Tag Archives: John D. Grassmick

Commentary on Mark 15a (Jesus on Trial)

As soon as dawn breaks Friday morning, the entire Sanhedrin is convened to ratify the sentence recommended during the previous pre-dawn trial. Since the Jews, under Roman law, are not allowed to execute anyone, they take Jesus to Pontius Pilate, who is likely staying at Herod the Great’s old palace in Jerusalem. John Grassmick, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary,  gives some background on Pontius Pilate:

Pontius Pilate, the fifth Roman prefect (a title later changed [in AD 44] to ‘procurator,’ i.e., imperial magistrate) of Judea held office a.d. 26–36. He was a harsh governor who despised the Jews (cf. Luke 13:1–2). Normally he resided in Caesarea by the Mediterranean Sea, but he came to Jerusalem on special occasions such as the Passover festival to help maintain order.

As the Roman-appointed governor of Judea, he presided over all judicial matters. The Jewish leadership who delivered Jesus to Pilate accused Jesus, among other things, of claiming to be King of the Jews. Anyone claiming to be a king (within Roman territories) without the consent of Roman authorities was guilty of treason, which is punishable by death. When Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews, Jesus merely says, “You have said so,” which is an indirect way of agreeing with Pilate. Regarding the other charges brought against him, Jesus refuses to speak in his defense, which amazes Pilate.

Pilate suspects that the charges against Jesus are being manufactured by the Jewish leadership out of jealousy for his popularity. Every year at Passover it is Pilate’s custom to release one Jewish prisoner, so Pilate assumes that the assembled crowd in front of his palace will choose Jesus to be released. Instead, the chief priests incite the crowd to ask for the release of the insurrectionist Barabbas. Barabbas has been arrested for his role in plotting to overthrow Roman rule in Judea. Even though Pilate attempts to convince the crowd to release a man whom he thinks is innocent, Jesus, the crowd instead demands the release of Barabbas and the death penalty for Jesus.

Pilate releases Barabbas and sentences Jesus to be scourged and then crucified. James Brooks, in Mark, vol. 23, The New American Commentary , writes that scourging, or flogging,

was both a preliminary to crucifixion (perhaps to hasten death) and an independent punishment. It was a Roman punishment and must be distinguished from the much milder synagogue beatings of forty lashes less one. Bits of metal, bone, or glass were imbedded in leather thongs; and the flesh of the victim was shredded, sometimes until bones or entrails appeared. Flogging was sometimes fatal. The flogging fulfilled Jesus’ own prophecy in Mark 10:34 and perhaps also Isa 53:5.

After Jesus is flogged, he is taken to the interior of Herod’s Palace (also called the Praetorium) where he is mocked by a company of Roman soldiers. The soldiers are ridiculing Jesus for his claim that he is King of the Jews. Craig Evans, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), explains:

What the Roman soldiers are acting out (and they are Roman, as indicated by their leading Jesus into the praetorium) is a mock salute of the Roman emperor, as is done during the celebration of a triumph. It is at such a time that the emperor would wear an ivy crown and a robe with a purple mantle. His soldiers would shout, ‘Hail, Caesar!’

The soldiers put Jesus’ garments back on him and four of them lead him in a procession to Golgotha (place of the skull), the location outside the walls of Jerusalem where he will be crucified.

Is Mark’s Account of Jesus’ Trial a Fictional Invention? Part 2

 

James A. Brooks, in Mark, vol. 23, The New American Commentary , provides additional thoughts:

[T]he trial may have involved illegalities. Illegal trials and perversions of justice have occurred throughout human history in all societies (including ‘Christian’), and this trial may well have been such an instance. No injustice should be excused, but first-century Jews should not be condemned beyond all others for their error.

Brooks also offers the possibility that

what Mark described in chap. 14 was not a formal trial but an informal hearing. Some have compared it to a police interrogation following an arrest or to a grand jury inquiry. Therefore none of the prescriptions of the Mishna [Sanhedrin] would be applicable. According to one explanation of [Mark] 15:1, a formal trial was held the next morning. Therefore this explanation could have some validity, but confidence about it is elusive.

John Grassmick, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary , explains the actions of the Jewish authorities in the following way:

The 71-member Sanhedrin (cf. comments on Mark 8:31), including the presiding high priest, was hastily assembled in an upstairs room (cf. 14:66) for a plenary night session. This was an ‘informal’ trial that required a ‘formal’ ratification after dawn (cf. 15:1) to satisfy strict Jewish legal procedure allowing trials only in the daytime. A quorum consisted of 23 members (Mishnah Sanhedrin 1. 6) but on this occasion the majority were probably there even though it was around 3 a.m. on Nisan 15 (Friday), a feast day.

