Attention!
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Contending for the Faith

Mark 2

Introduction

In this chapter Mark tells of Jesus’ return to Capernaum where He heals the palsied man (1-12), relates the circumstances of the call of Levi (Matthew) (13-17), and gives the accounts of Jesus’ dealing with the controversies over fasting (18-22) and the sabbath (23-28).

Verse 1

And again he entered into Capernaum after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house.

And again he entered into Capernaum: Capernaum, located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, is the home of Peter and Andrew and Jesus’ headquarters during His Galilean ministry.

after some days: In the last verse of chapter one the publicity resulting from the leper’s being healed causes the crowds to swell to such large numbers that Jesus has to withdraw from Capernaum into the desert places. Here, Jesus returns to Capernaum "after some days." It is impossible to determine exactly how many days Jesus is gone. Apparently He is gone long enough to allow the city to calm down and return to some sense of normalcy.

and it was noised:

The verb ("noised") means "to hear." The form is aorist passive. The subject is our Lord. "Having entered Capernaum, He was heard of as being in the house" (Wuest 44).

that he was in the house: Most authorities agree the house referred to here is the same house mentioned in chapter one, the one belonging to Peter and Andrew. Another translation renders the phrase "at home." Although Jesus does not own a house, the language implies this is the place He usually lives when He is in Capernaum.

Verse 2

And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them.

And straightway: Again Mark uses the word "straightway," meaning "immediately." When word is received that Jesus is back in town, the crowd begins to gather again immediately.

many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door:

The gathering was phenomenal; not only the house filled, but the space about the door was crowded--no room for more people even there, not to speak of within (Wuest 44).

and he preached the word unto them: The most important part of Jesus’ ministry is to preach the word of God as is clearly pointed out in chapter one, verse 38. There has been such a stir caused by the healing of the leper that the teaching of Jesus is being obscured. As a result, He leaves Capernaum and goes on a preaching tour in other Galilean towns. Now upon Jesus’ return the crowd that gathers about the house is hungry to hear the word of God. The miracles Jesus performs are wonderful, confirming He is the Messiah and fulfilling the physical needs of the people. Actually it is the wonderful words of life that Jesus speaks that constitute the real purpose of His ministry.

It remains true today that the primary work of the church is to preach the gospel to the lost. The modern church, however, seems especially prone to lose sight of that purpose. It is easy to become distracted by fascinating sidetracks and forget about the true mission of the church. Lloyd M. Perry comments about this situation:

The present day church appears to be having transmission trouble. It appears to be confused in regarding itself more as a reservoir than as a channel. Our churches lack numbers, but our prisons are full. Our minds are enlightened, but our morals are decadent. We have built big churches, but they have become monuments. The people are asking, "What mean these stones?" At one time we wanted to be involved in a movement, but now find that instead we are shackled with the indebtedness of a monument. We must shift our emphasis from building an institution to that of changing the world for the glory of God. It appears that we have been doing a thousand good but secondary things that the Lord never told us to do. We have been majoring in minors and specializing in the trivial, while our work is not sociology but salvation. Our concern should not be first of all reform, but redemption. It is not progress, but pardon. It is not first of all culture, but conversion. It is not economics, but evangelism (152).

Unlike some in the modern church, the crowd assembled outside the house where Jesus is staying appears to be anxious to hear the word of God; thus, the people have the gospel preached to them.

Verse 3

And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.

Mark now directs attention to a group of five people. One man is sick with the palsy and is being carried to Jesus on a bed by four others.

palsy: This word is translated from paralutikos, which means a "paralytic" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 305). A paralytic is one whose body or limbs are paralyzed.

Verse 4

And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.

And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press: The word "press" means "crowd." The crowd is so large it seems impossible for the four to carry the palsied man to see Jesus.

they uncovered the roof where he was: These four men are to be admired for their determination to get the palsied man to Jesus. When conventional means of entering the house prove impossible, the small group goes up on the roof.

and when they had broken it up: The four actually break a hole in the roof of the house. Houses in that part of the world, usually constructed of earth, had flat roofs; and the roof was a favorite place for walking "for repose in the cool of the day, for conversation, and devotion" (Barnes 96). An example of this practice is found in Acts 10:9 where Peter has gone up on the roof to pray when he receives his vision of the Gentiles.

