Home » Gospel of Mark » Mark 8

Mark 8

Scripture: Mark 8:1-9:1

Overview:

  • Once again Jesus finds himself surrounded by a hungry crowd and has compassion on them
  • Jesus doesn’t want to send them away, but the disciples don’t understand how the crowd will be able to find bread otherwise
  • Jesus asks the disciples for the food they have on them, which is seven loaves of bread and a few fish
  • Jesus has the people take a seat while he blesses the food and starts handing it out
  • Everyone eats until they are satisfied. There’s four thousand of them. Dang.
  • The disciples pick up seven basketfuls of leftovers.
  • Jesus and his peeps then head off to Dalmanutha where some Pharisees show up and demand a sign from Jesus
  • Jesus is irritated and tells them, “No signs for you”
  • In the boat, on their way back to the other side, the disciples realize they have no bread with them
  • Jesus tells them that they should beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod
  • The disciples say, “Huh?”
  • Jesus reminds them of the feeding of the 5,000 and all the leftovers, then the feeding of the 4,000 and all those leftovers, then asks why they don’t get it already.
  • When they get to Bethsaida a blind man is brought to Jesus for him to heal
  • After the first try the man can see partly and says, “I can barely distinguish people from trees”
  • After the second attempt the man can see perfectly.
  • Jesus sends the blind man home and tells him not to go into the village
  • On their way to Caesarea Philippi Jesus asks his disciples who people say he is
  • They reply that some people think he’s a prophet, or Elijah, or John the Baptist
  • Jesus asks who the disciples think he is and Peter says, “The Christ”
  • Jesus says, “Keep that info on the down low,” then proceeds to tell them that the Messiah is going to be handed over and killed by his enemies
  • Peter takes Jesus aside and tells him it’s not supposed to go like that
  • Jesus tells Peter that he’s acting on behalf of Satan and to get back in line
  • Jesus then tells his disciples that if they want to follow him, it’s going to be hard, and they’ve got to be willing to give it all up. It does no good to gain the world but lose your soul.
  • Jesus then tells them that some of them will still be around when the kingdom comes in power

Historical Context:

Feeding of the 4,000 

Many scholars feel that the feeding of the 4,000 is either (1) the same event as the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6), retold with a Gentile focus, or (2) it is a distinct and separate event. In the case of it being a separate event, the disciples may have (A) not expected Jesus to repeat the same miracle twice, or (B) may have not expected Jesus to perform a miracle for what may have been a more Gentile, or Hellenistic crowd (as determined by the textual nuances listed below).

Of note: the feeding of the 5000 is the only pre-resurrection miracle to be included in all four gospels.[2] The feeding of the 4000 is contained only in Matthew and Mark.

Similarities and Differences

Feeding of the 5,000 (Mk. 6:33-44) Feeding of the 4,000 (Mk. 8:1-10)
Jesus and his disciples go to a solitary place to escape the crowds. The people race to meet Jesus there. The crowds have been traveling with Jesus and his disciples for “three days” and are in a desolate place.
Jesus feels compassion for them, because they are like sheep without a shepherd – a reference to Psalm 23. Jesus feels compassion for the crowds.
The disciples suggest that the people go into the “surrounding countryside and villages” to buy food, indicating they may have been near a more populated area in Galilee.[3] Jesus is worried that the crowds may “faint on the way” to find food because “some of them have come a long distance, indicating that the location may be in the more sparsely populated Gentile Decapolis.[3]
Disciples are worried that it may cost “200 denarii” (half a year’s wages) to feed everyone Disciples are worried that no one could “find enough bread” in that “desolate area.”
The disciples find 5 loaves and 2 fish. The disciples find 7 loaves and a few fish.
The Greek word for fish used is “opsarion.” This word refers to the salted and dried “small fish” common in Jewish regions.[3] The Greek word for fish used is “ichthus” which is the standard word for fish in Greek, indicating a more Gentile influence.[3]
Jesus has the people sit down by groups in the “green grass” evoking the image of Moses blessing the Israelites, as well as indicating that the event took place in the Spring, near Passover.[3] Jesus directs the people to “sit on the ground.”
Jesus blesses the loaves and fish at the same time. Jesus blesses the loaves and the fish separately, similar to how Gentiles at the time would’ve blessed each course of the meal separately.
The people ate until they were satisfied. The people ate until they were satisfied.
12 basketfuls were collected, invoking the concept of the 12 tribes of Israel. 7 basketfuls were collected, the number 7 invoking the idea of spiritual completion or perfection.
The Greek word  for baskets used is “kophinos,” which refers to a small shoulder basket used specifically by Jews to carry their food and bedding when traveling.[3] The Greek word  for baskets is “spuris,” which means ‘hamper’ or a much larger basket.  (Paul was lowered down the Damascus walls in a spuris in Acts 9.25).[3]
5,000 men (not including women and children) may be symbolic of the first five books of the Old Testament (the Torah).[3]  4,000 people (women and children not specified) may be symbolic of the number four – the number of the Earth, since on day four the Earth’s creation was finished (five and six are devoted to creating its inhabitants, the seventh to rest).[2]

