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The Intention Of The Evangelist, Mark1

  • Eugene E. Lemcio


The aim of this essay is to extend a course charted over twenty years ago by the Reverend Professor C. F. D. Moule. My debt to him extends even to the title, derived as it is from his ‘The Intention of the Evangelists’. But more substantially, it was his independent thesis and insightful method which provided the stimulus for this study. Against the developing consensus, especially among continental scholars in the 1950s, that the gospel was a creative theological work designed to support or correct the beliefs of Christians, i.e. for those who were advanced in the faith, Professor Moule argued that Mark's aim was apologetic and evangelistic, focused upon the outsider who needed to know the essentials of the story. Even if Mark intended his gospel for Christians, it was written for believers engaged in evangelism to remind them of the facts on which the superstructure of their faith stood or fell.



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[2] Moule, C. F. D., The Phenomenon of the New Testament (SBT, sec. ser. 1; London: SCM, 1967) 100–14. Reprinted from New Testament Essays: Studies in Memory of T. W. Manson, ed. Higgins, A. J. B. (Manchester: Univ. Press, 1959) 165–79. Pagination in the following notes is from the former work.

[3] ibid. 102, 105, 113.

[4] ibid. 102, 106, 110, 113–14.

[5] ibid. 109.

[6] ibid. 108, 110–12.

[7] ibid. 111.

[8] ibid. 106–10.

[9] ibid. 107–8.

[10] More than a decade later, however, his position began to be cited by such scholars as Roloff, Jürgen, Das Kerygma and der irdische Jesus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1970) 4445. More recently, Rudolf Pesch, in his massive, multi-critical study, has not only noted Professor Moule's essay (I, 63) but has also himself come to similar conclusions. He insists that, in contrast to the other synoptists, Mark's literary and theological achievements have been over-rated (15, 54). The gospel would have been useful for missionary and catechetical work (53, 63, 74, 106). Further-more, , ‘Das Evangelium ist indirekt Predigt, direkt Geschichtserzählung - nicht umgekehrt!’ (51). Das Markusevangelium, HTK II (Freiburg-Basel-Wien: Herder, I. Teil, 1976. II. Teil, 1977). See also 25, 148, 277–81 (I) and 36–47 (II).

[11] See Pesch p. 13 n. 3 (I) for those who advocate a more eastern provenance.

[12] See p. 196 and nn. 50–51 for the fuller discussion.

[13] Phenomenon 56–59.

[14] Chief among such interpreters is Weeden, T. J., Mark - Traditions in Conflict (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971). H. C. Kee, using other methods, sees the church's situation differently from Weeden and those who share his view. Cf. Community of the New Age: Studies in Mark's Gospel (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1977).

[15] Das Messiasgeheimnis in den Evangelien (Göttingen Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1901) 56. Cf. 209–36. Robinson, W. C. Jr, offers a penetrating critique on this point in ‘The Quest for Wrede's Secret Messiah’, Int. 27/1 (1973) 10, 15.

[16] Such a reversal of the usual order would put criticism at all levels on a more secure footing. Only when the most tangible data is controlled and its character understood may one with integrity and some degree of confidence proceed to the lesser- or unknown territory behind the text. Recently, David Rhoads and Donald Michie have been the first to respond comprehensively to the challenge posed a decade or so ago by that quintessential redaction critic, Norman Perrin, that New Testa-ment scholars acquire and apply the techniques of literary criticism from experts in the discipline. See their Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982). Although my work was done independently of them and on a much-reduced scale, I applaud their efforts and hope that our conclusions are mutually informative.

[17] Subsequently, I shall commit myself to one of the ten interpretations of Aρχή discussed by Cranfield, C. E. B. in The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Cambridge: University Press, 1959) 34–5. He also marshalls weighty arguments favouring the inclusion of υἱòς θεο, even though Θ 28 255 1555* syPal geo1 arm (some MSS.) and substantial patristic references omit them (p. 38). Since the evidence is controverted, I have avoided making a case on it.

[18] Strecker, Georg, ‘Literarkritische Überlegungen zum εύαγγέλιο -Begriff im Markusevangelium’, in Neues Testament and Geschichte (Cullmann Festschrift) herausg. Baltensweiler, H. and Reicke, Bo (Tübingen: Mohr (Siebeck), 1972) 92 and n. 9.

