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Bible Commentaries
Mark 1

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verse 1


Modern Importance of Gospel of St Mark —Until the 19th cent. the Gospel of Mark was rarely made the subject of extended commentaries such as were written on the other Gospels. The explanation for this neglect of the Second Gospel and apparent lack of interest in its narrative lies in the fact that Mark contains very little material which is not found also in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, who give much additional information about the discourses and deeds of Christ. Only two miracles, 7:31-37; 8:22-26, one parable, 4:26-29, and the incidents recorded in 3:20 f. and 14:51 f. are peculiar to Mark; in all, only some sixty verses of the Gospel are without parallels in the other Synoptics. In modern times, however, the Gospel of Mark has come to hold a foremost place in Gospel studies. Some have been particularly attracted to it by the vividness and realism with which scenes are depicted. But it is the critical study of the literary relations between the Synoptic Gospels which has been mainly responsible for focusing attention on Mark in the last century. Non-catholic critics are practically unanimous in holding that Mk was written before the other Synoptics, and that it was used as a source by the authors of the First and Third Gospels. It was formerly the general verdict of critics that Mark’s narrative shows fewer traces of subsequent interpretation intermingled with the primitive record of Christ’s Life and Teaching than do the other Gospels, and consequently, that Mk should be regarded as our most reliable source of information for the simple historical facts concerning the Person and Mission of Christ. That critical estimate of the historical worth of the Second Gospel has been called into question by more recent critics, especially by writers of the ’Form-criticism’ school. According to these, even Mk does not bring us into such immediate contact with the facts of Christ’s life as was commonly supposed by earlier critics. The author of the Gospel is regarded as primarily a compiler or editor who has brought together scattered fragments of oral tradition and, with the aid of various editorial connecting phrases, fitted them into an artificial, chronological and geographical framework in which details of time and place are quite unhistorical. Supporters of this theory maintain that the fragments of oral tradition now loosely linked together in the Gospel were, for the most part, the creation of the Christian community. They are a reflexion of the faith and of the religious needs of the first Christians rather than an objective record of authentic sayings of Christ and the historical facts of his Life, cf. "The Gospels and non-Catholic Higher Criticism", §§ 607a-e,608b-c,609a-d,610-615.

External Evidence of Authorship —Against such denials of Marcan authorship and refusal to recognize the organic unity and historical value of the Second Gospel, and also against critics who contend that the Gospel embodies one or more earlier written documents (ProtoMark etc.) or that it is the result of successive rehandlings of a basic document, we have clear evidence, both external and internal, that the Gospel is the work of a single author, Mark, that it faithfully reproduces the oral catechesis of St Peter and should, therefore, be accepted as a reliable source within the limits of the author’s purpose. The tradition of the early Church is unanimous in declaring that Mark, the disciple and interpreter of St Peter, was the author of the Second Gospel. Evidence of this tradition is to be found not merely in the explicit assertions of the fathers and ecclesiastical writers, but also in the quotations and allusions occurring in their writings, in the use of the Gospel by heretics, and in the title’ according to Mark’ attached to the Gospel in the manuscripts and early versions. The internal evidence of the Gospel itself provides remarkable confirmation of the external testimony; cf. "Replies of the Biblical Commission", § 50h.

The oldest surviving testimony to Marcan authorship is that of Papias, who wrote a work entitled Expositions of the Oracles of the Lord, about a.d. 125. His words, which have been preserved by Eusebius ( H. E. 3, 39, 15), are as follows: ’And this the Elder used to say: Mark, having been the interpreter of Peter, wrote accurately, though not in order, all that he remembered of the things said or done by the Lord. For he had neither heard the Lord nor been his follower, but afterwards, as I said, he was the follower of Peter, who gave his instructions as circumstances demanded, but not as one giving an orderly account of the words of the Lord. So that Mark was not at fault in writing certain things as he remembered them. For he was concerned with only one thing, not to omit anything of the things he had heard, and not to record any untruth in regard to them’. Papias here quotes, at least in the first sentence of the passage, the statement of an Elder (presbyter) called John. Whether the Elder was John the Apostle or, as many authors hold, a disciple who had known the Apostles, his statement takes us back to the 1st cent. and to the contemporaries of Mark. The main points of the passage are that Mark, who was a disciple and interpreter of Peter, put the oral catechesis of Peter into writing, and that the lack of ’order’ in the work was due to its dependence on Peter’s preaching. Apparently some had found fault with Mark’s work because it lacked ’order’; probably it was being compared unfavourably with the Gospel of Matthew in which the material is arranged in a systematic, logical order (cf. Prat, Jésus-Christ, 1, 17), In reply to this criticism, Papias points to the fact that Mark’s purpose in writing was simply to reproduce faithfully the teaching of Peter. Papias is undoubtedly speaking of the canonical Gospel of Mark. The ancient writers who were acquainted with the work of Papias never mention any other Gospel of Mark, and the internal evidence of the Second Gospel is in complete harmony with what Papias says of the absence of ’order’ in Mark’s work and its close dependence on St Peter.

