4. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.
[But they held their peace.] This reminds me of the like carriage of the Sanhedrim in judging a servant of king Jannaeus, a murderer, when Jannaeus himself was present in the Sanhedrim. It was found sufficiently that he was guilty; but, for fear, they dared not to utter their opinion; when Simeon Ben Sheta, president of the Sanhedrim, required it: "He looked on his right hand, and they fixed their eyes upon the earth; on his left hand, and they fixed their eyes upon the earth," &c.
17. And James the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James; and he surnamed them Boanerges, which is, The sons of thunder:
[Boanerges.] I. See what Beza saith here. To which our very learned Hugh Broughton, a man very well exercised in these studies, replies: "The Jews to this very day pronounce Scheva by oa, as Noabhyim for Nebhyim. So Boanerges. When Theodore Beza will have it written Benerges, the very Jews themselves will defend our gospel."
Certainly, it is somewhat hard and bold to accuse the Scripture of St. Mark as corrupt for this manner of pronunciation, when, among the Jews, the pronouncing of some letters, vowels, and words was so different and indifferent, that they pronounced one way in Galilee, another way in Samaria, and another way in Judea. "And I remember (saith the famous Ludovicus de Dieu), that I heard the excellent Erpenius say, that he had it from the mouth of a very learned Maronite, that it could not be taught by any grammatical rules, and hardly by word of mouth, what sound Scheva hath among the Syrians."
That castle of noted fame which is called Masada in Josephus, Pliny, Solinus, and others in Strabo is Moasada, very agreeable to this our sound: They shew some scorched rocks about 'Moasada.' Where, without all controversy, he speaks of Masada.
II. There is a controversy also about the word erges: it is obscure, in what manner it is applied to thunder. But give me your judgment, courteous reader, what Rigsha is in this story: "The father of Samuel sat in the synagogue of Shaph, and Jathib, in Nehardea: the divine glory came; he heard the voice of 'Rigsha,' and went not out: the angels came, and he was affrighted."
Of the word Rigsha, the Glossers say nothing. And we do not confidently render it thunder; nor yet do we well know how to render it better: if so be it doth not denote the sound as of a mighty rushing wind, Acts 2:2: but let the reader judge.
III. As obscure is the reason of the name imposed upon these two disciples, as the derivation of the word. We have only this certain in this business, that we never find them called by this name elsewhere. Christ called Simon Peter, and likewise others called him Peter, and he calls himself so. But you never find James called Boanerges, or John so called, either by themselves or by others. We must trust conjecture for the rest.
IV. It is well enough known what the phrase Bath Kol, the daughter of thunder, means among the Jews. Our Saviour, using another word, seems to respect another etymology of the name. But it is demanded, what that is. He calls Simon Peter with respect had to the work he was to play in building the church of the Gentiles upon a rock. For he first opened the door to let in the gospel among the Gentiles. Whether were James and John called sons of thunder with respect had to their stout discoursing against the Jews, we neither dare to say, nor can we deny it. James did this, as it seems, to the loss of his life, Acts 12.
But what if allusion be here made to the two registrars, or scribes of the Sanhedrim? whereof one sat on the right hand, and the other on the left; one wrote the votes of those that acquitted, the other the votes of those that condemned. Or to the president himself, and the vice-president? whose definitive sentence, summing up the votes of the whole Sanhedrim, was like thunder and lightning to the condemned persons, and seemed to all like the oracles given from Sinai out of lightning and thunder.
V. But whatsoever that was in the mind of our Saviour, that moved him to imprint this name upon them, when these two brethren, above all the other disciples, would have fire fall from heaven upon that town of the Samaritans which refused to give Christ entertainment, Luke 9:54, they seem to act according to the sense of this surname. And when the mother of these desired a place for one of them on Christ's right hand, and for the other on his left, she took the confidence of such a request probably from this, that Christ had set so honourable a name upon them above the other disciples. And when John himself calls himself the elder, and he was sufficiently known to those to whom he writ under that bare title, the elder; I cannot but suspect this distinguishing character arose hence. All the apostles, indeed, were elders, which Peter saith of himself, 1 Peter 5:1: but I ask, whether any of the twelve, besides this our apostle (his brother James being now dead), could be known to those that were absent under this title, the elder, by a proper, not additional name, as he is in his two latter Epistles.
21. And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.
[He is beside himself.] In the Talmudists it is his judgment is gone, and his understanding is ceased. "If any becomes mute, and yet is of a sound mind, and they say to him, Shall we write a bill of divorce for thy wife? and he nods with his head, they try him thrice, &c. And it is necessary that they make trial of him more exactly, lest, perhaps, he might be deprived of his senses." This is to be understood of a dumb person, made so by some paralytical or apoplectical stroke, which sometimes wounds the understanding.
"The Rabbins deliver: If any one is sick, and in the mean time any of his friends die, they do not make it known to him that such a one is dead, lest his understanding be disturbed." "One thus lamented R. Simeon Ben Lachish; 'Where art thou, O Bar Lachish? Where art thou, O Bar Lachish?' And so cried out until his understanding perished." For so the Gloss renders it.
How fitly this word beside himself expresseth these phrases is readily observed by him who understandeth both languages. And a Jew, reading these words in Mark, would presently have recourse to the sense of those phrases in his nation; which do not always signify madness, or being bereft of one's wits, in the proper sense, but sometimes, and very frequently, some discomposure of the understanding for the present, from some too vehement passion. So say Christ's friends, "His knowledge is snatched away; he hath forgotten himself, and his own health; he is so vehement and hot in discharging his office, and in preaching, that he is transported beyond himself, and his understanding is disturbed, that he neither takes care of his necessary food nor of his sleep." Those his friends, indeed, have need of an apology, that they had no sounder, nor holier, nor wiser conceit of him; but it is scarcely credible that they thought him to be fallen into plain and absolute madness, and pure distraction. For he had conversed among the multitudes before, at all times in all places; and yet his friends to not say this of him. But now he was retired to his own house at Capernaum, where he might justly expect rest and repose; yet the multitudes rush upon him there, so that he could not enjoy his table and his bed at his own home. Therefore his friends and kinsfolk of Nazareth (among whom was his mother, verse 31), hearing this, unanimously run to him to get him away from the multitude; for they said among themselves, He is too much transported beyond himself, and is forgetful of himself.