Saturday, December 21, 2013

God came down

I'm going to comment on two posts by Dale Tuggy attacking Mark's high Christology:

i) First off, let's comment on his treatment of Mk's introduction. Mark says:

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,    who will prepare your way,the voice of one crying in the wilderness:    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,    make his paths straight,’”4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Keep in mind that Tuggy is a "humanitarian unitarian." He believes that Jesus is merely human, although God has given Jesus godlike prerogatives to act on God's behalf, in God's stead.
This would be a consistent unitarian gloss on the fulfillment of Isaiah:
Yahweh is to the Father 
As Elijah is to Jesus
Jesus takes the place of Elijah. Jesus is the counterpart to Elijah. 
That, however, is not how Mark structures the fulfillment. Instead, this is the Markan scheme:
Yahweh is to Jesus
As Elijah is to John the Baptist
In the Markan parallelism, Jesus is the counterpart to Yahweh while John the Baptist is the counterpart to Elijah.
In Mark's introduction, Jesus is not a prophetic emissary. Rather, that's the role assigned to John the Baptist. By contrast, Jesus is the God who's coming is heralded by the Baptist. 
ii) Let's now consider some of Tuggy's evidence that Jesus is not God in Mark:
No, he’s the Son of God. (1) So, not God himself. God endorses him. (14-15) He’s the messenger, not the sender, so, not God.

Jesus, son of the Most High God” (7) So, not the most High God, not YHWH himself, but rather, his Son.

He’ll return “in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” That’ll be when we see “the kingdom of God come with power.” (9:1) “The Father” here is obviously, YHWH, the one true God.

He calls himself the “son of man” (12, 31), which seems an obvious reference to Daniel 7:13 – to the “one like a son of man” whom God makes a supreme ruler. (Daniel 7:13-14).

The high places in his coming Kingdom are not Jesus’s to grant. (40) We are to infer that this is God’s prerogative, not Jesus’s. 

His authority and power are from heaven – that is, from God. (27-33) 

But then, how can David, in Psalm 110:1, call the messiah his “Lord” – when that same messiah is David’s “son” (descendant)? We’re not supposed to think that Jesus is called “Lord” because he’s God himself. God is the one who sent him, and is, his god, the one Jesus prays to.

Even the pagan soldier realizes that this man is a son of a god, or the Son of God. (39) 

Let's take a comparison:
11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker (Acts 14:11-12). 
6 They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god (Acts 28:6).
For the sake of argument, let's play along with that framework. Notice how Tuggy's objections instantly fall flat if you throw them against that paradigm:
Hermes is the son of Zeus. He's not Zeus. He's a messenger of Zeus. Zeus sends him. He comes down from Olympus and returns to Olympus. Zeus is the king of the gods. Hermes is authorized to speak and act on his behalf. Hermes could call on Zeus if he needed to. 
Yet none of this would prove that Hermes is not divine. Hermes is a god in his own right. Zeus is a father god, and Hermes is his divine son. 
The fact that Hermes isn't Zeus doesn't mean Hermes isn't divine. He's divine in the same way Zeus is divine. They are two of a kind. 
The fact that Hermes is sent by Zeus doesn't mean Zeus is divine but Hermes is not. 
Likewise, if Zeus chose to abdicate, he could designate Hermes as his rightful heir. Hermes would become the king of the gods. 
Hermes looks human, but there's more to Hermes than meets the eye. 
iii) Now, Tuggy might object that I'm resorting to a pagan polytheistic frame of reference. Surely that's not analogous to the Father and the Son in Mark.
But keep in mind that Mark is addressed to a Gentile audience–unlike Matthew. So "the son of God" might well have different connotations for his audience. Tuggy even mentions the exclamation of the Roman centurion. 
Even though Mark operates with a monotheistic paradigm, he may play on the cultural expectations of his target audience, to correct and refine their understanding. When Tuggy says Jesus can't be "God" because he's "God's son," is he hearing that designation the same way Mark's original audience heard it? Would they share his facile dichotomies? 
My comparison is an a fortiori argument. Yes, there are fundamental differences, but we're moving from the lesser to the greater.
For instance, the notion of God coming down from the sky isn't uniquely pagan. That's an ancient Biblical motif. We have that going all the way back to the introductory book of the Bible (Gen 3:8; 11:5; 18:1ff.). We also have that in the NT (e.g. Phil 2:6-8). 
iv) Tuggy mentions the parable of the tenants:

The vineyard-owner’s “beloved son.” (6) Vineyard owner represents God, the son is Jesus. Too obvious to need spelling out.

