When I started working on Mark, I started reading Mark. I looked at the commentaries on my shelf (not many for Mark). I looked up what was available. Scrolling through Amazon, the one by Ben WItherington subtitled “A socio-rhetorical commentary” caught my attention.
My academic roots are in rhetorical studies, looking at language and persuasion and meaning and communication. When I approach pieces of discourse, whether speeches, conversations, essays, or books of the Bible, I think about them as intentional communication.
Of all the things that could be included in this discourse, why were these particular words or illustrations or pieces of evidence or stories chosen? Why is this mentioned rather than that? What audience would be more moved by this genealogy than that story?
When I started studying the Gospel of Mark this month, I was paying attention to those choices.
I didn’t get the commentary. I did order Witherington’s New Testament Rhetoric, however, to understand some of the thinking that others are doing in this field.
The most helpful thing so far is the observation that Mark uses what Witheringon calls chreia. These are short stories, distilled down to the most memorable context and quote, to illustrate or illuminate the character of someone.
Think of them as stories that you have heard often at family gatherings or in eulogies. Or when your mom is trying to help you understand the character of your ancestors.
Stories of the time your grandpa walked to someone’s house to return the overpayment of taxes. Or the time your dad held a fellow officer while he died from shrapnel.
The stories stand alone AND are building a feeling of the character of a person. That’s why we remember stories from Mark so easily. That’s why we’ll learn more by seeing them linked together.