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Le Peau, Andrew T. Mark through Old Testament Eyes. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2017. Pb. 352 pp. $28.99.   Link to Kregel

As Andrew Le Peau observes in the introduction to this new commentary series, the New Testament writers were Old Testament people. Although this seems like an obvious statement, the symbols and literary patterns of the Old Testament are often overlooked in popular preaching and teaching on New Testament books. Although scholarship has done a better job setting the documents of the New Testament into the context of the Old in recent years, there is still much to be done to develop the database of background material available to illuminate the New Testament. There have been a few recent contributions in this area, D. A. Carson and G. K. Beale edited a single-volume Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (IVP 2007) and the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary on the Old Testament and New Testament (2009 with many of the individual books available in separate volumes).  Although many commentaries include this sort of background material, there are few commentaries which focus exclusively on how the New Testament writers used the Old Testament.

Mark Through Old Testament EyesThis series of commentaries will provide a verse-by-verse commentary which integrates typical exegesis of the text with Old Testament background in order to help answer questions as they arise. With respect to the exposition of the text, Le Peau comments on key phrases with an eye to Old Testament parallels rather than the typical exegetical details found in most commentaries. For example, at Mark 9:43 “if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off,” Le Peau briefly discusses prohibitions on self-mutilation in the Law (Deut 14:1-3) as well as ancient  pagan practice (1 Kings 18:27-29). He also draws attention to the hand, foot and eye as a source of stumbling in Proverbs 6:16-10 and Job 31:1, 5, 7. In his commentary on Mark 3:37, Le Peau draws attention to the provision of abundant food is a “picture that looks ahead to Isaiah’s coming messianic kingdom” (123). He cites Isaiah 55:1-3 at length, but also notes the miraculous feeding in Numbers 11 and 2 Kings 4:42-44.

Throughout the commentary section, Greek and Hebrew words are used sparingly and always appear transliterated so those without language skills will have no trouble making use of the commentary. There is some interaction with contemporary scholarship, although this is light and all references appears in endnotes.

Throughout the commentary are a number of sidebars entitled “Through Old Testament Eyes.” These units focus on the big picture to show how a particular text picks up on themes and motifs from the Old Testament. For example, Le Peau offers a chart in his exposition of the feeding of the five thousand tracing parallels between Psalm 23 and Mark 6. I briefly commented on Psalm 23 as a messianic text and potential background for this miracle in Jesus the Bridegroom, so it is good to see the Psalm used to interpret a miracle often used to preach brotherly sharing rather than a miracle which reveals Jesus as the Messiah. Another example of this kind of sidebar is Le Peau’s short description of the suffering of the messiah in the Psalms to illuminate Mark 14-15 (275-8).

A second type of sidebar in this commentary series is labeled “What the Structure Means.” These sections focus on literary devices such as metaphor, hyperbole, or other elements of story-telling. Often these take the form of an outline of a pericope with attention to chiasms or other features. In Mark 10:13-52 he lists four predictions and a prediction which frame the unit. In another place Le Peau offers a list of examples in Mark of sets of three events (272-3) and draws attention to this literary style in the Old Testament.

One problem with scholarly background studies is a failure to connect the context with the contemporary reader. This commentary hopes to avoid this my balancing the background element with an application section. These sections are labeled “Going Deeper” and intend to connect the text of a New Testament book with internal debates within the early church as well as draw out implications for contemporary church questions. For example, the “Going Deeper” section following Le Peau’s exposition of Mark 9:14-50 is a pastoral reflection on anger and quarrelsomeness (173-2). The section following Mark 13:12 deals with a non-eschatological understanding of “watching and being alert.” The focus is on understanding suffering as a part of the disciple’s calling. Although this application is quite preachable, I am not sure the application arises from the text of the Olivet Discourse. The actual text of the commentary does a good job with the Old Testament (Daniel 7) and Second Temple (1 Maccabees) backgrounds to Jesus’s words and even notices the shift in 13:27 from the Temple in A.D. 70 to the “end of the age.” It seems to me the natural application in that section ought to concern a warning against false predictions of the end in the light of the very real end which will eventually arrive.

I have a few minor problems with this commentary which probably fall into the category of “this is not the book I would have written.” First, Le Peau’s commentary on Mark does not deal with introductory issues in any depth. There are two pages under the heading “Who was Mark?” which deal with the few appearances of Mark in Acts and the epistles along with an ancient African tradition about Mark’s family. Since the purpose of the commentary to provide background to read the Gospel of Mark, perhaps more ought to be said about traditional authorship. For example, if the tradition Mark was Peter’s interpreter in Rome is accurate, what does his use of the Old Testament imply about the original audience and intention of the Gospel? What does the use of a New Exodus motif imply about the audience?

Second, there is a very short introduction to the use of the Old Testament in the Gospel. Most of this four page section involves an illustration drawn from contemporary movies. Although this analogy does explain how a writer might allude to an earlier work, it fails to explain why Mark would use the Old Testament in the way he does. Mark is not paying tribute to Isaiah for his contributions to prophetic writing; Mark is alluding to Isaiah’s New Exodus motif because he believes Jesus is really enacting the metanarrative of the whole Old Testament and placing himself in the center of that story. I realize Le Peau simply does not have space to write a fully argued methodology in the introduction to this commentary, but improving this introduction would pay dividends as readers use the commentary to read Mark.

