Mark 1 Mark 12-16
Tax on work is sin.
'Again... the house': Capernaum seems to be Jesus' city of choice. It was the home of Peter, Andrew and others.
In Matthew 11 Jesus seems to condemn the city to hell, but he is only paraphrasing Isaiah 14:13 about the results of pride. The context, when comparing Luke's order of events, is that the seventy disciples were tying to set up the new kingdom around Israel, but Capernaum and a number of other cities rejected them. Had they listened to Jesus they would have compromised with the Romans and the horrors of AD 70 and the later Jewish Revolt could have been avoided. So Jesus' prediction came true: by rejecting his wise advice they plunged the Jewish nation into hell, almost two thousand years of wandering and bloody persecution, ending in the holocaust. Jesus could not have known the details, but he knew that when a nation rejects wisdom it pays a terrible price.
'The word': Greek "logos. " Jesus' purpose was not to heal but to preach logic.
'They come unto him': Jesus did not encourage this, but could not stop them. It was assumed that a wise man was also a healer, and when people left feeling better that just encouraged more. Jesus wanted to preach, not heal (though good economics will heal society as a whole).
'Sins': What sins? A man who is bed bound has few opportunities to hurt people: on the contrary, he has to be especially nice to people so they will help him. But sickness is often seen as the result of moral weakness. So his sins are either from long ago, or (more likely) non-existent. Jesus is using his popularity to tell everyone to consider this man clean.
Physical results are more important than religious words.
'Son of man': The obvious meaning to son of man is mankind's children i.e. ordinary people. In later Christianity this phrase was interpreted as the opposite: as just one supernatural person, Jesus. But Jesus did not read later Christian interpretation, his only references were the Old Testament. Son of man is a very common Old Testament phrase (appearing 107 times) and has its obvious meaning: ordinary people.
'The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins': Sins are offences against people on earth, so can only be forgiven by ordinary people on earth.
"Son of man" is never supernatural
It is sometimes claimed that Daniel 7:13 says "son of man" might be supernatural: Daniel 7:13 says somebody coming in clouds looks like the son of man:
This comes immediately after Daniel describes the bad empires of the world. In other words, after all these bad empires the kingdom of Israel will finally be given to the common man. For more about these clouds see the commentary to Mark 13.
To double check this, in Daniel 8:17 Daniel himself is called "son of man", so "like the son of man" just means "like an ordinary man" as in every other case:
Finally, it is notable that Paul never uses the term "son of man" - to Paul, Jesus was supernatural (see part eight of this book), so there was no place for his "common man" title.
Other uses of "son of man" in Mark:
The word Therefore makes no sense if we imagine that son of man primarily means Christ. But it makes perfect sense as following from the logic that the Sabbath was made for ordinary people.
Ordinary people suffer at the hands of bad religious leaders, but will rise up and win eventually. This is the closest we come to seeing Jesus as a left wing revolutionary: the ordinary man will rise up. Three days is of course symbolic for soon and does not mean three 24 hour periods. Jesus presents himself as the example of the common man (or at least the common man's potential) and so rose up after defeat, but he was not in the grave for three literal days: he was up again after just a day and a half (Friday evening to Sunday morning).
This is another revolutionary message. If you are ashamed of the common man then after the revolution the common man will be ashamed of you.
By this time Jesus has healed many people, and apparently raised a girl from the dead (Mark 5). If son of man simply meant Jesus they would not be confused about what the rising from the dead should mean. But son of man means the ordinary man and so they don't know if Jesus is planning a revolution or if he means himself as a symbol of the common man.
The common man always suffers and is set at naught. This also applies to Judea as a whole, small nation: hence the stone that the builders rejected prophecy.
Jesus' life reflects the history of Judea: the Assyrian captivity, Babylonian captivity, and later the Greek and Roman conquests. The chief priests and scribes (the spiritual leaders in Jerusalem) failed the people. The people were either killed or taken captive by the Gentiles. Jesus will replay this story and show a happy ending: you can't keep the common people down forever.
The context is Jesus talking the people to serve one another and not have elites like Gentiles. The everyone works for the good of all then they all pay the price and all avoid slavery. The price to avoid slavery is a ransom. This is how a healthy economy works, with everyone working for everyone else, and gaining greater rewards as a result. Jesus' life is the ideal economy in one man: he pays the greatest price, is the greatest servant, and thus receives the greatest reward.
We look forward to a better future for the common man. This quotes Daniel 7:13. Daniel uses symbolic language (e.g. he refers to four empires as four great beasts), so the clouds should not be taken too literally. See commentary to Mark 13.
In any economy the common man relies completely on others. This applies more to common people than it does to rich people, as rich people can survive a disaster whereas common people cannot.
As noted, the ordinary people were often betrayed by their leaders and by each other (leading to the Babylonian captivity, etc. ). Prophetic statements often have several fulfillments, and this can also be applied to king David being betrayed by his counselor (see commentary to Mark 14:21)
See above for how the common people are often betrayed. The people had prophets and leaders who should have saved them, but they were asleep:
Thus once again the life of Jesus reflects the history of the common people, and so points to a final happy ending.
Once again we have the very crowded room, and a rare event. In three years of teaching there must have been hundreds of times when sick people did not get up, but those stories are never repeated.
palsy can mean paralytic, suffering from the relaxing of the nerves of one's side, disabled, weak of limb so there are all kinds of possibilities. Occam's razor demands that we take the simplest one: the man had very limited movement, and with the adrenaline of the moment, and the help of his four friends, he was able to walk out of the door. There is no suggestion of a permanent cure.
'At receipt of custom': a tax collector. In the early Roman empire local authorities would bid for the job of raising taxes. The one who bid the highest would pay that fixed amount to Rome, and then trey to gain even more from the population. This of course encouraged the highest possible taxes and made commerce impossibly expensive: it explains why the Roman economy barely grew from year to yea, any excess capital was creamed off for the wealthy and not reinvested. It is an economically illiterate policy that could only survive because other economies were as bad or worse.
'Publicans and sinners': A publican is a tax collector. They were held in contempt.
Jesus said a number of things about taxation:
In this chapter publicans and sinners are grouped together as if they are equivalent. Jesus does nothing to indicate otherwise, so we can conclude that collecting tax (at least in Roman times) was a sin. This follows from the ten commandments: taking something you did not create, against a person's will, is stealing. Jesus agreed with the Ten Commandments: thou shalt not steal (Mark 10:19).
Jesus' most famous statement on tax is:
So Jesus saw tax in terms of property. We should pay something if it is already that person's property. Let us look at that incident in more detail.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem his enemies gathered to trap him. What topic did they choose? What did they know he would have a controversial opinion on? Tax. They asked if it was lawful to pay the annual flat tax to Caesar.
There were two kinds of tax in Rome, just as there are two kinds of tax today: percentage and flat. They differed in several ways:
Flat tax (in contrast)...
Flat taxes are simple, and so they are not taxes at all: they are payments for government services. A person is free to shop elsewhere by moving to a different government. Caesar offered security, roads, access to markets, clean water, etc. ). If a person did not want those services he could just move to the Parthian empire of south to Africa. A Jew of course would not want to leave the promised land, but protection of that land is another service Caesar offers: the previous rulers plainly failed to offer protection at all, letting in first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, the Greeks, and now Rome. But Caesar finally offered security and peace, the Pax Romana. Now he wanted payment for services.
The payment theory only applies to flat taxes, because they are simple. For percentage taxes to be seen as a payment you need to know how much you pay. You need to add up every tax you pay directly, estimate tor future payments (this varies according to income and circumstance), and take into account indirect payments: everything you pay was made by someone who paid tax and passed on the cost to you. Only large businesses can make those calculations and decide where best to locate, because they employ full time accountants. For ordinary people there is no transparency, no clear choice of pay X and get Y.
When asked about the tribute, Jesus observed that tribute money has Caesar's image and inscription, and said "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. " So Jesus supported the ownership theory of tax. He paid Caesar a fixed amount (a certain coin) because Caesar owned the coins and other services of the empire. They were Caesar's property and he quite reasonably demanded payment for these services.
In short, Jesus did not support tax. He supported property and trade.
An alternative view is that Jesus really meant Caesar deserves nothing. Some argue that Jesus pointed out the image and inscription in order to remind people that graven images are wrong, and the inscription claimed that Caesar was God. According to this view, Jesus was asking people to choose between the true God (who owns everything) and a false god (who owns nothing).
The problem with this view is that it ignores the economic advantages offered by Rome. Rome offered security, justice, infrastructure, markets, etc. , and simply asked payment. To refuse to pay, simply because Caesar was of the wrong religion, is to make religion a force for evil, making life worse for everyone just in order to score points. It also seems unlikely that Pilate would say I find no fault in this man after being told that Jesus opposed paying tribute if there was any chance it was true?
The "choose Caesar or God" view is unnecessary. Jesus said to render to both. Yes, God owns everything, but if Caesar makes the world better then Caesar is doing God's work. Just as God used the gentile emperors Nebuchadnezzar (of Babylon) and Cyrus (or Persia):
But didn't Caesar take the title divine? Yes, though only after he died (the coins of Tiberius said he was son of the divine Augustus, not the divine Tiberias). The word for God in the Old Testament (the scriptures Jesus knew) is elohim. Most of the time translators assume it means God in heaven, but sometimes it's obvious that it means other things: god with a lower case g or judge or goddess or great or mighty or angels etc. So the word god also applies to any ruler or messenger who acts like or for God. Augustus acted for God by bringing the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace that saved lives, kept people fed, and allowed ideas to spread.
As for not making any images, that refers to images you might bow down to. Nobody would bow down to a coin, or worship a living emperor. They were not considered gods until they died, and only the living emperor appeared on coins. (Later mad emperors like Nero called themselves living gods, but nobody believed it. )
The temple tax is an interesting case, as it's probably the only time when Jesus used sarcasm.
Jesus came to proclaim the kingdom of God, so God is the king. God is the father of all (e.g. our father in the Lord's Prayer), so the children means everybody. So Jesus said that nobody should pay this tax. Why? It may be because the temple authorities had made the temple a den of thieves - Jesus had nothing but contempt for their stewardship. Or it may be because Jesus realized the world had moved on: the Roman empire meant the nation was not like it was in Moses' iron age times. Jesus could see that the temple would soon be destroyed, and they needed a new covenant.
The decline in the need for a temple tax was apparent in Old Testament times. Moses instituted the payment in Exodus 30:13 as half a shekel. A few hundred years later in Nehemiah 10:32 this had reduced to a third of a shekel. Jesus indicates that with the new kingdom it is not needed at all.
Matthew then concludes:
This is often taken to be a command to Simon Peter. But in go thou to the sea the phrase go now is the Greek "Poreuomai" which is not an active grammatical voice (such as go) and not a passive voice (such as he is going ) but in between, a middle voice that could be one or the other. It is almost as if Jesus is saying someone could go. Then when the King James Bible says thou shalt find the words thou shalt are not in the Greek at all. Finally, there is no evidence that Peter saw it as a command or went looking or such a coin. Compare this to a similar miracle in Mark 11:1-6. There Jesus told his disciples where to find a colt, and we are then told that they did it. It seems likely then that Jesus was suggesting a hypothetical situation, and it was not a command.
Why would Jesus say that? There are two obvious reasons and one that would have been more obvious at the time. First, Jesus opposed taxation. Second, Jesus had contempt for the temple owners at the time. And third, the coin in a fish's mouth story was a well known story at the time, and not to be taken literally.
R. T. France, in Jesus the Radical: A Portrait of the Man They Crucified refers to two similar stories. One is from the Jewish oral tradition, a story of a man who kept the Sabbath so carefully that miracles happened: when a man did not want to pay him money, the man dropped his money, a fish swallowed it, the Sabbath keeping man found the fish, and got the money that way. (See Shabbath 119a in the Talmud, the written version of the older oral tradition).
Although the age of the oral tradition is hard to prove (it was not written down until later) another story is much older: the Greek historian Herodotus tells of Polycrates, a man who always had good luck. His friend said this was dangerous, and that the gods would one day punish him. His friend suggested that he deliberately lose some money, to show some humility. So Polycrates threw his most valuable ring into the sea. It was swallowed by a fish and a fisherman returned it to him, indicating that the gods were pleased.
A similar story also appears in Sanskrit literature. The point is that in fairy stories, the righteous are rewarded through miracles like fish swallowing their money and bringing it back. Except, in both stories, the hero was not really righteous. The Sabbath keeper went to extremes that Jesus felt were a mockery of the Sabbath, and Polycrates got his good luck through killing and stealing. So the stories really reveal the foolishness of their characters: they think that their morally questionable lives are highly righteous, and they think they will be rewarded by miracles. The fish story is thus for the gullible and self righteous.
So when a self righteous temple official asks for tax money, Jesus says no offense intended, but go and get it from a fish. It is a subtle way of saying I am not paying it.
When Jesus was put on trial, the charge he was accused as follows:
Clearly the accusers are confused: Jesus said to render to Caesar and Pilate would hardly say I find no fault in this man (verse 4) if Jesus really opposed Roman tribute. But it shows that the widespread understanding was that Jesus opposed taxes. Jesus seemed happy with that summary of his views. When Pilate asked him what he taught, Jesus replied:
Jesus' attitude to tax can be inferred from his attitude to kingship. At the last supper the disciples asked who is greatest, and Jesus explained:
Benefactor is the Greek "Euergetes" and means a title of honor, conferred on such as had done their country service, and upon princes, equivalent to Soter, Pater Patriae. It comes from "Eu" and "Ergon" meaning to prosper in business (see Strong's concordance). This is the usual justification of taxes: if a king uses taxes wisely, causing a nation to proper, then he deserves to be above others. But Jesus says no. If a man provides a good service then he is a servant. Yes, he deserves money for that, but he not above another person. The whole idea of being above another person is anathema to Jesus. This is why when he was called a king he said that is what you say. He never called himself king. And without kings there can be no tax, only business among equals.
This raises the question of how to lead a nation without a king. Jesus showed how, immediately before giving the no kings teaching: he gave a contract, the new contract (or new covenant, new testament, symbolized by bread and wine). People make contracts. Those contracts can be enforced (see commentary to Mark : Jesus on violence. ) They can be enforced because the person has freely chosen the contract and if he doesn't like the implications he can leave. There is no need for a king to claim any authority, the authority is the contract, agreed by equals and enforced by equals. The democratic ideal is the same, but if we are not very careful democracies create elites and the elites act in their own interest. The solution is to never forget the abstract principles, like no king and no tax and we own what we create.
Now obviously Jesus recognized that kings exist (e.g. Caesar) and he worked with them when they deserved it (e.g. render to Caesar ). But that is not the kingdom of God: in the kingdom of God only God is king, in heaven. God is logic, and heaven is a symbol of what is eternally true. There can be no taxes as you cannot pay money to logic. But we can spend money in a logical way.
We can infer Jesus' views on tax from the Old Testament, as he agreed with the scriptures on everything. But crucially he saw where ideas had to be updated for changing times. For example he did not like stoning adulterers, and felt the temple tax was no longer needed.
The message of the Old Testament is that land rent is the way to finance a nation. But kings managed to interpret that as tax, and eventually taxed the people as much as any other nation, and it was a disaster. It split the kingdom in two, then destroyed it (weakening the economy so much that enemies could invade). Tax is theft, a form of slavery, and naturally led to the theft of the entire nation and literal enslavement of the people. For more detail see the section of this book on the Old Testament.
In short, we can predict that Jesus would embrace the central message (God owns the land) but would be willing to reject the later uninspired additions like tax on work. This was Jesus' message all along, accept the core message and reject the parts that uninspired people added later.
If the nativity story in Luke is genuine, then tax caused great hardship to Mary and Joseph at Jesus' birth. Also, being forced to be at their ancestral village allowed Herod to know where they were, resulting in many babies being killed and Jesus' family having to flee into Egypt. This is not logical proof that Jesus would dislike tax, but it is not a mark in its favor.
It seems then that Jesus was what we would call a Georgist: someone who agreed with Henry George, that taxing work is wrong and instead the community should benefit from rents from land. This was so plain to all Jews that it did not need to be mentioned except in passing once or twice. It was simply the background to everything else. That is why the gospel writers were far more interested in the miracles: Jesus was Georgist, sure, but so was everyone else: that was not news.
