The journey begins, 1:1-5:43

1. Introduction, 1:1-13

i] The forerunner, John the Baptist


Mark's gospel opens with a prologue that consists of the first 13 verses. It introduces us to John the Baptist and to Jesus, both of whom appear in the wilderness in fulfilment of prophecy, both summoned there by God. In the first eight verses we meet "the voice of one crying out in the wilderness", the one whose task it was to prepare for the coming of the messiah.


Mark announces the arrival in human history of the Messiah, the Son of God, and this in the fulfilment of prophecy. This fact is confirmed by the ministry of John the Baptist, a great man in his own right, but not comparable with "the one more powerful", the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit.


i] Context: Mark's gospel proclaims that the time is fulfilled; it reveals the preliminary events that inaugurate the kingdom of God. So, Mark's account begins at Jesus' baptism (imaging the Exodus) and concludes with the cross and empty tomb, (imaging Davids ultimate conquest of the promised land - victory, the enemy subdued ..... Solomon's completion of the Temple). As the women leave the empty tomb, amazed and trembling with fear, the only conclusion to draw from the events that Mark has revealed is that the kingdom of God is at hand, it is now. So, Mark's gospel aligns with the sequence of events established in the life of the historic people of Israel.

Mark covers the preliminary events, "the time is fulfilled", which establish the truth that "the kingdom of God is at hand". Faced with the failure of the Historic Kingdom, the prophets foretold that there would be a new journey of a faithful child of God culminating in a glorious day of the Lord which would entail a complete victory over the powers of darkness, ushering in an everlasting kingdom.

Mark depicts Jesus as the faithful son of God, the Israel of God; he depicts the journey of the faithful son of God, of the new Israel:

Through the waters of release;

Standing the test and trial of the wilderness;

Struggling against the powers of darkness;

Finally winning the victory;

Entering into his rest, into blessing.

Jesus, as the representative Israel, the faithful son of God, is the people, the prophet like unto Moses", the priest like Aaron, the pure sacrifice, the Lamb of God, the king like David and Solomon, the long foretold Davidic Messiah, and so consequently, the kingdom of God is at hand.

The journey begins, 1:1-5:43.

The opening verses of Mark's gospel, v1-13, serve as an introduction / prologue to the book. They serve to confront the reader with a divine intrusion into everyday life, a mystery which will slowly reveal itself in the following narrative. Yet, even at the end of the book, like the women at the empty tomb, the mystery will remain, couched in amazement and fear.

Jesus, as a corporate figure, the only true remnant of Israel, reenacts the seminal events of Israel's salvation history, but does so free from rebellion against God. The children of God in the 15th Century BC., set out from Egypt under the mighty hand of God. They soon discovered their special place in God's purpose as they struggled on their journey to meet God at Mount Sinai. The Lord made their way straight, overcoming their enemies, even making nature submit to his plan. Similarly Jesus, the Son of God, sets forth from the river Jordan into the wilderness, his way also made straight. This first section in Mark's gospel answers the question "Who is this man Jesus?"

1. Introduction, 1:1-13

i] The forerunner John the Baptist, 1:1-8

Exodus in the wilderness - Jesus' baptism and temptation, 1:9-13

2. Jesus the Son of God, Messiah, 1:14-45

The call to undertake the journey to the promised land, 1:14-20

A day in the journey - New teaching, 1:21-28

A day in the journey - Jesus brings release, 1:29-39

Popularity - A leper cleansed, 1:40-45

3. Conflict in the journey, 2:1-3:6

Authority to forgive sins, 2:1-12

Call and response, 2:13-22

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, 2:23-3:6

4. True Israel defined, 3:7-35

The new Israel of God, 3:7-19

Satan defeated, 3:20-35

5. The Word - the good news of the kingdom, 4:1-34

The parable of the sower, 4:1-25

The parable of the growing seed and mustard seed, 4:26-34

6. The powers defeated, 4:35-5:43

Nature - calming the sea, 4:35-41

Demons - Gerasene demoniac, 5:1-20

Sickness - Jairus' daughter and an ill woman, 5:21-43


ii] Structure: The forerunner, John the Baptist:

The preface, v1

The messiah promised, v2-3;

The one who prepares the way, v4-6

The Baptist's function, v4-8.


iii] Interpretation:

In comparison to the other gospel writers, Mark's introduction goes straight to the point. As Hunter puts it, Mark "puts down a dozen blunt, important words by way of superscription and forthwith plunges into his narrative." "The body of the narrative takes place in the everyday world, in the villages of Galilee and Jerusalem, with ordinary people: crowds and disciples, priests, scribes and Pharisees. The prologue, however, begins in a transcendent, offstage setting, then narrates what transpires in the 'wilderness' .... with an extraordinary cast: God, Isaiah, 'the Lord', John the Baptiser, Holy Spirit, Satan, wild animals, and angels ... and .. the Lord Jesus himself", Boring.


