Mark’s Language of Religious Conflict as Rhetorical Device -- By: Larry Perkins

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 11:1 (NA 2001)
Article: Mark’s Language of Religious Conflict as Rhetorical Device
Author: Larry Perkins


Mark’s Language of Religious
Conflict as Rhetorical Device

Larry Perkins

Northwest Baptist Seminary
Langley, British Columbia

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus warns his opponents against committing blasphemy in their evaluation of his ministry (3:28-29). Conversely, Jesus’ opponents accuse him of blasphemy at his trial (14:64). Such language tends to characterize intra-Judaic religious controversy in the first century. Mark, the implied author of the second Gospel, uses the language of religious conflict rhetorically in his narrative to persuade his implied reader to accept the authority of Jesus’ message as expressed in his story and to reject the counterclaims of Jesus’ opponents.

Key Words: rhetoric, religious conflict, irony, blasphemy, narrative, Gospel of Mark

The application of literary criticism to the Synoptic Gospels has stimulated many new readings of Mark’s1 Gospel. In particular, one application of rhetorical criticism2 invites the interpreter to discern the various ways in which the author seeks to direct the implied reader to a specific conclusion. In the case of Mark’s Gospel, attention has turned to elements such as characterization, the insertion of editorial comments, and the use of irony, to mention only a few of the

proposed authorial markers. For example the way in which the authority of Jesus’ words receives emphasis coupled with his dramatic actions encourages the reader to pay particular attention to his teaching in contrast to what the Jewish religious leaders might say. Or, Mark’s instruction at 13:14, “let the reader understand,” seems to be an editorial comment3 asking the reader to consider carefully the implication of Jesus’ words. Many writers also have commented on Mark’s use of irony, particularly in the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and death.4 Each of these devices in its own way, implicitly or explicitly, seeks to guide the reader to a specific understanding of the events described in Mark’s narrative and a particular, personal response to “the gospel of Jesus, Messiah, Son of God.”5

One means which the author uses to convince his reader that the claims made in the narrative about Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus’ particular vision of Israel are true and compelling involves the language of religious conflict.6 Charges or warnings of blasphem...

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