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Bible Commentaries
Mark 3

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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The continuation of Jesus’ ministry is detailed in this chapter which recounts the healing of a man on the sabbath in the synagogue (Mark 3:1-6), healings at the seashore with demons confessing him (Mark 3:7-12), appointment of the Twelve (Mark 3:13-19), teachings regarding "an eternal sin" (Mark 3:20-30), and the incident of his mother and brethren seeking him (Mark 3:31-35).

Verses 1-2

And he entered again into the synagogue; and they saw a man there who had his hand withered. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him.

A feature of this healing was the anticipation of it by the Pharisees, who had evidently been sent from Jerusalem for the purpose of spying on Jesus with a view to destroying him. The purpose of the hierarchy to kill Christ had already been formed earlier (John 5:18) on their decision that Christ was a sabbath-breaker and a blasphemer. Their alleged evidence, however, was unsatisfactory, even to them; therefore the search was continued in the hope of uncovering what would have been, in their eyes, a better charge. Their hatred of the Lord and their presence at the performance of this wonder emphasize the authenticity of the deed.

Verses 3-4

And he saith unto the man that had his hand withered, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful on the sabbath day to do good, or to do harm? to save a life, or to kill? But they held their peace.

Stand forth … Christ accepted the challenge of his enemies. He would indeed heal the man on the sabbath day; but first, he would contrast his own act of saving mercy with their act, also performed on the sabbath day, of killing the Saviour of the world, that being their only purpose, which objective they pursued constantly, on sabbath days as well as all other days. But, if the Pharisees were blind to the inconsistency which accepted their own murderous actions as "lawful" sabbath day conduct, while at the same time condemning such an act as Jesus would do as "unlawful" on the sabbath, the people were not so blind and could easily see the difference.

To save a life, or to kill … Christ was about to "save a life" from pain, inability, and frustration. The Pharisees were present for the purpose of killing Jesus. The contrast was dramatic, and there could have been no better example of opposite purposes of Satan and Christ than that which precipitated the stark, ugly incident here. The Pharisees themselves were speechless when Jesus called attention to it.

But they held their peace … What THEY were doing was satanic and malignant; and they were stunned into silence by Jesus’ obvious reference to their evil employment on the sabbath.

Verse 5

And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their heart, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he stretched it forth; and his hand was restored.

Looked … on them with anger … This is one of the places in which it is asserted that "Matthew corrected" Mark! It is alleged that this was considered by Matthew to have been too harsh a statement of the Lord’s emotion, "anger" for some undisclosed reason being considered by critics as "unbecoming" to Jesus. Regardless of the scholarship of those advocating such a view, it is founded, apparently, in ignorance of the fact that Matthew was just as precise in his assignment of this emotion to Jesus as was Mark. The vituperative passages of Matthew 23 are a far more impressive account of Jesus’ anger than Mark’s casual reference to it here. Furthermore, Jesus was quoted by Matthew as saying, "The King was wroth; and he sent his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned their city!" (Matthew 22:7), the king, of course, standing for God himself, making it impossible for Matthew to have considered Mark’s attribution of anger to Jesus as anything inappropriate. Therefore, the conceit that Matthew corrected Mark in this particular is rejected.

And his hand was restored … Barclay is at great pains to show that Jesus actually violated God’s sabbath by this miracle, He said, "On the sabbath day all work was forbidden, and to heal was to work."(F1) But as Dummelow accurately observed, "Only malice could call healing by a word, without labor or medicine, a breach of the sabbath."(F2) It is nothing short of outrageous how "Christian" scholars are so determined to make Jesus a sabbath breaker. Not even the Pharisees, in the last analysis, used that charge as the basis of demanding Christ’s crucifixion (John 19:7). However, the liberal scholars have an axe to grind by their inaccurate portrayal of Jesus as a sabbath-breaker. Barclay explained his conclusions on this as follows:

To the Pharisees religion was ritual; it meant obeying certain rules and laws and regulations. Jesus broke these regulations and they were genuinely convinced that he was a bad man. It is like the man who believes that religion consists in going to church, reading the Bible, saying grace at meals, even having family worship, and carrying on all the external acts which are looked upon as religious, and who yet never put himself out to do anything for anyone in his life, who has no sense of sympathy, no desire to sacrifice, who is serene in his rigid orthodoxy, and deaf to the call of need and blind to the tears of the world.(F3)

