Daily Bible Study Tips –
Mark, Chapters 9 - 16
Overview of Mark
Comments on Mark Chapters 1 - 8
Mark 9:2-13, The Transfiguration
Mark 10:1-31, Jesus comments on rules
Mark 11:1-11a, Jesus' entry into Jerusalem
Mark 11:11-33, Throwing out the moneychangers (again?)
Mark 12:18-34, Questions and Answers
Mark 14:12-26, First communion
Mark 15:22-37, Civil and religious authorities call him “King of the Jews”
Mark 16:1-20, Endings: lost, short, and long
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Mark 9:2-13, The Transfiguration (8/1/13)
One thing that convinces me of the factual nature of the gospels is that they are fairly consistent in making the disciples – three of whom were instrumental in writing
the gospels – look clueless. At the Transfiguration, Peter blurts out something about tents, and Mark’s explanation is “he didn’t know what to say, because they were terrified.” Mark says that Peter, James, and John really had no idea what to make of Jesus’ remarks about rising from the dead. They did at least figure out that they were looking at their Messiah, but they were puzzled about why they hadn’t noticed the coming of Elijah first. Mark was an associate of Peter, and the Gospel of Mark is believed by scholars to be Mark’s record of Peter’s gospel. The gospels in the form we have them were written decades after the events; however, they do not seem to suffer from 20/20 hindsight or revisionist history.
Some scriptures cause debate among Christians. The disciple John said, "Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name. We tried to stop him, because he wasn't a follower like us." Is it acceptable to God for non-Christians to do good? For example, should the Church accept offerings from non-Christians? James says "whoever brings a sinner back from his wrong path will save his soul from death and cover a multitude of sins." Save whose soul? The soul of the sinner or the soul of the one who brings him back? Which multitude of sins? The sins of the sinner or the sins of the one who brings him back? This type of debate can go on for a long time. It doesn't matter
! The important thing is that working miracles in the name of Jesus is good. Bringing sinners back from the wrong path is good. Don't worry about who gets the credit! See also James 5:13-20.
Mark 10:1-31, Jesus comments on rules (8/2/13)
One of the great advantages of having rules is that it saves a lot of thinking. Just get some smart folks together one time, let them make a rule, and follow it. Unfortunately, sometimes the world changes around us, and the old rule doesn’t work, but people keep following it anyway. Today’s little passage contains three cases of Jesus modifying old rules: on divorce, his position is much stricter than that of Moses, but on children, his position is more lenient than that of the disciples. The question of monetary wealth is more complicated. Jesus gives no blanket rule here about wealth; he just says that this
wealthy young man needs to get rid of what he’s got, because it stands between him and Jesus. When the disciples (thinking they are seeing a new rule) point out that they’ve already done that, Jesus promises them not only eternal life but physical rewards in this life. Honestly, I don’t understand that, because mostly the disciples were martyred, and they never became rich that we know about. One thing is clear: you have to study the scripture in its entirety to know what the rules might be. God gives us rules for where we are, and we keep moving.
This tip will be a little longer than most, because in our society, our passage from Mark is one of the hardest sayings in the New Testament – where "hard" means "uncomfortable to hear and difficult to do." It's also hard in another way, which is in reconciling Mark's record with Matthew's record and Paul's advice. Matthew records the conversation this way:
Matthew 19:9-12 "I tell you that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." His disciples said to him, "If that is the relationship of a man with his wife, it's not worth getting married!" But he said to them, "Not everyone can accept this saying, except those to whom celibacy has been granted. For some men are celibate from birth, while others are celibate because they have been made that way by others. Still others are celibate because they have made themselves that way for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can."
This appears to give at least one case in which the divorced person is not an adulterer. Paul also reports what Jesus said, and then adds his own take on divorce:
1 Cor 7:10b-13, 15 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. ... But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. (Italics added.)
Now, this sort of looks like Paul thinks a Christian who is unwillingly
separated from an unbeliever
is free to marry again, but maybe I'm reading something that isn't there. The bottom line is that divorce is hard, and scripture doesn't make it any easier.
In vs. 18, Jesus does not deny that he is good – he only asks, "Have you thought about what you are saying? The only one who is good is God." In vss. 21 and 23, he doesn't say that the wealthy can't
get into the kingdom of God, only that it is difficult
. He doesn't say that every wealthy person should sell all they have, only that for this man, it is the only path. Our former children's director Judy W. pointed out to the children one morning that while the text says that the man went away sad, it does not
say that he failed to sell what he had and come back. She believed he did come back; I'm with her – otherwise why was he sad? If he didn't plan to do it, wouldn't he be indignant? The text doesn't say, so each of us is entitled to think what we please.
