Redeeming Gnosticism

Redeeming Gnosticism March 24, 2015

There will be an interesting conference at Rice University this week:

GNOSTIC COUNTERCULTURES: INTRIGUE AND TERROR (RICE UNIVERSITY, HOUSTON, 26-28 MARCH)
Upcoming in Texas, a taste of something completely different: “Members of this congress will explore the Gnostic in Western culture from the ancient world to the modern New Age, tracing the emergence, persistence, and disappearance of metaphysical religious currents that are perceived to be countercultural, inverted, transgressive and/or subversive in their relationship to normative religion and their claim to knowledge. The main purpose of this interdisciplinary conference is to unlock the Gnostic from its cage in the ancient world and to challenge the prevailing academic opinion that the Gnostic is a useless category because it reifies as heretics people who were simply “alternative” devout Christians.” Speakers include (in order of appearance) April DeConick, Grant Adamson, Dylan Burns, John Turner, Zeke Mazur, Gregory Shaw, Michael Kaler, Fritz Graf, Kocku von Stuckard, Mark Pegg, Lautaro Lanzillota, David Litwa, Victoria Nelson, Erik Davis, Mark Pilkington, and Wouter Hanegraaff. For details, see here.

I had been meaning to post about this for a while, ever since the Weststar Institute shared an article about the pros and cons of using the term “Gnosticism.” This was just one of several interesting pieces which the Westar Institute recently shared and circulated.

See also Tony Burke’s reflections on teaching Gnosticism. Here is a link to part one but there are many more.

Philip Jenkins has had an entire series, including “Dating the Gnostics,” “The Gnostics and Other Christians,” and “Gnostics after the Temple.” Jim Davila shared some of his own thoughts in response to one of Jenkins’ posts.

Tuomus Rasimus reviewed a new book about Gnosticism, Dylan M. Burns’s Apocalypse of the Alien God: Platonism and the Exile of Sethian Gnosticism. Philip Jenkins blogged about it last year.

Of related interest, do note Judy Redman’s recent article on oral tradition and the Gospel of Thomas.

My own thoughts on the terminology and the origins of Gnosticism are shaped by my work on the Mandaeans. That name, most scholars are persuaded, essentially means “Gnostics.” And the probable Jewish origins of Mandaeism, considered with the evidence that other Gnostic groups were not just concerned with a Demiurge but specifically with the depiction of the creator God in Genesis, persuades me that Gnosticism as a whole emerges from Judaism, as a solution to the problem of evil and of the disconnect between the Bible’s depictions of God and the philosophical-mystical view of God as supremely perfect and transcendent.

"I was thinking of Xi'an and trying to recall whether there is a similar dispute ..."

What Mythicism Claims
"It is far cry from being evil but it is not right as well. But ..."

It is Better to Live with ..."
"Doing evil that some good might come about is never right! Enslaving others to ''help' ..."

It is Better to Live with ..."
"I fear the horse is dead.Mr (?) Fields appears to be unable to accept that ..."

It is Better to Live with ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Gary

    Interesting, …”explore the Gnostic in Western culture from the ancient world to the modern New Age,”
    DeConick I know of. Where’s Pagals, Meyer, Ehrman?
    “Modern New Age” makes me think this might be a jam-job, like Fox News “Fair and Balanced”. What does real study of Gnostics in 200AD have to do with New Age. Sounds like they are mixing apples and oranges, with the purpose of trivializing Gnostic study. Of course, it’s occurrence in Texas doesn’t help the image. And Baylor? Last time I checked, it was Baptist. Since I don’t know the other presenters, I hope it is really academic, and not a joke. But then, I’ve been watching Fox News way-too much!

    • W Greiner

      Just a couple notes: the conference is at Rice, not Baylor. It is a very real academic conference. Nebraska’s Professor John Turner is one of the all time great scholars working on Gnosticism – an early translator and interpreter of the Nag Hammadi literature his contribution to the field is really second to none. Professor Meyer sadly passed away a few years ago. This is not a Fox News sort of thing at all and no one at this conference would think of what they are doing as trivializing Gnostic study.

      • Gary

        Good. I don’t know where I got the idea it was at Baylor. Guess I got wrapped up in the DeConick/Meyer controversy. I hope DeConick eventually apologized to Meyer on the Gospel of Judas slight. Although the recent CNN program “Finding Jesus” on the Gospel of Judas gave equal billing to DeConick, depicting the Gospel of Judas as a parody of Gnostics. Even an idiot like me can clearly see that it is Gnostic. So I side with Meyer, Pagals, King. What is Turner’s position, if I can ask?

