Chapter 7: The Theology of Mark

The Earliest Gospel
by Frederick C. Grant

Chapter 7: The Theology of Mark

Mark takes for granted the primitive Christian tradition about Jesus. What he aims to do is to tell "the Christian story as it was known and believed in the churches of the Hellenistic world a generation after Jesus’ death." (B.H. Branscomb, Commentary, p. xxii) He also takes for granted the apostolic faith; for he writes as a Christian, a believer, not as an outsider or critic -- and not even as an historian or biographer. Hence his "theology," so far as he has a theology, is not his own, but merely the theological interpretation -- as far as it had gone in his day -- of the tradition as held by the contemporary church. Professor Branscomb truly says: "Fact and theology had already been combined in this tradition, and what is often described as Mark’s theology is really the early Christian belief as to the historical facts."(Ibid., p. xxi.) The contrast with Paul, for example, is very marked. Paul lives in a realm of ideas -- revelation, law, grace, justification, glory. By Paul the tradition is taken for granted -- but left behind. Mark, on the contrary, still moves upon the level of the received tradition, and makes almost no effort to interpret it in terms of general ideas. He is not a theologian -- not even in the sense that Paul may be described as one -- and he has scarcely the most elementary idea of what it would require to be a theologian, or how a theologian would go about his task. It is fortunate for us, that is, for the whole later church, that this was so! Upon the basis of Paul’s teaching, taken alone, Christianity might possibly have foundered a century later in the rising sea of Gnosticism; possessing Mark’s compilation of the historic traditions, later amplified by the other evangelists, the church held true to its course, steering with firm, unslackened grip upon the historic origins of its faith.

And yet Mark has often been represented as so greatly influenced by Paul that he introduced Paul’s ideas everywhere into the tradition he records. Paul’s influence, not Peter’s, is the modern theory! On the other hand, Professor Martin Werner has studied the evidence for this supposed influence of "Paulinism" upon the Gospel of Mark, and concludes that instead of "Paulinism" Mark presupposes only the common Christianity, the generally accepted Christian doctrine, of the Gentile churches at the middle of the first century.(See chap. ix below, "was Mark a Pauline Gospel?" -- also F. V. Filson, Origins of the Gospels (1938), pp. 157 ff.) This view is very similar to that of Professor Branscomb, just quoted. And yet there must have been some influence of Paul upon the Christian community in Rome, as elsewhere in the West following his years of missionary preaching and teaching in Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece, and his final visit to Rome, where he preached and taught for at least two years, as we learn from the last lines of the Book of Acts: "preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching the things about the Lord Jesus, with all boldness, none forbidding him" -- , "unhindered" -- the last word of the book and its climax. Not direct "Paulinism," then, but the leaven of Paul’s teaching influencing the common faith of the earliest church in the West, and hence affecting the tradition as it came to Mark some years later -- that is what we may reasonably look for in Mark’s Gospel. And this is what we find, as many scholars now maintain -- especially, perhaps, in the doctrine of the Cross.(E.g., Mark 10:45.) As Bishop Rawlinson finely says, echoing Johannes Weiss, "Jesus is, for St. Mark, the Messiah, not in spite of His sufferings -- as the earliest believers of all may for a time have been disposed to express it -- but precisely because of His sufferings." (Commentary, p. lii.) So also may be the doctrine of the disciples’ failure to understand Jesus’ Way of the Cross, and the blindness of the Jews who rejected him and put him to death. Yet we must not overlook the old tradition here too: "Now brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance, and so did your rulers." (Acts 3:17.) So Peter is represented as preaching in Solomon’s Portico at Jerusalem soon after the Resurrection!

We must not press too strongly, then, the possibility of Pauline influence, and what Mark does not do in the way of conforming the tradition to Paul’s theological outlook is probably more significant than an occasional word or turn of expression found also in the letters of Paul. "Mystery,"(Mark 4:11.) "covenant," "blood of the covenant" (Mark 14:24) -- the words sound Pauline; but further study shows that they are not used in the precise sense Paul assumed, but reflect the common thought and language of the Gentile church, perhaps influenced by Paul, but not slavishly devoted to him and possibly not even comprehending him very clearly. Even the ransom saying (Mark 10:45.) is probably more un-Pauline than Pauline in its real connotations. True enough it represents a circle of ideas one will find in Paul; but Paul scarcely did more than touch the idea and pass on -- he had other and richer and more suggestive figures (See Adolf Deissmann, Paul, esp. chap. vii.) for explaining Christ’s death than that of a ransom paid to death, or to Satan, or even to God -- it is not said to whom the price is paid. The other great doctrines of Paul -- in addition to the significance of Christ’s death, which after all he himself owed to the early community (I Cor. 15:3; 11:24.) -- are not even echoed in the Gospel of Mark. Hence we must conclude with Professors Branscomb, Lohmeyer, Werner, Bishop Rawlinson, and other recent writers, that Mark’s point of view is that which was "in general characteristic of the Gentile-Christian Church of the first century," but that it was not, "in the narrower and more distinctive sense of the words, a ‘Pauline’ Gospel."(Rawlinson, Commentary, p. xiv.)

