MARK 4,10–12.pdf

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JETS 51/1 (March 2008) 59–85 EXILE AND THE PURPOSE OF JESUS’ PARABLES (MARK 4:10–12; MATT 13:10–17; LUKE 8:9–10) douglas s. mccomiskey Jesus’ statement regarding his use of parables (Mark 4:10–12; Matt 13:10– 17; Luke 8:9–10) has always been a challenge to scholars because it contains a cluster of difficult exegetical and theological issues, which are especially intense in Mark 4:10–12. For example: What is the “secret” of the kingdom o

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   JETS  51/1 (March 2008) 59–85 EXILE AND THE PURPOSE OF JESUS’ PARABLES(MARK 4:10–12; MATT 13:10–17; LUKE 8:9–10) douglas s. mccomiskey  Jesus’ statement regarding his use of parables (Mark 4:10–12; Matt 13:10–17; Luke 8:9–10) has always been a challenge to scholars because it containsa cluster of difficult exegetical and theological issues, which are especiallyintense in Mark 4:10–12. For example: What is the “secret” of the kingdomof God? How is it “given” to the disciples? What are the lines along whichJesus divides disciples from “those outside”? What is the function of theIsa 6:9–10 quotation in his argument? and, perhaps the most important anddifficult question: Does he desire that certain people not be saved? Varioustypes of responses have been offered, especially for the last question. We willfirst sketch the solutions to the last question in broad strokes to demonstratethe need for a new proposal, and the remainder of the article will present anew proposal with discussion that covers all of the questions asked aboveand more. Our focus throughout will be primarily on Mark’s version of thepericope, but we will cover Luke’s and Matthew’s thoroughly as the issuesin those texts parallel or supplement those in Mark. Thorough evaluationsof the various proposals are available in the literature, which the reader isencouraged to consult, but for brevity’s sake we will devote the vast majorityof space to the presentation of a new proposal that avoids many of the weak-nesses inherent in the other offerings. 1 The contention of this article is that, contrary to the standard approachesto Jesus’ purpose statement, Jesus adopts a meaning for Isa 6:9–10 virtuallyidentical to the srcinal meaning in Isaiah. The fundamental differences arethat Jesus applies the passage to his own ministry and speaks the wordsat a different stage of salvation history. The first difference is significant.Jesus attributes an Isaianic character to his own preaching. Certainly thewords of Isa 6:9–10 srcinally applied to the prophet Isaiah and, I would 1 For useful discussions of the different views on the issues, see Mary Ann Beavis,  Mark’s Audience: The Literary and Social Setting of Mark 4.11–12  (JSNTSS 33; ed. David Hill; Sheffield:JSOT, 1989) 69–86; Robert H. Gundry,  Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross  (GrandRapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 198–204; R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the GreekText  (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002) 193–201; Heikki Räisänen, The “Messianic Secret” in Mark’s Gospel  (Studies in the New Testament and Its World; Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1990)81–87; and Robert A. Guelich,  Mark 1–8:26  (WBC 34a; Dallas: Word, 1989) 209–12.* Douglas S. McComiskey is professor of New Testament at Ridley College, 160 The Avenue,Parkville Vic, 3052 Australia.  journal of the evangelical theological society  60suggest, not to Jesus. 2  Nevertheless, it is legitimate for Jesus to employ thequotation as a means of declaring that his preaching bears the identicalfunction as that of Isaiah’s. Perhaps Jesus saw himself as an antitype toIsaiah. Regarding the different stage of salvation-history, it will be shownthat the time frame referred to in Isa 6:9–10 itself, especially in the broadercontext of the book, may encompass the messianic period. If so, the disjunctionis insignificant, even non-existent, because God’s word in the passage wouldbe intended for rebellious Jews from Isaiah’s day through to Jesus’ day andprobably beyond. Accordingly, Jesus’ preaching had essentially the identicalfunction and audience as Isaiah’s, but at a later time. If the view briefly de-scribed above, and developed throughout this article, is correct, most of thetensions that interpreters of Mark 4:10–12; Matt 13:10–17; and Luke 8:9–10struggle with are resolved. i. review of previous proposals Jesus’ quotation of Isa 6:9–10 in the purpose of parables passages raisesthe question of whether he desired some people not to be saved, which is reallythe central exegetical issue. One general approach to this matter has beento soften the meanings of ªna  (Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10) and mhvpote  (Mark 4:12;Matt 13:15). For example, “in order that” becomes “with the result that,” and“lest” becomes “unless” or “perhaps.” With this reading, preaching in parableshas the result that people do not perceive or understand, but there is hopethat they might turn and be forgiven. 