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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible
Mark 8

 

 

Introduction

Mark 8:27 to Mark 9:1. The Great Confession, and the First View of the Cross.—Here opens a new section of the gospel. The tendency to seek retirement with the Twelve, pronounced from Mark 6:31 onwards, now dominates the story. Jesus devotes Himself to traming the Twelve in the shadow of the Cross. This concentration on His disciples becomes possible when they pierce His secret. The full significance of the confession is only apparent if Jesus has not previously revealed Himself or been recognised as Messiah (cf. HNT). It constitutes a decisive development. The scene is laid near Cæsarea Philippi (p. 32), a largely Gentile town on the east side of Jordan, not to be confused with Cæsarea on the coast. The praise bestowed on Peter in Matthew 16:17 f. is not recorded in Mk. If Mk.'s dependence on Peter is to be proved by his showing "a special regard for Peter," the proof is wanting. But Eusebius rightly suggested that Mk.'s silence may reproduce the natural silence of Peter. A genuinely Petrine record might fail to praise Peter.

The charge to keep silence seems to be sufficiently explained by the intention of Jesus to await the Father's revelation (cf. Matthew 16:17) and by His unpopular expectation as to Messiah's task and end. Either from now on Jesus spoke much with the Twelve of the death He anticipated, or else the evangelist assumes that Jesus must have foreseen His fate and so boldly attributes such foresight to Him. The chief difficulty of the first alternative is found in the conduct of Jesus at Jerusalem, which "makes the impression that He journeyed thither, not in order to die but to fight and conquer, and that in looking forward to the conflict His own death presented itself not as a certainty, but at the most as a possibility" (Pfleiderer, Primitive Christianity, ii. 34f.). This assumes that Jesus must have regarded His death either as certain or as possible. But why may He not have considered it overwhelmingly probable—a judgment which would not exclude flashes of hope that even now Israel might repent? The difficulty of the second alternative is that it compels us to discard so much that looks like genuine tradition, e.g. the parable of the husbandmen, the answer to the sons of Zebedee, the lament over Jerusalem, and the upbraiding of the cities of Galilee, not to mention the whole development of the ministry from public evangelization to private communion with the Twelve, as Mk. conceives it. Such a surrender of material is not defensible. The note of necessity—the Son of Man must suffer—is best explained by the use of the same verb in Luke 24:26. Prophecy points this way and must be fulfilled.


Verses 1-10

Mark 8:1-10. The Second Feeding of the Multitude.—This narrative is now generally regarded as a second version of the incident recorded in ch. 6. Indeed Wendland, Wellhausen, and HNT treat Mark 8:1-26 as a doublet of Mark 6:34-52, Mark 7:1-23, Mark 7:31-37. That both accounts of the feeding of the multitude are closely followed by disputes with the Pharisees and miracles of gradual healing may not be as significant as they suppose. Certainly, the demand for a sign is not a doublet of the discussion about defilement, nor is the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida an alternative version of the Ephphatha story. The case of the feeding of the 4000 is more suspicious. For details as to parallels and differences between Mark 6:34-44 and Mark 8:1-10, see Menzies' note on the latter passage. The repetition of this miracle is improbable. In spite of Swete, the question of the disciples in Mark 8:4 is psychologically strange, if a previous miracle had taken place. Lk.'s omission of the second narrative may be due to his recognition that we have here two versions of the same incident. Moreover, the story does not suit its present context in Mk. It is placed on Gentile soil where Jesus did not preach, and in a period when He was no longer engaged in preaching. Mk., knowing a second version of this story, seems to have regarded it as a distinct event, and inserted it at this point, perhaps to show that Jesus did for the Gentiles what He had previously done for the Jews. If so, this is symbolically suggestive, and historically inaccurate.

Mark 8:8. The word for "baskets" is different from that used in Mark 6:43. It is the kind of basket in which Paul was let down from a wall in Damascus (Acts 9:25). The numbers of the baskets in each case are supposed by many scholars to be symbolical, twelve representing the apostles who serve the Jews, seven the deacons who serve the Gentiles. The evangelist's knowledge of this symbolism is doubtful.

Mark 8:10. The text of this verse and the locality of Dalmanutha remain obscure (Matthew 15:39*). Perhaps the verse should go with the next paragraph.


Verses 11-13

Mark 8:11-13. The Request for a Sign Refused.—The Pharisees require some special authentication from Jesus beyond exorcisms and healings. They are said to tempt Jesus either because their question was intended to embarrass, or because unintentionally (like Peter in Mark 8:33) they renewed what had been one of the three great temptations (Matthew 4:5-7). Mk. alone records the emotion of Jesus. He sighed in spirit. This question and answer are clearly historical, and may have been taken by Mk. from Q. The warning against the leaven of the Pharisees naturally follows.


Verses 14-21

Mark 8:14-21. The Blindness of the Disciples Rebuked.—This is a difficult paragraph. Mark 8:15 contains a genuine utterance of Jesus which does not necessarily belong to its present context. Lk. gives it in another connexion (Luke 12:1) and Wellhausen points out that Mark 8:14 and Mark 8:16 seem artificially separated by Mark 8:15. Again, if Mark 8:1-9 is really a doublet of Mark 6:30 f., then the form at least of Mark 8:19 f. is due to the evangelist. But the rebuke of the disciples for anxiety about bread and for failing to understand the warning against the "Pharisees and Herod" (united here as in Mark 3:6) may well be historical Loisy holds that the rebuke is again artificial, the evangelist blaming the disciples for not perceiving the truths of Paulinism symbolised in the miracles of feeding the multitudes. But it is doubtful how far these miracles were symbolic in the mind of the evangelist, and he certainly gives no hint of Loisy's interpretation here.


