Category Archives: Mark

Review: Mark (TNTC), Eckhard Schnabel

Mark (Tyndale New Testament Commentary) Review

The first commentary on the Gospel of Mark was written in the sixth century, and between “AD 650 and 1000, thirteen major commentaries were written on Matthew, but only four on Mark” (Strauss, 20). Despite the long neglect, much study has been done over Mark’s short Gospel for more than the last century.

Eckhard Schnabel, Professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell and author of Acts (ZECNT), Early Christian Mission (2 volumes), and 40 Questions on the End Times, replaces Alan Cole’s Mark volume in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary (TNTC) series with a Christmas meal—441 pages of commentary on the shortest Gospel. While adding to the growing list of commentaries, Schnabel (who is also the TNTC’s series editor) did not write a commentary of commentaries on Mark. Instead, writing for pastors, students, and laypeople, he comments on the meaning of Mark through theological reflection, historical points of reference, the meanings of words, and the literary development of the characters.

Summary

Schnabel gives very little attention to Markan priority (whether Mark’s Gospel was written first), saying that Markan priority “continues to be plausible,” but that “these questions are more significant for commentaries on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke” (4). Thankfully, Schnabel examines the text and not a possible Markan community behind the text, though he does acknowledge future Mark’s clarifications for Gentile readers (14, 162).

He takes Mark to be the actual author (12), probably writing from Rome for various churches (14) anywhere between 50–64 AD. We don’t know what Mark’s sources are, but if Papias is correct, Mark’s “most significant — and perhaps the only — source” was Peter (18). Mark ends his Gospel at 16.8. Abrupt endings are attested in antiquity, and within the Bible Jonah ends abruptly and Acts ends with Paul still alive and his legal case unresolved. To paraphrase Demetrius (whom Schnabel quotes), some points need to be worked out be the hearers themselves (22-23).

Schnabel disregards William Wrede’s hypothesis of Mark’s “Messianic secret.” If there is nothing messianic about Jesus or his ministry, then there is no explanation for his death, nor is there any explanation as to how his disciples transformed their “unmessianic master into the Messiah after Easter” (25).

Mark does not have a “vendetta” against the disciples (29), but merely gives an “unvarnished” (aka, authentic) look at their pre-resurrection responses to Jesus (30). Nobody imagined a Messiah who would die, and though on occasion Jesus does rebuke the disciples, he often explains himself to them.

Schnabel divines Mark into four pairs of three’s:

  1. The Beginning of the Gospel (1.1–13)
    1. Heading (1.1)
    2. Jesus and John the Baptist (1.2–8)
    3. Jesus declared Son of God and conflict with Satan (1.9–13)
  2. Jesus’ Messianic Authority (1.14–8.21)
    1. The kingdom of God and Jesus’ authority (1.14–3.6)
    2. The Twelve and the kingdom of God (3.7–6.6)
    3. The Mission of Jesus Messiah and the Twelve (6.6–8.21)
  3. Jesus’ Messianic Suffering (8.22–15.47)
    1. The revelation of the Messiah’s suffering (8.22–10.52)
    2. The confrontation in Jerusalem (11.1–13.37)
    3. The suffering and death of Jesus Messiah (14.1–15.47)
  4. Jesus’ Resurrection Announced (16.1–8)
    1. The women at Jesus’ tomb (16.1–5)
    2. The announcement of Jesus’ resurrection (16.6–7)
    3. The reaction of the women (16.8)

Interpretations

4:10–12: Jesus tells parables to conceal the kingdom of God from outsiders. They are intentionally veiled. Many cannot see or hear the kingdom of God in Jesus’ miracles, exorcisms, and through his teachings. Judgement will come because they do not want to truly listen to God (13.1–37). Schnabel interprets through the lens of the kingdom of God that has come in Jesus (1.14–15).

6:49–50: Jesus’ “I am” statement (see also 14.62) is not a declaration of divinity.

7:24–30: Having just taught his disciples about what is clean and unclean (vv. 14–23), Jesus enters “unclean” Gentile territory. Jesus doesn’t “change his mind” when the Syro-Phoenician woman gives the right answer; rather, she passes his test. She (a Gentile “dog”) can eat the crumbs under the table simultaneously while the children (Israel) are eating. Though Jews generally saw dogs as unclean, “dog” (kynarion) here is a pet “present at a meal in the house” (173). This Gentile woman has more spiritual discernment than the Jewish leaders.

8:1–10: Mark is not repeating himself here; this is not the same event as in 6.30–44. Jesus is in Gentile territory (Isa 25.6; 49.6; Acts 1.8; 2.39).

13:24–27: Jesus’ second coming is at a separate, indeterminate time from 13.1–23. Jesus no longer focuses on the city of Jerusalem, the local councils, or even the seasons (winter, v. 18), but on “the sun, the moon, the stars, the clouds, the ends of the earth and the ends of heavens” (330).

14:35–36: Jesus “does not have inner doubts about the value of his death. Jesus’ prayer to be spared death conveys the excruciating anguish that senses the terrible reality of suffering the judgment of God, dying as a ransom for the many (10:45), shedding his blood to seal the new covenant (14:24), dying as a sin offering (Rom 8:3), becoming the place of God’s atoning presence (Rom 3:25), becoming a curse for us (Gal 3:13) ” (364).

14:51–52: Whoever this young man is, he shows that all have forsaken Jesus. In terror, the young lad would prefer to be shamefully naked and save his own skin than to be caught being with Jesus.

Schnabel provides much good historical and factual information on various people (Pilate, p. 394-95; the Sanhedrin, p. 373), places (Jerusalem, p. 261), and the timing of the Passover (350-51). Some of these details seem a bit much, such as the possible “House of Peter (1.29–31), heights of various mountains in Israel, and how a clay lamp was made in Galilean workshops (4.21). It can make the text seem too busy, and I personally think some of these details would work better as footnotes. Still, his points on why people go “up” to Jerusalem (247), just how the friends could dig their way through the roof of a house (65), or who Barabbas was (400), help make sense of the text. Schnabel is a careful exegete and historian. 

Unfortunately, there are no indices in this volume (or in any of the Old and New Testament series).

Recommended?

I’ve read (chunks of) quite a few Markan commentaries. Schnabel’s volume isn’t going to break new ground, but he is trustworthy when it comes to biblical exegesis and exposition. He keeps the Gospel’s context in view in his theology sections, making sure that he doesn’t interpret something apart from anything else Mark has said, and points to Christ as our one and true Savior whose death ransomed sinners and inaugurated the new covenant. The pastor, student, Bible college teacher, and layperson would be filled with this huge 441 page meal.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Eckhard J. Schnabel
  • Series: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Academic (June 6, 2017)

Buy it on Amazon 

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

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

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Review Lecture: Mark’s Gospel (Rikk Watts)

Rikk Watts is a full-time teacher at Regent College, and is known for his work on the Gospel of Mark and his book Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. He wrote the 100,000 word contribution on Mark to Carson and Beale’s Commentary on the NT Use of the OT [CNTUOT] and will be replacing Lane’s volume on Mark in the NICNT series. And word on the street says Watts is writing two books: Jesus and the Mighty Deeds of Yahweh (lecture here) and Heaven on Earth: an Introduction to the Christian Vision.

This is the second of Watts’ lectures that I’ve been able to review (see my review on Isaiah). This time I wanted to learn about Mark from one of the experts. I’ve been interested in Mark’s Gospel ever since I co-taught it at CCBC York in 2014. Ever since then I’ve stocked up on a number of commentaries, anticipating when Watts’ volume will see the light of day. I had the pleasure of partnering with Lindsay Kennedy (see his review of Watts’ class lectures here) in one of his Mark classes last fall and I found Watts to be extremely helpful in understanding Mark’s message.

Mark

As I’ve mentioned before, in his book Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark, Watts opens up Scripture to the reader to see how Mark wrote his Gospel around Jesus’ fulfilling of (can you guess?) Isaiah’s Second Exodus. While I have yet to read INEM, Watts’ contribution to Carson and Beale’s CNTUOT convinced me to his position. His contribution is packed full of both grammatical and theological information, which seems like Watts is full of “heady” information about God and his Word. Yet listening to Watts’ is an entirely different experience. While his genius still comes out, his application comes straight from the principles of the text.

What relevance does a 2,000 year old Gospel have for us today? To pray like Jesus we must live sacrificial lives where we pick up our crosses to serve humbly (9.28; 10.45). I am to cut off that which causes me to sin. How do I see other people and how do I treat them? Do I humiliate them? Do I regard them as nothing? Or do I give them the most importance? Watts application cuts to the quick, and it’s the kind of application we need. Watts proves that a deep study and understanding of the Bible and a heartfelt relationship with God are not mutually exclusive.

