This week I asked New Testament/Markan Scholar, Dr. Tim Geddert to sit down for an interview to discuss his insights into the Gospel of Mark, and to share a bit more about his biblical commentary on Mark’s Gospel.
Tim is Professor of New Testament at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, in Fresno California. I attended his course on Mark’s gospel in 2012, and that’s when I discovered his excellent commentary.
T.G. – I say that because I agree with the majority of Gospel interpreters that Mark was the first person to write a Christian Gospel and that his book was a major source for both Matthew and Luke. Take these three Gospels together and you have the heart of the New Testament. The New Testament in turn has for two millennia been the most influential book in the Western World, and for the past several centuries in the whole world!
T.G. – After I graduated from Seminary I realized two needs in my own life: First was the need to develop a new spiritual discipline that would keep me immersed in Scripture; and the second was the need to pay more attention to the Gospels. So I decided to memorize a Gospel. Guess why I picked Mark? (It was the shortest, of course!) Memorizing it gradually led to being mesmerized by it. When I had a chance to write my dissertation on my favorite Bible book, I jumped at the chance.
T.G. – I had read a lot of commentaries before writing mine. Most seemed tedious, even if they said important things. I determined to write in as lively and interesting a style as I knew how. Mark’s Gospel is totally fascinating. What could be more inappropriate than writing a boring commentary on it!?
T.G. – Since the Gospel was written anonymously, “biblical faithfulness” does not require us to reach any particular conclusion about who wrote this Gospel. Early Church fathers claimed that the author was the John Mark that abandoned Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, and that his primary source for the content of the Gospel was Peter’s preaching. The reason I think this is very likely correct is that this Gospel highlights the failure of the disciples and the wonderful good news that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, disciples who fail are granted new beginnings. That’s something both Peter and Mark had experienced firsthand. Indeed the resurrection message of Mark is: Everyone who has failed to follow faithfully; everyone who has failed to be a credible witness of the Good News gets a chance to meet the resurrected Jesus and start over . . . . even Peter!! (well that is a bit paraphrased, but is what I think Mark 16:7,8 really mean). One more thing: though it is more apparent in Greek than in English translations, verses like Mark 1:29 and 1:36 sure sound a lot like Peter’s firsthand stories, somewhat crudely turned into 3rd person narratives by someone else!
T.G. – The most interesting of them is the genitive form of the word “Jesus.” Mark claims that his Gospel is the beginning of the “GOOD NEWS PROCLAMATION OF JESUS” . . . but Mark leaves it entirely unspecified whether Jesus is the one proclaiming the Good News, or whether Jesus is the one being proclaimed in the Good News. So which is it? One of the foremost experts in Greek Grammar (Daniel Wallace) invented new kind of genitive, just to take Mark’s strategy into account: It is “plenary genitive” . . . a fancy way of saying — BOTH! Mark is a master of saying one thing and meaning two or three, deliberately, provocatively, sometimes frustratingly. Mark’s Gospel is far too subtle ever to be “mastered” by the interpreter. There seems always to be more than meets the eye, at least a first glance.
T.G. – Every Gospel is about who Jesus really is, what he accomplished and why that matters. All the Gospels are about the arrival of God’s kingdom, about Jesus’ miracle-working, his challenge to the religious establishment, his welcoming of sinners and outcasts. One of Mark’s unique emphases, in comparison with the other Gospels, is that Jesus never gives up on those who have chosen to follow him, no matter how often they mess up, no matter how uncomprehending they are, even if they deny their master in the crisis. There is always the offer of grace and new beginnings.Mark has long been read as a word of encouragement for persecuted Christians. I suspect the first readers were being persecuted, but the message applies also to those are tempted to get lazy in their discipleship. The call of Jesus is to leave all to follow him; the promise of Jesus is that we are always abundantly repaid for anything it costs us.
