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Who said, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”?

Posted on Oct.10, 2009. Filed in Exodus, Isaiah, Malachi, Mark. Average rating: 2.0 / 10 (Rate It).

The gospel of Mark begins with a prophecy, “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'”. Mark uses this prophecy to introduce John the Baptist. But where does it come from?

Mark attributes the prophecy to Isaiah:

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”‘. [Mark 1:2-3, NRSV]

If we look at Isaiah, however, we see that only the second half of the prophecy is present:

“A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'” [Isaiah 40:3, NRSV]

For the first part of the prophecy, we must turn to either Exodus or Malachi:

“I am going to send an angel in front of you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared.” [Exodus 23:20, NRSV]

“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.” [Malachi 3:1a, NRSV]

Mark’s attribution of the first part of the prophecy to Isaiah is thus an error: it isn’t written in the prophet Isaiah “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”, but only in Exodus and Malachi.

N.B. All posts are written in a style sympathetic to the claim of Biblical error, even in cases where the author ("Errancy") disagrees with the claim. See the About page for the site's philosophy.

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Comments

  1. 1
    WisdomLover

    I think this allegation of error is an example of applying a 20th century standard to 1st century writing. Mark mentions Isaiah here because he wants to call attention to the part of the quotation from Isaiah.

    Today, we might not think much of some one who cited his sources like this. But this was written in the first century. The fact that there is any citation at all is the more interesting point. Mark really wants his reader to pay attention to what Isaiah said.

    The part from Malachi is Messianic. What could be so important about the part from Isaiah?

    Well, Mark is clearly identifying John the Baptizer as the voice calling. The voice is calling to prepare the way in the wilderness for the Lord. In the subsequent passages, Mark makes it crystal clear that the Lord whose way is to be prepared in the wilderness is Jesus. So, Mark is saying, in essence, that John is calling to prepare the way in the wilderness for Jesus. But when you look at Isaiah, the voice is calling to prepare the way in the wilderness for YHWH.

    Mark is saying, through the reference to Isaiah, that Jesus is YHWH!

    If, as many scholars today believe, Mark is the earliest Gospel. This then shows that the full deity of Christ was a belief of the earliest Christians.

    BTW – None of the other Gospels waste any time affirming the full deity of Christ either, three of them have an identification of Jesus as God in Chapter 1. All of them use the reference to Isaiah 40:3 within the first three chapters. So, for the full deity of Christ, it doesn’t really matter who wrote first.

  2. 2
    Errancy

    I agree: This isn’t a big problem. Whatever the literary conventions concerning quotations were, they weren’t the same as ours. It would be both anachronistic and uncharitable to insist that everything after “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah” has to come from Isaiah.

  3. 3
    Andrew

    The Byzantine/Received Text reads “prophets”, not “Isaiah.” This wouldn’t be a problem if you were using the Authorized Version.

    Mar 1:2 KJV
    (2) As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

    From the perspective of a Biblical Inerrantist, it hardly seems fair to have to defend quotations from an NSRV, or any other translation of the Critical Alexandrian text.

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