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Mark 1

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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Introduction

Introduction

In this first chapter, Mark covers about nine-tenths of Jesus’ life, including the first year of His ministry. He summarizes the ministry of John the Baptist (1-8) and gives the record of Jesus’ baptism (9-11) and temptations in the Judean wilderness (12-13). Mark then immediately begins his narrative of Jesus’ Galilean ministry (14-15). Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John as disciples (16-20), casts an evil spirit out of a man (21-28), heals Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever (29-31), casts out many demons (32-34), extends His preaching tour to many other Galilean cities (35-39), and cleanses a leper (40-45).

Verse 1

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;

Mark does not begin his account of the gospel with any elaborate introductions; but true to the style he consistently demonstrates throughout his writing, he launches right into the story of the earthly ministry of Jesus. This opening verse not only establishes the style of Mark’s writing but also consists of a summary of his intention. Although Mark does not state his intention quite as concisely as John does, it becomes quickly apparent that he has exactly the same purpose, namely proving Jesus Christ to be the only begotten Son of God.

The beginning: M. R. Vincent says the word translated "beginning" (arche) does not refer to the beginning of Mark’s book but rather "to the facts of the gospel" (91). "This expression possesses an almost technical quality when referring to the inauguration of the ministry. See also Matthew 4:17; Luke 3:23; Acts 1:1; and Acts 10:37" (Earle McMillan 19).

of the gospel: The word "gospel" means good news. It refers particularly to the good news about the way of salvation by the Savior Jesus Christ.

of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: The name "Jesus" means "Savior" (Matthew 1:21). The title "Christ" means "anointed--sent of God." He was sent and anointed of God to save man from sin. James Burton Coffman says:

The compound title of our Lord is of heavenly origin. It was announced, evidently for the first time on earth, in the Saviour’s intercessory prayer (John 17:3) and was repeatedly called the "name" which God had "given" (John 17:6; John 17:11-12; John 17:26). From this, in all probability, derived the apostolic preference for the expression, "Jesus Christ" (18).

Son of God: Although some texts omit this phrase, it is retained in the Authorized Version, Revised Version, New American Standard, and others. This title is placed here to impress upon the readers that this is no ordinary history, but it is a narrative containing the teachings and deeds of the Son of God. This history, therefore, demands our attention and respect.

Verse 2

As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

As it is written in the prophets: Although the King James Version refers to "the prophets," many of the best texts, including Nestle’s, render this phrase "Isaiah the prophet." The preponderance of evidence supports Nestle’s rendering. E. Bickersteth explains, "Three of the most important uncials (N, B, and L) and twenty-six of the cursives, have the reading ’Isaiah.’ With these agree the Italic, Coptic, and Vulgate Versions" (1). In the parallel passages in Matthew 3:3 and Luke 3:4, Isaiah is named as the prophet. Still, there are some commentators who really have a problem with this verse. The problem arises because Mark attributes this entire quote to Isaiah, but he clearly includes a passage from Malachi within the first part of the quote. The Old Testament passages used by Mark are Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. McMillan gives some helpful insight:

The solution to this problem may lie in the association of key words. In this case the word "prepare" is found in both Old Testament quotations and would have tended to draw the two passages together in the author’s mind. There is evidence that Jewish writers, followed by the early Fathers, linked scriptures together by associations of this sort. The textual tradition indicates that when the inconsistency was realized, many scribes omitted the reference to Isaiah (19-20).

Bickersteth further explains:

The oracle of Malachi is, in fact, contained in the oracle of Isaiah; for what Malachi predicted, the same had Isaiah more clearly and concisely predicted in other words. And this is the reason why St. Mark here, and other evangelists elsewhere, when they cite two prophets, and two or more sentences from different places in the same connection, cite them as one and the same testimony, each sentence appearing to be not so much two, as one and the same declaration differently worded (1).

Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee: John the Baptist is here cast in the role of a messenger going in advance of the Messiah and preparing the way for him. As David Lipscomb says:

It was customary with princes and kings and the great ones of earth, when going on a journey or visiting a new place to send messengers, or heralds, before to make ready for the reception. Jesus adopted this order, but the preparation differed from that of the kings of the earth (Dorris 16).

Verse 3

The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

The voice: Both Vincent and Kenneth S. Wuest explain that the word "voice" (phone) does not have the article "The" as is translated in the King James Version. This fact is corroborated by Marshall, Thayer, Berry, The Analytical Greek Lexicon, and others. The phrase is therefore translated more properly "a voice." John the Baptist was not the only voice of God sent to Israel, but he is the one who immediately precedes Christ.

of one crying: According to Wuest, the word "crying" (boontos) means to "cry aloud, to shout, to speak with a high, strong voice" (13). He adds:

The preaching of John was full of emotion, of feeling. It came from the heart, and was addressed to the heart. The one shouting out was God. John was His mouthpiece. Back of John’s preaching to Israel, and in and through it, was the infinite longing of the God of Israel for His chosen people. The heart of God was in that mes­sage, full of pathos and love and entreaty (14).

in the wilderness: John does not preach in Jerusalem but rather "in the wilderness," referring to the wilderness of Judea. William Smith gives a more definitive understanding of this wilderness:

It is the same, no doubt, as the "wilderness of Judah" in Judges 1:16. It lay along the eastern border of Judea towards the Dead Sea, in which were the "six cities with their villages" mentioned in Joshua 15:61. It was the scene of many of David’s perils and escapes during the days of his persecution by Saul. It was a desert, of course, not in our own, but the oriental sense; in other words, fit for cultivation at intervals, thinly inhabited, and resorted to mainly as pasture-ground (1488).

