Authority: response

Jesus-in-Capernaum-SynagogueDemonic Knowledge. That the demonic powers possess a certain knowledge of Jesus’ identity is clear from the cry of recognition, “I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” This formula of recognition, however, does not stand alone. It is part of a larger complex of material exhibiting a striking difference between the forms of address employed by the demoniacs and the titles used by ordinary sick individuals. The latter group appeal to Jesus as “Lord” (7:8), “Teacher” (9:17), “Son of David” (10:47–48) or “Master” (10:51). The demoniacs, however, address Jesus as “the Holy One of God” (1:24), “the Son of God” (3:11) or “the Son of the Most High God” (5:7), formulations which identify Jesus as the divine Son of God. The contrast in address is an important characteristic distinguishing ordinary sickness from demonic possession, and reflects the superior knowledge of the demons. Some scholars make the distinction that the recognition-formula is not a confession, but a defensive attempt to gain control of Jesus in accordance with the common concept of that day, that the use of the precise name of an individual or spirit would secure mastery over him.

This is perhaps why Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit with the words, “Quiet! Come out of him.” (v.25) The defensive address of the demon was powerless before the sovereign command of Jesus. In contrast to contemporary exorcists, who identified themselves by name or by relationship to some deity or power, who pronounced some spell or performed some magical action, Jesus utters only a few direct words, through which his absolute authority over the demonic power that had held the man captive was demonstrated. The unclean spirit convulsed the possessed man, and with a loud shriek left him.

Jesus’ silencing of the demon was an aspect of a conflict which has cosmic dimensions—the sustained encounter of the Son of God with Satan. The silencing and expulsion of the demon is the proof of that judgment which Jesus has come to initiate. To have allowed the defensive utterance of the demon to go unrebuked would have been to compromise the purpose for which Jesus came into the world, to confront Satan and strip him of his power. As such, this initial act of exorcism in the ministry of Jesus is programmatic of the sustained conflict with the demons which is a marked characteristic in the Marcan presentation of the gospel.

The People’s Response. The people were utterly astonished and alarmed at Jesus’ word. The same measure of authority with which they had been confronted in his teaching was demonstrated in the word of command to the demon. There had been no technique, no spells or incantations, no symbolic act. There had been only the word. There was no category familiar to them which explained the sovereign authority with which Jesus spoke and acted. Their astonishment is reflected in the question, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.” The incident is generalized in their thinking from the single instance they have observed to the repeated instances they sense intuitively will take place. They do not fully understand who Jesus is or what his presence means, but they cannot evade the impression of having been confronted by a word invested with power to which there were no analogies in their experience. Here was a teaching qualitatively new in the authority with which it laid hold of men. And the people were alarmed.

What Was The Fame That Spread? Our text ends by saying that Jesus’ fame was spreading (See below for a note on the word akoe). What were they saying about Jesus? We don’t know. Whatever it was, it both attracted people to seek out Jesus as we will hear next week and so offended the people that they will seek to kill him. What the people saw and heard and reported to others, was it more than just that Jesus taught a new teaching with authority, that he had the power to exorcise demons? What Jesus said and did disrupted the world – for some it was a good disruption. Others preferred the status quo. The report concerning the enigmatic bearer of the authoritative word went forth at once into the surrounding region. The disturbance of men by God had begun.

A Reflection. Ben Witherington III (The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary) concludes his section on these verses with:

What one notices about Jesus’ behavior is that he is never worried about becoming unclean or sick by fraternizing with or touching the spiritually or physically or morally unclean. Indeed, he seems to have gone out of his way in some cases to minister to them. Not surprisingly this behavior offended those who were part of the holiness movement of that day – the Pharisaic movement. The question a text like Mark 1 raises for us is: Are we more concerned with public opinion and with not offending some people by being compassionate to society’s outcasts, or are we more concerned with helping those in the greatest need in our society? The answer to this question in Jesus’ case seems obvious form the very outset in Mark. Jesus did not particularly care whom he scandalized if he believed he was doing God’s work and helping to bring in God’s dominion. He was also more concerned with who got the cure than who got the credit. [p. 95-6]

Notes

Mark 1:24 What have you to do with us: this same basic expression appears in Jesus’ response to his mother Mary at the wedding in Cana

the Holy One of God: Some scholars find a connection between the designation “Jesus the Nazarene” and “the Holy One of God” on the basis of the LXX tradition of Judg. 13:7 and 16:17: in LXXB Samson is designated “the holy one of God” (ὁ ἅγιος θεοῦ) while in LXXA he is designated a Nazirite (ναζιραῖος θεοῦ). They argue that Jesus was first designated a Nazirite and Holy One of God, and the later Greek tradition evoked the relation with Nazareth.

Mark 1:25 Quiet! : The Greek word phimōthē ti, be silent (25), is better translated as ‘be muzzled’: it is both strong and blunt, like ‘shut up’ in modern colloquial English.

Mark 1:27 amazed: thambeo – “be beside oneself, be overwhelmed, be astonished” [EDNT 1:420]

Mark 1:28 fame: akoē (act of) hearing, (faculty of) hearing, report, preaching [EDNT 1:52]. It is not clear how to translate this word in the context of the passage. Differing translations include the following: rumor, reports, knowledge, story and more.

Sources

  • K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos, 2007).
  • Alan Cole, Mark: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989) 113-16
  • John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina v.2 (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazer / Liturgical Press, 2001) 78-86
  • Wilfred Harrington, Mark, The New Testament Message, v.4 (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazer Press, 1979) 16-19
  • William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974) 70-76
  • Philip Van Linden, C.M., “Mark” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, ed. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) 907-08
  • Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press,1994) 540-41
  • Ben Worthington, The Gospel of Mark: A Social-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001) 87-96
  • David Turner and Darrell L. Bock, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 11: Matthew and Mark (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2005) 412-14
  • Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks Christian Resources, available at crossmarks.com/brian/

Dictionaries

  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
  • Horst Robert Balz and Gerhard Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)
  • The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, Gary A. Herion, David F. Graf, John David Pleins and Astrid B. Beck (New York: Doubleday, 1996).

Scripture – The New American Bible available on-line at http://www.usccb.org/bible

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