Watts looks at Mark’s Gospel as being both a masterful work of literature. He is aware of how words and phrases are used throughout Mark. A “marketplace” seems like such an obscure word, but Watts sees that Jesus, the true Shepherd (6.34) and glorious Lord who walks on water (6.48), heals the sick in a marketplace (6.56). It was in the first exodus where Israel found out they were supposed to be holy, and here, following the New Exodus theme, Jesus teaches the marketplace Pharisees (7.4) about true holiness. He is the healing glorious Lord, and those who follow him are both holy and to live holy lives that honor him.

Watts also looks at Mark’s Gospel as being a historical document about the true living Son of God. And because these characters are real and situations tense, Watts uses this understanding to explain why Jesus does what he does. For example, in Mark 14 Jesus sends two disciples to find a man carrying a jar of water (which would be rare). They are to follow him and talk to him about something “the Teacher” has said. Watts believes it is pre-arranged (the room would already be furnished and ready, v15), and given that Jesus is a wanted man (the Jewish leaders were trying to trap him in Mark 12), it makes sense that Jesus would work in the shadows. He still had to have one last meal with his disciples before he picked up his cross.

Watts believes the Gospel of Mark was written by Mark, before 70 AD. Unlike his Isaiah class, Watts’ doesn’t delve much into the views of other scholars, and when he does his discussion is brief. That being said, he doesn’t always finish class where he intends and often runs out of time only to have to catch up in the next class. He always makes it work out well, but I was disappointed with his treatment of Mark 13. It’s an extremely difficult passage for many Christians and scholars, and I was hoping to hear a thorough (as far as is possible in a classroom setting) of Mark 13. Watts reads all of Mark 13 as having to do with 70 AD, and I especially wanted to hear about 13.26 (“And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory”). Instead, because of the way Watts spaced out the other classes, Mark 13 had to be split between two classes (Lectures 11 and 12) with both parts being rushed.

Though not a major downside, I was disappointed that the Mark lectures didn’t come with a handout like the Isaiah lectures did. The Isaiah handout PDF was 96 pages long. The Mark handout PDF is only 4 pages long (with a little bit extra on page 5). The handout for Isaiah helped hold my attention during the lectures as I was able to follow along while giving me plenty to look up after the lectures were finished. Since the lectures are not a book, it is difficult to go search and find the right spot where Watts speaks on a particular text. And since there is no handout, I would suggest that you take notes while listening to his lectures (though in my opinion, you should be taking notes anyway).

Conclusion

If I could ever recommend lectures on Mark, it would be ones taught by Rikk Watts. Watts certainly has a solid understanding of the Gospel of Mark. He is a biblical scholar who considers deeply both the biblical text, its teaching on God and his gracious character, and its application to our lives. Even though he rabbit trails a bit, Watts gives you plenty of good information to think about, and one can hear that he really loves the Lord. Watts studies God’s word and uses the Bible’s theology to shape his views on life so that he can teach us how we are to live before and serve our holy, loving, and glorious God.

Lagniappe

  • Speaker: Rikk Watts
  • Date: Winter 2014
  • Length: 27h 17m
  • Product ID: RGDL4404S

Previous Posts

  1. Was the Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?
  2. Our Response to Parables

Outline

  1. Introduction; Prologue: Mark 1.1-13
  2. Prologue: Mark 1.1-13
  3. Mark 1.14-45
  4. Mark 1.2-3.35
  5. Mark 4.1-5.43
  6. Mark 6
  7. Mark 7.1-8.21
  8. Mark 8.22-9.13
  9. Mark 9.2-50
  10. Mark 10
  11. Mark 11.1-13.31
  12. Mark 13.32-16.8

Video

Classes

(Sometimes these are on discount at certain times of the year. Along with these Watts has quite a few free lectures). 

[Special thanks to Regent College for allowing me to review this class!]

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Our Response to Parables

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been listening to Rikk Watts’ lectures on the Gospel of Mark. Watts is well-versed in Mark’s Gospel, and he’s currently writing a commentary on Mark in the NICNT series.

When it comes to the parables, there is a wide range of views on what Jesus was trying to convey. What is a parable? Is it pure allegory? Is there only one meaning? Are there multiple meanings? Many think that parables are an “earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” but that places too much of a dichotomy in Jesus’ words as if he had a Gnostic ideal where we were to shed our earthly self to reach our heavenly life.

In the Beginning…

We must first ask the question, “Why did Jesus speak in parables anyway? What purpose did they serve?” The first use of “parable” in Mark is in 3.23, “And [Jesus] called them to him and said to them in parables, ‘How can Satan cast out Satan?’” Jesus poses this question against the Jerusalem leaders who believed that the miracles he performed were really the works of Satan.

In Isaiah 6 (esp. vv8-13), Isaiah’s call initiates the judgment that the people have brought on themselves (Isa 1-5). Because they have rejected Yahweh, Isaiah’s preaching would cause the hearts of Israel to be hard. In Mark, the Jerusalem leaders have called judgment upon themselves by grouping the actions of the Messiah with that of Beelzebul, the prince of demons.

Sowing the Word

In Mark 4 Jesus begins with the Parable of the Sower, which contained themes that would likely have been familiar to his audience. 4 Ezra 9.26-37 (a pseudepigraphical work) speaks about Yahweh sowing the law after the first exodus out of Egypt. The Jewish fathers received the Law from Yahweh, but they didn’t follow it. As a result, they went into judgment and exile (2 Kings 24-25) which would require a second exodus (Isa 40-55).

Watts argues that Mark shapes his Gospel around Isaiah’s second exodus, and here the words of Jesus, Yahweh in human form, are having the same affect as they did in the book of Isaiah. Those who reject Jesus will end up in exile (Mk 13) and judgment (Mt 25).

Listen!

In Mark 4.3, at the beginning of the Parable of the Sower, Jesus says, “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow.”

Watts points out that Jesus doesn’t say “Listen!” often. The critical point is that you must listen, and if you don’t understand how this works, then you won’t understand how the others work (v13).

According to Watts, the point of the parables is: (1) to reveal the mystery of the Kingdom, and (2) to reveal the nature of JC’s hearers’ hearts. This is what the whole Gospel of Mark is doing. Mark is teaching his readers about the promised kingdom of God which is coming through the Son of Man (Dan 7.13-14, 15-27), and you are being shown whether or not you care as you read Mark’s Gospel. In reading and listening to his Gospel, Watts contends that we are being put on trial. How will we respond to Mark every time we read his Gospel?

The response to Jesus’ parables passes judgment on the hearers (e.g., David’s response to Nathan’s parable [2 Sam 12], Israel’s response to Isaiah’s vineyard parable [Isa 5]). Starting from the Garden of Eden, Israel has a long history of thinking they are better than they really are. They say, “I’ll trust God… as long as it makes sense.” Adam and Eve didn’t think God’s word made much sense when it came time to take their test (Gen 3.1-6). The same goes for Israel immediately after the Exodus (Ex 32.1).

However in Mark’s Gospel no one understands Jesus! Jesus doesn’t make sense. Even his disciples have trouble understanding him, yet they still follow him despite they’re lack of understanding. The only way to deal with your arrogance and self-reliance is to follow Jesus even when he doesn’t make sense.

Idolatry and Hard-Hearts

The nations ask, “Where is their God?” (Ps 115.2). And we reply, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps 115.3). “Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Ps 135.6). Those who turn to and follow after lifeless idols become ones who cannot see, hear, nor speak.

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.

They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.

Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.

(Ps. 115.4-8; cf. 135.15-18)

Rather than following lifeless idols and becoming like them, we follow the one who does whatever he pleases. We can be like him. He gave us his word for us to know and to use wisdom so that we may live in a way that glorifies him. Humans are made in the image of God, but when we worship idols, we lose our humanity. We lose our ability to perceive and know how to live.

Watts calls Christianity the true humanism. It is only by being Christians, by trusting in Jesus as our Savior, that we can be who we were truly created to be.

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Parables take away our security blankets. Parables show us what we really think about Jesus and his message.

Previous Posts

  1. Was the Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?
  2. Review Lecture on ‘Mark’ 

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Was The Rich Young Man Really ‘Almost’ Righteous?

