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Bible Commentaries
Mark 4

Robertson's Word Pictures in the New TestamentRobertson's Word Pictures

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Verse 1

Sat in the sea (καθησθα εν τη θαλασση). In the boat, of course, which was in the sea. He first sat by the beach (Matthew 13:1) and then a very great multitude (οχλος πλειστος) made him enter a boat in which he sat and taught. It was a common experience now to teach the crowds on the beach (Mark 2:1; Mark 2:13; Mark 3:7-9).

There is gathered (συναγετα). Graphic pictorial present again. See the crowds pressing Jesus into the sea.

Verse 2

He taught them (εδιδασκεν αυτους). Imperfect tense describing it as going on.

In parables (εν παραβολαις). As in Mark 3:23, only here more extended parables. See on Mark 4:13 for discussion concerning Christ's use of parables. Eight are given there, one (the Lamp both in Mark 4:21 and Luke 8:16 (both Sower and the Lamp in Luke), one alone in Mark 4:26-29 (seed growing of itself) not in Matthew or Luke, ten on this occasion. Only four are mentioned in Mark 4:1-34 (The Sower, the Lamp, the Seed Growing of Itself, the Mustard Seed). But Mark adds (Mark 4:34) "without a parable spake he not unto them," clearly meaning that Jesus spoke many others on this occasion and Matt. after mentioning eight (Matthew 13:34) makes the same statement. Manifestly, therefore, Jesus spoke many parables on this day and all theories of exegesis or dispensations on the basis of the number of these kingdom parables are quite beside the mark. In beginning Jesus said:

Hearken (Ακουετε). It is significant that even Jesus had to ask people to listen when he spoke. See also verse Mark 4:9.

Verse 7

Choked (συνεπνιξαν). Πνιγω means to strangle, throttle. Mark has the compounded form with συν-, squeezed together. Matthew 13:7 has απεπνιξαν,

choked off .

Yielded no fruit (καρπον ουκ εδωκαν). In Mark alone. Barren in results.

Verse 8

Growing up and increasing (αναβαινοντα κα αυξανομενα). In Mark alone. A vivid detail enlarging on the continued growth implied in the imperfect "yielded fruit" (εδιδου καρπον). It kept on yielding as it grew. Fruit is what matters.

Verse 10

When he was alone (οτε εγενετο κατα μονας). Only in Mark. Vivid recollection of Peter. Mark has also "they that were about him with the twelve" (ο περ αυτον συν τοις δωδεκα), Matthew and Luke simply "the disciples." They did not want the multitude to see that they did not understand the teaching of Jesus.

Verse 11

Unto you is given the mystery of the kingdom of God (Hυμιν το μυστηριον δεδοτα της βασιλειας του θεου). See on Matthew 13:11 for word μυστηριον. Here (Mark 4:11; Matthew 13:11; Luke 8:10) alone in the Gospels, but in Paul 21 times and in the Revelation 4 times. It is frequent in Daniel and O.T. Apocrypha. Matthew and Luke use it here in the plural. Matthew and Luke add the word

to know (γνωνα), but Mark's presentation covers a wider range than growing knowledge, the permanent possession of the mystery even before they understand it. The secret is no longer hidden from the initiated. Discipleship means initiation into the secret of God's kingdom and it will come gradually to these men.

But unto them that are without (εκεινοις δε τοις εξω). Peculiar to Mark, those outside our circle, the uninitiated, the hostile group like the scribes and Pharisees, who were charging Jesus with being in league with Beelzebub. Luke 8:10 has "to the rest" (τοις λοιποις), Matthew 13:11 simply "to them" (εκεινοις). Without the key the parables are hard to understand, for parables veil the truth of the kingdom being stated in terms of another realm. Without a spiritual truth and insight they are unintelligible and are often today perverted. The parables are thus a condemnation on the wilfully blind and hostile, while a guide and blessing to the enlightened.

That (ινα). Mark has the construction of the Hebrew "lest" of Isaiah 6:9. with the subjunctive and so Luke 8:10, while Matthew 13:13 uses causal οτ with the indicative following the LXX. See on Matthew 13:13 for the so-called causal use of ινα. Gould on Mark 4:12 has an intelligent discussion of the differences between Matthew and Mark and Luke. He argues that Mark here probably "preserves the original form of Jesus' saying." God ironically commands Isaiah to harden the hearts of the people. If the notion of purpose is preserved in the use of ινα in Mark and Luke, there is probably some irony also in the sad words of Jesus. If ινα is given the causative use of οτ in Matthew, the difficulty disappears. What is certain is that the use of parables on this occasion was a penalty for judicial blindness on those who will not see.

