Is Jesus Divine in Mark?

In orthodox Christianity, Jesus is both human and divine. At least in part, this belief is based upon what is written in the New Testament. Mark, the earliest canonical Gospel (see “The Priority of Mark,” by Peter Kirby), has been interpreted as conforming to this view; but does it?

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“St. Mark,” by Mantegna

Mark’s Jesus is certainly human, but is he divine? The title “Son of God,” which is used often in Mark, does not necessarily suggest divinity, as is often thought. Its use is introduced in Mark 1:11 in a citation from Psalm 2:7, which speaks of a non-divine and fully human king being enthroned. If Mark is using this title in a way that corresponds to its original meaning, then it does not suggest that Jesus is divine. It might simply mean that Jesus is a kingly Davidic Messiah.

Since Mark does not explicitly affirm or deny Jesus’ divinity, we will have to look for less obvious clues. One clue might be to ask if Mark’s Jesus has any characteristics that expressly exclude divinity? Does he have any qualities that a human would have but that God would not? One feature that would suffice is sin. While sin is characteristic of humans, it is not associated with the Jewish God (Mark 10:18). If it could be demonstrated that Mark’s Jesus is a repentant sinner, this would mean that he is not divine. That Jesus is affirmed to be sinless elsewhere in the New Testament (2 Cor 5:21, Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22, and 1 John 3:5) does not mean that Mark has this view as well.

Sinlessness is not a staple ingredient of Messianic expectations in the non-Christian Second Temple milieu. While some texts believed the expected Messiah was to be a sinless being (Psalm of Solomon 17:36, and maybe the Testament of Judah 24.1), this view is not common.

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“Baptism of Christ,” by Pietro Perugino

The opening of Mark’s Gospel can be read (independent of the issue of sinlessness) as suggesting Jesus experienced a divine adoption and became the Messiah at the baptism. Speaking of “adoption” as a developed theological doctrine is anachronistic for the Markan narrative. Nevertheless, something like adoption coheres nicely with the narrative. It also corresponds with a Markan Jesus who is a “real” (non-divine) human being.

Explicit affirmations of Jesus’ moral status are rare in the Gospel. For example, there are many instances when the Markan Jesus defends himself against various charges of wrong-doing (See Mark 2:6-11, 13-17, 18-20, 23-28, 3:1-6, 22-30, 31-35, 4:38-41, 7:1-23, 8:11-13, 10:1-12, 13-16, 11:27-33, 12:13-17, 18-27; 28-34, 14:3-9, 48-49). All these passages affirm is that Jesus was right and his opponents wrong – not that Jesus is sinless. The fact that God is “well pleased” with Jesus in 1:11 may be a moral affirmation of sorts, but does not require (or suggest) sinlessness. Jesus regularly demonstrates obedience and fidelity (1:44, 8:31-33, 10:45, 11:15-15, and 14:21), but again this does not require or suggest sinlessness. Perhaps the most salient example of Jesus’ moral worth is the obedience he demonstrates in going to his death. This is poignantly narrated in the Gethsemane episode (14:32-42). But even here, rather than suggesting Jesus’ sinless status, Mark emphasizes the struggle required to achieve faithfulness to God’s will (14:32-42). And finally, what are we to make of Jesus’ cry of dereliction upon the cross? Even at the very moment of Jesus’ greatest achievement in the Gospel, Mark has not presented his readers with a figure filled with strength, faith, and moral perfection, but rather one who apparently doubts God’ faithfulness. The arc of Mark’s narrative does not traverse an ideal of sinlessness, but rather fidelity to God and God’s will.

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“Gethsemane Painting,” by DeLa Hayes Coward

Furthermore, the first thing Jesus does when he comes onto the stage of the Gospel is to submit to a baptism of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). Why would Jesus submit to this rite if he was sinless? While this passage has been interpreted in a number of ways that maintain Jesus’ sinlessness, there is nothing is the text that differentiates what Jesus does in Mark 1:9 from what everyone who comes to John does in Mark 1:5. This suggests that Jesus is doing the same thing they are doing – confessing sins, repenting, and receiving forgiveness.

