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Bible Commentaries

International Critical Commentary NT

Mark 4

Verses 1-99

THE PARABLES OF JESUS

4. With one exception, the prophetic discourse of ch. 13, the parables are the only connected discourse in Mk. And it is the only specimen of teaching without any statement of the circumstances in which it originated. Indeed, it follows from what Jesus says about the object of his teaching in parables, that it would be without any such ground in events or questions, as would furnish a key to the meaning of the parable. Like all our Lord’s teaching, it grew out of the conditions of the time, but the connection is not indicated, except as one reads the riddle of the parable itself. And in this way, it serves his purpose of veiling the truth, except to the initiated. But when one understands the μυστήριον, the secret of the kingdom, the occasion is obvious. That secret, not known at the time by any one but Jesus, and not to be communicated to outsiders, was that the kingdom is a seed which grows, and not an authority to be externally set up and enforced. The occasion is thus the hindrances to the work of Jesus, the opposition of the rulers, the dulness and superficiality of the multitude, and the question even of the disciples, why he does not brush these obstacles away and set up the Messianic kingdom.

THE PARABLE OF THE SOWER

1-9. Jesus comes again to the shore of the lake, where he is followed by the usual multitude, whom he teaches from a boat in parables.

1. πάλιν—again connects this with the events by the shore of the lake, 3:7 sq.; cf. 2:13, 1:16. καὶ συνάγεται πρὸς αὐτὸν ὄχλος πλεῖστος—and there gathers to him a very great multitude.

συνάγεται, instead of συνήχθη, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCL Δ 13, 28, 69, 124. πλεῖστος instead of πολύς, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCL Δ.

The great multitude repeats the scene of the previous gathering at the shore of the lake, and the boat is apparently the boat which he ordered the disciples to have in readiness for him at that time, 3:7, 9.

εἰς πλοῖον ἐμβάντα (omit τὸ), having entered a boat, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCKLM 1, 33, 118, 131, 209 etc.

πρὸς τὴν θάλασσαν ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἦσαν—were towards the sea upon the land.1

ἦσαν, instead of ἦν, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCL Δ 33, mss. of Lat. Vet.

Luke 8:1-4 gives a different setting to the parable. According to him, it was spoken during a journey in the cities and villages of Galilee.


2. ἐδίδασκεν—he was teaching. The impf. describes the act in its progress. ἐν παραβολαῖς—in parables.2 Here we have the parable drawn out into a story. ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ αὐτοῦ—in his teaching. The word denotes the act of teaching, not the doctrine, or thing taught.�

ἐκείνοις δὲ τοῖς ἔξω—to those outsiders. The EV. translates τοῖς ἔξω by them who are without. And we need to add something to this to indicate the presence of the demonstrative. This can be done by emphasizing the word them (those), or by translating τοῖς ἔξω outsiders. Jesus has in mind probably the multitude just gone from them, whom he points out in ἐκείνοις, and describes by τοῖς ἔξω; cf. Matthew 13:11, where ἐκείνοις alone is used. The connection with τ. βασιλείας τ. Θεοῦ in the preceding clause indicates that it is the kingdom of God outside of which he places them. Those inside the kingdom know its secrets, those outside do not know them. τὰ πάντα—all things. It is defined by the context as all things pertaining to the mystery of the kingdom.


ἐν παραβολαῖς—in parables. Instead of being stated in terms belonging to itself, the mystery of the kingdom is so stated in terms belonging to another realm, as to veil it. The parable, i.e. by itself, without its key. If the truth is stated first abstractly, and then in terms of the analogy, the two help to the understanding of each other by showing that the phenomenon is not special, but common, a general fact belonging to the related realms of matter and spirit. But without this key, the parable remains a riddle, which is one of its meanings.

