Mark's Picture of Jesus

by Darrel Cline

Chapter Four

Mark 8:27-38: A Primary Hinge


It is the contention of this brief chapter that Mark 8:27-38 constitutes a pivot, or hinge, that divides the two major sections of Mark's gospel. It has been the thesis of this study that Mark is presenting Christ as the Mighty One, Whose "might" is shown to exist in two specific realms. The first, and primary, realm is fundamentally ethical: Jesus is morally mighty. The second, and consequential, realm is fundamentally effectual: Jesus is able to do a very great task. Mark first reveals Jesus as the Mighty One in 1:21-8:26, and then develops the two aspects of that might in 9:1-16:8. Mark 8:27-38 rests between these two major sections as both a conclusion to the first section and an introduction to the second.

The Contents of the Hinge

In order to show the nature of this pivotal hinge, it is necessary to summarize the content of the hinge and, subsequently, to point out the relationships that exist between the hinge and its two component sections.

The contents of the hinge are organized into three parts. First there is a paragraph which identifies Jesus as "the Christ" within the context of human opinion of His identity (8:27-30). Second, there is a paragraph which introduces the fact that "the Christ" is destined to suffer. This new thesis is then coupled with the fact of a "satanic" rejection by Peter of the suitability of this destiny to the character of "the Christ" (8:31-33). Finally, there is a third paragraph in which the Christ calls upon those who would be His disciples to accept the premise that Christ-ness (and, thus, discipleship to Him) means being willing to suffer a complete earthly loss if necessary (8:34-38).

Mark 8:27-30

When the components of this unit are seen against the backdrop of Mark's effort, it is easy to see the unit as a hinge. First, the identification of Jesus as "the Christ" is deliberately set as a conclusion that Jesus calls upon His disciples to draw from their previous experiences with Him. As a conclusion, it fits the "response" theme of the first major unit very well. In that unit there was a major focus upon response in the first segment (1:21-3:35). Then, the third segment (6:7-8:26) is introduced with a paragraph (6:7-15) in which the identical issues of conclusion in 8:28 are found: "John", "Elijah",. "one of the prophets". The knowledge that He is the Christ is the objective of Jesus' mighty works of power in both the realm of spirits and the realm of physical phenomena. This argues that 8:27-30 is a conclusion to the entire preceding section.

It is also significant that this conclusion comes immediately upon the heels of the illustrative two-stage healing of the blind man. Taken in its context of Jesus' rebuke of the disciples in 8:21 ("Do you not yet understand?"), which itself comes after His appeal to the entire content of Mark 6:7-8:10 as a two-fold effort on His part to impart understanding, this illustrative healing must signify Jesus' double effort to get these hardened (8:17) disciples to "see". And, what is it that He wants them to "see"? Peter's answer in 8:29 ("Thou art the Christ") to His question shows that he has grasped the meaning of the power demonstrations and the experiences through which He has taken them. This also argues that the paragraph is a conclusion to the preceding material.

Thus, this paragraph serves as a climax to all of the material from the introduction (1:21-20) through this two-stage healing. With the record of this conclusion by Peter, Mark has achieved his first objective: to present Jesus as the Mighty One. Mark's terminology establishes that the Mighty One is inherently powerful. As such a One, He must be the anticipated Mighty Ruler of the Kingdom he has proclaimed. Thus Peter's conclusion, "Thou art the Christ", is a small, but significant mental jump from the notion of power/might to the notion of the Anointed King.

However, this conclusion is deficient in that it does not have the specific content that Jesus desires for his disciples to grasp. He is not primarily interested in developing disciples who are primarily interested in exercising power. He is interested in their proper use of power to effect a Kingdom of Righteousness. This is why He imparted that power to them when He sent them forth to preach (6:7-13). Their proclamation was of the Kingdom's demand for repentance, but the power was used to do good to all in need. Thus this conclusion becomes also an introduction to the material to come because the issues of the exercise of "might" in the coming section are tied to being servants of all in the Kingdom to come (9:34-37 and 10:35-45).