T.G. – The majority of Mark’s “audience” would have had to hear rather than read the Gospel. That is because the majority of Gentiles and quite a few Jews in the first century would have been unable to read. Moreover, books were rare and expensive. Mark, or his first readers, would have begun to make extra copies of his book, but that would no doubt be for neighboring house groups, not so that everyone could study it at home. So, yes, the gathered Christian community would hear the Gospel read out loud. Perhaps they would read it through in one sitting, but if so, that should not lead us to believe they did not study it as well. At first they had Mark present to help interpret it. They also had oral traditions of Peter’s and other apostles’ preaching alongside the written text. We should not imagine that a written text instantaneously replaced the whole tradition of apostolic teaching that had preceded it. Mark’s Gospel would have been read by a few, heard by all, studied by communities of believers . . . and then eventually taken up, revised and supplemented into new forms in the Gospels we call Matthew and Luke.
K.B. – You obviously love Mark’s gospel, and you wrote a commentary about it. So, with that in mind, what’s your favorite section of the commentary, and is that the same as your favorite section of Mark’s Gospel?”
T.G. – My own favorite section of my own commentary? Is this the part of the interview where I get to toot my own horn? Well… since you asked, I do have a few favorite parts of the commentary.
I honestly like the sections of the commentary in which I try my best to sort out some of Mark’s own puzzles and subtleties: like the mysterious meaning of the feeding miracles and the related “lessons in the boat”; like the way Mark narrates the last night of Jesus’ life on earth with four scenes corresponding to the “four watches” of the night, showing how different people around him failed “in the evening, at midnight, when the rooster crowed and at dawn” (a pattern first highlighted by R. H. Lightfoot); and like the powerful message subtly imbedded in Mark’s mysterious and magnificent conclusion.
My favorite part of Mark’s gospel is the story of the Syrophoenician Woman (Mk. 7:24-30), or maybe the story of Bartimaeus (Mk. 10:46-52); no, probably the first storm-stilling (Mk. 4:35-51); actually it might be the way Mark used the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida to contribute layers of meaning to the meaning of discipleship and lots of other things . . . Oh, I give up. It’s the whole book!
K.B. – You wrote a dissertation on Mark, then later a commentary, and have been writing and teaching about Mark ever since. Have you changed your mind along the way on significant issues of interpretation?
T.G. – Yes! I am constantly learning new things, constantly being amazed at the literary patterns, the narrative subtleties, the deeper meanings. I am more convinced now than when I wrote my dissertation that Mark 13 is loaded with intentional double-meanings and therefore “flexible predictions”; I am more convinced than when I wrote my commentary that Mark has at least two primary “hidden meanings” in the feeding narratives (the issue of the inclusivity of the Gospel for both Jews and Gentiles, and separate from that, the issue of whether and when and why miracles should be expected, or not).
I have very recently become intrigued with the way Mark’s Gospel presents Jesus as fulfilling the predictions in Isaiah of a “New Exodus” and also the related theme that Jesus is presented not only as the one whom God sent, but also the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to Israel: I will come and live among them!”
T.G. – Well, to the first question almost all interpreters of Mark have concluded that Mark did not write these verses. Rather they were likely added in the late second century*. The evidence for that seems overwhelming to me. Moreover, I think Mark 16:8 is an ending far better suited to the kind of Gospel Mark wrote than the one supplied later! (Actually more than one ending has been supplied and some English Bibles also quote the “shorter additional ending”).
As for the second question, some interpreters think Mark 16:8 is inappropriate as a Gospel ending. I happen to disagree. But if some second or third century Scribe thought it seemed “cut off” they would have been tempted to supply additional material. We actually know they did that, since more than one ending is to be found in early manuscripts. I think the last 12 verses of Mark actually read like a very short summary of several different post-resurrection events that are recorded in more detail in other Gospels.
And my honest feeling about the third question is that various verses found elsewhere in the New Testament say virtually the same thing these 12 verses say. So including them or not has little influence on “what the New Testament says.” Interpreting them “as Mark’s ending” does have more influence on what we perceive to be Mark’s resurrection message, so that is something I would try to avoid. But I do not have problems with including it within the New Testament canon as a “fifth resurrection account” (or sixth, if we count 1 Cor. 15 as well).
K.B. – Anything else you’d like to share before we wrap up?
T.G. – I mentioned at the beginning that I had memorized Mark. Since then I have succeeded in convincing about 25 others to do the same! Many of them have publicly presented it, either as a narration or much more dramatically. I’d be totally happy to coach anyone who wants to consider joining this group of Mark-lovers!
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