Monday, October 14, 2013

Gentle Reformation Interview on Warnings and Exhortations

Last week I sat for a podcast interview with Austin Brown and Barry York of Gentle Reformation.
“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.”
Col 1:21-23
We are quite comfortable with the above verse, until, of course, we come to that little word “if.”  It jumps out at us like a bugbear, startling us, even disturbing us.  Why say that, Paul?  Why toss in an “if.”  It sounds like you’re positing a condition to salvation?  Isn’t our salvation secure?
Even more forceful passages could be gathered from the apostolic letters, exhortations warning us of the dire consequences of committing apostasy.  The book of Hebrews certainly comes to mind.
So what are we to do with such statements?  Brush them under the rug?  Explain them away?  Perhaps we should just flip the page quickly?
In today’s interview with Dr. Ardel Caneday, co-author of the insightful book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance, we’ll explore the biblical relationship between promise and warning, assurance and perseverance.

For myself, I am convinced that Dr. Caneday and Dr. Schreiner have provided the church with an invaluable resource, helping us understand how these two thorny and often polarizing concepts harmonize with one another.  If after listening to the interview, you’re interested in learning more, you can find the book online at Amazon.  Just click the picture below.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

We Write to be Assured that We are not Alone

Recently I had an occasion to give serious reflection upon my achievements with regard to research and writing. As I did so, a few things became apparent. The track record reflects my diverse interests--OT, NT, biblical theology, systematic theology, linguistics, philosophy, church history, history, culture, etc. Patterns and themes show themselves. Dominating my work, however, is Scripture's use of Scripture. This has definitely captured my attention with a focus upon the Bible's storyline which figures out in Christ Jesus. (I trust that my imagery is not lost on anyone who reads this.)
As I considered my research and writing program with an eye toward immediate and longer-range projections, I was constrained to give careful thought to why I engage in research and writing. Indeed, the ultimate objective and goal is to glorify God. But why research and write, when plenty of my peers in the academic sphere are quite content to confine their influence to the classroom and not beyond it?
I wondered. If it is true that “we read to know we are not alone” (Shadowlands), perhaps we write to be assured that we are not alone. By this, I mean, we write to perfect our thoughts as our own to influence others to join with us in our understanding. Writing for others draws others to share our thoughts and ideas with us, and if done well, to think God's thoughts after him.
Long ago I learned a great benefit and value of writing for others, whether for presentation or publication or both. Writing disciplines speech. The discipline of writing constrains me to acquire a large vocabulary, the benefit of which is that this lexicon goes with me to the classroom to adorn my speech with variation and with precision which I would otherwise not possess, which would diminish the quality and effectiveness of my teaching. Thus, we become much better communicators in our speech, if we become disciplined writers. We become better teachers in the classroom, if we submit our written thoughts and ideas to the chastening and criticism of others, especially that of editors.
Hence, I write in order that I might become a more effective classroom instructor, a better communicator of all that the Lord gives me to teach. An added privilege to writing for publication is that the classroom of my influence expands exponentially beyond our college campus, even around the world.
After a quarter of a century of instructing students in classrooms, one of my great desires is that my classroom teaching might someday come to measure up to my writing. I fear, however, that time will expire for me before parity is attained.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Emmanuel, God with Us, in The Gospel of John

Everyone who has heard the Christmas story knows that one of the titles given to the child, Jesus, is Ἐμμανουήλ, Emmanuel, which according to The Gospel of Matthew means “God with us” (1:23), in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. The apostle John's version of “God with us,” however, is not as well known perhaps because John does not point it out as Matthew does but also because our English translations tend to obscure John's “God with us.”

Two passages in the apostle John's writings present “God with us.” Both passages present God as “dwelling among us” in a tent or tabernacle. The first is the familiar verse of John 1:14—“And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, and we looked upon his glory, glory as of the one of a kind with the Father, full of grace and truth.” Familiar English translations translate the aorist verb, ἐσκήνωσεν, as “dwelt,” a legitimate translation. However, because John could have used a variety of other Greek words for “dwell,” it seems apparent that John means something more than simply “lived among us.” Because he uses a verb (σκηνόω) that has the same root derivation as the noun “tent,” John is making a strong allusion to both the “tent of meeting” (Ex. 33:7-11) and the “tabernacle” where the Lord revealed his presence among the Israelites of old.

So, what is John 1:14 telling us when he says, “And the Word became flesh and tabernacle among us”? The apostle means that the Lord no longer reveals himself in a tabernacle constructed in the wilderness or the temple built in Jerusalem but in flesh, in the man Christ Jesus. Thus, Jesus announces his riddle, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Likewise, Jesus declares to the woman of Samaria, “The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. . . . But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such as these who will worship him” (John 4:21-23).

Certainly, much more could be said, but brevity calls for a short note on John’s use of the same imagery in Revelation 21:3. Here John uses both the noun, “tent” or “tabernacle” (ἡ σκηνὴ), and the verb, “will pitch a tent” or “will take up residence” (σκηνώσει). The loud voice from God’s throne announces, “Look! God’s tabernacle is with humans, and he makes his tabernacle with them, and they will be his people and God himself will be with them as their God” (21:3). Thus, in Christ Jesus, God fulfills his promise of long ago, not just through the prophet Isaiah, but also when he said through Moses, “I will set my sanctuary in their midst forever, and my place of lodging will be among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Ex. 37:26-27).

Emmanuel (Ἐμμανουήλ), God with us, is what John means when he tells us, Καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν—“And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.”

(This is a piece that I wrote as part of a package for the promotion of studying Koiné Greek at our college. I’ve not completely abandoned this blog. I’ve just become excessively occupied with off-line writing, editing, etc.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

On the NT Use of the OT, Part 9

At last, after setting the table with Parts 7 and 8 where I address the theological significance of Mark’s literary sandwich spanning 6:6b-44 wherein he makes use of many allusions to the Old Testament, I now offer comments upon Mark’s noteworthy Old Testament allusions in 6:45-52.

As I indicated in Part 6, when I promised to address this passage, I told of how while in the very act of teaching my eyes and ears would suddenly open to behold something in the biblical text for the first time. It was many years ago, but I remember it vividly. While teaching on Mark 6:45-52, I was teasing out some of the Old Testament allusions within the passage. One insightful student who was tracking well with me raised his hand to ask, “What about Mark’s statement, “Jesus ‘intended to pass by them,’ is it possible that this is an allusion to the same kind of statements as in passages like Exodus 33 and 1 Kings 19 when the Lord tells Moses and Elijah that he will ‘pass by them’ as he reveals himself to them on Mount Sinai?” To my shame, I had to acknowledge that while it certainly seemed likely, I would have to study the matter, for I had failed to catch the Old Testament allusion. I returned to class the next session to affirm that my student, whose name is Phil, had become my teacher and to thank him for doing so.