Third, although this might be less interesting to evangelical readers, I think the commentary could be improved by occasionally tracing a motif through the literature of the Second Temple period. In my review of the text, I only noticed a few references to 1 Maccabees in the context of the abomination of desolation and there are no references to the Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha in the Scripture index. Although this is not always possible, perhaps using the Dead Sea Scrolls as background for son of David sayings or the messianic banquet would set the Gospel of Mark into a more broadly Jewish context.

A final comment goes beyond the scope of the commentary, but I raise it since few scholars have asked the question. In the commentary, Le Peau understands allusions to the Old Testament are a product of Mark’s narration of the events. But to what extent did the historical Jesus shape traditions by alluding the Old Testament himself?  If Mark 4:11 fairly records the words of Jesus, then the allusion to Daniel 2 and 4 in the phrase “mystery of the kingdom” comes from Jesus rather than Mark. If this is the case, does it affect the exegesis of Mark 4?

Nevertheless, Le Peau contributes a good commentary on Mark which focuses on an often overlooked aspect of New Testament research.

This is the inaugural volume of a new series from Kregel Academic, with four other volumes planned at this time (David Capes on Matthew, Karen Jobes on John, Gary Burge on Galatians and Ephesians, and Tremper Longman on Revelation). My copy of this book has a number of strange spacing errors in when the text is italicized, hopefully this can be corrected in future reprints of the commentary (p. 27, the word Spirit, p. 39, the phrase Kingdom of God; p. 49, the word quiet, p. 51, the word healed, etc.) This is a minor problem and does not detract from the value of the commentary.

 

NB: Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Published on August 25, 2017 on Reading Acts.

Image result for judah maccabee the hammerIn New Testament studies it is somewhat commonplace to say the Jews at the time of Jesus were expecting a messiah who was a military leader or a Davidic king. In popular preaching this is usually stated without any sort of evidence. There is some reason to think at least some Jewish people in the first century had this view of the messiah, although it was not the only way to think about the messiah in the first century.

This semester I have been teaching a class on the Second Temple period as well as a series of Bible studies in the Gospel of Mark. When I was preparing to teach Mark 10:32-34 for this week, I ran across a potential allusion to the military activity of Judas Maccabees in the Gospel of Mark. I am sure someone what noticed this before, but let me offer this as an illustration of how reading Second Temple period literature helps to illuminate the New Testament.

In Mark 10:32, Jesus is “going before” his disciples. Mark makes it clear Jesus is leading the way up to Jerusalem. Although Jesus has traveled with his disciples in previous stories, this is the first time he has been described as “going before” them. The word is occasionally used to described a military maneuver (2 Macc 11:10), but with the sense of advancing in a battle rather than to describe a general leading his army into battle.

The verb (προάγω) appears in a very important Second Temple text in 2 Maccabees 10:1, Judas Maccabees and his followers up to Jerusalem to recover the Temple after Antiochus had desecrated it. But the writer of 2 Maccabees says it was the Lord himself who was leading them up to the temple (a participle of προάγω, προάγοντος αὐτοὺς).

2 Maccabees 10:1–2 (NRSV) Now Maccabeus and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; 2 they tore down the altars that had been built in the public square by the foreigners, and also destroyed the sacred precincts.

When Judas and his followers reach the Temple, they “recover the Temple and the city.” Judas and his followers purified (καθαρίζω) the sanctuary and initiated the proper worship in the Temple which had been cut off three years before by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. This rededication of the Temple is the climax of a series of stories in 2 Maccabees since Judas has achieved what he set out to do when he came to Jerusalem.

Mark may be intentionally presenting Jesus as acting like Judas Maccabees. For the first time in the Gospel of Mark Jesus is going up to Jerusalem and Jesus himself is leading the way. Before he arrives he will be hailed as the son of David (10:47) and welcomed as the one who comes in the name of the Lord (11:9). The next pericope in Mark begins with the curse of the fig tree (11:12-14) followed by the Temple action (11:15-19). Although the Temple action is symbolic, Jesus is driving out those who are not using the Temple properly. Again, popular preaching calls this a “cleansing of the Temple” even if that word is not used in Mark 11.

This connection of Judas Maccabees may also explains the amazement and the fear of the other followers of Jesus. Perhaps the disciples are amazed that Jesus is leading the way to Jerusalem in this way. Since James and John ask to sit on the right and left hand when “Jesus comes in his glory” (10:37), it is possible the disciples think this is the time the Kingdom will be restored to Israel.

Stein, Robert H. Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man: A Commentary on Mark 13. Downers Grover, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2014. 155 pp. Pc; $18.00.   Link to IVP

This short book is an extension of Robert Stein’s work on the Gospel of Mark in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series. I have frequently thought a monograph on the Olivet Discourse would make a good contribution to scholarship, Stein provides good introduction to Mark’s version of Jesus’ discourse on his return which attempts to solve many of the interpretive difficulties of Mark 13.

Stein, Jesus and the TempleIn Chapter 1 Stein introduces the reader to the basics of historical Jesus research including a brief history of the field. He provides a summary of the criterion of authenticity, although he the authenticity of the Jesus sayings in Mark 13 is not the main theme of the book. His goal in this book is to understand what the Evangelist Mark meant when he wrote Mark 13, in essence a “traditional, author-based hermeneutic” (p. 38). While the Gospel of Mark is an accurate, reliable account of the life and teaching of Jesus” most likely written by John Mark (p. 39), proving these assumptions are not the goal of the book.

