NT Sunday School Lesson 7: Mark 1-2; 4:35-41; 5; Luke 7:1-17

MsFor purposes of this lesson, I take Luke 7:1-17 to be a supplement to the miracle stories we read in the material from Mark. So I will make my notes and questions on Mark, assuming that reading and thinking about Luke will be appropriate to them.

As usual, I offer the reminder that these are study notes for the reading, not notes for preparing a lesson. Presumably study notes could help a person prepare a lesson, but these go beyond what one might expect in notes for a lesson.

Mark’s Gospel

This is the first lesson this year to use the book of Mark, so some review may be in order. Most non-LDS scholars believe that Mark was the gospel written first and that the other two synoptic writers used his gospel as a kind of first draft. In contrast, most LDS scholars believe that Matthew was written first because Matthew’s version of things is what we find in Christ’s teaching to the Nephites.

Because the early Church saw the gospel of Mark as a kind of “‘reader’s digest’ version” (Bob Utley, The Gospel According to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter [Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International, 2000] 3), the book was not quoted much in the early Church. Indeed, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that Mark began to be important to biblical study (Robert A Guelich, Word Biblical Commentary, volume 34A: Mark 1–8:26 [Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1989] ix). We are not certain who Mark was, but a strong and very old Christian tradition says that he was the John Mark mentioned in Acts. (See, for example, Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3:39.)In Acts John Mark is Paul’s assistant in missionary work (Acts 12:25; 13:5). But the gospel of Mark does not say who wrote it. It is anonymous.

In spite of that, to think about some of the possibilities, suppose that John Mark is the author of the gospel of Mark. John Mark appears to have been a member of a wealthy Jewish-Christian family in Jerusalem and the cousin of a wealthy landowner, Barnabas (Acts 4:36-37; Colossians 4:10). Based on that, some have speculated that his family owned the Garden of Gesthemane and that he was the young man who escaped capture when Jesus was arrested in the Garden. However, the evidence for that speculation is not very strong. The fact that Mark gets Palestinian geography wrong is reason to believe that if he was from a Jerusalem family, he did not live there long himself.

For a reason that we do not know, Paul refused to continue to work with John Mark at the end of the first mission, though Barnabas used him (Acts 15:37-39). Later John Mark and Paul seem to have been reconciled, for his name appears throughout the letters of Paul (for example 2Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 1:24).

John Mark also seems to be the person to whom Peter refers as “my son” (1 Peter 5:13). Tradition has it that he was Peter’s interpreter, though that could mean “the person who explained Peter’s teaching” rather than “the person who translated them from one language to another.” In fact, it may be he rather than Peter himself who wrote down 2 Peter after Peter’s death. 2 Peter appears to be a collection of Peter’s sayings rather than an original speech by Peter, comparable to books like The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson. If this is correct, then the gospel of Mark could also be a collection of Peter’s recollections recorded by John Mark, perhaps after Peter’s death. The truth is, however, that we don’t know and don’t have the documents that would let us decide definitively.

According to the early church historian, Eusebius, Clement (the bishop of Alexandria in the second century A.D.) said that Mark’s gospel was written for those being taught in Rome and that, after it was completed, Peter read it and ratified it for use in church (Ecclesiastical History 3.7). Though that seems reasonably possible, some other early writings say that Mark completed his gospel after Peter’s death. If so, he may have been writing down the things he had learned from Peter. The Greek of Mark is less sophisticated than that of the other gospels, and he focuses on a series of brief and self-contained stories that prepare the reader for his lengthy treatment of the Garden of Gethsemane, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. For Mark, events are the focus rather than doctrines. Eusebius also says that Mark did not put the events of his gospel “in order,” but he is unclear what he means by “order” (Ecclesiastical History 3:39).

Outline of Mark 1-5 (with thanks C. S. Mann, Mark: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary; Anchor Bible, vol. 27 [New York: Doubleday, 1986])

