SBL Paper on Markan Christology Outline

October 28, 2015

I am excited to see everyone at the upcoming SBL/AAR in Atlanta. I plan to catch sessions such as the “Q” scholars responding to Francis Watson’s book, the competing reconstructions of Marcion’s Gospel, the question of ethnicity in Luke-Acts, the review of the Paul Within Judaism book, and, of course, all of the free receptions. 🙂 As for my own session, I posted the abstracts for my session on Markan Christology and the papers have been distributed in advance to members of the Mark seminar. Here is my paper’s outline:


  • Adolf von Harnack on adoptionistic or pneumatic verging on docetic Christologies. The “low” vs “high” Christology classification system.
  • Michael Peppard on how adoption may be the means by which imperial power was transferred to the supreme benefactor of the Empire. Bart Ehrman writes, ‘[E]ven though later theologians came to consider a “low” or “adoptionist” Christology to be inadequate, I do not think we should overlook just how amazing this view was for the people who first held it… he had actually been elevated to a position next to God Almighty who had made all things and would be the judge of all people.’ (How Jesus Became God, 231).
  • The reception of Mark among different audiences (cf. Adela Collins, Peppard), both a 1st century audience familiar with messianic exegesis as well as the imperial cult and a 2nd century audience engaged in changed Christological controversies.

Mark in the 1st Century

  • Early High Christology Club? A divine Christology or dyadic devotional pattern may have quickly emerged as evident in pre-Pauline fragments, but there is a risk of treating NT textual representations of Christian beliefs/practices as monolithic and trying to recover the original “essence” of “Christianity” before the “fall” into discord (e.g. Richard Bauckham writes “the highest possible Christology – the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity – was central to the faith of the early church even before any of the New Testament writings were written, since it occurs in all of them” [God of Israel, p. 19], apologetic or counter-apologetic works assuming the legitimacy of Christian confessions depends on their roots in the historical Jesus). Added note: the theological validity of the Nicene-Constantinople creed does not depend on how long it took to formulate the conceptual or ontological categories.
  • At the baptism, Jesus is anointed or elected to his messianic office and possibly to his task as the Isaianic servant (Donald Juel’s Messianic Exegesis; Joel Marcus, The Way of the Lord).
  • The biblical background to the baptism and transfiguration should not be underestimated (scriptural allusions to Ps 2:7/Isa 43:1/MT Isa 63:19,  bath qol, echoes of Sinai and Moses/Elijah in the latter scene), but Peppard complements this analysis via his study of Roman adoption contracts and bird omens before a victory or imperial ascension (Seutonius, Aug. 94; 96; Claud. 7; Dom. 6). Jesus was the recipient of the baptism vision, while the transfiguration was for the benefit of witnesses (cf. Peppard’s comitia curiata or “representative assembly” confirming Roman adoptions).
  • Mark’s Gospel does not imply pre-existence (cf. James Dunn and Adela Collin’s rebuttal of Simon Gathercole’s thesis on the Synoptic “I have come” sayings) and other Markan texts that could be read as divine “epiphanies” can be interpreted differently.
    • Jesus’ power over the sea may either echo Moses’ miracles (cf. Philo, Life of Moses 1.55-58) or Yahweh’s power to trample the sea (cf. Job 9:8), but a possible compromise position is that Yahweh has extended his power over the Sea to the Davidic king (cf. Daniel Kirk and Stephen L. Young’s JBL article). Scholars find echoes of Moses (cf. Marcus), the Son of Man (Rudolf Pesch), and Hellenistic epiphany stories (cf. Candida Moss, Simon S. Lee) among other interpretive options in the transfiguration, but the framing of this event between an eschatological saying and a resurrection appearance indicates that it is a proleptic vision of Jesus’ future appearance like the glorified saints when the kingdom arrives “in power” (cf. Dunn).
  • Davidic king: Peter’s confession of the “Christ” or Bartimaeus’s plea to the “son of David” is at least partially correct (cf. the two-stage healing of the blind person), but it has to be complemented by an understanding of Jesus’ way of the cross (cf. Ernest Best). Jesus does not deny his Davidic sonship in Mark 12:35-37, but redefines it in light of his lordship in heaven and, therefore, resolves a potential scriptural contradiction (cf. Juel).
  • Colonial mimicry and Jesus as rival-emperor (e.g. Tae Hun Kim, Craig Evans on the title “son of God” and the Priene inscription).

