Jesus the Christ - "Messiah" as a Title (Mk 1:1a)

Read the series so far

The Gospel of Mark is profound from the very first verse. It reads, “the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”1 But first, a reminder about what this study is all about:

1. We’re looking at what the Gospel of Mark says about the Lord Jesus Christ, from beginning to end.
2. Then, we’re seeing if the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity makes sense of all this evidence (hint—it does).

As we move along in this study, the point is not to produce an exegetical commentary on the Gospel of Mark. The point is to simply take in evidence about who Jesus Christ is, and consider what this information says about Jesus in light of the Trinitarian definition of God. Because I’ve heard tell that a picture is worth a thousand words, we’ll use a nifty chart to summarize our findings as we mosey our way through the text.

Remember, we’ll be using this orthodox definition of the Trinity from James White’s excellent book The Forgotten Trinity:

Within the one Being that is God, there exists eternally three co-equal and co-eternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit 2

This definition captures five important facts about the Trinity, and as we go along, we’ll be charting out how the evidence supports each one:

  1. Each Person is fully and completely divine3
  2. Each Person has always been co-equal,4
  3. Each Person has been around forever,5
  4. Each Person is, in some way, distinct from the others, and yet
  5. Each Person is, in some way, one with the others6

Now, onto the text!

Who Is the Messiah?

The evidence for God’s tri-unity is apparent from the very first verse in this wonderful book. Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. This is the “beginning of the Gospel about Jesus the Messiah.” It’s easy for many Christians to forget that the word “Christ” is not a last name, like say, Fred Flintstone. It’s a title.7 It says something about who Jesus is, in the same way that “Sylvester the Cat” describes a long-suffering puddycat with a lust for bright yellow birds. This word “Christ” is not a name—it’s a title. What does this title mean?

It means “Anointed” or “Chosen One.” It means “Messiah.” This title refers to a very specific individual who was prophesied about in the Scriptures. Anybody who has read the Bible knows the Jews were expecting the Messiah. Jesus, for example, asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ,” (Mk 8:29). Peter believed Jesus was the Messiah (ὁ χριστός).

The Samaritan woman whom Jesus met at the well also had the same hope. “The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (the one called Christ); ‘whenever he comes, he will tell us everything,’” (Jn 4:25). Again, the woman used a title to describe this Messiah who, ironically, she was talking to (ὁ λεγόμενος χριστός). This Messiah was called “Christ.” Who was calling Him “Christ?” The Samaritan community was.

Even the apostate Jewish leaders were expecting this man to come on the scene. Remember, for example, what they asked Jesus at His trial. “Again the high priest questioned him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’” (Mark 14:61). The word has the article in Greek, because it’s a title (σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστὸς). Sylvester the Cat. Tweety the Bird. Jesus the Christ.

Consider a few passages from the Old Testament which speak of this coming χριστὸς, this Anointed One. All of these passages should be familiar to the average Christian, but perhaps you never considered them from a doctrinal standpoint.

Psalm 2

We read, “The kings of the earth form a united front; the rulers collaborate against the LORD and his anointed king,” (Psalm 2:2). Who on earth is this “anointed king?” The word means “Christ” or “Messiah.” Whoever He is, the leaders of the pagan world are united again both Him and God Almighty. They seek to “tear off the shackles they’ve put on us,” (Ps 2:3). The Lord and His Anointed One are both binding the kings and rulers of the world.

The Anointed One is then described as the Lord’s king, who rules from Zion (Ps 2:6). More than that, He is God’s Son (Ps 2:3), a sentiment which God repeats at Jesus’ own baptism in the Jordan River (Mk 1:11). This Anointed King will have all the nations as His inheritance, “the ends of the earth as your personal property,” (Ps 2:8). He will dominate and destroy all evildoers who refuse to acknowledge His reign, breaking them “with an iron scepter,” (Ps 2:9). The rulers of the earth are warned to “do what is wise,” and “submit to correction! Serve the LORD in fear! Repent in terror!” (Ps 2:11).

It is clear this Anointed King is the instrument who will carry out the Lord’s wrath and rule over the world as His representative. He did not warn the rulers of this earth to serve Him, but “the LORD.”

His identity is surely no secret; the disciples explicitly identified Him as Jesus when they quoted this very passage in the Book of Acts (4:26). In that passage, Luke quoted the Septuagint translation exactly (κατὰ τοῦ κυρίου καὶ κατὰ τοῦ χριστοῦ αὐτου). The word for “anointed” is the same title all the Gospels give to Jesus; the same title Mark just gave Him in the very first verse of this book—τοῦ χριστοῦ.

Psalm 110:

We can also turn our gaze to the precious passage from the Psalms, which even Jesus quoted from: “Here is the LORD’s proclamation to my lord: ‘Sit down at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool!’” (Ps 110:1). Who is God speaking to here? Who is David’s “lord”? Why is this “lord” given the enormous privilege of sitting at God’s right hand? This is a privilege even the holy, pure and undefiled angels in heaven would never think of grasping for (cf. Rev 4).8

He is the Lord’s anointed King whose dominion extends from Zion and who will rule in the midst of His enemies (Ps 110:2). He is “an eternal priest after the pattern of Melchizedek,” (Ps 110:4). He sits at God’s right hand and executes judgment against nations, kings and rebels, “he fills the valleys with corpses; he shatters their heads over the vast battlefield,” (Ps 110:6).

