CONTENTS INTRODUCTION ...........................................................................................................................1 WHAT IS THE MESSIANIC SECRET? DEFINING THE PROBLEM ........................................1 THE METHODOLOGY OF THE STUDY.....................................................................................2 EXPLORATION AND ANALYSIS OF THE SECRECY MOTIF IN MARK ...............................3 The Silencing of Demons 1:25 1:34 3:12 Summary of Exorcism Secrecy The Silencing of the Healed 1:43-44 5:43-44 7:36 8:26 Summary of Healing Secrecy Ambiguous Parables, Covert Travel, and Private Discussions 4:10-12, 33-34 9:30 The Exclusion of 10:10-12, 32-34 13:3-5 Summary of Secret Teaching and Parabolic Ambiguity The Silencing of the Disciples 8:30 4 5 6 6 7 7 7 9 9 9 10 11 11 12 13 13 14 14 15


9:9 Summary of the Silencing of the Disciples Review of the Secrecy Pericopes

15 16 17

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEM ...........................................................................18 Acknowledgment of the Problem More Recent Probabilities Historical Considerations A Literary Approach Chiastic Structures Repetition A Rhetorical Possibility 19 20 20 23 24 24 26

THE VALIDITY AND VALUE OF STUDYING THE MESSIANIC SECRECY MOTIF IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK .....................................................................................................................27 CONCLUSION ..............................................................................................................................29 BIBLIOGRAPHY ..........................................................................................................................30 FURTHER READING...................................................................................................................33


INTRODUCTION The Messianic Secret is one of the most curious, and quite possibly one of the most key structures contained in the Gospel of Mark. Within what is considered by many to be the earliest canonical gospel available to Christians, the mystery of the Secret Messiah has confounded scholars and laypeople alike. Though it is present to a much lesser extent in Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ secrecy concerning his status as Christ is a prevailing theme throughout Mark’s structure. This study shall include an attempt to define the problem of the secrecy motif, a defense of the chosen methodology, an analysis of the pericopes in which it may be found, proposed solutions, and a discussion on the validity and value of studying the motif. WHAT IS THE MESSIANIC SECRET? DEFINING THE PROBLEM A discussion of the problem is in order long before any kind of treatment of the possible resolutions. Far too often, authors and researchers dealing with a problem will jump to the solutions first, then attempt to interpret the problem through the various solutions. Mark Goodacre simply and straightforwardly gives the premise of the Messianic Secret in a few short words during a class lecture: “In a nutshell, it’s, ‘Why on earth does Jesus keep telling people to shut up?’… Something happens and you’re expecting, ‘And then everybody praised God and they went ’round and they told everyone the wonderful news of the gospel… Instead, you get Jesus saying, ‘Don’t tell anyone what’s happened.’”1 In a more scholarly light,

1 Mark Goodacre, “NT Pod Extended Episode 4: The Messianic Secret in Mark,” Cited 16 Feb 2011. Online:



David Garland gives another brief description of this theme: “The term ‘messianic secret’ was first employed by William Wrede in 1901 to explain why Jesus repeatedly tells people not to tell what he has done or who he was.”2 Eric F. Mason defines it thusly: “‘Messianic secret’ refers to the motif, chiefly in the Gospel of Mark, in which Jesus is presented as suppressing knowledge of his identity.”3 This last definition, being the broadest, shall be the working definition used here. THE METHODOLOGY OF THE STUDY Having defined the problem, the next step is to confine its locations. John G. Cook states:
Closely aligned to the problem of defining the motif is the question of what Text Parts are to be taken into consideration in the investigation of the Messianic Secret… Since the Messianic Secret motif has been used by so many scholars to unify the Gospel of Mark, all scholars must define the set of Text Parts being used. Most do, as a matter of fact, make this exegetical step. 4

This study is no exception to Cook’s claim. In thirteen pericopes throughout Mark is there a certain amount of secrecy involved concerning Jesus’ christological identity: 1:21-28, 2934, 40-45; 3:7-12; 4:10-12, 33-34; 5:21-43; 7:31-37; 8:22-26, 27-30; 9:2-13, 30-32; and 13:3-4. These are the “Text Parts” with which this study is concerned. There are several ways to deal with such an issue, the first of which is categorical. In creating artificial boundaries, it becomes easier to analyze specific pericopes by themselves. A second possibility in confronting the topic at hand comes from Cook: “The Messianic Secret is one of the most important elements of the content of the text of Mark according to many scholars. It is a concern of semantics.”5 A semantic approach is concerned with the text of
2 3 4

David E. Garland, “Mark, Gospel of,” MDB (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1997), 550. Eric F. Mason, “Secret, Messianic,” NIDB 5:150.

John G. Cook, The Structure and Persuasive Power of Mark: A Linguistic Approach (SBLSS; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1995), 55.

Cook, Structure and Power of Mark, 12. Emphasis added.


Mark as a whole and the meanings of the words inside it. This is more along the lines of a literary approach to the text, that is to say how the secrecy motif fits into Mark as a literary work beyond a simple narrative. Along with the semantic approach in a literary analysis here comes a small amount of syntactical analysis. The decision of methodology here lies in the tension between, or perhaps a synthesis of separate categories and literary analysis of the text as a whole. Thus the pericopes shall be dealt with categorically while the semantics are discussed from within them. Syntax shall be treated as well, but is not of primary concern here. EXPLORATION AND ANALYSIS OF THE SECRECY MOTIF IN MARK There are several ways to separate out the pericopes into varying classifications. According to Cook, there are anywhere from five to eight classes of secrecy narratives:
1. Prohibitions to demons (1:25, 34; 3:12); 2. prohibitions after other miracles (1:43-45; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26); 3. prohibitions after Peter’s confession and the transfiguration (8:30; 9:9); 4. Jesus’ intention to preserve his incognito (7:24; 9:30ff); 5. a prohibition not by Jesus himself (10:47ff). Wrede also appealed to three other groups: the parable theory in 4:10-12; the section in 4:21ff.; and the texts in which the disciples misunderstand.6

I. Howard Marshall simplifies things greatly, using only two categories (though it seems far from complete):
This problem [of the messianic secret] arises from the fact that Jesus apparently endeavored to keep his identity as Messiah quiet by silencing people and demons who confessed who he was. Linked with this is the way in which he gave fuller teaching to his disciples in private and withheld it from the crowds and from his opponents.7

W. R. Telford separates the motif into three sections: commands to silence, secret instruction, and intentional ambiguity.8 Goodacre, however, places them into four categories: the silenc6

Ibid., 55.

