Introduction

Someone reading the gospel of Mark will probably need to read it more than once in order to understand it. However, genuine understanding in any measure is likely to generate the desire to read the text more than once. I do not know if that applies to these pages. Because so much remains to be said concerning this gospel, I have tried to emulate the economy of Mark, the gospel remarkable for the logical significance with which it arranges the miracle stories in particular. I have also had to deal sensitively with the meaning of this economy. In an age when information abounds, it is incumbent on authors not to abuse the patience of their readers. Even so, in such an age it is more incumbent than ever on philosophers to bring some clarity and order to the profusion. This, one of the chief projects of epistemology, was perhaps never more required of philosophy than it is today. The gospel of Mark is invaluable to me precisely because it contains the hope of bringing clarity and order to the biblical tradition.

That tradition remains a primary source for theology. There are others; I would broadly identify at least two, one on either side of the emergence of Christianity. The first is of course those religious traditions that continue to claim the allegiance of millions of persons today. These are mainly forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, which because of their strong sense of the immanence of God, sit well with the general atmosphere of the New Testament and provide something which Judaisms cannot provide. There is an instructive sense in which Primitive Brahamanism and Sramanism vis-a-vis Buddhism compares in certain respects to the relations obtaining between Judaism and Christianity, not least in the sense in which the later religions have in turn influenced the earlier ones. (In connection with which, see Lal Mani Joshi, Brahmanism, Hinduism and Buddhism: An Essay on their Origins and Interactions). In either case one should not lose sight of the fact that religion if it is to survive, must evolve, although that should not encourage a liberal progressivism which equates the latest with the best. 'The decay of Christianity and Buddhism, as determinative influences in modern thought, is partly due to the fact that each religion has unduly sheltered itself from the other.' (A. N. Whitehead, Religion In The Making, Cambridge, 1926, page 131.)

The word 'evolve' alludes to the second extra-curricular area for theology. Again, and broadly speaking, this is learning. I would use the term 'science' but for the fact that it has tended to encourage the very attitude to which I have just referred, the uncritical adequation between time and progress. (There is an epistemological rationale, which also discourages the same tendentiousness inherent in science.) Thus Christian theology can profitably engage with both these fields - the other world religions, and the scientific enterprise. I hope that such an exchange is evident in this work.

That said, my real brief is with the Bible, and I hope to some extent, the entirety indicated by that expression. Specialisation is endemic in an age of information, and it serves as an index of the reigning zeitgeist. Biblical scholarship illustrates this fact as much as any scholastic enterprise. It has conferred enormous benefits. Not the least of these is an understanding of the history of the written traditions. I would indeed have liked to pursue that idea in relation to the proposition that the six miracle narratives, the basis of this study, form an integrated and early part of the same tradition. The claim that the miracles in the gospel of Mark are systematically related to one another may seem all the stranger because they have always offered the opportunity for scholarship to deal with increasingly smaller textual units. But, the interest of theology in increasingly atomic textual units is inimical to the philosopher's case and the costive interpretations which its accepted methods deliver do not answer her/his needs. To her/him, specialisation is fragmentation by any other name, and the unchecked pursuit of analysis for its own sake dangerously close to obscurantism. The most characteristic feature of the miracle stories in the gospel of Mark is their logical and aesthetic co-inherence. They are somewhat like a body. One can approach these narratives as individual units. They enjoy the status of identifiable members of an organic whole. It is the latter which concerns me. The many miracle stories in the gospel of Mark cohere not merely by dint of being party to the same genre. Because they create a structural nexus, their meaning will continue to elude the best efforts of the analytical approach, as long as it is not complemented by some corresponding synthesis.

With the exception of the first sign in John (2.1-11), all of the miracle stories considered here belong to the gospel of Mark. As such, this study is a hermeneutic of Mark. That there is a sixth sign belonging to his 'messianic' series I am convinced by the formal arguments alone, notwithstanding the arguments concerning content. The questions why and exactly how the story of The Transformation of Water into Wine became dislodged from the other five, are questions beyond my competence to answer. Far more interesting to me is the meaning of such stories as revealed by their form and content. I find myself capable in part at least of addressing this. It requires speculative reason and an avowedly synthetic rather than analytic approach.

