Chronology & Mark : Studies in Mark, Pt. 37

As we all know, the Synoptic Gospels are not in arranged in any strict chronological order. One only needs to sit the Gospel accounts side-by-side to realize this. Today, scholars are more prone to finding a literary arrangement of the materials in each work, as opposed to a chronological one. For example, it has been suggested that each work is arranged thematically. Others have suggested that the Gospel accounts are ordered theologically. I could list many similar arguments but I will abstain from doing so.

As a student of Mark’s Gospel, I am becoming more and more inclined to seeing Mark’s work as chronological. I think there are many evidences of this—even literary markers seem to suggest so. In the remainder of this post, then, I want to give some thoughts on why, at my present level of understanding, I think Mark’s Gospel is chronologically arranged. Before I delve into that, though, I should qualify this statement with a couple of comments.

Firstly, when I say “chronological” I am not referring to a strict chronology but rather a loose one. Secondly, by arguing that chronology exists, I am not suggesting that no other factors (e.g. literary) shaped the arrangement of Mark’s work. With that said, I will proceed.

I want to begin by suggesting an extremely loose chronological arrangement, which will later, have more added to it. It seems clear that at least five events in Mark’s work are chronological: Baptism > Formal Ministry > Crucifixion > Resurrection > After Death Appearances. Not only does this comport with what the other Gospels have to offer, it also makes logical sense. For example, you can’t have the resurrection before the crucifixion—they must go in the opposite order. As I see it, there is no way to refute this loose chronology I have offered so far. Therefore, we can say without a doubt, that Mark’s work has some chronological arrangement to it.

We might even say that, from a literary standpoint, this chronology is to be assumed. In other words, opening, plot and climax only work if these events are chronological. Again, in any other order, they just would not work. Now, I want to see if I can add a few more elements into the chronology, each of which fall under the “Formal Ministry” category. These three elements, in order, are: Ministry in Galilee Area > Ministry Between Galilee Area and Jerusalem > Ministry in Jerusalem. Because it may be easier to visualize, I will place the items thus far, in a list:

1) Baptism
2) Formal Ministry
a. Ministry in Galilee Area
b. Ministry Between Galilee Area and Jerusalem
c. Ministry in Jerusalem
3) Crucifixion
4) Resurrection
5) After Death Appearances

In each of the Synoptics, these periods of ministry seem to be (loosely) present. Furthermore, it appears that in Mark’s account—as well as the others—that at some point, Jesus leaves the rural towns and villages and heads towards the city of Jerusalem. This is absolutely clear in Mark’s work. After the baptism, chapters 1-7 tell of Jesus traveling through the region of Galilee. In chapter 8, it is my opinion (I’ve not read any others who’ve ever suggested this) that Jesus, in between the Galilee Area and Jerusalem, pauses to take stock of His ministry (all the while doing ministry). Following this, Jesus, around chapter 9 and all the way up to the crucifixion in chapter 15, is conducting ministry in Jerusalem. Again, it seems logical to the Gospel writers (and it should to us too, that this was the story played out; in fact, this is part of what makes it such a good and easy story to tell).

I would venture to say that most people would be comfortable with this loose chronology that I’ve offered so far (though I realize that some would thumb their noses at it). But now, this is where trying to see anything else as chronological gets really tough. For example, some would argue that we do not and cannot know if the order in which Mark speaks of Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee area has any chronology to it. To use but one example (because I am currently reviewing a book that makes this claim), the point has been made that Mk. 1.16-20 (the calling of the fishermen) could quite possibly trade spots with Mk. 1.29-34 (the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law). Those who argue that the disciples actually did leave “everything”, often hold this position. The claim runs along the following lines:

“Because the disciples had to forsake everything (forever), it makes little sense that right after Jesus calls them, Peter goes to the home of some of his family members. Therefore, Peter and Jesus must have seen Peter’s mother-in-law before Jesus called the fishermen to desert all and follow Him. Perhaps they were saying their goodbyes. Besides, Jesus knew the fishermen prior to His calling of them, thus, it is likely that He had been in their homes.”

