Reactions to the Gospel of Mark

Indulge me, if you will, as I post a homework assignment.  (I guess I’m allowed to.)

I often gloss over the Gospel of Mark because it seems to lack details.  I sometimes associate details with validity.  Mark quickly moves from one scenario to another, often interrupting himself to move to another scenario.  So I put him down, and move to another synoptic Gospel that tells the same story in more detail.  However, as with all scripture, there is something new every time I read this book.  I found more detail in this Gospel as I read it through a lens that was determined to appreciate this Gospel for what it is as it stands alone.  

Mark shows Jesus entrenched in conflict, often impatient and cynical, as exclusive, and secretive.  I find that a lot of this is tied to messianic expectations and his God/human nature.  Jesus seems preoccupied with getting people to understand the true nature of the messiah.  Jesus says to the Pharisees, “you have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition,” (Mark 7:9).  This seems to be an indictment also of their view and expectation of the messiah.  As we have found in our discussions concerning Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, there were views about the messiah that pictured him as a military conqueror (maybe to overthrow Rome), a king from the line of David (maybe again to overthrow Rome—Jesus sets this thought aside in 12:35-37) or as a miracle worker, the “divine-man,” as Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible calls Him.  Despite these prevailing views, Jesus claims that he is to suffer. 

In regards to the military or royal expectations, Jesus does not lay ownership.  While many would expect him to lead the Jews out of Roman bondage, Jesus does such things as to allow Legion (a name possibly reminiscent of a Roman squadron) to flee into pigs instead of being cast into eternity.  He does not take the opportunity to denounce Rome when asked about paying taxes.  In fact, He seems to pay little attention to Rome at all.  However, He is not sitting idly by.  Against common expectation, He quietly leads the religious order (arguably the more tyrannical of empires) to dismantle itself by aligning itself with Rome to see Him crucified.  He does begin a kingdom by leading a revolution, but in a much different way than was expected.

Mark pictures Jesus as secretive, revealing his messianic destiny only to his disciples.  However, it is worth noting that Jesus fully claims his role as the messiah, the King of the Jews, when He is to suffer for it (14:62).  Does Jesus do this in order to avoid pressures to fulfill a role that does not belong to Him?  Does He do this, as some would argue, as a form of reverse psychology?  I am reminded of 7:9 as I ask these questions.  Did Jesus want to keep silent the “human tradition” of the messiah in order that the truth of God’s plan would not be silenced when it came about?  I think allowing Himself to be identified as the messiah by the Jewish people would have thrust Him into a form of “figure-head” leadership; whereby, without doing anything at all, the people would begin to follow Him based on their perceptions of who they thought He should be. His work would have essentially been eclipsed by this “human tradition” of the messiah.

Despite Jesus’ rejection of the common messiah, He isn’t reluctant to heal and cast out demons.  He does not reject His role, His dual nature.  He owns it and tries to redefine it in the eyes of Israel. 

Mark is richer in detail than I remember.  In fact, I enjoy how Mark illustrates Jesus.  I find that many Christians like their Jesus to be “lowly, meek, and mild”—the better to have a personal relationship with, my dear.  It is true that Jesus is those things.  However, he is much more.  He is also stern, impatient, and revolutionary.  I love this about Jesus. 

As a side note, I am intrigued by the conflict concerning the authorship of this Gospel.  I would like to hear some other views on this matter.  I have always ascribed to the view that it may not really matter in the long run, but I would still like to have a full perspective.


3 responses to “Reactions to the Gospel of Mark

  1. I think that authorship really does matter. If, for example, a letter says that it’s from Paul and has always been thought to be by Paul and we can determine that it really wasn’t Paul, then that means that the church has been hoodwinked for 2,000 years about a particular epistle.

    I studied Roman and Medieval history in college, and I have not seen in those fields anything like the knee-jerk rejection of stated authorship that appears in Biblical scholarship. I’ve never read anyone argue “Well, this letter says that it’s from Cicero and the text resembles the rest of Cicero’s writings, and people have always thought that it was written by Cicero, so clearly, it’s not by Cicero.”

    One common argument advanced is that it was common at the time for people to write in the name of a revered spiritual father to a community. Meaning that some later disciple of Paul might write to a community of Christians as Paul, with that community knowing full well that this was not actually Paul. Sheer a-historical rubbish. I asked my NT 520 professor to name a single pagan document which did this. After all, if it was a common practice, then he should be able to name documents outside of the Biblical canon which were written in this manner. The best that he could come up with were the dialogues of Socrates, allegedly written five hundred years before the NT church by Plato.

    There was no evidence whatsoever that writing in this manner was an accepted practice of the time. So that means that the documents in the NT were either written by the people that the documents claim, or they are frauds. And obviously, if the work of a charlatan is in the Bible, it matters a whole lot.

  2. I love Mark. The immediacy of the writing with one thing following another like a freight train barrelling through the Life of Christ toward the cross and the tomb. Mark may have half of what one finds in Matthew and Luke, but one can’t discount his writing skill just the same.

    But you didn’t even touch on the short, long and long endings of the Gospel. I did visit the actual ancient text of Mark at a museum in Washington, D.C. I held the plastic sealed manuscript and looked at the only existing copy of the longer version (but not the long version). IREADTHEALLCAPSWORDSRUNTOGETHERFORMYSELF. Very cool.

    I feel challenged by the shorter ending of the Gospel, which is the well attested last line, “And they told no one for they were afraid.” The first hearers would have known that the story did eventually get out, but that first response of hearing the Good News of Jesus and telling no one out of fear would be haunting.

    But I disagree with John on Mark’s authorship. The Gospel itself does not claim any author. The superscription that is The Gospel According to Mark came later. Not much later than that Eusebius told us that Papias wrote that is was Mark we know from Acts who wrote down what Peter preached, but not in order. So we know that he shaped the material for some purpose and reading and appreciating the intercalations with a story in a story each of which interprets the other, we see his purpose seems to have been theological.

    Anyway, I am rambling. But the gist of it is that I love Mark for his sense of urgency in telling the Good News in what had been the messianic secret.


  3. I agree that the authorship of Mark doesn’t matter — because the text doesn’t say who authored it. But if a Biblical text does say who authored it, then it matters enormously.

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