Below is a paper written by Rachel Carlson, a student at Calvary University. Rachel recently completed the paper for BI115, Bible Study/Hermeneutics.
The Gospel of Mark is a beautiful account of the humility and love of Christ. This author shall attempt to show the importance of man’s love of God and of others and of humility in man’s relationships, first with God, then with his fellow human beings. Mark 12:28–34, the specific passage under exegesis, especially illustrates the importance of these concepts, and the author shall attempt to clearly explain the significance of this passage within the book as a whole, and to draw out the author’s intended meaning so that the reader may better comprehend the passage’s impact on the message of the book.
Step Two: Identify Cultural and Historical Background
It seems likely that the author was either one of Jesus’ followers, or interviewed one or more of the Twelve disciples since his book gives so much detail of this group’s emotions and struggles by describing private moments when only the Twelve were with Jesus. Since the writer also gives a detailed account of Jesus’ transfiguration, the author may have been Peter, James, or John. Two other possibilities are Levi and Andrew, as these two disciples, along with the other three previously listed, are the only disciples Jesus calls in the Gospel of Mark (Mark 1:16–21; 2:14).
However, John and Levi, or Matthew (Cf. Mark 2:13–14; Matt 9:9), each have a Gospel named after them, so it is unlikely that they were the authors. James was killed early in the church’s timeline (Acts 12:1–3), making him unlikely to be the author. This leaves either Peter or Andrew as the most likely candidate. Between these two, Peter seems a far more likely candidate than Andrew, as his name is recorded twenty-six times in the Gospel of Mark, nineteen times as Peter and seven times as Simon, while in comparison Andrew’s name only appears four times in the entire book. Peter, therefore, seems the most likely author, since, if the author or interviewee was recalling his own experiences, his name would be likely to appear more often than the name of another.
However, the Gospel of Mark is not calledthe “Gospel of Peter,” but the “Gospel of Mark,” raising the questions, “Who is Mark? Why is this Gospel named after him?” Well, Peter did have a close relationship with a man named Mark, or John Mark (Acts 12:12; 1 Peter 5:12– 13). There are references to this Mark,also called John, scattered throughout the New Testament. Sometimes only the name Mark is recorded (Col 4:10–11; 1 Pet 5:12–13) making ita little difficult, judging by the immediate context, to discern if this isthe same man. However, there is a recognizable pattern in this man’s actions wherever his name appears.
This Mark was a Jewish believer in Christ (Col 4:10–11), as the author of the Gospel of Mark also appears to be due to his apparent familiarity with the Jewish religion and traditions, and with the geographical setting of his narrative. Mark was near-consistently involved in ministry. He appears to have been from Jerusalem (Acts 12), and to have served with Paul, Barnabas, and Peter (Acts 12:25; 13:5; 15:36–41; 2 Tim 4:11; 1 Pet 5:12–13). In this last reference, Peter refers to Mark as his “son” (1 Pet 5:12–13), however, as he otherwise uses terms of affection, for example, calling Silvanus “brother” (1 Pet 5:12) and his audience “beloved” (1 Per 2:11), this does not necessarily mean that Mark was his biological son, thus not terminating the possibility of this being the same Mark as the one recorded in the previous passages. Unger suggests that Peter may refer to Mark as his son because Mark may have come to Christ under Peter’s teachings.1
The relationship between Peter and Mark being established, the question arises, “Why couldn’t Peter write the book himself?” It should be noted that Peter was a simple fisherman before Jesus called him (Mark 1:16; 3:16), so he may not have known how to write, in which case Mark may have penned this book during his time with Peter in 1 Pet 5:1–13. There is simplicity to the author’s style which could come from Peter if he was dictating, or possibly if the author copied Peter’s style when he wrote. This could represent that Peter, if he indeed did not know how to write, was not concerned with constructing his narrative with any specific artistic touches such as an experienced writer might have done. Therefore, if Mark was the author, it seems likely that he interviewed Peter, recording the disciple’s experiences, and thus authored the Gospel of Mark.
Mark’s audience may have been predominantly Jewish, since he does not always explain specific geographic, cultural and religious information, such as detail about what King Herod rules over, who Elijah and Moses are (Mark 9:4–5), or what exactly the Pharisees, who are mentioned many times in the book, believed. His audience may also consist of some Gentiles, as he does briefly explain some Jewish religious practices (Mark 7:1–4; 9–13).
