By Robert Brow   March 1999

Mark 1:4

Mark introduces -Ioannys o baptizon- John the baptizer as preaching -baptisma metanoias- a baptism of change of mind. What did Mark want us to understand by the word -metanoia- repentance?

(a) It is commonly interpreted as a deep contrition for sin expressed by confessing one's sins before baptism. This is supported by the words -eis aphesin amartion- with a view to a forgiving of sins (1:4). But there is no evidence in this Gospel, or anywhere else in the New Testament that a detailed confession of sin was required before baptism.

(b) Mark also tells us that Jesus preached -ynggiken y basileia tou theou metanoeite kai pisteuete en to euanggelio- the kingdom of God has come near, change your minds (repent) and believe in the good news (1:15). That connects repentance with faith.

(c) In the Old Testament the Hebrew word -shubh- simply meant turning from any other direction to God. This yields a meaning for faith as a direction of looking to God, as opposed to looking in any other direction. In this model -metanoia- is a change of mind that results in turning from other directions of confidence to faith in God.

Some models used to explain the meaning of baptism are discussed are discussed under Matthew 1:6, 14.

(d) For a model of baptism,as used by both John the Baptist and Jesus, as a means of enrolling disciples who turn to begin learning from their teacher see John 4:1, and the book Go Make Learners, which explores the implications of that verse.

Mark 1:15

-ynggiken y basileia tou thou- the kingdom, or reign of God, has come near.  For some models of the kingdom of God in Mark and the kingdom of the heavens in Matthew, see Matthew 4;17.

Mark 3:22-30

Many have been tormented by the idea that they have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, and are eternally damned. What did Mark have in mind when he wrote: -os d' an blasphymysy eis to pneuma to agion, ouch echei aphesin eis to aiona, alla enochos estin aioniou amartymatos- whoever blasphemes against (into) the Holy Spirit has no forgiveness in an eternal sense.

A first explanatory model is easy to dismiss.

(a) Anyone who curses the Holy Spirit is eternally lost. This is an unlikely explanation because in the previous chapter the writer has recorded an unconditional invitation to all sinners to come to Jesus, the Doctor for sin (Mark 2:10,17). Mark cannot be referring to a careless remark against the Holy Spirit while drinking in the pub or in a fit of anger.

(b) The reason for this -aionios amartyma- sin with eternal consequences (3:29) is that -oi grammateis- the theologians from Jerusalem had declared Jesus was possessed by -Beezebul- the demonic lord of the flies, and he was therefore casting out demons by the head of all demons (3:22). In other words, Jesus' power of healing was of evil Satanic origin. They were saying - pneuma akatharton echei- he is possessed by a foul spirit (3:30)  What would be the logic of a model in which theologians were unforgiven and eternally damned for teaching that Jesus healed by satanic powers?

We might compare -auty de estin y krisis- this is the crisis or dividing line (John 3:19). Light lovers welcome the light, but darkness lovers hate it (John 3:19-20). As C.S.Lewis pictured in The Great Divorce, nobody who would enjoy the light and love of heaven will be condemned to hell. And nobody would enjoy heaven if they preferred the darkness outside.

Similarly Mark would be explaining that no theologian could possibly fit into heaven if he believed that the very light of God is evil. The work of the Holy Spirit enables us to see clearly, to lead us into truth, to fill us with the love of God. To declare His work evil makes it impossible to see God or to love God, and inevitably means that we love the darkness.

We may need to expand our model by taking in Paul's call -anoixai ophthalmous auton, tou epistrepsai apo skotous eis phos- to open their eyes to turn them from darkness to light (Acts 26:18). The suggests the possibility of false teachers changing direction. Which still leaves calling the light of God darkness a sin with eternal consequences.

