Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Chapter 7

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by Neil Godfrey

Revised last paragraph about an hour after first posting this.

In my previous post I commented that the Gospel of Mark is the least “petrine” of the gospels doctrinally. I have since turned to chapter 7 to find I must clear my mind of that presumption and reassess Mark’s extent of “petrine-ness” and read with an open mind.

7. The Petrine Perspective in the Gospel of Mark

Bauckham opens this 7th chapter by stating categorically in relation to the last,

We have seen that Mark’s Gospel has the highest frequency of reference to Peter among the Gospels, and that it uses the inclusio of eyewitness testimony to indicate that Peter was its main eyewitness source. (p.155)

So what began as a hypothesis has become a phenomenon of Mark that “we have seen”. Those who have read my discussion of chapter 6 will know I regard the validity of this assertion as questionable.

Bauckham now asks in chapter 7 if we can go “further than this” and see if there is evidence that the gospel of Mark is narrated from Peter’s personal perspective, and to what extent Peter appears as an individual and not just as a representative of the Twelve.

From “they” to “he”
He begins by restoring Cuthbert Turner’s “neglected” 1925 article (‘Marcan Usage: Notes Critical and Exegetical, on the Second Gospel V. The Movements of Jesus and His Disciples and the Crowd,’ JTS 26 (1925) 225-40) that found some positive support at the time and that argued that Mark is told his story from the perspective of one of the Twelve and that this must be closely related to Peter. I have no problem with restoring old long and widely neglected articles from biblical scholarship. I think there are many that were too challenging at the time to sustain prolonged traction and were eventually avalanched from view by those challenged simply ignoring them.

Bauckham, with Turner, observes the characteristically Markan tendency to often use the plural “they” when describing Jesus’ movement to a new place and then switching to the singular “he” when the narrative continues into the ensuing event. He explains that this plural “they” most often includes disciples, in particular the Twelve, and most often Peter, James and John. It is also a grammatical “construct” that appears in inclusio with Jesus and the disciples. And finally, all stories with specific reference to Peter himself appear in proximity to this device.

From the plural to singular pattern used by Mark Turner concluded that such passages were a relic from the original telling of the story when the original narrator spoke of “we” (p.164) — by the time Mark recorded these stories this “we” had appropriately become “they”. As evidence of this, Mark 1.29 would be apparently less awkward in the Greek original if the “they” was replaced with “we”. Mark’s use of “they” is, Bauckham argues, the natural way he would re-write Peter’s use of “we” when he was orally reporting his story.


Then they (Jesus and his disciples) went into the Capernaum and immediately on the Sabbath he (Jesus) entered the synagogue and taught (1.21)

Now as they (Jesus and the disciples) came down from the mountain, he (Jesus) commanded them that they should tell no one the things they had seen . . . . (9.9)

Then they came to a place which was named Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples . . . . (14.32)

I have included in the above few of many cases of this grammatical feature the “inclusio” cases (1.21 and 14.32) that Mark uses, according to B, to alert the audience to understand that his sources for everything in between those verses came from the personal testimony of one of those included in the “they”.

Bauckham discusses at some length how the use of this plural “they” is a device intended by the author to bring the audience into the perspective of the disciples, and the fact that it is followed often by a “he”, and that a Peter story is often close by, that the audience is intended to be brought into the presence of the disciple and understand that he is the source of the story. He disagrees with Turner’s argument that the “they” was “a mere relic of the way Peter told his stories orally” (p.164) and rightly says his is a simpler hypothesis — that Mark was re-writing what he heard directly from Peter.

Bauckham nowhere in this chapter discusses this characteristic Markan grammatical feature in the context of what is observed universally in the literature — the “awkward” or “uneducated” or otherwise “unusual” Greek employed by Mark and that Matthew and Luke felt compelled to retouch in places for a bit more polish. In place of Mark’s “they” they use such phrasing as “Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to . . .” This is a glaring omission since B uses the fact that it is a distinctively Markan grammatical usage to claim support for his eyewitness hypothesis. A discussion of other grammatical oddities in Mark is crying out for attention here.

Nor does he address anywhere any negative responses to Turner’s 1925 article although he does cite several names who gave it a favourable reception. (Most readers, I am sure, would appreciate knowing if there was any negative reaction back then and if so, why Bauckham disagreed with their assessments. Declaring this as part of the discussion is, after all, fundamental scholarly practice.)

For all of B’s discussion (nine pages in addition to two pages of tables) the simple “they to we device” still sounds to me like nothing more than just another bland narrative style, slightly lazier, or probably more colloquial style, than the more elaborate Matthean and Lukan “Jesus took Peter, James and John and went out. . . . “. Bauckham would probably reply I am not reading/hearing it as the ancients did. If that is the case, I would need to see evidence that that is how the ancients did read and hear such phrasing, but this is not provided here.

Bauckham fails to provide any reasons why this grammatical device, complete with inclusio usage, and the high frequency of Peter’s appearance in the gospel of Mark, should suggest to a reader that the Mark’s gospel is based on eyewitness testimony of Peter. He appears to assume that the mere presence of these features is itself the “evidence” he needs. No other possible or plausible more mundane explanations enter the discussion.

