Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Mark 3

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

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In chapter two, Jesus is involved in four controversial situations. He is criticized for forgiving sin, associating with publicans and sinners, refusing to fast, and breaking the sabbath. In chapter three, a fifth and final story is told in this series of conflicts. The sabbath is again in question as Jesus heals a man on the sabbath in the synagogue (1-6). Mark also tells of healings on the shores of Galilee with unclean spirits confessing Christ (7-12), the ordination of the twelve apostles (13-19), slanderous charges by the scribes (20-22), Jesus’ shocking condemnation of speaking evil against the Holy Ghost (23-30), and the Lord’s teaching concerning His spiritual family (31-35).

Verse 1

And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand.

And he entered again into the synagogue: Luke says this situation happens on "another sabbath" (Luke 6:6). This is probably the next sabbath after the one mentioned at the close of chapter two. The word "again" implies it is His custom to enter the synagogue on the sabbath.

the synagogue: Matthew says "their synagogue" (12:9). Mark does not identify specifically where the synagogue is, but it is probable that it is in Capernaum since the delegation of scribes from Jerusalem is still keeping its vigilant watch of Jesus.

This is a very crucial time for Jesus. It is evident the scribes from Jerusalem are looking for any possible way to destroy Him (John 5:18); consequently, it is indeed a courageous act for Him to return to the synagogue at all. In order to understand this episode clearly, it is necessary to have a good concept of the synagogue itself.

The word "synagogue" (sunagoge) denotes the following, according to John Kitto in Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature:

an assembly; being similar in meaning to ekklesia whence our "church" is taken. Both terms originally signified an assembly or congregation; but afterwards, by a natural deflection of meaning, they both came to designate the building in which such church or assembly met (804).

The origin of the synagogue cannot be specifically determined. The Rabbis assign the origin of the synagogue, as they do many other institutions, to the time of the patriarchs; however, the Bible makes no mention of the synagogue then, and most authorities do not seriously consider the Rabbis’ claim. Most authorities believe the synagogue began during the time of the Babylonian captivity. Edersheim explains:

Deprived of the Temple services, some kind of religious meetings would become an absolute necessity, if the people were not to lapse into practical heathenism--a danger, indeed, which, despite the admonitions of the prophets, and the prospect of deliverance held out, was not quite avoided. For the preservation, also, of the national bond which connected Israel, as well as for their continued religious existence, the institution of synagogues seemed alike needful and desirable. In point of fact, the attentive reader of the books of Ezra and Nehemiah will discover in the period after the return from Babylon the beginnings of the synagogue (Sketches of Jewish Social Life 252).

Unger adds:

As only a small proportion of the people could become proficient in the study of the law under the scribes, and as it was desirable that all should have at least an elementary acquaintance therewith, the custom grew up in post-exilic times of reading the scriptures in the synagogue on the Sabbath day. It must be understood that the main object of these Sabbath day assemblages in the synagogues was not public worship in its stricter sense, but religious instruction, which to an Israelite was above all instruction in the law (1052-1053).

Every village and town, even if there were only ten men who could be found who could give themselves entirely to religious matters, had a synagogue. Larger cities had several synagogues. Upon entering a town, the synagogue could be easily spotted. It was usually built upon the highest elevation in the city. If it did not occupy the highest elevation, a long pole would be erected on the top of the synagogue to extend higher than any other structure. All synagogues were built facing Jerusalem, the Holy city where resided the temple of God.

The general affairs of the synagogue were directed by elders, as in the church today, and special officers were appointed for special purposes. Unger points out, however, that the acts of worship, such as reading the scriptures, preaching, and prayer were freely performed, not by special appointees, but by members of the congregation (1053).

William Smith amplifies on this matter:

...in the early diffusion of Christianity the synagogues bore a very important part. To its first preachers they afforded a pulpit and an audience,--a place where they could set forth their new doctrine, and an assembly prepared to hear it. In the free and pliable order of the synagogue-service, an opportunity of Scripture-reading, exposition, or exhortation seems to have been offered to any who wished it. Of such opportunities our Lord made habitual use (3139).

Historians reveal that in the first synagogues the people probably stood or sat on the ground; but as time passed, seating accommodations and arrangements were provided. The congregation sat facing the Ark, a rectangular box containing the Book of the Law and placed at the upper end of the synagogue, called the "Jerusalem" end. This was the highest place of honor; and the "rulers of the synagogue," Rabbis, distinguished Pharisees, and others who sought honor of men claimed the "chief seats," which were placed with their backs to the Ark, facing the worshipers. Edersheim says the following about the chief seats:

These seats, which bear the same name as in the New Testament, were made objects of special ambition (Matthew 23:6), and rank, dignity, or seniority entitled a Rabbi or other influential man to priority. Our Lord expressly refers to this as one of the characteristic manifestations of Pharisaical pride. That both the same spirit and practice had crept into some of the early churches, appears from the warnings of St. James (James 2:2-3) against an un-Christ-like "respect of persons," which would assign a place high up in "synagogues" of Christians to the mere possession of "goodly apparel" or the wearing of the "gold ring" (Sketches of Jewish Social Life 263-264).

