Bible Commentaries
Mark 6

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Mark 3:7 to Mark 7:37 . A new stage in the work of Jesus. “ Up to this point Christ’ s ministry is purely Galilean in scene, actors and horizon alike.” Now crowds come from long distances and from all parts of the country. The attention of the religious authorities at Jerusalem is drawn to Him ( cf. Mark 3:22). The work of evangelization is shared with twelve chosen disciples. The teaching of Jesus undergoes a twofold change. The seashore and the desert replace the synagogue, and the parables become Christ’ s customary form of utterance. How long this period of wider activity continues we do not know, nor is it quite clear at what point in his narrative Mk. would conclude it. But in Mark 7:17 ff. he begins to throw stress on the training of the Twelve, which has definitely led to the abandonment of the public ministry in Galilee when we reach Mark 9:30 f. Perhaps Mark 7:23 forms the point of transition.

Verses 1-6

Mark 6:1-6 . The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth.— Mk.’ s reason for inserting this incident at this particular point is obscure. It seems to belong to the early period. Jesus is once more in the synagogue as His custom was at the first, and the presence of the disciples is especially mentioned, as if they were not yet habitually in His company. Perhaps Mk. places the incident here as a first sign of waning public interest. The disciples, in the next section, are warned to expect similar indifference and antagonism. Jesus’ own country is clearly Nazareth ( cf. Mark 1:9). The very familiarity of the townsfolk with Jesus obscures His greatness for them. As an Indian saying has it, “ There is always a shadow under the lamp.” They were too close to Jesus to appreciate Him. Mk. alone has the reference to “ kinsfolk” in Mark 6:4. This perhaps presupposes the incident in Mark 3:31 f. Mk. is also unique in the freedom with which he speaks of the restraint laid upon Jesus by the hostility of the Nazarenos. He does not hesitate to attribute the emotion of wonder to Jesus. Want of faith surprised Him. This is significant. It shows how natural trust in God seemed to Jesus.

Mark 6:3 . The reading, “ Is not this the carpenter?” is the best attested for Mk., but it is doubtful whether Mt. is not more original in reading, “ Is not this the carpenter’ s son?” Either reading might give offence to some Christians and be liable to change; either reading suffices to remind us that the early life of Jesus was associated with the everyday tasks of a Jewish artisan. The names of the brothers of Jesus may be mentioned because they had become leaders in the Church. There is no ground for questioning their blood-relationship to our Lord. The plain sense of the passage is, sons of the same mother, and indeed of the same father ( Matthew 1:25 *).

Verses 6-13

Mark 6:6-13 . The Missionary Activity of the Twelve.— Wellhausen is sceptical as to the historic worth of this paragraph, as also of the section on the appointment of the Twelve. But Mk.’ s view, that the disciples were not sent out to evangelize until they had been with Jesus some time ( cf. Mark 3:14), is probable, as is also his view that their evangelistic activities ended when Jesus Himself withdrew from Galilee. He is clearly convinced that this missionary work of the Twelve was a real event which influenced the course of the history. Apparently it drew Herod’ s attention to Jesus ( Mark 6:14), and the return of the Twelve initiates a new development in the life of Jesus, viz. His wish for retirement ( Mark 6:30 points back to Mark 6:12). The directions themselves, as Loisy contends, read like a summary of a longer speech. Mk. may well be dependent on Q or some earlier record at this point. According to Mk., Jesus permitted the use of staff and sandals, which is forbidden in Mt. and Lk. The wallet, the use of which is forbidden, may be the religious beggar’ s collecting-bag. The disciples are not to imitate the wandering heathen priest who collects offerings for his shrine (Deissmann, New Light on the New Testament, p. 42f.). The directions reflect the actual practice of the earliest Christian missionaries (with Mark 6:11 cf. Acts 13:51; Acts 18:6). The anointing with oil ( James 5:14) is not mentioned elsewhere in the gospels. It is not traced back to the command or practice of Jesus. On the general character of this missionary preaching, Montefiore (i. 150) notes that “ apostolic” poverty was a new thing in Judaism.