To suggest that Jesus is a repentant sinner is not actually a radical claim. In Mark’s world (as in ours) saying that someone is without sin is what is extraordinary. There was (and is) a common belief in the time of Mark that every human being sins, and therefore everyone needs to repent of sins (1 Kings 8:46, Isa 59:20, 4 Ezra 7:46, Rom 3:23, Mark 10:18, James 3:2, and 1 John 1:8). None of the great heroes of faith within Mark’s Jewish tradition (such as Abraham, Moses, David, and Elijah) were without sin. Hence, to say that Mark’s Jesus was a repentant sinner really says little more than that he was a “real” human being. The emphasis, then, is not on the nature or degree of Jesus’ sin, but rather the simple fact of its existence. Ostensibly, it is enough that the reader acknowledges that Jesus shares the common sinful lot of all humanity. It is presumably enough for Mark that Jesus be understood generally as a “normal” person (hence, a sinner) who receives forgiveness, is chosen by God elected to be Son, and then passes that forgiveness along to others. While this stands in tension with other New Testament Christologies, it does justice to the narrative of Mark as we find it.

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Jesus and the Rich Man

And if Jesus is sinless, why does he say to the rich man “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:17-18)? Why would a sinless Jesus deny that the word “good” applies to him? Again, while this passage has been interpreted otherwise, in my view the most obvious sense is that Jesus denies that he is good, along with everyone else (except God). It is impossible to conceive of sinlessness lacking goodness. Hence, Jesus’ response to the rich man identifies him as one who shares the common sinful lot of humanity.

When all this is put together, a cohesive picture emerges. Jesus is not “good,” just like everyone else, and needs to repent. He submits to the baptism of John (which is defined as a baptism of repentance unto forgiveness). He receives forgiveness through John’s rite, is chosen by God to become God’s son and Messiah, and then becomes a conduit of divine forgiveness for others (2:5-10). One certainly need not be sinless to preach forgiveness. Indeed, it is arguable that someone can better offer that which he has first received himself.

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One implication of the demand to “Follow me!” (Mark 1:17, 2:14, 8:34, 10:21), or to “take up one’s cross” (Mark 8:34), is that Jesus’ fidelity to God provides an example of the sort of obedience to God that the disciples are to aspire to. Just as Jesus repents from sin, and struggles to maintain fidelity, so must his follower likewise do.  If Jesus is sinless in Mark, then the example he leaves is almost a mockery. He “shows” others how to overcome sin, which is something he never had to deal with within himself. Hence, a Jesus who repents, and overcomes sin provides a more meaningful example.

If Mark’s Jesus is not sinless, he is also not divine. Within the Jewish milieu of Mark’s time sinlessness is an essential quality of God. If Mark’s Jesus is fully human and not divine, this means that while Mark stands close to the source of the river of history that leads to Nicaea, he also stands at odds with this trajectory. By way of contrast, other Gospels, such as John, sit comfortably within this Nicaean trajectory. What are we to do with this? What is lost if we embrace Mark’s non-divine suffering Messiah? Does it mean we must therefore reject John’s divine incarnate Word? I would say no, and that we can have both. I would suggest it is possible to embrace a diversity of perspectives, and that doing so can enable us to develop a more nuanced complexity within our theological discourse. Furthermore, it can enable us to better engage the diversity of opinion we encounter every day.

Do you agree? What do you think?

About Steve Black

Educator, Writer, Researcher, Speaker, Facilitator

14 Responses

  1. Before you draw any final conclusions, you might look at the implicit story under Mark’s really quite spectacular and constant subtle allusions to the OT.

    Just one case in point. After Jesus effectively gives manna to Israel in the desert (who did that, in the OT?), he forces the disciples to get into the boat and go to Bethsaida without him. The wind is against them and they make no progress. Sometime before dawn—

    6:48 When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea, and wantred to pass them by. 49 But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; 50 for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, I AM; do not be afraid.”

    As you read that, keep this in mind:

    Job 9.8 LXX: who alone stretched out the sky
    and walks on the sea as on dry ground, . . . .
    10 who does great and inscrutable things,
    things both glorious and extraordinary, without number.
    11 If he passed by me, I would certainly not see him,
    and if he went by me, I would not even know. . . .

    (If you’re following closely, note that Mark is alluding to the Septuagint here, not the Masoretic Text.)

    In this context, there is no need to point out Mark’s unusually less-than-subtle appropriation of “I AM” here from Ex 3.14ff.