As Jesus enters the synagogue in Capernaum, the delegation of scribes from Jerusalem are sitting in the chief seats. With their backs to the Ark and facing the people, they can easily see Jesus upon His arrival; and of course, that is their purpose in being there. They are not there to hear the word of God read and to pray, but they are there to scrutinize the actions of Jesus. They have already decided Jesus is a sabbath-breaker and a blasphemer, but their evidence is not substantial. In order to get more concrete evidence to support their charges, they are keeping a constant watch on Christ. Luke adds that upon Jesus’ arrival, He engaged in teaching.

and there was a man there which had a withered hand: Most authorities agree the language suggests the man’s hand has withered as a result of an accident or disease rather than as a result of a birth defect. Luke says that it was his "right hand" (Luke 6:6).

Verse 2

And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him.

And they watched him: The word "watched" is from the word pareteroun. It is in the imperfect tense, causing it to mean "They kept watching...watched carefully or closely, as one who dogs another’s steps, keeping beside or near him" (Vincent 96).

whether he would heal him on the sabbath day: The scribes and the Pharisees are filled with anticipation that Jesus might heal someone and they could accuse Him of breaking the sabbath.

that they might accuse him: Mark reveals the motive within the hearts of these people. Their perspective of Jesus is warped by their intense prejudice; and, consequently, they are watching Him only in order to find fault. They are totally insensitive to human suffering. The Pharisees permit healing on the sabbath only if it is a matter of life and death. For example, a woman giving birth to a child could be assisted:

...an infection of the throat might be treated; if a wall fell on anyone, enough might be cleared away to see whether he was dead or alive; if he was alive he might be helped, if he was dead the body must be left until the next day. A fracture could not be attended to. Cold water might not be poured on a sprained hand or foot. A cut finger might be bandaged with a plain bandage but not with ointment. That is to say, at the most an injury could be kept from getting worse; it must not be made better. A strict Jew would not even defend his life on the Sabbath (Barclay 67-68).

These meticulous appendages of the scribes and Pharisees are no part of God’s true law.

In view of the above, it is clear these scribes and Pharisees are convinced Jesus would be a lawbreaker if He heals the man with the withered hand because it is not a life or death matter.

Verse 3

And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth.

Stand forth: According to Vincent, this statement literally means "rise into the midst" (97). In other words, "Step out here into the midst of all the people so that all can see." If the man with the maimed and disfigured limb is the least bit sensitive about his appearance, this action could be an especially difficult pill to swallow, that is, stepping out in such a public display.

Matthew says it is here the scribes and Pharisees ask of the Lord, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?" (12:10).

Verse 4

And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sab­bath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.

Matthew adds to this verse:

What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep! Wherefore it is lawful to do good on the sabbath days (12:11-12).

Keeping in mind that the Jews from Judea feel much superior to the agrarian people of Galilee, it is easy to imagine smiles of satisfaction and grins of amusement appearing on the faces of the Galilean farmers seated in the synagogue as they picture the visiting scribes from the big city advocating leaving horses without food and water and refusing to save a sheep on the sabbath. If an oxen or sheep falls into a pit on the sabbath, it is retrieved immediately, sabbath or no sabbath. How inconsistent could these people be! They would not condemn taking a sheep out of the pit, but they would refuse to heal a man of his affliction.

The Pharisees cannot answer Jesus’ question. If they agree it was lawful to do good on the sabbath day, then to save the life of a helpless beast was unquestionably good. To abandon the helpless beast would cause it to die, clearly an evil act. The owner is going to have to do something on the sabbath, his only choice being whether it is to be good or evil. To refuse to do good is to do evil. Matthew points out that if this is true of saving an animal, it is even truer of saving a man, who is in the image of God (12:12).

The dilemma the scribes and Pharisees are in is easily seen. If they agree it is right to do good on the sabbath, they would not be able to criticize Jesus; however, if they refuse to do good, which would, in essence, be to do evil, they would appear to be unjust themselves. Further, Jesus clearly points out the ugly truth to His accusers: He is there to do good, to save the life of a man, thus glorifying God on the sabbath. On the other hand, they are there to do evil, plotting to take the life of an innocent man on the sabbath. No doubt even they can see their grave inconsistency and are left speechless.

Verse 5

And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.

And when he had looked round about on them: Wuest says this was a "swift, sweeping glance...that took them all in" (64).

with anger: The word "anger" is from the word orge and refers to righteous indignation or anger (Thayer 452).

being grieved for the hardness of their hearts: The word "grieved" implies condolence. "Hardness" is from porosis and means to "cover with a thick skin, to harden by covering with a callus" (Thayer 559). The sense with which Mark uses this word is "obtuseness of mental discernment, dulled perception" (Thayer 559). Their obtuseness is moral and spiritual, not mental.

he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other: Based upon the premise that Jesus has just given the scribes and Pharisees, He has no choice but to heal the man’s withered hand. Just as in other cases where Jesus heals, He speaks; and instantaneously the healing occurs. Jesus’ divine power is again openly manifested but has no positive effect upon the hearts of His enemies.

