Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 14: Saturday
In Saturday’s Bible reading of Mark 7–8, Jesus travels into region of Tyre and then back to the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee before going up to the villages of Caesarea Phillipi. The Pharisees still attempt to trap Him, and the disciples continue to be obtuse in their understanding with the startling exception of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ. Today’s reading finishes the first section of Mark and begins the second one in the last verses of Mark 8.
As I mentioned in the first post on Mark’s Gospel after Mark’s heading (1:1) and prologue (1:2–13), R. T. France divides Mark into three main sections by geographical locations: Galilee (1:14–8:21), the road to Jerusalem (8:22–10:52), and Jerusalem (11:1–16:8). He describes Mark as a ‘Drama in Three Acts’.1
Mark 7 opens with Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem questioning why the disciples are eating without first washing their hands. Jesus circumvents their intent by exposing their heart.
He goes on to give the very specific example of how they set aside God’s command to honor your father and mother when they avoid helping their parents by telling them that what they might and benefitted from is given to God. Then He finishes by saying, “and you do many things such as that.”
Jesus then tells the crowd that its not what goes into a man that defiles him, but what proceeds out from him. When He leaves the crowd, the disciples question him because they still don’t understand what He meant.
Jesus travels on to Tyre, and Mark records His deliverance of a Gentile woman’s daughter who is demon-possessed. On his returning to the Sea of Galilee area in the Decapolis region,2 He heals a man who cannot hear and can only speak with difficulty. Mark next records another nature miracle: Jesus feeds four thousand from seven loaves and a few fishes.
Jesus and His disciples travel across the Sea of Galilee to the district of Dalmanutha,3 and in Mark 8:11 the Pharisees again come and argue with Him, wanting a sign. France writes:
“This bridge passage [Mark 8:11–21] moves Jesus and his disciples decisively away from Galilee, and so signals the end of the first act of Mark’s drama. There is no clean break between Acts One and Two, but rather a gradual progression, in which 8:22–26 as well as the present section will play a part. As the group cross the lake and make their way towards the most northerly scene in the area of Caesarea Philippi, the reader is gradually prepared for the decisive new turn which the story will take from that point. The varied activity and response of the Galilean period is now to give way to the new direction introduced by the christological question and answer of 8:27–29, and by the focus on the cross which will result from them and will dominate the second act. But before Mark takes us to that decisive turning point, he concludes his first act with two enigmatic scenese which look both back over the preceding chapters and forward to the re-education of the disciples on the way to Jerusalem. These two short scenes show how much (or rather how little) both Jesus’ enemies and his followers have yet to grasp of the true significance of his ministry. Both groups still have much to learn, and in Act Two the disciplees at least will be given the opportunity to learn it.
“This section consistes of two pericopes, linked together in the geographical sequence of movements around the northern part of the lake but otherwise independent. The first shows the incomprehension and growing hostility to Jesus on the part of his now traditional opponents, the Pharisees, and signals an end to significant dialogue with them on his part (though they will reappear briefly in 10:2 and 12:13). The second shows the apparently equal incomprehension of the disciples, leading not to hostility but to bewilderment. But their ‘blindness’ (vv. 17–18), unlike that of the Pharisees is curable, as vv. 22–26 will symbolically demonstrate; that will be Jesus’ task in Act Two.”4
Look at how Mark describes the Pharisees:
“Not only do they demand a σημεῖον [sēmeion: sign]5 to authenticate Jesus’ ministry, but Mark adds that their motive in doing so was not an openness to be convinced, but πειράζοντες αὐτόν [peirazontes auton: testing him],5 presumably with the hope of discrediting him also in the eyes of the people at large.”6
When Jesus tells the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, rather than consider what the Pharisees just did, they start discussing that they have no bread. The disciples are also blind, but they have no ulterior motive like the Pharisees.
“The specific use of the metaphor of blindness prepares the way for the next pericope, where the healing of a blind man will be used to symbolize the enlightenment which the disciples so obviously need. Jesus’ attempt to provide that enlightenment, set over against the continued obtuseness of the disciples, will be a major theme of Act Two of Mark’s gospel, now about to begin. At the same time the metaphor of deafness recalls the recently narrated healing of the deaf man, a miracle which is in many ways closely parallel to that of the blind man at Bethsaida. The present pericope, with its focus on spiritual obtuseness, is thus framed between two literal miracles of perception.
“…what they should have grasped from οἱ ἄρτοι [hoi artoi: the bread]5 is not merely that they have a ready supply of food available, but something more fundamental in Jesus himself. In view of the question which he will put to them in v. 29, ὑμεῖς τίνα με λέγετε εἶναι; [humeis tina me legete einai: But who do you say that I am?], it appears that he has been hoping for a more adequate grasp of his authority and mission as the Messiah, and that their inappropriate concern about food for the journey has highlighted this deeper inadequacy in their understanding.”7
The healing of the blind man at Bethsaida8 is the last miracle in Mark 8.
