Thursday, September 28, 2017

Jesus never said the "I am" statements?

[Update, spring, 2018: Please see this transcript for a fuller version of Evans's comments in 2012 concerning the Gospel of John. (See here for a mobile device friendly version.) There is more than what is found below, quite a bit more. Please also follow links from herehere, and here for more information and more of my posts on New Testament studies and various "literary device" theories.]

In the following video, New Testament scholar Craig Evans agrees with Bart Ehrman that Jesus never made the "I am" statements recorded in John. Anyone who thinks this "literary device" stuff is no big deal needs to realize that, if one goes where Evans is going, that no longer passes the laugh test.

Evans gives no argument. He makes a bizarre analogy between John's gospel and the personification of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs. But of course he isn't a myther, so Jesus did exist and did say things, right? So that's obviously a really poor analogy, and it's not clear precisely what Evans thinks it does for his argument. Using the term "genre" doesn't help, since obviously John is not writing an allegorical personification of a characteristic like wisdom. This is a lazy use of the concept of "genre." He then explicitly says that these were "he is" confessions of "the Johannine community" rather than statements made by Jesus.

Evans has to admit the awkwardness of all the historical facts confirmed in John (!) but apparently doesn't let this stop him from having an agreement-fest with skeptical scholar Ehrman (who goes for the jugular, unsurprisingly) that Jesus never made the "I am" statements. Watch here. It's short.


Apologist Jonathan McLatchie shared this video in a public forum on Facebook with the comment that the field of New Testament studies needs to be reformed.

In the ensuing thread, Mike Licona, still regarded by many as in some measure a conservative biblical scholar, came in and apparently defended Evans's comments throwing all of the "I am" statements under the bus. He is, to my mind, fairly explicit, though not quite as explicit as Evans.

1. Although the message is the same, the way Jesus "sounds" in John is very different than the way He "sounds" in the Synoptics.

2. The way Jesus "sounds" in John's Gospel sounds very much like how John "sounds" in 1 John. That is, the grammar, vocabulary, and overall style of writing in both are strikingly similar.

Number 2 could be because John adjusted his style to be similar to his Master after spending much time with him. This would be similar to how some married couples adapt their laughs and expressions to one another over time. The other option and the one believed by most scholars is that John paraphrased Jesus using his own style. The reason scholars go with this latter view is because Jesus "sounds" so differently in John than in the Synoptics.
By no means does this mean John is historically unreliable. It means that John is often communicating Jesus' teachings in a manner closer to a modern paraphrase than a literal translation. Stated differently, John will often recast Jesus saying something explicitly the Synoptics have Him saying implicitly. For example, one does not observe Jesus making his "I am" statements in the Synoptics that are so prominent in John, such as "Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58). That's a pretty clear claim to deity. Mark presents Jesus as deity through His deeds and even some of the things He says about Himself. But nothing is nearly as overt as we find in John. Granted, the Synoptics do not preserve everything Jesus said. However, if Jesus is cryptic in public even pertaining to His claim to be Messiah as He is in Mark--hence the "Messianic Secret," we would not expect for Jesus to be claiming to be God publicly and in such a clear manner as we find John reporting. Those are just some of the reasons why scholars see John adapting Jesus' teachings. Jesus' precise words (ipsissima verba) may not be preserved in John but His voice (ipsissima vox) certainly is. (emphasis added)

To be blunt, the talk of paraphrase here merely fogs the issue. Evans is not saying that the "I am" sayings in John are paraphrases in any normal sense of that term of explicit claims to deity that Jesus actually made, and if Jesus did not publicly and explicitly claim to be God as he does in John, then calling what we find in John a "paraphrase" is merely creating confusion. That isn't a paraphrase. That's making stuff up.  And if that's how the phrase "ipsissima vox" is going to be used, then it is just another phrase for "making stuff up," not a mere reference to what ordinary people call "paraphrasing." Licona is expressly arguing that Jesus would not and hence did not publicly, clearly, and overtly claim to be God in the real world. But in John he does do so. No use of the term "paraphrase" nor the phrase "ipsissima vox" (which I believe Evans originated) can get around this.