Mark 6:8 . Mg. “ brass” may be adopted almost in our slang sense of the word; Mk. uses a vulgar term for “ money.”

Verses 14-29

Mark 6:14-29 . Herod and Jesus. The End of John the Baptist.— Wellhausen, J. Weiss, and Klostermann would begin a new period with this section— the period of constant wandering, in which Jesus is mostly outside Galilee, e.g. in the districts of Tyre and Sidon ( Mark 7:24), Decapolis ( Mark 7:31), Bethsaida ( Mark 8:22), Cæ sarea Philippi ( Mark 8:27). The restless journeying across the lake, and the avoidance of Galilee, would be explained by the fact that the suspicions of Herod have been aroused. This characterisation of the period is correct and the hint as to its cause is also probable ( cf. Luke 13:32). Mark 6:14-16 seems to lead up to a reference to the hostility of Herod which is forgotten in the eagerness of the writer to tell the story of John’ s end. But Mk. does not make a sharp division here. The story of Herod and John the Baptist is intended to fill up the interval during which the apostles are away from Jesus ( cf. the insertion of the discussion with the scribes ( Mark 3:22-30) between the two parts of the story of the attempt made by the relatives of Jesus to interfere with His work). The historical worth of this section is doubtful. Lk., who seems to have fuller and more accurate information concerning Herod, corrects the saying of Mark 6:16 (see Luke 9:9) and omits the account of John’ s end. It is unlikely that Herod thought John to have risen again. The beheading of John is narrated in a popular form, not without inaccuracies and improbabilities. In true popular style Mk. speaks of Herod Antipas as “ king” ( Mark 6:14) instead of using the technical term “ tetrarch” (Herod was ruler of Galilee and Peræ a). Philip was the husband of Salome not of Herodias. Salome was probably married already, and could no longer be described as “ a damsel,” at the time of her supposed dance. Josephus assigns a political not a personal motive for the execution of John. The whole narrative is coloured perhaps by the story of Jezebel and Elijah, and certainly by the book of Esther ( cf. Mark 6:23 with Esther 7:2). However, John’ s rebuke of Herod based on Leviticus 18:16; Leviticus 18:20 f., and the consequent enmity of Herodias may well be historical, and it is possible to combine Mk. and Josephus (see p. 654, and Schü rer, Hist. of Jewish People, I. ii. 21f.).

[ Mark 6:26 . reject: E. A. Abbott suggests break faith with her” ( Johannine Vocabulary, p. 322); this is accepted by Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary, p. 12, and by Souter, Pocket Lexicon, p. 7. Field, Notes, p. 30, suggests “ disappoint.”— A. S. P.]

Verses 30-44

Mark 6:30-44 . The Feeding of the Multitude.— Mk. regards the disciples’ need of rest after their missionary labours as the occasion for retirement. The hostility of Herod may also have contributed to the decision to withdraw to a desert place. The pressure of the public on the time and energies of the disciple-band is, however, put in the foreground. The eagerness of the crowd defeats the purpose of Jesus. Though He has withdrawn to avoid them. He goes forth to welcome them. To Him they seem like the shepherdless flock described in Ezekiel 34. Their political and religious leaders are worthless, and their first need is teaching. Jesus is touched by the crowd’ s half-unconscious search for leadership. Mk. preserves ( Mark 6:34) his tantalizing silence as to the content of Jesus’ teaching. He is more interested in the care of Jesus for men’ s physical hunger than in His concern for their spiritual and political dangers. For us the fact that Jesus was moved by compassion to meet both physical and spiritual needs is of great significance. But the story, as it stands, is not easy of acceptance. The resort to miracle here seems to conflict with the story of the first Temptation. Is there adequate occasion for the miracle? And yet a miracle it clearly is to Mk., not a last supper with the crowd nor a sacramental meal. The breaking of the bread is simply Jewish custom, not a peculiar feature of the Last Supper, while the lifting of the eyes to heaven comes into liturgical use from the story and not vice versa (see HNT and Well-hausen). Is it possible that Strauss ( Life of Jesus, 1846 ed., i. 80, ii. 422) was justified in tracing the miraculous element in this story to the influence of antecedent expectations regarding the Messiah, such as are reflected in John 6:31? Or has 2 Kings 4:42-44 influenced the passage?

