The Christology of Mark

Scholars debate whether anything in Mark rises above the categories of Jewish agency or, to borrow the terminology of Bauckham and Hurtado, presupposes that Jesus is included within the divine identity or exalted far above other intermediary figures as the co-recipient of a dyadic devotional pattern.  On the one hand, there are texts in Mark that seem to distance Jesus from God: Jesus undergoes John’s baptism rite of repentance (1:4, 9; see how this is dealt with in Matt 3:14-5; Luke 3:20; John 1:26-34), has seemingly limited power to heal at times (6:5-6; 8:23-6; cf. Matt 13:58 rewords the former and Matt/Luke omit the latter), redirects the adjective good as appropriate only for the one God (10:17; Luke 18:19; reworded in Matt 10:16-7), admitted his ignorance about who in the crowd touched him (5:31; cf. Luke 8:45; omitted in Matthew) or the end times (13:32; cf. Matt 24:36; omitted in Luke), and felt abandoned by God (15:34; cf. Matt 27:46; replaced by other words in Luke 23:46; John 19:30).  Alternatively, other scholars note that Mark 1:2-3 rewords scriptural texts about preparing Yahweh’s way to preparing the way of Jesus (=the Lord) and Gathercole argues that the I have come + purpose clause in the infinitive sayings (Mk 1:24 [par Lk 4:34]; Matt 18:29; Mk 1:38 [Lk 4:33]; Mk 2:7 [par Matt 9:13/Lk 5:32]; Matt 5:17; Lk 12:49; Matt 10:34/Lk 12:51; Matt 10:35; Mk 10:45 [par Matt 20:28]; Lk 19:10) are paralleled in angels, the heavenly Elijah, or theophanies (Preexistent Son, 92-145; audio in three parts; criticisms by James Dunn).  Further, they argue that Jesus claims prerogatives or perform deeds that only the God of Israel could do.  I will look at two examples below, but for a further bibliography see:

Jesus’ Authority to Forgive Sins?

In what came to be known as the famous trilemma that Jesus is a liar, lunatic, or Lord, C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity) builds his case that Jesus had a divine self-understanding on the basis of his claim to forgive the paralytic.  Countless commentators agree that, in Mark 2:1-12 (cf. Matt 9:1-8/Luke 5:17-26), Jesus exercises a divine prerogative and the omniscient narrator reveals the inner thoughts of the scribes who took offense at Jesus’ blasphemy (2:6-7).  N.T. Wright has an appreciative article about Lewis (“Simply Lewis“), but adds that Lewis took a shortcut in his case that Jesus is making himself out to be God when it is more accurate, Wright presumes, to say that people find in Jesus what they would normally get in the temple where the divine presence was housed and sins forgiven.  Yet other scholars (Geza Vermes, E.P. Sanders) point out the passive tense “your sins are forgiven” suggests forgiveness is attributed to God, so Jesus is not necessarily going beyond what priests do or the exorcist who forgave the sins of the Babylonian king in the Qumran Prayer of Nabonidus (yet 4Q242 may be too fragmentary to be sure of the translation).

Johansson (2011; cf. Media CTS Symposia 2012 – “Jesus and the Forgiveness of Sins: An Indicator of Jesus’ Divine Identity”) and Hägerland (2011, unpublished paper) offer up-to-date surveys of the Jewish evidence to see if there are parallels to intermediary figures (prophets, priests, Messiah, angels, Angel of Yahweh) personally forgiving or mediating forgiveness of sins on God’s behalf, even agreeing that there is no evidence that priests pronounced an absolution for the forgiveness of sins, though they disagree whether it is totally unparalleled (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 6.92-93).  If Johansson is right that the action is without precedent, with the exception of the Angel of Yahweh who may have once been held to be the physical manifestation of the deity (Exod 23:20-1), one could see Jesus usurping an exclusive divine right.  But with the use of the divine passive and claim that the Son of Man has authority “on earth” to forgive sins, presumably it is God who granted this authority and ratifies the judgment in heaven and the parallel in Matthew 9:8 celebrates that God gave such authority to humans.  Likewise, in Mark 11:25 divine forgiveness is predicated on the disciples forgiving each other and in John 11:23 Jesus’ authorizes the disciples to forgive or retains sins.  See the debate between Michael Bird and James Crossley on Unbelievable:  Bird defends the traditional view of Jesus’ high self-understanding while Crossley insists that Jesus is not doing anything radical, translating the Greek as your sins are loosed” meaning that the paralytic’s limbs are set free of satanic bondage (cf. Luke 13:16) and that the blasphemy charge may just be over where Jesus received his authority (see Mark 3:22, 29 on the charge that Jesus is in league with Beelzebub; cf. CD 4.12-8) rather than a reaction to an implicit claim to divinity.

Power over the Waters?

When Jesus walks on water in Mark 6:48-51, many scholars see allusions to Yahweh’s power over the water (Job 9:8; Psalm 89:9), a theophany in the remark that Jesus intended “to pass by” (Exod 33:19), and the divine name in the command to not fear because “I am” (egō eimi) (Exod 3:14; Isa 43:10, 13, 25; John 8:58; 18:5) (Gundry 1993: 336-7; Hurtado 2003: 285-6; Gathercole 2006: 63-4).  This last point may be countered by the fact that the Greek could also just mean “it is I” and the disciples do not fall prostrate before him as in John 18:6.  Yet Mark’s disciples are pretty obtuse because their hearts were hardened (Mark 6:51-52), while in Matthew the disciples respond with the appropriate reverence (Matt 14:33).

Alternatively, Jesus may be compared to a liberating prophet like Moses who divided the sea in the exodus (Horsley 2001: 105).  Crossley (2010: 140-1) adds that the natural elements obey Moses who is called a god (theos) (Philo, Life of Moses 1.155-6, 158; cf. Theudas wishing to divide the waters or Rabbi Eliezer’s mastery over the elements) and the spirit of the Messiah hovers over the waters (Genesis Rabba 2.4 on Genesis 1:2).  Horsley (2001: 105) further objects that Mark would not sharply challenge Roman imperial ideology to turn around to support an Ancient Near Eastern imperial myth of the divine king who subdues the waters representing the forces of chaos.  Contrastingly, Daniel Kirk and Stephen L. Young identify Jesus as the Davidic Messiah who rules on the deity’s behalf and notice that Yahweh sets the hand of the king over the Sea (Psalm 89:25), in a Psalm that laments that God has not upheld the promises to the Davidic kingdom and may have fed into messianic hopes for the restoration of David’s line.

 

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