Jesus’ Divinity in the Gospel of Mark?

Dale Tuggy has revisited a discussion that took place between myself and Michael Kruger about the Christology of the Gospel of Mark. One nice thing about blogging is that discussions can take place over extended periods of time, as one finds the time to chime in, assuming the topic is engaging enough to sustain interest – as this one surely is. Click through to see what he has to say. James Dowden has also joined in the ongoing conversation. UPDATE: Dale now has a second post related to the topic, and Mike Kok posted on whether Mark knows of anything unusual related to Jesus’ birth.

Also related to this topic, Ian Paul has a post which concludes with a quote from someone else saying that Jesus “said he was God.” Do any readers of this blog actually think that is a fair representation of what Jesus says even in the Gospel of John? As C. K. Barrett pointed out many years ago, it is simply intolerable to understand Jesus’ “I Am” statement in John 8 to mean “I am Yahweh, the God of the Jewish Scriptures, and as such I do exactly as I am told. It makes better sense of the passage to understand it to be saying that Jesus bears the divine name as God’s principal agent, a concept known from other early Christian literature as well as its broader Jewish context.

But even if Jesus were depicted as saying “I am God” in the Gospel of John, the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John are historically problematic, and he clearly does not say anything of the sort elsewhere in the New Testament.

 

  • joriss

    I think it is fair indeed, to say that Jesus was referring to his presence before all times and as such He can only be God, although He isn’t saying thus directly.
    He says: before Abraham WAS, I AM. Nobody would ever use such grammar, but say: before you, my son, I WAS already there.
    This is a strong evidence that in Him is neither past, nor present, nor future time, because He IS.
    It is a magistral word, which no one could possibly have put Him in his mouth later on.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Why could no one put it in his mouth? Since no one before or apart from the Gospel of John attributed these words to him, that is precisely what seems to be going on here. And the statement “then you will know that I AM, and that I do nothing of myself, but only the will of him who sent me” conveys the meaning I suggested – that the name is bestowed upon him by the Father. That is what is explicitly stated in chapter 17. Jesus keeps them safe through the name the Father gave to him. We see this in action in the garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus utters “I am” to secure the escape of his disciples.

  • jay

    I think it is quite clear in that the story portrayed in

  • newenglandsun

    Why would he bear the name “I am” as a divine agent? “I am YHWH but only as an agent!” is what you have him saying. Any way, have you checked out Jason BeDuhn’s book, “Truth in Translation” where he argues that Jesus wasn’t using the divine name and that the NWT actually got it right?

    “Jesus said to them: “Most truly I say to YOU, Before Abraham came into existence, I have been.”” (John 8:58, New World Translation)

    I maintain Jesus is God but only for rational reasons. The Bible can support either position is what I’ve ultimately concluded.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      The idea of a supreme agent bearing the divine name is found in many Israelite traditions – from the angel Yahoel, to Metatron, to Moses in Samaritan literature.

      • newenglandsun

        What about Alan Segal’s “Two Powers” (65-67)?

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          What about it?

          If his work interests you, here is something I co-wrote on the subject: http://digitalcommons.butler.edu/facsch_papers/111/

          • newenglandsun

            Either you or Truex wrote…

            “Thus, we believe there are grounds for questioning whether or not christological passages in the NT ought to be read in light of the ‘two powers heresy’ of rabbinic Judaism. Although various forms of ‘two powers’ conceptuality may have been present in first-century Christian and Jewish thought, we will argue that there is no evidence that they were identified as heretical during that century.”

            So…going back to your statement that we should read the NT in light of a first century context and we should interpret Christology in light of a first century Messianic movement…how then do you propose we read the NT and interpret Christology without falling victims to our own selves? Hmmm…

  • Chris Eyre

    I have for quite a while read the passage as “before Abraham was, I AM (was)”, supplying a missing verb to remove the awkward grammar. I don’t know how legitimate this is; I am not a Greek scholar (it would be legitimate in translation from languages I am fluent in, but hey…).

    This stemmed from me taking the view that the authors of the Fourth Gospel, although clearly seriously at odds with synagogue authorities, still appeared to be attempting to appeal to a Jewish reader, and identity with God in the fullest sense would have derogated from this aim (as well as making the narrative unconvincing as a clear identity claim would have led to much earlier death and significantly less Jewish followers than is generally claimed by the gospels).