Mark 8:34-37

What model could Mark have in mind when he recorded Jesus' words : -aparnysastho eauton kai arato to stauron autou- let him deny himself and take up his cross (8:34)? The expression is obviously metaphorical. Mark is not referring to carrying a literal cross as Simon of Cyrene did (15:21). It is possible that this was a common way of referring to engaging in some enterprise or course of action, and once this was done one was nailed to it without any way of going back. Here are some possible models :

(a) Nobody can be a Christian without accepting the metaphorical crucifixion that is involved (8:34).

(b) There is a distinction between ordinary people who are healed and forgiven by the Messiah and his close followers. -ei tis thelei opiso mou elthein- if anyone want to be my close follower, let him deny himself and take up the metaphorical cross that is involved (8:34).

(c) There are two ways of living one's life. -os gar ean thely tyn pschuchy autou sosai, apolesy autyn- those who are overprotective and refuse the challenges and risks of life, destroy themselves (8:35). -os d' an apolesei tyn psuchyn autou eneken emou kai tou euanggeliou, sosei autyn- but whoever risks metaphorical crucifixion for me and the good news, will live life to the full (8:35). This interpretation is confirmed by the question in the next verse: -ti gar ophelei anthropon kerdysai ton kosmon olon and zymiothynai tyn psuchyn autou?- what is the benefit of gaining all that the world has to offer if one loses what life is about?

(e) We might consider an extension of this model based on the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). We can invest our Christian loving in any way we choose, knowing the costly risks of being hurt and crucified in the process. But by a refusal of any kind of risk the lazy, unprofitable servant is thrown into the outer darkness (Matthew 25:30).

Mark 8:38-9:1

What does Mark have in mind as he refers to the Son of Man -otan elthy en ty doxy tou patros autou meta ton anggelon ton agion- when he comes in the glory of his father with the holy angels (8:38). What is this expected coming?

(a) Schweitzer's view was that Jesus had expected a vindication of his messianic claims, but when his crucifixion became inevitable he announced he would return in glory. That is a historical judgment, which may or may not be correct. Our interest is in what Mark had in mind, and he obviously did not think his Lord had turned out to be mistaken. In any case by the end of the Gospel Mark records the fact of the resurrection (Mark 16:1-8).

(b) In the model used by preachers of the second coming, the Lord's coming is still in the future. It will be preceded by the signs recorded in Mark 13.

(c) Mark 13 refers to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (13:1-2), which would be preceded by false prophets, wars, earthquakes, famines, persecution, preaching of the good news to the nations, the flight of Christian disciples from the city, and claims that the Messiah had come (13:5-23). Mark then uses the language Isaiah had used in the fall of Babylon six hundred years before: the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light, the stars falling, and the powers of heaven being shaken (13:24- 25).     These are all vivid metaphors for the toppling of a great city.

Then people will see -ton uion tou anthropou erchomenon en nephelais meta dunameos pollys kai doxys kai tote apostelei tous anggelous kai episunaxei tous eklektous ek ton tessaron anemon- the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory and he will then send the messengers to gather the chosen ones from the four winds (13:24-27).
That is therefore an exact fulfilment of the words that puzzled us. And that is obviously what Mark must have had in mind (8:38).

Mark 9:42-48

-apelthein eis tyn geennan, eis to pur to asbeston- to go away into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.

(a) Some kinds of behavior (of hands and feet, 18:8) deserve eternal damnation. In Islam for example Allah will decide who is fit to make it to heaven, and all others burn in hell for ever.

(b) In some models of Christian theology Christ by dying on the cross has paid the debt we owe because of original sin, and those who accept that for themselves are saved for heaven. But all others burn in hell for ever.

(c) The Greek word -gehenna- is a transliteration of the Hebrew - ge hinnom- which is the valley of Hinnom below the high wall of Jerusalem. It was the place where all garbage of the city was thrown. On a hot day it would be burning continually (from the cinders thrown into it). When it rained the garbage was crawling with maggots. Which is why Mark describes the horror of being thrown -eis tyn geennan, opou o skolyx ou teleuta kai to pur ou sbennutai- into the garbage dump where there are always maggots and the fire never goes out (9:48). The expression would therefore be metaphorical of ending up in disaster, being trashed, making shipwreck of one's life. That seems an appropriate end for those who abuse little children (9:42).

