Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Remembering My Mentor: Dr. Mark Corts

I received word last evening that Dr. Mark Corts, Pastor Emeritus of Calvary Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, NC, died after suffering for many years with numerous health problems.

My earliest memories of Dr. Mark Corts were seeing his face on television. I grew up in Winston-Salem, and I was an atheist. But I was always interested in powerful and persuasive public speakers, so every now and then, I would stop the remote and listen to Corts on the Calvary broadcast. He preached with authority, and though I didn't believe a word of what he was saying at that time, there was no doubt in my mind that he believed it, and so did that big crowd of folks listening to him. Every now and then they would cut to the congregation and there would be someone with their Bible in their lap, even taking notes! Well, I could never watch it long, because I did not want to find myself taken in by a preacher's rhetoric. I recall in 1992 how the local news devoted so much attention to the heart attack he suffered while in St. Louis at a meeting. I recall being somehow touched by the way his church and community rallied around him during that time.

The Lord attacked my heart in 1992, but not in cardiac arrest; it was in regeneration. I was saved at Fort Caswell, The NC Baptist Assembly at Oak Island, NC. I became a member of the church I was with at Caswell, and loved all the people there. In the next few years I began to feel called to ministry, so I set out for Fruitland Bible Institute. One of the former staff pastors at the church I attended pulled me aside and warned me that "those people up in the mountains will try to brainwash" me. Well, I don't know if I would call it brainwashing. They just began to teach me how to understand and apply the Bible. It was not long before that little church called a new pastor, and I met with him, and determined that his neoorthodoxy was not compatible with what I understood the Bible to teach. So with much heaviness in my heart, Donia and I pulled away to find a new church.

We began to ask other Christians where they attended, and without exception, every on-fire Christian we knew or met attended Calvary Baptist Church. And when we asked them what the best thing about the church was, they said almost unanimously that it was the preaching. Every Sunday morning Dr. Corts would preach messages that dealt expositionally with real theology and living a holy life. His style was so unique and so powerful, I am not even sure how to describe it. One staff member said he preached topoxposigetically (and there was always an illustration about food). Every Sunday evening, Dr. Gary Chapman (of Five Love Languages fame) would preach expository sermons through books of the Bible. He is a great preacher as well.

Donia and I did not want to attend a big church. We had no real reason, we just didn't want to get lost in the crowd. But we did want to peek in on what was going on over at Calvary, so we said, "Let's go for one Sunday." We never attended a different church after that. About six Sundays later we made Calvary home and began looking for ways to get involved. It was not long after that when I was offered the opportunity to serve as an intern on the staff. I have always assumed that it was because of his fondness for Fruitland that Dr. Corts took special interest in me as an intern. He asked me to drive him to meetings, and always wanted me in the meeting, and would ask for my input. When the staff was unable to fill the pulpit on a Wednesday night, he looked at me and said, "You ready to preach?" That was Wednesday, 3pm. By 6, I was ready. I didn't want to let him down. He also let me sit in on his Tarheel Leadership seminars and glean from the mentoring he was giving to small church pastors from around the state.

In 1998 I was ordained at Calvary after being called to my first church ministry. Dr. Corts' health did not allow him to sit in for my ordination council, but he committed to me that he would conduct the service. When that day came, I expressed my excitement to a staff member, who responded by saying, "Well, it might get cancelled. Dr. Corts just got a call before the morning service that his brother died." I went to Dr. Corts and said, "Pastor, if we need to put this off, I understand. Your family needs you." He said, "No Russ, we won't put it off. This is a special day and we are going to have the service."

That June, when the SBC met in Salt Lake City, I was at my wit's end. Disillusionment abounded as the idyllic life of the pastor that had existed in my mind was a stark contrast with the reality I experienced in my first six months experience. So I called Mark Corts. "Have breakfast with Shirley and I at our hotel, and let's talk about it." So we did. And in this corner and that corner of the room, the SBC big-wigs were grouped together strategizing and politicing. Mark Corts was spending his morning with a young and ignorant preacher, being my pastor. And anytime they were at the SBC, we would see them, sometimes it was just in passing and other times for longer amounts of time, but God always used them to encourage us.

Situations would come up as I pastored that first church, and I wouldn't know what to do. So we devised a system. I would email Dr. Corts' secretary, she would print it for him. He would think it over, and then I would get a call, "Pastor Reaves, ... this is Mark Corts." And we would talk it out. He always shed light on the situation from angles I never considered.

If I were to list all the lessons I learned from Mark Corts, I would have to take a month of sabbatical just to list them all. Maybe I can start a weekly feature in which I take one at a time until Jesus comes. But in addition to all the great lessons I learned from him, two of my deepest regrets in ministry relate to Dr. Corts. He extended an open invitation to me to arrange a day when we could go book shopping together, and a day when we could study together in preparation for a sermon. Out of concern for his health, I never took him up on it. One thing I know -- his invitation was real and if I had called, he'd have done it.

In 1999, Dr. Corts was preaching at the SBC pastors' conference. Just before he spoke there was a tap on my shoulder, and a familiar and distinguished voice said, "Friend is this seat taken?" It was Dr. Adrian Rogers. He sat down, we made introductions, and he said, "I had to come find a seat to hear Mark Corts. I love that man. He is such a man of God." I said, "I love him too. He is my pastor." Dr. Rogers looked at me, as if he were sizing me up, glancing up and down, head-to-toe, and said, "Well, if he's your pastor, what happened to you?" I know he was just joking, but I have asked myself the same question many times. God granted me a great privilege to be mentored for ministry by the man I think was the greatest pastor ever (biased opinion -- guilty as charged). Every time I succeed at anything in ministry, I owe it to the grace of God and the influence of Mark Corts. But every time I fail, and trust me -- that's very often, I hear the voice of Adrian Rogers saying, "Well, if he's your pastor, what happened to you?" Good question. No excuse, no answer. Just depravity.

There is a new generation of revered pastors in Baptist life. One was just in a scandal in Florida, another in Texas, another not too long ago in Tulsa. Denominational leaders are having their integrity questioned with increasing frequency. And the last of a generation of giants are slowly graduating to glory. A tear comes to my eye when I think of that conference in 1999. Corts in the pulpit, Rogers by my side. Now both are gone. This was the generation that led our convention to the place it is today. Where will the current leaders take it? Will any of them come through the crucible of scrutiny as gold? And what of my generation? The subject of "young leaders" is hot in SBC life today. But to whom shall we look for models? And brothers, we need models. God didn't begin a brand new thing with us. We are marching in a line that stretches back for centuries. We need to glean from those who have walked before us. But many who have walked before has have tripped and fallen. There are certainly plenty of lessons for us to learn in their failures, but the positive role models are fading away from this scene, being received in glory and rewarded for their faithful service.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Preparing the Way: Mark 1:2-8

In ancient times, when a king was set to make a visit to an outlying town, he would send an envoy ahead of him to make preparations for his arrival. One of the matters of concern would be the condition of the roads. If there were unnecessary twists and turns, those would be straightened out to expedite travel. If there were rough places, holes and obstructions that had suffered neglect, they would be given attention so that no unforeseen trouble would hinder the arrival of the king.

It was in a similar way that the Lord announced through His prophets many years in advance that a messenger would come preparing the way for the Messiah. Mark points to two prophetic passages which described the coming of the Messenger. The first is Malachi 3:1, which reads in the English translation of the Old Testament, “Behold, I am going to send My messenger and He will clear the way for Me.” You notice that Mark has reworded the passage by removing the first person pronoun and inserting the second person – he has changed Me to You. “Behold I will send My messenger ahead of You who will prepare Your way.” In this way, we understand that Mark understood the Jesus of the New Testament to be the incarnation of the Jehovah of the Old Testament.

