A Rejoinder to Joel F. Williams’s “Is Mark’s Gospel an Apology for the Cross?” -- By: Robert H. Gundry

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 12:1 (NA 2002)
Article: A Rejoinder to Joel F. Williams’s “Is Mark’s Gospel an Apology for the Cross?”
Author: Robert H. Gundry

A Rejoinder to Joel F. Williams’s “Is Mark’s Gospel an Apology for the Cross?”

Robert H. Gundry

Westmont College

Against Joel Williams’s critique, this rejoinder argues for a Markan Christology of divine strength in word and deed to counteract the shame of Jesus’ crucifixion, thus to convert unbelievers, not a Christology of weakly human suffering designed to brace believers for the endurance of persecution. In his Gospel, Mark included material seemingly antithetical to such an apologetic, evangelistic aim because he felt obliged to write up everything he had heard Peter say about Jesus’ ministry (so John the Elder). At the same time Mark tweaked this very material in ways that allied it to the massive amount of power-material (much underplayed by Williams) in service of the apologetic, evangelistic aim. Even Mark’s passion narrative exhibits such tweaking, for example, in emphases on the fulfillments of Jesus’ various predictions, on Jesus’ dying with a burst of strength, and on the shortness of time he hung on a cross. This interpretation of Mark’s text arose out of a close reading, not out of a presupposition.

Key Words: Gospel of Mark, Peter, Eusebius, Papias, John the Elder/ Apostle, Christology, miracles, faith, exorcisms, predictions, iconoclasm, magnetism, divine men, supernaturalism, power, weakness, paradox, discipleship, persecution, suffering, cross, shame, scandal, parenesis, apology, evangelism

Rarely does a scholar display such magnanimity as to send ahead of publication his or her critique of a colleague’s work to that colleague, and then suggest a rejoinder by the colleague in order that the critique and the rejoinder might be published together. But Joel F. Williams has displayed just such magnanimity, for which I thank and credit him. He would not want me to trivialize his critique of my Mark commentary by pulling any punches, however; so I shall engage in rejoinder as vigorously as he has engaged in criticism.

Let us begin on a broad front with the statement of John the Elder according to Papias, as recorded in Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History 3.39.15: “Mark, becoming Peter’s interpreter, wrote accurately … For he was thinking beforehand of one thing, [i.e.] to omit not a single one

of the things that he had heard [Peter say] or to falsify anything in them.” As anyone who has read my commentary on Mark knows, I consider this pre-Papian tradition to be trustworthy and, indeed, Johanninely apostolic. My reasons for doing so are set out with great detail in the commentary and therefore need not be repeated here.1 I have no reaso...

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