Category Archives: Julie M. Smith

A Short Note on Thessalonians

by John W. Welch

Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians describe what I would call “The Way,” meaning to walk in the path of truth and life.[1]  First Thessalonians is Paul’s first letter back to his new converts in Thessalonica. He articulates what it means to live and walk as a Christian. He encourages the converts to seek faith, love, hope, and spiritual power:

Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. (1 Thess. 1:3-5)

In chapter two, he reminds them to please God, not men, even when doing so causes them to suffer, trying their hearts (1 Thess. 2:4).

In chapter 4, he tells them that they can become sanctified by their purity and fairness (1 Thess. 4:3-6). They must seek holiness, brotherly love, study, being quiet or reverent, minding their own business, working with their hands, and walking honestly (1 Thess. 4:7-12).

In chapter 5, he tells them to esteem their leaders, rejoice, pray, give thanks, quench not the Spirit, despise not prophesyings, prove (test) all things, hold fast that which is good, and abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:13-22).

This rich description of what it means to live a holy life, walking in the path of Christ, still serves us well today.

Julie Smith has articulated in much more detail how the Way is described in Mark and the other Gospels, usually by the Greek word hodos. She explains that Paul used other language to describe a Christian life. See her presentation on The Way on video and transcript on this page, and in her commentary The Gospel according to Mark.  

[1] Although in 1 Thessalonians 3:11 Paul uses the word hodos, way, to describe the path that he needed to return to Thessalonica, it is not used to describe the way of Christian discipleship.

Jesus Questioned about Resurrection (Mark 12:18-27)

By Julie M. Smith. This post is extracted from The Gospel according to Mark, part of the BYU New Testament Commentary.

New Rendition

18 And Sadducees—who say there is no resurrection—come to him. And they were questioning him,  saying, 19 “Teacher, Moses  wrote  for  us,  ‘If a man’s brother should die and leave behind a wife and not leave children, he should marry his brother’s wife, and he should raise children for his brother.’ 20 There were seven brothers, and the first took a wife and, dying, left no children. 21 And the second took her and died, not having left children, and the third, the same. 22 And none of the seven had children. And last of all, the woman died. 23 In the resurrection whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as a wife.” 24 Jesus said to them, “Aren’t you mistaken because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God? 25 For when they rise from the dead, they do not marry nor are they given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. 26 Now as for the dead—that they are raised—have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the [burning] bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob?’ 27 He is not the God of the dead but of the living. [So] you are very mistaken.”

Analysis

The point of the Sadducees’ (highly unlikely) scenario is to suggest that resurrection cannot be possible because if it were, a woman might end up with seven husbands in the next life. The Sadducees would rather deny the Resurrection than countenance the possibility of polyandry. Given that they presumably had no problem with polygyny (which is mentioned in their scriptures), this serves as a startling example of sexist thought. Further, this scenario is only a problem for them if they assume that all marriages are eternal. If there was any possibility in their minds that marriages were not eternal, then the solution to their question is simple: most or all of her marriages would not be eternal. (Even for Latter-day Saints, who believe in the possibility of eternal marriages, there is doubt as to whether levirate marriages would be eternal since the purpose of the marriage was to provide children to the deceased brother, not to be a permanent match.)

This story is not solely a dispute about this one unusual case. To the extent that the Sadducees (or Mark’s audience) understood that Jesus would die and be resurrected, it is important for Jesus to be able to defend the idea of resurrection; otherwise, his entire ministry is undermined.

Jesus’ teachings here also imply that it is not the mere fact of a marriage that makes it eternal, but rather a marriage requires something else (what Latter-day Saints would now call the sealing authority) to render it a post- mortally valid marriage. Apparently, the Sadducees did not realize this, hence Jesus’ comment that they do not understand the scriptures (which reference covenants and ordinances and sealing power, if not with the clarity that Latter-day Saint readers sometimes superimpose on them) or the power of God (which makes it possible for some, if not all, marriages to be eternal). The obvious way out of the Sadducees’ trap is for Jesus to say that there are no marriages in heaven; the fact that the Sadducees do not consider this a possibility (and thus think that their question proves that there can be no resurrection) suggests that the Sadducees assumed that Jesus would believe in marriage after death so strongly that he would be more likely to concede the Resurrection than postmortal marriage. In other words, this trap question is a testament to the strength of Jesus’ (and the Sadducees’) belief in marriage after death.

Jesus’ warning about not knowing the scriptures fits into a pattern in Mark’s Gospel where knowledge of the scriptures is shown to be different from understanding of the scriptures; this would have been a powerful warning for Mark’s audience. The Sadducees assumed that the law of Moses was a template for the eternal order, but this is not correct: Jesus’ answer implies that the law of Moses was, in at least some respects, an accommodation to the problems of a fallen world. It may have been a particularly relevant statement for the Sadducees, since they rejected most of the scriptural record. (While the evidence is scant, it is likely that the Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the HB as scripture.)

