In Mark God declares Jesus to be his son at his baptism: "You are my son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased" (1:11 NRSV; cf. 9:7).1 The unclean spirits (3:11) and the Gerasene demoniac (5:7) also call Jesus son of God. A Roman centurion, on the other hand, does not make the Christian confession but recognizes his divinity by numbering him among the many sons of God in the Graeco-Roman tradition: "Truly, this man was a son of God" (15:39). Jesus himself accepts the appellation; when asked by the high priest "Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?" (14:61), he replies affirmatively, "I am" (14:62). Nowhere in Mark, however, is that term defined.2
The terms son of God (Exod 4:22; 2 Sam7:14; Ps 2:7) and sons of God (Gen 6:1-4; Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; Deut 32:8) are also used in the Hebrew Bible (Gen 6:1-4; Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; Deut 32:8). I have never thought of these expressions as the influential background to explain the terms in the New Testament. It does not seem reasonable to me that these few references to son/sons of God in Hebrew Bible would have triggered the complicated concept of the Christ in NT literature and Christian Orthodoxy. If Mark wrote his gospel "outside of Aramaic speaking Palestine" in some location in the Roman world, as many think,3 there existed more pervasive influences that might have led to describing Jesus as "son of God":
Long before Jesus was born, Greeks had bestowed divine honors on kings and great men whose careers were thought to have been unusually outstanding, referring to them variously as "heroes" "demigods," "immortals," "divine men." The ancient Greeks believed these human beings had a divine origin—they were born as a result of a union between a God and a human being and this explained their unusual abilities.4
If Jesus were to be competitive in such a world, his pedigree would have to be equally as good as that of the Graeco-Roman figures.
In New Testament literature it turns out that God has other children. Paul regarded followers of Jesus the Anointed (Christ) as the children (tekna) of God (Rom 8:16-17, 21; 9:8), as did the author of First John (3:2, 10). And, even more surprisingly, Paul described them as sons (huios) of God (Rom 8:14, 19; Gal 3:26) and "co-heirs with Christ" (Rom 8:17). The designation son of God even appears in one of the synoptic gospels (Matt 5:9).
On the other hand, in the New Testament four passages (Acts 3:15; 5:31; Heb 2:10; 12:2) sport another title for Jesus, one that undermines the traditional image of a savior crucified in our behalf.5 In Acts and Hebrews Jesus is called "pioneer" (archēgos) rather than son of God. For example:
It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in leading many sons to glory, should make the pioneer [archēgos] of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (Heb 2:10, my translation)
Hence Jesus was the pioneer, who was first to lead the Way in a certain kind of faith. He was pioneer in the sense that it was his own faith and confidence in God (Gal 2:16) that established the Way of faith for others to follow.6 His sufferings were for his own perfecting and not "in our behalf." In broad outline theological elements of this slender thread of an almost forgotten faith surface here and there in New Testament literature: Jesus was born under the Israelite law to an unnamed human mother (Gal 4:4); and later at his baptism (Mark 1:11) was declared the son of God (Rom 1:4). As son of God, he pioneered a Way of faith (Gal 2:16)7 that pleases God (Heb 12:2).8 Thus he became the first-born among many brothers (Rom 8:29).
It is in the sense of Jesus as the pioneer of a new Way of faith that a child/son of God can call Jesus "my brother" (adelphos), for he also is a child/son of God through his faith as they are through their faith, and he is not ashamed to call them his brothers (adelphous, Heb 2:11).
How does it seem to you?
Missouri State University
1In Rom 1:4 Paul describes Jesus as being declared (not born) son of God, which corresponds to Mark 1:11. In Mark there is no birth narrative.
2I do not include in this listing of verses Mark 13:32, which could be evoking the title "son of man" that Jesus uses of himself in Mark. The expression "son of God" in Mark's incipit (1:11) is questionable as well on text critical grounds. See Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (4th ed., 2000), 62.
3P. J. Achtemeier, "Mark, Gospel of," ABD 4.543.
4Hedrick, "Is Belief in the Divinity of Jesus Essential to Being Christian," The Fourth R 24.5 (September-October 2011), 15.
5Hedrick, "Religious Titles for Jesus." Wry Thoughts about Religion Blog: Tuesday May 3, 2016: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=pioneer
6Hedrick, "The Gospel of Mark and the Way, a Sect reported in Acts" Wry Thoughts about Religion Blog: Monday January 11, 2021: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=the+way
7For the translation of Gal 2:16, see Arthur Dewey, et al., The Authentic Letters of Paul (Polebridge, 2010), 65.
8This theological thread is similar in a few respects to the views of Cerinthus, a late first century Jesus follower. See Cockerill, "Cerinthus," ABD 1.883 and Hedrick, "Cerinthus," NIDB 1.580. At this early period Orthodoxy had not become the dominant Christian view by which to judge as heretical those who disagreed with them. In the early period one was led by one's own inner compass. Compare, for example, the theological differences between Mark and John; see Hedrick, Unmasking Biblical Faiths (Cascade, 2019), 151-54.
Taking Romans 1:1-5, most probably an early creed, very seriously, I think it is fair to say that the risen-Christ believer is freed by Paul to fully embrace the birth to death humanity of Jesus - in our time the humanity is most boldly and hopefully expressed by the votes for authenticity of the Jesus Seminar (1993, 1998).
NRSV: 1:4 "was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness, by resurrection from the dead"
Scholars Version: 1:4 "appointed and empowered as 'son of God,' in accordance with the spirit of holiness, from the time of his resurrection from the dead-"
Stecher: 1:4 "who by the spirit of holiness* was revealed to be (declared?) Son of God in Power by rising from the dead"
*this phrase is only found in this verse
How incredibly unfortunate it was for Paul to additionally write: "From now on we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. If anyone is in Christ...everything old has passed away; (2 Corinthians 4:16–17).
Thank you as always Charlie...
I do have a follow up question from the previous blog regarding the books of Peter, James and John. Charlie doesn't necessarily have to be the only to answer it, anyone with more knowledge and scholarship than me is free to help lift me out of ignorance... Obviously, I'm still recovering from my childhood Sunday school lessons who taught that Peter wrote Peter, James wrote the book of James, John wrote John, etc. My question (not just to Charlie) is this: So is the only verified NT writer who actually authored the letter attributed to his name Paul the Apostle? Are any other NT books authored by the actual name ascribed to that chapter? From my limited perspective- Paul is the only author we know who definitely pended his epistles. Are all other NT writers anonymous/unknown? If that's true, then I am a little astounded. That certainly was not taught to me in Sunday school.
"As son of God, he pioneered a Way of faith (Gal 2:16)7 that pleases God (Heb 12:2).8 Thus he became the first-born among many brothers (Rom 8:29).
It is in the sense of Jesus as the pioneer of a new Way of faith that a child/son of God can call Jesus "my brother" (adelphos), for he also is a child/son of God through his faith as they are through their faith, and he is not ashamed to call them his brothers (adelphous, Heb 2:11)." It seems as if we all become sons of God by embracing a New Way of Fatih... Jesus is the first son- we all follow in his footsteps becoming fellow sons of God and thus Jesus's brothers (and sisters). So it's "both/and" not "either/or" when it comes to the question of brother and son.
Gene wrote "How incredibly unfortunate it was for Paul to additionally write: "From now on we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. If anyone is in Christ...everything old has passed away; (2 Corinthians 4:16–17)." Gene, why do you think Paul had such a profound distaste for being a human? Why do you believe he elevated being a spirit over being a human? I never read someone who sought to escape the prison of flesh blood bone and humanity more than Paul, except maybe Augustine.
Many thanks to everyone for your valued insights, Elizabeth
In my opinion Paul was a perfectionistic personality driven by the need to obey the law of YHWH as handed on to the Israelite tribes. I take his autobiographical remarks in Romans 7, and the Acts picture of him persecuting the early-on Jesus follower "law-breakers," to be largely accurate. He could have remained a life-long crazy control freak, but he eventually had an experience which freed him to live by the spirit of love rather than by legal demand. His application of that experience was profoundly influenced by the belief that the Christ was returning in his generation to transform the world.
I myself identify more than a bit with the torture of being driven by perfectionism as a young man. My journey was helped by psychologists and positive secular experiences.