Mark, then, was no theologian, of the Pauline or any other school; nor was his Gospel written to uphold certain specific doctrines or beliefs of the type stressed by Paul. Nevertheless his book has a distinct unity and a point of view which goes some distance beyond the really primitive formulation of the tradition. We can see this by contrast with the special traditions (L) in Luke(See The Growth of the Gospels, pp. 93-95.)and in the first part of Acts (chapters 1-12), and even with the main body of Q. For Mark, Jesus is no longer a prophet, mighty in word and deed before God and all the people"; he is from the beginning of his ministry the anointed Messiah, the Son of God, and by his calling and divine destiny the heavenly "Son of Man." The terms "Son of God" and "Son of Man" are not equivalent :(See Gustaf Dalman, The Words of Jesus (Eng. tr., 1902), chaps. ix, x. See also E. Lohmeyer in chap. vi, above; and C. H. Kraeling, Anthropos and Son of Man (1927).) the one is the old theocratic messianic title, given to anointed kings in ancient times; the other is the new apocalyptic title of the heavenly Man, the celestial Anthropos, Urmensch, the Primal Man, who is to appear at the end of days, raise the dead, and judge the whole world -- angels, demons, and men. By a paradox, "Son of Man" is in some respects a more exalted title than "Son of God," though one cannot help feeling that, since "Son of God" is the term used or implied by the heavenly Voice at the Baptism and the Transfiguration, it surely conveyed to Mark, and to others before him, a suggestion of the divine nature of Jesus. Certainly, when the centurion at the cross says, "Truly this man was a Son of God," it is understood to imply that Jesus was divine. On the other hand, the "Son of Man" might be only the first of the angels -- as he appears to be in one or two other passages in early Christian literature -- the view refuted at the beginning of the Epistle to Hebrews.(Perhaps especially significant if the Epistle to Hebrews was a Roman document. A similar view is found in The Shepherd of Hermas, which certainly was Roman. See also the Ascension of Isaiah.)

Now what Mark sets out to do, on the basis of the current tradition, already and indeed from the beginning interpreted by faith on the basis of experience, is to show that Jesus, instead of becoming Messiah at his resurrection, was already Messiah during his earthly life. As Johannes Weiss put it, in his comment upon Mark 1:1, "Mark adds the divine title with which Jesus is honored in the Gentile Christian communities, ‘Son of God.’ This is more than a casual addition; the real aim of the writing that follows is to show that this name, which the community had given the Risen and Exalted One, was already proper to the earthly Jesus of Nazareth." ("Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments (2nd ed.), I, 68.) This goes a step beyond the primitive faith, as set forth in Paul’s letter to the Romans -- Mark’s own church ! -- some years before. Paul was writing to Christians whom he had never seen, but expected soon to see, and he sets forth the common faith which he is sure they already hold -- "the gospel of God,( See Mark 1:14 -- though the text may originally have read, "the gospel of the Kingdom of God," as in the A. V.) which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the sacred writings,

concerning his Son,

who was born of the seed of David [as far as his

human nature went],

but who was marked out as the Son of God with

power [by the holy Spirit]

through resurrection from the dead --

Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom. 1:2-4.)

This creedlike passage sets forth the primitive faith, which was taken for granted and then further built upon by Paul, and shared by him -- so he implies -- with all Christians everywhere: Jesus became Son of God, Messiah, by the power of the Spirit at his resurrection from the dead. But Mark goes beyond this: Jesus was already Son of God before his death and resurrection, in fact from the day of his baptism, when the heavenly Voice had proclaimed,

"You are my Son, my Beloved!

You are my Chosen!"(Mark 1:11) (Goodspeed)

The proclamation had been repeated at the Transfiguration, addressed now not to Jesus himself but to the three intimate disciples,

"This is my Son, my Beloved.

