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Chapter three of Mark can be quickly summarized:


Summary The Pharisees conspire with the Herodians against Jesus because he heals a man's withered hand on the Sabbath. Questioning their legal and ritualistic piety, Jesus challenges them: "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?" The fame of Jesus has apparently grown because Mark next records him as being surrounded by a throng near the Sea of Galilee; because the press of the crowd is so great, he asks his disciples to take him out upon the sea in a boat. Unclean spirits fell down before him and proclaimed "You are the Son of God!"  Jesus admonished those healed not to make him known. From the sea, Jesus goes up into the mountains where he appoints the twelve:

16 So he appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); 17 James son of Zebedee and John the brother of James (to whom he gave the name Boanerges, that is, Sons of Thunder); 18 and Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, 19 and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

He next returns home with a crowd following him. His family describes Jesus as having gone mad; the scribes say he has been infected by Beelzebul and demons. Jesus points out to the scribes that it is illogical that he would be infected by Beelzebul at the same time that he is casting out Satan; a divided kingdom, Jesus reminds them, is a kingdom which will not stand. This section concludes with a warning about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit:

28 "Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"— 30 for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."

This chapter concludes with word that Jesus' mother and brothers are asking for him; Jesus responds by saying that everyone gathered there are his brothers and sisters:  "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."


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The Man with a Withered Hand




A Multitude at the Seaside




The List of the Twelve




Jesus and Beelzebul





The Mother and Brothers of Jesus



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Readers recognize Mark 3 as continuing the Sabbath controversy  against the disciples' plucking grain as they, perhaps, casually walked through  the grain fields. This time, however, Jesus is, once again, in the synagogue being watched whether he would heal a withered hand on this special day--do good work (3:1-6).  NISV remarks that this is a very general and double question: while it was lawful to save life on the sabbath, to "do good" is general; irony exists between  the work involved in doing good and that involved with conspiring with the Herodians, Jewish leaders associated with Herod,  to destroy Jesus.  Turbin quotes Meir to show that Jesus performs no work here unless the command itself be so construed:


"One of the remarkable aspects of the story of Jesus healing the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath is that, quite literally, Jesus does nothing. That is to say, he performs no action whatever. He does not touch the man, lay hands upon him, seize him by the hand, or raise him up, as is the case in some other Gospel accounts of Jesus' miracles. Jesus simply issues two verbal orders: the man is to stand up in the sight of the congregation and to stretch forth his hand. On doing that, the man finds his hand healed. Since Jesus has engaged in no physical activity whatever, it is unbelievable that the Pharisees, who differed both among themselves and with other Jewish groups on precise points of Sabbath observance, would think that they could have Jesus put to death merely for speaking healing words on a Sabbath."


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In his summary of this section, the familiar, and somewhat facile "not history" reemerges with Turton at his best when he looks for associations with Old Testament literature:


Historicity cannot be supported here. First, it contains an impossible supernatural healing. Second, it is based on 1 Kings 13:4-6:

4 When King Jeroboam heard what the man of God cried out against the altar at Bethel, he stretched out his hand from the altar and said, "Seize him!" But the hand he stretched out toward the man shriveled up, so that he could not pull it back. 5 Also, the altar was split apart and its ashes poured out according to the sign given by the man of God by the word of the LORD . 6 Then the king said to the man of God, "Intercede with the LORD your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored." So the man of God interceded with the LORD , and the king's hand was restored and became as it was before. (NIV)

In 1 Kings the event takes place in an altar, in Mark it occurs in a synagogue. It is interesting to note that in the verse in 1 Kings 13 prior to this there is a reference to the 'Son of David' (Josiah) who will sacrifice the priests of the high places on the altar. After the Temple was taken, Titus had the Jewish priests slain. 


