1 The gospell of Messiah Jesus, God’s son, begins2just as it stands written in the prophet Isaiah 3:

“Look! I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
one who will pave your way-
a voice of one crying out in the desert 4 :
‘Make ready the Lord’s way,
lay straight His pathways!'”,

so there appeared John, baptizing in the desert and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for forgiving of sins. 5 And people would come out to him: all the area of Judea and all the people of Jerusalem 5, and they would be cleansed by him in the Jordan river, confessing their sins. 6 And what John wore was camel’s-hair and a leather belt around his waist and what he ate was locusts and wild honey 67 And this is what he was proclaiming: “There is coming after me the one who is mightier 7 than I am: I am not good enough to kneel down and untie his 8 sandals’ thong.”
What I have done is to wash you clean with water,9 but he will wash you clean with holy spirit.

9 And it was then 10 that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee 11 and let himself be baptized12 in the Jordan by John. 10 And right away,13 as he came up out of the water, he saw14 the sky splitting apart15 and the spirit coming down onto him16 like a dove;17 11 And a voice came out of the sky:18 “You are my beloved son; you are the one whom I have chosen.”19

12 And right away the spirit impels20 him into the desert21 13 And he stayed in the desert for forty days confronting ordeals 22 put to him by Satan, and he stayed in the company of wild beasts and angels would tend to his needs.23

14 And when John had been taken into custody, 24 Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming God’s good news; 25 what he said was: “The world-age has come full term;26 God’s reign 27 is now at hand; repent28 and have faith through the gospel.” 29

16 And as he was walking beside the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother, casting nets in the sea (they were fishermen). 17 And Jesus said to them, “Come here after me,30 and I’ll turn you into fishers of human beings 31 18 And right away they left their nets and followed him.32 19 And when he’d gone on a bit, he saw James, Zebedee’s son and his brother John-they were in the boat too, repairing fishnets, 20 and right away he summoned them. And they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired hands and went off after him33

21 And they enter Capernaum; and right away-on the Sabbath 34 –he went into the synagogue and started teaching. 22 His teaching astounded people: it was presented with authority, not at all the way the scribes taught35 23 And suddenly there in the synagogue was a man defiled in spirit; he cried out, 24 “What business have you with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I recognize you: you are the Holy One of God.36 25 And Jesus scolded him with the words, “Shut your mouth! Leave him!” 26 And the unwholesome spirit jerked him about and cried aloud and then left him.37

27 And they were astounded, one and all: they were questioning each other, “What on earth is this? Unprecedented teaching that is authoritative! Not only that, but he gives orders to unwholesome spirits and they pay him heed.38 28 And news of him right away spread everywhere, all over the surrounding territory of Galilee.

29 And right away they left the synagogue and went into the house of Simon and Andrew, accompanied by James and John. 30 Simon’s mother-in-was in bed with a fever and they told him about her. 31 When he came to her, he took her by the hand and lifted her up: the fever left her and she began to wait upon them.39

32 In the evening when the sun had set, they kept bringing to him all who were ill and who were possessed. 33 and the whole town had gathered near the doorway. 40 34 And he healed many who were ill with various ailments and exorcised many demons. The demons, moreover, he would not let speak, for they knew his identity 41

35 And early in the morning well before dawn he rose and left the house and went into a deserted area, where he proceeded to pray. 3637 When they found him, they told him, “Everybody’s looking for you.” 38 He tells them, “Let’s move on somewhere else into the nearby villages so that I can preach there: that, after all, is what I have come for.” 42 Then Simon and the others of the group went looking for him.

39 And he went about preaching in their synagogues all throughout Galilee and exorcising demons. 43 40 And there came to him a leper begging to be purified; he said, “if you consent to it, you are able to cleanse me.” 41 And as his compassion was stirred he put out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I am willing, now be cleansed!” 42 And right away the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. 43  And immediately he sent him away with harsh words, 44 telling him, “Be careful to tell nobody anything, but go and present yourself to the priest and for evidence, offer up what Moses ordained as an offering for your cleansing. 45 But he went out and started broadcasting the news and bruiting the story about, and as a result, Jesus couldn’t go into the city in plain view any more, but he stayed outside of it in deserted areas, and people would come to him from all over.

