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[Synoptic-L] Baptism and temptation (was: Markan Priority...)

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  • Maluflen@aol.com
    In a message dated 9/18/2002 10:38:20 AM Pacific Daylight Time, ... My apologies for the delay in responding to this post. To remind list readers of where the
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 26, 2002
      In a message dated 9/18/2002 10:38:20 AM Pacific Daylight Time, eric.eve@... writes:


      While I've seen you offer some very good arguments for how individual Markan
      pericopae could have been derived from Matthew, I'm not sure I've seen
      anything that compels belief in that direction of dependence rather than
      reverse, and it does seem to me that a great many explanations that assume
      Markan priority make pretty good sense.

      Just to take a couple of examples that I find more puzzling on the basis of
      Markan posteriority than on Markan priority (and I could find many more),
      let's briefly consider the Temptation Story and the Beelzebul Controversy.


      My apologies for the delay in responding to this post. To remind list readers of where the discussion is, I have been arguing that the Synoptic Problem was historically settled on the basis primarily of a macro-analysis/comparison of the Synoptic texts. I have admitted that at this level a plausible argument in favor of Markan priority can be made. In general, however, I maintain that this theory is not supported or confirmed by a micro level of analysis, and that this fact should send scholars back to reexamine the macro-text based argument and its presuppositions. Eric seemed to agree with the view that there is value in testing Synoptic theories at the level of concrete pericopes, and to begin a discussion along these lines he offered a couple of examples of Markan texts that seem difficult to explain on the Griesbach model. He offered as examples the temptation narrative in Mark and the Beelzebul pericope. In the present posting I will examine the first of these Markan segments, the temptation narrative, which must be read, I would argue, in close conjunction with the immediately preceding baptism narrative.

      On any source hypothesis, Mk 1:12-13 is difficult to interpret because the story is so highly condensed as to give little contextual help to the interpreter. Reading the text in conjunction with 1:2-11 supplies a bit more context, and I would argue that the combined stories of the baptism and temptation of Jesus in Mark compared with the parallel section in Matt are better understood on the Griesbach than on the Markan priority model. Essentially my argument will have the form of showing that Mark's text here works well as an application to recognizably Christian realities (especially baptism and martyrdom) of material that originally (that is, in Matt) related Jesus to Israel and to the Messianic and eschatological judgment.

      It should be noted here that I do not take the usual superficial approach of simply looking materially at the texts in question and asking whether addition or subtraction of material by one or other of the Evangelists is the more likely actual scenario. This approach is all too often followed by scholars who have not taken the time to examine the texts in depth as to their meaning when considering the source question and the relationship of Synoptic interdependence. The nature of this criticism will become more evident in the following paragraphs in which I illustrate an alternative approach in which interpretation of the texts is combined with an evaluation of source hypotheses.

      I will begin by looking at Mark 1:8b ("He will baptize you with Holy Spirit") and asking what these words mean in Mark. What is interesting here is that nothing in the remainder of Mark's text seems to be an evident fulfillment of this prophecy. The suggestion has been made, and I deem it reasonable, that there must be an extra-textual allusion here that would have made the meaning of John's words quite clear to Mark's original audience. I would suggest that the reference is to the Christian sacrament of baptism, with Jesus himself understood as its principle "minister" and with the conferral of the Holy Spirit its principle effect. Good Christian theology of baptism, based in large part on the doctrine of Paul as expressed in, say, Rom 5-8, where you have also a connection of this sacrament with the death of Jesus (cf. also such texts as Acts 2:38). A baptismal setting for the reading of Mark as a single dramatic text has also been suggested by scholars, and I find this reasonable as well, and confirmed by a number of data that I cannot take time here to present. Jesus' words in 1:15 would likewise be plausibly addressed to a Christian audience in this existential context: "repent and believe in the Gospel" (the last part of this not found in Matt or Lk). Furthermore, in this perspective, the reader might well have been able to interpret the puzzlingly condensed 1:12-13 in light of a baptismal exorcism, and perhaps also as an allusion to the martyrdom Christians in Rome had to anticipate in the Colosseum as a consequence of their identification with Jesus' death in baptism ("and he was with the beasts.."). The identification of Jesus as God's son (1:11, and perhaps also in 1:1) is also probably to be understood somewhat in the way we Christians understand this motif when we recite our creeds: "..and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord.."). Jesus belongs to the realm of God, and therefore when he speaks (say in 1:15) he must be listened to and obeyed. There is nothing in the Markan text that need suggest to a Roman reader any connection of Jesus with Israel or with its messianic leader as such (I assume here that the biblical backgrounds of 1:11 would not necessarily have been familiar to Mark's original audience). "Son of God" means that Jesus belongs to the divine world (thus also the ministering angels), and will therefore be expected to act with divine power and authority in the subsequent narrative.

