An introduction into the ring structure of the Gospel of Mark.

The Gospel of Mark was written around 70 AD and is believed to be the oldest of the four canonical Gospels of the New Testament. Within the canonical counting of the Gospels in the New Testament it is the second. It also belongs to the so-called synoptical Gospels which means that the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke are textually dependent on it. Most probably they used it as a source.

Within the Gospels, the Gospel of Mark is special insofar as it does not contain childhood stories or a genealogy of Jesus. It begins with the Baptism and ends with the Resurrection.

In the end, there may be found the so-called pseudo-Markian ending. It is not found in the oldest Greek manuscripts, which end with the Women fleeing from the empty grave. The ending tells the following Heilsgeschichte in a very short form and is usually put into brackets.

Wikipedia remarks that there is no agreement upon the structure of the Gospel of Mark in scholarship. However, scholars agree that Mark does not give a chronology of Jesus‘ mission but rather points to a message about Jesus the original author wanted to convey. This is supported by the very first sentence of the Gospel: „The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.“

What the good news is becomes clear by looking into the ring structure of the text. The following scheme shows that the Gospel is structured as a ring, and it shows also that the structure corresponds to the general caption about the good news about Jesus. The Gospel is far from unstructured. But it is also far from structured around several questions, apocalypsis, or a certain Heilsgeschichte from beginning to end.

Click to enlarge the image:

The central loading of the Ring of Mark is Mark 7, 3-23, an episode in which Jesus explains that: „Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.“ With this central parable the author shows the central meaning as well as the central teaching of Jesus: The period of Law has ended, Grace has begun.

This reading also corresponds with the older New Testament letters of St. Paul, esp. St. Paul to the Romans. St. Paul already explained that the teaching of Jesus made people free from the Law. This is also the answer of the first sentence: the beginning of the good news.

A closer reading of the central loading will explain this further.

What the great ring of Mark shows is a thorough composition of the whole text towards the teaching of Jesus and the transmission of the Good News. This is true of the whole text, but also of every smaller episode and within every sentence with its carefully chosen wordings and carefully chosen grammatical structures. Here, an author has thoroughly thought about his – or her – text before beginning to write it on such an expensive material as papyrus.

(c) 2024 Cornelia Soldat