Reaching for his cell phone ringing with the sound of “Boomer Sooner,” Hugh reads the name of the caller, “David,” he says, “What is going on, Dave?”
David answers, “Hugh, can I ask you a question about our Bible study coming up this Sunday in Sunday School?”
“Sure, Dave. What is your question?”
“I know we are about to start studying the Gospel of Mark section by section and yet, I am not sure what we mean when we say, ‘gospel.” What is it? What are the authors intending to teach the reader? From what I can tell, the four gospels are not like modern biographies. For one thing, they don’t all share the same information and for a second thing, they don’t have the same order. What can you tell me to help me know what I am looking at when I read a gospel?”
“Great questions, Dave. Since we are on the phone, I will try to streamline my reply and if we need to expand it, we can do it later in person.”
“First, Dave, before the early Christians began to use the word, gospel, it referred to good news about a military or political victory. The New Testament translates the Greek word, euangelion, as good news. From Mark 1:14-15 ‘good news’ refers to the message proclaimed by Jesus Christ or according to 1 Corinthians 15: 1 the good news concerning Jesus Christ. This is why the early believers seized the term ‘good news’ for the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”
“That is interesting, Hugh.”
“And second, Dave, in a large sense, the Gospels contain stories. We know stories grab our attention and help us retain the content of what we are being told. Stories aid us in becoming part of the events being described. Stories help us to be more than mere readers. Using our imaginations, we enter the story personally, emotionally, and psychologically.”
“That’s true, Hugh.”
“Dave, the early believers understood that Gospels drew on the personal experiences of the apostles. Justin Martyr, who lived from about A.D. 100 – 165, in his First Apology, refers to the Gospels as the ‘memoirs’ of the Apostles. Thus, it seems the early church felt that these gospel authors were writing biographies about Jesus. You have already noted that when we read the Gospels today, they are much different from modern biographies.
“Hugh, Matthew and Luke jump from his birth into this ministry with little to any information about his teen years. Mark, which what we are going to study, introduces John the Baptist without any mention of the birth of Jesus. why is that so?”
Dave, that’s keen insight about the Gospels. Have you thought about how they are arranged? In a general manner, they are arranged topically. They report what Jesus said with a variety of ways. The major difference between the Gospels and modern biographies is the amount of time the Gospels devote to the last week of Christ’s life.”
“Dave, remember just because they are not modern biographies, does not mean they are not biographies. Ancient biographies followed simple outlines. Generally, they focused on the birth or arrival of the hero and follow his life to his death. We know that the way a person dies often says much about the way the person lived.”
“The ancient authors selected sayings and actions done by the hero in order to demonstrate a truth or something important about the hero. Reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John shows they have much in common with ancient biographies.”
“Dave, another important point to remember is this, ‘ancient writers or biographers did not feel compelled to record speeches verbatim. Paraphrasing and summarizing set the pattern for many ancient biographers. They felt free to arrange the materials to suit their themes or purposes.
“It has been said, ‘The goal of the gospels writers was to tell the story of Jesus in a faithful, yet relevant and persuasive manner for their readers. Rather than viewing the differences between accounts as errors in reporting, we should see them as illustrations of the different theological purposes and emphases of the gospel writers.’”
“Dave, let me show you how this knowledge of ancient biographers helps us understand what appears to be a discrepancy in scripture. Many astute readers of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke notice that the second and third temptations are reversed in the two gospels.
“Matthew focuses on the Kingdom of God and thus, doesn’t it make sense to end the temptations with Satan offering the kingdoms of the world to Jesus? And Luke emphasizes Jerusalem. Doesn’t it make sense that Luke would end his temptations with Jesus jumping off the temple to only be rescued by the angels? Each Gospel writer ends the temptations to emphasize his theological focus.”
“And before we call it an evening, Dave, let me remind you that the Gospels are not only ancient biographies, but they are ancient biographies that focus on Christ. They are not merely recording stories, but specific stories related to the life and ministry of Christ. They seek to communicate theological information about Jesus to their readers. All story-telling has a purpose and the Gospel writers determined to tell the story about Jesus, and Jesus, alone.”
“Dave, does that help some as we move towards our study in Mark’s Gospel?”
“It does, Hugh, thank you for helping me tonight. I can rest, now, I think. Good night!”
“Good night, Dave.”
If you have thoughts about ancient biographies and how the Gospels used this methodology, please comment.
A warm smile flashed across Hugh’s face as he entered the Sunday School classroom. Hands around the room were clapping with a joyful beat like that of a victorious college football or basketball team arriving at home. Cheers filled the room.
Until this moment, Hugh hadn’t realized his absence over the last couple of months had impacted the lives of these people in the room. His mother’s sudden illness and the Christmas holidays interrupted his plans to teach the class how to study God’s Word.
“Thank you, so much! I am humbled by your applause. Thank you for the emails, the cards, the text messages, and prayers. Each act of love meant so much to us. Mom is recovering from her illness. I pray your Christmas and New Years brought joy and peace to you and your families.”
“Now, let’s return to where we left off. We are learning to use a Chapter annotation or outline as we begin to study a text. This will allow us to get a clearer literary context for our focal passage.”
“Someone tell me, where is the proper place to begin our Bible study?”
“Correct, Lynn. Step one is Prayer. We always acknowledge our need for the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds to God’s revealed truth. Let us pray.”
The second step leads us to read the chapter at least 5 times. We might want to read it in 2-3 or more translations as well. Why might we do this?
“Indeed, Harry. We are able to see how different words might be understood in our passage. We can see a range of meanings. We might begin to make notes as we read of items that jump out at us as we read.”
“Our third step is to create a catchy title. Be as descriptive and memorable as possible. One to three words is best. For example, 1 Corinthians 13 might be called, ‘The Love Chapter.’ or 1 Corinthians 15, ‘The Resurrection Chapter.'”
“One writer offers the title for John 4 which tells about Jesus and the woman at the well and the nobleman’s son who was healed, “Well-Well!” What might we title Mark 1? What are your suggestions?”