    I take the view that while the authors may have believed in such identity, it did not serve their objective to state that outright. In this I disagree with John Spong in his recent popular book on the Fourth Gospel, though I go along with there being a serious mystical element to the authors’s standpoint. Whoever added the prologue was definitely talking mysticism (again, contra Spong, I think there’s a huge debt to Philo there), and the rest of the text picks up on the contents of the prologue quite well.

    This would make the overriding authorial position one of *veiled* Christ-mysticism. Arguendo, this overlays God-mysticism on the part of Jesus himself and means that the author may actually have been representing Jesus better than the non-mystic synoptic writers.

    • Prometheus

      The “I am” statement (εἰμί), if viewed only from a grammatical point of view, would fit into the Greek use of the present tense of the copulative “to be” when representing a past truth that has a bearing on the present (i.e. a perfect tense). It was fairly typical to say, in Greek, “I am present for a long time” when meaning “I have been here for a long time.” The Greek copulative does not have a perfect tense, so they have only so many options. Also important to the discussion is the fact that a better translation of “before Abraham was” would be “before Abraham came to be” (πρὶν γένεσθαι). The verb is different and is reflective of the same mind that wrote the prologue using the phrase “the word was God” (ἦν, the imperfect of εἰμί) with the copulative and the phrase “the word became flesh” with the same word used of Abraham (ἐγένετο). The author of John (or at least the final editor) seems to be clearly comfortable with making Jesus God in a way that was offensive to the Jewish leaders and challenges the current leaders towards a more Orthodox Christology.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

        As I discuss in John’s Apologetic Christology, I am convinced that the objections of the Jewish leaders were not about the full-fledged form of high Christology found in the Gospel of John, but rather than Christology was itself formulated in response to Jewish objections, which focuses on the accusation that Jesus was usurping divine honors and prerogatives, rather than being God’s appointed agent.

        If you view “I am” as the name that the Father gave to Jesus, mentioned in John 17, does that change how you understand the significance of the texts in question?

        • Prometheus

          Difficult to say what ὄνομα exactly is talking about in the context, though, of course John 17:5 would have to enter the discussion along with all the uses of the “giving” that the father does toward the son.

      • Chris Eyre

        Thanks for the clarification. Any idea why translators don’t use “I was”? Does it still preserve the “I AM” reference if interpreted this way?

        • Prometheus

          Well, Greek does have an imperfect tense for “I was” but not the perfect tense “I have been.” I’m guessing that it also has to do with the fact that when you translate you have to take into consideration more than grammar. You also have to take into account the context both immediate and cultural. In my opinion, though, “I am” is not a terribly clear reference to YHWH, since the phrase is often used in Greek for phrases such as “It’s me.” It is somewhat complicated.

  • joriss

    That the gospel of John gives us a deeper insight in who Jesus is, is because the author had a deeper level of intimacy with Jesus. He had a special relationship with Jesus that the other disciples did not have. He was the discipel Jesus loved, which means Jesus shared things with him that He didn’t share directly with the other disciples.
    Don’t we see the same thing in our own lives? Maybe we have many good friends we love, but one or two special friends, that we are more intimate with and that we share more of our personality and personal things with.
    The words of Jesus in John 14: that if we love Him, we will keep his words and the Father will love us and Jesus Himself will love us and reveal Himself to us….is that not true? These are words that make us long for this revelation. Also He says: I will be IN you, dwell in you. I don’t want some divine agent dwelling in me, do you? So if Jesus is not the eternal One, but a creation of God, an other creature will dwell in me?
    I think therefore, if we deny Jesus is God, we can best delelete John 14, 15,16 and 17, which are in my and many others’ opinion some of the finest parts of the New Testament, because they give us a deep, intimate insight in Jesus’ loving and caring personality and his eternal being, who lived in the glory of the father before the creation of the world, as He is saying in John 17:5.
    Saying that a creature is God, whether it’s an earthly or a heavenly creature, is a very bad sin, in the Old Testament and in the New Testament as well. So we have to choose. It’s one way or the other. Either the gospel of John is a blasphemous lie or it is truth. There is no way in between.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      John 17 is actually explicitly clear. The Father is the only true God, and Jesus Christ is the one he sent. Jesus as the son and agent does the things his Father does, as an obedient son should.

