Mark 2
Pulpit Commentary
And again he entered into Capernaum, after some days; and it was noised that he was in the house.
Verse 1. - The first sentence of this verse is better rendered thus: And when he entered again (εἰσελθῶν πάλιν) into Capernaum after some days; literally, after days (δι ἡμερῶν). It is probable that a considerable interval had taken place since the events recorded in the former chapter. It was noised that he was in the house (ὅτι εἰς οϊκόν ἐστὶ); or, if the ὅτι be regarded as recitative, it was noised, He is in the house, at home, in his usual place of residence at Capernaum.
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.
Verse 2. - Many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them (ὥστε μηκέτι χωρεῖν), no, not even about the door. The description is very graphic. The house could not contain them, and even its courtyard and approaches were inconveniently thronged. This is one of the many examples of minute observation of details, so observable in St. Mark's Gospel. And he preached (ἐλάλει) - more literally, was speaking - the word unto them. This little sentence indicates the great object of his ministry. The exercise of miraculous power was subordinated to this; the miracles being simply designed to fix the attention upon the Teacher as One sent from God.
And they come unto him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.
Verses 3, 4. - And they come, bringing unto him a man sick of the palsy, borne of four. Here again the minuteness of detail is very observable. It is also interesting to notice how the three writers of the synoptic Gospels supplement and illustrate one another. St. Matthew gives the outline, St. Mark and St. Luke fill up the picture. St. Luke (Luke 5:18) tells us how they sought means to bring the paralytic into Christ's presence. They carried him on his bed up the flight of steps outside the house, and reaching to the roof; and then both St. Mark and St. Luke tell us how, having first removed a portion of the tiling and broken up the roof, they then let him down through the opening thus made into the midst before Jesus. The chamber into which he was thus abruptly lowered was most probably what is elsewhere called the "upper chamber," a large central room, convenient for the purpose of addressing both those who filled it and also the crowd that thronged the outer court below.
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.
Verse 5. - Son, thy sins be forgiven thee; literally, thy sins are forgiven. The word "son" is in the Greek the more endearing word (τέκνον) "child." St. Luke uses the word "man." St. Matthew adds the words "Be of good cheer." It is here to be carefully observed that the spiritual gift, the gift of forgiveness, is first conveyed; and we must also notice the authoritative character of the address, "Thy sins are forgiven." Bede observes here that our Lord first forgives his sins, that he might show him that his suffering was ultimately due to sin. Bede also says that he was borne of four, to show that a man is carried onwards by four graces to the assured hope of healing, namely, by prudence, and courage, and righteousness, and temperance. Jesus seeing their faith. Some of the Fathers, as Jerome and Ambrose, think that this faith was in the behavers of the sick man, and in them only. But there is nothing in the words to limit them in this way. Indeed, it would seem far more natural to suppose that the paralytic must have been a consenting party. He must have approved of all that they did, otherwise we can hardly suppose that it would have been done. We may therefore more reasonably conclude, with St. Chrysostom, that it was alike their faith and his that our Lord crowned with his blessing. Thy sins are forgiven. These words of our Lord were not a mere wish only; they were this sick man's sentence of absolution. They were far more than the word of absolution which Christ's ambassadors are authorized to deliver to all those who "truly repent and unfeignedly believe." For Christ could read the heart, which they cannot do. And therefore his sentence is absolute, and not conditional only. It is not the announcement of a qualified gift, but the assertion of an undoubted fact. In his own name, and by his own inherent power, he there and then forgives the man his sins.
But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts,
Verses 6, 7. - The words, Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? in accordance with the altered reading (βλασφημεῖ for βλασφημίας), should stand thus: Why doth this man thus speak? he blasphemeth. It is evident that the scribes, who were secretly amongst themselves finding fault with our Lord's words, understood that, by the use of these words, our Lord was assuming to himself a Divine attribute. And if he had been a mere man; if he had not really been, as he assumed to be, Divine, the only begotten Son of the Father, - then no doubt they would have been right in supposing that he blasphemed. But their error was that they could not perceive in him the glory of the only begotten Son. The light was shining in the darkness, and the darkness apprehended it not.
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?
