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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Mark 3

Verse 5

Mark 3:5

. And when he had looked around upon them with indignation To convince us that this was a just and holy anger, Mark explains the reason of it to be, that he was grieved on account of the blindness of their hearts. First, then, Christ is grieved, because men who have been instructed in the Law of God are so grossly blind; but as it was malice that blinded them, his grief is accompanied by indignation. This is the true moderation of zeal, to be distressed about the destruction of wicked men, and, at the same time, to be filled with wrath at their ungodliness. Again, as this passage assures us, that Christ was not free from human passions, we infer from it, that the passions themselves are not sinful, provided there be no excess. In consequence of the corruption of our nature, we do not preserve moderation; and our anger, even when it rests on proper grounds, is never free from sin. With Christ the case was different; for not only did his nature retain its original purity, but he was a perfect pattern of righteousness. We ought therefore to implore from heaven the Spirit of God to correct our excesses.

Verse 6

Mark 3:6

. The Pharisees took counsel with the Herodians. Now they regarded the Herodians with the fiercest hatred; for their eagerness to be considered the guardians and protectors of public liberty made it necessary for them to make an open profession of mortal hatred to the ministers of that tyrant. And yet this aversion is counteracted by their hatred and fury against Christ, (88) which makes them not only enter into a conspiracy with foreigners, but insinuate themselves into the good graces of those with whom, on other occasions, they would have shrunk from intercourse. While ungodliness hurries men in various directions, and drives them to different courses, it engages them, with one consent, in a contest with God. No hostilities prevent them from giving their hand to each other for opposing the truth of God.

(88) “ Toutesfois la haine enragee qu’ils ont contre Christ, surmonte toutes leurs autres meschantes affections;” — “and yet the enraged hatred which they have against Christ rises above all their other wicked dispositions.”

Verse 13

Mark 3:13

. And he went up into a mountain. By this election he does not yet ordain them to be Apostles, to enter immediately into the discharge of their office, but merely admits them to enjoy his private instructions (348) with a view to the apostleship. Commentators have fallen into a mistake here, by confounding those passages with the tenth chapter of the Gospel by Matthew. For the plain meaning of the words is, that they are only destined to a future commission, the bestowal of which is recorded by Matthew; and Mark and Luke will be found afterwards relating, in its proper place, the mission which Matthew there describes. And we need not wonder, if their heavenly Master chose to train and accustom them gradually to so arduous an employment: for, even by a long course of instruction, their ignorance could not be corrected.

Both the Evangelists say, that Christ went up into a mountain. Luke explains the cause to have been, that he might pray with greater freedom in his retirement, which he was accustomed to do frequently, as is evident from other passages. Now, this example ought to be regarded by us as a perpetual rule, to begin with prayer, when we are about to choose pastors to churches: otherwise, what we attempt will not succeed well. And certainly our Lord prayed, not so much on his own account, as to lay down a rule for us. We are deficient in prudence and skill; and though our sagacity were of the highest order, nothing is more easy than to be deceived in this matter. Granting that we were in no danger of mistake, if the Lord does not regulate our affections, with what force, or rather violence, shall we be carried away (349) by favor and prepossession, or hatred or ambition? Besides, though the election were conducted in the very best manner, all will be unsuccessful, unless the Lord take under his guidance those who are elected, and furnish them with the necessary gifts. “What then?” it will be said, “did not Christ earnestly implore the Father to preside in the election?” This I readily acknowledge, and I have also to state, that this was a declaration and acknowledgment of his care for his Church. Accordingly, he did not pray to the Father in the ordinary manner, but spent the whole night in prayer. But if he, who was full of the Holy Spirit, (John 3:34,) implored the Father, with such ardor and earnestness, to preside in the election, how much greater need have we to do so?

He called to him whom he would. By this expression, I have no doubt, Mark conveys to us the instruction, that it was to the unmixed grace of Christ, and not to any excellence of their own, that they were indebted for receiving so honorable an office: for, if you understand him to say, that those were chosen, who were more excellent than others, this will not apply to Judas. The meaning, therefore, is the apostle-ship was not bestowed on account of any human merits; but, by the free mercy of God, persons, who were altogether unworthy of it, were raised to that high rank; and thus was fulfilled what Christ says on another occasion, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” (John 15:16.) To the same effect Paul frequently speaks, extolling the purpose of God in bestowing on him the apostleship, (Ephesians 3:7; Colossians 1:25.)

But here many questions arise. First, why did our Lord deliberately choose Judas, who, he perfectly knew, was unworthy of the honor, and would be his betrayer? Secondly, why did God, after being so earnestly supplicated by his Son, and as if he had given a refusal to Christ, permit a base and wicked man to find his way to the highest rank in his Church? (350) Thirdly, why did he resolve that the first-fruits (351) of his Church should be stained by so foul a disgrace? Fourthly, how came it, that Jesus Christ, knowingly and willingly, preferred Judas to honest and faithful ministers?

The first objection is met by the following reply. Our Lord expressly intended to prevent future offenses, that we may not feel excessive uneasiness, when unprincipled men occupy the situation of teachers in the Church, or when professors of the Gospel become apostates. He gave, at the same time, in the person of one man, an instance of fearful defection, (352) that those who occupy a higher rank may not indulge in self-complacency. At the same time, with regard to the second question, we do not admit that our Lord suffered a refusal. (353) This answer will serve also for the third question. At the very beginning, it was judged proper to give an early demonstration of the future state of the Church, that weak persons might not stumble on account of the fall of a reprobate; for it is not proper, that the stability of the Church should depend on men. With regard to the last objection, Christ did not prefer Judas to devout and holy disciples, but raised him to an eminence from which he was afterwards to fall, and thus intended to make him an example and instruction to men of every condition and of every age, that no one may abuse the honor which God has conferred upon him, and likewise that, when even the pillars fall, those who appear to be the weakest of believers may remain steady.