Needless to say, Licona's arguments here are extremely weak. There is a large difference between claiming to be God and encouraging the crowds in messianic expectations. Jesus never at any time hesitated to offend the religious leaders of his day and even in the synoptics seems to have gone out of his way to do so. As for Jesus "sounding different" in the synoptics, there is that awkward bit of John that escaped and got into Matthew somehow, Matthew 11:25-27. Moreover, real people do talk in different styles at different times, and John seems to have had a memory for long, connected discourse. Mostly this is assertion disguised as argument for a very strong claim--that Jesus did not overtly and explicitly claim identity with the Father as he is portrayed as doing in John. What argument there is is the typical weak sauce of New Testament literary criticism.

Every time I think that some new shift from Dr. Licona can't surprise me, he surprises me. I was surprised when he hypothesized that the whole Doubting Thomas episode might be made up, but I thought he'd be more uncomfortable about publicly endorsing Evans's comments throwing the "I am" statements under the bus. Evidently not.

Again, this post and hence the comments are set to public, which is why I can read them even while on Facebook hiatus. I am not publicizing anything that has not been said in public, but I am "boosting" it. Saddened as I am by what Dr. Licona is apparently endorsing, I'm afraid that I think this is a crucial enough matter that it needs to be known. Jesus' claims to deity are, to put it mildly, important, and so people should know when scholars think he didn't make them. I pray that the Lord will use any such publicizing and/or criticisms that come as a result to motivate Dr. Licona to reconsider. Needless to say, I urge that such criticisms and corrections always be made in a spirit of Christian love and with the best good in mind of Dr. Licona as well as of the Christian community as a whole, including his followers.

Update: Dr. Licona has responded in "grieved" fashion to my critique in this post, adding an entirely ex post facto caveat to his original comment, a change which in any event does not render his comments unobjectionable or unimportant. And certainly does not make me a misrepresenter of what he said. I will quote his response, leaving out only an unnecessary name of a participant on Facebook and, at the end, some irrelevant ad hominem patronization directed towards me.

I'm grieved to see Lydia once again stretching my words to say more than I did. I try to nuance my words carefully, especially in view of some like Lydia who look for things to criticize. But sometimes I'm not as careful as I should be and assume (wrongly) that others will grant some leeway in communications and be charitable.
So, I'll try to be a little clearer here. I agree with all Johannine scholars that Johannine adaptation is present in his Gospel. However, scholars differ on the degree of adaptation that is present. I wouldn't go as far as Craig A. Evans for whom I have the highest regard. To be honest, I do not know how much John adapted certain traditions. But some is obviously present to anyone who spends a significant amount of time studying the Gospels. Are the "'I am' without predicate" statements in John part of his adapting things Jesus implicitly said and presenting them in a manner in which Jesus says them explicitly? In other words, are we reading the ipsissima vox (his voice) of Jesus here rather than the ipsissima verba (his very words). I don't know. In my single reply to [another commenter], I provided reasons why many, perhaps even a majority of Johannine scholars say they are Johannine adaptations. I have argued elsewhere that historical data strongly suggests Jesus believed He was deity. So, if Jesus made implicit claims to deity and John recasts those claims in a manner that has Jesus making them in an explicit sense, then that's what John did and we need to be comfortable with that. Otherwise, we take issue with the way God gave us the Gospels.
Licona gave not the slightest hint in his original comment that he was representing the views of other scholars and not his own view. He made the comment in his own person. Indeed, even had he added the phrase "in the view of the majority of scholars," the comment as a whole still would have implied an endorsement of that argument, given all his wording that followed. But he did not even bother adding any such mildly distancing (though not very distancing) phrase. Here is the lead-in to the original comment, as originally given:

Keener has said that "all" Johannine scholars acknowledge Johannine adaptation of the Jesus tradition. To see this in action, I recommend that you read through the Synoptic Gospels several times in Greek. Then read John's Gospel and 1 John several times in Greek. (One can also observe this in English but it is far clearer and even more striking in Greek.) You will observe a few items relevant to this discussion:
1. Although the message is the same, the way Jesus "sounds" in John is very different than the way He "sounds" in the Synoptics. 

That was the lead-in. No mention of this as merely a neutral representation of what other scholars think. Now he wishes to backtrack and say, instead, that he is agnostic about whether Jesus made the "I am" statements. This is hardly much better. The headline now would be "Leading Apologist Completely Unsure About Whether Jesus said 'I am'" rather than "Leading Apologist Thinks Jesus Never Said 'I Am.'"

