Jesus is not God in the Gospel of Mark
Round 2: Opening Arguments
Round 3: Rebuttal and Further Arguments
Round 4: Concluding Remarks
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." These are the opening words of the Gospel of Mark.
In point of fact, textual criticism of the manuscript evidence has revealed that the earliest copies of Mark omit the latter title, "the Son of God." The majority of bibles acknowledge this fact with a footnote. It is likely, therefore, that the title is not original. In any case, there are just two other instances, in the Gospel of Mark, of its use. These are in Mark 1:11 and Mark 9:7, when God speaks of Jesus as his "beloved Son." This is merely an acknowledgment of Jesus as beloved in the eyes of God. It is not a theological point. In fact, the title "Son of God" is used throughout the Bible to refer to Adam, various angels, pious individuals, and the kings of Israel.
In stark contrast, the title "Son of Man" is used uniquely to refer to Jesus, and is used a total of fourteen times in the Gospel of Mark. Interestingly, it is always used by Jesus in describing himself. Mark 10:45, for example, records Jesus in the third person as saying that the Son of Man "came not to be served but to serve."
The idea of Markan Priority is central to modern scholarship. The Gospel of Mark is judged to be the earliest of the synoptic gospels, probably written about the year 70 CE. It is also the shortest.
Paul, whose epistles form the earliest account in the New Testament, never met Jesus, but he did meet with Simon Peter, and with James, the brother of Jesus. Paul never mentions a virgin birth. Similarly, the Gospel of Mark, the earliest gospel, contains no birth narrative. I argue, therefore, that the virgin birth is a later accretion to the story of Jesus, used to bolster his divine status. Mark is unaware of this view.
I argue, therefore, that the author of the pseudoepigraphical Gospel of Mark did not hold a theological view of Jesus. He certainly believed that Jesus was the Christ, or Messiah, and that he was capable of performing magic and miracles, but he did not believe that Jesus was divine, to say nothing of his membership of the Holy Trinity.
It seems that theskeptik is bring in items that do not relate to the topic at hand. Perhaps I misread the debate topic, but I thought you were claiming the Gospel of Mark does not claim that Christ is divine. If so, then Paul, the Trinity, Markian priority, and other such things are irrelevant. These topics (while of value) have no bearing on the question “Did the author of Mark (here after referred to as Mark for ease) intend his readers to think Christ was divine?”
Likewise I simply cannot see why you are claiming the lack of birth narrative is evidence of non-divinity. All that shows is that Mark wanted to emphasis other things than Christ’s birth, it says nothing about Christ’s divinity anymore than a biography of President Obama that ignores his birth and childhood would speak to his divine status.
Mark’s listing of Christ’s divinity
To establish that Mark portrays Christ as divine I need to show at least one instance where Christ says or does something that is divine.
1. If Christ says divine things or commits divine actions in the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Mark claims he is divine.
This is actually easy as there is a hell of a lot more than one, two, or three examples of Christ’s divinity in Mark.
First the things that are said of Christ.
1:1 He is called the Son of God.
What Christ says about himself.
2:28 He calls himself Lord of the Sabbath. This places him on the level of God as the Jews regarded the law (of which the Sabbath was a central) as from God and under God’s authority.
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”
This is a direct reference to a divine figure in Daniel 7:13-14. The Son of Man in Daniel is describe like this, “his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.” Obviously only something divine is everlasting and does not pass away.
It’s equally obvious the high priest and other Jewish leaders recognized that Christ was claiming to be divine. Otherwise why would they charge him with blasphemy?
What Christ did.
2:5 Christ forgives a man’s sins. This is big deal because only God could forgive sins. The people who hear him forgive the man’s sins even say so. Yet Christ doesn’t back down, rather he then performs a miracle to further demonstrate his authority and divinity.
Of course I can also make arguments that predicting your own death and resurrection is an indication of divinity, but there isn’t enough space to do so here.
You do say that Mark shows Christ performing miracles, but you missed the point of those miracles. It’s not just that Christ does miracles, it’s that Mark consistently shows Christ demonstrating sovereignty over aspects of reality like death(5:22), nature, (4:35), disease (3:1), and demons (1:34). Mark is categorically showing is that Christ is sovereign over everything, and he is so by his own authority. He does miracles in his own name and never begins by saying “Thus saith the Lord.” This is because Mark wants the reader to see that Christ is the Lord.
All of the above are only direct and obvious references. If we analyze things like the content of Christ’s teaching we would find even more reasons to affirm that Mark regards Christ as divine.