In First Peter 5:13, Peter is giving his farewell greetings to his audience. However, the first person he records the greetings of is not himself. Instead, he uses the third person pronoun “she,” when referring to the first greeting he lists.2 This “she” may refer to the church.3 Peter writes that “she” is in “Babylon” by which he probably meant Rome, as this corrupt city was the capital of the Roman empire. Therefore, if Peter is indeed referencing the church with his use of shethen it is likely that Peter and Mark were in Rome at the time this book was written.
The Gospel of Mark was likely written between A.D. 68–70.4 Obviously, the book must have been written after Jesus’ ascension, as at the end of the Gospel Christ’s ascension is recorded. This last chapter also records that the disciples “went out and preached everywhere…” (Mark 16:20). So, the book must have been written sometime after the apostles had begun their ministries, which did not happen until Acts 2. The most likely thing seems to be that Mark wrote the book while he was with Peter (1 Pet 5:12–13) in Rome, after the “Dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1), with this term likely referringto the scattering of the believers (Acts 8:1; 11:19) as it seems likely that they may have eventually traveled farther than those areas listed in the previous two passages.
The purpose of the book, in brief, is to record the ministry of Christ, the Son of God and man, and the suffering Servant, and thereby to make known the salvation that He offers. The occasion of the writing is unclear but it is possible that, if the Gospel of Mark was written around the same time as 1 Peter, and Peter was Mark’s interviewee, that Peter may have wanted to encourage believers by reminding them to be humble, suffer persecution patiently, and serve one another as Christ did, as the believers he was writing to in 1 Peter were suffering under persecution, and so, therefore, may have been Mark’s audience. However, this author has not found any circumstances that she can definitely affirm to have been the cause(s) of this Gospel having been written.
Society in general was still under Roman rule, as, within the Gospel, Mark seems to expect his audience to be familiar with Romans (see Mark 15:15–20), and, obviously, if this Gospel was written around the same time as 1 Peter, then the Roman Empire was still strong. The Gentile unbelievers of this time period were living ungodly lives and were pressuring the believers in Christ to join them in their sins, which included “…living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry (1 Pet 4:3). They were surprised that the believers wouldn’t join them and persecuted them because they stood out as salt and light in the world (1 Pet 4:1–5). They rejected the flame of Christ’s redeeming love that was shining in the midst of their darkness, because it showed them their faults and failing, their evils and wickedness.
Itis also logical to assumethat Mark’s audience may have been under Jewish persecution, considering the Jews’ reaction to Jesus. This is corroborated by the fact that, throughout almost the entire book of Acts, the unsaved Jews were persecuting believers, and so it seems probable that Mark’s audience was also under Jewish persecution, likely including pressure regarding their witness of Christ (Acts 8:1; 9:1–2, 23–25) association with Gentiles (Acts 11:1–3), and also the Jewish religious practice of circumcision and the observance of the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:1–2, 5; 18:12–13;21:27–28).
Step Three: Identify Structural Keys
There are two key phrases in the Gospel of Mark that can help the reader to understand the passage. The first is Son of Man which appears fourteen times in the book. This appellation is generally used in reference to Jesus’ position as a humble servant come to suffer and die (Mark 8:31; 9:12; 10:45), or to emphasize his sovereignty as God even though he is also human (Mark 2:9–12, 23–28; 9:9; 13:26–27). The second phrase is kingdom of God which also appears fourteen times in Mark. Jesus appears to expect his audiences to know what the kingdom is though he does not define it. However, he does describe the kingdom, emphasizing the necessity of humility and servanthood. Mark uses Son of Man to designate Jesus as a suffering servant and as the risen, victorious, and sovereign Savior.
These two words relate, then, to Jesus’ response to the scribe in Mark 12:34. The scribes were religious teachers (Mark 1:22), who both observed and upheld traditional religiouscustoms, valuing these traditions even above the law. (Mark 7:1–13). As a group, they were fond of public recognition and acclaim, but were actually cruel and false (Mark 12:38–40), aiding even in Jesus’ demise (Mark 14:53, 63–65; 15:29–32). The scribe in Mark 12:28–34 is not like his fellows. Although he questions Jesus, he recognizes that Jesus answers him correctly. He understands that loving God ismore important than religious practices. Unlike the other scribes, who are arrogant and who place tradition above the law, he is humble. His attitude is the reason Jesus, who is both the humble Son of Man and the King of the kingdom of God, tells him, “ʻYou are not farfrom the kingdom of God’” (Mark 12:34 cf.10:14–15).