Listen to him." (Mark 9:7) (Goodspeed)

Some scholars think the transfiguration story was originally an account of one of the resurrection appearances -- the first one, to Peter in Galilee after his flight from Jerusalem and return to Galilee.(See Morton S. Enslin, "The Date of Peter’s Confession," in Quantulacumque (1937), pp. 117.22; also S. V. McCasland, "Peter’s Vision of the Risen Christ," Journal of Biblical Literature, 47:41-59.) Whether this be so or not, it is certainly for Mark, and for the other evangelists, an anticipation of "the glory of his resurrection." In fact the conclusion of the preceding section in Mark suggests this, since it points forward to this scene with the words, "I tell you, some of you who stand here will certainly live to see the reign of God come in its might." (Mark 9:1 [Goodspeed])

The way in which Mark interprets the earthly life of Jesus is messianic; Jesus became Messiah not at his resurrection but at his baptism. The later evangelists press the origin back to a still earlier point. He was "born King of the Jews,(Matt. 2:2) or he was announced even before his birth to be "holy, and the Son of God."(Luke 1:35.) John goes farther still, and indeed the farthest distance possible :("Though the later creeds do go even farther in exalting the Son’s relation to the Father, since Arianism could accept John 1 -- interpreting it by Prov. 8.) Jesus was the Incarnate Word, who had been with God from "the beginning" and now at last had be. come flesh and dwelt upon earth.(John 1:14.) Step by step, the growing doctrine or theology of the church pressed the origin of Jesus’ heavenly Messiahship, of his divine nature, back to the very confines of time and place, and then beyond. It was Mark who began this process of transvaluation, as far as we can make out at this distance, by insisting that Jesus became Messiah at his baptism -- though perhaps the evangelic tradition had already received this interpretation in the Roman community, or even, earlier still, in Palestine or in the early Gentile church.("See the "hymn" in Phil. 2:6-11, and note Paul’s doctrine of Christ’s pre-existence. If the "hymn" is earlier than Paul, and hence quoted by him, it may even have been Roman in origin.)

The probability seems to be that it was Mark who of untold inaugurated the process("Although Paul, for example, assumes that Christ was pre-existent, that he "came" or "was sent" (e.g. Gal. 4:4), and that the title "Messiah" or "Christ," that is, Son of God, was rightfully his during his earthly life-though for Paul the word "Christ" is less a title than a personal name -- still Paul thinks of his earthly life as chiefly the scene of his suffering, death, and resurrection, not of his messianic career. For Paul, Jesus’ messianic career still begins with the Resurrection -- so primitive is the real basis of Paul’s thought. He never once intimates that Jesus wrought miracles or "mighty works," or that foregleams of his messianic glory were apparent at his baptism or transfiguration, let alone his birth. See Martin Brisckner, Die Entstehung der Paulimschen Christologie (1903); also Henry Beach Carré, Paul’s Doctrine of Redemption (1914). How Paul’s faith -- or Mark’s-was related to the Kyrios faith of early Gentile Christianity, for example at Antioch, we do not know. As far as we know, it was Mark who first applied the idea of conscious Messiahship to Jesus’ earthly life.) -- one of untold moment for all later Christian faith, devotion, and doctrine! Yet it was a simple step to take. If Jesus was now the risen, glorified Lord, soon to return as Judge of all mankind, he must have known what his destiny was to be, even while he walked upon the earth and healed and taught, and when he died he must have foreseen his heavenly office; moreover, if he foresaw it all, how could he fail to act the part? Must he not already have been Messiah, and not merely Messiah-designate, Messiah-elect, while he lived upon earth? Not only was his Messiahship after the Resurrection the greatest disproof of the charges against him, the most powerful vindication of his claims, and the most complete victory over his enemies; his Messiah-ship before the Resurrection shows that he must have accepted defeat and death voluntarily, as the will of God and as the means to the realization of God’s purposes. There was something divine, then, rather than anything ignominious, about such a death! It followed naturally, as in the lines of the Philippian hymn:

He chose renunciation,

obedient to death,

to the death upon the cross.(Phil. 2:8)

Prophetic scripture had foretold it: Jesus knew the Scriptures, and he had willed to accept all that was in store for him.(Mark 9:12; cf. John 19:28). So death had not come upon him unawares; he had foreseen it, perhaps from the beginning, and he had told his disciples repeatedly that he must die -- in fact, at three different times he had foretold his death in detail.(The three passion announcements, Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34; see also 12:8; 14:8, 21, 27, 41.) He had been no victim of the blind hatred and jealousy of the Jerusalem authorities; instead he had marched as a victor to the fray, conscious of his strength and certain of eventual triumph.

