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The gospel of Mark - Essay Example

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The gospel of Mark

It is a critical time in the history of the Church and the passage in Mark 7:1-23 must be seen against this particular historical background. There is one major theme throughout this passage, and that is the difference between purity and defilement, and the key motivation of Jesus appears to be to announce a very significant shift from Jewish to Christian thinking. It is a transitional passage, therefore, and this can be seen in two ways. Jesus signals a transition from the Old Covenant based on the law, to something that transcends the law, and he shifts his mission from the Jewish heartlands to the Gentile territories. These two dimensions are, of course, connected. The passage in question introduces a phase of preaching and teaching in the Gentile territories. The major difference between Jews and Gentiles is the observance of Jewish law by the Jews only. As a Jew himself, Jesus attracted much criticism from Jewish authorities for his liberal attitude to some of the Jewish commandments, and no doubt also some apprehension from the Gentiles who would need to know whether following Jesus would mean converting to Judaism with all that this entails. It is clear from the text that some of the followers of Jesus observed the Jewish dietary rules, and some did not. The issue was, therefore, not clearly settled and this was a potential cause of disunity in the early Church. In fact this issue is documented again and again, as reported in Acts2 and in the letters of Paul.3 The gospel passage spells out what the Jewish laws entail, even though the disciples are already well aware of these rules. This detail is evidence that the teaching of these points is designed for Gentile listeners in the first instance, to explain what the issue is about and invite them now to join with the followers of Jesus on an equal basis, not constrained by the laws that had previously separated all those of Jewish heritage form all those of gentile birth. In other words, this is a message intended for non-Jews. This point is raised now because it is necessary in order to remove social boundaries that could hamper Jesus’ mission to the Gentiles.4 The issue is not completely resolved, however, and commentators note that the position of Jews who became followers of Christ is left open, suggesting that continued observance of the dietary laws is an option for them.5 In the first part of the passage, Mark 7:1-14 the writer of the Gospel clearly is setting down a definitive teaching here which absolves Gentile followers from having to obey the Jewish laws. The position for the disciples is further discussed in the remainder of the section, and in this case the message is taken to a different level. Some commentators suggest that the passage signifies a departure from the old Jewish laws: “the Markian Jesus declares that in fact all people are defiled – not by what they eat and drink but by what they will say and do”.6 This utterance signals a departure from the situation that pertained when God gave the law to the Jews, since, in the words of Boring it is “not descriptive, but performative; not explaining what has always been the case, but changing the situation by Jesus’ authoritative declaration”.7 The distinction between purity and impurity is maintained, but the source of defilement is now defined in terms of what a person does, and not what kind of food he or she eats. It opens the door for Jesus to go on and mingle with lepers, male and female Gentiles, and all kinds of sinners without fear of defilement in the traditional Jewish sense. When Jesus or his disciples are accused of defilement, he responds “by dismissing these boundaries as “ ...Show more


The gospel of Mark was written down between AD 65 and AD 70, some 30-40 years after the events which are described. …
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