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Posted March 5, 2004

Book: Jesus’ Urgent Message for Today: The Kingdom of God in Mark’s Gospel
Author: Elliott C. Maloney
Continuum, New York, pp. 150

An excerpt from the Introduction

New Developments in Biblical Interpretation

A recent renaissance in the scholarly study of ancient Palestine in the first century has greatly expanded our understanding of the context in which Jesus lived and carried out his ministry. The reasons for this new viewpoint are two. First, recent scholars have gone outside the traditional focuses on biblical texts to seek from various social science perspectives a more refined understanding of just what society as a whole was like back then. Previously, most historical study had been limited to the major writings and the durable artifacts of antiquity, things produced by and for an elite section of the population who controlled their society and had little to do with the common people. Examining only these materials produced a rather one-sided picture of antiquity that tended to obscure some of the most important realities one needs to understand what was really going on in the ancient Mediterranean world.

The Social Location of Scholarship

There is no doubt that the perspective of the common man and woman of antiquity and a familiarity with the ordinary events of their lives were lacking in the presentation of the New Testament until fairly recently. Such a lucuna in perception was probably a factor of the social “location” of the most influential interpreters of the New Testament. Over the twenty Christian centuries the most widely preached and read explanations of the sacred texts have been done by Christian churchmen. As such, these gifted communicators were mainly concerned with the relationship of the Bible to church doctrine, to the kind of spiritualizing selectivity that was not concerned with the practical social conditions behind the words and activities recorded in the ancient texts. In other words, their focus was trying to find out what the Bible revealed about how to live a Christian life in an idealized and fairly static medieval Christian society. Gone was the powerful social upheaval that the first Christians caused. The stories of their lives and struggles were spiritualized, and political and economic factors were no longer taken into consideration. Finally, the powerful leaders of the Church who interpreted the Bible for the illiterate masses were basically unaware of their own limitations and their suppositions about society. They remained relatively insulated in their social situation as members of the cultural elite of their day.

Recent Approaches to Biblical Interpretation

The second step in the new perspective is the work of modern biblical scholars who are often from very different social standing than their predecessors. In the nineteenth and especially the twentieth centuries Bible study was broadened by a circle of scholars that went beyond the narrow confines of church leadership. Gradually, the prevailing opinions on most questions about the Bible were constructed by the leading academic writers. But these scholars were limited, too. They were mainly white, Euro-American, middle-class males, most of whom had not yet come to an understanding of how their own “social location” and their Nordic individualism helped to bias their understanding of biblical texts. In fact, they believed their opinions to be rather objective, since they were employing a rather “scientific” approach t the Bible.

Happily, this situation too has been left behind. The prominence in the latter decades of the twentieth century of a good number of highly trained women scholars, along with the broadening input of the social sciences, has opened up the field of Bible study to many new ideas and perspectives. In fact, it has even allowed an incipient awareness of the value of the different perspectives of Latin American and other “Two-Thirds World” exegetes. With their different sensitivities, these scholars have been able to perceive many factors operative in texts of the ancient world that the “mainline” scholars simply missed. We now have a much more realistic picture of the society in which Jesus lived and taught, and one that leads to some new conclusions about his life and ministry. Their insights and challenges for all Christians about NT eshatology and the present state of the world should no longer go unheard. The practical focus of Jesus’ rejection of the formal religious system of the Jerusalem Temple, his teaching on justice, and his great vision for the future come more fully to light only when we read the Scriptures with a fuller awareness. The cultural understanding of the first-century Mediterranean people, so similar to that in Latin America today, is a necessary ingredient for the veracity of any modern interpretation of the Bible.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Although it is not a geographical locale, the Kingdom is a dimension of being in which those wh believe can dwell. It is a community that replaces the patriarchal family in its support and concern for its members. What is required for entrance into this new state of being is repentance, a radical change from a life of despair and the fatalistic acceptance of injustice to one of trust in God’s loving and liberating presence. Entrance into the Kingdom of God means entering God’s eschatological plan where a life of total sharing with others means a life in the proper relationship with God. As loving Father, God forgives all but also demands total forgiveness of one another. The mystery of the Kingdom is this: one must enter it, that is, commit oneself to God’s will by faith, in order to understand what God really wants for each person. Otherwise, life remains an unsolvable riddle for the poor and powerless, and an empty hypocrisy for the rich and powerful.

Table of Contents:

Part I The Background and Basic Theology of the Gospel of Mark

1. The society and culture of first-century Palestine
2. The Christology of the Gospel of Mark
3. The Kingdom of God

Part II The Eschatology of Mark’s Gospel

4. Cultural considerations in ancient thinking
5. Eschatology in the Gospel of Mark
6. The Marcan Eschatological Discourse

Conclusions on the Kingdom to Come in Mark