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Drawing the Battle Lines: Dean Breidenthal “Exegetes” Mark 1:21-28 [Part I of IV]

22 February 2010

 (Sigh)..  From here

Drawing the Battle Lines
A sermon preached by Tom Breidenthal in the Princeton University Chapel on Sunday, January 29, 2006.

Text: Mark 1:21-28.

The passage we just heard from Mark is so tightly packed that we may miss its high drama if we just read it quickly and move on. We’re still in the first chapter of the Gospel: in quick succession Mark has catapulted us through the appearance of John the Baptist, Jesus’ appearance and baptism in the Jordan, his time of testing in the wilderness, his return to his native Galilee, and the calling of his first disciples. Now, as Shabbat, the Sabbath, falls, he enters the synagogue in Capernaum, not far from his hometown of Nazareth, and begins to teach.

Here is where DB explains the distinction between preaching and teaching in 1st Century Judaism, through the lens of 21st-Century Princeton academia:

Notice that I said teach, not preach. The two activities are related, but they are quite distinct. To preach on scripture is to expound upon it – one hopes in a way that opens up the text for those who are listening. But teaching requires dialogue, both between teacher and student, and among the students themselves. That’s why big classes at Princeton are divided up into sections, so that the weekly lecture can be followed up with a real conversation about what the professor said.

Surprisingly, I agree to some extent.  Some disciplines, particularly philosophy and law, require lots of that kind of dialogue.  Others however, particularly the physical sciences and those that apply them, do not require ‘dialogue’ for learning.

In rabbinical Judaism, the event of teaching and learning the Law is second only to the act of worship, and is sometimes indistinguishable from worship. As you know, the word “Rabbi” means teacher, and to this day it is common for Jews of European descent to refer to synagogue as shul – the Yiddish word for school. So when Mark describes Jesus entering the synagogue and beginning to teach, we should picture the young Rabbi taking the congregation by storm, engaging them with him and with one another in a lively exploration of God’s word.

Nice attempt at a slight-of-hand there, Tom.  Praising Jesus’ rhetorical skills to the heavens so as to not have to dwell on the trivialities of Jesus’ divinity.  There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus was a brilliant public speaker, but I do not believe for a minute that He ever needed (or needs) to be.  In college, my classmates and I understood when we had a gifted professor who was flawed in his speaking skills, and we compensated – because we knew that their gifts transcended any level of speaking ability.

Besides, I don’t think the text fits the view of “..engaging them with him and with one another in a lively exploration of God’s word.”  Here, let’s read what the text says:

And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1:21, 22 ; ESV)

DB has previously explained the “different-ness” between the act of teaching in First-Century Rabbinic Judaism and act of preaching here in the 21st-Century.  Assuming his distinction to be true and correct (and I am), the text of Mark itself indicates that there is a reverse “different-ness” going on here.  Jesus is in fact, NOT teaching like everyone else;  He teaches with authority.  In fact, it would seem that His teaching is more like DB’s definition of preaching.

Surely this is the air of authority everyone is so amazed by. “He teaches with authority, they say, “not like the scribes.” It’s not just that Jesus knows the scriptures inside and out – that would be true of the scribes as well.

Was it really true of the scribes?  Within that culture, there was a profound disagreement on whether or not there would be a general resurrection….  Er, maybe it wouldn’t be true that the scribes knew the scriptures in and out.

 It’s that Jesus connects immediately with his students. In his presence they feel the immediacy and power of the text, and are inspired to wrestle with it as never before.

Well, no.  It’s that Jesus “teaches as one who had authority,” which is the very thing that distinguishes him from the scribes (!) .  Undoubtably, there were ‘super-scribes,’ then that could immediately captivate an audience, just as there are gifted speakers today who have that ability.  But .. In the judgment of a sophisticated 1st-Century audience, there was something even more remarkable about Jesus than there had been with every other speaker they had heard in that venue.  And that’s precisely why TB’s attempt to explain the ‘engaging’ aspect of Christ’s teaching, fails so miserably – for in attempting to reduce Jesus’ teaching to human terms, he fails to account for the testimony of humans. 

(Hint:  Jesus is the God-Man ) .

[to be continued…]

– Elder

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