And what lends force to the illustration is the fact that his son is not equivalent to servants who are unrelated to the vineyard-owner. 
v) What's the significance of "God's son" in Mark? In principle, it could be a simile for Davidic sonship. God was like a father to David. David was like a son to God.
And that's undoubtedly one of the connotations of "God's son" in Mark. Jesus is the Davidic Messiah. 
vi) However, there's more to divine sonship in Mark than Davidic sonship. For one thing, in Biblical typology, the antitype is characteristically greater than the type. 
vii) Likewise, if Jesus is merely human, why does Jesus take David's place? Why is David just a stand-in for Jesus? If the Davidic Messiah is merely human, why doesn't God come bring David back? Resurrect David in the 1C? If the Davidic Messiah is merely human, there's no need for David to be a placeholder for someone else. Why can't David himself reprise that role? Why must a different human being take over the same role? 
viii) Moreover, Davidic sonship doesn't adequate to account for some of the Markan data. We've already discussed Mark's introduction. In addition, Tuggy hurries over the fact that Jesus is convicted of blasphemy. But if he is merely claiming divine sonship in the Davidic sense, then there's nothing blasphemous about that claim. Even if the Sanhedrin rejected his claim to be the Davidic messiah, it wouldn't be "blasphemous" to make that claim. At worst, it would be mistaken. If the Sanhedrin misunderstood the nature of his claim, Jesus could easily refute the charge by clarifying the nature of his divine sonship. He could explain that he calls himself the "son of God" in the Davidic sense. That's not a claim to deity. 
ix)  Likewise, Tuggy mentions the demonic recognition of Christ (Mk 1:24-25,34; 3:11; 5:7), but fails to probe the significance of that phenomenon.
If Jesus is merely human, if he is God's son in the Davidic sense, then why are demons credited with perceiving something about Jesus that's hidden to human observers?
Human observers are confined to sensory perception. To the empirical Jesus. But demons are privy to extrasensory perception. They enjoy direct, supernatural insight into the person of Christ. 
This is reminiscent of recognition scenes in the OT involving theophanies or angelophanies. When the Angel of the Lord appears to someone, he often assumes a humanoid appearance. It's only at some point in the conversation that his true identity dawns on the human observer, which triggers fearful reverence.
It's similar in Mark, except that in the case of demons, you have instant recognition and sudden fear. They immediately sense that there's more to Jesus than meets the eye. They instantly perceive his true identity. And that terrifies them. They are confronting their Master and Judge. 
They've encountered him before. They remember him. Before they fell. Back when he and they were both in heaven. God's abode. 
Moreover, one spirit, one numinous being, can discern the presence of another spirit or numinous being. In this case, an inferior being who perceives a superior being. 


  1. This is a wonderful analogy, very clear! Sometime, Steve, you bridge the gap from unbelief to revelation.
    Good Christmas for you and your family,

  2. Steve, I must say this was a superb response which shows just how inept Tuggy is when it comes to doing exegesis.

  3. For a long time I've been planning on posting a blog that shows how the gospel of Mark hints at the deity of Christ. I haven't had time to really work on it but here are just some of the things (in abbreviated and rough form) that I'll eventually include in that post.

    The beginning of Mark quotes Isa. 40:3 and Mal. 3:1. - In Isa. 40:3 YHWH is referred to in the Hebrew and Mark applies the passage to Jesus. In Mal. 3:1 the phrase "ha adon" is used meaning "the Lord" or "the [TRUE] Lord" and it is used only in reference to the true God. Yet, the author of Mark applies it to Jesus as well.

    Mark 2:5ff. Jesus forgives sins. This is a prerogative that was thought to only belong to God. Therefore, this suggests a possible claim to deity on Christ's part. It is true that Jesus later would give the power to forgive sins to His apostles (John 20:23), but that's only after He Himself breaks all cultural expectations. Whereas it's clear that Jesus was merely delegating that power & authority of forgiveness to His apostles. Jesus on the other hand seems to claim that authority inherently.

