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A Layman's Mark - Introduction

Welcome, Dear reader,

It will become apparent, perhaps more quickly than is beneficial for my ego, that I am not, and do not profess to be, a Biblical scholar. The title of this offering is therefore accurate, for the work is indeed,

A Layman’s Look At Mark.

The question may be asked, what is it? Well, one way of describing this work is to say what it is not. For example, it is certainly not a commentary (at least not in the accepted definition of the word, although obviously it does include my extensive comments), neither is it an exegesis, nor an attempt at a hermeneutical work; in fact, to paraphrase a well-known advert, it is exactly what it says in the title!

A second question may be, why? And a simple answer could be, because I needed a hobby. A ridiculous answer in many ways but not entirely untrue. My life is fairly busy and I had been looking for something to do outwith my normal day which usually consists of activities pastoral, preparation for Sundays, Bible Studies, and generally, although certainly not exclusively, centring around the Fellowship. Building yet another model railway was considered, and other similar hands-on practical hobbies. The result was I began a theology course - the irony is obvious - which I was quite enjoying until it collapsed after a term or two, leaving me hobby-free again.

Once more, I needed a hobby. The answer was quickly found; for around a year to eighteen months, I had been leading a small course for seekers or young Christians based on the Gospel of Mark, And it came to me that there was the beginnings of my new hobby, To take a fresh, in-depth and very personal look at this wonderful Gospel. (After only two or three months, it came to me, is already sounding specious because anything that is benefiting me so much spiritually, couldn't have just came to me, and I thank the source of all good things, God our Father.)

It has become a joy, a sheer pleasure, a journey of discovery finding new, previously hidden - from me - facets of our limitless God, coupled with a revision, a relearning, of truths and grace and the infinite love of God the Father shown through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. And throughout these sixteen chapters - presently, the latest read through, only on Chapters seven or eight, seeing and feeling the power and the leading of the Holy Spirit. In the beginning I wondered about my temerity in taking on such a work. However, it is not temerity, or rashness, or even impertinence anymore - it is a fulfilling, life enhancing experience that grows every time I pick up pen and book (metaphorically speaking), and the most self-rewarding exercise I could have undertaken.

Many scholars believe that the Apostle Peter was the mentor of John Mark who is generally believed to be the writer of this Gospel. Acts 12ff tends to suggest this, following Peter's miraculous escape from prison, and the disciples' refusal to believe it! If this is a fact, (I remain ambivalent) and although it is not of prime importance, it may explain the impetuousness of this beginning and indeed the whole book; even the impatience, the eagerness to move on, could indeed reflect Peter's character. There is also a school of thought that suggests that Mark was simply acting as Peter's amanuensis or scribe, writing only what Peter told him. With this I do have some difficulty, for when I compare the letters of Peter with the Gospel of Mark, I can see no similarity or equivalence. Finally, on this subject, the oldest and probably the most significant testimony comes from a gentleman named Papias who wrote (around AD124) that Mark had carefully and accurately recorded Peter's observations and adding that Mark made no mistake and did not include any false statement. This knowledge I have gleaned from The Case For Christ written by Lee Strobel, who himself learned it while interviewing Craig Blomberg, the author of The Historical Reliability Of The Gospels. However, and I intend no disrespect to those who work so hard and spend so much time unravelling such matters, it is essentially of no real importance and it is unlikely to an extreme, that we will know the truth this side of eternity; and when we reach the other side we probably will not care too much.

Mark’s way of writing is simple and almost breathless; moving as he does from one place to another place perhaps many, many miles away within two verses; from one happening to another happening, with no attempt at offering any type of foreword, or any sort of link. In the introduction to Mark in my main Bible for the last five or six years (HSCB) the phrase, everything happens immediately, is used. An apt description. It seems to me, that in his love for Jesus, in his need to tell of Jesus, in his excitement at what he had to say, our young man just wrote it as it came. The scholars tell me that Mark’s Gospel was written in Koine Greek, or Aramaic, the languages of the streets; in short, the common man’s dialects. The Gospel is plainly worded, easily read with, it appears to me, no editing or rewrites, and allows no room for unnecessary discussions, philosophical or otherwise. But that is only my opinion. My personal, very personal, take on Mark is that it is a simple Gospel, written by a simple man, for simple people. And by simple, I mean easily understood, and not in the least as a derogatory term. In fact it fulfils completely one of my favourite acronyms: KISS, Keep it simple, saint (the latter, in my case, occasionally substituted with stupid).

