What is your view of the “big picture” of the Gospel of Mark?

I invite everybody to post a response to the above question.  What is your view of what the Gospel According to Mark is really about?  How does Mark carry out its aims?  Do you believe the author of Mark used sources?  What was Mark saying about the apostles and the church?  What are your view on these “big picture” questions?

On the English Standard Version

A friend of mine and I were recently chatting about Romans, and I took the opportunity to remind him that, in writing his dissertation about Romans, he was writing about the most controversial personality in early Christianity as well as the most controversial author of the most controversial part of the most controversial book in the history of the world.

Although this blog is not about Romans or Paul, I do want to say some words about the English Standard Version, and particularly about the ESV translation of the Gospel According to Mark.

First, that word “standard.”  Who exactly has the right to say that one particular translation is “standard”?  For whom is a particular translation of the Bible “standard”?  Are there criteria for determining one translation to be “standard” and others “substandard” or “extraneous” or something that would be the opposite of “standard”?

I used to teach New Testament at Codrington College in Barbados.  We were blessed (or not) with an old hymnal called Hymns Ancient and Modern: Standard Edition.  That use of “standard” was because there was the original edition in the 1860s, followed by two supplements, and then afterwards, in 1916, the “Standard Edition” was issued which included the original edition together with both supplements.  A revised edition was issued in the 1950s called Hymns Ancient and Modern Revised, and in the 1980s, an edition was issued called Hymns Ancient and Modern: New Standard.

Perhaps the problem is that after you have spent years revising or translating something, you’d like your edition to become the standard, indeed with the goal of discouraging others from doing something similar to what you’ve done.

Or maybe you’re the King of England, and when you organize the work of a new translation of the Bible with a bunch of scholars, as part of your effort to quiet religious dissent, you just want the thing printed without any more folderol from others, including Puritans or Parliament, so you order its publication, and it becomes known as the “Authorised Version.”

Unless you have the power to enforce the use of your translation or hymnal over others, what’s the point of using the word “standard”?

The English Standard Version was published in 2001 by Crossway.  It is a translation of a group of Evangelical scholars.  It used the Revised Standard Version of 1971 (meaning the Old Testament of 1952 and the second edition New Testament of 1971) as its starting point.  The committee who started the work on the ESV asked for and received permission from the Revised Standard Version Committee to make a revision of the RSV.  A similar permission was given by the New Revised Standard Version Committee to British scholars to produce an “Anglicised Edition” (meaning with British spellings and idiomatic expressions) of the NRSV.

The ESV very frequently reads like the RSV, with some updating.  I was interested to notice that the ESV prints Mark 16:9-20 in the text of Mark, not in a footnote, but does include this note:  “[Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20.]”  And the editors of the ESV have printed the text of Mark 16:9-20 within double square brackets, which The ESV Study Bible says means the editors were “showing their doubts as to whether it was originally part of what Mark wrote, but also recognizing its long history of acceptance by many in the church” (p. 1933).  So there seems to be a tendency towards accepting traditional judgments on historical-critical questions about the Bible, with the editors sometimes giving equal standing to both sides of the questions—even when quite a majority of scholars have rejected the traditional judgment.

A case in point is the handling or mishandling of the phenomenon of pseudonymity in the letters of the New Testament.  The editors of The ESV Study Bible are firmly against the idea that there is any pseudonymity in the New Testament.  In their introduction to 2 Thessalonians, they state: “A careful evaluation of these objections [against Pauline authorship of 2 Thessalonians], however, supports the conclusion that Paul was in fact the writer of 2 Thessalonians.  The duplicity entailed in the forgery hypothesis (see 3:17) is hardly credible” (p. 2313).

Yet the majority of critical New Testament scholars do accept that 2 Thessalonians is pseudonymous, and the very large majority of New Testament scholars accept that the Pastoral Epistles are pseudonymous, along with Colossians and Ephesians.  This means that there was pseudonymity in the New Testament, whether or not modern scholars are happy about that or not.  For my own view of pseudonymity see my article, “Pseudonymity as Rhetoric: A Prologomenon to the Study of Pauline Pseudepigrapha,” in Rhetorics in the New Millennium: Promise and Fulfillment, edited by James D. Hester and J. David Hester (Studies in Antiquity and Christianity; New York & London: T. & T. Clark, 2010), pp. 216-34.

