The Servant of the Lord and the Gospel of Mark -- By: James R. Edwards

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 08:3 (Fall 2004)
Article: The Servant of the Lord and the Gospel of Mark
Author: James R. Edwards

The Servant of the Lord and the Gospel of Mark

James R. Edwards

James R. Edwards is Professor and Chair of the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington. He has published articles in scholarly and popular journals and is a frequent speaker at churches, conferences, and lectureships. Dr. Edwards is the author of Romans in the New International Biblical Commentary (Hendrickson, 1992) and The Gospel according to Mark in the Pillar New Testament Commentary (Eerdmans, 2001).

Isaiah’s Servant of the Lord provided the early church with an interpretive key for understanding Jesus. Four passages in the Book of Acts attest that the first believers declared the significance of Jesus in Servant of the Lord imagery. In a sermon Peter is recorded as saying, “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate” (Acts 3:13).1 This reference to Jesus as God’s servant is joined by three others in Acts (3:26; 4:27, 30), all four of which are attributed either to Peter or the fledgling church in their first public pronouncements and prayers about Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem. The only other New Testament passage where Jesus is called the Servant (Greek: pais) of God is in an extended quotation of Isaiah 42:1–4 in the Gospel of Matthew. According to Matthew, Jesus’ popular appeal, his public healings, and his subsequent warnings not to disclose his identity were a fulfillment of Isaiah’s Servant of the Lord, “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased” (12:18–21).2

Oscar Cullmann and others are correct in saying that “the ‘Servant of God’ is one of the oldest titles used by the first Christians to define their faith in the person and work of Christ.”3 Nevertheless, although Servant of the Lord imagery was employed early, it was used only sparingly and did not sustain itself in early Christian literature. The five texts cited above are the sum total of the title in the New Testament, and in the succeeding century the title appears only another eleven times in three different texts.4 Moreover, the title does not appear in the letters of the Apostle Paul. This is surprising since Isaiah’s Servant of God is the only personality in the Old Testament who suffers vicariously for others, and the vicarious sacrifice of Christ on the ...

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