Bible Commentaries
Mark 6

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

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Verse 1

Events related in Mark 6 are: (1) rejection of Jesus at Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6); (2) sending forth of the Twelve (Mark 6:7-13); (3) the beheading of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29); (4) the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:30-44); (5) walking on the sea (Mark 6:45-52); and (6) preaching and healing in Gennesaret (Mark 6:53-56).


And he went out from thence: and he cometh into his own country; and his disciples follow him. (Mark 6:1)

His own country ... refers to Nazareth, located some fifteen miles from Capernaum. That was the home of Joseph and Mary; there Jesus grew up; and from its name the Lord came to be called a "Nazarene" (Matthew 2:23; Mark 1:24). "It derives its celebrity from its connection with the history of Christ.[1] Mark did not name Nazareth in this verse but used a more general term, "his own country," thus including numerous villages throughout the area (Mark 6:6).

His disciples follow him ... This indicates that the Twelve accompanied Jesus and contrasts with only three of them witnessing the raising of Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:37).

Verse 2

And when the sabbath was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were astonished, saying, Whence hath this man these things? and, What is the wisdom that is given unto this man, and what mean such mighty works wrought by his hands?

This man ... as sneeringly repeated by the villagers was derogatory. "There is a contemptuous tone about the expression."[2] The citizens of the Lord's home town despised him because he was one of themselves. Having no conception of their own value as human beings, they made their own guilty unworthiness the basis of rejecting the Lord. The light of all ages shone in their dark streets, but they were blind to it. (See full discussion of the phenomenon of Nazareth's unbelief in my Commentary on Matthew, pp. 207-210).

This was the second rejection of Jesus at Nazareth, the first being recorded in Luke 4:15ff. Matthew 13:54-58 is parallel to this account of the second rejection.

Verse 3

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended in him.

The carpenter ... From this it is clear that our Lord was himself a carpenter, as was Joseph; and we reject the allegation that Matthew "softened" this by recording "carpenter's son," as if the latter was in some manner more complimentary to Jesus than the fact of his being a carpenter. The snobbery of the critics in such a view shows.

As a matter of fact, Mark's words here contain elements which actually add to the glory of Jesus' name. As Barclay noted:

The word used for "carpenter" is [@tekton], meaning not a mere worker in wood. It means "a craftsman", more than merely a joiner. In Homer the [@tekton] is said to build ships and houses and temples.[3]

The English, word "technician" comes from the same root; thus the villagers' slur unintentionally glorified Jesus as the Master Workman. Chrysostom said that our Lord made plows and yokes, and certainly Jesus referred to both in his teachings (Luke 9:62; Matthew 11:29).

As Barclay said, "They despised Jesus because he was a working man."[4] In this attitude, the citizens of Nazareth were guilty; but they were not any more guilty than the scholars who suppose that Matthew tried to cover up the scandal that Jesus was a carpenter. The imputation of such an attitude to Matthew is an anachronism in which the current prejudice against people who work with their hands is retrogressively attributed to the holy apostle of Jesus Christ. Jesus was both a carpenter and the son of a carpenter, being, of course, the legal son of Joseph.

The true reason for Mark's reference to "carpenter," as distinguished from Matthew's "son of a carpenter," lies in the obvious fact that the villagers freely gossiped about the Lord, using both expressions; and Mark, writing in 65-70 A.D., at a time when Joseph was dead, and having omitted from his narrative the record of the virgin birth of our Lord, consciously selected the particular form of the villagers' gossip which could not have been construed as a denial of that essential tenet of Christianity. Matthew, on the other hand, writing at a much earlier date than Mark (44 A.D.), and having fully spelled out the particulars of the virgin birth, and having also as his objective the establishment of Jesus' right of kingship over Israel (a right that depended upon his legal sonship of Joseph) found it more natural to record the common gossip of Nazareth in its other form. There is no way to deny that the gossip existed in both forms as recorded by Mark and Matthew.

The son of Mary ... To solve the problem of this reference by supposing the villagers thought Jesus was "illegitimate"[5] is ridiculous, there being no true evidence that they ever made such a charge; they also called him "the carpenter's son" on this very occasion (Matthew 13:55). Matthew recorded the villagers' mention of BOTH his parents (as they supposed). Mark's record of only this part of their gossip was in all probability for the purpose of stressing the virgin birth. Even if there had been some intended reflection on the legitimacy of Jesus by the villagers, which we cannot see at all, then it would only mean that the wrath of man was praising God; for Jesus WAS the "Son of Mary," the promised "seed of woman" (Genesis 3:15). Likewise, Cranfield saw this as "an important piece of evidence in support of the historicity of the virgin birth."[6]

