brother of jesus, james‘Gospel’ is a word we derive from the Anglo-Sxon ‘god spell’ which means good news, and is used to translate the Greek word euangelion. Properly speaking the term applies to the message of Jesus and not just to four books in the New Testament. It is in this sense that St. Paul uses it in his letter to the Romans. SS. Matthew and Mark are the only two evanelists to use the actual word. After John the Baptist was imprsoned we are told that Jesus ‘went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”’ It refers to the oral message of salvation preached by Jesus.

In terms of literary genre, although it is common to say that the Gospels are unique, they are not. They draw on Graeco-Roman and Hebrew models. Like those models, St Mark’s has a didactic purpose. This is to show that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah promised of old. It is to show what sort of Messiah He is; It is to show that He is God’s Son. The basic structure St Mark uses is that of a biographical narrative, and like other ancient authors, he weaves a story designed to illustrate his points. It is a mistake to read the Gospel as though it purported to be a modern biography or some sort of blow by blow account of the life of Jesus. Instead, St Mark takes the stories he has heard from St Peter and others and creates a narrative which serves his wider purpose.

This is not to state that the narrative is not historical, but it is to say that to read it the way we read modern history is is misread it. Let us take the treatment of the family of Jesus as an example.

St Mark deals with it in two places, and characteristically the passages are sandwiched between others, and read in that context they show that Jesus is the Messiah. His blood family fail to appreciate who He is in the two passages, as do the Scribes and Pharisees in Mark 3:22, which allows Jesus in Mark 23 to show the illogical nature of the charge that He is doing the work of Satan.

There is an issue here with the text of the first passage. The Greek reads hoi par atou, which the NIV rightly notes might mean ‘associates’ or ‘family’ as the literal translation is ‘those among him’. In the light of Mark 3:31 it seems to many of us that ‘family’ is the best translation. By placing the passages in the order he does, Mark is able to bring out the point that Christ’s family is eschatalogical – that is that all who do God’s will are His brothers and sisters.

There are those who use the passage to suggest that His family were in some way hostile to Him, but the text does not support that. They come because they are concerned and wish to care for Him. Mark’s purpose here is to reinforce the radical nature of Christ’s message. In a society where family was so important, Jesus’ family was far wider than mere blood.

In Mark 4:11we get reinforcement of the basic division we see in Mark’s account – that is the ‘insiders’, who are part of His eschatalogical family, and those outside of it. His earthly family are challenged to become part of it by doing God’s will. Mary, James and Jude all followed suite.