Mark 1:1 Commentary - Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Old and New Testaments)
I. INTRODUCTION 1:1-13
This opening section of the book sets the stage for the presentation of Jesus Christ as the unique Servant of the Lord. Mark omitted references to Jesus’ birth and youth. These subjects are irrelevant when presenting the life of a servant.
"The accent falls upon the disclosure that Jesus is the Messiah, the very Son of God, whose mission is to affirm his sonship in the wilderness. His encounter with Satan provides the background for the delineation of the conflict between the Son of God and the forces of Satan which is so prominent an element in the Marcan narrative of Jesus’ ministry." [Note: Lane, p. 40.]
A. The title of the book 1:1 (cf. Luke 3:1-2)
Mark may have intended this sentence to introduce the ministry of John the Baptist since that is what follows immediately. It could also refer to the inception of Jesus’ public ministry and therefore be a title of the Gospel’s introduction (Mar 1:1-13). It seems more probable, however, that this verse is a title for the whole book. It summarizes Mark’s whole Gospel. Incidentally the New Testament never uses the word "Gospel" to describe a book of the Bible. That is a more recent use of the word.
"The term ’gospel’ or ’evangel’ was not a word first coined among the Christians. On the contrary, the concept was significant both in pagan and Jewish culture. Among the Romans it meant ’joyful tidings’ and was associated with the cult of the emperor, whose birthday, attainment to majority and accession to power were celebrated as festival occasions for the whole world. The reports of such festivals were called ’evangels’ in the inscriptions and papyri of the Imperial Age." [Note: Ibid., pp. 42-43.]
Possibly Mark began his Gospel as he did to recall the opening verse of Genesis. The good news about Jesus Christ provides a beginning of as great significance as the creation of the cosmos. When Jesus’ came to earth and began His ministry, God created something new. This Gospel presents a new beginning in which God revealed good news about Jesus Christ. Thus this title might be a clue to the divine origin of the second Gospel.
"In Gal 4:4-6, Paul viewed the gospel story as in two parts, God’s sending ’his Son’ and the sending to ’the Spirit of his Son.’ Mark covers the first of these two sendings. The full apostolic message also included the sending of the Holy Spirit. But the story of the sending of the Son of God had its historical beginning with the coming of John the forerunner." [Note: D. Edmond Hiebert, Mark: A Portrait of the Servant, p. 27]
The word "gospel" is the modern equivalent of the old English "god-spel" meaning good news. The Greek word is euangelion. The gospel is the good news that God has provided eternal salvation through the ministry of Jesus Christ (cf. Isa 40:9; Isa 41:27; Isa 52:7; Isa 61:1-3; Rom 1:16). This term is important in the theological emphasis of Mark’s narrative (cf. Mar 1:14-15; Mar 8:35; Mar 10:29; Mar 13:9-10; Mar 14:9).
"’The Gospel is neither a discussion nor a debate,’ said Dr. Paul S. Rees. ’It is an announcement!’" [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 1:110.]
The word "gospel" also describes a certain type of literature, a literary genre. Gospel literature is not just history or biography. It is "preaching materials, designed to tell the story of God’s saving action in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth." [Note: R. P. Martin, Mark: Evangelist and Theologian, p. 21.] Mark’s Gospel contains the good news that the early Christians preached (cf. Act 2:36). [Note: C. F. D. Moule, The Gospel According to Mark, p. 8.]
"Mark does not write as a disinterested historian. He writes as a preacher conveying God’s good news of salvation by emphasizing Jesus’ saving ministry . . . Mark also writes as a theologian, arranging and interpreting the tradition to meet the needs of his hearers." [Note: Wessel, p. 611.]
Jesus Christ is the subject of this gospel (objective genitive). He is also the source of it (subjective genitive). Probably the former meaning is what Mark had in mind here. He seems to have wanted to provide an account of Jesus’ ministry so his readers could have a factual basis for their understanding of the gospel they had believed.
