"These things" and "all these things" in Mark 13.4, 29-30.

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Ben C. Smith
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"These things" and "all these things" in Mark 13.4, 29-30.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Tue Feb 20, 2018 5:49 pm

There is an evident connection between verse 4 ("these things," "all these things") and verses 29-30 ("these things," "all these things") of Mark 13:

Mark 13.1-4: 1 And as He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, "Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" 2 And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another which will not be torn down." 3 And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will these things [ταῦτα] be, and what will be the sign when all these things [ταῦτα... πάντα] are going to be fulfilled?"

Mark 13.28-31: 28 Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, you too, when you see these things [ταῦτα] happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things [ταῦτα πάντα] take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

Our first instinct probably ought to be to equate "these things" and "all these things" in verse 4, by way of Hebraic parallelism, since the text provides only one antecedent for the both: the destruction of the temple complex ("these great buildings"). This equation works pretty well, with the first question emphasizing the destruction itself and the second question emphasizing the sign that will mark its occurrence.

Our first instinct for verses 29-30, therefore, probably ought also to be to equate "these things" and "all these things." But this maneuver actually backfires, since verse 29 has two parts: (A) "these things" which we are to see and (B) something or someone (it is unclear in the Greek) which is at the gates when those things are seen to happen. In other words, "these things" cannot both be the sign leading up to the person or thing at the gates and be inclusive of the person or thing at the gates, whereas "all these things" virtually by definition has to refer to everything under consideration. So "all these things" literally covers more ground than "these things." The two cannot be equivalent in verses 29-30 as they are able to be in verse 4.

"These things" + the person or thing at the gates = "all these things." So who or what is at the gates? My suggestion is to ignore verse 4 for the time being and to connect "when you see these things happening" in verse 29 back to "when you see the abomination of desolation" in verse 14, with the tribulation inaugurated by the abomination of desolation being part of "these things." In this case, then, "all these things" in verse 30 would naturally include the coming of the son of man, as well, and of course then, quite naturally, it is either the son of man himself or his coming which is at the gates. The sense is this: when you see "these things" which have to do with the abomination of desolation happening, know that he (the son of man) or it (the coming itself) is near, at the gates; "all these things," including both "these things" and the coming of the son of man (as well as the beginning of the birth pangs in verses 7-8), will happen within this generation.

But what does this interpretation do to verse 4? Well, the first question is fine; "these things" refer back to the destruction of the temple buildings, as expected, to which, in the final redaction of this chapter, the abomination of desolation corresponds. But "all these things" in the second question have no actual antecedent unless they mean exactly the same thing and extend exactly as far as "these things," which would create an imbalance between verse 4 and the obviously parallel verses 29-30, in which (as we have seen) "these things" and "all these things" are not coextensive. My suggestion, then, is that verse 4 was modeled upon verses 29-30, with its meaning already squarely in mind, and our author or editor either did not notice or did not care that he or she had forgotten to create an antecedent for "all these things" in verses 1-2. As Ken Olson has written:
Ken Olson wrote:
Wed Feb 14, 2018 6:37 pm
The disciples' question has two parts: 13.4 "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?" The second part of the question doesn't seem to have a referent in what Jesus had said in 13.1-2, but it does seem to give latitude for an answer on the scale of the Little Apocalypse that follows.
Exactly so. The phrase "all these things" gives latitude for whatever may happen during the rest of Mark 13; to my mind, then, it was composed with the rest of the chapter already in mind, and it is, in fact, the rest of the chapter that provides the "antecedent" for "all these things," albeit awkwardly, after the fact. The intent was to create an inclusio, but an antecedent for part of the first frame of the inclusio was forgotten along the way.

There is more. In the final redaction of this chapter, at least, it seems to me that "that day or hour" in verse 32 may well be referring back specifically to the coming of the son of man. The purpose would be to make the coming of the son of man an immediate exception to the statement that "all these things" would happen within a living generation of Jesus' own time. Essentially, "all these things" are going to happen within that time span, with the single exception of the coming of the son of man (compared to a returning master in verses 33-37), of which the timing is unknown. This strategy of carving out an exception to the generational prophecy was very effective from an apologetic point of view, and is still in use today.