He is the King whom loud voices from heaven will praise, and say, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever,” (Rev 11:15). The title is rendered τοῦ χριστοῦ αὐτοῦ, His Messiah.

How does this survey about the idea of a coming Messiah help us understand the doctrine of the Trinity? It’s simple, really. Just consider what the Old Testament teaches us about the Christ from these two passages:9

  1. He is distinct from the LORD. The kings and rulers of the earth are united together against both the Lord and His Anointed. It is their shackles they seek to escape from, not His. The Messiah sits at the God’s right hand. It is Messiah’s kingdom which will be established.
  2. He is co-equal and divine. He does not worship the Father in heaven, but sits at His right hand. This is a privilege no angel can ever claim. Even Michael the archangel shrinks from directing rebuking Satan (Jude 9), yet David’s Lord sits beside God Almighty in heaven! He and God share the shackles which bind men to their authority and jurisdiction.
  3. He is eternal. He will reign “forever and ever.”

We can begin filling out this chart as follows:

Already, the false modalist view of God begins to run into serious problems when we see the clear distinction between God and His Messiah. Likewise, the Arian Jesus cannot simply be an angel or a created being, because He does not worship God from a position of inferiority (cf. Rev 4), but sits beside Him as a joint object of worship (cf. Rev 5:13).

As we go along, this chart will simply continue to grow, and the precious doctrine of God’s tri-unity will continue to unfold before our eyes. No Christian could ever exhaust the deep well of learning and study the Scriptures offer us about the Father, His dear Son, and the Spirit, who make their home in the heart of every true believer (Jn 14:23). May every Christian be stirred to know more about His God.

Notes

1 There is some uncertainty and hand-wringing in certain quarters about whether the phrase υἱοῦ θεοῦ is in the original text of Scripture. The UBS-5 encloses it in brackets. The Textus Receptus and Byzantine Text include it, along with a genitive article. 

2 This definition is from James White, The Forgotten Trinity (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1998), 26. 

3 Athanasian Creed, clause 15.

4 Ibid, clause 26.

5 Ibid, clauses 8, 21-23. 

6 Ibid, clauses 3-6. 

7 I believe the genitive Χριστοῦ is functioning in simple apposition to Ἰησοῦ. See also Mark L. Strauss, Mark, in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 60.

8 Actually, Satan and a whole bunch of angels did try to grasp for this privilege, but that’s another topic. And, yes, I take the 24 elders to be angelic beings, not representatives of the church in heaven.

9 So much more could be said about the prophesies of the Messiah that I almost feel criminally negligent for being so brief here. I hope readers can forgive me.  

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There are 32 Comments

T Howard's picture

Before you begin importing meaning from OT passages into the title Christ, don't you think it's important to understand to whom Mark was writing and why?

Was Mark seeking to prove or explicate the Trinity to his readers in Mark 1:1? Probably not.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Mark called Jesus "the Christ," an OT term which spoke about the coming Messiah. Why is this irrelevant to help us understand what the Bible as a whole teaches about this Messiah and the doctrine of the Trinity? I'm not writing a commentary; I put that caveat in at the beginning of the article. I'm simply looking at what a particular section of Scripture (e.g. the Gospel of Mark) teaches us about the doctrine of the Trinity by seeing how it presents Jesus.

He is "the Messiah." Who is "the Messiah?" How would a reader have understood this term? You have to have OT background to even understand what the title means. He's presented (just from a cursory look at Ps 2 and 110) as a figure who is eternal, co-equal, divine and distinct from the Father. Mark was a colleague of both Paul and, to a greater extent, the Apostle Peter, who quoted OT passages about the coming "Messiah" extensively in his early sermons preserved in the Book of Acts. Are you suggesting Mark used the title "Christ" in a different way than somebody steeped in an OT context would understand it? Do you believe a proper understanding of what "Christ" means has no relevance to the definition of the Trinity? What do you object to?

As a further caveat (and apology) for all concerned, please understand this is not an academic article written for a scholarly journal. Much more could and should be said on this topic. At 1500 words, I just don't have space. It's written for a normal Christian audience. If somebody is expecting a scholarly treatise, please gird up your loins and steel yourself for further disappointments . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

J. Baillet's picture

T Howard wrote:

Before you begin importing meaning from OT passages into the title Christ, don't you think it's important to understand to whom Mark was writing and why?

Was Mark seeking to prove or explicate the Trinity to his readers in Mark 1:1? Probably not.

From reading the first few verses of the Gospel of Mark, the OT seems to be far from Mark's mind.

Mark 1:1  The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 
Mark 1:2  As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 
Mark 1:3  the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" 

(ESV).  Tyler, write on.

JSB

T Howard's picture

Sorry for the confusion. My point is simply that given Mark's original audience (assuming it was comprised of both Jewish and Gentile early believers), we need to be careful when assuming what they would have understood from the Old Testament. The Jewish believers were probably well aware of Psalm 2 and Psalm 110, but it's almost certain they did not associate Trinitarian concepts with them and link them to Mark 1:1. The gentile believers may or may not have had familiarity with these passages.

