The first verse of Mark’s Gospel poses a question. “The beginning of the gospel,” it says, “of Jesus Christ the son of God.” Of course this is the beginning: it’s the first verse, after all. But Mark goes out of his way to insist that this right here, this thing he is about to say, is “the beginning of the gospel.” This is where the story starts.
What is even more curious, Mark then begins his gospel from a point no one else would choose. Matthew and Luke start with Jesus’ conception and infancy, and John takes us back to Jesus’ pre-existence with the Father before time began. I have asked groups of students to outline what they would put in their ideal gospel, and every group has shown the same inclination to seek out roots: they want a gospel that tells more about Jesus’ childhood, or more about Mary’s family, or more about Joseph, or more about the eternal life of the Trinity. Everyone thinks the gospel story should somehow introduce us to Jesus by explaining his background.
But Mark insists that “the beginning of the gospel” is Jesus’ baptism under John the Baptist. After introducing John the Baptist, Mark has Jesus simply show up, without explanation, and then the heavens are torn open, the Spirit descends, and the voice says, “This is my beloved son.”
Why is this scene so important, so pivotal, that this and no other is “the beginning of the gospel”? Mark gives us seven clues: Continue reading “The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel”