Review: Mark (S&HBC)

Mark [S&HC]

The Smyth & Helwys Commentary series seeks to bridge the gap between the insights of biblical scholar and the needs of students of God’s written word. It’s a series that seeks readability and balance, one that can be read without long, technical discussions yet can still dig into the rich resources that biblical scholarship has provided.

Attention is paid to the cultural context of the passage by looking at history, geography, ancient literature, the literature of the church fathers, politics, sociology, and more. This all brings the Bible into a more 3-dimensional view. We’re simply reading stories written in a vacuum, but the story of what God was doing through the life of Jesus in our physical and historical world. This commentary is to prep you to study Mark on your own “with greater interest and insight” [pg. 1].

Culpepper gives us Mark’s Leading Themes with the intent of opening our eyes to 5 major themes early on (Jesus’ Identity as the Son of God, the Testing of God’s Son, the Testing of Jesus’ Disciples, the Temple Not Made With Hands, the Hope of the Kingdom). This section is fantastic in it’s scope and in it’s connections.

Outline

  1. Introduction [1:1-13]
  2. The Authority of Jesus Revealed [1:14–3:6]
  3. The Authority of Jesus Rejected [3:7–6:6a]
  4. Gathering a New Community [6:6b–8:30]
  5. The Journey to Jerusalem: The Way of the Cross [8:31–10:52]
  6. The Judgment on Jerusalem [11:1–13:37]
  7. The Passion and the Resurrection [14:1–16:8]

Every chapter starts with an Introduction to the chapter. Then there’s a Commentary on each divided section. There are sidebars with varying degrees of information. Examples are:
   •   Riots during Passover
   •   The Martyrdom of James
   •   Jesus’ Brothers and Sisters
   •   The Son of Man
   •   The Messianic Son of Man

Each chapter ends with a Connections section that brings Mark’s first century meaning to our culture today: “We are to live in confidence that the seed will bear good fruit (4.1-21), and it will germinate and grow to huge proportions that people from all nations will reside in God’s kingdom. The supernatural is seen in the most natural of processes” [a brief paraphrase from chapter 4].  Connections was often helpful for bringing the text to our modern world to help with discipleship and building up the Church body in ways Mark intended.

The Chocolate Milk

Culpepper does well in looking back and forth at surrounding texts/phrases/themes Mark uses to paint a picture of Jesus’ surroundings, treatment of others, and their dealings with Him. It’s in the simple details (such as the following example) that can give you a grander scope of what Mark is doing and is trying to portray.

In speaking to the young rich ruler (Mk. 10.17-31), the rich man couldn’t let go of his possessions to follow Jesus. “Jesus had said, ‘If your hand causes you to stumble, cut if off’ (9:43), but this man would not give up his possessions” [pg. 388]. Despite God’s statement, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him” (9.7), the rich man, though having agreed to have kept all of the law, refused God’s command. The rich man suffered from the “impediment of ‘cares of the world and the lure of riches’ (4:19) that choke the seed sown among the thorns” [pg. 334].

Culpepper gives good attention to the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (12.1-12). It’s a glimpse into Jesus’ self-understanding, and has a long history of interpretation and authenticity debates. He reconstructs the story with Luke and Matthew and looks at whether the parable is an allegory or not. He gives a well-warranted overview of the socioeconomic setting of the first century, and then elaborates on the Gospel’s story itself. Following this, he casts a keen eye on 1 Enoch and the eschatological hope that many held to become like angels in the next life (12.18-27).

The Spoiled Milk

One complaint I have about the commentary format itself was the lack of verse indicators. Each chapter had sectional subheadings to inform you on the topic and section in study (The Lesson of the Leaven and the Loaves, 8:14-21). However, since I had the PDF [CD] version it was a bit of a challenge to skim through the page to find a particular verse. For example, while the BECNT series would say 8:14-16, 8:17-20, 8:21, in this series sometimes a search became a hunt when trying to look for information on one particular verse.

Many commentaries I read didn’t give too much of a satisfactory answer to the large feedings of Jesus. One example from Culpepper show that he finds themes of the exodus wanderings and feedings in the feeding of the 4,000 [Mk. 8.1-9] (rightly so, I believe), yet I couldn’t quite grasp how the bread and fish being secondary roles to the Eucharist and how Jesus “gave thanks” (eucharistΣsas; 1 Cor. 11.24; Lk. 22.19) for the bread pointed to the Eucharist. Later (8.13) says, The eucharistic overtones are further strengthened if the reference to the boat is a symbolic allusion to the church…” [pg. 260].  However, if there is a connection to the Eucharist, I was disappointed at the lack of reasoning to what this would mean for Mark’s readers (especially with how the boat would represent the church).

And as with many commentaries, there was information I didn’t know what to do with. For example, in 10.24, Jesus refers to the disciples as children, following after the section where Jesus blesses the children (10.13-16). But aside from its placement, how the word is used in John’s writing, and how the word is translated from Greek to English here, there’s not much else of a connection.

Is Jesus saying the disciples are like the children He blessed? They’ve been arguing about prominence for three chapters now, so I don’t think that’s it. This is but a minor quibble that happens here and there, but usually not for very long.

Recommended?

Overall, this is a great commentary, especially if you’re not on a budget. It is one of the more pricy commentaries I’ve seen, perhaps the most. Yet Culpepper is an established scholar who has the ability to say a lot with little and without getting wordy. This is a much needed gift in many commentaries today.

The negative examples above are minor. Though there were times where the side information was just that (“information”), and I didn’t know what to do with it, the breadth of helpful cultural information they often gave really placed Mark’s 21st century readers into the ownership of first century eyes, something we don’t have on our own. The pictures, illustrations, maps, accompanying CD (which I think is a really good idea), and sidebars are all appreciated in helping see in Mark’s gospel what he wanted us to see in it: Jesus.

Lagniappe

  • Hardcover: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Smyth & Helwys Publishing (August 1, 2007)

[Special thanks to Smyth & Helwis Books for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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Review: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus

Introduction to the Parables of Jesus

An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus is an expanded version of Robert Stein’s chapter on Jesus’ teachings of Parables in The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings (although I believe AIttPoJ came first). What are parables and why did Jesus use them? How were they interpreted? How are they supposed to be interpreted, especially when we live 2,000 years away from the culture and writing? Why couldn’t Jesus simply give the plain facts?

Robert Stein taught at Bethel Theological Seminary and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He wrote this book to help stabilize the church’s understanding on the Gospel parables.

Outline

1. What Is a Parable? 
2. Why the Parables? 
3. Whence the Parables? 
4. How the Parables Were Interpreted
5. How the Parables Are Interpreted
6. Interpreting the Parables Today
7. The Kingdom of God as a Present Reality
8. The Kingdom of God as a Demand – The Call to Decision
9. The God of the Parables
10. The Final Judgment

Overview

What is a parable? Is it “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”? Stein believes this is only partly true. Yet actually defining a parable is much harder than one might think. “[A] parabolḗ is an illustration, a comparison, or an analogy, usually in story form, using common events of everyday life to reveal a moral or a spiritual truth” [pg. 16]. Seeking to find the meaning of a parable, Stein looks for where parabolḗ is found in the Septuagint to discover the Hebrew word is mashal [mashal -› parabolḗ -› parable] which can refer to a proverb, satire, a taunt, a riddle, a story, or an allegory.

In the New testament a parable can be in the form of a proverb, metaphor, similitude, story parable, example parable, or an allegory. Parables represent a large portion of Jesus’ teachings. “What is clear is that we possess approximately fifty sayings or stories which by any biblical understanding of the term must be called ‘parables'” [pg. 26].

Within this section Stein gives examples of each kind of parable (in the OT and NT), and also lists every parable described as a ‘parable’, where it is clearly a parable, and where it is possible it is a parable.

Stein shows the need for context in the why and where the parables were used. Jesus used parables to conceal His teachings from those outside (Mk. 4.10-12). If His own disciples didn’t understand His messiahship (Mk. 8.32), how much more would the Jewish leaders and Rome misunderstand His Messiahship? Why couldn’t Jesus give the plain facts? “Don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up.”