Mark’s gospel is peppered with references to Christ’s divinity. Even if your two arguments are valid we are still left with an incredible amount of material in Mark pointing to Christ’s divinity. I’ll let two great scholars sum it up.
“ Mark has introduced us to Jairus’s daughter. He has told as that Herod thinks Jesus is John the Baptist, raised from the dead. He has conveyed to us the puzzlement of the disciples when Jesus spoke of the Son of Man rising from the dead. What is more, he has told us three times that Jesus warned the disciples of his coming death and told them that afterward he would be raised to life. Finally, he has emphasized that Jesus told the disciples on the Mount of Olives, and Caiaphas in the Jewish hearing, that the Son of Man would be vindicated, exalted on the clouds to a position or glory (not returning in the clouds in a second coming, please note).”http://ntwrightpage.com...
“Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. . . . And when you have grasped that, you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.” - C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Your first point is that early manuscripts don’t have “Son of God” in Mark 1:1. So what? Even if I grant that (and we don’t know that, only that there is manuscript evidence that points both ways) it doesn’t show that Mark didn’t think Christ was divine. It might if it was the only reference to Christ’s divinity, but as I showed above there are a lot more references to Christ’s divinity.
You further claim that titles like Son of God and Son of Man are not divine titles. But no Christian Creed or theology has ever relied on Son of Man to justify a claim to Christ’s divinity,(see Alistair McGrath Christian Theology: An Introduction and A J B Higgins Jesus and the Son of Man) so I don’t see why you think it's important.
Son of God is far more important but it is used more than three times. It is used six times (1:1, 1:11, 3:11, 5:6, 9:2-8, 15:39). It is a divine title. I don’t know who you are reading that says otherwise but I’d like to see them cited. You seem to be arguing that as other individuals were called sons of God being called the son of God is no big deal. But there is a big difference between sons of god and son of God.
"sons/children of God" was typically used collectively of the whole people. No one individual in the Hebrew Bible ever address God as “my Father” like Christ did. The partial exception to this is the very Psalm that Christ quotes in Mark 12:35-37 (see B. Byrne,"Sons of God"—Seed of Abraham, Analecta Biblica,) Additionally Christ never includes other individuals when he refers to God as “Father” this is always a singular address (see Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus God and Man)
Christ refers to God as “Father” in 8:38 and 14:36
I do not see why you claim that when God calls Christ his son that has no theological content. Theology means the study of God, so when God speaks, that’s the most relevant thing there is to theology. It seems you just dismiss this and offer no reasons for your dismissal.
So I don’t see how your two points establish much to work with. The lack of a birth narrative says nothing about Christ’s divine status, Son of man is not used to claim that Christ is divine, the examples you cite of other sons of God are quite different from the son of God, and you dismissed it when God called Christ his son for no given reason. It seems to me that to make your case you have to give us much better reasons as well as explain how all the references I cited are wrong.
I am proposing that Jesus is not God in the Gospel of Mark. Of course, Jesus is viewed as the Messiah, or Christ, and in that sense sent by God, but he is not viewed as himself Divine, though he can perform magic and miracles just as other prophets of God were able to do throughout the Tanakh. Moses could part the Sea of Reeds, but he was not God. Just to clarify once again, I am saying that the author of Mark does not think Jesus and God are one in the same.
You say the fact that "Mark wanted to emphasise other things other than Christ's birth" tells us "nothing about Christ's divinity," but that it most certainly does. The miraculous birth of Jesus has everything to do with the divinity of Jesus. The fact of Mark not including it is evidence that Mark did not think that Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit, and hence that Jesus is God.
I should have been more clear about instances of the use of the title "Son of God" in the gospel. There are more than two instances of its use, but only two in which the words are spoken by God. The other instances are spoken by the impure spirits, demons, and the centurion. Again, the title "Son of God" is a general expression used of individuals beloved of God. So, you cite 3:11, 5:6, 15:39. These do not imply that Jesus is divine. Mark 1:1 I've already demonstrated not to be original. Jesus is called "Christ," meaning Messiah, which I do not dispute, in 1:11 and 8:27-30. The Messiah was not equal to God.
Next, you cite Mark 2:28: "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." Bart Ehrman has pointed out that, in Aramaic, Jesus used the same word, barnash, for "man" and "Son of Man," so the passage is merely saying that the sabbath is for man, not man for the sabbath, so man is the lord of the sabbath.
Mark 8:38 does not establish the divinity of Jesus, as God might well be ashamed of the person who is ashamed of his Messiah.
