The Beginning

When you are doing this study, it is a sacred business, so set aside time and find a peaceful, quiet place in which to do it. Begin with centring yourself while listening to music, reflecting on the art and the quotation below:

Play the Kyrie from Kodaly’s Missa Brevis (‘short mass’).  (Kyrie means “have mercy”).  Go to

“Man is made for the sake of choice.” (the Kabbalah)

Art: “Falling Angel” by Marc Chagall

Go to Mark 1:1 and its parallels on the Bible Hub parallel gospels by clicking on the link below:

What document begins in Mark 1:1? 

This is THE beginning.  Until this, no one knows anything about Jesus.  For 30 years he has been anonymous, having done nothing to attract the attention of anyone who would record his existence for posterity. 

Both of the earliest documents, i.e. Document Mark and Document Q, start not with Jesus’ birth or boyhood, but with John the Baptist. This beginning is related to a strong messianic hope at the time; an expectation of political freedom, moral perfection and earthly bliss. 

Stories of Jesus’ birth and boyhood are later additions; Mark knows nothing of Jesus before his baptism, and the pre-baptism stories in Matthew are completely different from those in Luke, so we should understand them as creations of storytellers with little or no grounding in fact. This does not mean they have no value, but not as history.

We identified four strands of messiah in the last section: Can you name them? 

We looked at some of the scriptural images of God with which Jews of the time, including Jesus would have been familiar: a God who chose his people, made commandments and demanded obedience.  Look at another reading: Deuteronomy 10:12-20

12 So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. 14 Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the Lord your God, the earth with all that is in it, 15 yet the Lord set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today. 16 Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. 19 You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear.

What do you make of the phrase, “ circumcise…the foreskin of your heart?

What does God want?

Go back to the gospel parallels and click on the arrow on the right side of the screen to take you to Mark 1:2-6. You see material in all three columns, and a quick look at the content of the three gospels confirms Luke and Matthew are following Mark, albeit in their own words. 

Do you see any inconsistencies? 

Now read Malachi – “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.

 Compare Mk 1:2  to Malachi 3:1. Whose way is being prepared?

This is only in Mark.  Why?  Is it a later addition to Mk or a correction by Lk & Mt?  

Why would Mark include the misquote in the first place?  

Read Malachi 4:1- See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.

Into which messianic strand does the use of Malachi put John the Baptist?

What is John offering in Mk.1:4-6?

What is your image of John?

What did baptism mean to John?

What did baptism mean to those who were baptised?

Look at Mt. 3:7-10 and the equivalent in Luke. (You will have to advance the page in the gospel parallels again by clicking on the arrow at the right side of the screen.)

What source document begins here? 

What is the difference between the two accounts? 

Why do you think this difference exists?

What is the warning contained in this section?

What does it mean to be a ‘child of Abraham’?

What would John say to a Christian that would mean the same thing?

What has changed from John’s viewpoint?

What is the Australian equivalent of ‘children of Abraham’?

How do you resort to a claim of being a ‘child of Abraham’,i.e., How do you let yourself off the hook?

Look at Mk 1:7-8 and the parallels.

What is the new idea here?   

Where did the idea come from?

How do Mt & Lk differ from Mk?

What is the source of the difference?

How could this have occurred?  Why?  Which is likely to be more original?

Look at Mt.3:12

What is “the One to come” going to do? What sort of Messiah is being described?

Now jump to Lk.24:13-53 (click on link below)  )

The tellers of these stories describe a new messianic strand that has arisen: the dying and rising saviour.  Now we have 5.

Of the five (political, milk & honey, apocalyptic, suffering servant or dying and rising saviour), which one grips you right now? 

What might be the source of the yearning behind all these?

What happens when this yearning gets projected into any of the messianic strands?


Why would someone go to John? Remember it is a 4 day trek through the wilderness, and 4 days return..  What is so important that someone like Jesus would give up a week’s wages and make this hard trip?

Note that we have 3-gospel material here except for Mt.3:14-15.  That being the case, what is the source material?

Looking at Mk.1:10 and parallels, what is different among the three gospels?

What happens when a symbol, in this case the dove, becomes concrete?

Which form is more likely the original?

In the baptism, what is the first physical movement?

What does this symbolise?

What is the second movement? What does this symbolise?

What is Jesus’ experience upon emerging?

This is, in the Greek in which it was first written, is violent language; it is saying the heavens are ripped apart.  What does it mean to a Jew that the heavens are rent?

What is the 3rd movement in the account?

What is the nature of this descent?

God, the demanding, punishing, masculine, tremendum, whom Moses could not even look at lest he die, appears dove-like and feminine!!  It’s an extreme contrast to the traditional image of God!  What is happening here?

It helps to grasp the nature of this event to know that the Greek word translated “upon” in our translation, also can mean “into.”

In Mk.1:11, what would the words, “I am well pleased” have felt like for Jesus? Remember why he came.

For what was the compliment given?

Compare the first two words of this verse in the three accounts. Which is different? What does this do to the meaning of this paragraph?  Which is original?

What kind of questions would Jesus be asking himself?

Looking ahead to Mk.1:12 and parallels, what does the Spirit do next?

At the end of the baptism, how is Jesus different?

What was Jesus’ contribution to this event? What did he bring?

At the end of the baptism, how is God different?

Depict the baptism in art. Use whatever media you have (textas, crayons, paints, chalk, pencil). Allow your hand to decide what to draw rather than making up your mind ahead of time what you will draw. Continue until you are satisfied you are finished, and then allow your art to inform you.

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