Tuesday, 25 December 2018

The Uniqueness of Mark’s Gospel

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are collectively known as the Synoptic Gospels because of the high degree of similarities among them. The ongoing scholarly debate is whether the authors wrote independently, collaborated, or used common sources. The subtle and not-so-subtle differences argue for independence, representing separate and corroborating testimonies.1 

Absent from both Matthew and Luke are the following sections of Mark: 1:1; 2:27; 3:20-22a; 4:26-29; 7:2-4, 32-37; 8:22-26; 9:29, 48-49; 13:33-37; 14:51-52. Fifty-five verses of Mark are not found in Matthew, and there is the striking omission in Luke of the material in Mark 6:45–8:26 and 9:41–10:12. Literary-dependency theorists and Markan Priority advocates in particular are hard pressed to give a reasonable explanation of these phenomena.2 

Details in Mark that do not appear in the parallel accounts of Matthew and Luke include the following:

Mark 1:13b, Jesus in the wilderness “with the wild beasts.” 
Mark 1:20b, Zebedee’s “hired servants.”
Mark 1:35, Jesus’ praying “a long while before daylight.” 
Mark 2:26b, “Abiathar the high priest.”  
Mark 2:27, “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”
Mark 3:17b, the nickname Jesus gave to Zebedee’s sons.
Mark 3:20-22a, too busy to eat, Christ’s own people trying to seize him, Jerusalem scribes.
Mark 4:3a, “Listen!”
Mark 4:36b, “other little boats.”
Mark 4:38a, “in the stern, asleep on a pillow.”
Mark 5:13b, the number of pigs.
Mark 5:26, “suffered from many physicians … grew worse.”   
Mark 5:41b, what Jesus said to the girl in Aramaic.
Mark 6:3a, “the carpenter, the Son of Mary.” 
Mark 6:8b, 9a, “except a staff … but to wear sandals.” 
Mark 6:39b, “on the green grass.” 
Mark 6:40b, “in hundreds.”
Mark 6:48b, “and would have passed them by.”
Mark 7:30, she came home, found the demon gone and her daughter lying on the bed.
Mark 8:3, “to their own houses … have come from afar.”
Mark 8:27, conversation on "the road" near Caesarea Philippi.
Mark 8:35b, “and the gospel’s.”
Mark 9:3b, “like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.”
Mark 9:41b, “because you belong to Christ.”
Mark 10:11b-12, “against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries …”
Mark 10:30b, “with persecutions.” 
Mark 10:45b, “and to give his life a ransom for many.” 
Mark 10:46b, “Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus.”
Mark 11:10a, “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David.”
Mark 11:17b, “for all nations.”
Mark 12:29b, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” 
Mark 12:32-34, the entire section. 
Mark 14:30b, 68-72, a rooster crowing “twice.”
Mark 14:36a, “Abba.” 
Mark 15:21b, “the father of Alexander and Rufus.” 
Mark 15:47a, “and Mary Magdalene and Mary [mother] of Joseph.”
Mark 16:18, “they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly …”

Biblical studies are enhanced when attention is given to these unique features in view of authorship, readership, accompanying background and circumstances, inferred applicability and purpose, as well as the fruits of comparative analysis. 

--Kevin L. Moore

     See K. L. Moore, “The Synoptic Problem and Markan Priority,” Part 1 <Link>, and Part 2 <Link>.
     I. H. Marshall, a Markan Priority advocate, admits that attempted explanations for the agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark “do not seem adequate and sometimes give the impression of being desperate attempts to iron out the difficulties at any cost,” while the MP hypothesis “must be judged insufficient to account for all the evidence” (Luke: Historian and Theologian 58, cf. 59-63).

