Religious Essays

Why is the Nativity Story left out of the Gospel of Mark(our earliest gospel)?


Madonna With The Yarnwinder by Leonardo da Vinci, 1510.

        The Gospel of Mark was originally thought of as an epitome for Matthew, hence its second place in arrangement in the bible. However, after much scholarly consensus and debate, it is candidly established that Mark is the oldest gospel dating to around 66-70 CE. This is an intriguing work for numerous reasons which would require this article to transform into an essay; consequently, I shall only deal with a simple one. Mark omits any mention of a virgin birth; in fact, there is a complex theme throughout this gospel that candidly suggests that Mark does not even acknowledge that the birth of Jesus was even worth mentioning, or that Mary understood her(divine) role in this context.

        The complexity of my contention is imbued in 2 verses: Mark 3:20-21. This is the passage where the “family” of Jesus comes to take him out of public sight because they have reason to “believe” he is crazy! Let us consider a few of the English translations in which this narrative is demonstrated:20 “And the multitude cometh together again so that they could not so much as eat bread.

21 And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.(KJV,1611);20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family[b] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”(NIV);20 and the crowd came together again so that they could not even eat.21 And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for people were saying, “He is beside himself.”(RSV);20 And the multitude assembled again so that they could not so much as eat bread.

21 [p]And when his[q]kinsfolks heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said that he was beside himself.”(1599,Geneva);20 And He *came [h]home, and the crowd *gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat [i]a meal. 21 When His own [j]people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses.” (NASV) Notice the “somewhat” complexity these English translations perform? Now, here is the same verse the way it was “originally” (and intended) written in Greek: 20”Καὶ ἔρχεται εἰς οἶκον· καὶ συνέρχεται πάλιν [ὁ] ὄχλος, ὥστε μὴ δύνασθαι αὐτοὺς μηδὲ ἄρτον φαγεῖν.

21καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ παρ’ αὐτοῦ ἐξῆλθον κρατῆσαι αὐτόν· ἔλεγον γὰρ ὅτι ἐξέστη.”(Nestle Alan,28th edition) (Don’t panic! I am going to break this passage down to make my point; you don’t have to read Greek.) This is an immensely difficult passage to translate from the Greek because of the COMPLETELY unrelated syntax and diction that is used in English; in my view, the inevitable result of the English translations is that this verse is “proposing” in saying something that it was not intended to say. Up to this point in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is performing miracles, attracting large followers as well as enemies. He chooses his 12 disciples and goes into a house; in spite of his “heroic” repudiation against evil and sickness, he is replete with strident critics and those who wish to kill him. In the Greek passage, it literally says “THOSE  WHO WERE BESIDE HIM CAME FORTH” in order to rebuke him; that is, they were saying Jesus was “EXESTH!” What does this phrase mean? Well, the King James translators were a bit astute with these verses. In their presentation Jesus “was beside himself” and that his “friends” (meaning immediate family, not the way we understand friends today!) went to lay hold on him. In other words, he was pulled away from public view because they thought he was crazy. The rest of the English translations followed this sequence of interpretation; however, it was coined a bit mixedly from its predecessors. The whole purpose of Mark’s gospel up to this point is that Jesus is not achieving the support that he wishes; his own family is turning away from him; as a result, they are convinced he is EXESTH. This “word” can(and is)be used as a “phrase” to mean insanity, which is EXACTLY what the Greek verses are saying; however, that is not demonstrated with linguistic accuracy in the English translations. Let us go further. Here is my crash course in Greek grammar.