Of course this interpretation runs counter to some phases of the old tradition. Mark himself pictures the dismay of his followers as they went toward Jerusalem ;(Mark 10:32) if Professor Turner was right, there is pictured too the strain and tension that filled Jesus’ own mind as he advanced at the head of his band of disciples. There is also the story of the agony in the garden,(Mark 14:32-42.) perhaps a secondary element in the passion narrative but so old a tradition that an echo of it is found even outside the Gospels, in the Epistle to Hebrews.(Heb. 5:7-8. it is noteworthy that John omits the incident though even he has echoes of it -- not the "Jesus wept" of 11:35 but the "Now is my soul troubled" of 12:27.) But in principle is was a historical interpretation; to say the very least, Jesus could not have gone up to Jerusalem, the very stronghold of his enemies, unaware of the dangers he should encounter there.

It is significant that Mark’s interpretation of Jesus’ earthly Messiahship -- that is, of his Messiahship realized even during his earthly ministry -- takes the form it does. As we have seen, the interpretation is completely bound up with the doctrine of the "Son of Man." Even though the title "Son of God" is used in the account of the Baptism, presumably the origin of Jesus’ Messianic consciousness -- as many modern scholars interpret the passage -- nevertheless the whole idea of his acceptance of death is formulated in terms of the heavenly Man who has power and authority upon earth,(Mark 2:10, 28) who fulfills what is written of him, who dies and rises again, and is to come in glory as the supreme advocate or judge.(Mark 8:38; 13:26 f., etc.) And it is closely related to the conception of his followers’ duty of witnessing and, if necessary, of dying for him and his gospel which we find set forth in the central section, "the Way of the Cross." As Bishop Rawlinson again quotes from Johannes Weiss, "He only can understand the secret of the Cross who has disposed himself towards service, humility, renunciation, suffering, and martyrdom."(Commentary, p. liii; cf. Weiss, History of Primitive Christianity, II, 694. See also The Growth of the Gospels, pp. 154 ff.; D. W. Riddle, The Gospels, Their Origin and Growth (1939), pp. 140 ff.) The words might almost come from the Theologia Germanica or The Imitation of Christ, but they are surely true of the Gospel of Mark. For Mark’s interpretation of the life of Jesus as the career of the heavenly Son of Man, walking about Galilee incognito, dying and rising again, is the theology of a martyr church; and like all vital theology it is in closest relation to the daily life of those who thought it and believed it. Jesus had not intended to be the Jewish Messiah of popular hopes.(See The Gospel of the Kingdom, p. 154.) Here again the old tradition, at one stage of its development, ran counter to his theory; for Jesus had accepted the shouts of acclamation at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.(Mark 11:9-10.) In fact, Mark appears to think that Jesus himself planned the demonstration.(Mark 11:1-7.) And there are other suggestions of earthly, that is, nationalistic Jewish, Messiahship to be found in the old tradition -- more fully elaborated in the other Gospels, especially, as we have seen, in Luke. But what does that prove? Only that Mark did not go through his Gospel and erase everything that conflicted with the interpretation set forth in the central section, and especially in the passion announcements. Are all theologians consistent? And let us remember, Mark was not a theologian, nor even trying to be one!

The evidence for Jesus’ Messiahship during his earthly career is further strengthened by the explicit cries of the demons, who "knew him,"(Mark 1:34) and by the confession of Peter (Mark 8:29) -- which now moves back from the first resurrection appearance(I Cor. 15:5; Luke 24:34; etc.) to become the first affirmation of faith in Jesus as Messiah while upon earth. But the interpretation faces certain difficulties. Why was it, if the disciples believed in Jesus’ Messiahship, and had been repeatedly forewarned of his impending fate, that they all forsook him and fled at the time of his arrest? (Mark 14:50.) And if Judas knew of Jesus’ claim to be Messiah, why was this testimony not produced against Jesus at his examination before the high priest? Mark answers these objections, and solves the problem, with his theory of the messianic secret. Jesus had silenced the demons when they acknowledged his divine superiority and called him "the Holy One of God."(Mark 1:24) He had forbidden his disciples to make known his Messiahship to anyone.(Mark 8:30.) The Transfiguration was to be kept a secret until after the Resurrection.(Mark 9:9.) And when he went through Galilee on his way to Judea, he did not wish anyone to know it.(Mark 9:30).