      • Gary

        My final comment on this. I find it a shame that this YouTube video only has about 850 views. RIP.
        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cFtss32wxTw

  • Socrates

    If I recall correctly, Gnosticism is a heresy that comes far more from Greek thought than from Jewish thought. Instead of importing Hellenistic concepts and Chritianizing them (St. John’s Logos theology, for example), many of the newly Baptized Greeks seem to try to import Christian concepts and Hellenize them (Neoplatonism emphasis on knowledge and the imperfection or wickedness of matter, for example).

    Christi pax.

    • That has often been the accusation of those who rejected it. But ultimately, Gnosticism owes as much to Judaism and Greek thought as other streams of Christianity do. They just took the Bible’s depictions of God more literally than others, and so insisted that the creator depicted in its pages cannot be the supreme perfect God that mystics, philosophers, and theologians agreed upon.

      • Socrates

        They said that the Hellenistic view of the “One, the Good” was higher than the “down and dirty” Hebrew God of the Tanakh. Gnostics either think matter is neutral, or, more commonly, beleive matter is straight out evil, contra Genesis. In other words, they put Greek thought over Hebrew and Christian thought.

        The fact that they took the Bible so literally means they were reading the text as someone in a Greek culture would read them, not how someone in a Hebrew culture would read them. In other words, they put Greek thought over Hebrew and Christian thought.

        It’s in one way understandable for the newly Baptized Greeks to view the Torah in the eyes of their own culture. But then the milder forms of Gnosticism gave way to the insane, obsessively elitist forms, not to mention the fact the Gnostics left the Apostle’s Successors and Tradition because their emphasises led them to falsehood.

        Gnosticism, strickly speaking, can’t in any real sense be called Christian, although some forms are closer to the Christian view than others. The Key of Christianity is the Incarnation. To deny this removes the entirety of Christian thought! Remember, some forms of Gnosticism don’t even mention Jesus. One sect teaches that Abraham, Moses, and Jesus were false prophets!

        Ultimately, Gnostics are syncrenizing Christian, Hebrew, and Greek thought on the Greek thought’s terms. Meanwhile, the Judaisers had a tendency to syncrenize them on the terms of Hebrew thought. The Church ended put syncrenizing Christian, Hebrew, and Greek on Christian terms, with the Christian thought growing out of the Hebrew thought and consuming the Greek thought. St. John does this syncretism beautifully in the first chapter of his Gospel, where, alluding to the first chapter of Genesis, where God spoke the world into being, he teaches that the Spoken is the Logos, is identical with God, and became Incarnated as the Messiah. Thus, he develops the Christian view from the Jewish view, and then uses the Christian view to redevelop the Greek view on Christian terms. Christianity builds on Temple Judaism, and adds Greek philosophy in to further illuminate Christianity itself, revealing that not only does Hebrew Scripture point to Christ, but that Greek wisdom points to the Logos, for God in Son (Christian) IS the Messiah (Hebrew) and IS the Logos (Greek). Both cultures search for the same end, for Christ is the Omega of all things.

        Christianity is bigger than paganism and even Judaism, and if Christians would learn to approach non-believers from different cultures like the Jewish John approached Greek culture, I think their would be an new growth of members of the Body of Christ.

        Christi pax.

        • To insist that incarnation is the most essential element of Christianity is problematic, since that means that three of the four New Testament Gospels have missed that essence.

          You should also consult Martin Hengel’s work on Judaism and Hellenism, since you seem to be imagining a Hebrew culture existing in the Greco-Roman world but somehow isolated from and not interacting with its broader cultural context.

          • Socrates

            I’m lost in your first paragraph, are you saying that three Gospels are denying the Incarnation (I’m assuming you mean the Synoptics)? I deny that claim: it’s false to anyone who actually read the Gospels:

            “Why call me good? Only God is good.”

            Further, the Gospels were supplements for further enlightenment; the Apostles and their immediate sucessors taught the basic principles of Chrisitanity orally, as well as the basic outline of Jesus’s life. You can’t read the Bible out of context; you need Tradition to provide such context. Otherwise, you end up reading in whatever theory you want into the text, either consciously or unconsciously. Just read the Intro to the Gospel of St. Luke:

            “And I too, most noble Theophilus, have resolved to put the story in writing for thee as it befell, having first traced it carefully from its beginnings, that thou mayst understand the instruction thou hast already received, in all its certainty.” That you may understand the instruction YOU HAVE ALREADY RECEIVED (I wonder what that means. Don’t worry, there are more).

