Mark 4 Commentary

v.1: “In this section we see Jesus making a new departure. He was no longer teaching in the synagogue; he was teaching by the lakeside. He had made the orthodox approach to the people; now he had to take unusual methods.  We do well to note that Jesus was prepared to use new methods. He was willing to take religious preaching and teaching out of its conventional setting in the synagogue into the open air and among the crowds of ordinary men and women.”[1]

v.2: “The parable was the most common and distinctive form of teaching employed by Jesus. He used parables not simply to illustrate spiritual truth but to provoke reflection and decision. His parables confronted his hearers with a challenge to submit themselves to the reign of God. In fact, the parables in Mark 4 tell what the kingdom of God is like (vv. 11, 26, 30).”[2]

v.4–8: “The parable is true to what is known about ancient Palestinian agriculture. Unlike the modern method, the seed was sown first and then plowed under. The sower held it in an apron with one hand and broadcast it with the other. It was inevitable that some would fall upon the hardened path through the field, some where the soil was too shallow, and some among thorns as well as on good ground. The stones and thistles that to this day infest Palestinian fields are legendary. Only one element in the parable is unusual, the superabundant harvest in v. 8. Because of the primitive agricultural methods, an average harvest in ancient Palestine was probably no more than seven or eight times the amount of seed sown, and a good harvest probably was about ten.”[3]

v.11–12: “Did Jesus really speak in parables to hide the kingdom from ‘those outside’? According to the context here, yes and no. Proper listening is the theme that connects the parables in chapter 4, and Jesus spoke in parables to distinguish between ‘anyone who has ears to hear’ (v. 9; that is, those with responsive hearts) and those who do not. He knew His parables would have opposite effects on those ready to listen and those not ready. He therefore implied an element of culpability in the audience (see Mt 13:14). To those who have ears to hear, more revelation of the kingdom will be given, but to those who do not have ears to hear, even what revelation they have been given will be taken away, or will prove ineffective (Mk 4:25).

“The quote in verse 12 is from Is 6. Concealing the message came in response to the people’s repeated, prolonged hardening, but the end of Is 6 nevertheless promises that a remnant would repent and return.”[4]

vv.14-20: “In Mark, the challenge to ‘listen’ or ‘hear’ begins and ends the parable (4:3, 9). The interpretation stresses that all of the soils have heard the word (4:15, 16, 18, 20). The sower has been successful in getting the seed sown; what happens next depends on the soil. The verb ‘to sow’ is used in two senses: to sow in the sense of scattering seed, and to be sown in the sense of the ground being implanted with seed. The interpretation raises the question of whether the listener is going to produce any harvest, thus turning the parable of the sower into the parable of the soils. The parable shows that the productivity of the seed depends entirely on whether it lands in good or bad soil. Moving from the world of farming to spiritual realities, the parable suggests that the reception of the word (the seed) is directly related to the preexisting spiritual state of the hearers’ hearts, and the interpretation draws out the special differences among them.

“The soil along the path (hodos) serves as a warning that Satan, though bound, is still a danger to those who hear indifferently. Two kingdoms are in deadly combat for the souls of humans, and Satan feasts off the types represented in the story by the teachers of the law from Jerusalem, the Herodians, and the chief priests. They hear Jesus and immediately want to destroy him (3:22; 11:18). For some listeners it will be of no avail, no matter what Jesus says or does. They observe his deeds, such as his healing the sick and casting out demons, and conclude that he works by black magic or Beelzebub, or that he is crazy. The explanation for their failure to hear is that Satan has caused them to oppose the kingdom. Satan controls them, not Jesus (3:22). Significantly, Mark tells us that the disciples were on the road (hodos) when they demonstrated their failure to understand the mystery that Jesus revealed to them about his death and resurrection by quarreling about who was the greatest (9:33 – 34) and who would get to sit on his right and left in his glory (10:32 – 41).

“The seed in the rocky ground springs up immediately and receives the word joyfully. But the impenetrable stratum of rock does not allow the root of the plant to sink deep into nourishing soil. When the good times of joy are over and the time of tribulation and persecution arrives, the plant shrivels. The faith of such people is ‘like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears’ (Hos. 6:4). These listeners fall away (lit., ‘are scandalized’) when threatened by the slightest challenge to their faith.