Prepare ye the way of the Lord: John’s mission is to prepare the way for the Lord. Hence, today he is called the "forerunner, trailblazer, or harbinger" of Christ. John’s job is to bring the people to a state of repentance. He prepares the first disciples who are to follow Jesus (John 1:35-37) and introduces Jesus as the "Lamb of God" (John 1:25; John 1:29; John 1:32-33). Just as those with great earthly authority had heralds or harbingers precede them on their journeys to prepare for their arrival, so John comes to make the way easier for the coming of the Lord.

make his paths straight: This statement does not refer to actual roads or paths down which the Lord would travel but to the hearts of the people and His entrance into them. The bulk of John’s work is to convince men to stop their crooked ways and straighten out their hearts in order to receive their coming guest, Jesus Christ. Mark’s quotation from the Old Testament emphasizes the divine nature of the ministry of John the Baptist. At this time, Israel had been expecting a return by Elijah because of the prophecy in Malachi 4:6. John is the fulfillment of that prophecy in that Elijah was a "type of John" (Monser 21). Coffman explains further:

Israel’s mistake in their expectation of a literal return of Elijah was due to their failure to believe the revelation of Zacharias, to the effect that Elijah’s return would be accomplished by John the Baptist who would go before the Lord "in the spirit and power of Elijah...to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him" (Luke 1:17) (19).

Verse 4

John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

John did baptize: This clause is more properly translated "John came to pass or arose who baptized" (Vincent 91). Wuest says the verb "came" (egeneto) is used here to show that John’s coming "was not a mere event in history, but an epoch, ushering in a new regime or dispensation of God’s dealings with mankind" (15). It is believed John is about thirty years of age when he begins his ministry. It is also generally believed he has been preaching for only a few months when Jesus, who is six months younger than John, comes to him to be baptized.

and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins: Lipscomb explains:

Baptism connected with the repentance as preached by John was for, or unto, the remission of sins. This means God had appointed this act as the expression and embodiment of repentance which brought the state and place in which God would forgive sins. There was no virtue or efficacy in the act to bring pardon. God forgives sin (18-19).

Verse 5

And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

John’s preaching attracts wide attention. There is a steady stream of people, all from the surrounding places of Judea and Jerusalem, who go out to see John face to face and to hear his message. Even the Pharisees accept him at first and rejoice at the enlightenment he provides (John 5:35). It will be seen, though, that this popularity does not last. Mark explains here that Jordan is a "river." This explanation is part of the evidence that has convinced many that Mark is writing primarily for non-Jews in Rome. The Jews would have known that Jordan is a river.

Verse 6

And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;

And John was clothed with camel’s hair: John is not clothed in a camel’s skin "but with a vesture woven of camel’s hair" (Vincent 91). It is similar to the sackcloth that is woven from goat’s hair. These materials are woven together to make cloth for sacks, hence the term "sackcloth." Such clothing is typical of the poorer classes and of the prophets (2 Kings 1:8; Zechariah 13:4).

and with a girdle of skin about his loins: The common girdle is made of leather and is worn to keep the loose, flowing clothes gathered more closely to the waist.

and he did eat locust and wild honey: The Jews were permitted to eat locusts and insects according to Leviticus 11:22. William Smith provides this interesting information:

There are different ways of preparing locusts for food; sometimes they are ground and pounded, and then mixed with flour and water and made into cakes, or they are salted and then eaten; sometimes smoked; boiled or roasted; stewed or fried in butter (1673).

The "wild honey" was made by wild bees. It was found deposited in the clefts and crevices of rocks or in hollow trees. Many people obtained their sustenance by gathering wild honey into jars and bringing it into Jerusalem. It seems only appropriate that John, who lives such an austere life and who preaches so solemnly, would sustain himself with such food.

Verse 7

And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.

It was the lowly responsibility of the slave to stoop down with all humility to take off and put on the shoes of his master. In this way John shows he is the servant of Christ and Christ is the Master. The expression "stoop down" illustrates the careful and vivid detail given to action as is characteristic of Mark’s style.

Verse 8

I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

John contrasts his baptism with the baptism of Jesus. John himself baptizes with water. It would take one mightier than John to baptize with the Holy Ghost (Matthew 3:11). It is significant that the baptism of the Holy Ghost is not a commandment to be obeyed but rather a promise to be received from Christ. This promise is initially fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the apostles are baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). As a result of the baptism of the Spirit, the apostles are guided into all truth (John 16:13), reminded of the oral teachings of Jesus (John 14:26), and endowed with the ability to work miracles to confirm their preaching as being from God (Mark 16:17-20). The apostles are thus enabled to be witnesses of Jesus (Acts 1:8). The baptism of the Holy Ghost, however, was never intended to bring about remission of sins, nor is it evidence that sins are already forgiven.

Verse 9

And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.

Mark’s account of the baptism of Jesus is brief. He does not mention John’s reluctance to baptize Him or Jesus’ own statement about its purpose. What was the purpose? It is easily understood why the multitudes had been baptized of John. They came to receive a "baptism of repentance for the remission of sins" (1:4). But why did Jesus come? He had no fault or sin. Jesus explains, according to Matthew 3:15, that it was done in order to "fulfill all righteousness." To "fulfill all righteousness" is to do what God wants, when He wants it, and in the manner He wants it done. By His baptism, Jesus identifies Himself with His people, authenticates the work of John, and marks the beginning of His earthly ministry.

