KERUX: A JOURNAL
Editor: James T. Dennison, Jr. Assistant Editors: Richard A. Riesen and David L. Roth
KERUX is a publication of Kerux, Inc. and appears three times each year (May, September, December). Editorial offices are located at 1131 Whispering Highlands Dr., Escondido, CA 92027-4961. Correspondence should be directed to the editor at this address. Subscription rates for one year are: $15.00 (U.S. and Canada); $20.00 (Elsewhere). All remittances should be made payable in U. S. Funds. KERUX is: abstracted in Old Testament Abstracts, Washingon, DC and Religious and Theological Abstracts, Myerstown, PA; indexed in Religion Index One, Evanston, IL, and the Elenchus of Biblica, Rome, Italy.
ISSN 0888-8513 September, 1997 Vol. 12, No. 2
The Blessing of Abraham
Stuart R. Jones
The inheritance theme of Scripture is so pervasive that it deserves deeper consideration than a mere metaphor of salvation. This study proceeds with the view that the testamentary concept, as implied in inheritance, is an under-appreciated category for approaching the biblical data and related theological problems. One such problem concerns how to view God's covenant of grace and the relationship of election to this covenant. Though election controls the final outcome of covenant engagements, does such a theological conclusion justify the notion of a covenant with the elect?1 One implication of this study will be that a covenant with the elect does need not be regarded as scholastic artifice. In what may appear as an unrelated problem, the study has implications for the question of how diatheke should be translated in select places of the New Testament. This problem is centered upon a few texts such as He- brews 9:15-18 and Galatians 3:15.2
1 Cf. Westminster Larger Catechism (WLC) 31, "The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed." On the other hand, WLC 166 regards those outside the visible church as "strangers from the covenant of promise" and the infants of at least one believer as "in that respect [as a child of a believer], within the covenant, and are to be baptized." This issue of who is in the covenant has been of special concern to the Reformed Churches of Dutch background.
2 This issue has been dealt with by many. Of particular interest are treatments by Geerhardus Vos in "Hebrews the Epistle of the Diatheke," Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. by Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), 161-233; Kenneth M. Campbell in "Covenant or Testament." Evangelical Quarterly 44/2 (1972): 107-111, and John Hughes in "Hebrews ix 15ff. and Galatians iii 15ff.; a Study in Covenant Practice and Procedure." Novum Testamentum 21/1 (1979): 27-96. This last study argues for retention of "covenant" as the uniform New Testament sense of diatheke. A concise presentation by Vos is
Blessing and Spirit
It is the purpose of this study to suggest a relationship between testament and covenant in the Scriptures (particularly Galatians 3) that does not rest on the meaning of diatheke alone. It is contended here that a significant intersection or overlap of testament and covenant concepts exists in the New Testament, even where the term diatheke does not immediately appear. The "blessing" idea particularly supplies a concept which ties together the inheritance-testament theme with the covenant-conditionality theme of Scripture. Thus, election is seen to have a concrete point of reference with regard to the covenant, viz., in a testament. For Abraham, calling, blessing, promise are the concrete manifestations in redemptive history of his election. A more explicit exegetical connection of these elements will be seen in the case of Abraham's descendants (i.e., Isaac and Jacob, Rom. 9).
Related to the blessing-election connection is New Testament pneumatology. The Holy Spirit is both the essence of the New Covenant blessedness (cf. 2 Cor. 3-4; Heb. 8-9) and the New Testament (will) legacy to the church. Since the weight of current opinion seems to favor subsuming the New Testament inheritance idea almost completely under covenant, it is necessary only to address the testamentary significance of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of Abraham.
Though this study argues for a greater place for the testament ideas in the structure of biblical theology, it is recognized that federal theology remains a key structure of biblical teaching. Paul's focus on the two Adams of Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 still must occupy a central position in any attempt to find an organizing principle for the biblical data. God's covenant with Abraham, however testamentally colored, must still reckon with the brokenness of the Adamic administration.
also contained in the article "Covenant or Testament," Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, 400-411.
Despite the caveat concerning federal theology, it remains the case that the Abrahamic covenant is too easily treated as a suzerainty treaty with superiority over the Mosaic covenant resting on temporal priority alone (cf. Gal. 3:17) or the ease and grace of the faith principle over the works principle. Once the testamental color of the Abrahamic covenant is duly recognized, it is possible to avoid connecting a suzerainty treaty emphasis with covenants where this emphasis is not applicable. The two elements of the Abrahamic administration which are easily misconstrued are the terms "blessing" and "promise" (cf. Gal. 3:14). Because suzerainty treaties have blessings and curses, it is easy to regard the blessing of Abraham as the positive reward for obedience or faithfulness in distinction from the negative sanction of faithlessness or disobedience. This is not the direction of Paul's argument however. Paul equates the entire Abrahamic administration with blessing and the entire Mosaic administration with cursing (Gal. 3:11-13).
The Mosaic covenant is after the model of a suzerainty treaty3 and this model constitutes the basis for its identification with cursing by Paul. No other outcome is possible where the power to fulfil the Suzerain's law is lacking. On the other hand, the Abrahamic covenant, with its blessing, is clearly based on something Paul calls "the promise" (Gal. 3:14, 16, 18; Rom. 4:13, 14, 16; 9:8, 9). The promises of God should not automatically be taken as synonymous with covenants or conditional rewards (cf. Rom. 9:4). When Paul speaks of the promise, it is in connection with being an heir, an idea closely connected to testaments and inheritances:
For the promise, that he should be heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if they which be of the law be heirs, faith is made void and the promise of no effect (Rom. 4:13, 14).
3 Cf. Meredith Kline's works, especially Treaty of the Great King (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963)
The asymmetry between the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant in Galatians 3 and 4 calls for a close inspection of the blessing of Abraham. Blessings are not always conferred as a direct result of some faithful performance. In some cases, blessings are constitutive and seemingly unconditional. The Lord blesses the Sabbath day. He blesses his creatures at the time he gives them a propagation mandate. He blesses man at the time of his propagation mandate. These sovereign constitutive type blessings are akin to the testamental blessing (cf. Gen. 49). The patriarchal blessings, sometimes called testaments in pseudepigraphal works, are prophetic promises which constitute an heir and a future heritage.4 Because the essence of the Genesis 12 blessing is an inheritance, the patriarchal blessing-testament is superior to the suzerainty treaty as a model for understanding the blessing of Abraham. The blessing of Genesis 12 is given before any explicit covenant has been cut. To the extent any condition is joined with the blessing of Abraham himself, it is tied to his answer to the divine call. This will be considered below. The importance of the placement of blessing promise in Genesis 12 is that Paul treats it as qualitatively different from a law covenant (Gal. 3:14, 18). The subsequent theft of Esau's blessing also fits the dominant emphasis on blessing as constitutive and testamental during the time of the patriarchs.
Covenant of Grant
One historical legal instrument which supports a testamental color to the Abrahamic covenant is the covenant of grant.5 This instrument provides a bet-
4 The existence of a testamental genre during New Testament times, modeled on Genesis 49 and perhaps the blessing of Moses, suggests a consciousness that the blessings of patriarchs were oral testaments.
5 Cf. Campbell, who uses the research of Moshe Weinfeld in "The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East." Journal of the American Oriental Society 90/2 (1970): 184-203. See also F. F. Bruce, Commentary on Galatians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982 [repr. 1992]).
ter model than the simple suzerainty treaty for accommodating much of the data because under this arrangement, a faithful vassal might acquire far more than vassal blessings .6 Special loyalty could be honored with adoption by the suzerain. By adoption, the new son might become an heir and exchange vassal status for future dynastic head status. Though this model still contains the preliminary element of special faithfulness and service, it suggests the possibility of connecting covenant and testament conceptually. Under this model, covenant dominates and leads to testament. Yet once effected, sonship would presumably render earlier covenant vassal stipulations obsolete.
Heirs of the Covenant
The Abrahamic covenant, in the context of Galatians and Romans, appears to be a faith covenant. In Paul's discussion of Abraham in Galatians 3, however, there is a subtle distinction on which his argument is based. This subtle distinction bypasses the question of faith covenant. Abraham is a father rather than an example for believers (cf. Rom. 4:11, 12, 16; contrast Heb. 11:8, 17). The argument is that Abraham was made God's heir to the world (Rom. 4:13) and Christ is the single seed (Gal. 3:16) to whom this inheritance is transferred. Those in Christ share the inheritance because of their connection to the primary heir, viz., Christ. Abraham is our father. It is not so much the believer's faith which constitutes the believer an heir. It is Abraham's faith which constitutes Abraham as an inheritance holder and giver. Abraham's children are, in a sense, automatically entitled to the inheritance. The issue Paul is dealing with concerns who the true children-heirs are. Children of Abraham share Abrahamic faith—not Abrahamic blood. Faith is important as a mark of sonship identity. Paul's argument tends to emphasize the passive nature of faith as opposed to works of the law. On one level, faith is an acquired family characteristic.
6This point is made by Weinfeld. He recognizes the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants as "promissory" (p. 184). Weinfeld regards the structure of the suzerainty treaty as very similar to the covenant of grant, but states: "Functionally, however, there is a vast difference between these two types of document." This is because the obligation shifts from vassal to suzerain in the covenant of grant (p. 185). Both instruments are termed berith (p. 188).
Election and Promise
Galatians 3:18 states, "For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise. But God gave it to Abraham by promise" (AV). This is a key text for appreciating the testamental color of the Abrahamic covenant and requires that attention be given to Paul's usage of the term "promise."
In theological terms, the Abrahamic covenant lends itself to explanations based on the doctrine of election. Abraham's unique calling by God from Ur and Haran have the appearance of election. The specific election argument of Paul in Romans 9 moves naturally from faith and promise to election. Paul's argument contains the same thread as that in Romans 4 and Galatians 3. Abraham is a father with a legacy. If abstract proof of the doctrine of election was all that mattered to Paul, he might have argued from the election of other Old Testament individuals and presented a catalogue of the elect on the pattern of the catalogue of faith saints in Hebrews 11. Focusing on the descendants of Abraham is more germane to the purpose of Paul's discussion. Paul is ultimately concerned with Jewish-Gentile ecclesiastical relation. As such he argues for Jewish-Gentile covenantal inclusion by faith. Election is one theological premise in the larger argument for faith alone.
The Romans 4 and 9 arguments are parallel to Galatians 3. In both letters Abraham is not given as a mere example of faith.7 He is the father of the faithful (cf. Gal. 3:9, 29). He has a special redemptive-historical place which goes far beyond the value of his example. In Romans 9, the promise to Abraham is cast in the context of four potential heirs over two generations. Isaac prevails over Ishmael and Jacob prevails over Esau. Paul draws two lessons from this process of heir selection. First, inheritance is not based on flesh ties alone. Second, inheritance choice has election lying behind it. As important as faith is in Paul's discussion, he does not say that faith is the immediate cause for Isaac or Jacob becoming heirs. Each case illustrates a point. Isaac's miracle
7 In Galatians 3:6 the kathos introduction of Abraham has been taken by some to be the introduction of Abraham as example. Cf. comments of Richard N. Longenecker, Galatians (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1990), 112. Such a translation is unnecessary and peculiar in view of the considerable attention drawn to the Abrahamic covenant.
birth is apart from flesh power. Jacob's legacy is purely a matter of sovereign choice.
When Paul says the inheritance is given to Abraham by promise rather than by law (Gal. 3:18), we need to see "promise" in the sense that Paul normally uses. If all Paul wanted to say is that the inheritance is by faith fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant condition, then we would expect promise to be defined more clearly as such. Comparing Galatians 3:18 with Paul's other references to promise, we discover that the promise contains an emphasis on sovereign discrimination characteristic of a testamentary-blessing.
Abraham-centered Redemptive History
These two points, promise and election, are the twin bases for Paul denying an Abrahamic covenant based on blood alone. If blood rites are not the basis of the Abrahamic covenant, then what sort of tie connects one to Abraham? Election alone is beyond human purview without some external sign of election. A supernatural birth distinguishes the believer as it distinguished Isaac. The key point of identity, however, is that sons of faithful Abraham have faith. It is a familial characteristic. Those who bear this defining familial characteristic are heirs presumptive of Abraham. It is not so much that their faith fulfills an Abrahamic covenant condition.8
Abraham has already received a covenant and inheritance based on his own faith. God fulfills his promises to make the inheritance descend on his faith family. In short, Paul's argument is more Abraham centered than we might expect. From this Abraham centered perspective, we see that a promise to Abraham is fulfilled by a Gentile faith family. These are the promised heirs of Abraham. The portion of the Abrahamic covenant which promises a seed and a multitude functions as a testament. This may explain the peculiar ambiguity we find in the diatheke reference of Galatians 3:15. If the Abrahamic
8 This does not exclude a conditional aspect to faith in other contexts, e.g., Acts 2:25, 26. Even the Galatians are expected to endure in faith.
covenant incorporates a testament, and if this included testament insures the priority of the Abrahamic covenant to the Mosaic covenant, then a testament sense of diatheke may refer to the covenant as a whole by synecdoche. The testament sense controls the outcome of covenant administration as the testament is controlled by election and calling.
