Paul Williams has declared himself a threat to Christians. He says we are afraid of his peerless scholarship and top-notch arguments. Amazingly, he makes these claims while consistently running from our responses. The following post serves as yet another example of why Paul’s self-flattering rhetoric and overinflated view of himself is so wide of the mark.
One of the things some people point out when they argue against the deity of Christ is that the Gospel of Mark (in contrast to the Gospel of John) does not record any of the absolute “I Am” sayings of Jesus, i.e. the “I am” statements of Jesus that lack a predicate (John 4:26, 6:20, 8:24, 28, 58, 13:19, 18:5, 6, 8). It is widely agreed among scholars that such sayings signal a high Christology, and since some scholars are convinced in advance that Mark’s Christology is low – indeed, this is a critical first-step in arguing that belief in the deity of Christ is something that developed later – they conclude that such sayings cannot be found in Mark, and thus proceed to attack the credibility of John’s Gospel. This way of thinking is typified by Paul Williams, who recently got all giddy over a comment from Ben Witherington III to the effect that the “I Am” statements in John are difficult (note: not impossible) to prove on the narrow criteria employed by those using the historical-critical method. The point of this post will not be to challenge PW’s understanding of how the historical-critical method works or whether or not his understanding of it is nuanced enough to know why this does not do anything to disprove the veracity of John’s Gospel, but to show that this is yet another example of how PW’s uncritical acceptance of certain theories (such as Markan priority; evolving Christology; etc.) and lazy dependence on select scholars (as evidenced by the priority he so often assigns to their conclusions to the relative neglect of the evidence they muster for them) actually clinches the argument that the earliest Gospel, i.e. the Gospel of Mark, teaches a Christology every bit as high as the Gospel of John.
Sweetening the Pot
Before demonstrating just how this is the case, it is worthwhile to throw Bart Ehrman in the mix here as potential support for PW. Here is something Ehrman has said on this issue:
“The problem is that the only Gospel of the New Testament where Jesus makes divine claims about himself is the Gospel of John. In the three, earlier Gospels you do not find Jesus saying things like “I and the Father are One,” or “Before Abraham was, I am,” or “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” These sayings are found only in the Fourth Gospel, as are all the other “I am” sayings, in which Jesus identifies himself as the one who has come from heaven to earth for the salvation of all who believe in him.” (“The Problem with Liar, Lunatic, or Lord”)
Ehrman is exactly right when he says that Christ’s “I Am” declarations are self-referential statements of Jesus wherein He identifies Himself as God. In fact, this would have been as emphatic a declaration of deity as one could imagine in a first century Jewish context, arguably even stronger than saying “I am God.” (I have argued this at length in the following article: The Old Testament and Jewish Background for the “I AM” Sayings of the Logos – the Lord Jesus Christ: A Word that Bridges the Gap)
One of the rare but genuinely good insights of PW is that he recognizes along with people like Bart Ehrman that this is a clear claim to deity, something many other Muslims have yet to catch up with. It is important for the reader to keep this fact in mind. Any attempt on the part of PW to turn around later and deny that this phenomenon is a clear claim to deity will expose just how arbitrary PW’s entire anti-Christian project really is.
Dinner Is Served
To show just how all of this is a problem for PW we need to look first at one of the examples of an “I Am” saying that can be found in John’s Gospel.
16 Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, 17 and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum. It had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing. 19 Then, when they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened. 20 But He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 So they were willing to receive Him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going. (John 6)
Although not evident in many English translations, the self-asseveration of Jesus in 6:20, which the NASB cited above translates as “It is I; do not be afraid,” is one of the absolute “I Am” sayings in John’s Gospel. A literal translation would be: “I Am [Gr. ego eimi]; do not be afraid.” (See, e.g., Young’s Literal Translation, Green's Literal Translation of the Bible, etc.)
With this in mind, we are now ready to turn to Mark’s Gospel in order to see the problem that PW has created for himself.
As it turns out, the Sea-Walking pericope found in John, where Jesus utters one of his many famous “I Am” statements, is also found in Mark’s Gospel.
