Saturday, December 01, 2007

More NT Wright and The Gospel of John

If I might follow up on my previous assertion that John’s gospel begins with the Second Person of the Trinity and then shows us Jesus taking flesh. I believe that John’s gospel is clearly the hardest for Bishop Wright’s position of absolutely no self-awareness of divinity within Jesus.

John begins with the famous passage, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was with God.’ This has seldom been debated that it is referring to the fact the Word is the second person of the Trinity. He is both God and with God, a fine description of Nicaean Theology (or perhaps that is the other way around). That Word then takes flesh. Thus, I think implied at least is the idea that the Person of the Word is now the Person Jesus who is both God and flesh. However, I think John gets more explicit as the gospel goes on.

Now I am going to bypass all of the miracles done by Jesus and other non-human abilities such as seeing Nathanael under the fig tree. In many of these such as the one mentioned, we see Jesus being proclaimed to be the ‘Son of God’ and calling himself the ‘Son of Man’, and saying that he is Jacob’s ladder. All of these things cause problems for Bishop Wright’s opinion, but I have said that arguing over the titles deserves another series of posts on its own.

John shows in the teachings of Jesus that Jesus the Person is the Word who was in the beginning and with God, now made flesh. One example comes in John 6:33, ‘For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Here Jesus specifically speaks of himself and says that he came down from heaven. Someone who is not aware of his divine nature, and only aware of a calling to do things God said he will do cannot make this statement. If Jesus is just a First Century Jew and unaware of any preexistent life as the Second Person of the Trinity, then he cannot claim to be he who came down from heaven.

Chapter 8 presents even more trouble with several statements. 8:23, ‘You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.’ Again, hard statements for a person without any awareness of his divinity. Wright would have to stretch these comments to make them not a literal above, but some sort of figurative meaning. Yet, this seems even more unlikely as we reach the climax of the debate in chapter 8. The most common verse to prove the divinity of Christ, and consequently the self-awareness of that divinity is John 8:58, ‘Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’.’ Here Jesus claims he is the I AM just as God said to Moses in Exodus 3:14. I have not seen on-line Bishop Wright react to that particular verse, and I would be extremely interested to see how he explained it. But, I do not see how this is not Jesus showing his self-awareness that he is the Second Person of the Trinity. Verse 59 shows us that the Jewish leaders thought he was claiming to be God as they took up stones. So, even in the context of the chapter, it is taken to be a claim to divinity. Of course we cannot divorce John 8 from John 1, so we know exactly what Jesus is referring to, the fact that He is the Word who is God.

Of course chapter 8 ends with people rejecting Jesus as God, chapter 9 ends in the opposite manner with the healed blind man accepting Jesus as God. We see Jesus heal him at the beginning of the chapter, and the we follow the blind man through his trials, and finally Jesus finds the formerly blind man again. In 9:37, Jesus tells the man that Jesus is the Son of God, and in verse 38 the man responds with ‘Lord, I believe! And he worshipped him.’ Note particuarly the ending. The man worshipped Jesus. This is not to be done to a mere man. Someone who was a good first century Jew, but did not think himself God would have stopped the worship immediately. Thus by not stopping the worship, Jesus reveals he knows he is God, he is self-aware of his divinity. [Just as a side note, the man worships Jesus when Jesus tells him he is the Son of God, which seems to imply that Son of God contains it not just Messiahship, but divinity, which goes against Wright’s arguments.]

One could continue endlessly through John. There are many other ‘I am’ statements and the great confession of Thomas, ‘My lord and My God!’ in John 20:28. But I will stop for now. I would love to hear from anyone who knows how Wright reacts to some of the verses in John I have quoted. I think it would be educational. However, I do think these verses destructive to Wright’s Christology.

8 Comments:

Jay said...

I have searched the index of Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God, and do not see any references to the passages you quote from John 6 and 8. And since I haven't plowed all the way through that book, I'll stick with the online sources too.

I still have a problem with the way you characterize Wright's position. I do not think that Wright ever says Jesus had "absolutely no self-awareness of [his own] divinity." In fact, I think Wright's whole point is to explain that Jesus was in a certain sense aware that he was God. At the same time, Wright plainly does not think Jesus was absolutely certain about his divinity. A person could not believe that he was "called to do and be things which . . . only Israel's God, YHWH, was to do and be" unless that person believed he was essentially YHWH in the flesh. Yet, as Wright further explains his view, Jesus "held this belief with both passionate and firm conviction and with the knowledge that he could be making a terrible, lunatic mistake." In other words (my words, not Wright's), Jesus was convinced that he was God, but, being fully human, he was not absolutely certain that he was right.

I think this understanding of Wright's position is the start of an answer to most of the items you raise. In John and elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus spoke of himself as if he were God because he in some sense actually believed that he was God. He accepted worship from his followers for the same reason.

To me, this whole debate is about what it means for Jesus to be at once "fully human" and "fully divine." As I once heard Wright say in a conference (I'm paraphrasing), if your Christology can't account for Jesus in the garden, praying in fervent desparation, you may be missing something. To conservatives, I think Wright's piece on Jesus' self-understanding is a challenge to find the "fully human" aspect of Jesus, while preserving the "fully divine" aspect.

Lee said...

