According to John: To Bear Witness to the Truth

20150214_172739My Google Hangout on Air on the gospel of John tonight will be based on chapter 6 of Herold Weiss’s book Meditations on According to John, “To Bear Witness to the Truth.” I will focus on the meaning of “true” or “genuine” in the gospel.

I’m embedding the YouTube player below. Note that you have to sign in with Google+ to use the Q&A App.

According to John: From His Fullness We Have All Received

john bannerI’m a little late posting the event for this, but my study of John will continue. I expect to post a couple more notes on the last hangout in this series as well as a follow-up to my conversation with Elgin Hushbeck, Jr. on the Energion Publications weekly hangout. For more information, see the link above. I will embed the viewer below if you want to go via YouTube.

My major purpose in doing this study was to engage in the discipline of following through the book(s), both According to John and Dr. Herold Weiss’s Meditations on According to John thoroughly, discussing the material, and taking questions and comments. This is a difficult process for me because both my training and my inclination is in the historical exegesis of the text, using the word “exegesis” as narrowly as possible to refer to extracting the historical meaning to the first audience. So thinking about the theology is hard work for me, and some of the rough edges definitely show. At the same time, I think this is a worthwhile exercise. Fortunately for me, some people who have a great deal of skill have challenged me on some points and that has helped me dig even deeper.

This week’s topic introduces an interesting aspect of biblical theology: comparing and contrasting the theology of two different passages. Colossians and John share some points of theology here according to Dr. Weiss, and we’re going to look at how one can examine this sort of claim and what the results are.

I do plan some conversations with experts for this series. Dr. Weiss himself has agreed to join me for a discussion. I suspect that one will emphasize christology and the statements he’s made relating the christology of John to various stages of the early church. That will in turn doubtless tie into some discussion of the trinity. Dr. Drew Smith, author of Energion Publications title Reframing a Relevant Faith will be joining me to discuss biblical theology and how it differs from systematic theology among other topics. Dr. Smith has his PhD from the University of Edinburgh in New Testament where his dissertation dealt with the theology of Mark. We’ll try to make him talk about John nonetheless! I will announce dates for these conversations soon.

So join the fun tonight at 7:00 pm central, 8:00 pm eastern, or watch the video later and respond through comments of blog posts.

The Text of John 3:13 – The One Who Is in Heaven

An interesting discussion arose via a comment to my post on last week’s discussion of the Gospel of John. This relates to a textual variant in John 3:13. The verse ends in most versions, and in the UBS4 Greek NT that I use regularly, with “the son of man.” But there is another reasonably well attested variant which adds “who is in heaven” following “son of man.”

Dave Black, who posted the question, has written a journal article about this. In the comments I said I’d like to get a copy of that article, but it was only moments later that I located it. You can read it here. On this computer I’m having trouble with the Greek text, probably due to font issues, but I was able to follow it well enough as is. [Update: Dave sent me another link, this one to a PDF, and the Greek text is good in it.]

Prior to reading Dave’s article, I had come to the conclusion that I preferred to include this phrase rather than leave it out. I did not make use of this in my study, as it has little impact, as I see it, on what I said. I always dither over how much time to spend discussing textual variants. This is a very interesting variant, however. Please read Dave’s article first. While my reasoning is a bit different, and my interpretation considerably so, he covers the facts of the case, and I’ll just note those differences here.

