An academic discussion of the claim that Jesus is identified as Yahweh in Mark 1:2-3

In his latest book Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (reviewed recently on this blog), Dr Richard B. Hays looks at how Mark uses Scripture to narrate the identity of Jesus with particular reference to Mark 1:2-3, asking Who is the Kyrios? 

Here is the passage: 

Screenshot 2020-04-27 at 21.40.59

Hays notes that Mark weaves together citations of Malachi 3:1, Exodus 23:20 and Isaiah 40:3 to portray John the Baptist as the messenger sent by God who prepares the way of the Lord (Mark 1:3b, quoting Isaiah 40:3). The Lord must be Yahweh as he is clearly identified as such in Isaiah 40. So, according to Hays, Mark intends to identify Jesus as the Kyrios, ie Yahweh Himself (pp 20-21). This argument is a popular one with Christian apologists as well. 

However, recent scholarship has criticised this line of reasoning. In A Man Attested by God Dr J. R. Daniel Kirk presents a defense of the thesis that the Synoptic Gospels present Jesus not as divine but as an idealized human figure. Kirk takes Hays to task in a detailed study of Mark 1:2-3 suggesting that he has read back into the text later Christological doctrine. The discussion assumes a graduate level familiarity with New Testament studies (including a knowledge of Biblical Hebrew and NT Greek) which should not be an obstacle to many readers of Blogging Theology! Excuse the iPhone photos 🙂



Categories: Christology, Gospels, Jesus, New Testament scholarship

25 replies

  1. Bible is a book of confusion. One book but have different interpretation about God.

  2. Great post Paul! I personally don’t think Mark 1:2-3 can be used as evidence for Jesus(a.s) divinity since if it can then that could also make Isaiah God in Isaiah 7:10.

    • How?

      • @Erasmus

        The “LORD” in Isaiah 7:10 is commonly understood to be the prophet Isaiah Alayhis Salam himself. Rather than say God speaking to Ahaz directly like a prophet.

        The pulpit commentary

        The Lord spake again unto Ahaz. As before (vers. 3, 4) by the mouth of his prophet.

        Benson Commentary
        The Lord spake again unto Ahaz — Namely, by Isaiah.

        Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible
        Moreover the Lord spake again unto Ahaz,…. By the prophet Isaiah:
        saying; as follows:

  3. Fascinating!, … naturally Im with Kirk’s exegesis, by removing the christological implication without Jesus divinity, thus it is open the possibility that there is other figure which could fit this better the one who the Angel Malakh מלאכךְ is preparing the way penah derek פנה־דרךְ (Mal 3:1)

    Someone whose voice crying out in the wilderness of Arabian dessert, who was prepared by Angel Gabriel, to guide (hudan) the world, the way of his lord God, the way of the straight path (Aṣirāṭal-mus’taqīm)

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. I’ve understood Mark1:2-3 in reference to Mal 3:1 to mean

    “Behold, I ( God ) will send my messenger, (John the Baptist) and he shall prepare the way before me (God) and the Lord, whom ye seek, ( Jesus, His messenger (John 5:26 – 27, 30)) shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger ( Jesus) of the covenant (given to Jesus by God (John 5:26 – 27, 30)), whom ye delight in: behold, he (Jesus) shall come, saith (God) the LORD of hosts”

  5. “The “LORD” in Isaiah 7:10 is commonly understood to be the prophet Isaiah Alayhis Salam himself. Rather than say God speaking to Ahaz directly like a prophet.”

    By means through does it not?

    • @Erasmus

      Yes but that’s my point exactly. I feel Mark 1:2-3 should be understood in a similar light to Isaiah 7:10. Where the “LORD” is in reference to Agent of the yhwh’s actions on behalf of God, rather than using it as a point of divinity for the agent in question. Because if you feel Mark 1:2-3 should be understood as evidence for Jesus Alayhis Salam divinity then the same should be said for Isaiah Alayhis Salam in Isaiah 7:10.

      • I don’t agree because the two passages are not saying the same thing.

        The Lord is going on a way which is prepared for him in Mark.

        I don’t see the connection with Isaiah.

  6. But in Mark Jesus is Lord because he is the Lord prophesied who would go on this “way”.

    He himself is not prophesying as an “agent”.

    The contexts are completely different.

