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Bible Commentaries
Mark 12

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verses 1-12

On the time, see on Matthew 21:23-46. The two accounts agree closely, Matthew alone inserts the parable of the two Sons. Comp, also Luke 20:1-8.

Verses 13-17

Mark 12:13-17. FIRST ASSAULT. The question concerning tribute to Cesar. See on Matthew 22:15-22; comp. Luke 20:20-26. The parable of the wedding garment precedes in Matthew’s account. The narrative of Mark is graphic, but presents no new details.

To catch him by speech (Mark 12:13), lit., ‘by word;’ to lay hold of Him by means of their word as a snare. Some word of His, in answer to their questions, would be laid hold of, but the figure requires a reference to their discourse.

They marvelled greatly at him (Mark 12:17). The original is stronger than in the parallel passages. It also intimates that they continued to do so. The other accounts are fuller as to the effect of His answer. These young Pharisees (Matthew) and Herodians with feigned scruples of conscience, the flower of the youth of Jerusalem, scarcely expected such a blow from a Galilean, and their astonishment was more than momentary. No wonder: the answer of Christ is the wisest ever given to an entangling question, and contains in principle the solution of the great problem of church and state, or the relation of the spiritual and secular power.

Verses 18-27

Mark 12:18-27. SECOND ASSAULT. The question concerning the resurrection. See on Matthew 22:23-33; comp. Luke 20:27-40. The latter Evangelist is fuller, especially in Mark 12:34-36. The description of the successive marriages is graphic, though not more so than Luke’s. The most prominent peculiarity is the question: Do ye not err for this cause, etc., (Mark 12:24), which is answered by the positive statement: ye greatly err (Mark 12:27). The effect of our Lord’s words, which is added at this point by Matthew and Luke, is narrated by Mark in Mark 12:34.

In the book of Moses, at the Bush, i.e., in the chapter or passage where the well-known ‘bush’ is spoken of. It can scarcely mean, when Moses was at the bush, or when God spake at the bush. The article before ‘God’ is omitted in the Greek, except in the phrase: the God of Abraham. The argument derived from this designation of God in favor of the immortality of the soul, against the Sadducees who denied it, reveals the marvelous insight of our Lord into the deepest meaning of the Scriptures. The personal everliving God calls Himself the God not of the dead which would be dishonoring but of those who live in perpetual communion with Him, to whom He has communicated His own immortality.

Verse 28

Mark 12:28. Knowing that he had answered them well. This scribe no doubt rejoiced in the defeat of the Sadducees, but was also really pleased with our Lord’s answers. They accorded with his intellectual convictions, perhaps with his moral tendencies, and he probably desired further instruction.

What commandment it first of all? On this question as a temptation, see notes on Matthew. The fearfully belittling tendencies of Pharisaical legalism may be inferred from the following statement: ‘The Jews enumerated six hundred and thirteen ordinances; three hundred and sixty-five prohibitions, according to the days of the year; two hundred and twenty-eight commandments, according to the parts of the body. The Pharisees distinguished between lesser and greater commandments’(Braune). The phrase may mean: ‘first of all things,’ however.

Verses 28-34

Mark 12:28-34. THIRD ASSAULT. See notes on Matthew 22:34-40. Luke (Luke 20:39) merely hints at this.

Verses 29-31

Mark 12:29-31. Mark quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Leviticus 19:18, more fully than Matthew. Notice the briefer readings adopted in the foot-notes.

With all thy strength. This probably refers to moral energy; but it is not necessary to discriminate accurately, as is suggested by the variations of the different passages. (The Septuagint employs a different word of similar import)

There is none other commandment greater than these. The unity of the moral law prevents any discrimination between its precepts: it is one law of love, the hinge (Matthew 22:40) of the whole O. T. revelation. There can be none greater. No one can love God without loving his fellowmen, and no one can truly love man without loving God. The former is the source of the latter. Hence the first table (the first five commandments) enjoins love to God, the second table (the last five commandments) love to our neighbor.