Mark 1:1-15 Jesus’ mission was divinely ordained and he is in conflict with Satan.
Mark 1:1 The title/theme of the work
Mark 1:2-8 John the Baptist
Mark 1:9-11 Jesus’ baptism
Mark 1:12-13 The Temptation in the wilderness
Mark 1:14-15 A summary of Jesus’ mission: “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye and believe the gospel’”
Mark 1:16-3:35 Jesus has power from God (to which there is opposition, though he is always victorious)
[Mark 1:16-20 Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John]
Mark 1:21-28 He heals a man of an unclean spirit
Mark 1:29-31 He heals Peter’s mother-in-law
Mark 1:32-34 He heals many others
Mark 1:35-39 He preaches throughout Galilee, healing many
Mark 1:40-45 He heals a leper
Mark 2:1-12 He heals a man of palsy and says specifically that he does so “that ye may know that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins” (verse 10)
[Mark 2:13-28 Jesus calls Levi (Matthew) and confronts the Pharisees]
Mark 3:1-6 Jesus heals the man with the withered hand, drawing the Pharisees’ criticism and enmity
Mark 3:7-12 Because of his healing—recognized by unclean spirits—he withdraws to a private place
[Mark 3:8-19 He teaches and ordains the Twelve]
Mark 3:20 The multitudes demand more miracles
Mark 3:21-30 His friends think he is mad and, urged on by scribes from Jerusalem, they try to stop him, but he rebukes them
Mark 3:31-35 His family asks him to come out of the synagogue to see them. (The context suggests that they may also wish to stop him from continuing his mission.) He refuses and denies that they are his family
[Mark 4:1-34 The kingdom of God]
Mark 4:35-5:43 Jesus has power from God, but his disciples do not understand that power
Mark 4:35-41 Even the elements of the earth must obey him
Mark 5:1-20 He casts evil spirits out of a possessed man and into a herd of swine
Mark 5:21-43 He heals the daughter of Jarius and a woman with a hemorrhage

Notes and Questions

Mark 1

The first verse of Mark is ambiguous. It could mean that he is going to start with the beginning of Jesus’s ministry: “This is how Jesus Christ’s preaching began.” Or it could mean “Here are the basic principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The phrase can also mean, “the beginning of this book, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The phrase is ambiguous because the Greek word arch? can mean either “beginning” (as it does in John 1:1)—and there are two ways to understand what is beginning—or “basic principles,” as it does in the Greek version of Psalm 110:10 (the Septuagint)—Psalm 111 in the King James version. Which reading do you think most fruitful?

As you read Mark, you will notice that he concentrates on events, particularly conflict (between Christ and Satan, for example), more than he does on teachings. Does that focus help you decide how to understand verse 1?

Mark is the only evangelist to speak of “the gospel” without a qualifying adjective or pronoun. On that basis,  however, we have come to describe the first four books of the Bible as gospels. Clearly Mark isn’t merely telling the story of Christ’s life. However we understand verse 1, Mark is proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. When Mark tells us that he is writing the gospel, the “good-news” or the proclamation, how is he telling us to read what follows?

To get a better feel for how Mark’s audience would have heard verse one, substitute “Jesus Messiah” or “Anointed Jesus” for “Jesus Christ.” Does that substitution shed a different light on what we are to listen for as we read the gospel of Mark?

John the Baptist tells us that he has baptized with water, a cleansing agent, but “the greater one” will baptize with the Holy Ghost (Mark 1:8). Does he intend us to see a parallel here: I baptize you with water, which cleanses in one way; he will baptize with the Holy Ghost, which cleanses in another way? (Does the use of fire as a metaphor for the Holy Ghost, as in Matthew 3:11 and 2 Nephi 31:13-14, suggest that parallel, or is something else going on?) If the baptism of the Holy Ghost is also a cleansing, what kind of cleansing is it?

Why does Mark begin with Jesus’ baptism rather than with his birth?

Paraphrasing we could say that Jesus’ message in Mark 1:15 is “The appointed time has arrived, the Kingdom of God is near; repent and believe the gospel.” What is Jesus speaking of when he refers to the appointed time? In what sense or senses is the Divine Kingdom near? The Greek word translated “repent” is metanoein. Guelich (Word Biblical Commentary 44-45) says that metanoein is the equivalent of š?b in the Old Testament, usually translated as “return.” To repent is to return to God with all one’s being; it is to return to the covenant he made with Israel. How does that understanding of repentance and Jesus’ message compare and contrast with our usual way of describing repentance and the cessation of particular bad acts?

Most of the time disciples choose their teachers/masters. In Mark 1:17-20, Jesus chooses his disciples. What significance does this reversal have?

In Mark 1:40-44, Jesus heals a leper. Having done so, he immediately warns the man (“warned” is probably a better translation than “charged” in verse 43) and send him away, with the commandment (1) to tell no one what happened to him and (2) to go to the priests of the temple and make the appropriate offering (see Leviticus 14). Both the word translated “charged” and the word translated “sent him away” are relatively harsh words. Why do you think that Jesus responds to the leper in that way? Why does he tell the man to keep silent about what has happened to him? Why does he seem to recognize the authority of the priests in his command to the man?

As you read, notice that Jesus enjoins secrecy over and over again—until Mark 8. After that chapter he never again tells people to keep quiet about their experience with him. Why do you think that is so?

Mark 2

Mark 2:1 tells us that people learned Jesus “was in the house.” that phrase translates a Greek phrase that is idiomatic for “at home.” The house that Jesus calls home is probably Peter’s house. What does verse 2 mean when it says that Jesus preached “the word” to them? We have become used to referring to the gospel as “the word,” but why do you think that Jesus used that expression?

