Mark 1

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John the Baptist Comes

Verse 1: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (NRSV)

  • This verse is not a complete sentence.
    • There is no verb to this statement, and it cannot be supplied with one because thereis no antecedent.
    • So either this is a title, a parenthetical statement with verse 4, or is completed with verse 2 (Bratcher 2).
  • ”arche” or “beginning” is the first word, and is very unadorned.
    • There is no article with it, there is no “This is the beginning.” It's just “Beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, son of God.”
    • This is not unusual, though, for Biblical introductions. Most prophetic books have a similar verbless heading, and most have an anarthrous noun like here too. This could especially be calling up the wording of Genesis 1:1 (France 51). Instead of the beginning of all it's the beginning of the gospel.
    • By not having it be definite, this could be an implicit statement about Jesus' eternal actions.
    • More likely, this is another example of Mark rushing into things, quickly jumping to the action.
  • The use of the term “euangelion” means “good news” and is where we get “gospel” from.
    • Now it means a particular genre, but at the time it literally meant good news, awesome news, that was being told.
    • Mark is the first to use the term in this way and by doing so be coined the term as a genre.
    • ”Good news” was associated with the cult of the emperor, whose birth and other special events were supposed to be celebrated as “good news” (France 52).
    • There is some question about what this good news is referring to.
    • Is it the good news about Jesus.
      • It could possibly be referring to the good news that Jesus brings.
      • It could also be more of a separate concept, the good news which came as a result of Jesus, or that Jesus revealed.
  • Where Mark thinks the good news begins is not with Jesus' birth, but with prophecy, and a prophecy about John the Baptist.
  • Jesus is the most common name in Josephus' writings (France 48), so such a common name is clarified with the distinction “Christ”.
    • ”Christ” is not used very often in Mark's gospel, appearing only here and in Mark 9:41 where it is again used to distinguish this Jesus from others.
    • Normally, Mark uses “of Nazareth” to specify Jesus as opposed to “Christ”, but here there is no reference to location.
    • Mark further qualifies and defines “Jesus Christ” with “son of God”, though that term is not in all of the earliest manuscripts and there is some debate about whether it is authentic (France 48).
    • Mark uses Jesus' name 80 times without attaching theological significance to it, so this is important (Brooks 38).
    • ”Christ” means “messiah” and by this time had come to be associated with a specific person (Books 38).
  • Interestingly, there is no definite article in front of “Christ,” which could make it read “Jesus, a Messiah” and would explain the additional clarification of “son of God” to make it even more precise.
  • Even though this book is about Jesus, there isn't any other character in the story in the introduction except John.


Verse 2: As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; (NRSV)

  • ”It has been written” is a perfect passive verb, and indicates the continued relevance of the what has been written while still emphasizing that it was a prophecy written a long time ago.
    • This is about the prophecy of the past fulfilled, not something new completely beginning.
    • Using this phrasing, the gospel is presented to have begun a long time ago, with John picking up the story (Bratcher 5).
  • The first half of this quote is not actually from Isaiah, but is from Malachi 3:1.
    • The Textus Receptus recognized that it wasn't Isaiah and so put in “the prophets” instead (Bratcher 5).
    • It is attributed to Isaiah presumably because it is the most famous of the two quotations (France 63).
    • They are combined through the theme of calling and most importantly through preparing the way, even though they are different words used.
    • There appears to be some elements of Exodus 23:20 included here as well (France 63).
  • ”prosopou” is translated as “before” in this quote. This is interesting because it actually means “face” (Liddell 701). But with “pro” in front it indicates “in front of” or “ahead.”
  • ”Prepare” has the connotation of building something, or of getting something ready for the visit of a diplomat or royalty (Bratcher 6).
  • ”The way of the Lord” is difficult to interpret fully. Is the road the Lord's possession, is it where the Lord will go?
  • “Ways” is also another word for “road” so a bit of a play on words here as well, with three references to ways and roads.
  • Mark is also calling John the Baptist an angel, which is fine since it means “messenger” but there is definitely some confusion here. One of the few times that this word is not translated as “angel” however.


