Mark 2
ICC New Testament Commentary
And again he entered into Capernaum, after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house.

2:1-12. Jesus’ return to Capernaum. Healing of a paralytic. Jesus announces the cure as a forgiveness of the sins which have produced the disease. The Scribes protest against this blasphemy. Jesus defends his claim to forgive sins, and proves it in this case by the cure.

Immediately after the return of Jesus to Capernaum, the crowd gathers again in such numbers as to prevent access to him. But four men bringing to him a paralytic, not to be turned back, gain access to the roof of the house in which he was, tear up the roof, and let the paralytic down. In healing him Jesus says, Thy sins are forgiven, meaning the sins that have produced the disease. The Scribes, who make their first appearance here, protest against this as blasphemy. Jesus meets their charge by showing that forgiveness is here only another name for cure. But he asserts his right to forgive sins, and proves it by the cure.

1. Καὶ εἰσελθὼν πάλιν … ἠκούσθη—And having entered again … it was heard.

εἰσελθών, instead of εἰσῆλθεν, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BDgr L 28, 33, 124, mss. of Lat. Vet. Memph. etc. Omit καὶ before ἠκούσθη Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BL 28, 33, 124, mss. of Lat. Vet. Memph. etc.

πάλιν—again. See 1:21. It is a peculiarity of Mk. that he notes the recurrence of scenes and places in his narrative. Lk. uses this word only twice, and Mt. uses it almost entirely to denote the different parts of discourse, not the recurrence of the same, or similar occasions. διʼ ἡμερῶν—after (some) days.1 ἐν οἴκῳ—in the house, or at home.2

ἐν οἴκῳ, instead of εἰς οἷκον, Tisch. Treg. WH. א BDL 33, 67, most mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg.

2. καὶ συνήχθησαν πολλοί—and many were gathered together.

Omit εὐθέως Tisch. (Treg.) WH. RV. א BL 33, mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph. Pesh.

ὥστε μηκέτι χωρεῖν μηδὲ τὰ πρὸς τὴν θύραν—so that not even the parts towards the door (on the outside) would hold them any longer. Not only was the house too small for the crowd, but not even outside, near the door, was there room for them.1 καὶ ἐλάλει—and he was speaking. The imperf. denotes what he was doing when the bearers of the paralytic came. AV. preached. RV. spake. τὸν λόγον—the word. The word of the Gospel, or glad tidings of the kingdom of God, with the accompanying call to repentance. See 1:14, 15.2

3. παραλυτικὸν—a paralytic.3

4. Καὶ μὴ δυνάμενοι προσενέγκαι—And as (they saw that) they were unable to bring him to him. μὴ shows that their inability is not viewed simply as a fact, but in their view of it, as it influenced their minds.4

προσενέγκαι, instead of προσεγγίσαι, Tisch. Treg. marg. WH. RV.marg. א BL 33, 63, 72 marg. 253, two mss. Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph. Harcl. etc.

ἀπεστέγασαν τὴν στέγην—they unroofed the roof. Uncovered, EV., does not render the paronomasia of the Greek.5 ἐξορύξαντες—having dug it out. This describes the process of unroofing. It would imply probably some sort of thatched roof. χαλῶσι τὸν κράβαττον—they let down the pallet. The noun denotes any slight bed, such as might be used to carry the sick about the streets, a stretcher.6 ὅπου—where (on).

ὅπου, instead of ἐφʼ ᾦ Tisch. Treg. WH. א BDL two mss. Lat. Vet.

The roofs of Eastern houses were flat. Access to the roof would be easy by an outside stairway or ladder. The description, moreover, implies that this house had only one story, according with what we know of the humble position and means of Jesus and his followers.

5. τὴν πίστιν αὐτῶν—their faith. That is, the faith of the paralytic and his friends. That it was their faith, and not simply his faith, would show several things. First, that faith is not the psychological explanation of the cure, through the reaction of the mind on the body, in which case, the faith of the others would have nothing to do with it,—but the spiritual condition of the miracle. This is also shown by the cure of demoniacs. Secondly, that Jesus meant here by the forgiveness of the man’s sins only this removal of the physical consequences of some sin affecting the nervous organization. The removal of the spiritual penalty would be conditioned on the faith of the man himself. However, this is simply the reflection of the writer on the facts. And it is in the narration of facts, that the value of contemporaneous witness appears. In the historical judgment of the Gospels, this distinction between facts and reflections has frequently to be remembered. Τέκνον, ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι—Child (EV. Son.), thy sins are forgiven.

ἀφίενται, instead of ἀφέωνται, Tisch. Treg. WH. א B 28, mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg. Pesh. Harcl.

6. τῶν γραμματέων—of the Scribes.1 This is the first encounter of Jesus with the formalists and dogmatists of his time. So also in Mt. and Lk. And the matter in controversy, the extraordinary claims of Jesus, was sure to become an issue between them. The opposition to Jesus is easily explained. διαλογιζόμενοι ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις—debating in their hearts. καρδία, in the N.T., does not denote, like our word heart, the seat of the affections, but the inner man generally, and more specifically, the mind. This corresponds to the Homeric use, the common Greek use being like ours.

7. Τί οὗτος οὕτω λαλεῖ; βλασφημεῖ.—Why does this one speak thus? he blasphemes.

