Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Gospel of John and the Problem of the Historical Jesus: Reflections From the Greer-Heard Conference, Pt. II

Yesterday I posted my opening responses to Drs. Craig Evans and Bart Ehrman regarding the debate on the historical Jesus. As I made clear yesterday, Dr. Ehrman did not meet opposition in his claims about the Gospels; rather, he met agreement. Dr. Craig Evans, the evangelical scholar, agreed with Bart Ehrman that the words Jesus is reported to have said in John were not actually spoken by Christ. I’ll place my paraphrase of Evans’s words here once more:
“In Proverbs,” he asked, “Does not Lady Wisdom speak truth? Yes she does. But is there an actual Lady Wisdom speaking truth here? Do these events literally happen? No. Rather, the emphasis is not on what literally happened, but the truth that was spoken. When you come to the Gospel of John, Jesus is representing Lady Wisdom here, speaking truth. Remember what John says about Christ, that He is ‘the Logos’ (the Word)?”
I asserted that Evans left the conclusion of his thought open to his hearers. Instead of actually saying, “Jesus did not speak the words He is given in John,” rather, he simply stated that Jesus was like the Lady Wisdom of Proverbs (and left it to his hearers to decide what exactly that statement meant). If I heard Dr. Evans right, Jesus did not speak the words of John.
And this has problems for the Scriptures and Christianity. If Evans is right, then statements such as “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn. 11:25) and “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6) were not really spoken by Jesus. And if such statements were not spoken by Jesus, then how can we know whether or not they are true? Evans’s only response was that such statements are “the Johannine community’s affirmations about Jesus”; but, if such statements are not based on actual statements of Christ Himself, how can we know if they should be believed or not? One could say, “Well, just believe the Johannine community”...but if the Johannine community can invent things that we all should believe, then I can say things here that are historically inaccurate, and all who read my words should believe me. When I say that I have three PhDs and over 25 years of experience in theological research, everyone who reads my words should believe me. But to believe me, you would be deceived---for the truth is, I haven’t been researching for 25 years and I don’t have three PhDs. In the same way one can test out whether or not I’m telling the truth, there must be some grounds for the community’s affirmation of Jesus. If the community simply invented these things to “deify” Jesus, then why should the twenty-first-century Christian community believe anything the Gospels themselves tell us? How could we know, in such a case, that all of the information isn’t simply “made up”?
And there was no answer given to this. Rather, Evans concluded his words on Saturday with, “Investigate the truth for yourself...research in this area and be open-minded to the evidence...go where the evidence leads you.” It appears that, if we take Evans’s words, we should all “go where the evidence” led him: to deny that Jesus actually said what John records He said.
Not only does Evans’s affirmation pose problems for Christianity, it also poses problems for the Scriptures. The idea of a Johannine community affirming things about Jesus that Jesus didn’t say does as well, but more importantly, Evans’s affirmation leads one to deny the very text itself on the issue of the historical Jesus. These are John’s concluding remarks about his Gospel:
“This is the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also MANY OTHER THINGS THAT JESUS DID, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen” (John 21:24-25, NKJV).
Now, in this text we see that there is John (“the disciple who testifies of these things”) and a Johannine community (“and we know that his testimony is true”). It seems as if John gave an account that has been validated by the community in John’s Gospel. In other words, the community believes precisely the way they do because of John’s own words. Evidently, Evans has never read the end of John; for the Johannine community’s affirmations of Jesus are based on the eyewitness account of the Apostle John. To say that Jesus’s words are just “the Johannine community’s affirmations” is proven wrong simply by the end of John 21.
To make matters worse, what about the community’s affirmation that “we know that his testimony is true”? The Johannine community assumed that John’s words were true. To say that Jesus’ words as recorded in John were not spoken by Jesus is to say that John’s testimony is “false.” To be honest, I would rather believe John the eyewitness than Craig Evans or any other modern scholar who stands in the twenty-first century. I think it is theological snobbery to assume that John was hallucinating or using his freedom to write about Christ simply to "plant" things in Christ’s mouth that He never said.
To put the nail on the coffin, what about the words that “there are many other things Jesus did”? If there are “other things” that are not recorded in John that Jesus did, what does this imply about the recorded sayings and events? That Jesus ACTUALLY DID THEM, that such recorded events are true! Once again, if John is saying that such events happened, then to say (like Craig Evans) that such events did not happen is to contradict the Scriptures themselves. After all, if the sayings of Christ never took place, then how can John have called on the readers to believe in a Christ whose deeds John himself falsified? How could John and the Johannine community have labeled something “true” that was “false”? How could they call on the reader (then and today) to believe something that was “false”? How could they say “and we KNOW that his testimony is true” when knowledge is a “justified TRUE belief,” not just a justified belief? This is what is problematic about Evans’s affirmation: that he would stand up publicly and deny Jesus’ statements about Himself (and thus, discredit the witness of the Apostle John who actually walked and communed with Christ in His ministry). Who is right: the Apostle John or Dr. Craig Evans? That is something I will leave to you, the reader, to decide.
In this post, I have examined Craig Evans’s words regarding the Gospel of John and the problem of the historical Jesus. I have concluded that Evans’s words contradict the Scriptures and the genuine truthfulness of John (who claims to be an eyewitness) as well as the Johannine community (who based their claims on the truth claims of the Apostle John). Craig Evans says that Jesus never spoke the words John says he did and that the community themselves simply affirmed things they had no evidence for. By so doing, he is denying the inerrancy, infallibility, and inspiration of Scripture: inerrancy and infallibility because the Scriptures are assumed to contain no error...inspiration because all of Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). I will tackle more regarding the Greer-Heard Conference in coming posts.

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