Next Chapter

1 The word εὐαγγέλιον appears only six times in Mark’s gospel (1:1, 14-15; 8:35; 10:29; 13:10, 14:9), evidently in pretty much the same sense as that in which Paul uses the word: the message that brings deliverance.

2 The εὐαγγέλιον, as this evangelist understands it, begins with the proclamation of John, whom this evangelist clearly understands to be Elijah, who according to apocalyptic eschatologies, was to appear and herald the immediate arrival of the Messiah. This is made most clear in the account of the Transfiguration, 9:2-13, where Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus; it is while descending from the mountain that Jesus tells his disciples that Elijah, who must come first, has already appeared and suffered his appointed doom. Cf. 6:15, 8:28, 9:4, 9:5, 9:11, 9:12, 9:13, 15:35. In Mark’s gospel the appointed doom of Elijah is the pattern that prefigures the appointed doom of the Son of Man and it is the pattern that Jesus teaches his disciples that they too must accept as their own. It is thus not merely the heralding of the coming of the Messiah that constitutes the importance of John for this evangelist; rather his fate is paradigmatic of those who take seriously the message which he and Jesus and the disciples are meant to proclaim and for which they must expect to be martyred.

3 Of course it is not as a whole from Isaiah; the evangelist has taken the first part from Mal. 3:1; yet the key text is Isa. 40:3 that marks John as “the voice of one crying out in the desert.”

4 Desert: the word ἔρημος appears 9 times in Mark’s gospel (1:3, 1:4 , 1:12, 1:13, 1:35, 1:45, 6:31, 6:32, 6:35): in the stories of John’s baptizing and preaching, of Jesus’ temptation, of Jesus’ temptation by Satan and of his private prayer, and of his preaching and feeding of the multitude in chapter 6. In contrast to Matthew and Luke, it should be noted that Mark’s desert is not characterized as a desert somewhere that can be pointed to on a map; rather, it is a spiritual landscape of symbolic dimensions, the realm where Israel first met with God between escape from Egypt and entry into Promised Land, the realm through which the exiles returning from Babylon must pass on their way back to the Promised Land. It is the realm wherein “the people that walked in darkness found grace” (Jer. 31:2), the realm of Israel’s new confrontation with her God, as indicated clearly in vs. 4.

5 Most translators and interpreters have sought to soften the uncompromising language of this verse: does Mark really mean to say all the area of Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem? They think that this is a rhetorical exaggeration: “Everybody came” doesn’t really mean every person. But I think that Mark intends to portray a confrontation between the heralding Elijah and all of Israel and particularly all of Jerusalem; the challenge to Israel and to Jerusalem in particular climaxes in chapters 11-15 of this gospel as Israel’s King comes to Zion and challenges the establishment and people; the initial response to Jesus in chapter 11 is enthusiastic also, like the reception of John indicated here.

6 Whatever the historical truth about the dress and diet of John the Baptist, this description is intended primarily to indicate clearly the identity of John as Elijah redivivus.

7 The Greek says “stronger.” Here the stress seems to be on the superiority of the one whom John is proclaiming, but as the word is ἰσχυρότερος, one may wonder about the “strong man” of Jesus’ words about the house and kingdom divided and the binding of the “strong man” in 3:27.

8 The pronouns italicized here and in vs. 8 (his, I, he) are emphatic by position (οὗ) in vs. 7 and by inclusion of an intensive pronoun (his, I, he) in vs. 8. John unmistakably subordinates his own role to that of the “stronger” one coming after him.

