Saturday, March 6, 2010

NT Pod 27: The Messianic Secret in Mark's Gospel

NT Pod 27 discusses The Messianic Secret in Mark's Gospel.

It is just over eleven minutes long. Feel free to leave your comments below.

NT Pod 27: The Messianic Secret in Mark's Gospel (mp3)

NT Pod 27: The Messianic Secret in Mark's Gospel (mp3) (Alternative location)

Key texts: Mark 1.24-25, 1.32-34, 1.43-45, 3.11-12, 4.10-12, 5.43, 7.36-37, 8.25, 8.29-30, 9.9, 10.48, 14.61-63; 1 Cor. 1.22-23.

Thanks to Ram2000, Me and You, for the opening theme, released under a Creative Commons agreement.


  1. Hi Mark, thanks for the new episode. I'm pretty sure that there's one slight error: Christ did not ride into the city on a donkey but on a young horse, a foal (πωλος, cf. Mk 11:7 & Lk. 19:30). Matthew obviously tried to tie the ovatio to Zech 9:9 by adding the ὄνος to the πωλος, which seems a bit strange though, because the foal in Zech is secondary, while the humility is expressed by referring primarily to an equida used as a draught-animal (yoke etc.; ζύγιος), which is commonly translated as "donkey" (KJV). John then obviously had his own tradition, because in 12:15 we read not a young horse (Mk/Lk) or two animals (Mt), but πωλος ὄνου ("ass colt").

  2. Thanks for catching that. I think I was imagining the donkey I used to see on Palm Sunday in my youth. I've made the adjustment.

  3. It seems to me that the Messianic Secret supports the possibility of a non-historical Jesus.

    If you want to create a movement about a founder, that is actually a god, and the people you are telling this story to say; "Yeah, OK, so why have we never heard of this guy if he did all these incredible things? I mean how could all these incredible thing happen, and no one heard about it?". It is pretty handy to be able to say; "Well, you see, it was this founders desire not be be known during his lifetime".

    Aside from this making obvious sense. It also enables another handy thing.

    If you want to now be a promoter of this new movement, it is pretty handy to also be able to say, that YOU or people that taught YOU had been instructed by this founder in a number of secrets or teachings that YOU can now pass along to others, cause you see, in the story while it does show that the founder wanted all this stuff kept secret in his lifetime, it also says here, that there was a special group of his followers that he taught special stuff to. And YOU happen to be one of them, or were directly taught by one of them, and now you can teach that stuff to others.

    It seems to me that this Messianic Secret idea would be exactly the kind of thing that would be pretty handy if you are creating a new movement.


  4. Rich, it could as well support the idea that the historical Jesus was not "Jesus of Nazareth" but someone else, who had lived elsewhere in another age, and that his story was only rewritten and adapted in a different time, place and cultural environment. (You know, like "The Magnificent Seven" or Joyce's "Ulysses" etc.) In such case, as an ancient evangelist you'd also have to explain why your story is supposed to be historically true, even though nobody ever heard anything about a "Jesus" or the things he allegedly had done.

  5. Nice podcast, Mark.

    I'm wondering how you feel this all fits in with the Gospel of Mark's ending (at 16:8). Do you think the women running away from the tomb in fear without telling anyone is also part of the messianic secret motif? If so, how can you reconcile this with the theory that the MS motif is linked to Jesus' suffering?

    On another note, why do you think Matthew and Luke dumped the MS motif? Was there something they found troubling about it?

    I sometimes wondered if the messianic secret motif served a purpose opposite of that Wrede (and Griese here) proposed. Namely, there were actually many people claiming to have been healed, taught, etc. by Jesus, and these people all claimed to know the true nature of Jesus' Messiahship. All these people used their teachings (allegedly from Jesus) to claim a certain amount of authority in the early Christian movement, creating some sort of power vacuum within early Christianity at the time Mark was writing. Hence, Mark develops this MS motif as a way of reigning authority back into a small circle of Jesus' followers (probably the 12). If the nature of Jesus' mission was kept secret, nobody outside his small circle could rightly claim that they fully understood his teachings. Mark then ends his gospel by foreshadowing a resurrection appearance to Jesus' disciples (especially Peter), suggesting that they (and they alone) are the ones that will receive Jesus' commission. Not even the women are valid leaders (in contrast to John, where Mary Magdalene clearly tells the others AND doesn't run away from the angels AND is the 1st person to see the resurrected Jesus).

    Anyway, keep up the good work!

  6. arigiery, it is not true that Matthew and Luke dropped the Messianic Secret motif. The central pericope is the Confession of Peter in Mk 8:29, which we also find in Mt 16:13 and Lk 9:18. I've always believed that the Messianic Secret was itself ciphered by Mark, as something of a riddle, and I do like that you mention the aspect of authority—very important: Authority comes through teaching, through "saying": δῐδάσκᾰλος is also called "master", and the Latin dictator comes from dicere ("to say") and dictare respectively ("to say repeatedly"). Authority through "saying". And what does the Christ order his disciples? He orders them "not to tell"—"do not say". There's your riddle, your solution, pretty simple actually: It's not only that Jesus opposes to be named "Messiah", more importantly Jesus opposes saying itself, i.e. he opposes the bestowing of authority upon him.

  7. Divusjulius, perhaps a better way I could of put it is that neither Luke nor Matthew emphasise the MS motif nearly to the extent of Mark. For instance, they omit the MS-inclined story of the deaf mute and the blind man at Bethsaida. They appear to be toning the MS down rather than preserving or expanding the theme, even if they did not drop it entirely.