The conversation with the High Priest in Mark 14 demonstrates only Jesus' divine favour, not his co-regency with God. The Messiah might easily come on the clouds of Heaven, without actually being God himself. Next, Jesus could forgive sins in the name of God, and the Messiah, as I have said, might be able to perform miracles but not himself be part of the Godhead.
The singular title son of God is used in Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:12. The fact that this title is used throughout the Old Testament demonstrates its ubiquity. It has no theological overtones in the sense that it does not imply the divinity of the person or persons called son or sons of God. This would be anathema to Jews, including Jesus. The title "Son of God" does not mean equivalent to God. I don't need to provide references for this as it is universally acknowledged by all scholars, including the conservative Catholic Church. The title "signifies an adoptive sonship that establishes a relationship of particular intimacy between God and his creature," according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (http://www.vatican.va...).
Lastly, the metaphorical term "Father" is used by Jews to refer to God without peculiar connotations of their being one substance with the Lord of Creation. It is used, for example, in Isaiah 63:16.
So, the titles used of Jesus in Mark do not signify his divinity, nor does his being recognised as the Jewish Messiah, nor does his use of magic and miracles, and finally, nor does his intimate relationship with God.
If it looks like duck, acts like a duck, and talks like a duck, you better have a damn good reason for claiming it is not a duck. So far, all you’re claiming is that being called the son of God is no big deal and somehow the virgin birth story is essential for divinity. Neither are good reasons. Again even if I grant you those you still have a lot more examples of Christ’s divinity to deal with.
Christ forgave sins (which was, and still is, regarded as strictly the provision of God).
Christ spoke and acted on his own authority never once claiming it from another source.
The high priest and Jewish leaders recognized his claim to divinity. See the Packer quote below.
These point to another problem, nothing in Mark makes much sense if you remove the claim that Christ is divine. For example, you grant that Mark claims that Christ is the Messiah. But first century Judaism’s expectation of the Messiah was that he would overthrow the Romans, not someone who would be executed by them. Yet Mark claims this crucified man who did nothing politically or militarily is the Messiah. Absent a claim to divinity, a claim that Christ is Messiah makes no sense it light of first century Judaism.
NT Scholar Craig Evens says “Jesus' willingness to suffer and die stands in marked contrast to the widespread expectation of a coming Messiah who would slay His enemies.”
You heavily quote mine that Catechism as it continues on to say,
442 Such is not the case for Simon Peter when he confesses Jesus as "the Christ, the Son of the living God", . . . [Paul] proclaimed Jesus, saying, 'He is the Son of God.'" From the beginning this acknowledgment of Christ's divine sonship will be the center of the apostolic faith, first professed by Peter as the Church's foundation. . . To his accusers' question before the Sanhedrin, "Are you the Son of God, then?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am." . . . Jesus referred to himself as "the Son" who knows the Father, as distinct from the "servants" God had earlier sent to his people; . . . He distinguished his sonship from that of his disciples by never saying "our Father", except to command them: "You, then, pray like this: 'Our Father'", and heemphasized this distinction, saying "my Father and your Father". . . the voice of the Father designates Jesus his "beloved Son". Jesus calls himself the "only Son of God", and by this title affirms his eternal pre-existence. He asks for faith in "the name of the only Son of God". In the centurion's exclamation before the crucified Christ, "Truly this man was the Son of God", that Christian confession is already heard.
And in the notes it says,
454 The title "Son of God" signifies the unique and eternal relationship of Jesus Christ to God his Father: he is the only Son of the Father . . . he is God himself.
The catechism says the opposite of what you are claiming. I don’t' want to be disrespectful or pejorative, but it looks like you didn’t bother to closely read what you are citing. Likewise it is simply false that there is universal scholarly assent that being called the son of God is no big deal. I cited scholars who say otherwise in my opening argument and here is another one.
The NT uniformly defines the identity of Jesus in terms of his relation to the one God of OT monotheism. The basic definition is that Jesus is God’s Son. This identification is rooted in Jesus’ own thought and teaching. His sense of being “the Son” in a unique sense . . . was confirmed to him by his Father’s voice from heaven at his baptism: ‘Thou art my beloved son’ (Mk 1:11,3:17) agapetos carries the implication of ‘only beloved’: so again in the parable, MK 12:6. (J. I. Packer, New Bible Dictionary pg 503)
. . . Mark and Luke report Jesus as making an affirmative reply which was in effect a claim to personal deity (Mk 14:62; Lk 22:70) the emphatic ‘I am’ were words that no Jew would take on his lips, for they expressed self-identification with God (Ex 3:14). Jesus, who according to Mark had used these words before . . . (Mk 6:50; 13:6) evidently wished to make it perfectly clear that this divine Sonship to which he laid claim was nothing less than personal deity. It was for this ‘blasphemy’ that he was condemned.
