Review of Paul and the Gospels, Part 1: Crossley & Bird on Mark’s Relationship to Paul

PAG.pngBird, Michael F. and Joel Willitts, eds.

Paul and the Gospels: Christologies, Conflicts & Convergences

Library of New Testament Studies 411.

London: T&T Clark, 2011. Pp. xii + 276. Hardcover. $120.00.

Amazon | Eisenbrauns


With thanks to T&T Clark for this review copy!

Paul and the Gospels: Christologies, Conflicts and Convergences draws together essays from a number of scholars who “attempt[ing] to investigate the relationship between Paul (the man, letters, tradition) and the ‘Jesus Books’ that came to be known as ‘Gospels’.” (1) The book is comprised of ten chapters that can be divided into five sections. Each section, covering the four canonical Gospels as well as the Gospel of Thomas, draws essays from two scholars. Rather than follow canonical order, Paul and the Gospels begins its investigation with Mark’s Gospel (naturally, since the majority of NT scholars accept Markan Priority) and the question of influence.

James Crossley’s chapter “Mark, Paul, and the Question of Influences” argues against the now popular view that Paul influenced Mark’s Gospel. Crossley takes up and sharpens some of Martin Werner’s arguments from nearly a century ago, in which he suggested that Paul had no influence on Mark and where similarities did appear, they could be attributed to widespread Christian beliefs in general. Crossley begins by noting some examples of where Mark is believed to be “interpreting and/or advocating Paul or Pauline thought” (i.e., Mark 4:1-20 cf. Rom. 9-11; Mark 14:22-25 cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-25; Mark 7:19 cf. Rom. 14:14). He argues (against Benjamin Bacon most notably) that Mark 4:1-20 does not display all of the key Pauline ideas or vocabulary concerning the salvation of all Israel in Romans 9-11; that Paul depends on earlier tradition for 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 so it is just as possible for Mark to rely on the same tradition in Mark 14:22-25; and lastly, the linguistic parallels between Mark 7:19 and Romans 14:14 are imprecise, and we have a similar idea regarding clean/unclean food attributed to Peter in Acts 10, but an alternative interpretation is possible where Mark 7:19 is “better understood as ‘all foods permitted in the law are clean’.” (14) In other words, while Paul declares all food clean in itself, Mark’s Jesus declares only the food permitted by the law as clean.

Crossley goes on to suggest that Paul and Mark unsurprisingly faced similar issues with regard to Jesus’ suffering and death and the Gentile mission. Such similarities can be accounted for by the fact that all early Christian communities dealt with these issues, therefore there’s no need to posit Pauline influence on Mark (or Markan influence on Paul if we date Mark’s Gospel early, ca. 40 CE). One different issue that Mark and Paul faced was Torah observance. Crossley argues that “[w]hile a clear case can be made for Paul thinking things such as circumcision, Sabbath observance and food laws, if not the entire Law, were no longer required for salvation or justification, this sort of view is not found in Mark.” (21) What we find in Mark are halakic debates in which Jesus interpreted the Law differently than his opponents, but he does not abrogate the Law. It would be hard then to suggest that Paul influenced Mark on the Law.

Crossley rounds out his essay by turning to the issue of Christology and conflict in Mark and Paul. Contra scholars like Joseph Tyson, Crossley argues against the idea of a “corrective Christology” (i.e., a Christology that corrects the view of some alleged “Jewish Christian dynasty imposing a nationalistic Davidic Messiah” [23]) in Mark’s Gospel. It’s hard to believe that Mark is correcting a Christology that no early Jewish Christian group demonstrably held. Against William Telford’s assertion that Mark and Paul both appear to reject a “Son of David” Christology in favor of a “Son of God” Christology, Crossley says that if they do so it’s by “sheer neglect.” (25) In other words, neither seems interested enough in a “Son of David” to knowingly reject it.