      In Matthew's parallel text, nothing of this directly "Christian" application applies. Ideologically, the material is thoroughly imbedded in Israel and its traditions, both historical and eschatological. John's words about Jesus' future "baptism" have nothing at all to do with the Christian sacrament. The reference to a future baptism is entirely metaphorical, and it points to the eschatological judgment of which the primary agent will be Israel's Messiah Jesus, and which will fulfill numerous OT prophecies, especially those of Isaiah (see, e.g., 4:4 [spirit and fire as agents of divine judgment]; 9:17-18; 10:15-19, etc.). This judgment theme is deeply woven into the entire fabric of Matthew's entire Gospel, with its climax, I suppose, in Matt 25. Baptism in fire is merely a metaphor for it, similar to the metaphorical use of the fishing metaphor in Matt 4:19, where Matthew's text probably also alludes to the eschatological judgment (cf. 13:47-52). Jesus as God's son in Matthew is not, as such, a divine being, but rather is one who is identified with Israel itself (as already in 2:15) and with its anointed messianic shepherd (2:6). Matthew's temptation narrative, a midrash on a passage of Deuteronomy, and otherwise grounded in (and contrasting with) the Exodus tradition of Israel in the desert is precisely about not understanding "son of God" as a title whereby one can claim divine prerogatives, but rather as real relationship which demands obedience and worshipful submission to God on the part of its (human) holder. To the extent that "son of God" is understood here in close connection with the traditions of Israel and its anointed ruler (that is, on the human side of the God-man relationship), rather than with the divine side of the equation, it would make sense for a later writer (like Mark) to rewrite these narratives for a Hellenistic audience that does not have this cultural heritage or knowledge of the biblical tradition, and for whom "son of God" would more naturally suggest investment with properly divine power.

      In sum, Matthew's text in no way requires the parallel Markan text to explain it (permeated as it is with Jewish scripture and its interpretation), and it is difficult to imagine Matthew removing the Christian allusions in Mark's text and re-orientating the entire material toward Israel and its traditions. Not impossible, but difficult. On the other hand, Mark can well be thought, I would argue, to be taking material fashioned for a Jewish audience and adapting it to the Christian reality of a Roman community preparing for Christian initiation conferred at baptism, as he moves quickly into the dramatic story of Jesus' powerful ministry and tragic-paradoxical death. All of this being understood as somehow paradigmatic for a Christian existence, mysteriously identified with that of Christ in the event of Christian initiation in baptism.

      The above by no means answers all possible questions regarding the relationship of these parallel Synoptic pericopes. Moreover, it ignores completely the important role of Luke as mediator here. On the Two-Gospel hypothesis, Luke is the originator of the expression "a baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins" (3:3, and cf. Acts 13:24; 19:4-6), a favorite Lukan expression, and one which reflects a later sacramental theology in which forgiveness of sin is attached to baptism, and not to Eucharist (cf. Matt 26:28: eis aphesin hamartioon, in Matt only). Luke also begins the process of reapplying John's words from Matt 3:11f to ecclesial realities (cf. Acts 1:5 and 2:1-38; 13:24f; 19:4-6). (Note the aorist tense with which John's baptism is referred to in Acts 1:5. Among the Synoptics, only Mark reflects this aorist tense reference to John's baptism [1:8]). But one cannot do everything in a single post. I have written enough, I think, to spark discussion.

      Leonard Maluf
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