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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges

Mark 9

Verses 1-99

9:1. And he said unto them ] The opening verse of the Ninth Chapter connects closely with what goes before.

Verily I say unto you ] This well-known formula occurs 13 times in St Mark, 31 times in St Matthew, 7 times in St Luke, 25 times in St John. It always introduces solemn and important announcements.

the kingdom of God ] On this expression see above, ch. 1:15. Of those then standing with the Lord, three six days afterwards beheld Him transfigured; all, save one, were witnesses of His resurrection; one at least, St John, survived the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, and on each of these occasions “the kingdom of God” came “with power.”

Ch. 9:2 13 . The Transfiguration

2. after six days ] St Luke’s words “ about an eight days after ” (9:28) may be considered an inclusive reckoning.

Peter, and James, and John ] the flower and crown of the Apostolic band, the privileged Three, who had already witnessed His power over death in the chamber of Jairus: St Peter who loved Him so much (John 21:17 ), St John whom He loved so much (John 21:20 ), and St James “who should first attest that death could as little as life separate from His love (Acts 12:2 ).” Trench’s Studies in the Gospels , p. 191.

leadeth them up ] It is the same expression in the original, which is used in reference to His own Ascension (Luke 24:51 ).

into an high mountain ] One of the numerous mountain-ranges in the neighbourhood, probably one of the spurs of the magnificent snow clad Hermon, the most beautiful and conspicuous mountain in Palestine or Syria. The Sidonians called it Sirion = “ breastplate ,” a name suggested by its rounded glittering top, when the sun’s rays are reflected by the snow that covers it (Deuteronomy 3:9 ; Song of Solomon 4:8 ). It was also called Sion = “ the elevated ,” and is now known as Jebel-esh Sheikh , “ the chief mountain .” “In whatever part of Palestine the Israelite turned his eye northward, Hermon was there terminating the view. From the plain along the coast, from the mountains of Samaria, from the Jordan valley, from the heights of Moab and Gilead, from the plateau of Bashan, that pale-blue, snow-capped cone forms the one feature on the northern horizon.”

apart by themselves ] St Luke (9:28) tells us that one object of His own withdrawal was that He might engage in solitary prayer . We may infer, therefore (comparing Luke 9:37 ), that evening was the time of this solitary retirement. The fact that it was night must have infinitely enhanced the grandeur of the scene.

was transfigured ] St Luke, writing primarily for Greek readers, avoids the word, “transfigured,” or “transformed,” “metamorphosed” would be a still closer rendering, which St Matthew and St Mark do not shrink from employing. He avoids it, probably, because of the associations of the heathen mythology which would so easily, and almost inevitably, attach themselves to it in the imagination of a Greek. In naming this great event, the German theology, calling it “die Verklärung,” or “the Glorification,” has seized this point, not exactly the same as our “Transfiguration.” From the records of the three Evangelists we infer that while He was engaged in prayer (Luke 9:29 ), a marvellous change came over the Person of our Lord. The Divinity within Him shone through the veiling flesh, till His raiment became exceeding white as the light (Matthew 17:2 ), or as the glittering snow (Mark 9:3 ) on the peaks above Him, so as no fuller on earth could white them; moreover the fashion of His countenance was altered (Luke 9:29 ), and His face glowed with a sunlike majesty (Matthew 17:2 , comp. Revelation 1:16 ). “St Mark borrows one image from the world of nature, another from that of man’s art and device; by these he struggles to set forth and reproduce for his readers the transcendant brightness of that light which now arrayed, and from head to foot, the Person of the Lord, breaking forth from within, and overflowing the very garments which He wore; until in their eyes who beheld, He seemed to clothe Himself with light as with a garment, light being indeed the proper and peculiar garment of Deity (Psalms 104:2 ; Habakkuk 3:4 ).” Trench’s Studies , pp. 194, 195.

