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Chapter 2 of Mark may be summarized as follows:


Summary Jesus continues his mission in Galilee, controversy following him; this chapter opens in Capernaum, a city on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee, a fishing village of not more than one thousand in the first century. He creates controversy by healing a paralytic and telling him his sins are forgiven.   The scribes accuse him of blasphemy. He calls the tax collector Levi, son of Alphaeus, to follow him, again causing the scribes to cite him for the offense of eating with sinners. Next, the people generally see that Jesus and his disciples are not fasting like his predecessor John the Baptist and followers, and they want to know why; Jesus replies in the parables  of the bridegroom and new wine in old wineskins. His disciples again cause offense when they pluck from corn on the Sabbath and eat.  This time, Jesus responds by telling his critics that the Sabbath is made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath. He bases himself authoritatively in scripture, citing I Samuel 21.1-6 and the example of David and his companions eating from the bread of Presence.


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The Healing of a Paralytic




The Calling of Levi (Matthew)




The Question about Fasting




Plucking Grain on the Sabbath




Mark 2: 1-12 (7th Sunday of ordinary time - B)

Pasted from < http://www.silk.net/RelEd/gospelmark2.htm>




Readers may well be advised to begin the study of Mark 2 by remembering  the structural outline suggested in the Introduction to this study:


  1. Introduction--including inclusio in verse 14 relative to "good news" and a calling of disciples (1:16) followed by four healings (the last involving controversy), another calling (and another four healings, the last with controversy).


Chapter two, then, begins with the fourth healing story, this followed by controversy about who has the power to declare "sins forgiven"  (5). Again, it is the scribes who are sitting nearby; in the first chapter, Jesus was declared to have authority unlike that of the scribes (22).


 When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. 3 Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. 4 And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 "Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" 8 At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, "Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, "Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, "Stand up and take your mat and walk'? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"—he said to the paralytic— 11 "I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home." 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"


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Readers will note that Jesus works in Capernauum, where he was when he healed the man of unclean spirit in chapter one and was recognized as "the Holy One of God" (24). Turton sorting through scholarship, makes the first focal point of this section a discussion of whether the hometown of Jesus was that of Nazareth or Capernaum, then rounds this out with an interesting explanation of why the early church may have wanted the mission of Jesus to be located  here.

v1: Capernaum: sometimes explained as a reference to the house of Simon, but clearly states that Jesus' home was in Capernaum, not Nazareth. This casts further doubt on the "Nazareth" in Mark 1:9. Capernaum is mentioned 16 times in the Gospels, but nowhere else in the New Testament. Like "Galilee," the various individuals writing under the name of "Paul" do not mention it. The idiom used here, eis oikon, "to house," means "at home."



v1: Frank Zindler (2000) argues:


"While most scholars are correct in tracing Capernaum to the root from which Nahum derives, I think they have all missed the crucial nuance in the root's meaning which caused the evangelists to choose it as the symbolic name of the place where their nascent cult's most important progress should occur. When we see how this Hebrew word was translated into Greek in several ancient versions of the Old Testament, we find that it could be translated as Paraclete, or Comforter. It is this possible link to the Paraclete, I believe, that reveals the symbolic intent of the New Testament writers when they created Capernaum. As 'the village of the Paraclete', Capernaum would focus the idea that the Holy Spirit was guiding the early church, as well as the idea that the early church (as symbolized by the Jesus character) was fulfilling the role of intercessor or advocate."

He adds:

"In the oldest gospel materials, even the location of Capernaum in Galilee is not certain. Capernaum could be located anywhere around the Sea of Galilee. Both Mark and John indicate that the city is located not too far from a shore of the Sea of Galilee, and it contains a synagogue."


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Nelson's Commentary takes a more traditional approach, locating Capernaum and pointing out that the ruins of a synagogue have been found there:


1:21 Capernaum sits beside the northern edge of the Sea of Galilee, a pear-shaped freshwater lake eight miles wide and twelve miles long. It was a cross section of trade routes between Egypt and Syria (Cairo and Damascus), located on the Sea of Galilee on the primary trade route between Egypt and Damascus and points to the east. The town’s name means “Village of Nahum.” Capernaum was Christ’s ministry “headquarters” and is mentioned twenty-two times in the Gospels. By contrast, only one recorded event during Christ’s ministry occurred at Nazareth (Luke 4:16). The ruins of a synagogue at Capernaum, just a few hundred feet from the water’s edge, date from the second to fourth century a.d.