Perhaps Packer is wrong, but the onus is on you to show so. You don’t get out of it by just claiming there is universal assent.
I don't see why you are claiming that no birth narrative equals evidence for no divinity. If I am missing something you are trying to explain, my apologies. Can you lay that out in a structured, clear way so I can see your premises and the logical structure of your argument?
As the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence, the absence of a birth narrative in Mark is not necessarily evidence on Christ’s divine status. Sure a virgin birth narrative is evidence for Christ’s divinity, but it’s not like a virgin birth narrative is a necessary for divinity in the same way that ingredients like flour, sugar, and eggs are necessary for baking a cake.
You haven’t demonstrated that Son of God doesn’t belong in Mark 1:1, you’ve demonstrated there is dispute. Some good manuscripts don’t have it, some other ones do. Some scholars argue that it belongs there as the title is used elsewhere in Mark, and some others argue that is false. You have shown that there is legitimate dispute among scholars here. Showing there is a dispute does not prove the issue one way or another. That’s like saying that as one historian thinks there were 200,000 Persians at the battle of Thermopylae and another historian thinks there were one million Persians there, therefore there were 200,000 Persian there. Of course that is ridiculous, but it exactly what you seem to be claiming about Mark 1:1.
You are still missing Mark’s point about Christ's miracles. Moses did miracles in the name of God and always pointed back to God. The one time he didn’t give God credit (Ex 17 ) God punished him for it. Christ always does miracles in his own name and by his own authority. He sacts by his own authority and under the power of his own name. Anyone doing that in first century Judaism was in effect acting as God.
2 Sm 7:12 doesn't say or imply anything like son or sons of God. Did you mean to cite something else?
Psalmm 2:7 implies someone there is a son of God, but God is doing the speaking there. The scholar I cited above said “No one individual in the Hebrew Bible ever address God” so the point stands.
You are missing the point about Christ’s use of Father. As Isiah 63:16 shows OT individuals and many other people would often address God as “our Father” (plural), Christ only addressed God as Father or my Father (singular).
I wish there was space to explain how the theme of secrecy in Mark makes easy sense of most of your other misunderstandings like those relating to the demons and the centurion. There is way too much material here to cover in 8,000 characters so I tried to focus on what seemed to be the most important.
To conclude, you have established that there is dispute about Mark 1:1, nothing else. You haven’t explained why a virgin birth is necessary for divinity, the source you cite for minimizing the son of God actually argues against you, you have cited no NT scholars or experts on son of God, you have failed counter the references I cite for the divinity of Christ, and the examples of OT passages you cite only show that you have missed the point of those references.
I am sorry if I have not been clear. I'll endeavour to state the case without ambiguity. It's very simple.
First, I quote the Catechism as it states my point exactly. I am saying that the title "Son of God" does not have to mean that Jesus is God, as it is used in various other senses throughout the Old and New Testament. I argue that Mark used it to show that Jesus was beloved of God, but not his equal.
Second, I agree with you, the Jewish Messiah was indeed expected to be someone who would overthrow the Romans. That's why the early Christians were roundly rejected in their belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Mark, as a Christian, believed Jesus was the Messiah, but he did not think Jesus was God. In his meeting with the Sanhedrin, the High Priest asks Jesus: "Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" Jesus says yes, he is. He is the Messiah. This does not mean he was God. Part of the Christians' new understanding of the Messiah was his ability to perform miracles in the name of God. As I say, the ability to perform miracles does not allow you to assert that Jesus, therefore, is God.
Third, I have never said that the Virgin Birth is necessary for the divinity of Jesus, but it is important. If Jesus had the Holy Spirit as his father it certainly firms up the evidence for his divine nature. In fact, absence of evidence actually is evidence of absence. It is not proof, but it is evidence. Mark says nothing of the virgin birth. If he had included it, my position would be more difficult.
I think you'll find that the majority of scholars accept that, in Mark, Jesus is viewed as human; in Matthew, Jesus is Messiah-King; in Luke, Jesus is Saviour for all; and only in John is Jesus fully God. See, for example, Bart Ehrman, or Dale Martin, or Elaine Pagels, or John Dominic Crossan, or E. P. Sanders.
