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Bible Commentaries

International Critical Commentary NT

Mark 9

Verses 1-99

9:1. This verse belongs with the preceding discourse by the most obvious connection of thought. He has spoken of the coming of the Son of Man in the glory of his Father; and here he states the time of that coming. For the coming of the Son of Man is everywhere identified with the coming of the kingdom. Cf. Matthew 16:28, where this coming is spoken of as the coming of the Son of Man in his kingdom. The reason for placing the verse in the ninth chapter is that those who made the division supposed that the glorifying of Jesus in the Transfiguration was the event referred to here. But that would not be described as a coming of the Son of Man in power; nor would an event only a week distant be spoken of as taking place before some of those present should die. That language implies that most of them would be dead, while a few would live to see the great event. No, this coming of the kingdom is to be identified with the coming of the Son of Man. Nothing else will satisfy the context. And this coincides with everything that Jesus says about the time of that coming. See ch. 13:30, and parallel passages in Mt. and Lk. This then lets in a flood of light upon the meaning of that coming, as it declares that it was to be before some of those before him should taste of death. If his words are to stand therefore, it was to be events belonging to the generation after his death which fulfilled the prophecy of his coming, and of the establishment of his kingdom. And in this case, the kingdom was to be spiritual, and the agencies in its establishment were to be the Spirit of God and the providence of God in human affairs.

Here, as in the eschatological discourse, ch. 13, the coming is referred to as an understood thing, whereas there has been no teaching in regard to it. The same remark applies here as in the teaching about the death and resurrection. We cannot account for the expectation, which colored the whole life of the early church, without some prophecy of it. But on the other hand, the absence of expectation in the period between the death and resurrection is unaccountable if the prophecy was of this definite character.


9:2-8. Jesus goes up into a mountain, with Peter, James, and John, and is transfigured before them. The heavenly visitors. The voice from heaven.

A week after the conversation with the disciples in regard to his death, Jesus goes, with the three disciples who stood nearest to him, up into the neighboring mountain, and was transfigured before them. As it is described, this transfiguration consisted in an extraordinary white light emitted from his whole person. Accompanying this was an appearance of Moses and Elijah talking with him. Peter, frightened out of his wits by the amazing scene, proposes to fix and retain it by building huts for Jesus and the heavenly visitors up there on the mountain side. But a cloud came over them, and a voice proceeded from it, as at the baptism, This is my beloved Son; hear him. And suddenly, looking around, they saw no one but Jesus.

2. ἡμέρας ἓξ—six days. Lk. says, about eight days. We can easily get rid of one of the two days which separate these two accounts, as the Jews confounded after seven days with on the seventh day by reckoning both the dies a quo and the dies ad quem in the former expression, as in the account of the resurrection. But the other day needs the ὡσεὶ of Lk., about eight days, to remove the discrepancy.

τ. Πέτρον κ. τ. Ἰάκωβον κ. (τ.) Ἰωάννην—These three formed the inner circle of the twelve, whom Jesus took with him on three great occasions, the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the Transfiguration, and the scene in the garden of Gethsemane. εἰς ὄρος ὑψηλὸν—into a high mountain. What mountain is meant, we do not know, except that it was probably in the vicinity of Cæsarea Philippi, and so belonged to the Hermon range. See 8:27.

κατʼ ἰδίαν μόνους—apart alone. This account gives no reason for this privacy, and Mt. is equally silent. But Lk. tells us that Jesus went up into the mountain to pray. This gives a rational turn to the whole occurrence, leaving us to suppose that the transfiguration was incidental to it, and not the purpose of our Lord’s going up into the mountain. He was glorified before the disciples, but it is quite out of character for him to deliberately set about such a transaction. This opens the way for another suggestion as to the real character of the event. Jesus would be led to special prayer at this time by the events on which it seems that his mind was fixed, and which formed the subject of conversation between himself and his disciples. The subject of his discourse at this period was the approaching tragical end of his life. And it is Lk. again, who tells us that this was the subject of conversation between himself and the heavenly visitants at this time. It looks then, as if this was a case in which the mind of the writer was fixed on the surface of things, who has told his story too in such a way as to fix our attention on the mere physical accompaniments of the scene, the shining of Jesus’ garments, rather than the glory of his countenance, while at the same time, he has himself given us the suggestions for a deeper reading of it. According to the ordinary view, arising from this emphasis of the physical side of it, the transfiguration was a gleam of our Lord’s true glory in the midst of the surrounding darkness, showing that he was divine in spite of his humiliation and death. But, according to our Lord’s own view, which he came into the world to set up, over against its superficial worldliness, his glory was essentially in his humiliation and death, not in spite of it. And here, his spirit was glorified by dwelling in the midst of these high purposes and resolves until its glory broke through the veil of flesh, and irradiated his whole being.