    • @Erasmus

      Jesus Alayhis Salam is identified as the “LORD” because just like Isaiah Alayhis Salam he is the means through which the LORD acts. That’s all. I don’t find your differentiation of the two passages in question to be convincing.

      • You seem to be conflating the words that Isaiah speaks with Isaiah himself.

        As if nobody had the wits to tell the difference.

        A convenient blunder I must say.

  7. “Isaiah 7:10. Where the “LORD” is in reference to Agent of the yhwh’s actions on behalf of God, rather than using it as a point of divinity for the agent in question. ”

    The word LORD clearly refers to Jehovah himself and nobody else. Isaiah is just his mouthpiece.

    So is Isaiah going to make a virgin give birth?

    That is the logical consequence of your nonsense.

    • @Erasmus

      Isaiah Alayhis Salam is not God that is the whole point! He is the means through which the LORD acts and in doing so has his actions identified with the sacred name. I even gave several commentaries to prove my point that the LORD didn’t directly speak to Ahaz and that it was Isaiah who conveyed the message.

      This video by Rabbi Tovia Singer gives examples of prophets, angels, and even the city of Jerusalem as being identified as God. Not only as “Elohim” but with sacred name as well.

    • @Vaqas and Erasmus

      Pardon me from jumping in, but let me give a few more details on the statement that “prophets, angels, and even the city of Jerusalem as being identified as God. Not only as “Elohim” but with sacred name as well”.

      I don’t think this is exactly what is intended in the examples given of Isa. 7:10; Jer. 23:16 and 33:16 (at around the 7 min. mark). Isa. 7:10 is rather forced. I think as both of you correctly pointed out, that if one wants to take it that God did not speak to Ahaz it means God spoke through the prophet. Not that the prophet was called God. He spoke in the name of God (as prophets seem to do).

      As for Jer, 33:16 it simply calls the city of Jerusalem by a sentence. It is a common feature of Biblical Hebrew and there are a number such examples in the Hebrew Bible in which personal names (e.g., Isaiah 8:3 and 9:6), objects (e.g., Exodus 17:15) or places a “named” as a sentence in which a term for God may or may not be included included.

      See for instance, Isaiah 1:26 and Ezekiel 48:35 both about Jerusalem. Cf. Gen. 22:14: “So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, ‘On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided”. The latter is about the mountain of the “sacrifice” of Isaac and not explicitly about Jerusalem: But even here it may possibly be an allusion to the (future) Jerusalem temple, the theological symbolism being that the site where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son, will be the only place where future sacrifices are allowed (cf. Quran 2:127 with possible echoes of this).

      It seems to me therefore rather imprecise that all these can be identified as God. It’s a little similar to saying that the city of Ramallah (i.e., Height of God) is called “Allah”, which is obviously nonsensical.

      Jer. 23:6 follows this general pattern, but could also be seen as an ironic inversive twist on the name of King Zedekiah to whom the Jeremiah delivered the message (cognate to “sadiq” in Arabic) who did not “live up” to this name (Cf. Jeremiah 21). Meaning “God is my righteousness” or the like, hence it is “spelled out” in a sentence making it rather clear.

      • @Marc C.

        Hi Marc and i don’t have a problem with you jumping in. To clarify I don’t mean to say that writers of any of said passages thought the subjects in question were divine, far from it! I was merely trying to point out as Rabbi Singer does in the video that being called God or even having the sacred name applied to your actions doesn’t make you divine. Therefore when one wants to take Mark 1:2-3 as a proof of divinity for Jesus Alayhis Salam but not the other examples of similar exalted language I think its being a bit inconsistent. I apologize for the confusion I’ve caused with my comments. Sometimes I don’t choose the correct words to convey what i want to say.

      • Hi Vaqas,

        I understand your point and appreciate your perspective. My point is to be precise about the fact that in these examples, Isa. 7:10; Jer. 23:6 and 33:16, no one is “being called God” to begin with (except for God obviously). These are phrases, commonly used in Biblical Hebrew, for objects, cities, proper names etc. It is this distinction I’m trying to maintain.


      • Could be beautiful interpretation. Abrahan n Isaac made groundwork for the Jewish temple and Abraham n Ismail made groundwork for the Kaaba. Abraham started both and both beloved sons made one holy place each.

  8. I have seen this video too but find his arguments unconvincing and far fetched.

  9. You can’t just identify any tom, dick and harry with the divine name.

    That is dishonouring to God.

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