Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reno on Recovering the Bible

There's an interesting article up on First Things site by R. R. Reno:

Recovering the Bible

The Bible contains a verse that scholars like to quote. It is from the book of Ecclesiastes: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is weariness of the flesh” (12:12). In context it serves as a warning against the vain illusion that we can study our way to the Kingdom of God. The spiritual life is not a Kaplan course, nor is it like getting tenure after piling up a good record of scholarly publication.

Of late, I’ve come to see this verse as a wry moment when the Bible makes a prophecy about itself, foreseeing the vast number of commentaries on the sacred pages of scripture. Over the last few years I have been wearying myself as the general editor of an impossibly ambitious project, the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. Working with authors on the first dozen or so commentaries, and also toiling on my own effort to write about Genesis, the thought has come to me many times: “Of the making of commentaries on the Bible there is no end, and to be honest, Lord, I’m getting pretty weary.”

Wearying, yes, but often profoundly rewarding, and certainly necessary. From the very outset, faith in Jesus took the form of scriptural commentary. The gospels are punctuated with the refrain: “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” The Sermon on the Mount is a commentary on the revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai. St. Stephen’s speech in the Acts of the Apostles provides a summary interpretation of the Old Testament as a whole. St. Paul’s letters are chock full of biblical citations, allusions, and expositions.

Not surprisingly, biblical commentary played a central role in the life of the Church. The Fathers wrote commentaries, far more in fact than treatises on doctrinal topics. The great medieval theologians wrote commentaries. Martin Luther and John Calvin wrote commentaries, as did Cajetan and Robert Bellarmine. For more than a thousand years it was simply assumed than an exegete and a theologian were pretty much synonyms. After all, you need to know what the Bible says in order to develop an accurate account of God and salvation—and you need to study classical doctrine in order to give a clear and cogent account of what the scripture says.

These days this unity can no long be presumed. Over the last two hundred years, the work of biblical interpretation has rotated away from the churchly business of teaching doctrine. Bible scholars have built their own independent intellectual project, one that excludes Church doctrine from the process of interpretation as a matter of principle. The job of the modern historical exegete is to scientifically determine what a particular portion of the Bible meant when it was composed, not how it should be read by the Church today.

Read the rest here.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Goodacre's "Dating Game" 2: Jesus' Death & the Temple in Mark

Last time we looked at the temple focus in Mark's Gospel specifically looking at the ways he presents Jesus foretelling its destruction. Here we shall consider another apsect of his temple focus, namely, the way he links Jesus’ death with the sanctuary's coming ruin. This is seen in multiple ways.

The Rending of the Temple Veil

First, the most obvious illustration of this connection is Mark’s account of the tearing of the temple veil at the moment of Jesus’ death. As Donald Juel writes, “The result of Jesus’ death is the end of the Jewish temple, foreshadowed in the tearing of the veil.”[1] Yet, This idea is also illustrated in other ways.

The Parable of the Tenants

For one, it can be seen in the parable of the wicked tenants. There the destruction of the tenants is closely linked with their killing of the son of the vineyard’s owner:

“He had still one other, a beloved son; finally he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 7 But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8 And they took him and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard. 9 What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants, and give the vineyard to others” (Mark 12:6-9).

In this story, then, the death of the son is linked with the judgment on the tenants, who, for reasons we can't discuss all here, are most likely to be identified with the temple leadership.

The Apocalyptic Discourse and the Passion Narrative

Even more impressive are the numerous connections between the apocalyptic discourse, which, at least in some way, is likely linked with a description of the destruction of the temple, and the passion narrative.

1. The apocalyptic discourse begins with a prediction of the destruction of the temple in 13:2, which is mirrored in the passion narrative, specifically, in the charges regarding the destruction of the temple (14:58; 15:29) and the temple veil being torn, likely symbolizing its coming ruin (15:38).