    I’m indebted here to RB Hays’ Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, an excellent resource for this topic in general.

    On the topic of Jesus’ baptism, you’ll go astray if you start by failing to take into account the point of what John was doing. As Mark has John explicitly say at 1.8, John’s baptism didn’t forgive sins, but was only a baptism of repentance (meta-noia, μετανοία; literally, to ‘think after’, ‘rethink’, have a change of mind, heart, or attitude)— ‘unto’ (eis, εἰς)— that is, ‘in view of’ or ‘toward’— the forgiveness that would be given when the Age of God’s regime arrived (1.4).

    (For the same use of the preposition ‘eis’ (εἰς) as ‘in view of’, or ‘toward’, see 14.55, where the Sanhedrin seeks testimony against Jesus ‘with a view to’ putting him to death. That testimony did not put him to death, but was a necessary condition for doing so; likewise here, the baptism does not remit sins, but is a necessary condition for receiving the remission which the “Stronger One” would bring when he baptized not just with water but with the Holy Spirit (1.7-8).)

    What’s going on here is that John is “in the desert”, that is, outside the Promised Land, in the desert where Israel wandered for 40 years. He was calling the people out to the desert to confess their covenant unfaithfulness, and to wash off as they re-cross the Jordan again into the Land, just as Israel did of old, to await the forgiveness and renewal that God had promised.

    You might note that in some mss., John the Evangelist refers to the place where John is proclaiming his message as “Beth-Abarah”, “Place of Crossing” (Jn 1.28; “Bethany” is most likely not correct!).

    In the Bible, ‘sin’ is not a matter of falling short of some objective ethical standard (as we tend to understand sin), but specifically of covenant unfaithfulness. It was a national, not just a personal issue, and the ‘remission’ whose imminent coming John proclaimed was not just the forgiveness of personal moral failings in view of a hoped-for personal immorality, but the restoration and renewal that God had promised to the whole of Israel and indeed to the entire world (cf Gn 12.3 etc).

    Jesus was baptized, then, not because he needed to repent of personal sins, but in order to signal his participation in Israel’s repentance and above all in the final act of the drama of Israel and her God. John was inaugurating an “Israel-renewal movement” as Malachi’s ‘Elijah’ (cf Mk 1.2b). By getting baptized, Jesus affirms that John really is announcing God’s intention, that John’s got it right. And as a faithful Israelite, he joins John’s movement because this is where God is acting. But since he is in fact that ‘Stronger One’ whom John prophesied (1.7), he emerges from the waters precisely as Israel’s anointed king and representative, commissioned by the Spirit to accomplish the whole faithfulness that God seeks from Israel, in order that he might restore to all the peoples of the earth the blessing that Adam lost, which was the point of his original promise to Abraham long ago (Gn 12.3).

    It simply doesn’t occur to Mark, as it does to Matthew, that he needed to explain that Jesus had no sins to confess. Apparently he could trust his audience to understand that, without undue trouble (this is strong evidence for the scholarly opinion that Mark wrote in Palestine and not in Rome, by the way). Mark’s point is to show that Jesus identifies with unclean Israel even as he accepts his call to be the one who redeems them from their uncleanness.

    Jesus’ baptism also prefigures his death, and so, not surprisingly, especially given the Christian understanding of baptism reflected in Romans 6.3-11, Mark’s Baptism episode is the first of the three passages which lie at the very heart of Mark’s theology. One of the allusions in the background of the Voice from the sky (Mk 1.11) is Isaiah 42.1,

    “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
    I have put my spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations. . . . ”

    As you know, this is one of the series of “servant-Israel” poems in Second Isaiah (Isa 40–55), including the one in Isa 53. Mark has Jesus allude to the latter in the second of those key passages, the Transfiguration episode. On the way down from the mountain, Jesus asks, “How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt?” (9.12), alluding to Isa 53.3,

    “his form was without honor, failing beyond all men,
    a man being in calamity and knowing how to bear sickness;
    because his face is turned away,
    he was dishonored and not esteemed.”

    Matthew, who has been called “Mark’s first commentator”, makes explicit by his rather frequent references to Isaiah 53 what Mark here is content to leave unstated: that ‘He was counted among the transgressors’ (Isa 53.12 LXX)— not a transgressor himself, but only counted among them.

