reader’s patience is requested in the fact that these Jesus
pages are in effect a kind of sub-Web, “piggy-backing” on the
principal Web, http://www.paulonpaul.org,
and thus that the As Paul Tells It . .
. designation at the top of each page is not quite accurate.
Traditions Home Page is readily accessible by clicking on Contents,
to be found at the top and bottom of each page.
Contents of Jesus Traditions
“He set his face to go to Jerusalem . . .”
When Jesus went to Jerusalem, did he go as the Jewish Messiah? Did he
go, knowing that he would die there—and perhaps intending to die there?
Thus we return to the question which we left unresolved in our
discussion of the baptism of Jesus: Can we discern whether Jesus
believed himself to be called to a vocation as Messiah and
(suffering) Servant of the Lord? We take as our point of departure the
episode at Caesarea Philippi.
Caesarea Philippi and All That
It has frequently been remarked that the conversation of
Jesus with his disciples at Caesarea Philippi marks a distinct turning
point in the career of Jesus, as it is set out in Mark. In Mark’s
narrative, Jesus inquires of the disciples what the popular
estimate of him is; the people, they report, take him to be [a second, or
resurrected] John the Baptist, or Elijah, or one of the prophets.
Click on Mark 8:29-33
|| Matthew 16:15-23 || Luke 9:20-22, for full text.
As with other passages we have looked
at (see The Baptism: layers ;
and The Fig Tree: layers), there is evidence
here of various levels or layers of interpretation, a summary of which
should assist our enterprise.
Layers of Interpretation
A Johannine Layer John 6:66-71 is this author’s equivalent
of the Caesarea Philippi episode, with:
The question of
Jesus, “Do you also wish to go away?” (6:67);
Peter as the spokesman for the disciples (6:68);
Jesus affirmed as the Holy One of God [another way of
referring to the Messiah] (6:68-69); and
The announcement of
betrayal [and suffering] (6:70-71).
A Later Synoptic
Layer: Matthew’s interpretation of Mark’s
We find in Matthew a quite positive valuation of messianism:
Jesus congratulates Peter for affirming that he is Messiah. Whatever
diffidence Jesus may have shown in Mark about Peter’s statement is
“corrected” by Matthew.
There is also a heightening
of the Christology, with the addition of the title, “Son of the living
An Early Synoptic
Layer: Mark’s view, or the view of his community.
If we were to take Mark’s account at face value, we would
note the following features:
Jesus’ messiahship is affirmed by Peter, but neither
confirmed nor denied by Jesus. There is no congratulatory
acknowledgement as in Matthew.
He requires silence about the matter, whether due to security
considerations (a movement to make him king would of course be
treasonous), or because the character of his reign would be
misunderstood, or even because he thought the title of Messiah would
misrepresent his vocation. Whereupon,
Jesus announces that he will follow the path of
suffering, though in this passage no interpretation is given of that
which might suggest a connection with the Suffering
Servant of the Lord in Second Isaiah.
Peter rebukes Jesus for accepting such a path, whereupon
Peter is rebuked in turn, as one who is putting
temptation in Jesus’ way.
Then follows an invitation for the disciples to join him on this path.
The “Jesus Layer”?
Our enterprise would be greatly simplified if we could just
equate these two layers; i.e. what we find in Mark would be what Jesus
thought and said and did. A closer examination of Mark shows the difficulty with such an equation: there is,
as we shall see below, too much in
Mark’s narrative that seems contrived, for us to be convinced of a
The “Jesus Layer”
The layer of Jesus’ own intentions remains
frustratingly inaccessible. In the course of our
earlier discussion of the baptism of Jesus, we noted the difficulty of
distinguishing between Layer 2 (the Gospel of Mark) and Layer 1
(Jesus’ sense of vocation), between what the post-Easter Christian community thought about
him, and how he viewed his vocation. There are a number of
reasons why it gets no easier when we come to the Caesarea Philippi
| § There is little doubt that the early church
believed Jesus to be the Messiah, and it would be difficult for Christians
transmitting traditional material, and for authors composing the gospels,
to tell about Jesus without their belief being reflected in the
narrative. We are not thereby entitled to conclude that Jesus could not
have accepted the title of Messiah for himself, but it is a problem
knowing where his view of his vocation ends and the church’s view
begins. This belief in Jesus as Messiah is served in the Gospel of Mark by
a pattern of secrecy, as described in the following point:
| § For more than a century (going back to William
Wrede’s The Messianic Secret), scholars have known about an
apparent editorial device in the Gospel of Mark, a device which was intended to explain why,
during the time of Jesus’ public activity, it was not generally known that he was
the Messiah. Mark’s answer was to represent Jesus
as choosing to keep his messiahship a
secret. Thus, when Peter acknowledges him as Messiah, Jesus orders
him to tell no one; and following the transfiguration experience, when his
unique sonship is revealed to Peter, James and John, he orders them to
tell no one “until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead” (for
further details, click on Secret). But in bringing to light
the editorial device of a messianic secret, we inevitably expose the possibility that
messiahship itself is also a post-Easter development.
| § There is a further difficulty in validating what Mark says about Jesus (Layer
2), and that is the dissonance between who he was and what
he stood for on the one hand, and the messianic notion on the other hand.
(This position is explained at length in a note on Jesus
| § Finally, we encounter a problem in Mark (Layer 2) with the
pattern of events leading up to
the death of Jesus, a problem which suggests the imposition of a theory of
his death upon the tradition, whether by the author of Mark or his source.
(Click on Cautious
Scenario, for details.)
|Therefore, it remains
uncertain whether Layer 2, the Gospel of Mark, gives us access to Layer 1, the arena of Jesus’ own
interpretation is available
The early church was of one mind: Good Friday was
not the end. Early tradition affirmed that Christ was raised from the dead
on the third day, and appeared to his followers. Click on Resurrection Narratives,
for the details.
December 15, 2004
button below to continue, with Jesus Traditions: Sayings (1)