[Recently, March 2015, I picked up, probably for the first time in many years, William Barclay's The New Testament, A New Translation first published in 1968. And perhaps also for the first time, I read his Introduction to Mark. So much of his comments spoke directly to me of the man, Mark, I am slowly beginning to know. I have sifted through to include comments which really spoke to me, and do I hope I am not breaking any copyright laws.

There is in Mark what has been called 'an incomparable touch of reality'. Mark has many little incidental touches which read as if they went back to an eye-witness of the scene which is being described. When Mark tells the stories of Jesus and the children, only he tells us that Jesus took the children in the crook of his arm (Mark 9:36; Matthew 18:2; Luke 9:47; Mark 10:16; Matthew 19:15; Luke 18:16). In the story of the Garasene demoniac only Mark tells us that the man was always crying out and bruising himself with stones (Mark 5:5). In the story of the storm at sea only Mark tells us that Jesus was in the stern of the boat sleeping on a rower's cushion (Mark 4:38).

Far oftener than any other Gospel Mark has the habit of giving Jesus' words in the original Aramaic (3:17; 5:41; 7:11; 7:34; 14:36; 15:22). It looks as if Peter, (If we accept the fact that Mark was indeed the amanuensis for Peter) when he told the stories, could not help hearing again the voice of Jesus speaking these words, not in Greek, but in his native tongue.

Mark was written before the days when theology had thrown a curtain of too much reverence around the events of the Gospels Emphasis mine. When Mark tells the story of the ambitious request of James and John for the chief places in Jesus' kingdom, he does not hesitate to say that it was James and John themselves who made the request (10:35 – 45), but when Matthew tells a story, he does not wish to record anything that might bring discredit on an apostle, so he says that the mother made the request (Matthew 20:20 – 28). When Mark tells the story of Jesus's rejection by the people of Nazareth, he ends by saying that Jesus could do no mighty works there (6:5); but when Matthew tells a story he says that Jesus did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58), because he does not like to say that Jesus was unable to do anything.

This is not to say that in Mark there is not deep reverence and great thought; but it is to say that in this the first of the Gospels we come nearest of all to a simple account of the man Jesus and the days of his flesh, the man who is also the son of God. Again emphasis mine.

Whether or not Mr Barclay's thoughts and comments remain in my introduction is not at the moment entirely sure – we will see. And I need to return to, and complete quickly, my introduction. But before I do, let me iterate, theology had thrown a curtain of too much reverence around the events of the Gospels. If this is so, and I do not feel I am qualified to comment, then Mark certainly is the KISS man of the Gospel writers.

Although my thoughts, meanderings, musings and meditations are intended to be linear, that is beginning at the beginning and ending at the end, there will be no headings such as, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etceteras. However, because thoughts are rarely linear and particularly with the grasshopper mind with which I am blessed, there are leaps forward and backwards and often outside this lovely Gospel. So for the time being the work will be divided into a number of sections, or parts, which may or may not be added to, or subtracted from, named and/or renamed, perhaps removed entirely and a rather stricter linear path followed. (The freedom of it being my opus and therefore subject to my every whim is quite exhilarating!) However, I do pray that in the reading of my hobby you may receive, if only in part, some of the revelation the work is inspiring in me.

At the the time of writing, there are two basic parts; A short introduction, and Part One - Ministry and Miracles, which may or may not be the complete book. Already, and we are now halfway through November, this is probably changing due in great part to the software I latterly decided to use, Scrivener, an ideal writer's tool!

(Note: August 2015. This has been a difficult year, the death of a close brother in Christ and other incidents which have affected my personal work to some extent, but we already have Part 2 - Parables and more miracles.)

The Introduction, unintended, at least initially, is beginning to turn into a type of journal, so instead of altering it as changes in thinking occur, I may just retain the changes, a record of my reasoning. For instance, I did have a section entitled, The Miracles, which dealt exclusively with the eighteen detailed miracles recorded by Mark, and I still quite like the idea. However, I found myself spilling over into the main body, or visa versa. So I am back to KISS.

While it is true that I am not a Bible scholar and have no theological training or formal religious education, I do have a love for, and a deep interest in the Bible, its origin, the writings, and the early church. To this end I have a number of Bible commentaries and dictionaries accumulated over the years and I have occasionally referred to them during the writing of this work, particularly, I suppose, my latest addition, The Expositors Bible Commentary (2012). The reasons I refer to commentaries or reference books will be easily understood when mentioned - I do hope and pray.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Love of God
and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with you all. Amen.

Be blessed, Peter (Foreword written August 14 2014 and adjusted many times since.)

 

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