[The beginning of the gospel.] The preaching and baptism of John were the very gate and entrance into the state and dispensation of the gospel. For,
I. He opened the door of a new church by a new sacrament of admission into the church.
II. Pointing, as it were with the finger, at the Messias that was coming, he shewed the beginning of the world to come.
III. In that manner as the Jews by baptism admitted Gentile proselytes into the Jewish church, he admits both Jews and Gentiles into the gospel church.
IV. For the doctrine of justification by works, with which the schools of the scribes had defiled all religion, he brings in a new (and yet not a new) and truly saving doctrine of faith and repentance.
2. As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
[As it is written in the prophets.] Here a doubt is made of the true meaning: namely, whether it be in the prophets, or in Esaias the prophet. These particulars make for the former:
I. When two places are cited out of two prophets, it is far more congruously said, as it is written in the prophets; than, as it is written in Esaias: but especially when the place first alleged is not in Esaias, but in another prophet.
II. It was very customary among the Jews (to whose custom in this matter it is very probable the apostles conformed themselves in their sermons) to hear many testimonies cited out of many prophets under this form of speech, as it is written in the prophets. If one only were cited, if two, if more, this was the most common manner of citing them, as it is written in the prophets. But it is without all example, when two testimonies are taken out of two prophets, to name only the last, which is done here, if it were to be read, as it is written in Esaias the prophet.
III. It is clear enough, from the scope of the evangelist, that he propounded to himself to cite those two places, both out of Malachi and out of Esaias. For he doth two things most evidently: 1. He mentions the preaching of the Baptist; for the illustrating of which he produceth the same text which both Matthew and Luke do out of Esaias. 2. He saith that that preaching was "the beginning of the gospel," to prove which he very aptly cites Malachi, of "sending a messenger," and of "preparing the way of the Lord."
But what shall we answer to antiquity, and to so many and so great men reading, as it is written in Esaias the prophet? "I wonder (saith the very learned Grotius), that any doubt is made of the truth of this writing, when, beside the authority of copies, and Irenaeus so citing it, there is a manifest agreement of the ancient interpreters, the Syriac, the Latin, the Arabic." True, indeed; nor can it be denied that very many of the ancients so read: but the ancients read also, as it is written in the prophets. One Arabic copy hath, in Isaiah the prophet: but another hath, in the prophets. Irenaeus once reads in Isaiah: but reads twice, in the prophets. And "so we find it written," saith the famous Beza (who yet follows the other reading), "in all our ancient copies except two, and that my very ancient one, in which we read, in Esaias the prophet."
The whole knot of the question lies in the cause of changing the reading; why, as it is written in Esaias the prophet, should be changed into, as it is written in the prophets. The cause is manifest, saith that very learned man, namely, because a double testimony is taken out of two prophets. "But there could be no cause (saith he) of changing of them." For if Mark, in his own manuscript, wrote, as it is written in the prophets, by what way could this reading at last creep in, as it is written in Esaias, when two prophets are manifestly cited?
Reader, will you give leave to an innocent and modest guess? I am apt to suspect that in the copies of the Jewish Christians it was read, in Isaiah the prophet; but in those of the Gentile Christians, in the prophets: and that the change among the Jews arose from hence, that St. Mark seems to go contrary to a most received canon and custom of the Jews: "He that reads the prophets in the synagogues let him not skip from one prophet to another. But in the lesser prophets he may skip; with this provision only, that he skip not backward: that is, not from the latter to the former."
But you see how Mark skips here from a prophet of one rank, namely, from a prophet who was one of the twelve, to a prophet of another rank: and you see also how he skips backward from Malachi to Isaiah. This, perhaps, was not so pleasing to the Christian Jews, too much Judaizing yet: nor could they well bear that this allegation should be read in their churches so differently from the common use. Hence, in Isaiah the prophet, was inserted for in the prophets. And that they did so much the more boldly, because those words which are cited out of Malachi are not exactly agreeable either to the Hebrew original or the Greek version, and those that are cited from Isaiah are cited also by Matthew and Luke; and the sense of them which are cited from Malachi may also be fetched from the place alleged out of Isaiah.
6. And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey;
[Clothed with camel's hair.] In the Talmudists it would be read camel's wool: "He hath not a garment besides a woolen one; to add wool (or hair) of camels, and wool of hares: wool of sheep, and wool of camels, which they mix, &c." And a little after, "If he make a garment of camel's hair, and weave in it but one thread of linen, it is forbidden, as things of different kinds."