3  In other words, Jesus may not intendto obscure his message, but this is the result, unless the hearer repentsand receives salvation. Indeed, ªna  may sometimes take this sense when thecontext demands it, but mhvpote  with the subjunctive does not appear toallow a softer sense. The fundamental sense of this grammatical construc-tion in every instance in the lxx   is aversion. What is introduced in the mhvpote  + subjunctive clause is considered disadvantageous, something to beavoided. In the large majority of cases, the text explicates action (to be) takento avoid the disadvantageous possibility expressed in the clause, and whereaction is not explicated it is implied. In every case, mhvpote  + subjunctivemay be interpreted as having the meaning “lest” with the sense “for theaversion of.” 4  Interestingly, the same holds true for possibly every instanceof this construction in the NT (Matt 4:6; 5:25; 13:15; 15:32; 25:9; Mark 4:12; 2 Sensus plenior  would allow (though not require) the divine intent behind the words to applyto both Isaiah and Jesus, hence potentially avoiding the issue. The position espoused here is that  sensus plenior  is not necessary for Jesus to apply the passage legitimately to himself. 3 T. W. Manson introduced this approach in The Teaching of Jesus  (Cambridge: CambridgeUniversity Press, 1935) 75–80. R. T. France takes a nuanced approach to this position, stating,“While it may not be legitimate to claim that in Mark ªna  can mean  ‘with the result that’ . . . , theforce of the quotation cannot be far from that sense” ( Gospel of Mark  199). 4 There are about 87 instances of the construction in the lxx  . One Line Short  exile and the purpose of jesus’ parables 61Luke 4:11; 12:58; 14:8, 12; 21:34; Acts 5:39; 28:27; Heb 2:1). 5  In the instancesin Greek literature where BDAG suggests that the meaning of mhvpote  is“perhaps,” either the construction is not mhvpote  + subjunctive, or the meaning actually need not be softened from “lest” to “perhaps,” as in Sir 19:13. Gundrywrites, “we should reject attempts to evade the telic ªna , ‘in order that’; forthe combination with mhvpote , ‘lest,’ comes as close as possible to insuring the telic meaning . . . . The changes made by Matthew and Luke make itapparent that they did not see a way of softening the telic meaning apartfrom dropping the mhvpote -clause as well as making earlier changes.” 6  Craig Evans provides ample argument for the telic force. 7  In summary, it is prob-ably best to adopt the telic sense in Mark 4:12 (and Matt 13:15).Some scholars soften the harshness of Jesus’ quotation by suggesting thatMark’s ªna  is shorthand for the introductory formula, ªna plhrwqhÅ  (“in orderthat it might be fulfilled”). 8  Accordingly, the quotation of Isa 6:9–10 is notan explanation of why he told parables, but a “commentary on the contem-porary situation in which the purpose of God was coming to fulfillment.” 9 It was not that Jesus told parables to conceal the truth. It was simply thatpeople did not understand his parables. Mark 4:11–12 is, in effect, Jesus’lament at the failure of the great majority to hear, in the sense to under-stand, what he was saying. Matthew 18:16 is typically cited as the singleother example of this use of ªna , but there the meaning is not fulfillment of a prophecy but obedience to an OT command. The category is completely dif-ferent. Furthermore, under this view the mhvpote  clause (“lest . . .”) becomesa clumsy appendage with no real meaning for its new context.Blomberg does not apparently seek to soften the grammar (at least hedoes not comment on it), but presents what he believes to be the essentialmeaning Jesus draws from the quotation. He observes,  A speaker or writer who has a viewpoint he wishes his audience to accept thatit does not currently hold will seldom succeed by means of a straightforwardexplanation of his position. Rather he has to think of some innocuous methodof introducing the subject, while at the same time challenging his listeners tothink of it in a new way. A carefully constructed allegory may well