You may recall that in an earlier post I put forward the thesis that the Gospel of Mark was written as a direct rebuttal of Paul’s First Corinthians (“The Gospel of Mark as a Rebuttal of First Corinthians,” August 18, 2010). Today I’d like to talk about that in more detail.*
Maybe you’re thinking that sounds pretty boring, so you’ll go read the sports page for a little blow-by-blow excitement. Bear with me, though. This story is packed with more drama than an NHL brawl combined with a daytime Soap Opera.
On one side, we have Team Salvation (blue and white). Team Salvation comes onto the ice first with the biggest, meanest lines you’d ever want to see. Paul is the Captain. His best forward is Luke and his strongest defenceman is Matthew. These guys have stamina and brute strength in spades. They’re not nimble. They’re not fast. Their wrist shot sucks. Their overall strategy is to slam the other team into the boards, start fights, and keep the puck moving fast so the audience has trouble following the play. They’ve done this many times before, and they’re the crowd favourite, so they’re convinced their strategy will work.
On the other side, we have a rookie team, Team Redemption (red and black). Team Redemption is late getting on the ice. Mark is the Captain. His forwards are unknown draft picks. But they’re fast and smart and they skate and stickhandle like a young Wayne Gretsky. Team Redemption has only one line, but they play with everything they’ve got. They put their heart and soul into the game.
Paul scores an easy first goal, as he expected, but then Mark gets the puck. Mark is not like any of the opponents Paul has played before. Paul keeps trying to check him, but Mark seems to have wings on his skates, and he dekes the goalie to score three quick goals. Paul starts a fight and slams Mark’s head into the boards. Mark won’t quit. So Matthew gets the puck and moves the play across the centre line. It’s offside, but the refs don’t call it because they’re paid on the sly by Paul’s team. Mark’s wingers retrieve the puck, score another goal with a beautiful slap shot. Paul is furious. He tells Luke to kill the clock until Team Redemption’s line drops from exhaustion. Which they do.
Just for the thrill of it, Paul pummels every red jersey who drops to the ice.
Okay. That’s the gameplay for the 1st century battle between Paul’s team and Mark’s team. Only the stakes were much higher for Paul and Mark, and the play was much more brutal than anything you’d see in a 1980’s NHL game.
And you thought the New Testament was talking about boring ol’ topics like peace, love, and hope!
The biblical book known as First Corinthians is a letter that was written by a confident “team captain.” You can tell by the tone of the letter that Paul believes his preaching mission is going fairly well, despite some kinks that have be worked out with the Christian groups who live in the Greek city of Corinth. He’s sure of his own authority. He describes himself in glowing terms as “like a master builder [who] laid a foundation” (1 Cor. 3:10). “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”
In other words, Paul, the master builder, has chosen as the foundation for all his authority, all his church building, and all his theology one man whom he calls Jesus Christ. This man Jesus is already dead. So Paul figures he can use this man’s name and this man’s “face” with impunity.
For a while, he gets away with it. (Goal #1). But he doesn’t count on a direct challenge to his fabricated claim about “the Christ.” He doesn’t count on copies of his letter to the Corinthians ending up in Palestine. He doesn’t count on somebody — a somebody who knows a lot about the actual Jesus in question — reading the copied letter and objecting vehemently to the content. He doesn’t count on this somebody writing a searing point-by-point rebuttal of Paul’s claims. He doesn’t count on the courage of a man who wants to tell the truth about the life and teachings of Jesus son of Joseph.
By the time Mark writes his rebuttal in the early to mid 60’s (a few years before the Romans destroyed the Jerusalem Temple), Paul himself can’t do anything about it. (He seems to have stopped writing in the late 50’s, and we don’t know for certain what happened to him.) But his successors can do something to undermine the dangerous assertions made by Mark. They can take Mark’s manuscript and do a hatchet job on it, cutting and pasting the various fragments into new compositions (the Gospel of Matthew, the Gospel of Luke), new compositions that change the original meaning and intent of Mark’s portrayal of Jesus. They can try to force a blue and white jersey onto a physician scholar who was clearly playing for the red and black team, and if they’re lucky, the audience will be so confused by the changing scorecard that they won’t contest the final score of the game.
Based on the lasting success of Paul’s strategy, along with his successors’ strategies in the orthodox Western Church, I’d say his plan was quite effective. Ruthless. Heartless. Cruel. Inhumane. But very, very effective.
* For more on this topic, please see “Materialism, Pauline Thought, and the Kingdom,” as well as “Seventh & Final Step: Remove the Thorn in Jesus’ Flesh (That Would Be Paul)”