Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Gospel of Mark and the Identity of Christ

The Gospel of Mark is an early gospel, widely believed by scholars of the textual traditions to be the earliest of the four canonical gospels. It is also the shortest of the four. There is a strain of scholarship that reads the synoptic gospels and does not see how Jesus became revered even as a human Christ -- much less as God. This move -- recognizing Christ as more than just a prophet but as Divine Power in human form -- is seen by some scholars as a strain on the text, an imposition by the faithful on a history which does not warrant it and which, perhaps, the earliest church did not intend.

While I am familiar with these claims simply by living in a culture in which such claims are largely taken for granted by non-Christians, I do not think a fair reading of the synoptic gospels warrants such an assessment. To that end, I will briefly recap the first chapter of the book of Mark. The following is organized by the NIV section headings in Mark chapter 1.

John the Baptist Prepares the Way (Mark 1:1-8)
A superficial glance shows that Jesus is important enough to have a herald announcing his arrival. Attention to detail shows some other points of interest:
  1. The original prophecy has a messenger preparing the way for the LORD (using the name of God). According to Mark, the fulfillment has John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus.
  2. The one coming after will John baptize with the Holy Spirit – will pour out the Holy Spirit on the people, again the work of God.
The Baptism and Temptation of Jesus (Mark 1:9-12)
A voice from heaven announces that Jesus is His Son. “Son of God” calls up images of the Wisdom of God, the Anointed King, and the people of God. The question becomes how many of these meanings are intended. Granted that we are all children of God, still the author of Mark has already put the title "Christ" (Messiah) on the table, so at least the meaning of the Anointed King should also be considered as intended.

The Calling of the First Disciples (Mark 1:14-20)
Jesus’ arrival on the public scene coincides with the approaching kingdom of God and the announcement of good news.

Jesus Drives Out an Evil Spirit (Mark 1:21-28)
Jesus is identified as the Holy One of God. He has power over evil. He is said to teach with authority. It raises the question: by whose authority? While this is the first time the question of Jesus’ authority arises in Mark, it is far from the last.

Jesus Heals Many (Mark 1:29-34)
Jesus is shown to have power also to heal diseases. He does not allow demons to speak because they know who he is. The disciples are left wondering.

Jesus Prays in a Solitary Place (Mark 1:35-39)
News of Jesus spreads.

A Man With Leprosy (Mark 1:40-45)
The only certain point is that Jesus heals leprosy. Leprosy was a disease which was considered to defile a person.

After only one chapter of Mark we have already had a prophecy in which someone who is supposed to be preparing the way for the LORD (God) announces the coming of Jesus, followed by several references to Jesus possessing the same power as God, a voice from heaven calling him Son, and demons calling him the Holy One of God. I know there are those who say that in the synoptic gospels there is no sure sign of Jesus being anything other than a human Messiah (and maybe not even a Messiah), but I wonder how carefully they’re reading the text.


Anonymous said...

There is a massive tome of over 700 pages by L.W. Hurtado called, "Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity". Hurtado does a masterful job of refuting the heresy that devotion to Jesus as God is a late development. I recommend it to those seeking to bolster their defenses against higher critical lies.

Weekend Fisher said...

It's amazing to me that people will say that a more-than-human Christ is a late development, when the first scene of what they the consider the first gospel (Mark) refers a prophecy to him that uses the holiest name of God.

Baffling ...

I've heard good things about Hurtado's work but have not yet read any of it. You make me more interested.

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Good job, Anne!

It seems some people not only aren't reading carefully, they are reading with definite bias.

TheraP said...

I love the way you present the "case" so succinctly. In a deadpan manner, which really underlines how amazing this is. Your synopsis reads like something that could be happening a news report! And that in particular, I think, made the details stand out and come alive.

Thanks for all your efforts!

Weekend Fisher said...

Thanks for the kind words. There are a couple of more posts coming in this series (though not going through in such detail) -- I'm working up to the point where we can see what material the Synoptics put on the table and get to a place where we can really evaluate the question: Did the Gospel of John reflect a different understanding of Christ?

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

TheraP said...

I have a further thought here. And I must thank you for spurring much thinking on my part.

Your post speaks of how people seem not to see the Divine as clearly described in Mark. And that reminded me of how frequently, in the psalms, the idea of atheism is present. So even back in the days of Jesus (and before then), if we believe the psalms (and why not?), there must have been many who "scoffed" at those who clung to faith and tried to the best of their ability to live that faith in an unseen God. (I can look for references if you need them... but things like: "The fool has said in his heart there is no God." Etc.)

So it strikes me that this inability to believe, even the revealed word, has a long history. And if you think of Moses coming down the mountain withe the Tablets, what were the Israelites doing? Hmmmm....

Just to put your post in context!

Gordon said...

Alongside Hurtado's 'Lord Jesus Christ' is his excellent book titled 'How on Earth did Jesus become a God? - Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus'. This is a book of some 230 pages and is a good starter on the questions Hurtado asks.

Not only does the title draw one directly to the question, but the story of Hurtado's twenty-five years of research of the question adds validity to his research.

He includes papers and a chapter or two from seminars and his book 'The Lord Jesus Christ', and four of the chapters are from the Deichmann lectures held at Ben Gurion University of the Negev.

His longer book is well worth reading; questions remain and that is the fun of it all.