Hypothesis – Historical Present (Mark, John, Revelation)

I wanted to write this for first to start my thought process and second, perhaps, for discussion:

Matthew        94/78
Mark               150/151
Luke               13
John               163
Acts                14
Revelation     54

Mark is the first, and as I explained in my book, uses this for a particular reason. I think it is a rhetorical ploy. This explains Matthew’s continued use with it (keeping in mind the textual tradition you use and hoping we have a fairly accurate representation of the original text). In Luke-Acts, it is almost done away with and thus becomes just another verb choice.

However, in Revelation, we see another uptick.

Wait. Go here and read this paper by Steve Runge first.

Anyway, here is my current hypothesis:

Mark begins the Gospel genre. His use is rhetorical. Matthew sees this and uses it, expanding Mark’s story with his own. Luke‘s rhetoric goes into a different direction and thus doesn’t need word choice, or rather, doesn’t need this particular grammar choice. Or, he may not get the entire theme as displayed in Mark and Matthew and thus attempts to correct the “poor” grammar. Acts doesn’t really count here, except to show the author(s) of Luke-Acts as a single-minded writer who likes tidiness.

John reworks the Markan narrative including other narratives along the way and his own material but unlike Matthew and Luke, retains more of Mark’s rhetorical flair.

Oh, yes. Thomas (the Greek fragments such as P. Oxy 654) uses the historical present in relation to Jesus. The Coptic has it as past tense, indicating a translation from the Greek, I’d argue. Wonder if this means Thomas knew the Synoptics? —->

What does this mean for Revelation? First, I would argue Revelation is written by the same author(ial community) as The Gospel of Mark. Second, I believe there are direct literary connections between Revelation and Mark, such as the borrowing of certain phrases. Not words. Phrases.

I think the use of the historical present as we move from Mark to Revelation indicates an awareness — perhaps a theological intent — of the original literary use in the first written Gospel. I think it also indicates reliance (especially for Matthew, Luke, and John) on Mark.

What about Thomas? I don’t know, really, but it would be interesting to do a vivisection of the use of historical presents and where each of them end up. Numbering the usage starts us on a path, but the path should lead us to examining the exact use — where are the HP’s used in relation to one another.

Anyway, just wanted to jot this down.

Post By Joel Watts (10,110 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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