Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Mark and the Masked Man

It is generally understood that the first gospel to have been written is that attributed to Mark – here, here, here, here and here (although these are all Christian websites, another Christian website, CARM, says the debate is far from over).

Now the fact that Matthew is normally assumed to be the first gospel is not a big issue, since there may well have just been a few years in it.  The issue I want to raise here is not the order so much as the nature of the story in Mark’s gospel.

According to Mark, the story starts with John the Baptist who was baptising people in the wilderness and proclaiming that someone greater than he was on the way.  That person was Jesus who was baptised by John.  Immediately after the baptism, the heavens opened and a voice from heaven revealed that Jesus was the Son of God, in whom God was well pleased.  Now note that 1) God did not say “This is an element of Me in whom I am well pleased” and 2) if Jesus=God then why is he telling himself who he is?

(It is a bit unclear as to who saw the Heavens open or who heard the voice from heaven, it is possible that apart from Jesus only John was in the vicinity, and the text implies that perhaps only Jesus saw the vision.)

This confusion as to identity never really goes away in Mark:

·         Mark 1:34 – Jesus suffers not the devils to speak, because they knew him

·         Mark 1:44 – having cured a leper, Jesus commands him to say nothing to any man (which the leper failed to do, rather he went out and began to publish it much)

·         Mark 7:36 – Jesus heals a deaf man with a speech impediment, then says that he should tell no man of the miracle (which the man fails to do)

·         Mark 8:26 – Jesus heals a blind man, then tells him to neither go into the town, not tell it to any in the town

·         Mark 8:29-30 – Jesus questions his disciples as to who they think he is, Peter says “Thou art the Christ” and Jesus tells them to tell no man of him

·         Mark 9:9 – after the transfiguration on the mountain, he charges those who witnessed it to speak to none of it (until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead)

·         Mark 11:33 – the chief priests, scribes and elders of the temple had recognised Jesus and asked of him by what authority he did what he did.  Instead of giving an answer he asks them what they think, to which they reply “We cannot tell”.  Jesus then says “Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things”.

·         Mark 14:44 – Judas Iscariot tells those who come to arrest Jesus that he will identify Jesus to them by kissing him

Now, for a personage sent to Earth to spread the word of God, Jesus put a lot of effort into remaining unknown.  But that effort seems to be totally unsuccessful because people continually recognise him, including the chief priests, scribes and elders of the temple.

The only people who don’t recognise him are those sent to arrest him, necessitating the betrayal by Judas (which would not have been necessary since the high priests could have simply described him to their men).

At the ninth hour on the cross, in Mark 15:34, Jesus says “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  This is totally incomprehensible if Jesus=God but makes a lot more sense if he is just a guy who either thinks he is the Son of God, or perhaps is favoured by God.

Interestingly, despite the constant hiding of his identity, one of the last things the Risen Christ says to his disciples is “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”  Why then did Jesus put so much effort into hiding evidence that would support a belief in what he was preaching?

This "masked man" approach would make sense if Mark's gospel was fiction, like others in which the secret identities of heroes are not generally known (Superman for example, whose cunning disguise is a suit and a pair of glasses).

It should be noted that in Mark 16:15-18 we have the perfect test for the strength of a Christian’s faith in the literal word of the gospel:

·       He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.  And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover."

Noting that there is no expiry clause on this, it possibly provides a method for proving once and for all whether the Bible is inerrant.  For example, those people who attempt to legislate on the basis of Biblical truth or to change the national syllabus to eradicate science based subjects in favour of creationist accounts should first prove their faith that the Bible is inerrant by taking up a taipan and then drinking a glass of potassium cyanide and cola.  While I don't expect many to take up the challenge, it could cool their enthusiasm for forcing change on others.

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