Verse 10

And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:

And straightway: Mark uses the word "straightway" (euthus) here for the first time. This is one of Mark’s favorite words and occurs many times in his book. The word means "immediately" (Marshall 138); "instantly" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 15). This word is typical of Mark’s quick-moving style, characterized by vivid and vigorous action.

coming up out of the water: This phrase is a clear indication that Jesus was immersed.

he saw the heavens opened: At the very moment that Jesus starts to step out of the water, the heavens suddenly open wide, and the Spirit descends upon Jesus. Other references to the heavens being opened are found in Isaiah 64:1, Ezekiel 1:1, Acts 7:56; Acts 10:11, and Revelation 19:11.

and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: The word translated "upon" in the King James Version is the Greek word eis. The word literally means "into." This is the act of the Holy Spirit indwelling the Messiah. This is the "anointing" about which Peter speaks in Acts 10:38. The symbol of a dove is significant. Coffman points out that the dove was:

...associated with certain religious sacrifices, having been the messenger of hope for Noah, and a symbol of peace and gentleness in all ages. This was the sign by which John the Baptist recognized the Messiah (John 1:33) (22).

Verse 11

And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

Mark describes the voice from heaven as though it addresses Jesus directly. "Thou" is translated from the word su, which is in the second person. In modern vernacular it would be said, "You are my beloved Son." This clause seems to vary from Matthew’s account. Matthew has the voice from heaven speaking of Jesus in the third person, that is, speaking about Jesus rather than directly to Him: "This is my beloved Son..." (Matthew 3:17).

Some critics unfairly point to this as a contradiction. The apparent problem is easily solved when it is seen that Mark is reporting the voice from heaven from the standpoint of John the Baptist. Henry Halley observes about such critics:

"Contradictions" in the Gospels. It is surprising with what utter abandon the statement is made in many present-day scholarly works that the Four Gospels are "full of contradictions." Then when we see what the things are that they call "contradictions," we are almost tempted to lose respect for some of the so-called "scholarship." The fact that there are different details and slight variations in describing the same incident makes the testimony of the various writers all the more trustworthy, for it precludes the possibility of prearranged collusion among them (363).

The voice of God is found in the record only two other times during Christ’s ministry. These occur when Christ prays after the Greeks visit Him (John 12:28) and at the time of His transfiguration (Luke 9:35). This magnificent epiphany is evidence to John that Jesus is indeed the Christ whose coming he has proclaimed.

Verse 12

And immediately the Spirit driveth him into the wilderness.

The word "driveth" is translated from the Greek word ekballei. It is a stronger term than the ones used by the other writers. Matthew and Luke say He was "led." There are no contradictions, however, among the three Synoptists. The thrust of all three passages is to show that Jesus does not enter into the wilderness of His own volition, but rather He is divinely directed into it for a divine purpose.

Verse 13

And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.

And he was there in the wilderness forty days: This very brief account of Jesus’ being tempted in the wilderness is further evidence of Mark’s desire to move quickly into the actual deeds of Jesus’ personal ministry. Mark’s account of the temptation is so brief though that if it were not for the parallel accounts the outcome of the story would be unknown. Matthew and Luke point out that Jesus fasts during these forty days and nights (Matthew 4:2; Luke 4:2).

tempted of Satan: Satan (Satanas) is the Greek form of the Hebrew word for "adversary." The specific meaning of Satan is varied in the Old Testament, but in the New Testament it always refers to the devil, the adversary of God and Christ. The name is given by Jesus to Peter as a Satan-like man when Peter tries to dissuade Jesus from fulfilling the crucifixion (8:33).

W. E. Vine says:

Satan is not simply the personification of evil influences in the heart, for he tempted Christ, in whose heart no evil thought could ever have arisen (John 14:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15); moreover his personality is asserted in both the O.T. and the N.T., and especially in the latter, whereas if the O.T. language was intended to be figurative, the N.T. would have made this evident (320).

Coffman elaborates further:

This is an awesome subject, and little more than a few suggestions may confidently be offered. That there is indeed a being of great magnitude of powers, an inveterate enemy of mankind, the prince of this world, the ruler of the world’s darkness, a prince of evil, who has organized and directed the wickedness of mankind is a fact so plainly set forth in the NT that only an unbeliever may deny it. The Lord’s Prayer is a constant testimonial to the existence of Satan: "Deliver us from the evil one!" (399).

It must be understood that the temptations to which Jesus is exposed are real, even though sometimes there are efforts to discredit them. It is conjectured that because He is the Son of God it is impossible for Him to sin. However, the writer of Hebrews (2:14-18; 4:15) clearly shows that Jesus is subjected to severe temptations. These temptations are fitted by Satan to Christ--to His Person and work. Matthew and Luke record the three specific temptations Satan uses on Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). Satan tries to get Jesus to turn stones into bread, to leap off the pinnacle of the temple, and to fall down before him and worship him.

and was with the wild beasts: Vincent says, "The region just alluded to abounds in boars, jackals, wolves, foxes, leopards, hyenas, etc." (91). This description is added to show the desolation and potential danger of the wilderness. In addition to the temptations of Satan, Jesus is alone in the midst of wild beasts. He has no other human companion who could commiserate with Him and from whom He could draw encouragement.

and the angels ministered unto him: No human beings are near, only angels. It seems, from what Matthew says, that angels minister unto Jesus after His temptation and victory. The first encounter between Jesus and Satan marks the beginning of a long-term engagement. Mark elaborates on this point later in chapter three. The devil’s departures from Christ are always seasonal, never permanent. Yet, Satan is never successful in his efforts to tempt Christ. By undergoing certain trials without sin, Jesus establishes His authority or right to serve as a sacrifice for man.

At the conclusion of this verse, Mark brings us to a point where approximately nine-tenths of Jesus’ life is completed. This brief treatment of Jesus’ early life again demonstrates Mark’s urgency to get into a discussion of the actual deeds of Jesus’ ministry. It bears repeating that Mark’s design in setting forth Jesus as the Son of God is not to deal so much with what Jesus says but rather with what He does. Mark mentions only a few of Jesus’ parables and other teachings. But he puts forth the record of Jesus’ activities in such a way that when the account is read, it excites human hearts toward belief.

