A reader wrote in to TGC:

The Gospel of Mark begins, “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way.'” Only problem: that quote is from Malachi, not Isaiah. Did Mark just fumble the ball here? How do we make sense of this apparent error in Scripture?

Rikk Watts, professor of New Testament studies at Regent College in Vancouver and author of Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, provides the response. In short, “So what initially looks like an error turns out, when viewed in the light of ancient literary practice, to be a highly informative summary of Mark’s Gospel.”

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6 thoughts on “Did Mark Make a Mistake in His Opening Quotation?”

  1. MF says:

    D. A. Carson used this as an example where errantists gave up and called it an error, whereas inerrantists were forced by their prior commitment to keep searching and eventually found a good solution to the problem.

  2. Watts’ book is excellent. I learned a good bit about biblical theology by reading it.

  3. Bill G says:

    why are you teasing us with “in light of ancient usage” (paraphrase) and not telling us what the normal practice was back then??

    is this to entice us to buy his book?? i certainly hope that isn’t your intention.

    1. Justin R says:

      I think Justin Taylor was summarizing the conclusion of the article, not trying to entice you to buy the book.

  4. Dave Moore says:

    Bill G. et al.,

    Perhaps this reflection by Peter Leithart will help:

    Rikki Watts offers some other dimensions to the quotation from Mark 1:1. He notes that Mark is quoting not only from Isaiah 40, but also from Exodus 23 and Malachi 3, and shows how these three texts overlay each other in Mark’s presentation. Exodus 23 is a warning to Israel about the need to obey the “angel” or “messenger” of Yahweh who will lead them to the promised land, at which point Yahweh Himself will take over as the divine warrior who conquers the land and drives out the Canaanites. In Mark, the reference to Exodus 23 highlights Israel’s hope for a second exodus, and a new conquest, but this hope is given an ironic twist in Malachi 3.

    Like Exodus 23, Malachi 3 is set against the background of Israel’s faithlessness, but the two passages diverge from that point: Exodus 23 promises that the Lord will lead Israel to the land in spite of her sin, if she follows His messenger, but Malachi 3 (which alludes to Exodus 23) warns that the Lord’s coming to judge and purge will result in a judgment and purgation of Israel herself. Watts suggests this reading: “Israel accuses [Yahweh] of dereliction of duty since he has not dealt with evildoers. Yahweh’s response is that, after sending a messenger to prepare his way, he will indeed come but his coming may not inaugurate the blessing his people expect since they themselves may well be the ones who are purged in the judgment.”

    For Mark, John is the messenger of Yahweh, leading the people on a way that will involve a new conquest and warning that the Lord is about to return, and may well conquer an Israel that has become a Canaan. The fact that the judgment announced in Malachi involves Yahweh’s arrival in His temple gives an additional dimension to Mark’s citation, putting Jesus’ condemnation of the temple front and center.

    All of this is overlaid with Isaiah 40’s reference to the new exodus. Watts suggests that Isaiah 40:1-11 is a preview of Isaiah 40-55, focusing first on the Lord’s highway of return and the revelation of His glory (which is common in chs. 40-48) and then moving to a focus on Yahweh’s bride, Zion/Jerusalem. Isaiah is speaking about the preparation of the way for Yahweh’s return to His city and people, a return that will involve healing, liberation, restoration, and finally the establishment of a new creation.

    Watts summarizes his discussion under several points: Malachi “intends an ironic allusion to Exodus 23:20 as the basis of his warning to Israel”; one of Malachi’s central concerns is with “the threat associated with the coming of Yahweh’s self-manifestation; hence the preparatory figure,” and thus the Malachi reference shows that John’s ministry is one of announcing judgment; the Isaiah allusion raises hopes that the new exodus is about to occur; Christologically, “the application of these texts to Jesus suggests that he is to be identified in some way, not so much with ‘the Messiah,’ but with none other than [the Adon] and [the messenger of the covenant] of Malachi and, in terms of Isaiah 40:3, the presence of Yahweh himself.”

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Tuesday, February 07, 2006 at 07:52 AM

  5. Bill G says:

    My mistake.

    I did not notice the other underlined link (response).

    however i don’t understand why this short article is even posted like this. why not just repost the “response”??

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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