Manners and Customs

Gospel of Mark (Chapter 1 – 16) – Be Diligent
Manners and Customs

1. Political and Social Hierarchy:

a. Herodians – They were a political party, in favor of cooperating with the Romans, attaching themselves to the political fortunes of the Herodian family. Herod was the tetrarch of Galilee, a ruler installed by the Romans. He was not Jewish but actually Idumaean, descended from Edom. For political reasons his family had converted to Judaism, but they still led a decadent lifestyle.

Priest taking counsel with the Herodians

b. Pharisees – A polito-religious Jewish party. “Pharisee” means “one who is separated”, and the name came about supposedly because they separated themselves from all Levitical impurity. In the time of Christ they were numerous and influential, and occupied the chief offices among the Jews. They believed in the written law and an Oral Law of Moses, and their great error was substituting human tradition for divine law. They observed external forms instead of seeking inward purity of heart eg. Sabbath.


Sabbath – Mark 2:27
And He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.
The weekly day of rest was one of God’s beautiful plans for man’s mental and physical rest from labor, and a day to especially cultivate his spiritual nature, a day for fellowship with God. It began at sunset on Friday and ended at sunset on Saturday. When Christ was on earth, man had a tendency to observe the Sabbath in letter rather than in spirit. However, even then it had its noble side. The Jew dressed himself in his festal garments: he lighted his Sabbath lamp; the table was spread with special food and the men all went to the synagogue. The work was done the day before so that no work that could be avoided was done on the Sabbath. It was a beautiful day of worship and rest.

However, fearing that the day would not be properly observed, the rabbis made laws which in course of time so completely destroyed the purpose of the day, that to keep those laws that the rabbis had made became very much harder and more exacting that the labor of the working day. Thus was God’s beautiful day for meditation, worship and rest brought to naught.

Some of the absurd regulations were: the greatest burden a person might carry on the Sabbath day must be less than the weight of a dried fig. they must not begin anything new just before the Sabbath, lest the Sabbath should find one in the midst of the task. A scribe must not carry his pen or a tailor a needle on the Sabbath. A women was not allow to have a pin in her clothing, she was not allow to look in a mirror, because she might see a white hair and be tempted to remove it, which would be labor. The rabbis forbade them to cut their nails etc.

The Sabbath became a day of form and so lacks spiritual significance. This attitude toward the Sabbath was very distasteful to the Son of God, because for Him all of God’s laws were necessary for man’s highest good, and was made to meet a real need. The Sabbath was made for man, not only for the physical man, but for the most important part of him, the spiritual.


c. Scribes / Teachers of the Law

  • Mark 1:22 – And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.
  • Mark 12:38 to 40 – And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

Scribes were not only copyists of the law, but also keepers of the oral tradition and additions to the law. Gradually accumulating with time, these were numerous and regarded by many as being equal in value to the law itself. Some quotes from old Talmudical writers: “The words of the scribes are lovely, above the words of the law; for the words of the law and weighty and light, but the words of the scribes are all weighty.” “The words of the elders are weightier than the words of the prophets.” At the time of Christ, people were increasingly reliant on the scribes for knowledge of the scriptures. The language of the Jews was passing into the Aramaic dialect and the mass of the people, unable to understand their own sacred books, were obliged to accept the interpretation which the scribes put upon them, hence their astonishment when listening to Jesus. The scribes repeated traditions, but Jesus spoke with authority.


d. Hypocrisy – Mark 12:39 – 41
The best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much.

The scribes, because of their knowledge of law, were often consulted on property questions. The Pharisees, because of their supposed piety, exercised great influence over the people. Thos who were inexperienced in business entrusted their property to these men for safekeeping, and many lost by it. Some of the Pharisees prayed an hour, besides meditating an hour before and an hour after prayer. This, repeated 3 times a day, made 9 hours spent in pretentious devotion.


e. Sadducees – Derivation of the name “Sadducees” could have been from the hebrew word for righteousness, or could have been named after a scholar named Zadoc, who supposedly organized them in about 300BC, or named after Zadok the priest from the time of David. The Sadducees did not believe in any traditions, and took the Hebrew Scriptures as the only authoritative rule of faith and practice. The Sadducees denied the doctrine of resurrection because they thought there was no proof of it in the scriptures. They were not as numerous as the Pharisees, but they were an ancient priestly aristocracy, having great wealth and political power.