“My title for Mark 1 is, ‘Jesus, the Noise-Maker!” What do you think?”
Our fourth step is where we gain the title for our exercise. We need to summarize or annotate the contents of the chapter. Our Chapter is Mark 1. You might find it helpful to use an outline format, or a list format of the major points/ parts of the chapter or even a bullet list. “
“Remember: You are not seeking to interpret anything yet. Your goal is to record what Mark tells us. Just the facts here. Your outline might look like this:”
“Mark 1: 1-8 – John the Baptist heralds the coming Messiah before Jesus arrives on the scene. “
“Mark 1:9-13 – John the Baptist baptizes Jesus and God, the Father, affirms Jesus’ identity as the Holy Spirit first appears.”
“Mark 1: 14-20 – Jesus raises his voice to call his first disciples to follow Him by faith.”
“Mark 1: 21-34 – Jesus teaches and does miracles. “
“Mark 1: 35-39 – Jesus sets the example and shares His mission with His disciples.”
“Mark 1: 40-45 – Jesus shows who He is with the dominion that He has as the stage is set for the rest of His ministry.”
“Step 5 causes us to read through Mark 1 again. Who are the chief people involved in the chapter? You might list them along with what is said about them or what they might do. What is significant about each of them? Look for pronouns (he, she, they, it, we). Ask yourself, to whom is each pronoun referring? Why are some more important and others so not important in the chapter?”
“Step 6 proves to be one of my favorite steps. You read through the chapter and select the one or two verses that best summarize the contents of the chapter. Did the author state his purpose for writing? What single verse or two verses could you build application from?”
“Step 7 leads us to read through the chapter again. This time watch for comments that tells us about God, the Father, Jesus, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. What do we learn about their attributes? Is Jesus seen as powerful, holy? Does the Holy Spirit do anything?”
“Ask yourself, what do I learn about christology? pneumatology? soteriology? ecclesiology? angelology? anthropology? eschatology? or the Christian life?”
“Step 8 – The central lesson and application. This is where you write down what you learned from the previous steps. What insights have you gained from this survey of the chapter?”
“First of all – is personal application – Ask yourself, ‘what major principles or truths do I see that God wants to teach me from this chapter? What is the writer trying to communicate? What changes do I need to make myself? Conclude with these 2 questions, “How do these truths apply to me personally?” and “What specifically am I going to do about these truths?”
“The second area of application is corporate – Ask yourself, how should I understand this chapter’s truths in light of my Sunday School class? my church? my small group? my family? my circle of friends?” What do we need to do as a group?”
BE SPECIFIC with each application statement.
“Our homework for next week is to review steps 5, 6, 7 and 8. Then read through Mark 1. Complete each of the steps 5, 6, 7, and 8. We will discuss these together to see what we each came up with and compare them. We might even vote on which one we feel best answers each step.”
“Study to prove yourself a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.”
Tweetable comments. You might consider tweeting these statements:
“I am so glad to be home!” exclaimed Hugh. He tugged at the green sweater he wore, struggling to remove it before he began to teach his Sunday School class.
have you been, Hugh?” asked Thomas. “Johnny did a fine job teaching our class
the last couple of Sundays, but we
missed you being with us.”
experienced an adventure of a lifetime the last three weeks, Johnny. I visited
Israel for twelve days and then flew to Greece for a five-day tour.”
sounds exciting,” replied David,
plane landed in Athens without any problem. The driver who was to pick me up,
was waiting as my tour company promised. My fears were greatly relieved.”
did you stay?” posed Maryanne.
stayed in Athens at a hotel with the Greek name, ‘Rooster.’ It had a beautifully
etched rooster on the glass in the front of the hotel. My hotel was near the
Syntagma Square where various groups demonstrate. Twice, I had to exit my bus
two or three blocks from my hotel after
being on tour all day because of demonstrations. Once the communist party
demonstrated against a longer work week.”
sounds like an interesting week, for sure,” piped in Sally.
that wasn’t the real adventure. My tour bus and guide arrived on time in front
of the hotel on the first afternoon I arrived in Greece. We headed to Cape Sunion to tour the Temple
of Poseidon. We passed beautiful scenes of the Greek coastline, viewed the
Saronic Gulf and some of its islands, along with scanning a few steep cliffs
and crystal blue water.”
was the Temple of Poseidon like?” asked Maryanne.
“I don’t want to waste too much time on this, but it had a single row of columns around the edge of the temple. It had six columns at the end and thirteen along the side for a total of 34 columns. I counted sixteen columns standing. Four northern columns were reconstructed in the 1950’s said our guide. The columns were of Doric order. Each column stood about 20 feet tall and about 3 feet in diameter. What is unusual are the 16 flutes around the columns rather than the usual 20 flutes. The major building material was marble. Scholars claim the marble came from a nearby area, Agrileza.”
know how you like history and archeology. That must have been exciting for you
to see,” exclaimed Thomas.
was, but that was not my big adventure. As I viewed the remains of this ancient
temple, and walked around the grounds, I remembered the tour guide instructingl
us to meet at the bus at 5:15 pm to head back to Athens. So, about 5:00 pm, I
began my walk to the bus parking lot.
And when I arrived, guess what?”
chimed in Thomas.
had already left. I was left behind.”
did you do?” asked Sally.
to myself, ‘Big boy, this is not the time to begin to cry. You must be adult
about this. So, I walked over to 2 Greek bus drivers, praying they spoke
“Do either of you speak English?”
looked at each other, said something in Greek. I am sure one of them said, “We
have another American who can’t tell time. Then, one of them answered in
perfect English, “Yes, we do. Did you miss your bus?”
did, it appears.”
The bus drivers laughed again. The second bus driver said, “This happens all the time. We take care of all the passengers. Do you see that big, purple bus across the parking lot? Get on it when the others start loading. Just tell me the name of your hotel and we will drop you off.”
that is amazing! Left behind at the Temple of Poseidon. You ought to write a
book and make a movie about that!” laughed Sherry.
laughed and said, “Might do it. Let’s get started with our lesson for today.”