Brother of James, and Joses, etc. ... The natural way of understanding this is as a reference to the actual brothers of Jesus, sons of Joseph and Mary after Jesus was born. Devices such as making these the sons of Joseph by a previous marriage, or the "cousins" of Jesus, are mistaken efforts to sustain the myth regarding the "perpetual virginity of Mary," the latter being unscriptural and even anti-Scriptural. Christ was the "first-born" son of Mary (Luke 2:7) and "the only begotten Son of God." Why "first-born" if she had no other children? As Halley said, "There would never have been any other meaning read into these passages, except for the desire to exalt celibacy as a holier form of life."[7]

His sisters ... Matthew recorded, "Are they not all with us?" And from this it is clear that there were at least three sisters of Jesus. The word "all" could not have referred to just two.

And they were offended in him ... They rejected Jesus as being any more wise or able than themselves, the judgment being a moral one rather than an intellectual one. As is always true, it was their sins which blinded their eyes to the Lord (John 3:17-19).

[3] William Barclay, The Gospel of Mark (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1956), p. 138.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Earle McMillan, The Gospel according to Mark (Austin: R. B. Sweet Publishing Company, 1973), p 76.

[6] C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel according to Saint Mark (Cambridge: University Press, 1966), p. 195.

[7] Henry H. Halley, Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961), p. 383.

Verse 4

And Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.

The unwillingness of any community to see one of themselves exalted is due to natural jealousies and animosities. A Major General in the United States Air Force was overhead to say, "I may be a General to Uncle Sam, but I am just a buck private at home!"

Verse 5

And he could there do no mighty work, save that he laid his hands on a few sick folk, and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went round about the villages teaching.

He could do no mighty work ... This speaks not of physical but of moral impossibility."[8] As Alford said, "It was our Lord's practice to require faith in the recipient of aid, and that being wanting, the help could not be given."[9] The unbelief of Nazareth was so dense and malignant that Jesus "could not" in harmony with his divine principles do a mighty work among them; and yet it should not be overlooked that even these were given more than sufficient reason to believe in him if they had willed to do so. Mark does not here deprecate the instances of healing cited, but contrasts them with what might have been done in a more favorable atmosphere. "Their prejudice kept them from hearty faith in him"[10] "The men of Nazareth had sufficient evidence, and a greater amount of evidence would only have increased their condemnation."[11]

[8] John D. Haley, Discrepancies of the Bible (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1970), p. 110.

[9] Ibid., p. 111.

[10] C. E. W. Dorris, The Gospel according to Mark (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1970), p. 141.

[11] E. Bickersteth, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), Vol. 16, p. 244.

Verse 7

And he calleth unto him the twelve, and began to send them forth by two and two; and he gave them authority over the unclean spirits.


To associate this action of Jesus with any earthly kingdom idea is wrong; it was merely part of the training of the apostles for the effective discharge of their duties after the resurrection and Pentecost. It was an effective means of acquainting more people with the teaching of Jesus Christ.

Over unclean spirits ... The apostles, like the seventy (some early manuscripts have 72) sent out later, exercised this great authority over evil spirits (Luke 10:17-20), thus receiving a divine confirmation of the truth they preached.

Two by two ... is a wise arrangement for such workers now, as it was then; for this enables the two to draw encouragement and support from each other and to reduce the number of temptations.

Verse 8

And he charged them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no bread, no wallet, no money in their purse; but to go shod with sandals: and, said he, put not on two coats.

The parallel accounts (Matthew 10:5-15; Luke 10:4-11) provide another pseudocon, inasmuch as Matthew said, "Get you no staff," whereas Mark's account plainly allowed one to be carried, with Luke agreeing with Matthew, "no staff." McMillan called this a "discrepancy."[12] But if we take Luke's reference as meaning that the purchase or procurement of a staff was the meaning of the Saviour's instruction, as is clearly the case in Matthew, and as might reasonably be inferred from its appearance in a list of things one would usually buy in anticipation of a journey, the discrepancy disappears. We agree with the more ancient authorities on this place which state that "They were not to go to the pains of getting one if not supplied already; they were not to trouble themselves about preparation, even so little as that."[13] "The language implies that a staff was optional; they were not to bother about getting a staff, if one was not at hand."[14] That a staff was allowed (though not the purchase of one) is clear from Mark's account.

[12] Earle McMillan, op. cit., p. 78.

[13] W. N. Clarke, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark (Valley Forge: The Judson Press, 1881), p. 85.

[14] J. J. Taylor, The Gospel according to Mark (Nashville: Southern Baptist Convention, 1911), p. 83.

Verse 10

And he said unto them, Wheresoever ye enter into a house, there abide till ye depart thence.