Consequently, it's hard to say from the historical context that in Mark 1:1 Mark was clearly describing Jesus as divine and separate from the Father, Jesus is eternal, and Jesus is distinct from the Father and Spirit. At most, you can argue that Mark is declaring Jesus as the LORD's anointed servant (i.e. the Messiah). Mark doesn't provide a brief look into the Trinity until 1:9-11.

TylerR's picture

Editor

T Howard:

I think you have a fundamental misunderstanding of what I'm trying to accomplish here.

  1. There is a doctrine of the Trinity
  2. I want Christians to see why this doctrine is an accurate distillation and summary of what all the Bible teaches about Father, Son and Spirit
  3. I chose a portion of Scripture to teach through - the Gospel of Mark
  4. I remind people of what the doctrine of the Trinity is
  5. We gather data about Jesus Christ from the Gospel of Mark, using relevant OT and NT passages to help us understand
  6. We see if this data supports or undermines the doctrine of the Trinity

You believe the original audience wouldn't have fully understood what the term "Christ" meant. I don't care what they did, or did not, understand.

  1. I care about what Mark understood the title to mean.
  2. I care about what Mark's mentors Barnabas, Paul and Peter would have understood the term to mean. We know what Mark's mentors understood about the term, because we have their sermons, Their sermons teach (summed up in a systematic fashion), that there is only one God, and that Messiah is divine, eternal and distinct from the Father, and clearly prophesied about in the OT. Period.
  3. I care about what God intended to communicate to Christians when He had the Spirit move Mark to utilize that title. I'm assuming He meant us to understand what it meant from the OT.

You don't dispute what the title means. You do dispute what the original audience would have understood the title to mean. You claim they had limited knowledge of the OT context and wouldn't have connected the dots the way I did. If that were a valid hermeneutic (and I dispute that it is), then:

  1. All the OT prophesies don't really teach about Christ at all, because many of the original recipients (the OT Israelites and their NT brethren) never "got it."
  2. More than that, it would mean the Orthodox Jewish counter-missionaries today aren't wrong either, because they still don't understand the prophetic passages to be speaking about Jesus

I don't care about how bright, dense or sluggish the original audience was. I care about what the text actually teaches. I care about what the term "Christ" actually means, and, therefore, why the doctrine of the Trinity is an accurate summary statement of what the Bible teaches about our one God, who has eternally existed as three co-equal and co-eternal persons, Father, Son and Spirit. 

You seem to be expecting me to stick exclusively to Mark. That isn't my point or my goal. I'm using the Gospel of Mark as my text to teach the Trinity.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

One note here is that, again, there are a bunch of places where the disciples realized only later what Christ was saying--they only "got it" later.  And in that light, one would expect the Gospel writers to follow some of the same rhetorical style--"folks, you've been reading this all your life and believe it or not, you've been completely missing the point."

And really, isn't that what we would have to assume regarding Psalm 2 and Psalm 110?  You've got some really weird things pointing to David having a "Lord" that talks to YHWH, that point to YHWH having a son, and the like.....your choices are either (a) trinity or (b) some really impressive mental gymnastics to work around the plain meaning of the passage.  Really this kind of argument is at the heart of the doctrine of progressive revelation.  No?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Bert:

You're right. What many of the various Christological heresies do is fixate on Deut 6:4-5 (which isn't a bad thing, in and of itself), and then they make a FULL STOP and will not allow progressive revelation to tell us more about who our one God is. They then have to re-define Christ and do something with Him. The modalists chose to make Him a manifestation or role played by the one God, not a distinct Person. The Arians downgrade Jesus to a created being.

Regarding progressive revelation, consider what Peter does with Psalm 16 from Acts 2:22-36! Did the original audience "get" what David was writing about? Perhaps not explicitly, but I believe we can at least say they should have had some serious questions and a good hunch that David couldn't really be referring to Himself. The writer of Hebrews did the same kind of thing with the various psalms he quoted in Hebrews 1-2 that he applied directly to Christ, when they had been traditionally understood to be referring to David.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

Tyler, I don't want to discourage you from your study on the Trinity. I only point out that you're over-exegeting Mark 1:1. I've looked at the following four commentaries and NONE of them make any Trinitarian connections with Mark 1:1:

  • France, R. T. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002.

  • Edwards, James R. The Gospel according to Mark. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002.

  • Stein, Robert H. Mark. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.

  • Wessel, Walter W. “Mark,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984.

