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5.1. NARRATING THE STORY OF JESUS
Although the Gospel according to Mark appears second in the NT canon and is therefore sometimes called the Second Gospel, it is usually regarded as the first of the NT Gospels to have been written. For this reason, students of the Gospels have sometimes turned to it as not only the earliest but also the most historical of the narratives of Jesus' ministry.
To some, Mark the Evangelist has appeared as little more than a chronicler, having put the story of Jesus' career in written form for the sake of posterity. This view has been helped along by the ancient tradition stating that Mark served as Peter's interpreter, writing down accurately, though not in order, Jesus' sayings and deeds as related by Peter (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.39.15). Later, we will assess the importance of this tradition for the identification of the author of this Gospel. Here it is necessary to dispel any notion of Mark as having exercised nothing more than the chronicler's craft. Mark himself wraps his presentation of Jesus in the robe of christological significance already in the opening line of the Gospel: "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, son of God, as it was written inthe prophet Isaiah ..." (Mark 1:1). It is immediately clear that Mark's is no dispassionate, objective reporting of the life of Jesus. Rather, his narrative is transparently concerned with Jesus' identity, and with the meaning of his person and work against a backdrop provided by the story of Israel and, especially, the proclamation of the prophet Isaiah.
Also in his introductory section, Mark takes a further step, revealing something about Jesus even more profound than this opening line might on its own suggest. The message Jesus proclaims is nothing less than "the good news of God" (1:14), and this indicates that the story of Jesus is at a more significant level the story of God's activity. Mark's Gospel is thus concerned with God's intervention in history to bring to fruition the promises of Scripture and to inaugurate God's reign and rule, his kingdom. In an ultimate sense, then, the Gospel of Mark is about God.
This observation intimates something important about Mark's Gospel - namely, that Mark's primary objective, and the primary basis of the authority of his narrative, rests in its capacity to speak on behalf of God. Historical events do not generally contain within themselves their own interpretation. This is true even of those events whose central character is Jesus of Nazareth. Mark's narrative is a presentation of Jesus' public career, to be sure, but it is one oriented toward providing a divine perspective on that career.
Like the other Evangelists, Mark must be seen as a communicator, drawing on and representing the traditional materials concerning Jesus to his audience in a way that will address the realities of their lives. In doing so, he wants ultimately to say something about God and the nature of God's project in history. And in order to do this, he weaves a narrative whose primary focus falls on Jesus' identity and ministry and the nature of discipleship, set within the horizons of the Scriptures on the one hand and fierce hostility on the other.
If Mark was the first Evangelist, then why did he choose to communicate in the form of a narrative? Other forms of response to community struggles had already been pioneered - Paul's letters, for example. What realities led to Mark's decision to sketch the public life of Jesus in the form of a biographical narrative? We might be helped by refocusing the question: What do narratives do well? Several answers are possible. First, they encourage in their audiences a sense of affinity, or identification, with their central character or characters. This is certainly true of the Gospel according to Mark, which invites its audience to identify with Jesus and, in a different way, to puzzle over the role of the disciples. Second, narratives are capable of indicating the rich interrelations among the many forces that help to shape human experiences in concrete situations. This is also true of Mark, who has woven together numerous forces - some mundane and personal, others cosmic and institutional - that together shape the lives of persons within the narrative as well as the outcome of the story. This phenomenon is perhaps most transparent in 14:21, where Jesus observes, "For the Son of Man goes as it has been written of him, but woe to the one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!" Here Jesus grounds his passion in the Scriptures at the same time that he insists on the culpability of his betrayer. Third, narratives work to draw their audiences into their worlds so as to undergird shared values or to challenge the imaginations and views of their audiences, as well as their thoughts and practices. How the Gospel of Mark accomplishes this task becomes evident as we see how it has grappled with the identity of Jesus.
5.2. JESUS, THE DISCIPLES, AND THE AUTHORITIES IN MARK
Readers or hearers of the Gospel may perhaps be forgiven for imagining that, in writing his narrative, Mark struggled with how to present two, apparently conflicting, images of Jesus. In fact, the juxtaposition of these two images helps to determine the overall shape of the Gospel in a way that has resisted attempts to sketch an outline of its narrative. The Gospel communicates less through a structured outline than as a musical score that has woven together a leading melody and its countermelody. When the Gospel is viewed as a whole, most noticeable is its concern to portray the ministry of Jesus as a relentless progression of events leading to the crucifixion of the Messiah. Fully one-third of the Gospel is given over to the events of Jesus' last days, marked by repeated prophecies of his coming suffering and death and a detailed and picturesque presentation of his passion. More than this, one encounters, already in the earlier chapters, intimations, implicit and explicit, of swelling malice against Jesus. As early as 2:18-20, Jesus anticipates his sudden, unexpected departure, and by 3:1-6 antagonism has progressed to the point that Mark can record, "The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him." Perhaps this is not surprising, since Mark had already noted the arrest of John, who spoke on God's behalf, and would go on to relate John's execution under Herod (1:14; 6:14-29). Clearly, from Mark's vantage point, the ministry of Jesus cannot be understood apart from the cross, which casts its shadow back across the whole Gospel.