Radmacher, E. D. 1999. Nelson's new illustrated Bible commentary. T. Nelson Publishers: Nashville


Here, the crowds still press in (2, 4), and the paralytic man is lowered from the roof.  The result is that Jesus, as told by the writer, sees this action and ascribes it to "faith."  In chapter 1, the message of the "good news of God," is to be accompanied by belief or "pistis" and becomes the standard for acting upon hearing the message (NISB Notes).  It is the result then of Jesus' speaking the "good news" that the crowds come.  Jesus responds to the paralytic that his sins are forgiven (5), and while the scribes have not spoken aloud,  Jesus perceives the questions they were asking in their hearts; remember , the heart for the Hebrew people was the seat of emotional and intellectual life as well as of volition:


The seat of the emotional and intellectual life. "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Prov. iv. 23), refers to the moral and spiritual as well as the physical life. Animals have simply a sentient heart without personal consciousness or reason. This is what is meant when it is said that a beast's heart was given to Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. iv. 13 [A. V. 16]). Delitzsch ("System der Biblischen Psychologie," p. 252) calls attention to the fact that the Arabic Ḥamasa (p. 513) says explicitly that the brute is without heart ("bi-ghair lubb").

The three special functions, knowing, feeling, and willing, ascribed by modern psychologists to the mind, were attributed to the heart by the Biblical writers (comp. Assyrian "libbu" = "heart," in Delitzsch, "Assyrisches Handwörterb." p. 367). In the Book of Daniel intellectual functions are ascribed not to the head only (Dan. ii. 28; iv. 2, 7, 10 [A. V. 5, 10, 13]; vii. 1, 15), but also to the heart (ib. ii. 30).

Its Psychical Aspects.

The heart as the seat of thought is referred to in "maḥshebot libbo" (thoughts of his heart; Ps. xxxiii. 11) and in "morashe lebabi" (possessions or thoughts of my heart; Job xvii. 11). So "amar beleb" (Obad. i. 3), "amar el leb" (Gen. viii. 21), "dibber 'im leb" (Eccl. i. 16) (= "to speak to the heart" or "to oneself"), mean "to think." The heart knows and perceives (Deut. xxix. 3 [A. V. 4]); it remembers and forgets (I Sam. xxi. 13 [A. V. 12]; Deut. iv. 9). "A dead man out of heart" (A. V. "mind"; Ps. xxxi. 13 [A. V. 12]) means a dead man forgotten. The man of understanding is called "ish [plur. "anshe"] lebab" = "the man of heart" (Job xxxiv. 10, 34), and the man without understanding "ḥasar leb" (Prov. x. 13) or "en leb" (Jer. v. 21), "the man void of heart" or "without heart."

That the heart is the seat of emotion is the generally accepted opinion of all investigators into the psychology of the Bible, though Carl Grüneisen ("Der Ahnenkultus und die Urreligion Israels," p. 39) denies it. All modes of feeling, from the lowest physical forms, as hunger and thirst, to the highest spiritual forms, as reverence and remorse, are attributed by the Hebrews to the heart (comp. Gen. xviii. 5; Judges xix. 5; Ps. cii. 5 [A. V. 4]); so joy and gladness, sorrow and grief, fear and reverence (Zeph. iii. 14; Isa. lxvi. 14; Ps. xiii. 3 [A. V. 2]; Deut. xx. 3, 7, 8; Jer. xxxii. 40). Still the term "nefesh" (soul) is more frequently used with reference to the appetites.

Is the Seat of Volition.

The heart is also the seat of volition. It is self-directing and self-determining. All conscious resolvesemanate from that source (comp. "mela'olibbo" [Esth. vii. 5]; "nadab libbo oto" [Ex. xxxv. 29]; "nesa'o libbo" [Ex. xxxv. 21]; and "natan libbo" [Eccl. i. 13]). When the words "heart" and "soul" are used in connection with each other (Deut. vi. 5), they are not used merely as synonymous terms in order to add force to the expression, for the phrase "with all your heart" denotes the love of conscious resolve, in which the whole being consents, and which must at once become a natural inclination (see Cremer, "Biblico-Theological Lexicon," s.v. καρδία, transl. by William Urwick, p. 347).

