PROPOSAL: Due Friday February 25

Following the model of the weekly exercises until Feb 27, choose as a topic for your paper a) a passage (or series of passages) from the Gospel of Mark and b) a theme, and c) tentatively articulate what is, according to your own interpretation, the teaching of this passage of Mark on the chosen theme for believers in a particular life-context (of your choice).    (For model and procedure, see *The Gospel of Matthew:  A Contextual Introduction* pp. 19-41)   A paragraph (somewhat more detailed than those in the exercises) should present Athe main teaching of this Scriptural text regarding this theme for these believers= life as Christians in this situation today.

GUIDELINES FOR RESEARCH PAPER: Due Friday, April 28 (Before 4:00pm)

This is to be a “paper”; it must develop an argument defending a “thesis.”    It must therefore have an introduction, a body (argument), and a conclusion.

1.The thesis you are expected to defend (presented in an introduction that shows the importance of this issue; and tightly argued in the conclusion) must follow either one of two forms, arguing either that:

a)“A *particular interpretation of the chosen passage (or series of passages) from Mark on a chosen theme is the best for **believers in a particular ***present-day situation, both because it best conforms to basic Christian convictions (“loving God”) and because it best addresses the needs of these believers and their neighbors (“loving neighbors”).” 

Or that:

b)“A *particular interpretation of the chosen passage (or series of passages) from Mark on a chosen theme is most dangerous for **believers in a particular ***present-day situation, both because of the dubious basic convictions it presupposes (not “loving God”) and because it is hurtful for these believers’ neighbors (“loving neighbors”) and these believers themselves”


* A “particular interpretation of the chosen passage” might be the interpretation you formulated for your proposal, but it might be another  of the interpretations that you closely studied in your research for this paper and that you also discuss in your paper.  In other words, you can use the interpretation you used in your proposal but if in your research you come to another conclusions, by all means use that one!  Yet, your Proposal  Interpretation should remain part of the mix.

** As always, the term “believer” is simply defined as someone who reads or hears the text of Mark as Scripture (whatever might be the role of Scripture that is implemented); thus, it encompasses “would-be believers” who encounter this text as Scripture for the first time, but also “culture believers” who, directly or indirectly, positively or negatively, perceive their identity in terms of this text.

*** This present-day situation must be an actual and plausible situation:  a) that one can find today; b) that includes a “contextual” component broad enough to encompass relations of believers with others both inside and outside Christian communities; and c) that encompasses theological loci and/or times in which religious experience can take place and/or the silence/absence of God can be noticed.


2.In the body of the paper, your argument that grounds your conclusion that an interpretation is “the best” (or “the worst”) in a given life-context must necessarily compare this interpretation with other interpretations – and more specifically with *ONE very different kind of interpretations – showing how these two interpretations differ because they involve two different **theological choices, two different ***textual choices, as well as two different ****contextual choices.    (For model and procedure, see *The Gospel of Matthew:  A Contextual Introduction* pp. 43-79)

Notes for doing research in preparation for your paper:

*ONE very different kind of interpretations in addition to the one you defend.  You are expected a) to show that your interpretation belongs to one family of interpretations and b) to compare your interpretation with one other interpretation that belongs to a different family of interpretations.

We will discuss in class three different families of interpretations:   interpretations that conceive of the Gospel of Mark as offering  first of all1)  a Christological/Theological teaching (a teaching about Jesus as the Christ);  2)  a teaching about Discipleship;  3) a teaching about the Kingdom of God.  (Of course, each interpretation accounts for all the themes; but by viewing a particular theme as primary (central, most significant)  a particular interpretation  interprets the other themes in different ways).

Your interpretation will necessarily be different from two of these families of interpretations, even if it does not fit neatly with the third (whatever it might be) family of interpretations (though I suspect it will be a variant of the third one; this is what I presuppose below).  In many instances, you might want to develop and strengthen your interpretation by consulting several interpretations that support it (and belong to the same “family)”.