The outline below may help in understanding the flow of argumentation in the book of Mark, and thus lend fuller comprehension of the specific passage under observation.
Within the passage under observation, all is repeated nine times, seven of these usages denote to what capacity one is to love God. One usage states that loving God and one’s neighbor is more important than “all” sacrifices (Mark 12:33).
The word love is used four times, referring to the love of both God and men. The word heart, the first listed part of one’s being with which one is to love God is used twice. Heart seems to imply emotions and feelings.
While the words mind and understanding are each used one time only, the scribe seems to mean the same thing by understanding as Jesus did by mind, thus referring to a knowing love, a love not just felt, nor a love controlled by feelings, but, possibly, a choice to love regardless of a presence of emotions, or a lack thereof, along with a consistent desire to better know the object of one’slove.
The word strength appears twice and may refer to the physical side of the love of God, that is, while one feels love toward God, and desires to know him better, one uses one’s physical abilities to serve him, thereby demonstrating this love. Interestingly, only Jesus uses the word soul, while the scribe does not, so that this word appears but once. Soulindicates that one’s love of God is deeper than just that of desire, cognitive understanding, and physical service—that one loves God with one’s very soul.
Step Four: Identify Grammatical and Syntactical Keys
There are two clauses within the passage that can aid the reader’s understanding. They are both causal. The first is “seeing that [Jesus] answered them well” (Mark 12:28). The scribe is the one observing Jesus, and this clause that shows the cause of his response is followed immediately by his response itself. The scribe asks Jesus which precept he believes to be the greatest. Jesus replies that the mandate to love God is chief, quoting Deut 6:4–5, that God is one, and that loving God is to be one’s highest priority and consuming focus. Within his quotation of Deut 6:4–5, “and” appears four times, emphasizing that this love of God must be not just emotional, or just mental, etc, but all of the listed aspects of the love of God combined.
Jesus adds that next after the foremost precept, stands Lev 19:18, the mandate to love one’s neighbor “as” oneself (Mark 12:31). So, along with the comparison of the two different precepts, there is a comparison, within the second precept, of one’s love for one’s neighbor being like the love of one’s own self. Jesus ties these two precepts together by stating that there are not any other commandments that can rival these two: The person’s love toward God is to be supreme, and his love of God should inform and mold his relationships with others.
The scribe affirms that Jesus has answered correctly, echoing his answer and adding that God himself is supreme and that the love of God and neighbor is more important than oblations made to God. He uses the specific term “burnt offerings” (Mark 12:33), referring to a Jewish religious practice commanded by God, the details of which are given in Leviticus 1. One thing that should be noted is that these burnt offerings were necessary for atonement of sin (Lev 1:4). The scribe is not implying that atonement for sin is unnecessary, but acknowledging the fact that the most important aspect of the sacrifice is not the customary practice of it, but the heart attitude of the individual, who, loving God, repents of his sin and offers the sacrifice in humility, desiring restoration to a right relationship with God. If the sacrifice was only performed as a routine rite, but without true humility and repentance, then it was not worth anything.
The second clause is “when Jesus saw that he answered wisely” (Mark 12:34). This clause shows the reader why Jesus replies that the scribe is close tounderstanding “the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). He sees that the scribe has grasped the key, foundational aspects of the kingdom, which are the necessities of humility before God, and, flowing from this humility, service to him. At the end of the passage, in the last sentence of Mark 12:34, the text records that the religious leaders were unwilling to risk asking Jesus questions “after that” likely out of fear of the Jewish people’s reactions to Jesus’ attitude toward themselves (Cf. Mark 12:37;14:1–2).
Step Five: Identify Lexical Keys
There are several lexical keys in Mark 12:28–34 that the reader should understand so that he may gain a fuller comprehension of the text. These keys will be defined to aid the reader’s understanding. Within the passage under observation, the KJV, NKJV, NIV, ESV, NASB consistently translated each lexical key identically to the ESV’s translation.
The first of these lexical keys, then, is love, (vv. 30–31, 33). The Greek verb used here is ἀγαπάω 5 which this author believes, judging by the surrounding context, to mean an active love. Therefore, within this passage, its meaning is “to welcome,…to be fond of, to love dearly” and “to be well pleased, to be contented at or with…”6 This word appears four times within the Gospel of Mark, once as “loved” (Mark 10:21), and the other three times as “love” within the passage under study.
