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Friday, December 1st, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Mark 9

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

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Verse 1


(1) And he said unto them.—The division of the chapters is obviously wrong. The verse ought to come, as in St. Matthew and St. Luke, in immediate connection with the foregoing discourse. The present arrangement may have been made with a view of connecting it with the Transfiguration, as that which was the fulfilment of the promise; but if so, it was based on what is at least a doubtful interpretation. (See Note on Matthew 16:28.) The form of the words in St. Mark agrees with St. Luke’s report, “until they shall see the kingdom of God,” rather than with St. Matthew’s “the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

Come with power.—The Greek verb implies that they should see it not “coming,” but as having actually come in its completeness.

Verses 2-8

(2-8) And after six days.—See Notes on Matthew 17:1-8.

Verse 3

(3) Shining.—Better, perhaps, glittering.

Exceeding white as snow.—The two last words are wanting in the best MSS. The comparison of the bright raiment with clothes that had just passed through the fuller’s or bleacher’s hands, is, in its homely vividness, peculiar to St. Mark.

Verse 5

(5) Master.—St. Mark, after his manner, gives the Hebrew “Rabbi” for the “Lord” of St. Matthew, and the “Master” of St. Luke.

Verse 7

(7) This is my beloved Son.—It will be noted that St. Mark omits the words “in whom I am well pleased.”

Verses 9-13

(9-13) And as they came down from the mountain.—See Notes on Matthew 17:9-13.

Verse 10

(10) And they kept that saying with themselves.—We again note what we may describe as a characteristic touch, analysing the mental condition of the disciples in relation to their Master’s teaching.

Verse 13

(13) As it is written of him.—The words are peculiar to St. Mark, and probably point (1) to the special prediction of the coming of Elijah in Malachi 4:0, and (2) to the parallelism between the career of the Baptist and that of the Tishbite prophet. What had been written of or for the one, the record of bold rebuke and consequent suffering for the Truth, had received its fulfilment in the other.

Verses 14-29

(14-29) And when he came to his disciples.—See Notes on Matthew 17:14-21. The narrative of St. Mark here becomes much the fullest of the three. He alone mentions, e.g., in this verse, the presence of the scribes disputing with the disciples, and in the next, the “running” and the “greeting” with which the multitude received our Lord as He came down from the mountain, and the question in Mark 9:16 as to the cause of the dispute.

Verse 15

(15) Were greatly amazed.—This fact is noted by St. Mark only. We are not told what caused it. Was there some lingering radiance, or some expression of divine joy hardly less radiant, that struck the disciples and the people as strangely unlike the sadness that had been shown in recent words and looks? (Mark 8:30-33).

Verse 17

(17) A dumb spirit.—This, again, is peculiar to St. Mark, as is also the “gnashing of the teeth” and the “pining” or “withering” in the next verse.

Verse 20

(20) He fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.—Another graphic touch found only in St. Mark.

Verse 21

(21) And he asked his father.—The question, asked as if to bring into strong relief the chronic, and therefore seemingly hopeless, character of the possession, is peculiar to this Gospel, as is the circumstantial account of the falling oft-times “into the fire and into the waters.”

Verse 22

(22) If thou canst do any thing.—The words are spoken almost in the accents of despair. Could He, the Master, prevail where the disciples had failed?

Verse 23

(23) If thou canst believe.—The better MSS. omit the word “believe,” and the sentence without it is taken as expressing the sadness of surprise. Our Lord repeats the half-believing, half-despairing words of the father in a tone of sadness, If thou canst. . . . Was this the way in which a man should speak who came to Him as a Healer? Such a one had to learn the great primary lesson that “all things were possible to him that believeth,” that the secret of previous failure lay, in part at least, in his own want of faith, as well as in that of the scribes and disciples who had tried their arts of exorcism in vain.

Verse 24

(24) And straightway the father of the child . . .—The whole verse is peculiar to St. Mark. The better MSS. omit “with tears.” The answer of the father shows that the conflict between faith and unfaith was still continuing; but the relative position of the two had altered for the better, and the former was beginning to prevail.

Verse 25

(25) When Jesus saw that the people came running together.—This fact and the words of the rebuke to the “deaf and dumb spirit” are found only in St. Mark.

Enter no more into him.—We may note in these words, used by our Lord in this case only, a tender adaptation to the weak faith of the father. He had seen so many relapses, the last state worse than the first, that it was hard for him to take in the thought that the cure would be complete and permanent.

Verse 26

(26) Rent him sore.—The verb is the same as the “tare him” of Mark 9:20, and implies a spasm, as of horror, convulsing the whole frame. The corpse-like falling as one dead, and the cry of many (better, “the many”—i.e., “the greater part, most of them”) that he was dead, and our Lord’s taking the boy by the hand, and the question of the disciples, are all peculiar to St, Mark.

