Mark 1:1 Commentary - You Can Understand the Bible: Study Guide Commentary Series by Bob UtleyNASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Mar 1:1
1The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Mar 1:1 "The beginning" Does this introductory phrase refer to
1. the very beginning as in Gen 1:1 and Joh 1:1
2. the beginning of Jesus' incarnation as in 1Jn 1:1
3. the beginning of Jesus' public ministry (i.e., Peter's personal experiences)
The first paragraph specifically refers to OT prophecy about the Messiah from Isaiah. The gospel story begins in the prophetic tradition of Israel. The quote in Mar 1:2-3 is a combination of Mal 3:1 and Isa 40:3.
SPECIAL TOPIC: ARCHÇ
▣ "of the gospel" With Mark probably being the first written Gospel, this is the first use of the term euangelion (cf. Mar 1:14-15; Mar 8:35; Mar 10:29; Mar 13:10; Mar 14:9) by a Gospel writer (Paul's use in Gal 2:2 and 1Th 2:9 would be chronologically earlier). It is literally "the good news" or "the good message." This obviously reflects Isa 61:1 and possibly Isa 40:9 and Isa 52:7. The Jerome Biblical Commentary says "Mark's use of the word 'gospel' is akin to that in Paul where it can mean either the act of proclaiming or the content of what is proclaimed" (p. 24).
▣ "of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" Its grammatical form can be understood as (1) the message given by Jesus or (2) the message about Jesus. Number 2 is probably the intended meaning. However, the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, published by IVP, says "The genitive ('of') is probably both subjective and objective: Jesus proclaims the gospel and it proclaims his story" (p. 285).
Mar 1:1 is not a complete sentence. It is possibly the title of the book. The ancient Greek uncial Manuscripts א, A, B, D, L, and W add the phrase "Son of God" which is followed by the NKJV and the NRSV, TEV, and NIV, while it is missing in (1) א*; (2) the Palestinian Syriac; (3) one Coptic manuscript; (4) the Georgian Version; as well as from the (5) Armenian translation and (6) a quote of this text from Origen's commentary on John. The UBS4 gives the inclusion a "C" rating (difficult to decide). See Special Topic on "Son of God" at Mar 3:11.
It is difficult for modern Christians who love and trust the Bible to deal rationally with these Greek manuscript variants, but as difficult as it is for our assumptions about inspiration and preservation of God's self-revelation, they are a reality. This addition even looks purposeful, not accidental. Early orthodox scribes were conscious of the early heretical views about Jesus, such as adoptionism, which asserted that Jesus became the Son of God. These early scribes often modified the Greek texts they copied to make them more theologically orthodox (cf. 1Jn 5:7-8). For more reading on this troubling purposeful alteration of Greek manuscripts by orthodox scribes see Bart D. Ehrmans' The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. He specifically discusses Mar 1:1 on pp. 72-75.
▣ "of Jesus" Usually in first century Judaism the father named the child. In this case the heavenly Father, through an angel, named the child. Jewish names often carried symbolic meaning; this one was no exception. Jesus is a combination of two Hebrew nouns: (1) YHWH and (2) salvation. The significance is captured in Mat 1:21. Jesus is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Joshua. He proved to be the new Moses, the new Joshua, and the new High Priest.
▣ "Christ" This is the Greek translation of the Hebrew term "Messiah," which means "an anointed one." In the OT God's anointing of leaders (i.e., prophets, priests, and kings) symbolized His calling and equipping for an assigned task.
The term "Messiah" is not used often in the OT (cf. Dan 9:25-26 for the eschatological king), but the concept surely is. It is parallel to Mat 1:1, "son of David," which refers to a royal descendant of Israel's ideal king "David." God promised David in 2 Samuel 7 that one of his descendants would always reign in Israel. This promise seemed shattered by the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and deportation of its inhabitants (i.e., 586 B.C.). However, the prophets began to see a future Davidic seed (i.e., Isaiah, Micah, Malachi). Jesus is the promised "son of David," "son of man" (cf. Dan 7:13), and "son of God" (used five times in Mark).
It is striking that the only time in the entire Gospel that the designation "Jesus Christ" is used is in the opening verse (only twice in Matt. and John and not at all in Luke). Normally, Mark uses "Jesus." This usage fits the theological emphasis of Mark on the humanity of Jesus, while His deity is veiled (i.e., Messianic secret) until the completion of His Messianic mission (i.e., Suffering Servant). It is not until the book of Acts that "Jesus Christ" becomes a recurrent title.
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You Can Understand the Bible: Study Guide Commentary Series by Bob Utley
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