Where Does Mark Fit in the Gospels?

Sunday, January 31

10:28 AM In our Mark class this week we will be focusing on textual criticism, verbal aspect, and the Synoptic Problem. Why do we have four Gospels? Where does Mark fit in? In Matthew, Jesus is king. In Mark, Jesus is servant. In Luke, Jesus is fully man. And in John, Jesus is the eternal God. Hence king/servantman/God. What’s more, in no Gospel do we have much “commentary” by the author. The “commentary” is to be found in the way the Gospel writer selected and arranged his stories. Mark, for example, has only 31 verses that find no parallel with Matthew and Luke. So we think, “Why, then, should I even bother with reading Mark?” However, Mark’s story of the life of Christ has its own particular arrangement that reveals a great deal about his purpose in writing. For Mark, Jesus is above all the servant of the Lord. Hence chapter 1 moves right into the ministry/service of Jesus without anything said about his genealogy or childhood. Moreover, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus speaks in about 60 percent of the verses. In Luke, 50 percent. In John, 50 percent also. In Mark, it’s more like 42 percent. The accent lies on the deeds, not words, of Jesus. He’s the servant who serves.

Now, where in the Old Testament is the coming Messiah portrayed as a servant? The answer is in the book of Isaiah. In fact, in the second half of Isaiah, the concept of the Suffering Servant of the Lord finds a unique emphasis in all of the Old Testament. 5 passages in Isaiah have a direct reference to the theme of Mark’s Gospel: chapters 42, 49, 50, 53, and 61. Note the following:

1) It’s no coincidence that Mark’s Gospel in 1:1 begins with a reference to the euangelion, the Good News. See Isa. 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Here “bring good news” is lebasser in Hebrew, from which the noun form “Gospel” derives (Hebrew: Besorah).

2) Then, in Mark 1:2-3, the author proceeds to quite directly from a passage in Isaiah 40. John the Baptizer will prepare the way of the Lord. Here it’s made crystal clear who this coming preacher of the gospel is: It is Yahweh, the Lord himself.

3) In Mark 1:9, we read that the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as a dove — just as Isaiah foretold that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon him. Jesus’ baptism is the fulfillment of that prophecy.

4) Finally, notice how the words of the Father in Mark 1:11 reflect the opening of the 42nd chapter of Isaiah: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one, in whom I delight. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will bring justice to the nations” (Isa. 42:1).

These parallels between Mark and Isaiah raise an interesting question. It has to do with the text of Mark 1:2, where some manuscripts read “in the Isaiah the prophet,” while others read “in the prophets.” Again, we are driven back to the art and science of textual criticism. This morning I was reviewing my power point on the text of Matt. 5:22 and snapped this screen shot for you.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the Gospel According to Mark has a greater number of significant textual variants than are found in any of the other Gospels. Here in chapter 1 we find important variants in:

  • 1:1 — “Son of God” or omit these words?
  • 1:2 — “in Isaiah the prophet” or “in the prophets”?
  • 1:4 —  “John came baptizing” or “John the Baptizer came”?
  • 1:14 — “gospel” or “gospel of the kingdom”?
  • 1:41 — “moved with compassion” or “moved with anger”?

In Tuesday’s class we will discuss all of these variants and also delve into the deeper question of how you should approach textual variants when you encounter them in reading your New Testament.

All these matters and more are on my mind as I prepare for this week’s classes. What passages of Scripture are you reading this very day? What great goals loom before you this week? What avalanche threatens you this year? Whatever it is, and no matter what it is, you are never but a prayer away from your Servant King, the God-man Jesus Christ. As we see in Mark’s Gospel, obstacles and even horrible circumstances mean little to him. He’s looking for followers like James and John, Peter and Andrew, who will believe that what’s impossible to them is possible to him. Jesus has got a pretty good track record in the miracles and deliverance department. He didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give his life for many. Blessed are his followers when they’re at the end of their rope. With less of us, there’s more of him and his rule.

Time to go online for my morning service 🙂

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

The Church Fathers and Study of the Gospels

5:50 AM I’m glad to see that the Gospel of Mark is being discussed on several blogs these days. The latest hubbub seems to have to do with something called Mark’s “community.” However, the elephant in the room, it seems to me, is the absence of any discussion of the church fathers. Of course, a full account of the patristic testimony would fill several volumes. I have made a partial case for Mark’s Sitz im Leben in my book Why Four Gospels? Sadly, the patristic evidence is today hardly known in New Testament scholarship, although everyone claims to regard it with a certain respect. The average person doesn’t have a clue because he or she hasn’t done the reading. Such investigation would raise questions too complex — and perhaps too uncomfortable — for the sort of subjective and superficial overview one finds in the typical New Testament Introduction. I myself was ill-taught in this respect while in seminary. Not once were we asked to crack open a patristic tome, and thus I was ill prepared for vigorous debate on the subject. I don’t mean to imply that students of the Gospels know absolutely nothing about the fathers. Certain New Testament scholars were famous for their knowledge (e.g., William Farmer). To become familiar with the field would ask a lot of your average student of the Gospels. In the eyes of some, I suppose, any interaction with the fathers is a subversive menace to the status quo. Those who (like myself) hold to somewhat traditional views of authorship and provenance are sometimes subjected to ad hominem innuendo (“Why Dave, you must be a Catholic!”). Merely questioning the consensus opinio can get you into hot water from the establishment. None of this is challenged front and center by the mainstream academy. Thus protected from all the evidence, many of our students have bought into what I consider to be a highly defective product. To call this merely a “bias” against the fathers is to understate the belligerent emotionality one sometimes encounters. The grain of truth which is the Markan Priority Hypothesis should not mean that we accept the theory without questioning it (the existence of “Q” alone should cause one to pause).

So let the discussion continue and expand. It certainly will in my New Testament classes, where students are exposed to the Mark-Q Hypothesis, Mark Without Q, the Two Gospel Hypothesis, and even the position espoused by their professor (the Fourfold Gospel Hypothesis) — testing and thinking and pondering before coming to a conclusion, their own conclusion. Enough of this, however. I’ve got to get to campus for grading and for two commencement services. Heartiest congratulations to all of our graduates and especially to my doctoral student Alex Stewart as well as my pastor Jason Evans who also will be receiving his doctoral hood today. Well done, one and all.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by Permission)

Mark Presents Peter

7:47 AM Mark as the interpres of Peter:

Indeed, it is the modern critics, blinded by their conviction of the priority of Mark, who have failed to accept the obvious message of the patristic evidence. That is why they have misunderstood the significance of the texts that always describe the disciple Mark as the go-between or agent of Peter and never as the author; yet the critics ignore this and make him out to be a writer who remembers what Peter said and not simply the agent for the recording of Peter’s lectures.

From Why Four Gospels?

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm, Christian Archy, and Why Four Gospels?.)