Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 16

"Is This Not Why You are Wrong?

Exegetical Reflections on Mark 12:18-27
JAMES LUTHER MAYS Professor Emeritus Union Theological Seminary in Virginia

The question of how Scripture is to be interpreted lies at the heart of the Sadducees' challenge to Jesus. His reply has implications for exegesis practiced as ministry.

^ ^ ^ ^ hould "ministry" or "exegesis" be the organizing context for a discussion of "the . ^ ministry of exegesis"?1 The assumption implicit in the subject, especially as ^ b _ * explored in this journal, is that exegesis and ministry go together. In their ministry ministers practice exegesis. They undertake accountability for texts in what they say in preaching and teaching. The liturgical sequence used broadly as an order for congregational worship exhibits the accountability. Texts are read from the Bible, usually from both Old and New Testaments. The reader identifies the reading with the declaration, "This is the Word of God." The congregation responds, "Thanks be to God," to acknowledge that they hear in gratitude. The minister speaks about what the people have heard as a word to their trusting and living. The people respond with a confession of faith in the Triune God. The coherence and integrity of the sequence, humanly speaking, depends on the minister's mediation between lections and listeners. It is in the service of that mediation that exegesis has its role. And, it must be added, the nature of that mediation establishes what kind of exegesis is required.

^his essay honors Wallace M. Alston for his exemplification of the identity of Pastor-Theologian and for his leadership in advocating that identity as the vocation of ministers.

JANUARY 2 0 0 6

Interpretation 33

In academic theology, exegesis and ministry name distinct fields of investigation and learning. Each has a long history of scholarship based on questions and practices inherent in their subjects. Exegesis and ministry are located in different departments of theological education, each with its own literature and supported by different systems of academic training. The division began with the Enlightenment and the development of critical historical analysis as a paradigm of understanding and explaining ancient documents. Before that, the interpretation of scripture and the ministry of teaching and preaching in the church were integrated in unified theological work. But the separation, unfortunately, is still with us. A focus on either as the way to approach our subject would require a discussion too involved and long, one that in any case would tend to be abstract.

MARK 1 2 : 1 8 - 2 7 AND ITS INTERPRETIVE CONTEXT It might be better to explore the topic with the help of the text. Using a text will give discussion of exegesis concreteness and pose a specific instance of the question of accountability. Mark 12:18-27 is a passage of scripture that deals directly with the question of how Scripture is to be interpreted. In the passage, specific texts are cited and their meaning for God's way with the world is under debate. The passage is a rare instance of a discussion within the Bible about how its texts are to be interpreted. At the center of the text is a challenging question from Jesus: "Is this not why you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?" (v. 24).2 It is, and should be, difficult to read that challenge and pass on undisturbed. The question raises a question that all who interpret Scripture should consider. It is the point in the text that puts pressure on the reader, or so it has felt to this writer. The challenge is an invitation to use the text for reflection on exegesis and ministry.3 Mark 12:18-27 is part of a larger literary complex that provides contextual comment on its function and purpose, the section of the Gospel (chs. 11 and 12) that tells about the first three days of Jesus' presence in Jerusalem. Throughout these chapters the relationship between Jesus and Scripture is a recurrent feature. His arrival is greeted with the declaration that he "comes in the name of the Lord" (Ps 118:26), a claim that he exercises the authority of the coming Davidic kingdom (11:9-10). He cleanses the temple, citing Isa 56:7 as his authority, and thereby provokes the opposition of the authorities who represent temple and scripture (11:17-19). They, joined by the authorities who represent the people, challenge Jesus to justify his actions by citing the source of his authority. Jesus responds with a

Quotations of Scripture are from the Revised Standard Version, or are my translation. 3 This article is an extensive recasting of an address to the Bible and Theology Conference at Montreat, N.C., June 1980, an occasion remembered with gratitude for the responding comments of participants that have been incorporated in this form. In this version I have drawn on three resources as specific and continuous help: J. Gerald Janzen, "Resurrection and Hermeneutics: on Exodus 3:6 in Mark 12:26" in JSNT23 (1985): 43-58; Jon Levenson, "Resurrection in the Torah," CTI Reflections 6 (Spring 2003), 2-29; Richard B. Hays, "Reading Scripture in the Light of the Resurrection" in The Art of Reading Scripture (Ellen F. Davis and Richard B. Hays, eds.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 216-38.