Covenant Demarcation, Incorporation and Growth
The tendency to find suzerainty treaty principles in the Abrahamic covenant is probably attributable to the growth of that covenant and God's interactions with Abraham over time. In Genesis 15 where the covenant is cut, there is little or no suggestion of conditions being placed on Abraham. The covenant comes in response to Abraham's faith. In Genesis 17, the language of conditionality is suggested in the words, "Walk before me, and be thou perfect, and I will make my covenant between me and thee" (vv. 1-2). Following these introductory words we find a further call to covenant keeping in verse 9 and an articulation of the specific demand which is of concern to the Lord in verses 10 through 14. The demand is summarized in these words of verse 10: "Every man child among you shall be circumcised."
The obedience of Abraham in his sacrifice of Isaac also connects to a later statement by the Lord that covenanted blessings will come to Abraham as a consequence of this act of fidelity (Gen. 22:16-18).
These stages of covenant growth add detail to what is entailed in covenant keeping while incorporating earlier covenant blessings. Such growth and development constitutes a potential problem for Paul's debate with the Judaizers of his day. If the covenant obligations of Genesis 17 are properly part of the Abrahamic covenant, then this covenant by itself seems to be an inadequate basis to refute the need for circumcision on the part of Christian Gentiles. Paul's answer in Galatians is to say, by analogy with the world of human laws, no one may add new conditions after a diatheke has been confirmed (Gal. 3:15). However we translate diatheke, this answer seems overly broad in dealing with the narrow issue of circumcision. It is an answer that
adequately establishes the priority and primacy of the Abrahamic covenant over the Mosaic covenant, but does not seem to specifically address the circumcision issue already present in Genesis 17. This might seem like a fatal flaw in his argument against the Judaizers. Since we do not know the exact form in which the Judaizers made their case, we need to assume Paul's argument was on point. The manner in which Paul addresses the same concern in Romans 4:10, provides a finer sense of his logic in Galatians. In Galatians 3:6, Paul cites from Genesis 15. In Romans 4:3 Paul uses the same text and parses the Abrahamic covenant based on the timing of the justification declaration. The subsequent giving of circumcision, argues Paul, could not belong to the essence of justification.
Circumcision: One Line of Demarcation Considered
The ability to draw a line of demarcation within the Abrahamic covenant presents interesting hermeneutical possibilities. It suggests that the integrity of the Abrahamic covenant—as defined over several points in Abraham's life—is not absolute. At the very least, a new sign of the covenant, such as baptism, must be able to replace circumcision. At the most extreme, it may separate justification from the Abrahamic covenant. Paul's argument in Galatians, however, suggests that circumcision is distinctive of the Mosaic administration. Though the Judaizers may have drawn the Galatians into practices that were purely Mosaic in nature (cf. Gal. 4:10), Paul's statement in Galatians 5:2-3 suggests that circumcision also belongs essentially to the law of Moses:
Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law.
This implies that circumcision not only functioned as a seal, separate in time, of the righteousness of Abraham's faith (Rom. 4:11), circumcision also is the mark of Jewish identity as that identity is most sharply defined in the law of Moses. As such, native Jewishness, circumcision, and the law of Moses
are intertwined in a way that Semitic identity, circumcision, and the Abrahamic covenant are not.
This demarcation and incorporation of circumcision with Moses further suggests that circumcision in Genesis 17 was a proleptic bridge to the Mosaic covenant. It explains why the covenant renewal of Genesis 17 has some similarity to a suzerainty treaty as distinct from the blessing of Genesis 12 or the initial covenant cutting of Genesis 15.
The distinction between the early covenant of Abraham and its later accretions presents a classic case of defining continuity and discontinuity in covenant administrations. For Paul, the obvious continuity element from Abraham to the New Testament church is faith. On closer inspection, this continuity element of faith carries throughout the life of Abraham as well. In Romans 4:19-22 we see Abraham exercising the same faith in God, albeit in more challenging circumstances. Abraham's faith in a miracle at age ninety-nine is related by Paul to his justification (v. 22). The same faith continuity at the time of the Isaac sacrifice is given a New Testament stamp of contemporary relevance by James and the book of Hebrews.
These factors explain how Paul can insist on continued faith (versus a single instance of easy believism) while isolating the crucial moment of Abraham's life for New Testament believers in Genesis 15. Faith led to a covenant and that covenant concerned and incorporated the earlier blessing on Abraham. The covenant, in short, was an added assurance of the promised inheritance. As such, the essential nature of the covenant was testamentary and not a vassal treaty.
Justification Demarcation—Two Covenants
For Paul, the declaration of righteousness on Abraham is the means of drawing a line between the testamentary aspect to the Abrahamic covenant and the subsequent suzerainty tie to the Mosaic administration. The very na-
ture of the inheritance covenant is that it coveys sonship, whereas the suzerainty treaty conveys servitude. This distinction of covenant types is the line Paul pursues in the so-called allegory of the two covenants (Gal. 4:24). The legal principle which inheres in both covenants is that a child inherits his mother's legal condition rather than his fathers. A free father can only beget slave children from a slave woman.9 The logic of Paul's argument is that a return to the slave mother (Jerusalem below and the law covenant) is a return to slavery and a rejection of sonship.
Calling and the Spirit Legacy
In a conditional covenant, blessing follows fulfillment of conditions. In a testament, the patriarchal blessing normally comes near the time of death of the testator-patriarch. Abraham is blessed in Genesis 12 after his removal from Haran, but before he had walked with God for any recorded length of time. This circumstance may suggest to some that the blessing was neither testamental nor covenantal.10 Though testamental blessing normally is given in proximity to the death of the testator-blessing giver, the case of Abraham is unique. He is the first man put in the position of God's heir. Someone has to be first. God invests the inheritance in a vicarious father for redemptive purposes and Abraham is that father.
One circumstance suggests that the blessing of Genesis 12 has testamentary significance, apart from the content of the blessing itself (Gal. 3:8; Gen. 12:3). Abraham receives the blessing directly from God after abandoning his earthly heritage. The blessing of Abraham appears to follow upon the death of his father Terah (Gen. 1 1:32). The covenantal commentary on this event is contained in Genesis 15:7 in words which sound like the preface to the decalogue but which speak of inheritance: "I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaidees, to give thee this land to inherit it."
9 This principle was accepted as late as the nineteenth century in America with the slave laws of the states.
10 Blessing also comes after the Isaac sacrifice of Genesis 22.
The calling theme in Scripture is underlined by the abandonment of the normal heritage for a better one. Elisha abandoned his home to follow Elijah (1 Kg. 19:19-21). At Elijah's translation to heaven, Elisha is granted a double portion of the prophet's spirit (2 Kg. 2:9-15). The double portion of spirit sets Elisha apart among the school of prophets as the one having the legacy of a first-born son. The New Testament analogue to this calling-legacy relationship is the gift of the apostolic office to those who followed after Jesus. These leave their earthly trades and family businesses to receive the legacy of an apostolic measure of the Holy Spirit.11 In Luke 22:28, 29 Jesus connects the sojourn of the disciples with him to the bequeathing of a kingdom to them.12 In Acts 1, the lot is used to appoint a vacant apostolic office in much the same manner as it was used to grant the tribes their inheritance (cf. Josh. 14:2; Ps. 16:5, 6).13 Counterpoised to this bestowal is Judas's acquisition of land by trading of his spiritual heritage for an abandoned unclean habitation.
The Luke 22 passage is also significant because of the dispute context to Jesus' testamental words. In a dispute about superiority among the twelve, Jesus grants a kind of superiority over the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. vv. 24 and 30). Though the pre-Pentecost spirit of the disciples is akin to the striving of Ephraim and Judah, the testament of Jesus subsumed Ephraim and Judah to the apostles. This settles the strife set in motion by the testament of Jacob in Genesis 49.
11 A special twist on this theme is found in the farewell discourse of John. The Holy Spirit-Paraclete is given to replace the soon-to-die Jesus. This prevents the disciples from being orphans. A legacy is normally received at the cost of becoming an orphan.
12 Though Vos rejects the translation "bequeath" for diatithesthai/diatithemai ("Covenant or Testament," p. 407) as unnecessary, and is backed by John Nolland in his commentary on Luke (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1993), the redemptive historical parallels suggest to me that Jesus is using his last words as a testament of kingdom transfer to the disciples.
13 Cf. Stuart Jones, "Life for Land." Kerux 2/1 (May 1987): 20-24.
The basis of the spiritual testamentary grants we have considered is the solidarity of the heirs with the testator in earlier times. This solidarity entailed sacrifice of earthly benefit. Abram leaves Ur and Haran; Elisha leaves his home; and the disciples leave their normal lives. Calling away from one heritage leads to a new and better one (Mk. 10:28-31).
In an oblique way, David's grant of a heritage to Mephibosheth and later alienation of this heritage to his servant Ziba illustrates a similar point. The heritage is transferred on the mistaken assumption that Mephibosheth no longer was in solidarity with David. Ziba's apparent willingness to share David's trials became the basis of his elevation from servant to heir. Though based on bad information, this disposal of the heritage was evidently not revokable (2 Sam. 19:29). If David had any discretion it was merely to divide the inheritance, not to alienate it from Ziba. The irrevocable act of David further parallels the irrevocable act of Isaac's blessing on Jacob. The birth right was alienable, but not the blessing. This may add significance to the testamental words of Jesus making an explicit exception to blessing Judas (Lk. 22:22). There is no blindness, deception, or peculiar providence at work to grant him a kingdom legacy.
Willingness to answer a call and forsake one's heritage might be taken as fulfillment of a covenant stipulation, entitling one to the blessing of adoption (as in a covenant of grant). The chief difficulty with this theory is the lack of a covenant prior to Abram's call. The sovereign call and the willing response are suggestive of an extra-covenantal loyalty. The calling and blessing constitute part of the history which forms a basis for a later covenant. The blessing becomes incorporated into the covenant.
Further, the terms of a testament tend by nature to be a matter of private sovereign disposition. Good pleasure is on display in the opening of a will. God's good pleasure called Abraham and good pleasure resulted in blessing Abraham when the call was answered. In this sense, calling and response are acts of commitment without clear anterior bases.
When Jesus bequeaths a kingdom to those who continued with him in his temptations (Lk. 22:28), it is an inalienable blessing based on a relationship which reaches back to calling. Abraham walked with God after his call and did not realize his full blessing. Full blessings are eschatological. But the testamental foundation of those eschatological blessings was in place before the covenant with Abraham was cut. Before Genesis 12 was the reality of Ephesians 1:3-4, but this takes us outside the realm of redemptive history and the need for vicarious human fathers to stand in the place of God.
First Orthodox Presbyterian
Waves of Locusts!
The prophet Joel was an Old Covenant prophet who spoke like the blowing of a trumpet calling people to repentance; forcing them to face the truth about their difficulties as judgments from God; warning them that even greater hardships and judgments are on their way in the Day of the Lord. Thus the locust invasion that had razed the land was not an unfortunate event in history where Murphy's law prevails. No way! Joel is a prophet of the covenant. He writes to call the people to repentance and covenant faithfulness. So the waves of locust attacks were executions of covenant sanctions to drive the people back to whole-hearted faithfulness to God—to set themselves to seeking him through a clarion call to assemble, fast, weep and pray. Joel takes this locust invasion as a harbinger of a more profound visitation of God in judgment—the great and awful Day of the Lord.
I. Life in the Land
These waves of locust invasions are painted on a larger canvas. They are painted on the canvas of living in the land under God's covenant sanctions. The locusts were an expression of the sanction of cursing—of judgment and death. But what would life in the land be like under blessing? Rush Limbaugh wrote a book called The Way Things Ought to De. What would "life in the land" look like had they obeyed as they ought to have instead of straying on to "death in the land"? Here's the story had it been a sanction of covenant blessing.
God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage and oppressive labor and brought her to Mt. Sinai. In Ezekiel 16 God tells us how he found her tossed into a field at birth and how he wiped off her blood and cared for her. When she reached age, God said "I covered your nakedness, spread My skirt over you and entered into a covenant with you and you became mine." God, by covenant, became Israel's husband on Sinai. He then brought her through the wilderness for forty years to a land flowing with milk and honey. Deuteronomy 8:1-10 chronicles this trek. Life in the land was meant to be long and prosperous with rain, grain, olive oil, wine, figs and fruit trees bearing fruit—where sheep and cattle are fat and happy. Most wonderful of all, there is joy in the presence of God in the temple in offering and sacrifice—in the fellowship of covenant life. God would defeat all their enemies; the king would rule wisely, being a student of the law; generation to generation would be taught the acts and words of their God in a full and abundant land. In this lush environment, God would dwell in their midst emanating his holiness in ripples from temple to city to land with waves of blessing right behind so that the land would be a proverbial Garden of Eden. This is the way things ought to be. This is life in the land under the covenant care of Yahweh who brings blessing for covenant faithfulness. Life in the land was to reflect back to a refurbished Garden of Eden and reflect forward to the heavenly kingdom of which it was an earthly picture. All of this hung upon one big IF—"if" they would keep his covenant and walk in his ways.
