From:  Busy Person’s Guide to Mark 1 to 8                                    Return to Home 

By Roland H. Worth, Jr.  © 2019


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Busy Person’s Guide to the New Testament:

Quickly Understanding Mark


(Volume 1:  Chapters 6-8)






Chapter Six




                        Jesus Rejected in His Hometown of Nazareth (6:1-6a):  1 Now Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples        followed him. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in        the synagogue. Many who heard him were astonished, saying,         “Where did he get these ideas? And what is this wisdom that has     been given to him? What are these miracles that are done through his hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and     brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his         sisters here with us?” And so they took offense at him. 

                Then Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor        except in his hometown, and among his relatives, and in his own         house.” He was not able to do a miracle there, except to lay his   hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6a And he was amazed       because of their unbelief. . . .     --New English Translation (for             comparison)



            6:1       Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him.  We have an interesting shift in terminology.  In Matthew’s account of Jairus’ daughter (9:18-26), the healing is described as being in “His own city” (9:1).  Based on Matthew 8:5, this is Capernaum.  In contrast Jesus now returns to “His own country,” a wording which a few translations continue (WEB, Weymouth), but the bulk substitute “hometown.”  Whatever His roots in Nazareth, his base of operations was now elsewhere.  And we are going to find out why in the verses that follow. 

            Even so, Nazareth still needed His message so He returned once again to teach and preach.  It would have taken about a day’s walk to cover the distance.  Although only three disciples had been with Him in the home of Jairus, in this case He made sure that all the apostles were with Him.  They would provide emotional/psychological support and would observe first hand what He was up against while there. 


            6:2       And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue.  And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this Man get these things?  And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands!  In His hometown they were blinded by the fact that it was transparently “impossible” for such a local boy to be the perceptive teacher He clearly was.  Not to mention work these miracles.  After all, He was only a carpenter’s son (Matthew 13:55); it was impossible for Him to be more.  And that was all there was to it.  There were sufficient obstacles to overcome without having such blinding hometown prejudice working against Him on a regular basis!  In comparison, Capernaum was an extremely receptive community!


            6:3       Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon?  And are not His sisters here with us?”  So they were offended at Him.  A son normally followed the trade of His father so Jesus was personally a mere “carpenter” as well.  Carpenters aren’t this smart and can’t exercise these miraculous powers.  Everybody knows it!  Can’t we virtually hear the thoughts going through their heads?  Furthermore his various kin dwell here.  There’s absolutely nothing in any of them to make us expect anything special in Jesus either.  Therefore there can’t be and isn’t.         


            6:4       But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.”  The locals were a classic example of being blind to the evidence in front of them.  Jesus’ words reminded His listeners that this phenomena was nothing new.  It was an absolutely just generalization--the exceptions being so rare--that no prophet is respected in his own town the way he deserves.  And then He makes it more personal:  this is also true “among his own relatives and in his own house.”  In other words there was skepticism among his brothers and sisters as well.

            Jesus had made the same point in Nazareth at the beginning of His ministry (Luke 4:14-30, especially verse 24) but at least this time it did not end with them trying to kill Him!


            6:5       Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.  Of course Jesus had the power to work miracles anywhere and any time He wished, but this kind of hostility meant it would be a misuse of that power to use it much at all.  In contrast to “a few sick people” He cured, there were far more “mighty work[s]” that could have been done but were not.  He would help but He would not pour out the blessings. 

            Treating Him with disdain and contempt made it morally impossible to do more--to, effectively, reward them for their  derision and  condescension.  Yet those “few” who were healed left behind Him “living tokens” of His power that might ultimately convince others that Jesus was far, far more than a mere local carpenter or even a rabbi.   


            6:6a     And He marveled because of their unbelief. . . .  Intellectually He was surely aware that such was fully possible, but yet on some level it seemed so absurd that He could only “marvel” at the degree of blindness produced by their unbelief.  People speak of the “will to believe” and how it can blind people to contrary evidence; the “will to disbelieve” is, if anything, even more pervasive.

            From this point on, it does not seem that He ever returned to Nazareth again.  They had multiple chances to hear His word and see His miracles.  He had provided the evidence and now it was up to them to decide whether they would ever allow it to penetrate their cold and blind hearts.



                        Jesus Sends Out His Apostles on a Preaching Tour (6:6b-13):  6b . . .   And he was amazed because of their unbelief. Then he went         around among the villages and taught.  Jesus called the twelve       and began to send them out two by two. He gave them authority    over the unclean spirits. 

                He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except       a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— and to put        on sandals but not to wear two tunics. 

                10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay      there until you leave the area. 11 If a place will not welcome you     or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off       your feet as a testimony against them.” 

                12 So they went out and preached that all should      repent. 13 They cast out many demons and anointed many sick    people with oil and healed them.     --New English Translation (for         comparison)



            6:6b     . . . Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.  “Villages” as distinct from “cities”--the same Greek word is used in verse 56 and contrasts the three settings for the Lord’s teaching and healing:  “villages, cities, or the country[side].”  There were a multitude of small townlets scattered throughout the region.  One can easily think of a dozen or more homes in each.  Not big enough to deserve the label of “town” or “city,” but still big enough to justify a stop to teach and preach.  That Jesus was willing to “waste time” (from a city dweller’s perspective) in such “meaningless and trivial settings” surely meant a lot to the locals who were used to being ignored and looked down upon by those living in larger communities.


            6:7       And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits.  In this context of rural preaching (verse 6b), the timing was ideal to test the ability of the twelve apostles to both cast out demons (this verse) and to preach the message of moral reform (= repentance, verse 12).  In large towns the presence of all of them could well prove useful in arranging places to stay and doing any special tasks that needed to be carried out.  Working in far smaller communities, however, Jesus could conveniently function by Himself while they were given the opportunity to test their own abilities and teaching skills in small traveling groups of two.

            But why send them out in pairs?  For one thing, it provided physical and psychological support that would not be available if they went alone.  It provided a “second set of eyes” to provide advice and take some of the burden off the shoulders of an individual who otherwise would have to teach alone and without support.  Furthermore the eyewitness testimony about Jesus of one person alone would be interesting.  But if it were confirmed by the second--as it would be in a two man teaching team--then the power and credibility would be hugely enhanced.  (This was an accepted standard in the first century:  [1 Timothy 5:19] as it had been under the Old Testament [Hebrews 10:28].)

            It is also hard to avoid the conclusion that this was also a down to earth way of teaching them that though He might not be with them in body, He certainly was in a spiritual sense:  “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).       


            6:8       He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts—.  They weren’t going on a vacation.  They were going out to work.  And as a demonstration of their faith in both Jesus and their mission, they were to go out with an absolute minimum.  No “bag” to carry stuff in and no money for inside their “money belts.” 

            This was practical because being hospitable to new arrivals was the normal societal expectation.  Hence the admonition in Hebrews 13:2, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.”  Mark’s account of their return (verse 30) makes no mention of how well this worked out.  But in Luke we learn it worked perfectly, “ ‘When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?’  So they said, ‘Nothing’ ” (Luke 22:35).  But going out to a wider and often more hostile region, they were to go well prepared (Luke 22:36).         


            6:9       but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.  They were to have only the one pair of sandals that they wore and not even have a reserve pair in case something happened to the ones on their feet--cf. the prohibition in Matthew’s account (10:10) of “sandals” in the plural.  Nor were they to take a change of clothes, but rely on the tunic they were already wearing.  Wearing--“putting on”--two tunics sounds strange, but if they were not even to have a traveling bag for odds and ends (verse 8), this would have been the only way to have a second pair available.  They were to travel with precious little beyond the clothes on their back.

            Some, reasonably, have argued that the specification of “sandals” rather than “shoes” makes particular sense in regard to where the story takes place:  “According to Mark, they are forbidden by implication, where he says that they were to be shod with sandals.  Shoes are here forbidden which cover the whole foot, not sandals which only protect the soles of the feet lest they should be injured by the rocky ground.  The soil of Judaea was rocky and rough, and the climate hot.  The sandals therefore protected the soles of the feet, and yet, being open above, kept the feet more cool, and therefore fit for the journey.  It is worthy of our notice that, after our Lord's ascension, we find St. Peter using sandals when the angel, who delivered him out of prison, said to him, ‘Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals’ (Acts 12:8)."  (Pulpit Commentary).


            6:10     Also He said to them, “In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place.  They were to be content with “the luck of the draw:  Whatever home they entered they were to be content with that lodging until it was time to leave the community.  Whether it was a day or a week.  If they were well received, they might well be offered more impressive physical accommodations or someone more important in the community might invite you to stay at their place.  In neither case were they to do so.  Their host had gone to the trouble of taking you in and it would be discourteous if not insulting to hurriedly go elsewhere.  The original host deserved better and if they did otherwise it would be easy to conclude that you could “buy” their presence by what you had to offer.


            6:11     And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them.  Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!”  Shaking off the dust of the feet was a visible way of not only showing rejection but also displaying visual scorn:  “We think so little of your rejection of the message of Jesus that you aren’t even worthy of letting your dust remain on our feet!”  Full and total repudiation.  We read of Paul doing this twice (Acts 13:51 and Acts 18:6.)

            Although the reference to Sodom and Gomorrah is found in many Greek manuscripts, modern “critical texts” do not contain it and therefore the bulk of modern translations omit the words.  (Their presence in the parallel account in Matthew 10:15 is unquestioned however.)  The invocation of these two cities would make the importance and genuineness of their message even more emphatic:  Even two of the cities that most fully embraced the very definition of unbridled evil will find themselves more kindly treated than those that reject the messengers of Christ!


            6:12     So they went out and preached that people should repent.  Their message was the same as both Jesus and John the Baptist:  Vow to change your moral behavior, recognizing that the past lifestyle angered God.  Set your lives right in the future.  You can’t change what you did; you can only change what you do in the future.  And God will be quite content with that.


            6:13     And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.  The successful exorcisms were not occasional successes but reflected a pattern:  “many” were cast out.  Likewise the physical healings were not occasional aberrations but the consistent pattern.  The application of oil to hurting or injured parts of the body was done to help it heal--as in Isaiah 1:6 figuratively of sin and in the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:34 of actual physical injuries.  Its application here could be a supplement to the miracle rather than being a physical forewarning it was about to occur.  Either way it would make the newly healed/about to be healed body parts feel better after all the trauma they had been through.  This could be the point in James 5:14-15 as well.   



                        Execution of John the Baptist Because of His Teaching on Morality        6:14-29):  14 Now King Herod heard this, for Jesus’ name had    become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been       raised from the dead, and because of this, miraculous powers   are at work in him.” 15 Others said, “He is Elijah.” Others said,        “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets from the past.” 16 But     when Herod heard this, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has    been raised!” 