βλασφημεῖ, instead of βλασφημίας, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BDL mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph.

βλασφημεῖν is used of any speech derogatory to the Divine majesty. The generic sense of the word is injurious speech, among men, slander. In this case, the supposed blasphemy consists in the assumption of the Divine prerogative. εἰ μὴ εἷς ὁ Θεός; except one, God? This is a good example of the ill usage that good principles receive at the hands of men who deal only with rules and formulas. As a general proposition, this statement of the Scribes is undeniable. The difficulty is, that they ignored the possibility of a man’s speaking for God, and the fact that they had before them one in whom this power was lodged preëminently.2

8. τῷ πνεύματι αὐτοῦ—in his spirit. This is contrasted with the knowledge acquired through the senses, e.g. in this case, by hearing what was said. Without their saying anything, he knew inwardly, intuitively, what was going on in their minds. Jesus knew generally their intellectual attitude, and their position towards any attempt to live according to the spirit, instead of the letter of things, and the mere look of their faces would put him on the track of their thoughts. λέγει αὐτοῖς—says to them.

λέγει, instead of εἶπεν, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BL 33, mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg.

9. Τί ἐστιν εὐκοπώτερον; Which is easier?1 Jesus does not make the contrast here between healing and forgiving, but between saying be forgiven and be healed. The two things would be themselves coincident, and the difference therefore would be only between two ways of saying the same thing. The disease being a consequence of the man’s sin, the cure would be a remission of penalty. Ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι—Thy sins are forgiven.

Ἀφίενται, instead of Ἀφέωνται, Tisch. Treg. WH. א B 28, mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg. Pesh. Harcl. σου instead of σοι, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BEFGHKL, etc. ὕπαγε, instead of περιπάτει, Tisch. א LWc Δ, and ὕπαγε εἰς τὸν οἶκόν σου, D 33, mss. of Lat. Vet. A difficult case to decide, as περιπάτει may be taken from Mt. and Lk., and ὕπαγε from v. 11.

10. ἵνα δὲ εἴδητε—but that ye may know. Here was an opportunity to put his power to a practical test. As a general thing, the power to forgive sins admits of no such test, but only of those finer inward tests by which a change of spiritual condition and relation becomes known. But here the forgiveness was manifested in an outward change, making itself known in cure, as the sin had discovered itself in disease. ἐξουσίαν—authority, or right. This is the proper meaning, rather than power, and it evidently fits this case.

ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου—the Son of Man. This is a Messianic title, the use of which is to be traced to the Messianic interpretation of Daniel 7:13-27. In the post-canonical Jewish literature, it appears several times in the Book of Enoch.2 It is the favorite title applied by Jesus to himself in the Synoptical Gospels, Son of God being used by Jesus himself only in the fourth Gospel.3 In the passage in Dan., the prophet sees in vision a fifth power succeeding the four great world-powers, only this is in his vision like a son of man, while the preceding powers have been represented as beasts. And in the interpretation that follows (see especially v. 18, 22, 27) this power is said to be the kingdom of the saints of the Most High. But later, when the hopes of the people were concentrated finally on a Messianic king, this passage was given Messianic interpretation, and Son of Man came to be a Messianic title, though not so distinctive, not so commonly accepted, as the name Messiah. The choice of it by Jesus was partly for this reason. To have called himself plainly the Messiah would have precipitated a crisis, forcing the people to decide prematurely on his claim. And it is evident from the doubt of the people, not only about what he was, but in regard to this very point, what he himself claimed to be, that the title used by him familiarly was indecisive. However, there can be little doubt, that the reason for the choice of the name Son of Man lay deeper than this, and is to be found in the significance of the name itself, aside from its historic sense. Everywhere, Jesus uses the Messianic phraseology of his time, but rarely limits himself to its current meaning. This name, Son of Man, was to the Jews a Messianic title, only that and nothing more. But Jesus fastens upon it because it identified him with humanity, and owing to the generic use of the word Man in it, with the whole of humanity. His chosen title, as well as his life, showed that his great desire was to impress on us his brotherhood with man.

ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς—upon the earth. Contrasted with the power of God to forgive sins in heaven. Of course, the power to forgive sins, involved in the mere cure of diseases resulting from them, is in itself small. But the significance of these words lies in the unity of our Lord’s work implied in them. As the redeemer and deliverer of mankind, he is appointed to cope with the whole power of evil among men, to strike at its roots, as well as its twigs and branches, and at its effects, as well as its causes. And the whole is so far the one power trusted to him, that one part becomes the sign of the other.

11. σοὶ λέγω—This is to be connected with ἵνα εἴδητε, the clause λέγει τῷ παραλυτικῷ being parenthetical. This is what he says in order to put his power to forgive sins to a test. ἔγειρε, ἄρον—arise, take up.1

Omit καί before ἄρον Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. אBCDgr L 13, 28, 33, mss. of Lat. Vet. Memph. Pesh.

12. Καὶ ἠγέρθη, καὶ εὐθὺς ἄρας … ἐξῆλθεν ἔμπροσθεν—And he arose, and immediately having taken … went out before.

καὶ εὐθὺς, instead of εὐθέως, καὶ Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. אBC*L 33, Memph. ἔμπροσθεν, instead of ἐνάντιον, Tisch. Treg. marg. WH. א BL 187 marg.