This hasty night meeting was deemed necessary because: (1) In Jewish criminal law it was customary to hold a trial immediately after arrest. (2) Roman legal trials were usually held shortly after sunrise (cf. 15:1) so the Sanhedrin needed a binding verdict by daybreak in order to get the case to Pilate early. (3) With Jesus finally in custody they did not want to delay proceedings, thereby arousing opposition to His arrest. Actually they had already determined to kill Him (cf. 14:1–2); their only problem was getting evidence that would justify it (cf. v. 55). Perhaps also they wished to have the Romans crucify Jesus to avoid the people’s blaming the Sanhedrin for His death.

Some have questioned the legality of a capital trial on a feast day in light of certain Rabbinic legal ordinances. However, the Rabbis justified the trial and execution of serious offenders on a major feast day. That way, they argued, ‘all the people will hear and be afraid’ (Deut. 17:13; cf. Deut. 21:21; cf. tdnt, s.v. ‘pascha,’ 5:899–900).

In summary, there are serious questions about the applicability of the Mishnah Sanhedrin to the time of Jesus’ trial. Even if the rules from this document did apply, there were numerous extenuating circumstances that could have caused the Jewish Supreme Council to break the rules. Therefore, the fact that some of the procedures called for in this third-century document were not followed does not, in and of itself, cast serious doubt on the historicity of Mark’s account.

Commentary on Mark 14 (Jesus Arrested)

Late Thursday evening (around 10 or 11 pm), Jesus and the disciples travel back to the Mount of Olives to stay for the night. They choose a secluded place called Gethsemane where Jesus can pray. Mark Strauss, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary Book), writes:

The word Gethsemane comes from a Hebrew/Aramaic word (Gatz), meaning ‘oil press.’ Mark does not identify it as a garden (John 18:1) but simply as a ‘place’; four different locations on the Mount of Olives claim the honor of being the authentic site. Taylor contends that Gethsemane does not refer to an olive grove but to a spacious cave (about 55 feet long and 29-1/2 feet wide) within a cultivated enclosure, adjacent to the Church of All Nations, where olives were pressed for oil. The press would have been in operation in the fall and winter after the olive harvest but would have been idle and used only for storage in the spring. Such a locale, close to the city, would have made an excellent place to spend a chilly night that had others kindling fires for warmth (14:54). It would have been ‘warm, dry, and roomy, with a cistern inside for water.’

The full force of what is about to happen hits Jesus and he is overwhelmed with anguish. He asks Peter, James, and John to keep watch for him while he prays on his knees a short distance away. Three times Jesus returns to find his three closest friends asleep instead of keeping watch. The threefold sleeping corresponds to Peter’s threefold denial that will soon occur. Jesus’ repeated prayer to his Father is that God would take away the cup of suffering that is soon to occur, but only if that is what the Father wills. To the end, Jesus only wants what his Father wants.

Jesus uses the term Abba to refer to God the Father during his prayers. John Grassmick, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary , explains the significance of this term:

’Abba’ was a common way young Jewish children addressed their fathers. It conveyed a sense of familial intimacy and familiarity. The Jews, however, did not use it as a personal address to God since such a familiar term was considered inappropriate in prayer. Thus Jesus’ use of Abba in addressing God was new and unique. He probably used it often in His prayers to express His intimate relationship with God as His Father. Abba here suggests that Jesus’ primary concern in drinking the cup of God’s judgment on sin necessarily disrupted this relationship (cf. Jesus’ words of address, Mark 15:34).

After Jesus finds his disciples asleep for the third time (approximately three hours have passed while he prayed), he realizes that the hour of suffering is finally at hand. Judas, the betrayer, arrives with a large crowd of Roman soldiers and temple guards to arrest Jesus (the temple guards and Roman soldiers are mentioned in the Gospels of Luke and John). In order to identify Jesus in the dark, Judas greets Jesus with a kiss and calls him “Rabbi.”

