Friday, January 22, 2016

Commentary: Preface to Mark

"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God)."

My earliest memories of reading the Bible treated the four Gospels as essentially interchangeable. Jesus did a bunch of stuff, but for whatever reason only some of it appeared in this book, and other stuff appeared in this other book, and sometimes specific stuff was repeated by two or even three books, and why, I don't know, but sometimes there were even small changes that made everything more confusing, and who came up with this, because I just want to read about Jesus and this makes no sense.

Now I'm older and wiser, and have a slightly better understanding of why there are multiple books and why some 'stuff' is repeated and why other stuff isn't.  Broadly, the Gospel of Matthew gives the life of Jesus from a Jewish Messianic perspective, Luke from a Hellenic historical perspective, and John from what we might call a Christian mystical perspective.

However, despite all that, I have long considered the Gospel of Mark to be the least distinctive of the four gospels. For one, there's the notion that Mark's gospel was written earlier than the rest -- though unlike most modern scholars, I'm unconvinced by 'Markan priority' and tend to favor the traditional 'Matthean priority' hypothesis. For another, Mark's gospel is shorter than the rest, and seems the lack the same overarching theme or point of view as the others.

I'm pretty confident that my impression of Mark's gospel now is nearly as inaccurate as my impression of all four Gospels then.  But, if a misconception, it is still one that I feel the need to consciously disprove. Hence these Commentaries: by reading through the Gospel of Mark (with a Catholic young adult group) and writing my notes down after the fact, I hope to get an idea of how to read Mark and see his gospel as distinct from the rest.

The Gospel of Mark is usually ascribed to John Mark, the young cousin of the apostle Barnabas who accompanied Paul in his missionary journeys.  When Peter miraculously escaped the custody of King Herod in Acts 12, it was to the house of John Mark’s mother that he went first.

By Church tradition – and with considerable support from the early Church Fathers, including Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen) – John Mark wrote his gospel while serving as a scribe for the apostle Peter in Rome. This strikes me as rather obviously true, both from the testimony of Tradition and from the evidence of the text.

This also strikes me as providing the Gospel with a clear and overarching theme. John Mark was not a direct witness to the events of Jesus’ life, but was a scribe for one who was a more direct witness than almost any other.  The Gospel of Mark, then, is essentially Peter’s Gospel, reflecting both his perspective on the events of Jesus’ life, and his pastoral care for the Church at Rome.  Mark is a teaching gospel, a preacher’s gospel, borne from the stories Peter must have told both to Mark and to his congregation.

My Commentary on Mark 1 will follow shortly.