Introduction to Mark

Course: Introduction to the New Testament: Gospel and Acts

Lecture: Introduction to Mark

I. Previous

We have surveyed, thus far, the historical background to the New Testament subdivided into political, religious and social categories. Secondly, we have looked at various critical methods or tools (critical in this context means analytical) under two major heading: historical criticism, focusing on source, form and redaction criticism and literary criticism focusing on narrative criticism. The digital file series and our textbook contain four chapters with corresponding digital files that have been divided up into lectures.

II. Introduction to the Four Gospels

The introduction to each of the four Gospels will be covered one at a time; although the canonical sequence is Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. There is wide spread but not unanimous agreement among scholars that says that Mark is the earliest written Gospel for reasons discussed already under the synoptic problem in the first criticism. So we will look at Mark first but realizing that we will be unable to determine chronologically whether Luke or Matthew comes next. We will simply proceed in that traditional canonical sequence of Matthew first and then Luke. A sizeable majority of scholars across the theological spectra agree that John was the last and latest of the canonical Gospels to be written. In teaching this course in its in-class format, the class is often divided into groups to facilitate class discussion. This type of discussion would be similar to a home Bible study. It would not be in a preaching context nor a formal lecture setting but in more interactive contexts where others can ask questions. The significance of materials presented by the facilitator might be challenged or the leader might be asked to justify him or herself as to why this information is worth discussing. As a result, there is no formally prepared extensive supplement lectures to go with the three synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. Although we will see, consistently, slides illustrating and many lectures supplementing our discussion of structure and outline.

III. Discussion Question

Nevertheless, one can simulate some of the results of these kinds of conversations. Again, students may decide, having heard this introductory segment, to pause the sound file for some time after they have read chapter six on an Introduction to the Gospel of Mark, of the most relevant details of the chapter. This could be among Christians who the students envisions themselves with currently or in a future ministry. And again, as with our last supplementary file, some suggestions were given on the kinds of observations a group discussion might take. By means is it suggested that responses have been highlighted. Indeed, these introductory comments will not even be as comprehensive as the suggestive remarks made two lectures back.

IV. Standard Topics

But, if we begin with Mark and consider such standard topics in commentaries, surveys and introductions, also, New Testament books such as authorship, dates, audience, circumstances of composition, major themes or theological emphasis to focus on the one most central, dominant, and sensitive and perhaps even unifying theme of Mark. We observe that the author, according to traditional Christian attribution if that be accepting is John Mark, the sometimes companion of Apostles Paul and Peter as described in the Book of Acts and in the closing greetings at the end of 1st Peter. Interestingly, a comparatively obscure character who would not likely have been chosen for pseudonymous attribution of the Gospel merely to give weight to that which was written by some otherwise unknown early Christian for the fact that John Mark is not a major character in apostolic Christianity, at least as presented in the New Testament. His mother owns a home in Jerusalem where Christians meet, as we learn in Acts 12. He is perhaps best known for leaving Paul and Barnabas midway through their first missionary journey in Act 13 and returning to Jerusalem for whatever reason, we don’t know. But in Acts 15, when it comes time to Paul and Barnabas to set out on Paul’s second missionary journey, Paul doesn’t want to take Mark for that very reason and Barnabas argues for Mark. A dispute arises so that Barnabas, in fact, chooses to separate and go with Mark. Paul then acquires new traveling companions for his second missionary journey. Later references in the later Pauline Epistles suggest that Paul and Mark were reconciled, and as early Christian tradition would have it, Mark got most of information from the Apostle Peter. Nevertheless, the failure of this individual, one whom tradition has at times ranked with the otherwise unnamed figure in Mark 14:52, who fled, accidently naked, from the Garden of Gethsemane. This suggests, even as we discuss the early Christian claims of authorship, one who knew failure and obscurity and ignominious behavior but one who also knew the many extra changes that Jesus gives and knew of repentance and reconciliation.

V. Mark

Turning to the date of the Gospel of Luke, we are correct in suggesting in our introduction, that it may have been written as early as AD 62. If Luke depended on Mark, obviously he must be earlier though since we have no hard evidence of Peter with Mark in Rome as at the end of 1st Peter, prior to the 60’s, we may need to imagine a date around the beginning of the 60’s of the first century. For those who are persuaded of a later date for Luke, as we will also discuss, then the most common time in which Mark is placed is somewhere between AD 65 and 70. When Nero’s persecution, which expands AD 64 to 68, was unleashed, Christian disciples in and around Rome were experiencing official governmental persecution for the first time in the fledgling Christian movement’s history. It could have been very easy for them to become discouraged and tempted to give up their faith in Jesus saving their physical lives. But at some time before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, which is only hinted at very cryptically in prophesies attributed to Jesus, but then described much more clearly in Luke in his parallel account of those prophesies in Mark 13 and Luke 21. Either way, the time of the composition of Mark’s Gospel was close to or after the period when Christianity was viewed as a Christian sect. Once again, this team of hardship of ignominy and following the most Christian traditions, it would appear that Mark, following the memoirs of Peter was writing perhaps from Rome probably to Roman Christians during this period, just before or in the mist of neurotic persecution.

