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Baptism-JesusQuestion 3: What was meant by “Christ”? Is it a title? Is it part of Jesus’ name?

  • The Greek christos is used to translate “anointed” or “Messiah.” It might have made sense to a Greek audience. But it would be hampered by its first century usage to refer to wrestlers who had “greased up” before their match to make it more difficult for their opponents to gain a tactical hold on them during the match.
  • The uses of “Messiah” or “anointed (one)” in the OT do not help much in understanding Jesus as Messiah.
  • The word is used of “the anointed priests” (Leviticus 4:3, 5, 16, 6:22; 2 Maccabees 2:10)
  • The word is used of the king. (Throughout 1 and 2 Samuel)
  • The word is used of Cyrus, the Persian King (Is 45:1)
  • The word is used of the prophets (Ps 105:15; 1 Chr 16:22)

  • Often, in the Psalms, it refers to God giving victory to a king (his “anointed”) (2:2; 18:50; 20:6; 132:17?)

Would the Jews have understood the term “Christ” to refer to a conquering king? an anointed priest? a prophet? What seems to be widely accepted by scholars is that there was no one single understanding of “messiah” by first century Judaism – certainly not as modern day Christians understand the term.

Question 4: What is meant by “Son of God?” This phrase (two words in Greek huiou theou) is missing in many ancient manuscripts – which is why you often see the phrase in parentheses. Normally shorter readings are to be preferred over longer ones. It is more likely that copyists would add to a text rather than to delete. However, the omission of these words might be explained by an oversight in copying. The first six words in Greek all end with “ou,” so a copyist may have jumped to the last “ou” before he should have.

It’s also noted that the Greek does not have a definite article (“the”). The same is true when the centurion could be confessing: “Truly, this man was a son of God” (15:39). The demons, however, declare: “You are the Son of the God” (3:11) and “Jesus, (a) Son of the Most High God” (5:7). In contrast, definite articles are always found in the phrase: “the Son of the human”. A grammatical argument can be made for supplying “the” in the phrase “Son of God.” I present this bit of grammar so that we might understand how Mark’s first readers/hearers might have understood the phrase.

If it were Greeks hearing this for the first time, I would think that their reference would be to their mythological children of gods. For example, Hercules was a son of the god Zeus and the human mother Alcmene.

A Jewish audience, based on Psalm 2, might think that “a son of God” (v. 7) was a king. Note also that “anointed” (christos in LXX) is used in v. 2.

These words do something to the hearers. They create a picture in their minds from their own experiences of someone called “Son of God.” It is likely that this picture at the beginning is a wrong one – and Mark will seek to change it through his story.

Notes

Son of God. There is debate as to whether or not this phrase is in the original text of Mark’s gospel. The phrase is missing in some important early witnesses such as Sinaiticus. It is likely that in these cases the phrase was accidentally omitted due to similar endings in the abbreviated forms of the sacred names: ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟΥ ΙΥ ΧΥ ΥΥ ΘΥ. The last four words look similar because each is written as a nomen sacrum (divine title). The first corrector of Codex Sinaiticus (a) added ΥΥ ΘΥ before it left the scriptorium. However, not all ancient manuscripts wrote the word “Son” as the nomen sacrum ΥΥ, so this is not a conclusive argument. It is more likely that “Son of God” was accidentally dropped than that a copyist expanded the introductory title, especially since the major manuscripts (Vaticanus, Bezae, and the Freer Gospels) support the reading. The title appears at a few key points in Mark (1:11; 15:39), pointing to the unique, intimate relationship the messianic Jesus had with the Father.

Some scholars compares this beginning of Mark to the Priene inscription about Caesar Octavian from 9 bc, which also uses the term “good news” and speaks of his birth as “the birthday of the god [that] was for the world the beginning of his good news.” This is “the epiphany or advent of a deity” (Witherington 2001:70). Mark’s gospel is about a person who makes a similar yet distinct claim to deity, a divine figure different from those Mark’s Gentile audience may have been accustomed to hearing about.

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