Issue No. 37 17 - 23 Sep 2012
The Death of John the Baptizer (Mark 6.17-29) - By Mr Quek Tze-Ming

head of JohnThe account of how John the Baptizer died occurs as a flashback in Mark's Gospel. This account gives us an opportunity to make some comparisons.

The Herod in Mark 6 is Herod Antipas, one of the sons of the Herod the Great. Herod the Great was the King of Judaea who, according the Matthew's Gospel, sought to murder the infant Jesus (Matt 2.16). Herod Antipas was not a happy man. Until his father’s last minute change of will, he was the heir to the whole of his father’s kingdom. But, upon the death of Herod the Great, the kingdom was divided between three sons. Herod Antipas only inherited the smaller regions of Galilee and Perea, with the other portions ruled by two other brothers. Moreover, the Romans, who were the real power-brokers in the region, had specifically refused the title of “King” to all three brothers. Technically, Herod Antipas was the Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea; not “King.”

Mark calls him “King Herod” in this story. That was the title Herod Antipas always wanted but never got. This discrepancy presents a problem for some historians, but I don't think Mark is being inaccurate. I think Mark purposely calls Herod “King” to mock him, and to contrast him with a true anointed king (who might that be?).

This “King” Herod has married his brother’s wife. He divorced his former wife so that he could marry Herodias, who was not only his sister-in-law, but also his half-niece. According to contemporary sources, Herodias was the daughter of another half-brother. The Herod family tree is complicated, full of incestuous intermarriages. According to Lev 18.16, marrying one’s sister-in-law was immoral, against the Law of Moses. Small wonder then that John the Baptizer spoke up against this marriage. This “King” Herod Antipas is immoral. He disregards the Law of Moses. Compare that with the one even demons acknowledge to be “the Holy One of God.” (1.24)

Herod’s marriage to Herodias, one suspects, was not just about lust, but also self-serving ambition. For someone who wanted to rule over the Jewish nation, Herod Antipas had a big problem. He was deeply conscious, as his father was, that his family was from Edom. They were not fully Jewish. To win the favour of the Jewish religious elite, his father had started a grand rebuilding project for the Jerusalem Temple. What about Herod Antipas himself? What could he do to show that he was “King” of the Jews? He could marry Herodias, who coveniently happened to be the daughter of a Jewish princess. That way, he could take on some legitimacy in his bloodline. Compare that with the one who was descended from the great King David, the one who is called “Son of David” as he enters Jerusalem (10.47; 11.9-10).

And so, when John the Baptist comes on the scene, announcing the arrival of the Kingdom of God, speaking of a Coming One to appear, it must have sent shivers down Herod Antipas’ spine. If the Kingdom is coming, if an Anointed King is coming, then Herod Antipas or anybody else cannot be king. All the more when John starts pointing out this “King” Herod had serious shortcomings both in morals and in his family line.

It’s not surprising that Herodias also bore a grudge against John. If people started listening to John, then both husband and wife would lose the positions of power and privilege. At the opportune time, Herodias seizes the moment. At Herod’s birthday party, in front of all the great and mighty men of court, Herodias’ daughter dances before Herod and wins his favour. Perhaps, there is a hint of erotic dancing here, and incestuous lust. The delighted Herod Antipas, impulsively or drunkenly offers the girl whatever she wishes, up to half his kingdom. As a puppet ruler of Rome, Herod does not have the right to give half his kingdom away. But he makes this rash and unreal promise anyway. All these actions to show further how unfit this “King” is.

The daughter consults her mother Herodias, and asks for the the head of John on on a platter. Herod Antipas does not want to kill him. In 6.20 we are told that Herod knew John to be a righteous and holy man. He feared John, and liked to listen to him. But he has made a promise before the great and mighty men of his court. He will lose face if he does not keep the oath. Herod Antipas considers his own self-interest more important than the life of an innocent man. Thus a prophet of God is executed. It will not be the last time in this Gospel that a ruling authority submits to the will of others and executes an innocent man. Compare what was served at Herod's grotesque birthday feast with that of another feast, when a compassionate one fed 5000 (6.30-44).

Herod Antipas is self-serving. His ambition to be king means that others must serve him. His interests are more important than the Law of Moses. His interests are more important than the life of an innocent man. He takes life away. Compare that with the one who has come not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (10.45).

Mark's story forces us to ask some questions. Which kind of king do we follow? Of which kingdom are we members? The kingdom of Herod, which puts self-interest above everybody or everything else? Or the kingdom of Jesus, who gave himself to serve others, who rescued unworthy people at great personal cost? We call ourselves Christians. But in our daily lives, if we think only for ourselves, advance ourselves at the expense of others, use other people so that we get our own way, we move in the realm and kingdom of Herod Antipas. Jesus will warn his followers later in Mark 8.15: "Watch out for the yeast of ... Herod." Watch out that we do not allow ourselves to be contaminated with this self-serving way of life.

Upcoming Course

Disarming Your Critics : Doing Good in 1 Peter (commencing on 27 Sep 2012) NT314 (1.5 CR)

Lecturer: Dr Eileen Poh
Venue: Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church
Starts Thursday, 27 September, 2012
Time: 7.15pm - 10.00pm
Dates: Sep 27, Oct 4, 11, 18, 25, Nov 1
Tel: 6227-6815 (BGST)


This is a study of 1 Peter, with particular emphasis on the dilemma which first-century Christians in Asia Minor faced in their different relationships with non-Christians (2:11-4:6; 4:12-19). In these relationships, Christians were in a subordinate position: Christian citizens to non-Christian governing authorities (2:113-17), Christian slaves to their non-Christian masters (2:18-25), and Christian wives to their non-Christian husbands (3:1-6). These Christians faced criticism and hostility from non-Christians. It is in this context that Peter encourages his readers to “do good” to disarm their critics and win them over to Christ. “Doing good” is an important theme in the letter, but Peter is silent on the meaning of “doing good”. We will examine how Peter’s readers would have understood “doing good”, and how “doing good” could silence their critics and even win them over to Christ. At a time when Christians in Singapore face criticism and even hostility, can “doing good” be a way to disarm our critics? If so, how would this work out in our social relationships?

Please visit our website: http://www.bgst.edu.sg/courses-and-events/296-disarming-your-critics--doing-good-in-1-peter

Please sign up by Friday 21 September.

Upcoming Open Lecture and Course
Open Lecture and Course
Chapel News

Dr Arun Sarkar, Principal of the Buntain Theological College from Calcutta will be our chapel speaker on 26 September. Chapel begins at 12 pm.

Course Schedule for 2012-2013 Semester 1
For more information on the Course Schedule, please visit our website: http://www.bgst.edu.sg/media/files/courses/2012-2013-sem1.pdf:

2012-2013 Sem 1

37 Jalan Pemimpin, #06-05 Block B, Clarus Centre, S(577177).
Tel: 6227-6815 Fax: 6255-3686 Email: inquiry@bgst.edu.sg
To access previous issues of BTW click here | To access BGST website click here.
To subscribe click here | To unsubscribe click here.
Bookmark and Share