45 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the crowd away. 46 After bidding them farewell, He left for the mountain to pray. 47 When it was evening, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and He was alone on the land. 48 Seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them, at about the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them. 49 But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; 50 for they all saw Him and were terrified. But immediately He spoke with them and said to them, “Take courage; it is I [Gr. ego eimi; I Am], do not be afraid.” 51 Then He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly astonished, 52 for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened. (Mark 6)
Since PW doesn’t have the ears to hear a “fundamentalist” like myself, and since he can’t think on his own either, I will let the following scholars speak for me. Maybe, just maybe, after these scholars have given PW permission to believe the obvious, he will repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Commenting on this passage, Professor Larry Hurtado remarks:
This is the second sea miracle in Mark (see also 4:35-41), and in our comments on the earlier one we noted that Jesus’ command of the sea is so described as to make him seem to exhibit God’s own power over nature. The same is true here, where Jesus not only calms the sea (6:51) but also walks upon it. Readers familiar with the OT would recognize the similarity to the way God is described there (see note) as the one who treads upon the sea, showing his mastery of it.
Now this suggests that the sea miracle depicts the one who fed the multitude in the preceding account as more than a new Moses or a new shepherd-king like David; he possesses divine power. We have noted already that Mark’s favorite title for Jesus is “the Son of God,” and that for Mark this term signifies that Jesus has a relationship with God far more direct than is indicated by the previous use of the term for human beings in the OT or Jewish tradition. This sea miracle Mark enlists as further evidence that Jesus is not just human but has a supernatural quality and divine significance. Even the way Jesus addresses the disciples, It is I, implies this. The phrase appears in the OT as almost a title or formula of divine self-disclosure (e.g. Isa. 43:25; 48:12; 51:12, and see note), and it is likely that Mark’s readers were intended to catch the allusion to these OT passages in Jesus’ words and see the point that Jesus is speaking the way God does. [Hurtado, Mark, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1989), p. 103; Bold emphasis original.]
Hurtado adds the following in a footnote on page 106:
6:50 / It is I: The Greek phrase used here can function simply as a self-identification. But it is used in the OT (e.g. Isa. 43:25; 48:12; 51:12;) with special force as a formula for self-description by God, resembling the phrasing in Exod. 3:14 where God first reveals himself to Moses. Note especially how the whole passage in Isa. 51:9-16 is a most interesting background for the sea miracle account here. In Mark the phrase reappears on the lips of Jesus in the trial scene (14:62), and there, also, is probably intended as an allusion to these OT passages. Also, in 13:6, Jesus warns of imposters who would come making the same (divine?) claim for themselves. (See “I am,” NIDNTT, vol. 2, pp. 278-83.)
Although not following these observations out to their obvious end, Mary Ann Beavis rightly observes:
Many commentators connect the scene of Jesus treading the waves with the Scriptural theme of God’s power over the wind and the sea (e.g. Donahue and Harrington 2002, 213; Boring 2006, 189), especially passages where God is said to make a path through the waters (Job 9:8; Ps. 77:19; Isa. 43:16;….). In view of the Elijah-Elisha typology evident throughout this section, the parting of the Jordan by both prophets may also be in view (2 Kings 2:8, 14). Similarly, the combination of the term “to pass by” (paralthein) with Jesus’s greeting ego eimi (“It is I,” 6:50) is often interpreted as indicating an epiphany: Jesus’ “passing by” the disciples is compared to the glory of YHWH “passing by” Moses (Exod. 33:17-34:8) or Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 19:11-13); the ego eimi is connected with God’s self-disclosure at Sinai (Exod. 3:13-15 LXX; ego eimi ho on; e.g. Marcus 2000, 430-432; Moloney 2002, 134; Boring 2006, 190). [Beavis, Mark, Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2011), p. 108.]
Dr. Daniel Johansson provided the following in his doctoral dissertation:
If Jesus’ walking is placed at the centre of the pericope, its climax is certainly Jesus’ use of the self-designation ἐγώ εἰμι (6:50).51 The immediate and obvious function of these words is, of course, to identify the unknown figure who is walking on the sea: “It is I.”52 At the level of narrative, this must be the primary meaning. The disciples think they see a ghost, but Jesus assures them that it is he. In conjunction with all the other elements of divine epiphany, however, especially the sea-walking motif, there are good reasons to think that Jesus’ words also echo the divine “I am” in the OT.53 The words not only rule out the ghost theory, they actually identify Jesus with the figure who demonstrates a uniquely divine power over the creation by walking on the sea: “I am he.” ….
