Friday, 9 January 2015

Death threats: John 8:59

This post completes the summary of Trinities episode 66 that I wrote here. Here, Tuggy is convincing in showing that while death threats is a possible consequence of blasphemous association with the divine identity of the unpronounceable Yahweh, you cannot reasonably argue for it to be the only possible reason, and this can be proven from other instances in Jesus' own life. The verse in question immediately follows the verse we have been focussing on, and is from John 8:59:

(58) Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." (59) Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.

So here's a couple of notes:
Patrick Navas: To us, this is a strange verb construction: Before X [past tense], Y [present tense]. Not strange to Greeks. Idiomatic. Meaning: Began in the past and is still continuing. But not so startling that he can "only" be making a claim to divine eternal or timeless existence. Belcham: the meaning concerns the past, even though it is still true today, Jesus is still the Messiah.

Navas comments on the angry reaction of the Jews. Some say that he is claiming to be God himself or a divine attribute that only God has. Navas points out there have been harsh words exchanged on both sides. There is a growing sense of offence, and this is the "straw that broke the camel's back". People had already tried to kill him - because he had claimed to be God? No. He had claimed in the synagogue that the messianic prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled in their hearing. Conclusion: other things are sufficient to get yourself killed, like falsely claiming to be God's Messiah and insulting the religious establishment [me: note the trouble this got the Wycliffe follower, Jan Hus, into in the 15th century]. See also: healing on the sabbath (Mark 3:6) and speaking of God's love for the gentiles (Luke 4:29).

This interpretation cuts across unitarian and trinitarian lines. Some unitarians believe or at least hold open the possibility that Jesus is claiming to have existed before Abraham, for Tertullian and Origin that's the point of it, affirms Tuggy. Agreement that you could agree with John and basically exist long before (or eternally before) you were born. Again, modern-day trinitarians might take this the same way, and just try to prove the divinity of Christ or that Jesus is one of the Trinity by many other passages. "You could say that the interpretation that Dr Smith, Belcham etc share with me [Tuggy] is deflationary, less exciting, what it is, is that it is less metaphysical. He is not making a point about his own essence or nature or the mode of his existance or his relationship to time, rather he is speaking in a common Jewish idiom wherein very important people or events or things are described as having always existed with God, they can be described as real in the past or present even if they are still only going to come about in the future, and Smith and Belcham gave many examples of this from Scripture".

Perhaps I should have a separate post on my final views on this verse, but you can probably tell which way I am now headed, and it is a similar direction as to most of the trinitarian passages I have been spood-fed in the past. A bientôt!

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