In verse 5 we see that Jesus has seen their faith? But they haven’t said anything at all about what they believe or don’t believe. How has he seen it? (You might wish to compare some of the other cases in which we see people demonstrate their faith in Jesus, for example, Mark 5:25-34 and 10:46-52.) Does that help us understand what is required when we are taught that faith is essential to salvation?

When Jesus says “Thy sins be forgiven thee” (verse 5) is he offering the paralytic man assurance of something that the Father has done that will allow Jesus to heal the man (“Thy sins are forgiven” is a more accurate translation)? Or is he forgiving those sins himself? The first way to understand what he has just done is to claim the authority of the Temple priest. The second way is to understand him as having just claimed the authority of the Father. Either way is problematic for his audience. That is what creates the controversy to follow (see verse 7). Presumably Jesus could have done this miracle without creating the controversy. Why do you think he felt it was important to make his point: “the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10)? Of the two interpretations of what he said, which does he say in that verse is the correct one?

Notice that Mark interrupts his story of Jesus’ power and the illustrations of that power—his miracles—to tell of the call of the disciples and the teaching and ordination of the Twelve, and to tell us the parables of the kingdom of God. So, we could say that the primary theme of this section (indeed of Mark as a whole) is Jesus’ power, but the secondary theme is the church. Why would the theme of the church be important for Mark? How is that theme related to the theme of power? Where is the power that we see in Christ manifest? Notice that these stories lead, eventually, to Jesus sending the Twelve out as missionaries (Mark 6:7-13). How is the mission of the Twelve a culmination of the story to that point?

Why does Mark spend so much time on Jesus’ miracles? How do those miracles connect to the prophecies of Jesus’ coming? What do they have to do with his mission? How do they demonstrate his divine power? Are they important as symbols? If so, can you specifically say what they symbolize?

Joel Marcus notes an interesting rhetorical pattern in Mark 2:13-17 (Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Yale Bible, vol. 27 [New Haven: Yale University, 1974] 229):

2:14 sitting at a tax booth A
2:15 tax collectors and sinners were reclining with him AB
2:16a seeing that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors BA
2:16b “Why doe he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” AB
2:17 “I did not come to call righteous people but sinners B

Can you see any point to that pattern? This section also marks a break in Mark’s topic for this chapter. Whereas he has been showing us how Jesus has manifested his mighty power, now he shows us Jesus’ confrontation with others.

In Mark 2:16 the scribes and Pharisees see him eating dinner with publicans (tax collectors) and sinners. The dinner in question is in “his house,” which is ambiguous. Is this Jesus’ house, in other words, in Peter’s house? Or is it Levi’s house? Luke takes care of the ambiguity by specifying that it is Levi’s house (Luke How could the scribes and Pharisees have seen him eating dinner with people unless they were also there? Why did the Pharisees have a problem with Jews eating with unclean people like tax collectors and sinners? What was the problem?

In answer to the Pharisees’ question (which had been directed at the disciples rather than Jesus), Jesus offers two proverb-like statements: “They who are healthy have no need of a physician, but they who are ill” and “I am come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17; revised translations).

The word “sick” in the King James version translates a phrase in Greek, kak?s echontes, that literally means “have a bad thing.” It is idiomatic for being ill, but the same phrase can be used to denote someone who is behaving wickedly. In other words, in Greek it is ambiguous—and. as Mark reports his words, Jesus is playing on that ambiguity.

Jesus appears to be referring to the Pharisees when he says “They who are healthy have no need of a physician, but they who are ill.” Is he being ironic?

Mark 2:18-20 shows us the disagreement that John the Baptist’s disciples and the Pharisees have with Jesus and his disciples over fasting. It appears that the Phariseses fasted twice each week (Luke 18:12). Presumably John’s disciples did the same, or they probably wouldn’t have joined with the Pharisees to ask the question. When thinking about Jesus’ response, it may be noteworthy that some Jewish sources use bridegroom imagery to talk about the Sabbath and forbid fasting on that day (Marcus, Mark 1-8 233-34).

At a wedding feast, we would expect the guests to leave, not the bridegroom. But in Jesus allegory the bridegroom is the one who leaves (Mark 2:20). Surely that surprised the disciples. How do you think they would have understood the symbolism? How do we understand it today? Jesus explicitly contrasts the feasting of a wedding with fasting. What do you make of that contrast?

Mark 2:21-22 introduces what appear to be two proverbs of the time. How do these two proverbs relate to what Jesus has just said in verses 19-20? Another way to ask the same question: what are these two parables about and what has that to do with the discussion that Jesus has been having with John’s disciples and some Pharisees?

