Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Exalted Christology of Mark 12:35-37

The exalted Christology of the synoptic gospels is greatly underappreciated. In fact, in many cases the idea of high Christology in the synoptics is sneered at. Some argue that it isn't until the Gospel of John that we find the Christology that sets Jesus apart being a mere mortal prophet.

If I was to suggest that John 17:5 had its roots in primitive Christology I am sure many would dismiss it without consideration. However, I think we should give it a go. John 17:5 (ESV) states:

And now, Father,  glorify me in your own presence with the glory  that I had with you  before the world existed.
 We see a number of unique features here. Firstly, Jesus is clearly an exalted character. Secondly, Jesus shared in the glory of God. Thirdly, Jesus shared in the Father's glory in the realm of his human pre-existence.

I am going to go out on a limb and assert that these three features of an exalted Jesus who shared glory with God in a state of pre-existence is found within the Gospel of Mark. In fact, in a single few verse pericope of Mark 12:35-37 (ESV) which reads:

35  And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,
“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’
37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

So, just to set the scene here. Jesus is at the temple and we receive an exert of the sermon (or even a provocative opening?). Here, we find an open challenge to the Messianic expectations of the scribes. Namely, you say that the Messiah is the son of David? Jesus is setting out to demonstrate that the Messiah is to be so much more, so he moves to the scripture. He cites David under the influence of the Holy Spirit declaring: "YHWH said to my Adoni, Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet."

That's all good, but Jesus goes to identify the Messiah with the lord of the text. David himself calls the Messiah lord. So, to the three points from before. Firstly, the Messiah is identified as an exalted figure - he is even recognised as lord by David. Secondly, Adonai is in the glory and presence of YHWH during this discourse and was to be at His right hand. Thirdly, this all took place in a context of pre-existence.

Evidently, we find a very high Christology in these few verses of Mark. Just like the obviously high Christology of John 17:5, we find this short pericople espousing the same features in terms that appear to be just as strong - if not stronger.


  1. at first it seemed forced but i understand it now. i think you may be right here however would the greek support the reading?

  2. Ari: I just discovered your blog yesterday and it seems that we have similar interests in Christology and books. I started a series on Mark's Divine Christology (that I've yet to even nearly complete) that you might find interesting (here & here so far).

    Just two small points of correction real quick. You've listed John 15:7 (rather than 17:5) twice in the early part of your post. And the Hebrew from Psalm 110 says 'Adoni' rather than 'Adonai.' This last point is something that Unitarian author Anthony Buzzard harps on in his book Jesus Was Not a Trinitarian.

    In any event, good post. I look forward to reading more from you.

  3. Thanks for the nice comments guys.

    And thanks Nick! This blog acts as my draft for whatever comes to my mind hence the lack of proof-reading. I think I have corrected everything.

    And thanks for the links.

  4. This is interesting, but the second lord in the Psalm is a human, so it actually is proof in the other direction.

    The Psalm reads: "Adonai (god) said to adoni (a human lord)..."

    Jesus was comparing himself to a human representative of YHWH.


  5. Ari,

    Do you follow Dunn or Hurtado when it comes to historical Christology?

  6. Hi Mike, I would side with Hurtado. I am not a particular fan of Dunn's interpretation's of Paul's Christology of Jesus. That said, I still have a while to go before I have a proper coherent view - but I can apply that shortcoming to most of my understanding of Biblical theology.

  7. Hi Nick, regarding the use of 'Adoni' apparently that is only an MT reading, and the Isaiah Scroll says "Adonai".