Mark 1:21 Commentary | Home Schooling

Mark Commentary

Text & Translation

21 Καὶ εἰσπορεύονται εἰς Καφαρναούμ· καὶ εὐθὺς τοῖς σάββασιν εἰσελθὼν εἰς τὴν συναγωγὴν ἐδίδασκεν.1

And they entered into Capernaum and, straight away, on the Sabbath, having gone into the synagogue, He began to teach. (Mk 1:21, AT)

Capernaum: Home Base

They likely includes Jesus, Simon (Peter) and Andrew, in addition to James and John (cf. Mk 1:29).2

As we’ve said, after Jesus summoned these fishermen to be fishers of men (Mk 1:16-20), Simon Peter, James and John comprised Jesus’ inner circle.3

Capernaum, which means “village of Nahum” in Hebrew,4 was a fishing town on the (north)west shore of the Sea of Galilee.5.

According to the Israeli government and several archaeologists, Capernaum, which is not mentioned in the Old Testament,6 = modern day Tel Hum.7

Capernaum was apparently the home base of Jesus’ ministry (cf. Mt 4:13; 8 cf. Mk 2:1, 9:33;9 Jn 2:12)10 where Peter, Andrew, James and John likely lived.11

The town was on a main trade route between Egypt and Mesopotamia12 called the Via Maris.13 Also, due to fertile fields and a booming fishing industry, Capernaum flourished economically.14

Though some say that, in the first century, Capernaum may only have had 600 residents or less,15 others estimate that it may have been home to closer to 10,000 people.16

The town was prominent enough to have a major toll booth/customs house (Mk 2:14;17 Mt 9:9-13)18, a garrison of Roman soldiers (that likely included the centurion who begged Jesus to heal his servant (Mt 8:5-13 || Lk 7:1-10)),19 and some sort of “royal official” (Jn 4:46).20

Capernaum was essentially as far away as one could get from Tiberias (Herod’s capital) and still remain in Galilee.21 It seems that Jesus was initially able to avoid problems from political and religious leaders (cf. Mk 1:14, 6:14-29).22

Capernaum is later condemned by Jesus for its lack of faith/loyalty to Him and His message (Mt 11:23-24; Lk 10:15).23

On The Sabbath

The seventh day of the week was to be a day of rest and religious reflection (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-15).24 without work (cf. Gen 2:3).25

According to the Fourth Commandment:

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex 20:8-11, NIV)26

Regular synagogue meetings for communal worship took place on the Sabbath.27 Sabaths would begin Friday at sundown and end Saturday at sundown.28

Keeping Sabbath and being circumcised were the two primary distinguishing marks of Jews (cf. Ex 31:16-17; Ezek 20:12, 20).29

Deliberately working on the Sabbath was a capital offense (Ex 31:14-15, 35:2; Num 15:32-36).30 And, during the reign of the Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175 BC- 164 BC),31 thouands of devout Jews preferred death over dishonoring the Sabbath (1 Macc 2:29-41, NRSV, esp. 1 Macc 2:33-35, 38, NRSV).32

Suffice it to say, Jews took the Sabbath very seriously. Later in Mark, this will become a life-and-death issue for Jesus (cf. Mk 2:23-27, 3:1-6, esp. Mk 3:6).

Furthermore, the foretold kingdom of God was considered to be the “Sabbath of human history”.33 Sometimes human history was portrayed as being split into seven periods…

“the last being the appearance of the promised millennial time of bliss and righteousness often associated with the appearance of the Messiah.”34

Synagogues

The Gathering

The Greek word συναγωγή (synagōge) means “gathering”35 or “gathering place”36. For a synagogue to be established, there had to be a minimum of ten adult Jewish men.37

Synagogues were places where Jewish communities would gather for prayer, study, and more.38

“Synagogues were centres of communal life: they functioned as courts and places for political discussions, storage of archives, education of children, public reading and teaching of Torah and prayer.”39

Synagogues are not mentioned in Old Testament, but they may have  first appeared during Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC.40

Apparently, there is no archaeological evidence of synagogues until the 3rd century BC.41 Nonetheless, the concept of God’s people assembling in a gathering place can be found much earlier in Israelite history (cf. Dt 33:4, LXX; Ps 74:8).42

Synagogue Services

Synagogue services would be led by “lay leaders”43 – usually scribes.44 As one scholar notes:

“The only official in charge of a synagogue was the ‘ruler of the synagogue,’ a position that included the responsibilities of librarian, worship committee, custodian, and perhaps schoolteacher.”45

Local synagogue leaders would invite visiting teachers to lecture, especially on the Sabbath.46 Any man who had been approved by the synagogue leaders (cf. Ac 13:14-16)47 could teach.48

It was likely Jesus’ custom to teach in synagogues (cf. Lk 4:15-16;49 also Mk 1:39; 6:2; Mt. 4:23; 9:35; 12:9; 13:54; Lk 4:15–29; 6:6; 13:10; Jn 6:59; 18:20).50 Before this episode, He may have already been recognized as a teacher.51

