A Ransom for Many: Mark 10:45 as a Key to the Gospel by John Lee and Daniel Brueske

The Whole Gospel of Mark in a Single Verse. That’s the title of Chapter 1 of today’s book but it could just as well be the title for the whole book. Intrigued? Keep listening.

Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Today I review “A Ransom for Many: Mark 10:45 as a Key to the Gospel” by John Lee and Daniel Brueske. 200 pages, published by Lexham Academic in April 2023. Available for USD9.99 in Amazon Kindle and USD16.99 in Logos.

I got this book as a review copy from the publisher. They have no input on this review.

Big Idea

The big idea of the book is Mark 10:45 is the key verse to the Gospel of Mark. The whole Gospel of Mark can be summarised in one verse. And what does Mark 10:45 say? Let me read it for you:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

First of all, you can get a certain amount of satisfaction when you can identify the key idea or key verse in a passage. When you find it, if it exists, with that one verse, you can unlock the meaning of the passage, chapter or even the whole book.

Take this famous verse for example:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

That was from Romans 1:16-17, and understanding the meaning behind “the righteous shall live by faith” is key to unlocking the whole letter, to understanding what Paul is saying in the letter, which got Martin Luther mind blown, giving us the Reformation and to where the Church is today.

Knowing how powerful it can be to identify a key verse, it was with eager anticipation I came to today’s book. I wanted to see how the authors substantiate their claim and how, if their claim is true, how this changes anything. I am also particularly interested in the word ransom, because this is the word that lead to the ransom view of the atonement, a historical interpretation which we now have set aside.

Once in a while, it’s good to review what we believe to be true, just to affirm once again that we are right to believe so. So I looked forward to exploring the Ransom View in this book.

Let’s open the book.

“A Ransom for Many” has six chapters, followed by two appendices and a bibliography, subject and author index and scripture index.

The chapters are:

  • Chapter 1: The Whole Gospel of Mark in a Single Verse
  • Chapter 2: The Occassion of Mark’s Gospel
  • Chapter 3: The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel
  • Chapter 4: The Meaning and Significance of Mark 10:45
  • Chapter 5: The Function and Contribution of Mark 10:45
  • Chapter 6: Learning to Live the Message of Mark 10:45

So chapters 1-3 gives a broader view of Mark’s Gospel including the when, where, who, how and why and chapters 4-6 is the deep dive into Mark 10:45.

Appendix I is Annotated Recommendations for Further Reading. The authors recommend six books and explain why.

Appendix II is A Short History of the Ransom View of the Atonement. More on that later.

I Was Blind But Now I See

Before reading this book, I did not fully appreciate how the Gospel of Mark was organised.

Chapter 4 begins with a wide view of Mark’s Gospel, which gives us the needed outline and background for later in the same chapter when we breakdown down Mark 10:45 into separate components.

Chapter 5 goes on to show that Mark 10:45’s strategic location calls our attention to it’s importance. In the Gospel of Mark, as they make their way to Jerusalem, Jesus tells the disciples three times that something big, something bad, will happen to him there. And that prediction becomes more intense the nearer they get to Jerusalem.

Interestingly, these three predictions are book-ended by blind men. First the blind man at Bethsaida in Mark 8, and later Blind Bartimaeus at Jericho in Mark 10. I didn’t notice this until I read it here. The authors helpfully tell me the significance of this. I quote:

These two stories symbolically anticipate the “healing” of the disciples’ “blindness” toward the nature of Jesus’s messiahship. The sequence of passion prediction, the disciples’ error, and corrective teaching repeated within each of the three cycles, together with the framing of the Journey section by the only two healings of sight in Mark’s Gospel, implies an intentional design on the part of the author.

I like learning how to read the Bible. This book teaches me how to see patterns, and how to make sense of them, to guide me to what is in the Gospel writer’s mind.

It’s like learning how to follow animal tracks. To the old hunter, the tracks are as plain as day, but to me, it’s just dirt. But once he tells you what to look out for, then you start to see what he sees, and you follow the trail to the prize.

So I like that. I like how this approach also forces me to read around the text. It forces me to get a lay of the land and I can apply what I learn to other books and be a better Bible reader.

