What are you especially good at noticing? People, places, details in a movie, etc.
Great artists, great detectives, and great thinkers are all great observers. They see things that others don’t see. For example, Monet painted the same church building more than 30 times attempting to catch the changing light that he meticulously observed. And those works are now admired around the world. (See the link below.)
The famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes knew small details such as the number of stairs on a particular staircase. And that kind of knowledge would help him solve mystery cases. Likewise, the great philosophers and scientists notice things that most people don’t notice.
Q: If you’re going to be a great observer, what are the qualities you will need?
- Curiosity. Great observers are usually curious people. They are constantly questioning: For example, “Why is this over here? How do this happen? Who did that?” So if we’re going to be good observers of a text we can’t be afraid to ask honest questions about the text.
- Patience. Great observers are also patient. They don’t rush things. They allow things to unfold in time. We have to take our time to see things as they really are. When they get bored, they fight through the boredom and keep observing.
In order to be a good Bible reader, or a good reader in general, we have to be good observers of words, sentences, and paragraphs. This skill is especially important for reading ancient literature because ancient authors didn’t use italics, underlining, or bold letters to emphasize things.
If you couldn’t use those things in your writing to emphasize a point, what would you use?
In order to draw attention to something, the writers of the New Testament often repeated it, placed it at the beginning, or included it in a unique way.
So let’s give it a shot. We’ll begin learning the skill of observation with eight verses—Mark 1:1-8. (I recommend printing out those verses and leaving plenty of space below them to record your observations. You can use biblegateway.com to access many different translations. I’ll be using the NIV 1984 version.)
An observation is simply anything you notice. To give you get an idea of how to record your observations, I’ve listed three observations from v. 1 below.
- The book is about Jesus Christ (v. 1).
- Calls Jesus both Christ and Son of God (v. 1).
- There is uncertainty about the phrase “the Son of God” (v. 1).
Notice that the verse number is included in parenthesis at the end.
Okay, now it’s your turn. Don’t look below until you have given yourself plenty of time to record your observations on Mark 1:1-8.
Did you list your own observations?
Are you sure?
Okay, in addition to the observations from v. 1, here’s what I was able to see in this passage:
- Quotes Isaiah’s prophecy (vv. 2-3)
- Implies that John is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy – “And so John came” (v. 4).
- The word for baptize is used 5x – (v. 4 (2x), 5, 8 (2x)).
- Location words are used frequently – desert, Judean countryside, Jerusalem, Jordan River (vv. 3-5). The story is rooted in physical geography.
- John was very popular (v. 5)
- The people did three things:
1. went to John in the desert region (v. 5)
2. confessed their sins (v. 5)
3. allowed John to baptize them in the Jordan River (v. 5)
- John did four things:
1. baptized people (v. 4)
2. preached (vv. 4, 7-8)
3. wore clothing made of camel’s hair and leather belt (v. 6) (cf. 2 K. 1:8; Mal. 4:5)
ate locusts and wild honey (v. 6)
- John’s message:
1. a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (v. 4)
2. the coming of someone far greater than him: (vv. 7-8)
You’ve just learned how many Bible teachers and pastors prepare a Bible lesson or sermon. First, they select the passage and then they record or highlight their observations on that passage.
But we can’t stop with our list of observations because we’re not machines that simply record things. We have brains that are questioning things as we process them. You probably had many questions that came to mind as you were listing your observations. After all, being curious and asking questions is one of the qualities we need in order to make observations.
Take a few minutes and list all the questions you have about Mark 1:1-8.
Here are ten of my questions.
- What does the footnote mean?
- What does the word gospel mean?
- When did Isaiah live?
- Why did Jesus need an announcer/herald?
- Why was John so odd? (clothing, diet, setting)
- How did John become so popular if he was in the desert?
- Who did the people think John was?
- What exactly were the people confessing?
- What was the significance of baptism?
- Is verse 5 hyperbole? “the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem”
I won’t attempt to answer all of these questions here, but I do want to address the first question about the footnote in Mark 1:1.
No one has the original book of Mark, instead we have hundreds of copies and not every Greek copy has the phrase “the Son of God.” Why? Before the invention of the printing press in the 15th century everything was copied by hand. Sometimes the copyists made accidental mistakes and sometimes they made corrections because they thought what they were copying was a mistake. In this instance, as in most of the uncertain texts, whether the phrase “the Son of God” is original or not doesn’t matter much because 10 verses later the same point is made when God calls Jesus his Son.
Here’s a few definitions that may help you with your own questions.
Definitions in Mark 1:1
- Gospel = good news.
- Jesus = the Lord saves. The name Jesus was a popular name in the 1st century. It’s the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Joshua.
- Christ = anointed one. The word Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah. The anointed one in the Old Testament was the one that was officially set apart for special service such as a king or priest. This official recognition was done by pouring oil on the person’s head. A Christian = a follower of Christ.
- The Son of God = the one who shares the nature of God and has a father-son relationship with God.
Now that we’ve made our observations and asked our questions, let’s try and summarize what we’ve found.
Summarizing Mark 1:1-8
- The story of Jesus begins with John the Baptist.
- Israel needed to be spiritually prepared for the arrival of the Messiah.
- The story of Jesus contains prophecy:
Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus’ forerunner
The fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy with John the Baptist
John’s prophecy about the one coming
The emphasis on prophecy is exciting stuff because in v. 9 Jesus is going to come giving us a prophecy-fulfillment, process-fulfillment structure in Mark’s opening lines.[This post is part of my course on Mark 1–7.]