Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ephesians 1:1-14

Something I wrote on the beginning of Ephesians for our Young Marrieds group at Cornerstone, obviously drawing a lot on N. T. Wright:

Ephesians 1 is the introduction to the letter, which contains both the standard sections of greetings (1:1-2) and thanksgiving (1:3-23 – though some scholars think this section goes all the way through chapter 3). Like many of Paul’s letters, the introductory material also tells us about the theme of the rest of the letter, with 1:3-14 a thanksgiving to God for all that he has done for the church and 1:15-23 a prayer that the church may know all of this. Chapters 2-3 will elaborate further and the rest of the book will apply this information to how the church should conduct itself in light of all that God has done.

1:3-14, like much of Paul’s writings, draws on, highlights, and presupposes Paul’s basic story of God’s dealings with humanity culminating in Christ. If we want to understand this section fully, we need to know something of that story. The story begins with a good creation which is subjected to corruption, death, chaos, disorder, and evil as a result of the first man, Adam, the representative of humanity, and his sin against God. Adam experiences, then, what Jews would have seen as a kind of exile much like what they experienced when they were cast out of the Promised Land as a result of their own disobedience to God. This exile – the Fall – resulted in estrangement between God and humanity and animosity and estrangement within humanity as well. Sin, death, and curse have entered the world in and through humanity.

God’s rescue operation to set everything right again was to start a new humanity (the Hebrew and Greek words for “person” or “man” – ’adam and anthropos – can refer either to an individual or to humanity as a whole, as in 2:15) not subject to corruption, sin, and death and free of the curse and to set them in a new creation which is also free of these things, where all things are united under God and his rule. Instead of starting over, though, the new humanity and new creation were to be formed by rescuing the old humanity and old creation. The beginnings of this new Adam, this new humanity, were seen in the exodus and God’s redemption of Israel from their own exile in Egypt, bringing them into their inheritance as children of God. They were God’s chosen people, the beginning of God’s new humanity and new creation, tasked to be a light to the other nations so that they too could become part of the new Adam instead of remain in the old, and the Law was given as the covenant charter establishing the relationship like the commandment given to Adam long ago.

But like Adam, Israel failed and suffered curse and exile and looked forward to a restoration/ new creation/ new exodus/ full return from exile and all its effects, which would mean nothing less than the restoration of all creation and a new age, God’s kingdom, of God’s will reigning over and in all things. “Forgiveness of sins” for Israel would mean, then, restoration for both the nation and the world – and this comes through the blood of a sacrifice, Jesus acting much like the Passover lamb of the exodus (1:7, 14).

Jesus comes as the climax to this story. Jesus, as Israel’s perfect king, is the representative of his people before God. He takes on Israel’s task as its representative king and fulfills the Law and undergoes the spiritual exile, punishment, and curse due to all in order to again redeem his people from bondage, but this time to sin and death (and Satan and all the spiritual powers and oppressors), like Israel from Egypt, and, like Israel, bring them into their true inheritance, God’s kingdom in a restored world (again, 1:7, 14).

Jesus, as representative, is the true Israel, the new Adam, God’s chosen, so that whoever joins him and his people thereby becomes part of that chosen people – Christ was chosen and predestined and hence, since he represents his people and what is true of him as representative is true of them too, they also take part in that chosenness (they are God’s chosen people, his Israel) and in that glorious destiny as part of God’s new humanity (see 2:15) – the advanced guard of God’s making all things new and uniting it all under himself in Christ (thus removing the animosity of the divisions between such things as Jews and Gentiles, as in 2:11-22; 3:6) – see 1:4-5, 9-14. We were chosen or predestined “in him” or “in Christ”, a phrase which indicates that what is being said of someone is said of them in virtue of their belonging to Christ’s people as one of his followers – that is, as a member of his church.

That new creation and that kingdom of God, in Christ, has come with all its blessings – though now only in principle and in part and not yet in its fullness. Hence, Paul speaks of the church as having these blessings “in the heavenly realms” (1:3 – see also 2:6-7) – “heaven” talk often in Paul and the New Testament being used to indicate the present realities of God’s final reign over all creation, where earth and heaven are finally joined forever. Paul wants the church to see itself in terms of this story and its place within it as the new humanity made of Jew and Gentile under Christ as its representative, redeemer, and king.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sealed Until the End: The Messianic Secret as Apocalyptic Motif

A paper I wrote for a New Testament class this last semester at the GTU. Unfortunately, I had a maximum of 10 pages to write this in, so I had to leave out a lot of interesting parallels between Mark and Daniel and did not have a lot of space to explain the things I did talk about. But here it is:

In Mark there appears to be a motif or set of motifs involving secrecy – secrecy, for instance, concerning miracles, concerning an aspect (or aspects) of Jesus’ message, and concerning his identity. Such a motif of secrecy in Mark, particularly as it concerns Jesus’ identity, has been dubbed the Messianic Secret. Properly speaking, there are a number of secrecy motifs in Mark, not all of them really concerning Jesus’ identity. But, as Jack Kingsbury puts it, these “may be motifs that can be distinguished from the messianic secret, but it is obvious that they can also enhance and further it.”[1] In other words, the other secrecy motifs may be read as reinforcing the motif concerning the secret of Jesus’ identity and hence examining the latter will likely involve examining at least some aspects of the former as well.

While there are many different ways to go about trying to explain the secrecy motif, the goal of this paper is not to sort through these or to evaluate which does a better job and where. Instead, the goal is to show that we can read the Messianic Secret in Mark as a kind of apocalyptic motif, particularly inspired by the book of Daniel – in particular, one that invites its readers into believing reception of the secrets unveiled to them in the book and a status as a follower of Jesus. This is not meant to forestall other understandings of the Secret nor is it meant to exhaustively explain it in every one of its details – it is simply meant to give us one more interpretive angle by which we can understand the secrecy motif in a better, fuller fashion.