        In the Greek language, the subject of a sentence is often NOT expressed simply because it can be found in the verb itself. Example: When you write a sentence in English using a pronoun(I,He,It,We,She,They,etc)we actually give the pronoun; in Greek the pronouns are already built into the verb; subsequently, the verbs are spelled differently with, almost always, a different ending, regardless if you want the subject to be “I”,”We”,”They”,etc.Now for the chief rule: If there is a sentence that does not contain an explicit pronoun, and the subject of the sentence demonstrates ambiguity, then the implied subject is the immediate noun or pronoun. (I should note that ALL of our pronouns come from the Scandinavian languages, hence the awesome confusion when studying Greek; there is simply no relation as we know it.Obviously, there is no connection between Greek and Scandinavian! The other factor, of course, is that English syntax(the mechanical structure of sentences)is far more influenced by German and Latin, rather than Greek.)As a result, if you write a sentence that says “He swam in the lake”, you do not actually know who “He” is unless you examine the previous context and read, right before this sentence,”Mark swam in the lake.” Then you will know that the “He” in the lake is, in fact, ”Mark.” Do you follow this? This was obviously a troubled verse for the King James as well as the Geneva translators simply because they couldn’t fathom Jesus’ family thinking(or believing)he was crazy! The modern translations are no better with this verse; it is simply “theologically”  improper to suggest Jesus in this position. To get around this, they paraphrased the Greek into saying that Jesus was pulled away from the “people” (άνθρωποι) because “they” (the people) thought he was nuts! As you can see from my Greek grammar model, this is quite a substantial difference in meaning than what Mark intended! Simply put, our English translations tell us that the “people” (there is no Greek equivalent for this word for these verses in ANY Greek manuscript we have!) thought that Jesus was nuts, not his family. THAT IS NOT WHAT THE GREEK SAYS! And who is this “family” Marks writes about? It becomes candid further in the chapter; however, Jesus abdicates his family in favor of his followers.

        So, where does the virgin birth fit in this sequence? Mark gives no details about a virgin birth; in fact, he mentions no “miraculous” birth at all! Strikingly, as this is the earliest account of Jesus, he never makes mention of Jesus’ mother being a virgin! Mark’s portrait of Jesus is quite different from Matthew and Luke; he does not even presuppose that Jesus was born of a virgin; if he did, I’d like to think that he would have written that down. However, it’s clear that Mark is concerned (and struggles) with the issue of who Jesus really is; after all, I am convinced, that he had a lot of “oral” and possibly DISTANT “eyewitness” testimony to sort through.The most obscure view I possess on Mark is this: Mary is really not sure who her son is? Is he the Son of God? (I should note that the title “Son of God” is not used in the context we use it now. As applied to Jesus, this title refers to himself as the role of the Messiah, the KING chosen by GOD. In ancient as well as modern Judaism, the Messiah does NOT take the place of God. Hence, the MAJOR separation of Christianity and Judaism. In other words, the Jewish Messiah of the Hebrew Bible became more Hellenized in the New Testament (especially with Paul’s writings), typically in the Markan corpus; there is no evidence that 1st century Jews used the title “Son of God” to demonstrate this title as being a messiah. (Mark is clearly influenced by Greek culture and cleverly portrays Jesus in this fashion in order to appeal to a non-Jewish audience.) However, shockingly, Jesus keeps his identity a secret throughout the entire gospel until the end! It’s dreadfully obvious, in this earliest gospel, that Mary does not acknowledge (or know) that her son is divine!

        The other side of the contention is this: Mark, as opined earlier, portrays Jesus as an Exorcist and Healer and Miracle Worker; while these are important attributes that a “messiah” would possess, Mark is articulate in not asserting Jesus as a sorcerer or conjurer of evil; on the contrary, if a 1st century Roman would read this gospel, he might mistaken Jesus to be one or both of these, which, consequently, would be punishable by exile or death. (However, not surprisingly, the Jewish teachers accuse Jesus of sorcery and being in league with satan; Mark climbs a refulgent column and defends Jesus against this with his pen.) Jesus was an apocalypticist ( a person who believes the end of the world will come in their own lifetime); he preached that the end was coming soon. (When the “end” never arrived, the ideas and beliefs were transformed into more complexity.) All 4 gospels tell a unique (but different) story of Jesus’ birth (except John and Mark), death and resurrection. Unlike Matthew and Luke , but like John, Mark identifies Jesus’ origin of being from Galilee. However, there is no mention of his parents, no connection to Bethlehem, or a genealogy. Curiously, though, Mark mentions brothers and sisters! Mark, unlike John, NEVER calls Jesus God. I wonder why? Perhaps, it is because of the emphasis I argued for earlier, that Mark’s intention was to portray Jesus as a more Hellenistic being(still slightly God), powerfully endowed with divine gifts and contemplating, with arduous patience, his fulfillment as a unblemished messiah, something Mary does not comprehend, at least in this earliest gospel. If you disagree with this paradigm, fair enough. It’ just seems a bit confiding that if Mark knew (or believed) that Jesus was God, why would he not be emphatic about it like John is in his gospel? Perhaps Matthew, Mark, and Luke understood Jesus to be God, but certainly not like John understood him to be God.