Verse 12

Lest haply they should turn again, and it should be forgiven them (μηποτε επιστρεψωσιν κα αφεθη αυτοις). Luke does not have these difficult words that seem in Isaiah to have an ironical turn, though Matthew 13:15 does retain them even after using οτ for the first part of the quotation. There is no way to make μηποτε in Mark 4:12 and Matthew 13:15 have a causal sense. It is the purpose of condemnation for wilful blindness and rejection such as suits the Pharisees after their blasphemous accusation against Jesus. Bengel says: iam ante non videbant, nunc accedit iudicium divinum. Jesus is pronouncing their doom in the language of Isaiah. It sounds like the dirge of the damned.

Verse 13

Know ye not this parable? (ουκ οιδατε την παραβολην ταυτεν;). They had asked Jesus his reasons for using parables. This question implies surprise at their dulness though initiated into the secret of God's Kingdom. Incapacity to comprehend this parable of the sower raises doubt about all the others on this day and at all times.

Verse 14

The sower soweth the word (ο σπειρων τον λογον σπειρε). Not put thus clearly and simply in Matthew 13:19 or Luke 8:11.

Verse 15

Where the word is sown (οπου σπειρετα ο λογος). Explanatory detail only in Mark.

Satan (Σατανας) where Matthew 13:19 has

the evil one (ο πονηρος) and Luke 8:12 the devil (ο διαβολος).

Sown in them (εσπαρμενον εις αυτους). Within them, not just among them, "in his heart" (Matt.).

Verse 19

The lusts of other things (α περ τα λοιπα επιθυμια). All the passions or longings, sensual, worldly, "pleasures of this life" (ηδονων του βιου) as Luke has it (Luke 8:14), the world of sense drowning the world of spirit. The word επιθυμια is not evil in itself. One can yearn (this word) for what is high and holy (Luke 22:15; Philippians 1:23).

Verse 20

Bear fruit (καρποφορουσιν). Same word in Matthew 13:23 and Luke 8:15. Mark gives the order from thirty, sixty, to a hundred, while Matthew 13:23 has it reversed.

Verse 21

Not to be put on the stand? (ουχ ινα επ την λυχνιαν τεθηι;). First aorist passive subjunctive of τιθημ with ινα (purpose). The lamp in the one-room house was a familiar object along with the bushel, the bed, the lampstand. Note article with each. Μητ in the Greek expects the answer no. It is a curious instance of early textual corruption that both Aleph and B, the two oldest and best documents, have υπο την λυχνιαν (under the lampstand) instead of επ την λυχνιαν, making shipwreck of the sense. Westcott and Hort actually put it in the margin but that is sheer slavery to Aleph and B. Some of the crisp sayings were repeated by Jesus on other occasions as shown in Matthew and Luke. To put the lamp under the bushel (μοδιον) would put it out besides giving no light. So as to the bed or table-couch (κλινην) if it was raised above the floor and liable to be set on fire.

Verse 22

Save that it should be manifested (εαν μη ινα φανερωθη). Note εαν μη and ινα. Luke 8:17 has it

that shall not be made manifest (ο ου φανερον γενησετα). Here in Mark it is stated that the temporary concealment is for final manifestation and a means to that end. Those who are charged with the secret at this time are given the set responsibility of proclaiming it on the housetops after Ascension (Swete). The hidden (κρυπτον) and the

secret (αποκρυφον) are to be revealed in due time.

Verse 23

Repeats verse Mark 4:9 with conditional form instead of a relative clause. Perhaps some inattention was noted.

Verse 24

What ye hear (τ ακουετε). Luke 8:18 has it "how ye hear" (πως ακουετε) . Both are important. Some things should not be heard at all for they besmirch the mind and heart. What is worth hearing should be heard rightly and heeded.

With what measure (εν ω μετρω). See already in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:2; Luke 6:38).

Verse 25

Even that which he hath (κα ο εχε). Luke 8:18 has

even that which he thinketh that he hath or seemeth to have (κα ο δοκε εχειν). It is possible that εχε here has the notion of acquiring. The man who does not acquire soon loses what he thinks that he has. This is one of the paradoxes of Jesus that repay thought and practice.

Verse 26

As if a man should cast (ως ανθρωπος βαλη). Note ως with the aorist subjunctive without αν. It is a supposable case and so the subjunctive and the aorist tense because a single instance. Blass considers this idiom "quite impossible," but it is the true text here and makes good sense (Robertson, Grammar, p. 968). The more common idiom would have been ως εαν (or αν).

Verse 27

Should sleep and rise (καθευδη κα εγειρητα). Present subjunctive for continued action. So also

spring up and grow (βλαστα κα μηκυνητα) two late verbs. The process of growth goes on all night and all day (νυκτα κα ημεραν, accusative of time).

