Baker Academic

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Is Jesus Merely a “Human Messiah” in Mark?

The question of Markan “Christology” has recently been in the biblioblogosphere. In particular, I’ve been following with interest the back and forth between Michael Bird, James McGrath, Dustin Smith, some quotes from Daniel Kirk, and Joel Watts on the whole question of Mark’s presentation of Jesus’ divine identity.

In particular, I was struck by Smith's claim that “Mark makes no attempt to suggest, imply, or hint that Jesus is anyone other than the human Messiah...” (emphasis added)

Jesus Walks on the Sea: “I Am”
I’d like to throw my hat into the ring by calling attention to one passage that sometimes gets overlooked in the debate over Jesus’ divine identity in the Gospel of Mark: the account of Jesus’ walking on the sea:

When evening came, the boat was in the midst of the sea, and he was alone on the land. And seeing that they were struggling to row because the wind was against them, he came towards them in the fourth watch of the night, walking on the sea. He wanted to pass them by. But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke with them and said to them, “Take heart, I am; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. (Mark 6:47-52)

Several aspects of this text, especially when situated in an ancient Jewish context, strongly suggest that Jesus is being depicted as the God of Israel.

1. Jesus’ ἐγώ εἰμι Saying in Mark 6:50 and the Name of YHWH
First, there is Jesus’ declaration to the disciples. Although most translations have Jesus declaring: “Take heart, it is I” (e.g., NRSV), the original Greek form is absolute: “Take heart, I am” (Greek ἐγώ εἰμι) (Mark 6:50)

Now, it is of course true that the expression “I am” can be used to identify oneself when a predicate is used in an immediately preceding statement (e.g., 2 Sam 2:20; John 9:9). On the other hand, as is well known, “I am” (Greek ἐγώ εἰμι) is also the divinely revealed name of God to Moses on Mount Sinai:

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14)

Is this Old Testament background significant? Or is Jesus simply identifying himself? Given the context of Jesus’ astonishing demonstration of power over creation, many scholars think that Jesus “I am” statement here is evocative of the Old Testament theophanies. To take but a few recent comments on Jesus’ walking on the sea in Mark 6:

John Meier: [W]hile the “surface meaning” of egō eimi in the Gospel narrative is “It is I,” the many OT allusions… intimate a secondary, solemn meaning: the divine “I am.” (Meier, A Marginal Jew [ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1994] 2.918 [emphasis added])

M. Eugene Boring: Jesus speaks to them in the words God uses as his own formula of self-identification: ‘I am’ (Exod 3:13–15 and repeatedly in Deutero-Isaiah, e.g., Isa 41:10; 43:10–13, 25; 45:6, 18, 22; 48:12)… The Greek egō eimi at the pedestrian level merely indicates identity, like the colloquial ‘it’s me,’ as in John 9:9. But in the context of all the other marks of divine epiphany, the phrase here must have the connotation of the divine self-revelation, the disclosure of the divine name as YHWH, the one who says absolutely, ‘I am.’ (Boring, Mark: A Commentary (NTL; Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006], 190 [emphasis added].)

Adela Yarbro Collins: “Jesus is being portrayed here [in the walking on the sea] as divine… (Mark [Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007], 335)

Once again, taken in isolation, “I am” can simply mean “it’s me”. But in the context Jesus’ extraordinary manifestation of power over creation, “I am” functions as a revelation of his divine identity. In other words, in a first-century Jewish context, the account of Jesus walking on the sea is not just an epiphany, but a theophany--a revelation of his divine identity to his disciples.

2. Jesus Wanted to “Pass Them By”?
Should there be any doubt this, it’s important to highlight an otherwise puzzling detail of the walking on the sea: the uniquely Markan statement that Jesus "wanted to pass them by” (ἤθελεν παρελθεῖν αὐτούς) (Mark 6:48) What are we to make of this detail?

