[K:NWTS 12/2 (Sep 1997) 32-62]
Robert H. Gundry. Mark: A Commentary on his Apology for the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993, 1069pp., cloth, $60. ISBN: 0-8028-3698-4. .
A massive yet slender and graceful structure rises above the Champ de Mars in Paris. Standing 984 feet tall, built in 1889, the Eiffel tower stands as a familiar monument on the Paris skyline. Supported at a graceful angle by four enormous legs, the tower is a symbol of stability and symmetry as well as beauty. It would certainly come as a surprise to the world if it should become known that this symmetry and stability were nothing but an illusion. The Eiffel Tower really stands upon only one leg and some invisible scaffolding. Experts wonder whether the entire structure can stand on one leg; some hold that the whole structure is an illusion. Lending all his support to the one remaining leg is Robert Gundry in his massive commentary on Mark. The four apparent legs of the Eiffel Tower are the four canonical Gospels; the single remaining real leg is the Gospel According to Mark.
Gundry's Mark is a massive work not only in size, but also in erudition. His length of well over 1000 pages compares to his earlier commentary of less than 700 pages on the lengthier Matthew. This is a scholar's commentary: Gundry assumes familiarity with the Marcan literature; he does little to help the reader to classify or to understand their positions. Rather, he interacts directly with them, often giving lengthy refutations of positions with which he disagrees.
The commentary's length is due to its comprehensive erudition. Yet it is an erudition exhibited over a chosen field of battle. Most of Gundry's interaction is with the 20th century literature, and that largely with an eye to refuting various form-critical and redaction-critical estimates of Marcan pericopes. This focus affects the style of the work, in that many convoluted sentences and paragraphs result from balancing the various probabilities and counter-probabilities in assessing the tradition history (or lack of it) in the Marcan text. Thus despite its massive erudition, Gundry's Mark shows a measure of historical foreshortening, and that in two directions. He shows little interest in older (pre-20th-century) discussions of Mark, for example never once quoting or referring to Calvin. Likewise, he shows little interest in recent structuralist approaches to Mark. For Gundry, Mark is still a disorderly hodgepodge of pericopes.
Gundry's Mark is handsomely produced. In such a massive work, it is especially noteworthy that there are very few typographical errors discernible in the text, and although this reviewer could not even begin to verify the almost endless source citations, he did not find any leading him astray. On the other hand, the commentary has a spare apparatus. It contains only two introductory tables: one of abbreviations, the other a bibliography of works cited. It contains only one index: that of modem authors cited. The introductory and concluding sections are also surprisingly small: only 25 and 30 pages, respectively, of 1051 pages. Consistent with his position that Mark exhibits little overall structure, the great bulk of the commentary is in the verse-by-verse comments and notes.
In such a massive work, it is understandable that the Biblical text was omitted. Thus, unless one is very familiar with the Greek text of Mark, one must read Gundry's Mark with the Bible, preferably the Greek text, open to the passage on which he is commenting. One refreshing element of the style of this work is its approach to footnotes and endnotes: there are none! For each pericope, two sections are given: first, running commentary; then, in smaller print, notes in which Gundry interacts with other authors. All citations are given in the text of the notes, which makes for relative ease of reading. The notes probably make up at least three quarters of the material.
To place Gundry in the context of contemporary Marcan scholarship, it will be helpful to outline five main clusters of Marcan issues as they are identified in a slim volume by Frank Matera, What are they saying about Mark? (Paulist Press, 1987). (1) Under "The Setting for Mark's Gospel," Matera notes four main positions: (1a) "Mark the interpreter of Peter"; (1b) "Mark a Roman Gospel"; (1c) "Mark a Galilean Gospel"; and (1d) "Mark a Syrian Gospel." Gundry, though seeing Mark as addressing an unbelieving Greco-Roman audience, emphatically adopts position (1a). He accepts and defends the tradition, handed down from the elder to Papias and preserved in Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, that Mark recorded the recollections of Peter.
(2) Matera classifies the major views of Mark's Christology under three headings: (2a) "The Messianic Secret" was first proposed by William Wrede (Das Messiasgeheimnis in den Evangelien, 1901, translated as The Messianic Secret, James Clarke, 1971). Wrede believed that a fundamental problem in the life of the early church was that it confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, but that the historical Jesus had never claimed to be the Messiah prior to his death. He argued that Mark put the Messianic consciousness of Jesus into his Gospel by the device of having Jesus conceal his Messiahship with frequent commands to silence about it. Wrede has cast a long shadow over twentieth century New Testament scholarship. (2b) "Corrective Christology" sees Mark as a refutation of deficient Christologies, particularly involving the Hellenistic concept of a "Primal man" or "divine man" (theios aner) with superhuman powers, yet not God. (2c) "Son of God Christology" is a reaction to the above. These scholars have maintained that there is no evidence of "divine man" doctrine in the Hellenistic world until the second century, hence making this kind of "corrective" Christology in Mark anachronistic. On this point, it is more difficult to place Gundry. He generally favors a high Christology in Mark: for example, he rejects the adoptionist viewpoint of Jesus' baptism. Yet his emphasis on Mark's purpose as that of exalting Jesus before an unbelieving Greco-Roman audience leads him to emphasize the wonder-working powers of Jesus that are congruent with the Hellenistic portrait of the "divine man." Gundry frequently uses the term "divine," and even uses "divine man" as a proper description of Mark's Jesus at one point.
(3) Matera's third cluster of issues is "The Disciples in Mark's Gospel." Here, rather than classifying positions, Matera discusses sub-issues, of which the main ones can be paraphrased as follows: (3a) Does Mark take a positive or negative view of the disciples? (3b) Does Mark mean to polemicize against some contemporary adversary within or outside of the church through his portrayal of the disciples? (3c) Does Mark mean to offer pastoral correction to believers through his portrayal of the disciples? (3d) Does the church appear in Mark, and if so, how, since he does not use the word ecclesia? Gundry largely dismisses these issues as irrelevant, since for him Mark is almost purely Christocentric. The disciples do not represent anything in particular; their role in Mark is largely to provide a foil (one among several) for Mark's magnification of Jesus' greatness in the interests of his apology for the Cross.
(4) Matera's fourth cluster of issues is "The Composition of Mark's Gospel." The major questions can be paraphrased as follows: (4a) What were Mark's sources? (4b) What literary structure did Mark give to his source material? (4c) What theological stance does Mark take? (4d) How much (or how little) did Mark redact his sources? As noted above, Gundry takes very seriously the Papian (in his view pre-Papian) tradition, preserved in Eusebius, that Mark recorded the preaching of Peter. He thinks Mark has little or no literary structure, and no theological ax to grind. While he allows for Marcan redaction at various points, in the main he sees Mark as preserving material of essentially historical value.
(5) Matera's fifth cluster of issues concerns "The Narrative of Mark's Gospel." Some scholars have seen Mark as an exemplar of some ancient literary form, while others have recently applied modern theories of literary structure (hence structuralism) to Mark. Structuralists generally ignore questions of historicity and focus on the narrative structure of texts as we have them. Gundry frequently deals with literary and rhetorical devices within pericopes, often citing chiasm and asyndeton, for example, and these comments are helpful to the understanding of the text. However, Gundry rejects overall structure in Mark and sees the Gospel as a disorderly collection, in accordance with the Papian tradition. He brushes off structural criticism at the outset (p. 24):
Structural criticism can hone one's ability to read a text closely, but abstractness keeps this kind of criticism from contributing very much to an exposition of Mark's originally intended meaning in its historical specificity. Because the commentary aims at such an exposition, then, structural criticism will suffer neglect.
