Mark 1-5, Luke 7
The Bible begins with the 4 gospels. Gospel literally means “good news”, and so these 4 books talk of the good news of the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just how old the earliest writings for the gospels are is questionable, because the earliest fragments are much later than the time of Christ. The earliest Matthew fragment is from 150-200 AD. Luke’s earliest known writing is from 175-250 AD. John’s earliest copy is from 125-160 AD. And the earliest Mark fragment available comes from about 350 AD!
Strangely enough, according to many Bible scholars, Matthew and Luke are based upon the gospel of Mark, even though we do not have earlier copies of the text. It is believed that Mark was originally written around 70 AD, and that Matthew and Luke were written later, using Mark as one of two main sources for their versions of the gospel. This belief is based upon a few concepts. First, Mark tends to be a simpler written book than the others. Second, Matthew and Luke both share common stories from Mark, often elaborating on such stories.
The other source believed to be used for Matthew and Luke is called “Q” for “Quelle” (German for “source”). This contains many of the sayings of Jesus.
One LDS view is that Matthew, or portions of Matthew may be older than Mark, because it is quoted in the Book of Mormon. Yet, we must note that the main portion quoted by Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), which does not have any similar story or discourse in the book of Mark. Basically, Matthew may have used Mark for a source for the miracles and some teachings, while using a separate source for the greatest Sermon of Jesus’ teachings.
John the Baptist’s role
Mark explains quickly the difference between what John and Jesus came to preach.
“4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”
When John the Baptist returned to restore the Aaronic Priesthood, by ordaining Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, he told them that this lesser priesthood “holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” (D&C 13).
With John, we see a direct connection between repentance, baptism, and remission of sins. This shows that baptism is a requirement for entrance into the Celestial Kingdom (see also John 3:5). Yet, John also foresaw the coming of Christ, the Messiah.
“14 Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God,
“15And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
Not only would Jesus preach the gospel of repentance that John brought, but he would also bring forth the gospel, or good news, of the kingdom of God! He showed that repentance and belief went hand in hand as the first principles of the gospel.
Jesus teaches and performs miracles
There were many in Judea willing to preach to the people. Among the people were Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, scribes, priests, and laymen, ready to share their views on Judaism. But Jesus did not teach as they did:
“22 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.”
Mark wrote his gospel to the Romans. It is believed Mark was a close disciple and friend of Peter’s, and thus wrote down Peter’s teachings regarding the life of Christ. In his focus on Jesus, he sought to impress the Romans with Jesus’ miracles, so that they would also believe his words. Rome and Greece were filled with philosophers and teachers of great renown. Mark would need to distinguish Jesus from such studious scholars by focusing on how the Savior taught and performed differently than they all.
Jesus did not teach like the scribes, who spent their lives studying the texts of the prophets and Moses. He taught with power and authority, which was backed up by his miracles.
This power and authority is plainly shown by the story of the man sick with palsy. Jesus was in the house of Peter’s mother (where he stayed while in Capernaum), a house that was filled with listeners and the sick. Men broke the roof and lowered their palsied friend down to Jesus inside the home, in order to heal him.
“5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.
“6 But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts,
“7 Why doth this man thus speak blasphemies? who can forgive sins but God only?
“8 And immediately when Jesus perceived in his spirit that they so reasoned within themselves, he said unto them, Why reason ye these things in your hearts?
“9 Whether is it easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk?
“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,)
“11 I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house” (Mark 2).
In this instance, the scribes questioned not only Jesus’ teachings, but his authority and power. Jesus showed through this miracle that he not only had the power to heal the man with palsy, but to forgive his sins. His logic was impeccable, for if he had the power to do the more difficult thing, heal the man, then he should also have the power to do the easier, forgive him.
Not only did Jesus have the power to forgive, he had the power to make that which was unclean, clean. In the Mosaic Law, much focus and effort is placed on establishing what is clean and unclean, from the food Jews ate, to the things they touched.
In the miracles noted in the lesson, Jesus raised two people from the dead: Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son. Dead people were definitely considered unclean, and the individual that touched the dead was considered unclean for several days, after which the person went through a cleansing ceremony.
Lepers were considered very unclean, to the extent that a person declared a leper was normally sent out of the city and to locations established especially for lepers. Those who would see a leper would point a finger and accuse the person, “Unclean! Unclean!”
Yet Jesus did not treat lepers in this manner. Instead, he made them clean. And as he made physical lepers clean from disease, he can heal spiritual lepers of sin. As he raised the dead back to mortal life, he can raise us to immortality and eternal life.
The Secret Book of Mark
Since this lesson is primarily on the book of Mark, it seemed a great place to discuss the Secret Book of Mark.
In 1958, Bible scholar Morton Smith found a letter in the back of an old book that was from Clement of Alexandria (a disciple of Peter). In this letter, he discussed a second book of Mark, known as the Secret Book of Mark. Smith took years to painstakingly translate and explain the document. However, some critics claimed it was a forgery and attacked it. The discussion still is ongoing in the Biblical Archaeological Review magazine, however more and more scholars now see it as authentic.
In the letter, Clement commends Theodore for silencing the Carpocratians, a Gnostic Christian sect. The Carpocratians claimed to have secret knowledge of Christ, but Clement insists that the secret knowledge was passed from Peter to Mark, and that Mark made two gospels: a standard one for the average follower, and then a secret gospel for the more spiritual.
“Thus he composed a more spiritual Gospel for the use of those who were being perfected. Nevertheless, he yet did not divulge the things not to be uttered, nor did he write down the hierophantic teaching of the Lord, but to the stories already written he added yet others and, moreover, brought in certain sayings of which he knew the interpretation would, as a mystagogue, lead the hearers into the innermost sanctuary of that truth hidden by seven veils. Thus, in sum, he prepared matters, neither grudgingly nor incautiously, in my opinion, and, dying, he left his composition to the church in 1, verso Alexandria, where it even yet is most carefully guarded, being read only to those who are being initiated into the great mysteries.“
Quoting from the Secret Book of Mark, Clement tells us:
"And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, 'Son of David, have mercy on me.' But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan."
Here we see Jesus performed the miracle of raising the widow’s son. Afterward, the boy wanted to know the secrets of heaven. Part of the ritual required him to wear a linen cloth and nothing else. Clement later states that the boy and Jesus were never naked, as the Carpocratians attempted to teach, but were always clothed. For temple going Latter-day Saints, they will see this as the clothing worn by modern initiates in the temple for a short while until the person is ceremonially clothed in temple robes.
In the discussions on the Old Testament lessons on my blog regarding the temple and ascension rites, we see this as the beginning point to where the person or initiate learns the “mystery of the Kingdom of God”. For Isaiah (Ascension of Isaiah) or Enoch (as Metatron), it meant to be clothed in celestial clothing and being given the glory of God. Enoch was allowed to sit on God’s throne, and the angels worshiped him! This is possibly the secret that Jesus taught the youth in the Secret Book of Mark.
Jim F’s notes on Lesson 7: http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2011/02/nt-sunday-school-lesson-7-mark-1-2-435-41-5-luke-71-17/
Dating the Bible, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dating_the_Bible#The_New_Testament
The Gospel of Mark, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gospel_of_Mark
Secret Gospel of Mark: http://www.bib-arch.org/scholars-study/secret-mark-translation.asp
My Blog on Secret Mark: http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com/2009/10/clement-of-alexandria-and-secret-book.html
Biblical Archaeological Review magazine articles on Secret Mark:
Ascension of Isaiah: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ascension.html