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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

- Mark

by Editor - Joseph S. Exell

The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic


St. Mark

By the

New York






THROUGHOUT this volume the needs of the preacher have been constantly kept in view, and the main thing aimed at has been not originality so much as usefulness.

Besides a considerable quantity of homiletic material specially prepared by the author for this work, there will be found here a great variety of choice thoughts by different writers, carefully condensed, but for the most part in their own words. These extracts have been culled from a very wide field of literature, both ancient and modern. Many days were spent in the Reading Room of the British Museum ransacking old and rare tomes. Vast numbers of scarce periodicals also were searched and made to deliver up their treasures.
The Illustrations and Anecdotes placed at the end of each chapter may help sometimes to relieve the monotony of a close argument, or may perchance brighten up a sermon to the young.
It is not pretended that the Critical and Exegetical Notes are complete in themselves, or anything like it: the plan of the work precluded the attempt. Being restricted to an average of a page per chapter for this department, the writer was obliged to confine himself to the brief elucidation of a few salient points, adding references here and there to reliable sources of information. In cases of serious difficulty and controversy, a preference for one interpretation has generally been indicated, and reasons offered therefor. See, e.g., the notes on chaps. Mark 2:26; Mark 7:19; Mark 13:14; Mark 14:72. But it must be distinctly understood that the reader is supposed to be provided with other commentaries of a more critical kind, which may supplement the slight treatment given here to the hard texts in the Gospel according to St. Mark.




The Author.—There seems no reason to doubt that the writer of the Second Gospel is the person associated in the Acts (Mark 12:25, Mark 13:5; Mark 13:13, Mark 15:37-39) with Paul and Barnabas, and spoken of by Peter (1 Peter 5:13) as his “son.” To his Jewish name “John” (Johanan, “the gift of God”) was added, according to the custom of the time, the Latin surname “Mark” (Marcus, “a hammer”). Of his father nothing is known; but his mother, Mary, was evidently a woman of some note among the early disciples at Jerusalem (Acts 12:12). He was also cousin to Barnabas, and therefore a member of the tribe of Levi. When or how he first came under Christian influences we have no means of determining, but his conversion was probably due in some way to St. Peter. If, as has been conjectured, he recounts in chap. Mark 14:51-52, an incident that happened to himself, we may think of him as a young man who had been impressed by what he saw and heard of the Saviour’s teaching and bearing, but too timid to make a determined stand for his convictions in the face of danger. In A.D. 45 we find him (Acts 12:25) accompanying Paul and Barnabas on their return from Jerusalem to Antioch. Three years later he visited Cyprus with them (Acts 13:5); and he might thenceforth have been their constant companion, but that at Perga (Acts 13:13) he left them and returned to Jerusalem. His reason for so doing cannot now be determined. Being a convert of St. Peter, he may not have been prepared for a mission to the Gentiles, but felt more fitted for work among the Jews nearer home; or he may have shrunk from the unknown perils of the Asiatic mountains; or, perhaps, the novelty of the expedition having worn off, he became homesick, and yearned for the society of his mother. In any case it was not long before he was ready to enter again upon the mission field with Paul and Barnabas, the latter of whom took a more lenient view of his defection than the former, who indeed refused his consent to the proposal (Acts 15:36-40). Neither of them being willing to give way, “they departed asunder, the one from the other; and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed into Cyprus,” and “Paul chose Silas, and departed.” Thus this dissension between the two apostles resulted in God’s good providence in the still wider diffusion of the gospel of peace. Moreover, the estrangement proved but a temporary cloud, for we afterwards find Mark restored to the full confidence of St. Paul, standing by his side during his first imprisonment at Rome, and recognised by him as one of the few “fellow-workers unto the kingdom of God” who had been “a comfort” to him at that trying period of his life (Colossians 4:10-11; Philemon 1:24). Mark was at that time about to make a journey to the very region he formerly refused to visit, and the Colossians might have felt a little suspicious of him had not the apostle added, “If he come unto you, receive him.” The next time we hear of Mark he is at Babylon, in attendance on his spiritual father, St. Peter (1 Peter 5:13). There is one more notice of him in the New Testament, and that is contained in the last Epistle we possess from the pen of St. Paul. The great apostle is in prison once more at Rome, and the hour of his martyrdom is at hand. Mark is in Asia Minor again, near or in Ephesus, where Timothy is stationed. St. Paul longs for the society of them both. “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me,” he writes to Timothy. “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:10-11). The weakness of his early manhood had been nobly redeemed by a lifework of sterling fidelity to the truth. In all likelihood he did, on receiving this message, return to Rome, and there cheer the last days, not only of St. Paul, but also of St. Peter, for it is believed that these two champions of the faith suffered martyrdom together. Ecclesiastical tradition asserts that Mark afterwards undertook a mission to Egypt, where he founded the Church of Alexandria and the famous Catechetical School which produced such a succession of learned teachers. He is said also to have suffered martyrdom there. According to later legends, his body was in A.D. 827 removed to Venice, a city where he was greatly honoured, and which has ever since considered itself under his special protection.