Once again, the significance seems to be found by looking carefully at Old Testament theophanies. For in Jewish Scripture, when YHWH appears and reveals his name, he also “passes by”.  Consider the two classic theophanies to Moses and Elijah on Mount Sinai. In both cases, it is the God of Israel—YHWH himself—who “passes by” the human recipients of the theophany:

[The LORD said to Moses:] “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name ‘YHWH…  While my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by...” The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love…   (Exodus 33:19, 22; 34:6)

[God said to Elijah:] “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before YHWH.” And behold, YHWH passed by… (1 Kings 19:11)

In each of these cases, the Greek Septuagint uses the exact same verb for “passing by” (παρέρχομαι) as we find in Mark’s statement that Jesus wanted to “pass them by” (παρέρχομαι) (cf. Mark 6:48 with Exod 33:19, 22; 34:6; 1 Kings 19:11 LXX).  What are we to make of this striking coincidence? I agree with John Meier and Joel Marcus:

John Meier: Clearly, in such a context the verb parerchomai (“pass by”) refers to an epiphany in which Yahweh or Jesus wills to draw close to someone so as to be seen in transcendent majesty, to proclaim his identity… The conclusion from all this is clear: the verb parerchomai in Mark 6:48 intends to present Jesus walking on the water in terms of an OT epiphany. (Meier, A Marginal Jew [ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1994] 2.917 [emphasis added]).

Joel Marcus: In this OT text [Exod 33-34] God’s “passing by” is accompanied by the proclamation of his own identity as a gracious and merciful deity (Exod 34:6);in  our narrative, similarly, Jesus identifies himself… (Marcus, Mark 1-8, 432 [AYB; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001], 432 [emphasis added])

Now, if in the OT God proclaims his identity by “passing by,” then it stands to reason that when Jesus “passes by” he is doing the same thing: proclaiming his divine identity: “I am.”

3. The Context: “I Am” + Walking on the Sea
Third and finally: if any doubt should remain, however, I would call attention to one last point. Once again, the meaning of the words “I am” in Mark 6:50 must be determined by the context. And in context, Jesus doesn’t just say “I am”; he declares “I am” while walking on the sea.

The reason this context is important is because, in the book of Job, it is God alone who is said to walk on the sea:

Then Job answered: “…How can a mortal be just before God?…
[He] who commands the sun, and it does not rise; who seals up the stars;
who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the Sea
who does great things beyond understanding, and marvelous things…
Look, he passes by me, and I do not see him,
he moves on, but I do not perceive him. (Job 9:1-2, 4-11)

Intriguingly, in the Septuagint, the following detail:

 “Who alone…. walks on the sea as on dry ground
(περιπατῶν ὡς ἐπʼ ἐδάφους ἐπὶ θαλάσσης) (Job 9:8 LXX).  

In light of such parallels, Richard Hays recently wrote:

Richard Hays: In this narrative context, there is little doubt that we should also hear Jesus’ comforting address to the disciples (“It is I” [ἐγώ εἰμι]; do not be afraid” [6:50]) as an echo of the self-revelatory speech of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob speaking from the burning bush in Exodus 3:14… Thus, when Jesus speaks the same phrase, “I am,” in his sea-crossing epiphany, it serves to underscore the claim of divine identity that is implicitly present in the story as a whole. (Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness [Waco: Baylor University Press, 2014], 26).

I have to confess, I never saw this clearly before reading Hays’ recent book. But I should have, since it was also pointed out some time ago by David Friedrich Strauss, who states that Jesus’ “ascendancy over the law of gravitation” (nice!) is in effect to “exhibit himself, as it is said of Jehovah, Job ix.8, LXX., περιπατῶν ὡς ἐπʼ ἐδάφους ἐπὶ θαλάσσης , walking upon the sea as upon a pavement.” (Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined [London: SCM, 1972], 504].

My New Book on Jesus
Obviously, more could be said. But I post this for two reasons.

First, maybe I missed it, but I saw no references to any of the scholars I cited above in the recent comments by James McGrath or Dustin Smith. I’d love to hear what those engaging in the debate over Mike Bird’s original post think. Are Meier, Marcus, Yarbro-Collins, Boring, and Hays off base to see Jesus’ egō eimi saying in Mark 6 as a reference to the divine name? If so, how does one explain the multiple connections between Jesus walking on the sea and key OT theophanies?

Second, yesterday, I had a new book on Jesus come out from Image Books (Penguin Random House). Just to be clear: I’m not talking about Jesus and the Last Supper, the academic monograph that Eerdmans just published in November 2015. Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I decided to publish two new Jesus books just a few months apart! The new book, entitled, The Case for Jesus, was released yesterday and written for a general audience. At the heart of the new book is the question of the divine identity of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. What I’ve shared above is just one small piece of the puzzle.

