As the saying goes, a man is only as good as his reputation. Unfortunately, reputations are fragile: anything from whispered insinuation to broadcast slander can shatter even the most guarded image. While this is especially true in our world of instant media, it was also true in Jesus’ day—and Jesus knew it. At least, that’s what John H. Morris Jr. argues in his The Messianic Secret in Mark.
As we read Mark’s Gospel, we find Jesus charging his followers to keep quiet about his miracles and identity (Mark 1:40–45; 8:29–30). Yet in other scenes, Jesus encourages people to tell others about him. These seeming discrepancies have puzzled interpreters for centuries, leading to suggestions that Mark invented the charges of silence to explain why Jesus never revealed his messianic nature during his life.
In The Messianic Secret in Mark, Morris argues that this isn’t the case; rather, these are accurate descriptions of the normal behavior of a high-profile first-century person trying to grow his or her reputation while protecting it from people who would seek to discredit it. Jesus was doing what he could to protect his public image. Sometimes that meant keeping his identity and miraculous works a secret.
Morris’ groundbreaking work explores these passages in Mark’s gospel from a social science model of deviance and name-calling. Approaching the Gospel of Mark in its first-century context, Morris bridges the cultural gap between the first century and today, offering new insights into the peculiarities of Jesus’ behavior in proclaiming his ministry. With an annotated bibliography showing examples of insults, name-callings, and slanders from the New Testament era, Morris explores the lengths Jesus went to to ensure that his message of good news and salvation would spread.