'With publicans and sinners': This is a perfect example of why Jesus is better understood as an economist than a religious leader. Jesus did business with everybody. Religion is about in-group and out-group, but economics is about cooperation.
John the Baptist had condemned Herod. The author of Revelation condemned Nero. It is hard to imagine either of them dealing with their enemy. But Jesus taught to love enemies. True, he condemned the hypocrisy of Pharisees, but he would have happily eaten with them. He did business with everybody.
'They that are sick': taxing work harms society: it is a form of sickness. The same is true of all kinds of sin, but the only sin specified here is tax collection. Jesus chose to spend his time with tax collectors, so this sin was his top priority.
Of John and of the Pharisees: Another example of how religion of all kinds is on one side, and Jesus was on the other. Jesus was religious, but was happy to reject religious practices that seemed illogical to him.
'The bridegroom': In the Old Testament, Israel was compared to a bride, and God was the bridegroom. God is logic. There was no logical reason to fast.
Fasting is not commanded in the law of Moses. It may be sometimes useful for health reasons. Itmay also be helpful when food is scarce anyway and you want to get away from the world (as when Jesus fasted in the wilderness before starting his ministry, or when Moses fasted on Sinai - see Exodus 34:28). But most activities require regular food. For example, when Moses and his people beheld God they ate and drank (see Exodus 24:11).
Over the years a tradition arose of fasting at the day of atonement, but originally the command was only to humble yourself and treat the day like a Sabbath (Leviticus 16:29-30). The link between humbling and fasting may be due to Psalm 35:13, I humbled my soul with fasting but being around a charismatic intellect like Jesus was enough to make any thoughtful person feel humble.
'The days will come': Logic was taken away when Jesus left and the church embraced the supernatural. Sure enough, the church embraced asceticism for a time: by the third century it was very popular to fast.
'An old garment': continuing the analogy of the bridegroom and wedding: new clothes, new wine, etc. The symbolism of clothing is from being clothed with righteousness. Fasting was part of the law of Moses: it was logical in the context of 1000 BC, it was righteous clothing then. But circumstances change. It becomes old and less fit for purpose.
'The new piece': The Greek word is for newly woven cloth, before the fuller has dressed it. It will pull and stretch in a different way, and the new stitching will make the hole worse.
'Bottles': wine skins. As with new cloth that stretches differently, new wine expands as it ferments.
'New wine must be put into new bottles': Start again with God (with logic). Do not try merely adapt the old traditions to new problems.
Note that these are economic examples: the value of buying new compared with reusing old.
'Not lawful': this is another example like fasting, where the Pharisees had lost the logic of the original teaching.
Any hierarchy, like that of the Pharisees, needs to control others. So it must discourage people from breaking the rules. So the Pharisees had rigid rules. Jesus points out that the great people bend those rules from time to time. Jesus had more in common with modern skeptics than modern believers, but he was able to challenge false beliefs by simply believers to be consistent.
'Therefore': See commentary to Mark 2:10, on how Jesus teaches through logic, and Mark 12:27, on the subject of false views on life after death: "God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. "
Note the word "therefore": it follows that ordinary people are lords of the Sabbath. To Jesus, the common man is the lord or ruler, and more important than religious traditions. By placing the common man as the highest authority, Jesus is a humanist.
'A withered hand': According to the wider meaning of the Greek word It seems to have been a kind of atrophy, (Pulpit Commentary). The best treatment for muscular atrophy is exercise. Perhaps Jesus also helped the dryness with ointments.
The early gospel of the Nazarenes records the man as saying,
This is an economic problem more than a medical one. The man still has one good hand, and his bad hand can be used for pointing his finger, acting as a foreman. he can still work, but needs to change his work patterns. This is a social problem, not a medical one.
The man was a mason. Jesus was a carpenter, with many friends and admirers, some wealthy. Modern freemasons emphasize how ancient masons and craftsmen helped each other. Even if modern freemasonry is not ancient, the whole point of the Christian community was to heal each other. So they would help this mason to get work if Jesus wanted it.
'On the Sabbath': there was no rule against healiong on te Sabbath. However, there was a rule against working on the Sabbath. The point of this story is that the preacher Jesus declared a man clean for work, and did so on the Sabbath.
'Heal': Greek "Therapeuo" as in the modern word "therapy". It can mean healing, but generally means to help. Occam's razor means we should choose the non-supernatural meaning where possible.
When Jesus allegedly heals somebody his actual words are normally translated be whole. 'Whole' is the Greek word "hugies" or "hygies", as in the modern word "hygienic".
Most Greek New Testament scholars define hygies as healing, but this is circular reasoning. The early church believed that Jesus physically healed people, and so they changed the meaning of hygies to mean healed. But for the original meaning we need to look at the word in secular Greek, before the apostles got hold of it. The online etymological dictionary defines hygies as :
Hygies is personified by the goddess Hygiea, daughter of Asclepius, god of medicine. Asclepius had five daughters:
if Jesus had intended to physically heal somebody he could have any of those other words: he could have told the person to be remedied, or to recuperate, or to heal, or to be healthy. But he did not. He said to be clean.
The injured man was considered ritually unclean for work, so he had to beg. By declaring him clean he could go back to work.
Jesus started this process. In most physical healings somebody else came to him, and Jesus told them not to make it public. But this is something different.
'To do good': The topic is doing good, not healing as such.
'To save life': The man's life (or livelihood) would be saved if he had another job. A bad hand would not kill him, but being unable to work might starve him. This is about work, not healing.
'Stretch forth... stretched out': This is all he needs to work as a foreman: the ability to point. His other hand is still good.
'Restored': Greek "apokathistemi" from apo (again) and kathistemi (set, place, put). His hand was made (ritually) clean again.
'Whole': clean. See commentary to 3:2.
'as the other': this is probably not in the original text.
The key word here is the Sabbath. There is nothing in the law of Moses against healing on the Sabbath. There is however a clear rule against doing work, and that is the rule Jesus appeared to break.
This is further confirmation that the event was about getting a man back to work, not about healing. If this was a supernatural miracle the people would be too scared. Who would dare oppose a man who could make your flesh change before their eyes? He could kill you with a gesture! They would instead have incorporated Jesus into their own teaching, claiming credit: after all, he did it in their synagogue.
But if Jesus instead undermined their authority to decode who can work, they would be angry exactly as the text describes.
'Herodians': followers of Herod.
If Jesus healed the man then it makes no sense to involve a political party. But if Jesus instead has a network of people who help a man economically, it becomes an economic challenge to the established order, and a political party would be very interested indeed.
In page 347 of his book The Search: A Historian's Search for Historical Jesus Dr Ron Charles refers to a document he calls the Xena Reposa Proclamation. It tells the details of the man with the withered hand. It is claimed that 217 masons were persuaded to work on the Sabbath in order to finish the temple in 5 BC. That was officially sanctioned by a priest, and the men later worked on the Sabbath again on the tower of Antonia. This second structure was for the Romans, and that Sabbath breaking was considered blasphemous. As punishment the men had their right hands crushed. One of those men was the man later helped by Jesus. If the story is true it gives added weight to why the Pharisees would be so shocked that Jesus helped the man, and why they then went to the Herodians, as the hand crushing was a political punishment connected with Herod the Great's building program. According to that book the punishment included the men having to beg and not work again. For Jesus to say the man could work again was a provocative act.
Charles' source may not be genuine, but it still illustrates the point that the only way to think about this event is in terms of economics. Having a bad hand only matters because the man cannot earn a living. Doing something on the Sabbath only matters because economic activity was prohibited on the Sabbath by the Pharisees (and to a lesser extent by the law of Moses). Both healing and commandments ultimately matter only because of the need to do work, and that is an economic issue.
'To the sea':
Jesus seems to have planned this: it is the only healing he planned. It seems to be a challenge designed to interest both the religious and political elites. That is a further argument that this is about finding work on the Sabbath, not about healing a man.
' From Jerusalem... and they about Tyre ' This is a huge area, a massive increase in his following. Jesus already had a reputation for healing, but now that his followers are helping people economically as well he is far more popular. he is instituting his new kingdom, as promised:
Jesus' followers do not simply share wealth, they create more wealth than before:
Later we will see that Jesus' economic rules can be summed up as:
Once again the picture is of a very busy area. There is no suggestion that any medical expert follows up any of these people. More important, Jesus himself is making no claims here: people ask him to touch them, so he does, and some of them then say I feel healed. That is not supernatural.
See commentary to Mark 1:23
Jesus does not want this mix of physical and mental healing to be publicized. But later we see that when it is just mental healing he is happy for everyone to know. See also Mark 1:44.
The new numbers following him mean he has to delegate.
'Heal sicknesses': probably not in the original.
Jesus did not heal sickness (at least, not by supernatural means) but he was happy to help those with mental health issues who believed he could calm them.
'Sons of thunder': similar to sons of God. God appeared to Moses as a voice from fire, smoke and cloud, and spirit is Pneuma or breath. So thunder, a noise from the clouds, is a symbol for God, a symbol of nature.
'Bartholomew': a surname, Bar-Tolmai, son of Tolma. other gospels give his first name, Nathanael.
'Satan': the commentary by mark 1:13. Satan is any opposition. Jesus is the opposite of Satan because he works by agreement, not opposition.
(2) logic condemns existing religion
3:23 - logical inconsistency
Note that Jesus bases his claims on logic: he does not say thus saith the Lord he says you are illogical therefore you are wrong. Being logical is his proof of having the spirit of God, and he considers any attack on that spirit to be an unpardonable sin!
Holy ghost: pure ghost, pure spirit, i.e. logic.
Note the context: Jesus is accusing them of being illogical, and that is the worst thing you can say. He then says that every sin and blasphemy will be forgive, but not this, which he calls the sin against the holy ghost (the sin against vital reasoning power)
Logic is eternal, abstract, if an argument is illogical it does not make any more sense a thousand years later. Looking back we can forgive people having false beliefs and doing bad things based on false observations and traditions: they could not know any better. But there is no excuse for being illogical.
I. e. they accused him of being illogical. See commentary to Mark 1:23
Each person is valued by what they do, not by their position. See the discussion of anarchism by Mark 10:42-44.
'Parable': Greek "throwing a comparison or illuminating a comparison", from "para" (comparison) and "bole" meaning throwing, casting, or a ray or beam of light. A parable illuminates a principle that applies to both an ordinary everyday event and also much larger topics. It therefore shows principles that are true everywhere.
All the parables in Mark are principles of intelligent business. That is, how to allocate time, money, etc. in order to survive and grow. They apply to small business, to individual lives, to a kingdom in general, to a church, and of course to the particular case of Jesus and the history of Judaea.
Jesus' message, in a nutshell, is economic efficiency: see the summary by Mark 4:20. Itis a mistake to limit this to some abstract supernatural realm, as the whole point of a parable is that the principles apply everywhere.
Here are the parables in Mark:
This is the bottom line: the more output, the better it is. This is not a message of greed: later parables show that to maximize output we have to avoid concentrations of unearned wealth.
'Unto you is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God': before he began to speak in parables, right at the start: Jesus spoke plainly. His message right at the start (Mark 1:14-15) was the kingdom of God, that the time has now come. What does that mean? All the Old Testament prophets looked forward to a triumphant physical kingdom that all other kingdoms would admire and follow. The mystery, the secret, was that Jesus is talking about economics and politics. But that is not obvious to the masses.
'Unto them that are without': everybody else. If Jesus was simply teaching ethics, he could speak plainly. But he is challenging the economic foundations of the state. he cannot afford to be too plain. But those who want to make real economic change will understand his message.
'Lest': This word does not seem to be in the Greek, but was added because it seemed to fit. Then perhaps the original text meant the opposite: that if they did not understand they can be forgiven.
'Forgiven': Greek "Aphiemi" - sent away or ignored.
'Converted': This word is not in the most reliable manuscripts (according to the Pulpit Commentary).
'The word': Greek logos , logic. The sower sows logic.
'Satan': the opposer. Any opposition of any form.
'Affliction or persecution for the word's sake': this is not limited to religious ideas, it applies to all ideas. Any idea for change will have some pain (affliction) and some opposition from others (persecution). Some people (verse 15) will immediately reject the ideas because of this opposition. Others accept it but then discard it when the opposition grows. Some will reject it even later, and some will stick with it.
'Offended': in the Bible offence means any bad action, not just hurt feelings. Any idea for change will have some costs, some bad actions, some offences as a result.
'Deceitfulness of riches': people think they have earned it all. See commentary to Mark 10:`9-21 (the rich young man)
This is Jesus' first parable, now that he has the whole nation's attention:
People use resources. The example is seed and farming (natural economic resources), but it applies to all concepts in general.
Sometimes it produces results, sometimes not.
Any good idea may be:
The final worth of an idea is its visible, measurable results. This is economics.
There are also measurable inputs: the costs that cause people to consider rejecting the idea. The value of an idea is its measurable output compared to its measurable input. This ratio is called economic efficiency.
This parable is usually applied just to preaching, but it applies to everything that can be measured. And if a thing cannot be measured in any way, even in principle, it is not real.
Thus Jesus' message is economic efficiency in its largest scale. If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.
The topic is the results of the word . It is designed for results. If there are secret teachings, it is for the purpose of one day being highly visible. The Greek is best translated :
This is very true of economic teachings: economists may discuss things in terms that others do not understand, but of they are right it will change the whole economy.
This is the nature of economics. If we understand it we get more wealth. If we do not understand it we lose what we have.
All wealth is partly due to work (the farmer ploughs the field), and partly due to luck (he does not know how seeds work, or exactly which will give the best result). So some of the result belongs to man, and some belongs to God.
One more example of economics as the basis of Jesus' teaching. You have to do the right work at the right time to have what you need.
'Like': The word, logic, is like a very small thing that grows very big. As long as we use logic, we have power to influence the real world on any scale we can imagine.
'Mustard seed': The kingdom of God follows natural laws, like biology.
Again we see that its value is in its measurable results. But it is notable that, as a word, as logic, it is very small. It is not like the usual methods of achieving great things, raising armies or amassing fortunes. It just needs pure thought.
'Many such parables': this concept is so important that Jesus starts with it and repeats in again and again: the kingdom is measured in results and it is a very simple concept: the word, logos, logic.
Perhaps the best known parable is one recorded by Luke, the parable of the talents in Luke 19:
The is an insurrection: they wish to overhtrow the ruler. In other words this is a civil war. In times of civil war treason usually receives the death penalty (see verse 27).
'knewest': Greek "eido" meaning perceived. The servant was wicked, and this was his point of view. This does not imply that the master shared that point of view. Like God, the master simply expects the servant to apply logic. Given what the servant knew he was foolish to expect any other outcome.
I. e. the master was not asking anything difficult: any worker could have done it.
This refers to verse 13, the insurrection, not to the servants who lost money. The bad servant merely lost his money. It was a lot of money, not just a few days' wages. He could have put it in the bank, that was not hard or risky.
In this parable the profitable servants received cities. So in this parable Jesus showed how to deserve land: make the existing master more money. There is no need for an insurrection, you simply show that putting you in charge is more profitable. You are then able to institute better laws and everybody benefits.
Jesus showed this example himself: he was gradually gaining influence in Israel and even with the Romans, by preaching non-violence and more successful way to work.
Note that it was Jesus' idea to cross the lake, and other little ships went too. Jesus was clearly very intelligent, and he was raised in Nazareth, less than 20 miles from the sea of Galilee. When talking of the future he refers to predicting the weather. He has a pretty good idea of what weather to expect for a short journey of his choosing. Clearly the captains of the other boats felt the same way.
So Jesus could sleep easily in the storm because he knew that, on that day, any storm would be very brief. So when the disciples panicked he was disappointed in their lack of faith (their lack of reasoning based on evidence). He knew the storm would be over quickly, so he shouted at the storm to make the disciples feel better, and sure enough the wind gradually ceased, just as it would have done anyway.
Faith: based on evidence. For the miracle to work we must conclude that none of the other boats were sunk either. But of none of them sank, despite the storm that scared the disciples, the storm cannot have been so bad. So why were the disciples scared?
Several of the disciples were fishermen, but they were not rich enough to own their own boats and they were always mending their nets. This suggests that their own equipment was not of the highest quality. The boats they were used to were likely to capsize in bad weather. Others of the disciples were not fishermen, and perhaps it was these who panicked.
