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Mark 1:1-8

Patristic Commentary

OVERVIEW; The beginning of the gospel is intrinsically connected with the prophetic promises of Hebrew Scripture (ORIGEN). The two Testaments do not announce first one God and then another but the one true God who works through a developing history of revelation. (IRENAEUS, CYRIL OF JERUSALEM). Marcion's view that the two covenants are separable is directly countered by Mark's beginning point (AUGUSTINE), in which the prophetic voices of Isaiah and Malachi blend (ORIGEN, JEROME). No prophet is greater than John (CYRIL OF JERUSALEM), the solitary messenger from the desert prophesied by Malachi (TERTULLIAN, EUSEBIUS), who was called to prepare the way for Christ (TERTULLIAN), whose voice blended judgment and mercy, repentance and faith (AMBROSE). John's baptism pre-pared the way for the baptism that would be more fully expressed in the future remission of sins that came with the death of the one he baptized (TERTULLIAN, JEROME). The power of John's baptism was in accord with the justice of a just man, yet still of a mere man, although one who had received grace from the coming Lord (AUGUSTINE). The Lord incarnate did not shrink from identifying himself with sinners who need regeneration (CYPRIAN).

1:1a The Beginning

PREPARING THE HEART. ORIGEN; The way of the Lord must be prepared within the heart; for great and spacious is the heart of man, as if it were a whole world. But see its greatness, not in bodily quantity, but in the power of the mind which enables it to encompass so great a knowledge of the truth. Prepare, therefore, in your hearts the way of the Lord, by a worthy manner of life. Keep straight the path of your life, so that the words of the Lord may enter in without hindrance. HOMILY 2I.1

THE BEGINNING POINT. AUGUSTINE: Note that Mark mentions nothing of the nativity or infancy or youth of the Lord. He has made his Gospel begin directly with the preaching of John. HARMONY OF THE GOSPELS 2.6.i8.2

l;l b The Gospel

ORIGEN: The gospel is primarily concerned with Christ Jesus, who is the head of the whole body of those who are being saved. Mark conveys this point when he says, "The beginning of the gospel concerning Christ Jesus." ... In its unfolding the gospel has a be-ginning, a continuing middle and an end. The beginning can be viewed either as the entire Old Testament, with John the Baptist being its summarizing type, or (because he stands at the juncture of the new with the old) the final stages of the old covenant. This runs counter to those who would as-sign the two covenants to two different Gods. COMMENTARY ON JOHN 1:14.5


ORIGEN: Those who deepen in the knowledge of Christianity do not treat the things written in the law with disrespect.... In saying: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as it is written in the prophet Isaiah," Mark shows that the beginning of the gospel is intrinsically connected with the Old Testament. AGAINST CELSUS 2.4.

THE INAUGURATOR OF THE NEW TESTAMENT. CYRIL OF JERUSALEM; With baptism the old covenant ends and the new begins. This is seen in the fact that the inaugurator of the New Testament is John the Baptist. "Among those born of women there is none greater than John," He is the crown of all the prophetic tradition; "For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John." Of the gospel dispensation he was the firstfruits, for we read "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ" and after some words "John did baptize in the wilderness." THE CATECHETICAL LECTURES 3.6

1:2 My Messenger

THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING. IRENAEUS: How plainly does the beginning of the gospel focus upon the expectations of the holy prophets. At once it points out that the One whom they confessed as God and Lord, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who had also made promise to him, would send his messenger before his face. This was John, crying in the wilderness, in "the spirit and power of Elijah," "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." For the prophets did not announce first one God and then another, but one and the same God under complementary aspects, and with many various names, AGAINST HERESIES 3.I0.5.

WHY JOHN WAS VIEWED AS AN ANGELIC MESSENGER? TERTULLIAN: Now he called him an "angel" on account of the great consequence of the mighty deeds which he was to accomplish, comparable to those mighty deeds of Joshua the son of Nun about whom you have read. John served in the office of a prophet to announce God's will, as the forerunner of the Anointed One. The Spirit, speaking in the voice of the Father, called John an "angel" in accord with the promise declared by Malachi: "Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way be-fore me." It is not a novelty that the Holy Spirit would call those he has appointed ministers of his power "angels." AN ANSWER TO THE JEWS 9.

HIS SUDDEN APPEARANCE. EUSEBIUS: He emerged from the desert clothed in a strange garment, refusing all ordinary social intercourse. He did not even share their common food. For it is written that from childhood John was in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Indeed, his clothing was made of camel's hair! His food locusts and wild honey!... It is understand-able that they should have been alarmed when they saw a man with the hair of a Nazarite of God, and a divine face, suddenly appearing from the lonely wilderness dressed in bizarre clothing, who after preaching to them, he disappeared again into the wilder-ness, without eating or drinking or mingling with the people? Must they not have suspected that he was a little more than human? For how could a human being go without food? And so they understood him to be a divine messenger, the very angel foretold by the prophet. PROOF OF THE GOSPEL 9.5.


AUGUSTINE: The efficacy of John's baptism is attested by the holy way he lived as a per-son. His baptism was in accord with the justice of a just man, yet still a mere man, but one who had received extraordinary grace from the Lord, a grace so great that he was deemed worthy to precede the final Judge of history, and to point him out with his finger, and to fulfill the words of that prophecy:

"The voice of one crying out in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord." TRACTATE 5.6.2.

l;3a The Voice of One Crying

THE VOICE AND THE CRY IN JOHN'S PREACHING. AMBROSE: Voice and crying go together:the voice preaches faith; the cry calls for repentance; the voice, comfort; the cry, danger; the voice sings mercy; the cry announces judgment. SERMON 64.

1:3b Prepare the Way of the Lord

THE SOURCES OF MARK'S PROPHETIC REFERENCE. ORIGEN: Mark took two prophecies spoken in different places by two prophets and conflated them into one, so as to declare: "As it is written in Isaiah the Prophet . . ." "The voice of one crying in the wilderness," which is indeed re-corded immediately after the narrative about Hezekiah's recovery from his sick-ness. This is then conflated with "Behold I send my messenger to prepare the way before me," from Malachi. Both John and Mark compress in various ways the quotation from Isaiah, Mark by reading "His paths" for "the paths of our God" and by omitting "before me."



Mark 1:1-8 
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