Mark – What does this mean???

…just as the prophet Isaiah had written:

“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
and he will prepare your way.
He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’

Exodus 23:20

“See, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you.

Malachi 3:1

“Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. (NLT)

Isaiah 40:3

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
for our God! (NLT)

“All four Gospels include a quotation of Isaiah 40:3 (Mk. 1:3; Mt. 3:3; Lk. 3:4; Jn. 1:23) but only Mark combine this with words taken from Exodus 23:20 and Malachi 3:1”[1]

The importance of the composite quote:

  1. It is located at the beginning of the Gospel, even before John and Jesus have been introduced.
  2. This is the only editorial quotation from Mark – all the other quotations (about 20) appear on the lips of Jesus or other characters in the story.
  3. The composite quotation of Ex. 23:20/Mal. 3:1 [cf. Mt. 11:10 and Lk. 7:27] is included before the citation of Is. 40:3, even though it clashes with the introductory formula (‘As it is written in the prophet Isaiah’)[2]

There have been two main ways of interpreting this…

“we need an ideology that can explain how Mark can both appropriate Isaiah’s promise of exodus (itself a development of the original exodus tradition), while offering, in Marcus’s words, a ‘radical, cross-centred adaptation of it’ (1992: 36). In terms of this debate, what we need is a more sophisticated biblical theology that can encompass discontinuity as well as continuity, and a more sophisticated literary theory that can combine insights from narrative criticism with insights from intertextuality (taking ‘texts’ in its broadest sense).”[3]

France, quoting Myers states the following:

“by omitting that part of Mal. 3:1 which envisages the Lord appearing in the temple and linking the passage instead to the wilderness location, Mark is already signalling the dismissal of the institutional life of Israel which will be a recurrent theme of his gospel.”[4]

There is more to unpack here, but what seems clear to me is the following:

  1. This being the only editorial quotation is highly relevant to the author’s purpose.
  2. The author did not feel compelled to use literal quotes, but instead took no small amount of liberty in combining texts to prepare his readers for the story.
  3. The quote is both a nod in the direction of the past prophetic tradition as well as a nod to a clear and present change in the thinking and life of the reader/hearer.

I’ll have more on this later.

Meanwhile, let me know what you think!


[1] Steve Moyise, Evoking Scripture: Seeing the Old Testament in the New (London: T & T Clark, 2008), 6.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Steve Moyise, “How Deep is the Wilderness in Mark 1:1-13,” 2005, 86, http://74.125.155.132/search?q=cache:RyfmYOYFfK8J:www.chiuni.ac.uk/theology/documents/TheWildernessQuotation.doc+mark+1:2-3&cd=23&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=firefox-a.

[4] R. T France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2002), 63.

 

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What is the Gospel?

One of my favorite responses to this question was penned by Robert Farrar Capon in his book Between Noon and Three:

“The gospel of grace is the end of religion, the final posting of the CLOSED sign on the sweatshop of the human race’s perpetual struggle to think well of itself. For that, at bottom, is what religion is: man’s well-meant but dim-witted attempt to approve of his unapprovable condition by doing odd jobs he thinks some important Something will thank him for.
Religion, therefore, is a loser, a strictly fallen activity. It has a failed past and a bankrupt future. There was no religion in Eden and there won’t be any in heaven; and in the meantime Jesus has died and risen to persuade us to knock it all off right now.” – p. 166

In short, the gospel is the end of religion!

God, Gentiles and Grace – On the Essence of the Inclusion Debate

Capernaum synagogue
Image via Wikipedia

I recently heard Alistair Begg give an excellent summary (found here, about 17 minutes into the broadcast) of one of Jesus’ most compelling confrontations.

The text at hand is Luke 4:14-30:

14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19 and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.[f]

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

22 Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

23 Then he said, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.’ 24 But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.

25 “Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.”

28 When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. 29 Jumping up, they mobbed him and forced him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push him over the cliff, 30 but he passed right through the crowd and went on his way.

Why were those in the synagogue so angry?

It is here that Alistair gives the following maxim (in a paraphrase):

The salvation which Jesus proclaimed they [the Gentiles] need, but don’t deserve.

and

The salvation which Jesus proclaims we [the Jews] deserve, but do not need.