In later writers we find similar unhesitating affirmations of the close relationship between Mark and Peter and the dependence of the Second Gospel on Peter’s preaching. St Justin, who wrote in Rome about a.d. 150, makes clear his conviction that Mark’s Gospel depends on Peter, though he does not name the author. Dealing with the change of Simon’s name to ’Peter’ and the title ’Boanerges’ given to James and John, he gives the Memoirs of Peter as the source in which these points are found ( Dial. c. Tryph.106). Actually the only passage in which the matters in question are mentioned together is Mark 3:16f. (cf. Vaganay, L’Evangile de Pierre, 151 f.). No other Evangelist tells us that the sons of Zebedee were called ’Boanerges’. From Irenaeus († a.d. 202) we have the statement that after the death of Peter and Paul ’Mark, Peter’s disciple and interpreter, himself also left us in writing the preaching of Peter’ ( Adv. Haer. 3,1,1). Clement of Alexandria says: ’When Peter had publicly preached the word in Rome and promulgated the Gospel under the inspiration of the Spirit, many of those who were there besought Mark, as one who had long been a companion of Peter and remembered his words, to write down what he had said. Mark did this and gave the Gospel to those who had asked for it. When Peter learned of it he did nothing either to hinder or to encourage it’ (in Eus. H. E. 6, 14, 6). Tertullian († 220), Origen († 254), Jerome († 420) and other early writers all stress the relationship of Mark’s Gospel to the oral catechesis of St Peter.

Internal Evidence —When we turn to the Gospel itself we find a number of features which confirm the external testimony. The general scheme of the Gospel, beginning with the mission of John the Baptist and continuing till the Ascension, corresponds with Peter’s address at the reception of the Gentile Cornelius into the Church, Acts 10:34-43, and with the conditions which Peter laid down when a successor to Judas was about to be appointed, Acts 1:22. Miracles, as a divine seal on Christ’s mission, are given particular prominence in Mark; cf.Acts 2:22; Acts 10:38. It is noteworthy that Peter stands out from the group of disciples who were in close touch with Christ. He is mentioned by name on four occasions (1:36, 11:21; 13:3; 16:7), when the other Synoptics do not mention him; after a brief account of the mission of John the Baptist and the Temptation of Christ, Mark tells of the call of Peter and Andrew, 1:16; Peter is first in the list of the Apostles, 3:16, and first of the three who were present at the raising of the daughter of Jairus, 5:37, at the Transfiguration, 9:2, and at the Agony, 74:33; he answers on behalf of all at Caesarea Philippi, 8:29; he calls Christ’s attention to the withered fig-tree, 11:21; after the Resurrection he is mentioned specially by the Angel in the instructions given to the women, 16:7. There is nothing, however, to suggest that the author wished to present Peter in a particularly favourable light. On the contrary, we are told of the stern rebuke which he received when he protested against the prediction that Christ should suffer, 8:33; his denials of Christ are recorded faithfully, 14:66-72, but there is no mention of his walking on the waters, Matthew 14:29, of the praise he received from Christ when he was promised the Primacy, Matthew 16:18 ff., or of the incident of the coin with which to pay the temple-tax for Jesus and Peter, Matthew 17:24 ff. These latter incidents did particular honour to Peter, and their omission from Mark’s Gospel is to be explained by the fact that Peter, in his humility, did not dwell on them in his preaching. Although tradition states clearly that Mark was not an immediate disciple of Christ, many incidents in the Gospel are described so vividly and with such realistic detail as to suggest the narrative of an eyewitness. Mark’s Gospel is considerably shorter than Mt or Lk, but in narratives which are common to all three Synoptics Mark usually gives more details than do the others; cf. 2:1-12; 5:1-20, 21-43; 9:13-28, and parall. in Mt and Lk. A notable characteristic of Mark’s style is the use of an indefinite plural in describing the movements of Christ and the disciples, this being followed immediately by a verb in the singular referring to Christ alone; cf. 1:21; 5:1, 38; 8:22. This peculiarity of style is readily intelligible if we suppose that Mark is reporting the words of an eyewitness who said, e.g.’we came to Capharnaum . . . and he (Christ) entered the synagogue and taught’, 1:21; cf. C. H. Turner, JTS 26 ( 1925), 225 ff.; Chapman, Matthew, Mark and Luke, 61 f. Mark’s narrative is direct, simple and graphic, but these qualities cannot be attributed to the literary skill of the author. His style lacks variety and the range of his vocabulary is limited; frequent redundancies of expression, lack of grammatical sequence and omission of connecting particles suggest everyday speech rather than literary art. The unimportant details which make the narrative so realistic were not inserted for literary effect, but simply because they were part of what Mark had heard from Peter, the eye-witness who remembered vividly the scenes at which he had been present. Apart from some minor variations, the distinctive stylistic and linguistic features are to be found uniformly throughout the whole Gospel, except in 16:9-20. This must be regarded as a definite pointer to the unity of authorship of the Gospel. By way of summary of the internal evidence it can be said that many features of the Gospel positively confirm the external testimony to its authorship, and that there is nothing incompatible with the traditional view. Most non-Catholic critics support the Marcan authorship.