I have already argued in a previous post that 1) Jesus did not ask the disciples to abandon everything forever, and 2) Other New Testament evidence suggests that the disciples, in fact, did not abandon all forever (and thus, did not interpret Jesus’ call in such a way). So, I think that this argument of switching Mk. 1.16-20 with 1.29-34 holds no water and that there is no good reason to do it. I do contend, however, that there is possibly a good reason to believe that Mark was telling things in chronological order.

In Mk. 1.10 the Spirit descends on Jesus and then escorts Him to the wilderness and in 1.14-5, Mark notes that John the Baptizer has been imprisoned. From both a literary, logical and chronological point-of-view, the story had to happen this way. Jesus had to have the aid of the Spirit in Him before He could confront and be victorious over the evil spirits in 1.21-8. Furthermore, John the Baptizer had to be imprisoned so that Jesus could begin calling and leading John’s disciples and preparing them for ministry. If the previous two events had not happened, the latter two could not have.

Perhaps the line between literary arrangement and chronology is too fine to discern here but it seems evident that given the flow of things, the events are told with some order. For Mark, just about every episode has a counterpart. For example, 1.40-5 (the healing of the leper and the sending of him to the Temple authorities) needed to happen before the authorities could know anything about Jesus and thus, in the next scene, come to Jesus’ home to hear what He had to say (Mk. 2.1-12).

Now, I will refer to a point that I have made in another post here. One of Mark’s major themes is violence towards Jesus. Jesus encounters it with evil spirits and satan in 1.12-3 as well as 1.21-8. The devil and his minions want to do violence to Jesus and harm Him. This is the sheer spiritual side of things. On the physical side of violence, beginning with 2.6-8 we see the religious leaders huddled in a corner talking smack about Jesus and wanting to do Him harm. This desire to do violence to Jesus keeps mounting until in 3.6 the religious leaders team up with the Herodians and begin plotting to kill Jesus. The point I am trying to make here is that in addition to how the story plays out from a literary standpoint, really, it only makes the most since that things really, chronologically did happen this way.

I have not gone through Mark’s entire work to try to find a strict chronology. However, from the overarching loose chronology that I have found coupled with the order of things in Mk. 1-3, it does seem to me like Mark is being very chronological. And this is not to say that if he wasn’t being orderly or if the other Gospel writers were not, there is some contradiction about them; I’m not making that claim. All I am suggesting is that Mark, whom I am most familiar with when it comes to the Gospels, does appear to arrange things in a logical order.

It might lend more credence to this idea to point out things such as 4.5 where Mark says “and on that day”. It is probably of no value to cite Mark’s favorite “time” word, euthys (immediately) to make the same point. This seems to be in the main, a transition word for Mark. Some, like Wenham, have made the point that because Mark is less concerned with Jesus’ teachings and more concerned with what He did, then Mark is likely being chronological. I’m not sure how much weight that idea can withstand but it should not be ruled out too quickly, I guess.

Lastly, another thing that might offer proof to Mark having a type of actual chronology is that Mark wrote his account while listening to Peter’s lectures in Rome. The lectures that Peter was giving could have easily set Mark up for this. In one hand Peter had the Gospel of Matthew and in the other, he had the Gospel of Luke. Peter’s lectures, then, consisted of comparing (and probably contrasting) the two. If Mark was following along, he probably got his chronology (or some of it at least) in this way. This, too, I must admit, seems like another shaky argument.

In conclusion, I think that the evidence is irrefutable for the loose chronology stated above. As for the more strict chronology, well, we may never know. However, it does seem likely (for a number of reasons, as we have seen) that Mark could have easily and readily written his Gospel account in chronological order and all the while, noticing how both the themes and the logical order of things just kept presenting themselves. Again, this, at least in part, is probably why the story of Jesus works itself out so well.


  1. Micheal, I am also in KY and have been reading your and Mr. Joseph's blogs. I haven't got time tonight to deliberate on your arguments on Mark, but I will this week sometime. I am not a seminarian yet, but I love the Word and studying it. My blog is http://www.dunganspot.blogspot.com. If you don't mind, I'll add yours to my links. My email is available on my profile page.



  2. Greg,
    glad you've been reading Pisteuomen, I'm looking forward to engaging you in coversation in due time.


  3. Michael what would you with John 12:1-10 6 days before Passover and mark 14:1-9 2 days before Passover. This seems to point to the same anointing event with different chronologies