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Greek Exegesis of Mark: More Than Mere Theory

 David Alan Black 

In 1950 Oscar Cullmann published his now famous Christ and Time in which he argued that the New Testament is primarily interested in "functional Christology" rather than mere abstract ideas. I can recall discussing this perspective with Professor Cullmann many times in his apartment in Basel in the early 1980s. He was then in retirement but always seemed to find time to open his home to fledgling scholars. I came away from these discussions with the firm conviction that New Testament theology must be done from a starting point that is biblical-historical in orientation. For all the diversity in the New Testament writings, there remains a genuine unity about the person and work of Christ. Jesus' mission of salvation involves His incarnation, humiliation, and death. He is the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies ... and bears much fruit" (John 12:24).

Jesus was fully conscious of this mission, too. He knew Himself to be the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, and His earthly career focused dramatically on His fateful "hour." Good shepherds don't merely lead sheep. They die for them. Thus, in According to Mark, suffering is the normal experience for Christians because for them the world is an utterly alien place. But with the suffering comes blessing, particularly the blessing of bearing up under suffering with patience and steadfastness. If I might make a practical application for today, Christian living is not so much the condemning of the world as it is living lives of goodness and kindness in contrast to pagan sinfulness. It is our "good works" (the Greek can also be rendered "attractive works") that are a witness to unbelievers of Christ's love for them. Such love toward the enemies of God frustrates their hostility and even possibly wins them to the Savior.

Hence we find in According to Mark an explication of the theology of discipleship. The point is that Jesus' followers have a duty to display to an evil world the value of the kingdom of God. Many scholars see in Mark an excellent example of a primitive Christian theology, recognizing strict parallels between According to Mark and Peter's sermons in Acts. Thus Peter, like Jesus, desires his readers to face persecution and suffering not with stoic pessimism but rather with rejoicing -- a response that proves the validity and reality of the Christian faith.

Folks, Greek exegesis has everything to do with discipleship, because the kind of student of the Scripture that I am determines the kind of person that I am, the kind of father that I am, the kind of missionary that I am, etc. So my work in this Mark class is so much more than Greek. My work is to present my students to Jesus as single-minded disciples who are fully committed to living out their mission. My job is to send my students into this world as disciples who will contend for God's glory because they understand what their mission is.

How exciting is that?

August 5, 2015

David Alan Black is the editor of

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