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The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel

The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel: An Early Christian Response to Roman Imperial Propaganda

Author: Adam Winn
Paperback: 236 pages
ISBN-10: 3-16-149635-6
ISBN-13: 978-3-16-149635-6

Mohr Siebeck

It is with much thanks to the good people at Mohr Siebeck for a copy of this title that I provide you with a review. If this book is any indication, then I wholeheartedly look forward to others to review in the future.

First off, I must admit that this is the first published dissertation that I have read. I am therefore perhaps a little less qualified than some for the job of reviewing this. That being said, I will do my best. This is a learning process after all, and I must start somewhere.

Adam Winn wrote The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel as his dissertation for the PhD program at Fuller Seminary, where it was accepted by the faculty in June, 2007. He says that the “ideas for this project grew out of a master’s level course I took on the New Testament gospels from Craig A. Evans in the summer of 2001.” [vii] Apparently, Evans had mentioned that he noticed a parallel between the Roman imperial cult and Mark’s gospel. Winn took this idea, researched it, expanded it, and eventually output his dissertation on the topic.

He begins this dissertation with a short introduction into the purpose, method, outline, and a few reasonable assumptions that he makes at the outset (ie. The author has a purpose in writing). His main premise here is that Mark wrote his gospel in order to counteract the propaganda of the Roman Empire.

In the first chapter, Winn discusses and evaluates some of the theories of the various views (historical, theological, pastoral, evangelical, and socio-political) that have gained attention as possible reasons for Mark’s writing. He interacts with scholars such as Robert Gundry, William Wrede, and and Richard Horsley in this area.

The next chapter deals with where and when Mark wrote. He discusses the internal and external evidence of both, looks at where other scholars have landed on the subject, but ultimately Winn lands, perhaps haphazardly, onto a date of post-70 CE and a provenance of Rome.

After setting up some background study on the purpose of Mark and it’s historical location and date, Winn turns to the gospel and analyzes it’s major features. This is by far where Winn spends most of his time. Here he touches briefly on Mark’s first verse, it’s incipit, wherein he suspects that Mark brings

together the language of both Deutero-Isaiah and the Roman imperial cult . . . Mark’s incipit points to a Sitz im Leben in which the world of Jewish messianic hope is brought together with the Roman imperial cult. [99]

From there he looks at the discipleship, eschatology, and Christology presented in Mark’s gospel. He suggests that the passion narrative in Mark is paralleled with a Roman triumph. Jesus goes on a parade to celebrate his victory over sin. It is finalized with Jesus being raised above all others where he speaks loudly his final words. Winn suggests that Mark’s first century audience would see Jesus as a powerful Messiah from the entire presentation of the gospel, but especially here. For a man who is struggling to breathe to speak loudly would show his inherent power.

By the fourth chapter, Winn finally has his plate set. Now he can begin to serve his main course. Here he details Vespasian’s rise to power as the first Emperor of the Flavian line. Winn suggests that with the turmoil surrounding his ascent to the throne, the Christian community in Rome may have feared further persecution by him, so they chose to show Jesus as a powerful Messiah; a Messiah even more powerful than the Emporer. Thus Mark’s gospel was written.

Winn, in his final chapter, reviews his case to make certain that his understanding of Mark’s purpose lines up with everything he has gone through and to see how those features “might address the historical situation of the evangelist’s community.” [178] In the end he suggests that Mark’s main purpose is

Through a Christology of power, Mark presents Jesus as a legitimate world ruler, one who is in all ways superior to the current world ruler, Vespasian. [200]

After this, Winn simply and succinctly summarizes his conclusions, taking his reader back over the territory that has been covered to arrive at his conclusion.

Winn is to be lauded for such a remarkable work. His third chapter where he deals with the Christology of Mark’s gospel is by far the best I’ve read. His well researched and written comparison of the passion of Jesus to a Roman triumph is worth the entire book. It is something that all should read as background material when dealing with Mark in nearly any way.

There are some places where I worry about how Winn got to where he did. For instance, in his second chapter Winn is dealing with when Mark should be dated. He runs through several criteria (specificity, reasonableness, similarity, motivation, and risk-reward) for choosing a date for Mark based on Jesus’ prophecy about the temple’s destruction (which happened in 70 CE). Did Mark write before or after this event? However, Winn does not suggest a grading scale for these. So, when the first three criteria suggest a pre factum date for Mark’s writing, Winn can simply ignore them when the last two suggest it is post factum.

Nevertheless, this book should be on the shelf of every scholar who wants to engage in discussion on Mark’s gospel. I would not be surprised to see Winn’s The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel referenced in future commentaries and introductions.

Grade: A-



One Response

  1. Please l found your write- up very useful, l will be pleased to read from you in detail concerning the aspect of mark’s sitz im leben. l am a postgraduate student of the university of Nigeria ,l am writing my project on the topic,…Quest for power and Jesus response(mark 10:-35-45)it socio-ecclesial implication to African Leadership.

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