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Bible Commentaries
Mark 2

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 1-2

These two verses are an introduction to what follows. Mark frequently used summaries such as this one (cf. Mark 1:14-15; Mark 1:39; Mark 2:13; Mark 3:7-12; Mark 3:23; Mark 4:1; Mark 4:33-34; Mark 8:21-26; Mark 8:31; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:1; Mark 12:1). They are a characteristic of his literary style. "Several days afterward" translates a Jewish phrase that means "after a considerable interval." [Note: Ibid., 1:501.]

When Jesus returned to Capernaum after one of His preaching tours, it did not take news of His arrival long to circulate. Soon locals were mobbing Him. Jesus could not find a restful retreat even at home in Capernaum. He graciously used the opportunity to preach to them. Mark’s account stresses Jesus’ popularity.

Verses 1-6

D. Jesus’ initial conflict with the religious leaders 2:1-3:6

Mark next recorded five instances in which Israel’s leaders opposed Jesus, evidently not in chronological order. These occurred during the Galilean ministry of Jesus. Mark appears to have grouped them so his readers would see that opposition from leaders, particularly religious leaders, was something Jesus had to contend with and overcome. His readers were probably facing similar opposition, and this section should encourage and help all Christians experiencing conflict because they are trying to fulfill God’s mission for them.

Popularity with the masses led to problems with the magistrates. Opposition to Jesus intensifies throughout this section.

"The five conflicts between Jesus and the authorities in Galilee show a concentric [chiastic] relationship of A, B, C, B1, and A1. . . .

". . . this central episode [Jesus’ teaching about fasting, Mark 2:18-22] focuses on Jesus’ response rather than on conflicts or actions, and Jesus’ response illuminates all five of the episodes that make up the concentric pattern." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, p. 52. See pp. 52-53 for their full description of this narrative structure.]

"Mark’s story is one of conflict, and conflict is the force that propels the story forward. The major conflict is between Jesus and Israel, made up of the religious authorities and the Jewish crowd. Since the crowd does not turn against Jesus until his arrest, his antagonists are the authorities. . . .

"The groups comprising the religious authorities are the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 63.]

Verses 1-12

1. The healing and forgiveness of a paralytic 2:1-12 (cf. Matthew 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26)

". . . as Rabbinism stood confessedly powerless in face of the living death of leprosy, so it had no word of forgiveness to speak to the conscience burdened with sin, nor yet word of welcome to the sinner. But this was the inmost meaning of the two events which the Gospel-history places next to the healing of the leper: the forgiveness of sins in the case of the paralytic, and the welcome to the chief of sinners in the call of Levi-Matthew." [Note: Edersheim, 1:499.]

Verses 3-4

"In order to understand the action these verses describe, it is necessary to visualize the layout of a typical Palestinian peasant’s house. It was usually a small, one-room structure with a flat roof. Access to the roof was by means of an outside stairway. The roof itself was usually made of wooden beams with thatch and compacted earth in order to shed the rain. Sometimes tiles were laid between the beams and the thatch and earth placed over them." [Note: Wessel, p. 632.]

Another possibility is that this was the roof of a porch that was attached to the house. [Note: Edersheim, 1:504.] Mark’s unusually detailed account pictures four men almost frantic to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus so Jesus would heal him. They must have been unconcerned about the damage they were doing to the house and the shower of dirt they sent raining down on everyone below.

Verse 5

The pains they took proved their faith in Jesus’ ability and willingness to heal. Jesus responded by dealing with their friend’s need better than they had expected. Sin is the root of all sickness, not that there is always a close correspondence between sinfulness and sickness. Jesus authoritatively forgave the man’s sins as only God could do and so dealt with the ultimate cause of sickness.

"We must admire several characteristics of these men, qualities that ought to mark us as ’fishers of men.’ For one thing, they were deeply concerned about their friend and wanted to see him helped. They had the faith to believe that Jesus could and would meet his need. They did not simply ’pray about it,’ but they put some feet to their prayers; and they did not permit the difficult circumstances to discourage them. They worked together and dared to do something different, and Jesus rewarded their efforts. How easy it would have been for them to say, ’Well, there is no sense trying to get to Jesus today! Maybe we can come back tomorrow.’" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:115.]

Verses 6-7

Jesus’ claim to possess divine authority upset the teachers of the law who were present. The fact that they were sitting in that crowded house shows the respect the Jews gave them. No Old Testament prophet ever claimed personal authority to forgive sins, though Nathan had announced God’s forgiveness to David (2 Samuel 12:13). The Jews believed even the Messiah could not forgive sins because the Old Testament never attributed that power to Him. Only God could do that (cf. Exodus 34:6-9; Psalms 103:3; Psalms 130:4; Isaiah 43:25; Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 48:11; Daniel 9:9; Micah 7:18). [Note: Cf. Edwards, p. 222.] Consequently they regarded Jesus’ claim as blasphemous. Later they condemned Jesus to death for what they considered blasphemy (Mark 14:61-64).

