Category Archives: Mark 2

Is There a Mistake in Mark 2:26?

by Julie M. Smith

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?”

             Many manuscripts omit the phrase “in the days of Abiathar the high priest,” presumably because in 1 Samuel 21, the priest in question was Ahimelech and not Abiathar. (Some variant readings state that it was during the lifetime of, not during the high priesthood of, Abiathar.[1]) There are many theories to explain the reference to “Abiathar” in this text:

  1. It did not refer to the time of the high priest but rather to the section of the scroll where the story about the bread could be found.[2] (Most are not convinced by this theory.)
  2. The phrase meant “in the lifetime of Abiathar.”
  3. It originally read “the father of Abiathar” but “the father of” dropped out because the beginning of the words “father” and “Abiathar” were similar.[3] (But why would Jesus refer to “the father of Abiathar”?)
  4. The whole phrase is a later addition. Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the text is that it is difficult to understand why Jesus would have made reference to any high priest, as it is not relevant to the story. So perhaps this phrase was an early (and incorrect) gloss. This would explain why the line is missing from Matthew and Luke: it was not included in their copies of the Gospel of Mark.
  5. The earlier reading, referring to Abiathar, is a textbook example of “the mistakes of men”[4] that can occur in a record: either Mark (or his source) erred in naming Abiathar here.[5] Because Abiathar was associated with David as the high priest during his reign,[6] it is an understandable mistake.

Most scholars agree that the text is in error; the other theories come mostly from those committed to the inerrancy of scripture. While the error is not terribly significant, it does raise an interesting question:  does the mistaken referent stem from Jesus or from Mark (or his source)? If it was Mark’s or his source’s error, then we have an instance where Mark did not correctly record Jesus’ words. If it was Jesus’ error—an option most LDS would not find acceptable, although perhaps some readings of Luke 2:52 (“and Jesus increased in wisdom”) would permit such a position—then that would speak to the nature of his mortal limitations.

[1] See Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (Stuttgart:  United Bible Societies, 2001), page 68.

[2] See William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 116.

[3] See Robert H. Stein, Mark (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Academic, 2008), 146.

[4] Title Page, The Book of Mormon.

[5] Note that both Matthew and Luke omit any reference to the high priest.

[6] See C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to St Mark (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1959), 116.

Exploring Mark 2:17

by Julie M. Smith

 “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.”

 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them. Note that Jesus is answering a question that was directed not to him but to his disciples.

There may be a contrast between the scribes who see and Jesus who hears:  the scribes are reacting to Jesus’ actions but Jesus is reacting to their words. Later in Mark, the distinction between words and deeds will become more pronounced.

They that are whole have no need of the physician but they that are sick. Because a similar sentiment can be found in other ancient writings, it is likely that Jesus is quoting a proverb here.[1]

Note that Jesus’ statement not only permits eating with sinners, but casts it as a requirement of his ministry:  “it is ridiculous to imagine a doctor who refuses to meet his patients; so any effective ‘healer’ must expect to get his hands dirty.”[2]

Allusion:  Exodus 15:26. In that passage, the Lord announces “I am the Lord that healeth thee.” If that text is alluded to here, then it is an important piece of self-revelation as Jesus identifies with the God of the Hebrew Bible.

I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. “To repentance” is missing from the oldest manuscripts. It may have been added to harmonize with Luke 5:32; Luke may have added it to explain why Jesus did not call the righteous.

  “I came” probably does not refer to Jesus’ presence near the Sea of Galilee but rather to his mortal mission; even some non-LDS scholars think that it points to Jesus’ awareness of and teaching about the pre-existence.[3]

There are at least two ways to understand Jesus’ statement that he did not come to call the righteous:

  1. Jesus is doing the ancient equivalent of putting air quotes around “the righteous,” meaning that he is not claiming that there is a group of people who can be called righteous, but rather gently mocking the scribes’ (incorrect) use of the word. Jesus’ statement “satirizes the Pharisees’ claim to have achieved righteousness by separation from sin.”[4] It is even possible to translate this word as “self-righteous.”[5] So this would not imply that there were people to whom Jesus offered nothing, but rather that there were people who did not respond to his call because they considered themselves to be righteous. This statement is a subtle but provocative way for Jesus to get his audience to consider whether they are completely righteous.
  2. The statement can be read as dialectical negation, a form of speech meant to emphasize the positive half of the statement.[6] Thus no great emphasis should be placed on whether Jesus was calling the righteous; the point is that his ministry gives more emphasis to sinners.