This instruction was to avoid giving offense by leaving one house or hospitality for another in the same community. Any "shopping around" for more comfortable quarters was forbidden.

Verse 11

And whatsoever place shall not receive you, and they hear you not, as ye go forth from thence, shake off the dust that is under your feet for a testimony unto them.

The shaking off of dust against unreceptive places was an action commanded for the seventy (or, 72, as some of the earliest manuscripts have) also (Luke 10:10,11), it partook of the nature of a formal judgment against a community. It showed that the holy messengers had faithfully discharged their commission, but that God's message had been rejected. The apostles followed this same procedure on the first missionary journey of Paul (Acts 13:51).

Verse 12

And they went out and preached that men should repent. And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them.

Men should repent ... The mission of the apostles was not merely one of healing but of preaching repentance. As Dorris said, "Repentance is a thing for a man to do, not something he gets; it is a command, not a promise."[15] in the stress laid upon repentance, their preaching was akin to that of John the Baptist and of the Saviour himself (Mark 1:15). Cranfield properly noted that the mission of the Twelve "was merely an extension of the teaching ministry, included because Mark knew that it occurred and that it had a relevance for later Christian missions."[16]

And anointed with oil ... There was a difference in the healing done by the apostles, in that they anointed with oil, an action nowhere mentioned in connection with the miracles of our Lord.

Bickersteth suggested that the oil was significant of God's mercy, of spiritual comfort and joy, "the oil of gladness."[17] However, there is no way this action of the apostles can be made to support the so-called sacrament of extreme unction. The people in view here got well at once! Extreme unction, always administered by its advocates when the patient is in the act of death, has no resemblance to what occurred here.

[15] C. E. W. Dorris, op. cit., p. 148.

[16] C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 203.

[17] E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 245.

Verse 14

And king Herod heard thereof; for his name had become known: and he said, John the Baptizer is risen from the dead, and therefore do these powers work in him.


King Herod ... Of this despot, Sanner said:

Herod Antipas (popularly called king) was tetrarch (literally, one who rules the fourth part of a domain) of Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39. His reign thus spanned the life and public ministry of Jesus: From a family characterized by intrigue and violence, "he appears as a sensual, cunning, capricious, cruel, weak, unscrupulous, superstitious, despotic prince (Matthew 14:9; Luke 3:19; 13:31,32)."[18]

It may well be doubted that this Herod believed in the resurrection of the dead; but a guilty conscience is a strong persuader, and his fearfully guilty heart shuddered at the thought that perhaps our Lord was a reincarnation of John the Baptist.

Herod Antipas may have believed, erroneously, in the transmigration of souls. At that particular time, according to Bickersteth, "The views of Pythagoras respecting the transmigration of souls were current and probably influenced the troubled mind of Herod."[19] Such doctrines were rejected by Christ and the apostles. Paul's mention of "the body" (2 Corinthians 5:10) opposes the idea of the soul's having a succession of "bodies."

[18] A. Elwood Sanner, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1964), p. 320.

[19] E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 245.

Verse 15

But others said, It is Elijah. And others said, It is a prophet, even as one of the prophets. But Herod when he heard thereof, said, John, whom I have beheaded, he is risen.

The independence of the sacred narratives is conspicuously evident in this passage which has elements similar to Matthew 16:13,14. In that passage, the apostles responded to Jesus' question by saying that people were saying that he was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. Here the same information is given in a completely different context. There it featured a private interview with Jesus' disciples. Here it was a topic discussed in the presence of Herod. See also under Mark 6:14.

Verse 17

For Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife; for he had married her.

Part of the sordid history of the Herods comes to view in this verse. A more particular look at the principal actors in this sad affair is in order.


He was the son of Herod the Great by the Samaritan Malthace, and a full brother of Herod Archelaus. He received as his share of his father's dominion the provinces of Galilee and Perea with the title of tetrarch, but he was popularly called "king." He reigned from 4 B.C. to 39 A.D. He founded Tiberias on the western shore of Galilee. This is the ruler that Jesus referred to as "that fox" (Luke 13:32); and it was to him that Pilate sent Jesus during the trials prior to the crucifixion. His first marriage was to a daughter of Aretas, the Arabian king; but on a visit to Rome he met Herodias his brother's wife (Philip, not the tetrarch), whom he seduced and married. The outrage of this union was compounded by the element of incest. Aretas took vengeance upon Herod by defeating him in a war. Herod applied to Caesar for a crown but was banished to Lugdunum, in which exile Herodias shared.[20]


This woman was a daughter of Herod I's son, Aristobulus. She first married her uncle Philip who was living as a private citizen in Rome, and by him she had Salome. When Herod Antipas was visiting in Rome, she left Philip and married his brother Herod Antipas.[21] As Barclay noted: "Herodias was the daughter of her husband's brother and therefore his niece; and she was the wife of his brother and therefore his sister-in-law."[22] She was a woman of ruthless ambition, no moral restraint, utter selfishness, and implacable hatred of anyone who dared to question her conduct. When John the Baptist denounced her marriage, she never rested until she had his head on a platter. The picture of her that emerges in the sacred text is one of lust, cruelty, and uninhibited evil.