This is, pace Licona, still a very low view of John's accuracy, even after the backtrack. And if John made up the "I am" statements, the doubts of his accuracy are cast far wider than even those statements. As far as what we have to "be comfortable with," foot-stomping and saying, "We have to be comfortable with that" is pointless. It does not take the place of a good argument for what God, and John, actually did. What it comes to is, "If God gave us factually crappy gospels, we have to live with that, and I'm going to deem anybody impious who is bothered by the possibility." This is faux piety. God didn't have to send Jesus to die at all. He didn't have to give us such good records of Jesus' life. But he seems to have done so. Let's not pretend that it's no big deal if we are left with only a poor and unreliable record in John of what Jesus taught about one of the most important truths in the world--that Jesus is God. It is a big deal. Merely saying that if these records are poor, we have to "be comfortable with that," is ridiculous. Actually, we don't have to be comfortable. We should mourn if that's the situation, not "be comfortable." Fortunately, there are not good arguments for Licona's agnosticism about Jesus' explicit claims to deity. So please, stop patronizingly telling us what we need to be comfortable about.

Update 2: Since I realize that a lot of people are going to read this post who haven't been reading either of my blogs before, since this post has gotten more publicity, I want to take this opportunity to point out that I've been carefully and in detail writing in response to Dr. Licona's ideas for over a year and a half now. Some of these are quite lengthy posts. They all involve argumentation and ideas, not personalities. I'd like to make people aware of this body of work so that they can read it for themselves. This news concerning the I Am statements came up in the midst of an on-going project that I have concerning Licona's work. It is not precisely a side show but certainly was an unexpected sudden illustration of the reasons for the concerns I have always voiced about the "literary devices" work. My arguments against that work have already to some degree been laid out but also are in the process of being laid out further. I am planning posts on quite a few of Licona's Roman examples in the book followed by posts on his gospel examples. I have previously written about some of the same gospel examples he uses, based upon his long, on-line lectures.

Here are my old posts on Licona's work, written last year:

A Gospel Fictionalization Theory is No Help to the Gospel

More on Licona, Genre, and Reliability

An announcement of the previous post at this blog containing some more content

Straining to Find a Genre

New Post on "Genre" in the Gospels

Here is the beginning of my new series:

New Testament Interpretation in the Real World

Hoaxer or Historical Witness: The Johannine Dilemma

Flowchart: On Alleged Literary Devices

For those who haven't followed my work before, below is a brief bio. I would just note that, if anything, my professional work in probability theory is more recent and prominent than my doctorate in English, and it is relevant to the evaluation of arguments. Though of course a degree in literature may well be relevant where (poor and highly speculative) literary criticism appears to be the order of the day in a field like biblical studies. I can be reached with direct correspondence at lydiamcgrew [at] gmail [dot] com.

Lydia McGrew is a widely published analytic philosopher who specializes in classical and formal epistemology, probability theory, and philosophy of religion. She is the co-author (with Timothy McGrew) of Internalism and Epistemology: The Architecture of Reason (Routledge, 2007) and of the article on the argument from miracles in The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology (2009). She received her PhD in English from Vanderbilt University in 1995. Since then she has published extensively in analytic philosophy, specializing in probability theory and epistemology.  Her articles have appeared in such journals as ErkenntnisTheoriaActa AnalyticaPhilosophia Christi, and Philosophical Studies, and she is the author of the entry on historical inquiry and theism in The Routledge Companion to Theism (2012). She home schools, and in her spare time, she blogs about apologetics, Christianity, culture, and politics. She lives in southwest Michigan with her husband and children. She is the author most recently of Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts (2017).


Phil said...

I agree with you about his comments. I've seen things that worried me before, but they seem to becoming more frequent and more serious. I can't see what's affecting his understanding of Scripture. I do hope and pray that he takes a good long look at what he is saying and reverses course... soon 😟

Anonymous said...

Robert Price argued a while back on Luke Muellenhausen's podcast that Licona would go down a liberal path. Maybe Robbie is among the prophets?

Lydia McGrew said...

What saddens me most is when people say this isn't that important. Can't we at least be honest and clear-headed enough to admit that it's important? Then we might start to demand stronger arguments rather than punting to the New Testament scholarly establishment and passively accepting whatever "most scholars" tell us.

Brian Chilton said...

It is so sad that some of our prominent so-called "conservative" scholars are going down this path. How is this different than the Jesus Seminar's work? The Jesus Seminar was responsible for my 7-year hiatus from the faith. John's Gospel has been doubted before and come up to be discovered as historical (e.g., discovery of the Pool mentioned in John 5). The teachings in John's Gospel are thoroughly Jewish (e.g., comparison of light and dark in John and the writings of the Qumran community). John focuses on the Jerusalem and Judea ministry of Jesus, so his teachings were to a different audience than that of Galilee.