    The third key passage in Mark’s theology of course is the crucifixion itself, where the thug who had just murdered him states— ironically because both contemptuously and theologically— “This one really was God’s son!”

    You’re to be congratulated on noting that the title “Son of God” doesn’t suggest Christ’s divinity. In the Bible, the “son of God” is generally an earthly figure— God’s viceroy, usually the king but in some cases Israel as a whole. The “son of God” is the one on earth who enacts God’s will. The title “son of man”, on the other hand, is always in the Gospels a reference to Daniel 7, and therefore to a heavenly figure— he is the one brought up “on the clouds of heaven” to the Ancient of Days, and enthroned as judge and lord of all the nations.

    But in your post, you’re asking, “Is Jesus Divine in Mark?”. I found you through the Liturgists Community on Facebook, which is a large group of people asking all the right questions, and i happen to know a little about Mark, so i hope this might be helpful to you and to them.

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      1. I appreciate the dialogue.

        Of course there’s not enough time to respond in detail here, so why don’t you your circle of respondents just move out to the Bay Area and we can meet regularly for beer? However, since you can’t do that right away, I’ll remark about a couple of things you mention, which seem to get at the main issue.

        You wrote, “while the parallel between Mark 6 and Job 9 is striking, we should be cautious in assuming Mark is referring to this text”, apparently because you don’t think Job is a “likely” source for Mark.

        Yet if these two texts are, as you admit, “parallel” and the parallel is “striking”, why is it not “likely” that Mark is alluding to Job? Are you working from some presumption of what Mark “would” have had available to him? Job was “canonical” scripture in the 1st century, known at least to educated Jews. It was part of the Septuagint, of which Mark elsewhere shows knowledge. So why would Job not have been available to Mark?

        Or are you assuming that Mark “would” or “would not” have used various sources for some other reason? Do you have proof of what he “would” or “would not” have used, or even good reason for making any such claim?

        Any writer, including Mark, is perfectly capable of alluding to anything he’s ever read, however obscure to his audience it may or may not be. Why must a writer limit himself to texts his audience would already be familiar with? Why again must a writer never write with the expectation that his audience might later become familiar even with his most obscure allusions— especially if he intends his work to be somehow “normative” for his audience, and hence read and studied more than once? It cannot, of course, be “realistically expected that a largely non-literate audience will have sufficient knowledge of an alleged source text”— but it can be expected that the Scriptures (all of them) were known and studied in the Church just as much as they were in the rest of Israel.

        But your main caution there is that it’s necessary to “verify that something that is claimed to be an allusion actually is”. Certainly, that’s true. Your criterion, though— “that we might use the obvious allusions as examples what we might expect to find in the oblique one”— seems insufficient, in view of the questions i just asked. The fact that “it is obvious that he likes Isaiah, Malachi, the Psalms, Exodus-Numbers, and certain portions of Deuteronomistic history” does not in any way rule out his possible use of Genesis, Deuteronomy, Esther— all of which can be found in the book— or even Job. By calling the Lake of Galilee a “sea”, Mark has already signaled that it is for him a symbolic place. Mark 4.41 has already alerted us to Jesus’ identity: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” In telling the story of Jesus’ walking on the “sea”, he needs a story from the OT that features the same identity walking on the Sea. Job 9.8-11 LXX is just about his only choice, but it will do just fine.

        In his two Echoes of Scripture books, RB Hays specifically addresses the question of verification which you raise, and proposes a number of criteria by which to assess potential allusions. And in fact it’s from Hays, who follows his own good advice, that I learned of the allusion to Job in the walking on water episode. Scholars have ever been stumped as to why Jesus “wanted to pass them by” (Mk 6.48)— but Job 9.11 neatly accounts for that. Of course, Mark is taking the narrative in his own direction; Job’s point is not Mark’s point— and Mark isn’t using Job as a “proof-text”. Rather, he wants his (ideal) audience to recognize, in the way he’s telling the story, that the disciples experienced Jesus in the same way that Job experienced Yhwh, the God of Israel. I’ll get back to this in a moment.

        In your interesting discussion of Mark 1.1-3, you note the change from Malachi’s “I” to “you”— “In Malachi the messenger is sent before “me” (YHWH),” you say, “and Mark changes this and has the messenger sent before “you” (Jesus).”

