Feb 9, 2010

Messianic Secret

This is the first homework post for my New Testament class. The instructor is giving us specific study questions on the Gospel of Mark to answer in the form of blog posts. My normal theological research process when I learn something new is to Wikipedia and Google the crap out of it to get all kinds of opinions on it. I can't easily do that with most of these homework questions, but here is one I can:

  • Why does Jesus in the Gospel of Mark regularly entreat people that he heals "not to tell," except in one instance (1:44; 3:12; 7:36; 8:26; 9:9). The exception is 5:19. What is going on with this so-called "Messianic Secret"?

With a term like that I can make my usual start - the Wikipedia article on Messianic Secret (sadly there's no Catholic Encyclopedia article). Oh ... before that, I should check out the verses themselves. I'm still getting used to Scripture studying.

The only thing I noticed was that Jesus himself gives a reason for his secrecy in Mark 9 - "As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead." This goes along with some scholars' historical and theological explanations that Jesus didn't want the Jewish people to perceive his messiahship as military or political in nature; that his role as messiah could only be rightly understood in the meaning of his death.

There are other more literary explanations. Perhaps The Messianic Secret was not in the original Aramaic text of Mark at all, or maybe Mark used the Messianic Secret as a literary device to associate Jesus to Odysseus - a hero appeal to his gentile audience. I'm not convinced either of those are likely causes.

I'm glad to have done the research, but I'm far from having a concrete answer. And I have 4 more questions to answer in the next week and a half, so I better close this one off here. What do you all think about this whole "Messianic Secret"?


Kelsy said...

From what I've looked at online so far...maybe it was humility? Maybe He didn't want His ministry to turn into "fame" in a way. Makes sense, but I don't think it's textually supported. Just a guess.

Or, maybe if he DIDN'T say something like "don't tell anyone" and the people that were healed spoke of it to others like that, He would've seemed like a magical guru or something with an ulterior motive and people wouldn't have trusted him as much. It would be interesting to know more about ancient Jewish culture to really answer this question. For now - just speculation.

It reminds me of Satan in the desert when he was tempting Jesus for some reason. Satan basically asks, worship me and I'll give you the earth and Jesus says get away from me! Maybe Jesus didn't want himself to be known for the good deeds, maybe He wanted the Father to be known for it (John 14:10 and John 5:19-20).

And maybe Mark 5:19 is different because Jesus tells him to go home, to his own house, his own people, his own family and friends. People that are obviously going to want answers and will notice a huge difference. So, have compassion on them and tell them. Just a thought?

Anyway, those are my muddled thoughts on this subject. Really interests me though haha! Look forward to reading more posts! :)

luke said...

That's a good point Kels. 1st-century Palestine under Rome saw many "traveling salesman" charlatans. They capitalized on the Roman roads and the multi-cultural vulnerabilities of the people. So Jesus could have been guarding his ministry from that perception.

Like most things, I settle for a no-single-thing answer. Perhaps a lot of these things played into it, but maybe we're just over-reading context into his actions? I.e., Jesus didn't consciously think "I don't want to be seen as a military or political messiah" or "I don't want to be seen as a charlatan" or "I don't want to be revealed until the right opportunity" etc. I believe his actions were guided as much by his heart as by his mind - he empathized with each of the people he touched and the society at large and just sorta "knew" what to instruct to each person.

Maybe. Need some more opinions though. :)

caedmon said...

Eeek! Wikipedia is nice for an overview of a new term or concept, but I encourage you not to use it as research, especially in biblical studies. There's a point where too much outside council can be a bad thing. Find some good commentaries or a good "Introduction." I might recommend:

An Introduction to the New Testament, by Raymond E. Brown. Doubleday, 1997.

It's thick, but asks good questions and honestly presents all the scholarly opinions where debate is taking place.

OK. Back to Messianic Secret...

While I do see "Messianic Secret" as a theme in Mark, the question I might ask is, "What, exactly, is the secret?" In 3:12, Jesus commands the spirits "not to make him known." Notice, though, that he has been healing people right in the middle of a large crowd, so I have to question if it's the healing work itself that he wants to keep secret. And, earlier in chapter 3 (vv 1-6), Jesus healed a man right in front of the Pharisees.

I notice that your list omits one important case of Jesus telling someone to keep a secret: 8:30. Mark 8:27-30 seems to act as a fulcrum around which the whole narrative pivots.

luke said...

Dang, yeah, I should have used my textbook first! The Writings of the New Testament, an Introduction by Luke Timothy Johnson.