While the previous verse has multiple references to publicans and sinners, publican drops out of Jesus’ statement here. This breach of the pattern may be Jesus’ subtle commentary that the tax collectors were not sinners of a special class, but no different from any other sinner.

Several important truths can be gleaned from Jesus’ answer:

  1. Jesus is teaching that sin in another person is not a reason to separate from that person. Because everyone sins, a separatist mindset would either require withdrawing from all human society or ignoring some sins.
  2. The Pharisees’ focus is on what effect the sinners will have on Jesus; Jesus’ focus is on what effect he will have on the sinners.
  3. Jesus presents an analogy between sin and sickness; this is part of a theology of the atonement that develops gradually throughout the Gospel. The analogy subtly teaches that forgiveness for sins is outside the reach of any human; it points to the need for a mediator (a doctor, one who can atone).
  4. Jesus’ statement puts an entirely different spin on the calling of the disciples: they were called not because they were (already) perfect or (already) excellent leaders, but because Jesus called the sick who needed him to heal them so that they could become perfected.

The Hebrew Bible develops the idea of the messianic banquet–a future time of harmony and celebration between God and humans that is symbolized by a feast.  It is possible to see this meal as a foreshadowing of the messianic banquet, which makes the presence of “sinners” all the more meaningful because it teaches that they also have a seat at God’s table.

[1]See N. T. France, The Gospel of Mark:  A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 135.

[2]See N. T. France, The Gospel of Mark:  A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 135.

[3]See C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to St Mark (New York:  Cambridge University Press, 1959), 106.

[4]Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (New York:  Doubleday, 2002), 231.

[5]See William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 228.

[6]See Robert A. Guelich, Word Biblical Commentary:  Mark 1-8:26 (Dallas, TX:  Word Books, 1989), 104.

Comparing Mark 2:13-17 and Mark 1:16-20

By Julie M. Smith

There are many similarities between Levi’s call in Mark 2 and the two call stories (of Peter and Andrew and James and John) in Mark 1 (see full text below):  the seaside setting, the description of the future disciple going about his daily tasks, Jesus’ abrupt command to follow, and the disciples’ instant obedience. There are no similar call stories after this one; we can either assume that all disciples received similar calls but Mark saw no need to record them after the pattern was established, or that they were not called as Simon, Andrew, James, John, and Levi were.

Levi has a very different occupation and social role than the four fishermen. While Jesus was able to make symbolic allusions to the Hebrew Bible by calling fishermen, calling a tax collector was a shocking thing to do: it made him look sympathetic to the Romans and would have offended Jewish sensibilities. In fact, this story isn’t so much about the call of Levi per se as it is about who Jesus thinks is fit to be a disciple—and his answer would likely have stunned just about everyone.

It is possible that Levi knew the four fishermen and had collected taxes on their catch (and kept some as his own payment). If so, one can only imagine the dynamics among the disciples as Levi is welcomed into the circle of brotherhood.

In a sense, the call of Levi represents a heightening of the previous call stories: while it would have been possible for the fishermen to return to their fishing, either occasionally or full time, it would not have been possible for Levi to resume his post after abandoning it.[1]

[1]See C. S. Mann, Mark:  A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City, NY:  Doubleday, 1986), 129.

christ-calling-fishermenMark 1:16-20 

16 Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.

17 And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.

18 And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him.

19 And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets.

20 And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.

Mark 2:13-17

13 And he went forth again by the sea side; and all the multitude resorted unto him, and he taught them.

14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphæus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.