            The problem with many Modern Scholars is that, when philosophically examine, their assumptions and meathods, I find them lacking, uncalled for, and often straight out false or question begging.

            I’m certainly aware that the Christian view and its syncrenizing didn’t come out of a vacuum, as there were Jewish men who were forunners in this process (Philo of Alexandria, for example). Christian thought just perfected it.

            Christi pax.

          • It is strange that you cite one of the verses which seems to clearly involve a denial of his own goodness in comparison to God, as though it were evidence for your viewpoint. Perhaps you could explain?

          • Socrates

            That’s because many don’t actually read what the text says, nor the context. The man calls Jesus “good,” to which Jesus DOES NOT reply “Don’t call me good, for only God is good. I’m not God, silly man.” Rather, he asks the man, “WHY call me good? Only God is good.” He never denies that he’s God. To “modernize” the quote a little better, Jesus is saying “You called me good, yet only God is good. What are you saying about me?”

            Jesus not only talks and hints at His divinity in words, but, probably even more often, in actions. He forgive sins and works on the Sabbath, calling himself “the Lord of the Sabbath.” Who’s the Lord of the Sabbath? Yahweh, “I Am” is Lord of the Sabbath! When Moses and the Prophets taught the Word of God, they often emphasis that it is not their word. Yet, Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount says “You heard it said “an eye for an eye,” but I say onto you…” which is Jesus basically reforming the Law Moses got from God with a new Law. But I thought only God can declare the Law? Specifically, Jesus is preaching the Law on a mountain, just as God preached the Law on mount Sinai. The Gospels do mention that the crowds were shocked by Jesus’s teachings because, unlike the other Rabbis and the scribes, “he taught as one having authority.”

            We 21st century modern westerners have a tendency to expect a text to be straight forward and literal. Then we get all tripped up when we read the Tanakh or the Gospel. It’s funny, as Fundamentalists and Gnu Atheists both read the Bible literally (if they read the thing at all), and each group comes to a different conclusion.

            Anyway, These sort of examples of Jesus declaring his Divinity are quite clear to first century Jews and those taught by them (those who were more educated on the matters of the Law often called him a blasphemer), which is why the early Church Fathers (Apostolic and ante- Nicea) argued about HOW Jesus is God, rather than IF Jesus is God (the Church ended up using the term homoousian to describe the relation between the Father and the Son). Unlike what many scholars think, the belief in Jesus’s divinity was there from the beginning. The earliests heresies believed in Christ’s divinity. Even when one rejects orthodoxy, it’s telling when you find that the earliest heresies were ones that emphasized Christ’s divinity at the expense of his humanity. They denied the Incarnation not because it made Christ God, but because it made Christ Man.

            Christi pax.

          • I am well aware that one can reword or “modernize” Jesus’ statement so that its meaning changes to an assertion of Jesus’ divinity instead of an expression of humility on Jesus’ part. But such things must be read into the text, which never mentions in any explicit manner the idea that Jesus pre-existed, much less that he is divine.

            The statement that the son of man is Lord of the Sabbath is saying that humans are lords of the sabbath – as he says explicitly in the context, it is made for us, not us for it. And see Matthew’s explicit description of how the crowd understands Jesus’ statement that “the son of man has authority on Earth to forgive sins”: they praised God that God had given such authority to human beings.

          • Socrates

            I’m lost in how you could think that Jesus was not claiming divine authority in either of those quotes, for the Tanakh is quite clear that humans are not Lord of the Sabbath or able to forgive sin.

            Also, how could the crowd know that Jesus was God, if they didn’t even know he was the Christ?

            Ultimately, I am of the opinion that when one abandons the Sucessors of the Appstles and Tradition, almost any opinion can be justified through Scripture. When one looks at the Church Fathers, any idea that the Apostle’s viewed Jesus as not divine is refuted. And more importantly, it is quite clear that to abandon the Bishops leads straight into error.

            My point here is that anyone can proof-text the Gospels to say whatever they want. My arguement is that it is not so clear as you think it is that the Synoptics reject the Incarnation. In looking at Scripture alone, one might be able to defend the idea that Mark denies the Incarnation. However, once one reads the Church Fathers and studies the Time period, it becomes quite clear that the early Christians saw Jesus as divine. There is absolutely no reason why first century Jews, who stoned those who denied Monotheism, would invent the idea that Jesus was divine if he did not claim it in some way. Thus, by doing ones philosophical and historical homework, it becomes impossible to deny that Jesus claimed to be divine in Scripture.

