What does Mark 12:38 mean?
ESV: And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces
NIV: As he taught, Jesus said, 'Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,
NASB: And in His teaching He was saying: 'Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like personal greetings in the marketplaces,
CSB: He also said in his teaching, "Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes and who want greetings in the marketplaces,
NLT: Jesus also taught: 'Beware of these teachers of religious law! For they like to parade around in flowing robes and receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces.
KJV: And he said unto them in his doctrine, Beware of the scribes, which love to go in long clothing, and love salutations in the marketplaces,
Jesus has commended a scribe of the Pharisees for his understanding that loving God and others is more important than following the regimented Mosaic law. He even says the scribe is close to finding the kingdom of God (Mark 12:28–34). Shortly after, Jesus uses Scripture and logic to prove that although the Messiah is the Son of David, His authority to rule comes directly from God (Mark 12:35–37). Now Jesus goes on the attack, so to speak.
Where Mark merely mentions "greetings," Matthew explains that the scribes like to be called "rabbi" (Matthew 23:7). Jesus says that to seek out the title of rabbi, father, or instructor is dangerous. Such positions invite a great deal of God's scrutiny (James 3:1) and seeking this approval and attention shows the opposite of the servant-heart Jesus calls His followers to have (Mark 9:33–37; 10:35–45).
The scribes are very knowledgeable, but their vanity and pride of their expertise in the Law leads them to miss the truth about the Messiah. Even the way they dress is meant to attract the adoration of the people. Unlike the utilitarian robes most wear, religious leaders prefer white linen with over-sized fringes or tassels. The tassels are a God-ordained reminder of the Mosaic Law (Numbers 15:38), but the excessive length is for show (Matthew 23:5). Jesus has no more respect for long tassels than He does for large offerings (Mark 12:41–44).
Mark highlights only a handful of offenses the Pharisees commit, but Matthew lists more. They claim to have the way to heaven, but can only lead others to hell (Matthew 23:13–15). They value what people do and give more than the God they serve and give to (Matthew 23:16–22). Despite the earlier scribe's insistence that love is greater than the Law, the scribes live as if the ceremony of the Law is greater than justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23–24). While they insist they would have accepted the words of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus prophesies that they will persecute and even kill the prophets that are to come (Matthew 23:29–36).
Mark 12:38–40, a condemnation of the scribes, is the last of Jesus' public teaching recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. It's unclear when exactly John 12:20–50 occurs. Mark 12:41–44 and 13:1–2 are directed at the disciples, and Mark 13:3–37 at Peter, James, John, and Andrew. Mark 14 covers the preparation for the crucifixion, Mark 15 the trials and crucifixion itself, and Mark 16 the resurrection. This last public teaching covers the corruption of the traditional Jewish teachers. Luke 20:45–47 is similar to Mark's account while Matthew 23:1–36 goes in a great deal more detail.
This chapter contains lessons taught by Jesus in various circumstances. He explains the eventual destruction of traditional Judaism, the relationship between secular and sacred obligations, the nature of the resurrection, and the most important of God's commandments. Jesus also expounds on Messianic statements in the Old Testament. Jesus also condemns the glory-seeking shallowness of the scribes, and extolls the virtues of sincere, faith-based giving.
Days before, Jesus has entered Jerusalem, hailed as a hero by the people (Mark 11:1–11). While teaching in the temple courtyard, Jesus shows superior understanding of Scripture over the chief priests, scribes, and elders (Mark 12:27–33), the Pharisees and Herodians (Mark 12:13), the Sadducees (Mark 12:18), and the scribes again (Mark 12:35, 38). Sadly, even in the instance where a scribe does understand Scripture, that is no guarantee he will follow it to its logical conclusion: Jesus (Mark 12:28–34). In contrast, a humble widow exemplifies the faithfulness and piety the leaders lack (Mark 12:41–44). Jesus leaves the temple for the last time to teach the disciples on the Mount of Olives (Mark 13). In Mark 14, He prepares for the crucifixion.
The Gospel of Mark emphasizes both Jesus' servanthood and His role as the promised Messiah: the Son of God. This is done through a concise, action-packed style. Mark provides relatively few details, instead focusing on actions and simple statements. This relates to the Gospel's authorship, which is believed to be based on the memories of the apostle Peter. These include many of Jesus' miracles, in contrast to other Gospels which include many more of Jesus' teachings and parables. Mark also makes frequent mention of Jesus' ministry being misunderstood by others.
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