We have just seen disputes about ritual purity laws and fasting, now in Mark 2:23-28 there is a dispute about keeping the Sabbath day holy. Why were these laws particularly important to the Pharisees?

How do we distinguish in our own lives (rather than trying to do so for the lives of others) when we are keeping the Sabbath holy and when we are not? How do we know that we are not keeping the Sabbath holy in a Pharisaical way?

Mark 4

Suppose that each of the parables in chapter 4 (the parable of the sower, of the candle under a bushel, of the seed growing secretly, and of the mustard seed) is a parable that teaches us about the church. Do they all teach the same thing? If so, what is it? If not, what does each teach? Why are these four parables followed by the story of Jesus stilling the winds and waves? What does the latter event have to do with those parables?

One scholar, N. T. Wright (The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is [Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1999] 40-41), argues that those living at Jesus’ time would have understood the parable of the sower as a description of the judgment of Israel similar to Isaiah 6 (and, therefore, also to Jacob 5). What do you think of that interpretation? Does it teach us anything about our day?

To escape the press of the crowd, Jesus suggested that the cross to the other side of the lake, and he falls asleep underneath the platform on which the helmsman stood in the stern of the boat. When a storm arises, the disciples wake Jesus up and begging for his help: “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38). The word translated “Master” means “teacher,” as did the word “master” when the King James version of the Bible was created. Why do you think his disciples address him as teacher in moment of peril?

Do you think that Mark wants us to see parallels between this story and the story of Noah? If so, what are those parallels and what do they teach us?

Does knowing that the word translated “faith” (Greek: pistis) means “trust” change or deepen your understanding of Jesus’ question in verse 40?

We see several instances where someone or something contests Jesus’ power: in the Temptation, when he healed the palsied man, in Levi’s house, when he healed the man with the withered hand, when his friends and—perhaps—even some of his family try to stop him from preaching, and when he calmed the sea. Why does Mark tell us of these contests? What does he want us to learn from them?

Mark 5

Marcus sees an Old Testament parallel to the story of the demonaic of the Gadarenes (Mark 1-8 349):

Mark 5:1-20 Exodus 14:115:22 (and related passages; all from the Greek Septuagint Old Testament)
5:1: They came to the other side of the sea (thallasa) 14:22: Israelites pass through the sea (thallasa)
5:3–4: No one had been able (edynato) to tie him up; no one had the power (ischyen) to subdue him 14:28; 15:4; 15:6, 13: The power (dynamis) of Pharaoh is destroyed; the power (ischys) of God is glorified
5:7: “Son of the Most High God (tou theou tou hypsistou)” 15:2: “This is … my father’s God, … and I will exalt (hypsoso) him”
5:13: The pigs … choked to death in the sea 14:28–30; 15:19: The Egyptians are drowned
5:14: Those who had been grazing the pigs ran away (ephygon) 14:27: The Egyptians ran away (ephygon)
5:15, 17: And they were afraid (kai ephobethesan) … and they began to plead with him to go away 15:14–15: The nations heard and shook (Codex A + MT; other LXX mss. read “were angry”) … Trembling took hold of them (cf. 15:16: Let trembling and fear [phobos] fall upon them)
5:19: “Go … and announce (apangeilon) … what great things the Lord has done for you” (hosa ho kyrios soi pepoieken; cf. 5:20: He began to proclaim in the Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him) 14:31: Israel saw the great hand, the things that the Lord had done to the Egyptians (ha epoiese kyrios tois Aigyptois; cf. 9:16: “For this reason I have kept you alive, … in order that my name might be announced [diangel?] in all the earth”)

Two more miracles follow the trip across to the other side of the lake, the healing of Jairus’s daughter and the healing of the hemorrhagic woman. Both of them are explicitly about Jesus breaking ritual purity laws: touching a dead body, allowing himself to be touched by a hemorrhagic woman. Both show Jesus power over death and physical illness. What else might they show?

Mark does not often describe the works that Jesus does using the word “miracle.” (See, for example, Mark 6:2, 5, and 14.) The King James translation uses the phrase “mighty works.” When Mark does speak of miracles, he uses a Greek word that means “power” (dynamis), which is not the same word that other evangelists use when they speak of miracles. They use a word that means “sign” (semeion) and that the King James version translates as “miracle.” What power has Jesus demonstrated in his works? How does his exhibition of power show who he is? For example, what can we understand his healing power to represent? His power over the wind and waves? Why might Mark avoid using the word “sign” and instead use a word meaning “power” or “works” to describe Jesus’ miracles?

Mark is offering a testimony of Jesus. In what have read so far, who has Mark shown offering a testimony of who Jesus is? What do you make of that? What has Mark tried to show us by choosing to tell us of the particular testimonies he chooses to recount?

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