Verse 6

And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him.

And the Pharisees went forth: The Pharisees go straight out of the synagogue.

and straightway: As mentioned previously, this word means "immediately." Mark uses this term nineteen times.

took counsel with the Herodians: This phrase, according to Marshall, literally means, "gave counsel with the Herodians" (146). The Pharisees offer counsel to the Herodians as the solution of their problem.

the Herodians: This is the first mention by Mark of the Herodians. The New Testament gives very little information about this party of Jews, probably formed during the reign of Herod the Great. Because the Herods have been able to bring the friendship of Rome and other advantages to the region, the Herodians think it will be in their best interest to have a Herod as their leader and pay him homage. The Pharisees differ sharply with the Herodians on this matter (Matthew 22:16-17). The Herodians are much more of a political party than they are a religious party, making it difficult for the Pharisees to tolerate them.

Kitto suggests it is possible the Herodians are exclusively Galileans (845), further accounting for their being objects of derision by the Pharisees of Judea. But the Pharisees are willing to go to any lengths to destroy Jesus; and if they can get this party of Galileans, Jesus’ native countrymen, to conspire with them to destroy Him, the alliance will be worth it.

against him, how they might destroy him: Obviously the Herodians become involved in the plot, but why they become involved is not so clear. The scribes and Pharisees are outraged at what they consider to be flagrant violations of the sabbath by Jesus and His disciples, but the Herodians are really not all that concerned about the law. Their willingness to become involved in this plot with their contemptuous enemies, the Pharisees, must have been for purely political reasons.

Verse 7

But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea: and a great multitude from Galilee followed him, and from Judaea,

But Jesus withdrew himself with his disciples to the sea:

Mark alone notes no less than eleven occasions on which Jesus retired from his work, in order to escape his enemies or to pray in solitude, for rest, or for private conference with his disciples (Vincent 97).

and a great multitude from Galilee followed him: The word "great" is from the word polu and means "great in magnitude or quantity" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 335). The crowd that follows Jesus to the shores of the Sea of Galilee is tremendously large, coming from every quadrant of ancient Palestine.

and from Judaea: Judea was the southernmost region of Palestine; Galilee was at the northern extreme.

Verse 8

And Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite,

And Andrew: Andrew is Peter’s brother, the first to find Jesus, and the one who introduces Peter to the Lord. Little is said of Andrew later. Tradition says he preached in Scythia, Asia Minor, and Greece.

and Philip: "Philip" is a Greek name, meaning "fond of horses." Philip is the one who seeks out Nathanael and says, "We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (John 1:45).

and Bartholomew: The name "Bartholomew" is a Hebrew name. It is literally "Bar Tolmai," which means "son of Tolmai." Most scholars are certain that Bartholomew and Nathanael are the same person. John connects Philip and Nathanael in his writing while the Synoptists connect Philip and Bartholomew in their parallel passages. John does not mention Bartholomew in his list of the apostles (21:2), but does mention Nathanael. Conversely, the Synoptists mention Bartholomew but not Nathanael.

and Matthew: Matthew, also called Levi, is a publican, or tax collector. He is introduced in chapter two, verse 14, as the "son of Alphaeus." He is the author of the gospel of Matthew, but nothing else is known of his later life. Antiquity says he is eventually martyred with a halberd, a combination spear and battle-axe.

and Thomas: Very little is known about Thomas. Eusebius believed Thomas’ real name was Judas. In that event, "Thomas" could have been a surname. Thomas is most notorious for his initial refusal to believe the apostles’ testimony that Jesus has arisen from the dead; however, after he has seen the hands and the side of Jesus, he confesses, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28).

and James the son of Alphaeus: This James is called "James the Less" to distinguish him from James, Zebedee’s son. There are several possible reasons this particular nickname is given to James. It could have been he is younger than James, the brother of John. It is possible he is called to be a disciple later than the other James. It is also possible he is small in stature. It has already been shown that the Alphaeus, who is the father of Matthew, should probably not be identified with Alphaeus, the father of James the Less (2:14). This James is not to be confused with James, the brother of the Lord (6:3; Matthew 13:55; Galatians 1:19) and the first overseer of the church of Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; Acts 15:13; Galatians 2:9; Galatians 2:12). The brethren of the Lord do not believe on Him at this time (John 7:5). Some have thought he is the author of the epistle of James, but it is the Lord’s brother who better fits that description.

and Thaddaeus: Thaddaeus is referred to as Lebbaeus and Judas; thus, he has been called "the three-named disciple" (Bruce 34). It is unclear whether Thaddaeus is the brother or the son of James the Less. In Luke 6:16, the Greek text reads "James’s Judas." The King James Version translates this ellipsis as "Judas the brother of James." The Revised Version, however, translates it "Judas the son of James." Although some attribute the epistle of Jude to his hand, it is more likely the Lord’s brother Judas is the author.

and Simon the Canaanite: Luke calls him "Simon Zelotes" (Luke 6:15), which identifies Simon as belonging to the faction of the Zealots who are fierce advocates of the rituals of the law of Moses. Vincent quotes Geikie’s Life and Words of Christ as saying:

No name is more striking in the list than that of Simon the Zealot, for to none of the twelve could the contrast be so vivid between their former and their new position. What revolution of thought and heart could be greater than that which had thus changed into a follower of Jesus one of the fierce war-party of the day, which looked on the presence of Rome in the Holy Land as treason against the majesty of Jehovah, a party who were fanatical in their Jewish strictures and exclusiveness (99).