Deprived Without Mark 10:45

The second thing I want to share is not something new I have learnt, rather it is a validation of something I figured out own my own.

Early in my Christian life, I struggled to understand why some verses are in the Bible. In some cases, some books! When I read that Martin Luther wanted to remove James from the canon, I sympathised with him and thought I could suggest a few more books for removal too!

I have since moved past such thoughts and have grown to love each book of the Bible. They are all good. They all belong in the canon.

And how I arrived to this position was simply by asking the question, “What happens if this verse or book was missing?” Just by asking that simple question, I soon realise that we don’t appreciate what we have until we lose it. Try it. We lose a lot when we cut out even the simplest and what seems to be the most inconsequential part of the Bible.

Brueske and Lee show this is critically true for Mark 10:45. In Chapter 5, as they explain the verse’s contribution to explain Jesus’ death, they write:

Without 10:45 (and 14:24, which is built on and confirms 10:45), it would be much harder for Mark’s audience, then or now, to grasp the author’s atonement theology. In this sense, the contribution of 10:45 to Mark’s theology of atonement is undeniable, as is its contribution to how Mark wants his audience to understand the meaning of Jesus’s death and to appreciate this narrative in which the passion of Jesus holds a vital position.

I appreciate how by highlighting this, they make me appreciate the precious position this verse holds in the Gospel of Mark.

Ransom View of The Atonement

Having shared a bit of what I gained, allow me bring up a criticism.

I would say this is a case of mismanaged expectation, and I am going to say upfront that it’s probably my fault for expecting something that was never promised in the first place.

When you have a book with the title, “A Ransom for Many” which is an exposition of Mark 10:45, I expected a thorough discussion on the Ransom View of the Atonement.

For those who don’t know what this is, it’s simply saying that when Jesus paid a ransom to save us, he paid it to the Devil.

It’s not that the book doesn’t address it, they do. In Chapter 4, after explaining how ransom is used as a metaphor to describe how God redeems ‘his people from sins, lawlessness, transgressions and a futile lifestyle’, they write:

since the condition from which the ‘many’ are ransomed or redeemed is not made clear in Mark 10:45, it seems safe to presume that it is figurative here as well. Instead, Mark shows Jesus employing the figure of ransom and redemption mainly to describe the effect of his death. Through his death, Jesus becomes the way that “the many” are redeemed—presumably from death and presumably by God. If the “ransom” in Mark 10:45 is a metaphor, then common questions like, “To whom is this ransom being paid?” probably miss the point. Mark’s focus in this verse is not to whom the payment is made.

It seems safe. If the “ransom” in Mark is a metaphor. Questions like, “To whom is this ransom being paid?” probably miss the point. Seems, ifs and probablys don’t make me sleep well at night. I need more security in my exposition.

But wait! There is an appendix. Maybe the authors will give me what I want there. They probably don’t want to get bogged down in the theological debate which distracts from their main point. If true, then all I got to do is just finish the book and read the appendix later.

I finished and eagerly flipped (or rather scrolled) to Appendix II. And I was disappointed. To be fair, it does what it says on the title, “A Short History of the Ransom View of the Atonement”. It’s short. And it’s just a history of who believed what, when and how it changed. But it says very little, I would say nothing at all, on the biblical basis for people believing in the Ransom View and why we should not.

I want something more than seems, ifs and probablys. I want them to tell me that those old guys got it wrong and taking ransom as a metaphor is the correct interpretation.

Just to illustrate why a word and its meaning is so important.

Much has been made of the word propitiation in Romans 3:25. Some argue that a better translation is expiation. The meaning is similar but that small difference can lead the preacher and thus the congregation in a wildly different direction.

While propitiation is such a technical word that it invites everyday Christians to study it to understand what it actually means, ransom is a common enough word that most Christians would just assume it means what it means in every day life.

This means that in reading Mark 10:45, it is natural to see Jesus paying a ransom to Satan to release those who were ensnared by the Devil. In fact, it’s easy to imagine a preacher somewhere right now, taking the word ransom and running with it.

