Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Does Mark's Gospel Have an Outline?

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Does Mark's Gospel Have an Outline?

Article excerpt

(ProQuest Information and Learning: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)

Mark's Gospel is like a path on which readers can travel, walking with Jesus and experiencing his life, death, and resurrection. As with any journey, this one has a starting point, travel time, and a destination. It begins with the preparatory work of John the Baptist and with Jesus' baptism, moves continually forward toward Jesus' crucifixion, and ends with an empty tomb. If Mark's Gospel is like a path, then an outline of the book is like a road map. It guides the traveler along the path, identifying important turns, intersections, and points of interest. Any map is a simplified representation, so that it does not replace the journey itself but helps the traveler to make sense of the trip. In the same way, an outline is not a substitute for the reading of Mark's Gospel itself but is an attempt to offer guidance about the significant divisions, turning points, interconnections, and developments in the story. This article argues for an overall outline or map of Mark's Gospel, one that takes seriously the narrative shape of Mark and pays close attention to narrative features such as character, setting, and plot, as well as to the patterned arrangement of episodes. Mark's Gospel is a historical narrative, but it is still a narrative, which has implications for the structure of the book.

I. THE PROBLEM OF MARK'S OUTLINE

Does Mark's Gospel have an outline? Some have objected to the whole idea of an outline for Mark's Gospel, if by an outline we mean an identifiable structure made up of discrete units with obvious divisions. Joanna Dewey expresses the objection clearly.1 According to Dewey, Mark's Gospel is like an oriental carpet with crisscrossing patterns. It is an interwoven tapestry made up of multiple overlapping structures and sequences that serve to bridge breaks in the narrative rather than create them. Mark's Gospel is too complex. It contains more patterns than can be expressed in an outline, especially since an outline will necessarily highlight certain patterns and by doing so obscure others. By its very nature, an outline also identifies breaks in the narrative and divides the text into separate sequential units. According to Dewey, Mark's Gospel does not divide easily because it consistently bridges breaks through interconnections, repetitions, and anticipations, so that different events and episodes are interwoven into a unified narrative. For Dewey, Mark's Gospel does not have a clear overall structure. Instead it consists of forecasts and echoes, repetition with variations, resulting in the type of narrative that meets the needs of a listening audience.2 Since Mark's Gospel consists of overlapping patterns, different interpreters will create different outlines depending on which patterns they emphasize.3 In Dewey's opinion, various outlines tell us more about their creators than about the Gospel of Mark and its structure.4

There is an element of truth to this objection. An outline cannot display all the possible relationships that exist between passages in Mark's Gospel. For example, the feeding of the 5000 (6:30-44) comes immediately before Jesus' walking on the water in Mark's Gospel (6:45-52), and the two events are connected. The final statement in the second of these two episodes indicates that the disciples' confusion concerning Jesus' power over the sea grew out of their lack of insight concerning the loaves (6:52). In this way, Mark associated the two events, and an outline ought to make that relationship apparent. However, an outline that connects the feeding of the 5000 with what follows makes it more difficult to notice the relationship between the feeding of the 5000 and the event that precedes it in the narrative. The banquet of Herod (6:14-29) serves as an important background for the banquet of Jesus (6:30-44), since the selfish and destructive King Herod provides a striking contrast to the compassionate shepherd who feeds his sheep. …

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