Mark in the Late-First and the Second Century

  • Matthean and Lukan redaction (e.g. infancy narratives, omissions of Mark 5:31/7:32-35/8:23-26/13:32, editorial tweaks in Mark 6:5-6/Matt 13:58 or Mark 10:17-18/Matt 19:16-17a).
  • Various 2nd century Christian groups (e.g. Cerinthians, Ebionites, Marcosians, Carpocratians, and Orphite Gnostics according to Irenaeus’s Adv. Haer. 1.15.3; 1.25.1; 1.26.1-2; 1.30.4-6) entertained the idea that the “Christ” was a divine being who possessed the human Jesus at the baptism and abandoned him at the cross. This could be called a “possessionist Christology” (cf. Michael Goulder, April DeConick) or a “separationist Christology” (cf. Ehrman). According to Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.11.7, those who separate Jesus from the Christ and deny that the Christ could suffer preferred Mark’s narrative, probably because it commenced at the baptism and recorded Jesus’ feeling of divine abandonment on the cross (cf. Against Heresies 1.8.2 following the wording of Mark 15:34 instead of Matt 27:46).
  • Possible scribal corrections at Mark 1:1, 1:10, and 15:34 to counter-act a reading of Mark through the lens of a possessionist/separationist Christology (cf. Ehrman).
  • The “centrist” or “proto-Orthodox” church defends Mark’s theological merits by claiming it in the name of the Apostle Peter and reading it as part of the fourfold Gospel canon. Potentially difficult Christological passages in Mark can be explained by cross-referencing it with other authorized Gospels. Francis Watson writes, ‘[T]he fourfold gospel may itself be seen as an act of gospel production, marking the defining moment in the reception-history of the individual texts it contains while also establishing a new, composite text which generates a more comprehensive reception-history of its own’ (Gospel Writing, 7).


St. Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies

October 3, 2015

I received an email asking me if I could call people’s attention to the St. Andrews Symposium for Biblical and Early Christian Studies on June 6-8, 2016 and addressing the topic Son of God: Divine Sonship in Jewish and Christian Antiquity. This looks like an excellent conference and will cover what divine sonship means in the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, Dead Sea Scrolls, Pseudepigrapha, New Testament, Rabbinic Judaism, and early Christianity. It has lined up a list of top scholars including Menahem Kister (Hebrew University), Reinhard Kratz (Göttingen), Jan Joosten (University of Oxford), Philip Alexander (University of Manchester), George Brooke (University of Manchester), Richard Bauckham (University of Cambridge), Michael Peppard (Fordham University), Matthew Novenson (University of Edinburgh), N. T. Wright (University of St Andrews), William Tooman (University of St Andrews), Madhavi Nevader (University of St Andrews), and David Moffitt (University of St Andrews).

Moreover, they have issued a call for papers from faculty and postgraduates on the following related subjects: ancient Israelite religion, angelology or heavenly mediators, royal ideologies, political ideologies in the Second Temple period, corporate sonship, messianism, Christology, ancient scriptural interpretation, early mystical traditions, and other related topics. If you are interested, send an abstract of around 250 words to (Paul Sloan, PhD candidate) to be considered by February 15, 2016. See for more information. Registration for the symposium will be open on December 1, 2015 and will close on May 1, 2016. You will be able to register at and there is an early-bird fee at £50 until March 1, 2016 (£75 thereafter).

St. Andrews is a beautiful town and I enjoyed the chance to visit when they hosted an international SBL. I would love to attend the conference, or even submit a proposal on this topic, though my schedule is a little uncertain as I am currently an adjunct lecturer in Canada. However, I have written some thoughts on the term “Son of God” for a lay Christian audience at the blog Bible Study and the Christian Life and I think Mark has Jewish messianism and royal ideologies in the background when affirming Jesus as God’s son. Other New Testament authors may develop divine sonship in other directions, such as portraying the pre-existent sending of the Son of God from heaven to earth.

SBL Atlanta Session on Markan Christology

May 30, 2015

As the program book for the SBL Annual Meeting came online recently, I can now pass on the abstracts for the Mark session. I am expecting an exciting debate among the panelists, reviewers and audience members on how Mark represents Jesus, as a human or divine agent of the deity or even embodying the coming of Yahweh, so you should come check it out if that is your area of interest.