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you may remember my series on Rikk Watts’ lectures on Isaiah. Watts, NT lecturer at Regent College, is currently writing a commentary on Mark in the NICNT series. The focus of his dissertation was on Mark’s use of Isaiah’s second exodus (Isa 40-55; 56-66). Now I’ve been listening to Watts’ lectures on Mark, and when Watts taught on the rich young man in Mark 10.17-22, he took a different perspective from what I’ve always heard.

Growing up I’ve only heard one perspective on the rich young man. He was rich, he was young, and he was self-righteous. He didn’t really keep the whole Law. He simply wanted to pull-one over on Jesus, or at least he was so deceived he really thought he had kept the whole law. Yet Jesus sees straight through his facade. Knowing the young man is covetous and greedy, Jesus tells him that he must sell his belongings, those things that keep the rich man from Jesus, and follow Jesus so that he will have eternal life.

The Other Way

But Watts doesn’t think that’s what’s happening at all. Instead, Watts sees Mark presenting the rich young man in a positive light.

The rich young man “knelt before” Jesus and calls him “Good teacher” (v17). He’s not a scumbag. He believes that Jesus can tell him how he can have eternal life. And Jesus asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone” (v18). His answer to the rich man to follow him (and not Torah) implies that he is equating himself with Yahweh.

Jesus points first to the law and gives a list of commandments that the rich man should know: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, don’t defraud, do honor your parents. But the rich man has kept all of these from his youth. While this sounds farfetched, Paul says that when it came to “righteousness under the law,” he was “blameless” (Phil 3.6b). This doesn’t mean Paul nor the rich man were perfect, but that they were faithful to God by keeping to the Jewish laws and sacrifices.

Good, You Lack One Thing

In verse 21, Mark doesn’t say, And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘You lie.’” Instead, Jesus says, “You lack one thing; go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” For the rabbis, “lacking nothing” was the mark of a truly righteous man. Jesus doesn’t require anyone else in Mark to do this. Why is this?

People can tell the difference between someone who wealthy and righteous and someone who is wealthy and rotten. For the Jews, keeping the law and having money was a genuine sign that someone was righteous. Watts believes this guy is being told to let go of his reliance on both Torah and all of the brownie points (material wealth) that testify to his being a truly righteous man from a Jewish point of view. He “kept the law and has shekels in the bank to prove it” (Watts, Lecture 10).

Watts says that if the rich young man really was selfish, the disciples would say, “Well, we know why he isn’t getting in. He’s selfish!“ They know about the oppressive wealthy (10.42), but here they are surprised! If this man has kept the law, he has money, but he can’t gain eternal life, what on earth can the disciples do?

But Many Who Are First…

But many who are first will be last, and the last first” (v31). This rich man, who is first in everyone’s eyes, is now last because he refuses to follow the one who is greater than the Torah, Jesus Christ. But the disciples, who were low in everyone’s else’s eyes, and who would become lower because they followed the one who would be crucified, will be first.

But how can this be? They are not the best disciples. They do not understand Jesus’ teachings (4.10). They’re hearts are hard (6.52). They care little about those whom Jesus cares much about (6.36-37). They do not yet understand (8.21), and Peter rebukes his Teacher (8.32). They can not cast out a demon (9.18), and they do not pray with a heart of humility (9.29). They all want to be on the top (9.34).

The disciples will have eternal life so long as they follow and listen to the Beloved Son of God (Mk 9.7) who was crucified for our sins (15.39) and was risen from the dead (16.6).

“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God” (v27).

Previous Posts

  1. Our Response to Parables
  2. Review Lecture on ‘Mark’ 

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IV. Gold Nuggets in Isaiah

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Grapes of Wrath

YHWH plants grapes. He dug up the ground himself. He cleared the stones. He planted his vineyard with choice vines. He built a watchtower in the midst of it. He made a wine vat for the fruits of his labor. Isa 5.2 says, “He looked for it to yield grapes.” So Yahweh waits, “and gets stinkers” (Watts, Lecture 3). In fact his vineyard “yielded wild grapes” (5.2). Watts says, “This woman is a gold-digger. She’s been taking extraordinary gifts, yet her response is appalling” (Lecture 3).

Yahweh owns this vineyard. Is he to blame? No, he’s done everything correctly. He’s no ordinary farmer. In 5.6, he controls the rain. And since this vineyard has failed to produce good fruit (Matt 12.33), he won’t let it rain. He “looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!“ (5.7).

Six Woes (5.8-23)

There are Six Woes on Judah which I will very briefly describe.

First Woe: Judgment on Greed (vv8-10)

The people join houses and fields to kick others off the land. The year of Jubilee came around every 50 years to make sure the people had a stake in the land. If these idolatrous people have there way, everyone will be alone. They will lose their land, and it will remain unfruitful.

Second Woe: Judgment on Decadence (vv11-17)

For these people, their life is filled with pleasure. They have no understanding of God. They have no spiritual perception. They do not regard his deeds or his works (5.12). They will go into exile. They will hunger and thirst. They will be the first course on Sheol’s menu. In being like the nations, they get a similar judgment (this is why the judgment on Jerusalem in Is 22 falls in the midst of the judgments on other nations. If Jerusalem becomes like these nations, they will receive the same judgments).

Third Woe: Judgment on Cynicism (vv18-19)

“They mock God’s work, but they drag their cartload of sin” (Lecture 3).

Fourth Woe: Judgment on Moral Anarchy (v20)

They call evil good and good evil. They think siding with Assyria is a good thing!

Fifth Woe: Judgment on Self-Reliant Wisdom (v21)

Yahweh isn’t against learning nor a good education, but he had better be at the center. They have no fear of the Lord, so they have no wisdom

Sixth Woe: Judah’s Might and Strength (vv22-23)

These supposed heroes are “only great warriors at the bar” (Lecture 3). They don’t care for people. “It’s a great mark of a man who can get plastered at the bar” (Lecture 3).

“Therefore” (5.24-30)

As fire devours dry grass (v24), these people have rejected God’s Word and God is able to destroy mountains and people (v25). And He will do it by nations far away.

The Vineyard in the NT

In Mark 12 Jesus is telling the Parable of the Vineyard (or of the Wicked Tenants) to the Jewish leaders. After his condemnation of the tenants who killed the prophets, those tenants are so greedy that they kill the Son too so that they can receive the inheritance. They kill him and threw him out of the vineyard. Unburied. A shameful death. In v9 Jesus says, “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.

Matthew 21 is even more telling. Here in v41 it is the Jewish leaders themselves who answer Jesus. “They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.’” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.”

The tenants will not receive their inheritance for they have rejected Jesus. They perceived that he was speaking about them. They wanted to kill him. Did they know Jesus was the Son in this parable? It’s highly likely. My points is that the tenants were not producing fruit, so the kingdom of God would be taken away and given to a people who would produce fruit. In Matthew 24 Jesus foretells of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 3.10). These leaders have rejected God’s word and God will destroy them by a nation not too far away (Rome in 70 AD).

Who are these people who will produce good fruit?

In John 15 Jesus describes himself as the “True Vine” (just as he is the true firstborn). “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit…. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me…for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (15.2, 4b, 5b-6). The disciples are commanded to love one another. They are told that Jesus chose them (like Yahweh chose Israel to be a pleasing vineyard) so that they “should go and bear fruit” (15.16).

Those who bear fruit are the disciples of Jesus, you, me, and everyone who professes Jesus as their Saviour and King. We can trust him to care for us and to produce fruit in our lives. “Any God who will die on a cross for me while I am yet his enemy will not play fast and loose with my life now that I am his friend” (Rikk Watts, Isaiah).


Thanks for sticking around. Tomorrow is my final post on Watts Isaiah class. It will be the review of his class.

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III. Gold Nuggets in Isaiah

BambergApocalypseFolio034vLambOnMtSion (1)

Following the Golden Nugget series on Watt’s Isaiah class, here is part three with a few more nuggets of information.

Parables of Hardness

If you’ve seen my posts on Virginity in Isaiah, Isaiah is told to preach so that people don’t see, hear, do (Isa 6.9-10). Afterward he gives King Ahaz a parable, and KA rejects God’s word (7.12-13). Then, upon rejecting God, God’s judgment will come upon Ahaz and Judah (see my previous posts for more info).

We have a pattern: Parables -> Don’t Listen? -> Judgment

In Mark 4.3, upon telling his first parable here, Jesus commands the people to “Listen!” Jesus then speaks about “hearing” 8 times, and Mark gives an extra ninth at the end of the chapter. Those who don’t listen will be judged. After this Jesus cleanses the “ritually unclean”: a demon possessed tomb raider, a hemorrhaging woman, and raises a dead girl. In Mark 7 Jesus is confronted by some too-much-hand-sanitizer Pharisees who have a bone to pick with his disciples’ washing habits.

