Papers on Gospel of Mark

Jeanie C. Crain

Son of Man: the Story of Jesus in Mark

The Gospel of Mark has gained unprecedented and growing importance for both theology and literature. Acknowledged as one of the great pieces of world literature, Mark has come across time and space to give us Jesus the man in a connected, if periscopic, narrative, however brief, stark, and oracular, absent of birth stories and resurrection. This image has vividly affected modern culture, and it is the image of “the Son of Man” that becomes the focus of this paper. Scholarship, granting the possibility that Jesus may not have said the words attributed to him, seems to have settled on three possible interpretations of “Son of Man”:  a present, earthly Son of Man, a suffering Son of Man, and a future coming Son of Man.[1]  At the heart of most of the ambiguity and controversy lies a question of authority: whether Jesus got his power from heaven or from earthly origins. Jesus refused to answer this question: “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.” [2] Instead, Jesus then, as now, asks another question about identity:  “But who do you say that I am?”[3]

Brenda Deen Schildgen in Power and Prejudice: Reception of the Gospel of Mark provides an in-depth overview of reception history related to the Gospel of Mark, revealing that the Church mostly neglected Mark in commentaries, citations by church fathers, (Biblia Patrista) and lectionary reading.[4] Mark has only a little early manuscript attestation, some presence in a third century codex, and then greater presence in the fourth century in Sinaiticus and Vaticanus.  Peter Head  in “The Gospel of Mark in Codex Sinaiticus: Textual and Reception-Historical Considerations” explores the question “of what Sinaiticus reveals about issues concerning the reception and interpretation of Mark, in particular, what the text of Mark in Sinaiticus might indicate for the study of the reception-history or effective-history of the Gospel according to St. Mark,” concluding Mark was obviously “embedded as one of the gospels,” and  the concern of Sinaiticus was “to present rather than improve the text.” [5] Schildgen turns her eye from Church patronage to an academic patronage, which has given Mark a new and growing prominence. The earlier neglect of Mark may have resulted from questions about Mark’s place in the order of the Gospel writings: whether first, and used by Matthew and Luke, or whether appearing later as a shortened version of Matthew; about authorship, whether the writer is John Mark, identified with Peter through the tradition of Papias, one of the seventy disciples who accompanied Jesus,  a conservative Jew from Jerusalem, who responded from a congregational request in Rome to write a story about Jesus,  an anonymous author, the young woman of verse Mark 14.9,  or the mysterious young man of Mark 14:51-52, or best left open to debate;[6] and finally, one may wonder whether Mark, as genre, is Hebrew Bible narrative, history, ancient biography, docudrama,[7] a theological fiction, popular novella,  a preaching gospel, storytelling in the mode of rhetoric, Judean apocalypse, or, perhaps, midrashic commentary on the Hebrew Bible .[8]   

Reflecting on the mutation of redaction criticism into a new form of literary criticism (redaction building upon source/form criticism), Robert W. Fowler concludes, ‘the Gospel writers produced neither volumes of learned exegesis nor sermons. Rather, they told stories; and if we wish to understand what the Gospels say, we should study how stories are told.”[9] In making this statement, Fowler follows the lead of Norman Perrin (1972), under whom he studied at the University of Chicago in 1974; he says Perrin’s approach at that time was a novel one:

 Perrin was arguing that literary criticism was emerging as the methodological heir to redaction criticism. He said that redaction criticism had been so successful in demonstrating the theological viewpoints of the Gospel writers, and that the evangelists’ influence on the traditional material they were editing had been found to be so pervasive, that it was no longer possible simply to characterize the Gospel writers as collectors and editors of tradition. They were much more than that: they were authors -- authors who had made use of traditional material, but authors nonetheless.[10]

Perrin would have no issue understanding “there were theological motives and tendencies at work in the composition of the Gospels, so that the reporting of the words of Jesus was conditioned in each case by the author’s background, interests, purpose, and audience.”[11] But aside from these considerations, Perrin’s approach emphasizing authors and storytelling returns readers to looking at the work asan integral, literary whole” and asks them to use the “critical methods commonly applied to non-biblical literature.” Literary concerns include “the structure of the literary whole, themes, characters, plot and so on.[12]

Literary concerns address genre and sub-genres. The ESV calls Mark a docudrama and then describes it as speaking about the actions and teachings of Jesus, presenting Jesus as a hero, and using an array of subgenres:

Of the four Gospels, Mark is most overtly a “docudrama,” consisting of noteworthy “clips” as well as typical or representative events; snatches of speeches or dialogues; and commentary by the narrator. Mark’s approach to the biographical data is that of a careful recorder. Mark’s Gospel, however, is not a biography in the modern sense, as there is no attempt to describe Jesus physically, treat his family origins, or portray Jesus’ inner life. Rather, like other ancient biographies (which were called a bios or “life”), Mark’s purpose is to speak about the actions and teachings of Jesus that present his ministry and mission. Of course, the book is at the same time an implied proclamation and apologetic work that hints at the redemptive meaning of the events recorded. All of the Gospels are hero stories. Additionally, Mark’s Gospel is made up of the usual array of subgenres found in the NT Gospels, including calling stories, recognition stories, witness/testimony stories, encounter stories, conflict or controversy stories, pronouncement stories, miracle stories, parables, discourses and sermons, proverbs or sayings, passion stories, and resurrection stories.[13]

Interestingly, the “Introduction” then goes on to present the collage or mosaic of “the life of Jesus” as being the docudrama of “the life of Christ,” highlighting one of the tensions in modern scholarship: whether to present the historical Jesus or to indulge Christology. Mark Allan Powel, Chair of the Historical Jesus Section of the Society of Biblical Literature, notes in 'Things That Matter': Historical Jesus Studies in the New Millennium,” that scholarship in historical Jesus studies has moved on in the mid-2000’s to the larger tasks of reconstructing a historically credible Jesus… for systematic theology, pastoral preparation, spiritual formation, ecumenical discourse, and a variety of other agendas.”[14] Powel provides two examples of this extended breadth of concern: N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God focuses on theology and what resurrection faith ought to mean, while James Dunn’s Jesus Remembered concerns itself with “what Jesus said and did than with analyzing how Jesus was remembered and why.”[15]

Literary analysis also asks readers to ask questions about characters and character identity; in the case of Jesus, this includes titles, those he used for himself and those others used. Herbert W. Bateman in "Defining the Titles 'Christ' and 'Son of God' in Mark's Narrative Presentation of Jesus," argues essentially that all titles used for Jesus, including “Son of Man,” “Son of God,” “Son of the Most High God,” and “Holy One of God” all serve as “appositional or parallel epithets all referring to “the Christ” but further makes the point that “later creeds and confessional statements should not cloud the earlier and simpler understanding of the "Messiah" presented in Mark, which ultimately does not include the latter developing theology of Jesus as divine Son of God.”[16] Bateman holds, however, to the Christological idea that Jesus exalted himself to Christ and God at the cross. The point here is simply to highlight a tension that has been present in much of twentieth century scholarship on the historical Jesus and the Christology of Mark. John M. Depoe in “The Messianic Secret in “The Gospel of Mark: Historical Development and Value of Wrede’s Theory” has outlined much of this scholarship with respect to messianic secrecy; he lays out several reasons for “Mark’s use of the messianic secret that compromise neither the historicity nor the exegetical integrity of the text.”[17]

Interpretation lies at the heart of any literary approach to texts. Norman Perrin discusses three distinct but interrelated aspects involved in interpretation-- "historical criticism," "literary criticism," and "hermeneutic";  he describes the text as a historical entity written or spoken by one man, in a distinct set of circumstances, and for a definite purpose, intended to have a particular meaning and understood by its addressees in a particular kind of way.”[18] He says historical criticism recovers this information, and concludes much of this work has been accomplished. He then explains how literary criticism builds upon this foundational historicism as the text “takes on a life and vitality of its own, independent of the historical circumstances of its creation”:

 It is interpreted and reinterpreted in any number of new and different situations, and therefore takes on new and different meanings and is understood in new and different ways. But even here, there are rules to the game. A text has a given form, and this form functions in one way and not another. A text is written in a certain kind of language, and this language has a certain force and not another. A text may be and indeed is open-ended, but it is not inchoate. Its form and language are in no small way determinative of the manner in which it may be understood and interpreted. It is this aspect of the act of interpreting the text which I am designating "literary criticism."

He designates “hermeneutics” as a dynamic relationship between the text and individual reader, occurring when “a text is read by a given individual and understood in a certain way by that individual; it says something to that individual.’”[19] Perrin then goes on to explain the significance of these interrelated aspects--author, text, and reader—by presenting three standpoints from which a text must be considered; the first of these is historical:

. It must be considered from the standpoint of historical criticism, as a text intended to say something and saying something to its first readers or hearers. We must respect the act of authorship and the intent of the author, as we must also respect the understanding of a text reached by its intended readers or hearers. To do anything less than this is to com­mit an act of rape on the text.[20]

He then addresses what happens to text when it becomes independent of the original author and intended reader:

But at the same time, we must admit that something happens when a text is committed to writing and hence broadcast to the world for anyone to read who can master the language in which it is written. It is now no longer a private communication with its potentiality for meaning limited to the intent of the author and the understanding of its intended reader. It now exists in its own right, essentially independent of the original author and intended reader, and its potentiality for meaning is limited only by the function of its form and its language. In practice, of course, its potentiality for meaning is not even limited in that way, but it is an argument of this paper that it should be so limited. Even with independently existing literary objects, there is a difference between exegesis and eisegesis![21]

Both “exegesis” and “eisegesis,” and any consequent favoring of one term, creates potential obstacles for interpretation: the first emphasizes careful, objective analysis, usually in support of finding some absolute meaning or truth; the second risks subjectivity and reader bias. The third consideration Perrin explores is that between the text and reader:

Finally, a text is read and something happens, or does not happen, between the text and the reader. This is the most difficult area to explore, and yet we must attempt to explore it.[22]

In practice, the three considerations cannot stand so starkly apart, and any reading of the Gospel of Mark inevitably mixes some history, some literary criticism, and some hermeneutics.

Neither Mark nor “Son of Man” exists any longer apart from an ever-evolving background of interpretive criticism concerning author, text, and intended audience (historicism), independent text as literary object, and hermeneutics, or what happens between independent text and its readers. Mark provocatively places the question of Jesus’ identity in his pivotal chapter eight:  “But who do you say that I am?” Possibilities include not only John, Elijah, and prophets, but also, appellations: “Son of God,” “Son of David,”  “Messiah, and “Son of Man.” Much of the existent controversy concerns Trinitarian arguments: whether “Son of God” means Jesus is God. The Church has attempted to settle the debate on the side of “God”; the Nicene Creed, in fact, says Jesus is “very God of very God.” Readers, in trying to decide on the identity of Jesus, encounter almost immediately an ambiguity present in all epithets, this stemming from Hebrew/Jewish and Christian traditions in which the titles take on the dual nature of referencing both divine and human content. The term “Son of God,” for example, has at least three possible meanings: “the term "son of God" may mean: (a) an angelic being; (b) Israel as God's chosen people; (c) the righteous or obedient within Israel; or (d) the king as the personal representative of God's elect nation.”[23]


Oral and formative, as well as closer to the Jewish context, Mark records Peter as proclaiming: “You are the Messiah.” [24] In Luke, Peter says, “The Messiah of God.” [25]Matthew combines “Messiah” and “Son of God”: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”[26] Mark, in fact, uses “Messiah” more extensively than any other title, including “Son of Man.” In context, all these references carry meanings and connotations understood only from within a Hebrew/Jewish backdrop. Readers encounter, first, the gospel claimed by the messiah; John’s proclamation of Lord and Messiah;  a Decapolis openness about a messiah not political or military, and  people's astonishment at this non-political, military messiah.  Next follows Jesus' expressed sadness at this misunderstanding of his mission and the overt failure on the part of many--and his own disciples--that he is to be a suffering messiah. Peter acknowledges  the Messiah of God in his confession,  understanding Jesus as the Christ, i.e.,  the divinely anointed Jewish and military leader, a confession ignoring  the self-accepted humbling of this Messiah of God,  and Jesus' prediction that the Son of Man must be killed (overturning Jewish expectation),  and  the consequent rejection by the elders,  priests, and scribes. The disciples must  take up the cross of obedience and dependence on this servant- messiah. Given a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, three disciples fail to grasp the nature of the Transfiguration, desiring to raise an earthly tent. They hear the endorsement by the Father that "This is my Beloved Son," but continue to misunderstand or heed Jesus' instructions concerning servant hood. Then comes the resolute turn to Jerusalem, the Triumphal Entry, (and celebration of a political and Davidic messiah; the rejected messianic "stone," which is "divinely vindicated and established as the cornerstone of a new building)"; the climactic "Lord of David" passage, and finally, the anticipated exaltation and warning about false Christs and false prophets accompanied by the protection of God's own. Understandably, the reader of Mark normally asks what all of this can mean.

C.H. Dodd understands the pivotal question about Jesus’ messiahship to be about whether he did or did not intend to accept the title of Messiah. He says, Jesus, examined before the High Priest, in Mark, answered the question of whether he was the Messiah “without ambiguity, ‘I am.’”[27]  He goes on to point out that Matthew has Jesus say, “The words are yours” without any particular “accepted form of affirmation”; in Luke, Jesus refuses to reply.[28] Dowd concludes:

We may perhaps get some light on the matter if we consider the sequel to this questioning. Whether it was at a formal examination in court, or earlier in a public confrontation, that Jesus was asked the crucial question, we may fairly understand it as a preliminary to his arraignment before the Roman governor. The charge which was then preferred by the priests was that of claiming to be "king of the Jews." The charge was of course framed for Roman ears. Among themselves the priests would not have used that expression. They would have said that he claimed falsely to be the "anointed" king of Israel, the Messiah. In his examination before Pilate Jesus was asked, "Are you the king of the Jews?" and he replied (as all gospels agree) with the noncommittal expression, "The words are yours" ("Have it so if you choose"). At this juncture a refusal to disown the title would have the same effect as an avowal, and it was a matter of life and death. Jesus at any rate allowed himself to be condemned to death for claiming to be (in Jewish terms) Messiah.[29]

The term “Messiah,” Bart Ehrman notes, “ took on various connotations, with no fixed notion in the time of Jesus: as a future king like David, as "an authoritative priest to provide definitive instruction in God's law" and "as a comic figure sent by God to overthrow the forces of evil." [30] N.T. Wright writes that in the first century, “Messiah” meant Israel's Messiah:


To say that Jesus is 'the Christ' is, in first-century terms, to say first and foremost that he is Israel's Messiah, not to say that he is the incarnate Logos, the second person of the Trinity, the only-begotten son of the father. Even the phrase 'son of god', during Jesus' ministry and in very early Christianity, does not mean what it came to mean in later theology, though already by the time of Paul a widening of its meaning can be observed. [31]

Herbert W. Bateman, wondering if the creeds of the Church cloud an early writing like Mark, points out that “Jesus” is the most common name used in the Gospel of Mark, and that it designates the historical personage, used some eighty-two times in contrast to the sparing use of Christ (only seven times) and Jesus Christ, only once.[32]  He says that up until his confession, Peter has known Jesus through miraculous ministry, an expectation in keeping with first-century Jewish beliefs.”[33] 


Bateman further shows that "Son of David" is used in the second major section (8:22-10:22) on the way to Jerusalem and the celebration of the Passover. Bartimaeus is encountered by Jesus "along the side of the road," but after the healing, follows him "on the way" to Jerusalem where Jesus would suffer and die (543).[34] Even here, Bateman points out, Mark uses the title in apposition to Jesus, and “Son of David,” a ‘polite title’ for any Jew or a "hoped-for anointed figure." Mark, in 12;35-37, using an enthymeme, proves that "the Messiah, whom David calls 'lord,' cannot be his son." Although Bateman clearly supports Jesus as Christ of the later Christian orthodox tradition,  he also says “it is a biased reading of Mark,” then quotes N.T. Wright: "Mark tells the story of Jesus as the story of a Galilean prophet, announcing the kingdom of Israel's God, summoning Israel to change her direction, that is, to repent (1:15, 6:4).


A complicating factor in interpreting Mark stems from the changing nature of the expected Messiah as it moves from earlier and later prophecy. When, in chapter eleven, Jesus sends his disciples to find a colt that has never been ridden and instructs them to untie it and bring it to him, the allusion seems to be to Zechariah 9:9:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

triumphant and victorious is he,

humble and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.


The Oxford Annotated Bible notes  that Zechariah’s prophecies date from 520 to 518 B.C., and portray a zeal for a rebuilt temple, a purified community, and the coming of the messianic age, forming  a link between earlier prophecy (especially Ezekiel) and mature apocalyptic thought (Daniel 7–12). The later section of Zechariah 9–14 speaks not of the Persian period but rather, of the Greeks (Zechariah 9.13). The imagery now becomes that of universal war and the siege of Jerusalem, instead of peace and rebuilding. The Romans, who replace the Greeks, accept much of their Hellenized religion with multiple gods, the human often made into gods, with gods symbolizing forces of nature. Tolerant, the Romans reacted to any events in opposition to current rule. As pointed out previously, Jesus’ refusal to deny that he is “King of the Jews” becomes a threat to Roman hegemony. The people in Mark 11:10 clearly hail Jesus as in some way fulfilling messianic claim, whether relative to an expected coming messianic age or an apocalyptic end of an age: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 


It is then against such an interpretive background and network of inter-textual references that the “Son of Man” passages must be interpreted. It may be best to allow “Son of God’ its multiple meanings: angelic beings, Israel as chosen people, Israel’s righteous or obedient, and king as personal representative. Messianic proclamations must be seen against Jewish expectations and traditions, including peace and rebuilding and apocalyptic end. “Son of David” carries connotations of royalty and messianic “hoped-for anointed one.” Jesus and “Son of Man,” some think, traditionally have kept more to the historical and credible, with only Jesus using the title directly, and the Evangelist quoting it directly or indirectly. Such simplicity, however, overlooks or minimizes the pivotal use of “Son of Man” in Jesus’ interrogation before the high priest:  “Again the high priest questioned 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 Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.”[35] Each of the claims here carries ambiguity: Christ in both Greek and Aramaic means messiah and “one who has been anointed,”’ and “Son of the Blessed One” suggests Jesus shares authority with God in heaven, “the Power’ being a circumlocution,” and coming with the clouds of Heaven,” a reference to Daniel 7:13. Here, “Son of Man” seems to suggest an apocalyptic, end-of- time, future coming figure. Here arises, too, a controversy concerning what sayings could authentically be claimed as having been said by Jesus. Solutions range from denying Jesus spoke both the apocalyptic or non-apocalyptic sayings, crediting the Church with the creation of one or the other, attempting to reconcile all sayings, and denying the authenticity of all sayings.[36]