Verses 8-11. - It does not clearly appear whether these murmurers communicated their thoughts audibly to one another. At all events, their words were evidently not heard beyond themselves. But Jesus perceived in his spirit their reasonings. He knew their thoughts, not by communication from another, as the prophets of old had things made known to them by revelation, but by his own Spirit pervading and penetrating all things. From this the Christian Fathers, against the Arians, infer the divinity of Christ, that he inspected the heart, which it is the prerogative of God alone to do. St. Chrysostom says, "Behold the evidences of the divinity of Christ. Observe that he knows the very secrets of your heart." Nor did Christ only perceive their thoughts. He perceived also the direction in which these thoughts were moving. Their feeling was no doubt this: "It is an easy thing to claim the power of forgiving sin, since this is a power which cannot be challenged by any outward sign." Now, it is to this form of unbelief that the next words of our Lord are the answer. It is as though he said, "You accuse me of blasphemy. You say that I am usurping the attributes of God when I claim the power of forgiving sin. You ask for the evidence that I really possess this power; and you say it is an easy thing to lay claim to a power which penetrates the spiritual world, and which is therefore beyond the reach of material proof. Be it so. I will now furnish that evidence. I will prove, by what I am now about to work upon the body, that what I have just said is effectual upon the spirit. I have just said to this paralytic, 'Thy sins are forgiven.' You challenge this power; you question my authority. I will now give you outward and sensible evidence that this is no fictitious or imaginary claim. You see this poor helpless, palsied man. I will say to him in presence of you all, ' Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thy house.' And if simply at my bidding his nerves are braced, and his limbs gather strength, and he rises and walks, then judge ye whether I have a right to say to him, 'Thy sins are forgiven.' Thus, by doing that which is capable of proof, I will vindicate my power to do that which is beyond the reach of sensible evidence; and I will make manifest to you, by these visible tides of my grace, in what direction the deep under-current of my love is moving." (See Trench on the Miracles, p. 205.)
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.
Verse 12. - The words are spoken, and the paralytic arose, and straightway took up the bed (ἠγέρθή καὶ εὐθὺς ἄρας) - such is the most approved reading - and went forth before them all. There is a spiritual application of this miracle which it is well to notice. The paralytic lifting up himself is a figure of him who, in the strength of Christ, has lifted himself up from the lethargy of sin. He has first applied to Christ, perhaps by his own sense of his need, perhaps with the help of others. He may have had difficulty in approaching him. A multitude of sinful thoughts and cares may have thronged the door. But at length, whether alone or with the kind assistance of faithful friends, he has been brought to the feet of Jesus, and has heard those words of love and power, "Thy sins are forgiven thee." And then he will rise and walk. He will take up that whereon he lay. He will carry away those things whereon he has hitherto found satisfaction - his love of ease, his self-indulgence. His bed, whatever it may have been whereon he lay, becomes the proof of his cure. When the intemperate man becomes sober, the passionate man gentle, and the covetous man liberal, he takes up that whereon he lay. Thus does each penitent man begin a new life; setting forward with new hopes and new powers towards his true home, eternal in the heavens. We are not informed of the effect of this miracle upon the scribes and Pharisees. But it is too evident that, though they could not deny the fact, they would not acknowledge the power; while the mass of the people, more free from prejudice, and therefore more open to conviction, united in giving glory to God. Faith in Christ as sent by God was in fact increasing amongst the mass of the people; while unbelief was working its deadly result of envy and malice amongst those who ought to have been their guides and instructors.
And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them.
Verses 13, 14. - It is probable that our Lord remained some time at Capernaum before he went forth again. The word "again" refers to his former going forth (see Mark 1:35). When he went forth on this occasion he appears to have traveled southwards along the sea-shore. There, not far from Capernaum, he saw Levi, the son of Alphseus, sitting at the receipt of custom (ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον); more literally, at the place of toll. This place would be in the direct line for traders from Damascus to Accho, and a convenient spot for the receipt of the duties on the shipping. It is observable that in St. Matthew's own Gospel (Matthew 9:9) he describes himself as "a man named Matthew." St. Luke, like St. Mark, calls him Levi. The same person is no doubt meant. It is most likely that his original name was Levi, and that upon his call to be an apostle he received a new name, that of Matthew, or Mattathias, which, according to Gesenius, means "the gift of Jehovah." In his own Gospel he names himself Matthew, that he might proclaim the kindness and love of Christ towards him, in the spirit of St. Paul, where he says, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Timothy 1:15). Follow me; me, that is, whom you have already heard preaching the gospel of the kingdom in Capernaum, and confirming it by many miracles, and especially by that conspicuous miracle spoken of by all, the healing of the paralytic. St. Chrysostom says that "our Lord called Matthew, who was already constrained by the report of his miracles." The condescension of Christ is shown in this, that he called Matthew the "publican," who on that account was odious to the Jews, not only to be a partaker of his grace, but to be one of his chosen followers, a friend, an apostle, and an evangelist. It has been urged against the truth of Christianity, by Porphyry and others, that the first disciples followed Christ blindly, as though they would have followed without reason any one who called them. But they were not men who acted upon mere impulse and without reason. The miracles, no doubt, produced an impression upon them. And then we may reasonably suppose that their moral faculties perceived the majesty of Deity shining through the countenance of the Son of God. As the magnet attracts the iron, so Christ drew Matthew and others to himself; and by this attractive power he communicated his graces and virtues to them, such as an ardent love of God, contempt of the world, and burning zeal for the salvation of souls.