The plan for the rest of this paper, then, is first to take some steps towards establishing echoes and correspondences both between Mark 4:1-20 and Daniel (especially chapter 2) and Mark 13 and Daniel. I then turn to some of the passages in which the Messianic Secret proper might be said to actually pop up and offer a preliminary reading of these within the context of my treatment of Mark 4 and 13. Finally, I will sum up how we can look at the Messianic Secret as a kind of apocalyptic motif based on such a reading.

Let us turn first to Mark 4:1-20 and Daniel 2 and the respective secrets or mysteries displayed therein.[2] Each of these two passages presents us with a riddle, a message hidden in imagistic clothing, in Mark in the form of a parable and in Daniel in the form of a dream. Each, then, gives us a wisdom-riddle which presents us with, as it says in the Greek text of both passages, a musthvrion that is, a secret or mystery (Daniel 2:27 and Mark 4:11).[3] Indeed, later on in the Greek (12:8), Daniel, when inquiring into the meanings of his own visions, asks about parabolaiv or parables.[4] In Mark 4, there is likewise a mystery and it is given in parables.

The mystery, then, in both Daniel and Mark is indeed given, either in the form of dream or of parable, but it still requires explanation – the revelation is there, but it does not automatically generate understanding. Neither the disciples nor Nebuchadnezzar, though already given their respective mysteries, are able on their own to apprehend them. Such understanding must come from some special revelation or explanation. This failure to understand in both books emphasizes the mysteriousness of what is being given and questions may be required to get at the true meaning of what is being communicated. This becomes more apparent later on in Daniel where Daniel, like Nebuchadnezzar’s earlier seeking after the meaning of his dream, needs to ask questions in order to unpack the mysterious revelations he has been given (Daniel 8:27; 12:8).[5] In fact, as Joel Marcus has pointed out, in apocalyptic environments, inquisitiveness was seen as a good and adds that in Mark “it is a sign of serious spiritual impairment when [the disciples] become afraid to ask [questions] (9:32).”[6] The disciples’ questions, then, are not necessarily being cast in a purely negative light but may in fact play a positive function here as in Daniel and other apocalyptic works.

But what is this mystery? In both Mark 4 and Daniel 2, the mystery has something to do with God’s divine actions in history or God’s kingdom (basileiva in both Mark 4 and Daniel 2). In the early chapters of Daniel, for instance, we see God as sovereign even in the midst of the pagan, ungodly rule of foreign powers. In Daniel 2:44-45, God’s eschatological kingdom arrives not with the help of human hands but as an act of God’s perpetual sovereignty, thus emphasizing the theme in Daniel of the faithful suffering patiently through tribulation, awaiting God and God’s actions to bring in the kingdom and their salvation rather than attempting to force it on their own.[7] In Mark, we see that God’s kingdom has already come but not yet in its fullness and is to be followed not by way of military action but through taking up one’s cross and following Jesus – it does not yet overtake all other kingdoms but rather has come in their midst as an act of God in the person of Jesus, proceeding by the preaching of God’s word and not by the sword – despite what many Jews of his time may have wanted.[8]

As these mysteries concerning God’s kingdom are given veiled in imagery, someone else must help others to understand them. In Daniel, it is God who gives the mystery (e.g., Daniel 2:28) and Daniel who explains to the inquiring Nebuchadnezzar the content of the mystery already given. And in Mark, it is Jesus who both gives and explains the mystery to his inquiring disciples. Jesus (see, for instance, the many passages in which he teaches or is called teacher or rabbi[9]) and Daniel (see, for instance, Daniel 1:17) are both presented as wisdom figures, where wisdom is understood here as insight from God. With Daniel and Jesus we variously have such insight granted or communicated to others, thus being or making others wise in virtue of the possession of such revelatory insight.[10]

In Daniel, what is revealed in particular through Daniel is what must happen according to God’s plan for history leading up to his kingdom. In the Greek version of 2:28-29, the phrase for “it must happen” is dei: genevsqai, which does not occur in Mark 4 but does occur later in the apocalyptic discourse of Mark 13 in verse 7.[11] Such a deterministic air, however, so common in apocalyptic literature, also appears in Mark 4, particularly in verses 11 and 12, where the purpose of giving the mystery of the kingdom in parable form is, in effect, to illuminate “those inside” but to harden the already unbelieving hearts of “those outside”.[12] In the context of Mark 3, it may very well be that the insiders are those who “do God’s will” (3:35) and outsiders those who directly oppose Jesus’ ministry, such as the religious authorities (3:22 – cf. 3:28-29).[13] While the crowds are invited in, these religious authorities have shut themselves out and are confirmed in their opposition by Jesus’ own preaching. In a pattern reminiscent of Pharaoh before Moses or the Israelites before Isaiah (in the Isaiah 6 passage quoted in Mark), their own hardness of heart and stubborn unbelief, their resistance against God and his prophet, results in a punitive further hardening. As Joel Marcus puts it, “in a way their condemnation to blindness and obduracy in 4:12 is just a ratification of a process already in motion.”[14]

The hardening of Jesus’ opponents, however, according to many scholars has the specific goal of guaranteeing Jesus’ death by provoking such opponents into escalating their opposition. His crucifixion is not a failure of his ministry, but a crucial part of its success.[15] Speaking of much of the secrecy in Mark in general (cf. Mark 4:21-25), Marcus writes, “Jesus […] must hide his lamp under a bushel […] in order that he may be opposed and, ultimately, killed – in order that he may ‘give his life as a ransom for many’ (10:45).”[16] The crucifixion is therefore part of God’s predetermined plan, enacted partly through the God-ordained means of Jesus’ own preaching of the mystery of the kingdom in parable form. As Mark progresses towards the crucifixion, the apocalyptic overtones echoed in the modal verb deiv start to pile up, the majority coming in the apocalyptic discourse of chapter 13 (outside that chapter, one finds it in key eschatological or predictive contexts, for instance, in 8:31; 9:11; 14:31),[17] all leading up to the Passion, thus fulfilling Scripture and God’s plan.

