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Honor among Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret
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Honor among Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret


Fortress Press 2010

Runs on Windows, Mac and mobile.


Readers have long puzzled over peculiar aspects of the Gospel of Mark: Jesus’ attempts to conceal his deeds and his identity. William Wrede called these and similar motifs the “messianic secret” in Mark, and proposed that Mark had invented the “secret” to explain why the announcement of the arrival of the Son of God had not taken the world by storm. Other scholars have disagreed: perhaps Mark meant to highlight Jesus’ divinity (after all, Jesus usually doesn’t succeed in keeping himself hidden!) or perhaps Mark wanted to tie Jesus’ identity to his destiny on the cross as a warning to disciples that they may face persecution. Or, some have proposed, there simply is no single explanation for all of Jesus’ bewildering behaviors in the Gospel.

David F. Watson brings a new perspective to the “messianic secret,” relying not on the Christological concerns of nineteenth- and twentieth-century theologians, but on recent insights into the role of honor and shame in ancient Mediterranean culture on the part of social scientists. Mark’s portrayal of Jesus simultaneously shows his ability to provide favors and benefits to others and his refusal to put himself forward or draw attention to himself as a benefactor, thereby teaching that in God’s kingdom it is not the great and powerful who are most highly regarded, but the humble. Mark’s depiction of Jesus is part of a larger effort to promote a radically different understanding of honor within the family of faith.

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Key Features

  • Examines the ideas, values, experiences, and worldview of the time in which the Gospel of Mark was written
  • Explores the use of the term “messianic secret”
  • Analyzes different ways in which the Gospel of Mark has been interpreted


  • Secrecy
    • The Language of Secrecy
    • The Functions of Secrecy
    • Conclusion
  • Jesus Resists Honor
    • Affirmation, Reputation, and Honor in the Ancient Mediterranean Context
    • Jesus’ Resistance to Achieved Honor
    • Jesus’ Suppression of His Ascribed Honor
    • Conclusion
  • A New Vision of Honor
    • Revising the Honor System
    • The Disciples’ Failure to Understand
    • Conclusion
  • Honor in the Public Eye
    • Honor and Onlookers
    • Honor Displayed in Private or Secluded Spaces
    • Conclusion
  • Making the Parts into a Whole
    • Mark’s Gospel and Oral Communication
    • By Comparison: The Life of Aesop
    • Conclusion
  • Conclusion
    • Why This Story, Told in This Way?
  • Christians against Culture
  • The Fictive Family
  • Later Christian Rejection of Common Understandings of Honor
  • Concluding Remarks

Praise for the Print Edition

Taking up and refining insights from recent social–scientific exegetical research on secrecy in the Ancient Mediterranean world, Watson convincingly demonstrates that Wrede’s messianic secret hypotheses is entirely culturally implausible. Concealment passages in Mark primarily reflect the day–to–day concerns about honor and shame among early believers who would have understood the Gospel to be addressing these issues.

John J. Pilch, visiting professor, Georgetown University

David Watson has written a scholarly and very useful monograph. His soundings into the roles of secrecy in the ancient Mediterranean would further illustrate the value of anthropological history. Perhaps now Wrede’s understanding of the ‘messianic secret’ in Mark may finally be laid to rest.

Bruce J. Malina, professor of New Testament and early Christianity, Creighton University

Honor among Christians evinces perhaps the most thorough deployment of cultural anthropology for understanding Mark’s Gospel that I know, and one of the most sophisticated. Watson convincingly argues that Wrede’s durable prism of ‘the messianic secret’ has occluded our exegetical vision, which may be corrected by adopting lenses more appropriate to Mark’s own social world. The text, not a method, remains focal in Watson’s analysis, which opens rather than shuts down a broad range of productive conversation with other interpretive approaches. This is a work of genuine importance, chiefly because it illumines how subversive the Second Gospel was in its own place and time—and remains so in our own.

C. Clifton Black, Otto A. Piper Professor of Biblical Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

Product Details

  • Title: Honor among Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret
  • Author: David F. Watson
  • Publisher: Augsburg Fortress
  • Publication Date: 2010
  • Pages: 256

About David F. Watson

David F. Watson is associate professor of New Testament and academic dean for Academic Affairs at United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio. He has contributed to New Proclamation, Lectionary Homiletics, and the Wesley Study Bible.