4. there appeared unto them ] The three Apostles had not witnessed the beginning of this marvellous change. They had been weighed down with sleep (Luke 9:32 ), lying wrapped like all Orientals in their abbas on the ground, but awakened probably by the supernatural light, they thoroughly roused themselves (Luke 9:32 ), and saw His glory , and the two men standing with Him. It was clearly no waking vision or dream.

Elias with Moses ] (i) Among all the prophets and saints of the Old Testament these were the two, of whom one had not died (2 Kings 2:11 ), and the other had no sooner tasted of death than his body was withdrawn from under the dominion of death and of him that had the power of death (Deuteronomy 34:6 ; Jude 1:9 ). Both, therefore, came from the grave, but from the grave conquered. (ii) Again, these two were the acknowledged heads and representatives, the one of the Law, the other of the Prophets (comp. Matthew 7:12 ).

they were talking ] St Luke tells us what was the subject of mysterious converse which the Three were privileged to hear “ the decease, which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem ” (Luke 9:31 ). St Peter himself reproduces this remarkable word in his second Epistle 1:15. “Vocabulum valde grave, quo continetur Passio, Crux, Mors, Resurrectio, Ascensio.” Bengel.

5. And Peter ] Eager, ardent, impulsive as always. This proposal he made as the mysterious visitants were being parted from Him (Luke 9:33 ). It was for him too brief a converse, too transient a glimpse and foretaste of the heavenly glory.

it is good for us to be here ] “Better, as no doubt he felt, than to be rejected of the Jews, better than to suffer many things of the Elders and Chief Priests and Scribes and be killed” (Matthew 16:21 ). Trench’s Studies , p. 202.

three tabernacles ] Three booths of wattled boughs, like those of the Feast of Tabernacles. It seemed to him that the hour for the long-looked-for reign had come. From the slopes of Hermon he would have had the Laws of the New Kingdom proclaimed, so that all men might recognise the true Messiah attended by the representatives of the Old Dispensation.

6. he wist not ] “Soþli he wiste not what he schulde seie .” Wyclif. This word also occurs Exodus 16:15 , and = he knew not. Wist is the past tense of A. S. witan = to know. Compare wit = knowledge (Psalms 107:27 ), and wit = to know (Genesis 24:21 ), “And the man wondering at her held his peace, to wit whether the Lord had made his journey prosperous or not;” Exodus 2:4 , “And his sister stood afar off, to wit what would be done to him;” 2 Corinthians 8:1 , “Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit (= cause you to know) of the grace of God.” Witan = to know, Du. weten , G. wissen; the pr. t. in A. S. ic wát , Mœso-Goth. ik wait , E. I wot; the pt. t. in A. S. ic wiste , Mœso-Goth. ik wissa , E. I wist .

sore afraid ] The original word only occurs here and in Hebrews 12:21 , “Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake;” comp. Deuteronomy 9:19 . Wyclif’s rendering is very striking, “forsoþe þei weren agast by drede .”

7. a cloud ] not dark and murky, but bright (Matthew 17:5 ), overshadowed the lawgiver and the prophet, and perhaps also the Lord. “Light in its utmost intensity performs the effects of darkness, hides as effectually as the darkness would do.” Comp. 1 Timothy 6:16 , and the words of Milton, “dark with excess of light,” and of Wordsworth, “a glorious privacy of light.” Trench’s Studies , pp. 205, 206.

a voice came out of the cloud ] The same Voice which had been heard once before at the Baptism (Matthew 3:17 ), and which was to be heard again when He stood on the threshold of His Passion (John 12:28 ), attesting His Divinity and Sonship at the beginning, at the middle, and at the close of His ministry. Looking back afterwards on the scene now vouchsafed to him and to the “sons of thunder,” St Peter speaks of himself and them as “eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16 ), i. e. literally, as men who had been admitted and initiated into secret and holy mysteries , and says that the Voice “came from the excellent glory” (2 Peter 1:17 ), from Him, that is, Who dwelt in the cloud, which was the symbol and the vehicle of the Divine Presence. St John also clearly alludes to the scene in John 1:14 and 1 John 1:1 .

