's point in including this aspect of the story in such a way is to show a contrast between the diseased and the possessed. The diseased are pushing forward to use Jesus without any reverence for who he is or what he has to say, whereas the possessed fall down in a seemingly compulsory reverence because they know the real identity of Jesus.
Jesus does not allow the unclean spirits to openly profess his true identity. In verse twelve, Jesus orders them not to make his identity known. A possible explanation is proposed by Stein: in a situation where Jesus is surrounded by a multitude of Jews, a very large crowd, representative of the entirety of Jewish Palestine, this would be a perfect opportunity for a political rally in which Jesus could profess to be the long-expected Messiah. This would have the potential to rage into chaos and affect all the major regions from which the crowds came. This would ultimately have to be suppressed by the Roman army, and would likely lead to Christ's death due to mass confusion--a very different story than the one actually told in Mark. Jesus did not come to be a political king (thus Jesus' conversation with Pilot). Exciting the crowd by shouting the word "Messiah!" would only bring up the popular misconception as to who the Messiah would be. Thus, Jesus ordered the unclean spirits to be silent.
Jesus as Son of God, worthy of worship
One of the most theologically profound parts of this section is the cry of the demoniacs in verse 11. In his Catena Aurea ("Golden Chain"), St. Thomas Aquinas points out how this cry contradicts the claims that the Arians made about the non-divinity of Christ:
...but the demoniacs, or rather the devils within them, because under the mastery of a fear of God they were compelled not only to fall down before Him but also to praise His majesty. Wherefore it goes on, “And they cried out, saying, Thou art the Son of God.” And here we must wonder at the blindness of the Arians, who, after the glory of His resurrection, deny the Son of God, Whom the devils confess to be the Son of God, though still clothed with human flesh.
This is a notable comment on this passage. As cited above, Stein contends that in Mark, the demon possessed are spokespeople of Mark's Christology. If this is correct, then Mark is pointing out that Jesus, as the Son of God, is worthy of worship--even of angelic (albeit fallen) beings.
An additional interesting interpretation of this same point is worthy of noting. This is that of G.A. Chadwick in his commentary on Mark. Chadwick points out that the reason for the unclean spirits' proclamation of Jesus' divinity is that:
For unclean spirits, who knew His mysterious personality, observed that this was still a secret, and was no part of His teaching, since His disciples could not bear it yet. Many months afterwards, flesh and blood had not revealed it even to Peter. And therefore the demons made malicious haste to proclaim Him the Son of God, and Jesus was obliged to charge them much that they should not make Him known.
In other words, Chadwick contends that the proclamation of Jesus' divinity is not something that is compulsory, but rather a ploy to scatter Jesus' followers before his ministry had reached the point where this could be discussed amongst his closest disciples. This interpretation seems highly speculative and does not seem supported by the text, neither does it have much theological or historical background to support it--indeed, the Johannine Jesus openly makes such claims from early in his ministry without any serious damage being done, other than sifting through the faithful disciples and those not committed to Christ (e.g. John 6:60-69).
Jesus as a consumer good
In vv. 9-10, the crowds are pushing in on Jesus, coming to the point of crushing him. As noted in the analysis, the crowds did not come for Jesus' teachings. They also don't seem to have come because they believe Jesus to be the Son of God (as the possessed immediately realize). Instead, they have come to see the "miracle man" who fixes their problems by his sheer touch. And it is for such miracles that they storm Jesus. They see Jesus as a "pill" of sorts by which they might be healed. This speaks to modern life and the modern church very clearly.
Oftentimes, Christians approach their faith from a "break-fix" mentality. They have something they feel is broken or a need they feel they have (in church growth/marketing theory, this is called a "felt need") and so they turn to Jesus for that brokenness to be fixed or need to be fulfilled. Sometimes this can take the form of humble turning and submission to Christ that he might heal said wounds and fill said needs. Unfortunately, what is often more common is that people turn to Jesus for the sole purpose of getting things fixed. There is no commitment of life and service, neither is there discipleship. There is certainly no understanding of Jesus as the true Son of God (for that has definite implications on life)--Jesus is only the healer to whom people go when they feel they need it. And when they don't feel like they need anything... Jesus has no purpose. Jesus becomes an object.
