Mark – What does this mean???

…just as the prophet Isaiah had written:

“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
and he will prepare your way.
He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’

Exodus 23:20

“See, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you.

Malachi 3:1

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. (NLT)

Isaiah 40:3

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
for our God! (NLT)

“All four Gospels include a quotation of Isaiah 40:3 (Mk. 1:3; Mt. 3:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23) but only Mark combine this with words taken from Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1”[1]

The importance of the composite quote:

  1. It is located at the beginning of the Gospel, even before John and Jesus have been introduced.
  2. This is the only editorial quotation from Mark – all the other quotations (about 20) appear on the lips of Jesus or other characters in the story.
  3. The composite quotation of Ex. 23:20/Mal. 3:1 [cf. Mt. 11:10 and Lk. 7:27] is included before the citation of Is. 40:3, even though it clashes with the introductory formula (‘As it is written in the prophet Isaiah’)[2]

There have been two main ways of interpreting this…

“we need an ideology that can explain how Mark can both appropriate Isaiah’s promise of exodus (itself a development of the original exodus tradition), while offering, in Marcus’s words, a ‘radical, cross-centred adaptation of it’ (1992: 36). In terms of this debate, what we need is a more sophisticated biblical theology that can encompass discontinuity as well as continuity, and a more sophisticated literary theory that can combine insights from narrative criticism with insights from intertextuality (taking ‘texts’ in its broadest sense).”[3]

France, quoting Myers states the following:

“by omitting that part of Mal. 3:1 which envisages the Lord appearing in the temple and linking the passage instead to the wilderness location, Mark is already signalling the dismissal of the institutional life of Israel which will be a recurrent theme of his gospel.”[4]

There is more to unpack here, but what seems clear to me is the following:

  1. This being the only editorial quotation is highly relevant to the author’s purpose.
  2. The author did not feel compelled to use literal quotes, but instead took no small amount of liberty in combining texts to prepare his readers for the story.
  3. The quote is both a nod in the direction of the past prophetic tradition as well as a nod to a clear and present change in the thinking and life of the reader/hearer.

I’ll have more on this later.

Meanwhile, let me know what you think!

[1] Steve Moyise, Evoking Scripture: Seeing the Old Testament in the New (London: T & T Clark, 2008), 6.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Steve Moyise, “How Deep is the Wilderness in Mark 1:1-13,” 2005, 86,

[4] R. T France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002), 63.



Mark 1:1

The beginning…

…this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The first word in Mark is the Greek word Ἀρχὴ – the beginning. 

Yes, Bill Maher, Mark skips the story of Jesus’ birth…but not because it isn’t important.  Mark gets right to the point that the moment Jesus stepped forth from the desert that day way back when that the story begins. 

All the years of believing this day would come, of hoping for the Messiah, of revealing the rule of God began that day.  And from that day forth the world would change because Jesus Christ, the Son of God was revealed to the world, and as Mark’s Gospel story was told both in that day until now, Jesus continues to be revealed. 

The story, as Mark tells it starts there.

So, this is what we may call artistic license today.  Mark’s story begins in action because that is the whole point – God is up to something…something big!  Ben Witherington makes a good case that this first line in Mark serves as a good introduction to a biography on Jesus.  And since ancient Greco-Roman biography allows for a lack of birth narrative, Mark seems to be emphasizing to the hearer/reader that this story bears all the depth, weight, and fervor of a change that only God himself could pull off.  The good news is news of victory, and God sent his son to prove it.  The story commands attention from the start, and centers the story on Jesus. 

Imagine hearing this story for the first time. 

Until now, only short stories or remembrances of Jesus had been shared among the early church.  Perhaps, on occasion, an eyewitness to an event in the life of Jesus would share their testimony.  But now, Mark had written it down as narrative, as a biography of sorts.  This is a complete story.  One that powerfully illustrates God’s intentions through the ages.  One that can be shared among all the churches.  A story that will be told many times and that continues with and through the church…

On Genre – Part 2

Going a step deeper into the genre of Mark’s gospel with H. C. Kee’s work Community of the New Age: Studies In Mark’s Gospel, I found it interesting that he promotes Mark’s structure as being based on “an apocalyptic community.”

Indeed, there are apocalyptic themes and language in Mark, as is clearly attested in many introductory works (cf. Bailey and Vander Broek’s Literary Forms in the New Testament pgs 122-129), but what caught my eye was Kee’s implication that the gospel of Mark came out of, was developed, or was formed in an apocalyptic community.  In my mind, that takes the whole discussion of genre/structure to another level.