[19] Authorities are divided over the meaning of Хριστ , some regarding it as a proper name, others as a title.

[20] The tendency to identify τò εύγγέλιον το θεο at 14c with monotheistic, hellenistic missionary preaching as evidenced at Romans 1. 1 simply ignores the statement in w. 3–4 that it concerns ‘his Son Jesus Christ our Lord’, christology which never appears in Mark's narrative on Jesus' lips as a self-reference. The Evangelist here summarizes the content of Jesus' message, not his own or that of other Christians.

[21] Robinson, James M. has provided the full argument in The Problem of History in Mark (London: S.C.M., 1957) 23, 24, 32.

[22] The written narrative about the earthly Jesus is regarded primarily as a vehicle for the words and deeds of the risen Christ. See n. 64 below for a sample provided by Marxsen himself.

[23] Marxsen, Willi, Mark the Evangelist. Studies in the Redaction History of the Gospel (Nashville: Abingdon, 1969) 131–8.

[24] The only christological expression which Jesus will own throughout the course of the narrative is ‘The Son of Man’, which never occurs in confessions, acclamations, or ascriptions.

[25] Subsequently, I shall examine the usage of irtoreúewand the christological issues surrounding the messianic secret more fully.

[26] p46 D 28 700 al omit έμο καì from νεκε έμο καì εαγγελίου in 8. 35.

[27] Unless I have misunderstood him, R. Pesch in Markusevangelium (I) seems sometimes to hold this (76 n. 6) and sometimes not (106). Cf. the same apparent ambivalence in his contribution to a collection of essays edited by him: Das Markus-evangelium (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1979) 337 and 341–2.

[28] The textual witnesses are divided, the lectio plenior which includes εἱς έμέ being supported by three different text families: the Alexandrian (including B), Western (itaur c, f, e, q, etc.) and Caesarean (f1 f13). This should caution one against rejecting the longer reading merely as a scribal attempt at assimilation to Matt 18. 6.

[29] Robinson, , Problem 74–5, comes close to this conclusion in his analysis, citing M. Werner's distinction between Mark's view and Paul's concept of ‘faith in Christ’, 75 n. 2.

[30] His view has been expressed recently in The Portrayal of the We of Faith in the Gospel of Mark’, Int. 22/4 (1978) 387–99.

[31] The soteriology expressed by λύρον άντἱ πολλ⋯ν, v is found only here, in the exact Matthean parallel and in a ‘hellenized’ form in 1 Tim 2. 5–6, which speaks of the one mediator between God and men, ἃνθρωπς Хριστò Ίησος, òδòς⋯αυòν άντίλυτρον ⋯ π⋯ρ πάντων.

[32] Pesch, , Markusevangelium (II) 358–9, approves of E. Best's observation that ‘my blood of the Covenant’ implies a new covenant. By appealing to targumic interpretations of Exodus 24. 7–8, Pesch argues that the covenant bond comes into being by atonement through the forgiveness of sins.

[33] Although the statement here is not connected with any title, Jesus in v. 21 pronounced woe upon the man, present at the meal, by whom the Son of Man was about to be betrayed.

[34] This position will be evaluated more fully in Part III.

[35] All evidence that ὂτι Хριστο έστε is a conjecture has been removed from the latest Nestle-Aland apparatus (26th edition). In the 25th, Schmiedel's reconstruction was still noted. A fuller account of the textual data appears in the ninth edition of Aland's, Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum (1976) 248. W has Хριστóς but has έμóτ, neither of which fits the sense or grammar of έστε.

[36] While the weightiest manuscripts read Έγώ εíμι, there is not inconsiderable support for σὑεīπας ὂτι: Θφ: f13 565 700 pc; Or.

[37] There is no need to suppress the demons following their address at 5. 7 because the setting is private: among the tombs with only Jesus and his disciples present. No injunction is required following 14. 61 because Caiaphas merely inquires about Jesus' being the Son of the Blessed One; he, of course, does not regard him as such.

