It is easy to claim new solutions and new approaches to familiar problems. But in the field of New Testament research it is much harder to make these claims stick. Some years ago I wrote an article in which I attempted to correct the prevailing view that Mark was the first of the Gospels. When the article was discussed in a seminar at Cambridge, the objection was raised that there was nothing new in my contentions or approach. Perhaps not. Perhaps I am simply unable to find in the enormous mountain of scholarly contributions to our knowledge of the Synoptic Gospels the special line of solution and methodology to which I found myself driven as early as 1962.
The Gospel of Mark was never popular in the Greek-speaking Hellenistic church. Papias, the mid-second-century bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia, was the first church father to mention the Gospel and his statement was probably dictated by the general criticism voiced against Mark by the early Greek readers of the Gospel: “Mark,” Papias says, “did no wrong in writing down the things [he had only heard Peter say].”
In 1959 I found myself attempting to study the Greek text of the Gospel of Mark with a view to translating it to modern Hebrew. The rather strange Greek of Mark, the Hebraic word-order, and the impossibility of rendering to Hebrew some of the special Markan Grecisms (like καὶ εὐθύς and πάλιν, which have no ancient Hebrew equivalents) left me wondering what kind of literary creation we have in this fascinating book.
Is faith antithetical to possessing (or seeking) empirical or rational supports for what we believe? If we may (with qualification) speak of believing as a sort of knowing, then does the Bible construe faith-knowing and rational knowing as mutually exclusive?
What is the relationship between the preaching of Jonah and putting a lamp on a lampstand? The prophet Jonah in classical Jewish thought calls to mind repentance. In Rabbinic literature we read that many prophets were sent to Jerusalem and the people did not listen, but to Nineveh one prophet was sent, and the people repented.
Still today a famous German New Testament professor can say (as he did) to his students: “If you want to be a good Christian, you must kill the Jew in your heart.” I quote this professor’s words not because I am a Jew, but because he used the word “kill” as if it were a Christian virtue. Furthermore, the opinion that “you have to kill the Jew in your heart” is not unconnected with an important trend that existed in Christianity from its beginnings.
Paul mentions the living sacrifices without explanation, as if the readers would be familiar with the concept. Similar early rabbinic vocabulary suggests that Paul is referring to sacrifices which were given to the Temple but which were inappropriate for offering, because they were female instead of male or for other technical reasons. They could not be un-offered so, although they were sacrifices, they were kept alive as temple property till they became blemished, and any profit from them was for the Lord.
One occasionally encounters the view that saving faith is a gift from God, and that those who believe are able to do so only because God gave them the faith to do so. The scary correlate of this view is that those who don’t believe are plumb out of luck: God hasn’t seen fit to give them the faith they need.
The twentieth century saw the birth of a number of new theological movements within the church. The most powerful of these movements was postliberalism, a largely American movement whose ideas are based squarely on the writings of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968).