MARK: 11/21/2015
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD

Theme: “Who do you say I am?” Markan Christology: Jewish Prophet or Cosmic Lord?
The session will continue the debate over Markan Christology. Is Jesus characterized entirely within the human plane, for example as a prophet? Or does Mark present Jesus as somehow cosmic, divine? Presentations consist of a short summary followed by extended discussion among seminar members, and finally a general discussion among all present. Papers are sent to formal members to be read in advance. If you are not a member but wish to obtain copies of papers in advance, contact the seminar chair, Kelli O’Brien, after November 1.

J. R. Daniel Kirk, Fuller Theological Seminary
Idealized Human or Identified as God? A Narratological Assessment of Mark’s Christology in Conversation with Jewish Precedents (10 min)

Mark begins his Gospel with clear indications that the character and story of Jesus are to be interpreted in light of scriptural precedents. This cue to his readers provides strong reasons for assessing Mark’s Christology against early Jewish understandings of God and how God’s work might or might not be shared with other agents. In light of this, proposals by Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham have isolated key markers of God’s unique identity, recognized ways that such markers are ascribed to Jesus, and concluded in favor of an early divine Christology that might well be called proto-Nicene. In sustained conversation with these proposals (and the work of those who have followed them), this paper will engage in a narratological approach to Mark’s Jesus from the perspective of an informed Jewish reader in order to argue that Mark’s high Christology is best captured under the rubric of “idealized human figure.” First, the study will show how the crucial titles son of God and son of man develop in concert with each other and with the disclosure of Jesus’s mission to the reader. Together these key markers of Jesus’s identity show him to be a representative, suffering, and to-be-glorified ruler. Second, it will demonstrate how Jesus’s mighty deeds, including his power over the waters, work together to demonstrate that Jesus is the man specially empowered by God to rule the world on God’s behalf. Third, it will assess the possible divine connotations entailed in Mark’s allusions to the scriptures of Israel. In each instance, Jesus is in some sense identified with God; however, the paper will make the case that the significance of this conjunction is not to identify Jesus as God, but to identify Jesus as the idealized human figure through whom God is enacting dominion over the world.

Discussion (20 min)

Delbert Burkett, Louisiana State University
Mark’s Jesus: Spirit-Filled Charismatic and Deified Human (10 min)

The present paper addresses the question of whether Mark’s Jesus is in some sense divine or identified with God. Interpreters of Mark’s gospel commonly see Mark as representing a “low” christology, in which Jesus is a human being, not a divine being. This perspective, however, continues to be challenged by interpreters who find in Mark a “high” christology, in which Jesus is a divine being or in some way identified with God. The present paper examines this issue. It supports the thesis that Mark’s Jesus is a human being to whom God grants divine power and prerogatives. It supports this thesis by paying attention not only to the narrative world of Mark’s gospel but also to its cultural and religious context in Second-Temple Judaism, the Greco-Roman world, and early Christianity. The examination proceeds diachronically in the order of Mark’s narrative, so that Mark’s christology is unfolded in the order in which Mark presents it as well as the order in which a reader encounters it. In the process, the paper examines aspects of the story in which some interpreters have found Jesus identified with God–such as Jesus’ claim to forgive sins, his ability to calm a storm, and his power to raise the dead–and it finds this identification unjustified. It concludes that two moments in Jesus’ story are key for understanding his relation to God. The first is his baptism, at which he receives the Spirit of God. This event must be understood in the context of Jewish traditions about the Messiah and early Christian traditions about baptism. At this point, the man Jesus is anointed as the Messiah, adopted as God’s son, and imbued with the power and prerogatives of God. The second is his ascension, at which he sits at the right hand of God. This event must be understood in the context of Greco-Roman traditions concerning apotheosis. At this point, God bestows on Jesus a place of authority in the divine realm and shares with him his own name. In Mark’s christology, a god does not become a man, but a man becomes a god.