So now I present the entirety of Mark 13 with these observations in mind. The color coding is meant to distinguish which parts of the chapter are being referred to by which phrase ("these things" or "all these things"). Both the phrase "these things" and anything referred to by it are boldfaced and colored red. Anything not covered by "these things" is boldfaced and colored blue. Red + blue = purple, so the phrase "all these things" is boldfaced and colored purple. I have not boldfaced verses 5-6 and 21-23, since I am not sure how they fit into the chapter yet. Nor have I boldfaced verses 9-13, since verse 10 I believe to probably be an early scribal harmonization from Matthew and verses 9 and 11-13 I tend to regard as intrusive. But I have colored verses 5-6 and 9-13 blue, since those passages would all hypothetically belong to what is not being referred to by "these things." The single phrase "after that tribulation" I have chosen not to boldface, either, because I regard it as being a possible gloss. Verse 20, however, though I regard it, too, as being a possible gloss, has to be colored red, since it is part of the tribulation period being referred to by "these things." The same goes for verses 21-23. "That day or hour" and the coming of the son of man I have enclosed in a double tilde (~) to mark their correspondence. Finally, I have fully colored only the parts in between the horizontal lines, since those parts are the ones which carry the chronology, such as it is, forward from the beginning ("of the birth pangs") to the end; the parts outside of those horizontal lines are introduction and conclusion, and are meant to comment on what is going on with the predictions themselves. Besides, verses 32-37, as mentioned above, I regard as an addition, one meant to blunt the force of the generational prediction.

Here is the chapter:

Mark 13.1-37:

1 And as He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, "Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" 2 And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another which will not be torn down." 3 And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?"
__________________________________

5 And Jesus began to say to them, "See to it that no one misleads you. 6 Many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He!' and will mislead many. 7 And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. 8 For nation will arise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

9 But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 And when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. 12 And brother will deliver brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all on account of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he shall be saved.

14 But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where he should not be — let the reader understand — then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 And let him who is on the housetop not go down, or enter in, to get anything out of his house; 16 and let him who is in the field not turn back to get his cloak. 17 But woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days! 18 But pray that it may not happen in the winter. 19 For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created, until now, and never shall. 20 And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect whom He chose, He shortened the days.

21 And then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' or, 'Behold, He is there,' do not believe him; 22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order, if possible, to lead the elect astray. 23 But take heed; behold, I have told you all things in advance.

~ 24 But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth, to the farthest end of heaven. ~
__________________________________

28 Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He/it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

32 But of ~ that day or hour ~ no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. 33 Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time is. 34 It is like a man, away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert. 35 Therefore, be on the alert — for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, at cockcrowing, or in the morning — 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: 'Be on the alert!'"

I did my level best to coax this structure out of the text itself, without caring whither the investigation might lead. Every exegetical move was meant to be the most natural one available to me. Reaching a dead end meant stepping back and trying a different route.

I know I have a lot of passages and phrases marked out as possible additions or glosses, but I think my exegesis of "these things" and "all these things" actually works even if those passages are considered original. For example, it is possible that a single author composed the generational prophecy, apparently including everything already discussed under its chronological umbrella, before immediately turning around and undermining that prophecy with the motif of the unknown hour. I myself think that two different hands are at work here (either that or the same hand at two very different times), but my interpretation of the structure of the chapter, based on "these things" and 'all these things," is well and truly independent of that hypothesis of mine, and can work even if it is incorrect.

Thoughts?

Ben.
Last edited by Ben C. Smith on Wed Feb 21, 2018 8:20 am, edited 2 times in total.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: "These things" and "all these things" in Mark 13.4, 29-30.

Post by neilgodfrey » Tue Feb 20, 2018 7:54 pm

I wonder what would be the purpose/function of a pre-canonical prophecy (whether prior to the composition of Mark or as part of an earlier version of the Gospel of Mark) that apparently related to events well short of the Danielic appearance of the Son of Man. Thoughts?

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Re: "These things" and "all these things" in Mark 13.4, 29-30.

