The Paradox of Authority and Servanthood in the Gospel of Mark -- By: Narry F. Santos

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 154:616 (Oct 1997)
Article: The Paradox of Authority and Servanthood in the Gospel of Mark
Author: Narry F. Santos


The Paradox of Authority and Servanthood in the Gospel of Mark

Narry F. Santos

[Narry F. Santos is Professor of New Testament, International School of Theology-Asia, Quezon City, Philippines.]

The Gospel of Mark has been described as a paradoxical gospel, a riddle that teases its readers’ response, and a narrative that possesses an enigmatic and puzzling character.1 This paradoxical and puzzling character is seen clearly in the paradox of authority and servanthood in Mark’s Gospel. The paradox highlights the relationship of two important Marcan motifs: the Christological motif of authority and the discipleship motif of servanthood—motifs that interact intricately in Mark.

This paradox serves as a key Marcan rhetorical device that urges readers to show servanthood in their exercise of authority within the community of believers and beyond.2

Definition of Paradox

A paradox is a statement that departs from accepted opinion (the etymological nuance), or an apparently self-contradictory or

absurd statement (the derivational nuance).3 Thus a “paradox” is an unusual and apparently self-contradictory rhetorical statement or concept that departs dramatically from accepted opinion. Mark used the paradox to jolt and challenge his readers to depart from the accepted opinion that servanthood is incompatible with authority.

Mark included various examples that indicate the prevailing opinion on authority and servanthood during his day. For example he recorded Jesus’ words, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them” (Mark 10:42). But Jesus challenged His disciples to depart from society’s prevailing principle on authority (viz., that the persons of authority are the ones who are to rule over the ones with little or no authority): “But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (10:43). Thus Mark dramatically presented his readers with the challenge to become servants.

In its derivational meaning a paradox involves an apparently self-contradictory statement or concept that can convey unified truth (i.e., the polaric aspect), despite the existing contrariness of two opposing assertions (i.e., the antinomic aspect). The antinomic aspect of the derivational meaning is seen clearly in the verbal paradox of authority and servanthoo...

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