Chapter 2 describes the main problems the interpreter faces when reading Mark chapter 13. For example he compares several suggested outlines for the chapter. He does not assume Mark created stories out of nothing and put them in the mouth of Jesus, nor is he interested in this book in determining Mark’s sources. At best, Mark is a “conservative editor of the Jesus Traditions” (p. 47).

Chapter 3 examines the first four verses of chapter in order to show the whole chapter is concerned with the destruction of the temple. The disciples observe the magnificence of the Temple buildings, leading Jesus to predict the temple will be destroyed. Stein thinks the key to understanding Mark 13 is the two-part question asked by Jesus’ disciples. They first asked when will “these things” be and then they ask “what will be the sign that “all these things” are about to be accomplished?” Jesus gives his answer to the first question as a prediction of the destruction of the temple (“these things”). The second question refers to the future coming of the Son of Man (“all these things”).

Chapter 4 concerns the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and the signs of that coming distraction. Stein demonstrates that Mark 13:5-23 is a unit concerned with the immediate future and the destruction of Jerusalem in the disciples’ lifetime. The unit is a chiasm: the appearance of false messiahs function as inclusio (13:5-6 and 21-23). The coming of the Son of Man (13:24-27) is in the next section outside of this clear unit. But from the perspective of Mark and his readers, there are two horizons present. First, Jesus answers the first part of the disciples’ question about the destruction of the Temple and warns them to flee when they see these things happening. The second horizon is Mark’s collection of these predictions in order to teach his readers something about Jesus (p. 100-1).

Chapter 5 is brief but concerns in the future aspect of this chapter the coming of the Son of Man. There is a temporal gap between the destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man “in those days” and “after that tribulation” (p. 105). Stein shows that this description of the coming of the Son of Man is consistent with the Hebrew Bible and do refer to a real, visible return of Jesus (p. 113). Stein is not interested in overly literal interpretations of these events nor interpretations which demythologize them (p.114). Here he seems to be trying to chart a course between popular dispensationalism and some of the equally popular dismissals of any predictions of a future return of Jesus in Mark 13 (N. T. Wright, for example). In many ways his observation of a gap between the fall of Jerusalem and the Coming of the Son of Man resonates with premillennialism, but he stops well short of making this point since his goal is Mark’s purpose (not our interpretation of Mark’s Gospel, a “third horizon”).

Chapter 6 is a short examination of the parable of the fig tree in Mark 13:28-31. Since Stein has already argued there is a difference between “these things” and “all these things,” he has less exegetical problems with “this generation” in Mark 13:29-30 than other expositors do. Finally chapter 7 examines the parable of the watchmen as an exhortation to be alert for the coming of the Son of Man. This parable reflects Mark’s pastoral interest in encouraging his readers to remain awake and look forward to the soon appearance of the Son of Man.

Stein’s final chapter is an interpretive translation of Mark 13. This is really more of an appendix to the book, and in the introduction he recommends some readers may want to start with this chapter before reading his exegetical discussion.

Conclusion. I found this short book to be a good introduction to the problems an exegete faces when attempting to interpret Mark 13. This is not a comprehensive exegetical study; Stein offers a framework for interpretation which, in his view, solves many problems. But many of the exegetical details are left for more technical commentaries. He intends to point the way for further study and reflection on Mark’s goals when he collected and edited the material in Mark 13. A pastor or teacher working through the Gospel of Mark should consider reading the book and wrestling the two horizons Stein suggests.

I would have liked one additional chapter, and I think Stein is well-qualified to write it: How was this material developed by Matthew and Luke? Assuming Markan priority, the other two Synoptic gospels appear to use Mark 13 in different ways. Tracing the trajectory of their interpretations might clarify some of Mark’s goals as well. I would also suggest it is possible Mark 13 is the framework for Revelation 6, although this is less accepted. This shortcoming of the book is not critical; it is simply beyond Stein’s stated purpose.

 

NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Published on November 19, 2014 on Reading Acts.

A few years ago the media went wild over the ‘Gospel of Judas,” a gnostic text which (it was claimed) described Judas as a faith disciple of Jesus, chosen to be the betrayer because he was so faithful. I first encountered this idea through William Klassen’s book Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996). Klassen argued that Judas was not the betrayer, but rather the most faithful disciple. Jesus had to be handed over to the authorities, so he entrusted this job to Judas. In order to make this theory work, Klassen has to make the “anti-Judas” statements into “later additions” by the church.  This includes the brief note in Luke that “Satan entered him” and the much later references to Judas as a thief in John’s gospel.  He makes much of the fact that Paul never mentions the betrayal or Judas.

Thirty Peices of SilverKlassen does have a point, the later texts do indeed offer a more pernicious view of Judas.  In John 12:1-8, Judas is described as a thief. He is embezzling from the disciples, and when a woman anoints Jesus’ feet with a precious perfume, he feels that he has been “cheated.” The perfume was not sold, he could have skimmed quite a bit from the sale (in John 13:28-30 Judas is the keeper of the funds for the disciples.) Greed could be a factor in Matthew 26:14-16 as well – Judas asked the priests “What will you give me….?”

Another answer is that the “perfume incident” forced Judas to understand that Jesus was not the Messiah, at least exactly as he understood the Messiah. One option is that Judas was convinced by the anointing that Jesus was not who he claimed, and the Pharisees were right all along. Jesus had to be destroyed as a false teacher. A second option is that Judas was shocked when he finally understood that Jesus was literally going to his death. He may have expected Jesus to go to Jerusalem to overthrow the Romans, but not to die. He may have wanted to ‘force’ Jesus to use his power to destroy the Romans.