Therefore, he does not interact in a significant way with three recent structuralist approaches to Mark: Jack Kingsbury, Conflict in Mark: Jesus, Authorities, Disciples (Fortress, 1989); Elizabeth Malbon, Narrative Space and Mythic Meaning in Mark (Harper & Row, 1986); and David Rhoads and Donald Michie, Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel (Fortress, 1982). The last-named work does not even appear in Gundry's lengthy bibliography. As a rule, he does not see theological meaning in topographical or geographical references, contrary to Willi Marxsen's classic treatment (Der Evangelist Markus, 1956, translated as Mark the Evangelist, Abingdon, 1969) and Malbon's more recent one. Gundry's "straightforward" historicism leads to a kind of "Joe Friday" hermeneutic—"just the facts, Mark." In this respect, Gundry's approach is reminiscent of the old quest of the historical Jesus.
Gundry seems to take his cue for this approach from the pre-Papian tradition preserved in Eusebius (p. 1048):
Papias's elder was correct. Mark wrote down the words and deeds of Jesus "in order" no more than Peter "arranged" them when telling anecdotes about Jesus. Thus the Gospel of Mark presents only a loose disposition of materials ....
Significantly, Gundry devotes 15 of his 30 pages of concluding remarks to the exposition and defense of the recollections of Papias. He maintains that the elder to whom Papias refers was the apostle John (pp. 1029-1031), arguing that Eusebius allows an ambiguity to stand concerning the identity of an elder John and the apostle John for a tendentious reason: to attribute the book of Revelation, which he does not like, to an unknown elder John rather than to the apostle. Gundry also appeals to the tradition of Papias's elder for the relationship between Matthew and Mark (p. 1032):
So the elder, i.e., the Apostle John, is saying that Matthew wrote his gospel for the purpose of correcting Mark's lack of order. Thus we have astonishingly early external evidence that Mark wrote first and that Matthew knew Mark's gospel and wrote his own in view of it.
Gundry's discussion of this issue intimates that the Apostle John is the father of Marcan priority in gospel criticism. He does not discuss or even quote the statements of other early church fathers in support of Matthean priority.
This assessment of the Papian tradition seems to control Gundry's entire approach to Mark. It is pre-eminently a matter-of-fact approach: " . . . the unartistry of Mark combines with significant unlikenesses to any earlier book to suggest a large-scale derivation from brute facts about Jesus" (p. 1050). (Contrast Gundry's view of Matthew—Matthew: A Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art.) Yet although according to the Papian tradition, Mark took care "to omit not a single one of the things that he had heard or to falsify anything in them" (p. 1027, Gundry's translation of Eusebius), Gundry does not take Mark's historicity at face value. Rather he arrives at it as the conclusion of his critical study of the text, and he does occasionally conclude that Mark, to further his purpose of magnifying Jesus, altered some aspects of the historical events. It follows that Gundry's approach does not commend to us a Mark whom we can implicitly trust as an historical authority, but a Mark who must first be sifted by critical expertise. What remains after this criticism can be commended to us as "brute facts about Jesus." The faith of the church is thus left captive to the tyranny of experts, much as it was when Kahler wrote his complaint over a hundred years ago (Der sogenannte historische Jesus und der geschichtliche, biblische Christus, 1892, translated as The So-called Historical Jesus and the Historic, Biblical Christ, Fortress, 1964).
In this reviewer's judgment, the key to understanding this commentary lies in Gundry's critical approach. Like most modern scholars of the Gospels, Gundry accepts the two-document (or two-source) hypothesis as the best solution to the synoptic problem (pp. 17-18). He regards the Gospel of Mark and the sayings source, Q (discerned by scholars in the discourse material common to Matthew and Luke but missing from Mark), to be the literary foundations for the synoptic Gospels. Since this means that Mark is the earliest Gospel, "the present commentary will seldom engage in a quest for the history of pre-Marcan traditions. It will often engage in criticism of attempts to trace such a history, however" (p. 18). For Gundry, the two-document hypothesis includes the belief in the historical reliability of Mark. But since Wrede (1901), this is a belief which can no longer be assumed, but must be defended vigorously against radical views and redaction critics Gundry defends it tooth and nail in pericope after pericope.
Thus while Gundry breathes the air of the historical-critical tradition, he remains in the evangelical camp, not only accepting the possibility of the supernatural, but also defending the historicity of the miraculous accounts in Mark. He employs the methods of the form critics and redaction critics, but arrives at conservative conclusions. One way of understanding Gundry is to see him as an apologist for the historicity of Mark.
This apologetic purpose is made all the more urgent for Gundry in that he concedes that Matthew, Luke and John have redacted their source materials for theological purposes, even to the point of "departures from the actuality of events" (p. 623, Gundry, Matthew: A Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art, Eerdmans, 1982). He believes that such redactional activity is pervasive in Matthew. For example, in Gundry's controversial (for an evangelical) Matthew, he maintained that the birth narrative of Jesus was not intended by Matthew to be taken as historically accurate, but was intended as a midrash on the earlier tradition of Jesus' birth that was incorporated in Luke. At various points throughout the present commentary on Mark, Gundry explicitly denies historical accuracy to accounts in Matthew, Luke and John while asserting their redactional activity. Hence if he is to retain an historical core to the gospel story, he raises the stakes for finding it in Mark.
Gundry roundly proclaims, "Likewise relatively useless for an understanding of Mark is redaction criticism" (p. 20) (the "likewise" refers to form criticism). He also comments on the circularity, indeterminacy, and general inadequacy of standard critical assumptions: "The form critical attempt to recapture the oral tradition prior to Mark and prior to whatever written sources he may have used, if any, is foredoomed. All we have is texts. Once the oral tradition faded away, so also did the opportunity to study it with a degree of precision that could pass for scientific method" (pp. 18-19). He then proceeds to pronounce misleading the following form-critical assumptions (pp. 19-20): (1) "that stereotypicality signals earliness whereas non-stereotypicality signals lateness;" it could equally well be the reverse; (2) "that materials linked by catchwords but not by linear logic have been combined secondarily;" original speech patterns can equally well be associative; (3) "the secondariness of what can be detached from a pericope without leaving it nonsensical," which he regards as a mere non sequitur; (4) "to call in question the historicity of any tradition that agrees with the Judaism of Jesus' time or with later Christian beliefs and practices," the criterion of dissimilarity, which he devalues as uncertain, though conceding: "We ought to use the criterion of dissimilarity—yes. But it deserves no pride of place, brings no certitude, and has no value for a denial of historicity... The criterion of dissimilarity has value only as an argument for historicity, and then only to a degree of probability that rates evenly with other historical critical arguments" (emphasis Gundry's).
Gundry's strictures on critical methods and assumptions are also interspersed through the commentary. He exposes "unanswerable questions and inconclusive arguments" (pp. 78-80). He finds circular reasoning (p. 129), ill-advised confidence in tracing tradition history without extant documents (p. 139), and the invalid equation smoothness = originality, since smoothness may imply unoriginality (p. 209). He finds hypothesis substituted for argument (p. 327), inconsistency among those who themselves doubt the resurrection in their questioning the disciples' slowness to believe it (p. 449), "uncertainty which attends efforts to separate tradition and redaction in the absence of sources and independent parallels" (p. 494), and the invalidity of attributing catchword association to redaction, when it could reflect stream-of-consciousness speaking (pp. 507-8).