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.
Verse 15. - And it came to pass - ἐγένετο seems the best reading - as he was sitting at meat in his house. This was the house of Matthew. St. Matthew (Matthew 9:10) modestly says, "in the house," keeping himself as much as possible in the background. St. Luke, with greater fullness, says (Luke 5:29) that "Levi made him a great feast in his house." From this it appears that Matthew at once marked the occasion of his call by inviting his associates, publicans and sinners, that they too, being won by the example and teaching of Christ, might be led in like manner to follow him. Good is ever diffusive of itself; and Christian love prompts those who have experienced the love of Christ to draw others to the same fountain of mercy. We find publicans and sinners constantly associated together; for, although there is nothing necessarily unlawful in the office of a tax-gatherer, yet, since men frequently followed that calling because it offered the opportunity for fraud and extortion, hence the "publicans" were, generally speaking, odious to the Jews, and regarded as nothing better than "sinners." More-over the Jews of old maintained that they were Abraham's seed, and protested that as a people dedicated to God, they ought not to be subject to the Romans, who were Gentiles and idolaters. They considered that it was contrary to the liberty and dignity of the children of God that they should pay tribute to them, a view which increased their prejudice against the tax-gatherers. And indeed this was one main cause of the rebellion of the Jews, which led finally to their overthrow by Titus and Vespasian.
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?
Verse 16. - According to the most approved readings, this verse should run thus: And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with the sinners and publicans, said unto his disciples, He eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners. The words "publicans and sinners" are thus inverted in their order in the two clauses, as though they were convertible terms. Of course, the scribes and Pharisees had not sat down at this feast, but some of them had probably found their way into the chamber in which the feast was going on, where they would comment freely upon what they saw, and condemn our Lord's conduct as inconsistent with his character. It is as though they said, "By this conduct he transgresses the Law of God and the traditions of the elders. Why, then, do you follow him?"
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.
Verse 17. - Jesus heard their murmurings, and his answer was, They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. As the physician is not infected by the disease of the patient, but rather overcomes it and drives it from him, so it is no disgrace but rather an honor to the physician to associate himself with the sick, and so much the more, the greater the sickness. So that it is as though Christ said, "I who am sent from heaven by the Father, that I might be the Physician of the souls of sinners, am not defiled by their sins and spiritual diseases when I converse with them; but rather I cure and heal them, which is alike for my glory and for their good, and so much the more, the greater their sins. For I am the physician of sinners, not their companion. But you, scribes and Pharisees, are not the physicians but the companions of sinners, and so you are contaminated. Nevertheless, you desire to be thought righteous and holy; and therefore I do not associate with you,

(1) because the whole, such as you think yourselves to be, need not the spiritual Physician; and

(2) because your insincerity and pocrisy are an offense to me."
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?
Verse 18. - The first sentence of this verse should be rendered thus: And the disciples of John and the Pharisees were fasting (ῆσαν νηστεύ´οντες). In all the synoptic Gospels we find this incident following closely upon what goes before. It is not improbable that the Pharisees and the disciples of John were fasting at the very time when Matthew gave his feast. This was not one of the fasts prescribed by the Law; had it been so, it would have been observed by our Lord. There were, however, fasts observed by the Pharisees which were not required by the Law; there were two in particular of a voluntary nature, mentioned by the Pharisee (Luke 18:12), where he says, "I fast twice in the week." It was a custom, observed by the stricter Pharisees, but not of legal obligation. It was not correct to say, but thy disciples fast not. They fasted, no doubt, but in a different spirit; they did not fast to be seen of men - they followed the higher teaching of their Master. It is remarkable to find the disciples of John here associated with the Pharisees. John was now in prison in the fort of Machaerus. It is possible that jealousy of the increasing influence of Christ may have led John's disciples to associate themselves with the Pharisees. The point of this particular attack upon Christ was this: It is as though they said, "You claim to be a new teacher sent from God, a teacher of a more perfect religion. How is it, then, that we are fasting, while your disciples are eating and drinking?" The disciples of John more especially may have urged this out of zeal for their master. Such an unworthy zeal is too often seen in good men, who love to prefer their own leader to all others, forgetting the remonstrance of St. Paul, "While there is amongst you strife and contention, are ye not carnal, and walk after the manner of men?"