It is in the heart that the heart becomes conscious of itself and of its own operations. It recognizes its own suffering. It is the seat of self-consciousness: "the heart knoweth its [A. V. "his"] own bitterness" (Prov. xiv. 10). As the whole physical and psychical life is centralized in the heart, so the whole moral life springs from and issues out of it. This is clear from such expressions as "shalem" and "tam" (perfect), "ṭahor" (pure), "ṭob" (good), and "yashar" (upright), used in connection with the heart. The Biblical writers speak of the false heart, the stubborn and obstreperous heart, and the heart distant from God (Ps. ci. 4; Jer. v. 23; Isa. xxix. 13). The hypocrite is the man with a double or divided heart: where one would say "two-faced," the Psalmist says "two-hearted" ("beleb waleb"; Ps. xii. 3 [A. V. 2]). Lazarus ("The Ethics of Judaism," Engl. transl., ii. 60, note) observes that "the Talmudic 'libbo' rarely reaches the inclusive meaning of the Hebrew 'leb,' which comprises the whole psychic phenomena. As a rule, the Talmudic expression approaches the modern 'heart,' primarily indicating inner conviction as contrasted with external deed" (see Sanh. 106b; Ber. 20a, Munich MS.). There is an interesting discussion between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua as to whether the heart or the head should be regarded as the seat of wisdom (Yalḳ., Prov. 929).

Maimonides, in discussing the term "leb," says that it is a word used homonymously, primarily signifying the organ of life and then coming to mean "center," "thought," "resolution," "will," "intellect" ("Moreh Nebukim," i. 39). SeePsychology of the Bible.

"Leb" is used figuratively for the center or innermost part of objects other than the human body, in expressions such as "the heart of the sea" (Ex. xv. 8; Jonah ii. 3); "the heart of heaven" (Deut. iv. 11; A. V. "midst"); "the heart [A. V. "midst"] of an oak-tree" (II Sam. xviii. 14). In this use "heart" has gone over into the English language as a Hebraism when mention is made of the "heart" or "core" (Latin "cor") of a subject or object, meaning its central or innermost part, its central idea or essence. "She'er" (flesh) and "leb" (heart) are used conjointly to designate the whole inner and outer life of man (Ps. lxxiii. 26).


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Modern psychology, as we know, has, of course, moved this seat to the mind itself, with cognition referring to the process of coming to know and understand, and involving  the storing, processing, and retrieving of information; the affective has been associated with interpretation of perceptions and our attachments to whatever; conation refers to the connection of knowledge and affect to behavior and associated with motivation and volition < http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/conation/conation.html>  The emphasis in this section of Mark is to some special power whereby Jesus knows the internal thoughts of those surrounding him. Knowing however this ancient perception of closely knit parts into a  "whole person, " it should be possible to view the condition as a disruption in the relationship to God. The scribes, however, immediately conclude "blasphemy." 


Strictly speaking, Jesus has not spoken the name of God, has not cursed the NAME, but only said that sins are forgiven, enacting, perhaps, God's power. It is, of course, blasphemy which Jesus is accused of when he answers affirmatively later in Mark that he is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One (used to circumlocute blasphemy  on the part of the high priest); how Jesus sees himself as the Son of God is at issue here, as is what it means for a Son of God to be seated  "at the right hand of the Power" (62). Isaiah 53:7 offers a new way for individuals through suffering to understand  a way of being made righteous, or whole, and into right relationship with God.  Bart D. Ehrman in The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) points out that the terms "Son of God" and "Son of Man" in the first century meant opposite what they do to most today--with "son of man" referring to divinity as in Daniel (66).  This issue is complicated by the addition or omission of capital letters in translations. The Greek may be noted: uioV tou anqrwpou.


10   But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,) 

hina~2443   de~1161   eido~1492   hoti~3754 exousia~1849  echo~2192   ho~3588  huios~5207tou~5120  anthropos~444 aphiemi~863  epi~1909ho~3588 ge~1093 hamartia~266 lego~3004 ho~3588paralutikos~3885 

ina de eidhte oti exousian ecei o uioV tou anqrwpou afienai epi thV ghV amartias legei tw paralutikw


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  Ehrman then remarks on three ways of using "son of man": indirect reference to Jesus; reference to his impending suffering; and finally, reference to a cosmic figure. Questionable is whether either of the three can be used to refer to the historical Jesus. In short, at issue, is theology. 