Jesus concealed His parables with stories set in Galilee, in Israel, in the first century. Because we are so far removed in time, geography, and occupation (many of us don’t deal with agriculture as an occupation), a study of the parables is immensely important to us.

The Chocolate Milk

Chapters 4-6

Stein shows how the parables were, are, and should be interpreted. Although seeing six similar (and somewhat different) allegorical interpretations given to the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Chapter 4 was good for seeing just how long the allegorical interpretation had effected the church. So many parables (and OT stories) were interpreted allegorically with no basis behind them. And it wasn’t really until 1888 (aside from Calvin, and sort of Luther) that there was a breakthrough in a better parabolic interpretation:

1. Seek for one main point
2. Seek for what Jesus meant in the original setting
3. Seek to understand how the [gospel’s author] interpreted the parable in his setting of life
4. Seek to understand what God is teaching us today through this parable [which should flow from having sought the answer to the first three propositions]

Chapter 7-10

Stein gets into the meat of the book: looking at the parables themselves! Among these chapters are discussion on how Jesus showed the Kingdom was a present reality in His day (which would not be fully consummated until His second coming), the pervasive mustard seed and the spreading leaven, parables showing the need for an immediate decision, the God of the parables is a loving, gracious God who seeks out sinners, yet in the end will bring a judgment to all those who reject Him.

In these chapters a parable is pulled out as an example, and Stein looks at the historical setting, the main point, the interpretation by the gospel’s author, and then gives a smaller examples of a few more parables.

The Spoiled Milk

As usual, my one complaint with Stein is this: his over-use of textual criticism in his writings. I understand it in a commentary, but in a book like this there’s much more of a struggle to read through it. Many (myself included) aren’t too concerned with the “numerous non-Lukan grammatical and vocabulary traits” [pg. 117] that a parable may or may not have. I want to know how to read and understand this parable, not how some take it to be inauthentic, why they do, and why they’re wrong.

Some people don’t think Mt. 20.16 was original to the parables pre-Matthean tradition. I’ve never been too worried about the pre-Matthean condition of parables. Stein believes the authors of the NT letters and gospels to be inspired and I do too. My concern isn’t with the authenticity of sentences based on ore-gospel traditions, but on the form that I have in my Bible now. These discussions can often take up time, space, and in the end lead back to what I originally thought. Some people might find it interesting, but I don’t, especially not for an introductory book on the parables.

Recommended?

Definitely. This book is from 1981, and it has a wealth of information in it. I’d certainly want to read an updated version of this book 33 years later! But until then, this book will have to suffice (and how it does). I have heard it said that one should teach for 30 years before teaching on the parables.

While I agree the parables can be difficult and are more than “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning”, at least if you read this book you won’t have to wait 30 years to teach on them. This book won’t tell you everything you need to know about parables, but it does lay an important foundation on how to read parables and how not to read them. Stein’s book (and Stein himself) would be good to have in any teacher and students library.

Lagniappe

++++Paperback: 184 pages
++++Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press; 1st edition (Jan 1, 1981)

[Special thanks to WJK Press for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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Review: The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teaching

Method and Message of Jesus' Teaching

A few weeks ago I reviewed Robert Stein’s commentary on Mark in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. It is fantastic, and so when I received that book I knew I would have to get more books authored by Stein. One of those books is The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings; Revised Edition. This book isn’t a “tell-all” of everything Jesus did and sad, but it does introduce us into His world and way of thinking. This isn’t so much a book of cultural exploration as it is the ‘how’ (method) and ‘what’ (message) of Jesus’ teaching.

OUTLINE

I am very thankful for Stein’s work on the Gospels, particularly the Synoptics. The outline for the book is:
1. Jesus the Teacher
2. The Form of Jesus’ Teaching
3. The Parables of Jesus
4. The Content of Jesus’ Teaching: The Kingdom of God
5. The Content of Jesus’ Teaching: The Fatherhood of God
6. The Content of Jesus’ Teaching: The Ethics of the Kingdom
7. The Content of Jesus’ Teaching: Christology

The Chocolate Milk/Overview

Chapters 1-2

Stein looks at the emphasis on teaching the Gospel writers give Jesus. “Teacher” is used to denote Jesus 45 times, and “Rabbi” 14 times. Jesus proclaimed the divine law, gathered disciples, debated the scribes, answered questions and made propositions with authority, and supported His teaching with Scripture. What makes Jesus’ teaching so engaging (aside from the Holy Spirit) was ‘how’ Jesus taught which leads us to chapter 2.

Jesus employed overstatements (exaggeration), hyperbole, puns, similes, metaphors, proverbs, riddles, paradoxes, a fortiori arguments, irony, the use of questions, poetry, and parabolic/figurative actions (and probably more). This is an important chapter by showing that we don’t want to take everything Jesus says literally “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire….‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9.43, 48).

Jesus isn’t telling the people (and us) to actually cut their hands off, but instead “the need to remove from their lives anything that might cause them to sin. There is no sin in life worth perishing over. Better to repent of that sin, even if it is as painful as tearing out and eye or cutting off a hand, and as a result enter into the kingdom of God than to cherish that sin and be thrown into hell” [pg. 9].

On top of this Stein gives us the references to those verses where Jesus employs figurative language. Here Stein shows his immense knowledge of the Scriptures with a wealth of verses from the Synoptics, John, and from the various books remaining.

Chapter 3

Stein covers the definition and use of Jesus’ parables, along with the history of the interpretation of parables from the early church fathers to present-day. Stein shows how much of the parables were (wrongly) interpreted as allegory, and how we are to read and interpret them today:

1. Seek for one main point
2. Seek for what Jesus meant in the original setting
3. Seek to understand how the evangelist [author] interpreted the parable in his setting of life
4. Seek to understand what God is teaching us today through this parable [which should flow from having sought the answer to the first three propositions]

Stein ends the chapter with a look at a few examples of parables, how to read them, what the point is, and what it means for us 2,000 years in the future. This chapter was a condensed version of Stein’s An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus which I will be reviewing shortly.

Chapter 4

Stein moves through Jesus’ teachings on the Kingdom of God while looking at different schools of interpretation on this Kingdom. Is the Kingdom here in full now? How much of it are we still waiting for? Is it merely an ethical correction in our hearts to make us better citizens on earth? Stein presents us four different (general) schools of thought which was helpful to see how some think of the Kingdom and how that wasn’t what Jesus was teaching. Stein takes us through the biblical arguments for Jesus teaching a now-but-not-yet Kingdom. Jesus’ coming changed history, as did His death and resurrection. To a degree the Kingdom came with Jesus, but it has not yet been fully consummated but will be when He returns.

Chapter 6

Stein does the same as Chapter 4 in showing 6 different schools of thought on the ethics of Jesus (Catholic, Utopian, Lutheran, Liberal, Interim ethic, and Existential). Again, these are generalities, but they clearly give a good overall picture of different teachings from life which I’m familiar with. Did Jesus teach an ethic for everyone, but that there is a higher ‘elite’ who can be ‘better’ and have the ‘victorious Christian life’? Or maybe His ethics were so impossible we’re supposed to see that we can’t fulfill the commands and actually reveal our depravity, leading us to call upon the mercy of God and receive His grace?

Yet Jesus ethics extend from a change in the heart, a completely new attitude. His commands are in context of loving the Father with all of your strength, and loving others as yourself. This makes Jesus a unique teacher. Much of his ethics were similar to Jewish sages of His time (similarities can be found in the Old Testament and the Apocrypha), but Jesus wants us to perform acts of love to others, even our enemies. It’s not “don’t do wrong against them”, but “do right to them.” “The ethic of Jesus is an ethic of relationship in which the nucleus is provided by the love commandment” [pg. 111].