Ever since the publication in 1903 of Wilhelm Wrede’s famous book on this subject, The Messianic Secret in the Gospels, scholars have been compelled to take seriously the thesis it set forth, namely, that the whole conception of the secret Messiahship is an intrusion into the tradition, either read into it by Mark or at a late pre-Marcan stage in the development of the tradition, and not really consonant with the story of Jesus as it was handed down in the earliest Christian circles. The very notion that it was a secret to be kept until after the Resurrection seems to betray it as a later insertion -- like the interpretation of Jesus’ words about the temple found in John 2:21-22. We cannot at this point deal fully with the theory.(See my "Note on Christology" Frontiers of Christian Thinking [1935]). But enough has been said to indicate that in principle the thesis must be accepted. Yet it would not be true to limit Mark’s contribution -- or interpretation -- to his theory of the messianic secret.(See Martin Werner, Der Einfluss paulinischer Theologie im Mark-usevangelium [1923], discussed in chap ix.) It is subsidiary to his whole interpretation of the life of Jesus as already Messiah while upon earth, and long before his resurrection. And his theory of the secret, like his theory of the parables as purposely meant to mystify those who heard them, (Mark: 4-11) and his theory of a divine judgment upon the Jews causing them to be blind to Jesus’ true calling and mission (perhaps a Pauline idea,(Cf. Rom. 9-11, esp. 11:25) but more probably pre-Pauline(Cf. Acts 3:17.) and likewise also his theory of a super-natural restraint upon the disciples(Mark 14:40; cf. 9:6.) so that they could not keep their eyes open (a Hellenistic concept, with many parallels in ancient literature!) -- all these theories are subsidiary to his main thesis, and are thrown up in order to forestall objections to it. If Jesus was already Messiah during his earthly career, why was he not recognized as Messiah? The answer is, he was recognized, even by the demons, who had supernatural insight, and by his disciples, through faith; and yet the disciples were forbidden to declare it, and the demons were silenced; and if the Jews as a whole did not recognize him, it was because their eyes too were "holden," and because they were already bringing upon themselves a judgment for their sins. Here was a mystery, a divine mystery, God’s secret purpose: since the Son of Man had to die,(Mark 8:31; 14:21.) as in the denouement of some ancient tragedy the forces at work were now furthered, now hindered, until God’s ends were achieved. "Thus God’s purpose prevailed," as Homer might have put it: .(Iliad A. 5.) So even Euripides might have celebrated the divine mystery and its unfolding:

Great treasure halls hath Zeus in heaven,

From whence to man strange dooms be given,

Past hope or fear.

And the end men looked for cometh not,

And a path is there where no man thought:

So hath it fallen here.

(Medea, final chorus, tr. Gilbert Murray.)

That is how Mark ponders and wrestles with and finally solves the problem: Christ had to die -- it was the divine decree -- but Christ voluntarily accepted his death, as "for many"; and the characters in the tragedy all express, the events in the story all serve, this one overmastering purpose.

The question will now be asked, What does this type of literary criticism do to the historicity of the Gospel? In answer, let me say that it seems to set the original tradition before us more clearly than ever in its pure and pristine simplicity and power. And it recognizes a principle which all New Testament research steadily and inescapably forces upon us, namely, that all history is interpretation. No history is ever produced or preserved in a vacuum. What we have in the New Testament is no barren transcript of stenographic records, but a series of rich, human, inspired interpretations. In the second place, the New Testament is a book of faith -- of a faith still living and real, whose formulations are partly historical, partly superhistorical, partly visible and open, partly hid in the depths of personal religious experience. And it is certainly possible to share this faith without repeating the identical language in which it was first formulated. That lesson is involved in the history of all the creeds and their interpretation, in the history of our hymns and liturgies, of all our sacred books and their interpretation. We too know Christ as Master and Savior and Lord, though we may no longer use some of the terms which the early Christians used, or though we may use them in a somewhat different sense, inasmuch as the ideas originally conveyed by them are no longer familiar and natural. If, for example, we no longer expect Christ to return upon the clouds of heaven to hold the Last Judgment, as the heavenly Son of Man of the old Aramaic-speaking communities in Palestine, we do not honor or reverence or even worship him any the less. And the reason for this is simple: Jesus was not less than the Jewish Messiah, or than the apocalyptic "Son of Man" seen in visions and dreams by his worshipers ;(Rev. 1-13; Acts 7:56; etc.) he was -- and is -- in fact far more.(See the quotation from T. R. Glover in The Gospel of the Kingdom, p. 139.) What the early Christian believers and writers, for example Mark, tried to do was apply to him the highest conceivable categories, human and divine; but in the end these all proved inadequate, as the later church soon discovered; for Jesus means more, was more, and is more than any of these categories could convey.