I want us to start learning how to do what I call chapter annotations. I will
begin to lay out some general rules for these chapter annotations and will eventually
provide you with a sample annotation.”
“Of course, when we begin any Bible study, we need to rely on the Holy Spirit. We desire to learn and apply God’s Word. Psalms 119:18 sums our desire best, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things our of your law.” Bible study ought to be a wondrous adventure as we get to know our Savior and His ways better.
119:22 reminds us to hide God’s Word in our heart so we won’t sin against
God. Verse 28 of the same Psalm exhorts
us to gain spiritual strength from God’s Word. Added to those from Psalm 119
comes verse 50 that teaches us the Bible contains promises for us to trust
while verse 60 exhorts us to be quick to obey God’s commands.”
sin corrupts our minds. We possess human, carnal, and fallen minds. The Bible
is God-breathed (inspired – 2 Tim 3:16-17). We carry the baggage of preunderstandings
and presuppositions which need to be checked by the Holy Spirit.
2 Corinthians 2:14 teaches without the Holy Spirit, men do not accept the truths from God but considers them foolishness. The SPIRITUAL truths of Scripture can only be understood by the aid of the Holy Spirit.
Once we have prayed for guidance from the Holy Spirit, we need to read the biblical passage several times. I prefer to read the passage at least 5 time and maybe more, if it is a difficult pasage: twice from my favorite translation and one time from three different translations. I don’t look for anything specific. I merely read to get the content of the chapter into my mind. You might want to listen to a recording of the chapter for more details.
have read the chapter several times, I seek to summarize the chapter into one
short, succinct caption. I attempt to limit it to seven words or fewer if
possible. The shorter, the easier to remember. I also want the title to be catchy or
So, let’s stop and practice what we have discussed. I know we haven’t covered much material, but these are important steps. Let’s read through Mark chapter 1 five times. What titles would you give to Mark 1? Share those in the response box, please. Then we can discuss them. Titles I might use: “Great Beginnings!” “Strong Starts!” “”Introductions Please!”
Consider Completing the following statement:
My title for Mark 1 might be:
Ask yourself, “Does it cover the content of Mark chapter 1?”
Dr. Church Swindoll’s message to seminary students at Dallas Baptist Theological Seminary, “Accurately Handling the Word.” You will enjoy, be challenged, and encouraged by his words of wisdom concerning the Word of Life. I encourage you to drink from his well of truth.
Hugh: “A carefully selected card with the right wording serves as an improvement over modern attempts – emails, memes, text messages – to communicate one’s love for another. To me, writing your own feelings and thoughts for another reaches its peak with a handwritten letter. “
“I recently ran across a love letter by the formidable Napoleon Bonaparte to his Josephine Bonaparte. This general known for military genius and the large empire he gathered after the French Revolution, wrote to the woman who held his heart. Below is a sample expression of his love for his Josephine:
A few days ago I thought I loved you; but since I last saw you I feel I love you a thousand times more. All the time I have known you, I adore you more each day; that just shows how wrong was La Bruyere’s maxim that love comes all at once. Everything in nature has its own life and different stages of growth. I beg you, let me see some of your faults: be less beautiful, less graceful, less kind, less good…”
“If we are going to properly interpret God’s love letter to man, His Word, we need to embrace work – hard work. I imagine Josephine may have kept Napoleon’s letter’s close and read them over and over as she thought about him while at war. Every word proved precious.”
“The Bible, God’s Word, to us, ought to be just as treasured as Josephine did Napoleon’s words. Every word ought to seize our attention. Most of us read the Bible too fast. We think we are in a speed reading class and want to be able to say, “I finished my scripture reading for today! Give me a gold star!”
“Now class, the key to deep Bible study is to be observant. We need to see what the details God has placed in His Word. Our goal is to observe everything we can see. We ask questions and keep asking questions like professor Agassiz required his student to do. Refer to the previous blog. Keep looking and looking until you see the whole passage in all its marvelous beauty.”
“Observation is taking a good hard look at what is in the text.” He continues, “Learn to read intelligently, intentionally, and interactively. Observation requires concentration. It is not a difficult procedure. It is not a complicated process. It can be mastered with practice and diligence.”
“Akins suggests, “Learn to read as for the first time (the advantage of reading the text in the original language). Learn to read as a love letter (personal).” Finally, Akins offers six questions to ask when we read the Bible:”
“WHO? – is the author of the book? To whom is the book written? Who are the characters in the book? Who is speaking? To whom is he speaking?”
“WHAT? – What is the atmosphere of the book or passage? Friendly? Chastening? Loving? What is the author’s general topic? What is he saying about the topic? What is the CONTEXT? What are the key words? What do they mean? What? What? What?”
“WHEN? When was the book written? When did this even happen in relation to other events? When was this prophecy fulfilled or has it been? “When” questions are important to ask especially in narrative literature such as the Gospels. This will help give you the ‘time’ perspective.”
“WHERE? Where was the book written? Where were the recipients of the book living? Can you locate the places mentioned on a map? Where else does this topic appear in Scripture?”
“WHY? Why was the book written? Why does he include this material and not other things? Why does the author give so much space to that topic and so little to another?”
“HOW? How many? How many times does the author use the same word in this book, chapter, passage, verse? How long? How much? How does he do this? Say this? How does this relate to the preceding statement? To the succeeding statement?”
Since we are running out of time, I have made a couple of videos to help us with out study of Mark’s Gospel. I will introduce you to the concept of observing the text. Let me encourage you to go from what I briefly offer and see how many more observations you can make from Mark 1: 1-3.
The first video walks you through several categories to help you mark Sentences and Paragraphs. These come from J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word, 3rd edition. The second video models how to mark and record your observations. May you find them helpful as we begin our study of Mark’s Gospel.
How have you made such observations from the Bible text? What method did you use?
Do you have any suggestions for myself and others who want to read the text carefully?
