This review appeared in the Jan-Mar 2014 vol. 171 no. 1 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
The Ransom Logion in Mark and MatthewMohr Siebeck, Tübingen September 5, 2012
Edwards investigates how the early church interpreted the ransom logion (Jesus’ saying in Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28). Besides laying out the interpretative history of the ransom saying, Edwards makes a case for including reception criticism as a part of an exegetical method. He looks at how the early church interpreted the tradition through the third century AD. Edwards hopes this investigation sheds light on three exegetical issues that have raised debate in New Testament studies: the Eucharistic setting of the saying, Jesus’ preexistence, and the scriptural background of the saying.
Modern exegetes make little use of reception criticism when it comes to reading the New Testament. Early Christian interpretations often diverge from modern exegesis, which raises suspicion. As a result modern conclusions often differ from ancient ones without considering ancient sources. The results of Edwards’s thesis should cause exegetes some pause. He notes three points of departure that modern exegesis makes from patristic exegesis in interpreting the ransom saying. First, most New Testament specialists agree that the saying is rooted within the context of the Eucharist. The vocabulary of the saying, along with the use of Isaiah 53 suggest a connection with Mark 14:24. Yet only two texts in the first three centuries make the link clear (Luke 22:24–27; Gos. Truth 20:13–14). Scores of reception texts overlook the connection. The fact that earlier readers missed this link suggests that it may not be so clear as some think. Second, modern New Testament scholars almost agree that the Gospels do not portray a preexistence Christology, which is thought to be a later development. However, the earliest interpretations suggest that the “coming” theme in the passage alludes to Jesus’ preexistent state and incarnation. Clement of Alexandria and Origen interpret the passage in light of Philippians 2:6–8, making the conceptual link clear: Messiah comes, serves, and voluntarily dies. This link surfaces only when one reads the ransom logion in light of a preexistence Christology. Third, the reception history suggests that the scriptural background is either Isaiah 53 or Daniel 9:24–27. Seven reception texts link the ransom text to Isaiah 53; these writers, however, make use of the second portion of the saying: “he gave himself as a ransom.” Daniel 9:24–27 highlights a coming Messiah figure who suffers. Even though this is not a part of the reception history, Edwards argues that this provides background for the text.
In sum, this volume can be commended because no matter how one evaluates Edwards’s conclusions, this volume offers an impressive catalogue of the early Christian reception of Mark 10:45 and Matthew 20:28. Edwards provides excellent commentary on each passage as well. In addition, Edwards hopes to make an impact on NT exegetical methods by encouraging exegetes to pay attention to the reception history. The continuity that it provides can aid the interpretive process. He concludes: “The notion that interpretive patterns from the early reception history can reflect the way a tradition is used in the New Testament opens avenues of inquiry whereby reception history becomes a valuable conversation partner, and framer of questions, for those doing critical work in the New Testament” (p. 162). Since these writers worked within a community closer to the New Testament, they may have inherited an interpretative grid from the apostolic church. This is speculative; nonetheless, this approach may surface viable interpretive options that should be considered, and Edwards shows how to use it. Students can read this volume as a template for applying reception criticism.
—Benjamin I. Simpson