12. ἵνα βλέποντες βλέπωσι, καὶ μὴ ἴδωσι—in order that seeing, they may see, and not perceive. It is evident that ἴδωσι expresses a more inward and real sight than βλέπωσι. The idea is expressed thus, in order that in the act of seeing, there may be merely outward seeing and not perception. The contrast is more exactly expressed by the difference between�

The whole verse is a translation of Isaiah 6:9, adapted freely from the Sept. It takes these phrases�


In explaining this difficult passage, it is to be noticed, first, that the difference between the form of the quotation in Mk. and Lk. on the one hand, and Mt. on the other, corresponds to a like difference between the original Hebrew and the LXX. In the Hebrew, God says to his prophet, “Go, … 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 turn again and be healed.” That is, God is represented as sending his prophet to harden the heart of the people by his prophetic message, as if Rubinstein should have been told to deaden people’s musical sense by his playing, or Bishop Brooks to stifle their religious sense by his preaching. In the LXX., on the contrary, the hardening is the cause, not the purpose. The people will not hear the prophet’s message because their heart is hardened, and they have shut their eyes. So in Mt., following the LXX., Jesus speaks to them in parables because their heart is waxed gross, and their ears dull of hearing. And especially, the obnoxious μήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσιν κ. ἰάσομαι αὐτούς is included in the result of their own conduct, and not in the Divine purpose. Mk. and Lk., however, follow the original in making the failure to hear and see to be the purpose of the parable. But Lk. omits the obnoxious μήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσιν κ.�

19. αἱ μέριμναι—the cares. Literally, the distractions. They are the things that divide the unity of the spirit, drawing it off different ways. τοῦ αἰῶνος—the age. EV. world. There is only one passage, Hebrews 1:2, in which there is any call to render this word world instead of age. Here it means the present evil time. It is contrasted with the αἰὼν μέλλων, the coming time, in which good, instead of evil, will predominate.


Omit τούτου, this, after τοῦ αἰῶνος Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCDL Δ 1, 102, mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg. etc.

ἀπάτη τοῦ πλούτου—deceit of wealth, the power which it has to deceive men with its enticements, representing itself as the great good. τὰ λοιπὰ—not other things, but the remaining things. The article renders it definite. The other things of the same character as wealth are meant. συμπνίγουσι—the compound represents the completeness of the process, choke utterly.1 ἄκαρπος—unfruitful. The test of genuine appropriation of the truth is, that it produces effects of life and character corresponding to itself. The characteristic of this class of hearers is prepossession of the soil by alien things, which have not been weeded out. The warning against wealth in the�

We have three different pronouns, or adjectives, used in pointing out the various classes of hearers. οὗτοι, then οὗτοι ὁμοίως, indicating a general resemblance; then ἄλλοι, denoting a specific difference; and finally ἐκεῖνοι, denoting contrast with all that precede. οἱ σπαρέντες—that were sown. The part. in the other cases has been present, denoting the general fact about seed sown in such places. The aor. here confines it to the particular case of the parable. οἵτινες—differs from the simple relative in that it generalizes the statement; whoever, or such as. παραδέχονται—Always, in the N.T., this denotes a favorable reception, to accept, the opposite of reject. καρποφοροῦσιν—bear fruit. This is what distinguishes the good soil from all others. What is planted in it bears fruit; truth becomes virtue in that soil. It does not denote the labors or success of this class of laborers in propagating truth. Our Lord distinguishes between this kind of fruit and the obedience which is the real test of discipleship, in Matthew 7:21-23. ἐν τριάκοντα —literally in thirty. The preposition denotes the number as that in which the fruit-bearing is accomplished.


The choice between ἐν and ἓν is a matter of interpretation, not of text, as the original had neither breathings nor accents. But all the accented uncials give ἐν, also 1, 33, 69, 124, Syrr.; so Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. Latt. Memph. read ἓν. Before the other numerals, WH. bracket ἐν, on account of its omission by BC* ἐν gives the better construction, and is the probable reading, as the neuter ἓν has nothing with which to agree.

GENERAL REFLECTIONS ON THE SUBJECT OF THE PARABLE

Jesus is led on by the necessity of fruitfulness emphasized in the parable to present this under another analogy, of giving light. And this leads him to speak still further of the provision against hiding, or secrecy, in the Divine economy. Finally, to enforce what he has said of the way in which men treat the word, he enjoins on them to consider what they hear. It will be seen that there is a certain appositeness in the connection of these detached sayings. But in the case of the statement about secrecy, another connection is possible, at least.

21-25. 21. καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς—And he said to them. This indicates a change of subject. Μήτι differs from μή, in strengthening the negative answer implied. The lamp does not come at all, does it? ὐπὸ τ. μόδιον—under the peck measure.1 λυχνία—lampstand2 It corresponds to λύχνος, lamp, in the preceding part of the statement.

