Messianic Secret

A theory about the gospels. It was observed by William Wrede [[➝ Wrede, William]] in 1901 that the inconsistencies in the narrative about Jesus in Mark render incredible some accounts of the life of Jesus. It is not possible to trace how Jesus became during his ministry increasingly conscious of his Messianic status. Wrede remarked on the oddness that Jesus commanded people he had healed to be silent about it (surely an impossibility! Mark 5:43). Indeed sometimes (Mark 7:36) they immediately disobeyed the request.
Wrede explained that Mark was giving not a historical account but a theological interpretation. It was impossible for Jesus' Messiahship to have been accepted until after belief in the resurrection. Then it was realized that Jesus had been the Messiah all along. But how was it that he was not recognized? The answer was that he had sworn people to secrecy—though the demons, being supernatural beings, recognized the truth (Mark 1:24). When Jesus spoke in parables, Mark's view was that they were deliberately couched in language which concealed the truth from the listening crowd (Mark 4:12). So Mark's editorial explanation is given as an injunction of Jesus in 9:9.
It is generally agreed that Mark's gospel is a theological interpretation born out of the Church's post-resurrection faith, but Wrede's theory is not acceptable as it stands. The secrecy motif embraces much more than Messiahship (as indeed with the public miracles). And some apparently Messianic events (e.g. the entry into Jerusalem) attract no command to secrecy: cf. Luke 19:40. There was no reason in the Jewish upbringing of the disciples for them to have come to regard Jesus as Messiah as a result of the resurrection. Another explanation of the material is that in the 1st cent. CE there were a number of Messianic conceptions on offer (as in the book of Jubilees [[➝ Jubilees, book of]]). If Jesus was to reveal in any way his sense of self-understanding, he was bound to use the categories that were available. It was necessary to disavow, for example, any obviously nationalistic, xenophobic features of Messiahship. The injunctions to secrecy could therefore have been a precaution taken by Jesus, not always with success (since some followers refused to keep silent, Mark 7:36–7). Jesus' wish to keep his status secret was perhaps taken to be an implied permission for Mark's readers to keep their faith hidden from public scrutiny. But a time for ‘outing’ their allegiance would come later, for he was a Messiah aiming to save by suffering and service; and he called upon the disciples to tread the same path; which perhaps explains their horror (Mark 8:32) and foreboding.

Dictionary of the Bible.

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