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Bible Commentaries
Mark 4

The Expositor's Greek TestamentExpositor's Greek Testament

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In common with Mt., Mk. recognises that teaching in parables became at a given date a special feature of Christ’s didactic ministry. He gives, however, fewer samples of that type than the first evangelist. Two out of the seven in Mt., with one peculiar to himself, three in all; in this respect probably truer to the actual history of the particular day. Teaching in parables did not make an absolutely new beginning on the day on which the Parable of the Sower was spoken. Jesus doubtless used similitudes in all His synagogue discourses, of which a few samples may have been preserved in the Mustard Seed , the Treasure , and the Pearl .

Verse 1

Mark 4:1 . πάλιν ἤρξατο . After spending some time in teaching disciples, Jesus resumes His wider ministry among the people in the open air: at various points along the shore of the sea ( παρὰ τ . θ .). Speaking to larger crowds than ever ( ὄχλος πλεῖστος ), which could be effectively addressed only by the Speaker getting into a boat ( πλοῖον , τὸ πλοῖον would point to the boat which Jesus had asked the disciples to have in readiness, Mark 3:9 ), and sailing out a little distance from the shore, the people standing on the land as close to the sea as possible ( πρὸς τ . θ .).

Verses 1-9

Mark 4:1-9 . The Sower (Matthew 13:1-9 , Luke 8:4-8 ).

Verse 2

Mark 4:2 . πολλά : a vague expression, but implying that the staple of that day’s teaching consisted of parables, probably all more or less of the same drift as the parable of the Sower , indicating that in spite of the ever-growing crowds Jesus was dissatisfied with the results of His popular ministry in street and synagogue = much seed-sowing, little fruit. The formation of the disciple-circle had revealed that dissatisfaction in another way. Probably some of the parables spoken in the boat have not been preserved, the Sower serving as a sample. ἐν τῇ διδαχῇ α . In the teaching of that day He said inter alia what follows.

Verse 3

Mark 4:3 . ἀκούετε : bear! listen! a summons to attention natural for one addressing a great crowd from a boat, quite compatible with ἰδού , which introduces the parable (against Weiss in Meyer). The parable is given here essentially as in Mt., with only slight variations: σπεῖραι (Mark 4:3 ) for σπείρειν ; ὃ μὲν (Mark 4:4 ) for ἃ μεν , ἄλλο (Mark 4:5 ; Mark 4:7 ) for ἄλλα . To the statement that the thorns choked the grain ( συνέπνιξαν αὐτό ), Mk. adds (Mark 4:7 ) καὶ καρπὸν οὐκ ἔδωκεν , an addition not superfluous in this case, as it would have been in the two previous, because the grain in this case reaches the green ear . To be noted further is the expansion in Mark 4:8 , in reference to the seed sown on good soil. Mt. says it yielded fruit ( ἐδίδου καρπὸν ), Mk. adds ἀναβαίνοντα καὶ αὐξανόμετα , καὶ ἔφερεν , all three phrases referring to ἄλλα at the beginning of the verse. The participles taken along with ἐδίδου καρπὸν distinguish the result in the fourth case from those in the three preceding. The first did not spring up, being picked up by the birds, the second sprang up but did not grow, withered by the heat, the third sprouted and grew up but yielded no (ripe) fruit, choked by thorns (Grotius). καὶ ἔφερεν introduces a statement as to the quantity of fruit, the degrees being arranged in a climax, 30, 60, 100, instead of in an anti-climax, as in Mt., 100, 60, 30.

Verse 9

Mark 4:9 . καὶ ἔλεγεν : this phrase is wanting in Mt., and the summons to reflection is more pithily expressed there = who hath ears let him hear. The summons implies that understanding is possible even for those without.

Verses 10-12

Mark 4:10-12 . Disciples ask an explanation of the parable (Matthew 13:10-17 , Luke 8:9-10 ). Mark 4:10 . κατὰ μόνας ( ὁδούς or χώρας understood), alone οἱ περὶ αὐτὸν , those about Him, not = οἱ παρʼ αὐτοῦ (Mark 3:21 ), nor = the Twelve, who are separately mentioned ( σὺν τ . δωδ .); an outer circle of disciples from which the Twelve were chosen. τὰς παραβολάς , the parables , spoken that day. They asked Him about them, as to their meaning. The plural, well attested, implies that the parables of the day had a common drift. To explain one was to explain all. They were a complaint of the comparative fruitlessness of past efforts.

