Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

GD NT Lesson #7: Secrecy in the Gospel of Mark

Posted by Robert C. on February 12, 2007

[Feel free to use this post to discuss any topics for Lesson #7 while we wait for SS posts from Jim F., Brian J. or others.]

Mark 1:34 states that Jesus cast out devils and then silenced these devils “because they knew him” (some mss lengthen this: “b/c they knew him to be the Christ“).  This is often taken as support for what seems to be an important theme of secrecy in the gospel of Mark.  Perhaps the most striking occurrence of this theme occurs in Mark 4:11-12 where Jesus explains that he teaches in parables so that his disciples will understand but “those that are without” will not understand.  He explains this by quoting Isaiah 6:9ff: “That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.” 

This is a troubling passage b/c it seems that Jesus is being purposely abstruse in order to confuse the “outsiders” (reminds me of accusations made against many Continental philosophers, Derrida esp…).  Why would Jesus be purposely confusing? 

Following Bruce R. McConckie (I think), many Mormons explain this as being a way to protect the outsiders from greater condemnation.  I have a problem with this view b/c I think it ignores the text here.  The text states that Jesus teaches in parables so that they will not understand “lest at any time they should be converted and their sins should be forgiven them.”  Contrary to McConckie’s theory, this seems to suggest more than just protecting the outsiders from greater condmenation, if anything it seems to suggest that the parables will lead to greater condemnation for the outsiders. 

Craig Evans, who wrote the Word Biblical Commentary on Mark, wrote his dissertation looking at all the manuscript and textual variants of Isa 6:9-10 quotations.  His conclusion is that, textually speaking, this is in fact the most probable original wording of Mark 4 and Isa 6–it seems the other mss try to soften the troublesome issues this passage raises.  So if we take the text as is, what in the world is going on here? 

I tend to think that Jesus and Isaiah are abstruse precisely so that listeners will be confused, and in that confusion they will humble themselves and approach God for understanding.  And I think this is how the secrecy motif is used throughout Mark’s gospel:  Jesus’ identity is kept secret b/c the people’s faith must be tried first and then the secrets will be revealed.   I think this is fairly consistent with the way that secrets are described in Mormon scripture, esp. Alma 12:9ff where the language is even stronger: “And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser aportion of the word until they bknow nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil” (v. 11). 

But my thinking here (I make no claim to originality, I just don’t want to implicate others with my thinking on this, and I’m too lazy to quote other sources) is still quite preliminary, and I’m hoping others here will have different views to help challenge, clarify and/or extend my understanding.  Thoughts?

28 Responses to “GD NT Lesson #7: Secrecy in the Gospel of Mark”

  1. This might be connected up wonderfully with Paul’s discussion of foolishness in, say, 1 Corinthians 1. Jacob discusses it also in 2 Nephi 9. I have some more specific thoughts on all of this, I think, but I’ll have to get back to this later today.

    Great post, Robert.

  2. Adam said

    I’d suggest that Jesus’ “abstruseness” (did I just make up that word?) has to do with the kind of thing one sees in certain strands of psychoanalysis: Jesus (as the analyst) is purposefully thwarting the the transference of meaning at the normal level of conversation (the level of conversation in which everyone’s assumptions, preferences, desires, and egos remain firmly intact) in order to move the conversation to a different register in which what you thought you knew about yourself and your desires is profoundly called into question.

    You could also say (drawing on the way that the french philosopher Emmanuel Levinas might say this) that Jesus is purposefully stymying converstation at the level of the Said (at the level of a conversation’s content – no one understands what he’s saying) in order to draw attention to the act of Saying itself (that is, to the level of the intersubjective relationship itself).

    Or we might say that this is the kind of thing Socrates is famous for: Socrates purposefully sets out, not to convey a particular message with a particular content, but to speak in a way that will produce a certain ego-questioning/assumption-questioning effect in the listener.

    In each of these examples, the point is to suspend normal discourse at the level of WHAT is said in order to bring into the light of day the nature of the speaking relationship itself. By brining the speaking relationship to the forefront, our own desires and egos are called into question simply because the conversation is no longer about me (or what I’m saying or what I’m hearing) but about US, saying and hearing something together.