                17 For Herod himself had sent men, arrested John, and      bound him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s     wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had repeatedly    told Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s         wife.” 19 So Herodias nursed a grudge against him and wanted to       kill him. But she could not 20 because Herod stood in awe of John        and protected him, since he knew that John was a righteous and      holy man. When Herod heard him, he was thoroughly baffled,      and yet he liked to listen to John.

                21 But a suitable day came, when Herod gave a banquet on       his birthday for his court officials, military commanders, and      leaders of Galilee22 When his daughter Herodias came in and     danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said    to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you.” 23 He swore to her, “Whatever you ask I will give you, up to      half my kingdom.” 

                24 So she went out and said to her mother, “What should

        I ask for?” Her mother said, “The head of John the baptizer.”   25 Immediately she hurried back to the king and made her    request: “I want the head of John the Baptist on a platter    immediately.” 26 Although it grieved the king deeply, he did not         want to reject her request because of his oath and his         guests. 

                27 So the king sent an executioner at once to bring John’s head, and he went and beheaded John in prison. 28 He brought    his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it      to her mother. 29 When John’s disciples heard this, they came         and took his body and placed it in a tomb.     --New English            Translation (for comparison)



            6:14     Now King Herod heard of Him, for His name had become well known.  And he said, “John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.”  From the fact that Jesus repeatedly had large crowds around Him to hear His teaching and see His healing (Mark 2:13; 3:7-9; 3:20; 3:32; 4:1; 5:21-24, 31--all referring to either a “multitude” or a “great multitude”), it is hardly surprising that the name and reputation of Jesus “had become well known,” even to King Herod himself.  Apparently, he found little or no problem with the reports of miraculous “powers” being exercised by the Lord but he attributed their presence to the assumption that Jesus was really John the Baptist raised from the dead.  There was a certain logic in this:  If a distinguished man of God were physically resurrected, would it be surprising that he also exercised miraculous powers?

            Sidebar:  Technically Herod was only a Tetrarch, ruling over the tetrarchy of Galilee and Perea.  But he functioned within those modest limits as if he were a “king” and the more generous description of a monarch both pleased the ruler and gave his subordinates a greater sense of serving someone important.     

           Theoretically he had no business suspecting anybody’s resurrection since he was a Sadducee.  Well earned guilt was, however, convincing him that at least in this case his theology was quite in error.  


            6:15     Others said, “It is Elijah.”  And others said, “It is the Prophet, or like one of the prophets.”  The opinion of others pointed in different directions than John the Baptist.  All of these possibilities were floating around in public discussion when Jesus asked His apostles about popular opinion on the matter (8:27-28).  The mention of the special prophet to come in the current verse--presumably equivalent to the Messiah--is not mentioned in chapter 8 in Peter’s summary of popular opinion but it was present for Peter himself affirms that option (8:29).

            Sidebar:  Our argument is based upon the wording “the Prophet;” virtually all translations today, however, make it far more general.  They render along the lines of “a prophet, like one of the prophets of old” (NASB).  


            6:16     But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!”  To Herod Jesus’ true identity was not a mere rhetorical question.  If He were the Baptist, Herod had every reason to be terrified because he had ordered his beheading without any reason beyond escaping personal embarrassment at refusing to do so.  Might not a resurrected John be full of anger at such treatment and, if so, just what might he do in retribution?  One can’t help but suspect that some “bad dreams” sporadically plagued his sleep.


            6:17     For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her.  Herod tried to keep his wife happy by having John thrown in jail.  Not killed; just imprisoned.  Unjust, yes, but nothing compared with what Herodias really wanted but which he avoided doing (verse 19).


            6:18     Because John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.”  John did not hide his teaching from Herod even after his arrest; he shared it face to face:  His marrying this close a kin (“your brother’s wife”) was a violation of the law God revealed through Moses:  “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness” (Leviticus 18:16); “if a man takes his brother’s wife, it is an unclean thing.  He has uncovered his brother’s nakedness.  They shall be childless” (20:21).  Note how the second text clearly implies that, prohibited or not, it would happen.  Herod wasn’t the first case nor the last, but he probably was the most famous.   

            Sidebar:  The Greek implies that this criticism was done repeatedly; hence Weymouth’s wording of “John had repeatedly told Herod.”  The more common English translation “John had been saying” (ESV, NASB, NIV) implies this but not as clearly. 


            6:19     Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not.  In spite of her influence on Herod and in spite of his desire to please her, this was simply one of those points on which he refused to grant her wish.  From his standpoint he could always point out that John had been just as much “silenced” by keeping him in jail as if he had killed him.  There was no need to do more.  But there were other factors involved as well in his reluctance. . .


            6:20     for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just and holy man, and he protected him.  And when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly.  John had no armies coming to his defense; all he had was the truth.  He was honorable and pious (“just and holy”).  And, strangely enough, the king came to the point where he “heard him gladly.”  (Probably providing an additional reason why he did not carry out his own original desire of having him executed--Matthew 14:5.)  However unwilling to fully obey what John taught, he still recognized and respected the varied things he had to say.  Furthermore “he did many things” in response to the teaching, suggesting he accommodated a significant number of them in his own life and practices.

            “Protected him” is an unexpected assertion.  It was Herod’s prison so what could John possibly need protection against?  Actually quite a lot.  Either out of bribery or the desire to curry favor with his superiors it would not be all that hard to arrange a convenient poisoning for the Baptist to keep Herodias happy.  For that matter, personal resentment against John’s moral teachings might anger the jailers themselves due to their rejection of it (Luke 3:14).  Either way, Herod must have “laid down the law” to his subordinates to assure that nothing in any fashion--from any source or for any reason--should result in harm to this man. 

            Most translations prefer working from a different Greek text in the second sentence of this verse.  This results in some form of this thought:  When Herod heard John, he was greatly puzzled; yet he liked to listen to him” (NIV).  In other words, though some of the things John said did not make full sense to him, there was still something in the message or the man--or both--that made him return time and again to hear his words. 


            6:21     Then an opportune day came when Herod on his birthday gave a feast for his nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee.  Birthday celebrations were unusual among Palestinian Jews but they were a long established custom among the Gentiles.  Working as their agent, it was quite natural for him to imitate their practice.  In itself the custom was morally neutral; what such feasts were often the excuse to do were a far different matter (cf. 1 Peter 4:3).  To this annual occasion he naturally invited the most important people in the region under his control.


            6:22     And when Herodias’ daughter herself came in and danced, and pleased Herod and those who sat with him, the king said to the girl, “Ask me whatever you want, and I will give it to you.”  Not all dancing is sensual and designed to maximize the sexual aspect.  This one surely was for it wormed from the king a “blank check” for whatever she wanted.  And then he made the commitment even more emphatic. . . .


            6:23     He also swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom.”  He made an oath in front of all present to carry out his promise.  Obviously he didn’t expect to actually give her “half my kingdom.”  It is idiomatic for our modern phrase, “anything you want”--which isn’t quite literal either . . . as all of us know.  But short of the ludicrous, the absurd, and the impossible, anything within a reasonable reach of his power he had promised to deliver.

            Sidebar:  The ancient ruler under whom Esther lived promised the same thing to her (Esther 5:3, 6; 7:2).  In contrast to the current situation, she used the occasion to save her life and that of the Jewish population; the person who died was not an innocent party but the man arranging the planned genocide.


            6:24     So she went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask?”  And she said, “The head of John the Baptist!”  Apparently she had not been coached by her mother to ask for this in particular or the request would surely have been immediate.  It is quite possible that her mother had arranged for the dancing and was hoping for just such an offer to be made.  Whether she did or not, this certainly provided her a golden opportunity to work around Herod’s stubborn refusal to “eliminate” the problem of John’s preaching by eliminating the man himself.


            6:25     Immediately she came in with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”  The king had gone way out on the proverbial limb.  Lest he get second thoughts and change his mind, it was urgent for her to both act “immediately” and do so “with haste.”  The speed with which she was back may not have surprised him, but the demand certainly did.  In fact. . . .


            6:26     And the king was exceedingly sorry; yet, because of the oaths and because of those who sat with him, he did not want to refuse her.  The Greek underlying “exceedingly sorry” emphasizes both the depth of the feeling and how profoundly he was saddened.  This can be seen in Jesus’ use of the same term in His Gethsemane words in Mark 14:34--“My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.”  Likewise in the disappointed rich young official in hearing what he would have to do to be Jesus’ disciple in Luke 18:23--“But when he heard this , he became very sorrowful for he was very rich.”

            Herod was hemmed in my two factors.  The first was the intensity of the pledge he had given her.  He had done so not merely as a passing aside but with a passionate commitment in his voice that all could hear.  This was not one of those idle promises that could easily be cast aside without further thought.  He put high value on “keeping his word” in such prestigious company--but on a topic that common justice should have cried out in response, “but not on this subject!”

            Then there was the public humiliation that would result when “those who sat with him” were told of his change of mind.  Verse 21 described them as “nobles, the high officers, and the chief men of Galilee.”  The important people of his region--the ones who would take most seriously the fulfillment of major promises for they themselves relied on him to do so in regard to them.  Perverse though it was, failure to carry out his own dark pledge--dark in result rather than in its actual wording--could easily undermine his credibility in their eyes, the men he especially counted on. 


            6:27     Immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought.  And he went and beheaded him in prison.  They could hear the command issued; they could observe the officer leave.  How long this command took to carry out hinges upon where he was being kept prisoner and where the feast was held.  If the same place, it would have been carried out quickly; if it involved travel, as speedily as the round trip took.  Either way word would soon catch up with all those who were at the feast that the promised deed had been carried out.  One wonders how they felt about it once they sobered up.

            The famous Augustine summed up this entire story in a few concise words, “The girl dances; the mother rages. A rash oath is made amidst the excitement and the voluptuous indulgence of the feast; and the savage desires of Herodias are fulfilled.”


            6:28     brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl; and the girl gave it to her mother.  Our text makes no mention of the head being brought to Herod.  This verse is talking about what the executioner did:  The head was removed, carried on a platter (presumably an expensive one befitting royalty), and given to the girl who had requested it.  This “gift” not being her idea in the first place, she promptly made sure her mother received it.  And unless Herod was extraordinarily oblivious and totally lacked human curiosity, he quickly learned that she had been behind the request.  One can’t help but wonder how his contempt affected their relationship in the future--for surely there was backlash from being maneuvered into an action he had previously protected John from (verses 19-20).


