Gospel of Mark Chapter 2:15-28 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday December 13, 2009 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible Series.

Books referenced in these notes are:

1. Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary by Ben Witherington III

2. Gospel of Mark: New International Greek Testament Commentary by R.T. France

3. New Testament Text and Translation Commentary by Philip Comfort

4.  NET Bible from Bible dot org, also available from CBD

Levi: Traditionally said to be the same as Matthew, especially since Matt 9:9-13 tells the same story of Matthew as Mark 2:13-14 of Levi. Matthew’s Gospel lists Matthew next to James son of Alphaeus (Matt 10:3), as does Acts 1:13; Luke separates the two with Thomas. Witherington suggests that because Levi is a son of Alphaeus also, Levi/Matthew and James of Alphaeus are actually brothers, and that perhaps Jesus chose brothers as disciples in order to bind the Twelve together better, or even to more resemble the original Twelve patriarchs. (Witherington)

Levi is working in a telonion, a “tax booth” when Jesus finds him. This means Levi is not an income or poll tax collector or a census worker. He is definitely not a “publican”, a rich tax farmer (usually a foreigner) who bought the right to collect taxes for a government, and then employed people like Levi to actually gather the money, the tax amount plus however much the publican could add on for his expenses and profits without causing a riot. Or Levi was a municipal customs official placed at strategic points like bridges, canals and state roads, charging two or three percent tax on trade items that passed through the city. The money would actually go to the city, but the municipal tax workers were also disdained just like those working for the Romans directly, because the city officials backed Rome against the Jewish populace.(Witherington, Keener)

Mark 2:15
And it came to pass: Greek kai gentai, which alerts the reader/listener to a new phase in the story.(France)

“Recline at table” indicates a meal in the Greco-Roman style, lying on one’s side on the floor or a couch around a central table where the food and drink were placed. Jews normally sat at table, but three hundred years of Greek influence made many adopt the Greco-Roman style, especially for formal or festive meals.(Witherington, France)

The Greek text says “in his house”, but Mark never refers to the Capernaum house as belonging to Jesus, thus this takes place at Levi’s house, as the HCSB and the Lukan parallel inform us.(France)

Tax collectors are named with sinners here, implying the two might be different groups. They are routinely mentioned together in the gospels (Luke 15:2; Matt 11:19). “Sinners” (Greek hamartoloi) is ambiguous. It might mean the common people who had practical problems keeping the strict ceremonial law as the Pharisees wanted. Some however have argued that tax booth workers would not have been forced to enter unclean homes to collect taxes, unlike poll tax collectors, and thus wouldn’t be ritually unclean. But they still would be a class respectable Pharisee types would avoid. “Sinners” might also be the wicked (Hebrew resaim), the willful, unrepentant sinners. These are considered worse than the poor and the downtrodden; they are the actively bad.(Ps 10:15, 141:5; Pro 2:22,10:30, 14:9) Likely the reference is to the notoriously immoral, not those negligent of ritual. “Sinners” was used of Gentiles not so much because they didn’t obey the Law (much of which isn’t meant for Gentiles, thus the Noahide code) but because Gentiles were considered routinely immoral. (Witherington, France)

Disciples, Greek mathetai, doesn’t necessarily mean the Twelve (Mark 3:13-19), but those routinely accompanying Jesus.(France)

Mark 2:16-17
Textual Variant:
Scribes of the Pharisees HCSB
Manuscripts P88 S B L W 33

Scribes and the Pharisees (N)KJV
Manuscripts A C D Majority

“Scribes of the Pharisees” is the more difficult reading, “scribes and pharisees” being a common phrase of the gospels, and thus explaining why the copyists of the majority of manuscripts would adjust the reading to “and”. Also the manuscripts with “of” are a better set than those backing “and”. Mark is indicating here scribes who were members of the Pharisaic party, not two groups. (Comfort)