By putting both the parable and its explanation in the book, however, Mark seems to be inviting his reader to either become or continue being wise like Daniel or those who are in Jesus’ circle by their reception of this divine revelation – and thus being wise, being also an insider with regard to Jesus and not an outsider. Readers may be encouraged, then, to see themselves as ones who have been given the secret of kingdom of God by Jesus since it has been written out for them in this very book. There may also be a hint of such a strategy also in Mark 13, to which we now turn.

As already hinted at, chapter 13 concentrates the apocalyptic vibe of Mark into a single discourse.[18] More instances of deiv seem to show up here than in any other chapter (13:7, 10, 14). The idea of an apocalyptic timetable as expressed in this chapter appears also in Daniel 12:7, 11, 12, minus the exact calculations and in favor of a more general sense of indefinite timing (Mark 13:32-37). Indeed, the notion of a shortening of the days as in 13:20, a truncation of the timetable, appears not only in Mark but also in other more paradigmatic apocalyptic works (1 Enoch 80:2; 83:1; Baruch 20:2).[19]

This shortened timetable is necessitated by the unparalleled suffering summarized in the prediction of 13:19, which seems to allude to the similar prediction of unparalleled suffering in Daniel 12:1.[20] And, as in Daniel 12:1, God shows mercy on his chosen ones – as already mentioned, the time in Mark 13:20 is cut short for their sake. Just as passages such as chapter 12 of Daniel can be read as a call to perseverance in the midst of refining suffering,[21] so also Mark 13 (and, indeed, Mark as a whole with its call for Christians to follow the way of the Cross). As John Goldingay states in relation to the suffering spoken of in Daniel, “It forces people to make up their mind which side they are on.”[22] So also Mark 13 can be seen as a call to choose sides and to choose the right one – to stay on the inside with Jesus and his followers.

For Mark’s readers, who many have suggested were undergoing some amount of persecution or suffering, this may have been an important call. Mark, in 13:14, connects more directly with them – making sure they know that this is written to them, perhaps calling attention to some particular aspect of what he is saying[23] – with the words “let the reader understand”. Although this is immediately connected with Jesus’ allusion to the abomination (bdeluvgma) of Daniel 9:27, 11:31, and 12:11, we can also, considering similar calls in Daniel, read it as applying also more generally to the discourse as a whole. Calls to understand a given passage occur, for instance, in Daniel 9:23 and 9:25,[24] calls which are directed at Daniel but which could also be seen as directed at the reader (perhaps uncoincidentally, this is also the very same passage where the abomination first shows up in Daniel).

Here in Mark 13, as in Mark 4, there may be an idea that the reader, by believing reception of what is given, will achieve understanding and stand as one of God’s chosen ones. This idea may also be present in Daniel 9 and indeed in the book as a whole, with its theme of the unveiling of various mysteries and future events, particularly for the sake of the readers who come later to the book – its messages were sealed for the future, hidden from others (Daniel 8:26-27; 12:4, 9-10), but now revealed at the proper time to the wise, those who believingly appropriate the book and its message and who are promised a glorious future. [25] As John Collins puts it, “Because the book is sealed, true understanding is hidden” – it is only available to the wise.[26] If we read Mark 13 against this background, we can look at it as having more to do with the secrecy motifs than it may have seemed at first – hidden things about the future spoken by Jesus have been put into this book and given to the readers so that they might read and understand and stand firm as part of God’s chosen. It is not so different, then, on such a reading, from the use of the secrecy motif as it occurred back in Mark 4. Let us now see how these apocalyptic themes which we have seen in Mark 4 and 13 can help us understand the Messianic Secret.

The secret of Jesus’ identity in Mark, Kingsbury has shown, is associated more often with the title “Son of God” than any other title in the book (1:11; 1:24-25, 34; 3:11-12; 5:7; 9:2-9; 12:1, 6; 14:11-64).[27] Mark slowly unfolds the secret of Jesus’ divine sonship throughout the second half of his gospel, marching through such partial understandings as 11:1-11 and 12:35-37, culminating in the insightful statement of 15:39 when Jesus dies on the cross. As Kingsbury puts it, in 8:27-16:8 “Mark guides the reader through a progressive unveiling of Jesus’ identity: the reader witnesses, respectively, Peter confess Jesus to be the Messiah, Bartimaeus appeal to him as the Son of David, and, finally, the centurion penetrate what for Mark is the essential secret of Jesus’ person, his divine sonship.”[28]

How are we to understand this progressive unveiling of the secret of Jesus’ identity and its relative hiddenness in Mark 1:1-8:26? From the general apocalyptic context of the book and its relation to the unveiling of secrets, particularly as we have seen in Mark 4 and 13, perhaps we can see this unveiling of Jesus’ identity as at least partially falling within this matrix of ideas. In this eschatological moment of the nearing of the kingdom (1:15), there is an initial divinely given message of divine sonship (1:11). In the following passages, it seems only the demons know of Jesus’ true identity as God’s Son, thus emphasizing that the truth of this is not discernible without supernatural aid. Such contests with the demonic or with oppressive spiritual forces occur also in Daniel 10:13, 20 and in other apocalyptic literature elsewhere as well, thus also emphasizing Jesus’ eschatological kingdom power.

It may very well be that part of what is going on when Jesus silences the demons is that the demons are trying to gain control over Jesus by stating who he really is but Jesus shows his greater power as their exorcist by silencing them.[29] But we can also see this in an apocalyptic light – it is not yet the right time in the divine time table for the unveiling of this secret. Yet, of course, Mark’s readers, by the very recounting of such stories are being let in on the secret as part of the continual invitation to read and understand and join in as insiders with regards to Jesus and his kingdom. In 8:30, after Peter is the first of the disciples to finally confess Jesus as the messiah, Jesus warns the disciples not to tell anyone, which emphasizes the lack of understanding of the disciples as to the exact kind of messiah he would be (and the nature of the kingdom as it was breaking in at this time in his person) – a suffering and dying one (3:31-33) whose followers need to be willing to take on suffering and death as well (3:34-38).