In addition to literary structural features that link the episode narrated in 6:45-52 with what precedes, not to mention with what follows, Mark makes the connection explicit when he explains that after the Twelve had struggled for a long time to make progress by rowing their boat against a strong wind, Jesus came near them by walking upon the sea, announcing his presence to console them, and then “climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (6:52). The disciples’ response of astonishment exhibits their failure to understand Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the multitude in the wilderness, because their hearts were hardened. For they failed to understand that by miraculously feeding the multitude in the wilderness Jesus was revealing himself as the Shepherd-King as he purposefully engaged a re-dramatization of the miraculous feeding of Israel with manna long ago in the wilderness. By this act of re-dramatizing the miraculous feeding of Israel Jesus was disclosing that he is much more than a Shepherd-King like all those who foreshadowed him, including Moses, Joshua, David, and his kingly line. Indeed, Jesus reveals himself as the messianic Shepherd-King who inaugurates the latter day exodus foreshadowed by the exodus of old, but for all who have eyes that lift upward from the shadows to see him who cast the shadows, they will understand what the disciples failed to apprehend. Those with eyes that truly see and ears to hear Old Testament echoes will recognize that Jesus’ actions, born out of compassion, of miraculously feeding the multitude in the wilderness and of treading upon the wind-tossed sea and stilling the wind upon arrival at his disciples’ boat, that these actions reveal that he is Yahweh himself. For the one who tends his flock like a shepherd and who gathers the lambs in his arms and bears them close to his heart while gently leading those who have young is none other than Yahweh (Isaiah 40:10-11). Likewise, for the one whose way, announced long ago by the prophet Isaiah (cf. Mark 1:1-3), entails re-dramatization of passage through the sea by treading upon the waters as he makes a path upon the sea, is no mere Shepherd-King like all others but is none other than Yahweh (cf. Isaiah 51:9-10; 43:15-17). This is what the disciples’ hardened hearts prevented them from understanding even after Jesus displayed right before their eyes Yahweh’s strong arm of salvation both in the wilderness feeding and in his treading upon the sea. This, then, brings us to the focal point of this installment, the various Old Testament allusions embedded within Mark 6:45-52.

Mark indicates that Jesus purposefully bids his disciples to get into the boat and to depart for the other side of the sea over to Bethsaida, for he has his own agenda to fulfill. First, like Moses, he ascends a mountain to speak with God and then late into the night Jesus approaches toward the vessel holding the Twelve as they labor to make headway against a powerful wind in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ purpose on this occasion upon the sea is not to rescue the Twelve from drowning, for though the wind requires that they strain hard at the oars, they seem not to be in any imminent danger. Nevertheless, Mark indicates that Jesus makes his way across the sea on foot toward his disciples because he sees them “straining at the oars, because the wind was against them” (6:48). Because the narrative features the distress of the Twelve as the reason Jesus approaches the boat, the episode evocatively states, “he intended to pass by them” (6:48). Mark subtly indicates that Jesus intends to make his disciples eyewitnesses of his epiphany by making his authority visible to the Twelve as he passes by to assure them of his presence.

As with his literary sandwich that immediately precedes 6:45-52, again, Mark’s narrative abounds with allusions to the Old Testament, particularly to portions of Isaiah the prophet but also to diverse portions elsewhere. Since Mark explicitly links Jesus’ treading upon the sea with his feeding the multitude in the wilderness it is fitting to take note of the prominent place held by themes emerging from Isaiah such as the wilderness (Isaiah 40:3; 43:19-20), the shepherd feeding the sheep (40:11), divine authority over the seas (43:2, 15-16), admonition “fear not” (35:4; 41:10); “I am” or “I am he” (41:4; 43:10, 13, 25) and deafness and blindness (42:16, 18, 20; 43:8) in Mark 6:53-56. Thus, if, as many have demonstrated that the evangelist is meditating upon the ancient prophet and using his text to expound the good news “as it was written in Isaiah the prophet” (Mark 1:1-2), so it should come as no surprise that Isaiah 40:11 prominently informs Mark’s understanding of Jesus’ miraculous feeding in the wilderness and that another portion of Isaiah, this time Isaiah 43:16, functions as the aperture through which diverse portions of Scripture may be seen as fulfilled when Jesus treads upon the sea as narrated in Mark 6:45-52. The verse is wrapped within a rich context.

“I am the Lord, your Holy One,
    Israel’s Creator, your King.”
This is what the Lord says—

    he who made a way through the sea,
    a path through the mighty waters,

who drew out the chariots and horses,
    the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
    extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
    the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise . . .” (Isaiah 43:15-21; cf. 51:10).[1]

True, Mark does not expressly cite this passage, though the prophet’s themes seem to guide the evangelist’s account concerning the Christ, especially as he inaugurates the new exodus theme of Isaiah. Nor does Mark explicitly cite any other Old Testament passage. Yet, as argued in the two previous installments in this series, Mark’s account provides numerous evocative allusions to the Old Testament. As already stated, Mark’s narratives concerning the miraculous feeding and Jesus’ trampling upon the sea are rich with allusions to Scripture. For example, anyone who knows the Old Testament reasonably well will likely hear dual echoes from Job’s reply to Bildad when he speaks of God—“He alone . . . treads on the waves of the sea [περιπατω̂ν ὡς ἐπʼ ἐδάφους ἐπὶ θαλάσσης]. . . . He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. When he passes me [ἐὰν ὑπερβῇ με], I cannot see him; when he goes by [ἐὰν παρέλθῃ με], I cannot perceive him” (Job 9:8, 10-11). Again, Mark’s account of Jesus walking upon the sea evokes other Old Testament allusions. Subtle though Mark’s phrase surely is, “he intended to pass by them” (ἤθελεν παρελθεῖν αὐτούς) evokes allusion not only to Job 9:11 but also to two prominent theophanies: one to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:19-33) and one to Elijah on the same mountain (1 Kings 19:11). Mark’s account concerning Christ, who “intended to pass by” his disciples in the middle of the sea, echoes both of these accounts of epiphanies that occurred with these prominent Old Testament characters, thus allusively foreshadowing the greater epiphany which Mark later recounts in his narrative concerning the Mount of Transfiguration when the epiphanic cloud on the mountain envelopes Moses and Elijah as they speak with Jesus who is transfigured in the presence of Peter, James, and John. So, long ago, after Moses has requested, “Now show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18), the Lord instructs him, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by [ἡνίκα δʼ ἂν παρέλθῃ μου ἡ δόξα], I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by [ἕως ἂν παρέλθω]” (Exodus 33:21-22). Once again, long ago, Elijah took refuge in a cave on Mount Sinai (Horeb), away from Ahab and Jezebel, when the Word of the Lord came to instruct him, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by [ἰδοὺ παρελεύσεται κύριος]” (1 Kings 19:11).

Such an allusion to theophanies that appeared first to Moses and later to Elijah should hardly be surprising following the earlier evocative references to Moses in the literary sandwich’s outer narrative (Mark 6:6b-13; 30-44 and the evocation of the Ahab-Jezebel-Elijah narrative within the large sandwich inset of 6:14-29. How like Mark to embed this allusive whisper, “he intended to pass by them,” as an echo of the theophany on Mount Horeb that “passed by” fearful Elijah not in the powerful wind nor in the earthquake that followed nor even in the subsequent fire but in the “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11-13). Likewise, given the exodus imagery of Isaiah 43:16, how fitting is the allusion to the theophany on Mount Horeb when the Lord’s “glory passes by” Moses who craves reassurance of the Lord’s presence (Exodus 33:12-23).

Similar to the theophanies that Moses and Elijah experienced long ago, so Jesus presents a theophanic revelation of himself by treading upon the waves of the sea tossed about with a violent wind. This theophany brings to mind an earlier epiphanic revelation when Jesus, who was being rocked while sleeping upon a cushion, was awakened from his slumber to calm the wind and waves with a rebuke aptly cast to demons (cf. Mark 4:39 & 1:25, ἐπιτιμάω, φιμόω). On that occasion Jesus’ divine action terrified Twelve who were already frightened by the wind, for they asked, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (4:41). Now, when Jesus provides a clear answer to his disciples’ question about his identity in the theophanic act of passing by the Twelve in the boat as the strong winds howl and impair their rowing, instead of recognizing him when they see him, again they cry out in terror. Out of the wind and as he treads upon the wind-tossed waves of the sea Jesus speaks words tailor-made for a theophany: “Take heart! I am! Fear not!”

