Mark 1:1 Commentary: Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God

Mark Commentary

Text & Translation

Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ [υἱοῦ θεοῦ]1

[The] beginning of the Gospel of Jesus [The] Christ, Son of God — (Mk 1:1, AT)

The Prologue

After overviewing the Gospel of Mark (with some awesome animated videos), it seems wise (as is the case with most books!) to start studying Mark from the beginning.

Scholars debate the length of the Gospel of Mark’s prologue. Some think it to be Mk 1:1-8,2 others opt for Mk 1:1-15,3 and others say Mk 1:1-13.4

Regardless where one draws the line, it appears that Mk 1:1-8 is largely about John the Baptist, while Mk 1:9-15 is largely about Jesus.5

The entire prologue signals a sort of changing of the guard — a transition from the old era to the dawning of a new age.6

The Beginning

Beginning may echo Genesis:7 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1, NIV).

Later in Mark, the same Greek word (Ἀρχὴ | archē) is used to quote Genesis: “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ (Mk 10:6, NIV).8

Other parallels include the beginning of the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn 1:1, NIV) and Hosea (Hos 1:2 in the LXX starts with archē).10

Like with other biblical books, this first verse actually has no definite article (which, in English is the) (cf. (in Hebrew) Pr 1:1; Ec 1:1; So 1:1;11 cf. (in Greek) Mt 1:1; Rev 1:1, etc.12

Beginning can refer to the beginning of the entire Gospel of Mark13 or simply the beginning of the narrative starting with John the Baptist.14

Interestingly, in Acts, the beginning of the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus Christ is related to the baptism and preaching of John the Baptist:

36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. (Ac 10:36-38, NIV).15

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Ac 1:21-22, NIV).16

No matter how one understands beginning, it describes the start of a historical phenomenon.17

The Gospel

The Good News

Gospel (εὐαγγέλιον | euangelion) means “good news.”18 It comes from the Old English word godspel, which meant “glad tidings”.19

In the first century, heralds would bring “good news”,20 such as reports of victory in battle (cf. 1 Sam 31:9),21 a forthcoming “royal visit”,22 the enthronement of a king,23 etc.

“Good news” would often describe an announcement of a historic, world-changing event — like the birth of the Roman Emperor Augustus.24

Augustus was born in 63 BC25 and reigned from 43 BC until his death in AD 14.26 A Priene inscription written around 9 BC concerning the birth of Augustus read:

“Because providence has ordered our life in a divine way … and since the Emperor through his epiphany has exceeded the hopes of former good news [ευαγγελια], surpassing not only the benefactors who came before him, but also leaving no hope that anyone in the future will surpass him, and since the birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of his good news [may it therefore be decreed that]…” 27

The birth of Augustus was seen the beginning of good news — gospel — for the world. Interestingly, the emperor’s birthday would be celebrated throughout the Roman Empire in festivals called evangels.28

Gentile readers of Mark may have picked up on such secular parallels, 29 which are actually more apparent in Luke30 (cf. Bible Study on Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus in Lk 2:1-20).

The Good, Godly News

Regardless of the secular background of good news/Gospel (euangelion)this term has a rich background in the Old Testament.

Moreover, whereas in the Roman world, good news pertained to what already happened in the past, in the Old Testament, good news pertained to what would happen in the future.31

In the Old Testament, “good news” signified the “in-breaking of God’s kingly rule, the advent of his salvation, vengeance, and vindication.”32

For example:

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news [euangelion, LXX], who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Is 52:7, NIV cf. Is 41:27; 61:1).33

9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. (Is 40:9-11, NIV).34

Jews awaited the fulfillment of such prophecies of the LORD coming to save His people, 35 inaugurating a new age36 of God’s reign.

The Good News Of/About Jesus

The Gospel of Jesus can be understood subjectively. That is, the Good News proclaimed by Jesus.37

But there is actually not as much of Jesus’ teaching in Mark as compared to the other gospels (Matthew, Mark, John)38(but see Mk 1:15, 4:1-32, 13:2-37).39 The Gospel of Mark is more about who Jesus is and what Jesus did.40

That being said, the Gospel of Jesus can also be understood objectively: the Good News proclaimed about Jesus.41

However, it may likely be both: “The gospel is the good news Jesus preached; and [H]e is at the heart of the good news. The messenger is also the message.42 (cf. Mk 1:14).43

For the in-breaking kingdom of God is inaugurated in King Jesus44 — the Son of God.

Jesus

Jesus was actually a common Jewish name until the 2nd century AD.45

Among Jews in Palestine, after Simon, Joseph, Lazarus, Judas, and John, Jesus was the sixth most popular male name.46

There are even others in the New Testament who are named Jesus (Jesus Barabbas in Mt 27:16-17 and Jesus Justus in Col 4:11).47

As one might expect, after AD 200, Jews virtually stopped naming their sons Jesus so as not to be connected to Christianity. And, Christians generally did not name their sons Jesus out of respect for His Name.48

In any case, Jesus is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name, Yeshua or Joshua (יְהוֹשֻׁע).49 And, Joshua means “Yahweh is salvation”50 or “Yahweh saves”.51

As noted in our study of Psalm 82, Yah is an abbreviation for Yahweh (YHWH) the name of the LORD (in English translations, YHWH is usually translated LORD in all caps) revealed to Moses at the Burning Bush (Ex 3:13-15).