Perhaps the reader has heard the phrase that "we all have a Jesus-shaped hole in us that we need to have filled." The theology behind this statement, while it is very well-intending, is that of the crowds in vv. 9-10. This statement turns Jesus into a consumer good. We have a hole, we need it filled. And so we storm Jesus so we can take our healing from him, just by touching him. And once we get our fill of miracles and healing, for how long will we stay by Jesus' side?
Jesus' response to a consumer mentality towards him and his power is withdrawal. If we storm Christ as a "fix" for whatever need we feel we may have, Christ will get in a boat and back away, for that was not what he came for. This is not the sort of relationship Christ calls us to. Instead, he calls us to discipleship. In discipleship, healing is given, not taken (it is grace, don't forget: undeserved love). In discipleship, Jesus receives our whole devotion and submission. Most importantly in discipleship, Jesus, as our Master, is the Son of God, not a consumer good to be used how we see fit; instead, we allow ourselves to be subject to Jesus' use as he sees fit.
VV. 13-19: The appointing of the Twelve
In this section, Mark is continuing to describe how people relate to Jesus. After describing how the Pharisees despised Jesus (vv. 1-6) and how the crowds sought him out (vv. 7-12), Mark goes on to set up a comparison between those who are his true family and inside group (this passage) and those who are not (described in vv. 31-35). As France points out, Mark is making use of a story-telling technique called "interpolation" by which smaller, sub-stories are placed within the larger story, separating the parts to keep attention. This technique allows Mark to make what seem like digressions but that contribute to the reader's overall understanding of the story, and then get back to future parts. Thus, Jesus, in this passage, calls his disciples, and then (later in the chapter) describes how that factors into who his real family is.
Mark vs. Matthew
The parallel for this passage in Matthew is 10:1-8. There are a few notable differences. The first difference is in the amount of people Jesus called to himself. Mark records Jesus calling "those he wanted"--which is rather vague. This could include various women and other, younger disciples, or this could indeed be referring only to the Twelve. Regardless, Mark seems to not show much priority in stating the exact number, whereas Matthew records Jesus calling specifically the Twelve to himself. This should be compared with Luke's interpretation, which is on the opposite end (see below). When appointing the Twelve, Mark states that he also calls the Twelve "apostles," a word that is not in the Matthew or Luke accounts. This will be covered in further detail in the Analysis.
The next major difference between the two is the list of reasons for which Jesus appoints the Twelve. Mark says they were appointed to:
- Be with him
- Be sent out to proclaim the message
- To have authority to cast out demons
Matthew, however, is more specific in his description; the Twelve are appointed to:
- Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel
- Proclaim the Good News, "The Kingdom of Heaven is near."
- Cure the sick
- Raise the dead
- Cleanse the lepers
- Cast out demons
While Matthew's list seems longer, it ultimately breaks into three categories: proclamation, exorcism, and healing (raising the dead could be included in this category). Of these, only the last is missing from Mark's list. Indeed, this was noticed by the scribes and thus several later manuscripts add "to heal the sick and" after "authority" in verse fifteen. This seems to be a clear attempt at harmonization with Matthew, however, which is why it is not included in modern translations. The other difference in the lists between Mark and Matthew was that the Marcan Jesus appoints the twelve also to "be with him." This will be further described in the analysis.
In the list of the disciples, there are two relevant differences. The first difference is that Mark states James and John's nickname as Boanerges, meaning "Sons of Thunder." This is the only place in Scripture where they are given such a name, without any real reason for this.
The Marcan passage ends at the list of disciples, however, whereas Matthew's list of disciples is given to set up a lengthy description Jesus sending the Twelve out to do that which he commissioned them to do. Mark, however, places that part of the story in 6:7-12 and so it will not be discussed here.
Mark vs. Luke
The Luke parallel is rather disjointed in that Jesus appoints the Twelve in 6:12-16, but no particular reason for their appointment is given until 9:1-2. The first difference to be noted is that in the Lucan account, Jesus stayed up in the mountain in prayer for a night before calling up his disciples. Mark simply has Jesus going up the mountain and calling up his disciples right afterward. Not too much should be made of this, however, as there is little exegetical insight in this detail other than, perhaps, in prayer the Father revealed who the Twelve would be--but that is speculation at best.
Contrary to Matthew and most likely Mark as well, Luke has Jesus calling up a larger crowd than the Twelve he chose. There is little exegetical significance behind this fact, however.