This is my beloved Son ] “In the words themselves of this majestic installation there is a remarkable honouring of the Old Testament, and of it in all its parts, which can scarcely be regarded as accidental; for the three several clauses of that salutation are drawn severally from the Psalms (Psalms 2:7 ), the Prophets (Isaiah 42:1 ), and the Law (Deuteronomy 18:15 ); and together they proclaim Him, concerning whom they are spoken, to be the King, the Priest, and the Prophet of the New Covenant.” Trench, Studies , p. 207.

8. when they had looked round about ] At first (1) they fell prostrate on their faces (Matthew 17:6 ; comp. Exodus 3:6 ; 1 Kings 19:13 ), then (2) recovering from the shock of the Voice from heaven (Matthew 17:6 ; comp. Exodus 20:19 ; Habakkuk 3:2 , Habakkuk 3:16 ; Hebrews 12:19 ), they (3) suddenly gazed all around them, and saw no man, save Jesus only . “Hinc constat, hunc esse Filium, audiendum, non Mosen, non Eliam.” Bengel. “Quæ ex Verbo cœperunt, in Verbo desinunt.” S. Ambrose.

9. they should tell no man ] This implies that they were forbidden to reveal the wonders of the night, and what they had seen, even to their fellow-Apostles. The seal set upon their lips was not to be removed till after the Resurrection.

10. questioning one with another ] St Mark alone mentions the perplexity which this language of their Lord occasioned to the Apostles. It was not the question of the resurrection generally, but of His resurrection, and the death , so abhorrent to their prejudices, that rendered it possible and necessary, which troubled them.

11. first come ] that is before the Messiah (Malachi 4:5 ). The Pharisees and Scribes may have urged as a capital objection against the Messiah-ship of their Master that no Elias went before Him. “It would be an infinite task,” says Lightfoot, “to produce all the passages out of the Jewish writings which one might concerning the expected coming of Elias.” He was to restore to the Jews the pot of manna and the rod of Aaron, to cry to the mountains, “Peace and blessing come into the world, peace and blessing come into the world!” “Salvation cometh, Salvation cometh, to gather all the scattered sons of Jacob, and restore all things to Israel as in ancient times.”

12. and how ] Rather, but how is it written of the Son of Man that He must suffer many things and he set at naught? See Tischendorf, Synop. Evang . The words that He must , or in order that He may , are very striking. They set before us the design of the It is written . “Elias cometh first. But how or to what purpose is it written of the Son of Man that He cometh? In order that He may suffer , not conquer like a mighty prince.”

13. That Elias is indeed come ] that is in the person of John the Baptist, to whom men acted even as it had been written of the persecution of the real Elijah. A few remarks here will not be out of place (i) On the three accounts of the Transfiguration; (ii) On the meaning and significance of the event itself .

(i) The three accounts . ( a ) All three Evangelists relate the conversation which preceded, and the Miracle which succeeded it. ( b ) St Matthew alone records the prostration of the disciples through excessive fear, and the Lord’s strengthening touch and cheering words uttered once before on the stormy lake (Matthew 17:6 , Matthew 17:7 , Matthew 17:14 :27), recalling, as the Hebrew Evangelist, the scene in the Exodus when the face of Moses shone, and the children of Israel were afraid to come nigh him (Exodus 34:29 , Exodus 34:30 ). ( c ) St Mark, in describing the effect of the Transfiguration, uses the strongest material imagery, “white as snow ,” “so as no fuller on earth can whiten ,” and he alone has the sudden vanishing of the heavenly visitors, and the inquiring look around of the disciples, and their questioning amongst themselves what “ the rising from the dead could mean .” ( d ) St Luke alone tells us that our Lord was engaged in prayer at the moment of His glorification (Luke 9:29 ), and mentions the slumbrous and wakeful condition of the three witnesses, the subject of mysterious converse between the Lord and His visitors from the other world (Luke 9:31 ), and the fact that the Heavenly Voice succeeded their departure (Luke 9:35 ). ( e ) Both St Matthew and St Mark place in immediate connection with the Event the remarkable conversation about Elias, but St Matthew alone applies the Lord’s words concerning that great prophet to John the Baptist (Matthew 17:13 ).

