A Translation of Mark Chapter 12

RomansText1“Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if someone’s brother dies, and leaves a wife but not a child, that his brother should take his wife and raise up seed for his brother.” (Mark 12:19)

When the Sadducees decided to test Jesus on the resurrection, they used the Law of the Levirate as the bait for their trap. According to the Law of Moses, if a married man died before he was able to have children, his brother was obligated to marry the widow. The first child born of this union was considered the dead brother’s child.

A form of this law could be found in many ancient civilizations. It was a primary way of protecting a widow who did not have children to care for her. While most cultures have abandoned the practice today, it was still practiced in Jesus’ day.

The Sadducees used this law in their arguments against the beliefs of the Pharisees. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection from the dead. The Pharisees believed in it. As a part of their ongoing debate, the Sadducees had come up with the hypothetical situation in which a woman marries seven brothers in a row without having children. They thought that their question was insoluble. If everyone is raised from the dead, then to whom would this woman be married?

In response, Jesus undercuts the Sadducees’ entire argument by pointing out that they did not know the Scriptures or the power of God. The Scriptures clearly proclaim that there will be a resurrection from the dead. God’s power is more than sufficient to raise the dead and sort out any relationship issues at that time. Since the Sadducees refused to see this, Jesus told them they were very deceived.

When I read this passage, I am even more encouraged to study the Scriptures, and to grapple with their content. The Sadducees were among the most educated men in Israel in Jesus’ time, and yet they did not sufficiently know their own book to recognize why they were wrong. I do not want to succumb to the error of thinking I know the Book, if I really don’t. Then I, too, would be deceived.

I also don’t want to underestimate the power of God. The Sadducees allowed their reason to cloud their faith. They could not understand how God could restore bodies that had crumbled to dust. The truth is, that none of us can truly understand how God can do this. However, it is not difficult to imagine that the same God who called this complex and enormous universe into existence is quite capable of calling those who have lived back to life. If God has the power to create, he also has the power to recreate.

When I read this passage, I am more determined to know the Bible, and the God the Bible reveals. That is one reason I am translating the Scriptures I teach in this much more than cursory fashion. It helps me achieve this purpose.

On to our translation:

Mark 12:1-44
A Translation by Randal Cutter

12:1   Then he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a vat for the juice of the crushed grapes, and built a watchtower. He leased it to farmer tenants,* and left for an extended journey.”

12:2   “He sent a servant to the tenants at harvest time in order that he might receive from them some of the fruit of the vineyard.”

12:3   “They took the servant, physically mistreated him, and sent him away with nothing.”

12:4   “Again the owner of the vineyard sent another servant to them, but they hit him over the head and humiliated him.”

12:5   “The owner sent another, but they killed him. He also sent many others, they beat some of them and killed others.”

12:6   “He had one more he could send, a son he deeply loved. He sent him to them last, saying, ‘They will give proper honor to my son.’”

12:7   “But those tenants said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’”*

12:8   “They took him, killed him, and threw his body out of the vineyard.”

12:9   “Therefore, what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the farmer tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

12:10   “Haven’t you read this scripture? ‘The stone which the builders rejected, this one has become the most important stone.’

12:11   “‘This has come from the Lord, and it is wonderful to our eyes’?”

12:12   The chief priests, scribal scholars, and elders* began seeking a way to arrest him, for they knew that he spoke this parable against them, but they were afraid of the crowd. They allowed him to continue as they left,

12:13   but they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to him in order to catch him in what he said.

12:14   When they arrived, they said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful, and are not influenced by anyone. We know this because you pay no attention to status among men, but you teach the way of God according to truth. Is it lawful to pay the poll tax to Caesar or not? Do we pay it or not pay it?

12:15   But Jesus recognized their hypocrisy and said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius that I might see it.”

12:16   They brought one. He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They responded to him, “Caesar’s.”

12:17   Then Jesus said to them, “Give back* the things of Caesar to Caesar, and the things of God to God.” They were astonished at him.

12:18   Then the Sadducees came to him. They teach that there is no resurrection. They began questioning him saying,

12:19   “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if someone’s brother dies, and leaves a wife but not a child, that his brother should take his wife and raise up seed for his brother.”

12:20   “There were seven brothers. The first took a wife, but died and left no seed.”

12:21   “So the second brother took her, but he died and did not leave offspring. The third brother did likewise.”

12:22   The seven brothers did not leave any children; last of all the woman also died.”