Jesus & the Sadducees

f. Sanhedrin – This was the supreme court of the Jewish nation, which heard appeals from inferior courts and tried cases of greater seriousness. There were about 70 members. The origin of this council may have been in the 70 elders appointed to assist Moses in governing the Israelites. There were chief priests, elders and scribes among the members, but the majority were probably laymen learned in law, sciences and languages. Great care was taken in the selection of members. They had to have been judges in their native towns, and to be fathers of families so they could sympathise when judging domestic cases. The Sanhedrim could only try cases which involved violations of ecclesiastical law. The most severe punishments were stoning, burning, beheading and strangling, but these capital punishments could only be carried out if confirmed by the Roman procurator.

The Sanhedrin Counsel

2. Customs that Explain Unusual Verses:

a. Lowering a Bed from the Roof

Mark 2:4 – And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.

Houses in Jesus’ day often had arches that came out from the walls to form the roof. After placing thin slabs of limestone over the arches, the entire roof was plastered. The roofing plaster comprise of sticks, thorn-bush, mortar and earth. In the context of this verse, the roof was actually broken up and set aside until an aperture was made large enough to let the sick man through. Dr Thomson states that the roof could easily be broken up (the sticks, thorn-bush, mortar, and earth, of which it was composed, being thrown aside), and is often done for the purpose of letting down grain, straw, and other articles. He says: “I have often seen it done, and done it myself to houses in Lebanon, but there is always more dust made than is agreeable.” The roof would be easily repaired from the same raw materials originally used.

Lowering a Bed from the Roof

b. Skin Bottle

Mark 2:22 – And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

The bottles of the Bible are made from skins of animals such as sheep, calf and goat. The head and feet are cut off goats or kids and the skin stripped whole from the body. These water-skins are much better than earthen bottles for the rough experiences of travelling with camels. The skin serves to carry water, oil or wine. When filled with wine, the skin will be stretch by fermentation of the liquor as a result of the released gases. When the skin bottle is new, it is able to stretch and retain its integrity, but when the skin bottle is old, it would then be used to carry water or oil as gases released from the liquor will cause the skin bottle to burst.

Wine Skin Bottle

c. Man Walking Like Tree

Mark 8:22 to 24 – And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?“ And he looked up and said, “I see men, but they look like trees, walking.”

It was because the men were carrying such huge loads of brushwood, thorn bushes, or branches that he just couldn’t see the person carrying it. The half-restored sight of the man who had been blind prevented him from seeing clearly between the branches and the men, who were carrying the load, but he remembered the days when he had his sight, and he knew what these walking trees really were.

Man Walking Like Tree

d. Fig Tree

Mark 11:12 to 14 – On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.

While Jesus was on earth He was constantly teaching His disciples by parables. One strange thing about the fig tree is that the fruit appears before the leaves. If the first fruit did not appear, there would be no other fig on the tree. Christ and the disciples were passing and looked for some of the small but sweet first fruit. It was a tree with leaves, it looked well and useful, but it was a useless tree, and not only that, it led the passerby to believe it was a good tree, when it was of no value. It was a type of profession without productiveness. Our Lord could not endure hypocrisy in anyone or anything, and condemned it more than any other sin. Here Christ is giving His disciples an illustration that they would not easily forget.

A person might say this fig tree did not belong to our Savior, and therefore He had no right to take the fruit. However, by reference to the Mosaic law in such cases. ” You are not to prohibit those that pass by when your fruits are ripe, to touch them, but to give them leave to fill themselves full of what you have.” And the custom of plucking ripe figs as you pass by the orchards is still universal in the Bible Lands, especially from trees not inclosed. After the feast in September, the figs which remain on the trees are common property and the poor may enter the orchards and take all they want.

Fig Tree and Fruits

e. Temple Market

Mark 11:15 – And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.

This temple market was supposedly established after the captivity, when many came from foreign lands to Jerusalem. The annual temple tax had to be paid in the Jewish half-shekel. Money-changers changed foreign currency into Jewish half-shekels and charged a percentage for the exchange. Requisites for the sacrifices, like wine, salt oil, oxen and sheep were sold.

Temple Market

f. Pitcher of Water

Mark 14:13 – And he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him,”

This does not seem like a very good description of the identity of the Lord’s host, but we will understand more clearly when we remember that it is usually the women who carry all the water supply for the house. It is never a man’s work, though he may carry a water-skin through the streets selling water, but never in an earthen vessel or pitcher for home use.

Pitcher of Water

g. Mark 16:9-20

  • External Evidence Against its Originality
    • While the majority of manuscripts contains these verses, the oldest and most reliable manuscripts omit them.
  • Internal Evidence Against its Originality
    • There is an awkward and abrupt transition between verse. 8 and 9.
    • Change in narratival direction.
    • An unwieldy introduction of Mary Magdalene.
    • Appearance of Jesus – Galilee or Jerusalem?
    • Unique Greek words introduced.