The ἔμπροσθεν πάντων, before all, is introduced to show the publicity attending Jesus’ proof of his power. There was a great crowd of people, Jesus had performed his miracle in distinct answer to a challenge of his authority, and the cure was therefore purposely public. It contrasts therefore with Jesus’ ordinary reserve in the performance of his miracles, and with his depreciation of their testimony to his mission. And one significance of the event lies in this indication of his varying method, and of his power to include all the facts in the broad range of his action. ἐξίστασθαι—were amazed.1 δοξάζειν τὸν Θεόν—glorified God.2 εἴδαμεν—we saw.3

εἴδαμεν, instead of εἴδομεν, Tisch. Treg. WH. CD. The unusual form determines the probability of this reading.


13-17. The call of Levi the tax-gatherer. Jesus answers the charge of consorting with this and other obnoxious classes, many of whom had eaten with him.

This is the second cause of offence. The scene changes from the house to the shore of the lake, where Jesus finds Levi, a tax-gatherer, at the customs station. He calls this representative of a despised class into the inner circle of his disciples, and follows this up by entertaining at his house many of the same, and of the class of open sinners generally. Again it is the scribes who, attack him for this open association with outcasts. Jesus answers that he is a physician, and his business is with the sick.

13. παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν—to the side of the sea. This differs from περιπατεῖν παρὰ, which denotes motion by the side of, whereas this is motion to the side of. πάλιν—again.4 The only previous event at the lakeside had been the call of the four disciples, 1:16 sq. The week following, Jesus had gone on a tour through Galilee; and now, on his return, he resorts to his usual place again. Capernaum and the shore of the lake were the scenes of his ministry. ἤρχετο πρὸς αὐτόν, καὶ ἐδίδασκεν—resorted to him, and he was teaching them. The impfts. here denote the acts in their progress, the gradual gathering of the crowd, and Jesus’ discourse as they came and went.5

14. Λευεὶν τὸν τοῦ Ἀλφαίου—Levi, the son of Alphœus. So Luke 5:27. In Matthew 9:9, however, where the same event is told in almost identical language, Μαθθαῖον, Matthew, is substituted for Levi. The two are to be identified, therefore, as different names of the same person.

Alphæus is also the name of the father of James the less. But as Matthew and James are not associated in any list of the apostles, there is no sufficient reason for identifying this Alphæus with the other.

ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, not in the toll-house, but near it. See Thay.-Grm. Lex. τελώνιον denotes the place in which the customs were collected. It is a late Greek word.1 Ἀκολούθει μοι—follow me. This is the common language of Jesus in summoning disciples to personal attendance on himself, which is evidently the meaning here. The apparent abruptness of the call, and the immediateness with which it is answered, are relieved of their strangeness by the fact that Jesus had now been teaching long enough to call the attention of men to himself, so that the summons probably brought to a crisis and decision thoughts already in Levi’s mind.

15. Καὶ γίνεται κατακεῖσθαι—And it comes to pass that he is reclining (at table).2

γίνεται instead of ἐγένετο, Tisch. Treg. WH. א BL 33. Omit ἐν τῷ before κατακεῖσθαι—Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BL 13, 33, 69, 102, 124, Memph.

Κατακεῖσθαι αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ—he was reclining at table in his house. Meyer, Holtzmann, and others say that this was the house of Jesus. This is contrary to the statement of Lk., who says expressly that Levi made him a great feast at his house. But the recurrence of the pronoun αὐτὸν … αὐτοῦ makes it reasonably certain that they refer to the same person. Mt. does not insert any pronoun after τῇ οἰκίᾳ, and that makes his language point in the same direction. And the fact that Mt. and Mk. use different language, which nevertheless points to the same conclusion, makes that conclusion doubly certain. The connection between this event and the call of Levi is thus simply that both show Jesus’ revolutionary attitude towards the despised classes of his time.

τελῶναι—tax-gatherers. The name publicans, given them in our English Bible, comes from the Latin publicani, but in English it has become practically obsolete in that sense. Moreover, the Latin publicani does not apply to the whole class of tax-gatherers, but only to the Roman knights to whom the taxes were farmed out in the first instance.

ἁμαρτωλοὶ—sinners; i.e. here, those guilty of crimes against society and law, the degraded and vicious class.1

συνανέκειντο—were reclining at table with.2

μαθηταῖς—disciples. The common word used to describe the followers of Jesus, corresponding to the title διδάσκαλος applied to him. It is significant, that the names teacher and pupil are chosen by Jesus and the disciples to describe the relations between them. It is probable, according to the best text, that the last two clauses of this verse are to be separated, so that the verse ends with πολλοί.3 The statement is, that there were many of this class of open sinners. It does not denote the number present, which would be superfluous, but the number of the class. Holtzmann calls attention to the situation of Capernaum on the borders of the territory of Herod as the cause of the number of tax-gatherers, as this made it an important customs station. οἱ γραμ. τῶν Φαρις.—the Scribes of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the sect that adhered not only to the Law, but to the rabbinical interpretation of the Law, which gradually formed a traditional code by the side of the written Law. Their scribes, therefore, would be the rabbis of the party that specially believed in the rabbis. Morison is right in calling them the arch-inquisitors, the genus inquisitor being the Pharisees.