In verse 27 Jesus and His disciples are traveling thought Caesarea Philippi. France titles Mark 8:27–9:13, “Learning to Recognize Jesus.” This section includes Peter’s confession, Jesus’ teaching on discipleship, and in Mark 9, the Transfiguration. France explains:
“The journey begins in the far north of Palestine, more than a hundred miles north of Jerusalme. There will be several weeks in which to work through the questions which must now occupy the disciples’ minds. The process begins with a sequence of events and discussions which together pose inescapably the central issue of who Jesus really is, the issue on which the whole of the rest of the teaching and learning in these chapters must depend. Mark’s narrative is deliberately constructed as a continuous sequence, in order to bracket together the different (indeed contrasting) insights which these opening pericopes contribute to the disciples’ growing aware of whom it is they have been called to follow, and of what that following must mean for them. In particular, there is a strong counterpoint between the exaltation of Peter’s confession and the immediate deflation which follows in 8:31–33, and again between the grim language of taking up the cross and losing one’s life and the glory on the high mountain. The alternate highs and lows forbid a simplistic understanding of the Messiah’s mission and force the disciples into a radical rethinking of their conventional values. Slowly and painfully they are learning to recognize Jesus.”9
Jesus asks the disciples what the people are saying about who He is. They tell Him: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. Jesus then asks the disciples.
“8:27–30 (or better, the fuller complex 8:27–33) is conventionally said to be the watershed in Mark’s narrative. Up to this point the tension has been building up towards it climax in the eventual recognition of who Jesus is, while from this point on, the christological question having been explicitly posed and answered, the plot sets off downhill again towards the fulfillment of Jesus’ messianic mission on the cross and its subsequent echoes in 9:31 and 10:33–34 providing the agenda for this second part of the story. That watershed is symbolized by the geographical movement of the narrative, which begins at the most northerly point of Jesus’ travels high among the mountains in 8:27, and from there moves relentlessly southward towards the denouement in Jerusalem. The second act of the drama, heralded by 8:22–26, effectively begins here…
“ὁ Χριστός [ho christos: the Christ] occurred in Mark’s ‘title page’ in 1:1, but has not been heard since…Mark has reserved the open use of the title until this moment. Now at last the truth about Jesus is recognized and acknowledged…
“The popular enthusiasm for Jesus, and the hope that he might be persuaded to take a more political role as the leader of a Jewish uprising…would mean that messianic language could be seriously misunderstood on the part of both friends and enemies. In view of what Jesus is about to reveal concerning his real mission in v. 31 there could hardly be a more unfortunate misunderstanding, or one more calculated to derail his enterprise as it approaches its decisive phase in the journey towards Jerusalem. So language about Jesus as ὁ Χριστός is forbidden.”10
It is when Jesus tells His disciples that He will suffer, be killed, and then after three days rise again, that Peter rebukes Him.
Mark 8 closes with Jesus teaching about what it will mean to follow Him.
“It is not only Jesus’ destiny that they must begin to see in a new light, but their own…
“The metaphor of taking up one’s own cross is not to be domesticated into an exhortation merely to endure hardship patiently. In this context, following 8:31, it is an extension of Jesus’ readiness for death to those who follow him, and the following verses will fill it out still in terms of loss of life, not merely acceptance of discomfort. While it may no doubt be legitimately applied to other and lesser aspects of the suffering involved in following Jesus, the primary reference in context must be to the possibility of literal death.”11
That’s such a far cry from the usual concept of the Christian life in many places today. There are clear choices given by Jesus in these words. Choices we each must make. The question remains, “But who do you say that I am?”
Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
The Decapolis map: Nichalp. (CC BY-SA 2.5).
The Banias (Caesaria Philippi) Waterfall: מאיר שמיר. (CC BY-SA 2.5).
1,4,6,7,8,9,10,11R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 2002) 11; 309–310; 310; 318; 326; 327, 329, 330; 333, 340.
2Decapolis: “A large territory south of the Sea of Galilee, mainly to the east of Jordan…Pliny named the original members as Scythopolis, Pella, Dion, Gerasa, Philadelphia, Gadara, Raphana, Kanatha, Hippos, and Damascus.” D. H. Tongue, “Decapolis,” The New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, organizing ed., F. F. Bruce, J. I. Packer, R. V. G. Tasker, D. J. Wiseman, consulting eds., (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1962) 304–305.
3Dalmanutha: “a district on the coast of the Lake of Galilee, to which Jesus and His disciples crossed after the feeding of the four thousand. It has never been satisfactorily identified.” F. F. Bruce, “Dalmanutha,” The New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, organizing ed., F. F. Bruce, J. I. Packer, R. V. G. Tasker, D. J. Wiseman, consulting eds. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1962) 288.
5Mark 8:11, Greek words and transliteration, Blue Letter Bible. Retrieved 09 April 2023.
8Bethsaida: “A town on the north shores of Galilee, near the Jordan.” D. F. Payne, “Bethsaida,” The New Bible Dictionary, J. D. Douglas, organizing ed., F. F. Bruce, J. I. Packer, R. V. G. Tasker, D. J. Wiseman, consulting eds. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI: 1962) 145.
I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.
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