Brian Chilton

Kevin Wells said...

I am just a simple software engineer, so forgive my impudence in advance, please. Two things about this I don't understand.

First, why liberal biblical scholars never seem to acknowledge that all theories are provisional and (if the history of the discipline is an indication) will likely be discarded, if not mocked outright as hopelessly naive, in the next generation?

Second, why is it that passages that "sound like" John wrote them are prima fascia taken to be inventions, i.e. John's just making Jesus say what he would have said had he thought of it at the time.

Imagine a writer having to write history with no notes, voice recorders, or video equipment upon which to rely. The writer's voice will invariably "intrude", intentionally or not.

Third (math is not my strong suit), has anyone, anyone at all, considered (just for the fun of argument) that Jesus' voice could having greatly influenced John's writing? Jesus' persona and voice certainly influenced John much more directly and deeply than the other gospel writers. As a laughably incongruent illustration: it would be no great coincidence if future readers (if there be any) of my own writing could accuse me of inventing some hard-to-verify C.S. Lewis quote because it 'sounds' like the writing surrounding it. The quote would be original, but my style, not really as much.

Again, please forgive my naiveté. It precludes me having a respectful assessment of the reliability of the 'Assured Results of Following Nagging Doubts', as practiced by the academy.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yes, the idea that John was very influenced by Jesus' manner of talking is a well-known, and I think legitimate, response to this argument. I think we can finesse it further. Hypothesis: Jesus had *a* particular way of talking, which he didn't speak in at all times. This included phrases and themes that we now think of as "Johannine" about receiving our witness, coming down from heaven and going up to heaven, raising people up at the last day, being or not being condemned, and so forth. It included what we now think of as the "Johannine" relatively simple linguistic form as well. But like most of us, Jesus didn't constantly, at every moment, speak in the same way. Sometimes he gave aphorisms in the style of the sermon on the mount. Sometimes he gave parables in the style of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Sometimes he made bitter, biting, brief comments like the one recorded in Luke, "It is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem." And so forth. But at times he fell into the almost sing-song, somewhat repetitious, poetical form with themes that we consider "Johannine." This style in particular made a big impression on the young John, and he developed it as his own when circumstances dictated that he, rather than spending his life fishing with his father and brothers, was instead going to be a prominent leader in an entirely new religious movement--the Christian church. So when John was writing or dictating his own writing, this was the style he adopted most of the time. It even occupied a more prominent place in his own style than it had in Jesus's speech. This is also known in our own life--people who admire a writer and almost tiresomely (to some in their audience) follow certain phrases and styles of his, so that they are even more Lewisian than Lewis, as it were.

When John came to write his own gospel, he was concerned to fill in things not found in the earlier gospels, which after all, people could look up there. So he gives us the valuable treasure of additional discourses, trips to Jerusalem not mentioned there (it could even be that Jesus took John but not all the disciples with him on some of these journeys south to Judea), and several of those places where Jesus spoke in "that style" that had so deeply influenced John, not found in the synoptics. As I mentioned in the post, "that style" also shows up in Matthew 11, which fits very well with the theory I'm giving here.

In *one* case (John 3, the discussion with Nicodemus), this assimilation of John's style to Jesus's creates ambiguity as to where Jesus' speech ends and the narrator's commentary begins. Big whoop. Out of John 3 and this one ambiguity have been spun many theories, but it's almost incomprehensible to me that there are sincere people who will throw John's reliability in reporting Jesus' speech and sayings under the bus and seriously entertain, if not adopt, the conclusion that John made up entire speeches and sayings of Jesus, by leaning heavily on that one place where we're unsure where the close-quotes should come. I encourage every young apologist to go and read John 3, get over your slight shock that there exists such a difficulty in one chapter, and get inoculated by realizing that this one ambiguity doesn't support an airy structure of theory that relegates John's entire gospel to the genre of historical fiction.

Kevin Wells said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthony Rogers said...

Some time ago I wrote an article that some might find helpful on relevant aspects of this issue. See here: "Mark My Words: The Deity of the Son in the Gospel of Mark" (

geoffrobinson said...

Just for the sake of argument, let's say John translated Jesus from Aramaic to Greek in a style of Greek that was unique to John. I fail how this would show that John made up the statements.

Lydia McGrew said...

