Mark 2 Commentary

Mark 2:6-8

“In the eyes of the teachers of the law, to presume to forgive sins is an arrogant affront to the majesty of God, which appropriately can be labeled blasphemy.  A priest could pronounce the forgiveness of sins on the basis of repentance, restitution, and sacrifice (Lev. 4; 5; 16; 17:11); but Jesus seems to be claiming that he is able to remit sins as if he were God.  To the theologically trained mind there can be only two possible inferences.  The presence of the kingdom of God, which Jesus has been speaking about, must usher in the forgiveness of sins.  Or they can conclude that this is “a conceited act of blasphemy” – something worthy of death (Lev. 24:16).”[1]

Mark 2:9-12

“He skirts the issue of blasphemy with a riddling question of his own, in effect saying, ‘Which is easier, to make a theological pronouncement about the forgiveness of sins or to provide empirical proof that the man’s sins have indeed been forgiven by virtue of his ability to get up and walk away?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken.  That prophet has spoken presumptuously.  Do not be afraid of him (Deut 18:22).  To show the teachers of the law that his pronouncement of forgiveness is not just idle theological prattle, Jesus commands the paralytic to get up and walk so they may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth (2:10-11).  The word confirms that their alarm is not misplaced.  Jesus does presume to forgive sins on the basis of grace – something that a priest in the temple could not do, that even the law could not do.”[2]

Mark 2:14

“Matthew’s gospel tells of an almost identical story and identifies the tax collector as Matthew (Mt. 9:9-13).  Although Levi is not listed among the twelve apostles in Mark 3:13-19, the traditional view is that his given name was Levi and Matthew (‘gift of the Lord’) is his apostolic name. Levi was a tax collector under Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee.”[3]

“Levi enjoyed a coveted position among the tax collectors.  Capernaum was a key military center for Roman troops, as well as a thriving business community.  Several major highways intersected in Capernaum, with merchants passing through from as far away as Egypt to the south and Mesopotamia to the north.  Levi, a Jew, was appointed by the Romans to be the area’s tax collector.  He collected taxes from citizens as well as from merchants passing through town.  Tax collectors were expected to take a commission on the taxes they collected.  Most of them overcharged and vastly enriched themselves.  Tax collectors were despised by the Jews because of their reputation for cheating and their support of Rome.”[4]

“The down side of this lucrative position was that tax collectors were social outcasts.  They were denied the right to serve as witnesses or judges.  And perhaps worst of all, tax collectors, along with their family members, were excommunicated from the synagogue.

“With the exception of the social stigma associated with being a tax collector, Levi enjoyed a fairly comfortable lifestyle.  He had his share of friends as evidenced by the dinner he hosts (v.15).  He was financially secure and had a high paying job. Many of us might have liked the advantages enjoyed by Levi.  When Jesus called him, Levi’s world changed dramatically.  His life would be marked forever by the events of that day.  He immediately left his work, his financial dreams, and his well-padded position to follow Jesus.  Jesus made demands on Levi’s life, and Levi responded obediently.  Jesus also makes demands in our lives.  What has Jesus asked you to change?  If he were to visit with you, what would he ask you to leave behind to follow him?”[5]

“It can be argued that of all the disciples Levi gave up most.  He literally left all to follow Jesus.  Peter, Andrew, James and John could go back to the boats.  There were always fish to catch and always the old trade to which to return; but Levi burned his bridges completely.  With one action, in one moment of time, by one swift decision he had put himself out of his job forever.”[6]

Mark 2:16

“The Pharisees (meaning ‘the separated ones’) were a collection of factions consisting mostly of Torah-concerned laymen who sincerely sought to extend into the lives of ordinary Jews the concerns of ritual purity usually associated in the law with only the priest and the temple.  Their driving motivation was to fulfill God’s command: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy’ (Lev. 19:2).  They especially fastened on the purity rules that classified things, times, and persons according to different degrees of holiness and un-holiness.  It was essential to their sense of identity as Jews, a holy and separate people, to be able to know and determine what was permissible or proscribed, clean or unclean.  Their purity concerns magnified the agricultural rules and specified not only what might be eaten, but out of which vessel one might eat and with whom one might eat.  The upshot of their concern for holiness was their conviction that the sinner would be kept at arm’s length until disinfected by concrete repentance and the proper ceremonial rites. They saw themselves as righteous and everyone else as sinners. [7]

