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Depends What the Meaning of “OF” Is

Gospel of Jesus smallGrammar stinks…. just kidding; I love grammar, but I’m hoping that by pretending not to that you will suck it up and actually read all the way to the bottom of my 800 or so words on “OF” in Mark 1:1.

Prepositions are those funny little words that build relationships. They’re like that geeky guy at the party who violates your personal space by throwing his arm around you and dragging you from person to person making introductions.  Generally, the preposition links itself with a noun or a word functioning like a noun (forming a prepositional phrase) and builds a relationship between that noun or noun-wanna-be and some other term in the sentence.

If the other term is a noun  or noun-ish term too, the prepositional phrase is said to provide adjectival modification. It answers one of the questions, “Which one?” or “What kind?” (Don’t quit, this is all building to something good.)

If the other term is a verb, or verb like term, then the prepositional phrase is said to provide adverbial modification… i.e. it answers one of 9 adverbial questions… like where was it done, why was it done, how was it done, etc.

Prepositions can be some of the hardest words to deal with when learning a new language. One of my professors, a brilliant man who had been in America for more than 30 years still struggled sometimes to get the right preposition for a statement. Millennials seem to have opted in droves for different prepositions in certain circumstances than previous generations. It drives me nuts every time my kids say, “I did it on accident.” I’m like, “What are you saying? Since when does the preposition “in” represent instrumentality. Do you mean that you did it by accident?” They reply, “That sounds weird.” And I’m like, “I’ve been saying it to you that way your whole life!!!”

Mark 1:1 has the same preposition 3x… “OF.” It says, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”[1] If we took the time, we could list out some 30 possible meanings for a preposition like “OF.” Let me give just a few examples.

  • Cup of wine… “OF” means filled with.
  • Cup of silver… “OF” means material
  • Cup of Jerusalem… “OF” means origins or perhaps style.
  • Cup of David… “OF” means possession or belonging to, We might see something like this in the phrase Son of God… whose son? God’s son.
  • In the phrase Beginning of… “OF” means part. It says which part of a thing is under consideration.

The big pill in Mark 1:1 is the “OF” in “gospel of Jesus.” What does that “OF” mean?

It won’t surprise you that there are two different answers generally given. Each answer corresponds with the opinions of the interpreter about the role of Mark 1:1 as a whole.[2]

Remember above when I said that prepositional phrases could be attached to verbs or “verb like term”? Well here is one of those “verb like terms.” The very notion of gospel contains within it a verbal idea… preaching. For every gospel there is a preacher, a message, and a proclamation. This “proclamation” has a subject… one doing the proclaiming, and an object… the thing being proclaimed.

So, this “OF” could be subjective and render the whole verse something like “This is the beginning of the gospel which Jesus Christ, son of God, preached.” “This is the beginning of Jesus’ preaching of the gospel… i.e. that Old testament promise of divine victory when God breaks into human history.[3]

If, however, this “OF” is objective then it claims that Jesus is the content of that gospel (Hence the NIV’s “The beginning of the good news about Jesus…”) Jesus becomes the gospel.

The difference between the two is radical. The first plays into the hands of those who think Mark 1:1 is the introduction of the first story in Mark, the coming of John to baptize and of Jesus to be baptized. The second, however, plays into the hands of those who see Mark 1:1 as some type of title. The whole book is the gospel of Jesus, the good news message proclaimed about Jesus and all that he came and taught and did.

In our next Mark post, I want to consider the power of this objective use of “OF” in light of Emperor imagery in Greek literature… you’re gonna love it.



[1] Now in truth, the preposition OF is not actually present in the Greek. The Greek uses instead a special spelling for these words to represent the kinds of relationships that we in English use “OF” to create. This is called the genitive case… what some quip as “The OF case.”

[2] You can read more on this in my post, “Mark 1:1 Makes no Sentence at All.”

[3] You can read more on this in my post, “Technical Terms We Only Think We Understand: Gospel in Mark 1:1″

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