In the N.T., the use of μαθηταί is confined to the Gospels and Acts. In the Gospels, it is applied to the twelve, who formed the inner circle of disciples, as well as the larger group outside. In the Acts, it is the general name for Christians, the official title apostles being given to the twelve.

ἠκολούθουν instead of ἠκολούθησαν, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BL mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg.

16. Καὶ ἠκολούθουν αὐτῷ καὶ (οἱ) γραμματεῖς τῶν Φαρισαίων, καὶ ἰδόντες ὅτι ἐσθίει (ἦσθιεν) μετὰ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν καὶ τελωνῶν, ἕλεγον τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, Ὅτι μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίει; (καὶ πίνει)—And there followed him also (the) Scribes of the Pharisees, and having seen that he eats with the sinners and tax-gatherers, they said to his disciples, Why does he eat (and drink) with the tax-gatherers and sinners?

καὶ γραμματεῖς τῶν Φαρισαίων, καὶ ἰδόντες instead of καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι, ἰδόντες, Tisch. א L Δ 33. τῶν Φαρισαίων is the reading also of Treg. WH. RV. txt. Insert καὶ before ἰδόντες also Treg. ὅτι ἐσθίει, instead of αὐτὸν ἐσθίοντα, WH. RV. B 33, mss. of Lat. Vet. Pesh. Memph. some edd. ὅτι ἤσθιεν Tisch. Treg. א DL mss. of Lat. Vet. Memph. edd. Harcl. ἁμαρτωλῶν καὶ τελωνῶν, instead of the reverse order, Treg. WH. RV. BDL 33, mss. of Lat. Vet. and of Vulg., Memph. edd. Omit τί before ὅτι Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. BL 33, 108, 246. * Omit καὶ πίνει (Treg. marg.) WH. RV.marg. א BD mss. of Lat. Vet. etc.

ὅτι … ἐσθίει (καὶ πίνει)—why does he eat (and drink) … ?1 This charge of eating with tax-gatherers and sinners was fitted to discredit Jesus’ claim to be a rabbi, or teacher. For the Scribes and their followers would not even associate with the common people for fear of ceremonial defilement; much less with the vicious class, to eat with whom was an especial abomination. The tax-gatherers were classed with sinners, that is, with the vile and degraded, not only by the Jews, but all over the Roman Empire. The secret of this was, that the taxes were collected, not by the paid agents of the government, but by officers who themselves paid the government for the privilege, and then reimbursed themselves by extortion and fraud. They let it out to others, and these to still a third class, who were selected generally from the inhabitants of the province, because their knowledge of the people would expedite the work. This last is the class called τελῶναι in N.T., and the unpatriotic nature of their employment was added to its extortionate methods, placing them under a double ban.

17. οἱ ἰσχύοντες—they that are strong. EV. whole. The contrast expressed figuratively by strong and sick is given literally in the latter part of the verse in the terms righteous and sinners. Jesus justifies his conduct in associating with sinners, from the point of view of the Pharisees themselves. Admitting them to be righteous and the publicans to be sinners, his office of physician put him under obligation to the sick rather than the strong. But he shows elsewhere that he does not admit this distinction. The Pharisees were extortionate as well as the publicans; they devoured widows’ houses; but they added to their wickedness by assuming a cloak of respectability, and thanking God that they were not as other men. The publicans, on the other hand, had the grace of honesty, and by their acknowledgment of sin, fulfilled the first condition of cure.

ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλούς—but sinners.

Omit εἰς μετάνοιαν, unto repentance, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א ABDKL mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph. Pesh. Harcl. etc.

This omission leaves καλέσαι to be explained. It means to invite or summon; but to what? The answer is to be found by following out the terms of the figure. As a physician, Jesus summons sick souls to be cured. Or, dropping this figure, as a Saviour, he summons sinners to be saved. Owing to the blindness of men, the ordinary relation between them is reversed. Instead of the sick summoning the physician, it is here the physician who has to call the sick.


18-22. Jesus answers the complaint of the Pharisees and of the disciples of John that his disciples do not fast.

The third ground of complaint is the failure of the disciples, under the influence of the free spirit of Jesus, to observe the frequent fasts prescribed by the Pharisees as a part of their formalism, and by the disciples of John as a part of their asceticism. Jesus’ answer is divided into two parts. The first shows the incongruousness of fasting at a time when joy, and not sorrow, was the ruling feeling of the disciples, v. 18-20. The second shows the incongruousness of such observances as fasting with the new dispensation set up by our Lord. It is the incongruity of new and old.

18. οἱ μαθηταὶ τοῦ Ἰωάννου καὶ οἱ Φαρισαῖοι—the disciples of John and the Pharisees.

οἱ Φαρισαῖοι, instead of τῶν Φαρισαίων, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א ABCD mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph. Harcl. txt. etc.

ἦσαν νηστεύοντες—were fasting.1 Fasting, as a religious observance, was prescribed in the Law only once in the year, on the great day of atonement. But the traditional code of the rabbis had multiplied this indefinitely. Twice in the week was the boast of the Pharisee. And the importance attached to this empty piece of religiosity made it a part of the formal religion of the period. καὶ ἔρχονται—and they come, viz. the disciples of John and the Pharisees.

Matthew 9:14 names only the former. Luke 5:33 makes this a part of the preceding controversy with the Pharisees and Scribes, in which they call attention to the practice of the disciples of John and of the Pharisees.