            6:29     When his disciples heard of it, they came and took away his corpse and laid it in a tomb.  Word of John’s death--because of his prominence--would have quickly spread outward from the prison where John was beheaded.  Since there was no reason for a prison to hold on to dead bodies, his would have been quickly left wherever others were.  John’s disciples so respected the man that they took the initiative in recovering the body and giving it an honorable burial.  (It is far from impossible that some member of the prison staff quickly passed on word as to what was happening and they arrived almost before the executioner had left.) 



                        The Apostles Report Back on the Success of Their Preaching Tour         6:30-32):  30 Then the apostles gathered around Jesus and told him everything they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come    with me privately to an isolated place and rest a while” (for         many were coming and going, and there was no time to   eat). 32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to some   remote place.     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            6:30     Then the apostles gathered to Jesus and told Him all things, both what they had done and what they had taught.  Finishing the digression on the fate of John the Baptist, the text returns to the preaching tour that the apostles had been sent out on.  Naturally, their reports divided into two parts:  what had happened (“what they had done”), an expression including not only their actions but also their miracles, as well as a report on “what they had taught.”  This would give Jesus the opportunity to tutor them on any subjects that perplexed them and about how they should treat various matters in the future. 

            Sidebar:  This is the only place in the gospel of Mark that the term “apostles” is used.


            6:31     And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”  For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.  They had worked hard and successfully and they needed to “disappear” from the crowds which were already keeping them so busy that they could not even find time to eat regularly.  The work of the gospel also requires rest so that one will have the full strength to give it all it deserves.  It is not a matter of laziness; it is a simple matter of fact that no one can run at “full speed” all the time without a chance to “get their strength back” and “recharge their emotional/physical batteries.”


            6:32     So they departed to a deserted place in the boat by themselves.  With no boats following, Jesus and the apostles were able to find “a deserted place” where they would encounter no one.  They now should have the time to rest and relax.  But it’s not going to work out that way, as the next verse tells us.  True, they had a “head start,” but they won’t have all the desired time to be apart from everyone else.



                        Miraculous Feeding of 5,000 by Jesus (6:33-44):  33 But many saw   them leaving and recognized them, and they hurried on foot      from all the towns and arrived there ahead of them. 34 As Jesus     came ashore he saw the large crowd and he had compassion on         them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he         taught them many things.

                35 When it was already late, his disciples came to him and        said, “This is an isolated place and it is already very late. 36 Send         them away so that they can go into the surrounding countryside    and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 

                37 But he answered them, “You give them something to    eat.” And they said, “Should we go and buy bread for two     hundred silver coins and give it to them to eat?” 38 He said to       them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” When they         found out, they said, “Five—and two fish.” 

                39 Then he directed them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they reclined in groups of hundreds and fifties. 41 He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up    to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. He gave them        to his disciples to serve the people, and he divided the two fish    among them all. 

                42 They all ate and were satisfied, 43 and they picked up the       broken pieces and fish that were left over, twelve baskets    full. 44 Now there were five thousand men who ate the bread.

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)



            6:33     But the multitudes saw them departing, and many knew Him and ran there on foot from all the cities.  They arrived before them and came together to Him.  Ironically the time alone with the apostles that Jesus had intended to take place (verse 31) landed up being only the time alone on the boat.  That they took their time and stayed far longer at sea than was essential can be seen in the very fact that part of the crowds arrived there first.  As others came in “He welcomed them” all (Luke 9:11, NET, NIV) at a site somewhere near Bethsaida--which conveys better the point being made than the traditional “He received them” (KJV, NKJV).

            Sidebar on the distance:  Commentaries estimate that it was likely a twenty mile journey by foot from where Jesus left to where he arrived at.

            Sidebar on the geographic location:  They crossed the Lake of Gennesaret (John 6:1) and proceeded in the direction of Bethsaida-Julias, at its north-eastern corner (Luke 9:10), just above the entrance of the Jordan into it.  Bethsaida-Julias was originally only a village, but was rebuilt and enlarged by Herod Philip not long after the birth of Christ.  He raised it to the dignity of a town, and called it Julias after Julia the daughter of Augustus.  Philip occasionally resided there, and there died and was buried in a costly tomb (Josephus, Antiq. xviii. 4. 6).  To the south of it was the green and narrow plain of El-Batîhah, ‘with abundant grass, and abundant space for the multitudes to have sat down’ (Tristram’s Land of Israel, p. 439).”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            6:34     And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd.  So He began to teach them many things.  However much He wished to be alone with the disciples, the crowd was too interested in hearing more to leave them unaided.  So He took the opportunity to teach them not just on one or two subjects but on a wide variety of “many things.”  What might not be of great importance to some listeners might just be what others were in the greatest need to hear.  The preacher who is unprepared to tackle a wide variety of subjects is unprepared to give full justice to his responsibilities.


            6:35     When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late.  Having taught on “many things” (verse 34), it is not surprising that a great deal of time had passed by.  Although Jesus would have been aware of it, responsible subordinates routinely “remind” their superiors of things they think need to be handled or things that might have slipped their leader’s attention in a hectic and busy day.  And that is exactly what the apostles do.


            6:36     Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.”  Although Jesus first landed near Bethsaida (Luke 9:10), He must have moved the entire group a considerable distance away by the time He gave this particular day’s instruction.  That is required by the location being described as “a deserted place” in the previous verse and how the current one speaks of the difficulty of conveniently finding food to eat.  There were, however, “villages” and even in the countryside there would be scattered homes.  Hence there would be opportunity to obtain themselves something before it got fully dark.


            6:37     But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.”  And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give them something to eat?”  Jesus responded to their request not with endorsement but with the instruction to provide the large crowd--“about five thousand” strong (verse 44) not to mention an unknown number of “women and children” as well (Matthew 14:21)--with the food they needed. 

            The reference can be read in opposite ways:  It could be that they knew there was about this much in the money bag they kept to help the poor and provide for joint needs in their travel (John 12:6; John 13:29).  Yet they were extremely reluctant to spend so much at one time and, presumably, totally exhaust their resources.  Or the very opposite could have been the situation:  that it was so far above what they had, that it was ludicrous to even think about it.  (The latter far more likely than the possibility that they were walking around with that much cash in hand.)  Either way this was a very substantial sum--enough to hire 200 laborers for a day or one laborer for almost seven months.

            Even if the money had been present, there was no obvious place to quickly obtain what was needed--in contrast 5,000 folk scattered about were many times more likely to find places that could help than a handful of apostles could.  Hence there could be an edge of despair underlying their response:  “How in the world can we possibly find all that they need!”


            6:38     But He said to them, “How many loaves do you have?  Go and see.”  And when they found out they said, “Five, and two fish.”  They had next to nothing to work from.  The gospel of John stresses the inadequacy even heavier by emphasizing the inferiority of both:  St. John tells us (John 6:9) that the loaves were of barley, and that the fishes were small (ὀψάρια); St. Mark says δύο ἰχθύας.  Barley bread was considered an inferior and homely kind of food, very inferior to bread made of wheat flour.  The comparative value of the two kinds of bread is given in Revelation 6:6:  ‘A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny.’  The psalmist alludes to the greater excellence of wheat flour:  ‘He would have fed them also with the finest wheat flour’ (Psalm 81:16).”  (Pulpit Commentary)


            6:39     Then He commanded them to make them all sit down in groups on the green grass.   This instruction served multiple purposes.  It created an obvious order out of the large crowd scattered around them.  And by sitting down it would be visually obvious that Jesus was working from virtually nothing so far as the food He provided.  The miraculous element would be clearly obvious to one and all.

            Sidebar:  The fact that the grass was still green tells us that it was prior to Passover in March or April of that year.  There is no hint that the fish were made either bigger or the bread changed into the higher quality wheat bread.  Jesus provided what was needed out of what was available.  Hence it appears that He “upgraded” the amount but not the quality.  Even so, there was much to be thankful for--that there was adequate food for one and all.           


            6:40     So they sat down in ranks, in hundreds and in fifties.  Dividing them into groups imposed a sense of order upon the crowd that was previously just a large and disorganized mass of bodies.  Some groups had a hundred and others fifty.  Alternatively they formed the “three sided” dining arrangement typical of the age but with vastly more people:  groups of hundreds on two sides and of fifty on the third.  This three sided arrangement was the form normally used for formal dining, leaving room at the open end for food to be brought in--or, in this case, with Jesus and the apostles sitting there where all could see them and from whom the food was taken out to the groups.                


            6:41     And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all.  “Broke” and “gave” gives insight into how this appeared to an observer:  The verbs are in different tenses; the former in the aorist, the latter in the imperfect.  The aorist implies the instantaneous, the imperfect the continuous act.  He brake, and kept giving out.  Farrar remarks that the multiplication evidently took place in Christ's hands, between the acts of breaking and distributing.”  (Vincent’s Word Studies)  Weymouth renders the implied imagery well:  “Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and lifting His eyes to Heaven He blessed the food.  Then He broke the loaves into portions which He went on handing to the disciples to distribute; giving pieces also of the two fish to them all.”  Everyone could see how the visual volume and amount increased as Jesus began with little but still kept handing out more and more to His apostles to deliver to the groups setting on the grass. 

            “Blessed” conveys the idea of “gave thanks” though it is rarely used as a translation (exceptions:  NET, NIV).  The prayer was not to make the food somehow “more holy” than it already was; it was to give God thanks for its availability and to ask Him to bless it to their bodies’ nourishment.

            Sidebar:  For another example of the miraculous duplication of food into far more than was begun with, see the case of Elisha in 2 Kings 4:42-44.   


            6:42     So they all ate and were filled.  No one went hungry; every one present had enough to eat to give them a full stomach.


            6:43     And they took up twelve baskets full of fragments and of the fish.  Just as amazing as so little food going so far is the fact that there was such an abundance left afterwards.  These numbers imply that the amount of food served was vast and it had to be to feed so many people!  There was no way to have hid such an amount if apostolic chicanery were involved rather than a genuine miracle.  Nor is there any credibility to the supposition that these thousands had selfishly been hiding food from each other . . . much less that such could have produced such abundant “leftovers!”  


            6:44     Now those who had eaten the loaves were about five thousand men.  Up to now we have known only that it was “a great multitude” (verse 34).  Now we see what that expression amounted to in “body count” and how the description was fully justified.



                        Jesus Crosses Much of the Sea of Galilee--By Foot!  (6:45-52):  45 Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go    on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dispersed the         crowd. 46 After saying goodbye to them, he went to the mountain         to pray. 47 When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the      sea and he was alone on the land. 48 He saw them straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.

