Let us on the example of the excerpt from the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament try to find out how meaning and significance are encoded in the Biblical texts, and what approaches readers can use to extract messages contained in these writings. The larger context of the chapter with the passage devoted to the question about the resurrection The excerpt that we are about to explain in a systematic way is tentatively called The Question about the Resurrection in the book of Kurt Aland Synopsis of the Four Gospels.
Indeed, this part of the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Mark is dealing with the question that at first might seem to undermine the very idea of resurrection, and is giving the answer of Jesus Christ to that apparent dilemma. However, before going into the details of the polemics between Christ and Sadducees, it would be helpful to consider the general content of the chapter, so that we could better appreciate the context in which the question about the resurrection is discussed.
The excerpt about the resurrection issue is preceded by the mentioning that Jesus had started speaking in parables. In accordance with this, in the first part of the twelfth chapter the parable of the tenants is given, then a famous answer of Christ about paying of taxes to Caesar follows, then goes the question about the resurrection, and before its end the chapter also includes several other important teachings of Christ.
What unites all of these sub-parts of the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Mark is that most of them, including the question about the resurrection, give account of the immediate instances of communication of Christ with people who are integral participants of dialogs, so that their questions and answers shape the way Christ responds and teaches. Meaning conveyed by the form of the passage devoted to the question about the resurrection
With this larger context of the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Mark in mind, we can start the analysis of the excerpt devoted to the issue of the resurrection. The excerpt begins with the description of the provoking behavior of Sadducees, who, similarly to those who just before them had tried to provoke Jesus by asking about payment of taxes to Caesar, compose a sophisticated case against the plausibility of the resurrection. That Sadducees are characterized as those who say that there is no resurrection (Mark 12. 8) instantly suggests that their intent in not an honest inquiry, but a hidden desire to disprove the teaching of Jesus. Besides, the strict succession and logical structure of the formulation of their question makes us think that it had been prepared well in advance, maybe even specifically for this encounter with Christ. For example, the question as voiced by Sadducees begins with the phrase: . . . Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if . . . (Mark 12. 18).
In this way, while formally appealing to the wisdom of Christ as the teacher, Sadducees actually advance their own vision of things, and so, along with Pharisees and Herodians, are on one hand presented as tempters of Christ, and on the other hand may be viewed as representatives of the limited earthly wisdom. This impression is also bolstered by the artificiality of the case of a woman who had married seven brothers, which seems to be a very unlikely occasion, or at least the one extremely rare.
Ironically, for the purpose of the argumentation Sadducees might well deal only with the example of two brothers and one wife, so the fact that they went as far as mentioning the seventh brother may be interpreted as bespeaking their blind striving for their self-assertion as intellectually superior to others, including Jesus Christ. In reality, it is exactly this type of arrogance that is often reproached by the Bible, and this part of the passage about the resurrection offers perhaps one of the best instances of such hidden criticism.
However, for those who might omit this implicit negative stance towards the arrogance of Sadducees, an open criticism of their quasi-intellectualism voiced by Christ quickly follows. In his answer to Sadducees Christ does not allow them to draw him into the format of the discussion that Sadducees had striven to create to achieve their own aim of confusing Jesus, but rather outright rejects the very premises of their line of argumentation as the ones completely ignorant of the subject of the discussion.
In this way, Christ is actually shown by the text to masterfully possess skills of argumentative dialogue as he is able to change the form of the dialogue, which is persuasively shown by the observation later in the text of the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Mark that says: . . . And after that no one [including Sadducees] dared to ask him any question. . . (Mark 12. 34).
So, to summarize on this point, the changes in the form of the passage about the resurrection from what starts as an instance of communication presumably controlled by Sadducees into the one ultimately controlled by Christ carries in it the wider meaning directed at the instigation of readers to think by analogy, and to compare the form of the dialog between Sadducees and Christ with other passages in the Bible, and with instances from our everyday life. Significance of the content of the passage devoted to the question about the resurrection
Aside from its instructive form, the passage about the resurrection is very important in terms of the significance of its content. In fact, this excerpt is devoted to one of the key notions of the very Christian religion in which the miracle of resurrection serves as the manifestation of the power of God to defeat even death. Therefore, any passage in the Bible that clarifies this conception is significant, not to mention excerpts akin to the one we are examining that directly deal with the matter of the resurrection.
In this respect, the peculiarity of the contribution that the twelfth chapter of the Gospel of Mark makes to this issue is not so much that it tells us what is the resurrection, but that it rather provides Chirsts explanation of what the resurrection is not. In the context of the question of Sadducees, Christ explains that it is wrong to apply to those who are dead the familiar earthly notion of marriage, because . . . when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage. . . (Mark 12. 25).
In the line 27 Christ also points out that God is . . . not God the dead, but of the living. . . (Mark 12. 27). It is this powerful denial of superficial views on the resurrection held by Sadducees that is the essence of Christs indignant response to the question about the resurrection and of his attempt to show that it is fundamentally ill-formulated. Moreover, in the studied passage we also can find some hints as to what the resurrection is like. Jesus briefly comments that after the dead are risen they are like angels in heaven (Mark 12. 25).
Still, it seems that this characterization is simultaneously equally used to further bolster the description of what the resurrection is not, as the comparison of people who have been risen with angels carries the theme of the discussion away from the material world on which Sadducees seem to be overly focused. Thus, readers who seek explanations for some crucial religious ideas may view the studied passage that examines the question about the resurrection as primarily one of those parts of the Bible that provide the firsthand account of the theological aspects of teachings of Jesus Christ.
Conclusion As we can see, the Bible, being the text that pretends to give an account of historical events and at the same time to send universal and timeless messages, indeed works on many levels that coexist within the same biblical texts, and mutually reinforce one another by enhancing their significance and by highlighting various patters of meaning that they contain.
More specifically, in the passage devoted to the question of the resurrection the form of the text as if works to copy the conversational and emotional aspects of what might have been an actual argumentative tug of war between Sadducees and Christ in which Jesus had the final word. So, in this regard the Bible has the function of a historical document. At the same time, the content of this passage, which sheds light on the phenomenon of the resurrection, has the life of its own because this excerpt also has the function of a religious text that elucidates important elements of the Christian doctrine.