The great heavenly kingdom and eternal life this land anticipated emerged in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This life was poured out upon the church on the day of Pentecost in the Holy Spirit. We discover in the New Covenant the rich spiritual reality the Old Covenant anticipated by agricultural fullness and the joys of temple worship. We have become sapling vines engrafted into Jesus Christ to bring forth fruit. We are the palm trees growing in the temple of God under the hem of the high priest's garments. We receive the oil of Psalm 133 which flows down his robe. And we clap our hands in praise as fruit trees who have received the revelatory waters of rain and snow from the heavenly mountain as described in Isaiah 55.
But resplendent life in the Old Covenant land where every man happily sits under his own grapevine and fig tree was a picture that appeared only
momentarily on the screen of an otherwise jaded history of apostasy and judgment. Israel proved to be generation upon generation of covenant breakers. Sin keep getting the upper hand from king to priest to peasant. This brings us specifically to Joel's burst of prophetic wail in the second point.
II. Locusts in the Land
The date of Joel's writing is an ambiguous topic. But when the locust attack occurred, we do know that the temple was in operation. Israel had never experienced anything like this before. Before the exodus, God had cursed Egypt with locusts. Verses 2 and 3 recall what Moses said to Pharoah before God flooded Egypt with their locust plague (Ex. 10). Wow! What a rough way to start a sermon. Israel was supposed to pass two things on to successive generations: (1) God's great deliverance when he judged the bad guys; and (2) God's covenant law for living. In other words, God's mighty acts and words! Now, Joel says, add a third item: the day you were judged the bad guys and what happened! There has never been anything like this! We have become the recipients of God's severe judgments. Let me just stop for a moment to make a related point here. We all sin in many ways, sometimes in isolated acts, some more frequent and some more habitual. As believers in Jesus Christ we suffer for those sins even though the grace of God covers them. Children! As you get older you will learn that your parents have feet of clay. That they have been imperfect. Most children upon making this discovery resent it or use it to justify their own indulgences. Listen to me! If you are a God-fearing child, learn from your parents' shortcomings. Avoid their pitfalls and raise your family tree upward in godliness in your generation. Obviously this did not happen in Joel's day. They had slid downward so that now they had qualified for the locust plague that hundreds of years ago God had delivered to his enemies in Egypt.
What the gnawing locust has left, the swarming locust has eaten; And what the swarming locust has left, the creeping locust has eaten; And what the creeping locust has left, the stripping locust has eaten (Joel 1:4).
Though commentators have trouble categorizing the meaning of these four Hebrew words for "locust", most seem to think they are stages in locust growth from newborn through several moltings into adulthood. In such a case, the more tender and delicate leafy plants would be devoured first, followed by the consumption of the more bitter and tough foliage.
To give you an idea of how totally pervasive and discouraging a locust invasion can be, let me cite a paragraph from the National Geographic magazine which reported on the 1915 locust attack in Palestine and Syria. Here the first and last stages are reviewed. "Once entering a vineyard the sprawling vines would in the shortest time be nothing but bare bark. When the daintier morsels were gone, the bark was eaten off the young topmost branches, which, after exposure to the sun, were bleached snow-white. Then, seemingly out of malice, they would gnaw off small limbs, perhaps to get at the pith within." The author then goes to the last stage which completes the job in attacking the olive trees whose tough, bitter leaves had been previously passed over. "They stripped every leaf, berry, and even the tender bark. They ate layer after layer of the cactus plants, giving the leaves the effect of having been jackplaned. Even on the scarce and prized palms they had no pity, gnawing off the tenderer ends of the swordlike branches and, diving deep into the heart, they tunneled after the juicy pith." Joel's prophecy is quoted in the article and the author states: "We marvel how this ancient writer could have given so graphic and true a description of a devastation caused by locusts in so condensed a form." One more observation from the article is that when these locusts came, they were so thick and wide across the sky that they obscured the sun. That would be a terrifying sight indeed!
But why would Joel's contemporaries wait so long to repent? Their self-righteousness had apparently so blinded them that they must have thought that any serious plagues were reserved only for the other guys. Guess what, Joel told them, you've become the other guys, until you repent.
Now God had warned in Deuteronomy 28 that consuming locusts would be the execution of the curse-sanction in the land. This locust invasion and the withholding of rain were not unfortunate turns in the weather of those living in the promised land. They were nothing less than the sharp administration of
the covenant curse demanding repentance, or further judgments would follow even the Day of the Lord.
When God put his finger on the agricultural life of the land, life itself became threatened. The wine, the figs, the wheat, the barley, the olive oil and the trees were stripped and reduced to splinters. Couple these shortages with the drought and the cattle, sheep and beasts of the field were faced with suffering and death. Not only would the livelihoods of farmers and vinedressers be reduced to dry dirt clods, but the nation's food supplies, indeed the whole culture would come under severe distress and impending extinction. They would be a weakened, helpless prey for any marauding army.
But we are yet to mention the greatest concern of all... the cessation of the temple services.
The grain offering and the libation are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord. The field is ruined, the land mourns, for the grain is ruined, the new wine dries up, fresh oil fails (Joel 1:9, 10).
This meant that fellowship with and blessing from God would cease. They would lose their unique identity and reason for existing. And the priests should have been the first to interpret the meaning of it all. But they had fallen into self-delusion and hypocrisy. Joel, the blazing prophet of God, was needed to slice through the wall of spiritual darkness and direct them to call for national repentance. Isaiah spoke in disgust of this idolatrous dead formalism when he said, "This people draw near with their words and honor me with their lipservice, but they remove their hearts far from me, and their reverence for me consists of tradition learned by rote" (29:13).
It is the same for us today. We too must receive this rebuke for empty-hearted temple worship which was devoid of reality. It was not for naming a false god that the Lord sent the locust waves. It was for the sin of formalism. A self-centered idolatry of the heart that loved the prosperity of creation above the Creator of prosperity. How easily we can become comfortable and switch love for the Creator to love for his creation and not even know it. God saw this inner idolatry of deadness despite the fulfilling of external temple duties. Listen to this vital approach to temple worship from Psalm 63: "O God, Thou art
my God, I shall seek Thee earnestly. My soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee, in a dry and weary land where there is no water." These are the words of a soul alive unto God. But priests and people didn't have a clue what this meant for them. It is no wonder that Joel specifies that the repentance he calls for in 2:13 is not a mere rending of the outer garments but a rending of the garments of the heart.
You see, the spiritual, invisible locust plague had already occurred without the slightest whimper, not even a shallow groan. The fresh kiss of forgiveness on the broken heart of a worshipping priest was a buried memory. The fruit of inward zeal for holiness, or the hunger for God's presence, or the oil of gladness from a vigorous teaching session had all dried up and vanished. It was all religious rote now. They just went right on enjoying prosperous lives, deceiving themselves that all was well. The chosen had become frozen and God decided to turn up the heat of judgment to create a thaw. Sent from the throne room of the offended sovereign were locusts and drought to be followed with Joel's wail for national repentance led by the priests.
When locusts and drought had done their work the great reversal would have occurred. The lush land became the dead desert (2:3). Yet God's mighty grace can also reverse the curse from wilderness to garden as well. These themes of flip-flopping back and forth from garden to desert or wilderness to fertile field occur throughout the Old Testament prophets. Isaiah says "the Spirit is poured out from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fertile field" (32:15). Jeremiah speaks of the exact opposite direction—"fruitful land to wilderness."
I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens had fled. I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a wilderness, and all its cities were pulled down before the Lord, before His fierce anger (Jer. 4:23-26).
Here Jeremiah connects the idea of reversing judgment of "fruitful land to wilderness" with reverting backwards from creation to the time when the world was "formless and void."
Out of this wilderness curse-setting emerged the last of the Old Testament prophets wearing camel hide and eating locusts (of all things!). This guy is stern and has judgment and curse sanctions tattooed all over him. He is calling for national repentance, to prepare a people to meet him who is the Lamb—the one that can take away sins and refresh them with the waters of the Holy Spirit. Such a redemption he could only point to and prepare a people to receive. Out of this setting of curse sanctions, from a dusty wilderness and locusts, came John the Baptist to point them to the one who would bear the curse away and pour out waters of life upon the dry and thirsty soul.
In Jesus Christ the plagues are all exhausted as he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the living bridegroom of Cana of Galilee who brings wine in joyous abundance to the new marriage covenant, the wine of his shed blood. The land of the heavenly kingdom of life in Christ is refurbished, the wilderness becomes a pool from the Spirit poured out on high to a repentant people. His cross is the end of all plagues, cursing, death and drought. In his resurrection, we can find life abundant in his temple-land situated in the heavenlies. Yet the call to repentance has not been diminished. Now it is a call that issues not in earthly temporal fruit, but heavenly eternal fruit. This brings me to the third point.
III. Lamentation in the Land
Joel called for an urgent repentance because the locust plague is a harbinger of the Day of the Lord. Without repentance Israel would inexorably move from near destruction to utter extinction. He does not spell out for them from what to repent. He orders the priests in verse 13 to spend a night in sackcloth to think about it. This meant that weeping and heartsearching were to be combined. We too may need to block out some retreat time to earnestly cry out to God and to reflect, in order to break through to the refreshing streams of God's Spirit in rending the garments of the heart. But be sure, you don't want
proceed from the day of locusts to the Day of the Lord! If the frying pan feels hot Joel warns us, then you don't want the fire!
Gird yourselves with sackcloth, and lament, O priests; wail, O ministers of the altar! Come, spend the night in sackcloth, O ministers of my God, for the grain offering and the libation are withheld from the house of your God. Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly; gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is near, and it will come as destruction from the Almighty (Joel 1:13-15).
Since the day of the Lord is so near, Joel urges us to "Cry out to the Lord." In the Judges, this phrase is a desperate plea of the people under duress. In response to their cry, God would send a judge to deliver them. Joel uses this idiom to anticipate a favorable response from him who is not only severe but gracious to those afflicted and humble in heart—those who tremble at his Word.
I have presented to you three points. First, Life in the Land—the way covenant life ought to be. Second, Locust in the Land—the execution of the curse sanctions for covenant violations. Third, Lamentation in the Land—the repentant cry to God for deliverance and restoration to life in him.
The appearance of John the Baptist from the sandy wilderness eating locusts signals to us that Joel's call for repentance to find life in the land and the desert turned into a pool, was about to converge on the one John bore witness to as the Lamb of the New Covenant and the baptizer who would pour out his Spirit. The prophetic reversal from locust and drought to fruitful trees, the flow of sweet wine and covenant life is fulfilled not in Joel or even John the Baptist, but in Jesus Christ. In him the curse is laid to rest because he bore it and drank the cup on the cross, In him is the blessing of covenant life re- stored, the desert is made a pool and the vats overflow with wine and oil. In
him the Glory-Spirit returns with new creation power. Yet the unbending call to repentance and brokenness has not moved an inch, but rather now can issue in powerful change. Each of us must search his conscience and shake himself from self-delusions and identify the areas the locusts have eaten. The revitalizing Spirit of Christ is here to respond to those who "Cry out to the Lord;" the Spirit of Christ is here to revive those who rend their hearts and not their garments.
Faith Orthodox Presbyterian
The Leaping Man
Acts 3:1-8; Isaiah 35:4-6
Robert Broline, Jr.
In Acts chapter 2, we find the famous sermon by the apostle Peter which he preached during Pentecost. At the center of Peter's Pentecost sermon is the death and especially the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead together with his ascension into heaven above. Further, as Peter proclaimed the risen Christ and confronted the people with their sins, the New Testament church was born from above. The church was rooted in the resurrection and ascension of Christ—who himself became the firstborn from the dead. Because of Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension, and the pouring out of his Spirit—the church began to take shape as God's new creation. Ushered in by Christ's redemptive work, a whole new order was beginning to make itself known to the people and to be experienced by them. In the comprehensive conversion and radical transformation that is described for us in the latter verses of Acts 2, we are told at least 3,000 had come to believe and to embrace the risen Christ.
The Text: Acts 3:1-8
As we come to Acts 3, the feast of Pentecost has come to an end, and no doubt many of the Jews, who had come to Jerusalem from all parts of the world, had left—returning to their own homes. Following the incredible Pen-
tecost scene some days later, we are told in Acts 3:1 that at three in the afternoon, Peter and John went up to the temple to pray. Even though Christ's redemptive work had fulfilled the temple service and its ceremonies, the apostles still adhere to these Old Testament forms and practices.
As you make your way through the book of Acts, you must see the progressive and gradual displacement of the temple, and that Old Administration, by the church and the New Administration. When you come to Acts 21:30, you are told that the temple doors were shut-the displacement of the Old by the New was complete and there was no more going back. But now, here in Acts 3, at three in the afternoon, Peter and John head to the temple to pray, since the transition from the temple and the Old Administration to the church and the New Administration was not yet completed.
After walking across the court of the Gentiles, the apostles had to pass through the Beautiful Gate to the actual temple area. In front of that gate sat a beggar who had been lame from birth. Every day he was carried to that same spot to beg for alms from those who were entering the temple. In the verses that follow, we are told how Peter and John miraculously healed this man in the name and power of Jesus of Nazareth.