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Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Understanding the Bible: the Study of Ancient Rhetoric

Pasquale Ottino’s Mark writes Gospel at Peter’s dictation
Rhetoric is the disciplined art of persuasion that “had an importance in Roman society equal to that of television or computers in our age…. All types of literature were affected by rhetorical techniques, and the writers of the New Testament did not escape the impact of this rhetorical education. It shaped the way they thought and the way they composed written material …” (A. A. Bell, Jr., Exploring the New Testament World 239-40). The questions that are sometimes raised about the literary education of New Testament writers do not largely affect this area of discussion, since formal training in rhetoric was not necessarily a prerequisite for making use of it. Rhetorical techniques were well known in the 1st-century Mediterranean world, “and one did not have to be formally trained in rhetoric to use them” (P. T. O’Brien, “Letters” 553). Rhetoric “was a pervasive social convention in Greco-Roman society and that rather than being the sole possession of an elite class, its customs, techniques, and practices had filtered down to all levels of society” (R. A. Ramsaran, Liberating Words 26, cf. 79-80, 147-48 nn. 13-15).  

Because the letter form in particular is more closely related to speech than narrative literature, rhetorical analysis can highlight the basic use of the letter as a substitute for the writer’s actual presence. While New Testament documents were composed in an age of letter writing, they were also produced in a largely oral and aural culture. The New Testament world was dominated by public speaking and rhetoric, and early Christianity placed much emphasis on preaching.The written word was basically a tool of the oral culture, and letters were a substitute for face-to-face communication.

Paul’s writings, for example, were designed to create an “apostolic parousia,” using the letter, the public reader, and the apostle’s words to create the sense of an authoritative, personal communication as well as the anticipation of a future reunion (R. W. Funk, “Apostolic Parousia” 249-68).Since New Testament writers like Paul understood their primary task to be the proclamation of the gospel,their writings were naturally composed (dictated) from the perspective of gospel preachers. The New Testament letters, having served as substitutes for the writer’s physical presence (cf. 1 Cor. 5:3-5; Col. 2:5; 1 Thess. 2:17), are comparable in many respects to oral speech, which encourages us to listen to the words as the original addressees would have heard them. 

Biblical documents were designed to be read aloud (Luke 4:16-17; 1 Thess. 5:27; Col. 4:16; 1 Tim. 4:13), not just to be seen as persuasive but heard as persuasive. Since the spoken word was primary, and the written word was merely a surrogate for verbal communication, attention had to be given to its oral and aural features.These writings “functioned not only as means of communication but also as sophisticated instruments of persuasion and media for displaying literary skill” (D. E. Aune, NT Literary 160-61).  

Biblical writers, who lacked any other practical device to implement divine directives, were not detached from the rhetorical art of persuasion, and they used it to great advantage. Paul’s contemporaries recognized his rhetorical skill: “‘The letters [of Paul],’ it is said, ‘are weighty and powerful …” (2 Cor. 10:10). Modern scholars continue to recognize his rhetorical skill: “one cannot deny that the apostle did possess a certain rhetorical mastery” (R. Riesner, Paul’s Early Period 410-11). R. N. Longenecker comments: “Paul seems to have availed himself almost unconsciously of the rhetorical forms at hand, fitting them into his inherited epistolary structures and filling them out with such Jewish theological motifs and exegetical methods as would be particularly significant …” (Galatians cxix).

Seeking to understand the Bible within its original context requires us to place ourselves among the initial recipients of these inspired documents. Any careful examination of biblical literature should therefore be augmented with rhetorical analysis.5

