1 February 2015

Mark 1:21-28

“They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (v. 22)

Psalm: Psalm 111


In the Gospel of Mark's narrative these verses are near the beginning of Jesus' ministry, after the calling of the first disciples. They illustrate Jesus' unprecedented authority both in teaching and in confronting evil spirits, which astonishes those around him. Scribal teaching involved expounding the law given to Moses and discussing its implications, sheltering under its authority. Jesus speaks on his own behalf as one sent by God. This is what the unclean spirits recognise in him.

Most modern readers can find it difficult to reconcile stories in the Gospels about demon possession with current understandings about mental illness and its treatment. We have to remember that the Gospel stories are told with the presuppositions of the time, and in any case are never video recordings of events as they happened. Stories told over decades before being written down gather layers of interpretation on the way. Nevertheless it is clear that Jesus did not regard mental illness simply as something to be tolerated, and perhaps, in the cases reported to us, was able by the force of his own personality to bring relief to the sufferers. He saw such conditions as dehumanising.

To Ponder

  • What ministry do you think non-professionals can offer to those suffering from mental illness?
  • In what, for you, does the authority of Jesus' teaching consist?


Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England..