In the LXX, the phrase ἐγώ εἰμι is used to translate Hebrew הֽוּא אֲנִי (often rendered “I am he”) in Deut 32:39 and several passages in Isaiah 40-55.55 In Deut 32:39, the formula appears in the distinctly monotheistic declaration, “Behold, I, even I am he; there is no god except me [LXX: ἴδετε ἴδετε ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι καὶ οὐκ ἔστιν θεὸς πλὴν ἐμοῦ].” The same monotheistic pattern is visible in Isaiah 40-55 where the formula plays a central role in the recurring assertions of YHWH’s uniqueness and sovereignty as creator and saviour, for example Isa 43:10-11:
... that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he [ὅτι ἐγώ εἰμι].Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am YHWH, and besides me there is no saviour.
In these passages the phrase functions as “a divine self-declaration, which encapsulates Yahweh’s claim to unique and exclusive divinity.”56 One often sees the commentaries referring to the phrase ἐγώ εἰμι as “die alttestamentliche Offenbarungsformel,”57 but in view of its usage in Deuteronomy and Isaiah we should probably rather speak of a divine self-declaration than a self-revelatory formula.58 הֽוּא אֲנִי or its Greek equivalent is not another divine name;59 it serves as a self-declaration of YHWH’s absolute uniqueness.60 The function of the “I am” is thus the same as in the sea-walking passages we looked at earlier; it serves to demonstrate that YHWH and no other is divine.61
That the primary background of ἐγώ εἰμι in our passage is to be found in these הֽוּא אֲנִי/ἐγώ εἰμι passages is considerably strengthened by the striking parallels between Mark’s account of Jesus’ sea-walking and Isa 43:1-13, which combines an absolute ἐγώ εἰμι statement (two occurrences of Hebrew הֽוּא אֲנִי), with the Trostformel mh\ fobou~, the motif of crossing water, and salvation, all of which are present in Mark:62
v 1: Fear not [LXX: mh\ fobou~], for I have redeemed you.
v 2a: When you pass through the water, I will be with you, the rivers
shall not overwhelm you.
v 3a For I am YHWH, your God.
v 5 Fear not, for I am with you.
v 10 You are my witnesses ... that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he [MT: הֽוּא אֲנִי; LXX: ἐγώ εἰμι]. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.
v 11 I, I am YHWH [MT: ani ani YHWH); LXX: ἐγώ εἰμι], and besides me there is no savior.
v 12b-13 I am God, and also henceforth I am [MT: הֽוּא אֲנִי]; there is none who can deliver from my hand: I work and who can hinder it?
The divine self-declaration also appears in the other Isaiah passage which uses the image of God’s power over the water (51:9-16). In this case, the LXX has a double ἐγώ εἰμι (51:12). In view of the occurrence of ἐγώ εἰμι in passages which speak of YHWH’s dominance of waters, as well as the fact that all instances except one of the divine self-declaration appears in a OT book which certainly has influenced Mark, it is probable that Jesus’ words should be interpreted against this background, rather than the interpretation of God’s name in Exodus 3.63
If this is correct, it means that Jesus applies one of the strongest assertions of monotheism in the OT to himself. This has considerable implications for Mark’s christology. On the one hand, it means that Jewish monotheism is maintained. There is only one God, the God of Israel, YHWH (cf. Mark 12:29). On the other hand, it also implies that Jesus is not a second divine figure beside YHWH, but somehow closely identified with the one God of Israel.64 Jesus does not only act as God only can by walking on the sea, he even applies the divine self-identification to himself.65 [Johansson, Jesus and God in the Gospel of Mark: Unity and Distinction, Doctoral Dissertation presented at the University of Edinburgh, 2011, pp. 113-116.]
Here are Johansson’s corresponding footnotes:
51 So Ritt, “Seewandel Jesus,” 81.
52 Among exegetes who think this is the only meaning are Taylor, Mark 330; J. D. G. Dunn, Christology in the Making: A New Testament Inquiry into the Origins of the Doctrine of the Incarnation (London: SCM, 1980), 31; France, Mark, 273, n. 71.