Dalmanutha

Dalmanutha is only mentioned in Mark’s Gospel, however, the corresponding passage inMatthew 15:39 says, Jesus and his disciples “came into the coasts of Magdala,” which is generally considered to be the modern-day town of Migdal.. Magdala is most well-known for its association with Mary Magdalene (Mary of Magdala), who most likely was from that town.[9]

Some scholars suggest that Dalmanutha is derived from a Hebrew term meaning “wall” (the radicals of Dalmanutha, dylm’, are found in the Talmud) and could have meant one of the enclosed cities of that region.[1]

A Sign

When the Pharisees are asking for a sign they may have been asking for (1) an opportunity to see one of Jesus’ miracles themselves, as they may have not been present during any of the previous events, or (2) more likely asking for a proof of his authority, possibly a prediction, a sign from heaven (such as the birth of a child that would herald the demise of a country as in Isaiah 7), or an apocalyptic sign (indicating a militaristic victory over Israel’s enemies).[8]

It is also possible that the “sign” requested is not a miracle, but a banner, totem, or token of the Davidic messiah, associated in various ancient Jewish texts and the Old Testament with a holy war, thereby indicating the beginning of a holy war against the Romans.[5]

Note that the concept of asking for a sign to authenticate a prophet or another person claiming divine authorization is a thoroughly Biblical and Jewish one. For example, it features in both the stories of both Moses and Elijah (Ex. 4:1-9, 29-31; 7:8-22, etc.; 1 Kings 18:38; Isaiah 7:10-17; 38:7-8); so the desire for “a sign” is not in itself wrong. By adding the phrase “testing him [Jesus],” however, Mark paints the request of the Pharisees as a dishonest one.[1]

Jesus’ response in calling them “‘this generation'” has Old Testament implications connected to the wilderness wandering period ( Num. 32:13; Deut. 1:35; 32:5,20) and Israel’s impatience and ignorance in assessing the plans God has for them.[5]

Yeast

Yeast is a primary ingredient of bread and takes only a small amount to effect the entire amount of dough. Jesus was emphasizing that even a little “yeast” could infect the whole group.

In Matthew (16:12), the “yeast” is explained to be the “teachings” of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and in Luke (15:1) it is described as the Pharisees’ “hypocrisy.” In Mark the meaning of “yeast” remains elusive, and Jesus’ warning seems to focus more on the Pharisees and Herod (or possibly the Herodians, who were generally Sadducees) themselves as being Jesus’ enemies.[1]

Jesus may have been engaging in some wordplay here as the terms “leven” (yeast) and “word” are very similar in Aramaic.[8]

Bethsaida:

Bethsaida is located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, immediately to the east of the outflow of the Jordan into the lake.[1]  It is located in a “desert place,” or an uncultivated area used for grazing livestock.[10] Bethsaida, meaning either “house of fishing” or “house of the fisherman,” was at the time of Jesus a large, fortified village covering an area of about 20 acres. It was a working-class settlement, a fishing village,[1] the native city of Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Philip.

