The Last Supper and Markan Christology 1


Mark’s carefully layered plot gradually elaborates the mystery surrounding the identity of Jesus. In the early moments of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is a powerful wonder-working figure who seems comparable to Elijah or one of the prophets of old (e.g., Mark 6:15). At other points in the tale, his words and actions seem to correspond typologically to the words and actions of Moses or Joshua or Jeremiah. As the plot moves toward its climax in Jerusalem, there are abundant hints that Jesus is the bearer of David’s legacy as king of Israel. Each of these images of Jesus illumines some facet of his mission and identity, yet the images all remain tentative, partial, and inadequate. Jesus remains elusive and avoids direct speech about the secret of his own personhood, except in his cryptic declarations about the Son of Man.[1]

Whatever else may be true of Mark’s Gospel and its Christology, it is certain that Mark intends to present Jesus as the Messianic Son of God (see Mark 8:30–31, 14:61–62, and 15:39). Following Jesus’s Last Supper and his betrayal by Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus stands before the Jewish leadership (Mark includes the chief priests, elders, scribes, and the Sanhedrin) and boldly declares, in answer to the high priest’s question Σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστὸς ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ εὐλογητοῦ (“Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?”), ἐγώ εἰμι, καὶ ὄψεσθε τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ δεξιῶν καθήμενον τῆς δυνάμεως καὶ ἐρχόμενον μετὰ τῶν νεφελῶν τοῦ οὐρανοῦ  (“I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the power and coming with the clouds of heaven”).[2]

For N. T. Wright, the response of the high priest ––“Blasphemy!” (Mark 14:63) –– was due, not just to Jesus’s claim of Messiahship, or to his remarks against the temple. It was the both together which “pointed towards an enthronement in which the Messiah, or the ‘son of man’, would share the very throne of Israel’s [G]od…”[3] The response prompted an exclamatory “Blasphemy!” because Jesus identified himself as sharing in the divine prerogatives included in both Psalm 110 and Daniel 7’s Son of Man. This is complementary to Bock’s understanding of the blasphemy exclamation, since Mark likely intends the allusion to Psalm 110 and Daniel 7, where the latter

describes the vindicating judgment authority of a figure who shares end-time judicial power received from God. Jesus applies this role to himself. In other words, Jesus ironically claims that rather than the council being his judge, he is the judge of the final judgment. The authority that Jesus possesses, he has received from God directly, like the ‘son of man’ image in Daniel. Implicit here is a claim to be able to go directly into God’s presence and work at his side, a claim that he is really their judge.[4]

Commenting on this passage, Bauckham provides an entire section under the heading: “The revelation of Jesus’ divine identity in Mark.” He explains,

Throughout the narrative, Mark provides indications for his readers that Jesus does not merely act on God’s behalf [i.e. agency], as the messianic king might be expected to do, but actually belongs to the divine identity. It is doubtful whether anyone within the narrative, other than the demons, really perceives this, and so, after the prologue, Mark does not state it outright but implies it for readers as the true implications of what Jesus or others say. The culmination of these indications comes in Jesus’ words to the high priest (14:62), where Jesus’ claim to be seated beside God on the cosmic throne from which God rules all things can only be, from a Jewish theological perspective, a claim to share in the unique divine identity of the God who alone rules over all things.[5]

Hays picks up on the importance of the blasphemy exclamation where he notes that,

If Jesus is identified, through Mark’s references to Daniel 7, as the eschatological Son of Man enthroned in heavenly glory, the question inevitably arises of how to understand his relation to the ‘Ancient One,’ the God of Israel. (…). Unlike the Gospel of John, which explicitly declares that Jesus is the Logos who is one with the Father, Mark shies away from overt ontological declarations. Nonetheless, Mark’s Gospel suggests that Jesus is, in some way that defies comprehension, the embodiment of God’s presence. Mark never quite dares to articulate this claim explicitly; it is too scandalous for direct speech. (…). For Mark, the character of God’s presence in Jesus is a mystery that can be approached only by indirection, through riddle-like allusions to the Old Testament, as several passages prior to the passion narrative indicate.[6]

The point in examining the trial is to see a larger context of Markan Christology, and to lend support to Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’s deity. The Supper, betrayal, and trial of Jesus form a connected unit that historical Jesus scholars all understand as operating as a whole from very early on (the pre-Markan passion unit). So it is difficult to think that what Mark intends to illustrate in one part, namely the trial, is not informative of the earlier part, since they are a whole.