The Gospel.—In the foregoing notice of St. Mark’s life a great deal more has necessarily been said of the Evangelist’s association with St. Paul than of his relation to St. Peter. But when we proceed to speak of his Gospel, it is St. Peter who comes into prominence. The early Christian Fathers are unanimous in testifying that Mark wrote under Peter’s superintendence and by his authority. Justin Martyr goes so far, indeed, as to call the Second Gospel “Peter’s memoirs.” Tertullian says that it “may be affirmed to be Peter’s, whose interpreter Mark was”; Origen, that Mark “composed it as Peter guided him”; and Eusebius, “that all the contents of Mark’s Gospel are regarded as memoirs of Peter’s discourses.” Perhaps the most important patristic statement is the following, which Papias makes on the authority of John, a contemporary of the apostles, if not the Fourth Evangelist himself: “And this the Presbyter said: Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote accurately whatever he recorded. He did not present, however, in regular order the things that were either spoken or done by Christ, for he had not been a personal auditor or follower of the Lord. But afterwards, as I said, he attached himself to Peter, who gave instructions according to the necessities of his hearers, but not in the way of making an orderly arrangement of the Lord’s words. So that Mark committed no error in writing such details of things as he recorded; for he made conscience of one thing, not to omit on the one hand, and not to misrepresent on the other, any of the details which he heard.” This testimony of the ancients is distinctly confirmed by the contents of the Gospel itself. The whole tone and character of the book is in complete accordance with what we know of St. Peter and his manner of preaching. See Acts 1:22; Acts 10:36-42. The latter of these passages has been called “the Gospel of Mark in a nutshell.” Short as it is, this Gospel supplies several details connected with St. Peter recorded by no other Evangelist (Mark 1:36, Mark 11:21, Mark 13:3, Mark 16:7), and lays special stress on things fitted to humble him (Mark 8:33, Mark 14:30; Mark 14:68-72); while, on the other hand, it omits various circumstances tending to his honour (comp. Mark 7:17 with Matthew 15:15; Mark 6:50-51, with Matthew 14:28-31; Matthew 9:33 with Matthew 17:24-27; Matthew 8:29-30, with Matthew 16:17-19; Matthew 14:13 with Luke 22:8). Bishop Chris. Wordsworth sees in the fact that this Gospel bears the name of Mark, and not of Peter, another “silent token of the humility of the apostle, not ambitious for the exhibition of his own name in the eye of the world.” The human teacher is content to sink his personality and veil his identity, while he sets forth with graphic pen the words and deeds of the Christ, the Son of the living God.

Date and place of publication.—Here there is plenty of scope for speculation, based on the statement of Irenæus, that, “after the departure of Peter and Paul, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, even he delivered to us in writing the things which were preached by Peter.” The time of “the departure” or decease of the two apostles being quite uncertain—every year from A.D. 64 to A.D. 68 having been assigned by one critic or another—it would be rash to attempt to draw the line closer than somewhere between these two dates. It is hardly possible to believe, at any rate, that the Gospel left its author’s hands later than A.D. 70, as it contains no mention of the signal fulfilment of our Lord’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, which occurred in that year. As to the place of publication, one ancient father (Chrysostom) mentions Alexandria; while of moderns one (Storr) fixes on Antioch, and another (Birks) on Cæsarea; but they give no sufficient reasons for rejecting the otherwise uniform testimony in favour of Rome. This tradition receives confirmation from the contents of the Gospel, throughout which words unfamiliar to Gentile readers are interpreted (Mark 3:17, Mark 5:41, Mark 7:11, Mark 10:46, Mark 14:36, Mark 15:34; see also Mark 12:42, Mark 9:43); Jewish customs are explained (Mark 7:3-4, Mark 13:3, Mark 15:42); matters chiefly interesting to Jews (such as genealogies, references to the Mosaic Law, and Old Testament citations) are conspicuous by their almost total absence; Latin words and idioms are more freely used than in any of the other Gospels (Mark 6:27; Mark 7:4; Mark 7:8; Mark 12:42; Mark 15:15; Mark 15:39; Mark 15:44-45). Other grains of confirmatory evidence may be drawn from the mention of Alexander and Rufus (Mark 15:21), the latter being probably the person referred to by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (Mark 16:13); from our knowledge that Mark certainly spent some part of his life at Rome, coupled with the fact of his Roman surname “Marcus” gradually superseding the Hebrew “John”; and from the conciseness of his narrative, which made it so suitable for the vigorous intelligence of Roman hearers.