Jesus responds by saying, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (7.6, quoting Is 29.13).

Paul, in 2 Cor 3.14 speaks about the minds of the Israelites being hardened against God.  The only other use of pōroō (‘hardened’) by Paul is in Rom 11.7-8, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened (“pōroō”), as it is written, [and quoting Is 29.10-12 and Deut 29.2-4] “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” Israel denied God in the days of Moses, in the days of the prophets, and in the days of Jesus. God poured out a spirit of stupor on them so that they would be hardened.

The sealed book in Isa 29 is the Law of Moses, and it is veiled (Ex 34; 2 Cor 3). The people don’t understand the real meaning of the Law, or of God’s Commands, or of his Promises, because they don’t have Faith (2 Cor 3.14-15). When the Law is read in the synagogue, the true meaning remains hidden.

All throughout Mark Jesus has been teaching “not Sabbath keeping, but people keeping” (Watts). In Isa 1.11, the people are “kissing butt.” They’re brown-nosers (as a kid I always wondered where this phrase came from. It really shouldn’t take too long to figure out). They’ve intensified their religious activity. They’re praying more and giving more sacrifices. But the Lord is tired of it. Perhaps they should be caring for people more.

Jesus comes to Jerusalem in Mark 11. His authority is challenged in the end of Mark 11 and throughout Mark 12. When we arrive at the story of the widow, “If anything condemns the Temple, it’s that” (Watts). Here we have a magnificently wealthy center of worship, fantastic offerings, and yet the people don’t notice the widow. They aren’t loving their neighbour. They don’t “see” (in the sense of understanding and acting in love) that she is poor and in need of their help. They’d rather defer to the rich. And yet she gives more than the rest of them, for she trusts God. Unlike the rest, she isn’t showing off (Matt 6.1-4).

Isa 1.3 reads, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Dumb beasts can’t read or write, but they know food. Israel does not know who provides life, nor does the rest of unbelieving humanity (1 Cor 1.19, quoting Isa 29.14; 1 Cor 2.9, quoting Isa 64.4).

A Double Portion

Isaiah 40:2 says, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”

That sounds pretty harsh. Yet to gain some insight into this we need to look at other biblical passages. Amos 3.2 speaks of Israel’s special status, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” Israel is called God’s “firstborn son” in Exodus 4.22.

Of the firstborn Deuteronomy 21.17 says, “But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his.” As Israel is Yahweh’s firstborn son, they are receiving the double portion of all of their sins.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Isaiah 61:7 says about those who mourn in Zion (61.3), “Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy.”

Jesus quotes Isa 61.1-2a in Luke 4.18-19. Jesus is the true firstborn Son who does what the other firstborn’s (Adam, Israel).could not do. He brings the good news to the poor by dying for the,. He proclaims liberty to the captives. He gives to those who mourn in Zion a double portion of everlasting joy. He is the one who lived perfectly. It is in him that believers will receive a double portion of everlasting joy (Isa 35.10; 51.11).


Come back tomorrow for one more nugget on Isaiah 5, the song of the vineyard, and the vineyard in the New Testament.

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II. Gold Nuggets in Isaiah

BambergApocalypseFolio047vJubilationOverFallOfBabylon

Following the Golden Nugget series on Watt’s Isaiah class, here are a few more “nuggets” of information.

John 9 and the Works of God

How are the works of God displayed in this blind man? Why didn’t Jesus say “So that my works might be displayed in this man”?

In Isa 42 the Servant of the Lord has been called in righteousness (v6). He will be given as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations (9.2; 2 Cor 4.6). He will open the eyes of the blind (Isa 42.6). In Isa 42.16 Yahweh says, “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.“

So who heals the blind? Yahweh? Or the Servant? God the Father does it through God the Son, Jesus Christ, showing his deity as the servant who would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. More so, Isa 42.9 says, “Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare.” This paralleled with the new heavens and new earth (Isa 65.17), believers as new creations (2 Cor 5.17), and the consummation of the new heavens and new earth (Rev 21.4b-5).

Jesus is doing something new here in John 9. Not only is he healing the blind, this man sees the light! When every one fumbles their words before the Pharisees, this man stands boldly against them. This doesn’t know much about Christ, but he knows what Christ has done for him. He was blind, but now he can see. We might wonder why Jesus doesn’t come to this man’s rescue during the confrontation with the Pharisees, but once this man is cast out, Jesus appears to him. Perhaps those who deny Jesus’ works before man (i.g., the Pharisees) won’t be able to “see” or be with Jesus. John 9.39, “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’

Swallow Your Pride

In Isa 3.16-4.1, the very things the people relied on, God takes it away. The people are so prideful in their luxuries that God lays bare their secret parts (3.16-17). “In that day” the Lord takes away their jewelries and earthly joys (vv18-23). Instead of perfume, a belt, well-set hair, a rich robe, and beauty, he gives them rottenness, a rope, baldness, a skirt of sackcloth, and branding (v24). The men shall die in battle, and the city will mourn and lament. Seven women will grab hold of a man and beg to have his name instead of theirs. Their names are full of reproach, and they need someone to take it away.

And while their guides mislead them and swallow them up, leading them to death (the blind leading the blind [Matt 15.14]), one day the Lord will “swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.’”

When does this finally happen? When are the enemies finally erased? Revelation 21.4,8, He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. Just as Egypt was “swallowed up” by the Red Sea in the great exodus event, so will death be “swallowed up” by the Lord at the end of our exodus event when we are finally in the fulfilled new heavens and new earth.


Come back tomorrow for a parable of hardness and a double portion of sin.

I guess that really doesn’t sound very inviting, does it?

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I. Gold Nuggets in Isaiah

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Since the book of Isaiah is so large, I simply can’t write down half of what I’ve learned in Watt’s Isaiah class. Simply, there would be too much to say. Instead, over the course of the next few days, I’ve decided to write out a few “nuggets” of information, some larger, some smaller. I hope this benefits you as it does me.


The One Who Shows Compassion

In Isaiah, it is the Lord Yahweh who shows compassion to people. This is seen in texts like Isa 9.17; 14.1; 27.11; 49.13, 15; 54.7, 8, 10; 55.7; 63.7, 15. In the Gospels, aside from two texts (Lk 10.33; 15.20), Jesus is the one who shows compassion on others (Matt 9.36; 14.14; 15.32; Mk 6.34; 8.2; 9.22; Lk 7.13).

In Luke 10.33 Jesus tells the parable of the ‘good’ Samaritan who has compassion on the injured man. The point here is that the man “desiring to justify himself” (10.29) is to be like Jesus and show compassion on all, even his enemies, for all are his neighbour. And in Luke 15.20 the father (representing God the Father) shows compassion on his prodigal son. After all of his partying (15.13), the son receives another (and better) party from his merciful father (15.22-23).


The One Who Forgives

In Isaiah 33 the “destroyer” and “traitor” has “not been destroyed.” But God’s people wait for the Lord. He is their arm and strength “every morning (vv1-2). When the Lord lifts himself up there is a “tumultuous noise” where people flee and nations scatter (vv2-3). The Lord’s spoil is leapt upon (v4).

In vv 10-12 the Lord announces that he will “now arise” and lift himself up. The best his enemies can do is give birth to fleeting chaff and stubble. Their own breath is a fire that will consume them. In vv14-16 the godless sinners in Zion tremble and ask, ““Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire?” The answer? “He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil, he will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure” (vv15-16).

Jerusalem will be “an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent, whose stakes will never be plucked up, nor will any of its cords be broken” (v20). Yet “your (i.e., the enemies, rebels) cords hang loose” (v23). The Lord in his majesty will be for his people. He is our judge, our lawgiver, our king, and he will save (v21-22).

An abundance of prey and spoil will be divided, and “even the lame will take the prey” (even the lame will “leap” upon the spoil [v4]). And no inhabitant will say, “I am sick.” The people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity (v23-24).

So the lame will walk and sins will be forgiven. Zion will be made pure. This is the main theme of Isaiah. In Isaiah we see “God’s plan of how He’s going to get a Jerusalem full of bloodshed and murder, and transform them into a true city of the great King that reflects his character that becomes a light to the nations and carries out and effects Israel’s initial call as a blessing to the people” (Watts, Lecture 1).

What happens at the end of Isaiah? Yahweh promises to create a new “Jerusalem,” one that is “to be a joy” (65.18).

