Significance Before Application (Mark 3:14–15): The Mark 3 Commission and Its Implications for Social Action, Part 2b
Authority for application: narrative intention and antecedent authority
The process from exegesis to application is characteristically discussed within the context of sermon preparation or homiletics. Typically there is detailed discussion regarding the need to discover the “significance of a text,” that is the time and cultural gaps between the Bible’s historical and cultural settings and the now of the reader/listener. This process is labeled under various titles: contextualization (Osborne), transferring the message (Greidanus), fusion of horizons (Gadamer; Thiselton), and principlization (Kaiser; Virkler). Developing the significance of a text, however, is not simply about seeking the universal truth behind the text and its historical context, or attempting to link the ancient cultural value or historical situation to something similar in the contemporary so it may be “applied.” It should also establish the relationship of the text’s meaning to those in front of the text. Put another way, we need to decipher the significance of the biblical author’s original meaning to the contemporary reader/listener and church community beforedetermining application.
Also, simply attaching an “application” to a text, or even a text to an “application,” is not enough; application should be built on reasonable authority. It must produce analogous and relevant obedience reflective of the text. Obedience (i.e., application) ought to correspond in-kind to Mark’s narrative. There needs to be a reasonable association between Mark’s understanding of the gospel and faithful obedience to that gospel. When application is detached and/or dissimilar from his narrative (in this case the Mark 3 commission and his overall Gospel narrative), then there is no authority for that application. In fact, it might not be obedience at all. Application on the contemporary side of the text should find support by analogous associations and applications made by the original author. When application is based on the consequence or result of a text’s meaning, then it carries the weight of biblical authority, which leads to relevant faithful obedience.
Abraham Kuruvilla offers a helpful set of principles for developing the significance and range of potential application from a biblical narrative such as Mark’s Gospel. Kuruvilla proposed what he calls “the two rules” for establishing the significance of the text to the readers/listeners, that is, their relationship to the text:1) the Rule of Plot“prepares the interpreter of biblical narrative to attend to the structured sequence of events emplotted in the text, in order to apprehend the world projected by that text” and 2) the Rule of Interaction that “directs the interpreter of biblical narrative to attend to the interpersonal transactions of the characters as represented therein, in order to apprehend the world projected by the text.” Thus, our move here toward application will seek its underlying authority from Mark’s surrounding plot and the role and responsibilities of the characters in the story (i.e., the fisher-followers who are sent forth to preach and to have authority to cast out the demons, 3:14c–15).
 See Greidanus, Modern Preacher, 157; and, Osborne, Hermeneutical Spiral, 318.
 Osborne, Hermeneutical Spiral; Greidanus, Modern Preacher; Gadamer, Truth and Method; Thiselton, Two Horizons; Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology; Virkler, Hermeneutics.
 Kaiser, “Inner Biblical Exegesis,” 33–46.
 Kuruvilla, Text to Praxis, 73. The word “emplot” or “emplotted” is not found in the Oxford English Dictionary or in any dictionary to my knowledge. Kuruvilla, in the context of his “two rules,” refers to “a plot” as “a sequence of causally related events” (Text to Praxis, 73), therefore I take the word and use it here and throughout the chapter to mean em-plotted, or to embed material into a plot; more specifically to assemble together historical events and place them strategically into a narrative in order to create a plot (i.e., a storyline).
Significance Before Application (Mark 3:14–15): The Mark 3 Commission and Its Implications for Social Action, Part 2
Pay Attention to Significance—Think Deeply About Application
Walter Kaiser reminds us, “Exegesis is never an end in itself.” In Toward an Exegetical Theology, he rightly points out that the ultimate purpose of exegesis is “never fully realized until it begins to take into account the problems of transferring what has been learned from the text over to the waiting Church.” Obedience to the biblical text is essential to the Christian life and is, as well, defining for the life of the church. This should be the goal of the mindful Christian and what faithful leadership should intentionally foster in a church community (Mark 3:35). This is why developing appropriate, not just “relevant,” application is important. Yet, applying the Bible can offer its own set of problems and difficulties. If we move too quickly to application, it is quite possible to miss the obedience implied by the text (any text for that matter) and, as well, the gospel. Before examining the Mark 3 commission, specifically vv. 14–15, it is worth considering the problem of application.