Because the emphatic “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι, 6:50) is ambiguous, it is conceivable that it may bear its normal sense, “It is I, Jesus.” Yet, because of his earlier mention of Jesus’ communication with God on the mountain (6:46) and that Jesus discloses himself to the Twelve in keeping with theophanic revelations of the Old Testament, it is likely that Jesus’ “I am” is an echo of the “I am who I am” of Exodus 3:14 refracted through the prophet Isaiah on whom Mark is meditating. For Jesus’ admonitions—“take courage” and “fear not”—which bracket “I am,” are regular elements of divine self-revelation (see Isaiah 41:4-6; 43:1-3, 10-13; 44:2-851:7-11). Suddenly the wind goes calm when Jesus climbs into the boat. Jesus’ actions astonish the Twelve (cf. 5:42). Because they fail to observe in Jesus’ actions as foreshadowed by dramatizations embedded within the Old Testament Scriptures, they do not have the framework or categories for comprehending Jesus’ presence within the boat in the middle of the sea and the wind’s sudden cessation.

Mark explains that the disciples “were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened” (6:51-52). This explanation itself, more evocative and enigmatic than explicative, preserves for Mark’s readers in literary form the need to puzzle out the connection between Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the multitude and his trampling upon the wind-tossed waves of the sea. Mark’s linkage requires readers to recognize that Jesus’ miraculous actions function symbolically as much as his parables do. Thus, if the disciples had recognized that Jesus’ miraculous multiplication of the loaves in the wilderness revealed him as the Shepherd-King foreshadowed by Moses, by Joshua, by David and by Israel’s line of kings, they would have acknowledged Jesus as Yahweh-Shepherd when he was about to pass by them while walking upon the sea.

Consequently, that Mark attributes their failure to “hardness of heart” indicates that at this point in Jesus’ ministry his disciples, though devoted to following him, are not substantially different from opponents who are allied against him, particularly Herodians and Pharisees (3:6), which accounts for Jesus’ urgent warning: “Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod,” a rebuke that triggered another expression of misunderstanding (8:14-16) to which Jesus responds with his series of interrogatives: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” (8:17-21). So, when the Twelve persist in their misunderstanding concerning the loaves, even after a second miraculous multiplication of loaves for a large multitude (8:1-13), once again when they are in a familiar setting, within a boat upon the sea, Jesus’ interrogatives expose the fact that their misunderstanding is not a matter of intellectual memory but of faith (8:14-21). For the disciples correctly recall that from five loaves Jesus fed the vast multitude and that they gathered twelve basketfuls of bread pieces after the first wilderness feeding (8:19) and seven basketfuls after the second miraculous feeding (8:20). Their misunderstanding is failure to believe that Jesus is Yahweh, God’s Son.

Mark 6:45-52 is instructive for us today because if we would see Jesus correctly and acknowledge him rightly, our faith must transcend that of the Twelve who failed to consider his parabolic miracles and deeds within the proper framework, namely, the Old Testament Scriptures. Indeed, Jesus is God, but if we desire to acknowledge him rightly, we are obliged to recognize him as the one who fulfills Old Testament foreshadows, even as Yahweh himself who alone, has the power to rain down bread from heaven or to multiply five loaves large enough for a young lad to feed a multitude of 5000 and still have twelve basketfuls of leftovers and has authority both to tread upon wind-swept waves of the sea and to order the sea to be suddenly calm. Indeed, Jesus is Yahweh, the “I am” who fulfills the latter day exodus foreshadowed and foretold by the Law and the Prophets, distinctively so by Isaiah.


1 Allusion to Psalm 77:16-20 is also likely: “The waters saw you, God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”

Monday, September 17, 2012

On the NT Use of the OT, Part 8

On the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Part 8

The last contribution to this series (Part 7) is incomplete apart from this entry because that installment considers Old Testament allusions within only the outer episode of Mark’s literary sandwich in Mark 6:6b-44 which consists of three segments: (1) Jesus sends out the Twelve in pairs; his reputation greatly increases (6:6b-13); (2) King Herod hears of Jesus’ burgeoning fame and is haunted with fear that John, whom he beheaded, has been resurrected (6:14-29); and (3) when the Twelve return from their apostolic mission Jesus takes them to the wilderness for rest (6:30-44).[1] As demonstrated, the episode of Jesus’ sending the Twelve on a mission to multiply with six teams his own proclamation of God’s reign accompanied by healings and his welcoming them upon their return, which wraps around the episode concerning King Herod’s haunted fear concerning his execution of John the Baptist, oozes with numerous OT allusions fulfilled by Jesus as he presents himself as Israel’s true shepherd-king. What remains to be shown is how Mark 6:14-29—the episode concerning King Herod, Herodias, and John the Baptist—relates literarily and theologically to the episode that frames it (6:6b-13; 30-44).

Mark’s penchant for framing one episode with another signals readers that he intends that the accounts are not to be disconnected from one another but read together because the two episodes, inseparably conjoined, mutually explain each other. Wherever he sandwiches two episodes together, surely his method is literary in that he exploits verbal connections. Yet, his objective is theological.[2] Therefore, readers are obliged to tease out Mark’s literary hints from each episode that link the sandwiched accounts theologically. Of course, given the evocative nature of Mark’s Gospel, no informed reader expects that the theological interrelationship between Mark’s two intertwined episodes should lie limpidly on the surface to be easily perceived with the eyes, even though the evangelist even goes out of his way to make his literary links heard.
In response to Morna Hooker’s stymied puzzlement concerning the theological point of the sandwich in 6:6b-44, nowhere does Mark offer his readers a literary sandwich in which the inset episode simply establishes for hearers or readers the sense of the passage of time.[3] Indeed, sometimes his literary sandwiches may prominently provide the effect of time’s passing as when Mark recounts the episode concerning Jairus’s dying daughter (5:21-24a; 35-43) wrapped around that of the dying “daughter” whose faith in Jesus brought her healing that reversed her hemorrhaging with which she would otherwise die (5:24b-34). Yet, even here the interlude does not merely signal Jesus’ delay that results in the girl’s death before he arrives at Jairus’s home. Jesus’ delayed arrival could have been signaled easily enough as in the case of Lazarus (see John 11:1-6). Instead, while Mark’s literary sandwich provides for time lapse, it also signals many verbal interconnections that inseparably conjoin the two episodes as mutually elucidating theologically.[4]

Mark’s verbal and literary linkages that tie his sandwiched episodes together should be fairly evident. Yet, while pondering Mark’s literary genius, which has been gravely devalued historically but significantly recovered during the past few decades, readers must remember that the purpose of the evangelist’s sandwiches is not to display his literary genius but to evoke worthy theological connections. The verbal brilliance and literary genius of Mark’s story telling always serve his theological purpose which is to present Jesus Christ who is God’s Son and do so as he meditates upon the beginning of the good news as it is presented in advance particularly in Isaiah the prophet.

Within the sandwich inset of 6:14-29, among his literary and verbal hints juxtaposed with clues garnered from the outer episode (6:6b-13; 30-44), most noteworthy is the designation Mark gives to Herod. Unlike the parallel accounts where both Matthew (14:1) and Luke (9:7) refer to Herod with his official title, “tetrarch” (of Galilee, Luke 23:6-7), Mark calls him “King Herod” (6:14) followed by no fewer than four more uses of the designation “king” (ὁ βασιλεύς; 6:22, 25, 26, 27) within the episode and one use of “my kingdom” (ἡ βασιλεία μου; 6:23) spoken by King Herod to Herodias’s daughter whose sensual dancing overpowered the king’s lust, just as Herodias schemed in order to have the king execute her revenge against John.[5] Given Mark’s designation, it seems fully reasonable to infer that he designs his literary sandwich principally to contrast two kingdoms or dominions. God’s reign, shadowed and prefigured by the long succession of kings including wicked kings and promised to Israel as revealed in the Shepherd-King who miraculously feeds the multitude in the wilderness, stands in sharp contrast with Herod’s reign. King Herod, a poseur who was neither an Israelite nor of David’s lineage, reigned over Israelites in the same manner as a long succession of wicked kings did. As with their kingdoms, so King Herod distinguished his reign with opulence, moral depravity, extravagant banquets, excessive boasts, raw power, and murder, for like Israel’s kings of old Herod also murdered the Lord’s prophet and subsequently became haunted with paranoia at the burgeoning popularity of another prophet whom he mistakenly thought was the return of John whom he beheaded. Yet, it seems rather evident that the juxtaposition of God’s reign through the Shepherd-King and of King Herod’s reign by way of Mark’s literary sandwich entails much more than a simple contrast between God’s kingdom, characterized by humble simplicity with miraculous provisions, and Herod’s kingdom, marked by extravagant opulence with abuse of power. This is so because allusions to the OT that reverberate throughout the framed episode evoke strong resemblances between this narrative concerning King Herod, Herodias, and John the Baptist and the narratives concerning King Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah (1 Kings 16:29-19:3 and 21:1-29).[6]

