The title ‘Son of God’ in Mark’s gospel

The title and concept of ‘Son of God’ can have different meanings depending on the context – it can refer to exalted men (Gen. 6:2), angels (Job 1:6), all of Israel (Ex 4:22-23), or a unique descendant of David who would reign forever as God’s king (2 Sam. 7:12-14). In intertestamental times, the title came to anticipate a messianic eschatological redeemer of God (1).
Jesus’ original hearers would not have understand the title as declaring Jesus as God’s ontological equal, one part of the triune godhead (this understanding only developed after the resurrection (2)), however it would have been understood as a way of suggesting Jesus’ significant role and relationship to God. Bateman links ‘Christ’, ‘Son of David’, ‘Son of God’ and other similar phrases as parallel and complementary titles used in this Jewish context to point to Jesus’ messianic function, his divine authentication, commissioning and empowering by God (without arguing that the titles constitute claims of deity). (3)
Mark does not record many uses of the title ‘Son of God’ but it is a significant concept arising at key points in the gospel; from the introduction (which according to Wasserman most likely includes title ‘Son of God’ (4)), to Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration (1:11, 9:7), used by evil spirits to challenge Jesus (3:11, 5:7), through parabolic usage (12:6) and eschatological discourse (13:32), to the accusation by the high priest (14:61) and the declaration by the centurion (15:39). The use of the title ‘Son of God’ by the centurion at the cross is significant. Although the centurion’s statement could grammatically be taken as ‘a son of God’, it makes more sense to me that Mark intended this declaration at the cross as the highpoint of the revelation of Jesus as God’s son who takes away the sin of the world, being therefore a statement of divine identity, beyond what the gentile centurion himself could comprehend. (5)
Leim argues that for Mark, Jesus embodies multiple OT figures and hopes such that it is the combined picture that is summed up in the title ‘Son of God’ that does bind Jesus divine identity with God (4). It is possible then given the way Mark uses the title to complement the rich picture of Jesus he is presenting, that Mark’s original audience understood the title as supporting the claim of the gospel authors of Jesus’ deity.
References:
(1) James R. Edwards, The Gospel according to Mark (The Pillar New Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002), 482-483.
(2) Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey (2nd Edition.; Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2009), 473-474.
(3) Herbert W. Bateman IV, ‘Defining the Titles “Christ” and “Son of God” in Mark’s Narrative Presentation of Jesus’, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50.3 (2007): 537–559.
(4) Tommy Wasserman, “The ‘Son of God’ Was in the Beginning (Mark 1:1),” Journal of Theological Studies 62 (2011): 20–50.
(5) Peter K. Stevenson, “The Crucified God: Mark 15:25-39,” Direction 41, no. 1 (2012): 148–64.
(6) Joshua E. Leim, “In the Glory of His Father: Intertextuality and the Apocalyptic Son of Man in the Gospel of Mark,” Journal of Theological Interpretation 7, no. 2 (2013): 213–32.
Dan McClellan, “Son of God,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2013, 2014).

Joshua 2

Main point:

God has promised the land, God has prepared the land (e.g. people melting in fear), God will give the land as a possession, all as part of his purposeful work to fulfill his promises of land and people (e.g. Rahab as the first Canannite convert).

Main purpose:

We are to respond in faithful obedience; like the spies confidently working in cooperation with God’s purposes, and like Rahab recognizing the supreme sovereignty of God and submitting to His authority.

Supporting argument:

Joshua starts very positively, opening in chapter 1 with great promises by God to his people of land and success based on obedience (1:7). Joshua responds obediently (1:10-11), and the people respond obediently as well (1:16-18). The spies were confident in God’s promises (2:14, 24) unlike the spies of 40 years earlier (Num 13). What could improve on this? The answer – the faith of Rahab. The story of the faith of Rahab in Ch2 serves to both illustrate the validity of the promises of God (e.g. confirms that a great fear has fallen on the people of Jericho), and look forwards towards an expansion of the people of God to include both Jews and gentiles. “(Rahab’s) presence in the book of Joshua is a positive feature, displaying the outworkings of the Abrahamic covenant, God’s inclusive interest in all who would confess him as sovereign Lord, and his providential care for his own people.”(6) Rahab was a woman of a vibrant faith in action (Heb 11:31 and Jam 2:25), putting native-born Israelites to shame (1, 2), implying the justification of the condemnation of the Canaanite people for not sharing her faith (3), and ‘earning’ a place in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:5). Rahab’s declaration of faith was personal and confident (‘I know’), specific (‘the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below’) and unconditional. It does not appear that the spies had sexual relations with Rahab as there is no hint of condemnation for their actions. Staying with a prostitute may have been a good way of gathering information about Jericho and function as a suitable place to stay without raising suspicion (4). Interestingly, although the Israelites were expressly forbidden from making covenants with the Canaanites (Deut 7:1-6), it appears as though Rahab’s expression of faith in God justified a covenant with her to save her family’s life. The declaration of the spies in 2:24 shows their confidence in a promise-keeping God and looks back to the song of Moses in Ex 15:13-15 as it looks as though God is causing those prophetic words to come true.