What are we to make of this healing event? (1) Was this miraculous healing event performed to display their own power and piety as apostles of the risen Lord? (2) Was this miraculous healing event even done simply out of pity for a man who was physically handicapped or disabled from birth? (3) Or was the purpose of this healing event simply and only to authenticate their own authority in proclaiming the message about the risen Christ? You can probably tell by the way I am asking these questions that the answer is (4) none of the above. We must understand the significance of this healing event in light of what precedes it, and especially in the light of what follows it!
Remember, this healing event follows on the heels of Peter's great Pentecost sermon in which he declared the almighty power of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Then, subsequent to this healing event, beginning in verse 12 of Acts 3 and continuing into chapter 4, Peter once again proclaims the incredible power and glory of God in raising Jesus from the dead. And also in this, his second sermon (vv. 12-26), the apostle Peter
makes it clear that the healing of this lame man was not by their own power or piety, but by the almighty power of the covenant Living God who raised up Jesus from the dead (v. 12). Based on this context then, in the healing of this cripple, you must at least take stock of the power of Christ's resurrection. Truly, what an awesome display of God's resurrection power!
This man had been crippled, unable to walk from birth. No amount of physical therapy or persuasive speech would enable this man to get up and walk. His legs and his feet had no life in them. They were dead. Further, this lame man had to be carried to the temple gate every day. He possessed no power or potential within himself to get up and walk, and thus he was not able to walk into the temple.
You say wait a minute, why doesn't someone just carry him the rest of the way into the temple? They already carried him everyday to the temple gate. After all, what was a few more feet? Was this some kind of cruel joke that they were playing upon this poor cripple? No, the Old Testament ceremonial law did not allow the lame to go beyond the temple gate. The law kept the lame at a distance. Thus, from birth, this man, this lame man, had never been permitted to enter into the temple itself. His entire life, he had been cut off from the temple; and to be cut off from the temple was to be cut off from the presence of God.
Further, even in his physically crippled state, he does not recognize the apostles and the supernatural power of the risen Jesus that was displayed during Pentecost. Instead, upon seeing Peter and John, he asks for natural sustenance, earthly and material provisions—he asks for money. No doubt, having been brought to the temple gate everyday most of his life, he was probably present during Pentecost. He must have seen the crowds who heard the apostles and saw the great wonders and miracles that they performed in the name of the risen Lord Jesus. And even if he did not hear the sermon himself, he certainly must have heard about the message that they proclaimed. How they spoke about this man Jesus of Nazareth, whom God raised from the dead. Resurrection power! Power over death itself. Nevertheless, despite this awareness, he does not even inquire of this supernatural and awesome power; rather he asks for alms! He asks for money. This lame man still did not understand nor did he yet truly recognize his own great need. Peter and John by the power
of the Spirit had to awaken him to his great need in order to restore him to complete health.
"But Peter said, 'I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!" And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened." Through the Holy Spirit, Peter and John saw him as an object of God's love and good pleasure. And in the name and in the power of the risen Lord, they raise this man up, and his feet and ankles were strengthened. God gives new life to his dead limbs, and they are created anew! "And with a leap, he stood upright and began to walk." In this miraculous healing, God through Peter and John displays the power of Christ’s resurrection to this cripple and before all the people who were watching. What an awesome testimony; or, we might even say, what a great illustration of Christ's resurrection power in the physical healing of this lame man!
But if we were to stop at his point, we would stop short. We would stop short of seeing something of the grace and glory of this healing event that God is communicating to the people who were there, as well as to you and to me. You must see more here than merely a visible and awesome illustration of raw resurrection power! In this restoration of physical life, you must see the restoration and re-creation of spiritual life. Thus, in this physical healing, in the raising of this lame man to his feet, we have before us a symbolic representation of spiritual healing. We have before us not just an illustration of the power of Christ's resurrection; rather, we have before us the reality of Christ's resurrection power as it gives rise to the resurrection of this lame man. In this physical healing is a picture of spiritual resurrection!
But in the spiritual resurrection of this lame man, you must not sit back in your pew or chair as if you are merely a spectator—like someone walking through an art gallery and staring at various paintings on the wall! No, you are also included in this healing event, because you participate in the time of its fulfillment as originally promised and anticipated in the Old Testament. In verse 6 of Isaiah chapter 35, the prophet, looking forward to the coming of God and the salvation that he will bring, states that "the lame will leap like a deer!" The kingdom blessings promised in the Old Testament find their fulfillment in the coming, death, and especially the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Day of Salvation has come—and the lame are leaping! (Isa. 35:4-6; cf. Lk. 4:18-21). And this "lame-man," God transformed with the resurrection of Christ into the "leaping man."
Why was this man walking and leaping and praising God? Was this because he was healed physically? Well, yes, in part this was certainly true. However, where does the text tell us that he was going when he was walking and leaping and praising God? Verse 8 tells us that he was going into the temple, into God's very presence! Remember, he had been lame from birth, and he had never been allowed to enter the temple. But now for the first time in his life, the Spirit of the risen Christ raised him up so that he could enter the special place where God dwells. That is why he is walking and leaping and praising God! Immediately upon his resurrection-healing, he was made to understand, by faith, that there was no true life, that there was no true joy, apart from being in God's presence and enjoying communion with him.
Who was this lame man anyway, who became the leaping man? Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, does not tell us his name does he? Is this because Luke did not know his name? I don't think so. Rather, this was kind of a deliberate pattern in Luke's writings. Luke refers to him in verse 2 of our text as a "certain man." In chapter 18 of his gospel, Luke refers to an unnamed, rich, young ruler who comes to Jesus as a "certain ruler." Then, at the end of that same chapter, Luke refers to an unnamed blind man that Jesus heals as a "certain blind man," even though Mark's gospel tells us his name was Bartimaeus. All these men are not named by Luke, and that deliberately!
So I ask the question again, Who was this lame man that became the "leaping man"? You are the leaping man! You all were formerly spiritual lame men. You all were once spiritual cripples—absolutely powerless and unable to save yourselves. You were kept at a distance because of the holiness of God's law and your failure and inability to obey it. You were cut off from God's presence and fellowship and communion with him, and that because of your sin! And not only that, but like the lame man you did not seek the living God of heaven and the power of his saving grace found in his Son's name.
Because of your sinful condition, you faced a hopeless and impossible situation!
But praise God, the things impossible with men, are possible with God! That impossible condition that faced us, was met by and in the Lord Jesus Christ. Because Christ was not spiritually lame—because he was sinless—by his perfect keeping of the law, he acquired resurrection life for you. Only with Christ's resurrection did God accomplish the impossible for you. Just as this lame man was raised and enabled to walk by the power of Christ's resurrection, you too have been raised spiritually, and that presently! And you had as much to do with your resurrection, your salvation, as this lame man did with his rising up and walking! Absolutely nothing.
You once were the lame man, but now you are the leaping man, leaping like a deer in your heart, and that because there is no other place you would rather be this side of glory, than right here, in God's presence, with his people, in worship and communion with him.
Reformation Orthodox Presbyterian
Morgantown, West Virginia
"Just the Facts, Mark, Just the Facts"
James S. Gidley
Robert H. Gundry. Mark: A Commentary on his Apology for the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993, 1069pp., cloth, $60. ISBN: 0-8028-3698-4. .
A massive yet slender and graceful structure rises above the Champ de Mars in Paris. Standing 984 feet tall, built in 1889, the Eiffel tower stands as a familiar monument on the Paris skyline. Supported at a graceful angle by four enormous legs, the tower is a symbol of stability and symmetry as well as beauty. It would certainly come as a surprise to the world if it should become known that this symmetry and stability were nothing but an illusion. The Eiffel Tower really stands upon only one leg and some invisible scaffolding. Experts wonder whether the entire structure can stand on one leg; some hold that the whole structure is an illusion. Lending all his support to the one remaining leg is Robert Gundry in his massive commentary on Mark. The four apparent legs of the Eiffel Tower are the four canonical Gospels; the single remaining real leg is the Gospel According to Mark.
Gundry's Mark is a massive work not only in size, but also in erudition. His length of well over 1000 pages compares to his earlier commentary of less than 700 pages on the lengthier Matthew. This is a scholar's commentary: Gundry assumes familiarity with the Marcan literature; he does little to help the reader to classify or to understand their positions. Rather, he interacts directly with them, often giving lengthy refutations of positions with which he disagrees.
The commentary's length is due to its comprehensive erudition. Yet it is an erudition exhibited over a chosen field of battle. Most of Gundry's interaction is with the 20th century literature, and that largely with an eye to refuting various form-critical and redaction-critical estimates of Marcan pericopes. This focus affects the style of the work, in that many convoluted sentences and paragraphs result from balancing the various probabilities and counter-probabilities in assessing the tradition history (or lack of it) in the Marcan text. Thus despite its massive erudition, Gundry's Mark shows a measure of historical foreshortening, and that in two directions. He shows little interest in older (pre-20th-century) discussions of Mark, for example never once quoting or referring to Calvin. Likewise, he shows little interest in recent structuralist approaches to Mark. For Gundry, Mark is still a disorderly hodgepodge of pericopes.
Gundry's Mark is handsomely produced. In such a massive work, it is especially noteworthy that there are very few typographical errors discernible in the text, and although this reviewer could not even begin to verify the almost endless source citations, he did not find any leading him astray. On the other hand, the commentary has a spare apparatus. It contains only two introductory tables: one of abbreviations, the other a bibliography of works cited. It contains only one index: that of modem authors cited. The introductory and concluding sections are also surprisingly small: only 25 and 30 pages, respectively, of 1051 pages. Consistent with his position that Mark exhibits little overall structure, the great bulk of the commentary is in the verse-by-verse comments and notes.
In such a massive work, it is understandable that the Biblical text was omitted. Thus, unless one is very familiar with the Greek text of Mark, one must read Gundry's Mark with the Bible, preferably the Greek text, open to the passage on which he is commenting. One refreshing element of the style of this work is its approach to footnotes and endnotes: there are none! For each pericope, two sections are given: first, running commentary; then, in smaller print, notes in which Gundry interacts with other authors. All citations are given in the text of the notes, which makes for relative ease of reading. The notes probably make up at least three quarters of the material.
To place Gundry in the context of contemporary Marcan scholarship, it will be helpful to outline five main clusters of Marcan issues as they are identified in a slim volume by Frank Matera, What are they saying about Mark? (Paulist Press, 1987). (1) Under "The Setting for Mark's Gospel," Matera notes four main positions: (1a) "Mark the interpreter of Peter"; (1b) "Mark a Roman Gospel"; (1c) "Mark a Galilean Gospel"; and (1d) "Mark a Syrian Gospel." Gundry, though seeing Mark as addressing an unbelieving Greco-Roman audience, emphatically adopts position (1a). He accepts and defends the tradition, handed down from the elder to Papias and preserved in Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, that Mark recorded the recollections of Peter.
(2) Matera classifies the major views of Mark's Christology under three headings: (2a) "The Messianic Secret" was first proposed by William Wrede (Das Messiasgeheimnis in den Evangelien, 1901, translated as The Messianic Secret, James Clarke, 1971). Wrede believed that a fundamental problem in the life of the early church was that it confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, but that the historical Jesus had never claimed to be the Messiah prior to his death. He argued that Mark put the Messianic consciousness of Jesus into his Gospel by the device of having Jesus conceal his Messiahship with frequent commands to silence about it. Wrede has cast a long shadow over twentieth century New Testament scholarship. (2b) "Corrective Christology" sees Mark as a refutation of deficient Christologies, particularly involving the Hellenistic concept of a "Primal man" or "divine man" (theios aner) with superhuman powers, yet not God. (2c) "Son of God Christology" is a reaction to the above. These scholars have maintained that there is no evidence of "divine man" doctrine in the Hellenistic world until the second century, hence making this kind of "corrective" Christology in Mark anachronistic. On this point, it is more difficult to place Gundry. He generally favors a high Christology in Mark: for example, he rejects the adoptionist viewpoint of Jesus' baptism. Yet his emphasis on Mark's purpose as that of exalting Jesus before an unbelieving Greco-Roman audience leads him to emphasize the wonder-working powers of Jesus that are congruent with the Hellenistic portrait of the "divine man." Gundry frequently uses the term "divine," and even uses "divine man" as a proper description of Mark's Jesus at one point.
(3) Matera's third cluster of issues is "The Disciples in Mark's Gospel." Here, rather than classifying positions, Matera discusses sub-issues, of which
the main ones can be paraphrased as follows: (3a) Does Mark take a positive or negative view of the disciples? (3b) Does Mark mean to polemicize against some contemporary adversary within or outside of the church through his portrayal of the disciples? (3c) Does Mark mean to offer pastoral correction to believers through his portrayal of the disciples? (3d) Does the church appear in Mark, and if so, how, since he does not use the word ecclesia? Gundry largely dismisses these issues as irrelevant, since for him Mark is almost purely Christocentric. The disciples do not represent anything in particular; their role in Mark is largely to provide a foil (one among several) for Mark's magnification of Jesus' greatness in the interests of his apology for the Cross.