In my closing arguments, I’ll attempt to recap how the debate went and see if any conclusions can be drawn.
theskeptic was arguing that in the Gospel of Mark Christ is not considered divine and you attempted to show this through two points.
1. There is no birth narrative (and consequently no virgin birth) in Mark.
2. You also argued that Christ being called the Son of God and the Son of man are not indications of divinity.
Other indicators of Christ’s divinity in Mark
I attempted to counter by showing that even if those two points are valid there is still a wealth of other indications of Christ’s divinity in Mark, such as;
You didn’t respond to most of these indicators of divinity and I really wish you would have as I don’t see how you can make a case for the non-divinity of Christ in Mark without showing how I am mistaken about them. If there is one clear example of Mark identifying Christ with the divine then it is perfectly reasonable to say Mark thought Christ was divine. It seems that we have many such examples and I attempted to explain how and why they are examples of or indicators of the divinity of Christ.
You seem to still be missing or ignoring the point that Christ didn’t teach and act in the name of God. He taught by his own name and authority and performed miracles by his own name and authority. Doing a miracle is not in and of itself an indication of divinity, but when Christ forgives sins and acts by his own authority that is. You are not comparing like examples when you compare his miracles to those of Moses.
I further argued that your two points are incorrect.
The birth narrative
Perhaps I misunderstood you on something about the lack of a virgin birth in Mark, but I still don’t see how it indicates a lack of divinity. You conceded or explained to me in your last argument that you don’t think a virgin birth is necessary for divinity either, but then I am at a total loss to understand why you believe the lack of virgin birth narrative equals lack of divinity. I really wish you would have explained this further or laid out this argument in a clear, structured fashion. As it stands now it seems to me that there is no valid point there, but perhaps I grossly misunderstood you.
In this regard, absence of evidence most definitely is not necessarily evidence of absence. That is basic logic. Ask any police investigator if the absence of a murder weapon is evidence there was no murder. This is even more obvious when there is a stabbed, dead body lying in front of the investigator. Just because the murder weapon has not been found doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Son of God and Son of Man
You also tried to argue that Son of God and Son of Man are not divine titles. You ceased claiming anything about Son of Man when I explained (or conceded) that no Christian creed or theology has ever relied on Son of Man as an indicator of divinity.
It seemed you were arguing that being called the Son of God is no big deal as other people in the OT are called Sons of God all the time. I attempted to explain that it is distinctly different when Christ is called the Son of God. Nearly all of the OT references our plural and general (i.e. the people call God our Father) and every time Christ address God he does so in a possessive and singular fashion (Christ calls God my Father). Further I argued that each time God speaks of Christ in Mark he uses an indicator that Christ is the only Son of God. I also cited several Biblical scholars in support of this to show that it isn’t just my crazy idea. It’s well supported and argued by experts in the field.
The different sense in which Sons of God is used or someone is called a Son of God are simply too different to draw a comparison between them and when it is used to describe Christ.
You responded by citing a couple of OT passages, but they don’t seem to address this issue as they do not have God addressing other people as his only son or an individual addressing God as my father.
You did mention some scholars in your last argument, but you didn’t explain their arguments and reasoning or even point me toward the books and articles where they make their arguments. The point of citing experts is not to show a list of names that agree with you, it is to engage with the best examples of reasoning and arguments in that field. I really wish you would have cited what those scholars’ arguments are instead of just listing their names as I would have liked to engage their reasons and arguments. I am aware of some of those scholars’ arguments and find them lacking, but that’s all the more reason why I wish you would have brought them up so we could engage them.
So to conclude it seems to me that theskeptic has failed to make his case. He was unable or unwilling to explain how the lack of a virgin birth narrative counts against Christ’s divinity, he was unable to counter the explanations I offered on how Son of God is a divine title in Mark, and he was unable to explain away the numerous other references to Christ’s divinity in Mark.
I appreciate that he had a very difficult task in attempting to show that Christ is not divine in Mark. There are so many references to and indicators of Christ’s divinity in Mark that someone could (and I think some people have) write a doctoral thesis on the subject. Explaining away all those references would be a very long and difficult tack (maybe two or three doctoral projects worth of material), so I think he just took on a case that is too big.
I do appreciate you bring up this topic, the way you attempted to stick to the issues at hand, and that we were able to debate in a polite and respectful manner. If I misunderstood you at any point, that was not intentional and my apologies for it. Now I think I should win just for being able to find a way to reference Futurama in a debate on the gospel of Mark. ;) If you feel I haven’t responded to anything you argued, here is my witty response. https://www.youtube.com...