We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spirit-less Gospel -Mark 3:28-30 (xliv)

Lion of St. Mark, Piazza San Marco, Venice

This posting is the 44th in a series (originally written in 1998) looking at the Gospel of Mark from the perspective of a historian. The first posting in this series is (here).

Mark 3:28-30 is a difficult passage. I don't really see the connection between Jesus' parable about Beelzebul and this statement about the Holy Spirit. The author of Luke, evidently, also didn't see any connection because he removed the statement about the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:10) from the story about Beelzebul (11:14-23).

What is striking, however, is how infrequently Mark makes reference to the Holy Spirit. The only time the Holy Spirit is related to Jesus in a clear manner is found in the story of the baptism (Mark 1:8). Mark's parenthetical explanation suggests that Jesus was charging his enemies with attacking the Holy Spirit when they accused him of being him possessed. They were confusing the work of the Holy Spirit with the consequences of demon possession. But the whole thing isn't that clear. After this passage, Mark refers to the Holy Spirit only twice, once in connection with David (12:36) and once in relation to the disciples (13:11). This is in marked contrast to Luke and the Acts, where the Holy Spirit is centrally present. Some commentators consider the Acts to be nothing less than a history of the work of the Holy Spirit. We can only conclude that the Holy Spirit isn't very important in Mark and not very important to understanding the person and work of Jesus.

It's not likely that Mark's lack of interest in the Spirit was coincidental. The author, after all, did explicitly associate the Spirit with Jesus' baptism. It's more likely that a close identification of the Spirit with Jesus was out of keeping with the author's purposes. Such an identification would suggest that Jesus had the very divine properties that the author wanted to keep from being obvious or prominent. The human Jesus, so important to Mark, would have been obscured or even lost.