[1]Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 61.

[2]Compare Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi in Mark 8:30: “σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστός.” Son of the Blessed one is a circumlocution for Son of God and is, interestingly, used in 1 Enoch 77:2; see Bock and Simpson, Jesus According to Scripture, 2nd ed., 478. Bock and Simpson note that the high priest is probably thinking of Son of God in messianic terms, as in Psalm 2 or 2 Samuel 7 (478). Wright also cautions that we do not know how much the high priest knew of Second Temple literature, including 1 Enoch (or, I would add, if it was even available in Palestine at this time; see Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 642).

[3]Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 642.

[4]Bock and Simpson, Jesus According to Scripture, 2nd ed., 479.

[5]Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, 265.

[6]Hays, Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels, 62.


DEBATE and Some Announcements

Dear Readers of Jesus and Paul blog,

We have a few updates for you.

Robert and I are going to debate a point on Markan Christology publicly through our blog. This began over a year ago when I noted the manner of Jesus’s covenanting with his disciples at the Last Supper.

I found it striking then, and still do, that Jesus directly covenants with twelve disciples who are indicative of a restored Israel in Jesus’s kingdom eschatology. Jesus was not mediating a covenant like Moses. He was covenanting between himself and the disciples. I understand this as another subtle Markan portrait of implicit deity.

Robert and I wrangled on Facebook about this over a year ago, fruitfully creating more light on the discussion than heat. And we recently discussed it anew. Robert understands, with most Gospel scholars (such as Brant Pitre), that Jesus’s covenanting action is a portrait of the New Moses motif. I had the thought that we should do this in a more public forum for interested readers. Now a few points about the debate/discussion.

First, a point on Christology. To  be clear, Robert and I do not disagree with one another’s Christology. Robert identifies many instances of implicit claims to deity in Mark and has shared these with me. The challenge is, as most know, that Mark’s Christology is a mosaic (pun not intended) of portraits: Jesus as the Suffering Servant; Jesus as Messiah; Jesus as Son of God; Jesus as the apocalyptic Son of Man; Jesus as the suffering Son of Man; etc. Understanding which is being put forward by Mark or may be intended by Mark is often difficult.

Jesus himself used Son of Man of himself to express both his humble suffering (e.g. in Mark 8:31 the Son of Man must suffer and be killed and rise after three days), and his exaltation (e.g. in Mark 14:62 Jesus portrays himself as at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven in judgment).

So, we intend to debate and discuss Jesus’s covenanting action during the Last Supper in Mark to determine which Christology or Christologies are intended.

Second, a point on debate.

The impetus for blogging this was to demonstrate specifically Christian dialogue. I had the idea that debating this publicly would be edifying for readers since Robert and I often have heated disagreements on points but always with fruitful understanding.

We are careful to take the time to narrow the differences and find the deciding points of where we disagree. These points are often hair-splitting but have important implications.

Robert and I have argued just about everything (e.g. Paul’s use of “all Israel” in Romans 11, which Robert still fails to see as including Gentiles, and in agreement with the whole of Paul’s argument in Romans!).

As an aside, the first time I met Robert, in 2008, he picked up on a Christology discussion a friend and I were having at Starbucks, and we debated even then a little. I have seen Robert grow and mature in his ability to communicate an effective argument and seen him grow in his care for doing so with integrity, and in his care for understanding truth rather than putting down his opponent or winning a debate. I hope he has seen the same maturity in me these past years. I appreciate his sharp intellect, and I often defer to him personally on the problem of God and evil. Robert has been a faithful witness to Scripture, constantly pointing me back to the text and what the text says. He knows Scripture and he lives it out in how he guides his family and in how he leads in the Church.

