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April 1974 · Vol. 3 No. 1 · pp. 189–90 

Book Review

Mark: Evangelist and Theologian

Ralph Martin. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1973. 240 pages.

Reviewed by D. Edmond Hiebert

This scholarly volume, a companion to Dr. Howard Marshall’s Luke: Historian and Theologian, offers a fresh evaluation of the setting and purpose behind the writing of Mark’s Gospel. The approach employed is that of modern “redaction criticism.” Dr. Martin, who received all his formal training in England, is currently Professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary. His theological stance is essentially conservative. {190}

Dr. Martin traces the various views concerning Mark in church history and in recent Marcan studies. He discusses the Gospel in the framework of its historical setting and presents it as basically a theological document. He proposes to sever the traditional ties between Mark and Peter lying behind the production of the second Gospel and brings it into close connection with the theological views of Paul. He holds that the Gospel was produced shortly after the death of Paul and that Mark the Evangelist wrote his book in an effort to counteract a false teaching concerning the person of Jesus Christ which was arising in the Gentile churches. It was apparently some form of gnosticizing teaching which sought to sever faith in the glorious Christ from the historical Jesus. Emphasizing both the humanity and the supernatural nature of Jesus Christ, Mark intended his Gospel to be the antidote to this false teaching. He aimed at preserving the connection between the human Jesus and the divine Christ. Mark selected his material from the current traditions concerning the life of Jesus in such a way as to emphasize His dual nature. His Gospel is thus “a strange blend of a characterization of Jesus in his human finiteness and weakness, and a portrayal of a strong Son of God, healing, exorcizing demons and teaching with authority” (p. 144). But his picture stresses Jesus’ refusal to give demonstrable proof of His messianic identity and His readiness to suffer humiliation and death. His account presents “the paradox of Jesus’ earthly life in which suffering and vindication form a two-beat rhythm” (p. 161).

Martin assumes that the false teaching which Mark counteracted arose at least in part out of the fact that Paul stressed faith in the crucified and risen Christ without appealing to the tradition concerning His life. Thus Mark supplemented Paul’s message by offering a dramatization of the true nature of Jesus Christ by a selection from the materials available to him in the Jesus-tradition and the Passion narrative and united them with the Pauline emphasis on faith in the crucified and risen Christ. Mark’s account stresses the fact that during His ministry Jesus refused to give demonstrable proof of His messianic identity and voluntarily accepted suffering, humiliation, and death. Because of this even His closest disciples did not understand Him and in the hour of crisis forsook Him. But His resurrection provided His vindication and restored the disciples’ faith in Him. Thus Mark united the human Jesus with the Christ of faith.

Martin further insists that this picture of the Christ who voluntarily accepted misunderstanding and death sets the pattern for life for His followers. Mark intended his Gospel to refute defective christologies, current in the Gentile mission fields; he also intended it to offer a challenge to hard-pressed Christians to commit themselves to a life of discipleship involving suffering and possible martyrdom. Thus the Gospel also has a striking relevance for our own day.

Due to its nature this scholarly volume will be of importance primarily to the professional New Testament scholar. The nine-page bibliography reveals the author’s wide acquaintance with modern critical gospel studies. Indexes of main subjects treated, chief verses in Mark dealt with, and modern authors mentioned conclude the volume. Whether his proposed Sitz-im-Leben for Mark’s Gospel will prove convincing remains to be seen.

D. Edmond Hiebert,
MB Biblical Seminary

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