January 27: Mark 1:14-15

The first occurrence of the noun eu)agge/lion in the Gospel of Mark is found in the opening words of Mk 1:1, which function as a title for the work as a whole (cf. the discussion in the previous note). The next occurrence is in the fundamental tradition of 1:14-15—an early tradition which is central to the core Synoptic narrative, and, in the form which we have it, likely pre-dates the Markan Gospel by a number of years. It preserves a very simple form: (a) narrative introduction/summary, followed by (b) a saying of Jesus. This is the basic building-block structure for the Gospel narrative as a whole, only here the block of tradition consists of a single declaration by Jesus. The noun eu)agge/lion occurs in both portions, the first (narrative) perhaps being the result of the second (Jesus saying). Here is the Markan form of the tradition as a whole:

  • Narrative introduction/summary (v. 14):
    “And, with Yohanan being given along (into custody), Yeshua came into the Galîl, proclaiming the good message [to\ eu)agge/lion] of God[, and saying]”
  • Saying by Jesus (v. 15):
    “The time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near—change your mind [i.e. repent] and trust in the good message!”

This is clearly a rather different meaning of eu)agge/lion than we found in verse 1 (cf. the previous note), where it referred to the comprehensive message regarding the person and work of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel narrative. The meaning can be discerned at three distinct levels: (i) the historical saying (of Jesus), (ii) the saying as transmitted by the earliest Christians, and (iii) in the literary context of the Markan Gospel. Some critical commentators have expressed doubt as to the authenticity of the saying, at least in terms of the use of the noun eu)agge/lion, since it otherwise seems to have a developed Christian meaning, both in Mark and the remainder of the New Testament. However, while that may be true of other Markan passages, it does not appear to be the case here. If we consider the context of the tradition closely, the “good message” would seem to be the eschatological announcement that “the kingdom of God has come near”. That this is the essential content of the message, is, I think, confirmed by the chiastic bracketing in vv. 14-15:

    • “the good message of God”
      • “the time has been fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near
    • “…trust in the good message”

This eschatological message, with its twin announcement of judgment and deliverance, is fully rooted in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, and follows the tone and spirit of John the Baptist’s preaching. That the Baptist tradition(s) recorded in the Gospels are fundamentally authentic, on entirely objective grounds, is reasonably well established. I discuss this in the series “Jesus and the Gospel Tradition” (soon to be posted here). That Jesus’ declaration is eschatological is all but certain from the wording (“the time has been fulfilled”), especially the use of the verb e)ggi/zw in the perfect (h&ggiken, “has come near”). I would maintain strongly that Jesus’ words here are in accord with traditional Jewish eschatology (and Messianic thought) of the period. The message may be summarized as follows: God is about to appear to bring Judgment upon humankind (the wicked/nations) and to rescue/deliver (the faithful ones of) his people from this current evil Age. In so doing, God establishes his Kingdom—his authority and rule over the earth and all humankind—and ushers in the New Age. There is here no trace of any specifically Christian content in the message, that is, no reference to Jesus’ own person and work. This fact, in my view (and on objective grounds), confirms the essentially authenticity of the saying.

At the historical level, Jesus likely would have done most, if not all, of his preaching and teaching in Aramaic. If the Greek of Mark 1:15 is an accurate rendering of Jesus’ words (in Aramaic), then the Greek noun eu)agge/lion may correspond to the Aramaic cognate of the Hebrew hr*c)B= (b®´œrâ), from the root verb rc^B*, “bring (good) news” (cf. the earlier note). The Palestinian Aramaic at*r=ocB= (“the [good] news”), which is the equivalent of to\ eu)agge/lion, is found, for example, in the M§gillat Ta±¦nît text (late 1st century A.D.?): “…on the 28th (day), (good) news came to the Yehudeans” (cf. Fitzmyer-Harrington, pp. 186-7). There is no reason why Jesus might not have used such language, given the Scriptural prophetic/eschatological connotation of rcb, though this is better attested for the verb than the related noun hr*c)B=.

If we wish to learn what Jesus understood his own role to be in regard to this “good news”, we must turn to a different line of early tradition, one involving the key passage of Isaiah 61:1ff. This we will do in the next daily note. However, before proceeding, it is worth considering how the Synoptic tradition in Mark 1:14-15 was preserved in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Matthew includes the saying of Jesus, but only in its central portion, omitting mention of the “good message”:

“Change your mind [i.e. repent]! For the kingdom of the heavens has come near!” (Matt 4:17)

The expression “kingdom of the heavens”, in place of “kingdom of God”, is a feature unique to the Matthean Gospel. A narrative summary, roughly equivalent to that in Mk 1:14, occurs in a different position in Matthew, with developed features, most notable the expression “good message of the Kingdom” (eu)agge/lion th=$ basilei/a$). This occurs in Matt 4:23, and is repeated in 9:35 (cp. Mk 1:39). Luke does not record the saying of Jesus at the corresponding point in his narrative, though a similar declaration is made a bit later on, in 4:43:

“It is necessary for me to bring the good message [eu)aggeli/sasqai] of the kingdom of God to the other cities…”

Verse 44 is a short narrative summary (similar to Matt 4:23), and it would seem that Luke has blended the tradition from Mk 1:14-15 together with that of 1:38-39. The expression “the good message of the kingdom of God” is more precise than the Matthean “good message of the Kingdom”, and more closely encapsulates the saying in Mk 1:15. Two points, however, must be noted which are vital for a proper understanding of the Lukan saying:

  • In place of the Mk 1:15 tradition, Luke has included the episode at the synagogue in Nazareth, so that the first recorded words from Jesus’ ministry are a citation from Isaiah 61:1
  • Instead of the noun eu)agge/lion, Luke uses the verb eu)aggeli/zomai

It is conceivable, perhaps even likely, that Luke, in the 4:43 saying, preserves the more authentic phrasing by Jesus, utilizing the verb eu)aggeli/zw (Heb/Aram rc^B*). The key, I believe, is in Jesus’ own use of the Isaiah 61 passage. We will look at this more closely in the next daily note.

References above marked “Fitzmyer-Harrington” are to Joseph A. Fitzmyer and Daniel J. Harrington, A Manual of Palestinian Aramaic Texts, Biblica et Orientalia 34 (Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, Rome: 1978/1994).

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