The Book of Mark - Teachers Comments

2024 Quarter 3 Lesson 03 - Controversies

Teachers Comments
Jul 13 - Jul 19

Key Texts: Mark 2, 3

Study Focus: Mark 2:3–12; Mark 3:6, 22–29

Introduction: This week’s study reviews events in Jesus’ ministry as presented in Mark 2 and 3. Jesus’ work is focused on the restoration of people’s lives through the gospel. However, Jesus’ ministry and message were not always well received by certain individuals who wielded great influence in society at that time.

Lesson Themes: In Mark 2 and 3, the author highlights the fact that some religious teachers misapprehended and distrusted Jesus’ message. Within this context, we will examine:

  1. The groups, including the Pharisees and scribes, who were hostile to Jesus’ teachings.

  2. Some issues of contention between Jesus and the religious leaders.

Part II: Commentary

Jesus’ Ministry Outside the Synagogue

The synagogue was the epicenter of Jesus’ ministry (“He entered again into a synagogue” (Mark 3:1, NASB1995; emphasis added). However, Jesus was not confined to the synagogue in His ministry. This flexibility is something that distinguishes Him from the masters of His time.

To gain more insight into Jesus’ itinerant ministry, we must look at the structure of the opening chapters of Mark itself. Having looked at Mark 1 last week, we now turn to the content and structure of chapter 2. Mark 2 and 3 seem to comprise one literary unit in Mark’s Gospel. The section starts by noting that Jesus is in the house (Mark 2:1); it finishes with a mention of some members of His family (mother and brothers, Mark 3:31–35). In between these two narrative segments, Jesus travels to areas near the Sea of Galilee. He goes to a tax office (Mark 2:14) and then enters the house of Levi (Mark 2:15). Then Jesus proceeds to the grain fields (Mark 2:23). Next, He went into the synagogue (Mark 3:1). Then He withdraws with His disciples to the sea (Mark 3:7), and later He enters another house (Mark 3:19).

In short, this segment of Mark’s account highlights that Jesus minis­tered to people in houses in the city, in the synagogue, and even in rural areas. In this way, we see that Jesus’ served the people. His ministry was both urban and rural in His region.

Controversial and Hostile Groups

Another preliminary item to consider in Mark 2 and 3 is the hos­tility of some religious/political leaders toward Jesus and His ministry. Among the groups mentioned in this section are the scribes (Mark 2:6, 16; Mark 3:22), the Pharisees (Mark 2:24, Mark 3:6), and the Herodians (Mark 3:6). They represent three important groups in the Israelite society during Jesus’ ministry. (The Sadducees are another group (Mark 12:18), but they do not appear in this section of our study.)

The challenge Jesus faces now is not against the forces of darkness. The demons have no active role and no real power against Him in this section of the narrative beyond what is mentioned in Mark 3:11, wherein, the author asserts, the demons fell down prostrate before Jesus. The conflict that Jesus is facing here is against something more concrete: the spiritual leaders or teachers of the nation.

Scholars have attested that Pharisees and scribes were associated with leading positions in Jewish society, from approximately 200 bce to 100 ce. These two groups were the literate and learned leaders of the nation, living in diverse regions of the country. (See Anthony J. Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001], pp. 4, 40, 52.) In some sense, the scribes and Pharisees represented the scholarly sector of their time.

Michelle Lee-Barnewall points out, “The Pharisees may have arisen from the Hasideans, with their ties to the scribes, as the ones who emphasized the study of the law and obedience to the ­commandments.”—Lee-Barnewall, “Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes,” in The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts, eds. Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), p. 218.

Flavius Josephus describes the influence of these scholarly groups and the pressure they exerted in their society in relation to the traditions surrounding the Torah. “The Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers which are not written in the law of Moses; and for that reason, the Sadducees reject them and say that we are to esteem those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers.”—The Works of Josephus (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987), p. 355. The Mishnah also reveals certain tensions that existed in relation to the teaching of the scribes. For instance, Sanhedrin 11:3 implies that teachers put more emphasis on the traditions instead of the Torah. “There is greater stringency with regard to traditional rabbinic interpretations of the Torah than with regard to matters of the Torah” (Sanhedrin 11:3). The scribes are also described as “lawyers” (compare with Matt. 22:35); in other words, they are “experts in the Mosaic Law.”