34 Interpretation

JANUARY 2 0 0 6

counter-question about who authorized John's baptism, and whey they fail to answer adequately, Jesus declines to cite the source of his authority (11:27-33). Instead, Jesus uses the parable of Isa 5:1-7 to construct an allegory that makes his opponents tenants who usurp the vineyard of the Lord and himself the heir they kill in their attempt to keep the vineyard (12:1-9). He concludes his version of the parable with the scripture from Ps 118:22-23 that says, "The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner. This was the Lord's doing" (12:10-11). In this way, Jesus mysteriously indicates that it is by his death that his authority will be vindicated. His opponents will be complicit in the vindication. Then come three stories in which the opponents test Jesus as an interpreter of scripture. First, the Pharisees step forward with their test question about the lawfulness of taxes to Caesar (12:13-17). Jesus' answer based on the criterion of "likeness" must be an allusion to the human being as image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27). Next come the Sadducees with their test (12:18-27). Finally, the scribes come with their hermeneutical question of interpretive priority among the commandments (12:28-34). This sequence of tests is concluded by the evangelist's observation, "After that no one dared ask him any questions" (12:34). The entire section is concluded by two reports of Jesus' teaching in which the initiative is on his side. In the first (12:35-37), he revises the scribes' interpretation of Ps 110:1. In the second (12:38-44), he makes the point that those who give their "whole living" are the true interpretation of scripture, again an allusion to his death. Jesus is presented throughout the sequence of these two chapters as the interpreter and interpretation of scripture in a way that make the two interdependent. This immediate literary context prepares the reader to recognize the importance of scripture and the way it is interpreted in the confrontation with the Sadducees. The subject of the controversy is resurrection. But the controversy is also about how scripture is to be read. The two are interdependent. Discerning the witness of the scriptures to resurrection depends on how the scriptures are read.4 The Sadducees make that connection at the beginning with a citation of scripture and an interpretation that makes the resurrection incredible. Jesus responds with a rejection of their selection of text and their interpretation, and then cites a different text and gives an interpretation. When the narrative introduces the Sadducees as those "who say there is no resurrection," the reader is also being told about how they will read and use scripture. Jesus' pairing with them in the debate casts him as the one who knows the scriptures and the power of God through the hermeneutic of the resurrection.

Janzen, "Resurrection and Hermeneutics," 43.


Interpretation 35

With respect to the topic of resurrection, the reader should also remember that in the larger context of Mark's Gospel Jesus has already said three times that he must "be killed and after three days rise again" (8:31; 9:31; 10:34). Paul will say in one of his definitions of the Gospel that Jesus "was designated in power according to the Holy Spirit, Son of God by his resurrection from the dead" (Rom 1:4), and for our purpose we do well to keep all the elements of the declaration in mind. The controversy about the resurrection is not just a contentious argument about a particular case of scripture and doctrine. If Jesus cannot answer the Sadducees negation of resurrection by scripture, then the story and identity of Jesus are put in question. That is what the Sadducees of the gospel narrative are challenging. No resurrection, then no Son of God and no Gospel. If we wonder why the Sadducees attack Jesus by means of the interpretation of the scriptures, that is the reason.

JESUS' CRITIQUE OF THE WAY THE SADDUCEES READ SCRIPTURE The Sadducees make their case by posing an exegetical conundrum. They cite a text from the Torah, Deut 25:5-10, that bears the authority of Moses. Their text is a law that requires a man whose brother dies childless to take the brother's wife as his own in order to father a son who will bear the dead brother's name "that his name may not be blotted out of Israel." Let us notice, though Mark's narrative does not call attention to it, that the purpose of the law is to give the dead brother a continuing identity among the covenant people. So in its concern about providing a way to give the dead a future life through identity with a descendant, the text from which the Sadducees argue itself broaches the topic of life beyond death.5 The Sadducees, however, develop a case study based on the Mosaic requirement. Suppose, they say, a man with seven brothers dies. Each brother takes the widow to wife in his turn, but dies with no child. Then the widow dies. The Sadducees conclude by pointing out the insoluble dilemma resurrection would create. Whose wife would she be? Their argument is substantial. It assumes the resurrection for the sake of argument and then reduces the assumption to an absurdity. But in doing so the Sadducees have exposed an assumption that drives their own reading of scripture. They do not believe there can be life after death because they do not conceive of life in any other way than the life that already is. They are practical empiricists who form judgments based on the way things work in the real world. All interpretation is based ultimately on a view of reality, a conviction about the way things are and the way things work. So they cannot imagine how things would be and work in a world in which the dead are raised. It is, to say the least, a formidable problem.

