What does Mark 9:34 mean?
ESV: But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.
NIV: But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
NASB: But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.
CSB: But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest.
NLT: But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest.
KJV: But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.
NKJV: But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.
Verse Commentary:
The disciples are displaying the same prideful assumptions as the Pharisees in Luke 14:7–11. Jesus tells the Pharisees a story about a guest at a wedding feast who faces a choice to take an honorable seat commensurate to his position or to sit in a lowlier spot. He finds that if he takes the higher seat, the host of the wedding will tell him to move down when an even higher-ranked guest arrives. But if he takes a seat at the lower end of the table, the host will see him and, in front of all the guests, tell him to move up. Jesus finishes the story by saying, "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luke 14:11).

Peter, James, and John had been selected to see Jesus' transfiguration, but they are fishermen. Others, like Matthew, had more profitable jobs. Later, James and John's mother will ask Jesus to give her sons positions of prominence in His kingdom (Matthew 20:20–28). The disciples have all but forgotten Jesus' warning that His followers must be willing to give up their lives because this world means nothing compared to what He offers (Mark 8:34–38).

To be great in God's kingdom is to realize that we are not great. We are not worthy of forgiveness or consideration or position. God's notice of us and blessings for us are because of His love, not our effort (Ephesians 2:8–9). And so the "greatest" in Jesus' kingdom is the person who acknowledges this by seeking God, rather than seeking themselves..
Verse Context:
Mark 9:33–37 relates an argument about who is the most significant of Jesus' followers. This opens the door for a discussion on who His followers will be and what will be expected of them. While the disciples value position, Jesus values the lowly, the trusting (Mark 9:39–40), the protective (Mark 9:42), the disciplined (Mark 9:43–47), and those who are refined, consistent, and able to work together without arguing who is greatest (Mark 9:49–50). This section is also recorded in Matthew 18:1–6 and Luke 9:46–48.
Chapter Summary:
Mark chapter 9 contains an account of Jesus' transfiguration, where three of the disciples witness Him in a glorified form. In this passage, Jesus also heals a demon-possessed boy. His teachings in this section include a prediction of His death and resurrection, and corrections to the disciples' errors on questions of pride and temptation.
Chapter Context:
Mark 9 continues Jesus' efforts to teach the disciples who He is, what He has come to do, and what their role is in His mission. The chapter begins with the transfiguration, where Peter, James, and John catch a glimpse of Jesus' glory, and ends back in Capernaum. Jesus spends most of that time teaching. Although the disciples do quarrel with the scribes, the misconceptions and errors Jesus addresses come from the disciples, themselves, not outsiders. In the next chapter, He will leave Galilee and travel toward Jerusalem and the cross.
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.
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