We can only speculate about how the four who bear the man with the palsy break open the roof in the house in Capernaum, how much damage they do, and how the owner reacts. (If the owner is indeed the impulsive Simon Peter, it would be most interesting to know his reaction.) But the most important facts of this incident are that Jesus is in the house, that this group is not to be denied in its quest to see Him, and that He is to perform a miraculous cure for the palsied man.

People today need to cultivate that same determination to find Jesus. Some are so easily distracted by the smallest obstacle and quit their efforts to find the Christ. This persistent, indefatigable attitude of the five is certainly exemplary for all today.

they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay: Exactly how all of this is done is left to conjecture. The word "bed" is from the word krabbatos, and Thayer says it is "a pallet, camp bed, (a rather mean bed holding only one person, called by the Greeks skimpous, skimpodion)" (358). Wuest says it is a "thickly padded quilt or mat" (46). It is likely there is a rope fastened to each corner of the mattress by which the four men lower the paralytic down to Jesus.

Verse 5

When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.

When Jesus saw their faith: There is some disagreement among commentators as to whose faith Mark is referring. There is no question that the four friends who are carrying the palsied men have faith. Their faith is vividly demonstrated by their relentless effort to get the sick man to Jesus. Their action illustrates the teaching of James 2:26 that shows faith not manifested in action is unprofitable and dead. It is illogical, though, to exclude the palsied man from among the believers. It must be assumed that he consents to be brought to Jesus and that he is just as determined in that quest as are his bearers.

he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee: There is a clear distinction here between the miraculous healing of the man’s body and the forgiveness of his sins. Jesus is able to read the palsied man’s heart; and judging from Jesus’ action, the sick man is less concerned with his physical needs than with his spiritual burden. Thus, the Lord grants him forgiveness first.

The acts of reading the man’s thoughts and forgiving him of his sins further establish Jesus as the Messiah. It is commonly accepted among the people that only God can forgive sins. This action by Jesus reinforces that the most important need of any person is forgiveness while physical needs are secondary.

Verse 6

But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts,

But there were certain of the scribes sitting there: The scribes are first mentioned by Mark in chapter one, verse 22. "Scribes" is translated from the word grammateus; and according to the Analytical Greek Lexicon, it means:

a clerk, town-clerk, registrar, recorder, (Acts 19:35); one skilled in the Jewish law, a teacher or interpreter of the law (82).

Thayer says the scribes are also called "lawyers" (nomikos) (Luke 10:25) and "doctors" (nomodidaskaloi) (Luke 5:17). Unger says the institution of the scribes begins with the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity (981). He further states that the task of the scribes is essentially threefold: jurists, teachers of the law, and those who pass sentencing in the court of justice. It is easy to see why the scribes quickly take issue with Jesus’ authoritative teaching. They wrote out the law, or they classified and arranged its precepts, or "they counted with scrupulous minuteness every clause and letter it contained" (Smith 2865). Unger further explains:

The scribes developed with careful casuistry the general precepts of the law; and where the written law made no direct provision they created a compensation, either by establishing a precedent or by inference from other valid legal decisions. In this way, during the last centuries before Christ, Jewish law became gradually an extensive and complicated science. This law being unwritten, and propagated by oral tradition, very assiduous study was necessary to obtain even a general acquaintance with it. Added to an acquaintance with the law, the scribes assumed that it was their special province to develop what was already binding into more and more subtile casuistic details....This made it necessary that the heads at least of the body should dwell in certain central localities, though many would be scattered about the country to give instruction and render legal decisions (981).

In the days of our Lord, the scribes had an insatiable need for recognition and veneration, and they loved to be addressed as "Rabbi," a term of reverence, meaning "master." A kiss of reverence was offered to them when they were being greeted. They expected the chief seats in the synagogues and the best places at feasts (Matthew 23:6; Luke 14:7). In general, the scribes were oppressive, vain, and hypocritical.

It is believed the scribes present at this time in Capernaum are the leaders in religious teaching among the Jews from Jerusalem. It is probable they have heard about Jesus, are curious, jealous, and resentful of the attention He is receiving, and have come to put their critically observant eyes on Him.

and reasoning in their hearts: They do not voice their thoughts.