Sam was born April 13, 1837 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, Charles, and his mother, Sarah, raised Charles in a strict Christian home. Sam attended the Boston Latin School.
At the ripe age of sixteen years, Sam matriculated in William College (1853). Two of his professors were naturalist Paul Chadbourne and geologist Ebenezer Emmons. These men guided young Sam to develop an interest in natural history. His favorite area of study was entomology.
Upon reaching nineteen years of age, Sam dedicated himself to a lifetime career of studying insects. Finally in 1847 Sam graduated from Williams at the head of his class.
Sam enrolled in the Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School in order to study under Louis Agassiz. Sam knew that Professor Agassiz was the most influential scientist in American at the time.
Sam studied under Professor Agassiz for four years and graduated with a B.S. degree in 1862. He worked for his favorite professor for another two years. Sadly, Sam fell under the influence of a new theory of its day, Darwinism.
Now, you might say, Hugh why are you taking class time to tell us about Sam? I wanted you to meet Sam Scudder. Sam Scudder wrote 180 papers during his lifetime – – on grasshoppers.
In 1862 his first paper identified 105 species of grasshoppers. By the end of his career, he had described 106 genera and 630 species of grasshoppers. Again you ask, “So what, Hugh?”
It fascinates me that a man could see that many differences in grasshoppers. After all, a grasshopper by any other name is still a grasshopper! Right? Where did Sam Scudder gain his skills to see so many differences?
Let me share another story that some think Sam H. Scudder wrote and then I will make application with it as we prepare to begin to study Mark’s Gospel in detail next week.
“This is how Sam’ story begins, “It was more than fifteen years ago that I entered the laboratory of Professor Agassiz, and told him I had enrolled my name in the scientific school as a student of natural history.
He asked me a few questions about my object in coming, my antecedents generally, the mode in which I afterwards proposed to use the knowledge I might acquire, and finally, whether I wished to study any special branch. To the latter I replied that while I wished to be well grounded in all departments of zoology, I purposed to devote myself specially to insects.
“When do you wish to begin?” he asked. “Now,” I replied.
This seemed to please him, and with an energetic “Very well,” he reached from a shelf a huge jar of specimens in yellow alcohol. “Take this fish,” he said, “and look at it; we call it a Haemulon; by and by I will ask what you have seen.”
With that he left me, but in a moment returned with explicit instructions as to the care of the object entrusted to me. “No man is fit to be a naturalist,” said he, “who does not know how to take care of specimens.”
I was to keep the fish before me in a tin tray, and occasionally moisten the surface with alcohol from the jar, always taking care to replace the stopper tightly. Those were not the days of ground glass stoppers, and elegantly shaped exhibition jars; all the old students will recall the huge, neckless glass bottles with their leaky, wax-besmeared corks, half-eaten by insects and begrimed with cellar dust. Entomology was a cleaner science than ichthyology, but the example of the professor who had unhesitatingly plunged to the bottom of the jar to produce the fish was infectious; and though this alcohol had “a very ancient and fish-like smell,”
I really dared not show any aversion within these sacred precincts, and treated the alcohol as though it were pure water. Still I was conscious of a passing feeling of disappointment, for gazing at a fish did not commend itself to an ardent entomologist. My friends at home, too, were annoyed, when they discovered that no amount of eau de cologne would drown the perfume which haunted me like a shadow.
In ten minutes I had seen all that could be seen in that fish, and started in search of the professor, who had, however, left the museum; and when I returned, after lingering over some of the odd animals stored in the upper apartment, my specimen was dry all over. I dashed the fluid over the fish as if to resuscitate it from a fainting-fit, and looked with anxiety for a return of a normal, sloppy appearance.
This little excitement over, nothing was to be done but return to a steadfast gaze at my mute companion. Half an hour passed, an hour, another hour; the fish began to look loathsome. I turned it over and around; looked it in the face — ghastly; from behind, beneath, above, sideways, at a three-quarters view — just as ghastly. I was in despair; at an early hour, I concluded that lunch was necessary; so with infinite relief, the fish was carefully replaced in the jar, and for an hour I was free.
On my return, I learned that Professor Agassiz had been at the museum, but had gone and would not return for several hours. My fellow students were too busy to be disturbed by continued conversation. Slowly I drew forth that hideous fish, and with a feeling of desperation again looked at it. I might not use a magnifying glass; instruments of all kinds were interdicted. My two hands, my two eyes, and the fish; it seemed a most limited field.
I pushed my fingers down its throat to see how sharp its teeth were. I began to count the scales in the different rows until I was convinced that that was nonsense. At last a happy thought struck me — I would draw the fish; and now with surprise I began to discover new features in the creature. Just then the professor returned.
“Well, what is it like?” He listened attentively to my brief rehearsal of the structure of parts whose names were still unknown to me; the fringed gill-arches and movable operculum; the pores of the head, fleshly lips, and lidless eyes; the lateral line, the spinous fin, and forked tail; the compressed and arched body. When I had finished, he waited as if expecting more, and then, with an air of disappointment:
“You have not looked very carefully; why,” he continued, more earnestly, “you haven’t seen one of the most conspicuous features of the animal, which is as plainly before your eyes as the fish itself. Look again; look again!” And he left me to my misery.
I was piqued; I was mortified. Still more of that wretched fish? But now I set myself to the task with a will, and discovered one new thing after another, until I saw how just the professor’s criticism had been. The afternoon passed quickly, and when, towards its close, the professor inquired,
“Do you see it, yet?
“No,” I replied. “I am certain I do not, but I see how little I saw before.”
“That is next best,” said he earnestly, “but I won’t hear you now; put away your fish and go home; perhaps you will be ready with a better answer in the morning. I will examine you before you look at the fish.”
This was disconcerting; not only must I think of my fish all night, studying, without the object before me, what this unknown but most visible feature might be, but also, without reviewing my new discoveries, I must give an exact account of them the next day. I had a bad memory; so I walked home by Charles River in a distracted state, with my two perplexities.
The cordial greeting from the professor the next morning was reassuring; here was a man who seemed to be quite as anxious as I that I should see for myself what he saw.
