Why the Gospel of Mark?
For those few of you who have navigated to this site, I am alive and well and still living in Texas. As I mentioned in the previous post, it took a while to finally get focused on a project that would challenge me to read, research, and write. And perhaps more so, I finally have time to pursue my interest in New Testament Studies of which I received my master’s degree in 1989. As you can appreciate these past years raising a family, working in education, coaching and leading travel groups throughout all parts of the world took up a lot and did not me allow the study time that was required. Now, though I have the time and the motivation.
So why the Gospel According to Mark? It started out with a current book study on the Historical Jesus. I discovered John P. Meier’s series called “A Marginal Jew.” This was exactly the book that I needed to catch my interest and to get me reacquainted with the New Testament scholarly field. It was during one of my readings and reflective moments that I came across Luke 1:1-4 which says:
“1 Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled
among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from those who from
the beginning were servants of the word. 3 Having carefully investigated everything from
the beginning, I also have decided to write an accurate account for you, most honorable
Theophilus, 4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught.”
Naturally, I became curious as to what was the problem was that the evangelist (who wrote Mark) had with Mark’s version of the gospel. That in turn made me think about what was going through Mark’s head as he wrote this.
Now, lets back up a little bit so I can provide some background information about why I am thinking this. First, my approach to evaluating Mark, is primarily from a historical and literary perspective. By no means am I challenging the faith-based perspective on the Gospel. I am not out to criticize the work. I am just trying to get back in a real time sense of what Mark might possibly had been thinking as he wrote.
Secondly, there is a “theory” in New Testament scholarship called the “Four Source Theory” which states that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke were dependent on Mark. That being that Mark’s gospel is the earliest writing and Matthew and Luke were written afterward, using Mark as a guide. If you are interested in learning more about this there is plenty of information online.
Next, as stated in my earlier post, most contemporary New Testament scholars do not believe that the person referred to in other New Testament writing named John Mark was the author of this gospel. The current belief is that no one knows. That being said, I’m sure there is a small possibility it could be him but for the most part scholars agree that that work is anonymous. Therefore, scholars tend to refer to the author of Mark as ‘the evangelist” or to keep matters straightforward, simply “Mark”. Keep in mind, this understanding that I have just stated alone would possibly generate a lot of conversation if this blog was highly read.
One final point to understand before moving forward, is that the earliest known complete copy of Marks’s gospel dates to the fourth century. Small fragments of the gospel have been dated back to the second century. So, what does that mean? If we can date the initial writing of Mark somewhere in mid-1st century, then we have to understand that what we have now are copies of copies of copies….. Understand that this does not discredit Mark and say that the work we have right now is inaccurate. What it does say is that we have copies of copies which include literary errors that were made along the way. Therefore, it is safe to say that we do not have the original written text of Mark. In the scholarly world, this first draft is referred to as the “original” autograph.” In fact, there are not any original autographs of any New Testament writing that survived. Let me reassure you though that this does not discredit the New Testament. Again, this argument and the presentation of both sides of the argument can be found online. However, I do want to bring up one interesting perspective I have seen in many evangelical church statements of faith. They typically acknowledge that the current New Testament text is not the original autograph and therefore most likely includes some contradictions. But and here’s the but that keeps them out of theological trouble. In their Statement of Faith, they are acknowledging possible contradictions, yet they believe the New Testament in the original autograph is without error or contradiction. I personally find this entertaining on a couple levels. First, they know that the original autograph does not exist and therefore any argument would be mute. Secondly, for example if you just examined the genealogies of Matthew and Luke, they would be forced to admit one had been altered over these many years. (And for arguments sake, please don’t assume one genealogy is from the line of Mary, the text does not mention Mary at all.)
Finally, comments on the way I am going to develop this book. As I started thinking about this book, it was apparent the book was not going to be a New Testament scholarly work. That would be way out of my league. However, I wanted to write a book that would incorporate and weigh heavily on the current scholarship. Again, as mentioned I am referencing the best commentaries and the original Greek to guide me through this process. I am also intrigued by a book I am currently reading through called “The Theological Intentions of Mark’s Literary Devices” by D. Deppe. I will certainly have to lean on this book during the discussion of how I perceive the actual writing process.
Next, I also wanted to develop a long introduction, to make the story somewhat believable. So, the beginning of the book is interesting as I recall some real-life experiences. Anyway, enough for now. In the next posting I will talk about how I start the book, introduce some characters, and explain why I take the book in this certain direction.
One final comment as a disclaimer. At this point regarding these blog comments. These are just my thoughts. They might not be as polished as I like or might even have some grammatical errors. However, these will serve a purpose to keep my thoughts on track and a record of how I want the book to develop.