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Jesus as the Son of God in Mark

I am set now to return to my thread on the changes in our surviving manuscripts of the New Testament that were made in order to make the text more amenable to the theological agenda of orthodox scribes and to help prevent their use by Christians who had alternative understandings of who Christ was.

I have been arguing, in that vein, that the voice at Jesus’ baptism in Luke’s Gospel originally said “You are my son, today I have begotten you” (as in some manuscripts) but that it was changed because scribes were afraid that the text could be too easily read to mean that it was at this point that God had adopted Jesus to be his son.  These scribes believed that Christ had *always* been the son of God, and so God could not say that he “made” him the son on the day of his baptism.  Their change was remarkably successful: the vast majority of manuscripts have their altered text, in which the voice says (as it says also in Mark’s version): “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”

My next step in showing that Luke had the *other* version, in which God claims that it was on that day he “begot” or “gave birth” to his Son is a little more complicated than the other pieces of evidence I have cited.  This new kind of evidence has to do with how Luke later in his Gospel and in the book of Acts looked back on what happened at the baptism of Jesus, and it involves subtleties that are easily overlooked by someone who is reading Luke’s text superficially.  The matter is so intricate that I need to prepare the way and set the stage.  I’m going to do that not by talking about Luke, but by talking about Mark.  You’ll see why in later posts when I get to the point – a point I can’t get to without substantial background.

Most readers of the Gospels never realize how amazingly….

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  1. Avatar
    john76  October 30, 2015

    Ehrman said “Most readers of the Gospels never realize how amazingly complex they are in their literary structures and how their authors have composed little masterpieces that require extraordinarily careful reading.” The more we realize the gospels are elaborately constructed literary masterpieces, the less likely it is that we can see behind the literary structures and themes to the historical Jesus and his illiterate followers.

  2. Avatar
    godspell  October 30, 2015

    I can only say that anyone who doesn’t understand the Gospel of Mark is a literary masterpiece has no idea what literature is. Though there are powerful moments in all four ‘canonical’ gospels, Mark for me will always be the most powerful, precisely because he’s the simplest. But as with all great writers, his simplicity is deceptive, as you say.

  3. gmatthews
    gmatthews  October 30, 2015

    You always say that scribes made these changes to the early texts, but isn’t it just as likely that someone else made (or suggested or directed) the changes and the scribes merely carried out their orders? For example, the scribes were, as far as I know, making copies of the gospels at the directive of their local church (or if a larger city perhaps the local bishop?) or in the employ of a Christian patron. If the latter one can easily imagine the scribe being easily swayed to make subtle changes when his paycheck is at risk. For the former, it would seem to me that the scribe would be equally willing to make changes at the directive of a superior religious authority who SURELY knew how to make the gospels more clear by careful editing. Perhaps these possibilities (not counting editorial errors that were copied and recopied by accident) are understood by scholars and the entirety of the editorial changes are laid at the feet of the scribes for simplicity sake?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2015

      It’s possible of course. But if there was some kind of administrative dictate, you would expect to find greater consistency in the changes made.

    • Avatar
      Mhamed Errifi  November 1, 2015

      i asked bart the same question twice but he did not reply to my question

  4. Avatar
    Scott  October 30, 2015

    I guess we can’t say the John knew explicitly that Jesus was the Son of God, only that he was ” more powerful than I”

    • Avatar
      Robert Wahler  November 12, 2015

      Successors all praise their predecessors. There was a succession in 1990 in India. I saw this dynamic first-hand. The NT is a coverup of successive Mastership. Don’t let the proto-orthodox NT fool you. It is a coverup, plain and simple. The proof is in the Nag Hammadi Apocalypses. Read the details in First and Second James and in Peter (Apocalypses, not NT books). They have all the details of the “Betrayal” in the canon, but inverted to hide James, the new savior. “Judas’ was James in the Gospels, inverted. He was James in the Gospel of Judas, “sacrificed” spiritually. . The Apocalypses of James have “flesh is weak”, the kiss, “stripped and rising naked” (spiritually), “armed multitudes seizing” (archons, not the disciples), “Hail, brother” (or “Master”), etc. The cover-up is crystal clear (“He is the new Master”, First James), and clear in Apocalypse of Peter, where Jesus denies Peter, three times and “in this night”. Sound familiar? Yes. It is the “denials of Peter” but reversed. Dr. Robert Eisenman was the first to show this inversion dynamic from the Dead Sea Scrolls Judas as James in Acts 1), but he (and Dr. Ehrman) don’t see the full story in the canon. There is an endless succession of Masters. There is one now in India, who travels here regularly. Write to him. http://www.rssb.org

  5. Avatar
    Scott  October 30, 2015

    Dr Ehrman, I can not express to you how absolutely invigorating these blog posts are. We are surrounded by so much apologetics and pop-history that I think many of us hunger for the red meat of scholarship that so very hard to find in an accessible form. Thank you.