            Christ pax.

            PS. Sorry if this post is fragment and a little unclear. It was hastily written 🙂

          • This is not about proof-texting, but investigating early Christianity using the methods of historical study. That includes not driving unnecessary wedges between early and later sources, but also not reading later things into earlier sources when they are not there.

            The fact that we do not find early Christians being stoned for violating monotheism, and that we do not even find monotheism at issue later, for instance in Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, suggests precisely that the early Jewish Christians did not invent a Jesus who was divine in a sense that violated monotheism.

          • Socrates

            Sorry for being confusing. I didn’t mean to convey the idea that the early Christians were persecuted for non-monotheistic views, but rather the idea that first century Jewish culture was strongly monotheistic, and thus the early Christians would not have invented Jesus’s divine claims.

            I also dislike the idea of “earlier and later” sources because it tends to arbitrarily choose what source are late, and what sources are early. The Gospels do not have fixed dates, and the most certain range of dates is between AD 30 (Jesus’s death) and 170 (St. Irenaeus’s writing). Now, we can make certain reasonable assumptions, based on evidence from contemporaries, and begin to shorten the gap. However, one can’t pick and choose the facts provided by the early Christians, unless we have good evidence against their claim. What I mean is that scholars often reject the primacy of Matthew, an idea that was unanimously accepted by all who wrote on the subject in antiquity, based on certain methods regarding internal evidence. They pick and choose what they want from contemporary theories without justification, The problem is that these methods are not as certain as external evidence, and have been shown to be wrong before (I’m reminded of scholars who argued that Cesar’s Commentary on the Wars in Gaul was written by someone in the seventh century, based on internal evidence). They make assumptions that may or may not be correct. On the other hand, the contemporaries who wrote on the origins of the Gospels all agreed that Matthew wrote first. These are people who lived close to the events, were connected to those who had first hand evidence of these claims, and were far more familiar with the language in which the texts were written in (it was often their native language, after all). I think that their opinion on the matter is much stronger than the opinion of those who live 1700-2000 years later in an entirely different culture (and are often influenced by false philosophy). They can be wrong, sure, but they should be assumed more plausible until new evidence contradicting then is found.

            I also point out that modern scholarship, with its protestant roots, has an inherent tendency to pit St. Paul against the other writers of the New Testament (St. James) in order to justify sola fide. It’s interesting how the new perspective on Paul is finally finding out that St. Paul was, you know, Jewish, and in agreement with the other Apostles.

            Tradition is the glue that sticks together all the loose pieces and dismisses all these doubts about the New Testament being inherently contradictory. The argument isn’t “it is possible that Mark didn’t believe in Jesus’s divinity” but rather “since it is possible that Mark believed in Jesus’s divinity, and we know later Christians clearly believed it, it is most probable that Mark did as well.” To argue otherwise makes the arbitrary assumption that later Christianity is false, which, first of all, begs the question against the Christian, and, second, makes an unfounded assumption more akin to a conspiracy theory. If the Gospel of Mark can be read as either confirming the Divinity of Jesus or disagreeing with it, then we can either assume that later Christians, through Tradition (“handed down”), understood Mark correctly, or we can assume that later Christians didn’t, but such an assumption has no foundation, other than a pure act of the will deciding to accept that the Church got it wrong. This assumption cannot appeal to early evidence, since early evidence never straight out denies Jesus’s divinity (it remains open to either interpretation), and actually confirms it (if you accept that many of Paul’s letters were written earlier than the Gospels). In other words, there is no reason to doubt the Mark testifies to Christ’s divinity, unless one wants to doubt for doubt’s sake, which is valid, but allows one to accept or reject whatever one wants in regard to historical evidence on a whim, making the science of history a joke (and susceptible to manipulation by political ideologies).

            It’s also important to point out that as the Ark of the Church sails through time, it’s definition of the faith become more refined, due to its encounters with heresy. Mark (especially if we assume he wrote first) wrote in a time where a clear denial of Christ’s divinity among the baptized was not yet at large, and thus didn’t see the need to use precise language, especially if his audience was for already catechized converts. Later Gospels (if we accept that John was written last) became more precise in order to combat growing heresies (the pastoral letters also mention what sounds like a sort of proto-Gnosticism).