Jesus’ teachings about marrying in heaven may appear to be contrary to Latter-day Saint ideas about the eternal potential of marriages. But given that the Sadducees are not actually interested in learning from Jesus but rather just trying to trip him up, one should not be surprised that Jesus chose not to teach them anything else about marriage at this point (compare 11:33). Of course, there may be a hint of a higher teaching in the note that God has powers that they do not understand. In other instances in Mark, Jesus hints at the eternal nature of marriage (see 10:8–9, where it is difficult to imagine that God would “tear asunder” the “one flesh” after death). Further, the wording used in this passage refers to the contracting of new marriages (“marry” and “given in marriage”; not “continue to be married”). This idea is wholly congruent with Latter-day Saint thought: it is precisely because new marriages are not believed to be contracted in the next life (D&C 132:16)[1] that proxy marriages are performed in this life and that eternal marriages are regarded as so very important. Even some non–Latter-day Saint interpreters take this view (although, admittedly, the sentiment is rare): “Notice what Jesus does not say. He does not say that there will be no marriage in the age to come. The use of the terms [marry] and [are given in marriage] is important, for these terms refer to the gender-specific roles played in early Jewish society by the man and the woman in the process of getting married.. . . Thus Mark has Jesus saying that no new marriages will be initiated . . . this is surely not the same as claiming that all existing marriages will disappear.”[2]

Notes

12:18 Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying: This is the only reference to Sadducees in Mark’s Gospel. “They were not so much a religious party (as the Pharisees), but more of a social class, or elite, composed mostly of the priests. The traditionalists of their day, they rejected all ‘innovations,’ including the idea of the resurrection, angels, etc.”[3]70 In addition to the priests themselves, the term “the Sadducees” probably includes their family members and followers.

Interestingly, in the HB, the only generally accepted references to life after death are in Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 2:2 (although many other texts are interpreted to refer to postmortal life by some). The Pharisees and other Jews did believe in resurrection, so, interestingly, Jesus will side with the Pharisees here.

12:19 Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother: This verse quotes Deuteronomy 25:5, which describes levirate marriage, the practice of a childless widow marrying her deceased husband’s brother so that she might have children. Those children were regarded as belonging to the deceased brother and thus continuing his line and memory.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the term for “raise up” (Greek: exanistēmi) is similar to the term for “resurrection” (Greek: anastasis). The implication for the Sadducees is that an actual resurrection is not necessary since the children produced by the levirate marriage serve whatever purpose would be filled by resurrection: people would, in effect, live forever through their children. Of course, in this case, even six levirate marriages did not “raise up” anything, so their own example undermines the idea that levirate marriage negates the need for resurrection.

12:20 Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed. 21 And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise. 22 And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also. 23 In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife. 24 And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God: It may seem a little odd that Jesus says that they “err” when they have only asked a question, but their question contained erroneous assumptions. These assumptions would include that (1) levirate marriages would be eternal or that (2) polyandry in the next life is so unthinkable that it could be used to deny the Resurrection. (One way to avoid polyandry in this situation would be for the woman to be given a choice of husbands, but apparently the Sadducees find that notion equally impossible.) The possibility of polyandry may seem excessively speculative, but in the last instance when Jesus was challenged about marriage relationships, he took the argument in a decidedly nonandrocentric direction that was almost certainly unanticipated by his audience (10:12), so perhaps the same thing happens here. That said, the first option is more likely: Jesus is teaching here that contra the assumption of the Sadducees, not all marriages are eternal. (This is likely to strike Latter-day Saint readers as ironic.) The Sadducees have asked whose wife she would be, but Jesus does not say “the first man’s” or “all of theirs.” Jesus’ answer in 12:25 suggests that none of these marriages will be eternally valid—even the first one, which was not a levirate marriage, apparently wasn’t eternally permanent either. But particularly for the levirate marriages, there is a good case to be made that they would not be expected to be eternal. In chapter 10, Jesus explains that marriages stem from the original order of creation, but only the Fall—by bringing death into the world—would provide a scenario where levirate marriage was required. Thus, many Jews (and, apparently, Jesus here as well) separated regular marriage from levirate marriage.

What does it mean to say that the Sadducees do not know the power of God? At its most basic, this phrase means that resurrected life is different from earth life. First, concerns about dying without seed would not be applicable, so levirate marriage would not be necessary. Second, God’s power permits some (but not all) marriages to be eternal. And life in the resurrection is different from earthly life—to the point where the potential for polyandry is not a reason to discount the Resurrection.

12:25 For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven: At its most basic level, this statement goads the Sadducees, who apparently did not believe in angels.[4] It is easy to imagine Mark’s early audiences laughing at this line. While most interpreters assume that the reference to angels means that angels will be unmarried,[5] this is not necessarily the case. The HB does not describe angels as asexual (Gen. 6:1–4). Rather, being like the angels means not being subject to death and therefore not requiring levirate marriage.

12:26 And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying: This question indicates that Jesus was well aware that the Sadducees’ question was not really about marriage but rather about resurrection.

The phrase “in the bush” probably functioned much as chapter and verse divisions do today: it was a short-hand way of saying “in the story of the burning bush” and calling the audience’s attention to the story to which he was referring. At the same time, the fact that the bush was on fire but was not consumed serves as an example of the power of God, specifically (if subtly) of the power of God to preserve life from death.

I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?: This is a quote from Exodus 3:6. In context, God is self-identifying to Moses to prepare Moses to return to the people. If Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob no longer existed at the time this was spoken, then it would have made no sense for God to mention their names. The fact that God does use them leads to the conclusion that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must have existed after death (as Jesus explains in the next verse). Further, “God had made promises to these patriarchs, and since they had not all yet been fulfilled, it must be assumed that they are still alive.”[6]73 So the continued existence of the patriarchs negates the Sadducees’ beliefs.

While some have emphasized the tense of the verb “am” (as opposed to “was”), Mark does not actually have that verb in the text (it is assumed but not included), and so that does not appear to be the point of the statement.

12:27 He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye there- fore do greatly err: Jesus explains that, in a sense, there are no dead people: God can self-define in terms of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because they are still living.

“Ye . . . do . . . err” translates the same Greek verb (planaō) as “ye . . . err” in 12:24, framing Jesus’ remarks and emphasizing the idea that the Sadducees’ question relies on erroneous assumptions.

[1] Note that the language appears to echo this very passage in Mark with its references to marrying, being given in marriage, and being as angels.

[2] Witherington, Gospel of Mark, 328; compare Collins, Mark, 561–62.