    Mark 2:27ff. - Jesus claims to be "Lord of the Sabbath." Since YHWH instituted the sabbath and Jesus claims to be "Lord of the Sabbath", Jesus is implicitly claiming to be YHWH. If not, then He's appropriating for Himself prerogatives which alone belong to YHWH. Something which no creature may do.

    Mark 4:39 has Jesus calming the storm. This seems to parallel Job 38:9-11 and other passages where YHWH controls the weather, storms and the sea. Compare also how the storm died down when Jonah was cast into the sea.
    Mark 6:48 has Jesus walking on the sea. Yet Job 9:8 says it is God who tramples (i.e. walks) on the waves of the sea. Both passages indirectly imply Jesus is divine.

    Mark 5:6 has a demoniac bowing before Jesus. While humans sometimes bowed before other human authorities without implying they were divine, this demoniac seems to acknowledge Jesus' superior status by bowing to Him. While it doesn't prove Jesus' divinity, it is consistent with it.

    Mark 5:19 has Jesus saying, "Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." Yet, how does the author of Mark record what the person actually did? The next verse says, "And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled." Apparently, the author of Mark intends to imply that Jesus is "Lord" in some sense. Maybe even THE Lord. Meaning, YHWH.

    Mark 7:37 says about Jesus that He "has done all things good/well." This echos the creation account in Genesis where God is said to have appraised His own works as "good." Again indirectly implying Jesus is God.

    Continued in next post.

    1. The same verse (Mark 7:37) also says, "He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak." This might find a parallel in Exo. 4:11 which says, "So the LORD said to him, 'Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the LORD?..." Healing eyes and ears was so difficult that being able to do so could almost require the powers of creation. Something which only God can do. Is it any wonder that when Jesus did heal the blind and deaf it was said of Him that He did "all things well/good"? Again indirectly implying Jesus is the creator God of Genesis.

      Mark 8:34, 38 and surrounding verses. - Jesus requires allegiance and commitment to Himself which only God has the right to require or claim Thus indirectly implying Jesus is Himself God.

      Similarly, Jesus repeatedly uses phrases like "My name", "My sake", "My name's sake." Either Jesus was an egotistical and narcissistic megalomaniac or Jesus rightfully required such loyalty and centrality. Here are the passages where Jesus uses those phrases Mark 8:35; 9:37; 9:39; 9:41; 10:29; 13:6; 13:9; 13:13. Each one should be read individually. But to save space, I've only given their citations.

      The Jews expected Elijah to come before the arrival of the Messiah Mark 9:11ff. True. But Mal.4:5 speaks specifically of the coming of the LORD/YHWH. Again, indirectly implying Jesus is Himself God.

      Mark 10:17-18 has been used to prove that Jesus claimed not to be God. However, in the same book demons refer to Jesus as the "Holy One of God" (cf. Isa. 49:7; 54:5 and 55:5). So, clearly Jesus was good. Quoting Richard N. Davies book The Doctrine of the Trinity page 18-19

      QUOTE: Christ said to a certain ruler: "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God." (Mark x, 17, 18.) Christ did not deny that he himself was "good," nor did he deny that he himself was God; but the ruler had not acknowledged him to be God, and our Lord's question to the ruler was based upon that fact. It was as much as to say, As you do not confess me to be God, why call me good? Our Lord said: "There is none good but one, that is, God." It would follow from this that whoever is perfectly good must be God; but our Lord is perfectly, infinitely good, hence must be God........The dilemma, as regards the Socinians, has been well put (see Stier II, 283, note), either, 'There is none good but God; Christ is good; therefore Christ is God;' or, 'There is none good but God; Christ is not God; therefore Christ is not good.' " (Alford, in loco) END QUOTE

      Continued in next post.

    2. Mark 11:3 - The "Lord has need of it" (i.e. the donkey or colt). This could be interpreted in a Unitarian way in that God the father, who is Lord, needs it for His messiah to ride on. However, it could also be interpreted to mean that Jesus is the "Lord" who needs the donkey. In which case, Jesus might be Lord in a creaturely OR a divine sense, since the word "kurios" can refer to either. However, as noted above the same word is also the translation of YHWH in the LXX and in Mark 1:3.