Mt. introduces this proverb in the Sermon on the Mount, 5:14-16 with the meaning, The light that is in you is not meant to be hidden, but to shine forth in good deeds in the sight of men. And here, it is probably put into connection with the preceding statement about fruit-bearing, in order to enforce anew, under another figure, the fact that the ultimate end of truth in man is to come out into manifestation as virtue. Truth considered as seed, bears fruit; considered as light, it shines, but the one fact expressed in both figures is that it results in character and conduct.

22. οὐ γάρ ἐστί τι κρυπτόν, ἐὰν μὴ ἵνα φανερωθῇ—for there is nothing hidden, except that it may be manifested.

Omit the relative ὃ before ἐὰν μὴ, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א ABCKL Δ 1, 13, 28, 33, 69, 209. D 49, mss. of Lat. Vet.�

24. Καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτοῖς—and he said to them. See note on v. 21. βλέπετε τί�Matthew 7:2, that men will treat you as you treat them. But this leaves the whole thing without any connection with the rest of the discourse, utterly irrelevant. Whereas it is evident that�

ἑν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε, μετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν—in what measure you measure it will be measured to you. As we have seen, the meaning of this familiar proverb in Matthew 7:2 does not fit here. In this passage, it means, Whatever measure you use yourself will be the one in which truth will be measured out to you. If a man accustoms himself to small measures of truth, small measures will be dealt out to him, and vice versa. καὶ προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν—and it shall be increased to you. This is commonly interpreted to mean that not only the same, but a larger measure will be dealt out to them. But this is inconsistent with the statement that in what measure they measure it will be measured to them. προστεθήσεται as well as μετρηθήσεται is modified by ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε. In what measure you measure it shall be measured and increased to you. The measure and increase of their knowledge will both be proportioned to their own measures. Whatever they present will be filled.


Omit τοῖς�

35. ἐκείνῃ τ. ἡμέρᾳ—that day, viz. the day on which Jesus uttered the parables. Mt. connects this stilling of the storm with the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, and the gathering of the multitude about him at that time. Cf. Matthew 8:14-27, and Mark 1:29-34. However, the mark of time in Mt. is not definite enough to create positive disagreement. Lk. says simply on one of the days. ὀψίας1—evening. It is either the time between three and six, or that between six and dark. Probably the former is meant here, as the latter time would not allow for the events that follow. Διέλθωμεν εἰς τὸ πέραν2—Let us cross over to the other side. Jesus’ frequent crossing to the other side of the lake was due to its unpopulated condition, and to the comparative ignorance of himself there, giving him an escape from the wearing ministries to the crowd on the populous west shore, and also frequently from his enemies.


36. παραλαμβάνουσιν αὐτὸν ὡς ἦν ἐν τ. πλοίῳ—they take him along as he was in the boat. This refers evidently to the boat from which Jesus taught the multitude, v. 1. The explanations of the parables, therefore, v. 10 sq.34, must have been made at some other time. It seems, according to this statement, that the disciples dismissed the multitudes without Jesus leaving the boat, and then, without further delay or preparation, took him along in the boat where he had remained all the time. Mt. makes the different statement, that Jesus embarked in the boat, and his disciples followed him.

καὶ ἄλλα πλοῖα ἦν μετʼ αὐτοῦ—And other boats were with him.

Omit δὲ after ἄλλα, Treg. WH. RV. א BC* L Δ Latt. etc. πλοῖα, instead of πλοιάρια, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א ABCDKM Δ 1, 13, 33, 69, etc.

μετʼ αὐτοῦ, with him, settles the fact, that the other boats were in their company. Jesus was followed about from place to place, not only by the twelve regularly and by appointment associated with him, but by other disciples more or less intimately attached to his person. These would follow him in boats across the lake. Mk., with his usual eye for a picture, adds this to complete the scene, and to be carried in the mind when the story of the storm is reached.

37. λαῖλαψ—a storm marked by frequent great gusts of wind. Mt. uses σεισμός, which means properly earthquake, but denoting here the turbulence of the storm.

