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HOW A PHILOSOPHICAL ASSESSMENT OF THE TEXT OF MARK 4:35-41 ILLUMINATES AN UNDERSTANDING OF DIVINE AUTHORITY IN THE PERSON OF JESUS

By

MOISES A. ROBLETO

A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty

of the James and Carolyn McAfee School of Theology

at Mercer University

in Partial Fulfillment of the

Requirements for the Degree

MASTER OF THEOLOGICAL STUDIES

Atlanta, GA

2021

HOW A PHILOSOPHICAL ASSESSMENT OF THE TEXT OF MARK 4:35-41 ILLUMINATES AN UNDERSTANDING OF DIVINE AUTHORITY IN THE PERSON OF JESUS

By

MOISES A. ROBLETO

Approved:

______________________________________________________ Date _____________

Dr. Jeffrey Willetts, Ph.D. Faculty Supervisor for Thesis

_______________________________________________________ Date ____________

Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford, Ph.D.

Faculty Advisor for Thesis

_______________________________________________________Date _____________

Karen G. Massey, Ph.D.

Associate Dean, Masters Degree Programs, School of Theology

_______________________________________________________Date _____________

C. Gregory DeLoach, D.Min. Dean,

School of Theology

© 2021

MOISES A. ROBLETO


All Rights Reserved

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

As with any project I have completed, many have been responsible for my success. I wish first to thank the faculty of the School of Theology at Mercer University. I would like to certainly lend my appreciation to my thesis advisor, Dr. Jeffrey Willetts for his time and assisting or directing my path writing this essay. Also Dr. Lloyd Allen, a man whom I respect and admire deeply. Sincere appreciation to Dr. deClaisse-Walford, this essay would have never been completed without her input and professionalism and help since the beginning of my academic endeavor.

While on the other hand, not directly related to my success in academic life and business endeavors I would also like to thank all that did not believe in me, especially my high school teacher that told me I would never amount to anything. (Thank you so much for being the impetus in all the good things I do)


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ABSTRACT

MOISES A. ROBLETO

HOW A PHILOSOPHICAL ASSESSMENT OF THE TEXT OF MARK 4:35-41 ILLUMINATES AN UNDERSTANDING OF DIVINE AUTHORITY IN THE PERSON OF JESUS

Under the direction of JEFFREY WILLETS, Ph.D.

Explicitly or implicitly and whether we like it or not, there are problems which arise when modern Christians read the Bible as a Christian text, as part of their religious practice. The focus of this study will be on the philosophical problems caused by the historical distance between the Biblical world and ours. Those problems arise when a modern lens is applied to an ancient religious text. In this thesis, I will give particular focus to the ways that conceptual confusions arise in understanding the text by providing a philosophical analysis of the concept of miracles in Mark 4:35-41 and how this Biblical account in the life of Jesus and his disciples illuminates the concept of divine authority. I will show how modern assumptions can distort readings and meanings of the text. I will also show how the reading of the text may be freed from these confused assumptions by making a philosophical assessment of the concept of miracles to support the claim of Jesus’ divinity. There are many philosophical questions to be asked about what we find in the text of Mark 4:35-41 regarding a miracle performed by Jesus and how we can ascribe sense to it as twenty-first century readers of the Bible. The stated purpose for undertaking this inquiry was to study the concept of “Divine Authority” this was accomplished by means of a thorough study of leading postmodern scholars own published writings, and lectures, giving special consideration to the work in Philosophy of Christianity by Gareth Moore. How are we to understand the story of Jesus calming a storm? Such writings tended and clarified what we find in the story of a Storm Stilled. The story is not told in causal terms, it is not a matter of cause and effect, in fact, the story is told as one simple command and nature obeys. And so in this essay I respond to the disciples question, not “How did he do it” but, the real question, “What sort of a man is this, that even the winds and sea obey him?”

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION TO MODERNITY AND THE BIBLE

Explicitly or implicitly and whether we like it or not, there are problems which arise when modern Christians read the Bible as a Christian text, as part of their religious practice. The focus of this study will be on the philosophical problems caused by the historical distance between the Biblical world and ours. Those problems arise when modern lens are applied to an ancient religious text. In this thesis, I will give particular focus to the ways that conceptual confusions arise in understanding the text by providing a philosophical analysis of the concept of miracles in Mark 4:35-41, and how this Biblical account in the life of Jesus and his disciples illuminates the concept of divine authority. I will show how modern assumptions can distort readings and meanings of the text. Moreover, I will show how the reading of the text may be freed from these confused assumptions by making a philosophical assessment of the concept of miracles to support the claim of Jesus’ divinity. There are many philosophical questions to be asked about what we find in the text of Mark 4:35-41 regarding a miracle performed by Jesus and how we can ascribe sense to it as twenty-first century readers of the Bible.

