Gospel of Mark Chapter 1:14-31 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday, December 6, 2009 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible Sunday School Series.

Books referenced in these notes are:

1. Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary by Ben Witherington III

2. Gospel of Mark: New International Greek Testament Commentary by R.T. France

3. Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament: Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke by Samuel T. Lachs

4. New Testament Text and Translation Commentary by Philip Comfort

5. The Source New Testament by Ann Nyland

6. Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands by Howard Vos

7. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs by Howard Vos

8. IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, by Craig Keener

9. NET Bible from Bible dot org, also available from CBD

Mark 1:14-15
Summary of Jesus’ early preaching. Time fulfilled suggests:

1.God has a plan for human history with times and seasons (Is 60:22)

2.Jesus is seen here as a prophetic herald of OT style (Is 56:1, Ezk 7:3, 12)(Witherington)

These summary verses imply three things:

1.Nearness of God’s rule needs to be announced, it isn’t obvious to everyone.

2.To relate to this divine rule, one must change direction, repent.

3.To participate in this divine rule requires faith, trust to live in a new and seemingly foolish way to the rest of the world.(Witherington)

Mark 1:14
Jesus spent some time in Judea before this point in Mark, as recounted in John’s Gospel. The move to Galilee was most likely a common sense way to make Himself noticed among people of His native region, who would accept Him more readily than the Judeans, who like thought of Him as “that upstart country bumpkin”.(France)

Galilee was an administrative district of the Roman empire, ruled by Herod Antipas (6-39 AD) as a tetrarch (“ruler of a quarter”). The Romans divided Herod the Great’s kingdom among his sons at his death, Archelaus ruling half their father’s kingdom, Phillip and Antipas splitting the other half between them.) The capital had been at Sepphoris, very near Nazareth, but Antipas built Tiberias about ten miles south of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee and moved his capital there about 19 AD. (Vos)

Sea of Galilee: Inland lake about twelve miles long and six miles wide. It supported several cities with a fishing industry: Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Magdala(Vos)

Textual variant:
gospel of God (HCSB) vs gospel of the kingdom of God (KJV)

Manuscript evidence: of God: S B L Theta, f1/13 33 Origen
of the kingdom of God: A D W Majority Latin

Gospel of the kingdom of God is found in Matthew (4:23, 9:35, 24:14) and “kingdom of God” over fifty times throughout the NT. “Gospel of God” is found only here in the gospels. “Kingdom” might have been omitted to match Rom 1:1, 15:16; 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Th 2:2,8,9; 1 Pet 4:17.

On the other hand, the reason all the recent translations use “of God” are :

1.The best manuscripts lack kingdom

2.Commonality of “kingdom of God” means scribes would likely add it in if missing in source text

3.Scribal harmonization to v. 15’s kingdom, or Matt 4:17(Comfort, NET)

“Gospel of God” is of course ambiguous. It might mean “gospel from God” or “gospel about God”. The ambiguity is perhaps intended, to imply both possible meanings.(NET)

Mark 1:15
Time: Greek kairos seems to imply more “the moment has come near” rather than just “the time”, which would more likley have used Greek chronos.(France)

Kingdom of God: Greek Basileia tou theou. Presumably corresponding with the Aramaic malkuth, “kingship, kingly reign, rule”, denotes everything under a king’s rule. Jesus speaks of God’s rule being associated with himself and his minstry, of it being present and not just future or heavenly. But it is a category error to consider God’s rule as tied to a specific time or place entirely, because God’s rule is both eternal and eschatological, present and yet to come, partly realized but also incomplete. In the present sense “the kingdom of God” means God controlling a person or event so His intentions are fulfilled. In the future sense, it apparently means a actual place or realm where God’s control is active (Mk 9:47, 10:15, 14:25)(Nyland, Witherington, France)

eggiken: come near/ at hand. This normally refers to something coming near in space and/or time. In the Greek OT this verb is used of the nearness of God or His judgment (Dan 4:7; Is 41:21, 48:16, 51:5, 56:1; Jer 23:23). “Have come near” seems a likely translation based on Rom 13:12, James 5:8, and 1 Pet 4:7. Jesus plainly felt that what actually drew the kingdom near was Himself, his mission, and that as he created a group around Himself a realm was created.(Witherington)

Repent: Greek metanoeo, meaning something more like “convert”.(France)

Believe: Greek pisteuo, means more “trust” than “believe”, having a willful, active sense as well as simple intellectual assent.(France)