καὶ μετεμορφώθη1—and was transfigured before them. All the particulars given are, in our account, the shining whiteness of his garments, and in Mt. and Lk. this with the shining or (Lk.) the change of his face.

3. καὶ τὰ ἱμάτια ἐγένετο στίλβοντα,2 λευκὰ λίαν (omit ὡς χίων)—and his garments became shining, exceedingly white.

Omit ὡς χίων, as snow, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCL Δ 1, two mss. Lat. Vet. one ms. Vulg.

οἷα γναφεὺς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς οὐ δύναται οὕτως λευκᾶναι—literally, such as a fuller upon the earth cannot so whiten.

Insert οὕτως, so, before λευκᾶναι Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCLN Δ 13, 28, 33, 69, 116, 124, 346, two mss. Lat. Vet. Egyptt.

4. Ἡλείας σὺν Μωϋσεῖ—Elijah with Moses. Elijah is generally said to be the representative of O.T. prophecy, Moses of the Law. But this distinction is more apparent than real. Moses was a prophet, and the law that he gave was a part of his prophetic utterance; while Elijah had nothing to do with the predictive, certainly with the Messianic side of prophecy, according to the record, but it was his province to reveal to men the Divine law and make real to them the Divine lawgiver. But these were two men in the O.T. history who made a mysterious exit from this world, and they are the ones selected for a mysterious return in the N.T.1 The subject of their conversation with Jesus is not given in Mt., or Mk., but Lk. tells us that it was “his decease which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31).


καὶ ἐγένετο φωνὴ ἐκ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ, Οὗτός ἐστινυἱός μου2 Peter 1:17, in referring to the transfiguration. See Matthew 3:17, Matthew 17:5, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22, Luke 9:35. For the meaning of Son, see note on 1:11.

ἐγένετο, instead of ἦλθε, Tisch. Treg. marg. WH. RV, א BCL Δ Memph. Pesh. Harcl. marg. Omit λέγουσα, saying, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCN X ΓΠ one ms. Lat. Vet. Memph.

8. ἐξάπινα—suddenly.3 The vision vanished suddenly, and things returned to their natural condition. There is a difference of opinion whether the adverb belongs with the participle or the verb. It can make little difference, since both denote parts of the same act, looking and seeing. But this very fact shows that the adv. belongs with the part., since to put it with the verb separates the two closely related parts of the same act. In accordance with this principle, we should say, suddenly they looked around and saw, not, they looked around and suddenly saw. And for the same reason, the Greek joins the adverb and the part. ἐξάπινα denotes the quick transition from the heavenly vision to ordinary conditions.

εἰ μὴ before τὸν Ἰησοῦν, instead of

This is Jesus’ brief rendering of the prophecy (Malachi 3:5, Malachi 3:6), that Elijah will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and of the children to the fathers. His coming, too, is put in connection with an injunction to remember the law of Moses, meaning that it signifies an enforcement of the Divine law. Such a restoration, bringing things back to their standard in the law, was accomplished in the work of John the Baptist, to whom evidently Jesus refers. Matthew 17:13 says that the disciples understood him to refer to the Baptist. κ. πῶς γέγραπται ἐπὶ τ. υἱὸν τ. Isa_53. ἐξουδ(θ)ενω(η)θῇ2—be set at naught.


πνεῦμα ἄλαλον—a dumb spirit. For other instances of this accompaniment of the disease, see Matthew 9:32, Matthew 12:22.

18. ὅπου ἐὰν—wherever.

ἐὰν,2 instead of ἂν, Tisch. Treg. WH. אc ABK Δ Π.

ῥήσσει—convulses. This meaning of the word is not very well established, but in σπαράσσω, the meaning tear passes over into that of convulse, and it is so used in v. 20. This establishes a precedent for the like transformation in this word. The congenital relation of these two verbs makes it improbable that they would be employed in a different sense about the same matter, and is so far against the Revisers’ Translation, dasheth him down. ξηραίνεται—is wasting away. The symptoms mentioned are those of epilepsy. The ῥήσσει, κ.

Omit καὶ νηστείᾳ, Tisch. (Treg. marg.) WH. RV. א* B one ms. Lat. Vet. It is one of the things that would stand no chance of omission, if found in the original. Evidence shows that it was interpolated in a like passage (1 Corinthians 7:5).


