Mark's Wicked

Tenants Parable

Joseph Francis Alward  
© Copyright 2001 


The Old Testament origins of Mark’s parable of the wicked tenants are given.

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Old Testament Antecedents and Other Comments
Mark 12

My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well… The vineyard of the LORD Almighty is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are the garden of his delight
(Isaiah 5:1-7)


The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. (Leviticus 25:23)

He then began to speak to them in parables: "A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. (12:1)

Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit…And he looked for…righteousness, but heard cries of distress (Isaiah 5:2-7)

What misery is mine…there is no cluster of grapes to eat…The godly have been swept from the land; not one upright man remains (Micah 7:1-2)


When I came, why was there no one?  When I called, why was there no one

to answer?  (Isaiah 50:2)
"I looked for a man among them who would…stand before me…on behalf of the land…but I found none…,” declares the Sovereign LORD." 
(Ezekiel 22:30-31)


At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. (12:2)


But they…sent him away empty-handed. (12:3)

I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.  (Isaiah 50:6)


They…twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.  And they began to call out to him, "Hail, king of the Jews!" Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. (Mark 15:17-20)


Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully.  (12:4)

Mark has Jesus predict his fate.

Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, "This is what God says: `Why do you disobey the LORD's commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has forsaken you.'" But they plotted against him, and by order of the king they stoned him to death in the courtyard of the LORD's temple.  (2 Chronicles 24:20-21)


He sent still another, and that one they killed. (12:5a)

The LORD warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers… They forsook all the commands of the LORD their God  (2 Kings 17:13)

They were angry with Jeremiah and had him beaten and imprisoned (Jeremiah 37:15)


“They killed your prophets, who had admonished them in order to turn them back to you..”  ( Nehemiah 9:26)

So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison..(Mark 6:27)


He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.  (12:5b)

Then Elijah said to them, "I am the only one of the LORD's prophets left
(1 Kings 18:22)


He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, “They will respect my son.” (12:6)


Mark has Jesus allude to himself.

Moreover the prince shall not take of the people’s inheritance by oppression..(Ezekiel 46:18)


They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them. They defraud a man of …inheritance. (Micah 2:2)

Ahab said to Naboth, "Let me have your vineyard… But Naboth replied, "The LORD forbid that I should give you the inheritance of my fathers." …Jezebel [Ahab’s wife] said…Then take him out and stone him to death."
(1 Kings 21:1-10)


But the tenants said to one another, “This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.” (12:7)1

Mark has Jesus predict his death.

So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death… Ahab…went down to take possession of Naboth's vineyard. (1 Kings 21:13-16)

So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 
(Matthew 21:39)

So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.  (Luke 20:15)


So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. (12:8)

Error #1: These events are inexplicably reversed.  One throws a body out after killing the victim, not a “him.”  Matthew and Luke got it straight; Mark didn’t.


The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: "It is you who have ruined my vineyard…” (Isaiah 3:14)

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says about Ahab…"I will hand them over to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will put them to death before your very eyes.  (Jeremiah 29:21)

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the LORD…So the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.
(1 Chronicles 10:13)

What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. (12:9)

When the people heard this, they said, "May this never be!"  (Luke 20:16)

Error #2: Mark omits the people’s exclamation needed to explain (below) why Jesus admonishes them for not remembering scripture.


The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  (Psalm 118:22-23)


Haven't you read this scripture: "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone;  (12:10)


“the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes” ?



The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured." (Isaiah 8:13-15)

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Luke 20:18)

Error #3:  Mark needs to follow up on his capstone comment to show that Jesus--the stone on which the priests will trip--will be the agent by which the killing referred to in 12:9 will be accomplished. Luke does this, but Mark overlooked it.



Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard… it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled.   I will make it a wasteland…(Isaiah 5:5-6)

Hear this…you rulers of the house of Israel… because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.  (Micah 3:9)


As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!"


"Do you see all these great buildings?" replied Jesus. "Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down."  (Mark 13:1-2)





[1]  Dennis R. MacDonald argues in his book, The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark (Yale University Press, 2000), that Mark borrowed many of the elements of his gospel from Homer’s epics for the purpose of having his readers compare Jesus favorably to the epic heroes. In Mark’s wicked tenants parable, MacDonald believes there exists


“a problem within the parable that often has stumped interpreters.  The tenants assumed that if they killed their heir they would inherit the vineyard, but no society would award property to an heir’s murderers.  The same problem appears in the epic.  One of the suitors proposed that they kill Telemachus and distribute his possessions among them…” (page 36).



Thus, MacDonald implies that we should wonder why Jesus thought anyone would believe that any tenant farmers would think they would get away with killing the landowner and then receive his inheritance.  MacDonald seems to conclude that Mark was more interested in retaining a Homeric connection than he was in telling a tale that made complete sense.


This is too much to believe.  First of all, Mark knew his readers would know that he wasn’t talking about grape-growing farmers murdering the landowner and being awarded his property.  Mark was talking about Jesus’ prediction of his own death at the hands of those who would--in a sense--seize the Lord’s inheritance by murdering the Lord’s son. Furthermore, the story of Ahab and Jezebel conspiring to murder Naboth and seize his inheritance in 1 Kings 21 tells Mark’s readers that murderers in the past have thought they might inherit the victim’s property, so why couldn’t the tenants in Jesus’ story make the same mistake?

Other Articles about Mark’s Gospel:


  David and Jesus
  Jesus Walks on Water
  Loaves and Fishes
  Wicked Tenants Parables