                As the night was ending, he came to them walking on the        sea, for he wanted to pass by them. 49 When they saw him       walking on the water they thought he was a ghost. They cried       out, 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately       he spoke to them: “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid."

                51 Then he went up with them into the boat, and the wind         ceased. They were completely astonished, 52 because they did      not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)



            6:45     Immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while He sent the multitude away.  Having assured that everyone was well fed and would have enough nourishment to either get home or at least through the next day, He lost no time in bringing the gathering to an end. 

            This had been an emergency and He provided food to the multitude because of that.  But He had no desire for this to become an ongoing practice.  It might attract “disciples” of a kind (as Jesus warned in John 6:26:  “you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled”) but He wanted disciples loving what He had to teach and appreciating the miraculous healing powers He exercised for good--not for the food He could provide.  In fact this humanitarian act of providing them the nourishment they needed, dangerously fueled their nationalism as well:  “Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone” (John 6:15).

            Sidebar:  Note “to the other side, to Bethsaida.”  There was also a town of the same name on the side of the Sea where he fed the 5,000 (Luke 9:10).


            6:46     And when He had sent them away, He departed to the mountain to pray.  Having gotten the apostles out of the way, He promptly disappeared into the nearby mountain to spend time in prayer.  Presumably taking advantage of the people standing up and moving about, He moved inconspicuously through their numbers without drawing attention to Himself.  He had to have done something along this line to assure that He would truly be able to be alone to pray.  However much good was produced by His work among the multitudes, His own spirituality required periods of time that He could pour into prayer.  Just like it does for faithful preachers today.


            6:47     Now when evening came, the boat was in the middle of the sea; and He was alone on the land.  Because “a great wind was blowing . . . they had rowed [only]  about three or four miles” (John 6:18-19)--only about half way across.


            6:48     Then He saw them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them.  Now about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by.  Logically they should have made far more progress for having left as the sun was about to set, it was now between 3 and 6 AM--“the fourth watch of the night” by Roman standards.  But the wind was so strong that even with them pushing themselves to their physical limits (“straining at rowing” = “struggling hard” [CEV] and “distressed with rowing,” [Weymouth]) precious little progress was being made.  If this were not bad enough, the sight of Jesus calmly “walking on the sea” and ready to pass them--with no apparent difficulty--had to add shock to their worries.


            6:49     And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out.  Since this defied anything that was “possible,” they deduced that it couldn’t really be the physical Jesus but his “ghost.”  A minority of translations prefer “a spirit.”  Either way what they saw could not possibly be physical and tangible.


            6:50     for they all saw Him and were troubled.  But immediately He talked with them and said to them, “Be of good cheer!  It is I; do not be afraid.”  They all shared the sight and the same severe reaction of being “troubled;” the common substitute “were terrified” probably conveys the true sentiment for it fits even better with their supposition that they were beholding an intangible “ghost” or “spirit.” 

            Probably buried beneath their language and not very deep at all:  If their conclusion were true, then surely must Jesus be dead?  For how else could this entity be near their boat?  Jesus tried to snap them out of their horror by insisting that they should be happy since it really was Him and not just some mysterious form that duplicated His physical image.

            Sidebar:  Only the gospel of Matthew (14:28-31) tells us that Peter was so excited at the possibility that he challenged the “apparition” to prove its claim by instructing the apostle to join him on the Sea.  This worked until Peter started worrying about what he was actually doing and Jesus had to lift him up above the waves.  Both the walking and the rescue verified that it had to be really Jesus but more proof was yet to come. . . .  


            6:51     Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased.  And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled.  Jesus completed proving that it was really him in the flesh by physically climbing into the boat with them and the awe was further increased by the powerful storm quickly grinding to a halt.  With nothing to distract them, they could only  marvel the more at what their Lord had somehow done in front of their very eyes.


            6:52     For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.  “Hardened” refers not to some conscious rejection of Jesus but to their inability to intellectually assimilate it in their minds.  Hence the common substitution of wording such as “completely amazed” (NIV) or “completely astounded” (Holman, NET); both convey the intended point far better.  This incomprehension (verse 51) arose because they had not grasped that logically the same Jesus who could do the “impossible” feat of feeding thousands with virtually nothing could just as easily invoke His powers to walk calmly across the storm tossed sea.



                        Upon Hearing of Jesus' Presence in the Land of Gennesaret, Crowds      Come to Gain Healing (6:53-56):  53 After they had crossed over, they    came to land at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As they got     out of the boat, people immediately recognized Jesus. 55 They ran         through that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever he was rumored to be. 

                56 And wherever he would go—into villages, towns, or       countryside—they would place the sick in the marketplaces, and         would ask him if they could just touch the edge of his cloak, and    all who touched it were healed.     --New English Translation (for             comparison)



            6:53     When they had crossed over, they came to the land of Gennesaret and anchored there.  This “is only mentioned here and in [the parallel account in] Matthew 14:34.  It is . . . a fertile crescent-shaped plain, on the north-western shore of the Lake of Gennesaret, about three miles in length and one in width.  From its sheltered situation, and especially from its depression of more than 500 feet below the level of the ocean, its climate is of an almost tropical character.  Josephus speaks of it as if it were an earthly paradise, in which every kind of useful plant grew and flourished.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            6:54     And when they came out of the boat, immediately the people recognized Him.  Either from some other visit to the region or because some of them had observed His miraculous cures when in other places.  Either way they were clearly acquainted with His extraordinary abilities and responded accordingly.


            6:55     ran through that whole surrounding region, and began to carry about on beds those who were sick to wherever they heard He was.  Those who did not stand in need of assistance themselves showed their love and concern for others by making sure they were able to get help as well.  Nor did they wait till they physically saw Jesus, but as soon as they had a credible report that He was near they promptly went to the assistance of those who most needed it.


            6:56     Wherever He entered, into villages, cities, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment.  And as many as touched Him were made well.  The fact that they thought that touching His clothes would help shows how great a faith they had in the Lord:  even anything physically associated with His presence was deemed so special that it had to be able to help them.

            The confidence that touching Him would be curative argues that there were so many desiring help that they recognized that it was impractical to try to wait until Jesus could deal with them one at a time.  We have one case earlier (Mark 5:27) where a single woman expressed her faith in this manner but she did so because of the humiliation connected with her physical condition.  Here there were simply too many people to do the healings in a more organized manner.  But there is another difference with the case in Mark 5 that should also be pointed out:  there she did it as secretly as she could:  here they asked permission:  “begged Him that they might just touch the hem of His garment.”    








Chapter Seven




                        The Folly and Evil of Seeking Ceremonial Purification Through    Human Traditions Rather than Seeking Moral Purification Through            Practicing God's Will (7:1-13):  1  Now the Pharisees and some of the        experts in the law who came from Jerusalem gathered around   him. And they saw that some of Jesus’ disciples ate their bread     with unclean hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and        all the Jews do not eat unless they perform a ritual washing,    holding fast to the tradition of the elders. And when they come         from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. They hold fast to many other traditions: the washing of cups, pots,    kettles, and dining couches.) The Pharisees and the experts in         the law asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to       the tradition of the elders, but eat with unwashed hands?” 

                He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written:  This people honors me with   their lips, / but their heart is far from me. / They worship   me in vain, / teaching as doctrine the commandments of       men.’  Having no regard for the command of God, you hold fast         to human tradition.” 

                He also said to them, “You neatly reject the commandment of God in order to set up your tradition. 10 For       Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to    death.’ 

                11 But you say that if anyone tells his father or mother,     ‘Whatever help you would have received from me is corban (that is, a gift for God), 12 then you no longer permit him to do         anything for his father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of         God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do   many things like this.”     --New English Translation (for comparison)



            7:1       Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem.  They did not encounter Him during His preaching tours; rather then came all the way from Jerusalem to discover more about Him.  With the stories that had to be floating about concerning His earlier conflicts with religious leaders in chapters two and three, they surely came with a predisposition to disbelieve (at the minimum) or an active desire to “expose” His teachings as false.H    


            7:2       Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault.  They did not wait to see what Jesus Himself was doing, they used the behavior of “His disciples” as evidence of the weakness of His cause.  There was the reasonable assumption that they were acting this way by the permission of His teaching and, if not, that His very silence at something so easily observed marked Him as a condoner of the behavior. 

            The idea of eating “with unwashed hands” would have been offensive to any Roman who was not poor.  But the Palestinian Jewish understanding of the subject was considerably different and vastly more elaborate and Mark spends the next two verses to explain it.


            7:3       For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.  It wasn’t washing their hands that represented the difference with others but the “special way” they were to go about it.  The intent is better conveyed by rendering “wash their hands” as “a ceremonial washing” (NIV) or “a ritual washing” (NET), both of which show that it was not so much physical cleanliness that was in mind but careful conformity with a preordained ritual.

            The proper ritual actually became more important than the physical cleanliness.  “The Jews of later times related with intense admiration how the Rabbi Akiba, when imprisoned and furnished with only sufficient water to maintain life, preferred to die of starvation rather than eat without the proper washings.”  (As quoted by the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Collefes) 


            7:4       When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.  And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.  The ceremonial washings they cherished applied not just to their bodies but even to the containers that water and drink came in (“cups” and “pitchers”)--as well as the cookware (“copper vessels”) and even the “[dining] couches” they utilized for their meals.  Literally “washing” could reasonably be translated as they “immersed” them--i.e., covered them from one end to the other with water just as they did their hands when they washed them.  A total and complete covering with water.


            7:5       Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?”  Inadvertently they reveal the fundamental weak point in their theology:  they aren’t concerned and upset that the teaching of scripture has been contradicted but that the teaching of their humanly invented tradition on the subject has been set aside.  Jesus promptly hones in on the fact that zeal for tradition can easily replace zeal for God’s will.  The first amounts to “our best guess;” the latter to what God really and unquestionably wants.


            7:6       He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:  This people honors Me with their lips, / But their heart is far from Me.  The quotation in this and the next verse comes from Isaiah 29:13.  Here the emphasis is on the superficial level of their religion:  verbal honor for God while the heart could care less. 

            Sidebar:  If Isaiah 29:13 has a reference and relevance to not only Isaiah’s day but to Jesus’ it is hard to avoid concluding that verse 14 does as well.  First comes mention of what easily fits Christ’s record of teaching, miracles, and resurrection:  “therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work among this people, a marvelous work and a wonder.”  Next comes a reference to the failure and rejection of their religious traditions:  “for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”  Our reasoning is confirmed when we turn to 1 Corinthians 1:19.  There Paul cites this text to explain how both “wise” Jews and Greeks had used their reasoning to reject the way of salvation provided through Jesus of Nazareth (verses 20-25).  


