2013 Synoptic Gospels

Session 1

Who can forgive sins but God alone?

The reaction of the scribes when Jesus declared that the sins of the paralysed man were forgiven is historically plausible on the basis that the man evidenced no signs of repentance. Each synoptic version of the pericope reflects a distinctive gospel perspective: Mark emphasises that Jesus acts as God; Luke focuses on forgiveness as an eschatological gift; Matthew on the authority of the church to forgive sins. The early church tended to side with the scribes in challenging pronouncements of forgiveness: Marcion’s good and kind god may have been prepared to forgive sins repeatedly, but Tertullian draws on this episode to correct Marcion’s theology and christology, and does so again subsequently to challenge the pope’s authority to declare that adultery and fornication could be forgiven. Cyprian also used Marcion as an example in his argument that the schismatic baptism of Novatian could not bring divine forgiveness of sins, because Novatian operated outside the pale of the church and so lacked the authority of binding and loosing. In considering the forgiveness of sins, the church needs to combine the perspective of all three synoptics: Matthew’s ecclesiology must be combined with Mark’s emphasis on christology and Luke’s on the soteriology of forgiveness.

Elizabeth Shively (University of St Andrews)

The Mission of Jesus: Mark 10:45 in Context

Mark has Jesus state his mission most clearly in 10:45.  Though clearly stated, its meaning has not proven to be clearly understood.  Scholars debate whether or not Isa 53:11 provides its background and whether or not ransom from sin is in view.  I argue that Isaiah indeed provides key background, but that the chief ransom envisioned is from the power of Satan’s captivity.   I interpret Mark 10:45 in light of its apocalyptic symbolic world, its intertextual echoes, and its narrative context.  Specifically, I interpret 10:45 in light of two passages, Mark 3:22-30 and 8:27-10:45.  First, in both 3:22-30 and 10:45, the Markan Jesus explains the purpose of his own mission, depicts his mission in terms of rescuing captives, and uses language that echoes elements of Isaiah 40-55.  Second, 10:45 is the conclusion of the unit 8:27-10:45, which is introduced by an episode that identifies Satan as the one who darkens human minds to reject God’s will, and which narrates cumulative examples of a darkened mindset that build to Jesus’ climactic statement in 10:45.  To conclude, I compare Matthew’s version (Matt 20:28) in its narrative context in order to illuminate Mark’s Christology.

Session 2

‘Doing Mercy’ (Luke 10:37) as Covenant Loyalty: The Meaning of the Parable of the ‘Good’ Samaritan and the Second Great Commandment

Although scholars recognize the ποιεῖν ἔλεος μετά phrase as a Semitism referring to observing covenant faithfulness rather than to practicing general ethical mercy or compassion (e.g., BDF, §206; BDAG, 636; Marshall, Luke, 450; Strauss, Davidic Messiah, 101; Fitzmyer, Luke, 888), its implications have not been consistently applied within the context of Luke 10:25–37 for understanding Lev 19:18. The paper first surveys the widespread use and consistent covenant context of the ποιεῖν ἔλεος construction in biblical and post-biblical literature. Special attention will be paid to its often overlooked usage in Jas 2:8–13 (vis-à-vis Ruth 1:8), which provides a striking parallel to the argument of Luke 10:25–37. Possible intertextual allusions relating to Luke 10:37 (Exod 34:7) and to the Samaritan parable itself (Hos 6:6) are then also discussed in scholarly interaction. Against this backdrop, the paper argues that the purpose of the Samaritan parable (10:37) as an interpretation of Luke 10:27 is not to universalize Lev 19:18 into a general call to love outsiders. Rather, its goal is to reinforce the meaning of Lev 19:18 as a call to maintain covenant loyalty by loving one’s fellow covenant members, thereby inheriting eternal life (Luke 10:25, 28, 37b).


Michael Flowers (University of Manchester)

Jesus’ Emotions in Luke

In the last few decades several studies have broached the topic of Jesus' emotions in Luke's Gospel. There seems to be general agreement that Luke has purposely suppressed or altered Jesus' emotions. There is less agreement as to what exactly motivated him to do this. In the present article I consider how Luke presents the emotions of characters other than Jesus and ask whether we can discern from this data a particular theological or philosophical tendency. My contention is that no such tendency is in fact discernible. Some of Luke's most pious and esteemed characters (e.g. Zechariah, Mary) exhibit emotions whereas the data on other characters is missing or disputable. This study has implications for the study of Jesus' emotions. It shows, for example, that Luke himself did not have a clear dislike for emotions, which suggests that he was not a Cynic or a Stoic (or at least not a consistent one). It also lends support to my own thesis that the Third Evangelist himself was not the person responsible for suppressing Jesus' emotions in his Gospel. 

Session 3

Matthew’s Forgiveness of Mark’s Sins: Mimetic Narrative in Two Gospels

Narrative criticism has been widely employed in studies of the canonical Gospels, but most  narrative hermeneutic approaches are derived from structuralism, a discipline that has been thoroughly criticised and largely rejected by scholars of philosophy and linguistics. Narrative criticism itself has not been spurned, though, and many theorists have continued to develop the field. Amongst them, Paul Ricoeur has offered one of the most thorough critiques of structuralist hermeneutics in the academy, and he subsequently proposed a cogent theory of narrative that remains influential today.

In this paper I will outline Ricoeur’s three-fold mimetic theory of narrative as an alternative to structural methods, indicating how it overcomes the problems internal to the cul-de-sac of structuralist narratology while at the same time opening previously unexplored (and unexplorable?) avenues. To demonstrate the virtues of Ricoeur’s approach, I will examine a story that appears in both Mark’s and Matthew’s Gospels – the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2 and Matthew 9. If we postulate a credible prefiguration for Matthew we are then able to approach him as a ‘first interpreter’ of Mark, adapting Mark’s configuration of the story and refiguring it into the version we have in Matthew. This case study illustrates the inevitability of differing versions of stories about Jesus, and I conclude by arguing for the merits of variations and variability in narrative criticism of the Gospels.

Andrew Angel (St John's Nottingham)

Talking Back to Tradition: Mischievous Matthew Plays with Dragons

There is general recognition that Matthew uses the ancient myth of the divine warrior conquering his chaotic foe in his sea miracle stories. Matthew uses these ancient traditions to develop both his Christology and his teaching on discipleship. Reading Matthew against the background of ancient Israelite and second temple Jewish traditions of the myth of the divine warrior helps focus how sharply Matthew differs from his co-religionists in their usage of this mythical tradition.  Comparison of Matthew and Mark with the religious traditions they inherit and develop enables the reader to understand better Matthean soteriology and spirituality.