53 This seems to be the view of most exegetes dealing with this pericope. In some older commentaries this is taken as the primary indication of a high christology in this narrative (e.g., Grundmann, Markus, 143; Gärtner, Markus, 173).
54 On this, see esp. C. H. Williams, I am He: The Interpretation of ’Anî Hû’ in Jewish and Early Christian Literature (WUNT 2:113; Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 2000) and R. J. Bauckham, “Monotheism and Christology in the Gospel of John,” in Contours of Christology in the New Testament (ed. R. N. Longenecker; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 157-59.
55 According to Bauckham (“Monotheism,” 158-59), the LXX has e0gw/ ei0mi in three instances (Deut 32:39; Isa 41:4; 43:10), the same number of instances as in Mark (6:5; 13:6; 14:62), and the double e0gw/ eim0 i e0gw/ ei0mi four times (Isa 43:25; 45:18; 46:4; 51:12). The MT has )wh yn) seven times (Deut 32:39; Isa 41:4; 43:10, 13; 46:4; 48:12; 52:6) and the emphatic )wh ykn) ykn) twice (43:25; 51:12)
56 Bauckham, “Monotheism,” 158. Similarly, Williams, Interpretation, 41.
57 E.g., Pesch, Markus, 1:361-62, Gnilka, Markus, 1:270; Guelich, Mark, 351; Stein, Mark, 325, following H. Zimmermann, “Das absolute eg0 w/ eim0 i als die neutestamentliche Offenbarungsformel,” BZ 4 (1960): 54-69, 266-76.
58 Williams, Interpretation, 23-50, 223-24.
59 Cf. e.g., C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968), 93-96.
60 Williams, Interpretation, 41.
61 Cf. S. M. McDonough, YHWH at Patmos: Rev. 1:4 in its Hellenistic and Early Jewish Setting (WUNT 2:107; Tübingen: Mohr [Siebeck], 1999), 172: “the phrase is closely associated with YHWH’s uniqueness; his saving activity on behalf of his people; his creative activity; and his eternal being.”
62 Cf. Heil, Walking, 59.
63 Some exegetes prefer to read the “I am” statement against the background of occurrences of eg0 w/ eim0 i in Exodus (3:14 and the phrase eg0 w/ eim0 i ku/rioj in 14:4 and 18) because of the influence Exodus 14-15 may have had on the Markan sea narrative. Stegner, “Walking,” 212-34, detects a number of parallels, including key words, phrases, and structural parallels. However, even if Exodus 14-15 has influenced Mark’s telling of the narrative, and the linking of the sea walking narrative with the miraculous feeding seems in fact to imply this, even if in the reversed order, this does not exclude that the background of the “I am” statement is to be sought in Isaiah’s new Exodus where the formula actually is present. We have already seen how Mark combines various theophanic motifs and divine actions from various parts of the OT contexts. Whether the “I am” statement ultimately goes back to Exod 3:14 is another question. Williams, Interpretation, 52-54, argues that the link is absent in the Hebrew Bible.
In light of this, and this is only the tip of the ice-berg, it is little wonder that so many scholars have thrown off the self-imposed and mind-shackling mentality on full display in people like PW and have concluded that Mark’s Gospel contains a High Christology. Here is a representative sampling:
William Hendrickson: “The Christology implied throughout in Mark’s Gospel is that, to begin with, Jesus is thoroughly human….However, this same Jesus of Mark’s Gospel is also thoroughly divine.” [Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark, NTC (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic: 1975), p. 17.]
Wayne Allan Brindle, Th.D.: “In Mark the title [‘Son of God’ – AR] designates Jesus’ unique relationship with the Father and His possession of the authority and power of God….Mark focuses on the revelation of Jesus as God’s unique and divine Son. [A Definition of the Title “Son of God” in the Synoptic Gospels, Doctoral dissertation, DTS, 1988, p. 219.]
Larry Hurtado: “... Marcan Christology is by no means ‘low’ or ‘adoptionist’ …” [“The Gospel of Mark in recent study,” Themelios 14.2 (Jan/Feb, 1989), p. 50.]
