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Bible Commentaries
Mark 12

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4037. A.D. 33.

In this chapter we have,

(1,) The parable of the vineyard let out to ungrateful husbandmen, representing the sin and ruin of the Jewish Church, Mark 12:1-12 .

(2,) Christ’s silencing the Pharisees and Herodians, who thought to insnare him with a question about paying tribute to Cesar, Mark 12:13-17 .

(3,) His silencing the Sadducees, who attempted to perplex the doctrine of the resurrection, Mark 12:18-27 .

(4,) His conference with a scribe, about the first and great command of the law, Mark 12:28-34 .

(5,) His puzzling the scribes with a question about Christ’s being the son of David, Mark 12:35-37 .

(6,) His caution to the people to beware of the scribes, Mark 12:38-40 .

(7,) His commendation of the poor widow that cast her two mites into the treasury, Mark 12:41-44 . This chapter coincides with Mat 21:33 to Matthew 23:6 .

Verses 1-11

Mark 12:1-11. He began to speak unto them by parables “Christ having showed the rulers, chief priests, and scribes, the heinousness of their sin, in rejecting John the Baptist, (Matthew 21:28-32,) judged it proper, likewise, publicly to represent the crime of the nation, in rejecting all the messengers of God from first to last, and among the rest his only-begotten Son; and in mis-improving the Mosaic dispensation, under which they lived. At the same time, he warned them plainly of their danger, by reason of the punishment which they had incurred, on account of such a continued course of disobedience and rebellion. The outward economy of religion, in which they gloried, was to be taken from them; their relation to God as his people cancelled; and their national constitution destroyed. But because these were topics extremely disagreeable, he couched them under the veil of a parable, which he formed upon one made use of long before, by the Prophet Isaiah 5:1.” Macknight. A certain man planted a vineyard, &c. See this parable explained at large in the notes on Matthew 21:33-46.

Verse 12

Mark 12:12. They sought to lay hold on him. but feared the people Greek,

τον οχλον , the multitude. How wonderful is the providence of God, using all things for the good of his children! Generally the multitude is restrained from tearing them in pieces, only by the fear of their rulers. And here, the rulers themselves are restrained, through fear of the multitude!

Verses 13-17

Mark 12:13-17. They send unto him certain of the Pharisees, &c. See notes on Matthew 22:15-22. They marvelled at him At the wisdom of his answer.

Verses 18-20

Mark 12:18-20. These verses are explained in the notes on Matthew 22:23-33. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living That is, (if the argument be proposed at length,) since the character of his being the God of any persons, plainly intimates a relation to them, not as dead, but as living; and since he cannot be said to be at present their God at all, if they are utterly dead; nor to be the God of human persons, such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, consisting of souls and bodies, if their bodies were to abide in everlasting death; there must needs be a future state of blessedness, and a resurrection of the body, to share with the soul in it.

Verses 28-29

Mark 12:28-29. One of the scribes came So Luke also, Luke 20:19; but Matthew, εις εξ αυτων νομικος , one of them being a lawyer. In this diversity of words, however, there is no difference in sense. For the scribes not only transcribed the Scriptures, but were generally, also, teachers of the law, from which they had the name of lawyers: Having heard them reasoning together Having attended to the discourse between Jesus and the Sadducees; and perceiving that he had answered them well Had confuted their degrading doctrine of materialism, and proved, even from the books of Moses, the divine authority of which the Sadducees themselves could not but acknowledge, the certainty of a future state; asked him another question, with a view to make a further trial of his skill in the sacred volume. Which is the first commandment of all The principal, and most necessary to be observed? See the note on Matthew 22:34-36. Jesus answered, The first of all the commandments And the foundation of all the rest, is, The Lord our God is one Lord One Jehovah, one self-existent, independent, infinite, eternal Being: one in essence; inclusive, however, of three, υποστασεις , subsistences, generally termed persons. See on Matthew 28:19, and note on Exodus 3:14. Dr. Campbell translates this clause, The Lord is our God: the Lord is one; in Deuteronomy, Jehovah is our God: Jehovah is one; and not as one sentence, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah. Among other reasons for rendering the words thus, he gives the following: 1st, That “it appears to have been the purpose of their great legislator, to establish among them these two important articles, as the foundation of that religious constitution he was authorized to give them. The first was, that the God whom they were to adore, was not any of the acknowledged objects of worship in the nations around them, and was therefore to be distinguished among them, the better to secure them against seduction, by the peculiar name Jehovah, by which alone he chose to be invoked by them. The second was, the unity of the divine nature, and consequently, that no pretended divinity (for all other gods were merely pretended) ought to be associated with the only true God, or share with him in their adoration. 2d, That in the reply of the scribe, Mark 12:32, which was approved by our Lord, and in which he, as it were, echoes every part of the answer that had been given to his question, there are two distinct affirmations with which he begins; these are, There is one God, and there is only one, corresponding to The Lord is our God, and the Lord is one. The first clause, in both declarations, points to the object of worship; the second, to the necessity of excluding all others. Accordingly, the radical precept relating to this subject, quoted by our Lord, Matthew 4:10, from the LXX., is exactly suited to both parts of this declaration. Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God. This may be called the positive part of the statute, and corresponds to the article, The Lord is our God. Thou shalt serve him only. This is the negative part, and corresponds to the article, The Lord is one.”