"So from the very beginning of the story Jesus walks a tightrope-under constant threat-and must evade incriminating charges until the right time. His narrow escape from such a serious charge early in the story contributes significantly to the tension and suspense in this conflict." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, p. 87.]

Verses 8-9

Only God can heal and forgive sins. These actions are equally impossible to men. However a person cannot verify his claim to forgive sins, but his claim to be able to heal paralysis is verifiable. The scribes therefore assumed that the claim to heal paralysis was the greater one. Jesus frequently used the rabbinic device of asking counter questions, especially when dealing with opponents (cf. Mark 3:4; Mark 11:30; Mark 12:37).

Verses 10-11

Jesus chose to do what they considered harder to show that He could also do what they considered easier.

"He did the miracle which they could see that they might know that he had done the other one that they could not see." [Note: A. M. Hunter, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, p. 38.]

This is Mark’s first use of the title "Son of Man." He used it 14 times (cf. Mark 2:28; Mark 8:31; Mark 8:38; Mark 9:9; Mark 9:12; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:33; Mark 10:45; Mark 13:26; Mark 14:21 [twice], 41, 62). Scholars have debated the meaning of this title, but the best evidence points to Jesus meaning that He was the divine Messiah, the representative man (cf. Daniel 7:13-14). [Note: See Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark, pp. 197-98, who also presented four other views.]

"Jesus apparently chose this title for Himself because its use would not immediately associate Him in the thinking of the people with the undesirable connotations which had developed around the common term Messiah. Thus, His use of the term half concealed and half revealed His self-identification as the personal Messiah. While the term was recognized to have Messianic connections, the title Son of man would not force the people to make a premature decision concerning His identity in terms of their usual Messianic expectations. It would enable him to connect His Messianic self-presentation with views more in harmony with His own Person and teaching." [Note: Hiebert, p. 67.]

Jesus used the title "Son of Man" when He spoke of His sufferings and death (Mark 8:31; Mark 9:9-13; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:33; Mark 10:45; Mark 14:21; Mark 14:41). He also used it when speaking of His future return in glory (Mark 8:38; Mark 13:26; Mark 13:32; Mark 14:62). Thus He used this title to blend the concepts of the Suffering Servant and the Messiah in His readers’ minds. It also connected Him with mankind as the Son of Man. Still, He was the man with "authority on earth to forgive sins," the Judge.

Mark 2:10 reads awkwardly. It begins with Jesus apparently addressing the scribes. Without finishing His sentence He turned to the paralytic and spoke to Him (Mark 2:11). Some commentators have concluded that Jesus did not utter the first part of Mark 2:10, but Mark inserted it in the narrative as a statement to his readers. [Note: C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, p. 100; Wessel, p. 633; Grassmick, pp. 112-13.] Those who hold this view usually point out that Mark did not record Jesus’ revealing Himself as the Son of Man to unbelievers before the Resurrection. [Note: E.g., Lane, pp. 96-98; and G. H. Boobyer, "Mark II, 10a and the Interpretation of the Healing of the Paralytic," Harvard Theological Review 47 (1954):115.] Advocates take Mark 2:28 as another statement by Mark to his readers.

"The purpose of Mark’s commentary is to make the community of believers aware that they have experienced the messianic forgiveness of the Son of Man." [Note: Lane, p. 98.]

However, this type of editorial insertion is unusual in the Synoptics. Perhaps Jesus addressed the scribes and then let His comment to the paralytic be the conclusion of His word to them. [Note: Taylor, p. 197; Hiebert, p. 67.]

Jesus gave the paralytic a threefold command. "Rise" tested his faith. "Take up your pallet" required him to assume responsibility for himself that others had previously shouldered. "Go home" gave him direction that he needed.

"The pronouncement in Mark 2:10 means that the One who has authority to forgive sins in heaven is present in the Son of Man to forgive sins ’on earth.’" [Note: Edwards, p. 223.]

Verse 12

The man responded to all three commands immediately and obediently.

Jesus’ healing was complete and instantaneous. Everyone in the house witnessed the miracle including the religious leaders. They were amazed (Gr. existasthai, lit. "out of their minds," cf. Mark 3:21; Mark 5:42; Mark 6:51). They had witnessed something that neither they nor anyone else had ever seen. No one had ever given evidence of forgiving the sins of someone else. This was a strong testimony to Jesus’ deity. However from the reaction of the observers most of them apparently marveled at the physical miracle but did not worship Jesus as God.

