Does Mark’s Gospel Have An Outline? -- By: Joel F. Williams

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 49:3 (Sep 2006)
Article: Does Mark’s Gospel Have An Outline?
Author: Joel F. Williams

Does Mark’s Gospel Have An Outline?

Joel F. Williams*

Mark’s Gospel is like a path on which readers can travel, walking with Jesus and experiencing his life, death, and resurrection. As with any journey, this one has a starting point, travel time, and a destination. It begins with the preparatory work of John the Baptist and with Jesus’ baptism, moves continually forward toward Jesus’ crucifixion, and ends with an empty tomb. If Mark’s Gospel is like a path, then an outline of the book is like a road map. It guides the traveler along the path, identifying important turns, intersections, and points of interest. Any map is a simplified representation, so that it does not replace the journey itself but helps the traveler to make sense of the trip. In the same way, an outline is not a substitute for the reading of Mark’s Gospel itself but is an attempt to offer guidance about the significant divisions, turning points, interconnections, and developments in the story. This article argues for an overall outline or map of Mark’s Gospel, one that takes seriously the narrative shape of Mark and pays close attention to narrative features such as character, setting, and plot, as well as to the patterned arrangement of episodes. Mark’s Gospel is a historical narrative, but it is still a narrative, which has implications for the structure of the book.

I. The Problem Of Mark’s Outline

Does Mark’s Gospel have an outline? Some have objected to the whole idea of an outline for Mark’s Gospel, if by an outline we mean an identifiable structure made up of discrete units with obvious divisions. Joanna Dewey expresses the objection clearly.1 According to Dewey, Mark’s Gospel is like

* Joel Williams is associate professor of Biblical Studies at Columbia International University, 7435 Monticello Road, Columbia, SC 29203.

an oriental carpet with crisscrossing patterns. It is an interwoven tapestry made up of multiple overlapping structures and sequences that serve to bridge breaks in the narrative rather than create them. Mark’s Gospel is too complex. It contains more patterns than can be expressed in an outline, especially since an outline will necessarily highlight certain patterns and by doing so obscure others. By its very nature, an outline also identifies breaks in the narrative and divides the text into separate sequential units. According to Dewey, Mark’s Gospel does not divide easily because it consistently bridges breaks through interconnections, repetitions, and anticipations, so that different events and episodes are interwoven into a unified narrative. For Dewey, Mark’s Gospel does not have a clear ...

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