Entering the promised land, 11:1-16:20

2. The blindness of Israel exposed, 12:13-44

v] The religious poverty of Israel


It is the final days of Jesus' ministry, and he is teaching in the Temple precincts. His subject, in the passage before us, is the issue of piety. After commenting on the corrupted piety of Israel's religious leader, Jesus points to a poor woman and her gift to the temple of two copper coins, a gift of everything she had. Here is true piety.


"God measures our charity not by its amount, but by our means and by the spirit in which we give", A.M. Hunter.


i] Context: See 11:27-33.


ii] Structure: The churchman and the widow:

Condemnation of Israel's religious authorities, v38-40:

Description of their status seeking, v38-39;

Description of their moral corruption, v40a;

Eschatological condemnation, v40b.

Pronouncement story - the widow's mite, v41-44.

Narrative - the situation is described, v41-42;

Jesus' pronouncement, v43-44.


iii] Interpretation:

The intended message of this passage is a matter of some debate among commentators. William Lane surely heads in the right direction when he suggests that the passage is "a call for absolute surrender to God and total trust in him." Of course, given that the old Adam has his way until deposited in the grave (Luther), absolute surrender is beyond us all. Such reminds us to look to the one who has surrendered everything on our behalf and so find in him divine approval. As the apostle Paul would put it, these things "were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come", 1Cor.10:11.


iv] Synoptics:

Matt:23:1-36, Lk.20:45-47. Matthew works off his own source material here, while Luke tends to follow Mark, and as usual, smooths out his Greek.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage can be found in the pew-level sermon notes The churchmen and the widow.

Text - 12:38

The religious poverty of Israel: i] Pulling no punches, Jesus sets out to expose the sins of Israel's religious leaders, and does so with an outspoken condemnation, v38-40. The theologians of the day (priests, Levites, scribes - the clergy and teachers) were highly respected, addressed as "Rabbi", "Father", "Master", and given the seats of honour at the synagogue and at feasts. The people even stood as they passed by in their flowing white robes.

The point Jesus makes is that people who are so meticulous at keeping the law would surely know that God alone should receive the praise of men. Their self-intoxication exposes their hypocrisy. Not only are they status-ridden, but they abuse their privileges. Scribes could not be paid for their religious duties and so often sponged on the hospitality of people with limited means. Justice is set aside and replaced by religious display. As far as Jesus is concerned, this selfish behaviour cast them under God's judging eye.

In the Gk. text, v38-40 makes up one sentence, a sentence which serves to describe "the teachers of the law / the scribes."

en + dat. "as [he taught]" - [and] in [the teaching of him he was saying]. The preposition here is temporal, introducing a temporal clause, "while he was teaching", TH, or taken as read, "and in his teaching he was saying", Evans.

apo + gen. "for [the teachers of the law]" - [beware] from = of [the scribes]. Causal. This preposition is often used with a verb of fearing; "beware of the scribes." "Be on your guard", Barclay.

twn qelontwn (qelw) pres. part. "they like" - the ones desiring, wanting. The articular participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting the noun "scribes", "the scribes who desire". The warning is specific of those particular scribes who are hypocritical, rather than all scribes in general: "watch out for those teachers of the law who like to ..."

peripatein (peripatew) pres. inf. "to walk around" - to walk about. The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what the scribes desire, namely, to walk around in long robes.

en stolaiV (h) "in flowing robes" - [in] long robes. Dressing up "in" something is a common expression, although not common in Mark. The sense is probably "festive robes", France. Variant, "in porticos / cloisters", obviously not original.

aspasmouV (oV) "greeted" - [and to receive] greetings [in the market place]. Introducing a second object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what the scribes desire / want, namely, "to receive greetings in the market place"; the infinitive is assumed. Greetings in the sense of "deferential salutations", Moule.