Barclay’s slander of equating his caricature of the church-going Christian with the murderous Pharisees of Jesus’ day is criminal. It may be a fact that such unfeeling Christians exist; but it is the conviction of this author that such a phenomenon is rare, atypical, and extraordinary. The great hindrance to true Christianity does not come from Christians like those of Barclay’s caricature, there being an insufficient number of them to make any difference at all. The great hindrance comes from insinuations, like this, which imply that Bible study, church attendance and family worship are "secondary" to "helping people" and are in no sense part of Jesus’ true religion. He even went so far as to say, "To Jesus, religion was SERVICE."(F4) Jesus’ religion INCLUDED service, but mere humanism is as far from true Christianity as Shintoism. Christ’s testimony regarding the law of Moses that he did not come to destroy but to fulfill would be violated by any view that he deliberately broke God’s sabbath law. Of course, the Pharisaical additions and improvisations regarding the sacred law were no part of God’s true law and were righteously flouted by Christ, but break God’s sabbath he did not.

Therefore, let Christians beware of all interpretations that would make a sinner out of the Saviour himself.

Verse 6

And the Pharisees went out, and straightway with the Herodians took counsel against him, how they might destroy him.

Straightway … This term is used 39 times in Mark, occurring at least one time in every chapter except Mark 12 and Mark 13, with the greatest number coming in Mark 1, where it occurs eleven times!

With the Herodians … The Herodians were a sect of the Jews who favored the kingship of Herod. Normally, they were bitter enemies of the Pharisees; but these old foes made common cause against the Saviour.

How they might destroy him … This does not mean that they decided to kill him, that having long ago been decided (John 5:18), but that they plotted on the mechanics of his murder, just how they were going to bring it about.

Verses 7-8

And Jesus with his disciples withdrew to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed; and from Judaea, and from Jerusalem, and from Idumaea, and beyond the Jordan, and from Tyre and Sidon, a great multitude, hearing what great things he did, came unto him.

Rather than continue his teachings in the synagogues, Jesus took his message to the seashore where he continued under the open sky to deliver the message of God to humanity. The place names mentioned here as sending a great multitude to Jesus covered the entire extent of ancient Palestine. Tyre and Sidon were in the northwest, Jerusalem a hundred miles south, Idumaea extended from the far south all the way to Arabia, and "beyond the Jordan" referred to the east.

Verse 9

And he spake to his disciples, that a little boat should wait on him because of the crowd, lest they should throng him.

The pressure of so vast a multitude, many of whom were intent on touching Jesus, presented a physical danger, as well as gross inconvenience; and therefore Jesus requested and received from his disciples a boat which he could enter, and from offshore, continue his preaching to the multitude.

Verse 10

For he had healed many; insomuch that as many as had plagues pressed upon him that they might touch him.

Plagues … is from the Greek word "scourges" (English Revised Version (1885) margin), and no doubt this would have been better translated by its Greek equivalent. The number of the cures wrought by Jesus was astronomical; all of the gospels together give only a fraction of the "great things he did."

Verses 11-12

And the unclean spirits, whensoever they beheld him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God. And he charged them much that they should not make him known.

Unclean spirits … For discussion of demon possession, see under Mark 1:24.

Thou art the Son of God … This demonic witness was true, although proffered in keeping with some ulterior design of the evil one; and it is of the utmost significance that Jesus rejected this witness of the unclean. Two clear reasons for this rejection are: (1) it was premature for Jesus to be hailed as "the Son of God," a title with strong secular implications in the Hebrew mind and actually being equated with "King of Israel" (John 1:49). Had he permitted this title of himself to stand, Christ would have been hauled before the Romans for sedition. (2) If demons had been freely permitted to bear such testimony, it might have appeared to reinforce the slander of the Pharisees that he cast out demons by the prince of the demons (Mark 3:22).

Son of God … must be understood here in its unique Messianic import. Any other meaning would not have served the demonic purpose. It should be noted that Christ did not deny their testimony as true, but on the other hand he forbade them to utter it.

Verses 13-15

And he goeth up into the mountain, and calleth unto him whom he himself would; and they went unto him. And he appointed twelve, that they might be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have authority to cast out demons.

The mountain … probably refers to the elevation some five miles west of Galilee, called Mount Hatten, where it is also supposed that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Luke adds the significant detail that Christ prayed all night before appointing the Twelve (Luke 6:13).

And they went unto him … Bickersteth states that these words actually mean "went away to him, implying that they forsook their former pursuits."(F5) This tends to remove the abruptness of the call of four apostles recounted in the first chapter and shows that Mark did not mean that at that time they forsook their occupations. This was the occasion when they gave up their fishing.

