Did the apostle Paul influence the Gospel of Mark?
Mar Pérez I Díaz
Mark, a Pauline Theologian. WUNT 2.521; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2020. pp. 298. softback. 84.00 €. ISBN 978-3-16-159505-9.
Several years ago I wrote an essay arguing that the Gospel of Mark takes the Jesus tradition (i.e., Petrine testimony) and interprets it largely in light of Paul’s theology. See Michael F. Bird, “Mark: Interpreter of Peter and Disciple of Paul,” in Paul and the Gospels: Christologies, Conflicts, and Convergences, eds. Michael F. Bird and Joel Willitts (LNTS 411; London: T&T Clark, 2011), 30-61. In the same volume, James Crossley wrote his own view which was very the opposite of mine, Mark represents a tradition prior to and independent of Paul. And another friend, Michael Kok, has similarly tried to argue that Mark was not influenced by the apostle Paul.
In any case, there is another installment in this debate about whether or not the apostle Paul had any influence on Mark’s Gospel.
This volume by Dr. Mar Pérez i Díaz (Facultat de Teologia de Catalunya) continues the conversation first begun by Martin Werner in 1923 about the possibility of Pauline influence upon the Gospel of Mark. Díaz believes that “Mark was strongly and comprehensively influenced by Paul’s theology” to the point that “the Gospel of Mark is a rereading of the traditions of Jesus inspired by Pauline theology as we know it from Paul’s letters” (245). Importantly, in her estimation, “Mark does not want to present Paul, but rather to interpret Jesus through a Pauline lens” (5).
In the first chapter, Díaz offers a cogent study of the history of research on the Paul-Mark question including those who deny Paulinisms in Mark, those who advocate Paulinisms in Mark, those who reluctantly favor Paulinisms in Mark, and those who defend both Petrine and Pauline influence in Mark. Díaz clearly aligns herself with the second position with authors such as C. Clifton Black and Joel Marcus.
The second chapter is concerned with mapping Mark’s narrative and structure as well as identifying the key theme of the cross. Díaz believes that Mark “has the mystery of the cross as its guiding axis” (44) and the “cross of Jesus is essentially directed against all religious illusion and brings man to recognise his own humanity” (43). Thus, Mark, just like Paul, is driven by a crucicentric narrative.
The third chapter, by far the largest, is concerned with detecting various Paulinism in Mark as related to various topics: (1) Usage of euangelion; (2) The misunderstanding of those around Jesus such as family and disciples; (3) The topic of the law; (4) the feeding miracle and eucharist; (5) mission to pagans; (6) opposition to the temple; (7) relationship to Roman power; (8) focus on passion and resurrection; and (9) disposition towards female disciples.
The fourth chapter compares the christologies of Paul and Mark. Díaz rightly rejects “divine man” and “corrective” christologies in Mark, preferring to see a shared christology rooted in Israel’s scriptures whereby Jesus is presented as “the one who is the fulness and fulfilment of the Scriptures, reinterpreting it in a radically new way from the perspective of the cross” (243). For Díaz, “Mark does not present a completed Christology of Jesus, but offers an image in process, in continuous elaboration, made up of opposing situations and elements that challenges readers who try to discover who Jesus of Nazareth is” (252).
The book has several strengths, first, I say with some degree of envy, is that Díaz is conversant with a wide range of secondary literature in English, German, French, and Spanish. The breadth of secondary reading is truly extraordinary. The volume is an excellent Forschungsgeschichte on the Paul and Mark question and is a useful follow-up to the two multi-author volumes Paul and Mark and Mark and Paul published in the BZNW series in 2014. Second, Díaz has certainly left no rock unturned when it comes to finding potential parity or even dependence of Mark upon Pauline thought. I thought the book paved some new ground on topics like the positiveness that Paul and Mark share about female disciples of Jesus (178-90). Overall Díaz constructs a fairly compelling comparative study of Mark’s Gospel and Paul’s undisputed letters to show both confluence and even influence between them.
Although I for one support Mark’s re-working of (Petrine) Jesus traditions in light of Pauline thought, nonetheless, Díaz is more persuasive in some areas than others.
First, the initial problem is that we cannot be certain which themes or motifs that Mark inherits from wider tradition and which ones are imbibed specifically from Paul. Paul may not have been quite as unique or distinctive as we imagine. Although it is quite possible that Paul was the first one to apply the terminology of euangelion to the preaching about Jesus (see Joshua Garroway, The Beginning of the Gospel), the presence of “gospel” language in Herodian Judea and its use in unPauline Christian texts like Matthew and Revelation makes one wonder if euangelion is really a Pauline theologoumena. Paul can also talk about euangelion to the Roman congregations, which were not directly connected to his apostolic authority and mission, yet he expects them to know what he is talking about. Hence the problem: how much of Paul’s thought and practice was shared with other Christians? Similarly, Paul was not the only Christ-believer who had a resolute focus on the cross, such a concern is found in the anti/un-Pauline Gospels of Matthew, John, the Ascension of Isaiah, and Epistle of Barnabas. What is more, Luke, for whom Paul is a clear hero, casts Paul as more a preacher of Christ’s resurrection and ascension than the cross – so the cross is not a useful metric for Pauline affinity. In addition, reconfiguring the Jewish and Gentile relations within the ecclesia may have preceded Paul among Greek-speaking Christ-believers as it is certainly a prominent point for Luke and Matthew. For Díaz’s thesis to be truly unconvincing, she needed to demonstrate what is uniquely and inimitably Pauline and then apply it to Mark’s Gospel.
Second, my biggest criticism is how Díaz projects a rigorous Law vs. Gospel antithesis into Paul and by implication into Mark. One does not have to buy the entire package of “Paul within Judaism” to find some of her statements remarkably over-generalized and deeply problematic. Díaz regards the Marcan Jesus freeing disciples from “formalistic constraints” (88), he “abolishes the Sabbath,” declares that “Man should not be a Sabbath slave,” and rules out “the Sabbath as a possible way of salvation” (89). Mark and Paul allegedly reject “the Law as the way of salvation” (92) since “having the Law as the way of salvation, man would claim to be obedient to God and ultimately gain his favour by his own works” (93). Díaz is aware of some varied perspectives about Jesus, Paul, and purity when discussing Mk 7:15-19 and Rom 14:14 (96-112), however, I suspect that her construction of Jewish legalism would not be convincing to most scholars of legal traditions in ancient Judaism, the historical Jesus, or the apostle Paul.
Those criticisms aside, Díaz has written an excellent book on one of those persistent intra-canonical questions, i.e., Pauline influence upon the Gospel of Mark. While Díaz may not be right in every detail, I suspect she is correct overall: Paul influenced Mark to some degree or other.