He questions the assumption that the church's identification of Jesus as the Christ could not have derived from Jesus himself (p. 520), the form-critical assumption that only one reason can be given to support a statement (p. 522), and the form-critical tendency to imagine an ecclesiastical Sitz im Leben from the gospel text alone (p. 546). He questions the redaction-critical assumption that lack of economy of expression and lack of logical progression signal insertion or combining of disparate materials (pp. 548-9). He criticizes skeptical critics' lack of historical imagination (p. 632). He objects to critical assumptions that preclude historicity from the outset (p. 677) and to the denial of historicity because a text shows Jesus taking the initiative in controversy (p. 720). He appeals to the naturalness of assuming multiple occasions of similar teachings by Jesus against the assumption of redaction (p. 724), though this kind of appeal is not typical for him. He points out that "historical criticism deals in probabilities" (p. 910, cf. p. 710). Thus Gundry's Mark contains a veritable compendium of strictures on historical-critical principles and methods.
Yet all of these caveats are not for Gundry a rejection of critical methods themselves. Nor does he reject all traces of redaction in Mark. The historicity of Mark does not operate openly as a presupposition for Gundry, but, on the surface at least, seems rather to be the result of case-by-case determinations on his part that various pericopes represent an authentic slice of Jesus' life.
At various points Gundry admits Marcan redaction as the best explanation for the text as it stands. He believes that Mark's characteristic duality makes it impossible to tell "where he adds to the tradition and where he simply divides it to achieve duality of expression" (p. 194 on 4:3-9; cf. p. 266 on 5:1-20). At 4:31, 32 and 7:19, he sees redactional activity by Mark as the best explanation for difficult syntax (p. 229).
On the discussion with King Herod concerning the identity of Jesus, he sees 6:14b-15 as drawn from 8:28, out of a different context (pp. 314-5). He thinks the last phrase of 6:14 "looks like an addition to the tradition" (p. 315), casting doubt on whether Herod really said it. On 6:17-20, he argues that John's rebuke of Herod for marrying Herodias was the reason for his death, not for his imprisonment, despite what Mark says. Rather Josephus gives us the historical reason for John's imprisonment: "Herod feared the development of a revolt among John's followers." Mark, says Gundry, made the change to emphasize "John's being a righteous and holy man'" (p. 319).
He sees Mark changing "bread" from singular to plural in 7:2 to connect the loaves to the leftovers from the feeding of the five thousand (p. 348). He concludes that Mark inserted the phrase "in this adulterous and wicked generation" in 8:38 (p. 456) and the phrase "against her" in 10:11 (p. 533). He concludes that the last phrase of 12:5 is a "post-Jesuanic addition" (pp. 685-6).
On the account of the institution of the Lord's Supper, Gundry feels freer to engage in redaction criticism, because here he has 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 as the earliest extant version. Here Gundry says that Mark omits certain elements to suit his purpose at this point, which is to emphasize Jesus' prowess as a predictor, and that Mark adds the command to take the bread to make up for his omission of the command to take the cup (pp. 829-830). On Jesus' cry of dereliction on the Cross (15:34), Gundry maintains that Mark redacts the tradition in order to evacuate this cry of its negative connotations. To do so, he maintains that the loud, expiring cry of 15:37 is the same as the cry of 15:34; thus, the cry of dereliction becomes a supernaturally loud cry which rends the veil of the Temple, producing a favorable impression on the centurion (p. 966).
Further, Gundry believes that Matthew, Luke and John heavily redacted their sources, and at least in Matthew's case, pervasively so. He frequently contrasts Mark to parallel accounts in the other gospels, often attributing to the latter evangelists a level of redaction that results in falsification of the historical data. For example, the voice of God at Jesus' baptism (1:11) is addressed to Jesus in Mark, but to bystanders in Matthew 3:17 and John 1:32-34 (p. 53). In the temptation narrative in Mark (1:12-13), Jesus does not fast, but the angels feed him all through the forty days, and Satan's temptations are not limited to three attempts, but continue throughout the forty days, and Satan does not leave him. All this in contrast to Matthew and Luke (pp. 55-59).
Mark has Jesus start his ministry and call his disciples after John's arrest (1:14-20), contrary to Luke and John (p. 63). In Mark's account of the Transfiguration (9:2, 3), Jesus' face does not shine, contrary to Matthew and Luke (p. 477). He sees Matthew 7:22 as a redaction of Mark 9:38 to change a positive assessment of a non-disciple's using Jesus' name into a negative one (pp. 520-521). In all these cases he regards Mark's accounts as the accurately historical ones.
Matthew puts the Pharisees "in a worse than historical light," but Mark's negative portrayal of them in 10:2 is historically justified (p. 536). Luke lifts material out of its historical context in Mark 10:45 and places it in Luke 22:27: "I am among you as one who serves" (NKJV) (pp. 588-9). Matthew, and Luke following him, omit Bartimaeus's name because Matthew doubles him (p. 599). While the disciples do not understand in Mark 9:32, in Matthew 17:23 they do (p. 612). There is no sound reason to question Mark's chronology in chapter 11; Matthew's chronology of the same events is fabricated (p. 681).
John antedated Jesus' cleansing of the Temple; its late occurrence in the synoptics is historical. John further "antedates the Ascension, the giving of the Spirit, the claims and recognition of Jesus to be the Christ and God's Son, the very existence of Jesus, etc." (p. 642), including Christian baptism (p. 666). John 3:25-26 reflects "later tension between Christians and Baptists" in contrast to "cordial relations" reflected in Mark (p. 670). John omits the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13) or transmutes it into the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16) (p. 750).
In Mark 13:1, 2, the disciples' question is somewhat dissonant with Jesus' answer; Matthew assimilates the question to the answer, Luke vice versa (p. 753). Matthew probably transfers Mark 13:9-13 to Matthew 10:17-22 (cf. Luke 12:11-12); the Marcan context is "quite possibly the original and historical context" (p. 764). Mark 14:47 says that one of the crowd of Jesus' arresters cut off the ear of the high priest's servant, giving us an example of grim humor at the arresters' bumbling; Matthew and Luke make the swordsman a disciple of Jesus (pp. 859-860). Mark's time notations in his account of the crucifixion (15:25, 34) are historical; John changes them "to put Jesus' crucifixion entirely into the afternoon and thus correlate it with the slaying of the Passover sacrifices at that time, i.e., to make Jesus' crucifixion the true Passover sacrifice..." (p. 957).
Obviously, Gundry is by no means an exponent of traditional Gospel harmonization. "The old method of harmonizing what we can and holding the rest in suspension has seen its day, like worn-out scientific theories that no longer explain newly discovered phenomena well enough" (Gundry, Matthew, p. 639). Further, when he sees factual discrepancies between the Gospels, he argues for the historicity of Mark's account.
Gundry's zeal to maintain Marcan historicity also exhibits itself in his attitude towards Marcan theology—or the lack of it. In adopting critical methodology, he seems also to have adopted the critical assumption that historicity and theological motivation in a gospel narrative are mutually exclusive. This reviewer would deny that theological meaning precludes historicity. Typically Gundry denies theological motivation to the portions of the gospel narratives he deems to be historical. For Gundry, this is principally the Gospel of Mark. Hence we have the "Joe Friday" approach in the interests of the historicity of Mark's reportage—Mark has no theological ax to grind.