** These three families of interpretations have been labeled in terms of broad differences in theological choices:  as primarily focused on either the Christological/theological or Discipleship or the Kingdom of God.    By formulating your paper proposal, you have chosen to focus on a particular “theological theme” (a concept or most often a cluster of concepts).   In your paper, you need to show how this theological theme is understood DIFFERENTLY – indeed, very distinctively – in a “Christological” or a “Discipleship” or again  a “Kingdom”  interpretation.  Otherwise, you fail to show that there is a real theological choice involved when one selects an interpretation rather than another.

*** Similarly, these three types of interpretations include three very different kinds of “textual choices” – choosing to ground the interpretation (and the meaning of theological themes) on textual features that are either “behind the text” (when the Gospel text  is conceived as a “biography” that conveys “denotations” = information about something that stands behind the text, including Mark’s Christology and theological system), or “within the text” (the textual narrative and literary features that form the narrative/story of the Gospel in which the readers are supposed to enter and become “disciples”), or “in front of the text” (the textual features—rhetorical, metaphorical and ideological features--designed to transform the readers and their view of the situation in front of them).   In your paper, you need to show how the two different understandings of the theological theme is truly grounded in the text.  Since these understandings of the theological themes are different, you must show that they are grounded in different textual features.  If you cannot show that one interpretation is appropriately grounded in the text, then you cannot use this interpretation in your paper – you have not shown that it is an actual choice that the interpreters have. 

**** Finally, you have to show that each interpretation involves an actual contextual choice, i.e., that the two different teachings of this text would address different  needs of believers in different situations –where these needs might concern a particular lack of knowledge, or ability, or will, or faith/vision.     In your paper, you need to make these distinctions in your conclusion as you defend your thesis regarding which interpretation is the best or the worst in a particular context.  Thus, even though biblical scholars rarely do so you need to make explicit that each of the two types of interpretations presupposes that this text has a teaching meeting the particular needs of believers in a particular kind of context.


3.In Conclusion, you are expected to defend one interpretation as the best (or the worst, according to the form of your thesis).  (For model and procedure, see *The Gospel of Matthew:  A Contextual Introduction* pp. 81-88.)     The key question:  what difference does it make to choose one interpretation rather than the other?   Assuming moral responsibility for our choice of interpretation with two criteria:  loving God and loving neighbor.  

What needs does the given interpretation address or fail to address in a specific life-context?  What problematic effects does it have--or could potentially have--in a specific life-context?  Who benefits?  Who is hurt? (Loving Neighbor)

How does the given interpretation relate to basic convictions and values (about God and God’s will)?  What is the role of convictions in the Christian believers= choices of an interpretation?   (Loving God)

It follows from what precedes that it is not acceptable for your paper to argue in favor of an interpretation by showing 1) that an understanding of a theological theme is the only plausible one, 2) that there is only one plausible and significant reading of the text, and 3) that there is only one plausible contextual teaching of this text (that universally applies to all contexts).  Such a paper would fail to be critical, because in it you fail to acknowledge the three types of choice you have made. (If this is your faith-interpretation you defend in this way, you fail to assume responsibility for your faith, and then you cannot truthfully say “*I* believe”; you have given up of seeking understanding of your faith (fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding, as definition of doing theology).

Length:  Since your paper involves comparing two interpretations regarding their three types of choices, you need space.  For undergraduates, I believe a 10-12 page paper is a reasonable length (2 times 5 or 6 pages).  For Divinity School Students,  12-15 page paper seems reasonable, because I would expect an extended concluding sections:  choosing one or another interpretation has a lot of implications for the pastoral ministry.   For Ph.D candidates, 15-20 page paper is a minimum as I expect detailed explanations of the textual choices (going into issues of exegetical methods) as well as of the theological choices (detailing the shift in understanding of theological concepts throughout the Gospel of Mark).