Why do we all believe “went away and didn’t come back?” Because that’s what we’ve been taught. You have to read for yourself – it doesn’t say that! So why doesn’t it say? Here are some ideas: (1) The writers didn’t know (although the story is from Mark, Matthew and Luke add details, so they probably had at least some independent knowledge of the event). (2) The writers thought what that man did was less important than Jesus’ reaction and the reaction of the disciples, which are recorded. (3) The writers thought that the reader’s reaction is more important than what the man did. Maybe our reaction is a reflection of what we would do in a similar situation.
I have three basic phone greetings, depending on the caller and what I'm doing:
- "Hello." This means, I hear your voice, but until I know what we are talking about, I am making no commitment whatsoever.
- "Hi. What's up?" This means, okay, you called, and I have time to talk, but until I know what we are talking about, I make no further commitment.
- "What can I do for you today?" This means, whatever you want, if it's within my power, you will get it. (I don't say this very often.)
When the blind beggar hears that Jesus is passing by, he addresses him by a Messianic title, "Son of David." He calls for mercy, and actually he's pretty insistent about it. Jesus responds, "What can I do for you today?"
Mark 11:1-11a, Jesus' entry into Jerusalem (4/2/09)
Under the rule of the Romans, the Jews were looking for a military messiah to lead them out of bondage. Many of them thought Jesus might be the one they were looking for: a charismatic, powerful, miracle working descendant of David who would take the throne, reestablish the kingdom, and throw off the Romans. When he entered Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus deliberately chose a different model. He chose to ride a donkey, not a horse. "I'm not the military leader you are looking for," he was saying, "but the humble king that was promised to you by the prophet Zechariah
Mark 11:11-33, Throwing out the moneychangers (again?) (8/5/13)
All four gospels record an incident in which Jesus indignantly stops trade within the Temple in Jerusalem. I say “an” incident, because Mark, Matthew, and Luke put the incident near the end of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 21, Luke 19), whereas John puts it at the beginning. Some people think that John just records the same incident at an earlier point in his gospel for reasons of his own. There are a few differences, however, that I think could be significant. Only John records the whip that Jesus used, and John’s record of the conversation with the priests and scribes is different. There the debate is about a sign and the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple; in Mark, Matthew, and Luke, the debate is about John’s baptism and Jesus’ authority. All in all, I’m inclined to think that there were two similar incidents of driving out the moneychangers, one near the beginning and one near the end of Jesus’ ministry.
Random Walk in a Gallery of Religious Art, Step 18: Mark 11:15-19, 27-33, Driving out the Moneychangers (3/25/15)
Mark 12:18-34, Questions and Answers (8/6/13)
When you look at the larger image, you’ll see that this illustration is labeled “Matthew 21:12.” The event in Matthew 21 and Luke 19 is the same as this one in Mark 11. If you read all three accounts, there is no whip. The whip is in John 2:15, which is talking about a similar event three years earlier. Not only are the two events described differently, but also Jesus is talking about John the Baptist in the past tense in Mark. In the book of John, John the Baptist is still active when Jesus cleanses the Temple (see John 3). I love this picture, but the labeling leaves something to be desired. You have to read for yourself.
John Wesley points out that there is no indication in scripture that Jesus struck the cattle, sheep, or men with the whip, but that nevertheless, “a terror from God ... fell upon them.” Gustave Doré shows their terror well. They skedaddled, but when Jesus returned during Holy Week three years later, they were back, as we read today.
Previous Step. Next Step.
"Buyers and Seller Driven out of the Temple" by Gustave Doré, from the Gartin family Bible,
now in the private collection of Regina Hunter.
Jesus often discussed scripture and tradition with the scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. This is what rabbis did – study the word of God separately and together, both by reading the scripture and by debating its fine points with one another. Sometimes, however, people came to Jesus with questions of the “I got you now” variety. These questions are double edged: if you answer yes, you offend or err in one way, and if you answer no, you offend or err in another way.
Unfortunately for the people asking Jesus “I got you now” questions, he knew the scripture vastly better than they did. He always answered from scripture in a way that showed not only his own mastery but also their ignorance. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. They proposed a question which they believed would put Jesus into a Catch-22. Would he deny the resurrection or the validity of the levirate law on marriage? Would he be stumped? They could only hope. They hadn’t counted on another possible outcome: they
would be embarrassed when he showed their ignorance of the scripture.