Verse 11

Mark 4:11 . ὑμῖν , to you has been given, so as to be a permanent possession, the mystery of the Kingdom of God. They have been initiated into the secret, so that for them it is a secret no longer, not by explanation of the parable (Weiss), but independently. This true of them so far as disciples; discipleship means initiation into the mystery. In reality, it was only partially, and by comparison with the people, true of the disciples. γνῶναι in T. R. is superfluous. τοῖς ἔξω refers to the common crowd. ἐν παραβολαῖς : all things take place as set forth in parables. This implies that the use of parables had been a standing feature of Christ’s popular kerygma , in synagogue and street.

Verse 12

Mark 4:12 seems to state the aim of the parabolic method of teaching as being to keep the people in the dark, and prevent them from being converted and forgiven. This cannot really have been the aim of Jesus. Vide notes on the parable of the Sower in Mt., where the statement is softened somewhat.

Verse 13

Mark 4:13 . οὐκ οἴδατε … γνώσεσθε : not one question = know ye not this parable, and how ye shall know all, etc. (so Meyer and Weiss), but two = know ye not this parable? and how shall ye, etc. (so most), the meaning being, not: if ye know not the simpler how shall ye know the more difficult? but rather implying that to understand the Sower was to understand all the parables spoken that day ( πάσας τὰς παρ .). They had all really one burden: the disappointing result of Christ’s past ministry.

Verses 13-20

Mark 4:13-20 . Explanation of the Sower (Matthew 13:18-23 , Luke 8:11-15 ), prefaced by a gentle reproach that explanation should be needed.

Verse 14

Mark 4:14 , in effect, states that the seed is the word.

Verse 15

Mark 4:15 . οἱ παρὰ τὴν ὁδόν : elliptical for, those in whose case the seed falls along the way = the “way-side” men, and so in the other cases. ὅπου for εἰς οὓς , Euthy. Zig.

Verse 16

Mark 4:16 . ὁμοίως would stand more naturally before οὗτοι = on the same method of interpretation. σπειρόμενοι : this class are identified with the seed rather than with the soil, but the sense, though crudely expressed is plain. They are the “rocky ground” men.

Verse 18

Mark 4:18 . ἄλλοι εἰσὶν , there are others; ἄλλοι , well attested ( οὗτοί in T. R.), is significant. It fixes attention on the third type of hearers as calling for special notice. They are such as, lacking the thoughtlessness of the first and shallowness of the second class, and having some depth and earnestness, might be expected to be fruitful; a less common type and much more interesting.

Verse 19

Mark 4:19 specifies the hindrances, the choking thorns. μέριμναι τ . α ., cares of life, in the case of thoughtful devout poor (Matthew 6:25 f.). ἀπάτη τ . πλ ., the deceitfulness of wealth in the case of the commercial class (Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum: Matthew 11:21-23 . Vide notes there). αἱ π . τ . λ . ἐπιθυμίαι , the lusts for other things sensual vices in the case of publicans and sinners (chap. Mark 2:13-17 ). Jesus had met with such cases in His past ministry.

Verse 20

Mark 4:20 . παραδέχονται , receive, answering to συνιείς in Mt. This does not adequately differentiate the fourth class from the third, who also take in the word, but not it alone . Lk. has supplied the defect. εν might be either ἕν = this one 30, that one 60, etc., or ἐν = in 30, and in 60, and in 100 = good, better, best, not inferior, respectable, admirable. The lowest degree is deemed satisfactory. On the originality of the interpretation and on the whole parable vide in Mt.

Verse 21

Mark 4:21 . μήτι ἔρχεται , does the light come , for is it brought, in accordance with classic usage in reference to things without life; examples in Kypke, e.g. , οὐκ ἔμεινʼ ἐλθεῖν τράπεζαν νυμφίαν . Pindar, Pyth. , iii., 28 = “non exspectavit donec adferretur mensa sponsalis”. ὑ . τ . κλίνην : not necessarily a table-couch (Meyer), might be a bed, high enough to be in no danger of being set on fire. Vide on Matthew 5:15 . The moral: let your light shine that others may know what ye know.