It is of the very first importance to recognize that the study of New Testament theology involves more than an understanding of the terms and concepts used by the earliest Christians, both in the Palestinian milieu and also in the great world outside Palestine, the field of the growing Gentile mission. True, the concepts, and the terms used to express them, are of great importance, especially for the later history of doctrine; and we are not likely to minimize them if we view New Testament theology as Book One or perhaps Chapter One in the History of Christian Doctrine. Nor are we likely to minimize their importance, in view of our difficulty in comprehending them! But there is far more to New Testament theology, and specifically to the theology of Mark, than this; for we must take into account the motives that lay behind the choice and use of the concepts. Chief among them all was the religious motive of attributing to Christ a character adequate to account for what men discovered in him through their own personal experience. The new life in Christ, the consequent transformation of all their hopes and expectations, the sense of fresh power to achieve the hitherto impossible, the vital awareness of the change which had been effected in their relations with God, the confidence of sin forgiven and of restoration to divine favor, the "joy in the holy Spirit," and confident looking forward to great events still to come, and soon, as the result of Christ’s exaltation at God’s right hand and of his promised coming as Redeemer and Judge -- all this lies behind the choice and the use of technical terms or concepts borrowed, first of all, from current Jewish messianism. The doctrines of the New Testament of course require a theological interpretation, at the proper time, and before that a historical interpretation, explaining their relation to one another and to the beliefs held commonly by Jews and by Gentiles in the first century; but even prior to the historical interpretation must come the psychological. By that I do not mean an explanation which does away with the doctrines, but one that shows how they are related to the actual experience of men, to the new stream of religious vitality which flowed into the world through the apostolic community of those who first followed Jesus of Nazareth and "hoped that it was he who should redeem Israel."

There is considerable diversity in the theological outlook, conceptions, and terminology of the New Testament writers; as Canon Streeter pointed out, there are at least seven distinct theologies or patterns of theological thinking in the New Testament. But these patterns are not in chronological order, in the New Testament as it stands, nor can they be set in strict chronological order by any process of reconstruction. They were not successive stages in development; they overlap; some began early and continued late, while others were of briefer duration; some began simultaneously, and only a few survived. What we see taking place is, in this respect, what normally takes place in every course of development -- biological, social, and intellectual.( The evolution of natural species affords an interesting illustration of the process.) It is the normal expression of change, everywhere in the world-whether it is always progress, or improvement, is of course another question. But there is also unity as well as variety in the theology of the New Testament. And this unity finds its center, not in an authoritative body of opinions, beliefs, or principles, like the dogmata of the ancient philosophical schools, nor in an authoritative creed or confession, as in the later church. The unity of the New Testament is the unity of life itself -- that life which flowed from the risen, exalted Christ through the Spirit, and held the Christians together as one body, the Body of Christ, as Paul called it, nourished and vitalized from its common Head, to continue the figure.(Eph. 4:16.) In a word, the unity of the New Testament theology is a religious unity, derived from its fundamental and original motivation, not from the language or the ideas commonly used to set forth its convictions, inferences, and beliefs.

The factors of chief importance in the development of this theology were: (a) the Old Testament -- and Judaism -- (b) the tradition of religious thought in the Hellenistic world, (c) the earliest Christian experience of Christ and conviction about his person, mission, and nature -- this soon became the tradition of the faith or the "true doctrine" -- and (d) the living, continuous, ongoing experience of Christ -- only in theory to be distinguished from the preceding -- in worship, in preaching, in teaching, in open proclamation and confession, as the manifestation of the present Spiritual Christ within his church. None of these factors can be overlooked, even though the last is the most important and most decisive. In a sense, the development of New Testament doctrine was a ‘‘dialectical’’ process -- not only in the sense often maintained, that each writer, or each apostle, contributed something to the current dialogue or discourse of Christians about Christ, each in agreement with every other. There was tension, disagreement, debate -- as in the famous controversy over the Jewish Law. There was also tension between positive affirmations on the same side, as between John’s conception of the miracles or of the Messiahship of Jesus, for example, and Paul’s conception -- or Mark’s. I am using the term "dialectic" in its ancient and etymological sense, and it seems appropriate to describe the process by this word; for instead of an aprioristic, deductive method of procedure, the process was one of answering questions and objections as they arose, not in anticipation, and not as the unfolding, more geometrico, of a system implicit within a body of axioms or first principles which one needed only accept and then all the rest followed logically to the final Q.E.D. There are systems of theology like that -- probably every theology developed as a system is like that -- but the New Testament theology is not one of them. Some questions were never raised, and therefore were never answered, in the New Testament; some areas of religious thought were never entered -- for example, cosmology, where the traditional Jewish doctrine was tacitly assumed, though there may be traces of Hellenistic or older pagan concepts in one or two passages.