Verse 3: the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' ” (NRSV)

  • The quote in this verse is from Isaiah 20:3.
  • Matthew does not quote the full Isaiah quote that Mark does Matthew 3.
    • Matthew emphasizes what repentance entails more, by elaborating on producing fruit afterwards and not simply relying on blood.
    • Matthew also warns of punishment if they don't change.
  • Luke quotes beyond where Mark ends in Isaiah's quote, but doesn't start as early Luke 3.
    • This addition makes the prophesy more eschatological than either Matthew or Mark.
  • ”Desert” is a term that show up three times in this introduction, and becomes rather important.
    • This desert area is probably the area between the Lake of Galilee and the Dead Sea (France 65).
    • First this prophecy, then John fulfilling it (with Jesus being baptized in the desert area), and finally the Holy Spirit leads Jesus there.
    • Desert in Israelite thought indicated new beginnings, rebirth, and purity, being set apart as holy.
      • This theme comes back up with the Spirit of holiness (or Holy Spirit) coming in verse eight.
      • The rebirth of Israel was expected to happen in the desert, so the gospel starts in the desert Coming into and out of the desert was a symbol of hope and fulfillment (France 58).
  • The second “prepare” is a different word, carrying less of the implications of building and more for preparing, like making a meal not making a house. Getting ready for someone. There is an element of servitude here.
  • ”Prepare” here is imperative, a command, unlike the one in verse two.
  • “Way” is a word usually referring to a literal road, but most likely is a metaphorical way of describing wherever he goes.
  • ”The Lord” whose way is prepared in Isaiah meant God, but here it means Jesus (Brooks 40). This is a very high Christology.
  • Qumran took this quote from Isaiah to mean that they needed to live in the desert and make ready for God (France 58).
  • The original passages of the quote from Isaiah is referring to someone who will predict the coming of God to judge and save people.
    • So here Mark is using John to build up Jesus as judge and master, and then giving him a human side later.
    • This explains the lack of “Jesus of Nazareth” title in verse one.
  • “Straight” can indicate an ethical as well as a literal meaning. There is a double meaning here of straightening out.


Verse 4: John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (NRSV)

  • This verse must be taken as a fulfillment of the previous prophecies.
    • Therefore, making it easy for God to work and do what God has planned is not separate from a baptism of repentance.
    • If we think that they are the same, baptism and forgiveness is not the end, it's the beginning.
  • We have another instance of Mark being strange here. John is proclaimed as “becoming” or “coming into being” in the desert, not just walking out of it.
  • The participle “baptizing/baptizer” connected with John is problematic. There are two different options.
    • This could be a description of John: “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, teaching…”
    • Or this could be a description of what he is doing: “John appeared in the wilderness, baptizing and teaching…”
  • This is the second of three significant references to the desert area. See verse three for more analysis of this term.
  • Mark is making a point here by describing John as being so similar to Jesus' message (repentance and forgiveness of sins), it becomes inexcusable to ignore Jesus after accepting John.
  • ”Baptism” is a Christian word, recorded first in the NT, though it was almost certainly in use from the beginning in Christian circles (France 66).
    • The baptism of John might not have been what was the most important thing to him, but was what set him apart as unique. Repentance seems more important to John given what he says.
    • Ritual washing was common, but baptism was only for Jewish converts. By making Jews do it, John is making a spiritual “remnant” theology from within Judaism itself (France 66). A birthright was not enough anymore, you needed more.
    • This is a distinct baptism from proselyte baptism because that was self-administered (Brooks 40). This was also not repeated like ritual cleansing.
    • Josephus records John's baptism as only being valid if the person had already repented and committed to change. The act didn't do anything (France 67).
  • “Repentance” being a change of mind., remorse, etc. This appears to be the type or title of the baptism used by John.
  • “For” is a key word here, with a lot hinging on it. It is portraying the baptism as bringing about or resulting in the forgiveness of sins. This goes well with early Christian thought


Verse 5: And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (NRSV)

  • By saying everyone in Judea and Jerusalem came to see John, Mark seems to be saying that everyone who heard Jesus had already heard John. (Of course, this is not completely accurate as much of Jesus' ministry was in Galilee up north.)
  • Mark does not qualify how many people get baptized, and so is implying that all who came got baptized. This implicates them all in not receiving Jesus later on.
  • “baptizing” is an imperfect tense. This wasn't a onetime event, but a regular activity.
    • As long as the people kept coming, John kept baptizing.
    • Literally they were baptized “under him” so most likely his disciples, not him, did the baptizing. This would make sense as the description is that everyone shows up, so more people than John could baptize himself.
  • “confessing their sins” is not “repenting” they are different words. Confessing is more like admitting and acknowledging the specifics about the problem. Repentance is turning around and changing.


Verse 6: 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (NRSV)

  • The clothes John wears are the clothes of Elijah from 2 Kings 1:18 (France 69).
  • Mark makes sure to point out John's resemblance to a prophet of old, and so is pointing our John's credentials and worthiness to predict the Messiah.
  • The use of both hair and skin (translated as leather usually) seems to indicate that it came from the same animal, ie hair on his back and the camel skin around his waist, but that is hard to convey. There also seems to be a tiny attempt to gross out people in the wording.


Verse 7: He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. (NRSV)

  • By pointing out John's own comparisons with Jesus, Mark is making it impossible for someone to think that John was himself the Messiah.
    • This is especially important because Mark has already pointed our John's own qualifications as a prophet.
    • Mark is building up anticipation for Jesus by playing up John and then making him step aside.
  • There isn’t any real indication of what John is lacking that he can’t untie Jesus’ sandals. Most versions insert “worthy” but literally it is just “enough.” “Holy” or “Worthy” “important” or even “strong” might all fit there.
  • Slaves were the people who undid sandals, so using this imagery reinforces the degree of separation between John and Jesus.


Verse 8: I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (NRSV)

  • In Greek there is no preposition denoting whether this is baptism “in” water, or “with” water. Any translator supplies that word. We just know that he baptized using water somehow.
  • Whether this is baptism into the Holy Spirit, or a Spirit of holiness is uncertain.
    • It was probably thought at the time to refer to the later, but after Pentecost, when this was written, to be recognized as the Holy Spirit.
    • Mark only uses “Spirit” in a positive sense more times in the introduction to chapter one than the entire rest of the book.
    • The use of “Holy Spirit” here probably is used to emphasize Jesus' significance over John as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was an important OT expectation (France 55).
  • Spirit is here used in contrast with water.
    • This contrast is also tied in with the contrast between John and Jesus. The Spirit is presented as being as superior over water and Jesus is over John.
    • Given that many came to John and were unchanged, but those few who stuck with Jesus were radically changed, this seems to also be implying that the next one can't be faked as easily.


Verse 9: At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. (NIV)

  • Again we have Mark making a statement that Matthew tries to keep from being spun badly, in that Mark’s account seems to imply that Jesus saw himself as less than John. Matthew adds that John tries to dissuade Jesus and fails, emphasizing Jesus’ importance over John.
  • The phrasing used in English “was baptized” is usually used as a translation of the perfect or the imperfect tenses in Greek but not here. This is an aorist. Mark is not emphasizing that this actually affected Jesus in the future at all, unlike the other gospel writers.


Verse 10: As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. (NIV)

  • Mark here uses the third person singular to describe God speaking to Jesus. “He” saw this, not everyone. Matthew follows Mark here, but Luke changes it, presumably wanting to make it clear that this was not just a personal vision but confirmed by those nearby.


Verse 12: At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, (NIV)

  • This is quite possibly the strangest verse in the Bible. The word used here of the Spirit is the same used to exorcize demons. The Spirit drove Jesus out. The other writers of course change this.
    • It is an action word and Mark likes to talk with action words, but it still is a very odd choice. Especially as this falls right after the Spirit coming down in the guise of peace itself, and God saying everything is great.
    • Then suddenly peace exorcizes Jesus and God sends him to be tempted and tried. Perhaps Mark’s wording can be understood as God reassuring Jesus that even though the temptation was coming, it didn’t reflect on what God thought of Jesus.

Calling the First Disciples

Verse 14: After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. (NIV)

  • There isn’t a clear chronology here. This could have been immediately after the forty days or after quite some time had passed, we just don’t know. But Mark here makes the case that Jesus’ ministry started where John’s had left off, spiritually, physically, and metaphorically.
  • In many uses “to give someone up” had connotations of betrayal involved, but whether Mark was implying that here or just using those connotations to imply that this was a very bad thing is not clear.
  • This is not the first use of “good news” or “gospel” in Mark. The book opens with talking about the good news of Jesus, but here it is the good news of God that Jesus is speaking. This Is a far rarer thing than the good news of Jesus.


Verse 15: “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (NIV)

  • ” Has come near” is perfect, a past action resulting in present or continued consequences. It has arrived, it has come close. The image is almost of a car driving close enough you can jump on it. This isn’t about the kingdom coming later or being just out of reach or almost here, but about it being right next to you.


Verse 16: As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. (NIV)

  • Jesus “passed along” or “came to” or “going to” are translations of an odd word meaning to either militarily march people into formation or to lead people astray. This is a very odd word to use here for Mark.


Verse 17: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (NIV)

  • The wording of “fishers of men” is a repetition of the unnecessary “for they were fishermen” of the previous verse.