9 Of course the Greek word means “baptize,” but more than ritual dimensions are involved here.

10 Vague (and formulaically conventional) as “in those days” might seem, it is certainly intended by the evangelist to link the story of Jesus’ baptism to the account of the activity of John. It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this account of Jesus’ baptism for an understanding of how this evangelist portrayed (and evidently intended to portray) Jesus. The evangelist either does not know of any tradition(s) concerning Jesus’ birth and years prior to his baptism or else does not consider any such traditions relevant to the message which he is proclaiming. This point of time, this incident is the formative-one might say the constitutive-experience of Jesus’ career. While it is possible that the evangelist may have thought that Jesus was already God’s Messiah prior to his baptism, what is clear from this narrative is that this is the point at which Jesus became conscious or cognizant of his status as God’s son and Israel’s royal Messiah.

11 This evangelist knows of no other provenance of Jesus than Nazareth in Galilee; it is his πατρίς (Mk 6:1, 4) even if it is not his birthplace, as the evangelist may have thought it to be.

12 “let himself be baptized”: the verb ἐβαπτίσθη is “passive” in conventional morphological terminology, but (a) we should understand this as a “permissive” passive or middle in sense (I have argued elsewhere that -θη- forms must be acknowledged as bearing both middle and passive meanings potentially, just like the -μαι-σαι-ται forms of most tenses), and (b) as Matthew’s version of this story indicates more directly, baptism is a rite that one undergoes intentionally, even if another performs it.

13 The adverb εὐθὺς is so frequent in transitional phrases in Mark’s gospel (42 instances) that I have sometimes fancied that the characteristic Marcan happening is the fait accompli.

14 However other evangelists may have described or portrayed this event, Mark clearly portrays it not as an epiphany but as a personal experience of Jesus. Like other stories in Mark that are told without identification or reference to any witness who observed the event, it appears that Mark intends us to understand this as the experience wherein Jesus becomes cognizant of his status as Israel’s royal Messiah.

15 The verb here (σχίζω) suggests violent or sudden or unexpected rending of a smooth surface. In Mark’s gospel it appears elsewhere only once, 15:38, of the curtain of the temple splitting (middle and intransitive, as in the present verse) at the moment of Jesus’ death on the cross. I doubt if the use of the verb at these two points in Mark’s narrative is accidental.

16 The prepositional phrase εἰς αὐτὸν could mean “into him” or “onto him,” but I rather think that “upon him” might better have been expressed by ἐπὶ αὐτόν.

17 “Like a dove” is a bit ambiguous: does it mean that the spirit had the physical appearance of a dove (as Luke evidently understood and portrayed it: 3:22 σωματικῷ? Or does it mean that the descent of the spirit resembled the way a dove lights upon its perch or on the ground? I think the latter is more likely.

18 The Greek ἐγένετο doesn’t indicate any movement so much as the sound becoming evident and the source of the sound was above. I don’t think that the verb suggests that this was an epiphany any more than does eden in vs. 10. We are not told here that Jesus ἤκουσεν the voice, but it is clear that the voice addresses Jesus alone, using the personal pronouns, σε and σοι. Luke also uses these personal pronouns and, although his narrative seems to me to describe what happened more as an objective event (what else does σωματικῷ εἴδει in 3:22 imply), he too sees the voice as directed personally to Jesus. Matthew, on the other hand, clearly portrays an epiphany: οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός, ἐν ᾧ εὐδόκησα.

19 Unquestionably the phrasing echoes Psalm 2:7, a coronation song indicating here that Jesus is God’s elect Messiah.

20 While Matthew and Luke both use passive forms of ἄγω or the compound ἐνάγω to indicate a spiritual “guidance” Jesus “into” (Mt) or “in” (Lk) the wilderness, Mark’s Spirit seems to “jolt” Jesus suddenly into the wilderness from the Jordan where he has just been baptized. ἐκβάλλω is a verb which elsewhere in Mark is used predominantly of exorcism of demons, otherwise of exorcism of Satan (3:23), of expulsion (of everybody in the house of the chief of the synagogue, 5:40 and of moneychangers from the temple, 11:15), of the eye that σκανδαλίζει (9:47), and of the murdered beloved son of the owner of the vineyard (12:8). ἐκβάλλω in Mk 1:12 is active and seems violent; it would appear that Jesus is being represented here almost as a victim, as the passive object of a violent thrusting that is external to himself.