Some will greet my procedure here as nothing less than methodologically transgressive. Those who entertain scruples of a kind that divorces biblical, systematic and philosophical theologies will anathematise not only the addition of the first sign from John to the five messianic events contained in Mark. They will condemn the extrapolation between the miracle narratives and Genesis 1.1-2.4a. In response I can say only this. I first came to study Mark more than three decades ago. What immediately became obvious to me was the presence of form in the miracle narratives. I cannot believe that the author(s) of the gospel simply assembled a collection of various narratives, of mostly oral tradition. The presence of form and the aesthetic integrity of the gospel as demonstrated by the patterns of the miracle narratives are those of its qualities which have sustained my interest for more than two decades. Nothing has dimmed my original enthusiasm for the philosophical possibilities of these narratives. To this day, my conviction that the gospel integrates the Tanakh as I have tried to indicate, continues unabated, as does my belief that this integration holds the greatest potential for a viable and encompassing systematic Christian theology. I make no apologies for the fact that this work is a synthesis. It rides roughshod over not only the boundary between a synoptic gospel, Mark and John, but the boundary between the two traditions, Judaic and Christian. It flies ungraciously but I hope not too awkwardly in the face of the prevailing winds.

Those same prevailing winds claim to have accounted for the miracles in Mark  in large part, by means of the form critical efforts first inaugurated by Bultmann. In some cases this has resulted in an attitude towards the miracle narratives which is just shy of ridicule; in others, it has tried to reproduce the apparently equivocal stance of the evangelist him/herself (evangelists/themselves) towards 'signs' as evinced for example in Mark 8.11-13, but without the understanding of the miracles crucial to that very attitude, which is the subject of the pericope immediately prior. The  intention of much recent historical research, or at least the intention to which it has admitted publicly, may be less obviously to deconstruct the apparent 'mythology' embedded in these stories. But even if it were correct in its basic assumptions, which I cannot accept, because the hermeneutical question, the question of meaning, remains unanswered, it  would still leave one with a sense of impoverishment rather than a sense that the interests of the truth have been served. The temper of such work is inherently ever uncongenial to the miracle narratives, even if its avowed  project, a 'history' shorn of the miraculous and the mythical were possible. It remains redolent of a lingering suspicion that few if any of the miracles represent historical actualities and therefore verities of any kind. The product of such scholarship for any possible meaning of these narratives which make up a third of the gospel, is entirely negative. As to these basic assumptions: the source of the miracles beginning with The Stilling Of The Storm and ending with The Feeding Of The Five Thousand, and including certain of the healing events, is said to lie with the miracles of the Exodus tradition and the healings of the Elijah-Elisha cycle.

The main reason why the form - and therefore intention - of the cycle as a whole has not been noticed is that the first event of the series, the miracle at Cana, has been detached from the whole as we have it in the gospel of Mark. In addition, the form critics have overemphasised the similarity of the two miracles of loaves, and too soon rushed to the verdict that one is (mistakenly) a copy of the other, while neglecting the same pattern  a propos of the two miracles at sea, or if noting it, failing then to perceive the relation between the three feeding miracles, and the three transcendent messianic events, and the further relation of this sixfold series to the creation story. As it stands, contemporary scholarship has failed the aesthetic integrity of both series of miracle stories in Mark: the healing miracles, and the so-called 'nature miracles'. In this it has seriously compromised the purposes of the gospel, while its uselessness in the face of the question of meaning remains. Is one to assume then that after such contemporary scholarship has done its work, there can be nothing else but just that,  contemporary scholarship and its attendant hubris? Certainly, having adopted the verificationist principle, it provides no hermeneutic, no interpretation, no meaning. If consequently, the miracle stories have fallen on hard times in an age of science, then so too has Christian metaphysics, the ramifications of which for Christology are monumental.

The general privileging of the historical methodical approach to the miracle stories must encounter a still more serious reproach - namely that the tradition history of the same narratives is yet to be written. I reject out of hand the claim that their genesis can be traced to the Exodus tradition and the Elijah-Elisha cycle. That is, I regard those hypotheses themselves as equivalent to myth. In terms of the hermeneutical understanding which reckoning of this kind brings to Mark, these arguments are self-serving and iconoclastic fictions.  The tradition history of the messianic miracles begins with 'the first of his signs', John 2.1-11. That it bears an important relation to the meaning of the Passion and death of Jesus should be obvious from John 19.34. An identical case can be made for the relation between The Transfiguration and Mark's Passion narrative. To have alleged the stories of Moses receiving the law on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24, 34) as the primary source of the Transfiguration narrative demonstrates the pitfalls of an exclusively analytic method. It truncates that miracle narrative from its syntax, the other members of the messianic series, and furthermore from the Days series. It is destructive of the inherent seriality of the messianic miracles and consequently of so much of the aesthetic unity of a vital aspect of the kerygma.  These arguments treat the texts of the messianic miracles in piecemeal fashion, and violate the integrity of the series. In so doing, they are at a complete loss to explicate the relationships which occur between the various events, that is to account for the formal or logical aspects of Markan doctrine as it is contained in the messianic series. They founder on their failure to honour and interpret the unity of the messianic miracle series as a catena conceived in relation to the sequence of Days. No less serious is their complete ignorance of the messianic miracles as the major New Testament incidence of the doctrine of the triune nature of God. The meaning of the messianic miracles remains immune to analytic rationalisation of this kind. To have failed to appreciate the significance of its two great Christologies is signal of the failure of what currently passes for intelligent theological study of the miracle stories. The overall attitude towards the miracle narratives which has dominated the academy since the modern era has been one of extreme cynicism, commensurate with the failure to frame a Christian metaphysics sufficient to the needs of the age. Party to this very same dilemma is the confusion surrounding Christian eschatology, to say nothing of the confusion which the one great eschatological text generates, The Apocalypse.