12:23   In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For all seven had been married to her.”

12:24   Jesus said to them, “Isn’t the reason you are deceived that you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?”

12:25   “For when they rise from the dead, they will not marry nor be given in marriage, but they will be like the angels in heaven.”

12:26   “But concerning those who are dead, that they will be raised, have you not read in the Bible about Moses and the bush? How God spoke to him saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’”

12:27   “He is not the God of dead people, but of those who are alive. You are very deceived.”

12:28   When one of the scribal scholars came and heard their question, and saw that Jesus responded well to them, he asked Jesus, “What commandment is the greatest of all?”

12:29   Jesus replied, “The first is, ‘Hear, Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.’”

12:30   “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul—that is, your mind*—and with all your strength.’”

12:31   “This is the second, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is not another commandment greater than these.”

12:32   The scribal scholar said to him, “Well done, teacher. You have spoken truthfully that he is one, and there is no other except him.”

12:33   “To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding,* with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is greater than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

12:34   When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” After that, no one dared any longer to question him.

12:35   Some time after Jesus had answered them, while he was teaching in the temple, he began to ask, “How can the scribal scholars say that the Christ is David’s son?”

12:36   “David himself said by the Holy Spirit: ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I place your enemies under your feet.”’”

12:37   “David himself calls him Lord, then how is he his son?” And the large crowd was listening gladly.

12:38   While he was teaching, he said, “Pay attention to the scribal scholars, the ones who love to walk about in scholarly robes and be recognized in the marketplace.”

12:39   “They love the special seats in the synagogue, and places of honor at meals.”

12:40   “They devour the wealth of widows, and to conceal their actions, they pray lengthy prayers. Men like these will receive extreme judgment.”

12:41   Later, after he sat down across from the place that people gave their offerings, he saw how the crowd threw less valuable coins into the offering box, but many wealthy people were putting large amounts into it.

12:42   Then one poor widow came and put in two leptons, which is equivalent to a couple dollars.*

12:43   He called his disciples together and said to them, “I am telling you the truth, this poor widow put more in the offering box than anyone else who gave an offering.”

12:44   “All the rest gave from their expendable income, but she gave even though she can’t make ends meet. She gave everything; all that she had to live on.


12:1  He leased it to farmer tenants: This was a very common practice in Israel during Jesus’ time. Wealthy absentee landowners rented their fields to farmer tenants for a share of the crops.

12:7  The inheritance will be ours: By using the word inheritance, the farmer tenants demonstrated that they believed the son was coming because the father had died. In that instance, if they killed the heir, the disposition of the property became clouded. That is how they hoped to gain the property.

12:12  The chief priests, scribal scholars, and elders: Mark more literally writes, “They began seeking.” We find the antecedent of the third person plural verb all the way back in chapter 11 verse 27. Since verse 11 is in a previous post, I have brought the antecedent forward for this post.

12:17  Give back the things of Caesar to Caesar: The verb that Jesus uses carries the idea of repaying a debt. Thus, Give back is a good translation because it communicates the idea of paying a debt. The idea is that Caesar provided certain services that indebted those who lived under his rule. In the same way, God also provides services that require a financial response. We are to render unto each as appropriate.

12:30  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul—that is, your mind: In response to the man’s question, Jesus quotes the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4ff). This was one of the most well known passages in all Judaism. It says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Jesus would not have forgotten the Shema, nor could he have added the word mind without causing a furor over his misquotation. The scribal scholar would certainly not have commended one who misquoted the Shema. It is far more likely that Jesus used inflection to indicate that he was adding the word mind as an explanation of what the word soul meant. This understanding works grammatically and contextually.

12:33  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength: Note how the scribal scholar indicates that he understood what Jesus had done by adding the word mind as an explanation of the word soul. In his affirmation of Jesus, he spoke of the soul as the understanding. Both he and Jesus were making it clear about what the word soul meant in the context of the Shema.

12:42  Which is equivalent to a couple dollars: While the value biblical coinage can be confusing, it is important to communicate the value of the coins in stories such as this. Mark thought it so important that his Roman readers understand the value, that he translated the coinage into a Roman currency. Rather than translating the currency Jesus mentioned (lepton) into an equally obscure Roman coinage (the quadran), I have valued the leptons the widow gave at what they would be worth in 2016 in US dollars.


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Image credit: Randal Cutter/iPhone 6s/Photoshop Oil Paint Filter