And, when these commentaries do address the title of "Christ" and its OT meaning, they do not mention anything Trinitarian about it. For example, when Edwards addresses Mark's use of Christ, he writes,

Quote:

The Greek word “Christ” translates the Heb. “Messiah,” meaning “to anoint.” In the OT, three classes of people received anointing: prophets, priests, and kings. The third class, kings, influenced the development of the concept of the Messiah in Judaism (e.g., 2 Samuel 7; Psalm 2). Especially as the monarchy failed and eventually fell to Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C., an expectation grew in Israel that God would raise up a new and even greater king like David. “ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land’ ” (Jer 23:5). The OT does not use “the Messiah” in an absolute sense, nor does it develop or present a formal doctrine of the Messiah. This also remains generally true for the subsequent intertestamental period, when the concept of Messiah is less frequent and developed than is often supposed. The earliest known instance of the absolute use of the term “the Messiah” comes from Qumran (1QSa 2:12). The most common conception of the Messiah in pre-Christian texts is as an eschatological king. Otherwise, the messianic hope remained fairly general. Through the Messiah God would establish and protect an everlasting kingdom over all the earth. The Messiah would be the perfect king chosen by God from eternity, through whom God would first deliver Israel from its enemies and then cause Israel to live in peace and tranquillity thereafter (Sib. Or. 3:286–94). It may also be noted that neither the Servant of Yahweh nor Son of Man concept in the OT is associated with messianic connotations.

Disappointment with the Hasmonean princes who ruled over Israel in the second century B.C. after the Maccabean revolt, and disillusionment following Pompey’s seizure of Jerusalem in 63 B.C., caused messianic expectations to increase in both specificity and compass. Though entirely human,  the Messiah would nevertheless be far greater than God’s earlier messengers to Israel, “powerful in word and deed before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19). He would be endowed with miraculous powers, and be mighty and wise in the Holy Spirit. The Messiah would be holy and free from sin, the final Anointed One and true king of Israel who would destroy God’s enemies by the word of his mouth. He would deliver Jerusalem from the Gentiles, gather the faithful from dispersion, and rule in justice and glory. (pp 249-50)

 

Stein writes in his commentary,

Quote:
Although “Christ” (Χριστός, Christos [Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ, māšîaḥ, messiah], meaning “the anointed one”) can function as a title when used with “Jesus” (cf. Acts 3:20; 5:42; 17:3), by the time Mark was written its titular nature, while never completely missing, had given way to its use as a name. Elsewhere in Mark, “Christ” is used as a title (8:29; 9:41; 12:35; 13:21; 14:61; 15:32), but in these instances it is not joined to the name “Jesus.” Thus the term “Christ” in 1:1 functions primarily as a name (V. Taylor 1952: 152; Pesch 1980a: 76; contra W. Lane 1974: 44; Gundry 1993: 34) that identifies, rather than as a title that describes, as in Matt. 1:1, 18; John 1:17; 17:3. Yet even as a name, for the first-century reader its titular sense would have been more recognized than today. In Mark the title “Son of God” reveals Jesus’s unique and unparalleled relationship with God. It is the favorite title of Mark for identifying Jesus (1:11, 24; 3:11 [cf. 1:34]; 5:7; 9:7; 12:6; 13:32; 14:61–62; 15:39), and when Mark was written, it conveyed to the Christian community the idea of both preexistence and deity (cf. Phil. 2:6–8; Col. 1:15–20). (p 41)

So again, Tyler, my only point is don't over-exegete the passage. Mark did not mean to communicate Trinitarian theology with the term Christ in Mark 1:1. So, neither should we.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I understand you to be saying that:

  1. Mark understood what the title means
  2. God understood what the title means
  3. Yet the title and it's significance has no bearing on how we can understand the doctrine of the Trinity.

Ok. I anxiously await your opinion of my forthcoming discussion of the term "Son of God." 

I get that you disagree. Lovely. Let's let this public dispute go. Please write me a private message if you wish to continue the discussion; I fear we're talking past each other. Ciao.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

It is worth noting that T. Howard's argument is more or less the basic logical fallacy called argumentum ad ignorantium,  or argument from ignorance. This is compounded by the fact that the Trinity is derived from ideas--deity of Christ, deity of Father, deity of Counselor, unity of Godhead--which are themselves derived from the Scriptures.  

Let's also contemplate what we'd expect from a commentary on Mark 1:1--really we'd hear the main points, so to speak, and other derivative points would be ignored for space's sake.  However, the Trinity is nothing but a derivative of derivatives--we derive the Deity of Christ, Deity of the Father, Deity of the Spirit, and unity of God from other passages, and somehow we figure out a way it can all work together as the Trinity.

The commentaries--I just looked up Matthew Henry's--will have a bit about how it's special that He is the Christ and the Son of God, but....even Henry does not have the space for all the derivative theology.  That does not mean that the derivative theology is not valid; it just means it's not part of the central purpose of a commentary.

Unless, of course, you'd like to see Henry at 20,000 pages instead of 3000 or whatever it is.  :^)  There are simply things that you will not find in your standard references; you have to be careful in your analysis (and avoid hilarious mistakes like pissing against the wall ), but there is a lot to be gained as we "dig deep" in exegesis.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

It is worth noting that T. Howard's argument is more or less the basic logical fallacy called argumentum ad ignorantium,  or argument from ignorance. This is compounded by the fact that the Trinity is derived from ideas--deity of Christ, deity of Father, deity of Counselor, unity of Godhead--which are themselves derived from the Scriptures.