    That’s all a bit random, but it suggests an approach. And, I think, it fits nicely with your emphasis on the need for a pre-requisite humility before the “content” can be received. However, it also makes plain that the content of the parable is then secondary to its primary intended effect: to call the listener into question in a way that opens up a more “authentic” interpersonal relationship.

    My best,
    Adam

  3. nhilton said

    I believe there is a very simple, yet ironic, explanation for this. The irony, of course, is that the devils recognize Jesus’ identity as the Christ while the people, even to whom he ministers and those he is most close to, either miss or reject his identity. So, my belief, is that rather than have the devils announce him as the Christ, he prefers to let the seed of faith germinate within the people until they recognize his divinity and allow the Holy Ghost to bear witness of this fact, especially after his death. A good example of this is the Samaritan woman at the well and her gradual recognition, with Christ’s ultimate declaration being the great “I AM” of the Old Testament. This seems to be a pattern for us in how we, too, recognize Christ with the HG ultimately confirming our faith.

  4. Clark said

    I halfway wonder if we ought not read this in terms of our own theology of the veil of forgetfulness. If the devils are really sons of perdition then of course they know what is going on while the rest don’t. Indeed keeping things somewhat secret is inherently necessary for mortality to function.

    As you say, this sort of idea is wrapped up in LDS scripture. But it seems to me our (later developed) theology of the plan of salvation explains why this is important.

  5. Matt W. said

    FWIW, I posted my outline for Lesson #7 over at BOJ.

  6. Let me also point back to some commentary and discussion of some of these questions on the wiki (you should look at the discussion pages for each five-verse stretch also). I think that the most important reason to look at the context as a whole is that it complexifies the picture we’re looking at substantially. This idea of the “Messianic secret” is continuous with the role of the prophets in the OT and with the temple theology more generally (what is beyond the veil and who can know it?). In fact, it might be worth taking up the question of the role of the prophets over against the Law in these terms: if the Law establishes (or, reinterprets) a salvation history through its an-archic revelation at Sinai, the prophets come in the name of that an-archy (Jacob versus Nephi’s son, etc., comes to mind), puncturing and so punctuating the salvation history by speaking non-historically (i.e., in a language that makes absolutely no sense, historically speaking). This is as much as to say that the nature of salvation history itself–typologically directed, as it is, towards an event-ual eschaton–frustrates from the very beginning the intelligibility of the prophetic word. In Kierkegaard’s terms, the nature of salvation requires that the words of the prophets–and here, of Jesus–register as absurd, and they can only be taken up in faith, in hope, in charity.

    Oops, that got technical and complex. The point is this: if Jesus comes as a Messiah, then He necessarily comes to wrap things up, to bring things to an end; and an “end” as such is unintelligible in terms of the flow that leads up to that end. But here I must end, because I realize I’m becoming unintelligible.

  7. brianj said

    This post is an interesting contrast to the way we generally think of Jesus using parables (see this post).

    I had a disagreement with your post when I first read it, and wonder if your use of the word “confuse” threw me off. Jesus doesn’t really say that he wants to confuse anyone, does he? On at least one occasion, the priests and Pharisees understand his parable:

    “And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.” (Matthew 21:45)

    Joe (#6) linked to a very lengthy (but good) discussion of Isaiah 6:9-10 on the wiki. I had to skim some of it, but I think it may have missed a point I get from verse 10 (that may apply to what Jesus is doing):

    “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes”

    To me, this reads as the Lord telling Isaiah to keep on talking, even though the people perceive him his words as worthless. The result is that the more Isaiah talks, the less the people will actually listen, until finally they are deaf (and blind and heartless). Of course, those with “ears to hear” Isaiah will be drinking in every word.

    I wonder if this is what Jesus was doing. He speaks in parables so that those who have already believed will benefit, but those who have come searching for something else (prophecy, philosophy, other) will walk away disappointed. Maybe they even say amongst themselves, “I don’t get what the big deal is with this guy. All he does is tell simplistic morality plays.” So they may be confused about Jesus’ role/motive, but not by what what he is teaching.

  8. Brian, I really like this reading. So much that all I can say in response is that I really like it. I’ve got some thinking to do.

  9. Robert C. said

    BrianJ #7, I really like the point you made on the other thread about Christ adapting his teaching methods to the situation, not just using parables. Also, good point here with the parables that the priests and Pharisees did understand. I was indeed somewhat careless in my use of the word “confuse” in my post–I think I overstated my case. I should’ve made explicit that my reading here is heavily influenced by Jacob 4:14:

    [T]he Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble.