The divine name YHWH appears in many biblical names (e.g., Isaiah: “salvation of Yah“, Jeremiah, “whom Yah has appointed”, Micah: “Who is like Yah?”) and in the popular phrase, “Hallelujah“, which means “praise Yah“.

The meaning of Jesus/Joshua is alluded to in Matthew: She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Mt 1:21, NIV).52

Christ (Messiah)

Christ (Χριστός | Christos) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew term Messiah, which means “anointed one”.53

In the Old Testament, priests, prophets, and kings would be anointed – set apart for a divinely-commissioned task.54 As we will see, Jesus’ formal anointing took place after His baptism (Mk 1:9-11).55

Jews had been awaiting the Messiah for centuries56 and had various ideas about what the Messiah would do. Marks’ Gospel will clarify Jesus’ messianic role57 – especially after the turning point of Mark: Peter’s Confession (Mk 8:29).58

Many expected the messiah to be a king who would “restore the kingdom of David and consummate the age.” 59(cf. 2 Sam 7:11-16; Psalm 2, 89, 110; Is 9:1-7, 11:1-16; Jer 23:1-6; Eze 34:23-24, 37:24-25).60

Later in Mark, Jesus is, in fact, called king (Mk 15:2, 9, 12,18, 26, 32).61 Also, in Mark, Christ (Messiah) is usually a title (Mk 1:1, 8:29, 12:35, 13:21, 14:61, 15:32 cf. Mk 9:41)62 — not a last name!

Son of God

Some early manuscripts do not have “Son of God” in the text.63 However, this may be due to a copyist error because certain words have similar abbreviations.64

In Greek, the first sentence reads: ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΥ ΙΥ ΧΥ ΥΥ ΘΥ and the last four words are abbreviated as sacred names (novum sacrum)65.

Ἰησοῦ (Jesus) –> ΙΥ; Χριστοῦ (Christ) –> ΧΥ; υἱοῦ (Son) –> ΥΥ; θεοῦ (Theos = God) –> ΘΥ, etc.66

Since these abbreviations look similar, a scribe’s eyes may have skipped over the last four letters, which comprise the two abbreviations for “Son of God”. Moreover, many other important manuscripts actually do have “Son of God” in the text.67

Nevertheless, the Son of God theme runs all throughout Mark (Mk 1:11; 3:11; 5:7; 9:7; 14:61–62; 15:39).68

At His baptism and transfiguration, God the Father pronounces, “You are/This is my Son” (Mk 1:11, 9:7).

And although Jesus admits as much to the high priest (Mk 14:61-2 cf. Dan 7:13-14), and though even demons confess that Jesus is the Son of God (Mk 3:11, 5:7), ironically no mere mortal will apparently understand Christ’s divine Sonship before one of His executioners (Mk 15:39).

In the Old Testament, son of God can refer to angels and other divine beings (e.g., Job 1:6, HCSB cf. Job 1:6, NIV), Israel as a whole (e.g., Hos 11:1) and Davidic kings (e.g., 2 Sam 7:14, Ps 2:7).69

Here, the title Son of God means that Jesus has a unique relationship with God (the Father),70 which Mark will demonstrate.71

No Marcan Mystery (For Readers!)

Some believe this first verse serves as the title for Mark.72

However, “gospel” was not used to refer the books we know as the gospels until around AD 150.73 In the first century AD when Mark was written, “gospel” was not considered a literary genre.

Nonetheless, from the first line, it is clear who and what this narrative is all about:74 the “promised Messiah and the very Son of God.”75

As it’s been said, “Mark’s gospel is the confident proclamation of the Messiah by one whose spiritual eyes had been opened.”76 And, in Mark, many will need to have their blind, spiritual eyes opened.77

If one watches a mystery show, one might struggle to try to guess whodunit. In Mark, for readers, there is no mystery!

Mark tells us from the start exactly who Jesus is (and we likely already know the ending.78 Spoiler alert: Jesus rises from the dead)!

Yet we must understand that the people in the narrative do not know what we readers know. As we read, we will come across people who react to Jesus differently.79

In other words, “the prologue briefly lets the readers in on what are otherwise secrets that will remain hidden in various degrees to all of the characters in the drama that follows.”80

So, as we walk through Mark, let’s have some compassion on these characters.

Although hindsight is “20/20”, when it comes to the identity of Jesus — the Christ — the Son of God, many people today (in 2020) are still spiritually blind.

Memorization Tutorial (Video)

Update 4.11.20 

Please see a brief memorization tutorial video below. For more tutorials and teaching, please subscribe to the CatchForChrist.net YouTube Channel.

Conclusion

As one reads Mark, one comes across many people who struggle with the identity of Jesus. Yet, from the first line, readers know exactly who Jesus is: the Christ — the prophesied Messiah from the line of King David — and the Son of God.