        LaVerdiere and others have noted that we can equally read the “you” in this “prefatory” unit (Mk 1.1-3) as addressed to the audience, and in that case, the “messenger” who goes before them (i.e., us) would be Jesus. And indeed, doesn’t the young man in the tomb say to the women precisely that the risen Messiah “goes before you in Galilee, and you will see him there”? (16.7). Well, that’s the thing about a great writer— he remains aware, and in control, of his ambiguities, and gets you to thinking about them, the more you read the book.

        But Malachi 3.1 does indeed say, “I am sending out my messenger, and he will look over the way before my face”, as you point out. And Mark does change “my” to “your”. Although don’t forget that Malachi himself is already quoting Exodus 23.20— “Behold I am sending my messenger before your face”, so that Mark 1.2a is acutally quoting this Exodus verse exactly as it is, omitting only the superfluous pronoun “I” (egō ἐγὼ): “Behold [I] am sending my messenger before your face” (Mk 1.2). In fact we wouldn’t even be talking about Malachi here at all (except to note a more distant parallel), except that the Exodus passage says the messenger “will guard you on the way”, and Malachi has, “look over the way”, which seems closer to Mark’s “prepare the way”. Here are all three passages in the Greek:

        Malachi 3.1 ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἐξαποστέλλω
        τὸν ἄγγελόν μου
        ,
        καὶ ἐπιβλέψεται ὁδὸν
        πρὸ προσώπου μου

        Exodus 23.20: ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω
        τὸν ἄγγελόν μου
        πρὸ προσώπου σου
        ,
        ἵνα φυλάξῃ σε ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ

        Mark 1.2: ἰδοὺ ἀποστέλλω
        τὸν ἄγγελόν μου
        πρὸ προσώπου σου
        ,
        ὃς κατασκευάσει τὴν ὁδόν σου

        In the mere twenty seven words of 1.2-3, Mark brings together at least three OT verses (Ex 23.20 and Mal 3.1 in Mk 1.2, and Isa 40.3 in Mk 1.3)— and not only that, by doing so he manages to tie his narrative— not just the Gospel as a whole, but specifically the forthcoming story of John as Malachi’s Elijah as well— to the experience of faithless/redeemed Israel, both both in the Exodus and in the post-Exilic period, spanning Israel’s entire history.

        The very verses that Mark quotes in 1.2-3 draw attention to the interplay of allusion and cross-allusion in Scripture, which is constant, deep, compact, and subtle even in the OT. Mark has already shown himself to be a consummate master of the game, just as the prophets were. We know nothing of his own background— although I believe there’s some educated speculation that he came from a Temple family— but it would be unwise to assume that he was merely an “uncouth” writer (I’ve read such things!) who “would not” have had access to the total corpus of Israel’s Scriptures, known them any better than we do, or been able to handle them any more skillfully than we can.

        Now, you go into a lengthy discussion of how “later theologians inevitably see a trinitarian formula” behind Mark’s first three verses. I’m not sure what “later theologians” you’re referring to, who “inevitably” do this, because none of those i’ve read have done so. But you might be right about that— perhaps consider adding a footnote? Yet I agree— even though St Paul was already using trinitarian formulae some 20-30 years before Mark— formulae which were at least partly “traditional” when he used them— it would be “anachronistic” to look in Mark’s opening verses for the modern, somewhat rationalistic idea of the “Trinity” that most people have these days. But I think Mark never was trying to do that in the first place, and that what he actually is doing undermines your thesis.

        That is, you’re trying to show in your article is that Jesus is not “divine”, and I think you understand this as it would be understood within the context of modern apologetics. You want to say that Mark cannot be used for such an apologetic purpose, and moreover that his Jesus is not only not divine but even sinner. This is also the thrust of your discussion of the “Son of Man” and “Son of God” titles.

        I can agree with you that Mark doesn’t work for that kind of apologetics, but as i said i don’t think Mark is pointing to Jesus’ divinity in quite the way you’re expecting him to. A friend of mine wrote the other day that he thought Jesus “wanted to prove his divinity by walking past them on the water. . . . proving his divinity by performing a miracle”. Correct me if i’m wrong, but i take this to be more or less the view (or a version of it, anyway) that you’re trying to refute.