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of the passage can be found in the pew-level sermon notes The Forerunner.

Text - 1:1

The Title and Prologue, v1-15: i] The preface, v1. The "gospel" (the word means "important news") consists of a message from God concerning human salvation. It is "about Jesus Christ," ie. it is a divine communication concerning Jesus. Jesus is the long foretold messiah who, through his life, death and resurrection, provides a way for lost humanity to be gathered into the presence of God for eternity. So, Mark sets about to fill out the gospel account of Jesus' life and teachings, describing the beginning of his book as "the beginning of the gospel."

arxh (h) "the beginning" - first, beginning. Nominative absolute. Possibly as to the content of the book (rather than the first verse or the first section), but possibly of time. So, best understood as "this is the starting-point (of the gospel)", TH.

tou euaggeliou (on) gen. "of the gospel" - of the important message. The genitive is adjectival, partitive, or reference / respect. The word is used of the type of communication carried by a messenger relaying important news, eg., news of a victory, or loss in battle. Probably referring to Mark's gospel itself, but possibly the preached message. Commonly understood as "this is the good news about Jesus Christ", CEV. The problem with a word like "good" is that the gospel is only good news for those who are being saved. There is another side to "the news" which is not good for those who stand outside the grace of God in Christ.

Ihsou Cpistou gen. "about Jesus Christ" - of jesus christ. The genitive is usually treated as adjectival, verbal, either subjective, Jesus preached the gospel, or objective, Jesus was preached as the gospel, ie. the gospel preached about Jesus in Mark's account, as NIV. As for the word "Christ", it is a title which means "anointed one", or possibly "appointed one", ie., the messiah.

qeou (oV) gen. "[the Son] of God" - [son] of god. Genitive in apposition to Jesus Christ. The phrase is not found in a number of manuscripts, but is most likely original. Mark may be duplicating the idea of messiah, anointed one, for this was the common meaning of the phrase. The demons speak of Jesus as "Son of God", as do Gentiles. The phrase probably does not go so far as to imply a filial relationship with God the Father, but it may imply divinity, or at least godlikeness.


ii] The coming messiah as promised in the Old Testament, v2-3. In Exodus 23:20, v2b, God promised to send his messenger before the people of Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness to the promised land. Years later, the prophets spoke of the coming day when there would be another journey through the wilderness and another (Moses, Elijah?) who would lead the way, Isa.40:3, v3. John is this "messenger", and so he calls the "Lord", "the Son of God" (corporate Israel), out into the wilderness.

The voices are adjusted in the quotation to link the players - Jesus, the Baptist, God, ie., the quotes are interpretive and are not just straight quotations. In these composite quotes, the author of the larger quote is the one identified, which in this case is Isaiah, v3. The first quote assimilates two quotes: a) Exodus 23:20, "Behold, I (God) send my messenger (the Baptist) before your (Jesus') face (to keep you by the way)"; b) Malachi 3:1, "(behold I send my messenger [Elijah, 4:5 = the Baptist]) who will prepare your (Jesus'. orig. "my" = the Lord's) way."

kaqwV "as" - as, just as. Technically comparative, expressing the sense "in accordance with", but at the same time, part of an idiomatic citation formula.

gegraptai perf. pas. "it is written" - it is written. Formula introduction to a scripture reference. The perfect tense is used to express a static action in past time with ongoing consequences.

en + dat. "in" - in [isaiah]. Local, expressing space; "found in."

tw/ profhth/ (hV ou) dat. "the prophet" - Dative, standing in apposition to "Isaiah".

idou "-" - behold, look, pay attention. Emphatic interjection; "Behold", AV.

apostellw pres. "I will send" - Probably a futuristic present, "I will send", so NIV, although here possibly a present fact, "I am sending", Barclay.

ton aggelon (oV) "messenger" - the angel, messenger [of me]. Accusative direct object of the verb "to send." Angel = messenger. Here of the forerunner of the messiah, an Elijah type, cf., Mal.4:5ff.

pro + gen. "[ahead of] you" - before [face of you]. Temporal used of the preposition. Possibly "in front of you / in your presence", TH, but more likely Semitic temporal terminology = "ahead of you" = "before you arrive in person", Decker.

o}V + fut. "who" - Nominative subject of "will prepare." This relative pronoun, introducing a relative modifier, in this context expresses purpose; "I will send ....... in order to prepare ..."

thn oJdon (oV) "way" - [will prepare] the way [of you]. Accusative direct object of the verb "will prepare." The imagery reflects the road-building activities of the great powers, eg. the Assyrians. The making of roads made transport possible, so easing the way for travel.


