Mark 3:7-35

7 And Jesus, accompanied by his disciples, returned to the lakeshore, and a great crowd from Galilee and Judaea, from Jordan and beyond the Jordan and from the area around Tyre and Sidon, a great crowd, when they heard all that he was doing, came to him.1 9 And he told his disciples to keep a boat close by him so he could avoid the pressure of the crowd. 10 For he had healed quite a few, and so they would fall down before him to touch him. 11 And when the impure spirits recognized him, they would attack him and cry out, “You are God’s son!” 12 And he would warn them sternly not to reveal his identity.

13 And he went up on the mountain2 and summoned the ones whom he wanted and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve to be with him and to be sent out to preach 15 and to be authorized to exorcise demons.3 16 And to Simon he gave the added name, “Peter.” And James and John, Zebedee’s sons, he called “Boanerges,” meaning “Thunder-boys,” 18 and Andrew and Philip and and Bartholomew and Matthew and Thomas and James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus and Simon of Cana 19 and Judas Iscariot, the one who even turned him over to the authorities.4

20 5 Then he went home,6 and a crowd flocked to him yet again, such a crowd that they couldn’t even have a meal.7 21 And when they had heard,8 his family came to fetch him, inasmuch as they claimed that he was out of his mind.9

22 And the scribes who had come from Jerusalem10 were claiming that Jesus was controlled by Beelzebul and that he was exorcising demons by authority of the prince of demons.11 23 So he called them before him and spoke to them in riddling imagery:12 “How can Satan exorcise Satan? 24 No kingdom that splits into factions can stay in power.13 25 Nor can a household that splits into hostile groups remain stable.14 26 And if Satan has taken up arms against himself and split into factions, he cannot stay in power but is doomed. 27 The truth is that nobody can break into a strong man’s house and seize his property without first having constrained the strong man-only so will he plunder his household.15 28 I’m telling you the truth, humanity may be forgiven every sin and every blasphemous utterance-but if anyone speaks blasphemy against the Holy spirit, he never gains forgiveness; no, he’s liable for a sin that lasts forever.”16 30 He said these things because they were claiming that he was possessed by an impure spirit.

31 And his mother and brothers arrived stood outside and sent for him as they called out. 32 And there was a crowd sitting around him, telling him “Look, your mother and brothers are outside looking for you. 33 Then he replied, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” 34 And he looked all around him at them and then said, “Right here are my mother and brothers! Anyone who does God’s will is my brother, my sister, and my mother.”17

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Mark 3 Notes

1 This is another of the periodic summaries of Jesus’ actions and responses to it by the populace. Although the range to which Jesus’ renown has spread has grown considerably, themes already seen recur here: a great throng congregates around Jesus and the pressure of the close-crowded throng seems threatening to him, so much as to need the boat on the lake-shore as a sort of “escape valve”; healings and exorcisms occasion frantic, worshipful acclaim, while demons recognize his Messianic identity and he repeatedly endeavors to silence them.

2 Although “the mountain” bears an article, it is not identified; the evangelist may have intended to indicate simply a place removed from areas of human settlement like “the desert.”

3 The function of the twelve is clearly that of carrying on the role and performing the same actions that Jesus himself has been performing up to this time. “The Twelve” are indicated at several points later in the gospel: Mark 3:14,16; 4:10; 6:7; 9:35; 10:32; 11:11; 14:10, 17, 20, 43. In 6:7 they are sent out on a mission to preach, heal, and exorcise and they are referred to upon their return as “apostles,” (ἀπόστολοι ). While the number twelve is not explained here, it evidently relates to the number of tribes of Israel, and a tradition not used by Mark but found in Mt (19.28) and Lk (22.30) tells of Jesus’ appointing the Twelve to sit upon thrones and judge the 12 tribes of Israel.

4 Only the first four participate as a group in several episodes in Mark’s gospel; already Judas is identified as “the one who betrayed him.” There is some variation in the gospel lists respecting the identity of the others apart from these five. Levi (2:14) is not mentioned here; he is called a son of Alphaeus in 2:14 (cf. the note there), while here we find a “James, son of Alphaeus.”