        The problem is that there’s not a single instance in any of the Gospels where Jesus seeks to prove his divinity by performing a miracle. In fact in Mark 8.11-13 he scowls at and denies the Pharisees’ request that he do just that! So any interpretation that assumes that Jesus is “proving he’s God” has either missed Mark’s point, or convicted Mark the master storyteller of rank inconsistency. I’ll go with the first hypothesis before i try the second.

        Throughout his narrative, Mark is actually at pains to show the disciples’ (and others’) experience of Jesus. By the constant interplay of allusion underlying the way he tells the story, he recounts their experience in terms of and as identical to Israel’s experience of Yhwh her God— and not only that, he shows also that their response to Jesus was identical to Israel’s response to Yhwh.

        Mark is not trying to “prove” anything about Jesus, or to “show” Jesus’ divinity as such. If at the end of the day he has done so, that will only be because it’s the conclusion you’ve drawn, not because it’s something he’s told you by a more or less point-blank declaration or proof-text. One proof-text can be surmounted by another. That’s why rationalistic apologetics seldom convinces anyone. But when an event of meaning happens, we’re already in. And that’s the purpose of telling any story— to convey that event of meaning.

        Which is to say, Mark aims at communicating a certain experience. He’s not just recounting something that happened in the past for its own sake, or telling you about a figure from the past and demanding that you “believe” something about him (something quite absurd, if you think about it— that a crucified man could be Lord of the Universe!). Rather, he’s shaping his narrative so that his audience itself will be caught up in the apostles’ experience of Jesus through the narrative.

        The Greek word for this is anámnēsis (ἀνάμνησις), for which “memorial” is maybe about as close as we get in English— Mark is narrating the event of Jesus in the way that our Fourth of July celebrations not only commemorate the events of 1776 as such, but also allow us to experience and celebrate now and for ourselves the sense of liberation experienced by our forefathers then.

        Ok, so now about the baptism:

        You mentioned that “there is nothing in the text that suggests that Jesus is acting in a representative way” in the Baptism. Just to clarify: Israel’s king was a representative figure, as was the literary character of suffering-servant Israel in Deutero-Isaiah. So I wasn’t saying that Jesus comes for baptism as a representative of Israel, but that when he emerges from the waters and is anointed as King and Messiah by the Spirit, he “becomes” Israel’s representative. Of course, by calling him the “Stronger One”, John has already implied that he is already that, but the events of the baptism (which by the way only Jesus himself is aware of) are his commissioning. Israel’s renewal is underway!

        You also wrote that “A sharp and clear distinction between the meaning of Jesus’ baptism from the people’s baptism would have to be established, and Mark’s narrative does not provide the necessary leverage to do this. Mark tells the reader what John’s baptism signifies in 1:4, and it would be odd for the reader to believe that a short 5 verses later (1:9) that baptism actually means something else.”

        Au contraire, mon frère! Mark certainly shows Jesus’ baptism as different— the Spirit doesn’t descend on anyone else. And only one who bears the Spirit can baptize with the Spirit.

        Now, in the OT, forgiveness, restoration, and the giving of the Spirit are three facets of the same diamond. The purpose of forgiving is renewal; to renew is to bestow the Spirit. Jesus indeed comes as the “Stronger One” (1.7), but (now commissioned precisely to inaugurate God’s regime), he emerges from the desert precisely to proclaim the arrival of God’s regime (1.14-15). As a sign of this he grants, precisely, the “remission of sins” that characterizes the messianic Age— that is the point of his speech to the paralytic: “Child, your sins are remitted. . . . arise. . . . and walk” (2.9). We’ll get to the conferring of the Spirit later.

        But again, gramatically, “eis” (εἰς), usually translated “unto” in 1.4, has the same value as “eis” (εἰς) in 14.55— they took counsel “unto” or “toward” putting him to death. The counsel didn’t effect the murder, it was a necessary preliminary. John’s baptism was not itself the renewal; it was only the necessary preliminary.