Life of St Mark —Tradition stresses particularly the close relations between Mark and St Peter, but in the passages of the NT which refer to Mark, and which actually furnish most of our information about his life, his relations with Paul and Barnabas are much more prominent. Only two passages, 1 Peter 5:13; Acts 12:12, mention or imply close association between Peter and a disciple called Mark. This is significant as an indication that the tradition of Marcan authorship of the Second Gospel and its dependence on Peter is not merely a conclusion derived from the evidence of the NT. Several passages of Ac and the Pauline Epistles refer to a disciple who is sometimes called ’John’, Acts 13:5, Acts 13:13, sometimes ’John who is surnamed Mark’, 12:12, 25; 15:37 f., sometimes ’Mark’, Acts 15:39; Colossians 4:10; Phm 24; 2 Timothy 4:11. In Ac it is clearly the same person who is sometimes given his Hebrew name John, and on other occasions, the Roman surname Mark. It was not unusual at the time to have two names; cf.Mark 2:13; Mark 3:16. In Colossians 4:10 we are told that Mark was a cousin of Barnabas; this information fits exactly with Acts 15:37-39 which shows that there was a bond between Mark and Barnabas. Mark was the son of a woman called Mary to whose house Peter came when he was released from prison by an angel, Acts 12:12. The house was a meeting-place of the Christians. Peter was evidently known to the household, and could count on their attachment to himself. Mark must, therefore, have been known to Peter. It is probable that, with other members of his family, he had been baptized by the Apostle; this may be the reason why Peter calls him ’my son’, 1 Peter 5:13. About the time, apparently, of Peter’s escape from prison ( a.d. 41) Paul and Barnabas came to Jerusalem with the assistance contributed by the Christians of Antioch, Acts 11:29 f., and on their return they took Mark with them. When they set out on the first missionary journey (c a.d. 45) Mark accompanied them as an assistant and remained with them until they reached Perge in Pamphylia. There, for reasons which are unknown, Mark separated from Paul and Barnabas and returned to Jerusalem, Acts 13:5, Acts 13:13. Paul was so seriously displeased by his conduct that when it was proposed by Barnabas that Mark should rejoin them on the second missionary journey (c a.d. 50), Paul refused to take him. The result of this dissension was that Barnabas took Mark and revisited Cyprus, while Paul was accompanied by Silas in revisiting the other districts which they had evangelized, Acts 15:36-41. For some ten years after this the NT is silent about

Mark. It was probably in this period that Mark became the follower and interpreter of Peter. The stern attitude which Paul had adopted towards Mark did not cause permanent estrangement. We find Mark was in Rome when Paul was first imprisoned there ( a.d. 61-3). Together with two other disciples of Jewish origin he was praised by Paul as a fellow-worker for the kingdom of God who had been a comfort to him. Paul also refers to a proposed visit of Mark to the church of Colossae, Colossians 4:10f.; Phm 24. It was probably about this time that Peter wrote from Rome is first Epistle, in which he refers to Mark as ’my son’, 1 Peter 5:13. The fact that Peter sends greetings from Mark to the Christians of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia suggests that Mark was known in these districts, presumably because he had taken part in evangelizing them. During Paul’s second Roman captivity ( a.d. 66-7) he wrote to Timothy, who apparently was at Ephesus, instructing him to come and to bring Mark’ for he is useful to me for the ministry’, 2 Timothy 4:11. We have no certain information of other events of the life of Mark. The tradition that he was one of the seventy-two disciples contradicts the testimony of Papias. Eusebius and Jerome record a tradition that he was the founder of the church of Alexandria. Many exegetes are of opinion that Mark was the young man in Mark 14:51 f.

