Mark 1:32 Commentary | Sabbath, Demons, and Disease

Mark Commentary

Text & Translation

32 Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης, ὅτε ἔδυ ὁ ἥλιος, ἔφερον πρὸς αὐτὸν πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας καὶ τοὺς δαιμονιζομένους1

After it had become evening, when the sun had set, they were bringing to Him all2  those having bad [conditions] and those possessed by demons (Mk 1:32, AT)

Stop, Sabbath Time

Apparently, Mark is known for his redundancy.3 He often uses “two expressions where one would suffice.”4

Mark not only mentions that it is evening, but also that the sun has gone down. This may be for good reason.

Why? Unlike today where a day ends at 11:59PM and a new day begins at midnight, back then, days ended at when the sun set.5 Thus, the Sabbath ended (Saturday) at sundown.6

Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath when he drove out a demon from a possessed man (Mk 1:21-28) (see lesson here). This episode takes place immediately after Jesus and His disciples leave the synagogue (Mk 1:29).

Therefore, until the sun goes down, it’s still the Sabbath. So, walking a certain distance7 and carrying someone to Jesus beforehand would be considered breaking the Sabbath.8

This is likely why the people of Capernaum waited until after sunset.9

As we see in the book of Jeremiah:

21 This is what the LORD says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem. 22 Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors (Jer 17:21-22, NIV)10

Of course, Israel was commanded to keep the Sabbath day holy back in Exodus:

8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep 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; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. (Ex 20:8-11, NRSV)

Orthodox Jews took this command very seriously. For the punishment for breaking the Sabbath was death.11 As we see in Numbers:

32 While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. 34 They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. 35 And the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” 36 And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the LORD commanded Moses. (Num 15:32-36, ESV)12

Breaking the Sabbath was not a game. Apparently, orthodox Jews permitted healing on the Sabbath only when someone’s life was in danger.13

(Eternal) Sabbath Rest

The Sabbath later became a symbol for the end-time (eschatological) rest/peace (shalom) that God would bring about for His people when the Messiah came and ushered in the age to come.14 The ultimate Sabbath was the long-awaited kingdom/reign of God.15

Isn’t it interesting that, in Mark, Jesus’ first two miracles take place on the Sabbath?16 As it’s been said:

“Thus Jesus’ beginning his healing work on the Sabbath should be seen as a deliberate attempt to bring in that final Sabbath rest, a time when creation would be relieved not just of the toil and turmoil of a fallen world but of disease, decay, and death as well.”17

From this point of view, there’s no better time to heal than on the Sabbath! For it pointed to the ultimate Sabbath that was to come.18

That being said, Sabbath controversies are more prominent in Mk 2:18-3:6,19 especially in Mk 3:1-620 where Jesus heals a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath — in public.

With Peter’s mother-in-law, however, Jesus heals in private. Therefore, this may not have been a big issue as of yet.21

Later, Jesus will make it clear that He is Lord of the Sabbath (Mk 2:28).22

Demons and Disease

They were bringing (imperfect tense): implies they brought people to Him continually.23 It seems there was a steady stream of patients for the Great Physician.

His sick patients are more literally “those having (it) badly”24 – referring to all kinds of illnesses. This phrase is always distinguished from demon possession.25

Ancients did not attribute all illnesses to demons.26 And, in Mark, there is a distinction between physiological sickness and diabolical possession (cf. Mk 1:32, 34, 6:13).27

For example, in Mk 1:34, we find:

And He healed many having bad [conditions] with various diseases and He drove out many demons. And He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Him [(who He was)] (Mk 1:34, AT)28

There is a distinction between the diseased and the possessed. Also, in Mk 6:13, it says:

And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them. (Mk 6:13, NASB)29

Two different diagnoses; two different treatments. As one scholar writes,

“It is unwarranted to obscure such distinctions with the hypothesis that what was described in antiquity as possession by demons is identical with various forms of psychoses recognized today by the medical profession.”30

(Though this is what many naturalists who inexcusably (cf. Rom 1:19-20) deny the existence of anything supernatural often do).

