Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Adoptionist Christology - My Favorite Heresy

I wrote this for my New Testament class. Granted, it's heretical, but I LOVE adoptionist Christology. It's really such a shame that it got squelched by the early church. It makes Jesus so much more human, so much more relatable, and in turn, so much more significant, at least in my eyes, even though it makes Christmas pretty null-and-void. Although Christmas is totally just Saturnalia in disguise and we should be celebrating Jesus being born in the Spring time, but anyways, that's not my point. My Catholic suite-mate and I have been debating this adoptionist theory (in the most amicable manner!) all day.

In examining Mark 1-4, I noticed the possibility of adoptionist Christology in the text. From the author’s introduction of this rendition of the “good news” (Mrk 1:1), he places no emphasis on Jesus’ birth or childhood but instead offers a prophetic annunciation to “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” following a mention of forthcoming messengers (Mark 1:3). This statement implies that the Lord’s arrival is eminent, and in the following verses this proves true as “a voice [comes] from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The Lord has claimed Jesus as his own son, whereas in previous verses Jesus has not been designated as anything beyond with his name, and has done nothing particularly of note beyond his coming from Nazareth of Galilee and being baptized (Mark 1:9). Baptism is seen as a symbol of rebirth, but perhaps this baptism at the hands of John the Baptist was Jesus’ actual birth as a divine being. This voice is accompanied by Jesus witnessing “the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him” (Mark 1:10). It is only following this baptism and revelation that Jesus is described as “proclaiming the good news of God,” marking it as at the very least a transition into his role of spreading the word of the kingdom (Mark 1:14). Also, following this Mark begins to tell stories of Jesus healing people and exorcising demons. While it is possible that he had these abilities before his baptism , that Mark chose to tell the story up through the baptism and revelation without mentioning any such incredible and miraculous abilities could be interpreted as Jesus gaining such abilities through his divine adoption.

This adoptionist theory connects with the shifting idea of family in Mark 3:31-5, in which Jesus, upon being informed that his mother and siblings are asking for him, Jesus states “Who are my mother and my brothers?” and then “looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Family is not a blood bond; it is rather a connection through service of the divine. In doing the will of God, the devout are adopted into a family of believers which surpasses the significance of genetic kin. This new concept of family supports the idea of Mark’s possibly containing an adoptionist idea, a new family for the new era of Christ, in which a man is adopted by God and in which all people serving God’s will become a part of that same family.

While it is difficult to tell what aspects of Mark derive from oral tradition rather than from the author himself, it seems that something lies between the lines in these passages, or at any rate, that something might be missing. Either Jesus was born with such supernatural abilities or else he obtained them otherwise, but as it is not explicitly stated in the text, the implication seems to be that their origin matters to the author of Mark less than Jesus’ actual performed miracles as well as his parables and proclamations of the kingdom. The story of Jesus’ baptism and the wonder of God’s speaking to him must have been the focus of the oral tradition, not the specifics of Jesus’ life before his baptism, and with good reason – if the people telling such stories were used to narratives about religious figures as Ehrman says, they would expect “divinely inspired teachings and superhuman deeds” but not much “character development” (Ehrman 73). The Gospel of Mark chapters 1-4 fits such expectations of the oral tradition, which seem to have been passed on to the author to some extent, but still leaves us wondering at what background information we are missing and what significance that could have to Christology, including Christology with an apologist stance.

1 comment:

  1. One thing you don't mention that is of importance is that early manuscripts of Mark and Luke cite the Father's words at the baptism as "Thou art my beloved son; this day have I begotten thee" quoting Psalm 2 (obviously this is the true reading). The church changed the words when they decided to get rid of adoptionist christology and insert the birth narratives.