The introduction of Mark As Story sets up the “world” of Mark’s Gospel. The authors note the ambiguity of the historical context of the Gospel—while both of the two main proposals place it between AD 60 – 70, there is debate as to who the author was and where it was written—and of type of story that Mark is composing—beyond the narrative aspect what genre does it fit best (2). Mark’s Gospel also has high coherence and unity, and, because of this, it is best to experience it as a whole (3). The “story world” of the Gospel, or at least the concept, is established, and guidelines for reading this Gospel as a story are given, with emphasis given to the narrative method, which sets up the rest of the book. The goal of the authors’ is that Mark As Story might “enhance the experience of the story as story” and facilitate the ability of the reader to be transformed by the text (8).
The first chapter of the book is the Gospel of Mark. The authors begin by explaining certain aspects of the translation—style of translation, word-for-word; word choice, common speech that attempts to diminish the impact of theological presuppositions and that reflects the oral tradition; and the absence of chapter and verse markers—and proceeds with a translation done by the authors (9-11).
The second chapter analyzes the narrator and its role, point of view, tempo and style—emphasizing the use of repetition or patterns—as well as an array of other literary or narrative devices. The narrator and the work of the narrator present life as being uncertain and ambiguous, whilst still maintaining order and purpose via narrative patterns (61). All of these things come together, playing an integral part in the story as a whole, challenging the audience to be transformed by the story (61).
The third chapter analyzes the setting—the cosmic and socio-political settings, and the “journey,” which is more-or-less the geographical settings and their thematic natures (63). The setting is essential to the formation of the story world of the narrative and to the task of capturing its audiences and immersing them in the story world (63, 72). “In the end, [the setting] represents the way people imagine the world and think of their place in it” (72). Because of these things, the audience ought to “emerge from the experience of Mark” transformed in their vision of the world, the rule of God, and the journey of discipleship (72).
The fourth chapter analyzes the plot. While the authors of Mark as Story address many aspects of the plot and approaches to analyze it, the most significant aspect of the plot—that which rightly draws the most attention—is conflict, particularly the conflict generated by the rule of God. In general, the rule of God begets much conflict because it shatters the norm, the conventional conceptions about the cosmic and social orders, about cleanness, about power, and about God himself (78-79, 96-97). Additionally, the rule of God constructs a new understanding of these concepts, at least for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear; and it confronts them about the most important choices they make in their lives (79, 96-97). Sub-ordinate to this category of conflict are Jesus’ conflicts with the cosmic forces (82), the authorities (84), and the disciples (90).
The fifth and sixth chapters analyze the characters, focusing on Jesus in chapter 5, and the authorities, the disciples and the minor characters in chapter 6. The themes that are addressed the most between these character groups are the interactions of faith, faithfulness and fear, and those of power, authority and service. The focal point of Mark’s characterization seems to be faithfulness and the requirements of discipleship (136). Jesus is presented as the exemplar of faithfulness. The authorities provide an entirely negative model of discipleship (123). While the audience is lead to identify most closely with the disciples, the disciples provide an ambivalent, but ultimately negative, model of discipleship (129). It is the minor characters who provide the “best” model of discipleship (135). However, in the end all of the character groups fail, and it is up to the audience to decide (134-35, 144).
The conclusion analyzes the audience and its relation to narrative. This chapter discusses these aspects of Mark: the rhetoric, the ideal audience, the hypothetical first-century audiences, and the task of contemporary readers. The ideal audiences of Mark’s narrative are those that will “receive the rule of God with faith and have the courage to follow Jesus whatever the consequences” (138). There are three stages to this which correspond with the three parts of the journey of the setting: (1) experiencing the rule of God, Galilee; (2) overcoming resistance to the rule of God, the journey to Jerusalem; and (3) facing persecution and execution in Jerusalem (139-42). Again, the ending of the Gospel leaves the audience with the choice of discipleship (144) and, as a culmination of the narrative, implicitly urges the audience to choose the journey of the good disciple.
Dewey, Joanna, Donald Michie, and David Rhoads. Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel. 3rd ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012.