Herod the Great had five wives, two of them named Mariamne, and two sons named Philip, one of whom was born of Cleopatra of Jerusalem and became a tetrarch. This Philip married Salome, who as the daughter of Herodias was his niece and his grand-niece at the same time. As Barclay said, "Seldom in history can there have been such a series of matrimonial entanglements as existed in the Herod family."[23] No less than ten members of the Herodian dynasty are mentioned in the New Testament, their names recurring in it like a sour note in a symphony. See below for a list of these. One can have little regard for the opinions of some who question the accuracy of Mark on the premise that a royal princess would not have performed such a dance as that attributed to Salome. Such opinions are founded in ignorance of the typical conduct of the Herods. As Barclay wrote:

The daughter of Herodias danced ... the fact that she did so at all is an incredible thing. Solo dances in that society were disgusting and licentious pantomimes ... such dances being the art of professional prostitutes. That she did so dance is a grim commentary on the character of Salome, and of the mother who allowed and encouraged her to do it.[24]


Herod the Great, the ruler when Jesus was born.

Herod Antipas, the Herod of this passage in Mark.

Herod Archelaus (Herod the Great's son by Malthace) (Matthew 2:22; Luke 19:12-17).

Herod Philip I, called Herod by Josephus and Philip in the New Testament, distinguished from Philip the tetrarch of Ituria and Trachonitis. This Philip was son of Herod the Great by the second Mariamne, married Herodias who left him for Herod Antipas.

Herod Philip II, known as Philip the tetrarch, was son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra of Jerusalem (Luke 3:1). He was the best of the Herods.

Herodias. See the notes above.

Herod Agrippa I was the son of Aristobulus and Bernice and a grandson of Herod the Great. He lived in Rome and was a close friend of both Caligula and Claudius. When Caligula became emperor, he gave Agrippa the tetrarchy of Philip who had died in 34 A.D.; and in 38 A.D. added the domain of Herod Antipas after the latter's banishment. In 41 A.D., in return for services given to Caligula, he received Judaea and Samaria with the title of king, thus ruling over the whole domain of Herod the Great. He persecuted the church (Acts 12). Three of his posterity are mentioned in the New Testament: Herod Agrippa II, Bernice, and Drusilla.

Herod Agrippa II. This prince became king under Nero and lived to the year 100 A.D. He sided with the Romans in the war which ended in the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. (Acts 25-26). He led (like practically all of his family) a vicious life.

Bernice, sister of Herod Agrippa II (Acts 25:13).

Drusilla, sister of Bernice (Acts 24:24).

This evil family would have been little remembered except for their lives having touched those of the principal persons of the New Testament. A knowledge of what the Herods were sheds light upon the vicious actions recorded in the paragraph before us. It is not to be thought that John the Baptist had deliberately denounced the incestuous marriage of the dissolute Herod Antipas, the situation calling for such a denunciation having in all probability been set up and precipitated by the Pharisees. We know that they repeatedly tried to entangle the Lord in such difficulties without success; and, although the Scriptures record no such Pharisaical instigation in the downfall of John the Baptist, it may be assumed in the light of all they tried to do to Jesus.


The ancient fortress of Machaerus east of the Dead Sea is usually cited as the place where John the Baptist was beheaded, Josephus having written that as the place. There is some doubt, however, that Josephus was correct in this, due to the fact that he also wrote that Herod's first wife, the daughter of Aretas, escaped to this fortress because it was in the power of her father, the king of Arabia. He outlined the intrigue by which Aretas' daughter, having secretly learned of Herod's intention of marrying Herodias, journeyed to Machaerus. Perhaps Josephus' apparent contradiction is resolved by supposing that the fortress, situated on the border, was controlled at one time by Herod, and at another time by Aretas. There is the further consideration that there does not seem to have been any great distance between the birthday festival of Herod and the prison where John was beheaded. Tiberius or Machaerus would either one have provided the combination of palace and fortress suggested by the New Testament narrative.

Verse 18

For John said unto Herod, It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife.