7 I. Howard Marshall, New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 80. Emphases added. 8 W. R. Telford, The Theology of the Gospel of Mark (NT Theology; Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 41-42.


ing of demons, the silencing of healed persons, parabolic secrets, and the silencing of the disciples.9 There are two differences setting Goodacre apart. First he separates out subcategories under silence. Second, he combines Telford’s concepts of secret instruction and intentional ambiguity into parabolic secrets. Therefore, a categorical approach is fairly simple and perhaps even popular. With the understanding that the suppression of demons and people are subcategories under silencing in general, they shall be treated separately, as shall the separation of the general populace from the disciples. The categories here are presented according to Goodacre’s classifications, with the knowledge that they align in some small way to those of Marshall and Telford. Cook’s categories may be simplified by the combination of certain groupings, and are done as such. Within each category the applicable pericopes shall be analyzed. However, for the sake of space, only the subsections dealing specifically with secrecy will be treated in detail. The semantics and syntax shall be examined within the categorical separations. The Silencing of Demons Within the broad category of orders to silence is the subcategory of silencing supernatural powers, called both demons and unclean spirits in Mark. There are three instances of Jesus ordering demons into silence: 1:21-28, 1:29-34, and 3:7-12. There are two primary commonalities among these particular pericopes. First, Jesus performs exorcisms of supernatural beings. Second, he gives some form of command to silence, though the specific vocabulary varies slightly. Achtemeier, Green, and Thompson write, “Everywhere, Jesus’ status as a conqueror of evil comes to expression. He overcomes diabolic spirits


Goodacre, “NT Pod EE4.”


and enables his followers to do the same.”10 These two are quite obviously the criteria to be filled for this classification of secrecy pericopes. However, despite basic plot similarities, there are noticeable differences among them. 1:25 In 1:25, Jesus commands an unclean spirit to quietness: “καὶ ἐπετίµησεν αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγων, Φιµώθητι καὶ ἔξελθε ἐξ αὐτοῦ.”11 The verb ἐπιτιµάω provides a small amount of commentary about this transaction by implying that Jesus’ direct discourse toward the unclean spirit was enough to remove it. “Because contemporary exorcisms normally included incantations, material items, and physical handling of the patient, the simple power of Jesus’ command would have greatly impressed Mark’s readers.”12 An interesting translation of the verb φιµόω is to be muzzled, but the most common way to render this is to be silenced.13 R.T. France explores possibilities with this particular verb:
… it is an obvious metaphor for silencing someone, and is so used in a variety of contexts (Mt. 22:12, 34; 1 Pet. 2:15); while the term occurs in some later magical texts, its more general usage suggests that there is no reason to interpret it here as esoteric jargon, still less to use the literal form of a muzzle to argue that the metaphor involves some idea of ‘binding’ the demon… ‘Be muzzled’ is simply a vivid, colloquial way of saying ‘Shut up!’ 14

Another point to be made in this pericope is that, in contrast to the blatant description of Jesus as Χριστός in 1:1, the unclean spirit calls him ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ. (This being the first in-

Paul J. Achtemeier, Joel B. Green, and Marianne Meye Thompson, “The Gospel According to Mark,” in Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2001). Cited 5 April 2011. Online:
11 All 12


Greek texts come from NA27.

Douglas E. Hare, Mark (ed. Patrick D. Miller and David L. Bartlett; Westminster Bible Companion; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), 29.

“φιµόω,” BDAG 1060.

14 R.T. France, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans/Paternoster, 2002), 104.


stance of secrecy in the gospel, the notion that this motif ought to be called a “messianic secret” is called into question. This shall be considered in greater detail later.) 1:34 1:34 uses a phrase for silencing different from 1:25 and 3:12: καὶ οὐκ ἤφιεν λαλεῖν τὰ δαιµόνια, ὅτι ᾔδεισαν αὐτόν. This differs in the sense that it does not explicitly state any kind of rebuke, but what might simply be the removal of a privilege. The context of the previous pericope, as well as that of the following, implies that such rebuke is consistent throughout the exorcisms. 3:12 3:12 employs the same verb for rebuke, ἐπιτιµάω, as 1:25, but the tense has changed: where 1:25 uses the aorist, 3:12 has the verb in the imperfect. This appears to have changed because of the difference between the constative-punctiliar action of 1:25 (Jesus heals immediately and all at once) and the progressive force of 3:12 (Jesus heals many people, but it specifies neither how many he healed or when he began and ended). 15 Augustine Stock notes that ἐπιτιµάω, “In the LXX… represents the Hebrew root g‘r, which denotes the divine word of rebuke, the counterpart of the divine creating word (br’). Used by Jesus in Mark… the verb has overtones of divine authority.”16

Cf. Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 540-65, esp. 543-44 and 557-58.
16 Augustine


Stock, The Method and Message of Mark (Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1989), 76.


Summary of Exorcism Secrecy These Markan exorcism stories commonly maintain the thread of secrecy, whether by direct or indirect discourse. Each time, supernatural beings are removed, but with different terms describing them among the three narratives: ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύµατι ἀκαθάρτῳ (1:23), τοὺς δαιµονιζοµένους (1:32), then τά πνεύµατα τὰ ἀκάθαρτα (3:11). Some form of Markan sandwich construction may be occurring here in order to emphasize the possession over the secrecy, the sandwich being contained in the vocabulary of nouns and adjectives on the outside with a substantival participle in between. It may also be the case that this particular literary device is merely utilizing such possessions to emphasize Jesus’ divine authority. This may be argued from the fact that the sandwiching is also present in the verbal commands: ἐπιτιµάω–οὐκ ἀφίηµι λαλεῖν–ἐπιτιµάω. This is peculiar and worth noting, but not foreign to Mark’s gospel. The Silencing of the Healed The next grouping of texts involve Jesus ordering the persons whom he heals to refrain from speaking. These texts are 1:40-45, 5:21-43, 7:31-36, and 8:22-26. Their common elements again include injunctions to silence and, instead of demons, people are told not to speak about the events at hand. 1:43-44 1:40-45 shows Jesus healing a man with a skin disease.17 After the healing has occurred, the text of 1:43-44 reads, “καὶ ἐµβριµησάµενος αὐτῷ εὐθὺς ἐξέβαλεν αὐτὸν καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· ὅρα µηδενὶ µηδὲν εἴπῃς, ἀλλὰ ὕπαγε σεαυτὸν δεῖξον τῷ ἱερεῖ…” Where ἐµβριµάοµαι holds a fairly


This phrase is for now preferable to “leper” due to the flexibility of the adjective λεπρός.


positive connotation in John 11:38, here it retains the negative aspect of a stern warning.18 The initial phrase in the direct discourse of his exhortation, “ὅρα µηδενὶ µηδὲν εἴπῃς,” is strong language, but not in the same way as was the command to the demons and unclean spirits. The preceding phrase, however, is quite similar to New Testament exorcism language: “καὶ ἐµβριµησάµενος αὐτῷ εὐθὺς ἐξέβαλεν αὐτὸν”. The verb in the sentence, ἐκβάλλω, is a curious choice of wording, though several witnesses exclude verse 43 altogether. France compares the use of this verb here to that of other locations among the Gospels:
ἐµβριµάοµαι (used classically to denote ‘scarce-controlled animal fury’) indicates Jesus’ strong emotion in Jn 11:33, 38 (where it is used with τῷ πνεύµατι and ἐν ἑαυτῷ), but in that context no ‘object’ of emotion is expressed. In 14:5 a following dative supplies an ‘object’, and the sense is clearly one of expressed hostility towards the person mentioned.19

That this is similar to the language of other exorcisms is quite odd indeed. One possible explanation for this is that Jesus repels the man because of his ritual uncleanness. This is quickly and easily rejected because of the rest of the gospel’s insistence that he has no problem dealing with the unclean. A different option is to go with BDAG’s second option of translation, that is, “to cause to go or remove from a position (without force), send out/away, release, bring out”.20 Donald H. Juel offers another alternative:
One commentator has attempted to explain the strange language by suggesting this is really an account of an exorcism: the man is plagued by a demon as well as leprosy. If that is not the case, we can only note the strange tone. Mark does not provide enough information to understand why Jesus might be angry.21

18 19 20

“ἐµβριµάοµαι,” BDAG 322. France, Mark, 118. “ἐκβάλλω,” BDAG 299.