Verse 9

And he spake to his disciples, that a small ship should wait on him because of the multitude, lest they should throng him.

And he spake to his disciples, that a small ship: The expression "small ship" is from the word ploiarion, and it means literally "a small boat" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 328). It is a type of rowboat.

should wait on him: This instruction means the rowboat should be in constant readiness.

because of the multitude, lest they should throng him: Such a large and unwieldy crowd presents not only an inconvenience for Jesus but it also presents a very real physical danger. It has become clear the mere touch of Jesus unleashes miraculous healing power, and no doubt there would be thousands who would push toward the Lord to receive that touch. In anticipation of such a happening, Jesus requests that a small boat be kept constantly ready so that He can withdraw from the crowd and continue His preaching from offshore.

Verse 10

For he had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon him for to touch him, as many as had plagues.

For he had healed many; insomuch that they pressed upon him for to touch him: The expression "pressed upon" means "to fall upon" (Marshall 147). The people are falling upon and knocking against Jesus to the point that it has become dangerous. They are hoping that by this mere contact with Christ they might be healed.

as many as had plagues: The word "plagues" is from mastix and literally means "scourges" (Vincent 97). Plagues and diseases are regarded as strokes or blows from a divine hand.

Verse 11

And unclean spirits, when they saw him, fell down before him, and cried, saying, Thou art the Son of God.

And unclean spirits: The Greek text has "the spirits, the unclean ones." Both noun and adjective are preceded by the definite article, indicating those particular spirits which took part in this scene (Wuest 68).

For a more complete discussion of demon possession, see comments on Mark 1:23-25.

when they saw him: This expression means "as often as they might see him" (Vincent 97). McMillan is correct in saying that if this means every time the spirits see Jesus, they begin to speak in the way here recorded, then Jesus’ "healing ministry was much more demanding and strenuous than most have considered it" (48).

fell down before him: These spirits are not disembodied, but rather they possess the bodies of certain human beings. Hence, Mark portrays the scene of demon-possessed persons continually falling prostrate before Jesus. The others in the multitude are falling "upon" Jesus in order to be healed; the evil spirits are falling "before" Jesus as the result of abject fear. They are afraid He might cast them out and return them to torment before their time.

and cried: The verb is in the imperfect tense and means they kept on crying constantly.

saying, Thou art the Son of God: This is the first time demons are said to have addressed Jesus specifically as the Son of God. In chapter one, verse 24, the demons called Jesus "thou Holy One of God."

Verse 12

And he straitly charged them that they should not make him known.

And he straitly charged them: The word "charged" is translated from the word epitimao, and it means "to tax with fault, chide, rebuke, reprove, censure severely" (Thayer 245). Jesus severely rebukes the demons under the threat of a penalty.

that they should not make him known: The demons continually confess their recognition of Jesus as the Son of God, and Jesus continually rebukes them and censures their words. As explained in chapter one, Jesus refuses to allow the demons to confess Him because it might give the appearance the Lord is in league with them. He neither needs nor wants advertisement from that evil source. To allow the demons to confess Him freely might give credibility to the charges the Pharisees are to make against Him, that He casts out demons by Beelzebub.

Verse 13

And he goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him.

And he goeth up into a mountain: Tradition says the mountain referred to here is Mount Hatten where Jesus supposedly delivers the Sermon on the Mount. It is located about five miles west of the Sea of Galilee. Luke adds it is daybreak and Jesus has spent a night in prayer before ordaining the Twelve (Luke 6:12-13).

and calleth unto him whom he would: Jesus does not allow anyone to volunteer for special work; but He carefully selects, out of the larger number, those He Himself wants.

and they came unto him: Bickersteth says this phrase means they "went away to him, implying that they forsook their former pursuits" (117). As noted in chapter one, the process of developing the disciples is a gradual one. Even though Jesus has already called several men to follow Him, they have not been delineated as "apostles" until this time.

Verse 14

And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,

And he ordained: The word "ordained" is from the word poieo and means "to make" or "to appoint" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 332).

twelve: The number "twelve" is significant. He could have chosen more, or He could have chosen less. Later He would select seventy to fulfill a limited commission of preaching, but here the number "twelve" has special significance. This number symbolizes completeness, fullness, and strength and is used often in the Bible. For example, there were twelve tribes of Israel, twelve loaves of shewbread (Leviticus 24:5-8), and twelve pillars Moses built by Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:4). Revelation 21 reveals the New Jerusalem is built upon twelve foundations, has a wall with twelve gates made of twelve pearls, and at the gates are twelve angels.