The Spoiled Milk

My only real complaint is the amount of time (which isn’t too much) Stein does spend on textual criticism. Stein really knows his stuff! The information that he relays about textual criticism, authenticity, and form is good information. The issue is it doesn’t seem to fit with the purpose of this book which is “to understand better the form and content of Jesus’ teaching” [pg. xiii]. Perhaps it better helps us to understand the “form” in a more academic way, but it didn’t help me know much more about the method of Jesus’ teaching.

The subject of the final chapter was Jesus’ teaching on Christology. Stein explains three titles used by Jesus: Messiah, Son of God, and Son of Man. All three were exceptional in their explanation of Jesus’ self-understanding and -designation of Himself. The section on the Son of Man was the longest, but much to my chagrin, it’s length was due to discussions of authenticity and textual criticism.

Recommended?

Yes. You won’t find any liberal interpretations in this book. You will gain a better overall understanding of the teachings of Jesus and a better understanding on many details of what He has said. I’d pretty much back anything by Stein (at least what I’ve read so far) and say that it’s good to go. Fortunately too, this book was written a bit more for the layman with less textual criticism than I’ve seen by him before. (Though I will say that if TC piques your interest, definitely read Stein). But regardless, this book will help define just what Jesus taught and how He went about doing that in a clear and properly biblical way.

Lagniappe

++++Paperback: 220 pages
++++Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press; Rev Sub edition (Nov. 1, 1994)

[Special thanks to WJK Press for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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The Gospel According to Mark: Part VI

Mark

Mark 4 shows us a Jesus who speaks in parables. He reveals the Kingdom of God through veiled references that only insiders will understand. Not everyone who hears the word will take heed and produce fruit, but to those who do hear a response will be required of them. The arrival of Jesus has changed history. The kingdom has arrived, and it is coming. Having taught on the Kingdom of God, Mark will show Jesus performing His Kingdom authority over the created realm: nature, demons, sickness, and death.

Fear and Faith

One major theme in Mark is the distinction between Fear and Faith.
Passages on Fear: 4.16-17; 6.26, 50; 7.28; 9.32; 10.32; 11.32; 14.51-52, 66-72; 16.8
Passages on Faith: 4.20; 16.54-55; 14.3, 8, 62; 15.43
Mark 4.35-5.43 is one section where this theme holds an emphasis in each pericope.

4.35-41; Jesus Calms a Storm

Jesus tells the disciples they will cross ‘over‘ (not under) to the other side. Yet even after His kingdom parables and in seeing His miracles, a great windstorm arises and the disciples grow afraid. Verse 37 tells us of the power of this storm! The waves were breaking and the boat was filling. This storm was too big for even these experienced fishermen. Under the pressure of this tribulation, they grow afraid, similar to the persecuted soil of Mark 4.16-17?

There may be some allusions to Jonah here (Similar: Mk. 4.37, Jonah 1.4; M 4.38, J 1.5; M 4.38, J 1.6, 4, 3.9; Contrast: M 4.39 J 1.16, 10, 15), but we see Jesus as a greater Jonah, one who has faith while those on the ship throw out their faith.

In the OT the sea often symbolized the continued threat from the forces of nature against God. The sea pushes against the boundaries God has set for it [Jb. 38.8-11; Jer. 5.22 (Jesus will reference Jer. 5.21 in Mark 8.17-18)]. Here, Jesus does what only God in the OT did: command authority over the water, over nature itself!

Jesus asks them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” They “were filled with great fear” and asked each other, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” In the immediate context, Jesus is the one who has power over nature. But we will see Mark go on to answer this question throughout the rest of His gospel.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

5.1-20; Jesus Heals a Man with a Demon

Traveling to the country of the Gerasenes, we meet a man with unmatched power. Verses 2-5 tell us about the hopelessness of this situation: he had an unclean spirit, no one could bind him (not even with chains) for he could break them, no one could subdue him, and he cut himself with stones.

Yet the moment he sees Jesus, he runs to Him and begs Him not to torment him. But verse 9 is the clincher: this man has such great power because he is filled with a “legion” of demons. A Roman legion could measure in size up to 6,000 men. Whether this man had 6,000 demons in him, we’ll never know, but the point is that no one could help this man. The man begs that the spirits won’t be sent way, and the spirits beg to be sent to pigs. Yet Jesus sends (even gives permission) to the demons to go into pigs which run off a cliff and die.

Here fear and faith meet: the people of the town see what the King has done for this man, how He has healed him, and they are afraid. They beg Him to depart while the new man begs Jesus to allow him to follow Him. Jesus actually refuses! But for the purpose that this man can proclaim (not hide) what the King had done for this man (4.20). The King’s kingdom will grow like a mustard seed, sprouting and spreading wherever it goes only to one day reach to the ends of the earth (4.31-32). 

“…and everyone marveled.”

A  21-24; Jesus Meets Jairus

Jesus meets a synagogue ruler who shows faith by bowing and implored Jesus to heal his daughter.

B  25-34; Jesus Heals a Woman

On the way Jesus is surrounded by rush hour traffic. There was one woman in a hopeless situation. Verses 25-26 tell us she had a discharge (probably menstrual, leaving her ritually unclean [Lev. 15.19-30] for 12 years) which was so bad that not only did she spend all of the money she had, she not only grew no better, but she became worse. Not to mention the emotional and mental damage of not having contact with people for 12 years (though this would be conjecture, Mark doesn’t explicitly tell us this).

The crowds are packed around Jesus, yet He asks, “Who touched My garments?” And the disciples are so dense that they don’t see the significance of that question. they ask, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?'” as if Jesus is out of His mind.

Looking around, the woman falls before Jesus in fear and trembling. She tells Him the whole truth, and so does He.
++·   He calls her “Daughter.’” Because of her faith, this woman who was unclean for 12 years is now in the family of God. She is a sister to Jesus [3.34-35].
++·   He commends her faith, “Your faith has made you well”
++·   He tells her to “go in peace”; a peace that is divine, she is a daughter of God
++·   “Be healed of your disease”;  he gives both her and the crowd the assurance that her healing has taken place, and it is permanent.

Jesus shows his authority over the illness that has come from Adam’s sin.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” 

A’  35-43; Jesus Heals a Daughter

While Jesus was still speaking to the woman, a man from Jairus’ house runs up to the synagogue leader and tells him now to trouble the Teacher any further for his daughter is dead. Jesus overheard and ignored what the man said, but tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe [have faith].”

The mourners in the house mock Jesus [15.29-32], but He puts them out of the house. He speaks to the little girl in her language, and she wakes up. Though she was actually dead, Jesus speaks as if she is only napping (‘sleep’ as a euphemism for death; 1 Cor. 15.6, 18, 51; 1 Thess. 4.13-15). Soon enough Jesus will be vindicated when the mockers see the girl has woken up, just as He will be vindicated before the mockers when God’s approval of Jesus is shown at His resurrection [16.6]. He charges them not to tell anyone about this, but this lamp cannot be hidden under a basket for much longer (4.21-22). 

“Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

Jesus has shown His authority over the elements of creation: nature, demons, illness, and death. Even in the most impossible of situations, whether it be a flooded boat, a strong man who can’t be bound [3.27], an illness that can’t be healed, or death itself, the King has all authority and all must obey. And those who have the choice to follow or fall away, He encourages them to have faith. In the most difficult of trials, have faith because Jesus is the King of kings.

Review: Mark (NAC)

Mark (NAC)

James A. Brooks’ Mark commentary was one of the first commentaries in the New American Commentary series (1991; if not the first). The NAC series is designed “to enable pastors, teachers, and students to read the Bible with clarity and proclaim it with power.” It is “unapologetically confessional and rooted in the evangelical tradition.”  The standard translation used by the series is the NIV, though the authors are allowed to disagree with the translation and wrestle with the Greek/Hebrew text itself.

The main point is discovering and relaying the theological points and structure that the original author (here being Mark himself) intended to present in his portrayal of the life of Jesus Christ and how that is to affect our lives today. How are we to go about reading the Gospel of Mark in a way that grows our faith and builds up the church body? It is Brooks’ aim to answer that question to the serious student/teacher/preacher/layman who would read this commentary.