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With respect to blasphemy, the issue is whether "Son of Man" meant divinity or humanity;   I have previously referred to the possible Adoptionist view that Jesus is human:


 Many exegetes interpret the Christology of Mark as Adoptionist (Jesus is a human adopted as God's son) as opposed to Matthew and Luke, who posit Jesus as the Son of God from the beginning. Brenda Schildgen (1999), commenting on the silences in Mark, and the early lack of interest in, and low reputation of, the Gospel of Mark among the Patristic Fathers, notes:


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A question being asked, perhaps, is whether a "son of man," practicing God-presence, can be viewed as s(Son) of God? Further at issue is the relationship of Messiah (whether warrior-king or cosmic judge) and the related issue of suffering.  Apart from the controversy of forgiving sins, what seems to motivate the people to amazement is the action:


12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and

went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"

 < http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrs/mark/2.html>


Concerning the issue of Messiahship, it is always good to remember that the Hebrew word "Mashiach" meant "Anointed." Kings, of course were commonly anointed. One of the central themes in the Old Testament is, of course, a future age of perfection, universal peace, and justice: Isaiah 11:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6, 30:7-10, 33:14-16; Ezekiel 34:11-31, 37:21-28; Hosea 3:4-5. Many passage speak of a descendant of David: Isaiah 11:1-9; Jeremiah 23:5-6, 30:7-10, 33:14-16; Ezekiel 34:11-31, 37:21-28; Hosea 3:4-5. Nelson's Commentary finds the healing of the paralytic  as an implicit acknowledgment by the paralytic that Jesus was the Messiah.

Radmacher, E. D. 1999. Nelson's new illustrated Bible commentary. T. Nelson Publishers: Nashville



In the next section of Mark, we find the second calling intercalated, enveloped, sandwiched between the healing/controversy surrounding the paralytic and the arise of another controversy about the people with whom Jesus interacts:


3 Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 14 As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. 15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 17 When Jesus heard this, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." 


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Turton has sorted through scholarship to come to the following pertinent points about this calling of  a disciple. First, we encounter the common themes of  crowds, the sea, and Jesus teaching;  the Levi, son of Alphaeus here, is referred to elsewhere as James, the son of Alphaeus (Codex Bezae), the name "Levi, " perhaps, being used ironically against the priestly caste; Jesus has called five men not yet appointed disciples until Mark 3:13-19; the three religious groups involved in this controversy include, in addition to the scribes appearing  previously, the Pharisees--raising a question about evidence for Pharisees in Galilee as well as whether they had any function of power; with respect to authorship, Turbin wonders if the author is aware of the dispute between Peter and  Paul over table fellowship (Gal. 2:11); an early precedent exists here for house gatherings;  and finally, Turbin asks whether affinities exist in Jesus' teaching to the Cynics for witty and clever riposted in the "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners"  <http://www.michaelturton.com/Mark/GMark02.html>. The NISB  suggests the presence of a proverb to which Jesus attaches his mission to sinners.


Our third controversy is about fasting, practiced by John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees, followed by the sayings/parables of the bridegroom, sewing unshrunk cloth on old material,  and putting new wine into  old wineskins.  Since the Pharisees are here present, they need to be placed among influential groups:


the Pharisees were one of the three main religious groups of the time of Jesus. According to Josephus, they appear to be a group of at least 6,000, forming a powerful counterweight to Herodian authority. However, many scholars view Josephus' account of their history rather skeptically, and a minority of critical scholars see their prominence as purely a phenomenon of post-70 Judaism. In the majority view, by contrast, they date back to Hasmonean times and survive the fall of the Temple to form the nucleus of rabbinical Judaism.


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18 Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" 19 Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. 21 "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins." 


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If we return to the idea that " The Spirit leads Jesus. That is what we might have expected: the Spirit is the driving force and basis for what Jesus is to do"  < http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/mark.html> , then it may be possible to understand why this "new wine" cannot be put into old wineskins or new and unshrunk cloth on an old cloak. At issue here, once again, is that of taking language literally or symbolically; Turton, in refuting Robert Funk in The Jesus Seminar,  explains: " the presence of food-related vocabulary in connection with Jesus and his mission throughout the Gospel of Mark indicates that the meaning [for fasting] is allegorical and cannot be taken literally "

 < http://www.michaelturton.com/Mark/GMark02.html> .  As saying, precedent exists for earlier similar statements in the Mishnah and in Job 32:18, 19. What seems to be said here is that "the old cannot contain the new thing that is happening" (NISB Notes).