      "Josephus remarked that the early Jews refused to call the emperor kurios because they regarded it as a name reserved for God (Jewish War 7.10.1). In short, Greek-speaking Jews both wrote and spoke kurios in place of YHWH (Encountering the Manuscripts, 209)." [quotation found HERE]

      Mark 13:9 - Jesus says His disciples will and should "bear witness" (ESV) or give "testimony" of Jesus. This seems to parallel the passages in Isaiah about being YHWH witnesses (i.e. Isa. 43:10, 12; 44:8-9). Again, indirectly implying Jesus' full Divinity.

      Mark 13:26-27 has Jesus referring to Himself as the Son of Man and the angels being "His angels" and "His elect." That is, the Son of Man's angels and elect. Evidently, the ownership of the angels and the elect belong to both the Father and the Son. Implying that Jesus is true and full deity.

      Mark 13:31 has Jesus saying His words will not pass away even if heaven and earth did. That seems to parallel Isa. 40:8. Again, indirectly implying that Jesus' words are God's Words and therefore Jesus is God.

      Mark 13:26 and 14:62 alludes to Dan. 7:13 when it refers to the the son of man "coming in the clouds". This is a clear reference to a divine being since in Semitic cultures only the gods (e.g.YHWH, Baal and other deities) rode on the clouds. They were the vehicles and chariots of the gods. According to Michael Heiser Baal was often described as the God who rode the clouds. The Jews, in order to assert and make clear that YHWH (the God of Israel) is the true God rather than Baal, began describing YHWH in the Old Testament as the one who rode the clouds. Heiser goes on to say that in every instance of the Old Testament where a figure is riding the clouds it refers to YHWH (Deut. 33:26; Ps. 68:32; Ps. 104:3; Isa. 19:1). With the one exception being Dan. 7:13 where the son of man is the one riding the clouds. This therefore strongly implies the divinity of the "Son of Man". The the LXX in Dan. 7:13 states that people would "serve" the "son of man." According to James White (in his debate with Adnan Rashid) the underlying Greek word "serve" refers to the highest kind of worship and service which only belongs to God.

      Mark 14:62 Jesus says "I am". It's true that Jesus could merely be saying "I am [the messiah]." However, it's possible that the author of Mark is having Jesus use the Greek phrase "ego eimi" to claim absolute deity as the author of John in John 8:58 almost certainly did. Especially since Jesus uses the phrase in the context of claiming to be the son of man in Dan. 7:13 which the high priest interprets as a claim to deity since he condemns Jesus for committing the sin of blasphemy. Notice also that Jesus didn't deny the claim. Something which a pious Jew would certainly clarify if his words were being misunderstood. A claim to merely be the messiah was not blasphemous or deserving of death in Jewish law.

      Continued in next post.

    3. Matthew is said to have a more elevated Christology because of doctrinal development, yet it is in the Gospel of Mark where Jesus said "I am" (in Mark 14:61-64 and Mark 6:50). In Mark 6:50 Jesus said, "do not be afraid". This is something which angels often said (2 Ki 1:15; Matt. 28:5; Luke 1:13; 30; 2:10). But it's also said by the God of Israel and more emphatically either directly or through an inspired prophet (Gen. 15:1; Jos. 1:9; 2 Chron. 20:17; Isa. 41:10,13,14; 43:1, 5; 44:2; 51:12-13). Again, indirectly implying deity on Christ's part.

      A non-Christian (e.g. a Muslim or atheist) might ask why Jesus didn't directly and unambiguously claim to be God. Well, Jesus didn't directly and unambiguously claim to be the messiah for most of His public ministry either. How much more would Jesus refrain from the greater and claim since the latter claim could result in His premature death.

      The gospels seem to imply that Jesus veiled His messiahship (and by extension His divinity), as well as speaking in parables and mysteries for various reasons. For example: 1. so that He wouldn't be persecuted to death before the time. While messianic claims weren't punishable by death, Jesus could have been killed by the Jewish leaders out of jealousy. If Jesus directly and publicly claimed to be deity early in His ministry, He would certainly have been trialed and condemned to death earlier then God's schedule; 2. to demonstrate His messiahship (and by extension His divinity) first by His deeds more than His claims; 3. to fulfill the exact timing of the public revealing of the Messiah to Israel on Palm Sunday according to the prophecy of Daniel 9; 4. as a judicial manifestation of national punishment; 5. in order to only save the elect who have been given ears to hear (cf. Mark 4:9-12; Matt. 13:10-17; Luke 8:8-10; John 12:37-40).

