A Review of Mark Through Old Testament Eyes by Andrew T. LePeau, Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2017, 352 pages, paperback
This book by series editor Andrea LePeau is the first in a set of volumes that will explore the influence of the Old Testament upon the writers of the New Testament books. This influence, it is believed, is not only in the way in which certain passages are quoted and used in the New Testament, but also how minds stocked with Old Testament stories, texts, and theology brought that multi-layered influence into their books through structure, allusion, typology and motif. Especially important to this point of view is the way the Hebrew Scriptures are employed to point to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes.
LePeau can turn a phrase and his work is very readable and easy to follow. He is well read and he brings much to his task, though the book is not designed to be academic. The book includes a running commentary with notes on backgrounds and Old Testament motifs and allusions interspersed. Generally speaking he has done an excellent job with the commentary part of the book. This (major) portion alone ought to recommend the book to preachers and teachers.
Going back to the premise of the series, the first thing which came to mind when I read the title and the way LePeau understands it was the question of whether this will indeed be a commentary on how the Old Testament effected the inspired writers (25), or whether it will be a work more about how the way the New Testament authors supposedly used the Old Testament. The former understanding places the spotlight on the expectation taught in the Scriptures (e.g. Matt. 19:28; Lk. 1:31-33; 54-55; 68-74; 19:11; Acts 1:6; 26:7); the latter on a brand of theological interpretation.
I have to admit that as my eye passed over the list of contributors to this series I was not encouraged. The names I read all believe that the Old Testament needs to be read in light of the New Testament in order to be rightly interpreted. What this actually means is that a particular understanding of the New Testament is being read back into the Hebrew Bible so that the prophecies and promises found therein are reformulated so as to be fulfilled at Christ’s first coming and in the Church. Gary Burge, for example, who will produce the Galatians and Ephesians volume, is a sure-fire bet to teach a reinterpretation of the Prophets and a “kingdom-now” supercessionist eschatology.
In his introduction LePeau likens the incorporation of Old Testament elements into Mark to the way directors include allusions to other films and directors in their movies. I think this is an unfortunate illustration, for the movies themselves can be perfectly well understood without the allusions being seen by the viewer. This is in fact what I think is often the case with the New Testament books. If the reverse is the case, and these pointers are essential to the right comprehension of a New Testament book, then we are in the position of having to say that the real meaning of these books is at least partially hidden; or was until the recent work of men like Richard B. Hays (e.g. Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels), or Joel Marcus (The Way of the Lord), uncovered them. I am very uncomfortable with that, firstly because if you take this view then you are saying something about the clarity of Scripture; that it has been pretty unclear for millennia. You cannot effect the clarity of Scripture without meddling with the sufficiency of Scripture. Second, I firmly believe that both Testaments are understandable as they are without searching out deeper meanings.
As an example, LePeau believes that Mark is alluding to Exodus 23:20 in Mark 1:2. I do not. Neither do I believe that just because John the Baptist was a wilderness dweller that we should automatically recall the Exodus. While I certainly hold that Jews could recall a context or verse from its half-mention, that does not mean the full context or verse is intentionally being referred to. What the text is saying in context is the prime determiner of meaning, not a motif or type that a scholar thinks is the actual meaning. An instance of this is the Table (6.1) on page 127 where supposed parallels between Mark 6 and Psalm 23 are drawn. He veers into allegory in the process. I am thoroughly unconvinced. He really has to push the boat out a long way to find connections. This sort of motif-finding is misleading, and it detracts from what Mark is actually saying.
The author has been heavily influenced by the work of Rikki Watts (e.g. Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark). Isaiah has a “new Exodus” theme in the latter half of his prophecy (and clearly in Isa. 11), although the literalness of this theme is another question. But this “New Exodus theme” is appealing to readers with particular views of the Jesus and the Church in Him as the New Israel (cf. 214; 289). It quickly becomes clear that the Old Testament covenants and promises are being reshaped to fit a one people of God scenario.
In true “apocalyptic” fashion, Mark 13 is no longer concerned with providing some details of the End Times. The “abomination of desolation” in Mark 13:14 becomes a backward glance to 167 BC and a forward look at AD 70 (244-245). Now its main purpose is “to help us become the kind of people God wants us to be now – and when difficulties come.” (241). In like manner the descriptions of cosmic upheaval in Mark 13:24-25 are “metaphorical.” But it is well to remember that metaphors often include very literal aspects, especially when analogies are in play as here.
I do not subscribe to amillennialism and the skipping over details, skewed typology, motif-reading, and deductive reasoning which are its stock-in-trade. The Old Testament does not anywhere lead the pious to expect that Messiah supplants the nation of Israel, or that the Church is the New Israel; and neither does the New. For those people who do believe that the New Testament does this to the Old Testament this has to be considered a great resource.
This is where I close then. Mark Through Old Testament Eyes is a very good read and I give it a cautious recommendation. But it is not really a commentary about how Old Testament expectations are funneled through the Markan account in continuity with those expectations (and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be understood that way – see e,g, Mike Vlach’s He Will Reign Forever), but instead its many sidebars, especially the “Old Testament Eyes” portions, project a way of reading both Testaments to satisfy amillennial typology and eschatology. I cannot get on board with it all. The allusions and parallels are often forced, and they are then used to promote said eschatology.