Verse 7

Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?

Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies: In their thinking, the scribes are right to believe it would be blasphemous for an ordinary man to presume to forgive sins; but they are wrong to assume Jesus is an ordinary man.

who can forgive sins but God only: The scribes are exactly right in their conviction that only God could forgive sin. That Deity alone can forgive sin is an eternal truth that condemns any religion that has thought there are certain men who possess that power. Apparently the scribes are shocked by Jesus’ statement. How could He dare claim such authority? This dilemma is to be reenacted time and again throughout Jesus’ life. If He is not divine, He is indeed a blasphemer. If the scribes do not accept Him, they are compelled to denounce Him.

Verse 8

And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?

And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit: The phrase "in his spirit" means "the rational spirit, the power by which a human being feels, thinks, wills, decides" (Wuest 49). Jesus is not only immediately aware, but He is clearly aware of their thoughts.

that they so reasoned within themselves: Jesus is not only able to read the hearts of the palsied man and his bearers but He is able to read the thoughts of the scribes as well. There are many examples throughout the New Testament of Christ’s supernatural ability to read what is in human hearts.

he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts: These men do not speak out, but they think "these things" in their hearts. Jesus tries to draw them out, but they decide the best thing to do here is to keep quiet, and they do.

Verse 9

Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?

Whether it is easier: Literally, "Which is easier?"

to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and take up thy bed, and walk: Anyone can say that he has power to forgive sins, but there is no outward sign by which the reality of the forgiveness of sins can be tested. It is easily seen, however, if the lame are made to walk. Christ equates the power to forgive sins with the power to perform a miracle. The power to do both would have to come from God.

Verse 10

But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,)

But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins: Christ is about to perform a wonder that only God could perform; and then the scribes, as well as the rest of the crowd, would know that He has power to forgive sins.

Son of man: Jesus uses this title more than any other when referring to Himself. Trench says the name asserts "He was at once one with humanity, and the crown of humanity" and that it is the equivalent to "Messiah" (130). Lipscomb says:

He called himself the "Son of Man" alluding to the fact that he took on himself the nature of a man...owned that he was human, and depended on his works to prove he was divine, the Son of God (Dorris 50).

(he saith to the sick of the palsy): Jesus directs His next statement to the palsied man.

Verse 11

I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house.

The scribes are always demanding signs, and Jesus gives them a stunning sign. He has both healed and forgiven on this occasion, leaving the scribes speechless. He gives them the very sign they seek, but they are unlikely to discern it. This is an occasion of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy:

...Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed (6:9-10).

Verse 12

And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.

And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all: Mark points out this miracle by Christ is accomplished immediately by a word. Just as God spoke the creation into existence, now Jesus speaks to impotence and replaces it with strength. What is utterly impossible by nature, is accomplished supernaturally by Jesus; and the palsied man walks home carrying his bed. This miracle is done in full view of the critical eyes of His enemies. There are no slight-of-hand, rapid head movements, distractions, and props that characterize the charlatans who claim the miraculous power to heal today. This miracle does not result in slight improvement with a promise of progressive, more complete improvement later. The palsied man, on the other hand, is healed instantly, completely, and irrefutably by Jesus.

insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying: The natural reaction of the objective part of the crowd is to praise God, thus vindicating Jesus’ reason for performing the miracle.

We never saw it on this fashion: J.B. Phillips translates this phrase "We have never seen anything like this before" (71).

Verse 13

And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them.

And he went forth again by the sea side: Jesus often engages in "open air" preaching. This time, instead of retreating to the desert, He goes to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Many villages are clustered around the shore, including Capernaum, making it a short journey for Jesus.

One reason for this choice may have been that the sloping shore provided a convenient amphitheater for a large audience, especially if the Lord habitually preached from a boat moored in shallow water (Cole 68)

This point is apparent from chapter four, verse 1.

and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them: The word "taught" is in the imperfect tense and means He "kept on teaching them."

Verse 14

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.

