Friday, July 31, 2009

Did All the New Testament Authors Think that Jesus Was God?

One of the things that stirs up Christian apologists is the suggestion that some of the New Testament authors did not believe that Jesus was God. The Gospel of John seems to teach Jesus’ divinity most clearly:
"I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[d]; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" “We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."
John 10:29-33.

The other gospels are much less clear. The passage most frequently cited by apologists as evidence of Christ’s divinity in the Synoptic Gospels is from Mark:
Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death.
Mark 16:61-64. The reason that Mark is always cited for this rather than Luke or Matthew is that the Mark is the only one who has Jesus answer the priests’ question with the straight-forward “I am.” The other two have him replying with something along the more enigmatic lines of “you have said it.”

I was recently discussing these two passages with an evangelical blogger who insisted that Mark’s belief in Jesus’ divinity is just as clear as John’s. This just seems silly to me. John has Jesus claim that he is one with God and he has the Jews accuse him of blasphemy for claiming to be God. Mark, on the other hand, doesn’t have the Jewish authorities say exactly what it is that they find blasphemous, whether it is a claim to personal divinity, a claim to divinely bestowed authority, or some perceived insult to the priests and their religion.

The blogger suggested I read Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism: The Charge against Jesus in Mark 14:53-65 where Darrell Bock explains the Jewish understanding of blasphemy and why the priests saw Jesus statement as being a God-like claim. I found a couple reviews of the book and my curiosity was sufficiently piqued to request the book through inter-library loan, although I’m not sure from the reviews that Bock is making exactly the point that the blogger thinks he is.

Regardless of what Bock has to say, I still see an important distinction between the passages in John and Mark: I don’t need to read a 285 page book to figure out that John thinks that Jesus is God. If Jesus' divinity had been as clear to Mark as it was to John, I can't see why he wouldn't have made it just as clear to his readers.

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