Chapter 9 starts with a verse that, IMO, should have been attached to Chapter 8. I honestly don’t know who or when these divisions into chapters and verses was done; I don’t believe it was done by the original author(s), but I cannot state that with certainty.
After that we get the Transfiguration. Like some of the other episodes in Mark, such as the Gerasene demoniac, the death of John the Baptist, and even the intertwined stories of Jairus and the bleeding woman, this has the feel of a story that was told in its entirety as it came down to Mark. These stories feel very organic, with a beginning, middle, and end, and they all have a moral, or a lesson, sort of like Aesop’s fables. Not saying that Mark was imitating, but just noting the similarity. I suspect that this sort of set-piece tale is fairly common in didactic writing. The lesson is that Mark is telling us with Jesus’ divinity. There were doubts in Chapters 6 and 7; in Chapter 8 we get what amounts to a run-up to the final confirmation of Jesus’ identity. It could be said to begin with the feeding of the 4,000 in the wilderness, connecting Jesus to God the Father feeding the Israelites with miraculous manna in the desert. Then we get Peter’s declaration: “You are the Christ.” This is the first use of the term since 1:1. Then, as the climax, we get the Transfiguration, which should remove all doubt.
There is also a more formal or stylized, or style aspect of this story. In a sense, this is the complement to Jesus baptism, or even something like a second baptism. It could be argued that this is the moment when Jesus becomes the Christ, or is confirmed as the Christ. He is shown with Moses and Elijah, two major pillars of Judaism; and he is now the central figure, standing between the other two. Jesus has become the culmination of the process the other two set in motion, or something along those lines. I’ve always been a bit puzzled why Abraham was not chosen; my suspicion is that Elijah was put in the group because of the subsequent discussion about Elijah coming first, and Jesus flat statement that Elijah has come. The implication is that, since Elijah has come, there is no impediment to the arrival of the Day of the Lord.
This event is tied together with Jesus prophecies and references to the Suffering Servant of Deutero-Isaiah and eschatology: the Day of the Lord. The implication of Malichi is, seemingly, that Elijah will come again. As such, it becomes an important prelude to the idea of Jesus’ return in the Parousia. And, since the Parousia was introduced at the end of Chapter 8, which spills into Verse 1 of Chapter 9, we can see a little more clearly how these concepts all fit together. In doing this translating, and in presenting is as I am, it is easy to lose sight of the forest because we become so engrossed in the trees. Again, I’m not well-versed on scholarship about who or when the chapter/verse numerations were added, but I think they sometimes create what may be artificial divisions in the narrative. We can see how this episode may, more naturally, fit with material in Chapter 8.
Then we get an interesting tale about the expulsion of an unclean spirit. The story is interesting because the disciples were unable to drive out the spirit. The problem was the lack of faith; whether the child’s father did not have enough faith in the disciples, or the disciples lacked confidence in their abilities for whatever reason. If the latter, this provides another…gap?…salient?…cross reference (?) in the narrative. Back when he sent out the Twelve back in Chapter 6:7, he gave them power to expel demons, and in 6:12, we are told they expelled many. Now, why couldn’t they expel this one? The most compact and consistent answer is because the lack of faith was on the part of the child’s father, which is why Jesus had to emphasize “all things are possible, if you believe” in 9:23. The other possibility is that the group of disciples in question were not members of the Twelve. Less likely, perhaps, but still possible and something to be noted and considered, even if it’s ultimately dismissed. This is how the historical process has to work. Otherwise, there are Ernest Hemingway called “holes in your story”. You have to know what you leave out; otherwise, there’s a hole. Later in the chapter, we are told of the person expelling demons in Jesus’ name. John said they stopped him, but Jesus said to let him because ‘who is not against us, is for us’.
Here is a very radical thought. I have never read this anywhere, so all the blame should fall on me if this turns out to be a ludicrous proposition. We noted how certain themes have only started to crop up here in Chapter 9. This led to me speculating that maybe Mark’s original narrative was added to later, by well-meaning Christians (as they probably were by then) who wished to make Mark sound more like Matthew. What if the original version of “Mark” (or what became “Mark”) originally ended with the Transfiguration? Start with the baptism, end with the Transfiguration; two similar episodes, the beginning and the apotheosis of Jesus. I would include some of the stuff in late Chapter 8 as later additions, especially the part with Jesus predicting his suffering and death. Just think about that? It’s a very compact, tidy narrative of Jesus the wonder-worker. Because, not only do themes start to appear, other themes start to disappear in Chapter 9. The healings and the exorcisms have played a prominent role so far, as has the wilderness theme. They all more-or-less disappear from the rest of the narrative. It’s almost like there are two separate narratives woven together. Or, perhaps the account (written or not) that came down to Mark ended with the Transfiguration; he was the one who then started to add some of the ideas that were more fully developed in Matthew.
As I said, speculation. However, now that the idea has occurred to me, I will keep an eye on it from here on out. If I were composing an essay on the topic, I would note the idea and see what the text told me; then I would decide if the idea has merit. So, I will do this, but with you as an audience. Perhaps this will elucidate the historical process a little more clearly.