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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Mark 1

Verse 1

(1) The beginning of the gospel.—The opening words are interesting as presenting a transition stage in the history of the word Gospel, between its earlier sense, as meaning generally the “good news” of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14; Matthew 4:23; Matthew 9:35), and the later sense, as a book recording the main facts in our Lord’s life and work. In 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2 Timothy 2:8, where it clearly includes a narrative of some kind, we have an instance of a like transition.

The Son of God.—This also is significant as to the Church’s faith at the time when St. Mark wrote. He, of whom he speaks, was not a prophet or righteous man only, but was, in the highest sense which could be attached to the words, the Son of God. If we think of St. Mark as reproducing St. Peter’s teaching, we cannot fail to connect the words, thus placed, as they are, in the very title of his Gospel, with the Apostle’s confession in Matthew 16:16.

Verse 2

(2) In the prophets.—The better MSS. give the more accurate reference, “in Esaias the prophet.” On general grounds, however, it seems more probable that the general reference should have been specialised by a transcriber than the reverse. With one exception, and that very doubtful as to its genuineness (see Note on Mark 15:28), this is the only quotation from a prophet made by the Evangelist himself in this Gospel. The fact that St. Mark wrote for Gentiles furnishes a partial explanation of his silence in this respect, as compared with the other Gospels. (See Introduction.)

Behold, I send my messenger.—See Notes on Matthew 11:10-40.11.11.

Verse 3

(3) The voice of one crying in the wilderness.—See Note on Matthew 3:3.

Verse 4

(4) John did baptize.—No other Gospel passes so abruptly, so in medias res, into the actual work of the Forerunner. There is no account of the birth or infancy of our Lord, as in St. Matthew and St. Luke; none of the pre-existence of the Son of Man, as in St. John. St. Mark is here, as elsewhere, emphatically the Evangelist of action. (On the rest of the verse, see Notes on Matthew 3:1.) The special phrase “baptism of repentance”—i.e., the sign of repentance, that which was connected with it, and pre-supposed it—meets us in Luke 3:3 and Acts 19:4. In the former passage we find also “forgiveness of sins” as the result of the baptism; and we cannot doubt, therefore, that then, as evermore, repentance was followed by forgiveness, even though the blood which availed for that forgiveness (Matthew 26:28) had not as yet been shed.

Verse 5

(5) There went out unto him. . . .—See Note on Matthew 3:5. Note St. Mark’s use of the term “in the river of Jordan,” as writing for those who were not familiar with the topography of Palestine.

Verse 6

(6) And John was clothed. . . .—See Note on Matthew 3:4.

Verse 7

(7) There cometh one mightier than I.—See Note on Matthew 3:11; but note the slight difference—not, as there, “whose shoes I am not worthy to bear,” but “the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose.” Latchet,” a word now obsolete, was the “thong” or “lace” with which shoes or sandals were fastened. To stoop down and loosen the sandals was commonly the act of the servant who afterwards carried them, but it expressed more vividly what we should call the menial character of the office, and therefore, we may believe, was chosen by St. Mark. (See Introduction.)

Verse 8

(8) I indeed have baptized you with water.—See Note on Matthew 3:11. St. Mark omits the “fire” which St. Matthew joins with the Holy Ghost, possibly as less intelligible to his Gentile readers.

Verse 9

(9) And it came to pass.—See Note on Matthew 3:13. St. Mark adds “from Nazareth” to St. Matthew’s more general statement, “from Galilee.”

Verse 10

(10) He saw the heavens opened.—Better, as in the margin, rent open, St. Mark’s language here, as elsewhere, being more boldly vivid than that of the other Gospels. (See Notes on Matthew 3:16-40.3.17.)

Verse 12

(12) Immediately the spirit driveth him.—See Notes on Matthew 4:1; but note also St. Mark’s characteristic “immediately,” and the stronger word “driveth him.”

Verse 13

(13) And he was there in the wilderness.—See Notes on Matthew 4:2-40.4.11. St. Mark compresses the history by omitting the several forms of the Temptation. Peculiar to him are (1) the use of “Satan” instead of “the devil;” (2) the statement that Jesus was “with the wild beasts.” In our Lord’s time these might include the panther, the bear, the wolf, the hyena, possibly the lion. The implied thought is partly that their presence added to the terrors of the Temptation, partly that in His being protected from them there was the fulfilment of the promise in the very Psalm which furnished the Tempter with his chief weapon, that the true child of God should trample under foot “the lion and the adder,” the “young lion and the dragon” (Psalms 91:13).

Verse 14

(14) Now after that John was put in prison.—St. Mark agrees with St. Matthew in omitting all our Lord’s early ministry in Galilee and Jerusalem, and takes the imprisonment of the Baptist as his starting-point. That imprisonment is assumed here to be known; but the facts connected with it are not related till Mark 6:17-41.6.20.

Verse 15

(15) The time is fulfilled.—The words are not found in the parallel passages of the other Gospels, and are interesting as embodying the same thought as St. Paul’s “in the fulness of time” (Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10). So, too, St. Mark adds “believe the gospel” to the simple “repent” of St. Matthew, and gives “the kingdom of God” instead of “the kingdom of heaven.”