What kind of boat did Jesus have? He often preached from a boat by the shore (e.g. Mark 4:1 and 5:21) so he needed something big enough that it would not sway constantly with the waves. Jesus was popular and so could choose the best. This boat one even had a pillow large enough to sleep on (verse 38). Galilee is a very small sea, just a large lake really, and Jesus was in a good boat and knew the patterns of the weather: he knew he was on no danger.
Jesus is very charismatic. So when he shouted and the sea eventually calmed it seems magical to them: they were too awed to consider the more mundane explanation.
See commentary to Mark 1:23
'He would not send them away out of the country': The Gadarene region is Decapolis (see verse 30), the ten cities built by Rome (deca = ten). There is a herd of swine, yet Jews are forbidden to eat swine, so this is further proof of a Roman area. The man calls himself legion after the Roman legions of 6, 000 men. So he sees himself as a Roman and powerful. Why does he not ant to leave the Roman country? He must be afraid of the non-Romans, the Jews. Perhaps in his madness he blasphemed. Perhaps he broke some rule by living among the tombs. He has been chained by the Romans, but probably fears being stoned for blasphemy by the Jews.
This explains why he felt that Jesus could save him. If Jesus declared that the evil had gone out of him, that it was not his fault, then he could safely live a normal life among the Jews. Jesus is his route out of his trapped and desperate state (so trapped and desperate that he resorts to self harm).
This event pretty much explains itself. This man is extremely strong (he breaks his restraints) and absolutely obsessed with Jesus: he is waiting for Jesus to arrive, and has convinced himself that Jesus can save him by force his demons out of him. Remember that this is his own idea. Why choose pigs? They are convenient and ritually unclean, so the Jews would easily buy that evil spirits could enter them. And how did the spirits enter the pigs? The sign of the unclean spirits was that the man acted in a scary fashion. So he presumably ran towards each of the pigs in a terrifying way. No wonder they ran off the cliff! Recall that he had plenty of time with the pigs before Jesus arrived, so would know how to drive them. With the spirits gone and the unclean pigs dead, he could be accepted as clean if Jesus said so.
'Two thousand': That's the kind of unimportant detail that is prone to be exaggeration as a story is told and retold.
The incident cost a lot of money: an entire herd of swine. He is asked to leave for economic reasons. This cannot have pleased Jesus: the economic loss was due to the other mans action, but he was involved so is being blamed.
'Suffered him not': he just got Jesus blamed for losing a lot of money. Jesus cannot be happy with him.
'Tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee': Jesus needs good publicity this is a damage limitation exercise.
Note that whenever a physical illness is cured, Jesus says to tell nobody. But if it's mental illness he is happy for everybody to know.
'Straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up': The bleeding must have stopped many times in that 12 years or else she would be dead, so maybe it did stop this time. But she did not check: she could hardly pull her skirt up in a busy street!
'She felt in her body that she was healed': This was simply a feeling.
'Plague': - Greek "mastix" - a word that only appears six times in the Bible, and two of them are in this story. It means whip or scourge, so may refer to public humiliation, not the physical problem. True, she had seen many doctors, but she had spent all her money: therefore she would see no more doctors after that. How bad was the bleeding? It must be manageable or else she would be dead. After 12 years she must be an expert in using pads to hide it.
So what actually happened here, if we use Occam's razor? She was ritually unclean, and by publicly blessing her, Jesus made her ritually clean. So she is cured because she acted rationally. Faith is belief based on reason, so she was cured because of her faith.
Touching his garment so that power goes out of him: In Matthew and Luke the word translated edge is Greek "kraspedon", meaning 'edge, border, hem' of a garment and can also mean the tassel on the corner of a Jewish cloak. i.e. she may have pulled a tassel - this is not like brushing past someone. He said power is gone out of me - Occam's razor suggests he lost some of his train of thought or his physical momentum (she interrupted his walking). The disciples would not have noticed this small tug because of there being so many people.
She was then sent away, so we can't know if the physical improvement was either real or permanent. But she was now ritually clean and that's what mattered.
'Certain which said': Not Jairus, not even all his servants, but only some of them chose to say this. As the verses go on we see that some of his servants really hate Jesus.
'Dead': By what measure? In modern times we have a very precise definition of death: brain death. Why? Because we know that if someone merely stops breathing or shows no other signs then modern medicine can bring them back. But ancient medicine for most people was terrible. The first sign of death meant there was no hope. They would call somebody dead that we would call still hanging on.
Matthew's version is written after Mark and says the girl is already dead right at the start. So the later the story, the more her sickness is exaggerated. People have a strong desire to believe that Jesus can raise a dead body. So where there is uncertainty there is a great pressure to say yeah, she was dead rather than maybe she was just NEAR death.
To most rulers of synagogues at this point, Jesus was the enemy. These servants clearly do not want Jesus around. This explains why they are so quick to say the girl is dead. Stop bugging us! We do not want you! But this is also why Jesus thinks it is worth the risk: the girl's father was so desperate he was willing to ask Jesus to help. If Jesus can impress the man then other leaders might listen, and his work of building a new kingdom will be that much easier.
Note the link with the previous story of the swine. There Jesus got a bad reputation among the elite (rich swine owners lost their property) and here he tries to get a good reputation among another elite (the rulers of synagogues). Chapter 5 is about his reputation. Itis also about coping with others' agendas. It was the possessed man's idea to drive the pigs into the sea, and it is the servants' idea to keep Jesus away from the sick child. Jesus does not have an easy job!
'As soon as Jesus heard the word': Jesus did not waste a second. If he could really raise the dead he would not have to hurry. But all he had was one report that she was dead, and it is likely to be an exaggeration: so she is simply near death, and Jesus can prevent the death if he hurries.
'Only believe': pistis or be persuaded by the evidence - see commentary to 1:15. The evidence is that Jesus had apparently performed miracles: that is why the ruler of the synagogue came to Jesus. Jesus came to:
All the evidence was that Jesus could do that, either by miraculous means or by charismatic and comforting teaching.
Peter seems to be the strongest personality in the twelve. Of the others, James and John were less interested in miracles, so would be less disappointed if the healing failed. Their gospels are notable for being different from the others in the New Testament: James emphasizes natural aspects of the message, in contrast to Paul's emphasis on the supernatural. James taught of the importance of good works (not grace), and John was more impressed with the teaching than with the miracles.
At this point Jesus has not promised anything. But he has had at least three contacts (the initial one, then the servant, now he assess the house). Jesus would have assessed what he could deduce about the illness. We do not know what he was told, but it was enough for him to think it was worth coming. And this was a leader of the Jews, an opportunity to influence people with power, so it's worth the risk.
' sleeps ' - a reference to scriptures like:
This would give Jesus an opportunity to talk about life after death. If he fails to heal her. Or possibly he already knows she is not dead.
Matthew 9:23 says that Jesus had to walk past minstrels: the professional mourners brought in when somebody dies. No doubt they were hired by the servants, as the master had called Jesus so did not consider her dead yet. But the servants considered Jesus an enemy. As far as they were concerned the girl was beyond hope and it was very bad taste for the hated Jesus to try to take advantage of their master at this time of tragedy. So bringing in the noisy mourners is a signal for Jesus to turn back: he is not wanted, it is too late, he should go away.
'Laughed him to scorn': the servants really hate Jesus.
This is further evidence that they are premature about the and when Jesus tries to preach they mock him. This is not about the girl being dead, it's about Jairus' household hating Jesus.
'Talitha cumi': why are these words left un-translated? Was this some pre-arranged code? Or is Jesus just being very familiar? The Aramaic literally means “Little lamb, arise!” Jesus called himself the shepherd (6:39). This suggests that the girl was already a follower. We know that Jesus was very popular with women (Mary Magdalene, Martha, the women at the tomb, etc. ). The daughter of a leader of the Jews was a follower of Jesus? Perhaps she was exaggerating her illness specifically to see Jesus. That would explain her sudden and miraculous recovery.
'Twelve years': This is the age of bar mitzvah for girls. This is her coming of age, a daughter of one of the rulers of the synagogue. The simultaneous story is of the women with the issue of blood who was ritually unclean for twelve years. Twelve years again: coincidence? As with “Talitha cumi” and the difference between the gospel accounts, all we can say for sure is that this story is not what it seems.
'No man should know it': More evidence that this is not what it seems. Or it may be just because Jesus does not want a queue of people with physical illnesses. Yet for mental issues he happily casts out demons all day in public the synagogues, and tells his patient to tell everybody else. Jesus is charismatic: he can make a big difference to people with mental health issues. But physical illness is a completely different story.
'Wisdom causes mighty works': or literally, wisdom causes dynamism: see commentary by Mark 9:39
'Carpenter': Some commentators point to Psalms, where God is called the creator in a sense that is similar to carpenter, but that interpretation contradicts the sense of the verse, where carpenter's son is a negative. Other commentators suggest that carpenter's son was a generic term and did not mean literal carpenter: but Occam's razor prefers the simple explanation.
According to St. Chrysostom, Jesus the carpenter made ploughs and yokes for oxen. He often drew his examples from these things:
If Jesus had experience with ploughs then (along with his experience in prosperous Galilee, near the trading ports of Tyre and Sidon) this helps explain his interest in how a kingdom should run:
His life was a lesson in economics at its purest.
This is an argument against Jesus being supernatural. The people who knew him best said he was not. Ironically this is a good thing: Jesus did not come seeking honor, he said blessed are the meek and taught his disciples not to have one person above another.
'No mighty work': note that some healings are not considered miracles. What kind of healings could they be then? Probably like when a modern faith healer lays their hands on someone with a cough or a bad stomach: the person says they feel better but it's all very underwhelming.
See commentary to Mark 1:23
Note that he does not give them power to cure physical sickness, which he surely would if he had supernatural power. Later gospels (e.g. Matthew) add that, but it was not in the earliest accounts. Jesus was interested in mental health, not in healing physical illness.
'No scrip': no wallet for food.
Jesus sent them out to see who followed Jesus' words (verse 11). They are not sent out to gain new converts: if they did this they would soon run out of food. They are sent to judge people by how hospitable people are to strangers (verses 10-11). That is the test of whether the people have accepted Jesus' message: do they help the poor?
The disciples' role does not change until Jesus leaves. In Luke 22, when Jesus knows he will no longer be there to do the converting, he tells the disciples to then start using a purse and bag. Until then their role seems to be to assess more than to teach. Which is a good thing, as the disciples often misunderstand Jesus (see part nine of this book).
Jesus opposed rule by authority (see Mark 10:44). So how did he spread his word? He didn't need to: it spread on its own, by word of mouth. Jesus understood social networking, thousands of years before the Internet.
Wherever Jesus went, thousands of people would follow, and they would run from village to village to tell others. In modern language, his message went viral. Viral messages spread far more quickly than top-down, authority based messages. Everything about the message of Jesus was anti-authority.
In the earliest gospel, Mark, there is no reference to sending out missionaries. The original Mark ended with Mark 16:8. The command to go into all the world and preach the gospel is in the last verses of Mark, and were added later (see part seven of this book).
Later gospels, and especially the letters of Paul (a natural missionary) were devoted to going out and persuading people to believe. But Jesus did not need to do that. His message was enough on its own. The people would spread it. This explains why Jesus never wrote any letters to explain or persuade. His message (cooperation, not force) was easy to understand and accept. It would spread naturally.
The disciples, however, wanted authority. They argued over who was more important (see Mark 9:34), and Jesus had to tell them not to think that way. Then they saw some other follower of Jesus they rebuked him because only they had authority. But again Jesus had to tell them not to think that way (see Mark 9:38-39).
When Jesus left the disciples in Luke 22:36 he said to use a purse and scrip, and also buy a sword.
Previously Jesus taught to turn the other cheek, so did he really reverse his teaching at the last moment? For more about swords, we read later in the same chapter:
Matthew does not mention the buy a sword line but does add this:
If Jesus meant them to use swords, why were two swords enough for 12 men? Why did Jesus oppose cutting off the man's ear? Why did he then condemn the use of all swords? As usual the answer is in economics and in the Greek words.
'Sword': Greek "machaira", in Strong's concordance a large knife, used for killing animals and cutting up flesh. But it could have been any size.
Some of the disciples had been fishermen, and would use knives to slice ropes and gut fish: possibly even large knives for large ropes and large fish. They also had a food bag for their lunch. As preachers who walked in the dry heat, they didn't need a bag (they depended on good will) and they did not need their tools. But they did need a garment to keep cool on the dusty roads. Now that Jesus could no longer guarantee their living they needed to earn money again. They needed a purse, a food bag (scrip), and if they had no knife then to sell their garment (their cloak or tunic, no longer needed) to buy one. Fishermen often got wet, so did not need an upper garment: all the paintings show the with bare upper bodies.
The disciples now have to earn a living again. But they don't need too many knives - two was enough for the twelve men. And they were certainly not supposed to use them against people: he who lives by the sword will die by the sword.
As for healing the ear, the servant was hardly going to stand still while Peter tried a clean cut, so the ear probably just had a lump cut out of it. If the knife was small most of the ear was probably still intact. Jesus did not pick up the missing part, so touching it probably meant he applied pressure in the right way to stop the bleeding, perhaps pushing back any hanging flap of skin, so that healing could begin.
'Shake off the dust': not have any dealing at all with that city. If you displease a visitor (or customer) they do not come back. They do not deal in any way. They do not help or trade.
'Tolerable': the Greek word 'Anektoteros' meaning 'bearable. ' From 'Anechomai' meaning to 'support or hold up. ' E. g. if a city continues to be inhospitable to strangers then the city will eventually become economically weak because nobody wants to trade there.
'For Sodom and Gomorrha': These were successful trading cities, and then ended in a memorable way. It is worse to simply decline and be forgotten.
'Day of judgment': the day (any day) when someone judges the city.
Despite not being given the power, they could not resist healing anyway. But note the method: anointing with oil. The text does not say that Jesus told them to. This is their own idea.
Oil makes a mundane event seem special. You don't need to anoint with oil if you have the power to really heal: you just do it. The use of oil compensates for the lack of drama: it turns a non-event into an event. We see this all the time in some modern churches: somebody feels unwell, you anoint them with oil, and the next day they often feel better. They usually feel better in a day or so anyway, but with the ritual it feels more significant.
Why was Herod so sensitive? For economic reasons. Josephus gives the details.
Herod's lawful wife discovered Herod's secret plan to marry Herodias. She went to the castle Macherus, on the border with Arabia, and told her father of the plot. Her father was Aretas, king of Arabia, and already had a quarrel with Herod over who owned what land. They went to war. Some of Herod's men defected to Aretas, and Aretas won. Herod complained to the Roman emperor Tiberius. Tiberius told another king (Vitellius of Syria) to make war on Aretas and either bring him to Rome in chains or bring his head.
At this point John the Baptist complained about Herod marrying Herodias. John had a great many followers, and Herod was afraid they might join the war against him. So he had John sent to the castle at Macherus. (See Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, book 18, 5:1-2. )
So the significance of Herod's marriage was that he broke the alliance with Aretas, and that allowed an old border dispute to erupt into war. John the Baptist was imprisoned and killed because he put himself on the wrong side of a border dispute. It's about land.
Notice that Jesus' approach was different, and pointed to a better economic outcome. Whereas John condemned individuals, Jesus only condemned principles or groups that could easily change (he condemned Pharisees, but Pharisees could easily become members of another Jewish group, he was not asking them to sacrifice their Jewish faith). Jesus must have known about Herod's land dispute and divorce, but said nothing. Jesus always offered win-win solutions: e.g. when faced with the question of taxes or the woman taken in adultery.
Jesus promised that everybody who followed him would receive one hundred times what they had before (Mark 10:29-30). This would even be true of Herod: consider the long term wealth from an efficient economy with substantial annual growth, compared with an essentially iron age economy with zero growth. Compound growth means the economy would double in size every few years. Herod would be far wealthier than before, and more secure in his position. Meanwhile, the economy would reward merit more than position, so the wealth of the poor would increase more rapidly. Eventually wealth would be roughly equal, and everyone wins. As for the price for Herod, not divorcing his wife, this would be a small price to pay for such huge rewards.
In short, Jesus' method was economically superior to John's.
Herodias asked for his head just as Tiberias had asked for Aretas' head. See commentary to 6:18. Herod and Herodias were right to be afraid of anyone who might politically support Aretas:
'Apostles': Greek for "sent out" (compare apostasy for going out of a group). This is the only place where Mark calls them apostles. It is not a title, just a reference to the fact that Jesus asked them to go and see who was receptive to his teaching. And now they have come back.