Verse 13

"Again" (Gr. palin) identifies this incident as a different occasion (cf. Mark 1:16). Jesus had been in Capernaum, which was very close to the Sea of Galilee, but now He returned to the water’s edge where He could teach the large crowds that followed Him (cf. Mark 1:45; Mark 2:13; Mark 3:7; Mark 3:13; Mark 4:1; Mark 5:21; et al.).

"This action becomes meaningful when it is seen as part of a recurring pattern in Mark’s Gospel. After a demonstration of the saving power of God, Jesus withdraws from the populace to a lonely region, whether the wilderness, the mountain or the sea. . . . Like the return to the wilderness, the move to the sea entails a deliberate entrance into the sphere of forces which manifest their hostility to God." [Note: Lane, p. 100.]

Verses 13-17

2. The call of Levi and his feast 2:13-17 (cf. Matthew 9:13; Luke 5:27-32)

The call of Levi as one of Jesus’ disciples was the setting for the second instance of opposition from the religious leaders that Mark recorded in this section.

Verse 14

"Levi" was this man’s given name whereas Matthew ("gift of God," also Nathanael and Theodore) was a nickname. Matthew used the latter name for himself in his Gospel (Matthew 9:9; cf. Mark 3:18), but Mark and Luke spoke of him by his given name.

". . . in Galilee it was common to have two names-one the strictly Jewish, the other the Galilean. (Talmudic tractate Gittin 34 b)" [Note: Edersheim, 1:514.]

"It was not uncommon for a man to receive or assume a new name upon entering a new career." [Note: Hiebert, p. 69.]

The Jews despised tax collectors because they worked for the Romans and because they often extorted money for Rome from their fellow Jews. [Note: See. A. W. F. Blunt, The Gospel According to Saint Mark, pp. 155-56.] Levi worked for Herod Antipas since he lived in Capernaum. A major road passed through Capernaum connecting Damascus and the Mediterranean coast. The taxes Levi collected included export and import fees, sales and custom taxes, and various tolls. [Note: Guelich, p. 101.] Levi gave up a lucrative business when he chose to follow Jesus. A fisherman might return to fishing, but a tax collector could not return to his job since many people competed for this work even though it involved social ostracism. Nonetheless Levi responded immediately to Jesus’ gracious and authoritative invitation to follow Him.

"When a Jew entered the customs service he was regarded as an outcast from society: he was disqualified as a judge or a witness in a court session, was excommunicated from the synagogue, and in the eyes of the community his disgrace extended to his family." [Note: Lane, pp. 101-2.]

The fact that both Levi and James the Less had fathers named Alphaeus does not necessarily mean they were brothers. Apparently they were not. No Gospel writer linked them as they linked Simon and Andrew or James and John. Furthermore Alphaeus was a fairly common name.

Verses 15-16

Eating a meal together meant something in Jesus’ world that it does not mean today in the West. Hospitality was a sacred duty in the ancient Near East. When someone invited someone else to eat with him, he was extending a pledge of loyalty and protection to that person. To accept an invitation to dinner implied a willingness to become a close friend of the host. Jesus’ acceptance of table fellowship with sinners (i.e., outcasts) conveyed by action the forgiveness that He gave verbally in Mark 2:5. [Note: Guelich, p. 105.]

"It was an offer of peace, trust, brotherhood and forgiveness; in short, sharing a table meant sharing life." [Note: Joachim Jeremias, New Testament Theology, p. 115.]

This meal took place in Levi’s house (Luke 5:29). Apparently he had a large house that accommodated the throng easily, which indicates that he had some wealth.

Normally the Jews of Jesus’ day ate their meals seated. They only reclined on pillows or rugs when special guests were present or for festival meals. [Note: Idem, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, pp. 48-49.] Obviously Levi regarded Jesus’ presence with him as a special occasion.

The antecedent of the "them" who followed Jesus is probably the tax gatherers and sinners, though it may be the disciples. The term "the scribes of the Pharisees" occurs nowhere else in the Gospels. These were teachers of the law who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees.

"The Pharisees were progressive, a party among, though not of, the people. Their goal was that Israel should become the righteous nation of the covenant. To this end they taught compliance with the ’tradition of the elders,’ an oral code of conduct effectively adapting the law of Moses to later times and changing demands." [Note: Kingsbury, p. 63.]