Verse 14

Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,

Now after that John was put in prison: According to Matthew 14:3, John condemns the immorality of Herod and is imprisoned.

Jesus came into Galilee: After John’s imprisonment, Jesus leaves Judea and goes into Galilee. It is possible that Jesus would also have been persecuted by Herod if He had remained in Judea. Merrill Unger gives the following description of Galilee:

Palestine was divided into three provinces--Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Galilee occupied the upper part of the land, being the northwest province. In the time of Christ it included more than one third of western Palestine, extending from the base of Mount Hermon, on the north, to the ridges of Carmel and Gilboa on the south, and from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, about fifty by twenty-five miles in extent. The first three gospels are occupied largely with Christ’s minis­try in Galilee. Of his thirty-two parables nineteen were spoken in Galilee and twenty-five of his thirty-three great miracles were performed in Galilee. In this province the Sermon on the Mount was spoken. Here our Lord was transfigured (387).

Roland de Vaux adds this picturesque description of Galilee:

How different from stark Judaea this land of Galilee, so fertile and rich in cultivation! Flowers carpet the gentle hills, golden wheat sways in the breeze, and farmers already are bending to the sickle, harvesting the barley. The lake too yields a rich bounty. Salted fish from Magdala is sold in Jerusalem, even exported to Rome. Yet Jerusalem citizens scorn Galileans as coarse and ignorant, laughing at their rustic pronunciation of Aramaic (302).

preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God: Jesus proclaims the approach of the kingdom in His earliest preaching. Mark’s title for the kingdom means exactly the same as Matthew’s "kingdom of heaven."

Verse 15

And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.

And saying, The time is fulfilled: This statement refers to the time the prophets foretold for the coming of the Messiah. See Galatians 4:4 and Daniel 9:24-27.

and the kingdom of God is at hand: The kingdom of God that had been promised for so long and that had been so anxiously awaited by the people has come near.

repent ye, and believe the gospel: Coffman makes some most appropriate remarks about this phrase:

These words along with reference to repentance and faith (in that order) in Hebrews 6:1 and Acts 20:10, have led to some religious theories that repentance precedes faith in the sinner’s heart; but such notions are refuted by the fact that no unbeliever in the history of the race was ever known to repent. We may not, therefore, take Mark’s expression here as indicating the time sequence of the appearance of repentance and faith in human hearts. There is apostolical precedent for using expressions like this without regard to the chronology of things mentioned. Thus Peter spoke of Jesus Christ, "whom ye slew and hanged on a tree" (Acts 5:30) (24).

Verse 16

Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.

Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee: The Sea of Galilee is also called the Sea of Tiberias, the Lake of Gennesareth, and the Sea of Chinnereth (Numbers 34:11; Deuteronomy 3:17; Joshua 12:3). Today, the natives refer to it as "Bahr Tarbariyeh" (Sea of Tiberias). Albert Barnes gives a beautiful description of the Sea of Galilee:

Its form is an irregular oval, with the large end to the north. It is about fourteen miles in length, and from six to nine miles in width. It is about 600 feet lower than the Mediterranean, and this great depression accounts for some of its peculiar phenomena. There is no part of Palestine, it is said, which can be compared in beauty with the environs of this lake. Many populous cities once stood on its shores, such as Tiberias, Bethsaida, Capernaum, Chorazin, Hippo, etc. The shores are described by Josephus as a perfect paradise, producing every luxury under heaven at all seasons of the year, and its remarkable beauty is still noticed by the traveller (38).

Smith adds to this description by saying that "the water of the lake is sweet, cool, and transparent; and as the beach is everywhere pebbly it has a beautiful sparkling look" (898).

he saw Simon and Andrew his brother: This is not the first meeting that Jesus had with Simon Peter and Andrew. In the first chapter of John, we are filled in on many of the events that occurred between the time of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness of Judea and His calling of the disciples in Galilee.

casting a net into the sea: The phrase "casting a net" is translated from amphiballontas and literally means "throwing about" (Vincent 92); "casting" (Marshall 138); "to throw around" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 19). Vincent says the word "net" is not actually mentioned by Mark but it is implied. The Analytical Greek Lexicon states that it was "a large kind of fishnet, a drag" (19). It was the kind of net that could be thrown in different directions in order to enclose the fish.

for they were fishers: Fishing was their occupation.

Verse 17

And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.

Jesus uses their former occupation as a most appropriate type of the occupation they now are to assume. Just as they had formerly cast a net to gather fish, now they are to cast the gospel-net to gather men into the kingdom of God.

I will make you to become: The phrase "to become" demonstrates this process of making them soul winners was not instantaneous but rather a gradual process.

Verse 18

And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.

The word "forsook" (aphentes) is in the aorist tense, indicating a punctiliar kind of action, that is, an action done only once. It shows there is a leaving of the former life of fishing to begin the life of preaching the gospel of Christ. This reference does not mean the disciples never fished again. In John 21, it is obvious the disciples are fishing; however, Jesus here changes their primary occupation to preaching.

Verse 19

And when he had gone a little farther thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.

And when he had gone a little farther thence: Mark is the only gospel writer to add this little detail.

he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother: John also records that Jesus had met these two brothers previously.

who also were in the ship mending their nets: The word "mending" is katartizo and means "to mend what has been broken or rent, to fit out, equip, put in order" (Thayer 336).

Verse 20

And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.

And straightway he called them: Just as He had done with Peter and Andrew, Jesus now calls James and John formally to become His disciples, "fishers of men." Their response is similarly prompt and obedient.

and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him: McMillan makes an interesting observation about the differences between these two sets of fishermen brothers.

