Written by George Grant on June 6, 2018
Poet, literary critic, and novelist, Arthur Quiller-Couch, was best known for his incomparable anthology, The Oxford Book of English Verse. As a lecturer at Oxford beginning in 1886 and a professor at Cambridge from 1912-1944, he taught an entire generation of English writers how to write. Exceedingly prolific himself, he wrote in almost every conceivable genre—but his favorite works were undoubtedly tales of the sea, and especially pirate stories. His swashbuckling Poison Island is a rip-roaring, chest-thumping, salty-dog classic—standing side-by-side with Treasure Island, Captain Blood, and Swiss Family Robinson.
Q, as he was popularly known, asserted that besides needing “plots filled with portent and characters painted with the vivid palate of intrigue,” pirate stories “necessarily rely on narrative accelerators.” These, he says, are “literary devices that hasten the story on, facilitate scene transitions, and establish the story’s timeline.”
The Gospel of Mark is of course, not a pirate story. But, it is filled with action and adventure, colorful characters, and a plot filled with portent. So, it probably should not surprise us to see that Mark makes abundant use of narrative accelerators. And, he uses these literary devices just as Q suggests.
Perhaps his most obvious use of this literary device is his persistent reliance on the Greek word εὐθύς. He uses it forty-two times in his Gospel; nine times in chapter 1 alone. It is only used seventeen times anywhere else in the New Testament. The King James Version translates εὐθύς variously as straightway, anon, forthwith, or soon after. The English Standard Version most often translates it as immediately: chapter 1, verse 10: “Immediately Jesus saw the heavens opening;” verse 12: “The Spirit immediately drove Him out into the wilderness;” verse 18: “Immediately they left their nets and followed Him;” verse 20: “Immediately He called them and they left their father in the boat;” verse 21: “Immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue;” verse 23: “Immediately there was in the synagogue a man with an unclean spirit;” verse 28: “Immediately His fame spread;” verse 29: “Immediately He left the synagogue;” verse 30: “Immediately they told Him about her.”
It is obvious that Mark is intentionally hastening his Gospel story on, facilitating its scene transitions, and establishing its timeline. And, he does it all with this solitary literary device—this one word: immediately.
This is a potent reminder of the peculiar literary qualities of the Scriptures—and the immediate power of even a single word.