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As noted earlier about overall structure, Mark 1:16-3:6 forms a first major segment of Mark, composed of two parallel units each  beginning with a calling story, four healing stories  and four controversy stories, each ending with a combined healing/controversy (NISB Notes). Mark 3:7-6:32 begins the next major segment:

This second major section of the Gospel begins with a summary of Jesus/ actions and then the designation of the special twelve disciples to 'be with him' (3:14); and it ends with the mission of the twelve disciples. In between the designation and the sending out of the twelve, the first long teaching speech of Jesus is Mark is presented (4:1-34)….This second segment clarifies the responses of the various groups Jesus encounters to his message of healing/salvation and provides the listening audience with orientation and direction about what to expect as the story continues. (NISB Notes).


Mark's intercalating technique is demonstrated in the short story of Jesus' family  (20-21, 31-35) which is intertwined with a controversy with the scribes (22-30) as remarked in NISB notes. Here, the family of Jesus go out to rescue him from a crowd that says "Jesus has gone out of his mind" (21); the scribes say, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of demons he casts out demons" (22). Turton sees in Beelzebul a reference to 2 Kings 1, "a passage Mark has already paralleled twice, in the opening account of John the Baptist, who resembled Elijah, and in the story of the paralytic in Mark 2":


2 Kings 1:1 

Now Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria and injured himself. So he sent messengers, saying to them, "Go and consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, to see if I will recover from this injury." (NIV)


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 To these accusations, the narrator tells readers specifically that Jesus begins to teach in parables (23):



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Since the purpose of parables will be addressed in chapter 4, here it may be worthwhile to explain that Mark's parables have traditionally been interpreted allegorically as "expressing the meaning of one thing in language about something different" (NISB Notes). According to NISB Notes, Mark follows Greek rhetorical tradition, referring to a large class of brief writing, including riddles, proverbs, fables, and symbolic acts contrasting to Roman rhetoric which uses brief comparisons or metaphors to illustrate an argument. In this case, the parables appear in the form of two questions followed by assertions:


23 And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.27 But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. 28 "Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"— 30 for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit." 


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Readers will note a couple of matters here: Jesus replies in response to the accusations of being out of his mind and being  Beelzebul and effectively to the earlier charge of blasphemy (2:7); in this case, the scribes have blasphemed by calling good evil (1:28-30).  Bible translations have usually opted to translate the Greek "Adversary" into Satan, Young's literal translation translating it as "Adversary," this also the case with Paul McReynolds  Word Study Greek English New Testament with Complete Concordance using "adversary." A divided Satan/kingdom/house will not be able to stand; a strong entity would have to be tied up before his house could be plundered (27), and in the case of Satan, "his end has come" (23). Turton quotes  Tolbert in response to what he considers short allegories:


Either of two allegories may be in action here. Perhaps the "strong man" is Satan and Jesus is now plundering his house by casting out demons. Or perhaps the strong man is Jesus, who will eventually be led away bound, his house plundered by the betrayal of Judas, denounced as a blasphemer and executed as a criminal (Tolbert 1989, p100).


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 This story is further tied to chapter 1:23 and the healing of the man with the "unclean spirit."  Here, the blasphemy is that the scribes have said that Jesus "has an unclean spirit" (30). Readers will note the close tie between demons and "unclean spirits."  Ironically, earlier the demons have recognized Jesus (24), but here, the scribes have sought to possess power over Jesus by identifying him as Satan/Adversary. Turton points to the use of enthymemes as argument:



v23-28: Vernon Robbins (2002) states "As Jesus elaborates his response to the scribes, he uses the argumentative procedures of wisdom discourse that features parables, enthymemes, and contraries." Here he lays out the structure of the argumentation:

Proposition/Result: (23) How can Satan cast out Satan? [= Satan cannot cast out Satan.] 


Case: (24) If a kingdom is divided against itself, 

Result: that kingdom cannot stand. 

Case: (25) And if a house is divided against itself, 

Result: that house will not be able to stand. 

Case: (26) And if Satan has risen up against himself and  is divided, 

Result: he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.¡¨ 

[Unstated Rule: If a powerful domain rises up against itself, it will destroy itself.]

Argument from the Contrary:

Case: (27) "But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; 

Result: then indeed he may plunder his house." 

