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

1. A symbolic judgment upon Israel, 11:1-12:12

iii] The controversy over Jesus' authority


Jesus is walking in the temple precincts and is approached by what is most likely a deputation from the Sanhedrin. They ask by what authority Jesus has done "these things." Presumably they are referring to Jesus' cleansing of the temple. The question may be straightforward, but it is likely to be an attempt to draw out a claim to messiahship, a claim that Jesus is not as yet ready to make in public. Jesus says he is willing to answer their question, but they must first answer his. He asks them whether they thought that the Baptist's mission was God-ordained.

In discussing the issue, the deputation recognises that they are in a corner. If they affirm that the Baptist's mission is divinely authorised then obviously Jesus is going to ask them why they are not willing to accept the Baptist's testimony concerning him, namely, that his mission is also divinely authorised and thus that he does have the authority to cleanse the temple. If, on the other hand, they suggest that the Baptist's mission was nothing more than human devising, then they are going to have to answer to the populous who hold John to be a prophet. The authorities choose silence, and Jesus happily concurs.


Given that the Baptist's authority is from God, Jesus' authority is certainly no less. Jesus' authority is from God, but unlike John he is more than a prophet. Israel's failure to recognise this fact, overtly displayed in the sign of the cleansing of the temple, brings with it disaster. This fact is revealed in the next episode where, in the parable of the Wicked Husbandman, Judaism, with its temple and all, will be destroyed and the "vineyard" given to "others".


i] Context: See 11:1-11. Following Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and the cleansing of the temple, Mark arranges a series of questions raised by the authorities - the question concerning Jesus' authority, the paying of tribute to a secular State, the resurrection of the dead, and the greatest commandment. Linked to the first question is the parable of the Wicked Husbandman and the prophecy of the stone, 12:1-12. Mark concludes chapter 12 with Jesus warning about the hypocrisy of the religious authorities, v38-40, which hypocrisy is offset by the story of the widow's mites, v41-44.


ii] Structure: The authority of Jesus:

A pronouncement story.

The challenge of the Jewish authorities, v27-28;

Jesus returns the favour, v29-30;

Response to the scholastic dialogue, v31-33.


iii] Interpretation:

The messianic credentials of Jesus have already been established and put on full display "in Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem and especially in his militant action in the Temple", Marcus. Now we see the religious authorities react, challenging Jesus' credentials and the authority by which he acts.


iv] Synoptics:

Matt.21:23-27, Lk.20:1-8. Like Mark, Matthew also links this episode with the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple. Luke seems less concerned to maintain the link.

Although a self-contained story, it evidences a close association with Jesus' cleansing of the temple, telling "how Jesus answered a challenge arising out of his action in the temple", Taylor. The association of both stories early in the oral tradition is likely and so it is unlikely that Mark is responsible for their linkage. Bultmann's suggestion that the membership of the deputation and the description of Jesus' walking in the temple court is a Markan construct is also very unlikely. It also seems likely that the parable of the Wicked Husbandman was linked early in oral tradition to the cleansing of the temple and the question about authority. Given its context, the parable explains the meaning behind the opposition to Jesus by the religious authorities and the consequences of this opposition for redemptive history.

Text - 11:27

The question about authority, v27-33: i] the question, v27-28. Given that the members of the Sanhedrin have already decided to seek Jesus' death, 11:18, it seems likely that their question is a fishing exercise, an attempt to extract a claim to messiahship. Trading in the temple court is a rather suspect activity and so the authorities are not really able to lay a charge of violating the sanctuary, but there is value in seeking to pin Jesus down on where he thinks he derives his authority for such an act. His standing as messiah is the basis of his authority, but Israel's religious authorities reject this possibility.

ερχονται [ερχομαι] pres. "they arrived" - [and] they came. Historic / narrative present tense identifying the next step in the narrative, ie., a paragraph marker. Taylor holds the view that impersonal plurals, such as this, originally represented "we" in the oral tradition.

παλιν adv. "again" - again [into the temple]. Sequential adverb. Ref. to v15. According to Mark's scheme, this is the third time Jesus and his disciples have entered Jerusalem.

περιπατουντος [περιπατεω] gen. pres. part. "while [Jesus] was walking" - [and he] walking around. The genitive participle its subject autou, "he", forms a genitive absolute construction, temporal, as NIV.

εν + dat. "in [the temple courts]" - in [the temple]. Local, expressing space.

προς + acc. "to [him]" - [and the chief priests, the scribes and the elders came] toward [him]. Spatial, expressing movement toward. The listing of the three religious orders of the Sanhedrin probably indicates that this is an official deputation.