The warning thus emphasizes the secrecy or hiddenness of Jesus’ messiahship, both from the disciples and the rest of the world. From here on out, Mark unveils to his readers what kind of messiah this is, the suffering, Danielic, apocalyptic Son of Man (see Daniel 7) who is the Son of God.[30] The disciples do not fully understand all of this until after Easter – though they hear God’s reaffirmation of Jesus’ divine sonship in 9:7 (directly echoing the earlier 1:11), thus giving them the secret of Jesus’ identity, they do not understand it and are, as in the case of Daniel and his visions of the future and heavenly glory, not to reveal any of what happened at the transfiguration until after Jesus rises from the dead (9:9). Predictions of Jesus’ death continue from here on out as Jesus approaches his passion to come at Jerusalem.[31] As Ulrich Luz puts it, Jesus’ coming “suffering remains incomprehensible to the disciples until the cross. Only there, in the light of Jesus’ death, is full understanding and genuine confession of Jesus’ divine sonship possible, as Mark shows by way of example through the gentile centurion’s confession at the cross.”[32]

The Messianic Secret, read against the apocalyptic background of Daniel, particularly as instantiated in Mark 4 and 13, can thus be read as an apocalyptic motif used by Mark as a literary device, reinforced and in combination with some of the other secrecy motifs woven into the book of Mark. There is a divine time table and the correct time for the unveiling of secrets, here Jesus’ identity, is not to be rushed – and, in fact, the veiling and the timing of partial or full unveilment may very well be part of what pushes the plan along. Correct timing pushes the opposition forward and controls the perceptions of Jesus’ identity for their proper times.[33] The secrets themselves and their understanding, though, are for those inside – Jesus’ followers – alone, but such understanding comes in part through believing reception of the very words and secrets recorded in this book and finally unveiled now at the proper time for the readers. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, the end times for which the book has been written have proleptically arrived, thus ending Mark’s book on a note looking forward to resurrection, and the triumph of God and God’s kingdom over history, much as the book of Daniel itself ends. Like in Daniel, Mark’s readers are invited to take a part in this.[34]


Collins, Adela Yarbro. “The Influence of Daniel on the New Testament.” In J. J. Collins, Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, 90-112. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Collins, John J. Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Donahue, J. R. and D. J. Harrington. The Gospel of Mark. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2002.

Evans, Craig A. “The Function of Isaiah 6:9-10 in Mark and John.” Novum Testamentum 24 (1982): 124-138.

Goldingay, John E. Daniel. Dallas: Word, 1989.

Gundry, Robert H. Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993.

Kingsbury, Jack D. The Christology of Mark’s Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

Luz, Ulrich. “The Secrecy Motif and the Marcan Christology.” In The Messianic Secret, edited by C. Tuckett, 75-96. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

Marcus, Joel. Mark 1-8. New York: Doubleday, 2000.

Moule, Charles F. D. “On Defining the Messianic Secret in Mark.” In Jesus und Paulus: Festschrift für Werner Georg Kümmel zum 70. Geburtstag, edited by E. E. Ellis and E. Gräßer, 239-252. Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1975.

Telford, W. R. The Theology of the Gospel of Mark. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Tuckett, Christopher. “Introduction: The Problem of the Messianic Secret.” In The Messianic Secret, edited by C. Tuckett, 1-28. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.

[1] Jack D. Kingsbury, The Christology of Mark’s Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 11. Cf. Christopher Tuckett, “Introduction: The Problem of the Messianic Secret,” in The Messianic Secret, ed. C. Tuckett (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 1-28.

[2] There is another possible correspondence in Mark 4 with Daniel – the mighty tree in the parable of Mark 4:32 with its birds and branches may be an echo of the tree in the dream of Daniel 4 which similarly hosts animals. See John J. Collins, Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 107.

[3] Adela Yarbro Collins, “The Influence of Daniel on the New Testament,” in J. J. Collins, Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel, 105-106. In drawing correspondences between Daniel and Mark, I will elsewhere also be making reference to the Greek text of Daniel.

[4] Collins, Daniel, 400.

[5] Collins, Daniel, 400; Robert H. Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 197; Joel Marcus, Mark 1-8 (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 298.

[6] Marcus, Mark, 302. From the Dead Sea Scrolls, Marcus cites, for comparison, 1QH 4:23-24; 1Q5 5:11-12.

[7] Cf. Collins, Daniel, 51; John E. Goldingay, Daniel (Dallas: Word, 1989), 330.

[8] J. R. Donahue and D. J. Harrington, The Gospel of Mark (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2002), 146; Gundry, Mark, 206-207; Kingsbury, Christology, 73; Marcus, Mark, 303.

[9] For a sample list, see W. R. Telford, The Theology of the Gospel of Mark (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 33-34.

[10] Collins, Daniel, 49-50, 105-106; Donahue and Harrington, Mark, 145; Goldingay, Daniel, 57.

[11] Collins, Daniel, 105-106; Donahue and Harrington, Mark, 145.

[12] Donahue and Harrington, Mark, 145; Gundry, Mark, 195-198; Marcus, Mark, 303. Donahue and Harrington, in particular, cite for comparison 1 Enoch 83:7; 91:5; 1QM 1:9-10; 1QpHab 7:13.

[13] Donahue and Harrington, Mark, 146; Gundry, Mark, 195, 203-207.

[14] Marcus, Mark, 306.

[15] Craig A. Evans, “The Function of Isaiah 6:9-10 in Mark and John,” Novum Testamentum 24 (1982): 138; Gundry, Mark, 195; Marcus, Mark, 526.

[16] Marcus, Mark, 526.

[17] Donahue and Harrington, Mark, 261.