[Unstated Contrary Rule: If one powerful domain overpowers another, it may plunder the domain it subdues.] 

Conclusion As Authoritative Apocalyptic Judgment: 

Rule: (28) "Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; (29) but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" ¡X 

Case: (30) for they [the scribes] had said, "He has an unclean spirit." [= they had said that he cast out unclean spirits by an unclean spirit (Beelzebul), thus blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.] 

[Unstated Result: The scribes never have forgiveness for their assertion about Jesus.]


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Structurally, Mark 3 and 6 parallel in such a way as make both Jesus' family and scribes into outsiders:


Tolbert (1989, see table below) also sees this pericope and the opening of Mark 6 as related at the structural level. 



Mark 3

Mark 6


by the sea,


go to lonely place by boat,

crowd from many towns,

crowd from all the towns

boat ready so as not to be crushed,


heals many

teaches crowd




calls and appoints twelve 

calls and sends out twelve

twelve to be sent out to preach and have authority over demons

gives them mission instructions and authority over demons





seized by those near him as "beside himself."

teaches in his native place, rejected by relatives and neighbors

Ludemann (2001, p24) considers the information that Jesus' family thought he was out of his mind and wanting to seize him to be historical, since it was "too offensive for it to have been invented." He also notes that Matt and Luke delete these ideas. Once again we have a naive, faulty deployment of the embarrassment criterion, since neither writer nor audience are known, so it cannot be known who would have taken offense, and at what. Many exegetes interpret this gospel as a handbook on how to be a disciple. Here Jesus acts as the model, showing that his way is more important than relationships with families. Further, far from being too offensive to invent, it is a signature Markan theme that those close to Jesus did not understand him. Finally, recall that the writer's Christology is Adoptionist. That means that he sees Jesus as an ordinary human whom God Adopted to be his Son (in Mk 1:11). As Paul noted in Romans 8:14-17, believers were the adopted sons of God.


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Leander E.  Kech sets out to prove in his "Mark 3:7-12 and Mark's Christology" (1965, Journal of Biblical Literature <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3264861> that 3:7-12 forms an important conclusion to a section started at 1:16 and that it contributes significantly to the identity of Jesus:


Instead of beginning a new section, 3 7-12 is the conclusion of the section begun at 1 16. There are two fundamental reasons for this con­tention: (a) 3 7-12 does not introduce anything. The much-discussed boat does not link the pericopes, for it has entirely different purposes in 3 9 (escape) and 4 1 (teaching platform).25 The crowds, moreover, are not only avoided but simply ignored in what follows, and from this lakeside scene we are abruptly shunted to "the mountain" in 3 13. Besides, the material that begins with 3 13 all deals with the cleavage between "the family of Jesus" and those "outside." This theme is simply not introduced in 3 7-12, nor should it be regarded as the foil for it. (b) On the other hand, 3 7-12 does stand as a good summary of what has been said so far. (1) The "stronger one" (1 7) is shown to have drawn greater crowds than his herald (cf. 1 5, 25, 45d).26 (2) Jesus' response to the crowd is both withdrawal from them on their terms and engagement with them on his own (1 35-39). (3) The conflict with the demons, including their (orginally apotropaic?) cry, sums up Mark's understanding of the baptism, temptation, and exorcisms. In other words, in this paragraph Mark formulates what he has been saying so far.27 That subsequent materials are somehow related to this — e. g., the Beelzebub controversy — is neither a surprise nor an argument against this interpretation of our paragraph's role. Mark clearly wants to make the point about the nature of Jesus' work and the basis of his power before he takes up the controversial meaning of that power. (4) Moreover, it is 3 13-19 that begins a new section, not 3 7-12; and it does so precisely as the first section began — with the "call" of the disciples."


The difference, theologically, then is that Mark interprets the "preaching to the nations" not as post-Easter but as belonging to Jesus' lifetime:


The eschatological preaching to the nations — a post-Easter development achieved not without resistance — is thereby traced to the work of the historical Jesus. Mark put this feature of the church's work back into Jesus' lifetime just as he put the divine Sonship of Jesus at the beginning of his earthly career and not at the beginning of his exalted status (as Rom 1 3 shows the earlier tradition to have done).