The New Testament

When we look at Mark 2, what does Jesus do?

Mark 2.5-7, “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’ Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’” Jesus then heals the lame man and at the same time forgives his sins. The scribes think Jesus is blaspheming for two reasons:

  1. In their minds, Jesus isn’t God.
  2. Forgiveness isn’t proclaimed in houses, but in the Temple (on that point, see Jn 2.18-22; Heb 7.22-8.3; 9.7, 25-28).

Here, Jesus does what Yahweh promised to do: he heals and forgives. The lame man and his friends had faith. The scribes did not. The ex-lame man and his friends will be in the future New Creation. The scribes, if left to their own devices, being blind of Jesus’ deity, will not.


God’s Concern in Isaiah

God’s concern in Isaiah isn’t about getting us out of here.
It’s about constructing communities that actually look like God’s people.

It isn’t about abandoning creation.
It’s about transforming it through alternative communities where peace and justice happens under a different kind of King.

It isn’t about how you get to heaven.
It’s about how heaven gets here (Rev 21-22).

If people put something in God’s place, He will give them what they want. God gives people over to their idolatries, and it will be a judgment to them. Just read Romans 1.18-32. People become like what they worship.


Come back tomorrow for John 9 and the works of God, along with Swallowing Up.

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Isaiah’s Call: The Idolater’s Curse and Effect in the NT

Isaiah 6.9-10 is quoted to in every one of the Gospels (Matt 13.14-15; Mk 4.12; Lk 8.10; Jn 12.40). In each of he Gospels salvation is announced and rejected, Why is this the case? How is it that Israel can so easily reject their Messiah?

Last time we look at Isaiah 6 and saw that Israel was idolatrous. They had been for a long time (e.g., Abraham was a pagan idolator). But more than that, much of Israel’s history after that had to do with God working idolatry out of them, and them clinging to it even harder. So God calls Isaiah to preach to them, with the result that their hearts will be hardened against God. Israel will become deaf, blind, dumb, hard-hearted, and eventually breathless as they continue to trust in their idols, even as it leads them to their doom.

In Isaiah 7-9, salvation and judgment are effected through parables. Ahaz has the choice to trust in God, but instead, he, like his wilderness forefathers, tested Yahweh. In the end, Judah would be judged by Babylon.

Jesus speaks a parable about binding the strong man in Mark 3. The Pharisees have rejected Jesus. Israel is doing what Ahaz did all those years ago. Once they respond in an attitude of rejection, Jesus speaks in parables. The hearts of Israel are hardened even more. Paul said Israel sought a righteousness all of their own (Rom 10.3) and not a righteousness brought by truly following God. Jesus commands the crowds to listen to his parable in Mark 4.3, and he ends his parables with, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (4.9). Some will hear, and some will not. Those who take and use what is given, more will be added. But those who do nothing with it, even what they have will be taken away (4.24-25; Matt 25.29).

How you hear determines if you are on the inside or the outside (“To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables…” Mk 4.11). Watts says this is not about predestination. And what I think he means is that Jesus isn’t teaching a seed-form of predestination here. He’s not thinking about that at all. What he means is that Israel is idolatrous, and some will respond rightly to Jesus, but many will only become more hard-hearted to him. This is God’s response to an Israel/Judah who have already rejected him. In fact, in the Parable of the Vineyard the Jewish leaders understand that Jesus says he is the Son and that he speaks against them (Matt 21.45; Mk 4.12; Lk 20.16). Instead of bowing at his feet in worship, they want even more to kill him.

This was a brief look at Isaiah 6.9-10 and how it is used in the Gospels, but I hope you’ve enjoyed the posts. Hopefully we can start to see the importance of the OT context and storyline when studying the NT. Next up will be three more posts:

  1. Did Paul misquote Psalm 68 in Ephesians 4?
  2. Warrior Armour in Ephesians 6
  3. My review of Watts’ ‘Isaiah’ class.

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The Major Prophet Isaiah

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The semester here in Waterford is winding down. I have three weeks left with two for teaching and one final. After that Mari and I will be heading back to Norway to get ready for our wedding celebration in June.

In the meantime I wanted you to know that I’ve been able to get my hands (or ears) on a class on Isaiah by Rikk Watts. If you don’t know who Rikk Watts is, he was originally trained as an aeronautical engineer. He did some engineering work for IBM while working toward (and receiving) a degree in philosophy, art, and sociology. He wrote his dissertation on one of my favourite books, the Gospel of Mark, saying that Mark’s themes, structure, and narrative came right out of Isaiah. The book is called Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark. I haven’t started reading it yet, but from everything I’ve heard and read (here and in this good book), it’s genius.

Watts knows his Mark, and I’m going to see how well he knows his Isaiah (meaning, I’m going to learn a lot from him). I requested to review this class from Bill and Kim at Regent College, and my request was approved! So I’ll be throwing some posts up on here about different things Watts says. I don’t know Isaiah very well, which is unfortunate because it’s one of the most quoted OT books in the NT (along with Deuteronomy and the Psalms). I hope you’ll enjoy the posts too and hopefully take some interest with Watts, his class, and his writings.

Watts is also set up to write the new Mark volume in the New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) series. This will set a new standard for Mark commentaries (and other works) to come, especially in dealing with OT quotes and allusions.

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Mondays With Mark, Part IX [7.31-8.26]

Mark

Having now broken down a barrier between ministering to Jews and Gentiles [7.19], and having healed a demon-possessed daughter of a Gentile woman [7.29-30], we will see Jesus’ counted ministry into the Gentile arena, and the lack of understanding from those who hold the most responsibility to understand. Mark places five scenes one after the other to develop the theme of seeing eyes and hearing ears.

7.31-37, Jesus Heals a Deaf Man

Jesus goes to the east (Gentile) side of the Sea of Galilee, where a deaf and mute man is brought to Him. The Greek word for mute (μογιλάλος mogilalos) is found only twice in the LXX, here and in Isaiah 35.6. Whereas Isaiah 35 addresses Israel’s end-time hopes, Mark shows them as being fulfilled in Jesus [2 Cor. 1.20]. Jesus takes the man away fro the crowds, put His fingers in his ears, spat and touched his tongue, looked up to heaven, sighed, and said, “Ephphatha” (“Be opened”), and the man could hear and speak. In the end the people are astonished and proclaim God’s glory [Isa. 35.5-7; 64.2]. As strange as this section is, it looks very similar to the final section in 8.22-26, though there will be some differences. What is important though is how it is Gentiles who proclaim the mighty works of Jesus.

“He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

8.1-10; Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

This scene is very similar to the scene in 6.30-44. Jesus has compassion on the multitude for they have been with Him for three days, they have not eaten, they may faint on the way (a motif picked up in the following chapters), and have come from afar (alluding to Gentiles [Josh. 9.6; Acts 2.39; Eph. 2.12-13, 17]?). God’s grace is also available for Gentiles. Yet still the disciples do not see how Jesus can feed all of these people in the wilderness [8.4]. Being fishermen [1.16], they ironically are ably to bring only a few fish to Jesus [8.7].

While Elisha fed 100 men with 20 loaves [2 Kings 4.42-44], Jesus will feed 4,000 with seven loaves and has fed 5000 with 5 loaves. Jesus is the greater Elisha. Jesus does what God can do, has compassion on His people [Is. 41.17] and feeds them in the wilderness [Ex 16].

Is there significance in the numbers of people, baskets, and fish in Mark’s two feedings? Perhaps there is, but can we really know? If so, there certainly isn’t the room for it now.

“…and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples…. And they ate and were satisfied.”

8.11-13; The Pharisees Demand a Sign

the Pharisees begin to argue [1.27; 9.10, 14, 16; 12.28] with Jesus. The disputing Pharisees have taken up a significant portion of Mark’s account (2.6-12, 16-17, 18-22, 23-28, 3.1-5, 7.1-23). Yet Mark’s previous miracle sequence makes the impending rejection by the Pharisees even harder to understand. Only people with closed eyes and hearts could fail to appreciate that Jesus was working by the power of God.

They want an irrefutable sign from heaven. Perhaps they wanted fire to fall down? Whatever the case be have been, they are testing Him [8.11]. This same word for test is used in Mark 1.13 when Satan tested Jesus in the wilderness. They wanted God to prove Jesus’ authenticity. But would it really be irrefutable? They accused Jesus of casting out demons under the power of Beelzebub in 3.22. Why wouldn’t they do it here too?