[38] Greek grammar (‘Colwell's Rule’) permits, but does not demand, the article to be supplied. See Moule, C. F. D., An Idiom - Book of New Testament Greek (sec. ed.; Cambridge: The University Press, 1963) 115–16.

[39] Professor Moule observed long ago that ‘… half its content was already a thing of the past and half was - at any rate in the eyes of the early church - yet in the future’. Consequently, ‘It is more appropriate to the past and future; but not to the present.’ So long as the church was in a Zwischenzeit, between Jesus' going and coming, the term had little or no relevance. ‘Far more relevant is the term Lord, which with its associations with Ps. cx, exactly fits the heavenly session. Ps. cx is, accordingly, one of the most frequent of all testimonia '. See The Influence of Circumstances on the Use of Christological Terms’, J.T.S. 10 (1959) 257–8.

[40] See note 37, above.

[41] Nowhere is the political aspect of Хριστóς more in evidence than at 15. 32 where Jesus is mockingly addressed as ‘the Christ, the King of Israel’. Five times previously in this chapter, throughout the course of the Roman trial and its aftermath, he had been referred to as ‘the King of the Jews’ (w. 2, 9, 12, 18, 26).

[42] Such discrete usage should prevent one from confusing these categories or from subsuming all under the general (and misleading) heading of ‘messianic’.

[43] Careful attention needs to be paid for the merely honorific meaning of κύριος, ‘sir’ or ‘my lord’.

[44] Curiously, R. Tannehill virtually ignores ‘the Son of Man’ category in his essay, The Gospel of Mark as Narrative Christology’, Semeia 16 (1979) 57–9.

[45] Other topics might be examined for the same dynamics. For example, three of the five references to the Holy Spirit belong to the pre-resurrection period: Jesus' baptism and temptation (1. 10, 12) and his pronouncement regarding blasphemy (3. 29). But two of them transcend the narrative, providing a clue to the Evangelist's pneumatology of which little or nothing is made in the gospel. John the Baptist announces that the Coming One will baptize Israel with the Holy Spirit (1. 8). This surely presupposes either Pentecost or some more remote eschatological event whose development never occurs within the body of the gospel. Likewise, there is nothing during the course of the narrative, either in the case of Jesus or his disciples, which corresponds to the sort of inspiration by the Holy Spirit which will guide their responses in the moment of trial (13. 11).

[46] Bornkamm, Günther, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Harper and Row, 1960) 25.Marxsen, Willi, Introduction to the New Testament (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968) 143.

[47] See Robinson, ‘Quest’, n. 15 above and Roloff, J., ‘Das Markusevangelium als Geschichtsdarstellung’, Ev. Th. 27/2 (1969) 73–4 n. 2.

[48] Georg Strecker describes Mark's gospel as ‘Botschaft als Bericht’ in ‘Zur Messiasgeheimnistheorie im Markusevangelium’, St. Ev. ed. Cross, F. L. (III, T.U. 88; Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1964) 104.

[49] Apparently it was Martin Kähler who first suggested that traditions were like drops of dew, each of which reflected the sun in its entirety. See Der sogennante historische Jesus and der geschichtliche, biblische Christus (sec. ed.; Leipzig: A. Deichert, 1896) 61–2. Bornkamm repeats the point in Jesus of Nazareth 25: ‘These story scenes give his story not only when pieced together, but each one in itself contains the person and history of Jesus in their entirety.’ But are traditions like drops of dew?

[50] James Robinson and Helmut Koester (among others) have asserted, without sufficient argument or data, that collections of wisdom sayings, miracle stories, etc. defined in an exclusive and comprehensive way the christology or kerygma of each group which transmitted them. See Trajectories Through Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1971). Note the tendency to equate terms such as ‘Kerygma’, ‘symbol’, ‘creed’ and ‘belief’ on pp. 50, 68, 211–29.

[51] ibid. 48–9. Cf. 227–8.

[52] An Outline of the Theology of the New Testament (London: S.C.M., 1968) 139.

[53] ‘Jesus Christus’, R.G.G. (vol. 3; Tübingen: Mohr (Siebeck), 1959) 633 and Outline 138–9.