15 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.

16 And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat withpublicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?

17 When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that arewhole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

 

Who is “Levi the son of Alphaeus” in Mark 2:14?

By Julie M. Smith 

And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphæus sitting at the receipt of custom, and said unto him, Follow me. And he arose and followed him.”

When a relationship is mentioned (“son of Alphaeus”), it is normally either because:

  1. The relative (in this case, Alphaeus) was known to Mark’s audience.
  2. Mark wants to distinguish the person from others with the same name. (While there is no other Levi in Mark’s Gospel, there could have been another Levi known to Mark’s audience.)

We do not know which is the case here. Either way, this phrase presents a bit of a puzzle since Levi is not mentioned elsewhere in the NT[1] and since there is no “Levi” on the lists of the Twelve.[2] There are several possibilities for what has happened here:

  1. Mark 3:18 refers to James as the “son of Alphaeus.” So:
    • Levi might be the brother of James (which is a helpful data point, but doesn’t solve the problem).
    • “Levi” might be another name for “James.” (Some manuscripts read “James” instead of “Levi” here, but that is almost certainly a later reading.) It was not uncommon for people to be known by more than one name; we know that Jesus himself renamed a disciple on at least one occasion although, unlike with Simon Peter, there is no story in the text describing a renaming of Levi.
    • It is possible that this might not even be the same “Alphaeus;” there could be no relationship whatsoever between Levi and James.
  2. The reason that Levi is not mentioned on any of the lists of the Twelve is because Levi was not one of the Twelve. This story states that Jesus called Levi to follow him but does not mention a specific calling; it is certainly possible that Jesus called Levi to a different role.[3]
  3. Matthew 9:9-13, which is parallel to this story, has a toll collector named Matthew (although he is not called the son of Alphaeus). Because the name Matthew appears on the apostolic lists and he was also a publican, perhaps Levi was another name for Matthew. (This seems to be how the Gospel of Matthew understands this story, but this does not necessarily mean that Mark understood the situation in the same way.)
  4. The word “Levi” could be a tribal marker (“the Levite”) and not a proper name. The idea of a Levite tax collector would be most ironic, since tax collectors were regarded as particularly unclean while Levites needed to be clean to perform the temple rituals. But most scholars do not accept reading “Levite” here since it would be odd for Jesus to call someone without his name being included in the story.

Regardless, the emphasis here is not on Levi’s identity, but the fact that he was a tax collector.[4]

[1]Save the parallel account in Luke 5:27.

[2]See Mark 3:16-18.

[3]Compare Luke 10:1.

[4]See Ben W. Witherington, The Gospel of Mark:  A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), 120.

“He Took Our Infirmities, and Bare Our Sickness” (LDS Gospel Doctrine Lesson 7: Mark 1–2; 4:35–41; Luke 7:11–17)

By Eric D. Huntsman. Cross-posted at New Testament Thoughts.

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 7 focuses on the miracles of Jesus, a topic that has been of great interest to me the last several years, and the results of my research and thinking on this topic have recently been published by Deseret Book as The Miracles of Jesus. Continue reading

A Paralytic Forgiven and Healed: Mark 2, Matthew 9, Luke 5

By Eric D. Huntsman. From The Miracles of Jesus, 49–55, and cross-posted at New Testament Thoughts 

Another early miracle, the healing of the paralyzed man at Capernaum (KJV, “one sick of the palsy”), who was lowered through the roof by his friends, appears in all three Synoptic gospels (Mark 2:1–12; Matthew 9:1–8; Luke 5:17–26).  The scene is set with Jesus teaching inside a private home, which overflowed with people who came to hear him.  The only way that the paralyzed man’s friends could bring him close to Jesus was to tear up the roof of the house and lower him down through the hole.  Jesus acknowledged their efforts as a sign of their faith, but before healing the man, he makes a pronouncement that causes contention with some of the Jewish scribes present: “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:5).  Continue reading