Verses 21-25

Mark 4:21-25 . Responsibilities of disciples (Matthew 5:15 ; Matthew 10:26 ; Matthew 7:2 ; Luke 8:16-18 ). True to His uniform teaching that privileges are to be used for the benefit of others, Jesus tells His disciples that if they have more insight than the multitude they must employ it for the common benefit. These sentences in Mk. represent the first special instruction of the disciples. Two of them, Mark 4:21 ; Mark 4:24 , are found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:15 ; Matthew 7:2 ). The whole of them come in appositely here, and were probably spoken at this time. ( Cf. Luke 8:16-18 , where they are partially given in the same connection.) In any case, their introduction in connection with the parables is important as showing that Mk. can hardly have seriously believed, what he certainly seems to say, that Jesus spoke parables to blind the people.

Verse 22

Mark 4:22 . Double statement of the law that the hidden is to be revealed; 1st, predictively: there is nothing hidden which shall not be revealed; 2nd, interpretatively, with reference to the purpose of the hider: nor did anything become concealed with any other view than that it should eventually come to manifestation. ἀπόκρυφον ( ἀποκρύπτω ), here and in Luke 8:17 , Colossians 2:3 . ἀλλʼ : in effect = εἴ μὴ nisi , but strictly ἐγένετο ἀπόκρυφον is understood to be repeated after it = nothing becomes concealed absolutely, but it is concealed in order that, etc. This is universally true. Things are hid because they are precious, but precious things are meant to be used at some time and in some way. All depends on the time and the way, and it is there that diversity of action comes in. Christ’s rule for that was: show your light when it will glorify God and benefit men; the world’s rule is: when safe and beneficial to self.

Verse 23

Mark 4:23 . In Mark 4:9 a summons to try to understand the parable; here a summons to those who have understood, or shall understand, the parable, or the great theme of all the parables, to communicate their knowledge. Fritzsche, after Theophy. and Grot., thinks that in Mark 4:21-22 , Jesus exhorts His disciples to the culture of piety or virtue, not to the diffusion of their light, giving, as a reason, that the latter would be inconsistent with the professed aim of the parables to prevent enlightenment!

Verse 24

Mark 4:24 . βλέπετε , etc., take heed what you hear or how ( πῶς , Lk.), see that ye hear to purpose. ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ , etc. = careful hearing pays, the reward of attention is knowledge ( ἐν ᾧ μέτρῳ μετρεῖτε τὴν προσοχὴν ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ μετρηθήσεται ὑμῖν ἡ γνῶσις , Euthy. Zig.). In Matthew 7:2 the apothegm is applied to judging. Such moral maxims admit of many applications. The idea of measuring does not seem very appropriate here. Holtz. (H. C.) thinks Mark 4:24 interrupts the connection. προστεθήσεται implies that the reward will be out of proportion to the virtue; the knowledge acquired to the study devoted to the subject. There shall be given over and above, not to those who hear (T. R., τοῖς ἀκούουσιν ), but to those who think on what they hear. This thought introduces Mark 4:25 , which, in this connection, means: the more a man thinks the more he will understand, and the less a man thinks the less his power of understanding will become. “Whoso hath attention, knowledge will be given to him, and from him who hath not, the seed of knowledge will be taken. For as diligence causes that seed to grow, negligence destroys it,” Euthy.

Verse 26

Mark 4:26 . καὶ ἔλεγεν , and He said, to whom? The disciples in private, or the crowd from the boat? The absence of αὐτοῖς after ἔλεγεν ( cf. Mark 4:21 ; Mark 4:24 ) is not conclusive against the former, as Weiss and Meyer think. On the latter view Mark 4:21-25 are a parenthesis. In any case this new parable refers to the disciples as representing the fertile soil, and is a pendant to the parable of the Sower, teaching that even in the case of the fourth type of hearers the production of fruit is a gradual process demanding time. Put negatively it amounts to saying that Christ’s ministry has as yet produced no fruit properly speaking at all, but only in some cases met with a soil that gives promise of fruit (the disciples). The parable reveals at once the discrimination and the patience of Jesus. He knew the difference between the blade that would wither and that which would issue in ripe grain, and He did not expect this result in any case per saltum . A parable teaching this lesson was very seasonable after that of the Sower.

Verses 26-29

Mark 4:26-29 . Parable of the Blade, the Ear, and the Full Corn . Peculiar to Mark and beyond doubt a genuine utterance of Jesus, the doctrine taught being over the head of the reporter and the Apostolic Church generally.