'What they had taught': frustratingly we are not told what this is. The gospel writers seem much more interested in apparent miracles and entertaining stories (such as of Salome and Herod) than in what Jesus actually taught.
A common theme: it's hard work and they want to get away.
'Outwent them': the people ran faster than the boat. Considering the most likely start and end point (taking into account the other gospel writers) it was probably around twenty miles. But people were joining at every village, and the boat may not have moved very quickly.
'Many things': Again we are not told what they are.
'Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread': A penny (Roman denarius) was a days wages for a typical laborer, so this was a lot of money. Later a wealthy female follower uses 300 pennies' worth of oil on Jesus. Wealthy female followers were their main source of funds:
In Roman times it was normal for rich people to surround themselves with poorer friends who received money each day. Favored friends would do the rounds of their richer friends' houses each morning, and there was no shame in it. Inequality was so huge that the rich could afford it and it was how they displayed their wealth. It is also why democracy was so poor: everybody would vote for whoever gave the most money. (See the History of Rome Podcast for a good summary. )
Remember the context:
1. They had enough money to buy bread. They ask if they should leave to buy it.
2. They find out how much they have: the twelve of them have five loaves and two fishes between them.
3. It is therefore likely that the other people had similar numbers: five loaves per two people. But some would have more and some would have none. John adds this detail:
Jesus could have simply bought up all the spare loaves and distributed them, but he had a better plan.
If 12 random people had 5 loaves then 50 random people probably had around 20 loaves on average. But they were not shared out.
'All': all the twelve, the subject of the sentence. Jesus shared their food among the twelve, so the others in groups of fifty could see the example to follow.
'The loaves': Greek "artos": bread in general, not necessarily the five loaves the disciples ate.
Notice that they had at least twelve empty baskets. Why were the people carrying empty baskets? Many of the people were shepherds, farmers or fishermen, so would naturally carry food for a day outside at work. This could be the scrip (food bag for one person) or in this case a basket. Some of these people had traveled twenty miles, following Jesus' boat around the coast, picking up others along the way. They knew this was going to be a long day, so they would have grabbed food. Some bought whole baskets full.
Other people had been following Jesus for weeks, so they would also be carrying food. But some of the people who ran to follow the boat would have had nothing. So Jesus showed the example of sharing. Nowhere does it say that feeding the people was supernatural (the word miracle in Mark 6:52 is not in the original text)
Feeding the five thousand may appear to be a tax - redistributing from those who create wealth to those who do not. True, it has the same benefit: the law of God makes sure everybody is well fed... but look closer. This is a two way exchange: both sides give and both sides receive, but with something more valuable than coins.
Each giver of food receives more value in return: more teaching (what they came for) and insurance in case next time it is they who are hungry. The receiver of food does not get a free gift: they are expected to become a follower of Christ (i.e. keep the rules of the community) in return. The food itself is a trivial cost compared with the benefits of this transaction. This only works because the people have a social contract to follow Jesus, so the can expect teaching and help in return. It shows how following Jesus gives economic advantage.
This is the only miracle that is recorded in all four gospels. The event is repeated later with four thousand people, and Jesus also refers to it at other times. So it must be important. It shows how everyone can have enough to eat. Sharing like this, in such a way that both sides benefit, is central to Jesus' message.
On first glance, this seems to be contradicted by the King James translation of John's account:
This might be taken to mean that only one boy had food among all the five thousand. But that is not what it says. The lad was here - Greek "hode". John later uses the same word for when Jesus tells doubting Thomas to reach his hands here meaning very close to his body, and not a few feet away. The lad was close by. So they know that, even among the small sample of people close by they have five loaves. Andrew then scales up to the five thousand: What are they among so many? What is Greek "tis", a general purpose query, meaning what, who, why, which, etc. You can imagine Andrew looking over the crowd, wondering how many loaves there must be among so many people. Probably hundreds at least.
Another unfortunate translation is the King James phrase and the disciples to them that were set down. The Greek merely says disciples down and the word down is the Greek "Anakeimai" meaning "to lie at a table, eat together, dine". In other words, the disciples did not get up and take the bread to others, they sat down and ate.
So all the accounts agree: a small group had five loaves and hey shared. Jesus then divided everyone into small groups, and they will have followed Jesus example and shared their food as well. This is not a miracle, except in the sense that if we share then we all have enough.
'When even was come': The timing is important here. Verse 35: when the day was far spent they were still on the shore, and spent time feeding five thousand people. Now when even was come - some time between 6pm and 9pm, the ship was in the middle of the sea. So it did not take long to reach the middle. The sea of Galilee is only six miles wide at its widest point, so they only had to average one mile per hour. They probably rowed at nearly twice that speed before the storm began, so would be approaching the other side.
'Toiling': the Greek word is stronger, meaning "they were tormented, utterly exhausted" after rowing against a storm when normal people were sleep in their beds, soaked to the skin, their muscles in agony, in the pitch darkness and rain and waves for over six hours
'The fourth watch': Around 3 am. The ship left very late, but some time between 6pm and 9pm it was already in the middle of the sea. So it should have reached the other side long before 3 am. But the wind was against them.
'Upon': The Greek word is "epi", a very generic word and can mean upon, on, at, by, before, to etc. as in the modern words "episode" or "epilog". So the most likely meaning is that Jesus walked 'by' the sea.
'Would have passed them by': Jesus was following the coastal path and would have carried on past them. This was 3am, and a storm implies thick cloud, so it would be pitch black. The disciples were so exhausted from rowing the disciples did not know they were mere feet from the land.
They were astonished to see Jesus, they thought he was praying, miles away. And because it was dark they could not see the land, they must have thought he was walking on the water!
This is Jesus' central teaching again: the leader should follow and care. The disciples were working hard at their tasks, and were in trouble, so Jesus follows them, because he cares. The net result is that everyone benefits: everyday mundane work in the kingdom runs more efficiently.
The version of the story in the gospel of John confirms that they were actually right next to the land: Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went. (John 6:21)
'Miracle': the word is not in the Greek text, but some translators added it because it appears in later descriptions of the loaves and fishes. See commentary by Mark 9:39.
As noted earlier, Jesus could have healed a great many people without needing any supernatural powers. The claim that every person was healed is clearly hyperbole (remember that this was written down decides after the events described). When we look closely we see that Jesus avoided physical healing as far as possible, and sometimes it took him more than one attempt (e.g. Mark 8:23-25). But when people are desperate to be healed they only remember the stories they want to remember.
Mark chapter 7 consists of two events that tell the same story: family comes before religion.
Verses 1-5 refer to the marketplace. The religious people of the day considered the market to be unclean: they looked down on commerce. But Jesus was a practical man, as when he said the common man, "son of man", is lord of the Sabbath. His parables were about commerce and showing results.
Saying the goods are devoted to God so cannot be used for mundane needs
Care for parents is a primary economic obligation (the fifth of the ten commandments). Practical economic obligation comes before temple obligations. Note the implication for tax: the one tax that Moses levied, the one not based on land, was a single coin for the upkeep of the temple. But here Jesus says that supporting parents (one of the ten commandments) is more important than supporting the temple.
Jesus' teaching is based on reason. He exposes weaknesses in the Pharisees' logic. he does not say "thus saith God" he says "compare your teaching A to the Biblical teaching B" and asks simple questions.
Why go on at such length? He calls everybody back to hear his message, and then wants to get away from Judaea (verses 24-25 and commentary).
Matthew 15:15 says Peter asked: Mark got his information from Peter (and also from his own experience as one of the seventy disciples Jesus chose) -see part nine of this book.
Once again Jesus uses logic: the people are condemned not for having the wrong beliefs, but for being inconsistent. Verses 1-23 indicate that they do not follow their own scriptures.
'Tyre and Sidon': Phoenicia, a country known for its cosmopolitan lifestyle and its love of dogs. (Dog symbolism will be important to this story. ) At the Phoenician site Ashkelon archeologists found a dog cemetery containing at least 700 dogs (some reports say 1500) all carefully laid in the same pose, perhaps associated with Phoenician gods. The Phoenicians bred and exported dog breeds like the Basenji, Ibizan Hound, Pharaoh Hound, Cirneco dell'Etna, Cretan Hound, Canary Islands Hound, and Portuguese Podengo. Today the national dog of Israel is the Canaan dog (Phoenicians could also be called Caananites). Some say the seafaring Phoenicians worshipped the dog star (Sirius, in Canis major, the brightest star in the sky). Possibly this is even the Kiyunn or Chiun worshipped in Amos 5:26. If so then it is doubly interesting that many scholars identify the star of Chiun as the star of David. The point of all this is that to a Phoenician, dog was not an insult. Jesus was raised in Galilee, near Phoenicia, so would know this.
'Would have no man know it: but he could not be hid': this brings to mind his famous statement where he compared himself to a fox (a member of the dog family):
'Young daughter had an unclean spirit': in modern times when this happens it nearly always means the child is just badly behaved, but the parents are very religious and interpret it as a bad spirit. This comes right after the put your family first teaching and illustrates the same point. It is about a woman who neglects her family in the name of religion.
'[Jesus wanted nobody to find him] but he could not be hid. For a certain woman... a Greek, a Syrophenician': She tracked him down. A Greek living in Syro-Phoenicia (s tiny trading nation) suggests a middle class woman, a rarity at the time. This is a familiar person today, the middle class mother who will make huge efforts to help her children, even tracking down a foreign miracle worker who's trying to hide.
'Besought': She was a foreigner who made a great effort to find Jesus, who was trying to hide. Matthew 15 gives more detail. She:
'he answered her not a word': he does not see things as she. One popular explanation is that Jesus considered her beneath him, though that contradicts everything we know about Jesus (see below). A more likely explanation is to see other times when he kept silent: in every case he had a better answer than the one the questioner wanted. In this case the answer is obvious: a daughter with bad ideas (an unclean spirit) needs her mother to listen to her. The mother should not hunting down a foreign exorcist.
Matthew 15 continues:
The word translated as "worshipped" is "Proskuneo", to "kiss in the way that dogs lick each other": it is literally "pros-kuon", "to the dogs" - "Kuon" is the Greek root for canine.
The woman is showing great love and affection to Jesus, while at the same time condemning her own daughter as having an evil spirit. This is just like the Pharisees we just read about in this same chapter (Mark 7), praising God while letting their family go hungry. This is the real problem. The woman is following her religious hobby, while neglecting her child.
'Let the children first be filled': Most commentators assume that children means the children of Israel. However, the context is the woman's problem, and her child. So children means her children: Jesus is suggesting priorities. What kind of mother accuses her daughter of having a devil, and leaves to find a charismatic religious leader and pour out her love to him?
'Take the children's bread and to cast it to the dogs': Bread is usually taken as meaning Jesus' teaching, but if the mother is the subject then it is the mother's teaching. Bread can also mean food, or material resources in general. The woman is wasting her love on "dogs" instead of caring for her child.
This is good economics. Economics deals with the allocation of resources, and involves contracts. This leads to the conclusion that family needs (not family wants, family needs) come first. We must ensure our family has first claim on our resources. This is die to an implied contract: parents create children so are responsible for them, and children receive desired services from parents so have an implied obligation to pay them back. This economics is reflected in the ten commandments: honor parents and do not commit adultery (i.e. honor contract to spouse and children).
'dogs': Little dog, or puppy.
Is "little dog" an insult? No: Jesus there are no low status people: Jesus teaches us not to judge, he tells leaders to be servants, and says people should love enemies. Regarding prejudice against Samaritans his "good Samaritan" parable made the Samaritan the hero. To Jesus there is no lower class.
So what did he mean by "little dog"? The Phoenicians were famous for loving their dogs, so a dog would represents a priority that is part of the family but not as important as the family. Jesus had compared himself to a little dog (a fox). The woman treated Jesus like a little dog, licking his hand. She spent time and affection on him, instead of caring for her daughter, just as some people care for their hobbies, religion or pets more than their family. So Jesus was calling himself a little dog. This is not the first time Jesus compared himself to a low status animal: he is "the lamb of God".
The disciples probably took "little dog" as an insult to the foreigner. They were obsessed with hierarchies, with one person being better than another. They could not understand that Jesus dealt with principles, not prejudice. To Jesus everyone is equal and there are principles that allow right decisions. To the disciples the Phoenician woman was a dog, inferior, and so should be driven away. But the higher principle in Mark chapter 7 is the duty to parents and children. In the case of the Phoenician woman Jesus was neither parent nor child, so had the role of dog.
Note how this incident follows from the rest of the chapter: after telling the Pharisees to spend more on their parents and less on the church he is including himself in the equation: spend more on your family and less on Jesus.
Jesus is the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (see John 10): he uses the imagery of a man loving animals. Jesus began his ministry among wild beasts (Mark 1:13), but how far can we take his love of animals? After all, Jesus once ate fish. But that was necessary for social reasons. As we see in Mark 7, Jesus places duty to family before duty to religion and animals, but that does not mean he wants to ignore animals any more than he wants the Pharisees to ignore religion. Duty is merely a question of priorities when resources are scarce.
If Jesus spent his early years in Egypt as Matthew said, then he would have learned more affection for dogs as religious icons (e.g. Anubis) as well as perhaps learning medical skills and other mysteries. If Jesus survived the crucifixion (see part seven of this book) then the best candidates for his new identity are either Apollonius, Yuz Asaf or Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. They were all known for their love of animals, and were probably vegetarians.
Matthew adds this detail to the account of the Samaritan woman:
Jesus says his only reason for being there is to speak to the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus then speaks to her. In other words, the woman is one of the lost sheep. This disproves the idea that "dog" was an insult to the woman: she was exactly the kind of person Jesus was sent to see. Some readers think the woman persuaded Jesus to change his mind, but Matthew indicates that Jesus told his disciples this was his purpose all along.
How could a Phoenician be of the lost sheep? In John 1 Jesus says he has other sheep that are not of this fold so his definition of sheep is a broad one. There was some mixing between the Phoenicians (Canaanites) and Israelites: for example the whole region of Galilee was given to the Phoenician king by Solomon. Before that, some scholars argue that the Jews were mostly Canaanites originally. The fact that the woman sought out Jesus suggests she perhaps had Jewish links in her culture or ancestry. Even if there was no genetic link, the woman was a lost sheep of Israel in the sense that Israel is anybody who wants to follow God: as John the Baptist said,
The woman now understands. Dogs under the table (pet projects, pet interests like popular foreign preachers, below the level of importance of her family) only deserve the crumbs: her children (specifically her badly behaved daughter) deserve most of her attention.
Matthew then says that the woman's faith saved her daughter. Faith (Greek "pistis") is a belief based on evidence or logic. The woman now realized that she had to put more effort to her children. This her faith, her new reasoned belief, saved her daughter.
The devil is Satan, a word meaning opposition: the opposition the girl felt was from her own mother.
See commentary to Mark 1:23 and the verses leading up to this. It is not unknown for superstitious mothers to see normal teenage behavior as evidence of an evil spirit. Jesus changed her attitude, and she saw her daughter in a different light. Child behavior specialists sometimes conclude that the parent is the one who really needs help, and may solve a child behavior problem without ever meeting the child.
'He sighed': Literally he groaned. Jesus is tired of this. he does not have magical powers, he does not want superstitious people seeking him out for miracles, he just wants to teach. He just tried to get away for a while to think and still they seek him out. See commentary to verses 24, 25, 31, 36.
Here we see how the stories were quickly exaggerated by well-meaning followers. The man was not dumb: he could speak, but with an impediment. People with a speech impediment can often speak normally with great effort, especially when calm and confident. So it is no surprise that with Jesus' encouragement the man was able to speak more clearly. But then people started saying that Jesus had healed a man who was dumb - that is, he could not speak at all! As for the deafness, there are many degrees of deafness, and it is not clear how much difference Jesus actually made: the emphasis is on the voice, not the hearing.
Again we see Jesus does not want people to talk about the physical healings: if people want him to heal then he much prefers to deal with mental health issues.
'Nothing': A poor translation of the Greek "Tis" meaning "who", "which", "what". Jesus did not say they had nothing to eat, he merely questions about eating. That is, it is time to eat. No doubt they nibbled at food before, or ate at night, but for some the food has run out. So it is time for a formal break, so everyone can eat. So for once there is no preaching, no casting out devils, no activity by the twelve, and everyone is organized with the purpose of food.
