Mark's Picture of Jesus

by Darrel Cline

Chapter Two

The Prologue of Mark

The Present Debate

A perusal of the analyses of the modern commentators reveals that there is yet some debate over the specific content of the prologue to Mark. Cole, Lange, Plummer, Robertson, Hendriksen, and Lightfoot take the middle ground of a prologue that runs through 1:13.1 Suggestions that the prologue ends at 1:8 and at 1:15 are also to be found. However, none of these points of conclusion have any support from the text. Most argue that Mark set a pattern of beginning the actual content of the Gospel with the beginning of Jesus' ministry that other Gospel writers followed.

There is a better way to decide the issue. That way is an examination of the text with a view toward seeing deliberate indicators within the content.2 In respect to this, Hengel writes,

"Of course there is no 'absolutely valid' solution here. We cannot reconstruct exactly the plan which Mark made for himself before writing the Gospel. Therefore the discussion of details will be endless."3

But, this is agnostic and undercuts the entire hermeneutical process. There is such a thing as validity in interpretation4 and reconstructing the author's plan is one of the four primary demands of legitimate interpretation.5

The Demands of the Text

The prologue cannot end at 1:8 or 1:13. The reason for this claim is that Mark used John the Baptizer's statement concerning Jesus as a pre-introduction for his introduction of Christ.

This is most easily seen in that Mark deliberately presented John with a message concerning Messiah in 1:7-8 which consists of a primary statement followed by a two-fold developmental statement. This message was that One was coming after John who was superior in essential might.6 And, that One's essential might consisted in a superior moral strength and a superior effectual strength. John's words were:

"There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water; but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost." (1:8; KJV)

John's statement that One was coming after him Who was "mightier" than he was his primary message. He was the forerunner of the Lord Who was to come and establish the Kingdom of Righteousness upon the earth. In order to do this, the Following One had to possess greater "might" than John who could only proclaim the necessity of repentance. He could not bring it about, nor could he do anything about it if the people refused to heed and obey him.

But, in John's mind, this "might" was to be understood in two ways. First, the Mighty One was mightier in moral excellence. John's disclaimer of worth as one who could loose the sandal latchets can only be rightly understood in moral terms. In the New Testament era, a disciple would do all manner of service for his master except loose the thongs of his sandals.7 The slave, on the other hand, would do this task. But, John's claim is to be less than worthy to be a slave. How can he see himself as not sufficient to be an abject slave? This only makes good sense if he sees himself an unqualified by some flaw in his character, for it is only in the ethical realm that the creatures of God find themselves so out of order as to not be capable of rendering service. In other words, the only reason John could be seen as "unworthy" would be for moral reasons as one not sufficiently holy to serve the Coming Lord. That this is John's meaning is seen immediately in the way Mark interprets the phrase by means of the temptation of Jesus (as we shall see shortly), and in the way Mark develops the idea of superior ethical might in the section of his gospel which addresses that issue (9:1-13:37).

Second, John contrasts his "might" with that of the Coming One in terms of what they two could accomplish. He could only baptize with water. This was not a great accomplishment. He could not generate the necessary repentance, nor could he guarantee that his baptism was even a valid seal of repentance. But, the One who was really "mighty" could not only effect genuine repentance (a prerequisite of a kingdom of genuine righteousness), He could also seal its effectiveness by baptizing with the Holy Spirit. That this is Mark's meaning is seen by the way he juxtaposes John's phrase with Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom (the detail of this argument for juxtapositioning will be given shortly), and by the way he develops the meaning of the phrase in 14:1-16:8 where the major issue is the weakness of the flesh of men, a thesis that will be developed later in this study.

Now, when one looks at this introduction by John, immediate expectations arise. Certainly, if this is prologue, Jesus will be presented along these three lines. And, in fact, the Gospel that follows is divided along these lines. Though this will be developed more fully later, the section of 1:21-8:26 records seventeen of the twenty acts of power that are used by Mark in the entire message; the section of 9:1-13:37 focuses deliberately upon that power in terms of the Kingdom's demands for heirs who will function by a moral power that exceeds anything the Old Testament prophets were able to generate or maintain; and the section of 14:1-16:8 focuses upon that power in terms of its ability to overcome the specific problems that have held the coming of the Kingdom off for several millennia -- i.e. an effectual power. This yields a book with two major sections: one section that develops the thesis of inherent power (1:21-8:26); and one section that develops that thesis in two distinct lines (9:1-16:8). But, does the fact that Mark uses John's words as a form upon which to develop his picture of Christ mean that the prologue ends here?