Scribes of the Pharisees: A subgroup within the Pharisees who specialized in writing and knowing the Law, and who were the real sticklers for observing the exact rules among the Pharisees. They protest Jesus’ eating with sinners to the disciples, some of whom presumably told Jesus.(Witherington)

Textual Variant:
Eats with sinners and tax collectors. HCSB
Manuscripts: B D W

Eats and drinks with sinners and tax collectors (N)KJV
Manuscripts: P88 A f1 33 Majority

While it is possible that the shorter first reading is an assimilation of Matt 9:11, most feel the longer version in the Majority manuscripts and the KJV is secondary, taken from the longer parallel text in Luke 5:30.(Comfort)

The Pharisees’ problem with Jesus might be:

1.Ceremonial defilment by sharing food with groups considered unclean.

2.Eating with someone is a primal way to identify with and/or approve them. Thus Jesus’ meal was approving groups the Pharisees rejected. (France)

The Greek of the Pharisees’ statement might be interpeted as a bald statement or a question. Either way it is translated it is surely delivered with a note of outrage and shock.(France)

Mark 2:17
Jesus responds with a routine proverb: “the sick need a doctor, not the well”. It’s an interesting take on Jesus’ self-perception, that of a doctor treating the sick, and thus necessarily being around the sick. Necessity makes any attempt to maintain strict ritual purity impossible, and priority must be given to those most in need..(Witherington, France)

Textual Variant
But sinners (HCSB)
Manuscripts S A B C L Majority

But sinners to repentance (N)KJV
Manuscripts 1’s margin 33

This ended up in the KJV and NKJV because Erasmus, who edited the early Greek New Testament behind the KJV NT, used miniscule 1. “To repentance” is plainly a scribal addition, either expansion for explanation and/or to match Luke 5:32.(Comfort)

The second part of v.17 is a mission statement by Jesus. Determining where simple statement ends and irony begins is difficult in this saying. “Righteous” might be a stab at the Pharisees, but Jesus could speak well of them (Matt 5:20) as well as poorly (Matt 23:1-7; Mark 12:38-40). But plainly Jesus is defining His mission in terms of necessity, like medical triage: the worst first, then on to the least injured. Witherington describes Jesus’ worst off as “least, last, and lost”. “Sinners” here is not all fallen people here (unlike Luke 13:1-3) but more “immoral people” (Luke 24:7)(Witherington, France)

What does calling sinners mean? Presumably inviting them to become disciples and repent, morally. Indeed, the Lukan parallel (Luke 5:32) says “call… sinners to repentance”. But unlike most, Jesus doesn’t require proof of repentance before associating with sinners.(Witherington, France)

Mark 2:18
This controversy can be seen as a sort of “I’m holier than thou” competition, which Jesus refuses to play by changing the discussion.

While some of John the Baptist followers joined Jesus (John 1:35-42), others stayed John’s disciples long after John’s execution (Acts 18:25, 19:1-7).(France)

Only the Day of Atonement fast is specified in the Law (Lev 16:29; Acts 27:9), but Zech 8:19 adds four more fasts, and Esther 9:31 makes six. Standard Pharisaic fast days were Monday and Thursday (Luke 18:12, Did 8:1). John the Baptist was an ascetic himself, so it is no wonder his followers adopted the Pharisaic fasts . (Witherington, France)

The Greek doesn’t actually identify the questioners with fast-keepers, and while it is often taken that way and considered a hostile interrogation, it might be a simple inquiry by outsiders about the differences between the Pharisees, John the Baptist’s disciples, and Jesus’ group.(France)

The point in asking Jesus is that as the teacher he is responsible for His students.(Witherington)

Parables: Hebrew maskal, which can include riddles, aphorisms, proverbs, extended analogies, narratives and full or partial allegories. Jesus’ frequent use of parables is typical of sages and rabbis of His day, for the form was growing in popularity in the first century among Jews. Jesus’ parables were not like those of the OT sages, but rather a prophetic version of Wisdom sayings (2 Sam 12:1-4; Ezk 17:3-10; Is 5:1-6)(Witherington)

Parables in early Judaism frequently had explanations with them. Forty-two of the seventy-nine parables in the Synoptic Gospels have explanations. Thus it is unlikely the explanations of the gospels come from from the early church and not Jesus.(Witherington)

Jesus’ parables differ from His fellows’ in several ways:

1.They are counter-cultural, challenging normal wisdom in an individual way.