Verse 27

Mark 4:27 . καθεύδῃ … ἡμέραν , sleep and rise night and day, suggestive of the monotonous life of a man who has nothing particular to do beyond waiting patiently for the result of what he has already done (seed sown). The presents express a habit, while βάλῃ , Mark 4:26 , expresses an act, done once for all. βλαστᾷ (the reading in [22] [23] [24] , etc., as if from βλαστάω ) may be either indicative or subjunctive, the former if we adopt the reading μηκύνεται ( [25] [26] ., etc.) = and the seed sprouts and lengthens. ὡς οὐκ οἶδεν αὐτός , how knoweth not (nor careth) he, perfectly indifferent to the rationale of growth; the fact enough for him.

[22] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.

[23] Codex Bezae

[24] Codex Regius--eighth century, represents an ancient text, and is often in agreement with א and B.

[25] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.

[26] Codex Bezae

Verse 28

Mark 4:28 . αὐτομάτη ( αὐτός and μέμαα from absolute μάω , to desire eagerly), self-moved, spontaneously, without external aid, and also beyond external control; with a way and will, so to speak, of its own that must be respected and waited for. Classical examples in Wetstein, Kypke, Raphel, etc. καρποφορεῖ , beareth fruit, intransitive. The following nouns, χόρτον , στάχυν , are not the object of the verb, but in apposition with καρπὸν ( καρπὸν φέρει ) or governed by φέρει , understood ( φέρει , quod ex καρποφορεῖ petendum , Fritzsche). πλήρης σῖτος , this change to the nominative (the reading of [27] [28] ) is a tribute to the importance of the final stage towards which the stages of blade and ear are but preparatory steps = then is the full ear . Full = ripe, perfect , hence the combination of the two words in such phrases as πλήρη καὶ τέλεια τἀγαθὰ quoted by Kypke from Philo. The specification of the three stages shows that gradual growth is the point of the parable (Schanz).

[27] Codex Vaticanus (sæc. iv.), published in photographic facsimile in 1889 under the care of the Abbate Cozza-Luzi.

[28] Codex Bezae

Verse 29

Mark 4:29 . παραδοῖ ( παρυδόω ), when the fruit yields itself, or permits (by being ripe). The latter sense (for which classical usage can be cited) is preferred by most recent commentators.

Verse 30

Mark 4:30 . πῶς … θῶμεν ( vide above). This introductory question, especially as given in the text of W.H [29] , is very graphic = how shall we liken the Kingdom of God, or in (under) what parable shall we place it? The form of expression implies that something has been said before creating a need for figurative embodiment, something pointing to the insignificance of the beginnings of the Kingdom. The two previous parables satisfy this requirement = the word fruitful only in a few, and even in them only after a time. What is the best emblem of this state of things?

[29] Westcott and Hort.

Verses 30-32

Mark 4:30-32 . The Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32 , Luke 13:18-19 ).

Verse 31

Mark 4:31 . ὡς κόκκῳ : ὡς stands for ὁμοιώσωμεν = let us liken it to a grain, etc.; κόκκον would depend on θῶμεν . ὃς ὃταν σπαρῇ … καὶ ὅταν σπαρῇ : the construction of this passage as given in critical texts is very halting, offering a very tempting opportunity for emendation to the scribes who in the T. R. have given us a very smooth readable text ( vide A. V [30] ). Literally it runs thus: “which when it is sown upon the earth, being the least of all the seeds upon the earth. and when it is sown,” etc. The R. V [31] improves this rugged sentence somewhat by substituting “yet” for “and” in last clause. It is hardly worth while attempting to construe the passage. Enough that we see what is meant. In the twice used ὅταν σπαρῇ , the emphasis in the first instance lies on ὅταν , in the second on σπαρῇ (Bengel, Meyer). By attending to this we get the sense: which being the least of all seeds when it is sown or at the time of sowing, yet when it is sown , after sowing, springs up, etc. μικρότερον ὂν is neuter by attraction of σπερμάτων , though κόκκῳ going before is masculine.

[30] Authorised Version.

[31] Revised Version.

Verse 32

Mark 4:32 . μεῖζον π . τ . λαχάνων , the greatest of all the herbs, still only an herb; no word of a tree here as in Matthew and Luke, though comparatively tree-like in size, making great boughs ( κλάδους μεγάλους ), great relatively to its kind, not to forest trees. Mark’s version here is evidently the more original.