Post by Ken Olson » Tue Feb 20, 2018 9:32 pm

Ben,

Wow! You've put a lot of work into this. But I think I can make sense of "these things" and "all these things" in Mark 13.4 and and Mark 13.29-30 fairly simply in terms of the final text of Mark without positing multiple layers of redaction. The premise of my argument, as I gave it in the "Let the reader understand" thread, is that Mark is writing post 70 CE and wants to reassure his Christian audience that the failure of the Jewish revolt against Rome and the destruction of the temple wherein God dwelt did not mean that their eschatological expectations had been mistaken. On the contrary, these events were signs that God's plan was being fulfilled. The Son of Man was still coming and the kingdom of God was still going to be established.
Mark 13.1-4: 1 And as He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, "Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" 2 And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another which will not be torn down." 3 And as He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4 "Tell us, when will these things [ταῦτα] be, and what will be the sign when all these things [ταῦτα... πάντα] are going to be fulfilled?"
So we have Jesus foretelling the destruction of God's house and the disciples ask him when this (the destruction of the temple) will happen and what the sign is that all these things (God's whole plan) will be fulfilled. Mark has Jesus launch into a lengthy prophecy (Mark 13.5-27) most of which involves a lot of generally pretty awful things happening but ends with the Son of Man coming and gathering his elect (Mark 13.26-27).
Mark 13.28-31: 28 Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender, and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, you too, when you see these things [ταῦτα] happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things [ταῦτα πάντα] take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
What's the fig tree in Mark 13.28 got to do with anything? Well, when you see it put forth leaves (a fairly small thing in itself) it means summer is coming, which is a much bigger deal. Similarly when you see some (generally pretty awful) things happening (v.29), it means the Son of Man really is coming, because confirmation of part of the prophecy is the sign that the entire prophecy (v.30) is being fulfilled. So don't let the defeat of the Jews by the Romans, the destruction of God's house, and the fact that Romans have taken most of your family for trial (except for your brother, who was released after he apostatized and ratted out the rest of you under torture) get you down. The Son of Man will be here soon. Not sure exactly when, but keep an eye out for him (Mark 13.32-37). It's all part of the plan.

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Re: "These things" and "all these things" in Mark 13.4, 29-30.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Feb 21, 2018 6:09 am

Ken Olson wrote:
Tue Feb 20, 2018 9:32 pm
Ben,

Wow! You've put a lot of work into this. But I think I can make sense of "these things" and "all these things" in Mark 13.4 and and Mark 13.29-30 fairly simply in terms of the final text of Mark without positing multiple layers of redaction.
As I stated in the OP, my understanding of "these things" and "all these things" is compatible with reconstructions which do not involve layers of redaction. There is a point on which I think the positing of at least two layers makes more sense of one element of the interplay between "these things" and "all these things," but it is one that I have not discussed yet in those terms; nor is it by any means ironclad, at least not on its own.
The premise of my argument, as I gave it in the "Let the reader understand" thread, is that Mark is writing post 70 CE and wants to reassure his Christian audience that the failure of the Jewish revolt against Rome and the destruction of the temple wherein God dwelt did not mean that their eschatological expectations had been mistaken. On the contrary, these events were signs that God's plan was being fulfilled. The Son of Man was still coming and the kingdom of God was still going to be established.
I, too, suspect that this was the goal of (the final redaction of) this chapter.
So we have Jesus foretelling the destruction of God's house and the disciples ask him when this (the destruction of the temple) will happen and what the sign is that all these things (God's whole plan) will be fulfilled.
I agree with this arrangement, but I still note that the phrase "all these things" (God's entire plan) lacks an explicit antecedent; we still have a demonstrative pronoun whose antecedent, such that it is, points forward to things which have not yet been read in the chapter (assuming one is reading in order).
What's the fig tree in Mark 13.28 got to do with anything? Well, when you see it put forth leaves (a fairly small thing in itself) it means summer is coming, which is a much bigger deal. Similarly when you see some (generally pretty awful) things happening (v.29), it means the Son of Man really is coming, because confirmation of part of the prophecy is the sign that the entire prophecy (v.30) is being fulfilled. So don't let the defeat of the Jews by the Romans, the destruction of God's house, and the fact that Romans have taken most of your family for trial (except for your brother, who was released after he apostatized and ratted out the rest of you under torture) get you down. The Son of Man will be here soon.
I have no problem with this in general, but with specific reference to your overall hypothesis I find it to be in tension with the text. You have argued that "the defeat of the Jews by the Romans" comes into play in verse 7, with the wars and rumors of wars, and nowhere else in the chapter. But that section seems to me to be marking itself off precisely as a list of things which are not signs of anything ("see to it that no one misleads you," "that is not yet the end," "these things are the beginning of the birth pangs"). Hearing of such things (happening vaguely in "various places") ought not to set off any eschatological alarm clocks. And the parable of the fig tree does set off an alarm clock (when X happens, Y is near, right at the gates). So, if I were to accept your thesis that the events of the Judean war appear only in verse 7, I would not very well be able to accept that event as part of the "generally pretty awful things" being referred to in verse 29, since those things in verse 29 are clear signs of the end being near, whereas "wars and rumors of wars" are not.

