by Greg Williamson © revised 2011
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations
are from the New Living Translation (NLT)
Preliminary Concern: Why bother with Bible study?
One of the most important, yet neglected, disciplines of the Christian life is serious, committed, personal Bible study. While many Christians will say that the Bible is important to them, in truth the vast majority of professing believers spend at best no more than a few minutes a week reading it. The end result is ignorance regarding God's truth which, in turn, has any number of profoundly negative consequences. The Bible is God's lamp to our feet and God's light to our path (see Psalms 119:105) - which means that without it we can expect to spend a lot of time stumbling and bumbling through this life. Beyond the obvious fact that it is an act of obedience and a sign of our love for God, personal Bible study has the potential to impact us in some highly significant ways, including:
Knowledge. "Knowledge" is "the truth or facts of life that a person acquires either through experience or thought."2 While creation reveals (some of) what God is like, the Bible remains the only objective source for the fullest knowledge possible regarding God and his will for us.
Wisdom. Wisdom is the "ability to judge correctly and to follow the best course of action, based on knowledge and understanding."3 In simplest terms, it is "skill for living."4 A Christian acquires this skill through personal study and application of the Scriptures.
Understanding. To understand is "to grasp the meaning of; to grasp the reasonableness of; to have thorough or technical acquaintance with or expertness in the practice of."5 Knowing and applying God's counsel as found in the Bible is the only sure way to truly understand life - our purpose, our meaning, our direction.
With so much to gain, why is Bible study such a lost art? Well, for one thing, personal, committed, ongoing Bible study demands time and effort. Which means getting out of the bed a little earlier each morning and/or turning off the television - or logging off of the internet - a little sooner in the evening. It also means investing in resources, beginning with a good study Bible, Bible dictionary, and Bible commentary.6 As one source aptly puts it:
The big problem with Bible study today is that we think it should be easier than other things we do. We study recipes for quality meals, how-to books for all kinds of things - carpentry, plumbing, automobile maintenance and so on - and read vociferously for our hobbies. Why do we think the Bible is the only subject we should not have to study?! Let me challenge you - make the Bible your hobby. At one level I do not like the analogy; the Bible must be so much more than a hobby! But at another level, what if we spent as much time and money on Bible study as we do our hobbies? What if we took the same amount we spend on golf clubs and courses or on skiing equipment and skiing trips, and put it into Bible study? Yes, encyclopedias, commentaries and other reference materials are expensive. But so is everything we do. The question is about priorities: what is important enough for our time and money? I want to encourage you to get and use the tools that enable us to bridge the gap back to Bible times and authorial intention.7
Who wrote this book?
John Mark ("John" is a Hebrew name meaning "God is gracious; "Mark"/"Marcus" is a Roman name meaning "larger hammer").8
Besides the early Church's testimony that Mark served as the apostle Peter's "interpreter" ("a term meaning something like 'private secretary' and aide-de-camp"9), Mark had firsthand knowledge of the leaders of the early Church and the Gospel10 they espoused:
Mark was the cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10), a leader in the early Church.
Mark came from a wealthy family who were among the first in Jerusalem to become Christians, and whose home served as a meeting place for believers (a house church) (Acts 12:11-13).
He was a traveling companion of the apostle Paul during Paul's first missionary journey (c. A.D. 46–48) (Acts 12:25; 13:5).
However, because Mark had abandoned Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:13), Paul refused to take him along on the next trip (c. A.D. 49–52), a decision that created a rift between he and Barnabas. The latter took John Mark and headed in a different direction (Acts 15:36-39).
At some point Paul and Mark were reconciled, since Paul later speaks highly of him (Colossians 4:10-11; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24).
What does it mean to be reconciled to someone? Does being reconciled mean that two people have to think and act exactly alike? Why or why not?
Another word for reconciliation is reunion. To reunite is to make united again. Unity, however, is not the same as uniformity. Whereas uniformity demands looking and acting exactly alike, unity involves shared beliefs and values - while still leaving room for individual differences.
While we can only guess as to why John Mark deserted Paul and Barnabas - Fear of danger? Dissatisfaction with the leadership? Malaria?11 - it is probably not too much to say that it was John Mark's and Paul's beliefs and values which led them to be reconciled. And doubtless the entire experience better prepared Mark for writing about Jesus, the one who came to reconcile us to God.
Mark was a companion of the apostle Peter and may even have been converted by him (see 1 Peter 5:13). It is believed that Mark's gospel is based on Peter's sermons and recollections regarding Jesus, and it is obvious that Mark chose to present his material thematically rather than chronologically. Mark's gospel was held in high esteem immediately after it was written (because of Peter's authority, plus its endorsement by the Christian church at Rome), but it did fall out of favor once the longer and smoother gospels of Matthew and Luke arrived on the scene.12
Tradition tells us that John Mark went on to establish churches in Alexandria (Egypt), he was martyred, and his remains were carried to Venice and placed under the Church of St. Mark.13
How we live our lives bears witness to who we are and what we believe. This was Peter's point in his first epistle. Writing to Christians who were being persecuted for their faith, Peter urged them to live good lives that would bear witness to the saving power of God. "Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world" (1 Peter 2:12).