Book Review: Paul and Mark

paulandmarkTitle: Paul and Mark, Comparative Essays: Two Authors at the Beginnings of Christianity

Editors: Oda Wischmeyer, David Sim, and Ian Elmer

Bibliographic info: xi + 695 pp. + 13 pp.

Publisher: Walter de Gruyter, 2014.

Buy the book at Amazon.

With thanks to Walter de Gruyter for the review copy.

This volume is one of a pair, with the other being Mark and Paul: Comparative Essays for and Against Pauline Influence on Mark.

Paul and Mark is a volume consisting of twenty-one studies written in either German and English. These studies focus on the question of whether the Gospel of Mark has been influenced by the theology of the apostle Paul. The idea that Mark was influenced by Paul was a common one back in the nineteenth century, but hasn’t been as popular in twentieth century scholarship, though there have been a few notable voices in support of it (e.g. Joel Marcus, William Telford, Michael Goulder). The table of contents can be found here, and I will provide here a summary of only a few of the studies.

Michael Theophilos provides a study titled, The Roman Connection: Paul and Mark (pp. 45–71). Here he argues that “there are strong theological overtones within a plausible Roman historical context to suggest that the author of Mark’s Gospel knew and drew upon the Pauline Roman connection.” After beginning by laying out some definitions and assumptions (e.g. Romans was composed in mid-50s CE; Mark was composed in Rome towards the end of the 60s), the author lays out a case for a connection between Romans and Mark. He analyzes how they use the term ευαγγελιον (its frequency, importance, and meaning), and the theological continuities and discontinuities in the Gospel of Mark and the Epistle to the Romans. He notes that there are several distinctive theological kerygmatic elements shared between Mark and Romans, such as the concepts and terminology of atonement and redemption in Romans are compellingly echoed in Mark’s presentation of the soteriological significance of Jesus’ death” (62). A few other continuities between Romans and Mark are that they shared a theological vision of the inclusion of the gentiles in the mission of the church, the placement of Israel in the chronology of the divine Heilgeschichte, and an emphasis on the abrogation of food laws. A dissimilarity between Romans and Mark is the latter’s emphasis on suffering discipleship.

David Sim provides a study titled, The Family of Jesus and the Disciples of Jesus in Paul and Mark: Taking Sides in the Early Church’s Factional Dispute (73-99). This study examines how Mark treats what was one of Paul’s major opponents: the leaders of the Jerusalem Church. The thrust behind Sim’s thesis is this: in writing a biography of Jesus, Mark was presented with an opportunity to depict the family of Jesus and disciples of Jesus, and he chose to make a somewhat negative depictions of these groups. Why? Because Mark was influenced by Paul and had pro-Pauline tendencies (and reveals these tendencies in other ways). Sim discusses the Jerusalem Church’s view of Paul, Paul’s relationship with the Jerusalem Church, Mark’s relationship with the family of Jesus, and Mark’s relationship with the disciples of Jesus.

Sim notes that while Paul accepted that these groups of people, especially James and Peter, were authoritative figures who had seen the risen Lord, he was nevertheless critical of them for “their denial of his independent apostleship, their rejection of his Law-free gospel and most important their interference in his own Gentile churches” (95). Therefore, in writing a biography of Jesus, “Mark was forced to adopt a completely new strategy. He obviously could not defend Paul and criticize the actions of the Jerusalem leadership during the time of the church, so he did what he could to question the leadership credentials of the disciples and the family of Jesus by emphasizing their many shortcomings during the mission of the historical Jesus. In writing or perhaps rewriting many aspects of the history of Jesus’ ministry, Mark betrays his impeccable Pauline credentials” (97).

Jesper Svartvik provides an interesting study on the concept of Torah in Paul and Mark. He says that “there is a cloud of misunderstanding of the entire research are of ‘paul and the law’ that obscures the theological simiarlities between Mark and Paul.” Included are discussions of the old and new perspectives of Paul, as well as the newer (or “renewed”) perspective.

Elizabeth Dowling argues that there is a linkage between the Last Supper traditions of Mark and Paul. This connection is, as Dowling contends, seen between Paul’s Last Supper account and Mark’s story of the woman anointing Jesus (Mk 14.3-9). If Dowling is correct in this connection then while it would affirm that Mark was familiar with the  Last Supper tradition of Paul (or one similar to Paul’s), it would also cut against the notion of a direct usage of Paul by Mark.

The final study in this volume is from Ian Elmer and provides an assessment of Papias’ comments on Mark. The central question Elmer seeks to answer: “Is Papias’ information about Mark’s association with Peter trustworthy, and if not, is it mere hagiography, or intentional misdirection.” He concludes  that the “fragmentary nature” of Papias’ tradition makes it “extremely difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the ultimate source of Papias’ information.”

All the studies in this volume provide strong support for the idea that Mark may have had more in common with Paul than with Peter. While I’m not entirely convinced by the book’s thesis, I do think it is a reasonable enough position to say that Mark may have very well known of Paul. I think that some of the passages where Mark is said to have been influenced by Paul could reasonably be used to support the thesis of this book, but others seem reliant upon concepts or words that would have been widespread in early Christianity, thus making a direct connection between Mark and Paul hard to definitively identify. Nevertheless, this volume is a cogent and fresh contribution to the question of the relationship between the Gospel of Mark and the apostle Paul. Hopefully it will be warmly welcomed and the studies will be thoroughly interacted with to see if the central thesis of the book does indeed hold weight.

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