I'm not sure whether you take yourself to be replying to Licona or to me by that comment. I'm certainly aware of the plausibility that Jesus was speaking Aramaic and that John is thus translating what he remembers.

I *think* perhaps you're answering the argument Licona gave about the style of John. I agree that in the translation to Greek John's style might come through. On the other hand, someone taking the other side would presumably say that he finds Jesus' style more consistent amongst the synoptics even though they are also presumably translating Jesus from Aramaic to Greek. I don't find that convincing, either, as an argument for Johannine invention of sayings, because of the hypothesis I gave above in the thread.

Unknown said...

Lydia: Here is an article on the topic I just posted that interacts with yours:

Lydia McGrew said...

Mike: Okay, I will be reading it, one way or another, quite soon. I'm running into an oddity in that my McAfee Web Adviser is freaking out about the Risen Jesus site. They list it as "medium risk" to visit the site, so I may just ignore the warning.

I will also be out of town most of the day tomorrow for a speaking engagement, which I have to prepare for tonight.

Anonymous said...

Lydia rightly smells a rat, but is patronizingly dismissed by Dr Mike Licona:

Callum said...

Lydia: really glad to see you collect all relevant links in one post! I'm also glad that your work has come to the attention of Mike and is making waves. Dialogue and debate is how progress is made, may the truth win out!

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks, Callum, I value the opportunity to have this discussed in a scholarly fashion.

Paul Williams, I've been away nearly all day. My understanding is that that blogger is writing about the earlier incarnation of Mike's "response" post. When and if I respond (there does not appear to be much content to respond to, other than credentialist chest-thumping), I will respond to the redacted version, though I will note just in passing that it has been significantly toned down from the original.

Tony said...

Mike Licona responded to Lydia with this passage (taken out of a larger response):

In other words, are we reading the ipsissima vox (his voice) of Jesus here rather than the ipsissima verba (his very words). I don't know. In my single reply to [another commenter], I provided reasons why many, perhaps even a majority of Johannine scholars say they are Johannine adaptations. I have argued elsewhere that historical data strongly suggests Jesus believed He was deity. So, if Jesus made implicit claims to deity and John recasts those claims in a manner that has Jesus making them in an explicit sense, then that's what John did and we need to be comfortable with that. Otherwise, we take issue with the way God gave us the Gospels.

I tried to read this charitably, but I keep running off a cliff: it doesn't allow me to be a balanced evaluator of the evidence. This is how he asks us to look at it: (1) with indecision: "I don't know..." Then with a hypothetical: "So, if Jesus made implicit claims..." But he doesn't give us the opposing hypothesis to contrast it with, to consider, and maybe to lean toward: If Jesus made EXPLICIT claims...

This is not balanced. This is not "I am leaving the matter up for grabs so far". This is not the discussion of someone who is merely pointing out the position OTHERS have taken. This is how you write when you have accepted that position that those others have taken, but want to appear still undecided or still weighing and balancing, still entirely open to a new argument.

At least, that's the sense I get from it. I have seen it a thousand times with scholars who build an enormous body of thesis, one on top of another on top of another, and while at each stage they seem to be merely positing the POSSIBILITY of a claim, to look at it "fairly", but 2 chapters later they simply take it as "established" or "as shown to be most probable". I don't know if Mr. Licona is doing this, as I have not read the entire response he made. I hope I can be proven wrong. Please, somebody show me that this is not what he was doing.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yes, he seems *extremely* impressed with these arguments, not distanced from them. If nothing else, they are supposedly so good as to have moved him to complete agnosticism on the matter!

One of the oddest things about the change between the earlier and present version of Licona's response to me is its incorporation (without putting it in a block quote) of the whole argument he initially gave for the conclusion that these sayings were not made explicitly by Jesus. Indeed, that Jesus would not have been so explicit! At that time, the argument was merely made "bare," as it were, and it undeniably sounded like Licona's own position. Now, by incorporating it verbatim into a longer post, in the course of which he *goes back* a couple of paragraphs later and says that he's agnostic, he gives it a sort of retrospective different interpretation.

In any event, as I keep pointing out, being totally unsure whether Jesus claimed to be God explicitly or only implicitly is no small matter, either. Such an historically complex hypothesis, with so many implications concerning John's veracity, given all of our other evidence for John's veracity, requires much better arguments than those Licona (speaking on behalf of "scholars") has laid out.

Unknown said...