And as he passed by, he saw Levi: Levi is also referred to as Matthew (Matthew 9:9). It is most likely that Levi is his original name and that Matthew is given to him upon his call to be an apostle. "Matthew," according to Gesenius, "means the gift of Jehovah" (Bickersteth 85). In his own account of the gospel, Levi refers to himself as "Matthew."

the son of Alphaeus: Alphaeus is a common name among the Jews. It is also the name of the father of James the Less. It is not likely, though, that James and Levi are brothers or are even related. It is customary to mention brothers in groups, such as "James and John," "Peter and Andrew," and on no occasion are Levi and James the Less grouped together as though they had the same father.

sitting at the receipt of custom: This phrase means that Levi is a tax collector. Being in Galilee, he probably collects taxes, or tolls, from travelers between Egypt and Damascus. He may very well have been employed by the hated Herod Antipas (Luke 23:6-7). Cole gives a further explanation:

This makes him as much an outcast from orthodox Jewish society as the leper of chapter one, verse 40, had been. Such men were often, if not always, rapacious and immoral, apart altogether from the nationalistic prejudice against them, especially if they were working directly for the Romans. Yet, as the Lord had laid His hand on the leper and cleansed him, so He called Levi to be one of the twelve, one of the foundation members of His new society (Revelation 21:14 with Ephesians 2:20), one of the twelve phylarchs, the tribal heads of His new Israel (ch. Luke 22:30) (69).

Coffman adds:

Jesus’ choice of Matthew was therefore a challenge to the snobbery and exclusiveness of the Pharisees. It was also a move toward the socially unacceptable, the poor, and the deprived. The divine genius of Jesus quickly recognized the scholarly student of the prophets who sat at the seat of custom in Capernaum and called him to the apostleship (45).

and said unto him, Follow me: The word "Follow" is akoloutheo, and it means "to follow one who precedes, to join him as his attendant, to join one as his disciple, to side with his party" (Thayer 22).

And he arose and followed him: Most of the commentators believe this is not the first encounter between Levi and Jesus. Just as Mark omits the first meeting of Jesus with Peter, Andrew, James, and John in chapter one, he omits the initial meeting between Jesus and Levi.

Verse 15

And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.

This is the house of Levi (Matthew), the publican. It is probable this meal is given by Levi in order for him to introduce Jesus and His disciples to his old business associates. This verse, along with Matthew 11:19, clearly proves the Lord already numbered many publicans, or tax collectors, among His followers. The fact that Jesus and His disciples would actually dine with such company in the home of a publican is shocking to the Jewish religious sensibilities. As far as the Jerusalem hierarchy is concerned, the collectors of taxes for the Romans are the lowest and most repulsive of all sinners.

Verse 16

And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?

And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners: In the above two verses, the phrase "publicans and sinners" is mentioned three times. Apparently there is not a "good man" on the list. None of the socially elite is there. It is probable this feast takes place in the courtyard of Levi’s house because of the size of the dinner party. If so, onlookers would have an opportunity to see everything and everyone.

Pharisees: The word "Pharisees" is from the Greek word pharisaios, which literally means "Separatists." Unger says:

The priests and scribes determined the inner development of Israel after the captivity. Virtually identical in Ezra’s time, they became more and more separated, until, in the Maccabean period, two parties, sharply contrasted with each other, were developed from them. The Sadducean party came from the ranks of the priests, the Pharisees from the Scribes. The characteristic feature of the Pharisees arises from their legal tendency, that of the Sadducees from their social position (854).

Although the Pharisees evolve from the scribes, the two terms are not synonymous. Pharisees are not necessarily "scribes" or "lawyers" nor yet "teachers of the law." It cannot be proved they are really a sect in the ordinary sense of the term. But they are more of a fraternity, bound by special duties and vows and into which one is initiated by birth. Hence, Paul could say that he is a "Pharisee of the Pharisees," that is, a Pharisee born of a Pharisee.

H.I. Hester adds this information:

The Pharisees were more numerous and powerful since they had in their party the representative religious leaders. In a sense they can be thought of as a fraternal order. They were the chief exponents of the traditions of Judaism, the "guardians of orthodoxy." Their very name, "separatists," indicates the nature of their emphasis. They were patriotic, fervent in their faith, and wholly unsympathetic toward any who held different views. To them there was no good outside Pharisaism. They had very definite doctrines which they enthusiastically proclaimed. They stressed special divine providence, though they did not deny free will. They believed in the future life, the resurrection of the elect of Israel, and the existence of angels. They were simple, even ascetic in living habits. They stressed external observances such as fasts, tithes, prayers, ablutions and sacrifices, to the exclusion of love to God and to men. It was natural that they should fail to accept the new teachings of Jesus. It was inevitable that Jesus should challenge them and then denounce them for their failure to see this truth (64-65).

