Mark 2

Mark 2
Image of page from the 7th century Book of Durrow, from The Gospel of Mark. Trinity College Dublin
Book Gospel of Mark
Bible part New Testament
Order in the Bible part 2
Category Gospel

Mark 2 is the second chapter of the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. In this chapter, arguments between Jesus and other Jewish religious teachers begin to appear. Jesus heals a paralyzed man and forgives his sins, meets with the disreputable Levi and his friends, and argues over the need to fast, and whether or not one can harvest food on Sabbath.


The New King James Version organises this chapter as follows:

  • Mark 2:1-12 = Jesus Forgives and Heals a Paralytic
  • Mark 2:13-17 = Matthew the Tax Collector (Matthew is referred to as Levi the son of Alphaeus in the text)
  • Mark 2:18-22 = Jesus Is Questioned About Fasting
  • Mark 2:23-28 = Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

Jesus Heals a Paralyzed Man

Four men carrying a paralyzed man come to see Jesus, but they cannot get past the crowd. Mark is the only canonical gospel to specify that there were four persons carrying him.[1] It is not specified who the men are, but it is implied that some of them have faith in Jesus. Since Mark has so far listed four disciples, some writers speculate Mark might be indicating it is them doing the carrying, but there is no general agreement on this.[2]

They then create a hole in the roof of the house (Greek: ἀπεστέγασαν τὴν στέγην, apestegasan tēn stegēn, "they uncovered the roof") and lower the man in to see Jesus. Kilgallen suggests that because they "dug" through the roof this indicates that it is a poor house, with the roof made of leaves, bark, and dirt.[3] It might also have had wooden beams for more sturdy support.[2] This was the ordinary type of house in Palestine at the time.[4] Longman, Strauss and Taylor's Expanded Bible states "they dug a hole in the roof" and notes that "Palestinian roofs were generally flat and made of thatch and dried mud" [5] and The Living Bible refers to a "clay roof".[6] Jesus is impressed by their effort, praising all the men's faith, and he tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven. Some writers, including Jerome and Ambrose, exclude the paralytic himself from the commended faith but John Chrysostom includes him.[7] Jesus calls the man "Son", a term of affection.[8]

Some of the teachers of the law present (belonging to the sect of the Pharisees) are disturbed by this. "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (2:7). Mark says Jesus "...knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts..." (2:8) and knows that they doubt his ability to forgive sins. He thus seems to have an ability to feel or know what other people are thinking, which might be seen as omniscience or telepathy.

He says to them "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins ..." He says to the man "...get up, take your mat and go home." (8-11). His question does not imply that Jesus taught that sickness is caused by specific sins (although pain is linked to the Fall of Man caused by sin). The issue here is that Jesus can forgive sins (as God alone can) and heal the incurably sick. He teaches generally that the sick also have sins to be atoned for, although all are equally in need of forgiveness.

It may have been easier to tell the man something than to demand he get up and walk.[8] Jesus chooses to prove his ability to forgive sins, with a demonstration of the man's ability to walk. He forgives and heals by word alone, highlighting the power of his words.[8] Mark says that "everyone" was amazed by this. We are not informed whether this included the teachers of the law or the "obstinate" Pharisees who, it is intimated, had hardened hearts due to sin, self righteouness and "man-made" teachings.

Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man, ho huios tou anthrōpou (literally son of the human being), which he does many times in Mark. This is taken in several ways in Mark, but is a term accepted by orthodox Christianity as referring to his Messiahship.[8] The term comes from many sources such as the Book of Daniel, Daniel 7 for instance. It is also found in the Book of Enoch. In the Jewish apocalyptic tradition this title represents the judge during the final judgement. He was often viewed as angelic or as a heavenly being who comes as a flesh and blood person. Only Jesus mentions this title in the Gospels, often using it to speak about himself in the third person. It has also been seen as symbolic of God's plan for all people.[9]

As mentioned above, by healing the man and then forgiving his sins, some have seen Jesus as linking sins and illness, although Mark says Jesus healed him after he saw "their faith". Both in Luke 13:1-5 and John 9:2-3 Jesus rejects the notion that illness and misfortune are the result of sins. Other parts of the Bible, such as Book of Job, take a similar view of life's misfortunes, which happen to righteous people as well as to unbelievers, as not being divine punishment. Other stories such as the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:16-19:29 seem to stress that carnal sins can result in God's intervention and earthly punishment. There is a firm principle in the New Testament that sin leads inevitably to death, spiritual and material, unless forgiven by God, as in this case.