30-32. Jesus returns through Galilee, and again seeks to hide his presence, in order to convey to his disciples the esoteric teaching about his death. The same particulars are given as in the previous announcement, that he will be delivered up, and put to death, and will rise again after three days. But they did not know what he was saying, and were afraid to question him.

30. κἀκεῖθεν ἐξελθόντες (παρ) ἐπορεύοντο—and having gone out from that place, they were coming. The place which they left was the vicinity of Cæsarea Philippi. Their journey through Galilee to Capernaum would take them on the west side of the Jordan.

ἐπορεύοντο, instead of παρεπορεύοντο, Treg. WH. B* Dgr. mss. Lat. Vet.

καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν ἵνα τις γνοῖ—and did not wish that any one should know it.1 Jesus’ desire to escape notice is a continuation of the policy pursued by him since his departure to Tyre and Sidon(7:24). Since that time, he has been mostly in strange places, accompanied by his disciples alone, and preparing them for the approaching crisis in his life.

γνοῖ, instead of γνῷ, Tisch. Treg. WH. א BCDL.

31. ἐδίδασκεν γὰρ etc.—for he was teaching his disciples. This esoteric teaching was the reason of his desire to escape observation. Prediction of things to be done by men is apt to prejudice the event. It was necessary that the disciples should be prepared for so startling an issue, but the world is left wisely to the tutelage of unforeseen events. παραδίδοται—is delivered over. The present is used to denote the certainty of the future event.2 μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας—after three days. The resurrection was really on the third day. But the usage of speech allowed this to be spoken of in either way.

32. ἠγνόουν τὸ ρῆμα—they did not understand the word. This passage and the parallel (Luke 9:45) are the only ones in which this verb is used with the meaning understand, and the peculiar use in passages relating to the same event is strongly corroborative of the interdependence of the accounts. ἐφοβοῦντο αὐτὸν ἐπερωτῆσαι—they feared to question him. They were afraid that further questions would not alleviate, but only aggravate, the situation, and they feared to know the worst.


33-37. Dispute among the disciples over the question of precedence among them. Jesus defines true greatness for them.

The journey from Cæsarea Philippi brings them to Capernaum, where Jesus begins to question them about a dispute which they had had on the road, and which they evidently desire to conceal from him. We learn elsewhere that James and John actually asked him for first and second place among his followers, when the time should come to distribute these honors (10:35). And probably, this was an outcropping of the same spirit. The first three places were conceded to these two and to Peter. But which was to be primus? Jesus answers this question by putting before them the paradox of the kingdom, that last is first, and service is greatness. Then he takes a child, and teaches them that the spirit of the child is the mark of the king, to receive one such is to receive him, and to receive him is to receive God.

33. καὶ ἦλθον εἰς Καφαρναούμ—And they came to Capernaum.

ἦλθον, instead of ἦλθεν, he came, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א B (D) 1, 118, 209, most mss. Lat. Vet. Vulg. Pesh.

γενόμενος—being (AV.), and when he was (RV.), do not translate this verb, which denotes becoming not being. Having come to be, or having come, translates it. Τί ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ διελογίζεσθε—The verb is impf. and means were disputing.

Omit πρὸς ἑαυτοὺς, among yourselves, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCDL mss. Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph.

34. ἐσιώπων—were silent. But kept silent is better, which is another meaning of the impf. The merging of all these different shades of meaning into the simple past tense is one of the imperfections of the AV. This silence was due to their shame. They knew Jesus’ opinion of such disputes. διελέχθησαν—they had disputed.1 τίς μείζων—who is greatest? That is, which of them? Winer contends, that the compar. is used here with perfect regularity, since the object with which the comparison is made is really only one.2 But this would make it possible to substitute the compar. for the superl. in all cases, since the greatest is always greater than all the rest, the comparison being made always not with individuals, but with all taken together. But this confusion is one of the signs of degeneracy in a decadent language.

35. πάντων ἔσχατος καὶ π. δίακονος—he shall be last of all, and servant of all. This is the way to be great among the disciples of Jesus. It does not point out the penalty of ambition, as we might gather from the certain disapproval of the ordinary ambition by Jesus, but the way of satisfying Christian ambition. But the method is a paradox, like the beatification of sorrow. The Christian way to be first is to be last, to fall to the rear, to efface yourself. But it is not only humility that is demanded, but service. This again is a paradox, since primacy means dominion, the faculty not of serving, but of levying service on others. But these things, humility and service, in the kingdom of God, not only lead to greatness, they are greatness, i.e. they are the supreme marks of the Christian quality. And it is one of the signs that the world is becoming a seat of the kingdom of God, that rulers, leaders, employers, and others, are beginning to recognize this idea of service as the meaning of their position.