The next story is a controversy about working on the sabbath  (forbidden by Jewish Law) concluded with another proverb exapanded, that 'the sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the sabbath," with yet another self-reference to Son of Man.  Actually, what the disciples have been doing can hardly be construed as work.




Structurally,  Felix Just has suggested a grouping of five controversy stories, picking up the first section of chapter three:



Pericope Title

Who Objects?

Against Whom?

About What?


Healing a Paralytic


among themselves

forgiving/ blaspheming

Jesus' Saying:  "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (2:10).






Calling Levi, a Tax Collector

scribes of the Pharisees

Jesus' disciples

eating with tax collectors and sinners

Jesus' Sayings: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (2:17a);

                             "I have come to call not the righteous but sinners" (2:17b).






About Fasting



disciples not fasting

Jesus' Sayings: "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them." (2:19-20);

                             "No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak." (2:21-22).






Plucking Grain on the Sabbath



breaking the sabbath

Jesus' Sayings: "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath" (2:27);

                             "so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath" (2:28).






Restoring a Man's Withered Hand


"them" (Pharisees & Herodians)

healing on the sabbath

Jesus' Question: "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" (3:4).






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Bart D. Ehrman (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, Oxford University Press, 1907)  essentially summarizes the first two chapters of Mark as describing Jesus as not being recognized by the Jewish leaders, and worse, as offending them in his sayings and actions.  He summarizes 2:1-3:6 as" a group of conflict  stories that show a crescendo in the tension between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, the scribes, and Pharisees."  They question actions, take offense with Jesus'  associations, and activities. Particularly, they "take umbrage at Jesus' refusal to follow their own practices of purity" and "prescriptions for keeping the seventh day holy." Ehrman says, "From the Pharisees' perspective (as portrayed by Mark), these are not honest disagreements over matters of policy. They are dangerous perversions of their religion."  The conflict continues through ensuing chapters until finally, the chief priests triumph, "convincing the Roman governor that Jesus has to die" (60-61).  Ehrman concludes, "They oppose Jesus because he is God's unique representative on earth--God's authoritative  Son and they, the leaders of Israel, cannot understand who he is or what he says… And they are not alone" (61). Ehrman sees  Peter's confession in 8:29 as the climatic point in the narrative, the point at which Peter says, "You are the Christ."  Misunderstood, halfway through the account, Jesus is recognized but only in part; Ehrman's point is that this recognition has been slow in coming and that it still does not accept the nature of a "suffering messiah" (64-65).


In the final chapter of this work,  I have included the following intriguing suggestion from David Ulansey, suggesting the conscious use of inclusio and a dramatic tearing apart of the heavens for the historical Jesus:


We may therefore conclude (1) that Mark did indeed have in mind the outer veil, and (2) that Mark did indeed imagine a link between the tearing of the heavens and the tearing of the temple veil-- since we can now see that in fact in both cases the heavens were torn-- and that he intentionally inserted the motif of the "tearing of the heavenly veil" at both the precise beginning and at the precise end of the earthly career of Jesus, in order to create a powerful and intriguing symbolic inclusio.


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In the fifteenth chapter,  I looked at Dominic Rudman's argument the events of the crucifixion can be explaned as "chaoskampf":

Dominic Rudman has pointed out that the Synoptic Gospels' depiction of the events surrounding the crucifixion "have provoked varying responses from New Testament scholars and says the references can be explained relative to the chaoskampf typology of the Old Testament…  Jesus is presented as a creator figure who confronts the powers of chaos. In this instance however, the powers of chaos emerge temporarily triumphant. The old creation is destroyed, paving the way for a renewal of creation with Jesus’s resurrection."


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Rudman's suggestion opens up the possibility, too, of taking a closer look at chapter two in Mark. Readers will keep in mind the arguments that the historical Jesus comes to us as an irruption of eternity, and with Mark as the first gospel, the good news that signals a new creation, Consider then the words in Genesis, "Let us make man in our image" (1.8) and Mark 1:38, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.”  Mark propels readers immediately into the effect Jesus will have on the world and all of history after him.


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