'Before the people': as an example to the people. See commentary to Mark 6:38-44.
This seems to follow the same principle as the feeding of five thousand earlier (Mark 6:37-44). Jesus shares with his disciples, showing the example of how every group should share. While some people would have run out of food after three days, others would have more experience of following Jesus and would be more prepared with more food.
Sharing is central to Jesus' economic message: rational sharing is a form of trade that benefits both sides. See commentary to Mark 6:44. The ability to feed the masses is crucial to Jesus' promise of a better kingdom.
Jesus is organizing a large scale nation wide movement. We should not think of him as in some remote backwater: Galilee was the largest of the three divisions of Israel in Roman times (the other two were Judea and Samaria). It was a prosperous trading region, with a freshwater sea (the most prized resource in a desert region), at the crossroads of the fertile crescent and next to Phoenician ports. However, he never made trouble for the authorities so didn't attract their attention. The Christians only became interesting to historians when they started to ignore Jesus' teachings and speak against Rome.
At this point it may help to imagine a map of the sea (technically the lake) of Galilee, roughly in the shape of a circle:
Where is the desert where they fed 5, 000? It was within a night's walk from Bethesda (the whole point of the "walking by the water" miracle). Satellite imagery suggests the north west is the obvious candidate. Then Jesus fed 4, 000 on the opposite side. We are told that people came from all the "cities" round about, and not just the villages, so that would include Bethesda. So wherever they go around Galilee they will find people who were fed at one or other of the events: everybody has seen a sign of his organizing abilities.
'Sighed': see also Mark 7:34. Their lack of understanding made Jesus sigh or groan with frustration. Jesus did not perform "signs from heaven" - he was not supernatural.
Jesus said this immediately after feeding the four thousand. If that had been supernatural then the Pharisees would not have asked for a sign: there would be four thousand witnesses that a sign from heaven just happened! We know that the Pharisees dared not go against what the people believed because they would not condemn John the Baptist for that reason. So the feeding of four thousand was not supernatural, and it appears that nothing Jesus does is: he says he will not give any sign to this generation. In Matthew 12 he says the same, then adds that there will be the sign of Jonah:
That is, Jesus would seem to be dead for three days, but as we shall see, that is not supernatural either.
'Leaven': sour dough with yeast, ready to make bread rise.
Matthew 16:12 says the leaven is bad doctrine. Matthew changes Mark's account to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. " and then explains it as meaning:
But Mark is the earlier version and is not talking about the Pharisees and Sadducees, Mark talks of the Pharisees and Herod. Herod does not teach doctrine. (However, all doctrine in ultimately economic, so the political Herodians are relevant: see the commentary to 3:6, concerning Herodians)
So what is leaven? Luke 12:1 says the leaven is hypocrisy. Yet Matthew 13:33 says the kingdom of God is like leaven. What's going on here? To further complicate matters, bread in the temple had to be unleavened... with exceptions at Pentecost and Thanksgiving. The answer is in the most famous use of leaven, the feast of unleavened bread, celebrating the escape from Egypt, when the people had to gather food and leave so quickly that there was not enough time to let bread rise. The scholar Yoel Bin Nun explains it best: with leaven you can be complete and fully formed. It's the secret ingredient that makes you whole. The kingdom of God makes everyone whole. In the temple you are humble before God, but a couple of times you look forward to when you will be whole.
The leaven that connected the Pharisees and Herod, the thing that made them powerful, was their claim to rule over the land.
Their leaven, their claim over the land, was false. Only God (logic) owns the land, because it is his work. People either derive land ownership from logic (God) or they have no right to it. See logic and economics at the end of this book.
The reason, and they are not stupid where bread is concerned, so their reasoning is probably good. Presumably they think “we have no brad, therefore we must buy bread, but Jesus is saying do not buy bread from the chief priests (that would be holy, Old Testament Shewbread) or from any market run by the authorities (as they cannot be trusted. )
'Heart': in Bible times the hearts was considered the center of the person, and was more likely to symbolize thinking rather than feeling. (The ancient Egyptians threw away the brain when they mummified people, it did not seem important. ) So to harden the heart does not mean cruelty, it means the person does not understand. It's about logic, not love.
This explains why in Exodus “God hardened Pharaoh's heart”: Pharaoh's view of logic (i.e. of God) hardened his thinking.
'Perceive ye not yet': Jesus had solved their economic problems. By feeding nine thousand people from both sides of Galilee he ensured that wherever they go, especially Bethesda, they will find people willing to help them. That is economically more efficient than wasting time running back and forth to the market.
Why did Jesus make such a big deal out of this? If he was talking about anything other than bread the doctrine of Herod would Jesus suddenly talk about the Pharisees and Herod? The context is that the disciples have just forgotten bread. So that is probably the context. Further evidence for this is that Jesus expected the disciples to remember the feeding the five thousand. He makes a big deal of this. Why would he do this if he was I fact talking about doctrine? Jesus goes beyond merely correcting the disciples for worrying about food, he talks as if he expects them to follow his thought processes.
'Led him out of the town': as in Mark 7:33. Jesus prefers to attempt physical healing in private, presumably in case it does not work. This one took two attempts before the man felt obliged to say yes it worked.
Contrast his public removal of evil spirits: Jesus prefers to deal with mental health issues.
Jesus takes the blind man away from other people: he does not like people to see his physical healing, presumably in case it does not work. Leading the man out of town also gave Jesus a pretty good idea of exactly how much he could see already: the term blind can refer to any level of severe visual impairment.
The healing does not seem to work: the man can only see dim shapes, presumably what he could see before (using Occam's razor: there is no reason to assume improvement), So Jesus tries again. Jesus is a very persuasive man, as we see from how he could routinely help people with mental health problems. So the blind tells Jesus what he wants to hear, and Jesus tells the man not to publicize his healing: Jesus does not want people coming to him for physical problems. Also, questions might be asked about exactly how much better the man's sight had really become. This is not dishonest: Jesus never wanted to heal the blind man, but the blind man insisted.
'Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town': See previous verses. Jesus tries to avoid physical healings, and does not want people to examine them closely.
'Caesarea Philippi': in the borders of Judea, far from Jerusalem, where he could speak more freely.
'The Christ': The is not in the Greek. Peter said thou art Christ - i.e. thou art anointed. See commentary to Mark 1:10 - Jesus was anointed at baptism (Christ means anointed). He was anointed in the same way that Cyrus was anointed:
God (the universe, logic) put Cyrus in the right place at the right time with the right skills and the right attitude to get things done. The same is true of Jesus. But there is a big difference, and it's what makes Jesus stand out: Jesus taught that a leader should not be above his followers (see Mark 10:42-44). So Jesus was anointed, he was Christ, but he was not above anybody else. Yet his disciples ignored him and wanted to treat him as above other people.
'Charged': the Greek implies a very strong command, almost a rebuke. Almost as if he is not pleased with them, but does not think it worth correcting them (the difference between a messiah and a supernatural messiah king may be too subtle for them. )
'Tell no man': there are two possible reasons for saying this:
either (a) the anointing is some great secret, or
(b) the disciples have got it wrong in some way.
The anointing was certainly no secret: John the Baptist was there when Jesus was anointed and he told everyone. As for the second option, the early church taught that did Jesus was greater than any other person. Is that what Jesus taught?
Jesus called himself the son of man (i.e. the common man) and said his followers would do greater things than he did:
Was Jesus more important than other people? In the gospel of John, Jesus often says the Greek words "ego eimi" which are usually translated as "I am" (John 8:24, 28, 58, John 13:19, John 18:5, 6, 8). Many people compare this to the name of God according to Moses: "I am that I am. "
"I am that I am" means he is self existing: he exists by definition. This is only true of logic itself. This supports the view that God is the logos (logic). As John says in Jon 1:1, in the beginning was logos, and logos was with God, and logos was God.
"Ego eimi" is not just the present tense ("I am") or even the past tense ("I was"). It is closest to perfect tense meaning the past and also present, but especially the present. E. g. the phrase in John 15:27: "because you have been with me from the beginning. " The perfect tense describes the nature of logic: it is always true, regardless of circumstances. E. g. if "2 x 2 = 4" then always "2 x 2 = 4". Hence this tense is perfect: both past and present. Logic concerns causes (the past) and effects (the present). "Ego eimi" means I am because I have always been.
Has Jesus "always been?" Yes, because a person's spirit is his ideas, and ideas are eternal. Whenever a person has the ideas of Jesus then they have the spirit of Jesus and Jesus is alive. For details see parts 1 and 2 of this book, and the commentary to Mark 1:2 (on prophets).
Is Jesus God? Yes, in the sense that he is logical. A person's spirit (life, consciousness) is his ideas, so if those ideas are logic then the person's spirit is logic. The name God applies to anybody with the characteristics of God. Hence the Old Testament name for God, elohim, is also applied to people, angels, etc. (see part one of this book)
Did Jesus say "follow me?" probably not. He did invite people to come after him, to be like him, but he did not command. The command was added later, by writers such as Matthew. See the commentary to Mark 1:17 details.
What about all his teachings that "I am from above" and "I am the way?" These are not in Mark. Some of these statements may have been added by later writers. But there is evidence that Jesus did encourage a cult of personality, in order to make sure people read his message and not some second hand version from someone else. See the commentary by Mark 11:11.
The son of man: the common man - see commentary to Mark 2:10.
Must suffer: Jesus has a revolutionary political message. It is true because it be based on sound economics: in a logical economy (e.g. with no tax, where the value of property, such as land, is owned by its creator) you do not have to fight. The system itself will ensure justice. Indeed, fighting is the whole economic problem. Kings oppose their people (through tax), the rich oppose the poor (through misappropriating the rent that belongs to society), and each poor person thinks they can only win by fighting, thus perpetuating the endless war. But of we love logic (love God) we create an economic system where justice is inevitable.
And be killed: this verse explains why Jesus had to be crucified. It is helpful to see it in the context of the previous verse: the body does not matter (see part two of this book). Jesus does his greatest work through other people, the weak, because they have to use his method, cooperation (the weak cannot force their will on others).
After three days rise again: Three days may have just meant "soon", but Jesus embodied his message, so made it literally three days. How would death cause him to rise again> By making him stronger. Jesus' crucifixion was to enforce a principle: that cooperation is stronger than conflict. Sooner or later this principle will win simply because it is stronger. If the disciples followed Jesus' teachings, the church could have replaced the ROman empire within a single generation: see part eight of this book, under "what might have been".
In summary, the most powerful way to demonstrate that cooperation is stronger than conflict was to let himself be killed.
Crucifixion as an economic statement
Actions are a form of property: we cause them to happen, therefore we own them and their results. Hence a rational economy will reward or charge a person depending on whether the results help or harm others. The crucifixion is clearly the property of Jesus: he provoked it for his own purposes. Those purposes seem to be:
The message as a form of property
Jesus did not merely cause the crucifixion, the crucifixion was his copyright claim to his message. It ensured that the message would always be associated with him personally.
By being placed on a hill, arms stretched, on a wooden platform, In the most visible and shocking way possible, he was saying, Look at me! Look what I am doing. You will never forget this image - a dying god! Look at me! My life tells you everything you need. The disciples do ot understand: they think I want to be a king (obviously I do not!) Don't look at them, look at me!"
Jesus received the greatest reward (becoming the most remembered person in all history) by paying the highest price. All the most successful people and businesses do that, they pay a high price in the early days in order to be stronger later.
Peter refused to believe that a messiah could let himself be below others. To him, a messiah must be treated better than others.
'Satan': The word means anyone who opposes. Peter's idea, that a messiah should be above other people, directly opposes Jesus' idea that a messiah must be below others. It is like the temptation in the wilderness again, to become a king, a ruler over people. After the crucifixion, when Jesus left, the idea of Jesus as king above others became adopted throughout the church.
see part nine of this book for more examples of how the disciples seldom understood.
'Let him deny himself': getting praise is anathema to Christ. This is another of his teachings that was rejected by the church. Jesus did not want to wanted to be followed, but he denied himself.
see part two of this book for how life after death works.
'Profit... the whole world': this is an economic teaching. The value of the whole world (in one lifetime) is compared with the value of a soul (i.e. an idea - see part two of this book). Intellectual property is more valuable than physical property. Intellectual property over centuries is even more valuable. Happiness has the greatest value of all. An idea that can create happiness for infinite generations of time is infinitely greater than all the wealth in the world at any point.
"Profit" is not a metaphor. This profit can be measured in dollars and cents (in principle: though actually measuring a person's value over centuries is difficult: how much wealth has been spent on Jesus over the centuries?)
'Soul': Greek "psuche" or "psyche" (as in "psychology") meaning:
Why say "soul" and not "spirit"? "Psyche" (breath) and "pneuma" (breath, often translated spirit) are so similar that it is worth seeing why the Greeks give them such different names:
"Psyche" is the force that moves breath. Pneuma is air that has been forced: either moving or compressed. "Aer" is just air. Hence psyche came to mean the mind, pneuma came to mean life or spirit, but that led to confusion: people got them mixed up and assumed they were supernatural. Originally the words meant force and forced air.
When the breath stops moving the person is dead. Breath is also what creates words, and words are how we give an account or explanation of something (logos, hence logic). God is the ultimate logos, the ultimate reasoned account of everything.
To a lesser extent pneuma referred to anything living that flowed with purpose: hence Aristotle spoke of the pneuma inside a seed, the foamy sap that seemed ready to flow as the seed grew. We can then see how the universe itself has pneuma: sap in trees, rivers that give life to the land, the clouds that bring rain, the milky flow of the stars: everything has pneuma, and it follows that everything is pushed by some guiding psyche: the universe is just as living and physical as we are. It also speaks to us, through scientific investigation and experience.
It may seem primitive to see clouds and river and stars as being like people. For a couple of thousand years people thought people were very different. But science is now coming to the same conclusion, but from the opposite direction: the more we study the natural world the more we see that we are a part of it. If we have souls then so does everything else, and if we want to talk to it we only need to listen.
So what shall a man give in exchange for his mind? This ties again to the idea of slavery (the old covenant was about never again returning to slavery in Egypt) and the evils of kingship and tax. If you lose the ability to control (force) your own body, or to control your own mind (because your ruler tells you what is right and wrong) then you lose everything.
For more about souls see part two of this book. For how Jesus lives after death, see part seven. For how his ideas are changing the world and making it vastly wealthier (and this will continue) see part ten.
'Ashamed': Peter just previously rebuked and opposed Jesus, so this presumably refers to that incident.
'Son of man': the common man. See commentary to Mark 2:10.
'When he cometh': "he" is not in the Greek. The text just says "when comes".
'The glory': Greek "doxa", meaning opinion, judgment, view.
'His father': "his" is Greek "autos" as in automatic - means himself, herself, themselves - i.e. could also be translated their father. That is, their God: their logos, logic
'With': Greek "meta", meaning with, after, behind
'Holy': Greek "hagios" meaning most holy thing or saint. But what does holy mean? It is from hagos meaning an awful thing - that is, to stand in awe of the gods or God. Awe means deep respect, to hold in the highest esteem. Since God is logic, to be holy means to have the highest respect for logic.
So we see that the above text could also be translated:
This is not a generally accepted translation, because most scholars look to Paul for their interpretation. But Paul believed in the supernatural. Once we reject supernatural explanations we see that Jesus is entirely rational. This is why it is important to stick to the earliest sources. Paul and later sources push the supernatural onto us. The earliest sources (i.e. Mark) allow a more rational interpretation.
In summary, Mark chapter 8 begins with a reminder of the correct way to run a kingdom (feeding the five thousand by showing how to cooperate). Jesus then warns against the Pharisees and Herod's false claims to authority over the land. Next he is concerned that his followers think he should control the nation as a ruler-messiah. He ends by saying that his ideas are more valuable than actual direct control of all the land. Chapter 8 is all about control of the land.
This follows from the previous verse, about the son of man (the common man) coming with power. The prediction was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (for details see commentary to Mark 13). Any rational person could see that fighting the Romans would lead to destruction: that was the word of logic.
'The kingdom of God': The kingdom of logic: the rule of reason. AD70 should have been a wake up call. It was proof that Jesus' sober assessment was correct. Logic can predict the future, it can defeat a national rebellion, it can do anything.
This chapter is about rising from the dead. In other words, long term planning.
