Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Re: A Reply to Anthony Roger's critical evaluation of my [Paul Williams] article

PW decided to reply to the last of my three previous responses, and one out of three is certainly better than the usual nothing. He also decided not to be so salty this time around, apparently because he didn’t like being “peppered with ad hominem attacks” in return. Since his reply incorporated a lot of his older (and already refuted) material, I will make my response in installments, not necessarily in the order of PW’s concerns.

PW believes Mark’s gospel teaches a low-Christology. He also believes that John’s Gospel presents a high-Christology. Matthew and Luke are held to represent something of a midway position along this trajectory. PW further believes that all of this shows that Matthew and Luke and especially John were upgrading Jesus, and thus belief in the deity of Christ does not go back to Jesus Himself. Yet, in order for PW’s theory to work, it is necessary to hold the additional theory that Mark was written first, a theory PW has assumed but not argued for, contenting himself with the fact that this theory is currently in vogue even though all the arguments originally offered for it no longer inspire confidence even in those who still hold onto this view, and in spite of the fact that other approaches, such as the Matthean priority view, the view that held sway in the Church for 18 centuries, has experienced a resurgence in modern times (q.v. W. R. Farmer, The Synoptic Problem; H. –H. Stoldt, History and Criticism of the Marcan Hypothesis; et. al).

While PW’s argument absolutely relies on the above scheme, my argument does not. As I pointed out, even if one assumes Markan priority, one can only argue that the high Christology found in John’s Gospel is a later embellishment if and only if Mark teaches that Jesus was only a man and not also God. If belief in the deity of Christ already is part and parcel of the testimony contained in Mark’s Gospel, then it simply cannot be argued that John’s Gospel reflects a later innovation.

In order to demonstrate that Mark does in fact teach the deity of Christ, I pointed out that one of the salient lines of evidence for Christ’s deity in John, which PW concedes, namely the absolute “I Am” statements, can already be found in Mark. As one instance of this I drew PW’s attention to the Sea-Walking pericope found in both John 6 and Mark 6, both of which independently attest that Jesus, in the context of an epiphany, used this divine self-revelation formula.

In response, PW made the facile observation that most English translations don’t render the Greek phrase literally in Mark 6:50. But this observation is literally worthless and as an argument doesn’t go anywhere.

It doesn’t do anything to change the fact that the Greek text says ego eimi, I Am.

It doesn’t do anything to change the fact that the phrase parallels one of the seven recognized absolute “I Am” statements in John, already admitted by PW to be a divine mode of self-identification.

And while a number of translations drop the ball at this point (but see: YLT, GLT, Wycliffe, Letham; et al.), most commentators do not. I have already quoted the following commentators and scholars to this effect:

Larry Hurtado: “It is I… it is used in the OT (e.g. Isa. 43:25; 48:12; 51:12;) with special force as a formula for self-description by God, resembling the phrasing in Exod. 3:14 where God first reveals himself to Moses.” (Mark, p. 106)

Mary Ann Beavis: “…the ego eimi is connected with God’s self-disclosure at Sinai (Exod. 3:13-15 LXX; ego eimi ho on…” (Mark, p. 108).

Daniel Johansson: “In conjunction with all the other elements of divine epiphany, …especially the sea-walking motif, there are good reasons to think that Jesus’ words also echo the divine “I am” in the OT.” (Jesus and God in the Gospel of Mark, p. 113)

And with a great deal of ease I could go on quoting many more:

Donahue and Harrington: “I am: Many translations render this phrase “It is I,” which can obscure the echo of the powerful OT divine revelational formula “I am” used in the context of God’s saving presence (Exod 3:14; Isa 41:4; 43:10-11).” (The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina Series, Vol. 2 [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2002], p. 213.)

Mary Healy: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid! Biblical theophanies are often accompanied by an encouragement not to fear, so overwhelming is the presence of God or his angels. But the key to the episode is in the middle statement: “It is I” (ego eimi), which can also be translated “I AM,” the divine name revealed at the burning bush (Exod 3:14). It is a veiled reference to the divinity of Jesus. Indeed, his reassurance echoes the divine words of consolation: “Fear not, I am with you; be not dismayed; I am your God” (Isa 41:10). (The Gospel of Mark [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008], pp. 131-132.)

Morna D. Hooker: “It is I: since the words can mean also ‘I am’, they could be a reference to the divine name and so have a deeper significance than a simple self-identification: this would certainly be appropriate in the context.” (The Gospel According to Saint Mark, Black’s New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1991), p. 170.)