καὶ τὰ κύματα ἐπέβαλλεν1—and the waves were beating into the boat. εἰς—into, not against. ὥστε ἤδη γεμίζεσθαι τ. πλοῖον—so that already the boat was filling. Not full, AV. The verb is present, and denotes the act in its progress, not its completion.

ἤδη γεμίζεσθαι τὸ πλοῖον, instead of αὐτὸ ἤδη γεμίζεσθαι, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. אa BCDL Δ most mss. Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph. Harcl. marg.

This repetition of the noun, instead of the pronoun, is quite in Mk.’s style.

38. καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν ἐν τῇ πρύμνῃ—And he was in the stern. The pronoun is emphatic.

ἐν τῇ πρύμνῃ, instead of ἐπὶ, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. אABCDL Δ etc.

This sleep is noticeable, because it shows the fatigue of Jesus after his day’s work, and his unconsciousness of the violent storm. Διδάσκαλε—Teacher, not Master, by which the word is persistently mistranslated in the EV. The title used by the disciples was probably Rabbi. οὐ μέλει σοι; carest thou not? This question implies that they thought of Jesus as waking sufficiently to know what was going on, but going off to sleep again regardless of their fate.

39. ἐπετίμησε—he rebuked. The verb contains in itself not only the notion of chiding, but also of restraint by that means. Probably, all that Jesus said was Σιῶπα, πεφίμωσο, so that the chiding would be expressed in the tones of his voice. πεφίμωσο—be silent, be muzzled. Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:9, TR. The latter is not only a strong word in itself, but the perf. imp. strengthens the command, like our have done with it. It means not only be still, but stay so.2 ἐκόπασεν—ceased. This again is a descriptive word, denoting not only ceasing, but the ceasing of a tired person. γαλήνη μεγάλη—a great calm, contrasted with the great storm. Cf. v. 37.


40. Τί δειλοί ἐστε; οὔπω ἔχετε πίστιν;—Why are you fearful? have you not yet faith? The lack of faith is in himself, in his power and disposition to care for them, and, as implied in the οὔπω, after so many attestations of both. Their appeal to him while he was asleep had not been the calm invocation of a trusted power, but the frightened reproach of those whose faith is defeated by danger.

οὔπω, instead of οὕτω; πῶς οὐκ, Treg. WH. RV. א BDL Δ, most mss. Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph.

41. ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν—they were frightened a great fright.3 The subject is the disciples, who alone are mentioned here. Mt., on the contrary, says οἱ ἄνθρωποι. Τίς ἄρα—who then, a question inspired by what they had seen. ὅτι—that. But the conj. is causal, denoting the reason of their fright, and of the question that is forced from them. καὶ ὁ ἄνεμος κ. ἡ θάλασσα—even the wind and the sea. Not only diseases and demons, but the elements themselves. Their wonder in this case took the form of fear, corresponding to the feeling with which they regarded the power of the elements against which Jesus matched himself. ὑπακούει—obeys him. The wind and the sea are looked at collectively here, as making one great whole.

ὑπακούει, instead of ὑπακούουσιν, Tisch. Treg. WH. א* BCL Δ 1, 13, 28, 69, etc.

Weiss and Beyschlag rationalize this miracle after the same general fashion. The rebuke of the disciples grows into a rebuke of the elements, and the confidence of Jesus in his Father’s deliverance into an assertion of his own power to still the waves. Holtzmann adds to this the presence in the narrative of O.T. material, which has been used in building up the account. Weiss is not so rationalistic in this as the others, as he is contending only against the notion that Jesus performs the miracles himself, instead of the Father. The command given to the elements, he thinks, would be an assumption of power over them by Jesus himself. But any more so than the commands given to the demons? He acts throughout as God’s agent, but such an agent can order about demons and storms. Holtzmann is prepossessed against miracles in general; Beyschlag against miracles in the sphere of inanimate nature, where spirit does not act upon spirit. But the apostolic source of the narrative renders this rationalizing futile. The general fact of the miracles is established by this, and by their absolute uniqueness, conforming them to the unique quality of Jesus’ whole life in the moral sphere. This leaves room to exclude individual miracles for special reasons, or even to discriminate among kinds of miracles, as Beyschlag does. But Beyschlag’s principle excludes, e.g. the miracle of feeding the multitude, the best attested of all the miracles. And there is no other special improbability about this miracle of stilling the storm—on the contrary, a certain congruousness, a manifestation of the fact that the power resident in nature is in the last analysis spiritual, and that Jesus was the Agent of that Power.