[3] Bratcher and Nida, Translator’s Handbook, 374.

[4] Acts 23:8. However, there are several references to angels in the first five books of the HB (for example, Gen. 22:15), which the Sadducees did accept as scripture, so it is difficult to know what to make of this evidence.

[5] This is contra the position of D&C 132:16, which takes the angelic state as an unmarried one, but in terms of determining how Mark’s audience would have interpreted the reference to angels, it does not seem likely that they would have assumed that the angelic state was an unmarried one.

[6] Witherington, Gospel of Mark, 329.

Jesus Teaches about Wealth (Mark 10:17–31)

By Julie M. Smith

This is excerpted from The Gospel according to Mark. It includes the New Rendition, Notes, and Analysis.

New Rendition

17 Now as he went forth on the way, a man having run up to him and having knelt down, asked him, “Good teacher, what should I do so that I might inherit eternal life?” 18 But Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not give false testimony. Do not defraud. Respect your father and mother.’” 20 But he said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have strictly obeyed from my youth.” 21 But Jesus, having looked at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing of yours is lacking: go, as much as you have—sell, and give [the money] to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” 22 But he, his face falling at this saying, went away grieving, for he was one who had many possessions.

23 And having looked around, Jesus says to his disciples, “How hard it is for those having riches to enter into the kingdom of God!” 24 But the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus again answering says to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God. 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” 26 But they were extremely astonished, saying to him, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus, having looked at them, says, “With mortals it is impossible, but not with God. Indeed, all things are possible with God.”

28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left all things and are following you.” 29 Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or land for my sake and for the good news 30 who will not take a hundred times as much now in this time—homes and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and land, with persecution—and in the age which is coming, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

Notes

10:17 And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?: The man’s question relies on some problematic assumptions:

  1. Whether it is appropriate to call Jesus “good” (see the next verse).
  2. Whether eternal life requires certain actions in order to “inherit” This idea does not mesh well with Jesus’ teachings about receiving the kingdom as a child. The question is also somewhat self-contradictory since one normally does not need to do anything in order to receive an inheritance.

Neither the man’s wealth (which Mark’s audience will not learn about until the very end of the story) nor his commandment-keeping has left him feeling secure about his prospects for eternal life; this is especially significant if the man’s statement that he has kept all of the commandments (see 10:20) is accepted as accurate.

10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good?: The word “me” is emphatic here.

Jesus’ refusal to accept being called “good” can be difficult to under- stand; possible interpretations include:

  1. The man may have called Jesus “good” in order to obligate Jesus to address him with a similarly flattering Jesus’ refusal to accept being called “good” thus signals his unwillingness to engage in mutual flattery, despite social convention.
  2. Many HB texts praise God as good (1 16:34; 2 Chr. 5:13; Ps. 100:5; 106:1; 107:1; 136:1). Perhaps Jesus was not willing to permit this man to lavish praise on him that properly belongs only to God. Jesus may be, in a hyperbolic way, shifting the glory from himself to God as a way to highlight God’s glory. If this is the best reading, it is a departure from the frequent tendency in Mark to place Jesus in narrative roles where he is identified with the God of the HB; perhaps it is the case that the narrative can reveal Jesus’ role as God but the discourse cannot.
  3. Jesus’ refusal to be called “good” may indicate his refusal to identify with the privileged members of the household; the point would be that God alone is good while all others are equal.

there is none good but one, that is, God: Jesus’ statement opens up some distance between himself and God and thus could be weighed in later debates regarding the nature of the relationship between Jesus and God, although this is not Mark’s concern here.

10:19 Thou knowest the commandments: Focusing on the Ten Commandments is interesting in light of 10:1–12, where Jesus downplayed the law of Moses in favor of the creation ordinances.

Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness: Jesus recites the sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth commandments, following the Hebrew order.

Defraud not: This phrase appears to have been in the earliest manuscripts but was omitted by some later scribes, probably because they realized that “defraud not” did not belong to a listing of the Ten Commandments.[1] And surely the audience would have expected a reference to the tenth commandment, which prohibited coveting, here. But instead Jesus violates their expectations with the command not to defraud. Why does Jesus mention defrauding in a manner designed for maximum audience impact? Perhaps because “the command, ‘You shall not defraud,’ would have immediately elicited in the minds of Jesus’ listeners the whole constellation of images which associated elite wealth with greed, land acquisition, and the abuse of day laborers.”[2] While Mark’s audience has not yet been informed of it, this man is wealthy. So the reference to defrauding is most appropriate to his personal situation and speaks to Jesus’ prophetic gifts. (It may also reflect the commandments in Lev. 19:13 and/or Deut. 24:14– 15.) In the economic reality of Jesus’ time, there was no path to wealth except to defraud others: “In the localized zero-sum economy of agrarian Palestine, there was little chance one could become rich without having defrauded people along the way.”[3] Also, through the act of altering the list of the Ten Commandments in order to reflect the personal situation of his interlocutor, Jesus makes clear his own relationship to the law.[4]

Honour thy father and mother: Jesus returns to the Ten Commandments but presents the fifth commandment out of order. It is not clear why Jesus mentions this commandment last; it may be because it is the only commandment with a promise attached, and that promise is long life (Ex. 20:12), which is related—at least tangentially—to the man’s question about eternal life. It is also possible that the man’s wealth may have pro- vided special temptations for not honoring parents, perhaps through a vow of corban (see the Notes on 7:11).

10:20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth: There are two different approaches to the man’s answer:

  1. He is Otherwise, it would be hard to explain why Jesus loved him in the next verse. Also, he now addresses Jesus as “teacher” (KJV: “master”) instead of “good teacher,” so he is teachable and willing to accommodate his behavior to Jesus’ request.
  2. He had not kept all of the commandments, although perhaps he didn’t realize it.