2.They are almost never used to interpret scripture or clarify laws or rules.

3.They are not concerned with the normal wisdom topic (how to live a better life) but about world-changing matters that necessarily overthrow conventional wisdom.(Witherington)

Mark 2:19
Verse 20 assumes Christians will fast (Matt 6:16-18; Acts 13:2-3, 14:23), but says the appropriate time to do so is after Jesus is gone.(France)

Wedding feasts were normally a week long, during which fasting and hard labor were forbidden. (Keener)

Jesus answers by drawing an analogy with a wedding, where Jesus is the groom and the disciples His groomsmen, espcially those responsible for guarding the bridal chamber. Ancient Jewish weddings were long, joyous, partying affairs. Jesus ruins the image of merrymaking by declaring the groom (Himself) will be taken away, and then the groomsmen will fast.(Witherington)

The wedding metaphor is about a new covenant with new rules of behavior. There is no evidence that bridegroom metaphors were used in Judaism about the Messiah, therefore the assumption is the metaphor must have come from Jesus or the early church (Matt 22:1-4, 25:1-13, Eph 5:22-32; 2 Cor 11:2, Rev 19:7,9, 22:17). Typically Jesus doesn;t directly identify Himself as the groom, which the NT letters are more explicit in doing. Nevertheless the focus here is on Jesus as the bridegroom, and the reference can be seen as a veiled messianic claim. (Witherington, France)

Mark 2:20
Traditionally seen as a hint of the cross, but v.19 has hints of Jesus’ separation from His followers, and since this incident takes place after John the Baptist’s arrest in 1:14, it is not necessarily supernaturally prescient of Jesus to predict His removal by force.(France)

That Jesus made no plans for His community after He was gone is not the necessary interpretation of the gospels, nor does it credit Him with much common sense.(France)

Mark 2:21-22
Textual variants: Two subtle ones found in verse 22. The first is the addition of the word “spilled” and the shift of “ruined/lost” to the wineskins in the (N)KJV, as opposed to the “ruined/lost” wine and wineskins in HCSB. This is a more technical variant, as the support for “spilled…ruined” is seemingly excellent: Manuscripts S A C D L (W Theta) f1,13 33 Majority, while “ruined/lost” has only P88 B 892 for support. The reasons text critics favor “ruined/lost” are:

1.P88 is earliest manuscript

2.B, Codex Vaticanus, is generally the single most reliable Greek NT manuscript.

3.The rule is shorter readings are normally preferred over longer ones.

4.Longer readings are normally explained as expansions of shorter ones, often to conform the shorter reading to a similar longer one elsewhere, or to explain something unclear in the short reading.

The second set of variants are “new wine for fresh wineskins” HCSB and “new wine is put into fresh wineskins”(N)KJV. There is another variant as well, but the longer two seem plain grammatical improvements in the short original “new wine for fresh wineskins”.(Comfort)

Wine and new clothes are common at weddings, which might connect the sayings. The point plainly is that the new kingdom of God inaugurated by Jesus requires new ideas and actions, not a joining of old ways and new, which will not work. (Witherington)

Unshrunk/new cloth is material which has not been cleaned and combed to remove oil and gum, as well as bleached, which pre-shrinks the material. Thus unshrunk cloth would shrink when it was washed, and if combined with shrunk material would create a tear, or or larger tear if used as a patch.(France)

Wineskins were made of leather, which at first was pliable, but over time became stiff and brittle with use and exposure to the wine inside. New wine was normally fermented in a vat first, then in a second final stage was put in jars or wineskins to finish fermentation.

