A soft version of the Messianic Secret – Part 1

Two weeks ago I listened to a lecture podcast over at NTpod on the Messianic Secret in Mark, by Duke professor Mark Goodacre. The podcast (and the .pdf handout) were my first exposure to modern criticism of Wrede and showed me that I had been needlessly repelled by the theory (i.e., balked at reading the book) by my misconception that it was an organic whole which must be taken as such or discarded.  Goodacre’s freestyle treatment (the podcast is of an informal classroom lecture) unlocked a door for me.

The textual basis of Wrede’s theory is a widely scattered class of Markan logia of Jesus.  The characteristic of these logia is that they always check or censor the potential for popular acclamation and interpretations of the power, identity, and teachings of Jesus. The four categories are: (1) silencing of demons, (2) silencing of those who are healed, (3) concealment of teaching through parables, and (4) silencing of the disciples.  It’s a pretty strong motif, although all four categories have been shown to contain some elements that are not clear indicators of the theory (James D. G. Dunn showed this back in the 70’s).

I’m OK with Wrede’s hypothesis that elements of post-resurrection tradition have contributed a constructive theological spin to Mark’s record.  Without affecting the true identity of the Son, it suggests a healthy questioning of Peter’s later teaching of the imminent and fearsome return of the crucified and risen Jewish Messiah (Acts 2:22ff).  Also I’m open to anything that would tend to bring the historical value of the Fourth Gospel more into line with Mark and the synoptics.

I reject Wrede’s assumption that the silence/concealment motif is all post-resurrection material, without foundation in the pre-crucifixion history.  To the contrary, I think it is quite natural and uncomplicated to assume the existence of at least a core of authentic logia in which Jesus is “hushing-up” public acclamations about his identity and works.  I think the problem in Mark can be solved better without taking the pre-crucifixion Jesus completely out of the picture, and without implicating him in any deception, and without creating the need for wholesale fabrication of tradition (which is why I call mine a ‘soft’ version of the Messianic secret).

I still won’t be able to check out Wrede’s book for several weeks (it’s 50 miles away on 2-hour class-reserve and my status is non-student).  So I start with a few broad strokes until I can read it.  I plan to continue this important thread in additional parts under this subject category.


6 thoughts on “A soft version of the Messianic Secret – Part 1

  1. Hi John.

    Actually this comment is for the “Kingdom is within you” post but I don’t see a “Leave a Comment” option therein. Anyway, nice thoughts there. Frquently, the debate is over whether “within you” means “among you” or whether it means “inside you”. Although you do address that issue, you go deeper and inspect the question of Jesus’ “atomistic” teaching applying directly to those among his listeners – even those who were his opponents. I haven’t seen this text addressed in that way before. Nice touch.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, and for the compliment!

    I tried to re-direct your comment to the Luke 17:21 post but couldn’t find a way. You can get into a comment thread by clicking the comment number, same as “leave a comment.”

  3. Pingback: Preface to a theological turn « next theology

  4. Well, John, I am out of my league in discussion with you, that’s for sure. But when Jesus sent the disciples out by two’s He didn’t tell them to be quiet. It seems pretty obvious to me that Jesus tried to utilize a little “crowd control” so that He could get the job done that He was sent to do with the disciples before the crucifixion. He had a lot to teach them about the kingdom before He left them in charge of it. Sometimes it seems to me that people write books about a lot of wild ideas and miss the simple answer. And Jesus knew full well people can’t keep a secret. He knew that the word would get around. I am just not a theologian I guess. If I want to know what the scripture means or why Jesus did something, I ask Him. Usually He tells me. I like that. Sometimes He does tell me I don’t need to know something, but not often.

  5. Pingback: Vincent Taylor – The Son of God in Mark « next theology

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