Book Write-Up: Mark Through Old Testament Eyes

Andrew T. Le Peau.  Mark Through Old Testament Eyes.  Kregel Academic, 2017.  See here to purchase the book.

Andrew T. Le Peau is an editor and a writer.  He has taught inductive Bible studies of the Gospel of Mark for over a decade at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  Le Peau is also the series editor of Kregel’s Through Old Testament Eyes commentaries.

Mark Through Old Testament Eyes goes through the Gospel of Mark verse-by-verse, but it differs from many other commentaries in a certain respect: it cites Old Testament parallels to elements that are in the Gospel of Mark.

In some cases, this approach illuminates the Markan passage.  For example, Mark 1:13 states that Jesus was with wild beasts in the wilderness, and Le Peau refers to Old Testament passages that refer to wild beasts in an attempt to interpret the passage.  Le Peau interprets “Son of God” in the Gospel of Mark in light of Old Testament usage of that term, to refer to Israel and the Davidic Messiah (though he maintains that Mark’s Gospel has a high Christology).  There are cases in which Le Peau argues that Mark presents Jesus acting similarly to or differently from an Old Testament character, in order to highlight something about Jesus: for instance, Jesus, unlike Jonah, actually goes to the Gentiles after sleeping on a boat rather than seeking to avoid that task.  On occasion, Le Peau offers a fresh insight, as when he interprets Herod’s statement that Jesus was the resurrected John the Baptist (Mark 6:14) in light of the spirit of Elijah falling onto Elisha.  Le Peau’s interpretation of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and Jesus’ statement about cutting off one’s right hand or plucking out one’s offending eye were also helpful, as he looked at Old Testament references to intentional and unintentional sin and how the hand and the eye can offend.

These are examples of where Le Peau’s approach illuminates Mark’s Gospel (and there are many more), but Le Peau also maintains that Mark’s indirect allusions to the Old Testament paint a sweeping picture of Jesus’ mission: as a new Moses, conducting a new Exodus.

In some cases, Le Peau cited Old Testament passages, and it was unclear how exactly they were illuminating a Markan passage.  For instance, in discussing the leper who did not obey Jesus’ command to go to the priest after being healed (Mark 1:45), Le Peau referred to Saul’s incomplete obedience in I Samuel 13.  Does the story of Saul somehow inform the story in Mark, though?  At times, Le Peau perhaps should have attempted to explain the purpose behind an element in a verse, rather than just citing parallels; he did so a number of times, but not always.  There were cases in which Le Peau seemed to be throwing everything in but the kitchen sink.  Often, this provided a comprehensive range of interpretive possibilities; sometimes, he appeared to be citing parallels simply for the sake of citing parallels, without the parallels really illuminating the Markan text.

In one case, Le Peau offered an intriguing parallel, but his explanation of the parallel was incomplete.  On pages 208-209, Le Peau addresses Jesus’ statement that his disciples will be able to move this mountain, if they have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed (Mark 11:23).  Le Peau interprets “this mountain” as the Temple mount, and he mentions Zechariah 4:6-7, in which “the temple mount ‘will become level ground’ and be replaced with another temple” (Le Peau’s words).  Le Peau seemed to interpret Mark 11:23 to concern God’s judgment on the Temple in 70 C.E., but he should have further clarified how that related to the disciples moving the mountain.

At times, Le Peau cites parallels within the Gospel of Mark itself, as when he proposed that there were parallels between Jesus’ predictions in Mark 13 and his passion.

Interspersed throughout the book are gray sections, in which Le Peau goes more deeply into an issue in the Gospel of Mark or makes homiletical points.  Some of these were convicting: the part about counting the cost of following Jesus certainly highlighted where I fall short!  Some were infuriating: I think of his statement that a Christian’s church family should take precedence over his or her biological family.  Some softened the draconian statements of Jesus through interpretation; often, this was reasonable.  With Jesus’ statement that the parables were intended to confuse, however, Le Peau’s explanation was rather unconvincing, as he seemed to be concluding the opposite from what the Markan passage was saying.  Some sections had anecdotes, personal or otherwise, which were instructive, inspiring, or thought-provoking.  Le Peau’s discussion of lament in prayer was not earth-shakingly new, but it was helpful to me when I read it, as Le Peau highlighted the importance of being honest with God.

The notes in the back were good.  For example, Le Peau offered arguments that Mark 1:41 says that Jesus was compassionate before healing a leper, rather than angry.  Bart Ehrman argues that “angry” was the original reading and that later scribes changed that to “compassionate” because they had issues with Jesus being angry before healing a leper. But, as Le Peau notes, the texts of the Gospel of Mark that present Jesus as compassionate in Mark 1:41 are not afraid to acknowledge Jesus’ anger elsewhere.

The book is helpful in offering an interpretation of the Gospel of Mark that is rooted in Old Testament texts.  One should remember, however, that time passed between the Old Testament and the Gospel of Mark, so intertestamental literature may be relevant to what is in the Gospel of Mark.  There is hardly any reference to intertestamental literature in Le Peau’s book.

There is also the question of the implications of Le Peau’s approach.  Some scholars, who are more liberal than Le Peau, have argued that Gospel stories that echo the Old Testament are not historically-accurate: that they are midrash, or they were crafted from the Old Testament stories rather than reflecting history.  Is this conclusion avoidable?  Le Peau should have addressed that.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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