That said, lest my stance be misunderstood, I am not seeking to give a revisionist account of the miracles in Mark. The consolations of myth, or for that matter, art, leave me just as unconvinced, and as untouched as the current historically based scholarship. There is no point in re-instating 'unreflective supernaturalism', or to put it another way, no point in entering the third millennium 'dragging a cherished image'. I am indifferent as to the historical status of the messianic miracles; that is, the question of whether or not these narratives reflect historical verities does not concern me, since it cannot be settled either way. What does concern me, is that as stories, they do have meaning. This is the crux of my disagreement with and determination to navigate against, some of the dominant currents in contemporary scholarship. The form and content of the miracle narratives carry very much of the pedagogic freight of the gospel. Mark is not often seen as a teaching gospel, the palm for which is usually awarded to Matthew. But the view of his gospel as a drama of 'secret epiphanies' void of doctrinal concerns is untenable. The accepted wisdom has encouraged us to believe that, of the three synoptics at least, the gospel of Matthew should be viewed as the teaching gospel: 'If Mark wanted to preach, by contrast, Matthew wanted to teach.' is one such summation of this popular conception. I believe strongly that to be a serious distortion of the essential psychological orientation of the gospels of Matthew and Mark both. And as psychology will occupy much in these pages, it is worth stating this at the outset.

The first exercise in determining the meaning of the miracles, the hermeneutical task, is the identification between three sets of biblical narratives: the Days of creation, the messianic miracles, of which both Christological episodes advert us with the keyword 'day' (John 2.1, Mark 9.2), and finally, the tradition of the resurrection of Jesus 'after three days'. A reconstruction of the history of the miracle tradition as we have it in Mark - and this necessarily involves the gospel of John - can only begin with the acknowledgement that an intimate connection obtains between these three textual centres, which have in common the crucial motif of 'day'. It has not been possible to examine the last part of this compact. Thus the messianic miracles conform also to the theologoumena of the the three days and three nights referred to in the gospels of Matthew and Luke in the saying about the 'sign of Jonah', yet another vital clue in unraveling the history of the tradition, one which engages Q. This too has  gone unnoticed thus far. It seems likely that the messianic miracles began in this way, namely as a correlate of the tradition of 'three days and three nights'. Their binary pattern of transcendence : immanence answers perfectly to the diurnal/nocturnal formula, just as it does to the two halves of the creation story. The morphology shared by the messianic series and  the series of Days of the 'archaeological' week, I regard as a fait accompli, and because it is truly promissory of delivering the meaning of these narratives clearly and wonderfully, it is the core of this hermeneutic of Mark.

 

Philosophy presents an intractable topos that is not always compliant with the requirements of good style and the linear format of a conventional book. For that reason, my objective in writing has been to set out more or less the categoreal scheme, which I believe is operative within Markan metaphysics. The choice of the gospel of Mark, rather than say Matthew, rests not merely upon the probability now widely accepted that it represents the earliest example of the genre and that Matthew and Luke both used some form of it. It is entirely due to the fact that Mark seems to me to provide the most promising example of a theology that is encompassing and systematic. The formal analogy between the series of Days and messianic events attests the comprehensiveness of this short gospel, and the patterns connecting both sets of miracles, messianic and healing, proves the systematic nature of Mark's approach. These miracle stories comprise approximately one third of the gospel. Hence, any serious effort to come to terms with the gospel must deal with them.

The messianic events exist firstly in association with the story of creation. That is the basis of my claim that Markan metaphysics is consequently biblical metaphysics. To study Mark, which we have only just begun to do, is necessarily to study its relationship with the story of creation. This relation puts very nicely, one of the first requirements of biblical theology, namely that it spans both testaments. The bible consists of two testaments. Any truly biblical theology (metaphysics) must eventually face the demand to realise the integrity of both testaments or to relinquish it as nothing more than putative. Mark is very well placed in respect of such demands. Moreover, the significance of 'creation' for the Old Testament as a whole is the pledge of a  a relationship between the gospel and a range of the literature of the Old Testament beyond that of the first creation narrative. It is this mutually inclusive relationship of 'beginning' and 'end', which the various Christological titles reformulate, that the relationship of Genesis and the gospel (Mark) perfectly epitomises.