Michael Bird’s chapter “Mark: Interpreter of Peter and Disciple of Paul” covers much of the same ground as Crossley’s but begins by arguing that that Mark’s Gospel is informed by Petrine testimony. Bird makes this point by appealing to the literary device of inclusio following Richard Bauckham’s argumentation in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, i.e., Peter is the first and last disciple named in the Gospel. Next, he appeals to Peter’s prominence in Mark’s Gospel from his emphatic introduction in Mark 1:16 to his unnecessary intrusion into Mark 16:7 to his being “the most dominating personality among the disciples in Mark” (35) to his “representative function at the narrative level as speaking and acting for the Twelve.” (36) There is also agreement with the Petrine tradition recorded in Acts, which argues in favor of Mark’s Gospel exhibiting Petrine testimony.

Unlike Crossley, Bird sees Paul’s influence on a number of themes in Mark. He opts to highlight three in particular: 1) Theology of the cross; 2) Salvation; 3) Attitude to the Law. Bird notes that the “preaching of the cross was a feature of general Christian proclamation” (39) but Mark and Paul display an “equally distinct focus on the cross.” (40) Bird shows five points of intersection between Paul and Mark: First, the focus on Jesus’ death; second, apocalyptic imagery in the description of Jesus’ death; third, a shared perspective of Jesus’ death as power in weakness; fourth, the cross as the “apex of Christological revelation” (i.e, Jesus as Son of God); and fifth, Jesus’ crucifixion as royal triumph (exhibiting parallels with Roman triumphal procession).

When talk turns to salvation, Bird suggests that Paul and Mark share much in common with the broader Christian movement like the importance of placing faith in and following Christ, but there are some points that they seem to agree “more acutely with each other than with other Christian groups [in] the heightened usage of the word ‘gospel’, a reference to ‘redemption’, and a similar salvation-historical scheme about the inclusion of Gentiles.” (43) As concerns the Law, Bird says that Paul saw it positively in two ways: as retaining a “consultative role in genuinely informing one’s ‘walk’” and enduring as a “cultural pattern that Jewish or Judaistic believers may happily continue to follow and that must be respected.” (48) But for Paul the law was not “constitutive for the identity, salvation and behaviour of believers… the Law holds a different place for Jesus-believers than it does for Jews.” (48) Bird is largely in agreement with Crossley over the halakic debates in Mark and no abrogation. Where they diverge is in Bird’s seeing 7:19c as an editorial aside directed to Gentile readers and influenced by Paul’s views on unclean foods as being okay for consumption.

Both Crossley and Bird have contributed thought provoking essays to this volume. When read against each other I think that Crossley has the stronger of the arguments regarding influence (Bird’s stance on Petrine testimony is solid). There doesn’t seem to be anything in Bird’s argumentation that tips the scales in favor of Paul influencing Mark, at least not that I can see. The points of similarity can be, and probably are as Werner argued, accounted for by a common Christian view of these subjects. At times it seems that Bird recognizes this when he speaks of the “preaching of the cross” as a “general Christian proclamation” and then proceeds to list a number of references spread all over the NT (39), or when he suggests that Paul introduces a “citation of the Jesus tradition” or uses “traditional material.” (50) If such material exists then it can easily account for Mark’s similar stance on these issues (at this point Bird is referring to Mark 7 and Romans 14).

It seems to me that Bird’s essay operates according to the assumption of Pauline influence and then concludes with Pauline influence. This can be seen when Bird says that “Crossley’s objections still do not eliminate the Pauline perspective in Mk 7.19c” (50) but this begs the very question that needs to be answered. It is possible that if Mark wrote as early as Crossley thinks (ca. 40 CE) that he could have influenced Paul (of course Bird doesn’t accept such an early date for Mark; he says, “the attempt to synthesize Petrine and Pauline perspectives was first undertaken by Mark sometime around 70 CE” [52-53]). Bird also says that the connection between the cross and Jesus as Son of God is a “distinctly Pauline idea” (43), but one wonders how this is so when it’s in Mark as well. If one doesn’t assume Pauline influence then would one conclude that this idea was distinctly Pauline?

Wherever one comes out on these issues, they couldn’t find a better introduction to them than those found in these two chapters. Crossley and Bird have set the tone for what promises to be a riveting volume. Hopefully the other essays will continue in the same vein.


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