The second quote comes from Isaiah 40:3 and follows the LXX except that autou, "of / for him", replaces tou qeou hJmwn, "of / for our God". Presumably Mark wants us to read "Jesus" for the divine title "Lord", although he probably doesn't want us to read "Jesus" for "God" (contra Edwards). The LXX fits Mark's intention better than the MT text, in establishing that "the desert" is the place where "a voice" sounds (the ministry of the Baptist), rather than the place of God's preparation (on which interpretation religious communities were founded in the desert).

bowntoV (boaw) part. gen. "of one calling" - [a voice] of the one crying out, shouting, calling out. Although anarthrous (without an article), the participle serves as a substantive, "the one shouting", while the genitive is adjectival, possessive; "the voice of one (that belongs to the one) who cries in the desert", Moffatt.

en + dat. "in" - in [the wilderness, a desolate and abandoned place]. Local; expressing space.

kuriou (oV) gen. "for the Lord" - [prepare, make ready the way] of the lord. The genitive "Lord" is adjectival, probably attributive, limiting "way", "the way which the Lord will travel." Often genitive constructions become idiomatic and this is a likely example. Is Mark referencing Jesus or God? See above. "Get the road ready for the Lord", CEV.

euqeiaV (euquV) adj. "straight" - [make] straight, proper, right. Accusative complement of the direct object "way, paths", standing in a double accusative construction; "make his paths straight", ESV. When used with oJdoV the "immediate way" becomes the "straight way", ie., the pathway that is quickest to travel. The straight nature of the pathway is emphasised in the text illustrating the speedy coming of the messiah.

taV tribouV (oV) "paths" - the way, paths, road, highway, freeway... Accusative object of the imperative verb "make, do".

autou gen. pro. "for him" - of him. The genitive is adjectival, possibly possessive, "make his paths straight", AV, or verbal, objective, as NIV; "make straight paths for him to travel."


iii] Mark now identifies the one who prepares the way of the Lord, v4-6. The people of Israel were waiting for the appearance of the prophet like unto Moses. He would usher in the "last days"; the turning point in history when salvation would extend to all humanity - the day of the coming of the kingdom of God. John appears, and calls the people out into the wilderness. He calls on them to abandon their bondage in Egypt (repent of their sins) and walk through the waters of the Red sea (baptism - outwardly expressing their repentance, their leaving Egypt) and come into the wilderness to meet with their God and receive the covenant promise of their renewed relationship with God of Israel and all its attendant blessings (the forgiveness of sins ......).

Mark's description of the Baptist is quite precise in comparison to Matthew or Luke. This precision is particularly evident when it comes to the content of the Baptist's preaching. Mark records none of his ethical teaching, but focuses on his call for repentance, given the greater-one who follows.

baptizwn (baptizw) pres. act. part. "baptising" - [john became, happened, came to pass] immersing. Possible variant articular participle serving as a substantive standing in apposition to "John", "John the one baptising" = "John the baptist", obviously trying to emulate IwannhV oJ baptisthV. Taking the participle as anarthrous, it may well be adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of John's coming, he comes "baptising" and "preaching". John comes as the divine "messenger" proclaiming a message which calls for repentance. Although a matter of debate, water baptism probably serves as a visible expression of repentance.

en + dat. "in" - in [the wilderness]. Local, expressing space. Referencing Isaiah 40:3. "Desert" simply means an uninhabited part of the country.

khrusswn (khrussw) pres. part. "preaching" - [and] preaching, proclaiming, communicating. The participle, as with "baptising", is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of John's becoming / appearing on the scene.

metanoiaV (a) gen. "of repentance" - [a baptism] of a turning about, changing direction, repentance (not just a feeling sorry). The genitive is best taken as adjectival, attributive, limiting "baptism", a "repentance" type of "baptism" / "which is characterised by repentance", although in use it would be idiomatic. John's baptism is a "baptism which is characterised by repentance", probably, as above, in the sense of it being a visible expression of repentance, an outward way of enacting an inward decision.

