Is Jesus God in the Gospel of Mark?

Mark and the girls 1958 Perth
Mark and the girls (Mary, Mary, Mary, and Martha (1900-)1958 Perth (Photo credit: MR MARK BEK)

Michael Kruger states,

In fact, it is worth noting that Mark presents Jesus as God from the very opening few verses in his gospel, in a manner that is often missed on a quick reading of that passage.

His entire post can be found here: Does the Gospel of Mark Present Jesus as God? | Canon Fodder.

James McGrath has since responded.

My answer is nuanced. By opening his Gospel as Mark does, he is presenting Jesus as representing God, but this does not (as we know from the OT) mean the representative is the represented. But, Jesus is in God’s place.

Why? Because Jesus is slowly taking the place of God. Jesus is not God in Mark, but because God is absent, Jesus replaces God by doing what God does not. Jesus forces God to act by becoming the obedient Israel and absorbing the violence of his world into his body.

This is tiring, I know — but we see the same theology in Lucan’s Pharsalia. Cato the Younger acts in the place of God to become the God(divine)-Man. His death is the sacrifice for Rome and to the gods because the gods are absent.

Is Jesus God and a party of the Trinity in Mark’s Gospel? I don’t think so, but Jesus does become God.

Others have noticed Mark’s adoptionistic language. I’m okay with that.

Theologically, this is why we have four Gospels.

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Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

13 thoughts on “Is Jesus God in the Gospel of Mark?”

  1. My answer is nuanced.

    It comes down to the problem of defining what “god” means, of course.

    Mark or Mark has no notion of the triune, paradoxical God of later rationalisation.

    To him Jesus is a god in the manner that Vespasian is a god, only Jesus is so much better, since he’s been properly adopted the Son of God in the manner of Augustus and Tiberius before him, while Vespasian is a mere usurper.

    1. Hi Joel,

      Can you please clarify what you mean by “God is absent” in Mark? Doesn’t God break in sporadically in apocalyptic kind of ways (voice from heaven at baptism; voice from heaven at transfig; darkness at the crucifixion; temple veil tearing; passive voice for Jesus being raised from the dead)? Those aren’t Jesus’ actions. Curious how you interpret those scenes.

      Also curious what you mean by saying “Jesus forces God to act.” It sounds like in Jesus’ Gethsemane prayer in Mark that God is the one forcing Jesus to go through something he doesn’t personally want to do.

      Just curious. Thanks.

        1. Thanks, Joel. Ok, I see your comments about Mk 10:45 as a national sacrifice and now understand why you see Jesus forcing God to act. I’ll have to think about that because if so, I sense a tension between 10:45 and 14:36 about who is forcing whom to do what.
          Regarding God’s alleged absence, even though passive, aren’t those divine passives (grammatically speaking)… which would imply God’s activity, not his absence?
          Just curious. Thanks again.

          1. Absence doesn’t mean non-existence. Further, if Jesus forces God to act, God is still in the mind of the author of the text (and Jesus). We read the Psalms, which is where I base some of this theology on, and find authors wondering where God is. God is absent in action and presence, but still present for the authors.

  2. Thanks, Joel. Ok, maybe we’re differing on the semantics of “absence” because I would say, inactivity doesn’t mean absence. God looks absent in 15:34, but the lack of a direct divine response for Jesus at his death to me doesn’t indicate absence, only the appearance of it. I take the voice, the darkness, the veil, and the resurrection to be indications that God is present and active in Mark, even in the death scene, just not active in rescuing Jesus from his death. Thanks again.

    1. God is also not active in rescuing Israel (via the deformities and other conditions Jesus encounters) which is why Jesus must assume this role (Mark 2 is the passage I have in mind here).

      My pleasure.

  3. Joel,

    I am unaware of your particular view of Scripture (ie: whether you hold it to be authoritative, etc.). However, I am interested in one your comments, you say, “this is why we have four Gospels.”

    Are you suggesting then that though the theological views of the biblical writers are different, when read as a canon, we can find a unified reading? In other words, if we approach the text solely through authorial intent we may be theologically led astray, we must always read canonically?

    I’ve been trying to think through how we handle diversity in the canon, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    Thanks

    Johnny Walker | freedominorthodoxy.blogspot.com

    1. John,

      As a Christian, I view Scripture as authoritative, although not inerrant.

      I don’t think we find a unified reading until we tie in the creeds. I think the different theological bents of the Gospels add to the NT in a very meaningful and humbling way, so to slice them a part from one another is to do harm to how they work together. I think Matthew uses Mark to build his Gospel while Luke used both Matthew and Mark. John uses the 3 and maybe a few more. To take Mark only is to dismiss the developing theology of the early movements, but to take John only harms us by not accepting earlier Christologies.

      So, we must always – as Christians – read canonically.

      1. Thank you, I really appreciate that. I find the variation is less troubling when we understand the canon as containing a tradition. As such, it involves development, as sort inter-testamental progressive revelation.

        What then is the role of Biblical studies, theologically? Perhaps it is only the first step in theological deliberation? First we understand the individual texts, then view them as a whole?

        Thanks for your thoughts, Joel!

        1. John, I would agree with you on everything you’ve written here.

          I believe it is impossible to understand Matthew without first understanding Mark. The same goes for Mark without John. Biblical studies become a tempering agent to radical doctrines and the individualistic interpretation we are prone to engage in.

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