Mark’s “Amazing” Gospel

As I mentioned in an earlier post (5/22/09), I am preaching through Mark’s Gospel. As I am working my way through the book in sermon preparation, I have observed something that I would have never expected from Mark: a vivid and wide-ranging vocabulary. Now this observation is only true to this point in one particular setting, namely, the various ways that Mark describes the response of amazement by individuals or groups of people but it is cause for further study.

To this point I have found eight (8) different words employed by Mark to denote some form of astonishment or amazement. In other words, in about 24 such uses in his gospel, he employs 8 different words! In addition, what surfaces from the evidence is that in general, the more common the Greek term for denoting astonishment or amazement in the NT, the less Mark uses it, and the less common the Greek term is in the NT, the more often he uses it. This implies that in common synoptic material, Matthew and Luke tend to use the more common terms. For instance, compare Mark 12:17 with Matthew 22:21. However this should not be made to think that Mark has an obsession with the concept. As a matter of fact, there are times that Matthew or Luke introduce the idea of amazement in a story and Mark leaves the idea completely out in the same story. For instance, in the calming of the storm by Jesus, Luke has the disciples fearful and amazed (8:25; φοβηθέντες δὲ ἐθαύμασαν), Mathew has them just amazed (8:27; ἐθαύμασαν), and Mark records them simply as very afraid (4:41; ἐφοβήθησαν φόβον μέγαν). My point is just that when Mark does employ the concept, he uses 1 of 8 different words to do so.  

The uses and frequency of the concept of amazement in Mark’s are as follows:

Θαυμάζω  – 43 uses and only 4 by Mark. The most common use he employs the least: 9%

ἐξίστημι  –  17 uses; only 4 by Mark: 24%

ἐκπλήσσω –   13 uses; 5 by Mark: 38%

ἔκστασις – 7 uses; 2 by Mark: 29%

ἀπορέω –  6 uses; 1 by Mark: 16%

ἐκθαμβέω – 4 uses and all by Mark: 100%

θαμβέω – 3 uses and all by Mark: 100%

ἐκθαυμάζω – 1 use and by Mark: 100% 

In synoptic studies, Mark often plays “second fiddle” to the other two synoptic writers. His gospel is thought to almost be a “mini-gospel,” written only to be later used and expanded by Matthew and Luke. However such criticisms are unwarranted. He is his own man and when he does write on a particular occasion in the life of Christ, he tends to be “longer” than the others who include the same material. What we may find is that he has a vocabulary that is able to portray similar action in more vivid and colorful terms. There is much more work to do on this, but the possibilities are intriguing.

Categories: Gospels, Greek

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