Destination of the Gospel —The statements of Clement of Alexandria and other early writers that Mark put Peter’s oral catechesis into writing for the Christians of Rome is borne out by the evidence of the Gospel itself. It is clear that Mark did not write for Christians of Jewish origin; his Gospel is silent about the Mosaic Law and its relation to the NT economy; unlike Mt, it rarely points to the fulfilment of the OT prophecies, 1:21.; 15:28; very little of Christ’s denunciation of the scribes is recorded, 12:38-40; Jewish customs are explained for the benefit of readers, 7:3f.; Aramaic words and expressions are translated, 3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 9:43; 14:36; 15:22, 34; we are told that the Jordan is a river, 1:5, that Mt Olivet stands over against the temple, 13:3, that the Parasceve is the day before the Sabbath, 15:42. This omission of matters of special interest to Jews, and the addition of information superfluous even for those Jews who lived outside Palestine, show that the Gospel, like the instructions of Peter which it reproduced, was intended primarily for Christians of Gentile origin. It has also been noted that Latinisms occur in the Greek of Mark (cf. 2:23; 10:33; 11:32; 14:65; 15:15, 19), and that a number of borrowed Latin words are used, e.g.legion, 5:9, speculator, 6:27, denarius, 6:37, sextarius 7:4, census, 12:14, praetorium, 15:16, centurion, 15:39, 44. Specially notable Isaiah 12:42 where we are given the Roman equivalent of Greek coinage. It is natural to think that Rufus, the son of Simon of Cyrene, 15:21, who obviously was known to the readers of the Gospel, is the Rufus to whom Paul sends greetings at Rome, Romans 16:13. All these features of the Gospel are readily intelligible in the traditional view that Mark wrote Peter’s instructions for the Christians of Rome.

Place and Time of Composition —The testimony of Clement of Alexandria, Jerome and other early sources that Mark wrote his Gospel in Rome finds support in the internal evidence; cf. § 725c. Chrysostom, PG 57, 17, states as hearsay the opinion that the Gospel was written in Egypt, but this is improbable. As to the time of composition of Mark, opinion is divided. The Biblical Commission, § 50m, has rejected the view that the Gospel was written after the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. In actual fact, there is nothing in the Gospel to indicate that Jerusalem had been destroyed, or even that the revolt of a.d. 66, which led to the final catastrophe, had begun when the Gospel was written. On the contrary, the manner of reference to the ’loaves of proposition’, 2:26, and, in particular, certain expressions in the eschatological discourse, ch 13, clearly imply that the city and temple were still standing when Mark wrote. Some Catholic writers hold that the Gospel was written as early as a.d. 42-5. But the majority nowadays favours the view that it was written in the period a.d. 53-63. This view accords with the known facts of Mark’s life and with the evidence of tradition concerning the order of composition of the Synoptic Gospels. It does not seem likely that Mark could have been the companion and interpreter of Peter in Rome before c a.d. 53, cf. §725b. Consequently, the composition of the Gospel cannot be placed before that time, and the latest date is fixed by its relation to the Gospel of Luke. Modern critics agree with ancient tradition in maintaining that Mark’s Gospel was written before the Third Gospel. Now Luke wrote his Gospel before Ac, which was composed towards the end of Paul’s first Roman captivity, c a.d. 63; see § 50n. The statement of Irenaeus that ’after their [Peter and Paul’s] death, Mark . . . left us in writing the preaching of Peter’ constitutes a difficulty against this view, as it is generally accepted that Peter’s martyrdom did not take place before a.d. 64. Various solutions of this difficulty have been propounded. Probably Irenaeus was less concerned with the exact time of composition of Mark’s Gospel than with its authority as the continuation of the preaching of Peter.