Verse 29

(29) But by prayer and fasting.—The better MSS. omit the last two words. It is possible that they may have been added, like the “tears” of Mark 9:24, to strengthen the words actually spoken, by bringing in what had been found to bring with it a new intensity of spiritual volition, and therefore of power to rescue human souls from the frenzy and despair into which they had been plunged by the unclean spirits that possessed them. A like addition of “fasting” to prayer, apparently from a like ascetic tendency, is found in 1 Corinthians 7:5, where see Note. In St. Matthew both words are found, but some of the most ancient MSS. omit the whole verse. On the whole, however, there is a balance of evidence in their favour; and, as shown in the Note on Matthew 17:21, what they teach is in harmony with other portions of the teaching both of our Lord and His Apostles.

Verses 30-32

(30-32) And they departed thence.—See Notes on Matthew 17:22-23.

He would not that any man should know it.—We note St. Mark’s addition, as showing that the apparent shrinking from publicity which had marked our Lord’s action since the feeding of the Four Thousand still continued.

Verse 32

(32) They understood not that saying.—The words, giving once more a kind of psychological analysis of the disciples’ thoughts, are not in St. Matthew, but are found in St. Luke. They imply the continuance of the perplexity described in Mark 9:10.

Verses 33-37

(33-37) And he came to Capernaum.—See Notes on Matthew 18:1-5. The arrival at Capernaum is given by St. Matthew in connection with the narrative of the didrachma or tribute money, which in his Gospel immediately precedes that now before us. St. Mark alone records the previous dispute of the disciples, and the question which brought that dispute as into the light of day.

Verse 34

(34) Who should be the greatest.—Better, more simply, who was the greatest.

Verse 36

(36) When he had taken him in his arms.—The act is expressed in the Greek by a single participle which occurs only here and in Mark 10:16. It may mean either that the child was taken up in our Lord’s arms, or that the arms were folded round him. The latter is somewhat the more probable.

Verse 37

(37) Whosoever shall receive.—St. Mark omits part of what St. Matthew records, “Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself . . .” and, with St. Luke, adds the last clause, “Whosoever shall receive Me . . .” The climax carries the truth to its completion. When we love a little child in the name of Christ, i.e., for His sake, and after His manner, we are sharers in His spirit, and when we love or receive Him who was one with the Father, we enter into fellowship with Him who is the Supreme and Eternal Love. (Comp. John 14:10; John 14:23.)

Verse 38

(38) And John answered him.—The incident that follows, omitted by St. Matthew, is recorded by St. Luke in the same connection. It indicates something of the same zeal as that which desired that fire might come from heaven to consume the Samaritans who refused to receive our Lord (Luke 9:52). The words were so far an “answer” to what our Lord had said, that they were suggested by it. The disciple desired to show, as in self-vindication, that he not only “received” his Master, but that he was unwilling to “receive” any who did not openly follow Him as a disciple. The fact of which he speaks is significant historically as indicating that one of the effects of our Lord’s work had been to stir up and quicken the spiritual powers of men outside the range of the company of disciples that gathered round Him. They believed in Him, or they would not have used His Name. They were fellow-workers with Him, for they were seeking to rescue the souls of men from frenzy and despair. Their faith was effective, for, as the narrative implies, they not only claimed the power to cast out demons, but did cast them out. The case stood, it is obvious, on an entirely different footing from that of the sons of Sceva, in Acts 19:13-14, which at first sight seems to resemble it.

Verse 39

(39) A miracle.—Better, a mighty work, or work of power.

Lightly.—Literally, quickly. The words are wide-reaching in their range. The true disciples of Christ are to hinder no one who is really doing His work. The very fact that they do it will bring with it reverence and sympathy. They will not quickly be found among those who speak evil of the Son of Man. So of old Moses answered the prayer of Joshua that he would forbid Eldad and Medad to prophesy in the camp, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29). So St. Paul rejoiced that every way Christ was preached (Philippians 1:18). So too often have churches and their teachers not acted when men were doing the work of Christ, combating evil, relieving wants, in ways more or less irregular, or with faith more or less imperfect. In all such cases we need to remember the words “Forbid him not . . . he that is not against us is on our side.”

Verse 41

(41) Whosoever shall give you a cup of water.—See Note on Matthew 10:42. The reproduction of the promise in so different a context is significant as an instance of our Lord’s method of teaching, reiterating words of blessing and of wisdom till they were engraved indelibly on the minds of those who heard them.

Verses 42-48

(42-48) Whosoever shall offend.—See Notes on Matthew 18:6-9. The verbal, or all but verbal, reproduction of these verses indicates the impression which they had made on the disciples. It may be noted, however, that St. Mark omits the “Woe unto the world because of offences . . .,” which we find in St. Matthew, and that the emphatic thrice-repeated words, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched,” are found only in St. Mark. It should be noted, however, that in Mark 9:43; Mark 9:45 the words “into the fire that never shall be quenched” are omitted in some of the best MSS., and that the same MSS., and others, omit both Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46, leaving Mark 9:48 to stand as the only description of Gehenna.

Verse 43

(43) Into hell.—Better, Gehenna, to distinguish it from the other word “Hades,” also translated “Hell.” (See Notes on Matthew 5:22.)