Verse 32

Mark 12:32. Well, Master, thou saidst with truth. Without doubt the scribe spoke candidly, though Matthew states that his question was put, ‘tempting’(or ‘trying,’ i.e., putting to proof) our Lord. He may have been chosen by the Pharisees as their unconscious tool, because of his candor. Besides our Lord’s words may have awakened a spiritual apprehension of the law. He represents a large class, outside the kingdom, in a more hopeful condition than Pharisees in the visible church, but he had not yet taken the decisive step.

That he is one ; and there is none other but he. The form is impressive.

Verse 33

Mark 12:33. With all the understanding. The scribe substitutes ‘understanding’ for ‘mind,’ which seems to express the same thought less abstractly. Mark preserves the answer in full.

Is much more than. Better, ‘more acceptable to God, and more useful to the worshipper.’

All whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. ‘Burnt offerings,’ i.e., those commanded in the law. Such things took up the whole attention of legalists. It was a bold saying in those times and in that place. Christ’s atoning sacrifice is the centre of the gospel, but he who has a correct theory on this subject, without being led to the love here spoken of, is but a Pharisee at heart, below the standard of this man.

Verse 34

Mark 12:34. Discreetly. Understandingly, intelligently, wisely; more than ‘discreetly,’ in the more modem sense.

Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. Intellectually on the right road, nearer to the kingdom than a mere formalist could be, recognizing the spirituality of the law, perhaps conscious of the folly of self-righteousness; but, though standing as it were at the door, still outside. Alexander. While the worst of His opponents were unable to convict Him of an error, or betray Him into a mistake, the best of them, when brought into direct communication with Him on the most important subjects, found themselves almost in the position of His own disciples.

And no man any more durst ask him any question. A natural effect of the previous experiments. No further question is put to Him, but He asks one which they cannot answer. Matthew however, gives more prominence to the fact that no one ‘was able to answer Him a word,’ and so puts this statement after the victorious question of our Lord. Such independent testimony is the most valuable, especially here where our Lord asks a question respecting His own Person, in some respects the central question of Christianity.

Verse 35

Mark 12:35. Answered. The whole controversy (which we have joined as one section) is regarded as one; and this is our Lord’s reply to their assaults.

As he was teaching in the temple. Of course on the same day. Matthew brings out the triumph over the Pharisees. Mark the impression on the people, in whose presence (Mark 12:37) the Pharisees were confounded. The account of the former is fuller and more accurate, as regards the opening of the discussion on this point

Verses 35-37

Mark 12:35-37. THE VICTORIOUS QUESTION OF OUR LORD. The central question of Christianity. See on Matthew 22:41-46; comp. Luke 20:41-44.

Verse 36

Mark 12:36. David himself said in the Holy Ghost. Luke: ‘in the book of Psalms.’ The influence of the Holy Spirit upon David in penning the Psalms, is assumed. This passage (Psalms 110:1) is more frequently referred to in the New Testament than any other.

Verse 37

Mark 12:37. And whence. From what source shall we seek an explanation of the fact that He is his Son. Or perhaps simply: ‘how can He be his Son.’

And the great multitude. This multitude was made up of ‘the common people,’ since the upper classes were withdrawing, but that is not the prominent idea. A great multitude still listened to Him.

Heard him gladly. Lit, sweetly, with relish, with pleasure. This was after He had virtually claimed to be the Messiah: David’s Lord, as well as David’s Son. See on Matthew 22:45. Had He desired to establish a temporal kingdom, the multitude would now have followed Him. But hearing Christ with relish, is not necessarily accepting Him as a Saviour. Knowing all men (John 2:24-25), and faithful to His mission of Atoning Love, our Lord remains in the temple to deliver His fearful denunciation of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:0), briefly alluded to by Mark (Mark 12:38-40), pauses to praise a poor widow (Mark 12:41-44), and then withdraws from His foes and from the listening multitude, to give in private some of His most remarkable predictions.

