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Hermeneutics and the Gospel of Mark

  • August 10, 2020
  • By Ben van Noort
Hermeneutics and the Gospel of Mark

Hermeneutics and the Gospel of Mark


What would be the current hermeneutical rule of Mark’s gospel in one sentence?

Several Answers Are Possible
Historical. It is the oldest gospel and so it is the gospel nearest to the historical facts and therefore the most trustworthy of the gospels.
Social. It is the shortest and most simple book of the gospels, and so written for the common man.
Feminine. The female aspect would be stressed by the lively descriptions of the women around Jesus.
Authoritative. Papias—an early bishop of Asia Minor—has said that Mark wrote down the sermons of Peter in Rome, so it would be actually the Gospel of Peter.

Human Approaches
All these hermeneutical rules have a captivating power. However, they are only human rules of interpretation. Yes, you can read Mark’s gospel from all these points of view, and in all cases it will left some interesting features to think about.
However …

Doubtful Considerations
An unbiblical hermeneutical rule is always connected with rather doubtful considerations.
Historical. The longer ending of Mark (16:9–20) is canonical, but would not be original. Not only is Mark the oldest gospel, also the two oldest codices from Egypt (leather manuscripts, 4th century) are missing the longer ending. So this ending cannot be original according to this hermeneutical rule. This reasoning is silent—because a hermeneutical rule is decisive in all sorts of exegetical questions—about the hundreds of Byzantine manuscripts that are very constant in the delivering of the longer ending.
Social. So there is a division in the Gospel between common men, intellectuals and rich people?
Feminine. So the Gospel of Mark is more a book for women, instead for men. Isn’t? But yet, that was certainly not Mark’s intension.
Authoritative. A doubtful conclusion might be. If  Marc’s gospel is in essence Peter’s gospel, then it is also the gospel of Rome, as it were Peter’s sermons held in Rome that Mark would have penned down. Hmmmm …

Biblical Hermeneutical Rules
More examples are to be given, but we may also put it differently. What is the biblical rule of hermeneutics? The miracle is that each gospel formulates a rule of explanation at the outset of the book, even in the first sentence.
And in Mark 1:1 we read:

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
And gospel means “Good Tidings” or “Good News”.

Hermeneutical Rule of the Gospel of Mark
In this sentence Mark refers to the entire gospel book he wrote. The beginning of the gospel was the period of Jesus’ ministry, of which Mark’s gospel is a worthy representative. All the three key texts for documentation (Luke 1:2, Hebrews 2:3 and 1 John 1:1) refer with “the beginning” to Jesus’ ministry as the beginning of God’s era of salvation.

Regarding the issue of transmission, it must be clear that the gospel is the spoken message of Jesus. That is the hermeneutical rule of this book. The first hearers of this gospel understood that Jesus’ actual words were in this book of Mark. In the Jewish culture before AD 70 this was only possible by rapid writers and stenographers of which everyone knew. One definitely had never heard about a miraculous inspiration in the gospel writers 60 or 70 years after the events.

Offside Is No Option
The biblical hermeneutical rule of Mark is able to immediately correct the missing of the longer ending of Mark in some manuscripts. Gospel means “Good Tidings” or “Good News”. The point is, if the longer ending of Mark’s gospel is not original, how is it possible that a Good News finishes with the sentence of 16:8

“And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.”

Was this intended by Mark to finish here is gospel? The answer is short and straight. Nonsense, a Good News story cannot finish with this sentence. Theologians who claim so—and there are many—are  simply not fair, and they have placed themselves offside, and I’m sorry to say, they cannot be taken seriously anymore.

A Bible Book Has its Hermeneutical Rule Usually at the Start
The lesson is that we should always study the beginning of a biblical book to discover what the hermeneutical rule is and according to this rule most questions become easy to answer. What would be the hermeneutical rule of the book of Genesis? Right: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” It all began with God and with his plan, despite sin that came into the world, and sin could not stop this plan of God.

In the following blogs we will look at the other gospels and their opening sentences.



By Ben van Noort, August 10, 2020