From Jesus to Mark: the Key Concepts

Key concepts diagram

Explanation of key concepts diagram

It is not practicable, nor would it be useful, to display  all the people, concepts and links involved here. The diagram is intended to show the essential elements in the development from Jesus to the gospel of Mark.

Son of Man

After the crucifixion, Jesus' disciples had to re-think his role, for a crucified Messiah did not make much sense to Jews. They chose the role of "one like a son of man" from Daniel 7:13-14. [1] The hope was that one day soon the Son of Man would return on the clouds and be given his kingdom. There are several references to Jesus as "Son of Man" in the logia, though the title is not found in the extant letters of Paul. Mark adopted the title from the logia, and extended its use to situations not envisaged there. Most prominent of these are three cases where Jesus predicts death followed by resurrection (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34) and one where he predicts vicarous death as "a ransom for many" (10:45). All four cases involve a combination of concepts derived from Paul (albeit expressed in slightly different ways) with the application to Jesus of the un-Pauline title "Son of Man" derived from the logia.

Kingdom of God

This important concept was the central theme of Jesus' teaching. It was transmitted via the logia into Mark's gospel, and no doubt Peter would have explained it to Paul when they spent a fortnight together in Jerusalem (Gal 1:18). Paul referred to it eight times in his extant letters, though it was not one of his key themes.

Jesus as Messiah

Before the crucifixion, Jesus and his disciples had come to believe that he was the Messiah. After the crucifixion, the leading disciples must have played down the belief, for it was not mentioned in the logia. Paul would have encountered the belief when he met Peter (if not before). He fully accepted it (Rom 9:5), though in almost every one of the hundreds of references in his letters, "Christ" is relegated to the status of a proper name. From Paul, the belief was transmitted to Mark, though the latter downplayed its significance, probably in part because the title was seen as an embarrassing relic of nationalistic Judaism.

Jesus died on a cross

Paul would doubtless have heard the details of the crucifixion during his stay with Peter. It took on great significance for Paul. He positively exulted in it, seeing the cross as a thing of power (1 Cor 1:17) and the crucifixion as a central plank in his theology (1 Cor 1:23; 2:2). Paul saw the death of Jesus as a deliberate act performed in order to save sinners (Rom 5:6-8). It was Mark who first produced a detailed account of the crucifixion and the events which led up to it. But as a concept, an event with a purpose, Mark saw it through the eyes of Paul.

Vicarious death

Paul claimed that "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3). This was probably an allusion to "he poured out his soul to death ... he bore the sin of many" (Is 53:12). Mark took over the concept of a vicarious death from Paul. Paul's story of the 'Last Supper' (1 Cor 11:23-26), with its request to "Do this..... in remembrance of me", ensured that the concept of the vicarious death of Jesus was firmly established for future generations of Christians.

Justification by faith

Paul developed the doctrine of justification by faith from Gen. 15:6 (Gal 3:5; Rom 4:3,9,22). Abraham predated the Mosaic laws and therefore provided an ideal hero in Paul's arguments against the Mosaic legalism inherent in Judaism. Mark made no explicit reference to the doctrine, but frequently referred to the benefits of believing. In contrast the logia has no reference to believing (Greek πιστευω).

Hellenistic dying/rising god myths

The history of the idea of a god dying and then rising on the third day is outlined by Nock. [2] Most relevant is probably Osiris, whose dying was celebrated on the 17th. of a certain month and whose rising was celebrated on the 19th. of the same month. Such stories (perhaps in conjunction with Hos 6:2) were probably behind Paul's claim that Jesus "...died ...was buried and ... was raised on the third day" (1 Cor 15:3-4). In Mark this became '... will be killed, and after three days he will rise ...' (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:34).

so people expected miracles

The proclamation of Jesus as Messiah would inevitably have led to his being credited with the ability to perform miracles. [3] Looked at another way, in order to present Jesus as a successful teacher, Mark had to portray Jesus as a miracle worker, for belief in miraculous powers was taken for granted in the Graeco-Roman world. [4] In the Jewish logia, Jesus had been presented neither as the Messiah nor as a miracle worker.

believe in the "gospel" that Jesus Christ the Son of God died for our sins and was raised from the dead

This is the heart of Paul's message (Gal 2:20; Rom 1:2-4; 1 Cor 11:24; 15:3-4). It did not derive from the original followers of Jesus, nor from any early tradition, but it originated with Paul himself (Gal 1:11-12). It was taken over lock, stock and barrel by Mark (Mark 1:1,15; 8:31; 10:45; 14:22-25; 15:39). It became the jewel in the crown of Protestant evangelical theology.

thinly veiled criticisms of James and Peter

Paul criticized Peter directly in Gal 2:11 ff., and by implication criticized James indirectly in 2:12. The description of James, Peter and John as "reputed to be pillars" (2:9) was thinly veiled sarcasm. Mark inherited this critical attitude from Paul. It can be seen in the way Peter was called "Satan" (Mark 8:33), and later was represented as denying his master (Mark 14:66-72). But this pales into insignificance beside Mark's treatment of Jesus' brother James, [5] who was assigned a vanishingly small part in the Markan story of Jesus, in spite of the fact that James had probably been the leading disciple all along. [6]

Notes for this page

1. For the 'Son of Man' as a title current among early disciples of Jesus, see S.G.F.Brandon, The Fall of Jerusalem and the Christian Church (London; SPCK, 1951) p.81.
That the title was never used by Jesus of himself is evident from the fact that in the earliest strata of the New Testament the coming of the kingdom is never directly related to the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus certainly proclaimed the former (Luke 10:9b-11 and 11:2, both in the logia). If he had also proclaimed the latter he would surely have presented a harmonized picture. The author of Matthew's gospel, writing ca. 90 CE, was the first to bring the two together into one saying (Matt 16:28 c.f. 13:41).

2. A.D.Nock, Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background (Harper-Row, 1964) pp.105-108

3. J.K.Elliott, Questioning Christian Origins(London; SCM, 1982) p.47

4. E.D.Freed, The New Testament: A Critical Introduction (London; SCM, 1994) p.198

5. E.Trocme, The Formation of the Gospel according to Mark (ET: London; SPCK, 1975) p.130 ff.

6. J.Painter, Just James: The brother of Jesus in History and Tradition (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1999) pp.271-72