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Critique of Bock in Perspectives on the Ending of Mark

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  • James Snapp, Jr.
    (Continuing the review of the individual contributions to the recent book Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views, here is a critique of Dr. Darrell
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 11, 2009
      (Continuing the review of the individual contributions to the recent book "Perspectives on the Ending of Mark: Four Views," here is a critique of Dr. Darrell Bock's chapter.)

      The fifth chapter of "Perspectives on the Ending of Mark" was written by someone who, according to fellow conference participant Daniel Wallace, is not a textual critic: Dr. Darrell Bock, of Dallas Theological Seminary. At the 2007 conference which led to the production of this book, Dr. Bock served as moderator, but used much of his time advocating the same view as Dr. Wallace. That is reflected in this 18-page chapter. Before directly analyzing the evidence, Bock shares a few observations about methodology, using an insightful analogy. He pictures each contributor as a person attempting to "connect the dots." Each scholar's presuppositions lead to different dots, depending on "one's view of the Byzantine family of texts, one's take on the synoptic problem, and how one weighs internal versus external evidence." Although he does not spell out the associations to the reader, this appears to be a concise description of the points at which Bock's own views diverge from the views of Robinson, Black, and Elliott, respectively.

      Next, using a quotation from Wilbur Pickering as an example, Bock expresses his concern about oversimplified theological assumptions colliding with Biblical research – approaches which risk producing a "brittle fundamentalism." (I wonder how Pickering might respond to that; perhaps he would ask Bock if Bock's own view of inerrancy is non-brittle enough to co-exist with the "lost ending" theory which he was addressing in the quotation.) After a few more statements emphasizing the importance of following the evidence, keeping an open mind, etc., Dr. Bock turns to the external evidence.

      At the 2007 conference, Bock made the surprising claim that Aleph and B are not the most important pieces of external evidence. That overstatement is missing here, but the same sentiment is perceptible as he focuses not on Aleph and B but on the versional and patristic evidence. Following Wallace's lead, Bock describes the Armenian version as "Caesarean or early Byzantine," as if some evidence exists somewhere that would justify "early Byzantine" as a description of the Armenian version. He also states, "The earliest Byzantine lectionaries lack the longer ending, as Elliott has pointed out." However, Elliott's actual statement (on pp. 86-87) is, "The Byzantine lectionary system seems to have developed into a settled form by the eighth century – only after that time do most lectionaries contain a reading from the longer ending. Certainly the Georgian and Armenian lectionaries, which are dependent on the Jerusalem, not Byzantine, lectionary system, lack this pericope." Apparently Bock misunderstood Elliott's statement. If he has discovered an intact Byzantine lectionary without Mark 16:9-20, I hope he announces it soon.

      In his discussion of the patristic evidence, Bock focuses on Eusebius and Jerome. He never mentions that Jerome's comment is situated in the middle of an extensive passage borrowed from "Ad Marinum." The reader never gets a direct look at Jerome's testimony, and I suspect that Dr. Bock never did, either, inasmuch as he states candidly on p. 130, "It is not clear to me why Jerome is merely seen as repeating Eusebius." (One wonders if he bothered to read Burgon before the conference.) Let him place "Ad Marinum" and "Ad Hedibiam" side-by-side, and it will become spectacularly clear.

      Dr. Bock seems to have been convinced, by hearing that Eusebius and Jerome both state that Mark 16:9-20 is absent from almost all the Greek MSS, that the passage is inauthentic; this deduction is the centerpiece of his presentation of the external evidence. Readers may notice a discrepancy in Bock's argument when, after he has stated that MSS must be weighed, not counted, he proceeds to say that the two of the most important pieces of evidence are a count of MSS by Eusebius in the early 300's, and a count of MSS by Jerome in the 400's.