        Well, this is too long already, so i will skip the rest and go right to your final paragraph, where you wrote,

        If I am correct that Son of Man is the model by which Mark’s Jesus wishes the designation Christ to be understood, then it is reasonable to suspect that Jesus becomes the Son of Man at the same time he become the Christ. To stay true to the Markan narrative, we need to stay within events actually narrated in the Gospel. Because there is no solid evidence that this exaltation refers to a pre-existent state, and no birth narrative, it is reasonable to conclude that Jesus became the Son of Man/Christ at the Baptism of John. If he received this new status at the Baptism, then he did not possess it before. This would suggest that he was a regular person, who came to John’s rite of forgiveness. As a regular person he was also a sinner. But because of John’s rite, he received forgiveness. Also, at the rite he experienced his election to become the Christ/Son of Man. Having experienced Forgiveness, it became a central element of his ministry.

        The point of Mark’s Gospel is the enthronement of the Son of Man as Son of God, according to the vision of Daniel 7.13-27 (all of it, btw). Or rather, Mark is explaining, by his narrative as a whole, with key moments at the baptism, transfiguration, and crucifixion (which are all united by common motifs, especially by the designations “my son, the beloved” (1.11, 9.7) and “God’s son” (15.39), enthronement symbolism, and so forth what the meaning of Daniel’s prophecy is. We can assume— and we know from Josephus in fact— that this had taken on huge significance in the period of the Jewish Revolt and its aftermath. For various reasons, scholars think, and i completely agree, that Mark was writing just as Jerusalem and its Temple were about to fall. This is what chapter 13, usually called the “Discourse on the End Times” or some such is also about. It’s actually not about the “End Times”, but points to the enthronement of the Son of Man on the cross, and the persecution of the fledgling Church as the disciples’ co-enthronement with him:

        And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

        But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you strong enough to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

        They replied, “We are strong enough.”

        Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mark 10:37-40)

        So, by the way, are you sure that Jesus doesn’t baptise anyone with the Spirit in Mark? Of course you’re right in one way— John’s prophecy about the Stronger One baptizing with the Spirit refers to something the Markan community was indeed experiencing— “in a time frame after the narrative” (or was it?), as you say— in their own time, as they were being handed over to councils and beaten in synagogues; standing before governors and kings because of Jesus, when brother was betraying brother to death, and a father his child, and children were rising against parents and having them put to death, and they were “hated by all because of my name” (13.5-13).

        But I am saying that Mark’s narrative is actually about Mark’s community, and so they are indeed receiving the Spirit inside the narrative. Because in grasping, through the narrative, the apostles’ own experience of Jesus, they are certainly in being baptized with that baptism, they are certainly receiving his Spirit, and they are certainly empowered to say whatever is given them at that time of their trial, “for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit” (13.11).

        There’s sooo much more going on in Mark than we even start to guess! We are completely blinded by historicism, by our need to prove and defend our theological views, and even by our christology. We need to read the stories as stories once again, so that we can experience their raw power once again!

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  2. Some of what is written here has made me wonder if Mark isn’t indeed a “down and dirty, made in haste” epitome of the major themes of Matthew and Luke. Will I be burned at the stake if I deny the priority of Mark?

    However, about Jesus’ divinity in Mark, consider his claim to forgive sins. In that first century Judaea-and-Galilee context, the Scribes and Pharisees were right to ask “Who may forgive sins, say God alone?”–and Jesus shows them. Consider as well his use of the appellation “Son of Man”. While this, on its face, seems to rule out divinity, its original context in Dan. 7:13ff. shows a figure associated with God, and this Son of Man has a kingdom that cannot be destroyed, and to which all nations will be subject. Daniel Boyarin (rightly, I think), notes that this appellation for Jesus indeed smacks more of divinity than “Son of God”, which may speak only figuratively of a human Hebrew king.

    I admit to a knowledge of biblical languages that basically goes as far as having some understanding of translators’ choices (sometimes sympathetic; sometimes critical) and the ability to stumble around the Urtexten. But I have long been a student of the Scriptures, and I am not at all sure that orthodoxy disqualifies one from being right about what the Scriptures mean.

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      1. Regarding who can forgive sins— if i steal $1000 from you, can someone else say, Don’t worry, your debt is forgiven? Or if i insult you to the depth of your soul, can someone else say, You’re forgiven? So there’s a question of power and one of authority here— does Jesus have the ability to remit sins, and does he have the authority?

        You’d have to show that John, or perhaps “Elijah”, in Malachi’s prophecy, who John “is”, was authorized— made an agent in the sense of God’s representative— to remit sins. Someone else can say, in the case of my $1000 debt to you, Don’t worry, your debt is forgiven— only if you have authorized them to do so.