Thus, the number twelve has always been significant in the scriptures. In this place its significance obviously relates to the twelve tribes of Israel. Israel’s beginning is based upon twelve sons; in much the same manner, "New Israel" is to emerge on the basis of these twelve men. It is a subtle way of demonstrating to the Jews that He is establishing a new religious order and that the new order is to replace the old.

that they should be with him: The verb is present subjunctive, thus continuous in action. Jesus purposes that the Twelve would be constantly with Him, to form a community, and to receive preliminary training.

and that he might send them forth: Wuest says:

The verb is apostello, to send off from one’s self, furnished with credentials, with a commission to act as one’s representative and accomplish a certain mission. The noun apostolos which comes from the verb, and from which we derive our word "apostle," was used for an envoy, an ambassador. Thus, the Twelve were to be His ambassadors (70).

to preach: The word "preach" is from the Greek word kerusso. Thayer defines this word as:

to be a herald; to officiate as herald; to proclaim after the manner of a herald; always with a suggestion of formality, gravity, and an authority which must be listened to and obeyed (346).

Verse 15

And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils:

And to have power to heal sickness: Nestle’s text does not include this phrase here in Mark, but Matthew says, "...and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease" (10:1).

and to cast out devils: The word "devils" is daimonion and is more properly translated "demons" (Wuest 71). There is one devil, but many demons. This power is given to the apostles to confirm that their preaching is ordained of God (16:20). Jesus says in Luke 10:16, "He that heareth you heareth me...."

Mark places great emphasis on Jesus’ power over demons. The mission of Christ is to preach and to destroy the works of the devil, and now He delegates this powerful authority to His apostles.

Verse 16

And Simon he surnamed Peter;

The verb "surnamed" means he adds a name to the name the person already has. The Lord has previously declared that Simon would be called Peter.

Verse 17

And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:

And James the son of Zebedee: It is interesting that both Matthew and Luke introduce Andrew, Peter’s brother, before introducing James. But Mark lists Peter, James, and John in first order. These are the three who are mentioned often as the most intimate associates of our Lord. James is called here "the son of Zebedee" to distinguish him from the other James.

and John the brother of James: John is mentioned after James because James is the older of the two.

and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder: It is not really known why this name is added to James and John. Vincent says:

It seems to have been intended as a title of honor, though not perpetuated like the surname Peter, this being the only instance of its occurrence; possibly because the inconvenience of a common surname, which would not have sufficiently designated which of them was intended, may have hindered it from ever growing into an appellation. It is justified by the impetuosity and zeal which characterized both the brothers, which prompted them to suggest the calling of fire from heaven to consume the inhospitable Samaritan village (Luke 9:54); which marked James as the victim of an early martyrdom (Acts 12:2); and which sounds in the thunders of John’s Apocalypse (98).

Other traditions say the reason they are surnamed "sons of thunder" is that the phrase is descriptive of their thunderous voices.

Verse 19

And Judas Iscariot, which also betrayed him: and they went into an house.

And Judas Iscariot: "Iscariot" distinguishes him from the others named "Judas." "Iscariot" means "the man of Kerioth, with reference to his native town, which is given in Joshua (15:25) as one of the uttermost cities of Judah toward the coast of Edom southward" (Vincent 39).

which also betrayed him: In John 6:70-71, Jesus says, "...Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil? He spake of Judas Iscariot the son of Simon: for he it was that should betray him, being one of the twelve." Why would Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, choose someone who would betray Him? The answer is that Jesus needed someone who would betray Him. It is the purpose of God that Jesus be betrayed, that He suffer, die, and be raised from the dead. Consequently, Jesus has to select a man, "with whom He had eaten bread," "his own familiar friend," whose character would acquiesce to temptation and betray Jesus.

McMillan notes the names on the lists below do not exactly agree and has speculated that the earliest selections are not final. He says it is not hard to imagine that some of the original apostles found it impossible to continue with Jesus and, after dropping out, had to be replaced (50). That kind of speculation is unnecessary when it is understood that several of the apostles had more than one name.

and they went into a house: The idea here is that Jesus comes home. "Home" to Jesus in this area is Peter’s house in Capernaum.

Mark leaves a considerable gap in his narrative between naming of the apostles and returning to Peter’s house in Capernaum. The parallel accounts in Matthew, chapters five-seven, and Luke, chapter six, indicate it is during this interval that Jesus teaches the Sermon on the Mount.

Just as Peter is always placed first in the four lists of the apostles, Judas Iscariot is always placed last.

MATTHEW (10:2-4)MARK (3:16-19)LUKE (6:14-16)ACTS (1:13)
James, son of AlphaeusJames, son of AlphaeusJames, son of AlphaeusJames, son of Alphaeus
ThaddaeusThaddaeusSimon ZelotesSimon Zelotes
Simon the CanaaniteSimon the CanaaniteJudasJudas
Judas IscariotJudas IscariotJudas Iscariot

Verse 20

And the multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.