21 Donald H. Juel, Mark (ed. Roy A. Harrisville, Jack Dean Kingsbury, and Gerhard A. Krodel; ACNT; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 44.


What Juel does not consider is that many ancient diseases were attributed to demon possession: “According to the synoptic Gospels, demons cause physical disease: deafness, paralysis, and other maladies.”22 5:43-44 5:21-43 is representative of a common sandwich construction found in Mark. In this pericope are two seemingly unrelated stories, only one of which involves some form of secrecy. The unnamed, hemorrhaging woman who is inadvertently healed by Jesus is simply told, “ὕπαγε εἰς εἰρήνην”. In contrast to this is the order to Jairus and his family: “καὶ διεστείλατο αὐτοῖς πολλὰ ἵνα µηδεὶς γνοῖ τοῦτο”. Thus far in this study, the bleeding woman is the first instance discussed in which Jesus does not hinder another from speaking. This inconsistency makes the motif of secrecy all the more interesting. 7:36 7:31-36, the healing of a deaf and mute man, again shows Jesus ordering no one to break their silence about what they have seen: “καὶ διεστείλατο αὐτοῖς ἵνα µηδενὶ λέγωσιν”. Here again διαστέλλω is used for the prohibition, and it occurs only by indirect discourse. 8:26 8:22-26 sits right in the middle of another Markan sandwich. Since the outside pieces are not discussed until the final section of analysis, “The Silencing of the Disciples,” the significance of this passage shall be treated more fully there. Despite the hold on deeper discussion of the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida, there are a few key features to be noted for now. Jesus’


Bennie R. Crockett, Jr., “Demon in the New Testament,” MDB 209.


exhortation to this man after his healing is complete is, “µηδὲ εἰς τὴν κώµην εἰσέλθῃς.” This is the first time so far in this study where Jesus orders not to silence another person or being, but merely to avoid other people. This falls under suspicion, and is thus placed among the secrecy narratives. This miracle is particularly bizarre, because it seems that Jesus has to try twice to get the full effect of the healing right. This will be regarded later in the discussion of 8:30. Summary of Healing Secrecy The injunctions to silence of the persons whom Jesus heals are a bit harder to deal with than the exorcisms. Barbara Crafton notes the oddity of these, in particular that of 1:40-45:
[T]he reluctance to claim the miracles continues in the Gospel reading from Mark. Here Jesus himself seems shy abut what he has done. Don’t tell anyone, he warns the cleansed leper, but the man disobeys, and soon Jesus is on the run, hiding from the crowds. He draws back from his display of power, even though his miracles are performed to show people that the kingdom is near. Why? Is it because the people are not ready? Did they need to live through the weakness and despair of the end of Jesus’ story on earth before they can be trusted with the fullness of his power? Perhaps they need to know the darkness before they can handle that light. 23

These are curious stories. 1:43-44 shows Jesus casting the ex-diseased man out; in 5:43, Jesus brings resuscitates a girl from death, only to tell her family they mustn’t tell anyone; 7:36 demonstrates the opening of a deaf and dumb man’s ears, concluding with an injunction to those who brought him near; and 8:26 relays a command to a now-seeing man not to go into the nearby village. It is more difficult to find commonalities among these four narratives than in the exorcisms, though some do exist. First, they are all miracle stories. What is odd about them is that none of them are similar miracles: a skin disease, death, deafness, and blindness. The relationship among these four sto-

23 Barbara Crafton, “Miracle Market (2 Kings 5:1-14; Mark 1:40-45),” ChrCent (8 February 2003): No pages. Cited 9 April 2011. Online: showarticle.asp?title=2678. Emphasis original.


ries is their interest in physical ailments, which is in contrast with the exorcisms of supernatural entities. Second, three of the four are contained in a Markan sandwich construction; only the man with the skin disease is not. Jairus’ daughter is on the outside of a two-in-one story with the hemorrhaging woman on the inside. The healing of the deaf mute is on the inside, between two stories each involving food. The healing of the blind man at Bethsaida, again, shall be considered later. Ambiguous Parables, Covert Travel, and Private Discussions The next cluster of stories involve parables or private discussions, sometimes both. These are extraordinarily curious in that they do not quite fit with any of the other pericopes in which the Messianic Secret may be found. 4:10-12, 33-34 4:10-12 follows immediately after many teachings in parables, with one specifically relayed to the reader: the sower and the seed. The text assumes this to be highly puzzling to Jesus’ audience, for even the disciples do not understand it until their teacher does some explaining. After being taken aside privately by the disciples, Jesus says,
ὑµῖν τὸ µυστήριον δέδοται τῆς βασιλείας τοῦ θεοῦ· ἐκείνοις δὲ τοῖς ἔξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὰ πάντα γίνεται, ἵνα βλέποντες βλέπωσιν καὶ µὴ ἴδωσιν, καὶ ἀκούοντες ἀκούωσιν καὶ µὴ συνιῶσιν, µήποτε ἐπιστρέψωσιν καὶ ἀφεθῇ αὐτοῖς.

This section of Mark has been under much scrutiny in the past. Consider T.A. Burkill:
The significance of vv. 10-12 has been the subject of much controversy and they must now be examined in detail… In this passage St. Mark makes a sharply defined distinction between the disciples, who are entrusted with the mystery of the kingdom, and the uninitiated masses, who are permitted only to hear the teaching in par-

12 ables… The parables are designed to conceal the truth from the multitude; and they are obscure in themselves.24

This is the Gospel’s first instance of private teaching. The next instance of private teaching, 4:33-34, is more generalized than was 4:10-12: καὶ τοιαύταις παραβολαῖς πολλαῖς ἐλάλει αὐτοῖς τὸν λόγον καθὼς ἠδύναντο ἀκούειν· χωρὶς δὲ παραβολῆς οὐκ ἐλάλει αὐτοῖς, κατ᾽ ἰδίαν δὲ τοῖς ἰδίοις µαθηταῖς ἐπέλυεν πάντα. So far, this merely shows consistency in Jesus’ teaching style with parables up to this point:
As verses 10-12 assert, Jesus’ parables came to be viewed as obscure riddles whose meaning could be obtained only through Jesus’ own interpretation. Verse 34 reaffirms this view: Jesus spoke to “those outside” only in riddles. For Mark’s Gospel this is not strictly accurate, for Jesus will teach publicly. 25