At the time of the Last Supper, Judas had already made his choice to betray when Satan entered him (Luke 22:3). Perhaps Satan’s hand in the betrayal was to tempt Judas into making the decision or perhaps to keep Judas from losing his nerve by entering him. This is an extremely unique event:  Satan is never mentioned as “entering” anyone else. Satan has become personally involved because the previous efforts to stop Jesus have failed.

Another angle here is this: What did Satan stand to gain by getting Judas to betray Jesus? Why did Satan want to kill Jesus? He should have been able to understand that it would be Jesus’ death and resurrection that defeated him. Clearly Satan tried to stop him from going to the cross in the temptations, and tried to slow him down or stop him throughout his ministry, so why help him to the cross now? Satan’s role in the killing of Jesus is an indication of the arrogance of the devil. Perhaps he thought that if he could not stop Jesus in the world, that he could stop him in death. Maybe he thought that he could hold Jesus in the grave. Another option, although less likely, is that Satan was playing the role laid out for him, and that he was not truly a free agent in the whole affair.

Thirty pieces of silver was not a great deal of money, he would not have won many friends by betraying his teacher.  I suspect that his motivations were good, he wanted to help Jesus establish himself as the Messiah and to assist him in starting a Kingdom of God in Jerusalem.

But from a purely human perspective, what did Judas hope to gain?

Bibliography: Klassen also wrote the Anchor Bible Dictionary article, “Judas Iscariot”, 3:1091-1096. For a more balanced approach, see D. J. Williams, “Judas Iscariot”, in DJG, 406-408; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 3:208-211.

Logos Bible Software has a great deal on 24 “classic commentaries” on Mark. The current community price bid is $30 for all 24 volumes, so a lilttle more that a dollar a book.  Logos has produced a good number of these “classic” sets, providing a good value on resources that are not readily available. By getting in on the community price bid, you can get the books for far less than they will cost later.

By classic, they mean old (published between 1860–1954). Some of these are not particularly valuable; I am not sure I would purchase Arthur Ritchie’s Spiritual Studies in St. Mark’s Gospel even at a dollar a volume. (Ritchie was the rector at St. Ignatius’ Church in New York at the end of the 19th century and wrote several multi-volume “spiritual studies” sets.)  There are commentaries from Lyman Abbott and William Kelley; both were of interest when they were published but are quite dated. Some of the commentaries are of historical interest, however. Leicester Ambrose Sawyer’s First Gospel, Being the Gospel according to Mark (1864) is an interesting insight in to the state of Mark and Q studies int he mid-19th century.  Benjamin Bacon’s Is Mark a Roman Gospel? (Harvard University Press, 1919) is well worth a browse as well.

Marie-Joseph Lagrange

Marie-Joseph Lagrange

An added value for some scholars will be several foreign language commentaries. In French, the collection includes Marie-Joseph Lagrange (Évangile selon Saint Marc, 1935). Lagrange was the founder of the École Biblique in Jerusalem as well as the journal Revue Biblique in 1892.

There are three German commentaries as well. Reading these in the Logos format will be much easier since older German books were printed in the older letters (Fraktur). There are three German commentaries in the collection, including Julius Wellhausen’s Das Evangelium Marci übersetzt und erklärt,originally published in 1903. While Wellhausen is better known for his OT studies, this commentary on Mark is a significant contribution since he argues the priority of Mark against the hypothetical “Q” document. Another name associated with OT studies is included August Klostermann (Das Markusevangelium nach seinem Quellenwerthe für die evangelische Geschichte, 1867). Finally, the collection has a commentary by Bernard Weiss (Die Geschichtlichkeit des Markusevangelium, 1905).

Is the set worth $30? I think that it is, since I might have paid that for Lagrange and Wellhausen alone if I ran across them in a used book store. Head over to Logos, browse the list and decide for yourself.

Shively, Elizabeth E. Apocalyptic Imagination in the Gospel of Mark: The Literary and Theological Role of Mark 3:22- 30. BNZW 189. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2012. 295 p.  $140.00 Link.

Elizabeth Shively is a lecturer in New Testament at University of St Andrews.  Her book Apocalyptic Imagination in the Gospel of Mark is a light revision of her 2009 Ph.D. Emory University dissertation written under the guidance of Luke Timothy Johnson.

The basic thesis of the study is that Mark 3:22-30 functions as a programmatic statement for the Gospel of Mark. Three short parables and logion are placed together in order to construct the symbolic world which shapes the Gospel of Mark on both a literary and theological level. Shively understands parables of the Kingdom / House Divided and the Strong Man as apocalyptic discourse which is used to answer the question of the source of Jesus’ authority to cast out demons, but also to interpret Jesus for a new community of believers who are suffering.  For Shively, Mark 3:22-30 is “cluster of apocalyptic topoi” that Mark expands to “reveal a word of cosmic conflict manifest in Jesus’ ministry” (p. 5).

ShivelyShively points out that most scholars who work on parables do not work with these three short sayings, despite the fact that Mark specifically calls them parables in 3:23. The reason for this is that most monographs on parables have defined the genre in a way which rules out these sayings.  By taking this pericope as a programmatic statement for the gospel of Mark, Shively hopes to read Mark as a coherent, unified narrative within its own symbolic world.  That world is “Jewish apocalyptic thought” as expressed in parabolic forms. By constructing this paragraph has he has, Mark is “describing Jesus’ ministry as ‘more than a rescue operation,’” Jesus is beginning the “reconstructive work of the Kingdom of God” (p. 82).

