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Bible Commentaries
Mark 8

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-38

VIII 1-9 Feeding of Four Thousand; cf.Matthew 15:32-39 —This second multiplication of the loaves and fishes appears to have taken place while Jesus was still in the Decapolis. Many critical writers assert that there was only a single multiplication and that this second account is simply a recension of the earlier one, 6:34-44. It is quite clear, however, that the evangelist intended to tell of two distinct incidents; cf. 8:19 f. The general resemblance between the two accounts is not surprising, and there are important points of difference. This miracle was performed in the wilderness, while the first took place near Bethsaida-Julias with towns and villages nearby. Here it is Christ himself who takes the initiative, whereas previously it was the disciples who suggested that the crowds should be sent away. There is also a difference in the numbers of those who were fed, the number of the loaves and fishes and the number of baskets of fragments which were left over. It is urged that the attitude of the disciples as expressed by their question ’Whence can anyone fill them with bread here in the wilderness?’ is difficult to explain if they knew of an earlier multiplication. It must be remembered, however, that a considerable time had elapsed since the first multiplication and that it had not been the practice of Christ to work miracles to meet the everyday needs of the people. Clearly it was only by a miracle that the crowds could be fed. The question of the disciples, in effect, leaves the matter in the hands of Christ.

10-12 The Pharisees ask for a Sign from Heaven; cf.Matthew 15:39-; Matthew 16:4; Luke 11:16, Luke 11:29-32; Matthew 12:38-42; Luke 12:54-56-10. Dalmanutha is not otherwise known. In Matthew 15:39 the best Gk MSS read ’Magadan’. No satisfactory identification of either place has been put forward. The presence of the Pharisees suggests that the incident in 11 took place on the western shore; cf. 13. It is possible that there is some corruption in the form of the name; cf. RB 53 ( 1946) 372-84.

11. In asking for a sign from heaven the Pharisees had in mind some striking manifestation like the manna, Exodus 16:12 ff., or the fire which fell from heaven, 3 Kg 18:22 ff. Such a sign, because of its unquestionable divine origin, would provide a dramatic confirmation of Christ’s claims. It was commonly believed that the coming of the Messias would be accompanied by some outstanding sign of this kind. ’tempting him’: ’putting him to the test’. The demand of the Pharisees was not prompted by a sincere desire for enlightenment. They had become the enemies of Christ because he acted independently of them and opposed their assertions. They had even attributed his miracles to the power of Satan. But they saw clearly that Christ was claiming to be an envoy from God, and now seek to put his claim to the test.

12. Christ sighed because he knew of the evil intention of the Pharisees. If they had been men of goodwill they would not have needed any other or more dramatic signs than the miracles which Christ had already performed. He refused to grant a sign such as they sought. If he had granted it, some of them would still have remained unconvinced. Moreover, a sign of this kind would have encouraged false Messianic hopes, whereas Christ wished them to prepare their hearts for the kingdom.

13-21 The Leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod; cf.Matthew 16:5-12; Luke 12:1-14. It was a normal precaution to take provisions when crossing over to the eastern shore of the Lake of Galilee.

15. The Jews regarded the fermentation caused by leaven as a kind of corruption. For this reason leaven was removed from their homes during paschal time. The Law forbade the inclusion of leaven in some of the offerings made in the temple, Leviticus 2:11. Christ here uses the word ’leaven’ in the metaphorical sense of a principle of moral corruption; cf.1 Corinthians 5:6 ff.; Galatians 5:9. The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy, Luke 12:1. They were extremely concerned with the externals of religion but neglected the essential interior spirit. The leaven of Herod was the spirit of worldliness, preoccupation with pleasure and political ambitions.

16-21. The disciples failed to understand Christ’s warning, and thought that he was referring to their failure to bring provisions. Christ took them to task for their slowness in comprehending the significance of the wonderful events which they had witnessed. His words were a reminder that they should have learned by now to trust him, even for their material needs. Mark’s insistence on the disciples’ lack of understanding (cf. 6:52) is a noteworthy confirmation of the reliability of the Gospel. The evangelist makes no attempt to present a flattering picture of Peter and the other Apostles by omitting mention of their faults and weaknesses.

22-26 Cure of a Blind Man at Bethsaida —This incident is recorded only by Mk. As he had done previously in the case of the deaf-mute, 7:31-37, Jesus takes the blind man aside, performs a certain ritual and forbids divulgation,26. The reasons for secrecy are presumably the same as in the former instance. Christ performed both miracles out of compassion, and did not wish to give any occasion for misunderstanding about the nature of his mission.

