Friday, January 30, 2015

NT: Mark 13-16

The Gospel According to Mark is the shortest of the gospels, and as we noted, somewhat unpolished in comparison to Matthew and Luke. I suppose that the first time I read it verse-by-verse - which was as a newly born-again Christian - I had no deep thoughts about why Jesus’ story needed to be retold after reading Matthew, other than a vague acknowledgement that multiple attestations of Jesus’ miracles, ministry and resurrection make for a more convincing case to the faithful. After re-reading the Gospels and other selected New Testament books more than a few times, it has become more like re-reading a surveillance report - I already know how it ends. If you’re a believer, then Jesus’ crucifixion signals good things. If you’re not a believer, then Jesus just dies. Jesus has a bad six hours either way you look at it, but I expect most of us know someone who has suffered for days or weeks to an extent that make Jesus’ suffering look trivial by comparison. Anyway, let’s wrap this up.

Mark Chapter 13 begins with Jesus giving some of the disciples insight into the coming “last days”, with destruction and desolation on the menu as prophesied by Daniel in the Old Testament. Clearly Jesus’ words appear to be an extension of Jewish lore, at least in the eyes of the author of Mark.

1 And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples saith unto him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings [are here]!
2 And Jesus answering said unto him, Seest thou these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.
3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately,
4 Tell us, when shall these things be? and what [shall be] the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled?


23 But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.
24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light,
25 And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.
26 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.
27 And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven.

He tells us that “Heaven and Earth shall pass away” but His words will not. He clearly indicates that the “master of the house” is coming, so be on watch.

Chapter 14 is most momentous, with the Last Supper, betrayal by Judas, Jesus’ arrest by the multitudes, and Peter’s two denials. Worth reading in its entirety, no need to quote from it here.

Chapter 15 brings us to Jesus’ crucifixion and the appearance of Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of Joses, Salome, and Joseph of Arimathea. After six hours, Jesus gives up the ghost, and is entombed by Joseph of Arimathea.

Mark Chapter 16 is notable for the controversy about its length. Bible historians tell us that the earliest copies of Mark end at 16:8, and describe Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of James coming to the tomb, finding it unoccupied except by a young man, and fleeing in fear. The version of Mark that was canonized contains verses 9 through 20, which include Jesus’ reappearance to first Mary Magdalene, then to the remaining eleven disciples, whom he then charges with spreading the word. Then he ascends into heaven. Consequently, Mark 16:9-20 appear to be later additions that were not written by the original author of Mark. I don’t need to belabor this at the moment, but it’s worth noting that, in general, many books of the New Testament, maybe all, bear signs of being edited. Some edits are clearly innocuous, others appear significant. There are plenty of good resources on this kind of stuff (see Bart Ehrman’s “Forged”, Robert M. Price’s “The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man”, et al.)

A brief digression: notice that in Chapter 15, it’s “Mary mother of Joses”, whereas in Chapter 16, it’s “Mary mother of James”. Compare to Matthew 28:1, where’s it’s “the other Mary”. I’m not saying this is either important or controversial, but it’s something that gets the attention of the moderately inquisitive. When you Google “Mary mother of James and Joses” without the quotes, you get references to sites that are as likely to ignore this as to clarify it. Among my first few hits were The Bible Gateway - which ignores Joses in the description of this other Mary, and Bible Hub - which seems to ignore the difference as well. Don’t you wish the Bible was more unambiguous? You’d think the divinely inspired authors would have had some guidance on how to accomplish this. Alas!


The Olivet Discourse in Mark maps to Matthew cleanly, while Mark and Matthew follow a similar chronology, with the exception of additions in Matthew prior to the Passion narrative, and Matthew’s Great Commission, which does not explicitly map to Mark. If you’re using the Gospel Parallels site (as I am) to see how each book and verse maps to the other Gospels, you’ll see that the end of Mark and Matthew *appear* not to be “parallel”, while only a few verses of Mark map to Luke’s ending (which we’ll get to soon enough). The slight differences in the endings of the three Synoptics are worth commenting on in a separate post.

Note that a word-for-word reading of Mark and Matthew’s accounts of the Passion yield minor discrepancies as well, even though they agree in the broad outline. I can’t see believers being concerned by this, because, for the uncritical types like my twenty-something self, the Gospels - at least the Synoptics - seem to confirm each other. I never questioned in what order they were written, nor why the second Gospel might be less clean and less elaborate than the first. As a non-academic, differences between the first two books are not such a big deal to me - especially if I try to look at it as if I were reading the NT for the first time

Next time, I’ll chip away at the Gospel According to Luke.

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