"Conventional wisdom" often flies so under the radar of one's mind that one often does not even pull it out for re-examination. Sometimes it's true, sometimes it's false. The Gospels have their own conventional wisdom among expositors: Matthew is the Gospel of the King, Luke the Gospel of the Son of Man, John the Gospel of the Son of God. And Mark is the Gospel of the Servant of God.
But what really is distinctive about Mark? What particular truth did the Holy Spirit bring to light in moving him to put Jesus' words and deeds in writing?
One oft-noted characteristic of Mark is how his narrative moves along at a brisk pace. The Go Gospel was the name of a book of meditations on Mark written a few decades back, and though I didn't read the book, the title stayed in my mind as quite apropos. Mark is very fond of the word euthus, "immediately," "at once," "straightaway." The longer gospel of Matthew uses it in about five verses, John in three, and for all his rich vocabulary, Dr. Luke in but one. Our man Mark uses it in about forty verses. That's not including rarer synonyms such as exapina and exaiphnes.
But I've noticed another stress of Mark's Gospel: teaching. While we first run into "immediately" in the tenth verse, a form of didasko (I teach) comes shortly after, in v. 21. In fact, we see three forms of it in two verses:
"And He enters into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath, after entering into the synagogue, He began teaching. And they were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (vv. 20-21, my literal translation)Twice the verb, once the noun. The first occurrence of the verb ("began teaching") is an ingressive imperfect, meaning that Jesus entered into and continued the activity of teaching. It interests me that Mark uses this very form (edidasken) six times in his Gospel (1:21; 2:13; 4:2; 9:31; 10:1; 11:17), while the other three Evangelists use it only twice apiece.
Or then again there is the explicit phrase erxato didaskein, "He began to teach." That expression occurs four times in Mark (4:1; 6:2, 34; 8:31). No other Evangelist has the exact phrase.
Teaching, verbal communication of God's truth, is stressed in other ways, by Mark's use of related terms. The contents of the book itself are styled in the first verse as euaggelion, a glad report of news. The next verse refers to written revelation (gegraptai, it stands written), and features the sending of one whose task is verbally to communicate news, information (aggelos). In verse four, John the Immerser proclaims, heralds (kerusso) the Word of God. In 2:2, Jesus Himself is seen continually or characteristically speaking (elalei, again imperfect) "the word."
But let's focus back on the did- group, the words that communicate teaching. The verb didasko (I teach) occurs in seventeen verses in Mark (as opposed to thirteen in Matthew, fifteen in Luke, and ten in John); the noun didache (teaching) in five verses (three each in Matthew and John, once in Luke), and the synonym didaskalia in one verse (as in Matthew; none in Luke nor John).
And then there is the substantive didaskalos, teacher. Only in the use of this noun is Mark "topped" by a fellow-evangelist. Luke uses it sixteen times, while Mark and Matthew each use it twelve times, and John eight times.
As if to heighten his emphasis on Jesus as teacher, Mark says that "crowds converged on Him again and, as He usually did, He began teaching them once more" (10:1). To break that down a bit, Mark says (A) "again," (B) "as He usually did," (C) "He began teaching them" (another ingressive imperfect). Mark wants us to know that this is what Jesus was accustomed to do, it was His practice; He started up the teaching "as usual," as many English versions have it.
Jesus, then, was preeminently a teacher. Mark also wants to be sure that we understand that He was a teacher like no other. The people who heard Him in the first chapter were gobsmacked at His teaching, because He taught with authority, and not like their parrotlike scribes (Mark 1:22). Further, He backed His teaching up with power (1:27). But while there are a number of places where teaching is emphasized, and miracles are not (cf. 4:1-33; 10:1ff.), I don't think you could say that the reverse ever obtains.
It can't be a surprise, then, that the apostles so practiced and emphasized teaching, doctrine, telling the truth. The Great Shepherd's undersheperds share character-traits with all other Christian men, except in one area: each must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9). God prizes aptitude in this area above all other activities. He explicitly places a premium on hard work in the Word and teaching (1 Timothy 5:17). Clearly, if our Lord so embodied, so prizes, so exalts the activity of teaching, we who follow and are enjoined to do the same (Matthew 2818-20) should hold no other attitude.
As we cherish the unique portrait of our Lord in Mark's Gospel, many facets can justly be singled out and meditated upon. The doer, the actor, the leader, the healer, the redeemer — all these are valid characterizations of the Lord Jesus as Mark depicts Him.
But let us not forget Mark's own emphasis: Jesus, the Teacher.