Good Morning Elizabeth,
The answer to your question depends on who you ask. There have been attempts to identify the authors of the various books of the NT by critical arguments. For example, in the case of the Gospel of John attempts are made to find the author of the gospel in influential members of the Johannine community other than the disciple/apostle John. In the entry on "John, The Gospel of," Robert Kysar summarizes the question of authorship as follows: "The most that can be concluded about the author is that he (or she) was a prominent and respected figure in the Johannine community who assumed sufficient authority to undertake the task of reinterpreting the tradition in the light of the crisis facing the church. This figure was no doubt trained to some undetermined degree in Jewish thought while not ignorant of the Greek mentality, was a sophisticated thinker, and was a skillful writer. That Greek was a second language for the author is entirely possible although efforts to prove that the gospel was first written in Aramaic are not convincing nor widely held today. It is likely however that the author was versed in Aramaic" (ABD vol. 3.920). Authorship in critical scholarship is a question of proof that convinces other critical scholars rather than faith, or trust in church tradition. Generally, scholarship is satisfied that Paul is the author of certain letters that bear his name, although not all of them.
I bracket Romans 1.2-6 as probably a later addition. I'll send you my rationale, because it doesn't relate to the subject.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Thank you very much Charlie... With regard to the "Johannine community" to which Kysar refers, do you know of any historic references to such a community. In other words, did it really exist? If so, did a Pauline community exist?
The reason I ask is because I'm beginning to wonder if any of the disciples really existed... It seems as if there's more evidence of Paul's existence that Peter, James, or John.
Thank you again for everything, Elizabeth
Hi Gene, you've touched on a bugaboo of mine when you wrote:
"...but he eventually had an experience which freed him to live by the spirit of love rather than by legal demand." I know you didn't intend it that way, but as a Protestant from the South, my hair bristled because I heard that "live by the spirit" stuff my whole life and couldn't make heads nor tails of it. Too abstract. It's just something people say from a pulpit but has not real life meaning or practicality.
Preachers always used that line to elevate Christianity over Judaism, which as you know, bugs the heck out of me. Nevertheless, I do understand what it means to be driven by perfectionism... It sounds like you were driven within yourself to be perfect. For me, it was an external demand emphasized with guilt from my superiors.
What caused you, like Paul, to live by the spirit rather than legal demands? And how did that play out in practical day to day reality?
That's a lot of questions so I'll stop! Many thanks as always, Pesky Elizabeth in St. Louis
You've quoted me, but then go on to talk about "spirit" and not "spirit of love." The phrase simply means that one's decisions/behaviors are inspired by love, not by legal authority, an unbelievably free way to live.
My Attitudes Handbook could be viewed as an attempt to show what a Jewish life inspired by love might look like. Jesus was a Jew - if we claim to be followers, that makes us Jews as well. There are no Christians, just different kind of Jews.
Good Morning Elizabeth,
There are no Christian artifacts before the 3rd century. Therefore all evidence for "communities of Christians" Johannine or Pauline or otherwise must come from how one reads the NT texts, which themselves for the most part date from the 3rd century and later (some few fragments date from the second century). That there were Pauline communities seems clear enough from reading Paul's letters. That there was a Johannine community is less clear. There is a short section in the New Interpreters' Dictionary of the Bible, Vol 3, pages 363-64 that states the meager evidence for a Johannine community. Nevertheless that there was a Johannine community is a generally accepted concept among John scholars. There are parallels between the language of John and the religious texts of the Mandaeans, a Gnostic sect whose origins probably go back to pre-Christian times, although this is challenged. On the existence of Peter, James, and John see my methodology in Hedrick, "Named Characters in the Gospel of Mark" Wry Thoughts about Religion: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=named+characters
Well yes in a sense, I do see that... Just from my perspective, Jews were already inspired by a spirit of love. I honestly don't see why Christianity thinks they "own" the idea of love or the spirit of love or unconditional love; whatever one wishes to call it. It seems like Christians are saying that until Christ came along, Jews were not inspired by love. I don't mean to imply that you are saying that... I was taught that about Jews from a very early age. I guess it bothers me when churches teach that Jesus Christ was the first Jew to introduce the spirit of love, which is certainly not the case. Thanks for the input.
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