Marcan and Johannine chronology.
The historical and literary questions.
On the surface, the chronologies of the respective gospels of Mark and John could scarcely differ from one another more than they do. Some of these differences are:
On this page I intend to study the Marcan and Johannine chronologies, and how they relate to each other. My inspiration in this study is a pair of books written about other topics, but which touch upon these chronological issues. One of these books is The Priority of John, by J. A. T. Robinson, specifically the chapter on the chronology of the ministry of Jesus on pages 123-157. The other book is The Gospels for All Christians, edited by Richard Bauckham, specifically the article by Bauckham himself called John for Readers of Mark, on pages 147-171.
What I find interesting about these books is how the views of Robinson, from an historical point of view, and those of Bauckham, from a literary point of view, seem to dovetail somewhat.
J. A. T. Robinson.
Robinson argues that both John and Mark (as well as the other two synoptic gospels) presume a ministry of roughly two years, from the spring of 28 to the spring of 30, and on page 157 offers a useful chart summarizing the ministry of Jesus in tabular form. I begin with his explanatory paragraph on page 156 of The Priority of John:
His table, then, is as follows:
The one change that I might like to make to this historical reconstruction is to move the death of John the baptist from early in 29 to late in 28. I am not overly confident about this move yet, and it may lead to contradictions of which I am not yet aware, but it would make better sense alongside the literary reconstruction that Bauckham presents, since John is supposedly already dead by the time of the feast of Tabernacles of 28 (John 5.35 and Mark 6.14-29).
The hypothesis that Bauckham proposes is intriguing. He argues that the author of John not only knew the gospel of Mark, but also intended for his own gospel to complement, and occasionally correct, that of Mark. Bauckham traces certain indications that John has left for his readers, telling them how to relate his gospel to that of Mark. The main correlations that Bauckham proposes I summarize in his own words.
Richard Bauckham, The Gospels for All Christians, pages 150-151:
In this chapter we shall argue that two of John's parenthetical explanations (3:24; 11:2) are intended specifically for readers/hearers who also knew Mark's Gospel. The functions of these two explanations, which are otherwise very difficult to understand, become clear when they are recognized as indications of the way readers/hearers who also know Mark's Gospel are to relate John's narrative to Mark. One of these explanations (3:24) serves to relate John's chronological sequence to Mark's; the other (11:2) serves to identify a named character in John as one already known anonymously to readers of Mark.
While these two verses, John 3.24 and 11.2, are the main Johannine features that Bauckham brings to light, he also splices the narratives of Mark and John together across the two texts, showing how reader or hearer of John would most naturally understand its relationship to Mark. I present this spliced effect across five points, the first and last of which are the two main hooks, John 3.24 and 11.2.
Not yet cast into prison.
But let us begin with John 3.24. After reporting in 3.22 the baptisms that Jesus was effecting along with his disciples in Judea, and then mentioning in 3.23 that John the baptist was simultaneously baptizing in Aenon near Salim, John goes on to say:
Our first reaction as careful readers is that of course John has not yet been thrown in prison; he is still baptizing! This comment in 3.24 is, as a matter of fact, supremely redundant.
Unless one is prepared to admit, with Bauckham, that John is actually tipping his hat to the gospel of Mark. This comment has the effect, as Bauckham argues, of placing all of John 1.19-4.43 between Mark 1.12-13 (the temptation of Jesus) and 1.14-15 (the preaching of Jesus, coming into Galilee after the imprisonment of John). Compare Mark 1.14a with John 4.43:
Bauckham remarks on page 154:
Actually, since John 4.44-54 describes the healing of the son of a royal official as only the second sign (verse 54, the first sign being the turning of water to wine in 2.1-11), we ought to think of this incident as preceding Mark 1.14-15 too.
The lamp that was burning.
So now we turn to the first part of the Galilean ministry as Mark narrates it, from 1.14-15 (the preaching of Jesus) to 6.6b-13 (the mission of the twelve), and really up through 6.29, since 6.14-29 is a nonchronological flashback of the death of John the baptist. John has nothing to parallel this stretch of events (unless we count the healing of the son of the official), but rather picks up with Jesus going back to Jerusalem in 5.1. Bauckham argues on page 156:
First, Mark narrates what the twelve did when Jesus sent them out on mission (6:7-13, 30), with no indication of what Jesus himself did meantime, whereas John narrates a visit of Jesus to Jerusalem in which no mention is made of the disciples (John 5). Secondly, during this visit to Jerusalem, Jesus refers to John the Baptist's ministry as now past (John 5:33-35), while the death of the Baptist, which this reference most naturally presupposes, is an event of which readers of Mark have been informed precisely at the corresponding point in Mark's narrative, immediately prior to the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:13-29).
