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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Mark 6

Verses 1-6

VI.

(1-6) And he went out from thence.—See Notes on Matthew 13:54-58.

His disciples follow him.—St, Matthew does not name this fact. As put by St. Mark it seems to imply that the disciples did not accompany their Master, but came subsequently.

Verse 2

(2) Many hearing him.—The better MSS. give, “the many,” i.e., the majority of those who were present.

Such mighty works.—As the Evangelist notes in Mark 6:5 that no mighty work had been done in Nazareth, these must refer to what had been reported there.

Verse 3

(3) Is not this the carpenter?—St. Mark’s is the only Gospel which gives this name as applied to our Lord Himself. (See Note on Matthew 13:55.)

Verse 5

(5) He laid his hands.—St. Matthew says simply, “not many miracles.” The fuller description is peculiar to St. Mark.

Verse 6

(6) He marvelled.—The word is to be noted as bearing on the reality of our Lord’s human nature, and therefore on the necessary limits within which He, as being truly man, in spirit as well as body, vouchsafed to work. Whatever powers of prevision or insight into the hearts of men might belong to Him, they were not such as to exclude the wonder which men feel at that which comes to them unlooked for.

Verse 7

(7) He called unto him the twelve.—See Notes on Matthew 10:1-15. The omission by St. Mark of the greater part of the discourse connected with the mission of the Twelve in Matthew 10:0 is every way characteristic of the writer, whose main work it was to trace the ministry of action rather than of speech.

Verse 8

(8) Save a staff only.—St, Matthew (Matthew 10:10) gives, “neither staves”—i.e., they were to take one only.

No money.—As the margin gives, no brass, or rather bronze, or money. The coins referred to are probably the “farthing” and the “mite” of Mark 12:42.

Verse 9

(9) Be shod with sandals.—The word occurs again in Acts 12:8. It describes obviously the shoes worn by the poor as distinguished from those of the more wealthy class, the sole of leather or wood fastened over the instep by strong leather thongs.

Verse 11

(11) Whosoever shall not receive you.—The better MSS. give, “whatsoever place shall not receive you.” (See Note on Matthew 10:14.)

Verse 12

(12) And preached that men should repent.—The work of the Apostles appears from this to have been a continuation of that of the Baptist. They announced the nearness of the kingdom of God, and repentance as the one adequate preparation for it, and baptised as the outward token of that repentance and the new life in which it was to issue (John 3:5; John 4:2), but they did not as yet proclaim their Master as being Himself the Christ, and therefore the Head of that kingdom.

Verse 13

(13) Anointed with oil.—St. Mark is the only Evangelist who mentions this as the common practice of the disciples, but we learn from James 5:14 that it was afterwards in use, at least, in the churches of Jerusalem and other Jewish communities. It was partly analogous to our Lord’s treatment of the blind and deaf (Mark 7:33; Mark 8:23; John 9:6), i.e., it was an outward sign showing the wish to heal, and therefore a help to faith; but as the use of oil was more distinctly that of an agent recognised as remedial in the popular therapeutics of the time, it had also the character of uniting (and devout minds have since so regarded it) the use of natural outward means of healing with prayer for the divine blessing. It need scarcely be said that it had not the slightest affinity with the mediæval so-called sacrament of extreme unction, which, though it may still retain, in theory, a partial secondary connection with the cure of the diseases of the body, is practically never administered till all hope of cure is abandoned. The development of the latter aspect of the usage was obviously the after-growth of a later time, when the miraculous gift of healing was withdrawn, and when it became necessary to devise a theory for the retention of the practice.

Verse 14

(14) That John the Baptist was risen from the dead.—See Notes on Matthew 14:1-2. In addition an interesting illustration of what is stated as to Herod’s belief may be given from the Roman poet Persius. He is describing in one of his satires (v. 180-188) the effect of superstitious fear in marring all the pleasures of the pride of luxurious pomp, and this is the illustration which he chooses:—

“But when the feast of Herod’s birthday comes,
And, through the window, smoke-besmeared, the lamps,
Set in due order, wreaths of violets round,
Pour out their oily fumes, and in the dish
Of red-clay porcelain tail of tunny swims,
And the white flagon bellies out with wine,
Thou mov’st thy lips, yet speak’st not, and in fear
Thou keep’st the Sabbath of the circumcised,
And then there rise dark spectres of the dead,
And the cracked egg-shell bodes of coming ill . . .

It is clear that a description so minute in its details must have been photographed, as it were, from some actual incident, and could not have been merely a general picture of the prevalence of Jewish superstition in Roman society. Commentators on the Roman poet have, however, failed to find any clue to the incident thus graphically related. Can we, starting from what the Gospels tell us as to the character of Antipas, picture to ourselves a scene that explains his strange mysterious hints? In A.D. 39 Herod Agrippa I., the nephew of the Tetrarch, obtained the title of king from the Emperor Caligula. Prompted by the ambition of Herodias, Antipas went with her to Rome, to seek, by lavish gifts and show of state, the same distinction. The emissaries of Agrippa, however, thwarted his schemes, and he was deposed and sent into exile at Lugdunum. May we not conjecture that the same superstitious terror which made him say that John the Baptist was risen from the dead followed him there also? “Herod’s birthday” again comes round, and there is a great feast, and instead of the “lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee,” senators and courtiers and philosophers are there, and, lo! there is a pause, and the Tetrarch rises in silent horror—as Macbeth at the apparition of Banquo’s ghost—and he sees the dark form shaking its gory locks, and his lips move in speechless terror, and he “does many things” on the coming Sabbath, and the thing becomes a by-word and a proverb in the upper circles of Roman society, and is noted in the schools of the Stoics as an illustration of what superstition can effect. The view thus stated is, of course, not more than a conjecture, but it at least explains phenomena. Persius died, at the age of twenty-eight or thirty, in A.D. 62, and may well therefore have heard the matter talked of in his boyhood.