In the Author’s Preface Brook’s says that Mark held very little interest in his own life as opposed to the other three gospels (an attitude similar to much of Christian history, and similar thoughts are found on my review of Stein’s Mark commentary). Mark’s gospel is the shortest Gospel, but that doesn’t mean he was lacking information. Much of what Mark says is found in Matthew and Luke. In fact, Mark has no beginning genealogy, no infancy/birth narrative, and may or may not even have a resurrection story. What gives?! But we need to see that Mark has a story to tell, and Brooks’ aims to show us what that story is.

Outline

I. Introduction (1:1-13)
II. The Good News about Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom (1:14-8:21)
III. The Good News about Jesus’ Teaching on Discipleship (8:22-10:52)
IV. The Good News about Jesus’ Death (11:1-15:47)
V. Conclusion: The Good News about the Empty Tomb (16:1-8)
Appendix: An Ancient Attempt to Supply a More Appropriate Ending for the Gospel (16:9-20)

The Spoiled Milk

   ·   Beginning in the text, Brooks comments on each verse. There are paragraphs where Brooks asks a question in the end, only to leave you hanging. Perhaps it’s to lead you to think about the text, but all I thought was, “Now what? What’s the point?” (1.8, in speaking about the baptism of Jesus: “Was it the beginning of his messianic consciousness? Was it the occasion of his call? Most likely it signaled the beginning of his ministry. Nor did Mark indicate what the event meant to John. Did it confirm to him that Jesus was the more powerful one of v.7?”). Brooks asks a question, but gives no connection to an answer from the text (preceding or forthcoming). Unfortunately, this was not a one time instance.

   ·   Most of all, considering the (unfortunately) small size of the book (especially being a gospel, 276 pages), Brooks spends more time on textual criticism than necessary for pastors and the like. With the issue of Jesus’ mention of ‘Abiathar’ in 2.26, Brooks gives 3 paragraphs on why Mark would have put Abiathar, but then only gives a few sentences on how the Sabbath was made for man, and not vice versa (while then giving more textual criticism on 2.27-28 before and after).

      ···      On the explanation of the Parable of the Sower (4.13-20), Brooks spends 3 paragraphs refuting those who refute the explanation coming from Jesus, and only 1 paragraph on the explanation. Though Jesus does explain those verses, there is still much to say on them.

      ···      Brooks spends 7 paragraphs discussing if the feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000 were actually two events (he says ‘yes’), 6 paragraphs discussing arguments about Jesus telling the Parable of the Wicked Tenant Farmers (12.1-12) and making messianic claims (which leaves less room for actually explaining the text), and spends one paragraph explaining the word “go” and “woe” in 14.21 (“The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born”). There’s more in there than the meanings of “go” and “woe”. Unfortunately, this too was not a one time instance.

The Chocolate Milk/Recommended?

Yet, after saying all that is above, is there anything good to Brooks’ commentary? Well, yes, there is. Brooks writes a commentary from an evangelical position that can be read by any layman and is a good introduction to Mark (considering it’s size). Yet, there wasn’t much that Brooks said that I didn’t read from Stein, Bock, or Culpepper (and even then, mainly Stein and Bock). Brooks falls too far into the details of the trees to see the overall broad view of the forest. For a book this size, there isn’t enough information to warrant a successful grasp of the text.

Lagniappe

  • Series: New American Commentary (Book 23)
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Holman Reference (September 25, 1991)

[Special thanks to B&H Publishing for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

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Book Review: Mark (BECNT), Mark Stein

Mark (BECNT)

“The dominating purpose in each section of the Gospel is to answer the following: I, Mark, have told you [the unit under discussion] because…. Thus the primary purpose of this commentary is to explain not what happened in the life of Jesus or exactly what he said, but rather what Mark is seeking to teach by this event/saying that he shares with his readers” (19).

“Jesus is too great to be hidden” (25).

For the first 17 centuries of church history Mark was treated as a forgotten gospel, the “red-headed stepchild” so to speak. And why not? Some 90% of Mark is found in Matthew, and 50% in Luke. But Mark has an emphasis” The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God [Mark 1.1]. Everything he writes focuses on Jesus Christ.

Robert Stein pursues Mark’s purpose in this excellent edition in the ongoing BECNT series. The research is scholarly, up to date, and well thought out. The exposition is solid, deep, and readable. You may not agree with everything Stein says, but you’ll have your hands full looking to disagree with him.

I’ve gone ahead and put the Spoiled Milk section first, for though there are negatives, I don’t want the spoiled to outweigh the chocolate.

The Spoiled Milk

For each pericope, there are gray boxes in the beginning and the end of the section under discussion. While the final gray box is much more applicable and puts Mark’s themes together from what we’ve read in the section and what we’ve read thus far in Mark’s gospel. However, the introductory gray box is in a league of its own.

Usually, Stein connects the current section with repeated words and phrases that Mark has used in the surrounding texts. Along with that, the major issue, is that Stein is well-versed in redaction criticism [RC]. While this is good and I have no problem with it, this comes out all over his commentary.

The difficulty is Stein does what the book promises to do! (which is to focus primarily on the Markan understanding of the Jesus traditions as reflected in this key New Testament book). Stein shows the understanding of Jesus traditions by Mark and how they have been interpreted (correctly or incorrectly) by others. Yet it was pure monotony to see what Mark said, ask if he really said it, look at what other interpreters have said for/against the text, only to then conclude that Mark really said what he said.

The result being that, although this is written for pastors, church leaders, students, and teachers, how many will really be interested in RC? Could pastors really use that information in their sermons for their congregations (even for their own knowledge)? What the BECNT series accomplishes well is showing the forest through the trees, and Stein doesn’t let us down, although the RC discussions can easily bog you down in their details.

·  Also, at times I thought, “So what’s the point?” Again, space was often filled more with RC discussions than Mark’s intended meaning for the pastor/teacher to use. At times.

The Chocolate Milk

·  Stein shows how each section fits with the one before it, after it, and often times in the context as a whole. There is detailed interaction with the Greek, covers problematic verses, and shows many of the themes and the purpose of Mark’s gospel. What is his purpose? What is his theology that we are supposed to take away to show us how to live and view the Christ, the Son of Man? Stein finds it and clearly (when it’s not RC) points out why Mark’s gospel had to be written and how we as a church and body of believers are to live today.

·   Stein looks forward and backward in Mark to see how the present section relates to it, which is terrific. Growing up my struggle with the Bible was seeing how it all related, even in the respective books. Stein (and the BECNT commentators) strive to show the connections in the books and letters of the NT.

How and why does Mark go from Point A, to B, to C, and all the way to Z? What is the relation?

In Mark 8.18 Jesus asks the disciples, “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” Stein says this “alludes back to the healing of the deaf mute (7:31-37), and forward to the healing of the blind man in Bethsaida (8:22-26)” [pg. 383] as if to show that there is something more than meets the eye to this situation. If Jesus can heal the deaf and the blind physically, can’t He, the Son of Man, the Messiah, also heal the disciples spiritually too?

Stein picks up on Marks use of “Watch” three times in 13.32-37 and how this theme is brought up in the Garden of Gethsemane text (14.32-42) in regards to Jesus asking the disciples (Peter, mainly) if they are sleeping. If they can’t even stay awake for Jesus’ time of distress in the garden [14.34], how are they supposed to keep watch for the return of the Son of Man [13.35]? And since “Peter did not watch, watch, watch (13:34, 35, 37)… as a result [he] denied, denied, curse/swore and denied (14:68, 70, 71)” (pg. 693).

His discussion on Divorce in Mark 10.1-12 was good too. Mark has no exception clause to divorce, and gives a good discussion on why Mark has no exceptional clause, how Jesus’ disciples are supposed to live as opposed to other people in the world, but also goes a bit into pastoral application and what pastor’s are to do with life situations in regard to this verse (while still counting in the Matthean and Pauline texts).