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.
Verse 19. - The Bridegroom here is Christ, because he espoused the human nature, and, through it, the Church to himself in his holy incarnation. This holy union he began by his grace on earth, and he will consummate it gloriously with his elect in heaven, when "the marriage of the Lamb shall have come, and his wife shall have made herself ready." Hence John the Baptist calls himself the friend of the Bridegroom, that is, of Christ. The sons (υἱοὶ) of the bridechamber are the special friends of the Bridegroom, those who are admitted into the closest fellowship with him. The expression is a Hebraism, like "the children of disobedience," and many other similar forms of expression. So long, then, as the bridegroom is with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast. It is as though our Lord said, "It is not surprising that they should not care to fast as long as they enjoy my presence; but when I am taken from thegn, then shall they fast."
But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.
Verse 20. - This is the first occasion on which our Lord alludes to his removal from them. The bridegroom shall be taken away from them. The Greek word (ἀπαρθῇ) conveys the idea of a painful severance. And then will they fast in that day (ἐν ἐκείνῇ τῇ ἡμέρα). This is the true reading. After our Lord's death, his disciples frequently fasted as of necessity, and went through much privation and trial. And so it must be for the most part with all who will live godly in Christ Jesus, until he returns to take to himself his kingdom, when there will be a glad and everlasting festival.
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.
Verse 21. - No man seweth a piece of new cloth - the Greek is (ῤακους ἀγνάφου) undressed cloth, cloth newly woven, and before it has been dressed by the fuller - on an old garment. The latter part of this verse is better rendered, as in the Revised Version, thus: Else that which should fill it up taketh from it, the new from the old; and a worse rent is made. The meaning of the words is this: An old garment, if it be torn, should be mended by a patch of old material; for if a patch of new material is used, its strength or fullness takes away from the old garment to which it is sewn; the old and the new do not agree, the new drags the old and tears it, and so a worse rent is made.
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.
Verse 22. - "Bottles" in this verse is better rendered literally wine-skins (ἀσκούς). And no man putteth new wine (οϊνον νέον) into old wine-skins; else the new wine will burst the skins, and the wine perisheth, and the skins; but they put new wine into fresh wine-skins (ἀσκοὺς καινοὺς). The sense is this: New wine, in the process of fermentation, will burst old bottles made of wine-skins not strong enough to resist the strength of the fermenting fluid; so that there is a twofold loss - both that of the bottles and that of the wine. And therefore new wine must be poured into bottles made of fresh wine-skins, which, by reason of their strength and toughness, shall be able to resist the fermenting energy of the new wine. And by these very apt illustrations our Lord teaches us that it is a vain thing to attempt to mingle together the spiritual freedom of the gospel with the old ceremonies of the Law. To attempt to engraft the living spiritual energy of the gospel upon the old legal ceremonial now about to pass away, would be as fatal a thing as to piece an old garment with new material, or to put new wine into old wineskins. There is here, therefore, a valuable lesson for the Christian Church, namely, to treat new converts with gentleness and consideration.
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.
Verse 23. - If there is a rapid sequence in this part of the narrative, the fasting referred to in the last verses may have taken place the day before. St. Luke (Luke 6:1) here adds to St. Mark's account the words, "and did eat, rubbing them [that is, the ears of corn] in their hands;" an incidental evidence of a simple life, that they did not here eat prepared food, but the simple grains of wheat, which they separated from the chaff by rubbing the ears of corn in their hands. This passage marks with some nicety the time of the year. The corn in that district would be ripening about May. It would, therefore, be not long after the Passover. The difficult expression in St. Luke 6:1, ἐν σαββάτῳ δευτεροπρώτῳ, and which is rendered in the Authorized Version "on the second sabbath after the first," is reduced by the Revisers of 1881 to the simple phrase (ἐν σαββάτῳ), "on a sabbath," there not being sufficient evidence to persuade them to retain the word δευτεροπρώτῳ. But other evidences seem to show that the incident occurred earlier than as recorded by St. Matthew. The Fathers are fond of spiritual applications of this rubbing of the ears of corn. Bede, in remarking upon the fact of the disciples plucking the ears of corn, and rubbing them until they get rid of the husks, and obtain the food itself, says that they do this who meditate upon the Holy Scriptures, and digest them, until they find in them the kernel, the quintessence of delight; and St. Augustine blames those who merely please themselves with the flowers of Holy Scripture, but do not rub out the grain by meditation, until they obtain the real nourishment of virtue.