If, on the other hand, the destruction of the temple is imagined as corresponding to the abomination of desolation, as I think the final redaction of this chapter actually posits, then it is a sign of the end ("when you see," both in verse 14 and in verse 29) and qualifies heavily as one of the "generally pretty awful things" referred to in verse 29.
Not sure exactly when, but keep an eye out for him (Mark 13.32-37). It's all part of the plan.
Not sure exactly when, but still within a generation of Jesus having allegedly uttered the words, right?
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Ken Olson
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Re: "These things" and "all these things" in Mark 13.4, 29-30.

Post by Ken Olson » Wed Feb 21, 2018 10:02 am

Ben Smith wrote:
I have no problem with this in general, but with specific reference to your overall hypothesis I find it to be in tension with the text. You have argued that "the defeat of the Jews by the Romans" comes into play in verse 7, with the wars and rumors of wars, and nowhere else in the chapter.
That's not quite right. You and I agree that Mark 1-2 about the destruction of the temple is a part of "these things" and "all these things." And I think Mark presumes his audience knows about the destruction of the temple, and this entails their knowledge of the Jewish War in which it was destroyed.

Also, I think your "overall hypothesis" and mine on how to interpret Mark 13 are pretty close together. We differ primarily on how to interpret some specific language in Mark 13.14 (or perhaps Mark 13.14-20).
But that section seems to me to be marking itself off precisely as a list of things which are not signs of anything ("see to it that no one misleads you," "that is not yet the end," "these things are the beginning of the birth pangs"). Hearing of such things (happening vaguely in "various places") ought not to set off any eschatological alarm clocks.
I think you elide an important distinction that needs to be made between what is the end and what is a sign that the end is near (or at least nearing). Saying that things you list "are not signs of anything" is hyperbole. When Mark says "do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come," and, "This is but the beginning of the birth pangs," he is placing events on the eschatological timetable. I think you can legitimately argue that there are still other events to come after these but before the end, but not that these events are not signs on the timetable.
And the parable of the fig tree does set off an alarm clock (when X happens, Y is near, right at the gates). So, if I were to accept your thesis that the events of the Judean war appear only in verse 7, I would not very well be able to accept that event as part of the "generally pretty awful things" being referred to in verse 29, since those things in verse 29 are clear signs of the end being near, whereas "wars and rumors of wars" are not.
Not all of the signs are equally near to the end, granted, but they are still signs the end is near.
If, on the other hand, the destruction of the temple is imagined as corresponding to the abomination of desolation, as I think the final redaction of this chapter actually posits, then it is a sign of the end ("when you see," both in verse 14 and in verse 29) and qualifies heavily as one of the "generally pretty awful things" referred to in verse 29.
The abomination of desolation in Mark 13.14 is a sign that the end is very near/immanent whether we read it your way or mine. I don't see that this gives your interpretation an edge, or that you've shown my interpretation to be in tension with the text.
Not sure exactly when, but still within a generation of Jesus having allegedly uttered the words, right?
Basically, yes. But as I think Neil argued (following Haenchen) in a recent post I can't be bothered to look up right now, Mark can be ambiguous. Would Mark's audience take this to mean the generation of the characters within the story or their own generation? As a compromise, I would suggest they would take it to mean within their own generation but at least imaginably within the lifetime of people that were around in Jesus's time.