[54] Present and Future in the Synoptic Tradition’, J.Th.C. 5 (1968) 42. Cf. Gegenwart and Zukunft in der synoptischen Tradition’, Z.Th.K. 54 (1957) 294.

[55] Outline 143.

[56] Aloysius Ambrozic, in his desire to invest the secret with contemporary, kerygmatic relevance, ‘transcategorizes’ the temporal εί μή ὂαν…άναστ into a conditional statement. See The Hidden Kingdom (Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association, 1972) 38.

[57] Conzelmann, , Outline 143.

[58] Roloff, ‘Markusevangelium’, 90–3 and Strecker, ‘Messiasgeheimnistheorie’, 97–100, 102 have argued this point convincingly.

[59] While it is true that the disciples did not understand what Jesus' reference to ‘rising from the dead’ meant (9.10), there is no suggestion that they could not have understood. Throughout, Jesus' attitude implies the opposite. Furthermore, nowhere in the gospels is the resurrection eo ipso an epistemological turning point for them. Some special act of the risen Jesus is required. In Acts, Pentecost turns the disciples' understanding around.

[60] So far as Willi Mamsen is concerned (See Introduction 137, 144 and n. 46 above), it is just such a level of temporality which gave Mark pause. By means of the messianic secret, he intended to combat an historicism which emerged when traditions set beside one another implied a series of historically verifiable epiphanies. This suggested that salvation had occurred in a past event rather than in the present through the kerygma. But Marxsen's opinion becomes subject to J. Roloff's observation that such interpretation amounts to a retrojection of modern hermeneutical concerns into the first century. (Roloff, ‘Markusevangelium’ 77.) And it seems to deny that salvation did in some real sense occur in the past.

[61] Tyson, J. B., ‘The Blindness of the Disciples in Mark’, J.B.L. 80 (1961) 261–8.

[62] So far as 1 know, it was J. Schreiber who first proposed that Mark criticized miracle traditions, infused with θεīος άνήρ christology, by means of a theologia crucis. See Die Christologie des Markusevangeliums’, Z.Th.K. 58 (1961) 158–9. Weeden has given the thesis its most systematic and thoroughgoing expression (see n. 14, above). In recent years, however, the position is being abandoned or heavily-qualified. Carl R. Holladay finds no real antecedents to the motif in the religiohistorical milieu by which it allegedly entered the Christian tradition, hellenistic Judaism. See Theios Aner in Hellenistic Judaism: a critique of the Use of the Category in New Testament Christology (Missoula, Mt.: Scholars Press, 1977).

[63] Werner Kelber denies that Mark intended to make his narrative the means by which the risen Jesus directly addressed the reader. Such re-presentation by itinerant prophets through oral traditions allegedly produced a crisis of faith during the first Jewish War with Rome when Jesus' real absence became all-too-obvious. In the move from orality to textuality, the Evangelist's narrative distanced the reader from Jesus' past and his future parousia. While one may disagree with Kelber's speculations, one cannot help but notice the rather striking departure from the more usual redaction-critical stance. See Mark and Oral Tradition’, Semeia 16 (1979) 755, esp. 40–6.

[64] Perhaps the most explicit illustration of this appears in W. Marxsen's paradoxical summary of the kerygma of Mark's passion narrative which he equates with that of the gospel: ‘The Risen Lord (the glorified One, the Son of Man, the Son of God) goes to his Cross. This makes it quite clear that the story is not meant to be read as the account of an historical sequence of events.’ See Introduction 132, 137.

[65] Oscar Cullmann has put the matter in more general, yet succinct, terms. Sonship is … essentially characterized not by the gift of a particular power, nor by a substantial relation-ship with God by virtue of divine conception; but by the idea of election to participation in divine work through the execution of a particular commission, and by the idea of strict obedience to the God who elects. See The Christology of the New Testament (London: S.C.M., 1959) 275.

[66] Jer 5. 6–7; Hos 6 and 9; Mal 1. 6, 2. 10, 3. 17. I employed the same bi-polar model to interpret an aspect of the disciples' misunderstanding and disobedience in External Evidence for the Structure and Function of Mark iv. 1–20, vii. 14–23 and viii. 14–21’, J.T.S. 34/2 (Oct. 1978) 323–8.

