Posted by: Curtis W. Lindsey | April 28, 2010

Intertestamental Background of the Son of God

The Son of God in Mark 2 of 3

The period of time between the writings of the Old and New Testaments is sometimes called the “intertestamental period.”  This makes sense for those of us who have two testaments.  But for Jewish authors, who only have one testament, this period is also called the Second Temple period because it coincides with the period of the second temple built after the return from Babylonian exile.

Many of us will never read these writings, but we have a lot of material that covers everything from apocryphal works to the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The Scrolls are writings of a Jewish community at Qumran near the Dead Sea.  One Scroll passage is particularly important for our study of the Son of God.  This text is even sometimes called the “Son of God text.”  A portion reads:

He will be called son of God, and they will call him son of the Most High…  His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom, and all his paths in truth and uprigh[tness]…  His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom. [1]

Sound familiar?  It should, because we find a very similar passage in the Gospel of Luke.  The angel tells Mary, “[Jesus] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end,” (Luke 1:32–33 ESV).  Furthermore, the Davidic Covenant includes similar language: “He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever,” (2 Samuel 7:13 ESV). 

The interpretation of this Qumran passage is difficult, but it seems best to understand this predicted figure, the son of God, as an expected messiah.  The angel in Luke uses the same language to speak of Jesus, the Messiah.  The connections between Second Samuel, the Qumran text, and Luke make it likely that the title “Son of God” transformed into a title for the messiah during the intertestamental period.

Looking back to Mark, I believe it’s likely that his original audience would have been familiar with all this background when they encounter the phrase “Son of God” in the opening words of the Gospel.

Now we’re ready to look at the unexpected way in which Mark tells his story of the Son of God.

     [1] Text from Forentino García Martínez, ed., The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English, trans. Wilfred G. E. Watson (New York: Brill, 1996), 138.

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