Sunday, 21 December 2014

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

Previously, I explained the second part of my question to Dale Tuggy, concerning the effect of taking out the disputable section of John (7:53-8:11).

It was, however, the first question that has really grabbed Dale's attention, and I feel a lot of gratitude toward him, for as you will see he has done a lot of research into it already, although mainly along one specific line. I will explain what I mean in a second - first here is the question again:

So can you please help us understand more particularly when you consider [John 8:58] became a key text for Trinitarian theology, and the context?

So here is Dale's response from the following episode, episode 65, with my emphases:

Dale: What I found was interesting. In the Apostolic Fathers there is no obvious reference to anything in John 8:12-59. This includes authors like Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Didace, Barnabus and the Shepherd of Hermas. Now, you might think that there is one exception, but that's in the longer and obviously corrupted and later version of Ignatius' letter to the Magnesians Chapter 9. Scholars now believe that this comes from the fourth century and not at all from the second century. John 8:58 is referred to there but seemingly the point is just that Jesus was predicted and foreknown. You also see no reference at all to John 8:58 in the extant works of Justin Martyr. That's interesting. Nor are there any references in the works of other early logos theologians like Tatian, Theophilus, Athanagrus (?) and Clement of Alexandria. Things finally pick up when we get to Irenaeus. He refers to this text for instance in Against Heresies 4, 5, to prove that Jesus pre-existed his human life and was the one through whom God spoke to Moses, Abraham and the other OT fathers. And this then becomes a common pattern. You see both Tertullian and Origen appeal to this text to show that Jesus was active in Old Testament times, or just that Jesus existed before Abraham. They don't use it though to show that Jesus is God himself or to prove that Jesus is divine in the way that the Father is divine. Really at this stage the only point seems to be pre-existence and also activity in those Old Testament times, because they've now taken the view that the Father is too transcendent to have been active then, and so any so-called god that was seen and experienced must have been a different being.

Interestingly, nowhere in any of these authors have I found somebody who is connecting John 8:58 to the statements in Isaiah where Yahweh says "I am he", or to God's statement in Exodus as discussed in previous episodes.

I think we can draw a conclusion here that it is by no means obvious that the author of John means the reader to refer to either Isaiah or Exodus. And apparently this is obvious to some of us because we have been repeating it to one another for some time now. And I think this gives some support to the interpretation argued for in those two earlier podcast episodes, that Jesus' meaning in that passage is best captured by something like: Even before Abraham existed, I was pre-destined to be the Messiah.

There is a lot of work in there, that I could not possibly have done, and there is a whole lot more to come in the following episode where we will discover a much more recent trace of an application of an Exodus connection and Jesus' "ego eimi". As I listen to Dale's careful research and limited findings of early use of John 8:58, I now realise that there are not one but two claims underlying the current Trinitarian use of John 8:58. As you listen to Dale, it is clear that he also is looking for both uses, although he may not have articulated quite so precisely. So here are the TWO claims:

1. Jesus was around before Abraham, he therefore pre-existed. This is an early connection, probably going back to before Nicea, but not necessarily to make any supreme divine statement.

2. When Jesus says "I AM" (often capitalised), he is claiming to be YHWH himself, connecting with the self-description that Yahweh gave to Moses.

Would you agree with this dual-claim?

Dale keeps searching also for a theoretically more plausible Old Testament connection to a passage from Isaiah, where I believe the Greek does literally say ego eimi (unlike Exodus), but I have not yet been exposed to that, perhaps he has, or perhaps he is just trying to ensure that we are checking all avenues, I am not sure.

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