The English Standard Version is a solid translation of the Bible.  There are many excellent maps and drawings in The ESV Study Bible.  The notes are often good, sometimes excellent, although at times they are a bit biased towards the conservative evangelical view and do not present the other side of critical questions.  But one may distinguish the ESV translation from The ESV Study Bible.

How not to translate the New Testament: Concerning Resolution A061

In The Blue Book of The Episcopal Church’s 77th General Convention, Resolution A061 is proposed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. This proposal is to add two new renderings of the Bible to the translations already authorized for use in public worship in the church.

I certainly do not have any objection against the Common English Bible. It is a translation of the Bible into clear, relatively simple English. I know or know of several of the translators. I hope that the part of Resolution A061 including the Common English Bible is approved.

I am opposed to the authorization of The Message, whose author is Eugene Peterson, as a translation authorized for use in public worship. There are several reasons for my opposition to the public use of The Message as a version of the Bible to be read from in public liturgies in The Episcopal Church.

First of all, and most importantly, The Message is not a translation of the Bible. It is a paraphrase. At times it is an extremely loose paraphrase at very best. It is my understanding that The Episcopal Church has never authorized a paraphrase to be used in public worship, not even the well-known and excellent paraphrase by J. B. Phillips known as The New Testament in Modern English.

Another reason not to approve The Message is that it is inaccurate. There are a number of passages in The Message where it appears that the Rev. Mr. Peterson either did not understand the Greek text of Paul or was unable or unwilling to convey it in the kind of flip language that frequently characterizes The Message.

One case in point is Mark 5:37-40a. My translation from the Greek text of Mark is as follows: “And he allowed no one else to accompany him except Peter and James and John, the brother of James. They went into the house of the synagogue ruler, and they witnessed a commotion with weeping and much loud mourning, and he said to them, ‘Why are you are you in an uproar and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping. And they ridiculed him.” The rendering of this passage in The Message is as follows: “He permitted no one to go in with him except Peter, James, and John. They entered the leader’s house and pushed their way through the gossips looking for a story and neighbors bringing in casseroles. Jesus was abrupt: ‘Why all this busybody grief and gossip? This child isn’t dead; she’s sleeping.’ Provoked to sarcasm, they told him he didn’t know what he was talking about.” Yes, it is possible to interpret θόρυβον to mean “uproar” in the sense of a gossipy gathering, but it can also be taken as simply a gathering which is loud because of professional mourners and flute-players. Certainly the detail of “gossips looking for a story and neighbors bringing in casseroles” goes very far beyond what I believe most biblical scholars would think of as a translation of the Greek text of the Gospel According to Mark.

Another passage of interest is 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2. A literal translation from the Greek would be as follows: “For the rest, therefore, brothers [and sisters], we ask you and we exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that just as you received from us how it is necessary to walk and to please God, just as you are indeed doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” In The Message, Peterson has rendered this passage as follows: “One final word, friends. We ask you—urge is more like it—that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus.” Peterson may have understood the metaphorical meaning of περιπατεῖν (“to walk” in the sense of “to live one’s life” or “behave oneself”), but if he did so, this strongly ethical meaning is completely obscured by his fanciful introduction of “spirited dance,” which is not traceable to anything in the Greek text either in 1 Thessalonians 4 or anywhere else in Paul’s authentic letters.

Romans 12:11-13 also is rendered by English phrases which seem to have no relationship with the Greek original that the Apostle wrote. The Greek text can be translated as follows: “. . . do not be lazy in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in affliction, be vigilant in prayer. Share in the needs of the saints, pursue hospitality.” Peterson’s paraphrase is as follows: “Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.” The modern notion of “burning out” has nothing whatsoever to do with being shrinking, lazy, or timid (ὀκνηροί) in zeal. Maybe “don’t burn out” is good advice for people in the twenty-first century, but it is not advice that Paul gave any congregation in any letter that we have from him.