Verse 30

Mark 12:30. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart The summary of piety contained in these words, (see notes on Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37,) is introduced by the preceding emphatical and strong assertion of the unity of God; because, “it is necessary that men should be deeply impressed with just notions of the object of their worship, particularly that he is the only true God, the maker of all things, and the possessor of all perfection, to whom there is not any being equal, or like, or second: in order that they may apply themselves, with the utmost diligence, to obey his precepts, the first and chief of which is, that they give him their hearts. God is so transcendently amiable in himself, and, by the benefits he hath conferred on us, hath such a title to our utmost affection, that there is no obligation that bears any proportion to that of loving him. The honour assigned to this precept proves, that piety is the noblest act of the human mind, and that the chief ingredient in piety is love, founded on a clear, extensive view of the divine perfections, a permanent sense of his benefits, and a deep conviction of his being the sovereign good, our portion, our happiness. But it is essential to love, that there be a delight in contemplating the beauty of the object beloved; that we frequently, and with pleasure, reflect on the benefits which the object of our affection has conferred on us; that we have a strong desire of pleasing him, great fear of doing any thing to offend him, and a sensible joy in the thought of being beloved in return. Hence the duties of devotion, prayer, and praise, are the most natural and genuine exercises of the love of God. Moreover, this virtue is not so much any single affection, as the continual bent of all the affections and powers of the soul. In which light, to love God is, as much as possible, to direct the whole soul toward God, and to exercise all its faculties on him as its chief object. But the beauty and excellence of this state of the mind is best seen in its effects; for the worship and obedience flowing from such a universal bent of the soul toward God, is as much superior to the worship and obedience arising from partial considerations, as the light of the sun is to any picture of it that can be drawn. For example, if we look on God only as a stern lawgiver, who can and will punish our rebellion, it may indeed force an awe and dread of him, and as much obedience to his laws as we think will satisfy him, but can never produce that constancy in our duty, that delight in it, and that earnestness to do it in its utmost extent, which are produced and maintained in the mind by the sacred fire of divine love, or by the bent of the whole soul, turned toward God; a frame the most excellent that can be conceived, and the most to be desired, because it constitutes the highest perfection and happiness of the creature.” This is the first (Matthew, and great) commandment As this is the first in order, so it is the greatest commandment in the law.

Verse 31

Mark 12:31. And the second is like Of a like comprehensive nature; comprising the whole of our duty to man. Thou shalt love thy neighbour “The precept enjoining love to our neighbour is like to the great commandment which enjoins the love of God, because charity is the sister of piety, clearly proving its relation by the similarity of its features, complexion, and temper. As piety is the offspring of God, so is its sister, charity, being enjoined by the same authority, and produced by the influence of the same Spirit. Piety and charity consist of the like motions and dispositions of soul, and are kept alive by the same kind of nourishment; the beauties of moral excellence appearing, whether in the great Father, or in his children, who bear his image. They have the same happy tendency to make those in whom they reside, like God, who is God by being good and doing good; like him, also, in his felicity, which arises, not only from the possession, but from the communication of his goodness. They are like to each other in their sublime and important nature, and of like use in the conduct of life; the one being the principle from which the whole duty we owe to God must spring; the other that from which the whole duty we owe to man must flow. To conclude they have a like power on the minds of the beholders, raising both esteem and love wherever they appear in their genuine beauty. These are the features by which piety and charity are strongly marked, by which their affinity to each other is clearly proved, and by which they are rendered sister graces, and inseparable companions.” Macknight. There is no other moral, much less ceremonial, commandment, greater than these.

Verses 32-34

Mark 12:32-34. The scribe Who had proposed the question to try him, being struck with the solidity and spirit of his answer, said, Well, Master In the original it is, καλως , excellently, finely, or beautifully; a phrase which expresses his high satisfaction in the reply much more strongly than the word well. Thou hast said the truth Thy declaration is perfectly correct, and unspeakably important; for there is one God, &c., and to love him with all the heart To love and serve him with all the united powers of the soul, in their utmost vigour; and without a rival; and to love his neighbour as himself To maintain the same equitable and charitable temper and behaviour toward all men, as we, in like circumstances, would wish from them toward ourselves, is a more necessary and important duty, and a more acceptable service, than the offering the most noble and costly sacrifices; nor could the most exact and pompous ritual observances be acceptable without such graces and virtues as these. When Jesus saw that he answered discreetly And thereby showed that he had just views of true religion; he said, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God He applauded the piety and wisdom of the scribe’s reflection, by declaring, that he was not far from embracing the gospel, and becoming a true member of Christ’s Church, possessed of all the blessings belonging to his disciples. Reader, art thou not far from the kingdom of God? Then go on: be a real Christian; else it had been better for thee to have been afar off.