            Also, the Synoptic Gospels were the recording of Jesus’s public parables. It is clear from the text that no one in the crowds thought Jesus was the Messiah, not to mention God incarnated, and only through the faith of Peter is Jesus’s anointing discovered. If Jesus was using parables to attract followers, and then getting more “into the details” after they convert, it makes sense that the parables and public teachings, as opposed to his private teachings to the disciples, would be ambiguous. Jesus clearly taught differently to his disciples than to the crowds (remember when he explained parables to only the disciples in the Synoptics?) If John is written by St. John (which I accept) then it makes sense that John is written differently: it’s the first hand experience of one of the 12, who got ministered to specially, and not only that, but one of the three (Peter, James, and John seem to be the inner circle of the 12, since they were the only ones that received nicknames and experienced the Transfiguration). John’s Gospel then can be understood as the correct way to interpret the parables/ the other Gospels (John was familiar with at least one Synoptic).

            Furthermore, I can even argue that if Mark were himself unclear whether Jesus was divine, it was because he had not yet connected the dots, so to speak. The evidence was there, but he hadn’t gotten to the conclusion as of yet. In that case, I would argue that eventually, over time, the early Christians began to figure out the riddle and discover that Jesus was divine (which explains why John’s “later” Gospel was more established on Christ’s divinity).

            Christ pax.

          • I don’t find this sort of model persuasive – one that envisages Jesus hinting that he was God, so that it is clear to later Christians and yet not comprehended by his own followers and contemporaries, and supposedly nonetheless something that he wants people to understand and yet leaves them to deduce by “connecting the dots.”

          • Socrates

            Yes, I agree that it is the weakest model, which is why I placed it last in my list. I was just listing possibilities. It is a sign of a great intellect to be able to at least contemplate dispassionately other possible theories.

            I think that it is clear that early Christians thought Jesus was divine (there is no evidence of any early Christians denying His divinity), but they didn’t use sophisticated language because they didn’t have to yet. The written Gospels and letters were originally a supplement to the oral teachings they had received, which is why Luke explains his as such and the fact that the letters are more about clarifying rather than teaching new material (St. Paul himself mentions that his preaching can be pretty confusing). Scripture was defined as only the Tanakh, which was enlightened and understood fully through the teachings of Messiah, which were passed on to the Apostles, and eventually their sucessors, the Bishops. Early Bishops such as St. Papias bluntly state they prefer oral tradition (he uses the term “oral Gospel”) to written documents. Early Church Fathers even quote sayings of Jesus that are not in any of the Gospels. Only later on did Bishops start to add new parts to Scripture.

            It makes sense though; the Gospel is not really just a written document(s), but rather a tradition. You have to remember the Gospel, tradition is not just a bunch of teachings, it is also the Eucharist, the Clergy, liturgy, rituals, commands, desires, prayers, stories, ideas, etc. – a worldview. It is an approach to the world; a way of thinking about everything. It is the right doctrines to believe, and the right way to live: it is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Tradition is not just “stuff” passed down. Tradition is living in the Church, the Body of Christ.

            I like to think of it as God’s Grace, Knowledge, and Love passed on to each generation.

            As new heresies grew, the Church would clarify the earlier Christians’ teachings with more detail. St. John clearly taught the Trinity, but he never had to use such terms as “homoousian,” because the Arians had yet to appear. What we have passed down to us today are the true teachings of the Apostles, but they have been refined by the Church, who was opposing heresies and errors that the Apostles never encountered. An analogy would be the Apostles passing on a rough image, and when later generations started to disagree about parts of the image, the Church adjusted our lens so that we can better see it.

            I find this theory far more likely than the idea that the later Church somehow “corrupted” the “original” teachings. This makes far more sense when one realizes that those who propose these conspiracy theories believe that the “true” teachings are the pieces of Christianity they agree with. One can only appeal to the idea that the Later followers of Jesus corrupted his message if we have evidence of the uncorrupted message itself. Otherwise, all they propose is conspiracy theories with no facts to back them up (the father back the events stretch in time, the easier it is to do this: conspiracy theorists can talk about Jesus being made up to control people with no evidence and be praised, yet if they claimed that 9/11 was an “inside job”,” they get laughed out of the room).

            Christi pax.

          • It is strange that you think that early Christian sources, in order to have held a certain viewpoint, must deny that they thought otherwise. Why is the fact that the Synoptics Gospels nowhere use incarnational or pre-existence language not sufficient evidence?

          • Socrates

            I’m not denying that it is possible that Mark, among others, might not have believed in Jesus’s divinity when writing the text. I’m saying that there is no reason to suspect that, and loads of reasons to suspect otherwise (both internal and external to the text). If we doubt for doubts sake, we can choose whatever parts of history we want to believe in, and deny whatever we want, all on our whims. Does anything in Mark or the Gospels rule out Jesus’s divinity? I have found lots of evidence that actually claims the opposite.