Janzen, "Resurrection and Hermeneutics," 47.

36 Interpretation

JANUARY 2 0 0 6

Jesus answers the Sadducees with a rebuttal in three steps. First, he makes a diagnosis of the error in their use of scripture to disprove the resurrection. Second, he posits a different view of the way things will be in a world in which the dead are raised. Third, he interprets a text from "the book of Moses" (i.e. the Torah) as a witness that the life of the dead lies with God. The logic of the rebuttal appears to be this. The opponents are theologically in the wrong because they "know neither the scriptures nor the power of God" (12:24). If they knew the scriptures, they would discern in them the power of God. If they knew the power of God, they would read the scriptures as a witness that God is the God of the living. In Jesus' diagnosis of the Sadducees' wrong use of scripture several things are evident. In the key phrase, "knowing the scriptures and the power of God," the verb, "know," does not mean simply having information. The Sadducees do not appear in this text as biblical illiterates. They know their Bible and a way of reasoning with its texts. They have selected a text and devised a way to reason from it to support their position. As one of the principal religious parties of the time, they would be able to talk about the power of God. But their principle of text selection and their way reasoning with the text is wrong.

JESUS' SCRIPTURAL DEFENSE OF RESURRECTION Since the Sadducees appeal to scripture, Jesus must answer with the selection of a counter text and propose an interpretation that demonstrates how rightly to "know the scriptures and the power of God." His selection of a text is of capital significance. The Sadducees had adduced a Mosaic instruction to brothers concerning what they should do to overcome a brother's loss of a future when he dies childless. Jesus goes straight to a saying of God to Moses in which God reveals the identity in which God will deliver Israel from the bondage of Egypt. He goes to a text whose context is the definitive display of the power of God. Moreover, the self-identification of God in the text opens up a further and preceding scriptural context whose theme is God's action to give Fathers' identity a future life by raising up descendants in whom they continued to live. Before Jesus proposes his text and interpretation he disposes of the interpretative conclusion of the Sadducees. The question, "In the resurrection whose wife will she be?" (12:23) is invalid. It does not pertain. In fact, it is not even a real question. Should there be a resurrection, as the Sadducees hypothesized to make their argument, present social arrangements will be transcended. The risen dead will be "like angels in heaven" (12:25). They will be transformed. They will be like creatures whose whole relationship is with God


Interpretation 37

and whose every other relationship is in and through God. They will be and belong completely to the power of God. It is pertinent that the Sadducees in Acts 23:8 are described as saying, "There is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit." All three are features of an eschatological view of time and world. The eschatological view of history looks for the transformation of this world into a world to come that will be the work of God's power against the powers of the world, among them the power of death. In Mark, Jesus as Son of Man represents and thinks with that view of world and time and human destiny (see 8:38; ch. 13, especially w. 28-29). So the clash between Sadducees and Jesus is a clash between world views. One thinks reality is determined by what is. The other knows that reality will be transformed into what will be. The point concerning scripture is that only with an eschatological hermeneutic can one "know scripture and the power of God." In the third part of Jesus' response, he addresses the question of resurrection and scripture. The Sadducees find in the books of Moses reason to say there is no resurrection. Jesus counters with a quotation of God's self-identifying word to Moses "at the bush." The phrase "at the bush" is a way of citing Exod 3, but it is also a reminder that God spoke to Moses from the bush that was burning but not consumed, an impossibility made possible by the presence of God. The word from the bush, as quoted by Jesus, said, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." To this quotation Jesus adds his own comment about God. In the logic of the text, Jesus' comment is an interpretation of the scripture that discloses its relevance to the question of the dead being raised. The interpretation is, "He is not God of the dead, but the living" (12:27). The logic of the relation of text and interpretation is not apparent. The relation can run from text to interpretation or from interpretation to text. If God is (present tense) God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then these Fathers must exist to and for God. So God is God of the living. Then the force of the quotation would lie in the permanent presentness of God's relation to the Fathers. Because God's relation to the Fathers belongs to the very self of God, the Fathers must still be living in God's relation to them. The logic of Jesus' interpretation has often been understood in this way. In Luke's version of the debate with the Sadducees, a further clause is added to Jesus' interpretation, "for all live to him" ( Luke 20:38), that might be thought to support this way of construing the logic of Jesus' interpretation.6 In rabbinical exegetical practices of the time and later, past tense was sometimes read as present, a possibility because of the Hebrew verbal system, in order to read texts as support for the doctrine of the resurrection.7

6 In a conversation about Luke's addition, Professor Jack Kingsbury suggested that its probable source is 4 Maccabees 16:25 ("knowing well that men dying for God, live unto God, as live Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the patriarchs"). 7 Examples in Levenson, "Resurrection in the Torah," 6.