21 Again the desert: see note 4 above; this episode is, in one sense, a recapitulation in the career of Jesus of Moses’ Sinai experience prior to leading Israel out of Egyptian bondage, of Israel’s 40 years in wilderness before entry into Promised Land.

22 πειραζόμενος: “confronting ordeals.” Elsewhere in Mark the verb πειραζω is used of tests put to Jesus by Pharisees and others (8:11: seeking a sign from heaven, 10:2: the question whether a husband may divorce his wife, 12:15: the question about paying taxes to Caesar. In Mark the climactic “ordeal” or πειρασμός is unquestionably the Gethsemane scene (14:32-42), where the “human” cost of accepting his Kingship and drinking the symbolic “cup” already identified in 10:38-39 and in 14:23-24 as acceptance of death, the doom of John the Baptist, of Jesus himself, and later of the disciples.

23 Wild beasts, angels tending to his needs: there is an extraordinary mythic quality to this account, which does not mean that the narrative does not describe a real experience. Even if the experience is to be understood as a spiritual one in a spiritual desert, Mark should be understood as telling us that Jesus was somehow during this time coming to terms with his newly-announced identity, that in doing so he confronted deadly peril, perhaps also a sort of communion with non-human nature, and that he successfully survived this ordeal with assistance from on high.

24 In Mark’s gospel John, Jesus (9:31, 10:33-4, etc.), and the disciples (13:9) all face the doom of παραδοθῆναι. Of 20 instances of this verb in Mark’s gospel, 17 are clearly in the sense neatly summarized by Louw & Nida (§37.111): “to deliver a person into the control of someone else, involving either the handing over of a presumably guilty person for punishment by authorities or the handing over of an individual to an enemy who will presumably take undue advantage of the victim – ‘to hand over, to turn over to, to betray.'” Jesus’ active ministry begins as John’s doom is already sealed; his execution is reported in Mk 6 in a sort of flashback when Herod Antipas hears of the activity of Jesus and his disciples and supposes that Jesus must be John the Baptist raised from the dead.

25 For the sense of εὐαγγέλιον in Mark see note 1 above.

26 The Greek word καῖρος has several senses, but the recurrent note, which may derive from its use for the cyclical change of seasons, is something like “moment of ripeness.” In Mark here the sense seems to derive from Jewish eschatology and the notion that this world-age (Olam-ha-zeh) will come to and end and a new world-age or “new creation” (Olam-ha-ba, often translated as “age to come”) will succeed it. Jesus’ message of proclamation here is clearly that the turn of the ages has come; the new age is about to dawn, and it is time to prepare oneself to live in the new age, that is: each should bid farewell to his own sinful past and have faith, to commit oneself to the God who can make the world and the believer new: that is the εὐαγγέλιον.

27 βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ not simply God’s kingship: that God is the only true king is fact, whether or not one acknowledges it; nor is it simply the “realm” over which God rules-or not exclusively that, whether one conceives it as a spiritual realm or as the earthly sphere wherein God’s sovereignty and will do in fact reign supreme; it must include the royal governance of God, the actual full sway of God’s will over the created world, such as has been by no means evident in the age now proclaimed as coming to an end.

28 μετανοεῖτε: The Greek verb may very well represent the Hebrew verb and the recurrent OT prophetic challenge to Israel to “turn”– turn back to God from past wayward ways; the Greek suggests a transformation of one’s mind or mind-set into a new one. This seems very much like what Paul exhorts believers to do when in Phil. 2:5 he exhorts believers, τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ ᾿Ιησοῦ or when in Rom 12:2 he exhorts believers, μεταμορφοῦσθε τῇ ἀνακαινώσει τοῦ νοός .