Francis J. Moloney: “He is not a [phantasma] but Jesus: [ego eimi] (v. 50b)….Jesus’ self-identification approximates a revelation of his oneness with YHWH (see Exod 3:14; Deut 32:39; Isa 41:4; 43:10).” (The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2002], p. 134.)

M. Eugene Boring: “…in the context of all the other marks of divine epiphany, the phrase here must have the connotation of the divine self-revelation, the disclosure of the divine name as Yahweh, the one who says absolutely, ‘I am.’” (Mark: A Commentary [Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006], p. 190.)

William L. Lane: “Not only the immediate context of the walking upon the water but the words with which the emphatic “I” is framed favor the theophanic interpretation. The admonition to “take heart” and to “have no fear” which introduce the “I am he” are an integral part of the divine formula of self-revelation (e.g. Ps. 115:9ff.; 118:5f.; Isa. 41:4 ff., 13 ff.; 43:1 ff.; 44:2 ff.’ 51:9 ff.). (The Gospel According to Mark: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition, and Notes, The New International Commentary on the New Testament [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974], p. 237.)

James R. Edwards: “As in the forgiveness of sins (2:10) and in his power over nature (4:39), walking on the lake identifies Jesus unmistakably with God. This identification is reinforced when Jesus says, “‘Take courage! It is I.’” In Greek, “It is I’” (ego eimi) is identical with God’s self-disclosure to Moses. Thus Jesus not only walks in God’s stead, but he also takes God’s name.” (The Gospel According to Mark, The Pillar New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002], p. 198.)

What is interesting is that Williams quotes from The Case for Christ to establish the credibility of some of the scholars on his list, and yet here is what we read from Craig Blomberg in the same volume:

 [Lee Strobel asks:] “John makes very explicit claims of Jesus being God, which some attribute to the fact that he wrote later than the others and began embellishing things,” I said. "Can you find this theme of deity in the synoptics?”
[Blomberg answers:] “Yes, I can,” he said. “It’s more implicit but you find it there. Think of the story of Jesus walking on the water, found in Matthew 14:22-33 and Mark 6:45-52. Most English translations hide the Greek by quoting Jesus as saying, ‘Fear not, it is I.’ Actually, the Greek literally says, ‘Fear not, I am.’ Those last two words are identical to what Jesus said in John 8:58 when he took upon himself the divine name ‘I AM,’ which is the way God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3:14. So Jesus is revealing himself as the one who has the same divine power over nature as Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament.” (Strobel, The Case for Christ [Zondervan Publishing House; Grand Rapids, MI 1998], pp. 35-36.)

So the attempt to scuttle the force of Mark 6:50 on the basis of the way it is rendered in a number of English translations is an exceptionally bad argument. In fact, it proves just how arbitrary PW can be in approaching this question. Since he needs Mark to teach a low Christology in order to argue that John’s Gospel represents a mutation of the original, primitive teaching about Jesus, he refuses to feel the force of the same argument in Mark 6:50 that he acknowledges in John 6:20. This is like saying a .45 caliber handgun is lethal on 4th Street but not on 1st Street. I hope PW doesn’t try this experiment at home.

In the comments section of PW’s response to me a Muslim named Kaleef said that Peter (Acts 10:21) and Gabriel (Luke 1:19) both uttered the phrase ego eimi, so if Jesus saying this is a claim to deity then so is theirs. Incredibly, PW, who is on record saying he knows Greek, first told Kaleef that this was a good point. If PW knows Greek then he also knew better than to say such a thing. For reasons known only to himself (and God!) PW did not correct Kaleef. Instead, he commended him. It took another commenter to correct both Kaleef and PW before the latter conceded. The fact is these are not parallel to the “I Am” sayings of Jesus at all. Both of the above-proposed counter-examples have a clear, unambiguous predicate.

ego eimi hon zeteite (Acts 10:21)

ego eimi Gabriel ho parestekos enopion tou theou (Luke 1:19)

The saying of Jesus in Mark 6 and its parallel in John 6 have no predicate. One could try to argue that a predicate is assumed and can be supplied from the wider context, but PW made no attempt to argue this point and in any case such an attempt would run contrary to the context-rich setting of the utterance, noted already by the commentators.