Another dovetailing of Marcan and Johannine events. While the disciples are out on their mission, Jesus is in Jerusalem, alone, for a visit which takes up the whole of John 5. During this visit, Jesus refers in 5.35 to John the baptist in a way which makes the most sense if John is already dead...:
...at the very same narrative point in which Mark is narrating, as a flashback, the death of John the baptist (6.14-29)!
A pair of signs.
Which brings us to the most obvious point of contact between these two gospels before the passion narrative. Both gospels narrate the feeding of the five thousand and the subsequent walking on water. Bauckham, page 155:
For such readers/hearers, the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on the water (John 6:1-21, and the dialogue and consequent events in 6.22-7.9; Mark 6:31-53), which are the only events narrated by both evangelists prior to Jesus' final week in Jerusalem, divide the Galilean ministry narrated by Mark into two parts.
The first part of the Galilean ministry narrated by Mark is, as we have seen, Mark 1.14-6.29. Then comes the feeding of the five thousand and walking on water in 6.30-52, then the second part of the Galilean ministry in 6.53-9.50.
Judea and beyond the Jordan.
Bauckham comments on page 156:
The second part of the Galilean ministry in Mark (6:54-9:50)... is summarized by John in a single sentence (7:1a), which very clearly implies a significant period of ministry left wholly unnarrated by John. According to John's explicit chronology (6:4; 7:2) a period of six months in Galilee is here left entirely unnarrated by John.
So how does Mark wrap up the Galilean ministry of Jesus? Mark 10.1ab:
Mark merely mentions going into Judea, then he has Jesus going beyond the Jordan, where we must understand Mark 10.1c-31 to take place. John 7.10-39, then, rounds out the mention of Judea, filling in for us what Jesus was doing there before he proceeded beyond the Jordan. As for Mark 10.1b-31, which Mark narrates as taking place beyond the Jordan, Bauckham notes on page 157:
For readers/hearers of John who were also familiar with Mark, what John narrates in 7:10-10:39 would fill out Mark's mere indication that, at the conclusion of his Galilean ministry, Jesus "left that place [Capernaum] and went to the region of Judea" (Mark 10:1a), while the account of Jesus' ministry in the region "beyond the Jordan" (Mark 10:1) which follows in Mark (10:1-31) would be summarized by John's brief reference to this period (John 10:40-42).
As we have seen before, where Mark is verbose John summarizes, and vice versa. John 10.40-42, the Johannine summary of Jesus beyond the Jordan:
And it was Mary.
Which brings us right up to the second main Johannine feature that tips off Bauckham that the Johannine narrative is to a point presuming the Marcan. Bauckham cites John 11.2 as his verse, but I offer 11.1-2 for context:
What an odd reference, if all that we read is John. Mary does not perform this service for Jesus until John 12.1-8, and here she is being introduced by her as-yet unperformed action. Moreover, the reader or hearer of John is apparently expected to know Lazarus only as from the village of Mary, and Martha only as the sister of Mary. Then Lazarus is also called the brother of Mary. All things, then, depend on Mary.
What is John telling us if not that the anonymous woman in Mark 14.3-9 is in fact Mary, whom in Mark remains anonymous despite the high praise of 14.9? Bauckham, pages 163-164:
The narrative functions performed by verses 1-2 together are two: (1) They introduce three important characters, who enter the Gospel's narrative at this point, by identifying one of them, Mary, as the woman about whom hearers/readers already know the story of her anointing of Jesus, and the others as her siblings. (2) They distinguish the Bethany where the three reside from the other Bethany in the Fourth Gospel, "Bethany beyond Jordan" (1:28), where Jesus is at this point in the narrative (10:40-42). The knowledge presupposed in the implied readers/hearers by these two functions is knowledge that readers/hearers of Mark have: they know of a woman who anointed Jesus in the Bethany that is near Jerusalem (Mark 14:3-9; cf. 11:1, 11). Readers/hearers of Luke would not have the required knowledge, since it is not the sisters Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42, not located in Bethany) of whom readers/hearers of John 11:1-2 are expected to have heard, but a woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany near Jerusalem.
We are now in passion week, in which section Mark and John overlap the most. The ministry of Jesus, if we read both gospels side by side, becomes a unified whole whose parts alternately come from one or the other, or occasionally both, of these gospels. And this arrangement appears quite intentional on the part of John.
Literary and historical chronology of Mark and John.
I offer here a block-by-block sequence of the gospels of Mark and John, showing how they alternate, and occasionally overlap, their chronological sequences. This sequence is my own creation, but based on my readings of Robinson and Bauckham.
The chronologies of Mark and John are not so difficult to coordinate after all. There are occasional blanks, and occasional tensions, but no more than the usual ambiguity of ancient chronological reconstructions. That is not to say that this reconstruction is proved by its own cogency. But I do not think it can be claimed that the gospel chronologies are irreconcilable.