There is one that thinks that those garments of Adam concerning which it is said (Gen 3), that God made for them coats of skins, were of camel's hair: "In the law of R. Meir they found written garments of light. R. Isaac saith that they were like those thin linen garments which come from Bethshan. R. Samuel Bar Nachman saith they were of the wool (or hair) of camels, and the wool of hares."
We cannot pass that by without observation, that it is said, "That in the law of R. Meir they found written garments of light, for garments of skins." The like to which is that, In the law of R. Meir they found it written, instead of Behold, it was very good, And behold death is a good thing Where by the law of R. Meir seems to be understood some volume of the law, in the margin of which, or in some papers put in, that Rabbin had writ his critical toys and his foolish pieces of wit upon the law, or some such trifling commentary of his own upon it.
[Eating locusts.] They who had not nobler provision hunted after locusts for food. The Gemarists feign that there are eight hundred kinds of them, namely, of such as are clean. That lexicographer certainly would be very acute who could describe all these kinds particularly by their names.
"The Rabbins deliver: He that hunts locusts, wasps (a kind of locusts), hornets, and flies, on the sabbath, is guilty"...the Gemara, a little after; "He that hunts locusts in the time of the dew (on the sabbath) is not guilty." The Gloss there writes thus; "The locusts in the time of the dew are purblind, so that if you hunt them at that time they stop their pace." The Gemara goes on, "Eliezer Ben Mabbai saith, 'If they go in flocks he is not guilty.'" The Gloss writes, "If they flock together in troops, and be, as it were, ready to be taken, he is not guilty who hunts them even in the time of heat."
13. And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him.
[And was with the wild beasts.] He was among the wild beasts, but was not touched by them. So Adam first before his fall.
[And angels ministered unto him.] Forty days he was tempted by Satan invisibly, and angels ministered to him visibly. Satan, at last, put on the appearance of an angel of light, and pretending to wait on him, as the rest also did, hid his hook of temptation the more artificially.
24. Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.
[Art thou come to destroy us?] Us? Whom? The devils? or those Galileans in the synagogue? See what the masters say: "In that generation, in which the Son of David shall come, saith Rabban Gamaliel, Galilea shall be laid waste, and the Galileans shall wander from city to city, and shall not obtain mercy." If such a report obtained in the nation, the devil thence got a very fit occasion in this possessed man of affrighting the Galileans from receiving Christ, because they were to expect nothing from his coming but devastation.
38. And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.
[Towns.] What this word means may be excellently well discovered by searching into the distinction between cities, and villages, and towns in the evangelists:--
I. I render cities: but by what word, you will say, will you render by towns:--"A man cannot compel his wife to follow him to dwell from town to city, nor from city to town." The proper English of which take from what follows: "It is plain why he cannot force her from city to town; because in a city any thing is to be found," or to be had; but in a town any thing is not to be had. The Gloss writes, "'Kerac' is greater than 'Ir,' (that is, a city than a town); and there is a place of broad streets, where all neighbouring inhabitants meet at a market, and there any thing is to be had." So the same Gloss elsewhere; "Kerac is a place of broad streets, where men meet together from many places," &c.
The Gemarists go on: "R. Josi Bar Chaninah saith, Whence is it that dwelling in kerachin (cities) is more inconvenient? For it is said, 'And they blessed all the people who offered themselves willingly to dwell at Jerusalem'" (Neh 11). Note, by the way, that Jerusalem was Kerac. The Gloss there is, "Dwelling in 'Kerachin' is worse, because all dwell there, and the houses are straitened, and join one to another, so that there is not free air: but in a town are gardens, and paradises by the houses, and the air is more wholesome."
Kerachim therefore were, 1. Cities girt with walls. Hence is that distinction, that there were some 'Kerachin' which were girt with walls from the days of Joshua, and some walled afterward. 2. Trading mart cities, and those that were greater and nobler than the rest.
II. Villages or country towns, [had] no synagogue. Hence is that in Megill. cap. 1: A Kerac (a city), in which are not ten men to make a synagogue, is to be reckoned for a village. And Megill. cap. 1, where some of a village are bound to read the Book of Esther in the feast of Purim: It is indulged to them to do it on a synagogue-day: that is, when they had not a synagogue among them, but must resort to some neighbour town where a synagogue was, it was permitted them to go thither on some weekday, appointed for meeting together in the synagogue, and that they might not take the trouble of a journey on another day, however that day was appointed by law for that lection.
III. Urbs, or civitas, a city; denoted generally fortified cities, and towns also not fortified, where synagogues were, and villages, where they were not. Hence is that distinction, "That was a great city where there was a synagogue": "a small city where there was not."
By towns therefore here are to be understood towns where there were synagogues, which nevertheless were not either fortified or towns of trade; among us English called church-towns.