Gospel of Mark Chapter 12:13-17, 28-34 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday, February 7, 2009 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series.

Books referenced in these notes are:

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

2. NET Bible from Bible dot org, also available from CBD and electronically here.

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

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

Mark 12:13-17
The poll tax was imposed upon Judea in 6 AD when the Romans took over direct rule of the province, as a result of Archelaus’ poor rulership. The province was unruly enough that the Romans stationed troops there, under a procurator, Quirinius. Quirinius conducted a census as preparation for taxes, which caused an immediate revolt lead by Judas of Galilee that very year, which was quickly crushed, but formed the basis for nationalist movements that lead to the Zealots, the Jewish revolt in 66 AD and the resultant destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. For Judas of Galilee the kingship of God was totally incompatible with the overlordship of Rome.(DSB)

The poll tax was one of several taxes and the most blatant money grab, since it taxed not produce (there was a ground tax that taxed one tenth of all grain and one fifth of all wine) or income (there was a one percent income tax) but simply charged every adult “citizen” (teenager to senior) to pay one denarius (a day’s wages, roughly) just because they were residents. (DSB)

As a Galilean Jesus was not liable to pay the toll tax on Judeans, thus part of the plot was to pretend that Jesus was a sort of “neutral observer” on the legitimacy of the tax, besides the obvious flattery that Jesus teaches “the way of God” which statement plainly these opponents of Jesus do not really believe. That is the obvious clue that the men were hypocrites, and the question they asked had implications Jesus immediately understood. (France)

The “trap” or “snare” for Jesus lay in the apparent inability to answer the Pharisees’ question without offending someone. To say the tax was lawful would upset Jewish nationalists; to say to pay the tax was wrong would provide evidence of Jesus’ rebellious tendencies for the Pharisees to present to the Romans. It was an apparent no-win situation. This explains the “amazement” of the audience when Jesus gave an answer that not only managed to avoid offending either side of the question, but also making a sly statement about the Herodians’ piety. They carried a denarius, while Jesus did not, showing they did implicitly accept Roman rule.

Jesus said, “Show me a denarius”. This was both basic and very clever. William Barclay noted that money implies three things about power:

1.Money is a visible representation of power. In ancient times, when there was a governmental change, one of the first acts of a new government was to change the coinage, indicating who was in charge.

2.The acceptance of any money as valid tender in a region indicates the sphere of authority and power for the money’s issuer. That is why the international use of the dollar today is frowned upon by many non-Americans, since it is a visible reminder of American power in action even in foreign countries.

3.Money typically bears the name and pictorial representations of the issuer, which thus indicates that the money “belongs” to the issuer.(DSB)

In this case the denarius issued by Rome had a portrait of Tiberius Caesar on one side and two inscriptions: with the face, “Tiberius Caesar, son of divine Augustus”; on the reverse, “Highest priest”.

Jesus’ answer, “Give Caesar what is rightfully his, and to God what is rightfully His” has been read two ways:

1.In reference back to Gen 1:27, which says man is made in God’s image, Jesus is saying to give to Caesar the things bearing his image, and to God what is in His image. This is seen as the basis for the later teachings of Rom 13:1-7 and 1 Pet 2:13-17, where Christians are told to do honor to government, because governments are inevitably ordained by God. Government then is seen as a representative of God.

2.On another reading, Jesus is being dismissive of the claim of government, basically saying, “This money is made and distributed by Tiberius, thus give Tiberius back the unimportant things he has made and thus owns, while remembering God made man, and thus you must give yourself to Him.” It is in this light seen as a statement that money is ultimately unimportant in face of Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom of God on earth.(France, Witherington)

Mark 12:28-34
The Jews have long held that there were 613 commandments issued at Mount Sinai, 248 “do’s” and 365 “don’ts”. Naturally most people desired some sort of summary of the law, and prioritizing of all these commands. Early rabbinic writings reflect this effort with a classic selection of scriptures that are viewed as ever shrinking summaries from David, Isaiah, Micah, and Habbakuk:

Psa 15:1-5 NET. LORD, who may be a guest in your home?
Who may live on your holy hill?

1. (2) Whoever lives a blameless life,
2. does what is right,
3.and speaks honestly.
4. (3) He does not slander,
5. or do harm to others,
6.or insult his neighbor.
7.(4) He despises a reprobate,
8.but honors the LORD’s loyal followers.
9.He makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise.
10.(5) He does not charge interest when he lends his money.
11.He does not take bribes to testify against the innocent.

The one who lives like this will never be upended.