Simon and Andrew seem to have had only the barest minimum of equipment, whereas James and John may, in fact, have come from a fairly well established family group with "hired servants" (27).

The hired servants stayed with the father, enabling him to continue his fishing business.

Verse 21

And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught.

And they went into Capernaum: Capernaum was a large city on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was the home of Peter and Andrew; and although Nazareth was the childhood home of Jesus, Capernaum was emphatically His "own city." It is Capernaum to which Jesus returns when it is said He is "at home" (2:1). Jesus obviously moves His "headquarters" to Capernaum at the outset of His Galilean ministry.

and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught: Mark does not say what Jesus teaches on this occasion; however, he does tell us the teaching is done in the synagogue, on the sabbath day, the seventh day of the week. This first synagogue in which Jesus preaches is the gift of a liberal Gentile officer (Luke 7:2-5). For more details on "synagogue," see comments on chapter three, verse 1.

Verse 22

And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.

And they were astonished at his doctrine: They are utterly amazed by the teaching of Jesus.

for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes: A detailed discussion about the scribes is given in comments on chapter two, verse 6.

One point of distinction between His teaching and that of the scribes is that the scribes deal mostly with ritualistic traditions and forms. In contrast, Jesus’ teaching embodies man’s duties to God and his fellowman in a simple, practical way. Another astounding aspect of Jesus’ teaching is that He presented it as being superior to that of Moses (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 5:34; Matthew 5:39; Matthew 5:44).

Verse 23

And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit; and he cried out,

And there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit: The phrase "with an unclean spirit" is more properly translated "in an unclean spirit." He is completely surrounded and dominated by the power of this spirit, which Luke calls a "demon." His condition is, in the most literal sense of the word, "a possession": another is ruling in the high places of his soul and has cast down the rightful lord from his seat.

"Unclean spirit" is a thoroughly Jewish expression and was a very common way of denoting demons in Rabbinic literature. Forty-three times in the New Testament demons are called spirits (pneuma or pneumata). The context makes clear that these spirits are demons because the demon-possessed (daimonizomenous) are treated by Jesus and He cast out "the spirits" (pneumata). The interchange of the terms "demons" and "spirits" substantiates the identification in Luke 10:17-20.

The word "demon" is translated from the word daimon and is used only four times in the New Testament (Matthew 8:31; Mark 5:12; Luke 8:29; and Revelation 16:14).

Daimonion, which A. T. Robertson believes is a "diminutive of daimon," is the most frequently used word in the New Testament that is translated "demon," being used 63 times. Sometimes the King James Version mistranslates daimonion as "devil" or "devils," but it should always read "demon" or "demons."

Throughout Mark, Jesus continually meets people who are possessed by unclean spirits or demons. What are these phenomena? Where do they come from? What is their purpose on earth? How can they actually inhabit and control human beings? Do they exist in the world today? There are four major schools of thought concerning this mysterious subject of demon possession.

First, in primitive times, there were those who superstitiously attributed all cases of mental illness and most cases of physical illness to demon possession. The treatment for these cases of "possession" included a practice called "trephining." This practice involved cutting a hole in the skull so the demon could escape. Barclay says:

In many ancient cemeteries skulls were found which had been trepanned (this is an early spelling of "trephined"). That is to say, a hole had been bored in the skull. In one cemetery, out of one hundred and twenty skulls, six had been trepanned. With the limited surgical technique available that was no small operation. Further, it was clear from the bone growth that the trepanning had been done during life. It was also clear that the hole in the skull was too small to be of any physical or surgical value; and it is known that the removed disc of bone was often worn as an amulet round the neck. The reason for the trepanning was to allow the demon to escape from the body of the man. If primitive surgeons were prepared to undertake that operation, and if men were prepared to undergo it, the belief in demon possession must have been intensely real (33-34).

Ironically, in those cases where the ailment of the one suspected of being demon-possessed was actually swelling of the brain, if the patient were not killed in the operation, the pressure on the brain was sometimes relieved and the patient was helped.

Since medieval times, though, the prevalent means of treatment for the "possessed" has been exorcism. Coleman gives a historical perspective of this practice:

Much store was set by prayer, holy water, sanctified ointments, the breath or spittle of the priests, the touching of relics, visits to holy places, and mild forms of exorcism. As exorcistic techniques became more fully developed, it was emphasized that it was Satan’s pride which had led to his original downfall. Hence, in treating persons possessed by a devil, the first thing to do was to strike a fatal blow at the devil’s pride--to insult him. This involved calling the devil some of the most obscene epithets that the worst imaginations could devise, and the foul insults were usually supplemented by long litanies of cursing....Unfortunately, as theological beliefs concerning mental illness became more fully developed and were endorsed by the secular world, mildness and gentle treatment began to disappear. It came to be generally believed that cruelty to "madmen" was punishment of the devil residing within them, and when "scourging" proved ineffective, the authorities felt justified in driving out the demons by less pleasant methods. Flogging, starving, chains, immersion in hot water, and other torturous methods were devised in order to make the body such an unpleasant place of residence that no self-respecting devil would remain in it. Undoubtedly many men and women who might have been restored to health by more gentle and kindly measures were driven into hopeless mental illness by these brutal methods (31-32).

Obviously, there has been a strong belief in demons and demon possession since the ancient world. It is a mistake, however, to attribute all cases of mental and physical illness to demons. The gospel writers clearly demonstrate there is a distinction between demon possession and illness (Matthew 4:24).