The problem of application
In their book, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart point out that many Christians start with “the here and now” and “read into texts meanings that were not originally there.” They rightly affirm that Christians “want to know what the Bible means for us,” and “legitimately so.” However, we cannot make the Bible or the gospel or any text for that matter “mean anything that pleases us and then give the Holy Spirit ‘credit’ for it.” Fee and Stuart hit the mark as it relates to the problem of interpretation: the step of good study and exegesis to decipher the original author’s intention is too often skipped or undertaken lightly, with readers/listeners jumping straight-away to “the here and now.” This actually confuses interpretation with application.
Although Fee and Stuart’s point concerns interpretation of the text, the same problem occurs when the “here and now” of contemporary application is read back into the text. We cannot make any application we want from any text, give the Holy Spirit credit, and then call it obedience. Application can often be read into a text, again, confusing interpretation with application. A fixation on the practical does not inevitably lead to obedience of the biblical text. In view of these present set of studies, application, as evangelism is typically understood, might not necessarily indicate faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:1). This can be a problem with application—that is, application is not always obedience.
Moving from meaning to significance, then to application
Understanding what the biblical author (in this case, Mark) meant is certainly the first step necessary for seeking faithful obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:1). The previous five chapters have sought to do just that. Yet, bridging the gap from the then to the now demands thoughtful attention. In order to think more deeply and thoroughly about application, three basic steps are essential to the process:
Meaning is that which is represented by the text, that is, what the biblical author intended by the words, syntactical and contextual relationships, and use of antecedent biblical material and contexts. Significance establishes the relationship between the original meaning and the person, persons, place, or situation (or “anything imaginable”) on this side of the text. The meaning of the text does not change, but its significance to those on this side of the text (who, when, where, etc.) does change and can be relevant in different ways. Application, on the other hand, is the least rigid of the three elements for determining faithfulness to the gospel and can take multiple forms to reflect obedience. Still, application needs to flow from significance and be an appropriate action that reflects the obedience implied by the text (e.g., the Mark 3 commission) or biblical concept (e.g., the gospel).
For example, the meaning of the Mark 3 commission is determined by exegesis (an analysis of the text and surrounding narrative). The significance of that meaning is deciphered by the text’s relationship and its implications to those on this side the text. In other words the reader/listener should ask, What is the significance of the Mark 3 commission to me, to my church, and to the community where I live? Application, then, is the appropriate and analogous actions, behaviors, and/or attitudes that produce or indicate faithful obedience to the text. If Mark intended his audience to understand that those who follow after Jesus will be created fishers of men who have a role in inaugurating the kingdom that has arrived in the appearance of God’s Messiah-King (1:1, 14–15, 17), then it is important to discern the significance of the commission components to preach and to have authority to cast out the demons (3:14–15) for today’s readers/listeners. Application, then, requires a determination of what appropriate and analogous actions correspond to thatsignificance.
 Kaiser, Toward an Exegetical Theology, 149.
 Fee and Stuart, How to Read the Bible, 26.
 Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation, 8.
 Ibid., 255.
 See chapter 3, “You will Appear as Fishers,” for the background of this interpretation.
Significance Before Application (Mark 3:14–15): The Mark 3 Commission and Its Implications for Social Action, Part 1
And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons (Mark 3:14-15).
“You need to be more practical.”
These are the dreaded words no preacher or Bible teacher wants to hear, particularly if he or she wants to be considered effective and well-liked in modern, contemporary church circles. I am among the unfortunate who have been admonished and, even, scolded with these words more often than I’d like to admit. Yet, I am not ready to yield to the tyranny of the practical.
As modern Christians, particularly evangelicals, we often measure biblical information (teaching, preaching, sermons, commentary, Bible studies, etc.) by its immediate practical value. The up-side—Christians want to be obedient to Scripture. This is a good thing. The down-side—a preoccupation with the “practical” can too often dissuade us from thinking deeply about the significance of a text, the kind of reflection needed for developing well-thought through application, which ought to be based on an appropriate and authoritative reading (i.e., an exegesis) of the text. The path to application can be too quickly made and too frequently unconnected to the original intention of the biblical author.
Wasted Evangelism is not intended to be “practical.” However, I have worked hard throughout the last five chapters to uncover the meaning of the Markan texts under consideration, ending each study with the significance of these texts for church communities, for church leaders, and for those who call themselves Christian. Each chapter unfolded more fully the nature and content of the gospel we are to believe (Mark 1:1, 14–15), seeking to answer the question, How should my faith, our church, our discipleship, our evangelism be informed and formed by the narrative of Mark’s Gospel?