prwtokaqedriaV (a) "the most important seat" - [and to be given the] chief seats [in the synagogues]. Introducing the third object clause / dependent statement of perception following the participle "desiring"; again with the infinitive assumed. And also (kai) "desiring/wanting" to be given the best seat in the house. In a synagogue this is the box in front of the ark within which is stored the scrolls of scripture.

prwtoklisiaV (a) "the places of honour" - [and to be given the] places of honour. Introducing the fourth object clause / dependent statement of perception; again, with the infinitive assumed. Also "desiring/wanting" to be given the seat next to the host. "The best seats at banquets", CEV.

toiV deipnoiV (on) dat. "banquets" - [in] the formal dinner, reception. Usually an evening meal. "Dinner parties", Phillips.


oi katesqionteV (katesqiw) pres. part. nom. "they devour" - the ones devouring, exploiting. This articular participle serves as an independent / hanging nominative. It is sometimes translated adjectivally, limiting / modifying "the teachers of the law / the scribes", v38; "beware the scribes ........ who devour the houses of widows ...." The trouble is, its case should agree with "scribes" which is genitive, "beware of the scribes", and not nominative as here. Some suggest a solecism - a grammatical mistake. Gundry disagrees, suggesting it is Markan style. A new sentence is intended with the nominative, "the ones devouring", followed by a resumptive, "such men"; "Those who eat up the property of widows, ........., (these ones) will receive a sentence all the more severe", REB.

taV oikiaV (a) "houses" - the houses. Accusative direct object of the verb "to devour." The sense is of a religious person abusing the generosity of those who have little to spare. So, "house" may be better expressed as "property / belongings / wealth." "Grow fat on widow's property", Phillips.

twn chrwn (a) gen. "of widow's" - of the widows. The genitive is adjectival, possessive; "the houses that belong to widows."

profasei (iV ewV) dat. "for a show" - [and] for show, pretence, pretext. The dative is adverbial, modal, expressing manner, as NIV.

proseucomenoi (proseucomai) pres. part. nom. "make [lengthy] prayers" - praying [long]. This participle presents the same difficulties as "devouring" above; probably "beware the scribes ......... who make lengthy prayers for a show."

ouJtoi "such men" - these ones. A resumptive, see above.

perissoteron adj. "most severely" - [will receive] greater [judgment]. Possibly elative, as NIV, although a comparative sense is also possible, such that those scribes who do such things will receive a more severe sentence. Such descriptive language reinforces the reality of eschatological judgment, although it is unlikely that Jesus is making the point that punishments on the day of judgment are variable. "Punished more harshly", Gundry.


ii] Mark now contrasts the devotion of a widow with that of the scribes, and by so doing, further exposes the corruption of Israel's religious leaders, v41-44. In her devotion to God, the widow gives all that she has. She has two coins, so she could have kept one back, but she gives everything (unlike those who "devour widows' houses"). The coins were the smallest minted in Palestine, a copper "lepton". For his Gentile readers, Mark notes that a "lepton" is a fraction (about one eighth) of the smallest Roman copper coin, a "quadrans" ("a penny"/"cent").

While Jesus is seated on a bench, he sees the widow place her coins in one of the thirteen trumpet-shaped money boxes found against the wall in the Court of the Women. Jesus uses the widow's gift to teach his disciples about the nature of service to God. A sizeable gift, with its capacity to do great things for God, is not as valuable in God's sight as the motivation behind the gift. The widow's expression of total commitment to God is far more valuable than a generous gift which does little to the affluence of the giver, even though the gift may achieve wonderful ends. "Mark's point here is that the robbed widows, in contrast to the robber scribes, are those who truly serve God", Boring.

kaqisaV (kaqizw) aor. part. "Jesus sat down" - [and] having sat down. The participle is adverbial, best taken as temporal; "Then he sat down in front of the collection box", Williams.

katenanti + gen. "opposite" - opposite, before [the treasury]. This adverb is used here as a spatial preposition.

