a Roman Catholic parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh
Reflections on the Gospel According to Mark
An On-line Project lead by Father Tony
This Year 2021 we read from the Gospel according to Mark. Over the next few months our website will carry an introduction to Mark. Ours is not a “Religion of the Book”. Our beliefs are carried in the Faith Community.
Our study will take us through Chapter and Verse of Mark's gospel. I will provide commentary along the way to clarify and/or elaborate on the Verses. This may be a help in understanding and interpreting the verse text. It will not be a collection of pious thoughts or instant solutions, but more a backdrop on how revelation contributes to our wellbeing during our life’s journey.
But before we "jump into" the Gospels of Mark, it might be helpful if I said something about the Bible itself and the gospels generally.
The Bible is a collection of 72 Books, much of it was held on scrolls until the Faith Community decided on what was authentic. Hence the emergence of The Bible. The 72 Books of the Bible cover the Old and the New Testements, which roughly speaking cover the period from "the Beginning" when God created the World to just after the Ascension of Christ. The New Testement begins just before the birth of Christ. In our study, we will concentrate on the New Testement and in particular the Gospel of Mark.
Historical Basis for the Gospels
Much has been said and written about the historical actuality of the gospels. In 1964 the matter was addressed by the Pontifical Biblical Commission. They issued an "Instruction Concerning the Historical Truth of the Gospels". A translation of the "Instruction" can be read in full by clicking here. It is, however, pretty hard going! The issue for us boils down to: "how historical are the gospels?".
There are three stages in the development of the gospels:
Stage 1; Jesus;
Stage 2: Apostolic Preaching; and
Stage 3: The Evangelist.
Stage 1; Jesus
The Pontifical Commission said that the historicity (the historical actuality of persons and events) of the gospels has to be understood from how they were composed. It took the centrist view that basically the gospels are rooted in Jesus, in what he did and what he said, and that there were people there who heard him and saw him.
We should note that the Commission were not dealing with the Narratives of Jesus in Infancy. In their document they are talking
about what Jesus did when his followers were with him. They are not talking about when he was a child.
It is a story of the ministry of Jesus up to the resurrection. The Commission say:
"Jesus said certain things; people heard him;"
"he did certain things and people saw him;"
"and that tradition is the root of the gospels."
The Language of the Bible
Jesus spoke according to the mindset of the times. Jesus was a Jew of the first third of the first century (up to 33AD); he spoke as a Jew of the first third of the first century; he thought as a Jew of the first third of the first century. In speaking, Jesus did not speak of things that we would recognise today. For example, he did not talk about, let’s say “disarmament”. But that does not mean that what he did say is not relevant for us today. Jesus cared about love for each other and about peace and this is as much relevant for us today as it was in Jesus’ time. As we journey through Mark’s Gospel, we will see how what Jesus said in addressing the people of his day has considerable relevance for us.
There is a tendency, whether you are liberal or conservative, to want Jesus on your side. Jesus knew God’s will but he is going to express it as a Jew living in first third of the first century. He picks up traditional language, uses it and reshapes it at times radically. So for instance the term Kingdom: Jesus' notion of kingdom is not power or dominance over people.
Stage 2: Apostolic Preaching
After his resurrection some of those people who heard Jesus went out and preached.
They take some of that tradition of what he did and said but the full understanding of Jesus would not have come through for the disciples during his life time. They didn’t understand fully who he was, what he was doing and why he was doing it. So Christian faith in its fullest sense starts after the resurrection. They understand now that Jesus was the one God used to reveal himself, to begin to bring his kingdom into the world. In this document they say this causes these people to rethink the tradition. So we are getting the tradition with post resurrectional faith and that is extremely important. You are not getting it with the understanding they had while Jesus walked among them. You are getting it with post resurrectional reflection and how they now understand faith dimension and that causes them to highlight certain things. All the evangelists work on post resurrectional faith but they let it dominate the story as they tell it in different ways/levels. Some weave it more dramatically than others into the story.
They (the preachers) interpreted Jesus words and deeds according to the needs of their listeners. They are not sitting down wondering what we would think of it all 2000 years from their time. They are preaching to and for a particular group of people. They are trying to make the Jesus story understandable for people of the time and the different groups. Not alone is the story told in post resurrectional faith, but adapted to the different groups at the time.
The story had to be translated. The original language was Aramaic, but it was preached in Greek to other cultures. This means choosing words to fit the concept. eg At the last supper Jesus, in Aramaic, would have said flesh “this is my flesh.” The idiom in Aramaic is flesh (Simon Bar Jona “flesh and blood have not revealed this to you”Mt 16... but in translating this into Greek a term had to be chosen. Flesh and blood sounds odd in Greek. Body and blood is the idiom. You have to interpret how it is going to make sense in the new idiom/ culture. It means interpreting the idea for different cultures. When you are translating you are beginning to theologise. There are theological implications in use and choice of terms. When body was used did this help Paul in his theology of the Body of Christ which lends itself to this in a way that flesh wouldn’t. (you are the body of Christ… would it have had the same meaning if Paul said ‘You are the flesh of Christ’.) What Jesus said and did was made meaningful for other different language.
Stage 3: Evangelists
[We are not sure who wrote the Gospels. They were written around 70AD (Mark), 80AD (Matthew and Luke) and 100AD (John). These Apostles did not actually write the Gospels but their teaching and preaching was used by "the Evangelists" to make a record of Christ's life. Hence we use the term "The Gospel According to John, Mark, etc.]
Here you have people - the evangelists - sitting down to write out the tradition. They are a different group from the preachers. The evangelists were not with Jesus. They represent another generation dependent on the preachers. They were dependent on the tradition that came down to them. They were also writing for a specific audience/group and they organised their material for that audience. They have heard stories in the tradition, for example the cleansing of temple, but the tradition doesn’t tell them when or where these occurred. So they organised the material according to the way they wanted to present Jesus. And each evangelist takes in, leaves out, according to the theological view of Jesus they wished to present to their community.
This then is a brief commentary on the origins of the Gospels; and it is at this point we end the first session in this study.
It had been my inention to take forward this study of St Mark's gospel by means of group discussion sessions.
Adult learning is best pursued when groups of people share time together, where exercising their critical faculty they
deepen their wisdom and understanding of life. Alas, during current Pandemic we don’t have the luxury of group discussions.
However if you have questions or observations, you are welcome to contact me by email:
We will move into the next phase next week. In the meantime, you can read St Mark's Gospel by clicking the button below.
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