“Do you perhaps mean,” I asked, “that the fish has symmetrical sides with paired organs?”
His thoroughly pleased, “Of course, of course!” repaid the wakeful hours of the previous night. After he had discoursed most happily and enthusiastically — as he always did — upon the importance of this point, I ventured to ask what I should do next.
“Oh, look at your fish!” he said, and left me again to my own devices. In a little more than an hour he returned and heard my new catalogue.
“That is good, that is good!” he repeated, “but that is not all; go on.” And so for three long days, he placed that fish before my eyes, forbidding me to look at anything else, or to use any artificial aid. “Look, look, look,” was his repeated injunction.
This was the best entomological lesson I ever had — a lesson whose influence was extended to the details of every subsequent study; a legacy the professor has left to me, as he left it to many others, of inestimable value, which we could not buy, with which we cannot part.
A year afterwards, some of us were amusing ourselves with chalking outlandish beasts upon the blackboard. We drew prancing star-fishes; frogs in mortal combat; hydro-headed worms; stately craw-fishes, standing on their tails, bearing aloft umbrellas; and grotesque fishes, with gaping mouths and staring eyes. The professor came in shortly after, and was as much amused as any at our experiments. He looked at the fishes.
“Haemulons, every one of them,” he said; “Mr. ____________ drew them.”
True; and to this day, if I attempt a fish, I can draw nothing but Haemulons.
The fourth day a second fish of the same group was placed beside the first, and I was bidden to point out the resemblances and differences between the two; another and another followed, until the entire family lay before me, and a whole legion of jars covered the table and surrounding shelves; the odor had become a pleasant perfume; and even now, the sight of an old six-inch worm-eaten cork brings fragrant memories!
The whole group of Haemulons was thus brought into review; and whether engaged upon the dissection of the internal organs, preparation and examination of the bony framework, or the description of the various parts, Agassiz’s training in the method of observing facts in their orderly arrangement, was ever accompanied by the urgent exhortation not to be content with them.
At the end of eight months, it was almost with reluctance that I left these friends and turned to insects; but what I gained by this outside experience has been of greater value than years of later investigation in my favorite groups.”
— from American Poems (3rd ed.; Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Co., 1879): pp. 450-54.
“Class, what is the point of Sam Scudder’s story, “The Student, the Fish, and Agassiz? David, what do you think?”
“Hugh, I think we rarely look at God’s Word with much depth and detail until we are like the student. We think we have seen all there is to see and so we quit. Hugh, we need a professor to teach us to look and see what God has written. May we be as dedicated to read, study, examine closely God’s Word as much as Sam Scudder was this fish.”
“David, you are correct. We will soon be taking a passage from Mark’s Gospel and examine it in detail. Why would we let scientists show us up in such detailed observations? See you next week!”
This is Dr. Lucas, If you are following this blog, please read Mark 1: 1-8 several times this next week. We will begin to examine these verses in detail. Read it 2-4 times per day each week. Make a few notes of what you see each day that you failed to see the day(s) before your current reading.
Dr. Lucas is an author, retired pastor and retired Professor of Bible from Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville, Kentucky. Dr. Roy Lucas lives in the Appalachian Mountains in Harlan, Kentucky with his wife, Veda, also a writer.
He has articles in LifeWay’s Biblical Illustrator, Deacon Magazine, Senior Adult Bible Studies for Life, Lighthouse Bible Studies Refresh Magazine, CBN devotion, and the Revised Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (2015). “Why are You Afraid?” appears in Food for Your Soul, Compilation 1 published by Lighthouse Bible Studies (June 2019). His weekly blog is Truth-Travelers.com.
He preaches, teaches, and serves as interim pastor. His doctorate is in New Testament studies. He excavated in the Tel Gezer Project and served with the Tel Gezer Survey Project. He leads tours to Israel.
He and Dr. John Ditty, Old Testament Professor of Bible at Clear Creek Baptist Bible College in Pineville, Kentucky are leading a tour to Israel in March 2020. If you are interested, contact Dr. Lucas at his email address.
“Good morning folks. For our guests this morning, let me introduce myself, ‘I am Hugh. I am the teacher for this Sunday School class. A few of us have studied the purpose of Mark’s Gospel the last several weeks. Refer to the last 2 week’s blogs for information: ”
“Today, we will touch upon seven important backgrounds for the study of Mark’s Gospel. These backgrounds will supply us with important information each time we approach the study of Mark’s Gospel. These seven backgrounds will aid your study of any Bible book. These will aid you in determining the intended meaning of the biblical author, and ultimately, the Bible’s Author, God.”
“Before, I begin to touch on the seven important backgrounds, let me tell you an interesting story which hopefully illustrates my point about not knowing essential background information.”
pirates of the Aegean Sea in 75 BCE failed to consider the background of a
Roman citizen they captured. This 25-year-old Roman nobleman had set out to
study oratory in Rhodes when the pirates seized him. The story is recounted in Plutarch’s
the pirates asked for 20 talents for his ransom, this nobleman scoffed because they
did not know who he was. He suggested they ask for 50 talents. The Roman nobleman
sent men from his own entourage to raise the 50 talents for his ransom and
settled in for a period of waiting.”
meantime, this nobleman ordered the pirates to obey him. Wanting to sleep, he shushed
them to silence. He recited poems and speeches to them, even when they didn’t
want to listen. He mocked them and called them illiterate barbarians if they
did not applaud his work. The nobleman played their pirate games with them. Yet,
always, he ordered them as if he were their superior and they were his
“Being such an important Roman nobleman, he threatened the pirates with crucifixion. They laughed and saw these threats as coming from a jokester who was boisterous and slightly insane.”
“Thirty-eight days passed, and the ransom arrived. The Roman nobleman left the island, raised a naval force in Miletus, even though he did not hold any political office or military power. He set out to find his pirate captors.
