Mark 8: 27-34: A Concise Exegesis

The pericope Mark 8: 27 – 34 is a vital one for in it Christ explains with boldness (παρρησίᾳ; v.32) the messianic secret. Up until now he had been speaking in parables but here he speaks boldly and with confidence (παρρησίᾳ). παρρησίᾳ is a word unique to the Gospel of Mark occurring only here in the entire Synoptic tradition. Nevertheless this word appears four times in Pauline epistles (2Cor 3:12; 2Cor 7:4; Phil 1:20; Philem 1:8).[1]  

The keyword that I would like to grapple with in this pericope is ἀκολουθέω (v34) which basically means ‘to follow’ or ‘to accompany’. A deeper etymological study would inform us that there is more to this word. ἀκολουθέω more precisely means “to cleave steadfastly to one, conform wholly to his example, in living and if need be in dying also.” (Mk 9:8; Mt 16:24; John 12:26; John 21:22).  So, truly being a disciple of Christ necessitates not just imitating his life but also his death. Meanwhile it is fascinating to observe that ἀκολουθέω is not a proper Markan word for discipleship and therefore codices like Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus and Vaticanus, among others, employ the phrase ἐλθεῖν ὀπίσω μου “to come after me” rather than ἀκολουθέω “to follow”. The portrait of the disciples in the Gospel of Mark is written for ‘anyone who wishes to come after Jesus.’ (Mk 1: 17, 20; 2:14-15).[2] We see Jesus chiding Peter, “Get behind me” – ὕπαγε ὀπίσω μου (8:33). Thus we can infer that a disciple’s place is always “behind” Jesus. Any attempt to get before Jesus is the violation of discipleship incurring the rebuke ‘Satan’ as is evident from the act of Peter, for as Fr. John Behr puts it “Satan is the one who gets between Christ and his cross.”[3]

Jesus rebukes Peter not privately but publicly before other disciples (8:33) reminding everyone their place of discipleship which is “behind” Jesus. Peter is at once the rock (πέτρᾳ) upon which the Church is built and also a stumbling block (σκάνδαλον) to Jesus on his way to the cross. While rebuking Peter, Jesus’ use of the sapiential word φρονέω (‘be prudent’ – 8:33) rather than of the Pauline σοφία (‘wisdom’) illustrates Paul’s related idea that our faith should not be in the wisdom of humans but in the power of God (1Cor 2:5).[4]  Furthermore φρονέω is an idea difficult to translate into English because it combines the visceral and cognitive aspects of thinking. This Markan theme is found reverberating in the epistle of Galatians as well (Gal 1:1, 10, 11-12; 6:14).”[5]

The positioning of this passage is also theologically significant. Mark 8: 27-34 belongs to the larger portion from 8:22 – 10:52. The section starts and ends with Jesus curing a blind man clearly signifying the message that his disciples are blind in term of their eyes of faith and they need to be healed of their blindness. No wonder in 8:18 Jesus accuses his disciples of blindness. Since the disciples have followed Jesus “on the way” (8:27) they have already obtained partial sight and it is with this partial sight that Peter, on behalf of all disciples, confessed Jesus as the Messiah. On the other hand it was Peter’s partial blindness which made him rebuke Jesus when he explained about his impending sufferings on the cross and death. Partial sight represents imperfect belief and that is the reason why Jesus sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him (8:30) as they would be propagating an improper belief concerning Jesus. Thus Francis Moloney writes;

“Peter is correct when he confesses in the name of the disciples, that Jesus is the Christ. But, like the blind man (8:23-24), he is only partially correct, his eyes are not fully open to the truth about Jesus. There is a deeper mystery to the messianic status of Jesus of Nazareth whom the disciples are following. They are yet to come to full sight, matching the final experience of the blind man, seeing everything clearly (8:25).”[6]     

In Christ

Dn. Basil Paul


[1] Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament Introduction: Paul and Mark (Crestwood: SVS Press, 1999), 188.

[2] Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 175.

[3] John Behr, The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death (Crestwood: SVS Press, 2006), 27.

[4] Bartosz Adamczewski, The Gospel of Mark: A Hypertexual Commentary (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2014), 113.

[5] Paul Nadim Tarazi, The New Testament Introduction, 189.

[6] Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark, 167.

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