      Bock contests the testimony of Justin, stating on p. 129 in a footnote that the word PANTACOU is used in Mark only in 16:20; apparently Bock was not using the Nestle-Aland text as the basis for that claim, because PANTACOU is in Mark 1:28 in the N-A text. This tends to negate Bock's claim that it "is more common in Luke than in Mark." (PANTACOU appears in the Gospel of Luke exactly once, in 9:6.) The sustainability of his statement that "Justin is also quite clear when citing the Gospels" is also in serious question.

      Repeatedly the evidence is filtered in favor of whatever appears to support Bock's arguments. Three examples: (1) "The variants we possess for the short and longer ending of Mark are both very old." That is true, but is the 100-year difference between the earliest patristic evidence for the LE and the earliest patristic evidence not worth noticing? (2) "The further back one goes into the manuscript evidence we possess, the stronger the case is for the short reading." That is true, but it is not particularly meaningful since we start with 99.9% support for the LE in the minuscules. (3) "The gap in B at the end of Mark cannot be said to leave space for the longer ending." This statement is simply wrong; Bock is echoing Wallace; a scribe recollecting, from memory, the length of Mark 16:9-20 could easily underestimate by four lines. This sort of selection of detail pervades Bock's writing; he mentions (again echoing Wallace) that there is no umlaut in B at 16:8; he does not discuss the question of whether a scribe who left a huge blank space there would see a need to re-signify the text-critical question; nor does Bock mention the umlauts in B's minuscule supplement.

      In the section about internal evidence, Bock focuses on the cases made by Robinson and Elliott. He reasonably objects to Robinson's case by saying (as others such as Warfield have said) that scribes who perceived harmonistic or theological difficulties in 16:9-20 would have adjusted the text, instead of amputating the entire passage. His main (and brief) objection to Elliott's case is that the theory that Mark's ending was lost is historically improbable.

      Next, he offers a list comparing points in Mark 16:9-20 to (supposed) parallels in the other Gospels and in Acts. The unique content in Mark 16:9-20, Bock says, boils down to a few little things: the weeping and mourning over Jesus' death in v. 10, the point that the two travelers were walking "into a field" or "into the open country," the report that the two travelers were not believed, and the five sign-gifts of 16:17-18. "So there is not much here that is really unique to this text."

      On the contrary: Only in 16:11 is it reported that the disciples did not believe Mary Magdalene. Only in 16:14 is it reported that Jesus rebuked the eleven because they did not believe those who had seen Him. The appearance to the eleven in 16:14 is framed as if the author understood it as a different scene than the one in which the two travelers reported to the other disciples, although Luke 24 gives no reason not to see them as one scene. In 16:11 and 16:13 the disciples explicitly disbelieve, although in Matthew 28 they believe the women enough to obey the summons to Galilee. So even if we count like Bock, and consider the five signs of 16:17-18 as one unique item, there are eight unique items, not just four, in Mark 16:9-20. Bock's contention that Mark 16:9-20 "looks like it is mostly made up of a combination of elements from the other Gospels and Acts," though shared by other commentators, does not seem tenable.

      Next, Bock spends three pages promoting the thesis of James Lee Magness (not Jodi L. Magness, as I once assumed when I had first heard of the book by J. Lee Magness) that the abrupt ending at 16:8 is an artistic ending. He also addresses David Parker's idea that the Gospel of Mark ends without post-resurrection appearances because it arose from a sort of Christianity in which one did not need to believe that Jesus had been resurrected bodily.

      As he begins to wrap up loose ends, Bock briefly addresses Black's theory of the synoptic problem. Part of Bock's case against Black is the premise that it is very difficult to prove that Matthew was widely used by patristic writers. On that particular point Bock seems very hard to take seriously. (Black's case does not thus become more solid; it's just that this particularly shot misfires.)

      As Bock concludes, he makes no pretense of being a moderator. "We have argued," he openly states, "that Mark ended at 16:8 with an open-ended attempt to say to listeners that once the message is heard, it becomes the hour of decision." He then commends the other contributors, and closes by telling his readers that the issue of how the Gospel of Mark ends is not really important.

      Yours in Christ,

      James Snapp, Jr.
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