The second major school of thought concerning demon possession is that actual cases of possession have never existed and that all cases of presumed possession are nothing but mental or physical illness. Many skeptics say the casting out of demons spoken of in the New Testament is nothing more or less than the curing of epileptic fits and brain disorders, as distinct from bodily diseases.

Some say because there are no cases of demon possession reported today, this phenomenon has really never existed. The question is asked, "If demon possession existed then, why not now?"

This second theory is an oversimplification of the subject of demons and has some major problems. It is impossible to reconcile this position with the language of Jesus. Jesus addresses the demons as though they are distinct from the man (1:25), and this technique is not a mere accommodation on His part to the superstitious beliefs of the day. They recognize Him as the Son of God (1:34); they give their names (5:9); and they are able to believe (James 2:19).

The third view is that both demon possession and illnesses of a mental or physical nature existed in the days of Christ and that both still exist today. R. C. Trench says, "...the assumption that there are none now, itself demands to be proved" (97). He further says that if an apostle were able to enter a "madhouse" today, he might find there some who are possessed.

Coffman speculates:

...it is by no means certain that the phenomenon has actually disappeared....In the unreasonable and atrocious crimes, abnormal bestiality, senseless wickedness exploited on the front pages of newspapers every day, there is far more than a possibility that satanic possession is the cause of at least some of it (95).

Cranfield reasons that "the spread of a confident certainty of the demons’ non-existence" might be their greatest triumph (75).

This third view, that demon possession exists today as in the days of Christ, is also unacceptable.

It is a mistake to conclude that the extreme wickedness in the world today is evidence demon possession still exists. A careful examination of the gospels shows there is a major difference between wickedness and demon possession.

Jesus says, "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Matthew 15:19).

It is stylish today to blame grossly evil behavior on demon possession, but Jesus says evil thoughts and behavior originate in the heart. Surpassingly wicked men have no desire for repentance and make no cry for redemption--they are said to be born of the serpent seed, of the devil’s regeneration, and so become his children (Acts 13:10). Yet the demoniacs are not pictured in the gospels as being the worst of men; rather they are portrayed as the most unhappy, pitiful victims who are continually crying out for deliverance (5:5-6).

Without doubt, there are many who are "full of the devil" today; but that condition is a far cry from being actually "possessed" by another being. It is easy to avoid facing up to the responsibility of our own sinful behavior by saying, "I couldn’t help myself; the demon in me made me do it."

The fourth major view, and the one firmly embraced by this author, is that while demon possession was very real in the days of Christ, it no longer exists in the world today. The purpose of Jesus’ coming into the world was to "destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). Jesus elaborates on this point in Mark 3:27: "No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house."

The "strong man" here is Satan. The "house" is this world. "Spoil" is from the word diarpazo and means "to plunder, spoil, pillage," according to the Analytical Greek Lexicon (94). Vincent says it means to "tear in pieces: to carry away, to seize as plunder, snatching right and left" (99). The "goods" literally refer to equipment, utensils, or furniture. In this case, demons are the utensils Satan is using to further his cause.

The stronger man in this figure is Jesus Himself. Jesus enters into the house (the world) of the strong man (Satan) and is in the process of binding the strong man and spoiling, plundering, and tearing in pieces his goods (demons).

The process of spoiling Satan’s goods (demons) is completed by Jesus at the crucifixion. The Apostle Paul explains:

Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it (Colossians 2:14-15).

"Principalities and powers" refer to evil angels. The similar expressions, "the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41) and "Beelzebub, prince of the devils (demons)" (Matthew 12:24), equate Satan’s angels with demons. Jesus disarms the evil angels, or demons, makes a public spectacle of them, and triumphs over them by the cross. Satan is stripped of the power necessary for demon possession by the resurrection of Christ from the dead.

The conclusion follows that demon possession was allowed in the days of Jesus to give Him the opportunity to demonstrate His power over them and to prove His divine Sonship. Further, it follows that the supernatural phenomenon of demon possession ceases to exist along with the supernatural phenomenon of miracles (among which is the ability to cast out demons) that are used to confirm the testimony of the apostles (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).

Hendriksen adds these words:

A man of high reputation, with thorough theological, medical, and psychiatric training, the late Dr. J. D. Mulder, in a series of articles on "Mental Disease and Demon Possession," wrote as follows, "For six years I have worked as medical missionary among the Navahos, a tribe of Indians still deeply steeped in fear of evil spirits, witchcraft, and related subjects, while the last ten years I was in daily contact with mentally disturbed of all types....Daily conversations with these...patients, however, and careful delving into their inner thoughts have made me convinced that, whereas there might well be demoniacal influence, the picture of possession, as found in the New Testament, was always absent. I therefore fully agree with Prof. Schultze when he writes, ’I venture to suggest that demon posses­sion was a phenomenon limited almost exclusively (if not entirely) to the period of special divine manifestations during the period in which the New Testament church was born’" (64-65).

and he cried out: The verb "cried" is anakrazo, "to raise a cry from the depth of the throat, to cry out" (Thayer 39). Wuest says:

The demon cried out, using the man’s vocal organs. It was a deep, throaty, terrible cry. It had in it the fear of impending doom. It was from a member of one race of beings, speaking through and by means of a member of the human race (32).

Verse 24

Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.

Saying, Let us alone: Even though Mark identifies only one evil spirit as possessing this man, when the spirit speaks, he speaks on behalf of others also. This speaking on behalf of others shows all demons were allied in their work of evil; and if this one were to suffer from the power of Christ, others would certainly suffer also.

what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth: The New International Version renders this phrase, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth?" It is probable the evil spirit felt Jesus has no right to cast him out. He regards this man to be his rightful possession, and to be cast out would be considered an infringement of his rights.

art thou come to destroy us: Wuest writes:

Expositors say that this could be a question or an assertion, the sense of the whole passage being, "Thou art come to destroy us, for we know well who thou art, the Holy One of God" (33).