Characteristics.—The fourfold Gospel, according to a happy illustration of the early Church, may be compared to the river which “went out of Eden to water the garden”; for in like manner do these separate records of the life and ministry of Jesus water the garden of the Catholic Church, and send their refreshing streams to every nation and every age. Each of the Evangelists had his own distinct design and object, which must ever be kept in view. St. Matthew points the Jews to their Messiah; St. Mark portrays for Gentile readers the King of men; St. Luke depicts the Divine Physician and Saviour of sinners; St. John declares the eternal pre-existence and Godhead of Him who was manifested in the flesh. The first Evangelist may be said to adopt the form of narrative, the second of memoirs, the third of history, and the fourth of dramatic portraiture. The subject-matter of the first three Gospels is to a certain extent very similar, though in each the peculiarities are striking enough to preclude the theory of one being copied from another. The most natural explanation is that all three drew from a common source, that source being the oral teaching of the apostles, which doubtless received a fixed form at a very early date. St. Mark omits many of the discourses and parables which occupy so prominent a place in the narratives of St. Matthew and St. Luke, but enters into more minute details than either of them as regards persons (Mark 1:29; Mark 1:36, Mark 3:6; Mark 3:22, Mark 11:11; Mark 11:21, Mark 13:3, Mark 14:65, Mark 15:21, Mark 16:7), numbers (Mark 5:13, Mark 6:7; Mark 6:40, Mark 14:30), times (Mark 1:35, Mark 2:1, Mark 4:35, Mark 6:2, Mark 11:11; Mark 11:19, Mark 15:25, Mark 16:2), and places (Mark 2:13, Mark 3:7, Mark 4:1, Mark 5:20, Mark 7:31, Mark 12:41, Mark 13:3, Mark 14:68, Mark 15:39, Mark 16:5). He also takes particular notice of the emotions, looks, gestures, and actions of our Lord and others (Mark 3:5; Mark 3:34, Mark 7:33, Mark 8:33, Mark 9:36, Mark 10:32). We have to thank him, too, for often preserving the identical Aramaic words that fell from the Saviour’s lips (Mark 3:17, Mark 5:41, Mark 7:11; Mark 7:34, Mark 14:36). His main characteristic may be said to be vividness. “He sees history, as it were, by flashes of lightning.” For him the past lives again in the present, and his lifelike narrative helps us to conjure up the scene as if it were now enacting and we were ourselves among the bystanders. “Nor is this vividness merely the product of an opulent fancy. It is the consistency in details of a picture whose central figure is drawn in lines of fire. Those rapid and decided touches are inspired by a conviction of the love, the glory, and the strength of Jesus, the Son of God.” He is so full of his great subject, so wrapped up in the contemplation of his Divine Hero, that he hurries from point to point with his favourite καὶ εὐθέως, as if in breathless haste to reach the vantage-ground of the resurrection morn, followed by the triumphant ascension into heaven and the session at the right hand of God.


Church Seasons: Advent, Mark 11:1-11; Mark 13:33-37. Lent, Mark 1:13; Mark 2:18-22; Mark 6:30-32. Palm Sunday, Mark 11:1-11. Good Friday, Mark 10:45; Mark 14:32-42; Mark 14:53-72; Mark 15:1-15; Mark 15:16-20; Mark 15:21-41. Easter, Mark 16:4; Mark 5:6; Mark 7:0; Mark 16:9-18. St. Mark’s Day, Mark 14:51-52. Ascension Day, Mark 16:14-18; Mark 16:19-20. John Baptist’s Day, Mark 1:1-8; Mark 6:14-29. St. Matthew’s Day, Mark 2:13-17. Sabbath, Mark 2:23-28.

Baptism: Mark 1:8; Mark 10:13-16.

Holy Communion: Mark 14:12-31.

Foreign Missions: Mark 4:30-34; Mark 10:28-31; Mark 16:15.

Evangelistic Services: Mark 2:17; Mark 5:25-34; Mark 7:24-30; Mark 8:36-37.

Special: Workers, Mark 3:13-19; Mark 14:0; Mark 4:1-20, Mark 4:21; Mark 14:6-9; Mark 15:21. Worship, Mark 7:1-23; Mark 9:5; Mark 11:17. Quiet Days, Mark 6:30-32. Hospital Sunday, Mark 1:21-34; Mark 1:40-45; Mark 10:46. Harvest Festival, Mark 4:26-29. Marriage, Mark 2:18-22; Mark 10:1-12. Children, Mark 9:37; Mark 10:13-16. Labour Congress, Mark 6:3 a. Almsgiving, Mark 12:41-44.

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