October 30, 2004

The Structure of Mark’s Gospel

Category: Bible - NT - Mark :: Permalink

In his lectures on “The Theology of the Gospel of Mark,” presented at the 1997 Biblical Horizons Conference. Jeff Meyers points out that there are exactly seven day-markers in the Gospel of Mark, and each section concludes with some kind of a reference to evening or morning. It may be possible, then, Meyers notes, to outline Mark in relation to the seven days of Genesis 1.

Day 1 (1:1-34): Water and Spirit

In Mark 1:32, we have evening. In Mark 1:35, we have morning. On this first “day” in Mark, we have the beginning of the Gospel (1:1). In Genesis 1:2, the Spirit hovers over the water and in Mark 1:10 the Spirit descends on Jesus as He comes up from the waters. We also have the wilderness (formlessness, emptiness, darkness; see Genesis 1:2). Jesus triumphs over the darkness of demonic activity and sickness.

Day 2 (1:35-4:34): The Firmament Separating Heaven and Earth

In Mark 4:35, we have evening. In Genesis, God distances Himself from creation by creating a firmament to separate heaven (where God lives) from earth. In Mark, Jesus goes off and people look for Him and can’t find Him. Jesus tells people to keep quiet about the things He’s done. He speaks about the secrets of the kingdom.

Day 3 (4:35-6:46): The Sea, Dry Land, and Plants

In Genesis, Day 3 starts with the separation of the waters and ends with the creation of plants. Day 3 in Mark starts with the sea about to overwhelm the disciples until Jesus calms the sea. There’s a lot of activity on the sea in this section. At the end of this section, Jesus feeds 5000 people, which may link to the creation of grain plants on the third day. In 6:46, we have evening again.

Day 4 (6:46-11:11): Light-Bearers Ruling in the Firmament

Day 4 is a long day in Mark’s Gospel, and that makes sense if Mark is about sonship and ruling. Jesus is establishing the light-bearers, His disciples, and is teaching them. In particular, He is teaching them how to rule (by service, not like the Gentile lords). In this section, too, we have the transfiguration and the healing of a blind man, both of which have to do with light. In 11:11, it’s late. The Greek word here is the word for evening.

Day 5 (11:12-19): Sea Animals and Birds

Day 5 in Mark’s Gospel is short. It’s about Jesus clearing the temple. The temple was designed to be a house of prayer for all the nations, and the nations (Gentiles) are often associated with the sea in the Bible. In 12:19, evening comes.

Day 6 (11:20-14:11): Man as Ruler/Mediator

Day 6 is another long section in Mark. It starts with Jesus praying. His authority is questioned, which has to do with Him as the true man who has dominion. In Mark 12, we have the parable of the garden and its keepers (think of Adam in the Garden). Jesus is anointed on this day.

Day 7 (14:12-15:41): Sabbath: The LORD Draw Near

In the evening (14:17) is the Last Supper. The disciples are self-seeking. Jesus alone draws near to sinners and gives Himself for them.

Day 8 (15:42-16:20): New Creation

The eighth day is the day of resurrection. It begins in 15:42 with another evening. Obviously there is a day or two in between, but in the text immediately after this seventh evening comes the morning on which Jesus rises again. The new creation thus begins on the eighth day in Mark’s Gospel.

This isn’t, of course, the only way that the Gospel can be outlined, but it may be one helpful way to read Mark.

Posted by John Barach @ 5:32 pm | Discuss (0)
October 29, 2004

The Gospel of Mark

Category: Bible - NT - Mark :: Permalink

I’m currently preaching on Mark’s Gospel, but I’m a bit behind in blogging all the stuff I’ve wanted to from my study in this Gospel. Here’s a first step toward catching up.

What are the best commentaries on Mark? Well, frankly, most evangelical commentaries say pretty much the same thing. I’ve found some helpful stuff in William Lane and some in R. T. France (especially the stuff that he footnotes and argues against; often it’s pretty good!).

But what stands out? As Jeff Meyers noted in one of his lectures at the recent Christ Church Ministerial Conference, the best commentaries are the postmodern ones. They’re the ones that treat the Gospel as a literary unit and pay attention to the literary features of the text.

I agree: There’s some very stimulating stuff in Jerry Camery-Hoggatt’s Irony in Mark’s Gospel and in John Paul Heil’s The Gospel of Mark as a Model for Action. Occasionally, Bas van Iersel’s Mark: A Reader-Response Commentary has been useful.

