The Unity of Mark 5, Contra Price

robertpriceIn his article New Testament Narrative as Old Testament Midrash, higher critic Robert M. Price states that Mark 5,

Under the long-regnant paradigm of form-criticism…was considered to be a complex of two prior tradition-units sandwiched together by Mark, and indeed it is easy to divide them into two distinct episodes. The story of Jairus and his daughter (vv. 21-23, 35-43, the phrase “while he was still speaking” referring originally to Jairus in v. 23) and that of the bleeding woman (vv. 24b-34), Mark having to add only 24a to tape the two together. [

What Price cannot see, viz. the unity of the Gospel of Mark, he attributes to some error in the text. It is hard to ignore this fact, given that Price’s confidence in his imaginative reconstruction is thereby illuminated. Price understands more than Mark, more than the Christian church, and more than contemporary Christians, and he has undertaken the task of teaching us how to transcend the meaning of the text itself and find its true but hidden meaning. Such gnosis is revealed by the higher critics and serves to loose Christians from their bondage to the Law and Gospel of God. After all, if the Gospel of Mark is nothing but one man’s attempt at retelling Old stories in a New light, and in a rather slipshod fashion!, then what authority do his words have? They only have as much authority as Price or any other fallen person wants to recognize in them.

However, Scripture is a system, a unified whole where no part contradicts another, and consequently proves Price’s theory false. The unity of this chapter of Mark’s Gospel is evident if we examine certain key ideas that frame the entire chapter. The following chart will map these out.

chart 1

These key ideas also have similarities between them that we can map out quite clearly. For instance,

chart 3

chart 4

These themes, it should be noted, are not disconnected from Mark’s overall presentation of Christ as the Suffering Servant of God (cf. Isa 53). For some reason, Price does not see the connection between these three events. Nevertheless, the events are all connected in that they underscore Christ’s authority over spirits, death, and sickness. They are also connected in their emphasis on Christ taking the uncleanness of those who have been around death, are experiencing an inner death (so to speak) such as incurable terminal illness, and those who are actually dead. Compare the narrative events of Mark 5 to the propositional revelation of Mark 7:19b and the foolishness of the higher critics is further demonstrated.

Because they are dead, the higher critics do not understand the import of the Scriptures, seeing in them only the seeds of other philosophies and religious narratives a la Bultmannianism (also, cf. Acts 17:16-21). May the Spirit of God open their eyes! Mark 5 is a unit, not a cheap narratival fabric stitched together from scraps of unrelated “traditions.”

Another theme that ties the chapter together is its emphasis on the perpetuity of fallen man’s uncleanness and fallen man’s inability to ameliorate his own condition. Let us observe yet another table comparing the three narratives.

chart 5

What is evident in Mark 5 is not the supposedly implicit disunity between its parts; rather, it is the strikingly clear unity of the entirety not only of Mark 5, but of the whole Gospel of Mark. We have hinted at this already in the clear connection between chapters 5 and 7 with regard to their equal emphasis on Christ’s fulfillment of the ceremonial Law of God, but let us look at this in some more detail.

The Thematic Unity of Mark 1 & 5

The first miracle of our Lord reported by Mark is His exorcism of an unclean spirit (1:23-28). Christ’s cleansing, we should note, is not only of the man but also of the Synagogue. He first preaches the Word as One with authority (vv.21-22), then He expels the demon from the man and ipso facto from the Synagogue. After healing Peter’s mother-in-law, our Lord God goes “throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons” (i.e. Unclean spirits).[ 1:35-39] And immediately after this, the Holy Spirit reveals that Christ heals a leper (vv.40-45). The leper does not ask Christ to make him whole or to heal him, he states that it is Christ has the Divine prerogative of making the leper clean (vv.40-41).

Thus, the first chapter of Mark begins with an emphasis on Christ making clean what was formerly unclean. The man who was possessed of an unclean spirit is made whole, and the synagogue in which Christ preached was restored to spiritual cleanness/holiness. Christ continues this pattern, says Mark, throughout all of Galilee. Finally, our Lord makes a leper clean and sends him to the priests, i.e. to the temple/synagogue. [It is important to note here how our Lord’s miracles begin with Him casting an unclean spirit out of the synagogue but ends with our Lord making an unclean man clean, and sending him into the temple/synagogue. This brings the unity of the entire chapter to the surface and further makes men like Price inexcusable. Could the unity of the text be any more clear? Christ has come to fulfill the Law of God, as well as to bear our diseases and remove our uncleanness. He has come to cast out the wicked one (cf. 3:22-30, note Mark’s use of the words “unclean spirit” in v.30). These references lead up to Mark 5, and they all underscore Christ’s making clean what was unclean. They show Him fulfilling the Law in our place, by bearing our illnesses, by removing the unclean from the synagogue and placing those whom He has made clean into His appointed place of worship.

A blind man alone would be unable to see the unity not simply in Mark 5, but also in the thematic unity of Mark 1-5.


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