38 Interpretation

JANUARY 2 0 0 6

Or, if the logic of Jesus' interpretation runs from interpretation to text, then the reasoning would be: if God is the God of the living, not the dead, then the Fathers must live because God is their God. There are texts in the Old Testament that point to the non-relation between Yhwh and the dead. The dead do not praise the Lord and their deadness is unclean.8 So God is not the God of the dead, and, if the Lord is God of the Fathers, then they are living.

THE THEO-LOGIC OF JESUS' EXEGESIS We are not told what the Sadducees thought of Jesus' use of scripture. We are told in the immediately following passage (12:28) that a scribe heard the dispute and thought that Jesus answered the Sadducees "well." But the issue posed by this passage as Scripture is not what the Sadducees and scribes may have thought, but whether in pondering this text we go wrong because we "know neither the scriptures nor the power of God." As a concluding explanation for the logic of Jesus' answer, one commentator typically observes, "the use of an OT text in this artificial way is compatible with Jewish methods of interpretation at the time."9 Since Jesus was a Jew and in our text is involved in a controversy with contemporaries about the interpretation of the Torah, that is certainly what one would expect. The comment, however, is infected with confidence that historical information is explanation enough as a way to read the text. But there is much more to Jesus' use of scripture than can be dismissed as "artificial" and anachronistic.10 Couched though it is in Jewish hermeneutical practices, the text offers two statements about God in the form of a scripture and a comment. It is these openly theological declarations in their relationship that exegesis accountable to the text as Holy Scripture of the Church must struggle to understand. The Lord's self-identification as God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is thematic in the narrative about Moses and the theophany at the bush. The self-identification occurs four times as an insistent theological theme (3:6,15,16; 4:5). When God speaks to Moses in its first occurrence, the "I am" of identification by the Fathers (3:6) has its sequel in the "I am" that expounds the name Yhwh (3:13-15). God's name, the being known of God, the "substance of God," incorporates the relation to the Fathers. The right and true identity for the "I am" who speaks to Moses is known in the narratives that tell about God's relation to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. God has, so to speak, a narrative identity. God's way of selfidentification refers to God's way with these named human identities as an essential clue to the mystery of the name of God.

8 See among others, Horst Dietrich Preuss, Old Testament Theology, vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1995), 261ff. 9 Daniel J. Harrington, "The Gospel According to Mark," NJBQ 622. 10 Brevard Childs gives a succinct analysis of Jesus' exegetical strategy in The Book of Exodus: A Critical Theological Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), 81.


Interpretation 39

So Jesus not only quotes a text of scripture and cites its source. The quoted text is itself a form of scripture citation. The identity, "God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob," refers to Gen 12-50, the stories about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is these stories that witness to the who and why of the One who appears in flame that does not consume to say, "I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt." The stories about the Fathers are in fact stories about God and God's way with them, stories that disclose the identity in which God "comes down" to deal with the affliction of God's people. God's relationship and way with the people of Israel began with a call and a promise to Abraham, a call to leave a life he had in order to journey to a life God would give him. The promise was to make him a nation of greatness and blessing for all the families of the earth (Gen 12:1-3). The promise could be fulfilled only in the future, to and through descendents in whom Abraham would live in that future. Because it was God's promise, that and how the promise would be kept would reveal the character (faithfulness) and reputation (name) of God. "The 'three-ancestor formula' is used in such a way as to show that the interpretative focus falls, not on the relation of the ancestors to God, but on the relation of God to the ancestors."11 Because of the character of the promise, everything in the stories about the Fathers depends upon there being succeeding generations. Without children there would be no one to and through whom the promise could be fulfilled. If one consults a concordance and looks up "descendents" (Heb. zera\ "seed") in Gen 12-50, the ubiquity of the term as a theme of the narratives is evident. In the face of all kinds of threats, dangers, and hindrances to the generativity of the Fathers and Mothers, descendents were "given." It is important to recognize that in the culture of the ancient Israelites, the identity of a person was deeply embedded in familial and social existence. The self was not isolated in individual subjectivity, as with modern consciousness. The person lived on beyond death in descendents. "Thus can God keep his promise to Abraham even after Abraham as an individual has died."12 This way of thinking about the identity of a person with descendents is nowhere more evident than in Jacob's blessing of Joseph's sons: "The God before whom my Fathers, Abraham and Isaac, walked; the God who has lead me all my life long to this day; the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and in them let my name be perpetuated (Heb. "be named") and the name of my Fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth" (Gen 48:14-16).

