Mark's Christology - Docetic?


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Most of the scholarship I've read on Mark seems to agree that for him, Jesus's baptism was the important Christological moment, i.e. the moment that Jesus became Christ as the Spirit descended on him.

OTOH, the ending of Mark remains a puzzle: why does Jesus cry from the cross that God has abandoned him?

It seems to me that the logical solution is that the cry from the cross was (for Mark) the moment that the Spirit left Jesus. That is, Mark has a sort of docetic Christology in which Jesus was possessed by the Spirit during his ministry. The Spirit then left him just before his death.

Some partial support for this idea comes from an early writer (Eusebius? Irenaeus? I forget.) who notes that Mark was the gospel of choice for the Docetists. Also, it helps explain some of the puzzling aspects of Mark's gospel, e.g. why the demons recognize Jesus as Christ even when his own disciples don't - they are both the same sort of being. The (evil) spirit in the demon-possessed person recognizes the (Holy) Spirit in Jesus.

I've never seen this idea mentioned in any of the scholarship I've read, though. Does anyone know if this has ever been suggested? Or if there is any reason (other than prejudice against the earliest gospel being a "heretical" one) to reject it?
Hi there, FriendRob,and welcome to the comparative-religion forums!

As for your post - that's actually a very good question. The argument is not immediately familar.

However, I'm sure one of the other members will be able to address it far more precisely - this could be especially good territory for Polycarp (the member, not the Church Father :) ).
Hi Mark -

The abandonment, which is in a sense the culmination of the Passion, leads to a profound Christological mystery - that Christ, in becoming man, took on the whole human state and suffered accordingly - not simply physical pain, but also mental, emotional and spiritual privation, as man suffers and has done since the fall.

If Christ is truly man then He must know what it is 'not to know' as we do not know, and to doubt as we doubt, and to fear as we fear.

To do so in any real or effective sense rules out any aspect of Docetism - for if Christ is a spirit inhabiting the body of a man, then the passion and the crucifixion becomes a piece of very shabby and pointless theatre - God could have achieved man's salvation much simpler.

This whole issue vexed the church which very nearly succumbed to either Arianism or Docetism (one being that Christ is man but not God, the other that Christ is God but not man) and continued in the monothelite and monophysite debates.

It was resolved at the Council of Chalcedon, and the works of St Maximus Confessor gave a full and profound metaphysical explanation of how and why Christ is both man and God.

The answer is in the Psalms. Jesus' lament "My God, My God..." is the begining of the 22nd Psalm.

His baptism was also in the Psalm, but since it proved Jesus was not the same substance as God the Father, it was deleted from the original text. From my book: Matthew 3:17 was edited. After Jesus’ baptism God proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He then said (omitted from the Bible), “This day have I begotten thee.” This was a powerful argu­ment for the Arians against the pre-existing Jesus theology.  How do we know this other line existed? Epiphanius claims that was the rendition used by the Ebionites. Justin Martyr spe­cifically quotes Matthew 3:17 (“Dialogue with Trypho” CIII) and uses the extra line. In about the year 400, St. Augus­tine, in a letter to Faustus, mentions the line as being quoted by the Manichaeans for proof of the dual nature of God. St. Augustine does not deny the allegation (something he could easily do) so we must logically conclude the line was in the text.  The same editing was done to Luke. The older version is still in existence in the “western” text Codex D. It includes the phrase “This day have I begotten thee.” The line was lifted from Psalms 2:7b,
Nogodnomasters,I know the line is from the Psalms, but that doesn't answer the question of how Mark could attribute that sentiment to the Son of God. The "begotten" line doesn't seem to have been in Mark, the earliest Synoptic, but even if it was, it seems to support my suggestion.

Thomas - The argument you give is one I've read in some commentaries, but I don't buy it. First off, if Mark was seen as being anti-Docetic, how could it ever have been used as the Gospel of the Docetists? Secondly, the "truly man" explanation relies on a Christology that wasn't developed until the 4th century AD. You can't explain why Mark included the line in his Gospel on the basis of a theology from 300 years later!
Hi FriendRob -

Docetism is not an intrinsic heresy - it did not arise from within Christianity but came from outside. It is essentially a 'gnostic' (I appreciate this is a widely abused term) idea, and was therefore a gnostic interpretation of Scripture.

The Docetae are mentioned by many of the Church Fathers and Docetism - like many of the 'gnostic heresies' - is founded on an absolute division between spirit and matter - like the gnostics the Docetae believed that matter (the world, flesh, nature etc) is essentially evil, whilst the spirit is good. Thus they reject the Christian idea of Incarnation.

St Paul, who's writings pre-date Mark, does more to combat Docetism, and lays the foundations for all following Christology (as does John, and all of which accord with the Synoptics).

One might be able to pick out a verse here and there, but one has to read it against the total body of the text, otherwise it is a verse out of context.

Hi FriendRob -

By chance - as these things happen - I was looking through 'Origen against Plato' by Dr Mark Edwards, and he comments on a form of incipient Docetism appearing in the Church Fathers!

Their points were various, but one was the Christ suffered no sexual temptation, another that he did not defacate like the rest of us - in that being perfection he would have perfected the food that he ate, transforming it entirely and thus produce no waste nor by-product.

We have no evidence either way (until someone turns up an apocryphal document detailing toilet habits, or the lack of them) but such notions do signify the discussion that was going on at the time.

Every tradition of its day - Hebrew, Greek, Egyptian, regarded body and soul in opposition - Christ was the first to vindicate man as a whole being and not just the spirit as opposed to the flesh, a point which we are still trying to get to grips with! It's no surprise that in preserving the integrity of His human being, that there were some rather quaint and somewhat naive suggestions in this regard.

Christ continually asked 'who do you say think I am' and the disciples continually made a brave stab at an answer, only to find Christ would raise the game, as it were, once again.

Christian doctrine believes that the Incarnation is a revelation that unfolds and continues to unfold - it is not merely an historical event - so for this reason Scripture does not supply a 'cut n dried' answer for everything.

Christ shows where and how to look, but it's up to us to do the looking.