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Bible Study: Gospel According to Mark


Rather than “Wednesday Stud,y” this fall we will be reading the Gospel According to Mark, so it will be, “Wednesday Bible Study;”  Wednesdays, 9:30-11:00 am.  Why Mark?  Why not start with the first gospel – Matthew?  Because Mark is the first gospel, written around 70 CE.  Matthew was written at least two decades later.

We will begin by investigating the historical context – there are two on them.  There is the original context of Jesus, and then the context in which Mark is writing his gospel.  Biblical scholars often emphasize one or the other.  Some focus their efforts on gleaning from the gospel what is true about Jesus and what is Mark’s interpretation – after all the main point is to find Jesus in the Gospel, right?  Other scholars say that it to look for Jesus in the text is to ignore the narrative function of the text.  Mark is not sharing history, he is telling a story, and each part of the story is woven together creating a meaning.  My approach is to accept both interpretive perspectives for their merits; it isn’t an either/or game.  My sense is that the narrative approach will be the harder for most people to understand and accept.  This is because we still tend to subconsciously read the gospels as history – that they are telling us directly what Jesus said and did.  That is to focus on the first historical context.  The narrative approach focuses on the other historical context – Mark’s.  Then there are a number of interpretations of that context.  Some scholars say Mark was written in Rome in the late 60s the face of the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Nero.  My sympathies are with those who believe it was written near Galilee before or after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans in response to the Jewish revolt in 66-70CE.  There again, some feel it was written before the Temple was destroyed and those who think it was after.  In any case, from the narrative perspective it is vital to discuss the historical context of Mark’s community.  In essence, Mark was portraying Jesus in such a way in order to respond to the experience of Mark’s community.  Mark wasn’t writing a gospel to share about what happened – over two decades after the death of Jesus there were many stories circulating – who know what was historically accurate?  Mark used the resources available to him – many of those circulating stories, and wove together a story that would call his people into discipleship in Jesus Christ.  For those who interpret from this perspective the point of writing a gospel wasn’t to register what happened – it was to evoke faith in the people – and in the case of Mark’s gospel it was to do so in very dangerous times.

There are many ways to read the Bible:  devotionally, Lectio Divina, as literature, etc.  But true bible study is a complex, difficult and illuminating task.  We live in a world in which most of us do not know the Bible.  With all the new technologies in the world – all that entices us constantly it’s likely we will know the Bible less in the coming decades.  My fear is that it will be left to the fundamentalists to read – and that would be a tragedy.

I recognize that because this class meets in the daytime it isn’t convenient for many people.  I would be willing to entertain a Sunday evening class too if there were enough people interested in participating.  If you have interest, please let me know.  P.Jim


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