References

(1) Haddon W. Robinson, Biblical Preaching: The Development and Delivery of Expository Messages (Third.; Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 61.
(2) R. J. D. Knauth, “Alien, Foreign Resident,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 31.
(3) Philip Satterthwaite and Gordon McConville, Exploring the Old Testament: The Histories (vol. 2; London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2007), 42–43.
(4) John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), Jos 2:1.
(5) Brenda Heyink, “Prostitution,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2013, 2014).
(6) David M. Howard Jr., Joshua (vol. 5; The New American Commentary; Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 78-112

Applying the 10 Commandments to modern Christians

You shall not murder

This law is applicable to modern Christians because it was well established before the 10 commandments (Gen 4:10-11, 9:6) and is continued into the New Testament (Matt 5:21-26, Romans 13:9).

This is a law against the willful taking of life, and perhaps also against negligence or carelessness resulting in death. For the modern Christian, this is a law against disregarding God’s design for living in a peaceful society (Romans 12:18).This is a law against rejecting the rule of the creator God by claiming authority over life that only God rightly has.

But perhaps most significantly, it is a law against an attitude of the heart that does not love others (See Matt 5:21-26). That is, if ‘you shall not murder’ is the negative command, the New Testament clearly makes the positive version of the same command to be ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Romans 13:9). For modern Christians, the law to not murder is trumped and fulfilled in Jesus’ teaching to love others (Matt 7:12).

You shall not steal

This is a law against taking what is not yours. This law has a horizontal aspect of not taking from other people, but also a vertical aspect of not taking for yoursself things that God hasn’t given you. That is, it is a sin of rebelling against the rule of God and not trusting in his provision.

For a modern Christian, it is not always easy to identify when something is stealing. For example, accessing another persons information or creative work on the internet, or cleverly structuring your finances to reduce your amount of income tax payable. The legal system is not necessarily a clear guide either as it struggles to keep pace with technological change.

Paul argues in Romans 13:9 that this command is summed up in the one rule of loving your neighbour as ourself. That is, “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10, and see Jesus comments in Matt 7:12). It is not enough then for us just not take from others, but we are to love others in actively pursuing their best interests (1 Thess 5:15).

So perhaps a good guide to inform how well we are keeping this command is not to ask the question “is this stealing?” but instead to ask “Am I acting in a way that seeks the best interests of the other party” – whether that be in regards to property, your investment of time, or your resources etc.

To seek the best interests of others always is also a way to guide your heart against failing to trust in God’s provision, as it takes your focus away from your own perceived needs and directs you to act in response to others needs first.

Interpreting parables and Luke 15

Parables are brief metaphorical narratives that have two levels of meaning (1). My guidelines for interpreting parables from the synoptic gospels are:

  1. Understand the parable as a simple story designed to be easily understood by a 1st Century audience (‘1st level’ of meaning)
  2. Look for anything in the simple story that might be unusual or challenging for this original audience. This may be a clue to the ‘2nd meaning’.
  3. Look at the context of the parable for hints as to how to understand. For example, is any explanation given? Is the parable in response to a question? How did the original audience respond?
  4. Consider the main characters of the story. Is there something to be learnt from each character? Is there a ‘master’ character that might consolidate what you learn from each subordinate character?
  5. Develop an understanding of the main point of the parable
  6. Check how this understanding fits within and supports the overall message of the Gospel
  7. Think about ways to apply this understanding of the parable to yourself

Applied to parables in Luke 15:

  1. Everybody understands the experience of losing something of value, whether it’s property, resources or people.
  2. The sheep and the coin appear to be modest loses. The response of the man and the woman in finding what was lost appears to be excessive. The behaviour of the father in the Lost Son story is highly unusual according to the customs of that day. The father appears to be excessively gracious, compassionate and forgiving to the Lost Son.
  3. Jesus tells the parables to address the Pharisees and scribes who are grumbling about Jesus’ association with ‘sinners’. To be lost is to be a sinner in need of repentance. Jesus implies from the first two parables that his listeners should be joining with the angels of God in heaven and rejoicing over sinners who repent (15:7,10).
  4. The man, woman and father all appear to represent God. We learn that God cares for those who are lost, seeks the lost, and is compassionate and forgiving when the lost are found. The Lost son is another main character who presents a lesson on repentance. The older brother character represents the point of view of the Pharisees and scribes who do not share God’s joy at the repentance of sinners
  5. God loves to welcome repentant sinners into his family. I think Jesus is presenting himself as being the agency of God in seeking and saving the lost.
  6. Jesus repeatedly taught that his mission was focused on seeking and saving the lost (Luke 4:18-21, 5:32, 19:10). Jesus also taught the importance of repentance (Luke 3:3, 15:7).
  7. I don’t want to be like the Pharisees who took no joy from repentant sinners. I am a repentant sinner myself. I should take more joy in God’s calling of me to repentance, as well as much joy from others who repent and turn to God. My ministry should be more closely reflective of Jesus’ ministry with an increased focus on those who are lost rather that just on those who are already found. Will I be a follower of Jesus with the attitude of the older brother, or will I adopt the attitude of the outrageous radical loving Father?

References:
1. Craig Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels, 299–309.
2. Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth. 4th ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 2014.
3. David A. deSilva, An Introduction to the New Testament, 337–342.
4. Garwood P. Anderson, ‘Parables’, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 650–663.

Exodus 3

Main point
God continues to fulfill his covenant promises to the people of Israel by revealing his redemptive plans, extending his self revelation, and graciously commissioning Moses as his emissary and prophet.

Main purpose
Know that God is the unparalleled and unbounded, faithful, gracious, almighty savior of his chosen people; and so we can confidently trust and obey.

Supporting argument

Fulfill his covenant promises –
God reveals himself to Moses as the God of the patriarchs (6) and instructs Moses to introduce him to the elders of Israel and the king of Egypt as the God of the patriarchs (15) and the God of the Hebrews (18). The words of God in Genesis 15 have come to pass – Abraham’s descendants have been enslaved for 400 years and God now needs to act to fulfill his promises of rescue (Gen 15:14) and in so doing, continue the process of fulfilling his promises to Abraham of people, blessing and land (Gen 12:3).

Revealing his redemptive plans –
God uses this promised redemptive act to extend the covenant promises established with the patriarchs. God promises to reveal not only his power to rescue (8), but also his compassion (7) and the comfort of his presence (12). God promises to not only bring his people up to the promised land, but to a “land flowing with milk and honey” (8), which is a picture of comfort and prosperity. God promises to not only powerfully rescue his people (20) but to cause the Egyptians to let them plunder them also (21-22).

Extending his self revelation –
In revealing his name to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’, God is revealing more of his nature and character. Of his nature, his name expresses the idea of being un-qualifiable, un-defineable, un-bounded by concepts that can be expressed in words – to say that God is anything is to bound his nature, and so the most fitting expression is just to say that ‘He is’ (‘He is’ is the meaning of the Hebrew word ‘Yahweh). Of God’s nature also, this self revelation declares his identity for all time and in being unbounded in nature, suggests that he is God for all people as well (15). Of his character, his name implies his presence with his people. i.e. ‘I am with you’ (Sailhammer, 246)

Graciously commissioning Moses –
After 40 years of shepherding in obscurity, God calls and commissions Moses to bring his people out of Egypt under God’s mighty hand (20). Whilst Moses is the lead human character in this story, Moses in his inadequacy and questioning appears to be a foil for revealing more of God. God graciously engages with Moses in conversation and answers Moses’ concerns. As we consider the character and experience of Moses, it is possible to learn something of how God chooses to work through human agents – we see God teaching Moses patience during his 40 years of shepherding; we see Moses learning humility and fear before a Holy God (6), we see the importance of a honest personal relationship with God prior to public ministry, and also see the primary importance of the presence and power of God in enabling humans to be his effective agents for his purposes. However the story is not ultimately about Moses (or us), but about God. As Hill argues, “The basic theological purpose of the book (of Exodus) is divine self-disclosure. God has not only remembered his covenant promises to the Hebrew patriarchs, but also has now revealed himself to Israel as Yahweh”.

References

Hill, Andrew E. A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).
Fretheim, Terence E. Exodus. (Louisville: John Knox, 1991).
Motyer, J. Alec. The Message of Exodus. (Leicester: IVP, 2005).
Sailhamer, John H. The Pentateuch as Narrative. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).