Dom Henry Wansbrough finds structurally that “Son of Man” plays not only a key role in the three prophecies of passion (8:31, 9:31, 10:33), the passion and vindication (9:9, 12), and three times in passion without explicit mention of resurrection (10:45; 12:21,41), but that it is also used in relation to Jesus' authority. [37] He notes first, an authority to forgive sins (2: 10) and then, an authority as “lord over the Sabbath” (2:28). More importantly, he points out that On the other occasions, all the sayings [Son of Man] are in prominent positions, and therefore all the more important for Mark's view of Jesus. The Mark 8:38 saying, “If anyone in this sinful and adulterous generation is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels,” leads into the Transfiguration and presages final judgement.”[38] The next (13.26-27), “And then they will see the Son of Man coming with great power and glory. And then he will send the angels to gather his elect from the four winds” comes at the  climax of the 'eschatological discourse', the foretelling of the persecution of Jesus' community in the world, ending with their liberation by the son of man.”[39]  According to Wansbrough, the Daniel allusion leads directly to the decision to have Jesus killed, not for his claim to be messiah, but for the claim for an authority now extended to heaven. “Seated at the right hand “and “coming with the clouds of heaven,” he explains, depict Jesus as sharing the mobile Merkabah-throne of God:

This Merkabah-throne is the chariot-throne on which God is seated in Ezekiel 1. Already at the time of Jesus this imagery bulked large in the imagination and descriptions of Jewish mysticism (called Merkabah-mysticism). Such a claim would give good grounds for the charge of blasphemy.[40]

Other scholars, however, such as Alan Richardson and C.H. Dodd have argued that Ezekiel, while on the minds of early Christians, “does not appeal to have been a primary source of testimonies.”[41] Wansbrough, too, seems to have Ezekiel in mind at the same time that he quotes Daniel and sees this as the climax of Mark’s presentation of Jesus: he points out that Daniel has just described the four empires which have oppressed the Jewish nation, and explains that Daniel uses the “son of man” to represent that nation of Israel, vindicated, triumphant, and ruling over the world with God’s authority; he concludes that Mark sees Jesus as this “son of man,” sharing God’s power and authority and the throne itself.[42]   Another interpretation of this passage interprets the Son of Man “stands for a loyal, martyr-group who are brought to glory and vindicated through suffering.”[43]


Wansbrough is not alone in seeing authority as a possible unifying theme useful for reconciling the various epitaphs used for Jesus.[44]The issue of authority arises early (1:22) in Mark’s presentation of Jesus: everyone who hears him speak is astounded because he teaches with authority, apparently speaking directly and in terms of his own understanding rather than relying upon other experts in the law.[45] This motif finds its echo later when Jesus teaches in the synagogue and many astonished, listening people wonder about the content and wisdom of his ideas as well as his hands-on miracles.[46] This also occasions questions about his biological identity, the son of Mary, his brothers and sisters, his trade. The fact that the people who listen take offense suggests a Jewish audience and some derogatory direction in this line of question. Not only does Jesus have teaching and healing authority, he has authority to forgive sins and authority over the Sabbath[47] The story of the stilling of the storm demonstrates an authority over natural forces.[48] This authority caused the disciples to ask exactly who Jesus was exactly. In healing a hemorrhagic woman and raising the little girl of the synagogue ruler from her reported death, Jesus demonstrates power over life and death itself. [49]The question of Jesus’ authority intensifies following the episodes of the Triumphal Entry, the Cleansing of the Temple the Cursing of the Fig Tree, and the Withered Fig Tree. The chief priests, experts of the law, and elders ask Jesus who gave him his authority; Jesus recognizes immediately that whatever answer he gives will be used against him, and redirects the question to John’s authority, whether of God or the people.[50] Fearing the people who believed John to be truly a prophet, the Jewish leaders could only answer they did not know, leaving the question of Jesus’ authority also unanswered. In the prediction of the coming destruction of the Temple, the Abomination of Desolation, and the coming of the Son of Man (with its allusion to Daniel 7:13), once again, the issue is authority, this time, the full authority of judgment.[51] When this time will come has been left open to debate, with the Son, in earthly life, warning that no one knows of “that day or hour” (13:32). The issue of authority, as already marked, comes up again when Jesus stands condemned before the Sanhedrin, where he is asked directly whether he is the Christ, “the Son of the Blessed One,” and answers directly, “I am… and you will see the Son of Man [elevated to heaven]  sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven” (14:62).