(ii) The meaning and significance of the Event . This we may believe had respect ( a ) to the Apostles, and ( b ) to our Lord Himself.

( a ) As regards the Apostles . This one full manifestation of His Divine glory, during the period of the Incarnation, was designed to confirm their faith, to comfort them in prospect of their Master’s approaching sufferings, to prepare them to see in His Passion the fulfilment alike of the Law and the Prophets, to give them a glimpse of the celestial Majesty of Him, whom they had given up all to follow.

( b ) As regards our Lord . As regards the Redeemer we may conclude that the transaction marked His consecration as the Divine Victim, Who was to accomplish the great “Decease” at Jerusalem, even as the Baptism inaugurated the commencement of His public ministry; it was the solemn attestation of His perfect oneness with His Father in heaven at the very time when He was about to descend into the valley of the shadow of death. It was, as it has well been called, “the summit-level” of the Life Incarnate. From this time forward there is a perceptible change. ( a ) Miracles , which hitherto had abounded in prodigal profusion, well-nigh cease. Only five mark the period between the Transfiguration and the Passion. Those, for whom “signs” could avail, were already won. For the rest, no more could be done. They were like those, amongst whom in His earlier ministry, “He could do no mighty work because of their unbelief.” ( b ) As regards His teaching , public addresses, before the rule, now become few and rare; His special revelations of the future to the chosen Twelve become more frequent, and they uniformly circle, unenshrouded in type or figure or dark saying, round the Cross.

14 29. The Healing of the Lunatic Child

14. And when he came to his disciples ] The great picture of Raphael has enshrined for ever the contrast between the scene on the Mount of Glorification and that which awaited the Saviour and the three Apostles on the plain below, between the harmonies of heaven and the harsh discords of earth.

scribes ] Thus far north had they penetrated in their active hostility to the Lord. Many of them would be found in the tetrarchy of Philip.

15. were greatly amazed ] “was astonied and much afraid,” Rhemish Version. His face would seem, like that of Moses (Exodus 34:30 ), to have retained traces of the celestial glory of the Holy Mount, which had not faded into the light of common day, and filled the beholders with awe and wonder. The word points to an extremity of terror. It is used four times in the New Testament, and only by St Mark. What is here said of the multitudes is said (Mark 14:34 ) of our Lord in Gethsemane, and (Mark 16:5 ) of the holy women at the Sepulchre on the first Easter-day at the sight of the Angel seated, “they were affrighted .”

17. my son ] and his “only son” (Luke 9:38 ).

a dumb spirit ] dumb in respect to articulate sounds, to which he could give no utterance, though he could suddenly cry out (Luke 9:39 ).

18. wheresoever ] According to St Matthew these crises had a connection with changes of the moon (Matthew 17:15 ).

he teareth him ] Probably this manifested itself in violent convulsions, St Vitus’ dance, or the like.

pineth away ] “wexip drye,” Wyclif. The word may denote either that he pined away like one, the very springs of whose life were dried up, or that in the paroxysms of his disorder his limbs became unnaturally stiff and stark. The fundamental form of his malady was epilepsy in its worst form, accompanied by dumbness, atrophy, and suicidal mania (Mark 9:22 ).

19. O faithless generation ] These words, though primarily addressed to the father, apply also to the surrounding multitude, and indeed to the whole Jewish people of which he was a representative, and in a sense to the disciples.

20. straightway the spirit ] The mere introduction to our Lord brings on one of the sudden and terrible paroxysms, to which he was liable.

21. And he asked ] This conversation with the father is parallel to another conversation with an actual sufferer (Mark 5:9 ).

22. if thou canst ] More literally, if at all Thou canst. This is a strong expression of an infirm faith, which at the beginning had been too weak, but had become more and more weak owing to the failure of the disciples to aid him.