οἱ μαθηταὶ τῶν Φαρισαίων—the disciples of the Pharisees.

Insert μαθηταὶ before τῶν Φαρισαίων Tisch. Treg. marg. WH. RV. א BC* L 33, mss. of Lat. Vet. Harcl. marg.

The disciples of the Pharisees is a singular expression, much as if one should speak of the disciples of the Platonists. The Pharisees were themselves disciples of the Scribes, or Rabbis. The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were at one in regard to the act of fasting, but not in the spirit of the act. The Pharisees fasted in a formal, self-righteous spirit, and the teaching of John was directed against this spirit. So far as the fasting of his disciples reflected the teaching of John and his spirit, it would be a part of the asceticism, the mortification of the body, characteristic of him.

19. υἱοὶ τ. νυμφῶνος1—sons of the bridechamber. A Hebraistic form of expression by which υἱός, with the genitive of a thing, denotes a person who stands in intimate relation of some kind to that thing. The sons of the bridechamber were friends of the bridegroom, whose duty it was to provide for the nuptials whatever was necessary. The principle contained in this analogy is that fasting is not a matter of prescription, but of fitness. If you set times for fasting, the circumstances of the set time may be such as to produce joy, instead of sorrow, and so make your fasting out of place. Fasting, i.e., is an expression of feeling, and is out of place unless the feeling is there which it is intended to express. But it is a matter, not only of feeling, but of fitness. If the circumstances of the time are such as to make sorrow the fit feeling, then it is a fit time for fasting also. οὐ δύνανται νηστεύειν—they cannot fast. This is said, of course, not of the outward act, which is possible at any time; but of fasting in the only sense in which it becomes a religious act, or the expression of the feeling to which it is appropriated. It is as much as to say, in a time of gladness it is impossible to mourn.

20. ἀπαρθῇ ἀπʼ αὐτῶν ὁ νυμφίος—It is evident here that Jesus, still keeping to the figure, points forward to the time when he shall be taken away from the disciples, and then, he declares, will be the time for them to fast. This is the first time that he has prophesied of his taking away, but we can see that even as a premonition it is not premature, because of the revolutionary character of his teaching. He had already brought on himself the charge of blasphemy, consorted with publicans, one of whom he had introduced into the immediate circle of his disciples, and shown his indifference to the strict law of fasting. And he knew that there was much more of the same kind in reserve. ὅταν—whenever. The expression leaves the time of the taking away indefinite. ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ—in that day. Days and that day in this verse are simply a case of oratio variata, both denoting in a general way a period of time.

ἐν ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ instead of the plural, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א ABCDKL mss. of Lat. Vet. Pesh. Harcl. etc.

21. οὐδεὶς ἐπίβλημα π̔άκους ἀγνάφου ἐπιράπτει ἐπὶ ἱμάτιον παλαιόν εἰ δὲ μή, αἴρει τὸ πλήρωμα ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ το͂ καινὸν τοῦ παλαιοῦ—no one sews a patch of undressed cloth on an old garment; otherwise the new filling of the old takes from it.

Omit καὶ before οὐδεὶς Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א ABCKLS D 1. 13, 33, 69, mss. of Lat. Vet. Memph. Vulg. Pesh. Harcl. etc. ἱμάτιον παλαιόν, instead of dat., Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCDL 33. ἀπʼ αὐτοῦ, instead of αὐτοῦ, Tisch. WH. RV. א BL, also A 33.

The RV. translates else that which should fill it up taketh from it, the new from the old. But this seems to require a repetition of the prep. ἀπὸ before τοῦ παλαιοῦ. τὸ καινὸν τοῦ παλαιοῦ is in apposition with τὸ πλήρωμα, so that it would read literally, the filling takes from it, the new of the old. The substitution of unfulled for new is necessary to make the parable an exact fit. It is the shrinking of the undressed cloth that strains and tears the old cloth to which it is sewed.

22. καὶ οὐδεὶς βάλλει οἶνον νεὸν εἰς ἀσκοὺς παλαιούς εἰ δὲ μή, π̔ήξει ὁ οἶνος τοὺς ἀσκούς, καὶ ὁ οἶνος ἀπόλλυται καὶ οἱ ἀσκοί—and no one puts new wine into old skins; else the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is destroyed, and the skins.

ῥήξει instead of ῥήσσει, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCDL 33, mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg. Omit ὁ νεὸς after ὁ οἶνος, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BC* DL 13, 69, 242, 258, 301, mss. Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph. Pesh. etc. ἀπόλλυται καὶ οἱ ἀσκοί, instead of ἐκχεῖται, καὶ οἱ ἀσκοί ἀπολοῦνται, after ὁ οἶνος, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. BL. Memph. Omit the clause ἀλλὰ … βλητέον Tisch. (Treg. WH.) D mss. of Lat. Vet. Omit βλητέον only (Treg.) WH. RV. א* B. The omission is more in Mk.’s manner, and it looks as if the clause was borrowed from Lk., where it is undoubted.

The substitution of skins for bottles, AV., is necessary to make the parable tell its story. The skins rot with age, and the new wine, as it ferments, bursts them.