And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful?
Verse 24. - That which is not lawful. The supposed unlawfulness was not the plucking of the ears of corn with the hand, which was expressly permitted by the Law (Deuteronomy 23:25), but the plucking and eating on the sabbath day.
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?
Verses 25, 26. - David... and they that were with him. This seems opposed to what we read in 1 Samuel 21, where David is stated to have been alone. But the facts appear to have been these, that David, fleeing from Saul, went alone to Ahimelech the high priest, and sought and obtained five loaves of the "shewbread," which he carried away with him to his companions in flight, and shared with them; for he says (1 Samuel 21:2), "I have appointed my servants to such and such a place." This incident actually happened in the high priesthood of Ahimelech the father of Abiathar. Bede says that they were both present when David came in his distress and obtained the shewbread. But Ahimelech having been slain, together with eighty-six priests, by Saul, Abiathar fled to David, and became his companion in his exile. Moreover, when he succeeded to the high priesthood on the death of Ahimelech, he did far more good service than his father had done, and so was worthy of being spoken of with this special commendation, and as though he was actually high priest, even though his father was then living. The words may properly mean "in the days when Abiathar was living who became high priest, and was more eminent than his father." The shewbread; literally, the bread of the face, that is, of the Divine presence, symbolizing the Divine Being who is the Bread of life. It was directed by the Law that within the sanctuary there should be a table of shittim (or acacia) wood; and every sabbath twelve newly baked loaves were placed upon it in two rows. These leaves were sprinkled with incense, and then remained there until the following sabbath. They were then replaced by twelve newly baked loaves, the old loaves being eaten by the priests in the holy place, from which it was unlawful to remove them. These twelve loaves corresponded to the twelve tribes. The force of our Lord's reasoning is this: David, a man after God's own heart, when sorely pressed by hunger, applied to the high priest and took some of these sacred loaves, loaves which under ordinary circumstances it was not lawful for the lay people to eat, because he wisely judged that a positive law, forbidding the laity to eat this bread, ought to yield to a law of necessity and of nature; which intimates to us that in a grave necessity of famine, life may be lawfully preserved by eating even sacred bread which has been dedicated to God. Therefore, in like manner, nay, much more, was it lawful for Christ and his disciples to pluck the ears of corn on the sabbath day, that by rubbing them in their hands they might pick out the good grain and satisfy their hunger.
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:
Verse 27. - The sabbath was instituted for the benefit of man, that he might refresh and renew his body, fatigued and worn by six days' labour, with the restful calm of the seventh; and that he might have leisure to apply his mind to the things which concern his everlasting salvation; to consider and meditate upon the Law of God; and rouse himself, by the remembrance of the Divine greatness and goodness, to true repentance, to gratitude, and to love. The force of the argument is this: The sabbath was made on account of man, not man on account of the sabbath. The sabbath, great and important as that institution is, is subordinate to man. If, then, the absolute rest of the sabbath becomes hurtful to man, a new departure must be taken, and some amount of labour must be undergone, that man may be benefited. Therefore was Christ justified in permitting to his disciples a little labour in plucking these ears of corn on the sabbath day, in order that they may appease their hunger. For it is better that the rest of the sabbath should be disturbed, though but a little, than that any one of those for whose sake the sabbath was instituted should perish.
Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
Verse 28. - Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. "The sabbath was made for man." It is the inferior institution, man being the higher, for whose sake the sabbath was appointed. But the Son of man is Lord of all men, and of all things that pertain to man's salvation; therefore he must of necessity be Lord even of the sabbath; so that when he sees fit he can relax or dispense with its obligations. It is true that for us Christians the first day of the week, the Lord's day, has taken the place of the ancient Jewish sabbath; but the principle here laid down by our Lord is applicable to the "first" day no less than to the "seventh;" and it teaches us that our own moral and religious advancement and that of our brethren is the object which we should all aim at in the manner of our observance of the Christian Sunday; while we strive to "stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free."

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