A third and fourth point on the debate, and then announcements.

There will be a winner. One of us will decide on the evidence from Scripture and from the arguments presented and make a decision based on these. It may be a grudging admission, but there will be one.

(I feel this may be on my part, although I do feel strongly about Jesus’s covenanting action and how unique it is when compared with Moses.) Fourthly, we will delimit the discussion as necessary and include any relevant points to support our views, but they must be related to Markan Christology and our arguments on the whole.

Now for a few announcements. I (Michael) am wrapping up some publications. One is a forthcoming book review that was granted 7,000 words in the Review of Biblical Literature. It is on a recent three volume publication on the Eucharist by Mohr Siebeck in the WUNT series. A second publication is a comparative religions essay arguing that Gospel prehistory research can learn something from Quran prehistory research. In the latter, philological study of the Quran has precipitated a revisionist approach that situates the teachings of the Quran in Syro-Palestine on account of its many Aramaisms and Syriacisms. By contrast, Gospel prehistory, particularly with reference to the Last Supper, continues to search for Greco-Roman contexts despite the many (and they are many) semitisms, which are Hebrew, the lingua sacra, or Aramaic. In fact, Gospel scholars speak of instances where Matthew and Luke have Graecized the semitisms in Mark. The conclusion, then, is rather obvious…

There are a couple of other publications, but these are the two I am most busy with.  (I’m sure my PhD supervisor would rather I busy myself with my dissertation!)


When I first became a Christian, I had a friend whose family were Jehovah’s Witnesses. This means that I was immediately launched into the world of apologetics in the area of Christology. In response to my trinitarianism, I was told that Jesus obviously could not be God because he’s clearly called God’s son. At the time, my church worship services usually ended with a doxology where we sang the end of the Christ Hymn in Philippians: “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Therefore, my response was something like, “Jesus is God—he’s called Lord in this passage!” To this, I would add a couple of references from John’s Gospel. This never convinced my Jehovah’s Witness friends and admittedly it wasn’t a very sophisticated argument. However, now that I’ve been studying the Bible and theology academically for a decade, I have come to realize that my citation of Philippians 2:10–11 was a better argument than I knew at the time.

My studies of Paul have since focused most on understanding his soteriology in its Jewish context. However, I have never lost my interest in growing to better understand New Testament Christology. I’ve tried to stay up to date on the research and have worked through the most of the scholarly titles on the subject, especially those that focus on Paul. I have pieced together what I believe is a nuanced historical case for how the early church came to believe that Jesus is God while maintaining what can be rightly called monotheism. When it comes to Paul, the argument that I have found most compelling is that in several passages he quotes Old Testament texts about Israel’s God, Yahweh, and applies them explicitly to Jesus. I just got around to reading David Capes excellent study on this subject (Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology [Baylor University Press, 2017]), which has now probably become my favorite book on Paul’s Christology.

Capes did an excellent job in this study showing that Paul regularly quoted or alluded to OT passages about Yahweh with Jesus as the referent. His study includes an extensive treatment of Paul’s use of the noun κύριος (“Lord”) in reference to Jesus, which the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible most often used to translate the divine name, Yahweh. He argues convincingly, against the scholars like Wihelm Bousset, that the early Christian practice of calling Jesus “Lord” was not the result of pagan influence after Christianity spread into the Gentile world, but it originated in the context of earliest Jewish Christianity in Palestine. The kind of monotheism that characterized Judaism during this period was not identical with later Rabbinic Judaism, so that the earliest Christians could identify Jesus with Yahweh within a nuanced monotheistic framework that incorporated figures like the angel of Yahweh as well as Yahweh’s Word, Wisdom, and Glory.

