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Mark was not a Pauline Gospel: Christology

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Undoubtedly there are points of agreement between Mark and Paul on the subject of Christology. For instance, they both identify Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and the exalted Lord after his resurrection. However, while I would hesitate to claim that these were consensus positions shared by everyone who identified themselves as followers of Jesus in the first century CE, it seems to me that these views were quite widespread in the early Christ movement. Within Paul’s letters, he seems to occasionally cite earlier creedal formula. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, he stresses that he passed on to the Corinthians what he received about how the Christ died, was buried, and was raised according to the Scriptures. When introducing himself to the Roman Christ congregations whom he had neither founded nor met, he begins the letter with another common creedal formulation about how Jesus was descended from David according to the flesh and powerfully appointed as the Son of God (i.e. synonymous with the Davidic king in 2 Samuel 7:14 and Psalm 2:7) after his resurrection from the dead in Romans 1:3-4. Jesus is invoked as lord in an Aramaic prayer preserved in 1 Corinthians 16:22 (cf. Revelation 22:20; Didache 10:14). Finally, the Christological proof-texting of Psalm 110 to explain how the god of Israel exalted Jesus to the status of lord at the deity’s right hand is attested all over the place (e.g., Mark 12:36/Matthew 22:44/Luke 20:42-43; Acts 2:34-35; 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12-13; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22).

However, the differences may outweigh the similarities. Contrary to some commentators, I do not see any notion of Jesus’s heavenly pre-existence in Mark, while I would maintain that this view is held by Paul (e.g., 1 Corinthians 8:6; 15:47; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Philippians 2:6; cf. Colossians 1:15-17). This latter conceptualization of Jesus may have drawn on the depictions of God’s Wisdom or Logos (e.g., Proverbs 8:22-31; Sirach 24:3-7; Wisdom of Solomon 6:22; 7:25-26; 9:1-2, 9) and other intermediary figures could be envisioned as pre-existent beings (e.g., 1 Enoch 48:6). I largely agree with Daniel Kirk’s assessment, on the other hand, that the depiction of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels fits the category of an “idealized human agent.” Even more spectacular deeds such as walking on water may fit this categorization of the Markan Jesus. Jesus is anointed by the spirit for his messianic office at his baptism and enthroned in heaven after his post-Easter exaltation. Further, the Markan Jesus often refers to himself as the son of man. This may go back to an Aramaic idiom that Jesus used to refer to himself in reference to other humans, but Jesus as Mark describes him may have also been following the script of Daniel 7 in which a human-like figure represents the saints of Israel who suffer under the imperial beasts before being vindicated on the clouds. This seems to me to make sense of Mark’s present, suffering, and eschatological son of man sayings. Paul, however, avoid this terminology even when drawing on a similar tradition in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, where he shifts to his favourite term “lord” when describing Jesus’s parousia or “coming.” Mark’s son of man Christology may be unrelated to Paul’s conception of Jesus as a new Adam. For example, the brief temptation scene in Mark 1:13 likely does not present Jesus as a new Adam peacefully leading the wild animals in a new Eden; the picture that it paints is that of a conflict between Jesus and the angels on the one side and Satan and the wild beasts on the other.

We can also look at the later reception of Mark’s Christology. During the Patristic period, there were a number of reports about Jewish Christ followers who may have designated themselves as Ebionites or “poor ones.” Certain Ebionites rejected Jesus’s divinity and pre-existence, insisting that Jesus was an ordinary human being who had been exalted due to his exemplary obedience to the Law of Moses, and the belief in Jesus’s virginal conception was debated among them. Although the Patristic writers conclude that the Ebionites were readers of Matthew’s Gospel (or were later thought to be readers of the “Gospel according to the Hebrews”), their Christology seems much closer to Mark’s than to Matthew’s as Mark lacks the virgin birth and narrates how Jesus was elected to be the Messiah at his baptism. In forthcoming publications I will suggest that the heresiologists referred to diverse Jewish Christ followers as Ebionites and some of them could have been reading Mark and others Matthew, so the ones who rejected the virgin birth likely did not accept Matthew’s infancy narrative. Furthermore, many of the Ebionites detested Paul and Paul’s literary legacy. Cerinthus and Carpocrates may have also been readers of Mark’s Gospel when they denied that Jesus was pre-existent and zeroed in on Jesus’s baptism as the moment when he received a new Christological identity. In conclusion, there seem to be significant differences between the Markan and Pauline Christologies, but the inclusion of these texts together in the canon alongside other texts such as the Johannine literature assisted later Christian theologians in carving out a more systematic theology about Jesus’s divine and human natures.

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