Recommended?

Regardless of any RC discussions, this commentary is definitely recommended. While I haven’t read France [NIGTC], J. Edwards [PNTC], or Garland [NIVAC] (and I think they would be good commentaries to read alongside Stein in their own right),  Stein’s insights were especially helpful. And the size of this commentary certainly helped (the commentary text ends on page 738, with the book ending on page 823). There is certainly a lot to read! The summary box at the end of each pericope (section) is always welcome for it brings Mark’s theme and his Christological focus into your line of sight.

This was my #1 go-to commentary this semester, and I believe this commentary will help fill whatever purpose you have, whether pastoral, teacher/instructor, leading a Bible study, etc.

Lagniappe

            Series: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament
            Hardcover: 848 pages
            Publisher: Baker Academic (November 1, 2008)
            
Sample Introduction

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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The Gospel According to Mark: Part V

Mark

Mark’s Parabolic Purpose

In Mark 4.1-34 we see Jesus’ use of Parables, what I’ll call Mark’s parabolic purpose. Why is this section placed here? And why are all the parables given at once? Did Jesus tell each of these parables one after the other? Or are they like a compilation album of His greatest hits?

Mark places this collection (in my opinion) of parables here to show that if Jesus is the King, there is a reason why there are some who don’t follow Him. Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of God in the form of parables, how it is here, and how it is growing and will one day be consummated at the final judgment. There is a response to be made now.

1-20 The Parable of the Sower

We’re immediately introduced to a sandwich again.

A   The Parable of the Sower [1-9]
      B   The Purpose of the Parables [10-12]
A’   The Parable of the Sower Explained [13-20]

A

Jesus gives a parable in the form of an agricultural picture, one that fits an agrarian society. Parables like these are hard to understand for those of us who work a 9-5 job in air-conditioned office cubicles 5 days a week. But this fits the culture perfectly. Pretending that we are reading Mark for the first time, verses 1-9 don’t really tell us much about the kingdom of God… or anything else. We can understand the disciples question in v10. I’m asking for an explanation myself!

B

Yet, before explaining the parable, Jesus gives a foundational understanding to His parables. There are insiders and there are outsiders, which we see all over in Mark [ch’s 5, 6, 9, 10, 14] and in Matthew [11.25-30]. And, almost inconceivably, Jesus says that everything is in parables so that “…they may not perceive….not understand…lest they should turn and be forgiven.” There is a debate over the meaning of [ινα, hina {4.12}] and whether it means “in order that”, “so that”, “because otherwise they would see and not perceive….”, etc., etc.

The general consensus, though, agrees that those whose hearts are hardened against God will not know the meaning Jesus intends to give in His parables. Sure the Jewish leaders know what Jesus means in the parable of the wicked vinedressers [12.12], but they only have a cognitive knowledge. They do not know the meaning in such a way that they then respond by turning their hearts toward God. It’s good to recognize the eschatological nature of the Kingdom (it’s here and it is coming) so long as you understand the Christological nature as well (Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection have changed history. He is the King, and He demands a choice).

A’

Jesus then explains the parable, again showing the disciples to be insiders [4.11], and the parable is about how the seed (the word of God, the proclamation of the King and His kingdom) can be received or rejected based on the soil (eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, hearts that do not ask for forgiveness). The sower’s job is to sow the word.

There are three soils which (eventually) reject the word. They hear the word, but then Satan takes it away [Judas], or stoney hearts [Pharisees] don’t let the Word take root, or riches [rich young ruler] and the world [King Herod {6.26}; Pilate {15.12-15}] choked the Word out.  And there is one soil which receives the word and produces abundant fruit [12.9; cf. Mt. 21.43]. 

21-25 A Lamp Under a Basket

Jesus describes Himself as one hidden under a basket. “Does a lamp come [Greek word here actually means ‘come’ and not ‘brought in’] to be put under a basket…?”

Jesus came to be made manifest and to be brought out into the light [4.22]! Yet for now, He is like a hidden lamp. And to those who hear, with the measure they use it will be measured against them, either positively or negatively. The more you know, the more you’re responsible for. Yet if you do have and understand, more will be given to you. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you” [Mt. 6.33]. If not, the little you do have will be taken away [4.15].

26-29 The Parable of the Seed Growing

Mark shows us two more parables after this. Whether you respond positively or negatively to the proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God [1.15], your choice will not prevent the Kingdom from coming. The man plants and does nothing, the earth produces, and the full grain grows. This doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing, but it also means that the coming of the Kingdom isn’t all on our shoulders. If one thing is for sure, the Kingdom will come in its entirety.

30-32 The Parable of the Mustard Seed

And as the Kingdom comes, it will pervade. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a mustard shrub because of the immense size difference between the beginning and the finished product.  This isn’t a freakishly overgrown plant representing Satan’s minions in today’s church (while waiting for the Kingdom to come). The Kingdom is here! (though not yet realized).

The Kingdom started small like a mustard seed, but it will continue to grow and, like mustard shrubs which are left alone, will pervade the land in an unstoppable manner. So much so that the birds of the air will make nests in its shade. These birds may be represented positively as Gentile nations which will be included in the Kingdom under Christ [Ezek. 17.22-24; cf. 31.6; Dan 4.12, 21]. The Kingdom is for the whole world [Jn. 3.16].

33-34 Use of Parables

And Jesus spoke as the crowds were able to hear it. But He explained the parables to His disciples who, ironically in Mark 8.18, will be questioned and likened to those in 4.12. The parables were not an end in themselves. They were a means to an end. The Kingdom came like a small mustard seed, unrecognized by Rome and the Jewish leadership. They cannot conceive that the wedding has begun [2.19-22] and includes the harlots, publicans, poor, and blind [Lk. 14.21, 23]. But in the end, when the kingdom is consummated, it will be great indeed. “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” [2 Cor. 6.2]. Right now Jesus is like a hidden lamp, but in due time when He is lifted up, resurrected, and ascended the disciples will go out into all the world and proclaim the name of the King who reigns.

Having taught on the Kingdom of God, the soils who receive and reject the word, and the overpowering effect of the Kingdom, the King will go on to show the power of His Kingdom over that of our world: nature, demons, illness, and even death.

The Gospel According to Mark: Part IV

Mark

Upon our last venture through Mark, we looked at the 5 conflict stories that pitted Jesus against Jerusalem’s leadership. Mark puts this early on in his gospel (chapters 2-3 for us) to show us early on that Jesus’ ministry was fraught with conflict from the beginning. As we move through these 5 conflicts, each intensifies to the point that the Pharisees, the ones who keep the law of the Lord, show their defiled hearts [7.21] by meeting with the Herodians to plot the death of Jesus [3.6].

Mark 3.7-12

Jesus and the disciples withdraw to Galilee where, again, a great multitude from a range of locales (Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and even up north from Tyre and Sidon) comes to Him. And in these 6 verses not only do we see Jesus being popular with the crowds, but we also see Him clean out an unclean spirit right after we see the unclean spirits of the Pharisees/Herodians [3.6; 8.15; 12.13]. Yet here, even the unclean spirits recognize who Jesus is and obey Him.

Unclean spirits: 1
Pharisees: 0

Mark 3.13-19

Jesus makes a new “Twelve” of Israel. Just as the tribes of Israel were to proclaim the goodness and mercy of God to the Gentile world, so the 12 apostles will proclaim the Kingship of Jesus to both the Jewish and Gentile world. He appoints them and gives them power to heal sickness and demons (this includes Judas – [Mk. 14.18-21, esp. v19]). They will be doing the will of God by following after Jesus [3.35].

Sandwiches

Mark gives us a sandwich from 3.20-35:

A  Family Matters  [3.20-21]

Mark tells us that “His own people” thought He [Jesus] was out of His mind. Whether for appointing the twelve [3.14] or for being surrounded by a great multitude [3.20], they thought what Jesus was doing was shameful to the family name. “He is out of His mind.”