[18] For additional parallels between this chapter of Mark and the book of Daniel or other apocalyptic literature beyond what I pursue here, see, for example, Donahue and Harrington, Mark, 371; Gundry, Mark, 747.

[19] Donahue and Harrington, Mark, 373.

[20] Collins, “Influence”, 110. A snippet of the parallel language – Mark 13:19: “aiJ hJmevrai ejkeivnai qli:yiV oi{a ouj gevgonen toiauvth ajp j”; Daniel 12:1: “ejkeivnh hJ hJmevra qlivyewV oi{a oujk ejgenhvqh ajf j”.

[21] Goldingay, Daniel, 319.

[22] Goldingay, Daniel, 319.

[23] Gundry argues that it is calling attention to Mark’s use of the masculine rather than the neuter in reference to the abomination of 13:14. But, as I will interpret it, it may additionally (or instead) also be a general call for the reader to pay attention. See Gundry, Mark, 743.

[24] Cf. Gundry, Mark, 743.

[25] Cf. Collins, Daniel, 341-342, 400; Goldingay, Daniel, 218, 309.

[26] Collins, Daniel, 400.

[27] Kingsbury, Christology, 12, 19, 150, 164. Cf. Charles F. D. Moule, “On Defining the Messianic Secret in Mark,” in Jesus und Paulus: Festschrift für Werner Georg Kümmel zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. E. E. Ellis and E. Gräßer (Göttingen: Vandenhoek & Ruprecht, 1975), 242-243.

[28] Kingsbury, Christology, 20.

[29] Gundry, Mark, 88; Ulrich Luz, “The Secrecy Motif and the Marcan Christology,” in The Messianic Secret, ed. C. Tuckett (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 82; Marcus, Mark, 187, 201.

[30] “Son of Man” being an apocalyptic title developed further in other apocalyptic literature but originating in Daniel 7. Unfortunately, there is not enough room in the current paper for a full discussion of this contribution of Daniel to Mark’s apocalyptic atmosphere. For its use in Mark and Daniel, see Collins, Daniel, 80-84; Collins, “Influence,” 90; Kingsbury, Christology, 169-170; Moule, “Defining,” 250; Telford, Theology, 36.

[31] Cf. Collins, “Influence,” 98; Donahue and Harrington, Mark, 28-29, 261; Gundry, Mark, 462; Luz, “Secrecy,” 83-86; Tuckett, “Introduction,” 28.

[32] Luz, “Secrecy,” 85.

[33] Cf. Moule, “Defining,” 248-249.

[34] Cf. Collins, Daniel, 401; Goldingay, Daniel, 318.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Warren on the Purpose-Driven Life: A Short Historical Write-Up

The following ended up sounding more negative than I intended, since I really did like the book and thought it served FBC well years ago when the church went through it:

Rick Warren is undoubtedly one of the United States’ most influential pastors and one of the public faces of mainstream Evangelicalism. He and his church have had a huge impact on congregations across the country – and now across the world – through their ministries, in particular through the book The Purpose Driven Life and the small group curriculum/church extravaganza that it is designed to be paired with. The main goal of the book is to engage people in the task of living out God’s purposes for them on this earth in place of some other purpose or purposes that might be pursued instead. It aims to inculcate a sense of direction and of purpose that can be lived into and used to order the various priorities, desires, and goals one might have in day-to-day living that vie for volitional control within one’s mind or will. An orderly, energized, focused life is the ideal goal to be imperfectly pursued in a process of spiritual self-formation.

There are, of course, criticisms one could make of the book. It definitely is not meant to address every person in every circumstance where they might be at and does not show any awareness how particular uses of language may alienate some female readers, as it has in fact done in at least some instances. Nor does it do a perfect job with its use of (often very paraphrastic translations of) Scripture, though at least some of that can be chalked up to audience and format, which does not allow an in depth exegesis of particular verses in their contexts and a subsequent exposition based on this. At least from a critical view, of course, some of the uses of the Scriptures do not really support or say what he is using them to support or say. In Warren’s defense, however, it is hard to find a pastor who does not fall into this from time to time, particularly when speaking on such a popular level. There are certainly pastors who are also very good exegetes, but they are a minority and I do not think we should expect pastors to all be so (though that would be very nice indeed), since not all are given such gifts or talents. It does do a good job of portraying the sort of unsophisticated use of the Scriptures that we can work to improve and show by both example and explicit teaching how to go beyond.

As a kind of how-to manual for self-formation, of course, people are likely to criticize it for not being something else they would rather have. Such books, for instance, always have the danger of being too self-focused, a danger that Warren admirably does in fact try to ameliorate with his constant call to focus on God and others and to live as a member of a community of faith, though this is admittedly at times lost in a focus on one’s own self-interests (the rewards one can get, for instance, from God for being faithful). This, of course, is just a symptom of American Christians’ often not-so-successful struggle to get out of the bonds of individualism and self-focus that are practically bred into Americans and into their perceptions of religion and the Christian life. We want to know how something will benefit us and how it relates to us and focus on ourselves as the center and focus of our own spirituality or religious path. Religion is a consumer affair, like everything else in our culture.

This brings me to one of my biggest pet peeves about this book and about American (and much other) Christianity as well, which is the focus in parts on “going to heaven” when we die as if that was the great hope for Christians. Rather than the cosmic vision of the bodily resurrection of God’s people and the concomitant restoration of all of creation, the earth and the physical universe included, such as one finds in places like Romans 8 and in pieces all throughout the New Testament, we are given a limp, bland, self-centered picture of getting to go as a single solitary individual to a disembodied heaven away from the earth when I die. Christian eschatology has nearly dropped out of the picture, replaced with a kind of Platonist placebo. Such views, however, are common in the individualistic churches we find here in the West. “Going to heaven”, where this is understood as personal, individualistic persistence as a disembodied spirit in an immaterial realm separated from the physical universe, is seen as the great hope and goal of the Christian faith. This has usurped the classical and biblical view of our great hope as being the renewal of all things, including the resurrection of our own bodies, the hallowing of the physical, and heaven descended to earth. The cosmic, physical, redemptive gospel has become a personal, immaterial, escapist fantasy. This almost Gnostic flight from the historically and physically-oriented view of our destiny is something we ought to continue to work to correct in our churches.

