Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Would we recognize Jesus as Son of God?

"Mark is known for the understated irony of his gospel, but there is a large-scale irony overarching the book that is worthy of Sophocles. Readers know from the first verse of the gospel that Jesus is Son of God, and that title is used periodically through the gospel by the Father and by demons. But no human beings recognize Jesus as Son until the centurion at the cross. There is the ironic distance between our knowledge and the knowledge of the characters in the story. But that irony is eventually doubled back on the reader: Would we recognize Jesus as Son of God while He’s dying in anguish?" -- Peter Leithart

Also on Mark: Terry Virgo recommends James Edwards Pillar Commentary.I'd agree, it's very helpful - typical of the Pillar series.


  1. I don't think it's very clear the the centurion understood Jesus to be God's son. My NIV Study Bible (IIRC) states that there is uncertainty over whether it is best translated 'son of the gods' or 'god's son'.

    The NET translation does not make any mention of this issue (which is strange) in the translators notes.

    The ESVSB states: "he recognizes the purity and power of Jesus (in this way) and rightly sees that he is the Son of God (cf. note on Luke 23:47). Like the thief on the cross who expressed faith in Jesus (Luke 23:39–43), the centurion may have had incomplete understanding of Jesus' identity and mission, but Mark seems to record this testimony as an indication of the centurion's faith and the truth about Jesus' identity."

    Wikipedia says: "nd "θεοῦ υἱός" (theou huios) in (15:39), putting it in the mouth of a pagan centurion. In the first verse of this gospel, some manuscripts have (in the genitive case) "υἱὸς θεοῦ " (huios theou), others "υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ" (huios tou theou), others omit the phrase in either form; critical editions such as that published by the United Bible Societies therefore bracket the phrase to indicate that in the present state of New Testament textual scholarship it cannot be taken as completely certain that the phrase is part of the text. "

  2. I lack the scholarship for that.

    Either way - the reader does know from 1v1 that he is. And ch13-16 major on the coming of the Son of Man which is also a divine title.

    Wiki-theology might not be the most reliable source though.

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  4. I'm not doing wiki theology, nor am I referring to what the reader ought to understand. My primary source for my comment here is the NIVSB (which presumably is a trustworthy source).

    I think we ought to be careful not to make strong statements about what the bible claims when it is unclear whether it really does to claim those things.

    For similar reasons it would be unwise to make any arguments on the basis of John 7:53-8:11 or Mark 16:9-20.

  5. Does anyone know if Mark uses the same phrase as he uses in Mark 1:1?

  6. @Little Mo: This may be helpful. I've not had time to digest it all though. Note 28 seems relevant (on a first glance).

  7. theos (nom sing = god)
    theou (gen sing = of god)
    thewn (gen pl. = of gods)

    "son of the gods" would have been
    "huios twn thewn" [w=omega]. My Greek NT shows that all variant readings on Mark 15:39 have "houtos ho anthrwpos huios theou hen".

    the NIV study bible has a note on Matthew 27.54, but the Greek NT also shows no variant readings on "theou". There is an NIV text note which says it might read "a son", not "the son", but that's not your point. In any case, Matthew, Luke & Mark all draw attention to different things with the Centurion.

    The NIV study bible note doesnt actually call into question the translation, but says "it cannot be determined whether the centurion made a fully Christian confession or whether he was onluy acknowledging that, since the gods had so obviously acted to vindicate this judicial victim, Jesus must be one especially favoured by him. But in view of the ridicule voiced by the Jews (v.40), it seems probable that Matthew intended the former"

  8. The greek of Mark 15:39 says (in this order)
    huiou (genitive of huios)
    theou (genitive of theou)

    not as you've cited from Wikipedia Robhu.

    It can either therefore be translated as

    a. a son of a god

    b. the son of a god

    c. the son of god

    d. a son of god

    In other words, the lack of an article does not necessarily make the words indefinite, far from it.

    And in fact to argue that either 'god' or 'son' MUST be indefinite just on the basis of a lack of an article is to hand way way too much on the absence of the article.

    So, we must let other contextual factors help us decide.

    For what it's worth, I reckon Mark here is (as he does quite a bit so I'm told - hence all the times his sentences start with 'and') using an idiomatic hebrew way of doing things only tranferring it to greek. In constructions where the second word is in all liklihood to be taken as definite (as theou could well be here) then the preceding/ linked word in the genitive construction is probably definite too. Hence 'the son of God.'

    This is beefed up by all the other contextual/ literary stuff about the son of God in Mark, such as what you point out Bish.

  9. Oh, and my UBS Greek NT doesn't have the text in brackets, which it normally does if there's a serious textual issue.

  10. France (NIGTC) says that it's normal in greek to have no article in this sort of construction, though he says there's no need to decide whether the centurion meant either a son or the son, as it's likley he would've not understood the phrase the way a Jew/ Christian might've done anyway.

    What he goes on to say is interesting though;

    'It is for MArk's readers for whom it matters, and for them, ater so many and varied declarations already in this gospel that Jesus is the Son of God in a unique sense [he lists them!], there can be no question. Whether or not they realised that the centurion was unlikely to have grasped the theological significance of the words he uttered, for them this is the final declaration, at the moment of his apparent failure, that Jesus is the true Son of God, fulfilling on the cross his Father's will.'

    So, no-one's trying to make the bible say something it doesn't. And Leithart's point stands. Happy times. :)

  11. Mo, it's the same as in 1:1 (though there are some textual variants on it, including some omissions), which is interesting. If Mark is employing the literary device known as 'inclusio' to mark the beginning and end of his gospel then we're definitely supposed to link these two occurences of the same phrase.

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  13. Cross posted with Pete, who answered my question.

    I did say, however, that discussions like this make me see the value of theological college!

  14. The "wiki-theology" was ungenerous on my part, sorry about that.

    I'm out of my league here.

    Bible college appears to have it's uses!

  15. I've always taken the slightly inconclusive nature of the Greek (as reported to me!) to be irrelevant - in Mark's gospel surely we are always pushed beyond the understanding of those reacting at the time. So we see the disciples' reactions to Jesus, and every time, Mark is guiding us to 'see' more clearly than they did at the time, and react more appropriately. Thus the Centurion, with his Roman understanding possibly influenced by Judaism, proclaims Jesus to be a/the son of god [or whatever variant interpretation] according to his probably flawed understanding. But Mark doesn't write it to analyse the Centurion's understanding: as with the women at the end of the gospel, we are being pushed by Mark to see further than the Centurion into the truth of his statement, and respond accordingly.