            7:7       And in vain they worship Me, / Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’  Their very worship was invalidated because their religious doctrine was humanly invented.  Hence their piety was gutted of acceptability because they had departed from what God had actually revealed and replaced it with their reconstruction of it.  Which in the case of hand washing was vastly more complex and detailed.

            The closing part of Isaiah 29:13 reads differently in the Old Testament:  “And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.”  The Hebrew clearly regarded “fear toward Me” as equivalent to the reverential fear and honor expressed in worship.  But their fear/worship was grounded not in what Divine revelation had given them, but in the fact that it was “taught by the commandment of men.”  Even their decision to worship came not from God’s word but from the traditions being taught them by others!  The authority of “the commandment of men” could hardly be restricted to worship alone; it would inevitably provide authority for anything else they deemed desirable as well.  Hence the rendition Jesus quotes, “Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

            Sidebar:  The NIV rendering of the closing words when translating Isaiah 29:13 itself:  “Their worship of Me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.”  This and several other modern translations concur that this thought is the one intended in the original Hebrew text itself rather than being merely an interpretation of it.              

            7:8       For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”  Another way of saying “there is no authority in what God has revealed encouraging or demanding that you wash your tableware--but you demand such things.”  Perhaps this would not have been so annoying to Jesus if this had been some one single piece of foolishness, but it was an example of a widespread problem among them:  many other such things you do.” 

            Sidebar:  Few translations regard those last six words as established by the best surviving Greek manuscripts.  However, they do include Jesus saying it both in verse 13 (“and many such things you do”) and in verse 4 (“and there are many other things which they have received and hold”).  In verse 4 we also find cited both the “pitchers” and “cups” of our current verse. 

            Indeed it would be illogical for their broad teaching to be restricted only to hands, “pitchers and cups.”  Having claimed the authority to regulate such matters, how could those with their mind frame avoid applying it to “many other” things as well?  Hence verse 8 takes for granted those words even if they are not explicitly expressed.      


            7:9       He said to them, All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.  Note how the “laying aside the commandment of God” of the previous verse is made equivalent to “reject[ing] the commandment of God.”  “Laying aside” sounds almost innocent in nature but when you are talking about God’s revealed word you are talking about abandoning what you were told to do.  It is an outright “reject[ion]” of His authority and His law in order to preserve, evolve, and defend your own humanly invented and uninspired religious system.  It is as if the created are saying to the Creator, “We are smarter than you.”  They would never for a second thought of putting such a sentiment in words, but isn’t that what they were doing--or so close to it that they should be ashamed? 


            7:10     For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’  Respect for one’s parents was a fundamental Old Testament teaching:  “Honor[ing]” them was one of the Ten Commandments given at Sinai (Exodus 20:12). 

            This was so fundamental that the death penalty was authorized and demanded for those who blatantly did not:  “And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:17).  Since “curses” is clearly intended as the opposite of “honoring,” it is easy to read this as covering any kind of language that intentionally and with malice sets out to show disrespect.  In seeking for conceptual equivalents to “cursing,” the ESV opts for “reviles” and the NET for “insults,” both of which hit hard on the insulting nature of the speech.  Holman, NASB, and the WEB prefer the vaguer “speaks evil of”--which is technically accurate but far vaguer.


            7:11     But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God).  The Pharisees weren’t about to permit verbally dishonoring parents, but they could gut the intent of the command by allowing severe dishonor in action rather than in word.  For example, when that which could have helped them in their distress is denied them in order to contribute it to God’s service--presumably the Temple, but vague enough wording to permit the substitution of anything allegedly serving God’s holy cause.  The cynic in me suspects that this included providing financial support for religious figures like the Pharisees who were spending their time “serving God” . . . when they were just as likely, it seemed, to be spending their time in intra-mural discussions and debate on finessing and polishing the minute points of their theological disagreements. 


            7:12     then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother.  Even a person who had already indicated he was going to give X--whatever that might be--to the Temple or other “holy cause” might naturally reconsider that commitment in light of family needs.  That was not permitted:  “then you no longer let him [permit him, ESV and NET] [to] do anything.”  They absolutely forbid what even the Pharisees would have conceded was otherwise a God ordained kinship duty.  


            7:13     making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down.  And many such things you do.”  They used the religious “tradition” that those who came before them had invented--and which they passionately defended and supplemented--to literally veto doing what God actually wanted.  As the result, they made “the word of God of no effect through your tradition.”  NET and NIV:  “nullify the word of God.”  Holman:  “Revoke God’s word.”  

            As they saw it, their much later tradition amplified and perfected the earlier scriptural record.  It assured that you were doing God’s will the way it should be done, even if the text of Scripture itself actually said nothing on a given point.  This was true both when tradition “authorized” you to do things Scripture had not authorized . . . and not do things it had required.

            Sidebar on the theoretical “Mosaical” origin of their traditions:  The Jews distinguished between the ‘Written Law’ and the traditional or ‘Unwritten Law.’  The Unwritten Law was said to have been orally delivered by God to Moses, and by him orally transmitted to the Elders.  On it was founded the Talmud or ‘doctrine,’ which consists of (1) the Mishna or ‘repetition’ of the Law, (2) the Gemara or ‘supplement’ to it.  So extravagant did the veneration for the Traditional Law become, that there was amongst many other sayings this assertion, ‘The Law is like salt, the Mishna like pepper, the Gemara like balmy spice.’   (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)   

            If under the kingship of Josiah it was regarded as astounding to find a copy of the Torah surviving undetected in the neglected Temple (2 Kings 22:8), what were the odds of any previous “unwritten law” having survived in anybody’s mind or written document?  Somewhere between minimal and non-existent. 



                        A “Parable” Designed To Teach That True Defilement Only Comes       Through Moral Misbehavior (7:14-23):  14 Then he called the crowd       again and said to them, “Listen to me, everyone, and     understand. 15 There is nothing outside of a person that can      defile him by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a   person that defiles him.”

                17 Now when Jesus had left the crowd and entered the      house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to      them, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever     goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? 19 For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the        sewer.” (This means all foods are clean.) 

                20 He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. 21 For        from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual      immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, evil, deceit,      debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. 23 All these evils         come from within and defile a person.”     --New English Translation           (for comparison)



            7:14     When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand.  His conflict with the Pharisees raised the question of what true “defilement” meant.  The Pharisees were convinced that spiritual defilement came from neglect of certain external rituals that they deemed essential--these being established not upon the basis of “book, chapter, and verse” (as could be done with eating foods the Old Testament labeled as “unclean”), but upon rules laid down by their traditional practice.  Jesus wanted everyone interested in spiritual “understand[ing],” however, to grasp the point He is about to drive home about such matters. 


            7:15     There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man.  Although these words have a logical application to eating ceremonially unclean foods--and He will develop that point only in private and only to His apostles (verses 17-23)--what He says in public will be interpreted in light of what He had been talking about:  eating with hands and tableware “unwashed” according to Pharisaic standards.  Hence His immediate point is:  “Nothing eaten with ceremonially unwashed hands or from ceremonially unwashed eating paraphernalia (verse 4) will defile the food.  What will defile is the behavior that comes out of you.”

            This was radical teaching in itself and unless one fully grasped it, the fact that the food itself could never defile you could never be accepted.  But that was a subject for public teaching only after the Mosaical system was nailed to Jesus’ cross (Colossians 2:14-17).  And even then if one wished to voluntarily continue to observe those limitations there was no sin involved; sin would only occur if you compelled others to do so as well.


            7:16     If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”  Jesus was rightly convinced that anyone who had “ears to hear” should allow him/herself to “hear” [= heed, accept, embrace] these words and recognize their validity. 

            Sidebar:  A major segment of modern translations omit this verse because they are missing in the manuscripts they regard as of the best quality.  Even if one accepts that premise, the words still surely reflect Jesus’ attitude toward such matters.  Obviously He intended for His hearers to accept and practice what He had to say!  Or did Jesus waste time providing teaching that He didn’t expect them to embrace?  


            7:17     When He had entered a house away from the crowd, His disciples asked Him concerning the parable.  Although they have heard the same thing as the other listeners, the apostles admit their perplexity only when they are safely “away from the crowd” in a private home.  It is one thing to be uncertain what is meant; it is profoundly different not to be humble enough to seek help in grasping the matter.  It was Peter in particular who had the courage to raise this question that had left them all confused (Matthew 15:15).


            7:18     So He said to them, “Are you thus without understanding also?  Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him.  Jesus was disturbed that they, of all people, could not grasp His point--they were His apostles, not merely interested outsiders!  So He repeats it and then explains why this represented the true reality. . . .


            7:19     because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?”  What purifies or pollutes is that which is generated by our “heart” (= soul, mind).  In contrast, by definition food is processed by the stomach and “eliminated” from our body; it is inherently incapable of altering the moral status of our “heart.”

            This is all they needed to understand at this point:  the true source of spiritual impurity and contamination.  Even under the Mosaical system, partaking of certain foods never made you morally impure but only ceremonially so.  On the basis of this fundamental reality, the apostles would later be able to accept Gentile converts as their spiritual equals.  At this point all that was essential was to re-orientate their minds away from how the Pharisees tried to make ceremonial impurity central.

            Sidebar:  There is an elaborate discussion of how to translate the “purifying all foods:”  Do we present it as the words of Christ spoken at that time or the necessary deduction from that teaching that was only arrived at later?  With modest exceptions, translations today take this as Mark’s interpretive comment.  They treat the quotation as ended and then add something along the line of the ESV:  “(Thus he declared all foods clean.)”

            7:20     And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man.  Human behavior is the key--what one does and whether it is moral or immoral.  And, as if to assure that there would be no ambiguity, He pours out a variety of behaviors that are inherently polluting to the soul. . . .


            7:21     For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders,  22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.  The origin of our evil is within us.  External forces may tempt us, but what is inside us decides whether we yield.  No one makes us do these things; we do them because the thought pleases us.  Jesus certainly had no intention of us assuming that these thirteen evils are all the sins that could originate from our internal distorted priorities and passions; rather they are representative of the wide variety of forms that they can take.  They run the gauntlet from “evil thoughts” that others may never suspect to “murders” where the tangible proof of our evil lies dead at our feet.  Some don’t tangibly hurt others (like “pride”) while others do (“thefts”).