To sum up: when we combine (1) Jesus’ use of egō eimi, (2) the reference to him “passing by,” and (3) the context of him walking on water (!)—is it really tenable to claim that Mark makes no attempt to “suggest, imply, or hint” that Jesus is anyone other than “the human Messiah”?

So, I’ve got three questions:
1. Are Meier, Marcus, Yarbro-Collins, Boring, and Hays off base to see Jesus’ egō eimi saying in Mark 6 as a reference to the divine name?

2. If Jesus is YHWH in person—and remember, “I am” is the Creator God’s name—then why doesn’t that have implications for the debate over Jesus’ preexistence in Mark?

3. Do you think an academic monograph exploring passages like these would be a worthwhile project? 


  1. As someone in the pastoral community I have always leaned towards teaching the passage like that. In fact, I think when we look at the parallel accounts of this (assuming a Markan priority) the authors seem to go in a similar direction.

    Regarding a monograph on these issues, I am not sure, but an academic article would be brilliant, or maybe a collection of essays with some back and forth.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Mike! I look forward to seeing you soon at the Greer-Heard Theological conference with Bart Ehrman and several other big hitters in New Orleans. Looks like it's going to be very stimulating.

  3. Dr. Pitre,

    I just began to read your latest book yesterday and can’t wait to return to it this evening! It addresses topics that I have pondered or stumbled upon and (unsuccessfully) tried to express to others. I will greatly benefit from it.

    As an aerospace engineer turned family physician who has spent the last 15 years or so on my own "historical" Jesus quest of sorts, I'd like to believe I would have performed research and written books on the topics that you also find worthwhile if I have chosen a different path. But alas, I'm certain I would have been led down the road to agnosticism or worse had I entered a university biblical/theology program of study in the late '80s/early ‘90s.

    I have found your books to be light piercing the bookshelf darkness of gloomy christian cynicism on one side and un-critical evangelism on the other.

    Thank you for your efforts and courage! Truth is always far more beautiful to behold than its distorted image.

    Michael A Dunn, D.O.
    Beeville, Tx

    1. Thank you Michael. Keep reading the Jesus blog for more discussions.

  4. Thanks Brant; no, it does, and yes. Hay's book is a brilliant study of how Scripture informs discussion of Jesus' divine identity in the Gospels.

    1. Thanks Steve. I found Hays very thought-provoking too. I have to confess I ignored it for a while, in part because it's so short. But it really is packed with insight (I thought the chapter on Mark was especially good.)

  5. Brad, the other possible background is Psalm 77:19-20 = 76:20-21 LXX: “In the sea was your way, and your paths in many waters, and your footprints will not be known. You guided your people like sheep by the hand of Moyses and Aaron.” This provides the link with the feeding of the lost sheep of Israel in the wilderness (Mk. 6:34)—Morna Hooker’s suggestion.

    By passing by ahead of them Jesus acts out Moses leadership of the people of Israel through the sea: “the Lord our God dried up before us until we passed by (parēlthomen)” (Josh. 4:23); “you broke asunder the sea before them, and they passed through (parēlthosan) in the midst of the sea on dry land” (Neh. 9:11).

    Hooker says: “The statement that he intended to pass by them is incomprehensible if the narrative is a description of Jesus coming to the aid of the storm-tossed disciples, but makes good sense if it is understood as a symbolic repetition of the crossing of the sea by Moses and the Israelites; there was no reason for him to stop—until they cried out in terror."

    Like Jesus, Moses says to the people before the sea is divided “Take courage” (tharseite).

    It could be argued ( that there is a broader exodus narrative (more appropriate than the cosmological passage in Job?) behind the the sequence of miracle stories that casts Jesus as Moses, who comes to the aid of distressed Israel, leads them through the sea towards a new home, overcoming the pagan oppressor, which will be destroyed in the sea like the armies of Pharaoh….

    1. Thanks, Andrew. Nice references to the New Exodus motifs here. Very intriguing!

    2. Andrew, these are great parallels, especially the "Take courage" (is that Exod 14:13LXX?)! I for one would never deny that the New Exodus and New Moses are key themes in the Gospels. In fact, the first 100 pages of *Jesus and the Last Supper* is dedicated to exploring Jesus as a New Moses, and my entire first book on Jesus and the Tribulation revolves around the New Exodus hope. (You might want to check those out if you haven't arleady). But I actually think the Exodus narratvie background strengthens my point here, for it is of course in Exod 3:14 that YHWH reveals his divine name as "I Am" and tells Moses to say that the name of the God who sent him is "I Am." Yes, Jesus is a new Moses in Mark. But he's also greater than Moses, since Moses never takes the divine name as his own.