--Kevin L. Moore

     Acts 1:15 ff.; 2:14 ff.; 3:12 ff.; 4:29-31; 5:20-21, 25, 42; 7:2 ff.; 8:4-6, 12, 25, 40; 9:20, 27-29; 10:27 ff.; 11:26; 13:5, 15 ff., 42 ff.;14:1 ff., 7, 15, 21, 25; 15:32, 35, 36; 16:10, 13, 32; 17:2-3, 10-13, 17 ff.; 18:4-11, 19, 28; 19:8-10; 20:2, 7, 20; 21:40 ff.; 23:1; 26:1 ff.; 28:17 ff., 30-31.
     See also D. E. Aune, NT Literary 190-91; W. G. Doty, Letters 26-27; L. A. Jervis, Purpose 110-31; R. Jewett, “Discussion” 48; P. T. O’Brien, “Letters” 552; S. N. Olson, “Self-Confidence” 596; S. E. Porter, “Exegesis” 547-48; C. J. Roetzel, Letters 65; J. L. White,  Light 19.
     Rom. 1:15; 15:20; 1 Cor. 1:17; 9:16-19; 15:1-4; Gal. 1:11-12, 15-16, 23; 4:13; Eph. 3:8; 1 Thess. 2:4.
     A. C. Thiselton, First Corinthians 44; also W. G. Doty, Letters 2; B. Witherington III, Paul Quest 89-100. This would require not only the rhetorical acumen of the writer and/or his amanuensis, but also of the public reader and perhaps the listening audience as well.
     P. T. O’Brien, “Letters” 553. See also K. L. Moore, “Rhetorical Criticism and the Pauline Writings,” in A Critical Introduction to the NT 256-63. For a brief analysis of Paul’s apparent use of the rhetorical device known as chiasmus in 1 Cor. 11:2-16, see K. L. Moore, We Have No Such Custom 27-30.

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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Understanding the Bible: the Study of Ancient Letter Writing

The letter is one of the oldest forms of written communication, becoming a very important means of interaction in the early church. Epistolography, the study of ancient letter writing, is particularly relevant to biblical analysis because the letter is the most common literary genre in the New Testament. Twenty-one of the New Testament’s twenty-seven documents are rendered in letter form. All of Paul's extant writings are letters. The General Epistles exhibit epistolary features, and Hebrews, despite the ongoing debate concerning its genre, has an epistolary conclusion. In addition to these, there are two letters imbedded in Acts (15:23; 23:26), and even the book of Revelation has an epistolary frame.1

Due attention ought to be given to the exegetical implications of this mode of communication whenever New Testament writings are examined. For at least three centuries before and after the beginning of the Christian era, rigid epistolary conventions were in force. Much of our knowledge of ancient letter writing has come since the latter part of the 19th century, with the discovery and subsequent analysis of papyrus letters from Egypt.2

A particularly important contribution of Greek papyrus materials is the abundant evidence they provide of the frequent, if not common, presence of amanuenses in letter writing during the Hellenistic age. Business documents were often written in two, three or more different hands. Many personal letters show signs of having been drafted by an amanuensis on behalf of another. Repeatedly a refined hand is seen in the body of the letters, with the closing subscription written in a less sophisticated hand. During the time approximating the composition of New Testament letters, it appears from the papyri evidence that it was a common practice to use a secretary to draft a document, after which the correspondent himself would often add a word of farewell, his personal greetings, and the date in his own hand. 

That Paul and other New Testament writers used amanuenses in writing their letters is generally acknowledged. Paul appears to have followed the customary practice of his contemporaries by employing the aid of secretarial expertise (Rom. 16:22) and then writing his own subscription (1 Cor. 16:21; Gal. 6:11; Col. 4:18; 2 Thess. 3:17; Philem. 19).Even in the letters wherein attention is not specifically drawn to Paul having taken the pen from his amanuensis, the original autographs probably evidenced a shift to the apostle’s distinctive handwriting (cf. 2 Thess. 3:17). Apparently this was Peter’s convention as well (1 Pet. 5:12).

Even though New Testament letters are not private correspondence in the usual sense, the inspired authors did not abandon the immediate epistolary situation to write theological essays with merely an epistolary flavoring (W. G. Doty, Letters 26-27). New Testament letters were occasioned by real situations, requests, and problems in different Christian communities, and while the letters differ considerably in content, they show a consistent general pattern in form, particularly at the beginning and end.   

The letter in the Greco-Roman world served as a means of communication between separated parties and functioned in three basic ways: to sustain contact with friends and family, to disseminate information, and to request information or favors. For New Testament authors, however, the letter was more than just a mode of conversation – it was also an extension of divine authority as inspired communicators of heavenly truth.