Brilliant!  I am not sure if this is his own idea or if it has been passed down, but this is the essence of one of the primary early church debates – How do the Gentiles fit into God’s plan of salvation.

The legalists knew the Gentiles needed the One True God, but could not comprehend them receiving it simply by faith.  Surely, they must conform…look, walk and talk like us.

The legalists also knew that Jesus’ teachings bothered them.  They were just too easy, too open compared to what they knew the religious life to be.

As a result, they believed that they deserved what Jesus was offering, but did not want it as he presented it.

Alistair Begg continues by making the comparison with modern Christians:

Surely those outside the church need Jesus, but they don’t deserve it…just look at how they live.

We Christians deserve salvation, look how obedient we have been!  We just want it to look like something we would design…a nice orderly, religion that can be left at church on Sundays.

I thought this to be quite a good, though basic, summary of one of the earliest debates among the church – that of inclusion of “outsiders” and how that works out in practice.

On the Speeches in Acts – Part 1 of 8

In this extended series of posts, I hope to shed some light on the issue of how authors in the first century went about recording speeches in historical writings and more specifically, Luke’s account of the speeches found in his Acts of the Apostles.

There are several questions at hand: How did Luke include speeches that most likely he did not hear in person in his account of the Acts of the Apostles?  Can these speeches be taken as authentic?  Did Luke fashion the speeches to fit the story he was writing?  How might this affect the veracity of the account?

My investigation will focus more on the historical and literary points to consider, but ultimately, the study has important apologetic implications and  I will address those in Part 7.

So, let’s begin!

Upon even a cursory reading of the book of Acts, the importance of the speeches contained therein is readily apparent.  The sheer amount of space given over to this type of discourse reveals one overarching fact: the author of this book used speeches with purpose.  Of course, discerning this purpose within the study of Luke-Acts has been the quandary of bible scholars for years.  Questions regarding the authorship of the speeches, their historicity, and their theology abound.  As such, the purpose of this essay will be to survey the speeches of the book of Acts with a view to answering some fundamental questions that arise from their study.  Upon review of some very general observations about these speeches, topics such as the sources of the speeches, traditional opinions on the speeches and how they should be studied, their form, function, and themes will be analyzed with a view to proposing their purpose within the book of Acts.

The speeches of the book of Acts occupy some 25 percent of the narrative within the book of Acts (Aune 125).  Stated from another angle, Marion Soards wrote that 365 verses out of the total 1000 in the book of Acts are given over to speeches and dialogues (Soards 1).

In order to grasp the basic message of these speeches and their placement within the book, Soards’ model of delineating them in sequence can be referenced in the Appendix.

One of the first things a modern student of the book of Acts must do is realign their understanding of how historical narrative, and especially in this case, the speeches within the narrative were written.  In the twenty-first century, moderns seem to want “just the facts.”  Yet, curiously, despite the popularity of The History Channel, it is a good story that causes millions to flock to the box office every year.  This is just the type of realignment necessary for a more pure understanding of the writing of historical narrative in Luke’s time.  In a recent work, Barbara Shellard wrote that,

ancient historians were primarily trained not in history but in rhetoric, which formed the basis of their educational system.  They aimed to convince the reader of the truth of their account of events, and the speeches they wrote were appropriate for the circumstances rather than verbatim records. (19)

Therefore, ancient historians such as Thucydides in the fifth century B.C.E. used speeches to enhance their report by fashioning speeches “in character” (Bailey 166).  The ability to do this was a rhetorical skill known as “prosopopoeia,” which might be better understood in this generation as a form of literary impersonation (Lanham 124).  The question of why this was done is a valid one, especially because it seems foreign to our twenty-first century understanding of history writing.  One must consider at least two main reasons, and yet a third that should set the mind at ease concerning the constructing of speeches.  First, as a rhetorical device, a speech might have been inserted to make the narrative more interesting for the reader.  Second, even if a speech was actually given by the character in question, it was most likely not transcribed for the history writer to reference at a later date.  Finally, it developed one’s impression of the character, just as similarly, in the movies, the personality, motives, and actions of characters are developed (Bailey 166-167).  It is important, then, in the words of Shellard, to “judge Luke’s writing by the standards of his own time, and not our own” (19).  Perhaps, then, a more realistic appreciation for Luke as a writer in his own day as compared to ours can be grasped.

