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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Mark 12

 

 

Verses 1-12

Mark 12:1-12. The Parable of the Vineyard.—The genuineness of this parable is disputed—(1) because it is allegorical in character; (2) because it reflects a later situation and assumes Christ's death; (3) because it embodies an open claim to Messiahship which is in consistent with the prudent and guarded answers of Jesus to questions about authority. That this parable, unlike most others, is an allegory, does not render it suspect as an utterance of Jesus (Mark 4:1-34*). That such a parable is out of place before the death of Christ involves the dubious assumption that Jesus could not have viewed His death as marking the end of God's mercy to Israel. While the Messianic claim is more boldly asserted here than elsewhere, yet throughout this section of the gospel, there is less reticence about the Messiahship, and the moral of the parable is not explicitly drawn—which does harmonise with the prudence of the sayings of Jesus. On the other hand, if a later composition, the story is, in some respects, strange. Why do the details not fit the Crucifixion, if they are composed after the event (contrast Mark 12:8 with Matthew 21:39)? and why is there no allusion to the Resurrection? (See Burkitt, Trans. of Third Congress of Religions, ii. 321f.) The opening of the story is based on Isaiah 5:1 f., while the words of the husbandmen in Mark 12:7 recall Genesis 37:20. The story describes the history of Israel, and implies that Jesus felt Himself to be God's last appeal to His people, and also thought their rejection of Him would issue in His becoming the foundation of a new community which should inherit God's kingdom. The quotation in Mark 12:10 f. is from Psalms 118:22 f. It is used in Acts 4:11 and 1 Peter 2:4; 1 Peter 2:7.


Verses 13-17

Mark 12:13-17. The Question of Tribute.—The Pharisees and the Herodians perhaps represent the two horns of the dilemma by which they try to catch Jesus. The Pharisees leant to the popular view which chafed at tribute, and which found its extreme expression in the Zealots (cf. Josephus, Ant. XVH 1. 16). The Herodians probably desired the status quo which ensured Herod's throne. If Jesus says it is lawful to pay tribute, the Pharisees will denounce Him to the people; if He says it is not lawful, the Herodians will denounce Him to the authorities. The flattering address, which shows that truth may be spoken in flattery, does not conceal the fact that the question is a trap, not a serious inquiry. Mk. notes a dramatic pause, while the questioners fetch a denarius to show to Jesus. Of the final answer of Jesus, Lord Acton says, "Those words . . . gave to the civil power, under the protection of conscience, a sacredness it had never enjoyed and bounds it had never acknowledged: and they were the repudiation of absolutism and the inauguration of freedom." That this was the intent of the utterance may be doubted (see views of Loisy and Wellhausen, in Montefiore, i. 281). That the words as usually interpreted have exerted some such influence is undeniable.


Verses 18-27

Mark 12:18-27. The Question of the Resurrection-Life.—The Pharisees having withdrawn in confusion, the Sadducees (mentioned here only in Mk., cf. pp. 619f., 624, 637) bring forward a scholastic problem designed to show that the strict carrying out of the Levirate law (p. 109, Deuteronomy 25:5-10*, Ruth 1:11-13*) would produce an absurd situation in a future life, and therefore the Law does not contemplate a resurrection. Jesus answers that they have not understood the Scriptures, nor the power of God which raises men to a life of a different order from the present. The resurrection-life of the just needs not to be continued by marriage. They are like the angels—a comparison which trenches on another Sadducean denial; for the Sadducees did not believe in angels (Acts 2:38). The argument from Exodus 3:6 embodies a somewhat Rabbinic interpretation of the passage, but it rests on the feeling "which does not allow the faithful to admit that a good God ceases, through the death of those who have served and loved Him, to be their God, or that He abandons them to nothingness. Those who have lived for God can never be dead for Him" (Loisy). It used to be supposed that Jesus argues here from a passage in the Pentateuch in order to impress the Sadducees, but the idea of the Fathers, that the Sadducees recognised the Pentateuch only as Scripture, is now abandoned (HNT).


Verses 28-34

Mark 12:28-34. The Greatest Commandment.—This further question does not seem to be put in a spirit of hostility. The scribe may have been a Pharisee who admired the answer Jesus had given to the Sadducees. There was no real doubt as to the greater commandment. The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4 f.) was repeated daily by the Jews. It was the foundation-text of their monotheism, which was "not a speculative theory but a practical conviction" (pp. 618f.). Jesus adds to it Leviticus 19:18. Love to God finds its only adequate fulfilment in love to one's neighbour. God's worship lies in social duty. Love to one's neighbour must be rooted in love of God. Wellhausen says, "the combination was first effected in this way by Jesus"; this is not certain, and, at any rate, "in this Jesus stood in complete and conscious agreement with Pharisaism" (Schlatter, Das Wort Jesu, p. 221). The commendation which Jesus gives to the scribe implies a kingdom already present. Loisy regards this story as an explanation of Luke 10:25-28. He considers the repetition of the answer to the question clumsy. But surely it is effective and original story-telling. Loisy also suggests with more justification that the fear to ask Jesus further questions would come more appropriately after the preceding story. There was nothing to frighten men in the scribe's experience.


Verses 35-37

Mark 12:35-37. Is Messiah David's Son?—Jesus now asks His hearers a question. The exact purpose and significance of the question are not easy to determine, but apparently Jesus held that the Messiah (who is Himself) does not depend on Davidic descent for His authority. He is more than the heir of David's glory. This implies either that Jesus did not claim to be of the house of David or else that He set little value on this connexion. The quotation is from Psalms 110:1, and the argument assumes that David wrote this psalm. This attribution was traditional, and was "accepted by our Lord and His Apostles on the authority of the recognised guardians of the canon" (Swete). Jesus starts from the scholarship current in His day. His use of that scholarship does not bind His followers to its acceptance to-day.


Verses 38-40

Mark 12:38-40. A Warning Against the Scribes.—These verses read like a summary of or a fragment from the longer discourse in Q. The reference to widows' houses is found only in Mk. Its meaning is obscure. Did they take rich fees for pious services, or press the rights of creditors against widows harshly? Alike their social ambitions and their impoverishing of widows turn their prayers into pretence. These criticisms seem rather sweeping if aimed at a class. But it is difficult to judge, without the actual context and without fuller knowledge of Jesus' contemporaries.


Verses 41-44

Mark 12:41-44. The Widow's Mites.—After teaching in the court of the Gentiles, Jesus sat down near to the treasury in the court of the women. He watched those who came to contribute. "As (a poor widow) brought her last coin as an offering to God, she received high praise from Jesus; we do not hear that He ended her poverty. A love which can give up all, ranked in His eyes as the highest wealth a man can win" (Schlatter). Jesus admired both the generosity and the faith of the woman. Trusting God, she could surrender all she had. Jesus pronounced poverty blessed in so far as the poor stand always nearer to genuine sacrifice than the rich, who may give largely of their superfluity, i.e. of that which costs them little.

Mark 12:42. mites: p. 117.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Mark 12:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/mark-12.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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