The Interpretive Difficulties in Mark 13 (some of them)

This weekend I started Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man by Robert Stein. The book is a commentary on Mark 13 commonly known as the “Little Apocalypse” or the “Olivet Discourse.” A simple chapter but one that contains numerous interpretive difficulties. Here are just a few:

  • In 13:6 did Jesus mean that false teachers would come claiming to be him (i.e., Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Christ) or the Jewish messiah longed for by non-Christian Jews?
  • Was the prophecy of 13:10 fulfilled already in apostolic times (cf. Paul’s statements in Rom 16:26; Col 1:6, 23 that the gospel had become known ‘to all nations’ [RSV]), or does it still await its fulfillment?
  • What does Jesus mean by the ‘abomination of desolation’ (ESV) in 13:14, and does his/its appearance involve the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 or the future coming of the Son of Man?
  • Is the language of 13:24-27 to be understood literally or figuratively? Is Jesus using this imagery in the same manner as the Old Testament prophets (cf. Js 13:9-11; Jer 4:23-28; Ezek 32:5-8; etc.)—that is metaphorically?
  • Does Jesus teach in 13:24 that his return as the Son of Man would occur immediately after the fall of Jerusalem in 13:14-23?
  • What does Jesus mean by ‘this generation’ in 13:30, and was he wrong in his prediction?
  • How do Jesus’ other sayings on this subject, such as Mark 8:34-38 and Matthew 25:1-46, and the additional comments we find in the parallel accounts (Mt 24:1-51 and Lk 21:5-36) help us understand Jesus’ teaching in Mark 13? (18)

Later he adds,

“Yet even among scholars who have the same goal understanding the meaning of the author of Mark 13, there exist many differences about how this chapter should be interpreted. This is due in part to the presence of numerous crux interpreta in the chapter. The most important of these involves the two questions found in 13:4. Does Mark understand ‘When will [these things] be?’ (13:4a) and ‘What will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished? (134b) as a two-part question in which the same issue (the destruction of the temple) is addressed? This would then be a tautology and essentially an example of synonymous parallelism. Or does he understand them as two different questions in which the second introduces something quite different (the coming of the Son of Man) not found in the first (the destruction of the temple). This would then be an example of step parallelism.” (45-46)

Another difficulty which he notes is “acknowledged by most scholars” is “that the sayings of Jesus in Mark 13 were not all proclaimed at the same time and in the same order. If, as is probably, some were taught by Jesus at different times, the order and the logical progression of the arrangement in 13:5-37 is not so much that of Jesus as that of Mark.” (33)

I will read with great interest how he navigates these difficulties, and many more, in the short span of 138 pages. Stein is also the author of the commentary on Mark in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic).

Jesus, the Temple and the Coming Son of Man is from IVP Academic. It is a paperback with 157 pages.

Robert H. Stein is senior professor of New Testament interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky.

He is the author of An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus, The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings, Difficult Passages in the New Testament, Luke (New American Commentary), A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible, Studying the Synoptic Gospels: Origin and Interpretation and The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction.

Jesus, the Temple


About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
This entry was posted in Biblical Studies, Commentaries, New Releases. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Interpretive Difficulties in Mark 13 (some of them)

  1. I’m curious about Stein’s conclusions. I have great respect for Stein, but so far have found France convincing on the Olivet Discourse.


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