I really have nothing negative to say about Capes’ study. I found his treatment to be thoroughly convincing from beginning to end. In this post, however, I’d like to supplement what Capes argued by emphasizing a point that he only mentions once in passing (as I recall). In commenting on Paul’s use of Isaiah 45:23 in Philippians 2:10–11, Capes observes “The claim that ‘every knee shall bow’ an ‘every tongue confess’ belongs to one of the more important monotheistic passages of the Old Testament…” What I find significant about this observation is that Paul (and the original writer of this pre-formed tradition) did not apply just any Yahweh passage to Jesus; Paul applied one of the most emphatically monotheistic passages in the Hebrew Bible to Jesus. If we were only expected to think of Jesus’ relationship to Yahweh in terms of agency, as some scholars have suggested, then we would not expect Paul or other NT authors to apply passages that speak of Yahweh in terms of his “transcendent uniqueness” (to borrow Richard Bauckham’s phrase). But that is precisely what we have here and in a number of other passages. This suggests that the early Christians saw Jesus’ relationship to Yahweh in terms that go beyond agency categories so that Jesus is identified with Yahweh. In what follows, I want to look more closely at the use Isaiah 45 in Philippians 2, and two additional examples of New Testament writers (another text from Paul and one from Hebrews) applying Old Testament passages that emphatically stress Yahweh’s uniqueness in comparison to anyone else, especially other divine beings.

Isaiah 45 in Philippians 2:10–11

Scholars have long recognized that Isaiah 40–55 is the most emphatically monotheistic section in all the Hebrew Bible. This section of Isaiah is about God’s promise to sovereignly and powerfully bring his people out of exile after they have been justly punished for the persistent violation of their covenant with Yahweh (e.g., Isa 40:1–2, 9–11; 42:1–9). This section stresses Yahweh’s sovereignty, omnipotence, and uniqueness and we see these themes highlighted in chap. 40 and repeated throughout the larger section. There is no one to whom one can liken Yahweh because he is incomparable (40:18, 25–26). Yahweh alone “sits above the circle of the earth,” “stretches out the heaven,” and “brings princes to nothing and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness” (Isa 40:22–23). That Yahweh is in a category of divinity all his own is probably most emphatically stated in Isaiah 43:10: “‘You are my witnesses,’ declares Yahweh, ‘and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.” Similarly, in Isaiah 44:6–8 Yahweh, “the King of Israel” says “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Who is like me?… Is there a God beside me? There is no rock; I know not any.”

The theme of Yahweh’s transcendent uniqueness continues in chap. 45 as God’s sovereignty becomes the emphatic theme. He forms light and darkness and makes peace and creates calamity or evil (v. 7). God is the potter and his creation the clay. Therefore, his ways are beyond the scrutiny of human beings (vv. 9–13). In vv. 14–25 we see these truths of God’s universal kingship culminate with a vision of his being worshiped universally in the world as “all the ends of the earth” are invited to turn to Yahweh to be saved (v. 22). The result will be that all people will bow the knee and swear alliance to Yahweh alone (vv. 23–25). Paul’s application of this passage to Jesus, I suggest (following David Capes) goes beyond his role as Yahweh’s eschatological agent (a theme present in this section through the “servant of Yahweh” figure) and includes him within the unique identity of Yahweh. In Isaiah 42:8 Yahweh declares his name and states his refusal to share his glory with another. However, Paul says that Jesus has received “the name that is above every name” so that at his name will all bow and confess that he is “Lord” (i.e., Yahweh). I believe the application of this Yahweh text would be irresponsible on Paul’s part if it were not his intention to identify Jesus with Yahweh.

