Authority: context

Jesus-in-Capernaum-Synagogue21 Then they came to Capernaum, and on the sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes. 23 In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; 24 he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 25 Jesus rebuked him and said, “Quiet! Come out of him!” 26 The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him. 27 All were amazed and asked one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” 28 His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.

Context. The first major section of Mark’s Gospel extends from 1:14 to 3:6, and describes the initial phase of the Galilean ministry. Within this section the evangelist records the calling of the first disciples (1:16–20; 2:14), Jesus’ ministry in and around Capernaum (1:21–34), and a series of controversies (2:1–3:6) which are climaxed by the decision to seek Jesus’ death (3:6). A new section begins with 3:7 and extends to 6:13. One descriptive outline of this first major section is:

Jesus’ Authority and the Pharisees’ Blindness (1:14-3:6)

  1. Jesus Proclaims the Kingdom of God and entrance to Galilee(1:14-15)
    2. The Call of the First Disciples (1:16-20)
    3. Jesus’ Authority Over Demons and Illness (1:21-45)
  2. a) The Beginnings in Capernaum – a new teaching authority (1:21-28) – our text
    b) Healing Peter’s Mother-in-law (1:29-31)
    c) The Sick Healed at Evening (1:32-34)
    d) Departure from Capernaum (1:35-39)
    e) Cleansing a Leper (1:40-45)
  3. Jesus’ Authority Over Sin and the Law – the Growing Conflict (2:1-3:6)
  4. a) Healing the Paralytic – the authority to forgive sin (2:1-12)
    b) The Call of Levi (2:13-14)
    c) The Messiah Eats with Sinners (2:15-17)
    d) Jesus and Fasting (2:18-22)
    e) Sabbath: Violations and Lord of the Sabbath (2:23-28)
    f) Healing the Withered Hand – Jesus must be destroyed (3:1-6)

Now that the disciples have been called and are following, they must be taught. In these early narratives, Mark’s readers do not learn what Jesus teaches in the Capernaum synagogue, but they do learn how he teaches (“with authority,” vv. 22 and 27), and what effect his powerful teaching has (people are “astonished” and “amazed,” vv. 22 and 27; the unclean spirit is overwhelmed, v. 26). The repetition of the phrase “with authority” indicates that Mark wants the events of Jesus’ first teaching and first powerful action to be seen as intimately related. He not only speaks with authority — he also acts with power! The “amazed” bystanders acknowledge the teacher’s authority, yet they still have to ask: “What is this?” (v. 27).

Mark’s intention here is to make his readers confident in their Lord as teacher and healer. However, the allusion to the people’s amazement (v. 27), which caused Jesus’ reputation to spread throughout Galilee (v. 28), also has another purpose. It is precisely the people’s response of being amazed (1:27 and 5:20), or astounded (2:12 and 5:42) that will eventually bring other hostile forces to seek to destroy Jesus (see 6:14–29, where Herod is threatened by Jesus’ reputation and ends up beheading John the Baptist). Mark wants more from his readers than amazement; he wants them to be alert when Jesus reveals himself in less appealing ways. “Will you also be amazed when Jesus begins to teach that the Son of Man has to suffer much, be rejected by the chief priests, be put to death, and rise three days later (8:31)? Will you recognize him for who he is when he hangs on the cross, abandoned by most of his followers who were amazed by his first signs of power?”

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