9:30 Secrecy continues as Jesus passes through Galilee in 9:30, but wishes to do so anonymously: Κἀκεῖθεν ἐξελθόντες παρεπορεύοντο διὰ τῆς Γαλιλαίας, καὶ οὐκ ἤθελεν ἵνα τις γνοῖ… This leads to Jesus’ second passion prediction, but is still mysterious nonetheless. There is nothing explicit in the text suggesting why Jesus would have preferred anonymity at this point in the study. (This is explored more fully in 9:9.) Whereas Juel is not concerned so much with anonymity as with the fact of the passion prediction,26 Hare provides something of an explanation: “Although this is territory in which Jesus and his disciples have become well known, Mark stresses that Jesus is seeking to avoid public attention because this is a time for private instruction of his closest followers.”27 Stock claims, “the reason seems to be that the instruction Jesus was impart-

24 T.A. Burkill, “The Cryptology of Parables in St. Mark's Gospel,” NovT 1 (1-4 1957): 249. Cited 11 April 2011. Online: 25 26 27

Hare, Mark, 60. Emphasis original. Juel, Mark, 132. Hare, Mark, 111.


ing to his disciples touched on his identity, not yet to be noised abroad.”28 France has a similar take to Stock:
In 6:31 Jesus attempted to escape public attention in order to secure rest for himself and his disciples. In 7:24 we are not told why he sought privacy. But here the new focus of the gospel is revealed by a more positive statement of purpose in the γάρ that follows. Jesus’ mission is now to teach his disciples, and that takes priority over any public activity. 29

Whatever the reason for this secrecy, it maintains a part in the secrecy motif of Mark. The Exclusion of 10:10-12, 32-34 Among the pericopes involving secrecy some include 10:10-12, though the notion of secrecy appears to be stretched far be permitted into this section. Unlike 13:3-4, it does not state that the disciples asked him privately, but that they asked him when they were in a house. While secrecy may be assumed here, it is certainly not as explicit as many of the other cases are. 10:32-34 has also been included by some as being in line with the secrecy motif. It is excluded from this study because the secrecy is not ordered, but rather a byproduct of Jesus’ teaching and predictions. Now it is possible to continue onward to the decided material. 13:3-5 The secrecy material in chapter 13 is peculiar in that it is not Jesus who commands secrecy, but it is Peter, Andrew, James, and John who request a private session with their teacher. The key phrase involved is ἐπηρώτα αὐτὸν κατ᾽ ἰδίαν. The privacy involved is pushed by the disciples, but the teaching is assumedly only to these four: ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἤρξατο λέγειν αὐτοῖς… What is odd, notes France, is that the verb of speaking directed toward Jesus is in the singular.

28 29

Stock, Mark, 254. France, Mark, 371.

14 The subject of the singular verb ἐπηρώτα must be Peter, presumably acting as usual as spokesman, the other three disciples being appended as being also present to hear the reply (cf. the singular κατεδίωξεν with the same plural subject in 1:36). 30

There is some possible debate as to whether this short section belongs within the Messianic Secret. It appears entirely appropriate to include it since this teaching in private is deeply concerned with Jesus’ identity. Summary of Secret Teaching and Parabolic Ambiguity These four pericopes have the common thread of directly involving the disciples. Jesus claims the mystery of the reign of God has been granted to his disciples. Even so, it is quite arduous to find more similarity among throughout these pericopes. The vocabulary used among them is dissimilar; the occasions for the secrecy are varied; the reasons for privacy are not explained. What remains present is the difficulty in attempting to string these together logically in any kind of legitimate pattern. It may be that such an attempt would be fruitless. Thus it does not do to dwell here and look for what may not be present at all. The Silencing of the Disciples The silencing of the disciples contains the fewest individual stories, numbered only at two: 8:30 and 9:9. These fall back in among the first two categories in that they involve commands against speaking. They represent what may be the most important calls to silence in the gospel.


France, Mark, 507.


8:30 Mark 8:30 is the latter end of a story-within-a-story. Discussed prior to this is the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida, which is the middle piece, with a seemingly random story about bread and metaphorical yeast at the forefront. This chiastic story is a masterful work and deserving of a deeper look. The structure is thus:
A. The disciples are blind to Jesus’ identity: οὔπω συνίετε; (8:21) B. The man sees partially: βλέπω τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ὅτι ὡς δένδρα ὁρῶ περιπατοῦντας. (8:24) B´. The man sees fully: καὶ ἐνέβλεπεν τηλαυγῶς ἅπαντα. (8:25) Α´. Peter understands who Jesus is: σὺ εἶ ὁ χριστός. (8:29)

This particular structure ends with Jesus’ order to the disciples that they not tell who he is. Juel writes,
The strange response is best understood in view of Jesus’ rebukes of demons elsewhere in the narrative. Many commentators resort to psychological explanations of his silencing the disciples, but there is no data to support such speculation. Demons are silenced “because they knew him” (1:34). An almost identical phrase is employed in 3:12, where Jesus “strictly ordered them not to make him known.” We are given no reason for silence—only that it is Jesus’ desire that his identity be kept a secret, and that the time of secrecy will eventually give way to disclosure. Though Peter speaks the truth, the time for public testimony has not come. 31

Stock presents his case similarly: “Jesus suppressed the cries of the demons precisely ‘because they knew him’ (1:34). So here Peter’s confession is suppressed because of the knowledge of Jesus’ identity which it betrays—because of its correctness.”32 9:9 9:9 provides the closure to Jesus’ transfiguration. Upon the disappearance of Elijah and Moses, there comes the now-common injunction to secrecy, with a significant variation: διεστείλατο αὐτοῖς ἵνα µηδενὶ ἃ εἶδον διηγήσωνται, εἰ µὴ ὅταν ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῇ. The final clause of this sentence appears to be the only definitive, textual clue as to the meaning of

31 32

Juel, Mark, 120. Stock, Mark, 235.


the Messianic Secret. Insofar as texts are involved, NA27 cites no variants for this clause. That all significant texts in NA27 have no differentiation in the text of 9:9 is significant. France notes something of a peculiar nature in this verse: “The subject of the disciples’ secrecy is not this time a verbal formula but, as when such injunctions have followed miracles in earlier chapters, the scene they have witnessed (which includes, of course, the words of God from the cloud).”33 Hare clarifies for his readers something which would have been absolutely bizarre to Jews of that time:
Contemporary Jews believed in the general resurrection of the dead at the last day, as promised in Daniel 12:2-3, but the idea of a singular resurrection (as distinct from the elevation to heaven of a living person, as in Elijah’s case; 2 Kings 2:11) was totally foreign to them. Nothing in Jewish religious thought prepared the disciples for Easter. It had to be experienced to be believed. 34

The clue offered here to the secrecy motif involves not only Jesus’ identity, but his singular resurrection from the dead: these things may be revealed only after such a cataclysmic event has come to pass. Summary of the Silencing of the Disciples Jesus’ injunctions to silence in 8:30 and 9:9 are rather consistent. Interestingly enough, it may be said, these two build off each other. With 8:30 as a base, 9:9 takes the silence one step further with a reason for keeping it. Curiously, these two use distinctive vocabulary from the other pericopes. 8:30 uses ἐπιτιµάω, whereas 9:9 employs διαστέλλω. That they do not maintain similar vocabulary between them, and instead backtracking to other injunctions to silence is worth noting.

33 34

France, Mark, 356. Hare, Mark, 106.


