Markan Sandwiches

Put together a piece on Markan sandwiches which have fascinated me ever since reading about them in a few works. Its very long (21 pages in word/pdf ) but I’ll try to chop it down in case anyone is interested in discussing them. I think many of them have themes in proper Christian discipleship.

What is a Markan Sandwich or Intercalation?
Mark sometimes starts off with one partial story or event (A1), inserts another complete event (B) and then finally concludes the original story (A2) in an A1-B-A2 format. The central characters in each story never seem to cross (e.g. Jairus and the bleeding woman), the initial frame is left unresolved, and the location seems to change.[1] Rather than exuding chronological exactness, many scholars think these sandwiches or intercalations are a Markan literary device that offer us clues to a proper interpretation of the gospel. It is also possible many of these features are meant simply to help listeners in an oral culture. Up to 20 sandwiches have been proposed in the gospel of Mark by various scholars. The nine below are the most commonly agreed upon with the six in bold being widely accepted as examples of this phenomenon: Mark ( 3:20-35 , 4:1-20, 5:21-43 , 6:7-32 , 11:12-25 , 14:1-11 , 14:17-31, 14:53-72 , 15:40-16:8). It is hard to dispute this is a common literary device employed by the evangelist.[2]

[1] Tom Shepherd (1995). The Narrative Function of Markan Intercalation. New Testament Studies, 41, pp 522-540

[2] For a listing of other literary devices commonly used in Mark, see Joanna Dewey, Markan Public Debate . Matthew and Luke sometimes retain the Markan sandwich while at others rearranging the material.

Seven Sections.
A. A Listing of Markan Sandwiches
B. A Deeper Look at their Form
C. Difficulties Created by the Sandwiches
D. What do we make of these errors?
E. Why We Should Eat a Markan Sandwich. Their Purpose.
F. Exegetical Analysis of Markan Sandwiches:

[A] A Listing of Markan Sandwiches : 3:20-35, 4:1-20, 5:21-43, 6:7-32, 11:12-25, 14:1-11, 14:17-31, 14:53-72, 15:40-16:8.

Of the 20 proposed, nine are presented below. The first 6 are the most widely agree upon.

[01] Jesus’s Family and Beelzebub: Mark 3:30-35
A1: Jesus’s family sets out to stop him
B: Jesus is accused of having Beelzebub.
A2: Jesus reveals his true family.

[02] Jairus and the Bleeding Woman: Mark 5:21-43.
A1: Jairus pleads with Jesus to heal his daughter.
B: The bleeding woman touches Jesus and is healed by faith.
A2: Jairus’s daughter is healed.

[03] Sending out the Twelve and John the Baptist: Mark 6:7-32.
A1: The twelve are sent out
B: John the Baptist is beheaded
A2: The twelve return (vs 31)

[04] Cursing of the Fig Tree and Cleansing of the Temple: Mark 11:12-25.
A1: Jesus curses the fig tree.
B: Jesus cleanses the temple.
A2: The fig tree withers.

[05] The plot to kill Jesus and his anointing: Mark 14:1-11
A1: The religious leaders plot to kill Jesus.
B: Jesus is anointed.
A2: Judas agrees to betray him.

[06] Peter’s Denial and Jesus’s Trial: Mark 14:53-72.
A1: Peter enters the courtyard.
B: The trial of Jesus.
A2: Peter denies Jesus.

[07] Parable of the Sower and Purpose of Parables: Mark 4:1-20
A1: Jesus tells the parable of the sower.
B: Jesus tells us the purpose of parables.
A2: The parable of the sower is explained.

[08] Jesus’s predicts failures of his followers and the last supper: Mark 14:17-31
A1: Jesus predicts his betrayal
B: The last supper
A2: Jesus predicts Peter’s denial.

[09] The Women and Joseph of Arimathea Mark 15:40-16:8
A1: The women watch
B: Joseph buries Jesus
A2: The women and the tomb.

[01] Jairus and the Bleeding Woman: Mark 5:21-43.
A1: Jairus pleads with Jesus to heal his daughter.
B: The bleeding woman touches Jesus and is healed by faith.
A2: Jairus’s daughter is healed.

The healing of Jairus’s daughter serves as the bookends for the healing of the bleeding woman. Mark is a Gospel of contrasts and irony. First the similarities: the age of the girl (12) and the suffering period of the woman (12 years) may be intended at literary parallels. The number is not only symbolic of the twelve apostles but represents the twelve tribes of Israel which the number of apostles was meant to evoke in the first place. In both cases Jesus is their only hope and it is the daughter of Jairus who needs to be healed and also a woman Jesus calls “daughter.” But that is where the similarities stop and the differences begin. Jairus has a name and is male, the unnamed woman is female and “Her only identification is her shame, a menstrual hemorrhage.“[1] He is wealthy while her resources are spent. He gets a face-to-face meeting with Jesus while she must approach through a crowd from behind. He is the leader of a synagogue and commands respect and presumably maintains high standards of ritual purity. She is not any of those things. These two individuals are polar opposites and Mark did not put them together by chance. We will see similar contrasts when we look at other sandwiches.