The scribe may have been sincere, since it says that he asked his question, “seeing that Jesus answered them well.” But it could also have been a trick question. There are 613 commandments, all given by God. Which one is the most important? Jesus answers that the number one thing is to love God, and the number two thing is to love your neighbor. When the scribe clearly shows that he understands the answer, Jesus gives him a great compliment: “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Even so, no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Jesus praises the widow for putting in all she has, but notice that he does not criticize the wealthy for putting in money out of their surplus. He saves his disapproval for the ones who say long prayers to cover up their abuse of the helpless. Jesus had more scorn for so-called religious people who mistreated others than for any other group.
Our scriptures this week are really preoccupied with the end times. Ironically, they are mostly saying not to be preoccupied with the end times. Don't calculate dates for the Second Coming, and don't be deceived if somebody else tells you their calculations. Jesus says in another passage that even He doesn't know when it will be. But are you ready? Get ready!
Yesterday was Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian year. A few of our scriptures this week are still focusing on the end times – when Christ the King will break into Time, bring the history of earthly nations to an end, and bring an entirely new nation into being. That prospect can be exciting or terrifying, depending on which nation you expect to belong to. Both of our readings suggest that you would be well-advised to take out citizenship in God's kingdom while you still have the chance.
Mark 14:12-26, First communion (8/7/13)
When I was a senior in high school – the school had a total enrollment of about 70 students – my best friend and I arranged to meet at the gym to watch a basketball game. I told her I’d wear a carnation so that she’d recognize me in the “crowd.” That evening, I did
wear a carnation, and I still remember the look on her face as she pointed at me and laughed at my joke.
Jerusalem was crowded with people at Passover; in order to get to the right house, the disciples had to have some way of recognizing their host. I’m not inclined to think that Jesus’ prediction about the man carrying a water jar was based on any supernatural foreknowledge. It’s more likely, in my opinion, that Jesus had told the master of the house to send out a man carrying a water jar. This would have been as unusual as a carnation at a small-town basketball game, and it enabled the disciples to pick the right man out of the crowd.
Mark 15:22-37, Civil and religious authorities call him “King of the Jews” (8/8/13)
In Romans 14:11, Paul quotes Isaiah in saying, “for it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’” In Philippians 2 Paul says, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
I read a commentary on one of the gospels that pointed out that this actually happened at the crucifixion. Well, maybe not every
knee, or every
tongue, but pay careful attention to vss. 26 and 31-32. The inscription, “The King of the Jews,” was ordered by Pilate, in his capacity as the representative of civil authority. The chief priests and scribes, the representatives of religious authority, call Jesus “the Christ, the King of Israel.” In Luke, one of the robbers, in his capacity as a representative of all the rest of us sinners, says, “Are you not the Christ?” Even when we think we are mocking, we may be speaking the truth for everyone else to hear.
Mark 16:1-20, Endings: lost, short, and long (8/9/13)
The earliest and best manuscripts of the gospel of Mark stop with vs. 8, and that’s the last we hear from the actual hand of Mark. Either Mark was interrupted, or his ending was lost very early, before any copies were made. Not only would vs. 8 be a very strange place to end a gospel, but the Greek changes abruptly from Mark’s normal vigorous style to Greek that it’s hard to imagine him writing. It’s sort of like the change from an action novel to an encyclopedia.
Later and lesser manuscripts have either the “long” ending (vss. 9-20) or the “short” ending (below), which were added by someone else, probably two different people. Both the short and long endings have always been considered by the Church to be authentic scripture, although translations vary in whether they include one or both of these later additions.
This translation of the “short” ending is from The Gospel According to Saint Mark, by A.M. Hunter (no relation) and may be his own translation. If included, it is usually placed after vs. 8.
[[And all that had been commanded them they briefly reported to Peter and those who were with him. And after this Jesus himself appeared to them, and from the east and as far as to the west sent forth to them the sacred and incorruptible proclamation of eternal salvation.]]
The English Standard Version (among others) has brackets around Mark 16:9-20. This is the "long ending" of Mark. It is definitely canonical, that is, it is authentic scripture. There are several endings for the book of Mark. Some manuscripts end with verse 8 – "they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid." Most scholars agree that this is the last word we have from Mark, but there is some debate about whether he wrote a little more, which was later lost. Some manuscripts have a "short ending" of about a verse: "They reported briefly to Peter's companions what they had been told. Then Jesus himself through their agency broadcast from east to west the sacred and incorruptible message of eternal salvation." This one is also canonical. One manuscript has an insertion between vss. 14 and 15, in which the disciples defend themselves against Jesus' reproach in vs. 14. I think the latter is not canonical, but I could be mistaken.
But here is the really exciting thing about all this. The "long ending" is written by someone other than Mark. This means that five
Gospel writers give accounts of appearances of the risen Christ, not four: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the unknown author of Mark 16:9-20!
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