Mark 1:16-20

What exactly did the “immediately they went” mean? Did they just quit fishing that day, or did they become dedicated disciples that day as well? The decision wasn’t necessarily as abrupt as Mark portrays it, for John 3 and 4 suggest themen knew something of Jesus before this.(Witherington)

Fishers of men might connect with the Jewish idea of water as chaos and evil. Thus the disciples are rescuers of those seemingly doomed to chaos. On the other hand, Greek culture used fishing as an analogy for all sorts of intellectual discussion and persuasion, “catching” people with ideas.(Witherington)

Mark 1:16
Jesus calls two pairs of brothers for His first disciples, all fishermen. Though traditionally we think of Galilean fishermen as poor, a closer look at the text suggests otherwise. The Zebedees owned a boat and employed hired workers. Fishermen were also standard targets of tax collectors, because their fish were perishable and thus were usually sold for cash, rather than barter. (Witherington)

Simon and Andrew: Greek forms of Hebrew names, suggesting Hellenistic influences, but you can’t push that too far, because it has become plain all Israel had become Hellenized to some extent by the first century.(France)

Fishing was different than we think in ancient Galilee. The local ruler (Herod Antipas here) controlled commerce, including fishing rights. The ruler would sell fishing rights to brokers, the “tax collectors” or “publicans” of the NT, like Matthew, who then contracted out with fishermen like the Zebedees and Peter and Andrew. (Vos)

Fishermen fell in between the usual economic extremes of the day. They weren’t the day to day working poor, but neither were they the very wealthy patrons, either. Fishing involved using castnets from boats or the shore, and larger dragnets from boats.(Vos)

Mark 1:17
“Follow me” Greek opiso mou, is almost a technical term for discipleship in the gospels (Mark 1:20, 8:34, Matt 10:38, Luk 21:8, John 21:19). But the style of the call is oppostie that of a rabbi and his students, for rabbinic students selected their teachers, usually after some time of consideration due to the standard separation from family and gainful employment involved. Jesus chooses His own students, which is more prophet-like, resembling Elijah and Elisha (1 Kgs 19:19-21). This is but the beginning of Jesus’ many acts that recall the prophets rather than the religious teachers and saints of His day.(France)

“Fishers of men” might be standard ancient language for skilled speakers, but a second apocalyptic meaning is possible, based on Jer 16:16, Amos 4:2, Hab 1:14-17. The gospel use is reversed from the OT ones though, for the OT fishing is to catch people for judgment. In the NT fishing for people might might connect with the Jewish idea of water as chaos and evil. Thus the disciples are rescuers of those seemingly doomed to chaos. But again, Greek culture used fishing as an analogy for all sorts of intellectual discussion and persuasion, “catching” people with ideas.(Witherington, France)

Mark 1:18-20
That James and/or John are termed “sons of Zebedee” here and in the disciple list (3:17) as well as their only specific appearance in Mark (10:35) suggests they were known by that title in early Christianity, as well as separating James from the other Jameses.(France)

Mark 1:20
Hired men: Luke 5:10 says John and James were partners with Peter in a fishing business. Corporate fishermen could be quite wealthy, for the high price of fish was proverbial enough to get airing in ancient comedies. The “hired hands” in this verse should be an indicator that James and John were not scraping by on barely enough to live, though they might be rented slaves if not free workers. Jesus’ disciples were not only drawn from the poorest class of people, judging by Zebedee’s sons. Add in Joanna the royal steward’s wife and the plainly affluent Lazarus and his sisters, and clearly Jesus drew followers from all economic classes. (Nyland, Vos, France)

For James and and John to leave their father behind was unusual, to say the least. Family businesses were the rule, due to the poverty of most people, and to leave parents to fend for themselves was completely against the culture “honor your father and mother…”.(Keener)

Mark 1:21
Capernaum “Village of Nahum”: lay on the NW shore of the Sea of Galilee, about two and a half miles from where the Jordan River flows into the sea. It was a village of about ten acres. The city was a good place for Herod Antipas to collect taxes on goods crossing over the sea and coming along the nearby imperial road from Damascus.(Vos)

Capernaum was important enough a city (the population may have gotten as high as ten thousand) to hae a detachment of Roman troops (Matt 8:5-13), a customs post (Mark 2:15) and a royal official (Greek basilikos)(John 4:46).(France)

There have been excavations of a synagogue at Capernaum, dating several centuries after Jesus’ day. It has an older floor beneath it that likely was the synagogue of Jesus’ time. The interior of the building measures seventy feet by fifty feet.(Vos)

