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Introduction: One of the purposes of the implied authors of the Gospels is to present Jesus Messiah as completing the mission YHWH began in the Former Testament. Having said that, it should not be assumed all the Evangelist’s tell their stories the same way, even while having a unified subject, Jesus Messiah.

A little theory never hurt anyone:The Gospels were written to preserve the memory of Jesus in the early church and for future generations. Because the Gospels are stories a word (a short word!) is needed about approaching them. The fact that the Gospels are stories is not new; since the emergence of Narrative Criticism in the 1970s (the child of The New Criticism of the 1950s), scholars have read the Gospels as stories – whole stories! Reading the individual stories is not easy, for we intuitively want to “fill in the gaps” with what we know from the other three witnesses to “complete” the story; the problem I see in this is that the other witnesses do not “complete” the story, they tell an altogether different story. When we allow information from the other Evangelists “fill in the gaps” we take away from the implied authors agenda, thus ending up with another, more dynamic, story. As readers of the biblical text we do not do justice to the Evangelist’s by performing such acts – let the story reign! Thus, one of my passions is to assist students to be hearers of the individual narratives, to let the story, its plot, characters, tension, reign supreme over my reading, thus, doing what it is designed to do.

Mission: The mission Yahweh as found in the Older Testament comes to its telos in the Incarnation where Yahweh not only continues his mission to Israel, but also extends it to the Gentiles – one people, one covenant, joined to Yahweh through the mission of victorious warrior Messiah, Jesus. This is the mission of Biblical Theological Seminary. We tell the story, reminding students that Jesus’ victorious mission is the mission of the body of Christ while we await the return of its King, Jesus (cf., Philippians 3:20-21, et al).

The following is an example of Jesus’ mission told through the eyes of the author of Mark:

The Gospels all have interesting starting points. Matthew begins with a genealogy tracing Jesus’ lineage back to Abraham; after Luke’s introduction in 1:1-4, the writer introduces the reader to John the Baptist and Jesus with poems reminiscent of Hannah’s Song and Old Testament oracles; John’s prologue sets the stage for the ensuing narrative by placing the Word at the beginning with God; Mark begins his interpretation of the Christ event by citing Scripture(s). It is the last of these that will occupy several essays.

“[The] consummation of the in-breaking of Jesus Messiah [Son of God], as it has been written in Isaiah the Prophet, “Behold I am sending my Messenger before your face who will prepare your way, a Voice of one crying in the wilderness[ish places] make ready the way of Yahweh, make his paths straight. (Translation mine)

The beginning of Mark is unique among the gospels. It begins with a conflated citation which forces the reader back to the books (I am hesitant to use the term book as it is an anachronism, but for our purposes we will retain it. Most scholars now understand the importance oration played in the years before the New Testament; Richard Horsley suggest less than 3% of the Roman Empire were literate [Hearing the Whole Story]) of Exodus, Isaiah, and Malachi. Markan scholars are divided as to whether or not Mark has the individual books in mind, or, whether he was summarizing the motifs from the various books in question. For the last 13 years I have reflected on this text and have concluded the following; I pass them on to you to encourage you to reflect, question, and as an aid in your journey through Mark’s wilderness.

(1) Mark’ story is primarily concerned with presenting the arrival of Yahweh’s (Warrior) Messenger in the midst of Israel’s present exile – Mark does this by showing and not telling (the power in narrative is the way the individual story tellers weave their pericopes together to show the meaning of their story – they are not primarily concerned with didactic formula – “hey, this means such-and-such,” but they are master shower”); (2) Mark is picking up on themes which resonate within the current socio-political-biblio-consciousnesses of his audience; thus, the implied author of the Gospel of Mark writes assuming his audience understanding of the literary past; (3) Mark’s conflated citation opens the door for Mark presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of the long awaited agent of the New Exodus, the Dominion of Yahweh; again, the implied author does this by retelling the Jesus story as an example of Yahweh’s “incarnational-kingdom-arrival-story;” (4) the conflated citation is best understood as an ancient epigraph; thus, everything in Mark’s story is to be filtered through it, as though it were translucently hovering over each section; (5) as the translation shows, Mark’s wilderness[ish] gloss is to be understood metaphorically – it is the wilderness of Isaiah, not Exodus, that the implied narrator has in view.

Thus, Mark’s Jesus is the long awaited Agent of Yahweh missioned to initiate and fulfill the dominion of Yahweh. Rhetorically, Mark invites his reader to enter into his story through the epigraph, to follow his clues and cues, and watch the story of what it looks like when Yahweh again breaks into humanity – the blind see, the deaf hear, and the poor have the gospel preached to them (cf., Isa. 35 echoed in Mark 7). This, and only this, is the dominion of Yahweh foretold by the story of the Hebrew Scriptures. Let the reader understand!

Further reading:

Janice C. Anderson & Stephen D. Moore. Mark and Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, 2nd edition. (Fortress, 2008).

Seymour Chatman. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. (Cornell University Press, 1978).

Ira B. Driggers. Following God Through Mark: Theological Tension in the Second Gospel. (WJK, 2007).

Mark A. Powell. What is Narrative Criticism?: A New Approach to the Bible. (SPCK, 1990, 1993).

Wolfgang Iser. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. (Johns Hopkins, 1978)


John Oliff is Adjunct professor at Biblical Seminary where he teaches NT Greek (I-III) and various other NT courses; John has 13 years teaching experience on both undergraduate and graduate levels; He is currently completing his Ph.D (ABD) on the Gospel of Mark (Remythologizing Mark: The Yahweh as A Warrior Motif with emphasis on the ANE Combat myth Motif in the Gospel of Mark) under William S. Campbell.  John is also an Adjunct faculty member at Eastern University where he teaches Old and New Testament. His passion is reading text within their socio-political-rhetorical-religio-context. He can be reached at john.oliff@gmail.com; visit his website @ johnoliff.com (merestudent.com).
 

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