These analogies, among the homeliest and aptest used by our Lord, are a further answer to the question why his disciples do not fast. For this is evidently the part of the question which it is intended that he should answer, not why the disciples of John do fast.1 Nor is it simply a repetition of the preceding, showing the incongruity of fasting at this time under another figure.2 But it generalizes, showing the incongruity of the class of things with which fasting belongs with the new life of Christianity. The general teaching is that the new teachings and the old forms do not belong together. But this is expressed in the two parables in different ways. In the first, it is the unfitness of piecing out the old religion with the new, like a new patch on an old garment. In the second, it is the unwisdom of putting the new religion into the old forms. The whole is an anticipation of St. Paul’s teaching that Christianity is not a mere extension of Judaism, and that Jewish laws are not binding upon Christians. Dr. Morison sees in the figures employed by Jesus only an expression of the incongruity of fasting at a time better adapted to feasting. But this would be simply a repetition of the preceding teaching contained in the figure of the wedding, and not so apt an expression of it either. The principle of this interpretation is a good one, that it is well to seek in each parable the single point of comparison, and there stop. Here the single idea is that of incongruity. But surely the figure of the wedding has brought out not simply the idea of incongruity, but the special unfitness of this particular act. And it is no violation, therefore, of the rule of interpretation to make these other comparisons not merely suggest the general idea of incongruity, but show also the special incongruity involved. In the figure of the wedding, it is the incongruity of fasting and joy that is pointed out; in these figures, it is the incongruity of new and old. The old religion attempted to regulate conduct by rules and forms, the new by principles and motives, and these are foreign, the one to the other. It is not fasting to which objection is taken, but fasting according to rule, instead of its inherent principle. As a piece of legalism, or asceticism, in which fasting per se becomes of moral obligation, it is incongruous with the free spirit of Christianity.


23-28. Jesus defends his disciples for plucking ears of grain on the Sabbath.

The fourth ground of complaint is the violation of the law of the Sabbath. Jesus and his disciples are going through the grain-fields on the Sabbath, and the disciples, careless of the strict Sabbatism of the Pharisees, pluck the ears of grain and eat them. Evidently there was the usual crowd following him, and the Pharisees attack this act as unlawful. In the first part of his reply, Jesus argues from an analogous case the admissibility of infringing the law to satisfy hunger. In the second part, he shows the nature of the law itself, that it is the servant of man, and not man the servant of the law, involving the lordship of the Son of Man over the law.

23. σπορίμων—sown fields. ἤρξαντο ὁδὸν ποιεῖν τίλλοντες—began, as they went, to pluck, EV. This is the translation naturally suggested by the context, as it prepares the way for Jesus’ explanation of their conduct by the parallel case of David. But the phrase ὁδὸν ποιεῖν does not mean to make way in the sense of merely going along or advancing, but to make a road. The middle, however, has the former sense. Moreover, this translation makes the participle, instead of the verb, express the principal thought. On the other hand, the translation, to make a road by plucking the ears, besides making Jesus’ answer quite unintelligible, presents an absurd way of making a road. You can make a path by plucking the stalks of grain, but you would make little headway, if you picked only the ears or heads of the grain. There are two ways of explaining this. We can take ὁδὸν ποιεῖν in its proper sense, but make the participle denote merely concomitant action, not the means or method. They began to break a path (by treading down or plucking up the stalks of grain that obstructed their path), meanwhile plucking and eating the ears that grew on them. Or we can minimize the difficulties in the way of the ordinary interpretation, without doing much violence to the laws of speech. Surely, in a language so careless of nice distinctions as the N.T. Greek, it is not difficult to suppose that an active may be substituted for the middle. And there seems to be no doubt that the active is used in this sense in Jdg 17:8. And as for making the principal and subordinate clauses exchange places, in this case the peculiarity is not so great. They began to go along, plucking the ears is not so very different from they began, going along, to pluck.

24. ὃ οὐκ ἔξεστι—what is not lawful. The Sabbath law is meant, which forbids work on that day. The casuistry of the rabbinical interpreter found here its most fruitful field in drawing the line between work and not-work, and managed to get in its most ingenious and absurd refinements. But the great difficulty, as with all their work, is that they managed so to miss the very spirit and object of the law, that they made its observance largely a burden, instead of a privilege. Whenever they speak of that which is lawful, or unlawful, their standard is not simply the written law, but this traditional interpretation of it. In the same way, we can conceive of men now accepting the Bible as their standard, and yet admitting to an equal authority an interpretation of it contained in creed or confession, and really referring to this when they use the terms, Biblical or unbiblical.

25. Καὶ λέγει—And he says.

Omit αὐτὸς Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א BCL 33, 69, mss. of Lat. Vet. Vulg. Memph. etc. λέγει, says, instead of ἔλεγεν, said, Tisch. Treg. WH. RV. א CL 33, 69, mss. of Lat. Vet. Memph. etc.

26. οἶκον τοῦ Θεοῦ—the house of God is a generic term that would apply either to the tent or tabernacle in which the Jews at first worshipped, or to the later temple. Here, of course, the former. It was called the house of God, because in a sense God dwelt there, manifesting his presence in the inner shrine, the Holy of Holies.

ἐπὶ Ἀβιάθαρ ἀρχιερέως—in the high-priesthood of Abiathar.

Omit τοῦ before ἀρχιερέως Tisch. Treg. marg. WH. RV. א BL Γ etc.

