6

I am at a loss to be able to reconcile the apostle John's description of Jesus in John 2:24-25 with Mark's account of Jesus's healing of the deaf and mute man in 7:31-37, particularly v. 36.

John 2:

But Jesus would not entrust himself to them because he knew all people. He did not need anyone to testify about man, for he knew what was in man (NASB).

Mark 7:

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it (my bolding) (NASB).

Clearly, Jesus was a discerning observer of people. As a man he was more than a little familiar with people's inconsistencies and weaknesses in general and their fickleness in particular. As God, he also had the ability to discern the thoughts and intents of people's hearts (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Assuming Jesus knew human beings in the way he did, why then would he repeatedly tell the people who witnessed his healing of the deaf and mute man not to tell anyone about the miracle? Most certainly, Jesus knew in advance that the more he told the witnesses not to do something, the more they would do it.

I suppose one way of reconciling the two passages is to say that Mark, as a witness to the miracle, was simply making an observation about the link between Jesus's commanding other witnesses to be silent about the miracle, on the one hand, with their unwillingness to do so on the other. In other words, Jesus frequently told his followers what to do, knowing in advance of their unwillingness to obey notwithstanding.

To pose my question crassly, if Jesus knew that the more he told his audience not to do something the more they would do it, why in the first place did he tell them not to do it?

Perhaps a homey illustration might be helpful. Suppose a parent knows in advance that telling a potentially rebellious son or daughter not to do something will simply increase their likelihood of doing it. Such a parent might just issue the warning once, and then simply let the chips fall where they may.

On the other hand, if the parent tells the child over and over again with greater and greater vehemence not to do something, might not an observer to this interaction between parent and children say, "Hmm. The more the parent tells the child not to do something, the more they seem to do it!"

How, then, do we account for the parent's behavior?

2
  • which translation are you using?
    – Robert
    Aug 19 at 22:42
  • 1
    @Robert: The NASB. I just inserted that information in my answer. Thanks! Don Aug 20 at 0:05

5 Answers 5

7

We could likewise ask why God would give any commandment knowing that many will break it?

Apparently, we are better off with the commandments than without them. It's also quite possible that some people did obey Jesus' instructions.

As it relates to Mark specifically, and as curiousdannii has already pointed out in the tags, one of the themes in the Gospel of Mark is the "Messianic secret" - Mark repeatedly emphasizes how Jesus' identity as the Messiah was unknown, misunderstood, or kept under wraps for most of Jesus' ministry. Given this thematic emphasis in Mark, I don't have any problem with the idea that Mark may be employing hyperbole in Mark 7:36 (if Jesus can teach using hyperbole--see Matt. 5:29-30--why can't Mark?)

Since none of the Synoptic Gospels seek to present Jesus' ministry in chronological order (Matthew is organized principally by topic, Luke by geography, and Mark...well, it depends on your solution to the Synoptic problem), it is not entirely clear from Mark (or the other Gospels) for how much of Jesus' ministry that His fame was limited and His identity was largely unknown.

John 6:66 offers a clear explanation for why spreading Jesus' popularity primarily through miracles was ineffective if the goal was conversion. The fact that many contemporary Jews expected the Messiah to overthrow Rome gives ample reason why Jesus may not have wanted people broadcasting (early on) that He was the Messiah, lest people misunderstand what Jesus was really there to do.

In any event, by the end of Jesus' ministry it is clear that the claim that He was the Messiah was well-known (see Matt. 26:63).

Why did Jesus tell people not to share certain information, even if He knew they would? Jesus told people to do the right thing, even though He knew they wouldn't always obey.

2
  • 1
    If Jesus advised that his being the Messiah be kept secret, why did he publicly declare " I have spoken openly to the world; I ever taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where all the Jews come together; and in secret spake I nothing". John 18:20 Aug 17 at 11:09
  • 1
    @Alex I agree He did publicly affirm that He was the Messiah (e.g. Luke 4:18-21, Matt. 26:64), though it is less clear to me how far into His ministry it was before this information became widely known. I see in His teaching a "line upon line" methodology, where He didn't throw everything at people all at once. Aug 17 at 13:50
4

I think the first passage (in John) is explaining that Jesus did not need anyone to tell him what people were like and therefore he did not entrust himself to anyone, not based on outside testimony, but based upon his own knowledge. As it says in John 2, many people believed when they saw the signs he was doing: Jesus didn't need the testimony of people regarding who he was, likely because he knew either their words or their motivation would be wrong.