On Marcan theology, Gundry lays his cards on the table early, opening his commentary with a deafening thirty-fold negation (p. 1):
The Gospel of Mark contains no ciphers, no hidden meanings, no sleight of hand:
No messianic secret designed to mask a theologically embarrassing absence of messianism from the ministry of the historical Jesus. No messianic secret designed to mask a politically dangerous presence of messianism in his ministry. No freezing of Jesuanic tradition in writing so as to halt oral pronouncements of prophets speaking in Jesus' name. No Christology of irony that means the reverse of what it says. No back-handed slap at Davidic messianism. No covert attack on divine man Christology. No pitting of the Son of man against the Christ, the Son of David, or the Son of God.
No ecclesiastical enemies lurking between the lines or behind the twelve apostles, the inner three, and Jesus' natural family. No mirror-images of theological disputes over the demands and rewards of Christian discipleship. No symbolism of discipular enlightenment in the miracles. No "way"-symbolism for cross bearing. No bread-symbolism for the Eucharist. No boat-symbolism for the Church. No voyage-symbolism for Christian mission. No other-side-of-Galilee symbolism for a mission to the Gentiles. No Galilee symbolism for salvation or for the Second Coming. No Jerusalem-symbolism for Judaism or Judaistic Christianity.
No apocalyptic code announcing the end. No de-apocalyptic code cooling down an expectation of the end. No open end celebrating faith over verifiability. No overarching concentric structure providing a key to meaning at midpoint. No riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
None of those.
The motif of negation permeates the commentary, as time after time, Gundry debunks some interpretation or another of Mark's theological purposes. "The baptism of repentance which John proclaims does not prepare for Jesus' going to Jerusalem for Crucifixion" (p. 41). Likewise the death of John the Baptist does not prepare for the death of Jesus (pp. 312-3).
Galilee appears early and late for theological demolition. At 1:14, "Jesus goes into Galilee simply because he came from Nazareth of Galilee (v. 9). Mark has geography, not theology, in view (contrast Matt 4:14-16)" (p. 64). At 1:16: "'The Sea of Galilee' belongs to the actual geography of Jesus' main activity, its theological value for Mark being much overestimated in modem scholarship" (p. 71). Contra Malbon, "The designation [of Jesus as a Nazarene] carries no Christological freight" (p. 82). On the prediction that after the resurrection, Jesus would go before the disciples into Galilee (14:28): "The destination Galilee carries no theological freight. Where else would we expect Galileans like Jesus and his disciples to go after a pilgrimage to Jerusalem?" (p. 849).
Just as geography and topography carry no theological overtones for Gundry, likewise miracle stories generally carry no theological significance for him. At 1:31, the mother-in-law's service does not symbolize discipleship (p. 91). On the feeding of the five thousand (6:30-44), there is no wilderness motif connecting the narrative to Exodus, and there are no eucharistic allusions (pp. 328-332).
In the aftermath of the feeding, when the disciples are amazed at Jesus' walking on the sea (6:51, 52), "as confirmed in 8:13-21, the failure to understand in 6:52 will consist in failure to see a miracle in the feedings here and in 8:1-9, not in a failure to remember the feedings as such, much less in failure to see a symbolic meaning in them" (p. 333, cf. pp. 337-8). On Jesus' later upbraiding the disciples for their lack of understanding (8:17-21), he comments: "Simply and only in view are the miraculous character of the feedings and the disciples' imperception of it" (p. 415). Concluding his running commentary on 8:13-21, he states (p. 410):
The unemphasized lack of understanding in v. 21 serves, then, as a foil that thrusts into greater prominence the superadequacy of Jesus' miraculous power and protects the second feeding as well as the first from the inference that they may not have occurred since Jesus' warning has made the disciples concerned over their having only one loaf (again see the comments on 6:51-52).
First, it seems impossible to this reviewer to characterize the lack of understanding of the disciples as "unemphasized" in this pericope. The whole pericope focuses on it, and the unanswered question "How is it you do not understand?" (8:21, NKJV) stands as the final word of the pericope, the position of natural stress.
Further, for Gundry, who repeatedly rejects the notion of the Messianic secret in Mark, this view of the feeding miracles is scarcely short of astounding! What could be more secretive than a miracle which was so unobtrusive at the time that the disciples overlooked it! Gundry is dealing with tensions in the text which he will not explain by seeing any parenetic or theological purpose in Mark. Thus the hardness of heart of the disciples cannot be interpreted against the backdrop of their knowing that they had seen miracles of feeding; this would jeopardize the historicity of the miracles. After all, to the modem scientific-historical critic, seeing is believing, is it not? Having seen the miracles of feeding, what more do the disciples require to make them understand?
This stands in juxtaposition to his treatment of the following pericope (8:22-26), the two-stage healing of a blind man. In the context, one might expect some resonance between the disciples' lack of understanding and the blindness of the man, but "since all the Marcan miracles have heretofore provided support for the disciples' Christological belief rather than symbolizing their pilgrimage to such belief (so, too, with respect to future Marcan miracles), we should reject the symbolic interpretation of the present miracle" (pp. 421-422). Similarly, he has seen no symbolic significance in the healing of the deaf-mute (7:31-37, p. 390).
At 10:38-40, divine judgment is to be leached out of the sayings concerning drinking the cup and being baptized with the same baptism as Jesus; only sharing the same fate is in view (p. 584). On 11:27-33, the controversy with the chief priests over authority, "The whole dialogue has to do with nothing deeper than saving and losing face" (p. 667). And on the cleansing of the temple itself, "a symbolic view of the temple-cleansing cannot be sustained (p. 668) On the larger structure of Mark 11-13 (p. 682):
But Mark 11-13 contains little or no ecciesiology. It deals almost exclusively in Christology and uses the temple only as a showcase for Jesus' various powers. We will see reasons to reject the view that the church stands under the figure of a new temple.
Gundry's penchant for matter-of-fact literalism sends him, seemingly in Origen's direction on Jesus' famous commands regarding self-mutilation (9:45-48) (p. 514). Regarding whether Jesus or Mark mean to confine this saying to sexual ethics, he later notes that Mark "is interested in the explosive force of Jesus' teaching, not in its ethical content" (p. 525).
On Jesus in Gethsemane (14:32-42), we have a typical statement (p. 863):
Mark is writing an apology for the Crucifixion over against the shamefulness with which crucifixion was regarded throughout the Greco-Roman world, not a theology of discipular suffering as opposed to a Jewish Christian theology of discipular glory.
Likewise, at the Cross itself (15:33-39, p. 974)
... to say that according to Mark only in the Cross can Jesus' identity as Son of God be adequately seen and confessed ... is to overlook that the centurion does not declare Jesus' divine sonship because he sees Jesus die on a cross, but because he sees Jesus die there in such a way that defies naturalistic explanation. It is Jesus' overcoming the weakness normally caused by crucifixion, not dying itself by crucifixion, which evokes the centurion's declaration ... Mark does not present a Christology of the Cross to foster a theology of suffering, then, but the Christology of divine sonship to counteract the scandal of the Cross.
In an overview of the whole Gospel (p. 1039)
We have repeatedly seen that Marcan materials are far less ecclesiastically relevant than is often claimed, that Mark himself (if not Peter before him) might have drawn together similar materials, and that a historical conjunction of some Marcanly conjoined events, sayings, etc., is not to be ruled out of court.