Verse 17

(17) For Herod himself had sent forth.—See Notes on Matthew 14:3-12.

Verse 19

(19) Herodias had a quarrel.—Better, as in the margin, had a grudge, or spite, against him.

Verse 20

(20) For Herod feared John.—The full description of Herod’s feelings towards the Baptist is peculiar to St. Mark.

A just man and an holy.—The two words indicate—the first, righteousness as seen in relation to man; the second, the same element of character in relation to God.

Observed him.—The word has been differently interpreted, but Luke 2:19, where it is translated “kept,” seems decisive as to its meaning that Herod had a certain reverence for his prisoner. In English, however, to “keep” a man is ambiguous, and the “observed” of our version seems on the whole preferable to any other.

He did many things.—The better MSS. give, “he was much perplexed.”

Verses 21-29

(21-29) And when a convenient day was come.—See Notes on Matthew 14:6-12.

His lords, high captains, and chief estates.—St. Mark alone gives the account of the guests. The three words mean respectively—(1) the magnates, or officials of the court; (2) the chiliarchs, or chief captains (literally, captain of a thousand—the same word as in Acts 21:31; Acts 26:26) in the Roman legion; (3) the chief men (“estates” to modern ears is too formal a word), probably the large landowners of the province.

Verse 24

(24) She went forth, and said unto her mother.—This feature in the narrative is peculiar to St. Mark.

Verse 25

(25) By and by.—We hardly recognise in this word, so much has its meaning altered, St. Mark’s familiar “forthwith” or “immediately.” At the period when our version was made it was, however (as we find in Shakespeare), in common use as an equivalent. (Comp. Matthew 13:21.)

Verse 27

(27) An executioner.—St. Mark uses a Latin word, speculator, a word which, originally meaning “watchman” or “sentinel,” had come to be applied by Latin writers of the time specifically to soldiers employed, as in this instance, as couriers or messengers (Suet. Caligula, c. 44; Tacit. Hist. xi. 73).

Verse 30

(30) And the apostles gathered themselves together.—The return of the Twelve from their first mission is mentioned by St. Luke (Luke 9:10), but not by St. Matthew in this connection.

Verses 31-44

(31-44) And he said unto them.—See Notes on Matthew 14:13-21. Peculiar to St. Mark are (1) the tender consideration of the invitation to “rest awhile,” and (2) the description of the throng of people as “coming and going.”

Verse 33

(33) And ran afoot.—The words are used to point the contrast between the disciples, who had come in their boat, and the crowds who came by land.

Verse 35

(35) Far spent . . . far passed.—The Greek word is the same in both clauses.

Verse 36

(36) Into the country.—Better, the farmsi.e., the enclosed, cultivated land, and what belonged to it.

And buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat.—The better MSS. give simply, “buy themselves what they may eat.”

Verse 39

(39) By companies.—The Greek expresses the distributive force of the English by simple repetition, companies and companies.” The “green grass” may be noted as an example of St. Mark’s vividness, and serves as an indirect note of time pointing to the same season as that specified by St. John, sc., a little before the Passover. (Comp. John 6:10.)

Verse 40

(40) In ranks.—The primary meaning of the Greek word is “a bed of flowers or herbs,” and it comes in here effectively, with the same distributive reduplication as in the last verse, to paint the whole scene to the mind’s eye.

Verse 44

(44) Five thousand men.—St. Mark uses the word which excludes women and children.

Verse 45

(45) Unto Bethsaida.—There is nothing in the text to warrant the marginal reading, “over against Beth-saida.” It was probably suggested by some one who did not know that there were two Bethsaidas, in order to avoid the seeming difficulty which presented itself from the statement in St. Luke, that the Five Thousand were fed at or near Bethsaida.

Verses 46-52

(46-52) And when he had sent them away.—See Notes on Matthew 14:22-33.

Verse 52

(52) For they considered not.—This is peculiar to St. Mark, and may fairly be received as representing St. Peter’s recollection of what had been the mental state of the disciples at the time. They had not drawn from the miracle of the Loaves the conclusion which they might have drawn, that all natural forces were subject to their Master’s sovereignty. The personal connection of the Evangelist with the Apostle may, perhaps, also account for his omission of the narrative which St. Matthew gives of his rashness and failing faith.

Verses 53-56

(53-56) And when they had passed over.—See Notes on Matthew 14:34-36.

Verse 56

(56) Or country.—Better, as before in Mark 6:36, farms or hamlets. The three words form almost an exhaustive list of the various grades of aggregate human habitations.

In the streets.—Better, in the market-places.

The border of his garment.—Better, the hem, or fringe. See Note on Matthew 9:20.

Were made whole.—The Greek tense implies an event frequently recurring.

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Mark 6". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/mark-6.html. 1905.