One of the most important questions that the world has continuously grappled with is: Who is Jesus? Answering the question forms the task of what is referred to as Christology, which describes the study of the person of Christ. Moreover, the subject of Christology describes a branch of theology that explicitly deals with Christ’s person both human and divine. There is no seminary student who is not under some obligation to study who Jesus is. The Christian

Scriptures are foundational to that understanding and the Gospels are central to this knowledge.

However, assessing the sense of the Gospels for Christian understanding is full of difficulties including the gap between modern and ancient forms of understanding.

The Gospel of Mark is the earliest of the four gospels within the New Testament and as such, perhaps, the most authentic of the four Gospels.
This fact and that it survives at all is important to me. I find the book of Mark appealing because it not only shows the humanity of Jesus, but also represents Him as one with divine authority. According to accounts within the Gospels themselves, Jesus taught uniquely, and when He spoke, His disciples somehow knew He had an authority that was unlike any other prophet sent before him. During my studies of the Old Testament, time and again I have seen that God is not to be construed as the name of a person or a thing. And yet in the Gospels, there is a clear indication that the person of Jesus is one in whom we may recognize the divine. The focal point of this research will be the passage of The Gospel of Mark 4:35-41:

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”


He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.


He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

When this passage is analyzed, there are difficulties of understanding the text and that is the kind of challenges contemporary Christians face, which makes the understanding of the Bible hard. We see that the ideas underneath the disagreements are philosophical. And the question is whether those underlying assumptions by modern scholars are not themselves part of the confusion in understanding the biblical text. My goal, through grammatical philosophical analysis, is to analyze and clarify how to read the biblical text in to avoid the problems certain modern readings inevitably create. In other words, what does it mean that Jesus, in the Gospel of Mark, is doing impossible things, things not possible for a mere human? What does it mean that Jesus can command nature, and nature obeys?


Limitations

First, the philosophical approach to the question will be grammatical rather than analytic or hermeneutical. This approach was pioneered by the twentieth century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, and has been further developed in the philosophy of religion by such figures as D.Z. Phillips, Peter Winch, Norman Malcolm, Rush Rhees, Gareth Moore, and Stephen Mulhall. Secondly, for the last two centuries the subject of the reliability of the Gospel of Mark has found no rest. The size of this paper does not permit to include a comprehensive examination of all opinions on this topic. This inquiry will focus its reflection on Mark 4:35-41 only. There are many accounts in the Gospels of miracles performed by Jesus. I am focusing on Mark 4:35-41 primarily because Mark is the earliest of the Gospels, and therefore more reliable historically, and because this particular account in Mark is a good example of the relationship between the person of Jesus and the miraculous.


CHAPTER TWO


REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE

Christian Scholars And Their Philosophical Attempts To Preserve Traditional Readings Of The Bible

This next chapter successfully examines the thoughts and perceptions of William Lane Craig on the credibility of the miracles performed by Jesus in the New Testament. One of the most important tools of communication for modern philosophers is the way they understand traditional readings of the biblical text. A believe in Jesus as Christ-the Messiah-separate church, synagogues, Christians and Jews.
For more than 2000 years, billions of people have believed that the teachings of Jesus provide them salvation in this world and in the hereafter as well. The teachings of Jesus have been translated to almost all major languages, and people believing in his faith are present in all parts of the world. It is today the biggest religion in the world, with 2.4 billion followers.
It is not just the biggest religion of today, but it has remained as one of the key religions throughout history since its inception. For the past 2000 years, it has been expanding from one region to another and became a source of becoming and enlightenment for billions of people throughout this time. “Even the most critical historian can confidently assert that a Jew named Jesus worked as a teacher and wonder-worker in Palestine during the reign of Tiberius, was executed by crucifixion under the prefect Pontius Pilate and continued to have followers after his death.”
And this is not just because of his teachings, but also his miracles from which people even today find inspiration.

The teachings, miracles, stories, words, and deeds of Jesus have been recorded in four key Gospels, The writings of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, and they have passed on from generation to generation. The Gospels acted as the main source of information, but the perception and comprehension of Gospels have changed and evolved over time. The historical study of the Bible started as the gospels perceived as supernatural histories before the age of enlightenment. The masses believed the stories shared in the Gospel without any critical analysis. They believed that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and that he died, and God raised him from death. During the enlightenment phase, the perception about gospels changed. Theologians of the enlightenment began to critically analyze the teachings and miracles of Jesus presented in the Gospels and the quest for the historical Jesus continues. Under this perception, scholars provided logical rationale and reason for the stories, deeds, and actions mentioned in the Gospels. This process continued till 1835 when “The Life of Jesus Critically Examined” by David Friedrich Strauss was published. Then a new era started a type of historical guide to the life of Jesus with attention to historical authenticity of the Gospels. As perceptions about the Gospels changed, the perception of Jesus also changed. Today, questions are raised about the possibility of Jesus born of Virgin Mary and his resurrection after death. The miracles of Jesus are questioned even by the brightest minds of today.

William Lane Craig is one of the most influential philosophers who openly questions the credibility and reliability of the miracles performed by Jesus. He claims that most of the stories about miracles of Jesus are legendary and are addressed only by legends. Still, he gives the benefit of the doubt that Jesus carried out these miracles as he understands the miracles

a result of divine and supernatural causality.
Craig claims that when historians critique the four primary sources of the life of Jesus; even the most doubtful person cannot fail to believe that Jesus cast out demons and healed the sick through his miracles, as the synoptic Gospels presuppose Jesus as a miracle worker. Craig believes that the resurrection hypothesis, in turn, is dependent on the existence of God, so his argument begins addressing the criteria of credibility which enables readers to develop a specific interest in the preaching and teachings of Jesus as a historical event. In this light, Christian scholars ended up linking Jesus to these miracles such as casting out demons and treating the sick.
But most believers today recognize that this idea of mythological leverage is traditionally inappropriate. On the other hand, Christian fundamentalist strongly oppose modern scholarship, and biblical criticism. The extraordinary life of Jesus as a miracle worker is only necessarily an indication that a person is divine.

Dr. Craig states that the focus of discussion around the reliability of the Gospels, and miracles of Jesus is misplaced. It is not just the number of manuscripts or age of manuscripts which dictate the authenticity, but it is also the rationale behind these miracles which prove its correctness.
All the manuscripts from the 1st century and 21st century carry the same stories, actions, words, and deeds of Jesus. Despite the general belief by Barth Erhman that the manuscripts have been corrupted or changed and a contrast between the first manuscripts available to them and today’s manuscripts show that there is not even a single difference in doctrine or theology. Furthermore, in the New Testament, there are approximately 140,000 words, and among this number, only 14,000 words are not authentic or do not have sufficient evidence to prove their authenticity.

This number is very minimal and presents only 1% of the total word count. In other words, there exists substantial proof for the remaining 99% of words. This means that not only is the New Testament available today for preaching is as accurate as its first-ever available version, but it also contains the information which has been authenticated by sufficient sources.
There exists a distinctive feature between Dr. Craig’s work and the work of Friedrich Strauss. David Friedrich Strauss, in his book “The Life of Jesus Critically Examined,” stated that the stories, words, deeds and miracles explained in the gospels are not actual stories but myths. He provided a unique understating of myth. He said that myth does not have a physical existence, but it is also true. Strauss said that these miracles attached to Jesus’s name did not happen, but it does not mean that his early followers misunderstood natural events as supernatural miracles. In his opinion, these miracles and stories are created to convey the attributes and abilities of Jesus. Similarly, Dr. Craig says that a miracle is an event that the natural causes at a time and place cannot produce at that time and place. In other words, they reflect the life of Jesus, his abilities, powers, and divine nature. They do not have to be historically proven because they are not presentations of history. History might state something different because there are other accounts of the past, but the Gospels are a primary source of information about Jesus, his life, and his teachings. Another perspective shared by Dr. Craig is that the miracles of Jesus have more connection with faith than scientific reasoning. For example, Jesus’ birth might seem biologically impossible, but in terms of faith and belief it is entirely possible. If one believes that God exists and he is the creator of this world, then logically we can infer that a powerful God who is capable of creating the universe can also create a human life without male intervention. What difference does it make for God to give life a chance in the womb of a virgin woman?

Similarly, the death and resurrection of Jesus are differentiated perspectives in Mark and John’s gospels. And since both are contradictory, it indicates that only one story is accurate, But Dr. Craig says that neither of the two is correct or incorrect.
It is not the way the story is told; It is

what



the story told. Both stories accept Jesus left his home and went to Jerusalem for his last meal. There, Jesus had discussions with his followers, after which he was arrested and crucified the next day. This process has some ambiguities because of two distinct versions, but Craig argues that the spirit of the story is more important than its structure. The order of story could vary, but the spirit or soul remained intact. Dr. Craig states that the fundamental truth of Christianity is dependent on the general reliability of the Gospels
. He believes that the Gospels presents four facts that can be demonstrated historically. Dr. Craig writes in his published work that historian can examine the historical grounds for belief in Jesus’s resurrection focusing number one in the honorable burial by Joseph of Arimathea, number two the empty tomb, his post mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.
According to Dr. Craig the resurrection accounts are the best proof Christian have to claim that God has revealed himself decisively in Jesus. The resurrection is God’s vindication of Jesus’s radical claims to divine authority.

Modern Sensibilities And Skeptical Understanding Of The Gospels

Bart Ehrman writes, “There are few things more dangerous than inbred religious certainty.”
Every religion follows a unique pattern for recording and propagating the primary teachings, which can be interpreted as per the requirements of the respective era. Some religions have their whole teachings in a secured recorded manner, while others still struggle to find lost parts or confirm the authenticity of current teachings. This issue is more common in older religions that were founded when there were no proper tools for writing and recording. Even if there were sufficient tools, the key people did not think of recording it. For most monotheistic religions, the recording phase started much later than the initial date of teachings. Although maximum efforts were done to reach out to the authentic sources and record only those teachings, practices, values, and laws that are backed by sufficient evidence, to this day, many arguments exist questioning the authenticity of these teachings. These controversies around teachings exist in all Semitic religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

In Christianity, the main arguments surrounding the authenticity and reliability of teachings exist because of differences between primary sources of information: The synoptic Gospels of Luke, Mark, Matthew. Another primary source is the Gospel of John, which contains the highest Christology. The phenomenon of synoptic Gospels exists because the Gospels of Luke, Mark, and Matthew share the same stories, teachings, and in most cases, with the same words in same order. On the contrary, the Gospel of John has very distinctive content, stories, words, and theology. This chapter will explore different opinions on the reliability of Gospels with a special focus on authenticity and unreliability of gospels under the light of the work of Bart Ehrman. When world-class biblical scholar Bart Ehrman first began to study the texts of the Bible in their original languages, he began to discover the multitude of mistakes and intentional alterations that had been made by earlier translators. In his published work, Ehrman tells the story behind the mistakes and changes that ancient scribes made to the New Testament and shows the great impact they had upon the Bible we study in seminary. He frames his account with personal reflections on how his study of the Gospels in their original Greek manuscripts made him abandon his faith.

The Gospels of the New Testament are the most inspiring, powerful, moving, and beautiful books for seminary students. Their stories about Jesus of Nazareth’s deeds and words are a major source of knowledge for those who seek guidance from God through Jesus. They have defined moral, ethical, and social laws for generation after generation. The Gospels have been the most important source of information and teachings in the Christian tradition for almost the last two thousand years, including information regarding creation, morality, a loving God, mankind in need of a savior, and Jesus coming to the world in a particular time in history. The scope of these books is so extensive that they remain equally crucial for civilizations and for individual lives. Despite their evident significance throughout history, there is not sufficient evidence that the books are historically accurate. “There were some books, such as the Gospels, that had been written anonymously, only later to be ascribed to certain authors who probably did not write them.”

Ehrman’s Skepticism

Erhman argues that we do not possess any original copies of the Gospels; all we have are copies that contain mistakes and changes made to the original manuscripts.
There is no denying that they include valuable information that is historically very significant about the life and death of Jesus, but the content of the books is also non-historical as well. This opinion about non-historical content is shared by critical scholars across the globe. And finally Erhman insists that as a historian all miracles performed by Jesus cannot be accounted as historical events due to their incomprehensible supernatural nature.

The Gospels remained a significant part of the lives of masses throughout history, but their understanding and comprehension of these religious books varied from time to time and from civilization to civilization. According to Ehrman, the overall comprehension of the Gospels can be divided into three eras: Gospels as supernatural histories; Gospels as natural histories; and Gospels as non-historical myths.
The first era of understanding, the Gospels as supernatural histories, was the duration of time from the 1st century to 17th century, from the beginning of the Christian faith until the bloody wars which decimated the population in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This was a stage where scholars studying the Bible believed and stated that the teachings and stories mentioned in the Gospels were, in fact, supernatural histories. This era was the comprehension of the gospel before humanity reached the Enlightenment period. Before the advent of the 18th century, the general belief of scholars termed this era as supernatural history because only it provided them with a possible explanation of the stories and miracles mentioned in the gospels. They believed that the books are based on supernatural events, and that is why they include stories about remarkable and miraculous happenings, such as Jesus calming a storm, commanding nature as God does. The gospels are full of miracle stories from the birth of Jesus until his resurrection. From start to end, the Gospels are filled with miracles and magical events for which the human mind has no explanation, so postmodern scholars believed them to be supernatural stories. Scholars called them supernatural but believed them in full spirit. They were convinced that these events happened with the help of God, with the exception of the miracle with the storm where Jesus does not ask for help and calms the wind and waves on his own.

Furthermore, the second phase of understanding named “The Gospels as natural histories” was the era of enlightenment. During this time, scholars looked and perceived things very differently, and they broke free from the previous restrictions imposed by the Church, and they created a rational way of seeing and analyzing things. During this phase, the emphasis remained on the possibility of all human reasons for comprehending the world and the nature and origins of life in it. During this time, scholars found scientific and rational reasons for the miracles that happened during the lifetime of Jesus. For example, the crucifixion and resurrection were explained by Paulus as the body of Jesus going into a coma because of severe stress. Later, he came out of the coma, which has been perceived as given a new life after death.

The third phase, named ‘The Gospels as non-historical myths,’ started in 1835-36 when David Friedrich Strauss published his book ‘The Life of Jesus Critically Examined.’ This publication initiated the third stage of gospels’ comprehension. He argued that both previous comprehensions were not right and that gospels were neither supernatural histories nor natural histories; in fact, they are not histories at all. He presented the argument that the gospels were actually myths; the stories mentioned in them never happened. They were created by human minds and presented to the rest of the world as reality.
Here the understanding of myth is crucial. Friedrich explained myth is something that never happened, but usually the main character in a myth is a god, or supernatural humans.
In other words, the miracles mentioned in the gospels never happened, but the message they want to communicate about Jesus is true. The stories were created to tell the world truth about Jesus.

Erhman argues the stories mentioned in the gospels are historically inaccurate, but they attempt to convey and communicate a true comprehension of Jesus.
It is certain that some information mentioned about Jesus in gospels is correct, but their order and additional information are not. For example, the incident of Jesus leaving his home, going to the city of Jerusalem and having a Passover meal (the last supper) is, in fact, true. It is true that this meal and meeting enraged the Roman authorities, and they ordered the arrest of Jesus; the details about where the meal was prepared, who prepared it, where Jesus met his followers when he was arrested, and when he was crucified are all different. The major differences exist in the versions explained in the Gospel of John and in the Gospel of Mark. The two primary sources have distinctive differences, and their versions of the story contradict each other. John’s version is theologically correct but historically inaccurate, while on the other hand, Mark presents a theologically incorrect but historically accepted version. This does not mean that the miracle of Jesus calming the storm occurred. Either one of these versions is correct, and the other is not, or it is possible that neither of the two versions is correct. Perhaps something else happened, maybe it stopped raining or the whole story was a fabrication. But the two Gospel authors perceived them in different ways and then explained in their own unique manner.

Furthermore, the stories mentioned in the Gospels might have higher religious and theological significance, but they are historically inaccurate. The life of Jesus was influenced and impacted by the culture and values of that time. His birth, life, and death, including the miracle of the storm, are all influenced by the traditions of his time, but some accounts in the Gospels present stories that do not relate to the traditions of that time, which indicates that these stories are historically inaccurate. This is the same point presented by David Friedrich Strauss and Ehrman as they argued that gospels are full of such stories that cannot be correct under historical lenses.
There are a wide range of inaccurate historical stories, including the one about Jesus’ last meal and crucifixion, the Gospels presents different accounts sometimes irreconcilable. This is not limited to this one incident. Many stories mentioned in these gospels contradict each other or contradict with the historical values of that time.

Another crucial point that raises the question on the reliability and authenticity of gospels is that there is little to no information about the authors of gospels. Even though throughout history, the Gospels have been deemed as the most significant source of information about the life of Jesus, and they have been called by their authors “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,” there is no …

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