      Whether the Gospel of John reflects a deeper understanding of who Jesus was, or a more developed one that goes beyond anything Jesus himself said explicitly, is the very question at issue. But it can clearly be a sincere attempt to articulate the implications of how Christians understood who Jesus was, without being either historical truth or a blasphemous lie. Such false dichotomies do nothing to help formulate a nuanced understanding of the character and teaching of this early Christian text.

      • joriss

        This dichotomy is not false at all. Jesus is God, or He is not. There are no other options, are there? So although this will not help formulate a nuanced understanding of the character of this early Christian text – I agree -, the gospel of John, at this very point, doesn’t need that help. John clearly says that Jesus is the Word, that was from the beginning and that was God, and that the Word made everything. This cannot be true and not true at the same time, not now and not in the time it was written. So if Jesus is not an eternal person, but a creature, John 1:1 is a lie. Because the author has written something that were his own thoughts and not the truth of God, making a creature God. Perhaps blasphemous is too heavy to say, because that supposes a deliberate act, but it is a lie anyway, even if it was a “sincere” lie that the author believed himself.

        Ofcourse Jesus is also the son and agent as well. Not only ch. 17 says so, but throughout the gospel of John Jesus declares his obedience and dependance towards the Father. ” I can’t do anything out of myself, I have not come to do my will, I can do only what I see my Father is doing, I always do what pleases Him”, etc.
        We can assume that the author who wrote these things, was well aware of the fact that he considered Jesus to be God, also when he wrote ch.17 about the one true God and Jesus Christ who was a sent by Him. Obviously this was not a contradiction in his eyes, so why would it be in our eyes.
        Hebrews has a similar view, calling Jesus God and at the same time mentioning that He, as God’s son had to learn obedience by suffering.
        It seems very strange to me, that God has allowed his church to believe documents about Jesus being God, that give us permission and encourages us to adore and worship Jesus in the same way as we worship God, and to come to the conclusion 2000 later that the church has collectively had the wrong idea, because now we have to learn He is not God! To act like this, seems not like God to me.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          You seem not to realize the wider range of possibilities. John 1:1-18 may be true, but not saying that Jesus was a pre-existent person, but only that in his human life the communication of God was embodied. It could be a devout and sincere but mistaken viewpoint – which is presumably not the same thing as a lie, is it?

          Whichever church you look at, you will find disagreements. And so there is no way to make sense of human history in terms of what God has “allowed” and to be satisfied, given your presuppositions. God has apparently allowed Christians to be engaged in debate and controversy over these and other issues throughout Christian history, precisely because we do not have texts which speak in a clear and uniform manner.

        • newenglandsun

          Anthony Buzzard covers John 1 briefly.

      • newenglandsun

        “John 17 is actually explicitly clear. The Father is the only true God, and Jesus Christ is the one he sent.”

        This statement actually misunderstands Trinitarian usages of the word “God” in reference to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit though. Trinitarians refer to all three individually as the “only true God”. Hence, Jesus is “true God of true God” and the Father is “the only true God” yet the Son is the “only true God” and the Holy Spirit is also “the only true God”. Thus, the Trinity is the “only true God” and every memeber is “the only true God”.

        *Note: some Jews in the early stages were henotheists or monolatrists (not monotheists!). I have yet to have a professor challenge this.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          One can certainly try to make the language fit Trinitarian doctrine after the fact. But prior to the formulation of such Trinitarian details, one can scarcely suggest that the language conveyed such meaning.

          • newenglandsun

            Let’s not forget the first formulators of the doctrine though.

            “There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible—even Jesus Christ our Lord.” (St. Ignatius, Ephesians, 7)

            “Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man. But that He had, beyond all others, in Himself that pre-eminent birth which is from the Most High Father, and also experienced that pre-eminent generation which is from the Virgin, Isaiah 7:14 the divine Scriptures do in both respects testify of Him: also, that He was a man without comeliness, and liable to suffering; Isaiah 53:2 that He sat upon the foal of an ass; Zechariah 9:9 that He received for drink, vinegar and gall; that He was despised among the people, and humbled Himself even to death and that He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God, Isaiah 9:6 coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men; Daniel 7:13 — all these things did the Scriptures prophesy of Him.” (St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III, 19)

            I think your arguments are running dangerously close to a Biblicist approach to the scriptures.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              I think you are running dangerously close to sticking the label of “Biblicism” on anything you disagree with regardless of whether it fits!