Vincent Taylor: “Mark’s Christology is a high Christology, as high as any in the New Testament, not excluding that of John. Behind a fully human life Deity is concealed; but it is visible for those who have eyes to see it in his personality, teaching and deeds….The Markan Son of God is a divine being…Jesus is by nature the Son of God.” [The Gospel According to Mark, Thornapple Commentaries, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1981), as cited in Patrick J. Flanagan, The Gospel of Mark Made Easy (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1997), p. 25, 121.]
Patrick J. Flanagan: “In Mark, Jesus is very clearly human, but Mark’s Christology is a high Christology. In fact, Raymond Brown states quite simply that all of the Gospels and all New Testament documents that touch on the subject present Jesus as divine. For me, of the four Gospels, Mark strikes the best balance in its presentation of Jesus: he is clearly human, and yet clearly divine.” [The Gospel of Mark Made Easy (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1997), p. 24]
E. Lohmeyer: “[Jesus for Mark is] not primarily a human but a divine figure…. He is not merely endowed with the power of God, but is himself divine as to his nature; not only are his word and work divine but his essence also.” [Das Evangelim des Markus 12th ed., (Göttingen, Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1953), 4. As cited in Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publisher, 1998), p. 293]
Dr. W. R. Telford: “…the author of Mark’s Gospel writes as a representative of a Pauline-influenced Gentile Christianity which viewed Jesus (and, by means of the secrecy motif, invites the reader to view him) as the divine ‘Son of God’ who came to suffer and die on the cross….Mark has presented these traditions in such a way as to leave his readers in no doubt as to the significance that ought to be attached to the historical figure of Jesus, namely, that he is the supernatural ‘Son of God.’” [New Testament Theology: The Theology of the Gospel of Mark (Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 53-54.]
E. Boring: “The explicit use of God-language for Jesus by later NT authors and the classical creeds is in continuity with the Christology already present in Mark.” [“Markan Christology: God-Language for Jesus?”, NTS 45 (1999), pp. 451ff.]
Dr. Jack Kilcrease: “…the Synoptic Gospels share a high and descending Christology with the rest of the New Testament and historic orthodox Christianity.” (Mark’s Christology and Theology of Atonement)
Dr. Bonnie Bowman Thurston: “‘Son of God’ is found in the Markan theophanies (1:11; 9:7), and when demons bespeak Jesus’ identity (3:11; 5:7), it is claimed by Jesus (14:61-61) and confessed by the centurion at the cross (15:39). It reflects a seldom-noted Markan ‘high’ Christology.” [Preaching Mark (Fortress Press, 2002), p. 14.]
Richard Bauckham: “A purely functional account of Jesus’ divinity in this Gospel is not adequate; rather Mark shares with early Christian writers in general … a Christology of divine identity.” [“God’s Self Identification with the Godforsaken in the Gospel of Mark,” Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2008), pp. 264-265.]
Daniel Johansson: “…the ambiguous use of kurios [GMark – AR] is intentional and serves the purpose of linking Jesus to the God of Israel, so that they both share the identity as kurios.” [“Kyrios in the Gospel of Mark,” JSNT, Sept. (2010), 33, pp. 102-103]
Daniel Johansson: “…the Markan Jesus is considerably more than a merely human Messiah; he is a divine figure…Mark links Jesus directly and closely to YHWH, the one God of Israel…The Christology of Mark presents a paradox in which Jesus is fully human and, at the same time, in a mysterious way placed on the divine side of the God-creation divide.” [Jesus and God in the Gospel of Mark: Unity and Distinction, doctoral dissertation presented for the degree of PhD at the University of Edinburgh (2011), Abstract, p. ii]
Jamieson, Fausset, Brown: “These few opening words of the Second Gospel [Mark 1:1 – AR] are enough to show, that though it was the purpose of this Evangelist to record chiefly the outward and palpable facts of our Lord’s public life, he recognized in Him, in common with the Fourth Evangelist, the glory of the Only begotten of the Father.” [A Commentary Critical, Experimental, and Practical, Vol. III (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans), p. 137.]
I may add more to this at some point, but this ought to be sufficient for now to show how PW’s own reasoning necessitates accepting that the earliest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark, teaches a High Christology.