23. If thou canst ] According to the best reading here the translation would be, Jesus said unto him, As for thy if thou canst, all things are possible to him that believeth. For the use of the article compare Matthew 19:18 ; Luke 9:46 . “Thou hast said,” replies our Lord, “ if I can do anything. But as for thy if Thou canst , the question is if thou canst believe; that is the hinge upon which all must turn.” Then He pauses, and utters the further words, “ all things are possible to him that believeth .” “Hoc, si potes credere , res est; hoc agitur.” Bengel.

25. I charge thee ] Notice the words of majestic command, I charge thee, I, whom thou darest not to disobey, and against whom it is vain for thee to struggle.

26. and rent him sore ] Observe here the minuteness and exactness of the Evangelist in all the details of the incident. Who was more likely to treasure up every detail of the scene than that Apostle, who had been with His Master on the Mount of Glorification?

28. Why could not we cast him out? ] He had given them “power and authority over all demons” (Luke 9:1 ), and “against unclean spirits to cast them out” (Matthew 10:1 ); what was the reason of their failure now?

29. This kind ] In His reply to their question our Lord impresses upon them a twofold lesson: (i) The omnipotence of a perfect faith (see Matthew 17:20 , Matthew 17:21 ); (ii) that, as there is order and gradation in the hierarchy of blessed spirits, so is it with the spirits of evil (see Ephesians 6:12 ). There are degrees of spiritual and moral wickedness so intense and malignant that they can be exorcised by nothing save by prayer and fasting, and the austerest rules of rigour and self-denial. These last words and fasting are wanting in the Sinaitic MS. and some Versions.

30 32. Predictions of the Passion

30. And they departed thence ] From the northern regions, into which our Lord had penetrated, He now turned His steps once more towards Galilee, probably taking the route by Dan across the slopes of Lebanon, thus escaping the publicity of the ordinary high roads, and securing secrecy and seclusion. “It was the last time He was to visit the scene of so great a part of His public life, and He felt, as He journeyed on, that He would no more pass from village to village as openly as in days gone by, for the eyes of His enemies were everywhere upon Him.”

and passed ] The word thus translated occurs five times in the N. T. It is applied to the disciples passing through the cornfields (Mark 2:23 ); to their passing by along the road from Bethany and noticing the withered fig-tree (Mark 11:20 ); to those that passed by and reviled our Lord upon the Cross (Matthew 27:39 ; Mark 15:19 ). Here it seems to denote that, avoiding populous places, He and His Apostles sought bye-paths among the hills, where He would meet few and be little known.

31. For he taught ] The tense in the original implies that the constant subject of His teaching in private now was His approaching sufferings, death, and resurrection.

32. were afraid ] St Matthew adds that they were “exceeding sorry.” His words concerning His violent death contradicted all their expectations.

33 37. True Greatness in Christ’s Kingdom

33. he came ] or rather they came , to Capernaum . Here, the next recorded event was the miraculous payment of the tribute-money (Matthew 17:24-27 ), the half-shekel for the Temple-service.

34. who should be the greatest ] They called to mind perhaps the preference given on Hermon to Peter and the sons of Zebedee, and now disputed who should be the greatest in the Messianic kingdom, which they fondly believed was about to be speedily set up.

35. And he sat down ] Observe the many graphic and pathetic touches in this and the following verse. (1) He sits down; (2) He calls the Twelve to Him; (3) He takes a little child , and places it in the midst of them; (4) He takes it into His arms , and then He speaks to them.

38 41. The Question of John

38. And John answered him ] The words in My name of v . 37 seem to have reminded the Apostle of an incident in their recent journey.

because he followeth not us ] Observe what the Apostle affirms to have been the ground of their rebuke, “because he followeth not us ,” not “because he followeth not Thee .” It is the utterance of excited party feeling. “We gather from this passage,” observes Meyer, “how mightily the words and influence of Christ had wrought outside the sphere of His permanent dependants, exciting in individuals a degree of spiritual energy that performed miracles on others.”