Mark 10:45

The Son of Man did not come to be waited on but to serve and give his life -lutron anti pollon- a ransom on behalf of many (10:45). The ransoming was a result of Jesus' death on the cross. But we note three very different models of what this might mean.

(a) On the cross Jesus made a payment of the ransom needed to purchase our freedom from bondage to Satan. There is no other hint in the Gospel that this is what Mark had in mind.

(b) On the cross Jesus made a payment in our place to satisfy the wrath of God which we deserved because of original sin. This model requires us to picture a Roman law court payment resulting in our -justificatio- justification. In our discussion of the verb -dikaio- make right, and the noun -dikaiosune- the state of having been made right by God, it is clear that the Greek words might allow, but do not require that meaning (See Galatians 2:16-17). And again there is no trace anywhere in the Gospel of the cross being given a Roman law court substitutionary meaning.

(c) Instead of focussing on the amount of the payment, Mark intended to convey the idea of the new freedom that resulted from Jesus' death and resurrection. In the previous sentence Mark gave us Jesus'words -o uios tou anthropou ouk ylthen diakonythynai alla diakonysai- the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve (10:45). When servants serve the purpose is to free the one they work for. We might add that genuine love cares for the freedom of the one who is loved. That is why anyone ransoms another at great cost.

In John's Gospel we are told that "everyone who commit sin is a slave to sin, -ean oun a uios umas eleutherosy, ontos eleutheroi esesthe- if therefore the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free (John 8:34-36).  But why and how would the death of the Messiah on the cross result in our freedom?  That is not explained in any of the Gospels. Galatians is the epistle of freedom, and Paul concludes -ty eleutheria ymas Christos yleutherosen stykete oun kai my palin zugo douleias enexesthe- for freedom Messiah freed us, stand fast therefore and don't subject yourselves again to bondage (Galatians 5:1). But we still don't have a fuller explanation of how the model works.

Mark 13

For a discussion of the timing of these events see our previous discussion of Mark 8:38-9:1, and a fuller discussion under Matthew 24.

Mark 14:12-25

-ty proty ymera ton azumon, ote to pascha ethuon- on the first day of Passover season (14:12). Reasons why this could not have been a Passover family gathering are given under Matthew 26:17-30. Mark tell us, as do the other Gospels, that Jesus died on the Day of Preparation (Mark 15:42). This would mean that Mark believed that Jesus died at the same time as the Passover Lambs were being sacrificed for each family in Jerusalem. We can imagine that the disciples in their own family gatherings would have begun to make the connection with the Lamb of God (see John 1:29,36, 1 Corinthians 5:7, Revelation 5:6,11,13, 7:9,10,14,17,8:1).

The only hint of what Mark might have in mind as to the meaning of the Last Supper is -touto estin to aima mou tys diathykys to ekchunnomenon uper pollon- this is my blood of the covenant which is shed on behalf of many (Mark 14:24). Here are some covenant models he may have had in mind:

(a) There was a previous "blood of the covenant" that sealed a covenant made at Sinai (Exodus 24:8). Here Jesus was referring to a new covenant as in Luke 22:20, and in Paul's words "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (1 Corinthians 11:25). In place of the system of animal sacrifice system (set out in Leviticus) Jesus was instituting a new form of worship.

(b) Paul also explained "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26).  This is a common view among Protestants. The only function of the communion service is to give us a vivid reminder of the crucifixion.  Matthew adds that the blood of the covenant, is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28)

(c) In addition to viewing the communion as a remembrance (Luke 22:19), and a new covenant in blood (Luke 2:20), Luke gives a Kingdom interpretation "so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom" (Luke 22:28-30). In this model the communion service would be symbolic of servants of the Messiah gathering as a family at his table.

(d) Mark, and perhaps Matthew and Luke, had a composite model that included the above. We will explore such a model under Luke 22:28-30.

Luke .....