And the multitude cometh together again: The tremendous multitude assembled from all parts of the country has not dispersed completely during the Lord’s absence on Mount Hatten. Upon His arrival back at Peter’s house in Capernaum, the crowd reassembles and lingers on.

so that they could not so much as eat bread: This vivid detail is typical of Mark. Jesus is so inundated by the crowd and occupied with ministering to them, there is not even time for meals.

Verse 21

And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.

And when his friends heard of it: Some expositors believe "friends" refers to his family from Nazareth. Vincent says the phrase "his friends" literally means "they who were from beside him: i.e., by origin or birth" (99). Coffman thinks it would be illogical to refer to Jesus’ immediate family as "his friends" in verse 21, then to refer to them as "his brethren and his mother" in verse 31.

It seems reasonable that "his friends" does refer to Jesus’ immediate family. No doubt, while in Nazareth, they hear about the situation in Capernaum. They hear He is so passionately engrossed in His ministry that He is neglecting His health--not even taking time to eat.

they went out to lay hold on him: They are intent on taking hold of Jesus by force and against His will, if necessary. Mothers have always felt they know what is best for their children and worry they are not taking proper care of themselves.

for they said, He is beside Himself: These intimates feel Jesus has become so carried away with His work that He is no longer thinking clearly.

Verse 22

And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.

And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem: These scribes have probably been dispatched by the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to watch Jesus, to examine His claims, and to put a stop to His momentum. Hester gives this description of the Sanhedrin:

After their conquest, the Romans allowed the Jews to preserve some of their institutions so long as they did not challenge Roman authority. Thus the Jews had their Sanhedrin or supreme court. Its jurisdiction, however, was limited mainly to matters of religion. Civil cases of a more serious nature were handled by the Roman courts. For this reason the Sanhedrin could try Jesus on religious charges but his civil trial and the pronouncement of the death penalty must be by Roman officials. The Sanhedrin was composed of seventy-one members made up of both Pharisees and Sadducees. The members were chief priests and scribes, and were called elders. The high priest who served as president was frequently only the puppet of Rome appointed and deposed at the pleasure of the Roman ruler (65-66).

He hath Beelzebub: The name "Beelzebub" is defined variously as "god of flies," "god of dung," and "master of the dwelling." Wuest says the implication is that Jesus is more than just allied with evil. Rather He is possessed with evil on a grand scale, sort of a Satanic incarnation (75).

The title here obviously refers to the devil. No doubt these scribes have heard "He hath a devil," so they enhance the story by saying Jesus not only has a devil, but He is possessed of the prince of devils, Satan himself, and has power over inferior demons.

and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils: Now it can be easily seen how the scribes would twist the many confessions made by the unclean spirits that "Jesus is the Son of God." If Jesus does not rebuke the demons and censure their confessions, it may look indeed as if they are in league with each other and Jesus is their prince.

Verse 23

And he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan?

And he called them unto him: Jesus is not the least bit intimidated by the authoritative scribes or their calumnious charges against Him, but He invites them to come closer so He can discuss the matter with them.

and he said unto them in parables: The word "parable" is from the word paraballo and means "to throw alongside" (Wuest 76). A parable is an illustration, familiar to the listeners, which is placed alongside a truth to explain it.

How can Satan cast out Satan: First Jesus affirms there is, in reality, a being named Satan and, therefore, a real kingdom of evil. Then Jesus illustrates that if their charge be true that He (Jesus) casts out demons by the power of Satan, it would logically follow that Satan’s kingdom would be divided against itself. Satan would be helping Jesus to oppose and mitigate against himself (Satan).

Verse 24

And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.

If a political kingdom is divided, one part fighting against the other, that kingdom would weaken and eventually suffer desolation. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, "...Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation" (12:25). The same is true of the kingdom of Satan; if it is divided, fighting against itself, it too will suffer desolation.

Verse 25

And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.

Jesus progresses to the next illustration to show the absurdity of the scribes’ reasoning. If a family unit is divided against itself, the family will be destroyed. A family characterized by hatred, discord, and combat will self-destruct.

Verse 26

And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he can­not stand, but hath an end.

This conclusion is obvious. If Satan is fighting himself, he too will come to an end. Satan is not stupid. He knows that strength lies in unity; consequently, he is not about to initiate a civil war within his own kingdom. This fact does not mean Satan’s kingdom is one of peaceful unity. Rather, it is one of hatred, lies, murder, and every kind of evil. The kingdom of Satan is united only in the sense of fighting against God.

Verse 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.

No man can enter into a strong man’s house: Jesus elaborates on His point with this reference to a strong man’s house. The "strong man" here is Satan. The "house" is this world.

and spoil his goods: "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.

except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house: The stronger man in this figure is Jesus Himself. Jesus has entered into the house (the world) of the strong man (Satan) and is in the process of binding the strong man and spoiling, plundering, tearing in pieces his goods (demons). This passage clearly shows that by casting out demons, Jesus is fighting against Satan and, even more importantly, that Satan does not have the power to restrain Him. Had Satan not been bound, he certainly would not have allowed Jesus to lead to repentance people who have been under his dominion.