Review of the Secrecy Pericopes The four categories used provide a simplified version of the way in which secrecy is maintained throughout Mark. However, despite the categorical separation, some commonalities exist between the various classifications. First of all, the range of vocabulary is remarkable: it is sometimes quite narrow; at others it deviates greatly from any kind of formulae. There are several verbs used for dicta to silence. The verb ἐπιτιµάω is used three times: twice for the silencing of demons (1:25; 3:12), once for silencing the disciples (8:30). διαστέλλω is likewise used three times: twice for silencing healed persons (5:43; 7:36), once for silencing the disciples (9:9). Three other verbs are used in relation to the secrecy motif, only once each: ἀφίηµι (1:34), ἐµβριµάοµαι (as a participle, paired with ἐκβάλλω; 1:43), and εἰσέρχοµαι (8:26). Only the first two denote any kind of direct command to silence, whereas the third calls for an avoidance from other people aside from the healing recipient’s family. One oddity with regards to Jesus’ injunctions to silence is that the general populace does not follow his orders as do demons and disciples. This may not be particularly important, but nothing should be overlooked. What sets the parabolic and private teaching pericopes apart from the silencing narratives is that Jesus teaches the disciples alone. The author uses varying idioms involving κατά in three of the four privacy narratives: κατ᾽ ἰδίαν twice (4:34; 13:3), κατὰ µόνας once (4:10). The secrecy in 9:30, however, employs a verb phrase saying Jesus wanted no one to know of his presence (οὐκ θέλω ἵνα + γινώσκω).


Text Reference 1:25 1:34 1:43-44 13:3 3:12 4:10-12 4:33-34 5:43 7:36 8:26 8:30 9:30 9:9

Category of Secrecy Exorcism Silence Exorcism Silence Silencing of the Healed Privacy and Ambiguity Exorcism Silence Privacy and Ambiguity Privacy and Ambiguity Silencing of the Healed Silencing of the Healed Silencing of the Healed Disciples Silenced Privacy and Ambiguity Disciples Silenced

Vocabulary Used ἐπιτιµάω: ἐπετίµησεν ἀφίηµι: οὐκ ἤφιεν λαλεῖν ἐµβριµάοµαι: ἐµβριµησάµενος κατ᾽ ἰδίαν ἐπιτιµάω: ἐπετίµα κατὰ µόνας κατ᾽ ἰδίαν διαστέλλω: διεστείλατο διαστέλλω: διεστείλατο εἰσέρχοµαι: µηδὲ… εἰσέλθῃς ἐπιτιµάω: ἐπετίµησεν θέλω… γνοῖ: οὐκ ἤθελεν ἵνα τις γνοῖ διαστέλλω: διεστείλατο

POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEM Only after properly allowing an issue to present itself should any solutions to it be considered. For this reason the various possibilities for “solving” the Messianic Secret have been delayed in their presentation. Now the groundwork has been laid, and upon a foundation of acknowledgment of the problem shall the solutions be built.


Acknowledgment of the Problem Prior to William Wrede’s seminal work in 1901, Das Messiasgeheimnis in Den Evangelien, 35 later translated into English in 1971, the secrecy motif in Mark was given very little attention. Perhaps it would be more accurate to state that it had not yet been considered as a possibility in the gospel. A.C. Gaebelein, in his brief comments on 1:32-34, wrote, “[Jesus] loved to be unknown and did not want the applause of men nor the witness of the unclean spirits.” He goes on to call this “unostentatiousness”. 36 Not until Das Messiasgeheimnis in Den Evangelien was secrecy in the gospels even considered a legitimate concern while studying them. Wrede’s work ultimately came to this conclusion, as interpreted by Eric F. Mason:
Wrede argued that the historical Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah, but the post-resurrection conviction in early Christianity of Jesus’ divinity and messianic identity caused the church to rework genuine reminiscences of Jesus to express this theology. 37

Wrede appeared to believe in a significant difference between the life of Jesus and the church’s portrayal thereof.
The decisive questions for Wrede were these: (1) What do we know about the life of Jesus? and (2) What do we know of the history of the oldest views and conceptions of his life? In other words, what elements of the synoptic tradition derive from Jesus himself and what elements from the earliest Christian community? 38

This theory has continued to meet sharp criticisms, even more than one hundred years after its initial publication and over forty years since its translation to English. Even though

35 The German original is now available free of charge online. It may be found at the following URL: 36 Arno Clemens Gaebelein, The Gospel of Mark: A Complete Analysis of the Gospel of Mark, with Annotations (New York: Our Hope Publication Office, 1911), 8. Cited 8 April 2011. Online: http:// 37

Mason, “Secret, Messianic,” 5:150.

38 David E. Aune, “The Problem of the Messianic Secret,” Novum Testamentum 11 (1-2 1969): 3. Cited 8 April 2011. Online:


Wrede’s primary conclusions were quickly oppugned, it remains true that Wrede brought a motif of secrecy to the forefronts of the minds of gospel scholars.39 More Recent Probabilities This is not to say Wrede’s theory is outside the realm of possibility. On the one hand, there is some chance, however slim, that Jesus never personally claimed status as Messiah. On the other, beyond this option lies the realm of probability. There are several solutions up for consideration here: historical, literary, and rhetorical. Historical Considerations As far as Christian history is concerned, Jesus has certainly been considered as the awaited Messiah by the church. However, Christian scholarship has become concerned with what has been given the title “the Historical Jesus”—who the Jesus of history truly was, what he said, and what he did. Wrede’s Messianic Secret, claims John DePoe, was born out of this concern:
As all theologies do not emerge from a vacuum, but from a context with place and time, so too Wrede’s christology was primed by the atmosphere of scholarship that permeated the academic spirit of his time. Perhaps the foremost influence which characterized christological scholarship in Europe was the quest to know the historical Jesus.40

Outside of Wrede’s designation of Jesus as never having truly admitted to being messianic in any sense, there are at least two aspects of history that ought to be considered. First, the term “Messiah” must be qualified. John J. Collins provides a rather short introduction to the Jewish Messiah:
Messiah (mashiakh) means “anointed one.” Kings were anointed in Israel and Judah, as were high priests. There is also limited evidence for the anointing of prophets… The term mashiakh refers to the legitimate king… It does not have a future or eschatological connotation in the OT. In the Second Temple period,
39 Goodacre, “NT Pod Episode 27: The Messianic Secret in Mark’s Gospel,” Cited 8 April 2011. Online: in-marks.html. 40 John DePoe, The Messianic Secret in the Gospel of Mark: Historical Development and Value of Wrede’s Theory, 5. Cited 9 April 2011. Online: Messianic_secret.pdf.

