So, this is the first post in my online Bible Study. See that link for the background about what and why I’m doing this. Basically, I am going to go story by story through the gospels, reading different Bible translations, asking questions and adding my own interpretations and blogging about it. I think that blogging about it will keep me on track and make me actually do it, and I think that there is a lot to be earned on my part from having people comment and correct me where I’m wrong and help me understand things that I don’t know about. So, here goes!
John the Baptist Prepares the Way
This is the first story in the Book of Mark. As the section heading suggests, it is basically about John the Baptist preparing the way. Isaiah foretold a messenger who prepares the way, and John the Baptist fulfilled this prophecy by preaching baptism and repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and proclaims that someone else (i.e. Jesus) is coming, and is way more awesome than him.
The first thing I noticed in comparing the translations was the difference in story titles (the NIV and ESV both call it “John the Baptist Prepares the Way”, the NRSV calls it “The Proclamation of John the Baptist”, while the Message is safe and calls it “John the Baptizer”). I realize that these aren’t necessarily scriptural at all-the KJV doesn’t have them-but I think that looking at the story titles (or whatever the proper term for them is) gives an idea of what you’re supposed to get from the story. The NIV and ESV seem to want to emphasize the scriptural basis in Isaiah’s prophecy, while the NRSV places emphasis on John the Baptist’s proclamation. I’ll come back to this.
After reading through the story, my first question was, Why do I care that John the Baptist prepared the way? (I mean, I guess I could ask that question about each story–why do I care that Jesus healed this guy or that guy, etc., but bear with me here.) My understanding is that Mark is generally believed to have been written for the Greeks. So there isn’t the same emphasis as in Matthew (I think it is) to speak to the Jewish people and show that Jesus is fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament. So, I think there must be more to this than just the fulfillment of the prophecy, although I’m sure that plays a role.
I don’t know a lot about John the Baptist, aside from what little I remember from my reading of the Bible ages ago, and the little I remember from reading the Ann Rice book Christ the Lord (which I quite enjoyed, I might add). But I wonder if John the Baptist was well known by the Judean people (and/or the Greeks) which would make him a credible witness to Jesus?
Moving on, while reading, I noticed that it says that basically everyone was baptized (“The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” (NIV), “all the country of Judea and all Jeruselam” (ESV), etc). And they all confessed their sins. That’s a lot of people (if done the LDS way, John’s arms must have been super tired when it was over, or he had muscles of steel)! And, flippantly, it made me think that that’s a lot of temple work that the LDS don’t have to do…
And when it says they confessed their sins–what kind of sins are we talking here? Sins of the Jewish laws? Would we even consider the sins they were confessing to be sins? This leads me to start wondering what counts as sin? Does sin change? Nothing I expect to be able to answer right now, but questions that I might want to keep in mind as I keep reading and studying.
Another thing I noticed that was different between the translations was John the Baptist’s proclamation. In the NIV, John says, “After me will come one more powerful than I…”, which is easy enough to understand. The ESV and the NRSV use slightly stronger verbiage, “After me comes he who is mightier than I…” and “The one who is more powerful than I…”, implying that nobody is more powerful than John the Baptist but Jesus. The Message isn’t really helpful here, because it uses a metaphor in place, and the KJV sides with the NIV and says, “There cometh one mightier than I after me…”. It’s not a major thing, but the ESV and NRSV implication that John the Baptist is the mightiest so far gives a better understanding for why I might care that he prepared the way.
Now, back to the story title. I guess it isn’t clear in the NIV or the ESV what the ‘preparing the way’ entailed. Perhaps, more than the baptism it was the proclamation-the witnessing that Jesus was coming. This would make the titles basically interchangeable (although then I would suggest that the NRSV was the clearest in terms of getting the point across).
So, that was basically what I was thinking about when reading the first story in Mark. If you have comments or opinions or answers, please comment!
Updated to add: some other questions I had: how did John know? I know he was related to Jesus and stuff, but why did he know what to say and what to do and when? It may be explained in another of the gospels, but it is a question I have here.