Verse 18: At once they left their nets and followed him. (NIV)

  • This would have been a huge deal for someone. These were young men who had not succeeded in their studies. They had been passed over for a rabbi and went back into the family business of fishing. But here was a rabbi offering them another chance. How could they pass that up?


Verse 19: When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. (NIV)

  • “James” is what we have taken to call this disciple but his name is Jacob in the Greek and would have been in the Hebrew as well.


Verse 20: Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. (NIV)

  • The sons literally “sent off” their father, a rather unusual thing to do as it should be the other way around. The image here is that their allegiance has switched to Jesus so full and so quickly that they are no longer part of the fishing life and send their father to return to it without them.

Jesus Drives out an Evil Spirit

Verse 21: They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. (NIV)

  • “Was teaching” is the imperfect, meaning that this was repeated or a habit. Probably Jesus made it a habit to be in town on the Sabbath and to teach in the synagogue of the city he was in. Likewise, this teaching probably went on for quite a while. This was not a one time short fluke message.


Verse 22: The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. (NIV)

  • There is no indication here that the scribes were in the wrong. We don’t have any indication in the text if the scribes were acting rightly by being more timid and only Jesus had that kind of authority or if they were pathetic and all should speak with authority.


Verse 24: ”What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (NIV)

  • The “us” of this verse is ambiguous. The man does not appear to be in the power of multiple spirits, but this “us” must be either referring to other spirits or to the people of the town in general.
  • “Destroy” is to destroy something completely, but can also be to cast out, ie of unclean spirits


Verse 25: “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” (NIV)

  • “Rebuke” can also mean “punish” and so it is unclear whether this exorcism is a punishment for what the spirit said or what Jesus was going to do anyway.
  • Jesus wording for being quiet is to be muzzled, or to lock someone to a stock. This is a strong wording, a violent image even.


Verse 26: ' (NIV)

  • “Convulsions” here is more literally tearing something apart, an obvious hyperbole by Mark but a very image picture none the less.
  • The noise generated here is about the most emphasized you can get. It is the verbal form “sounded” with the noun “sound” and the adjective “great”. “He sounded a great sound”. This is very Hebrew to repeat something in order to reemphasize it. This was a tremendous noise, but what kind we don’t know.


Verse 27: The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” (NIV)

  • This is an argument, a dispute or disagreement that people were having. This wasn’t mild curiosity or some mumbling but a lot of discussion and emotion.
  • There is some ambiguity here. “authority” also means “power” in the more mystical sense. He brings a new teaching, and he shows his power by doing this miracle, which is also showing his authority. So casting out this demon was showing his credentials. It is a new teaching, and since Jesus showed power, he showed he had the authority to make that new teaching.


Verse 28: News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee. (NIV)

  • Jesus “fame” could also be talked about as “report” or simply that people were hearing words about him.

Jesus Heals

Verse 29: As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. (NIV)

  • That this was both Andrew and Simon’s house probably indicates that it was the family home. The assumption would be that both Andrew and Simon were very young and still living at home, except that a mother-in-law is mentioned in the next verse. Probably they had built additions to the family house but lived all together.


Verse 30: Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. (NIV)

  • This verse is one of the only indications of age we have here. The term mother in law was very specific and so can’t really mean anything other than that Andrew was married.
  • The term “immediately” is used by Mark so much that translating it the same way all the time becomes redundant and hinders readability. Here it is indicating that as soon as they came into the house, Andrew said something.


Verse 31: So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. (NIV)

  • “Raise” can mean to wake someone up, to get someone to stand up, or even to raise the dead. The image here is one of deliberate ambiguity it seems, where the mother-in-law is described as being at death’s door and brought back.
  • ”Left” is also an interesting term, as it can mean being sent away, a sentence being lifted, or purposefully heading out on an expedition. There seems to always be an element of intention in the going. This was not accidental that she got better here, but the fever was intentionally sent packing.
  • “Serve” is imperfect here, indicating a repeated action. This woman did not return to her bedrest, but kept helping and serving and taking care of people during Jesus’ stay.


Verse 32: That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. (NIV)

  • Different translations use different wordings here. Some go “at” sunset but I prefer an idea of being after sunset as “set” is aorist, ie past tense, and the verb “become” which maintains more immediacy in its’ meaning, is directed back to evening and not to sunset. It was dark and late seems to be the point, reinforced. And exact time doesn’t seem to be the meaning.
  • While the wording doesn’t make completely clear when the people started to come, it was still Sabbath until sunset, so people probably started coming them, as carrying someone would have been considered work.