Verse 44

(44) Where their worm dieth not.—The words are taken almost literatim from the closing verse of Isaiah (Isaiah 66:24), where they appear as part of the description of the triumph of Jehovah. The true worshippers should serve in His Temple continually, and they should go forth and see the carcases of the transgressors, “for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” The scenery is, like that of Isaiah 63:1-6, drawn from the slaughter of earthly battles, and the prophet exults in vision over the putrid carcases and the blazing fires that consume them, and thinks of that scene as perpetuated throughout eternity. The imagery was thus already familiar, and it coalesced naturally with the ideas of Gehenna. Possibly the valley of Hinnom, as the great cloaca of Jerusalem, receiving its solid as well as its fluid sewage, with putrid offal and blazing fires consuming them, had become in this way a visible type of the unseen Gehenna; but the authorities are hardly definite enough to warrant the positive statement that it presented such a scene. The interpretation of the symbols (for a literal acceptance of the words is obviously out of the question) is not far to seek. Well-nigh all Christian thinkers have seen in the gnawing worm, the anguish of an endless remorse, the memory of past sins. Fire retains its wonted force as the expression of the righteousness of God (Hebrews 12:29) manifesting itself to the consciousness of the sinner in all its awfulness, purifying where there is any desire, and therefore capacity, for purification, but never altering its essential character, even as the fire “never can be quenched.” So much the words declare distinctly, as the law of righteous retribution. They do not absolutely exclude the thought that the fire may consume or destroy that which it cannot purify; still less do they affirm that it will.

Verse 49

(49) Every one shall be salted with fire.—The verse presents considerable difficulties, both as regards the reading and the interpretation. Many of the best MSS. omit the latter clause; one of the best omits the first. It is as if transcribers felt that either clause was more intelligible by itself than the two taken together. Accepting both clauses as, on the whole, sufficiently authenticated, we have to deal with their meaning. (1) The most generally received interpretation of the first clause is that which eliminates from the process of salting the idea of purifying, or preserving from corruption, and sees in it only the symbol of perpetuation. So taken, the words become an emphatic assertion of the endlessness of future punishment—as in Keble’s lines:

“Salted with fire, they seem to show
How spirits lost in endless woe

May undecaying live.”

Against this, however, it may be urged (a) that it arbitrarily limits the “every one” of the sentence to those who are finally condemned and are cast into Gehenna; (b) that it is scarcely conceivable that the same word, “salted,” should be used in such contrasted senses in the same verse; (c) that the uniform symbolism of “salt,” as representing the spiritual element that purifies and preserves from taint (see Matthew 5:13; Luke 14:34; Colossians 4:6; Leviticus 2:13), is against this application of it. We have to ask whether “fire” appears with a like symbolism and with an application as universal as that of this verse. And the answer is found partly in “the baptism with the Holy Ghost and with fire,” of which the Baptist spoke (Matthew 3:11); the “fire already kindled” of our Lord’s teaching (Luke 12:49); the “fire” which “shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” of 1 Corinthians 3:13; the “fire that tries men’s faith” of 1 Peter 1:7. In these passages there can be no shadow of doubt that “fire” represents the righteousness of God manifested as punishing and chastising—the discipline, in other words, of suffering. Of that discipline, our Lord says “every one” shall be a partaker. He shall thus be “salted with fire,” for the tendency of that fire, the aim of the sufferings which it represents, is to purify and cleanse. Even when manifested in its most awful forms, it is still true that they who “walk righteously and speak uprightly” may dwell with “everlasting burnings”—i.e., with the perfect and consuming holiness of God (Isaiah 33:14). (2) The second clause is obviously far simpler. The “sacrifice” throws us back upon the ritual of Leviticus 2:13, which prescribed that salt should be added, as the natural symbol of incorruption, to every sacrifice. Here our Lord speaks of the spiritual sacrifice which each man offers of his body, soul, and spirit (Romans 12:1), and declares that “salt,” the purifying grace of the Eternal Spirit, is needed that it may be acceptable. Punishment, the pain which we feel when brought into contact with the infinite Righteousness represented by fire, may do its work in part; but it requires something more for completeness. The sacrifice must be “salted with salt,” as well as with “fire.” To use another figure, there must be the baptism of the Holy Ghost, as well as that of fire (Matthew 3:11).

Verse 50

(50) Salt is good.—See Note on Matthew 5:13. There, however, the primary reference of the words is to the visible community of believers, the Church of Christ, as preserving the world from corruption. Here the words speak primarily of the inward grace, of which the salt is the symbol, and which alone makes the Church what it ought to be, as “the salt of the earth.”

Have salt in yourselves.—The words that follow, “have peace in yourselves,” seem to refer to the contention in Mark 9:33, with which this portion of our Lord’s teaching had begun. The purity from selfish aims, which was symbolised by the “salt,” was the chief or only preservative of peace.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Mark 9". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/mark-9.html. 1905.
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