It should not surprise us that one of the distinctive and theological emphases of Mark’s Gospel is the recurring failure, misunderstanding, confusion and premature braggadocio and denials and betrayals of Jesus and his teaching and ministry and person. We see it throughout the Gospel the climatic end in verse 8, so troubling to many in the early Christian community that they became convinced that a longer ending was necessary to append to the Gospel and one which destroys esteem in this climax entirely. It has been observed that as the male disciples frequently fall into these patterns of misunderstanding and failure. The women followers of Jesus throughout the bulk of the narrative of Mark, beginning with those fleeing from his tomb said nothing to anyone for they were afraid. Of course this is not the end of the story. They came around as the other Gospels tell us, as indeed Mark’s community would already have known because they could not have become Christians without hearing the very core of the Gospel story that involved both the crucifixion and resurrection, but by ending abruptly and traumatically for those who knew there was more to the story. Mark very vividly communicates and highlights the failure of all Jesus’ followers, not for the sake of failure, but because, precisely the community knew there was more to the story. Pentecost occurred after the resurrection and that those followers of Jesus became empowered, first baptized and then later filled with the spirit to begin to proclaim Jesus around the empire. If they could do it, then the beleaguered Roman Christians could have reassurance they could survive and come out victorious whether through martyrdom or through preservation and subsequent Christian ministry on the other side of their suffering, even in this life. There are many other significant themes in March though not as many are either dominant or distinctive to Mark, since more than 90% of Mark reappears in one form or another in either Matthew or Luke.

We return now however to a consideration of Mark’s outline and structure; the PowerPoint slide denotes undoubtedly as simple a subdivision of the Gospel as is possible into two rough halves which contrast each other in a number of ways with the hinge or pivot or fulcrum text being the story of Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ on the road to Caesarea, Philippi. Leading up to this story, the narrative of Mark has highlighted in rapid action packed, fast paces fashion, Jesus’ spectacular ministry, particularly of miracles. As stressed, the number of ways he has disclosed himself, as Chapter 1:1 puts it as the Christ, the Son of God, even if many had not yet fully recognized him as such. It is a section filled with optimism the hope that Jesus’ ministry kindled, even at times misguided optimism about the nature of Jesus’ Messianic ministry. But then in the second half of the Gospel, beginning with 8:31 in the passion predictions, the narrative time slows down and the focus on miracles, largely, though not exclusively gives way to a greater focus on Jesus’ teaching. Jesus’ popularity gives way to growing rejection, the optimism even among the disciples give way to a growing pessimism because they are not coping with these predictions of crucifixion even though predictions of resurrection on the other side come with them.

VI. Structure: "a passion narrative with an extended introduction" (Martin Kahler)

The overall picture and package, as a result, now more than a hundred years earlier, going back to the famous label of Martin Kahler at the turn of the 19th and 20th century to give one of the more famous descriptions of the Gospels as passive narratives with extended introductions. The nicely balanced structure suggests that this does not do adequate justice to Mark’s intension nor do those approaches that reverse the emphases and as with Robert Gundry in the early 1990s see an overwhelming positive theme of Jesus’ triumph throughout even through the passion because he is portrayed as a reliable predictor. Had Jesus truly wanted to emphasize one or the other of these clusters of contrasting themes, the most obvious way would have been to dramatically shorted one section and emphasize the other. Instead, it would appear that he wanted to show Jesus as both human and divine, both a Christ figure, which in Jewish background sometimes could be used synonymously with the title Son of God and vice versa as well as a suffering servant who would go to the cross for the sins of humankind. We would then proceed to unpack that outline in a fully detail and proceed to the next slide with slight modifications, we observe that at numerous junctures in the Gospel of Mark. Mark as narrator appears to bring a section to a close by a climax of the rejection or hostility and/or separation of Jesus and his disciples, a withdrawal from those settings of rejections or misunderstandings or hostilities with a brand new scene or setting almost as in modern drama as one would close the close the curtain on one scene or act and then open it on another.

So, in Mark 3:6, we have, comparatively early on, compared to the other Gospels after a series of conflict stories, flash controversy stories, flash pronouncement stories in 2:1-3:6. The summary statement: that the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians on how they might kill Jesus. But Mark doesn’t follow up on that comment in any way. Instead, in a new paragraph, a new scene change and we read that Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake. A large crowd from Galilee follows and good things begin to follow that as well and it would appear Jesus has a new lease on life. Again when we come to chapter 6:1, Jesus comes for the first time in Mark’s narrative to his hometown of Nazareth and perhaps, unexpectedly, teaching in the synagogue and amazing men with his teaching and wisdom that he has demonstrated as a hometown boy but also taking offense at him. At the end of verse three, Jesus says only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house, a prophet is without honor. And he could not do any miracles there except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them and so he was amazed at their lack of faith.