In relation to authority, James R. Edwards has argued that the “essential and distinctive characteristic of Jesus is to be found in his exousia [freedom and magisterial authority] and that his authority is perhaps the most significant example of implicit Christology in the Gospel tradition.”[52] He concludes, “Nowhere is the continuity between the memory of the early Church and the self-understanding of Jesus more discernible than in Mark’s witness to the exousia, his divine legitimacy as God’s Son and servant.”[53] Even here, however, the same paradoxical ambiguity between Christology and history unfolds in the use of servant hood motif. Richard N.

Longenecker in “’Son of Man’ as a Self-Designation of Jesus” points out, “there is a widely based tradition that Jesus used the term of Himself and little evidence that there was any extensive use of Son of Man as a Christological title on the part of Christians during the first century.”[54] Longenecker writes in opposition to two prevailing scholarly conclusions: that the title alludes to pre-Christian Jewish thought concerning a transcendent redeemer figure coming to the earth as a Judge in End Time; a non-designation term applied to Jesus by the early Church and a foundational motif in early Christologies.[55] He quotes C.H. Dodd to dismiss Ezekiel as a possible source of the term, and he explains the enigmatic figure of Daniel 7 speaks of the glorification of a redeemer, not as transcendent, but in the context of “glorification and vindication through suffering,” either as an individual or as corporate personality.[56] He concludes, Jesus used “Son of Man” as a self-designation “to indicate his understanding of the nature of his messiahship.”[57] Further, the apostolic Fathers largely used “Son of Man” to refer to the humanity of Jesus and as a converse to the title Son of God.[58]  Longenecker ends his discussion by quoting G.H. Dalman: “He purposely furnished them with a problem which stimulated reflection about His person, and gave such a tendency to this reflection that the solution of the problem revealed the mystery of the personality of Jesus.”[59]


Just as the existing text of Mark uses “Son of Man” in a structurally strategic way to address Jesus’ ministry and passion, alongside a paradoxical motif of Christology and servant hood, other epitaphs also reveal significance within the overall narrative structure. Unclean spirits, when Jesus ministers outside the traditional Jewish territories, cry out, “You are the Son of God.” [60] Early in the first chapter of Mark, following the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law and others who were sick and demon-possessed, Jesus would not permit the demons to speak, revealing they knew him.[61] The healing of a demoniac in Gentile territory warrants the recognition of Jesus as “Son of the Most God” [62] And it is a Roman centurion, observing how Jesus died, who declared, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”[63] The point should not be missed that Jesus can be more openly proclaimed as God outside Jewish territories and by non-Jewish observers. On the other hand, Jewish leaders ask questions more specifically with respect to Jesus’ being the Messiah, whether of this age or End Age (with transcendent and universal rule), this latter with overtones of blasphemy. Peter, a Jewish disciple, proclaims Jesus as Messiah, but objects to a Messiah who will be rejected, suffer, and die. Peter obviously is expecting a messianic king in current history, a national and political messiah. “Son of David” emerges in the context of Jewish experience or expectations, with Blind Bartimaeus proclaiming Jesus as “Son of David,” probably in the tradition of knowing that Solomon had been acclaimed to have powers of healing; again, in the Triumphal entry proclaiming Jesus as “coming in the name of the Lord,” followed by “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David;” it appears once more in the question of whether the Messiah is David’s son or David’s Lord.[64] That the Messiah is David’s Lord would suggest an apocalyptic world view and potentially an “other-worldly” transcendent Messiah. The other view of Messiah would have been to see the Davidic Messiah in the tradition of prophet. The Roman hegemony interests itself most pointedly in any claims to kingship and possible insurrection.


