Boring, M. Eugene.  Mark: A Commentary.  Part of the New Testament Library commentary series edited by C.Clifton Black and John T. Carroll.  (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2006).

Byrne, Brendan.  A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel.  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2008).

Collins, Adela Yarbro.  Mark.  Part of the Hermenia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible series edited by Helmut Koester.  (Fortress Press, 2007, Minneapolis MN).

Donahue, S.J., John R. and Daniel J. Harrington, S.J..  The Gospel of Mark.  Part of the Sacra Pagina biblical commentary series edited by Daniel J. Harrington S.J.  (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2002).

Duran, Nicole Wilkinson Duran, Teresa Okure, Daniel M. Patte editors.  Mark.  Part of the Texts @ Contexts series edited by Athalya Brenner and Nicole Wilkinson Duran.  (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2011)..

France, R.T.  The Gospel of Mark.  Part of the New International Greek Testament Commentary series edited by I. Howard Marshall and Donald A. Hagner.  (Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids MI, 2002).

Harrington, O.P., Wilfrid.  What was Mark At? The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary.  (Columbia Press, Dublin, 2008).

Hengel, Martin.  Studies in the Gospel of Mark.  Translated by John Bowden from the original German.  (Wipf and Stock Publishers, Eugene OR, 1985).

Myers, Ched.  Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus.  Twentieth Anniversary Edition.  (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, 1988/2008).

Myers, Ched & Marie Dennis, Joseph Nangle, OFM, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, and Stuart Taylor.  “Say to the This Mountain”: Mark’s Story of Discipleship. (Orbis, Maryknoll NY, 1996).

Perkins, Pheme.  The Gospel of Mark.  New Interpreter’s Bible Vol. VIII.  Part of the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary series convened by Leander Keck.  (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1995).

Placher, William C.  Mark.  Part of the bible commentary series Belief, A Theological Commentary on the Bible edited by Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher.  (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2010).

Ryken, Leland, James C.Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III, General Editors.  Dictionary of Biblical Imagery: An encyclopedic exploration of the images, symbols, motifs, metaphors, figures of speech and literary patterns of the Bible.  (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove IL, 1998).

Sweetland, Dennis.  Mark: From Death to Life. Part of the Spiritual Commentaries on the bible series edited by Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan.  (New City Press, Hyde Park NY, 2000).

Williamson, Jr.,  Lamar.  Mark.  Part of the Interpretation biblical commentary series edited by James L. Mays, Patrick d. Miller, and Paul J. Achtemeier.  (John Knox Press, Louisville, 1983)





This talk is by Catherine Upchurch.

Mark focuses on 2 core questions:  Who is Jesus?  What does it mean to follow him?  Chapter 1 of the gospel gives us a clue as to how these questions are to be answered.

Who is Jesus?

Mark 1:1  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus  Christ, the Son of God.”  This identification came after 35 or so years of missionary work, seen through the lens of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection.   Those who met him in the flesh, during his time, would not have recognized this.

Titles Mark uses:

  • Jesus Yeshua in Greek, Yashuah in Hebrew.  Means “the LORD saves”  A fully human person in sync with his Jewish tradition.
  • Christ    Christ (Greek) = Messiah (Hebrew)  both mean ‘anointed one’.
    • Priests and kings were anointed ones.
    • By the time of Jesus it had become associated with the one who would come to restore the throne of David. However, the nature of his kingdom and of himself were very different from what the Jews of that time were expecting.
    • The high point / midpoint of the gospel is

      Mark 8:27, 29:

“Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.   Along the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 They said in reply, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.”  29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, “You are the Messiah.”

Mark 8:31

“He began to teach them that the Son of Man* must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days.”

  • the son of God   another title for Israel’s kings and the messianic king in particular.  In the Greek culture of the time it would have been a title of respect, a heroic person.    Mark uses some other terms as well to supplement and fill out his portrayal of Jesus:
    • Son of the Most High God
    • Holy One of God
    • My Beloved Son

Mark stresses a very human Jesus who really did suffer and die (there were early heresies to the contrary)

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

  • First chapter gives a preview here as well. The second half of the gospel works this all out in more detail.
    • John the Baptist, not a follower per se, is an example. He uses a prophetic voice, leads listeners to the desert,   Followers must be willing to go into the desert today.
    • Mark 1:7 “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.”
  • The scene quickly shifts to the call of the first disciples. Mark 1:15 “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  Mark portrays a Jesus who demands a response to his person and his message of the Kingdom.  This Jesus requires a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but never accepts ‘maybe’.
  • While never quite getting it during his lifetime, the disciples stay with him and continue to grow.