The second lexical key is heart (vv. 30, 33) or καρδία, which, in the context of loving God, “denotes the centre of all physical and spiritual life” and “…of the soul as the seat of the sensibilities, affections, emotions, desires, appetites, passions.”7 Constable describes heart as “the control center of human personality”8 The word heart isused eleven times in the book. Next comes ψυχή or soul (v. 30), which is “life” and is “…regarded as a moral being designed for everlasting life.”9 Constable defines this word as “the self-conscious thought life”10 Mark employs this word seven times in his Gospel, with ψυχή appearing but once in this passage.
Oneis toemploy not only his καρδία and ψυχή, but also his διάνοια or mind (v. 30) in his love of God. In the context of the passage, διάνοια here connotes “the mind as a faculty of understanding, feeling, desiring.”11 Mark only uses διάνοια this one time. Now comes the last aspect of this active loveof God: ἰσχύς, that is, strength (vv. 30, 33). Its meaning is“ability, force, strength, might.”12 This Greek word for strength appears only twice in the Gospel of Mark.
In verse thirty-one, a second object of ἀγαπάω, which is πλησίον, that is, neighbor (vv.31–33) enters upon the scene. This word’s meaning was “…according to the Jews, any member of the Hebrew nation and commonwealth” and “according to Christ, any other man irrespective of nation or religion…”13 Mark uses the word neighbor twice in his Gospel.
In this passage it can be clearly seen that loving God and one’s neighbor is no light matter. The loving is not simply a conceptual construct, but a commandment. It is not a love that loves blindly, but with understanding, as well as strong emotion, applying itself through physical service of God andman.
Step Six: Identify Biblical Context
The theme of the Gospel of Mark is that the Son of Man is the humble Servant-King come to suffer and die so that he might save the lost, thereby bringing glory to God. Mark 10:45 encapsulates this concept of Jesus’ identity and purpose, poignantly capturing His humility and love. The concept of God’s glorification through the salvation of sinners, is seen in Mark 13:26– 27.
The Gospel of Mark does not expound upon the doctrines of salvation, grace, or faith as do many of the epistles, but it does lay the groundwork necessary to these same epistles by relating the ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God and man, thus opening the way to better understanding the epistles and other books that fall further along in the progression of revelation by showing the reader who Christ is and what he has done. Therefore, the Gospel of Mark falls into the early part of the progressive revelation of the New Testament.
The specific passage under exegesis serves to illustrate the overall message of the Gospel of Mark, which is one of humility and service done in love, with the purpose of glorifying God. Jesus’ conversation with the scribe clearly illustrates that loving God requires humility. One who is humble before God will glorify him, obeying his commands by loving and serving him as foremost, and then by loving his neighbor as himself.
Step Seven: Identify Theological Context
The first theological key that stands out to this author are the repeated references to the Lord’s being “one” (Mark 12:29, 32). This concept falls under the branch of theology known as theology proper. The implication behind this repeated concept is that God is all-powerful and supreme. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says that the meaning of one in this context is “unique.”14 Because God is the unique supreme One, one is to love him with all of one’s being. Simply put: God is deserving of love and honor because he is who he is.
Another theological implication this passage carries is shown by the repetition of the word “love” in reference to loving God and, anthropologically, one’s neighbor. The scribe affirms this love to be more important than physical sacrifices to God, which recalls Hosea 6:6, where God had affirmed exactly this concept to his people. The reader then sees a parallel between the arrogance of the religious leaders, who, as a group reject Christ in the Gospel of Mark, and the Jews God is speaking to in the book of Hosea, who are also rejecting the Lord.
This gives a broader picture of the Jewish rejection of Christ, showing that the Jews’ arrogance and pride toward God was not a recent problem, but had existed long before Jesus himself came on the scene. Understanding this once again draws a sharp contrast between Jesus’ love and humility and the religious leaders’ arrogance and brings into focus the concept that humility and love are necessary qualities of a true follower of God. Jesus beautifully illustrates the outworking of this love in his parable in Luke 10:25–37, especially in the context of the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans (John 4:9; 8:48).
Step Eight: Provide Interpretation
Mark’s overall purpose in writing this Gospel seems to have been to make a record of the earthly ministry of Christ that would highlight his power, authority, and compassionate love.
Paradoxically, Mark accomplishes this by emphasizing Jesus’ humanity, his humble, servant- hearted attitude, and his patient suffering at the hands of evil people. He uses man’s wickedness to emphasize Christ’s purity.
