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How a Non-Historical Account Can Be Meaningful: The Death of Jesus in Mark

I am now at a point where I can explain how I read the Bible when I was a committed Christian who was not, however, a conservative evangelical convinced that the Bible was a completely inerrant revelation from God without any discrepancies or differences in it.  As I have already indicated, my new way of reading of the Bible did not denigrate the Bible at all, as often happens when people realize there are mistakes in it and come away saying something like:  “It’s worthless, just a pile of contradictions!”  That wasn’t my view at all.

On the contrary, the differences revealed the true richness of the Christian tradition.  The Gospels, rather than simply being completely accurate accounts of what really happened were theological reflections on the significance of Jesus.  Different reflections, by different authors, all of whom had something to teach me as someone who was himself wrestling with the significance of Jesus.  One way to see the true depth of these different reflections is to compare them carefully with one another.  I explain how that can be done by taking a particular example: how did the Gospel writers remember Jesus’ death.  This is how I explain it in my book Jesus Interrupted (this will take two or maybe three posts).

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I can begin my comparison of texts by discussing an example that strikes me as particularly clear and gripping.  As is the case with detailed discrepancies one can find between one account and another, this kind of difference can be seen only by doing a careful horizontal reading of passages; but rather than looking for minute disagreements here or there, we are looking for broader themes, major differences in the way a story is told.  One story that is told very differently in the Gospels is the key story of them all, the crucifixion of Jesus.  You might think that all the Gospels have exactly the same message about the crucifixion, and that their differences might simply reflect minor changes of perspective, with one author emphasizing one thing and another something else.  But in fact the differences are much larger and more fundamental than that.  Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than in the accounts of Jesus’ death in Mark and Luke.

I should probably reiterate a point I made earlier, that…

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A Very Different Portrayal of Jesus’ Death
A New Way of Reading the Bible

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Schmitty422  August 16, 2017

    What do you make of earlier in Mark where Jesus makes his famous “Give his life a ransom for many” statement and predicts his fate in Mark 8? Do you think that Mark is lacking in narrative consistency and that earlier on Mark shows Jesus as knowing exactly what is going to happen to him and (in some sense) why, but then later on Jesus is shocked by what is happening?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 17, 2017

      Yes, that’s pretty much what I think. The inconsistency comes from utilizing a range of sources and traditions and tryin to combine them together into a coherent Gospel narrative.

  2. Robert
    Robert  September 29, 2017

    “… But the reader knows the reason.  Right after Jesus dies, the curtain rips in half and the centurion makes his confession.  As we saw in the previous chapter, the curtain in the Temple rips in half to show that now, with the death of Jesus, God is made available to his people, and not through the Jewish sacrifices in the Temple.  Jesus’ death has brought an atonement (see Mark 10:45). … Here the curtain must [] indicate that Jesus’ death brings atonement. …”

    I think the rending of the temple curtain in Mark’s gospel is nothing more than an omen of it’s coming destruction, as predicted by Jesus in his final and longest discourse in Mark’s gospel, and which has in fact very recently come to pass in the present day of Mark’s actual contemporary audience. There is no indication on Mark’s gospel that the rending of the temple curtain should be charged with a soteriological interpretation regarding redemption or immediate access to God, etc.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2017

      That’s almost certainly what the ripping means in *Luke*. But in Mark, it’s all about the timing: it’s right after Jesus dies and right before the centurion confesses that his death shows he’s the son of God. Now the death of the son of God gives direct access to God: no Jewish sacrifices needed. Luke has changed all that.

      • Robert
        Robert  October 1, 2017

        “the death of the son of God gives direct access to God: no Jewish sacrifices needed.”

        But the above is just not a Markan idea; there’s not a hint of this anywhere in Mark’s gospel.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 2, 2017

          I disagree. It’s the point of the healing of the paralytic in ch. 2 as well, for example. And cf. 12:33.

          • Robert
            Robert  October 2, 2017

            Neither of those passages says anything whatsoever about Jesus’ death.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 3, 2017

            THe point is that in Jesus, the Jewish sacrificial system has been replaced. The climax of the story shows how.

          • Robert
            Robert  October 3, 2017

            “THe point is that in Jesus, the Jewish sacrificial system has been replaced. The climax of the story shows how.”

            That point is not disputed by anyone. Everyone agrees that the temple was destroyed. You are supposed to be defending the view that for Mark with the atoning death of Jesus, God is made available to his people, and not through the Jewish sacrifices in the Temple, and that this is supposedly symbolized by the temple curtain being rent in two. Nowhere does Mark speak in symbolic terms of the temple curtain as prohibiting our access to God.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 4, 2017

            Right, that’s where we disagree. Mark 15:37-39 is normally interpreted to mean *precisely* that.

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