The Gospel of Mark: On Reading a Gospel as Scripture

How do we read a Gospel as Scripture?

By “Gospel” I mean the literary genre itself. A Gospel announces good news and our canonical Gospels locate this good news in Jesus, particularly his ministry, death and resurrection.

It has been common for modern readers to think of the Gospels as primarily or fundamentally history or even biography. When read through this lens our response is to believe the facts or to believe the story. We confess it; we acknowledge it; we recite it.  As confessors of the story, the church has sometimes reduced it to a history lesson. These are the facts we believe. Or, we might reduce the story to a list of creedal statements.

There is certainly nothing improper about believing the story or even acknowledging the facts which the narrative asserts. The problem is when we think of this as the only or even primary purpose of the Gospels themselves.

In this mode of reading, the Gospels are preambles to Christian living. They are the evidence of Jesus and once we believe the evidence and become Christians, then we move on to the Epistle or the rest of the New Testament to find out what it means to be Christian or how to live as Christians.  The Gospels, then, are functionally evidentiary; they are practically, if not solely, apologetic tools.  In this construal, they tell the story we believe but not the story we live.

I think the Gospels are much more than that.

The function of the Gospels is not merely to tell the story like a witness in a courtroom, but more like a storyteller who draws the hearer into the drama itself. The Gospels invite us to participate in the story of Jesus and not simply believe it. They call us to follow Jesus and not simply believe in him as an artifact of history.

The Gospels are not fundamentally histories but narratives. They are historical, to be sure, but they are more appropriately regarded as stories that project a world in which we are invited to live. The Gospels invite us to live out the story of Jesus in our own lives.

We follow Jesus into the water. We follow him into the wilderness.  We follow him into ministry–to the tables of the marginalized, to the sick and diseased, to the broken and hurting. We follow him to the cross and die with him daily. And, one day, we will follow him into glory where our mortal bodies will be transformed into the likeness of his resurrected body.

The story of Jesus is our story. The Gospels are our narratives. They are not historical artifacts or pieces of mere evidentiary history. They are the story of our lives as disciples of Jesus.

6 Responses to “The Gospel of Mark: On Reading a Gospel as Scripture”

  1.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    In the current North American culture there is, I believe, a large table conversation taking place regarding the big questions of life. There are many voices taking part in this conversation and Christianity is but one voice and increasingly an unwanted voice. I believe the reason for this is that the larger culture perceives too much of a dichotomy between who Jesus is and what Christianity is.

    The reason for this dichotomy (if my assessment is even somewhat on target) is mentioned in this post: Christianity has too often only viewed the Gospels as a “functionally evidentiary” story about Jesus. Thus, Jesus becomes the Savior we believe in but not necessarily the Savior who’s life we learn to emulate (discipleship).

    With that in mind, Christianity in North America finds itself existing in a now post-Christian mission field. Hence, all the talk about the missional church. There is so much to talk about regarding the missional church. Yet I am convinced more so than ever that as church, we will be/become more missional when we learn to read the Gospels as a invitation “to live out the story of Jesus in our own lives” and then accept that invitation. Hence, Jesus’ pronouncement of the kingdom of God with a call to repent and believe the good news, followed with the invitation “follow me” (Mk 1.15, 17).

    Great post!

    K. Rex Butts

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      Thanks, Rex. I appreciate the comment and I think your analysis is on target. Missional hermeneutics will enable the church to live missionaaly. That is a hermeneutic that goes beyond a mere historical grammatical reading of the text.

  2.   johnkking Says:

    Love this post and agree with Rex! Another thought I would suggest is we need to learn to present the life of Jesus for different contexts by means of narrative. We don’t have one gospel, we have four. The parts of Jesus’ life, teaching and ministry that especially connects and challenges a context were told for that context.

    A good friend quoted a bright young church planter in Laos who noted that The Jesus Film has had limited impact among Buddhist people. Then he said the reason is it is based on the wrong gospel. He affirms that if it were based on John’s gospel rather than Luke’s it would bear more fruit. We need to present Jesus’ story where it connects with the worldview of our audience.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      You are so right, my friend. That is perhaps one reason we have four gospels. The four perspectives are four ways of inviting others into the sthory. Great point about John, Luke and culture

  3.   Betty Says:

    Bro. Hicks your phrase, “both/and,” takes on more and more meaning to me all the time. Thanks for your sharing your knowledge.

  4.   Tom Atkinson Says:

    Good article! Unless I make God’s story my story, the material is of little practical value. Even the “demon’s believe and tremble.” I need to allow the Gospels to interpret me, and not be so enthralled with my interpretation of them!

    Great summary of the aim of the entire New Testament!

    Tom Atkinson


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