I mentioned early in this book that chapters 1 through 5 were originally papers presented at meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society between 2006 and 2012. At the conclusion of my paper on the Mark 1:17 “fishers of men” text (chapter 3 in this volume), I made this assertion:
The fisher metaphor is appropriate, not just narrowly for individual, private salvation, but more broadly for applications, activities, and outcomes of social action and justice, as well.
I offered this deduction based on the antecedent OT meaning of the fisher concept and on my conclusion that the Mark 3 commission (vv. 13–15) was the inaugural fulfillment of the Mark 1:17 promise that Jesus would create his followers to become fishers of men. After I finished presenting the paper, during the Q&A, a very nice gentleman (a pastor I believe) asked a reasonable follow-up question: “Does that mean ‘casting out demons’ is social action?” Without hesitation I responded, “Yes, it does.” As a result of my overly confident off-the-cuff response, I began crafting a longer answer. This chapter, in part, is that longer answer:
In light of the promise to be created fishers, what is the significance of the Mark 3 commission for Christians and church communities on this side of the text?
This final chapter is a far cry from any “how to” regarding specific, practical application. Although there is a measure of exegetical investigation regarding the Mark 3 commission, this chapter, more so, offers a model for deciphering the significance of the text. Here, I will focus on the process for developing application that reflects obedience to the text and a legitimate range of potential outcomes, which I posit can be related to social action that addresses the issues of poverty that surround local congregations.
This will be as practical as I get!
The Gospel, Deep Enough to Include God’s Concern for the Poor
The previous five chapters have been a series of in-depth exegetical arguments, demonstrating that Mark’s programmatic content links the gospel and evangelism to social action. Thus, social action falls legitimately within the realm of evangelism. I have endeavored to show that a narrow, proclamation-centered definition of evangelism based exclusively on word-studies and isolated proof-texts does not match the narrative meaning of the gospel, particularly as Mark presents the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (1:1). Clearly a mere verbal- and cognitive-based definition of evangelism solely related to the etymology of the word “evangelize” is too narrow and devoid of much of the biblical content that Mark gives his Gospel narrative.
As the previous studies have shown, Mark relies on OT backgrounds and contexts (e.g., 1:2–3) to fill the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:1) with defining and programmatic content. Typically, it is accepted that the gospel is defined by incorporating various OT motifs and concepts such as God’s dominion, the Exodus, exile, redemption, and even sacrificial propitiation and forgiveness. The previous chapters have shown that the same OT contexts that Mark harnesses to give programmatic definition to the gospel also clearly contain correspondences and direct references regarding socio-economic relationships and community responsibilities toward the economically vulnerable and the poor.
As the five previous studies have demonstrated, social action, therefore, can be evangelism.
In chapter 3, “You Will Appear as Fishers,” an examination of Mark 1:17, I concluded that the promise to be created “fishers of men” finds its inaugural fulfillment and premiere “application” in the Mark 3 commission; namely, fishers are those who are with Jesus and who, then, will be sent out to preach and to have authority to cast out the demons. Through the Markan context and antecedent OT background, I showed that the “fisher metaphor is appropriate for applications, activities, and outcomes of social action and justice”([x-ref]). This implies that the Mark 3 commission to preach (v. 14c) and to have authority to cast out the demons (v. 15) can be associated with social action and, thus, can be legitimate obedience to Jesus-Messiah and faithful application of the gospel.
Close examinations of Mark’s programmatic understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ (1:1–3), the fisher-promise (1:17), the Mark 3 sandwich and Beelzebul episode (3:20–35), the Mark 4 parable of the Sower who Sows, and the account of the widow vs. duplicitous scribes in Mark 12 all have shown that the gospel itself is defined broadly and deeply enough to include God’s concern for the poor. Fisher-followers of Jesus, the Messiah-King (1:1, 17), are commissioned to demonstrate the presence of God’s kingdom (3:14–15), which is the gospel of God (1:14–15). As part of the application process (that is, thinking deeply and more thoroughly about application), the following seeks to show that the significance of “preaching” and “casting” (3:14–15) provides a basis for building social action outcomes into a church’s evangelistic activities.