The individualism of the book, particularly as it has infected its eschatology, is the main think I would correct in this book as I find it most irksome. The book as a whole, however, has much to say to many people, whether or not it falls short in all the ways listed here – what book does not fall short in many ways or fail to do everything one might want it to do? It offers hope and direction for a more real and deep relationship with God, realizing one’s divine purpose in life, and fleeing from self-serving goals and externally- or self-imposed purposes in favor of the purposes of our life that have been ordained by God, who is the center and anchor of all things.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Portraits of a King

Since my previous post was of an old Berkeley-days paper, I thought I'd share another one, which reuses some of the material from the previous one:

In reading and comparing the narrative of Samuel-Kings in the Deuteronomistic History and that of Chronicles one is struck by the differences in the story which are presented to us – both sometimes in the material recounted and in the way the material is put before the reader. One especially interesting point of comparison is the figure of David in these two histories. Each presents David in a different light, for differing reasons, and presents some slightly different material not included in the other. In this paper I hope to make a beginning in the process of answering the questions how Samuel-Kings and Chronicles respectively view David, discussing how the material the Chronicler chooses to omit or add shows his view of David as it differs from Samuel-Kings. We will first look at the accounts of David’s rise to the throne and then his court history and the succession of Solomon to his throne.

Let us look first at the books of Samuel. The first king of Israel is Saul, who by any light should have made a great king – he was chosen by God through the prophet Samuel and by birth seems especially fit to be king. His father is a prominent man and though Benjamin is one of the smallest tribes, it is centrally located and thus in an ideal position to provide leadership to the land. Saul even looks the part of a king (see I Samuel 9-10). All of this only serves to show how much Saul falls short of being the ideal king by protecting the people and obeying Yahweh.

Despite apparently every advantage, Saul is flawed and fails as king. He disobeys in religious areas such as the time when he sacrifices an animal from impatience while waiting for Samuel. When Samuel arrives, the prophet declares that Saul’s kingdom will end and that God will choose some other king (see I Samuel 10:8, 13:7-14). Saul also fails to kill Agag the enemy king and all the livestock which were to be destroyed (I Samuel 15) and so is rejected by Yahweh. To make matters worse, Saul even consults a witch (I Samuel 28), at which time the apparition of Samuel declares David king and Saul’s dynasty soon to be destroyed by the Philistines (note, not by David, as some might have thought, which is further emphasized later). He even slaughters God’s priests, while David receives one with the ephod and all (I Samuel 22).

Here we begin to have hints of apologetic – a justification of David’s rise to the throne – Saul was a bad king and so Yahweh, who chooses the king, picked someone else. Indeed, David is anointed by Samuel at the command of God – David is the right person for the job of king (I Samuel 16). David is, after all, a man after God’s own heart and is promised a never-ending dynasty (I Samuel 7). This particular piece functions well as a polemic against the detractors of the Davidic dynasty, emphasizing that they are the rulers chosen by God himself.

In comparison to Saul’s situation, David is extremely disadvantaged. His family does not seem to be as well off and he is in fact the youngest of eight sons – and it is generally the oldest that is normally the one who ascends to greatness (or who becomes a king). Indeed, David does not seem at first be the one to whom the kingship over Israel should go to – he is not even one of Saul’s sons. Thus we have this defense of David’s rise and kingship.

Saul also fails as king in being leader of his people, doing such things as imposing unnecessary hardships on his own fighting men (I Samuel 14:24-45). Later, he becomes afflicted by fits of madness due to an evil spirit and even more than once tries to kill his own heir, his son Jonathan (I Samuel 14, 20:32-33). To emphasize Saul’s failure, the Spirit of Yahweh departs from him. So David comes into Saul’s court and serves him well, providing him with a necessary service – his playing of the harp is of such a virtue as to calm Saul as he is afflicted with the evil spirit. His harp playing, having such almost supernatural abilities, helps display David’s quality as a hero (I Samuel 16:14-23).

Saul wrongs David in various ways, trying to get David to be killed in battle, and ends up driving David into hiding. He owes David a daughter in marriage (apparently this is what was promised to the man who defeated Goliath in I Samuel 17) but does not give her to him. Again David is promised Saul’s oldest daughter Merab, but she is given to someone else when the time comes for her to be married. Saul’s youngest daughter Michal, meanwhile, loves David and so Saul finally gives this daughter to David in marriage - and after he does give David one of his daughters, he takes her and gives her to another man (for all this, see I Samuel 18, 25:44).

Saul is concerned for the security of his line and his own well being against the threat he perceives in David. David, meanwhile, does in fact only further the security of Saul and his line to the very end and takes care of them – David is portrayed as but a faithful servant. Even when Saul becomes his enemy, David goes so far as to rebuke his men for even suggesting that they kill Saul – he will not raise a hand against Saul, despite many opportunities to do so (see I Samuel 24:1-15, 26:1-12). He even fights against Saul’s foreign enemies while hiding in the land of the Philistines (I Samuel 23:1-6, 27:8-9).

In his service and in his military success as a warrior-hero, David gains great renown and the love of the people. The Bible emphasizes that he had great success in all that he did, since Yahweh, his divine benefactor (something important for an ancient hero to have, which of course also marks him as a hero – and the proper king), was with him. Even Saul’s family turns in favor of David and loves him intensely – including even the crown prince and, of course, Saul’s daughter, the princess Michal. This success scares Saul, since it emphasizes his own inadequacy and the fact that Yahweh is no longer with him (see especially I Samuel 18). David is the good leader, but Saul is not.