And, as His Name suggests, Jesus saves.

Please see the sources cited for this entire series on Mark here.

For more on Mark 1:1-8, please see the full lesson (with slideshow) here. For more commentary on Mark, see the Book Study Overview page.

Sources

  1. Barbara Aland et al., eds., The Greek New Testament, Fifth Revised Edition (Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2014), Mk 1:1.
  2. Witherington, 68
  3. Witherington, 68
  4. Garland, 42; Lane, 39; Schnabel, 35; France, 54; Strauss, etc.
  5. Witherington, 68
  6. Witherington, 68
  7. English, 25;  cf. Mk 10:6; Witherington, 69; Cole T, 103 cf. Hos 1:2; Jn 1:1
  8. Witherington, 69
  9. Edwards, 23. A literal translation of the Septuagint — the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible — is “beginning of the word of the LORD in Hosea.” LXX: “Ἀρχὴ λόγου Κυρίου ἐν Ὡσῆε.”9Henry Barclay Swete, The Old Testament in Greek: According to the Septuagint (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1909), Ho 1:2a
  10. France, 51
  11. Strauss, 59
  12. Witherington, 70; France, 50
  13. Witherington, 70; Brooks, 38; Schnabel, 36; France, 50; Stein, 39; Strauss, 59
  14. Witherington, 70; Strauss, 63)
  15. Brooks, 38; Strauss, 63
  16. Witherington, 69
  17. Keener, 129. Formerly euangelion may have referred to the reward for bringing good news (Cole T, 103; cf. 2 Sam 4:10; France, 52; Guelich, 13)
  18. Schnabel, 36, Strauss, 59)
  19. Keener, 129
  20. Edwards, 24
  21. France, 52
  22. Strauss,59
  23. English, 25; Witherington, 69; Lane, 42
  24. Edwards, 24
  25. NBD, 105
  26. Witherington, 69 cf. Bock, 404; Lane, 42; Edwards, 24; Guelich, 13; Strauss, 59
  27. Witherington, 70; Lane, 42
  28. Witherington, 69; Bock, 404; Lane, 42
  29. Witherington, 70
  30. Lane, 43
  31. Cranfield as quoted by English, 25 cf. Lane, 45; Edwards, 24; France, 52
  32. Keener, 129 cf. Lane, 43; Edwards, 24; Schnabel, 37; France, 52; Guelich, 13; Strauss, 59
  33. Keener, 129; Kernaghan, 28; Schnabel, 37; France, 52; Strauss, 60
  34. Kernaghan, 28
  35. Edwards, 24
  36. EDNT, 73; Brooks, 38; France, 53
  37. Brooks, 38
  38. Stein, 41
  39. Stein, 41
  40. English, 26; Lane, 44; France, 53; Guelich, 9; Stein, 41; Strauss, 60
  41. English, 26
  42. France, 53
  43. Edwards, 25; Schnabel, 37
  44. English, 26 cf. Cole T, 104; Schnabel, 37; France, 49
  45. Schnabel citing Bauckahm’s Eyewitnesses p. 85 in a footnote on p. 37
  46. Brooks, 38
  47. English, 26
  48. Cole T, 104; Brooks, 38; Edwards, 25; Schnabel, 37; Strauss, 60
  49. (English, 26; Schnabel, 37; cf. Jos 1:1-2; Cole T, 104; Edwards, 25
  50. Brooks, 38; Strauss, 60
  51. English, 26; Strauss, 60
  52. English, 26; Kernaghan, 28; Brooks, 38 cf. Cole T, 104; Schnabel, 37; Strauss, 60
  53. (Cole T, 104 cf. Brooks, 38
  54. Brooks, 39)
  55. English, 26
  56. English, 26
  57. Lane, 45; Guelich, 9
  58. Brooks, 38 cf. Schnabel, 37
  59. Strauss, 60
  60. Brooks, 38
  61. Strauss, 60, etc.
  62. Omanson, 56; Comfort, 91-92
  63. Omanson, 56 cf. Brooks, 39; France, 49; Strauss, 61
  64. Bock, 404; France, 49
  65. Omanson, 56 cf. Metzger, 62; Comfort, 91-92
  66. Omanson, 56; Metzger, 62; Comfort, 91-92
  67. Comfort, 91-92; cf. English, 27; Bock, 404; Cole T, 104; Brooks, 39; Schnabel, 38; France, 49; Guelich, 10; Stein, 41; Strauss, 61
  68. Brooks, 39; cf. Ps 2:7; Schnabel, 38; France, 50; Strauss, 61
  69. Stein, 41
  70. Bock, 405; France, 50
  71. Keener, 129; Garland, 41; Edwards, 25
  72. Brooks, 38; Lane, 44 cf. France, 52; Guelich, 9; Stein, 40; Strauss, 60
  73. Witherington, 69
  74. Brooks, 39 cf. France, 50
  75. Cole, 950
  76. cf. Cole, 950
  77. cf. Edwards, 26
  78. Bock, 405 cf. Brooks, 37
  79. Garland, 42
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