    (I have more to say on this, and on Adam’s very thought-provoking comment above, but I have to run right now….)

  10. Robert C. said

    Continuing #9: Also, consider the following phrase in Mark 4:12: “that hearing they may hear and [or ‘but’] not understand.” I think the liberty I took in my post was essentially taking this phrase to mean confusion. But I think you’re right that there is a difference here between lack of understanding and confusion. In particular, one who lacks understanding might not know they lack understanding, and my reading suggests that God is causing confusion in order to possibly cause the listener to recognize their ignorance and hopefully repent (but also expediting judgment for those who don’t repent)–if the listener only lacks understanding but isn’t confused, it seems there is even less reason to believe that this lack of understanding would be an incentive to humble onself in order to seek greater understanding. Hmmm, I’ll have to think about this some more….

  11. Robert C. said

    Sorry, I keep getting interrupted and haven’t been able to really finish my thinking on this. The more I think about it though, the less distance I see between what it seems Brian is proposing and what I proposed. That is, even on BrianJ’s view, it seems there is an assumption that Christ is making it so that those who do not really value what Jesus is saying will not understand. Saying this is to cause “confusion” is an extreme form of doing this, saying Jesus is only doing this so that those “who do not have ears” will not understand seems a mild version of this, but it’s hard for me to see that these are qualitatively different views of this passage.

    Another verse that seems to confirm this issue is 4:34 where it says Jesus explained things to his disciples when they were alone. Again, we see a distinction between the disciples who value what Jesus is saying enough to follow him until what he is saying will make sense. It seems this parable way of teaching is makes the word a sword in a particularly interesting way, dividing the sincere followers from those that have only an idle curiosity.

    (I think 4:25 is also particularly interesting, “For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away,” esp. in light of Alma 12:10, “And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries.” In both of these passages I find it striking that not only will those that those that harden their hearts will not only not progress, but it seems they will actually lose what understanding they had….)

  12. brianj said

    Robert, #11: “…less distance I see between what it seems Brian is proposing and what I proposed. That is, even on BrianJ’s view, it seems there is an assumption that Christ is making it so that those who do not really value what Jesus is saying will not understand…but it’s hard for me to see that these are qualitatively different views of this passage.”

    Here is the difference I see: Jesus’ words are a sort of judgment in the sense that they separate the listeners from hearers (sheep from goats). His words provide a choice: will I listen through the Spirit, or rely on my own understanding? For this to work, his words must be understandable to everyone who hears them. If they don’t listen through the Spirit, then they still get the point of the message (“parable X is about basic/boring gospel principle Y”), but they don’t see the importance of it. That is not to say that they understand completely the message—no one understands completely—but they hear a parable and think, “Oh brother, another talk about faith and repentance. I’ve heard this all before and don’t need to hear it again.” The person who listens to the Spirit, in contrast, might at that same time be weeping with godly sorrow. They do not fully understand repentance/faith/other principles taught by the parable, but they understand the basic point in a different way than the first group.

    How does this differ from what you propose with the “confusion model”? Here, one group understands the basic point of the parable, and the other misses it entirely. The confused group either thinks Jesus is really just talking about sheep, seeds, and talents, or maybe they get that these are symbols but they don’t know what the symbols are. Either way, I don’t see how they have been “called” in any way by the words. From their point of view, Jesus really is speaking gibberish. And since there are a lot of people who speak gibberish in this world (like bloggers), and we are right to ignore such people, I can’t see how those confused by Jesus’ words can be blamed for ignoring him. There has to be some amount of light that they are rejecting.

    But this is not to say that I disagree entirely with your idea of confusion. I agree that it can be used as a tool to force humility, and that Jesus probably employed this in his parables. But maybe those he wanted to confuse were actually his disciples, rather than the outsiders. Notice that it is his disciples who come asking for an explanation—they are the ones who are confused!

    “Another verse that seems to confirm this issue is 4:34 where it says Jesus explained things to his disciples when they were alone.”

    I am not sure that Mark 4:34 supports your reading. It depends on how one reads epiluo, which the NET renders “explain” and the KJV “expound.” Did Jesus explain what was confusing or did he expound on what was understood only on the surface? The Gospel writers always seem to paint the Apostles as being completely oblivious, which supports the former, but I think they are exaggerating for effect. So I personally favor reading this as the latter: the disciples were given more understanding a la 4:25.

