A Structural Synthesis of Mark 1-8 -- By: James A. Townsend

Journal: Emmaus Journal
Volume: EMJ 08:1 (Summer 1999)
Article: A Structural Synthesis of Mark 1-8
Author: James A. Townsend


A Structural Synthesis of Mark 1-8

James A. Townsend*

Preface

Getting the lay of the land in reference to a Bible book is something that some Christians never do. Analysis is essentially a breaking up of the text into its component parts, while synthesis is a putting together of the overarching units of a book study. Some New Testament books (such as Romans, Hebrews, or 1 John) yield to a structural synthesis more readily than Mark’s Gospel does. One gets a breathless—almost hyper—feel about the pace at which Mark put his material on papyrus. Nevertheless, there are certainly numerous geographical and chronological signposts throughout the book to guide the reader. Where humans look at the nighttime sky, they see a formation of stellar bodies that look to them like a “Big Dipper”—and that outline aids their understanding of the astronomic universe, just as grappling with the formation of Mark’s Gospel will help us see things that we might not have seen otherwise. A thought-provoking poem says:

The poem hangs on the berry tree
When comes the poet’s eye.
The street begins to masquerade
When Shakespeare passes by.
(Poet unknown)

In other words, the more constantly and creatively we study our subject, the more cemented connections we will be prone to see.

This first article will cover roughly the first half of Mark’s Gospel. Before we begin, let’s list a number of recognized strategic stylistic features of Mark’s Gospel.

* Jim Townsend is the Bible and theology specialist for Cook Communications in Elgin, IL and a 1964 alumnus of Emmaus Bible College.

(1) “Immediately” (εὐθύς, euthus, pronounced you-THOOS) is a favorite time-word of Mark, occurring over forty times and giving it that herky-jerky feel (like an old Charlie Chaplin film).
(2) “And” (καί, kai) is the frequent coupler that joins the boxcars of his words. In this shortest of the four Gospels Mark uses “and” some 400 times (as compared with 250 times in the longer Matthew and 380 times in Luke’s Gospel).
(3) The historical present tense gives a vividness and verve to Mark’s narrative. In Greek this means that a present tense would be used where normally a past tense would be expected, giving the account a more dramatic feel (for instance, “Caesar crosses the Rubicon and his soldiers are plunging into the water” instead of “crossed” and “plunged.”
(4) Mark usually tells us that Jesus taught rather than pausing to tell us what Jesus taught. While Matthew contains six lengt...

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