pwV "[watched]" - [he was observing] how [the crowd]. This interrogative adverb of manner serves here to introduce an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what Jesus observed; "he was observing how / that the people ...." "He was watching how the crowds of people were putting their money into the treasury", Barclay.

calkon (oV) "money" - [throws] copper = coins = money. Often meaning "copper coinage", but here probably just "money", as NIV.

to gazofulakiou (on) "the temple treasury" - [into] the treasury. Usually identified as the thirteen trumpet-shaped offering bowls in the Court of Women, although Taylor suggests it is the treasury itself where the gift must be publicly declared and so, easily overheard.

eballon (ballw) imperf. "threw" - [and many rich people] were throwing [much]. The imperfect is used here to supply background information - a supplementary action to the action of the crowd who were ballei (present tense), "throwing", their money into the offering box.


elqousa (ercomai) aor. part. "[a poor widow] came" - [and one poor woman] having come. Attendant circumstance participle, or adverbial, probably temporal, "but then a poor widow came and ...."

lepta (on) "very small copper coins" - [threw two] leptons. The smallest Jewish coin worth a fraction of a cent.

kodranthV "a fraction of a penny" - [which is] a kodrantes. Predicate nominative. Mark explains the value of a lepton by comparing it with Roman coinage, again a coin of minute value. "Put in two small coins worth a few cents", NAB.


proskalesamenoV (proskaleomai) aor. part. "calling" - [and] having called, summoned [the disciples of him]. The participle is adverbial, possibly temporal (Decker), or consecutive, expressing result, "with the result that ...."; "so he called his disciples and said to them", Moffatt.

autoiV dat. pro. "-" - [he said] to them. Dative of indirect object.

amhn legw uJmin "I tell you the truth" - truly i say to you. Always used to underline the following words.

oJti "-" - that. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech / stating, "truly I say to you that this poor widow."

ebalen (ballw) aor. "has put" - [this poor widow] threw = put. Variant perfect tense is accepted by many translations, so NIV, NRSV...

pleion adv. "more" - much, many / more. Comparative adverb; "to a greater extent."

twn ballontwn (ballw) gen. pres. part. "than all the others" - than [all] the ones throwing [into the treasury]. The participle serves as a substantive, while the genitive is ablative, of comparison, as NIV. The sense is possibly that the value of her gift exceeds the total value of all that was thrown in, although probably Jesus is saying she gave a gift of greater value, in devotional terms, than even the most generous gift given that day. "This poor widow has put more in than any of the others who have contributed to the treasury."


gar "-" - for. Introducing a causal clause explaining why the value of the poor women's gift exceeds the value of the rich. The worth of the gift, since it was given to God, is determined, not by its size, but by the attitude of the giver. The poor woman's gift was of more value because it was a total giving of herself in faith and love to her Lord, a gift that left nothing for herself. "For they all put in a contribution out of their surplus, .... (she gave) her whole living", Moffatt.

tou perisseuontoV (perisseuw) gen. pres. part. "[their] wealth" - [everyone from] the abounding. The participle serves as a substantive, genitive after the preposition, ek, "from". "They have put in what they can easily afford", Phillips.

autoiV dat. pro. "their" - to / for them [threw into the treasury]. Either an example of the not-so-common dative of possession, or a dative of interest, advantage (Decker); "they all contributed out of their abundance", ESV.

de "but" - but/and [this woman]. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrasting point.

ek + gen. "out of" - from. Expressing source / origin; "out of her want", Taylor.

thV uJsterhsewV (iV ewV) gen. "poverty" - the want, need, deficiency, lack, poverty [of her]. "She is very poor", CEV.

panta adj. "everything" - [as much as she had, she put into the treasury] everything. The "everything" is specified by the final appositional phrase, "her whole living." She gave what she had to live on, excluding her home and possessions.

ton bion (oV) "[all she] had to live on" - [all] the living [of her]. This phrase "all the living of her", stands in apposition to panta, "everything"; "Her whole livelihood", NAB.


Mark Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]