The term "preaching a baptism of repentance" has prompted some debate. How can baptism be preached? Obviously repentance, outwardly expressed in water baptism, can be preached. There is some evidence that "immersing" (The Gk. sense of "baptism"), in the literal sense of flooding with water, and the particular figurative sense of "immersing in the name" / preaching the gospel for repentance and the forgiveness of sins, coalesce. When Jesus tells his disciples to go and make disciples "baptising them in the name", it is very unlikely that he is promoting an ecclesiastical rite. The sign is obviously part of the package, but it is the preaching of the gospel, "immersing in the name", that is all important. So, "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" = "preaching the gospel."

eiV "for" - to, into. Here expressing "toward a particular end", ie., expressing purpose = "for", so BDAG, 291.5, although Decker suggests reference; "with reference to."

afesin (iV ewV) "the forgiveness" - release, forgiveness. Clearly, the purpose of the preaching was not baptism, but "repentance in the face of the threat of divine judgment", France. Repentance, and its consequence "forgiveness", is that which makes "straight paths" for the coming of the messiah.

aJmartiwn (a) gen. "of sins" - of sins. The genitive is usually taken here as adjectival, verbal, objective, where "sins" receives the action of "forgiveness".


kai "-" - and. Here as a connective and not translated.

pasa "the whole [Judean countryside]" - [the entire judean country and] all [the jerusalemites]. As with "all the people of Jerusalem", Mark is exaggerating, but none-the-less, the exaggeration serves to illustrate John's popularity. This popularity is confirmed by the historian Josephus. John's popularity / magnetism serves to prepare us for the even greater popularity of the one who follows.

exeporeueto (ekporeuomai) imperf. "went out" - were going out. The imperfect, being durative, expresses a continuous flow of people to witness John's ministry by the Jordan river.

proV + acc. "to" - toward [him]. Spacial, of movement toward a goal.

exomologoumenoi (exomologew) pres. part. mid. "confessing" - [and] confessing, avowing [the sins of them]. Attendant circumstance participle identifying action accompanying the verb "were being baptized". The Gk. order is, "they were baptized, confessing their sins."

ebaptizonto (baptizw) imperf. pas. "they were baptized" - they were being immersed. The passive indicates they were allowing themselves to be immersed in water. This is supported by the preposition uJpo, "by [him]", expressing agency. In Jewish proselyte baptism the initiate baptises themselves, but here John is performing the rite. The imperfect again expresses durative action describing an ongoing stream of initiates; "the people came one by one and were baptized by John", TH.

uJp (uJpo) gen. "by" - by [him]. Expressing agency.

en + dat. "in" - in [the jordan river]. An important preposition for those who argue for baptism by full immersion, but it is simply local, expressing space, and does not indicate how the water was applied. It could just mean "at the river Jordan."


The description given of John, paints him as a man of the wilderness. The reference to the belt probably aligns him with that other man of the wilderness, namely, Elijah, 2Ki.1:8.

h\n ... endedumenoV (enduw) perf. mid. part. "wore clothing" - [and john] had been clothed with. Periphrastic pluperfect possibly emphasising aspect, here durative action = it was John's accustomed dress. Mark's description of John's clothing and food, serves to further the image of the "one calling in the wilderness", an image with powerful Old Testament precedents. John is a man of the desert, an ascetic, a Nazarite. Note that his dress is similar to that of Elijah. The divine revelation is encountered in the wilderness and so this is where John operates, and so he dresses accordingly.

kamhlou (oV) "camel's [hair]" - [the hair] of a camel. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting "hair", "camel hair"; "hair which come from a camel." Such a garment would be very prickly.

kai "with" - and [a leather belt, waistband]. Coordinate use of the conjunction. Mark leans toward a zeugma here where the accusative object "hair" of the verb "clothed with" works, while "clothed with a leather belt" doesn't. Translations handle the problem by supplying an appropriate verb; "and wore a leather belt around his waist", ESV. John's loose cloak was held together around his waste by a waistband. This is not a thin belt, but a wide leather waistband that would have compartments for holding John's basic requirements.

peri + acc. "around" - around [the waist of him] .Spatial; "around".

esqiwn (esqiw) pres. part. "he ate" - [and] eating [locusts and wild honey]. Taylor thinks this attendant participle is still controlled by the opening verb to-be h\n so producing a periphrastic imperfect, although it is not listed by Howard as an example of this construction. A durative aspect is being expressed, such that his diet was regularly made up of .... Still to this day a food source used by the poor.


iv] The Baptist's function: to herald the coming of the messiah, v7-8. Mark gives us a summary of John's message. John announces the coming of a greater one, so great in fact, that John is less than a slave to him. Even a Hebrew slave is not required to untie his master's sandals. So, this coming-one exposes our unworthiness; he is a coming judge. John may be referring to the coming of the messiah, but also possibly a visit from God himself to his people. When he arrives in the wilderness, this coming-one will confront his people with the Spirit-empowered presence of God. The Spirit of God guided the people through the desert and sustained them and gave them rest. So again, as the people come out into the wilderness, they will meet with their God.