            What they all share in common is that they are counted sins in the sight of God and contaminate the moral integrity He expects us to exhibit.  Calling sin “sin” is something our culture rebels against.  And the words of Jesus are vainly cited to prove it:  “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).  Of course this overlooks the fact that in its context (verses 1-5) the rebuke is aimed at those who are doing far worse themselves!  In other words, playing the hypocrite.  Not to mention Jesus was quite willing in texts like this to spell out behaviors that are sinful and to rebuke them.  When we label such actions and attitudes as “sin,” what are we doing but what the Lord Himself did?                            


            7:23     All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”  You can’t blame anyone else and it’s no use trying.  Even if others consciously tempt you to sin, the decision to act upon it is made within ourselves.  (Remember Eve in the Garden of Eden?)  And when we yield the result is defilement.



                        A Foreigner Seeks Healing of Her Daughter--And Gains It (7:24-30):     24 After Jesus left there, he went to the region of Tyre. When he        went into a house, he did not want anyone to know, but he was         not able to escape notice. 25 Instead, a woman whose young        daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him and       came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, of    Syrophoenician origin. She asked him to cast the demon out of      her daughter. 

                27 He said to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is      not right to take the children’s bread and to throw it to the       dogs.” 28 She answered, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the         table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “Because    you said this, you may go. The demon has left your         daughter.” 30 She went home and found the child lying on the    bed, and the demon gone.     --New English Translation (for         comparison)   



            7:24     From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden.  Leaving Galilee and entering into Syria/Phoenicia, Jesus sought privacy by entering an unidentified individual’s home.  In light of His desire to keep people from learning of His presence, this surely included not wandering about in public where He might be identified.  This effort could have failed for a variety of reasons:  One or more of His apostles may have been recognized, someone from the household may have mentioned Him to neighbors, or someone delivering food or other goods may have seen or heard Him mentioned. 

            Mark 3:8 mentions that among “the great multitude” that came to Jesus because of His teaching and miracles were individuals from this region.  Hence, though the odds against any of His traveling party being recognized were modest it was far from non-existent.  And since they already knew of His reputation for miracles--indeed, a good number had already been benefited by it after traveling into Galilee (Matthew 4:24)--those hearing of His presence would naturally seek the same assistance.  Since Jesus was Jewish, one would assume that the bulk would also be Jews--Jewish/Gentile hostility and prejudice did cut both ways.

            Sidebar:  Why did He make this unexpected trip?  The best answer seems to be that in light of things that had been happening lately, spending a time being inconspicuous seemed the most prudent thing to do.  “The malevolence of our Lord’s enemies was now assuming hourly a more implacable form.  The Pharisaic party in Eastern Galilee were deeply offended (Matthew 15:12[--cf. Mark 3:6]); even those who once would fain have prevented Him from leaving them (Luke 4:42) were filled with doubts and suspicions; Herod Antipas was inquiring concerning Him (Luke 9:9[--cf. Mark 6:14-16]), and his inquiries boded nothing but ill.  He therefore now leaves for awhile eastern Galilee and makes His way north-west through the mountains of upper Galilee into the border-land of Phœnicia.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)


            7:25     For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet.  She was “severely demon possessed” (Matthew 15:22).  Since in both gospels the “demon” is referred to in the singular (rather than the plural “demons”), we must assume that the “severely” refers to the intensity of anguish and pain inflicted upon the daughter.  Jesus could hardly avoid noticing her because of the reverential respect she exhibited.  Yet He remained silent at first (Matthew 15:23).


            7:26     The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.  Making explicit the fact that she was not Jewish and telling us that demon possession existed even among Gentiles in that region.  Previously we encountered such a situation among Gentiles in Mark 5 and its account of demonical possession that ended in the demons being cast into pigs and drowning in the sea.  She is called a Syrophœnician, as distinguished from the Libyphœnicians, the Phœnicians of Africa, that is, Carthage.  Phœnicia belonged at this time to the province of Syria.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)  


            7:27     But Jesus said to her, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”  Note the inclusion of that important word “first.”  There would be a time for miraculous healings of Gentiles--but not here and not now.  The “children” (= either the children/people of Israel in general or, more likely, literal children who are Jewish) needed to be helped first.  As outsiders there is no necessity to treat Gentiles on a par with them; in comparison they are like “little dogs.”  The contempt that the last word could convey is softened and removed by the adjective “little,” i.e., harmless and pleasant but still not part of the family toward which an immediate obligation was felt. 


            7:28     And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”  Being an astute lady, she recognized that the Lord’s words were not quite as prohibitive as they sounded:  Do not even little dogs eat the leftover “crumbs”?  They might not get a lot, but they still get some.


            7:29     Then He said to her, “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”  Jesus rewarded her insight and perceptivity by giving her what she wished.  She not only had faith that He had the power, she also had the common sense to see how He could perform the healing while staying in accord with having a very different target audience.


            7:30     And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.  No doubt a very happy and content young lady with all the discomforts of a malign personality removed.  Resting on her bed, the anguish over.



                        Instantaneous Healing of a Deaf Mute (7:31-37):  31 Then Jesus       went out again from the region of Tyre and came through Sidon     to the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Decapolis32 They        brought to him a deaf man who had difficulty speaking, and they         asked him to place his hands on him. 

                33 After Jesus took him aside privately, away from the       crowd, he put his fingers in the man’s ears, and after spitting, he       touched his tongue. 34 Then he looked up to heaven and said with   a sigh, “Ephphatha” (that is, “Be opened”). 

                35 And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his         tongue loosened, and he spoke plainly. 36 Jesus ordered them not       to tell anyone. But as much as he ordered them not to do this,         they proclaimed it all the more. 37 People were completely         astounded and said, “He has done everything well. He even      makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.     --New English    Translation (for comparison)



            7:31     Again, departing from the region  of Tyre and Sidon, He came through the midst of the region of Decapolis to the Sea of Galilee.  Although He passed near or through one or more of the Greek cities of the Decapolis, He had no task to carry out while in any of them.  Any presence was simply due to the fact that He needed to travel through this area to reach His goal of the Sea of Galilee.


            7:32     Then they brought to Him one who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech, and they begged Him to put His hand on him.  Deafness and speech impediments go together:  If you can’t hear yourself talk (or if you can barely hear) you are not going to be able to compare how you say words with the standard pronunciation of where you live.  In his case he also had a physical problem that fouled up his speaking ability as well.


            7:33     And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue.  Jesus, unlike the bulk of His miracles, deemed this a case where it was best to separate the ailing man from the observing crowd--perhaps because this was going to be done a bit differently than the typical “touch and he is healed” pattern.  Why did He take time to go through these other steps though?  Perhaps because this way--through non-verbal communication--He was able to impress upon the deaf man that there was a direct correlation between His healing and the touch of the Lord. 

           Sidebar:  How far “aside” He took the man is unknown.  Since others had brought the disabled man there (verse 32), it is thoroughly probable that this was done within eyesight of them.   


            7:34     Then, looking up to heaven, He sighed, and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”  Looking up to heaven may carry the connotation that He prayed (it explicitly has such in John 11:41).  If the deaf man were looking at Him--what more natural under the circumstances?--it could also be a visual reminder that the healing came from God’s power being exercised.  The “be opened” warned those nearby that this was the moment to anticipate the healing to occur. 

            The odd part is the fact that Jesus “sighed.”  Was there a sense of exasperation and sorrow at there being so much sickness in this world that needed to be removed?  Or perhaps it was a kind of verbal sorrow that the poor man was in this condition to begin with.


            7:35     Immediately his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plainly.  As soon as Jesus spoke, the healing was successfully accomplished:  one could hardly be more emphatic than saying “immediately!”  Both his deafness problem and his speaking problem disappeared simultaneously.  


            7:36     Then He commanded them that they should tell no one; but the more He commanded them, the more widely they proclaimed it.  The wording would seem to imply that not only did He explicitly enjoin their silence, but that He encountered the healed man and those with him later and repeated the same instruction--all in vain both times.  From their standpoint, their action is understandable:  the unfixable had been fixed; the impossible had been accomplished; the deaf and speech impaired had full hearing and perfect speech. 

            But from the Lord’s perspective, He may well not have regarded this as the time or place to spread further word.  His enemies were not above being angry at His healings and exorcisms and He may have wanted to avoid stirring them up even further.  Alternatively, we need to remember that Jesus was even more a teacher than He was a healer; the healings acted to confirm the validity of the teaching.  There was the ever present danger that all the people would be interested in were the confirmatory acts and not with personally applying the teaching they heard.


            7:37     And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well.  He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”  NET prefers “completely astounded” and the NIV has “overwhelmed with amazement.”  There was so much powerful confirmation of Jesus’ power and authority that it overwhelmed their intellect to find the right words.  Today we convey a similar idea by saying “we couldn’t take it all in.” 

            The specific successes mentioned are the cures of deafness and inability to speak, but these are simply illustrations of the wide variety of impossible cures He had repeatedly accomplished:  “He has done all things well.”  An allusion, at least in part, to His unbroken record of successful healings.  Imitators might “heal” this person or that--or at least claim to.  In contrast, Jesus never had a failure and the miracles took place in a wide range of settings, from private to in front of a large variety of witnesses.     








Chapter Eight




                        A Large Crowd of 4,000 Coming to Hear and See Jesus Is Fed (8:1-10):             1 In those days there was another large crowd with nothing to        eat. So Jesus called his disciples and said to them, “I have         compassion on the crowd, because they have already been here with me three days, and they have nothing to eat. If I send    them home hungry, they will faint on the way, and some of them have come from a great distance.” 

                His disciples answered him, “Where can someone get     enough bread in this desolate place to satisfy these people?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They replied,    “Seven.” Then he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground.         After he took the seven loaves and gave thanks, he broke them        and began giving them to the disciples to serve. So they served       the crowd. 

                They also had a few small fish. After giving thanks for    these, he told them to serve these as well. Everyone ate and      was satisfied, and they picked up the broken pieces left over,       seven baskets full. There were about four thousand who ate.         Then he dismissed them. 10 Immediately he got into a boat with        his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. 

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)



            8:1       In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them.  “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat.  These folk had clearly come prepared to stay for a while since it is only now that they run into a problem; they had been there for three days but now have run out of food.  Jesus is naturally sympathetic since it has been to see and hear Him that they have stayed so long.  Hence the problem is clear and the need to deal with it.  But next, He points out that the logical solution won’t work well. . . .


            8:3       And if I send them away hungry to their own houses, they will faint on the way; for some of them have come from afar.”  Not all of them faced this danger of exhaustion because of the distance they had traveled but at least “some” of them did for their interest in Jesus had motivated them to travel a great distance. At this point, He clearly stops talking and waits to see what the response of the apostles will be.