5 This is another “Marcan Triptych” (cf. note 8 on 2:7 and the panel, Mark 2:1-12 as a Marcan Triptych) Verses 20-21 and 31-35 provide the frame; verses 20-21 set the scene and tell of the arrival of Jesus’ mother and brothers who intend to fetch him home because they think he is insane; verses 31-35 describe Jesus’ response upon being told that his family are seeking him: his authentic family, he says, are those who do the will of God. This frame about his own biographical family’s judgment of his behavior as insane encloses the longer central panel narrating Jesus’ response to the Jerusalem scribes who have claimed he is demonically possessed. Together the frame and the central panel portray vividly a critical juncture in the career of Jesus: representatives of the religious establishment publicly assert that Jesus is the tool of Satan and his own biological family believe he is insane. In response, Jesus must and does claim his own identity and allegiance and now, his new family of “insiders.”

6 i.e. the house of Simon Peter. Yet the phrase εἰς οἶκον, lit. “into a house,” has deeper implications in this story, inasmuch as the word means “household” or “family” as well as residential edifice; this house comes to “house” a “household” in the sense of Jesus’ new family set over against his biological family; its walls mark off the boundary between “insiders” and “outsiders” of whom there will be more talk in chapter 4, and finally, a key parable in the central panel of this story speaks of breaking into a strong man’s house and binding the strong man to plunder his property.

7 As in 2:2 the crowd has entered the house and so filled it that there is no room for movement.

8 Presumably “had heard” refers not only to his present whereabouts but to all that had been reported about Jesus’ doings.

9 Later in verse 31 οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ are more explicitly identified as “his mother and brothers.” While they do not attribute Jesus’ behavior to Satan and demons, they clearly consider it abnormal and find the acclaim he has won embarrassing to themselves. They want to remove him from public view.

10 “who had come from Jerusalem”: Are these the same scribes who have been following and observing Jesus’ behavior since they were first mentioned in 2:6? It appears that the evangelist means us to see the accusation here leveled as a consequence of the conspiracy reported in 3:6.

11 Beelzebul: originally a Philistine deity whose name means “Lord of the Flies,” this name in the NT is consistently an epithet of Satan as the prince of hostile spirits.

12 “Riddling imagery”: Greek ἐν παραβολαῖς, conventionally translated, “in parables.” While the “parable” is conventionally understood as a distinct method of teaching employed by Jesus when he tells a story involving an analogy that somehow illuminates the circumstances or context in which it is used, Mark’s use of the phrase ἐν παραβολαῖς is consistently used in a manner indicating that the images are “riddles”-figurative language that communicates meaning directly to “insiders” who discern at once what is meant but that remains obscure and requires interpretation for “outsiders” who may grasp no more than that the story or image points to a meaning lying elsewhere than on the surface.

13 The political perspective is best made explicit; rebellion of subjects against their king implies serious instability and probable overthrow of the king, a truth applying as clearly to Satan’s realm as to any other.

14 If only the political realm of Satan were involved in the context of Jesus’ statement, this verse might be redundant or superfluous. What must be noted here however is that “household” (a) implies a family such as that of Jesus that splits into groups hostile to each other, and (b) points to a household of those who, although not biologically related, share a common faith and commitment. Jesus thus anticipates the situation and implications of verses 31-35: his own authentic brothers and sisters are those who are gathered “inside” the walls of the “house” with Jesus, while his biological mother and brothers stand “outside” those walls intending to take him forcibly home. Later (9:28-31) Jesus will explicitly refer to leaving behind one’s biological family (oÞk¤a, 9:29) and gain an authentic family

15 This proverbial statement in the present context does clearly suggests that Satan’s chattels are being disturbed because Satan himself has been disabled, but it also seems to point to Jesus as the “strong man” (ἰσχυρός) inside the house whom members of his own family (οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ 3:21) seek to drag away. While it may be a coincidence, John the Baptizer had earlier spoken of Jesus as one who was “stronger” (ἰσχυρότερος, 1:7).

16 While the saying about the “sin against the Holy Spirit” as “a sin that lasts forever” or “a sin that has everlasting consequences” has seemed puzzling to some, the context clearly points to this sin as repudiation of the divine initiative represented by Jesus, repudiation taking the form of rationalizing that disquieting or even threatening divine initiative as being either demonic/Satanic or mentally deranged.

17 Jesus’ statement to the scribes in verses 25 and 27 have illuminated this situation and its implications already (see notes 10 and 11 above).