We might expect that Gundry, having rejected so much theology in Mark, might proceed to tell us that Mark is only interested in telling us the facts about Jesus, following the hermeneutical rule of Saint Joseph of Friday. But it does not come out quite that way. Gundry's positive answer to the question, What is the purpose of Mark's Gospel? is intimately related to the audience to which he believes it was addressed: Greco-Roman unbelievers. What do these unbelievers need to hear? While Gundry does not dwell on the factual side at this point, it seems to be an underlying theme that unbelievers need to hear facts. They need something solid to base faith on, and cannot be expected to accept the theological opinions of believers at face value. Transporting Mark into the late twentieth century leaves us with the same need: unbelievers today want facts, not theological opinions of believers.
Nevertheless, there would be two problems for Gundry if he were to leave Mark at the factual level. First, would a presentation of facts about Jesus, a crucified Jew, really commend him to a Greco-Roman audience? Second, would a presentation of facts about Jesus lead unbelievers to conversion, or to say "So what? Brute facts of history have no meaning for my life"? While the second question remains implicit (more on this later), Gundry addresses the first question directly (p. 1):
Mark's meaning lies on the surface. He writes a straightforward apology for the Cross, for the shameful way in which the object of Christian faith and subject of Christian proclamation died, and hence for Jesus as the Crucified One.
Gundry is sensitive to the problem implicit in describing Mark as straightforward in the introduction to such a massive commentary; he concedes that there will be a "long, labyrinthian journey to follow" (p. 2). (I am reminded of a joke that a professor told us in graduate school: A math professor is constructing a proof during a lecture. At a certain point he states, "Now it is obvious that ... He then suddenly stops, with a puzzled look on his face. He remains silent, while the class waits patiently. He paces in front of the class. He wanders out the door and down the hall. Fifteen minutes later, he returns and resumes his proof with a relieved smile and a nod of his head, "Yes, it is indeed obvious that ...)
In taking this view, Gundry in effect transforms Mark from a neutral reporter working for the Jerusalem bureau of CNN into a writer of press releases for the publicity department of the Christian Church. That Gundry wants to see Mark as a reporter is subtly indicated by his frequent use of the phrase "Mark writes up...," often to refer to Mark's handling of a tradition. But also, "Mark delights in publicity, not in secrecy, for publicity magnifies the impact of Jesus' activities" (pp. 98-99). Thus Gundry repeatedly highlights how Mark magnifies Jesus, putting his unique greatness constantly before his readers: his personal magnetism, drawing great crowds from afar; his Divine authority, at which the crowds are astonished; his many miracles, exhibiting a supernatural power; his exorcisms of demons, showing a matchless power and authority in the supernatural realm; his goodness in contrast to the venality and wickedness of his opponents, showing that he was not a criminal but an innocent sufferer; his predictive power, showing a supernatural prescience.
Yet there are points at which Gundry is hard-pressed to maintain this emphasis. Perhaps one of the weakest sections in the commentary in this respect is his handling of the Olivet Discourse in Mark 13. Regarding the primary referent of the prophecy, Gundry emphatically asserts: "From beginning to end, then, the events and circumstances of the Jewish war disagree with the text of Mark too widely to allow that text to reflect those events and circumstances" (p. 755). This would seem to require an entirely futurist interpretation of Mark 13, putting Gundry on a collision course with 13:30, "this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place" (NKJV). Yet not so. The predictions do refer to Jesus' generation after all, leaving the problem of non-fulfillment. The solution? (p. 790):
We now know that "all these things" did not take place before Jesus' contemporaries passed away. Not even the exclusion of the Son of Man's coming from "all these things" relieves the problem of non-fulfilment, for some of the things remaining after this exclusion—in particular the abomination of desolation, the unprecedented tribulation triggered by it, and the rising up of false christs with false prophets—were supposed to signal the soon coming of the Son of Man, in fact, his coming sooner than originally planned, since the Lord has cut short those days (v. 20). But even if the events in and around 70 C.E. had corresponded well to those predicted in vv 5b-23 or 14-23 (we have seen that they did not), the Son of Man still did not come soon, certainly not in the generally and widely visible way predicted ... On the other hand, neither was Nineveh destroyed in forty days to fulfill the Lord's message through Jonah; and that prediction was stated just as unconditionally as the present prediction of Jesus and with even greater chronological precision. Biblical prophecy often undergoes change, often by way of delayed fulfilment (cf. Luke 13:6-9 for a Jesuanic, parabolic representation of God's delaying judgment after deciding to impose it immediately). Apparently Mark wrote before this delay extended so far as to make Jesus' saying problematic (cf. the foregoing notes on 9:1 among the notes on 9:2-8 ... ).
Gundry treats the prediction of 9:1 in a similar way: "He introduces the Transfiguration as a stopgap-fulfilment to support Jesus' prowess at prediction . . . " (pp. 468-9). To say the least, this is a strained apologia, an obscure ray in Mark's nimbus of glory about the head of Jesus.
But the crowning element of Mark's apologia, according to Gundry, is his handling of the Cross. In fact, he maintains that all the other elements of Mark's glowing reports of Jesus, adumbrated above, are intentionally arranged so as to mitigate the scandal of the cross. He cites 1 Corinthians 1:18, 23 to corroborate the well-known fact that the Cross was scandalous in the ancient Greco-Roman world (p. 14). He notes numerous features of Mark's passion narrative that he sees as designed to minimize the scandal of the Cross: items such as Jesus' predictions of his crucifixion, Peter's denial, the mocking of the soldiers, etc.; the short time Jesus remains on the cross before death (from the third hour to the ninth); the distinguished burial he receives; the supernaturally loud cry with which Jesus expires; and so on (pp. 12-14 and ad loc.). He goes so far as to say "Mark pits the successes against the suffering and death, and then uses the passion predictions, writes up the passion narrative, and caps the gospel with a discovery of the empty tomb in ways that cohere with the success-stories, in ways that make the passion itself a success-story" (p. 3). Further, Mark "appeals to exactly those elements in the career of Jesus which for Greco-Roman readers would most likely suffuse the shame of crucifixion in a nimbus of glory" (p. 15).
It is not that a Christological reading of Mark's Gospel is wrong-headed; in fact this reviewer regards the Christological reading as the only right-headed approach. But having said this, we must ask: what sort of Christology? What view of the Cross? In answering the latter question, it is significant that in Gundry's appeal to 1 Corinthians 1:18, 23 to corroborate the scandal of the Cross, he does not refer to Paul's inversion of that scandal: "to us who are being saved [the message of the cross] is the power of God ... we preach Christ crucified ... to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:18, 23, 24, NKJV). Is then Mark's apology for the Cross an ancient example of seeker sensitivity? Must the shame of the Cross merely be mitigated by placing glorious details alongside it? Or is it not rather as Paul regards it, the occasion for a transvaluation of all values in which that which was once regarded as shameful is now regarded as the power and wisdom of God, despite its continuing shamefulness in the eyes of the unbeliever?
It is significant to see Gundry's view of Mark as functioning within his overall system of gospel interpretation and theology. This reviewer has previously noted his view that redaction in Matthew, Luke and John is heavy, yet to the extent of presenting midrashic, unhistorical stories about Jesus (e.g. the birth narrative in Matthew). Yet Gundry sees this as authoritative theologizing (Matthew, p. 640):
We are not to think ... that materials attributable to Jesus himself possess more authority than materials attributable to Matthew. The Spirit of Christ directed the editing, so that its results, along with the historical data, constitute God' Word.
