History & Theology in Mark's Gospel by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
Introduction: Questions for Preliminary Reflection:
How much of Mark’s Gospel do you normally consider to be "historical"?
How much of John’s Gospel do you honestly consider to be "historical"?
What does it mean for a literary work to be "historical"?
What level of "history" are you thinking of?
I) Presuppositions: Is Mark’s Gospel Historical?
Common Assumptions of the “Historical Jesus” Movements:
Mark’s Gospel is straightforward and simple, therefore (mostly) historical.
John’s Gospel is obviously and highly theological, therefore not historical.
This bias is based largely on the oft-cited opinions of Clement of Alexandria:
"Again, in the same books [the Hypotyposes], Clement gives the tradition of the earliest presbyters, as to the order of the Gospels, in the following manner: 'The Gospels containing the genealogies, he says, were written first [i.e. Matthew and Luke]. The Gospel according to MARK had this occasion. As Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome, and declared the Gospel by the Spirit, many who were present requested that Mark, who had followed him for a long time and remembered his sayings, should write them out. And having composed the Gospel he gave it to those who had requested it. When Peter learned of this, he neither directly forbade nor encouraged it. But, last of all, JOHN, perceiving that the external facts had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual Gospel.' This is the account of Clement." (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.5-7).
This bias often also forgets to account for the different historical levels involved in reading a New Testament text:
Jesus' own actions & teachings, Oral Tradition passed on by the Apostles, Written Sources and Texts composed by various leaders
See my NT Canon page for further stages in the Formation and Transmission of the Bible
See also the Pontifical Biblical Commission (1964), Instruction concerning the Historical Truth of the Gospels, esp. par. VI-IX
Other Patristic Evidence:
Papias, bishop of Hierapolis: “Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things done or said by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses…” (cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.14-17)
Mark 1:1 – The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
1:14-15 – Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, / and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
8:35 – “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
10:29 – Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,…”
13:10 – “And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations.”
14:9 – “Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
[16:15 – And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”]
Euangelion is used
a total of 76 times in the NT: also in Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; 26:13; Acts 15:7; 20:24; Rom 1:1; 1:9, 16; 2:16; 10:16; 11:28; 15:16, 19; 16:25; 1Cor 4:15; 9:12, 14, 18, 23; 15:1; 2Cor 2:12; 4:3-4; 8:18; 9:13; 10:14; 11:4, 7; Gal 1:6-7; 1:11; 2:2, 5, 7, 14; Eph 1:13; 3:6; 6:15, 19; Phil 1:5; 1:7, 12, 16, 27; 2:22; 4:3, 15; Col 1:5, 23; 1Thess 1:5; 2:2, 2:4, 8-9; 3:2; 2Thess 1:8; 2:14; 1Tim 1:11; 2Tim 1:8, 10; 2:8; Philem 1:13; 1Peter 4:17; Rev 14:6
Development of Christology:
Growth & struggles in understanding Jesus’ identity & significance
Messianic Secret: Why didn’t more people believe in Jesus?
Portrayal of Discipleship:
Eager & responsive at the beginning (calling of first disciples)
Resistant & uncomprehending in the middle (on the way to Jerusalem)
Fearful & silent at the end of the story (after Jesus’ death & resurrection)
Mark’s Gospel is less historical than you may have previously assumed.
Mark’s Gospel is more theological than you may have previously thought.