"Jesus" is the Greek form of the Hebrew "Joshua" meaning "Yahweh is salvation" or "salvation of Yahweh." "Christ" transliterates the Greek word kristos that means "anointed." The Hebrew word for "anointed" is mesiah from which we get "Messiah." By the time Mark wrote his Gospel, "Jesus Christ" had become a proper name, not a name (Jesus) and a title (Christ), the original meanings of these words. However, Mark intended "Christ" to have its full titular meaning as well (cf. Mar 8:29; Mar 12:35; Mar 14:61; Mar 15:32).
Mark further identified Jesus Christ as the "Son of God." This title does not appear is some important early manuscripts of Mark, but it is probably legitimate. [Note: See Carson and Moo, p. 187.] It expresses Jesus’ unique relationship to God and identifies an important theme in the second Gospel (cf. Mar 1:11; Mar 3:11; Mar 5:7; Mar 9:7; Mar 12:6; Mar 13:32; Mar 14:36; Mar 14:61; Mar 15:39). The title is messianic, but it connotes a subordinate relationship to God. Mark presented Jesus as the Servant of God particularly in this book. Rather than recording a nativity narrative that showed that Jesus was the Son of God, Mark simply stated that fact with this title. [Note: See Herbert W. Bateman IV, "Defining the Titles ’Christ’ and ’Son of God’ in Mark’s Narrative Presentation of Jesus," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50:3 (September 2007):537-59.]
". . . from the start the narrator of Mark’s story establishes with the reader a relationship of confidence by divulging the secret of Jesus’ identity long before it becomes known to characters in the story, for the first line is an aside to the reader revealing that Jesus is the anointed one, the son of God. This technique puts the reader on the inside, among those who know, and enables the reader to understand more than many of the characters in the drama understand. This technique is an important foundation in this story which is concerned with what is hidden and what is secret." [Note: David M. Rhoads and Donald M. Michie, Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel, p. 41.]
"The Gospel is not a mystery story in which the identity of the main character has to be guessed; from the outset it is made clear who this is-the Son of God." [Note: E. Best, The Temptation and the Passion, p. 168.]
Taken together "Jesus," "Christ," and "Son of God" present Jesus as a man who was God’s special agent but who was also fully divine.
"The superscription refers to Jesus as ’the anointed one, the son of God.’ At the end of the first half of the story, Peter acknowledges Jesus as ’the anointed one’ [Mar 8:29] and at the end of Jesus’ life the centurion identifies Jesus as ’son of God’ [Mar 15:39]. The first half of the gospel emphasizes the authority of Jesus to do acts of power. The second half emphasizes the suffering of Jesus in filial obedience to God. Although the characterization of Jesus is consistent throughout, there appears, nevertheless, a clear development in the portrayal of Jesus from one half of the gospel to the next. In the first step, he serves with power; in the second, he serves as the one who suffers. Throughout the style and the structure of episodes the two-step progressions prepare the reader to be drawn more readily into seeing this larger second step and accepting this clearer, more precise understanding of Jesus." [Note: Rhoads and Michie, pp. 48-49.]
"In the gospel story he narrates, Mark tells, of course, of Jesus. Intertwined with the story of Jesus, however, are two other story lines: that of the religious authorities and that of the disciples." [Note: Kingsbury, p. vii.]
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Expository Notes of Dr. Constable (Old and New Testaments)
Copyright 2012, Dr. Thomas Constable. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
Dr. Thomas Constable graduated from Moody Bible Institute in 1960 and later graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary.
Dr. Constable is the founder of Dallas Seminary’s Field Education department (1970) and the Center for Biblical Studies (1973), both of which he directed for many years before assuming other responsibilities. Today Dr. Constable maintains an active academic, pulpit supply, and conference-speaking ministry around the world. He has ministered in nearly three dozen countries and written commentaries on every book of the Bible. Dr. Constable also founded Plano Bible Chapel, pastored it for twelve years, and has served as one of its elders for over thirty years.