The tetrarch, Herod Philip, elevated the city to the status of a Greek city-state (polis) and renamed it Bethsaida-Julias, in honor of Julia, the daughter of the former Roman emperor, Augustus, and wife of the current emperor, Tiberius. Philip also built a lavishly decorated temple on the highest spot of the town. Bethsaida’s status as a polis, together with this temple, suggest that it was one of the centers of the Roman emperor-worship cult.[1]

It is possible, as well, that there was another city named Bethsaida in Galilee, closer to Capernaum.

Healing of the Blind Man in Bethsaida

The blind man healed in Bethsaida is a miracle recounted only in Mark’s gospel. It is generally considered that Mark leveraged this event to emphasize the disciples’ slow and gradual understanding of Jesus’ true identity as the suffering messiah, and is seen as the pivot point of the gospel itself as here afterwards Jesus explicitly teaches his disciples about the nature of his messiahship and begins his journey to Jerusalem.

It is likely that Jesus took the man outside of the city due to it’s rejection of him, as indicated in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus curses Bethsaida for it’s unbelief.

Jesus may have used spit here because the eyes were gummed by a secretion that had become hard. To wet them would be a natural expression of removing the obstruction and opening them.[7]  Note also that spitting on his eyes (medicinal/physical) and laying his hands on him (spiritual) were both cultural ways of healing.[9]

When the man is first touched by Jesus and says “I see people; they look like trees walking around,” it would be better translated that he sees “people walking, but so indistinctly, that but for their motion I could not distinguish them from trees.”[7]

Caesarea Philippi

Caesarea Philippi is an ancient city located 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee on the southwest slope of Mount Hermon. It has lush groves of trees, grassy fields and an abundance of water. In the Old Testament, it was known as Baal Hermon and Baal Gad. The city was later was named Panias after the Greek god Pan who was worshipped there[1] at a cave from which a spring gushed out and down to the valley below.[11]

Herod the Great built a temple in the city and dedicated it to Emperor Augustus, who had given him the town. After Herod’s death, his son, Philip, built the city Panias, later naming it Caesarea in honor of the Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus. It came to be referred to as Caesarea Philippi (after Philip) or Caesarea Panias.[1]

Jesus and his disciples are said to have traveled to the villages around Caesarea Philippi, which refers to small, outlying settlements surrounding the larger, main city.[1] Of note is that one of the villages would’ve been Gamala (from Aramaic gamla “camel,” as it was located on a hill), the home of Judas of Galilee, the founder of the Zealot movement (a violent, militaristic Jewish faction intent on overthrowing Rome).

Christ:

Both mashiach, or Messiahin Hebrew, and christos, or Christ, in Greek mean “anointed.” In Hebrew, “anointed” refers to a ritual of consecrating someone or something by putting holy oil upon it. It is used throughout the Old Testament in reference to anointing a Jewish king, Jewish priests, prophets, the Temple and its utensils, unleavened bread, and a non-Jewish king (Cyrus king of Persia).[12]

In Jewish eschatology, the term refers to a future Jewish king descended from the line of king David, who will be “anointed” with holy anointing oil[12] and is expected to restore justice and good fortunes of the people of God, as well as establish and protect an everlasting kingdom over all the earth. The Messiah was to be the perfect king chosen by God, through whom God would first deliver Israel from its enemies and then cause it to dwell in eternal peace and tranquility.[1]

Prior to Jesus, the “Servant of YHWH” nor the “son of man” concepts from the Old Testament were not associated with messianic connotations. The messiah was expected to be entirely human (through far greater than God’s earlier messengers to Israel, free from sin), mighty and wise in the spirit of God, and the individual who would rid Israel of all her enemies, gather the faithful from dispersion, and rule in justice and glory.