Verse 16

(16) As he walked by the sea of Galilee.—See Notes on Matthew 4:18-40.4.22. St. Mark names Simon without the addition of Peter.

Verse 20

(20) With the hired servants.—Peculiar to this Gospel, and of some interest as throwing light on the relative social position of the sons of Zebedee.

Verse 21

(21) And they went into Capernaum.—Here St. Mark’s narrative ceases to run parallel with that of St. Matthew, and agrees almost verbally with Luke 4:31-42.4.37.

Straightway.—The frequent recurrence of this adverb, often disguised in the English version as “immediately,” “anon,” “by-and-by,” should be noticed as we proceed. It occurs forty-one times in the Gospel; nine times in this first chapter.

Verse 22

(22) And they were astonished.—The verbal agreement with Matthew 7:28 (where see Note) suggests the thought that St. Mark had heard or read that passage. For “doctrine” read teaching. Stress is laid, as in Matthew 7:28, on the manner rather than the thing taught.

Verse 23

(23) An unclean spirit.—The phrase occurs in all the first three Gospels (not in St. John’s), but with special frequency in this. As in most Eastern cities, in both ancient and modern times, madness had an immunity from restraint, and the demoniacs seem to have mingled, if they chose, with the crowd of worshippers in the synagogue.

Verse 24

(24) What have we to do with thee?—The cry is identical with that of the Gadarene demoniacs (Matthew 8:29). Here, as there, the possessed man has a preternatural intuition of our Lord’s greatness.

The Holy One of God.—The name occurs, as applied to Christ, only here, in the parallel passage of Luke 4:34, and in the better MSS. of John 6:69. It probably had its origin in the Messianic application of “Thy Holy One” in Psalms 16:10. Its strict meaning is “the Holy One whom God owns as such,” who has attained, i.e., the highest form of holiness.

Verse 25

(25) Hold thy peace.—Literally, be still, be gagged. The same verb is used in the calming of the winds and waves in Mark 4:39.

Verse 26

(26) He came out of him.—St. Luke adds the fact “and hurt him not.”

Verse 27

(27) What new doctrine is this?—A various-reading gives a different structure, “What thing is this? A new doctrine with power. He commandeth even the unclean spirits . . .” “Doctrine” is, as elsewhere, the teaching taken as a whole, including manner as well as substance.

Verse 29

(29) And forthwith.—Again we have St. Mark’s characteristic word, as in the “immediately” of Mark 1:28, and in the “anon” of Mark 1:30. (See Notes on Matthew 8:14-40.8.15.)

Verse 32

(32) And at even.—See Notes on Matthew 8:16-40.8.17. The special features in St. Mark are (1) the fuller description, in Mark 1:33, that “all the city was gathered together at the door;” and (2) the omission of St. Matthew’s reference to the prophecy of Isaiah 53:4.

Verse 34

(34) And suffered not the devils to speak.—St. Luke (Luke 4:41) gives the reason of the prohibition more distinctly. The demoniacs had cried out, “Thou art the Son of God.” They knew that He was the Christ.

Verse 35

(35) A great while before day.—Literally, very early, while it was yet night. The note of time is peculiar to St. Mark. Prayer seems to have been sought now, as at other times, after a day of extraordinary and exhausting labour.

Verse 36

(36) Simon and they that were with him.—This part of the narrative is given by St. Luke also, but not by St. Matthew. The definite statement who they were that followed after Him is, however, peculiar to St. Mark; while St. Luke alone gives their motive: “they stayed Him that He should not depart from them.” They would fain have kept Him at Capernaum, that He might teach them and heal their sick. This is to some extent, perhaps, implied in the words “All men seek for Thee.”

Verse 38

(38) Let us go into the next towns.—The word translated “towns” occurs here only. It is a compound word, “village cities,” and seems to have been coined to express the character of such places as Bethsaida, Chorazin, and others on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, which were more than “villages,” yet could hardly be classed as “cities.”

That I may preach there also.—St. Luke gives more fully “to publish the good news of the kingdom of God.” The word “preach” has here its full significance of “proclaiming,” doing a herald’s office.

For therefore came I forth.—In this form the words might refer simply to His leaving Capernaum; but the report in St. Luke, “for therefore was I sent” connects them with His mission as a whole. In any case, however, the disciples in this stage of their progress, would hardly enter, as we enter, into the full meaning of that mission. To them His “coming forth,” even as being “sent,” would be as from His home at Nazareth, not as from the bosom of the Father.

Verse 39

(39) And he preached.—See Note on Matthew 4:23.

Verses 40-43

(40-43) And there came a leper.—See Notes on Matthew 8:1-40.8.4. The miracle appears in St. Matthew as following closely on the Sermon on the Mount.

Verse 43

(43) He straitly charged him.—The word is the same as that in Matthew 9:30 (where see Note).

Verse 45

(45) But he went out.—St. Mark alone describes the man himself as the agent in spreading the report of the miracle, and gives in more vivid terms than St. Luke the consequent pressure of the multitude, and the necessity for retirement into “desert places.”

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Mark 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/mark-1.html. 1905.