29 πιστεύετε ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ: The exhortation is to “have faith,” to “believe,” and this probably does not mean that the εὐαγγέλιον is the object of that faith: rather faith is directed to God-and to Jesus as the authoritative spokesman and agent for God’s reign; the “gospel” (εὐαγγέλιον) is rather the proclamation that such faith and the authentic access to a new existence is now open to those who discern that the gospel is true, that the opportunity and the offer is real.

30 The phrasing for the summons or invitation to become a disciple alternates between ὀπίσω ἔρχεσθαι and ἀκολουθεῖν. In Mark’s gospel there can be no doubt that both expressions mean something more than merely “accompany” Jesus: they mean essentially, “follow in the course of Jesus,” not only to proclaim the gospel and heal and exorcise, but ultimately to go his way of the cross. The clearest full expression of this is in 8:34 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος τὸν ὄχλον σὺν τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἀκολουθεῖν, ἀπαρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταῦρον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι. Like John the Baptist and like Jesus, the disciples are to proclaim the message, are to be delivered into custody of the authorities and ultimately to confront execution.

31 In John’s gospel (1:35-42) Jesus first encounters Simon Peter and Andrew as disciples of John the Baptist who attach themselves to him at that time. While Simon and Andrew may indeed have been Galilean fishermen, the present narrative appears to have been constructed around the saying of Jesus, “Come here after me, and I’ll turn you into fishers of men.” One thinks of the early anagram ΙΧΘΥΣ ), both Greek word for “fish” and anagram for the credal formula, ᾿Ιησοῦς Χριστός Θεοῦ Υἱός Σωτήρ “Jesus Messiah, God’s Son, Savior.” As the primary function of the disciples/apostles was originally evangelism, that role is prefigured in the story of their call (for what applies to Simon Peter and Andrew as well as to the sons of Zebedee applies to them all): they are all to become “fishers of human beings.”

32 Again the immediate response signaled by the “Marcan” adverb εὐθύς. NA27 has accepted the text as translated here, “they left their nets and followed him,” but the reading of D05, ἀφέντες πάντα ἠκολούθησαν αὐτᾠ, is particularly attractive here because later, following the encounter with the “rich young man” who was advised by Jesus to sell everything and give it to the poor, Simon Peter comments (10:28): ῎Ηρξατο λέγειν Πέτρος αὐτῷ· ᾿ιδοῦ ἡμεῖς ἀφήκαμεν πάντα καὶ ἠκολουθήκαμέν σοι. There is the same combination of verbs and object: ἀφεῖναι πάντα καὶ ἀκολουθῆσαι. Then, at the arrest of Jesus in 14:50, the phrasing is again eloquent regarding these disciples, especially Simon Peter: ἀφέντες αὐτὸν ἔφυγον πάντες. Jesus’ disciples in Mark’s gospel, as must be observed by any careful reader, are zealous in their early enthusiastic commitment to Jesus, but they really do not understand who he is, what his role and their role as “followers” of him is to be, and when the test of their commitment comes, they abandon him. Their behavior is precisely characterized in the Marcan interpretation by Jesus of the parable of the sower (4:16-17 καὶ οὗτοί εἰσιν οἱ ἐπὶ τῇ πετρώδῃ σπειρόμενοι,οἱ ὅταν ἀκούσωσιν τὸν λόγον εὐθὺς μετὰ χαρᾶς λαμβάνουσιν αὐτόν, καὶ οὐκ ἔχουσιν ῥίζαν ἐν ἑαυτοιῖς ἀλλὰ πρόσκαιροί εἰσιν, εἶτα γενομένης θλίψεως ἢ διώγμου διὰ τὸν λόγον εὐθὺς σκανδαλίζοναι.

33 “went off after him” (ἐπῆλθον ὀπίσω αὐτοῦ). D05 displays instead of that phrase simply ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ?~.  Although there is hardly any significant difference between the two phrases, ὀπίσω ἔρχεσθαι?~ and ἀκολουθεῖν, it may be that the reaading of NA27 is preferable here because it uses, at the end of the pericope, the same verb-phrase employed by Jesus in his initial invitation or summons to the first two fishermen, and the phraseology thus has a neat concinnity.