In the account of this in 1 Samuel 21:1, sqq., Abimelech was high-priest, and Abiathar, his son, does not become high-priest until the reign of David. See ch. 22:21. To be sure, other passages in the O.T. make the same confusion of names, making Abimelech, the son of Abiathar, high-priest in David’s time. But this does not explain our difficulty; it only shows that there is the same difficulty in the O.T. account. Nor does it relieve it to suppose that this means simply that the event took place during the lifetime of Abiathar, not during the high-priesthood. For the transaction took place between David and the high-priest; and the object of introducing the name would be to show in whose high-priesthood it took place, not simply in whose lifetime. The impropriety would be the same as if one were to speak of something that took place between the Bishop of Durham and some other person in the time of Bishop Westcott, when, as a matter of fact, Lightfoot was bishop, and it was only during the lifetime of Bishop Westcott. And the phrase itself means strictly, during the high-priesthood of Abiathar. If such disagreement were uncommon, it would be worth while to try somewhat anxiously to remove this difficulty; but, as a matter of fact, discrepancies of this unimportant kind are not at all uncommon in the Scriptures.

τοὺς ἄρτους τῆς προθέσεως—the bread of setting forth. It is a translation of the Hebrew, לֶחֶם הַפָּנִים bread of the face, or presence, given to twelve loaves of bread set in two rows on the table in the holy place of the tabernacle, or temple, and renewed by the priests every Sabbath. S. Leviticus 24:5-9. The Greek name, taken from the Sept., denotes the bread set forth before God. The Hebrew name, about which there has been naturally much curious writing, seems to mean that the bread, in some way, symbolized God’s presence. τοὺς ἱερεῖς—the priests.

τοὺς ἱερεῖς, instead of τοῖς ἱερεῦσι, Tisch. Treg. marg. WH. א BL.

τοὺς ἱερεῖς is the subject of φαγεῖν. The priests were allowed to eat the bread after it had been replaced by fresh loaves. In this case, there was no other bread, and when David and his hungry men appeared, it became a case of physical need against ritual law. Jesus cites it as a case decided by a competent authority and accepted by the people, showing the superiority of natural law to positive enactment, the same principle involved in the alleged illegal action of his disciples. And he evidently upholds the correctness of the principle, and not simply the authority of this precedent.

27. τὸ σάββατον διὰ τὸν ἄνθρωπον—the Sabbath was made on account of man, not man on account of the Sabbath. This is introduced to show the supremacy of man over the Sabbath. The statement that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath follows directly from this. If the law antedates man, having its seat in God, as the moral law does, it becomes a part of the moral constitution of things, resident in God, to which man is subservient. But if it is something devised by God for the uses of man, then the subserviency belongs to the law, and man can adapt it to his uses, and set it aside, or modify it, whenever it interferes with his good. The law of the Sabbath, if not moral, is either natural or positive. Regarded as natural law, the principle involved is that of rest, and this places it in the same category as the law of day and night. As positive, it is a matter simply of enactment, and not of principle. And in both aspects it is liable to exceptions. It is only moral law which is lord of man, and so inviolable.

28. κύριος—the noun is emphatic from its position. καὶ τοῦ σαββάτου—also of the Sabbath, as well as of other things belonging to the life of man. This lordship, as we have seen, is true of everything else except moral law. Of that he would be administrator and interpreter, but not Lord. He would be ruler under the supreme law, but without the power to modify or set aside, as in the case of that which is made for man.

Weiss, Life of Jesus, contends that Jesus did not here, nor in fact anywhere, assume an attitude of independence towards the Jewish Law, but only towards the current traditional interpretation of it. But surely, the statement that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, puts the Sabbath law in a separate class, and subordinates it to the moral law. Whereas, the O.T. throughout, not only makes the Sabbath a matter of moral obligation, but of the highest moral obligation. Judaism is a system of rules, Christianity of principles. And so far forth as the Sabbath is a rule, that is, so far as it is Jewish, Jesus does abrogate it in these words. Weiss confuses matters by neglecting this distinction.

This early statement of Jesus’ lordship, and its use of the term Son of Man as his official title, is a good specimen of the way in which he tacitly assumed his Messianic character under this title, while the doubt in which the whole nation stood of his claim shows that he was not understood to make it formally.


The third chapter continues the account of the Period of Conflict. It contains matter, however, which belongs to the period, but not to the conflict. It shows us Jesus attended by larger crowds than ever, drawn by the report of his deeds from the whole country, as far south as Jerusalem, and as far north as Tyre and Sidon. The growth of hostility against him is thus shown to be accompanied by an access of popularity with the people. The combination of these two features seems to his family to make the situation so dangerous, and his own action so unwise, that they think him distraught and seek to restrain him. In the midst of this is introduced the account of the appointment of the apostles, evidently in the connection, as assistants to him in his increasing work. The occasions of conflict are, first, the healing of a man with a palsied arm on the Sabbath, causing a renewal of the Sabbath controversy, and secondly, the charge of the Scribes that he casts out demons through Beelzebul, and that he himself is possessed by that prince of the demons. He himself brings on the controversy about the Sabbath by his question whether the Sabbath is a day for good or evil deeds, for killing or healing. And the charge of collusion with the devil he meets with the question whether Satan casts out Satan.

Tisch. Tischendorf.

Treg. Tregelles.

WH. Westcott and Hort.

RV. Revised Version.

אԠCodex Sinaiticus.

B Codex Vaticanus.