The passage in chapter 8 seems to line up on the "his role as messiah could only be rightly understood in the meaning of his death" school of thought?

aspiring Christian said...

I've noticed that "Messianic Secret" issue with curiosity, but never given it too much thought. I wonder if this is connected with the way that Jesus often looked for faith in a person before He healed them, and the way He said things like "your faith has made you well," and the way He is recorded several times rebuking people who asked for a sign. If I had to guess, I'd say that this all might relate to the ways in which faith is a choice. And the quality and quantity of evidence helps to shape the nature of that choice.

Matt said...

Well, thanks to the Regent University Library Database, I was able to dig up a great article aptly titled “The messianic secret in Mark” by Raymond Martin, professor at Wartburg Theological Seminary, and published in ‘Currents in Theology and Mission’ in 1984 (Vol. 11; no. 6, Pp. 350-352) Allow me to summarize…

To address one question of context, Martin indicates a ‘general agreement’ that Mark’s use of secrecy was based on early Christian church tradition and illustrates a “serious theological concern he has,” however, it is less certain if Jesus himself desired to address this same concern.

I just want to make it clear that I am sourcing all of this from Martin.

Martin suggests the explanation centers on the ‘100% man’ aspect of Jesus, with it’s earliest ‘confession’ coming in the letter to the Philippians 2:5-11. According to Martin, “this early hymn…states in very strong terms that during the incarnate period of [Jesus]’s existence, he made no use of his divine nature or powers, but was truly human, limited as all human beings are.” All miracles were in fact acts of the Spirit through Jesus, just as the Spirit acts today. Furthermore, in keeping with the 100% human concept, Jesus himself could not have been aware of his omnipotence during his earthly stay if he were really were ‘just like us.’ What this means is that “Jesus during his life and ministry was reticent to use or accept current messianic terminology…because he did not feel those messianic terms expressed his understanding of his role in the Father’s plan for the in-breaking kingdom.” Furthermore, Jesus’ own understanding of the Father’s will develops as he (Jesus) proclaims the kingdom.

The problem arises when the post-resurrection church looks back on Jesus’ earlier words after they have just witnessed his death and resurrection. Their natural desire is to conclude that Jesus knew all along who he was and chose to keep it a secret until ‘the right time.’ According to Martin, this idea of over-emphasizing the “deity and power and glory of Jesus” at the expense of understanding his “suffering and vulnerability” greatly troubled Mark. In effect, Mark’s use of the messianic secret motif is to actually highlight its inaccuracy when viewed in context of the rest of Jesus’ earthly life.

“It has always been difficult for the church to accept in actuality the full implications of its claim that Jesus was truly human” or as Hebrews 2:17 puts it, “like us in every respect.”

luke said...

I like all the discussion. I'm interested to see if Dr. Discher will weigh in himself or if he'll wait until our next class.

I don't like the term '100% man' as much as I like 'fully man.' Percentages try to quantify things that sometimes are not quantitative but qualitative.

But I can see the point and I've actually thought about that myself. I think we may have a tendency to over-emphasize the omniscience of Jesus. I'm not sure how that can work. If he was fully omniscient, then he wasn't much like us at all? I mean, would that mean he was faking his agony in the garden, or his sorrow over Lazarus?

Maybe that is something Mark had in mind with the Messianic Secret ...

Matt said...

To be fair to my source, it was I that used the 100%. He used fully or completely or something like that. I agree with you on the danger of percentages.

Saint said...

He knows who He is when He goes to John, Matthew 3:16-17. I think that would push the idea of the Message not being fully ready until his death and resurrection. I think maybe Christ didn't even intend to go around healing, knowing that people would simply want that from Him, not understanding His true purpose was not for their physical salvation, but their spiritual.

Everytime he tells the people to shut up about what he's done, the people he healed end up going about and talking anyway. And then word spread more about what He was doing on a physical basis.

Then again, maybe it was just a clever advertising ruse. He knew that if He told people not to talk, they'd talk even more.

Jeff said...

I know that I'm weighing in late here, but I do have something to add.

I have no idea where I read this or if I made it up (unlikely). But I remember something about this being about the "fullness of time." In other words, there was more than one occasion when Jesus could have been killed. But the time was not right.

As has been suggested, whether or not Jesus was omniscient or omni-anything (I think he was) during his earthly ministry, he may have been trying to stave off a premature death.

I.e., "Don't tell anyone what you've seen, some people won't like it..."