Prologues to the Gospels – Mark

We are examining two prologues – Anti-Marcionite and the Monarchian. Most agree that an early date, c200 for the Anti-Marconite Prologues while the latter has a date which ranges from 200-400. We will be using Ben C. Smith’s translation.

The Anti-Marcionite Prologue:

Mark made his assertion, who was also named stubby-fingers, on account that he had in comparison to the length of the rest of his body shorter fingers. He was a disciple and interpreter of Peter, whom he followed just as he heard him report. When he was requested at Rome by the brethren, he briefly wrote this gospel in parts of Italy. When Peter heard this, he approved and affirmed it by his own authority for the reading of the church. Truly, after the departure of Peter, this gospel which he himself put together having been taken up, he went away into Egypt and, ordained as the first bishop of Alexandria, announcing Christ, he constituted a church there. It was of such teaching and continence of life that it compels all followers of Christ to imitate its example.

The detailed applied to Mark – stubby-fingers – is humorous, but perhaps needed to show that those in the orthodox tradition knew the author, or knew someone who knew someone who knew the author. It is an intimate detail, not really needed except to verify apostolic succession. Adam Winn‘s book handles the word ‘departure’ masterfully, showing that it means death rather than Peter’s leaving of Rome.

This rather short prologue tells us two things about the Gospel of Mark in the early Church. First, Mark’s gospel was used to show orthodoxy. After all, only the Church could produce intimate details about Mark, unknown to the Gnostics. Further, Mark’s only theological worth to the early Church was its connection to Peter.

The Monarchian prologue shows a development not only of theology, but also of orthopraxy and tradition.

Mark, the evangelist of God and in baptism the son of the blessed apostle Peter and also his disciple in the divine word, performing the priesthood in Israel, a Levite according to the flesh, but converted to the faith of Christ, wrote the gospel in Italy, showing in it what he owed to his own race and what to Christ. For, setting up the start of the beginning with the voice of the prophetic exclamation, he showed the order of his Levitical election so that he, preaching by the voice of the announcing messenger that John the son of Zechariah was the predestinated one, might show at the start of the preaching of the gospel not only that the word made flesh had been sent out but also that the body of the Lord had been animated in all things through the word of the divine voice, so that he who reads these things might realize not to be ignorant to whom he owes the start of the flesh in the Lord and the tabernacle of the coming God, and also that he might find in himself the word of the voice which had been lost in the consonants.

Furthermore, both going on with the work of the perfect gospel and starting that God preached from the baptism of the Lord, he did not labor to tell of the nativity of the flesh, which he had conquered* in prior portions, but rather right at first he offered the expulsion into the desert, the fasting for the number, the temptation by the devil, the gathering of the beasts, and the ministry by angels, so that, in setting us up to understand by sketching out the details in brief, he might not diminish the authority of what was already done, nor deny the work to be perfected in fulness.

Furthermore, he (Mark) is said to have amputated his thumb after faith so that he might be held to be unfit for the priesthood. But the predestinated election held such power, consenting to his faith, that he did not in his work of the word lose what he had previously merited by his race, for he was the bishop of Alexandria, whose work it was to know in detail and to apply the things said in the gospel on his own, and not to be ignorant of the discipline of the law for himself, and to understand the divine nature of the Lord in the flesh. These things we also wish to be sought first, and, when they have been sought, not to be ignored having the reward of the exhortation, since he who plants and he who waters are one; he who yields the increase, however, is God.

Here, there seems to be a statement of predestination, but it should be seen more as a life-service. Mark was a Levite who was set to serve in the Temple. To stop this, he cut off his thumb, after coming to faith in Christ. I have to wonder, then, how close Mark’s Christian community was to the Temple cult? If Mark was fearsome that even with his new Faith he would still be impressed into Temple service, then where did the separation of Christianity and Judaism come into play?

Post By Joel Watts (10,058 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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