In designating himself “Son of Man,” Jesus chooses a title that is, at once, most acceptable, as without risk, and yet ultimately, most radical,” revealing as well as hiding.”[65] The storywriter presents a plot that unfolds about this “Son of Man.” The Son of Man appears in a fast-paced narrative that presents him in all of his actions and deeds as evidencing everything other than another ordinary teacher or would-be messiah; he astonishes everyone he encounters with his “sovereign freedom and magisterial authority.”[66] As “Son of Man,” he understands his ministry as one that will culminate in suffering and death, and any glorification will come as testament to this completed destiny. To the Romans, and indeed, gentiles in general, “Son of Man” posed no particular challenge. For Jewish believers in a Davidic and political Messiah, the rejection, suffering, and crucifixion of Jesus shook them, as demonstrated by Peter, as an outrageous disappointment. One could well understand any motivation they, and the early Church, might have to shift from this vision to another of vindication and an apocalyptic “Son of Man” liberating Israel. For most Jewish people, however, any sharing of the throne of God would have been deeply suspect, bordering on blasphemy. Thus, they would have worried about Jesus’ acts of forgiving sins, his healings on the Sabbath, and his treatment and regard for the Temple, including any predictions regarding its destruction. They would have followed carefully any proclamations about a “Son of God” and the several possible meanings: angelic beings, Israel as chosen people, Israel’s righteous or obedient, and king as personal representative. The Romans would have surveyed the man Jesus and the crowds that surrounded him, observing carefully any claims of kingship, or acts of insurrection to their hegemony. Claims of “Son of God” would, likewise, have aroused little suspicion or unrest among a Hellenized people accustomed to having humans elevated into gods. Mark, however, presents a Jesus referring to himself in the third person as “Son Man,” perhaps with overtones already of an early Palestinian Christianity trying to make sense of the man Jesus, and it is with respect to this title that all questions of the narrative identity of Jesus will have to be settled.


Mark Goodacre has described Mark as “a work of brutish genius, which was subsequently explicated by both Matthew and Luke.”[67] Joanna Dewey has argued that Mark survived because it has always been recognized as “a good story” with oral characteristics: no linear climatic plot, a structure consisting rather of repetitive patterns, series of parallel episodes, concentric, and chiastic structures.[68] She goes on to say, “Such structures are characteristic of oral literature, helping the performer, the audience, and new performers, and audiences remember and transmit the material. From what we know of oral literature there is no reason why it could not have been composed and transmitted in oral form.”[69] Wansbrough imagines, “the community came to Mk and said, ‘Mark, you are such a good story-teller that we choose you to write it all down.’”[70] He then points to Mark’s use  of the historic present [which] gives a breathless speed to the narrative which [and] emphasizes the urgency of Jesus’ message,” Mark’s zooming -in technique which focuses  on memorable, material objects such as Jesus asleep in the stern of the boat with his head on a cushion or a woman touching  his cloak from behind, delayed explanations that force the reader to ask questions, sandwiching techniques, use of controversies, and triple repetitions for emphasis.[71]  Readers today will encounter Mark the storyteller as he tells the story of Jesus, a man who came into history, lived in history, and died as a man in history; they will encounter a metaphorical narrative in which ultimately the quest for factuality vanishes. They will hear again the familiar words, “Who do you say I am?” and hear Jesus’ own words, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”  They will experience the rejected Jesus, suffering, and crucified; they will stand inside his tomb and hear the words, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”[72] With Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome, readers of Mark will flee the tomb in terror and amazement, saying nothing to anyone, “for they were afraid.”








Bateman, Herbert W. "Defining the titles  'Christ' and 'Son of God' in Mark's Narrative Presentation of Jesus." JETS 50/3 , ( September 2007) 537–59.

Beavis, Mary Ann and Michael J. Eds. Dictrionary of the Bible and Western Culture. Gilmour. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2012.

Burkett, Delbert Royce. The Son of Man Debate: A History and Evaluation. Society for New Testament Studies, 107. UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Chapman, Dean W. The Orphan Gospel: Mark’s Perspective on Jesus. The Biblical Seminar 16. JSOT/Sheffield Academic Press: Sheffield, 1993.

Crossan, John Dominic. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 1991. Paperback edition, 1993.

Depoe, John M. Depoe. “The Messianic Secret in “The Gospel of Mark: Historical Development and Value of Wrede’s Theory” (accessed February 20, 2014).

Dewey, Joanna. “Survival of Mark’s Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature,  Fall  2004, Questia, (accessed March 4, 2014).


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Edwards, James R. “The Authority of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society . Accesse014. March 5, 2014.


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Goodacre, Mark. “Excerpt from Chapter 3” The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze,, (accessed March 4, 2014).

Hay, Lewis S. Quoting Oscar Cullman,“The Son-of-God Christology in Mark,” Journal of Bible and Religion, Vol. 32, No. 2 (April 1964), 106-114. (accessed February 26, 2014).

Head, Peter. “The Gospel of Mark in Codex Sinaiticus: Textual and Reception-Historical Considerations.” (Accessed February 19, 2014.

Longenecker, Richard N. “’Son of Man’ as a Self-Designation of Jesus.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society., accessed March 11, 2014.

