What does Mark 9:38 mean?
ESV: John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
NIV: Teacher,' said John, 'we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.'
NASB: John said to Him, 'Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.'
CSB: John said to him, "Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn't following us."
NLT: John said to Jesus, 'Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.'
KJV: And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.
NKJV: Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.”
Verse Commentary:
The verse feels like a non-sequitur: a statement with broken logic. However, it's part of the longer conversation about where individuals fit in to Jesus' kingdom. The disciples assume they are first and will have the most authority. As a result, they argue to see where they rank with respect to each other. Jesus explains that leaders are first and foremost servants. They should be more concerned about welcoming the powerless, like children, than displaying their own power (Mark 9:34–37). So they ask about someone who publicly appears to be in their group but isn't. Jesus says they're still being too exclusionary. If this man has faith enough to exorcise demons in Jesus' name, he's not a threat to the kingdom, even if he may be a threat to the disciples' egos (Mark 9:17–18).

John is also telling in his wording, "he was not following us." There is no "us" to follow: there is only Christ. Paul talks about this when he chastises the Corinthians for claiming to follow a human leader—Apollos or Peter or himself (1 Corinthians 1:12). Paul points out that such thinking leads to ungodly tribalism when, really, they are all servants of the Lord (1 Corinthians 3:3–5). The fact that this man was, apparently, successful where the disciples themselves had recently failed would have also been a blow to their pride.

How often do we discourage someone who has success where we failed? Especially if they're not in our established system? The disciples' attitude is very close to that of the scribes and Pharisees who reject Jesus not because He works against God but because He isn't in their exclusive club (Mark 3:22).
Verse Context:
Mark 9:38–41 is one of the more ironic passages of the Bible. John describes how the disciples try to stop a man from using Jesus' name to expel demons shortly after they, themselves, are unable to rescue a boy from demonic possession (Mark 9:17–18) and minutes after the disciples argue over who is the greatest (Mark 9:33–34). Jesus points out that ''enemies'' are those who attack them, not people walking in the same direction. This account is paralleled in Luke 9:49–50.
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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