Jesus as God in the Gospel of Mark?

This is the question that James McGrath asks in a blog post on the Markan presentation of Jesus. Does Mark present Jesus as God? I’ll put the question in his terms,

Which seems more likely? That for the author of the Gospel, Jesus embodied the coming of God – but was not to be identified as God? Or that the author of the Gospel actually redefined what it meant to be a monotheist, a rather major development, and then decided to make the pointers to that meaning so subtle that it is not at all obvious the text is saying that?

James is interacting with a post by Michael Kruger who asks, “Does the Gospel of Mark Present Jesus as God?” Michael says, “Yes, Mark does present Jesus as God.” The evidence that Michael produces comes from Mark 1:2-3 and the citation of Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. Michael says that the way Mark rewords the Old Testament quotations makes John the Baptizer to be the voice in the wilderness and the messenger who precedes the coming of Yahweh back to his people in Israel. Check his post for his full argumentation.

McGrath isn’t so sure that Mark says Jesus is “God” like, say, John or Paul. Hence the paragraph I cited. Jesus embodied the coming of God but wasn’t God himself.

No where in Mark’s Gospel is Jesus explicitly identified as God. Part of the problem is the tricky word kyrios, “lord.” In the Old Testament it can refer to the proper name of God, Yahweh, or it can be just a Greek way of saying, “sir.” How far to push the use of kyrios as an identifier for Jesus is something that can be tricky. When Jesus is called Lord, it is saying that Jesus possesses some kind of authority over the person giving Jesus the name. But that doesn’t mean we must read the word to refer to Yahweh every time.

When one follows the narrative flow of Mark 1:1-15, the suggested position that McGrath’s point out sounds good,

It has also been suggested that the “one who is to come” about whom John the Baptist spoke was indeed God, and thus early Christians tweaked the wording of some of his preferred texts, not to identify Jesus as God, but to have Jesus be the one predicted by John the Baptist, who in turn proclaimed not himself but the coming of the kingdom of God.

But when one considers all of Mark’s story, Mark 1:1-16:8, this suggestion doesn’t quite go far enough. Jesus announces, like a prophet, that God’s coming reign is breaking in like the bright pinks and oranges announce the rise of the sun in the morning before the sun is ever seen. And then Jesus demonstrates his authority over demons, diseases, to forgive sins, over creation and over death itself. When Jesus stops the storms on the Sea of Galilee, his disciples are left asking, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:41 NIV). Jesus claims a unique authority that no one but God has ever wielded.

And then when we consider that Mark opens his Gospel declaring that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the narrative of his unique authority rolls through his baptism which echoes the king in the Psalms and the Servant in Isaiah 40-66 and ends with people confessing him to be the very Messiah and Son that Mark claimed Jesus to be. The categories that Mark uses to describe Jesus are just those, Messiah and Son and King. Jesus is the Son of God, Son of Man and Son of David. The Jews condemned Jesus for claiming to be the Messiah in a way that unites Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 together (Mark 14:60-64; 15:32). Pontus Pilate condemned Jesus to die as claiming to be a king (Mark 15:1-26). The reign of God that Jesus announced at the start of Mark’s story Jesus has died as it’s king.

The full story of Mark’s Gospel doesn’t say Jesus is God. Rather it says that Jesus is King, Messiah, God’s Son. But these categories are expanded in unheard of ways. Jesus isn’t simply some kind of human king. He possesses the authority over life, death, creation and evil. Mark saw that Jesus was at the center of the coming reign of God. Mark saw that Jesus was the King, Messiah, Servant, Son who inaugurated God’s reign. This pushes the categories that Mark uses to their breaking point.

Mark used what was available to him as a first century Jew to describe Jesus. There were no terms like “trinity” and “incarnation” to describe what had happened in Jesus. The “trinity” took 200 years after the New Testament was written to catch on, and that after a time when a position now believed to be heresy was the accepted theory! Sometimes we Christians can take our centuries old categories and just assume they were always there in the entirety of the Bible. But they aren’t.

Did Mark portray Jesus as God in his Gospel? Yes and no. Jesus in Mark is the Son of God, the Messiah. But he performed these roles in ways that exceeded what any human had ever done. The power and authority that Jesus wielded and claimed was the kind that the Jews believed belonged to God alone. So in that way, Jesus being the center of God’s presence and activity on earth, Mark did portray Jesus as God. But never did Mark identify Jesus as God explicitly. He used what categories he had available to him to describe who Jesus is and what Jesus did.

Sometimes it takes centuries of prayerful reflection to find the right words to encapsulate such a profound event. Christians need to be okay with that, even when it comes to how the New Testament describes Jesus. John explicitly says Jesus is God. That makes the declaration biblical, even if Mark doesn’t go that far.

~ by hankimler on October 16, 2013.

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