It is one thing to translate an ancient text, and it is quite another to rewrite the text.

Finally, since there are many good and several excellent translations of the Bible into English available to members of The Episcopal Church, I fervently hope that Committee 13 of the 77th General Convention will not approve the paraphrase known as The Message as a translation of Holy Scripture to be used in the public worship of the church. We have always done better than this for Bible translations, and there is every indication that we will continue to do so in the future.

[Quotations from The Message as indicated above are taken from The Message, copyright (c) 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.]

Theology of the Gospel of Mark

I would like to start a thread on the theology of the Gospel of Mark. I have now finished teaching Mark to my class at the church, and I will make my final presentation in the continuing education course I am teaching for the Diocese of Western Louisiana on the fourth Tuesday of June.

Any thoughts about the overall shape of the theology of Mark?

Frank+

Back in gear

Just to let all readers of this blog know that I now intend to put more posts on this blog, and that I look forward to reading more posts from others on this blog as well.

I now have the honor of teaching a continuing education class for clergy in the Diocese of Western Louisiana on Mark, and I am about to begin (on February 27th) a new class for my own church members on Wednesday nights. So I have a lot of motivation to work on this blog.

With every good wish,
Frank+

Gospel of Mark in the Revised Common Lectionary

The following are the Markan passages which are used in the Revised Common Lectionary, Episcopal Edition. All these readings are exclusively in Year B.

Mark 1:1-8 Advent 2
Mark 1:4-11 Baptism of the Lord
Mark 1:9-15 Lent 1
Mark 1:14-20 Epiphany 3
Mark 1:21-28 Epiphany 4
Mark 1:29-39 Epiphany 5
Mark 1:40-45 Epiphany 6
Mark 2:1-12 Epiphany 7
Mark 2:13-22 Epiphany 8
Mark 2:23-3:6 Epiphany 9
Mark 2:23-3:6 Proper 4
Mark 3:20-35 Proper 5
Mark 4:26-34 Proper 6
Mark 4:35-41 Proper 7
Mark 5:21-43 Proper 8
Mark 6:1-13 Proper 9
Mark 6:14-29 Proper 10
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 Proper 11
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 Proper 17
Mark 8:27-38 Proper 18
Mark 8:31-38 Lent 2 (alt)
Mark 9:2-9 Epiphany Last / Transfiguration
Mark 9:30-37 Proper 20
Mark 9:38-50 Proper 21
Mark 10:2-16 Proper 22
Mark 10:17-31 Proper 23
Mark 10:35-45 Proper 24
Mark 10:46-52 Proper 25
Mark 11:1-11 Palm/Passion Sunday (alt.; Liturgy of Palms)
Mark 12:28-34 Proper 26
Mark 12:38-44 Proper 27
Mark 13:1-8 Proper 28
Mark 13:24-37 Advent 1
Mark 14:1-15:47 Palm/Passion Sunday (alt.)
Mark 15:1-39 (40-47) Palm/Passion Sunday (alt.)
Mark 16:1-8 Easter Day (alt.)
Mark 16:1-8 Easter Vigil

I hope this will be useful.

Approaches to Mark: What am I leaving out?

It seems to me that the following are the most important questions or perspectives that one would need to consider when interpreting Mark. I invite you to take a look at this list and to respond by telling me which approaches I have omitted, and why any approaches to Mark that aren’t on this list are important.

So, here’s my list:

1. The question of the historical Jesus, and the quest to find the earliest sources for the life of Jesus (Life of Jesus research, source criticism).
2. The Synoptic Problem and its majority solution, Marcan priority (source criticism).
3. The oral tradition of the life and teachings of Jesus, and how Mark utilizes it (form criticism).
4. The Greek text of Mark and its history of transmission (textual criticism).
5. The emergence of the Κατὰ Μάρκον Ἐυαγγέλιον (Gospel According to Mark) in early church history.
6. Mark in comparison with patterns from the Hebrew Bible.
7. Mark in comparison with the larger tradition of teacher/disciple narratives (socio-rhetorical criticism).
8. How Mark does characterization (literary criticism).
9. The theology of the Gospel of Mark.

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