24. ’And as he began to see he said, "I see men; for I see them as trees, (but) walking"’. Evidently the man had not been blind from birth. Various explanations have been put forward for the fact that Christ performed this cure slowly and by degrees. Some hold that the degree of healing corresponded to the man’s faith in Christ. It is probable that Christ meant to teach a lesson to the disciples. They were to learn that spiritual enlightenment is usually a gradual process. It had been so in the case of the disciples themselves, and it would be thus also with those to whom they would preach the Gospel. The disciples could hardly have failed to see the Messianic significance of healing the eyes of the blind; cf.Isaiah 35:5.

27-33 Peter’s Confession: Prediction of the Passion and Resurrection; cf.Matthew 16:13-23; Luke 9:18-22— Caesarea Philippi was a new city built by Philip the tetrarch on the site of the ancient Paneas, near the sources of the Jordan. In this pagan district Christ was away from the malicious intrigues and demands of the Pharisees, and could discuss freely with the disciples the fundamental question of his own identity and mission.

27-28. The opinions about Christ correspond to the rumours which circulated at the court of Herod, 6:14-16. Those among the crowds who had formerly thought of Jesus as the Messias, John 6:14 f., may have abandoned the idea because he refused to manifest himself as the conquering Messias of popular expectation.

29. Peter makes a clear confession that Jesus is the Messias. Neither Mk nor Lk give the additional phrase, ’Son of the living God’, nor do they report the promise of the Primacy to Peter. The silence of Mk on the latter point is due to dependence on Peter whose humility prompted him to omit from his preaching matters which brought bonour to himself ( Eusebius PG 22, 217).

31. This prediction of the Passion and Resurrection was intended as a corrective to false ideas of a triumphant Messias. Now that the disciples firmly believed that Jesus was the Messias, it was necessary that they should understand that he was a suffering Messias (cf.Is 53) who would be rejected by the leaders of the Jews.

32-33. Peter understood the meaning of this word which Christ ’spoke openly’, but he was obviously taken aback by the prediction of the fate of Jesus at the hands of the Jews, and ’began to remonstrate with him’. He was rebuked by Christ because his protest showed that his thoughts were out of harmony with the divine plan. It was God’s will that the Messias should suffer. ’Satan’: ’adversary’.

34-39 How to be a Follower of Christ; cf.Matthew 16:24-28; Luke 9:23-27; John 12:25—The teaching of this section is closely connected with what has gone before. As the Son of Man must suffer, so also must those who take him as their leader. 34. ’Deny himself’: treat himself as a stranger, renouncing his own interests. ’Take up his cross’: the disciple must be ready to face even death by crucifixion.

35-36 explain why the disciple must be prepared to sacrifice even life itself. ’Life’ and ’soul’ translate the same word ???ð+´, which can mean life, soul, oneself. In the context there is an underlying antithesis between physical life and the life of the soul. The person who sacrifices his life for the sake of Christ will secure the eternal life of the soul. To have saved one’s life, or even to have gained everything that this world can offer, is of no avail if eternal life has been lost.

37. Nothing that a man may gain in this world will enable him to buy the life of the soul; once that has been lost in death, man has no means or power to redeem it. The Pontifical Biblical Commission replied in the negative to the question whether it was lawful to assert that the words of Christ found in Matthew 16:26 and Luke 9:25 (of. Mark 8:36 f.) in the literal sense do not refer to the eternal salvation of the soul, but merely the temporal life of man; see § 52h.38. Whoever refuses to follow Christ because of the sacrifices which this involves, shows thereby that he is ashamed of Christ and his doctrine. At the day of Judgement. Christ will disown those who have been ashamed to follow him. 39 (Gk 9:1). From here to the end of ch 9 the verse numbers in the Vulgate differ by one from the numbers in the Gk text. The opening words ’And he said to them’ are a transition formula and indicate that 39 is an independent statement not closely connected with 38. 39b. until they see the kingdom of God come (e+??ð??T??+?a?: established) with power;cf.Matthew 16:28 ’until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom’; Luke 9:27 ’until they see the kingdom of God’. The coming of the kingdom in power is not to be understood as the Parousia, when Christ will come as the Supreme Judge ’in the glory of the Father with the holy angels’, 38; cf.Matthew 25:31 ff. None of the features usually associated with the coming of Christ in final judgement on the world is mentioned here. Neither can the coming of the kingdom be explained satisfactorily as a reference to the Transfiguration, Resurrection or Pentecost. These events belonged to the immediate future, but the words ’there are some standing here who shall not taste death’ etc., point to a more remote period. Christ was speaking of a striking manifestation of power related to the establishment of his kingdom on earth. If he had one particular manifestation in mind, it is probable that the destruction of Jerusalem was the event in question. It marked the end of the ancient economy. Together with the expansion of the Church through preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles, ’God adding his testimony by signs and wonders and manifold deeds of power, and impartrags of the Holy Spirit, according to his will’, Hebrews 2:4, it constituted a striking proof that God had established his kingdom ’in power’ on earth; cf. Feuillet, NRT 71 ( 1949) 709-15.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Mark 8". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/mark-8.html. 1951.
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