Real Bible Studies: Mark 2-5

Many episodes in Mark are repeated in Matthew, who almost always puts his own spin on them. Frequently, Matthew summarizes passages Mark embellishes and expands on topics Mark summarizes. Matthew also mixes and matches stories that are connected in Mark, possibly to obscure when the events are occurring. 

In addition to not offering a nativity story and beginning his Gospel with Yeshua’s ministry, Mark sometimes quotes different passages in citing scripture but doesn’t always attribute them correctly. Since the first two chapters of Matthew are devoted to the nativity story, the parallels with Mark begin with the third chapter. 

Mark’s chapters tend to be longer and cover more incidents. This is one reason Mark is the shortest Gospel in terms of chapters, though it covers almost as much material as Matthew and Luke. Mark frequently draws different conclusions from the story than Matthew or derives meaning from the narrative that Matthew frequently contradicts. 

Mark’s narrative seems to roughly parallel the conclusions reached in Flavius Josephus’s history of the Jewish War, namely that revolt against Imperial Rome was a losing proposition. Josephus appears to come from among one of the groups to which the community surrounding Matthew was in opposition. Perhaps this influenced some of Matthew’s choices in adapting Mark’s Gospel for his readers, for instance, identifying Mary as being betrothed to a carpenter (or builder) named Joseph when she learned she was pregnant. This could be Matthew’s way of reminding his readers that Mark is derived from the work of Josephus, though the name and background (flight to Egypt) are more suggestive of the Biblical patriarch.

Healing the Paralytic

Mark relates the healing of the paralytic man that appears in Matthew 9, but Mark includes many more details that Matthew leaves out. In Mark, the people bringing the incapacitated man are unable to reach Yeshua due to the crowds, so they climb up on the roof and remove the thatch so they can lower the man down into the house. In both accounts, the scribes condemn Yeshua for telling the man his sins are forgiven and Yeshua responds by telling the man to “rise, take up your pallet and go home” which the man does. 

Calling the Tax Collector 

Mark also features the story of the tax collector, only in Mark, he’s Levi, the son of Alphaeus, not Matthew. This reinforces the idea that Matthew intends for his Gospel to be attributed to the tax collector, though neither Mark nor Matthew mentions a disciple called Levi. The early books of the Bible identity Levi as progenitor of the Levites, from whom was derived the priestly class. In Mark and Matthew, the disciple James is the son of Alphaeus. This leads into the discussion of Yeshua eating with tax collectors and sinners and Mark has Yeshua reach the same conclusion, that those who are well have no need for a physician.

Fasting and the Sabbath 

Mark gives us the story of John’s disciples asking about fasting, which Matthew relates with few changes, but Mark then leads into the discussion of the Sabbath that Matthew saves until chapter 12 of his Gospel. Mark adds the detail that the incident with David occurred when Abiathar was high priest and leaves out the detail of the high priest committing sins on the Sabbath that Matthew includes, no doubt as a dig at the high priest. Also, Mark does not include the phrase, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” that Matthew uses to condemn those who question Yeshua’s mission, but instead says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”. Mark reaches the same conclusion, though, that the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.

The Withered Hand, The Multitude, Calling of the Twelve

The main detail Matthew omits from his retelling of Mark’s account of the man with the withered hand is that the Pharisees conspired with the “Herodians” to destroy Yeshua. This suggests that a considerable amount of time has passed between when Mark was written and Matthew’s restructuring of it, and that by Matthew’s time, the Herodians had ceased to be a recognized entity, whereas the Pharisees were still in existence in some form. Mark appears to have been written in the immediate aftermath of the Jewish War when many of the factions would have still been known to his readers.

Mark relates a story about Yeshua preaching to a multitude as a lead up to appointing the Twelve. It’s interesting to note that the prophets whose writing makes up a good portion of the Hebrew Scriptures are also referred to as The Twelve. In the story of the multitude, Mark includes details of Yeshua warning the demons he casts out not to reveal who he is. Otherwise, his account of the calling of the Twelve has not been altered much by Matthew, except to omit certain nicknames given to the Disciples. 

And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons: Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zeb′edee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Bo-aner′ges, that is, sons of thunder; Andrew, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus, and Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him…

Mark 3:14-19

“Peter” which means “rock” and “sons of thunder” gives a harder edge to the Disciples who were Yeshua’s closest advisers. Another difference in Mark is that he does not report the Disciples in pairs, as does Matthew.