  6. Avatar
    Jim  October 30, 2015

    If one sets aside Dennis McDonald’s notion of Homeric emulation as in “The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark”, are there some good reasons to assume that the writer of gMark was writing his gospel from a geographical region where the availability of oral traditions were abundant and thus more likely than say producing a narrative from whole cloth based on LXX and Homer? (ps; I promise to ask something more legit and less bizarre next time … but it’s Mischief night/Guy Fawkes night … 🙂 )

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2015

      I don’t think we can say how many oral traditions were available to Mark, apart from the ones that he writes down….

  7. Avatar
    MMahmud  October 31, 2015

    I hope the day comes when all of this is out nicely in airtight explanation and book form. Our very own “gospel” if you will illuminating the truth about a collection of texts that have guided millions. From a few illiterate Aramaic Jews comes the worlds largest religion, a fascinating story whose origin was for a long time was largely mysterious.

  8. Avatar
    han23614  October 31, 2015

    Being divine and being the son of God could all possibly be interpreted as being God.

    The highest level of divinity would be God. The Son would be God as a person of Trinity.

    The Gospel writers don’t seem to distinguish these terms clearly at times.

    Mark knew Jesus was the divine son of God. Did Mark think that Jesus was God?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2015

      Yes, in a *sense*. He didn’t think of him as Yahweh but he did see him as a human who had been made into God. See my book, How Jesus Became God.

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 31, 2015

    The “secret Messiah” account used to explain why Jesus did not talk about being God.???

  10. Avatar
    Thomasfperkins  October 31, 2015

    Dr. Ehrman,
    This discussion about the corruption of scripture makes wonder: Other than that Jesus existed, what in the gospels do you regard as true and at least somewhat accurate?
    Thomas F Perkins

  11. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 31, 2015

    Does Mark, in your opinion, think people *should* have realized Jesus was the “Son of God”? *Why* would anyone have concluded that, in an era when everyone believed many “holy men” could perform miracles, and a trickster “Devil’s” devotees could perform them as well?

    And Mark’s portrayal of Jesus: If he was irritated at his disciples’ not realizing who he was, why didn’t he simply *tell* them? He isn’t a particularly likable character.

  12. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  November 1, 2015

    With regard to the search for the historical Jesus, I can see using the criterion of “dissimilarity” in specific situations, but using it widely seems to lead to the following problem: Alleged events and sayings that are “unlike” Jesus are given more credence than alleged events and sayings that are “like” Jesus. Then, if this criterion is used widely, one eventually gets to a historical Jesus that is “unlike” Jesus. How do scholars deal with overusing this criterion? Do they use the criterion only as a back-up when there are not multiple independent sources? As always, thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 1, 2015

      Yes, complete reliance on this one criterion would lead to a skewed view. It is to be used only to establish a *core* of traditions about Jesus that are certainly historical, not to give a complete picture.

  13. Avatar
    Dan  November 1, 2015

    I am a bit confused as to why Jesus would or should hear any heavenly voice based on the position that Jesus is fully divine and one in the same as God. Similarly, why would he need any baptism? I must be missing something, right?

    Dan Mangum

    • Bart
      Bart  November 2, 2015

      I think you have to assume that these authors have a different theology than what you’re imagining. If Jesus is not an incarnate divine being who pre-existed as God, but became a divine being at the baptism, then the voice makes sense.

      • Avatar
        godspell  November 2, 2015

        I think we can assume that Jesus’ baptism was a major problem for Christians who wanted to believe Jesus was anything other than a normal human being at birth. If he was an angel incarnated in human form, or the divinely begotten Son of God, he would not need baptism, and for him to go to John to be baptized would seem to suggest that he held John in very high regard. And we have a record of him saying no one born of woman is greater than John, a category that includes Jesus even if he was an angel or God’s begotten son.

        Bart, a technical question–to what extent to you subscribe to ‘the doctrine of embarrassment’?–which for those who aren’t familiar, I will explain is the idea that if you find a story or saying in religious writings that the people who wrote them down would have preferred did not exist–that complicates their lives in some way, forces them to come up with clumsy explanations for its existence–that probably means it’s based on something somebody actually did or said.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 4, 2015

          I think it is a useful criterion, if used in conjunction with others (independent attestation, e.g.)