You notice that Mark does not mention Malachi. He strings two quotations from the Old Testament prophets together and mentions only Isaiah by name (though the King James Version uses Greek manuscripts that were altered to prevent misunderstanding here, saying the prophets, rather than Isaiah the prophet). The passage from Malachi sets the stage for the more descriptive prophecy the he intends to be the dominant focus. The quotation is from Isaiah 40:3 – In our English Bibles it is translated from Hebrew as: “A voice is calling, ‘Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.’” Again, Mark opts for the more subtle rendering, “Make His paths straight,” which again illustrates his awareness of the deity of the coming Messiah.

Four hundred years had elapsed since the last of Israel’s writing prophets. They are called the “silent years,” for no voice of authoritative prophecy was heard in those days. But the Lord had promised that before He came into the world on His Messianic mission of redemption, a messenger would appear in the wilderness announcing His coming, and preparing the way for Him. Only, this messenger was not repairing potholes and cutting new trails into the cities of the near east. The King whose advent he announced was coming to dwell in the hearts of men and women, and the messenger was preparing the way by removing the spiritual obstacles that stood in the way of their receiving Him.

Mark writes, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, … John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching.” Here in this one unique individual, the prophecies of the way-maker for the Messiah are fulfilled. The preaching of John the Baptist marked the coming of the Messiah – God incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ. And John’s ministry prepared the way for those who would receive Him. There will never be another John the Baptist. But there is a need today for us to take up the task of preparing the way of the Lord, for millions grope in darkness, millions for whom Jesus Christ came and died, but who know neither of His salvation nor their need for Him. What is needed in our day is for God’s people to unite their voices and their lives in the task of preparing the way into the hearts the innumerable multitude who are lost apart from the Savior’s grace. As John the Baptist filled that role in the days of Messiah’s advent, so you and I can fill that role today as we prepare the way for the Lord to enter the hearts of those who need Him. As we look at the unique ministry of John the Baptist, my prayer is that you and I will become contemporary way-makers for Jesus, preparing His way, straightening His paths into the hearts of those we encounter on a daily basis.

I. The Way of the Lord is Prepared By Proclaiming a Strong Message (vv4-5)

The Lord did not send a market analyst or an expert salesman to prepare the way. He sent a prophet. And this prophet was dressed in camel’s hair with a leather belt, eating the diet of a wilderness dweller (locusts and wild honey). According to Zechariah 13:4, a hairy robe was the garment of a prophet. John’s appearance is described similar to Elijah in 2 Kings 1:8. This is significant because through Malachi the Lord had announced that “Elijah” was going to come before the great and terrible day of the Lord (Mal 4:5).

The prophet was never popular. He had to announce hard words of sin and judgment. And the prophet’s message would be an affront to our culture of sensitivity and non-offensiveness today. I believe the reason so few receive the message of the gospel today is because we often make such pathetic attempts to soft-sell it. So John proclaimed a strong message concerning sin. It wasn’t popular then, it isn’t popular now. So we make efforts to sanitize the faith, and deal with every issue under the sun except sin. In 1937, H. Richard Neibuhr summarized the message of liberal Christianity with these now-famous words: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”[1] The so-called gospel of liberalism that Neibuhr critiqued 70 years ago goes by different names today, but is still no gospel at all. Unless we have a sin problem, we don’t need a Savior. If we don’t need a Savior, then we don’t need Jesus. And if we don’t need Jesus, then the cross was the most inexplicable accident of human history, but it was an accident not deserving one second of our time in meditation. He died, what a shame, now pass the salt please. But we need Him. We need the Cross. We need a Savior because we have a sin problem and that sin problem will lead to our eternal destruction unless we are made right with God.

So John came preaching about sin. And he preached it in the wilderness. The wilderness was a place well-known in Israel’s memory. Because of the sin of their ancestors, 40 years of the Exodus journey were spent wandering through the wilderness. And John stood out in the wilderness beckoning people to come out and identify themselves with the sinfulness of all humanity, and to prepare themselves to receive the coming Lord.

And he preached two points about it:

A. We must repent of sin!

John was preaching a baptism of repentance. The Greek word used here where we read repentance is the word metanoia. It means literally a change of mind. Repentance is not remorse, feeling sorry for what you have done, or more likely sorry that you got caught doing it. And repentance is not reform, vowing to never do it again (sometimes with the necessary disclaimer: and this time I mean it!). No repentance is a change of our way of thinking about sin. It is to stop trying to defend it and justify it, and to stop calling it by pet names, and recognize it for what it is.

And so when the great numbers of people came out to John in the wilderness, they were confessing their sins (v5). Here again, the Greek word is descriptive. The word for confess is homologeo, which means “to say the same thing.” That is, if God calls it sin, we will also call it sin. We confess our sins when we stop trying to sugar coat them or excuse them and use the same words that God uses for them. What words does God use? Sin. Iniquity. Immorality. Transgression. Evil. Are we willing to use those words to describe our actions and thoughts, or do we think we are better than that? Compared to someone else, maybe we look a little better, but compared to God’s standard of holiness, we all fall short and have no grounds for boasting. So we must confess our sins. Confession is not repentance (one can call it sin, but not change the way he or she thinks about it), but repentance must include confession. In order to change our thinking about sin, we have begin to recognize it as sin. And this was part of John’s message to prepare the way of the Lord. But there is a positive side to this strong message as well.

B. We can be forgiven of sin!

Preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The best news about sin is that God is willing to forgive us of it. John was preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sin. It was not the baptism that led to forgiveness, it was the repentance. And the baptism was a symbol of the purification they received from God as they turned from sin and sought His grace of forgiveness.

Contrary to some folk-religious beliefs, baptism does not wash away your sins. Neither does baptism have any saving value. But baptism is an outward symbolic act that demonstrates the inward spiritual transaction that takes place when we turn from sin and seek forgiveness from God. That takes place on the inside. So we visualize it externally in the waters of baptism. John’s baptism differed from Christian baptism in that it indicated repentance and forgiveness in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Ours is done to indicate that we have received God’s forgiveness which the Messiah accomplished for us when He died on the cross of Calvary.

Baptism did not originate with John. Religious practices in various cultures involved ritual washings for purification. John’s baptism most resembled the Jewish practice of baptizing Gentile converts. A Gentile who wanted to convert to Jewish belief and practice would be immersed in water to indicate that he or she had turned from their pagan beliefs and devoted themselves to following the one true God. But John’s message was that it was not only Gentiles who needed to turn from the sins and false beliefs of their past. Israel needed to do it just as much if they were going to be right with God.

John the Baptist was preparing the way for the Lord. One of the ways he did that was by preaching a strong message about sin: we must repent of it, and we can be forgiven of it. In our day, we need to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord into the hearts and lives of others by speaking boldly about sin as well. For, Christ will never look appealing to anyone as long as their sins don’t look repulsive to them. God doesn’t want us to recognize our sinfulness so He can condemn us. He wants us to see sin as it is so He can forgive us. So as we talk with those who don’t know Christ, we do them a disservice by ignoring the subject of sin. Until we know we are sinners, we have no need of a Savior. And that brings us to the second point.

II. The Way of the Lord is Prepared by Pointing to a Mighty Savior (vv7-8)

John was not out in the wilderness to point people’s attention to himself. He wasn’t suggesting that he held the answers to all their problems. Rather, he was pointing them to another who was greater than he. And he pointed to Him as being one of a mightier nature and having a mightier ministry than John himself had.