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Re: "These things" and "all these things" in Mark 13.4, 29-30.

Post by Ben C. Smith » Wed Feb 21, 2018 11:17 am

Ken Olson wrote:
Wed Feb 21, 2018 10:02 am
But that section seems to me to be marking itself off precisely as a list of things which are not signs of anything ("see to it that no one misleads you," "that is not yet the end," "these things are the beginning of the birth pangs"). Hearing of such things (happening vaguely in "various places") ought not to set off any eschatological alarm clocks.
I think you elide an important distinction that needs to be made between what is the end and what is a sign that the end is near (or at least nearing). Saying that things you list "are not signs of anything" is hyperbole. When Mark says "do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come," and, "This is but the beginning of the birth pangs," he is placing events on the eschatological timetable.
Agreed about the timetable. The wars and earthquakes and famines are on the timetable. But, to my mind, they cannot be signs to what part of the timetable the reader is on:
  1. If you hear of a war or an earthquake or a famine, there is no way to know whether or not there will be other wars or earthquakes or famines afterward, let alone how many.
  2. Both the fig tree parable and the abomination of desolation share the language of sight: "when you see...." The wars, at least, are not something seen: "when you hear...." (It was this shared phrase between verses 14 and 29 which originally led me down this path, anyway.)
  3. The disciples' question about the temple is "when" (πότε) it would be destroyed. But the whole spirit of the birth pangs section is "not yet" (οὔπω). It makes more thematic sense (to me, at any rate) for the answer to the disciples' question to be found in the "now" (νῦν) section.
  4. The response is different for both sets of events. For the wars and earthquakes and famines, no particular response is mandated. For the abomination of desolation, the proper response is to run.
This is why, in my reading, the wars and earthquakes and famines are more like highway mile markers on a car trip when you have no idea at which mile marker your destination city lies. The mile marker may say 50, and you may notice that the numbers are ascending, not descending, but you have no way of knowing whether your destination lies at mile marker 55 or 505. The abomination of desolation, on the other hand, is more like a sign that says: "Denver, Next 10 Exits." Now you know you are on the outskirts of your city. (Sorry for the silly analogy; I traveled a lot as a kid.)

To use an analogy that the author actually does employ to some extent, birth pangs do not tell you whether your baby is 4 hours (like my first daughter) or closer to 14 hours (like my second daughter) away from being born. But the head crowning: that is something which you can see and which makes you aware that the end is nigh.
I think you can legitimately argue that there are still other events to come after these but before the end, but not that these events are not signs on the timetable.
Call them what you will, but I do not think that wars, earthquakes, and famines are the signs meant by "when you see" in verse 29, for the reasons outlined above.
Would Mark's audience take this to mean the generation of the characters within the story or their own generation?
I am not sure we can venture much more than educated guesses as to what Mark's readership would have thought on the matter. We may have more luck with determining what our author/editor him/herself meant. To that end, I can observe that the final redactional setting of the Olivet discourse itself speaks against such a modernistic device as Jesus covertly breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to his readers' time and situation. For one thing, in my judgment there has to be a correlation between Mark 13.30 ("this generation") and Mark 9.1 ("some standing here"). For another, "this generation" appears to refer to Jesus' own in Mark 8.12 (refer also to 9.19). For another, Mark 13.3 did not have to make this discourse a private affair between Jesus and only four of his disciples, but it did. That our author/editor is not confused about whom Jesus is addressing is clear in 13.37 ("what I say to you I say to all").

Since I am the one who thinks that an oracular source (which source, however, is not the point of the OP) is embedded in Mark 13, I am the one who will potentially have to deal, when the time comes, with what the author of that oracle might have meant by "this generation."
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Re: "These things" and "all these things" in Mark 13.4, 29-30.

Post by neilgodfrey » Wed Feb 21, 2018 3:45 pm

Ben C. Smith wrote:
Wed Feb 21, 2018 11:17 am
"this generation" appears to refer to Jesus' own in Mark 8.12
If read through the eyes of William Wrede (The Messianic Secret) the interpretation of "generation" in 8:12 as any sort of allusion to a "historical memory" runs into serious problems.

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