[67] See the much-neglected, but important study by Bowker, John, ‘The Son of Man’, J.T.S. 28/2 (1977) 1948.

[68] Professor Moule has contributed significantly to the interpretation of this passage and its use in the New Testament. See The Origin of Christology (Cambridge: University Press, 1977) 1122.

[69] Rhoads, and Michie, , in Mark as Story 101, use similar categories in their literary-critical analysis of character: what one is and what s/he does.

[70] Tödt, H. E., The Son of Man in the Synoptic Tradition (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965) 191.

[71] Cranfield, C. E. B., The Gospel According to Saint Mark (Cambridge: University Press, 1959) 280–1.

[72] Barbour, Robin shows a refreshing sensitivity to these christological distinctions in ‘Gethsemane in the Tradition of the Passion’, N.T.S. 16/3 (April, 1970) 236, 242, 247. See his penetrating theological discussion on 242–51.

[73] J. L. Clark, ‘A Re-examination of the Problem of the Messianic Secret and its Relationship to the Synoptic Son of Man Sayings’ (New Haven: Yale University, 1962) 116. This dissertation has been published recently, but the monograph is unavailable to me. Although they have not argued the point thus, Professor Moule and Professor Morna Hooker also see the Markan Son of Man as a symbol for obedience. See his Origin 14, 27 and her The Son of Man in Mark (London: S.P.C.K., 1967) 190–3.

[74] Others, of course, have argued for Mark's intent to distinguish between the past of Jesus and the Evangelist's circumstances, e.g. Roloff,‘Markusevangelium’, 73–93, esp. 90–93; Schulz, Siegfried, Die Stunde der Botschaft (Hamburg: Furche-Verlag, 1967) 39; Georg Strecker, ‘Messiasgeheimnistheorie’, 87–104, esp. 97–104. But the issue is not simply a matter of ‘onceness’ which can be conveyed with the past tense of verbs. Rather, the distinctions revolve around theological and christological issues.

[75] Kelber, ‘Mark and Oral Tradition’, p. 16 regards the Evangelist's ‘… total written story as the beginning of the gospel’ whose ending lies in one's personal ‘actualization’. Would such an estimate of Mark's work put it in the same category as Luke 's διήγησις (1. 1) or Matthew's βίβλοςλενέσεως (1. 1)?

[76] See n. 49.

[77] Theology of the New Testament (I; New York: Scribner's, 1951) 33.

[78] E.g. Acts 2. 36, Rom 10. 9–10, 1 Cor 15. 3–5. Cf. Jn 5. 24, 12. 44; 1 Thess 2. 2, 8–9, 3. 2; 1 Pe 1.21.

[79] The analysis in Part II showed that ‘following’ principally described the disciples' response to Jesus during his lifetime (although nothing prevents it from having a secondary and extended meaning later). But in his absence everyone could receive a child in his name and so ‘receive’ Christ and God. What relates the two times is the movement from the temporal and particular to the eternal and universal (not philosophically understood). ‘Forgiveness’ and non-eschatological uses of ‘salvation’ (healing) are limited prior to the Cross to acts done on occasion for persons mainly within Judaism. But Jesus' death effects both release and covenant bonding for the many (Gentiles). Once again, limits of time, space and now nationality become transcended; soteriology is deepened.

[80] E.g. Meagher, John, ‘Die Form- and Redactionsungeschickliche [sic] Methoden: The Principle of Clumsiness and the Gospel of Mark’, J.A.A.R. 43/3 (1975) 459. See n. 10 above (Pesch).

[81] See Peterson, Norman, Literary Criticism for New Testament Critics (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978) 7880. In a helpful treatment of the relation between past, present and future, the author concludes that Mark rooted his message about Jesus in narrative form (rather than epistle or apocalypse) because his opponents had taken this approach. The Evangelist endeavoured to provide a truer account of the circumstances (80). If this was indeed the case, then choosing between the two versions would depend upon establishing the veracity of one or the other.

[3] I should like to thank Dr Russell Morton, a former student, for reading and responding to an earlier draft of this essay.

The Intention Of The Evangelist, Mark1

  • Eugene E. Lemcio


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