1 ganzen, "Resurrection and Hermeneutics," 44, following E Dreyfus, VArgument scriptuaire de Jesus in faveur de la resurrection des morts (Marc XII, w. 26-27), RB 66 (1969), 213-24, who concludes that the formula is used in the Bible and the era of Jesus as an "appeal to the founding and paradigmatic instances in which God is seen to act protectively and savingly." 12 On the construction of identity assumed in the narratives of the Fathers, see Levenson, "Resurrection in the Torah," 7ff.

40 Interpretation

JANUARY 2 0 0 6

The thematic threat to having descendents in these narratives is sterility. The story of Abraham begins with the comment, "Now Sarah was barren" (Gen 11:30). Successively, Rebekah (25:21) and then Rachel (29:31) were barren. In each generation sterility threatened a death with no descendents to whom the promise could be fulfilled. There is yet one more story of sterility toward the close of Genesis that is particularly pertinent to the Sadducees' challenge. The story of Tamar is about the failure of a brother to take his brother's widow to wife and "raise up'Offspring for his brother (Gen 38, especially v. 8). Tamar, by courage and persistence, accomplishes what her brother-in-law evaded. Janzen points out that the Sadducees in their story of sterility used the language of verse 8, and thereby inadvertently call on a scripture in which there was a "raising up" after a death, and so introduce a witness that is contrary to their own story of sterility.13 When Exod 3:6 is read as a text interpreted by the narratives of Gen 12-50, its theological cogency with respect to the exodus is evident. The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob is the God who typically and characteristically opens a closed present to a fulfilling future, the God who gives life to the dead. The plots of the narratives about the Fathers contain a theological typology. The bondage of the descendents in Egypt is a new and different threat, but the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will do what that God typically does. Later, prophets will see in God's way with the Fathers and with Israel in bondage the paradigm for God's action to deal with Israel in the Babylonian exile (see especially Isa 40-55). Jesus' appeal to Exod 3:6 in the matter of the resurrection of the dead draws on a theological typology that is already visible in Genesis and Exodus to those who "know the scriptures and the power of God." There is a sequel in Paul's reading of the Abraham story as witness to the "God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Rom 4:17).

ELECTION AS RESURRECTION There is yet one further line of thought prompted by God's self-identification. It is the force of the very relationship that constitutes the identification. When Exod 3:13-16 connects God's self-identification as God of the Fathers with the name, Yhwh, and the essential "I am," that is as close to a theological ontology as the Old Testament comes. "Name of God" in the biblical vocabulary is a theologumenon of revelation meaning what can be known about God.14 In the divine name is encompassed the purpose and power of God. The relation to the Fathers belongs to the "ho or" of God (Exod 3:14, LXX). The Fathers did not choose Yhwh to be their God. Instead, Yhwh chose them. God's self-identification by

13 14

Janzen, "Resurrection and Hermeneutics." 46-47. See A. S. van der Woude, "Name" in THAT 2:950-63.


Interpretation 41

choosing them means that their relation to God transcends even the promise of descendents and land and blessing. Their identity and life are contained in and emerge from the purpose of God. So Yhwh calls Israel already "my people" (3:7), because they are the descendents of Israel (3:10). Indeed, the descendents in whom the Fathers' identity and relation to God live are called by God "my first born son" (4:22), as if God's identity lives in world and time in God's relation to them. Exodus 6 makes it clear that the deliverance from Egyptian bondage and the covenant at Sinai unfold out of God's relation to the Fathers. Israel will be "my people" and "I will be your God." In a real sense, the rest of the Old Testament story is witness to God's faithfulness to God's choice of Israel in all the uncertainties and dangers and failures of their history.15 God's way in world and time is to give God's chosen a future and life. At the end of the Old Testament story, resurrection becomes hope and prospect as the way God will finally give the people who are God's a future and life in spite of death. Resurrection of the dead will vindicate God as their God. "He is not God of the dead, but the living" because it belongs to the very identity of God to give a future and life to those who have been claimed by the electing word, "I am your God." The God of whose power Jesus speaks in our text is the electing God, the One whose initiative of grace makes the present the opening to the future instead of merely the result of the past, and who makes death the way to life instead of the defeat of life.16 The entire Bible is then an interpretive context for reading and reflection. There is hardly a section of text that, spiritually understood, does not witness to this way of God in world and time. Clearer witnesses shed meaning on others. Ezekiel prophesied that the Lord will open the grave of the exiled and return God's people to life by the Spirit (Ezek 37). In Mark's Gospel Jesus, the chosen Son of God, by the Spirit (1:10-11) must die and rise again so that his disciples may save their lives by losing them to him (8:34-35). Paul instructs the church at Rome, "If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the living and the dead" (Rom 14:8-9).

