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

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Theological Disputation Over the Person of Jesus (xlii)

Lion of St. Mark, Piazza San Marco, Venice
This posting is the 42nd 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).

As we have seen in postings 36 (here) and 13 (here) in this series, the Gospel of Mark insists that Jesus' divine identity was hidden from those around him. It also portrays Jesus as trying to keep things that way by ordering demons and those he healed to keep quiet about himself. What's going on here? It's hard to understand why a gospel writer would want to proceed in this manner, and certainly both Matthew and Luke rejected Mark's approach even as they availed themselves of his information. Mark, in short, wanted to inform his audience that Jesus' divine nature wasn't historically evident. It seems only logical that Mark's audience must not have realized the hidden nature of that identity. If they did there'd hardly be any reason for the author to write in this manner. That audience, furthermore, could hardly have been non-Christian. It would be ridiculous for Mark to engage in an evangelistic approach that emphasized the difficulties in discovering who Jesus was. The author wrote for a Christian audience that believed that Jesus' divine nature was self-evident.

It could be that the author of Mark disagreed that Jesus' divine nature was so entirely clear. It could have also been that this author felt it was incorrect to overlook the human side of Jesus' person and ministry. Do we have, then, a historical work that intended to restore balance to the early church's interpretation of Jesus? Was the author using historical data to resist a theological trend that tended to overlook Jesus' humanity? Historically, Greek-influenced factions within the earliest Jewish church began to emphasize the divine aspects of Jesus' person and works almost from Pentecost. It could be, in sum, that the author of Mark felt that those who over-emphasized Jesus' divinity were forgetting the realities of his person and ministry. Perhaps the author feared that they were turning belief in Jesus into a groundless superstition. Why else would she or he be so insistent on emphasizing the humanity of Jesus and the fact that Jesus divine nature wasn't self-evident?