Lesson: Genesis 1:1-5
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Genesis is the first book of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The Torah also called the Pentateuch (five books) in Greek. Genesis covers the period from Creation to the deaths of Jacob and his 11th son, Joseph, in about 1,650 BCE, if the accounts are historical.
The Book of Genesis (like the Torah as a whole) is an amalgam of religious traditions, some of which are dated to about 950 BCE and some of which were developed as late as 450 BCE. Since the late 19th Century, Biblical scholars have recognized four major “strands” or sources in the Torah, and these sources are identified (among other ways) by their different theological emphases, names for God, names for the holy mountain, and portrayals of God’s characteristics.
Today’s reading described the first day of the seven-day “First Creation Story.” It is part of the “Priestly” tradition written in the period from 550 to 450 BCE. The name used for God in this account is “Elohim” (literally, “the gods”) and is different name from the name (YHWH or “LORD God”) used in the Second Creation Story (Gen. 2:4b – 24). The Second Creation Story is part of the “Yahwistic” tradition dated to about 970 to 930 BCE – the reigns of David and Solomon.
The First Creation Story emphasized order and categorizing by separation. Priestly writers portrayed order and precision as leading to “Shalom” (peace, good order). It is noteworthy that creation is not “out of nothing” (creation ex nihilo) but describes God as creating by bringing order out of a “formless void” (v. 2) and a watery chaos (“the deep” and “the waters”). In verse 4 and other verses, God declares that the creation is good or very good.
Overcoming the chaos of the ocean was an important theme in Middle Eastern Creation Myths such as the Babylonian Creation Myth (the “Enuma Elish”) which the Judeans would have encountered during the Babylonian Exile (587-539 BCE).
Epistle: Acts 19:1-7
1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 Then he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They answered, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied — 7 altogether there were about twelve of them.
The book called “The Acts of the Apostles” was written around 85 to 90 CE by the anonymous author of the Gospel According to Luke. The first 15 chapters of Acts are a didactic “history” of the early Jesus Follower Movement starting with an account of the Ascension of Jesus and ending at the so-called Council of Jerusalem where it was agreed that Gentiles did not have to be circumcised and keep all the Kosher dietary laws to become Jesus Followers.
From Chapter 15 to Chapter 28, Paul’s missionary activities are recounted, ending with his house arrest in Rome.
Today’s reading is set in Ephesus and is part of Paul’s Third Missionary Journey, one that began in Antioch in Syria and ended in Jerusalem. Ephesus was a large and prosperous city in what is now western Turkey and was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. According to Acts 19:10, Paul spent two years in Ephesus converting both Jews and Greeks (Gentiles) and performing miracles (v.11).
One of the major themes of both the Gospel According to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles is the importance of the Holy Spirit – often portrayed as the driving force for all that happens. Today’s reading is an example of the prominence the author of Luke/Acts gives to the Holy Spirit.
Gospel: Mark 1:4-11
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
The Gospel According to Mark was the first Gospel that was written and is generally dated to the time around the Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. Mark’s Gospel is the shortest gospel and forms the core for the Gospels According to Matthew and Luke (both of which were written around 85 CE. Over 50% of the material in those two Gospels is based on Mark. Because these three Gospels follow similar chronologies of Jesus’ life and death, they are called “Synoptic Gospels” for the Greek words meaning “Same Look/View.”
Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark does not have a Birth Narrative for Jesus of Nazareth, and today’s Gospel reading is the first substantive story in this Gospel.
Like most scripture writers, the author of Mark often used hyperbole to emphasize his points. For example, in verse 5 he speaks of “people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” going to the River Jordan.
In today’s reading, the Sonship of Jesus of Nazareth was affirmed by the voice from heaven (v.11), though it is not clear from the text whether only Jesus heard the voice or if others heard it also.
In the Gospels, the Sonship of Jesus is presented as occurring progressively earlier in his life. In Matthew and Luke, the Sonship is affirmed at his conception. In John, the identity of Jesus of Nazareth with the Word (Logos) is stated to have existed from the beginning. (Jn. 1:1)