Thus Saul, in his jealousy, sees David as a danger to his kingship and dynasty, declaring his suspicions in an outburst against his son Jonathan (I Samuel 20:30-31). There he proclaims that if David is not killed, he will inherit the kingdom of Israel instead of Jonathan himself. So David is forced into the fringes of society as an outcast and man on the run. But in this David gains a large following, even though forced into an appearance of evil by staying with Israel’s enemies, the Philistines, and leading what looks like a band of outlaws (I Samuel 22:1-2, I Samuel 27). Thus David’s qualifications as a leader come out, especially fit for the heroic warrior-king he is meant to become. But again it is from this apparent evil that David rises into his position, as only he is fit to do.

David has taken on the identity of royalty through his identification with Jonathan – who in turn, as heir, is identified with Saul. This is done when Jonathan makes a covenant with David and gives him his robe, tunic, sword, bow, and belt (I Samuel 20). It is probable that the robes were Jonathan’s royal robes – such a transfer evoking a certain legal symbolism in which there is a transfer of Jonathan’s position as crown prince to David (McCarter, I Samuel, p.305).

All this leads David into the threat of death from his opponent Saul. At first, in a fit of madness, Saul tries to pin him to the wall. Then he tries to get David killed by sending him off on missions against the Philistines, even offering a daughter of his in marriage as an incentive to lure David on to what Saul probably thought was certain death (I Samuel 18). But as the hero, David as usual succeeds in what he does and achieves great victories. Merely by being a hero, David is under the wrath of Saul – leading Israel in battle under God’s favor, as Saul, being the king, should have been doing. Finally Saul actively pursues David and tries to kill him continuously but David, as a hero, is always able to escape.

Through all of this, we see the hero David moving closer and closer to his opponent’s role. Being forced into the fringe he displays his transcendent qualities by using this to come into power “through the back door” as it were. Thus there are one or more transformations involved and an intimate identification of the hero with the one that he is to replace – by identification with Jonathan, entering into Saul’s family by marriage to Michal, and so on. David is thus the true king despite appearances, the one who will succeed where Saul failed. The narrative is meant to show this and that David was faithful to Saul all along.

Other things explained are that David did not kill Nabal but that God did (I Samuel 25), Nabal being evil anyway, and that David did not fight Israel nor did he engage in the battle in which Saul was killed (I Samuel 29). David therefore was not responsible for Saul’s death in any way – Saul in fact killed himself (I Samuel 31). In fact, David executes the man who claims to have slain Saul and weeps both for the king and his son (II Samuel 1). David is so spotless that the fortuitous deaths of Ish-bosheth son of Saul, his rival for the kingship in the north, and his commander Abner are not perpetrated by David but are in fact expressly against his will (II Samuel 3.4). He even takes care of the remaining son of Jonathan (II Samuel 9), and the later killing of Saul’s other descendants is not really David’s fault at all (II Samuel 29:1-14).

A large part of the Samuel narrative thus serves an apologetic function, legitimizing David’s rise and explaining what might otherwise look bad. David is a hero – a warrior, musician, and leader – who transcends normal limitations, taking on Saul’s position by divine choice and succeeding so far where Saul failed.

Chronicles, in the meantime, leaves out most of the story of David’s rise. It first relates Saul’s death in battle, leaving out all other narratives concerning Saul, and declares that Yahweh handed the kingdom over to David because of Saul’s wickedness (I Chronicles 10). David is portrayed as immediately becoming king (though remnants of the memory of his reign in Hebron are retained in particular places like I Chronicles 29:27). I Chronicles 11:1-3 is parallel to I Samuel 5:1-5 yet excludes mention of his reign in Hebron – an example of the Chronicler’s exclusion of all materials which might cast any shadow on David or suggest that there was a struggle or uncertainty in David’s rise. II Samuel 5:1 has “all the tribes of Israel came to David,” reflecting the reality of separate tribal or sociopolitical entities coming together to recognize David. Meanwhile, I Chronicles 11:1 has “all Israel gathered together to David,” stressing the unity of the people as a whole in making this unanimous decision to elevate David. Emphasis is on David as the one who unites all Israel as a people.

The tragic years in David’s life begins with II Samuel 11-12, where David commits adultery and murder (though this tempered by his repentance). I Chronicles 20:1-3 covers the same period, only it excludes II Samuel 11:2 through 12:25 as well as material in the rest of 12 which might make David look bad. I Chronicles includes therefore only the attack of Rabbah and not the story of Bathsheba for which the story of that battle provides a frame. It basically relates II Samuel 11:1 and then moves straight to the material in II Samuel 12:26-31. I Chronicles relates basically only one story that might reflect badly on David, leaving out all others in order to portray David as an ideal figure. This negative story is found in I Chronicles 21, but it is emphasized that Satan incited David, David repented, and that through this the site of the temple was purchased. It is this connection with the temple that seems to provide the reason for the story’s inclusion.

Samuel-Kings, on the other hand, provide quite a bit of material that might reflect negatively on David – or at least on his family – besides the Bathsheba story. David’s sins of murder and rape are continued in his family when the eldest son Amnon rapes his sister and then is killed by the next in line for the throne, his brother Absalom (II Samuel 13). Absalom later tries to usurp his father’s throne (II Samuel 15-18), but is killed by Joab. This seems to indirectly produce another rebellion, which is quickly crushed (II Samuel 19-20). Murder and rape thus beget murder and rape and rebellion against David, who is perhaps portrayed as not always being a very good father and that it is failure in this among other things that leads to his family troubles.

Adonijah is apparently next in line for the throne and intends to succeed his father, supported by much of the court, including Joab and perhaps all of David’s other sons (see I Kings 1). The succession is clearly disputed, as there is a contingent that is in favor of Solomon’s kingship. David meanwhile is presented as impotent, possibly in more ways than one, and is perhaps senile as well – a shadow of his former self. He is old and probably close to death. Through the influence of Bathsheba and Nathan, David declares Solomon king and Adonijah’s bid for kingship is abruptly ended.

