The Young Man in Mark 14.52 and 16.5 Through the Lens of 2 Corinthians 5

As the semester progresses I’m finding that I am looking anew at older ideas I’ve read or had myself on various passages in the New Testament.  Two such instances happened last week while analyzing the Gospel of Mark.  The young man who runs off from Jesus naked has played a pivotal role in the Biblioblogging community lately (what with the Jesus Blog bringing up Smith’s discovery–fake or not–which has some implications on the subject).  But for me it brings up an important matter I have neglected, but at some point want to publish on: Mark’s literary indebtedness to the Pauline epistles.

One such correlation between Mark and Paul is this rebirth of the body.  In 2 Cor 5, Paul writes (emphasis added, NRSV):

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, when we have taken it off  we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

It seems to me, and in agreement with Carrier, that Paul’s theological belief in an afterlife includes, to a large degree, getting a new and better body.  Not our same body, which is destroyed (καταλυθῇ), but a new and better body, built by God.

This is very interesting.  These are themes that Mark seems to pick up upon and even seems to make note of while describing certain events in Jesus’ life–namely the young man who appears prior to Jesus’ death and then following his resurrection.

While re-reading over Mark 14 and 16, I became more convinced of this play on the narrative elements.  In 14.51-2, Mark writes (NRSV):

A certain young man (νεανίσκος τις) was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked (ὁ δὲ καταλιπὼν τὴν σινδόνα γυμνὸς ἔφυγεν).

It is interesting that Mark makes such a specific notation of the youth’s attire.  I think the emphasis on the linen cloth is important (I’ll tie this all together later) and I don’t think this is the last time we see this young man.

Mark only uses νεανίσκον in two places in his Gospel.  The first is in 14.50-53 above.  The second is in 16.5:

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man (νεανίσκον) dressed in a white robe (περιβεβλημένον στολὴν λευκήν) sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

I find it fascinating that the only other time that a young man is mentioned is in connection with (a) clothing and (b) prior to Jesus’ death and after his resurrection (while he is in his earthly body and when he gains his new and better body, respectively).  Of course I am in agreement, along with most scholars, that the young boy here represents Jesus sitting at the right side of God (which may echo back to Mark 12.36); but in my humble opinion, I do believe this is the same young man in both instances above, used by Mark as a literary analog to portray Paul’s two-body theology.

Now, maybe it is not a direct borrowing, but Mark seems to agree with this to an extent (notice he never says the tomb is empty, as Matthew does–and makes a big spectacle of it in fact being empty).  I believe that the reason why this young man is portrayed as an angel in Matthew is because Matthew did not agree with this theological function–he seems to be keen on the same body being doctrine (i.e., that one’s physical body–the current one we inhabit–will rise) as more important (or just more correct).

8 Responses

  1. Tom, most of Paul’s references to “the body” are collective. Especially in this case, body represents the body of Christ. Throughout 2 Corinthains body and temple are used as metaphors for the eschatological community.

    Now, given this, it could be that paul is mixing metaphors. Still, I think that the eschatological and eternal Temple is the right backdrop here. It also may be worth noting that the clothing of the priests parallel the function of the Temple veil in symbolic value.


  2. Quite possible yes; the idea of mixing metaphors is probably correct. The case for the two-body doctrine is made plainly clear by Richard Carrier (and I think he’s right about this; even if I disagree with him about other things). I’m sampling a fragment of the larger argument, but if you have an interest to read and respond, I could supply references. Love to hear your take.

  3. “The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb.” The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave, ed. by Robert M. Price & Jeffery Jay Lowder (Prometheus 2005): 105-232.

    There may also be a debate video out there between him and Licona on this issue.

  4. Tom – I just did a brief reference to this post on the Greek Isaiah Facebook group – trying to fathom 19:9 which as it happens has no recurring words in the passage 19:1-15 – shame on the workers of linen and fine white cloths. I had often wondered if the young man was a Markan self-portrait. It’s definitely an odd connection with Isaiah 19!

  5. […] is a dangerous disease, as I believe Tom has shown us with this post. In this post, he suggests the young man in Mark 14.52 and 16.5 are the same person but […]

  6. I remember John Drury doing a literary reading of Mark that linked the young man of Mark 14 with the young man of Mark 16. This was in the early 90s. I have a feeling that he did publish this somewhere.

  7. You may be right, but I would have to check JSTOR..if it is even there.

  8. […] helpful insights into the mysterious make man in Mark by reading that text alongside of 2 Cor 5 (The Young Man in Mark 14.52 and 16.5 Through the Lens of 2 Corinthians 5). I would like to see this brief blog post developed into a serious paper. At this point I am not […]

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