(4) Matera's fourth cluster of issues is "The Composition of Mark's Gospel." The major questions can be paraphrased as follows: (4a) What were Mark's sources? (4b) What literary structure did Mark give to his source material? (4c) What theological stance does Mark take? (4d) How much (or how little) did Mark redact his sources? As noted above, Gundry takes very seriously the Papian (in his view pre-Papian) tradition, preserved in Eusebius, that Mark recorded the preaching of Peter. He thinks Mark has little or no literary structure, and no theological ax to grind. While he allows for Marcan redaction at various points, in the main he sees Mark as preserving material of essentially historical value.
(5) Matera's fifth cluster of issues concerns "The Narrative of Mark's Gospel." Some scholars have seen Mark as an exemplar of some ancient literary form, while others have recently applied modern theories of literary structure (hence structuralism) to Mark. Structuralists generally ignore questions of historicity and focus on the narrative structure of texts as we have them. Gundry frequently deals with literary and rhetorical devices within pericopes, often citing chiasm and asyndeton, for example, and these comments are helpful to the understanding of the text. However, Gundry rejects overall structure in Mark and sees the Gospel as a disorderly collection, in accordance with the Papian tradition. He brushes off structural criticism at the outset (p. 24):
Structural criticism can hone one's ability to read a text closely, but abstractness keeps this kind of criticism from contributing very much to an exposition of Mark's originally intended meaning in its historical specificity. Because
the commentary aims at such an exposition, then, structural criticism will suffer neglect.
Therefore, he does not interact in a significant way with three recent structuralist approaches to Mark: Jack Kingsbury, Conflict in Mark: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples (Fortress, 1989); Elizabeth Malbon, Narrative Space and Mythic Meaning in Mark (Harper & Row, 1986); and David Rhoads and Donald Michie, Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel (Fortress, 1982). The last-named work does not even appear in Gundry's lengthy bibliography. As a rule, he does not see theological meaning in topographical or geographical references, contrary to Willi Marxsen's classic treatment (Der Evangelist Markus, 1956, translated as Mark the Evangelist, Abingdon, 1969) and Malbon's more recent one. Gundry's "straightforward" historicism leads to a kind of "Joe Friday" hermeneutic—"just the facts, Mark." In this respect, Gundry's approach is reminiscent of the old quest of the historical Jesus.
Gundry seems to take his cue for this approach from the pre-Papian tradition preserved in Eusebius (p. 1048):
Papias's elder was correct. Mark wrote down the words and deeds of Jesus "in order" no more than Peter "arranged" them when telling anecdotes about Jesus. Thus the Gospel of Mark presents only a loose disposition of materials ....
Significantly, Gundry devotes 15 of his 30 pages of concluding remarks to the exposition and defense of the recollections of Papias. He maintains that the elder to whom Papias refers was the apostle John (pp. 1029-1031), arguing that Eusebius allows an ambiguity to stand concerning the identity of an elder John and the apostle John for a tendentious reason: to attribute the book of Revelation, which he does not like, to an unknown elder John rather than to the apostle. Gundry also appeals to the tradition of Papias's elder for the relationship between Matthew and Mark (p. 1032):
So the elder, i.e., the Apostle John, is saying that Matthew wrote his gospel for the purpose of correcting Mark's lack of order. Thus we have astonishingly early external evidence that Mark wrote first and that Matthew knew Mark's gospel and wrote his own in view of it.
Gundry's discussion of this issue intimates that the Apostle John is the father of Marcan priority in gospel criticism. He does not discuss or even quote the statements of other early church fathers in support of Matthean priority.
This assessment of the Papian tradition seems to control Gundry's entire approach to Mark. It is pre-eminently a matter-of-fact approach: " . . . the unartistry of Mark combines with significant unlikenesses to any earlier book to suggest a large-scale derivation from brute facts about Jesus" (p. 1050). (Contrast Gundry's view of Matthew—Matthew: A Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art.) Yet although according to the Papian tradition, Mark took care "to omit not a single one of the things that he had heard or to falsify anything in them" (p. 1027, Gundry's translation of Eusebius), Gundry does not take Mark's historicity at face value. Rather he arrives at it as the conclusion of his critical study of the text, and he does occasionally conclude that Mark, to further his purpose of magnifying Jesus, altered some aspects of the historical events. It follows that Gundry's approach does not commend to us a Mark whom we can implicitly trust as an historical authority, but a Mark who must first be sifted by critical expertise. What remains after this criticism can be commended to us as "brute facts about Jesus." The faith of the church is thus left captive to the tyranny of experts, much as it was when Kahler wrote his complaint over a hundred years ago (Der sogenannte historische Jesus und der geschichtliche, biblische Christus, 1892, translated as The So-called Historical Jesus and the Historic, Biblical Christ, Fortress, 1964).
In this reviewer's judgment, the key to understanding this commentary lies in Gundry's critical approach. Like most modern scholars of the Gospels, Gundry accepts the two-document (or two-source) hypothesis as the best solution to the synoptic problem (pp. 17-18). He regards the Gospel of Mark and the sayings source, Q (discerned by scholars in the discourse material common to Matthew and Luke but missing from Mark), to be the literary foundations for the synoptic Gospels. Since this means that Mark is the earliest Gospel, "the present commentary will seldom engage in a quest for the history of pre-Marcan traditions. It will often engage in criticism of attempts to trace such a history, however" (p. 18). For Gundry, the two-document hypothesis includes the belief in the historical reliability of Mark. But since Wrede (1901), this is a belief which can no longer be assumed, but must be
defended vigorously against radical views and redaction critics Gundry defends it tooth and nail in pericope after pericope.
Thus while Gundry breathes the air of the historical-critical tradition, he remains in the evangelical camp, not only accepting the possibility of the supernatural, but also defending the historicity of the miraculous accounts in Mark. He employs the methods of the form critics and redaction critics, but arrives at conservative conclusions. One way of understanding Gundry is to see him as an apologist for the historicity of Mark.
This apologetic purpose is made all the more urgent for Gundry in that he concedes that Matthew, Luke and John have redacted their source materials for theological purposes, even to the point of "departures from the actuality of events" (p. 623, Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art, Eerdmans, 1982). He believes that such redactional activity is pervasive in Matthew. For example, in Gundry's controversial (for an evangelical) Matthew, he maintained that the birth narrative of Jesus was not intended by Matthew to be taken as historically accurate, but was intended as a midrash on the earlier tradition of Jesus' birth that was incorporated in Luke. At various points throughout the present commentary on Mark, Gundry explicitly denies historical accuracy to accounts in Matthew, Luke and John while asserting their redactional activity. Hence if he is to retain an historical core to the gospel story, he raises the stakes for finding it in Mark.
Gundry roundly proclaims, "Likewise relatively useless for an understanding of Mark is redaction criticism" (p. 20) (the "likewise" refers to form criticism). He also comments on the circularity, indeterminacy, and general inadequacy of standard critical assumptions: "The form critical attempt to recapture the oral tradition prior to Mark and prior to whatever written sources he may have used, if any, is foredoomed. All we have is texts. Once the oral tradition faded away, so also did the opportunity to study it with a degree of precision that could pass for scientific method" (pp. 18-19). He then proceeds to pronounce misleading the following form-critical assumptions (pp. 19-20): (1) "that stereotypicality signals earliness whereas non-stereotypicality signals lateness;" it could equally well be the reverse; (2) "that materials linked by catchwords but not by linear logic have been combined secondarily;" original speech patterns can equally well be associative; (3) "the secondariness of
what can be detached from a pericope without leaving it nonsensical," which he regards as a mere non sequitur; (4) "to call in question the historicity of any tradition that agrees with the Judaism of Jesus' time or with later Christian beliefs and practices," the criterion of dissimilarity, which he devalues as uncertain, though conceding: "We ought to use the criterion of dissimilarity—yes. But it deserves no pride of place, brings no certitude, and has no value for a denial of historicity... The criterion of dissimilarity has value only as an argument for historicity, and then only to a degree of probability that rates evenly with other historical critical arguments" (emphasis Gundry's).
Gundry's strictures on critical methods and assumptions are also interspersed through the commentary. He exposes "unanswerable questions and inconclusive arguments" (pp. 78-80). He finds circular reasoning (p. 129), ill-advised confidence in tracing tradition history without extant documents (p. 139), and the invalid equation smoothness = originality, since smoothness may imply unoriginality (p. 209). He finds hypothesis substituted for argument (p. 327), inconsistency among those who themselves doubt the resurrection in their questioning the disciples' slowness to believe it (p. 449), "uncertainty which attends efforts to separate tradition and redaction in the absence of sources and independent parallels" (p. 494), and the invalidity of attributing catchword association to redaction, when it could reflect stream-of-consciousness speaking (pp. 507-8).
He questions the assumption that the church's identification of Jesus as the Christ could not have derived from Jesus himself (p. 520), the form-critical assumption that only one reason can be given to support a statement (p. 522), and the form-critical tendency to imagine an ecclesiastical Sitz im Leben from the gospel text alone (p. 546). He questions the redaction-critical assumption that lack of economy of expression and lack of logical progression signal insertion or combining of disparate materials (pp. 548-9). He criticizes skeptical critics' lack of historical imagination (p. 632). He objects to critical assumptions that preclude historicity from the outset (p. 677) and to the denial of historicity because a text shows Jesus taking the initiative in controversy (p. 720). He appeals to the naturalness of assuming multiple occasions of similar teachings by Jesus against the assumption of redaction (p. 724), though this kind of appeal is not typical for him. He points out that "historical criticism deals in probabilities" (p. 910, cf. p. 710). Thus Gundry's Mark con-
tains a veritable compendium of strictures on historical-critical principles and methods.
Yet all of these caveats are not for Gundry a rejection of critical methods themselves. Nor does he reject all traces of redaction in Mark. The historicity of Mark does not operate openly as a presupposition for Gundry, but, on the surface at least, seems rather to be the result of case-by-case determinations on his part that various pericopes represent an authentic slice of Jesus' life.
At various points Gundry admits Marcan redaction as the best explanation for the text as it stands. He believes that Mark's characteristic duality makes it impossible to tell "where he adds to the tradition and where he simply divides it to achieve duality of expression" (p. 194 on 4:3-9; cf. p. 266 on 5:1-20). At 4:31, 32 and 7:19, he sees redactional activity by Mark as the best explanation for difficult syntax (p. 229).
On the discussion with King Herod concerning the identity of Jesus, he sees 6:14b-15 as drawn from 8:28, out of a different context (pp. 314-5). He thinks the last phrase of 6:14 "looks like an addition to the tradition" (p. 315), casting doubt on whether Herod really said it. On 6:17-20, he argues that John's rebuke of Herod for marrying Herodias was the reason for his death, not for his imprisonment, despite what Mark says. Rather Josephus gives us the historical reason for John's imprisonment: "Herod feared the development of a revolt among John's followers." Mark, says Gundry, made the change to emphasize "John's being 'a righteous and holy man'" (p. 319).
He sees Mark changing "bread" from singular to plural in 7:2 to connect the loaves to the leftovers from the feeding of the five thousand (p. 348). He concludes that Mark inserted the phrase "in this adulterous and wicked generation" in 8:38 (p. 456) and the phrase "against her" in 10:11 (p. 533). He concludes that the last phrase of 12:5 is a "post-Jesuanic addition" (pp. 685-6).
On the account of the institution of the Lord's Supper, Gundry feels freer to engage in redaction criticism, because here he has 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 as the earliest extant version. Here Gundry says that Mark omits certain elements to suit his purpose at this point, which is to emphasize Jesus' prowess as a predictor, and that Mark adds the command to take the bread to make up for his omission of the command to take the cup (pp. 829-830). On Jesus' cry of
dereliction on the Cross (15:34), Gundry maintains that Mark redacts the tradition in order to evacuate this cry of its negative connotations. To do so, he maintains that the loud, expiring cry of 15:37 is the same as the cry of 15:34; thus, the cry of dereliction becomes a supernaturally loud cry which rends the veil of the Temple, producing a favorable impression on the centurion (p. 966).
Further, Gundry believes that Matthew, Luke and John heavily redacted their sources, and at least in Matthew's case, pervasively so. He frequently contrasts Mark to parallel accounts in the other gospels, often attributing to the latter evangelists a level of redaction that results in falsification of the historical data. For example, the voice of God at Jesus' baptism (1:11) is addressed to Jesus in Mark, but to bystanders in Matthew 3:17 and John 1:32-34 (p. 53). In the temptation narrative in Mark (1:12-13), Jesus does not fast, but the angels feed him all through the forty days, and Satan's temptations are not limited to three attempts, but continue throughout the forty days, and Satan does not leave him. All this in contrast to Matthew and Luke (pp. 55-59).
Mark has Jesus start his ministry and call his disciples after John's arrest (1:14-20), contrary to Luke and John (p. 63). In Mark's account of the Transfiguration (9:2, 3), Jesus' face does not shine, contrary to Matthew and Luke (p. 477). He sees Matthew 7:22 as a redaction of Mark 9:38 to change a positive assessment of a non-disciple's using Jesus' name into a negative one (pp. 520-521). In all these cases he regards Mark's accounts as the accurately historical ones.