Illnesses are healed, often with a touch. (Mk 1:41; 5:41; 6:5; 7:32–33; 8:23–25 cf. Mk 3:10; 5:27; 6:56),31

Jesus touches a leper and cleanses him (Mk 1:41), raises a dead girl by the hand (Mk 5:41), heals a deaf and mute man by putting His fingers in his ears before spitting and touching the man’s tongue (Mk 7:32-33), and heals a blind man by spitting and touching his eyes (Mk 8:32-25).32

Jesus was a hands-on healer!

On the contrary, demons are driven out,33 often with a command (cf. Mk 3:10-12, 6:13).34

Notice that when Jesus exorcises a demon from a boy in Mk 9:14-26, He touches him after the demon’s departure (Mk 9:27).35

When it comes to disease and demons, one issue is physical; the other is spiritual.

In any case, Jesus demonstrates the same healing compassion He had on Peter’s mother-in-law to the crowds.36

Conclusion

After sunset — that is, after the Sabbath day officially ended — people in Capernaum brought to Jesus both the diseased and demon-possessed for healing and exorcism (respectively).

These two different problems require two different treatments. Yet, they are no problem for the compassionate Great Physician.

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 1:32.
  2. ““All” (πάντας) has a hyperbolic meaning here as frequently in Mark. This scene is set with hyperbole—“all the ill” and “the whole city” (1:32–33).” Guelich, 65
  3. Evans, 174; France, 108; Strauss, 100
  4. France, 108
  5. Kernaghan, 47
  6. Keener, 132; Kernaghan, 47; English, 60; Cole, 116; Schnabel, 60; Brooks, 52; Lane, 78; Guelich, 65; Edwards, 60; France, 107, 108; Stein, 95; Garland, 73; Strauss, 100
  7. Brooks, 52
  8. Keener, 132; Brooks, 52
  9. Kernaghan, 47; Witherington, 101; Schnabel, 60; Lane, 78; Edwards, 60; France, 107, 108; Stein, 95
  10. Lane, 79
  11. Cole, 116
  12. Cole, 116
  13. Cole, 116 cf. Lane, 79
  14. Witherington, 100
  15. Witherington, 100
  16. Kernaghan, 48 cf. Witherington, 100; Cole, 116
  17. Witherington, 100
  18. Witherington, 100
  19. Kernaghan, 48; cf. Stein, 95
  20. France, 107; Strauss, 100
  21. Bock, 415; Cole, 116
  22. Stein, 95
  23. Schnabel, 60; Brooks, 52; Guelich, 65; Stein, 95
  24. UBS, 58
  25. UBS, 58 cf. Schnabel, 60; Brooks, 52
  26. Brooks, 52; Lane, 79; France, 109; Stein, 95
  27. Lane, 79; cf. France, 109; Stein, 95
  28. Lane, 79
  29. Lane, 79
  30. Lane, 79
  31. France, 108; cf. Schnabel, 60; Guelich, 62; Stein, 94; Strauss, 100
  32. France, 108; cf. Schnabel, 60; Guelich, 62; Stein, 94; Strauss, 100
  33. “The shift from “unclean spirits” (πνεύματα ἀκάθαρτα) of 1:23–28 to the terminology here may reflect the consistent use of “demon” (δαιμόνιον) in conjunction with “to cast out” (ἐκβάλλειν). All ten occurrences of “demon” (δαιμόνιον) in Mark come either directly with “to cast out” (ἐκβάλλειν, [Mk 1:34, 39; 3:15, 22; 6:13; 7:26; 9:38]) or in the immediate context ([Mk 1:34b; 7:29, 30]).” Guelich, 65
  34. Schnabel, 60; France, 109; Stein, 95
  35. “…in exorcisms, by contrast, where the issue is not primarily physical but spiritual, touch is not mentioned (except after the exorcism has been completed…” France, 108
  36. Edwards, 60; Strauss, 100
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