Canonicity and Authenticity of Mark 16:9-20 —The Biblical Commission, ¤ 50i, has declared that the reasons adduced by critics to show that the last twelve verses of Mk were not written by Mark do not justify the assertion that they are not to be accepted as canonical and inspired, nor do they demonstrate that Mark was not the author. For Catholics the canonicity of Mark 16:9-20 is not open to doubt, as the passage fulfils the conditions laid down by the Council of Trent in the decree on the Canon of Scripture, EB409. It was at all times accepted by the Church as inspired and forms part of the Latin Vulgate. The question of literary authenticity, i.e. whether Mark was the author, is a distinct problem from that of canonicity and inspiration. In the MSS and patristic writings we find evidence of four different forms of ending to the Gospel. (1) The Gospel ends at 16:8 in the Gk codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, in one Syriac MS (syr-sin) and in some MSS of the Coptic and Armenian versions. Both Eusebius and Jerome state that 16:9-20 was missing from many Gk MSS. (2) A Short Conclusion. One MS (k) of the Old Latin version introduces after 16:8 the words ’They recounted briefly to the companions of Peter the things which had been commanded them. After this appeared and through them sent from East to West the holy and incorruptible reaching of eternal salvation’. This short ending is found together with the canonical conclusion in a few Gk MSS and in some MSS of the Coptic and Syriac versions. (3) The FreerLogion. In the Gk codex W(ashington) a fairly long passage, beginning with the words, ’But they defended themselves, saying, "This age of iniquity and incredulity is under the domination of Satan is inserted after 16:14, Jerome knew of Gk codices which included this passage. (4) The Canonical Conclusion. This is found in all Gk MSS except Vaticanus and Sinaiticus; it is included in all Vg MSS and in all MSS of the Old Latin version except k; it is also found in the Syriac, Coptic and other early versions, with the exception of the MSS already mentioned. Justin, Irenaeus, Tatian, Epiphanius and Chrysostom were acquainted with it. Ambrose, Augustine and later Latin writers also have this passage. This external evidence is, on the whole, strongly in favour of the authenticity of the canonical conclusion. Furthermore, it is highly improbable that the Gospel originally ended at 16:8 with the abrupt final phrase ’for they were afraid’. At the same time, the variation in the manuscript and patristic testimony, taken in conjunction with the internal evidence of 16:9-20, suggests that the present final -section is not the exact original ending. There is a break in the continuity of the narrative between 16:1-8 and the final section, which is not written in the usual style of Mark; cf. on 16:9-20. It has been suggested that Mark left the Gospel unfinished at first, or that the original conclusion was lost (cf. C. H. Roberts, JTS 40 ( 1939) 253-7), and that Mark himself later supplied the present canonical conclusion. But the lack of continuity and change of style militate against the view that Mark wrote the section as it stands. Some authors favour the opinion that when the original ending was lost the present conclusion was added by another inspired writer. In an Armenian MS of the 10th cent. the note ’of the presbyter Ariston’ is written in before 9-20. Possibly the opinion which is least open to objection is that when the original ending was lost, the canonical conclusion was supplied from memory, and by reference to the other Gospels, by a contemporary who had known the original. This would account for the change of style and lack of continuity

Purpose and Teaching —Mark’s primary purpose in writing his account of ’the sayings and deeds of the Lord’ was to provide the Christians of Rome with a faithful record of the teaching of St Peter. The Gospel is not directly apologetical in its aim or its method of treatment of the life of Christ. It was written for people who already believed that Jesus was Son of God and Saviour of mankind. Its purpose is not so much to prove that Jesus was the Messias and Son of God as to narrate the facts of Christ’s ministry on earth as Mark had learned them from the preaching of Peter. As a consequence of Mark’s dependence on instructions given by Peter to an audience which consisted mainly of Gentiles, we find that the Gospel stresses particularly the events of Christ’s life which were calculated to impress a pagan audience. Unlike Mt, which constantly appeals to the fulfilment of the prophecies of the OT in order to prove to Jews that Jesus was the promised Messias, the Second Gospel gives prominence to those things which show forth the divinity of Christ. It is noteworthy that there is a striking similarity in theme between Mark’s Gospel and the discourse delivered by Peter in the house of the Gentile Cornelius —’Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all . . . God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. . . . And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that it is he who has been appointed by God to be judge of the living and of the dead’, Acts 10:34-43. The dominant theme of the Gospel is indicated in the opening words: ’The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’. This is the Evangelist’s affirmation of his own belief in the divinity of Christ. In the Gospel, by a simple narrative of Christ’s ministry, Mark puts before the reader facts which leave no room for doubt that the Christian faith in Jesus Christ, true God and Sovereign Lord, is well founded. The divine sonship of Christ is proclaimed by the Father at the Baptism, 1:11, and at the Transfiguration, 9:7; the demons who call Christ ’the Holy One of God’, 1:24, ’the Son of God’, 3:11, ’the Son of the Most High God’, 5:7, fear him and obey his command; Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath, 2:28; he cured the paralytic in order to prove that he possessed the divine prerogative of forgiving sin, 2:10; in the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, 12:1-12, and in his reply to the high-priest, 14:62, Christ claimed to be God. The divine power of Christ is manifested in his miracles. Mark’s Gospel has been called ’the Gospel of Miracles’ because of the high proportion of the narrative devoted to the miracles of Christ. Despite its brevity, the Second Gospel gives most of the miracles recorded in the other Synoptics, and adds two others, 7:31-37; 8:22-26. In the performance of miracles, whether healing the sick and afflicted, 1:31; 2:11 f.; 5:28 f.; 6:56; 7:32; 8:22; 10:52, or controlling the forces of nature, 4:39, 6:48, or in his complete mastery of the evil spirits 1:24-27, 34; 3:11f., 22-27; 5:1-15; 9:16-27, Christ acts as the Supreme ’Lord of all’, Acts 10:36. The reader of the Gospel must echo the words of the centurion, ’Indeed this man was the Son of God’, 15:39.