34 As he does consistently, Mark underscores here the rapid-fire sequence of events with εὐθὺς τοῖς σάββασιν?~. There is no waiting for the sabbath to pass but it is made the occasion for what is little short of an epiphany, despite the fact that the observers certainly don’t understand who Jesus is.

35 Mark’s phrasing is in itself striking, and the amazement of the audience at his authoritative manner is reiterated expressly in vs. 27; although we are not told at all the focus of the teaching, the manner is what impresses: it is not a matter, evidently, of reiteration of what scripture says but a challenging assertion of God’s will as demanding response: exactly what we observe in Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt 5-7).

36 As Louw & Nida indicate: a πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον is “an evil supernatural spirit which is ritually unclean and which causes persons to be ritually unclean.” This spirit is defiled and defiling, whether or not it is recognized as such by an ordinary observer. While the εὐθὺς here may seem surprising, it is intended so: the presence of Jesus and the realm he represents constitute a clear and present threat to this spirit and the realm which it represents. This spirit cannot silently abide the threat but recognizes the spirit now resident since his baptism in Jesus as the mark of that realm: Jesus is “the Holy One of God.”

37 The same authority displayed in his teaching is now displayed in his stern command to the defiling spirit. φιμώθητι commands silence; while the spirit does leave the demoniac, it does not do so quietly but it says no more about the identity of Jesus. This is the first appearance of the celebrated theme of the Marcan “Messianic secret,” most simply formulated as the narrative motif recurring in this gospel especially, to a lesser extent in the other Synoptic gospels, that the identity of Jesus is recognized by demonic spirits and blurted out by them, despite explicit warnings by Jesus not to do so, while nevertheless this identity remains undiscerned by other human beings about him and is not understood even when it is somehow given explicit expression.

38 The adjective καινή here used of Jesus’ manner of teaching means not just “new” but “hitherto unheard of.” Clearly Jesus behaves in a manner that is wholly beyond the realm of their mundane existence and experience: they do not know what to make of him, but, as the next verse indicates, they proceed to make Jesus the “talk of the town” of Capernaum and far beyond the town itself.

39 Jesus heals Simon Peter’s un-named mother-in-law. There is no indication of the nature of her illness, only a simple statement that Jesus kindly took her by the hand and at once she was sufficiently recovered to get up and serve Jesus and the four disciples a meal.

40 This is the first instance of a recurrent occurrence in Mark’s narrative: throngs of people gather near Jesus for healing or for instruction with twofold consequence: (a) growing acclaim of his miraculous powers spreads far and wide; (b) the pressure of the crowd surrounding him threatens to crush Jesus.

41 Again, the Marcan theme of the “Messianic secret.”

42 Recurrent Marcan themes again find expression here: (a) whether owing to the pressure of the throngs gathering about him or for personal need, Jesus withdraws into the the wilderness; (b) he cannot remain in solitude: his followers pursue and overtake him and tell him that he is, in effect, the object of a “manhunt.” Yet Jesus has his own agenda and presses on with that, not in Capernaum but elsewhere: he is deeply cognizant of a mission.

43 This is the first of a number of brief summaries of Jesus’ activity; yet just as in the account of the initial scene in the Capernaum synagogue, so here there is a striking incident: a leper comes and successfully appeals to Jesus’ compassion to heal him. The “Messianic secret” motif is once again evident: Jesus sternly orders the newly-healed man to complete the Mosaic requirements for demonstration of leprosy healed and to say nothing further to anyone; evidently Jesus does not seek acclaim as a healer anymore than as an exorciser of demons. Yet the man goes forth and blabbers the tale of his cure everywhere he goes, and the outcome is that Jesus dare not return to Capernaum if he will avoid the throngs but stays out in the wilderness and lets the throngs come to him.