Mark 1:1  “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus  Christ, the Son of God.”

Beginning suggests the beginning of creation.  AND the beginning of the new era of salvation.

What kind of salvation do we find Jesus offering?  Mark 1:14 and ff.  – We are entering into the mystery of God’s action in our world.  Can’t fully grasp it but can experience it in Jesus and the world

“This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

In the OT:

  • The kingdom of God referred to a monarchy that would establish God’s rule in Israel. Isaiah 61:7,8

They will possess twofold in their own land;

everlasting joy shall be theirs.

8 For I, the LORD, love justice,

I hate robbery and wrongdoing;

I will faithfully give them their recompense,

an everlasting covenant I will make with them.


When Mark (and others) place the call of the disciples so early he is sending a message that discipleship is particularly important.  Disciples share in the life and proclamation of the kingdom.


Disciples responded to the call to leave what they had and knew and go with Jesus.  Mark wanted to reinforce the importance of such a personal and complete commitment within his own community.

We need to examine what prompted us originally to follow Jesus and continue making that choice each day.

The word of God was effective at the beginning of creation.  Jesus heals by HIS effective word.

27 All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” 28”His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee


Simon Peter’s mother in law:  “egeiren” (greek) means raised her up.  This foreshadows chapter 14 and chapter 16

Leper   Mark 1:41   41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

We proclaim the gospel through our words and deeds – as Jesus did.




In Chapter 1 of Mark we have no infancy narrative (they are in Mathew and Luke, John has the famous prologue).  Mark is not concerned at all with the life of Jesus before the events he narrates.

Mark is generally credited with the invention of the literary form “gospel”.  It means “good news”.  Williamson p. 1: “The purpose of Mark’s Gospel is to bear witness to Jesus Christ as proclaimer and embodiment of the Kingdom of God, and to challenge readers to follow him in anticipation of his final coming as Son of Man.”  This is not a neutral “reporting of facts” or a biography of a guy he knew.  It comes from the point of view of faith, is intended to inspire and encourage faith in others.

Chapter 1 centers on:

  • a bold statement of what the gospel is about – Jesus Christ, Son of God,
  • John the Baptist, identified as the one who prepares the way for Jesus,
  • the baptism of Jesus by John,
  • the temptation of Jesus,
  • the call of first disciples, and
  • Jesus’ preaching and healing ministry begins

Text in parentheses (Son of God) is present in most ancient manuscripts but not all.  Argument for including it is strong – it is paralleled toward the end of the gospel in the witness of the centurion – “Truly this man was the Son of God”.

Christ was not Jesus’ last name, as so many Christians seem to believe!  It is a title.  It is the Greek translation of the word “Messiah” in Hebrew.   Christ/Messiah means “anointed one”.  Anointed for what and by whom????  Ah, that is what the gospel wants to tell us about!  The gospel will use “Christ” 6 times as a title; Son of God is used 9 times.  France points out (p. 49) that Jesus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua – one of the most common names of the times and culture.

Donahue p. 61: Mark cleverly elicits a dual sense of a “way of the LORD” – the first from Isaiah and connoting freedom from slavery in Babylon, the second is the “way of discipleship” that John the Baptist and Jesus call disciples / readers to embark upon.  Way / journey occurs 13 times in Mark.





The prophecy of Isaiah cannot be found as quoted.  However:

  • Malachi 3:1-3 (Regarding the Day of the LORD, a day of judgment)


Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me;

And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek,

And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.

Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.


But who will endure the day of his coming?

And who can stand when he appears?

For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye.


He will sit refining and purifying (silver),

and he will purify the sons of Levi,

Refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.


  • Isaiah 40: 1 – 5 Redemption from captivity in Babylon


Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.


Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end,

her guilt is expiated;

Indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins.


A voice cries out:

In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!

Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!


Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low;

The rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.


Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together;

for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.


  • Exodus 23:20 – 23 in the midst of giving the Law on Sinai, regarding the journey

“See, I am sending an angel before you,

to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared.


Be attentive to him and heed his voice.

Do not rebel against him, for he will not forgive your sin.

My authority resides in him.


If you heed his voice and carry out all I tell you,

I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes.


“My angel will go before you and bring you to the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites; and I will wipe them out.