Mark’s literary and theological interests which inseparably bind the two episodes together for readers are complex, not simplistic. Certainly his account features Jesus Christ as the Shepherd-King who stands in antipodal contrast to the line of Israel’s kings, especially vile kings climaxing with non-Israelite Herod, even as Jesus, not Joshua nor even David, fulfills Moses’ petition for God to “appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd” (Num. 27:16-17), a petition that becomes a lament because, with occasional exceptions, Israel’s shepherd-kings fed themselves as they devoured the flock (e.g., 1 Kings 22:17; Ezek. 34:5-10; see Part 7).

So, the inset of Mark 6:14-29 serves many literary and theological functions. It clarifies the true and proper identity of Jesus by distinguishing him from John who was the Christ’s forerunning herald and whose murder by order of King Herod puts John in the stream of martyred prophets before him, foreshadowing Jesus’ impending passion and death.[7] The preaching mission of the Twelve, which included exorcisms of demons and healings, exponentially increases Jesus’ renown and prompts a variety of misconstrued identifications. Chief among these is the circulating rumor that apparently reaches the King’s palace: “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him” (6:14). While Jesus’ burgeoning popularity generates other rumors also, including that he is Elijah or a prophet like those of old, one morsel of hearsay seems particularly persistent, for the Twelve mention it first when Jesus asks, “Who do people say that I am?” (8:28). This rumor captures King Herod’s imagination and does not relent but torments him with the thought, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised” (6:16). Mark explains, “For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife’” (6:17-18).

The sandwich inset now resumes where the brief account of John the Baptist’s ministry abruptly ended with the comment—“Now after John was arrested . . .”—at which point Jesus began his public preaching of the good news of God: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (1:14). Until chapter 6 Mark’s Gospel suspends further mention of John whose message Jesus takes as his own as he sustains the call for repentance. There is only one brief mention of John to indicate that his disciples fast, associating them with the Pharisees in distinction from Jesus and his disciples who are not fasting (2:18). Given the point he makes with his three parables—Fasting and the Bridegroom, Unshrunk Cloth on an Old Garment, and New Wine in Old Wineskins—Jesus is not severing ties with either John or his disciples any more than he is severing his continuity with the law covenant, for even his own disciples who follow his lead by not fasting act significantly better than their understanding of Jesus’ identity. Because it seems that it was a time for fasting in keeping with the law covenant, Jesus does not respond to the question with a rebuke. Rather, he presents himself parabolically as the one to whom the law covenant points, as the one in whom the law covenant terminates, for he is the one who supersedes the law covenant, a point he makes clear when he says, “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (2:28).

Now that the evangelist resumes, by way of the sandwich inset, his account concerning John who “was arrested,” Mark is making the crucial theological point that unites the preaching done by the Twelve with John’s preaching. As John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (1:4) and Jesus preached the gospel that requires repentance (1:14-15), so Jesus sent the Twelve so “they went out and proclaimed that people should repent” (6:12). Thus, Jesus does not break with his forerunning herald but preaches a message in continuity with John’s, even though he does not have his disciples fast while he, the bridegroom is with them, when the law covenant (old cloth, old wineskins) calls for fasting, because the one “mightier” than John has such authority for he brings about the time of fulfillment (1:15). Mark makes the point that John fulfilled his role in preparing for “one who is mightier than” he and that his arrest, which terminated his prophetic ministry and eventuated in his execution carried out by King Herod, signals at least three significant aspects concerning the relationship between John and Jesus.

First, John’s execution unmistakably links him with the Lord’s “servants, the prophets” (2 Kings 17:13; Jer. 26:5; 44:4). While descending the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, Jesus obliquely confirms John the Baptist as Israel’s most recent prophet who had been subjected to unrestrained tyranny when he said, “But I tell you Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him” (Mark 9:13). Again, Jesus confirms the same first when he poses his question to the religious rulers in Jerusalem who refuse to answer—“Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me” (11:30)—and then he designs his Parable of the Tenants to provoke them to understand that he spoke of them as beating, abusing, and murdering the vineyard master’s servants sent to harvest the vineyard’s fruit (Mark 12:2-5; cf. the cursing of the fig tree, 11:12-25).

Second, if one has ears to hear evocative allusions to 1 Kings 16:29-19:3 and 21:1-29 in Mark 6:14-29, then John’s identity, hinted at early in the Gospel where Mark describes him—“clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist” (1:6) echo the description of Elijah (2 Kings 1:8)—now becomes even clearer as the latter day Elijah.[8] In keeping with his provocative literary manner and his allusive uses of the Old Testament, at the outset Mark’s Gospel (1:2-3) melds Malachi’s more oblique promise of the latter day Elijah (Mal. 3:1) as fully integrated with Isaiah’s prophecy (Isa. 40:3) rather than incorporate the explicit, “Behold, I will send Elijah the prophet” (Mal. 4:5). By doing so, Mark’s evocative literary approach educes but shrouds John’s identity as Elijah until he provides additional hints now in the account concerning John’s execution. Yet, even here, as already noted, the allusive use of extended OT narratives concerning Elijah with wicked King Ahab and his vile wife Jezebel calls for unimpaired hearing. For then the narratives concerning Elijah’s abuse at the hands of Ahab and Jezebel and the account of John as the latter day Elijah whose message receives rejection from the king who does the bidding of his unlawful wife rather than of God find recurrence that links Elijah, the remarkable early prophet in Israel, with John, the last of the prophets who is the herald of the Christ. Thus, when Moses and Elijah meet with Jesus in the cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration they respectively signal that the Law and the Prophets reach their culmination in Christ Jesus. Hence, once again, Jesus’ response to the query of his three disciples on the descent from the Mount of Transfiguration evocatively identifies John as the last of the great prophets, as the promised Elijah, who precedes and shares in the sufferings of the coming Son of Man: “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him” (Mark 9:12-13).

Third, John’s execution by King Herod followed by his disciples’ retrieval of the body for burial (6:29) foreshadows Jesus’ own death by execution at the hands of the Sanhedrin, of King Herod, of Pilate, and of the Roman soldiers led by the centurion followed by burial of his body by Joseph of Arimathea (15:42-47). This role of John’s passion as a foreshadow of Jesus’ own passion finds reinforcement in portions of Mark’s Gospel already mentioned. Jesus purposefully requires the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders to ponder his relationship with John when he poses his question concerning the source of John’s baptism after they inquire, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you authority to do them?” (11:28). Like Herod who grasped power even as he was manipulated by the wiles of Herodias and her daughter’s seductive dance to do their bidding, these religious rulers cling to their positions of power defiant against the Lord’s prophets even as they refuse to declare their rejection of John because the crowds which have no official authority intimidate them. To his query that unmasks the religious rulers’ imitation of weak-willed but power craving King Herod, Jesus adds further provocation as he tells his Parable of the Tenants, constructed on the song of Isaiah 5:1-7, to expose their murderous intentions to preserve their positions of power in Jerusalem by putting him to death in keeping with the nefarious tradition of their forebears who held positions of power as they also murdered the prophets. Again, as noted earlier, while Jesus descends the Mount of Transfiguration, he conjoins John’s suffering and death with his impending passion when he responds to his three disciples whose minds fasten upon time relationships rather than the promised one who brings salvation when they inquire, “Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?” (9:11). To this Jesus responds, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him” (9:12-13).