While the Gospel of Mark is obviously not apocalyptic in terms of genre, Mark is an “apocalyptic thinker.” Following Luke Timothy Johnson’s definition of symbolic worlds, she points out that symbols are “social structures in which people live” (p. 29). Clusters of symbols help people to understand the world and communicate that understanding to others who share these symbols. Like most modern scholars who work on symbols and metaphors, she stands on the foundation of Lakoff and Johnson Metaphors We Live By, applying their insights to the apocalyptic worldview of first century Judaism. Figurative language appears in this pericope to “stage a cosmic drama” (p.81).

Shively explains that apocalyptic symbols have two dimensions. There is a vertical dimension to this literate in which cosmic forces are involved in earth. This may take the form of angels and demons active in the world, for example. The horizontal dimension is a movement toward an imminent eschatological salvation. The righteous are undergoing persecution and look forward to God breaking into history to liberate them from their oppressors. This description of apocalyptic thinking is clear from texts that are considered apocalyptic by genre; Shively argues in this book that Mark reflects that thinking in his Gospel and uses it to shape his theological interpretation of Jesus’ ministry.

By way of method, Shively reads Mark 3:22-30 both “inner-textually” and intertextually.  By inner-textually she means the “story world of Mark.”  This means that she will pay attention to the Gospel of Mark as a whole, examining the rhetoric, plot, and characters of the book in order to trace the author’s interests.  The second chapter of this book places this pericope in the overall context of the gospel by examining how it functions rhetorically at the beginning of the Gospel, and her fifth chapter  examines the larger context of the Gospel, primarily the Gerasene Demoniac (5:1-20) and the apocalyptic speech (13:5-37).

By intertextual, she intends to read the Gospel of Mark in the light of textual traditions outside of the Gospel. Following on Richard Hays, she proposes to hear echoes of the Hebrew Bible in Mark 3:22-30. She acknowledges that intertextual elements do not only exist in quotes of allusions, but also in the form of metaphors and symbols in Jewish apocalyptic thought (p. 36). She says that “we cannot understand Mark’s intertextuality simply by looking at discrete OT citations and allusions” because Mark is “weaving citations, allusions and themes” in order to “awaken the reader’s memory” (261).  (I made this point in my own dissertation on Jesus’s use of eschatological banquet traditions from the Hebrew Bible.) Since Mark wrote as an “apocalyptic thinker” he does not have to consciously cite a text from the Hebrew Bible.  He may use a well-known metaphor from apocalyptic literature without having a specific text in mind.  On the other hand, he may have a cluster of texts in mind rather than a single context.

I find this to be very helpful and interesting, but in practice there is not much which can be described as intertextual with respect to the Hebrew Bible in Mark 3:22-30.  She does comment on the potential allusion to Isaiah 49:24-26 in Mark 3:27.  Several commentaries have noticed this allusion, although there are only a few words shared by both texts.  In LXX Isa 49:24 the strong one is a “giant” (γίγαντος), and he is captured (αἰχμαλωτεύω), not bound (δέω) and plundered (διαρπάζω) as in Mark 3:27.  The word λαμβάνω is repeated in Isa 49:24-26 several times but does not appear in Mark 3:27. At best, this is an “echo” of Isa 49:24-26 and might be better described as an allusion to the tradition that the Lord is the ultimate Strong One who rescues his people from their enemies.

The key word in Mark 3:27 for Shively is ἰσχυρός.  In Isa 49:26 it is the Lord who is the “strong one” who will end the exile for Judah by destroying the strong nations.  In Mark 3:27, Jesus is stronger than the “strong man” (Satan) and is presently binding him in order to inaugurate the Kingdom. Mark “recontextualizes Israel’s captivity and rescue using apocalyptic topoi” (p. 74).

A second stage of the intertextual method in this book is a comparison to other Jewish apocalyptic literature.  This is the subject of chapter 3. She begins by offering a brief orientation to seven apocalyptic texts she has chosen to compare to Mark 3: 1 Enoch, Jubilees, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, The War Scroll (1QM), Melchizedek (11QMelch), and Testament of Solomon.  Shively then uses Daniel as a “template” for apocalyptic thinking and develops three themes from the book: persecution of the righteous, the activity of heavenly beings, and God’s protection through a future judgment. These three themes are key elements of apocalyptic thinking in Daniel and Shively demonstrates that they are found in each of the apocalyptic books chosen for comparison. This section is well-documented and the she makes the case that apocalyptic thinking from Daniel onward does in fact include these three areas.

I like how this chapter is designed, but I wonder if the results would differ if she had chosen another set of examples from Jewish apocalyptic literature. For example, she does not use her template on 4 Ezra or 2 Baruch, two books written after the fall of Jerusalem, perhaps only two decades after Mark was written. It is likely that the three elements of her template are present there, although the “coming judgment” may look different than Mark’s Kingdom of God. I am thinking specifically about 4 Ezra 9:22 where the “rescue” at the time of judgment concerns only a very tiny remnant which survives the final judgment. By broadening the database, perhaps the template would look different.

When she applies her observations to Mark 3:22-30, Shively finds that there is a “shared symbolic world” (p. 147-52).  In Jesus’ ministry there is a persecution (by the human scribes or the demons), and Jesus is actively opposing these demonic forces by casting them out. Finally, he announces that the strong man has been bound and that those who oppose him will be judged guilty in the coming judgment (Mark 3:28-29).