The teachers say that only God can forgive one's sins, some see Exodus 34:6-7 and Isaiah 43:25 and 44:22 as proof of this claim. Mark thus leaves it implied that Jesus is God and that faith in his power can lead to not just a cure of physical ills but to a forgiveness of a person's sins.[10] However, this statement must be balanced with St Paul's acceptance of his "thorn in the flesh". This makes it clear that faith does not automatically result in bodily healing (as opposed to spiritual healing). Early Christians may have used this story to buttress their claims of Jesus' ability to forgive sins.[2] Thus to the teachers Jesus claim is blasphemy as they do not think Jesus is God, but to Mark's audience this confirms their belief in Jesus' divinity.[8]

This is the first conflict between Jesus and other Jewish teachers in Mark. Mark might be starting his explanation of why these Jewish authorities later turned on Jesus.[9]

This incident of the cure of a paralytic and his subsequent forgiveness of his sins is told in all the Synoptic Gospels, (Luke 5:17-26 and Matthew 9:1-8). All the synoptics agree that the man was paralyzed and that the teachers of the law were incensed at Jesus because he said he could forgive the man's sins. It is implied that unlike the people, the teachers of the law were not open to Jesus and to what he was doing. They were making it clear that they did not think him "special", but an ordinary man.

The Discourse on ostentation after the Lord's Prayer states: "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." (Matt 6:9-15)

See also Christianity and Judaism#Sin and Original Sin.

Calling of Levi

Jesus, while teaching a large crowd by the lake, finds Levi at the tax collector's booth and says "Follow me!" Luke 5:27-29 also calls him "Levi". Matthew's version of this story clearly lists him as "Matthew", the tax collector and apostle, in 9:9,10:3. Mark lists him as Levi the son of Alphaeus, although Alphaeus is also listed as the name of the father of James. A few manuscripts refer to James and not Levi, but most think this is an attempt by a copyist at correction.[8] Some just assume he had two names, Matthew-Levi,[11] maybe a middle or nickname, and both fathers had the same name. Mark names Matthew but Levi as one of the Twelve Apostles in 3:16-19, so if one considers Mark alone it is not clear this Levi was an Apostle.

A tax collector could mean two things. He could have been an independent contractor with the Roman government, who paid taxes to Rome and then got the right to extract taxes from the people in a certain area, with an added fee for the collector and people he would hire. He might have also been a toll collector for Herod Antipas,[8] extracting the tolls people had to pay to enter parts of Palestine, and Capernaum was an area with a high traffic of people and merchants.[12] Either way, Levi would have been a very unpopular and even despised person.

Jesus and his disciples eat with Levi and his disreputable friends and the "teachers of the law who were Pharisees" (2:16) ask his disciples why. Teaching the law was a profession, and the Pharisees were a group of men who were considered pious, so Mark states these people are both Pharisees who also taught the law. Whether they were at the dinner or passing by and saw this meal is unclear. The proper preparing and eating of food are very important in Judaism. It was even considered dangerous to eat with those who did not observe the same dining customs by some Jews like the Pharisees.[9] See also the "Incident at Antioch"[13] Gal 2:11-21.

Most think, and most translations say, that this was at Levi's house, although the original texts state this was at "his" house, which could be Levi's or perhaps Jesus' house, maybe the one he was teaching in already mentioned.[8] Mark says many people are now following Jesus, more than the four disciples he has already listed. See also Mark 6#Healing of the sick of Gennesaret. In contrast to the many followers Jesus attracted, it is not clear how many actual disciples (students) he recruited, only Luke 6:17 calls it a "great crowd of ... disciples" and John 6:66 says many left.

Psalm 119 and 101 speak of God's disfavor of sinners. Jesus replies the famous "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew has him say "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice." between the two sentences in Mark's version. Luke says "... but sinners to repentance". Jesus compares himself to a doctor to show that, as a doctor fights disease by working with the sick, so Jesus must go to sinners in order to help them overcome their sins. Jesus said he was seeking repentance in 1:14-15.

The Oxyrhynchus Gospels 1224 5:1-2 also record this episode of "dining with sinners".

Jesus thus ends the debate with a pithy statement with no rebuttal by his opponents. Many see this as Mark's way of telling the story to set up Jesus for his memorable words, which Mark uses in the next two incidents and others as well. Scholars have labeled this method of narration an apophthegm, chreia or pronouncement story.[14] All three synoptics have this occur after the healing of the paralyzed man.