36. ἐναγκαλισάμενος—a Biblical word, corresponding exactly to our embrace, en bras, for which the Greeks said ἐν

40. ὃς οὐκ ἔστιν καθʼ ἡμῶν ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν—he who is not against us is for us. This is not the opposite of “he that is not with me is against me,” but its complement (Matthew 12:30). There Jesus is talking about this same matter of casting out demons, which he had been accused of doing in the name of Beelzebub. But he answers that the act is one of hostility to Satan, and cannot therefore proceed from Satan himself. One cannot be for and against at the same time. Then he applies the same principle to himself, saying that he who is not for him is against him. Here, he shows that this same act of casting out demons is friendly to himself, as it is hostile to Satan, and that he who shows himself thus friendly, cannot be at the same time hostile. The use which is often made of Matthew 12:30, to show that there is no such thing as indifference to Jesus, but that seeming indifference is real hostility, is unwarrantable. The real meaning of both passages is, that friendliness and hostility are incongruous, and cannot therefore exist together.

ἡμῶν, us, instead of ὑμῶν, you, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCΔ 1, 13, 69, 209, one ms. Lat. Vet. Memph. Harcl. marg.

41. ὅς γὰρ ἂν ποτίσὑμᾶς ποτήριον ὕδατος ἐν ὀνόματι ὅτι χριστοῦ ἐστε—For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink on the ground that you belong to Christ. ὀνόματι is used here like the Latin nomen to denote cause or season. RV. because ye are Christ’s. This confirms the preceding by showing that even a small service done in his name will be taken as showing friendliness to him, and so will not lose its reward. It gets its character from its motive of attachment to him.

Omit τῷ before ὀνόματι Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א ABCLNC ΓΠ. Omit μου, my, after ὀνόματι Treg. WH. RV. אc ABC* KLN Π* 1, 229, 238, 435, Pesh. Harcl. text. Insert μου Tisch. א* C3 DX ΓΔΠ2 Latt. Memph. Harcl. marg. The pleonasm favors this reading, as Tisch. says. Insert ὅτι, that, before οὐ μὴ

This presents the other side, the result of injuring one of his disciples. But it is noticeable that the injury is a spiritual one. Not that other hurts inflicted on them would not be taken as indicating hostility to him, but that Jesus, when he thinks of such injuries, singles out those inflicted on their spiritual nature as the only ones that will really harm them, though others show the disposition to harm them. καλόν ἐστιν αὐτῷ μᾶλλον—it is well for him rather.1 Regularly, the form of conditional sentence employed would correspond to the assumption that the condition is contrary to the fact; i.e. past tenses of the ind. would be employed. The English Version indicates this by its translation, it were better, were hung, and were cast. The present construction, making it a pure condition, leaves out of sight that the clause ὃς ἄν σκανδαλίσῃ has already assumed σκανδαλίζειν,—causing to fall, as the actual case. μύλος ὀνικός—an upper millstone. Both words are Biblical, and ὀνικός is found only here and in the parallel passage (Matthew 18:6). This is another case, therefore, in which only the interdependence of the written accounts will account for the identity of the language. The grist was ground in a mill between an upper and under stone, the under one being stationary, and the upper one turned by an ass, whence the name ὀνικός.