Some are a bit skeptical of synagogues as set aside religious buildings in the first century AD. This seems a bit over skeptical, as remarks by second century rabbis indicate buildings set aside for religious purposes. There are remains suggesting religious buildings at Masada, the Herodium, and Gamala. Add these to the NT accounts and it seems clear there was a strong religious element to life in Galilee in the first century, including synagogues.(Witherington)

Teach: Greek didasko. This word covers a broad range of meanings under the general range of “teach, instruct”, including “skilled training, teaching, coaching” etc. Mark uses teach, teaching, and teacher more than the other gospels, which reserve teacher or rabbi for use by outsiders. That the messianic role is to teach the true meaning of the Law is a common idea in later rabbinic Judaism, but how popular the idea was in the frist century is more difficult to say. Mark, however, clearly indicates teaching as a messianic task.(Nyland, France)

Mark 1:22
Jesus displayed a personal authority on religious matters unlike the derived authority of the scribes, who quoted their predecessors. The scribes are apparently a symbol of authority throughout Mark’s Gospel (1:22; 2:6,10; 3:15, 22; 11:27-29, 33)(Witherington)

Mark often uses language to describe onlookers’ and even the disciples’ astonishment at Jesus’ actions and sayings. His “authority” (Greek exousia) mentioned hints at one cause of the amazed onlookers, in that he likely already contradicted established ideas and cited legal judgment in His own name, rather than citing previous authorities.(France)

Mark 1:23
A man with an unclean spirit appears in the synagogue, where he isn’t suppose to be. The spirit within him interrupts Jesus’ teaching, forcing Jesus to deal with it. Mark uses unclean spirit and demon alternately, as synonyms (Mark 6:7 and 13; 7:25 and 26), while separating terminology for exorcism and healing (3:10-11; 6:13)(Witherington, France)

Mark 1:24
What do you have to do with us: Literally, What to you and what to me? It’s a Semitic expression in the OT (2 Sam 16:10, 19:22; Judges 11:12; 1 Kgs 17:18) carried over into the Greek, with two possible meanings:

1.Why are you unjustly bothering me?

2.Why involve me in what is your affair, not mine?(NET, France)

The name and repeated titles spoken by the demon seem a classic ritual magic attack attempting to control someone or something by naming it.(Witherington)

“You have come to destroy us” is traditionally read as a question, but it might be a declarative statement as well. Mark has a famous secrecy motif concerning Jesus’ true identity which plays out throughout the Gospel, and it seems part of this story as well, having a supernatural being knowing Jesus’ complete nature. In Mark ordinary people call Jesus “teacher”(9:17), son of David(10:47-48), master(10:51), or sir/lord. Demons call Jesus Holy One, son of God (3:11), or son of the Most High (5:7). This ability of the possessed separates possession from mental illness, for the merely sick in Mark show no sign of special knowledge of Jesus.(Witherington)

Mark 1:25
Rebuked: Greek epitimao. This is deemed a technical term used for commanding hostile powers in early NT Greek commentaries like Moulton. The same word is used of Jesus’ commanding Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever in Luke 4:41 and the storm in Mark 4:39. On the other hand, France cites a Howard Clark Kee study in which Kee found the Greek word hardly used in non-NT magical texts. (Nyland, France)

Be quiet: Greek phimoo. This is a term used in Greek pagan magical texts for binding hostile powers, usually translated “be bound” or “be muzzled”. Again France rejects the esoteric connection (despite admitting the use of the word in Greek pagan magical texts) and sees it as a colloquialism for “shut up”(Nyland, France)

Jesus commands the demon to silence, perhaps because, as several church fathers say, Jesus and the apostles have no use for demonic testimony, even to the truth. It also seems that a command to be silent and/or bound was a normal part of exorcism in the ancient world. And logically Jesus also simply wanted the shouting of the demon stopped. France also accepts that it is part of Mark’s messianic secret theme (1:44, 5:43, 7:36, 8:26, 8:30, 9:9). Jesus had to be wary of being seen as the messiah, because:

1.Jesus’ version of messiahship was very different from popular expectation.

2.The Romans had a habit of killing “messiahs” and their followers as soon as the following crowds around them looked large enough to be dangerous. This is also a reason you see Jesus dispersing large crowds or even abandoning them. Any large crowd was a potential revolt to the authorities.(France)

Jesus’ method is unusual in that he employs nothing like a spell or any form of ritual, but simply gives orders which are obeyed. The “authority” of Jesus give both his teaching and his healings weight. (Witherington)

Mark 1:26
Exorcism is Jesus’ most common miracle in Mark (1:32-34, 3:7-12, 6:53-56, 8:14-21). Miracles occur mostly in the first half of Mark, and about half of the first half (that’s a quarter last time I had fractions) are miracle accounts. (Witherington)

The loud scream made by the departing demon seems a last resistance, the spasm or convulsion hard to interpret but might actually be the image of the person vomiting up the demon from within them.(France)

Mark 1:27
Textual Variant

“Authority” has given the ancient scribes and modern translators difficulties, trying to decide where to put it from the ambiguous Greek. Does “authority” go with “teaching” or “commands”?