    3. Brant Pitre, thanks. I think the episode of the storm is calmed by Jesus closes another deity element. This is his command to his disciples to not to fear.
      The imperative "Don't fear" is a constant in the prophets of Old Testament and is always linked to God. Men do not have such authority, because they do not know what will happen, not having their destiny in their hands. This is a divine prerogative.
      So when Jesus repeats what was said dozens of times before by Yaweh, and that hardly the prophets would have the courage to say in his own name, that would be another proof of the divine authority that transpires in the actions of Christ that Mark highlights.
      This connection is reinforced when one hears the promise of Yaweh in Isaiah 43: 1, 2: "When you pass through the waters, I will be with thee. When you walk through the rivers, they shall not overflow", linked to the same imperative "Don't fear".
      This demonstrates the inextricable ties of the Gospels with the Hebrew Scriptures in a way that can not for us be clear, but it certainly made sense for the contemporary Jews, especially the hellenists.

  6. I think it is obvious that Smith was over-reacting to an already one-sided summary of Mark's Christology. Mark has plenty of hints and allusive implications that head in the direction you (and many others) have suggested. The main actual issue is how to relate Mark's hint-Christology (which presumes readerly interaction with an allusive text, as e.g. also 4.41) to the main lines of his explicit Christology.
    Pete Head

    1. Thanks Pete. Yes! That is the issue. And I think that the tension between those two is in part why early Christianity goes on to have several centuries of rather contentious christological debate and development.

  7. Thank you, Brant, for such a clearly expressed rationale for Jesus' divine identity in the "walking on water" passage in Mark.

    It may also be relevant that Peter's answer to the "Who am I?" question, "You are the Messiah," comes in chapter 8 after the second cycle of miracles, both of which begin with mastery over the sea and end with a feeding of thousands in the wilderness (4:35-8:10), clearly YHWH behaviors - demonstrations that the yeast of Jesus is certainly stronger than that of the Pharisees and Herod(8:15).

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

    1. Interesting thought Gene. I must confess that I hadn't thought of the feeding of the multitude as a YHWH action as much as a Mosaic sign. At least, that's how I treat it in chapter 2 of Jesus and the Last Supper. I'll have to think more about what you're suggesting here. Do you have in mind YHWH as shepherd in Ezekiel 34 and 37? Or more the provision of Manna in Exod 16? Just wondering what OT background was figuring prominently for you.

  8. Brant, thanks for this wonderful post. It should add some needed nuance to a very important debate!

    Allow me to point out two things that (I think) warrant mention.

    (1) We should probably remind our readers that "divine" and "divine agency" are overlapping but different categories. Many human figures in the Hebrew Bible act with divine agency; i.e. they perform the acts of the Lord as if the Lord's own hand is at work. This does, in a way, make them divine. But this would not make them "co-equal" with God as modern Christians might think. Israelite Kings and prophets perform the mighty deeds of the Lord and remain fully human.

    (2) In recent decades we have learned more about "semi-divine" (for lack of a better category) figures like Melchizedek who seem to blur the lines between Divine and divine agency. It could be that GMark wants us to rethink Jesus in blurrier categories and thus reconsider his divine agency in terms of Divinity.

    So here is where Rikki Watts might say that the Markan Jesus is performing mighty deeds that *only* the Creator can perform. I still struggle with this claim. Jesus clearly has dominance over the demonic in Mark. But is it any more impressive than Solomon's legendary prowess? Jesus clearly has power over the elements. But is it any more impressive than the career of Moses? Even if we were to say that Mark means to portray Jesus as more impressive than Solomon, Moses, Elijah/Elisha, does this move us beyond the "divine agency" category to something closer to Divinity? This is notoriously difficult to argue. Now, the Infancy Gospel of Thomas has Jesus creating birds from clay and breathing life into them. This is the kind of smoking-gun symbolism that GMark seems to lack. Of course, resurrection might point in this direction but it is still up to the reader to draw the connection. Perhaps this is the beauty of GMark.

    One last point. Sometimes GMark frustrates modern readers because the author isn't always as coherent and thoroughgoing as we'd like. Sometimes symbols and titles are underdeveloped. Sometimes Jesus sends mixed messages. This the type of thing that GJohn (seems to) correct.