Preach … and cast out demons … Mark laid great stress on the mission of Christ to destroy the works of the devil. The demonic creation, under satanic domination, had doubtless learned who Christ was from the heavenly announcement: at Jesus’ baptism, which must have sent a shudder of apprehension throughout the whole kingdom of evil. Satan and all of the beings in his service worked feverishly to kill Jesus, little dreaming that in the death of Christ their entire kingdom and all of its works would be overthrown.

Verses 16-19

And Simon he surnamed Peter; and James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and them he surnamed Boanerges, which is Sons of Thunder: and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanean, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.

The twelve apostles are listed four times in the New Testament, as given below. The number twelve corresponds to the twelve tribes of Israel and to the twelve foundations of the eternal city. In this dispensation, the Twelve sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of spiritual Israel (Matthew 19:28). These men, in one sense, are the most important men who ever lived. In their capacity as the God-ordained witnesses of the incarnation and the custodians and deliverers of God’s message to mankind, they are fully worthy of the honor God has reserved for them in the inscription of their names upon the foundations of the Eternal City (Revelation 21:14).

(Matthew 10:2-4)(Mark 3:16-19)(Luke 6:14-16)(Acts 1:13)
Peter Andrew James John Philip Bartholomew Thomas Matthew James, son of Alphaeus Thaddaeus Simon the Cananean Judas Iscariot Peter James John Andrew Philip Bartholomew Matthew Thomas James, son of Alphaeus Thaddaeus Simon the Cananean Judas Iscariot Peter Andrew James John Philip Bartholomew Matthew Thomas James, son of Alphaeus Simon the Zealot Judas of James Judas Iscariot Peter John James Andrew Philip Thomas Bartholomew Matthew James, son of Alphaeus Simon the Zealot Judas of James

The obvious reconciliation of the slight variations above is found in the fact that Thaddaeus was also called Judas the son of James and that Simon the Cananean was also known as Simon the Zealot. There is no need whatever to imagine, as McMillan suggested, that "the earliest selections were not final" or that it became "necessary to find replacements."(F6) If one of the sacred authors had listed James and John as the Boanerges Brothers, it would have been another example of disciples being known by more than one name.

It is interesting that the first, fifth and ninth named apostles were unanimously reported in those exact positions, suggesting that the Twelve marched in groups of four, Peter, Philip, and James the son of Alphaeus being the leaders of these groups. Of course, this is a mere speculation.

For articles on some of the individual apostles, reference is made to the Commentary on John, and for articles concerning Peter’s so-called primacy, and the questions regarding the keys of the kingdom, see the Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 16:16-19.

Verse 20

And he cometh into a house. And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.

Sanner understood the "house" mentioned here as the one "in Capernaum"(F7) where he usually stayed. It was perhaps the one belonging to Peter and Andrew (Mark 1:29). Having returned from his preaching and teaching on Mount Hatten, Jesus immediately plunged into the work of his ministry in Capernaum, the crowds being so vast that there was no time even for meals.

Verse 21

And when his friends heard it, they went to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.

His friends … These words are made to read "his family" in GNNT, IV, and the New English Bible (1961), and this reading is supposed by McMillan, Cranfield; and many other recent commentators; but there are solid reasons for rejecting this change from the English Revised Version (1885), RSV, and KJV. To begin with, Mark referred to the immediate family of Jesus as "his mother and his brethren" just six verses later (Mark 3:27), and why he should have called them by another term here cannot be explained. To make Mark 3:27 an "explanation" of Mark 3:21 is sheer guesswork. Goodspeed, Weymouth, Phillips, Wesley, and others translate "relatives" or "relations," which in context cannot mean family.

To lay hold on him … means something like "to take into custody," or "to take charge of"; those misguided friends or "neighbors," which is as likely a guess as any, were seeking to restrain Jesus. It is important to note that "his mother and brethren" (Mark 3:27) were not said to have been seeking to "lay hold on him," nor is there any hint that they said, "He is beside himself," these actions being attributed not to his "family" but to his "friends"; and there has always been a world of difference in THOSE words.

He is beside himself … The true meaning is simply that the zeal of Jesus had, in the view of his neighbors, gone too far, or as Ryle translated, he has been "transported too far," that is, "carried away with his work."

Zeal in the service of God has never been intelligible to carnal and unregenerated men. Zeal for business, war, science, pleasure, politics, or nearly any earthly pursuit, is admired, complimented, and emulated; but let a man devote himself fully to the service of holy religion, and the neighbors begin to shake their heads and say, "He’s getting carried away with it!"

Verse 22

And the scribes that came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and, By the prince of the demons casteth he out the demons.

