By Erik Manning| Biblical critics like Bart Ehrman say that the deity of Christ was a later invention that developed near the end of the first century. Bart and others of his ilk say that Mark, the earliest gospel, has a lower view of Jesus than John, who says he’s the pre-existent Word made Flesh. Quoting Bart:
“If Jesus went around Galilee proclaiming himself to be a divine being sent from God…could anything else that he say be so breath-taking and thunderously important? And yet none of the earlier sources (read: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) says any such thing about him. Did they (all of them!) just decide not to mention the one thing that was most significant about Jesus? Almost certainly the divine self-claims in John are not historical.”
So does Ehrman have a point? Here’s a spoiler-alert: No.
The tension between the Synoptics and John isn’t there. Not like Bart makes it out to be. I’m going to share 18 passages that show that even if we only had Mark and the Old Testament documents, we could still arrive at John’s conclusions about Jesus’ deity. These verses taken together present a pretty clear picture: Mark believes Jesus is God.
1. Mark 1:1 “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…”
There is some diversity of thought of who the Messiah is. Most Jewish interpretations say that he is a great Davidic king who ushers in peace and will fill the earth with the knowledge of God, but many do not go so far as to declare him the Son of God because that would entail equality with God. Mark, at the very outset of his gospel, identifies him as the Son of God.
2. Mark 1:2 “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.”
Here Mark is quoting Malachi 3:1, but he changes the wording around. Malachi says “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” In the original version, it is God himself speaking. He is the One who is coming to the temple. Mark is applying this verse to the coming of Jesus, which is a straightforward way of saying that Jesus is God coming to visit his people.
3. Mark 1:3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”
Here Mark again takes Old Testament prophecy and applies it directly to Jesus. Isaiah 40:3 reads “make straight…a highway for our God” but Mark changes it to “make his paths straight.” That’s referring to Jesus. Rather than seeing Jesus as a mere human being, Mark cuts right to the chase in presenting Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s promise to come to visit his people directly in person.
If we stopped right here, I think we’ve already undercut the idea that Mark presents a lower, more stripped-down version of Jesus than John. But let’s pile on just for fun.
(For more on these two passages, see Michael Kruger’s post Does the Gospel of Mark Present Jesus as God?)
4. Mark 1:9-11 “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.”
Now it’s not just Mark calling Jesus the Son of God, but God the Father himself declaring that Jesus is his beloved Son at his baptism.
5. Mark 1:23-24 “And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”
We have God’s testimony of who Jesus is. Now it’s the demons turn, although Jesus doesn’t give them much of a chance to speak. They call him the Holy One of God. This passage raises an interesting question: besides God himself, who else would have the power to destroy evil spirits? We also see similar responses from evil spirits in Mark 3:11 and Mark 5:4-5. They recognize him as the one who has the power to torment them at the end of the age.
6. Mark 2:5-10 “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”
Jesus forgave the man’s sins, and the meaning of this was not lost on his Jewish audience, as they immediately said he was blaspheming. Only God can forgive sins. CS Lewis’ famous commentary on these passages is especially meaningful here:
“Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offenses against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money?
Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offenses. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin.”
Ehrman recognizes this is a problem for his view, so he responds:
“With respect to the forgiveness of sins: when Jesus forgives sins, he never says “I forgive you,” as God might say, but “your sins are forgiven,” which means that God has forgiven your sins. This prerogative for pronouncing sins forgiven was otherwise reserved for Jewish priests in honor of sacrifices worshipers made at the temple. Jesus may be claiming a priestly, not a divine prerogative.”
But there’s a big problem here. First, that’s not what offended Jesus’ audience. And Jesus isn’t claiming a priestly prerogative in the context, he says he has authority on earth to forgive sins because he is the Son of Man. He’s referring to Daniel 7:13-14:
“In my vision, at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”
‘Son of Man’ is Jesus’ favorite title for himself. And his message was “the gospel of the kingdom of God”. (Mark 1:14-15) This Son of Man receives authority over an everlasting dominion, and all nations worship him. This is more than a “priestly prerogative”, it’s more like a kingly decree. And he shows he has the power to back it up by healing the man. I’m sure Jesus’ Jewish audience might have remembered
Psalm 103:2-3 which says “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases”.
7. Mark 2:27-28
“And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
There’s that Son of Man title again. This time he says that the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. The context is that his disciples were picking grain on the Sabbath, which was against the Law of Moses. Jesus is claiming the ability to restore God’s law to its original intent – that the Sabbath was made for the benefit of people, not the other way around.
8. Mark 4:39-41
“He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
While Mark’s gospel was written for the church at Rome, if they had any familiarity with the Psalms, they would’ve picked up what he was laying down. Here’s Psalm 107 “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven.” (Psalm 107:28-29)
9. Mark 6:49-50
“But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost, and cried out [in horror]; for they all saw Him and were shaken and terrified. But He immediately spoke with them and said, “Take courage! It is I (I Am)! Stop being afraid.” (Amplified Bible)
I’m quoting the Amplified because it does a good job of translating the Greek language here. When Jesus says “take courage, it is I” he’s saying “ego eimi”, which literally translates “I am”. That sounds an awful lot like what Jesus said to the Pharisees in John when he says “before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58).