Jesus was always planning for the long term: for life after death and the kingdom as a whole. He had no time for short term thinking.
Jesus gave parables about investing for the future (e.g. the parable of talents) and of having sufficient laid aside for the unexpected (the five wise virgins, or the man building a tower). His whole life is an example of preparing: even his title, messiah, means one who is prepared (anointed) for a future role. The disciples were always prepared: Judas carried the bag of money, and just before the crucifixion Jesus sent his disciples to prepare a room for the last supper. Jesus prepared, because that is the logical thing to do.
'Nowhere to lay his head?'
Jesus comented that he was so busy he had nowhere to ay his head. This is not because he was unable to find a house: with so many followers he could have found a house easily. but he had more higher priorities. Sur it would be nice to be comfortable, but first things first.
'No purse or scrip?'
The only exception to this rule was when Jesus briefly sent his twelve disciples out without money. he wanted to see if people would offer them food, i.e. if people followed the message about sharing. This was temporary, and Jesus later told them to get money, buy a bag, and generally prepare in Luke 22. For details see the commentary to Mark 6:8.
'Take no thought for the morrow?'
Jesus focused on eternal life. Eternal means forever: the longest of the long term. In contrast, the gentiles focus just on tomorrow. So the command in Matthew 6:33 to take no thought for the morrow is because we should be thinking of the much longer term: eternal life.
We focus on the longer term by getting the right attitude today:
This is sound economics. Bad economists focus on short term profit: what will the result be tomorrow? Good economists focus on the strength of the business today: are we focusing on customers? Is the product good? Are the right systems in place? Or in terms of the entire nation, are we humble? So we help each other? Do we value people more than things?
A good economist knows that fixing a broken business might involve short term losses. If you really understand business you never, never, never judge by tomorrow's results, you always focus on principles instead.
This continues the theme of the kingdom of God coming with power. Jesus apparently met with powerful people to plan how he would survive death.
'An high mountain apart':
Tabor probably had a fort at the top, so the two men might be Romans. If this was about Jesus planning to survive crucifixion he obviously had help from insiders. However, the fort and the distance between Tabor and Caesarea Philippi (8:27) makes the Pulpit Commentary prefer Mt Hermon. Hermon forms a natural border with Lebanon, a foreign nation, so would be a good to discuss controversial plans in secret with people who wanted to stay anonymous.
'Transfigured': Greek "metamorphoo" - changed. The name is famous from Ovid's collection of stories, Metamorphoses. In Ovid it could be something dramatic such as turning to stone, or a simple change like a change of clothes, putting on (or taking off) a disguise. Jesus wanted privacy up this mountain, and only took his most trusted three disciples. It may have been at night (hence the disciples were sleepy according to Luke). But the other men had white clothes, and white clothing seems important to whatever secret group Jesus meets with (the young man who fled in the garden before the crucifixion was dressed in white, and so was the messenger at the empty tomb). It seems reasonable that Jesus was dressed in white under his darker cloak. Sneaking up the mountain in a dark cloak then throwing off the rough clothes to reveal everyone dressed in white would be a metamorphosis.
'White as snow': Hermon is the only mountain in the region to always have snow at the top. This would suggest the comparison, or may contribute to a mis-translation (possibly it originally said the snow was white: as fishermen from Galilee they were perhaps not used to see snow lying. ) But it could be an accurate translation: see next verse.
When the two men have gone Jesus refers to rising from the dead (verse 9). Was this where Jesus secretly planned to survive the crucifixion?
This was a dramatic event, but there is no hint of the supernatural. It is a secret meeting, relating to the resurrection (verses 9-10). The shining clothes are then easily explained. The resurrection required the help of wealthy friends such as Joseph of Arimathea. He would have worn much finer, smoother clothing than the disciples would normally see. The disciples were looking up a hill, where snow reflected the light, so the angle of the sun would cause this costly cloth to shine. Or it may have been at night: Luke 9:32 says the disciples were tired. Men in shining white clothes up a snow covered mountain in the moonlight could easily look unearthly.
'Elias with Moses': obviously the disciples did not know what these long dead men looked like. The names Moses and Elias could easily be code names: many of Jesus' more important followers (like Nicodemus) valued their secrecy.
'Wist not what to say; for they were sore afraid': i.e. they were not in a position to think rationally. They were also very tired (Luke 9:32).
'A cloud that overshadowed them': If Luke's mention of being tired means it was night time, then the cloud or fog would not have to be very dense to hide them.
'This is my beloved son: hear him': The disciples could not see any of the men (due to the cloud), so it was not possible to see any of the people. The simplest explanation is that the two men code named Moses and Elias were father and son: there may be some disagreement because the older man is speaking loud enough to be heard by the disciples, telling Jesus to listen to what the young man is saying.
When God spoke to Israel on Sinai it was in similar circumstances, a voice hidden by smoke. So the frightened and confused and tired disciples would have been reminded of the voice of God.
If this was a supernatural event then the men could have faded away in plain sight, or risen into the sky. Instead the disciples were distracted by an unseen voice, and if it was night and the men stepped out of the moonlight they could easily disappear from sight.
'Tell no man...until': If the disciples said something immediately the other men might have been identified. This lets the trail go cold, and ensures that Jesus is safely away as well.
'The Son of man': See commentary to Mark 2:10.
'Questioning': Jesus did not preach a supernatural resurrection: see the escion on life after death.
'The Son of man': See commentary to Mark 2:10.
This is not the first time that Elijah (Elias) has lived on through another person. Elijah lived on through his assistant Elisha:
Jesus learns the patient's life history, presumably to guide him in how to approach the problem. Note that Jesus gets the parents on board: this is crucial for a successful long term outcome.
Everything that Jesus does regarding healing: his fasting, prayer, his strong words, his reputation, his absolute certainty, is calculated to need a message of absolute trust, certainty and unassailable strength to the patient's mind. If the patient can latch onto that then the voices or other urges will always lose the battle with the stronger mental force.
Hypnotic suggestion works on the same principle. As Derren Brown comments in his book Tricks of the Mind suggestion relies on the person wanting to be controlled (it does not work with people who resist). When in the right frame of mind the person bypasses their normal reactions or habits and just obeys. Hypnotic suggestion can be used to overcome embarrassment, stop a bad habit, or even ignore pain.
Note that Jesus waited until everyone could see before healing the boy. In contrast, when he heals physical sickness he does it in private where possible, and tells the patient to say nothing. Once again we see that Jesus' skill is in mental illness and he tries to avoid physical illness where possible.
This dramatic reaction allows the mentally ill boy to feel the bad has gone out of him. Also, a sleep-like state makes a person more susceptible to hypnotic suggestion.
The patient must believe in the suggestions of the hypnotist. Prayer and pasting lets the hypnotist get into such a state of mind, such control over his voice and actions, and develop such a reputation that he appears different to others. Patients are then more likely to believe the suggestions.
'The Son of man': See commentary to Mark 2:10.
We saw earlier in the chapter that Jesus was probably planning to survive crucifixion.
The disciples did not understand what this meant, and did not ask him. So they never understood.
'The house': Several verses like this lead to the conclusion that Jesus' base of operations was Peter's house in Capernaum.
'By the way': on the way back from seeing Jesus control a boy's mental instability and talk of rising from the dead. The true cause was careful understanding, but to the disciples it was all about one person being greater than another person. They did not understand wisdom, they only understood hierarchies.
This follows a discussion of rising from the dead. This is how it happens. Jesus' spirit inhabits other people (see part two of this book).
So Jesus will rise again in the same way that any great leader rises again: you cannot kill an idea! Kill the messiah and another messiah will rise again a few days later. Think of the movie Spartacus. They cannot kill Spartacus because every slave is Spartacus.
This teaching is expounded in great detail in the gospel of John. Jesus is the vine the people are the branches. he works through his followers. When his followers act it is Jesus acting. So you cannot kill Jesus because he lives inside every follower.
The duh-sciples do not get it! Jesus keeps on teaching them about humility and to avoid sign seeking, and as soon as Jesus is gone, they make a church based on power structures and signs!
It is also possible that Jesus referred to physically surviving crucifixion. He refers to the sign of Jonah, which implies that, like Jonah, he would survive and not actually die. This is discussed more later.
This continues the message of nobody being greater than anybody else: Jesus did not work through a hierarchy of authority, like the Gentiles. See Mark 10:42-44.
'Miracle': Greek "dunamis", also spelled "dynamis", the root of the English words "dynamic". It means having power. It does not imply supernatural power, though to his listeners the whole world was supernatural.
This is the only time a word is translated as 'miracle' in the gospel of Mark (King James Version), and it does not even refer to something Jesus did! So 'Mark never says that Jesus performed miracles. 'The word miracle also appears in KJV Mark 6:52, but it does not correspond to any Greek word: it was added by the translators. It is an example of how translators change the text to fit later beliefs. Later gospel writers, years after Mark, assume that Jesus performed miracles.
Here are the other times that Mark uses the word 'dunamis:'
The closest we come to the supernatural is symbolism. But symbolism is just that, symbolism. This does not imply that Jesus will actually fly in the sky, any more than the kingdom of heaven is an actual mustard seed.
In short, dunamis never applies to an eye witness account of Jesus. The only time it was used to describe his actions (Mark 6:5) people were disappointed: they specifically noted that he could do no mighty work. The miracles only existed in second hand accounts. The real dunamis, the real power, the real miracle, comes from God: or in other words, from Logos, logic.
You don't need authority from a particular church. This teaching was rejected by the second century, when anybody who ignored the authority of the bishops was called a heretic and excommunicated.
The question was about someone using Jesus name: it says nothing about those who do good and know nothing about Jesus.
'Hell, fire and worms': "Hell" is the Greek "Gehenna":
So there is nothing supernatural about this: Gehenna refers to the natural process of what happens to garbage. It symbolizes a life that goes to waste.
Jesus stays around the borders, where he can easily escape if the authorities object to his teaching. His teaching of course is how to create a new kingdom, and the authorities might see this as dangerous.
'Into the coasts': This should be better translated:
This is an economic issue as well as an emotional one. Divorce creates high costs: the divorced couple need two house instead of one, childcare becomes more time consuming and costly, it is more likely to create unhappiness (happiness is worth a lot of money), children are more likely to have problems (though not in every case), and so on.
'Hardness of heart': in ancient times the heart was considered the center of the body and thus the center of thought. Jesus is saying they are not thinking clearly. A marriage is a contract, where each person gives roughly what they receive. So it is not rational to end it, unless the person becomes irrational (they no longer wish to give and get in return) or if there is some breakdown in communication (one side no longer understands what the other values).
It is also possible that pure luck may render one person unable to give as much as the other (e.g. serious illness). The role of luck in economics is discussed later in this chapter, in the commentary on the ten commandments (see 10:19). It implies that society should help if you get bad luck, or benefit if you get good luck. So if one partner becomes seriously ill then society would help. So the only reason for divorce is a breakdown in thinking on one or both sides: a hardness of heart.
'Therefore': reason, logic
'God': the logos, logic. If a union is logical is good. Once it ceases to be logical it is bad and the situation needs to become logical again in some way.
This is not a blanket ban on divorce in all circumstances, because Jesus said that it is acceptable due to breakdowns in communication or thought (10:5, commentary). For example, Jesus approved of divorce among his own followers in this circumstance:
Notice the words or wife. By following Jesus, men sometimes leave their wives. So his criticism of adultery is a criticism of not thinking straight on one or both sides, or possibly just a criticism of “putting away” - the Greek for putting away means sending away and is not the same as divorce. Putting away implies harshness, a coldness, cruelty.
Matthew's version of this is much more harsh: "whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. " (Matthew 5:32). But Mathew was written later, so would be more influenced by the sexist opinions of the time. No doubt the part about remarriage was added as a helpful commentary by someone who thought they understood what Jesus meant. This is why we focus on Mark, not Matthew: where there is a problem, Mark is probably closer to what Jesus actually said.
The disciples do not understand. This is after Jesus had explicitly brought a child to him and said be like this (9:36-37) If we could argue that Mark remembered the events in the wrong order, that makes the previous event the problem: they were arguing over who was greatest, and Jesus had told them here.
The two big problems in the gospels are the need to be greater than someone else and the belief in the supernatural.
'As a little child': this is not about obedience. Whoever said that little children are obedient obviously never had children. Children are notable for their simplicity and weakness: they plainly state what they want, and they lack the strength to use force (when dealing with adults), so they have to appeal to reason, e.g. it's not fair or offering deals: I'll be good! They also recognize their dependence on those around them. Children who want something with adults show us how economics should work:
They make deals.
'Blessed them': He would lay his right hand upon the child's head, and bless it. (Pulpit Commentary) In other words he would act out as if anointing them: each child is an anointed one, a messiah. Why are they anointed? What is the blessing, the good thing? They are born into the period of peace and unprecedented economic opportunity (the Pax Romana), they have heard Jesus' teachings, and they are not yet confused by existing religious ideas. So they are in a perfect position to make the world a better place.
This follows from the children being blessed: they have the chance of a better life, so what can an adult do to get the same?
The young man asked about eternal life. Life is just growth: he can have that through having children, but presumably he means personal identity. Identity (spirit) is the ideas that define us (see part two of this book and notes to Mark 1). These are passed to others, so they become a continuation of our life, they are eternal life.
Jesus is an example of eternal life. His ideas have spread for thousands of years. (As have incomplete and confused versions of his ideas: any successful person attracts others who only see the surface glory and think it is magic. ) Jesus' ideas are logical, and survival of the fittest means the fittest ideas will replace all others eventually: Jesus' ideas (i.e. his life, his identity, his spirit) will expand and increase forever.
So the rich man is asking about what will cause his ideas and personality to be remembered? What is his legacy? Almost every rich person is concerned with their lasting legacy, because they know they cannot control their money after they have gone. So what matters is whether their ideas survive.
Sadly the rich young man preferred current wealth to long term survival, and he is now forgotten. We only know him because of the one memorable thing he ever did, he talked to Jesus. But we do not even know his name.
Only logic is true, by definition. A person may or may not be acting rationally at any point, but goodness (rightness) is an inherent property of logic: no human is always right.
The ten commandments are a summary of Moses' economic rules; keep contracts, do not steal, etc. They are the rules for creating a strong nation. The individual commandments and their economic context are discussed in part five of this book.
The man is rich and young. It is therefore almost certain that he gained his wealth by luck. Logic (that is, God) implies that wealth gained by luck is not your wealth: there is no logical basis for the concept of property except what you create. True, society may say "it is yours" but what is the logical basis for society being able to say that? It is all mere opinion. Only creating wealth can measurably and unambiguously tie it to you. (And even there, most wealth has multiple creators, so you only create a portion as your own part.)
This was not just greed. The rich young man believed he would face extreme poverty: the same economic system that made a few people rich made everyone else very poor. So he chose to continue the life that hurt others, because he could not bare to be his own victim. He must have understood what he was doing. No wonder he was sad and grieved.
The rich are trapped by possessions: they (we) become used to a certain lifestyle and way of working, ands it is very hard to change.
'Astonished': they were used to thinking of short term wealth as a good thing. But wealth based on injustice or theft harms society and so harms your own long term future.
It is possible that a needle might exist that is big enough for this, but incredibly unlikely. In the same way it is possible that a man could earn a hundred times more than a typical worker without luck playing any role at any stage, but it is incredibly unlikely.
Note that Jesus cannot be against riches in principle: he accepted the expensive perfume poured on him before his crucifixion, and he promised his followers houses and lands in the life to come. But the perfume was a single expensive item that anybody could save up for given enough time, and the houses and lands were available to all. Jesus only seems to be against massive inequality. This follows naturally from his fundamental economic teachings (see part five of this book, and the commentary to Mark chapter 12 especially): people own just what they create, and should share the rest. Massive inequality is almost always a sign of unearned wealth.
'Saved': the context is not supernatural, but is about who has the best legacy in this world. See commentary to 10:17.
Jesus says the answer is not rich people. But their astonishment indicates that they too are trapped mentally: they cannot conceive of a society with almost no rich people, just as a rich person cannot conceive of life without riches.
'Jesus looking upon them':
Mark was one of the seventy, and a close friend of Peter. He remembers how Jesus had to correct his disciples, how he would sometimes sigh, how he felt hounded by people, and how he would give long looks or pauses before replying. Jesus was a great mind, and the others did not understand him, they saw what he did as magic.