Mark 2:23-28
The controversy here is not about the disciples taking grain from a field owned by someone else, for the Law allowed that (Deu 23:25; Lev 23:22). All Jews agreed on the importance of the day of rest, but differed on how practically to observe it. The OT gave some examples of prohibited actions, “work” to avoid on the Sabbath,(Ex 16:22-30, 34:21, 35:2-3; Num 15:32-36; Neh 10:31, 13:15-22; Jer 17:21-22). The Book of Jubilees and the Damascus Document of the Dead Sea Scrolls made longer lists of prohibitions for the Sabbath, but these still were hardly a comprehensive list. It wasn’t until about 200 AD that the Jewish legal scholars compiled the Misnah, which was a legal code, including long sections about Sabbath-keeping. But some parts of this code were doubtless in effect in Jesus’ day.(Witherington, France)

The issue is the act of reaping, a form of work on the Sabbath disallowed in Ex 34:21 and explicitly condemned in the collection of Jewish legal opinion the Mishnah. Maurice Casey is quoted by Witherington as explaining the dispute as stemming from the different viewpoints of the Pharisees, who saw themselves as guardians of the Law and promoters of stricter legal observance, and the prophetic viewpoint of Jesus, which focused on God and one’s fellow, not piety expressed in ritual. Jesus saw healing on the Sabbath and here, reaping food when hungry and poor, even on the Sabbath, as perfectly in line with the true intent of the Law.(Witherington)

The season was likely early summer, the place (judging by the mention of the synagogue and the lakeshore) near Capernaum.(France)

Interestingly, Jesus’ appeal to the story of David and the showbread is not proper legal argument in traditional rabbinic debate, apparently, and may be interpreted as a way of annoying the Pharisees. On the other hand, Keener opines that having cited a precedent from the Bible, Jesus has blocked the Pharisees’ ability to drag He and His disciples before the local priests for trial. Jesus mentions those with David (1 Sam 21:2) because He is defending the disciples. (France, Keener)

The 1 Sam 21 account doesn’t say the incident occurred on the sabbath, but it is a fair inference from 1 Sam 21:6’s mention of replacing the showbread, required on the sabbath(Lv 24:8).(France)

The argument seems to be a claim by Jesus to authority like David’s, who is approved by scripture for violating the Law. (France)

Mark 2:26
Abiathar was not high priest at the time of David’s showbread incident, but his father Ahimelech (1 Sam 21:1-7). Abiathar is mentioned first in 1 Sam 22:20, and isn’t high priest then. But there was a practice of calling anyone in the high priestly family with administrative authority “high priest” in Jesus’ day. It might also be that either Jesus, Peter, or Mark were wrong or using vague “in Abiathar’s day” or “in the portion of scripture with Abiathar” language. Interestingly, in 1 Sam 22:20 Abiathar is Ahimelech’s son, while 2 Sam 8:17 and 1 Chr 24:6 call Ahimelech Abiathar’s son, leading some to speculate both had both names, or there was a line of Ahimelechs and Abiathars in that family, father, son, and grandson(?). It gets to remain a puzzle.(Comfort, NET)

Mark 2:27-28

Verses 27-28 combine to make many scholars see “Son of man” in v.28 as a generic “human being” reference. Sabbath made for man, thus man rules the sabbath. This is a standard Jewish viewpoint found in various intertestamental literature like Jubilees, 2 Baruch, and 2 Esdras. However the use of David and the notorious ambiguity of “son of man” in Jesus’ mouth leaves one to suspect a double sense here, as in other occurrences of “son of man”. Man rules the Sabbath, and Jesus, the Man God, rules the Sabbath even more so. The phrase is an implicit authority claim.(France, Witherington)

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