      That's not to say that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah or God during His ministry. The difference between the Synoptics and the gospel of John can be partly explained by the fact that the Synoptics record the more public aspects of Jesus' ministry while John records the more private aspects. Also, it has to be understood that about half of the 21 chapters of the of Gospel of John records the last days and hours of Jesus on earth. Whereas the Synoptics record much of the preceding years of ministry.

      The Gospels must also be read in light of the principle of Progressive Revelation where God slowly reveals His truth as the people of God can receive, absorb, understand and accept it. Once they are, it's clear that Jesus did claim to be both the Messiah and God. This is not a misunderstanding of Jesus' original teaching since the earliest disciples had that understanding soon after Christ's resurrection. That's why the books in the New Testament which were the earliest written (even before the Gospels) have such a high Christology. For example, some in the Pauline corpus. Yet, we know that Paul claimed that he preached essentially the same gospel the Apostles did before him. They should also be read in light of the "two powers" understanding that was going around in Judaism at the time. Along with the concept of the "Word of the Lord" ("debar" in Hebrew and "memra" in Aramaic) that developed in Judaism. Along with how the Targums often personified "the Word of the YHWH". There are many other things during that period that helps make the concept of the full deity of Jesus and the doctrine of the Trinity less of a theological novum which had no previous precedent.

    4. typo corrections and additions:

      "How much more would Jesus refrain from the greater and claim since the latter claim could result in His premature death."

      Should read something like:

      "How much more would Jesus refrain from the greater claim of Godhood since this latter claim could result in His premature trial and death. "

      I also wrote:

      "Mark 10:17-18 has been used to prove that Jesus claimed not to be God. However, in the same book demons refer to Jesus as the "Holy One of God" (cf. Isa. 49:7; 54:5 and 55:5). So, clearly Jesus was good."

      When read, those passages in Isaiah could almost be interpreted to imply multiple persons in the Godhead.

    5. When the disciples asked Jesus why they couldn't successfully exorcise a demoniac Jesus said it was because those types possession required them to pray (Mark 9:28-29). Yet, Jesus was able to do it without any apparent prolonged persevering prayer. By His own inherent authority. Which again is consistent with His divinity.

      The Synoptics portray Jesus as a mysterious figure whose identity is being slowly revealed and understood. After Jesus calms the storm the disciples say, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mark 4:41). Mark has Jesus saying, "Whom do men say that I am? (Mark 8:27).

      Again, regarding Mark 6:50, it's true that sometimes the prophets said on behalf of God, "do not be afraid" or "fear not." The difference with Jesus is that when Jesus commanded the disciples not to be afraid, the REASON He gave was "it is I" or more literally, "I am." No mere human prophet would say not to be afraid on account of his being the one who is present. Only God could say that. The author of Mark may be hinting at Jesus' real identity of being God in this passage. Expecting us to reflect on Jesus' use of "I am" (ego eimi) in light of the rest of the book.

      Earlier I wrote:
      "Similarly, Jesus repeatedly uses phrases like "My name", "My sake", "My name's sake." Either Jesus was an egotistical and narcissistic megalomaniac or Jesus rightfully required such loyalty and centrality. Here are the passages where Jesus uses those phrases Mark 8:35; 9:37; 9:39; 9:41; 10:29; 13:6; 13:9; 13:13.

      Beyond loyalty and centrality, the Jesus of Mark requires a devotion that only God can rightfully claim (see also Mark 1:17,20; 2:14, 19-20; 8:34, 38; 9:7, 42; 10:14, 21, 28-30; 11:13-14; 12:6; 14:4-7, 21, 22-25;

      What mere prophet would behave in the following way?

      4 There were some who said to themselves indignantly, "Why was the ointment wasted like that?5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor." And they scolded her.6 But Jesus said, "Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me.7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me.- Mark 14:4-7

    6. Annoyed - if you take your run-through of Mark - the passages in which you claim he hints of Jesus' deity - and make it into one post of decent length (I suggest using bullet points), I'll put it on trinities as a counter-point guest post to my post on Mark.