The concept of a ‘king messiah’ was a dangerous one, and an obvious threat against the Romans and their Jewish collaborators (ex. Herodians or Sadducees).[1]

For Jesus to then leverage Peter’s proclamation of him as a victorious leader as an opportunity to speak of his impending rejection, suffering, and death was contrary to the notion of the messiah.[1]

Satan:

The name Satan is derived from the Semitic root “śṭn” meaning “to be hostile,” “to test,” or “to accuse.” The name was a familiar Jewish term for the devil (also called Beelzeboul). Jesus calling Peter “Satan” implies that Peter’s protests, even though described as the thoughts of man, are so much at odds with the “thoughts of God” to be considered as coming from a supernatural source. The rejection God’s plan for his Messiah puts Peter (and all the disciples by proxy, as Peter was likely their spokesman) in the position of God’s enemy.[1]

When Jesus tells Peter to “get behind me” it is is generally interpreted to mean that Peter’s efforts to “correct” Jesus had presumed the disciple needed to take a leadership role (out in front of Jesus) in an effort to guide him. Jesus then ordered Peter to assume his proper place behind the Lord as a devoted follower and disciple.[6]

Note how Peter intended his rebuke of Jesus to be private, but Jesus “turns around” and makes his rebuke of Peter public — Jesus is not going to be “taken aside”.[1]

Observations:

  • A “three-day” journey is often used in the Old Testament in anticipation of some significant event (Gen. 30:36; Ex. 3:18; 5:3; 8:27; Num. 10:33; Josh. 1:11). A three-day fast itself also precedes some important events (1 Sam. 30:12; Esther 4:16).[1]
  • The embarking on a boat is a frequent narrative transitional device in Mark (3:9; 5:21; 6:32; 8:13) and is often the occasion for a significant revelation (4:1-9; 4:35-41; 6:45-52; 8:13-21).[1]
  • The word anastenazō (“to sigh or to groan deeply”) is rare, occuring only here in the New Testament and fewer than thirty times in all of Greek literature. A survey of its uses reveals that it is not so much an expression of anger or indignation so much as of dismay or despair.[1]
  • When Jesus asks his disciples, “Do you not yet see or understand?” they echo the thought of Isaiah 6:9 – an accusation against an unbelieving generation (also Jeremiah 5:21; Ezekiel 12:2; Ps. 115:5-6). Jesus chastises the disciples as being no better off than the “outsiders” referenced in chapter 4. Their privileged insight into the “mysteries of the Kingdom” seems for now to have deserted them.[1]
  • “Deny”, in this context, means to disassociate oneself completely from someone, to sever the relationship.
  • This is the first mention of the “cross” in the gospel.
  • This phrase “take up your cross” refers to the act of a condemned criminal carrying his own crossbar to the place of crucifixion. This would’ve been a well understood reference in Jesus day–a powerful metaphor for a painful, shameful death.[9]
  • In the Old Testament the most common Hebrew word for “glory” (kabod) was originally a commercial term (which referred to a pair of scales) meaning “to be heavy.” That which was heavy was valuable or had intrinsic worth.[9]

Discussion:

  • What signs do we ask of Jesus? What signs are we missing? Why do we need one?
  • Who does our culture say Jesus is? Who do we say Jesus is?
  • Just as Peter was told to “get behind” Jesus for trying to give him instructions on how the Messiah should act, how do we “get ahead” of Jesus with our ideas of what he should be doing?
  • How does one completely cut off a relationship with oneself (deny yourself) to follow Jesus? What does that look like in practical terms?
  • In the context of not being ashamed of Jesus, what does it mean to gain the whole world but lose your soul?

References:

  1. Catholic Answers
  2. Grace Through Faith
  3. Jewish Believer
  4. Theological Ramblings
  5. Turton’s Commentary
  6. Coffman’s Commentary
  7. Barnes’ Commentary
  8. Utley’s Commentary
  9. Dalmanutha Discovered
  10. Bethsaida – Wikipedia
  11. Caesarea Philippi – Wikipedia
  12. Messiah – Wikipedia
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