The portrait of Christ which emerges from the Gospel’ of Mark is not, however, exclusively that of the Son of God. There is no question of making the divinity stand out at the cost of obscuring his humanity. In fact, no other Evangelist gives more tangible proofs of the reality of the human nature which Christ had assumed at the Incarnation. Christ is ’the Son of Man’, 2:10; he eats, 2:16, and sleeps, 4:38, like ordinary mortals; he feels compassion for the leper, 1:41, and for the crowds who have nothing to eat, 8:2; he is moved to anger and grief by the blindness of the Pharisees, 3:5; he wonders at the lack of faith of the people of Nazareth, 6:6; he is indignant with the disciples and shows his affection for the children, 10:14-16; in Gethsemani Christ is sorrowful and dismayed, and in his prayer that he might be spared the ordeal of the Passion he submits his own will completely to the will of the Father, 14:33-36. Mark is not the Evangelist of Christ’s divinity merely. His is the Gospel of the Incarnate Son of God who ’came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a redemption for many’, 10:45.

Verses 2-45

I 1-13 Preparation for the Public Ministry. 1-8 John the Baptist; cf.Matthew 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-18; John 1:19-28—1-4. The exact construction of this passage is uncertain. Some take 1 as the title of the Gospel, while others connect it more closely with 2-3. It appears to be more satisfactory to treat 2-3 as a parenthesis and to link 1 with 4; cf. Turher JTS 26 ( 1925) 146. Mark means to declare that the mission of John the Baptist was the prelude to the Gospel and also the fulfilment of prophecy: ’Mark has made the preaching of John the commencement of the Gospel’ ( Basil, Adv. Eun. II15).

1a. ’The Gospel of Jesus Christ’ here means not the written record of his life and teaching, but the good news (e?+?a??e+´????) of the coming of Jesus Christ, the glad tidings of salvation brought by Jesus, the promised Messias.

1b. ’Son of God’. These words are missing in a few ancient witnesses to the text and are omitted in some critical editions, but the evidence does not justify the omission. In the Synoptic Gospels the title ’Son of God’ applied to Christ does not necessarily imply belief in his divinity; cf.Luke 4:41. In the present context, however, it is rightly understood as an affirmation by Mark of the divinity of Christ, in which he clearly believed; cf. § 726c. Mark is speaking here in his own name, not merely reporting the words of others.

2-3. The prophetic passage in 2 is taken from Malachi 3:1. Of the numerous solutions put forward to explain how the words of Malachias are included under the name of Isaias the most probable seems to be that this is an interpolation which has found its way into the present context from Matthew 11:10 (Luke 7:27), where Christ applies these words to the Baptist. A scribe who was familiar with them in Mt or Lk may have included them here because of their application to the Baptist; cf. Lagrange, Saint Marc, 3 f.

3. In this passage from Isaiah 40:3 the prophet announces the return of the exiles from Babylon and depicts Yahweh as about to lead them through the desert back to Palestine. The voice of a herald proclaims the coming of Yahweh so that a road may be prepared. This imagery is derived from the custom of sending a herald to proclaim the forthcoming visit of a king so that his subjects might put badly-kept roads into a proper state of repair. The words of Isaias are here applied to the Baptist. He is the herald who announces the coming of the Messias and urges the Jewish people to make due preparation to receive him.

4. The baptism of John was a rite which symbolized the interior renovation which he preached as the fitting reparation for the Messias. By penance we are to understand not mere penitential exercises or regret for past sins but the true repentance (µetá???a) which consists in a change which brings the mind and heart of man into conformity with the law of God.

5. The preaching of the Baptist naturally aroused the hopes of the Jews and clearly evoked an enthusiastic response from many. The effect of John’s words was heightened by his dress which recalled the prophet Elias, 4 Kg 1:8, and by the asceticism of his life. Locusts are still eaten by the Bedouin of the desert. Wild honey may have been either the honey collected by wild bees or the sap of certain shrubs.