Now, after taking up two installments to ponder OT allusions throughout the literary sandwich of Mark 6:6b-44, I am prepared to return in the next entry with consideration of OT allusions in Mark 6:45-52 as promised in an earlier posting. By way of anticipation, the reason I took what may seem to be a detour, is that the evangelist inextricably ties the episode of Jesus’ Walking on the Sea with the account concerning the Feeding of the Multitude (6:52). Given this plainly stated continuity, it was rather presumptuous to suppose that I could address the OT allusions of the latter episode without doing so for the former. And once I committed attention to the former, I would have done violence to Mark’s literary and theological sandwich if I had not also addressed the sandwich inset. Hence, my delay.

1 On Mark 6:14-29 as the middle portion of a Markan literary sandwich, see James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark, PNTC (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 183. See also Larry W. Hurtado, Mark, NIBC (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1983, 1989), 94. On the pervasiveness of literary sandwiches throughout Mark’s Gospel see James R. Edwards, “Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives,” Novum Testamentum 31.3 (1989): 193-216; and Tom Shepherd, Markan Sandwich Stories: Narration, Definition, and Function, AUSDDS 18 (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1983).

2 See James R. Edwards, “Markan Sandwiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives,” Novum Testamentum 31.3 (1989): 196. Concerning the sandwich in Mark 5:21-43 Edwards observes, The insertion of the woman with the hemorrhage into the Jairus story is thus not an editorial strategem [sic] whose primary purpose is to create suspense or ‘to give time for the situation in the main incident to develop’. The woman’s faith forms the center of the sandwich and is the key to its interpretation. Through her Mark shows how faith in Jesus can transform fear and despair into hope and salvation. It is a powerful lesson for Jairus, as well as for Mark’s readers” (p. 205).

3 Even though she acknowledges that the episode concerning Herod’s reaction to rumors about Jesus along with the story concerning John’s beheading (Mark 6:14-29) is an inset episode sandwiched between Jesus’ sending out of the Twelve (6:6b-13) and their return (6:30), Morna Hooker complains, “There seems no logical connection between the two themes, but the somewhat artificial insertion provides an interlude for the disciples to complete their mission” (The Gospel according to St. Mark, BNTC [London: A. & C. Black; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1991], 158).

4 Besides the expectation that Jesus’ touch would bring healing (Mark 5:23, 28) and other conjoining features, two noteworthy verbal linkages are (1) use of “daughter” to describe the girl (5:23) and to address the woman (5:34) and (2) Mark’s notation of the girl’s age as “twelve years” by way of parenthetical insertion which corresponds to the “twelve years” the woman suffered from her hemorrhage.

5 It is also worthy of note that elsewhere both Matthew and Luke refer to Herod as “king” (2:1, 3; and 1:5 respectively; see also Acts 12:1 and 20). In fact, after designating him “Herod the tetrarch” in 14:1, Matthew refers to him as “king” in 14:9.
Some think that Mark’s designation, “King Herod,” entails irony, even mockery of Herod’s vain craving for the royal title which he thought should be rightly his. See, e.g., Hurtado, Mark, 97; and William L. Lane, The Gospel according to Mark, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 211.
If Mark’s designation does entail mockery or irony, its full sardonic measure does not emerge until the Sanhedrin finally contrives the formal charge of treason against Jesus which Pilate orders to be inscribed on the placard bearing the charge: “The King of the Jews.” Certainly, the crucifixion narrative itself entails profound irony by all who exploited the criminal charge that Pilate had inscribed. First, in their sporting fun Roman soldiers heaped mockery upon Jesus as they hosted a mock coronation and saluted him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mark 15:18). Then as Jesus hung upon the cross passersby but especially the chief priests and the scribes inadvertently spoke profound truth as they viciously mocked him, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (15:31-32). For, as Mark narrates Jesus’ crucifixion, it becomes evident that the cross entails his enthronement as “King of the Jews” following his impromptu coronation sportingly put on by the soldiers.
So then, the full sardonic measure of Mark’s deliberate designation “King Herod” in 6:14 begins to emerge when juxtaposed with the crucifixion narrative. Who, upon a first hearing or reading of the Gospel would catch Mark’s mocking irony, except those with exceptionally perceptive hearing coupled with a keen memory and with incisive literary and theological instincts? Others, such as myself, require many readings of the Gospel to ferret out the literary and theological subtleties of Mark’s masterpiece. If I am correct to follow the lead of Hurtado and Lane, then, it seems that Mark’s crucifixion account underscores that the Jews in general but the Jewish religious rulers of Jerusalem in particular indulgently endured the Roman appointed Herod, the pretentious King of the Jews, but in sharp contrast impatiently connived how to seize by stealth and to kill Heaven appointed Jesus, the rightful King of the Jews.

6 The OT allusions within this inner episode of Mark’s literary sandwich that concerns John the Baptist, Herod, and Herodias as linked back to Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel in 1 Kings 16:29-19:3 and 21:1-29 receive helpful exposure by David M. Hoffeditz and Gary E. Yates, “Femme Fatal Redux: Intertextual Connection to the Elijah/Jezebel Narratives in Mark 6:14-29,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 15.2 (2005): 199-221.
Despite what seems obvious to many, some are not convinced that Mark’s account in 6:14-29 alludes to the narratives in 1 Kings. For example, see Robert A. Guelich, Mark 1-8:26, WBC 34A (Dallas: Word, 1989), 331; Robert Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 313. Others suppose that the principal OT backdrop for Mark’s episode is the story of Esther. See R. Aus, Water into Wine and the Beheading of John the Baptist (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), 39-74; and A. Bach, “Calling the Shots: Directing Salome’s Dance of Death,” Semeia 74 (1996): 110-113.
Contrast Hurtado’s observations: “The similarities between John the Baptist and Elijah help to explain the way John’s death is narrated in Mark. Herod, who both fears John and resents him, is made to resemble Ahab, the king of Israel, in his attitude toward Elijah; Herodias, who schemes to kill John, resembles Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, who had a special hatred for Elijah (see 1 Kings 16:29-19:3; 21:1-29 . . .). Thus, several characteristics of Mark’s account help the reader see that John is the prophet like Elijah predicted in Malachi 4:5” (Mark, 95).
7 Lane observes, “The Gospel of Mark contains two ‘passion narratives,’ the first of which reports the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist. The detailed narration of the circumstances resulting in the death of John stands in sharp contrast to the brief description of his mission in Ch. 1:4-8. It is probably that the present narrative reflects a special source which circulated among the disciples of John. It is included here by Mark both to clarify the statements in Ch. 6:14, 16 and to point forward to the suffering and death of Jesus” (Mark, 215).

8 The wording of Mark 1:6—“he wore a leather belt around his waist” (ζώνην δερματίνην περὶ τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ)—is almost identical to that of 2 Kings 1:8—“he wore a belt of leather around his waist” (ζώνην δερματίνην περιεζωσμένος τὴν ὀσφὺν αὐτοῦ, NIV).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

On the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Part 7

As promised in the previous entry in this series on the NT use of the OT this installment will focus upon more semi-veiled allusions to the Old Testament within the Gospel of Mark, this time from the sixth chapter. Yet, what was promised is now altered by expansion. Instead of consisting of one installment, considerations of OT allusions in Mark 6 will span three.
Several years ago I published the essay, “Mark’s Provocative Use of Scripture in Narration—‘He Was with the Wild Animals and Angels Ministered to Him.’” The general point I make in the essay is that Mark purposefully uses the Old Testament in a rather cryptic, enigmatic, and allusive manner that requires listeners to employ their imaginations to listen attentively to the echoes of the OT Scriptures within his Gospel narrative. Of course, the Gospel was written first to be heard rather than read silently as we moderns tend to do. Thus, for example, Jesus’ warnings that bracket his Parable of the Sower—“Listen!” and “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” (Mark 4:3, 8)—persist to this day for everyone who hears. Likewise, Jesus’ queries put to the Twelve—“Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?” (8:18)—are not for them alone but for everyone who hears the Gospel read.