              But perhaps what you mean is that I seek to understand the texts in their historical context, refusing to anachronistically read into them things that were only formulated or concluded later?

              • newenglandsun

                “But perhaps what you mean is that I seek to understand the texts in their historical context, refusing to anachronistically read into them things that were only formulated or concluded later?”

                That is one thing I mean when I use the term “Biblicist”. I have oberved that the only people who have rejected the Trinity do so entirely on either a type a (overly obsessed, sola scriptura) variety of Biblicism or on a type b (trying to find what “really” happened) variety of Biblicism.

                I mostly understand Biblicism on what the Evangelical Covenant Church taught me about it which is that Biblicism means to ultimately base one’s own worldview on some sort of authoritative Biblical interpretation. Hence, their beliefs based on Biblicism were reduced to just six doctrinal points. They would be considered far more liberal than most Evangelical denominations.

          • Prometheus

            It is wrong to assume what the text says before reading it, but I think that you speak too strongly when you seem suggest that John’s language is not compatible with later Trinitarian formulation. What the early Christians and Jews could or could not have thought is somewhat beside the point, since much of that kind of judgement is subjective. There are good reasons in the text for believing at least a Binitarian understanding of the Father and the Son in earliest Christianity. Also important is the evidence that is pretty clear from the earliest documents (i.e. Pauline) for at least a Binitarian view (cf. Paul’s use of One Lord and One God in the context of the Jewish Shema).

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              Paul adds one Lord alongside the one God, not within the identity of the one God. Here is a link to an article that discusses this further: http://digitalcommons.butler.edu/facsch_papers/190/

              • Prometheus

                I think your caveat about “splitting” the shema should be taken into consideration. But also to be taken into consideration: the value the church placed on tradition. The fact that 1 Corinthians 8 is written to people who already have a good idea of the tradition passed on by Paul. His mention of “one God the father . . . and one Lord Jesus Christ” does not have to spell out the thing over again if they already know. But that begs the question, of course (as you say in your article).

                There is in 1 Corinthians 8 another indicator. The context is about idolatry. The mention of Lord Jesus makes no sense in this context apart from it being part of the restatement of the Shema (especially if, as you seem to say in your article, the boundaries are Jewish Christian-Gentile, not Jew-Christian distinctions).

                Perhaps puzzlingly, for the split-shema theory, the phrase “Lord our God, the Lord is one” switches Lord God to God Lord. More to the point, your mention of the Christological nature of 1 Corinthians 15 is important and I don’t have an “explanation” of it.

                Historically speaking it is rather interesting that the earliest pagan accounts of Christianity (that I know of) say that the Christians worship Christ as a god (Pliny the Younger). This is very early on in Christian history as reported from the area where Paul worked by those who had actually been Christians. This sort of thing, as well as the other early Christian writings that defend or imply Jesus’ divinity are the main reason I think it is reasonable to say that Paul believed Jesus is God.

  • http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com/ James Goetz

    Hi James, Jesus claimed unique divinity in the blasphemy trial of the Synoptic Gospels. This is consistent with Jesus calling himself God or YHWH.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      I don’t see that in the Synoptic trial – which is not a trial for blasphemy, but a trial at which Jesus is accused of blasphemy for something he says in the process. Can you explain how you get from Jesus claiming that the son of man will be seated at the right hand of God, to Jesus calling himself God?

      • Prometheus

        What about Luke 22:70-71 in which Jesus is said to call himself the Son of God (not Son of Man)? If John’s interpretation is correct, the Jews would have seen calling oneself the Son of God as the same as making himself equal to God himself.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          As I argued in an article in NTS and in my book John’s Apologetic Christology, sonship implied obedience rather than equality, and so it is best to understand the accusation to mean something like “you call God your own Father, even though you are making yourself equal to God.”

          • Prometheus

            Interesting. I don’t think that the the context will bear out your interpretation. I would be interested in your take on “the father and I are one.”