All of this exposes not only the error of PW: it also shows the error of many of the scholars PW quoted in order to argue that John’s Christology is higher than what we find in the Synoptic Gospels. The claims that scholars make are only as good as the evidence on which those claims are made. In fact, Raymond Brown, the very scholar PW lauded as the greatest Johannine scholar in modern times, who was quoted as saying that John’s “portrayal of Jesus is quite foreign to the Synoptic Gospels,” comes perilously close to refuting this claim when discussing the actual evidence in another one of his publications. After saying the following in his comments on John’s Gospel:

I would include two other texts. The first is [John] 6:20 where the disciples in the boat are frightened because they see someone coming to them on the water, and Jesus assures them, ‘I AM; do not be afraid.’ The second is [John] 18:5: The soldiers and police who have come to the garden across the Kidron to arrest Jesus announce that they are seeking Jesus of Nazareth, and he answers, ‘I AM.’ Some would tell us that the first means simply, ‘It is I, i.e. someone whom you know and not a supernatural being or ghost.’ And they would tell us that the second means simply, ‘I am he, i.e. the one you are looking for.’ A better solution is to recognize a play on the expression ‘I AM’ as having a twofold meaning: While it has a simpler story-line import (as just exemplified), it also has a higher connotation. In the first example, the sacral comes from the context that involved Jesus’ walking on the water and a dangerous storm from which they are immediately brought to land: in the second example it comes from those who, hearing Jesus’ response, fall back to the ground. Both, then, would be instances of a theophany or divine appearance of one who, like the God of Israel, is master of storms and the sea and at the mention of whose name every knee must bend.

Brown goes on to say the following:

John did not invent this usage, for there are examples that verge on the absolute use of ego eimi in the Synoptics even though one can argue that a predicate is assumed. For instance, in Matt 14:27 (Mark 6:50): As Jesus comes walking across the water, he says to the disciples in the boat, ‘Ego eimi; do not be afraid.’ This is the same use we saw in John 6:20 (footnote 202). That in this scene Matthew intends more than a simple ‘It is I’ is suggested by the profession of faith elicited by the disciples (Matt 14:33), ‘Truly you are God’s Son!’ Or again, when speaking of the signs of the last days Jesus warns, ‘Many will come in my name, saying ego eimi’ (Mark 13:6; Luke 21:8). The context does not clearly suggest a predicate (even though Matt’s 24:5: ‘I am the Messiah’); and the juxtaposition of ego eimi and ‘my name’ brings us close to Johannine usage. Thus, John’s absolute use of ‘I AM,’ rather than a creation from nothing, may be an elaboration of an early tradition that has left some traces in the Synoptic Gospels as well.” (Brown, An Introduction to New Testament Christology (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1994), pp. 137, 139-140.)

At the end of the day it must be understood that PW has a theory. In truth, he has several theories. And unfortunately for PW he has decided to let these theories determine what he will allow to be facts. Indeed, his theories determine in advance what the facts are and what they are allowed to say or not say. That’s why an argument as facile as appealing to (some) English translations over the underlying Greek will be clung to no matter how pathetic it is.


Radical Moderate said...

Looks like you out scholar-ed PDub again.

Great job demonstrating how this revert will use anything as an excuse to justify his un belief in our risen Lord and Savior

S N Smith said...

Paul Williams

AJ said...

Paul's undisputed letters (48-60 CE) already contain high Christology that can be traced back to the earliest circles of Jewish Christians (e.g. Philippians hymn) long before GMark was theoretically penned down in 65-72 CE. This makes PW's case for evolutionary Christology less plausible in historical terms and his attempts to shove low Christology down Mark's throat become more suspect. Psh, and don't even mention the fact he is assuming Markan priority! :)

AJ said...

Even if GMark (65-72 CE) is low Christology, Paul's epistles (48-60 CE) already contain a high Christology that he presupposes his readers to be familiar with and it can be traced back to earlier Christian circles like the Phil hymn, etc. In light of this I don't know how one can accuse GJohn of christological innovation; it makes no chronological sense.

TAREK said...

Beginning to come around. THANK GOD. We just need to continue praying for Mr. Paul W.
The fact is simple Mr. PW has move from zero to "Low" Christology.
Mr. PW get back to your quran and study this verse please Surat 3 Aya 55. sahih al-bukhari will also help you in undersanding the difference between follow and believe.
Come to CHRIST don't be stubborn.
I know what you are going through please come to CHRIST YE LOVES you

Clark said...

Two quite minor quotations, from non-Fundamentalists :-) Orthodox Study Bible note on Mt 14:27 - "'It is I' is literally translated 'I am,' which is the divine Name of God (see Jn. 8:58) ..." Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament note on Mk 6:50 - "'It is I' or 'I am.' Jesus takes for himself the divine name 'I am' that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Ex 3:14)."