Thursday Afternoon at ETS: Wright and Keener

Thursday afternoon's session was vibrant. Entitled "Cosmic Catastrophe in the Synoptic Gospels," it focused on N. T. Wright's view that the language of Mark 13 refers to the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70, not the second return of Christ. A summary won't do justice to the breadth of scholarship on display here, but it will at least highlight some of the central issues. Wright began by defending his view with specific focus on the language of the passage and how much of it is drawn from OT contexts which were clearly metaphorical to describe a very important earthly event. In addition, the context of Mark 11-15 informs the exegesis of chapter 13, which involves the central theme of the destruction of the Temple and the vindication of Jesus. Craig Keener responded by arguing that in many extra-biblical uses of this kind of language the intent was to point to a final cosmic consummation, not just Jerusalem's fall. Keener also argued that parallels in 1 Thessalonians would point to Jesus' second return as in view in Mark 13.

It's easy to misunderstand Wright to mean that he does not hold to any second coming of Jesus, which is decidedly not the case. He simply does not think that Mark is talking about it here (or anywhere, for that matter: In response to a question from the floor which asked if Wright saw the second coming anywhere in Mark, he simply answered, "No"). Wright affirmed that he does hold to a second coming, as there are other texts which address that. He just does not see that in Mark 13.

Wright made another interesting point that strikes close to home: He argues that in my American, evangelical, dispensational subculture we have an overemphasis on the second coming, reading it into texts where it is not. This discussion has the unfortunate effect of minimizing one of the core Christological claims made by Mark, namely, that Jesus replaces the Temple as the place where heaven and earth meet and God visits his people. That stings a little bit, which means that it's worth chewing on.