Now, if you know anything about the Old Testament, you know that “I Am” is the divine name (see Exodus 3:14).
In the context of God revealing himself as the “I Am” in Exodus, God exercises power over nature – the bush is on fire but it’s not burned up. Here Jesus is saying he’s the “I Am” while exercising power over nature – he walks on water.
10. Mark 7:18-19
“And he said to them, ‘Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean)”
As a good bacon-loving Gentile, I appreciate this verse. Here Jesus changes the Jewish dietary laws and declares all foods clean – whether that fact immediately dawned on Jesus’ disciples or not. Who on earth can change God’s laws? This isn’t the only time Jesus does this. We also see this in his teaching on divorce (Mark 10:2-6).
11. Mark 8:34-38
“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. . . . For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels”
Remember what we said about Jesus calling himself the Son of Man, and how the Son of Man has divine honors according to the prophet Daniel. Here Jesus says that he’s coming in glory with his Father and the holy angels.
This sounds a lot like Daniel 7:13-14 again, with the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven. He’s also claiming that if someone’s going to follow him, he has to be willing to give their life. The OT prophets make some strong claims, but none ever come remotely close to calling for this type of loyalty to themselves. This type of sacrifice is reserved for God only.
12. Mark 9:2-7
“And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”
In the Old Testament, both Moses and Elijah had appearances of God. Yet neither Moses and Elijah were able to see God’s face. In fact, God told Moses specifically that he wouldn’t see his face (Exodus 33:23). Elijah heard the voice of God on the mountain and in response covered his face (1 Kings 19:9-13).
In contrast, on the mountain of Transfiguration Moses and Elijah are finally allowed to see what they couldn’t during their earthly lives – the face of God. How? Because the God who appeared to them on the mountain became a man. Jesus is God with a human face.
Notice too that the Father again speaks as he did at Jesus’ baptism – calling him his son. He adds “listen to him!”. By introducing the voice from the cloud, Mark says that the transfigured Jesus spoke with authority higher than the two greatest prophets of Israel.
13. Mark 10:17-21
“a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
There’s no use shying away from this passage. That Jesus said “no one is good but God” is a clobber verse for those who deny that Jesus is God. But it actually reveals the opposite of what they are trying to prove. Jesus isn’t denying that he’s good. If Jesus is good, and God alone is good, then who exactly is Jesus?
It’s also interesting that Jesus is adding a command on top of the Law that the man had kept – and that is to sell everything and follow him. When he refused, Jesus followed up, saying that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Now hold it…what is he saying? He’s saying that following him is the way into the kingdom of God – not by obeying the law of Moses alone.
This isn’t lost on his disciples, they point out they had given up everything to follow him. In response, Jesus said “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:30)
Whoa there. Who gets eternal life? The one who follows Jesus. Jesus gives eternal life to those who follow him precisely because he’s God. This is suddenly sounding a lot like John 3:16.
14. Mark 12:1-9
“And he began to speak to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a pit for the winepress and built a tower, and leased it to tenants and went into another country. When the season came, he sent a servant to the tenants to get from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. And they took him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent to them another servant, and they struck him on the head and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and him they killed. And so with many others: some they beat, and some they killed. He had still one other, a beloved son. Finally, he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’And they took him and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”
Jesus is saying that just as the prophets were rejected, so he too will be rejected. But he’s not a mere servant as the prophets were. Jesus is God’s beloved son, the heir of the kingdom and Israel’s last hope. Jesus says that rejecting him causes the kingdom to be taken away from national Israel and given to those who receive his message instead.
15. Mark 12:35-37
“And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?”
Jesus isn’t denying that the Messiah is a descendant of David. In fact, when Bartimaeus says “have mercy on me, Son of David!” Jesus stopped in his tracks and healed him. Jesus is saying that the Christ is something a lot more – he’s the Lord of David. Jesus is quoting Psalm 110:1-2.
He says that the Messiah sits at the right hand of God, which implies co-rulership with God.
16. Mark 13:31
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
Here Jesus’ words are put at the same level as God’s words. Isaiah 40:8 says “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”
17. Mark 14:2-9
“And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Jesus here arguably receives an act of worship. While he was concerned with the poor, Jesus says that here there is a greater concern. He receives honor from her and says that the way she honored him will be part of the gospel message going forward. The implication is clear – to honor and adore Jesus is at the heart of the gospel.
18. Mark 14:61-64
“…the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ And the high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy”
Now Jesus explicitly says he’s the Son of Man from Daniel 7:13-14. He’s seated at the right hand of God and coming in the clouds of heaven. As the high priest knew, clouds were a common Old Testament symbol pointing to God as the judge of the nations. For example, Isaiah 19:1 says “See, the Lord rides on a swift cloud and is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt tremble before him, and the hearts of the Egyptians melt within them.” Jesus is saying he is their divine judge, and that ticked them off, to say the least.
We’re all familiar with the famous prologue of John’s gospel that reads “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-3)
If Mark ever read this, I’d imagine him uttering a hearty “amen.” When you put together all these passages from Mark’s Gospel, a clear picture emerges — Jesus is God. Contra Bart, Jesus’ divine identity does not depend on which gospel you read.