A. The Coming One was of a Mightier Nature (v7)

After me, One is coming who is mightier than I. That might have been hard to imagine for some people. John the Baptist had spoken more boldly and with more authority than anyone in the last four centuries. He stood alone challenging the religious and political establishment of his day. Estimates are that 300,000 people made the pilgrimage out to the wilderness to hear him and God only knows how many were baptized by him in the Jordan River. But he says there’s one mightier to come.

John says that he is not even worthy to stood down and untie the thong of His sandals. In that day of traveling by foot along the dirty, muddy, and dusty roads, shoes were removed upon entry to anyone’s home. In fact, that is still the case in most of the world today. So, when you came to someone’s home, their lowliest servant would meet you at the door, and would bow before you to loosen your sandals and wash your feet before entry into his master’s house. John is saying here that the coming one, the Lord Jesus Christ, was so mighty that he was not fit to even be his lowliest house-slave.

We’ve already pointed out that in the Old Testament prophecies Mark includes here, the waymaker is preparing the way for God Himself. This tells us that early Christians easily recognized the person of Jesus Christ to be more than a man. He was God himself, incarnate as a man. If those who flocked to the wilderness only looked to John, then their trust was in a mere man. But he pointed them to Jesus Christ, the God-man, as one of a mightier nature.

B. The Coming One had a Mightier Ministry (v8)

John’s baptism in water was symbolic of a greater reality to come. By baptizing them in water, John was preparing the people to receive the gift of salvation that the Messiah was coming to accomplish. John’s baptism brought people to the threshold of the Kingdom, but there was a greater baptism needed for full entry. God had promised through the prophet Ezekiel of a coming day when He would sprinkle clean water on His people, and they would be clean from all their filthiness and idols. He said in that day, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezek 36:26-27). John’s baptism was an external washing that symbolized the internal cleansing that only the Lord could accomplish by placing His Spirit within us. This baptism of the Spirit would bring about real and lasting change which would work from the inside out. No man and no physical element could accomplish a cleansing like this. It was a work of divine grace that only God Himself could accomplish in us.

So Jesus, when He had finished the work of redemption on the cross and through His resurrection, promised His followers that He would send the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:7). He told them on the day that He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:5), “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” And so it happened. On the day of Pentecost, those who had believed in Christ were overwhelmed by the presence of the Holy Spirit, causing them to say, “This is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind …’” (Acts 2:16-17). And that baptism of the Spirit takes place every time a repentant soul puts faith and trust in Jesus Christ. He comes to dwell inside of that person’s life in the person of the Holy Spirit, making them brand new creations as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come.”

John the Baptist had a unique ministry of pointing people to this coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. But it is this Jesus alone who can truly cause the change of life that we so desperately need as He removes our sins from us, and indwells us to empower us to live the rest of our days for Him. Today, when we receive Him as God’s gift of salvation, we visualize it through water baptism. We are not baptized with water in order to be saved, but in order to demonstrate outwardly the inward reality salvation we have received by the flooding of God’s Spirit into our lives unto salvation.

Jesus said two very interesting things about John the Baptist which are recorded in the other gospels. In Matthew 11:11 and Luke 7:28, we read that Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!” That is quite a testimony for the Lord Jesus to speak over someone’s life. But He goes on to say, “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” That means that as believers in Christ and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, you and I have the opportunity to exceed the work of John the Baptist in our service to Christ.

As John prepared the way for people to receive the coming Messiah, we have the privilege and responsibility to daily prepare human hearts for the entry of the King of Kings through the witness of our words and our way of life. It was the eighteenth century German classicist Goethe said, “There are many echoes in the world, but few voices.”[2] Indeed John the Baptist was one of the few unique voices in the history of the world. But today there is a great need for all who have experienced the true baptism of the Messiah to whom John pointed to join our voices to his in echo of the supremacy of Christ and the need for Him in every human heart.

Just as those emissaries of ancient kings had the responsibility of preparing the way and straightening the paths for their kings to travel upon, you and I have the opportunity to follow in line with John the Baptist, preparing highways through the stony hearts and desert of human beings, over which the King of Kings will travel as His gospel is announced to them.[3] Though our role may only be the laying of one brick on the pathway, knowing the King and what He will do when He arrives at the heart of that person, may we strive diligently to lay that brick for the glory of God and the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom.

[1] Neibuhr, The Kingdom of God in America (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1988 [Reprint, 1937]), 193.

[2] Cited in John Henry Burn, The Preacher’s Homiletic Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996 [Reprint]), 10.

[3] Adapted from Bishop H. C. Potter, in Burn, 11.

Not addicted to much wine ...

In light of the discussion going on in Baptist life concerning the use of alcohol, and the fuzzy-headed arguments I am hearing on both sides of the discussion, I post the following sketch of the biblical argument for total abstinence. I am sure that it is not a perfect argument, but it is one that I developed several years ago dealing with the issue in the context of the local church.

· There are two Greek words translated as “wine” in the NT.

o gleukos

§ used only once in NT

· Acts 2:13

§ obviously, in this context, fermented wine is indicated

o oinos

§ occurs 36 times in NT

· Matt 9:17 (3x); 27:34; Mk 2:22 (4x); 15:23; Lk 1:15; 5:37 (2x); 5:38; 7:33; 10:34; Jn 2:3 (2x); 2:9; 2:10 (2x); 4:46; Rom 14:21; Eph 5:18; 1 Tim 3:8; 5:23; Titus 2:3; Rev 6:6; 14:8; 14:10; 16:19; 17:2; 18:3; 18:13; 19:15

§ The usage in Matt 9:17, Mk 2:22, and Lk 5:37-38 indicates that this word was used of fermented AND non-fermented wine (fresh juice of grapes).

§ The only time this is used in connection to Jesus drinking it is in Matt 27:34, Mk 15:23, where he refused it.

§ The word is noticeably absent in passages relating to the Lord’s Supper, with the words cup and fruit of the vine inserted where we would expect oinos.

§ Jesus was called a wine-drinker by His opponents at Matt 11:19 and Lk 7:34, where He said that he came eating and drinking, but oinos is not specified as what He drank. The reference seems to relate to the company He kept moreso than the beverages He drank.

§ In the passage where Jesus turned water into wine (John 2), there is no mention of Jesus drinking the wine, and those who were drunk from wine noticed a qualitative difference in what Jesus produced and what they had been drinking.

· This we know from first-century culture:

o “Bob Stein has carefully documented, ‘The term “wine” or oinos in the ancient world, then, did not mean wine as we understand it today but wine mixed with water… To consume the amount of alcohol that is in two martinis by drinking wine containing three parts water to one part wine [a fairly common ancient ratio], one would have to drink over twenty-two glasses. In other words, it is possible to become intoxicated from wine mixed with three parts water, but one’s drinking would probably affect the bladder long before it affected the mind.’ It should also be noted that children would have drank this diluted mixture of water and wine.”[1]

· Paul told Timothy to “take a little wine” for his ailing stomach (1 Tim 5:23).

o Today, we have many medicines available that were not available to Timothy, therefore, this advice would not apply to us in our day. And even used medicinally, notice Paul’s emphasis on a little.

· Paul warned against being drunk with wine, contrasting it with being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18).

o To be filled with the Spirit is to be under His control. We are not to be under the control of alcohol (which begins with the first sip), but we are commanded to be under God’s control.

· In the Bible, leaven is frequently used as a symbol for sin. Fermentation involves the leavening of a beverage. Therefore, since unleavened bread is symbolic of the Lord’s pure life, unleavened drink should be as well.

