Mark 13:32 and Christ’s Supposed Ignorance: Four Patristic Solutions -- By: Francis X. Gumerlock

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 28:2 (Fall 2007)
Article: Mark 13:32 and Christ’s Supposed Ignorance: Four Patristic Solutions
Author: Francis X. Gumerlock


Mark 13:32 and Christ’s Supposed Ignorance:
Four Patristic Solutions

Francis X. Gumerlock*

Francis X. Gumerlock currently teaches Latin in Broomfield, Colorado and is secretary of the Colorado Classics Association.

I. The Problem Of Christ’s Supposed Ignorance1

Referring to the time of his second coming, Jesus is recorded as saying, “But of that day or hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mark 13:32, NASB; the word alone is italicized because it was supplied by the translator). The church fathers spilled much ink explaining this statement of the Lord, most often because of its import regarding Christology.2 Since the passage allegedly presents Christ as ignorant, the Arians of the early church, who denied that the Son was consubstantial with the Father, used it as a proof-text for their belief in a less-than-divine Son of God.3 On the other hand, those who held to Nicene orthodoxy and believed that Jesus was fully God and possessed all the attributes of divinity, including omniscience, responded to the Arians with Col 2:3, “In him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” The adherents of Nicene orthodoxy, besides asserting Christ’s omniscience, also had to make sense out of Mark 13:32, which seemed to teach that Jesus was ignorant of at least one detail concerning the future, i.e., the time of his return. To solve the theological dilemma of the omniscient Son of God not knowing the time of his own second coming, the church fathers proposed a variety of explanations. This article presents and evaluates four of their solutions—the philological solution of Basil of Caesarea, two

“figures of speech” solutions offered by Augustine of Hippo and Gregory of Tours respectively, and the anthropological solution of Athanasius of Alexandria.

II. The Philological Solution

In the fourth century, Basil of Caesarea (d. 379) offered a philological solution to the problem. He argued that the Greek words in Mark 13:32 do not teach that the Son was ignorant. He noted that a literal, word-for-word translation of the verse reads, “But of that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, if not (ei me) the Father.” From this philology, Basil reasoned that Jesus was in effect saying: If...

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