There are two main differences between the Lucan and Marcan lists of disciples (besides the mention of Boanerges, as stated above). Firstly, Luke lists "Judas son of James," a name missing from Mark and Matthew's list, which both have the name "Thaddaeus" instead. Traditionally, these have been interpreted to be alternate names for the same person, but this is not known for sure. Hooker contends that the disagreement (and lack of reference to either name anywhere else in Scripture or tradition) points out that he/they must not have played an important part in the early Christian church.
The second difference is the surname of the second Simon. Luke mentions him as Simon the Zealot, whereas Mark and Matthew both refer to him in this list as Simon the Canaanaean. The meanings of these will be explored later in the Analysis.
As mentioned above, the Luke parallel is disjointed. Luke does not put the story together like Mark and Matthew do. Three chapters later, in Luke 9, Jesus calls the Twelve to him and:
- Gives them power and authority over demons
- Gives them power to cure diseases
- Sends them to proclaim the kingdom of God
- Sends them to heal
This is similar to the Matthew list in that the same basic categories of action are included: proclamation, exorcism, and healing. Again, Mark is missing the healing component of the actions. According to France, the neglect of mentioning the power to heal in the Mark account is not one of theological statement (indeed, they are responsible for healing in Mark 6:12-13), but rather one of "summary reporting." Also, as does Matthew, Luke has nothing about the disciples being appointed to "be with" Jesus. That is a uniquely Marcan phrase that will be explored in the analysis.
After listing off the powers and tasks of the disciples in Luke 9:1-2, Luke continues on in the same fashion Matthew does in Matthew 10. Mark leaves off here, for now, and shifts the action elsewhere, to document the actual sending out in chapter six.
Verse thirteen begins with Jesus going up to a mountain. No apparent transition is given between the previous verse to this one except for the typical Markan "καί" (meaning "and") that begins most Markan passages or paragraphs. Jesus goes up to the mountaintop and calls up those whom he wanted. The mountaintop, in Scripture, often refers to a place of divine activity and revelation. Thus, some scholars have argued that this setting is significant and parallels other important revelatory events, such as the creation of the nation of Israel (Ex 19-20). Indeed, it has been argued that Jesus is re-creating Israel with his election of the Twelve. However, with this said, it seems as if the setting of the mountain in this passage is only coincidentally significant. Against Hooker, Stein contends that (unlike Matthew), Mark does not have a "mountaintop theology" where special revelatory events occur. Out of the eleven total references to a mountain in Mark, only one other instance (9:2) seems to function in a revelatory sense.
In verse fourteen, Jesus chooses his Twelve. The number in this is certainly significant as the number of tribes in Israel. Beyond this, however, scholars have debated the exact theological significance of the number. Perhaps the most plausible explanation is that the selection of the Twelve symbolized the eschatological restoration of Israel. At that time, only two and a half of the 12 tribes remained intact, and so this restoration would have pointed directly to Jesus as messianic fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Beyond this, from a practical standpoint, this number of disciples serves some practical functions as well. Thirteen men is a manageable traveling group and could all fit into a fishing boat.
Scholars are uncertain as to whether or not the phrase "whom he also named apostles" was originally found in the Mark text. It is not present in all manuscripts, but is in several important witnesses. Some argue for its authenticity by pointing to the other occurrence of the word "apostle" in 6:13.. This is not a convincing argument, however. It is most likely a later attempt at harmonizing the passage with the Luke text (Luke more frequently uses the word to refer to the Twelve).. The word "apostle" is only used twice in Mark, and thus is not the typical word he uses to refer to the Twelve. This fact only further testifies to its likely inauthenticity.
Regardless of its authenticity, however, the presence of the word "apostle" does not cause any theological problems. In Greek, the word is "απόσταλος," which simply means "messenger," "delegate," or "envoy." It comes from the word "αποστέλλω," which means "to send out, or dispatch". Thus, most simply put, "apostle" means "one who is sent." "Αποστέλλω," is used only a few words later when the text says they were appointed to be sent out to proclaim the message. Thus, whether or not the debated phrase is authentic, it does not matter because Jesus is sending out the Twelve on his behalf and thus they are made apostles by their very appointment.
The second half of verse fourteen, spanning into verse fifteen gives the tasks for which Jesus appoints the Twelve. Upon first looking at an English translation, it seems Jesus gives three tasks:
- To be with him
- To be sent out to proclaim the message
- To have authority to cast out demons
However, the Greek seems to disagree with this interpretation. Instead, the structure most likely points toward two primary roles of the Twelve. Literally translated, the Greek reads:
...and he appointed twelve...