That is, the later evangelists may have altered the historical facts, but the theological points that they are making are to be accepted as authoritative in the church. Mark then serves as the connecting link between the historical Jesus and the kerygma of the later evangelists: Mark will make you favorably disposed towards the historical Jesus so that you will be more likely to accept the authoritative kerygma about him that the church commends to you through the other evangelists. Thus we have a compartmentalized view of marturia and kerygma. (I cannot recall any instance in which Gundry refers to Marcan kerygma.)
Yet it is not really possible to separate the marturia from the kerygma, and again we feel the tension between the need for reportorial accuracy and the need for public relational advocacy. For in the end, even Mark, according to Gundry, does not merely present us with a factual portrait of Jesus, but wishes us to take a favorable view of him. "it has become evident that just as Mark started by emphasizing the authority of Jesus' teaching without revealing its contents, where later he does reveal its contents he does so not for ecclesiastical application but for Christological enhancement" (p. 7). "Parenesis serves Christology .... Put alongside the other predictions, those in chap. 13 tell us more about Jesus than about the setting of Mark's church" (p. 11). Again we must ask: What sort of Christology? What view of the Cross?
It is not merely a vague, high regard for Jesus that Gundry sees commended in Mark. There is a good bit of specificity to the view which Mark wants us to take. Mark's Christology is already high. On Mark's ascription of the title "Son of God" to Jesus (1:1), he says (p. 34):
"Son of God" does not necessarily imply divinity, much less preexistence in heaven; for the phrase can denote a purely human king and messiah (2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7 ... ) and therefore say little or nothing more than "Christ" . . . But Mark's doublings regularly sharpen and heighten the meaning of what precedes ... Gentiles would certainly respond to "Son of God" with thoughts of divinity ... It is hard not to think that he is aware of the way in which they would understand "Son of God" and that he therefore add: the phrase to prompt thoughts of divinity ...
This approach to Christology in Mark is significant both in its relatively high affirmation and in its conformance of that affirmation to the expectations of Mark's audience, to which I shall return later.
On the temptation narrative (1:12,13), Gundry concludes: "What we have, then, is not the story of a moral victory, but a series of narrative statements each pregnant with a Christology of power and divine sonship" (p. 5). "The highness of its Christology suits an apology for the Cross" (p. 60). On 1:11, he rejects adoptionist Christology (p. 53). On 1:16-20, the call of his disciples: "Not only does the command to follow differ from the rabbinic pattern. It also differs from the prophetic pattern; for a prophet did not call people to follow him, but called on them to follow God. So Jesus stands not merely in the place of the Law ... but in the place of God" (p. 70). (Curiously, this contrast with the OT and Jewish background would be lost on Mark's Greco-Roman audience.) On 1:21-22, he comments on Jesus' authority to cast out demons as follows: "A limitation to delegated authority would be lost on Mark's Gentile audience, and his portraying Jesus as divine forbids such a limitation" (p. 81). On 2:6, 7, he comments on Jesus' authority to forgive sins: "Thus, it is no ordinary man, much less a criminal, who will die on the Cross. He is a divine figure unrecognized as such by those who will put him there ..." (p. 112). On the stilling of the sea in 4:39: "He trusts in his own abilities as God's Son ... the sleeping dramatizes his divine self-confidence" (p. 239). "The doing of obeisance shows recognition of Jesus' divine majesty" (5:6, p. 250). On 5:19, where Jesus commissions the former demoniac to tell "what great things the Lord has done for you" (NKJV): "Jesus implies that he is the Lord's agent; but since 1:2-3 applied to Jesus and John the Baptist an OT passage that speaks of the Lord and his messenger, Mark probably implies here that Jesus has acted as the Lord . . . " (p. 254, emphasis his).
On 6:48, concerning Jesus' walking on the sea, he sees "Jesus' intention of parading as a divine being" (p. 336). On 7:19, regarding the Old Testament dietary laws: "it is the prerogative of Jesus as God's Son to change the Law. Such a change does not count as human tradition, for Jesus' word is divine ... Mark's point is exactly this: Jesus has authority to change the commandments because he is divine and the elders are not . . . " (p. 356). At Jesus' trial, his response (14:62) to the high priest's climactic question is interpreted as follows: "Jesus' affirmation 'I am' (cf. 1 Tim. 6:13), feeds into Mark's writing this gospel to argue for Jesus' christhood and divine sonship despite the scandal of the Cross" (p. 886). On the confession of the centurion at the Cross (15:39): "Mark does not present a Christology of the Cross to foster a theology of suffering, then, but the Christology of divine sonship to counteract the scandal of the Cross" (p. 974).
Therefore, Gundry sees in Mark a consistently high Christology. Yet he seems to fall short of saying that Mark wants us to believe specifically that Jesus is the God of the Old Testament. His most frequent term is to refer to Jesus as "divine," but does this rise to the equation Jesus = Jehovah? Gundry's interest in Mark's audience seems to turn his interpretation of Mark's Christology in a lower direction. On 4:40-41, he concludes (p. 241):
For Mark, the key point is that the man who will later be crucified is the man who without prayer to God or adjuration in God's name successfully commands the wind and the sea. He is a divine man who represents the one true God.
Is this a concession to Hellenistic conceptions of a theios aner (divine man)? Does Mark use the "divine man" concept with a syncretistic intention or with the intention to correct it? Gundry's Mark seems to leave us short of Chalcedonian orthodoxy.
Concerning the Cross, this reviewer again has no quarrel with seeing the Cross as central to Mark; again, he heartily endorses it. Yet for Gundry, the Cross in Mark is primarily a stumbling block to be mitigated, as can be seen in the above quotation regarding the centurion's confession in 15:39. So on the first passion prediction (8:31, 32), he comments: "The didactic forecasting helps take the sting out of Jesus' passion ... That Jesus' fate 'is necessary' makes it a matter of God's plan as well as of Jesus' foreknowledge ... now all the sting is removed" (p. 428, emphasis his.) And the subsequent command to follow Jesus (v. 34) "interests Mark mainly as a contribution to his apology for the Cross" (p. 434).
On 10:45, he concludes his comments (p. 581) with:
In saying that his serving goes to the extent of giving his life as a ransom in substitution for many, Jesus interprets his approaching death as supremely self-sacrificial for the saving of many others' lives. Thus the Marcan apologetics of miraculous ability, of didactic authority, and of predictive power metamorphoses into an apologetic of beneficial service. The Cross will not bring shame to its victim, but salvation to his followers.
In his concluding note on the same verse, he says: " . . . the vicarious death of Jesus has importance in Mark. Yet we need to recognize that in the overall scheme of Mark this doctrine serves, not itself, but an apology for the Cross (see the foregoing comments on v. 45)" (p. 593). Despite the substitutionary language of 10:45, which Gundry here recognizes, he later minimizes, if not eliminates, the substitutionary aspect of the Cross. On 15:34, Jesus' cry of abandonment on the Cross: ". . . Mark translates the Aramaic in terms of abandonment and ... in context abandonment means abandonment to death ... The view ... that Jesus cries out in awareness of his bearing God's judgment on the sins of others rests on a wrongly judgmental interpretation of Jesus' cup and baptism in 10:38-39; 14:35-36" (p. 966). But in appealing to 10:38, 39, he is appealing to a cup and baptism that James and John must share, and therefore appealing to what is common between Jesus' suffering and his disciples' suffering, which by definition rules out the substitutionary idea.