Deuteronomy 6:4 in 1 Corinthians 8:6

A number of scholars have come to the conclusion that in 1 Corinthians 8:6 Paul has reformulated the classic monotheistic confession of Israel, the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4, so that it includes Jesus in the statement that Israel has only one God, Yahweh. A comparison of these two texts makes this apparent. I have tried to show the emphasis on the shared terms “one,” “Lord,” and “God”:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deut 6:4)

…for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Cor 8:6)

It is possible to render Deuteronomy 6:4 as “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone.” Moreover, Jesus’ participation in creation is probably intended to evoke common Jewish notions of Yahweh’s Wisdom, a hypostasis of an attribute that is indispensable to Yahweh’s identity, character, and power (see esp. Proverbs 8:22–31; Sirach 24:2, 9; Wisdom 7:22–27; 8:4; 9:4, 9–11). Of course, the LXX usually renders the divine name as κύριος, which is the term that Paul applies to Jesus. For Paul, the two divine terms in Deuteronomy 6:4 refer respectively to the Father (“God”) and Jesus Christ (“Lord”). This is significant because Deuteronomy 6 goes on to speak of the exclusive devotion that Israel was to have for Yahweh—“You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (v. 5). This text was at the heart of Jewish belief that they were to worship and honor Yahweh and no other God. Paul’s context has to do with the way Christians should relate to the idol worship of their neighbors. Some have knowledge that idols are really nothing and for us (we Christians) there is only one God (1 Cor 8:4). Where it Paul’s intention to bring in Jesus alongside Yahweh as another deity, this would not be the text to use. Instead, he reappropriated the terms for God found Deuteronomy 6:4 so that Jesus is identified with Israel’s God.

Deuteronomy 32:43 in Hebrews 1:6

In Hebrews 1:6 the writer quotes Deuteronomy 32:43 to make the claim that Jesus is greater than all angels. The verse says, “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’” Scholars were unsure what text the author was referencing until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The version of Deuteronomy discovered there differs at 32:43 from the previously received Hebrew text by saying, “Rejoice, O heavens, together with him; and bow down to him all you gods.” This reading is now rightly favored in modern translations and you can compare the English Standard Version to King James Version to see the differences in the text. The reading we have in the Greek translation of the OT is similar, but instead of “gods” it has “sons of God,” which would have been problematic for the author because he is distinguishing “the Son” from the angels. Therefore, we have good reason to believe that he was quoting the reading we discovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls, because this text would fit his rhetorical purposes much better. What is remarkable about this is what it means the writer was saying about Jesus. If you read Deuteronomy 32 in context you will see the point is the lordship of Yahweh over all other “gods.” In v. 8 it is Yahweh “the Most High” who divided the nations and assigned lesser gods (“the sons of God”) over them. But Yahweh has kept Jacob as his own people (v. 9), so that they are not to worship the gods of the nations. Yahweh alone has just delivered them and he alone will continue to guide them (v. 12). Israel had already transgressed their covenant with Yahweh when the “sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently” rather than Yahweh, the God of their fathers (v. 17, 21). This is foolish because Yahweh is Lord over these lesser gods. These gods will not be able to rise up and protect Israel (vv. 37–38). Yahweh alone will be able to do so: “‘See now that I, even I am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand’” (v. 39). Such a monotheistic statement in this context means that there is no god who is able to rival Yahweh’s power. He has delegated authority to all other deities (the “sons of God”) and even they must bow down to worship him (v. 43).

It is Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews who is to be worshiped by the lesser gods (i.e., angels). The author of Hebrews is applying this passage about Yahweh to Jesus in order to make the point that Jesus is greater than the angels. For this author, Jesus is not one of the lesser divinities of Deuteronomy 32. He is the supreme God to whom all other gods are to bow down in worship—he is Yahweh. I think this is remarkable and the evidence suggests that the author intentionally selected a passage about the superiority of the God of Israel to all other heavenly beings, which expresses Yahweh’s transcendent uniqueness when compared to all other “gods,” and applied it in his context to make his case that Jesus is superior to all the host of heaven. Again, the selection of this text and its application to Jesus implies the highest imaginable Christology, one which identifies Jesus with Yahweh.