· The most rigid moral standards of the Bible call for complete abstinence from alcohol.

o The Nazarite Vow: Judges 13:7; Luke 1:15; Leviticus 10:9; Proverbs 31:4

· The Bible is full of examples of alcohol destroying lives and testimonies.

o Genesis 9:21; 19:32; Proverbs 23

· The priests were to abstain from alcohol while on duty for the Lord (Leviticus 10:9-11). And the writer of Proverbs 31 says it is not for kings (31:4). Christians are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) who are always to be about the business of God’s kingdom.

· Paul spoke the definitive word on abstinence in Romans 14:14-21, when he said:

o 14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.

o Obviously, our consumption of alcohol is noticed by others. Someone has to buy it, someone has to see you with it, someone has to see it in your home, someone knows if we do it. If that person drinks alcohol, we have given them the impression that it is an acceptable act for a child of God. If, then, they become enslaved to it, we answer to God for their destruction.

o Nowhere is this more painfully convicting than when we think of our children. It is a fact of human nature that if we crack a door, our children will open it wide. If we set an example of drinking alcohol for our children, we must not be surprised when they turn to it as a lifestyle choice.

It seems to me that on the issue of drinking alcohol, perhaps we are asking the wrong question of the Scriptures. Rather than saying, "I want to drink alcohol; Is there anything in the Bible that would expressly forbid me from doing it?", perhaps we should be asking it this way: "I want to live a life of holiness, godliness, and separateness from the world. How should I live in regards to alcohol?" In this way, we let the Scriptures speak, rather than demanding of it to justify our presuppositions and preferences.

[1] Cited by Danny Akin in an email to students, staff, faculty and alumni of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, June 29, 2006.

Friday, August 25, 2006

On Electronic Bible Software and the FREE Variety

Essentially, I hate it. I am a book fanatic. I don't want to look at a computer screen all day when I can have a book in my hand. But, I must confess, it makes concordance searching, cross-referencing, and language study much easier and faster, so I use it. What do I use? Well, in a word, I use whatever is cheap and whatever will do what I want it to do. The computer works for me, not the other way around. On my laptop right now are:

  • Bible Navigator, which I received free from SEBTS
  • Libronix, many libraries of which I have received free
  • Bible Windows, again, free because a friend gave it to me
  • WordSearch, which I paid for when I bought Tan's Encyclopedia of Illustrations on CD-Rom
  • Online Bible, free
  • PC Study Bible, a gift
I have also used QuickVerse in the past, and have a few libraries on disk for that program. Most of that was also received free or as gifts. I used to have the Zondervan NIV Study Bible software, which I loved (also got it free because someone returned it to a Christian bookstore where I worked as defective, but I used it for years with no problems). I can't use it anymore because it didn't "Pass Windows XP Logo Testing," whatever that means. I miss it. It was very easy to use. I have a drawer-full of other software I have received free (being a pastor has to have a few perks in this life) which I never installed. Notice that I do not have every seminarian's dream package: BibleWorks (if any readers would like to gift it to me, I will gladly receive it, but it is too expensive to purchase).

I suppose if I paid full retail for all this software, I would have invested thousands in it, but then again, I would have never paid full retail for any of it. And if I had paid full price for any of it, I wouldn't have as much as I do. I just like books too much.

What's the point? After pulling out my hair trying to install all my old Libronix/Logos collections onto my wife's new computer, and then realizing that I needed to upgrade the installation on my own, I decided to look into a package that I have heard about but never explored before -- E-Sword. I am not on commission for them, this is not a paid endorsement, I haven't even used it yet. I just downloaded it FOR FREE! Not only that, but a TON of extras were free for the taking too (unfortunately the NASB is a paid add-on, but the ESV is gratis). As I looked over the free downloads available for E-Sword, I thought to myself, "Who in their right mind would pay the astronomical prices for expensive Bible software, when you can get all this FREE?" After all, most of the commentaries and reference works in Bible software packages are the same -- all public domain stuff. How many copies of Matthew Henry does one need? Love him, but don't need 16 copies of him.

So, I write this to you in the blogosphere to encourage you to support FREE software. E-Sword is one, another is the E4 group, whose discs you have to pay shipping on (they used to be Libronix platform, but now I think they are using Quickverse or something else). But by all means, my absolute favorite FREE Bible software is the NET Bible. I used to use it online so much that I bought a print edition when it was first released as a "Beta Edition". However, it has been revised and improved and can be downloaded in several formats FREE (though there is a paid version available on several platforms as well. The NET Bible is a decent translation in its own right, but the selling feature (or the giving feature as the case may be) is the 60,000 translation footnotes that are virtually unavailable in any printed forum except the most technical (and expensive) commentaries.

Hope this rambling is of use to someone.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Selected Readings for Church Administration Students

The following internet articles are assigned reading for my Church Administration students at Winston-Salem Bible College. In the Syllabus, you find "Selected Readings" for several days assignments. These are links to those selected readings. I have posted them in this way to keep you from having to type in the URL, as some of them are very lengthy and complicated. Students are not required to print all these articles, but are required to read them all. Students will be held accountable for this reading on quizzes and major exams.

For October 2, on the administration of church facilities:

For October 23, on financial issues:

For November 6, on legal issues:

For November 13, on leading a church through change:

For November 20, on conflict and discipline:
    • Read the article entitled “Church Conflict” on p 1 and 6
    • Read the article entitled “Church Conflict” on p 13
    • Read the article entitled “Church Conflict” on pp 1 and 3

Background Study: The Gospel of Mark


That the Gospel of Mark is an early and authentic piece of New Testament Scripture is nowhere in doubt. External testimony to this Gospel is both early and abundant. It is cited in Tatian’s Diatessaron, an early harmony of the four Gospels compiled around 170 AD. However, few of the early Christian writers quoted from Mark, owing most likely to the assumption that it was a condensed version of Matthew. The first detailed commentary on Mark does not surface until Victor of Antioch’s work in the fifth century. Indeed, there is little unique information in this Gospel. According to Westcott, there are only 7 peculiar incidents compared to 93 which are shared by Luke and Matthew. Excluding 16:9-20 (discussed later in this introductory study), there are only 30 verses of unique material in Mark.


Admittedly, the Gospel of Mark is an anonymous document in that it does not specify its author internally. However, external evidence is abundant, early, and widespread that the John Mark found some ten other times in the New Testament was its author, relying heavily on the influence of the Apostle Peter. Universal acknowledgement of Mark’s reliance upon Peter gave the Gospel the eyewitness credibility and apostolic authority necessary for its inclusion in the Canon.

The earliest known testimony to Mark’s authorship and Peter’s influence on this gospel dates to 140 in a quotation of Papias, extant to us only through the history of Eusebius (written in 326). Papias is described by Irenaeus (also in Eusebius) as “John’s hearer and the associate of Polycarp.”[1] The “John” mentioned by Irenaeus may be the Apostle (Polycarp was a close disciple of his), but Eusebius prefers the view that this is a later (but not much later) John (distinguished as “John the Presbyter”).[2] Concerning the Gospel of Mark, Eusebius records Papias’s words as follows:

And John the Presbyter also said this, Mark being the interpreter of Peter whatsoever he recorded he wrote with great accuracy but not however, in the order in which it was spoken or done by our Lord, for he neither heard nor followed our Lord, but as before said, he was in company with Peter, who gave him such instruction as was necessary, but not to give a history of our Lord’s discourses: wherefore Mark has not erred in any thing, by writing some things as he has recorded them; for he was carefully attentive to one thing, not to pass by any thing that he heard, or to state any thing falsely in these accounts.[3]

This testimony tells us several important facts about the authorship of this Gospel. First, by 140, the tradition of Markan authorship was well-established. Second, Mark was interpreting the account of Peter (though the exact nature of his role as interpreter is subject to debate: Was he translating a written Petrine document? Was he transcribing or translating Peter’s actual sermons or teachings? Or was he recounting the stories that he had learned from Peter? Third, Mark did not write in chronological order, so where his order differs from Matthew, Luke, and/or John, we need not insist on the Markan order. Fourth, Mark did not claim to be an eyewitness, but claimed to receive his information from Peter. Indeed, his name is never recorded in the gospels, though the young man of Mark 14:51-52 may be a cameo appearance (some also speculate that he may have been the young man to whom Jesus referred in Mark 14:13-15 may have been Mark as well). Fifth, within the lifetime of other eyewitnesses, his account was widely recognized as inerrant. Sixth, this tradition was alive and well nearly 200 years after Papias’s statement, for Eusebius records it in 326.