Jesus' besting his opponents in the controversy over authority to cleanse the Temple serves the same purpose: "They lose face (a serious loss in near eastern culture). The shame to which he puts the very ones who will get him crucified cancels the shame of his crucifixion" (p. 659). Despite the delay in its fulfillment, "What he predicted in chap, 13 is—climactically—that as the Son of man he will come in clouds with much power and glory." This negates the scandal of the Cross (p. 735).
So strongly does Gundry hold to his purpose for Mark that he uses it to buttress his first argument (p. 1009-1010) for a continuation of the Gospel beyond 16:8:
Mark has repeatedly and in detail narrated the fulfilments of Jesus' other predictions so far as those fulfilments occurred during Jesus' time on earth ... there remains one prediction whose fulfilment is to take place while Jesus is still on earth, the prediction in 14:28 that after his resurrection he will go ahead of his disciples into Galilee ... It seems highly unlikely that Mark has included not only that prediction in its original setting but also a recollection of the prediction and two additions to it [in 16:7] ... only to omit a narrative of its fulfilment ... An omission would have mutilated Mark's apology for the Cross at the very point where he could and should have clinched it.
Although he goes on to append eleven other reasons to assume that Mark originally extended beyond 16:8, it seems significant to this reviewer that this one takes first position. For it can be turned on its head: If Mark does not narrate a resurrection appearance, then perhaps his purpose is not simply to give an apology for the Cross. Adherents to the majority text, by the way, will not be succored by Gundry. While he believes that Mark originally extended beyond 16:8, he regards the extant endings of Mark, in all variants, to be inauthentic. The true ending of Mark has been lost. He believes that "the original ending of Mark has survived in redacted form outside Mark" (p. 1011), i.e., in Matthew and Luke.
Earlier, this reviewer posed the question: would a presentation of facts about Jesus lead unbelievers to conversion, or to say "So what? Brute facts of history have no meaning for my life"? The deeper meaning of Gundry's commentary on Mark hinges on the answer it gives to this question. It is now time to return to it. Gundry's view of the fourfold gospel leaves him with a historically reliable Mark and redacted—in Matthew's case, heavily redacted—yet theologically authoritative later canonical Gospels. But what is the relation between the historically reliable substratum in Mark and the later theologizing of the other evangelists? Is the later interpretation really legitimate—let alone authoritative—or does it hang in the air?
To leave Mark at the level of a repository of "brute facts" about Jesus would be to leave a great gulf between him and the other evangelists, roughly analogous to Lessing's ditch. Mark the repository of accidental truths of history, the later evangelists the purveyors of universal truths of gospel reason. Gundry's solution is to give Mark's brute facts a subtle, minimalist (for an evangelical) meaning. Not theology, but apology; not a substitutionary Cross, but a Cross with the shame balanced by glory; not the God-Man, but a "divine man who represents the one true God." Gundry's Mark is an apologist who does not challenge his audience's presuppositions. They already have the presuppositional equipment with which to assess the significance of what Mark is saying.
As a nonspecialist in New Testament studies, I can do no more than suggest an alternative approach. But it is well for specialists occasionally to take notice of a nonspecialist's viewpoint.
I do not wish to return to the pre-18th-century homogeneous view of the fourfold gospel. The early church may not have understood the loss, but there was a significant providential message in the substantial loss of Tatian's Diatessaron. Something essential is lost from the fourfold gospel when it is homogenized, just as much as when it is pulverized by modern historical criticism. In terms of the Eiffel tower analogy, Tatian-like homogenization corresponds to aligning the four slanting supports of the Eiffel tower in the same direction. Both symmetry and stability are lost from the resulting structure. Gundry's "Theological Postscript" to his Matthew (pp. 623-640) remains a stimulating challenge to such traditional views.
But the historical-critical reconstructions of the fourfold gospel are worse. At least the traditional homogenization of the gospels left all four supports on the ground. The modem reconstructions leave only Mark (if any) on the ground, with Q like an invisible (since no longer extant—except by conjectural reconstruction) scaffolding alongside. The remaining evangelists are precariously balanced on Mark, from which point they must necessarily diverge in direction. (In fairness, Gundry allows for historicity outside of Mark and Q, particularly in Luke [see his Matthew, p. 628].) We can scarcely afford to dispense with all versions of old-style Gospel harmonization.
In the present reviewer's judgment, we ought to see the fourfold gospel as four independent witnesses, each of which has his own slant, but which, when arranged properly, converge to proclaim the one true Christ and the one true gospel. In place of the older homogeneous harmony from a single point of view, the fourfold gospel presents a convergent harmony from four individual points of view.
To move on from the Eiffel Tower metaphor, we could consider more particularly the four evangelists as four witnesses from four different points of view. An accurate drawing of all but the simplest mechanical objects requires at least two two-dimensional views to fully describe the object and to communicate its true shape to the would-be manufacturer. Many objects are complex enough to require three or more two-dimensional views for adequate representation. At first glance, these several views do not appear at all alike. Yet with training, practice, and careful observation, a draftsman (or student) can accurately visualize the entire three-dimensional object from the several views taken together.
Yet to do this requires more than training, practice, and careful observation. It requires a presupposition: that the several views of the object are intended to be taken together and represent a single, unambiguous object. Students can become frustrated with complex drawings and can be tempted to believe that there is an error in one or more of the views. At such a time, they must be persuaded that the drawings really do fit and really do describe one three-dimensional object.
At this point, the metaphor of design serves a deeper purpose. For this reviewer believes that the fourfold gospel is a deliberate design, and would approach the four evangelists with this presupposition. From time to time he encounters features in the four views which seem irreconcilable or simply baffling. Yet he proceeds with the presupposition that the views really do describe one true Christ and one true gospel, and under my One great Teacher's eye, expect one day to see more clearly the Object of my study.
If indeed the fourfold gospel is a deliberate design of God, then it will behoove us to reckon with the Divine element in the origin of the gospels themselveswe must reckon with the factor of inspiration. In over a thousand pages of commentary, I do not recall once reading in Gundry a reference to what the Spirit was saying though Mark. One of the ironies of a conservative use of historical-critical methods is that it leads to a focus on a purely human provenance of documents that purport—and which the conservative scholar professes to believe—to contain a message from heaven. True, it will be explained that the historical-critical methods focus on the human authors of the Scriptures; indeed, it will be said that the historical-critical methods are necessary if we are to take the human side of the Scriptures seriously.
Yet I cannot avoid thinking of this as analogous to the old quest of the historical Jesus, a quest justified by appeal to the human nature of Christ. But the fact of the Virgin Birth, confessed by the true church through the ages, teaches us that even the human nature of Jesus cannot be fully explained in purely human terms. Though he is fully human, his human nature did not arise from mere human means and power. Likewise, can we fully understand even the human side of the Scriptures without taking account of the factor of Divine inspiration? As the Virgin Birth lays the foundation for Jesus' sinless human nature, so inspiration lays the foundation for the inerrancy of the Bible. But more to the point, as the Virgin Birth is the supernatural cause of Jesus' human nature, must we not see Divine inspiration (without falling back on a theory of mechanical dictation) as the cause of even the human phenomena of the Scriptures?
We must reckon with the contents of the Scriptures as well as their Divine provenance. At this point I find the threefold schema of kerygma, marturia, and didache to be helpful (see H. N. Ridderbos, Heilsgescheidenis en Heilige Schrift van het Nieuwe Testament. Het Gezag van het Nieuwe Testament, 1955, translated as Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures, Presbyterian & Reformed, second revised edition, 1988, pp. 50-76). The New Testament (indeed the Bible as a whole) is simultaneously kerygma (proclamation), marturia (testimony), and didache (doctrine). While at various points, one or the other of these three factors will predominate, on another level, every portion of the New Testament is simultaneously testimony, proclamation, and doctrine.