            As for the verse you translate (I assume John 5:18): ἐζήτουν αὐτὸν οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι ἀποκτεῖναι, ὅτι οὐ μόνον ἔλυεν τὸ σάββατον, ἀλλὰ καὶ Πατέρα ἴδιον ἔλεγεν τὸν Θεόν, ἴσον ἑαυτὸν ποιῶν τῷ Θεῷ. “The Jews were seeking to kill him because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but also he was saying that God was his own father, making himself equal to God.” The participle ποιῶν could be interpreted concessively “although he was making himself equal to God.” But you are putting the cart before the horse grammatically. If the insulting bit was that he was not obedient to God even though he was making himself equal to God . . .. well, I’m not sure of your logic. Perhaps you could clarify. As it is, the main problem grammatically is “claiming that God was his own father.” The participle, in context, seems most likely an explanatory participle “because he was making himself equal to God.” This participial phrase can either be from the original quote (i.e. as you took it), or as an editorial comment. That may be deliberately ambiguous as many things in John. But contextually, I think the following verse is a determining factor, which, I do not believe can be taken with your interpretation. John 10:33 ἀπεκρίθησαν αὐτῷ οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι Περὶ καλοῦ ἔργου οὐ λιθάζομέν σε ἀλλὰ περὶ βλασφημίας, καὶ ὅτι σὺ ἄνθρωπος ὢν ποιεῖς σεαυτὸν Θεόν. “The Jews answered him, ‘We are not stoning you for a good work, but for blasphemy because you, though you are a man, make yourself God.” The blasphemy was calling himself God by calling himself the son of God (in the first case in which they wanted to kill him) and one with God (i.e. God) in the second instance.

            Interestingly, in John there is no “trial scene” that includes “son of God” language. I assume that is because the purpose of the writer of the fourth gospel did not need to repeat the synoptic tradition. these verses, however, are implicit commentary on the synoptics.

            All that said, I do not think Jesus as representative of God is a wrong interpretation of John, nor is the idea of a son as obedient or imitative; but I think it is incomplete (after all, the Jews did not claim in John 8:39 to be sons of God, but sons of Abraham; this circumspection is deliberate, I believe). Also, if you noticed the grammar and vocabulary of “before Abraham became, I am” as well as the prologue “he was with God in the beginning . . . he became man.” The Greek verb change is conspicuous. I don’t think there is any doubt that John thought Jesus was God and not just an obedient servant of God. In John 20:30, “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus . . . is the son of God” in the same sense that made the Jews want to stone him!

            I’ve seen here (I don’t know if you are on the same page) that people are saying that John didn’t want to offend his Jewish audience! And yet he and his Jesus make things very difficult to swallow (no pun intended!) in John 6 and elsewhere!

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              I may be wrong about the participle being concessive. But the accusations against Jesus do seem to regularly focus on him “making himself” this or that. In John 5, the response is to use the same phrase with an emphatic negation – the son does/makes nothing of himself. He is not a rebellious son usurping status. He is an obedient son, and precisely as such does what his Father does.

              I agree that the likelihood that John was trying to avoid offending non-Christian Jews is slim to non-existent. And I’ve made a similar pun (and several others) in connection with John 6 myself! :-)

              • Prometheus

                I see what you are getting at with the future emphatic negation, but I think it is pointing towards something else. It is his insistence that in fact he is justified in saying he is God’s son because he is exactly like God in his action; in addition, he can do nothing because his will and the father’s are bound up together. But, again, I understand your argument. I’ll wait to see what you have to say about John 17:5.

      • http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com/ James Goetz

        I am glad that I saw your reply to Prometheus because my view assumes that sonship can mean ontological equality despite the case of created sons of God such as you and me. I need to read your article or book to address my view to you. I do not have easy access to an academic library. Is your article available online or could i look at a draft of yours?

        If you prefer, I’ll say that the trial accused Jesus of blasphemy instead of calling it a blasphemy trial. But I suppose that most or all of the charges brought against Jesus were one type of blasphemy or another.

        In Mark, Jesus readily claimed that he was “the Son of the Blessed One.” Scholarship that says Mark never indicated that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God is wrong. In your case, I need to address your view divine sonship.