It is fascinating to observe the many texts that New Testament authors apply in trying to come to grips with who Jesus is. It is remarkable that they often choose passages that describe Yahweh in order to do so. But it is stunning to see the texts they sometimes select. In these instances, and probably more, the New Testament authors select passages from Israel’s scriptures that are among the most explicit and forceful in expressing that Yahweh is unlike any other and that he alone is to be obeyed and worshiped. The selection of these Yahweh passages are best explained if the early church came to believe that Jesus should be identified with Yahweh. It is especially significant to recognize that many scholars believe that Philippians 2:6–11 and 1 Corinthians 8:6 were not originally Pauline compositions, but that he reappropriated these creedal statements for his context. This means that G. B. Caird was right in saying that the earliest New Testament Christology is already the highest. The identification of Jesus with Yahweh happened quickly in the very earliest circles of Christianity.

A Recent and Notable Dissertation on Memory and Jesus Research

Tuomas Havukainen, “The Quest for the Memory of Jesus: A Viable Path or a Dead End?” (Ph.D. diss., Åbo Akademi University, 2018) 319 pp.

It is available at the following link for download:

From “The Purpose of the Dissertation,” pp. 14-15:

The main purpose of this dissertation is to investigate whether the memory approach constitutes a methodologically coherent school of thought in historical Jesus research. In other words, this dissertation explores how the basic tenets of the memory approach differ from earlier scholarship and whether one may speak of a new beginning in the field of historical Jesus research. The focus of the dissertation is on research-historical developments. In order to meaningfully approach the question of the methodological school of thought in historical Jesus research, the research-historical discussion is focused on the debate on the nature and the processes of the transmission of the Jesus traditions in early Christianity, which is a central topic to both earlier historical Jesus research and the methodological formation of the memory approach. Rather than attempting to discuss the whole history of historical Jesus research, in other words, all the ‘Quests’ for the historical Jesus with regard to this debate, the scope of this research is limited to a few significant viewpoints from approximately the last one hundred years, as this period is specifically relevant for the rise and development of the memory approach.


Karl Barth’s Adultery

Six years ago, I [Michael] was knee deep into Barthian studies. I found Barth’s work, though somewhat heterodox for my more conservative preference, a source of theological inspiration. Barth was doing TIS before it was cool. He had a Christocentric theological method. A novel and exciting view of theology as faith in Christ, and that theology was only done right when aligned with Christ in faith. He had a brilliantly novel take on several doctrines, including election, predestination, and revelation. His ability to engage the voices of past theological giants as though they were living voices, and his passionate presentation of doctrinal antinomies held in a careful and Christologically patterned dialectic of God and man — it was all that I was missing.

Barth had a way with words and doxological theological expression. It’s hard not to love the man I encountered and read in Church Dogmatics. But then, as is so often the case with our hagiographical impressions, I heard about some scandals concerning the man behind the legend. It not only stirred up feelings of disappointment, but on a couple of occasions, tears. I wanted a perfect Barth. But his cryptic entanglement with a younger woman at great expense to his family helped me learn an important lesson. Barth was just a man. A man used by God for sure, but a man.

Afterward, I had mixed thoughts about his theology not unlike the recent Christianity Today article. At first, it called into question his teaching, specifically his doctrine of salvation with its difficult equivocations on the antimony between the divine no and the response of the divine yes. His six-million word dogmatics also made me concerned that rather than passion for Christ driving his incredible literary feats, was it perhaps his stimulating time with a mistress? I heard he wrote, she typed and proofed, and that they frequently worked this way in a study room together. It’s conjecture. I don’t know anymore than Wikipedia on Barth’s dreadful failure here.

I have long turned to Carl F. H. Henry, whose equally impressive God, Revelation, and Authority, sharpened my understanding of divine revelation to a razor edge with his skillfully developed theses. Henry was a rigorously sharp evangelical who was equally Christocentric, although in a different manner from Barth’s neo-orthodoxy. Henry was sweet to my mind in a way Barth had captivated the theological wonder of my heart for the Word made flesh.