This is not the whole story, however. At the same time that it follows the Messiah's journey to Golgotha, the Markan narrative is punctuated again and again with evidence of Jesus the popular miracle worker, powerful healer, and authoritative teacher. He casts out demons, astounds his own followers by walking on the Sea of Galilee, feeds the thousands, heals the blind and lame, and confounds those who listen to him by the nature of his teaching. Especially in the first half of the Gospel, the Evangelist often seems more interested in presenting Jesus in this way than in recounting the details of his healing ministry or the content of his proclamation. Using the narrative device of summary, he often prefers to tell his audience about Jesus the powerful teacher rather than show them, and to record the overwhelmingly positive and pervasive support Jesus attracted from the general populace. Even so, evidence of Jesus' powerful ministry abounds, so that we are left with the impression that Jesus is the authoritative teacher who manifests the power of God, the herald of God's rule in whose ministry the power of God has been made available.
Mark's audience is left to wonder: powerful teacher and rejected Messiah - how can Jesus be both? The key to Mark's narrative is to take it as a narrative, and this narrative both affirms that these two presumably competing portrayals are true and insists that Jesus' true identity cannot be grasped apart from the correlation of these two portrayals. Jesus not only demonstrates power but also experiences rejection, suffering, and death. Indeed, Jesus' activity as authoritative teacher and agent of miraculous power is the immediate cause of the hostility directed against him. He forgives sins by healing a paralytic, so that he is charged with blasphemy (2:1-12). He breaks the boundaries of conventional piety - eating with toll collectors and sinners, refraining from teaching his followers to fast and failing to keep the Sabbath - and on this basis is censured by the Pharisees monitoring his behavior (2:13-28). He heals on the Sabbath, and this serves as the impetus for the first recorded organized conspiracy against him (3:1-6). And so on. Even those who admit his power attribute it to the devil (3:22), while others request a sign in order to test him (8:11).
The integration of these two images of Jesus is demonstrated in another way as well. At the Gospel's center point in ch. 8, Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" (8:29). Taking account of the Markan narrative from its beginning to this point, we might agree with Peter in his profession of Jesus as the Messiah of God, and mean by it that Jesus is the long-awaited deliverer, the one through whom the power of God had come to visible expression. If Jesus the authoritative, power-working teacher constitutes the melody of Mark 1-8, however, the countermelody consists of those numerous anticipations of Jesus' passion to which we have already called attention. Mark's portrait in these first chapters is not as univocal as it might at first appear, then. Similarly, once Jesus attempts to qualify Peter's understanding of his identity by drawing together into one whole the profession of messiahship with the plain prediction of the rejection and suffering he would experience (8:31-33), suffering and death enter the conversation regularly (especially 9:31; 10:31-34). But this does not signal the end of the miraculous in Mark's narrative. Even these prophecies are indicative of Jesus' status as God's agent, supernatural portents accompany the crucifixion (see 15:38), and Mark's Gospel closes with an account of the empty tomb (16:1-8). Even in the latter half of the Gospel, melody is matched with countermelody.
For Mark, these two portraits of Jesus - powerful wonder worker and suffering servant - are not contradictory, nor does one correct or exclude the other. Rather, together they disclose one fully integrated portrait of Jesus and his mission. Jesus goes to the cross as the worker of powerful deeds and authoritative teacher. These merge together in order to signify the full nature of his redemptive mission. "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (10:45).
Swirling around the fundamental issue of Jesus' identity are two motifs, conflict and discipleship. It is not only at the pivotal point of the Gospel, in 8:27-29, that the question of Jesus' identity comes to the fore. Following Jesus' first episode of authoritative teaching, the crowds inquire of one another, "What is this?" (1:27). Demonic spirits have no need to ask such questions, for they perceive his identity already: "I know who you are, the Holy One of God!" (1:24; see 1:34; 5:7). Jesus silences these voices, not because their words are wrong but because they represent empty affirmations from beings who have positioned themselves over against Jesus' ministry. Others ask, "Where did this man get all of this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him?" (6:2). "By what authority are you doing these things?" (11:28). "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" (14:61). The narrator, Mark, is clear about Jesus' identity, however. Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God (1:1), an affirmation that finds confirmation in the divine voice at Jesus' baptism and transfiguration (1:11; 9:7).