Logic (God) makes miracles possible: the modern day technological revolution is proof of that, we rely on miracles every day, technology that can only be built by teams. It is so complex that no single person can understand exactly how it works.
The benefits of Jesus' teachings are measured first in terms of economics (a hundred times more houses, family, etc. ) and second in terms of long term legacy (eternal life). Why should a person want their life extended? So they can continue enjoying the things they value now. So it is all about maximizing value.
Intangible things like family and friends can be measured economically: for example, people will spend a great deal on a house in a good area just to have better neighbors. So the value of better neighbors can be measured in land values. All of our biggest purchases are in the hope of getting a little more of what matters, hence current riches are nothing compared to love, friendship, etc. At present we can only buy a small probability of a good family, friends, etc. We often spend all we have and still end up sad and alone.
In the ideal kingdom, such as Jesus proposes, our physical work creates more of what we value, so it is easier to make the link between physical work and intangible rewards. In the theoretically perfect world every hour of labor would go directly to creating long term happiness, and therefore long term happiness would be measurable in terms of hours worked.
'Now in this time': at the time there were thousands of followers, each willing to help the others: by joining the followers of Jesus you got thousands of new loving friends and you could enter any of their houses. Jesus said that his followers were his brothers and sisters and mother and father (3:31-35).
'The world to come': the future. Every disciple whose name is known has churches and cathedrals built to the memory of his or her name, and has influenced the world a thousand times more than forgotten peers. Even those who's names are forgotten have influenced the world a hundred-fold, by creating the foundation of a movement that conquered the world. All of that is as nothing compared to the potential for future growth in wealth and knowledge if Jesus' economic ideas are finally adopted.
'Eternal life': see 10:17.
Many rich people are forgotten, while many poor people have their ideas passed on and they become highly influential.
'To Jerusalem': On the mountain in the last chapter Jesus planned to survive an apparent death. Now he goes to Jerusalem to put his plan into action.
'Afraid': the first last and last first teaching upsets their safe beliefs in hierarchy. They treated Jesus as being first, and they as apostles were near the top of the tree. But they do not understand and now he says many of the first shall be last. It worries them!
'The Son of man': See commentary to Mark 2:10.
Shall kill him: for why this was his plan, see commentary to Mark 11:11.
'Third day': Jesus was crucified on Friday, and was removed from the tomb before Sunday morning (much less than three days), but it would take him longer to recover enough to walk. Three days was a good guess.
'Rise again': Jesus expected to be executed, but was planning to survive (he had medical knowledge, high intelligence, and friends among the Romans. But rise again is sufficiently vague that if he did die then his friends would remove his body and still fulfill the prediction because Jesus' spirit will live on in other people.
Rising would be the unforgettable and ultimate example (literally ultimate: last, final) of the triumph of peace over violence. By allowing them to kill him yet coming back stronger (through his followers) he would show that peace is stronger than violence.
James and John seemed to understand the gospel a little better than the others. While most early Christians (e.g. Paul) saw Jesus in a purely supernatural way, the book of James emphasizes the logic of doing good works and the gospel of John ( the disciple whom Jesus loved ) emphasizes the logos (logic) and the nature of spirit. The letters of John then emphasize love.
'Glory': Greek doxa - opinion. Hence ortho-doxy meaning popular opinion. So James and John are saying let us be like you, in your opinion. Doxa is one of the traps in the Bible, so it deserves commentary on its own.
Prophets are outsiders. They think different, by definition. They demand difficult things. But most people naturally want easy things. So as soon as a prophet has stopped talking the people will look for easier ways to understand their words. This sometimes changes the meaning of the words, and when everybody agrees on the new meaning it starts to look like the prophet was saying something else. see part nine of this book for how the church changed the words of Jesus in order to support hierarchies.
The most famous case of changing words is the word God. Moses said it means I am that I am or self evident logic. He said God is seen in fire, smoke and wind: in other words, nature. In the New Testament John (the most intellectual of the disciples) said God is logic (logos) and God is love. Yet everyone wants to believe that God is a person because that creates the idea that a person can be above another person: it is then an easy step to say Jesus or Moses represent God, and so does the local king or priest or preacher. They have to separate God from the original meaning, logic or nature, because logic and nature can be challenged by anybody, and elites do not want to be challenged, that is the whole point.
Notice that the change is subtle: some people are indeed very logical, and logic itself can be imagined as if it is a person. It is a subtle shift to say logic is a person and he spoke to me and said I should be king. A subtle shift, but a dangerous one.
After God perhaps the most famous case of changing words is Doxa. God is logic, so the scriptures naturally talk about logical doxa (God's opinions). But most people prefer popular opinion to God#'s opinion. They also love to follow people, so when people see opinion they tend to see it as popular opinion and when they see God's doxa they see popular opinion about how wonderful God is.
In the third to first centuries BC, after the prophets were safely dead, the scriptures (what Christians now call the Old Testament) were gathered and translated into Greek: the Septuagint. In it, the opinion of God (God's doxa) was taken to mea the general opinion of and to and surrounding God, and since that opinion was obviously one of raise, the opinion of God came to be seen as the glory of God. Doxa was routinely read as glory. The ordinary people of course knew that doxa meant opinion, and glorious opinion was not much of a change.
The real change came after Jesus left. We have seen that Jesus taught logic, but the disciples thought it was magic. We have also seen that Jesus taught equality, but the disciples wanted to worship him. So the opinion of Jesus were especially glorious. By the time the New Testament was written, God's doxa was routinely read and understood as glory. The centuries passed and the supernatural and hierarchical beliefs solidified, so when the Bible was finally translated into English, doxa became glory almost every time. And then when scholars went back to the early texts, they saw the Septuagint and concluded yes, doxa originally meant opinion, and in philosophy it still does, but religion is supernatural and in religion doxa means glory.
So translators approve the word glory because they accept that religion must be supernatural. But if we reject the supernatural then doxa must always mean opinion.
People treat New Testament Greek as if it is a special kind of Greek. They see that Paul believed in the supernatural, and so did Matthew and Luke, and to a lesser extent even Mark and John. So when a Greek scholar reads the New Testament he sees special supernatural meanings to the words: doxa is glory, God is a supernatural being, and so on. The New Testament writers see religious truth as a special kind of supernatural truth, with its own special language.
Any good Greek scholar will read the New Testament as a book about the supernatural, with special supernatural meanings to words like doxa and logos. They would therefore scoff at a revisionist book like this.
But the teachings of Jesus make more sense if we use the original, non-supernatural meanings of the words. That is the point of this book.
More important, when we take the non supernatural meanings, we see that Jesus has the answer to the world's present economic problems, a practical economic answer that we could adopt and so make the world a much better place. We also see that life after death is real, not something we have to just close our eyes and hope for. That is why a non-supernatural translation matters.
'Ye know not what ye ask': They do not understand. They are still thinking in terms of hierarchies, of unearned gifts, of supernatural power. They think that being a great thinker like Jesus is something that can be given. No, logic is something you choose to follow because you hunger for it, no matter what he cost.
'Can you drink of the cup I drink of': Jesus had concluded that the only possible end to his mission was to be crucified. That is the problem with logic: it does not always give the answers we would like.
This cup no doubt includes martyrdom. But for John it may mean something else, as John (according to tradition) survived into old age.
Jesus had to watch his words be constantly misunderstood (see part nine of this book). John may have been the same. Most scholars believe that John did not write The Book of Revelation, but it was attributed to him. So while John taught the people to love their enemies, and his final epistles are all about love, the book of Revelation urges the opposite, telling people to resist and not to cooperate.
James had an even harder cup to swallow. Jesus taught against hierarchies (see Mark 10:42-44) and instead taught people to do good. But Paul would take the hierarchical church to its extreme: Paul would each that apostles should tell people what to do, and you can only be saved by believing them: good works cannot save you. James (or somebody writing in the spirit of James, as James died early on) had to write a letter (the epistle of James) to counter the teachings of Paul, plainly stating that good works are the foundation of the gospel, and any person who lacks wisdom does not have to ask an apostle, he can get answers direct from God.
So both John and James knew first hand the intellectual pain that Jesus felt: seeing his message of logic and equality replaced with one of the supernatural and kingship.
'To sit on my right hand': to give authority and honor.
'Sit': Greek "kathizo", but also means to set, appoint, to confer a kingdom on one
'Right hand': Greek "dexios" meaning right hand, or position of honor
'Left hand': the Greek does not say left hand, but rather "euonumos" meaning of good name or good omen
'Is not mine to give': this is not something that Jesus could control. If this was some supernatural gift then Jesus could just make it happen. but since it is a result of natural laws then Jesus has no control over it.
'For whom it is prepared': for is not in the Greek, and whom is the Greek "hos" meaning "who, which, what, that". in other words, this phrase is about the future being prepared. The future is prepared by the logic of the events (i.e. by logic, by God)
James and John seem a little closer to Jesus: see commentary to Mark 10:35, also 5:37, 9:2.
'Their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you': Jesus said not to exercise authority. In other words, he was an-archist means no ruler. Or rather, no rule by appeal to authority: a person can still make contracts to do things by offering something in return. Jesus offered a contract: the new contract (or new covenant, translated as new testament : see commentary to Mark 1:2) Followers promise to live by better rules, and in return he promises better rewards (Mark 10:30).
An- arch is a technical term and does not mean Jesus called himself an anarchist. He called himself a follow of God (logic).
This refusal to use authority is why he chose to let himself be crucified: to show that he could win though being powerless. His disciples could never understand this: they still believed that authority mattered. They argued over who was greatest, and as soon as Jesus was dead they set up a priesthood of authorities: bishops, deacons, pastors, etc. They could not imagine a life without hierarchy.
If we remove authority then how do we organize ourselves? Anarchists often gain a bad name for attacking organizations without providing a better alternative. But as soon as Jesus says no authorities he immediately recommends an alternative: become a leader through service.
This idea is so powerful that every western leader pretends to follow it. Every leader now claims to be a servant. Democracies claim that government exists to serve the people; communist dictatorships say the people rule and the leader is merely a secretary; even the Pope calls himself servant of the servants of God. Yet in each case there is an elite who exercises authority. They are not following Jesus at all.
In theory, the free market provides a solution. In a free market people make contracts based on mutual benefit: each side serves the other and each can leave at any time. Jesus often used businesses and money in his parables.
The success of a market depends on the rules in place. As a minimum, somebody must enforce contracts. Markets also depend on who controls raw materials. If one group controls everything there can be no free market, as that group can charge and do whatever it wants. There may be other laws as well: so the best free markets are created by the best rules.
What are the best rules? Let people try different sets of rules and see which work best.
In several parables Jesus suggests how to do this. People who rule well should be given more to rule. This principle is easy to sell to existing rulers because it offers them more money. It will evolve naturally by just replacing tax on work with tax on land: for details see http://answersanswers.com/index.html#Bible
It is also a general principle (do well get more, do badly get less) that applies to exercise, to religious leaders' moral authority, arguably to the Pharisees no longer having leadership over the church, and a hundred other topics.
Here are the parables:
In the parable of the tenants, the vineyard is taken from bad rulers and given to better ones:
Matthew gives more detail. The owner:
In the parable of the pounds, the more profitable leader gains control of more cities:
In the parable of the steward, a man who runs a house and serves his master well is allowed to rule over more property.
This same principle is seen in the Old Testament: Joseph (of Egypt), Daniel and others were given leadership positions because they showed themselves to be good leaders.
'The Son of man': See commentary to Mark 2:10.
This whole incident was poorly remembered, at least by others. Matthew speaks of two blind men, not one, but agrees that it took place as Jesus left Jericho. Luke said there was only one blind man, but it took place on the way into Jericho. The details may not be reliable.
Blindness is a whole spectrum, from partially sighted through almost no sight to complete blackness even at midday. As we are not told how blind he is we must assume he had at least a little sight.
'Blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus': All the evidence suggests that he was have been an important man who fell on hard times:
It is possible that "Timaeus" was a title, not a name. The Pulpit Commentary suggested that Timaeus may be a variant of the word "Simais" meaning blind, because of its use of "the letter thau from samech, common amongst the Chaldaeans. " In other words, "blind bar-simais bar simais" is a description, "blind son of the blind, son of the blind". This reminds the reader of Jesus saying the blind leading the blind - perhaps his blindness is metaphorical.
The name timaeus is best known from Plato's Timaeus, which includes a lengthy passage about blindness. Some have argued that Mark has a symbolic structure, and this happens at the turning point before Jesus enters Jerusalem, and it symbolizes Jesus being seen for the first time by Jerusalem. This does not mean the event did not happen, but the event may have been interpreted so heavily that the original details were obscured.
There is one more possibility. Jesus spoke Aramaic, and the Aramaic form of Bartimaeus is Bar-teymah, “son of poverty, ” (Robert M. Price, The Pre-Nicene New Testament p. 96) and we first see him begging. The Aramaic word can also be translated as son of unclean. So perhaps this is another example (like the woman with an issue of blood in chapter seven) where Jesus declares somebody to be ritually clean because there is no reason for him to still be treated as blind.
Jesus' followers normally tell blind people not to bother Jesus. So healing blindness is not normal for Jesus.
Jesus chooses the people he will help. Presumably Jesus saw something about the man that meant he could help him.
He was able to get up and walk before he was healed. This is more evidence that he had some sight.
'What wilt thou': It was not obvious. The blindness was probably not very severe, or Jesus would have known.
'That I might receive my sight': I might receive my is not in the Greek. It simply says that sight and sight is "anablepo" which can just mean to look up. Perhaps he is referring to his sad situation and wants a brighter future with Jesus' followers.
Jesus never says you are healed or receive your sight! he uses the ambiguous term go they way, thy faith hath made thee whole.
This is the last time Jesus heals anyone in Mark. All the healings can be explained by non-supernatural ways. In Jerusalem there were too many skeptical witnesses: they would have criticized these mild healings.
'Faith': Faith implies evidence: there was something about his experience that made him think Jesus could help.
'Immediately he received his sight': The Greek simply says immediately sight or immediately look up. The previous verses hinted that he had some limited sight already. So he immediately looked up and got up.
'Followed Jesus in the way': He still needed food, so presumably that was now provided. Instead of being alone in the gutter he now has friends, food and purpose. His prospects are looking up!
'When': this is the start of the last seven days of Jesus' life. Six of the sixteen chapters of Mark deal with these seven days, indicating the importance of these final events and teachings.
Clearly this was all planned. If even this detail was planned then surely surviving the crucifixion was planned.
'Colt': This was a deliberate plan to mimic Zechariah 9:9, presenting the kingdom as described in the Torah. The colt shows how the kingdom should be, based on popular support yet humility, not based on elites an conflict.
The kingdom of Judea, like all worldly kingdoms, was based on the strong forcing their will on the weak. The common man would avoid direct conflict with the state, so this violence was not experienced through beating or killing, but by the state controlling their work and their property, e.g. through taxes.
This could not be ignored: it was deliberately provoking the authorities.
'Kingdom': not "king". Jesus was not claiming to be king of the Jews, he was proclaiming a kingdom based on humility, not hierarchy. The meek shall inherit the earth. The idea that Jesus made himself king was invented by his critics, because he spoke against tax: in their minds only a king could claim to be exempt from tax. Luke records:
That is all he did: ride in, look around, then leave. It seems that the whole point was merely to make a statement, to get publicity. Jesus spends the next few days until his death doing this, deliberately provoking a reaction. Why? He could have told people he was the messiah in other, quieter ways. But it was important that as many people know and remember as possible. For why Jesus let them crucify him, see the commentary to Mark 8:31.
The crucifixion forces us to remember Jesus the individual. Christianity is the cult of an individual, unlike other movements or philosophies such as Judaism or capitalism or Buddhism or monarchism. Hence the famous statement:
This is usually taken out of context, as if Jesus is above other people. But Jesus repeatedly made clear that he is not (Mark 10:42-44 etc. ) Indeed, before John 14:6 Jesus had just washed his disciples' feet. But then the disciples were nervous that they could not cope when Jesus left. "Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" to which Jesus replied, in effect, just remember me, focus on my words and deeds, that is all you need to remember.
"No man comes to the father except by me" is not aimed at other religions: Jesus did not say anything about other religions. He was only concerned with factions within his own religion: the Pharisees, false Christs, etc. He was warning against his own church: the Judaism of the day and his well meaning followers who would accidentally change his message.
