Gospel of Mark 6:35-52 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday Jan 3, 2010 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. NET Bible from Bible dot org, also available from CBD and electronically here

4. Baker New Testament Commentary Series: Mark by William Hendriksen and Simon Kistemaker, also available for e-Sword:9.x

5. Daily Study Bible: Gospel of Mark by William Barclay, also available for eSword: 9.x, 8.x and earlier

Mark 6:35-36
No miracle seems to have made such an impression on the disciples as this, because this is the only miracle of Jesus which is related in all four gospels.(Barclay)

Hora polle: Greek phrase sometimes used for a “late hour”. Interesting dynamic revealed, with Jesus in charge yet the disciples reminding of how he should behave, something they do more than once (Mark 1:36-7, 4:38, 10:13). The Greek eautois “for themselves” shows the disciples had no plan to provide for the crowd themselves. (France)

“Wilderness/desert place”: Greek eremos, for sparse isolated country.

“It is late, and we’re in the middle of nowhere” the disciples tell Jesus. “Send the people away to the nearby cities so they can eat and” –presumably– “find shelter.”

Mark 6:37-38
“You” in the “give them food” statement from Jesus is emphatic in the Greek. (NET)

The disciples are not pleased to have responsibility for the crowd put upon them. Their question to Jesus is certainly ironic and not a bit frustrated. The silver denarius was probably the most common coin used in Roman times. The name means “containing ten”, the ten being the bronze “as” coin. The denarius was the standard day’s wage of a soldier or day laborer in the first century(Mat_20:2, Mat_20:9, Mat_20:13). Thus 200 denarius equal about seven months’ pay. It is also quoted by France quoting Gundry as capable of buying some 2400 loaves of bread. Where one might buy so many loaves when even good sized towns in Galilee might have only three thousand inhabitants is what makes the question ironic. (France, Hendriksen)

Jesus insists on a food inventory. Mark states the common numbers: five loaves and two fishes. John 6:8-9 adds that the fish and loaves came from a young boy. He further specifies that the loaves were barley, the cheapest, coarsest sort of bread available. The bread were likely small flat loaves about capable of feeding one man for a day. The fish were likely more like sardines, used to spice up the plain rolls. Plainly inadequate to feed five thousand people or more. Luckily, as John’s account tells us, Jesus already knew what He would do. (France, Barclay)

Mark 6:39-40
Jesus now begins to carry out His plan. He instructs the disciples to sort the crowd out into groups and have them sit in the green grass. That the grass was green likely indicates this took place in spring, about mid-April, before the grass dries and turns brown. The people sat “party by party”; literally, “symposia symposia.” A “symposia” was originally an “eating or drinking together,” usually a drinking party. The word suggests a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.(Hendriksen)

The people further sat “in rows”, prasiai prasiai, a Greek term derived it is thought from gardening, describing garden plots of rows of plants. Many see the description as coming from Peter’s own memory of people in multi-colored clothes sitting in green grass, looking at a distance like plants in a garden.(Barclay)

The use of the specific numbering of groups of one hundred and of fifties is often viewed as an echo of Ex 18:25, and 1 Qsa 2:11-22 of the Dead Sea Scrolls sees this numbering as a specific blueprint for the messianic banquet.(Witherington)

Mark 6:41
Mar 6:41 NET. He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. He gave them to his disciples to serve the people, and he divided the two fish among them all.

Mar 14:22 NET. While they were eating, he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it. This is my body.”

The comparison uses much the same vocabulary: lambano (took), eulogeo (blessed/gave thanks), kataklao (broke, divided), didomai (gave). That Mark intended this to hint at the Lord’s Supper is widely agreed. It is not so obvious for non-Christians however, both for a first time reader of Mark and Jews then and now, because these same four actions are the traditional role of a Jewish head of family at meals. Most scholars imagine Jesus used the traditional Jewish blessing here: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who brings bread from the earth”. (France)

Mark 6:42-44
Here Mark makes plain the scale of the miracle, as “all” are fed and “filled/satisfied”. He then shows the bounty of the miracle, as the leftovers are collected, and fill a basket for each disciple. These baskets, Greek kophinos, were a common sight among Jews and were remarked upon sarcastically by Romans, whose soldiers were nevertheless known to carry supplies in similar small wicker baskets. But they had two practical purposes:

1.A careful, Torah-observant Jew carried his own food supplies in his basket, so that he would be certain of eating food that was ceremonially clean and pure.

2.Poorer Jews supported themselves by receiving alms, which the law required Jews to give to their poorer brethren. The baskets held the proceeds of begging. The reason that there were twelve baskets is simply that there were twelve disciples. It was into their own baskets that they frugally gathered up the fragments so that nothing would be lost. (Barclay)

Mark then makes note, used in all the gospels, that five thousand men were fed by those five loaves and two fishes.

I’ve already noted the comparison of this miracle to the Last Supper, but there are two further comparisons to be made, from the Law and the Prophets. Most people would immediately see the comparison between the feeding of the five thousand and the miracle of the manna in Moses’ day. Mark doesn’t make much of Jesus as the second Moses, but the comparison is quite obvious. More obscurely for those of us not steeped in our prophets, this story resembles yet exceeds Elisha’s feeding of a hundred in 2 Kgs 42- 44. Indeed the Elisha story might well have been Mark’s model, for the pattern is very similar:

1.Order for servant to feed a crowd

2.Servant(s) rationally questions the order

3.After everyone eats, there are leftovers(France)

Mark 6:45
The first thing after this miracle recorded in Mark is that Jesus sent the disciples away. Why? We have to look to John’s parallel account for that explanation.(John 6:14-15) The crowd was making noise about declaring Jesus king. This was bad, for several reasons:

1.Jesus had no desire to be an earthly power figure, and had in fact deliberately refused such a path when tempted by Satan at the beginning of His ministry.

