Mark's Omissions

A person’s perspective may be understood as much by the things he does not say as by the things he says. Mark does not include a number of focal elements in the introduction of his gospel which find a prominent place in one or more of the other gospels:

1. The pre-existence of the eternal Logos (John 1:1-18)
2. The genealogy of Jesus, going back to Abraham and even to Adam (Matt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38)
3. The several supernatural angelic annunciations surrounding the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus:

a. The angelic announcement regarding John the Baptist to his father Zachariah (Luke 1:5-25)
b. The multiple angelic announcements regarding the birth of Jesus: to Mary (Luke 1:26-56), to Joseph (Matt. 1:18-25), and to the shepherds (Luke 2:8-20)

4. Jesus’ virgin birth and circumcision (Luke 2:1-7, 21)
5. The homage paid by Simeon, Anna and the Magi travelling from the East (Luke 2:22-38; Matt. 2:1-12)
6. The flight to Egypt at the warning of the angel, and the subsequent return to Nazareth (Matt. 2:13-23; Luke 2:51-52)
7. Jesus’ boyhood visit to Jerusalem (Luke 2:40-50)

At first reading, Mark’s gospel introduction looks rather drab and unimaginative. Failing to mention any of these spectacular aspects of the person of Jesus, Mark simply states, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ the Son of God,” followed by a report of the prophetic fulfillment realized by the public appearance of John the Baptizer as Jesus’ forerunner (Mark 1:1-8). Yet this straightforward no-nonsense reporting by Mark serves the good purpose of simply telling it as it actually was. Indeed, Mark opens his gospel by providing plenty of interpretive framework. He defines his report as a record of “the good news about Jesus Christ the Son of God,” he quotes the words of two agreeing prophets, he notes the fulfillment of their combined prophecies, he locates John’s ministry “in the wilderness” as the appropriate biblical-theological setting for preaching repentance.

But think about all he does not mention: the pre-incarnate existence of the Son of God, the multiple appearances of angelic messengers that have been silent for four centuries, the conception and birth-giving by the virgin Mary, the homage of travelling representatives from distant lands, and the providential protection of this special virgin-born child.

This large “negative space” in Mark’s portrait of God’s Son strongly supports the historical reality and worth of this first gospel. The straightforward (“straightway”)1 manner of his recording events in Jesus’ life was just the thing needed for the initial announcement of the “good news” to the world. Weighty theological observations can come later, through the Spirit-inspired pens of Matthew, Luke and John. Not that Mark has no “theology.” His report is brim full of eternal truths. High drama appears in Mark’s multiple depictions of the basic conflict between Satan’s demons and God’s Son-in-the-flesh. Critical moments in Mark’s gospel find their decisive explanation by the repeated fulfillment of even the minutia of predictive prophetic declarations, beginning with Mark’s introduction and concluding with his presentation of Jesus’ passion. Mark’s statement that Jesus came for the purpose of giving his life as a ransom for many stands out as perhaps the clearest statement in the gospels of the nature of the atonement (Mark 10:45; cf. Matt. 20:28).

Markan studies have more recently displayed a fuller awareness of the rich theological perspective in this brief but pointed fast-moving gospel about Jesus Christ the Son of God. The “historical” aspect of this gospel may be respected for its accurate reporting. At the same time, the sensitive reader will appreciate the “theological” aspect of his history. In other words, the “facts” in Mark are never placed in a totally different realm than the “meaning” of those facts. The abruptness of Mark’s record of the resurrection does not bring into question the point of it all. Instead, this very abruptness, suited as it is to the consistent style of Mark’s gospel from beginning to end, enforces the cosmic significance of the resurrection event, which can never be fully captured by earth-bound words (cf. 1 John 3:2). Jesus’ struggle with the powers of Satan and his multiple demons, as regularly depicted by Mark, concludes with One Fine Moment of Triumph over the ultimate enemies of God’s incarnate Son. Let the remaining days and decades of human history experience for themselves the inevitable consequences of this great victory of Jesus Christ the Son of God as presented in the climactic conclusion of Mark’s gospel. For even Mark’s omissions have something profound to say.

1 εὐθὺς, ‘immediately/ straight away’, 41 times in Mark’s gospel, compared to 5 times in Matthew, 1 time in Luke, and 3 times in John.