It is interesting that the greatest resentment against John's truthful denunciation of Herod's incestuous marriage came not from Herod but from Herodias. The fact of John's words being addressed directly to Herod does not rule out the possibility that Herod asked John about the validity of his marriage, no doubt hoping that John's sanction of it would make it more acceptable to the people. If such was the case, his vain hopes were shattered in the forthright, honest reply of the great herald, John the Baptist. There can be no doubt that John anticipated the fatal results to himself in such a reply; and one may only marvel at such courage and loyalty to the truth. As Jesus said, "Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:11).

Verse 19

And Herodias set herself against him, and desired to kill him; and she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man; and kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was much perplexed; and he heard him gladly.

Wicked as Herod was, there nevertheless remained in him a basic respect for holiness; and, seeing in John the sacred fire of holy zeal and the courage to speak God's truth in every circumstance, Herod respected and admired him, even listening willingly to his preaching. On the other hand, Herodias, full of hatred and wounded pride, determined to kill him. Turlington said, "The text is very vivid: `She had it in for him' and `was constantly seeking' his death."[25]

Verse 21

And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, and the high captains, and the chief men of Galilee; and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and them that eat at meat with him; and the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee.

Herod was not the first man, nor the last, to fall into great temptation at a festival. The cunning Herodias was ready with a plan to achieve her murderous purpose regarding the preacher who had refused to endorse her sin. She enlisted the aid of her own daughter for his entrapment, achieved her goal, and earned for herself everlasting infamy.

The high captains ... These were the chiliarchs, commanders of one thousand men.

The daughter of Herodias herself ... Her name was Salome, a royal princess, and her conduct on this occasion was not only licentious and immoral, but it was utterly unbecoming the royal dignity which she claimed.

Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt ... Herod took the bait - hook, line and sinker - and at once found himself in a vicious trap from which there was no honorable recovery.

Verse 23

And he sware unto her, Whatsoever thou shalt ask of me, I will give it thee, unto the half of my kingdom.

This was the type of boastful, extravagant oath, characteristic of tyrants and despots of that era. Any person asking a gift large enough to embarrass such a monarch ordinarily found it fatal to do so; but the accepted code of that day, as it applied to such requests, required the king's compliance with the request if it lay within his power to give it without jeopardy to himself.

Verse 24

And she went out and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptizer.

When it is considered that Salome might have requested many things which could have been of great value to herself, and that her mother by this suggestion actually robbed her daughter of whatever benefit Herod might have bestowed upon her, all for the sake of venting her vicious hatred against John, the blindness and stupidity of evil are evident.

Verse 25

And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou forthwith give me on a platter the head of John the Baptist.

This request was so bizarre and erratic that men have found it hard to believe; and, because Josephus explained John's beheading as due to political considerations, critics have dared to accuse Mark of incorporating into his gospel "this legend." But it was no legend at all; this is what occurred. There had been no time, historically, for the development of any legend; and Josephus was notoriously inaccurate on many things. Besides that, Herod probably explained to the public his murder of John with some lying justification of it.

Verse 26

And the king was exceeding sorry; but for the sake of his oaths, and of them that sat at meat, he would not reject her. And straightway the king sent forth a soldier of his guard, and commanded to bring his head: and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the damsel; and the damsel gave it to her mother.

His oaths ... Turlington said, "The vows must have been given loudly under the influence of his drink and spurred on by the lustful delight of the feasters."[26] In any case, "oaths" in the text is plural, indicating that Herod had rashly multiplied his promises to the girl. This is indeed a sorry spectacle of what was called the court of a king. The environment of that shameful birthday party was such as adds support to words of Jerome that "Herodias thrust the tongue through with a bodkin."[27] The mutilated body was cast outside the walls of the prison and left neglected.[28]

Bickersteth has the following with regard to God's judgment of the perpetrators of this atrocity:

God's judgment at length found out Herod. He was defeated by Aretas in a great battle and put to ignominious flight. Herodias and Herod were banished by the Roman Senate to Lyons, where they both perished miserably. Salome fell into some treacherous ice over which she was passing, in such a manner that her head was caught while the rest of her body sank into the water. She perished when her head was (practically) severed by the sharp ice.[29]

[26] Ibid., p. 317.

[27] E. Bickersteth, op. cit., p. 246.

[28] Ibid.,

[29] Ibid.

Verse 29

And when his disciples heard thereof, they came and took up his corpse, and laid it in a tomb.

The crafty hatred of Satan is evident in the sorrowful events which led to this capricious murder of John the Baptist. John was the herald of Christ and the coming kingdom of God, and the evil one succeeded in destroying both the herald and the Christ, as far as their lives on earth are concerned; but in the death of our Lord, there was to be a marvelous difference; because, in that event, it was the head of Satan that was crushed.


