· LOY Excursus: Mark’s Editorial Style
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Date First Published: May 26, 2014
Roman fresco depicting a man with a papyrus scroll. Herculaneum (first-century C.E.).

by David N. Bivin and Joshua N. Tilton[1]

Revised: 26-Feb.-2016
Dedicated to the memory of Professor Eduard Yechezkel Kutscher (1909-1971).

he writing style of the author of the Gospel of Mark has long been regarded as idiosyncratic. Its pervasive use of the “historical present”[2] and its bizarre proliferation of the word εὐθύς are two well-known examples.[3] Despite its awkwardness, and indeed sometimes because of it, Mark has been regarded as the most primitive of the Synoptic Gospels and one of the sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Robert Lindsey challenged this scholarly consensus of Markan Priority when he discovered the more Hebraic quality of Luke vis-à-vis Mark and vis-à-vis Matthew wherever Matthew was dependent on Mark. Lindsey concluded that Luke was the first of the Synoptic Gospels, that Mark reworked Luke, and that Matthew is based on Mark and one of the sources utilized by Luke.[4]

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Appreciation for Mark

Understanding Mark’s editorial style allows for a proper appreciation of Mark’s Gospel. The Gospel of Mark is a retelling of Jesus’ story, an aggadic-type dramatization based on Luke’s text. Although Mark is not the best source for the most authentic and historical traditions about Jesus—for that we must turn to Luke and the non-Markan portions of Matthew—Mark remains an important and valuable witness to the development of pre-synoptic traditions and the way they were understood by the early Church.[5] Mark shows how deeply the early Christian community was influenced by Jewish interpretive techniques. In addition, as Lindsey observed, without Mark it would have been impossible to arrive at a correct solution to the Synoptic Problem:

Without the Gospel of Mark we would not understand the interconnections of the Synoptic Gospels. Without Mark the verbal distance between Matthew and Luke would remain a conundrum and the important distinction between Matthew in his non-Markan and Markan contexts would be unclear. Without Mark the homiletical methods of John would appear to have no antecedent, for John’s use of some of the Markan stereotypes is an important key to understanding the approach of the writer of the Fourth Gospel. Moreover, without Mark the extremely important insight of Markan priorists that Matthew and Luke are independent of each other could not have been achieved.[6]


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