Baker Academic

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Malbon on Mark's Christology

Elizabeth Struthers Malbon's Mark's Jesus: Characterization as Narrative Christology has loomed large on my shelf for over a year now. Every so often the spine of the book has looked down on me with a severely patient sigh. I knew that I needed to get my mind right. But, you see, I am a hard case sometimes.

Today was able to read a few large portions of the book. I will only offer one observation and one question because I'd like to fish for a larger conversation. Malbon is keen to make a distinction between the Markan Jesus's view, the narrator's view, and the implied author's view. Key here is her claim that the Markan Jesus's view of himself is different from the narrator's view of Jesus. Add to this the speaking role of God in Mark and you have yourself a mosaic of christologies. The "implied author" showcases all views so to set them in conversation.

So here is my question: does the distinction between narrator and implied author help us navigate the problem of "Mark's Christology"?



  1. I don't understand the difference between the narrator and the implied author.

    1. Julian, in the Gospels the difference between the two is never exploited, in my opinion, so it's hard to understand with that example. But it's clear in a text like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The narrator is the person from whose perspective the story is told, in this case Huck Finn. The narrator, however, is used by the implied author, in this case Mark Twain. Thus, there are parts of the story, where the narrator may be relaying a particular series of events or speaking on the significance of a happening, and since he's a kid, his perspective is limited and adult readers may catch more significance than the narrator himself catches. That the narrative itself can impact the reader (whether real or implied) like that is an effect of the implied author, who is orchestrating the whole thing. In other words, in this narrative, "Mark Twain" is communicating certain things via Huck Finn that Huck himself may not even understand, but the reader does. So the narrator and the implied author are not always the same entity. Look at the very, very beginning of Huck Finn, where the narrator/Huck actually states that the implied author/Twain mostly told the truth in Tom Sawyer, except for a few lies.

      Again, though, this type of distinction, in my opinion, does not really play out in the Gospels, even where you have an explicit implied author like the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John.

    2. Thanks for clearing that up, Chris. I'll have to re-read the Gospels with that in mind to see if anything "plays out."

  2. From Dr. G:

    Probably any distinction between narrator and implied or even actual author, and even Jesus, would be hard to sustain. Though some kind of distinction between 1) "red letter" words attributed to Jesus and 2) other words, seems more widely acknowledged. And useful to a degree?

    Certainly we can see many layers in the equivocal text. Including literal vs. spiritual. Or I suggest, accepting vs. critical.

    I've often wondered out loud who the "we know" in GJohn was. Especially when it doesn't seem to be any singular John.

  3. Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

    Anthony, could the implied author of Mark be understood as the God of Deutero-Isaiah (40-55. Here's a few summary remarks which I think may point in that direction.

    Mark herself is then the narrator who reports and interprets the daily activity of Jesus through units of activity and teaching that have been passed down to her community, using the disciples as witnesses which represent both everyman and the limitations and weaknesses of that community, using the naked young man to represent the low point and high point of initiation, and using the spirit world to emphasize Jesus' origins.

    The introduction to the entire gospel of Mark (1:1-3)puts the whole matter into perspective: "Prepare the way of Yahweh" or perhaps the meaning is "Prepare the way of Yahweh's representative" (Isaiah 40:3). Jesus then goes on to exorcise, heal, replace teachings about purity observance, teach about the kingdom and discipleship, control waters, feed thousands in the wilderness, take the role of God's mediator from Moses and Elijah, and announce the type of death he will experience. He does all this from the point of view of Yahweh's authority.

    Then the suffering servant theology (Isaiah 52-53) primarily begins at Mark 10:35 with an initial hint at 9:35. The servant (the inheritor of Israel's role), placing Yahweh's cause first, must suffer a martyr's death ("ransom for many")making payment to the cause with his life, the cause of an approach to God which replaces the temple and those who oversee its function (e.g., 11:20-25, 15:38).