    I remain undecided.


    1. Anthony,

      One of the passages that I have always read as Mark hinting at Jesus' divinity is the healing of the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12. Jesus forgives the paralytic's sins, and the Pharisees tellingly object, "Who but God can forgive sins?" Who, indeed.

      Would you consider Jesus' authority to forgive sins a matter of divinity or of divine agency?


    2. Alyosha, apparently Mark thinks that the son of God can indeed forgive sins in this way.


    3. Anthony,
      Thanks for adding even more nuance to the discussion! I totally agree with you that being clear about the distinction between (1) divine identity and (2) divine agency is something that needs to be maintained. Too much of the discussion is muddled on this point. I also concur that characters like Melchizedek certainly blur the lines--after all, 11QMelchizedek refers to Melchizedek as "elohim" more than once. That is precisely why I wanted to focus on Jesus walking on the sea, because in that episode you not only have (1) divine agency--Jesus doing something Jewish Scripture says "only" God does (ob 9), but doing so *in the context of* (2) divine identity--Jesus taking the divine name "I am" as his own (Exod 3:14). Thanks for helping me clarify a very important point.

  9. One more thought. Brant, in the episode of walking on water, GMark tells us that Jesus *wanted* to pass them by. Intriguing language to be sure. But what do we make of the fact that Jesus doesn't end up passing them by? It's like we almost get a symbol for Divinity and then we don't quite get it. Rather than transcendence we get immanence. This is just the sort of thing that makes GMark so brilliant!


  10. I don't see how Mark's Gospel can be identifying Jesus with God when it, along with the rest of the NT, consistently distinguishes Jesus from God.

    For instance, Jesus is described as the son of God (a messianic title). So, obviously, Jesus cannot be his own son.

  11. Hays’ general approach is very good, but I don’t find him convincing here. It seems unlikely that Jesus intended to show off his divinity by creating a situation that echoed Sinai, though you might argue that Mark crafted this story to do so.
    In an academic volume, you would need to push back on commentators who offer a contrary view, e.g. R T France in the NIGTC commentary on Mark 6:50 (Eerdmans, 2002), page 273, footnote 71:

    "The temptation to see this common Greek phrase as a deliberate use of the divine name of Ex. 3:14 or an echo of the Isaian formula ʾanî hûʾ should probably be resisted, despite the numinous character of the occasion. A declaration of divinity does not seem appropriate at this point in the narrative where the focus is on the initial failure to recognise Jesus and his consequent selfidentification, for which ἐγώ εἰμι is normal colloquial Greek (cf. Mt. 26:22, 25; Jn. 4:26; 9:9; 18:5); see further below, p. 610 n. 34. Certainly v. 52 makes it clear that the disciples did not understand Jesus to have just revealed himself as God."
    - Allen Browne.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Allen and for the quote from France! I have to confess that I think R. T. France here is reading Mark with precisely the kind of demand for explicit Christology that Anthony has rightly pointed to as problematic. I also find it puzzling for France to argue that because the disciples "did not *understand* Jesus to have just revealed himself as God" that Mark is not *depicting* Jesus as taking the divine name, when the disciples lack of understanding is one of the key redactional themes in the Gospel! I would turn France's point on itself and say that the disciples lack of comprehension at this point actually *heightens* the theme of their failure to understand (which will play itself even more clearly out in Mark 7 and 8). Finally, you'll notice that France makes no mention of the fact that Jewish Scripture says that God "alone... tramples the waves of the sea" (Job 9). As I pointed out in the original post, it is not simply that Jesus takes the divine name "I am" (Exod 3:14) it is that he does so in the context of doing something Jewish Scripture attributes to God alone (Job 9) and while "passing by" the disciples, as YHWH does in famous OT theophanies (Exod 33, 34). France misses this OT background and reduces it to merely the presence of "I am," which is of course insufficient.

  12. The semantic distinction between Jesus (the Son of God) and God doesn't preclude the author of the Fourth Gospel from identifying Jesus directly with God. e.g. John 1:18- "No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him." Think also of the many "I AM" statements in John that are clearly meant to identify Jesus with YHWH.

