Study Guide

Gospel of Mark Fate and Free Will

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Fate and Free Will

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight' […]. (NRSV 1:2-3)

As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. (KJV 1:2-3)

The citations here are from Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. Oops. Mark just names Isaiah (NRSV). The KJV's translation, "the prophets," follows a Greek manuscript that corrects the mistake. Still, in Mark's perspective, John and Jesus will fulfill this centuries-old prophecy. That means we are dealing with events that God planned long ago.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (NRSV 8:31)

And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. (KJV 8:31)

Jesus is predicting events that will occur in Jerusalem. In this one word—"must"—lies Mark's concept of fate.

Then they asked him, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" He said to them, "Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him. (NRSV 9:11-13)

And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? And he answered and told them, Elias verily cometh first, and restoreth all things; and how it is written of the Son of man, that he must suffer many things, and be set at nought. But I say unto you, That Elias is indeed come, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed, as it is written of him. (KJV 9:11-13)

Jesus has the task of untangling complex prophecies for his disciples. This time, they're talking about how John the Baptist wore clothes like Elijah's (1:6). According to Jesus, scripture predicted John's suffering at the hands of Herod (6:17-29). The implication? That immoral governors had inadvertently acted just as God had planned.

[…] for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again. (NRSV 9:31)

For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. (KJV 9:31)

Didn't we hear this already in 8:31? It must be important.

He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again. (NRSV 10:32-34)

And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again. (KJV 10:32-34)

One more time, for good measure (see 8:31 and 9:31).

[…] and said to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?' just say this, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'" (NRSV 11:2-3)

And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither. (KJV 11:2-3)

Things will happen "just as Jesus said" (11:4-6). How's that for precise?

So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there. (NRSV 14:13-15)

And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us. (KJV 14:13-15)

Are you noticing a pattern? It's striking how even the smallest details seem to be subject to fate in 11:4-6 and 14:13-15.

And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me." (NRSV 14:18)

And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me. (KJV 14:18)

What's the effect of prophecies that get fulfilled within the course of the text?

For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born. (NRSV 14:21)

The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born. (KJV 14:21)

Jesus roots his own prophetic words in scripture ("as it is written"), but he doesn't cite any precise passage. Judas was fated to do what he did and he will be punished severely for it. How can you be held guilty for something you are fated to do?

And Jesus said to them, "You will all become deserters; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'" (NRSV 14:27)

And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. (KJV 14:27)

Jesus doesn't cite here, either, but he takes this oracle from Zechariah 13:7 in the Hebrew Bible. And guess what? It will come true in 14:50-52. That was quick.

Jesus said to him, "Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times." (NRSV 14:30)

And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. (KJV 14:30)

Peter resists—like all the disciples in 14:19—but he won't escape his fate (14:66-72), as he himself will soon realize (14:72).

He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want." (NRSV 14:36)

And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt. (KJV 14:36)

Notice the possible conflict of wills here. Jesus seems to have a real choice, but choosing otherwise would jeopardize the oracles in 8:31, 9:31, and 10:33-34. Is Jesus a special case?

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