The story of 'beginning' is the first metaphysical text of the canon. As such, it is the logical impetus for the equivalence between the psychophysical, the phenomenon of consciousness, and the Son. Herein lies my second departure from classical hermeneutics. My guess is that the reader will respond to the proposition that this most classical of Old Testament narratives first puts not only the doctrine of the logos, the Son, but that of the triune nature of God ('Transcendence') also, in either of two ways. In the case of agreement, the reader will be subsequently perplexed that anything so obvious could have escaped our notice for so long. Alternatively, I anticipate irrevocable dissent. There does not seem to me to be much room for middle ground on the issue. But that is as I see it: the creation story is pre-eminently a Christology, and the clearest biblical theology of Trinity that we possess. The logic of both narratives, the creation series of Days, and the messianic miracle series is from the very first, unaccountably triadic, a fact with which contemporary theology seems to have failed to reckon.  Theophilus of Antioch - Ad Autolycum, Book 2, Chapter XV, Of The Fourth Day - in the first century, briefly mentions the story of the first three Days in relation to the doctrine of Trinity, after which it disappears permanently. (An English translation of the full text is available  at Early Christian Writings, under the author's name, titled in English To Autolycus.)

This is compounded by one partial reason for the neglect of the P creation narrative: Paul's exclusive and uncritical adoption of the J creation narrative, clearly manifest in Romans 5 and 8, the hymn of Philippians, and 1 Corinthians 15. This adoption serves his Christology of recapitulation, casting Jesus as the 'second Adam'. Paul's indiscriminate acceptance of the mythological narrative regarding the disobedience of the first human couple and their expulsion from the garden of Eden, known as 'The Fall', has had unintended consequences for Western Christian theology. These are visible in concentrated form, in a raft of doctrines usually referred to as 'original sin', the legacy of Augustine to both the Protestant and Roman Catholic branches of the Western Church which propagated it after The Reformation. Irrespective of the legitimacy of such doctrines to which the second creation story is foundational, it has eclipsed the theology of the P creation narrative, which is clearly espoused by the gospels. The result has been to emphasise the doctrine of 'original sin' at the expense of an anthropology which understands humanity as the imago Dei. Coupled with the insights provided by evolutionary theory into the natural origins of humankind, the P narrative, Genesis 1.1-24a now suffers more unwarranted neglect than ever. Yet it is of immense value, not the least because it delivers the doctrine of humankind as made 'in the image and likeness of God'. It stands as indispensable at the categoreal level, to Trinitarian and Christological theologies, as to the theology of perceptual consciousness which the series of messianic miracles proposes. Contained virtually verbatim
in varying quotas in every gospel, and culminating in the Eucharist, the latter are the essential rudiments of the Christian doctrine of mind, that is to say, of logos Christology. Their presence throughout each of the four gospels testifies to the function and value they have as the sine qua non to the core of the keygma. The tradition ignores them at its peril.

A propos of the John and Mark connection, both have an understanding of the identity of Jesus, the Son, which refers in the first instance to human and animal consciousness. In other words, both posit that a Christian epistemology will by definition be Christology. Here, both evangelists accept the identification of the Christological with the psychophysical first posited in Genesis. In John, it is the first theological proposition that we encounter, and it is framed in language which unmistakably recalls the P creation story. The order in which I first approached these texts was that from the gospel to Genesis. The certain logical contours of the miracles directed me to the latter. Having discerned the structural significance of the messianic series and its analogical relationship with the story of 'beginning', it does not seem possible to me to read it theologically any way other than as a theology of the triune God and as a Christology.

Thus, I have tried to draw together some of the basic tenets of the Christian doctrine of mind disclosed by the gospel of Mark, that is to say, its Christology, and the doctrine of Trinity. The mutual consistency of these doctrines is unmistakable, as is the claim that they provide much that is distinctive of Christian theology. In all of this, my real truck has been with Christian philosophy, or metaphysics. The need to answer to my own personal satisfaction and to the best of my abilities the fundamental questions concerning death, and more specifically, to move towards a Christian understanding of time, these have been primary motivations in writing. It was never my intention to assume the role of teacher. I am well aware of the advice contrary to the presumption of this function, (James 3.1):

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.

My delight in the heuristic side of learning overrides such considerations, and it is this as much as the discoveries themselves that I wish to convey. I can only respond to the sobering thoughts of the letter of James with those of 1 John 1.4:

 And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.


This page was updated on 25th December 2016.

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