    In regards to those who have little losing “even what they have”: Is this due to something God does or something they do? The way I read you, you are saying that God is actively causing their confusion, causing them to lose their understanding—God is reaching down and “taking away” their understanding. But what if we read it differently? What if “taken away” is not so literal, but it’s more of a natural consequence? Someone who rejects the Spirit will not “get” Jesus’ message; hearing more isn’t going to make them “get” it any better, it’s actually going to reinforce the mis-perception they have formed that “all this Gospel-talk is rubbish.” Eventually, even the basic principles they had understood at some point (i.e. things they “had a testimony of”), become worthless to them and the reject the entire Gospel.

  13. I’m really enjoying this conversation (between Brian and Robert), and I’m trying to keep myself from entering as of yet. Let me say for now only that Adam’s comment above might be the key to collapsing the distance between your two positions (or so it seems to me, because I think I agree with them both).

  14. Robert C. said

    Brian, like Joe, I’m really enjoying this conversation, thank you taking my ideas seriously enough to challenge them (note, I think this is precisely the kind of conversation that Joe would say Job ultimately has with God and that Abraham has in Gen 18 regarding Sodom and Gomorrah, a conversation that entails taking God seriously enough to ask sincere questions of what they mean and imply–oh, but I mean you in the role of God, not me in this little analogy!)

    I think you make very good points which have made me rethink all of this. But I still hold on to at least this much: I think it is important that embedded in Christ’s parables (and God’s teachings more generally) is something that is not understood, at least not completely understood. Confusion is too strong of a term for this, but I think there is a very important element of incomplete understanding that provides an incentive for the hearers to seek more light and knowledge, whereas the mere listeners will either think they already understand everything or simply feel that what they don’t understand is not worth trying more to understand. And I think this extra hidden knowledge is something we see over and over in the scriptures: the mysteries that are only revealed to those who are worthy (and, as your other post about your least favorite scripture makes clear, those who ask!).

    I think the other points you make are all very good. My lack of reponse to them is simply b/c I don’t have a any particularly insightful counterpoints to make.

  15. brianj said

    Robert: “…but I mean you in the role of God, not me in this little analogy!” You truly are confused!!

    I think your point about there being something that is not understood that forces the true believer to search harder—that is a very good point. You helped me recognize that this is what the Apostles continually do with Jesus when they have him alone. And you’ve also got me thinking about the notion of becoming a fool for God—living and believing something that I know and admit does not make sense in some way, and yet persisting.

  16. Robert C. said

    BrianJ, this wasn’t in the forefront of my mind, but the way you put this reminds me of Alma 32:18: “for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.” It seems there’s something inherent about faith and belief that presupposes incomplete understanding. So we all lack understanding, it’s just a matter of whether we cast aside the Word or whether we nourish it by faith and seek to learn….

  17. Rebecca L said

    Thanks for this conversation. I just wanted to add some quick notes from a slightly different angle.

    First, the part of this verse (Mark 4:12) that really galls is the “lest …. forgiven”. I really like the interpretive line that has been taken in your posts but I can’t help but feel that it perhaps “protests too much” and undercuts the plain sense of the passage. You have interpreted a statement which purports to be about preventing conversion and forgiveness into one which “really” does the opposite and provides a manner for conversion (confusion/humility or the faith of the believer.)

    What if we took the passage at face value? For some reason Christ doesn’t want the conversion of some people, or at least not at this particular point in time? Why wouldn’t he want this? Is there anything in the surrounding passages that would help us understand such an untoward concept?

    Mark 4:12 comes up between the parable of the sower and Christ’s explanation of the parable. Within the parable we see how many people do respond to the word, who presumably are converted and whose sins are forgiven, but then they fall into apostasy. Anyone who has served a mission, and has seen witnesses of the spirit being disregarded, has probably at some point asked herself, “Am I blessing or cursing these people?” I see this same bitter irony in Christ’s statement, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”(Matt. 10:34)

    Perhaps what Christ is saying is that he does not want these “easy” but essentially unprepared converts to be condemned by their consequent apostasy. (And I include all of us as potential converts at every new level of understanding). In this interpretation, the verse means exactly what it says but there is a protective rather than malignant element to it. Those who are not yet ready to hear will not be converted prematurely. Those (not outsiders, but as Brian points out, disciples) who are ready, who in humility, turn to the Savior for more light and knowledge are given more “as they were able to hear it” (v.33). This is not unlike what we all experience as we gain knowledge line upon line and precept upon precept, and as we are fed milk before meat.