Kech insists that Mark insists  "on the necessity of suffering for the Son of man and his disciples."


The final section picks up, once again, the picture of  Jesus' mother and his brothers, and sisters standing outside calling to him, to which he responds by identifying "his family" as being those who do God's will (NISB notes): "Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother" (35).


At the end of chapter 3, then, Jesus has been identified as "proclaiming the good news of God" and the nearness of the Kingdom of God. The message has been rejected by the religious and by his family. He has been recognized partially as "the Holy One of God" (1:24) and by the sick/demons who "knew him" (1:34), and as "the Son of God"  (3:11, 12).  He has been accused of blasphemy, keeping purity rituals loosely, and of working on the sabbath; he has taught and healed in the synagogue, bringing scrutiny and hostility to his "good news." He has also called Twelve to a mountain (3:13) and divine revelation, a revelation, unfortunately, that they can glimpse only partially. Turton concludes concerning the model for these Twelve by pointing to Old Testament passages of Joshua 4: 1-8 and Exodus 18:


In fact an enormous number of possible models for the Twelve have been proposed, ranging from astrological and mythological, to Old Testament sets of Twelve. The vast range of possibilities makes it difficult to decide which one is right. Nor must we imagine that the writer of Mark had one particular model in mind; he was obviously capable of drawing on a number of texts. In any case, it is most likely that the names, with the exception of Peter and James and John, which may well come from Paul, are a creation of the writer. 


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Concerning the historicity, Turton summarizes scholarship, the concludes with a note of doubt:


v14: Walter Schmithals (1969, p68-70) observed that it is rare in the gospels that Jesus is quoted as referring to the Twelve. Generally, references occur only in the narrative portions. He concluded that the Twelve are a post-Easter institution retrojected into the Gospels. With the exception of 14:20 (which may well be an interpolation), all uses of "the Twelve" in Mark occur in redaction created by the writer of Mark. The Gospel of Mark thus offers us no reason to suppose that the Twelve are an institution of Jesus. Schmithals also argued that this list was transferred in from Acts, though that position has not gained support in the scholarly mainstream. Note that the various manuscripts of Mark name 13 or more apostles:

Levi, son of Alphaeus 

James, son of Alphaeus 

Simon, renamed Peter 

James, son of Zebedee 

John, son of Zebedee 






Thaddaeus/Lebbaeus/Daddaeus (manuscripts disagree on the name) 

Simon the Canaanite 

Judas Iscariot

Note that "James, son of Alphaeus" and "Levi, son of Alphaeus" may be two versions of the same person. So while there are thirteen names, perhaps only twelve people are represented.

James, son of Alphaeus 

Simon, renamed Peter 

James, son of Zebedee 

John, son of Zebedee 






Thaddaeus/Lebbaeus/Daddaeus (manuscripts disagree on the name) 

Simon the Canaanite 

Judas Iscariot

Note that "James, son of Alphaeus" and "Levi, son of Alphaeus" may be two versions of the same person. So while there are thirteen names, perhaps only twelve people are represented.


v14: Burton Mack (1988) observes:



"Thus the disciples in Mark betray thematic interests. Their prominent place in Mark's story of Jesus cannot be used to argue for "discipleship" as a common concept among Jesus movements before Mark's time. It is not unthinkable that Mark was active in turning lore about the "pillars" Cephas, James, and John (Gal 2:9) into stories about "disciples" of Jesus."(p79)



16: Simon whom he surnamed Peter;

v16-19: Are the disciples historical figures? Price writes:



"It is astonishing to realize, for example, that the canonical lists of the Twelve (Mark 3:16-19, Matthew 10:2-4, Luke 6:14-16, John 21:2, Acts 1:13) do not agree in detail, nor do manuscripts of single gospels!" (2003, p186)


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