Over the years it has been claimed (again and again) that John presents Jesus as divine, and the Synoptic gospels, particularly Mark, present Jesus as human. Therefore, it is argued, we have different versions of Christology within early Christianity.
While we certainly can agree that different gospels have different emphases, and that they articulate Christological truths in their own ways, is it really the case that gospels like Mark view Jesus as merely human? Not at all. 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.
For a gospel apparently written with a Gentile audience in mind, Mark does not begin his story of Jesus where we might expect. He doesn’t begin with Jesus’ birth, or his baptism, or with any other event in the first century. Instead, Mark reminds the reader that the story of the gospel began many generations before when God made promises to the people of Israel.
In other words, Mark does not present the Jesus as the start of a new story, but as the completion of an old one.
Mark accomplishes this by beginning his gospel with citations from the Old Testament. Let us consider the first one which is from Mal 3:1 (with a little help from Ex 23:20). When we compare Mark’s citation of Mal 3:1 with the original wording of Mal 3:1, some interesting things emerge:
Mark 1:2 (citing Mal 3:1): “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way”
Mal 3:1: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.”
The first notable observation is that in the original context of Mal 3:1, it is God himself who is coming. Notice that Mal 3:1 originally read “my messenger” who will prepare the way before “me.” The rest of Mal 3:1 (not cited by Mark) makes this clear, “And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”
For Mark to apply Mal 3:1 to the coming of Jesus, which he is clearly doing, is a very plain way of saying that Jesus is God coming to visit his people. Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise in Mal 3:1.
In order to make this point even more clearly, Mark offer a messianic interpretation of the verse. Mal 3:1 originally read “prepare the way before me,” but Mark changes the phrase to “who will prepare your way.”
By doing this, Mark introduces a third person into the OT citation. Originally, the verse spoke of God (who is coming) and the messenger (who is preparing the way). Now, with Mark’s adjustment, the text speaks of God, the messenger, and the one who is coming in God’s place.
And that one who is coming God’s place is none other than Jesus.
The fact that Mark is putting Jesus in the place of Yahweh is confirmed when we consider the second OT citation from Is 40:3:
Mark 1:3 (citing Is 40:3): “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”
Is 40:3: A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
Notice again that in the original context of Is 40:3, it is the LORD who is coming. And Mark applies this verse to Jesus. Moreover, notice that Mark offers another Christological change to his citation. Originally, Is 40:3 read “make straight…a highway for our God” but Mark changes it to “make his paths straight.”
Once again, Mark uses this little textual change to show that the coming of Yahweh, promised in Is 40:3, will be fulfilled by another coming in God’s place. And that person is Jesus.
In the end, Mark’s use of these OT passages is rather stunning. Rather than seeing Jesus as merely human, Mark wastes no time presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to come visit his people.
Thus, for Mark, Jesus is God.
someone who tends to agree says
If you don’t mind, may I press you a little further for clarification on this, because yes, I think the quotes of Malachi & Isaiah indicate that God is coming, but technically, they don’t necessarily indicate that Jesus is God’s coming, or do they?
I mean, yes, Jesus is twice declared to be the son of God (and the “unique” one-of-a-kind one at that) but does that necessarily indicate Jesus was divine (cf. 2 Sam 7:14; Ps 2:7 where Judean kings were divine agents, but not God-incarnate sons of God)?
And other passages in Mark don’t seem to equate Jesus as being God like we might expect (10:18; 12:29-30; 13:32) and Jesus is never worshipped in Mark as we find in Matt, Luke, & John. Yes, Mark is describing Jesus is greater than Moses, Elijah, Elisha, David, and others, even angels… and that is definitely saying a *lot* in a Jewish context… but does Mark go the next step to equate Jesus as God?
I almost sense that Mark is thinking in that direction but hesitant to clearly state that because it’s so border-line unthinkable/blasphemous in a Jewish mind… as if Mark might be afraid he has overstepped the prescribed boundaries in the OT as he tries to express who Jesus is. I have wondered if maybe in the walking on water pericope, if that is Mark’s clearest identification of Jesus as God, but beyond that I’m not sure.
Anyway, my apologies for asking for further clarification. I’m not trying to be contrary, just wanting to make the connection clearer, and I greatly respect your scholarship.
Michael Kruger says
Thanks for the comments. Appreciate them. The simple question of this passage is whether Mark thinks Jesus fulfills these OT texts. Put differently, does Mark think that Jesus brings about what these texts promise, namely the coming of God to visit his people? There is no doubt that Mark sees these passages as realized in Jesus–indeed that is why he is quoting them at the beginning of his Gospel! Moreover, notice that right after citing these verses, he introduces the fulfillment of them by pointing to (a) the messenger, John the baptist, v.4, 6-8 (b) the people who are to prepare the way, v.5, and (c) the coming one that John promised, who is Jesus in v.9. If you read the major commentaries on this passage, you will see that they recognize that v.2-3 of Mark’s gospel are fulfilled in Jesus.
someone who tends to agree says
Thanks, Michael. I guess this all ends up relating to the interpretative issue of how Mark uses kurios to refer to Jesus, but never in a way that conclusively identifies Jesus as YHWH (e.g., 2:28; 5:19; 7:28; 11:3, 9; 12:35-37; 13:35)… but certainly in a way that shows YHWH is active in and through Jesus (e.g., 5:19)… and could even be taken to mean that Jesus is YHWH (even though Mark never says it in a way in which it can *only* mean that). Regarding 1:2-3, Joel Marcus puts it this way, “Mark, then does not want simply to identify Jesus with ‘the Lord,’ even though he seems to think that the way of Jesus is the way of the Lord. Perhaps the best way . . . is to say that, for him, where Jesus is acting, there God is acting” (AB, vol. 1, p. 148). Thanks, again.
It seems that if we are going to affirm the opening quotation as evidence for Jesus’ divinity, then we will need to build a cumulative case throughout the whole gospel of Mark. Larry Hurtado quotes Joel Marcus in Lord Jesus Christ, “the overwhelming impact made by our narrative is an impression of Jesus’ divinity.” (pp. 286)
It seems that this must be argued first, then we can return to passages like the Isaiah quotation and offer interpretation (that ought to be more compelling) in light of Mark’s whole narrative.
John Walker | freedominorthodoxy.blogspot.com