    In all the NT accounts of Christ’s saying (here in Mark 4:12), the preceding verses also show that the issue which is upon his mind is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. (Mark 3:28-29) That juxtaposition gives greater weight to the dangers of rejecting spiritual witnesses.

    Moreover, that this is merely a strategy of a patient god, who knows he will have other opportunities is evident in Christ’s immediately subsequent explanation to the apostles that all things will be revealed. Secrecy and obfuscation are only a temporary measure:

    21 ¶ And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick?
    22 For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad.

    So? What allows us to hear? Humility, as you have pointed out so well, willingness, and faith. But then he warns them again that his concern with hearing is that with hearing comes responsibility:

    24 And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.
    25 For he that hath [ears to hear], to him shall be given: and he that hath not [ears to hear], from him shall be taken even that which he hath.

    The “taking”, in the context of this parable, with its birds taking the word from the wayside, with its withering, and its choking weeds seems to be the natural consequence of the ground being unprepared, not the malicious acts of a God who says, rather, “if ANY man have ears to hear, let him hear.” (v. 23)

    I think the line of interpretation that you cite as coming from McConkie (and I am pleasantly surprised to find myself in his tradition) is not irreconcilable with your own. The parable as at teaching method, has the beauty, par excellence, of not only being a divider between the sheep and the goats, but of giving the goats the opportunity to ask themselves why they are not “getting it” and what it means to be a sheep. In other words, the process of confronting a parable, independent of what any parable teaches, is a process of preparing the ground that is necessary to responsibly understand the truths of that parable.

    Christ asks,”Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?”(v.13) pointing out that this parable of the sower and his explanation are really also about all parables and how we will know their meaning.

    Anyway, sorry my short comments got so long-winded. Could you tell me how you make scripture links in your comments and how you write with italics?

    Thanks again for providing this great forum. Although I only contribute sporadically, I appreciate the questions you all pose and the spirit of friendship and sincerity with which you discuss them.

  18. Robert C. said

    Rebecca, these are phenomenal comments. I think you make a very important distinction from the “McConckie” view, at least as I’ve understood it: the “lest . . . they should be converted” is referring to what would only be a temporary conversion. I really like how this fits in with the parables as you’ve explained. It also seems very consistent with teachings elsewhere, Alma 32:19 in particular:

    And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth[/understandeth?] the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth . . . and falleth into transgression?

    I wonder, however, if there’s a way to reconcile your view of Christ’s teaching here in Mark 4:12 and Alma’s teaching in Alma 12:9ff, verse 11 in particular:

    And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil. . . .

    Hmmm, at first I thought this might contradict the idea in your reading of Mark 4:12 b/c this verse says that knowing nothing concerning the mysteries leads to hell, so it seems there it isn’t really any mercy in keeping them from understanding. But on second thought perhaps not. When someone hears and understands the word of God, they either have to receive the word or harden their hearts to the word, and if they harden their hearts to the word, then they end up in hell. But if the word is presented in such a way that those that would not harden their hearts will understand, but those that would harden their hearts don’t understand, then perhaps those that would harden their hearts will be given a “space of time” to change and become the kind of people (I’m thinking esp. in terms of Jews and Gentiles a la Jacob 4:14 etc.) that would not harden their hearts.

    I’m not really sure this works–thoughts? I’ll have to rethink this when I’m not up with the baby in the middle of the night! Thanks again though, I’ve wondered about all of this for quite a while and your comment really opens up some exciting possibilities which I hadn’t thought of before.

    Regarding html tags: Here is an explanation of how to add hyperlinks. And here is an example of how to do italics. The only other tag I ever really use is blockquotes, and here is an example of that–but notice the example given here also uses the “B” tag for bold and the “BR” tag for a linebreak, so it might look a bit more confusing than the other examples. (Someday we’ll get a “help” tab along the top to explain this, and a preview pane for the comment box–thanks everyone for you patience in the meantime, and don’t hold your breath for improvements to come particularly soon….)