Jesus has just been the greater Moses and has provided manna to 4,000 (and 5,000 plus) people. Now Israel’s leaders are complaining and demanding a sign from the Bread of life just like the rebellious generation of Israelites in the wilderness [Ex. 17.1-7; Ps 78.41, 56].

Only the blind could fail 2 see what God was doing. Signs in mMark are viewed negatively by reflecting a lack of belief [8.11] or a readiness to be deceived [13.4, 22]. The Pharisees placed inappropriate demands on God’s work, dictating what it should look like by seeking a specific indicator. The demand for a sign was a sign in and of itself; one of unbelief. The seed Jesus has sown has fallen on hard ground and the Pharisees don’t want it.

A  Herod’s Wrong Attitude to Miracles/Signs [6.14-29]
++B  The Narration of the First Feeding Miracle [6.30-44]
++++C  Accounts of Various Other Miracles [6.45-7.37]
++B’ The Narration of the Second Feeding Miracle [8.1-10]
A’  The Pharisees’ Wrong Attitude to Miracles/Signs [8.14-21]*
*Geddert, pg. 186, Mark [BCBC]

Unlike the Gentile woman [7.24-30], the Pharisees were blind to what Jesus was doing. She didn’t have to have the main course. The crumbs would be just as suitable. The Pharisees, on the other hand, despite being the children fed first, were like dogs biting the hand that fed them.

“Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 

8.14-21; The Leaven of the Pharisees and Herod

How much time has passed since the last feeding? Mark doesn’t say, but the disciples get on the boat with only one loaf. They’ve Jesus perform two large feeding miracles. He cautions them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod. Leaven is often (but not always [Mt. 13.33]) as sign of sin and evil [Mk. 8.15; Lk. 12.1; 1 Cor. 5.8]. Because the disciples are so dense they don’t understand the connection.

Leaven of the…

Like John the Baptist, Jesus’ death will be due to pressure placed upon political leaders by others with power. Both Herod and Pilate acknowledge the innocence of their victims, but will chose to gain the favor of world in exchange for their souls. The concerns of the world choke out the Word they heard. Yeast works through whole batch, the whole person, and corrupts entirely.

Herod committed adultery, murder, and was guilty of political ambition. He didn’t demand a spectacular sign, but he did misinterpret the miracles of Jesus as an indication that John the Baptist had been raised. The Pharisees saw what Jesus was doing, they saw the finger of God at work [Ex. 8.19], but they rejected the same finger that they claimed to follow for they followed their own ambitions and selfish gain.

Though the disciples understood Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom, they failed to manifest Kingdom values. They forgot Jesus’ warning about the blindness of the Pharisees [Mt. 15.13-14] and the two miraculous feedings. Why did He feed the multitudes? Was it to show a sign? No. It was because He had compassion. Jesus is the great King we serve, the great Shepherd who has compassion on His sheep.

“Are your hearts hard?”

But the disciples may suffer from being blind and deaf: “Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? and do you not remember?” [8.18]. This is a reference back to Jeremiah 5.21-23 where Israel’s lack of understanding leads her into exile.

Israel professes loyalty to the Lord, but hardens their hearts against His correction. The beginning of wisdom is the fear the Lord, but Israel doesn’t fear YHWH, although it is YHWH who controls the unruly and roaring sea (which was viewed as an entity of chaos). Though Jesus controls and walks on water the disciples do not understand. Isreal’s rebellious hypocrisy would be their downfall [Mk 13].

But Jesus’ questions, are not statements. He is warning the twelve of the seriousness of rejecting Him.

They have seen many things and have not understood, but they have one thing in their favor: unlike those whose hearts are truly hardened, they keep following Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God [1.1] has just healed a deaf man, and will soon heal a blind man. If He can do that, surely He can and will heal His blind and deaf disciples.

The Gentile woman is happy with under-the-table puppy-crumbs. The disciples have had baskets of leftover bread, but they don’t understand. In fact, they won’t for a while. Yet despite His warning [8.15], the disciples will give Jesus leavened responses [8.32; 9.5-6, 18, 32, 34, 38; 10.28, 37, 39, 41]. But Jesus is patient in His discipleship.

“Do you not yet understand?” 

8.22-26; Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida

In 7.31-37 Jesus healed a deaf man. Now, He will heal the blind. Yet also, it is the disciples who need eyes to see and ears to hear [8.18]. The two miracles combine to show what can and must happen to the disciples. In this miracle, with the first touch Jesus causes the man to see [8.24]. With the second touch, He causes the man to understand what he sees [8.25]. 7.37 ended in a doxology of sorts, praising God for His good work through Jesus’ healing. The current section just seems to end. Yet in the next section Jesus will ask two questions: “Who do people say that I am?” [8.27] and “Who do you say that I am?” [8.29].

The Gentiles have responded to Jesus’ miracles with amazing insight [7.37]. How will the disciples respond?

How will you respond?

“You are the Christ.” 

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Monday’s With Mark, Part VIII [7.1-30]

Mark

Last week we looked at Mark 6 and the rejection Jesus and John the Baptist experienced by the authorities, and that which the disciples would experience. It ends on a high notes with Jesus as a miracle worker, feeding the 5,000, walking on water, and healing the sick.

7.1-13; Prophesied Hypocrites

Ritual purity, scribal traditions, and the breaking down of the Jewish-Gentile walls are a major theme in the following verses. We haven’t seen the Pharisees since they left to plot the death of Jesus (3.6) along with the scribes since they accused Jesus of working with Satan (3.22). Jesus has been accused of blasphemy (2.7), keeping bad company (2.16), breaking the Sabbath (2.24; 3.2), and working under Satan’s power (3.22). What now?

Oh, they have seen that Jesus’ disciples eat bread with defiled (unwashed) hands.

…that’s it? 

The Old Testament prescribed cleansing rituals, particularly for priests and their households before eating consecrated food (Num. 18.11-13). The Pharisees, wanting to seem extra pious, expanded this command to cover hands, food, and eating utensils (7.4). The real issue is the tradition of the elders (7.3) over the will of God. The traditions were a guardrail around the law ensuring nobody stepped over the line. In being asked why His disciples disobey the traditions (7.5), Jesus responds not by explaining the disciples ‘disobedience’, but what is wrong with the scribes and Pharisees’ ‘obedience’.

They are hypocrites (7.6-8). Only those whose soil/hearts are hard (4.5) and far from God (7.6) could continue to reject His good news. This hypocrisy by the Jewish leadership points to the transfer of the vineyard (12.1-9) and the destruction of the temple (13).

There is a word play in 7.6 and 7.9, with Jesus saying ironically, “Isaiah did a beautiful job of describing you, and you do a beautiful job of living up to the description.” Jesus’ accusations also get progressively stronger in the following verses: they lay aside the commandment of God (7.8), they reject the commandment of God (7.9), and they make the word of God of no effect (7.13).

Though there are many examples (7.13), Jesus cracks down on their theory of ‘Corban’ (7.9-11). One could declare an object ‘Corban’ and still retain the use of it. It becomes unavailable to others as if it had been given to God. So a son may have been expected to support his parents in their old age, yet gives that support up as ‘Corban’ to the Lord. The son could keep it and the parents couldn’t touch. As dumb as this sounds, the religious establishment stood on the side of the son!

The Pharisees not only abandoned God’s commandments to honor one’s parents, but they also forbade it (7.12)! Yet Jesus said by breaking this commandment one was deserving of death (quoting Moses) (7.10).

7.14-16; Jesus Speaks to the Crowds

Defilement is something that is born in the heart and manifests itself outwardly. Only people, not things, can be unclean, and they are unclean not by things, but their actions devised in their hearts (7.15; 3.5-6).

7.17-23; Jesus Speaks to the Disciples

Food doesn’t touch the heart. It doesn’t make you any more or less moral (7.18-19a). Jesus’ opponents are trying to make up ceremonies to make the profane become sacred again. Jesus simply affirms the goodness of God’s creation.

The shift of food being unclean to clean points Peter and the apostles to preaching the gospel to the now-clean Gentiles. This is the same sort of point Jesus is making here.

A person is not defiled by food, but schemings, reasonings, and actions from a defiled heart (3.6). “Jesus doesn’t not alleviate the demand for purity but sharpens it” (pg. 258, Lane). “Washing hands is relatively easy compared to overcoming greed, pride, and other evil desires” (pg. 168; Geddert).

7.24-30; A Persistent Gentile

Speaking of things that are defiled, let’s go to the Gentiles! Jesus goes to Tyre wanting to seek refuge in a house. But this popular Messiah can find no rest for very long. Jesus is found by a “born loser”. She is a woman (social status), a Greek (religious status), and a Syrophoenician (identifies her race as being connected to the OT Canaanites).