He knoweth not how (ως ουκ οιδεν αυτος). Note position of ως (beginning) and αυτος (end) of clause:

How knows not he . The mystery of growth still puzzles farmers and scientists of today with all our modern knowledge. But nature's secret processes do not fail to operate because we are ignorant. This secret and mysterious growth of the kingdom in the heart and life is the point of this beautiful parable given only by Mark. "When man has done his part, the actual process of growth is beyond his reach or comprehension" (Swete).

Verse 28

Of herself (αυτοματη). Automatically, we say. The secret of growth is in the seed, not in the soil nor in the weather nor in the cultivating. These all help, but the seed spontaneously works according to its own nature. The word αυτοματη is from αυτος (self) and μεμαα desire eagerly from obsolete μαω. Common word in all Greek history. Only one other example in N.T., in Acts 12:10 when the city gate opens to Peter of its own accord. "The mind is adapted to the truth, as the eye to the light" (Gould). So we sow the seed, God's kingdom truth, and the soil (the soul) is ready for the seed. The Holy Spirit works on the heart and uses the seed sown and makes it germinate and grow, "first the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear" (πρωτον χορτον, ειτεν σταχυν, ειτεν πληρη σιτον εν τω σταχυ). This is the law and order of nature and also of grace in the kingdom of God. Hence it is worth while to preach and teach. "This single fact creates the confidence shown by Jesus in the ultimate establishment of his kingdom in spite of the obstacles which obstruct its progress" (Gould).

Verse 29

Is ripe (παραδο, second aorist subjunctive with οταν). Whenever the fruit yields itself or permits.

Putteth forth (αποστελλε). Sends forth the sickle. The word for apostle comes from this verb. See John 4:38: "I sent you forth to reap" (εγο απεστειλα υμας θεριζειν). Sickle (δρεπανον) here by metonymy stands for the reapers who use it when the harvest stands ready for it (παρεστηκεν, stands by the side, present perfect indicative).

Verse 30

How shall we liken? (Πως ομοιωσωμεν?) Deliberative first aorist subjunctive. This question alone in Mark. So with the other question:

In what parable shall we set it forth? (εν τιν αυτην παραβολη θωμεν;). Deliberative second aorist subjunctive. The graphic question draws the interest of the hearers (we) by fine tact. Luke 13:18 retains the double question which Matthew 13:31 does not have, though he has it in a very different context, probably an illustration of Christ's favourite sayings often repeated to different audiences as is true of all teachers and preachers.

Verse 31

When it is sown (οταν σπαρη). Second aorist passive subjunctive of σπειρω. Alone in Mark and repeated in verse Mark 4:32.

Less than all the seeds (μικροτερον παντων των σπερματων). Comparative adjective with the ablative case after it. Hyperbole, of course, but clearly meaning that from a very small seed a large plant grows, the gradual pervasive expansive power of the kingdom of God.

Verse 32

Groweth up (αναβαινε). Matthew 13:32 When it is grown (οταν αυξηθη).

Under the shadow thereof (υπο την σκιαν αυτου). A different picture from Matthew's

in the branches thereof (εν τοις κλαδοις αυτου). But both use κατασκηνοιν, to tent or camp down, make nests in the branches in the shade or hop on the ground under the shade just like a covey of birds. In Matthew 8:20 the birds have nests (κατασκηνωσεις). The use of the mustard seed for smallness seems to have been proverbial and Jesus employs it elsewhere (Matthew 17:20; Luke 17:6).

Verse 33

As they were able to hear it (καθως ηδυναντο ακουειν). Only in Mark. Imperfect indicative. See John 16:12 for ου δυνασθε βασταζειν, not able to bear. Jesus used parables now largely, but there was a limit even to the use of them to these men. He gave them the mystery of the kingdom in this veiled parabolic form which was the only feasible form at this stage. But even so they did not understand what they heard.

Verse 34

But privately to his disciples he expounded all things (κατ' ιδιαν δε τοις ιδιοις μαθηταις επελυεν παντα). To his own (ιδιοις) disciples in private, in distinction from the mass of the people Jesus was in the habit (imperfect tense, επελυεν) of

disclosing , revealing, all things (παντα) in plain language without the parabolic form used before the crowds. This verb επιλυω occurs in the N.T. only here and in Acts 19:39 where the town-clerk of Ephesus says of the troubles by the mob: "It shall be settled in the regular assembly" (εν τη εννομω εκκλησια επιλυθησετα). First future passive indicative from επιλυω. The word means to give additional (επ) loosening (λυω), so to explain, to make plainer, clearer, even to the point of revelation. This last is the idea of the substantive in 2 Peter 1:20 where even the Revised Version has it: "No prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation" (πασα προφητεια γραφης ιδιας επιλυσεως ου γινετα). Here the use of γινετα (comes) with the ablative case (επιλυσεως) and the explanation given in verse 2 Peter 1:21 shows plainly that disclosure or revelation to the prophet is what is meant, not interpretation of what the prophet said. The prophetic impulse and message came from God through the Holy Spirit. In private the further disclosures of Jesus amounted to fresh revelations concerning the mysteries of the kingdom of God.