This unnamed women worked harder and took greater initiative, fought through a crowd and had so much faith she knew that all she needed to do was touch the robe of Jesus who explicitly tells her that her faith has healed her. This miracle story stands in opposition to what is normally observed. The woman is not healed by any specific action of Jesus unlike the daughter of Jairus and so many others. It was not just touching his robe that healed the woman. Jesus tells her that it is her faith that heals her and his name for her is significant: " Daughter , your faith has healed you; go in peace." He calls this spent and exhausted woman, “Daughter.” What a wonderful word. You can feel the compassion and love Jesus had for her. She may be at the end of her means and insignificant in the world’s eyes, but she is a daughter to Jesus just as the little girl is a daughter to Jairus.

The story takes a bad turn after the woman is healed. People come to the reverant Jairus who fell on his knees before Jesus and tell him to stop bothering the teacher as his daughter is dead now. They story presumes it is natural so suppose a miracle worker could heal a sick little girl but their power would not be able to transcend death itself. Markan readers 40 years after the death of Jesus know this type of attitude represents a lack of faith in Jesus who must comfort the understandably distraught Jairus by telling him: “Do not be afraid; only believe.” Yarboro writes, “The exhortation “Do not fear” is both an expression of consolation and a call for courage. The encouragement “just trust” as a present imperative, calls for continuing confidence in Jesus’ ability to heal, in spite of the fact that death has intervened.”[2]

Furthermore, the men at the house laugh at something Jesus says. While we can sympathize with the horror of distraught individuals at the loss of a child, nothing should ever cause us to doubt the ability of Jesus. As the story illustrates, Jesus doesn’t even have to be consciously involved in a miracle. So powerful is he that someone can merely touch his robe with faith and be healed. Imagine what He can do if He is actually trying! The woman serves as a lesson for Jairus, the members of his household and Markan readers. Social status, power and worldly reputation is completely irrelevant. No matter who you are, rich or poor, respected or ostracized, pure or impure, true faith in Jesus is what matters.

It is our job, no matter how bad things get, to emulate the faith of the bleeding woman. Jairus had everything worldly to his advantage in his encounter with Jesus but it didn’t constitute any actual faith advantage. Christians know that storing your treasures up in heaven is the only way and that role reversals (the first shall be last) are prominent in Jesus’s teachings. Jairus needed to keep his faith, to have the same type of faith the woman did. He is not a villain in the story but serves as a foil for the woman whose faith is the ideal we must all strive for.

Social status doesn’t matter. True or unbridled faith in Jesus is required for discipleship.

[1] Edwards, ibid, pg 204.

[2] Hermeneia Commentary on Mark pg 284-285

[3] Edwards, ibid, pg 204

[4] Edwards, ibid, pg

[02] Sending out the Twelve and John the Baptist: Mark 6:7-32.
A1: The twelve are sent out
B: John the Baptist is beheaded
A2: The twelve return (vs 31)

Mark 6:7-13 features Jesus sending out the apostles in groups of two with the authority to cast out demons and heal the sick. After giving them a list of requirements this is precisely what they go out and do while preaching repentance. It is 17 verses later (Mark 6:30) that we read: “The apostles gathered around Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.” What happens in Mark 6:14-29? We are told a story about the beheading of John the Baptist. Though the scenes are connected in how they compare and contrast Jesus and John and how Herod heard of the disciple’s activity, Mark could have easily concluded the first story and jumped into the second. That the conclusion to the sending of the comes later certainly makes this intentional.

Why is this scene sandwiched in between the sending of the twelve and their return? The first story teach that disciples have to be all in for the kingdom of God to the point of not worrying about what they will wear, eat, where they will sleep or even their own life (look at the lilies of the field)! Put the kingdom first and trust in God for literally everything. That is why “He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff: no bread, no bag, no money in their belts, but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.“ Bock writes: “Beggars and itinerant philosophers who sought donations often used a traveler’s bag to collect money (Diogenes Laertius 6.13, 22). Jesus forbade its use on this trip. They could take sandals, but they were to wear only one tunic. The second tunic often served as a bedroll for the poor. They were to trust that God would care for them through the hospitable reception of others.”

