Feast upon the Word Blog

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Sunday School Lesson 7

Posted by Jim F. on February 14, 2007

NOTE: FOR THE MOST RECENT, UPDATED VERSION OF THESE NOTES, GO TO: http://feastupontheword.org/Site:SS_lessons#New_Testament_lessons

 

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

For 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.

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. 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. There he is Paul’s assistant in missionary work (Acts 12:25; 13:5). He 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; Colossian 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, but the evidence for that speculation is not very strong. The fact that he 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 Mark at the end of the first mission, though Barnabas used Mark (Acts 15:37-39). However, Mark and Paul seem to have been reconciled later, for his name appears throughout the letters of Paul (for example 2 Timothy 4:11 and Philemon 24).

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 can mean “the person who explained Peter’s teaching” rather than “the person who translated them from one language to another”, and it may be he rather than Peter himself who after Peter’s death wrote down 2 Peter, which appears to be a collection of Peter’s sayings comparable to The Words of Ezra Taft Benson rather than an original speech by Peter. If this is correct, then Mark may also be a collection of Peter’s recollections recorded by Mark, perhaps after Peter’s death.

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. Though that seems to me to be 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 much 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 as to what he means by “order.”

Outline of Mark 1-5 (with thanks to Albright and Mann)

In this outline, you’ll see that the narrative focuses on Jesus’ power and powerful works, but that focus is interrupted regularly by moments when apostles are called or instructed. I’ve marked the interruptions with double asterisks. The movement is stories of power – organization of the church – stories of power – organization, etc.

Mark 1:1-13 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

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 “archē” can mean either “beginning” (as it does in John 1:1)—and there are two ways to understand what is beginning here—or “basic principles,” as it does in the Greek version of Psalm 110:10 (the Septuagint). 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?

Mark 1:15: Paraphrasing we could say that Jesus’ message 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.” Robert Guelich (Word Biblical Commentary 34a:44-45) argues that “metanoein” is the equivalent of “sūb” in the Old Testament, usually translated as “return.” To repent is to return to God; 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 17-20, Jesus chooses his disciples. What significance does this reversal have?

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?

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 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 that interpretation teach us anything about our day?

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 does not often describe the works that Jesus does as miracles. (See, for example, Mark 6:2, 5, and 14.) When he 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”). 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 the chapters we 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?

17 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson 7”

  1. Jim F. said

    Robert C., thanks for fixing my outline. Your format is much better than mine was.

  2. nhilton said

    Jim, “The Greek word translated “repent” is “metanoein.” ” Intrigues me. I appreciate so much that you included this in your post. This makes Christ’s mission so much for rich than the mission of any other “prophet.” I would like to know how to access such etymological information. I’ve visited Crosswalk but don’t get as far there as I’d like to. Is it necessary to actually know Greek or rely on Greek scholars for this type of information?

    For example, the word “fear” peeks my interest in the passages for this lesson. I’d like to be able to further study the Greek “fear” throughout but don’t really know how to get at the root source. In Mark 4:35-41 I wonder about the relationship between fear and faith. Apparently the fear factor influenced his apostle’s faith in Jesus (v. 41). The stories of the two women healed at the end of Mark 4 also use the word “fear” and again Christ’s miraculous healing of the dead son in Luke 7 evokes “fear” in those who are present.

    Re: Mark 3:35, you’ve noted that “(Jesus)refuses and denies that they are his family” meaning his mother and brothers, but I don’t read it that way. Rather, I read it as a statement inviting all to be his family by way of obedience to God’s will. I see it similar to his response when his mother finds him teaching at the temple as a boy. Thinking that Jesus would deny his family is simply too harsh a picture for me to accept, even if they were embarrassed by him or thwarting his efforts.

    This week’s lesson material speaks a lot to me about faith. Faith and fear, as mentioned above, and faith and works re: Mark 2:5 and both inter-related, i.e. story of calming the sea.

    Re: Mark 5:1-20, why do the devils come to worship Jesus? Why don’t they run and hide? And why are Jews raising pigs? Why do the people want to get rid of Jesus when they see he has cast an evil spirit out of a resident? (Here the fear factor enters the scene again, vs. 15) Wouldn’t they all be grateful and want to keep the healer around?

  3. brianj said

    nhilton, “why are Jews raising pigs?”

    Note that Jesus had crossed over into Gadara, a Gentile region.

    I used to use Crosswalk, but since have relied on Blue Letter Bible and NExT Bible. Here is a link to the latter’s explanation of “fear”

  4. Robert C. said

    I find this discussion of fear very, very interesting, esp. in light of some comments I’ve been reading (esp. Joe’s) on Abraham Gen 18 and Job 42:6 (see here and here for more on at the wiki for what I mean regarding Job).

    The question I have is regarding the use of “fear of God” in the OT, which always (?) seems to be a good thing, but then in the NT fear of God seems almost bad. I say “almost” b/c I think it is better to view faith as a continuation of the seed of fear. That is, fear (of God) is good, but faith is better. This parallels the law then: the law is good, but the spirit/love is better. This is something I’d like to look into more carefully (I read a bit in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament on fear, and what it said seems consistent with the view I’m proposing…).

    Oh, I almost forgot: the way this ties in with Job 42:6 and Gen 18 is that in both cases, it seems Job and Abraham are moving beyond simply an awe-struck relationship with God and are engaging God on a very different level, a level in which they do not merely submit to God fearfully and unquestioningly.

  5. nhilton said

    Brianj, #3, The scripture calls the place “Gadarenes.” I see Gadara on the map #14 LDS KJV & see they are one in the same because they were each the capitol of Peraea, but how do we know Gadara was a Gentile region? I thought that perhaps these were non-observant Jews who were feeling guilty about raising pigs & therefore wouldn’t want the Savior there to witness their sin or condemn them for it. I’m still wondering why they’d want him to go away, especially if they were Gentiles.