Austin Farrer’s A Study in Saint Mark is fascinating and indispensable, even if you end up disagreeing with him at several points (as I do). Jeff Meyers‘s lectures on the theology of Mark, given at the 1997 Biblical Horizons Conference are well worth listening to. Mark Horne‘s The Victory According to Mark draws on Farrer and Meyers significantly; it’s a must-have. Tom Wright’s little Mark for Everyone is sometimes helpful, but what you really must read is his Jesus and the Victory of God.

I have other commentaries and I do look through them, but these are the ones I’ve found most helpful so far.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:54 pm | Discuss (0)
October 21, 2004


Category: Movies :: Permalink

Last night, Moriah and I watched Heaven and enjoyed it greatly.

The movie stars Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi and is directed by Tom Tykwer, who also directed Run Lola Run.

The screenplay was by Krzysztof Kielowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, who also wrote the screenplays for the Three Colours trilogy (which are among my favourite movies) as well as The Double Life of Veronique and The Decalogue (which I haven’t seen yet). Kieslowski died before he was able to direct Heaven and Tykwer was given the job. He handles it well. I hope sometime we’ll be able to see the rest of the trilogy, Hell and Purgatory.

I’m not going to say much about the movie because to say almost anything would ruin the story. I will say this, however: there’s a lot of Christian symbolism throughout the movie, though particularly at the end, and there’s even more if you watch the deleted scenes. The director says that he sees Heaven as a story about redemption, about a person in darkness who comes into the light and the light, of course, comes from above (I’m quoting from memory what Tykwer says in the interview on the DVD).

Highly recommended for people who like to think through movies.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:24 pm | Discuss (0)

Fantasy and Science Fiction Authors

Category: Literature :: Permalink

In his comments on my last entry, Mason McElroy writes:

I would really like some recommendations for good Fantasy/Sci-Fi novels and short stories. I have read the obvious candidates: Tolkien, Lewis, and a little Gene Wolfe. Other than those I am not very familiar with good Fantasy or Sci-Fi authors. Thanks. (Especially to Mr. Barach since I kind of hijacked his Blog.)

Any suggestions for him?

Here are some of my suggestions: Jack Vance, Cordwainer Smith, Avram Davidson, Tim Powers, and James Blaylock. I’m a big fan of Gene Wolfe. I’ve liked some of Neil Gaiman’s work. I’m told that Orson Scott Card (or as Gene Wolfe parodied it once, Oar Scottson Curd) and Vernor Vinge are good, and some people I’ve seen have liked John C. Wright.

Most of that list, I realize, is recent. There are some very good science fiction and fantasy writers from the mid-20th century. I’ve enjoyed stories by C. M. Kornbluth, Henry Kuttner, Edmund Hamilton, L. Sprague DeCamp, and others. It would take a while, though, for me to put together a list of their really good material since all of those writers wrote some quick and sloppy stuff, too.

But I especially look forward to hearing what some other people recommend. Suggestions?

Posted by John Barach @ 2:56 pm | Discuss (0)
October 18, 2004

Avram Davidson

Category: Literature :: Permalink

Speaking of stories, I just finished The Avram Davidson Treasury. Avram Davidson was an amazing writer. He’s generally billed as a fantasy and science fiction, though he also wrote a fair number of mysteries as well as a lot of stories that don’t fall easily into any category.

Of the stories in this treasury (and a treasurey it is indeed), the ones I most enjoyed include

* The Golem
* Help! I Am Dr. Morris Goldpepper
* Now Let Us Sleep
* Or All the Seas with Oysters
* Take Wooden Indians
* Where Do You Live, Queen Esther?
* The Sources of the Nile
* The Price of a Charm; or, The Lineaments of Gratified Desire
* Polly Charms, the Sleeping Woman
* And Don’t Forget the One Red Rose
* Crazy Old Lady
* The Last Wizard

But all of Davidson’s stories are rich. Davidson loved words. He loved the way words sound together and the way one word reminds you of another. He appears to have been quite learned, but his scholarship is never heavy handed. Above all, his stories are fun to read (and to read out loud).

It’s just too bad that he is routinely ignored in academic settings. You won’t usually hear him mentioned in short story classes, though he’s frequently compared to Saki, John Collier, and others whose work is mentioned. But that’s fine. Universities may not have discovered him, but I have. I greatly enjoyed this Treasury, and I’ll be reading more Avram Davidson in the future.