Shively applies the findings of the study to Mark’s Gospel. Chapter 5 examines two examples of “power” in Mark’s apocalyptic thinking in the context of a story and a speech. The story Shively selects is Mark 5:1-20, the Gerasene Demon.  In this exorcism story, Mark “engages in apocalyptic discourse directly reminiscent of Mark 3:22-30” (p. 183). An evil spirit is oppressing a human and Jesus appears to judge that demon. The result of this demonstration of the power of God is that the man proclaims what God has done throughout the Gentile region.  Later in the book Shively suggests that the response of the man “becomes Mark’s Great commission” (p.250). The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13:5-37) concludes with a parable of a householder, reminiscent of the Strong Man parable in Mark 3:27. Shively states that the Mark’s apocalyptic discourse is “persuasive rhetoric” which seeks to persuade the followers of Jesus that righteous suffering is God’s will, they ought to act self-sacrificially (like Jesus) in anticipation of a final judgment on the world (p. 218).  God’s power is acting through Jesus to overcome the strong man already, but Mark’s audience is told to look forward to the decisive return of the Son of Man.

The nature of the power which overcomes the strong man is developed in chapter 6.  Shively examines Mark 8:27-10:45 as a unit, beginning with the confession of Peter and ending with the “ransom for many” logion. In this section Jesus subverts expectations by describing the “things of God” as his coming suffering. Jesus demonstrates the power of God which overcomes the strongman by suffering. Those who suffer manifest the power of God, even in death.  This is the point of the empty tomb account (Mark 16:1-8).  Through the resurrection Jesus asserts his power over the strong man.

Conclusion. Elizabeth Shively has made a significant contribution to the study of Mark’s gospel by suggesting Mark 3:22-30 as a programmatic statement which reflects Mark’s apocalyptic thinking. While not an apocalyptic writer, Mark reflects the sort of thinking which was common in the first century in order to communicate his interpretation of the life and ministry of Jesus as the “stronger man” who overcomes the power of Satan and enables his followers to understand their own struggle against the powers of darkness as they look forward to the return of the Son of Man to render final judgment.

Thanks to de Gruyter for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

A few years ago the media went wild over the ‘Gospel of Judas,” a gnostic text which (it was claimed) described Judas as a faith disciple of Jesus, chosen to be the betrayer because he was so faithful. I first encountered this idea through William Klassen’s book Judas: Betrayer or Friend of Jesus? (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996). Klassen argued that Judas was not the betrayer, but rather the most faithful disciple. Jesus had to be handed over to the authorities, so he entrusted this job to Judas. In order to make this theory work, Klassen has to make the “anti-Judas” statements into “later additions” by the church.  This includes the brief note in Luke that “Satan entered him” and the much later references to Judas as a thief in John’s gospel.  He makes much of the fact that Paul never mentions the betrayal or Judas.

Klassen does have a point, the later texts do indeed offer a more pernicious view of Judas.  In John 12:1-8, Judas is described as a thief. He is embezzling from the disciples, and when a woman anoints Jesus’ feet with a precious perfume, he feels that he has been “cheated.” The perfume was not sold, he could have skimmed quite a bit from the sale (in John 13:28-30 Judas is the keeper of the funds for the disciples.) Greed could be a factor in Matthew 26:14-16 as well – Judas asked the priests “What will you give me….?”

Another answer is that the “perfume incident” forced Judas to understand that Jesus was not the Messiah, at least exactly as he understood the Messiah. One option is that Judas was convinced by the anointing that Jesus was not who he claimed, and the Pharisees were right all along. Jesus had to be destroyed as a false teacher. A second option is that Judas was shocked when he finally understood that Jesus was literally going to his death. He may have expected Jesus to go to Jerusalem to overthrow the Romans, but not to die. He may have wanted to ‘force’ Jesus to use his power to destroy the Romans.

At the time of the Last Supper, Judas had already made his choice to betray when Satan entered him (Luke 22:3). Perhaps Satan’s hand in the betrayal was to tempt Judas into making the decision or perhaps to keep Judas from losing his nerve by entering him. This is an extremely unique event:  Satan is never mentioned as “entering” anyone else. Satan has become personally involved because the previous efforts to stop Jesus have failed.

Another angle here is this: What did Satan stand to gain by getting Judas to betray Jesus? Why did Satan want to kill Jesus? He should have been able to understand that it would be Jesus’ death and resurrection that defeated him. Clearly Satan tried to stop him from going to the cross in the temptations, and tried to slow him down or stop him throughout his ministry, so why help him to the cross now? Satan’s role in the killing of Jesus is an indication of the arrogance of the devil. Perhaps he thought that if he could not stop Jesus in the world, that he could stop him in death. Maybe he thought that he could hold Jesus in the grave. Another option, although less likely, is that Satan was playing the role laid out for him, and that he was not truly a free agent in the whole affair.

But from a purely human perspective, what did Judas hope to gain?  Thirty pieces of silver was not a great deal of money, he would not have won many friends by betraying his teacher.  I suspect that his motivations were good, he wanted to help Jesus establish himself as the Messiah and to assist him in starting a Kingdom of God in Jerusalem.

Bibliography: Klassen also wrote the Anchor Bible Dictionary article, “Judas Iscariot”, 3:1091-1096. For a more balanced approach, see D. J. Williams, “Judas Iscariot”, in DJG, 406-408; John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 3:208-211.