Fasting and new wineskins

It appears Mark then jumps to a future time, though it is possible he is still referring to Jesus' dinner with the sinners. Some (unnamed) people ask why is it that the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees are fasting (observing a fast, i.e. not eating), but the disciples of Jesus are not (2:18). People fasted for many reasons, such as mourning or penitence,[14] but another reason was to prepare for the anticipated coming of the messiah and perhaps even to speed up the process.[15] Leviticus 16:29 demands fasting on the Day of Atonement, "a permanent statute", "whether the native, or the alien" (New American Standard Bible). Luke 18:11-12 has an unnamed Pharisee brag about his fasting. For what reason John's disciples were fasting Mark does not say. In Matthew 6:16-18, Jesus gives instructions about fasting, but see also Sermon on the Mount#Interpretations. Jesus also talks about fasting in the Gospel of Thomas in sayings 14, 27, 104, sometimes against it such as saying 14 but saying 104 closely resembles this story about fasting and weddings.

Jesus justifies this behavior and speaks of himself as the bridegroom and his disciples as his guests at his wedding and by giving the parable of the Patch and the Wineskins. Jesus speaking of himself as the bridegroom carries messianic overtones. Jesus is referred to as a bridegroom in several places in the New Testament such as John 3:29, 2 Corinthians 11:2, the Epistle to the Ephesians 5:32 and Revelation 19:7 and 21:2. In Thomas saying 75 Jesus talks about being alone and entering the bridal suite. Several books of the Jewish Bible speak of God as Israel's husband such as the Book of Hosea 2:19, the Book of Isaiah 54:4-8 and 62:4-5, the Book of Jeremiah 2:2 and the Book of Ezekiel 16:7-63.

Jesus then says the bridegroom will be "taken from them" and then his disciples will fast, on that day, see also Lent. This is taken as an allusion to Jesus' death. For those who do not believe Jesus really had foreknowledge of his death this is taken as a product of the early Church.[8] There is no purpose in fasting as the messiah, Jesus, is already here and his coming is like a wedding celebration, at which people do not fast.[15]

Jesus then speaks of wine and wineskins:

No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins. (2:21-21)

This is a very famous saying of Jesus. What its exact meaning is in the original context is not totally clear to even scholars today.[8] It is easily interpreted to mean Jesus was proposing a new way of doing things. The new "unshrunk" patch for the cloth can not be melded to the old cloth as it will shrink and make the tear of the cloth worse. One can also not use "new" wine with "old" wineskins as the new wine will ferment and expand and break the old skins. Jesus thus seems to be concerned that the patch and the "new" wine as well as the "old" cloth and old wineskins be preserved.[16] This might be Jesus trying to convey that one must shed those old things that are incompatible with his new way.[17] Some of the old things however are worth preserving, but one must not mix the two.

Many, especially Christians, have interpreted it as Jesus saying he was the start of a new religion separate from John the Baptist and Second Temple Judaism, called Christianity, for example see Ignatius of Antioch Magnesians X. Some Christians have used it to propose new ways of being Christian or even entirely new forms of Christianity. As early as the second century, Marcion used it to justify his doctrine, later called heretical Marcionism. Against these interpretations, Luke 5:39 adds: "And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, 'The old is good enough.'" This saying is also found partially as saying 47 of the Gospel of Thomas. This is the midpoint of Jesus' early conflicts with other Jewish teachers in Mark.

The interpretation favored by John Calvin does not suffer from the inconsistencies and the disconnectedness of the interpretations listed above. In his Commentary on Matthew, Mark, and Luke Calvin states that the old wineskins and the old garment represent Jesus' disciples, and the new wine and unshrunk cloth represent the practice of fasting twice a week. Fasting this way would be burdensome to the new disciples, and would be more than they could bear.

Plucking grain on Sabbath

Next, Jesus' disciples pick some grain on Sabbath, and the Pharisees accuse them of breaking Sabbath (2:23-24). The command to observe Sabbath is found in Exodus 31:16-17, a "perpetual covenant ... [for] the people of Israel" (NRSV). Deuteronomy 23:25 says one may pick grain from someone else's field. It would appear that the Pharisees were following Jesus or simply ran into him somehow in or near the grainfields. Some think this is not historical but is Mark's literary way of debating Sabbath observance issues.[16] E. P. Sanders argues that these debates on Sabbath, handwashing, and food are artificial constructs of Mark as there were debates between Paul and other Christians (Gal 2:11-14; 4:10; Rom 14:1-6) about the issue after Jesus' ministry.[18] The Jesus Seminar determined Mark 2:23-28, Matt 12:1-8, Luke 6:1-5 to be "pink" acts of Jesus, that is "a close approximation of what Jesus did" and call them "Sabbath observance."

