Notes on Mark 1:1-5

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

Notes on Mark 1:1-5

Verse 1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;

Mark begins his Gospel by stating Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Mark’s Gospel has some distinctives: he doesn’t have much that is unique to his Gospel alone; he sometimes explains expressions, customs, and the like (some think he had a non-Jewish audience in mind); he doesn’t’ refer to the Old Testament as often as Matthew, Luke, and John do; but he sometimes adds additional details (like “green” grass).

Mark, often, also uses a word translated “straightway”, “immediately”, “anon”, and perhaps others, which gives a rapid transition from one episode or encounter featuring Jesus to another. This could be compared to a “made-for-TV” documentary where several months or years’ worth of experiences are condensed into a neatly packaged, medium to fast paced, program.

2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

Mark now quotes Malachi 3:1, but not word for word (the KJV translation from the OT is as follows: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts”.) Mark could be using the Seputagint (LXX, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament).

3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

Now Mark references Isaiah 40:3, rendered as follows in the KJV: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Again, Mark could be using the LXX or he could be paraphrasing. The important thing is that he is proving that John the Baptist was the forerunner of messenger before Jesus began His own ministry. How much Mark’s audience knew about John or Jesus is not known for certain; even so, Mark links the ministry of John with that of Jesus. He expands on this in the following verses.

4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.

Note the past tense in this verse, meaning John had baptized but wasn’t doing so at the time Mark wrote this Gospel. Mark reminds the readers that besides baptizing (placing people in water and, clearly, raising them out of the water) John was preaching repentance for the remission of sins. The last phrase, “for the remission of sins”, has been debated for many years and the exact meaning is beyond these notes.

5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.

John’s baptizing took place in Judea but there is no specific location mentioned in the Gospels. The closest “city” or community was “Bethabara beyond Jordan (John 1:28)” but the location is not certain. Mark adds that “all the land of Judaea and they of Jerusalem” were baptized. Certainly many people did come to be baptized, and these people were from several different groups (compare this account with those in Luke 3 and Matthew 3).

Note also that these who came to be baptized were “confessing their sins” before they were baptized. Mark does not say to whom they confessed their sins but unless they confessed their sins to God the baptism would have been meaningless. If they were confessing to John, he couldn’t have forgiven them in any way (true, John was the son of a priest but there was no Temple or altar at the baptism site).

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

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