Matthew puts the Pharisees "in a worse than historical light," but Mark's negative portrayal of them in 10:2 is historically justified (p. 536). Luke lifts material out of its historical context in Mark 10:45 and places it in Luke 22:27: "I am among you as one who serves" (NKJV) (pp. 588-9). Matthew, and Luke following him, omit Bartimaeus's name because Matthew doubles him (p. 599). While the disciples do not understand in Mark 9:32, in Matthew 17:23 they do (p. 612). There is no sound reason to question Mark's chronology in chapter 11; Matthew's chronology of the same events is fabricated (p. 681).
John antedated Jesus' cleansing of the Temple; its late occurrence in the synoptics is historical. John further "antedates the Ascension, the giving of
the Spirit, the claims and recognition of Jesus to be the Christ and God's Son, the very existence of Jesus, etc." (p. 642), including Christian baptism (p. 666). John 3:25-26 reflects "later tension between Christians and Baptists" in contrast to "cordial relations" reflected in Mark (p. 670). John omits the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13) or transmutes it into the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16) (p. 750).
In Mark 13:1, 2, the disciples' question is somewhat dissonant with Jesus' answer; Matthew assimilates the question to the answer, Luke vice versa (p. 753). Matthew probably transfers Mark 13:9-13 to Matthew 10:17-22 (cf. Luke 12:11-12); the Marcan context is "quite possibly the original and historical context" (p. 764). Mark 14:47 says that one of the crowd of Jesus' arresters cut off the ear of the high priest's servant, giving us an example of grim humor at the arresters' bumbling; Matthew and Luke make the swordsman a disciple of Jesus (pp. 859-860). Mark's time notations in his account of the crucifixion (15:25, 34) are historical; John changes them "to put Jesus' crucifixion entirely into the afternoon and thus correlate it with the slaying of the Passover sacrifices at that time, i.e., to make Jesus' crucifixion the true Passover sacrifice..." (p. 957).
Obviously, Gundry is by no means an exponent of traditional Gospel harmonization. "The old method of harmonizing what we can and holding the rest in suspension has seen its day, like worn-out scientific theories that no longer explain newly discovered phenomena well enough" (Gundry, Matthew, p. 639). Further, when he sees factual discrepancies between the Gospels, he argues for the historicity of Mark's account.
Gundry's zeal to maintain Marcan historicity also exhibits itself in his attitude towards Marcan theology—or the lack of it. In adopting critical methodology, he seems also to have adopted the critical assumption that historicity and theological motivation in a gospel narrative are mutually exclusive. This reviewer would deny that theological meaning precludes historicity. Typically Gundry denies theological motivation to the portions of the gospel narratives he deems to be historical. For Gundry, this is principally the Gospel of Mark. Hence we have the "Joe Friday" approach in the interests of the historicity of Mark's reportage—Mark has no theological ax to grind.
On Marcan theology, Gundry lays his cards on the table early, opening his commentary with a deafening thirty-fold negation (p. 1):
The Gospel of Mark contains no ciphers, no hidden meanings, no sleight of hand:
No messianic secret designed to mask a theologically embarrassing absence of messianism from the ministry of the historical Jesus. No messianic secret designed to mask a politically dangerous presence of messianism in his ministry. No freezing of Jesuanic tradition in writing so as to halt oral pronouncements of prophets speaking in Jesus' name. No Christology of irony that means the reverse of what it says. No back-handed slap at Davidic messianism. No covert attack on divine man Christology. No pitting of the Son of man against the Christ, the Son of David, or the Son of God.
No ecclesiastical enemies lurking between the lines or behind the twelve apostles, the inner three, and Jesus' natural family. No mirror-images of theological disputes over the demands and rewards of Christian discipleship. No symbolism of discipular enlightenment in the miracles. No "way"-symbolism for cross bearing. No bread-symbolism for the Eucharist. No boat-symbolism for the Church. No voyage-symbolism for Christian mission. No other-side-of-Galilee symbolism for a mission to the Gentiles. No Galilee symbolism for salvation or for the Second Coming. No Jerusalem-symbolism for Judaism or Judaistic Christianity.
No apocalyptic code announcing the end. No de-apocalyptic code cooling down an expectation of the end. No open end celebrating faith over verifiability. No overarching concentric structure providing a key to meaning at midpoint. No riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
None of those.
The motif of negation permeates the commentary, as time after time, Gundry debunks some interpretation or another of Mark's theological purposes. "The baptism of repentance which John proclaims does not prepare for Jesus' going to Jerusalem for Crucifixion" (p. 41). Likewise the death of John the Baptist does not prepare for the death of Jesus (pp. 312-3).
Galilee appears early and late for theological demolition. At 1:14, "Jesus goes into Galilee simply because he came from Nazareth of Galilee (v. 9). Mark has geography, not theology, in view (contrast Matt 4:14-16)" (p. 64). At 1:16: "'The Sea of Galilee' belongs to the actual geography of Jesus' main activity, its theological value for Mark being much overestimated in modem scholarship" (p. 71). Contra Malbon, "The designation [of Jesus as a Nazarene] carries no Christological freight" (p. 82). On the prediction that after the resurrection, Jesus would go before the disciples into Galilee (14:28): "The destination Galilee carries no theological freight. Where else would we expect Galileans like Jesus and his disciples to go after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem?" (p. 849).
Just as geography and topography carry no theological overtones for Gundry, likewise miracle stories generally carry no theological significance for him. At 1:31, the mother-in-law's service does not symbolize discipleship (p. 91). On the feeding of the five thousand (6:30-44), there is no wilderness motif connecting the narrative to Exodus, and there are no eucharistic allusions (pp. 328-332).
In the aftermath of the feeding, when the disciples are amazed at Jesus' walking on the sea (6:51, 52), "as confirmed in 8:13-21, the failure to understand in 6:52 will consist in failure to see a miracle in the feedings here and in 8:1-9, not in a failure to remember the feedings as such, much less in failure to see a symbolic meaning in them" (p. 333, cf. pp. 337-8). On Jesus' later upbraiding the disciples for their lack of understanding (8:17-21), he comments: "Simply and only in view are the miraculous character of the feedings and the disciples' imperception of it" (p. 415). Concluding his running commentary on 8:13-21, he states (p. 410):
The unemphasized lack of understanding in v. 21 serves, then, as a foil that thrusts into greater prominence the superadequacy of Jesus' miraculous power and protects the
second feeding as well as the first from the inference that they may not have occurred since Jesus' warning has made the disciples concerned over their having only one loaf (again see the comments on 6:51-52).
First, it seems impossible to this reviewer to characterize the lack of understanding of the disciples as "unemphasized" in this pericope. The whole pericope focuses on it, and the unanswered question "How is it you do not understand?" (8:21, NKJV) stands as the final word of the pericope, the position of natural stress.
Further, for Gundry, who repeatedly rejects the notion of the Messianic secret in Mark, this view of the feeding miracles is scarcely short of astounding! What could be more secretive than a miracle which was so unobtrusive at the time that the disciples overlooked it! Gundry is dealing with tensions in the text which he will not explain by seeing any parenetic or theological purpose in Mark. Thus the hardness of heart of the disciples cannot be interpreted against the backdrop of their knowing that they had seen miracles of feeding; this would jeopardize the historicity of the miracles. After all, to the modem scientific-historical critic, seeing is believing, is it not? Having seen the miracles of feeding, what more do the disciples require to make them understand?
This stands in juxtaposition to his treatment of the following pericope (8:22-26), the two-stage healing of a blind man. In the context, one might expect some resonance between the disciples' lack of understanding and the blindness of the man, but "since all the Marcan miracles have heretofore provided support for the disciples' Christological belief rather than symbolizing their pilgrimage to such belief (so, too, with respect to future Marcan miracles), we should reject the symbolic interpretation of the present miracle" (pp. 421-422). Similarly, he has seen no symbolic significance in the healing of the deaf-mute (7:31-37, p. 390).
At 10:38-40, divine judgment is to be leached out of the sayings concerning drinking the cup and being baptized with the same baptism as Jesus; only sharing the same fate is in view (p. 584). On 11:27-33, the controversy with the chief priests over authority, "The whole dialogue has to do with nothing deeper than saving and losing face" (p. 667). And on the cleansing of the
temple itself, "a symbolic view of the temple-cleansing cannot be sustained (p. 668) On the larger structure of Mark 11-13 (p. 682):
But Mark 11-13 contains little or no ecciesiology. It deals almost exclusively in Christology and uses the temple only as a showcase for Jesus' various powers. We will see reasons to reject the view that the church stands under the figure of a new temple.
Gundry's penchant for matter-of-fact literalism sends him, seemingly in Origen's direction on Jesus' famous commands regarding self-mutilation (9:45-48) (p. 514). Regarding whether Jesus or Mark mean to confine this saying to sexual ethics, he later notes that Mark "is interested in the explosive force of Jesus' teaching, not in its ethical content" (p. 525).
On Jesus in Gethsemane (14:32-42), we have a typical statement (p. 863):
Mark is writing an apology for the Crucifixion over against the shamefulness with which crucifixion was regarded throughout the Greco-Roman world, not a theology of discipular suffering as opposed to a Jewish Christian theology of discipular glory.
Likewise, at the Cross itself (15:33-39, p. 974):
... to say that according to Mark only in the Cross can Jesus' identity as Son of God be adequately seen and confessed ... is to overlook that the centurion does not declare Jesus' divine sonship because he sees Jesus die on a cross, but because he sees Jesus die there in such a way that defies naturalistic explanation. It is Jesus' overcoming the weakness normally caused by crucifixion, not dying itself by crucifixion, which evokes the centurion's declaration ... Mark does not present a Christology of the Cross to foster a theology of suffering, then, but the Christology of divine sonship to counteract the scandal of the Cross.
In an overview of the whole Gospel (p. 1039)
We have repeatedly seen that Marcan materials are far less ecclesiastically relevant than is often claimed, that Mark himself (if not Peter before him) might have drawn together similar materials, and that a historical conjunction of some Marcanly conjoined events, sayings, etc., is not to be ruled out of court.
We might expect that Gundry, having rejected so much theology in Mark, might proceed to tell us that Mark is only interested in telling us the facts about Jesus, following the hermeneutical rule of Saint Joseph of Friday. But it does not come out quite that way. Gundry's positive answer to the question, What is the purpose of Mark's Gospel? is intimately related to the audience to which he believes it was addressed: Greco-Roman unbelievers. What do these unbelievers need to hear? While Gundry does not dwell on the factual side at this point, it seems to be an underlying theme that unbelievers need to hear facts. They need something solid to base faith on, and cannot be expected to accept the theological opinions of believers at face value. Transporting Mark into the late twentieth century leaves us with the same need: unbelievers today want facts, not theological opinions of believers.
Nevertheless, there would be two problems for Gundry if he were to leave Mark at the factual level. First, would a presentation of facts about Jesus, a crucified Jew, really commend him to a Greco-Roman audience? Second, would a presentation of facts about Jesus lead unbelievers to conversion, or to say "So what? Brute facts of history have no meaning for my life"? While the second question remains implicit (more on this later), Gundry addresses the first question directly (p. 1):
Mark's meaning lies on the surface. He writes a straightforward apology for the Cross, for the shameful way in which the object of Christian faith and subject of Christian proclamation died, and hence for Jesus as the Crucified One.
Gundry is sensitive to the problem implicit in describing Mark as straightforward in the introduction to such a massive commentary; he concedes that there will be a "long, labyrinthian journey to follow" (p. 2). (I am reminded of a joke that a professor told us in graduate school: A math professor is con-
structing a proof during a lecture. At a certain point he states, "Now it is obvious that ... He then suddenly stops, with a puzzled look on his face. He remains silent, while the class waits patiently. He paces in front of the class. He wanders out the door and down the hall. Fifteen minutes later, he returns and resumes his proof with a relieved smile and a nod of his head, "Yes, it is indeed obvious that ...)
In taking this view, Gundry in effect transforms Mark from a neutral reporter working for the Jerusalem bureau of CNN into a writer of press releases for the publicity department of the Christian Church. That Gundry wants to see Mark as a reporter is subtly indicated by his frequent use of the phrase "Mark writes up...," often to refer to Mark's handling of a tradition. But also, "Mark delights in publicity, not in secrecy, for publicity magnifies the impact of Jesus' activities" (pp. 98-99). Thus Gundry repeatedly highlights how Mark magnifies Jesus, putting his unique greatness constantly before his readers: his personal magnetism, drawing great crowds from afar; his Divine authority, at which the crowds are astonished; his many miracles, exhibiting a supernatural power; his exorcisms of demons, showing a matchless power and authority in the supernatural realm; his goodness in contrast to the venality and wickedness of his opponents, showing that he was not a criminal but an innocent sufferer; his predictive power, showing a supernatural prescience.