B   Blasphemy  [3.22-30]

Verse 22 gives us the first reference of any animosity from Jerusalem, and we will see more of this as Mark’s gospel goes along [7.1; 10.33; 11.27]. They claim that Jesus does the work of the devil, and casts out other demons by Beelzebub (lord of the dwelling/lord of the flies) himself.

But Jesus says that a house divided cannot stand, and for Satan to commit civil war on Himself would make no sense. If a kingdom is divided against itself, it will not stand. And surely neither the kingdom of Satan nor the Kingdom of God is divided against itself. A house divided will not stand [3.25; cf. 3.19; 14.18, 45]

In 3.27 Jesus tells that He is the strong man. He binds Satan and is able to heal and cast out demons. This is not because of Satan’s crafty plan, but because Jesus is the King! Yet the Jerusalem leadership is denying Jesus’ Kingdom-ship. In fact, while they accused Him of blasphemy in 2.7, they are actually the blasphemers here [3.28]!

This unpardonable sin is not a ‘one-off’ sin that a Christian commits and is forever lost. The Jewish leadership is committing the unpardonable sin by attributing the acts of the King to that of Satan himself. They have an “unclean spirit” [3.6; 7.21] which they are not cleansed from (like others [3.10-11]), and yet they accuse Jesus of having the spirit of Beelzebul [3.22].

A’   Family Matters  [3.31-35]

Mark brings it back to the family where Jesus’ real mother, brothers, and sisters are those who do the will of God, which would be recognizing that He is the King, not that He is out of His mind. The problem of the family is set around the unpardonable sin of the scribes showing that even Jesus’ own family is culpable of committing the unpardonable act of rejecting Him as King. Who are Jesus’ real family? Those who accept His Kingship [12.30]. What Jesus was doing wasn’t shameful to the family name, for it is what His Father wanted.

Markan Themes

Betrayal drips from this chapter and sheds light on a major Markan theme: Nobody understands the King. Not the scribes from Jerusalem, not the people (they don’t understand what His messiahship entails), not His disciples, and not even His own family understand who Jesus is. It seems like only those who understand Jesus’ status are the Father and the demons.

Yet Mark will explain this paradox in chapter 4. Through parables Jesus will show that there are some who are ready to listen, and some who are waiting to deny the coming Kingdom.

Book Review: Divine Government: God’s Kingship in the Gospel of Mark

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What would “the Kingdom of God” have meant to Mark’s first readers? What did Jesus mean when he said the kingdom would come “with power”? Can we figure out the meaning of those passages which seem to suggest the coming of the “Son of Man” will happen within the lifetime of the first disciples? This book was written to help many Christians avoid the risk of distorting Jesus’ own words on the ‘Kingdom of God” and of trivializing the depth and richness of His teaching.

Richard. T. France was a man who was committed to deep scholarship in the academic world, and yet he saw himself as being called to interpret and apply the New Testament to the life of the church. I’ve found this to be true throughout this book, “Divine Government: God’s Kingship in the Gospel of Mark.” Many (if not all) of France’s books are written in a clear, attractive style, this book not excluded.

Why the Kingdom of God?

France sets out to find out what Jesus mean when He spoke on the “Kingdom of God” in the Gospel according to Mark. How far did Jesus take up this theme that was already current in the world at that time, and how far did He challenge His listeners to “new ways of thinking and of responding to God as king?” (p. 2).

Why Mark?

…Mark begins his book with a prologue designed to appeal to Jewish expectations of the fulfillment of the hopes of Israel, and to point to Jesus of Nazareth as the one in whom that fulfillment is to be focused. At the same time he has alerted his readers that the stage on which the drama is to be played is not merely that of human relationships, even of national politics, but of the cosmic encounter of the Son of God with the kingdom of Satan (p. 21).

France agrees that there is something to be gained from individual Gospel treatments. Matthew uses “kingdom” terminology some fifty times (kingdom of heaven), while Mark gives it a meager fourteen uses (kingdom of God) in his gospel letter. The focus here is on Mark because of the “general agreement that it is he who offers us the earliest…account of the teachings of Jesus” (4).

France wants us to read Mark as Mark (which we should). It’s not wrong to look at Gospel harmony, but what is Mark trying to show us in his story? There’s a plot, flow, unity of text, and dynamics of Mark’s understanding of Jesus and His mission. Though the phrase “kingdom of God” is used infrequently, it is a major clue to the mission of Jesus (it’s encapsulated in the first words that come out of Jesus’ mouth in Mark [1.15]).

5 Chapters of the Kingdom

France exposits and applies Jesus’ use of ‘kingdom’ terminology in Mark in only 5 chapters. A kingdom speaks of a king, and the “kingdom of God” speaks of God ruling. It has drawn near [1.15] and comes with power [9.1] as an active, independent force that grows without human help (though it uses human help) [4.26-29]. People’s response must be to wait for it [15.43] and to welcome it [10.15], but all will respond [4.14-20]. God has drawn near to save through Jesus Christ. It was previously being prayed for by Jews [15.43, Lk 2.25], but it also needs to be fought for [1.25-26].

This government is revolutionary because it is here where the first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Jesus is the true ‘Israel’ and goes against many of the Jewish leader’s teachings. He makes the claims as to what really defiles a person, how marriage should work, and how children are to be perceived. The kingdom is received by the character traits the world sees as “the last.” Children receive any gift they can, whereas the rich man can’t let go of his treasure on earth for the treasure in heaven, eternal life. He prefers his riches over a relationship with God.

In going to Jerusalem in Mark 11, Jesus fulfills Zechariah 9.9 which speaks of the king riding in to Jerusalem on a colt. Jesus could have ridden into Galilee and have been widely accepted, but that would not fulfill Zechariah’s prophecy. Jesus “had not come to lead a Galilean liberation movement, but to restore the kingship of God over his people as a whole. It was to Israel that his mission was directed, and Jerusalem was the centre of the life and worship of Israel” (p. 87-88). And it was Jerusalem that hated Jesus. When Mark speaks of the Jerusalem leaders, they are in confrontation with Jesus. When Jesus is “on the way” to Jerusalem, he is on the way to the cross, to be tortured, crucified, and finally rejected. And He knows it.

Tepid Milk

From p75-82, France gets into his preterist stance. He says that the ‘coming’ terminology in Mark 8.38, 13.26, and 14.62 deal with the enthronement of the son of Man after His ascension, rather than His parousia – second coming.

I can’t go into a massive discussion about it (I don’t know the in-and-outs of it all), but I don’t agree with France’s position. Oh, parts of it make sense, but then other parts do not and he doesn’t have the space to go into deep discussion. He’s clear in what he touches on, but it’s only a touch. It’s not an in-depth grasp for me to wrestle with. I suppose I would have to go to one of his bigger commentaries for that (Matthew; Mark).

Though 8 pages is fairly significant in a book that’s 106 pages long, it was interesting to see how France understood and explained his position. I enjoyed reading about it because his explanation was clear. And though this is the “tepid” (meaning lukewarm) part, I still have to commend France for being a scholar who is able enough to hold my attention even on  another view. Even though I do have to admit that I want to learn about the other views so that I can explain the pros/cons rightly and clearly to other people.

Recommended?

If you’re studying Mark, yes. This is a great book to read to understand Mark’s understanding of Jesus’ kingship. “…[T]he man who proclaimed the arrival of God’s kingship in Mark 1.15 is presented in the story that follows as himself a king…. And his kingship is the kingship of God….The government is upon his shoulder. As God’s Son, he occupies by right his Father’s throne, for he is himself no less than God” (p. 105).

With clarity France brings together parts of Mark to present it as a unified whole. You may not agree with everything France says, but you will come away with a better understanding of Mark after reading this book. You won’t regret it.

Richard Thomas France passed away on February, 10, 2012.