Jesus knew that his message was always misunderstood. He knew that as soon as he died the situation would get worse. He had to focus minds on himself. He does not want people quoting Peter or Paul. If we want to know what Jesus said we have to quote Jesus.
Economics teaches that a thing's value is what it produces. (Note that this is everything it produces, including feelings and long term happiness: the most valuable things are not physical goods.) Without its fruit it is worthless.
Note that people produce more than physical goods: Jesus produced nothing but words, but was considered very valuable; a friend is the most valuable of all.
Another key text. His disciples heard it. And no doubt so did others. Look at the context: in chapter 11 he had just ridden triumphantly into Jerusalem. A man was ready before hand with a donkey for him. Thousands of people were listening to him. Occam's razor (the non-supernatural explanation) suggests that somebody heard the curse, and did what Jesus asked: killed the fig tree.
Again, he enters Jerusalem for no other purpose than to make his presence known in a dramatic way. All part of the plan to gain maximum publicity, ending in his crucifixion and hopeful survival.
The temple courtyard was an open space in the middle of the very crowded city. It was very convenient or merchants to take a short cut through the temple as they went about their business, and in Jesus' day the temple authorities let them. But Jesus says no.
Jesus single handedly stopped them all. This is one of many evidences that he was unusually physically fit. This is necessary if he is to survive painful wounds for six hours (see after the crucifixion ).
This is the only time Jesus ever became so angry he used violence. What was so terrible? Jesus said the money changers were thieves. They took what was the holiest and most important business of all and turned it into theft. The only other time he attacked people is when he attacked the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23, calling them hypocrites and blind guides. Jesus reserves his harshest judgments for those who take the heart of the kingdom and poison it.
This verse shows why the moneychangers were so bad:
'The house of prayer': Prayer, as shown by Jesus and the greatest prophets, is a way to think more rationally (see commentary to Mark 14:36). The Sabbath is a day of prayer. Careful thought is the most valuable thing we can do.
The temple in Moses' day was a way to teach principles. Every act was symbolic and designed to turn minds to the laws of Moses. The laws of Moses were designed for an iron age society that is very different from the present. Jesus realized that these laws must evolve: for example, to no longer stone people for adultery. Jewish society itself had evolved: when the Babylonian captivity means the society was more spread out and came up against strange new ideas, the synagogue evolved as a way for people to meet and discuss their religion.
The idea of temple plus synagogue is a good one. The temple is the core principles and the synagogue where people debate them. After more people could read then the temple was less essential: the basic ideas could be enshrined in scripture. As long as we follow God (i.e. logic) then core principles plus debate equals better society. The core principles themselves will evolve of course, but the point it to make any changes slow. If core principles are any good they will not change much in thousands of years.
Of course, when God (logic) is treated as supernatural (i.e. Itcannot be tested by observations) then logic (and hence religion) fails.
'Of all nations': this quote is from Isaiah 56. Isaiah 56 is about converts to Judaism: how all nations could be attracted by high Jewish ideals. The kingdom of God is to be a beacon on a hill, an example of wisdom and truth and long term vision. Other nations then see the wealth and happiness, they join the system, and the whole world is saved.
'A den of thieves': Most commentators assume that the moneychangers short-changed people. But most of their trade comes from regular customers, and those customers would soon learn to get their money changed at better rates outside the temple walls. Clearly the moneychangers inside the temple could charge a premium rate for their convenience, but a large number of competing changers probably led to very good rates. However, in the context of the temple a far greater theft is taking place: theft and destruction of massive future wealth. See the discussion of the temple, below.
If rational understanding of property implies that much of what we call property is in fact theft: theft is control of any property we did not create, or did not obtain though free and un-coercive trade. For why, see the end of this book, logic and economics.
If we reject the supernatural, then prayer can only make sense if it means thinking deeply (see commentary to Mark 14:36), and religion can only make sense as a way to create a better state. So the temple, the heart of the model state, becomes a model of enlightened reason and good government. It becomes a beacon on a hill for all nations to see.
If Jesus' economic views are correct then the temple shows the world how to make far more wealth. So the dollar value of the temple is incalculable. We are talking nothing less than multiplying the entire global economy, and then having it grow exponentially forever. Economically, if we reject the supernatural, then the temple is worth many times more than the entire rest of the world.
Note that a better society creates more of what is good, by definition. The best societies find ways to constantly improve. So the ideal society that Jesus envisions, the kingdom of God, not only makes people rich but gradually solves every other problem. Therefore undermining that process is worse than every other crime because it encourages every other crime.
All religions have temples. They all have a core somewhere, that acts as the gateway to heaven. In ancient times it was often a shrine or location considered the geographical center of the world. In modern Christianity it is either Jesus or the Bible. As long as we follow God (i.e. logic) we can easily judge which is best by their visible results. But when religion is poisoned by the supernatural then temples no longer have to have visible results. So they cease to have relevance to the real world.
The moneychangers illustrate the biggest threat to religion, and the biggest danger to this commentary. This commentary focuses on Jesus' economic teachings. The great danger is that readers will think Jesus says we should make money. They will then say Jesus supports any attempts to make money, no matter how damaging in the long run.
The moneychangers incident shows the exact opposite. In the long run there is literally nothing worse than taking a short term view of profits. Short term economics is the devil's own work, quite literally: the devil is Satan, and Satan means opposition. Short term economic thinking always has a loser somewhere, and so it is based on opposition. Long term economic thinking ensures that everybody benefits and there are no hidden costs.
Short term versus long term thinking illustrates the differences between trade, ownership, and capitalism.
Capitalism is a system where private individuals (or businesses) control the wealth. This is usually contrasted with socialism, where the state controls the wealth. Jesus believed in neither: he believed that the person who creates the wealth controls the wealth (see the parable of the talents and other examples). Surely this is capitalism? No. There is nothing to say that only a private individual can create wealth, any more than only a representative of the state can create wealth. If the state creates wealth (e.g. by creating good laws that raise the value of work) then it should control that wealth. Similarly, if an individual creates wealth (by hard work) then he or she should control that wealth.
In the case of the moneychangers, they obtained wealth that was being created by the community as a whole (the enormous future value of the temple land), and destroyed it. This is capitalism at its worst. So by supporting the principle of ownership (he who creates, owns) Jesus is anti-capitalist. He is equally anti-socialist for the same reason: society should not take wealth created by individuals.
How can we separate wealth created by the state from wealth created by individuals? By not taxing work, but instead charging rent for using land. People will then pay the true market value for the services provided by whoever controls that land. For more about Jesus' views on tax and land rent, see the commentary to Mark 2:15).
How is driving the moneychangers out compatible with not ruling by force? Because the moneychangers chose to be there. They chose these rules. Temple values are not compatible with moneychanging, so Jesus is merely helping them to live by the rules they chose.
Note that this is a genuine choice: the moneychangers could have set up stalls outside the temple. If they had no choice due to economic circumstances then Jesus would have been far more gentle, as he was with the woman taken in adultery. Violence is only justified as a way to enforce rules we accept freely through genuine choice.
How would this apply to a foreign army invading? Jesus showed by example: Rome had invaded, and Jesus paid tribute to Caesar. By doing so he changed he Romans' views through appealing to their self interest: he offered an economically superior way.
How would this apply if the foreign army was evil? People are not evil, principles are. All evil principles are economically inefficient in the long term: conflict destroys resources and prevents the sharing of ideas. So evil is the same as long term stupidity.
How would this apply to the insane? Jesus helped plenty of mentally ill people. Mental illness brings weakness, and they know if they follow Jesus they get a better outcome.
What about psychopaths? Psychopaths are dangerous because they are willing to enter into normal contracts then break them. We are then back to the moneychanger principle. If somebody willingly enters into a contract with society then society can use violence if needed to enforce that contract. The psychopath must then have the opportunity to leave, or the free choice argument does not apply.
How to run an economy without violence of any kind
Jesus showed us how to run an entire economy without violence. If we avoid ruling by authority "as the gentiles do" then we have to rule by service (such as Jesus washing his disciples' feet). Good businesses show how this can be done: they become very powerful if they treat the customer as king.
True, businesses can also do harm, but these can all be traced to market failure, not markets. Market failure is where a business can take what it did not make, or cause a problem without paying the price, or can tell lies (often by omitting crucial information). The law of Moses has rules against this: people must not steal, must be honest, and must pay for their mistakes.
They key to making rules work is an equal chance of obtaining land. This ensures that people have economic power. Without that there can be no justice, as a more powerful person can always bend the rules. So the law of Moses has the solution to market failure, and thus the solution to violence in society.
'They feared him': political instability is dangerous. The scribes and chief priests could rightly fear for their lives. In Roman times unpopular leaders often ended up dead. They could also fear for public safety: insurgence in their experience meant violence.
We therefore have the interesting experience that, to an outsider who did not know Jesus well, he might seem like a psychopath: a highly intelligent man who would choose a path that led to killing. We see this problem wherever people are sufficiently different:
These examples just illustrate the general principle that what you believe is real depends on your point of view. It literally depends on where you stand, where you point your eyes, and on the accumulation of that experience. The chief priests and scribes were not necessarily evil: they could genuinely see Jesus as a danger to society.
This is why God is the only absolute truth. God is logic, or logic. Logic is abstract truth: the principles that are true no matter what your point of view.
We can now see the logical power of Jesus' views on violence. We saw that the solution to psychopaths is to use force as long as they are inside a system they agreed to, and to let them leave that system. To others, Jesus was as bad as a psychopath, and Jesus let himself live by those same rules. He chose to accept the prevailing rules: he let himself be crucified. He thus chose to leave. There is evidence that Jesus was even smarter than we might think: he then used his mind to live a different, quieter, far more pleasant life under different rules: see After the Crucifixion.
Jesus' rules are of God, they are of logic, because they apply in every case, no matter how good or bad the person, no matter what existing political rules are applied outside. No wonder that existing rulers trembled and the people were 'astonished at his doctrine'.
This illustrates the principle that was applied to violence: if you do not like the rules of a place, find a better place. If you can't, then either you are the one in the wrong, or society's rules are wrong (they do not allow enough alternative governments, which form natural places of sanctuary).
This illustrates why Mark, the earlier gospel, is more reliable than the later gospels. Matthew summarizes this event in a slightly different way, and that changes its meaning:
Matthew makes it seem that the tree withered on its own. But Mark notes that they left and came back: anything could have happened in the time in between. This is typical of the very subtle differences that change everything. If we start reading with Matthew we get the strong impression that Jesus is supernatural. But if we rely on the earlier source we can see that Jesus was not supernatural, but his followers just thought he was.
i.e. have faith in logic. Jesus instructed it to be killed and one of his followers must have killed it. As a leader that is what you would logically expect. Jesus now gives another example of giving instructions.
This is another key text, because it's the biggest example of faith. Faith can move mountains! To see how, let us turn to the biggest example of Faith in the whole of Israel, according to Jesus:
This is how the greatest faith works: organization. You centurion understands how it works, you send people to do the work. (Incidentally this suggests that in Matthew 8, Jesus probably sent somebody to help the Centurion's servant to heal. ) Note also that Jesus is very impressed by Rome (he goes on in Matthew 28 to condemn Israel in comparison with Romans like this). Jesus is a man who likes to get things done, like the Romans.
But could even a Roman army officer command his men to move a mountain? Yes, they could. Remember that this mountain Jesus refers to is the mount of Olives: little more than a hill:
Since this mountain is small, casting it into the sea can be achieved by carrying the rocks, piece by piece, fourteen miles over to the Dead Sea. And could an army do something like this? They not only could, but they did.
In Mark 7:24 Jesus visited the country near Tyre. No doubt Jesus knew about the destruction of the city of Tyre, because it was prophesied in the Old Testament. The city of Tyre was once an island, half a mile off the coast of Israel. Nobody could defeat Tyre's navy. So Alexander the Great built a 200 meter wide causeway. Assuming the sea averaged 50 meters deep near the coast (the Mediterranean slopes down to an average depth of 1500 meters) then the volume of Earth is roughly equivalent to chopping the top of a hill and dumping it in the sea. And Alexander did this while under constant military bombardment. So organizing the removal of this mountain and dropping it into the sea was something that could be done, and Jesus knew it.
Is this a misreading of the text? Let us carry on reading Mark to see what Jesus says next:
Note the wording: therefore: this is part of the instructions for moving mountains. Prayer is a form of deep thought, a way to commune with reality and think clearly.
I. e. a social contract. You do X, and in return others do X to you.
This section on prayer seems to be the source for the Lord's Prayer in Matthew chapter 6: Jesus gives guidance on prayer, tells us to ask for what we want, and then to say forgive us our trespasses. Trespass is the Greek "Opheilema" meaning to fall beside or near or to lapse. Matthew indicates that it should be understood in the sense of falling behind in debts. Jesus came to establish an economic kingdom, and this is especially relevant.
Moses did not allow lending for interest. This is because he lived in a pre-industrial economy where most people barely survived, scraping a living from the dry land. They almost ever needed to borrow money to invest. Borrowing money meant some crisis had happened, such as the rains had failed. This could happen to anybody: one day you are the lender, the next you are the borrower.
So Moses condemned interest: your reward for lending the money is that your neighbor will help you next time. Jesus went further and said just forgive the debt: because next time it will be you who needs the debt forgiven.
Jesus was living at a time of great change: the iron age society was becoming a commercial society, where coins were replacing barter. The people were no longer uniformly poor and uniformly farmers who only traded with friends.
The "no interest" rule is logical in regard to the old society, dominated by poverty, when lending or borrowing is always with peers and always implies a crisis. The logical thing is to help each other. Logic dictates different rules for people who are not poor: the parable of the talents shows that in non-crisis situations then debts should be repaid in cash, with interest.
When dealing with the poor, any interest or calling in of debt can destroy them, forcing them to give up everything they have: to give their land to somebody else, to sell themselves into slavery, etc. It allows the rich to crush the poor, and the poor are trapped in a viscous cycle. This is how money always flows to the rich: wait for a crisis, then the one without resources has to accept worse terms. So the poor pay higher rates of interest, cannot rise out the next crisis, and end up owing everything to the rich, who become richer than ever.
All of this is perfectly legal in most societies, yet it effectively reward or punished people for blind luck. The person with bad luck has to transfer wealth to the person with good luck. The person with good luck can then ride out the next bad luck, and as it continues one group becomes gradually richer and the other is trapped.
This is economically inefficient. It transfers wealth not to the person who creates wealth, but randomly. So wealth will be taken away from the people who could use it best, so less wealth can be produced. This is a net harm to the wealth of the nation
It appears that Jesus opposes gaining or losing wealth simply because of luck. This explains why he believed in sharing: anything we do not create must be shared equally, otherwise it gives unfair advantage to somebody. The whole purpose of the law of Moses, which Jesus is updating, was to avoid any situation where Israel could be in bondage again, and that includes economic bondage.
The transfer of money from workers to land owners, being economically inefficient, gradually weakens a nation. This is most clearly seen in Rome. By the 300s and 400s all the wealth was owned by elites in the cities. The farmers in the fields were poor, and were better off moving the cities to live off the free bread (which the Caesars had to give to avoid riots). So the emperor decreed that farm workers could not leave the land. This was the start of the medieval system of serfdom.
Serfdom is highly inefficient. The land owner has no great incentive to invest: as long as the serfs were kept barely fed they could not leave and the land owner would live in comfort. But the farms did not produce much. Also, in times of war, the serfs had no incentive to fight: they had nothing to gain. So Rome became poorer, the armies became weaker, and bit by bit the mighty empire fell.
All of this could have been avoided if they had followed Jesus' advice on forgiving debts to the very poor, which is based on simple economics: we own what we create, not what we get from blind luck.
The contract is void if either side breaks it. (Early texts indicate that this verse may have been added later, but it merely clarifies the previous verse. )
Baptism is a contract. We promise to follow God, he promises to bless us. (If our God is the logos, then the results logically follow from acting rationally. ) All of religion can be seen in terms of contracts and measurable results: that is, in terms of economics.
Authority in this sense is not the threat of violence (as in a king's authority) but an economic contract: nobody is forcing anybody to follow Jesus (unlike a regular king). So people only expend work for the leader (that is, they follow him) in exchange for something. If John was from God, then people expect to get rewards from God. If John was from man then people expect to get rewards from man.
All of Jesus' teachings become clearer when seen in terms of economics.