“In Levi’s house there gathered a crowd that Jesus could not reach in the synagogues.  The tax collectors and their family would have been excommunicated.  The term ‘sinners’ referred to the common people who were not learned in the law and did not abide by the rigid standards of the Pharisees.[8]

“A clear distinction was drawn between those who kept the law and those whom they called the ‘people of the land.’  By the orthodox it was forbidden to have anything to do with these people.  The strict law-keeper must have no fellowship with them at all.  By going to Levi’s house and sitting at his table and companying with his friends Jesus was defying the orthodox conventions of his day.”[9]

“In order to fully understand the shock that the Pharisees must have felt when they saw Jesus dining with tax collectors, we must understand the cultural significance of sharing a meal with someone.  As one commentator writes ‘It was an offer of peace, trust, brotherhood and forgiveness; in short, sharing a table meant sharing life.  …  Therefore, guests were selected very carefully.’”[10]

Mark 2:17

“The first half of Jesus’ response to their objection (v.17a) cites a common proverb, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician.’  The second half applies to the proverb of Jesus’ own ministry: he did not come for the righteous.  Jesus seeks out ‘sinners’.  This activity defines new meaning for the ‘coming of the Lord.’  The common expectation was that righteous who suffered oppression at the hands of the wicked would be delivered and their oppressors punished.  Jesus redefined the coming of God’s rule as the time of salvation, when people are freed from the power of Satan.  They are healed and their sins forgiven.”[11]

“As in the case of Zacchaeus, the Son of man came especially to seek and to save the lost ones (c.f. Luke 19:10).  His whole mission was directed towards the sinful, He did not mean that any were in truth righteous or well and thus without need of spiritual healing.  The point is that, without the primary pre-requisite of a sense of need, there could be no healing for them, for they were unwilling to come to Him, the sole source of healing, to seek it (c.f. John 5:40).”[12]

“Mark touches Christians on a sensitive spot with this story of Jesus going into table fellowship with Levi and his friends.  Christians do, after all, have a duty to uphold moral standards derived from their belief in God through Jesus.  It is natural, therefore, that the church defends such standards and the members embody them in their life style.  This sets clear boundaries to the extent to which we can mix easily with those whose life styles are very different from ours.  We quickly feel not only uneasy, but actually compromised.  What is more we sense that the atmosphere in such setting may be inimical to our spiritual growth.

“The example of Jesus is again our model.  He was sustained by his prayers to the Father, and in his fellowship with his disciples (despite their inadequacy).  From these, and his deep knowledge of the Scriptures, he drew sustenance to go into the most unlikely company and not only survive in it but actually win others to faith within it.  We are called neither recklessly to risk ourselves nor timidly to secure ourselves, but to find the point of life-giving tension between the two.  In that way our worship and fellowship have more point and our witness more depth.” [13]

Mark 2:18-20

“The Pharisees and the disciples of John engaged in ascetic practices that were designed to separate them from others who had not made religious piety the hallmark of their lives.  As apparent participants in this arena of religiosity, Jesus and his disciples are oddly uninterested in the same kinds of outward show of devoutness, which prompts the question in verse 18.  Imagining the context of the issue, the question becomes immediately misplaced and underscores the effect of Jesus’ arrival on earth.  Jesus evokes the image of a wedding celebration, an extended period of festivity sometimes lasting a week, and sweeps his hand around the room to widen the narrow view of the questioners at the joyous gathering in Levi’s house of so-called “sinners” who by responding to the invitation had suddenly found themselves in the company of Jesus.  Jesus’ willingness to share a meal, a very intimate activity, with these types of people was a proclamation that the careful boundaries that man-made religion had erected between the acceptable and the unacceptable people were demolished, that all people from all backgrounds and stereotype were welcome under the banner of God’s grace and that true holiness is not something to protect from contamination, but a life-giving, transforming power that can turn tax collectors and sinners into disciples.[14] How can one fast in the midst of such joy and celebration?  To emphasize his point, Jesus quotes proverbial sayings of everyday life in vv.21-22 that state straightforwardly: The new that Jesus brings is incompatible with the old.”[15]

