Mark 1:1-8

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

Mark frames this story of John the Baptist as the beginning of this larger story, which he calls the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This opening has high energy. It is a proclamation of a new possibility for the world that has never been imagined before. The opening sentence is of great importance for storytelling. The story that is to follow is described as thegospel. That is, the gospel was and is a story. It was not a theology, a creed or a set of beliefs. There are, to be sure, profound “theological” implications in, for example, the titles used for Jesus. But the titles of Jesus are an introduction to a long story that was told by various storytellers who then were empowered by the composition of this gospel to tell the Gospel.

The associations of Christ (messiah in Hebrew) are the anointed ones of Israel. The most prominent messiahs in Israel’s history were Saul and David,both of whom were anointed by Samuel. They are both called Xristos in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures (I Sam.12.3,5;16.6; 24.7, 11; 26.16, 23; II Sam. 19.21; 22.51; 23.1,3)). This title was used for one was anointed for the leadership of the armies of Israel. The hope fora Messiah (Christ) in the first century, almost a thousand years after Saul and David, was that one would come who was anointed and empowered by God to establish the government of Israel over against the gentiles who had ruled over Judea for nearly six hundred years. Thus, the hope for an anointed one who would reestablish the kingdom of David has a long history prior to Mark’s announcement. The other title Mark uses for Jesus is Son of God.There was a significant competition in the first century about who was legitimately called the Son of God because the emperors of Rome called themselves sons of god. Augustus was addressed as a son of God; so also was Nero. Diocletian (emperor from 81-96 CE), the second son of Vespasian and the successor of Titus, required people to address him as “my lord andmy god.” The question of who was the true son of God was then a cultural question as well as a political and religious question. Jesus’ story is introduced by Mark as the story of the true Son of God, not the emperor.

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