The older Ritschlian liberalism went astray in its fixation on marturia. The gospels were witnesses to the historical Jesus, and their testimony had to be evaluated like any other human testimony. By the turn of the twentieth century, it was becoming apparent that no certainty, no generally acceptable portrait of the historical Jesus, could be attained along the path of marturia.
Barth and Bultmann, and their respective disciples, have sought to find the way out of the historical, marturial impasse by an appeal to kerygma. But whether the kerygma is to approximate the content of the older orthodoxy or is to be demythologized to expose its existential essence, the kerygma taken by itself is also ultimately unsatisfying. For we do not live in the world of a kerygma hanging in the air. We live in a real world with a real history that poses real dangers for us.
What is inadequate in these two approaches? It is that in each case, the message of the Bible is transmuted by a worldview that is fundamentally alien to it. In Ritschlian liberalism, historical objectivity reigns, with a more or less openly acknowledged antisupernaturalism. In the kerygmatic theologies, a Kantian viewpoint is presupposed, in which the phenomenal realm can be left to the antisupernaturalistic assumptions of the older liberalism, but in which meaning and salvation are to be found in a noumenal realm of the kerygma.
But the Bible also comes to us with a worldview: matter is created, not eternal; the world is not only open to the supernatural, but the supernatural has actually intruded into the world; the supernatural is not some vague realm of the spiritual, but is the realm of the Triune God; etc. Further, repentance is not simply a moral action; it also encompasses the intellectual side of life as well: we would do well to pay attention to the noetic side of metanoia. When Jesus calls upon us to repent and believe in the gospel (Mk. 1:15), this is fundamentally a call for us to change our minds, think other thoughts, embrace another worldviewand of course to turn from our sins unto God. But when we speak of worldview issues, we are speaking of the New Testament's function as didache-doctrine. As Paul put it: "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine [didache] to which you were delivered" (Rom. 6:17, NKJV). The convert to Christ has not only believed the good news (marturia) and embraced the Christ proclaimed therein (kerygma); he has also submitted his mind to the form of doctrine of the Gospel.
It should by now be clear that the more openly didactic or doctrinal portions of the New Testament—certainly Paul's letter to the Romans would be included hererest on the historical portions. Of course, not by way of chronological succession, for many of the epistles may well have been written prior to the gospels and Acts. Rather, the redemptive history that is related in the gospels and Acts is presupposed in the epistles. Thus Paul's doctrine cannot be divorced from that redemptive history. But it should also be seen that Paul's doctrine is implicit in the redemptive history itself. It is therefore legitimate—no, necessary—to see the atonement in the narratives of Jesus' death and resurrection—even in Mark. True Christian piety has always done so, if only because the facts themselves have an inherent redemptive meaning prior to the explicit authoritative interpretation of the evangelists in particular and the New Testament in general.
Paul's perspective in fact does away with a false distinction between Christology and parenesis, or between redemptive history and theology. We were crucified with Christ, buried with him, raised with him. Paul invites us then to read ourselves back into the Gospel narratives. It is not that Paul denies their historicity; rather he affirms it. But his view of history, particularly redemptive history, is that we are included in it from the start, The problem of Lessing's ditch never arises for Paul. The "accidental truths" of redemptive history are the universal truths of Christian reason.
To concretize these points, I shall close this review on a hermeneutical illustration: Gundry's handling of Mark 12:26, in which Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6 ("I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob") to refute the mortalism of the Sadducees (pp. 703-704):
From the standpoint of grammatical historical exegesis the inference, "He is not a God of dead people but of living people" does not follow from "I [am] the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob"; for from that standpoint God was only stating that at the time of speaking God was the God whom Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had worshipped during their mortal lifetimesno implication of afterlife, much less of bodily resurrection, favored or even suggested ....
Modern exegetes would brand the transfer of Exod 3:6 from past to future as highhanded violation of the originally intended meaning. But in first century Palestinian Judaism, as remarked before, an argument's consisting of grammatical historical exegesis would have lacked cogency, just as in another two thousand years different techniques of interpretation (psychological, sociological, economic, rhetorical, and structural posing possibilities that grow out of the present, to say nothing of unpredictable possibilities) may cause grammatical historical exegesis to lose its cogency. What counted then was ingenuity at playing with words by such means as transferring them to new frames of reference where they could be made to say new things, as indeed at the popular level may still count for more than does grammatical historical exegesis.
Other scholars "can point to covenantal associations of 'the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,' but cannot show that God's faithfulness to God's covenant with these patriarchs demands their resurrection. For God did not promise them resurrection" (p. 708).
The first thing that strikes me about this view is that it makes Jesus inaccessible to moderns. Mark may have written to make Jesus appear great to the eyes of first century Greco-Roman unbelievers, but in so doing, he has made him—at least at this point—look silly to modern unbelievers. To what end do we have brute facts about Jesus in Mark? To what end to we have an apology for the Cross, which is now so dated as to be outdated?
But further, if this silliness of Jesus (despite his describing it as "exegetical brilliance" [p. 718]) is to be explained away as an accommodation to the first century mindset—as it appears that Gundry does in these comments—then how are we to avoid a process of demythologization of the New Testament? How are we to be assured that Mark's accounts of the miraculous are not also accommodations to the first century mindset? Since Mark's Hellenistic readers expected a "divine man" to work wonders, does Mark give them what they want? Perhaps we can be assured on these points only by the sifting of the texts by historical-critical experts, who will then mediate the Bible to us.
Third, to complete the accommodation theme, Gundry even gives away grammatical historical exegesis! If grammatical historical exegesis "lose[s] its cogency" in the future, does this relativize all the present results of grammatical historical exegesis? Or does it represent a chronocentrism: Here, now, at the end of the twentieth century, we know how to exegete texts so as to arrive at their true and full meaning. In the ancient world, this was not so, and again in future ages, this knowledge may be lost. So in the future, meretricious arguments may again be accepted as cogent, but now in this brief, shining hour we know the truth. For Jesus' exegesis is "linguistically clever rather than conceptually compelling" (p. 723).
But finally, what Gundry takes away, he gives back in the concluding clause. The scholars may judge Jesus to be at fault in his use of Exodus 3:6, but among the hoi polloi, ingenuity is still in vogue! All of this illustrates the worldview implications of the gospel. In Gundry's scheme of things, Jesus accommodates himself to the first century worldview, rather than chastening the rabbis for their love of "playing with words" to the detriment of understanding the text as it stands. We, with our modern scholarly worldview, are thus under no obligation to accept Jesus' method of handling Exodus 3:6. But the unlearned are free to admire just what we scholars feel obliged to reject. And two thousand years hence, when new worldviews shall have arisen, scholars may again feel free to admire and deem cogent Jesus' remarks, and to reject as silly and biased our current scholarly exegesis. All of this begs the question of whether Jesus himself and the gospel itself calls upon us to lay down the current worldview of our culture and to take up the Cross.
Scholars may reply that this is to commit intellectual suicide. I would reply that it is what is required in Jesus' command: "Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34, NKJV). Dare I suggest that the scholar deny his "scientific" presuppositions, and take up the hermeneutics of Jesus? It will involve pain and shame—crosses always do! But there will be a glory that attends the cross-bearing, and what is more, there will be a resurrection.
New Brighton, Pennsylvania