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Re: [Synoptic-L] Mark 13 (The Elect)

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  • E Bruce Brooks
    To: Synoptic Cc: GPG In Response To: Ron Price On: The Elect From: Bruce Of the term elect in Mk 13, Ron had said: RON: It isn t stated expressly. That s why
    Message 1 of 5 , Nov 18, 2008
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      To: Synoptic
      Cc: GPG
      In Response To: Ron Price
      On: The Elect
      From: Bruce

      Of the term "elect" in Mk 13, Ron had said:

      RON: It isn't stated expressly. That's why I called it 'subtle'.

      BRUCE: It's more taken for granted; I would call it 'cryptic.'

      RON: As if to prove the point, Adam Crumpton seems to assume that it is
      always a reference to Christians when he writes that the concept of the
      elect involves (among other ideas) "salvation through Christ". But as I
      pointed out in my last email, the concept occurs in Isaiah where it is
      applied to Israel, and of course there it had nothing to do with Jesus of
      Nazareth.

      BRUCE: I think the Israel part doesn't help us much. Israel were the Chosen
      People because of a promise to Abraham, not by anything the later Israelites
      did or didn't do. Individual Israelites could still disqualify themselves by
      sin, as far as the favor of God was concerned, and they and their whole city
      might be destroyed in consequence. "Elect" in that context is both honorific
      (via the tribe) and tentative (as applies to the individual). By contrast,
      Mk 13 sees angels going far and wide to gather "the elect," that is, those
      who *are already saved.* This contrasts, as it seems to me, with the concept
      elsewhere in Mk, that people will be judged up or down on the basis of a
      hearing in the Last Days, not by some prior process of qualification, or by
      anything else anterior to the Final Judgement itself.

      An uncle of mine once told me with a confident smile, "I'm living eternally
      right now." I stared at him, and he laughed. He thought I was amazed at his
      felicity. I was actually astounded by his presumption, but even in one's
      single-digit years, one knows that it is just as well to leave some things
      unsaid.

      Yet here surely is a difference. Much of Mark presumes continuing care to
      avoid sin, lest one be judged adversely in the Last Days, and wind up with
      the wrong sort of eternal life. Mk 13 suddenly knows in advance who the good
      ones are. I think that the implications of "chosen" here are unavoidable,
      and go far beyond membership in a privileged race. Or sect. Or house
      congregation. Or mutually self-congratulatory ingroup.

      That sense of serene membership in advance is indeed evident in the
      post-Pauline literature, as I already mentioned. There, "elect" is merely a
      term of flattery, insofar as it means anything more than "one of us." That
      is, the OT "secure privileged membership" sense of "elect" does exist, but
      it also seems to be late. Before it there seems to come into play the sense
      of being *individually* chosen by God to be in the group of the saved. We
      can arrive at this idea by applying the concept of "grace" to its logical
      extreme, as was certainly done in some theological circles. The logical
      outcome is a theory of predestination, and that theory does also get in the
      books, in quite recent times. The question is whether it was also on the
      books in quite early times, and I presently see no way of getting around the
      probability that it was.

      RON: On Mk 13:27, Morna Hooker states that the elect there "must be members
      of the 'new' Israel". I take it that she means that the context of the
      gospel as a whole necessitates this interpretation. Hooker's comment might
      equally well be applied to the "elect" in Rom 8:33 where the precise scope
      of the word is not defined, but the context (Rom 8) implies that Paul was
      writing about the followers of the gospel which he proclaimed. Thus both
      Paul and Mark took the concept of 'election' which originally applied to
      Israel and used it in contexts which showed that they meant it to apply to a
      different group.

      BRUCE: The "new Israel" concept is present in Mark, though (according to my
      perceptions) it is very late in Mark. But, date or schmate, the procedural
      question remains. Can one be a Christian and still be damned? A good number
      of early Christian writings presume so, and counsel alertness and moral
      effort, even to the cutting off of offending members so that the remaining
      stump can still be gotten through the Pearly Gates. There is in all this an
      expectation of future judgement, not of prior and secure qualification.

      I would have no problem (Morna Hooker has no problem anyway; blessed are
      those who have no problems) if the Mk 13 angels were sent to gather in "the
      righteous," that is, those qualified by their own performance for eternal
      life of the right kind. By things they have themselves done or not done. If
      the term "the chosen" means anything other than vague self-congratulation,
      it implies a different sort of qualification, and by a different agency, and
      at an earlier time. I find it incompatible.

      Is God the ticket-taker at the entrance to the movie, turning away those who
      at the last minute can't come up with the requisite dime? Or is he the guy
      up the street, handing out free passes to whomever he happens to like the
      look of, or (for all I know) at random? I think there is a theological
      difference in here somewhere.

      And I think that it is analogous to the difference between faith and works,
      in that better-known controversy. I like the way that the writer of the
      Epistle of James [of Alphaeus] ridicules those who think that faith, namely,
      the act of belief, entitles you to get in to see the movie. The demons, he
      remarks, also believe, nobody more vividly, and look where they wind up. I
      take this as an anti-Pauline statement, contemporary with Paul or with
      another form of the ideas which Paul also pushes. We might be justified here
      in more or less equating "those who believe" with "those who are saved," and
      then in sitting back to watch the 1st century personages argue about whether
      that equation actually holds. My point is that there would have been people
      on both sides of that argument. No?

      Then we have 1 Thess, but I leave that for another occasion.

      Returning to Mark, what do people make of the father of the epileptic, who
      intriguingly remarks, in response to Jesus' command to believe, "I believe;
      help thou mine unbelief?" Is even faith a gift of God? Does that story in
      Mark so presume? And if so, what would be the relative date of that story
      within Mark? Such are the questions I can imagine it being worthwhile to
      ask.

      Bruce

      E Bruce Brooks
      Warring States Project
      University of Massachusetts
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