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE PRACTICE OF EXEGESIS AS MINISTRY The hope and purpose of this exegetical exploration of Mark 12:18-27 and the literary terrain to which it is connected is that the exegesis will contribute to reflection on exegesis as ministry. A text that tells about Jesus as interpreter of texts seems a promising focus of study for this purpose. Clearly, an exegesis of one text cannot produce a systematic statement

15 Levenson concludes "that if one takes the understanding of self of the older Israelite literature into account, the affinities of biblical narrative with the later doctrine of resurrection are much greater that at first appears to be the case . . . across its genres and periods, the Hebrew bible exhibits a tension between the fact of death, on the one hand, and the promise of life, on the other" ("Resurrection in the Torah," 8,13). 16 Note the conclusion of Preuss that "YHWH's (historical) action of election and obligation concerning Israel" is "the most important fundamental structure of the Old Testament witness of faith" (Old Testament Theology, 1:27).

42 Interpretation

JANUARY 2 0 0 6

about exegesis as ministry. But some implications and inferences of principles and practices of a minister who does exegesis to mediate between lection and congregation emerge.17 1. Exegesis as ministry begins its work with a critical awareness of what is being interpreted. In our text, both the Sadducees and Jesus appeal to what has been written as authoritative in the matter of the resurrection. The Sadducees cite what "Moses wrote for us." Tradition has it that the Sadducees recognized only the Torah, the books attributed to Moses, who was the exclusive authority for them. Perhaps this is the reason that Jesus responds by quoting "the book of Moses." But his first and preferred and more inclusive term is "the Scriptures," the term generally used in the New Testament to refer to Tanak, the Jewish canon of writings. All these references function to identify a genre of writings, a literature that a religious community recognizes and uses as the principal source and resource of its faith and life. The Sadducees' phrase "for us" marks an essential feature of the genre. All these terms are precursors of the church's recognition of a selection of writings to be added to Tanak to form the Christian canon of Scriptures. In interpretative practice, genre determines why and how a written text is to be interpreted. "Holy Scripture" as its own genre sets the approach and expectation for its interpreters. Why and how it is interpreted both constitute and follow from its identity. Its genre as Scripture that is "Holy" to the church trumps and subordinates all the various types of literature that compose it and all the various theories that assume a lesser and different classification.18 The Christian Bible has always been a subject of study and assessment in various academic and social contexts. Its literature is interpreted by a hermeneutic that accords with whatever identity is given it in various fields of investigation. Its books are often grouped with other ancient writings to construct synchronic areas for study. But its unity and use are alone features of its genre as Holy Scripture of the church. A firm and guiding understanding of the implications of its genre belongs to exegesis practiced as ministry. 2. Jesus concludes his rebuttal of the Sadducees' treatment of scripture with two assertions about God. He begins his answer by pairing the scriptures with the power of God. The Sadducees refer only to Moses. For Jesus, God is the issue in dealing with scripture. The subject and substance of scripture is God and God's way with the world, particularly with God's chosen people. That is why the people of God, first through oral tradition, and then through writings, created and maintained a witness to God's way. They know that their very identity and future depend on knowing the God who is revealed in the divine choice of them. The scriptures read in the power of God and the Holy Spirit, make present the knowl-

17 For a more comprehensive list, see "Nine Theses on the Interpretation of Scripture" developed by The Scripture Project of the Center of Theological Inquiry in The Art of Reading Scripture, 1-5. See also James L. Mays, "On a Christian Reading of the Bible" in Reading the Bible in Faith (ed. William H. Lazereth; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 29-33. 18 See the trenchant discussion in R. W. L. Moberley, The Bible, Theology, and Faith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 11-19.