That Jesus did miracles is the claim of every layer of tradition in the New Testament. Even non-biblical writers describe Jesus as a healer. But Jesus did not heal people to gain an audience or to generate interest in his mission, he never asked for anything from those he healed. Jesus did not want “prayer partners” who regularly give to his ministry. Jesus healed in order to reveal something about himself. The healing in Mark 2 is an example of this “healing as self-revelation.”

Jesus returns to Capernaum and attracts a very large crowd at Peter’s home. A paralytic is brought to Jesus by some friends to be healed. Since they cannot enter the home because of the crowd, the men go onto the roof and break a hole large enough to lower the man on a pallet into room where Jesus was. The roof of a typical home at the time of Jesus was a sun dried mud thatch, so the very “to dig” is quite appropriate.

Mark 2:5 says “When he saw their faith,” referring to the friends of the paralytic. But rather than heal the paralytic, Jesus forgives the man’s sins. The paralytic does not demonstrate faith, at least to our knowledge, nor did he ask for his sins to be forgiven. Jesus pronounces the man’s sins forgiven in order to make a point about himself – the miracle here is a revelation of who Jesus is.

There was a relationship between sins and birth defects in the minds of the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus may be attacking this misconception of sin by forgiving the sin without healing the man. In the ancient world, an extreme illness or birth defects was considered to be the result of sin, either on the part of the sick person or on the part of the person’s parents or grandparents. (The disciples ask about a blind man in John 9:1-2.) Not only do all the people observing this believe this to be true, but the man himself probably believed that his sickness was the result of sin.

Forgiveness of sin and healing typically go together in the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Period Judaism. In 2 Chron 7:14, God forgives the sins of Israel and “heals their land.” Similarly, Psalm 103:3 connects forgiveness with the healing of disease, and in Isaiah 19:22 the Lord responds to Israel, hears their pleas and heals the nation.

It is most startling to notice that Jesus claims to forge sin by his own authority. This is the action of Jesus that elicits the strong reaction from the religious leaders that are observing Jesus’ actions. He did not say, for example, “in the name of God your sins are forgiven,” but rather simply, “your sins are forgiven.” Jesus himself is forgiving the sins as if he were the one offended by them.

Jesus says to the teachers of the law: Which is easier, to say ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘rise and walk’?” It is just as easy to say one as the other. Jesus point is that saying is the easy part, doing is the difficult part. Jesus says that he will not only forgive the man’s sins, but he will heal him, so that the teachers of the Law might know that he has the authority to do those things. There is a significant bit of theology packed into this statement. Authority is power, ability, and permission to do something.

Jesus healed in order to signal the beginning of the messianic age and to prove to the Jewish leadership that he was the Messiah. That Jesus calls himself the Son of Man in this section important since it is likely an allusion to Daniel 7, where “someone like a son of man” is given authority to rule. In a sense, Jesus is drawing together three lines of evidence for his divinity. He forgives sin, he is about to heal a lame man, and he claims to be the Messianic Son of Man.

Introduction. Mark commentaries usually do not spend as much time worrying over the synoptic problem as Matthew commentaries do primarily because virtually all scholars consider Mark to be the first gospel written. While there has been some interest in the sources Mark may have used (see the intro in Vincent, for example), most recent commentaries find this layer of tradition inaccessible and therefore do not speculate excessively on Ur-Mark (the original form of Mark, Mark’s source, etc.) More important than sources is Mark’s literary style and the genre of “gospel.”

R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark (NIGTC; Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2002). As with all the writers in the NIGTC series, France is an expert on the Greek text of Mark. The commentary has less background material that Evans, but is rich in exegetical detail. That is not to say that France is ignorant of the Hebrew Bible or other Second Temple Period literature, but only that his main interest is the Greek words in the context of Mark. France surveys the synoptic problem briefly, giving quite a bit of weight to John Robinson’s theory of cross-fertilization. In the end France concludes “I do not need a solution to the synoptic problem.” He approaches Mark as a storyteller who has created a long narrative in three “acts.” Like many commentaries on Mark, Peter’s confession in chapter 8 is the clear turning point of the book, dividing France’s first two “acts,” Galilee (1:1-8:21) and On the Way to Jerusalem (8:22-10:52). The third act in the drama of Mark at Jerusalem, beginning in Mark 11.

Craig Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (WBC; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001). Evans finished the Mark commentary for the Word series after Robert Guelich died unexpectedly in 1991. Guelich’s commentary is excellent, but Evans’ work is even better. The commentary follows the general pattern of all WBC volumes (bibliography, translation and text, form and structure, commentary, explanation). Although Evans is contributing to a commentary begun by another scholar, he has included a 63-page introduction to Mark which covers a number of issues not covered in Guelich’s original commentary. Evans only briefly comments on typical introduction issues, preferring to up-date and extend the original introduction. His section on the theology and purpose of Mark is excellent. But what sets this commentary apart from the rest is Evans’ use of Second Temple Period literature to illustrate the world of historical Jesus. For example, his comments on the Parable of the Vineyard provides references to several rabbinic parables which may be considered as parallels Jesus’ own parable. The section of Jewish divorce practices is brief, but contains a wealth of secondary material (p. 84-6). Bibliographies for each pericope are extensive, there are five pages for the Parable of the Wicked Vineyard tenants!