2. In the sermon Jesus describes how the disciples will be handed over to Jewish and Roman authorities (13:9-13), which is reflected in the fact that Jesus is handed over to Jewish and Roman authorities (14:10-11, 18, 21, 41-42; 15:1, 10, 15).

3. In chapter 13 Jesus makes the case that the disciples will be betrayed by kin (13:12-13), which of course has a parallel in the fact that Jesus is betrayed by one of the disciples (14:10, 20, 43).

4. In the apocalyptic discourse Jesus explains that people will see “the son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory” (13:26), which parallels the passion narrative, in which he tells the high priest that he will see “the son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (14:62).

5. In Mark 13, Jesus states that, “No one knows the when the hour of the judgment will come” (13:32), which points forward to the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus explains that "the hour” is at hand (14:41).

6. In chapter 13 that the disciples are told to “watch” (13:5, 23, 33, 35, 37), just as they are told to “watch” in the garden (14:34, 37-38).

7. In Mark 13, Jesus states: “Watch, therefore—for you do not know when the master of the house will come: in the evening, at midnight, cockcrow, or in the morning” (13:35). Mark then links important events with the evening (14:17, 15:42); night (14:30); the cockcrow (14:30, 68, 72); morning (15:1, 25).

8. In the apocalyptic discourse Jesus states, “Do not let the master find you sleeping” (13:36). Later, in the garden Jesus finds the disciples sleeping (14:37-38). [2]

All of this underscores the link perfectly summed up in the rending of the temple veil at Jesus’ death.

A Temple Not Made By Hands

One final point must be made here. The connection between the temple and Jesus’ related to a kind of Temple Christology. This Temple Christology is especially clear in two places. First, Mark 14:58 relates key element of Jesus’ trial:
“Some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’”

Although Mark describes the testimony as false, in his ironic style, it seems as though he presents the accusers as stumbling in to a profound truth. The charge is later repeated at the foot of the cross with others who mock Jesus as “the Christ, the King of Israel” (Mark 15:32), a claim which clearly Mark would have affirmed as true. In fact, Matthew, John and Acts contain similar reports of this teaching of Jesus (Matt 26:61; 27:39; John 2:19; Acts 6:14). As numerous scholars have explained, the falsity of the testimony probably has something to do with the charge that Jesus claimed he himself would destroy the temple himself.[3]

The phrase “after three days” (διὰ τριῶν ἡμερῶν) seems too similar to the language Jesus used to describe his resurrection to simply be accidental or a mere expression of a brief period (cf. Mark 9:31; 10:34; μετὰ τρεῖς ἡμέρας).[4] Indeed, apart from the parallel passage in John 2:19, the only other references to a “three-day” prediction in the gospel records are statements relating to Jesus’ resurrection.[5] It is almost impossible to think that Mark’s readers would not have made the association. Attempts therefore to explain this passage as unrelated to the resurrection appear as special pleading. Thus, “a temple not made by hands” (Mark 14:58), probably refers in some way to the resurrected Jesus.[6]

The Cornerstone of the New Temple

The idea also seems to be suggested in the saying at the end of the Parable of the Wicked tenants, in which Jesus identifies himself with “the very stone rejected by the builders” which has become the “cornerstone” in Psalm 118:22 (cf. Mark 12:10). As most commentators agree, the stone here is likely related to the temple. In fact, “stone” language is closely linked with the temple in the near context (cf. Mark 13:1-2). The temple imagery is further heightened by the fact that, as mentioned above, the Parable of the Tenants which the saying is connected to draws on Isaiah’s prophecy of the “vineyard”―a passage which had temple associations in first-century Judaism.

Furthermore, that temple imagery is in view here is also suggested by the fact that the same passage is highlighted in 1 Peter 2:4-8, which seems to describe the Church as a living temple, with Christ as its cornerstone (citing Ps 118:22). That the saying in Mark was understood as relating such ideas may further be supported by the observation that Matthew and Luke (Matt 21:33-44; Luke 20:18)[7] go on to report a saying from Jesus in which he appears to draw on “stone” passages in Isaiah 8:14-15 and Daniel 2―both passages which appear to have cultic associations.