(348) “ Pour ses disciples et escoliers domestiques;” — “for his disciples and private scholars.”

(349) “ Destournez et transportez hors du droit chemin;” — “turned and carried away out of the right road.”

(350) “ Pourquoy Dieu estant prie et requis si ardemment par son Fils, asouffert qu'un mechant et mal-heureux traitre fust eleve au rang le plus honorable de son Eglise, comme si Jesus Christ n'eust point este exauce ?” — “Why did God, when entreated and requested so earnestly by his Son, permit a wicked and unhappy traitor to be elevated to the most honorable rank in his Church, as if Jesus Christ had not been listened to?”

(351) “ Les premices et premier commencement de son Eglise;” — “the first-fruits and first beginning of his Church.”

(352) “ Un revoltement et cheute horrible;” — “a dreadful rebellion and fall.”

(353) “ Cependant nous ne dirons pas que Christ a este esconduit, veu que le pere par un conseil admirable, mettant un diable en la compagnie d’onze Anges, a toutesfois tellement modere l’issue, que la cheute de cestuy-la a plustost conferme que non pas esbranle la foyde son Eglise.” — “Yet we will not say that Christ was refused, since the Father, by a wonderful purpose, putting a devil into the company of eleven angels, has, at the same time, so guided the result, that the fall of this man, instead of shaking, has rather confirmed, the faith of his Church.”

Verse 16

Mark 3:16

. And to Simon he gave the name Peter. Though all Christians must be living stones (354), of the spiritual temple, yet Christ gave this name peculiarly to Simon, according to the measure of grace which he intended to bestow upon him. This is not inconsistent with the shameful weakness which he manifested in denying his Lord: for this title showed his invincible power and steadiness, which continued till his death. Yet it is absurd in the Papists to infer from this, that the Church is founded on him, as will afterwards be more fully explained, ( Matthew 16:18 .) Christ called the sons of Zebedee sons of thunder, because he was to give them a powerful voice, that they might thunder throughout the whole world. (355) And that thunder is heard, in the present day, from the mouth of John. As to his brother, there can be no doubt that, so long as he lived, he shook the earth. The word has been corrupted: for the full pronunciation would be בני רגש, (Benae-regesh;) (356) but the changes which words undergo in passing into other languages are well known.

(354) This alludes to the Greek word Πέτρος, (Peter,) which literally signifies a stone. We shall afterwards find (Matthew 16:18) that our Lord makes express reference to the meaning of the name. — Ed.

(355) “ Afin qu’ils tonnassent par tout le monde en preschant;” — “in order that they might thunder throughout the whole world in preaching.”

(356) Philologists have been a good deal perplexed by this word. There is even some difficulty in settling the Greek orthography: for conflicting manuscripts present us with the various forms of Βοανηργές, Βοανεργής, and Βοανεργείς. The name is unquestionably of Hebrew origin. Some of the derivations, which have been given, are so far-fetched as not to deserve refutation. There is plausibility in Jerome's hypothesis, that it comes from רעם, (Ragam,) thunder. But the substitution of final, ς for μ has never been satisfactorily explained. Admitting that ές or ής, is a Greek termination, the absence of the final and radical Mem ( ם) is too violent a supposition. After many trials, scholars are pretty nearly agreed, that they must return to the derivation which is suggested by our author, and which some writers have illustrated and defended by a considerable array of learning. — Ed.

Verse 20

Mark 3:20

. And they come into the house. Mark undoubtedly takes in a somewhat extended period of time, when he passes from the miracles to that wicked conspiracy which the relatives of Christ formed with each other, to bind him as if he had been a madman. Matthew and Luke mention not more than a single miracle, as having given to the Pharisees an opportunity of slander; but as all the three agree in this last clause which is contained in Mark’s narrative, I have thought it proper to insert it here.

It is wonderful that such wickedness should have been found among the relatives of Christ, who ought to have been the first to aid him in advancing the kingdom of God. When they see that he has already obtained some reputation, their ambition leads them to desire that he should be admired in Jerusalem; for they exhort him to go up to that city,

that he may show himself more openly, (John 7:3.)

But now that they perceive him to be hated on one side by the rulers, exposed on another to numerous slanders, and even despised by the great body of the people--to prevent any injury, or envy, or dishonor, from arising to the whole family, they form the design of laying hands on him, and binding him at home, as if he had been a person who labored under mental derangement; and, as appears from the words of the Evangelist, such was their actual belief.

Hence we learn, first, how great is the blindness of the human mind, in forming such perverse judgments about the glory of God when openly displayed. Certainly, in all that Christ said and did, the power of the Holy Spirit shone magnificently; and if others had not clearly perceived it, how could it be unknown to his relatives, who were intimately acquainted with him? But because Christ’s manner of acting does not please the world, and is so far from gaining its good graces that it exposes him to the resentments of many, they give out that he is deranged. Let us learn, in the second place, that the light of faith does not proceed from flesh and blood, but from heavenly grace, that no man may glory in any thing else than in the regeneration of the Spirit; as Paul tells us,

If any man wishes to be considered to be in Christ, let him be a new creature, (2 Corinthians 5:17.)

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Mark 3". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/mark-3.html. 1840-57.