Interpretation 43

edge of the electing God, and incite faith and sustain the people of God in living out their identity. So exegesis begins in the expectation of the knowledge of God. That is the proper approach to the genre of scripture. Exegesis is theological work. It is, to use a famous phrase, an instance of "faith seeking understanding." "The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man," says the Westminster Shorter Catechism, speaking in the lapidary cadence of late Reformation theology. Because Scripture is used by the church for the knowledge of God, the minister-exegete will approach the text with respect and hope. Interpretation that is accountable to the text and to the people of God will expend time and effort to let the text have its say. The project is not so much to do something to and with the text as to let the language of the text guide and order the interpreter's understanding. It is here that the practices of exegesis as a devotional discipline have their value. Pondering the vocabulary of a text to be more certain of meaning, tracing the syntax of sentences and the form of a passage, comparing translations and original languages, and looking at contexts are all ways of lingering with the text and letting it become a witness that is heard and understood in its own right. 3. It belongs to the genre of Scripture to make the witness of God's electing way in the past address the present. The Scriptures are for reading to the people of God as the word of God for their trusting and living here and now. Exegesis involves listening. It should be attuned to some tangency in the text with the situation of the exegete and with the life the exegete shares with the people of God. Because our text tells about a conflict over the interpretation of scripture, it names a concern already at hand for one writing an article on exegesis. But usually in the practice of ministry one begins with the text and discovers how the text names some dimension of human existence, some concern in the life of the people of God, some situation in the public world. Exegesis should begin accompanied by a wondering imagination about how the lection will be heard by the congregation, so that the role of Scripture as address will be incorporated from the beginning in the study of the text. There is, of course, always the danger that some conviction or concern of the interpreter will take over the interpretative process and use the text to speak the interpreter's word instead of the word of Scripture's witness. That is one of the reasons exegesis is usually taught and described as a neutral endeavor. First, one concentrates on the data of the text to reach a conclusion about the subject of the text and what the text says about the subject in the time it was written. That is thought of as the "meaning" of the text. Then the interpreter asks how what the text means is significant today for the church and world. But that

44 Interpretation

JANUARY 2 0 0 6

order may well obscure the immediacy of the text as witness. It divides temporally the indivisible. It locates the text in the past and its word in the present. It is, in any case, probably impossible for interpreters to put their "mentality" on hold. The purpose of disciplined exegesis is to bring the interpreter into a critical dialogue with the text in which the text critiques the mentality of the interpreter and the interpreter seeks in the text the critical control of the interpreter's understanding. Theological students are sometimes advised not to bring their exegesis into the pulpit. That is bad advice based on a notion of exegesis as a technical method. It is also the reason sermons can seem so distant from the text expounded in the sermon as the word of God. The interpreter serves the Scripture as witness better if the congregation is included in the process of listening to the text so that they hear the word of the text truly through the words of the minister's interpretation. 4. Exegesis works in accord with the unity of Holy Scripture. The principal components of that unity are the Old Testament and the New Testament. Our text illustrates their continuity and the interdependence of the witnesses. In a passage in a gospel, texts from the Old Testament are cited and interpreted concerning an issue that is at the center of the New Testament. The implication is that the witnesses to God's way in and through Jesus will not be understood apart from the witnesses in the Old Testament. The Old Testament witness, then, is put in a further interpretative context. There is a narrative continuity through the combination of Old and New that gives context to all the writings. Just as the gospels show that their accounts of Jesus were written in the light of the conclusion of his career, so the whole Scripture can be interpreted in the light of the event of Jesus Christ as their climax. In Mark, Jesus appears as the interpreter and the interpretation of the Scriptures. That is good hermeneutical advice for all exegesis. 5. In our text, other texts are specifically cited. The exegete is referred to other loci as resources for understanding Mark 12:18-27. Jesus quotes Exod 3:6 and that verse leads to other verses in its immediate literary context, and then to a theme running all through Gen 12-50. Then, in the interpretative exploration, other texts from Old and New Testaments that speak of the theological subject matter discovered in the cited and original texts were adduced as commentary. The process is another illustration of the unity of Holy Scripture. Not only are Old and New Testaments complementary contexts within a whole. The entire Bible is composed of interrelated literary contexts that sequence, parallel, and overlap to create one complex context in which to read individual texts. The unity of the context of