            If the texts can be read supporting either position, then it follows that the text itself can’t be used to make a judgement, but something outside it must be found. Now, we have the writings of the second generation of bishops that clearly teach that Jesus is divine. We have first generation writings that clearly teach that Jesus is divine. Since some early Christian texts (theoretically) can be said to go either way, how do we judge? We can either doubt the writer believed in the Divinity of Christ, on no basis other than a presupposed assumption assuming that the key orthodox doctrines did not come from the Apostles (which begs the question, btw), or we can say that the writer did because all the other writers of early Christianity did as well. Although, as I have presented above, it’s hard to argue that Mark didn’t record the divinity of Jesus.

            St. Paul’s letters themselves, which, in modern criticism, are thought to have been written before the Gospels (I would dispute this myself, as I can’t find any evidence against the two Gospels (Matthew and John) from being eyewitness accounts, but rather I can find evidence for it), testify to the Divinity of Jesus. Since the Apostles agreed with everything St. Paul taught, there is not doubt that the Apostles taught that Jesus is divine, which means that even if Mark is unclear (which is hard to establish), other writings from Apostles and their immediate students clearly indicated that Jesus is divine (Mark might have been written by a disciple in Rome), this doesn’t prove he is divine, but it proves that he was thought by his closes followers to be. I say that the testimony of the Apostles and the many early Gospels of Jesus seem to point to he himself claiming to be divine

            Since the early Church only considered texts that were orthodox for Scripture, if they thought Mark clearly rejected Christ’s divinity, they wouldn’t have included it. They had a well documented tradition that justified that their beliefs went back to the Apostles, added on with the fact that the teachings were passed down to them.

            In summary, Jesus himself claimed to be both the Messiah and God, and he founded the institution that developed into the Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, etc. unions. He didn’t use “incarnational or preexistence language” because that was the language used later to explain how he could claim to be “Son of Man” and “I AM.” Jews already knew that God was eternal, so if they believed Jesus was God, then it follows they believed he was eternal. You are asking for deep, theological language that only developed later: which is why it wasn’t really used in earlier text. No one is claiming Christ used Nicean language to describe himself, but we are saying that he did teach the doctrines to the Apostles. Now, although we know he claimed to be Messiah, that doesn’t prove it. We can know through reason that Jesus claimed to be God, but we can only know through faith that he is God.

            Even when I accept some claims that raise problems for the Church, ones which I disagree with, the problems are still easily solved. However, since there is no evidence against Matthew and John being written by Apostles, Mark being written by St. Peter’s follower, and there is contemporary evidence that says otherwise, that a fortiori ends any sort of reasonable objections to their claims to be eyewitnesses unless new evidence appears (if they purposely manipulate information, that’s another story).

            Christi pax.

          • If your point is that by ignoring and/or dismissing the conclusions of scholars about the date of texts and the meaning of texts, you can understand them to mean something other than what scholars understand them to mean, then no one disputes that. But that doesn’t make your interpretation persuasive.

            In the Gospel of John, the “I am” statements need to be understood in the context of the emphasis in that same Gospel that Jesus bears the divine name which the Father gave him, and that he has been given that name to serve as the supreme agent of God, much like the angel Yahoel is depicted in the Apocalypse of Abraham. As C. K. Barrett emphasized many years ago, it is simply intolerable to interpret John 8 as meaning “I am Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, and as such I do what I am told.”

          • Lucretius

            This is Arianism all over again. How can we receive the Holy Spirit if Christ is not God?

            Your explanations do not make sense. Jesus used the Divine name to refer to himself. Since John clearly says the Logos was God, and that Jesus is the Logos, it makes perfect sense that’s “I Am” was referring to his Divinity. I can’t see how you can dodge the prologue.

            Now, someone could theoretically use the Name if he were in the Spirit, as the Angels are (which explains what you mention above), but no human could have unless they were born again, as the Spirit was lost to man after Eden. In the sense that the Holy Spirit no longer resided in man.

            The New Testement teaches that we “partake in the Divine Nature.” Since that comes from the Spirit being within our being (we are temples of the Holy Spirit), that makes the Holy Spirit divine. The Spirit, being divine, must have come from somewhere divine, and it had to be also human. That’s Christ.

            Christi pax.

          • I don’t think that devoting two chapters in my book to the prologue constitutes ‘dodging’ it…

          • Lucretius

            I actually didn’t read your book. I just found your blog myself by accident. What is the book called?