The problem, then, is to get back of all these "dialectical" tendencies and developments in the thinking of the early church to the one which antedates them all. This must be done if we are to locate Mark’s point of emergence in the process, and to assess its influence and importance. The earliest type of Christian doctrine in the New Testament is without doubt that reflected in the sources underlying Acts 1- 12 -- whatever the date of the writing of Luke-Acts. The conception of Christ, his mission, office, person, and nature, reflected in these chapters is the one required to explain the later developments of Christology -- and it scarcely needs mentioning that the earliest Christian theology was essentially a Christology; this was the new, specific, distinctive Christian teaching. But is even this conception the very earliest? May it not be an advance upon some still earlier stage? I should say it is the earliest of which we have any trace, and further that it is hard to see how any simpler or more primitive conception could have resulted in a new departure in religious doctrine, with the total result that not only the New Testament but all early Christian theology makes evident. If the earliest conception of Jesus had been something less than that reflected in Acts 1-12, Christianity would perhaps never have arisen as a religion distinct from the Jewish. As Johannes Weiss described it in his famous Book I of The History of Primitive Christianity, this doctrine centered in the belief that Jesus rose from the dead as the glorified, heavenly Messiah. This doctrine recognized that his death was "for our sins as Paul also states, in summing up the traditional doctrine (1 Cor. 15:3.) -- but there is no doctrine of the Atonement, as yet. The belief in Christ’s resurrection, that is, his exaltation, is based, not upon any report of the open tomb -- which came later -- but upon the visions of the earliest witnesses; the technical term for their experience is the very one () used in the Old Testament and elsewhere to tell of heavenly appearances, "epiphanies," and visions. (Though to call them visions" is to emphasize unduly the subjective element in the experience, and to raise a whole series of modern questions. The earliest tradition says only, "He appeared to Cephas . . . ." and to others. There was absolutely no question whatsoever of the objective reality of the one who appeared thus in "vision." (I should like to repeat the note which I inserted in Weiss’s History of Primitive Christianity, 1, 28: "If we are to conceive of a spiritual ‘body,’ it must nevertheless be completely ‘spiritual.’ Objectivity and spirituality are not opposed, save in relation to the ordinary range of our organs of sense. ‘Objective’ is used here in the sense of external to our minds, not our bodies.") It was not even certain when, precisely, the first appearance took place, whether "on the third day" or, more probably, "after three days" -- the tradition varies, as Weiss points out. The idea of the Ascension after a long interval, say forty days, is a very late conception, not reflected anywhere in the earliest tradition. The earliest view -- reflected even in John 20:17 -- is either that Jesus ascended at once, or that his resurrection was his ascension and exaltation.(Luke 24:50, 51 is a later modification of this view.) Those who first saw him risen from the dead saw him in glory -- Paul draws no distinction between his own vision of the glorified Christ and the form in which he had appeared earlier to others.

It was this conviction, which lay at the heart of the oldest Christian tradition, that Mark took for granted when he advanced the further step of assuming, and endeavoring to demonstrate, that Jesus was already Messiah, already the "Son of Man," during his earthly life, and before his death and resurrection. Not only, as we have seen, did the disciples suspect it -- though forbidden to speak of it until later -- but the demons, with supernatural insight, recognized him; and at the Baptism and the Transfiguration there were visible foregleams of his coming glorification. Now this type of christological advance was followed by the later Synoptists -- though not without survivals of the older view found in some of their other sources. It was also followed by John,("Whether or not he knew the Gospel of Mark. See P. Gardiner-Smith, St. John and the Synoptic Gospels (1938), a very convincing argument for "John’s" complete independence of the Synoptics.) who carefully lists the seven great "signs" by which Jesus manifested his divine "glory" during his earthly ministry -- though for some reason John has not one word about the exorcism of demons. It was also, obviously, followed by the later theology of the church -- all the way to Pope Leo’s Tome and the Creed of Chalcedon. But it was not followed by all writers of the New Testament. Paul -- who of course antedates Mark -- takes his departure from an earlier type of doctrine, according to which Jesus was no doubt the Christ during his earthly life, but secretly; his "glory" he laid aside, temporarily, when he became man, and he resumed it when raised from the dead "by the glory of God the Father; ( Rom. 6:4.) not even the demons recognized him in his true nature, else they would never have put to death the Lord of glory ;(I Cor. 2:8.) his crucifixion was not their victory but their defeat. Nor does Paul suggest anywhere that Jesus had wrought miracles, least of all exorcisms of demons; nor does he refer to him as the "Son of Man." A similar view to that of Paul and of the primitive community is set forth in the creedlike passage of First Peter.

