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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Purpose.

1.

Why then has Mark presented his story in the way he has? There is almost certainly no single answer. Mark writes for a variety of reasons and it would be wrong to pin him down to one single purpose. Some quite general factors are no doubt possible: for example, with the spread of the Christian church geographically, and with the passing of time, Christians no doubt needed information about Jesus and his teaching.

2.

Nevertheless, Mark's distinctive presentation remains unexplained by such general considerations. As already noted in passing, the traditional view is that Mark writes for a suffering community (perhaps in Rome) to strengthen their faith in a time of intense persecution. This too is possible, though it is noteworthy that, whilst Mark's Jesus has a lot to say about the necessity of suffering, there is very little in the gospel about any positive significance in such suffering. It is just as likely that Mark's very distinctive account, with the cross so central, is making a positive point to his readers quite as much as reflecting the current experiences of his community. The most extreme form of such a theory is that of Weeden (1971 ) who argues that Mark is involved in intense Christological debates with a group of people he regards as heretics in his community: they advocate a view of Jesus as a divine man, a super-hero characterized by miracles, glory, and power; Mark opposes them with his view of Jesus characterized by weakness, service, and suffering. Weeden also advocates that, in the story, Mark's point of view is represented by Jesus, that of the heretics by the disciples.

3.

Weeden's theory is probably too extreme. His view of the role of the disciples in the story is questionable (see Tannehill 1977 and MK 1:16–20 ), and the language of ‘heresy’ in a context such as Mark's is probably anachronistic. Nevertheless, the overall theory may have an element of truth in it. Mark's portrait of Jesus may be intended to modify or correct the views of the readers of the gospel (even if talk of ‘opponents’ is too extreme). Mark clearly wants to present Jesus in one light and not another (cf. e.g. 10:45: Jesus as Son of Man came not to be served but to serve). Similarly, Mark may be wanting to mould, perhaps change, his readers' views about the nature of Christian discipleship.

4.

With his stress on the centrality of the cross, Mark is very like Paul in his views about Jesus and the nature of Christian discipleship. Yet we should not take this for granted, as if Mark could be no different and all first-century Christians were the same. We know from Paul's letters that his own views were frequently controversial and disputed by other Christians within his communities. It may be similar with Mark, whose presentation of Jesus in his gospel is, among other things, a call to his readers to re-evaluate their views about both Jesus and themselves (see also MK 16:8 ). How we read the gospel may be in part determined by how we respond to such a challenge.

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