Once again there is an immediate scene change. Jesus went around teaching from village to village just as after the scene change in chapter 3:7. He calls and informally names his twelve followers. He again moves to another territory and now prepares to send these twelve out on their first mission two by two apart from him but with the same authority and the same kind of ministry commissioned to them. Further reason to suspect that these are indeed indented literary scenes in Mark’s narrative. We skip ahead once again to Mark 8:26 just before the climactic concession on the road to Caesarea, Philippi. We have the warning against the yeast of the Pharisees and in 8:15 coming on the heels of the skeptical demand for a full proof sign that Jesus refused to give to them. The disciples proceed to misunderstand when they are in the boat thinking that Jesus was talking about literal leaven bread. Jesus rebukes them in verse 17; do you still not understand? Are your hearts hardened?

VII. The Good News According to Mark (E. Schweizer

By way of contrast whereas the disciples don’t see a blind man receives his physical eye sight in chapter 8:22-26 and yet the so called secret theme that we discussed more fully in our textbook ends that segment with Jesus commanding even this blind man to not to go into the village; either because of the misunderstanding or hostilities that he could expect in going there proclaiming what Jesus has done to him. It would be possible to modify Schweizer’s outline and actually include 8:27-30 in this segment as well as we did in the line graph outline. Because unlike Matthew’s very distinctive version of this account where Peter is praised for his confession with great promises subsequently given to him. Here in Mark’s version in 8:29 after Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Christ. We skip to the warning that Matthew also includes, Mark 8:30 warns them not to tell anyone about him because of the misunderstanding so prevalent of those looking for a military or nationalistic or kingly Messiah, but certainly not the one that Jesus who would suffer and die.

The final segment then, following narrative criticism that seems to be reflected in Mark’s account with a paragraph of literary closure comes at the end of chapter 10. Once again, a contrast between the disciples not understanding earlier in the passage and Bartimaeus but unlike the consistent response of Jesus to such people previously, we read in 10:52, not only did the man receive his sight but he was allowed to follow Jesus along the road. The contrast being much greater, not only with the disciples who didn’t understand but with other characters who acted as spoils for the disciples but yet were not permitted to follow Christ. In chapter 11, every vestige of topical outline seems to have passed except possibly a few verses here and there. One proceeds chronologically with an unrelenting march to the suffering and death of Jesus. Resurrection predicted but never explicitly narrated.

VIII. An Outline of Mark

There is still another way and many other possible ways to outline Mark, but one which commends itself to us, building also on the two main halves of line graph and now once again putting our pivot passage back with the first half. Clearly it can go either way, a function of a pivot or the fulcrum of a lever and that to take the first half of Mark and break it down into shorter segments, perhaps with the conviction that a kind of thematic title reflected in Schweizer’s outline at times over interpret or not account for all of the information enclosed in the sections they label. Though, it is not impossible to superimpose three of our outlines upon each other and have simultaneously reflected genuine insights into Mark’s structure. The third outline, however, has as its distinctive features, smaller groupings or subsections either according to topic or according to literary form. And here’s where a payoff of our study of form criticism comes in. It would appear that Marks has deliberately grouped together in 1:21-45, for example, what some have called a day in the life of Jesus the healer. It’s almost universally recognized that 2:1-3:6 topically grouped, pronouncement of controversy stories, particularly in Matthew, are scattered about in other places and may not be in fully chronological order in any of the synoptics.

Parables, clearly account for the unity of 4:1-34 as do miracles, particularly more spectacular ones, over nature, over demons, over death in 4:35-6:6a and again in 6:30-56. There is also the idea of clean and unclean in parts of chapters 7 and 8. And we have already discussed item number ten on this slide on physical and spiritual eyesight. Then as we attempt to do something similar on our next slide to the second half of Mark and the title, The Death of Christ, extended over the entire half because it reflects on the road to the cross. We now have much more quickly, topical groupings, rather than groupings by literary form. Now, we have a much unrelenting chronological progression, of which was very common in ancient Greco-Roman biographies, both grouping together by form and topic, key episodes from the life and teachings of a key philosophical or religious figures but then a more intensive focus on the events that led up to the death in more chronological order in order to draws lines of cause and effect. Because it was believed, not by any means inappropriately that a key feature of determining the nature and character of a person was how they faced death, once they realized it lay in the future. At the same time that Mark’s two-fold position if it be fair to label this second half of Gospel, the Death of Christ, does occupy a noticeably longer percentage of his biography of Jesus than other Greco-Roman lives that follow this structure and that too is not surprising in light of the Christian message: it was indeed that the atoning death of Jesus as Mark highlights in Mark 10:45 with Jesus saying, ‘I came not to be served but to serve and to give my life a ransom for many.’ It was that conscious choice to provide the ransomed Christ for the sins of the world that distinguished Jesus preeminently from all other great teachers of his day or any day and therefore an even extra measure of attention of events leading up to his death and how he faced it.