Alfred Edersheim devotes three chapters of his book Sketches of Jewish Social Life to the Pharisees. He says it is probably opposition parties that originally give the Pharisees their name as a byword. Opposing parties resent the Pharisees’ ultra strict and ridiculously punctilious practice of separating from anything or anyone considered "unclean" among the Gentiles and the Jews. Edersheim further says "it would have been difficult to proceed far either in Galilee or in Judea without coming into contact with Pharisees" (211).

Hence, again, it is inevitable Jesus would be confronted by them.

they said unto his disciples: An old stratagem is "divide and conquer." It is obvious the Pharisees are using that ploy here with Jesus and His disciples. Instead of remonstrating with Jesus, they attempt to plant seditious seeds into the hearts of His disciples, hoping to drive a wedge between them and Christ.

How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners: Literally, this clause means, "Why is He eating with tax collectors and sinners?"

Verse 17

When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

When Jesus heard it: Although the question is not intended for the ears of Jesus, He overhears it.

he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: Jesus refuses to deny the charge that He is associating with sinners; however, He is quick to point out that He is associating with them in order to save them, not to partake of their sins. Jesus never condones sin. What the Pharisees refuse to see is that when a person becomes a follower of Jesus, that person is no longer a sinner. Furthermore, Jesus has much more success with this segment of society because, unlike the self-righteous Pharisees, they are conscious of their need and receptive to His message.

I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance: This analogy by Jesus does not imply there are any "whole" or "righteous" people on earth. He is not saying His saving power is unnecessary for some, but that everyone in that assemblage is a sinner. Although there are no righteous persons on earth, the Pharisees think that they are righteous. Levi (Matthew) himself gives us a graphic description in his account of the gospel of the kind of people the Pharisees really are. He describes them as impenitent, arrogant, oppressive, demanding, legalistic, hypocritical, and hell-bound vipers (Matthew 3:7-9; Matthew 23:1-4; Matthew 23:23-28; Matthew 23:33).

The Lord’s mission is to seek to save all the lost, Pharisees as well as publicans and sinners. But a prerequisite to being saved is the consciousness on the part of the sinner that he is in need of salvation. Tragically, the Pharisees could never see that need.

Verse 18

And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?

And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees: Wuest says, "The latter two words are in the nominative case in the best texts. The correct reading is ’The disciples of John and the Pharisees’" (55).

John is in prison at this time, and it is apparent his disciples form a separate group for awhile.

used to fast: Vincent says this phrase is more correctly translated "were fasting," meaning that "they were observing a fast at that time" (95). According to the Jewish religion, fasting is mandatory only one day within the year; and that is the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 23:27; Matthew 6:16). The stricter Jews fast much more often. They fast on the anniversaries of some calamities that have befallen the Jewish people, and still other fasts are proclaimed if the autumn rains have not come by November. The Pharisees fast twice in the week (Luke 18:12), on Mondays and Thursdays. According to Barclay, "the fast lasted from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and after that normal food could be eaten" (58-59). It is probable that Levi’s feast is occurring at the very same time as one of the weekly fast days.

and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not: The disciples of John join the Pharisees this time in questioning Jesus. The question is a legitimate one. John’s disciples are imitating the Pharisees and are fasting, to show their deep, religious discipline. Jesus and His disciples are not fasting. Why not?

Verse 19

And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.

And Jesus said unto them: The previous question about eating with publicans and sinners is directed to Jesus’ disciples, but this time the question is directed toward Jesus Himself. In both cases, though, Jesus makes the response. The response to this question is just as poignant and logical as the former.