Kee cites the Old Testament book of Daniel as “the classic document produced in the apocalyptic category.” (65)  Next, he goes on to cite thematic and structural similarities between Daniel and Mark.  Finally, he reveals the aims of apocalyptic texts as follows:

  1. The rule of God and its triumph
  2. The defeat of the hostile powers
  3. The redefinition of the community
  4. The certainty of the outcome
  5. Stand firm!

Now, while I certainly see these elements in the gospel of Mark, I think that the attempt to link the literary structure to Daniel and further to ascertain the writer and readers of Mark to be “an apocalyptic community” stretches the plausibility of the case beyond what seems reasonable.  It is at this point that it seems more confidence is put in the recipients than the text itself; that the story cryptically speaks more about the hearers and readers than about Jesus himself.

I think that in light of more recent scholarship (cf. Bauckham’s, The Gospels For All Christians) the genre of Mark’s gospel should simply focus on the text as a preservation of the purpose and mission of Jesus Christ.  Some may classify this as  Greco-Roman biography, others, seemingly the church itself classified it simply as gospel.  In doing so, we diminish neither the content of the gospel nor the richness of the text as written, most likely in this case, by Mark.  This frees us to see, hear, and feel the story of Jesus and draw the impact of the story into our hearts and minds. 

It is in this way that the stories about Jesus were preserved among the community for future generations.  In short, the focus was intended to remain on the good news of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

On Genre (and Rabbit Trails) – Part 1

As I begin my in-depth studies in Mark, I have been especially enjoying R.T. France’s work, and became sidetracked by some of his introductory comments and footnotes.  For some odd reason, I am one of those who read footnotes as voraciously as the rest of the text, often wondering why this is not covered with the attention and respect it deserves.  But enough about “rabbit trails”…

It appears that many these days prefer to see Mark classified as Greco-Roman biography.  Certainly, Ben Witherington  and Ernest Best make this case in their work on Mark.  Then another take is that it is generally uncategorizable, seemingly unable to fit neatly into any one category, thus the development of something new to the first century literature – gospel.

That said, a little rabbit trail caught my eye, especially since I am reading and writing with the earliest church in mind.  First, thanks to a footnote from R.T. France, I came upon H. C. Kee’s work Community of the New Age: Studies In Mark’s Gospel  and second, (thanks to a quote from Kee) is Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis.

First, in chapter three of his book, Kee is delving into the literary genre of Mark and begins by explaining why Mark doesn’t fit into the genre of a tragedy. 

To make his point, Kee quotes Auerbach stating that any one gospel account “fits into no antique genre,” and is:

“too serious for comedy, too everyday for tragedy, politically too insignificant for history – and the form which was given it is one of such immediacy that its like does not exist in the literature of antiquity.”

That alone would be enough to convince most that the gospels seemingly defy categorization, are altogether “other,” and are perhaps in need of a new classification.  But Auerbach goes on to pay the gospels, and indeed the earliest Christians, an even higher honor by stating “that the gospels evoke ‘the most serious and most significant sympathy’ within us because they portray:

‘something which neither the poets nor the historians of antiquity ever set out to portray: the birth of a spiritual movement in the depths of the common people, from within the everyday occurences of contemporary life, which thus assumes an importance it could never have assumed in antique literature.'”

 So, according to Auerbach, it is the general church community as a whole that makes this unique among writings and unclassifiable in genre.  The community not only maintains the essence of the gospel among one another, but also promotes and develops the gospel material into fruition among “common people” and in “everyday occurences.”  The picture this paints for me is one of vibrant gatherings of the church flourishing not in any technically religious manner, but in the everyday life shared with one another.

In short, I see that Mark was both writing with his immediate church communities in mind, those churches with which he had contact, as well as the churches throughout the Empire.  At this point, I doubt that his intention was to write a traditional Greco-Roman biography, though this may fit the bill from both a reader/hearer in the first century as well as an academic point of view today. 

No, I am inclined to see Mark as a more evangelistic/pastoral work, taking on some of the more popular methods of writing and transmission with the goal being to speak directly to the church at large in an edifying manner with the intent to preserve the tradition in writing.  Many see that the gospel of Mark is a collage of sorts drawn together with purpose, so in this way, nothing I am saying is new.  Yet, I think there is something to be said for a more holistic view, or one that takes in account not simply that the so-called Markan community needed a gospel, but that this was quite possibly what the churches were already saying and doing among one another, and therefore was preserved by the writer of Mark in narrative form.