        I am off the writing end of the blogosphere for a few days:

        Merry Christmas

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          Claiming to be the son of God was not blasphemy, until later when Christians redefined the term to mean “God the Son.” It could be that Jesus uttered the divine name at the trial, and that that is what “Blessed One” points to. Or it could be that it was felt to be blasphemous to claim to be God’s appointed Messiah when under arrest and rejected by the Jewish leaders. The trial story, of course, may reflect more the issues in the author’s time, and the Jewish objection that a crucified man by definition could not have been God’s appointed Messiah.

          • http://theoperspectives.blogspot.com/ James Goetz

            Hi James,

            You say:
            Claiming to be the son of God was not blasphemy, until later when Christians redefined the term to mean “God the Son.”

            My reply:
            However, the consensus translation of John 5:18 says that Jesus calling God his Father was equivalent to Jesus claiming equality with God.

            For example, John 5:18 (NRSV): “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”

            John 5:18 provides historical interpretation of Jesus’ claim of being the unique Son of God. Jesus claimed equality with the Father. Jesus also described his created human nature.

            In the natural, a human son is ontologically equal to his father. I understand that your research indicates that the word “sonship” during the Second Temple sometimes means obedience. I agree with that, but I support that many if not most words have more than one meaning that depends on the context. For example, the general biblical term “son/sons of God” refers to created persons that are ontologically subordinate to God and never referred to as the unique Son of God. [However], in all four Gospels, Jesus identified himself as the unique Son of God. The commentary of John 5:18 said that Jesus’ claim of unique divine sonship indicated that the Son is equal to the Father. In light of the historical information from the Gospel of John, all four Gospels clearly taught that Jesus is equal to God.

            From what I gather from the rest of this thread, your view point depends on an error of the consensus translation of John 5:18 or an error in the doctrine of John 5:18.

            Jesus taught about his divine nature and his created human nature in all four Gospels. This radically altered the concept of monotheism and is compatible the Nicene Creed, miaphysitism, and the Chalcedonian Creed.

            Peace,
            Jim

  • joriss

    “You seem not to realize the wider range of possibilities. John 1:1-18 may be true, but not saying that Jesus was a pre-existent person, but only that in his human life the communication of God was embodied.”

    If everything that was made, was made by the Word, how could John 1 possibly not say Jesus had a pre-existence? It says: the Word has become flesh; not the Word has “made” flesh. So Jesus pre-existence was: the Word of God. By this Word the heavens and earth and everything was made, long before Jesus was on our planet.

    Other texts in John clearly confirm this pre-existence.

    John 3:13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who CAME FROM HEAVEN—the Son of Man.

    John 6:62 is crystal clear: Then what if you see the Son of man ascend to WHERE He was BEFORE?

    John 12:41 Isaiah saw Jesus in his days.

    And again: John 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you BEFORE THE WORLD BEGAN.

    So the gospel of John is unambiguous about the pre-existence of Jesus. So supposing ch. 1 is not saying that Jesus had a pre-existence seems inappropriate to me.

    Now notice what the Pharisees are saying:

    John 10:33 “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”

    Here you can read that the author was very well aware that for a creature claiming to be God is blasphemy! The Pharisees had a right vision so far. So if Jesus was not God, his claims were blasphemous indeed! So to suppose that the author might have fallen in that trap himself…seems utterly impossible to me, and not be taken seriously.

    “It could be a devout and sincere but mistaken viewpoint – which is presumably not the same thing as a lie, is it?”

    Could it? I wonder. What does make a person believe somebody is God, who isn’t? Can that happen in a life, lived in obedience and close relationship to God? The author of this gospel would think twice, no, a thousand times before writing such a thing, without being absolutely sure. It is not a minor issue, but something that will have an impact on many, many people.

    From the beginning of the gospel errors and heresies have tried to enter the church. Jesus told the Sadducees they erred about the resurrection and He rebuked them because they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.

    Paul defended the gospel against all kinds of heresy and errors.

    John warned against antichrist lies and admonished to stay in the truth.
    So from the very beginning the church has been alert to spot grave errors and keep them outside.

    So it seems impossible to me that at that time a great error as making a creature God should enter into the church. And if ever a part of Scripture is claiming to be truth, it is the gospel and epistles of John.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      OK, let me deal with your points one at a time. First, warnings about antichrist are not found in Christianity from the beginning. After the Gospel of John depicts Jesus as the Word made flesh, there begin to appear denunciations of those who do not share this view of Jesus. But those being denounced may be closer to the other Gospels, and views that were earlier widespread.