The disciples do not understand. They may hold the mystery of the kingdom, they may be witnesses of Jesus' powerful deeds, and they may have heard his predictions of rejection and death, but they have not been able to put these pieces together. Hence, they are stunned by Jesus' mastery of the storm and sea: "Who is this, then, that even the wind and waves obey him?" (4:41). Is he a ghost (6:49)? Failing to understand the identity of Jesus and the nature of his message, they reject plain talk about his suffering (8:32), puzzle over his expectation of vindication (9:10), and repeatedly fail to comport themselves as befits those who follow a Messiah who resists the status quo on issues of honor and shame and even presents himself as a servant (see 9:33-41; 10:35-45).
The Markan story of the disciples, then, is repeatedly one of disappointment, with the disciples not only lacking in understanding but, often enough, actually standing in opposition to Jesus and his teaching. Instances of the motif of conflict branch out beyond the circle of Jesus' followers, though, to include diabolic forces and, especially, the Pharisees and the Jewish and Roman authorities in Jerusalem. Particularly in Galilee, the Pharisees, together with supporters of Herod, are cast consistently in the role of Jesus' opponents. The Pharisees monitor his behavior and question his teaching and ministry practices. They plot against him and seek to entrap him (see 2:1-3:6; 12:13). In the passion account, their role is taken over by the chief priests, scribes, and elders, who form a kind of triumvirate responsible for orchestrating Jesus' final demise. Pilate participates in these affairs to do the crowds a favor, according to Mark, who thus underscores again the inexorable animosity of the Jewish elite in Jerusalem.
For Mark, the final confrontation between Jesus and his opponents is grounded in his attitude toward the temple. When Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin, they bring forward false witnesses, certifying, "We have heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with hands, and in three days I will build another not made with hands" (14:58). While on the cross, Jesus is scorned with these words: "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" (15:29-30). Finally, as Jesus breathes his last, Mark notes as the consequence of his death that "the veil of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom" (15:38). This material concerned with the temple in Jesus' passion is anticipated earlier in the narrative. First, Mark interweaves the account of Jesus' cursing the fig tree with his action in the temple, as though to communicate that Jesus intended not simply to cleanse the temple but to curse it (11:15-21). The time of the temple had passed, for it had lost its fruitfulness. Second, when Jesus teaches his disciples about faith that can move mountains, his statement, "If you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and thrown into the sea ...'" (11:23), can refer only to the mountain on which the temple was built. Finally, in Mark 13, Jesus portends the coming destruction of the temple as a historical event in keeping with God's eschatological purpose.
Mark's interest in the identity of Jesus is thus not a speculative affair, as though he were concerned merely with passing on a correct understanding of the Messiah. Instead, Mark's narrative braids together these two strands, christology and discipleship, in order to show that how one understands the first will influence one's understanding of the second (and vice versa). Against this backdrop, the motif of conflict serves a number of important roles in addition to adding suspense to the narrative. For example, that the Jewish elite actually side with the devil and his minions in opposing Jesus' mission signals how far the institution of the temple and its supporters have departed from their service in God's redemptive purpose. Moreover, Mark uses the motif of conflict to show that even Jesus' followers are capable of misunderstanding and therefore opposing Jesus. Finally, Mark demonstrates that conflict is only to be expected when one identifies, as Jesus has, with God's redemptive purpose, for this means adopting a form of life out of step with "this adulterous and sinful generation" (8:38).
5.3. MARK'S DRAMATIC NARRATIVE
Our earlier adoption of the image of the musical score for making sense of this Gospel does not prevent us from thinking in more general terms about the structure of the Gospel. In fact, the number of proposed outlines of this narrative almost equals the number of its interpreters! Most agree that the episode in Caesarea Philippi in 8:27-9:1 marks the pivot point of the Gospel, but beyond this viewpoints proliferate rapidly. In what follows, we will use broad categories in order to probe the unfolding of the Gospel's drama in four parts.
Excerpted from Introducing the New Testament by Paul J. Achtemeier Joel B. Green Marianne Meye Thompson Copyright © 2001 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company . Excerpted by permission.