He captured them and returned the pirates to the governor of Asia. The local ruler wasn’t sure he wanted to do anything about the pirates, so Julius Caesar stormed the prison where they were held and promptly crucified all the pirates. If the pirates had researched the background of the nobleman they had captured, things might have turned out different”.
week, we will seek to define seven important backgrounds that every student of
the Bible needs to explore as much as possible before tackling a specific
“Hugh, can I ask a question before you get into our lesson this morning?”
“Of course, David.”
“Hugh, what difference does knowing this information make when we believe God is the ultimate author of the biblical text. His Holy Spirit inspired the writers to write what they recorded. So, does it really matter where the writers lived and what they experienced?”
“David, that is an excellent question. We have no doubt that God was the ultimate author of our biblical text as you say. But, God laid out eternal, theological truths in His Word. We want to know the principles he placed in the Word so we can extract from His Word what He intended us to live by in this world. Do we agree that God communicated to Abraham and Abraham obeyed what God told him to do? Didn’t that happen in a historical environment?”
“When Paul wrote his letters to the Ephesians, Galatians, as well as 1, 2 Timothy and the others, wasn’t Paul living in a special geographical location? Aren’t many of his letters direct results to circumstances happening in those places or to those people?”
This helps us ascertain the proper method to apply God’s Word in our lives. J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, say, “We do so because it offers us a window into what we must recapture God’s original intended meaning as reflected in the text and framed by the ancient historical-cultural context.’ Does that help answer your question, David?”
Hugh. That helps.”
“Alright, allow me to write my life of the seven backgrounds on the board before I start my explanation.”The author’s backgrounAuthor’s Background
The video will explain and illustrate the 7 background
“Class, let me warn you about one thing related to the study of backgrounds. –
Please understand that these backgrounds are not always an end all. Sometimes details become the only thing one studies, and the principle of truth is lost or overlooked.
Matthew 19:23-24 mentions how possible it is for a rich
man to enter heaven. The possibility is connected to the ‘eye of the needle.’ An
explanation that never surfaced until the 6th century A.D. referred
to a gate where a camel would craw through it in order to get inside Jerusalem
“The problem rests
on the fact that the ‘eye of the needle’ refers to just that, ‘the eye of a
Jesus intended his
audience to understand the largeness of the camel and the smallness of the eye
of the needle. This illustration intended to show how hard it is for a rich man
to stop trusting in his worldly goods and turn to trust Christ for his daily
Do you value these seven backgrounds? Why or why not?
Do you spend time exploring these when you study a passage? why or why not?
Any other areas you feel should be studied? Why do you make this suggestion?
“Hugh, There were
five major natural disasters that devasted our country in 2018. Can you name
“David, I can hardly remember what I had for breakfast,
let alone something that happened last year. What were they?”
First, rain and mudslides devasted the wildfire area of
Montecito, California. Twenty-one people were killed.
Second, Ellicot City, Maryland experienced devastating flooding when more than 8 inches of rain fell in a few hours.
The third devastating event in 2018 brought Hurricane Florence to the coasts of the Carolinas. Forty-three people died as a result of rainfall between 24 and 36 inches.
Fourth, the first Category 4 hurricane, Michael, hit the
Florida panhandle with winds in the Panama City area exceeding 150 miles an
hour. Michael killed 43 people.
And last, the California campfire swept through Paradise,
California destroying 13,000 homes and burning 150,00 acres. Eighty-five people
“Hugh I remember last week we asked the
the Professionals Know More than you?” We explored a few New
Testament Introductions and Surveys. This week we were going to focus on New
Testament Commentaries, weren’t we?”
“That’s true, David, but I am still hung up on the five
major crises of 2018 and what they have to do with our study on Mark’s
“Hugh, it seems
that crises can serve as a catch-all for just about anything bad happening,
including one of the purposes for why Mark wrote his Gospel.”
“I read a commentary by Robert Guelich. He explained some
commentators say Mark intended to address the crisis created by the Jewish War of
66-70 A.D. which affected the Jewish view of eschatology (Luhrmann).”
“Also, he mentions Weeden, who we encountered last week,
as postulating Mark’s purpose focused on correcting a crisis caused by the “Hellenization” of the mission with an
to how Guelich concludes his discussion:
“Therefore, Mark wrote the Gospel pastorally to address a
community under duress. This duress had
given rise to questions about who Jesus was and the nature of the “Kingdom” he
had come to inaugurate. Mark points back to the “good news concerning Jesus
Messiah, Son of God,” to remind them of who Jesus was and what he had come to
do as well as what he would do. The Gospel offered a renewed basis for their
faith, made clear the dangers and pitfalls along the way, and offered the hope
of the Kingdom future, the day of harvest, the mustard tree, the resurrection,
and the ultimate consummation of God’s rule.”
“ David, I see where your references to the five natural
disasters fits into our study now. Guelich postulated an interesting theory. But
listen to what Vincent Taylor suggests:
The motives which led him to write must have been those which influenced all the Synoptic writers – the delay of the Parousia, the passing away of eyewitnesses, and the desire to preserve the oral teaching of the primitive communities. Other motives, apologetic, liturgical, catechetical, must have also have guided his undertaking.”
to Guelich’s comments on Mark 1:8:26, he insists that to know the purpose of
Mark’s Gospel, one must begin at 1:1 where Mark says he set out to write the
“gospel concerning Jesus Messiah, Son of God.”
asserts that Mark’s purpose involved conserving the tradition since the early authorizing
witnesses for the traditions were dying. By writing down the “gospel,” Mark
preserved the Gospel from distortions or disappearance. Guelich criticizes this
view by asserting that oral tradition had proved to be as reliable as the written
resources in some cases.”
Geddert adds Mark penned his Gospel to have a specific impact on the reader as they study it from the beginning to the conclusion. He believes that Mark wrote his Gospel so that those who study each part in detail will be additionally impacted.
Larry W. Hurtado explains another avenue related to the purpose of Mark’s
Gospel. He offers some insight. He agrees that Mark is a Gospel about Jesus but
asserts that it is also a book about discipleship, that is, how to live as a
follower of Jesus.”