France p. 66 and ff:  Baptism is an exclusively Christian word, appears first and only in the NT.  Ritual washing was common in OT – repeated, for cleansing.  It was practiced in Jewish Qumran community – as regular and repeated ritual.  “… John was calling for a single, initiatory baptism, indicating the beginning of a new commitment.  For this many believe that the most likely Jewish precedent is the ritual cleansing by immersion of a Gentile on becoming a proselyte.  But John’s baptism was for Jews; to ask them to undergo the same initiatory ritual as was required of a Gentile convert was a powerful statement of John’s theology of the people of God, one which is reminiscent of the ‘remnant’ theology of the prophets.  To be born a Jew was not enough; it was only by ‘change of life and heart’ that one could be truly counted among the people of God.”

Who should Jews think of when they hear about John the Baptist?  Perhaps Elijah.  There was broad OT connection of the return of Elijah to the coming of Messianic times.  Later in the gospel it will be explicitly stated that some said John the Baptist WAS Elijah.  From 2 Kings chapter 1 comes this story, about Elijah being pursued by King Ahaziah, with a description of Elijah:

The messengers then returned to Ahaziah, who asked them. “Why have you returned?”


“A man came up to us,” they answered, “who said to us, ‘Go back to the king who sent you and tell him: The LORD says, Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron? For this you shall not leave the bed upon which you lie; instead, you shall die.'”


The king asked them, “What was the man like who came up to you and said these things to you?”


“Wearing a hairy garment,” they replied, “with a leather girdle about his loins.” “It is Elijah the Tishbite!” he exclaimed.


Then the king sent a captain with his company of fifty men after Elijah. The prophet was seated on a hilltop when he found him. “Man of God,” he ordered, “the king commands you to come down.” “If I am a man of God,” Elijah answered the captain, “may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” And fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men. …


Williamson p. 34: The vision is stronger in Greek than in English.  The heavens were “ripped open” At the end of the gospel the temple curtain which had scenes of the heavens / stars painted on it is torn in two from top to bottom.  These events boldly clarify that this person Jesus, being introduced in the gospel, is of cosmic importance.

Harrington p. 19: with the ripping open of the heavens a new age dawns – the era of God’s reign or kingdom.

Williamson p. 35: only Jesus hears the voice in Mark.  “Nothing in the text suggests that others present saw or heard anything.”

France p. 79: Why a dove?  The spirit hovered over the waters at creation – perhaps, but not commonly visualized as a dove in the times before Jesus.  Perhaps the dove of Noah, but again not often connected to the Spirit.  More likely, he feels, just in the form of one of the more common birds of the time.

Genesis 22:1,2:

“ Some time after these events, God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, “Abraham!” “Ready!” he replied.   Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”

The reader is meant to hear an echo of this text perhaps – Jesus is the only Son, whom God loves called (later) to be a sacrifice.

And the Spirit shall be upon him. 

From Isaiah 11:

But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,

and from his roots a bud shall blossom.

The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him:

a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

A spirit of counsel and of strength,

a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,

and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD.


Not by appearance shall he judge,

nor by hearsay shall he decide,

But he shall judge the poor with justice,

and decide aright for the land’s afflicted.



He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,

and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.


Justice shall be the band around his waist,

and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,

and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;

The calf and the young lion shall browse together,

with a little child to guide them.

From Isaiah 42:

Here is my servant whom I uphold,

my chosen one with whom I am pleased,

Upon whom I have put my spirit;

he shall bring forth justice to the nations,

Not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street.


A bruised reed he shall not break,

and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,

Until he establishes justice on the earth;

the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

From Isaiah 61:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,

because the LORD has anointed me;

He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly,

to heal the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives

and release to the prisoners,

To announce a year of favor from the LORD

and a day of vindication by our God,

to comfort all who mourn;


Ezekiel (talking about the LORD’s future redemption of Israel) in ch. 36:

Thus the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD,

when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.

For I will take you away from among the nations,

gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land.





I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities,

and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you,

taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.


I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes,

careful to observe my decrees.

You shall live in the land I gave your fathers;

you shall be my people, and I will be your God.


The wilderness / desert has a long, long history in the OT.  It represents the place where the people fled to safety from the Egyptians but also through which they wandered for 40 years due to sin.  It is a harsh and unforgiving place – hot during the day, cold at night, with food and water in scarce supply.  It is the place where wild animals and demons roam.  Mark is making a subtle point – following the LORD as Jesus did, as we are being called to do as well, will involve struggle with temptation, with Satan and the powers of evil in our world and lives.

France points out (p. 57ff) “For the wilderness was a place of hope, of new beginnings.  It was in the wilderness  that Yahweh had met with Israel and made them into his people when they came out of Egypt.”  Later Christian tradition had the hermits and others go out into the desert (Desert Fathers) when they felt that Romanized Christianity had gotten “too soft”.