  14. Avatar
    Reem  November 2, 2015

    Interesting! I routinely see this way people dummy down God. Jesus didn’t know he was God or in Paul’s case he stated Jesus humbled himself. The fact is if he was in fact God he would not need to fear anything. He could have simply walked around and told people who he is and what is his purpose in a nutshell. Remember his teachings took 2.5 to 3 years. So according to Mark in that 3 years people still did not know he was God until after the resurrection when they had visions. This sounds like the art of confusion. The end result he ends up not being God but exalted to the level of God after his so called resurrection.

  15. Avatar
    Rosekeister  November 2, 2015

    This post would seem to indicate Mark’s gospel and the teachings of Jesus as the Son of God did not originate with the historical Jesus since the townsfolk, Jewish leaders, Jesus’s family and his own disciples didn’t understand it. Would this be evidence that the proper context for understanding Mark is Greco-Roman rather than Jewish? It seems to fit nicely Michael Peppard’s “Son of God in the Roman World.”

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2015

      Keep reading the posts! I’m going to argue that in fact the idea of Jesus as messiah does go back to his lifetime.

      • Avatar
        Rosekeister  November 4, 2015

        I noticed in the “History of New Testament Research” that Rudolph Bultmann believed the prophetic and apocalyptic sayings are the earliest and most reliable. This leads to the thought that earliest and most reliable sayings did not originate with Jesus but instead are his interpretations of what he learned from John. Is there any validity to this?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 5, 2015

          I certainly think that Jesus was John’s follower, and agreed with his message — and continued his message in his own way. (But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t champion his own teachings himself)

        • Avatar
          Robert Wahler  November 12, 2015

          The sayings are earliest and most reliable (Gospel of Thomas) and Gospel of the Hebrews. John and James were the real Masters, one before the other. It is the same now, . There are saviors in India. Jesus is fictional. Look at the mess the New Testament has created: 30,000 denominations. http://www.rssb.org

  16. cheito
    cheito  November 2, 2015

    The Gospel of Mark is not historically accurate so we can’t be certain that Jesus said or did the things “Mark” records for us.

    We don’t know why this person wrote this book. It is obvious that it wasn’t God who told him to do it. So whatever this person says about Jesus can’t be used to accurately ascertain what Jesus really said or did.

    As I see it “Mark is no better than the Gospel of Thomas or Bill O’Reilly’s book, King Jesus. We don’t use The Gospel of Thomas nor Bill O’Reilly’s book, King Jesus to form theological dogmas.

    If the Gospel of Mark is not a reliable historical source of what Jesus said does it really matter what “Mark” asserts that Jesus said and did as far as our faith is concerned?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 4, 2015

      I don’t think historical reliability is the only criterion to be applied to see if a book is important or not. The Iliad isn’t accurate either!

      • cheito
        cheito  November 4, 2015

        The synoptic Gospels are important but are not sufficiently reliable nor historically accurate to know for certain what Jesus really said and did. Therefore, we can’t arrive at any definitive theological dogma that we can say is the truth and nothing but the truth. We can only speculate.

        If we have to rely on the Gospel records to know exactly what happened when Jesus was arrested, brought before Pontius Pilate, and sentenced to die by crucifixion, we can not be certain about the details because every Gospel records something slightly different as you well know, e.g. We can’t be sure if Jesus ate the Passover meal or not. We can’t be sure what exactly He said when He was dying on the cross. In fact, we can’t be sure who wrote the Gospels… Etc.

  17. Avatar
    Reem  November 5, 2015

    Bart and others,

    Can someone comment on the statement Jesus said John the Baptist is greater than or more important than any man born of a woman. I presented this before to also include Jesus, but so many Christians want to exclude Jesus from this ranking system. Interesting.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 6, 2015

      I suppose he’s usually interpreted as meaning “Present company excluded” !

      • Avatar
        Robert Wahler  November 12, 2015

        That’s convenient. And wrong, of course. All successors praise their predecessors, and vice versa. The NT is nothing but a coverup.

  18. Avatar
    Jana  November 8, 2015

    It’s probably because of erratic internet connections and an inability to follow a line of thought, I am unable to follow and thus understand why was it even important to define whether Jesus was the Son of God or not? This is a question. 🙂 Why was it or today is it? Important that Jesus is the Son of God or not? Taking a wild guess, if Jesus is the Son of God then he has the power and he alone to assume the sins of the world? If so, frankly WOW! What a construct.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 9, 2015

      Because if he wasn’t the son of God he was simply another unfortunate crucified criminal

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