Mark 8:31-33

The second paragraph, with its focus upon the sufferings of Messiah and the Satanic rejection by Peter, is designed to be a major introduction to the main thesis of the unit considering Jesus as morally mighty (9:1-13:37). That this is introductory is revealed by the fact that the very same issues of Messianic suffering are given twice within that major sub-section; first in 9:30-32 and again in 10:32-34). In the development of that sub-section it will be demonstrated that these two later statements are to be taken as developments of this first, introductory, statement. Suffice it at this point to say that 8:31-33 introduces the major thesis of the following material: the Kingdom is of such a character that even its King conforms to its primary demand -- that its inhabitants be committed to loving service to each other. Jesus' might consists in His willingness to become the servant of all. This overcomes the Satanic distortion of the use of might to dominate others.

Now that Peter's response is characterized by Jesus as "Satanic" is highly significant in that Mark's original development (in 1:12-13) of the Baptizer's "worthier" thesis was precisely Jesus' conflict in the wilderness with Satan. If Mark intended to introduce the second major part of his work with such a paragraph, he could do no better than to take the very theses which he implied he would use in his prologue.

So, what this second paragraph does it two-fold: first, it gives a specific direction to the meaning of the conclusion drawn regarding Jesus as the Christ; and second, it takes the prologue's initial introductory material and restates it so that we are brought to understand that Mark is now preparing to launch into his two-fold development of what it means to be the "Mighty One". Thus this second paragraph takes its place as a part of the hinge in that it gives direction to the focus of the first section (1:21-8:26) and introduces that direction which is to be developed in the second section (9:1-16:8).

Mark 8:34-38

The third paragraph, which calls for disciples who will become characteristically like the Christ in His willingness to suffer total earthly loss, completes the hinge in that it reinforces the previous introductory call for disciples (1:16-20) while adding the requirement of suffering service, one of the two themes of this second half of the Gospel.

The Parallelism of the Hinge

There is yet another line of argument for this unit as a hinge: it parallels the original introduction to the Gospel (1:1-20). In that introduction John climaxes the Old Testament line of movement to Jesus (1:1-8). Next Jesus is presented as the fulfillment of John's preaching (1:9-11 fulfills 1:7a; 1:12-13 fulfills 1:7b; and 1:14-15 fulfills 1:8). And finally, Jesus is connected to disciples who will follow Him into the practice of the ethics of the Kingdom (1:16-20).

In this hinge we have the same major components of climax (8:27-30), Jesus as John's anticipated one (8:31-33), and Jesus connected with disciples who will follow His lead (8:34-38).

In this form, the only real difficulty is in seeing the middle (8:31-33) as Jesus as John's anticipated One. However, it becomes clear when we recognize that in John's introduction of Jesus (1:7-8) he established the major thesis (the Mighty One comes) as well as its two subsets (His might is moral, and it is directed toward the baptism of the Spirit for establishment of a righteous kingdom). Mark's parallelism of this three part introduction in 1:9-15 shows that Jesus as the Mighty One (1:9-11 -- the Son of God), whose might is directed to overcome Satan (1:12-13) in order to establish the kingdom (1:14-15).

In the hinge there is a climax to Mark's presentation of Jesus as the Mighty One (He is so recognized by Peter). Then there is the Satanic opposition to the true character of Messiah as the sufferer (which is the essence of His moral might as He overcomes the adversary). And, finally, there is the call for disciples.

There is only one problem. The third element in the original development of Jesus' fulfillment of John's message is missing (the Spirit-baptizer). But, with the major parts in place, Mark can deliberately skip John's third part (Jesus the Spirit-baptizer) and go immediately to the call for disciples because by doing this, he highlights the section to come. Thus the hinge is a real hinge. It climaxes the primary message, introduces the next most significant development of that message, and maintains the form of the original prelude to the Gospel material by connecting Jesus with disciples who will follow Him.


Thus there are two major lines of evidence that Mark intended 8:27-38 to be a hinge in his work. First, there is the fact that the content of the hinge has specific links backward to 1:21-8:26 and forward to 9:1-16:8. Second, there is the deliberate likeness between the hinge and Mark's original introduction to his work (climax, Jesus as John's anticipated One, and disciples who will follow Him).

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