The answer is found in the following statements about Christ. When Mark's words about Him are analyzed, it immediately becomes clear that he used John's words as a pre-introduction to his introduction of Jesus. In 1:9-11 Mark presents the Mightier One -- the Beloved Son of the God of Heaven. In 1:12-13 he presents the Worthier One -- One who successfully handles the opposition of Satan in the wilderness. And, in 1:14-15, he presents the More Effective One -- One able to deal with the issues that surround the establishment of the Kingdom of God. This means that John's words were to be taken as a three-fold introduction to Jesus of Nazareth. It also means that the Markan record of Jesus' fulfillment of the Baptizer's description goes through 1:15. Thus, Mark's use of John's three-fold description carries us past 1:13. This means two things: first, 1:8 is not the end of the prologue because the words of 1:7-8 are pre-introductory; and 1:13 cannot be the end of the prologue because 1:14-15 are an integral part of the introduction of Jesus.

The Demands of the Larger Context

This brings us to the question of whether verse fifteen is the end of the prologue. There is an internal agreement that brings us to verse fifteen, but does that automatically mean that verse fifteen is the end?

The record of the call of the first disciples is next. Is it prologue or a beginning of the basic message? I would like to argue that it is the final element of the prologue -- in spite of the fact that no one else yet sees it this way.

The reasons for including it as prologue material are several. The first is a negative argument. The sole reason for making 1:16 the beginning of the major message of the Gospel is that it supposedly records the beginning of Jesus' ministry. But, as those who opt for 1:14 as the beginning of Mark's message point out, Jesus' ministry begins to be recorded in that verse and not verse sixteen. However, with 1:14-15 having an internal necessity to be a part of the prologue, there is no further validity for using "the beginning of Jesus' ministry" as a basis for determining the structure of the message.

The positive reasons for considering 1:16-20 as a part of the prologue are several. First, the call of the four is deliberately presented in an introductory way. The call of Jesus is that He may make them "fishers of men". This purpose statement seems to establish the method of the One introduced by John. If this is the case, the four disciples are archetypes of all disciples to come.

Concerning the disciples as archetypes, Best writes,

"Tannehill has emphasized how in narrative literature the readers identify themselves with the characters. Traditional successful fiction has long depended on the ordinary person being able to associate himself or herself with the hero or heroine ... In the Gospel Mark's readers would identify with the disciples ... in most places the Twelve are regarded as typical disciples...."8

Hengel, in agreement, writes,

"Mark does not narrate events and traditions simply by chance; what he selects and describes has a deeper significance, as a 'typical ideal', from the call of the disciples up to Gethsemane...."9

Then, there are two sub-types within the archetypical mold -- those who will cast the nets and those who will mend them. Since Jesus deliberately uses the activities of the men to become the metaphor of their future activities in respect to the establishment of the Kingdom of God, it is more than reasonable to assume that there are two metaphors: fishing and mending. These easily fit the New Testament dualism of ministry. Evangelism and edification will constitute the method of the Master.

This deliberate archetypical presentation is introductory. As such it stands apart from the main body of material. This would argue that it is prologue material.

Second, the record of the call of the first four disciples is a fitting end to a prologue in which Mark makes Jesus the central person. He is anticipated by John and followed by disciples who will fish for, and mend, men. If Mark intended for Jesus to be seen as the Center of his message, a prologue which makes Him the culmination of the Old Era's expectation (the fulfillment of John's threefold anticipation) and the root of the New Era's method (seeking men for the Kingdom of God) would be natural. This would argue that verses sixteen through twenty are prologue material.

Third, the larger body of material contained in 1:21-3:35 is deliberately structured around stories of healing and the casting out of demons. This is yet to be demonstrated, but if it is so, the opening material of the main message would be more likely the record of the casting out of the demon in 1:21-28. Thus, that would push the call of the disciples back into the prologue rather than make it the opening argument of the main presentation.

Fourth, the even larger body of material in 1:21-8:26 has, as its focus, the fact that Jesus is the Mighty One. It would be most natural for Mark to demonstrate in this major segment of his message what he set forth in his prologue -- that Jesus is the One of Superior Might. Thus, the call of some to follow is prologue material because it precedes the body of that argument.