- in order that (Gk. "ίνα") they might be (Gk. is in subjunctive) with him and
- in order that (Gk. "ίνα") they might be sent out (Gk. is in subjunctive)
- to preach (Gk. is in the infinitive) and
- to have (Gk. is in the infinitive) the authority to cast out demons.
Grammatically analyzed, the mood and tense of the verbs here delineate the grammatical functions of each part of the verse (which is typical of the Greek language anyway). The two subjunctive purpose clauses (beginning with "ίνα") are the primary tasks of the Apostles and function as the twofold reason for Jesus' appointing the Twelve. The second purpose clause is further broken down into two parts, able to be seen by the two infinitival objects of "might be sent out."
The reason why understanding the structure of this matters because Jesus is giving equal weight in this passage both to preaching and to exorcism. Casting out demons (as the modern, Western, scientific might assume) is not a tertiary task that Jesus somewhat coughs under his breath while giving the "noble" first two roles. The casting out of demons was to be a major role for the Twelve, as major a role as being with Jesus and preaching was.
The first task for which Jesus appointed the Twelve was "that they might be with him." This mustn't be understood to mean that Jesus wanted companionship and so he chose those to keep him company. Being with Jesus was an essential component of the formation of the church and of their characters. Jesus appointed them to be with him because there is no other way discipleship may be lived. Furthermore, their being with him enabled them to go out, the second task. But once they went out, they were not free from him. No, they were still in service to him, and thus they were to return to him when their task was complete. For contemporary application, see the "influence" section.
The second task of being a part of the Twelve was being sent out both to preach and to have authority to cast out demons. The NRSV translation, along with possibly others, give an object to the verb "preach" and translates it as "preach the message." However, the Greek has no object, and the author assumes that the reader will know the general content of the preaching (the good news). This is in contrast with both the Matthew and Luke accounts which clarify content the preaching.
The word "authority" in the Greek is "εξουσία," which carries the connotations of "control," "right," "power," "capability," and "domain." It is the same sort of word that would be used to describe the power of Caesar or Herod. This is significant. Jesus isn't importing some magic capabilities or giving something of a "demon repellent spray," but is instead giving much more. The Twelve are promoted to a place in the spiritual realm, through their association with Christ, where they outrank the demons. Unclean spirits are their subjects, under their domain, and are to obey the Twelve's exorcism as a modern home owner is to obey an eviction notice.
Theologically, Jesus' giving the power to cast out demons is profound. Christologically, this speaks to the divinity of Christ. As classic commentator Matthew Henry points out,
This showed that the power which Christ had to work these miracles was an original power; that he had it not as a Servant, but as a Son in his own house, in that he could confer it upon others, and invest them with it: they have a rule in the law, Deputatus non potest deputare—He that is only deputed himself, cannot depute another; but our Lord Jesus had life in himself, and the Spirit without measure; for he could give this power even to the weak and foolish things of the world.
In other words, in order for Christ to give the Twelve domain in the spiritual realm as servants of God, he could not himself be a servant, but had to have been "very God." France also points out that because this power is not found in the Twelve themselves, but is derived from Christ. Thus, their power cannot match his--thus, their success rate is not automatic (see 9:14-29 for an instance where they do not succeed in an attempted exorcism).
A balanced discipleship
Jesus, in vv. 14-15 appoints the Twelve for two fundamental tasks: to be with him and to be sent out. While this might sound contradictory, it most certainly is not intended to be such. This sets an important pattern as well for Christians. True discipleship (i.e. a life of faith) cannot be lived entirely in either domain. And yet, there are many today who choose to do this.
Some choose to remain solely with Christ. The favored "catch phrase" this style of behavior is "personal relationship with Christ." A faith that is wholly a "personal relationship" focuses on ecclesial dedication and individual piety. Perhaps rigorous prayer and other spiritual disciplines are also a part of this act. The sole goal of this sort of discipleship is to be always with Christ, always focusing on him. While this description could be interpreted as solely referring to monastic orders, that is certainly not the case. In fact, perhaps the modern, Western Christian could be accused of this even more. Discipleship that is always only with Christ is not the sort Christ seeks. It becomes dysfunctional and egocentric (because anything--or anyone--that detracts from one's focus on God is considered an obstacle to be removed).