39. Forbid him not ] Compare the words of Joshua and the reply of Moses in Numbers 11:28 , Numbers 11:29 ; “and Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses … answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them.”

41. a cup of water ] which all gave readily in those sultry lands.

42. a millstone ] Literally, an ass-mill-stone , a mill-stone turned by an ass. These were much larger and heavier than the stones of hand-mills. Comp. Ov. Fast . vi. 318,

“Et quæ pumiceas versat asella molas.”

It was not a Jewish punishment, but was in use among the Greeks, Romans, Syrians, and Phœnicians. “Pædagogum ministrosque C. fili … oneratos gravi pondere cervicibus præcipitavit in flumen.” Sueton. Oct . lxvii.

43. offend thee ] or, as in margin, cause thee to offend , lead thee into sin. Our Lord makes special mention of the Hand, the Foot, the Eye, those members, whereby we do amiss, or walk astray, or gaze on what is sinful.

into hell ] Literally, the Gehenna , or the Gehenna of fire ( v . 47). The “Ravine of Hinnom,” also called “ Topheth ” (2 Kings 23:10 ; Isaiah 30:33 ), is described in Josh, 18:16, as on the south of Mount Zion. Its total length is a mile and a half. It is a deep retired glen, shut in by rugged cliffs, with the bleak mountain sides rising over all. It became notorious in the times of Ahaz and Manasseh as the scene of the barbarous rites of Molech and Chemosh, when the idolatrous inhabitants of Jerusalem cast their sons and daughters into the red-hot arms of a monster idol of brass placed at the opening of the ravine (2 Kings 16:3 ; 1 Chronicles 28:3 ; Jeremiah 7:31 ). To put an end to these abominations the place was polluted by Josiah, who spread over it human bones and other corruptions (2 Kings 23:10 , 2 Kings 23:13 , 2 Kings 23:14 ), from which time it seems to have become the common cesspool of the city. These inhuman rites and subsequent ceremonial defilement caused the later Jews to regard it with horror and detestation, and they applied the name given to the valley to the place of torment .

44. where their worm ] These words are cited from Isaiah 66:14 .

49. every one shall be salted with fire ] Salt and fire have properties in common. Salt, like a subtle flame, penetrates all that is corruptible, and separates that which is decaying and foul, whilst it fixes and quickens that which is sound. Fire destroys that which is perishable, and thereby establishes the imperishable in its purest perfection, and leads to new and more beautiful forms of being. Thus both effect a kind of transformation. Now “every one,” our Lord saith, “shall be salted with fire;” either (1) by his voluntary entering upon a course of self-denial and renunciation of his sins, and so submitting to the purifying fire of self-transformation; or (2) by his being involuntarily salted with the fire of condemning judgment (Hebrews 10:27 , Hebrews 12:29 ), as the victims on the altar were salted with salt (Leviticus 2:13 ; Ezekiel 43:24 ). See Lange.

50. Salt is good ] in its kind and its effect, as preserving from corruption.

have lost ] “It was the belief of the Jews that salt would by exposure to the air lose its virtue (Matthew 5:13 ) and become saltless. The same fact is implied in the expressions of Pliny sal iners, sal tabescere , and Maundrell asserts that he found the surface of a salt rock in this condition.”

his saltness ] Observe his here, where we should now use its . This is frequently the case in the Bible, and indeed the word its does not occur at all in the English Version of 1611.

Have salt in yourselves ] In the common life of Orientals, salt was a sign of sacred covenant engagements and obligations (Leviticus 2:13 ; 2 Chronicles 13:5 ). To eat salt together, meant to make peace, and enter into covenant with each other. Hence the connection here between the disciples having salt in themselves and being at peace one with another, which our Lord further enforced during this “brief period of tranquillity and seclusion” by speaking of the duty not only of avoiding all grounds of offence, but also of cultivating a spirit of gentleness and forgiveness (Matthew 18:15-20 ), which He illustrated by the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:12-14 ), and the Debtor who owed Ten Thousand Talents (Matthew 18:21-35 ).

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Mark 9". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". 1896.