NRSV ESV TNIV HCSB NET NJB: authoritative teaching
(N)KJV RSV NASB NIV (R)NEB NAB: authoritative command

The best manuscripts (S B L 33 f1 28 565) go with “teaching authority”. The Majority manuscripts (behind KJV and NKJV) have “authoritative commands”.(Comfort)

The crowd’s astonishment is more than mere surprise. It seems an unease, almost fear at the apparent disruption of normal reality when Jesus is present. The onlookers might have seen someone who spoke on his own authority before, and seen exorcisms before (though typically much more protracted affairs than this one, one imagines), but this is their first experience with someone who combines legal and spiritual authority.(Witherington, France)

Mark 1:28
Everyone hears about Jesus, but miracle stories are not completely good things:

1.They cause the Pharisees and Herodians to oppose Jesus (3:6)

2.They lead scribes to claim Jesus Himself is possessed (3:22)

3.They don’t make the disciples grasp who and what Jesus is any faster (6:52, 8:17-21)(Witherington)

Mark 1:29
Textual variant: they went into the house (HCSB, KJV) vs he went into the house (RSV, ESV, NJB, NAB)

Manuscript evidence: they went:S A C L 33 Majority
he went: B (D W Theta) f1/13 565, 700

The problem here is each variant is found in best manuscripts. “They” is considered the superior reading because it is awkward. “They” should mean Jesus and all four disciples of the time. To add “with James and John” seems a gaff in the narrative logic. “He” then becomes an attempt to cover up the problem, and also likely a decision to match this text to Matt 8:14 and Luke 4:38. (Comfort)

House of Simon and Andrew: Home dwellings then as now split along economic lines. Peter and Andrew likely had a mid-sized multi-generational family home, because that seems the pattern and because indications are in the gospels that it was fairly large (Jesus and disciples live there with Peter, his wife, and mother-in-law, Jesus taught crowds there, etc). Black basalt walls held wooden cross beams that held the flat roof up. The plan was a paved courtyard surrounded by small rooms (though Peter’s home must have had at least one large room for the gatherings listening to Jesus). Ovens were in the courtyard, which had a staircase(s) to the flat roof, which served as another story, where people would sleep in the summer, and do chores. Furniture was limited, though even poor people tried to have at least a low table to eat at while sitting on the floor, and some stools or even backed chairs. The poor slept on mats, various sorts of beds were used by the wealthier classes.(Vos)

Mark 1:30
Peter’s wife is only mentioned/implied here and in 1 Cor 9:5.

“Fever” is very general, and might be more or less serious. The Lukan version uses “great” fever, making it sound more serious.

That the men tell Jesus about her illness at once might be just being proper hosts, but given the immediately preceding exorcism, it seems much more likely they expected Jesus was capable and willing to heal her.(France)

Mark 1:31
She began to serve them: There are rabbinic traditions prohibiting women from serving non-relative men at table, but they are later than the gospels (200-300 years later) and if this was a tradition of Jesus’ time, we would expect the scribes and Pharisees to bring it up in their objections to Jesus. (Lachs)

There are two standout points in this story of Peter’s mother-in-law:

1.Jesus heals during the Sabbath. It’s in private, but the furor doing this causes will be displayed in public Sabbath healings. (Mark 3:1-6) The Pharisees saw the Sabbath as a day of rest from work; Jesus seemed to see it as a day of rest or relief from the current state of the world, which causes sickness. The new world brought by the Messiah is a world free of sickness, so to heal the sick on the sabbath can be seen as ushering in a true sabbath in the eschatological sense.

2.Jesus touches a woman not of His immediate family. Later rabbinic sources sometimes speak of “saintly” men all but ignoring non-related women in public. (Others I believe have the old story of the rabbi who carried a woman across a river, and when ask how he could do such a shocking thing, the rabbi says “I put her down back there. Why are you still carrying her?” Or is that a Buddhist monk story? Or both?) This sort of “illegitimate” physical intimacy was highly unusual. Jesus continues this trend in His willingness to touch the sick to heal them, right in public in front of everyone. (1:41, 5:41, 6:5, 7:32-33, 8:23-25, 9:27) or being touched by the sick (3:10, 5:27, 6:56)(Witherington, France)

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