While this character is often called “the rich young man,” Mark does not present him as young, as the phrase “from my youth” indicates.

10:21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him: There is a good chance, based on context and language, that “loved” includes a physical gesture such as hugging or putting his arm around him.

One thing thou lackest: There is an interesting irony here: despite all of his riches, he lacks something.

go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor: Because the word “go” is common in healing stories, it hints that the man’s possessions are like a disease from which he must be liberated.

In some strains of Jewish thought, selling everything was forbidden because it would make the giver dependent upon others.

and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: The language here is not coincidental: the man has to give up his treasures on earth in order to get treasures in heaven.

It would have been nearly impossible to become wealthy without collaborating with Rome, so Jesus is inviting this man to focus on a different kingdom.

and come, take up the cross, and follow me: The phrase “take up the cross” is not in the best ancient manuscripts.[5]

The invitation to follow Jesus is the same invitation extended to the other disciples, supporting the reading that this is also a call story, distinctive as the only call that is refused.

10:22 And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: Without saying a word, the man’s face falls and he walks away. His reaction contrasts to Jesus, who looked at him and loved him; he shows his lack of love for Jesus by being unwilling to follow him. He is, as a wealthy man who attempts to engage in mutual flattery, the opposite of the child who welcomes the kingdom.

for he had great possessions: Possessions would include land and property.

Relationship to Malachi 3. In Malachi 3, the Lord is on the way to the temple to examine its corruption, as Jesus is “on the way” to the temple in Mark’s text. Malachi asks who will be able to stand when the Lord comes, which means that the rich man’s kneeling in this text could be read as a narrative signal that the man cannot “stand” in the Lord’s presence,[6] as his unwillingness to divest of his possessions indicates. An allusion to Malachi might help explain Jesus’ puzzling objection to calling him good, since in Malachi, apparently innocuous questions weary the Lord (see Mal. 2:17).[7]104 A close link between the two texts comes with Malachi 3:5, which in the LXX uses the same Greek word for “defraud” (KJV: “oppress”) as is found in 10:19. If Mark’s audience caught an allusion to Malachi 3:5 in Jesus’ mention of not defrauding, they likely would have presumed that this man was guilty of oppressing his employees by withholding wages or by paying unfair wages. Another verbal link exists with the word “observed” (10:20), which is also found in LXX Malachi 3:7 (KJV: “kept”): in Mark,  the rich man insists that he has observed the commandments, but the link to the Malachi texts suggests that the Lord’s complaint is that he has not, in fact, done so. Further, Jesus’ reference to “treasures in heaven” (10:21) echoes Malachi 3:10’s use of “treasure” (KJV: “storehouse” or treasury) and “heaven.” But the rich man rejects Jesus’ offer, just as the audience rejects the Lord’s offer in Malachi. The reference to Jesus’ love for the man echoes the “theme of God’s covenantal love for unfaithful Israel [that] underlies the entire book of Malachi.”[8] These allusions to the Malachi text would place Jesus in the narrative role of the God of the HB.

10:23 And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!: The Greek text permits the possibility that the wealthy can enter the kingdom.

The discussion of entering the kingdom relates this scene to the previous one, which couched receiving the kingdom in terms of receiving a child.

Interpretation of this teaching hinges on whether the man’s statement that he had kept all of the commandments is accepted as accurate. If he had kept them, then the point is clear: keeping the commandments while refusing to follow Jesus does not permit eternal life.

10:24 And the disciples were astonished at his words: The disciples’ astonishment is explained by the idea in the HB that wealth is a bless- ing from God (Gen. 24:35; 26:12–14; 33:11; Lev. 26:3–10; Ps. 112:3). Their

assumption would likely have been that only the righteous were blessed with wealth, so the wealthy would be the ones most likely to enter the king- dom. Thus, for Jesus to say that it was extremely difficult for the wealthy to enter the kingdom would be difficult to comprehend.

But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!: The oldest manuscripts omit the phrase “for them that trust in riches,” so that Jesus is saying that it is hard for everyone to enter the kingdom of God. The modifying phrase appears to have been added to soften Jesus’ statement or to make it more specifically relevant to the immediate situation.[9] But 10:26 requires a blanket statement before it in order to make sense; other- wise, the answer to 10:26 would have been obvious: anyone who was not wealthy could enter the kingdom. On the other hand, it is possible that the phrase might have been present initially; the disciples’ astonishment in the next phrase would be understandable in terms of their belief that the wealthy were blessed. So, if the wealthy, the most blessed of people, could not enter the kingdom of God, that would indeed be surprising.

10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle: Some of the later manuscripts have the word kamilon (“rope”) instead of kamelon (“camel”).[10] The change to rope was probably made because the image of a camel going through a needle’s eye seemed bizarre or impossible.[11] Given how similar the two words are in Greek, it is also possible that the change happened accidentally.[12]

A camel was the largest animal in Palestine at the time and the eye of a needle was the smallest opening with which they would have been familiar. Thus, the image plays on the reputation of camels and needles as the most extreme members of their respective classes in order to emphasize the impossibility of the situation. Further, camels were beasts of burden, weighed down by many “possessions,” and thus the ideal symbol for the wealthy man who refuses to put down his own possessions.

than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God: Both 10:23 and 24 make the point that it was extremely difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom; this verse suggests that it is impossible. Embedded within Jesus’ teaching is the assumption that human effort—even keeping all of the commandments, as the rich man had done—is insufficient to enter the kingdom of God. This explains why the man needed to follow Jesus; it also hints at the need for Jesus’ ministry.

10:26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among them- selves, Who then can be saved?: The disciples, operating under the influence of HB teachings that equated riches with God’s blessings, cannot understand how anyone can be saved if the wealthy cannot be.

