Earl S. Johnson, «Mark 15,39 and the So-Called Confession of the Roman Centurion», Vol. 81 (2000) 406-413
Continuing examination of the grammatical, literary and historical evidence indicates that the centurion's remarks about Jesus in Mark 15,39 cannot be understood as a full Christian confession of Jesus' divine sonship, and cannot be taken as a direct challenge to any Roman emperor in particular. Jesus' identity in the gospel is not revealed by the centurion, the demons, the disciples or in the introduction to the gospel. It is made clear by God's declaration that he truly is the Son (1,11; 9,7), and in the faith of the readers as they search for Jesus' presence in their own community.
Ongoing studies of Marks passion narrative reveal strong differences of opinion about the proper interpretation of Mk 15,39 and the use of the anarthrous ui(o_j qeou= there. Some recent examinations of the text support the traditional view that the words of the centurion constitute a true confessional statement1, whereas other research utilizing grammatical, textual and historical evidence contend that the words before the cross cannot be taken as a crux interpretum for Markan theology2. A re-examination of the Roman background of the centurions exclamation continues to demonstrate that his statement cannot be understood as a full confession of Jesus as the Son of God in Marks gospel3.
1. It is argued, for example, that the Latin divi filius (also without an article) demonstrates how it is possible to understand Marks grammar in a definite sense as an acknowledgement of the divinity of Jesus. Marks gospel, it is contended, stands as a challenge to the Roman imperial cult, the centurions confession applying especially to Augustus, the emperor most likely to be worshiped as a god at the time Mark was written. The background information available on the diction employed in the incipit of the Gospel of Mark seems to suggest that the usage of the phrase that echoes the language of the Roman imperial cult in both 1,1 and 15,39 was deliberate and the phrase ui(o_j qeou= must have challenged the intended Markan readers who were probably familiar with the practices of the state cult4. [T]o the author of the Gospel of Mark there was no doubt that the centurion confirmed the divine sonship of Jesus, marking the climax of the narrative5.
Examination of the texts of 1,1 and 15,39 demonstrates, however, that this supposed double anarthrousness6 cannot support the conclusion that