Interpretation 45

contexts is not a unity of sameness or even agreement. It is rather the coherence of diverse and varied witnesses to the one God speaking at different times in the biblical story. Scripture is to be interpreted by scripture. Exegesis is a search for the appropriate and illuminating connections Scripture provides as commentary. 6. Jesus' use of God's word of self-identification to Moses as a witness to the resurrection shows that a text of Holy Scripture may be read in more than one way. The cited passage does not name the resurrection as its subject. But if the interpreter knows that the God of the Fathers is the God who raises the dead, then the plain language of the text can be understood in a fuller sense. Resurrection is not read into the text, but the text is read in the light of the resurrection. God's way with the Fathers is typical, a type of God's way with the dead. Jesus' interpretation uncovers the coherence of the text's language with a question of the resurrection. Reading texts in their typical fuller sense practices a hermeneutic of the unity of Holy Scripture. Such a hermeneutic is a feature of the content and composition of the books of the New Testament and many of the Old. With much variety in execution, this hermeneutic is characteristic of the interpretation of Scripture in Christian history from the earliest times down through the Reformation. It has been largely eclipsed by the hegemony of historical criticism and its exclusive interest in the "original meaning," determined by the context of a proposed temporal setting of the text. The minister in accountability to Holy Scripture should, without neglecting the usefulness of historical studies, give place and even precedence to the Scripture itself as hermeneutical context. That move will lead to a richer, fuller, more faithful account of the witness of Holy Scripture. 7. The course of our exegesis has led from a conflict over resurrection to God's selfidentification to Moses and then to God's way with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as resolution of the conflict. The exploration has become a witness to God as the electing God and the word that it is through God's initiative of election that God gives life. Exegesis has thus broached doctrine, the doctrine of election, a doctrine that the church believes and teaches. Exegesis, if it is theologically consequential, will inevitably engage doctrine, because the church has developed what it confesses and teaches in engagement with Scripture. The long and prompting history of this engagement has left a record of reflection and reasoning about Scripture and election. That history is a huge reserve of insight and advice for the exegete. For instance, Calvin reflects on the relationship of election and life in sections of the Institutes introduced by such headings as, "In the Old Covenant, God gave his people fellowship with Himself and thus eternal life," and "Even in the Old Covenant, God's goodness was stronger than death."18 The Scots Confession says, "We most surely believe that

18 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion II, X, 8-9. (ed. John T. McNeil; tr. Ford Lewis Battles; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960).

46 Interpretation

JANUARY 2 0 0 6

God preserved, instructed, multiplied, honored, adored, and called from death to life His Kirk in all ages since Adam until the coming of Christ Jesus in theflesh,"and then proceeds to rehearse the narrative of Abraham and "his seed."19 To read the text and probe the doctrine of election with Augustine and Calvin and Wesley and Barth is to be educated by the church in the ministry of interpreting for the church. It is also to be reminded that the engagement continues and is not concluded this side of the resurrection. It is happening even now as you, the minister, work at the ministry of exegesis, preparing to say in preaching the gracious word of the Gospel: "You are mine and I am your God."

19 See "The Scots Confession", Chapter 5, in the Book of Confessions (Louisville: The Office of the General Assembly, 2002 ), 12.

^ s
Copyright and Use: As an ATLAS user, you may print, download, or send articles for individual use according to fair use as defined by U.S. and international copyright law and as otherwise authorized under your respective ATLAS subscriber agreement. No content may be copied or emailed to multiple sites or publicly posted without the copyright holder(s)' express written permission. Any use, decompiling, reproduction, or distribution of this journal in excess of fair use provisions may be a violation of copyright law. This journal is made available to you through the ATLAS collection with permission from the copyright holder(s). The copyright holder for an entire issue of a journal typically is the journal owner, who also may own the copyright in each article. However, for certain articles, the author of the article may maintain the copyright in the article. Please contact the copyright holder(s) to request permission to use an article or specific work for any use not covered by the fair use provisions of the copyright laws or covered by your respective ATLAS subscriber agreement. For information regarding the copyright holder(s), please refer to the copyright information in the journal, if available, or contact ATLA to request contact information for the copyright holder(s). About ATLAS: The ATLA Serials (ATLAS) collection contains electronic versions of previously published religion and theology journals reproduced with permission. The ATLAS collection is owned and managed by the American Theological Library Association (ATLA) and received initial funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The design and final form of this electronic document is the property of the American Theological Library Association.