February 23, 2004

Three in Mark

Category: Bible - NT - Mark :: Permalink

In preparation for preaching through the Gospel of Mark, I’ve been reading David Rhoads and Donald Michie’s Mark as Story. Some of what they say — their discussion of “point of view” in narrative, for instance — just strikes me as pretty obvious, the kind of stuff you heard about in high school English classes. But at various points, they do draw attention to some significant features in Mark’s Gospel.

I hadn’t noticed it before, but Mark frequently works with threes. Three times, Jesus has conflict with his disciples in a boat. Three times, Jesus has conflict with his disciples about bread. Three times, on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus predicts his death. Three times, his disciples fall asleep in Gethsemane. Three times, Peter denies Jesus. The events of the crucifixion happen at three stages at three-hour intervals: nine o’clock, noon, and three o’clock (pp. 54-55).

Rhoads and Michie point out the threes as a literary device which helps to build suspense, so that when something has happened twice the reader is keyed up for the third episode which will be the crucial one. That may be part of the literary effect of these threes. But I do wonder whether there isn’t some significance to the threes.

In Numbers 19:19, we learn that if a man touches a dead body, he has to be washed on the third day and then again on the seventh day. On the seventh day, he is clean. So what is the third-day washing all about? It appears to be a preliminary judgment, a first washing which puts you on track to receive the final washing.

That does appear to be how some of the threes in Scripture function. They’re linked to preliminary judgments, times when people are being challenged to make sure that they’re on the right track or warnings to lead people to repentance.

In the Samson story, for instance, threes abound: third day, thirty companions, three hundred foxes, three thousand men of Judah, three thousand Philistines. Perhaps those threes are hints that Samson’s judgment is the preliminary one, with Samuel’s victory (possibly a few weeks later) being a final judgment for the Philistines.

Do the threes in Mark serve such a role? I dunno. But it’s something I’ll try to keep in mind as I study the book in preparation for these sermons.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:43 pm | Discuss (0)

Leave a Reply