Verses 35-37

Mark 12:35-37. See the note on Matthew 22:41-46, where this paragraph is explained. And the common people heard him gladly They heard him with great attention and pleasure; for the clear and solid answers which he returned to the insnaring questions of his foes, gave them a high opinion of his wisdom, and showed them how far he was superior to their most renowned rabbis; whose arguments to prove their opinions, and answers to the objections that were raised against them, were, generally speaking, but mean and trifling in comparison of his. Besides, the common people were neither so much prejudiced in behalf of the commonly received opinions, nor so much interested, as the scribes or other teachers.

Verses 38-40

Mark 12:38-40. Beware of the scribes See that ye do not imitate their hypocrisy, or imbibe their principles, and be on your guard against their insidious counsels and designs. There was an absolute necessity for these repeated cautions of our Lord. For, considering the inveterate prejudices of these scribes against him and his doctrine, it could never be supposed that the common people would receive the gospel till these incorrigible blasphemers of it were brought to just disgrace. Yet he delayed speaking in this manner till a little before his passion, as knowing what effect it would quickly produce. Which love to go in long clothing, &c. Here our Lord assigns the reason why he bid his disciples beware of imitating them. They were excessively proud and arrogant, as was plain from their affected gravity of dress, from the anxiety which they discovered to get the principal seats at feasts, and all public meetings, as things belonging to them, on account of their superior worth, and from their courting to be saluted in the streets with particular marks of respect, and to be addressed with the sounding titles of rabbi, father, and master; thinking such public acknowledgments of their merits due from all who met them. To this their excessive pride the Jewish teachers added an unbounded covetousness and sensuality, which did not suffer the substance even of widows to escape them. For the evangelist informs us, that they devoured widows’ houses, possessing themselves of their property by various acts of deception, and lived luxuriously thereon. And for a pretence To cover their crying immoralities; made long prayers With a great show of piety, hoping thereby to engage the esteem and confidence of others, that they might have the greater opportunity to injure and defraud them. These shall receive the greater damnation Their complicated wickedness, particularly making their pretended piety a cloak to their covetousness and luxury, shall cost them dear; and they shall be more dreadfully punished than if they had never prayed at all, nor made any pretences to religion. See notes on Matthew 23:1-14.

Verses 41-44

Mark 12:41-44. Jesus sat over against the treasury “Jesus was now in the treasury, or that part of the women’s court where the chests were placed for receiving the offerings of those who came to worship. These chests, being thirteen in number, had each of them an inscription, signifying for what use the offerings put into them were destined; and were fixed to the pillars of the portico which surrounded the court. From these voluntary contributions were bought wood for the altar, salt, and other necessaries, not provided for any other way. It was in this court of the women, according to the Talmudists, that the libation of water from Siloam was made annually at the feast of tabernacles, as a solemn public thanksgiving and prayer for the former and latter rain; to which rite, it is generally supposed, our Lord alluded, John 7:38.” Macknight. And beheld how the people cast money into the treasury Luke says, he looked up, and saw the rich men casting in their gifts, &c. That is, he noticed it with attentive observation; many of these, as Mark here informs us, casting in much, for, it seems, there was still this remainder of national liberality among them, though true religion was sunk to so very low an ebb. And there came a certain poor widow Whose character and circumstances were not unknown to Christ; and she threw in two mites Two small pieces of brass coin then in use; which make a farthing Καδραντης , a Roman coin, in value no more than three-fourths of our farthing. Wherefore the offering given by this poor widow was very small in itself, though in another respect it was a great gift, being all that she had, ever all her living. We can hardly suppose, that at each of the chests there were officers placed to receive and count the money which the people offered, and to name the sum aloud before they put it in. It is more reasonable to fancy that each person put his offering privately into the chest, by a slit in its top. Wherefore, by mentioning the particular sum which this poor widow put in, as well as by declaring that it was all her living, our Lord showed that nothing was hid from his knowledge. And he called unto him his disciples That he might inform them of this woman’s generous action, and that they might hear his remarks upon it: and saith, Verily, this poor widow hath cast more in than all they, &c. Thus he spoke to show, that it is the disposition of the mind, in deeds of charity, and in oblations made to the worship of God, which God regards, and not the magnificence of the gift. For all they did cast in of their abundance Their offerings, though great in respect of hers, bore but a small proportion to their estates. But she of her want did cast in all that she had Her offering was the whole of her income for that day, or, perhaps, the whole of the money in her possession at that time. Here then we see what judgment is passed on the most specious outward actions by the Judge of all! And how acceptable to him is the smallest, which springs from self- denying love! Both the poor and the rich may learn an important lesson from this passage of the gospel. The poor, who seem to have the means of doing charitable offices denied them in a great measure, are encouraged by it to do what they can; because, although it may be little, God, who looks into the heart, values it not according to what it is in itself, but according to the disposition with which it is given. On the other hand, it shows the rich, that it is not enough that they exceed the poor in the quantity of their charity. A little given where a little is left behind, often appears in the eye of God a much nobler offering, and discovers a far greater strength of good dispositions, than sums vastly larger bestowed out of a plentiful abundance. See Macknight.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Mark 12". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/mark-12.html. 1857.
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