Sorry, Bert, but it's not a logical fallacy to ask the question: "What did the author intend to communicate to his audience and what did his audience understand?" That's biblical exegesis 101, at least if you're interested in grammatical-historical exegesis. If Mark wanted to introduce the Trinity to his audience in verse one, he could have easily done so (see 1:9-11). As it stands, it's over-exegesis to insist that Mark was intending to communicate the Trinity in Mark 1:1. Was Mark making a statement about Jesus' divinity? Certainly, but that's communicated more with the textual variant "Son of God." Was Mark making a statement about how Jesus is equal to but distinct from the Father and the Holy Spirit? No.

Honestly, I find Tyler's exegetical approach in this case similar to how some individuals insist that Jesus can be found in every verse of the OT. Bert, is it an argumentem ad ignorantium to insist those who hold to "Jesus in every OT verse" make a sound exegetical argument? I think not.

In the words of OT scholar, Daniel Block:

Quote:
Perhaps we need to distinguish between “Christological preaching” and a “Christological hermeneutic,” as if under the latter we expect to find Christ in every verse of the Bible. While it's not difficult to identify overtly Messianic texts (Psalm 2; 110; Isaiah 53; Micah 5:1-5; etc.), technically the OT rarely speaks of ho Christos, the anointed Messiah. Unless we overload that expression beyond what it actually bears in the OT, I don't find “the Messiah” on every page. Still, YHWH is everywhere, and when I preach YHWH, I'm preaching Jesus, Immanuel, the Redeemer of Israel incarnate in human flesh. When I read Exodus 34:6-7, I see a description of the One whom John characterizes as glorious, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Actually, we'd improve our hermeneutic if we interpreted the OT Christotelically rather than Christocentrically. While it's hermeneutically irresponsible to say all OT texts have a Christocentric meaning or point to Christ, it's true that all play a significant role in God's great redemptive plan, which leads to and climaxes in Christ. This means that as a Christian interpreter my wrestling with an OT text must begin with trying to grasp the sense the original readers/hearers should have gotten, and authoritative preaching of that text depends on having grasped that intended sense [emphasis mine].

 

BTW, Matthew Henry is not an exegetical commentary, so I'm not surprised that Matthew Henry doesn't address the issue. But, when 4 highly-respected exegetical commentaries (yes, an appeal to authority) fail to find the link Tyler is insisting on, I at least want to pause before I accept his exegetical argument.

So, I am not seeking a "public dispute." I'm simply asking the question, "What did Mark intend to communicate to his audience in Mark 1:1?"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It would be a mistake to read Mark as though we had no help from the rest of Scripture in understanding what he meant. I'm all for "biblical" theology to a point; but outside of academic settings and writers of commentaries, rigid adherence to its rules is pretty pointless.

One of these days I'd like to see a "biblical" theology zealot use biblical theology to prove that biblical theology is the only right way to do theology. Smile (For those unfamiliar, the idea behind biblical theology is to study theology from the perspective of a single book of the Bible or perhaps a single biblical writer. But the idea that this can be done from some standpoint of objectivity and a blank slate for a mind is pretty naive. And if it can't be done from a completely neutral position, what position should it be done from? How about one informed by the totality of what Scripture teaches on the topic? I have yet to hear a better idea.)

Anyway, even in rigidly constrained biblical theology, it's the authorial intent that is decisive, not how the author's audience would have understood him, per se. The latter is instrumental to a degree in arriving at the former, but only that.

Especially in non-technical, intentionally-accessible studies, it's important to model what you want students of the Bible do in their own studies. And what they ought to do is use Scripture to interpret Scripture.

(I do believe bib. theo as a discipline has its place. For example, in understanding that James doesn't mean the same thing by "justified" that Paul does. But understanding Paul really helps us understand that about James... so again, there is no blank slate to do bib. theo from.)

T Howard's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Especially in non-technical, intentionally-accessible studies, it's important to model what you want students of the Bible do in their own studies. And what they ought to do is use Scripture to interpret Scripture.

So, Aaron, do you want your congregation to read Christ into every verse of the OT? If so, according to Daniel Block, you're committing exegetical malpractice. If not, why then should we read the Trinity into every NT mention of Χριστός?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

T Howard wrote:

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Especially in non-technical, intentionally-accessible studies, it's important to model what you want students of the Bible do in their own studies. And what they ought to do is use Scripture to interpret Scripture.

So, Aaron, do you want your congregation to read Christ into every verse of the OT? ...

lol... No, but It's probably a good idea to read Christ into the word Christ.

T Howard's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
lol... No, but It's probably a good idea to read Christ into the word Christ.

Agreed completely. The question still remains: What did Mark's readers (i.e. first century Jewish and Gentile believers) understand about the term Christ? Did they (or Mark) understand the term Christ to be laden with our current Trinitarian formulations?

No.

How could they?

According to chapter 11 of Greg Allison's Historical Theology, our current Trinitarian formulations weren't yet fully "hammered out." So, in addition to over-exegesis, stating that Mark intended to convey our current understanding of the Trinitarian formulation in Mark 1:1 to his readers is also anachronistic.

Which leads me to the following quote:

Quote:

Until relatively recent times, Jewish and Christian interpreters often read messianic ideas of later periods back into the first century. Jewish interpreters assumed that the messianism of the rabbinic literature (the diversity of which was itself often unappreciated) was “normative” and reached back to the times of Shammai and Hillel, and perhaps back even further. Christian interpreters sometimes assumed that aspects of Chalcedonian christology were operative in the messianism of Jesus’ contemporaries.

