My SBL Paper for the Annual Meeting in Atlanta

March 31, 2015

I received an email that my paper “Adoptionist Interpretations of Mark’s Gospel among Ancient and Modern Readers” has been accepted for the Mark Section at the SBL annual meeting in Atlanta. The topic of the session is about whether the Gospel of Mark portrays Jesus entirely within a human plane (e.g., Jewish prophet, Messiah) or on a cosmic one as well. I will have to wait for the program book to come out to refresh my memory of what I exactly wrote in my abstract as I misplaced it, but I can outline where I plan on going with it.

First, while advocates of an “early high Christology” correct some of the errors of past scholarship on the slow evolutionary development of Christological thinking, I may criticize some of them for assuming there was a single monolithic high Christology among all early Christ followers. For instance, I am open to the remarkably early pre-existent incarnational Christology or the quick eruption of Christ devotion in some of the texts, but we should not force every text such as Mark’s Gospel into this mold. I would also make the theological aside that the fact that different Christological conceptions were reached at different times among different Christ congregations, or that it took a great deal of time and intellectual effort to reach the majestic formulation in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, does not dispute the theological validity of those confessional claims.

Second, I would argue that Mark’s Gospel represents Jesus as elected/anointed for his messianic office as the Davidic king and Deity’s son at the baptism and installed on his throne after the resurrection. Likewise, Michael Peppard has made the case about how Mark’s claims rivals those of the Roman emperor, with imperial power often transferred through legal adoption. I do not see anything in Mark’s Gospel going beyond the concept of divine agency in the Second Temple period. I will also challenge other interpreters who spot pre-existence or theophanies in texts such as the “I have come” sayings, the Sea/feeding miracles or the transfiguration.

Third, I will follow the lines of my book The Gospel on the Margins (cf. my article at Bible & Interpretation) and suggest that this “adoptionist” Christology was later re-read in support of a “possessionist” or “separationist” Christology in the second century. That is, some groups argued that the divine Christ possessed the human Jesus at the baptism and left him at the cross and interpreted Mark in this fashion (cf. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.11.7). The redactional changes to Mark by Matthew and Luke made the latter two Gospels less susceptible to such a reading and some scribal changes to Mark may be explicable as an attempt to correct such a theology.

Now, the only question will be how far in advance I will write this paper.  I will try to not leave it to the last minute and scramble typing it on the plane 🙂