Jesus as God’s Chief Agent in Mark
Paul Owen’s essay, “Jesus as God’s Chief Agent in Mark’s Christology,” is a stimulating contribution to the newly-published multi-author volume, Mark, Manuscripts, and Monotheism, eds. Chris Keith & Dieter Roth (Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2014), 40-57. In this posting I continue my review of the essays in this book.
One of the continuing debates among scholars is what to make of Mark’s view of Jesus, some scholars continuing to posit a “low” view of Jesus, perhaps as Messiah but little more, and other scholars insisting that Mark reflects the view that the Galilean Jesus also bears a transcendent significance that links him with God in some special way. Owen clearly comes down on the side of the latter view and in this essay reviews some key reasons for doing so.
He defines what he means by “God’s Chief Agent,” as a figure who is “associated with God in a unique capacity in the manifestation of his sovereignty” (citing my phrasing from my book, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, p. 20). So Owen (rightly in my view) avoids as anachronistic the categories that later came to govern Christological debates in the early churches (“ontological” categories), and focuses simply on how Mark’s narrative portrays Jesus in relation to God.
Owen commences with analysis of the opening of Mark (esp. 1:1-3). With some other scholars (e.g., Joel Marcus), Owen judges that the peculiar form of the (conflated) biblical quotation here reflects Mark’s view that Jesus is identified as the mysterious figures of the biblical texts in question, amounting to a figure “who acts in the place of YHWH” (45). Then, drawing attention to Mark’s references to the significance of Jesus’ name, Owen contends that these suggest that “Jesus stands in the place of the one who sent him (God)” (48).
Next, focusing on Mark 5 and the reference to Jesus as “Son of the Most High God” (5:7), Owen suggests that Psalm 82 may lie in the background of Mark’s narrative here, Jesus taken as the figure of that Psalm who acts powerfully on God’s behalf (similarly, in the Qumran text, 11 QMelchizedek, a mysterious figure called “Melchizedek” is so identified). Then, Owen probes the narrative of the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6:35-44), finding allusions in it to OT passages such as Ezekiel 34:11-31, where God “in the person of a new David” (55) will “shepherd” God’s people.
Owen concludes that “Mark’s Christology is much ‘higher’ than many modern scholars are inclined to grant” (56). For, if, for example, John the Baptist “prepares the way” of a figure who is apparently referred to “Kyrios” (YHWH) in Mark 1:3, then the author must have intended that the heavenly voice at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:11) should be taken as “identifying Jesus as God’s Son, not elevating him to that status” (56). In a footnote, Owen makes explicit that he proposes that Mark identified Jesus with “the theophanic ‘angel of the Lord,'” but that this doesn’t mean “equating Jesus . . . with a created angel, however exalted . . .” (57 n. 55).
Owen was one of my first PhD students, and, in addition to this stimulating essay, he has produced other important work, especially his joint-authored essay on the Aramaic phrases involved in “the son of man” debate: Paul Owen and David Shepherd, “Speaking Up for Qumran, Dalman and the Son of Man: Was Bar Enasha a Common Term for ‘Man’ in the Time of Jesus?” JSNT 81 (2001): 81-122. We also co-edited a multi-author volume on this topic: Larry W. Hurtado and Paul L. Owen (eds.), ‘Who Is This Son of Man?’ The Latest Scholarship on a Puzzling Expression of the Historical Jesus (London: T&T Clark, 2011).
I’m pleased to have Paul’s essay included in the Mark, Manuscripts, and Monotheism volume, and I hope it will contribute to a more profound engagement with Mark’s Christology.