Mark's Gospel: Worlds in Conflict

Mark's Gospel: Worlds in Conflict

Mark's Gospel: Worlds in Conflict

Mark's Gospel: Worlds in Conflict


Mark's 'biography' of Jesus is the earliest of the four gospels, and influenced them all. The distinctive feature of this biography is the quality of 'good news', which presupposes a world dominated by the forces of evil.John Painter shows how the rhetorical and dramatic shaping of the book emphasises the conflict of good and evil at many levels - between Jesus and the Jewish authorities, Jesus and the Roman authorities, and the conflict of values within the disciples themselves. These matters of content are integral to this original approach to Mark's theodicy, while the stylistic issue raises the question of Mark's intended readership.John Painter's succinct yet thorough treatment of Mark's gospel opens up not only these rhetorical issues, but the social context of the gospel, which Painter argues to be that of the Pauline mission to the nations.


Sensitive readers, who want to hear more than their own ideas echoing back from the text, know that they need to attend to the signals within the text that can keep the reader on course. These signals are especially important for the reader of Mark, who is separated from the teller of the story and the subject of the story by almost two millennia of radical changes in the perception of reality and commitment to values. Reading Mark jolts us into the awareness of an understanding of the world that is in conflict with our own.


Each of the Gospels tells the story of Jesus in its own way. This is both an advantage and a problem. Four Gospels enrich the depth of our perception of Jesus but cause problems with conflicting presentations. Modern critical scholarship is more conscious of conflicts than was the early church but, from the second century, there have been attempts, such as Tatian's Diatessaron, to harmonise the Gospels. Although the four Gospels are read in the churches today, most readers tend to conflate them in their minds. Yet each Gospel has its own story to tell, its own contribution to make to our understanding of Jesus.

From the end of the second century the order of the Gospels was discussed. Clement of Alexandria said that the Gospels with the genealogies were earlier than those without. The view soon emerged that Mark summarised Matthew (thus Augustine in his Harmony of the Gospels). Only in the nineteenth century did the deficiencies of this view become apparent. Augustine had recognised that there was a literary relationship between the first three Gospels. He argued

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