7-8. Some who heard the Baptist speak wondered whether he was not the Messias; cf.Luke 3:15; John 1:19. In reply to such surmises John insisted that he was an inferior, unworthy to perform even the most menial tasks for the Messias. The baptism of the Messias would impart the Holy Spirit and is thus incomparably superior to the baptism of John, which was a merely preparatory rite, an external washing symbolic of interior conversion. Some writers understand the reference to the ’baptism with the Holy Ghost’ as a metaphor signifying the copious outouting of the gifts of the Holy Spirit not merely in the acrament of Baptism but in the entire economy of salvation to be established by Christ; cf.Acts 1:5. The prophets had spoken of the copious effusion of the Holy Spirit as a characteristic of the Messianic age, Isaiah 44:3; Joel 2:28; Zach 12:10.

9-11 The Baptism of Jesus ; cf.Matthew 3:13-17; Luke 3:21 f.; John 1:30-34—In coming to John to be baptized, Jesus, who had no need for repentance, gave an example of humility and showed his approval of the mission of the Baptist; cf. 11:29-33. Moreover, it was the divine purpose that John, on the occasion of the baptism, should receive unquestionable evidence that Jesus was Messias so that he might make him known to the Jewish nation, John 1:30-34. The baptism marks the inauguration, with clear divine approval, of the public ministry of Jesus who is Messias and Son of God.

10. The descent of the Spirit on Christ recalls instances from the OT, Jg 3:10; 6:34; Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 42:1, where persons called to the performance of arduous tasks are given the special assistance of the Spirit. In the case of Christ the descent of the Spirit is a sign of the divine origin of his mission and a pledge of divine assistance. It is not to be understood as segnifying an addition to the fullness of grace already possessed by Christ. Neither the descent of the Holy Ghost nor the voice of the Father brought about a change in the Person or dignity of Christ. These external manifestations were the public authentication of his divine mission and Messianic dignity. 11. ’Beloved’: a+??apðtó?. In classical Gk and in LXX, where it frequently translates the Heb. ya?î?, this word has also the meaning ’only’, ’only-begotten’. Jesus is always well-pleasing to the Father because he is the eternal, only-begotten Son of God; cf.John 1:18 Some early heretics interpreted the events at the baptism in the sense that the ’god-Messias’ then descended on the man Jesus of Nazareth, remaining with him till the Passion. Modern rationalists say that it was at the baptism that Jesus became conscious of his Messianic dignity and mission. He descended into the Jordan a mere man, but came up from the waters convinced that he was Messias. Such interpretations are a denial of the divinity of Christ and have no foundation in the narrative of Mark. Jesus did not become Messias or Son of God at the baptism, but it was then that God solemnly introduced the beloved Son in his Messianic role.

12 f. The Temptation of Jesus; cf.Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13—Mark gives only a summary account of this incident. Satan wished to discover whether Jesus was the Messias and, if possible, to lead him from the path of suffering which God had ordained as the course to be followed by the Redeemer. Our Lord allowed Satan to tempt him, ’for since he himself has suffered and been tempted he is able to assist those who are tempted Hebrews 2:18; ’For we have not a high-priest who cannot have compassion on our infirmities, but one tried in all things as we are, except sin’, Hebrews 4:15. Mark alone mentions the wild beasts whose presence suggests the desolate character of the region to which our Lord had retired.

I 14-III 19 Beginning of the Public Ministry. 14-15 The Return to Galilee; cf.Matthew 4:12; Luke 4:14a; John 4:1-3—John had been thrown into prison by Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and Peraea, whom he had denounced because of his adulterous union with Herodias, Mark 6:17-29. This reference to the imprisonment of the Baptist indicates the time of Christ’s return to Galilee, while John 4:1-3 shows that the growing enmity of the Jews had made it advisable for Jesus to withdraw from Judaea. In Galilee Jesus proclaimed the good news that the Messianic kingdom foretold by the prophets was at hand. The time appointed for the establishment of the kingdom was come and all are exhorted to prepare themselves for entry into it by repentance and acceptance of the glad tidings proclaimed by Christ. This call to repentance, first issued by the Baptist and repeated by Christ, was in itself a corrective to the popular misconceptions of the nature of Messianic salvation which proved such an obstacle to the success of Christ’s ministry among the Jews.

16-20 The Call of the First Disciples; cf.Matthew 4:18-22; Luke 5:1-11—It is uncertain whether the narrative of Lk refers to the same incident as that recorded by Mk and Mt. We know from John 1:35-42 that Peter, Andrew and John were already followers of Christ. Here, however, they receive a special call to become immediate disciples. The redeeming mission of Christ was not to end with his own death and departure from this earth. Hence he selected as intimate companions and witnesses of his life and teaching a number of disciples who, after his departure, would be the duly accredited teachers of the Gospel, bringing the knowledge of salvation to all men.