Acknowledgement of Markan authorship and Petrine influence is found in the writings of Irenaues of Lyons (180), the Muratorian Canon (200), Tertullian (c. 160-250), Clement of Alexandria (c. 155-220), Origen (c. 185-254), and Jerome (c. 347-420), spreading the acceptance of this view to Hieropolis, Rome, Lyons, and North Africa within the first century and a half of the Christian era.

The question arises of how we know that the “Mark” accredited with this gospel is the same “John Mark” of other New Testament passages. It is perhaps the case that Luke’s interest in Mark in the book of Acts is owing to his awareness of his authorship of this gospel (assuming Mark wrote before Luke). In addition it seems unlikely that the church would ascribe authorship to a person of secondary importance in the biblical record such as Mark (or a person of lesser significance if it is a different “Mark”) if there were not strong support for it early in church tradition.

Assuming that the author of this Gospel is the Mark of New Testament notoriety, we know much about him in spite of his invisibility in the Gospel records. He is introduced to us in the book of Acts as John Mark. John was a common Hebrew name, while Mark or Marcus was a common Latin name (this practice was common among Hellenistic Jews).[4]We know from Acts 12 that his mother’s home in Jerusalem was a meeting place for early Christians, and the place to which Peter came after being miraculously released from prison. Some have even speculated that this home was the location of Jesus’ Last Supper, and that young man to whom Jesus directed His disciples in Mark 14:13-15 was Mark. We also know that Mark was a cousin to Barnabas (Colossians 4:10). Mark accompanied Barnabas and Paul from Jerusalem to Antioch (Acts 12:25), and then onto their first missionary journey (13:5). However, during that journey, Mark deserted the missionary effort (13:13), for reasons unknown to us, but presumably so severe that Paul refused to take him on the subsequent journey (c. 50 AD), leading to a split in which Paul took Silas, and Baranabas took Mark (15:36-40). From Paul’s own hand, we learn that the he and Mark were later reconciled (Col 4:10, Philemon 24), and that Paul desired his company and deemed him useful (2 Timothy 4:11). The reference to Mark in 1 Peter 5:13 informs us that he was present with Peter in Rome (it is nearly universally acknowledged that Babylon is here a cryptic reference to Rome), and that Peter had a relational fondness to Mark. His reference to Mark as “my son,” may suggest that Mark came to faith in Christ under Peter’s influence. That he is not referred to as “John Mark” after Acts 15:37 indicates that he may have only worked among Gentiles thereafter. Many have speculated that the account of the unnamed young man in Mark 14:51-52 was included as a personal reminiscence of the author. According to early church traditions, Mark went on to work in Egypt, establishing churches there characterized by asceticism and philosophical study, later becoming the first bishop of Alexandria.[5] The seventh century document known as the Paschal Chronicle says that Mark died as a martyr.

Evidence of Petrine influence is manifold. We know from Acts 12:12 and 1 Peter 5:13 that the two were well-aquainted. It has been noted that Mark’s gospel is an expansion of the summary of Peter’s preaching found in Acts 10:34-43. Peter is often characterized as forthright, intense, impulsive, and energetic: qualities which are also true of this gospel. Also, the inclusion of Peter’s name in 16:7 may be a personal remembrance of Peter to which the other Gospel writers were not privy. In the middle of the second century, Justyn Martyr made use of Mark 3:17 in his Dialogue with Trypho (chapter 106), citing it as from the “memoirs of Peter.” There are certain incidents found in other gospels which honor Peter, but which are lacking in Mark, perhaps due to the apostle’s humility. In addition, the account of Peter’s denial of Christ is told most thoroughly in Mark, owing perhaps to his own detailed recounting of the event to Mark (maybe as an encouragement to him following his own failure on the first missionary journey), and included here for encouragement to the readers who were faced with daily threats of persecution.

Markan Priority

Within scholarly circles, one of the biggest issues in New Testament studies is that of the “Synoptic Problem.” The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark and Luke, and they are so-called because they cover so much of the same material. The word “synoptic” breaks down to mean “seeing together.” For example, only three pericopes are unique to the Gospel of Mark among they Synoptics (4:26-29; 7:31-37; 8:22-26). While many have speculated about the nature of a common oral tradition that may have influenced all three synoptic writers, Professor R. H. Stein cites a number of reasons why this is an unsatisfactory explanation for the synoptic problem. Chief among them are the similarities in wording and order, biblical quotations, as well as the inclusion of common parenthetical material in the Gospels. A common oral tradition fails to explain these occurrences. It seems more likely that written sources would be more influential, and therefore the “Synoptic Problem” is fed by the issue of which Gospel writer(s) benefited from the work of the other(s).[6]

Prior to the nineteenth century, the prevailing opinion was (under the influence of Augustine, et al.) that Mark was a condensed summary of the work of Matthew and/or Luke (or both). This view was turned on its head in the nineteenth century in favor of the view that Mark was the first of our received Gospels to be penned. This view is known as Markan priority. Its first known proponent was C. G. Wilke (1826), but it was Lachmann’s work of 1835 that popularized the idea. On this view, Mark wrote first (though some postulate a forerunner to Mark called ur-Markus), and Matthew and Luke used him as a source, with many also advocating that the latter two evangelists also drew from a collection of sayings of Jesus which has been labeled Q (from the Latin quele, meaning “source.”

Q is alleged to be the source of material common to Matthew and Luke that is not found in Mark. This material, consisting of about 235 verses, is said to require a secondary outside source. While there are some plausible reasons to adopt the existence of Q, it is by no means a requirement. It should be stated that no record of Q’s existence has ever surfaced beyond the speculative hypothesis of critical scholars. In addition to Q, some scholars have postulated the existence of M and L, written sources containing the material unique to Matthew and Luke respectively. It seems more likely that these hypotheses are offered in support of certain presuppositions held by the scholars advancing them than by the text or textual tradition. Emphasis on oral histories and hypothetical documents minimize the influence of eyewitness credibility of the Gospels themselves. This is a necessary step for those who wish to cast a shadow of doubt on the historicity of the Gospels. Therefore, it seems best to avoid speculation on the existence of hypothetical documents and focus on the extant texts we have and behind which is much textual history.

With or without hypothetical other sources, there is much evidence supporting Markan priority. The principle question to answer in text criticism is that when there is a variation, which reading best explains the origin of the other? This question is asked in slightly modified form of the three Synoptic Gospels. “The fact that Matthew and Luke are considerably larger than Mark is more easily explained by Matthew and Luke’s adding material to their Gospels than Mark’s having eliminated material.”[7] Somewhere between ninety to ninety-five percent of Mark’s Gospel is paralleled in Matthew and/or Luke, begging the question of why it would have been written in the first place if so much of its content was readily available in other sources. The ancient view of Mark being an abridgment of Matthew and/or Luke fails to explain why Mark goes into greater detail of the accounts that are common to the Synoptics.