    The question is whether this proto-trinitarian concept of simultaneous distinction and identity between Jesus and God exists even earlier in the Christian tradition. The echoes of Old Testament theophanies in Mk 6 would seem to suggest yes. That was really the thrust of my question above to Anthony about Mk 2. There, Jesus (as the self-proclaimed Son of Man) claims the authority to forgive sins. Did he do so because he saw himself as possessing divine agency or because he saw himself as possessing divinity?

    While in the OT "Son of God" is a messianic title, it is clear that in some of the NT writings, it is something more. The question is, how early in the NT tradition does it start to indicate something more?

  13. To follow up on my last comment, there is some evidence that this identity-and-distinction Christology existed quite early in the Christian tradition. Think of the hymn in Phil 2:6-11. Jesus is identified as having equality with God although he chose to empty himself rather than cling to it (v. 6-7). He is then exalted so that "Jesus" is now the name above all names, and somehow this is "to the glory of God the Father" (v. 11). "Jesus" transcending YHWH as the name above all names can only be to the Glory of the father if there is a high degree of identification between Jesus and the Father.

  14. I found the commented on connections between GMark and the LXX interesting. I've wondered for a while about the "I am"s in the Gospels and the LXX's translation of the divine name. It the LXX, iirc, God doesn't say he's the I AM (ego eimi); rather, he says ego eimi ho on. There's probably a simple answer to this, but why some connections with the LXX but not this one?

    1. Woofboy, in the "I am" sayings of deutero-Isaiah (cited above), the LXX consistently has ego eimi. So even if the direct textual parallel to Exodus isn't strong, an indirect textual parallel via Isaiah seems likely.

  15. This is a fascinating little study - I was aware of the Job 9:8 LXX background to "walking on the sea" but not the "passing by" background. One question I have for the early high Christology camp, though, is this: if Mark is writing in the 60s to Christians in Rome or some other major centre, and high Christology is already fairly well established through the teachings of Paul (and others?), then why does Mark need to merely hint at high Christology through OT echoes, without making any explicit statements of pre-existence or divinity such as one finds in John?

  16. Εγω ειμι in this case is simply "it's me!"
    Ηθελεν παρελθειν αυτους means either "he intended to go past them" or, most likely, "~ he acted as if / he pretended ~ he was going past them.

    1. Chrys, I think Brant's point is precisely that such a simple, surface reading of the text's meaning does not do justice to the overtones that seem to be implied by parallels to OT theophanies.

    2. Yes, Tom, that was exactly my point. It's not just that there are parallels, it's that the parallels are with famous OT *theophanies*.

  17. He "began" to pass them by but did not -- in the same sense that Peter knew Jesus was the Christ yet didn't quite know; in the same way the blind man began to see but only indistinctly at first; in the same way two attempts needed to be made to make him see; . . .

    The glory begins to be revealed at this point in the narrative.

  18. I'd question whether even the Old Testament "I AM" indicated divinity, or was a correct descriptor or name of God. It too closely reassembles the "I am Darius" of the famous stele. Likely Jews were misreading Persian and other languages.

    Often people misread such things, including prefixes and suffixes, as proper names. The word "Moses" for example, was a common Egyptian suffix, in effect.

    Something like this error is illustrated by a joke about how Albuquerque got its name. A hero had just saved many people in the region. And when they asked his name, to name the city after him? He responded Al; Al Buquerque.

    When people deal with unfamiliar languages, often they separate, or join, or otherwise incorrectly parse, the units. The great Darius said "I am Darius," and soon rumors spread about the great Lord "I am."

  19. Hi Brant,

    Nice post. I think that this is about the strongest case that can be made that Mark is hinting that Jesus is God in this passage.

    However, let me ask just what you think the author's intent is. Is it supposed to tell us that Jesus is God himself? Or is it that Jesus is someone else, but someone who has a or the divine nature? (i.e. that he's more than a "mere man")

    This talk of "Jesus's divine identity" is opaque, and I think it may matter for your thesis just quite what you mean by that. Perhaps there are options other than the two I just laid out - but in any case, please let us know what you think this author is hinting at.