21-34 Preaching and Miracles In Capharnaum; cf. Matthew 4:13-17; Matthew 8:14-17; Luke 4:31-41-21-22. The synagogue meeting on the Sabbath, with its ritual of prayer and readings from the OT followed by an instruction, was a characteristic institution of postexilic Judaism. The ruler of the synagogue had authority to invite a member of the congregation to address those present. In this way Christ was given many opportunities of making his message known to the Jews. Mark repeatedly draws attention to the astonishment of those who heard Christ speak, 1:27; 6:2; 11:18. Listeners were impressed by the fact that he spoke’ as one having power’, as a teacher qualified to speak and decide questions in his own authority, whereas the Scribes were accustomed to repeat the traditional views and constantly cited the opinions of the great rabbinical teachers of the past.

23. The miraculous cure of the demoniac was a confirmation of the supernatural ’power’ which he possessed.

24a. What is to us and to thee? This idiomatic Hebrew phrase normally expresses dissent or protest of some kind; cf.Jg 11:12; 2 Kg 16:10; 19:22; Matthew 8:29; Mark 5:7; Luke 4:34; John 2:4. The demons had now come to realize that Christ was the ’stronger one’. Luke 11:22, who would overcome Satan, and they protest against his coming to destroy their power over men.

24b. ’The Holy One of God’. Though there is no evidence that this was an accepted title of the Messias, it is possible that this was the sense intended by the demon; cf.Luke 4:34,41; John 6:69. Christ, of course, was ’the holy one of God’ in an altogether unique sense.

27. ’What is this? (This is) a new teaching with authority, and he commands even the unclean spirits and the obey him’. The authority of Christ was evident not merely in the manner of his teaching but in the fact that the demons obeyed his command.

32. ’After sunset’, when the Sabbath had ended, the sick and those possessed by demons were brought to Christ. According to the teaching of the Scribes, even the carrying of the sick was a violation of the law of sabbath rest.

34. The demons knew now that Jesus was the Messias, Luke 4:41, but they were forbidden to proclaim this fact The chief reason for this ’injunction of silence’, Mark 3:12; Mark 5:43; Mark 7:36; Matthew 8:4, is to be found in the prevalent misconceptions of the nature of the Messianic kingdom and of the role of the Messias. The Messianic hope had at this time taken a strongly nationalistic and materialistic colouring. The Messias of popular expectation was a great national leader who would break the yoke of foreign domination. In these circumstances an open declaration of Christ’s claims to crowds who were raised to a high pitch of enthusiasm by his teaching and miracles, would almost inevitably have led to a clash with the Roman authorities; cf. John 6:15. It was necessary for Jesus to proceed with caution, winning the attention of the people by his marvellous doctrine and striking miracles, gradually instilling into their minds by means of parables and other instructions the true spiritual concept of the Messianic kingdom and bringing them to understand that the Messias foretold by the prophets was a suffering Messias. The reluctance of the Jews to abandon their erroneous notions of the kingdom is strikingly exemplified in the case of the disciples, Acts 1:6.

35-39 Preaching and Miracles throughout Galilee; cf. Matthew 4:23; Luke 4:42-44—35. It is possible that in departing from Capharnaum Jesus wished to allow the enthusiasm of the crowds, who were still ill-instructed about the nature of the kingdom, to moderate. He also wished, as the Evangelist tells us, to preach the message of salvation in other parts of Galilee. 36. Mark is the only Evangelist to mention that Peter was among those who went to find Jesus—a characteristic Petrine touch in the second Gospel.

40-45 Healing of a Leper; cf.Matthew 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-16 —The Mosaic Law, Lev chh 13-14, gave extensive regulations concerning leprosy, including under this name a number of curable skin-diseases as well as the malady nowadays known by that name. The leper was compelled to lead an isolated life, wearing a special garb and giving notice of his approach by crying out ’Unclean’, in order to prevent contagion. Anyone who claimed a cure from leprosy was obliged to go before the priest who would verify the cure and, presumably, give some certificate of legal cleanliness.

43. Our Lord cured the man but he spoke sternly to him, because he had violated the prudent regulations of the Mosaic Law in thus coming into contact with others who might receive the contagion.

44. The man is commanded by Jesus to carry out the regulations laid down by the Law. ’For a testimony to them’. Some interpret this phrase in the sense that the priests, seeing that the man had been cured, would have clear testimony that Christ had worked a miracle. It is more probable, however, that the phrase refers to an official attestation of freedom from leprosy which the man would receive from the priest in order to reassure those who had previously known him as a leper.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on Mark 1". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/mark-1.html. 1951.
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