Two points need to be borne in mind. First, we must remember the attitude of Jesus towards hunger as revealed in the companion narrative ( Mark 8:2), and in such passages as Mark 5:43, Matthew 6:11; Matthew 25:35. Is it going too far to say that Jesus was peculiarly sensitive to the evil of physical hunger? If so, the conflict with the story of the Temptation may be more apparent than real. He might have satisfied the needs of others by miracle, though He refused to make bread for Himself. Secondly, the Jews and the first Christians did not rigidly distinguish between the world of nature and the world of men. We, to-day, are inclined to believe in miraculous changes where human will and faith directly operate, and rigidly to limit the sphere of such changes. The first Christians were clearly of opinion that their Master, who could heal diseases, could also control nature. They held that famine could not baffle Jesus. This conviction needs to be pondered.

Mark 6:37 . The reference to 200 pennyworth of bread is found in John 6, where the green grass is also mentioned. These coincidences deserve study. Does Jn. depend on Mk. or does he independently endorse Mk.? A penny was a labourer’ s daily wage. The whole sum might be reckoned at about £ 50 of our money. The green grass suggests spring, but does not allow any final deduction as to the time of year.

Mark 6:40 . Mk. here uses a curious phrase comparing the companies to “ garden-beds.” The resemblance lies in form, not in colour, since the word refers to vegetables rather than flowers.

Verses 45-52

Mark 6:45-52 . Jesus Dismisses the Crowd and Walks on the Sea.— The first verses of this section apparently touch on an unexplained crisis in the life of Jesus. Why does He compel the disciples to leave Him? Why does He spend the night alone in prayer? Is the dismissal of the crowd a farewell, like Paul’ s farewell to the elders of Ephesus? The word used in Mark 6:46 occurs in Acts 18:18; Acts 18:21. There is, as J. Weiss sees, significant history here to which the evangelist does not give the key. “ Jesus seems to be in a condition of soul which makes the presence even of the disciples insupportable and communion with His heavenly Father indispensable” (SNT, i. 131). Possibly John 6:15 suggests the reason why Jesus constrained the disciples to depart. The miracle that follows is difficult. It involves a display of power over nature which is unlike Jesus. One is tempted to believe that allegory has been materialized here. In any case, the story is most helpful when allegorized as in G. Matheson’ s hymn, “ Jesus, Fountain of my days” (Baptist Church Hymnal, 337, Cong. Hymnary, 395). But the incident is associated with good history in Mark 6:45 f., and the reference to the apostles’ dullness is probably of apostolic origin. Nor is it easy to assign a motive for the story, if it be legend.

Verses 53-56

Mark 6:53-56 . The Ministry of Healing Resumed.— The disciples having set out for Bethsaida (p. 29), in the NE. corner of the lake, arrive at Gennesaret (p. 29) on the NW. side. The change of destination is usually attributed to the adverse wind. But Mk. says nothing of a change of course. The wind dropped, and, according to John 6:21 the disciples reached at once the place they first intended to reach. Either we must with John correct Mk.’ s Bethsaida to Capernaum or else Mark 6:53-56 is the true continuation of Mark 6:30-32, and Mk. has inserted the feeding of the 5000 and the walking on the sea into the narrative of another journey. The general description of healings is supplemented by the reference to the desire to touch the hem of Christ’ s garment. The example of the woman with the issue of blood had clearly been influential.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Mark 6". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.