Discussion (20 min)

Michael Kok, The King’s University
Adoptionist Interpretations of Mark’s Gospel among Ancient and Modern Readers (10 min)

While scholars are cognizant about not importing anachronistic conceptions about ontology back into first century Christian texts, proponents of an “early high Christology” insist that the earliest Christ followers envisaged Jesus as sharing in the divine identity (Bauckham 2008), as relating to his followers according to the pattern of Yahweh’s relationship with Israel (Tilling 2012), or as receiving cultic worship in a distinctive binitarian devotional pattern (Hurtado 2003). In contrast, Michael Peppard’s ground-breaking analysis of Markan Christology displays how biblical scholars continue to be influenced by Platonic categories and re-contextualizes divine sonship against the backdrop of imperial adoption practices (2011). The Roman imperial parallels he draws complement the scholarship on the intertextual links of Mark 1:9-11 with other biblical texts (e.g., Psalm 2:7), texts that suggest that Mark framed the baptism of Jesus as the moment when Jesus was elected or anointed for his messianic office as the Davidic king and the deity’s son. Although some theologians label adoptionist Christologies as “low” from the vantage point of the Nicene Creed, Peppard rightly protests that the application of this metaphor by the early Christ congregations to the exaltation of Jesus was a remarkable development in light of how adoption was often the means by which complete control of the Empire was transferred to the most powerful benefactor in the Roman world (2011, 95; cf. Ehrman 2014, 231-232). Even those Markan episodes in which Jesus seems to carry out a divine prerogative such as walking on water (Mark 6:47-52; cf. Job 9:8; Psalm 89:9) can be interpreted as Yahweh extending his authority to the empowered human representatives who rule on his behalf (cf. Crossley 2010, 140-141; Kirk and Young 2014). I will argue that the Markan Jesus is the authorized agent of the god of Israel who has been chosen to rule after the impending eschatological reversal. Further, based on the findings of my monograph on the second canonical Gospel’s early reception history (Kok 2015), I will argue that second century Christians who held to a “possessionist Christology” (Goulder 1994, 108-113, 130-134) or a “separationist Christology” (Ehrman 1996, 140) saw an ally for their Christological convictions in Mark’s narrative, though their questions about the union of the divine Christ with the human Jesus or whether a divine being could suffer need to be kept distinct from the concerns of the first century Gospel writer.

Discussion (20 min)

Rikk Watts, Regent College
Mark’s “Dappled” Christology. (10 min)

This paper will begin by outlining the current state of play concerning Markan Christology. It will give particular attention to the determinative role of assumed cultural—Graeco-Roman and Jewish—and literary horizons within which Mark’s account of Jesus is read. It will propose that from within these perspectives Mark offers a “dappled” Christology (after Hopkins, “Pied Beauty;” cf. Cartwright, The Dappled World, i.e. resistant to an easily observed elegant uniformity) which, from Mark’s point of view, finds its unique and integrative origin in the “genius” of the Jesus he presents. The paper will conclude with a brief proposal tracing the narrative structure of Mark’s “dappled” Christology within the interpretative horizons he himself indicates.

Discussion (20 min)
General discussion, open to all (30 min)

*Extra note: I am open to the points of the Early High Christology Club on some NT texts (e.g. Paul/pre-Pauline fragments, John, Hebrews), but I think that the distinct view of Mark’s Gospel is that Jesus was appointed as the messianic ruler of the world at his baptism and enthroned in heaven after his resurrection until he returns to gather his elect. Systematic theologians will bring it into dialogue with other Christologies in the New Testament (e.g., Moses-like prophet, suffering servant, second Adam, high priest, Wisdom, Logos, etc.) and I value the Nicene Creed as the wonderful culmination of Christological development in the first few centuries (including a shift in intellectual categories such as whether Christ is on the divine side of “being” or the creation side of “becoming”).

I will be speaking at Concordia University College of Alberta

February 13, 2015

I will be giving a talk at Concordia University College of Alberta for a Philosophy and Religious Studies Colloquium on Thursday, February 26 at 4 pm.  Here is the poster they have created for the event (Phi-Rel_Colloquium_Feb26_Poster_Proof).  If the topic is of interest to you, I hope to see you there. 🙂

Why Did Mark’s Gospel Survive?

AbstractAs any survey of the manuscripts, citations and commentaries of the New Testament Gospels will demonstrate, Mark’s Gospel was extremely neglected in the early church.  Further, over 90 percent of Mark’s content is also found in the highly esteemed Gospel of Matthew.  Why, therefore, was Mark’s Gospel preserved at all when so many other Christian writings were lost in antiquity?  I will explore the question of why Mark’s Gospel not only survived, but came to be included in the New Testament.

The lecture will be based on  my book The Gospel on the Margins: The Reception of Mark in the Second Century.