  19. Matthew said

    Robert writes: “I’ll have to rethink this when I’m not up with the baby in the middle of the night!”

    Well I am up with a baby in the middle of the night and thinking about this. Here is my synopsis of the theories proposed so far for understanding Mark 4:11-12 and my thoughts. (Please correct me if I get anything wrong. I realize that these glosses don’t do justice.)

    1) (Robert & Adam) Jesus speaking in parables is a sort of Socrates; he causes confusion to create humility. (I agree with Rebecca 17 that this is counter to the reason given for having them not perceive or know–so they won’t repent.)
    2) (Rebecca) Jesus doesn’t want them converted because they aren’t ready…They will leave the Church. (I see no evidence for this position. I don’t think the parable of the sower suggests that the gospel is withheld from those who wouldn’t be firm. This interpretation makes the most important point the part Jesus doesn’t say.)
    3) (Brianj) Jesus’s parables are judgment to separate the sheep from the goats. (FWIW, I like this interpretation. As I see it this interpretation doesn’t make it Jesus’s point to make some people particularly not repent but rather to setup a situation where true believers will repent and others won’t.)

    But my favorite interpretation is similar to Rebecca’s (18) with the difference that the reason Jesus doesn’t want these people to repent is not given because it isn’t important to the point. The point is instead about who is choosing his own people. It is just like God telling Israel that they are his chosen people. If we don’t understand why God has a chosen people (versus a self-selected people) then we won’t understand this verse either.

    Note: this isn’t Calvanism for 2 reasons: 1) Not everyone chosen gets exalted. There is still free agency that has a real impact on our salvation. Judas is an obvious example. 2) We know from modern revelation that everyone at some point will have the opportunity to accept the gospel. So, the fact that God didn’t want to give these people the chance to repent now doesn’t mean he never will. If we ask why God didn’t want these people to repent we might just as well ask why God didn’t want the people who lived in Russia at the time to repent–why didn’t he send an Angel to them or raise up a prophet in their land to tell them to repent.

    But, I’m still thinking about this whole stuff. I certainly don’t think I have it all settled.

  20. Robert C. said

    Matthew, I like the chosen vs. self-selected distinction you make, and the way you distinguish this from Calvinism (pre-destination vs. foreordination I take it you are getting at) in terms of election. I wish this terminology fit better with the “many called but few are chosen” passages. It seems you are suggesting a difference between the use of the word “chosen” in the phrase “God’s chosen people” and in the phrase “many are called but few are chosen”—in the former phrase, “chosen” is used in basically the same way as “called” is in the latter phrase, is that how you would see these terms being used?

  21. BrianJ said

    Matthew: Every good discussion needs someone to come along and summarize from time to time. I think you’ve done that quite well (at least with my point—I won’t speak for others, but you’ve summarized my understanding of them as well). I also think what you say about God choosing his people is important and interesting. We never really are in the driver’s seat, are we?

  22. Matthew said

    Robert, You are right that as I described it chosen in “God’s chosen people” means basically the same thing as called in “many are called, but few chosen.” Am I right though in that interpretation?

    To me this view of chosen in “many are called, but few chosen” is consistent with [[Matt 22:1]]-14 and [[D&C 121:34]]-40. (Interestingly in [[D&C 3:9]]-10 called and chosen are used almost interchangeably.) I’m not sure what to make of [[Matt 20:1]]-16.

    If this view of “chosen” is correct it seems like being called depends on the Lord but being chosen depends on what we do. The odd thing then is the use of the word chosen to describe what depends on us–and this gets to BrianJ’s #21. Why use a word that emphasizes God’s choice when we are saying that at this point it depends on our choice–we decide whether to show up to the wedding feast with a wedding garment or not.

    Maybe Matt 20:1-16 is a key to that puzzle–a key I cannot use though since I don’t understand how “many are called, but few chosen” explains that parable.

  23. BrianJ said

    Matthew: Funny that as I was walking home last night, I was thinking about that parable in Matthew 20. What I notice from the parable, that sort of makes sense to me:

    I know it doesn’t say that explicitly, but here is my thinking: There is not a verse that says, “And some laborers waited around all day but were never chosen; they were always overlooked.” I know it’s dangerous to make interpretations based on what is not written, but I think this highlights that the focus of this parable is that the laborers were eventually chosen.