      The term “son of man” means “human being.” It is an Aramaic idiom. Whether it has the “one like a son of man” from Daniel 7 or the Similitudes of Enoch in view, it is a term that was understood by early Christians to refer to the Messiah. How the pre-existence of the Messiah relates to the Word’s pre-existence, and what the relationship is between the Word as personification and the son of man as person, is an issue the Gospel raises but does not explicitly answer.

      Again, the Gospel of John emphatically repudiates the accusation of “the Jews” which is that Jesus “makes himself God” or “makes himself equal to God.” The emphasis is on whether he makes himself out to be something, or is appointed by God and thus does these things legitimately. But the distinction between God and Jesus the agent of God remains clear throughout.

      • Prometheus

        It would be really nice if you would use textual evidence and cite it instead of claiming.

        That “son of man” didn’t have any other connotations than the Aramaic idiom does not follow from it also being an Aramaic idiom, especially if Daniel 7 was already being read with Messianic implications.

        If by the fact that the gospel doesn’t use the terms such as “hypostatic union” and such, I would agree that John doesn’t spell it out. But I think you are overly optimistic in your certainty that John’s Jesus a) denies that he is God and b) John doesn’t spell out that Jesus is God (the prologue, but also everywhere else!).

        I think it can be pretty well argued that the writers of the other gospels have a clue that Jesus is God – even Mark, surprisingly.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

          If earlier Gospels had the view that Jesus was God, then that could of course also be the view here, simply taken for granted by this stage. Otherwise, it seems perilously anachronistic to read later formulations back into John, as though they were the author’s presuppositions rather than attempts to wrestle with and pin down things that the author may have merely taken a first step towards.

          So what in the Gospel of Mark leads you to believe that its author viewed Jesus as God, if you don’t mind me asking?

          • Prometheus

            James, I don’t think that you would find my references to Jesus disciples on the sea of Galilee when he had calmed the storm very convincing if you already believe that him being a representative would give him the same authority and honor that we see there. But the writer of Mark alludes to several Psalms that make it clear to me that they are dealing with something completely unexpected – a man acting with the power and authority of God. In addition to the references, there is the way he addresses the wind and waves, which is much different than I have experienced in the other scriptures (i.e. prayer instead of command). Jesus’ authority is such that he acts as though he does not need to ask for God’s intervention, but can just make things happen . . . as though he were God.

            Mark 4:41 suggests that the author did see Jesus as divine (even if the disciples didn’t get it at the time, though they may have had an inkling that something was going on) – see Psalm 65:7; Psalm 89:9; Psalm 93:3-4; Psalm 107:29.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

              That still seems to me to be intelligible as astonishment that God could have bestowed so much of his own authority on this particular individual.

              I am getting a sense that the key difference between our stances is traceable back to the fact that I have become convinced that one could not identify a human being as none other than God himself through hints and allusions. This was a major claim to make, and it doesn’t seem to me that it is one that could be conveyed in this subtle way. And so that leads me to think that the language more likely means what the same sort of language means in other Jewish texts: that the individual in question has been given authority by God to speak and act on God’s behalf.

              • Prometheus

                Yes I agree about the stances toward the text. I wouldn’t say that you could get full-blown orthodox trinitarianism or christology from Mark, mind you. I would just ask whether, if it were the case that Matt, Mark, Luke, John were assuming a certain Christology it would be necessary to spell it out in their gospels. In other words, can we extract all of early Christian doctrines from their texts. The early church knew nothing of sola scriptura. I guess on both sides we have to be careful not to argue from silence.

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

                  The danger of arguing from silence is a real one. But if something as important as Jesus being God incarnate could be merely alluded to, then that seems to make it hard to use them at all for reconstructing early Christian thought. What other things that were important to their authors might have been merely alluded to?

                  But it seems to me far more probable that the idea of Jesus being not merely the embodiment of divine revelation and saving action, but of God in person, is only explicitly emphasized in later texts because it emerges as a belief only after some time had passed. It is, of course, a development based on precisely those texts. And so the real question is whether the later interpreters were merely reading between the lines what the Gospel authors had in mind, or were building upon them an even more exalted depiction of Jesus.


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