Hutado suggests that Mark concerned himself with explaining the cross as the major work of Jesus, but also the pattern for living the Christian life. Mark 8-10 highlight Jesus’ coming suffering and how it serves as a pattern for those following Jesus.
said David, “I ran across an interesting proposal by C. Bryan in his “A Preface
to Mark, where he expounded his theory that one purpose of Mark’s Gospel was
that it be read aloud.
R. T. France quoted recent estimates that only about 10% or perhaps in some
cities, 15-20% of the population could read. From
such statistics, Bryan develops his theory that Mark’s Gospel had the purpose
of being read aloud. He asks, “Was Mark written to be read aloud?” and his
assertion is “yes: “Mark was designed for oral communication – and for
transmission as a continuous whole – rather than for private study or silent
“Hugh, seems like our crisis over Mark’s purpose has been
Please view this short video where I summarize the 4 major purposes of Mark’s Gospel.
Does Bible study seem like a crisis to you? When? Why?
If you are a pastor or one who teachers regularly, does
the preparation ever seem like you go from one crisis to another? How can we overcome
such a crisis?
David moved to a table in the library after they had gathered a few resources.
“David, let’s see how many purposes the “professionals” have identified for Mark’s writing his gospel using only New Testament Introductions and New Testament Surveys.”
“First, we will list the purposes without evaluating them. Then, over the next couple of weeks we will evaluate the various hypotheses we encounter. “
“We want to be precise with our sources, so we know who said what. Does that sound like a working premise for our task tonight? And next week we will discuss what some commentaries say about Mark’s possible purpose.”
that works well for me. Remember, you are the teacher.”
“David, if you will survey a few of the New Testament Introductions written by the professionals who have spent a lifetime studying the materials related to Mark. I will select a few commentaries so I can be prepared for our study next week. Ready? Set? Go!”
share what you discover tonight in an hour. This way we can be home with our
families before it’s too late tonight.”
After an hour passed.
what did you discover from the New Testament Introductions?”
“Hugh, Dr. Thomas D. Lea reminds us that Mark did not provide a clear statement of purpose in the Gospel. Lea points out W. Wrede postulated that Mark wrote his gospel to cover up Jesus’ failure to declare He was the Messiah. Hugh, Wrede said that Mark put words into Jesus’ mouth so that Jesus prevented others from sharing his Messiahship.”
that is interesting for sure. We will come back to evaluate some of these ideas
in a couple of weeks. But tonight, we want to know what is said. What else did
continued by pointing out that internal evidence points to some reasons why
Mark wrote his gospel. For example, the very first verse of the gospel shows
Mark’s interest in sharing the gospel of Jesus. I surmise this is an
8:31; 9:31; and 10:33-34 as evidence that Mark focused on the person and work
of Jesus. He adds to this internal evidence Mark’s Gospel where there is a call
for repentance in 1:15 along with Mark’s motif of servanthood where there is a strong
focus on Jesus death (10:45).”
suggests a second possibility resting on Mark’s understanding that persecution
would be encountered by the early Christians and he wanted them to be able to
stand strong in obedience to Christ (10:29-30). I guess this is intended to be encouragement
to endure suffering.”
source I read was by Kostenberger, Kellum and Quarles. These scholars added that the major problem
facing Mark was to explain the crucifixion of Jesus. After all, what Roman
would believe in a Jewish Messiah who died by crucifixion on a cross?”
They repeated Lea’s idea that the opening statement of Mark’s Gospel is the most likely purpose for writing the Gospel. They supplement Lea’s information by writing,
In the Gospel, God (who refers to Jesus as his ‘beloved Son” at Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration; 1:11 and 9:7); demons (1:25; 3:11-12; 5:7); Jesus Himself (12:6; 14:61) and a Roman centurion (15:39) all agree that Jesus is the Son of God. In support of this claim, Mark’s Roman audience was treated to a dazzling display of Jesus’ miracle-working power
That shows his authority over the realms of nature, sickness, and death, and even the Supernatural (4:35-5:43).
found their summary most helpful:
we can note four interrelated purposes in Mark’s Gospel, all of which revolve
around Jesus’ identity as Son of God:
A pastoral purpose: to reach Christians about the nature of discipleship.
A missionary-training purpose: to explain who Jesus prepared His followers to take on his mission and to show others how to do so as well.
An apologetic purpose: to demonstrate to non-Christians that Jesus is the Son of God because of His great power and in spite of his crucifixion; and
An anti-imperial purpose to show Jesus, not Caesar, is the true Son of God, Savior, and Lord.”
like those four purpose statements.”
did you find anyone who had more than the purposes of Kostenberger’s group and
Wrede’s notion that Mark wrote to cover up Jesus’ failure to preach He was the
Robert H. Gundry suggests a new twist. Gundry posited that some feel Mark wrote
to soften the offensiveness of Jesus’ Messiahship for the Roman authorities. This is why Mark invented the “messianic
also explained that Mark may have written his Gospel to encourage the
persecuted believers by reminding them of Jesus’ own suffering and death.”
that is really interesting and helpful for us to keep in mind when we begin to
study the Gospel’s content soon.”
Hugh,” said David, “Donald Guthrie touched upon some important truths related
to the purpose of Mark. I really like how he explains Mark’s purpose.”
“In summary, Guthrie says that Mark’s motivating intention was to write a “Gospel,” that is, to recount the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
adds, “This at once distinguishes the book from a biography and explains the
large proportion of space devoted to the last three weeks of the life of Jesus.
The cross and resurrection were the central features of the Christian gospel.”
explains that Mark possesses an evangelistic purpose which is to account for
the historical events in the life of Jesus. Jesus did not need to be introduced
so Mark omitted birth narratives and stories of Jesus’ early life. Mark
confronts his reader with the contention that Jesus is the Son of God. Mark
assumes his readers know who Jesus is.”
some of the others already mentioned, Guthrie accepts the catechetical motive
as possible while downplaying the liturgical purpose.”