In his commentary to the gospel of John Craig Keener only affirms that many doubt that the claim stems from Jesus in these words. (Footnote 674 on page 771)

He does NOT say that he himself thinks that this is the case. (page 771)

He says that the Isaianic “I am” is distinctly Johannine. (page 771)

He says that explicit high Christology in Mark and the Synoptics is rare. (page 772)

He gives reasons for Mark not including these statements. (page 772)

He points also to the high Christology in Q (Matt 3:11-12/Luke 3:16-17 and Matt 11:27/Luke 10:22) which is not far away from John 8:58. (page 772)

Finally he also mentions Mark 6:48-50 which has also an “I am” statement in vers 50 (in Mark 6:48-50 Mark is even more explicit than in the parallel passage in John 6:20). This shows that the “I am” is not unique to John though it is far more common there. (page 772)

This is was a very brief summary ...

Lydia McGrew said...

Licona's attempts to use Keener's name in his response to me is worded in such a way that he apparently thinks he can get some cachet from invoking the name without really coming out and saying in so many words that Keener endorses his own ideas or Evans's. So I'm sure Licona would point to that in response to your points. But I do consider it rather illicit. Just some vague statement to the effect that "all scholars agree that John did some adapting of the teachings in the synoptics," and apparently this is supposed to mean that the illustrious cloak of Dr. Keener is cast over the statements of Dr. Evans! Not to mention Dr. Licona.

I also (as I plan to point out in the response I am gradually writing) consider the reference by Licona to Dr. Keener's widely acknowledge personal holiness to be completely out of line, not to mention the implication that, if one were to "clean house" with regard to Evans's ideas, one would literally kick Keener out of a job and out on the streets. Seriously? This is over-the-top. A kind of reverse ad hominem. I'm sure Keener himself would be deeply embarrassed by it and would beg that allegations of his personal saintliness not be used to shield any scholarly ideas against criticism and debate.

humblesmith said...

It would now seem that verbal plenary inspiration has gone by the wayside. We now are told that John took the words of Jesus and adapted them, expanded upon them, and made them more explicit than what Jesus originally said.

This is a dangerous path, one heavily treaded by liberal theologians for the last hundred years. It is nothing new. It seems every generation must fight the same battle for a strong view of the scriptures.

Glenn Smith

Kevin Wells said...

I don't think anyone should appeal to inspirationto as evidence for John's historical veracity. From an evidentialist perspective (in deference to our gracious hostess) that is quite circular. The question is whether or not one can show, via literary, textual and historical investigation, that some quotes of Jesus in John are probably invented by John. Now the answer to this question bears on inspiration and/or inerrancy (of whichever stripe), not vice-versa.

As an apologist (albeit of no great experience), I must scrupulously avoid "this is true because the bible is true because the bible is inspired" type of argument. It seems to me this is sometimes hard for scholars who write for exclusively "conservative" Christian audiences to comprehend.

Lydia McGrew said...

"I don't think anyone should appeal to inspiration to as evidence for John's historical veracity. From an evidentialist perspective (in deference to our gracious hostess) that is quite circular."

Right, I agree. And as you know of course, I never do so.

Licona tries (bizarrely, in light of my work and explicit statements to the contrary) to put me in that box, but I won't fit in the box. :-) I will be making that point in a reply I plan to publish later today.

scarlett clay said...

Thank you for your thorough response to Licona's assertions. I think you are absolutely right. Keep up the good work!

Lydia McGrew said...

Thank you very much for the encouragement. I am about to hit "publish" on a post at What's Wrong With the World about some of the Roman examples in Licona's book. No doubt there will be outrage in certain circles that I would dare to "stride" into classical literature, especially since (gasp) I don't read Greek. To that I will only say, "If you have some highly technical argument from some esoteric point in Greek that my argument is wrong, bring it on, bring it out, and make it clear. Then we can evaluate it." But as a matter of fact, this material (in Roman history) can be pretty dull and takes a lot of energy to slog through but is not highly technical. And "Greek magic" is not going to make poor arguments into good ones. In any event, even if readers like you do not have time (understandably enough!) to read through everything I write, hopefully it will be useful to read some of it and to see the kinds of evidence that are available.

Unknown said...

Hi Lydia. Thank you so much for taking a stand for the accuracy of John’s gospel. This gospel and the letter of 1 John have been so important in my life and Mike Licona (who I used to follow in terms of his books,debates, etc) has recently disappointed. So please keep up the good work and be assured of my prayers. Sandra

Lydia McGrew said...