Verse 34: and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. (NIV)

  • ” Knew” is not the more intimate “gnorizo” but the more scholarly “oida”. This is knowing about Jesus, not really knowing him personally or know his character.
  • There is a theological statement here that while the entire city came, only many people were healed. Not everyone.
  • There were a lot of suppositions and assumptions about what the Messiah would do and who it would be. Jesus here is avoiding bringing those assumptions on himself until people really got to know him and what he was really about. Then he could reform their assumptions instead of being trapped by them.


People Search for Jesus

Verse 35: In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. (NRSV)

  • “Went off” into the desert is a term used of discipleship, a clean break from the old way and a purposeful decision to leave. There is an element of seeking something here, as well as a connotation of complete stoppage.
  • “Desert” is how “eremos” is normally translated, but it is basically anyplace that is lonely, isolated, or alone from everything. Naturally a desert is the big lonely place, but it does not mean Jesus crossed the Jordon and escaped into the desert proper. He was seeking for somewhere to be alone.
  • We don’t know why exactly Jesus left, but he was obviously seeking some alone time. The prayer is again an imperfect tense, the tense of repetition or continuous, unfinished action. Jesus got there, started praying, and was interrupted still praying when the disciples showed up.


Verse 36: And Simon and his companions hunted for him. (NRSV)

  • The disciples “hunted” or “pursued” Jesus. This word is used almost always in a negative sense. Mark might have used it unintentionally like so much he seems to do without thinking, but he could also be attempting to bring a certain accusatory slant to what the disciples are doing. “How dare you leave us” kind of thing.


Verse 37: When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” (NRSV)

  • “Looking” in this verse is a much milder connotation than the searching and hunting that the disciples were doing. Apparently everyone else did not want to find Jesus the same as the disciples


Verse 38: He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (NRSV)

  • This is a very strange sentence structure. Literally, this verse is “and he says to them, we might lead elsewhere to the having small cities.”
  • There is a hortatory subjunctive in “we might lead.” Normally, the subjunctive is about a possibility, or a question. Here he is encouraging them, exhorting them to go from where they were. This has to be related to what the disciples said or it’s completely random. The disciples came as the peak of a wave of people looking for Jesus and Jesus convinces them to lead those people somewhere else. Ie,” if they’re going to search for us, let them find us somewhere else”. Jesus didn’t want to deal with them all.
  • “Elsewhere” can also mean “in a different direction” and with that meaning brings Jesus statement the implication of a purposeful misdirection so they could keep going about their business. It is interesting to note that the poor quality Greek texts of the Textus Receptus do not have this word, possibly to avoid the impression of Jesus misdirecting people.


Cleansing a Leper

Verse 40: A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” (NRSV)

  • There is no indication of when or where this happened, simply somewhere in the area of Galilee.
  • The leper was asking Jesus “encouraging” him. The term is “call to” and is used to invoke the gods for aid or to summon or invite someone. The OT usage, however, is to comfort someone, and is the verbal form of where “paraclete” or “the comforter” comes from. Here it is probably an entreaty for help, and possibly a request for Jesus to come to him physically since the man was a leper and probably could not come near Jesus.
  • This man’s statement holds a double uncertainty, “If” and then a subjunctive of possibility on “want/will”. There is no doubt about Jesus’ power, but a great deal in this man’s mind about whether Jesus wants anything to do with him or not. Notice that the man does not actually ask directly for healing, but throws himself on Jesus without even asking.


Verse 41: Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” (NRSV)

  • This is not a light or accidental touch. The term can also mean to grasp, or to fasten or cling to someone/something. This is intentional.
  • Jesus became ritually unclean for a week after touching this man. He touched him anyway.


Verse 43: After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, (NRSV)

  • This verse is filled with troubling things for so short of a passage. The term for “warning” is more accurately “rebuke”, and is seemingly unwarranted here as the man has not done anything negative. This is especially odd as it is coming off of Jesus being so taken with the man moments earlier.
  • “Sent off” is the same word used for “exorcise” or “cast out” demons. This is not normally used in a tame or gentle manner, but is an image of violence. Mark, however, repeatedly uses this term to simply mean directing someone to leave quickly, or a guided exit.


Verse 44: saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (NRSV)

  • This starts out with a double negation and a subjunctive. Double negatives in Greek reinforce on each other instead of repeal each other. So this is talking about making sure that there is not even close to the possibility of the man speaking.



Message Ideas/Scripts/Liturgy That Use This Chapter

 VerseDirectionTopicAudienceOccasionCategory
Making Freeways3We cannot save anyone, but we can straighten the path for God to work.Salvation
Free Will
GeneralGeneralMessage Idea