Come down from Jerusalem … Geographically, they came up from Jerusalem, but the relative dignity of the priestly class in the Jewish capital was recognized in the idiom of that day which referred to all journeys as "up" to Jerusalem and "down" from Jerusalem.

Beelzebub … This word is actually Beelzebub (English Revised Version (1885) margin) and has the meaning of "the dunghill god," "lord of flies" or "master of the house of demons"; but all such meanings may be ignored in this context, for "in the New Testament form the word means THE DEVIL."(F8) This charge of the scribes was therefore that Christ was performing such wonderful works through being in league with the devil. The necessary inference from this charge points to the genuineness of Jesus’ works, the charge itself being an admission that the miracles wrought by Jesus were altogether beyond the power of human nature and were therefore supernatural. The charge that Christ was in league with Satan was an exceedingly sinful one, and it occasioned the warning Jesus at once uttered.

Verses 23-27

And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if Satan hath risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end. But no one can enter into the house of the strong man, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house.

Jesus met the charges of his foes with three arguments, two of which are in these verses, and the third in Mark 3:28-30.

1. Argument of the divided kingdom. It is of immense importance that Jesus here revealed a world view of Satan and the kingdom of evil. The demoniacs whom Jesus had healed were actually controlled by forces administered by Satan. Satan is represented as an intelligent ruler of his evil domain and as being in possession of a desire to maintain and protect it. Satan is not stupid, as the charge of the scribes would have implied. Certainly, the devil would not rise up against himself and destroy his own wicked domain. If indeed Satan should do such a thing as they were suggesting, it would mean an end of Satan and his works.

2. Argument regarding binding the strong man. Mark omitted to relate how the temptation of Jesus ended, but it is implied here. The Lord had entered into the house of the strong man (the world) and had bound the strong man (Satan), and was in the process of spoiling his goods. This carried the affirmation that what Jesus was doing was opposed to the works of Satan and that his casting out demons was being done contrary to Satan’s will, and that Satan did not have the power to restrain such deeds.

Verses 28-31

Verily I say unto you, All their sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and their blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: but whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin: because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.

1. This third response to their blasphemous charge was to imply, without actually stating it, that the blasphemers were guilty of a sin that could never be forgiven. The final clause, "because they said, etc.," connects the eternal sin with their blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Jesus made a distinction between blasphemy against the "Son of man" (Matthew 12:32) and that against the Holy Spirit. A little further discussion of this sin is appropriate.

(a) What was their particular sin? It was the sin of reading the pure and holy life of Jesus Christ as satanic, the sin of viewing black as white and white as black, of making wickedness righteous and righteousness wicked. "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter" (Isaiah 5:20). John Milton expressed it as the soul’s deliberate choice, "Evil, be thou my good."(F9)

(b) Can such a sin be committed today? There is every reason to believe that it can be, and the fear is justified that the commission of it is prevalent. This does not mean that any person should entertain any morbid fear that he has committed such a sin, because it may be safely concluded that any person whosoever who still retains some concern for the welfare of his eternal soul has not committed the sin in view here. We agree with Cranfield who said:

We can say with absolute confidence to anyone who is overwhelmed by the fear that he has committed this sin, that the fact that he is so troubled is itself sure proof that he has not committed it.(F10)

The view should be rejected, however, that would make it impossible for one to commit this sin. The argument for such a view makes a distinction between men today and the scribes here in this text on the basis that they had literally seen Jesus raise the dead and do many other mighty deeds, whereas men today "believe" that Jesus did such things, thus making THEIR blasphemy contrary to their own senses, contrasting with current blasphemy which is alleged to be only against what is believed. At best, such a view is unconvincing, for there are men who have said by their actions, and presumably within themselves, "Satan, be my god!"

An eternal sin … This phrase is the key to unraveling the teachings of God’s word on this subject. It identifies the sin under consideration as not a unique thing at all, but as one of a class of sins, suggested by the indefinite article, thus being one of a class that could be so designated. If we might be so bold as to identify the class, it is composed of the sins which cause the spiritual death of the sinner. It is the sin which is fatal spiritually and answers to the analogy in the physical world of the fatal disease. What is the fatal disease? It is the one the doctor writes on the death certificate. The sin against the Holy Spirit is therefore not a specific sin limited to any form or circumstance, but ANY SIN that destroys the spiritual life. It is the sin that "quenches the Holy Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:19); the sin that ends in spiritual death (1 Corinthians 11:30); the sin that marks a condition of the sinner described as being "worse" than lost, the only conceivable state answering to such a condition being the state of being lost without possibility of recovery (2 Peter 2:20-21); the sin that makes the sinner "dead" while being alive physically (1 Timothy 5:6); the sin unto death (1 John 5:16); the sin from which "it is impossible" to renew the sinner (Hebrews 6:4-6); the sin which results in the condition wherein there "remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins" (Hebrews 10:26-27).