            8:4       Then His disciples answered Him, “How can one satisfy these people with bread here in the wilderness?”  This boils down to:  “We have a hopeless situation on our hands.”  They had seen Jesus feed 5,000 previously (Mark 6:30-44).  Even if they thought it was unlikely that He would do so again (after all these two incidents are aberrations from His normal behavior), it would still seem to be a natural option to suggest.  Did they doubt whether even Jesus could do it a second time?  Did they consider it an unjust imposition on Him to even suggest it?  We don’t know.


            8:5       He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”  And they said, “Seven.”  Since they have not come up with a solution, He enquires just what resources they had available.  They weren’t much--perhaps just what they had left for the Lord and themselves.


            8:6       So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground.  And He took the seven loaves and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and they set them before the multitude.  Although translated “sit down” this is a case of cultural adaptation to our customs since that is the posture that we would use.  In the first century (reflecting the actual meaning of the underlying Greek word), the posture would have been “reclined” on the ground as this was the customary practice of the time.

            The “gave thanks” was even more appropriate before this meal because it was only through the direct exercise of Divine power that it was available for so many to share together.   


            8:7       They also had a few small fish; and having blessed them, He said to set them also before them.  Unlike Matthew’s account (15:36), which mentions both the fish and bread together, Mark’s would make it sound more like the prayer and distribution of bread was a distinctly separate act from the sharing of the fish.  Although we ourselves might speak of having prayed and passed around the dinner table both bread and fish, the actual reality is we would normally pass the platter of one and only after that, distribute the second food.  Indeed when both the bread and fish were for so many and were being multiplied miraculously, it would be far more convenient for the miracle worker to create and pass all of one item before doing the second.  In describing this many would simply combine the two together, as Matthew does and as we do in describing the passing of our own food.


            8:8       So they ate and were filled, and they took up seven large baskets of leftover fragments.  They did not get a mere token of nourishment; they got enough to eat all they wished.  Not to mention abundant “leftovers.”


            8:9       Now those who had eaten were about four thousand.  And He sent them away.  With a full stomach they would be able to complete their trips home while recognizing in yet another way the extraordinary power and uniqueness of this preacher from Nazareth and Capernaum. 

            Sidebar:  Some differences between the two instances of miraculous feeding of multitudes.  To begin with we should stress the nature of the containers used afterwards:  Not the small wicker cophinoi of the former miracle, but large baskets of rope, such as that in which Paul was lowered from the wall of Damascus (Acts 9:25).  We notice at once the [other] difference[s] between this and the Miracle of the Five Thousand:

            “(a) The people had been with the Lord upwards of three days, a point not noted on the other occasion.

            “(b) Seven loaves are now distributed and a few fishes, then five loaves and two fishes;

            “(c) Five thousand were fed then, four thousand are fed now;

            “(d) On this occasion seven large rope-baskets are filled with fragments, on the other twelve small wicker baskets;

            “(e) The more excitable inhabitants of the coast-villages of the North would have taken and made Him a king (John 6:15); the men of Decapolis and the Eastern shores permit Him to leave them without any demonstration.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges)

            To follow the same numbering system as above, we might well add the following from the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary:

            “(f)  The localities, though both on the eastern side of the lake, were different;

            “(g)  The preceding and following circumstances were different;

            “(h)  the period during which the people continued fasting was different—in the one case not even one entire day, in the other three days[--either that or one group arrived with nothing and the other with a few day’s food and only ran out on the third day];

            “(i)  in the one case the multitude were commanded to sit down ‘upon the green grass;’ in the other ‘on the ground.’ ”


            8:10     immediately got into the boat with His disciples, and came to the region of Dalmanutha.  Having sent them on their way, the Lord’s own people promptly (“immediately”) left.  They had completed whatever they planned on doing in this area and the promptness removed the temptation that some might have to keep them longer.  They had received teaching and a decent meal.  If they stayed longer the crowd would need yet more meals and it would be easy for them to come to expect such indefinitely.  This would not be done out of ill will but would still be a bending of Jesus away from the spiritual mission of moral reform and obedience to God that were at the heart of His preaching and teaching.



                        All The Wonders Jesus Has Done in Front of Many Witnesses Are         Cavalierly Dismissed With the Demand for Something Even Grander!  (8:11-     13):  11 Then the Pharisees came and began to argue with Jesus,    asking for a sign from heaven to test him. 12 Sighing deeply in his         spirit he said, “Why does this generation look for a sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 Then he left them, got back into the boat, and went to the other side. 

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)



            8:11     Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him.  By this time Jesus has a well established reputation for working miracles, but none of that is enough.  Now His foes insist that He demonstrate a miracle that would clearly and unquestionably be “a sign from heaven”--something so distinct and spectacular that no one can doubt.  What they wanted was a “show off miracle” while the humanly beneficial miracles that saved lives and well being were shrugged off as irrelevant.  However since they had ruled out the many supernatural evidences that He had already presented, was there actually anything that He could do that would convince them?

            The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges offers some useful ideas of what they might well have been seeking:  The same request had already been twice proffered.  (1) After the first cleansing of the Temple (John 2:18); (2) after the feeding of the Five Thousand (John 6:30); and (3) again shortly after the walking through the cornfields (Matthew 12:38).  By such a ‘sign’ was meant an outward and visible luminous appearance in the sky or some visible manifestation of the Shechînah, the credentials of a prophet.  They asked in effect, ‘Give us bread from heaven, as Moses did, or signs in the sun and moon like Joshua, or call down thunder and hail like Samuel, or fire and rain like Elijah, or make the sun turn back on the dial like Isaiah, or let us hear the Bath-Kôl, the ‘daughter of the Voice,’ that we may believe Thee.’   But based on past behavior would they not find some way to reject those as well? 


            8:12     But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign?  Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.”  His “sigh” indicates His frustration and exasperation.  He had already produced an abundance of signs.  So He wonders aloud, “Why does this generation seek a sign?”  They already had them--numerous ones.  Of the kind of sign they wanted, “no sign shall be given to this generation.”  However . . . there would be a penultimate sign of a much different type and just as conclusive:  In the parallel account in Matthew 16 we find that the ultimate proof of His status would be given via “the sign of the prophet Jonah” (verse 4)--a rescue, triumph, resurrection from death.  And, historically speaking, we know they did not accept that either.        


            8:13     And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side.  Having had enough of this frustrating blindness, He left to teach somewhere else.  



                        No Matter the Degree of Power or Influence of Those Like the   Pharisees and Herod, Their “Leaven” Was Dangerous to True Spirituality       (8:14-21):  14 Now they had forgotten to take bread, except for one    loaf they had with them in the boat. 15 And Jesus ordered them,         “Watch out! Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast        of Herod!” 16 So they began to discuss with one another about         having no bread. 

                17 When he learned of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you arguing about having no bread? Do you still not see or         understand? Have your hearts been hardened? 18 Though you       have eyes, don’t you see? And though you have ears, can’t you   hear? Don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you pick   up?” They replied, “Twelve.” 20 “When I broke the seven loaves        for the four thousand, how many baskets full of pieces did you   pick up?” They replied, “Seven.” 21 Then he said to them, “Do     you still not understand?”

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)



            8:14     Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat.  It wasn’t a matter of the departure being too hasty to complete arrangements;  this was simply a case of human forgetfulness in the rush to get everything done.  A mere “one loaf” was not going to go far among thirteen people!  Arrangements could be made once they arrived on the other shore but the journey could take as much as six hours (or so it has been estimated).  Somewhere during that time they would get hungry and need something to at least “snack” on.  Quite likely it was at that point that their discovered their embarrassing oversight and explained it to the Lord.  His reaction was as far from the expected as one could get. . . .


            8:15     Then He charged them, saying, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”  At times, as we read the gospel accounts, we think, “How in the world could they have missed what Jesus was driving at?”  In this case, though, which of us would not have stood there with an open mouth, wondering what in the world He was talking about?


            8:16     And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “It is because we have no bread.”  The most they could figure out was that the warning was somehow related to their not having brought much bread.  But note that Jesus had spoken of “leaven” and not bread--and how could either be connected with the Pharisees or Herod?

            The closest you could get from leaven to bread was that leaven was used in the making of bread.  And the closest you can make that relevant was if Jesus was upset with the Pharisaic and Herodian “orthodoxy” about the use of it.  John Lightfoot, in one of his scholarly works, explains, “The rule of the Jews was very strict as to the kind of leaven that was to be used; and the disciples supposed that He was alluding to this when He cautioned them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees.”  (As quoted by the Pulpit Commentary.)  Closely related to this is the suggestion that they thought He was upset at them purchasing the leaven from the Pharisees.

            But this was still an illogical connection for them to make.  It was hardly likely they had suddenly started using an inappropriate form of leaven; it would have been criticized far earlier if that had been the case.     


            8:17     But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread?  Do you not yet perceive nor understand?  Is your heart still hardened?  Note that lack of understanding is evidence that the heart is “hardened.”  Or, in this kind of context, we would probably say that “your intellect is hardened;” “you are thick headed;” “you aren’t using your brain to think this through.”  For one thing, the problem of lack of literal bread could be resolved if Jesus saw that the need was great enough:  “Why aren’t you using your brain and remembering the very things you’ve witnessed” is the subtext implied in the following two verses.    


            8:18     Having eyes, do you not see?  And having ears, do you not hear?  And do you not remember?  They have both seen and heard enough to understand what Jesus is driving at.  If literal “bread” was somehow the problem they knew full well that He had the power to solve it if He decided it was necessary or appropriate.  Did they not remember. . . .


            8:19     When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?”  They said to Him, “Twelve.”  20 Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?”  And they said, “Seven.”  What more evidence do they need to recognize that literal “bread” was not what He was complaining about?


            8:21     So He said to them, “How is it you do not understand?”  The point is that by now they should be understanding but don’t; it is the needless delay in doing so that concerns Him.  Most translations now bring out this point by speaking along the lines of “Do you still not understand?” (NIV) or “Do you not yet understand?” (NASB).  (The traditional Greek text permits this interpretation and the widely accepted “critical text” makes it explicit and, therefore, inescapable.)

            The point He is making, of course, is that if worse came to worse, He could miraculously create it as He had in the other two cases.  They could go hungry a few more hours without there being any excuse for any action that extreme so how can they be missing the fact that He didn’t have literal bread or leaven in mind?

            Only in Matthew’s account do we discover what comes after the word “understand” and how they finally recognized the connection He was trying to make them see:  “ ‘How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?—but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.’  Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:11-12).