Tourists are captured by terrorists and ransomed. Rich kids are pulled into vans by kidnappers and ransomed. Young men and women are promised jobs by scammers and ransomed. Ransoms are paid to terrorists, kidnappers and scammers.

In the Old Testament and New Testament, ransoms were paid to evil slave-owners. Taking the literal sense of ransom, it’s plain to see that Jesus paid a ransom to the Devil to release us. Can I get an amen to that?

To Brueske and Lee, emphasising on who the ransom was paid to is unhelpful. In my opinion, they do not go far enough to persuade us so. And I see this as a missed opportunity.

Self-Evident Needs No Justification(?)

Not just that. It’s a tragedy because it could have made for a better book. You see, the publication of this book seems to be fundamentally flawed because it’s not needed.

In Chapter 1, the very chapter that makes the case the reason for this book, I quote:

Many interpreters have recognized the importance of Mark 10:45. But as with every consensus, there are some who disagree. Julius Wellhausen, for example, in his monumental commentary downplayed the weightiness of Mark 10:45 and, relatedly, the atoning significance of Jesus’s death within Mark’s Gospel. Nevertheless, most biblical scholars do agree that Mark 10:45 is important. Even popular Bible teachers like Irving Jensen, Warren Wiersbe, Max Lucado, and Chuck Swindoll have presented 10:45 as a key verse. For many, the significance of Mark 10:45 within the Second Gospel is self-evident.

Nowhere else in the book do we read about Julius Wellhausen and how or why he downplays the weightiness of Mark 10:45. Instead, we get a book that merely elaborates what the authors admit many see as self-evident.

What does it mean that it’s self-evident. It’s like reading the headline, “Scientists prove that the sun rises in the East” or “that water is wet” or “fire is hot”.

We know there is probably some scientific geekery behind those headlines but for most of us, we don’t need it to confirm what we already believe is true.

And that is the problem with this book.

This is a solution in need of a problem. Or a resolution in need of a conflict. Or a superhero movie in need of a villain. Julius Wellhausen might make a good villain. If not him, then the Ransom View. But sadly, there are no villains here, and thus we have an informative but ultimately dull book.

But you know what, as I was thinking of things that are self-evident, I also read today in the news, “According to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, ‘100% of Women do not have Penises'”. There was a time when such a statement would not make the news. Because it is self-evident.

So that got me thinking, maybe at this point in time, I don’t fully appreciate what this book attempts to do because I live in a time where there is no need for it. But in the last days, there will come times of difficulty, and many will turn away from the truth, many will have itchy ears, many may believe that up means down, left means right, ‘came not to be served but to serve’ means Christian authoritarianism, ‘giving his life as a ransom for many’ means ‘give the preacher money, money and more money’ and the key verse of the Gospel of Mark is not Mark 10:45 but Mark 3:22, where the scribes say, “Jesus is possessed by Beelzebul”.

In such times, this book and the scholarship that comes with this book, will bolster the walls as Christians man the defences to once again, defend the faith.

This is a Reading and Readers review of “A Ransom for Many: Mark 10:45 as a Key to the Gospel” by John Lee and Daniel Brueske. 200 pages, published by Lexham Academic in April 2023. Available for USD9.99 in Amazon Kindle and USD16.99 in Logos.

In case you missed it, Faithlife and Logos have free books out for April. The Logos Free Book is “The New Testament Commentary Guide: A Brief Handbook for Students and Pastors” by Nijay Gupta. I’ve gone through it and if you are a pastor or Bible student, just get the book because it does what it says, it will guide you on New Testament Commentaries. It’s a good resource to navigate through the many commentaries around.

I won’t review it for the same reason I won’t review a dictionary, it’s useful but not something I can read cover to cover.

Instead, in the next episode of Reading and Readers, I will review Faithlife’s Free Book which is, “Prayer: Communing with God in Everything” Collected Insights from A.W. Tozer, compiled by W.L. Seaver. Until then, bye bye.

Book List

  • “A Ransom for Many: Mark 10:45 as a Key to the Gospel” by John Lee and Daniel Brueske. Amazon. Logos.