Is Mark’s Gospel an Apology for the Cross? -- By: Joel F. Williams

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 12:1 (NA 2002)
Article: Is Mark’s Gospel an Apology for the Cross?
Author: Joel F. Williams


Is Mark’s Gospel an Apology for the Cross?

Joel F. Williams

Columbia International University

Robert H. Gundry’s impressive and detailed commentary on the Gospel of Mark is a book built on a central thesis, that Mark wrote an apology for the cross. Mark presented Jesus as a powerful and supernatural savior in order to reach Gentile unbelievers who were stumbling over the shamefulness of the crucifixion. This article argues that the description of miracles within Mark’s Gospel, the teaching of Jesus on discipleship, and the passion narrative itself, all create problems for Gundry’s approach to Mark’s audience.

Key Words: Mark, apology, cross, christology, miracles, discipleship, passion narrative

When Robert Gundry wrote a commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, a commentary with a controversial thesis, the response was swift and extensive.1 More recently, Gundry wrote a commentary on Mark’s

Gospel, once again a book with a controversial thesis.2 Indeed, as Moises Silva states on the dust jacket for the book, Gundry “seems incapable of writing a page that is not provocative.” Yet the Mark commentary provoked much less of a response.3 Gundry’s Matthew commentary created a splash, his Mark commentary a ripple. This article is part of the ripple. It examines and critiques the thesis put foreword in Gundry’s commentary on Mark, that Mark’s Gospel was an apology for the cross. Although his Mark commentary has received less attention, Gundry’s approach in this work raises important questions about the purpose and relevance of Mark’s Gospel. His commentary on Mark is a significant work that merits careful attention. At the end of the article, after examining Gundry’s thesis, I want to return to the topic of the different reactions to his two commentaries. Why did his Mark commentary generate so little discussion in comparison to the debate initiated by his Matthew commentary?

According to Gundry, Mark’s Gospel displays a unified purpose, one that may be summarized as an apology for the cross (pp. 5, 1022). “Mark’s meaning lies on the surface. He writes a straightforward apology for the Cross, for the shameful way in which the object of Christian faith and subject of Christian proclamation died, and hence for Jesus as the Crucified One” (p. 1). For Gundry, this apologetic purpose provides a comprehensive explanation for all the details of Mark’s narrative and for the way in which those details are presented (p. 1026). Mark wrote to people who were afraid to...

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