Can the children of the bridechamber fast: The word "children" is from the word huios and is more properly translated "sons." Jesus likens His company to men who are children of the bridechamber, chosen guests at a wedding feast. Vincent says:

Sons of the bride-chamber are different from the groomsmen. They are the guests invited to the bridal. The scene is laid in Galilee, where groomsmen were not customary, as in Judea. Hence there is no mention of them in the account of the marriage at Cana. In Judea there were at every marriage two groomsmen or friends of the bridegroom (95-96).

while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast: Jesus uses the metaphor that John has earlier used (John 3:29) in describing Himself as the "bridegroom." This approach would certainly appeal to John’s disciples. A Jewish wedding is a time of special festivities with friends of the couple sharing in the joys and festivities (John 2:1 ff; John 3:29). Barclay says:

After a Jewish wedding the couple did not go away for a honeymoon; they stayed at home. For a week or so open house was kept and there was continual feasting and rejoicing. In a hard wrought life the wedding week was the happiest week in a man’s life. To that week of happiness were invited the closest friends of the bride and the bridegroom; and they were called by the name children of the bridechamber (59).

Because a wedding was a time of great rejoicing, fasting would be totally incongruous.

Verse 20

But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.

But the days will come: The best texts have this expression in the singular, "in that day."

when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them: Jesus has shown that it would be just as illogical for His disciples to fast while He, the bridegroom, is with them, as it would be for a guest to fast at a wedding celebration. Fasting is primarily a sign of mourning. But Jesus indicates the time will come when the bridegroom will indeed be "taken away from them," and fasting will be appropriate then. This is a clear prophecy of the Lord’s suffering and death.

and then shall they fast in those days: Again, the best texts have the last phrase "in that day," referring to the day of Christ’s death and removal, which would be the appropriate time for the expressions of grief and mourning. This expression is not to be understood as a formal ordinance that the church is bound to observe in all ages. The value of religious fasting is totally dependent upon its being an occasional and voluntary exercise and not a stated, ritualistic duty.

Verse 21

No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse.

No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: The word "seweth" (epirraptei) is found only in Mark. Both Matthew (9:16) and Luke (5:36) use the word epiballei, which, according to the Analytical Greek Lexicon, means "to put on, sew on" (154). The word "new" is from agnaphos. Wuest says it means:

...unfulled, unmilled, undressed. It refers to the fuller’s trade in which a new piece of cloth is made usable by a process of cleansing, shrinking, and thickening, through the use of moisture, heat, and pressure. The point is that unfulled cloth would shrink when used to patch fulled cloth, and thus tear away from the latter (57).

else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse: A new patch is not put on an old garment because a worse tear would result. The material of the old garment has already shrunk from repeated washings. If a new, unshrunken patch is sewn on the old garment, it will shrink with the first washing, pull at the threads, and further tear the old cloth.

The primary meaning of this parable is that it would be just as inappropriate for Jesus’ disciples to fast on this occasion as it would be to put a new patch on an old garment. Secondarily, this parable could also mean that Jesus did not come into this world to patch up the Jewish religion with the teachings of Christianity. There comes a time when patchwork is insufficient and a completely new garment must be secured. The religion of Jesus is not designed to renovate Judaism but is a completely new thing. Further, Jesus’ statement implies Christianity could not be restricted by the old forms of Judaism without disastrous consequences.

Verse 22

And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.

Just as with the other two illustrations Jesus uses, this example is something that is very familiar to His auditors.

And no man putteth new wine: The word "new" is from the word neos that means "new in point of time" (Wuest 58). It refers to wine that has not gone through the fermentation process.

into old bottles: The word "bottles" in this verse is more properly rendered "wineskins." Containers for liquids are made of skins of animals. New wineskins have a certain elasticity and can accommodate the increase in volume that the fermentation process causes in new wine. But old wineskins that have become hardened and have lost their elasticity burst under the pressure of the fermentation process of new wine, resulting in the loss of the wine and the container.

Some have suggested the object of placing the new wine into new bottles is to prevent fermentation. William Patton, in his book Bible Wines, says:

The new bottles or skins, being clean and perfectly free from all ferment, were essential for preserving the fresh unfermented juice, not that their strength might resist the force of fermentation, but, being clean and free from fermenting matter, and closely tied and sealed, so as to exclude the air, the wine would be preserved in the same state in which it was when put into those skins (79).

Patton’s explanation does not seem inconsistent with what Jesus is teaching here, but it does seem to contradict what is taught in Job 32:19 where distension (swelling or expansion caused by pressure from within) is described as occurring even in new bottles.