Lagniappe

[Special thanks to Bill at Regent College Publishing for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

Divine Government

I’m enjoying co-teaching the Gospel of Mark this semester. It’s wonderful to see the flow and unity of a single Gospel. I thought I would give you a quote from R. T. France’s “Divine Government: God’s Kingship in the Gospel of Mark” on the kingship of Jesus as it is presented in Mark,

“…[T]he man who proclaimed the arrival of God’s kingship in Mark 1.15 is presented in the story that follows as himself a king. His kingship is misunderstood and rejected by those around him, and finally its unthinkable culmination in his execution as a rebel against Rome, the very concept of kingship from which he had so clearly distanced himself. But beyond that apparent anticlimax he has pointed to another level of kingship altogether, and one to which his earthly humiliation will mysteriously prove the appointed means, the heavenly enthronement of the Son of Man. And his kingship is the kingship of God….The government is upon his shoulder. As God’s Son, he occupies by right his Father’s throne, for he is himself no less than God” (p. 105).

Jesus is the Christ [8.29], the Son of God [1.1] who has come as the Messiah, the Son of Man to give His life as a ransom for many [10.45]. Yet throughout Mark we see people who don’t understand His mission; people who don’t understand Him. At the end He is crucified, a death only reserved for the cruelest criminals and revolutionaries. Yet, by being the stone which the builders rejected, he has become the chief cornerstone. It was the Lord’s doing. His divine plan, and it is marvelous [12.10-11].

It is because of this humble obedience to the Father that He is exalted and given the name above all names to which every knee will one day bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord [Phil. 2.9-11]. It was how the Lion of the tribe of Judah had prevailed to open the scroll and loose its seven seals: by being a Lamb which had been slain [Rev. 5.5-6]. 

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
– Mark 8.34b-38

Mondays with Mark (3:1–6)

Mark

In my previous post I gave a brief summary of Mark 1-2 along with the first 4 of the 5 conflicts found in Mark 2.1-3.6. Today I’ll go through the final conflict [ending the chiasm, Mk. 3.1-6] where we see the sort of heart that the Pharisees have compared to the kind of heart Jesus has.

2.1-3.6 is divided up into 5 sections:

Healing [2.1-12]
        B Eating [2.13-17]
               C Fasting and Piety [2.18-22]
        B’ Eating [2.23-28]

A’  Healing [3.1-6]

Again He entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand.
And they watched Jesus, to see whether He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.
And He said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.”
And He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent.
And He looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against Him, how to destroy Him.

While there’s a lot here, I simply can’t cover everything. In fact, even what I am putting into this post risks overkill. So I will try to focus on Jesus’ use of Deuteronomy 30.15 here in Mark 3.4, why He uses it, and what it means to us today.

WITHERED

The imagery of withering rarely (or never) owns a positive image in the Old Testament. It is sometimes used when speaking of God’s judgment (of Jeroboam [1 Kings 13.4], of Wicked Shepherds [Zech. 11.17], and of Israel in Exile [Jer. 12.4]). It is the opposite image of the prosperous tree in Ps 1.3.

By being withered, the Jewish leaders may have thought this man to be judged by God. And being judged by God, they wouldn’t want to help him.

Why Use Deuteronomy 30.15 Here?

In verse 4, in asking “Is it lawful” Jesus is dealing with the law. “To do good or to do harm…” echoes the very choice the Law itself offers in Deuteronomy 30.15 (See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil).

In Deut. 29 Israel has just witnessed Yahweh’s mighty deeds: delivering them from Egypt. They had yet to receive a heart to understand, but through the long provision (Passover protection, Red Sea crossing, provision of manna and water, battles won, etc.) in the desert, God brought Israel to a point where they could understand. In having this understanding, Israel was warned of the severe consequences of turning away from God to walk in “hardness of heart” against Him.

Then Deut. 30 assumes they will turn away! God will “drive them to nations” and “later restore them if they repent” [Deut. 30.1-3]. Moses then reminds the Israel that the covenant can be fulfilled because it is on the heart and is so close it can be spoken from the lips.

God sets two options before the people: Life/Good/Blessing or Death/Evil/Cursing. Israel is to obey the commands of God, walking in His ways, and they will have life. Whereas apostasy from Yahweh leads to death. Israel’s fate lays in their own hands.

Decisions, Decisions

Mark 3.6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against Him, how to destroy Him.

Jesus’ question, like that of Moses, calls for a decision. Does Jesus have authority as the Son of Man, the Lord of the Sabbath, to do good and heal on the Sabbath? Like the terms of the covenant, His terms are clear: Israel must choose.

Yet, as Mark 3.5 show us, Jesus is grieved at the Pharisees’ hard hearts for they have rejected walking in God’s ways of “life and good” for their own ways of “death and evil.” The Pharisees offer no mercy to this man, while Jesus offers healing and gives him a new hand in the house of the Lord.

The high point of the exodus was Yahweh’s self-revelation through His Word. It was near enough for Israel to hear and speak. Now the people can hear, see, touch, and even smell Jesus! Jesus upholds the heart of Torah, fulfills it, and surpasses it. He does only what the Torah could point to by doing only what God can do [1.44]. But having rejected the heart of the Torah, Israel’s leaders reject the Son of Man. The sin here is rejecting, not God’s will in Torah, but His will in Jesus Christ [3.34-35].

Just as rebellious Israel in Deuteronomy had hard hearts despite God’s mighty deeds, so do the leaders of Israel in Jesus’ day possess hard hearts despite Jesus’ mighty deeds. Moses warned Israel that God opposes hard-hearts, and it would be the reason why Yahweh would become their enemy and send a rebellious Israel into exile. It would be the reason for the cleansing of [11.15-17] and destruction of the Temple [13.2].

Defiled Hearts

In Mark 2.12, the people praise God for Jesus’ healing the paralyzed man. Here, there is no praising God. Instead, the Pharisees show their defiled hearts [Mk 7.20-21] by their desire to kill the Son of God [Mk 12.7-8]. 

They hold counsel with the Herodians (rich families who favored the rule of Herod the Great, another person who doesn’t understand the works of Jesus [Mk. 6.14; 8.15]) on how to destroy Jesus.

Jesus was accused of blasphemy in Mk. 2.7 [A  Mark 2.1-12], but now [A’  Mark 3.1-6] the religious leaders are blaspheming Jesus by plotting to kill God’s anointed Messenger. We will see more on blasphemy in chapter 3. The plots to kill look forward to an ominous time when the Bridegroom will be taken away.

I leave you with this: Do we have the heart of the Pharisees or that of Jesus? Do we honor God with our lips but have hearts that are far from Him [Mark 7.6]? Do we speak evil of one another, judging one another, also speaking evil of the one true Lawgiver? The one who is able to save and destroy [James 4.11-12]? Are we angry at our own hard hearts [Mark 3.5]? So much so that we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God [1 Pet.5.5-7]?

Other Mondays with Mark

Mondays with Mark (1–2)

Mark

In my last post on the Gospel according to Mark I showed a structure to Mark 2.1-3.6. On this post I hope to show the connection between Mark 1 and 2, along with what the 5-tier structure means, why it’s important, and why we should care. What do we do with it?

Mark 1

Mark has written 2.1-3.6 in such the same way. Mark 1.1-3 brings together a collection of verses from Ex. 23.20Mal. 3.1; and Isa. 40.3. (v2 in some translations say “As it is written in Isaiah” rather than “the Prophets.” This isn’t a mistake on Mark’s part. Of the three OT references, the focus is on the Isaiah quotation). Read the surrounding contexts of the 3 OT references, but essentially Malachi shows God (Yahweh) as the one who is going to come like a refiner’s fire and purge the temple of its uncleanness.

Yahweh’s messenger is John the Baptist who will prepare the way for the Lord, Jesus, who is Mark’s main focus. John prepares that way, and who comes? Not Yahweh, but Jesus. In fact, looking through Mark, Jesus’s actions and words are that of which only Yahweh can do and say. (More on that in another post).

