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Words. Eastern vs Western Perspective on Words in Mark's Gospel.

We just started a series on Mark’s gospel and one of the things I pointed out is that Mark is the most western book in the Bible. Mark wrote to a Roman audience so he wrote in a western style. The rest of the books in the NT are written and read from an eastern perspective. Not Eastern as in mysticism, but eastern as in literary methods, expectations and structure. Let me explain.

As westerners we use words and definitions to express truth. We like prose, lists, bullet points and direct communication. An eastern author in 1st century Palestine didn’t think like that. He or she used words to express pictures, symbols, and story. They preferred poetry and dialogue over direct clear communication. Let me illustrate. If you ask a westerner what God is like, they’d answer; He is sovereign, omniscient, omnipresent, etc. all categories of truth that rely heavily (if not entirely) on definitions and precise language. Remember, we westerners are chronologically downstream of the Scientific Revolution and that has changed the way we think. If you ask an easterner the same question, they’d answer God is a fortress, a stronghold, a sun and a shield. They think in terms of pictures and relationships.

Now, all that shows up in how they wrote. A typical eastern author will conceal truth in elaborate stories that the reader must dig into in order to discover truth (think parables). Not so with a western author. He or she will be much more direct in presenting their nuggets of truth (think clear examples, lists or bullet points). Eastern audiences expected to ascertain the characters emotions through their complex dialogue with others, whereas a western audience expects the author to simply tell them about the characters emotions.

Matthew, Luke and John are written from an eastern perspective, as their respective audiences expected. Mark’s gospel is uniquely western in its approach (because his audience was Roman). For example, Mark skips a whole bunch of Jewish stuff, including the genealogy of Jesus (Romans liked power, not babies).

One interesting feature of Mark’s Roman western gospel is his use of pace. He uses a word translated “immediately” 42 times in 16 chapters! Mark is fast paced. But it’s not equally fast. He begins fast, jumping from location to location, then in the middle he slows down, once the narrative hits Jerusalem he slows way down to a day-by-day description and then as he approaches the crucifixion he slows down to an hour-by-hour account. Romans crucified the worst criminals and so Mark had to spend time explaining that Jesus was in fact God’s Son, even though he was crucified by Rome. So, looking at the pace of Mark’s words – we see that the crucifixion was important to him. That’s where he spent most of his time, that’s where he slowed down, that’s where he wanted his readers to pay attention because that was their biggest hurdle in believing that Jesus was the Son of God.

Anyway, it occurred to me that like Mark, we tend to use our words in a similar way. We spent time talking about what is important to us. You probably have a friend or relative that regardless of what you begin talking about, the conversation inevitably takes a turn to his or her soapbox. (But of course, we are never like that😊).

This makes me wonder, what do I talk about – a lot? Where do my conversations inevitably drift? If Mark were to write a story about my life where would the emphasis be placed? My vacations? My family? My investments? My pain and disappointment? My relationships? My enemies? Or, my Savior and His goodness and grace?

Interesting question – I invite you to think about where your words point. What image do your words paint? Where do they take others?

The Living Word is worth talking about today.



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