By showing the darkness and shadows that surrounded the Son of Man among men, Mark creates what is almost a reverse silhouette of Jesus. Mark does not frame Jesus’ character in glory and power, leaving his humanity as a shadow but briefly glimpsed between rays of light as Christ stands, backlit by His splendor as God’s Son. Instead, Mark outlines the character of Jesus with the sins, frailties, and failings of humanity. Just as the flame of a candle is seen better and shines brighter in darkness, so also does the character of Jesus as Mark sets him against the backdrop of sinful mankind. The reader who comes truly seeking to know God is left dazzled by the radiance of a man of such purity, compassion, and humility of spirit that, the longer he looks upon him, the less he wants to ever look away.
Step Nine: Correlation
Wiersbe considers the concept of being close to the kingdom of God from a slightly different perspective than does this author. He writes that to be near to the kingdom is to be a truth-seeker, that is, someone who is seeking to know the truths of God’s Word without letting his own viewpoints or pressure from others interfere with his quest for truth. This person will be courageous, defending his beliefs against opposition.15 This author agrees with this evaluation of what it means to be close to the kingdom of God since a truth-seeker who puts God’s Word above his own prejudices or desires must be humble, desiring above everything else to know and serve God.
Step Ten: Application
The primary application of this passage would be for Mark’s audience to obey the commands God had given, using Christ as their example and pattern. They were to fulfill their duty to love God as foremost, loving him with every aspect of their being. Secondly, they were to love their neighbors. This meant loving not only each other, but also their enemies and those who were persecuting them as much as they loved themselves. They were to be humble, serving God and others in love.
One secondary application that this author sees that she can apply to herselfis tofollow these same commands. This writer lives in a multicultural environment where it is quite easy for miscommunications and misunderstandings to happen and for offense or insult to begiven or taken due to language and cultural barriers. However, this author sees that if she seeks to love God with all her heart, soul, mind, and strength, she will necessarily be more focused upon him than upon cultural differences or tensions. She will seek to prioritize her time, desiring to spend it in loving God and striving to deepen her relationship with him. Her love for God will overflow into her relationships with people, helping to create a healthy environment for everyone to work together to serve God.
She can practice loving her brothers and sisters in Christ by not only seeking to gain somewhat of an understanding of their different cultures, but also by seeking to value their cultural viewpoints as much as she values her own and humbly submitting to a different culture when it is good and needful to do so. Her purpose should be to encourage her coworkers in the Lord, and to follow Jesus’ example of humble service and love of others as her life pattern.
1 Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1957), 695.
2 Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations in this study are taken from the English Standard Version, copyright 2001, Crossway Bibles.
3 William Hendriksen, Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1975), 9.
4 David E. Garland, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), 3.
5 All Greek words have been retrieved from BlueLetterBible.org.
6 Blue Letter Bible. “G25 – ἀγαπάω – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (ESV),” copyright 2020. Accessed May 6, 2020, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G25&t=ESV.
7 BlueLetterBible. “G2588 – καρδία – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (ESV),” copyright 2020. Accessed May 6, 2020, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2588&t=ESV.
8 Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Mark,” 2020 ed. Accessed May 7, 2020, https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/mark/mark.htm#_ftn749.
9 BlueLetterBible. “G5590 – ψυχή – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (ESV),” copyright 2020. Accessed May 6, 2020, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G5590&t=ESV.
10Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Mark,” 2020 ed. Accessed May 7, 2020, https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/mark/mark.htm#_ftn749.
11 BlueLetterBible. “G1271 – διάνοια – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (ESV),” copyright 2020. Accessed May 6, 2020,https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1271&t=ESV.
12 BlueLetterBible. “G2479 – ἰσχύς – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (ESV),” copyright 2020. Accessed May 6, 2020,https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2479&t=ESV.
13 BlueLetterBible. “G4139 – πλησίον – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (ESV),” copyright 2020. Accessed May 6, 2020, https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/mar/12/31/t_conc_969031.
14 John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament ed. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), 164.
15Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Diligent (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1987), 119.
BlueLetterBible. “Strong’s Greek Lexicon (ESV),” Copyright 2020. Accessed May 6, 2020, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2588&t=ESV.
Constable, Thomas L. “Notes on Mark.” 2020 ed. Accessed May 7, 2020, https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/mark/mark.htm#ftn749.
Garland, David E. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Mark. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002.
Hendriksen, William. Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark. New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1975.
Unger, Merrill F. Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1957.
Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck, eds. The Bible Knowledge Commentary. New Testament ed. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983.
Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Diligent. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1987.