Over the past year I’ve been reading almost exclusively in the Gospels. I wanted to get, for myself, a clearer picture of who Jesus was and is, as presented by the Gospels, and to get a better feel for how the writers of the four gospels presented the Gospel in their narratives. I’ve been keeping notes on my own reading, but was also able to start participating in a Bible study group that is currently going through the Gospel of Mark. I’ve been meaning to put more of my notes down in blog form, and thought this was a good opportunity since I am now studying more formally with a group and keeping more formatted notes as a result.
I am using two commentaries to help me study the Gospel of Mark. They are N. T. Wright’s Mark For Everyone from The New Testament for Everyone series, and The Gospel according to Mark from The Pillar New Testament Commentary series by James R. Edwards, Jr. Below are my thoughts on Mark 1:1-8.
Introduction: John the Baptizer
Mark 1:1-8 begins in a hurry, introducing the gospel in verse 1 and immediately moving to John the Baptizer in verses 2-8 through the prophetic announcement quoted from the Jewish Bible, giving a description of John’s clothing, diet, and location, and synopsizing his message of repentance and baptism, preparing the way of the Messiah.
Mark begins with a quotation (mostly) from Isaiah 40:3 announcing the forerunner of the Messiah, John the Baptizer. Edwards says this Old Testament passage, the connection of John the Baptizer with Elijah the Prophet, and the baptism of John the Baptizer being connected with Israel’s purification before accepting the covenant with Moses at Sinai, all ties Jesus inexorably to the Old Testament.
He says, “Jesus is not an afterthought of God, as though an earlier plan of God had gone awry. Rather, Jesus stands in continuity with the work of God in Israel, the fulfiller of the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17).” Continuing, “The gospel is understandable only as the completion of something God began in the history of Israel. This excludes the possibility of Christians either dismissing or diminishing the importance of the Old Testament, or of attempting to “purge” the gospel of its Jewish origins and context.”
Edwards says that, “The Gospel of Mark was written for Roman gentiles,” which is why there are not many references to the Old Testament in the book. At the same time, it is still important to remember that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. We perform a disservice to ourselves as gentile Christians not having a firmer grasp on how the Old Testament provides the context for the New Testament. I believe we will be rewarded with a richer faith if we spend time in the Jewish scriptures in order to understand more fully our Christian scriptures.