Tax collectors had a bad reputation because they were often dishonest. [Note: J. R. Donahue, "Tax Collectors and Sinners: An Attempt at Identification," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 33 (1971):39-61.] The term "sinners" refers to Jews who did not follow the Pharisees’ traditions, as well as worse sinners. Jesus’ critics believed that He should not associate with such people if He had a genuine regard for the Old Testament, as they professed to have. To do so risked ceremonial defilement.

". . . the Talmud distinguishes two classes of ’publicans’: the tax-gatherer in general (Gabbai), and the Mokhes, or Mokhsa, who was specially the douanier or custom-house official. Although both classes fall under the rabbinic ban, the douanier-such as Matthew was-is the object of chief execration." [Note: Edersheim, 1:515.]

Verse 17

Self-righteous people such as these Pharisees saw no need for true righteousness because they viewed themselves as righteous. However the people the Pharisees labeled "sinners" represented real sinners, those lacking righteousness. Jesus said He spent time with sinners because they were the people who felt a need for what He had to offer, namely, spiritual healing. He was evidently modifying a well-known proverb. Jesus was using the terms "righteous" and "sinners" ironically here.

"It would be true to say that this word of Jesus strikes the keynote of the Gospel. The new thing in Christianity is not the doctrine that God saves sinners. No Jew would have denied that. It is the assertion ’that God loves and saves them as sinners.’ . . . This is the authentic and glorious doctrine of true Christianity in any age." [Note: Hunter, pp. 40-41.]

"The specific reference in Mark 2:17 to Jesus’ call of sinners to the Kingdom suggests that the basis of table-fellowship was messianic forgiveness, and the meal itself was an anticipation of the messianic banquet." [Note: Lane, p. 106. Cf. Matthew 8:10-11; and Revelation 3:20; 19:6-9.]

This verse is a fine summary statement of Jesus’ mission during His earthly ministry. It is one of only two sayings in Mark in which Jesus expressed His purpose in coming (cf. Mark 10:45). Here He presented Himself as the Healer, a divine title in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:26).

Verse 18

We do not know why John the Baptist’s disciples were fasting. Perhaps it was because he was then in prison or as an expression of repentance designed to hasten the coming of the kingdom. The Pharisees fasted twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays (cf. Luke 18:12). [Note: Wessel, p. 636.] The feast in Levi’s house may have occurred on one of these days.

Verses 18-22

3. The religious leaders’ question about fasting 2:18-22 (cf. Matthew 9:14-17; Luke 5:33-39)

The third objection the religious leaders voiced arose from the failure of Jesus’ disciples to observe the traditional, not Scriptural, fast days that the Pharisees observed (cf. Leviticus 16:29). Jesus’ association with tax gatherers and sinners seemed to them to result in the neglect of devout practices.

Verses 19-20

Jesus responded with a parable in which He is the bridegroom and His disciples are the friends of the bridegroom (cf. John 3:29). Jesus had come to unite with Israel, His bride, as her Messiah. The figure of Messiah as a bridegroom may have been unknown among the Jews at this time. [Note: See Lane, p. 110.] The wedding banquet seemed just a short time away. The prophets said it would occur after Messiah’s death and resurrection and after the Tribulation. The bridegroom would have to leave His friends and His bride before the banquet. Still while they were together they could and did rejoice, not mourn, which fasting represented. Jewish custom exempted the friends of a bridegroom from certain religious obligations including participating in the weekly fasts. [Note: Hiebert, p. 74.] This was Jesus’ first hint of His coming death in Mark’s Gospel.

Verses 21-22

Two more parables clarified why fasting was inappropriate for Jesus’ disciples then. Not only was the timing wrong, but the messianic age that Jesus would introduce would render the old traditional forms of Judaism obsolete. Judaism had become old, and Jesus was going to set up a new form of God’s kingdom on earth that would be similar to a new garment (cf. Hebrews 8:13), the messianic kingdom.

A garment symbolized the covering of man’s sinful condition in Old Testament usage (e.g., Genesis 3:21; Isaiah 61:10). The Jews were to lay aside the old garment of the Mosaic dispensation and put on the new of the messianic age. Judaism had also become rigid and inflexible because of the traditions that had encrusted it, like old goatskins that contained wine. Jesus’ kingdom could not operate within those constraints. It would be a new and more flexible vehicle for bringing joy (wine) to humanity.

The first of these three parables may have been more relevant to John’s disciples since they anticipated a coming change. Jesus may have directed the second and third parables more to the Pharisees since they wanted to maintain the legalistic practices of Judaism that were now threadbare and inflexible.