Having just talked about breaking down barriers, and that defilement comes from within, this Gentile woman’s daughter is demon-possessed. She asks for help, and Jesus refuses. He’s not wrong in doing so. The right time has not yet come for the children (Israel) are to be fed first (7.27). It is not fair to take what is first and throw it to the dogs (or puppies?) under the table (seems like it could be ‘puppies’ with reference to food under a household table).

Yet she understands! She accepts that Israel is first (‘Yes’). She calls Him ‘Lord’, and becomes the only person in Mark (and a Gentile at that) to call Jesus ‘Lord’ (similarly, the only person to confess that Jesus is God’s Son is a Gentile [15.39]). But she is not asking for a seat at the table. She simply wants one of the crumbs that falls on the floor.

The Pharisees and scribes could not convince Jesus to change His mind. But lo and behold this Gentile woman does the trick, has faith, and succeeds. God’s grace is for those who are open to receive it, not to those who hold to every tradition.

In the next section Mark deals with eyes that can’t see and ears that can’t hear and how only Jesus can overcome that.

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Review: Mark [CBC]

Mark [CBC]

The Cornerstone Biblical Commentary is based on the second edition of the New Living Translation (NLT). Many of the contributors to the translation of the NLT have also contributed to this commentary series. The Bible is God’s word and is for all people, not only the scholar and academic, to understand and live according to.

The NLT is a lucid English translation, and with each passage the reader is given the NLT printed in full. Notes provides more technical information, such as a Hebrew/Greek understanding of words, cross-references, textual and contextual matters, and interaction with other scholars. Commentary gives the reader a coherent interpretation of the passage, how it fits the previous and proceeding sections, and attention to context and theological themes.

I have to say it’s interesting to review a commentary based on 30% of the book. Each CBC volume includes a commentary on two biblical books, with this volume looking at Matthew and Mark. Technically I only needed the Mark portion because I was co-teaching his Gospel this last semester. So if 70% of the book is Matthew, what do I do with it all?

I read it!

At the beginning of each section (pericope) the reader is given the title of the whole section, and then that of the pericope under investigation. And along with this we are given cross references usually to Matthew and Luke. For example:

B. Controversy Leading to Rejection (2:1-3:12)
+++++++1. The first controversy: Jesus as Son of Man heals a paralytic and forgives sin
(2:1-12; cf. Matt 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26)
+++++

So after reading Bock’s section on Mark, one can page over to Turner’s section in Matthew and read what he has to say. Of course, one must not forget context, but often times much of the meaning can be translated over to either book. There is surely something to gain by having Scripture interpret Scripture, and comparing commentator to commentator.

The Chocolate Milk

Though I requested this book for Mark, I’m not content to only review Bock’s ‘Mark’, but also Turner’s ‘Matthew.’ Both were good commentaries in their own respects, and both have written commentaries for the Baker Exegetical Series (Turner: Matthew; Bock: Luke). It’s unfortunate that Bock wasn’t given more space for often times I preferred reading what Turner had to say simply because there was more information to read. Yet the information there wasn’t good simply because it was more, but because it was informative. Simply put, it was good because it was good!

The benefit of this commentary is that, not only does it cover two Gospels, but the interpretation is as clear as the translation. Each commentator has a knack for intelligible writing. You know what they’re saying. There is surprisingly little Greek in any of the sections making this easy reading for the masses. Both Turner and Bock quickly get to the point and answer the question we all have, “What does this Gospel mean?” 

The Spoiled Milk

At times in ‘Mark’, the Notes gave information for information’s sake than for the reader’s sake. For example, dealing with the Parable of the Lamp (4:21-25), Bock writes 4:21 basket. This was probably a two-gallon measure (Hooker 1991:131)” [pg. 437]. While I appreciated the Notes section, sometimes, like in this example, it provided only information that had no bearing under Commentary. Did it help me understand the parable? No. Is it useful for future reference? Maybe, but I don’t know how. This is in no way a deal-breaker, just a head-scratcher.

Adding on to that, sometimes it would have been more beneficial to have more information under the Commentary section instead of Notes. Being written to “teachers, pastors, students, and lay people” [Preface] we and those we teach would prefer to know the theological message of Mark more than the bare facts.

Recommended?

While I don’t understand why the Mark commentary was so short (no reason was given), I would suspect it’s because much of what is in Mark is found in Matthew, and while Mark is 16 chapters, Matthew is 28. But, don’t let this dissuade you from this commentary. Both Turner and Bock are established scholars with plenty of works leaving a trail behind them.

I will say I was a bit disappointed with Bock’s section on Mark, but it’s not because he is lacking. It’s just that the Mark section is 30% of the whole book. Fortunately, Turner’s other 70% is fantastic. Regardless of which Gospel you are studying, both Turner and Bock are capable of helping you to prepare whatever message you need to get across.

Lagniappe

+++++Series: Cornerstone Biblical Commentary (Book 11)
+++++Hardcover: 576 pages
+++++Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (May 1, 2006)

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

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Review: Mark [BCBC]

Mark [BCBC]

For the lack of Marcan commentaries in the first 1700 years of church history, there are plenty out there now for a teacher to use, many of which are good in their own right. One such commentary has been written by Timothy Geddert under the Believers Church Bible Commentary Series. This series is under the conviction that “God is still speaking to those who will listen, and that the Holy Spirit makes the Word a living and authoritative guide for all who want to know and do God’s will” [pg. 11]. They want to assist as wide a range of readers as possible to know and understand God’s word, and each writer consults with other counselors, the series’ editors, and the Editorial Council. No commentary in this series (or any) are written and released merely by one person.

The BCBC Series represents the hermeneutics of a community which interprets the Bible for the use of those who have a hunger to know God through His written word. Mark is the 14th commentary to appear in the BCBC series, sponsored by six denominations: Brethren Church, Church of the Brethren, Brethren in Christ Church, General Conference Mennonite Church, Mennonite Brethren Church, and Mennonite Church.

Geddert starting his Marcan journey by memorizing a Gospel. Which did he start with? The shortest one, of course! But as he memorized Mark, Mark mastered him. He paid attention to exact sentence wording, geographical markers, episode arrangements, allusions, patterns, and recurring themes. His desire is to teach Mark in a non-technical way. You could say it’s Mark For Everyone, only by a different author.

Book Setup

1. Preview:

Locates each section within the larger framework of Mark’s Gospel and shows how the section is structured.

2. Outline:

Outlines the section in greater detail.

3. Explanatory Notes:

Notes, facts, and background clues to invite the reader to see Mark’s Gospel come alive.

4. The Text in Biblical Context:

Picks up several themes fro the section and comments how OT and/or other NT material contributes to its understanding.

5. The Text in the Life of the Church:

Focuses on one or two issues from each larger section and explores how they apply to the Church.

The Chocolate Milk

1. Literary Reading

Geddert reads Mark as “Historical and Theological Literature.” Of the wide range of critical study methods employed by scholars (Historical, Source, Form, Redaction, Literary, Reader-response), Geddert focuses his interest on using Literary (the study, evaluation, and interpretation of literature) and Reader-response (the reader/audience and their experience of a literary work) criticism. He says no one should stick with only one form of criticism, and doesn’t set these forms above the rest. However, reader response doesn’t require us to look at how the events were in their original form. We read Mark’s Gospel to figure out what he’s trying to tell us.

By using this, Geddert looks forward and behind each text in conversation. In chapter 4 Geddart points out that Jesus speaks about the Kingdom of God in parables, and has not mentioned the Kingdom of God since 1.15. Why is this? Jesus has been acting out the Kingdom of God: “[H]e goes around recruiting disciples, teaching with authority, driving out demons, healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, pronouncing forgiveness, accepting the sinners, challenging the status quo, vanquishing the enemy, renewing the people of God, and creating a spiritual family” [pg. 95]. Sounds like the Kingdom of God to me. And since the Kingdom of God has been a rare term thus far in Mark, it can be very easy to lose sight of the meaning of the Kingdom in Mark.

2. Personal warmth

One of the first things I noticed about Geddert’s commentary. Under the Introduction he states, “As you embark with me on this voyage of discovery, I need to state my own personal conviction about Mark and my goals in writing this commentary” to which he presents the facts as previously stated. Yet this is not the only time Geddert is personal. Much of his commentary is reader focused, as if he is speaking to you in person, as a person. I understand the academic sense other commentaries feel they should be written in, but this personality was refreshing. I could see and believe that Geddert cared that I understood Mark and his theological reason for writing his Gospel. He does his best to include what helps and exclude whatever does not.