43. καὶ ἐὰν σκανδαλίσσεχείρ σου,

This is confessedly one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the N.T. In the first place, it seems necessary to connect πυρὶ with πῦρ, v. 48, and ἁλισθήσεται in v. 49 with ἅλας in v. 50. And it is this connection with what precedes and follows that makes trouble. For πυρὶ is also connected with ἁλισθήσεται, and ἁλισθήσεται, from its connection with ἅλας, gets a good meaning, and πυρὶ, from its connection with πῦρ, gets a bad meaning. That makes the crux of the situation. Meyer is about the only one who faces this, and gives us a key that fits into all the wards of the lock. This he does by obtaining his interpretation of ἁλισθήσεται from Leviticus 2:13, where it is called the salt of the covenant. To be salted would mean, therefore, for any one to have the covenant fulfilled on himself. πᾶς would refer thus to those who suffer the doom of Gehenna, and the meaning would be that every one of these shall have the covenant fulfilled on him by its fires. And on the other hand, every sacrifice, such as those make who cut off hand or foot, or eye, to preserve themselves from spiritual loss, will have the covenant fulfilled on them by the salt of purifying wisdom. The difficulty with this very ingenious, and otherwise satisfactory interpretation is, that it involves a recondite allusion to the usages and meanings of ceremonial law, which is entirely foreign to our Lord’s manner of speech. And then, it gives also a double meaning to ἅλας, one in the verb ἁλισθήσεται, and another in the noun itself. This breaks up the connection made by the recurrence of the same keywords, not so badly, to be sure, as when different meanings are assigned to πῦρ in v. 48, 49, but still enough to constitute a difficulty. Another very serious difficulty is, that it requires the retention of the second clause of v. 49, κ. πᾶσα θυσία, etc. This clause is, to say the least, extremely doubtful. And yet, it furnishes the only use of ἅλας giving us a transition to the ἅλας of v. 50, as the meaning of ἁλισθήσεται makes no connection with that. No, we shall have to find an interpretation that will enable us to pass right over from the first clause of v. 49 to v. 50, and that at the same time will preserve the connection with v. 48. Salt in that case will have to denote a purifying element, to connect 49 and 50, and fire will have to denote a destroying element, to connect 48 and 49. That is, we have brought together in this v. 49 the purifying element salt, and the destroying element fire, and the statement is that the destructive element performs a purifying part. The object of all retributions, even of the penal retributions of Gehenna, is to purify. They serve, like sickness in the physical being, to warn man against violations of the law of his being. But the statement is not restricted to these, but is extended, as the unlimited πᾶς naturally suggests, to the cutting off of hand and foot and eye also. Every one shall be purified either by the loss of parts, self-inflicted to preserve the whole, or by the destroying fires of Gehenna. This is the law of our being, and every one has to submit to it, in one form or another.

καλὸν τὸ ἅλας1—salt is good. The special form of purification meant is that of affliction. But the statement is general—that which purifies is good. ἄναλον—literally saltless.

1 See Deuteronomy 34:6, Deuteronomy 34:2 K. 2:11.

2 The prep. in ἔκφοβοι denotes completeness. (English, out and out.) Thay.-Grm. Lex. under ἐκ.

Memph. Memphitic.

marg. Revided Version marg.

Pesh. Peshito.

Harcl. Harclean.

X Codex Wolfi A.

Γ̠Codex Tischendorfianus

Π̠Codex Petropolitianus

3 ἐξάπινα is a rare, late word for ἐξαίφνης.

D Codex Ephraemi.

Latt. Latin Versions.

1 We say out of the mountain in Eng., thinking of it as something to be penetrated.

1 See Thay.-Grm. Lex.

2 See Win. 18 a, 3, for the use of the art. with the inf.; also Burton, 392, 393.

3 See Burton, 349; Win. 24, 4.

A Codex Alexandrinus.

1 The answer in full would be, It has been written that he suffer, as if it said, it has been decreed, that he suffer. It is this idea of decree that explains the use of ἵνα. Burton, 212 (a), 223.

2 A Biblical word.

1 See on ἔκφοβοι, v. 6.

209 An unnamed, valuable manuscript.

2 On this use of ἐὰν, instead of ἂν, see on 8:38.

K Codex Cyprius.

1 On the use of ἵνα after a verb of entreaty, see Burton, 200.

F Codex Borelli.

Syrr. Syriac Versions.

2 This use of ἕως with a temporal adverb is rare in classical Greek. Win. 54, 6.

3 The acc. is the regular construction after

1 Cf. Matthew 18:2-5.

1 κακολογῆσαι comes within the classical period, but κακῶς λέγειν is more usual.

M Codex Campianus.

1 The comp. of καλός (or καλῶς) is found only once in the N.T. (Acts 25:10).

E Codex Basiliensis.

H Codex Wolfi B.

V Codex Mosquensis.

1 On this use of the pos. instead of the comp., well, instead of better, see Win. 35. 2.c.

1 ἅλα in the last clause is formed regularly from ἅλς, which is regular, but not found here; also from ἅλα, the reading of Tisch. in the first two clauses, and a later form. But it is not to be formed regularly from ἅλας, though the two are conjoined in the authorities followed by Treg. WH. ἅλας is also a later form.

2 This word means strictly to prepare food, and only in comic writers and the Bible, to season it.

1 To make this phrase consistent, either the pron. should be changed to the reflexive, or the prep. to μετὰ.

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Bibliographical Information
Driver, S.A., Plummer, A.A., Briggs, C.A. "Commentary on Mark 9". International Critical Commentary NT. 1896-1924.