Immediately after the death of John the Baptist, and after the return of the Twelve, Jesus withdrew to the eastern side of Galilee, outside of Herod's jurisdiction. Matthew clearly indicated that the murder of John entered into Jesus' decision to withdraw east of Galilee (Matthew 14:13); and we cannot agree with Cranfield who thought "Matthew misunderstood Mark,"[30] as if there had to be only one reason why Jesus withdrew. The reasons for Christ's withdrawal were complex: (1) He and his disciples needed rest. (2) Jesus needed an opportunity to instruct the Twelve privately. (3) Herod was showing interest in Jesus, and that could have meant nothing but bad for the Lord. (4) And the murder of John made it an appropriate time to change the scene of his ministry.

Verse 30

And the apostles gather themselves together unto Jesus; and they told him all things, whatsoever they had done, and whosoever they had taught.

Luke said of this report that they "declared unto him what things they had done" (Luke 9:10); but Mark's account containing about twice as many words actually adds no information beyond what Luke has, because their teaching was surely included in what they had "done." It is the style in the current era to elaborate upon how much more complete and how many more vivid details are found in Mark than in the other gospels (the same being supposed to support the Markan theory); but a little later in this chapter, we shall make a comparison of the gospel accounts of the miracle about to be related, and the reader may judge for himself regarding the matter. See below.

Verse 31

And he saith unto them, Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile. For there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.

One of the reasons for Jesus' actions was the need of rest and recuperation; but there were other pertinent reasons also. See under Mark 6:29. "Mark alone notes no less than eleven occasions on which Jesus retired from his work."[31] That our Lord was diligent to procure rest and refreshment for himself and the Twelve emphasizes the truth that utmost care should be taken to insure health in the service of God. Doing what is necessary to the maintenance of health is serving God.

Verse 32

And they went away in a boat to a desert place apart. And the people saw them going, and many knew them, and they ran together there on foot from all the cities, and outwent them.

Such was the popularity of the Lord, that when the multitudes saw him and his disciples get into a boat to cross over to the other side, they simply ran around the northern extremity of the lake and come together at Bethsaida Julius on the northeastern shore, the same being an uninhabited area along the shore, a beautiful grassy slope beneath a bold headland overlooking the scene.

Verse 34

And he came forth and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.

Not having a shepherd ... The wicked Pharisees were no true shepherds of the people; and the king (actually the tetrarch) had proved himself to be no better than a wild beast. The poor multitudes were untaught and uncared for by their leaders. No wonder Jesus had compassion upon them.

Verse 35

And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This place is desert, and the day is now far spent.

The apostles were concerned that evening was drawing to a close, and they anticipated a real problem regarding food for so many in such a place. It does not appear that they had the slightest idea what Jesus would do, despite the fact that the Lord had mentioned the problem to Philip considerably in advance of the crisis (John 6:5f).

Verse 36

Send them away, that they may go into the country and villages round about, and buy themselves somewhat to eat.

Many times, in all ages, the Lord's disciples have proved to be no more able to solve difficult problems than were the Twelve on this occasion. "Send them away ..." This was their proposal, but the Lord had a far better solution.

Verse 37

But he answered and said unto them, Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred shillings worth of bread, and give them to eat?

Give ye them to eat ... The spiritual application of this is found in the command of Christ to "preach to the whole creation." Such a task appears as impossible to the church of today as the assignment to feed the multitude must have appeared to the apostles. They did it, however; and so can Christians fulfill their mission now.

Two hundred shillings ... The money problem surfaced at once. A shilling was the equivalent of a day's wage in that economy; and the equivalent value in our society with a minimum hourly wage of $5.00, making a day's wage $40.00, would be $8,000, a sum the apostles considered utterly beyond them.

Verse 38

And he saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes.

The synoptics did not mention the source of the small supply which came from a lad's lunch baskets, nor the fact that it was Andrew who brought them to Jesus.

Verse 39

And he commanded them that all should sit down by companies upon the green grass.

This verse is mentioned by many commentators as an example of the "more vivid detail" found in Mark; but where is it? Luke also mentioned their sitting "in companies"; Matthew mentioned the grass and the "women and children," who probably numbered in the thousands; and John alone related that the loaves were "barley loaves." A careful study of the gospels reveals that each of the sacred authors made invaluable contributions to our full understanding of what occurred. Is Mark's "green grass" any more vivid a detail than the "women and children"? Mark indeed supplied beautiful, vivid, and significant touches in his narrative; but so did they all.

Verse 40

And they sat down in ranks, by hundreds, and by fifties.

It was a manifestation of the multitude's faith that they consented to arrange themselves, as if for a feast, at a time when no food was in sight.

