Lectionary Year B
February 20, 2000
Mark 2:1-12

Step IV: Broader Context


      In the parallel passage in Matthew (9) we learn that Jesus has traveled across the sea and we are reminded that this is his home town. In Luke (4:17) the parallel points out that the scribes are joined by Pharisees and that both groups have come from all over to hear the teachings of Jesus. This provides insight into what type of an hostile encounter it may have been. It is as if they have gathered together to pronounce judgment upon Jesus. In Matthew 4:13 we are told of another visit to Capernaum and Matthew points to a passage in Isaiah 42:6-7 that Jesus' ministry there fulfills. It is another reminder that Matthew's audience might be much different than Mark's. In verse eight Jesus readily knows his adversaries, the scribes, and in John 2:25 and John 8:12 it is the same. Jesus reveals his authority and foreknowledge of their thinking and they fail to recognize his authority. As in verse 11 in John 5:8 Jesus tells a healed man to take up his bed and walk which causes Jesus to be judged by the scribes and Pharisees. Over and over again we are shown the conflict between the scribes and Jesus. Acts 3 presents a similar story with Peter and John as Peter heals a man who could not walk who then goes out to the amazement and wonder of all - and then they praised God. Here Jesus speaks with authority with little regard to their teachings of the law (their authorities).


      In the parallel from Matthew there is a reference to Isaiah 43:25 which reads, "I, even I, am the one who blots out your transgressions for my own sake." Also given is the passage from Psalm 103 which tells us that God is the one who forgives, heals and redeems. These set the stage for the type of understanding that one encounters when reading that the scribes called his actions blasphemy. According to Kittel, in Judaic tradition, the use of the term blaspheme, "always refers finally to God, whether in the sense of the disputing of his saving power, the desecrating of his name by Gentiles..."(pg 621). Later he points out that in assuming the prerogatives of God that Jesus is indeed guilty of this charge by the standards of Judaism (pg. 623). Knowing that the judgment is of "normal" scope begs the reader to ask, "who are these who judge?"

      A look into Strack-Billerbeck provides a reference to the Mishnah regarding the scribes. In looking into the Mishnah references in the Fourth division: Neziken, Sanhedrin 3 and following there is revealed good insights into who the scribes are and how they operate. We are told that the scribes participate in the Judaic legal system and may also compromise the ruling bodies of small towns, functioning as wise men. Strack-Billerbeck also referred to the Hebrew word "hakemah" or wisdom in reference to the scribes (Jastrow pg 461). The scribes were active in the political structure of the Judaic world and it is interesting to see their connection to the Sanhedrin. Here they would have been exposed to the Jewish judges who according to the Mishnah were rated upon how they tested evidence. "The more a judge tests the evidence the more is he deserving of praise: Ben Zakai once tested the evidence even in inquiring about stalks of figs.... If to the inquiries one [of the two witnesses] answered I don't know', their evidence becomes invalid... (Danby, pg 388). In this light it is easy to see that they would indeed have been questioning as was their nature.


      In Kittel there appears a slight nuance between the O.T. and the NT view of blasphemy. In the O.T. as mentioned above there is a sense of taking the prerogatives of God. It was not until later that the Name of God became unspeakable. In early Christianity and in Greek literature it referred to abusive speech, doubting or misunderstanding the true nature of deity, etc. In Greek literature the word has a broader meaning and may have influenced the Christian use of it as well. It is helpful to note that the scribes are here using the Judaic understanding as discussed earlier.

      A parallel to the healing stories of Jesus can be found within the teachings regarding the Asclepius Cult (Freedman, 475-476). Asclepius, of human and godly decent, learned the arts of healing and reportedly raised a human from the dead. Later he was stricken by the gods and made a god himself. In the practices of the cult there was a three day purification process that is similar to Jesus' pardoning of sins. The pattern, therefore, of forgiving sins and healing would have been already established among Romans.

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