21 when there was no longer a king on the throne, the term came to refer to the one who would restore the kingship. The same figure could also be designated by other terms such as “Branch of David.” Ideal, even supernatural characteristics were often attributed to him.41

By the time of Jesus, long after the end of any kingly rule of Israel, the hope for a different kind of Messiah had continued to grow. Occasionally, there occurred what is now deemed as a “messianic movement”. “Messianic movements are social movements inspired by religious convictions that a better world is on its way whose coming can be inaugurated by an agent (the messiah) and the movement around that figure.”42 One such messianic movement was that of Simon Ben Koseba, who led a revolt against the Roman emperor Hadrian:
A leader arose by the name of Simon, who was recognized y Rabbi Akiba… as the Messiah. He was designated Bar Kokhba, “son of a star,” from Numbers 24:17. Later, when his revolt failed, he was called Bar (or Ben) Koziba, “son of a lie.”43

The public and seemingly proud nature of Simon’s acknowledgment as Messiah contrasts sharply against that of the Markan Jesus, who generally wished to keep the “confessions” of others (supernatural and ordinary alike) a secret. This falls in line with an earlier comment from Gaebelein. Considering some messianic movements were violent, it could have been that this was the last thing Jesus wanted. Second, the usage of “Messiah” and other messianic titles in other Judeo-Christian literature should be examined. This is one example of what J. P. Fokkelman deems lateral reading. 44 This Jesus is given several different labels throughout Mark: Χριστός and υἱὸς θεοῦ (1:1); ὁ ἅγιος τοῦ θεοῦ (1:24); υἱὸς Δαυίδ (10:47); and most notably ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (2:10).45 “Son
41 John J. Collins, “Messiah, Jewish,” NIDB 4:59; cf. Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (3d ed.; Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003): 551-53. Emphasis original. 42 43 44

Christopher Rowland, “Messianic Movements,” NIDB 4:67. Ferguson, Backgrounds, 425. Cf. Collins, “Messiah, Jewish,” 4:65.

J. P. Fokkelman, Reading Biblical Narrative: An Introductory Guide (trans. Ineke Smit; The Netherlands: Uitgeverij Boekencentrum Zoetermeer, 1995; repr., Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 198.

These are not a list of the occurrences, but rather a statement of their first occurrence.


of Man” is the title Jesus apparently gives himself. Various messianic terms, such as “son of man,” occur in Daniel 7, 1 Enoch 37–71 (also called the Similitudes of Enoch), 4 Ezra 11–12, 2 Baruch, and the LXX version of Psalm 110 (109 in Greek).46 France insists that Jesus’ use of the title ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου after the transfiguration “fits the background to the title in Dn. 7 where the imagery is of vindication and enthronement, a background already reflected in the use of the same title in 8:38.”47 A small amount of knowledge of the history of the “messiah” and other “messianic” figures can go a long way, but does not truly answer the question of why Jesus desired to keep his position secret, assuming he believed it to be true. DePoe writes,
Jesus’ style of teaching further reveals a confusing enigma about his character. If Jesus avoided the title of Messiah because of its materialistic connotations, “Why does he not simply say that the political messiahship is a ‘no-go’ and that he has little to do with that as their materialistic expectation?”48

For a historical understanding of the Messianic Secret, David Aune asseverates,
The messianic secret cannot have been an historical phenomenon in the life of Jesus unless the predictions of his passion and resurrection are also accepted as historical… After David’s secret anointing by Samuel he was not less the anointed of God because he had not yet been publicly recognized and officially enthroned. It was precisely because of the nature of his Messiahship that Jesus was unable to make any open claim to that title. That claim could only be made by God on Jesus’ behalf.49

On the opposite end of the historical spectrum, Hare offers a rather different explanation, especially as regards the disciples’ understanding of Jesus:
Jesus’ stern command that the disciples keep silent about his role as Messiah is historically comprehensible. If word of this got around, his life would be in jeopardy before his work was done. More important, Jesus probably believed that only God could proclaim him Messiah, or that he could publicly claim this role only at a moment ordained by God. 50

46 Collins, “Messiah, Jewish,” 4:64-65. For more on comparing “Messiah” and “Son of Man,” see Karl A. Kuhn, “The ‘One like a Son of Man’ Becomes the ‘Son of God’,” CBQ 69 (1; January 2007); and William O. Walker, “The Son of Man: Some Recent Developments,” CBQ 45 (4; October 1983). 47 48

France, 356. DePoe, Messianic Secret, 8. “Problem of the Messianic Secret,” 31.

49 Aune, 50

Hare, Mark, 99.


As regards the transfiguration, France understands its significance historically as being problematic for those with “misdirected hopes which made the term ὁ Χριστός itself so hazardous.”51 Whatever the case is historically, the answer does not appear in pure history (if such a thing is even possible with the Gospels). A Literary Approach Historical exegesis can provide a sufficient background for a text, but appears to struggle somewhat with the text itself. Goodacre states,
You can have all these little historical explanations, but the problem with them is—and this is where people often fail to come to terms with the strength of Wrede’s case—the problem with all of those is that the Messianic Secret is a key feature redactionally, distinctively of Mark’s gospel. It’s something that Mark seems to be stressing, and so just appealing to, “Well, this is what really happened,” doesn’t really solve the problem of why Mark wants to make such a big deal of it, because he didn’t have to. He could have written the gospel differently, couldn’t he? 52

Telford offers a similar treatment:
Two main types of explanation [of the Messianic Secret] have been advanced. Firstly, there have been historical explanations. In line with this approach, the motive of concealment has been seen as a facet of historical Jesus’ own behaviour and teaching, a characteristic of his, in other words, which is correctly reported by Mark. Secondly, there have been literary or theological explanations. The basic thrust of this approach is to view the secrecy motif as a literary or theological device (or perhaps better, a literary device with a theological import) whereby various traditions about the historical Jesus have been presented to the reader within the overall perspective of the Christology (and soteriology) adopted within the Markan community some time after Jesus’ death and the rise of the Easter-belief in his resurrection…53

Literary analysis, however, is concerned more directly with the literature at hand. Within literary analysis, the reader learns to recognize various literary devices. Poetry, for example, utilizes certain rhythmic or rhyme schemes for stylistic purposes. At other times, these devices are used to bring to expression a meaning deeper than a surface-level reading would allow.

51 52 53

France, 356. Goodacre, “NT Pod, E27.” Telford, Theology of Mark, 43. Emphasis original.


Chiastic Structures Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’ life is much like a work of poetry in its use of literary devices. The entirety of Mark’s structure is such a device, as Stock notes: “In devising the structure for his work Mark was guided principally by the principle of concentricity (chiasmus)… a passage in which the second part is inverted and balanced against the first. ‘He went to the theater, but home went she’ (A B B’ A’).”54 Stock places the primary steps of the Markan chiasm topologically:
A. Wilderness (1:2-13) B. Galilee (1:14–8:26) X. The Way (8:27–10:32) B´. Jerusalem (11:1–15:41) Α´. The Tomb (15:42–16:8)55

One such chiastic structure in Mark was given earlier at the silencing of demons:
A. ἄνθρωπος ἐν πνεύµατι ἀκαθάρτῳ… ἐπετίµησεν αὐτῷ (1:23, 25) B. τοὺς δαιµονιζοµένους (1:32) B´. οὐκ ἤφιεν λαλεῖν τὰ δαιµόνια (1:34) Α´. τὰ πνεύµατα τὰ ἀκάρθατα… ἐπετίµα αὐτοῖς (3:12)

This is a very simplified example, but is present nonetheless. In this particular case, the centerpiece of the structure, 1:34, shows Jesus’ authority over the supernatural in that he can allow or prohibit certain actions on their part. It also emphasizes the notion of secrecy: the authority used is that of prohibition of speaking, of not allowing certain knowledge to be passed on to others. Repetition Another common literary device is that of word repetition. In 1 Samuel 3, various forms of the word “call” are employed to stress the importance of the calling of Samuel in that passage. Repe54 55