For example, there are good reasons to see cultic allusions in the imagery of the stone which grew into a “great mountain”. Consider the following.

1. In Daniel’s vision the stone becomes a “great mountain” which grows. This would most certainly would have evoked traditions regarding the house of the Lord at Zion in the latter days (cf. Isa 2:2; Mic 4:1)

2. Stone imagery was frequently linked with temples and sacred sites in the Old Testament (e.g., Gen 28:10-22; Isa 8:14-15; 28:16; Zech 4:7-9; b. Yoma 54a; Lev. Rab. 20.4; Bet ha-Midr. 5.63; Num. Rab. 12.4; b. Suk. 49a; 53ab; b. Mak. 11a; b. Sanh. 29a).[8]

3. The imagery of a mountain growing from a stone is used in connection with descriptions of temples in other ancient Near Eastern texts, such as the Sumerian Cylinders of Gudea (cf. Cyl. A 12.1-9; 18:24-25; 19:13-14, 17-20; 21:19-23; B. 23.25; 1.1-10)[9]

4. 4 Ezra 13:36 explicitly links Daniel’s vision of the stone with the eschatological Zion.

5. Rabbinic tradition explicitly linked the stone in Daniel 2 with the Temple.[10]

Given these observations, the cultic associations of the vineyard in Isaiah 5 and Psalm 118, as well as the larger narrative framework of the Synoptics―which not only place this teaching in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ temple protest but also locates this particular saying within the temple―the probability that cultic imagery is here in view is hard to deny.

Much, much more could be said here. For example, it would appear that the charge made at Jesus’ trial draws on imagery from Daniel 2 as well. However, here must stop. (I’ve got to go and give a lecture on Thomas Aquinas to my philosophy class!).

Where this leaves us

In the end, there is no doubt about the central role the Temple has for Mark’s narrative. For an especially illuminating study, see Timothy C. Gray, The Temple in the Gospel of Mark (WUNT 2/242; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2008).

But what is the historical origin of this concern with the temple? Why does Mark highlight these connections in his Gospel?

Goodacre as mentioned above argues that it is the destruction of the temple itself. We will turn our attention to these arguments in the next post.

Stay tuned.


