Saturday, 3 September 2016

Another opportunity to push Ehrman on John

Another opportunity has arisen to quiz Bart Ehrman on his confusing presentation of John's Christology. My previous efforts, to which he did not respond, you could read here, but were echoed and encouraged elsewhere. See also another correspondence with him here. You can't help but feel he is dodging the issue a bit. Here's the latest, from his post concerning the plurality of theological perspective in the New Testament, entitled: Different Ways of Describing the Theology of the New Testament (I agree with him that it differs internally more than systematic theologians like to permit, but that's not the point) (sorry, part of his post will not be visible if you are not a subscriber to his blog).

Bart wrote, typically, that for John: "Christ is a divine figure who is equal with God who has come from God to reveal the truth that can bring eternal life". Ehrman likes to contrast John's Christology with a radically different perspective from Mark or Luke, make John's a huge leap toward 4th century doctrinal solutions.

I responded: Dr Ehrman, do you not think it is actually possible that John is addressing a real or potential **misconception** within his community that Christ was equal with God, when he has Jesus saying that he is going to the Father, because he (the Father) is greater than him (Jesus)?

Bart responded: I think instead that it’s very complicated, that John incorporated traditions that emerged at different periods in his community’s history, and these traditions are sometimes at odds, christologically.

I responded: In which case (still thinking about your original statement), would it be more accurate (and wordy) to say that John incorporates a plurality of traditions, some of which affirm Christ’s equality with God and others that refute it? Personally, I would see this as too detached and inconsistent for John whose views I think you would agree are omnipresent.

From my experience, I'd say it is unlikely that he will continue the conversation further. But hopefully you get the point I keep trying to expose. What I meant by this final sentence that is not adequate to retreat back from the initial assertion about John see's Jesus as equal with God (and on previous occasions, Bart has just flat out declared that for John, "Jesus is God", something that even some relatively conservative evangelical scholars are hesitant to express in these terms) with talk of John just incorporating multiple traditions. John is not simply gathering diverse materials about Jesus. Unlike the synoptics that are based on textual sources (or at least Matthew and Luke), John is totally fresh and the content shaped by its strong theological message. Unlike what Ehrman says about the author of John (he knows nothing of the local context and was not at all an eyewitness or connected to any eye-witnesses), I would say some of the specific details in John's gospel show that this is either who it is traditionally connected with (son of Zebedee), or more likely, someone intimately connected with that resulting circle (I actually have a pet theory/speculation that John had recently died at the point of the writing of John's gospel, for the exact and perhaps commissioned purpose of not losing this teaching).

The point is that the author cannot be saying just that Christ is equal with God if he explicitly has Jesus saying that he is not equal with the Father. Logically then it is either

a) Jesus is both equal and not equal (somehow)
b) Jesus is not equal.

The author is not writing a compendium of different traditions. He's going for it and even explicitly writes down why it was written down this way John 20:31.

Let's see if Bart does answer though, maybe he can give the further clarification I and others have found he has often lacked on John.

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