  6. nhilton said

    #5 Cont. I see a note in the Bible Dict. that these people were Greek & Syrian. Is that your source?

  7. Robert C. said

    Follow-up to my #4: Actually, the words translated “fear” in the KJV of Mark 4:40 and 41 are different from each other in Greek–the NRSV uses “afraid” in v. 40 and “awe” in v. 41 to bring out this difference. So the issue I was raising probably isn’t too central here (if it’s applicable at all). But I do think it is an important issue for 1 John 4:18:

    There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. (NRSV)

    In this passage it seems clear (or at least highly suggestive) that there is a difference between fearing God and loving God. I think in Mark 4:40-41 the issues is more about fearing-for-oneself vs. fearing/reverencing God.

  8. brianj said

    nhilton: I actually hadn’t looked at the LDS Bible Dictionary. I looked at the map in the LDS scriptures and remembered that area as being Gentile from some other reading (mostly some history about Herod the Great and his sons). I don’t think Gadara was in Perea, by the way, but was in Decapolis (here and here). As such, it would not be under rule by Herod Antipas, who governed Galilee and Perea.

    I am learning that you like to have sources; I like that.

  9. brianj said

    Oh, and my reason for thinking they were Gentiles and not Jews: simply because the text doesn’t mention it. I fugure, if they were non-practicing Jews then the author would have said so (touching pigs was a BIG deal, so it seems like raising thousands of them would have been worth mentioning). A simple explanation is that the pigs belonged to Gentiles living in a Gentile region.

    If they were Jews, then your reading provides some significance to their action, but I think there is some insight to be gained even if they were Gentiles: This is a battle between Jesus and the Devil (or devils), and the people witness it. The devils destroy everything they touch—the man, his chains, and then the pigs. Jesus, the clear victor, heals or mends whatever he touches—in this case, the Gadarenes know only about the man, but we the readers know he has mended many others. Nevertheless, the Gadarenes choose against Jesus—and we the readers are left to ask, “Why on earth would they do that?” Or more importantly, “Are there ways in which I act like the Gadarenes?” They also don’t seem too concerned for this man’s life, which has been restored to him, so that brings up questions of charity.

    I also think that the author is trying to show disrespect for the devils: to possess the bodies of sheep or cattle would be one thing, but to beg to enter into pigs? Can you get any more pathetic? So it’s not about who was raising the pigs, but about what kind of animal the devils wanted to possess.

    (Also, there is the possibility that such a large herd belonged to some important king/ruler, and the Gadarenes were afraid of being punished for losing the herd, but since it isn’t specified in the text, I think this idea isn’t fruitful.)

  10. “fugure”: to write fugues.

  11. nhilton said

    Brianj #8: This seems to be a confusion in various sources I’ve referenced. This area is also called “the region of Gadara,” per NET Bible, and you can see Gadara is in Perea on map #14 LDS KJV. However, everything else I’ve referenced supports what you wrote & the area is known to be across from Galilee on the opposite side of the Sea of Galilee, southeastern side. Thanks.

    This post re: the demonic spirits/pigs is interesting: wiki post

  12. brianj said

    nhilton: this is strange: In my new LDS scriptures, map 11 (linked above) is the same as map 14 in my old LDS scriptures. Anyway, thanks for the link to the wikipedia article. You might be interested in this related article.

  13. nhilton said

    Brian, so those weren’t stupid demonic spirits?! They had a plan! Maybe it was a “move up” one man to a herd of swimming swine, I mean. Just a “devils’ day out?”

  14. brianj said

    I was wondering how we can screen Olympic pigs against such doping measures. (thanks for the laugh, nhilton)

  15. nhilton said

    Jim, I was just reading re: glancing back in your Scripture Study book the other day and while preparing my GD lesson for tomorrow noticed a great glance-back & glance-forward passage (I’m sure you’re acquainted with it, but it was a great ah-ha! moment for me.) in Mark 1:2 “my messenger” being a literal translation of the book Malachi & a repeat of 3:1’s content (the glancing back aspect) and declared more specifically in D&C 36:8 to be Jesus Christ who will suddenly come to the temple (glancing forward here).

    As I’ve been studying the authorship of the gospels I wonder why JS retitled Mark as a testimony of such if it wasn’t indeed written by Mark (I think it was) and more specifically since Mark wasn’t an apostle, nor Luke. I think it’s very interesting that these two non-apostles had a specific duty to bear witness of Jesus to the same degree as the apostles. This seems to leave me w/o excuse for bearing a strong witness of the Savior myself, not relying upon those who are called & set apart to do such, i.e. missionaries.

  16. Matthew said

    I have completed moving material from this post to the wiki. Please take a look and make sure I didn’t mess up anything. I did make some edits when I posted to make it fit the wiki format better. Here are the links:
    http://feastupontheword.org/Mark
    http://feastupontheword.org/Site:SS_lessons/NT_lesson_7

    Also, there are several things I wasn’t sure how/where to include. Here is a (non-complete) list of topics on this post I did not include:
    * the contests of Jesus’s power
    * ”dynamis” vs ”semeion”
    * geography stuff related to Gadara.
    * stuff on fear.
    If others have a good idea of where these topics can be worked unto the wiki, please go ahead and do that.

  17. Robert C. said

    Great work Matthew. I like how you put a note at the bottom when you’ve done a lesson (for future reference). We still need the posts for SS Lesson #6 done, right (has Joe gone AWOL??)? I’ll work on that. And I’ll work on my #7 “Secrecy in the Gospel of Mark” since I started that post.

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