        But as i said, Israel’s forgiveness and the arrival of the messianic age are the same thing. So if John were actually forgiving Israel’s sin, then he’d be the messiah, not Jesus. But, “One who is stronger than I is coming after me; . . . . I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (1.7-8).

        So the Pharisees are actually right to challenge Jesus, and they actually do so on both issues at once— “Who can [i.e., has the ability to] forgive sins but the One God?” And Jesus responds in terms of authority: “That you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to remit sins. . . .” (Mk 2.10), and proceeds to show his ability to by actually raising the man.

        But do you see something in the story of John that shows him as either authorized or able to forgive?

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  3. One of the pitfalls of literary critics is to isolate a piece of literary work from the others. This is of course highly dangerous when it comes to biblical texts. Rightly so because the authors of the Bible were not simply writing in isolations. They had their own common beliefs shared by the community they’re a part of. Of course, the evangelists would not spell out what the community believe always and at all times. You have to take that in their assumptions based on their relations with the community of faith.

    Litarary critics will be helped a lot when they read the text in dialogue with other texts. Hence, we value intertextuality in our reading of the Scriptures. While it is tedious to go here and there and think this and that, it remains that we have no other options but to take the route before us. Marcan priority does not mean Marcan authority. We can rightly assume that Mark himself was aware of the authority he has in the context of his community. Mark has to be read in relation to others not in isolation. Not doing so is unhelpful for any readers.

    Orthodoxy is based not only on individual readings but more so on community confessions anchored in deep and long discussions of several readings of the church as a whole. We cannot simply disregard orthodoxy as plain dogmatism as if they were not done without careful analyses of the many texts that surrounded every confession. Hence, the theological part of biblical interpetation and biblical theology has to be taken into consideration in every literary reading of the Bible.

    We can go back here and there of literary styles and contexts drawing from both secular and biblical supports, but the debate will continue without end. One can provide statistical data to a study of a particular text or passage but that would remain a suspect overall. If we are to disregard orthodoxy it must be done on the same prinicples orthodoxy is established.

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  4. Intertextuality in relation to biblical texts is primarily a dialogue between the OT and the NT. Other texts are only used in support of the two and their relations. To put the biblical text alongside other nonbilical texts is dangerous as well. I wont take McDonald’s theory that seriously as a New Testament student. Biblical intertextuality has its own limit and purpose. We cannot go beyond them and not lose the very spirit of it.

    Biblical intertextuality as well includes the grand theological narrative of both texts (OT and NT). We must not limit ourselves to the text as if there is nothing outside the text. The biblical texts are products of their community of faith. That has to be taken into consideration in the whole process of reading texts within the texts themselves. Mark cannot be read in isolation. To say that Mark has a different Christology than the others is just plain disregard of the community they’re all a part of and the unity they have as the church of Christ. I find it very erroneous to make Mark appear as one who is totally opposite to the others. People focus on Mark because of the strong belief on Markan priority, which I think does.not mean Marcan authority.

    As to Orthodox. We all know how the early church fathers and the many that followed after them were in a position of limited sources. They did their confessions based on what they had in their hands. They studied the texts not only with sincerity but with utmost respect to its literary characteristics as the word of God, hence they read them theologically. This is so because the Bible is a theological book and.must be studied as such. What many new scholars today do in arrogance is to discredit earlier findings as if the old ones were just but nonsense. Remember we are today because of their works. Not everything is good and acceptable of course and this where we need to make our contributions. What I am looking is something that makes continuity and contributions to the historic Christian faith. We cannot just tear down our roots and claim that we stand on solid new grounds and confess that we are Christians. That for me is an impossibility. We have the resposibility as Christians to hand over what has been handed over to us in faithfulness not only to Christ but also to his body the church. I want to see scholars serve Christ and the church.

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  5. Anyhow I do appreciate your thoughts. Thanks for the dialogue opportunity. I wish I could do exegetical reaction to yours but my hands are tied now to various teaching responsibilities as a NT teacher myself. To do so would be tantamount to writing a book already. We cannot just make a case for citing sporadic ideas lacking cohesion and cogency from here and there. But know that I am also interested in them but not here. I would leave that to scholars like you in blog discussions like this. Again thank you for writing. Keep writing.

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