Mark then describes the healing miracle that causes the Pharisees to accuse Yeshua of being possessed by Beelzebul. Mark, however, begins it by including the detail that when Yeshua’s family hears of his activities, they try to apprehend him, then connects this incident to Yeshua rejecting his immediate family in favor of the spiritual family of his followers and Disciples. In this instance, Mark’s account clarifies that Yeshua’s rejection of his immediate family is tied to their attempts to subdue him which Matthew obscures by removing this detail. 


The fourth chapter of Mark relates the Parables that Matthew includes in chapter 13 of his Gospel. Matthew’s aim is to present sermons by Yeshua, and includes the Beatitudes that Mark omits, which is why the Parables occur earlier in Mark’s Gospel. Also, Mark does not reference “prophecies” from Isaiah or Psalms in an effort to draw a parallel to the exile of Ephraim or to discredit those who are not part of his audience. Equally, Matthew has Yeshua explain the parables to the Disciples without comment, whereas Mark has him question how they’ll understand any of them if they don’t understand the parable of the sower, then sets about explaining it.

From here, Mark offers two confusing parables, one about hiding a lamp under a bushel basket or bed, and another about a planter not knowing the mechanism behind how grain grows that Matthew chooses to replace with the parable of the weeds, the parable of the yeast, and three others about obtaining riches in heaven that make more sense, given that Matthew has Yeshua explain them whereas Mark does not.

Both include the parable of the mustard seed. Mark offers slightly different language, having Yeshua first ask what can be compared to the Kingdom before discussing the mustard seed and Matthew simply stating it outright. 

Mark concludes with the episode of Yeshua calming the storm, which Matthew deals with elsewhere. Matthew ends with Yeshua’s rejection at Nazareth which Mark includes in a different chapter. 

Gerasene Demoniac, the Young Daughter, and the Woman with the Hemorrhage 

Mark gives a very detailed account of the Gerasene demoniac in chapter 5, which Matthew summarizes in chapter 8 of his Gospel. A discussion about the timing appears in the post about that chapter, but it’s worth noting the differences between the accounts, since Mark focuses on the surface details, while Matthew concentrates on the underlying symbolism. Even more so than Matthew, Mark supports the notion that the events of his Gospel are taking place during the Jewish War without actually dating any of it.

Mark states that Yeshua was met by a single individual, and describes the condition of the man. Apparently, his demon instilled him with super strength, since not even chains could bind him, and he injured himself with rocks. In this account, Yeshua asks the name of the demon, who replies, “My name is Legion for we are many.” In ancient beliefs, knowing the name of a demon gave one power over it, and after Legion asks to be allowed to enter the swine, Yeshua directs them to do just that.

Use of the name “Legion” draws a more direct reference to Rome than in Matthew’s Gospel, where the pair of demoniacs are nameless. Just as in Matthew, when the people of the region learn of what Yeshua has done, they ask him to leave. The details in Mark imply an attack of some sort has taken place, though both accounts end with the swine rushing into the water and drowning. Since Jewish dietary law prohibits the consumption of pork, swine are often used to denote non-Jews, such as the Romans who ate pork.

Mark then reinforces that the incident occurred during the Jewish War by immediately relating the story of the Temple ruler’s twelve year old daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage for twelve years. Again, Mark relates considerably more details than Matthew, for instance, telling us that the ruler is Jairus, and that his daughter is at the point of death, not already deceased as in Matthew. Mark goes into far more detail about the affliction of the woman who touches Yeshua’s garment, relating that she has been treated by many healers who only made her condition worse. In Mark, Yeshua realizes “power had gone forth from him” and asks who touched his garment and the Disciples question why he’s asking. Mark has the woman confess before Yeshua tells her it was her faith that healed her.

Mark has Yeshua take only Peter, James, and John, with him to Jairus’s house and sends everyone but the parents and those with them out of the house before he speaks to the girl, none of which is echoed in Matthew, who summarizes the entire encounter.

Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Tal′itha cu′mi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.

Mark 5:41-42

Mark concludes this episode by having Yeshua caution the parents not to tell anyone what happened, which is a frequent occurrence in Mark.

In addition to separating the accounts, Matthew distills both into what he deems the most important elements. This may be to make his account more anachronistic, even though he also provides few details about exactly when his account is set. Mark’s Gospel makes it easier to connect the events to the Jewish War, which started twelve years into the reign of Nero.

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