Mark 2:1–3:6 Through Old Testament Eyes
from Mark Through Old Testament Eyes
by Andrew T. LePeau
A wide range of Old Testament themes and motifs continue to inform Mark’s gospel. The exodus period as reflected in Exodus through Deuteronomy is especially prominent regarding proper rituals for forgiving sins (Mk 2:1-12), what constitutes uncleanness (Mk 2:13-17) as well as fasting (Mk 2:18-22) and the Sabbath (Mk 2:23–3:6). This motif of questioning and challenging Jesus is reminiscent of the people of Israel questioning Moses during the exodus (Ex 17:2; Nu 14:10-23) and will be seen again (Mk 7:5; 8:11; 11:27–12:40). The section closes both with a reference to Deuteronomy’s summary of the covenant (choose life) and to the hardness of heart found in Pharaoh.
The implicit question in Mark 2:1-12 is whether sacrifice in the temple is the appropriate means for forgiveness of sins, which Jesus presumes to supplant. Jesus clearly indicates that being lame (which disqualified people from being priests who could offer sacrifices for forgiveness; Lev 21:17-18) was not to be a barrier to receiving forgiveness. The sequence of five questions here also foreshadows the sequence of five questions in Mark 11:27–12:37 which, significantly, takes place on the temple grounds. While associating with unclean people also barred people from participating in the temple, Jesus suggests other things are more important (Mk 2:13–17).
This section which focuses on the authority of Jesus begins with a key allusion to Daniel 7:13-14, where Jesus associates himself with Daniel’s “son of man” who has been given authority by God on his throne. The comparison of God to a bridegroom is also prominent in the prophets, as is the comparison of new wine and fruitful garden to Israel.
The theme of Jesus as the Lord’s anointed and king was introduced in Mark 1:1 and 15, respectively. Here Jesus explicitly compares himself to Israel’s greatest king, David (Mk 2:23-28).
Finally, the theme of giving and saving life from Deuteronomy (which caps off the last of the five challenges to Jesus, see comment on Mark 3:4) ties together all five questions and answers in 2:1–3:6. Forgiving and healing (2:1-12), offering hospitality to the marginalized (2:13- 17), rejoicing in the blessings of Christ’s presence (2:18-22), meeting basic human needs such as food (2:23-28), and healing even on the Sabbath (3:1-6)—all these are life-giving activities which contribute to the flourishing of human beings. They summarize the Old Testament law of loving God and loving neighbors while superseding legalistic interpretations of the word of God.
The five challenges to Jesus (see Table 2.1) echo the five books of the Pentateuch not only in number but in content, as each challenge deals with the nature and purpose of God’s law. As we’ve seen, Jesus responds to the final challenge (and so to all five) by invoking the instruction to choose life (Dt 30) which caps off the entire first five books of the Bible. There Moses told the people that if they failed to keep God’s covenant, the people would be scattered among the nations but by God’s mercy would be brought back. Jesus’s ministry in Mark is one of renewing the covenant, of bringing God’s people back from exile. So in Mark 2:1–3:6 we see the themes of exodus, exile and return, and New Exodus from Mark 1:2-3 continued and deepened.
This post is adapted from Mark Through Old Testament Eyes by Andrew T. LePeau. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.
Through Old Testament Eyes is a new kind of commentary series that illuminates the Old Testament backgrounds, allusions, patterns, and references saturating the New Testament. The structure and content of the Old Testament were second nature to the New Testament authors and their audiences, but today’s readers have no reference point for understanding their intricate role in the New Testament. Bible teachers, preachers, and students committed to understanding Scripture will gain insight through these rich Old Testament connections, which clarify puzzling passages and explain others in fresh ways.
The exodus motif structures Mark. Mark also presents Jesus as the true temple of God in contrast to the existing temple, which has been corrupted. These important themes are hidden to modern eyes without the insight of an Old Testament perspective, and this commentary builds on that insight to emphasize how the gospel applies to the daily lives of Christians today.