For some, these narratives mentioned from Bathsheba onwards suggest that they were originally written against David but were reworked to allow a positive reading and apologetic use (Van Seters actually believes that they formed an antimonarchic narrative which used the Deuteronomistic history rather than the other way around – see Van Seters, pp.287-290). P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., however, believes that they served as a court apologetic (see McCarter, II Samuel, pp.13-16). The tension and ambiguity in the text derives from its nature as apologetic – the author could not deny publicly known faults of David or things that went on and so had to make a version of the stories to explain them as best as possible. The way to deal with it would not be to exclude it or to make overly obvious distortions and so this is why the narratives appear as they do.

The narratives provide a warning for future leaders and shows why Solomon rather than a more “rightful” son was made king – Solomon was the divine choice and the others proved their inadequacy. Amnon raped his sister, so was murdered. Absalom was a murderer and rebelled against his father and so died. Adonijah is presented like Absalom in I Kings 1-2 (see McCarter, II Samuel, pp.9-13) – he is handsome like Absalom (compare II Samuel 14:25 and I Kings 1:6), has similar chariots and horses and runners (compare II Samuel 15:1 and I Kings 1:5), declared himself king (compare II Samuel 15:10 and I Kings 1), and tries to symbolically assert authority through taking David’s women (Absalom with David’s wives in II Samuel 16:22, and Adonijah with Abishag in I Kings 2). The Absalom narrative thus functions, among other things, to put Adonijah in a bad light as the same as Absalom and thus unworthy to be king, Solomon being the right choice. If this is a valid reading, it shows that this is thus another defense of the continued Davidic dynasty.

In Chronicles, by contrast, we see no hint of a deteriorated David. He is still presented spotless, without a troubled family or kingdom. David is the creative and energetic agent of Solomon’s ascent to the throne – no mention is made of Nathan or Bathsheba. David appears fully in control of both himself and his surroundings. No disputation over the succession occurs – Solomon’s acclaim is unanimous and unchallenged, even by David’s sons – in stark contrast to the same events in I Kings (I Chronicles 29:22-24). All Israel is again brought together in unity by David, who passes on leadership to Solomon, thus transitioning the Israelites into their next stage of life in the land.

David is presented in Chronicles as the one who planned and prepared the temple (I Chronicles 22, 28, 29:1-9). He also was the one who prepared for the temple cult (I Chronicles 23-26). David is thus Chronicles’ Moses – founder of nation and cult, to be revered and looked back to. Such places as I Chronicles 22:13 and 28:19-21 are direct echoes of Deuteronomy 31 and Joshua 1, where Joshua is commissioned by Moses to continue God’s work in leading the people into the enjoyment of the land (see also Brettler, pp.35-38). So here Solomon is commissioned by David to continue God’s work in prospering the nation, continuing what David started by building the temple and developing the nation and cult. David thus lays the foundation for a people and it is up to future generations like that of the Chronicler to complete the task by maintaining temple worship, uniting the people of God, and so on. In the same way Moses began the people and it is up to later generations to uphold the law and maintain the cult and so on. Moses laid out the plans for the tabernacle, David for the temple.

The Chronicler seems to want his readers to look to David as to Moses and be encouraged to help continue the work – worshipping at the temple in Jerusalem as the center of a restored people. David is thus used by the Chronicler for his political and theological purpose – he is an icon, an ideal person to be looked to. Jacob M. Meyers reports, “The Chronicler sees Jerusalem as the authentic place of worship, the returnees as the legitimate successors of the people of Judah and the cult personnel, and the community established by them as the true Israel” (Myers, p.xxxvi). The Chronicler’s picture of David thus serves as a vehicle for hope of a national unity in a restored community of all Israel, focused around the second temple and the new community that already exists there. As such, the Chronicler is open to and eager for the inclusion of the north in this community by their allegiance to the temple and its standards and practices (as evidenced in his concern for the north in his genealogies and in his treatment of Hezekiah’s Passover, which included northerners, in II Chronicles 30).

Chronicles might then be the Chronicler’s history for and to create such a community – the community has begun in the current group at Jerusalem but will be made into the community it was meant to be by the influence of Chronicles. According to Norman Gottwald, the community at Jerusalem in this time had no political power to enforce religiocultural views outside its borders except by persuasion, its persuasive power resting on ideological and pragmatic grounds (Gottwald, p.239). Without political power to create conformity, this must come by other means – and Chronicles is the Chronicler’s way of achieving this. Thus Chronicles is not so much interested in David as a real person with problems and enemies and personal complexities but as more of an idea to look to. He is dealt with more for the theological role the Chronicler could give him than as a real person.

Samuel-Kings deals with David in all his complexity as a national and historical figure – all his ambiguities, faults, and dark days. David is presented as flawed, despite his greatness. Yet he is a hero, God’s chosen king, a man after God’s own heart despite deep flaws. He is a warrior and a leader who deteriorates sadly with age yet is never seen by the author as fully and finally rejected by Yahweh as Saul had been – David is God’s king for Israel, and thus his dynasty, despite its detractors, is ordained by God.


Brettler, Marc Zvi, The Creation of History in Ancient Israel, Routledge; New York: 1995.

Gottwald, Norman, The Politics of Ancient Israel, Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky: 2001.

McCarter, Jr., P. Kyle, I Samuel, Doubleday and Company, Inc.; Garden City, New York: 1986.

McCarter, Jr., P. Kyle, II Samuel, Doubleday and Company, Inc.; Garden City, New York: 1984.

Myers, Jacob M., I Chronicles, Doubleday and Company, Inc.; Garden City, New York: 1965.

Van Seters, John, In Search of History: Historiography in the Ancient World and the Origins of Biblical History, Eisenbrauns; Winona Lake, Indiana: 1997.