Thank you, Sandra. I really appreciate that encouragement. Spread the word that these views exist, that this is what the scholars are really saying, and that they do not have good arguments. I have a ton of material on the subject! Tim has also recently given a lecture on this as well.

Unknown said...

Thanks Lydia ... what a wonderful presentation by Tim. I really appreciate you including the link to Tim’s talk on differences in the gospels. It was fantastic. Bless you both.

JCL said...

I was introduced to this discussion through the Unbelievable podcast.

Thank you for all these thoughts.

My own thought is that Jesus substantially adapted his teaching style when he was in Judaea among the religious and political aristocracy, which is the focus of John's Gospel. In the northern province of Galilee, which is the focus of the Synoptics, he was among the ordinary people and cast his message in a different form.

When you compare NT Wright writing to academics with Tom Wright writing for everyone you get a similar phenomenon.

Thomas Pearne said...

It appears to me that the controversy is only an issue with a particular interpretation of the Greek which is not shared by all Greek scholars, for example, McKay.

McKay, K. (1996). 'I am' in John's Gospel. The Expository Times: International Journal of Biblical Studies, Theology and Ministry, 107(10), 302-303.

This short article is very convincing. Most of it can be read here:

Lydia McGrew said...

Actually, I think Jesus was indeed claiming to be God by his saying in John 8:58. But Dr. Evans questions the historicity of a whole swath of "I am" sayings in John. In fact, if anything, he questions *more* strongly and consistently the historicity of the "I am" sayings with predicates, such as "I am the true vine" and "I am the bread of life." While he has later prevaricated on whether or not he was denying the historicity (not the meaning, but whether Jesus actually said it at all!) of Jesus' saying, "Before Abraham was, I am," he has been consistent in denying the historicity of the "I am" sayings with predicates.

In neither case was the question one of translation but rather one of historical events: Did Jesus recognizably make these statements in the contexts described in John? In actual fact, Evans agreed with Ehrman in denying that he did for both "Before Abraham was, I am," and for the other "I am" sayings. Five and a half years later when attention was drawn to this, it became expedient for Evans to say that he had not done so, but the video evidence is unequivocal. And, in fact, Evans reiterated his denial of the historicity of the "I am" sayings *with* predicates in his debate with me.

Thomas Pearne said...

I am late to this discussion and for that I apologize!

It seems that Evans has cancelled himself out, so I guess I'm not interested in his point of view.

That leaves your statement that in John 8:58 Jesus claimed to be God.

Since I have not seen a good argument that this is supported grammatically or contextually, would your view be based on a theological commitment?

Lydia McGrew said...

No, it is not based on a "theological commitment." Good grief. That he is claiming to be God there is the obvious, prima facie meaning of the statement, including it's rather earth-shaking claim to have pre-existed before Abraham.

And of course it is supported contextually. Indeed, that's why the people try to stone him. Grammatically? Yeah, it looks just like what Yahweh said to Moses in Exodus. Oh, you can *try* to make it just "I am he," but that really leaves a puzzle contextually. I am he who? "It is I" sometimes makes sense, as when Jesus identifies himself while walking on the water--Do not be afraid, it's just me. But here, no. Just the other evening I had a "biblical unitarian," enjoyable guy to talk to, try to explain to me what in the world Jesus could have meant by, "Before Abraham was, I am he." It was, in my opinion, a major failure.

Lydia McGrew said...

In fact, it's kind of amusing: It's precisely because someone like Ehrman recognizes (correctly, for once) that this *is* a claim to be God that he questions its historicity. Maybe you should go argue with him instead of me. He can hardly be said to have a theological commitment to the deity of Jesus.

Thomas Pearne said...

You are correct that to mishandle the ἐγὼ εἰμί of John 8:58 “I am he” is an utter failure.

The link to the article I quote from McKay (in at footnote #5 says of this enclitic “5 Note that with this meaning the verb is differently accented in Greek.”

Our critical editions all place the accent on εἰμί and not on on ἐγώ which is the accented form.

Contrast the accenting at ἐγώ εἰμι of John 8:28 (I am he) with the accent on “I” (identify) and ἐγὼ εἰμί from John 8:58 with the accent on “am” which stresses “existence.”

You can verify this in your own copy of the Greek text.

Also because the adverbial phrase “before Abraham existed” modifies the verb εἰμί serves to grammatically combine the past and present tense, McKay’s rendering of 'I have been in existence since before Abraham was born' properly renders this into the English present perfect, see the quote from McKay below.