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|1.||What Is the New Testament?||1|
|1.1.||The Literary Angle||3|
|1.2.||The Historical Angle||6|
|1.3.||The New Testament as the Church's Scripture||9|
|2.||The World of the New Testament||15|
|2.1.||The Many Worlds of the New Testament||17|
|3.||The Nature of the Gospels||53|
|3.1.||Jesus and the Gospels: Milestones||53|
|3.2.||What Is a "Gospel"?||62|
|3.3.||The Gospel Tradition||67|
|3.4.||Literary Forms in the Gospels||74|
|3.5.||Reading New Testament Narratives||81|
|3.6.||Epilogue: The Gospels and Acts as Scripture||86|
|4.||The Gospel according to Matthew||89|
|4.1.||The Plan of the Gospel of Matthew||91|
|4.2.||The Narrative of Matthew||96|
|4.3.||The Gospel of Matthew, the Jews, and the Church||117|
|5.||The Gospel according to Mark||123|
|5.1.||Narrating the Story of Jesus||123|
|5.2.||Jesus, the Disciples, and the Authorities in Mark||125|
|5.3.||Mark's Dramatic Narrative||129|
|5.4.||The Setting and Purpose of Mark's Gospel||143|
|6.||The Gospel according to Luke||149|
|6.1.||The Character of Luke's Gospel (and Acts)||152|
|6.2.||The Unity of Luke-Acts||154|
|6.3.||The Narrative of the Gospel of Luke||156|
|6.4.||"He Has Lifted Up the Lowly"||171|
|7.||The Gospel according to John||175|
|7.1.||In the Beginning||175|
|7.2.||Jesus, Conflict, and Confession||177|
|7.4.||John and the Other Gospels||197|
|7.5.||The Setting and Purpose of the Gospel||200|
|8.||Jesus of Nazareth||207|
|8.1.||The Quest of the Historical Jesus||207|
|8.2.||The Beginning of Jesus' Public Ministry||209|
|8.3.||The Kingdom of God||214|
|8.4.||The Miracles of Jesus||224|
|8.5.||Jesus and the Messianic Task||228|
|8.6.||The Death of Jesus||235|
|8.7.||The Resurrection of Jesus||241|
|9.||The Acts of the Apostles||245|
|9.1.||Acts and the New Testament Canon||245|
|9.2.||The Book of Acts as "History"||247|
|9.3.||The Narrative Progression of the Mission in Acts||249|
|9.4.||The Speeches in Acts||262|
|9.5.||The Purpose of Acts||265|
|9.6.||The Authorship of Acts||268|
|10.||Letters in the New Testament||271|
|10.1.||Writing Materials and Delivery of Letters||271|
|10.2.||Development and Purpose of Letters||274|
|10.5.||Letters in the New Testament||278|
|11.||Paul and His World||283|
|11.2.||The Life of Paul||289|
|11.3.||Paul's Intellectual World||294|
|12.||Paul's Letter to the Christians in Rome||299|
|12.1.||The Purpose of the Letter||299|
|12.2.||Where the Letter Was Written||306|
|12.3.||The Letter's Author and Integrity||306|
|12.4.||The Theme of the Letter||307|
|12.5.||The Content of the Letter||309|
|13.||Paul and the Christians in Corinth||327|
|13.1.||Corinth as Paul Knew It||327|
|13.2.||The Corinthian Correspondence||332|
|14.||The Letter to the Galatians||355|
|15.||The Letter to the Ephesians||377|
|16.||Paul and the Christians in Philippi||391|
|17.||Paul and the Christians at Colossae: Colossians and Philemon||407|
|18.||Paul's Letters to the Thessalonian Christians||427|
|19.||1 and 2 Timothy and Titus||447|
|20.1.||The Origins of "The Epistle to the Hebrews"||465|
|20.2.||Use of the Old Testament||473|
|20.3.||"In These Last Days, He Has Spoken to Us through a Son"||476|
|20.4.||Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of Faith||482|
|20.5.||The Pilgrim People of God||483|
|20.6.||"Such a Great High Priest"||485|
|21.1.||"James, a Servant of God"||492|
|21.2.||James and Jewish Christianity||495|
|21.3.||"To the Twelve Tribes in the Dispersion"||497|
|21.4.||The Genre of James||499|
|21.5.||James and Jesus||502|
|21.6.||Doers of the Word||503|
|21.7.||Hearing and Doing, Faith and Works||509|
|21.8.||James within the Canon||511|
|22.||1 and 2 Peter, Jude||513|
|23.||1, 2, and 3 John||535|
|23.1.||The Setting of the Epistles of John||535|
|23.2.||The Conflict: Data from the Epistles||536|
|23.3.||Historical Parallels and the Shape of the False Teaching||538|
|24.1.||The Genre of Revelation||556|
|24.2.||The Historical Context of the Book of Revelation||565|
|24.3.||The Revelation of Jesus Christ||573|
|25.||The Formation of the New Testament Canon||589|
|25.1.||Internal Forces Affecting the Shape of the Canon||590|
|25.2.||External Forces Affecting the Shape of the Canon||593|
|25.3.||The Growth of the New Testament Canon||595|
|25.4.||The Process of Canonical Selection||598|
|25.5.||Criteria of Canon Selection||604|
|Index of Names and Subjects||609|