The purpose of this parable is the same as the other two examples. It shows that it would be just as inappropriate for Jesus’ disciples to fast at this time as it would be to put new wine into old wineskins. It is also possible that Jesus is pleading for a certain elasticity of their minds. If the minds of the Pharisees and the disciples of John are hardened and unpliable, they would be unable to receive and contain the new teachings of Jesus.

Verse 23

And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.

And it came to pass: This incident takes place in the early summer of the second year of Jesus’ ministry.

that he went through the corn fields: The phrase "corn fields" is from the word sporimos and means "fields of grain" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 372). Barnes says the fields are sown with "wheat or barley. The word corn, in the Bible, refers only to grain of that kind, and never to maize or Indian corn" (336).

on the sabbath day: It is clearly seen in the previous verses how offended the Pharisees and some of John’s disciples are by Jesus’ disregard for their "fast" days. But His most offensive behavior is His treatment of the sabbath. J.D. Jones makes the following observation:

Dr. A.B. Bruce points out that we have in the Gospels no fewer than six instances recorded of offence given or taken on this account. In five of these Jesus Himself is the offender; in the other--the story of which is given at this point by Mark--it is the conduct of the disciples that comes in for censure (75).

and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn: The law permits one to eat grain when passing through a neighbor’s field so long as a sickle is not put to the grain (Deuteronomy 23:25). The action of the disciples is completely legitimate, but it is questioned because it occurs on the sabbath. It is a violation to reap and thresh grain on the sabbath; however, the behavior of the disciples is in no way tantamount to reaping and threshing. The disciples pluck a few ears of grain, shell them in their hands, and are eating as they pass along. They in no sense violate the laws of the sabbath. The Jews, though, have added a number of traditions to the laws God has given concerning the sabbath. All work has been divided into thirty-nine different classifications; and four of these classifications are reaping, winnowing, threshing, and preparing a meal. The Pharisees conclude the disciples have technically broken all four of these rules.

Verse 24

And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?

This is the fourth charge the Jewish radicals bring against Jesus--allowing His disciples to do that which is unlawful on the sabbath. The charge is false. The law of God has not been broken. The only thing that has been violated is the Pharisees’ own tradition.

Verse 25

And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?

And he said unto them, Have ye never read: These Pharisees know the Old Testament scriptures thoroughly. They are undoubtedly very well-versed in the story of David that Jesus is about to tell.

what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred: Jesus underscores the fact that David’s behavior is motivated by "need," and that the specific "need" is hunger.

he, and they that were with him: This expression seems opposed to what is stated in 1 Samuel 21 where David appears to have been alone.

Verse 26

How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?

How he went into the house of God: The phrase "house of God" refers to the tabernacle because the temple has not been built at this time.

in the days of Abiathar the high priest: This phrase poses some difficulty because Abiathar’s father Ahimelech is actually the high priest when David eats the shewbread. Robertson explains:

...that apparently he was high priest at the time, and that it is possible that both father and son bore both names (1 Samuel 22:20; 2 Samuel 8:17; 1 Chronicles 18:16), Abiathar being mentioned, though both were involved (273).

Barnes adds:

The probable reason why Mark says it was in the days of Abiathar is that Abiathar was better known than Ahimelech. The son of the high-priest was regarded as his successor, and was often associated with him in the duties of his office. It was not improper, therefore, to designate him as high-priest even during the life of his father... (336).

and did eat the shewbread: The law of Moses commands that twelve loaves of bread should be laid on the table in the holy place in the tabernacle. The bread is a kind of offering to God. It is to remain on the table a week, and then it is to be replaced. According to Leviticus 24:9, when this bread is replaced at the end of the week it becomes the property of the priests and of the priests alone; no one else is permitted to eat it.

which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him: This story to which Jesus refers is recorded in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. David is fleeing from Saul. He is weary and hungry and comes to Ahimelech the priest at the tabernacle of Nob, which is a town near Jerusalem. David requests food, but there is no food except the shewbread. In spite of the fact that the priests alone could lawfully eat of the shewbread, because of David’s desperate need, he takes some of the shewbread and eats it and gives some of it to those who are with him.