Verses 22-26

Mark 8:22-26. The Blind Man of Bethsaida.—This cure is described and wrought in a thoroughly popular manner. The use of spittle (Mark 7:33) was widespread in those days. A similar cure is attributed to Vespasian (Suet. Vesp. ch. 7). HNT adds a Greek parallel, "Alcetas Halicus. The same being blind saw a vision. The god seemed to come to him and force open his eyes with his fingers, and he first saw the trees which were in the temple." To take this story as symbolizing either the education of the disciples (Loisy) or the conversion of Israel in two stages (Bacon) is to misunderstand the naïve popular character of the gospel.


Verses 27-38

Mark 8:27 to Mark 9:1. The Great Confession, and the First View of the Cross.—Here opens a new section of the gospel. The tendency to seek retirement with the Twelve, pronounced from Mark 6:31 onwards, now dominates the story. Jesus devotes Himself to training the Twelve in the shadow of the Cross. This concentration on His disciples becomes possible when they pierce His secret. The full significance of the confession is only apparent if Jesus has not previously revealed Himself or been recognised as Messiah (cf. HNT). It constitutes a decisive development. The scene is laid near Cæsarea Philippi (p. 32), a largely Gentile town on the east side of Jordan, not to be confused with Cæsarea on the coast. The praise bestowed on Peter in Matthew 16:17 f. is not recorded in Mk. If Mk.'s dependence on Peter is to be proved by his showing "a special regard for Peter," the proof is wanting. But Eusebius rightly suggested that Mk.'s silence may reproduce the natural silence of Peter. A genuinely Petrine record might fail to praise Peter.

The charge to keep silence seems to be sufficiently explained by the intention of Jesus to await the Father's revelation (cf. Matthew 16:17) and by His unpopular expectation as to Messiah's task and end. Either from now on Jesus spoke much with the Twelve of the death He anticipated, or else the evangelist assumes that Jesus must have foreseen His fate and so boldly attributes such foresight to Him. The chief difficulty of the first alternative is found in the conduct of Jesus at Jerusalem, which "makes the impression that He journeyed thither, not in order to die but to fight and conquer, and that in looking forward to the conflict His own death presented itself not as a certainty, but at the most as a possibility" (Pfleiderer, Primitive Christianity, ii. 34f.). This assumes that Jesus must have regarded His death either as certain or as possible. But why may He not have considered it overwhelmingly probable—a judgment which would not exclude flashes of hope that even now Israel might repent? The difficulty of the second alternative is that it compels us to discard so much that looks like genuine tradition, e.g. the parable of the husbandmen, the answer to the sons of Zebedee, the lament over Jerusalem, and the upbraiding of the cities of Galilee, not to mention the whole development of the ministry from public evangelization to private communion with the Twelve, as Mk. conceives it. Such a surrender of material is not defensible. The note of necessity—the Son of Man must suffer—is best explained by the use of the same verb in Luke 24:26. Prophecy points this way and must be fulfilled.

Mark 8:31. The term "Son of Man" (p. 670) is used mainly in two connexions, (a) in predictions of Messiah's suffering, and (b) in reference to His triumphant return to judgment (cf. Mark 8:38). As a Messianic term, the latter is its original connexion (cf. Daniel 7:13*, Enoch 69:26f.). In the gospels it is used only by Jesus, apparently of Himself. As it is His self-designation as Messiah, it is not to be expected in public utterances except in the record of the closing days. Consequently Mk. is probably mistaken in supposing that the sayings in Mark 8:34-38 were addressed to the crowd. This supposition conflicts with Mark 8:30 and is corrected in Matthew 16:24.

Mark 8:32. openly: not "publicly," as Loisy insists, but "frankly," "without reserve"; cf. Ephesians 6:19 f.

Mark 8:33. Cf. Matthew 4:10. Peter unwittingly becomes a tempter. There is no need to assume literary dependence of Mk. on Mt. or Q at this point.

Mark 8:34. let him deny himself: "cease to make himself the object of his life and action" (Gould).—take up his cross: may have been added after the Crucifixion, which would certainly give it special force; but cross-bearing criminals were not unknown in Palestine, and such a phrase would be intelligible before the death of Jesus. Discipleship, Jesus says, now means immediate readiness for a criminal's end. It meant later for an apostle "bearing the sentence of death in one's self" (2 Corinthians 1:9).

Mark 8:35-37 are primarily eschatological. "He who finds martyrdom in this life will five again in the kingdom. He who avoids martyrdom . . . will lose his life in the next world" (Montefiore, i. 210f.; his whole discussion of this section is admirable).

Mark 8:38. adulterous and sinful generation: the words must be interpreted from prophetic usage (cf. Isaiah 1:21, Hosea 9:1, et passim).

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Mark 8:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/mark-8.html. 1919.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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