    We know that all men are called to follow Christ (e.g. Moses 6:23 and many other verses), just as all men in the parable were at liberty to go wait in the town square for work; we can imagine that some men chose to stay home or go fishing that day. But being called—and heeding that call—doesn’t mean that God is ready to select us at that time. Some will heed the call and immediately be chosen; others will wait around all day.

    I think of this later group—the ‘waiters’—and I am amazed. What faith it must take! They heard and heeded the call, then wait and wait for the day when they will be chosen. Do they ever doubt the call that they heeded? “Maybe I was mistaken. Maybe there is no work (no God) for me. Maybe the lord of the vineyard will never come for me, only for others.” Yet they stay, hopeful that eventually they will be chosen.

    I’m in a rush right now, but I’m thinking about a few verses and modern missionary stories that mention people awaiting the day that the Lord will finally visit/call them (I’m thinking also of pre-1978 African members of the Church).

    (Sorry for my rushed thoughts)

  24. Robert C. said

    Regarding Matt 20:1-16, I can’t lean on my usual commentaries for help b/c most modern scholars (all that I looked at) take the “many are called but few are chosen” as a late addition to the text (notice all translations listed here drop this phrase except the KJV and NKJV). This begs the question: if it was indeed a late addition, why was it added? (Leaving aside the question of whether or not we as Mormons should simply discard a confusing passage b/c scholarly concensus is that it’s a late addition….)

    My rather wild guess would be that this is a reference that connects the parable of the vineyard workers to the Jews vs. Gentiles. That is, the Jews were called first and the Gentiles were called last (but “everyone” is called—the TDNT notes that there is no word for “all” in Hebrew and Aramaic, so in Jewish Greek writings the Greek polloi/polus can often, even usually, be taken to mean “all”). The point then is that of everyone that is called—Jews and Gentiles—only a few actually respond to the call and are therefore chosen.

    But none of this addreses Brian’s concern about whether or not there are workers who remain who were never hired in the parable of the vineyard workers. The fact that they are not mentioned at all seems to make the “few are chosen” phrase seem very much out of place in this parable.

  25. Robert C. said

    Also, to address Matthew’s point about God’s chosing based on something we do: I don’t think this is an insurmountable difficulty. The point of saying “God chooses us” seems to emphasize the fact that it is in the Lord’s time—no matter how much we do, we cannot dictate to God when he should choose us. Rather, it is according to God’s grace. But, God’s grace is not extended to all (at least not to the same degree), only to those who accept the gift will receive it (per D&C 88:32ff).

  26. Rebecca L said

    Brian’s post on the SS lesson brought me back here. I’m am fascinated by how these conversations wind around.

    Why not throw Nephi’s thesis into the mix? 1 Nephi 1:20 “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.”

  27. Matthew said

    Rebecca (26), I am also brought here again through a set of related links. I like 1 Ne 1:20 here. I wonder if we can say that in the scriptures “chosen” either amounts to a) being given the gospel (i.e. given an opportunity to accept Christ; e.g. Israel is God’s chosen people) or b) God extending Christ’s grace to us (something He does not do for those who do not show faith in Him and keep His commandments). I agree with Robert #25 (thanks Robert) that the word chosen is appropriate even in case b because God chooses according to His own time table.

    In 1 Ne 1:20 Nephi, the use of chosen is consistent with definition b.

    If we accept this dichotomy of the different ways chosen is used in the scriptures then to restate my point in 19 with these new words…(getting back to the original question of what to make of Mark 4:12), how should we judge the “them” of verse 11 (those who it was not given to understand the parables)? Are these people too evil to listen and understand (consistent with being not chosen b)? or were they simply not yet given the chance (consistent with being not chosen a–at least not yet)? To me the “lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them”–the whole crux of the problem that gave rise to the post–suggests they were not chosen consistent with definition a. Among these may have been some Sauls–people who were enemies to Christ because they had not yet been chosen (a); people who, if they had heard, would have repented. (But I’m still thinking about this. To me something still seems missing from this explanation.)

  28. […] but in fact is not. (For a great respnose to the issues raised by Isaiah 6:9ff, see Comment #2 on this post.) That is, if we read Isaiah 29, it seems that the marvelous work is not the bringing forth of a […]

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

 
%d bloggers like this: