The Effects of the Christ-Event: Mark’s Thoughts

One of the questions I get asked when talking about the effects of the Christ-event has to do with whether this avenue of approach is fruitful outside of the Paulines. The fact is, the entire NT pretty uniformly teaches Jesus in terms of what he did/does/will do. This time we’ll take a couple of examples from Mark.

Jesus as a “Ransom for Many”

Let’s start with Mark 10:45. This saying occurs just as Jesus reaches Jericho, his last stop before the final 15 mile trek into Jerusalem. The disciples were arguing over precedence in the Kingdom (Mk 35-45). Jesus responded by demanding that the disciples not imitate “the Gentiles,” but that they instead imitate him, for:

…the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The point we are interested in here is the idea of Jesus giving “his life as a ransom for many.” This is a very interesting statement in which Jesus actually gives his own rationale for his mission. There are a handful of other “I came” statements; these expressions are not to be missed because they are all descriptions of the effects of the Christ-event.

In Jesus’ wider Greco-Roman society, the word “ransom” (lytron) was used to denote a payment made to secure release from slavery or captivity. In the LXX, the verb occurs frequently in describing God’s redemption of his people from Egypt or from spiritual oppression. It is also the verb used for payments to preserve a life that is somehow forfeit such as that of the firstborn.

But the entire phrase is something else again: “to give his life as a ransom for many.” Where did this phrase come from? There are two schools of thought: one is that it comes from Isa 53, the Fourth Servant Song. In that citation, the Servant is said to “pour out his soul unto death” in behalf of others (Is 53:10-12).

The other possibility is that it comes from the tradition of the Maccabean martyrs, who gave their lives that the nation might live (4 Macc 17:21-22). You will not, for obvious reasons, run into this line of reasoning in Gospel Doctrine classes. Nevertheless, it may well be the more important, with the Servant Song hovering in the background for both Mark and the Maccabean heroes.

A Less Well-Know Effect: the Rending of the Veil

Another far more ambiguous effect of the Christ-event is found in the report of the rending of the veil of the temple at the death of Jesus. You may be familiar with the idea that this portended the return of Jesus to God, or the ability of all God’s people to approach him. This is broadly part of the argument in The Epistle of Paul to the Hebrews. The Synoptics are quite different and among the Synoptics, Mark is a bit unique.

First of all, in Luke the rending of the veil precedes the death of Jesus (Lk 23:45), while in Matthew (Mt 27:51) and Mark (Mk 15:38) it follows his death. In Matthew and Luke the torn veil is a prodigy. In Mark it may be something more. Focusing now on Mark’s account (Mk 15:37-39):

But Jesus cried with a loud voice and expired. And the veil in the temple was torn (schizō) in two from the top to the bottom. When the centurion who was standing opposite him saw how he expired, he said “Truly this man was the Son of God.”

The verb schizō is often used in connection with fabric. It denotes a rip that cannot be repaired and is quite appropriate when used to describe the rending of the temple veil. What makes it interesting is that this verb is also the word used to describe the parting of the heavens at the baptism of Jesus (Mk 1:10):

10 On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open (schizō)and the Spirit, like a pigeon, descending upon him.

The only difference between these two uses is that schizō is an aorist (English simple past) at the death of Jesus and a present participle at his baptism. This word appears nowhere else in Mark. It is never used in the LXX for the opening of heaven, indeed both Matthew and Luke follow the LXX in using the common anoigō, simply meaning “to open,” when they report the baptism of Jesus.

So what we have is this: at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the heavens were being ripped open. At the completion of his ministry, the veil of the temple was ripped completely in two. Neither the “fabric of heaven” nor that of the veil can be repaired.

Beyond the clear presence of inclusio, is there a connection? Mark never explains himself. What, precisely, was this supposed to convey?

7 Replies to “The Effects of the Christ-Event: Mark’s Thoughts”

  1. good post.

    Talmage says that the rending of the veil was a sign of the fulfillment of the Law of Moses; that it no longer had authority on the people.

    the heavens were being ripped open. . . Neither the “fabric of heaven” nor that of the veil can be repaired.

    Doesn’t Mormon doctrine teach that the heavens were sealed again after the apostasy?

  2. Wow. Really interesting post. (Warning: nerdy, self centered, exclusionist statement coming) I think that you have to have studied Greek to really catch the significance of some of these word choices. At least, I did. I’ve only ever read John and Matthew in Greek but any time I’ve ever seen schizo used it was about people arguing with one another (and hence the English word schism). The ransom connection just makes so much sense but the heavens and the temple veil being ripped apart, that’s neat stuff. Going to have to sit on that one and think for a while. Great post.

  3. Good stuff again Mogget. Keep these great posts coming. I don’t have anything to add but I will file this away in the mental vault and see if I can synthesize it into some future theological Thang. 🙂

  4. Mormon doctrine teach that the heavens were sealed again

    HP has this definition of Mormon doctrine that I believe contains the expression “witches’ brew” in a very appropriate fashion. Perhaps he will oblige me by posting it again…

    When we talk about the heaven’s being closed at the apostasy, are we talking about revelation or God’s power? The baptism of Jesus is, I think, a “God’s power” use, not revelation.

    Nevertheless, as you say, the idea of the heavens opening and closing is quite consistent with the word used by Matthew and Luke at Christ’s baptism and may well be the source of the expression in LDS thought.

    you have to have studied Greek to really catch the significance of some of these word choices

    Would you trust a French literature prof who couldn’t read French pretty dang well?

    As you say, it is a matter of finding a way to express your willingness to put your expertise in the service of others. Without sounding like a Bible Dork…

    That said, I think it correct to read the rending of the veil in Matthew and Luke as a negative sign, probably directed against the temple/nation.

    I think the reading in Mark has to be more nuanced. The re-ordering of the cosmos at the baptism is properly a positive thing. Is there something positive at the death of Jesus?

    Perhaps some irony?

    How did folks in the 1st century understand the relationship between the temple and the cosmos?

    see if I can synthesize it into some future theological Thang

    Oh goodness, no!


  5. Interesting stuff. I might tend to view the opening of heaven at the baptism as a positive thing, hard for me to see it any other way. I might tend to look at the rip in the veil at the death as a negative thing.

    Anyway, thanks again.

  6. I think that the repetition of that odd verb probably requires us to interpret the two events together.

    Interestingly enough, I had a bet that every LDS student would go in one direction:

    1) toward the temple as a model of the cosmos,

    2) toward the rending of the veil at the death of Christ as a means of restoring the temple to its status as an accurate model of the cosmos.

    That is, at the baptism of Christ, the relationship between heaven and earth was permanently altered, or by virtue of the present tense, in the process of being permanently alterd.

    When God tore the veil in the temple, he made the temple once again match the wider universe, but by ironically destroying it for its present use.

    So you get a sign of the end of the Mosaic order as well as a sign of God’s displeasure, but the news is not all bleak. Heaven and earth will never be so separated again.

  7. Sorry to be slow to respond, Mogget. The quote is actually from Davis Bell in this post, who said, “It is therefore more than a little shocking — and embarrassing — to me that my knowledge of many doctrines of the Church is often pulled from a witch’s brew of gossip, hearsay, and stuff I heard at EFY. “

Comments are closed.