The soldiers immediately seize Jesus, but Peter swings his sword at a servant of the high priest, Malchus, and cuts off part of his ear (we know about Peter and Malchus from John 18). Jesus comments that he has been teaching in the temple courts for days, and they could have easily arrested him, but instead they’ve come with swords and clubs, as if he is a violent criminal. However, these actions by the Jewish authorities are fulfilling prophecy. Although Mark doesn’t indicate to which prophecies Jesus refers, scholars speculate that he could be referring to Isaiah 53:12 and Zechariah 13:7. When Jesus indicates that he will willingly go with the soldiers, all his disciples flee, exactly as Jesus predicted they would.

The soldiers take Jesus back into Jerusalem to the house of the high priest. Mark Strauss gives us more details about the high priest:

We learn from Acts 4:6 that the high priest was Joseph Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas (who held the office from A.D. 6 until he was deposed in A.D.15). Annas remained a kind of godfather controlling the reins of power with five sons holding the office of high priest. The clan of Annas is remembered in the Babylonian Talmud for its knavery: ‘Woe unto me because of the house of Hanin [Annas], woe unto me because of their whisperings.’ Josephus refers to the son of Annas, Ananas II (high priest in A.D. 62), as following the school of the Sadducees, who were ‘more heartless than any of the other Jews … when they sit in judgment.’

Pilate’s predecessor, Valerius Gratus, removed four high priests during his eleven-year tenure as governor. Caiaphas had to be an artful politician to have held office as high priest for eighteen years from A.D. 18 to 36, serving throughout Pilate’s tenure. The family tomb of Caiaphas has been discovered. The name of Joseph bar Caiaphas is inscribed in Aramaic (Yhwsp br Qp‘) on an elaborately decorated bone box containing the bones of a sixty-year-old man.

Jesus is taken to an upper room in the house where the high priest has hastily gathered several members of the Sanhedrin. The Jewish leaders listen to the testimony of several witnesses to prove that Jesus said or did something deserving of the death penalty, but the testimony is contradictory and inconclusive.

Exasperated, Caiaphas finally asks Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Caiaphas is asking Jesus if he claims to be the Messiah. Jesus replies, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” After hearing his answer, the assembled council determines that Jesus deserves the death penalty.

Why does Jesus’ answer make him deserving of the death penalty, under Jewish law? James Brooks, in vol. 23, Mark, The New American Commentary , analyzes Jesus’ answer to Caiaphas:

’The Mighty One’ [or Power] is another substitute for Yahweh. The ‘right hand’ is the place of honor and reward in Oriental society. Jesus’ affirmation in the last part of the verse combines Ps 110:1 and Dan 7:13. ‘You will see’ does not necessarily refer to physical sight. It could refer to realization. Jesus probably meant that his opponents would realize that he was the Son of Man in the apocalyptic sense, that he was God’s Son and would sit by his side, and that he would return for judgment.

Having thus made this claim, Brooks explains Caiaphas’ response to Jesus:

Some do not think that claiming to be the Messiah would have been considered blasphemy. This may well be so, but claiming to be the Son of God (in the most intimate sense), claiming to be the Son of Man (in the supernatural sense), claiming to sit at God’s right hand, predicting a return from heaven, and using the divine name ‘I am’ could and probably would have been considered blasphemy.

In addition, Jesus presents a clear and present threat to the Sanhedrin and the temple establishment. The Sanhedrin, no doubt, fear that Jesus will provoke resistance against the Roman occupiers and thus upset the stability that the Jewish aristocracy has achieved.

Meanwhile, Peter has followed Jesus to the house of Caiaphas to evidently listen to the proceedings surreptitiously. While standing in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house, a servant girl accuses him of being one of Jesus’ followers, and he denies it. Again, the same girl accuses him and he denies it a second time. Other bystanders who are warming themselves outside of the house then join the servant girl in accusing Peter of being a follower of Jesus, and this time Peter swears oaths that he does not know who Jesus is. Suddenly the rooster crows and Peter realizes that he has denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus predicted. His response is to weep in sorrow for what he has done. We know that Peter repents of his apostasy because he becomes a great leader of the early Christian church.

To Which Generation Does Jesus Refer in the Olivet Discourse? Part 3

Michael Wilkins, in , offers a twofold interpretation. He writes:

The identity of ‘this generation’ has vexed interpreters. Perhaps it is easiest to see a twofold reference, as Jesus has done throughout the discourse. The disciples to whom Jesus is speaking on the Mount of Olives is most naturally ‘this generation’ who sees the events of the destruction of the temple, which shows the applicability of the discourse to A.D. 70. Yet within the context of Jesus’ statements about the coming of the Son of Man at the end of the age, there must be primary applicability to those at the end of the age who see the events surrounding the abomination of desolation occurring. When these signs of the end of the age appear, those waiting for his arrival are to recognize that their redemption is drawing near (Luke 21:28). The generation that sees these things occurring will be the generation that sees the Lord appear.

