The Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard B. Hays

As I read different theology books, there are some authors who I find very easy to learn from. Richard Hays is one of them. In The Moral Vision of the New Testament, Hays discusses various books in the New Testament, showing when they were written and why, and then uses them to form his ethics (‘ethics’ is things like: ‘is lying always wrong?’) I enjoyed the book, found his ideas interesting, agreed with his method of forming ethics and disagreed with some of his conclusions. Although his process for deciding ethics is a good one (in my opinion) I didn’t always agree with what he concluded. The book is meaty, so I will write a few blogs, picking out the especially interesting bits.

Chapter on Mark. I will give you the main points.

The Gospel of Mark was written as a whole, and the order of events matter. Mark begins with a declaration, that Jesus is the Son of God. The reader therefore reads the book knowing this fact, whilst watching all the characters in the book grapple with the question—who is Jesus? It’s not until the end, when he dies, that the centurion declares the same statement: ‘Truly, this was the Son of God.’ Mark is making the point that to understand who Jesus is, we need to understand the way he died.

There is, midway through the book, a scene when Peter declares that Jesus is the Messiah. In Matthew’s Gospel, he is praised for this, but in Mark’s book, Jesus rebukes him. The word for ‘rebuke’ is the same word used when the demons are ‘rebuked.’ The point is, Peter’s declaration is linked to the expected political power that the Messiah would have (Jews of the time didn’t think the Messiah was a spiritual saviour). Mark shows that Jesus is teaching the disciples (and the reader) that Jesus’s mission was a spiritual one, not to get rid of the Romans.

Another interesting point is the healing of a blind man, when Jesus asks him what he can see, and to begin with, he can only see dim shapes, people look like walking trees. Jesus then heals him completely, so he can see clearly. Hays makes the point that this account is linked to Jesus describing people as being blind, as ‘having eyes but not seeing, and ears but not hearing’. It seems to be an illustration that he will show people the things of God, but gradually.

When Jesus explains that his disciples must be prepared to ‘take up their cross’ to follow him, he is explaining that he can only be understood in terms of the crucifixion, and that when his followers recognise this, they are recognising their own destiny too. Jesus explains this again in chapters 8, 9, and 10. Each time the disciples misunderstand, and need to hear it again. The second part of the Gospel is less about big miracles, and more about the preparation for death. The healing of Bartimaeus happens all at once (not like the previous blind man) which signifies that the disciples now understand who Jesus is. The miracle ends with Bartimaeus ‘following’ Jesus, which mirrors the same verb used in chapter 8, about his disciples following him. (The miracle is an illustration of the theological point.)

The Gospel then gives examples of all the disciples failing to ‘follow’ Jesus. But despite their failures, they are still disciples, the call to follow is still there. In Mark’s Gospel, the key to following Jesus is obedience, not love. He does mention love, when he quotes Deut.6;4-5. These verses are known as the Shema and they were (and are) recited by Jews morning and evening. Jesus adds a Leviticus quote, about loving people, and Mark uses it to give an overview of the Law (but not especially as a definition of being a follower of Jesus). The Gospel gives fairly vague hints about future hope, basically teaching that this is in God’s hands, and we should trust him. He teaches that the Son of Man will return soon, before the disciples have died. In Chapter 13 Jesus tells them to watch, and stay awake (spiritually), in Chapter 14 there is a scene in the garden, when they fall asleep (physically).

The original ending of the Gospel describes the death of Jesus and the empty tomb, but no sightings of the risen Jesus. This illustrates the futuristic element of Jesus’s mission, that the Kingdom of God is still to come. In brief, the Gospel is about the disciple’s calling to follow as servants, the replacing of the Jewish Law with the teachings of Jesus, the promise that Jesus will return in glory. Mark gives a picture of the ‘world torn open by God’ and a new order established. History is re-established, but in an unexpected manner. Old prophecies are fulfilled, and there is a ‘sense of urgency’ in the book. Mark writes about Jesus’s ministry like someone today might describe having an ice-bucket thrown over them. It is lowly, suffering people who receive the message, and the power of God is expressed by suffering and death. (Which sort of makes no sense logically.) People constantly fail to understand Jesus, especially the people trying to follow him. (I really like this point. Sometimes today, the church, and Christians, are way too smug about thinking they understand God. Mark mainly shows how the disciples didn’t understand, and they had direct access to Jesus. We should remember this when we think we understand something. God was, and is, unexpected.)

There is lots more to Hays’ book, I have just summarised one chapter, and will tell you more next week. Definitely a book worth reading.

Thanks for reading my blog. Hope the rest of your day goes well.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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