The inner story has several potential meanings. As noted above, there is a contrast between Jesus and John and this possibly resolves some early competition between two movements. Another interpretation is provided by Shepherd who writes: “Jesus sends the Twelve on a mission of preaching the Gospel of repentance. Herod sends to seize John the Baptist and then sends to have him beheaded. Thus, as Herod is the immoral king who beheads the prophet of God, Jesus is the righteous king who sends forth his emissaries with the message of repentance.”

John is presented as the forerunner of Jesus in Mark who along with his audience knows what happened to both Jesus and also John. If John the Baptist could be murdered for his convictions, what the disciples were doing was also dangerous and could very well lead to the same fate. Edwards writes, “There is surely more than one motif at work in the Baptist’s martyrdom. The most obvious and important is the parallel between the death of the Baptist and the death of Jesus. Mark clearly intends to show that as John was the forerunner of Jesus’ message and ministry, so too is he the forerunner of his death. John is righteous and suffers silently, and the same will be true of Jesus. Both Herod and Pilate are Roman officials, both are vacillating and pusillanimous in the face of social pressure, and both condemn innocent men to death. “

Edwards goes on to write, “The rather awkward appending of the return of the Twelve (in only one verse!) to the story of the Baptist’s death must mean that Mark saw a relationship between missionaries and martyrdom, between discipleship and death. This is precisely Jesus’ teaching in 8:34, “If someone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” The cross, of course, was an instrument of death. . . . Mark says the same thing in sandwiching the Baptist’s death into the mission of the Twelve: discipleship may lead to martyrdom. The disciple of Jesus must first reckon with the fate of John. Thus, John’s martyrdom not only prefigured Jesus’ death, it also prefigures the death of anyone who would follow after him!”

Discipleship requires a follower to be all in and might cost them their life.

[6] Peter’s Denial and Jesus’s Trial: Mark 14:53-72.
A1: Peter enters the courtyard.
B: The trial of Jesus.
A2: Peter denies Jesus.

The contrast is strong in this sandwich. Peter is questioned by a servant girl and Jesus by the high priest. The chief priests and Sanhedrin testify falsely about Jesus (Mark 14:56), the servant girl correctly identifies Peter being a follower of Jesus (Mark 14:67). Jesus affirms his identify (Mark 14:62) while Peter denie s his own (Mark 14:68). Mark is exacerbating Peter’s denial and failure by sandwiching Jesus’ trial within it. Jesus affirms and is sentenced to death, Peter denies and lives. Jesus gives a faithful confession of his Messiahship and receives the sentence of death. Peter fulfills Jesus’s prophecy while Jesus is beaten with the word “prophecy.”

Edwards notes: “Peter’s equivocation before the servant girl is the first time in Mark that Jesus is openly denied. Coming from the chief apostle it is all the more bitter. The disciples have misunderstood Jesus (8:14-21), Judas has secretly betrayed him (14:10-11), but Peter’s repudiation is the first open denial of Jesus. By contrast, Jesus’ confession before the chief priest, “I am [the Christ, the Son of the Most Blessed]” (v 62), is the first time in Mark that Jesus drops the veil of silence and openly confesses his identity. Jesus’ identity is thus revealed at the moment of his deepest humiliation and weakness. The juxtaposition of bold confession and cowardly denial forces upon the reader the terrible gap between Jesus and Peter . . . This sandwich thus intensifies the truth of the previous one: the Son of God is faithful and true where his disciples are not, and their failure can only be seen for what it is in light of his suffering righteousness.”

I really find these Markan sandwiches fascinating. If you want to read the whole thing here is a pdf

Discipleship is certainly not the only theme or even necessarily the central one in all of these Markan sandwiches, but it is certainly an important one and part of Mark’s theological program:

Jesus called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, ‘If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’” [Mark 8:34-36].



Enjoyed your paper, thanks for sharing. I was not aware of this pattern.


Yes, I happen to own Edwards’ commentary. He does a fantastic job with Mark’s “sandwich” literary technique. Enjoyed your thoughts on the subject.

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Thanks, Vinnie. I hadn’t heard these described or handled this way (or even noticed). This is a useful way of understanding what I have often felt (without really thinking) was a strange rhythm of accounting in Mark.

They are fascinating. The most obvious one to me is the sending of the twelve. There is absolutely no reason verse 30 should not come after verse 14 with 15-29 following as its own material.

Pillar? It is a solid commentary. I disagree with him slightly on dating though. I think Mark comes just after the destruction of the temple (ca. 70-75) not before (64-70C.E.). Oddly enough, it may have even come from someone immersed in Petrine teaching. I have little reason to doubt the connection anymore( though this doesn’t mean what some think) and it comes early from the Elder who Papias depended upon.

The literary features of Mark are hard to unravel. I waffle back and forth all over the place but the existence of sandwiches is not one of them. Its a fascinating subject!



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