Finding Context

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By: Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: Mark 12, mc Mark 11.27-13.37, vv 12.1-44

Note to the Reader
This week we continue our examination of the Gospel of Mark. As such, I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Gospel in conjunction with this article.

Passage: Mark 12, mc Mark 11.27-13.37, vv 12.1-44

Finding Context

First, I would like to say that I meditated and prayed for a few days about this article. The reason may seem rather simple, but as I was reading and preparing for this lesson, Mark Twelve is full of lessons that are probably familiar with the majority of the church: The Parable of the Vineyard;1 Jesus’ Answer about Taxes;2 Jesus’ Answer about the Resurrection;3 Jesus’ Answer about what is Primary in the Law;4 Jesus’ Question for the Leaders;5 and the Widow’s Offering.6 Since these lessons seem so familiar, I felt that there was little I could offer. As I was reading, something did stand out and it stands out because of Context, so Context is what we will be examining this week.

I will begin by asking, “What is Context?” Context is a word that incorporates a great many aspects about any given word or passage of Scripture.

Context includes: the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs of our passage from Mark.
Context includes: the passage and its location within the entire body of Mark, itself.
Context includes: the Gospel of Mark within the NT and as it applies to the OT.
Context includes: Historical timeline information, for example:

1. The Temple in Mark 12 is the same location as the Temple Solomon built in Kings7 but the Temple itself is different.
2. That Jesus has not yet been crucified and the “church age” has not yet arrived.

Context includes: knowing the players: Jesus, the disciples, The Pharisees, The Sadducees, The Scribes, The Widow, The Temple, The Temple Treasury.
Context includes: Theological issues like taxes, the resurrection, determining the importance (the ranking) of the Teachings from within the works of Moses, that Jesus is living under the OT, and that according to the date of events in Mark 12, there are no NT writings.
Context includes: Seeing the literary movement, which can and does supercede Chapter Verse markings.

Recognizing the previous, let us see the formal definition of context; Dictionary.com8 gives two primary definitions:

1. the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect
2. the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc.

Seeing Context
When we consider that most Bibles seem to be printed in a two-column format and within each column are the verses with the verse markers out to the left margin of the column, learning to recognize Context can be somewhat difficult, especially after reading a Bible for years that has Chapter Verse markers (which seems to be the standard by which Bibles are printed). While Chapter and Verse markers make for great help in quickly finding any “passage” what it amounts to is that the “passage” can be quoted “out of context.” Also realize that Chapters might be inserted in the middle of a literary Context and this weakens the Narrative as well. These things happen because Chapter and Verses are not original to the Bible, they have been added as a “help.” So be aware of the weaknesses of BCV and this will help.

Literary Context can be found, and it is found by the change of scene, which is communicated by words and phrases. Consider that the Context of Mark Twelve actually begins in Mark Eleven with the phrase, “And they come again to Jerusalem: and he was walking in the Temple.” (11.27, KJV). If we began reading in the first verse of Mark Twelve, we find that we are actually “lost” as to whom Jesus is speaking. The “them” is identified back in chapter Eleven, in the same verse were we find Jesus “walking in the Temple.” Sometimes we have to back up into the previous chapter to locate the scene.

Literary Context has Jesus at the Temple, the question is: when does he leave the Temple? One might think that Mark 12.12 has a change of scene, but the Literary Context did not change because the Gospel of Mark does not move the reader from the Temple. According to the Literary Context of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus does not leave the Temple until Chapter 13.1. One might think that the Literary Context has now shifted because of the Chapter Verse, but again this really is not the case. In the last part of Chapter Eleven, and all of Chapter Twelve, Jesus is “walking in the Temple” but Chapter Thirteen has Jesus exit the Temple, but he is still talking about the Temple, the only “change of scene” is Jesus being inside or outside the Temple. Consequently, all of Chapter Thirteen is actually an event that happens because of Jesus exiting the Temple. We must learn to see that the Gospel of Mark has 11.27-13.37 working together as a major literary unit, and this has direct impact on the understanding of Jesus’ responses, his answers, and his teachings – so, it would be prudent to ask: “What does the Temple represent?”

Cautions about Context
While it is tempting to turn to the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John to investigate details, doing so can insert information into Mark that changes the intentions of the Narrative provided by Mark. We can turn to the other Gospels to learn things like history, definitions, functions, and locations; but Mark establishes the Narrative not the other Gospels. To superimpose the other Gospels onto Mark’s Narrative actually runs the risk of changing Mark’s intended message. We are to learn everything we can, but we are wise when we see the Narrative as Mark intended.

One last thought. You probably have observed that prior to each article there is this information:

Passage: Mark 12, mc Mark 11.27-13.37, vv 12.1-44

It is given in order to provide specific information to you, the reader. “Mark 12” indicates which book and chapter we will be in. “mc” indicates and refers to the “minimum context” which in our case this week was rather lengthy. “vv” indicates and refers to the “verse or verses” that will be investigated.

Context improves our reading, improves our understanding, and strengthens our faith. May the LORD bless us as we continue to learn.

1. “The Parable of the Vineyard.” Mark 12.1-12 .
2. “Jesus’ Answer about the Resurrection.” Mark 12.13-17.
3. “Jesus’ Answer about the Resurrection.” Mark 12.18-27.
4. “Jesus’ Answer about what is Primary in the Law.” Mark 12.28-34.
5. “Jesus’ Question for the Leaders.” Mark 12.35-40.
6. “The Widow’s Offering.” Mark 12.41-44.
7. “Solomon Constructs the Temple.” First Kings 6.1-8.66.
8. “context.” Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 22 Jul. 2010. .