Real Bible Studies, The Gospel of Mark

Baptism, Temptation, and Disciples

Most scholars agree that Mark was the first Gospel and both Matthew and Luke made liberal usage of Mark, going so far as to lift entire passages without changing a word. Mark tells a simple, straightforward story of an itinerant preacher and miracle worker who begins as a follower of John the Baptist. Jesus is clearly depicted as a man with no attempt to deify him. He shows frustration and impatience with his closest followers when they fail to understand his mission, and is angered to the point of violence at the money changers in the Temple. The original ending also leaves uncertainty about his resurrection.

Mark is the shortest gospel at just sixteen chapters. It’s clear, from the explanations Mark provides throughout that the author was not a native of Galilee and was writing for an audience not familiar with the region and its customs. Scholars have speculated that Mark was written in Rome after the sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple by the Romans.

I’m convinced that Mark was intended as an allegory warning against messianic movements, written in the wake of the Jewish War from 66-70 CE, and not intended as an account of the life of a single individual. The “Jesus” of Mark’s Gospel could have been a composite of several messianic contenders. As stated in the commentary on Matthew, the name “Jesus” is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew name “Yeshua” which was the name of the hero who led the conquest of Canaan, and might have been a title adopted by one or more of the messianic contenders operating during the Jewish rebellion, Joshua, Son of God. It is also possible Mark is referring to the same individual, Yeshua Bar Abbas, as in Matthew, since many of Matthew’s corrections concern facts about this contender.

The prophesy which starts Mark is attributed by the writer as being from Isaiah.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight—”

Mark 1:2-3

In fact, it’s a hybrid of two verses from Malachi and Isaiah.

“Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 3:1

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Isaiah 40:3

Matthew cites only the second one in prophesying John. Mark’s description of John informs Matthew’s.

Unlike Matthew, Mark makes no mention of the nativity and Jesus’s father is not identified. Mark does not claim Jesus was born in Bethlehem and says nothing of time spent in Egypt or the “slaughter of the Innocents”; all Jesus’s activities occur in Galilee prior to his journey to Jerusalem. Mark also makes no attempt to tie Jesus to the House of David, to connect John with Jesus’s family (as does Luke), nor does John recognize Jesus when he comes to be baptized, as in Matthew.

Jesus is portrayed as another follower who gets baptized by John which supports John’s importance as a religious figure. The same vision occurs of the heavens opening and the voice of God proclaiming Jesus as his son. Mark glosses over Jesus’s temptation in the wilderness, simply stating he went there for forty days and was tempted by Satan without reporting any details or dialogue between them.

Mark 1:14 states that Jesus began his public ministry after John was imprisoned. In doing so, he preaches the same message about the Kingdom of Heaven that John preached. Mark has Jesus encounter Simon and Andrew, then James and John, who he calls as disciples before the end of the first chapter. They become his core followers and his closest advisers. They head to Capernaum, where Jesus calls an unclean spirit out of a man in a synagogue, amazing all who see the act.

At Simon’s house, he heals Simon’s mother-in-law of fever, and she goes about seeing to their needs. By now, word of his arrival has filtered through the community, so the sick and possessed seek him out. He sets about healing all who come to him.

Early the next morning, Jesus goes to a lonely place to pray. The disciples find him to let him know people are looking for him. Jesus says they should go to other towns, because that’s why he’s there. Mark reports that Jesus went throughout Galilee, preaching in synagogues, healing people, and driving out demons. The chapter concludes with Jesus healing a leper, an incident Matthew borrows from Mark. Jesus cautions the man to tell no one, but to go to the Temple and make the required sacrifice. Instead, the man spreads the news, which prevents Jesus from entering towns. This is presumably due to his fame, but Mark doesn’t clarify. Jesus remains in the country, where people flock to him.

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