Verse 41

And he took the loaves and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake the loaves; and he gave to the disciples to set before them all; and the two fishes divided he among them all.

The miracle of multiplication in kind of the lad's meager store sufficiently for the feeding of a great multitude is an unqualified wonder; and the fact of its being recorded independently in all four gospels requires that it be received as history. Cranfield admitted what naturally appears to any Christian that "the rationalizing of this miracle is not satisfactory."[32] The most remarkable proof that what happened here was an event widely known to be authentic occurs in the efforts of the people to make him king immediately afterward. In fact, it appears from John's account that they actually had in view Christ's feeding of an entire army while they made war on the Romans! Fantastic as such a scheme was, the very existence of it proves that the people knew that Christ had the power to do such a thing.

[32] C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 226.

Verse 42

And they all ate, and were filled. And they took up broken pieces, twelve basketfuls, and also of the fishes. And they that ate the loaves were five thousand men.

We have already noted that each of the sacred writers added significant elements to make up the composite picture of what there took place. Unique to Matthew is the mention of Jesus' healing the sick, his command that the loaves and fishes be brought to himself, and his mention of the women and children. Unique to Mark is the mention of "green grass." Luke related how Jesus' command for the multitudes to sit down was relayed through the apostles; and John has a vast amount of detail not found in the synoptics.

This great miracle, recorded in all four gospels, claims in that fact alone a tremendous weight of importance, ranking along with the resurrection of Christ itself as one of the most important events in the New Testament. The miracle, as independently recorded in the gospels, is such a deed as to require its attribution to supernatural power. It was motivated by the loving compassion of Jesus who pitied the shepherdless multitude. It precipitated a public effort to make Jesus king by force. It had overtones regarding the "bread of life" as recounted in John. It was connected in Luke with the great confession by the apostle Peter of "the Christ of God." It was the culmination of the great Galilean ministry. It is the type of wonder no charlatan could fake. It spoke eloquently of Jesus as "that prophet" like unto Moses who had fed the children of Israel in the wilderness with the bread that God gave. In this mighty deed, Christ's popularity reached its zenith; and the decline of it followed his refusal to allow the people to "use" him and his power to feed a rebellious army against Rome. Great as the wonder of the bread really was, it was but a shadow of the greater wonder of Christ himself who is the true bread that came down from God out of heaven. See this writer's exegesis on this miracle in the Commentary on Matthew and the Commentary on John.

Verse 45

And straightway he constrained his disciples to enter into the boat, and to go before him unto the other side to Bethsaida, while he himself sendeth the multitude away.


Constrained his disciples ... These words take account of one of the most difficult situations that arose between Christ and his apostles. From John it is learned that the multitude had attempted to force Jesus into a declaration of himself as king, trying to make him king against his will, and by taking things into their own hands. It is altogether probable that the apostles were sympathetic toward such a move; and, if it had succeeded, the Romans would have put Christ to death as a seditionist. Therefore, it was of the utmost importance to remove the Twelve from the satanic situation developing at Bethsaida Julius. The weather could also have been threatening; but, in any case, the Twelve would not depart to the other side except upon the sternest orders from the Saviour. Mark recorded the significant words, "but their heart was hardened." This may also have been the occasion when Judas, in heart, defected from the Lord.

Bethsaida ... This community was on the western shore, the native city of some of the apostles, and not far from Capernaum.

Verse 46

And when he had taken leave of them, he departed into the mountain to pray.

To the mountain to pray ... A bold headland overlooks the grassy slope where these events occurred; and, as soon as the Lord had sent the Twelve to the other side and dispersed the multitude he had recourse at once to prayer. It was indeed an hour of crisis; never was the ministry of Jesus any more threatened than at that hour. It is from this that the surpassing importance of this miracle derives. John made it one of the only seven signs that he recorded, and none of the gospels left it out. Equally important was the accompanying wonder of our Lord's walking on the sea to go to the rescue of the storm-tossed apostles.

Verse 47

And when even was come, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and he was alone on the land. And seeing them distressed in rowing, for the wind was contrary unto them, about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking on the sea; and he would have passed by them.