It is also more likely that Matthew and Luke would have smoothed out the rough literary style and theological laxity of Mark than vice versa. Mark’s dexterity with the Greek language is noticeably inferior to Matthew and especially Luke. It is highly more likely that they would have improved upon his style than that he would have modified theirs. On some occasions, Mark’s word choices or sentence structure may have left room for diverse theological opinions to surface by the time of Matthew and Luke’s writing. Therefore, it seems plausible that they would have tightened up the wording a bit to narrow the possibilities of misunderstanding, rather than Mark obscuring their very clear wordings.

Another bit of evidence supporting Markan priority might be labeled as “the disagreement of the two against the one.” When the Synoptics record the same event, there are frequent occurrences of Matthew and Mark agreeing together against some detail included or omitted in Luke. There are also numerous occurrences of Luke and Mark agreeing contra Matthew. However, there are relatively few accounts of Matthew and Luke agreeing against Mark, giving rise to the opinion that where Matthew and Luke vary from one another, one or the other of them is giving preference to Mark. The most prevalent anti-Markan-priority view (the Griesbach Hypothesis) makes much of the disagreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark, but there are many more cases of disagreement the other way – an obstacle that Griesbach contenders fail to deal with justly. Also, when variances occur in the Synoptics, it is usually easy to explain how Matthew is modifying Mark to appeal to his Jewish audience, or Luke is modifying for his audience than that Mark would be modifying for his.

Nonetheless, a number of scholars still hold to Matthean priority (as it is advanced in the Griesbach hypothesis), and the most influential one of recent generations is W. R. Farmer. The Griesbach hypothesis is named for Johann Jakob Griesbach (1745-1812) who is credited with coining the term “Synoptic Gospels.” His 1783 hypothesis states that Matthew was written first among the Synoptics and was used as a primary source by Luke, and that Mark made use of both of them. Farmer articulates the hypothesis in a series of steps, beginning with the very plain realization that the similarities between the Synoptics is close enough to demand that there is some literary dependency between them. Given the agreements of any two against the third, Farmer claims that there are only six viable hypotheses for ordering the Synoptic Gospels. In these six cases, the second writer copied the first, and the third made use of both the first and second. On Farmer’s view, the agreement of order and content, and the agreements of Matthew and Luke against Mark are best explained with Mark writing third than with either of the other Synoptists writing third. Specifically, Farmer says, “Mark tends to agree more closely with Matthew when these two evangelists follow an order different from Luke, but more closely with Luke when they follow an order different from Matthew.”[8]

Important to Farmer’s hypothesis is the external evidence which he claims is weighty against the theory that Matthew wrote after Mark. Included in this is nearly unanimous testimony of the church fathers that Matthew was written before Mark and/or Luke. Farmer claims that it would be more likely for a unanimous tradition to arise which recognized Matthew as a Judaized version of the Gospel in the Gentile-dominated church unless there was strong and early evidence available to them to suggest otherwise. The recognition of Matthean priority among the fathers, and it place of primacy in the canon suggests (at least to Farmer) that they had such evidence. The earliest statement of order among the Gospels is from Clement of Alexandria who wrote in the late second to early third centuries that the Gospels containing genealogies were written prior to the ones without them. Farmer roots Clement’s observation in a tradition that precedes his writing by nearly a century.

It is the recent tradition and scholastic authority behind Markan priority that Farmer attributes to its prominence still today, to the lack of any sound argumentation.[9] However, as has been seen in the brief overview here, this is simply not the case. Simply put, Markan priority answers more questions than it raises – a fact that cannot be substantiated on the Matthean priority view. However, it should be acknowledged that the case is by no means closed on this discussion, and for either view to be recognized as universally conclusive, more work remains to be done. For now, it seems most prudent in this study to assume Markan priority based on the evidences outlined briefly above – chiefly the argument that the reading of Mark best explains the origin of the readings found in Matthew and Luke. Until Griesbach proponents can satisfactorily answer this claim, Markan priority will likely maintain its strong influence in academia.

Contrary to the opinions of many New Testament scholars, it seems that very little hangs in the balance on which view one prefers in this argument. However, there are certain sticking points where this does come into play, namely in those areas where Matthew, Mark, and Luke have details that vary from one another in accounts of the same events. If Mark was written first, then “it ought to be interpreted with a minimum of references to the other synoptics,”[10] while Matthew and Luke ought to be handled with a view toward Mark as one of their informing sources. Two very important assumptions will guide the student of the word through these situations.[11] One is the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. On this conviction, we have confidence that the word of God is true, and does not contradict itself. Therefore, when details vary, we should view them as complements, not contradictions. The second is that the Gospels are dependent upon eyewitness testimony. Therefore it is only natural that some of the accounts will contain details that are and are not similar to the other accounts. We accept this as one of the values of having four Gospels, not as a strike against them.


External evidence to the date of Mark’s gospel is divided, with some early sources claiming he wrote before Peter’s death and others claiming he wrote after. There is no doubt concerning the tradition that Peter was martyred during Nero’s violent persecution of Christians following the great fire of Rome in 64, and extending until the end of his reign. This would date Peter’s death between 64 and 68.

In the Anti-Marcionite Prologue (160-180 AD), we read, “… Mark declared, who is called ‘Stump-fingered’ because he had short fingers in comparison with the size of the rest of his body. He was Peter’s interpreter. After the death of Peter himself, he [Mark] wrote down this same Gospel in the regions of Italy.”[12] The first portion of that statement (prior to the ellipsis) has been lost, but what remains tells us something of the origin of Mark’s Gospel. Irenaeus, in Against Heresies (3:1:1, c. 185), writes, “Now after the exodus of these [i.e., Peter and Paul], Mark, the disciple and the interpreter of Peter, himself also transmitted to us in writing the things preached by Peter.”[13] Most scholars understand exodus to mean death, as it does in many early Christian writings, however others have preferred to render it as departure, indicating Peter and Paul had left Rome. Even if Ireneaus is correct, and if he means “death,” it is not necessary to understand him to mean that Mark wrote after Peter’s death; only that his writing gained influence after Peter’s death.

Later in the second century, Clement of Alexandria (c. 195) presents a different view in a work called Hypotyposes. Eusebius indicates that his testimony was derived from the oldest presbyters and preserves his testimony as follows:

When Peter had proclaimed the word publicly at Rome, and declared the gospel under the influence of the spirit; as there was a great number present, they requested Mark, who had followed him from afar, and remembered well what he had said, to reduce these things to writing, and that after composing the gospel he gave it to those who requested it of him. Which, when Peter understood, he directly neither hindered nor encouraged it.[14]

A quotation from Clement’s Institutions found in Eusebius 2:15 agrees with this testimony, adding, “when the apostle (Peter), having ascertained what was done by the revelation of the Spirit, was delighted with the zealous ardor expressed by these men and that the history obtained his authority for the purpose of being read in the churches.” So, if these testimonies of Clement are accurate, the we ascertain that Peter was not directly involved in the composition of the Gospel, but that he approved of the finished product and endorsed it as authoritative scripture for the Church. A saying of Origen (c. 230) also preserved in Eusebius (6:25) has been understood by some to mean that Peter was involved in the writing of the gospel in a hands-on way. According to Origen, Mark “composed it, as Peter explained it to him.” This does not require the interpretation that Peter was dictating or collaborating with Mark; only that Mark was writing the account as he had received it from Peter. Donald Guthrie has attempted to reconcile the conflicting testimonies of the fathers by with the position that “Mark began his Gospel before (Peter’s death) and completed it after Peter’s death.”[15]

Those who place the date of writing after 70 AD do so only the basis of an anti-supernatural presupposition that would deny Jesus the ability to predict the destruction of the Jerusalem temple (13:2). Apart from such a bias, there is no reason to date the gospel later than the mid-60s, with some suggesting a date of even the mid-40s as a possibility.