It should have been clear to any Jew that the only power and authority that is stronger than Satan is the power of God. Therefore, it is by the Spirit of God that Jesus is casting out demons.

Verse 28

Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme:

Verily I say unto you: Wuest makes this observation:

Jesus now changes His tone. Thus far He has reasoned with the scribes, now He solemnly warns to this effect. You do not believe your own theory; you know as well as I how absurd it is, and that I must be casting out devils by a very different spirit from Beelzebub. You are therefore not merely mistaken theorists, you are men in a very perilous moral condition (77).

All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men: All sins shall be forgiven upon proper obedient faith with the exception of the one about to be mentioned.

and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: "Blaspheme" is from blasphemos and is defined by Thayer as "speaking evil, slanderous, reproachful, railing, abusive" (103). Wuest says it means "malicious misrepresentation" (77).

Verse 29

But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:

But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost: What is this evil speaking or slanderous reproach upon the Holy Ghost? Verse 30 contains the answer, "Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit." Jesus is casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells Him; however, the scribes charge He is casting out demons by the power of an "unclean spirit." They are, in essence, calling the Holy Spirit an unclean spirit or demon. Hence, the charge is indirectly reproachful to Jesus but, more specifically, reproachful to the Holy Spirit.

hath never forgiveness: The Amplified Bible says "can never get forgiveness" (52).

but is in danger of eternal damnation: The word "damnation" is from the Greek word amartano and means literally "an error; sin, offence" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 17). The American Standard Version reads, "is guilty of an eternal sin." This translation is supported by Marshall, Vincent, Wuest, and others. J.B. Phillips says, "But there can never be any forgiveness for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That is an eternal sin" (74).

Matthew’s parallel account reads:

Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come (12:31-32).

In the phrase, "neither in this world, neither in the world to come," the word "world" is from aion and is defined as "an era; an age" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 11). "This world" refers to the age in which they are presently living, the Jewish age. Hebrews 9:26 says Christ died "once in the end of the world...to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." How is it that Christ died in the end of the world? Again, the word "world" refers to the end of the Jewish "age." The phrase, "world to come," necessarily refers to the Christian age, the age that is to follow immediately the age in which they are living.

V.E. Howard summarizes the above as follows:

Actually, Jesus declared to those blaspheming Pharisees that they sinned, or blasphemed, against the Holy Spirit, who performed this miracle through Him, and they would not be forgiven in that "age," the Jewish age, neither in the "age," Christian age, "to come." Therefore, it was those Pharisees, on that occasion, who committed the sin against the Holy Spirit! There was no forgiveness for them then; neither would there be forgiveness for them in this age, the Christian "age" to come. It was unpardonable! (108).

Verse 30

Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.

The specific statement of the scribes is that the spirit Jesus possesses (the Holy Spirit) is an "unclean spirit" and is, therefore, a direct attack upon and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Why does Jesus pronounce such a shockingly harsh sentence on these scribes? Because, had they not stopped their evil propaganda, it might become the commonly-accepted view and explanation of Jesus’ power to cast out demons. Consequently, Jesus would have failed to prove His Deity and Sonship, and His mission on earth would have been aborted. Thus, He "nips their theory in the bud." He pronounces such a harsh penalty upon them that this particular charge against Christ is stopped. There is no record of this sin ever being committed by anyone else subsequent to that time.

The subject of the "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit" has been a source of concern and controversy for centuries. There have been many conscientious people who have lived in perpetual fear of committing this sin for which there can be no forgiveness. There are others who are unable to accept the simple fact that this is "a one-time occasion in the life of our Lord that brought forth a declaration of condemnation, never before or since pronounced upon man" (Howard 107) and have mistakenly broadened the definition of the "unpardonable sin" to include other types of sins.

Some Bible students have concluded that the "sin unto death," that is mentioned in 1 John 5:16, is the "unpardonable sin." The "sin unto death," though, refers to a sin for which there has been no repentance. It does not refer to a sin that is unpardonable, but rather to a sin that is unpardoned because of a lack of repentance.

Other Bible students have pointed to Hebrews 6:4-6 where the writer says, "For it is impossible...If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance"; as an example of the unpardonable sin. This passage says nothing about its being "impossible to be forgiven." The emphasis here is some people can allow themselves to become so depraved in sin and hardened in conscience that it becomes "impossible" to persuade them to repent. This passage says nothing about its being impossible to obtain forgiveness if they do repent.

Others have pointed to Hebrews 10:26, "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins," as included in the unpardonable sin. This statement does not even remotely imply the "sin against the Holy Ghost." This verse is referring to Jesus Christ as the one and only sacrifice for sin. In contrast to the many sin sacrifices made under the law of Moses, God’s only Son is the one and only sacrifice for sin under the New Testament.