  8. arigiery, it is very possible that Mk 8:22 (blind man at Bethsaida) and Mk 7:31 (healing of a deaf-mute) do not belong to the Messianic Secret complex, because there is no mention of Jesus being or being declared the Messiah or the Christ. You yourself have stated that these passages are only "MS-inclined", which to me is always a bit shaky, because very often it's not the inclination of the text but of the exegete. The text itself does not necessarily support such an interpretation. And in 7:31 they even disobey Christ's command and tell everyone of the miracle. Especially in the case of 7:31 it is therefore highly unlikely that it's part of the "Messianic Secret". And in the case of 8:22 the central pericope on the Messianic Secret (Mk 8:29) follows immediately afterwards, and we do find this pericope in Lk & Mt (see above).

  9. I was just reading another post elsewhere that Jesus had never claimed in the synoptic gospels to be divine, so this podcast was especially interesting. Thanks.

  10. Another thing, with respect to Wrede, is that he really helped us to understand Markan authorial creativity. Mark is not just a shorter, less interesting gospel, nor is it necessarily more historically accurate because of its primitivity. I have always understood this to be a key contribution of Wrede through his exploration of the MS as literary motif and device.

    Fr. Dan Graves

  11. I think what is compelling in Wrede’s theory is not the literary element of the “secret,” which need not be Jesus’ idea to be true (only the evangelist’s). What is compelling is the historical hypothesis which a pro-incarnation version of the literary theory must suppose: That Jesus, as the incarnate Son of God, did in fact (rightfully) downplay or reject the contemporary impulse to identify his truth and his mission with the too-human symbols surrounding the hoped-for Jewish national Messiah. This could actually be bedrock.

    Thanks, Prof. Goodacre, for your helpful podcast (listened to it last night). I’m planning to address this problem on my own obscure blog sometime soon, and would be twice obliged if you could name a thinker who emphasizes both the pre-existent divinity of Jesus and his absolute rejection of Messianic theology.

    -John Anngeister

  12. Sometimes I wonder whether Mark chose to include the messianic secret motif (and the stumbling disciples theme) because he knew it would speak well to his audience - who was facing persecution and hence, was struggling with the issue of when to 'proclaim' to others and when to 'protect' themselves, and be silent; a group who, under pressure may have felt as though they were letting their Lord down by being 'silent' at times (self-preservation); a group who may have felt like they were stumbling. I think these two themes would have spoken well to his audience. The first 12 disciples stumbled badly - and were presumably forgiven (16:7). Even Jesus wisely and usefully chose to 'protect' himself via timely secrecy/silence. There's lessons and encouragement here for Mark's audience. I think they would have related; would have appreciated what Mark was saying/including. I think Mark was wise - and reasonable - in his choice to include these two elements. It was for his audience - who at times, under pressure, stumbled (like the disciples) and needed to protect themselves with silence/secrecy (like Jesus). No?

  13. The messianic secret is not quite a uniquely synoptic phenomena though is it? Not only do you have very public messianic acts and words in the synoptics, in John 7 you have a modest and secretive Jesus, hesitant to present himself publically. Also, some of the "I am" statements are in a closed circle.

    The problem with Wrede's view is that, as Wright has argued, you can't get directly to "is Messiah" (nor "is divine") in Jewish thought simply from "has been raised" without prior messianic claims or hints. Resurrection is primarily about confirmation and vindication, the question is of what?

    According to Wright, the "secret" is about avoiding being assassinated too soon which you've argued here and it explains why Jesus is sometimes secretive and sometimes bold - different situations differ in danger.

  14. Thanks for the interesting comments.

  15. Mark.

    Many thanks for your podcasts and many thanks for giving people the opportunity to comment on them.

    I'm going to seem like the deluded bore banging on about my own pet theory but if you can bear with me. The gospel were written at a time when militant Judaism was emphasising the importance of adherence to the Torah and the Dead Sea scrolls reveal how these militants saw Jews and Gentiles united under a shared commitment to the Law.

    However, the laws of the Torah were not attractive to gentiles.

    The problem is without Law, how do you prevent conflict? Without Law, how do formulate ideas of what is right and what is wrong.

    Well there was the idea of both an individual tripartite soul and a universal tripartite soul comprising three parts of (lets call them) spirit, reason and faith.

    What happens if individual spirit is expressed at the expense of universal reason or individual reason at the expense of faith in the universal etc.? Reflection on that is the key to unlocking the meaning within Mark's gospel.

    And here's the point... Within the early Galilean healing miracles, Jesus requests the sufferer to be quiet when the sufferer lacks faith in the universal.
    The Capernaum demoniac (expressing anxiety) represents individual spirit without faith in the universal. The leper (expressing ingratitude) represents individual reason without faith in the universal.

    Jairus' daughter (expressing depression) represents someone with neither faith nor spirit.

    When people lack faith in the external it is then that they are likely to speak disparagingly of it.

    When Jesus asks people not to speak, the gospel writer is asking us to curb our tongues.

    These and other points will be expanded upon when I get my own site up and running in the next few weeks:


    Dominick Garden

  16. Could the secret motif be linked to the Kenosis theology of Paul....part of Mark's recognition that Jesus emptied himself in every possible way ???

  17. Are our pastors telling us the truth regarding the authorship of the Gospels and the evidence for the Resurrection?

    Is there really a "mountain of evidence" for the Resurrection as our pastors claim or is the belief in the Resurrection based on nothing more than assumptions, second century hearsay, superstitions, and giant leaps of faith?

    You MUST read this Christian pastor's defense of the Resurrection and a review by one of his former parishioners, a man who lost his faith and is now a nonbeliever primarily due to the lack of good evidence for the Resurrection:

    ---A Review of LCMS Pastor John Bombaro's Defense of the Resurrection---

    (copy and paste this article title into your browser to find and read this fascinating review of the evidence for the Resurrection)