Sunday, March 22, 2015

The theme of the Gospel of Mark: Who is Jesus?

"Who is Jesus?" may be the most debated question in the history of the world. The Gospel of Mark, probably the earliest written biography of Jesus, has the question of Jesus' identity -- and authority -- as one of its major themes. That question is the central point of many individual episodes, and a strong contender for the theme of the writing as a whole.

The action along that theme builds as we read:

  • Jesus' introduction makes you wonder who he is: his introduction by the biographer, by John the Baptist, by the voice from heaven
  • Jesus' actions make you wonder who he is
  • Jesus' actions make both his disciples and his opponents wonder aloud who he is (or who he thinks he is); the disciples do not yet openly discuss their questions with Jesus. 
  • Jesus privately raises the question with his disciples: "Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am?" We get Peter's answer of "Christ" or "Messiah" on the table. 
  • After Jesus clears the Temple, at his next visit he is met by people wanting to know, "Who put you in charge?" In his reply he reminds them of John the Baptist -- basically where Mark had started his narrative, with John's testimony -- and the voice from heaven. 
  • Jesus publicly challenges the idea whether "Messiah" is really merely David's descendant. 
  • The question, "Who are you?" is a key part of the confrontation at Jesus' trial, where Jesus' answer has the high priest rending his robes at the blasphemy and saying they don't really need witnesses anymore. 

Mark records more events that address the same theme than I have mentioned in the sketch above.

I have read claims by scholars of some reputation, claims to the effect that the earliest Jesus remembered by the earliest followers was one who simply traveled and taught, and that his having some sort of special identity was a late addition tacked onto Christianity as time went on -- a late corruption by people who didn't really know Jesus. And yet Jesus' identity is a major theme of the Gospel of Mark, which is (to the best of current knowledge) the earliest biography that we have. A significant number of scholars are willing to admit a date for Mark that is before or near the date when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the year AD 70, and well within the lifetimes of people who personally knew Jesus. So the question of Jesus' identity is there from the earliest stages.

What later gospels add -- the Gospel of John in particular -- is whether Jesus himself ever gave his own answer to the question. That will be the topic for an upcoming continuation of this post: in reviewing the "I AM" passages of the Gospel of John, there are some things that I have noticed now that had escaped by notice before.


Kevin Knox said...

Are you prompted by the recent article suggesting Mark is more authentic for not having any post resurrection appearances?

Weekend Fisher said...

No, actually, wasn't aware of that article. It's a unit I started with my Sunday school class a couple of Sundays ago, based on material I wanted them to cover before the end of the year. I'm going through some of the "I AM" sayings in the Gospel of John, and wanted to show them the big sweep starting with Mark and how "Who is this?" was always the big question on the table.

So ... What article would this be?

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Martin LaBar said...

He is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God.