Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Theme of the Gospel of Mark

In my previous post, I presented a short analysis of the material in Mark that led me to conclude that the oft-repeated servant theme is probably not the unique theme of Mark’s gospel. I do have an alternative that I would like to suggest. I can’t go into all the details in a short blog post, but I can state what I think the theme is and then outline my reasons for coming up with that particular theme. I’m sure this could be improved and would welcome any suggestions. Just remember, this is a quick summary, not a complete analysis.

Theme: The revelation of Jesus as the Messianic Son of God enables disciples to respond in faith rather than amazement and fear.

The first part of the theme I get from Mark 1:1.

Mark 1:1 (ESV)
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

I take “beginning” here to mean an introduction or a starting point for what Mark is going to talk about, namely the good news (“gospel”) that Jesus is the Messianic Son of God (“Jesus Christ, the Son of God”). Another way of saying this is that Mark is planning to progressively reveal, from the beginning, what makes up the gospel of Jesus Christ – His “life and ministry” or His “person and work.” This revelation of the “life and ministry” or the “person and work” of Jesus will show that He is the Christ and that He is the Son of God.

The second part of the theme I get from the structure of Mark. It is possible to recognize three main geographical sections in Mark’s gospels. Those three geographical areas correspond to the three main people groups to whom Jesus reveals Himself.

Mark 1:14-8:30
Ministry in Galilee
Jesus reveals His person and work to the Crowds

Mark 8:31-10:52
Journey to Jerusalem
Jesus reveals His person and work to His Disciples

Mark 11:1-16:8
Mission in Jerusalem
Jesus reveals His person and work to the Religious Leaders

In these sections, Mark specifically records the responses from the crowds, the disciples, and the religious leaders. In each case, Jesus either commends their faith or rebukes their fear and amazement. Here are some examples from the first section:

Mark 5:17 [Healing the demoniac]
17 And they began to pray him to depart out of their coasts. [rejection]

Mark 5:20
20 And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel. [surprising, unbelievable – certainly not faith]

Mark 5:40 [Healing Jairus’ daughter]
40 And they laughed him to scorn. But when he had put them all out, he taketh the father and the mother of the damsel, and them that were with him, and entereth in where the damsel was lying. [ridiculed – no faith or trust]

Mark 5:42
42 And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment. [astonished, surprised, element of fear]

Mark 4:40-41 [Calm storm]
40 And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? 41 And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?
This last passage shows that the disciples initially had the same problem as the crowds. But they do make progress. The end of the first section closes with Peter’s famous confession that Jesus is the Christ. The disciples are just beginning to see who Jesus is. In the next section Jesus will reveal more about His mission, three times explaining that He must go and die on the cross. Their responses, however, show that they still have much to learn. They see but not clearly, yet. Because they do not have a complete understanding of Jesus as the Divine Messiah, they still respond in amazement rather than faith.

Mark 8:22-25
22 And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. 24 And he looked up, and said, I see men as trees, walking. 25 After that he put his hands again upon his eyes, and made him look up: and he was restored, and saw every man clearly.
There is very little content in Mark that does not occur in the other gospels but this story is unique to Mark. It shows what I believe is going on with the disciples. Their life (and our life) is not designed to work apart from God, and specifically, without a Biblical understanding of Jesus as our Divine Messiah. Unless we are illuminated to see Christ for who He really is, it will be impossible for us to respond in faith rather than fear, amazement, and unbelief!

This, as I see it, is the emphasis of the Book of Mark.


At 11:49 PM, Blogger Don Johnson said...

Hi Andy

That is really good. It would make an excellent sermon with the first verse as the text. I may just steal that one from you.

My earlier thought on the "ideal Roman" came from the emphasis on "action" that everyone notes. However, your suggestion is much more rooted in the text.

I'll have to work on this more sometime. I seem to have my hands full with another little book, Romans... just getting back into it today, we'll be starting chapter 3 on Sunday.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

At 1:10 PM, Blogger Andy Efting said...

Thanks, Don. I worked on this SS series back in 2004. In 2005, I purchased I. Howard Marshall’s New Testament Theology and his treatment of Mark has given me some independent confirmation that I was on the right track. Here is what he said:

“My analysis has shown that in broad terms the story has two main parts to it, a first part in which the identity of Jesus as the Messiah is recognized gradually, and a second part in which it is intimated that the Son of Man must suffer and be raised from the dead and this intimation is fulfilled. We could say that Mark’s theme is the Messiah and Son of God who proclaims the kingdom and who acts it ot in ways that express who he is.

“The development of this story revealed three groups of people with whom Jesus interacted: the crowds who listened to him and saw what he did, his disciples, and the opposition.” (Marshall, p. 77)

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Don Johnson said...

Very interesting quote from Marshall.

Another thought occurs to me in this... there are passages of Scripture that we sort of ignore as we "get to the good stuff". For instance, the fist verse of Mark. The way you are presenting it here, it is integral to understanding the whole book.

There are other passages like that, some of them quite extended (Leviticus, Chronicles) that are well worth our intensive study, I think.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

At 9:04 PM, Blogger Andy Efting said...

Yes, you have to be very careful about skipping over short (or long) "throw away" words, phrases, or sections. Sometimes they can be the key to the whole passage. I keep asking myself when I have studied a passage -- "have I accounted for everything thing in the text?" Of course, you can never cover everything but you should at least try to account for everything.

When I was teaching in Isaiah, Dr. Minnick started his own series in Isaiah. He was several passages behind me, so I got to listen to his messages after I did mine -- not always an encouraging exercise. I remember one short paragraph that I skipped, thinking it was insignificant, and then listening to Minnick preach on it several weeks later. It was probably one of his best in the series and I had totally ignored the passage!

At 9:09 AM, OpenID dtjohnso said...

I've been reading through a harmony of the Gospels lately, and its interesting to look at some of the details that Mark includes that the others don't. Even if he doesn't report unique events, he certainly displays the understanding of an insider (or someone closely connected to one).

Unfortunately, I can't think of any good examples of this right now, but maybe I'll find one in the next few days and come back with it.


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