“Being a professional scholar, Guthrie highlights D. E. Nineham’s suggestions behind the motive of Mark:
To show that Jesus as the Messiah was innocent of Jewish charges and that his sufferings were part of God’s purpose.
To explain why Jesus did not publicly declare Himself to be Messiah.
To explain why Christians have to suffer, i.e. because Jesus had to suffer.
To present the works of Jesus as triumph over the forces of evil.
“Guthrie brings his discussion to a conclusion when he
affirms that not all scholars would hold to the four reasons provided by
Nineham, but many scholars agree that each played a part in the motive for Mark
penning his Gospel.”
that is quite a lot of information for us to ponder over this week. I will
share what the commentaries suggest next week. Then we will collectively
determine what we believe are Mark’s motives or purposes for writing this
night, David! See you at Wednesday night prayer meeting.”
“Night, Hugh. I plan to be there, Lord willing.”
Do you agree with the “professionals” as to what they suggest might be Mark’s purpose for writing his Gospel? Why or why not? If you have an idea, respond and let me know what you believe to be Mark’s purpose and support it with facts, please.
D. Lea, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, (Nashville: Broadman
and Holman, 1996), 141-142.
J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Lion and the
Lamb: New Testament Essentials from the Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown, Nashville:
Broadman and Holman Academic, 2012), 80.
H. Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, (Downers Grove, Illinois,
Inter-Varsity Press/Tyndale Press, 1970), 57.
of sweat gathered across Hugh’s forehead when he heard the question coming from
David’s mouth. David, a recent addition to Hugh’s Sunday School class and
highly inquisitive, asked the one question Hugh knew he couldn’t answer on the
at work, children’s ball games, picking up the children from track practice, a
late deacon’s meeting on Wednesday evening, an anniversary party on Friday
night, and yard work on Saturday had robbed Hugh of his normal study time.
why do you think John Mark wrote his Gospel? What purpose do you think he had? Why
can’t I find one verse that states it?” queried David.
heart pumped blood faster. Hugh felt out of control. He ran a mental search of
his mind struggling to conjure an answer.” Nothing arrived on the screen of his
mind. Out of defeat Hugh sighed. The question he feared the most, now stood at
will I do?
stopped for Hugh. No one else in the room mattered. He buried himself in his
thoughts. I must trust what I have studied in the past about Mark’s Gospel. “Help
Two sentences flashed across Hugh’s mind. “Mark had no conscious teaching goal in mind when he wrote the Gospel.
from his short mental trip, Hugh said, “David, Mark wrote to present a
realistic life of Jesus. Mark has Jesus arriving during a situation, speaking a
few words, and then, Jesus is gone, having solved the issue. Mark felt the
message demanded a simple recording because the work of Jesus exceeded Mark’s
ability to explain it.”
how Mark presents struggles, understandings, resolutions, and choices so he can
show first hand the nature and ministry of Jesus.”
writes from the view point of reverential faith, Mark from that of living vivid
I think Mark shared the most intimate details with is readers as he recollected
the events in the ministry of Jesus. For example, Jesus wearies before falling
to sleep (Mark 4:38). Jesus reacts to suffering with a strong compassion (1:41)
(splagchnisthesis), – the strongest emotional Greek word for being moved
added, “I agree, Hugh. I noticed Jesus spoke with firmness (1:43), experienced anger
(3:5, 10:14). Jesus knew about weariness of mind and distress (14:33f). Jesus
asked questions to gain information (5:30, 8:5, 9:16).”
you say Mark added eye-witness facts when he stated that Jesus slept on a
cushion in the stern of the boat in Mark 4?” questioned another student.
and how about the details of the Gaderene demoniac cutting himself with stones
and screaming in the tombs. That sounds like recollected ideas to me,”
suggested another student.
who can forget the ‘green’ grass on which the 5000 were fed?” asked still
“I like the personal details about the man born
blind, Jesus compassionately took him aside, touched his eyes. Yet the healing
was partial, so he saw men like trees (8:24). Then, Jesus touched him a second
time. That sounds like someone with fond memories,” stated David.
who can forget when Jesus saw the rich, young ruler that Jesus loved him as He
looked at him (10:21),” Hugh piped in.
really like how only Mark tells us that Jesus took the children up in the bend
of his arm (9:36, 10:16),” exclaimed another student.
of those indicate Mark has fond memories about Jesus and His ministry which he
shares in his Gospel,” summed Hugh.
the time left, let me share a few things I managed to jot down while you discussed
why and how Mark wrote his gospel.”
Mark uses Aramaic phrases when he records the words of Jesus (3:17, 5:41, 7:11,
14:36, 15:22, 24). Most likely Peter
slipped into the ancient language he recalled Jesus using and Mark adds a
translation for his readers.”
a related manner, Mark uses Latinisms. Latinism are Latin terms Mark transliterated
into Greek. For example, Kenturion (15:39, 44) – centurion; spekoulator
(6:27) – speculator; and kensos – census (12:14).”
prefers to use certain words repeatedly: euthus – immediately.
“Immediately appears 41 times in the Gospel. Chapter1 possesses the first ten
appearances. This produces more than a mere march through Mark’s Gospel, Mark
sprints through the ministry of Jesus using this feature.”
you noticed Mark likes to use the word “palin” ‘again?” Like
‘immediately’ it occurs frequently in Mark’s gospel – 25 times or more.”
Mark relates the ministry of Jesus much a like a child. Unlike Paul who loves
to add subordinate clauses to the main statement, Mark piles statements one
after the other. Check out chapter 3. Out of the 35 verses found in chapter 3,
29 begin with “and.”
“Class, next week, we will explore several other major purposes about why Mark wrote his gospel. This week we merely ascertained one of Marks’ purposes: to make the Gospel story of Jesus just as memorable for his readers as it was for him. Simply stated, Mark penned what he knew about Jesus.”
Would you list a few events from the life of Jesus that you feel MUST be included in any presentation of the life of Jesus?
B. Bruce, The Expositor’s Greek Testament, vol 1., (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 32.