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Mark 1:1 Makes No Sentence at All

mark 1 1 no sentence lens sxc hu smallLook at Mark 1:1… look reeeeeaaaaal close and careful.

It reads in the ESV, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Seems simple enough.

A literalist rendering of the Greek is, “Beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ son of God. The three of words aren’t actually there, though the concept of of is. So we have 7 Greek words, represented by 12 English words.

Though we will talk about the words in detail over a series of blogs hereafter, there is something about the terms that I want you to notice, now. There is something missing here. Can you see what it is?

Times up… The answer is…. There is no verb…. therefore… it is NOT a sentence.[1]

The grand question is, “Why doesn’t this verse have a verb?” “If this isn’t a sentence, what is it?”

There are two basic interpretations to this non-sentence status.

  1. Either Mark 1:1 is an odd introduction to the events transpiring from Mark 1:2-13… a weird kind of “Hey, Ya’all, this is how the gospel of Jesus gets started off… hope ya like it.” or…
  2. Mark 1:1 is a Title and should be separated and placed center top in bigger font, BEGINNING OF THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST SON OF GOD. (I’ll discuss the placement of commas later.)

“But isn’t the title of this book, ‘The Gospel According to Mark’?”

Why no, Sally, it isn’t. The church gave this book the title ‘The Gospel According to Mark’ based on the early Christian tradition that John Mark, of Acts fame (Acts 12:12; Acts 12:25; Acts 15:37-39), penned the book with Peter. The actual book has no other possible title than we find in 1:1 and nowhere does it say who the author is. This doesn’t prove that 1:1 is the title, or anything, since ancient people didn’t always feel the need to give things like titles. Most biblical books are given titles rather than having titles. That’s just the way it is, no point in grumbling about it, Sally, so stop pouting.

I will return to the question of whether or not this verse is the title of the book in a few other blogs, but, for now, let’s just have some fun pretending that it is the title… which I think it is.

We might imagine from the start that if an ancient writer chose to give his work a title, then, that title might just say something significant about the book’s focus, the book’s goal. One would have to continue to observe the book as it unfolds piece by piece to discover if this is the case, but if it turns out to be so, this could lend credence to the proposal. I’ll give you a clue in terms of my own work. Mark writes the Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus… Christ… Son of God. The word Christ will not be seen again until the climax of the book in Chapter 8, where Peter’s announcement, “Thou art the Christ,” becomes the hinge for the two halves of Mark. Mark will unpack both the fact of and meaning of Jesus as both Christ and Son of God.

Finally, think for a second about the implications of the word beginning for the title. Its title is THE BEGINNING of the gospel of Jesus Christ, son of God. If this phrase… for it is neither clause nor sentence… isn’t about John comin-a-baptisin’ and kickin’ things off for Jesus, then, everything from John’s arrival through Jesus’ ministry, death, resurrection and ascension is just the beginning of the gospel.

If all this is just the beginning of the gospel then what does that make everything thereafter? The apostolic preaching, the world wide spread of Christianity, the reformation, the modern expansion in the great missionary movements of the last two centuries? Indeed, what does that make us and our work?

Isn’t this just what Luke suggested in his opening lines in Luke and Acts? He wrote in Luke 1:2-3  “…just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.” and followed in Acts 1:1-2 by saying, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.”

We are his gospel unleashed upon the world.



[1] Unless you read the CEV and find the complete botch, “This is the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” which is a travesty of the highest order. Granted it’s not up there with robbery and murder, but as far as translations go, it’s pretty close. They slaughtered the text and rob the reader of several important points of interpretation; We might also note that Matthew 1:1 starts with a non-sentence as well.

3 thoughts on “Mark 1:1 Makes No Sentence at All

  1. Sam says:

    The very first thing I thought after reading your point that this is not a sentence, was that it was a Title to the writing. One question… could it be possible that Mark 1:1 was added by scribes later on to GIVE Mark’s writing a title, or was that not something common to do in the 1st Century? If Mark DID write Mark 1:1, then my beliefs on that lean towards the entire story of Jesus that he writes about is the “beginning” of the “Gospel”. By the way, I still remember how you explained where the word “Gospel” came from, how it came about, that it wasn’t always “good news”…

    1. Matthew also has the same type of first line, and like Mark 1:1 establishes a statement that is clearly unpacked as the book does its thing. We have no text evidence to suggest that it is anything but original.

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