Jesus points out to them a story about David found in 1 Samuel 21. David had been allowed to eat special consecrated bread reserved for the priests, detailed in Leviticus 24:5-9. Thus if David was allowed to break a commandment for hunger, so Jesus can do the same. In Mark Jesus says this was when Abiathar was high priest, while Samuel says the high priest was Ahimelech, Abiathar's father. Luke 6:4 and Matthew 12:4 both do not name the high priest. Mark may have simply made a reading error or had an incomplete or inaccurate copy of the Books of Samuel. A few early Marcan manuscripts omit this phrase, but most scholars think the name of the priest was originally written by Mark, not a later copyist.[16]

Jesus then says "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." (2:27-28) Thus human needs take precedence over strict observance of the law. Some see this as a radical departure from the Jewish understanding of the law (see also Christianity and Judaism). Both Luke 6:1-5 and Matthew 12:1-8 do not have the first phrase putting people ahead of Sabbath. Since form critics believe the Q hypothesis and that Luke and Matthew copied from Mark, many argue they might have found this too radical and so chose not to include it. Jesus here claims he knows what Sabbath is for, and thus that he knows the mind of God, something only God could do, and equates himself with the "Lord of the Sabbath", God.[19] The passage thus has a christological climax.[16]

Most scholars agree that Sabbath and proper observance of Mosaic law in general were a point of contention between Jesus and other Jewish teachers. A minority position, held by scholars such as E. P. Sanders, is that these do not constitute proof of a rejection of the law, e.g., Sanders claims there was no significant conflict between the Pharisees as a group and Jesus and that the Church took some time to reach its position on Sabbath, which makes it difficult to believe Jesus specifically taught one position or the other.[20] The Jewish Encyclopedia article on Jesus argues the Halakah ("Jewish Law") was not in so definite a form at this period due to the disputes of Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai, see also Hillel and Shammai.

There were debates within Early Christianity, such as at the Council of Jerusalem between Paul and Jewish Christians, over just how much of the Law of Moses one should follow. See also Old Testament#Christian views on Mosaic Law for the modern debates. This passage might have been used by the early Church in defense of their less than strict observance of Sabbath against Jews like the Pharisees who held a harder line on Sabbath observance.[16] The Jewish Encyclopedia article on Jesus notes: "...stricter rabbis allowed only the saving of life to excuse the slightest curtailment of the Sabbath rest (Shab. xxii. 6)." See also Council of Jamnia.

These stories are almost entirely the same in Luke 5-6, and in Matthew except for the story of Sabbath, which occurs in Matthew at Chapter 12. They do not occur in John except for perhaps the paralyzed man.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia: New Testament: Misunderstood Passages:

The Jewish Encyclopedia article on Gentile: Gentiles May Not Be Taught the Torah notes the following reconciliation:

See also Expounding of the Law from the Gospel of Matthew.


  1. E. H. Plumptre, Ellicott's Commentary for Modern Readers on Mark 2, accessed 4 June 2017
  2. 1 2 3 Brown et al. 601
  3. Kilgallen 49
  4. Miller 16
  5. Expanded Bible, Mark 2:4
  6. The Living Bible, Mark 2:4
  7. Pulpit Commentary on Mark 2, accessed 11 November 2017
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Brown et al. 602
  9. 1 2 3 Miller 17
  10. Kilgallen 53
  11.  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "St. Matthew". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  12. Kilgallen 55
  13.  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Judaizers". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. See section titled: "THE INCIDENT AT ANTIOCH"
  14. 1 2 Miller 18
  15. 1 2 Kilgallen 58
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 Brown et al. 603
  17. Kilgallen 59
  18. "Just how incredible many of them are, however, seems not to be realized by many." -Jesus and Judaism, 1985, ISBN 0-8006-0743-0, pp.264-269, Sabbath, handwashing, and food
  19. Kilgallen 61
  20. Sanders Jesus and Judaism, 1985, pages 264-269 on Sabbath, handwashing and food


  • Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament Doubleday 1997 ISBN 0-385-24767-2
  • Brown, Raymond E. et al. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary Prentice Hall 1990 ISBN 0-13-614934-0
  •  Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Judaizers". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  • E. P. Sanders Accessed 11 October 2005
  • Jewish Encyclopedia on Jesus Accessed 8 September 2006
  • Kilgallen, John J. A Brief Commentary on the Gospel of Mark Paulist Press 1989 ISBN 0-8091-3059-9
  • Marcionism Accessed 11 October 2005
  • Mark 2 NIV Accessed 29 September 2005
  • Miller, Robert J. Editor The Complete Gospels Polebridge Press 1994 ISBN 0-06-065587-9
  • Sanders, E.P. Jesus and Judaism Fortress Press 1985 ISBN 0-8006-0743-0
Preceded by
Mark 1
Chapters of the Bible
Gospel of Mark
Succeeded by
Mark 3
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