FROM ‘WORD STUDIES’ TO ‘THE STUDY OF THE WORD’: WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?
It is often said that it is impossible to find a needle in a haystack. Yet it also could be said that if, once found, one focuses too narrowly upon the small needle so as not to lose it again, they may very well loose peripheral sight of the haystack all together.
A glance through some commentaries on Mark 10:45 will reveal a similar tendency of scholars to get so focused on detailed word studies that they lose sight of the larger idea which clearly shines through if one would only step back and see the broader scope of Mark’s narrative. They have let the tiny needle eclipse the larger haystack.
Many have concluded that since there are not direct quotations from or exact word parallels to Isaiah 52-53, Jesus was not therefore influenced by or identifying himself with the vocation of the Servant of YHWH in Isaiah 52-53. N.T. Wright is correct to invite a more fluid and subtle reference to such themes:
We catch echoes of this, rather than direct statements…It is a matter of understanding Jesus’ whole kingdom-announcement in the light of several major themes from the Jewish scriptures, and showing that it is absurd, granted the whole picture, to disallow reference, allusion and echo to Isaiah 40-55 in general, and to 52:13-53:12 in particular.
Many have claimed that since two different terms are used for “servant” (“doulos” and “diakonos”) in Mark and Isaiah (LXX), they cannot be related. Witherington rightly dismisses this claim arguing that “by Mark’s day there was clearly overlap in the meaning of ‘doulos’ and ‘diakonos’.”
Critics also rightly note that the word asam in Isaiah 53:10 refers to a sin offering, not a ransom (“lutron”), yet this too is missing the larger picture of the OT idea of sacrifice. Witherington again notes: “Since Yahweh’s redemptive work for Israel is indeed described in terms of a “lutron” throughout Second and Third Isaiah (35:9; 41:14; 43:1, 14; 44:22-24; 52:3; 62:12; 63:9), it seems forced to suggest that the author had no such notions in mind in regard to Yahweh’s servant as described in Isa. 53.”
Advocates for an Isaianic background to 10:45 rightly point to all of the clear Markan allusions to the Servant passages in the passion narrative. If Mark (and I believe Jesus as well) readily draws on the Servant passages both explicitly and implicitly during the passion narrative, then why would he not also readily draw from the same source in preparing the disciples before hand in 10:32-45?
This brief sketch of the significance of the cross in both Jesus’ own self-understanding and Mark’s overall Isaianic new exodus theme has attempted to challenge some of the misguided exegesis that has surrounded Mark 10:45 and other texts related to the message and mission of the crucified messiah. By avoiding obsessive semantic studies and placing more emphasis on the broader OT themes that shape both the mindset of Jesus and the narrative of Mark, we shall at last come to a more “straightforward” understanding of the most puzzling figure of history and this riddling narrative account of his strange path to power and glory.
BIBLIOGRAPHY OF CITED SOURCES
Barrett, C. K. ”The Background of Mark 10:45.” New Testament Essays, ed. A. J. B. Higgins, 1959.
Evans, Craig A. “Mark.” Word Biblical Commentary 34b; Dallas: Word Books, 2001.
Gundry, Robert H. Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992.
Marcus, Joel. The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1992.
Stuhlmacher, Peter. “Vicariously Giving His Life For Many.” In Reconciliation, Law, and Righteousness. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986.
Taylor, Vincent. The Gospel According to St. Mark. London: Macmillan, 1952.
Witherington III, Ben. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001.
Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996.
OTHER SOURCES CONSULTED
Hooker, Morna D. The Son of Man in Mark. Montreal: McGill Universtity, 1967.
Rashdall, Hastings. The Idea of Atonement in Christian Theology. London: Macmillan and Co., 1919.