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Characteristics of Mark's Gospel

Characteristics of Mark's Gospel

Jesus Christ
Oral and written tradition
The Gospel of Matthew
The Gospel of Mark
The Gospel of Luke
The Gospel of John
The meaning for today

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 1991).

The Gospel edition of Mark is the shortest one. It concentrates on Jesus’ deeds rather than on his words. This probably arises from its being an elaboration of URMARK which was principally a collection of Jesus’ deeds. It has very few passages which we do not find in the other Gospels.

Passages found only in Mark’s Gospel

  • The anxiety of Jesus’ relatives --- Mark 3:20-21
  • The parable of the growing seed --- Mark 4:26-29
  • The cure of the man who was deaf and dumb --- Mark 7:31-37
  • The cure of the blind man of Bethsaida --- Mark 8:22-26
  • The youth following Jesus at Gethsemani --- Mark 14:51-52

Mark may narrate the same events as those narrated in the other Gospel editions, but his narration has retained more material of the original oral traditions. That is why Mark often gives more detail than the other Gospel editions.

To see one full example, compare the story of the paralyzed man as narrated by Mark and by Matthew ( see Matthew’s focus on Jesus’ words ) .

Some other interesting details preserved by Mark in a variety of traditions are listed here:

  • During the storm Jesus was in the back part of the ship and sleeping on a pillow. --- Mark 43:38; compare Matthew 8:24, Luke 8:23.
  • Jesus called John and James “sons of thunder.” --- Mark 3:17; compare Matthew 10:2; Luke 6:14.
  • The blind man of Jericho was called "Bartimaeus." --- Mark 10:46, compare Matthew 20:20; Luke 18:35.
  • Jesus looked around at the Pharisees with anger. --- Mark 3:5; compare Matthew 12:11; Luke 6:9.

Besides this, Mark has a spontaneous and lively style of narration. Events are presented as ‘scenes’ in a drama. Study this sample which reads like an extract from a film script:

(It happens in Jericho. Jesus with his disciples and a large crowd is leaving the city. A blind man named Bartimaeus, i.e. son of Timaeus, sits begging by the road side).
Bartimaeus: (hearing that it is Jesus of Nazareth, shouts:) “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me.”
(The passers-by scold him and ask him to be quiet)
Bartimaeus: (shouting even louder this time) “Son of David, have mercy on me! ”
Jesus: (stops; says to bystanders) “Call him.”
Bystanders: (go to call the blind man) “Cheer up! Get up! He is calling you!”
(Bartimaeus throws off his cloak, jumps up and goes to Jesus)
Jesus : “What do you want me to do for you?”
Bartimaeus: “Teacher, I want to see again.”
Jesus : “Go, your faith has made you well.”
(At once Bartimaeus is able to see and follows Jesus)

It should be noted that almost everything in the above extract is literally in Mark’s text: Mark 10,46-52. It illustrates how dramatically events are presented in his narrative.

John Wijngaards

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