Michael Kruger again on Jesus as God in the Gospel of Mark

Michael Kruger again on Jesus as God in the Gospel of Mark October 16, 2013

Michael Kruger has written a rather unhelpful response to a post of mine, which was in turn a response to an earlier one of his. He offers a condescending suggestion that I ought to “reread” Hurtado and Bauckham, as though I had not written a book of my own interacting with their views (The Only True God: Early Christian Monotheism in Its Jewish Context), as well as having blogged in detail about them. But perhaps this just confirms two things that ought to have been already clear: that Kruger has at most informed himself about one scholarly point of view that he happens to agree with, when it comes to Christology and monotheism in early Christianity, without exploring the wider field of scholarship on the topic; and what he has found conducive to supporting his own viewpoint, he has embraced uncritically – not just ignoring criticisms from the wider academy, but also not coming up with them himself. Being at most superficially acquainted with a field, and then only with works that seem to support your conservative assumptions, is itself problematic. But it becomes all the more disturbing when it is coupled with an unjustified air of arrogant condescension.

Kruger might want to inform himself about the range of views that later rabbis sometimes labeled as “two powers” heresy, and the way those who ascribed to those views read texts, which often distinguished between two figures who could be referred to as Yahweh or the Lord or God. One was often thought to be a principal agent, who bore the divine name as part of their investiture with divine authority. We see such ideas applied to Jesus in Philippians 2:6-11 (upon his exaltation, the divine name is bestowed upon Jesus) and the Gospel of John (the name Jesus bears, which allows him to say “I am” and yet at the same time that he does only the will of the Father who sent him, is said to have been given to Jesus by the Father, whom Jesus addresses as “the only true God” – hence the title of my book). What the Gospel of Mark is doing at this point seems not unrelated to these strands of Jewish and Jewish-Christian interpretation of Scripture, as well as being related to ancient notions of agency whose relevance to Christology has likewise been explored in detail by scholars. But either way, that the early Christians took texts which had in their original contexts applied to the one God, altered their wording, and in the process applied them to Jesus can scarcely be taken as evidence that those early Christians made some sort of simple identification between Jesus and God. If they reworked the wording of those texts, then why should we think that they left their meaning and reference unmodified?

I also find Kruger’s selective appeal to scholarship on the Gospel of Mark troubling. At the end of the passage in Joel Marcus’ book The Way of the Lord: Christological Exegesis of the Old Testament in the Gospel of Mark which Kruger refers to, Marcus writes (pp.39-40):

If he did not smooth out the discrepancy between ‘your way’ and ‘his way,’ perhaps this roughness reflects a desire to preserve, along with a strong impression of the relatedness of Jesus to God, also a measure of acknowledgment of the distinction between them. This distinction coheres with several Markan passages that imply Jesus’ subordination to God (10:18, 40; 13:32; 14:36; and 15:34.

The Markan view of the relationship between Jesus and the κύριος, then, subtly combines a recognition of the separateness of the two figures with a recognition of their inseparability. Perhaps the best way to express this complex relationship is to say that, in Mark, where Jesus acts, there the Lord is also powerfully at work…

Mark thus establishes an identity between the two ways, that of Jesus and that of the Lord, without simply identifying Jesus with God, for the distinction between them is maintained in that Jesus’ apparent defeat is the occasion for God’s victory (cf. 15:33-39).

I find Kruger’s suggestion that this somehow supports his own reading of the Gospel of Mark to be quite frankly astonishing. But perhaps the conclusion to draw is this: if he can misread or misrepresent even modern authors writing in his own language this badly, then I suppose I should be neither surprised nor very much troubled when he interprets the Gospel of Mark in ways that seem equally at odds with what that text actually says.

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