4. The controversies about Sabbath observance 2:23-3:6

The remaining two instances of opposition from the religious leaders arose over and concerned Sabbath observance. In the first case, the Pharisees opposed Jesus for permitting His disciples to do something they considered sinful. In the second, they opposed Him for doing something Himself that they objected to.

Verses 23-24

Jesus’ disciples did something that the Mosaic Law permitted when they plucked the ears of wheat or barley (Deuteronomy 23:25). However by doing it on a Sabbath day they violated a traditional Pharisaic interpretation of the law. The Pharisees taught that to do what the disciples did constituted reaping, threshing, and winnowing, and that was forbidden work on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10). [Note: Mishnah Shabbath 7:2.]

Verses 23-28

Picking grain on the Sabbath 2:23-28 (cf. Matthew 12:1-8; Luke 6:1-5)

Verses 25-26

The incident Jesus referred to is in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. Mark was the only evangelist to mention that Abiathar was the high priest then. This seemingly contradicts the Old Testament since Ahimelech, the father or Abiathar, was the high priest then according to the writer of 1 Samuel. The best solution to this problem seems to be that Jesus referred to Abiathar because he was the better-known priest during David’s reign. The phrase "in the time of" or "in the days of" probably means "during the lifetime of" rather than "during the high priesthood of." [Note: James Morison, A Practical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Mark, pp. 60-63, gave 10 possible solutions to this problem.]

Jesus’ point was this. David technically broke the ritual law by eating bread that only the priests were to eat. Nevertheless he could do so because David was on the Lord’s service. As such, he could do things other Israelites, not on the Lord’s service, could not do. Furthermore the offense was a matter of religious ritual, not a moral violation of the law, as the Pharisees were implying. Another example of violating the letter of the law to observe its spirit is King Hezekiah’s granting the Israelites who were unclean permission to eat the Passover (2 Chronicles 30:18-20). God did not object to that either. Another explanation of David’s action is that God permitted it because of the urgency of his situation and that Jesus was claiming that His mission was equally urgent. [Note: Mark L. Bailey, in The New Testament Explorer, p. 72.]

The Pharisees failed in two respects. First, they did not distinguish which laws were more important. Serving the Lord is more important than resting, and man is more important than the Sabbath.

"Human need is a higher law than religious ritual." [Note: Ralph Earle, The Gospel According to Mark, p. 49.]

Second, they did not recognize Jesus as the anointed Servant of the Lord that the Old Testament predicted would come, the Son of David. Mark did not mention, as Matthew did, that Jesus pointed out that one greater than the temple had come (Matthew 12:6). Mark’s emphasis was not on Jesus as the King as much as it was on Jesus as the Lord’s anointed Servant. As God’s anointed Servant, Jesus had the right to provide for His disciples’ physical needs even though that meant violating a tradition governing ritual worship.

Verses 27-28

The Pharisees made the Sabbath a strait jacket that inhibited the Jews, though the rabbis conceded that some activities superceded Sabbath observance. [Note: Edersheim, 2:57, 60-61.] Jesus pointed out that God gave the Sabbath as a good gift. He designed it to free His people from ceaseless labor and to give them rest. Sabbath observance had to contain enough elasticity to assure the promotion of human welfare. Jesus’ point was the following.

"Since the Sabbath was made for man, He who is man’s Lord . . . has authority to determine its law and use." [Note: Taylor, p. 219.]

Only Mark recorded, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). One of his concerns in this Gospel was the welfare of mankind.

Since in the Old Testament the Sabbath was the Lord’s day in a special sense, Mark’s statement about Jesus in Mark 2:28 identifies Him again for the reader as God. [Note: See Daniel Doriani, "The Deity of Christ in the Synoptic Gospels," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:3 (September 1994):333-50.] Jesus had the right to determine how people should use the Sabbath. As mentioned previously, there is some question as to whether the words in this verse were those of Jesus or of Mark (cf. Mark 2:10).

". . . the exousia [authority] of Jesus manifests itself vis-a-vis the rabbinic tradition, the religious hierarchy, and the temple tradition. Foremost here is Jesus’ reinterpretation of the Sabbath . . ." [Note: Edwards, p. 224. ]

"With this word Mark drives home for his readers the theological point of the pericope. These things were written that they may understand Jesus’ true dignity: he is the Lord of the Sabbath." [Note: Lane, p. 120.]

One writer sought to prove that the New Testament teaches Sabbath observance for Christians. [Note: Walter J. Chantry, "Does the New Testament Teach the Fourth Commandment?" The Banner of Truth 325 (October 1990):18-23.] I do not think it does (cf. Romans 7:4; Romans 10:4; Romans 14:5; Galatians 4:10-11).

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Mark 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/mark-2.html. 2012.
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