Transfigured Uderstanding — A Critical Note on Mark 9:2–13 as a Parousia Preview -- By: Ben Witherington, III
ATJ 24 (1992) p. 88
Transfigured Uderstanding —
A Critical Note on Mark 9:2–13 as a Parousia Preview
Dr. Witherington is Professor of Biblical and Wesleyan Studies at ATS.
It is the great merit of Mary Ann Tolbert’s recent intriguing study of Mark, Sowing the Gospel: Mark’s World in Literary-Historical Perspective1 that she forces us to examine the parts of Mark’s narrative in the light of the whole, instead of simply dissecting it into individual isolated pericopes. She also stresses the need to have a sense of the flow of the narrative if we wish to understand what it is that Mark wants us to know about the subject matter he is treating. Mark is a skillful theological editor of his material, and we have a right to expect that the sequence of events and sayings recorded in this Gospel may have as much to tell us about the meaning Mark intends to convey to the authorial audience as the actual substance of the various pericopes themselves.
Bearing the above in mind, I would like to suggest that it is necessary, especially with a much-controverted story like that found in Mk 9:2–13, that we pay especially close attention to what has immediately preceded such a pericope. In this case, Mk 8:38 and Mk 9:1 require careful scrutiny. Most scholars are in agreement that Mk 8:38 refers to what will be true of the Son of Man at the parousia. Yet it is striking that there are at least two words in this verse that are certainly capable of having a double meaning. The verb erchomai can of course mean “to come,” but it also has the sense of “to appear” or “to make an appearance” as well (cf. Jn 4:27, Rom 9:9). Secondly, the word angeloi has as its most basic meaning “messenger,” which may refer either to a human or to a supernatural messenger depending on the context. Mark does use the term angeloi to refer to what we call angels (Mk 3:13, but cf. Mk 16:5 where he chooses a different term altogether) but this does not mean he could not use the word in its more generic sense in another context (cf. Mk 1:2). Suppose then we translate the last clause of Mk 8:38, not as is usually done, but rather “when he appears in the glory of his Father with the holy messengers.” It may also be that the use of erchomai in
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