10:27 And Jesus looking upon them saith: The reference to Jesus looking is the third and final reference to his gaze in this passage (see also 10:21 and 23). Symbolically, Mark may be suggesting that Jesus’ viewpoint should be an object of focus and that it is, as the previous verse made clear, significantly different from the viewpoint of others in this story.

With men it is impossible, but not with God, for with God all things are possible: Once again, the idea that humans—wealthy or otherwise—can enter the kingdom on their own merit is debunked. A subtle indication of the need for an atonement is suggested here.

Relationship to Genesis 18. In Genesis 18:14, the Lord rhetorically asks Abraham if anything is impossible for the Lord in reference to the idea of Sarah having a child at an advanced age. Jesus’ use of similar language in Mark would indicate that he is fulfilling the same narrative role as the Lord. Further, the passage compares God’s ability to welcome someone into the kingdom of heaven with Sarah’s ability to bear a child. This feminized metaphor for God’s welcoming meshes well with Mark’s frequent concern with showing women as full participants in Jesus’ ministry.

10:28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee: “All” in this verse translates the same Greek word that Jesus used for “all things” in the last verse, suggesting that Peter is making a link between his own actions and God’s.

Peter seems to be reenacting the approach of the wealthy man (who called Jesus “good”) by making a statement designed to elicit praise from Jesus—praise that Jesus does not offer.

10:29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house: Jesus’ reference to leaving one’s “house” has the following possible referents:

  1. Leaving home in order to preach the gospel.
  2. Losing one’s home because of persecution.
  3. Selling one’s possessions to follow Jesus, as the rich man was invited to One weakness of this reading is that, as previous instances in Mark have shown (1:29; 3:9), the disciples still had access to their property even after leaving to follow Jesus.
  4. The inhabitants of one’s household who are left behind when one leaves to In this reading, the remainder of the verse would describe those left behind. (This structure would parallel the structure of the tenth commandment, which commands not coveting a neighbor’s house[hold] and then lists the occupants of it.[13]) In this case, Jesus is not only requiring that they do not covet what belongs to other people but also that they freely give up what belongs to them.

or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s: The earliest manuscripts do not include the word “wife” in this verse;[14] indeed, it would be surprising for Jesus to suggest that people leave their spouses in light of his teachings on divorce at the beginning of this chapter.

There may be some tension between the idea of leaving father and mother and of honoring them, a commandment that Jesus has recently mentioned. Perhaps the very reason that he referred to the fifth commandment—out of order, nonetheless—in 10:19 was to prepare for the statement here by indicating that the need to leave father and mother for the sake of the gospel did not negate the commandment to honor them. See also 7:10–13.

10:30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands: The terms in 10:29 were joined by the word “or” while those in this verse are joined by the word “and,” implying that if a disciple leaves behind but one item mentioned in 10:29, she or he will receive everything listed in this verse.

with persecutions: This phrase is quite a startling conclusion to the previous list of blessings. While 10:29 and 30 contain parallel (if not identical) lists, 10:29 ends with “for my sake, and the gospel’s” while 10:30 ends with “with persecution.” Thus Jesus clearly links following him to enduring persecution. Interestingly, this verse could be interpreted to say that persecution is a blessing and, in light of the obstacle which wealth was to the man asking about eternal life, this reading fits the context particularly well.

Relationship to Job. Job gives up all of his possessions and family relations and is persecuted but, at the end of his story, has everything returned to him doubled ( Job 42:10). If Jesus was alluding to Job’s story, then the point would be that the follower of Jesus has even more restored to him or her as persecutions are righteously endured.

and in the world to come eternal life: Here Jesus returns the conversation to the impetus for the scene—the question regarding eternal life. Jesus’ message is that the way to eternal life is through sacrifice. The wealthy man’s refusal to follow Jesus now appears all the more short-sighted in light of this teaching.

Jesus’ response to Peter, when taken in its entirety, emphasizes not eternal life but rather the blessings of gospel living during mortal life (namely, fellowship and hospitality).

10:31 But many that are first shall be last; and the last first: The word translated as “but” (Greek: de) could be an explanatory “for,” which would mean that this verse explains why the last verse is true.

This line links to the plight of the wealthy man, who in refusing to make himself last will have no chance to be first. But those, as Jesus has taught, who are willing to take last place will in fact end up being first.

This teaching serves as a warning to Peter who, as a leading disciple, is in spiritual danger, as his bragging about leaving everything to follow Jesus has indicated.

Analysis

This passage contains the only reference to Jesus’ love for another in Mark’s Gospel; “While Jesus may be reciting the Decalogue, he is in fact practicing the ‘great commandment.’”[15] On the one hand, Jesus loves this man despite his errors. On the other hand, this love does not stop Jesus from correcting him and encouraging him to change his behavior.

While the impulse to minimize Jesus’ teachings should generally be avoided, there is good reason to believe that the command to sell all was not meant to be a universal command but rather was unique to this man’s situation:

  1. Even after their call to follow Jesus, Peter still had a house and (presumably) James[16] and John still had a boat—evidence that they, even as apostles, were not under a similar command.
  2. In chapter 6, the apostles were sent out as missionaries without provisions with the understanding that other people would provide for their needs— something that would have been impossible had everyone given away all of their Similarly, 10:29 pictures a situation where followers of Jesus pool their goods and share them, which would be impossible if everyone had sold everything.
  3. In 14:3–9, a woman spends a year’s wages on anointing oil for Observers object that the woman should have sold the ointment and given the proceeds to the poor, echoing the commandment here. And yet Jesus defends the woman’s actions, strongly suggesting that the counsel to sell all is not universal.
  4. The man approached Jesus with a personal question (“What must I do to inherit eternal life?”), not a general one (“What must one do?”), suggesting that Jesus’ answer would likewise be personal and not general.