  20. Two other exegetical observations I'd like to add after further reflection on this very thought-provoking post.

    1) Jesus' words "Do not be afraid" are paralleled repeatedly in deutero-Isaiah, the very portion of Scripture where 'I am' features most prominently as a divine self-disclosure - and where Yahweh's dominance over the sea is recapitulated. See Isa. 40:9-12; 41:4, 10-13; 43:1-2, 10-13, 16; 44:1-2, 6-8. I need to check LXX but from memory, most of these imperatives are preserved in LXX either as the active me phobou or the passive me phobeisthe (as Mark 6:50).
    2) It is widely acknowledged that Jesus' absolute ego eimi sayings in the Fourth Gospel are divine claims. Bauckham argues that there are seven such claims in John just as in deutero-Isaiah. It may be significant, then, that John 6 contains an ego eimi saying set in the walking on the sea narrative just as in Mark 6. Is it not possible, then, that John has taken Mark 6:50 or the saying recorded there as the jumping off point for his ego eimi Christological programme? If so then we have very early evidence for high Christology exegesis of the saying in Mark 6:50.

  21. Hey everyone! I just wanted to thank you all for taking the time to give such great feedback, questions, and comments on the post. The Jesus blog definitely has some great readers. Sorry I wasn't able to respond sooner! I've been away traveling to and from a conference. I've posted a few brief replies above that I hope are helpful. Maybe I can do a follow-up post to add to Anthony and James' great comments. In the meantime, have a Happie Mardi Gras!

  22. Thanks for the kind words, Brant. I had in mind the provision of Manna in Exodus 16. I'm thinking that the overall trajectory from Intro to Transfiguration in Mark is to present the "yeast" of Jesus as stronger than that of the Pharisees and Herod [present opponents](8:14-21), and to present his wisdom as greater than that of Moses and Elijah [accepted authorities] (9:2-13).

    Gene Stecher
    Chambersburg, Pa.

  23. Dr. Pitre and Dr. LeDonne,

    Even though this is a philosophical/personal issue but do most biblical historians agree that Jesus really is equal to God and God the Son?

    1. CV, if you are asking about most historical Jesus scholars, the answer is certainly no. I cannot speak for Dr. Pitre, but the doctrine of the incarnation is something of a philosophical paradox and thus must be embraced as mystery. Thus, even when the historical Jesus scholar is Christian, s/he tends to focus on the fact that Jesus was fully human. Many focus on this entirely.

    2. I should have added that the doctrine of the incarnation must be embraced as mystery *if it is embraced at all*.

    3. CV / Anthony, if I may add here - I think most historians, if asked whether Jesus is equal to God and is God the Son, would declare the question to be outside the scope of historical inquiry. It is open only to theological inquiry, or perhaps to faith.

      This point is made (with respect to Jesus' exorcisms, not his deity) by Bart Ehrman:
      "the historian cannot say that demons - real live supernatural spirits that invade human bodies - were actually cast out of people, because to do so would be to transcend the boundaries imposed on the historian by the historical method, in that it would require a religious belief system involving a supernatural realm outside of the historian's province. But we can say that Jesus was widely recognized by people of his own time - who did believe that demons existed and could be exorcized - to have the powers to do just this." (Ehrman, B.D. (1999). Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 197)

      So there are relevant questions that are open to historical inquiry, such as, "Did Jesus believe himself to be divine?" or, "Did Mark believe Jesus to be divine?" If 'be divine' is meant in any kind of incarnational/ ontological sense, most historians and biblical scholars would answer 'No' to both of these questions. And it is the 'No' to the second question that Brant is challenging in this post.

  24. Hi Brant, I wonder if you are familiar with this PhD thesis by Marcus Throup? It's very relevant to your post.

    Mark's Jesus, divine?: a study of
    aspects of Mark's christology with special reference to
    Hebrew divine warrior traditions in Mark, and in relation
    to contemporary debates on primitive christology.

  25. Sorry,

    I am a little confused here because I am hearing different answers. Are you all saying that historians of the New Testament(even Christian) do not believe the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation or in the divinity of Jesus at all? Or are you saying that most scholars leave that an open question beyond historical study?

    If the former, then wouldn't it be okay for me as a Christian to disagree since this is not a historical question but a philosophical question. If the latter, then I would agree.

  26. Hi Brant, I think you're a brilliant scholar and an even better teacher. I learn so much from everything you publish, whether it be your video series (Sunday mass readings explained), the articles on this blog or your books (currently going through The Case for Jesus). Thank you for all the hard work you've done!

    I'm really keen to go into more depth researching the historical Jesus and intend to read (in addition to the Bible) everything the early church fathers had to say as well as the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. I realise a lot of these can be found online, but from what I've seen, the free translations are quite dated. Do you think these would suffice, or can you recommend some books I could purchase, based on more recent scholarship that contain these writings?