            Sorry for my ignorance.

            Christi pax.

          • My first book on the subject, which is the main one I was referring to, is John’s Apologetic Christology, which is based on my doctoral dissertation.

            http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0521803489/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0521803489&linkCode=as2&tag=jamefmcgrshom-20&linkId=S2NKXZ7AP5WT5JCX

            My second book on Christology and monotheism is called The Only True God and is a sort of prequel to the monograph on John.

            http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0252078799/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0252078799&linkCode=as2&tag=jamefmcgrshom-20&linkId=YV6S4FRK76EJ2USB

          • Lucretius

            Thank you!

            Christi pax.

          • Lucretius

            I’m not dismissing what the Scholars say, I’m examining the methods and assumption they use to get to their conclusions, and find them improbable, philosophically false, and often question begging. You can’t, for example, claim that Mark was written after AD 70 because it mentions a prophecy regarding events in that year. That assumes prophecy is false a priori, and begs the question against the Christian. It also is anti-scientific for examining prophetic claims.

            Many scholars reject external evidence regarding the texts’ authorship because they are often to focused on looking at internal evidence, or want to be suspicious since they have been taught to be regarding religion. The next generation of Christians clearly taught that Mark wrote Mark, Matthew wrote Matthew, and so on. There is no reason to doubt it, as the internal evidence can be said to go either way. Plus, external evidence trumpets internal, because it is more certain, as internal evidence is far, far, more ambiguous and prone to confirmation bias.

            These are just some of the problems I have with modern textual critizism. I didn’t just reject them. I have really good reasons to.

            Christi pax.

          • What does the above have to do with textual criticism?

          • Lucretius

            I ment historical criticism, sorry.

            Christi pax.

          • Lucretius

            Also, you seem to misunderstand the Trinity. The Father communicates deity with the Son through eternal begotting, and with the Spirit with eternal spiriting through the Son. The Father is the speaker, the Son the spoken Word, and the Spirit the breath that comes from the speaker through the spoken.

            The Father is the spring, the Son the river, and the Spirit the ocean. Yet they are all water.

            When pure Simple, Personal Being (that is what I Am means: “I” is personal, and “am” is existence) knows itself, it is both the knower and known. The knower is the Father, and the known is the Word, the Logos, the Pefect image of the All knowing knower: the knower is knowing himself, so the knower and the known are the same Being. When Being wills itself, there is the Willer and the Willed. The willer and the willed are the same (all intellectual beings will themselves, that is, everyone wills for their good. Even the suicide thinks it is better for himself to be dead rather than alive), and the willer is the Father, and the willed is the Spirit. You can’t will what you do not know, so the known precedes the willed. Thus, we have God Being, God Known, and God Willed.

            The first paragraph comes from St. John the Apostle, the second from St. John of Damascus, and the third from St. Augustine. I wrote them rather hastily, so ask if you need more detail. The point is, there is a hiearchy between the Persons, and that is what the Son is refering to.

            Christi pax.

          • But you realize that most of what you wrote is not found in the New Testament, it is an interpretation of and elaboration on the New Testament, right?

          • Lucretius

            My interpretation is a reasonable and valid one among others. Therefore, Apostolic Christians keep insisting sola scripture is radically false: many interpretations can be drawn from the texts, so, to judge which one is the correct one, we need the context “handed down” from the writer. This is, in part, Tradition. Tradition is just elaborated over time to deal with errors.

            You don’t need us to tell you why you need context to read a text, and that Someone outside the original context (in this case, first century Judaism and the teachings of Christ) will end up consciously or unconsciously reading another context into the text, just read the post-modern continentals, like Derrida.

            Christi pax.

          • Sola Scriptura is logically incoherent, but one cannot solve the problem by assuming that one particular Christian tradition provides the context, especially when we can study historical evidence and recover aspects of the Jewish context of earliest Christianity which it is clear that subsequent Christianity evolved away from.

          • Lucretius

            Yeah, problem is that we have the writings of the earliest Fathers (Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Papias, etc) who were disiples of the Apostles themselves, and they write about the Eucharist being the flesh and blood of Jesus, Apostolic sucession and Tradition, Christ being divine, etc.

            There were definitely heretics appearing at the second half of the first century, since the New Testament itself (the Pastoral Letters, for example) attest to this. When we study the historical evidence, there might be writings that are heretical. The problem is is that those don’t have Apostolic claim, while the writings I meantioned above do. It is clear that at least some early Christians believed in what we today call orthodoxy, and there is evidence that it was among those who had speciallized schooling with the Apostles themselves. Many who did not have such training might have went astray, but there is clear evidence that those who knew better tried to pull them back into the flock.

