Mark 13:32 and the Spirit

In Mark 13:32, Jesus says that no man knows the day or hour, not the angels, not even the Son, but only the Father. The limit in the knowledge of Jesus is sometimes explained by saying he was speaking from His humanity, and that there are many more examples in Scripture that He was not omniscient in His humanity.

But what about the inference to be drawn from this passage that the Holy Spirit does not (or at least did not) know the day or hour either?

This is related to another matter, actually, that of places where Jesus somehow seems to be ignorant of things -- leading to the question, "How can Jesus be God, yet not know things (i.e., not be omniscient)?" This includes cites like Luke 8:43-5 (where Jesus does not know who in the crowd touched him).

My own ruminations in this area lead me to believe that the typical answer -- that Jesus emptied himself of his power, while making a good point, does not go far enough -- partly because it doesn't explain the Holy Spirit's implicit "ignorance" in Mark 13:32.

What I believe is happening here has to get into some Trinitarian theology, and the crossover temporality of two members of the Trinity which requires them to divest themselves of certain abilities -- what we refer to, in terms of Christ, as a kenotic emptying (Phil 2:6-11).

Note that this should be viewed in line with the "dual nature" (human/divine) of Christ and NOT the "kenotic heresy" which misuses Phil. 2:6-11. In the view being explained here, Christ's "human nature" is the kenoticized one. The divine consciousness remains intact but is not accessed or used under typical circumstances. To put it another way, the incarnated Jesus is divine Wisdom with "half its brain tied behind its back." The attributes are accessible, but not used.

The key for me lies in the verses that indicate a "subordinate" position of Jesus to God the Father. (Like, "The Father is greater than I.") Skeptics often ask how this equates with Jesus being "God" -- the question misses something; we regard Jesus as "God the Son". More literally, Jesus is the Word and Wisdom of God incarnate. (It would take too long to explain here, but for a good start, see my article on Wisdom linked below.)

Now if Jesus is the "Word" of God, and subordinate to God, then Jesus is dependent upon God the Father for his existence. If the Father ceased to exist, so would Jesus. My thought on this related to Mark 13:32//Matthew 24:36 is that Jesus does not know the day or the hour because the Father has not yet "spoken" the word yet (in the temporal realm, related to the human nature; this does not speak to knowledge in the eternal realm and the divine nature) that declares the day and hour.

But Christ "emptied" himself of his divine power to come to earth -- as would be needed, for had he not done so, even practically speaking, it would destroy the world. So in this context, the Father has given some signs to look for, but that is all. (By the way, I hold to a preterist view of this passage, but it doesn't make any difference in the context of this discussion.)

Now shift over to the Holy Spirit. The role of the Spirit is as the person of God's creative power and effect, but it is quite clear that the Spirit is subordinate in the same sense that Jesus is, and so subject to the same restrictions in "knowledge" (again, in the temporal realm) that the Son is -- again, were it otherwise, the awesome power of God would destroy all in this world it came in contact with (notably we sinful humans).

In other words, it may be proper as well to speak of the Holy Spirit undergoing a kenotic "emptying" of his own in order to do its work on earth. It may be that the Incarnation involved, for the Word, an even greater emptying. But this is all speculative, based on philosophical considerations; and it is only implicitly supported by Scripture. However, I do think it is sound in principle.

A scholar gave me another interpretation, noting 1 Cor. 2:11, "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." This argues that in Mark 13:32, the Spirit is included in the range of the Father by implication. While I find this a little contrived, and think 1 Cor. 2:11 does not of necessity imply exhaustive knowledge, others may accept it as a viable option.

In Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament, contributor Adam Messer offers an important essay responding to charges by Bart Ehrman regarding Matthew 24:36:

No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

In some manuscripts, "nor the Son" is missing. Ehrman finds this to be evidence of theological tampering by scribes who were embarrassed by Jesus' lack of omniscience.

We have already answered (with Wallace) that the excision of the critical phrase "nor the Son" does not by itself warrant such a change, since, among other things, 1) the phrase is only rarely excised from the Markan parallel account, and 2) Matthew still has Jesus say that the Father "only" (or alone) knows the day and hour, which excludes the Son quite clearly so that the alleged problem remains. Messer now contributes a coup de grace to Ehrman's thesis with a survey of patristic evidence concerning Matthew 24:36, which is so valuable that we feel it worth a summary - especially given, as Messer observes, that Ehrman makes this one of his showcase examples of scribal tampering.

Messer reasons that since scribes were not exactly theologians, if they had any problem with a passage, it would have come from teaching authorities. Logically, then, if Ehrman is correct, Matthew 24:36 ought to have been a source of consternation for early church theologians. The problem Ehrman has, though, is that it clearly wasn't -- there is no sign at all that patristic authors were disturbed by "nor the Son" being in the text. To be sure, it posed a theological question that required an answer; but the patristic authors, far from entering panic mode, discussed what they perceived to be reasonable solutions in the same manner they discussed other issues of the same type. There is no sign that they consider "nor the Son" to be some sort of insoluble problem which might lead them to wish it were not there.

Having surveyed patristic references to Matt. 24:36 (and the parallel in Mark 13:32), as well as other relevant information, Messer offered some pertinent observations.

First, there is a factor involved that we probably wouldn't think of: Copies of the NT were also made by heretics, and for various reasons associated with the economy of producing manuscripts, it is not impossible that orthodox Christians unwittingly used manuscripts that had been copied by heretics. In other words, rather than "nor the Son" being excised by orthodox scribes, it could be that the phrase was excised by heretical scribes, and that these manuscripts came into the possession of the orthodox and were used and copied by them.

Surveying heresies of the period, Messer concludes that certain modalist heresies, which desired to eliminate any difference between the members of the Trinity, would be motivated to remove "nor the Son". Among heresies of this order were Sabellianism, which concluded that the Son and Father were the same.

Second, Messer compiles the reactions of several patristic writers to Mathew 24:36/Mark 13:32 and finds that there simply was no serious difficulty had with it. Here are the clearest referents from among those he collects:

Third, combined with the above information, information on the text itself leads to the conclusion that the phrase did not exist in at least some manuscripts prior to the Arian controversy. The above analysis may lead to speculation that the Arian controversy was what inspired the excision. However, an important fact is that Origen -- a writer well before the Arian controversy -- was our earliest textual critic, and discussed any variant he was aware of. Matthew 24:36 is not in his roster. While he may have forgotten such variations, or not had a universal enough awareness of all manuscript traditions, this remains a point of reckoning.

Additionally, there is a point which confounds Ehrman rather ironically: For all of these later writers to discuss the problem means that they had manuscripts which contained the key phrase. Some were also aware of manuscripts that did not have it. So, Messer asks us, what must have happened? The evidence, he believes, leads to the conclusion that the excision (if that is what it was) happened very early, in the late second century , and was not the result of some conscious effort or demand, but was "naturally disseminated" as were many other variants.

Fourth, based on the above, Messer points to another problem not considered by Ehrman. Ehrman supposes that "nor the Son" was removed as a reaction to the adoptionist heresy. But as noted, modalist heresies would be anxious to remove it as well. Therefore, the scribe Ehrman supposes to be on the job would be darned if he did, darned if he didn't. Only modalists had a motivation to remove it, in a way which would not also give in to some other group.

In the end, Messer's conclusion is that Matthew originally lacked, "nor the Son" -- and I daresay in light of his discussion that this earns the right to be called the simplest solution as well.


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