accomplishwhat its nonmetaphorical, propositional counterpart could never do. 10 Quoting T. F. Torrance, he amplifies, “Jesus deliberately concealed the Wordin parable lest men against their will  should be forced to acknowledge the 5 If 2 Tim 2:25 is mhvpote  + subjunctive ( mhvpote d ∫ n au˚to  ∂ Í oJ qeo;Í metavnoian ), then the constructioncan possibly mean “perhaps.” However, Westcott and Hort take 2 Tim 2:25 as mhvpote  + optative (citedin A. T. Robertson,  A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research [Nashville: Broadman, 1934] 996), which quite naturally has the meaning, “perhaps,” as in the onlyother instance in the NT, Luke 3:15. See BDAG. The lxx   does not have this optative construction. 6 Gundry,  Mark  202. 7 Craig A. Evans, To See and not Perceive  (JSOTSup 64; Sheffield: JSOT, 1989) 92–99. 8 See, e.g., William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark  (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,1974) 159. 9 Ibid. 10 Craig L. Blomberg,  Interpreting the Parables  (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1990) 54.  journal of the evangelical theological society  62Kingdom, and yet He allowed them enough light to convict them and toconvince them.” 11  As will be seen later, this reasonably coheres with theIsa 6:9–10 quotation in its Gospel contexts, but it misses on one importantpoint. The mhvpote  clause conveys the idea of the divine avoidance of forgive-ness (“lest . . .”). Blomberg seems to argue the opposite. Moreover, would Godforgive persons who are forced against their will  to acknowledge the kingdom?Blomberg does not adequately respond to these challenges.C. E. B. Cranfield represents another solution. 12  He writes, “If . . . the ªna  is given its proper final force, its significance is that the fact that thesecret of the kingdom of God, in accordance with O.T. prophecy, remainshidden from many is something that is within the purpose of God.” 13  On mhvpote , he prefers the meaning “unless,” based on the possibility that Jesusused the Aramaic word dîl  e m a ’  , or the meaning “perhaps,” which sense for mhvpote  is found outside the NT; though he admits that the Hebrew of Isa 6:10must mean “lest.” 14  In this case, Jesus allows the possibility of forgiveness.There are some difficulties, however, with this proposal. First, Jesus importsa dramatically different meaning to the Isaiah text from its srcinal sense. Although this is certainly possible, it is best to determine if the originalintent is acceptable in the new context. Second, if Jesus intended the mean-ing “perhaps,” there are more clearly synonymous Greek words availableto communicate this: for example, aßra , taca , tucovn , ≥ swÍ , and mhvti . Also, asabove, extrabiblical Greek literature may not support the softened meaning for mhvpote  + subjunctive.Joel Marcus takes ªna  and mhvpote  with their full force and sees the with-holding of forgiveness as judicial, a keeping from salvation specifically of Jesus’ opponents who have already hardened themselves. 15  This view doesnot account well both for the absence of opponents in this scene (Mark 4:1–34) and for the fact that Jesus spoke predominantly in parables even to thefavorable crowds. 16 N. T. Wright provides the final type of proposal that we will examine. 17 For Wright, Jesus believes that the Jews are still in exile, but to say soopenly would incur their wrath and intensify their opposition. Therefore,in numerous parables he merely implies that the Jews are in exile. When wetake into consideration the theme of Isaiah 6—exile—the purpose of parables 11 Ibid. 55 (emphasis added). 12 C. E. B. Cranfield, The Gospel According to Saint Mark  (CGTC; Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-versity Press, 1959) 155–58. 13 Ibid. 156. 14 Ibid. 15 Joel Marcus,  Mark 1–8  (AB 27; New York: Doubleday, 2000) 301–7. Rikki E. Watts arrivesat a similar conclusion by positing effectively three groups, with the uncommitted crowd neither“inside” nor “outside” (  Isaiah’s New Exodus and Mark  [WUNT 88; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997]184–210). His view suffers much the same weaknesses as Marcus’s and depends on overly subtleaudience criticism. 16 For a related approach with similar problems, see M. E. Boring,  Mark: A Commentary  (NTL;Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006) 127–28. 17 N. T. Wright,  Jesus and the Victory of God  (Christian Origins and the Question of God 2;Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) 236–39.
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