Isa 33:15-16 NET.
1.The one who lives uprightly
2.and speaks honestly;
3.the one who refuses to profit from oppressive measures
4.and rejects a bribe;
5.the one who does not plot violent crimes
6.and does not seek to harm others —
(16) This is the person who will live in a secure place; he will find safety in the rocky, mountain strongholds; he will have food and a constant supply of water.

Mic 6:8 NET. He has told you, O man, what is good,
and what the LORD really wants from you:
He wants you to
1. promote justice,
2.to be faithful,
3.and to live obediently before your God.

Isa 56:1 NET. This is what the LORD says,
1.”Promote justice!
2. Do what is right!
For I am ready to deliver you; I am ready to vindicate you openly.

Hab 2:4 NET. Look, the one whose desires are not upright will faint from exhaustion,but
1. the person of integrity will live because of his faithfulness.

The attitudes of Jews of Jesus’ day might be thus summarized as two:
1.There are “lighter” and “heavier” commandments, thus allowing for a prioritizing of law, a sort of “do this and the rest are covered”.
2.All laws were given of God, and thus one ought to obey every one as much as humanly possible.(DSB)

Mark seems to picture the scribe here as a bystander impressed enough with Jesus’ statements earlier in the chapter to ask Him a question of his own. Matt 22:34-35, on the other hand, represents the scribe as the latest in the series of people trying to trap Jesus.(France)

Jesus answers the scribe’s question in His typical fashion: by quoting scripture. He begins by quoting
Deu 6:4 NET. Listen, Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!

This verse is called the Shema, based on the verb that begins it in Hebrew. It was recited twice daily by Jews in Jesus’ day, and used to open synagogue services from then to today. It is not a commandment, but it does completely ground what follows. In essence it can be seen as Jesus saying, “This is the reality: Yahweh is our God.” Interestingly, only Mark records Jesus using Deu 6:4 as preamble to His answer. It leads to the next quote, which defines how one is to react to the reality.(France, Witherington)

Deu 6:5 NET. You must love the LORD your God with your whole mind, your whole being, and all your strength.

Deu 6:5 NASB “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Jesus adds “mind”, Greek dianoia, presumably to both cover the whole being and to add that even one’s very thoughts should be turned to loving and serving God.(France)

For the second Jesus again quotes scripture,
Lev 19:18 NET. You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

Plainly the key to the commandments is summed up in one word to Jesus: love. This emphasis was carried on by the early church, as shown by Rom 13:8-10, Gal 5:13-14, James 2:8. It was not a completely new emphasis, for similar ideas are expressed in several places in “Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs” about 100 BC and the writings of Jewish philosopher Philo, a rough contemporary of Jesus who noted the Ten Commandments include five commandments about man and God and five commandments about man and his fellow man. There is also the famous answer of Rabbi Hillel, in many ways the grandfather of modern Judaism, to a proselyte to Judaism: “Do not do to your neighbor what you hate; this is the whole Law, the rest is commentary”.(France)

What is unique is that Jesus explicitly combined the two OT quotes to justify His take on the heart of the law.

In its original context, Lev 19:18’s “neighbor” meant fellow Jews or resident aliens in the Jewish population:
Lev 19:34 NET. The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Famously these same scriptures are quoted by a scribe in Luke 10:25-37, leading to the story of the Good Samaritan in explaining what “neighbor” actually means.

The scribe then takes what Jesus has said and expands it in a rather surprising way, by proclaiming these two commandments outweigh the sacrificial system. There is scriptural support for such an idea (Ps 40:6; Ps 51:16-17; Is 1:10-17; Jer 7:22-23; Hos 6:6; Mic 6:6-8), but there is some suspicion that the idea is radical enough, and Jesus so confident in agreeing to it, that no one else thought to ask Jesus any more questions.(France)

This whole exchange between Jesus and the scribe likely played its part in the Jerusalem Council’s ruling against requiring Gentile converts to Christianity to follow Jewish law and custom.(Acts 15)


One thought on “Gospel of Mark Chapter 12:13-17, 28-34 Sunday School Notes

  1. Thorough notes . . . but what would you conclude Jesus is driving at in these two episodes as recorded by Mark? Or, to put it differently, what do you think Jesus wants to press into the hearts and minds of his hearers through the exchanges recorded here? As I work my way through Mark, I want to not only observe what is being said but also ask the question, “So what?” Seeing and understanding what Jesus said ushers in the appropriate question: “So what difference does it make that I see Jesus do that? What difference does it make that Jesus said those things?” And, for me, it seems that both exchanges you touch on drive to heart issues. Thoughts?

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