Prophecy In Mark?: Studies In Mark, Pt. 84

I've been wanting to get around to this subject / post for a while but I've recently found myself taken up by other things. One reason I wanted to write about prophecy in Mk. is because before SBL, Mark Goodacre and NT Wrong were discussing the literary function of prophetic remarks. Bill Heroman also weighed in on the matter. Mr. Goodacre's thesis was that one could, in fact, date the Markan account (pre-temple, if I remember correctly) by considering the literary function of the prophetic instances in the story. If one subscribes to this thesis, they most likely see Mk. 13 as "prophetic" (especially in a predictive sense) and even "eschatalogical".

In the history of Markan scholarship, there is a longstanding tradition of reading Mk. 13 this way (e.g. it is typically referred to as the "little apocalypse"). It is with humility that I toss my hat into the ring and offer a different view. I have already written a lengthy post on Mk. 13 HERE and for that reason, I do not want to really re-cover those bases. I have also written about the so-called "Passion Predictions" in Mk. HERE. Again, for this reason, I am not going to rehash all of that information in this post. Instead, what I want to offer here are a few practical thoughts about what scholars dub "prophecy" in the Gospel of Mark. I will start with the "Passion Predictions" and then move on to "Mk. 13". After that, I will offer a brief conclusion.

1. When one turns to the pages of any Markan commentary, they are almost undoubtedly going to find section headings or sub-headings titled "Jesus' Passion Predictions" (or something of that nature). Even most modern Bible translations say something like this. And therein lies the problem: These presuppositions are so ingrained in us (and our translations and interpretations) that they rarely go unchallenged. It is almost as if scholarship "needs" Jesus to be predicting things. But does He? Does Jesus really predict His death? I would suggest to you that in Mark's account, He doesn't! That's right, He doesn't. Jesus does not predict His death and as such, is not being prophetic (as a foreteller).

How can I say this? Well, the key is Mk. 3.6. That verse, right near the beginning of Mark's story, tells us that the Pharisees and Herodians began plotting to kill Jesus. In Matthew's work, Jesus is in the presence of the "plotters" and is made aware of their plans. It couldn't be clearer that Mark wants us to think the same thing. Indeed, the first three chapters, especially from 1.4 (John the Baptizers arrest) all culminate at 3.6. It is a group of dramatic stories that cresendo in the plot to kill Jesus. From this point on, all throughout Mark's story, we find out that the officials are constantly trying to trip Jesus up, to catch Him in His words, to trick Him and to arrest Him.

It is for these reasons, the giving of all of these clues, that we can say with confidence that Jesus knew from the beginning that those in Jerusalem (and surrounding areas) were plotting to kill Him. And if He knew this from the start, how then can we suggest that He is predicting stuff? Well, we can't really. It seems more correct to say that Jesus is simply affirming what He has already found out will happen if He goes to Jerusalem. Jesus is not predicting His death. I mean, come on, the man even prays to have the cup taken from Him just before the crucifixion, had He "predicted" the events and done so with "divine accuracy", there's no way He would have prayed what He did. So, in my view, we cannot label Jesus as a "foretelling prophet" in light of these verses. As a byproduct, neither can we suggest that these are literary devices that can help us date the text; they do not fulfill the function of "prophecy".

2. Without getting into a lot of stuff here (because there is a ton to get into), I would point you to the post I have already written on this matter HERE. To simply summarize my conclusion there, I should say that Mk. 13 is not "predictive" either. It may be prophetic in the sense of "forthtelling" but not "foretelling". By the same token it is neither apocalyptic or eschatalogical. Now, I realize that I am way out on a limb here by myself and that what I'm saying flies in the face of the majority of what Markan scholars have written through the ages. At this point, all I can say is, currently, this is where I stand.

When we read Mk. 13, we are to keep in view the temple and its impending destruction. Like Goodacre, while I find much to agree with regarding Kloppenborg's work, in the end, I disagree with his major premise and his dating of the text. But what is invaluable in Kloppenborg's work are all of the social cues that are given. For instance, when he talks about how ancient cities were "razed", certainly, Mk. 13 makes much more sense. In this context, there are all kinds of stock phrases, images, sayings, etc. that would have led ancient audiences to know that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the temple was going to meet its end. But therein lies the point: There are all kinds of "cues" that people would have picked up on. To use a modern comparison, we can point to stock-brokers or Wall St. pundits. Many of these people, by watching trends in the economy, picking up on financial cues, paying attention to buying/selling/trading patterns, knew that a kind of recession was on the way. Were they "predicting" it? No! By being tuned into society (and their respective fields of work), they saw the recession coming. The same "kind" of thing is taking place in Mk. 13.

I shall have to point you to Kloppenborg's articles here as well as NH Taylor's two articles on Caligula because I do not wish to reproduce all of the social cues they uncover. Needless to say, they are there. The point I want to make, then, is that given all of these cues, we are not in a position to suggest Jesus is predicting anything. Anyone in the ancient world who might have been paying as much attention to things as Jesus had, might have been in a position to make the same suppositions. Perhaps they did (the peasants, I mean). Because we only really get to see things from the perspectives of the elite, we mostly get to see their views that they will rule with power and authority for ages to come. Certainly, there were peasant (and Messiah) movements that had a different perspective!

Given these findings, I'm not so sure that we can suggest that there is much in Mk. that is prophetic at all. Neither am I so sure that we can dub Jesus as prophetic. I am much more hesitant then, to suggest that there is a literary form of prophecy/prediction that allows us to date anything. It's not that I don't take these texts seriously, indeed, I do. In the end, I see them more from a practical social angle than anything else. It is this social angle that reminds me that Jesus knew from cues both what He and the Temple were in for. And that, well, it is my humble take on the matter.


  1. Clearly you are on the right road here. Predicting is a clumsy word anyway. I was talking to my sister yesterday who reported that her teenage daughter had been in thankfully what was a minor car accident. She said, "John, you always it would happen, not if, but when." Having raised two teenage boys, it was not a big jump to make a fairly certain prediction. In John, there is a passage where Jesus tells Peter what is going to happen, but we often miss the point that Jesus has just put down his "bible." We know the cost of our care - that's why Mark has Jesus telling his present readers/hearers, if you want to follow me, take up your cross.

  2. John,
    As always, good to hear from you. I really can't add much more to your point here, so, suffice it to say that I think you're on the "right road here" too.

  3. Sorry to come along late, Michael. I'm behind on my reader!

    I'm a bit confused... I thought Mark's view was very similar to NT Wrong's, which was that including the "predictions" proves such writing to have been after those events took place. Did you take Goodacre's view differently?

    To your point, I don't think it would matter to their views whether you characterize Jesus' "predictions" as divine or as common sense forecasting. Again, their argument is about whether such claims would be published before the events being "foretold" actually happened.

    Mark's whole point was that the debate shouldn't be about whether Jesus did or could make predictions, but about when such "predictions" would have been published.

    But please correct me if I misunderstood you, or if you think I misunderstood them.