Jesus is making the point that David’s action is an actual violation of the law, and yet his behavior is openly approved by the Pharisees. In contrast, Jesus’ disciples have actually broken no laws, but the Pharisees are harshly condemning them. Jesus is clearly showing how inequitable and highly prejudiced the Pharisees are in their judgments. They are magnanimous toward David, arguing that his need justified his eating that which is unlawful but rejecting the argument that the disciples’ need justifies their eating grain on the sabbath.

Verse 27

And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:

The sabbath was originally designed by God for the good of man. It was given to man as a blessing, as a day of rest, so man could rejuvenate and refresh himself. The Jews added so many technical restraints and cumbersome appendages that it became a hateful thing rather than a blessing.

Dorris explains:

The argument here is the law of the Sabbath is to bend to the highest interest and happiness of man, and not the highest interest and happiness of man to the Sabbath. The Sabbath laws must not, by a superstitious observance, be perverted to the exclusion of mercy and necessity. The Sabbath was not first made, and then man made to fit the Sabbath. Man was made first, and then the Sabbath was made to fit the man. Since it was intended for his good, therefore, the law respecting it must not be interpreted so as to oppose his real welfare. It must be interpreted in consistency with a proper attention to the duties of mercy to the poor and the sick, and to those in peril (68).

Verse 28

Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

Therefore the Son of man: This is the second time in Mark that Jesus refers to Himself as the "Son of man." This phrase is used in Psalms 8 and Daniel 7 to mean "man." McMillan points out that if this is the meaning Jesus intends:

Jesus is saying that man himself is greater than any religious institution and that religious laws were made for the benefit of his own self-expression, not to enslave him in any legalistic type of ritual (44).

McMillan is correct in his logic; and, consequently, the idea that "Son of man" refers simply to mankind must be rejected. To say that "man himself is greater than any religious institution," smacks of self-centered, solipsistic humanism. It would completely eliminate self-sacrifice, self-denial, and suffering "as a Christian" (1 Peter 4:16). It would promote the exaltation of self, which is nothing short of covetousness.

As was established earlier, however, Jesus did not use the title "Son of man" to refer to mankind. In verse 10 of this chapter, He uses this title to refer to One Who has power to forgive sins. It is used uniquely by Jesus as one of His Messianic titles. Wuest says the title means, "God the Son manifest in human flesh, identifying Himself in incarnation with mankind" (61).

is Lord: The word "Lord" is from the word kurios, and it means "he to whom a person or thing belongs, about which he has the power of deciding; master, lord" (Thayer 365).

also of the sabbath: As Deity, Christ is not only the Creator of the universe but He is also the Creator of the sabbath. The Creator is unquestionably the "Lord" or owner of His creation. As the Master, or Lord, of the sabbath, Jesus perfectly understands its purpose and the regulations that apply to it. He has, therefore, an irrefutable right to interpret the meaning of the sabbath law.

Sometimes people wonder why Sunday, the first day of the week, is observed as the day of worship rather than Saturday, the sabbath day. Sometimes it is suggested that the church took the sabbath idea from Judaism and gradually changed it from the seventh day to the first day of the week. A careful look at the New Testament shows that Sunday has been the special day of worship for Christians from the beginning (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2). It is upon Sunday, the first day of the week, that Christ arises from the dead (Matthew 28:1). It is upon this day that the church begins (Acts 2 :ff); and early on, Sunday becomes known as the "Lord’s Day" (Revelation 1:10).

It is not uncommon to hear people refer to Sunday as the "Christian sabbath." This is an incorrect and inappropriate reference. The sabbath was distinctively Jewish.

Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel... (Exodus 31:16-17).

Since the sabbath was never bound on anyone but the Jews, it is a contradiction of terms to refer to Sunday as a "Christian sabbath."

The Apostle Paul further points out in Colossians 2:16 that the sabbath was nailed to the cross with Christ and, consequently, was blotted out and taken "out of the way." As "Lord of the sabbath," Jesus had the power to institute the sabbath for the Jews, to give a true interpretation of it, and to abrogate it with His crucifixion as He ushers into existence the age of Christianity.

Copyright Statement
Contending for the Faith reproduced by permission of Contending for the Faith Publications, 4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Mark 2". "Contending for the Faith". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/mark-2.html. 1993-2022.