Significance Before Application (Mark 3:14–15): The Mark 3 Commission and Its Implications for Social Action, Part 5
The Narrative and Programmatic Significance of to Have Authority to Cast
Mark indicates that Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God (1:14), then offers a summary of the content of that preaching--The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (1:15)—and thus, by implication, the assumed content of the Mark 3 commission to preach (3:14c). We will turn to the importance of the Mark 1:14–15 mission summary later in this section, however it should be noted here that the summary implies that “the gospel” preached (v. 14) is related more fully to the eschatological significance of the kingdom’s arrival—that is, the content of the “preaching” is that God’s reign and rule has invaded the realms of humankind—and not solely about the personal application of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. The kingdom as the content of the gospel to be preached is supported by Mark’s narrative, particularly as the story and plot unfold to reveal Jesus’ authority to cast out demons. The programmatic relationship that links “preaching the gospel of God” (1:14c), its inaugural-kingdom content (v. 15), and its narrative implications extends the significance of the mission summary (1:14–15) to the Mark 3 commission, which have a similar pattern. This section will concentrate on the narrative and programmatic significance of to have authority to cast out the demons (3:15) in order to decipher the significance of the Mark 3 commission to the Christian community on this side of the text.
The difficulty of applying the “casting” texts
The problem of application is plainly evident in our attempts to apply or “make practical” the biblical texts that reference miracles. How do we apply and demonstrate obedience to the creation story (Gen 1), Moses’s rod turned into a snake (Exod 4:2–4), the parting of the sea at the Exodus (Exod 14), the stricken rock that gushed water (Exod 17:6), the talking donkey of Balaam (Numb 22:22–35), the fire called down from the sky by Elijah (1 Kgs 18), or the surviving of the fire-pit and the lion’s den in the Book of Daniel (Dan 3, 6)? As evangelicals, we tend to treasure the miraculous in the Bible, but we are not sure what to do with it. Although most evangelicals believe miracles actually happened as described in the Bible, many are, nonetheless, skeptical how they are supposed to work today in application. Some affirm that miracles take place today and that is how they are applied. Some affirm the “potential” of miracles and/or simply spiritualize them for their personal meaning to the individual. Miraculous events and stories are often too easily “applied” without much consideration for why the stories were told in first place, that is, their literary role in the narrative plot.
On the other hand, rather than apply, many use the casting and other miracles in the gospels as apologetic “proof-texts” for Jesus’ deity and/or to affirm that the disciples had authority from God. Miracles, to some, are used as evidence that the gospel is true—even if that evidence took place long ago in the days of Jesus and the early church. Utilized in this way, miracles are merely turned into cognitive-based instruction, apologetic proofs, or evangelistic tools, rather than for their literary or narrative significance.
The “casting” episodes in Mark’s Gospel fall prey to the same approaches and are often reduced to mere information about the gospel or about Jesus, rather than deciphering the meaning implied by their emplotted use in the narrative. The reader/listener should ask, What role does Mark intend the casting to play in his story? In other words, how does casting out demons contribute to “the sequence of events emplotted” in the narrative? What is the relationship between to have authority and to cast out demons in determining the significance of the Mark 3 commission for the church today? In order to apply more accurately the Mark 3 commission, the emplotted significance of to have authority to cast out the demons (v. 15) must be deciphered.
“To have authority to cast” is the mission
The centrality of casting out demons and unclean spirits in Mark cannot be overstated (1:23–27, 32–34, 39; 3:11; 5:2–8, 13; 6:13; 7:26–30; 9:14–29, 38–41; cf. cf. 3:22–27; 6:7, 13; 8:33; cf. 16:9). Jesus’ authority over demons is “the single hallmark of his activity.” This fits the introductory and programmatic content of the Gospel, which is first initiated in the desert confrontation between Jesus and Satan (1:12–13) and, then, confirmed through multiple casting-events that reveal Jesus-the Stronger Man overtaking Satan-the strongman’s dominion/house (cf. 3:23–27). Jesus’ authority to cast out demons reveals in deed (i.e., in action) the reality of what has been initiated through his appearance as God’s Messiah-King (1:1): the rule and reign of God (his kingdom/house) has been inaugurated (cf. 1:14–15; 3:27). This sets the underlying framework for the narrative plot that explains and corresponds to the Mark 3 commission to have authority to cast out the demons (3:15; cf. 6:7, 13).
The commission in Mark 3, however, is not to cast, but to have authority to cast (v. 15). This is important, for applying “the casting” is not simply the replication or exhibition of exorcism, but is the dynamic association between Jesus’ authority as God’s premiere agent who has appeared to inaugurate his kingdom (1:9–10; 1:14–15) and his created fisher-followers who are to have the same task: as Jesus had authority to cast out demons, so, also, his fisher-followers were commissioned to have authority to cast out the demons (3:15).
Mark’s Gospel associates Jesus’ authority with his activity of “casting.” This is seen first at Jesus’ inaugural ministry-event in which it was observed that he had cast out an unclean spirit (1:25) with authority (exousian, v. 27c). The centrality of Jesus’ authority is also in contrast to the religious/political leadership, first at the inaugural ministry-event (He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes, 1:22b) and, then, later when Jesus was challenged by the temple leadership who asked, “By what authority [exousia] are You doing these things . . . ?” (11:28b). This “authority” for fisher-followers, first commissioned in 3:15 and, then, granted in 6:7, was confirmed later in the parable that Jesus used to explain the role of his faithful followers as they persevere through the eschatological conclusion of history: Jesus, like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house, gives his slaves authority, assigning to each one his task (13:34, author’s translation). So, as fisher-followers who are to be God’s agents for inaugurating his kingdom (the meaning of the Mark 1:17 fisher-promise), Jesus gave them authority to cast out demons (6:7; cf. Matt 10:1; Luke 9:1) in order that they, too, would demonstrate the undoing of Satan’s kingdom/house over the realms of humankind. This is, at least in part, the meaning behind Jesus creating his fisher-followers to be with him (3:14b), for the intimate relationship is also one of imitation—the mission of fisher-followers is the mission of Jesus.
 Refer back to Kuruvilla, Text to Praxis, 72–75.
 Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus, 154, also note p. 145.
 Ibid., 146; also Watts, referring to R. Leivestad, underscores that “each exorcism” was “an instance of binding and plundering” (Christ the Conqueror, 46ff.).
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.