This event must be looked upon as the supernatural rescue of the apostles from mortal danger, as well as from the moral danger due to their hardness. It was an absolutely essential rescue of the Twelve. There is no way to avoid understanding this event as a miracle. The rationalizations of it one finds among the critics are puerile, ridiculous, and unconvincing. Taking all of the accounts together for a composite report of what happened, one finds the following: (1) Jesus could see the apostles in the lake at night in a storm from a distance of several miles. (2) He walked on the lake to go unto them. (3) He commanded Peter to walk on the lake, and for a time Peter did so. (4) He rescued Peter from drowning. (5) The wind ceased as soon as Christ came aboard. (6) The boat was "straightway" at the landing (John 6:21). Were all of these but ordinary events? If so, why is it recorded that "They that were in the boat worshipped him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God!" (Matthew 14:33); and why does Mark have "And they were sore amazed in themselves"? (Mark 6:51). Infidelity is hard pressed when it will resort to the type of rationalizing that would explain this wonder as an ordinary event. As Bickersteth said of such "explanations," "They are a laughable insult on logic, hermeneutics, good sense, and honesty."[33]

And he would have passed by them ... is an exceedingly important insight into what happened that night. The apostles were, for a time, hardened against the Saviour, due to their own secular dreams of an earthly kingdom having been so rudely dashed to the ground on the grassy slopes of Bethsaida Julius. If they had continued in that hardness by refusing to cry out unto the Lord as he approached and passed them by, it would have meant their loss to the apostleship; and the Lord would have begun again with other men. When people are tempted to believe in their own importance, as regards holy things, they should recall that Christ was in the act of "passing by" the Twelve themselves, until they cried out for his aid and support.

Verse 49

But they, when they saw him walking on the sea, supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out.

It was a ghost ... The KJV has "spirit" in this place, because at the date of its publication (1611), the word "spirit" meant exactly what "ghost" means today; and "ghost" meant exactly what "spirit" means today. This linguistic phenomenon of two words interchanging their meaning explains the expression "Holy Ghost" in the KJV. (See the Commentary on Matthew, p. 219).

Verse 50

For they all saw him, and were troubled. But he straightway spake with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.

Be of good cheer ... The essential joy of the Christian faith is manifest in such an admonition. The winds and waves of life may be adverse and threatening, but the soul that is anchored in Jesus Christ is secure in a haven of joy.

It is I ... According to Turlington, the words so translated here actually mean "I AM"; and the view here is that:

Mark intended his readers to identify Jesus with the Lord, the divine I AM of Exodus 3:14. The phrase occurs often in John, and with theological overtones (John 6:85; 8:12; 10:7; 11:25; 14:6). Mark uses the phrase two other times, in Mark 13:6 and Mark 14:62.[34]

Be not afraid ... This is the constant admonition of faith in Christ. From the announcement of the angels to the shepherds on the night of Jesus' birth, to the imperative "fear not" of Revelation 1:17, this is faith's motto.

Verse 51

And he went up into the boat; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves; for they understood not concerning the loaves, but their heart was hardened.

They understood not ... To be sure they knew that a mighty wonder had been performed, but until the moment of Jesus' coming aboard they had not grasped the significance of it as an indication of the Lord's deity. This lack on their part was due to the fact that "their heart was hardened," being blinded by the dreams of a secular kingdom.

Verse 53

And when they had crossed over, they came to the land unto Gennesaret, and moored to the shore.


One should not be troubled by the various names given to the scene of Jesus' landing. John stated that they were on the way to Capernaum, which of course is true, Mark omitting the day's teachings in the synagogue as well as many other events. This paragraph narrates what took place the week or so following, while John reported in detail what took place that very day. Gennesaret was the name of a plain southwest of Capernaum; Bethsaida was near; and Christ's ministry was continued throughout the area.

Verse 54

And when they were come out of the boat, straightway the people knew him.

John explained how many of the multitude who had witnessed the wonder on the east side of Galilee had hired boats and followed Jesus after the storm ceased, and after they had missed him, being aware, of course, that he had not boarded the vessel with the Twelve.

Verse 55

And ran about that whole region, and began to carry about on their beds those that were sick, where they heard he was.

As Cranfield noted, "This is a summary statement,"[35] and includes events at a number of places, as indicated by the words, "where they heard he was."

The reaction of the people is what one should have expected. With a chance to be healed free of any charge, the throngs pressed upon Jesus to procure every possible benefit for the majority, the spiritual healing available in Christ was not so avidly desired. As Barclay put it:

They came - to put it bluntly - to use him. What a difference it would have made had there been some few who came to give and not to get. In a way it is natural for us to come to Jesus to get things from him, for there are so many things he alone can give but it is always shameful to take everything and give nothing.[36]

[35] C. E. B. Cranfield, op. cit., p. 229.

[36] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 164.

Verse 56

And wheresoever he entered, into villages, or into cities, or into the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment; and as many as touched him were made whole.

The immense popularity of Jesus during this ministry of healing is indicated by Mark's summary. There were in all probability many thousands healed; and all of the sacred writers together recorded only a tiny fraction of the wonderful works of Jesus.

As many as touched were made whole ... For a sermon on this text, reference is made to my Commentary on Matthew, p. 221.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Mark 6". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.