One of the most popular misconceptions concerning the "blasphemy of the Holy Ghost" is that it is just going through life without ever obeying the gospel. If this is what Jesus means when He makes this statement to the scribes, it would mean they could not have committed this sin until after Pentecost when the gospel would have become of force. But Jesus tells the scribes that if they blaspheme the Holy Ghost, they would never receive forgiveness, neither in the Jewish age, nor in the "age to come," the Christian age. Thus, it is a sin committed specifically in the Jewish age and before the gospel is in effect.

Furthermore, if merely rejecting the gospel is the unpardonable sin, it follows that if a man ever rejects the gospel invitation one time he is guilty of an unpardonable sin and could not be forgiven if he obeys it the next day. It should become clear that rejection of the gospel is an unpardoned sin until it is obeyed, at which time all sins are forgiven.

It is the conviction of this writer that the sentence imposed upon those guilty of the "blasphemy of the Holy Ghost" is the result of a specific set of circumstances that cannot be duplicated in the world today. Jesus is in the world working miracles with the power provided Him by the Holy Spirit. His antagonizers concede His miracles, but say the Holy Spirit, by whom He works them, is actually an "unclean spirit." If they had been successful with their propaganda, Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost would have been aborted. Hence, He pronounces the shocking condemnation of an "eternal sin" upon them to put a stop to their charges. It is a declaration of condemnation never before or since pronounced upon man.

Verse 31

There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him.

There came then his brethren and his mother: The parallel accounts of this passage are found in Matthew 12:46-50 and Luke 8:19-21. This verse resumes the story about our Lord’s brethren introduced in verse 21. There is considerable difference of opinion concerning exactly who these "brethren" are. Bickersteth believes them to be the sons of Mary, the wife of Cleophas or Alpheus, and therefore the cousins of Jesus, called "brethren" according to the customs of the Jews. When referring to Jesus’ mother, Bickersteth refers to her, even at this point, as the "Virgin Mary," implying Mary’s virginity is perpetual; she has given birth to no other children but Jesus. The New Testament makes it clear that Mary’s virginity is prior to the birth of Jesus. Matthew 13:55-56 lists the names of Jesus’ four brothers and also makes mention of the fact that He has sisters. Therefore, the most obvious meaning of the phrase, "his brethren," is that it refers to the children of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

and his mother: Mary and her other children have arrived in Capernaum from Nazareth. They are worried about Jesus, afraid He is not taking proper care of Himself, not eating properly, and immersing Himself so intensely in His work that He is not thinking clearly. It is also possible that they have heard about the antagonistic reaction of the scribes and Pharisees. Therefore, they are ready to restrain Him, by force if necessary, possibly to take Him back to the quiet of Nazareth.

and standing without, sent unto him, calling him: Wuest says:

Robertson describes this as a pathetic picture of the mother and the brothers standing on the outside of the house, thinking that our Lord was beside Himself, and desiring to take Him home. He quotes Swete as saying that they were unwilling to disclose their errand to take Him home, and so sent word to Him by means of the crowd (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vol. I 79).

Verse 32

And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee.

And the multitude sat about Him: The word "about" is from the word peri and means "around" (Analytical Greek Lexicon 317). The picture Mark portrays is one of Jesus’ sitting in Peter’s house, being encircled by such a large multitude that His family could not get through to speak to Him.

and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee: It is probable that those passing the message to Jesus feel that family should be accorded certain priorities--that when Jesus finds out His mother and brothers are waiting outside, He will immediately cease His teaching and give them His undivided attention.

Verse 33

And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?

Jesus, the Master Teacher, does not allow this interruption to distract Him but rather uses it as a means of teaching a lesson. Some expositors believe this is a harsh question, but there is no reason to assume that Jesus’ question is lacking in respect or affection toward His family. As much as He loves His family, the business of His Heavenly Father is to take priority over His earthly relations.

Verse 34

And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren!

And he looked round about on them which sat about him: Jesus makes a sweeping, all-inclusive look at those sitting around Him. Matthew says He also "stretched forth his hand towards his disciples" (12:49).

and said, Behold my mother and my brethren: With this statement, Jesus lays the foundation for a new spiritual family of God. As a man He has earthly relations, but as the Son of God His family includes all of God’s children.

Verse 35

For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.

Jesus enlarges upon those who constitute His spiritual family. It includes not only His disciples gathered there on that occasion but also "whosoever shall do the will of God." If one is willing to follow Christ, believing in Him and obeying His teachings, he enters into a spiritual family relationship with Christ that is even nearer and dearer than His own fleshly kin.

This wonderful privilege is granted to "whosoever will." It makes no difference from how lowly an estate one may come or how humble his beginnings, if he will "do the will of God," he becomes a child of God, a brother to Christ, and a joint heir to a glorious inheritance reserved in heaven. John, in a mood of astonishment, comments on this wonderful privilege in 1 John 3:1, "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God:"

Because of what is involved in creating the spiritual family, because of its nature, and because of the wonderful eternal benefits associated with it, Jesus consistently teaches that the spiritual family should take precedence over the fleshly family and that our allegiance to God must come before our allegiance to our fleshly ties. In Luke 14:26, He says, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on Mark 3". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/mark-3.html. 1993-2022.
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