“In the story, we find crowds who are like flares, glowing with astonishment at Jesus’ teaching and miracles and rejoicing at his arrival in Jerusalem (12:37); but they do not have a deeply rooted faith, and when suffering looms on the horizon, they quickly fizzle out. Even the disciples, who have been so quick to respond, will also be quick to fall away when the pressure mounts. Jesus warns them about this danger at the Last Supper (14:27, 29), and his prediction is fulfilled when they run for their lives after his arrest. They are obsessed with their own safety and the preservation of life as they know it. Peter (Rock) discredits himself further. He follows Jesus from a safe distance into the courtyard of the high priest but withers in the face of a gentle accusation from a slave girl. He cannot withstand the heat of opposition and denies his Lord three times. The rocky ground serves as a warning that one’s faith must run deep if one hopes to endure the coming trials and tribulations.

“The third soil is not infertile but so weed-ridden that the good seed is ultimately suffocated. Jesus frequently warns in his teaching against the things identified with the choking thorns: the cares of the world, the delight in riches, and the desire for other things. Herod’s story provides an example of one who hears the word gladly (6:20), but whose greater concern to preserve his honor and power extinguishes any chance that his hearing will bear fruit for God (6:21 – 29). The rich ruler is the most obvious example of how concern for material wealth blocks one from responding to Jesus’ call to discipleship (10:17 – 22). Judas’s story offers another warning of how money, not even riches, can entice even one of the Twelve to make the wrong choice. He sells out his master for the promise of some silver (14:10 – 11).

“Jesus’ preaching reveals the good earth as well as the bad. One knows something is good earth simply because it bears fruit. In contrast to the bad soil, good soil hears rightly. Gundry draws out the vital differences. The good hearer welcomes the word immediately so that it cannot be snatched away by Satan. The good hearer welcomes it deeply so that it is not withered by persecution. The good hearer welcomes it exclusively so that other concerns do not strangle it. As the seed fails in three different ways in the bad soils, it succeeds in three different ways in good soil; but the parable and interpretation do not expand on the reasons for this varying success.”[5]

v.21: A lamp is meant to be seen and to make men able to see; and it is put in a place where it will be visible to all. From this saying we may learn two things. (i) Truth is meant to be seen; it is not meant to be concealed. There may be times when it is dangerous to tell the truth; there may be times when to tell the truth is the quickest way to persecution and to trouble. But the true man and the true Christian will stand by the truth in face of all. (ii) Our Christianity is meant to be seen. […] It is often easier to keep quiet the fact that we belong to Christ and his Church; but our Christianity should always be like the lamp that can be seen of all men.”[6]

v.21–23: “Jesus is a master of the graphic illustrations in which Jewish teachers sought to excel: invisible light is pointless, and God wants the light of his word to be received. The lamps were small clay lamps that had to be set on a stand to shed much light in a room; a bushel basket placed over the lamp would no doubt extinguish it.”[7]

v.25: “This verse is both a promise and a warning about understanding the parables. Whoever acquires some understanding and wants more will receive more. Proper understanding will lead to accepting Jesus and entering the kingdom and to more and more blessings from God. Those who have no interest in parables and the kingdom about which they teach will soon find themselves further from it than before they ever heard about it.”[8]


[1] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[2] Brooks, J. A. (2001). Vol. 23: Mark (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (78). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] Brooks, J. A. (2001). Vol. 23: Mark (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (79). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Cabal, T., Brand, C. O., Clendenen, E. R., Copan, P., Moreland, J., & Powell, D. (2007). The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (1473). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

[5] David E. Garland, Mark (NIVAC; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1996), Electronic Ed..

[6] The Gospel of Mark. 2000 (W. Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, Ed.). The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

[7] Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Mk 4:21). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

[8] Brooks, J. A. (2001). Vol. 23: Mark (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (84). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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2 Responses to “Mark 4 Commentary”

  1. Phyllis says:

    This commentary was very helpful

  2. Marcus says:

    I must say that I enjoyed Mark 4’s commentary–along with reading along to verify in the Bible as best as I could. From what I’ve read so far, in my own personal opinion, it’s the best that I can remember. People–nowadays, no matter how smart or wise they are–have little explicit concept of how things were done anciently unless someone enlightens them.This is my first read here, I definitely plan on returning for another commentary read and study. This was refreshing and–in some cases–reaffirming. Gracepoint seems to be great at breaking barriers between modern lifestyles and the old plus you seem to be insightful on the Holy Scriptures. Like I said, if my experience here continues to be that enlightening, then I’ll keep coming back and I’ll reply back letting people know how positive your thread is. If you thought about quitting this thread–and I’m not saying that you ever did–please don’t.

    I could not find any commentary on the 24th verse or on verses 26 – 41 of Mark 4 and I was able to find chapter 5. Could someone please help me?

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