legwn (legw) pres. part. "[and this was his message]" - [and he was preaching] saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant. Usually viewed as a Semitic construction, often serving to introduce direct speech - a common construction in the synoptic gospels. Matthew tells us that the Baptist proclaimed the same gospel message as Jesus, ie., "the kingdom of God is at hand", cf. 3:2. Mark, in v4, identifies forgiveness as the heart of the gospel message proclaimed by the Baptist and now he records that John's preaching references forward to the coming of "the one more powerful." The Baptist probably did proclaim the coming kingdom, but Mark obviously wants to leave the announcement of the kingdom to Jesus. For Mark, the Baptist's message is a call for repentance in the face of the coming one.

opisw + gen. "after" - after [me]. Temporal use of the preposition. The NIV has "after" in a chronological sense, but John could be saying that the messiah follows on from his ministry, in the sense of taking up where he leaves off.

ercetai (ercomai) pres. "will come" - is coming. Possibly a futuristic present tense, as NIV; "after me one who is mightier will come", Moffatt. At least it "sounds the note of immediacy", Taylor.

oJ iscuroteroV comp. adj. "one more powerful" - the one stronger. This comparative adjective serves here as a substantive. "Stronger", in what sense? Marcus suggests that the term "stronger one" was a epithet for the messiah, the one "powerful in the Holy Spirit", cf., Davies and Allison, ICC.

mou gen. pro. "than I" - of me. The genitive is ablative, of comparison, as NIV.

ou| gen. pro. "-" - of whom. The genitive is possessive, "of whom", or reference / respect, "with reference to whom."

ikanoV adj. "worthy" - [i am not] worthy, qualified, sufficient, able, fit. Predicate adjective. A Hebrew slave would not be expected to undertake the menial task of untying the master's sandal, but John, even though he is God's messenger, is not worthy to undertake even this menial task when it comes to the messiah. Possibly "I am not qualified."

kuyaV (kuptw) aor. part. "to stoop down" - stooping down, bowing down. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the infinitive "to loose / untie"; "I am not worthy to stoop down and to untie", as NIV.

lusai (luw) aor. inf. "and untie" - to loose [the strap of the sandals of him]. The infinitive is epexegetic, specifying what the Baptist was not worthy of / qualified to do, namely "to untie ....."


egw ...... outoV "I ....... he ....." - The emphatic use of unnecessary personal pronouns.

ebaptisa (baptizw) aor. "I baptise" - i immerse [you]. An interesting use of the aorist (punctiliar aspect), rather than the present tense (durative aspect). Cranfield suggests it stands for a Semitic perfect with present meaning; "I have baptized you with water", Knox. Possibly the aorist is used to express an expected end to John's ministry with the coming of the one greater. France thinks that it is the "correct tense for John to use when addressing those who have just been baptized by him." Decker suggests the aorist is used to encompass John's entire ministry.

uJdati (wr atoV) dat. "with water" - in water. In v5 we are told that John baptized people en, "in", the river Jordan. It is therefore not unreasonable that we have here a simple local dative serving instead of en, "in", but it may well be instrumental, of means, "by means of water"; see Gundry 39. See also en below, re Holy Spirit.

de "but" - but/and. Transitional, indicating a step to a contrasting point.

en + dat. "with [the Holy Spirit]" - in, on, by [holy spirit]. A variant exists without this preposition, although not well attested. The dative of "water" and "Holy Spirit", with, or without en, may be instrumental, expressing means, "with", as NIV, or local, expressing space / sphere "in", where Mark is just comparing the ministry sphere within which John and Jesus operates. The preposition here may be adverbial, modal, where Mark summarises the manner of Jesus' and John's "baptism" ministry. John's ministry may be summarised as one of preaching a water baptism illustrating repentance, while Jesus' ministry may be summed up as one of involving the powerful operation of God's Spirit. In Mark there is no giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, rather Jesus receives the Spirit and manifests the Spirit in messianic signs and in proclamation, ie., Jesus is a Spirit-user, not a Spirit-giver, cf., Gundry. For Mark, baptising with the Holy Spirit is not a giving of the Spirit, but a baptising with messianic spiritual power, a power which Jesus possesses in the Spirit; "the eschatological power of God effective through the Spirit", Boring. The power presumably is active in forgiveness and the Christian walk, which the Baptist preempts and which Jesus enacts. Note that Luke adds kai puri "and in fire", ie., with suffering (whose suffering?).


Mark Introduction


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