Why was it necessary for this man to sell everything? Most likely because his wealth was not acquired legitimately; in fact, such a thing was generally not possible: “The only way someone became wealthy in Israelite society (as in any traditional agrarian society) was to take advantage of someone else who was vulnerable, to defraud others by charging interest on loans, which was forbidden in covenant law, and eventually gaining control of others’ possessions (labor, fields, households).”[17] (Thus there are numerous protections built into the law of Moses to limit the concentration of wealth [Lev. 19:9–10; 25:8–55; Deut. 14:28–29; 15:1–11; 24:14–15; 24:19–22].)

This command to sell all is similar to the call stories in 1:16–20 and 3:14 because the man is being asked to leave his worldly goods. This is, in effect, a failed call story; contrast the next story, the healing of Bartimaeus, which has elements of a successful call story. It is painfully ironic that the only person who Jesus is said to love rejects Jesus’ call to follow him.

Mark withholds the detail that the man was rich until the end of the story; it is a common technique for Mark to delay crucial information in order to emphasize it and to heighten the suspense in the story (compare 5:42; 6:44; 15:41). The late placement of this detail also emphasizes Jesus’ prophetic ability since he presumably already knew about the man’s wealth. The great wealth explains the man’s refusal to follow Jesus; implicit is that the man’s love for his possessions contrasts with Jesus’ love for the man. But Jesus loved him even in his prideful ignorance. Leaving the detail about the man’s wealth out of the story permits the audience to share Jesus’ love for the man; had they known earlier that he was wealthy, it likely would have been impossible for them to love him. Oddly, a lack of information makes it easier for the audience to adopt Jesus’ perspective—a perspective that comes from an abundance of information (as Jesus’ command to the man to “defraud not” indicated).

In the HB, riches were usually regarded as a blessing from God or as evidence that one was blessed by God.[18] Here, the riches are an obstacle to blessings; the man’s wealth keeps him from eternal life despite his explicit desire for it. Perhaps Mark has withheld the information about the man’s riches from the audience until the end of the story to suggest that one may not realize what an impediment wealth is to eternal life until it is, in effect, too late.

It is significant that this man is genuinely interested in eternal life and willing to be corrected by Jesus (in the matter of calling him “good”). That is, his questions are not like those in the controversy stories that are posed only in order to trick Jesus. The point is that even a fundamentally good person can be misled by an attachment to wealth. This story could have provided solace to the poor, who knew that this was not a temptation that they faced.

When Mark’s audience finds out about the man’s great wealth at the end of the story, they might wonder if he viewed eternal life as just another possession that he wanted to add to his collection; this would explain why he wasn’t willing to give up his other possessions in order to qualify for eternal life.

The reference to “hundredfold” links this teaching to the harvest from the good soil in the seed parable in chapter 4, particularly in light of the recent picture of the man whose attachment to riches choked the seed. It also suggests that this is not a promise of private, literal possession—a reading contradicted not only by common sense but also lived experience. Rather, the promise here is that the disciple will enjoy the fellowship and hospitality of the Christian community, which will include access to hundreds of houses to stay in and fellow followers of Jesus who will be, in effect, a new family (compare 3:31–35). This may also explain the lack of reference to spouses here, since a disciple would not treat all other Christians as a spouse. Given that family relationships in antiquity signified economic security as much as—if not more so—than they signified sentimentality, this is an important promise. Additionally, this passage is an important component of Jesus’ teachings on renunciation of property: “Jesus’ intention was not to call people into poverty but into community.”[19] There are rewards—even immediate rewards—for following Jesus. At the same time, as the next phrase will indicate, those rewards will be accompanied by persecution.

The lack of reference to fathers in 10:30 is significant, particularly since fathers were mentioned in the previous verse (compare 3:31–35, which does not include fathers in the “new family” either). The omission may be due to the fact that the new community has but one father, the Father in Heaven. It may also stem from the reality that the outsized power that fathers had in the ancient world could not be appropriately exercised among Jesus’ followers (compare 10:43). Or, Jesus may be the unmentioned father, especially since he has taken on the role of father as the one who blesses children and since he has just referred to his audience as “children” (10:24; see also 2:5; 5:34). Jesus’ statement refutes Peter’s claim to have given up everything by showing that Peter has actually gained more than he forfeited.

 

[1] Metzger, Textual Commentary, 89.

[2] Joseph H. Hellerman, “Wealth and Sacrifice in Early Christianity: Revisiting Mark’s Presentation of Jesus’ Encounter with the Rich Young Ruler,” Trinity Journal, n.s., 21 (Fall 2000): 155.

[3] Michael Peppard, “Torah for the Man Who Has Everything: ‘Do Not Defraud’ in Mark 10:19,” Journal of Biblical Literature 134, no. 3 (2015): 604.

[4] Richard Hicks, “Markan Discipleship according to Malachi: The Significance of Me Aposterēsēs in the Story of the Rich Man (Mark 10:17–22),” Journal of Biblical Literature 132, no. 1 (2013): 182.

[5] Metzger, Textual Commentary, 89.

[6] Hicks, “Markan Discipleship,” 189.

[7] Hicks, “Markan Discipleship,” 190.

[8] Hicks, “Markan Discipleship,” 194.

[9] Metzger, Textual Commentary, 90.

[10] Metzger, Textual Commentary, 40.