εν + dat. "by" - in = by. Instrumental; "by, with, through", as NIV. "By means of what authority" = "what right have you to act as you are doing", Barclay. Not simply his rabbinical authority, if any, but the status he claimed for himself that would permit him to do "these things." The authorities probably want him to claim messianic status. "Divine authority, and not legal or political right, is meant", Taylor.

ποιᾳ pro. "what" - what kind of, what sort of [authority]. Qualitative interrogative pronoun. Gundry argues that categories of authority are in mind (prophetic, priestly, royal, ....), but often weakened to an interrogative τις; "by what kind of authority" = "by what authority."

ταυτα pro. "these things" - [do you do] these things. As noted above, the cleansing of the temple is probably in Mark's mind. In Luke's parallel passage, 20:1-8, "these things" obviously refer to Jesus' "teaching the people in the temple and telling the good news", v1.

αυτω dat. pro. "[they asked]" - [they were saying] to him. Dative of indirect object. As a question, "asked".

"or" - or. Here as a simple comparative rather than a disjunctive; "What kind of authority makes you act in this way and from whom does the authority making you act this way derive", Cassirer.

σοι "[who gave] you" - [who gave this authority] to you. Dative of indirect object. France argues that the second question draws out the implication of the first, namely, "we did not give this authority to you."

ἱνα + subj. "to [do this]" - that [you may do these things]. This construction may introduce a final clause expressing purpose after the verb "to do", "in order that", or better, a consecutive clause expressing result, "with the result that you do these things", or even an epexegetic clause specifying "the authority", namely, "to do these things. The hina clause is not found in the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke.


ii] The answer, v29-30. "Jesus does not operate on the basis of any human authority, but speaks and acts on the basis of his own authority, which Mark does not distinguish from that of God", Boring.

δε "-" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a change in subject from the religious authorities to Jesus / untranslated.

αυτοις dat. pro. "[Jesus replied]" - [jesus said] to them. Dative of indirect object.

επερωτησω [επερωταω] fut. "I will ask" - i will ask [you]. Followed by the accusative "you" = "I will ask you about"; "I'm going to ask you about a particular issue and if you ....."

ἑνα "one" - This adjective sometimes replaces τις, "a certain question"; "I'm going to ask you a question", Phillips. Lagrange argues for its proper force, "I will ask you just one question"; "a single question", Taylor.

λογον [ος] "question" - word. "Matter / point", Cranfield, Taylor. "One word / question" serves as an accusative complement of the object uJmaV, "you"; "I will ask you one question."

και + fut. "and" - and [you answer me]. This conjunction, followed by a verb in the future tense, is sometimes used to introduce the apodosis of a conditional clause (a Semitic construction), particularly in this case where an imperative verb is used in the protasis, "answer me and I will tell you" = "if you answer me [then] I will tell you what authority I have for what I do", Phillips.

μοι dat. pro. "[I will tell] you" - [and i will say] to you [by what authority i do these things]. Dative of direct object after the απο prefix of the verb "to answer, reply."


το art. "-" - [the baptism] the = which was. The article serves as an adjectivizer turning the genitive noun "of John" into an attributive modifier limiting "baptism".

Ιωαννου [ος] gen. "John's " - of john. The genitive is adjectival, taken as possessive by NIV, but more likely verbal, subjective / idiomatic, "which was performed and administered by John", cf. TH.

εξ + gen. "[was it] from [heaven]" - from, out of [heaven was it, or] from [men]? Expressing source / origin. "Heaven" is used out of deference to the divine name, so "from God", ie., a circumlocution; "was the source of the baptism which John administered divine or human?" Barclay. Given that the issue is one of authority, the sense is "Who gave John the right to baptise? Was it God in heaven, or merely some human being?" CEV. "The question whether John was a true prophet had a direct bearing on the question of Jesus' authority", Cranfield.

μοι dat. "[tell] me" - [answer, reply to] me. Dative of direct object after the απο prefix of the verb "reply to." The repetition of "answer me" is sometimes used in an argument where the interlocutors are flummoxed; "Go on, answer me!" It also further reveals Jesus' authority, certainly his mastery over the religious authorities and their presumption to question his right to act as he has.


iii] Response to the scholastic dialogue, v31-33. The participants in the scholastic dialogue refuse to take the next logical step and opt out with a "we don't know." They opt out for political reasons, rather than theological ones. Obviously, they do not believe in John's credentials, namely, that he is a prophet, or more importantly, he is the one crying in the wilderness in preparation for the coming of the messiah. If they accepted John's credentials, they would, by necessity, have to accept Jesus credentials. They accept neither, but do accept the necessity of their political standing in eyes of the people.