I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God: The demon’s statement contains a confession that he recognizes the true personality of Jesus. It also implies Jesus has the power to overcome all wrong and evil. James says, "...the devils also believe, and tremble" (2:19). Evil spirits know Jesus has come into the world and He has the power to cast them out and to judge them. They also know that when this casting-out occurs, they will be initiated into torment; hence, they tremble. There are many sinners living today who would do well to cultivate this same fearful belief. It should be used as an incentive toward securing their own salvation.

Verse 25

And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him.

And Jesus rebuked him: The word "rebuked" (epitimao) means "to reprove, chide, censure, rebuke, reprimand" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 162).

saying, Hold thy peace: This expression is from phimoo and means to "close the mouth with a muzzle, to muzzle, metaphorically, to stop the mouth, make speechless, reduce to silence" (Wuest 33). Wuest gives this elaboration:

The Authorized Version puts too high a polish on the sharp, incisive command of our Lord. From the latter, we can gather something of the attitude of God towards Satan, the other fallen angels, the demons, and the enormity of their sin. Gould translates "Shut up." Robertson says that "Shut your mouth" is too colloquial. But that is the equivalent idiom of that day for our expression today. The verb is in the imperative mode and the aorist tense, issuing a sharp command to be obeyed at once (34).

and come out of him: This command is given in the same sharp, imperative manner as the former, indicating it is to be obeyed at once.

This discussion seems to be a somewhat perplexing exchange between Jesus and the demon. First, why does the demon make this confession of Christ? Second, why does Jesus muzzle the demon and reject his confession?

The demon could have made his confession for a number of reasons. It could have been made from abject fear. He is, no doubt, terrified of torment, and he can see the certainty of Jesus’ power to put him there. Or it could have been a ploy of flattery. He may have hoped that by flattering Jesus he would receive mercy. Keeping in mind the absolutely evil nature of Satan and his demons, it is probable this confession is made to tarnish the image of Christ. The very fact it is a demon, the Spirit of lies, who identifies Jesus as the Christ, calls into question the truthfulness of the statement. If demons could, by their confessions of Christ, cause the world to believe that He is in league with them, then His work would be effectively tarnished. This very danger manifests itself in chapter three as the scribes from Jerusalem accuse Jesus of being possessed of Beelzebub. It is for this reason that Jesus muzzles the demon and firmly rejects his confession.

Verse 26

And when the unclean spirit had torn him, and cried with a loud voice, he came out of him.

And when the unclean spirit had torn him: The word "torn" is from the Greek word sparazan. The Analytical Greek Lexicon says the word means "to agitate greatly, convulse, distort by convulsions" (372). The phrase does not mean the evil spirit tears or lacerates the body of the man, but rather, that the man is sent into convulsions. Luke says the demon throws the man down (Luke 4:35).

and cried with a loud voice: Wuest and The Amplified Bible quote Robertson as saying this is, in fact, "a screech" (34, 48).

he came out of him: The evil spirit comes out of the man, not voluntarily but because he has been compelled by the Son of God. The demon, however, displays his malignant nature right to the end. He demonstrates his power over the man one last time by throwing him into a convulsion, and then he exits with a loud screech, probably an expression of resentfulness, anger, and fear.

Verse 27

And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him.

And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves: The people who witness this scene have mixed emotions. They are astounded by the power Jesus demonstrates, but they are also frightened by it.

saying, What thing is this: They continue to demand of each other what it means.

what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him: At first puzzled by Jesus’ demonstration of power, they conclude the "new doctrine" is that He is the Messiah because only the Messiah could display such power and rule over evil spirits.

Verse 28

And immediately his fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee.

The fame of Jesus spreads with lightning speed, by word of mouth, throughout the whole region of Galilee.

Verse 29

And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

Simon Peter is married, and his brother Andrew and Peter’s mother-in-law live with him. Jesus, no doubt, makes his home with Peter when He is in this region.

Verse 30

But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell him of her.

But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever: The language here indicates Peter’s mother-in-law has been sick for some time, lying prostrate, burning with fever.

and anon they tell him of her: They immediately speak to Jesus concerning her.

Verse 31

And he came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up; and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them.

And he came: "’Came’ is translated from proselthon, and it means ’facing.’ The Great Physician came to her couch and faced her. Luke, the Greek doctor says, ’And He stood over her’ (Luke 4:39) as a physician would do" (Wuest 36).

and took her by the hand, and lifted her up: The order of words in the Greek text says, "He raised her, holding her hand" (Marshall 140).

and immediately the fever left her: She recovered immediately with no further convalescence required.

and she ministered unto them: The word "ministered" is the Greek word diakoneo and means "serving, waiting, attendance, the act of rendering friendly offices" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 92). It is the same word Martha uses when she complains to the Lord that her sister Mary is letting her down by making her serve the guests alone. The fact that Peter’s mother-in-law is at once strong enough to prepare a meal and provide continual ministering to Jesus and the others is a testimony to His miraculous power.

Verse 32

And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils.

And at even, when the sun did set: It was the sabbath day, as shown by the fact that the synagogue meeting is being held. Therefore, the sick are not brought to the Lord until sunset, or six o’clock, when the sabbath ends.

they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils: Mark distinguishes between those who are diseased and those who are possessed with devils.

Verse 33

And all the city was gathered together at the door.

The whole town gathers at the door, eager to see what they can of Jesus’ wonderful deeds.

Verse 34

And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him.

He heals all who have need of healing, and He refuses to allow the demons who are cast out to speak, for the reasons mentioned in the comments on verse 25.

Verse 35

And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.