The Introduction was brief, yet Geddert combs the book in broad sweeps to give the reader the main ideas. Though, I have to wonder if this section was too short.

3. Clear Explanations on Hard Texts

Geddert gives some of the clearest explanations I’ve read on a few sections, whether it be the meaning of why parables were given so that the outsiders wouldn’t be forgiven in 4.10-12, the explanation of ‘leaven’ in 8.15 and a chiasm of 6.14-8.21 to help give an explanation (Watts also gives a succinct explanation for the use of ‘leaven’ and the problems it foreshadows), and even his explanation of Mark’s possible use of symbols in 6.30-44 and 8.1-10 (feedings of the 5,000 and 4,000) made sense. I don’t know if I buy into it yet, but Geddert’s explanation is fully understandable.

The Spoiled Milk

1. No Historical Criticism?

What I did miss was the historical look [criticism] at the context. In 2.18, Jesus is given a question about why His disciples do not fast like the Pharisees or John the Baptist’s disciples. Who are the Pharisees? For what reason would John’s disciples fast? We aren’t told. But, despite that I enjoy the historical context, this isn’t Geddert’s focus. And what he does focus on, he does really well.

Recommended?

I was very pleased with the forms of criticism Geddart employed in his studies. It creates a readable commentary that anyone can read (and enjoy!) for their own understanding. This is one Mark commentary that could (and should) be used by Sunday School teachers, pastors, teachers of any kind, students, and those who want some more information on Mark.

I was highly pleased with Geddert’s commentary on Mark. He shows a confident yet humble grasp on Mark, often combining themes and exegesis with clear, succinct writing that anyone could understand. Geddert does what many commentators have not done, and that is to make a commentary that is both wise and useful for anybody who opens it up to read. With great care for both the reader and the Gospel, he writes his commentary for all to appreciate, understand, and apply Mark’s theological purpose.

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (4.40).
“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” (1.7).
“But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house” (3.27).
“This is my beloved Son; listen to Him” (9.7).
“[This is t]he beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1.1)

Lagniappe

  • Series: Believers Church Bible Commentary
  • Paperback: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Herald Press (February 1, 2001)

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

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Mondays with Mark, Part VII [6.1-56]

These are supposed to be summaries. But they’re not. I can not.

Mark

Last time we saw Jesus show His authority over the elements of creation: nature, demons, illness, and death. Even in the impossible the King has all authority. He encourages those who fear to have faith. But as we turn to Mark 6, we see what happens when faith is overrun by fear and doubt. Acceptance turns into rejection, a clear motif in this chapter (and continuing from the previous!).

A   1-6, There’s No Place Like Home

Jesus and His disciples return home, and when the Sabbath rolls around Jesus teaches in the synagogue. As usual, people are astounded at his wisdom and the mighty works performed by His hands. Yet they don’t attribute His mighty deeds to demonic forces, nor to Yahweh Himself. In fact, they don’t really know what to do with Jesus. They know Him. They think they know Him. By calling Him the Son of Mary, they might be insinuating that His birth was illegitimate. Jesus’ family misunderstood His ministry (3.21), and now His whole town does likewise.

A prophet isn’t even accepted into His own town, yet Jesus isn’t just a prophet. He’s the Son of God! But while the people are astonished at what Jesus can do, He marvels at their lack of belief. He can only perform a few miracles because of it, probably meaning not many came to Him believing for healing.

Jesus has been rejected by the Pharisees and Herodians (3.6), His family (3.21), the scribes (3.22), the Gentile city of Gerasa (5.17), the mourners in Jairus’ house (5.40), and now by His own townspeople. This theme will only increase as the chapter goes on.

B   7-13, Send Them Away

Jesus’ commands to His disciples to go out and expand the ministry of Jesus occurs in-between a tale of two rejected prophets. Their provisions are minimal: sent off in pairs for protection and/or to provide a dual-witness (Dt. 19.15), a staff for walking and protection, and can stay in houses for protection. They are to travel light and simple, but not experience much hardship.

In v11 Jesus instructs them on how to respond to rejection which, if any city does not receive them, they are to shake the dust off rom their feet upon exiting the city. Interestingly enough, We never see Jesus go back home after this point (at least in Mark). Like John (and Jesus), they proclaim that people should repent. Like Jesus, they cast out demons and heal the sick (though, unlike Jesus, they anoint them with oil). The similarity with John brings us to the next pericope dealing with the John the Baptist’s rejection.

A’   14-29, Off With Your Head

John the Baptist confronts Herod about his adultery with Herodias (the wife of Herod’s brother). Probably by the request of Herodias, Herod throws John in prison. Herod finds John to be righteous and holy (6.20) and does not want to harm him. Though he is perplexed, Herod enjoys hearing John. One commentator said, “Herod loved to be upset by John.”

But the deceptive wife of a king still wants that prophet dead (a la Jezebel [1 Kings 18.4, 13; 19.1-2]?). A party is thrown, her daughter dances, the men enjoy it, a promise is made, and a promise has to be kept because Herod is surrounded by political officials. The seed was sown, but Herod was too busy reveling in the pleasures and cares of this world (4.18-19).

It’s sad that Herod actually loses less face by beheading a prophet of God than he would be breaking an improper oath. The head of John the Baptist is brought on a platter, during the celebration, to Herodias. If John the Baptist’s handing over (1.14) led to this, what might Jesus’ handing over (3.19) lead to (9.12-13)?

B’   30, The Return Home

Here is effective storytelling. Mark adds the rejection of John the Baptist in-between the disciples’ missionary journey to provide the sense of a time lapse. But we also see the double-sidedness of the Gospel. John the Baptist sacrificed himself for his message, while the disciples return with a successful missionary message.

Was John’s ministry a failure? A tragedy? A defeat? No, because while John is martyred, we now have 12 new disciples who will be leading the charge.

31-44, The Hunger Games

The plan was to rest. But the crowds changed their plans. And they were hungry. And they were just sheep without a shepherd. But we know what they didn’t: Jesus is the Good Shepherd whose motivation is love. He doesn’t disperse the flock but provides for their needs and has them sit down on green grass (Ps. 23.2?). Despite their doubt (6.37), the disciples play an active role in participating in Jesus’ miracle. Jesus feeds 5,000 people (and that’s just the men!). He feeds more than Elijah ever fed, and He is a greater Moses for He didn’t ask for manna or quail from the Father, but He performed the miracle by His own volition (still following the will of His Father, of course).

Is there a rejection here? Not explicitly, but the disciples do have reservations about Jesus’ ability to perform miracles.

45-52, There’s No Place Like Home

This is the second of three boat scenes Mark gives gives us (first: 4.35-41; third: 8.14-21). In the evening (6-9pm) Jesus has His disciples get into a boat to go to the other side, and then goes up to the mountain to pray. He deliberately waits the entire night to go help them at the fourth watch (3-6am). The disciples spend the night fighting waves; Jesus spends it praying.

Why does Jesus wait so long? His purpose is to walk past them (6.48), but His own disciples fail to recognize Him (6.52). They have eyes, but do not see (8.18). Jesus intends to pass by before them to assure and lead them (Ex. 33.15-23, 19 ). But in fact, His own disciples think He’s a ghost (which is ironic, considering Greco-Romans didn’t believe ghosts could walk on water).

“Mark presents the disciples’ insistence on believing the absurd emphasizing their failure to believe in Jesus. Jesus identifies himself, the disciples are astonished, they lack understanding, and the reason is because their hearts were hardened (6:51–52). The disciples clearly want Jesus to be something that he is not, to the point that they are willing to believe the absurd when Jesus approaches them as something much grander than they had imagined. Gods and divine men walk on water; ghosts do not” (pg. 14, Jason Combs, A Ghost on the Water? Understanding an Absurdity in Mark 6:49–50).

The disciples have misconstrued Jesus’ messiahship.

53-56, Healing the Sick

In the end, despite the rejection, the misunderstanding, the confusion, the crowds still come to Jesus. The recognize Him and run around their region to bring all the sick to Him, if only to touch the fringe of His garment. These crowds don’t fully understand who He is, but they know He can perform miracles.

One day Jesus will be given a final rejection, but it will not be because the crowds wished it on Him. It will be something much more sinister. A sinister group that Jesus has already dealt with in Mark will go head-to-head with them again in the very beginning of chapter 7.

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