And now I’m reading Gene Wolfe‘s Pandora by Holly Hollander and occasionally dipping into the stories of Bernard Malamud.

Posted by John Barach @ 8:46 pm | Discuss (0)
October 16, 2004


Category: Literature :: Permalink

Children need to hear stories. The reason is that they must learn to interpret stories, and they must do this so that they will come to understand the story of their own lives. The gospel story is of course the center of this process. But we learn to understand this story the same way we come to understand the language of Scripture. We learn language, and because of this, we can hear the language of God in Scripture. We learn stories, and therefore we learn to hear the gospel as a story.

When children are steeped in stories, they learn that they are characters in a story as well. This kind of wisdom is the result of hearing countless stories: Bible stories, fairy stories, family stories, stories about work, short stories, humorous stories, serious stories, and many more. When children come to see themselves as characters, they then come to that wisdom which asks the really profound questions. “Am I a Peter? A Eustace? An Edmund? Am I Samwise? Lucy?” In short, they learn to ask what kind of character they are in the story being written all around them. — Doug Wilson, My Life for Yours, p. 110 (paragraph break added).

Posted by John Barach @ 3:52 pm | Discuss (0)
October 15, 2004

Blake Purcell

Category: Missions & Evangelism :: Permalink

Monday was Thanksgiving here in Canada. At the church I pastor, the tradition is to have a Thanksgiving service in the morning. As well, the church hosts a communal meal. That may seem odd, given that Thanksgiving is normally a family day, but I guess that’s just what they’ve always done here.

This time, however, we had something a bit different. Instead of having the Thanksgiving meal right after the service, which is what usually happens, we had it in the late afternoon, after which we had a presentation by Rev. Blake Purcell. Blake is the dean of the Reformed Seminary of St. Petersburg in Russia, and he spoke about the work of the seminary and about the Reformed church in Russia.

His presentation was very enjoyable, and it was good to be able to spend some time visiting with Blake over supper. I would encourage you to think about supporting some students at this seminary and thereby furthering the work of the gospel in Russia.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:10 pm | Discuss (0)
October 14, 2004


Category: Feasting :: Permalink

Carrie Nation attacked demon rum. John Harvey Kellogg invented corn flakes as breakfast food without meat — designed to reduce the sexual drive. Reducing bestial animal desire through food was the order of the day, and it was even thought you could pass on less original sin to your kids this way. Sylvester Graham invented Graham flour for this purpose, a shield against vile affections. We see in the development of s’mores a triumph of trinitarian practice over cultic ideology. — Doug Wilson, My Life for Yours, p. 55.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:54 pm | Discuss (0)
October 13, 2004

Cop Shows

Category: Television :: Permalink

Here in Grande Prairie (or at least here in our basement), Moriah and I get only two channels, CBC and CTV.

Of the two, CTV is far superior (which may simply be a way of saying that it has far fewer Canadian shows). Last night, Moriah and I watched Da Vinci’s Inquest on CBC for the first and last time. There was no interesting dialogue: the characters hemmed and hawed and mumbled. In fact, I’ve seen little on CBC that would attract me to watch it. (Can that be because CBC has more Canadian programming? Perhaps.)

Another TV-related note: It seems as if police shows are gradually taking over television. Law and Order has spawned a couple more versions, including Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and now besides the original C. S. I., set in Las Vegas, we also have C. S. I.: Miami and C. S. I.: New York.

This, it seems to me, is all to the good. The more police shows we have on TV, the less space there is for sitcoms.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:33 pm | Discuss (0)
October 12, 2004

“The Faith of Shakespeare”

Category: Literature :: Permalink

One of my favourite writers, Larry Woiwode, has an article entitled “The Faith of Shakespeare” in the latest Books and Culture.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:01 pm | Discuss (0)
October 8, 2004


Category: Literature :: Permalink

Thought Question:

Name some great Reformed/Presbyterian writers of literature (poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction), writers whose works repay careful study. Now name some great Roman Catholic or Anglican writers of literature whose work repays study. Why is it easier to think of people in the second category than in the first? Or, to put things another way, why aren’t there more Reformed writers whose work is rich with symbolism and maturity and depth?

I’ve been thinking about that question for several years now, and it came to mind again as I listened to Doug Jones lecture on typology in fiction at the recent Christ Church Ministerial Conference (about which more later). I have some ideas of my own about the answers to these questions, but I’m interested in hearing what you think.

Posted by John Barach @ 6:43 pm | Discuss (0)