Yet there are points at which Gundry is hard-pressed to maintain this emphasis. Perhaps one of the weakest sections in the commentary in this respect is his handling of the Olivet Discourse in Mark 13. Regarding the primary referent of the prophecy, Gundry emphatically asserts: "From beginning to end, then, the events and circumstances of the Jewish war disagree with the text of Mark too widely to allow that text to reflect those events and circumstances" (p. 755). This would seem to require an entirely futurist interpretation of Mark 13, putting Gundry on a collision course with 13:30, "this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place" (NKJV). Yet not so. The predictions do refer to Jesus' generation after all, leaving the problem of non-fulfillment. The solution? (p. 790):
We now know that "all these things" did not take place before Jesus' contemporaries passed away. Not even the exclusion of the Son of Man's coming from "all these things"
relieves the problem of non-fulfilment, for some of the things remaining after this exclusion—in particular the abomination of desolation, the unprecedented tribulation triggered by it, and the rising up of false christs with false prophets—were supposed to signal the soon coming of the Son of Man, in fact, his coming sooner than originally planned, since the Lord has cut short those days (v. 20). But even if the events in and around 70 C.E. had corresponded well to those predicted in vv 5b-23 or 14-23 (we have seen that they did not), the Son of Man still did not come soon, certainly not in the generally and widely visible way predicted ... On the other hand, neither was Nineveh destroyed in forty days to fulfill the Lord's message through Jonah; and that prediction was stated just as unconditionally as the present prediction of Jesus and with even greater chronological precision. Biblical prophecy often undergoes change, often by way of delayed fulfilment (cf. Luke 13:6-9 for a Jesuanic, parabolic representation of God's delaying judgment after deciding to impose it immediately). Apparently Mark wrote before this delay extended so far as to make Jesus' saying problematic (cf. the foregoing notes on 9:1 among the notes on 9:2-8 ... ).
Gundry treats the prediction of 9:1 in a similar way: "He introduces the Transfiguration as a stopgap-fulfilment to support Jesus' prowess at prediction . . . " (pp. 468-9). To say the least, this is a strained apologia, an obscure ray in Mark's nimbus of glory about the head of Jesus.
But the crowning element of Mark's apologia, according to Gundry, is his handling of the Cross. In fact, he maintains that all the other elements of Mark's glowing reports of Jesus, adumbrated above, are intentionally arranged so as to mitigate the scandal of the cross. He cites 1 Corinthians 1:18, 23 to corroborate the well-known fact that the Cross was scandalous in the ancient Greco-Roman world (p. 14). He notes numerous features of Mark's passion narrative that he sees as designed to minimize the scandal of the Cross: items such as Jesus' predictions of his crucifixion, Peter's denial, the mocking of the
soldiers, etc.; the short time Jesus remains on the cross before death (from the third hour to the ninth); the distinguished burial he receives; the supernaturally loud cry with which Jesus expires; and so on (pp. 12-14 and ad loc.). He goes so far as to say "Mark pits the successes against the suffering and death, and then uses the passion predictions, writes up the passion narrative, and caps the gospel with a discovery of the empty tomb in ways that cohere with the success-stories, in ways that make the passion itself a success-story" (p. 3). Further, Mark "appeals to exactly those elements in the career of Jesus which for Greco-Roman readers would most likely suffuse the shame of crucifixion in a nimbus of glory" (p. 15).
It is not that a Christological reading of Mark's Gospel is wrong-headed; in fact this reviewer regards the Christological reading as the only right-headed approach. But having said this, we must ask: what sort of Christology? What view of the Cross? In answering the latter question, it is significant that in Gundry's appeal to 1 Corinthians 1:18, 23 to corroborate the scandal of the Cross, he does not refer to Paul's inversion of that scandal: "to us who are being saved [the message of the cross] is the power of God ... we preach Christ crucified ... to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:18, 23, 24, NKJV). Is then Mark's apology for the Cross an ancient example of seeker sensitivity? Must the shame of the Cross merely be mitigated by placing glorious details alongside it? Or is it not rather as Paul regards it, the occasion for a transvaluation of all values in which that which was once regarded as shameful is now regarded as the power and wisdom of God, despite its continuing shamefulness in the eyes of the unbeliever?
It is significant to see Gundry's view of Mark as functioning within his overall system of gospel interpretation and theology. This reviewer has previously noted his view that redaction in Matthew, Luke and John is heavy, yet to the extent of presenting midrashic, unhistorical stories about Jesus (e.g. the birth narrative in Matthew). Yet Gundry sees this as authoritative theologizing (Matthew, p. 640):
We are not to think ... that materials attributable to Jesus himself possess more authority than materials attributable to Matthew. The Spirit of Christ directed the editing, so that
its results, along with the historical data, constitute God' Word.
That is, the later evangelists may have altered the historical facts, but the theological points that they are making are to be accepted as authoritative in the church. Mark then serves as the connecting link between the historical Jesus and the kerygma of the later evangelists: Mark will make you favorably disposed towards the historical Jesus so that you will be more likely to accept the authoritative kerygma about him that the church commends to you through the other evangelists. Thus we have a compartmentalized view of marturia and kerygma. (I cannot recall any instance in which Gundry refers to Marcan kerygma.)
Yet it is not really possible to separate the marturia from the kerygma, and again we feel the tension between the need for reportorial accuracy and the need for public relational advocacy. For in the end, even Mark, according to Gundry, does not merely present us with a factual portrait of Jesus, but wishes us to take a favorable view of him. "it has become evident that just as Mark started by emphasizing the authority of Jesus' teaching without revealing its contents, where later he does reveal its contents he does so not for ecclesiastical application but for Christological enhancement" (p. 7). "Parenesis serves Christology .... Put alongside the other predictions, those in chap. 13 tell us more about Jesus than about the setting of Mark's church" (p. 11). Again we must ask: What sort of Christology? What view of the Cross?
It is not merely a vague, high regard for Jesus that Gundry sees commended in Mark. There is a good bit of specificity to the view which Mark wants us to take. Mark's Christology is already high. On Mark's ascription of the title "Son of God" to Jesus (1:1), he says (p. 34):
"Son of God" does not necessarily imply divinity, much less preexistence in heaven; for the phrase can denote a purely human king and messiah (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7 ... ) and therefore say little or nothing more than "Christ" . . . But Mark's doublings regularly sharpen and heighten the meaning of what precedes ... Gentiles would certainly respond to "Son of God" with thoughts of divinity ... It is hard not to think that he is aware of the way in which they
would understand "Son of God" and that he therefore add: the phrase to prompt thoughts of divinity ...
This approach to Christology in Mark is significant both in its relatively high affirmation and in its conformance of that affirmation to the expectations of Mark's audience, to which I shall return later.
On the temptation narrative (1:12,13), Gundry concludes: "What we have, then, is not the story of a moral victory, but a series of narrative statements each pregnant with a Christology of power and divine sonship" (p. 5). "The highness of its Christology suits an apology for the Cross" (p. 60). On 1:11, he rejects adoptionist Christology (p. 53). On 1:16-20, the call of his disciples: "Not only does the command to follow differ from the rabbinic pattern. It also differs from the prophetic pattern; for a prophet did not call people to follow him, but called on them to follow God. So Jesus stands not merely in the place of the Law ... but in the place of God" (p. 70). (Curiously, this contrast with the OT and Jewish background would be lost on Mark's Greco-Roman audience.) On 1:21-22, he comments on Jesus' authority to cast out demons as follows: "A limitation to delegated authority would be lost on Mark's Gentile audience, and his portraying Jesus as divine forbids such a limitation" (p. 81). On 2:6, 7, he comments on Jesus' authority to forgive sins: "Thus, it is no ordinary man, much less a criminal, who will die on the Cross. He is a divine figure unrecognized as such by those who will put him there ..." (p. 112). On the stilling of the sea in 4:39: "He trusts in his own abilities as God's Son ... the sleeping dramatizes his divine self-confidence" (p. 239). "The doing of obeisance shows recognition of Jesus' divine majesty" (5:6, p. 250). On 5:19, where Jesus commissions the former demoniac to tell "what great things the Lord has done for you" (NKJV): "Jesus implies that he is the Lord's agent; but since 1:2-3 applied to Jesus and John the Baptist an OT passage that speaks of the Lord and his messenger, Mark probably implies here that Jesus has acted as the Lord . . . " (p. 254, emphasis his).
On 6:48, concerning Jesus' walking on the sea, he sees "Jesus' intention of parading as a divine being" (p. 336). On 7:19, regarding the Old Testament dietary laws: "it is the prerogative of Jesus as God's Son to change the Law. Such a change does not count as human tradition, for Jesus' word is divine ... Mark's point is exactly this: Jesus has authority to change the commandments
because he is divine and the elders are not . . . " (p. 356). At Jesus' trial, his response (14:62) to the high priest's climactic question is interpreted as follows: "Jesus' affirmation 'I am' (cf. 1 Tim. 6:13), feeds into Mark's writing this gospel to argue for Jesus' christhood and divine sonship despite the scandal of the Cross" (p. 886). On the confession of the centurion at the Cross (15:39): "Mark does not present a Christology of the Cross to foster a theology of suffering, then, but the Christology of divine sonship to counteract the scandal of the Cross" (p. 974).
Therefore, Gundry sees in Mark a consistently high Christology. Yet he seems to fall short of saying that Mark wants us to believe specifically that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament. His most frequent term is to refer to Jesus as "divine," but does this rise to the equation Jesus = Jehovah? Gundry's interest in Mark's audience seems to turn his interpretation of Mark's Christology in a lower direction. On 4:40-41, he concludes (p. 241):
For Mark, the key point is that the man who will later be crucified is the man who without prayer to God or adjuration in God's name successfully commands the wind and the sea. He is a divine man who represents the one true God.
Is this a concession to Hellenistic conceptions of a theios aner (divine man)? Does Mark use the "divine man" concept with a syncretistic intention or with the intention to correct it? Gundry's Mark seems to leave us short of Chalcedonian orthodoxy.
Concerning the Cross, this reviewer again has no quarrel with seeing the Cross as central to Mark; again, he heartily endorses it. Yet for Gundry, the Cross in Mark is primarily a stumbling block to be mitigated, as can be seen in the above quotation regarding the centurion's confession in 15:39. So on the first passion prediction (8:31, 32), he comments: "The didactic forecasting helps take the sting out of Jesus' passion ... That Jesus' fate 'is necessary' makes it a matter of God's plan as well as of Jesus' foreknowledge ... now all the sting is removed" (p. 428, emphasis his.) And the subsequent command to follow Jesus (v. 34) "interests Mark mainly as a contribution to his apology for the Cross" (p. 434).
On 10:45, he concludes his comments (p. 581) with:
In saying that his serving goes to the extent of giving his life as a ransom in substitution for many, Jesus interprets his approaching death as supremely self-sacrificial for the saving of many others' lives. Thus the Marcan apologetics of miraculous ability, of didactic authority, and of predictive power metamorphoses into an apologetic of beneficial service. The Cross will not bring shame to its victim, but salvation to his followers.
In his concluding note on the same verse, he says: " . . . the vicarious death of Jesus has importance in Mark. Yet we need to recognize that in the overall scheme of Mark this doctrine serves, not itself, but an apology for the Cross (see the foregoing comments on v. 45)" (p. 593). Despite the substitutionary language of 10:45, which Gundry here recognizes, he later minimizes, if not eliminates, the substitutionary aspect of the Cross. On 15:34, Jesus' cry of abandonment on the Cross: ". . . Mark translates the Aramaic in terms of abandonment and ... in context abandonment means abandonment to death ... The view ... that Jesus cries out in awareness of his bearing God's judgment on the sins of others rests on a wrongly judgmental interpretation of Jesus' cup and baptism in 10:38-39; 14:35-36" (p. 966). But in appealing to 10:38, 39, he is appealing to a cup and baptism that James and John must share, and therefore appealing to what is common between Jesus' suffering and his disciples' suffering, which by definition rules out the substitutionary idea.
Jesus' besting his opponents in the controversy over authority to cleanse the Temple serves the same purpose: "They lose face (a serious loss in near eastern culture). The shame to which he puts the very ones who will get him crucified cancels the shame of his crucifixion" (p. 659). Despite the delay in its fulfillment, "What he predicted in chap, 13 is—climactically—that as the Son of man he will come in clouds with much power and glory." This negates the scandal of the Cross (p. 735).
So strongly does Gundry hold to his purpose for Mark that he uses it to buttress his first argument (p. 1009-1010) for a continuation of the Gospel beyond 16:8:
Mark has repeatedly and in detail narrated the fulfilments of Jesus' other predictions so far as those fulfilments occurred during Jesus' time on earth ... there remains one prediction whose fulfilment is to take place while Jesus is still on earth, the prediction in 14:28 that after his resurrection he will go ahead of his disciples into Galilee ... It seems highly unlikely that Mark has included not only that prediction in its original setting but also a recollection of the prediction and two additions to it [in 16:7] ... only to omit a narrative of its fulfilment ... An omission would have mutilated Mark's apology for the Cross at the very point where he could and should have clinched it.
Although he goes on to append eleven other reasons to assume that Mark originally extended beyond 16:8, it seems significant to this reviewer that this one takes first position. For it can be turned on its head: If Mark does not narrate a resurrection appearance, then perhaps his purpose is not simply to give an apology for the Cross. Adherents to the majority text, by the way, will not be succored by Gundry. While he believes that Mark originally extended beyond 16:8, he regards the extant endings of Mark, in all variants, to be inauthentic. The true ending of Mark has been lost. He believes that "the original ending of Mark has survived in redacted form outside Mark" (p. 1011), i.e., in Matthew and Luke.