Once a person is dead physically, life cannot be renewed; and the same is true spiritually. And just as no dead person is ever concerned about his health, no person who is dead spiritually has any concern whatever regarding the commission of any sin, even an eternal sin.

Another question that arises in this connection is, "What about the man who has indulged every kind of sin for many years and then returns to God and lives out his days as a faithful Christian? It is clear in such cases that "an eternal sin" was not committed. However, he grieved and insulted the Holy Spirit, he did not "quench" the holy light within. Fortunately, the spiritual life is hardy and cannot be destroyed except in the most deliberate and sustained rebellion against God, that being exactly the conduct of the Jewish hierarchy with regard to Jesus.

This is not to take an easy or casual view of sin, any sin. Sin being what it is, and capable, when it is finished, of bringing forth "death" (James 1:15), should never be lightly viewed. No mother ever judged the danger of a splinter in a child’s knee by the size of the splinter. What a blunder to classify sins as mortal and venial. Everyone knows that the tiniest lesion can produce disastrous consequences; and, in the spiritual life, any sin, however counted by men as unimportant, can if unchecked and unforgiven, lead to eternal death.

Verse 31

And there come his mother and his brethren; and, standing without, they sent unto him, calling him.

As noted under Mark 3:21, this terminology applied to Jesus’ immediate family makes it impossible to construe "friends" in that verse as a reference to the same persons. Turlington said:

This passage must not be used as evidence that Jesus’ mother opposed his mission … That Mary was among the "friends" of Mark 3:21 is an unlikely and unnecessary conclusion.(F11)

It is true that Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him, even as late as October prior to the Passion in April of the following year (John 7:5), but there is no evidence that the mother and brethren said, "He is crazy" and tried to get him locked up, as indicated in some of the perverted paraphrases marketed under misleading titles as "translations."

And his brethren … The most logical way to understand this reference to Jesus’ brothers is that the persons meant were his literal brothers, sons of Joseph and Mary after Jesus was born. This view is harmonious with all the Scriptures say of the blessed Mary, whose virginity PRIOR TO THE BIRTH OF JESUS is clearly stated, but whose so-called perpetual virginity is nothing but superstition. See Matthew 13:55 for names of his four brothers.

Sent to him and called him … means only that they asked to see and talk with Jesus.

Verse 32

And a multitude was sitting about him; and they say unto him. Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.

If "friends" in Mark 3:21 means these same persons, why did not the multitude use such a word here? All rules of fair exegesis are violated by the gratuitous assumption that this passage refers to the same group as that mentioned in Mark 3:21.

Verse 33

And he answereth them and saith, Who is my mother and my brethren?

Who is my mother and my brethren … is another of the seven-word sayings which abound in Mark. In a few minutes, this writer counted fifty such seven-word jewels, and their total number might be well in excess of one hundred. Jesus would lay down in the next breath the principle that spiritual kinship with Jesus is far more important than fleshly relationship; and, if there had been no fleshly relationship with the brothers, it is unlikely Jesus would have used such an analogy.

Verses 34-35

And looking round on them that sat round about him, he saith, Behold, my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

This was called by Clarke "the adoption of the obedient"!(F12) It should never be lost sight of that, in the last analysis, it is obedience to the will of God that separates the saved from the lost. Undue stress upon the doctrine of justification by faith, making it read, "by faith only," has obscured this fact in much of the current religious literature.

Looking round on them … is a graphic detail provided by Mark, and Matthew added another, "He stretched forth his hand towards his disciples" (Matthew 12:49). Did anyone copy anyone here? No! In these two accounts, there is eye-witness reporting; one noticed Jesus’ look, the other his gesture.

As John Wesley said:

In this preference of his true disciples, even to the Virgin Mary considered merely as his mother after the flesh, he not only shows his high and tender affection for them, but seems designedly to guard against those excessive and idolatrous honors which he foresaw would, in after ages, be paid to her.(F13)

In our Lord’s pronouncement here is revealed the glorious nature of the privilege of Christian discipleship. Those who follow Christ, believing in him and obeying his teachings, are considered as the true family of God, being endowed with a relationship to Christ that is superior to that of fleshly mother, brother, or sister. And what is that relationship? It is union with Christ in the spiritual sense, incorporation into his spiritual body, identification with him and in him and "as Christ."

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Mark 3". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/mark-3.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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