[1] Donald Juel, Messiah and Temple: The Trial of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark (SBLDS 31: Missoula: Scholars Press, 1977), 142. See also the helpful discussion in P.W. L. Walker, Jesus and the Holy City: New Testament Perspectives on Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1996), 9-12.
[2] This discussion is especially indebted to Colin Brown, “The Interpretation of Mark 13: Jesus’ Oracle Concerning the Destruction of the Temple and its Implications Following the Rejection of Jesus” (Doctoral Seminar Handout, 2002). In a side-by-side chart, Brown pulls together and synthesizes the analysis of these connections found in R. H. Lightfoot, The Gospel Message of St. Mark (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950), 48-59; Dale Allison, The End of the Ages Has Come (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 36-38; John T. Carrol with Robert Van Voorst, Joel Marcus, and Donald Senior, The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 36-37.
[3] See, e.g., Craig Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), 445-6; Walker, Jesus and the Holy City, 9-10; N. T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (vol. 2 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 523; Donald Juel, Messiah and Temple: The Trial of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, 57, 169, 206; Timothy Geddert, Watchwords in Mark (Scottdale: Herald Press, 2001), 357-8. William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (NIC: Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1974), 533-4.
[4] See, e.g., Walker, Jesus and the Holy City, 10; Paula Fredricksen, From Jesus to Christ (New Haven: Yale Nota Bene, 2000), 112; Geddert, Watchwords, 132.
[5] See, e.g., Wright, Jesus and the Victory, 523.
[6] Though it may also refer to the Christian community, reborn through the resurrection. See Timothy J. Geddert, Watchwords: Mark 13 in Markan Eschatology (Sheffield: JSOT, 1989), 132-133; Lamar Williamson, Mark (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1983), 265; Hugh Andersen, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1976), 330; Dale Allison, The End of the Ages Has Come (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 153.
[7] It is true that the saying does not appear in some of the most ancient manuscripts. However, because Matthew’s version of the saying diverges from Luke’s and because its placement in the narrative appears odd many argue for its inclusion. See Robert Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on His Handbook for a Mixed Church Under Persecution (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 430 whose explanation is especially helpful: “Interpolation from Luke would probably have resulted in a text identical with Luke’s. Furthermore, special agreements between Matthew and Luke in Markan materials crop up repeatedly; and allusion to the OT, such as v. 44 contains, typifies Matthew’s style. Verse 44 would have fit better right after v 42 because of the common reference to a stone in the two verses. But the awkwardness of v 44 after v 43 does not argue for clumsy interpolation of v 44. Rather, it confirms the composition of v 43 by Matthew in that his eagerness to write about transfer of the kingdom as the ‘marvelous’ interpretation of v 42 resulted in an awkward delay of v 44. And the allusion to Dan 2:44 in v 43 leads to a further allusion to Dan 2:44 in v 44. The awkwardness in the delay of v 44 probably caused omission in the Western text…” See also, e.g., Klyne Snodgrass, Parable of the Wicked Servants: An Inquiry into Parable Interpretation (WUNT 27; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1983), 66-68; idem., Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 286; Ivor Harold Jones, The Matthean Parables: A Literary and Historical Commentary (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 387-88; Blaine Charette, The Theme of Recompense in Matthew’s Gospel (JSNTSup 79: Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992), 138-9; Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2d ed.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 47.
[8] See, e.g., Isaiah 30:29: “You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one sets out to the sound of the flute to go to the mountain of the Lord, to the Rock (צוּר) of Israel.”
[9] See discussion in Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (NSBT 17; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 149-51.
[10] See chapter 2 n. 247 where we explain that immediately prior to alluding to this passage Midr. Tanh. Gen. 6:20 speaks of Daniel 7, linking the “son of man” as the “messiah-king” to the temple-building prophecy of Zechariah 4:10. The eschatological focus of this passage was also clear to Josephus (cf. Ant. 10.210). For further discussion see, Snodgrass, The Parable of the Wicked Tenants, 98-99; G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 186.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Goodacre's "Dating Game" 1: Mark's Temple Focus


During the latter part of last year, Mark Goodacre raised the issue of the date of the Gospels on his blog in a series of posts with the title, "The Dating Game" (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and here). There, in a thoughtful treatment, he sided with those scholars who have made the case that Mark is best dated after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. Then, presupposing that Matthew and Luke came after Mark, he goes on to make the case that the rest of the Synoptics are to be dated even later.

This series of posts has come at an interesting time for me as I have been reading James Crossley's book, The Date of Mark's Gospel: Insight from the Law in Earliest Christianity (2004)[1]. Crossley has interacted with Goodacre's series, which mentions his book on his own blog (also here). Of course, he comes from an entirely different perspective and argues that Mark is best dated to the period between the mid to late thirties and mid-forties.

The discussion is especially important for my own work. I am currently working on a doctoral dissertation project on the historical Jesus' attitude towards the cult, specifically looking at the role Jewish hopes regarding the eschatological renewal of the temple, the priesthood and the cult may relate to aspects of his own ministry. As will be made clear, the role of the temple in the Gospel according to Mark is emerging as a key element in this debate.

As Goodacre explains, the primary argument given by those who date Mark after the destruction of the temple is the apparent temple focus of his Gospel. Indeed, there can be little doubt that, especially from chapters 11-14, Mark displays a special interest in the temple.

