The Uniqueness of Mark’s Gospel

The Historical Present

How does Mark compare with the other gospels and why do we need a fourth gospel? What is so exceptional about this one?

This is when we encounter a sad problem. Since about 90% of the material in Mark is found in Matthew and Luke, this book has not been considered as relevant. Furthermore, while throughout history we can find many collections of thoughts that were written down about this book, it is only in the Middle Ages when commentaries on this book began appearing.  

For many hundreds of years and even up to today, people must have questioned why they should read Mark when there is so little unique information given. Instead, they may choose to only read the fuller accounts. That would be a great mistake!

First, by omitting this book, it belittles the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. Would God inspire every word of a gospel to serve no greater purpose? Surely there must be something in this gospel that the Lord deemed important for us to know, things which we cannot find elsewhere. The Bible is a very small book and there is no extra or superfluous material in it.

Indeed, as Mark brings out many events in the life of the Messiah, he does not say it the same way as the others do but reconstructs the events in such a way that many other facets of God’s infinite truth is revealed.

For instance, he will often add a word here and there, or use a grammatical tense that sometimes may not make much sense but serves to amplify and further magnify the event.

While the book is shorter in length, there are nevertheless many well-chosen repetitions which are used to put a spotlight on the event so that we don’t forget it.

Although many events are presented in a rapid pace, the reader can often see themselves stopping and pondering the depth of the new layers that Mark opens up.

 

 

The Cogwheels of Time Unite

Let me give you some examples which will help us see how great a storyteller Mark is.

There is one grammatical tense which he uses quite often throughout the book that is particular to Mark. It is called the historical present. It is a very simple yet powerf ul literary technique. It describes the past by using the present tense and creates an effect of immediacy, of the now, and invites us to participate right on the spot.

For instance, if I were to tell you, “I saw a movie yesterday and it was good” it would be the normal way of describing the event. However if I were to tell you, “Yesterday I see a movie, and it is great!” It may not make much grammatical sense but see how I brought a past event to the “now”? I brought the movie right into our present moment. Because it is brought closer in time to us, there is a door to enter right into the movie.

Let me give you some examples of how Mark uses the historical present.

The first one is in Mark 1:12. After Yeshua’s baptism, we read in the other gospels and in the majority of translations of Mark:

Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.

But the Greek in Mark actually says:

Immediately the Spirit drives Him into the wilderness.

It is written in the present tense, as if the Spirit wants us to be present there, walking with Yeshua as He confronts the devil, to feel the spiritual battle He felt and to see the powerful response coming from the Messiah.

Here is another example. When Yeshua preached in Galilee, we read:

Now a leper came to Him, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him… v.40

But the Greek says:

Now a leper comes to Him, imploring Him…

It is as if you are walking with Yeshua and the leper comes out of nowhere, and your full attention is directed to what’s going on between Yeshua and this man.

The historical present brings the reader to live past events in the immediate now. It is when we can forget about time itself and live the story with the author.

In many of these examples, we don’t read “Jesus said” (past tense), but rather, “Jesus says” (present tense), making His words vivid and the events more personal. We become more than just a spectator.

Mark is not stingy in how often he employs the historical present. While Matthew uses it 20 times, and Luke just once, Mark uses it 151 times.

I will make mention of these tenses as we go through our future studies. Unfortunately, most translations do not let us know when the historical present is being used. The NASB puts a little asterisk right by the English word to indicate that the historical present is being used in Greek.

 

Small Details Matter

Besides this powerful grammatical element which helps us juxtapose time, there is so much more.  Even though the text is much shorter than Luke’s or Matthew’s accounts, Mark seems to lengthen the time of the events by just adding a single word here or there.

For instance, at one point, Yeshua was in a home but there were many people outside who desired to enter the home, to listen to Him, or to be healed by Him. There was a paralytic man on a bed who had no chance at all of entering. That is when his friends decided to enter the room through the roof, setting the bed down right where Jesus was. This act of faith touched Yeshua, and He healed the paralytic.

The story is told by all three Synoptic writers: Matthew, Luke, and Mark. The difference in Mark is that he adds one word which triggers our thoughts and imagination, and which emphasizes the friends’ great faith. While the focus is put mainly on the paralytic man and the scribes who were present, Mark concentrates on the friends by saying:

Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they dug out the roof above Him…Mark 2:4

It is the word dug out, found only here in the New Testament, a word which recalls their hard labor for undoing and removing the roof. It demonstrated their faith in Yeshua.

They must have made a lot of noise, for it was not like removing branches or layers from a roof. It was loud since one cannot just forcibly remove a roof without making some racket. Surely all those inside heard what was happening, including Yeshua who knew very well what was going on and was waiting for the bed to be lowered down so that He could heal the man.

 

The Heaven were Torn

In another instance, at the baptism of Yeshua, Matthew and Luke tell us that as Yeshua rose from the water, the heavens opened. They use a gentle word for open, but Mark uses another, more powerful word, schizo, which describes the heavens as being violently torn apart. It is the same word he uses for the tearing of the veil at the Temple. The scene then is different and the use of this word suits Mark’s powerful way of writing.


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