I still reference Barth. And my year or so studying his Church Dogmatics made me a better theologian for it. But the trust is gone. The inspiration has dwindled some, though he still amazes.

We would do well to hold Christ alone to the hagiographical sentiments that we too often give to men. Not because they can fail like Barth did, but because we can too. And because Christ alone should receive all the glory from theologians.

Faith and Reason


The discussion of faith and reason within the disciplined study of theology necessarily presupposes numerous truths. The first is God himself. The second is creation, specifically the creation of man, and man as made in God’s own image. Thirdly, man’s sinfulness and fall from divine favor. And lastly, but not nearly least in importance, God’s revelation of himself to man.

The anthropological constitution of created man is unitary. His will, intellect, and emotions are one, and should not be seen as distinct faculties within him. They are rather indivisible parts of his whole person. As a unitary individual, man’s giftedness to trust and reason cannot be neatly separated. When created man does one, he does so with all that it means for him to be a divinely created man, i.e., with his whole being inclusive of the will, the intellect, and the emotions, all together. This does not mean that trusting and knowing are the same acts, only that, within his unitary constitution, man cannot do one without necessarily involving the other. Already on the grounds of anthropology it becomes apparent that a contrast or antithesis between faith and reason will certainly lead to conflict, since a man may not trust in something he thinks not true.

Faith and Reason

Within evangelical theology, the approach to understanding truth has always been one of faith seeking understanding, which necessarily observes a complementary view of faith and reason. Faith seeking understanding was how Anselm began his Proslogion, forming a significant doxological context for his famous ontological argument, a point that natural theologies often neglect in their hurried treatment of the work’s treasured proof. Augustine, Calvin, and Luther also upheld the evangelical view of faith and reason together. Calvin held to a natural sense of the divine within every man, i.e., his sensus divinitatis, and saw no need to separate faith and reason in order to discover the truths of God as his scholastic predecessors had done. God implants the truth of himself within the conscience of every man.

The New Testament teaches that faith is the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1). Faith is trusting in God’s promises. A person can be cognitively assured of God’s dependability to make good on his promises (i.e., reason) but this is not the same as having faith until the volition or will of the person is exercised by placing faith in God. That man can in fact place faith in God would obviously require knowledge of Him. So there is no dichotomy between faith and reason in the evangelical view.

While faith and reason are complementary, they are not entirely identical, and the question of how much of reason overlaps with faith is a difficult one to answer. Faith should always welcome the use of reason, since this is none other than being a good person by functioning according to God’s design and purpose.

Reason without Faith

Natural theology, as presented by Descartes and Locke, would be a form of (a) reason without faith. The problem with natural theology is it’s grounding of reason’s foundations in man’s own independent cognitive faculties. This exchange in foundations, however, fails to account for the truth that man is already made in God’s image, and while the image has been marred as a result of sin, it has not been lost, since the very essence of what it means to be made in God’s image includes both reason and volition. During the modern era, the rationalism of Descartes and Locke[2] became paradigmatic for thinkers championing reason over faith and dispensing with divine revelation. Descartes and Locke both, though in different ways, established a method of rationalism entirely dependent upon man’s own innate ability to think, and from this innatist position proceeded to ground faith upon the natural arguments of their predecessors, the famed proofs of the medieval ages. This displaced theology entirely from the realm of divine revelation and made it answerable to the innatist rationalism of man’s own mind. The Enlightenment was largely an anthropocentric turn as the realities of God and revelation were jettisoned. Alexander Pope crystallized man’s coming of age during the Enlightenment quite well with his words “Know then thyself, presume God not to scan The proper study of Mankind is man.” Much of the purpose for establishing this rationalistic foundation, at least for Locke was the desire to arbitrate between competing truth claims, specifically religious opinions, as Locke referred to them. Kant (who forms the subjective pivot in the history of philosophy), Hegel, and others could also be placed within the reason without faith category.

