Mark 8:31-38

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

These episodes in Mark are an integral part of the story of Peter’s recognition that Jesus is the Messiah. This separation is the result of the focus of the lectionary on theological meaning rather than on the meaning of the story as a story. The elimination of the context makes Peter’s response of scandal nonsensical. Likewise the story clearly ends with Jesus’ promise of the immediacy of the Kingdom (9.1); preserving the division of the medieval scribe who did the versification is simply to continue to observe his mistake. I would strongly recommend that the whole story be told (8.26-9:1), as Mark clearly intended.

Jesus' prophesy of non-violent suffering and death has no precedent anywhere in the traditions of the Messiah or the Son of Man. It is true that Saul, an “anointed one,” is killed in battle. But Jesus does not predict that he will be killed in battle but that he will suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, that is,the leaders of his own people. In the context of the story, Jesus’ prophecy is shocking. It is not normal or expected and it is a shock for the listeners. The Messiah was to be a victor, one who would lead the armies of Israel to victory. He was not to be killed and he was especially not to die in the shameful way that Jesus foretells. The intimations of the possibility that Jesus will die in the course of his mission are: 1) the plot of the Pharisees and the Herodians to kill him after the healing of the man with a withered hand (3.6); 2)the arrest and execution of John the Baptist (1.14; 6.14-29); and, less explicit, Jesus’ statement that the disciples will fast when the bridegroom is taken away from them.(2.20) The arrest and beheading of John the Baptist is an explicit precedent and the plot sounds a note of threat. But there have been no further notices of the development of the plot against Jesus. Since the prophecy is presented in indirect discourse, you can as a storyteller tell this with an attitude of utter shock. If you strongly express this surprise,Peter's response of rebuking Jesus makes sense because he is responding to a shocking thought, that Jesus would suffer and die. In effect, Peter is, as is often the case,expressing the response of the audience.

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