Verse 35

When even was come (οψιας γενομενης). Genitive absolute. It had been a busy day. The blasphemous accusation, the visit of the mother and brothers and possibly sisters, to take him home, leaving the crowded house for the sea, the first parables by the sea, then more in the house, and now out of the house and over the sea.

Let us go over unto the other side (διελθωμεν εις το περαν). Hortatory (volitive) subjunctive, second aorist active tense. They were on the western side and a row over to the eastern shore in the evening would be a delightful change and refreshing to the weary Christ. It was the only way to escape the crowds.

Verse 36

Even as he was (ως ην). Vulgate, ita ut erat. Bengel says: sine apparatu. That is, they take Jesus along (παραλαμβανουσιν) without previous preparation.

Other boats (αλλα πλοια). This detail also is given only by Mark. Some people had got into boats to get close to Jesus. There was a crowd even on the lake.

Verse 37

There ariseth a great storm of wind (γινετα λαιλαπς μεγαλη ανεμου). Mark's vivid historical present again. Matthew 8:24 has εγενετο (arose) and Luke 8:23 κατεβη (came down). Luke has also λαιλαπς, but Matthew σεισμος (tempest), a violent upheaval like an earthquake. Λαιλαπς is an old word for these cyclonic gusts or storms. Luke's "came down" shows that the storm fell suddenly from Mount Hermon down into the Jordan Valley and smote the Sea of Galilee violently at its depth of 682 feet below the Mediterranean Sea. The hot air at this depth draws the storm down with sudden power. These sudden storms continue to this day on the Sea of Galilee. The word occurs in the LXX of the whirlwind out of which God answered Job (Job 38:1) and in Jonah 1:4.

The waves beat into the boat (τα κυματα επεβαλλεν εις το πλοιον). Imperfect tense (were beating) vividly picturing the rolling over the sides of the boat "so that the boat was covered with the waves" (Matthew 8:24). Mark has it: "insomuch that the boat was now filling" (ωστε ηδη γεμιζεσθα το πλοιον). Graphic description of the plight of the disciples.

Verse 38

Asleep on the cushion (επ το προσκεφαλαιον καθευδων). Mark also mentions the cushion or bolster and the stern of the boat (εν τη πρυμνη). Matthew 8:24 notes that Jesus was sleeping (εκαθευδεν), Luke that

he fell asleep (αφυπνωσεν, ingressive aorist indicative). He was worn out from the toil of this day.

They awake him (εγειρουσιν αυτον). So Mark's graphic present. Matthew and Luke both have "awoke him." Mark has also what the others do not: "Carest thou not?" (ου μελε σοι;). It was a rebuke to Jesus for sleeping in such a storm. We are perishing (απολλυμεθα, linear present middle). Precisely this same form also in Matthew 8:25 and Luke 8:24.

Verse 39

Rebuked the wind (επετιμησεν τω ανεμω) as in Matthew 8:26 and Luke 8:24. He spoke to the sea also. All three Gospels speak of the sudden calm (γαληνη) and the rebuke to the disciples for this lack of faith.

Verse 40

Why are ye fearful? (Τ δειλο εστε;). They had the Lord of the wind and the waves with them in the boat. He was still Master even if asleep in the storm.

Have ye not yet faith? (Ουπω εχετε πιστιν;). Not yet had they come to feel that Jesus was really Lord of nature. They had accepted his Messiaship, but all the conclusions from it they had not yet drawn. How like us in our troubles they were!

Verse 41

They feared exceedingly (εφοβηθησαν φοβον μεγαν). Cognate accusative with the first aorist passive indicative. They feared a great fear. Matthew 8:27 and Luke 8:22 mention that "they marvelled." But there was fear in it also.

Who then is this? (Τις αρα ουτος εστιν;). No wonder that they feared if this One could command the wind and the waves at will as well as demons and drive out all diseases and speak such mysteries in parables. They were growing in their apprehension and comprehension of Jesus Christ. They had much yet to learn. There is much yet for us today to learn or seek to grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. This incident opened the eyes and minds of the disciples to the majesty of Jesus.

Bibliographical Information
Robertson, A.T. "Commentary on Mark 4". "Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwp/mark-4.html. Broadman Press 1932,33. Renewal 1960.
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