There is, however, an "opposite side of the coin." Some individuals consider their faith to be always about being out and doing. The "catch phrases" for this might be "social justice" or "public ministry" (though very different, they both can result in dysfunction if lacking the other side of the coin). In this domain of faith, action is everything. The individual embraces a certain idea of their mission and works in society to see it through. While social action and public ministry are not inherently bad (indeed, they're 50% of discipleship), they can quickly become misguided because the driving mission can become distorted. Furthermore, inward piety and spiritual formation are neglected, so as the character of the disciple remains unchanged.
The sort of discipleship Jesus desires is that which is both with him and also sent out. To be truly a disciple, one must not neglect either side of Jesus' appointment. In proper balance, discipleship becomes vibrant. It grows and has a purpose and focus. It is this sort of discipleship, then, that the church should pursue, both vertically focused (toward God) and horizontally focused (toward the rest of the world).
VV. 20-30: Jesus is accused of being Beelzebub
VV. 31-35: The true mothers and brothers of Jesus
- Hooker, Morina D. The Gospel According to Mark. Black's New Testament Commentaries. Third Printing. (London: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 106.
- Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Mark 3:2. Accordance Bible Software. OakTree Software Inc. Version 8.1.3, Dec. 2008.
- Hooker, 106.
- Danker, Frederick William, et al. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. Third Edition. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 684. Accordance Bible Software. OakTree Software Inc. Version 8.1.3, Dec. 2008.
- Budd, Philip J. “ξηραίνω.“ The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Colin Brown, Ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986). Accordance Bible Software. OakTree Software Inc. Version 8.1.3, Dec. 2008.
- Danker, 684.
- Hooker, 107.
- Hooker, 107
- Mt 8:5-13, Lk 7:2-9
- Qtd. in Oden, Thomas C. Ed. Mark. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 38.
- Danker, 720.
- Qtd. in Oden, 37.
- Hooker, 108.
- Keener, Mark 12:13.
- Calvin, John. Commentary on A Harmony of the Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. William Pringle, Trans. (Public Domain), Mark 3:5. Accordance Bible Software. OakTree Software Inc. Version 8.1.3, Dec. 2008.
- Qtd. in Oden, 38.
- Hooker, 109-110.
- France, R.T. The Gospel of Mark. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. I. Howard Marshal and Donald A. Hagner, Eds. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 152.
- Hooker, 110.
- Augustine, Aurelius. The Harmony of the Gospels. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: First Series. Vol. VI. Philip Schaff, Ed. (Public Domain, 1888), Book II, Ch. 36. Accordance Bible Software. OakTree Software Inc. Version 8.2.1, Mar. 2009.
- Calvin, Mark 3:6-12
- Aquinas, Thomas. "Mark 3:6-12." Catena Aurea (Golden Chain) John Dobbee Dalgairns, Trans. (Public Domain, 1842), Vol II, 57-58. Accordance Bible Software. OakTree Software Inc. Version 8.2.1, Mar. 2009.
- Hooker, 109
- France, 153
- Danker, 442
- Hooker, 110.
- Stein, Robert H. Mark. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein, Eds. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 162.
- Danker, 457.
- Schippers, Reinier. "Θλίβω." The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Colin Brown, Ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986). Accordance Bible Software. OakTree Software Inc. Version 8.1.3, Dec. 2008.
- Hooker, 110.
- Hooker, 110.
- Stein, 164.
- Stein, 165.
- Aquinas, Vol II, 58.
- Chadwick, G.A. "The Choice of the Twelve." Strong Meat for Hungry Souls: The Gospel of St. Mark. The Expositor's Bible. R. Robertson Nicoll, Ed. (Public Domain, 1896). Accordance Bible Software. OakTree Software Inc. Version 8.2.1, Mar. 2009.
- France, 156.
- France, 160.
- Hooker, 112.
- France, 160.
- Hooker, 111.
- Stein, 168.
- Stein, 169.
- France, 159.
- Stein, 170.
- France, 157.
- Danker, 122.
- Ibid., 120.
- France, 160.
- Stein, 170.
- Stein, 170
- Danker, 352-353.
- Henry, Matthew. "The Calling of the Apostles." An Exposition, with Practical Observations, of the Gospel According to St. Mark. Commentary on the Whole Bible (Unabridged). Vol. V. (Public Domain, 1721), Mk 3:13-21. Accordance Bible Software. OakTree Software Inc. Version 8.2.2, Mar. 2009.
- France, 160.