And fifth, though its perimeters have not yet been delineated, the second major segment of Mark's message (8:27-16:8) also argues for a prologue that has archetypical disciples set forth. There are two parts to Mark's message: that Jesus is the Mighty King of the Kingdom of God (Christ); and that that King is essentially morally and effectually of a servant mind set. Disciples who are to follow this One must believe that He is the Mighty One, and must come to grips with what it means to follow His servant lead. Since those two concepts are the major thoughts of the material from 1:21-16:8, it makes sense that the first step is to have a prologue that establishes that Jesus is the Messiah and that He is out to produce disciples who will mimic His servanthood. This also argues that the call of the archetypical disciples is prologue material.

The Significance of the Prologue

The quest of this thesis is to discover and set forth the picture of Jesus that Mark had in mind. The nature of the prologue is important in this respect since it anticipates that picture. If the prologue sets forth Jesus of Nazareth as the Center of History (fulfilling the Old Era and initiating the New), there is an inherent theism to the picture: the God of History.

And not only that, but the terms of the prologue actually declare Mark's picture of Jesus. First, the forerunner character of John anticipates "the Lord". The One following would naturally then be God.

Second, the terms of John's description are terms of deity. The focus upon superior might comes out of the word iscuo which focuses upon essential, or inherent, might.10 Concerning the word ikano which John used to describe Jesus' moral power, Rengstorf writes,

"The saying also contains an impressive confession that He who is to come is the absolute kurio... What he has in view is the majesty and authority of Jesus which lift Him above everything human...."11

Adding to that, the ability to baptize with the Holy Spirit is linked in the baptism of Jesus to an act of God. Thus, the deity of Jesus is an integral part of the prologue's picture of Jesus.

However, in the second part of the prologue development, Jesus is presented as the Servant of Deity. In the first case, God calls Him the "beloved Son" who pleases Him well. This implies service.

In the second case, He is "driven" by the Spirit into the wilderness to be opposed by the Adversary. Mark is the only synoptic writer who chooses this term over the word "led" to explain how Jesus came to be in the wilderness. This choice generates the impression that Jesus is subject to, and not the equal of, the Holy Spirit. This is a term of servanthood.

And in the third case, Jesus' activity of preaching is not the activity of a sovereign, but of the servant of such.

Then, in the third part of the prologue, Jesus is seen as both deity and servant. As the Discipler He exercises the prerogative of Author of the pattern (deity). As the man who will make others fishers/menders of men, He serves the God of Heaven.


The prologue of Mark's effort has an internal harmony which pushes its boundaries beyond verses eight and thirteen. The fact that only four disciples are called by Jesus in a form that argues for archetypes, combined with the fact that the call of disciples is not a major part of the opening argument of the book, pushes the prologue's boundaries to verse twenty.

Once these boundaries are recognized, there is a definitive unit that allows for two things: the evaluation of the parts in Christological terms; and the evaluation of the unit itself in respect to the rest of the work so that theological conclusions can be drawn.

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Footnotes for Chapter Two

1 See Alan Cole, The Gospel According to St. Mark, p. 51; John Peter Lange, Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, 12 vols., 8:17; Alfred Plummer, The Gospel According to St. Mark, p. xxii; A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 vols., 1:256; William Hendrikson, The Gospel of Mark, p. 31; R. H. Lightfoot, The Gospel Message of St. Mark, p. 9.

2 Joanna Dewey et. al., The Interpretation of Mark, ed., William Telford, Issues in Religion and Theology Series, no. 7, p. 116. The comment is:

"Mark was a writer of considerable literary skill, if not of elegant Greek; it is only by paying attention to the literary structure he created that we can hope to interpret his Gospel properly."

3 Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark, p. 141.

4 This is the whole point of the argument of E. D. Hirsch, Jr. in his book Validity in Interpretation.

5 Elliott Johnson argues for theological design, literary design, subject, and complement as the definitive requirements of interpretation in unpublished class notes for his course on advanced hermeneutics at Dallas Theological Seminary. [Note: He has now come out with a book, Expository Hermeneutics, published by Zondervan in which the same arguments are made.]

6 The term iscuo focuses upon the power one possesses, according to Grundmann's article in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Gerhard Kittel, ed. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 9 vols., 3:397.

7 William Hendrikson, The Gospel of Mark, p. 41.

8 Ernest Best, Mark The Gospel as Story, pps. 47, 49.

9 Hengel, p. 38.

10 TDNT, s.v. iscuo 3:397.

11 TDNT, s.v. ikano 3:294.

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