Verse 33

Mark 4:33 . τοιαύταις π . π ., with such parables, many of them, He was speaking to them the word, implying that the three sower; blade, ear and full corn; mustard seed are given as samples of the utterances from the boat, all of one type, about seed representing the word, and expressing Christ’s feelings of disappointment yet of hope regarding His ministry. Many is to be taken cum grano . καθὼς ἠδύναντο ἀκούειν = as they were able to understand, as in 1 Corinthians 14:2 , implying that parables were employed to make truth plain (De Wette).

Verses 33-34

Mark 4:33-34 . Conclusion of the parable collection (Matthew 13:34-35 ).

Verse 34

Mark 4:34 . χωρὶς παραβολῆς , etc., without a parable He was not wont to speak to the people, not merely that day, but at any time. ἐπέλυε , etc., He was in the habit of interpreting all things ( viz. , the parables in private to His own disciples, the Twelve, cf. ἐπιλύσεως , 2 Peter 1:20 ). This does not necessarily imply that the multitude understood nothing, but only that Jesus, by further talk, made the disciples understand better . Yet on the whole it must be admitted that in his account of Christ’s parabolic teaching Mark seems to vacillate between two opposite views of the function of parables, one that they were used to make spiritual truths plain to popular intelligence, the other that they were riddles, themselves very much needing explanation, and fitted, even intended, to hide truth. This second view might be suggested and fostered by the fact that some of the parables express recondite spiritual truths.

Verses 35-41

Mark 4:35-41 . Crossing the lake (Matthew 8:18 ; Matthew 8:23-27 , Luke 8:22-25 ). ἐν ἐκείνῃ τ . ἡ ., on that day, the day of the parable discourse, the more to be noted that Mark does not usually trouble himself about temporal connection. διέλθωμεν , let us cross over, spoken to the Twelve, who are in the boat with Jesus.

Verse 36

Mark 4:36 . This verse describes the manner in which Christ’s wish was carried out it was in effect a flight along the only line of retreat, the shore being besieged by the crowd = leaving ( ἀφέντες , not dismissing) the crowd they carry Him off ( avehunt , Grotius) as He was in the ship ( ὡς ἦν = ὡς εἶχεν ) sine apparatu (Bengel) and sine morâ ; but there were also other boats with Him, i.e. , with His boat. This last fact, peculiar to Mark, is added to show that even seawards escape was difficult. Some of the people had got into boats to be nearer the Speaker. The δὲ after ἄλλα , though doubtful, helps to bring out the sense. This is another of Mark’s realisms.

Verse 37

Mark 4:37 . γίνεται λαῖλαψ : cf. Jonah 1:4 , ἐγένετο κλύδων μέγας . ἐπέβαλλεν , were dashing (intransitive) against and into ( εἰς ) the ship. γεμίζεσθαι , so that already ( ἤδη ) the ship was getting full .

Verse 38

Mark 4:38 . τὸ προσκεφάλαιον , the pillow, a part of the ship, as indicated by the article (Bengel); no soft luxurious pillow, probably of wood (Theophy., Euthy.); “the leathern cushion of the steersman” (Maclear, Camb. N. T.); the low bench at the stern on which the steersman sometimes sits, and the captain sometimes rests his head to sleep (Van Lennep, Bible Lands , p. 62).

Verse 39

Mark 4:39 . Observe the poetic parallelism in this verse: wind and sea separately addressed, and the corresponding effects separately specified: lulled wind, calmed sea. The evangelist realises the dramatic character of the situation. σιώπα , πεφίμωσο , silence! hush! laconic, majestic, probably the very words. ἐκόπασεν , ceased, as if tired blowing, from κόπος ( vide at Matthew 14:32 ).

Verse 40

Mark 4:40 . τί δειλοί , etc., duality of expression again. Matthew gives the second phrase, Luke the gist of both.

Verse 41

Mark 4:41 . ἐφοβήθησαν φ . μ .: nearly the same phrase as in Jonah 1:16 . τίς ἄρα οὗτός , who then is this? One would have thought the disciples had been prepared by this time for anything. Matthew indeed has οἱ ἄνθρωποι , suggestive of other than disciples, as if such surprise in them were incongruous. But their emotional condition, arising out of the dangerous situation, must be taken into account. For the rest Jesus was always giving them surprises; His mind and character had so many sides. ὑπακούει , singular, the wind and the sea thought of separately, each a wild lawless element, not given to obeying: even the wind , even the sea , obeys Him!

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Mark 4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/egt/mark-4.html. 1897-1910.
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