Mark 9:38-50


Textual matters:

  1. Verses 44 and 46 are not found in the best manuscripts. Nor in modern translations.

  2. Verse 38: the words "and he followeth not us (KJV)" are not found in the best manuscripts and are therefore omitted by RSV, NEB, BECK, NIV and NASB.

  3. Verse 49: Nestle's Greek text reading is the preferred reading followed by the five translations mentioned above. On this verse the UBS Textual Commentary states: "At a very early period a scribe, having found in Leviticus 2:13 a clue to the meaning of Jesus' enigmatic statement, wrote the OT passage in the margin of his copy of Mark. In subsequent copyings the marginal gloss was either substituted for the words of the text, or was added to the text." 

Verses 38-41 form a unit. 42 is transitional. Verses 43-50 form a second unit.

Mark 9:38 "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."

There is no conjunction or particle. John interrupts Jesus. What he says indicates that he was not sure whether he had done the right thing. "We were trying to prevent him." Note that he says "us" not "you." He judges simply by membership in the circle of the disciples, who had been commanded to drive out devils.

Mark 9:39 "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me,"

"Stop preventing him" likely indicates that the man is still doing so. "In the next moment" is "in the same breath." "Say anything bad" or "speak evil" means "he believes in Me." 

Mark 9:40 for whoever is not against us is for us.

This verse states a Christian axiom. Note Matthew 12:30, an opposite thought, found in a context of those who reject Jesus. The use of "us" in verse 40 includes Jesus. In verse 38 it obviously excludes Jesus. Both this verse and Matthew 12:30 tell us that no one can be neutral to Jesus.

Mark 9:41 I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

This explanation cites a specific case which however is general. Intended sense: a deed, no matter how insignificant, done "on the ground that you are Christ's" will always be rewarded. That is the attitude they should have toward such as are mentioned in verses 38-39, not an attitude of exclusion.

Mark 9:42 "And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck."

The very opposite of verse 37 and a glaring contrast with verse 41. It is a general statement covering all instances of this kind. "Cause to sin" is "to entrap." NEB: "Leads astray."  "Believe in Me" surely means faith in Christ. Little children can believe. KJV, RSV and NASB make the apodosis a contrary to fact condition  "and had been cast into the sea." Grammars argue about the meaning of "if" or "that" here. It makes little difference. The meaning is clear: "Better to die a violent and cruel death than to cause one of these little believers to sin." Christians must control their flesh so as not to mislead others.

Mark 9:43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.

Verses 43-47 (with 44 and 46 omitted) comprise a three-fold warning to the Christian with reference to self:

  1. These words do not condone self-mutilation and therefore are not to be taken literally. If they were taken literally we would soon have no members left, for our flesh tempts us often. They are sternest law: drown all lust and temptation immediately. Note the three aorist imperatives in 43, 45 and 47.

  2. The warning not to scandalize others occurs only once, verse 42, but the warning not to scandalize self is given thrice.

  3. "To enter life," verse 43, occurs again in 45 and 47. "Enter the Kingdom" is the eschatological Kingdom of God in heaven. The word "life" occurs four times in Mark, twice here and at 10:17,30. It reminds one of the very frequent use in John's Gospel.

  4. "Go into hell," verse 43, he enters hell on his own accord but in 45 and 47 we note that he has no choice. The word used for hell here "geenna," in verses 43, 45 and 47 always means "hell" in the New Testament.

 Mark 9:44 (KJV) Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.  

Mark 9:45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.

 Mark 9:46 (KJV) Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.  

Mark 9:47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,

Mark 9:48 where "'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"

"Their" is the damned in hell. Hell is pictured as everlasting internal corruption and putrefaction and external torture. Look at 2 Thessalonians 1:9, eternal objects of God's wrath.

Verses 42-48 are a stern warning. Who is not guilty and who does not need warning?

Mark 9:49 Everyone will be salted with fire.

This verse is a Gospel promise. It explains, and denotes the way out for the condemned sinner who is conscious of his guilt. "Everyone" denotes every Christian. "Will be salted" means "will be cleansed, will be purified." "With fire" is dative of means and denotes the Word of God. Look at John 15:2-3. Note that "fire" has a radically different meaning here than in verse 48. For a parallel example compare Luke 3:16-17, where "fire" has distinctly different meanings. By the way, the difference between Lutheran and Reformed theology is evident in the explanation of verse 49. Lenski interprets "fire" as the Word and the Spirit. But Hendriksen: "A fiery trial will come upon everybody, for the purpose of purification." Obviously he says this because he does not believe that the Word is the means of grace.

Mark 9:50 "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other."

The first three words are axiomatic. Everyone will agree with this statement. Note that predicate adjective is placed for emphasis: "The salt is truly good." And likely the article indicates a particular type of salt, the Word and the Spirit.

Next follows a rhetorical question, a good teaching device. Without salt there can be no seasoning. Without the Word and Spirit there can be no forgiveness, no battle again sin, no everlasting life. By the way, this sentence does away with the idea: "Once in grace, always in grace." 

The final sentence is a compound sentence, with compound imperatives, contrasting reflexive and reciprocal action. A connecting word "and so" in the Greek, not translated here, likely means "and thus." Only when we have the Word and Spirit in ourselves can we have peace among ourselves. We have come full circle from verses 34 and 35. The only cure for pride, prejudice, offense and living in sin is the salt of the Word and the Spirit. This will keep us at peace with each other. Note again that verses 48-50 are found only here in Mark.

Stoeckhardt: He who tames his members with the help of the Holy Spirit, holds himself within bounds, does not give sin free reign, he keeps his faith and a good conscience, keeps his body and should to everlasting life. The Lord demands a painful offering from His disciples, the offering of their own members . . . Christians, who are sanctified and make progress in sanctification through the Word and Spirit of the Lord, must always have this salt and with God's Word and Spirit must part ways with the rotten deeds of the world, rather than to permit themselves to be lured into sin by the world, but must practice mutual peace and must not consider themselves superior to others.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B Mark-John, Sundays after Pentecost, Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1981, pp. 60-61

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