Peter in the Gospel of Mark
From Notes on the Formation of the Gospels,
by John Wijngaards;
published in Background to the Gospels
(Bangalore & Ann Arbor 1981)
and Together in My Name (London
Tradition claims that Marks Gospel reflects the preaching of Peter. No doubt, the matter in the Gospel is almost identical with what was generally preached about Christ in the early Church by all the Apostles. Yet, it is undeniable that Peter plays a prominent role in Marks Gospel. It is almost as if the evangelist does want to present us with Jesus as he was experienced by Peter.
Peters first meeting with Jesus
The public life of Jesus begins with Peters call (Mark 1:16-18). The detailed description of Jesus first appearance in Capharnaum: the great impression he made in the synagogue when preaching (1:21-22) and when curing the possessed man (1:23-28); Jesuss stay in Peters house (1:29-32); the miracle done that same evening (1:32-34); Jesus prayer outside the city and how he went to preach in other villages in spite of Peters objection: it all reflects the manner in which Peter must have recounted his first contact with the Master. We can well imagine how the old Apostle would speak about it with enthusiasm: I still remember how he came once along the side of the lake... We were fishing... He called us... The next Sabbath he preached in our synagogue... etc.
Of course, we should remember at the same time, that all these events, though reflecting Peters experience, are recounted by the evangelist in the rather fixed formulation of the oral traditions.
Peters witnessing some special events
In the list of the Apostles, Peter ranks first and Mark mentions that he received his new name Peter directly from Jesus (Mark 3:16). The Apostles are sometimes called Simon and those with him (Mark 1:36). Peter was also chosen by Christ to be, with James, John (and Andrew), the witness of some special events:
- the raising of Jairusdaughter --- Mark 5:37;
- the transfiguration --- Mark 9:2;
- Jesus sermon on the future --- Mark 13:3;
- Jesus agony in Gethsemani --- Mark 14:33-37.
Only the immediate eyewitnesses, of whom Peter was one, could be the ultimate source of the preaching on these events. These events were the common content of the Apostolic preaching, but would be specially lively in Peters own instruction.
Peters own words to Jesus
In quite a few Gospel passages we are told about particular statements made by Peter:
Peter professes, You are the Messiah! --- Mark 8:29
Peter speaks at the transfiguration saying: Master, it is good to be here. Let us make three tents! --- Mark 9:5
Peter says: Look, we have left everything and followed you! --- Mark 10:28
Peter says: Look, teacher, the fig tree you cursed has died! --- Mark 11:21
Peter says at the last Supper: I will never leave you, even though all the others do! --- Mark 14:29
Regarding the fig tree, it should be noticed that Matthew attributes the saying to the disciples in general (Matthew 21:20), whereas Mark attributes it specifically to Peter.
Peters admission of his faults
Traditionally, a trace of Peters own testimony in Marks Gospel is also seen in the fact that certain praiseworthy actions of Peter are omitted (such as the miracle of walking on the water (Matthew 14:28-31), and that Peters shortcomings are stressed. Mark relates how Jesus rebuked Peter (Mark 8:32-33) and gives many details about Peters denial of Jesus (Mark 14:66-72). It seems more natural that Peter himself would authenticate such failings.
From all these indications we can see how Peters testimony may have influenced and shaped Marks presentation of Jesus. We may consider Marks Gospel as the introduction to Jesus Christ, given by an eyewitness (Peter), through the typical formulation of oral tradition.
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