  1. Please read with a caveat: I’m not a NT textual critic. My last class in NT textual criticism was as an undergraduate. All my graduate work was on the Hebrew scriptures.
  2. Of the canons of textual criticism, the one I consider to be the most useful is this: Favor the reading that best explains the others. I find that choosing the most difficult reading involves so much debate that it adds little weight to the result. I do think it’s valid, i.e., a difficult (but workable) reading is more likely to produce variants through correction, simple misunderstanding, or hearing/seeing what you know is there. But that also feeds into determining which reading best explains the others. In this case, I find it very difficult to see an explanation for the other variants if “who is in heaven” is not the original text. In fact, as Dave notes, Metzger (A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament) presents this as the argument of the committee minority, while the majority was swayed by the quality of the witnesses to the shorter text.
  3. I would not necessarily accept the variety of the external evidence if the reading did not also so clearly explain all other variants. In combination, I find them convincing. Of course, one should always remember that textual criticism is not an exact science. There’s plenty of room for valid disagreement. I would note, for example, that the UBS4 rates this reading a B, while my edition of the Textual Commentary, based on UBS3, rates it a C. I’m not sure what happened to increase their certainty. I don’t share it.
  4. At first blush, this reading seems difficult. Here’s the son of man on earth, and he’s also being affirmed in heaven. Either this is a very high christology, or we have a problem. That very problem contributes to the probability that the reading is original. There’s plenty of reason for someone to remove it, thinking it’s an error, but little to add it. But on further reflection, I think it’s very possible we are here, as in vs 11 & 12 (at least) hearing the voice of the author/community, with the affirmation that Jesus has ascended. Though I see a few difficulties with it, I would be unsurprised if everything after John 3:10 through the end of the chapter represented further comment by the author and is not intended as a quote attributed to Jesus.

That said, I will pursue further christological heresies this coming Thursday! Or not … as the case may be.

Tonight’s Energion Hangout

dating and authorship bannerUsing Google Hangouts on Air, we will again broadcast a hangout with some of our authors. For further information, check the Google Plus event. I will embed the YouTube viewer below. Note that once the hangout is complete, the recording will be available through the same viewer.

Due to unforeseen circumstances, the event tonight has been changed. Elgin Hushbeck and I had been planning to discuss the dating and authorship of Bible books in April, but we’re going to be doing that tonight. This is a conversation, though Elgin is the moderator/interviewer. This reverses the usual procedure, in which I interview one or more of my authors. Fun!

Follow-Up to According to John: No One Has Ascended into Heaven

I want to follow up a bit on the study last night. I’ll embed the YouTube below for those who want to view this study after the fact. A few things occurred to me since the study.

  1. Meditations on According to JohnI’m really spending a great deal of time on the use of stories and of metaphors in discussing theology. I’m convinced that we don’t recognize the metaphors we’re using often enough. For example, it’s worthwhile to note that most discussion of substitution occurs inside the metaphor of the courtroom. It’s then important to recognize when a discussion, whether current or in scripture, occurs within another metaphor. John 3:16 occurs in a different metaphor, or perhaps more than one, and it comes after John has evoked the story of the serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9). In that story, the key line is “look and live.”
  2. It’s very important to distinguish “light” as John uses it from our 20th/21st century use of that metaphor. Yes, that word is another metaphor. Jesus did not claim that he as going to provide physical light to the whole world. The modern tendency is to think of light as information and enlightenment as the reception of information. For John, and for Jesus as represented in this gospel, light is more closely connected to life. To mix the metaphors, you look up at the light as he is lifted up and you live. The healing of the blind man in John 9 links closely to this metaphor. There is light and the ability to see light.
  3. Metaphors allow us to talk about the same general subject from different perspectives. Thus one can talk about atonement using the metaphor of the battlefield, the courtroom, and the family/community without being contradictory. I would suggest that one shouldn’t mix these metaphors, at least without being very aware of what one is doing and doing so carefully.
  4. I had an excellent audience question, and this time one that wasn’t in my notes as something I might discuss. Just what was John doing? Jesus speaks so differently from the way he does in the synoptic gospels. Why? It’s a good question, and I went the right direction as I started to answer it. Overnight it occurred to me, however, that the synoptic gospels also had in mind building community. They were just more tied to an existing sayings tradition in doing so. The change, in my view, is one of emphasis. The particular kind of community building involved is one of defining oneself. What is it that we believe as a group that makes us a spiritual/religious community? There is a danger here in following the example of the community reflected in According to John. They are distinguishing themselves from the Jewish community, of which they had previously been members. Who are we apart from being Jews who believe in Jesus? We have to avoid following this line of reasoning to anti-semitism, as Dr. Weiss points out. In addition, however, we need to avoid community building that is done over-against others. There is a certain amount of “and you’re not” when one defines a community. But we need to avoid defining ourselves in a way that reflects negatively on others. The community in John had good reason—they were a persecuted minority. We have less reason.
  5. I’m very glad for Dr. Herold Weiss as a guide in this study. I’m assuming those who are joining me are reading his essays. He’s much more to the point. I’m adding a good deal of discussion of the nuts and bolts to help people think about their own theology, or at least I hope it helps. This can get boring, but sometimes wading through the nuts and bolts (intentional mixed metaphor!) is precisely what we need to do.

