What does Mark 12:40 mean?
ESV: who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
NIV: They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.'
NASB: who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive all the more condemnation.'
CSB: They devour widows' houses and say long prayers just for show. These will receive harsher judgment."
NLT: Yet they shamelessly cheat widows out of their property and then pretend to be pious by making long prayers in public. Because of this, they will be more severely punished.'
KJV: Which devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers: these shall receive greater damnation.
Verse Commentary:
A scribe is an expert in the Mosaic law, like a lawyer. They do not receive a commission for their teaching, and in fact, the Tractate Nedarim 37a, 62a states that it is unethical to use good deeds or the Torah to "magnify thyself" or as "a spade to dig with." The scribes have found a way to work around this prohibition.

Instead of using the Torah to earn a salary, the scribes encourage the belief that the people will be blessed by God if they support the scribes financially and practically. The rich can afford to be generous, but widows are often more tender-hearted than financially astute. The scribes either take advantage of that generosity or, for those widows who have asked scribes to manage their assets, steal from them. Either tact is foolish considering God has said He will judge those who prey on widows (Isaiah 10:1–4).

Paul doesn't subscribe to scribal tradition. He teaches that religious teachers should be directly supported by those they serve (1 Timothy 5:17–18). Many self-titled preachers today combine the two sentiments, insisting that if their congregation gives them enough money for a lavish lifestyle, God will bless the givers. Like the situation with the scribes, this is false teaching and spiritual abuse.

Jesus isn't condemning long prayers, as we are told to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17). He is saying we shouldn't pray grandly as if we are sincerely talking to God when we're really looking for attention. "Pretense" is from the Greek root word prophasis, which means "for show, with a false motive." One of the problems with praying for worldly reasons is that you only get worldly rewards (Matthew 6:5).

Pretentious prayers are still common today. Many people sermonize when they ought to be praying, instead. They may start with, "God, let this person understand…" and then go off on a misdirected lecture about everything they want the person to change. Or they may "humble-brag" by "thanking" God for a particularly long list of perceived blessings (Luke 18:9–14). Prayers of thanks, or expressions of self-esteem, are valid if they are sincere and done in secret (Matthew 6:6). When they are done in public, they serve as attempts to either scold or impress others.

Mark 12:38–40 is a quick synopsis of Jesus' condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees. At the end of Matthew's account of this incident in Matthew 23, Jesus calls the religious leaders vipers sentenced to hell and compares them to Cain, who killed his brother Abel out of jealousy for his relationship to God (Matthew 23:33, 35). Jesus then mourns for Jerusalem and its people who kill the prophets God sends to draw them to Him (Matthew 23:37–39).
Verse Context:
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.
Chapter Summary:
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.
Chapter Context:
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.
Book Summary:
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.
Accessed 3/1/2024 2:27:22 AM
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