Services would include prayers, Scripture readings (from the Old Testament), a translation/paraphrase of the Scripture reading in Aramaic (i.e., a targum)52 and/or Greek,53 a sermon/homily,54 and benedictions.55

Capernaum Synagogue

Archaologists discovered remains of the 1st century synagogue in Capernaum, which was built with black basalt stone,56 in 1969.57

It was found underneath another synagogue that was built with white limestone years later (perhaps the 2nd/3rd58 or 4th century).59

Apparently, the synagogue built on top of the 1st century synagogue60 is, itself, underneath the ruins of a prayer hall from a 5th century synagogue — which can still be seen today.61

The synagogue of Jesus’ day was likely destroyed in the Jewish rebellion of AD 66-70.62

Sin-agogues

Later in Mark, synagogues will be bad news (Mk 12:39, 13:9).63 As Jesus tells His disciples:

9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. (Mk 13:9, NIV)64

Conclusion

After calling His first disciples, they enter the synagogue of Capernaum on the Sabbath. As was His custom, Jesus begins to teach — schooling people in a town that will serve as His home base. Ironically, later, both Capernaum and synagogues will be bad news for Christ and His followers.

For more commentary on Mark, please visit the Book Study Overview page. For the sources cited, please see the bibliography.

Sources

  1. Barbara Aland et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, Fifth Revised Edition (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2014), Mk 1:21.
  2. Lane, 71; Stein, 84; Schnabel, 56
  3. France, 101
  4. Hurtado, 31; Edwards, 52; Stein, 84; Strauss, 90
  5. Hurtado, 31; Bock, 412; cf. Stein, 84
  6. English, 53; Brooks, 49
  7. Hurtado, 31; Bock, 412; Lane, 71; Stein, 84; Strauss, 90
  8. Hurtado, 31; Witherington, 87; Brooks, 49
  9. Edwards, 52
  10. Stein, 84; Strauss, 90
  11. Witherington, 87; Lane, 71; Strauss, 90. John records that Simon and Andrew came from Bethsaida (Jn 1:44). They may have been raised in this town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee before moving to Capernaum for (fishing) business. Strauss, 90
  12. Brooks, 49; Stein, 84
  13. Edwards, 52
  14. Edwards, 52; cf. Stein, 84
  15. Schnabel, 56
  16. France, 101; Stein, 84; contra Schnabel, 56
  17. France, 101; Edwards, 52
  18. Stein, 84
  19. France, 101; Edwards, 52; Stein, 84
  20. France, 101; Stein, 84
  21. Edwards, 52
  22. Edwards
  23. Hurtado, 31; Stein, 84; cf. Cole, 114
  24. Hurtado, 32
  25. Schnabel, 56
  26. Hurtado, 32
  27. Schnabel, 56; Strauss, 90
  28. Strauss, 90
  29. Schnabel, 56
  30. Schnabel, 56
  31. A Greek ruler, also called Epiphanes (“the manifested one”), from the Seleucid dynasty. Jews revolted against him in 167 BC after he imposed Greek practices.

    Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Antiochus IV,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 121.

  32. Schnabel, 57
  33. Hurtado, 32
  34. Hurtado, 32
  35. Hurtado, 32
  36. Edwards, 53
  37. Hurtado, 32; Edwards, 53
  38. Keener, 131; Hurtado, 32; Bock, 412; Schnabel, 56
  39. Schnabel, 56
  40. Hurtado, 32; Brooks, 49
  41. Brooks, 49
  42. and Pss. Sol 10:7 (Brooks, 49).
  43. Keener, 131; Hurtado, 32; Witherington, 87; Edwards, 53. Or priests (Keener, 131).
  44. Witherington, 87
  45. James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002), 53.
  46. Keener, 131; Hurtado, 32; Brooks, 50; Schnabel, 57
  47. Schnabel, 57; Strauss, 90
  48. Bock, 412; France, 101
  49. Evans, 95
  50. Stein, 85
  51. Brooks, 50; France, 101; Stein, 85
  52. Strauss, 90
  53. Witherington, 87
  54. Hurtado, 32; Witherington, 87; Strauss, 90
  55. Witherington, 87; Strauss, 90
  56. Keener, 131; Edwards, 53; Stein, 84; Schnabel, 56
  57. Edwards, 53
  58. Brooks, 49; Schnabel, 56
  59. “A series of trenches cut beneath its floor in 1969 revealed a basalt stone pavement, however, which can be dated to the first century (it was strewn with first-century pottery and coins). This sub-pavement would appear to be the original floor of the synagogue visited by Jesus. The black basalt foundation of the synagogue Jesus knew is clearly visible at ground level beneath the fourth-century limestone synagogue” (Edwards, 53).
  60. Brooks, 49; Bock, 412
  61. Schnabel, 56
  62. Brooks, 49
  63. Stein, 85
  64. Stein, 85
About @DannyScottonJr 219 Articles
Imperfect Servant ✝📖⛪ | Husband | Princeton U. Alum | M. Div. | Assistant (to the) Pastor | Sound Doctrine & Apologetics @catchforchrist