--Kevin L. Moore

     See E. S. Fiorenza, “Composition and Structure” 367-81; J. M. Lieu, “Grace to You” 172-73; J. L. White, “Saint Paul” 444.
     See K. L. Moore, “Epistolography and the Writings of Paul,” in A Critical Introduction to the NT 100-114; also J. H. Greenlee,  Introduction to NT Textual Criticism 8-23; B. M. Metzger and B. D. Ehrman, The Text of the NT (4th ed.) 3-33, 206; J. Murphy-O’Connor, Paul the Letter-Writer 1-41.  
     G. J. Bahr suggests that the noticeable difference between Paul’s unimpressive oratory and his impressive letters (2 Cor. 10:10) may be attributable to the writing ability of his secretary (“Letter Writing” 476). W. G. Kümmel notes that the specific references to Paul’s own handwriting were likely included because the letters were read aloud and this was the only way for the listening audience to be made aware of the fact (Introduction 251). In one of the most comprehensive studies on Paul’s use of secretarial services, E. R. Richards concludes that the following letters were probably written by or with the help of an amanuensis: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon (Secretary201).

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Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Understanding the Bible: the Study of Ancient History

In order to get the clearest sense of the Bible and its original setting, “historically oriented biblical scholars have assumed mastery of a range of disciplines as fundamental to the toolkit of their craft” (B. J. Malina, Social World of Jesus xi-xii). Particularly relevant to Bible study are disciplines that enhance our understanding of how ancient literary works were produced and transmitted. 

Historiography is the study of historical writing. Even though the Bible is not strictly a historical narrative, it is packed with historical information. It goes without saying that the aim of the historian is to record facts, not to invent stories. Nevertheless, the ancient historian’s methodology (familiar to his contemporary readers) was not entirely the same as that of modern times. While completeness and accuracy were important, there was less concern about precision of dating and chronological arrangement. This is clearly demonstrated in a comparison of the Synoptic Gospels, wherein thematic or geographical arrangement often trumps chronology.

Papias of Hierapolis (ca. 60-140?) reports that Mark was “Peter’s interpreter and wrote accurately all that he remembered, not indeed, in order, of the things said or done by the Lord…. [he] followed Peter, who used to give teaching as necessity demanded but not making, as it were, an arrangement of the Lord’s oracles, so that Mark did nothing wrong in writing down single points as he remembered them” (as quoted by Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 3.39.15; trans. K. Lake, LCL).

Long before the present-day copyright mentality, the meticulous documenting of sources was not deemed necessary. Without calling attention to it, writers could reasonably expect their contemporary readers to recognize well-known quoted materials. 

Every historian is interested in real people and actual events but is naturally limited to the amount of information he can realistically record. He must therefore be discerning and restrict his investigation and reporting to what he deems significant. The aim of the ancient historian, therefore, was to selectively portray historical accounts so readers could learn political, moral, or religious principles.

Dr. Luke would not fit into the category of the Roman historian, who tended to focus on events surrounding a single city and its people, or the Jewish historian, who was primarily concerned about the history of one ethno-political group. Rather, Luke shares much in common with the Greek historian, who often travelled to the places he writes about, observed the events he records, and presents a neutral account of the acts and persons he describes.2 

--Kevin L. Moore

     See R. Nocolai, “The Place of History in the Ancient World,” in A Companion to Greek and Roman Historiography (ed. J. Marincola) 1-14.
     See B. Witherington III, Acts of the Apostles 25-36. Colin Hemer, in The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, views Luke’s writings according to the various methods of ancient historiography and identifies Luke as a traveling investigator in the same category as Polybius (cf. B. D. Ehrman, The New Testament: Historical Introduction [4th ed.] 124-26). D. E. Aune likens Luke's methodology to ancient historians like Polybius, Strabo, Diodorus, Josephus, and Herodian (NT In Its Literary Environment 117).

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