The Perception of Mark’s Organization
We have already noted in the introduction to this series that the Gospel of Mark is probably the least regarded canonical Gospel among the four in the New Testament. It is the shortest Gospel. It lacks some of our favorite stories because it lacks a birth narrative. Mark does not describe things in vivid detail. His language is often terse. Mark’s Greek style and grammar has been deemed simple and inelegant. Furthermore, it has not always been viewed as the most orderly of Gospels. Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis, wrote about the authorship of the Gospels sometime during the first few decades of the second century. Regarding Mark he wrote, “Mark, having become Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately everything he remembered, though not in order, of the things either said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, followed Peter, who adapted his teachings, as needed but had no intention of giving an ordered account of the Lord’s sayings. Consequently Mark did nothing wrong in writing down some things as he remembered them, for he made it his one concern not to omit anything that he heard or to make any false statements in them.” According to Papias, Mark is a reliable witness, but not a writer who took the time to organize his work.
If you have read any other posts in this series, hopefully you have come to the conclusion that Mark is far from a haphazard author. His Gospel is organized. He took care to construct a narrative that bolsters his primary point that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The question then becomes a matter of defining the actual structure.
The Majority Position
Most things that I have read on Mark’s structure generally argue for a two-part structure. The first half of Mark is about the identity of Jesus. The second half is about the task of Jesus on the cross. The dividing line between the two halves is generally argued to be around chapter 9. Peter has confessed Jesus as the Christ and Jesus has begun to tell them about his impending death and resurrection.
I do not have any huge problems with this two-part structure. It has explanatory power. However, I do have a few quibbles with this framework. First, Jesus’s identity and his purpose are closely linked together in Mark. The two things are not easily teased apart. Consider the first few statements of the Gospel. Mark identifies Jesus as the Messiah. Right after that statement, John the Baptist identifies Jesus’s purpose, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Identity and purpose are in close proximity. Furthermore, the two most important statements of Jesus’s identity are found in the last half of the Gospel. Jesus confesses his true identity at his trial in Mark 14:62. The centurion confesses that Jesus is the “Son of God” in Mark 15:39. These two instances show that Jesus’s identity is inextricably linked to his purpose and cannot be established without understanding Jesus’s mission.
My Own Proposal
In the course of writing this series, I have noticed another possible pattern in Mark. Therefore, I would like to submit my own proposal on the organization and structure of Mark. I have not extensively studied commentaries on Mark. This series on Mark grew out of reading the Gospel devotionally over the late summer. If someone has proposed this three-part structure somewhere else, I would love to know about it.
Mark is a Gospel centered around a claim and subsequent confirmations. Much has been made in this series about the opening statement, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.” This is central claim of the Gospel. That claim is quickly confirmed at Jesus’s baptism by a voice from heaven, “You are my beloved son, in you I am pleased.” Notice in Mark 1:11 that the voice from heaven is talking to Jesus in second-person pronouns. The conversation is between Jesus and the voice. It is not evident that the people around Jesus hear it. The reader is privileged to hear it. The Gospel continues through a series of miracles and isolated teachings. These events begin to establish Jesus’s authority. Through the use of the secrecy motif, Mark is also molding the reader’s opinion on what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah. However, Jesus’s identity and purpose are primarily known to only Jesus and the reader at this point.
The Gospel moves forward to the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida in Mark 8:22-26. We have already discussed in other posts how this miracle serves to mark progress. People are beginning to understand albeit vaguely. This healing is followed by Peter’s claim that Jesus is the Christ. Here is another important claim to Jesus’s messiahship. It is also followed by a confirming event in the transfiguration in Mark 9:2-8. A voice from heaven again comes stating, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” This time the primary disciples of Jesus hear the voice. The understanding of Jesus’s identity and purpose is unfolding and expanding.
We then come to another healing of a blind man in Mark 10:46-52. Blind Bartimaeus sees Jesus clearly calling him “Son of David” (a messianic title). Everything is coming into focus for the last third of Mark. Jesus claims his true identity at his trial in Mark 14:62, “I am [the Christ, the Son of the Blessed] and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” This claim is then followed by the events of the crucifixion and the proper response of the centurion in Mark 15:39, “Surely, this man was the Son of God.”
The resurrection then becomes the keystone event of the Gospel. Another voice from heaven appears in Mark 16:6 (in the form of a youth dressed in white), “Do not be alarmed, You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.” The resurrection confirms everything claimed by the Gospel about Jesus. To use the language of 1st Timothy 3:15, Jesus and his claims have been “vindicated” by the resurrection. The following bulleted list outlines my tripartite structure.
- Phase 1 (Jesus’s true identity known to Jesus himself and the reader)
- The Claim: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.” – Mark 1:1
- The Confirmation: “You are my beloved son, in you I am pleased.” – Mark 1:11
- Interlude Healing of the Blind – People are slowly beginning to understand
- Blind Man at Bethsaida – Mark 8:22-26
- Phase 2 (Jesus’s true identity spreads to His closest followers)
- The Claim: “You are the Christ.” – Mark 8:29
- The Confirmation: “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” – Mark 9:2-8
- Interlude Healing of the Blind – We are prepared for Jesus’s passion.
- Blind Bartimaeus – Mark 10:46-52
- Phase 3 (Jesus’s true identity is proclaimed to the whole world)
- The Claim: “I am [the Christ, the Son of the Blessed] and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” – Mark 14:62
- The Confirmation: The events of the cross and the Centurion’s claim, “Surely, this man was the Son of God.” – Mark 15:39
- Final Confirmation: The Resurrection – Mark 16:6
Unfortunately, we will never access the mind of Mark and know for sure how he intended his Gospel to be outlined. Different proposals for structure can highlight different aspects of the Gospel. Therefore, even if I do not agree with the two part structure examined above, I can still profit from considering it. I believe that my own proposal for structure highlights the growing knowledge of the identity and purpose of Jesus as Messiah and emphasizes Mark’s rhetorical style. It outlines the journey of the reader and how Mark wants to convince them fully that Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified and now raised, is truly the Christ and the Son of God.
 This quote is taken from Michael W. Holmes (editor and translator), “Fragments of Papias,” in The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translation, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 739-741. We do not have any of Papias’s original works. We only know about him and his work through the quotations from other early Church figures. This quote is found in Eusebius in Church History 3:39. It is also worth noting the many scholars debate whether the work Papias is referring to is what we call the Gospel of Mark. We will discuss authorship of the Gospel in the next post.
 Tim’s Keller’s King Cross is a series of sermons on Mark that uses this two-part organizational structure. It is easily accessible for any reader.
 Other Gospels will expand the audience to those around Jesus.