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.
really is. The centurions ambiguous statement does not lend itself to the final illumination of Jesus identity and his true relationship to God remains a mystery to the disciples, the bystanders at the crucifixion, and the women who seek him after his raising. Gods testimony alone provides the true answer (1,11; 9,7): Jesus is the beloved Son.
4. Ched Myers provides important sociological insights which further weaken the insistence that Mark 15,39 must be interpreted as a full Christian confession of Jesus as the Son of God. Heretofore, his arguments have not been given the recognition they deserve. Myers argues (a) that to put such a realization on the lips of a Roman soldier, the very one presiding at Jesus execution30 not only gives the man more credit than he deserves, it clearly betrays an imperial bias. It is an attempt to suppress political discourse in favor of theology. (b) There are no clues which indicate that the centurion has been converted (or represents the position of a converted Roman). The scene begins with the centurion standing over against Jesus on the cross and such spatial tension usually indicates opposition (cf. 6,48; also I Thess 2,15) not solidarity. This same man reports back to his superior that Jesus is indeed dead (15,44-45.) and is not heard from again. (c) The centurions solemnity does not carry particular weight (a)lhqw=j) since Mark has previously put this same exclamation on the lips of Jesus enemies (12,14; 14,70). As is demonstrated in 3,11; 5,7; 6,3 and 14,61, the title the centurion uses does not represent a confession at all, but [may present] a hostile response to Jesus by those who are trying to gain power over him by naming him. (d) The only difference between the centurions statement about Jesus and that of the High Priest is that Jesus can no longer respond. So it is up to the reader to discern who Jesus really is. If we continue to insist that the centurions confession is the correct one, then we will have failed to learn one of the most salient lessons of the whole story, which is that those in power indeed know who Jesus is, and are out to destroy whereas those who follow him are often unsure who he is, but struggle to trust him nevertheless.
The text of Mark 15,39 and the so called confession of the Roman centurion has been given more weight that either can bear. Although it is true that Jesus is the Son of God to Mark it is not demonstrated in the introduction, by the demons or Jesus enemies. Jesus true identity is only revealed out of the mouth of God (1,11; 9,7) and in the hearts of readers who know what the gospel characters do not fully realize.
The continuing debate about the proper interpretation of Mark 15,39 is reminiscent of the attempts over the years to force-feed an interpretation of the Messianic Secret into Markan theology. For more than 50 years scholars took some form of the Secret as a given. Now it is rarely even mentioned in the introductions of modern commentaries except perhaps as a hermeneutical curiosity. The sense that somehow Mark 15,39 must be interpreted as a full confession may spring from our own deep belief that Jesus is the Son, and fear