            Remeber, Tradition is passed on to the present, and the evidence indicates that this Tradition that we call orthodoxy today existed with the Apostles. It makes sense that the end of the century is when heresy began to appear, as the Apostles and eyewitnesses were dying, and non-eyewitnesses were bringing in their own misunderstandings.

            And I don’t understand what you mean by “Jewish context” as one of the decisive influences in my conversion was from study of Orthodox Judaism. Every time I read the New Testement, I realize the thing reeks of Jewry.

            Also, the differences between the Apostolic Christians, such as the Catholic, Orthodox, Coptics, etc. tend to reduce to semantics. The real issues focus more on healing deep historical wounds and on Church governance, not on doctrines.

            Christi pax.

          • Lucretius

            I’m sorry! I didn’t tell you that Lucretius is Socrates! I just made an account for real. Socrates was just a guest, but Lucretius is a full member 🙂

            Sorry for any confusion!

            Christi pax.

          • Guester

            May I disagree? If we go by that argument, then we would have to say that about many of Jesus’ teachings and parables that many of his followers didn’t understand but that many later Christians got. I don’t see why Jesus’ own disciples alone are proof against his divinity. The disciples never understood almost anything Jesus said or did. We constantly see Jesus have to explain things to them because they could never get it right. And even if they did get it, then why would they go around preaching it or claiming to understand it to other people? I think what is self-evident about Jesus being divine is the way in which Jesus performs miracles in response to Jewish expectations of the messiah and as well as other miracle workers at the time. Jesus was able to do these miracles on his own authority unlike many other miracle workers who had to ask the Father for help. Jesus just said them and they would happen, which in turned was a sign to his apostles who knew that there was something much more to Jesus than prophets in the past. Why would the crowds react the way they do if Jesus was no different than any other miracle worker? I also think that early sources in some way do give us a justification for Jesus thinking he was equal to God in someway.

          • I find it unpersuasive to suggest that Jesus’ own followers completely misunderstood while people who opposed him supposedly understood clearly. Performing miracles with the help of the Father, and/or the Spirit, is precisely what the Gospels say about Jesus.

          • Lucretius

            Everything the Bishops as a whole can teach infallibly, the Apostles could have done individually. If an Apostle actually ran into Arians in his day, he would have answered their objections in the same way as the Chuch has done, although he could have used a different theological language. All revelation is passed on as Tradition to the Sucessors. It does not change, but it can become more detailed in order to avoid heresies from the past and the present.

            Christi pax.

          • If you accept the infallibility of bishops or apostles, your arguments are not going to be persuasive to those who do not.

          • Lucretius

            You must ultimately accept the Divinity of Christ on faith. We can know through reason that he claimed to be Divine, never did or said anything that contradicted that claim, and that he promised to protect the Apostles and their Sucessors from error with the Holy Spirit, but that doesn’t prove it. His divinity is known through the supernatural virtue of faith (“blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah, for FLESH AND BLOOD HAS NOT REVEALED THIS TO YOU, but my Father who is in Heaven”). The Divinity of Christ is defendable, as in, it is not contradicted by anything, but it can’t be proved, only Hinted at.

            In fact, we can know the Catholic Church is his Church he founded through reason. We can know it is divine only through faith thought.

            Apologetics is defensive in this instance, not offensive.

            Christi pax.

          • I don’t think that is at all a persuasive stance. Faith in the Bible typically means trusting God, not believing things despite not having adequate evidence, or worse still, evidence to the contrary. But even if that were the meaning of “faith” in the Bible, it would still be problematic. No one can be expected to leap to each competing worldview without evidence and try it out for size, somehow miraculously knowing when they have found the right one. In fact, many competing worldviews make the same assertion about faith that you do.

          • Lucretius

            It’s not irrational faith. It’s supra-rational faith. There is no contradicting evidence. We can know through reason that God exists, and that, say Buddhism or Islam, is false. We know through faith that He revealed himself to the Hebrews, and through faith that he is Christ. But there is evidence and reasons for our belief, it’s just not conclusive and “obvious.” Proof texting doesn’t work. Truth through faith is something like the sun: we cannot look at it directly, but through it we can see everything.

            There is evidence in the fact that other views are wrong as well.

            A good introduction to the reasonableness of Christianity is Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton.

            Christi pax.

          • Socrates

            Oh, and thank you for the reference, although I am already aware of him.

            Christi pax.