On Peter being both typical and more than typical
Bauckham challenges the usual view in scholarship that Mark’s Peter does not emerge as a a character in his own right but as a representative of the disciples (p.165). He relies in part on Timothy Wiarda’s argument against this view (“Peter as Peter in the Gospel of Mark”, NTS 45 1999 19-37). He lists the many cases where Peter is undeniably depicted as a representative or typical of other disciples, then shows other cases where there is more ambiguity. He especially brings out how Peter is used by Mark to narratologically let the reader here the perspective of the disciples. I fully agree with all this. What I fail to see, however, is how this narratological perspective is necessarily related to the question of Mark’s source. Why not simply accept this as the author’s narrative style without any need to read anything more into it?

Part of this discussion I did find a little unclear:

So far we have seen that Peter is often typical of the disciples . . . but often emerges as an individual who is both typical and yet more than typical of the disciples. (p.169)

This theme is stated in several different ways but it is not clear to me what “more than typical” means by comparison with “typical” and how one can be both simultaneously.

But nor is it explained how even if Peter were depicted as both a representative of the Twelve and also as a unique character how this in any way supports the eyewitness hypothesis. All it establishes is that the author chose to use Peter as his leading disciple in his narrative.

This simple obvious and undisputed fact can be and is used as the springboard for many interpretations of Mark and in itself has no relevance for the source of the story any more than the same feature would have in any other literature, fictional or historical.

Peter’s quantity versus Peter’s quality
Bauckham is right to note that Mark’s gospel is noteworthy for not giving the pre-eminent status to Peter as “the rock” or historically prominent leader of the church. Why would Mark not do this given he mentions Peter more than the others? B answers that Mark was writing a very short gospel that was dedicated to the narrow theme of Jesus’ identity and the requirements of discipleship.

“So why is Peter mentioned so often?” B asks. By now I’m sure we know the answer B will supply.

The most fully developed character
Bauckham apparently sees significance in the fact that the author of Mark makes Peter his most fully developed “character” apart from Jesus. (I would question whether Jesus is depicted as much more than a mouthpiece for doctrinal and faith pronouncements but that’s discussed in another post in my Gospel of Mark category.) He gives no reason for believing that the degree of characterization of a person in a narrative should relate in any way to the sources of the gospel.

The negative portrayal of Peter?
B, like many others, believes that those who argue Mark’s gospel is a negative treatment of Peter overstate their case. The audience surely sympathizes with Peter when he weeps after his denials, he and many others argue. And Peter is singled out at the end as if Jesus wants the message of his resurrection to especially get to him. Bauckham in countering the majority view elsewhere turns to articles that still attract only minority interest. Points he lists as signs the author wants us to sympathize with Peter have been addressed and countered in the literature, but there is no discussion of these here. (I may delay citations to another post.) Suffice it to say here that in another classical work, The Odyssey, which was known to anyone educated to write Greek, the leading crewman of Odysseus, Eurylochus, waits back silently at the door of a palace while he watches his comrades enter where he fears they will meet their doom; when he sees they are turned into pigs he runs out and weeps in remorse. The audience is meant to despise him for his weeping as much as they ought for his lack of courage in the first place. Weeping is used by the author to dramatically demonstrate total failure. Why does weeping over failure indicate we should sympathize — unless we are reading Mark’s account through the gospels of Matthew and Luke, and not in its own right? And why should the singling out of Peter at the end of Mark hint at favour? Why should this not be rather a poignant dig at the one who failed the most — the one who denied his saviour before men and therefore found no place in the Kingdom — unless we are reading Mark as if written by Matthew or Luke or John? But this is all digression.

B sees the failure motif as the result of Peter’s telling of his personal failure alongside the implied grace of God. But none of this is any evidence for eyewitness sources.

No discussion of Petrine doctrine
One thing I was anticipating when starting this chapter was a discussion of what is known of early Petrine Christianity as distinct from Pauline. Many scholars see in Mark a Pauline background, doctrinally. If the gospel could have been shown to have had a Petrine bias doctrinally then B would not, by that alone, have advanced his hypothesis, but he would have removed another barrier to accepting it.

All Bauckham has done in this chapter is explore narrative techniques that focus on Peter and conclude from these that Peter was the source of the story. Narrative techniques are nothing more than narrative techniques and tell us nothing about sources — unless we interpret them through form-critical spectacles, which as explained earlier Bauckham is strongly opposed to doing. Even if a passage in Mark came right out and said: “I, the author Mark, heard the following from Peter himself”, that alone would tell us nothing about the source of the story or the identity of the author. Fictional and pseudonymous works use such techniques all the time. No one believes that Peter wrote the Gospel of Peter even though “Peter” writes that gospel in the first person. Provenances of works can only be established by evidence external to the works. Self-reference is not a criteria unless supported by external evidence. In the case of the Gospel of Mark, we do not even have anything as close as a self-reference of the text to Peter being a source. Only normal or idiosyncratic narrative techniques singling out Peter as a lead character and that’s it.

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Neil Godfrey

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