Mark’s allusive use of Scripture is in keeping with the design of his Gospel which replicates quite effectively in narrative form the concealing and revealing teaching method Jesus employed. Even so, Mark’s Gospel significantly privileges his listeners (and readers) with the announcement at the beginning by heralding, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, just as it is written in Isaiah the prophet. . . (1:1-2)” Even though Mark privileges his listeners this way, he offers few explicit explanatory statements concerning Jesus’ words or actions. For example, unlike Matthew’s Gospel which frequently explains that Jesus’ words or actions fulfilled various OT passages, Mark’s Gospel uses the word “fulfilled” only twice and both uses are in words attributed to Jesus with reference to general fulfillment of Scripture (Mark 1:15; 14:49). Following his decisive affirmation in the first two verses, Mark crafts his Gospel with a starkness, with little plainspoken explanation of the Son of God’s words and deeds in such a manner that his Gospel intensifies a sense of the difficulties Jesus’ disciples experienced as they heard and witnessed his teachings in parabolic form, whether spoken or played out before their eyes with healing miracles or with dramatized signs.1 If we are to have ears that hear and eyes that see who Jesus truly is, then we need to exercise our spiritual senses attentively, especially with regard to Mark’s allusive use of the OT. For proper understanding of Mark’s scriptural allusions does not lie on the surface any more than correct apprehension of Jesus’ parables and miracles is superficial. Mark’s Gospel is uncannily effective in replicating the concealing and revealing nature of Jesus’ ministry, for he writes his Gospel in parables and riddles.

The more frequently one hears Mark’s Gospel the more readily one realizes that the evangelist has skillfully woven into the fabric of his narrative many allusive words, phrases, and echoes that subtly and adeptly but surely conjoin the Jesus of his story to the “Coming One” of the Old Testament Scriptures. Many such allusions occur in Mark 6. My intention was to mention several allusions without being exhaustive but to offer only brief comments upon each and reserve fuller commentary for Mark’s statement concerning Jesus’ action when early in the morning he was walking upon the sea near the boat in which the Twelve strained at the oars as they battled the adverse wind: “He intended to pass by them” (6:48). However, as I prepared this blog entry it became evident that in order to do justice to the OT allusion in 6:48, more extensive consideration has to be given to the OT allusions in the context preceding it to provide convincing evidence. Therefore, the second installment following this one will focus upon Mark 6:48 while this and the next entries feature OT allusions earlier in the chapter.

It is instructive to take into account the fact that Mark 6:6b-44 makes up one of the evangelist’s “sandwiches” or “frames.[2] These occur when Mark’s narrative recounts events in the life of Jesus by literarily welding two episodes together by wrapping one episode around another. A vivid example of sandwiching or framing entails the episode concerning the resuscitation of Jairus’s daughter, who was about twelve years old, wrapped around and thus inextricably linked with the episode concerning the healing of the woman who suffered hemorrhaging from twelve years (5:21-43). Mark goes out of his way to add parenthetically concerning Jairus’s daughter, “she was twelve years old,” corresponding to the duration of the woman’s hemorrhaging, a clue for hearers to listen for other correlations, which are numerous. That Mark recounts the episodes as inseparably intertwined indicates that they are interdependent, mutually interpreting one another, and should not be treated as independent of one another.

The sandwich of Mark 6:6b-43 consists of these episodes—Jesus sends the Twelve apostles on a preaching and healing mission concerning God’s reign and then welcomes them back wrapped around an account concerning Herod’s haunted fear concerning his execution of John the Baptist: (1) Jesus sends out the Twelve in pairs; his reputation greatly increases (6:6b-12); (2) King Herod hears of Jesus’ burgeoning fame and is haunted with fear that John, whom he beheaded, has been resurrected (6:13-29); and (3) when the Twelve return from their apostolic mission Jesus takes them to the wilderness for rest (6:30-44). Considerations of the OT allusions within the inset portion (6:13-29) will be offered in the next entry in this series.

Each of these three segments of Mark’s literary sandwich contains significant allusions to the OT, with the wrapping episodes, in particular, alluding to a “new exodus” motif that finds its fulfillment in Jesus’ mission. For example, Jesus’ directives to the Twelve concerning what they should (staff, sandals) and should not (bread, money, two tunics) bring with them on their mission echoes Moses’ instructions to the Israelites with regard to their preparations for the exodus (Exodus 12:11). If one does not observe the continuity between 6:6b-12 with 6:30-43, which Mark’s narrative requires, one will likely also isolate this allusion from OT allusions in 6:30-43. Yet, if one retains mindful continuity between the two episodes that wrap around the episode concerning King Herod, one is more likely to hear the allusive series of OT echoes as sketching a portrait of Jesus as the “new Moses” who is inaugurating the “new exodus” foreshadowed by the exodus of old and foretold by the prophets, especially by Isaiah, whose prophecy seems to hold a prominent place in the evangelist’s meditation upon Scripture, given Mark’s featuring of Isaiah at the beginning of his Gospel as already indicated above.[3]

Consider, then, OT allusions in Mark 6:30-44 that confirm that the earlier allusion to Exodus 12:11 signals that the framing episodes (6:6b-13 & 6:30-44) do portray Jesus as a shepherd of the people who leads a “new exodus” foreshadowed long ago by the exodus from Egypt and prophetically anticipated especially by Isaiah on which Mark’s Gospel so heavily relies.[4]

Though Jesus invites the Twelve to go with him into a wilderness region for a little rest, once they arrive they find the wilderness not uninhabited but filled with a large crowd of people who anticipated where their boat was headed and beat them to the landing shoreline. Mention of “rest” alludes to a frequent OT theme that is picked up by the NT as fulfilled in Jesus (cf. Heb. 3:7-4:13) and in Mark’s Gospel connects with Jesus as the fulfillment of the Sabbath; he is the True Rest (see Mark 2:23-28; 3:1-6). The evangelist underscores the fact that this episode takes place in the wilderness by pointing this out three times—(1) in Jesus’ invitation to take rest in a wilderness region (6:31), (2) in Mark’s affirming that the boat sailed to a wilderness region (6:32), and (3) in the observation made by the Twelve concerning the time of day and geographical location when they said, “This is a wilderness region, and the hour is already late” (6:35). Jesus’ invitation that conjoins going into a “wilderness region” with finding a little “rest” should have provoked thoughtful recollection among the Twelve concerning the linkage of these two themes with Israel’s exodus long ago, and it will do the same for all who have ears to hear Mark’s telling of the good news as it is in Jesus as portrayed in the episode of his miraculous feeding of the multitude.