Christ . . . . suffered for sins once,

the righteous for the unrighteous,

that he might bring us to God;

being put to death in the flesh,

but made alive in the spirit.(I Pet. 3:18.)

Now Paul’s theology must be studied as a Jewish theology modified by the conception of Jesus as the Risen Messiah; that is, it was a Jewish theology -- of the high Pharisaic type, in some respects; in others, quite unPharisaic, and making much use of apocalyptic conceptions, as Bruckner and others have shown -- and to this Jewish theology was added the new, distinctive, transforming conviction that the Messiah was none other than the lowly Jesus, dead, raised to glory, and soon to come again. This is what gave Paul’s theology its distinctiveness -- and the heart and core of it was derived from the primitive community, not perhaps at Jerusalem but more probably at one of the new outposts of Hellenistic Christianity, in Damascus or in Antioch.(This is one of the main presuppositions of Wilhelm Bousset’s Kyrios Christos (3rd ed., 1926). There have been many criticisms of the details of Bousset’s argument; the main thesis seems to me to be established. However, I should want to modify the statement of it in some respects; see my "Form Criticism and the Christian Faith," Journal of Bible and Religion, 7(1939)9-17; and a final "Note," ibid., 7:177-80.) Its distinction from Mark’s theology is not its origin, but its point of departure -- perhaps from an earlier level than Mark’s -- and its transcendental or metaphysical development, which in the end left that of Mark far behind, though chronologically Mark is some years later than Paul.

At the same time it must be recognized, as we have already observed, that Mark’s theology likewise went back to the primitive tradition for its basic structure. The underlying tradition in the Gospel of Mark, and its view of Jesus, is fundamentally Palestinian -- this all historical critics now recognize. It also, then, is a Jewish theology, modified by the conception of Jesus as the "Son of Man"; but it is not the same type of Judaism, that is, of Christian Judaism, that Paul presupposes. It seems to reflect, not the full Hellenistic conception of Jesus as "Lord," nor the Judean conception of him as the "Messiah, the King of Israel," but the Galilean view of him as the "Son of Man," a conception which, as Lohmeyer maintains, was probably current in the north, where the Enoch, Noah, and Daniel sagas had their greatest currency and perhaps their origin.(See Chap. vi above, "Jerusalem or Galilee?") One of the most important steps in the development of primitive Christian doctrine, and by far the most important for the tradition embodied in Mark and the Synoptics, took place when Jesus was identified with this celestial figure of apocalyptic expectation. It may have been a second step, following the first which identified Jesus with the Messiah -- a view held more firmly in the south -- or it may indeed have been the very first step, direct and immediate, from the appearance of the risen Jesus to the inference that he was now the anticipated heavenly figure of Daniel’s vision, as currently interpreted. It may, in fact, as many believe, go back to Jesus’ own self-identification, though this seems more than doubtful, or to Jesus’ own words about the coming heavenly "Man," with whom his followers now identified him. Whatever its origin -- and I myself agree with Wellhausen and others in attributing the identification to the primitive Christian community, as their least inadequate and only possible term for one who was thus both human and divine and yet not God (which would have been unthinkable in their realm of ideas) -- whatever its origin, this first great step in the advance of Christology was of endless significance for the later development of Christian doctrine, and it was of paramount importance for the Gospel of Mark. It at once provided the author with a clue to his quest: the hidden, secret "Son of Man" was the Messiah living incognito -- or practically incognito -- during his earthly life, and yet in truth already the divine being whom all Christian faith acknowledged as the head of his community since the Resurrection. But it also set him his problem: How could Christ remain unknown? Above all, how could he have been put to death? The former question he answers with his theory of the messianic secret; the second brings us to the Marcan passion narrative.