Many of the beliefs regarding the supernatural identity and/or abilities of the Messiah in both Jewish and Christian traditions do not reflect pre-A.D. 70 ideas. The Messiah was not expected to perform miracles, though miracles might occur when he appeared (as assumed in 4Q521; cf. Jesus’ reply to the imprisoned John the Baptist in Mt 11:5 par. Lk 7:22). Belief that the Messiah is divine is a Christian idea; it is not Jewish, even if in traditions like those of 1 Enoch, the Messiah appears to enjoy a heavenly coregency. Belief that the Messiah would suffer death in behalf of his people is largely a Christian idea, though the possibilities for such thinking may be traced to Jewish ideas of the suffering and martyrdom of the righteous (as in 2 Macc 6–7; 4 Macc 5–8). Ideas of the Messiah’s existence before his birth, or even before the creation of the world, are post-A.D. 70 and appear in various ways in both Jewish and Christian contexts. For the latter, it becomes an integral part of christology, with its earliest explicit expression found in the Gospel of John (esp. Jn 1:1–18) and an even earlier implicit expression found in Paul (Col 1:15–17). Even in these instances, however, Christian ideas are rooted in Jewish traditions of the eternal Word or Wisdom of God (cf. Sir 24).

The important point is to take into account the diversity of Jewish messianism prior to Christianity and to recognize the development of Christian messianism in the aftermath of Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection. What became christology in the NT writings and in the later creeds must be carefully distinguished from pre-A.D. 70 Jewish messianism.

C. A. Evans, “Messianism,” ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter, Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 700.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Which do you believe:

  1. The Trinity is a product of the early ecumenical creeds and is not found in Scripture, or
  2. The Trinity is found in Scripture, and the Christiology of the early ecumenical creeds reflects a systematic formulation of what the Bible always and already taught

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:

Which do you believe:

  1. The Trinity is a product of the early ecumenical creeds and is not found in Scripture, or
  2. The Trinity is found in Scripture, and the Christiology of the early ecumenical creeds reflects a systematic formulation of what the Bible always and already taught

Obviously #2, but I can't read that back into what Mark and his first-century readers understood about the term Christ. And, that is my issue with your whole article. Honestly, Tyler, I agree with you that Mark communicates Trinitarian concepts ... just not with the term Christ in Mark 1:1.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Ok. Bye. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

AndyE's picture

T Howard wrote:

If not, why then should we read the Trinity into every NT mention of Χριστός?

Yes, I would argue that we should think of the Trinity whenever the NT mentions Christ/Messiah.  

Isa 61:1 has the Spirit of the Lord God on the Messiah (i.e., anointed one) because of the LORD (i.e., Father) anointed "me" the Messiah.

We then see the Trinity in action, fulfilling this passage, at Christ's baptism, when the Spirit descends on Jesus and the Father proclaims that Jesus is his beloved Son in whom he is well pleased.

Jesus being the Christ means that he is the Son anointed by the Father with the Spirit.

T Howard's picture

Wishing to dig a bit more, I quickly checked the treatment of the Trinity in the systematic theologies of Grudem, Erickson, Hodge, Berkhof, Strong, Ryrie, and Packer. NONE of these men in their discussion of the Trinity include an appeal to the title Christ ("Son of God," yes. "Lord," yes.). NONE of them reference Mark 1:1 as a Trinitarian proof text. They discuss the Trinitarian implications of the titles "Son of God" and "Lord," but why no mention of the title "Christ"?

Yes, that's an argumentum ex silentio. But, in this case, it's very telling.

Bert Perry's picture

T Howard wrote:

Wishing to dig a bit more, I quickly checked the treatment of the Trinity in the systematic theologies of Grudem, Erickson, Hodge, Berkhof, Strong, Ryrie, and Packer. NONE of these men in their discussion of the Trinity include an appeal to the title Christ ("Son of God," yes. "Lord," yes.). NONE of them reference Mark 1:1 as a Trinitarian proof text. They discuss the Trinitarian implications of the titles "Son of God" and "Lord," but why no mention of the title "Christ"?

Yes, that's an argumentum ex silentio. But, in this case, it's very telling.

It's, again, argumentum ad ignorantiam, and it's a fallacy, along with the appeal to authority.  I would agree if you would say that we ought to be very careful of novel interpretations, and that the bar is set higher if we cannot find theologians who have made that connection.  It is not for no reason that Calvin, for example, proceeds from Augustine and the like.  We can establish that a good portion of exegetical innovation is in service of heresy, and issue that warning.  Got something new?  Mind your p's and q's.

But that said, you're coming very close to saying that if we cannot find it in the commentaries, it's hasty exegesis or altogether flawed--that mindset shuts down Luther, Calvin, and our spiritual forebears completely.  For that matter, you could even suggest that a consistent application of the methods you're suggesting would have more or less shut down the Council of Nicea.  After all, the Apostles did not (KJVO activists aside) use explicitly Trinitarian language in the New Testament, and we can't find it in the Church Fathers, either...