Faith without Reason

Tertullian (“what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”), Lessing’s ditch, as well as much of Protestant Liberalism (e.g., the religious feeling/consciousness of Schleiermacher; the existentialism of Bultmann, who followed Kierkegaard’s incipient existentialism in the form of his great leap of faith theology; and, to a degree, neoorthdox theologians such as Barth, though Barth surprisingly speaks of rationalism often in his Church Dogmatics), these would each be good examples of faith without reason. Among these thinkers, except for Tertullian and Lessing, theology becomes a kind of existential encounter, though not one deserving of the pejorative label of mysticism. Their work at a holistic level clearly betrays a faith without reason approach. God is not to be known cognitively but encountered. God is known only in faith, and faith must be expressed in the form of a leap across a big ditch or comparable means exclusive of reason.


From this brief taxonomy it can be seen that not only is reason without faith capable of placing the truths of Christian faith within an escapist realm which is secure from the canons of modern, anti-supernatural criticisms (e.g., the religious moralism of Kant), but faith without reason can do the same as well (e.g., the religious consciousness of Schleiermacher). Only the evangelical view of faith and reason together accounts for a faith that is at once trusting but also capable of expressing itself rationally in the form of creeds, such as the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Chalcedonian Creed. Christianity is an intellectual faith. Its beauty is unparalleled as captured by its teachings on atonement and faith, and its reason outmatched, as demonstrated by a rich, evangelical tradition of creeds.


Clark, Gordon Haddon. The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark. Edited by John W. Robbins. Volume 4 of Christian Philosophy. Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2004.


[1]The reader will recognize the author’s indebtedness to the philosophy of Gordon Haddon Clark concerning the relationship between faith and reason. See Clark, The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark, ed. by John W. Robbins, vol. 4 of Christian Philosophy (Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2004), see esp. the section on “Faith and Reason,” pp. 126-81. This collection of Clark’s work includes the book by Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961; reprint 1995).

[2]Though Locke is primarily an empiricist, he is also a rationalist.

Some New Announcements

Hello readers of Jesus and Paul and the New Testament blog! I have three exciting updates.

(1) To begin with the most exciting news: A new author is joining the blog — Robert Wiesner! I have known Robert a long time, almost ten years. While our studies have taken us in different directions, we have maintained steady contact since first meeting in 2008. I still remember meeting him at my regular Starbucks, where I studied weekly throughout all of Bible college. I was with a friend discussing New Testament theology, specifically Pauline theology. Robert overheard and introduced himself as a Bible college student in the area with knowledge of Greek.

Robert completed his undergraduate degree at Dallas Christian College with a major in Biblical Studies and a minor in Biblical Languages. He has also completed a soon to be awarded Master of Theology in New Testament Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. The title of his thesis was: “Chosen from the Beginning: Paul’s Predestinarian Theology of Election in the Context of Second Temple Judaism.”

Robert knows his way around the entire Greek New Testament, but is especially a student of Paul, which his thesis title reveals. And his doctoral research will take him even deeper into Pauline research and the world of Second Temple Judaism. He provides, therefore, an excellent balance to the aims of this blog. He also shares an appreciation for Reformed doctrine, but I’ve informed him that I lean more toward Lutheran theology than Reformed.

While I have steadily focused on Jesus studies since 2012, Robert has done the same for perhaps longer with Paul. His knowledge of Paul eclipses my own and he will be a valuable voice in the blogosphere.

(2) Secondly, I am beginning year two of doctoral studies at the University of Aberdeen. My focus is the historical Jesus and the Last Supper, with a dual emphasis on methodology and the Last Supper event. I had a very successful first year and look forward to all that year two will provide!

(3) Third and lastly: With the support of my doctoral supervisor and others, I have a forthcoming publication in the works. I am not going to reveal details here for several reasons, but mostly because it is my first publication and I do not know how much I can share without being frowned upon. I will say that it is a contributory essay in an important book on Jesus studies hopefully coming next year.

That is all that I have for now. I look forward to sharing more details with you on both (2) and (3) as they progress. I hope you enjoy Robert’s blogging as well.