Mark 1: 14-45
Mark 3: 1-6
In session one, we said that from very early most theologians believed that the Gospel of Matthew was written first and Mark simply wrote an abbreviated summary of Matthew’s Gospel. Only recently have scholars seen Mark as an independent work. Today, most believe Mark was written around 70 c.e. and served as the primary source for both Matthew and Luke. The question arose, “What changed to prompt this recent turnaround in thinking?”
Much of the answer lies in how we read the Bible. For most of the post-biblical period, readers of the bible have seen it as a cryptic, yet perfect book. They have assumed that much of the Bible, if not all of it, came from God. Therefore the Bible, as sacred, privileged text, should be interpreted using special rules. In the 17th century, scholars like Hobbs and Spinoza began to question the unique divine nature of Biblical text and suggested that it should be interpreted like any other literature.
In a work published in 1878, Julius Wellhausen gave support to a concept called Historical-Critical Method. Historical refers to the view that the main context for interpretation is the place and time in which the text was composed. Critical means reading the text independently of religious norms or interpretative traditions – as opposed to accepting them uncritically. It does not mean “Judgmental“. A major component is the attempt to identify and isolate the original sources of the biblical text as it has come down to us. Initially, the H-C method was primarily practiced by Protestant theologians in Germany. Roman Catholic scholars did not participate until after Vatican II in 1965. By the late twentieth century historical-critical method had become a common tool for academic Biblical analysis for Protestant, Catholic and Jewish scholars. (See “How to Read the Jewish Bible” – Marc Zvi Brettler, Oxford University Press, 2005)
The change in thinking about who copied whom, came as a result of a much more rigorous analysis of literary style, and comparison with literary norms in the first and second century. Recent academic scholars actively looked for sources, didn’t assume old legends about links to Peter or Paul, and began interpreting New Testament texts as interpretive theology, not just historical documentation.
A reminder – This is not a general study about Jesus. It is a study on Mark’s Gospel. While we may be familiar with Jesus narratives from Luke, Matthew or John, they are not relevant to Mark’s narrative, except occasionally, by way of comparison. There are no genealogies, no birth stories, and no list of Satan’s temptations in the Gospel of Mark. Difficult as it may be, we will attempt to concentrate on the narrative that Mark presents, not on what we already “know” from other sources.
Verses 14 and 15 of the first chapter of Mark present a transition from the prologue to the first major narrative section of the gospel. They serve as an introduction and overview of Jesus’ early ministry. After John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus went back to Galilee to announce God’s good news, preach repentance, and proclaim the imminent coming of God’s Kingdom – all key elements of Jesus’ primary message.
The balance of chapter looks at first glance like kind of a random “day in the life” of an emerging Messiah. But it is actually structured to tell a cohesive story about one who leads, speaks, and acts with authority. In verses 16 -20 Jesus, walking along the Sea of Galilee, called two pairs of fishermen to be his disciples: first, the brothers Andrew and Simon, followed by the sons of Zebedee, James and John. Without hesitation, they left their fishing nets and followed this stranger.
In verses 21 – 28, we find Jesus in a synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath, teaching with a level of authority that amazed his listeners. The screaming of a person possessed by a demon suddenly interrupted his teaching. Jesus drives the demon (or “unclean spirit”) out of the man. The spectators are astonished. “What is this?” they ask, unable to fully comprehend the power of Jesus’ words and actions.
From the synagogue, Jesus and his disciples go to the home of Simon where they find Simon’s mother-in-law in bed, sick with a fever. Jesus held her hand, raised her up and immediately the fever left her. After sundown (still on the Sabbath), the crowds came to Jesus who continued to heal the sick and cast out demons.
Early the next morning (Verses 35 – 39) Jesus went to a deserted spot where he could be alone in prayer. This is the first of many illustrations Mark writes on the distance between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus wants to be alone in prayer, but his disciples track him down to pull him back into the crowds so that he can teach and heal. The disciples see a narrow path for Jesus in his rightful return to Capernaum. Jesus’ much broader plan requires him to move on to other villages throughout Galilee.
Mark’s gospel is a story of contradictions. Jesus deliberately goes into the multicultural world of Galilee – yet he is a remote figure who withdraws into remote places – his disciples never seem to understand what he is saying or doing. When Jesus withdraws, people come to find him. When he moves into the crowd, he drives away demons and confuses both his followers and critics.
At the end of the first chapter, Jesus is approached by a man with a skin disease who pleads for Jesus to heal him. Jesus healed the man, told him to say nothing, but to go see the priest and offer appropriate sacrifices. Instead, the man told everyone what Jesus had done for him, and once again Jesus became overwhelmed by the crowds.
Mark 2–3:6 gives us five stories within a framing system representative of Mark’s literary style. This section begins and ends with parallel stories of Jesus’ encounter with men who have physical ailments, and representatives of the Jewish establishment (See A and A’ below). Inside this A-A’ framework are two more parallel stories about scribes/Pharisees who challenge the disciples/Jesus about eating (B and B’). Inside the B-B’ frame the Pharisees question why the disciples don’t fast. Jesus responds with parables explaining that things have changed. Some old practices have become obsolete.
The Structure of Mark 2:1 – 3:6
<A> An encounter with a paralytic (2:1 – 5, 10b – 12) and some scribes (2:6 – 10a)
<B> The scribes’ challenges to the disciples about Jesus’ eating (2:13 – 17)
<C> The disciples’ feasting and the bridegroom’s removal (2:18 – 22)
<B’> The Pharisees’ challenge to Jesus about his disciples’ eating (2:23 – 28)
<A’> An encounter with the Pharisees (3:1 – 2, 6) and a man with a withered hand (3:3 – 5)
Jesus has been challenging the old order, and the old order is ready to fight back. The final narrative turns on what is allowed on the Sabbath. Jesus claimed the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. Just before he healed the man with the withered hand, Jesus explained that the Sabbath is made for man – not man for the Sabbath, “Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
The focus of this story is not healing a man’s hand – it is the trigger point of a plot – an ironic conspiracy among the pious Pharisees scheming on the Sabbath to kill.
Primary Text: Mark (Abingdon New Testament Commentaries), by C. Clifton Black
Coming in Session 3: Mark 3: 7-35; Mark 4: 1-34