STRUCTURING OF MARK:
AN ASSESSMENT (2008)
Return to Index
I believe over the years I have found three major elements of Markan structuring
. They are
1) A well-born, wise, powerful overall structure of the witness to Jesus' humanity, and that to which the disciples are called,
2) A one-to-one, one-to-some, and one-to-all sequence, that relates to the above, and
3) A relating of Mark 1.1-16.8 (minus the interpolation of 6.45-8.26) to the Palestinian Jewish Triennial Lectionary, which also relates to the first two and highlights some of its aspects..
Four writings that I would credit with starting me on the road to looking for structuring were three books by R. H. Lightfoot (History and interpretation in the Gospels, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1935; Locality and Doctrine in the Gospels, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1938; The Gospel Message of St Mark (OUP, 1950) and an article by Ernst Lohmeyer, '"Und Jesus ging vorüber"', Nieuw Theologisch Tijdschrift (Haarlem) 1934, pp. 206-224 (see 'Passing by' in the Gospels). Lohmeyer's article raised the issue of a more subtle echoing of the scriptures to bear witness to Jesus, in this case the use of the passing-by motif as epiphanous and even theophanous.
The initial insight
for Mark's structure came from Eduard Schweizer, 'Mark's Contribution to the Quest for the Historical
Jesus'. N.T.S. 19 (1963-64),
421-32. He highlighted the disciples' incomprehension at the three times
Jesus speaks of the coming passion (Mark 8.31; 9.31; 10.33), with the first
involving a one-to-one following of Jesus (8.34), the second involving one in
relation to other disciples, i.e., the church (9.34-37), and the third the
relationship to all people, i.e., including the gentiles (10.42-45), each being
related to the way of the cross..
It became clear that this triadic motif of 1:1, 1:some, 1:all runs through Mark, often in clear acknowledgement or affirmation of Jesus or, on the contrary, denial or rejection of him. (see St Mark's Day Sermon and Gospel Prologues and Their Function). Here are two major triads followed by two smaller scale ones.
The first major triad consists of (1) God's witness to Jesus alone at his baptism that he is God's Son (1.11), (2) God's witness to the disciples, that is, to the Church, at the transfiguration that Jesus is his Son who is to be obeyed (9.7), and (3) the Centurion's witness to all men at the cross on the basis of how Jesus died: "Truly, this man was God's Son" (15.39).
The second major triad is exactly parallel to the first one, and it consists of the witness of the unclean spirits. (1) In Mark 1.24 a single unclean spirit calls Jesus "the Holy One of God." (2) In 3.11 unclean spirits (plural) say that Jesus is "the Son of God." And (3) in 5.7, at Gerasa in the Decapolis, a legion of unclean spirits cry out in the vocative, and hence without definite articles, "Jesus, Son of God Most High!" This is in Gentile territory, it is anarthrous, and it uses a predominantly Hellenistic designation for God: "God Most High." Thus it corresponds precisely to the Centurion's confession in 15.39.
Our examples of two smaller triads concern Judas and Peter. Judas denies Jesus three times in a reversal of the usual order: (1) before the chief priests of all the people (14.10 f.), (2) by guilty silence in the midst of the Church's fellowship at the last supper (14.20), and (3) in his direct relationship with Jesus when he kisses him (14.44 f.). Peter's denials are similar but in the more common order. (1) He first denies Jesus in a direct confrontation with the maid of the high priest (14.67), (2) next he denies him when she speaks to the bystanders (14.69), and (3) finally he denies him when the bystanders accost him as a Galilean (14.70 f.). This last denial parallels the Centurion's confession, for the bystanders say, "Truly of them you are," and Peter says, "I do not know this man." In 15.39 the Centurion says, "Truly, this man was God's Son," and these are the only two occurrences in Mark of ἀληθῶς, "truly," and of the phrase οὗτος ὁ ἄνθρωπος, "this man."
It is likely that the whole of the gospel according to Mark is a continuous repetition of the triadic pattern of concern with the individual, with the Church, and with all men. The concern for all men comes only through the Son of man on the cross (cf. Mark 10.45), so that it is not surprising if passion motifs often appear to form the third member of any particular triad. For further details of this as I detected it by 1973 in 1.16-8.26 see 'A provisional triadic outline of Mark 1.16-8.26' in Gospel Prologues and Their Function. For a summary of further triads especially in the passion narrative see 'A summary of some major and minor triads' in Mark Exegetical Notes.
The discerning of the well-born, wise, powerful structure in Mark arose as a result of work that started from 1 Corinthians 1.26. In Mark I first saw in in 6.1-4, where Jesus is rejected in his home town precisely on the basis of the wisdom, and power evidenced in him and his apparent parentage. Then it became apparent in the words of God at his baptism (wellbeing) and transfiguration (wisdom), and the words of the centurion at the cross (power). For full details see 'Mark' in Mark & Wisdom, Power and Wellbeing (which includes some repetition of material presented above).
The lectionary background to Mark's structure was first discerned by C. Townsend Ruddick, Jr., '"Behold, I send my Messenger"', JBL 88 (1969), 381-417. He correlated the Codex Vaticanus divisions of Mark 1.1-16.8 (minus the interpolation of 6.45-8.26) to a form of the Palestinian triennial synagogue lectionary. I worked from that and found much more evidence for the correlation (see Mark and the Triennial Lectionary in association with The Torah Sedarim of the Nisan and Tishri Cycles). Let it suffice for here simply to highlight three points that relate to other materials above: Jesus' baptism corresponds to the flood narrative (1.9-11; N1: Gen 8.1-9.17); transfiguration matches Joseph before Pharaoh ('Is there anyone as wise and discreet as Joseph?' (9.2-7; N1: Gen 41.1-37), and the young man (νεανίσκος), seated, clothed, proclaiming the risen Lord (as one newly baptized into Christ’s death and raised to new life) (16.1-8) matches N1: Gen 5.1-6.8. Gen 5.1: ‘Book of the generations of Adam’, i.e., humanity renewed, and N2: Exod 14.15-16.3: Crossing of Red Sea and Moses’ song of triumph, the other great baptismal type.
I now leave it to you, dear reader, as to whether or not the above make sense, cohere, and deepen your appreciation of the depth and urgency of the call to discipleship to be found in Mark. I do, and it is pastorally summed up in the St Mark's Day Sermon.