Likewise, Mark’s account reverberates with other allusions to the OT Scriptures but particularly to the exodus theme. He reports that when Jesus left the boat “he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (6:34). The allusion may be easily missed because we Christians tend not to know the OT sufficiently well to hear the echoes of various passages first in Moses’s petitioning the Lord for his replacement (Num. 27:17) and then extended throughout the nation’s history as two prophets, Michaiah (1 Kings 22:17) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 34:5), lament that Israel is like sheep without a shepherd. Given the theme-setting placement and function of Isaiah 40:3 at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel (1:1-3), it seems fully warranted to infer that the evangelist refracts these OT echoes of the sheep needing a shepherd through Isaiah 40:11—“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young”—since Isaiah is the apparent portion of the OT Scriptures on which Mark principally meditates (Mark 1:1-3).[5] The phrasing of Mark 6:34 is much like that of Numbers 27:15-17—“Moses said to the Lord, ‘May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd” (ὡς πρόβατα μὴ ἔχοντα with ποιμένα ὡσεὶ πρόβατα, Mark 6:34; οἱ̂ς οὐκ ἔστιν ποιμήν, Num. 27:17).[6] It seems reasonable to infer from Mark’s account that the OT foreshadowing theme of a call for a shepherd to watch over Israel which begins with Moses’s prayer, as narrated in Numbers 27:15-17 and recurs in the prophetic voices of Michaiah (1 Kings 22:17) and Ezekiel (34:5), finds its fulfillment now in Jesus’ re-dramatization of the miraculous feeding of Israel with manna long ago in the wilderness.[7] For the latter day Joshua (Ἰησοῦς [Jesus], Greek for Joshua; cf. Num. 27:18—“Take Joshua the son of Nun. . .”) has compassion on the Israelites because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Thus, not only is Jesus greater than Moses; he is also greater than Joshua, for he is God’s “amen” to the petition Moses prayed long ago, for Jesus leads his sheep in the greater exodus that was simply foreshadowed by the exodus led by Moses and sustained by Joshua.

The shepherd-sheep (ποιμήν-πρόβατα) motif explicitly occurs again in Mark 14:27-28 when Jesus tells the Twelve—“‘You will all fall away, for it is written: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Surely, not to link this account with the compassionate shepherd who miraculously provides sustenance for the large crowd in the wilderness would be a failure to hear correctly the message the evangelist conveys concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus’ saying of verse 28—“I go ahead of you into Galilee” (προάξω ὑμᾶς)—prepares for two more uses of the shepherd-sheep imagery without express mention of either “shepherd” (ποιμήν) or “sheep” (πρόβατα). Thus, given the explicit shepherd-sheep imagery of 14:27 united with the action of the shepherd who “goes ahead” of the sheep, the more veiled version of the same imagery, stated in 14:28, all attentive listeners will hear two additional subtle uses of the shepherd-sheep motif in Mark’s Gospel. The first occurs when Mark describes Jesus leading his disciples as a shepherd leads sheep on “the way” to Jerusalem where he will lay down his life on their behalf—“They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid” (προάγων αὐτούς, 10:32). The second comes at the close of the Gospel when at the empty tomb the heavenly witness instructs the women, “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you’” (προάγει ὑμᾶς). Again, the same verb and imagery are used. The shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep has risen to return as their shepherd just as he promised. I must be content simply with piquing imaginations as I resist temptation to provide further unpacking of the richness and fullness of Mark’s shepherd-sheep imagery worthy of extensive study.[8]

Another allusion to the OT also links Jesus’ compassionate feeding of the Israelites in the wilderness region with the exodus theme. The manner in which the latter day Moses instructed the Twelve to have the hungry Israelites arranged in the wilderness region to feed upon the miraculous meal echoes how Jethro directed Moses to organize the Israelites during their march across the wilderness—“But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain —and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Ex. 18:21). Mark reports, “Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties” (Mark 6:39-40). Yet, a more vivid allusion to the OT immediately precedes how the people were organized to receive the miraculous feeding. Though John’s Gospel indicates that the place where Jesus directed his disciples to have the Israelites recline had “much grass” (John 6:10), among the Synoptic Gospels Mark alone reports that Jesus told the Twelve to have all the Israelites recline in groups “on the green grass” (Mark 6:39). Given the richness of the shepherd-sheep motif and the many allusions to the exodus theme that punctuate this episode, it seems inescapable to hear rightly a strong echo of the shepherd psalm’s words, “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures . . .” (Psalm 23:1-2a). Even the two verbs—respectively translated “sit down” and “sat down” (NIV)—which within the ancient Eastern culture depict a reclining posture, adapt well to the shepherd-sheep imagery that dominates the episode concerning the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Thus, Mark’s episode concerning the miraculous feeding features Jesus as the true shepherd who is foreshadowed by Moses in his prayer, by Joshua whom the Lord told Moses to receive as his successor, and by David who is the premier OT foreshadow of the Coming Shepherd-King. Jesus alone is able to fill the role for which each of the OT prefigurements fell short because they all succumbed to death, for Jesus alone has the power to give his life for the sheep and to take it up again to shepherd his sheep as borne witness to by Mark’s use of the shepherd-sheep imagery as predictive of Messiah’s sacrificial death and as resumptive of his role as shepherd-king after resurrection, as explicated above (cf. John 10:17).

It is true, of course, that all the above explanations of Mark’s allusions to the OT reflect my firm conviction that all that Israel experienced as narrated throughout the OT took place typologically and was written down for our instruction, a crucial affirmation I develop in part 5 of this series. As readers might expect, I am also fully convinced that my exposition of Mark 6 does not entail an imposition of an interpretive grid upon the evangelist’s narrative but reflects Mark’s own understanding of and use of the many OT allusions. Otherwise, I have no plausible explanation for his perceptive uses of all these allusions that contribute to his sketch that leads to his initial heralded proclamation—“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet” (1:1-2)—that the Coming One foreshadowed throughout the OT is none other than Jesus who mingles words and deeds to reveal himself as the promised one.

1 See my, “He Wrote in Parables and Riddles: Mark’s Gospel as a Literary Reproduction of Jesus’ Teaching Method,” Didaskalia 10.1 (Spring 1999): 35-67.
2 See, e.g., James R. Edwards, “Markan Sandwhiches: The Significance of Interpolations in Markan Narratives,” Novum Testamentum 31.3 (1989): 193-216; see also Tom Shepherd, Markan Sandwich Stories: Narration, Definition, and Function, AUSDDS 18 (Berrien Springs, Mich.: Andrews University Press, 1983).
3 For fuller development of the “new exodus” theme in Mark’s Gospel see Rikki E. Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (Tübingen: Mohr (Siebeck), 1997; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000).
4 In addition to the work by Rikki Watts, others have also demonstrated the prominent shaping impact Isaiah has upon the Second Gospel. See, e.g., Richard Schneck, Isaiah in the Gospel of Mark, I-VIII, BIBAL DS 1 (Vallejo, CA: BIBAL Press, 1994). See also Joel Marcus, The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1992).
5 See Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, which makes a convincing case that Isaiah’s prophecy is the OT backdrop on which the Second Gospel hangs.
6 See 1 Kings 22:17—“I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd” (ἑώρακα πάντα τὸν Ἰσραηλ διεσπαρμένον ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσιν ὡς ποίμνιον, ὥ οὐκ ἔστιν ποιμήν, LXX); and Ezekiel 34:5—“So they were scattered because there was no shepherd” (καὶ διεσπάρη τὰ πρόβατα μου διὰ τὸ μὴ εἶναι ποιμένας, LXX); 34:23—“I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd” (καὶ ἀναστήσω ἐπ’ αὐτοὺς ποιμένα ἕνα καὶ ποιμανεῖ αὐτούς, τὸν δοῦλόν μου Δαυιδ, καὶ ἔσταιν αὐτῶν ποιμήν, LXX).
7 The OT is replete with the shepherd-king motif featuring David and his coming messianic son, foreshadowed by each successive king. Many resources are available concerning the shepherd-king motif of the OT. One easily accessible resource is Beth M. Stovell’s, “Yahweh Shepherd-King and the Restoration of Justice: Metaphors of Shepherding and the Constellation of Kingship,” unpublished essay for Directed Study: Kingship in the OT, at MacMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, October 2009.
[8] Cf., e.g., Beth M. Stovell, Mapping Metaphorical Discourse in the Fourth Gospel: John’s Eternal King. Linguistic Biblical Studies 5 (Leiden: Brill, 2012).

Monday, August 20, 2012

On the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Part 6

As I reflect upon my many years of teaching the Scriptures, it is right to admit that I have learned more of the Word of God and incarnated it as a teacher in greater measure than during all the years of my formal undergraduate and graduate studies. I say this not to slight any of my instructors or professors. Rather, my point is that anyone who responsibly teaches a subject to others engages the subject from a fresh angle, learning to impart understanding to others rather that to absorb knowledge for oneself.