Earlier, this reviewer posed the question: would a presentation of facts about Jesus lead unbelievers to conversion, or to say "So what? Brute facts of history have no meaning for my life"? The deeper meaning of Gundry's commentary on Mark hinges on the answer it gives to this question. It is now time to return to it. Gundry's view of the fourfold gospel leaves him with a historically reliable Mark and redacted—in Matthew's case, heavily redacted—yet theologically authoritative later canonical Gospels. But what is the relation between the historically reliable substratum in Mark and the later theologizing of the other evangelists? Is the later interpretation really legitimate—let alone authoritative—or does it hang in the air?
To leave Mark at the level of a repository of "brute facts" about Jesus would be to leave a great gulf between him and the other evangelists, roughly
analogous to Lessing's ditch. Mark the repository of accidental truths of history, the later evangelists the purveyors of universal truths of gospel reason. Gundry's solution is to give Mark's brute facts a subtle, minimalist (for an evangelical) meaning. Not theology, but apology; not a substitutionary Cross, but a Cross with the shame balanced by glory; not the God-Man, but a "divine man who represents the one true God." Gundry's Mark is an apologist who does not challenge his audience's presuppositions. They already have the presuppositional equipment with which to assess the significance of what Mark is saying.
As a nonspecialist in New Testament studies, I can do no more than suggest an alternative approach. But it is well for specialists occasionally to take notice of a nonspecialist's viewpoint.
I do not wish to return to the pre-18th-century homogeneous view of the fourfold gospel. The early church may not have understood the loss, but there was a significant providential message in the substantial loss of Tatian's Diatessaron. Something essential is lost from the fourfold gospel when it is homogenized, just as much as when it is pulverized by modern historical criticism. In terms of the Eiffel tower analogy, Tatian-like homogenization corresponds to aligning the four slanting supports of the Eiffel tower in the same direction. Both symmetry and stability are lost from the resulting structure. Gundry's "Theological Postscript" to his Matthew (pp. 623-640) remains a stimulating challenge to such traditional views.
But the historical-critical reconstructions of the fourfold gospel are worse. At least the traditional homogenization of the gospels left all four supports on the ground. The modem reconstructions leave only Mark (if any) on the ground, with Q like an invisible (since no longer extant—except by conjectural reconstruction) scaffolding alongside. The remaining evangelists are precariously balanced on Mark, from which point they must necessarily diverge in direction. (In fairness, Gundry allows for historicity outside of Mark and Q, particularly in Luke [see his Matthew, p. 628].) We can scarcely afford to dispense with all versions of old-style Gospel harmonization.
In the present reviewer's judgment, we ought to see the fourfold gospel as four independent witnesses, each of which has his own slant, but which, when
arranged properly, converge to proclaim the one true Christ and the one true gospel. In place of the older homogeneous harmony from a single point of view, the fourfold gospel presents a convergent harmony from four individual points of view.
To move on from the Eiffel Tower metaphor, we could consider more particularly the four evangelists as four witnesses from four different points of view. An accurate drawing of all but the simplest mechanical objects requires at least two two-dimensional views to fully describe the object and to communicate its true shape to the would-be manufacturer. Many objects are complex enough to require three or more two-dimensional views for adequate representation. At first glance, these several views do not appear at all alike. Yet with training, practice, and careful observation, a draftsman (or student) can accurately visualize the entire three-dimensional object from the several views taken together.
Yet to do this requires more than training, practice, and careful observation. It requires a presupposition: that the several views of the object are intended to be taken together and represent a single, unambiguous object. Students can become frustrated with complex drawings and can be tempted to believe that there is an error in one or more of the views. At such a time, they must be persuaded that the drawings really do fit and really do describe one three-dimensional object.
At this point, the metaphor of design serves a deeper purpose. For this reviewer believes that the fourfold gospel is a deliberate design, and would approach the four evangelists with this presupposition. From time to time he encounters features in the four views which seem irreconcilable or simply baffling. Yet he proceeds with the presupposition that the views really do describe one true Christ and one true gospel, and under my One great Teacher's eye, expect one day to see more clearly the Object of my study.
If indeed the fourfold gospel is a deliberate design of God, then it will behoove us to reckon with the Divine element in the origin of the gospels themselves—we must reckon with the factor of inspiration. In over a thousand pages of commentary, I do not recall once reading in Gundry a reference to what the Spirit was saying though Mark. One of the ironies of a conservative use of historical-critical methods is that it leads to a focus on a purely
human provenance of documents that purport—and which the conservative scholar professes to believe—to contain a message from heaven. True, it will be explained that the historical-critical methods focus on the human authors of the Scriptures; indeed, it will be said that the historical-critical methods are necessary if we are to take the human side of the Scriptures seriously.
Yet I cannot avoid thinking of this as analogous to the old quest of the historical Jesus, a quest justified by appeal to the human nature of Christ. But the fact of the Virgin Birth, confessed by the true church through the ages, teaches us that even the human nature of Jesus cannot be fully explained in purely human terms. Though he is fully human, his human nature did not arise from mere human means and power. Likewise, can we fully understand even the human side of the Scriptures without taking account of the factor of Divine inspiration? As the Virgin Birth lays the foundation for Jesus' sinless human nature, so inspiration lays the foundation for the inerrancy of the Bible. But more to the point, as the Virgin Birth is the supernatural cause of Jesus' human nature, must we not see Divine inspiration (without falling back on a theory of mechanical dictation) as the cause of even the human phenomena of the Scriptures?
We must reckon with the contents of the Scriptures as well as their Divine provenance. At this point I find the threefold schema of kerygma, marturia, and didache to be helpful (see H. N. Ridderbos, Heilsgescheidenis en Heilige Schrift van het Nieuwe Testament. Het Gezag van het Nieuwe Testament, 1955, translated as Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures, Presbyterian & Reformed, second revised edition, 1988, pp. 50-76). The New Testament (indeed the Bible as a whole) is simultaneously kerygma (proclamation), marturia (testimony), and didache (doctrine). While at various points, one or the other of these three factors will predominate, on another level, every portion of the New Testament is simultaneously testimony, proclamation, and doctrine.
The older Ritschlian liberalism went astray in its fixation on marturia. The gospels were witnesses to the historical Jesus, and their testimony had to be evaluated like any other human testimony. By the turn of the twentieth century, it was becoming apparent that no certainty, no generally acceptable portrait of the historical Jesus, could be attained along the path of marturia.
Barth and Bultmann, and their respective disciples, have sought to find the way out of the historical, marturial impasse by an appeal to kerygma. But whether the kerygma is to approximate the content of the older orthodoxy or is to be demythologized to expose its existential essence, the kerygma taken by itself is also ultimately unsatisfying. For we do not live in the world of a kerygma hanging in the air. We live in a real world with a real history that poses real dangers for us.
What is inadequate in these two approaches? It is that in each case, the message of the Bible is transmuted by a worldview that is fundamentally alien to it. In Ritschlian liberalism, historical objectivity reigns, with a more or less openly acknowledged antisupernaturalism. In the kerygmatic theologies, a Kantian viewpoint is presupposed, in which the phenomenal realm can be left to the antisupernaturalistic assumptions of the older liberalism, but in which meaning and salvation are to be found in a noumenal realm of the kerygma.
But the Bible also comes to us with a worldview: matter is created, not eternal; the world is not only open to the supernatural, but the supernatural has actually intruded into the world; the supernatural is not some vague realm of the spiritual, but is the realm of the Triune God; etc. Further, repentance is not simply a moral action; it also encompasses the intellectual side of life as well: we would do well to pay attention to the noetic side of metanoia. When Jesus calls upon us to repent and believe in the gospel (Mk. 1:15), this is fundamentally a call for us to change our minds, think other thoughts, embrace another worldview—and of course to turn from our sins unto God. But when we speak of worldview issues, we are speaking of the New Testament's function as didache-doctrine. As Paul put it: "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine [didache] to which you were delivered" (Rom. 6:17, NKJV). The convert to Christ has not only believed the good news (marturia) and embraced the Christ proclaimed therein (kerygma); he has also submitted his mind to the form of doctrine of the Gospel.
It should by now be clear that the more openly didactic or doctrinal portions of the New Testament—certainly Paul's letter to the Romans would be included here—rest on the historical portions. Of course, not by way of chronological succession, for many of the epistles may well have been written
prior to the gospels and Acts. Rather, the redemptive history that is related in the gospels and Acts is presupposed in the epistles. Thus Paul's doctrine cannot be divorced from that redemptive history. But it should also be seen that Paul's doctrine is implicit in the redemptive history itself. It is therefore legitimate—no, necessary—to see the atonement in the narratives of Jesus' death and resurrection—even in Mark. True Christian piety has always done so, if only because the facts themselves have an inherent redemptive meaning prior to the explicit authoritative interpretation of the evangelists in particular and the New Testament in general.
Paul's perspective in fact does away with a false distinction between Christology and parenesis, or between redemptive history and theology. We were crucified with Christ, buried with him, raised with him. Paul invites us then to read ourselves back into the Gospel narratives. It is not that Paul denies their historicity; rather he affirms it. But his view of history, particularly redemptive history, is that we are included in it from the start, The problem of Lessing's ditch never arises for Paul. The "accidental truths" of redemptive history are the universal truths of Christian reason.
To concretize these points, I shall close this review on a hermeneutical illustration: Gundry's handling of Mark 12:26, in which Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6 ("I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob") to refute the mortalism of the Sadducees (pp. 703-704):
From the standpoint of grammatical historical exegesis the inference, "He is not a God of dead people but of living people" does not follow from "I [am] the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob"; for from that standpoint God was only stating that at the time of speaking God was the God whom Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had worshipped during their mortal lifetimes—no implication of afterlife, much less of bodily resurrection, favored or even suggested ....
Modern exegetes would brand the transfer of Exod 3:6 from past to future as highhanded violation of the originally intended meaning. But in first century Palestinian Judaism,
as remarked before, an argument's consisting of grammatical historical exegesis would have lacked cogency, just as in another two thousand years different techniques of interpretation (psychological, sociological, economic, rhetorical, and structural posing possibilities that grow out of the present, to say nothing of unpredictable possibilities) may cause grammatical historical exegesis to lose its cogency. What counted then was ingenuity at playing with words by such means as transferring them to new frames of reference where they could be made to say new things, as indeed at the popular level may still count for more than does grammatical historical exegesis.
Other scholars "can point to covenantal associations of 'the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,' but cannot show that God's faithfulness to God's covenant with these patriarchs demands their resurrection. For God did not promise them resurrection" (p. 708).
The first thing that strikes me about this view is that it makes Jesus inaccessible to moderns. Mark may have written to make Jesus appear great to the eyes of first century Greco-Roman unbelievers, but in so doing, he has made him—at least at this point—look silly to modern unbelievers. To what end do we have brute facts about Jesus in Mark? To what end to we have an apology for the Cross, which is now so dated as to be outdated?
But further, if this silliness of Jesus (despite his describing it as "exegetical brilliance" [p. 718]) is to be explained away as an accommodation to the first century mindset—as it appears that Gundry does in these comments—then how are we to avoid a process of demythologization of the New Testament? How are we to be assured that Mark's accounts of the miraculous are not also accommodations to the first century mindset? Since Mark's Hellenistic readers expected a "divine man" to work wonders, does Mark give them what they want? Perhaps we can be assured on these points only by the sifting of the texts by historical-critical experts, who will then mediate the Bible to us.
Third, to complete the accommodation theme, Gundry even gives away grammatical historical exegesis! If grammatical historical exegesis "lose[s]
its cogency" in the future, does this relativize all the present results of grammatical historical exegesis? Or does it represent a chronocentrism: Here, now, at the end of the twentieth century, we know how to exegete texts so as to arrive at their true and full meaning. In the ancient world, this was not so, and again in future ages, this knowledge may be lost. So in the future, meretricious arguments may again be accepted as cogent, but now in this brief, shining hour we know the truth. For Jesus' exegesis is "linguistically clever rather than conceptually compelling" (p. 723).
But finally, what Gundry takes away, he gives back in the concluding clause. The scholars may judge Jesus to be at fault in his use of Exodus 3:6, but among the hoi polloi, ingenuity is still in vogue! All of this illustrates the worldview implications of the gospel. In Gundry's scheme of things, Jesus accommodates himself to the first century worldview, rather than chastening the rabbis for their love of "playing with words" to the detriment of understanding the text as it stands. We, with our modern scholarly worldview, are thus under no obligation to accept Jesus' method of handling Exodus 3:6. But the unlearned are free to admire just what we scholars feel obliged to reject. And two thousand years hence, when new worldviews shall have arisen, scholars may again feel free to admire and deem cogent Jesus' remarks, and to reject as silly and biased our current scholarly exegesis. All of this begs the question of whether Jesus himself and the gospel itself calls upon us to lay down the current worldview of our culture and to take up the Cross.
Scholars may reply that this is to commit intellectual suicide. I would reply that it is what is required in Jesus' command: "Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34, NKJV). Dare I suggest that the scholar deny his "scientific" presuppositions, and take up the hermeneutics of Jesus? It will involve pain and shame—crosses always do! But there will be a glory that attends the cross-bearing, and what is more, there will be a resurrection.
New Brighton, Pennsylvania