Stock, Mark, 19. Ibid., 28.


tition is common in the Gospel of Mark and may be a step toward understanding the nature of the Messianic Secret. Paul Danove notes the peculiarity of word repetition in Mark, taking care to bring out the importance of the word ὁδός. He presents ὁδός as first being introduced in a quote from the OT (1:2), then using it in the parable of the sower (4:4, 15). Over and over again, this word pops up in the first half of the gospel to be reassessed in the second half:
These initial occurrences establish a uniquely Markan connotation of ὁδός characterized by narratively specific information, relationships, evaluations, and expectations that distinguish it not only from general Koine usage but from its specialized usages developed in the Septuagint. The resulting connotation then becomes the basis for its further specialized developments in Mark 8:27–10:52.56

In his chapter on the rhetoric of characterization of Jesus, Danove states that “there is no indication that deconstructive repetition cultivates beliefs directly about Jesus. Deconstructive repetition is apparent in the cultivation of beliefs associated with particular designations applied to Jesus, but such repetition never impacts their first occurrence.”57 The verb used for the rebuke of the unclean spirits, ἐπιτιµάω, gets special mention due to its commonality of occurrence.58 Beyond the verb used in rebuking various aspects of nature or the supernatural, the repetition of the various names and titles attributed to Jesus are worth noting and may lend themselves to the christological significance of secrecy in Mark’s narrative. Wayne E. Ward notes this of the phrase “Son of God”:
Twice in Mark the voice from heaven affirms the divine sonship of Jesus: at his baptism, “Thou art my beloved Son” (Mark 1:11); and, at the transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (9:7). Twice the demons cry out and address Jesus as the Son of God (3:11; 5:7). Twice Jesus refers indirectly to his sonship (in the parable of the husbandmen where God finally sends “his beloved son,” 12:1-11; and in his reference to the coming of the Son in the apocalyptic discourse, 13:32). The final pair of references to Jesus’ sonship in Mark is the most surprising of all: the high priest could not recognize Jesus’ divine origin when

Paul L. Danove, The Rhetoric of Characterization of God, Jesus, and Jesus' Disciples in the Gospel of Mark (ed. Mark Goodacre; JSNTSup 290; New York: T & T Clark International, 2005), 3-4.
57 58


Ibid., 56. Ibid., 61.

26 he demanded, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (14:61). But the pagan centurion who directed his crucifixion recognized him in the way he died: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (15:39). 59

The repetition of certain aspects in the literature is not reserved solely for Jesus, but also finds an interesting place in describing the disciples:
Despite their incomprehension, the witnesses of the Transfiguration have an important function in Mark’s narrative. The chosen three witness the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus (5:37), the Transfiguration, and the agony in the garden (14:33). These are mysteries which must not remain hidden after his resurrection, since they provide a key to the understanding of his person. 60

A Rhetorical Possibility What must be acknowledged at the outset of this particular section of the discussion is that there appears to be no current study in any rhetoric of secrecy. Even so, this may be worth investigating. Rhetoric is not alien to Mark’s writing style. Indeed, regardless of whether the author was educated in ancient rhetoric, he appears to use it in this piece. One form of rhetoric which stands out in Mark is that of syncrisis, that is, a comparison of two aspects in the literature. Michael Martin substantiates the presence of syncrisis in Mark thusly:
The use of genus syncrisis in Christian bios is attested in Mark, which features a running comparison of Jesus and John the Baptist. The syncrisis is structured using the topics of origins, nurturing and training, deeds, death, and events after death, and like the biographical syncrises of Plutarch and Philo, introduces the topics in the chronological order preferred by most of the theorists. 61

As Jesus is compared to John earlier in the gospel, he is later juxtaposed against Moses and Elijah at his transfiguration. This juxtaposition results in showing Jesus as being superior to Moses, Elijah, and John, especially when considered in light of God’s proclamation of Jesus’ status as God’s Son.62

59 60

Wayne E. Ward, “Son of God,” MDB (Macon, Georg.: Mercer University Press, 1997), 845.

Stock, Mark, 247. For more on repetitive characterizing of the disciples, cf. Danove, Rhetoric of Characterization, 90-126. Michael W. Martin, Judas and the Rhetoric of Comparison in the Fourth Gospel (ed. Stanley E. Porter; New Testament Monographs 25; Sheffield, England: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2010), 71.
62 61

Ibid., 74.


A very basic proposition about syncrisis and secrecy in Mark might be made. Perhaps the secrecy motif ought to be seen in light of the occurrences when Jesus hides little or nothing. It may possibly be arguable that the instances of secrecy sharply contrast with those when no attempt is made to remain incognito. It should not be forgotten that such a proposition is made far too prematurely, since little has been done to extract such a position from Mark, whether reasonably or absurdly. While syncrisis and likely other forms of ancient rhetoric are present in the Gospel of Mark, no exploration of a syncrisis between secrecy and overt, unhidden actions seems to have appeared. It also remains to be seen whether secrecy was not only in syncrisis with overtness in Mark, but whether it was common in the ancient world to hide such good news. Though this falls clearly within the lines of a literary analysis, it was decided that this possibility should be discussed separately. Thus the proposition made here is knowingly made prematurely. THE VALIDITY AND VALUE OF STUDYING THE MESSIANIC SECRECY MOTIF IN THE GOSPEL OF MARK Normally, one would expect a defense of the validity of a study at its beginning. This is obviously not the case here, for at least one reason: it is unreasonable to claim the validity of an argument or the existence of a problem before the argument and problem are established. Having done this, it is now possible to discuss whether a study of the Messianic Secret is justifiable. Despite the popularity and appeal of the Messianic Secret, there is still some debate as to whether it is a legitimate theme to be studied. J. D. G. Dunn, in a treatment of the secrecy motif in Mark, mentions another source of his who distinguishes between the secrecy of miracles (Wundergeheimnis) and the secrecy of Jesus’ messiahship (Messiasgeheimnis).63 “I question also whether the saying about the use of parables can be counted as part of the evidence for the Mes63

J.D.G. Dunn, “The Messianic Secret in Mark,” TynBul 21 (1970): 94.


sianic secret… the obtuseness of the disciples, which is often cited as an important element in Mark’s theology of the Messianic secret, even this cannot be contained within its scope.”64 George Aichele writes,
The messianic secret is indeed “ literary device… designed to emphasize the importance of a correct understanding of christological confession and the christological testimony” (Perrin in Kelber 1976:89). However, the messianic secret is not a device that produces understanding, christological or otherwise, for this reading too must fail. If Jesus were secretly the Christ in Mark, there would be no son of man/messiah paradox in Mark 14:62. 65

The arguments against any kind of Messianic Secret in Mark’s gospel are many. That it produces only questions and never furnishes answers is a valid point. Another is that the term “Messianic Secret” might confine the issue too greatly. For this reason, the broad definition of the secrecy motif taken from Mason at the beginning of this study was chosen. In Jesus’ suppression of the knowledge of his identity 66 are included terms such as “Son of Man,” “Son of God,” and “Son of David.” It might be more accurate to render this motif as “the identity secret in Mark.” But what about the secrecy motif makes it worth studying? The fact of its occurrence throughout Mark seems not to have been enough for some. However, various other themes throughout Mark are repeated and studied. Passion predictions, chiastic story lines, and other such literary devices are continually explored, as is the Messianic Secret. That it falls within the lines of a literary and historical analysis of Mark ought not to be ignored. Thirteen times, perhaps more,67 some form of secrecy is involved, begging the question of why it is there. Cook explains the various planes on which the secrecy motif has been discovered and explored:
64 65

Ibid., 95.