Really, the place I'd look for an application of Mark 1:1 in the way Tyler does would be an obscure 1000 page book (in German or Latin of course) by an associate of Gerhard Kittel analyzing the word for "anointing", all 500-1000 references in the New Testament, far more references in the OT, and then whatever references are in the classical Greek literature.  Ordinary references with page limits?  Not so much.  And I'm pretty sure, in light of other uses of the word in the NT, that Kittel et al will tell you that something special is afoot when Strong's #5547 is used.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

I would agree if you would say that we ought to be very careful of novel interpretations, and that the bar is set higher if we cannot find theologians who have made that connection.

Bert, that's what I've been saying. In addition, I've shown that first-century believers (including Mark himself) most likely did not understand the title Christ in Mark 1:1 as having any Trinitarian connotations.

Bert Perry wrote:
After all, the Apostles did not .. use explicitly Trinitarian language in the New Testament, and we can't find it in the Church Fathers, either...

Both of these assertions are not true. It is exactly because the apostles (or their close companions) used Trinitarian language in their writings that the early church fathers had to work out the Trinitarian formulations we have today.

Bert Perry's picture

Sorry, but when you suggested over-exegesis, that implies not just telling people to be careful, but rather that there was something inherently faulty in the analysis.  Those are two different things, don't you think?

And in the same way, if we're to interpret the formulation of Mark 1:9-11 as Trinitarian, how exactly do we deny that in verse 1?  Mark probably wrote both passages within the same hour, after all.  And really, even with that passage, you've got quite a bit of work to get to Nicea, which is what I'm getting at with why you don't see Mark 1:1--Trinity! in all the commentaries.  There are a lot of passages which hint at the component doctrines, and you simply can't list them all.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Agreed completely. The question still remains: What did Mark's readers (i.e. first century Jewish and Gentile believers) understand about the term Christ? Did they (or Mark) understand the term Christ to be laden with our current Trinitarian formulations?

There is no virtue in making biblical interpretation harder than God intended it to be. The logic is simple:

  • Only the Bible is inspired and inerrant
  • Therefore everything the Bible reveals on a subject is infallible information on that subject
  • No other sources of information have that quality
  • Therefore what Scripture reveals on the topic is vastly superior to journeys into "what the people at the time would have understood" and other Bible background information.

I don't want to undervalue background studies and examining how the passage would likely have been understood, but its down the list a ways in value. There is no reason to pretend that the passage at hand is the only inspired word we have. That's like stumbling across a dime on the car seat and doing your grocery shopping as though it were the only dime in your possession (ignoring the wallet full of bills.)

It's good to step away from scholarly ideals sometimes and consider how God's people are edified, which is the goal.

There is no "reading into" a passage if you can make a case for authorial intent being broader. And there is even less (as in zero) reading into a passage if you draw what you can from it then make inferences from other passages that complete our understanding.

Inerrancy means there will be no contradiction in other passages. Inspiration means there will be more too-important-to-ignore teaching in other passages.

It ain't rocket science.

T Howard's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
I don't want to undervalue background studies and examining how the passage would likely have been understood, but its down the list a ways in value. There is no reason to pretend that the passage at hand is the only inspired word we have. That's like stumbling across a dime on the car seat and doing your grocery shopping as though it were the only dime in your possession (ignoring the wallet full of bills.)

Aaron,

Tyler stated the following about this study:

Quote:

  1. We’re looking at what the Gospel of Mark says about the Lord Jesus Christ, from beginning to end.
  2. Then, we’re seeing if the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity makes sense of all this evidence (hint—it does).

Quote:

  1. I care about what Mark understood the title to mean.
  2. I care about what Mark's mentors Barnabas, Paul and Peter would have understood the term to mean. We know what Mark's mentors understood about the term, because we have their sermons, Their sermons teach (summed up in a systematic fashion), that there is only one God, and that Messiah is divine, eternal and distinct from the Father, and clearly prophesied about in the OT. Period.
  3. I care about what God intended to communicate to Christians when He had the Spirit move Mark to utilize that title. I'm assuming He meant us to understand what it meant from the OT.

Given Tyler's statements above and the principles of historical-grammatical exegesis, it is necessary to understand what Mark as well as what his readers would have understood about the term "Christ." Based on a broad scholarly consensus, neither Mark nor his readers understood the title "Christ" in Mark 1:1 to convey the Trinitarian formulations Tyler has proposed. Further, I find it interesting that theologians past and present don't use the title "Christ" in their discussions or defenses of the Trinity. (I would think that if the title "Christ" was a Trinitarian "slam dunk," theologians past and present would have at least mentioned it, given they do address the titles "Son of God" and "Lord.")

Therefore, while I agree the gospel of Mark (and the Bible!) has much more to say about the Trinity, if we're limiting our discussion to the Gospel of Mark and what Mark and his audience understood of the title "Christ," then the assertion that Mark used the title "Christ" in Mark 1:1 to communicate the Trinitarian formulations mentioned above is over-exegesis.

In short, Tyler has the right doctrine, but he's using the wrong verse to support it.

