‘Christology in Mark’s Gospel: Four Views’ – A Brief Review

Arguably, the central question of the Gospel of Mark is one that comes from the lips of the Markan Jesus himself: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 16:29) In the nearly two-thousand years since Mark wrote those words there have been myriad answers to that singular question. In the latest volume in Zondervan’s “Critical Points” series, Christology in Mark’s Gospel: Four Views, editor Anthony Le Donne of United Theological Seminary brings together four noteworthy scholars to debate the issue: Sandra Huebenthal, Larry Hurtado, J.R. Daniel Kirk, and Adam Winn. The format of the volume is easy to follow. First, each scholar presents their case for their view on Markan Christology. Then, the other contributors offer their own responses to each case. Finally, a rejoinder is made to the respondents by the original presenter. 

Space does not permit a full examination of each presenter’s arguments and so I will restrict myself to making some general comments about the volume. First, I was pleasantly surprised to see Larry Hurtado listed among the contributors. Hurtado died in 2019 after succumbing to leukemia. Among New Testament scholars, he was both well-known and generally well received, and his work on early Christianity still influences the field. It is fitting that this volume was dedicated to him. It is also one of his final contributions to the field of New Testament studies. Quite the capstone, in my opinion. 

Second, I was also pleased to see that J.R. Daniel Kirk contributed to the volume seeing as how his 2016 work A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels has significantly shaped my own thinking on the Synoptic Evangelists’ presentation of Jesus. (Kirk has, to my knowledge, left academia. I do hope he continues writing.)  His chapter in the present volume covers a wide range of material and is second in length only to Sandra Huebenthal’s essay. Additionally, I find Kirk’s responses to both Hurtado’s essay and Adam Winn’s to be quite strong. For example, Hurtado contends that Kirk’s “idealized humans” category is “quashed” by the Markan transfiguration pericope (Mark 9:1-8): 

In whatever terms we are to distinguish Jesus and God and yet also link them uniquely, it will require a category that exceeds even that to which figures such as Elijah and Moses belong. Indeed, it appears that for GMark (as for much of earliest Christianity) this category is populated by Jesus alone! (p. 97) 

But Kirk counters that “a category ‘populated by Jesus alone’ is no argument for a divine Jesus or that Jesus is something other than a particular kind of idealized human figure…. The question is not whether Jesus is different from Moses and Elijah but rather what this difference entails” (p. 114, my emphasis). In other words, we may gladly concede that the Markan Jesus occupies a distinct category given his relationship to God but this in no way does away with the notion that he is an idealized human figure a la Kirk in A Man Attested by God

Third, it was refreshing to see a female contributor to a volume like this. Too often volumes of this type are dominated by men. For example, of the four contributors to Zondervan’s Two Views on Women in Ministry, only one is a woman! So, it was nice to see not only a female scholar contributing to this volume on Markan Christology but also one of the caliber of Sandra Huebenthal. (Another excellent choice would have been Elizabeth Struthers Malbon who wrote a book on Markan Christology entitled Mark’s Jesus: Characterization as Narrative Christology.) Huebenthal’s “suspended Christology” takes as its starting point the Markan narrative qua narrative, “[a]pproaching…[it] from a literary-studies perspective” (p. 6). And like Kirk, she finds that the Markan characterization of Jesus is something short of divine: “In the narrated world [of Mark’s Gospel], there is no place for a divine Jesus, not even for a concept similar to what ranks today as ‘Christology’” (p. 39). 

Finally, though written for a popular audience, readers will encounter real scholarship in between the covers. They won’t find the typical pat answers common among evangelicals, answers that too often import later theological narratives into the text. Instead, the authors will challenge your thinking about the implications of the Markan text and its vision of Jesus of Nazareth, and they will do so with scholarly rigor. If you’re interested in the Gospel of Mark generally and Markan Christology particularly, Christology in Mark’s Gospel: 4 Views needs to be on your shelf. 

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