And in the morning, rising up a great while before day: This phrase is translated literally "while it was in the night" (Vincent 94).

he went out, and departed into a solitary place: Jesus leaves Simon Peter’s house and departs out of the city of Capernaum.

and there prayed: The verb is in the imperfect tense and portrays Jesus as praying through the early morning hours. One thing that really stands out in the record of Jesus’ life is His habit of prayer. What a wonderful example for all Christians! Here the firstfruits of the morning are given to God.

Verse 36

And Simon and they that were with him followed after him.

Upon awakening, Simon, Andrew, James, John, and possibly others search for Christ, being unaware He has gone out to pray.

Verse 37

And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee.

The whole town of Capernaum is excited and is looking for Jesus.

Verse 38

And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.

And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns: The word "next" (echomenas) means "clinging to, next to a thing" (Wuest 40), indicating Jesus is pointing to the towns next to or near Capernaum. All of these towns have a synagogue in which Jesus can preach.

that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth: It is not consistent with His purpose in coming into the world to restrict His work to one town. He has a lot of ground to cover and not much time in which to do it.

Verse 39

And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils.

And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee: This would be on successive sabbaths. According to Josephus, Galilee was a densely populated district, with upwards of two hundred villages, each containing several thousand inhabitants (Bickersteth 7).

The extent and duration of our Lord’s first missionary journey must have been considerable.

and cast out devils: Jesus’ primary work is not that of healing the sick and casting out demons but rather that of preaching. The miracles He performs attest to and confirm the preaching He does as being from God.

Verse 40

And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.

And there came a leper to him: James MacKnight says:

Lepers were generally banished from towns, because their disease was almost always infectious. However, there were some exceptions, such as this man’s leprosy, which, because it was of a less pestilent kind, the priest had permitted him the society of men (474).

Leprosy is such a horrible, incurable disease. A graphic description of this disease is given in Leviticus 13:1-46. Because of the fatal nature of the disease, it is used figuratively as a type for sin. Jesus manifests His divine nature by showing He has power to heal both leprosy and sin.

beseeching him: This phrase means "An urgent appeal, I beg of you, please" (Wuest 402).

If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean: He does not doubt Christ’s ability to heal him. If he has any doubt, it is whether Christ is willing to heal him.

Verse 41

And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.

And Jesus, moved with compassion: "Compassion" is from splagchnizomai and means to arouse the heart with feelings of pity and love. "Expositors say, ’Watch carefully the portraiture of Christ’s personality in this Gospel, Mark’s specialty’" (Wuest 41).

put forth his hand, and touched him: According to the law of Moses (Numbers 5:2), it was an unclean act to touch a leper. Jesus’ touch brings about cleansing, though, instead of defilement. It is not necessary for Jesus to touch the leper to heal him. Jesus probably makes the touching gesture for the sake of the leper and the people who are watching so there would be no mistake about the Source of the healing.

and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean: Only God could perform a miracle like this. Yet, Jesus says, "I will." This declaration furnishes further proof He is the divine Son of God.

Verse 42

And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed.

The completeness of the cure and the suddenness with which it is brought about are further proof of His divine nature.

Verse 43

And he straitly charged him, and forthwith sent him away;

And he straitly charged him: The verb "charged" is embrimaomai and means "sternly admonishing" (Marshall 141).

and forthwith sent him away: This expression is from the word ekballo and means "to throw out" (Wuest 42). Our Lord thrusts the leper from the crowd that surrounds him.

And Jesus charged him sternly (sharply and threateningly and with earnest admonition), and (acting with deep feeling thrust him forth and) sent him away at once (Amplified Bible 49).

Verse 44

And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.

And saith unto him, See thou say nothing to any man: "See that you tell nothing of this to anyone" (Amplified Bible 49).

but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest: Barnes gives some helpful insight on this verse:

The law of Moses required that a man who had been healed of leprosy should be pronounced clean by the priest before he could be admitted again to the privileges of the congregation, Leviticus 14. Christ, though he had cleansed him, yet required him to be obedient to the law of the land--to go at once to the priest, and not to make delay by stopping to converse about his being healed. It was also possible that, if he did not go at once, evil-minded men would go before him and prejudice the priest, and prevent his declaring the healing to be thorough because it was done by Jesus. It was further of importance that the priest should pronounce it to be a genuine cure, that there might be no cavils among the Jews against its being a real miracle (333).

and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded: The items of sacrifice commanded by Moses are listed in Leviticus 14. They include two male lambs, without blemish, and one ewe lamb.

for a testimony unto them: This phrase refers to the testimony of the priests to the people. The testimony of the priest that this has been a genuine cure is critical.

Verse 45

But he went out, and began to publish it much, and to blaze abroad the matter, insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city, but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter.

But he went out, and began to publish it much: The word "publish" is from kerusso and is defined "to announce openly and publicly; to noise abroad" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 230).

and to blaze abroad the matter: The leper is continuously talking about the matter of his healing.

insomuch that Jesus could no more openly enter into the city: The "city" refers to the city of Capernaum.

but was without in desert places: and they came to him from every quarter: No doubt the leper is so thrilled at being cleansed by Jesus that he cannot restrain himself from telling everyone who will listen. Ostensibly, he is bestowing great honor on Jesus by his words; but, in reality, they have the adverse effect that Jesus has feared. The mass excitement that is stirred by this story brings an abrupt end to Jesus’ synagogue ministry. The multitudes of people become so large that the cramped quarters of town cannot easily accommodate them. Hence, Jesus moves out into the desert places, or wilderness, where the multitudes can come to Him without any difficulty or opposition.

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Mark 1". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/mark-1.html. 1993-2022.
 
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