And here is the YouTube embed for those who may have missed it:

Link: Is the Trinity Biblical?

In my study of John last night I referred people to a post by Michael F. Bird, author of the book Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction. I have been using his book as one of my theological references for the study. He responded to a review in which he discussed some of the same issues I’ve discussed. I promised a link last night, and here it is.

For what it’s worth, I believe that the trinity expresses a combination of various biblical materials and the experience of the early church in language that is demonstrably not in the Bible. I don’t see this as a problem. In general, when we write doctrinal statements of any sort, they reflect a combination of the way we read scripture, our traditions, our personal and collective experience, and of course the function of our reason. I perceive myself as seeing the connection as looser than Bird asserts, so I’m certainly willing to defend him from critics who say he hasn’t claimed enough. On the other hand, he may have claimed too much, and in this case, perhaps more than needs to be claimed.

Nonetheless his book is fun. Note also that the subtitle illustrates the point I was making. I tend to think that the more systematic our theology gets, the less biblical it is. Being both systematic and biblical seems to me almost a contradiction in terms. The Bible is not systematic. But that’s part of the fun of my current study!

According to John: No One Has Ascended into Heaven

I should have posted this earlier. I’ll use as an excuse that our son is visiting us from Arizona. He’s probably not really to blame, but we are very delighted to have him here. Some distractions are a definite gift from God!

You can find out more information from my Google+ Event, or watch the study via the YouTube embed below.


Alternative Lectionary Discussion Tonight

words of woe bannerTonight on the Energion Publications Hangout on Air (via Google Hangouts on Air) I’ll just be the technical guy. The actual event will be Dr. Bob LaRochelle, author of Crossing the Street interviewing Dr. Bob Cornwall regarding his forthcoming book From Words of Woe to Unbelievable News, which provide sermons/meditations on alternative lectionary texts.

When I say “forthcoming,” regarding Words of Woe, I mean coming right away. It will be to the printer no later than Thursday morning. Between now and next Tuesday you can get these on pre-order for just $3.49 each. Shipping is $2.00, or if you order three of them, shipping will be free as it is for all orders of $9.99 or more.

Bob Cornwall – Revelation of God Embodied

I’d like to commend Bob Cornwall’s sermon this week to your attention, especially to those who are following my John study. It’s titled Revelation of God Embodied. Thinking about God can be hard work!

Not Watching the Super Bowl

No, I’m not. It’s a fact! I’m even a Seahawks fan, to the extent that I’m a fan of any sport. I’ll check the results a couple of times during the evening, but I won’t be watching.

Now don’t fit me out for a halo. A certain number of people probably figure by this time that I’m diligently demonstrating my holiness by going to church. That’s not the case. I just have other things to do. In fact, we don’t even have regular television available in our home. We get things we want to watch via the internet.

I’ve seen or heard people complain about Super Bowl. Churches cancel services. People fail to attend Sunday night services. Such disregard for worship! How can they possibly do that? (It would be those people who might want to fit me for a halo since I’m not watching. But since I’ll doubtless be in my recliner, and may even be watching a British mystery, I don’t qualify.)

There are even those who would claim that canceling church in order to attend the Super Bowl is some kind of idolatry, putting football ahead of God. What it actually is, is putting football ahead of the church’s calendar. One night in the year. Just one.

The idolatry, I think, is the idea that the church calendar is sacred, that the stuff we do on a regular basis cannot be adjusted for any merely human interest. It goes along with the sacredness of church buildings, church regulations, church furniture, and so forth. It’s not all that sacred, except in our minds.

So at heart I’m with the folks who are at Super Bowl parties. I really don’t enjoy that sort of thing myself. I certainly don’t go to the actual games. The crowds are way too big for me to be comfortable.

But I don’t think God has a problem with the folks at the Super Bowl parties. I doubt he was quite as wedded to our schedules as we are. After all, we can easily adjust them to add things to the church program, such as the few days of meetings we inaccurately call “revival” each year.