Sometimes, while in the very act of teaching, my eyes become opened to see something in the text for the first time. This installment and the next will each offer insights that suddenly dawned upon me in the act of teaching. Both come from the Gospel of Mark, and both concern semi-veiled allusions to the Old Testament.

Several years ago, as I was teaching a classroom full of college students on the transfiguration and the following narrative in Mark 9:14-32, the words of the text caught my attention as never before and stirred my imagination. Immediately upon returning down from the Mount of Transfiguration, the narrative says, "And when they [Jesus, Peter, James & John] came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him" (Mark 9:14-15; ESV). I posed a question to the students. Why do you suppose the text says that when the crowd saw Jesus they were greatly amazed? It is noteworthy to point out that elsewhere in Mark's Gospel the same verb in 9:15, ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω), occurs three times, once in 14:33 and once in 16:5 and 16:6, respectively. In 14:33, ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω) is used of Jesus in tandem with adēmoneō (ἀδημονέω). The sense is that Jesus "began to be distressed and troubled." In 16:5 and 16:6, ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω) is used first of the women who came to the tomb and found it empty and were amazed, and then of the young man who had been seated at the right side of the tomb who cautions, "Do not be amazed!" The verb speaks of deep movement of emotions, particularly of trembling astonishment. Thus, in Mark 9:14, the verb ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω) bursts upon the reader with unexpectedness. Given the fact that Mark's other uses of the verb ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω) denote intense emotion, we would be amiss to devalue the verb's intensity in 9:14.

The unexpectedness of this verb at this juncture of the story is underscored by the fact that throughout Mark's narrative, verbs that speak of astonishment, such as ekplēssomai (ἐκπλήσσομαι) in 1:22 signal the crowd's reaction to some remarkable teaching or miracle done by Jesus. In Mark 9:14, the crowd had not just seen any miracle nor had they just heard any extraordinary teaching from Jesus to trigger the response of being greatly amazed. Nevertheless, the narrative expressly states that the crowd's astonishment came when they saw Jesus. This surely indicates that there is something about Jesus' personage that incited the crowd's wonderment.

It seems much too weak to take Mark's verb that signals intense emotion as does James Edwards who says,

On the other hand, if Jesus' countenance still radiates the glory of the transfiguration, the command "not to tell anyone" (v. 9) seems rather pointless. Moreover, if Jesus' countenance is substantially affected, we might expect the crowd to retreat in fear (Exod 34:30) rather than advance in avid pursuit. . . . On balance, the astonishment of the crowd appears to owe to Jesus' unexpected appearance and the hopes it raised (Mark, 276-277).
Likewise, the comment by R. T. France seems too weak to satisfy the narrative when he explains, "More likely Mark uses the verb rather extravagantly to denote the powerful impression which Jesus' personal presence by now created: 'this authority emanates from him even before he speaks or acts'" (Mark, NIGTC, 364).

It seems more likely that my imagination, activated by the text of Mark that day during class time, was intuitively right to direct the students to consider a recapitulation of Moses' descent from the mountain as recorded in Exodus 34:29-35.
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the Lord had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face.
Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
Jesus has just come down the mountain after being transfigured in the cloud along with Elijah and with Moses who had joined him on the mountaintop and left Jesus and his three disciples without descending the mountain. The one who descended is the one who ascended, who was transfigured, and whose visage and garments shone with glory. Echoes in the transfiguration account of Moses' experience of the theophany on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33:17-23) are too strong to ignore. This is all the more so when we find Mark using ekthambeō (ἐκθαμβέω) to describe the crowd's response to Jesus. Thus, it seems right that Morna Hooker says,
[Mark] must mean that there was something about Jesus' appearance which gave them good reason to be astonished. The only possible explanation seems to be that Mark means us to understand that Jesus' appearance is still in some way affected by the transfiguration. If Moses, coming down the mountain after speaking with God, reflected the glory of God from his face without knowing it, and so caused all the people to be afraid (Exod. 34:29f.), it is not surprising if Jesus also, coming down the mountain from a similar experience, caused astonishment among the crowd (The Gospel according to Mark, 222-224).
Robert Gundry also seems to get it right when he adds, "And something so striking as the heavenly whiteness of Jesus' garments seems required to account for a word so strong as ἐξεθαμβήθησαν. The extremity of the circumstances leading to later use of this word support this judgment" (Mark, 488).
Gundry adds that the “immediacy (εὐθὐς) of the crowd’s extreme awe, the inclusion of ‘all’ of them—large crowd though they are—and the placement of ‘all the crowd’ before both the circumstantial participial phrase and the verb emphasize the impact which the sight of Jesus makes on the crowd” (Ibid.). Additionally, the crowd rushes to Jesus to hail him (ἠσπάζοντο).

What about James Edwards' objections to this understanding of the passage? What about his objection that this interpretation makes Jesus' command to the three apostles on the mountain "not to tell anyone" (v. 9) seem "rather pointless"? What about Edwards' objection that this interpretation should cause one to expect that the crowd would "retreat in fear (Exod 34:30) rather than advance in avid pursuit"?

It seems to me that any proper understanding of the interplay between Jesus' revealing and concealing his identity throughout Mark's narrative (the Secrecy Motif) has to acknowledge that Jesus' prohibition announced to his disciples on the mountain can hardly be taken the way Edwards does. In each of Jesus' acts, in each of his parables, and in each of his miracles he both reveals and conceals. This is the nature of revelation; in the very act of revealing there is also concealing, for never does Jesus pull back the curtains to disclose everything all at once. Jesus forbade the three disciples to speak of what they had seen on the mountain, but this prohibition hardly prevented him from carrying an afterglow of his transfigured glory with him for his other disciples and for the crowd below to glimpse, to be astonished, and to receive the revelatory hint that he is the one who is greater than Moses whose visage and garments shone long ago, whose shining prompted the Israelites to shield their eyes so that Moses veiled his face.

If the crowd got a glimpse of the glory with which Jesus had been clothed when the heavenly cloud descended upon him on the mountain, then why did the crowd not "retreat in fear" as the children of Israel did when Moses approached them after he came down from the mountain? Is it not reasonable for us to suppose that the evangelist tells us that the crowd was astonished but ran to him and greeted him because Mark wants us to realize that, even though the crowd likely acted better than they understood, their reception of Jesus who came down from the mountain with apparent glory yet shining from his clothing and visage signals that Jesus truly is the one greater than Moses of whom Moses prophesied when he said, "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him" (Deut 18:15; NIV). The heavenly voice on the mountain quotes this passage with the command, "Listen to him!" (Mark 9:7), signifying that Jesus is the True Moses, the one greater than Moses, the one of whom Moses prophesied.

So, as I reflect upon that day several years ago when I was teaching on Mark 9, I marvel at how many times I have read the words of Mark 9:14-15 and have read numerous commentaries on the passage and yet the text struck me as though it were the first time. The words leaped off the page and struck my imagination, prompting me to raise questions for my students, questions that I also needed to search out. I never cease to marvel that, if my students learn nothing when I teach, that I always learn no matter how many times I have taught the same portions of the text before. Even though we who teach the text of Scripture repeatedly, year in and year out, there is something about the richness and fullness of the landscape of biblical narrative that we never take it all in at once. Even for us who teach there is much for us yet to learn. For we all are subject both to the revealing and concealing character of Scripture as God’s word revelation and to the revealing and concealing work of the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes afresh to truth formerly veiled from us (cf. Luke 24:13-35; 45).

I like the imagery which seems to have originate with Gregory the Great when he describes the nature of Scripture—“Scripture is like a river . . . broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim” (Moralia, Epistle 4.177-78).

This post and series originates at Credo Blog.