The question is, Why are the Pharisees and scribes in permanent collision with Jesus? Or why is He challenging these teachers? Saldarini emphasizes that “the Pharisees’ knowledge of Jewish law and traditions, accepted by the people, [was] the basis of their social standing. Presumably, the scribes and priests also had influence with some of the people. . . . Jesus’ struggle with the Pharisees, scribes and chief priests can be explained most easily as a struggle for influence with the people.”—Anthony J. Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge: Eerdmans/Dove, 2001), p. 33.

Matthew 23 offers a clear explanation for why Jesus reproached the religious leaders of His time: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach” (Matt. 23:2, 3, NRSV). In contrast to their hypocrisy, Jesus is a practitioner of the principles that He teaches. For this reason, He is a teacher with great authority, not like the scribes. The Pharisees and the scribes, on the other hand, are hypocrites; they do not practice what they profess or teach. As we learned from our study in the first chapter, Mark highlights Jesus not only as someone who teaches and preaches the gospel of God but also as the One who personifies it; that is, He incarnates it. In His life, Jesus seeks to alleviate the burden of illness and sin that weighs people down and to free them from the crushing weight of the burden of traditions.

Issues Under Controversy

Other incidents in Mark’s Gospel also reveal further tensions between Jesus and the spiritual leaders. The first incident concerns the paralytic, who was lowered into the presence of Jesus by four men (Mark 2:3–12). Mark 2:5 says, “Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralyzed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven’ ” (NASB). In keeping with the pragmatic concept of the gospel that Mark espouses, faith is action. Jesus recognized and honored the faith of the paralytic’s four friends, who, in their actions to move according to their belief, brought their friend to the only One who could help him.

The major controversy in this narrative is Jesus’ authority to forgive sins. What disturbed the scribes was not only that Jesus forgave sins but that He did so in the power and authority of His name. Therefore, this action was described by the scribes as a blasphemous presumption. “In a context in which God alone was seen as being able to forgive sins (Mark 2:7; cf. Luke 7:49), Jesus does so. . . . Jesus is accused of blasphemy not because he is directly claiming to be God or pronouncing the sacred name of God but because he acts like God.”—Robert H. Stein, Mark, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), p. 119.

Jesus points out clearly that He, as the Son of Man, the Divine One on earth, has authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:10). The author of the Gospel stresses an important detail: people, unlike the scribes, recognized that the restoration of the paralytic—including the forgiveness of his sin—was a divine act. “They were all amazed and were glorifying God” (Mark 2:12, NASB).

In the next chapter, the scribes attempt a new argument concerning Jesus and His authority or power to liberate and restore demon-possessed people. The religious leaders contend that Jesus “is possessed by Beelzebul” and that “ ‘He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons’ ” (Mark 3:22, NASB).

Unfortunately, the scribes do not recognize Jesus’ work as divine in origin. Instead, they ascribe His works to the power of demons. Because of this malicious and wrongful accusation, Jesus defends His actions as the outworking of the Holy Spirit. Further, Jesus charges the scribes of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Their misconception of the work of Jesus has rendered them “guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29, NASB), “i.e., one with infinite consequences. . . . The unforgivable sin is the stubborn refusal to acknowledge that God is working/has worked in the man Jesus.” Unfortunately, according to Brooks, their stubborn refusal “is not a single act but a habitual action and attitude. The imperfect tense [of hoti elegon, 3:30] could be translated, ‘They kept on saying.’ ”—James A. Brooks, Mark, The New American Commentary, vol. 23, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), p. 76.

Part III: Life Application

In addition to the misunderstanding of the Son of God by the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus was also misunderstood by members of His own family, namely, His brothers. Ellen G. White writes in the book The Desire of Ages concerning Jesus’ brothers: They “desired that He should concede to their ideas, when such a course would have been utterly out of harmony with His divine mission. . . . [They] thought that if He would speak only such things as would be acceptable to the scribes and Pharisees, He would avoid the disagreeable controversy that His words aroused. They thought that He was beside Himself in claiming divine authority, and in placing Himself before the rabbis as a reprover of their sins.” On the same page, she adds, “These things made His path a thorny one to travel. So pained was Christ by the misapprehension in His own home that it was a relief to Him to go where it did not exist.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 326. On the following page, Ellen G. White appeals to us, “Those who are called to suffer for Christ’s sake, who have to endure misapprehension and distrust, even in their own home, may find comfort in the thought that Jesus has endured the same. He is moved with compassion for them. He bids them find companionship in Him, and relief where He found it, in communion with the Father.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 327.

Ask your class members the following questions: Have you faced any conflict in your inner social circles or among family members because of your beliefs? If yes, how does the notion that Jesus has endured the same offer you comfort?