                        A “Two Part” Healing of a Blind Man at Bethsaida (8:22-26):      22 Then they came to Bethsaida. They brought a blind man to Jesus and asked him to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by      the hand and brought him outside of the village. Then he spit on       his eyes, placed his hands on his eyes and asked, “Do you see       anything?” 

                24 Regaining his sight he said, “I see people, but they look        like trees walking.” 25 Then Jesus placed his hands on the man’s      eyes again. And he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Do        not even go into the village.” 

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)



            8:22     Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him.  Jesus could encounter a blind person only two ways.  The first was because He happened to walk by or near them.  The other would be, as in this case, if others brought them to Him--connecting a problem (blindness) with the potential solution (the Man from Galilee who could heal it).  The fact that they brought the man testifies to their kindness and perhaps even affection for the person.

            Sidebar:  Which Bethsaida?  It seems most probable that it was Bethsaida Julias.  This Bethsaida was in the tetrarchy of Philip, who improved and adorned it, and named it Julias, in honor of the emperor's daughter Julia.  A reference to Verse 27 [referring to “Caesarea Philippi”] seems to make it quite clear that it must have been this Bethsaida, and not the Galilean Bethsaida on the other side of the lake.  It is not surprising that there should have been, adjoining this great lake, more than one place called Beth-saidai.e. the ‘place of fish.’   (Pulpit Commentary)  What better name for a place where fish were abundantly “harvested”?


            8:23     So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town.  And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything.  Jesus personally led the man out of town, presumably with the man’s friends coming along.  There He put “spit on his eyes”--an odd action but perhaps motivated to show both the afflicted and his friends that He fully understood what needed to be fixed and was not going to shirk doing it.  Then He placed His hands on the eyes (as He does “again” in verse 25) and it was at that point that the actual curing began. 


            8:24     And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.”  Though he could see now, the images were distorted.  Even by itself this was a vast improvement and would have been appreciated, but more could--and would--be promptly done.  (That he could tell that they resembled trees argues that he was not born blind.) 


            8:25     Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up.  And he was restored and saw everyone clearly.  This showed that Jesus could heal at whatever “pace” He preferred--all at once or in rapid steps--but that the cure was inevitable once He had started to act.  (For an Old Testament case of a miracle involving multiple actions consider the healing of Naaman’s leprosy after he dipped himself “seven times in the Jordan”--2 Kings 5:9-14). 


            8:26     Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.”  Here we probably have an explanation for His taking the blind outside the city:  He did not want to draw attention to the miracle.  Probably out of concern that He would be delayed when He wanted to promptly move on elsewhere. . . . or out of an awareness that people would not be motivated by healings to embrace the things He taught as to proper behavior--as Luke 10:13-16 indicates they did not in spite of abundant miracles.  

            (The instruction would make no sense if the blind man had come from Bethsaida for then where else would he be expected to go?  Hence the incident implies that he was from some other community.  There he was to return.)



                        Peter Confesses the True Identity of Jesus as the Promised Christ          (8:27-30):  27 Then Jesus and his disciples went to the villages of         Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do         people say that I am?” 28 They said, “John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them,         “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are       the Christ.” 30 Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)

            8:27     Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, “Who do men say that I am?”  Crowds had repeatedly seen Him work miracles.  They had heard His teaching.  They had seen Him encounter leading “religious authorities” like the Pharisees and destroy their arguments.  All this had to have an impact on the thinking of both the apostles as well as popular opinion.  And since the disciples were able to move about and blend in with the larger population far more than the Jesus Himself could, they would have a good idea of how people were responding when not directly in the presence of the Lord.  Seeing how they “read” public opinion would also lay the ground work for asking their own judgment on the matter. 


            8:28     So they answered, “John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.”  Note in the alternatives they mention there is only the question of how great a figure Jesus must be rather than whether He is one.  The efforts to scornfully reject Him encouraged by the Pharisees and Sadducees had simply not taken root.

            Due to his bluntness, John was the greatest contemporary figure public opinion could imagine Jesus “really” being.  Beyond that they thought of an identification among the plain spoken Old Testament prophets--even Elijah in particular.  Explicit Messianic attribution is not on their list.


            8:29     He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered and said to Him, “You are the Christ.”  All were asked, but only Peter responds.  This argues either (1) that the others were not quite sure how to sum up their thinking on the subject in a few concise words or, more likely, (2) that Peter’s conclusion expressed the consensus already arrived at among the apostles . . . that Jesus was “the Christ,” “the Anointed One,” i.e., the Messianic figure the Old Testament predicted.


            8:30     Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him.  Knowing that His apostles recognized His true status no doubt pleased Jesus no end.  On the other hand, this was truly an explosive insight for popular opinion identified the Messiah with a successful temporal kingship.  Spreading word that Jesus Himself held this opinion would have been like pouring gasoline on a fire:  combined with His ability to perform miracles, there would have been the sentiment that nothing could hinder or stop His gaining temporal and imperial power now.  There were times when over enthusiastic crowds wanted to compel Him to take that step (John 6:15:  context, as the result of feeding the 5,000), but that kind of revolutionary talk and action was the last thing He actually wanted.  So He asked--no, ordered--them not to speak of this with the broader range of disciples and the people at large.  



                        Tempering the Temptation to Build World Empire Consequences Out     of His Being the Long Promised Messiah, Jesus Stresses that He Will Die          (8:31-33):  31 Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man     must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief         priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and after three    ays rise again. 32 He spoke openly about this. So Peter took him     side and began to rebuke him. 33 But after turning and looking at is disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan.         You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)



            8:31     And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  Having embraced His role of Messiah, He promptly began teaching them that He would be a suffering Messiah--as Isaiah 53:1-12 had taught centuries earlier.  Not only would He “suffer” He would even be (judicially) murdered.  In spite of the vile treatment, He would escape the clutches of death three days later.  In other words, be resurrected.  The cause of all this will not be the Jewish people at large but their leaders, “the elders and chief priests and scribes.” 

            Sidebar:  There is a sermonic topic in this that I’ve never heard preached on:  “The danger of having the wrong religious leadership over you.”


            8:32     He spoke this word openly.  Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.  Jesus’ warning was spoken “openly” to them:  “plainly” (ESV), “clearly” (CEV), “very clearly” (GW).  He left them in no doubt as to the future.  No ambiguity; no dodging room.  But Peter thought it improper to even suggest the possibility and directly criticized Him for it.  It is easy to criticize Peter for doing this, but we need to remember that Jesus had repeatedly manifested such magnificent miracle working power that it boggled the mind to think that under such an extreme threat He would refuse to invoke it.  What Peter did not grasp was that there was the most important reason in the world not to do so:  without the shedding of His blood there would be no redemption from sin available for the human race (Hebrews 9:22-26). 

            Sidebar:  Earlier allusions to His ultimate death:  “Before this there had been intimations of the End, but then they had been dark and enigmatical.  (a) The Baptist had twice pointed Him out as the Lamb of God destined to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).  (b) At the first Passover of His public ministry He Himself had spoken to the Jews of a Temple to be destroyed and rebuilt in three days (John 2:19), and to Nicodemus of a lifting up of the Son of Man, even as Moses had lifted up the serpent in the wilderness (John 3:12-16).  (c) He had intimated moreover to the Apostles that a day would come when the Bridegroom should be taken from them (Matthew 9:15), and (d) in the synagogue at Capernaum He had declared that He was about to give His flesh for the Life of the world (John 6:47-51). Now for the first time He dwelt on His awful Future distinctly, and with complete freedom of speech.”  (Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges) 


            8:33     But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan!  For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  Peter’s rebuke had been given “aside” from the nearby presence of the other apostles (verse 32).  Now Jesus repudiated Peter’s excess zeal (1) visually by turning His back on Him and (2) speaking toward the others while He delivered His verbal rebuke:  Peter--and any of the others who might be harboring the same idea--would be agents of Satan in pushing such an agenda.  Such a course would be putting “the things of men”--their priorities, preferences, methods of doing things--above what God had determined must be done.  



                        The “Cross” of Discipleship Is Well Worth Its Pains Because of the        Rewards That Are Ultimately Gained (8:34-9:1):  34 Then Jesus called the      crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone      wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his    cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and for the gospel   will save it. 

                36 For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world,     yet forfeit his life? 37 What can a person give in exchange for his   life? 38 For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this   adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be         ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”  And he said to them, “I tell you the truth,     there are some standing here who will not experience death         before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”

                        --New English Translation (for comparison)



            8:34     When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  In His next time of preaching to the crowds, He warned both them and His disciples that discipleship meant the rejection of self-centered preferences.  They would suffer (note the “cross” carrying imagery that was quite literal in His own case); in spite of that personal cost they needed to “follow” Him by being faithful disciples no matter what happened.  This implies doing so on an ongoing basis, of course.  In Luke 9:23 the adjective “daily” is explicitly applied to this command.  (That is, in the majority of Greek manuscripts.  Even without it, that intent is surely implied.)   


            8:35     For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  Discipleship carries with it a fundamental paradox:  Saving one’s physical life through disloyalty to Christ ultimately causes the loss of one’s life in eternity, i.e., spiritual death.  One will have excluded oneself from the rewards that go with abiding discipleship.  In contrast, one who loses life for either Christ or His gospel, will “save it” eternally.  Loyalty is not forgotten.


            8:36     For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  There is a lot that one can gain in the current life through hard work or good luck or a combination of both.  Even if someone manages to parlay it into “the whole world” (= “everything we want in the world”), that joy and happiness is still doomed to come to an end.  It only applies to things in the current world.  If that success has been obtained through dishonesty and betrayal of the cause of Christ, how will it possibly be of benefit to our soul--which will just as inevitably survive physical death?  That will be lost in eternity!  Short term gains versus long term disaster. 


            8:37     Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  The price for our soul varies from person to person.  For some it is sexual pleasure; for others it is wealth; for yet others political or military power.  Jesus challenges them to lay out their own “ultimate dream” and answer whether obtaining it is actually worth the loss of the soul, the part of us that lives eternally.


            8:38     For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”  Turning the back on Jesus in our corrupt world--by being “ashamed” of Him, His claims, or His teaching--will mean there will be no room for us in the eternal kingdom.  When the glorified Jesus returns, accompanied by His angels, He will be as embarrassed and ashamed of us as we had been of Him.  Just as He had no place in our lives here; there will be no place for us in the Heaven to which He returns with His faithful. 


            9:1:  And he said to them, “I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the kingdom of God come with power.”  Though this is a logical continuation of what is said in chapter 8, the man who divided the text into chapters separated this verse from the context that led up to it.  We will engage in an actual discussion of it when we begin the next chapter.