Craig Evans, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible) , offers the following suggestions:

This saying is consistent with the similar prediction in [Mark] 9:1 (‘There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God come in power’). It is apparent that Jesus’ generation expected to see the fulfillment of the things prophesied in the discourse. And indeed the predictions were partially fulfilled in the events of the first century. That generation saw the destruction of the temple and some of the signs, or at least events that paralleled the signs that will portend the second coming of the Son of Man. But Jesus’ generation did not see the second coming, nor did it see the consummation of the kingdom of God. Jesus spoke of the generation of the last time, not his disciples’ generation. Since ‘this generation’ in Mark refers elsewhere to those who are rebellious and blind (8: 12, 38; cf. Matt 11: 16; 12: 41, 42, 45), it could be used in that sense here, yielding the sense that wickedness will continue until the coming of the Son of Man. Another view is that ‘this generation’ refers to the generation that sees the ‘abomination that causes desolation.’ One further view is that ‘all these things’ refers only to the ‘signs’ of the end rather than to the end itself (Bock 2005, 523).

And finally, John D. Grassmick, in Mark, The Bible Knowledge Commentary , writes:

’Generation’ (genea) can refer to one’s ‘contemporaries,’ all those living at a given time (cf. 8:12, 38; 9:19), or to a group of people descended from a common ancestor (cf. Matt. 23:36). Since the word ‘generation’ is capable of both a narrow and a broad sense, it is preferable in this context (cf. Mark 13:14) to understand in it a double reference incorporating both senses. Thus ‘this generation’ means: (a) the Jews living at Jesus’ time who later saw the destruction of Jerusalem, and (b) the Jews who will be living at the time of the Great Tribulation who will see the end-time events. This accounts best for the accomplishment of ‘all these things’ (cf. vv. 4b, 14–23).

After my study of all these different viewpoints, I find myself leaning toward Brooks, Keener, and Blomberg. However, this is certainly not an issue to be dogmatic about. I have great respect for all these scholars, and it’s quite possible that other interpretations are correct.

Commentary on Mark 6 (Jesus Feeds 5,000 and Walks on Water)

After Jesus has sent out his disciples to preach to the towns of Galilee (probably around the second year of his public ministry), they return to him and give him reports of what they accomplished. Jesus, seeing they need rest, takes them to a desolate place so that they can be alone.

Mark notes that this is a busy time, for “many were coming and going.” In the parallel account in the Gospel of John, we read that the Passover Festival was near, so this would explain why there were huge crowds of people “coming and going” during this time.

As Jesus and the disciples travel by boat on the Sea of Galilee to a remote place, a crowd of people spot them and follow along on land. Evidently, their boat was close to land and could easily be seen from the shore of the lake.

In verse 34, when their boat goes ashore, Jesus sees the great crowd that has followed them and he has compassion on them, first by teaching them and then by feeding them. James A. Brooks writes, in vol. 23, Mark, The New American Commentary,

’Sheep without a shepherd’ is an Old Testament picture of Israel without spiritual leadership (Num 27:17; 1 Kgs 22:17; Ezek 34:5). Jesus is pictured as the Good Shepherd who feeds the new Israel (cf. Ezek 34:23; Jer 23:4). First he ‘fed’ the crowd with his teaching. Mark frequently emphasized that Jesus taught.

The miracle that follows is recounted in all four Gospels, so the early church obviously considered the feeding of the five thousand to be an extremely important event in Jesus’ ministry. The only other miracle attested by all four Gospels is the resurrection of Jesus.

Because it was late in the evening and they are in a desolate region, the disciples ask Jesus to send the crowds away to buy food for themselves. Jesus responds by telling the disciples to feed the crowd. They complain that it would take 200 denarii to feed a crowd this size (between 15-25,000 people total).

One denarius was equivalent to an average worker’s daily wage. The average daily wage of an American today is about $210, so that would equate to about $42,000! Most of us don’t have $42,000 sitting around to feed a crowd of people who have come to hear us speak for free, so the disciples are understandably panicked.