This much we can know with relative certainty. It is likely that Luke completed the book of Acts while Paul was still under house-arrest in Rome (where he had been for two years), placing that writing around 62 AD. This in turn would mean that the gospel of Luke had been written earlier (on the basis of Acts 1:1), but not necessarily much earlier. On the assumption of Markan priority, the Gospel of Mark would have to predate the Gospel of Luke, placing it no later than the late 50s or very early 60s. However, this would necessitate it being written prior to Peter’s death. With roughly half of the external evidence stipulating that this was in fact the case, it does not seem problematic to adopt this dating for the Gospel of Mark.


The earliest traditions almost unanimously place the writing of Mark’s Gospel in Rome. First Peter 5:13 locates Mark in Rome with Peter. All of the Synoptic Gospels make mention of Simon of Cyrene bearing the cross of Jesus, but Mark alone mentions that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus. The inclusion of this fact is hard to understand unless Mark’s readers or immediate companions would have deemed these sons of Simon as being significant. We do know that there was a prominent Rufus in the church at Rome (Romans 16:13), whom Paul greeted along with his mother (Paul calls her “his mother and mine,” indicating that she had some impact on his spiritual development). Another factor lending itself to a Roman provenance for this Gospel is the number of “Latinisms” used by Mark. These are uses of a Latin term or concept to make sense of something in the Greek. Examples in Mark are found in 12:42 and 15:16.

While some have placed the writing in Palestine and others in North Africa, the internal and external evidence supports Rome as the place of writing.


Mark’s intended readership is most certainly Gentile, perhaps Roman in particular. We can deduce this from his explanation of Jewish customs (7:2-4; 15:42), his translation of Aramaic words (3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 15:22), Latinisms and loan words (12:42; 15:16). Additionally, Gentiles and people of diverse ethnicity figure large in Mark’s narrative (11:17; 13:10; 14:9).


The Gospel of Mark is a brief and vivid account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ with special focus on His passion (approximately forty percent of the Gospel is devoted to His sufferings). In 1:1, Mark states that the purpose of his writing is to set forth “the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It seems that Mark is writing to give an apologetic for who Jesus is by focusing on what Jesus did. It is a “gospel of action,” wherein the main character is constantly on the move in His ministry of servanthood. Mark devotes much attention to the miracles of Jesus, and though he refers often to the teaching ministry of Jesus (1:21, 39; 2:2, 13; 6:2, 6, 34; 10:1; 12:35), he omits the lengthy teaching passages found in Matthew and Luke. Some have labled Mark as the “go Gospel.”[16]

Mark 10:45 has been identified by numerous scholars as the most important verse in the book: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” The greatness of Jesus is seen, not in His overt power to conquer, as many expected of the Messiah, but in His willingness to serve, to suffer, and to sacrifice Himself for the salvation of many. In setting forth Jesus in this way, Mark challenges the unbeliever to make the same realization that the Roman centurion does in 15:39 – “Truly this man was the Son of God.” He also encourages the early followers of Christ to endure the suffering and hardship that they faced for Christ’s sake, knowing that in so doing they are most like their Master.

Mark paints for the reader a very vivid portrait of Jesus. While some scholars have emphasized Mark’s very human Christ, and others his very divine Christ, it seems that he may present the best balanced Christology of the evangelists. He describes Christ’s human emotions, such as compassion (1:41; 6:34; 8:2), indignation (3:5; 8:2; 10:14); distress or sorrow (14:33-34; 7:34; 8:12). One of the most intriguing features of Mark is his interest in the hands of Jesus. Yet, the deity of Christ is inescapable. He is lauded with divine titles by the Gospel writer (1:1); the Heavenly Father (1:11; 9:17); demons (3:11; 5:7); Himself (13:32; 14:61); and a Roman centurion (15:39). So, even without a birth narrative, Mark succeeds in picturing for the reader the humble condescension of the incarnation by making it clear that this very human Jesus is very God as well.

Another interesting feature of Mark is his treatment of the disciples and the subject of discipleship. Frequently the disciples are found misunderstanding and failing the Lord (5:31; 9:10; 10:13; 14:27-30), but nonetheless, they are taught in intimate proximity with the Lord (4:14-20; 7:17-23), and promised great blessing (14:28; 16:7).

Much has been made over the so-called “Messianic Secret” in the Gospel of Mark. In the first half of the Gospel, Jesus cautions those whom He healed, His disciples, and the demons to be silent about his identity (1:25, 34, 44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26, 30; 9:9). It seems that Jesus is cautious about accepting the label of “Christ” or allowing premature enthusiasm about his identity to circulate while there was still such an abundance of misunderstanding about the role of the Messiah. The first-century Jews envisioned a Davidic military conquerer who would liberate them by force from the occupation of the Romans. However, Jesus came on a greater mission – to liberate people from the bondage of sin by His suffering and death. Misconceptions might have short-circuited His ministry and His journey to the cross. Mark’s purpose seems to be to guide his readers through a progressive unveiling of Jesus’ identity” and convince them that, although Jesus experienced rejection, suffering, and ultimately death on a Roman cross, He was nonetheless the Christ, the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world.[17] “Only at Golgotha can Jesus be rightly known as God incognito who reveals Himself to those who are willing to deny themselves and follow Him in costly discipleship.”[18]

Craig Evans has gone to great lengths to demonstrate that the presentation of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is an overt contrast to the Roman perception of the Caesar, beginning with Julius Caesar and extending beyond Mark’s likely date to Vespasian (Nero’s successor). The points Evans raises which parallel the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the veneration of the Caesar include the following: (1) That the accession of the Caesar was announced as a euaggelion (“gospel” or “good news”; (2) That the accession of the Caesar was often accompanied by or preceded by omens and prophecies; (3)That the Caesar’s reign and victories were often celebrated as “triumphs”; (4) That the Caesar was hailed in terms of deity; (5) That the Caesar was hailed as “Lord,” leading to the persecution and martyrdom of countless Jews and Christians who refused to honor him with the title; (6) That the Caesar was able to effect healing to those who sought it of him; (7) That the Caesar was envisioned as seated or standing at the right hand of God; (8) That libations and ceremonies were observed in honor of the Caesar; (9)That the Caesar’s reign was referred to as a parousia (or advent), and bore the promise of a new world order; (10) That after the Caesar’s death, he was exalted and deified. According to Evans, Mark

presents Jesus as the true Son of God and in doing so deliberately presents Jesus in opposition to Rome’s candidates for a suitable emperor, savior, and lord… Despite rejection at the hands of his own people (and the most important people, as importance would have been measured at that time) and a shameful death at the hands of the most powerful people, Jesus was indeed the Son of God, humanity’s true Savior and Lord. In every way, Jesus cuts an impressive figure, a figure who had announced the impending rule of God. Implicitly Mark invites his readers to consider this rule.[19]


Mark’s usage of the Greek language is rough and ungrammatical. He uses broken sentences (2:10; 11:32). He uses 1270 different Greek words (excluding proper names), eighty of which are unique to him in the New Testament. At least ten times, he transliterates Latin terms into Greek, and bears the obvious impress of fluency in Aramaic. He uses the historical present tense (present tense verbs used to describe past activity) over 150 times (compared to seventy-eight in Matthew and only four in Luke), and the Greek word euthus (typically rendered “immediately” in most English versions) forty-two times (compared with seven times in Matthew and only once in Luke). Twelve chapters begin with the Greek conjunction kai, often translated “and.” That active conjunction occurs 1100 times in Mark. These grammatical features give the Gospel of Mark that sense of constant action.