Robert Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on his Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1993). Unlike his original Matthew commentary, Gundry’s Mark commentary is more focused on the text of Mark alone. This would have to be the case given his interest in Matthew as an editor of Mark, there is no real “redaction criticism” possible for Mark. The result is an exegetical commentary which is sensitive to the text and aware of the broader theological issues at stake. What sets this commentary apart from the rest is the “notes” section for each pericope. In the main commentary section, Gundry makes scant reference to other scholars, he simply lays out the meaning of the text. After his section, he includes a section of “notes” in which he surveys the opinion of virtually every modern scholar on the topic at hand, including major German and French scholars. The type is smaller in these sections and he cites his sources only briefly, making these sections dense but rewarding.

James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002). Edwards’ commentary is in the Pillar series, edited by D. A. Carson. While the series is designed for pastors, most of the volumes will have an appeal to scholars as well. Edwards has an excellent introduction to the gospel of Mark, the highlight is his discussion of Mark’s Christology. Since the commentary is aimed at pastors, Greek is transliterated and text-critical issues are relegated to footnotes. I especially appreciate his use of the Hebrew Bible and other Second Temple Period literature. The result is a very readable and useful commentary which will serve the busy pastor well.

Vincent Taylor, The Gospel According to St. Mark (1952, second edition 1966). Originally published in 1952, this commentary was republished in the early 1980s by Baker as a part of their Thornapple commentary series. This is how commentaries used to be written for pastors – with the Greek text running across the top of the page and textual notes in two columns beneath. Vincent’s comments on the Greek focus on syntax, citing Blass, Moulton, Turner, etc. His 150 page introduction is a window into the state of Gospel studies in the mid 20th century, critical yet respectful of the text – Mark is “an authority of first rank for our knowledge of the Story of Jesus.”

I will mention one other classic commentary here, even though this violates my “top five commentary” rule. Henry Swete’s 1902 commentary on the Greek text of Mark is available from Google Books (now, Play Books) as a free download. This is an oft-cited classic commentary on Mark which is well worth consulting.

Conclusion. What have I left out? What commentaries on Mark have you found useful? What classic commentary on Mark should be read by all students of the Gospels?

Index for the Top Five Commentary Series

 

Introduction to Series on Commentaries

On Using Commentaries 

Matthew        Mark        Luke        John        Acts
Romans        1 Corinthians         2 Corinthians
Galatians         Ephesians        Philippians        Colossians
1-2 Thessalonians        Pastoral Epistles         Philemon
Hebrews        James         1 Peter         2 Peter & Jude 
Letters of John         Revelation

Conclusion:  Last Thoughts on New Testament Commentaries

In the so-called temple-cleansing, we have, apparently,  prophetic demonstration or, one could say, provocation, in which it was not a matter of driving out all those who sold and the money changers – for such an action would not be possible without a large continent of troops and a corresponding general riot, and would inevitably have led to intervention on the part of the temple guard and the Romans.  We are dealing, rather, with a demonstrative condemnation of their trade, a condemnation which was directed at the same time against the ruling temple aristocracy, which derived profit from it…. Such an episode did not call forth further intervention on the part of the occupation forces, but it did make the hierarchy the deadly foes of Jesus.  Martin Hengel, Was Jesus a Revolutionist?, 17-18.

In Mark, this event is framed by the curse of the Fig Tree and provides the clues we need to fully interpret that parabolic action.  In fact, this action is also symbolic.  Jesus arrives at the Temple as the messiah, inspects the Temple and finds it corrupt.  Therefore begins that judgment by causing a disruption in the area used for selling sacrificial animals.

Note that the temple area is huge, 450 meters by 300.  Craig Evans (WBC) thinks that it is unlikely that Jesus completely disrupted all commerce in the area, most people were not even away Jesus was making a demonstration in one area of the Temple.  The action is symbolic.  By overturning tables and causing the chaos that he does, he challenges the religious authorities to be obedient to scripture by making the temple a house of prayer and not a den of thieves.

Is this an attack on a corrupt priesthood?  Were the priests corrupt?  The Qumran Community thought so, referring to the high priest as the Wicked Priest (1QpHab 1:13, 8:9. 9:9, 11:4).  The high priest has gotten wealthy off the temple and defiled the sanctuary of God (1QpHab 12:8-9).  Testament of Moses 7:6-10 is another condemnation of the first century priesthood.  TestMoses was probably written about AD 30, the Habakkuk scroll dates more than 100 years prior to that.  Josephus accuses the priests of bribery (Antiq. 20.9.4) and violence (Antiq. 20.8.8)

Jesus is functioning here as a classic prophet from the Hebrew Bible.  Criticism of the temple has a grand tradition in the prophets, especially in Jeremiah (7:14, 34; 12:7; 22:5; 22:5; 26:9).  There seems to be a real parallel between Jeremiah 7:11 and Mark 11:17.  As with Jeremiah, this confrontation with the temple authority can lead only to physical danger and arrest, but at this point the authorities cannot take Jesus for fear of the crowd.

Jesus’ criticism of the temple does not end here, the conflict with the Pharisees is entirely concerned with problems of the temple:

  • The Parable of the Tenants has the priestly aristocracy losing their place of privilege
  • The challenge to Jesus on paying taxes is radical – give to god what is God’s, not necessarily via the temple tax!
  • Even the Widow’s mite is a condemnation of the giving of the wealthy.

Jesus is challenging the worshipers in the Temple to become True Israel, but is he proposing separation from the Temple?  Perhaps, he will make it clear that the time of the Temple is nearly over in Mark 14 / Matt 24-25.

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