Parker, Pierson. “John and John Mark.” Journal of Biblical Literature Vol.79. No. 2.( June, 1960): 97-110.

Perrin, Norman. "Criticism, Literary Criticism, and Hermeneutics: The Interpretation of the Parables of Jesus and the Gospel of Mark Today,"  The Journal of Religion, Vol. 52, No. 4, Oct., 1972, pp. 361-375, Published by: The University­ Press, Stable URL: (accessed: 15/03/2012 10:59).

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Rhodes, David, Joanna Dewey, and Donald Michie. Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of the Gospel. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999.

Schildgen, Brenda Deen. Power and Prejudice: Reception of the Gospel of Mark. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1999


Turton, Michael. Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark: Introduction to the Gospel of Mark. (accessed Feb. 18, 2014.

Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God:Christian Question and the Origins of God. Vol. 3.Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 203, 24.

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------.“Introduction to Mark,” Lectionary, Scripture Study, Worship Links and Resources (accessed March 4, 2014).



[1] Delbert Royce Burkett, The Son of Man Debate: A History and Evaluation, Society for New Testament Studies, 107, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004, 43.

[2] Mark 11:33.

[3] Mark 8:29.

[4] (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1999).


[6] Michael Turton, Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark:Introduction to the Gospel of Mark,, accessed March 12, 2014.            

[7] ESV, “Introduction to Mark.”

[8] David Rhodes, Joanna Dewey, and Donald Michie, Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of the Gospel, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), iii..


[9] Robert W. Fowler, “Using Literary Criticism on the Gospels,” religion-online, February 19, 2014).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Richard N.Longenecker in “’Son of Man’ as a Self-Designation of Jesus” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, accessed March 11, 2014, 157.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “Introduction.”

[14] SBL Forum Archive, Society for Biblical Literature, (accessed February 20, 2014).

[15] Ibid.

[18] Norman Perrin,  "Criticism, Literary Criticism, and Hermeneutics: The Interpretation of the Parables of Jesus and the Gospel of Mark Today,"  The Journal of Religion, Vol. 52, No. 4, Oct., 1972, pp. 361-375, Published by: The University of Chicago Press,, Stable URL:, Accessed: 15/03/2012 10:59).364.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Lewis S. Hay, quoting Oscar Cullman,“The Son-of-God Christology in Mark,” Journal of Bible and Religion, Vol. 32, No. 2 (April 1964), 106-114. (accessed February 26, 2014).

[24] 9:29.

[25] 9:20.

[26] 16:13

[27] “The Founder of Christianity,”Religion Online, (accessed February 20, 2014).

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction To The early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

[31] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God:Christian Question and the Origins of God. Vol. 3.Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 203, 24.

[32]Herbert W. Bateman, "Defining the titles  'Christ' and 'Son of God' in Mark's Narrative Presentation of Jesus" (JETS 50/3 ,September 2007, 537–59) 543.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid,.

[35] Mark 14: 61, 62

[36] 44.

[37] “What Did Mark Think of Jesus?” Ampleforth, April 23, 2005  (accessed March 4, 2014).

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Longenecker,153.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Longenecker, quoting C.F.D. Moule, 154.

[44] Burkett, 49-50.

[45] Note, Net Bible.mir

[46] 6:2.

[47] 2:10, 28.

[48] Chapter 4.

[49] Mark 5.

[50] 11:27-33.

[51] Mark 13.

[52] “The Authority of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

[53] Ibid. 232.

[54] Longenecker, “Son of Man,” 155.

[55] Ibid.151.

[56] Ibid. 154.

[57] Ibid.158.

[58] Ibid.157.

[59] Ibid. 158

[60] 3:11.

[61] 1:32.

[62] 5:7.

[63] 15:39

[64] 10:47, 11:10,12:36.

[65] Longenecker, 156.

[66] Edwards, 217.

[67]Excerpt from Chapter 3” The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze,, Accessed March 4, 2014.


[68] “Survival of Mark’s Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature,  Fall  2004, Questia, (Accessed March 4, 2014).

[69] Ibid.

[70] “Introduction to Mark,” Lectionary, Scripture Study, Worship Links and Resources (Accessed March 4, 2014).

[71] Ibid.

[72] Mark 16: 6,7.

"Who Do You Say I AM?"

At the heart of most of the ambiguity and controversy lies a question of authority: whether Jesus got his power from heaven or from earthly origins. Jesus refused to answer this question: “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

Readers today will encounter Mark the storyteller as he tells the story of Jesus, a man who came into history, lived in history, and died as a man in history; they will encounter a metaphorical narrative in which ultimately the quest for factuality vanishes. They will hear again the familiar words, “Who do you say I am?” and hear Jesus’ own words, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”