[11] John A. Tvedtnes debunked the explanation that the “eye of the needle” was a gate to Jerusalem through which a camel could enter, but only on its knees, by explaining that a camel’s anatomy would not permit this. He suggested one of two possibilities for understanding this verse: either that the word originally used was “rope” or that this was “deliberate hyperbole,” which, he notes, was a characteristic of Jesus’ speaking style specifically and of his environment in general. He concludes that “all three possible explanations of Matthew 19:24—the gate, the rope, and the Jewish figure of speech—have been mentioned by prominent Latter-day Saint leaders. (See James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973, pp. 485–6; Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965–73, 1:556.) In any event, the idea is clear—riches can become a serious stumbling block to a person seeking eternal life.” John A. Tvedtnes, “I Have a Question,” Ensign 15 (March 1985): 29.

[12] Collins, Mark, 474 note f.

[13] Robert H. Gundry, “Mark 10:29: Order in the List,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 59, no. 3 (1997): 467.

[14] Bratcher and Nida, Translator’s Handbook, 326.

[15] Myers, Binding the Strong Man, 273.

[16] See the Notes on 1:19.

[17] Richard A. Horsley, Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel

(Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 191.

[18] Although note the countertradition: Jer. 9:22–23; Micah 2:1–2; and especially Amos 2:6–8.

[19] Steve Barr, “The Eye of the Needle—Power and Money in the New Community: A Look at Mark 10:17–31,” Andover Newton Review 3, no. 1 (1992): 42.

 

 

Jesus Is Anointed (Mark 14:1–11)

This section is excerpted from The Gospel according to Mark, by Julie M. Smith, p. 703-726. It contains the New Rendition, notes on each verse, and analysis. 

New Rendition

1 It would be the Passover, and the feast of unleavened  bread,  after  two  days. And  the  chief  priests  and  the  scriptorians  were  looking  for  a  way  that  they  might kill him [after] having taken him by stealth. 2 For they were saying, “Not during  the  feast,  or  there  will  be  a  riot  by the people.” 3 And being in Bethany, in the house of  Simon  the  leper,  being  reclined  [at  the  table],  there  came  a  woman  having  an  alabaster  flask  of  expensive  ointment  of  pure  nard;  having  broken  the  alabaster  flask,  she  poured  it  on  his  head.  4  But  some  were  angry  among  themselves:  “Why  was  this  ointment  wasted?  5  For  this  ointment  could  have  been  sold  for  more  than  a  year’s  wages and [the money] have been given to the poor.” And they were scolding her. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone.  Why  do  you bother her? She did a good work in me. 7 For ‘you always have the poor with you,’ and whenever you want to, you are able to do them good. But me you do not always  have.  8  She  did  what  she  could:  she  came  before  the  fact  to  anoint  my  body  for  burial.  9  Amen,  I  say  to  you:  wherever  the  good  news  is  proclaimed  in  the  whole  world,  what  she  has  done  will also be told in memory of her.” 10 And Judas Iscariot, the one of the Twelve,  went  away  to  the  chief  priests  that  he  might  betray  Jesus  to  them.  11  And  having  heard,  they  rejoiced  and  promised  to  give  him  money.  And  he  was  looking  for  a  good  opportunity  to  betray him.

Notes

14:1 After two days was the feast of the passover, and of unleavened bread: In first-century Jewish time keeping, “after two days” meant what modern readers would consider to be the next day, so Mark is describing the day before Passover (Ex. 12), or the Wednesday of the final week of Jesus’ life. Continue reading

Presentations on the Gospels, by Julie M. Smith, April 14 and 15, 2019

The John A. Widtsoe Foundation is sponsoring “Deepening Your Understanding of the Gospels” by Julie M. Smith, April 14, 2019, 7 pm, at Newport Beach Stake Center (2150 Bonita Canyon Dr, Newport Beach, CA 92660). Info: http://www.widtsoefoundation.org/2019/04/05/deepening-your-understanding-of-the-gospels/

The Fish Interfaith Center and Chapman University is sponsoring an event: “Discovering Mark’s Unique Voice: A Conversation about the Gospel of Mark,” by Julie M. Smith, April 15, 2019, 7 pm, at the FIC Chapel. Info: https://events.chapman.edu/66024  This event will be videotaped.

 

“Jesus Walks on Water” (Mark 6:45-52)

This text is excerpted from The Gospel according to Mark, by Julie M. Smith, 424-432. It includes the New Rendition, Notes, and Analysis. 

New Rendition

45 And immediately he required his disciples to enter into the boat and to go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismisses the crowd. 46 And having left them, he went to the mountain to pray. 47 And evening having come, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 And having seen them straining at rowing, for the wind was against them, as the night was ending, he comes to them walking on the sea and intending to pass by them. 49 And having seen him walking on the sea, they thought that it is a ghost and screamed. 50 For all saw him and were terrified. And immediately he spoke with them and says to them, “Have courage. I am [here]. Do not fear.” 51 And he went up into the boat to them, and the wind stopped. And they were extremely, utterly amazed. 52 For they did not understand about the loaves, but their heart was hardened. Continue reading

Mark 2:23-28: Jesus Teaches about the Sabbath

Excerpted from The Gospel according to Mark, by Julie M. Smith, p. 188-196.

New Rendition

23 And it happened on the Sabbath that he went through the grain fields. And his disciples began to make their way, plucking the grain. 24 And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why do they do on the Sabbath that which is against the law?” 25 And he says to them, “Did you never read what David did, when he had need and was hungry, him and those with him, 26 how he went in to the house of God in the time of Abiathar, the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread—which is unlawful for any to eat except the priests—and he gave some to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for the sake of people, and not people for the Sabbath.” 28 So the son of man is even master of the Sabbath.