“The question about fasting forces us to question the purposes of our religious rites and observances.  Fasting or any other religious discipline does not elicit God’s grace, forgiveness of sins, or acceptance.  Any renunciation of the pleasures of earthly life as an attempt to gain favor with God or to achieve eternal life is to be rejected.”[16]

Notice, however, that Jesus does not denounce the activity of fasting wholesale, rather he is responding to “the ideas associated to fasting that were incompatible with the coming kingdom of God.  Fasting was related to the fear of demons, and some thought that they could ward off demons by fasting.  Some used fasting as a meritorious act of self-renunciation, which ultimately was intended to impress or sway God in some way.  That is, one fasted to try to get God to bestow some good that he might otherwise withhold.  Some fasted to atone for sins or to avert further calamity from falling on the nation.”[17]

Mark 2:21-22

The garment will tear when it is washed and the patch of new, stronger fabric shrinks.  Old wineskins already stretched to their limits and now inflexible will burst when the new wine expands.  The point is clear.  The new that Jesus brings is incompatible with the old.  He has not come to patch up an old system that does not match the revolutionary rule of God.  He is not simply a reformer of the old, but one who will transform it.  There can be no concession, no accommodations, and no compromises with the old.  Both will be ruined if they are combined.[18]

Mark 2:23-28

Walking through a field, Jesus’ disciples picked heads of grain and rubbed the kernels clean before eating them, an activity which was considered reaping which in turn was tantamount to work and the Pharisees are right there to point out this forbidden practice on the Sabbath, the commanded day of rest.  Jesus cites the Biblical precedent of King David taking it upon himself to eat the bread of the Presence, the most holy portion of the offering that was to be eaten only by the priests in a holy place.  “The Scripture tacitly sanctions his actions by not condemning him.  David was not just a hungry man, however.  He was to become the king of Israel, the ancestor of the Messiah, and a type of the King-Messiah.  His personal authority legitimated his actions.  If the strict regulations regarding the bread of the Presence could be set aside for David, who was fleeing for his life, how much more can holy regulations be set aside for Jesus and his companions, whom Mark presents as David’s Lord and who is in a situation of far greater urgency in proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God.”[19]


[1] D. Garland, pg.94.

[2] D. Garland, p.95.

[3] NIV Study Bible, study notes

[4] Life Application Study Bible, study notes.

[5] Life Application Bible Commentary, p.57

[6] Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible Series, Gospel of Mark, p.54.

[7] Garland, David E., NIV Application Commentary, p.111.

[8] Life Application Bible Commentary, p.57

[9] Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible Series, Gospel of Mark, p.56

[10] Guelich, Robert A., Word Biblical Commentary: Vol.34A, p.103.

[11] The New Interpreter’s Bible: Vol. VIII, p.552-553.

[12] Cole, R. Alan, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, p.124-125.

[13] Stott, John R. W.(NT series editor), The Bible speaks Today, p.70

[14] The NIV Application Commentary, Mark, David E. Garland, p.112.

[15] The NIV Application Commentary, Mark, David E. Garland, p.105.

[16] The NIV Application Commentary, Mark, David E. Garland, p.121

[17] The NIV Application Commentary, Mark, David E. Garland, p.114.

[18] The NIV Application Commentary, Mark, David E. Garland, p.105

[19] The NIV Application Commentary, Mark, David E. Garland, p.106-107.

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