George Aichele, Jesus Framed (ed. Danna Nolan Fewell, David M. Gunn, and Gary A. Phillips; Biblical Limits; London: Routledge, 1996; repr., New York: Routledge, 2004), 26.
66 67

Mason, “Secret, Messianic,” 5:150. See footnote 3.

29 Wrede, using diachronic analysis on the level of parole (the text of Mark), located the origin of the Messianic Secret at the stage of the early Christian traditions about Jesus. [Rudolf] Bultmann, using synchronic and diachronic analysis, located the motif on the level of the Markan redaction. Bultmann also went beyond the text of Mark and compared it to the other synoptic gospels and to the Pauline kerygma, and so worked on the level of langue. Most contemporary debate presupposes a combination of synchronic and diachronic analysis. An option beyond Wrede and Bultmann has surfaced, however, which involves looking at Mark as a literary composition and de-emphasizing the distinction between tradition and redaction in Mark. 68

The levels on which the Messianic Secret appears to its readers are varied. Unfortunately, it may be that the continued study of this theme may never come to fruition; but what is hoped here is that this is not the case. CONCLUSION The Messianic Secret continues to puzzle those who are aware of its presence. Whether by historical examinations or literary analyses, this µυστήριον remains mysterious. Why is it there? What message does it convey? Does it even serve a purpose? There remain many legitimate questions to consider, none of which seem to have definitive answers. This device of the author of Mark perhaps shall never be fully understood. Regardless of—perhaps because of—the curious and mysterious nature of the secrecy motif, it persists in the minds of Markan scholars. To reference an old Tootsie-Pop commercial, “The world may never know.”


Cook, Structure and Power of Mark, 57. Emphasis original.

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Fokkelman, J. P. Reading Biblical Narrative: An Introductory Guide. Translated by Ineke Smit. The Netherlands: Uitgeverij Boekencentrum Zoetermeer, 1995. Repr., Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999. France, R.T. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans/Paternoster, 2002. Gaebelein, Arno Clemens. The Gospel of Mark: A Complete Analysis of the Gospel of Mark, with Annotations. New York: Our Hope Publication Office, c1911. Online: http:// Goodacre, Mark. NT Pod, Episode 27: The Messianic Secret in Mark’s Gospel. Cited (citation date). Online: ________. NT Pod, Extended Episode 4: The Messianic Secret in Mark. Cited 16 February 2011. Online: Hare, Douglas R.A. Mark. Westminster Bible Companion. Edited by Patrick D. Miller and David L. Bartlett. Louisville, Kent.: Westminster John Knox, 1996. Juel, Donald H. Mark. Augsberg Commentary on the New Testament. Edited by Roy A. Harrisville, Jack Dean Kingsbury, and Gerhard A. Krodel. Minneapolis: Augsberg, 1990. Kuhn, Karl A. “The ‘One like a Son of Man’ Becomes the ‘Son of God.’” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 69, No. 1 (January 2007): 22-42. Marshall, I. Howard. New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004. Martin, Michael W. Judas and the Rhetoric of Comparison in the Fourth Gospel. New Testament Monographs, 25. Sheffield S3 7QB, England: Sheffield Phoenix, 2010. Mills, Watson E., ed. Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. 1 vols. 5th ptg. 1990. Repr., Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1997. Sakenfield, Katharine Doob, ed. The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. 5 vols. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2008. Stock, Augustine. The Method and Message of Mark. Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1989. Telford, W.R. The Theology of the Gospel of Mark. New Testament Theology. Edited by D.G. Dunn. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.


Walker, William O. Jr. “The Son of Man: Some Recent Developments.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 45, No. 4 (October 1983): 584-607. Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

FURTHER READING Allen, Willoughby C. The Gospel according to Saint Mark: With Introduction, Notes and Map. London: Rivingtons, 1915. Cited (citation date). Online: Bauer, David R. “Christ.” Pages 601–6 in Vol. 1 of The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by Katharine Doob Sakenfeld. 5 vols. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2008. Beavis, Mary Ann. “The Trial before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:53-65): Reader Response and Greco-Roman Readers.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 49, No. 4 (October 1987): 58196. Broadhead, Edwin K. Prophet, Son, Messiah: Narrative Form and Function in Mark 14-16. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 97. Edited by Stanley E. Porter. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994. Caird, G.B. New Testament Theology. Edited by L.D. Hurst. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Countryman, L. Wm. “How Many Baskets Full? Mark 8:14-21 and the Value of Miracles in Mark.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 47, No. 4 (October 1985): 643-655. Ellis, Judy Yates. “Messiah/Messianism.” Pages 571-2 in Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by Watson E. Mills. 1 vol. Macon, Georg.: Mercer University Press, 1997. Emmet, Cyril W. The Eschatological Question in the Gospels: and Other Studies in Recent New Testament Criticism. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1911. Online: http://books.logos. com/ books/7672. Gould, Ezra P. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Mark. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1896. Online: Hart, Philip R. “Mystery.” Pages 591-92 in Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by Watson E. Mills. 1 vol. Macon, Georg.: Mercer University Press, 1997. Heil, John Paul. “Reader-Response and the Narrative Context of the Parables about Growing Seed in Mark 4:1-34.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 54, No. 2 (April 1992): 271-86.



Horsley, Richard A. “Popular Messianic Movements around the Time of Jesus.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 46, No. 3 (July 1984): 471-95. Hurkmans, R. Shedding New Light on Wrede’s Messianic Secret. 12 February 2007. Cited 9 April 2011. Online: pdf. Marcus, Joel. “Are You the Messiah-Son-of-God?” Novum Testamentum 31, No. 2 (1989): 125141. Cited (citation date). Online: Mercer, Calvin. “Son of Man.” Pages 846-48 in Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by Watson E. Mills. 1 vol. Macon, Georg.: Mercer University Press, 1997. Minor, Mitzi. “Mark, Gospel of.” Pages 799–811 in Vol. 3 of The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by Katharine Doob Sakenfeld. 5 vols. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2008. Perkins, Pheme. The Gospel of Mark: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections. Pages 507– 733 in Vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Edited by Leander E. Keck. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1995. Reynolds, J.A. “Mark.” Page 549 in Mercer Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by Watson E. Mills. 1 vol. Macon, Georg.: Mercer University Press, 1997. Robinson, J. Armitage. The study of the Gospels. London; New York; etc: Longmans, Green, 1902. Online: Smith, Mahlon H. “Synoptic Gospels Primer - Glossary: W. Wrede.” Virtual Religion Network: Resources for Research & Reflection. Cited (citation date). Online: Soden, Hermann, Freiherr von. The History of Early Christian literature; The Writings of the New Testament. New York; London: G. P. Putnam's sons; Williams and Norgate, 1906. Online:

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