Unperturbed, Jesus asks them to see how many loaves of bread they can find among the crowd, and they return with five loaves and two fish. Jesus instructs the crowd to divide themselves into groups of fifties and hundreds and sit down on the “green grass.” Note that the grass would have only been green in the spring around the time of Passover, so this little detail nicely harmonizes with the Gospel of John’s timing of this miracle.

Jesus then says a blessing over the food and sends the disciples into the crowd with bread and fish. When they return, everyone in the crowd has been fed and there are twelve baskets left over with bread and fish.

This miracle account refers in several ways to the Old Testament, as noted by James Brooks:

As already observed in the comments on 1:4, in the Old Testament the desert was the place where God met, tested, and blessed his people. Specially important was the experience of Israel in the wilderness following the Exodus. After the testing involved in that experience, ‘rest’ was promised. Note how Mark introduced that idea (v. 31). Also the ‘sheep without a shepherd’ (v. 34) recalls Moses’ description of Israel in Num 27:17; and the ‘hundreds and fifties’ of v. 40, the organization of Israel in Exod 18:21, not to mention the resemblance between the loaves and the manna. The literal rest in the desert and later in the promised land following the Exodus did not satisfy, and the prophets and psalmists began to look forward to a better rest in the messianic age. . . . Mark saw in Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand an eschatological Moses giving perfect rest to and supplying all the needs of his people. The feeding anticipates the messianic banquet at the end of the age. The kingdom is at hand. The miracle as such is not as important for Mark as what it reveals about Jesus. . . .

The prophet Elisha performed a similar miracle according to 2 Kgs 4:42–44. In fact, Mark’s wording owes something to this account and possibly 1 Kgs 17:9–16. Mark may also have seen in the event Jesus as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.

Immediately following the miracle of the feeding of five thousand, Jesus sends the disciples back into their boat to travel across the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee to meet him in a town called Bethsaida. Jesus goes by himself up on a mountain to pray alone.

Between 3 and 6 am, Jesus sees the disciples rowing their boat against the wind (they have gone way off course and are stuck out in the middle of the lake.) Jesus decides to go to them by walking on the lake. As he approaches the boat, they see him and think he is a ghost.

Jesus tells them, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” John D. Grassmick, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, remarks:

The words It is I (lit., ‘I am,’ egō eimi) may simply convey self-identification (‘It is I, Jesus’), but they are probably intended here to echo the Old Testament formula of God’s self-revelation: ‘I am who I am’ (cf. Ex. 3:14; Isa. 41:4; 43:10; 51:12; 52:6).

Jesus climbs into the boat and the winds calm down. Mark records that the disciples are amazed because they did not understand who Jesus really was, even after seeing Jesus feed five thousand people.

The miracle of Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee is recorded in Matthew, Mark, and John. Only Luke does not record it.

 

Is Mark 16:9-20 the Original Ending to the Gospel of Mark?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

We don’t know.  Scholars divide sharply on this issue, although it seems that the majority of New Testament scholars believe that verses 9-20 were not part of the original Gospel written by Mark.

Why?  Because the two oldest manuscripts containing Mark’s Gospel (Sinaiticus and Vaticanus) do not contain these verses, church fathers Eusebius and Jerome both said that these verses were missing from Greek manuscripts they knew of, the style and vocabulary of verses 9-20 are decidedly different from the rest of Mark, and it would make sense for later writers to add to the Gospel because verse 8 seems like an abrupt ending.

On the other hand, most manuscripts from the fifth century on contain the verses and second century church fathers Justin Martyr, Tatian, and Irenaeus quoted verse 19, thus supporting its early existence.

One popular compromise view is presented by John D. Grassmick in The Bible Knowledge Commentary:

A view which seems to account for the relevant evidence and to raise the least number of objections is that (a) Mark purposely ended his Gospel with verse 8 and (b) verses 9-20, though written or compiled by an anonymous Christian writer, are historically authentic and are part of the New Testament canon . . . .

In other words, the early church accepted the tradition represented in Mark 16:9-20 even though many understood that Mark did not write it himself.

Again, we do not have enough data to determine the answer with certainty, so dogmatism is unwarranted.  Whether or not you believe that verses 9-20 were part of the original Gospel, according to Timothy Paul Jones in Misquoting Truth,  should not affect “Christian faith or practice in any significant way” because the concepts found in these verses echo ideas found in other Old and New Testament passages (see Luke 10:19; Isaiah 11:8; Psalm 69:21, 29 for references to protection from snakes and poison).