However, must the conclusion be reached that all writers of history used such fanciful methods in the improvising of speeches?  Moreover, would Luke have done this?  The answer is increasingly being answered in the negative as scholars of late have begun to look past a historical-traditional approach and move toward a more focused understanding of the importance of each speech within Luke’s narrative (Green 11).  From the opening of his gospel, Luke’s intent can be discerned. For he states that he desired to:

set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. (Luke 1:1-4 NRSV)

These words clearly affirm that the research Luke did was indeed “careful” and “orderly.”  Luke’s choice of the word diegesis, “an orderly description of facts, events, actions or words” (Lk. 1:1) and diegeomai, “to give a detailed account of something in words” (Lk. 8:39; 9:10; Acts 16:10; 9:27; 12:17; 16:40) reveal that he went to great lengths to ensure a truthful account (BDAG).  As such, Luke’s purpose in writing historical literature can be placed in a most honorable category, in that he chose to see truth reign in his account in comparison to what was both accepted and popular within the same genre of his day.  Further, one must not forget that had Luke not, as best he could have, faithfully represented the speeches of the apostles of the early church, Luke-Acts most likely would not have achieved canonical status after generations of careful review and critique by his peers in the faith.  A final note on the issue should also be made regarding Luke’s choice of the word “diegesis” in Luke 1:1 over Mark’s use of “euangellion” with reference to the gospel narrative (Aune 116).  This drives home the point that Luke clearly chose to be as faithful as possible to the truth of the events of the life and death of Jesus Christ.  Indeed, to prove that his intent had changed with the Acts narrative would be no simple feat.  In fact, Gasque explicitly writes, “those who believe that the author of Acts invented speeches tend to dismiss the speeches of the third gospel…as evidence for the author’s methodology in the Book of Acts” (62).  To posit that Luke did not remain faithful to his stated purpose is tantamount to discrediting him; the burden of proof rests with the critic.

At this point, the sources Luke might have used must be considered.  Invariably, Luke could have used any combination of eyewitness accounts, oral traditions, and written reports available to him at the time of his writing Luke-Acts.   Aune, while revealing the unlikelihood that written evidence was in existence, wrote that Luke had three options with regard to the material used for the speeches:

(1)     To interview those present or (if he were present) to recall the substance of what was actually spoken,

(2) To freely improvise speeches according to the principle of appropriateness

(3) To combine research and memory with free composition. (125)

Aune goes on to state that Luke used option number three.  This is highly plausible, but quite possibly insufficient.  If, as James Dunn has so well stated in his recent work “Jesus In Oral Memory” that oral tradition played a large part in the sources used to compose the gospels, perhaps it is just as plausible that such oral traditions were passed on from gathering to gathering as the early church met and discussed the faith, words, and deeds of the major characters in the book of Acts.  Dunn even uses Luke’s retelling of the story of Paul’s conversion in Acts as the primary example of his faithful handling of oral tradition, stating that he would indeed handle the oral traditions of Jesus in like manner (9).  More will be written about this in the discussion of the content of the speeches in Acts, but Dunn’s point about the oral traditions of the early church, especially as they relate to Luke, must not be overlooked.  Further adding to the category of Luke’s credibility, Dunn writes that,

Luke was himself a good story-teller, and that his retelling of the story of Paul’s conversion is a good example not simply of the use of oral tradition in a written work, but of the oral traditioning process as a whole.” (9)

So then, it appears that at the very least, there was also the well of oral tradition that Luke would have been able to draw from in order to carefully transmit the essence of the speeches within their proper historical context, thus fulfilling his purpose from the beginning.  Overall, for these reasons, it seems unlikely that while some ancient historians could and did fashion speeches for the sake of their purpose that Luke would have done the same.  Perhaps, in Luke’s estimation, this literary device was simply an unnecessary convention for the material he was writing.

