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.
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.