Notes

2:23 And it came to pass: It is likely that Mark used this phrase to create a biblical sound to his text, making it another example of Mark’s irony: “a passage in which Jesus’ disciples are to be accused of violating a biblical law begins with the Old Testament formula ‘and it came to pass.’”[1] For the perceptive reader or listener, this phrase would contribute to the redefinition of what it means to be scriptural.

that he went through the corn fields: The KJV’s “corn” is likely misleading to American readers since the grain would have been wheat or barley and not maize, which is a New World crop and was therefore unknown to the biblical world. Continue reading

Jesus Heals a Lame Man (Mark 2:1-12)

This section is excerpted from The Gospel according to Mark, by Julie M. Smith, p. 156-171. It includes the New Rendition, Notes on each verse, and an Analysis.

Controversies: Jesus Heals a Lame Man (2:1–12)

New Rendition

1 And having entered again into Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he is at home. 2 And many were gathered, so there was no more room, not even near the door. And he spoke about the word to them. 3 And they come, bringing to him a man who could not walk, carried by four people. 4 And not being able to come near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof where he was. And having torn it off, they lowered the mat on which the lame man was lying. 5 And Jesus, having seen their trust, says to the lame man, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” 6 But there were some scriptorians there, sitting and questioning in their minds, 7 “Why does this one speak this way? He blasphemes! Who is able to forgive sins except one, God?” 8 And immediately Jesus, recognizing in his spirit that they are questioning within themselves this way, he says to them, “Why are you questioning about these things in your minds? 9 What is easier: to say to the lame man, ‘Your sins have been forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so you may know that the son of man has authority to forgive sins on earth—” He says to the lame man, 11 “I say to you: Rise. Take up your mat and go into your home.” 12 And immediately he rose, and having taken up the mat, went in front of all of them, so that all were amazed and honored God, saying, “We never saw this before!”

Notes

2:1 And again he entered into Capernaum after some days: It is unclear whether “after some days” modifies “entered” (he entered after some days) or “noised” (his presence was not widely known until some days after he entered). Either way, the phrase prevents a conflict with 1:45 (where Jesus couldn’t enter into the towns), either by indicating that enough time had passed so that the crowd had died down (if it modifies “enters”) or that Jesus entered the town quietly so that no crowd gathered (if it modifies “noised”).

and it was noised that he was in the house: The “that” (Greek: hoti) can indicate direct speech, so this part of the verse could be translated as, “It was said, ‘He was in the house.’” The house could be

  1. Peter’s house, since that was the last house mentioned (1:29).
  2. any (unspecified) house.
  3. Jesus’ own home.[1]

2:2 And straightway: Most ancient manuscripts do not include “straightway” (Greek: euthys) here.[2] Continue reading

Review of The Gospel according to Mark

Thanks to Dan Peterson, who wrote a feature in the Deseret News about our newest book, The Gospel according to Mark, by Julie M. Smith. He writes:

Each commentary volume includes a substantial introduction, followed by the King James Version translation, a fresh “New Rendition” from the original Greek in a parallel column, and detailed notes drawing on both mainstream modern biblical scholarship and uniquely Latter-day Saint sources.

Smith’s newly published commentary on Mark’s gospel weighs in at nearly 1,000 pages, with extensive explanations covering the entire text. Although it cannot be dismissed as a work of merely feminist scholarship, one of its welcome contributions is to provide a woman’s perspective on Mark and, thereby, on Jesus.

A case in point comes in a section titled “Jesus Heals a Woman and Raises a Girl” (pages 336-370) where Smith gives insightful and sensitive attention to the famous account in Mark 5:25-34 of the woman with “an issue of blood,” a story that, as she points out, “requires male audience members to relate to and sympathize with uniquely female concerns” and “suggests that Jesus shared these concerns.” Moreover, she says, “The intertwined stories of the bleeding woman and Jairus’s daughter may be Mark’s most intricately plotted and symbolically rich text.”

According to Jewish law, the bleeding woman’s touch should have made Jesus ritually unclean. However, it doesn’t. Or, if it does, he appears not to care. This, says Smith, “is a commentary about Jesus’ relationship to the law of Moses.” Moreover, discussing Jesus’ question about who had touched his clothes, Smith remarks that “A Jewish audience may have thought that Jesus wanted to know who had touched him so that she could be rebuked for transmitting impurity.” But “the story plays out very differently.”

“Mark,” Smith observes, “had introduced the woman by calling her a woman with ‘an issue of blood.’” She had no name, no relationships, no geographical location; her disease is the sole marker of her identity. But in this verse (5:34), Jesus gives her a new identity marker: she is his daughter.

I cannot begin to summarize or even outline the richness of Smith’s discussion of this episode, which includes fascinating parallels and contrasts with Zechariah 8:23, 1 Samuel 1, Jeremiah 8 and, intriguingly, Genesis 3.

And space permits me only to hint at the intriguing suggestions that Smith offers about the women witnesses of Christ’s Resurrection and the possible role of women in the transmission of Mark’s gospel itself. Read the book! Or its e-book!

For an earlier example of Smith’s approach to the story of the bleeding woman that is accessible at no charge online, see her article “A Redemptive Reading of Mark 5:25-34,” in “Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship” 14 (2015): 95-105; online at mormoninterpreter.com/a-redemptive-reading-of-mark-525-34/.

News: January 2019

Our conference “In the Beginning Were the Words: A Closer Look at Key New Testament Terms” is January 26 at BYU. Information here. 

Julie Smith’s commentary on Mark has finally arrived! It is for purchase at BYU Studies. 

Our commentaries contains our “New Rendition,” which is a new version of the New Testament text. We’re offering it free as ebooks via Kindle and Deseret Bookshelf. So far we have Mark, Luke, First Corinthians, and Revelation. Here are the links. 

Readings from the New Testament Commentary to accompany LDS Come, Follow Me, for Individuals and Families are listed by our publisher, BYU Studies. Have a look! 

Julie Smith’s interview about her Mark book is available from Interpreter Radio. Follow the link here.