Thus, before talking about dating, I want to highlight this temple-centric dimension of Mark's narrative. After this discussion, we will then proceed to ask questions about the dating of the Gospel--particularly looking at Goodacre's approach.

Jesus' Prediction of the Destruction of the Temple in Mark
As many have noted, Mark's interest in the Temple is manifested in two principle ways. First, Mark has Jesus announcing the temple's coming judgment. Second, Jesus’ death is linked to the destruction of the temple. For the sake of our discussion, we will look briefly at these two aspects. Specifically, this post will deal with the former.

First, Jesus action in the temple, known often as the “cleansing of the temple,” is most likely a prophetic sign of its coming judgment. The fact is, Jesus’ action is linked with a quotation from Jeremiah’s prophecy of the destruction of Solomon’s temple (cf. Jer 7:11: “den of thieves”). That Jesus performs an action in the temple is in fact reminiscent of Jeremiah himself, who also performed prophetic signs in the temple. The idea that the action is meant to communicate the idea of coming judgment is further strengthened by the fact that Mark sandwiches the episode between the account of Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree, which, because it has failed to produce fruit, is condemned by him and later withers and dies (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21; vv.15-19 = the temple incident).

Next, it should be pointed out that Jesus’ action in the temple is closely followed by his account of the wicked tenants in the vineyard. Much could be said here. Suffice it to say the following here. Most scholars recognize that the parable is likely drawing on Isaiah 5, which similarly uses the image of the vineyard and foretells a coming judgment on Israel. Specifically, scholars such as Craig Evans and George Brooke have pointed out that Isaiah’s vision of the vineyard was linked to the Temple in ancient Judaism (cf. 4Q500).[2]

The fact that the parable highlights the failure of the wicked tenants to produce fruits brings the parable into especially close alignment with the cursing of the fig tree. Of course, it concludes with God destroying the tenants.

Going on, as if the temple action was not clear enough to communicate the idea, Jesus explicitly prophecies the coming ruin of the sanctuary in Mark 13:1-2:
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, 'Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!' And Jesus said to him, 'Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.'"

Of course, it should be noted that Jesus goes on to describe the destruction of the temple using language clearly borrowed from Daniel's vision of the destruction of the sanctuary (cf. Dan 8:9-14 which links the destruction of the temple with the "host of the stars" being "cast down", using language of the desolating transgression, mirroring the imagery of the apocalyptic discourse). It should also be pointed out that after alluding to this imagery Jesus evokes the fig tree episode (cf. Mark 13:28: "From the fig tree learn its lesson..."). It is hard to imagine how Mark would have failed to see how his readers would have linked this verse with the cursing of the fig tree. Thus, Jesus' apocalyptic discourse appears to circle back to this earlier story, which was closely associated with his temple action.

That Jesus foretold the coming destruction of the temple is also attested in the trial narrative, where witnesses testify that Jesus had issued such statements against the sanctuary. A key passage is found in Mark 14:58:
"And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 'We heard him say, 'I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands."
These accusations then emerge again in the passion narrative. In Mark 15:29 we read,
"And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads, and saying, 'Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!'"

In the next post we will look at the ways Mark links Jesus' death to the destruction of the temple.


[1] JSNTSup 266; London: T & T Clark, 2004.

[2] Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001), 226-7; idem. Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 397-401; George J. Brooke, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005), 78-9; idem., “4Q500 1 and the Use of Scripture in the Parable of the Vineyard,” DSD 2 (1995): 268-94; Ernst Lohmeyer, “Das Gleichnis von den bösen Weingärtnern (Mark 12,1–12), ZST 18 (1941): 247-248.

SITR Rises to #12 on Top Biblioblog List

Singing in the Reign has been ranked as the #12 biblioblog for the month of January 2009, described by N.T. Wrong as among "one of the big shakers and movers" Thanks to all our readers.

With this rising profile I think I'll take the opportunity to write a post to try to get the attention of a particular blogger I've been waiting to hear a response from... See the next post.