Redescribing Jesus' Divinity Through a Social Science Theory

An Interdisciplinary Analysis of Forgiveness and Divine Identity in Ancient Judaism and Mark 2:1-12

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Beniamin Pascut
  • Tübingen, Germany: 
    Mohr Siebeck
    , July
     254 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Beniamin Pascut argues for Jesus as YHWH using the communication theory of identity in Mark’s pericope of Jesus healing (and forgiving) the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12). He justifies this identification through the examination of forgiveness in biblical and extrabiblical Jewish material arguing that it is a monadic divine prerogative implying that Jesus’s act of forgiveness is a claim to and act of deity. 

In the introduction (1-18) the author defines the communication theory of identity using four frames/layers, namely, personal, referring to “markers and characteristics that make an identity unique and distinguishable from others” (11, 22), enactment, as the “person’s activities and communication” where “actions reinforce, support and confirm who he really is” (63), relational, respecting how one is positioned towards or with respect to others (35), and communal, a form of identity related to one’s “identification with a group” (11-12). 

He argues his thesis in three parts: First, “The Divine Identity of YHWH and of Jesus” (19-82), establishes Christ’s divinity through the layers of communication theory via the divine act of forgiveness as its marker. Second, “Forgiveness” (83-154), identifies Jesus as able to forgive sins being a third party and exercising this monadic divine activity. Third, “Forgiveness and Jesus’s Divine Identity in Mark 2” (155-200), examines Mark 2:1-12, validates Jesus's forgiving by the healing of the paralytic, and identifies Jesus as YHWH. Pascut provides a Summary and Prospects for Further Study (201-212). 

In part 1, Pascut applies the identity layers first to YHWH and then to Christ and suggests a merger of personages. Under the personal layer YHWH embodies a steadfast love under a rubric of knowledge fully realized within the new covenant. Adjuncts define Jesus from Nazareth or as Christ/Messiah, Son of the Most High God, and the Holy one of God. More importantly, images, divine titles in the OT (exodus imagery, κύριος), and supernatural attributes are applied to Jesus. The enactment layer highlights the Exodus event as the par excellent example for YHWH (29, 34). Jesus is featured in his teachings and miracles—the latter receiving most attention representing “one-third of Mark’s narrative” (65). Three episodes (the healing of the leper [Mark 1:40-44]; the power over the wind and waves [Mark 4:35-41]; and walking on the sea [Mark 6:45-52]) tie Jesus to the monadic activity of God. The relational layer pictures God as a creator uniquely related to creatures and Israel. While Jesus is connected to humanity, the divine relationship takes precedence identifying him as the bridegroom (Mark 2:18-22), as the Lord over the Sabbath (Mark 2:28), and in electing the Twelve (Mark 3:13-19). The communal layer identifies YHWH with Israel, the patriarchs, and all of heaven and earth (polemically within a community of pagan gods). Jesus is identified with humanity in general, his Jewish community in particular, and essentially in his filial relationship with the Father. 

Part 2 deals with forgiveness and utilizes three arguments “for the proposal that Jesus’ authority to forgive is an indication of sharing the divine identity of Israel’s God” (83). Chapter 3 addresses the philosophical concept of forgiveness in terms of first (the offender), second (the offended), and third (over lapping with the second) parties and supplements this paradigm with the human/divine perspectives of forgiveness in scripture. Under the axiom that only the second party can truly forgive a first party, Jesus as the third party forgives because he overlaps with the second party (God). Chapter 4 treats forgiveness as a monadic feature of YHWH’s character and closely aligned with the personal, relational, and enactment layers (11Q5 xxiv 3-16; cf. Mark 2:10). Chapter 5 address various Jewish claimants for forgiving including the angel of the Lord, the high priests and their sons, the priestly Messiah of Qumran, Samuel the prophet, a Jewish diviner, Melchizedek, and a priestly messianic figure. All are dismissed except the angel of the Lord who is able to forgive precisely because “his identity clearly overlaps with that of YHWH” (134). Other figures may forgive sins indirectly via expiation in the sacrificial system. 

Part 3 addresses Jesus’s third-party-forgiving of the paralytic through a careful analysis of Mark 2. This comprises Jesus’s assertion of forgiveness (chapter 6; Mark 2:5) where the passive (in ἀφίενταί σου αἱ ἁμαρτίαι) does not necessarily rule out a first person active activity (Mark 1:40-42; 3:5; 5:27-30; 7:32-35), citing Speech Act theory (159). The objection (chapter 7; Mark 2:7) asks whether the scribes correctly understood Jesus’s claim as threatening to “the principle that God is one” and blasphemous (167, 177). The author concludes, “The wording of εἷς ὁ θεός is a natural response to Jesus claiming the prerogative of God and denying the Jewish belief that God is one” (177). Jesus’s counter-argument (chapter 8; Mark 2:8-11) is composed in syllogistic logic via forensic language (ἳνα δὲ εἰδῆτε ὃτι, “in order that you might know that”) validating the efficacy of his previously immaterial performative utterance (of forgiving) by a material performative utterance (of healing). The amazement of the eyewitnesses (chapter 9; Mark 2:12) embodies “situational irony” or “a scene in which the Christological significance is unknown to the characters in the narrative world, but known to the audience” (193, 198). 

The author’s conclusions provide a helpful summary of the thesis and offer avenues for using this method of research for further christological studies. 

Two questions arise from this work: First, does the identity of Jesus with God suggest a form of Unitarianism or Trinitarianism? Second, does the presence of divine beings in any way impinge upon the exclusive transcendence of YHWH? Pascut’s utilizing of the communication theory is lucid, insightful, and meticulous. New Testament scholars would profit greatly by employing this theory to other functional topics of identity.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Donald E. Hartley is Adjunct Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, VA.

Date of Review: 
December 12, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Beniamin Pascut Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Joseph & Alice McKeen Study Center.



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