Baker Academic

Friday, September 5, 2014

Does Peter Enns Represent the Lord Correctly?

Friend of the program Peter Enns provides an excerpt of his new book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It. Dr. Enns offers a brief reading of Mark 12:35-37 (I'm guessing that he's not using Matthew, as Matthew goes an entirely different direction with this saying). According to the NRSV, this passage reads:
35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, by the Holy Spirit, declared,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
37 David himself calls him Lord; so how can he be his son?” And the large crowd was listening to him with delight.
Dr. Enns suggests that Jesus is using Psalm 110 to say something about his status as "messiah" in this passage. This is something that, according to Enns, "got him into trouble with some influential Jewish authorities of his day." But it isn't clear to me that Jesus is referring to himself in this passage. I've just posted this comment over at his blog:
Pete, I think you are quite right that Jesus read his Bible differently than I do. Indeed Paul, Matthew, John, etc. all use the Hebrew Bible in ways that wouldn't be acceptable in my classroom. So to your primary point, I agree. But I have a more exegetical question related to Mark 12:35-37. It isn't clear to me that Jesus is referring to himself in this saying. Could he have been referring to a popular misnomer concerning "the messiah"? I.e. could he have been speaking generally about "the messiah" for the sole purpose of making the scribes look bad? I'm asking because this passage is among the most vexing in the NT, not because I have the right answer.



  1. Anthony, if Jesus was referring to a popular misnomer about the Messiah, what would that misnomer be? That the Messiah would be the son of David? Maybe I need to read your dissertation. Apart from this verse, is there any New Testament doubt that the Messiah would be the son of David?

    1. Good question, Larry. You write as if you have indeed read my dissertation. This is a complicated issue, but if you're just looking for an example of a messiah who is not "son of David" I would point you to the Yahad (of Dead Sea Scrolls fame). They hoped for the coming of a messiah of Aaron (priestly) and a messiah of David (and perhaps a third, but I won't say more about that). They seem to think that the priestly messiah will be more important than the royal messiah (as if their relationship is hegemonic and subordinate in some way). If I were say more, I might say something about the precedent of Solomon (the most famous "son of David") as the anointed cultic leader of Israel.

    2. Um ... I can see how this can get (more) complicated. So ... the popular misnomer is, only one messiah, from the line of David?

  2. In "Messianic Exegesis" Juel notes on page 142 that "the issues that are the subject of controversy here (Mark 11, 12) are the authority of Jesus and John, the status of those in charge of the vineyard, the sensitive issue of tribute to Caesar, the compatibility of the resurrection and scriptural tradition. and the relationship of temple worship to Torah piety--turn out to be matters of great importance for the Jewish community in the latter decades of the 1st the messianic discussion need not be discarded as something Mark included to show that Jesus was capable of 'beating the rabbis with their own stick".

  3. I've assumed that the "mainline" first century Jewish view was that:

    (1) The Messiah would be a descendant of David.
    (2) The Psalms, unless otherwise indicated, were written by David.

    Given those premises, Psalm 110 would seem to be problematic for the "mainline" view.

    1. Bilbo, I'm not sure that you can assume that the term "mainline" is appropriate in this case. Also "the messiah" suggests one - this cannot be assumed either.

    2. Psalm 110 may be an "otherwise indicated" Psalm.

  4. Am I mistaken in thinking that the authors of the Synoptics had these assumptions?

  5. It seems to me that Mark likes to take every/most opportunities to point out who Jesus is (messiah, Son of God). I wonder if Mark would have intended to pass on this opportunity? ... He already has Jesus called Son of David in 11:47.

    I also wonder if perhaps the question mark on this passage is due to Mark's borrowing an established chiasmus that he didn't want to change - even if a bit difficult for the reader?:

    a taught in the temple
    b son of David?
    c Lord said to my Lord
    d sit at My right hand/enemies beneath feet
    c' Lord
    b' son
    a' crowd enjoyed listening

    As well, I like to read Mark as a chiasmus. In that chiasmus, the 5 controversies in Mark 2-3 are a match with the 5 controversies in 11-12. Joanna Dewey likes to see the first set as a chiasmus. I think the second set may be a chiasmus as well, though a weaker one. In addition, Mark likes to stress 'who Jesus is' at the beginning of his structures (it goes to authority). It's a tendency for Mark. E.g., the prologue (1:1-13). I think he does the same thing with these 2 controversy sections. He creates an authoritative statement in the opening a/a' slots of both sets of controversies. E.g., in Mark 2-3, he places healing miracles (goes to power, and authority), and in the 'a' story, he bring up the issue of Jesus' authority in forgiving sins. In Mark 11-12, Mark begins and ends (a/a') his chiasmus with stories having to do with Jesus' authority (who he is). In the case of the text above, Jesus is David's son, but also his Lord. Something more.

  6. Lots of room for confusion, many readings here, given the semantics of "Lord." But briefly, here are some possibilities I see:

    Jesus might be hinting that 1) the Messiah or anointed Christ does not have to be, or even could not be, a descendent of David. Since David may call him "lord."

    Then too though 2) perhaps Jesus himself could not be a messiah, because as son of David, he could not be Lord of David.

    Possibly though 3) a little history on "lord"s in general could resolve this. Sometimes at some point (as in the moment of dotage) the son of a lord assumes authority as ruler. Even before the death of the father. In such cases, the son is Lord. Even (awkwardly, and only partially to be sure) over the father.

    So conceivably we could say Jesus was both son of a father like David. And also Lord. Even lord OVER the father.

    This is iffy stuff in real life though: the moment a son decides to take over the reins from his dad is a tricky thing.

    Then too though, this would also 5) have implications in that it is sometimes thought that the new covenant of Jesus somehow overrules or "fulfills" and discharges, the old Law of God. So is Jesus somehow lord over even God the Father?

    The history of Lords would suggest how this could at times take place. Often indeed aging fathers officially designated their son as heir; and with plenipotentiary powers, say.

    Risky business, to be sure.

    - Brett