D Codex Ephraemi.

L Codex Regius.

28 Codex Regius.

33 Codex Regius.

Lat. Vet. Vetus Latina.

Memph. Memphitic.

1 See Win. 47, I. 64, 5.

2 The prep. with the anarthrous noun constitutes a phrase.

Vulg. Vulgate.

Pesh. Peshito.

1 χωρεῖν is transitive and has τὰ πρὸς τὴν θύραν for its subject. On the repetition of the negative, see Win. 55, 9, b. On the construction of ὥστε with μή and the inf.—always so in N.T.—see Win. 55, 2, d.

AV. Authorised Version.

2 For other instances of this use of ὁ λόγος to denote in a general way the subject of Christian teaching, see 4:14-33, Luke 1:2.

3 This word belongs to Biblical Greek. The Greeks said παραλελυμένος.

4 See Win. 55, 5, g, β.

marg. Revided Version marg.

Harcl. Harclean.

5 This is the only case of the use of this verb in the N.T.

6 χαλῶσι commonly means to slacken, or relax, and to let down, when this involves slackening. κράβαττον is a late Greek word copied from the Latin grabatus. The Greeks said σκίμπους.

1 See on 1:22.

2 In J. 20:23, Jesus extends this power to his disciples.

1 εὐκοπωτερον is a late word, and is used in the N.T. only in this phrase, εὐκοπώτερόν ἐστι. The Greek word for which of two is πότερον. τί means strictly what, not which.

E Codex Basiliensis.

F Codex Borelli.

G Codex Wolfi A.

H Codex Wolfi B.

K Codex Cyprius.

Δ̠Codex Sangallensis

2 For passages, see Thay.-Grm. Lex. For a discussion of the date of the allegories in which the Messianic portion of the book occurs, see Schürer, N.Zg. II. III. 32. 2. Schürer, on the whole, favors the pre-Christian date.

3 Son alone is used by Jesus in Matthew 11:27, Matthew 21:37, Matthew 28:19, referring to the Divine Sonship in the theocratic sense.

1 ἐγείρω is transitive, and the active is used here in the sense of the passive or middle. On the meaning of the verb, see on 1:31 footnote. In the passive or middle, in the sense peculiar to the N.T., the meaning is to rise from a reclining position.

C Codex Bezae.

13 Codex Regius.

1 In Greek, ἐξίστημι means to displace or alter, and sometimes by itself, but generally with φρενῶν, or τοῦ φρονεῖν, to put one beside himself, to derange. In the N.T., it is used always in the sense of amaze, or be amazed, except 3:21, 2 Corinthians 5:13, where the stronger meaning, to be distraught, reappears.

2 δοξάζειν means properly to think, to have an opinion. To praise, or glorify, is the only N.T. use.

3 εἴδαμεν is sec. aor., with the vowel of the first aor.

4 See note on Mk.’s use of πάλιν, v. 1

5 Note the difference from the aor. ἐξῆλθε which denotes the momentary past act.

Thay.-Grm. Thayer’s Grimm.

1 The repetition of the somewhat peculiar ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον in Mt. and Lk. is a strong sign of the interdependence of the Synoptics.

2 γίνεται κατακεῖσθαι, it comes to pass, that, is a periphrase not unknown to the Greek, but its frequent recurrence in the Synoptics is probably due to Hebrew usage.

69 Codex Leicestrensis.

102 Codex Bibliothecae Mediceae.

1 The word ἁμαρτωλοί is rare in Greek writers.

2 The double compound συνανέκειντο is found, outside of Biblical Greek, only in Byzantine and ecclesiastical writers. ἀνακεῖμαι itself belongs to later Greek, the earlier writers using κεῖμαι and κατακεῖμαι. See Thay.-Grm. Lex.

3 The insertion of καὶ before ἰδόντες in v. 16 makes it necessary to connect ἠκολούθουν with ἔλεγον, instead of with ἦσαν.

1 ὅτι is here the indirect interrogative, taking the place of the direct, a usage unknown to earlier Greek, but occurring a few times in the Sept. and N.T.

A Codex Alexandrinus.

1 ἦν with the part is a stronger form of expressing the idea of the impf. than the tense. It is characteristic of Mk., and belongs to the picturesqueness of his style.

1 νυμφών is a Biblical word.

S Codex Vaticanus.

1 .Codex Basiliensis

1 So Weiss.

2 So Morison.

Γ̠Codex Tischendorfianus

And straightway many were gathered together, insomuch that there was no room to receive them, no, not so much as about the door: and he preached the word unto them.
And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.
And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.
But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts,
Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?
And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?
Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?
But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,)
I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house.
And immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went forth before them all; insomuch that they were all amazed, and glorified God, saying, We never saw it on this fashion.
And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them.
And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.
And it came to pass, that, as Jesus sat at meat in his house, many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples: for there were many, and they followed him.
And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
And the disciples of John and of the Pharisees used to fast: and they come and say unto him, Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but thy disciples fast not?
And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? as long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.
But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
No man also seweth a piece of new cloth on an old garment: else the new piece that filled it up taketh away from the old, and the rent is made worse.
And no man putteth new wine into old bottles: else the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled, and the bottles will be marred: but new wine must be put into new bottles.
And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn.
And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?
And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him?
How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him?
And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
ICC New Testament commentary on selected books

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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