I don't really think that saying Jesus believed he was 'called to do and be which only Israel's God was to do and be' is any different than what I am saying. If Jesus does not know for sure that he is divine or that he is the second person of the Trinity, then Wright has violated the Chalcedonian formula. He is redefining 'person' and 'nature' without giving us new definitions. If Jesus is one person in two natures, how can that one person not be aware of that second nature? To prove that Jesus had doubts about his divinity, Wright needs to point to some verse in the gospels that show Jesus doubting his divinity.
Wright's call to make room for a fully human Jesus is really a call of displeasure with the current understanding of Jesus. There is plenty of room for the garden in Chalcedonian theology. What Wright means when he challenges us to find the fully human aspects of Jesus is that he wants Jesus to look like a First Century Jew. He then begins to redefine Jesus in what he thinks would be a logical idea in a first century Jew. His conclusions leave a lot more questiosn than answers.

Again, I think the main question is what does it mean that Jesus is 'one person'. Wright gives us a Jesus who thinks and hopes he might be both God and man, but realizes he might be a lunatic. Assuming that Wright reconizes that the Second Person of the Trinity is a self aware person, then Wright has given us two persons. One with full knowledge of his divnity and one with only vague notions of who he really is. It is possible that Wright still believes in one person, but believe in an amnesiac God trapped in a mortal body. Wright has undertaken this challenge to think if Jesus in new ways, but artfully avoids dealing with the obvious questions of 'nature' and 'person'. I know he thinks these terms non-2TJ, but he should still define what he is doing for us.

Jay said...

Maybe Wright is re-defining "person" and "nature." I guess I'm not especially clear on the traditional definitions. In particular, I'm not sure why it is that a "person" is necessarily fully self-aware, as you suggest. As a person myself, I know that I'm not fully self-aware, even of my human nature. I don't think saying that God is more self-aware than I am is a good answer, either. That seems to confuse divine nature with personhood. Or maybe I'm just confused.

So, when you ask how can one person not be aware of a second, divine nature, I think Wright's answer would have to be that Jesus was "aware" of his divine nature, but he was not exhaustively aware or completely certain of it. Anyway, I would just like to better understand the Chalcedonian definitions of "nature" and "person" so I can see if and how Wright is re-defining those terms. I've done a little internet searching, but it hasn't been too helpful.

Matt Powell said...

Jay,
To get at the answer to those questions, ask yourself- was Jesus, the man who walked around Galilee and Jerusalem, the man who sweat blood in the garden, aware of being present at the creation of the earth? Did he remember making covenant promises to Abraham and David? Was he conscious of having been with Israel in the desert?

If yes, then he is fully aware of being God. If there is to be any doubt about his absolute assurance of being God, then the answer to those questions has to be no, he did not remember those things. And then you have a God who forgets, or two persons, as Lee has said.

Jay said...

I'm fairly certain that in Wright's view, Jesus would not have been consciously aware of being present at creation. That would, I suppose, tend to remove one's doubts about being divine.

My question is a little different. I don't understand why the Chalcedonian definition of "person" requires Jesus to remember the creation. I'm a person, and I forget lots of things. Does that mean "person" in the Chalcedonian sense is something different than "person" in the sense that I am a person? Because if the two terms mean the same thing, it seems to me that Jesus could "forget" things and still be a single person. Whether God can forget things is more a question about the interaction between Jesus divine nature and his human nature, I think.

Lee said...

Jay,
I have two answers for you. One is about the definition of person. I think you are using a more modern definition of person, which is not exactly what they mean. Today we do not distinguish between person and nature, but that was clearly done in the creeds. Person in the creeds means something closer to persona or maybe even personality. You never forget your personality. The question is for Wright is the Second Person of the Trinity the same as Person of Jesus Christ. Did the Second Person of the Trinity take to himself a human nature or did he do something else such as take a human person (with its own persona or self-consciousness) or is He, the Second of The Trinity, simply morally related to the Person of Jesus Christ (Nestorius)? I think the Bible teaches the the Second Person of the Trinity is the Person of Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:5-11 is a good example. For Paul it is the same 'He' throughout the passage. He in the form of God made himself of no reputation and took upon himself the form of man. Yet, it is still the same He who now humbles himself to the point of death and the same He who receives the glorification. It is the same person before the incarnation, during it, and after it. One 'He'.

My second point is similar to Matt's. If Jesus does not remember being present at creation or in eternity past, then how can he make statements like he does in John when he says, "Before Abraham was, I am". Is he just hoping that is true? A plain reading would say that Jesus is remember that He was indeed before Abraham and knew Abraham.

Those are important questions and problems with Bishop Wright in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

I have always thought that using the phrase, "a 'plain' readying would show..." one has a great tendency to be misleading. What is a 'plain' reading? Is a 'plain' reading now, different than what a 'plain' reading would have been almost 2000 years ago? Sometimes we can get into trouble in our interpretations with a 'plain' reading. Not saying that is necessarily happening here, but I just really don't like making arguments using that terminology.

Michael said...

I know that my post is three years after the original but such is the nature of the blogosphere. Anyhow, I have read a fair amount of Wright though I have yet to read his larger works. Please correct me if I'm wrong but I believe Wright is a Unitarian. I have yet to see him deal with the Son having glory or the Father's love from all eternity. He speaks of Jesus as if He was inhabited by God, which is certainly true, but He was God in Himself. Make no mistake, Wright uses orthodox terms such as "trinity" but means something other than what you and I understand.