Angels ministered to him?  We are likely to be meant to recall this story about Elijah (involving King Ahab and his wife Jezebel) in 1 Kings 19:

Elijah was afraid and fled for his life, going to Beer-sheba of Judah. He left his servant there and went a day’s journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death: “This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”


He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree, but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat. He looked and there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water. After he ate and drank, he lay down again, but the angel of the LORD came back a second time, touched him, and ordered, “Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!”


He got up, ate and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb. There he came to a cave, where he took shelter.







Call of disciples

Williamson p. 45: Jesus calls, they drop everything and follow.  As if they have been waiting for this urgent moment for all of their lives.  There is no hesitation, there are no questions.  Are you in or are you out?  “Follow me” is a plural command.


The Sea of Galilee is an inland lake approximately 7 by 12.5 miles in size today, may have been somewhat larger 2,000 years ago.


The call of Elisha by Elijah in 1 Kings 19:19-21:

“Elijah set out, and came upon Elisha, son of Shaphat, as he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen; he was following the twelfth. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak over him. Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Please, let me kiss my father and mother good-bye, and I will follow you.” “Go back!” Elijah answered. “Have I done anything to you?” Elisha left him and, taking the yoke of oxen, slaughtered them; he used the plowing equipment for fuel to boil their flesh, and gave it to his people to eat. Then he left and followed Elijah as his attendant.

“Net” resonates a bit like the “cape”?  Note the urgency.  What Elisha does is irrevocable – once the oxen are dead and the plows etc. burned he can’t return to his former way of life.



Jesus does not want the demons being expelled to speak – yet they know who He is.  This is the beginning of what many scholars call Mark’s “Messianic Secret”.  The idea, for Mark, is that the revelation of Jesus and the full scope of what is happening here will take some time to unfold.  When the time is right, all will be revealed, all will be able to understand, to “get it”.  When will the time be right? – after the passion, death and resurrection.



Leprosy / lepers

Ryken p. 507: Lev. 13 and 14 are addressed to the priests who will determine what is leprous and what is not and will be enabled to determine when an afflicted person can return to community life.  “Because of the dreadful effects of leprosy and the isolation it brings, many see it as a picture of sin.  But that is not a primary connotation in Scripture.  It far more symbolizes the tragic elements of life and human vulnerability.”


Excerpts from Leviticus 13, which deals with the topic for a whole chapter:

“If someone has on his skin a scab or pustule or blotch which appears to be the sore of leprosy, he shall be brought to Aaron, the priest, or to one of the priests among his descendants, who shall examine the sore on his skin. If the hair on the sore has turned white and the sore itself shows that it has penetrated below the skin, it is indeed the sore of leprosy; the priest, on seeing this, shall declare the man unclean. …


“The one who bears the sore of leprosy shall keep his garments rent and his head bare, and shall muffle his beard; he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean, since he is in fact unclean. He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.


The OT details 2 cases of lepers being cured. 

  • In Numbers 12 Aaron and Miriam speak against Moses and are chastised by the LORD. Miriam is afflicted with leprosy by the LORD through a cloud.  She must spend 7 days outside the camp, is forgiven by the LORD and healed of the leprosy (this is not detailed in the text), and then allowed to return.
  • In 2 Kings 5 the prophet Elisha (who followed Elijah) cures Naaman, a foreigner.

Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. The prophet sent him the message: “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will heal, and you will be clean.”


But Naaman went away angry, saying, “I thought that he would surely come out and stand there to invoke the LORD his God, and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy. Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?” With this, he turned about in anger and left.


But his servants came up and reasoned with him. “My father,” they said, “if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.” So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.


In chapter 1 Jesus is portrayed as battling demons / devil in the desert and then, at the end of the chapter, those demons present in the sick and hurting.  This is the life that disciples are called to undertake.  Demons are not part of our modern worldview – but they were absolutely taken for granted in both the pagan and Jewish cultures of the day.  We need to dig deeply enough to get past this part of ancient culture to see what Jesus was doing.


Harrington p. 22: “The majority of his miracles were healings of various diseases.  His healing activity was motivated not only by his concern for suffering, his sympathy with the afflicted.  It was also a sign of the inbreak of the kingdom.  The saving power of God was making its way into the lives of men and women.”


Donahue p. 91: “By this point in the narrative Mark’s readers have been given grounds for the “faith” that is the proper response to the good news, a faith, however, that will be tested as the life and teaching of Jesus unfold in the gospel.   It is a faith that will evoke opposition, as the following controversies show.”


NEXT WEEK: Mark chapter 2, 3


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