The passage in Mark (and a few other places where Jesus asks people not to spread his fame abroad) has a different and not directly comparable intent.

In John 6, Jesus feeds 5000 plus people from a few scraps of food and he does so very publicly (obviously) and he does so as a sign of who he is. He is not afraid to demonstrate who he is:

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” - John 6:25-29

This is a discourse that continues throughout the rest of the chapter and adds much more context but the beginning of the scene is relevent:

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself. - John 6:15-16

So we see Jesus taking steps to avoid what he knew was in the hearts of the people; not necessarily out of fear of the rulers but to avoid the wrong-headed desires of the general public. He also was sometimes concerned about where a particular individual's idea came from:

Then Pilate entered into the judgment hall again, and called Jesus, and said unto him, Art thou the King of the Jews? Jesus answered him, Sayest thou this thing of thyself, or did others tell it thee of me? - John 18:33-34 

Jesus did not come (in his first advent) to sit on the throne of David and the people, seeing his messianic signs and misunderstanding the scriptures as they prophesied about the death, burial, and resurrection of the suffering servant, desired to place him on the throne before his time.

Knowing this, he got into a boat and escaped. Knowing this, he enjoined people to remain quiet about himself (at times). There are other times where he desired the opposite of silence (Luke 8:26-39) and other times where he commanded something sort of in between (Luke 5:12-16).

I suggest that Jesus' command to tell no one has much to do with his advance knowledge of who would receive the report (if given) and how the report would be received. For instance, there was no danger that the demoniac of Luke 8 would tell anyone in the region of the Gadarenes who had the ability to take him and make him King by force.

0

Consider Solomon's list of times in Ecclesiastes. There is "a time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Eccl 3:7)

Compare this to Matthew 23 and 24. In the former chapter Jesus tells people to listen to the Pharisees because they sit in the "seat of Moses". Listen but not imitate - the teachers are hypocrites who do not practice what they preach. The person who listens is the one who enters the time to keep silence.

In the latter chapter, Jesus says, "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew 24:14) That preaching is to be done by those who - having listened and been properly instructed - are now qualified to teach, entering the time to speak.

Before he sent out his disciples to the cities and towns of Judah in Matthew 10, Jesus told them what to say and what to do. The people that Jesus healed had no such training. God is a God of order, thoughtful and wise. When Jesus told them to be silent and not speak about him to others, he was inviting them into a period of discipleship and listening.

Is it not peculiar that the gospels speak of thousands of people who were healed, fed, or miraculously touched in some way, but none of them (save Paul), became Apostles? One Mary was freed of demons and Lazarus was raised from the dead, but we hear little about them afterwards. The disciples were drawn more by faith than by miracles. Jesus wanted people who could tell the world what faith in him can accomplish. Faith is more than "Listen to what I just saw!"

1
  • Becoming an Apostle is a particular calling not just the result of contact with Jesus. Aug 17 at 1:06
0

There were some who listened and obeyed. In Mark's phrase, "But the more He did it, the more they talked about it," Mark only reported the effect. But if Jesus wouldn't tell everyone, then the early unwanted fame would spread much faster (because everyone would spread the word, and in a short time). So, yes, Jesus knew the effect, but the effect would have been much stronger if He had not told them.

Jesus wanted the News to be spread, but in the quantity he needed. In some areas, where He knew the Word needed to be spread - where there was no one to tell it - He sent them to do it (see Luke 8:39).

In conclusion, Jesus told them not to speak because He knew them.

0

I admit that when I first read this, I interpreted it as "the people told everyone, but not because Jesus told them to." E.g., Jesus' not only did not advertise or promote himself, but he asked his followers to not promote him either. Up until he officially sent out his disciples as missionaries, with instructions to preach the message of the Kingdom rather than of Jesus' miracles (Luke 10.9). So the message would not be garbled or misrepresented by the miracles.

But you are raising the point that Jesus should have known that they would tell, which he probably did, but I'd turn that around and say, how do we know that if Jesus didn't forbid them, that they wouldn't tell even more? I don't think the psychology of the parent is at play here, we are not talking about a treat being withheld from a child, nor can we assume that Mark's As X Happened Y increased means that X caused Y to increase more than it would have if not X.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.