Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mark 1:1–8

Mark 1:1–8 (ESV): John the Baptist Prepares the Way


Mark’s Gospel begins with John the Baptist, dressed in clothes made out of camel hair and wearing a leather belt, eating locusts and wild honey, and “baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (verse 4 (ESV)).

John also foretells Jesus’ imminent arrival:

And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (verses 7–8 (ESV))
Mark tells us that this is fulfilling something told of by Isaiah (though he then quotes both Isaiah and Malachi—see the Thoughts section):

Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:1 (ESV))
A voice cries:
  “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
  make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3 (ESV))


When I read the description of John the Baptist’s clothing I wonder to myself why Mark makes a point of mentioning that his belt is made out of leather. Was that uncommon in John’s day? It’s very common in my day—most belts are made out of leather—so it’s odd to see it being specifically mentioned by Mark. Aside from that cultural issue, though, the ESV Study Bible points out that John the Baptist’s clothing corresponds to that of other desert preachers. On the other hand, we tend to think it odd that he was eating locusts and wild honey, whereas the study notes tell us:

Locusts and wild honey were not an unusual source of food for people living in the desert (on locusts, see Dead Sea Scrolls, Damascus Document 12.14–15). The desert locust (Gk. akris) is a large grasshopper, still eaten today by poorer people in the Middle East and Africa. (part of an ESV Study Bible note from Matthew 3:4)
The Study Bible also explains why Mark only says he’s quoting Isaiah when he’s also quoting from Malachi:

Isaiah the prophet is named because he was more prominent and more of the quoted material comes from him. When the text is expounded in the following verses, Mark refers only to the Isaiah citation. (part of an ESV Study Bible note on verses 2–3)

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