January 16, 2006

Jesus as God, in Mark?

Michael Bird posted a quote about "Jesus as God" which sparked a little disscusion in the comments. It's nothing new, however I kept all my points tied to Mark's Gospel alone (instead of arguing from John or elsewhere where it would be easier.) Here's how it began.

Where's the God stuff in the synoptics? And in what sense? In Mark, for instance, I can't think of anything that isn't paralleled in Judaism at the time. John is a different matter but that should say something about the development of tradition.

No “God” stuff in Mark? Off the top of my head ... I can think of two rather weird things for a Jew to do ...

Mark 2:1-2:12, with the healing of the Paralytic...

“My son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Also during Jesus’ trial in Mark 14:61-64...

But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” And the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.

Why were they so upset at that? These two examples alone --- I don’t think were “paralleled in Judaism at the time.”

I'm not convinced the dispute in Mk 2.1-12 is about sins being forgiven but let's asume it is. As Steph suggested there is a passive form here, i.e. 'your sins have been forgiven by...' Let me add a couple more points.

1. None of the texts you cite mention Jesus as God.

I never claimed those texts mention directly Jesus as God (not so much the point): merely that they were "rather weird things for a Jew to do"--- you stated there was nothing "that isn't paralleled in Judaism at the time." Who else is claiming to personally forgive sins in Judaism at the time?

2. People could get in trouble for blasphemy without claiming to be God. See for example the debate between Sadducees and a certan Pharisee over the legitimacy of a high priest in Josephus.

True, people could get in trouble for blasphemy without claiming to be God, yet clearly the text says "Who can forgive sins but God alone." Clearly Mark (at the least) is saying that the Jewish leaders felt he was co-opting something only God could do. You might argue Jesus wasn't saying he forgave the man's sins, that it was merely passive. But that's simply not what happens. See 8-10:

And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" …

So is Jesus the Son of Man? Or is he just saying the sins are forgiven by some other entity? And why is he saying this entity has authority to do something that only God has to do?

3. Jews could get upset and engage in deadly intra-Jewish disputes without claims of being God. There are disputes in Judaism about the authority of an individual do do certain things.

The debate here, about forgiving sins, is something that has always been the prerogative of God --- and as far as I know, alien to Judaism. Other disputes on authority are not very relevant.

4. Is there not some significance that there is no mention in Mark's gospel of Jews being angry because he makes himself equal with God like in John's gospel?

Given the context, length, and style of Mark's gospel differs so much from John's --- no I would not be surprised if they contained different events, or focused on different events. This does not logically conclude said events didn't actually happen. Even so, clearly the Jews are getting angry at Jesus making himself (at least in some part) equal with God! No matter how you spin it these Jews understood Jesus to be taking on the sole prerogative of God to forgive sins, and called that blasphemy.

For me those disputes are about Jesus' authority and whether it is legitimate. They have nothing to do with Jesus being God. If they did they would have said so like John's gospel.

While this dispute about Jesus' authority (in matters that only God had authority) in Mark is left somewhat ambiguous --- in John another one is clarified. It does not follow John made up his clarifications, since they don't contradict the incident in the first place. If Mark was clearer as to these only being simple authoritative debates, and John claimed they were solely Divinity debates --- you'd have a point, yet that is not the case.

And let's not forget that there was a range of meanings for the term 'Son of God' in early Judaism. John's gospel seems to go beyond just about everything but I can't see Johannine type claims mentioned in Mark.

There were a lot of meanings for 'Son of God' --- yet don't you find it the least bit odd that in Mark 1:9-11:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased."

If this was just the generic son of God title, why does Mark have it coming from a voice in the heavens?

In the parable of the Vine-growers Jesus talks about a son being sent by his father the master --- if God is the master, who is the Son? Is this just ‘any’ son of the master? No, clearly it’s a personal, distinctive son. What about the exchange in Mark 12:35-37 about Psalm 110:

"...David himself calls Him 'Lord'; so in what sense is He his son?"

Further, the Centurion at Jesus' death (Mark 15:39) calls him the Son of God, or a son of a god/gods. Are we to believe this centurion understood this phrase in a Jewish fashion? No I think it's clear what Mark is doing here; he's using the very words of a Gentile to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God just as he does in Mark 1:1 ... (even if the Centurion doesn't mean it in a Christian sense) ... Mark does. Why else include it?

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