 This chapter was originally, in part, presented at the annual meeting of the Northeast Region of the Evangelical Theological Society, which met at the Alliance Theological School, Nyack, NY, April 2013.
 The full text encompasses vv. 13–19, which includes the list of the twelve in vv. 16–19; however this study more specifically will focus on vv. 14–15, the Mark 3 commission component.
 My working definition for biblical social action: a means to ensure that the blessings and benefits of living in society reach to the poor (see the Introduction for an extended explanation).
 All the previous studies/chapters in this volume address the wide range of OT texts related to the poor; see chapter 5, “Idolatry and Poverty,” specifically for a list of OT texts and contexts Mark utilizes in his Gospel which refer to the economically vulnerable and issues of justice.
 See chapter 3, “You will Appear as Fishers” for the full exegetical argument.
Sermon trailer . . . from my upcoming Easter Morning (4/4/21) Sermon this coming Sunday . . .
It is Easter morning. It is a day of hope. It is also a good day for Christians, for churches, to remember the seriousness of the resurrection and, as church, their place in this world, their place in their community. Our place in this community. So, while we can and should receive this beautiful hope that Easter brings to our minds—resurrection, life after death, a hope for eternal life—I also want to provoke some seriousness into our imagination, an Easter imagination. My big question this morning will be, “How do others know it’s true, that Jesus is resurrection from the dead?”
Gordon Fee, a professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where I did graduate school, once said: “When will we get Easter messages that proclaim the meaning and reality of the resurrection for the church and not repeated sermons on ‘proving the resurrection’ to Christians over and over again?” This is the view I will be taking this morning on the resurrection as we remember that first Easter. What does it mean—what is the reality of the resurrection for us, for CPC in The Hill, today . . . I plan here to give at least one meanings . . . a whole series could be done on the various implications of the resurrection . . . I will only focus on one . . . a rather significant one at that.
Imagine the early church—they would never be meeting around supper tables with strangers and unequals, committing treason and promoting social and cultural disorder, erasing boundaries and redefining—restoring, actually—the concept of humanity unless it--unless the resurrection was true. Meeting together was crazy. Social and cultural suicide. Life threatening as a penalty of law--both Jewish and Roman. Treasonous. Potentially an offense that could wind them up shunned at the least from the community, by their families, and worse, as entertainment in the gladiatorial arena or on crosses to be set ablaze as night-lights for the streets of Rome. The resurrection was so very real to these early house churches. Simply had to be. These house churches were the proof of the Resurrection.
How did Jews and Gentiles, elite-Greeks and barbarians, the educated and the uneducated know it’s all true—that Jesus rose from the dead, that all the rumors and excuses for an empty tomb were, indeed, fake news; that Jesus, truly, was risen from the dead? And not just those first few thousand that came to believe, but how did those out-there, in the wider empire, 10, 20, 50, 100, 300 years later know that Jesus was raised from the dead the 3rd Day?
It was those gatherings of strangers and unequals around a supper table in homes and workshops and back rooms and catacombs that were the proof. It is with all my heart and mind, that I find in the pages of the New Testament, that the proof of the resurrection of Jesus is the local, gathered church.
Searching for an Easter message: How did the first church gatherings prove Jesus was raised from the dead?
How did the first church gatherings prove that Jesus was raised from the death?
At supper-tables, in homes and workshops across the empire, where believers, men, women, children, slaves (free and bound) from multi-ethnic and multi-demographic and multi-economic backgrounds (aka, strangers and unequals) ate together and lifted a cup to the resurrected traitor Jesus Christ, listened to apostolic teaching, and joined in a weak, yet unconquerable fellowship in the face of danger behind every social interaction with those outside that table fellowship.
This is how they proved Jesus was resurrected and now sat at the right of God.
This was their apologetics.
Extra: How did the early church succeed in outlasting many Caesars and an Empire?
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’” (Matthew 4:8-10).
Recently I was in a conversation regarding Jesus’ temptation in the desert. I have always found it rather remarkable that Satan offered to Jesus what already belonged to Him, namely “all the kingdoms of the world.” The temptation wasn’t to possess the kingdoms—Jesus already possessed them—but in how Jesus would respond to the offer.
You and I would have responded, “These are already mine.” Jesus could have responded this way and it would have been all true. Jesus’ response could have been founded on privilege, His status with the Father. But yet, He did not respond in this way.