2.Any remotely unruly crowd over a certain size was likely to bring Roman soldiers down upon them in suspicion of an incipient rebellion against Rome. Simple size of crowds were known to cause Romans to start killing people. Here is an army size crowd, which actually is thinking rebellion! Yikes!(Barclay)

Thus one imagines Jesus sent the disciples away before they were caught up in the fever. John’s gospel simply says Jesus went to pray in response to the crowd’s ideas (John 6:15), while Mark, on the other hand, has Jesus dismissing the crowd as an authority figure still in control.

“To Bethsaida” is a puzzle. Mark locates the town on the NW side of the Sea of Galilee n the area of Capernaum, while Luke puts it on the NE side opposite Capernaum. One is forced to think there were either two Bethsaidas (not impossible if implausible, especially since the gospels don’t distinguish them) or someone has gotten their geography confused.(France)

Mark 6:46
Who is “them”? Is it the crowd, or a backwards return to the disciples? Most scholars take it to be the crowd, but it is perhaps more likely a way to refer to the disciples and their subsequent shock at seeing Jesus on the lake.(France)

We know Jesus prayed alone very often, and we can well imagine He might feel the need after a long day and dealing with the problem of messianic fever. Barclay has three things he thought would be heavy on Jesus’ mind at prayer time:

1. The hostility of the orthodox people

2.The suspicion of Herod Antipas

3.The hotheads who would make Jesus a nationalistic Messiah against his will(Barclay)

Mark 6:47
France notes that the miraculous feeding started in “late afternoon”, and with the meal, the cleanup, the messianic fever, the sending away of the disciples and then the dismissal of the crowd, it is better to take “when evening came” very generously and assume it was quite late when the disciples started rowing and Jesus started praying. 6:48 confirms that the wind was against the disciples, so it is not unusual they were making little headway, even if the Sea of Galilee was only four miles or so across here, and perhaps it was five miles at an angle to the Bethsaida they were rowing for.(France)

The Jews divided the night into four three hour watches between 6 pm and 6 am. (Barclay)

“In the middle of the sea”: John 6:19 says the disciples had rowed about twenty-five or thirty stadia, an ancient measure of length that leads to an estimate of some three or four miles of rowing, with another mile or so left to go.(France)

The disciples are not in mortal peril this time, unlike the incident in Mark 4:35-41, but merely exhausted after a long day and much rowing against the wind, “toiling in rowing” as the KJV puts it.(France)

Mark 6:48
“He wanted to pass by them”? Another puzzle, typically explained as follows:

1.Not Jesus’ intention, but what His walking by (on water!) seemed to imply for the disciples. Thus the statement is from their point of view.

2.“Passing by” is a theophany term, used of God in Ex 33:19-23 and 1 Kgs 19:11 Walking on water is used only of God Himself in the OT (Job 9:8, Ps 77:19). Thus Jesus was using a miracle to make an explicit divine claim (NET, Hendriksen, Witherington)

3.France mentions the interpretation of one T. Snoy, who sees the story as shows Jesus changing His mind twice, first intending to let the disciples recognize Him walking on water, then deciding to pass them unrecognized, then finally identifying Himself when the disciples are so afraid of Him.(France)

Mark 6:49-50
Apparently the disciples did not immediately recognize Jesus, for they were terrified to see this figure walking on water, assuming it to be a ghost (Greek phantasma) and cried out.

It is interesting to know that in the New Testament, but for one occasion, it is always Jesus who says “Have courage”.(Matt 9:2, 22; 14:27; John 16:33; Acts 23:11). Perhaps we might add it to the list of Jesus’ habitual sayings, like “Amen, amen”.(Hendriksen)

The Greek phrase here is ego eimi, often seen as an assertion of divinity, being the same Greek used in the Greek OT of Ex 3:14. However ego eimi is also typical Greek for “It’s me”, and thus we readers (and indeed, most translators don’t) need not see the Greek phrase as the divine name here, not the least in view of the following 6:52. However some, including Witherington, do indeed see it as an invocation of the divine name.(France, Witherington)

“Don’t be afraid” is not only an obvious thing to say, but always reminds one of angels, who are forever saying this in their appearances.

Mark 6:51-52
Mark quickly shifts from relating the incident to the disciples’ reaction to it. So quickly in fact it is easy to note another little coincidence miracle, that of the wind which had vexed the disciples’ rowing dying as soon as Jesus was aboard the boat.

Amazement is a common reaction to Jesus in Mark so far (Mark 1:22, 27; 2:12; 5:15, 20, 42).(Hendriksen)

Why are the disciples seemingly strongly condemned for not understanding the miraculous feeding here (and more forcefully, by Jesus, in Mark 8:14-21)? Perhaps this: Deu 18:15 NET. The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you — from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him.

The feedings (five and four thousand) are plainly meant to recall Moses and this prophecy, used of the Messiah. Indeed Jesus makes that point Himself in John 6:28-58, specifically John 6:49-50.

France cites Hooker in thinking that the two miracles here in Mark 6 are in fact Jesus’ re-enactment of the two great miracles of Moses’ prophethood: the manna and the crossing of the Red Sea. Many of Jesus’ miracles in fact can be seen as re-enactments of OT miracles.(France)

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