Jesus begins his ministry after John the Baptist (the old way; Mk. 2.21) is put in prison. Now the ‘new wine’ (Jesus; 2.22) comes onto the scene. He calls disciples, and begins to cleanse Israel. He casts out unclean spirits (demons; Mk. 1.27Isa. 19.1), heals many (Mk. 1.29-34), Preaches in Galilee (1.35-39), and cleanses a leper (1.40-45). And through this becomes hugely popular.

Mark 2 

Here’s where this chiasm comes into play. Mark 2 brings us to sudden conflict where the scribes and Pharisees plan to stop this  unmerited popularity. This was inserted into my last post, but I’ve added it again to remind you of Mark’s structure.

2.1-3.6 is divided up into 5 sections*:

A Healing [2.1-12]
        B Eating [2.13-17]
               C Fasting and Piety [2.18-22]
        B` Eating [2.23-28]
A` Healing [3.1-6]

But not only is there a mirror image, but with each step the conflict grow more tense and abrupt.
*This chiasm comes from the IVP’s Dictionary of Biblical Imagery.

The Controversy Rises

A  Anger is mental [2.1-12]
   B  Anger directed toward disciples [2.13-17]
      C  Anger directed at disciples [2.18-22]
          D  Anger is directed at JC [2.23-28]
              E  Anger is mental, now including a plot to kill Jesus [3.1-6]

The Terrible Two’s

In Mark 1, Jesus, the one who was to come, enters in on the scene presenting the “second exodus” and what God’s kingdom would look like by performing miracles of healing and cleansing (and soon forgiveness). Mark 2, Jesus’ popularity is now contested. His popularity with the religious crowd is zero to none. We see the conflict with the religious elite start early in Mark’s gospel.

Following the chiasm of 2:1–3:6

A  Healing (2:1–12)

Jesus forgives and heals a paralyzed man. Forgiveness is something that only God can do, so the scribes mentally accuse Him of blasphemy. Yet, so that they may know [8.11-12] He was the Son of Man who “has” authority to forgive sins, He then heals the man. And the people glorify God.

B  Eating (2:13–17)

Jesus calls a filthy tax collector who accepts and holds a dinner party where all feel welcome [reclined; 2.15]. The Pharisees verbally express their disapproval to the disciples, where Jesus answers telling them He came [1.38; 4.21; 10.45] to call sinners. Mark 1.14-15 shows us what Jesus was calling them to “repent, and believe in the gospel, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” 

Jesus, the great physician, came to call sinners, the sick, and not the “self-” righteous, to the gospel.

C  Fasting and Piety (2:18–22)

Jesus is bringing in the new era. While John the Baptist and his disciples fasted in mourning over the sins of the people and in anticipation of God’s kingdom, and while the Pharisees (and their admirers) fasted for religious reasons, Jesus disciples did not fast. What’s the deal, Jesus? The disciples had the bridegroom [Yahweh: Hos. 2.16, 19-20; Jer. 5.7; Jesus: 2 Cor. 11.2] with them giving way to, not mourning, but celebration. Jesus doesn’t mix with the old traditions of Judaism. The unshrunken cloth will tear the old garment, and the new wine will burst the old wine skins.

2.19 is the first allusion to Jesus’ death. He is the bridegroom who will be taken away. We see a glimpse of how this will play out in the last section.

B’  Eating (2:23–28)

The Pharisees criticize Jesus as a Teacher of the Torah by asking Him why His disciples are breaking the law on the Sabbath. Yahweh was the Lord of the Sabbath because He instituted the Sabbath [Gen. 2.3] and gave the Law in Exodus [20.8]. Yet here Jesus says that, as the Son of Man, He was Lord of the Sabbath. The followers of Jesus live in a constant Sabbath rest insofar as they live in the kingdom” (L.D. Hurst, Jesus and the Gospels Dictionary; Ethics of Jesus).

“Certainly the Jesus of Mark, who has authority to exercise the divine prerogative of forgiving sins (2:10), whose coming changes fasting to feasting (2:19), who came to seek and save the lost (10:45), could think this way” (Stein, Mark, p. 150).

A’  Healing (3:1–6)

Where is this? I want to elaborate on this one a bit more, so I’ll save it until next time. 

Breaking Point

Those who ought to know who Jesus is, the ones who should be welcoming Him into their presence, are the same ones who are criticizing Him because of the hardness of their hearts [2.73.5]. Jesus is the ‘new wine’, but new wine can not be placed in old wine skins. Jesus is bringing in a new way, ushering in a new era, better than what the Law could give [Heb. 7.18-22]. He does what God does by forgiving sins, perceiving hearts, and having authority over the Sabbath and the Torah. But we’ll see in the next section that the Pharisees reach a breaking point where they will plot out a need to put Jesus to death, the time surrounding when the bridegroom will be taken away.

Upcoming Posts

In my next post I’ll talk about the final scene and what Jesus did to really grind the Pharisees’ gears. I’ll include a look at how Mark presents Jesus to be closely tied with Yahweh.

Other Mondays With Mark

Mondays with Mark

Mark

Though I’ve delayed putting this up (because I thought this would be brief), I’ve decided to put up a little bit of Mark that I’ve gathered over the past few weeks. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been able to co-teach the gospel according to Mark here at the Calvary Chapel Bible College in York, UK. It’s been a terrific experience for me, and I hope that I continue to have the chance to continue in teaching. 

The Gospel of Mark has been overlooked to often in favor of the other three Gospels (two of which are the Synoptic gospels – Matthew and Luke) which are much longer than Mark. Even throughout Church history it took some time for a “commentary” to come out on Mark, and it was a blip on the radar in an ocean of glaciers of any other biblical book to read/study/teach.

Action-Packed

Though I’ve heard Mark is “action-packed” it was hard for me to believe, at least, until I actually started studying it. Jesus is always on the move, is always doing something grand, is always confounding the Pharisees, is always saying more about Himself than the scribes would like to admit, etc. The first class I taught was on Mark 2.13-3.6, which is actually part of a bigger section starting with 2.1 [2.1-3.6]. Essentially, this ‘bigger’ section can be divided up into 5 pieces called a chiasmus [chiastic structure].

A What-mus?

Before going into Mark, here’s what a chiasm(us) is (essentially). A technical definition of a chiasm = the figure of speech in which two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point; that is, the clauses display inverted parallelism. (It’s like the shape of an X split down the middle).

Phrases following this pattern include:

  • “I mean what I say” and “I say what I mean.” 
  • “Oh, you haven’t, haven’t you?”
  • Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.” 
  • “A failure to plan is a plan to fail.”
  • “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”

Suzy Q’s Visual Example

Suzy Q goes to the zoo and sees…

A  Lions
    B  Tigers
              C  Bears
                      D  Oh my! [High Point/Focus; Suzy Q runs back & sees…]
              C’  Bears

       B’  Tigers
A’  Lions

…after seeing too much, Suzy Q goes back home.

So there is a mirror [or ‘reversed’] image used to show the high point of the story, with any repetition being like the left and right sides of a stereo speaker (according to Peter Gentry). 

Mark 2 

Here’s where this chiasm comes into play. After showing Jesus to be wildly popular in Mark 1Mark 2 brings us to sudden conflict where the scribes and Pharisees plan to stop this unmerited popularity.

2.1-3.6 Is divide up into 5 sections:

A  Healing (2.1-12)
        B  Eating (2.13-17)
               C  Fasting and Piety (2.18-22)
        B’  Eating (2.23-28)
A’  Healing (3.1-6)

But not only is there a mirror image, but with each step the conflict grow more tense and terse.

The Controversy Rises

A  Anger is mental (2.1-12)
    B  Anger directed toward disciples (2.13-17)
        C  Anger directed at disciples (2.18-22)
             D  Anger is premeditated and directed at JC (2.23-28)
                   E  Anger is mental, but now includes a plot to kill JC (3.1-6)

Upcoming Posts

Why does this structure matter? In my next post will develop the relationship of Mark 1 to Mark 2, and how Jesus popularity is contested by the religious elite early on in Mark’s Gospel, and how this 5-tier structure actually fleshes itself out in Mark 2.

Other Mondays with Mark