Wednesday, 10 December 2014

John 8:58, Dale Tuggy takes on my questions (i)

My apologies for the break. I have been doing some travelling and, perhaps most significantly, my foot, which has been injured for a long time, has now started to show some signs of improvement, meaning I am doing some running and have even less time for theologising!

For anybody who has been listening to the Trinities podcast for the last couple of weeks, you will probably have noticed that my question to Professor Dale Tuggy was read in episode 64 of the Trinities podcast founder, has kinda grabbed his attention. The question went like this:

Dear Dale,

Thanks for your great podcast, we continue to enjoy it over here in Marseille, France!

I have gone through in some detail the book authored by your previous interviewee, Stephen Holmes, and as I have been listening to the recent shows on pre-existence, it started dawning on me that I do not have a clue when John 8:58 became significant. This evening I went to the back of Dr Holmes book where there is the biblical reference section, and the verse does not seem even to be mentioned in the entire book.

So can you please help us understand more particularly when you consider this became a key text for Trinitarian theology, and the context?

Final question: what is the significance in your view if we remove 7:53-8:11, and just read through from 7:52 to 8:12?

Blessings and thanks

In the first week, Dale tackled the second question first. Removing the questioned passage of 7:53-8:11 from the field of view strengthens the interpretation that the "I am he" (ἐγὼ εἰμί) repetitions are references to Jesus' messiahship. (Of course, I am not saying by this that a case cannot or should not be made for the Messiah's divinity also, I always want to reassure anyone reading this of that, but I do want believers to keep their brains switched on and aware about the interpretive tools we use to read scriptures.) 

What Dale should have added, I think, was to state what I think textual scholars do say about 7:53-8:11. If we left things as he left it, then we might question the passage's entitlement to simply exist in the canon at all. My understanding - but I would need to check - is that while scholars agree that this chunk was very unlikely to be located where it has come to sit now (and admittedly for a very long time), it could very well be an authentic writing or story from the apostolic era, even by the same author as the gospel of John. But this verse of John 7:53 therefore becomes a key deterrent and distraction to us trying to understand what Jesus and John meant in John 8:58, and it seems so lowly and inconspicuous:


Then you get the [amazing] and possibly-non-original story of the woman caught in adultery.

Then you get Jesus picking up the same conversation he left off in 7:52. Let us assume what the NIV text notes say is true, also to convince you I am not making this up!

The earliest manuscripts and many other ancient witnesses do not have John 7:53 – 8:11. A few manuscripts include these verses, wholly or in part, after John 7:36, John 21:25, Luke 21:38 or Luke 24:53.

So for the sake of argument I think we can be very, very sure that the original gospel did not have everyone simply "going home" at this point in John's gospel. I am also very struck by how naturally the passage flows when we omit this section - try skipping it and see what you think. 

So I agree with Tuggy's interpretation here, except that I am not yet as ready as he is to simply say that in the wider context of what John wants to stress about Jesus is "only" or "simply" that Jesus is the promised Messiah, even if I do feel that John 20:30-31 makes a pretty explicite and clear case for John's general purposes.

Just another parting shot: do you think it is legitimate to consider that the authorities considered stoning a suitable punishment for a wide range of serious sin, or insult to the establishment?

I will blog about the other part of my question to Dale in a separate post.

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