Tisch. Tischendorf.

Treg. Tregelles.

WH. Westcott and Hort.

RV. Revised Version.

אԠCodex Sinaiticus.

B Codex Vaticanus.

C Codex Bezae.

L Codex Regius.

Δ̠Codex Sangallensis

13 Codex Regius.

28 Codex Regius.

69 Codex Leicestrensis.

K Codex Cyprius.

M Codex Campianus.

1 .Codex Basiliensis

33 Codex Regius.

209 An unnamed, valuable manuscript.

1 Mt. gives the same mark of the size of the multitude in this case. But it is one of the characteristic marks of this Gospel to emphasize the crowds that followed Jesus by some graphic touch. See 1:33, 2:2, 3:7, 20.

Lat. Vet. Vetus Latina.

2 See 3:23, note.

3 This is the generic use of the article, an individual being taken to represent the class. See Win. 18, 1.

1 On this use of the relative in antithetical statements, see Win. 17, 1 b.

A Codex Alexandrinus.

Vulg. Vulgate.

2 The proper correlative of ὃ μὲν is ὃ δὲ.

D Codex Ephraemi.

Memph. Memphitic.

3 This verb belongs to later Greek.

marg. Revided Version marg.

E Codex Basiliensis.

F Codex Borelli.

G Codex Wolfi A.

U Codex Nanianus.

V Codex Mosquensis.

Latt. Latin Versions.

Syrr. Syriac Versions.

1 The separation of καταμόνας into κατὰ μόνας is simply a matter of interpretation. χώρας is to be supplied with μόνας.

1 See 3:23, note.

Harcl. Harclean.

AV. Authorised Version.

346 Codex Ambrosianus.

Pesh. Peshito.

102 Codex Bibliothecae Mediceae.

1 συμπνίγουσι belongs to later Greek.

2 See 10:23-25. But this depreciation of wealth is specially a trait of Lk.’s Gospel. See 6:20, 24, 12:15-21, 16:9-12, 19-31.

1 The word μόδιος comes from the Latin modius, which denotes a peck measure. EV. bushel..

2 λυχνία is a later Greek form for λυχνεῖον..

1 βλαστᾷ is subj. from the form βλαστάω. μηκύνηται means literally to lengthen. It is used only here in N.T., and Isaiah 44:14 in the O.T. In both cases, it is used of the growth of plants, an unfamiliar use of the word.


2 αὐτομάτη occurs only twice in the N.T. On its adverbial use, see Win. 54, 2.

3 The nom. makes this statement independent of the preceding structure, and so calls attention to it.

4 So Thay.-Grm. Lex. Meyer, Weiss. The intrans. meaning, presents itself, is not attested. παραδοῖ is an irregular form of the sec. aor. subj., instead of παραδῷ.

1 The subj. in these verbs is the subj. of deliberative questions, in which the questioner consults another about the matter in hand. See Win. 41 a, 4.

2 This retains in the answer the construction of the question; supplying the omitted word, it would read, ὡς κόκκῳ σινάπεως ὁμοιώσομεν, as to a grain of mustard seed we will liken it.

3 There is a double anacoluthon here; first, the neuter, as if the antecedent were σπέρμα; and secondly, the participle, instead of the indicative. The whole sentence is thrown into confusion by this, so that a literal translation would read, which, whenever it is sown, being less than all seeds, and whenever it is sown, comes up, etc.

4 See Hackett, Illustrations of Scripture, p. 131.

1 The earlier classical form of καθώς is καθό or καθά. See Thay.-Grm. Lex. Win. 2, 1, d, e.

1 ὀψίας is used as an adjective only, outside of Biblical Greek. It means late.

2 Δι- in διέλθωμεν, like our word over, refers to the space to be passed through or over in reaching the point designated.

1 On this intransitive use of βάλλω and its compounds, see Win. 38, 1.

2 See Win. 43, 4.

3 See Win. 32, 2.

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Bibliographical Information
Driver, S.A., Plummer, A.A., Briggs, C.A. "Commentary on Mark 4". International Critical Commentary NT. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/icc/mark-4.html. 1896-1924.