Friday, July 06, 2012

1.2 Mark's Presentation

... continued from the previous post.
Mark's Presentation
The Gospel of Mark divides nicely into two parts.  The first part is very upbeat and culminates with Peter's acknowledgement that Jesus is the Messiah (1:1-8:30). Jesus is healing and casting out demons. He is performing miracles and teaching. He is getting into conflict but his opponents hardly provide any challenge.

[insert graph]

The second half begins with a turning point (8:31-15:47). Jesus is identified as the messiah for the first time by another human being (8:29). Then he tells them he is going up to Jerusalem to die, the theme that will dominate the second half of the book. There is a sense of foreboding, of inevitability, that climaxes in Jesus' crucifixion and the centurion confessing that Jesus is the Son of God (15:39).

Then what we have of Mark 16 is an epilogue where Jesus' resurrection is announced. Most experts on the text of Mark do not think the verses after 16:8 were originally part of Mark. Among these experts, some think Mark originally ended right there at 16:8. Others like me suspect that the original ending was lost at a very early date, maybe even before Matthew was written. If so, we can imagine that those verses went on to tell about Jesus appearing to Peter and the other disciples in Galilee (16:7).

[insert text box on the ending of Mark and textual criticism]

So the Gospel of Mark has a fairly discernible overall structure to it.  It's much harder to tell where if anywhere the story should be broken down within these two halves.  We can divide it in a way that seems good to us--by geography, for example.  A lot of times when we do this sort of thing--like create an outline based on the ideas we see in a book--it says a lot more about us than about the text itself. A good outline looks for clear clues in the wording of the book (words like "therefore" or "after these things").

When the early Christian Papias described Mark, he suggested that Mark did not put down the events of Jesus' ministry in order. [1] He may have had his own reasons for saying such at thing, [2] but it fits with the impression we get from Mark.  There are collections of material that go together--the controversies of Mark 2, the final events of Jesus' last week. But the overwhelming majority of Mark is simply paragraph after paragraph strung together with the word "and." [3]

And we should remember that Mark is technically anonymous. Nowhere in the text of Mark itself does the author give his name. [4] Papias, writing at the beginning of the 100s AD points to a Mark as its author, presumably the Mark of 1 Peter 5:13 (cf. the John Mark of Acts 12:12). This is such an early tradition that we need to take it very seriously.  Mark was not an eyewitness to Jesus, but he apparently drew much of his material from Peter's preaching. [5]

However, if we really want to hear the Gospel of Mark, we will not bring in any of the information from the last paragraph until after we have already listened carefully to what the text says. One of the biggest challenges to the way Christians read the Bible today is that we don't listen to the Bible but see ourselves in its words like a mirror. We inadvertently miss its clues because we are so sure what it surely must say. John Mark may have written it, but we shouldn't take him into consideration until after we've let the text itself have its say...

[1] Eusebius, Hist. 3.39.14-15.

[2] For example, he may have wanted to give preference to the order of some other gospel.

[3] To me, this is an indication that Mark was originally an Aramaic speaker.  Almost every sentence in Hebrew and Aramaic begins with the word "and."

[4] I have no problem with the idea that a woman might have authored Mark. In fact I wish it were true. But given the general nature of things in the ancient world, it seems doubtful.

[5] We need to have a good reason to reject such an early tradition, while remembering at the same time that Mark would have likely felt free to paraphrase, supplement, and rearrange material to bring out his message more clearly.


John C. Gardner said...

Can you recommend a good commentary from an Arminian perspective on Mark? I look forward to reading your works on Jesus.

James E. Snapp, Jr. said...


I'm not seeing the graph or the text box onscreen. You may want to check the code-parameters or something.

Yours in Christ,

James Snapp, Jr.