 

As an aside, Ben Witherington III has an interesting article about how Paul viewed the term "Christ" in The Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (see the article "Christ"). This helps answer Tyler's second point about what Mark's mentors Barnabas, Paul, and Peter would have understood.

pvawter's picture

As I consider the elements of the chart in the article, I'm having a hard time seeing where Mark 1:1a speaks of Jesus' divinity and equality with the Father, his eternality, or his distinctiveness from the Father and Spirit. It might be better to reference those concepts as having come from Psalms 2 & 110, rather than from Mark 1:1a alone.

TylerR's picture

Editor

The concept doesn't come from Mk 1:1a alone. I'll cast about for some better way of noting that on the chart.

My point is that the title "Christ" when applied to Jesus carries all it's associated fright along with it. It's used as an official title. What does that title convey about the Messiah, in light of the definition of the Trinity? The concept of the Messiah, just from Ps 2 and 100, conveys the idea that Messiah is divine and co-equal, eternal and distinct from the Father.

This is one reason why Trinity is an accurate systematic distillation of what the Bible teaches about who God is. Because we do have one God, and yet Jesus is presented as divine, co-equal, eternal and distinct from the Father. How is this possible? How can we reconcile these truths? This is why Christians believe in the Trinity.

For example:

  • Say a co-worker doesn't like me, and calls me an idiot
  • I protest, "You're saying I'm stupid!"
  • He responds, "No, I'm calling you an idiot."
  • I refuse to accept this, "That's what the title 'idiot' means, you fool!"
  • He says, "I never called you stupid! You need to prove to me, from the immediate context of this single conversation, that I called you stupid. You can't! Therefore, I wasn't calling you stupid."
  • I scoff. "The title "idiot" carries the fright of it's contextual meaning behind it. Our society understands 'idiot' to be an insult referring to mental acuity. Even the dictionary knows that! When you used the title, you were applying all the lexical and cultural baggage that comes with it directly to me. It's ridiculous to claim that your use of the word "idiot" here somehow means something different than what you know it means."
  • Him: "Whatever, dude. I never called you stupid. What's a 'lexicon,' anyway?" He walks away, snickering.

Titles matter. I doubt anybody thinks my fictitious co-worker has a valid argument. He used a derogative title. It's freight has meaning. He used the title because of that meaning, and he used it deliberately. So did God. So did the Spirit. So did Mark.

My goal in this series is to simply:

  1. gather information about what Mark says about Jesus Christ
  2. seek to understand the implications of what he said in light of relevant passages
  3. hold this evidence in one hand, and the orthodox definition of the Trinity in the other, and see if the Trinity squares with all the facts about Christ we've gathered

The title "Christ" means something. God moved Mark to give Jesus the title. It has a clear OT meaning. It has Trinitarian implications, even if we've never quite thought about them that way. If you believe in orthodox Christology, then the title "Christ" has Trinitarian implications. What do the Scriptures teach about "the Christ?" How does He square with the "one God" we already know about from the OT? Is "the Christ" a second god, then? Is He just an exalted creature? Not at all; the facts about "the Christ" tell us that the title refers to somebody who is divine, co-equal, eternal and distinct from the Father. What do we do now!? The Trinity.   

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

pvawter wrote:

As I consider the elements of the chart in the article, I'm having a hard time seeing where Mark 1:1a speaks of Jesus' divinity and equality with the Father, his eternality, or his distinctiveness from the Father and Spirit. It might be better to reference those concepts as having come from Psalms 2 & 110, rather than from Mark 1:1a alone.

I don't know whether "my inspiration" meant it this way, but this is a great way of expressing the truth that to get to a lot of things in Scripture, we need to do a little more work than just a simple prooftext.  For Mark 1:1, sure, we don't make doctrine out of one verse if we can avoid it--that's exegesis 101 if I remember correctly--but the use of "Son of God" and "Christ" in those verses will, when we combine it with other passages, tell us first of Christ's deity (along with a LOT of other passages), and when we combine it with other doctrines like the oneness of God, and the deity of the Spirit and the Father, get us to the Trinity.  

The trick here is that it's a lot more work, and a lot less obvious, than prooftexting.  And that is a good thing, as there are a lot of things where there are not just a few simple verses needed to get us to our doctrine. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

THoward: Tyler didn't say he was aiming to study the Trinity using only Mark. You read "only" into his objective.

You also read "is proved by all this evidence alone" into "makes sense of all this evidence."

Ironic.

Here's where I'm sympathetic with what you're saying, though: it would be a mistake to read each portion of Scripture as though the whole body of revealed information on the topic is necessarily contained in that portion. So I would not say with certainty that "Christ" in Mark 1.1 means everything revealed everywhere about the title. But there is nothing wrong with starting w/Mark 1.1 and teaching everything revealed everywhere on the topic to see how Mark's revelation fits.

On the other hand, there is no way to know with certainty what the upper limits of authorial intent are in this example. Many believe Mark wrote after Matthew and was guided extensively by the apostle Peter. And there is the whole OT. It is entirely possible that Mark did use the term with everything we now know in mind. There's just some uncertainty on that point.

But a broad study of a doctrine using a particular Gospel as a focus is not any kind of theological or exegetical malpractice.

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