"Denial of the divine authority of John's mission ... does not seem to be a viable option, as it might turn popular opinion against the deniers. But neither is admitting its authority, since John's eschatological baptism was interwoven with his eschatological preaching about the coming one, and John seems to have identified Jesus with the latter", Marcus.

προς + acc. "among" - [and they were discussing, debating (variant: reasoning)] to [themselves]. Here expressing association; "with, within, among." "They were arguing with one another", TH.

λεγοντες [λεγω] pres. part. "and said" - saying (variant: + τι ειπωμεν "what will we say?"). The participle is usually classified as attendant circumstance expressing action accompanying the verb "to discuss", as NIV, but it can also be classified as adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of their reasoning.

εαν "if" - if, as may be the case [we say from heaven, then he will say.] Introducing a conditional clause 3rd. class where the proposed condition has the possibility of coming true; "if we say that the baptism John performed and administered is authorised by God, then he will say why [therefore] did you not believe in him?" = "if we say, 'Divine', he will say: 'why then did you not believe in him?" Barclay.

ουν "then" - therefore. Variant reading; inferential, drawing a logical conclusion.

δια τι "why" - because of what = because of why = why. A causal interrogative construction.

αυτῳ dat. pro. "[believe] him" - [do you not believe in] him? Dative of direct object after the verb "to believe in." "Believe is used here in the sense of accept that the Baptist preaches the revealed will of God. Possibly neuter, "it" = the baptism John administered.


αλλα "but" - Strong adversative, as NIV.

ειπωμεν [λεγω] aor. subj. "if we say" - if [we say]. From v31 εαν, "if", is assumed, introducing a 3rd. class conditional clause, as in v31. The problem is that the apodosis, the then clause, is missing / an ellipses. Luke includes εαν in his account and adds the apodosis, "then all the people will stone us." Rather than an incomplete conditional clause, it is possible that the subjunctive is deliberative, producing a question; "but shall we say from men?" ESV, so also NRSV.

εξ + gen. "of [human origin]" - from [man]. As above, the sense being "by human appointment", Manson.

γαρ "for" - [they were afraid of the crowd] because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why they feared the crowd.

ὁτι "[everyone held] that" - [everyone was having = considering john] that. Introducing a dependent statement of perception expressing what everyone "held / considered", "what everyone was quite sure of, namely, that John was a prophet."

οντως adv. "really [was a prophet]" - really, indeed [he was a prophet]. It is unclear which verb this adverb is attached to. The NIV opts for the verb to-be ἡν; "John was genuinely a prophet", Barclay, "was in fact a prophet", REB, "was indeed a prophet." Swete suggests it modifies the verb. "They really / truly held / considered that John was a prophet." This seems more likely, given its position in the principal clause, although Taylor suggests it was drawn there from the subordinate clause for emphasis. The adverb would modify "held / considered" by strengthening it, so "everyone was convinced that John was a prophet", Rieu.


και "so" - and. Here probably standing in for ὡστε και, "so, so then, therefore, accordingly."

αποκριθεντες [αποκρινομαι] aor. pas. part. "they answered" - having answered, replied to. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "to say"; "they answered and said to Jesus" - redundant / Semitic construction.

τῳ Ιησου [ος] dat. "Jesus" - [they say] to jesus. Dative of indirect object, although note that the απο prefix verb "to reply to" takes a dative of direct object as a matter of form; "replying to Jesus they said".

ουκ οιδαμεν [οιδα] perf. "we don't know" - we do not know. They do actually know, so this is an avoidance statement. In English, the response would be a little more non-committal, evasive; "We're not really sure." The English language provides a greater scope for subtle expression, particularly when it comes to the forked tongue. "They are so base as to choose rather to shuffle than to acknowledge what they know to be true", Calvin.

αυτοις dat. pro. "[Jesus said]" - [and jesus says] to them. Dative of indirect object.

εγω pro. "[neither will] I" - [neither] i [i say]. Emphatic by use and position.

ὑμιν dat. pro. "[tell] you" - to you. Dative of indirect object.

εν + dat. "by" - by [what kind of authority i do these things]. Instrumental, as above. Jesus may not have directly answered their question, but he has implied that he does have the authority to do "these things." Jesus claims the right to act as he does, but he chooses not to identify the source of his authority. Of course, the claimed source is not hard to deduce. The Jewish leadership has "knowingly rejected God's messenger John and God's Son Jesus..... Jesus was aware of all this in advance and is not an unwilling victim to their machinations, but the one who is authoritatively in charge of the whole scenario", Boring.


Mark Introduction


[Pumpkin Cottage]