Aune, David.  The New Testament in Its Literary Environment.  Philadelphia: Westminster,

1987.

Dunn, James D.G.  “Jesus in Oral Memory: The Initial Stages of the Jesus Tradition.”

NTGateway. June 2000.  <http://www.ntgateway.com/Jesus/dunn.rtf&gt;

Gasque, W. Ward.  “The Book of Acts and History.”  Unity and Diversity in New Testament

Theology: Essays in Honor of George E. Ladd. Ed. R. A. Guelich.  Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1978.

Green, J. B.  “Acts of the Apostles.”  DLNT.  Eds. R. P. Martin and P. H. Davids.

Downer’s Grove: IVP, 1997.

Lanham, Richard A.  A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms.  Second Ed.  Berkeley: University, 1991.

Plumacher, E.  “diegeomai.”  Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament.  Vol. 1.  Eds. H. Balz

and G. Schneider.  Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990.

Shellard, Barbara.  New Light on Luke: Its Purpose, Sources, and Literary Contexts.

JSNT Supp. 215. Exec. Ed. Stanley E. Porter.  London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002.

Soards, Marion.  The Speeches in Acts: Their Content, Contexts, and Concerns.  Louisville:

Westminster/Knox, 1994.

Cursory Glance at Transitional Markers – Rom. 1:18

Over at Storied Theology blog, in his recent review of The Deliverance of God by Doug Campbell, Dr. Kirk stated the following:

Campbell suggests that the strong denunciations that begin in Romans 1:18ff. are not Paul’s own position, but the view of “a teacher” whom he is opposing. I just have a couple of thoughts on this, issues that need to be addressed before Campbell’s reading will be largely persuasive:

a. Campbell does not give a strong explanation of the γάρ (“for”) that begins a new “voice” in the letter. This is problematic not only because the connector seems to conjunct 1:17 and 1:18 but also because elsewhere in Romans the contrasting voice in a diatribe is clearly marked by rhetorical questions and the like.

And my initial response:

For me, the unanswered question regarding γάρ in 1:18 is could it be a verbal transitional marker for the reader as opposed to the typical grammatical function.

We know that γάρ is “one of the most common particles in the NT” and its “use in the NT conforms to the classical” (BDF 452), but is it plausible to see it as a transition to speech-in-character? Was such a thing done with γάρ – similar to speech transitions in Mark using ὅτι?

Or…

Campbell via Stowers states that the transition was typically both unwritten and nonverbal. With that in mind, is it not plausible to interpret the γάρ as an emphatic agreement and addendum to Paul’s intro regarding the gospel in 1:16-17? As though the Teacher was there, saying, “YES, and let me add…”

As this is a major transition according to Campbell, I will have more on this later…just wanted to share this to hopefully gain additional insight.

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

The Problem With Old School Theology

I knew there was a problem with the old school Protestant System of theology!  I knew it!

For years I have said that this system, in various forms, essentially turns back to the old covenant for its foundation.  It is as though Christ is not enough.

Now, as I am reading Doug Campbell’s Deliverance of God, I see the arguments laid out with an incredible depth and clarity.  This old school system is bankrupt and lacks clear biblical warrant.  Indeed in some ways, it promotes another gospel.

I know this may sound shocking, but I challenge anyone to read/study/discuss this book along with me and come away with a hearty approval of the fundamental Protestant system.  Now, that does not at all mean that I am endorsing or approving Roman Catholicism either.  No, the issues are far deeper than an “either this or that” conclusion.

Indeed, there is nothing new in trying to grasp the truth and depth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Read Galatians or Hebrews and we see the early church struggled with how truly liberating it is.

But, those who know me recall my Reformed phase not too many years ago, and how I walked away from that system for one primary reason: it is grounded in the old covenant.  It affirms Christ, yet reaches back for the chains of the old system.  And let’s be honest, folks, that denies Christ in many, many ways.

I still have quite a bit of respect for the Reformers.  But, Campbell’s book certainly lays out a solid argument that this system of thought should at least be questioned and at best be replaced.

I read on…and will post more as I go!