THE accounts of Mark and Luke agree here very closely. The denunciatory discourse of Matthew 23:0, is given in this abridged form, the other incident is omitted by Matthew. We join them together because they form a striking contrast. Comp. ‘devour widows’ houses’ (Mark 12:41) and the ‘poor widow’ (Mark 12:42). Both expressions are peculiar to Mark and Luke (see on Matthew 23:14). Even after such fearful denunciations, our Lord quietly sits in the court of the women (Mark 12:41).

Verse 38

Mark 12:38. The phrase ‘unto them’ is to be omitted. The discourse was both to the multitude (Mark 12:39) and to his disciples (comp. Matt and Luke).

In his teaching; implying that much more was said.

Beware, be on your guard against.

The scribes. Matthew: ‘the scribes and the Pharisees.’ See Matthew 23:2.

Desire. A description of the scribes as a body, not of a certain class among them. There were few to whom this description could not apply.

To walk in robes, displaying their flowing robes as a sign of their official position. Desiring to display a sign of ecclesiastical dignity is here condemned. Monks have generally adopted ‘long robes,’ and too often the length of a clerical coat is the measure of the Pharisaical tendency among Protestants. Comp, further on Matthew 23:6-7.

Verses 38-40

Mark 12:38-40. THE DENUNCIATORY DISCOURSE. Matthew, writing for Jewish Christians, gives a full report; but early Gentile readers only heeded this brief outline.

Verses 38-44

Verse 40

Mark 12:40. And for a pretence. The sense is: They devour widows’ houses, and that too while they are praying at great length. Ecclesiastical officials may repeat this crime, by attaching to themselves the defenceless classes here represented by ‘widows’ with the design of obtaining control of their property. Pharisaism, in all ages and organizations, has encouraged this.

Verse 41

Mark 12:41. And he sat down over against the treasury. He did not leave at once, after promising the desolation of the temple (Matthew 23:38), but remained quietly sitting in the court of the women, opposite ‘the Treasury.’ This was the name given to thirteen brazen chests, called by the Rabbins ‘trumpets,’ probably from the shape of the mouths into which the money was cast. They were for various kinds of gifts. The reference here is probably to the place, or room (comp. John 8:20). where these chests stood.

And beheld, or, ‘was beholding.’

Money. Lit, ‘brass,’ copper-money, which probably formed the usual offering.

Cast in much, lit, ‘were casting many things,’ perhaps many pieces of copper, since in that form the gift would seem larger and make more noise. That Pharisaism could do this is certain; thus they would cause these ‘trumpets’ to sound before them.

Verses 41-44

Mark 12:41-44. The Widow’s Mites. Comp. Luke 21:1-4.

Verse 42

Mark 12:42. And one poor widow. ‘One’ in contrast with the ‘many’ just spoken of, not without a suggestion of her loneliness. Possibly this widow was ‘poor,’ because her house had been ‘devoured’ (Mark 12:40).

Two mites. The ‘mite’ (lepton) was the smallest Jewish copper coin. The Greek name means ‘fish-scale,’ suggesting its diminutive size. Its value was about one tenth of an English penny, one fifth of a cent. She had two and gave both.

A farthing. Mark (not Luke) adds for his Roman readers an explanation, using a Greek word (taken from the Latin) meaning the fourth part, as our word ‘farthing’ does.

Verse 43

Mark 12:43. And he called unto him. Peculiar to Mark. Our Lord directed their special attention to this act of the widow.

More than all they that are casting into the treasury. Not more than a specific number, but than the many who had given and were still giving. The reason follows.

Verse 44

Mark 12:44. For. The worth of a gift is to be determined not by its intrinsic value, but by what it costs the giver. The measure of that cost is what is left, not what is given.

Her whole living (or ‘life’). All at her disposal for her present subsistence. She could not have owned much else, since she is said to be a ‘poor widow.’ She could not have hoped for ‘glory of men’(Matthew 6:2), but she received praise from One who spake as never man spake. We are here taught, not simply to give, but how to measure the cost of gifts. Since Christ alone can bless contributions for the extension of His kingdom, this incident shows that the success He has accorded has been on account of the gifts which involved self-denial, these being the only valuable ones in His sight.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Mark 12". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/mark-12.html. 1879-90.
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