Satan was attempting to get Jesus to act, to respond from His position as God’s Son. We can see this with the first temptation: “If you are really God’s Son, turn these stones into bread.” In the second, the same: “If you are the Son of God, jump—and God will catch you. Prove it.” In each case, however, Jesus did not respond from the privilege of His status as God’s Son. If He would have, that would have been the end of it—the end of it for all of us. No cross. No salvation. You see, Jesus did not give in to the temptation to assert His special status. No. Not at all. Jesus responded with the only thing that mattered (albeit in different ways, but still each time the same): “I will keep God’s word; I remain faithful to God’s covenant.”
You and I—as I have heard so often—like to boast in our special status with God. For some reason (pride, most likely) we think we impress the non-Christian world with this stand. This is not the way.
While this is true in that a Christian is a son of God, an adopted child of God, the temptation is to prop ourself up in front of others with this position rather than do what is necessary and the only thing that matters: will I keep God’s word and be faithful to His covenant?
Sure, you say you are God’s child, you say you are a king (or queen as it may be). I get the royalty you claim. I know the proof-texts. But what we need to know is: will you keep God’s word and be faithful to His covenant?
The temptation was not in possessing all the kingdoms of the world, but in humbling Himself—even to the point of death on the cross (e.g., Philippians 2:5-11).
This is a real temptation for the Christian: To assert one’s privileged status with God before a watching world. I see this all the time on social media and in conversation among Christians (and in the presence of non-Christians). I even hear this in sermons, instructing Christians to assert their privileged status with God. While most certainly true, this is not the way of discipleship, not the way of following Jesus. All that matters is one thing: God wants to know, the watching world wants to know, even Satan wants to know, will you (will I) keep God’s word and be faithful to His covenant?
Some quotes of importance from my reading this morning . . . as we approach Easter we reminisce the empty tomb, and rightly so, but we should also reimagine that the local church is the reality of the resurrection . . . the gathered church in a local place, in the flesh of the community, are sites of the resurrection presence of Jesus in the here and now. Yet, the way in which a church demonstrates the power of the resurrection is by living out a cruciformed (cross-oriented) life among its congregation and among the community that surrounds it . . .
“. . . these [church] communities gathered as sites of resurrection presence.”
“Resurrection presence can only be enjoyed and inhabited by grace through cruciform postures of self-giving love, service, and celebration.”
“. . . resurrection presence is encountered wherever people gather in the name of Jesus and adopt a cruciform identity.”
“It is no less countercultural in our day where a variety of pressures force churches to attract increasing numbers of people by appealing to cultural desires that are subtly shaped by the present evil age . . . The redeeming presence of heaven is brought to earth in cruciform communities, transforming our imaginations so that we see the world as God sees it. It is not a world of limited goods where we all must hoard and protect our stuff and pursue our own selfish desires.”
“Churches enjoy the superabundant realities of heaven by enacting cross-oriented community behaviors that we find throughout the Gospels and Paul’s letters: confession of sin and forgiveness, service to one another, self-giving love embodied through meeting one another’s needs and offering hospitality to one another—especially to those on the margins of our communities.”
~Timothy Gombis, Power in Weakness: Paul's Transformed Vision for Ministry (p. 52–54)
My summary on why the church of Acts and the early church grew and increased (against all likelihood and odds)
After spending a number of years reading primary sources and books on the early church and asking the question, why did the church grow and increase when there was nothing—absolutely nothing about it that measured any inkling of potential success? Why? I have—at least at this point—have come to the conclusion . . .
Outsiders, families, and friends, they saw in these small gatherings we call house-churches that all that was promised in their message, their gospel—a God who loves, salvation, resurrection, bodily eternal life, sonship, heirship—was truly for all who believed (and not just the elite, wealthy, and socially privileged, but for anyone who believed) because they saw—in homes, around tables—all were welcome, none had more honor than another—and these small gathered groups risked everything by breaking bread with strangers and unequals and in lifting that fourth cup and proclaiming Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord.
This is why the church grew.
Lord, do it again.
Lord, do this with us.
Chip M. Anderson, advocate for biblical social action; pastor of an urban church plant in the Hill neighborhood of New Haven, CT; husband, father, author, former Greek & NT professor; and, 19 years involved with social action.