The Gospel of Mark is known for its brevity. This led some early Christians to assume that it was a condensed version of Matthew. Augustine (c. 354-430), for instance, stated, “Mark imitated Matthew like a lackey (Lat. pedisequus) and is regarded as his abbreviator.”[20] However, one must wonder why, if Mark was condensing a longer gospel, his accounts are more graphic and detailed in the stories which are shared by the other Synoptics. His brevity is not owing to a minimization of detail in these accounts, but rather by the omission of lengthy teaching passages and background information found in the other Synoptics. Chrysostom (c. 354-407) noted that Mark’s brevity is likely to be attributed to his reliance on Peter, who was a man of few words.

A unique feature of Mark’s style has come to be known as the Markan Sandwich. Frequently, Mark interrupts a narrative by inserting another account which may seem unrelated into the middle of it. This may appear to the reader to be “scatter-brained” on the part of the author, but in each case, there is a theological purpose behind it. The intervening (“middle”) part of the narrative functions “as the theological key to the flanking halves … to underscore the major themes of the Gospel.”[21] These Markan Sandwiches occur 9 times, at 3:20-35; 4:1-20; 5:21-43; 6:7-30; 11:12-21; 14:1-11; 14:17-31; 14:53-72; 15:40-16:8.


The Gospel of Mark cannot rightly be called a biography because, even though it is biographical, it lacks so many of the details which are necessary for the telling of one’s life story. For instance, there is no record here of Jesus’ birth, or childhood, or any experience prior to His baptism. Every pericope, with the exception of two in the Gospel of Mark are about Jesus (the exceptions are about John the Baptist, 1:2-8; 6:14-29). With nearly forty percent of the Gospel being devoted to the final week of His earthly life, there is little space devoted to the remainder of his life. It seems that with the words of Mark 1:1, an entirely new genre is invented – the Gospel. Mark may have been the first to use this term to describe the story of Jesus. While the term “Gospel” speaks more to the content than the technical form of writing, it appears that the early Christians began to reserve the term for the stories of Jesus life, ministry and death, as composed by the four canonical evangelists. The early church used the term “Gospel” most frequently in the singular and only rarely in the plural, “indicating that it conceived of the Gospel tradition as a unity, that is, the one Gospel in four versions.”[22] Early Christian understanding of the term “gospel” is undoubtedly influenced by the statements of Isaiah the prophet in Isaiah 40:9, 52:7, and 61:1. It is used in the Gospels to describe the content of Christ’s preaching, but here it is expanded to include the events of His life, death, and resurrection as well. The term “gospel” is used seven times in Mark, compared to four in Matthew, and none in either Luke or John.

The name Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1), sets the framework for the entire Gospel of Mark. The book climaxes at 8:29 when Peter claims that Jesus is the Christ, and culminates at 15:39 with the centurion saying, “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Jesus stood before the high priest, who asked Him in Mark 14:61: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One (a Jewish idiom for “God”)?” Jesus answer was direct and powerful. With the words of the divine name of God revealed to Moses in the Old Testament, Jesus said, “I AM.” This Christological framework (or Christological inclusio) is similar to Matthew’s Gospel, which begins by referring to Jesus as “Immanuel: God with us,” (1:23) and ends with His promise “I am with you always even to the end of the age” (28:20). John’s gospel has similar framework, referring to Jesus in 1:1, “The Word was God,” and concluding with the testimony of Thomas who worships Jesus saying, “My Lord and my God” (20:28).

The End, Or Is It?

In most English Bibles, a footnote or critical apparatus makes the reader aware that there is some question among scholars as to where the Gospel of Mark should end. Some claim that the best manuscript evidence supports 16:8 as the final verse of the book, while others claim that there is good reason to accept verses 9 through 20 as original and authentic. A third group claim that the original ending was a shorter ending which is found in some manuscripts alone, and in others joined together with the longer ending. This ending continues from verse 8, saying, “They reported briefly to those around Peter all that they had been commanded. After these things, Jesus himself sent out through them, from the east to the west, the holy and imperishable preaching of eternal salvation. Amen.” This third view is the least popular among scholars in our day. The other two differ as to which textual tradition is to be preferred. The majority of manuscripts available today support the inclusion of verses 9 through 20 in the original work. However, two of the most respected manuscripts, Vaticanus and Sinaiticus, have the ending at verse 8.

Opinions of the church fathers are divided on the issue. Justin Martyr (c. 100-165), Irenaeus (c. 135-202), and Tatian (c. 120-173) all prefer the longer ending, while later Christian scholars such as Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 265-339) and Jerome (c. 345-419) opt to end the text at verse 8. In fact, Jerome only knew of a few manuscripts that contained the longer ending. Looking within the Gospel of Mark itself, it is evident that nearly thirty-five percent of the words used in verses 9 through 20 are not found elsewhere in Mark, and the style of these verses is much different than the preceding text. Added to this is the somewhat difficult theology encountered at verses 15 through 18. Yet, if the text was intended to conclude at verse 8, we are left with a very abrupt ending. This could have been the author’s intention, or it could be that he died or was interrupted before it was completed. It may also be the case that the final leaf of the Gospel was lost, though this could be used to support either position.

When all the evidence is considered together, it seems best that we not speculate on what Mark’s intended ending was, since it seems we are nowhere near being able to answer with certainty. It seems prudent to handle verses 9 through 20 with care. There is too much support for them for us to dismiss them outright, however, there is enough evidence against them to caution us against over-emphasis. These verses should not become the basis for any theological positions (i.e. on baptismal regeneration or sign gifts), apart from consideration of other, more clear and certain texts in the New Testament.

[1] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, translated by C. F. Cruse (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1998 [reprint]), 3:39:1.

[2] Ibid., 3:39:4-5.

[3] Ibid., 3:39:15.

[4] D. Edmond Hiebert, The Gospel of Mark: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1994), 5.

[5] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2:16.

[6] Robert H. Stein, “Interpreting the Synoptic Gospels,” in David Alan Black and David Dockery eds., Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 337-338.

[7] Stein, 338-339.

[8] William R. Farmer, “The Case for the Two-Gospel Hypothesis,” in David Alan Black and David Beck eds., Rethinking the Synoptic Problem (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), 111.

[9] Farmer, 134.

[10] James A. Brooks, The New American Commentary: Mark (Nashville: Broadman, 1991), 25.

[11] The word “assumption” here should not be understood to mean “blind faith,” but rather that these are matters which have been well established elsewhere, and for which it is not justifiable to devote space in this study.

[12] Cited in C. E. B. Cranfield, The Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to St. Mark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966), 3.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Eusebius, 6:14:6-7

[15] Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 3rd ed., 73, cited in Hiebert, 9.

[16] e.g. Manford G. Gutzke, cited in Hiebert, 12.

[17] Craig A. Evans, Word Biblical Commentary [Volume 34B]: Mark 8:27-16:20 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), lxvi, lxxi.

[18] Evans, 19.

[19] Evans, lxxxii-xciii.

[20] Augustine, De Consensu Evangeliorum, 1.2.4, cited in James D. Edwards, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 2.

[21] Edwards, 11-12.

[22] Edwards, 3.