Note that McKay feels that “the claim to have been in existence for so long is in itself a staggering one, quite enough to provoke the crowd's violent reaction.”

Best regards,
Thomas Pearne

The verb 'to be' is used differently, in what is presumably its basic meaning of 'be in existence', in John 8:58: prin Abraam genesthai ego eimi, [5] which would be most naturally translated 'I have been in existence since before Abraham was born', [6] if it were not for the obsession with the simple words 'I am'. If we take the Greek words in their natural meaning, as we surely should, the claim to have been in existence for so long is in itself a staggering one, quite enough to provoke the crowd's violent reaction. (

Lydia McGrew said...

Well, I disagree that it is "quite enough to provoke the crowd's violent reaction," and that is *hardly* something that follows from specific points about the Greek! Certainly Jesus *is* claiming pre-existence; that is clear. But there is no reason to place that in competition with his claim to be God by alluding to Exodus. The two fit together very well. Notice too that in John 10 the crowd expressly states that they believe that Jesus, being a man, makes himself out to be God. This is on another occasion when they are attempting to stone him.

Kevin Wells said...

Why would a second-temple Jew take an assertion that one has existed for hundreds of years -- even since before the Jew's beloved patriarch -- as anything but a claim to divinity? They did not have a Greco-Roman pantheon. At the very least one would be taken to be claiming to be a member of the Divine Council or even the "Son of Man".

Attempts to mitigate Jesus' claims of Godhood or identicality with Yahweh seem to prove too much, I think.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yes, and I don't even believe in the Divine Council. I think Heiser is stretching to argue for such a thing as that angels were "semi-divine beings."

So, all the more so, they are taking him to be claiming to be God.

As far as the Son of Man, the passage in Daniel 7 is, I tend to think, *compatible* with a man who is not pre-existent. I think that *in fact* it refers to Jesus, but a Jew could take it to refer to a non-pre-existent person who is given great power by God.

The non-canonical I Enoch, taken on its face, is heretical (in Jewish as well as Christian terms), seeming to show Enoch being apotheosed. It's pretty clear that Jesus' audience doesn't buy that theological possibility. (Nor should they.)

All of which is to say that I agree with you, Kevin, and I would take it even further, because I reject the whole idea of a widely accepted (in Judaism, at Jesus' time), metaphysically ambiguous category of semi-divine, pre-existent beings.

Thomas Pearne said...

There is no grammatical link between the “I am” in Exodus 3:14 and the “I am” at John 8:58.

At Exodus 3:14 in the LXX, the Greek is “I am the Being. There, εἰμι is used copulatlvely. The title is “the being”, not “I am.” Jesus did not claim identity with εἰμι at John 8:58 and did not use the term “the being.” There is no basis for comparison except for the influence of the KJV rendering, which is awkward, if not ungrammatical English at John 8:58. English simply does not combine past and present tenses in this manner.

One cannot over press a comparison to John 10. After all, claiming to be the Son of God was quite sufficient to provoke this reaction at John 19:7, and here the reason is explicit.

John 19:7 Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. (KJV)

At John 10:36 Jesus explicitly says those Jews object to his saying “I am the Son of God.”

John 10:36 Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God? (KJV)

To Kevin you used the term “semi-divine, pre-existent beings.” I don't know what this means. I am unaware of anyone who teaches this. To my knowledge Heiser does not. When Gabriel is found at Luke 1 and also Daniel 9, you don't call him a “pre-existent being” do you?

Lydia McGrew said...

Well, yeah, I really do think Heiser does. But this is a combox thread, and I have no intention of writing a treatise on all my concerns about Heiser's views. I just found a new-to-me quotation on his website yesterday that seemed to be saying that early Christians "connected" Jesus with (alleged) Jewish views that, as he described them, are indistinguishable from pagan notions of apotheosis--humans becoming divinized and made God. Heiser definitely doesn't mind pushing the envelope, though he plays motte and bailey pretty well too and gets offended if anyone questions his orthodoxy, despite saying things like that.

Gabriel would presumably pre-exist Mary. She's only a young women.

You're right: English *doesn't* combine past and present tenses in that way. Whaddaya know! But both tenses are, in fact, in the Greek. So it's a fairly remarkable statement, however you slice it.

I know that Jesus says that about the Son of God in John 10:36, but in fact, earlier in the discussion he has said that he and the Father are one--a very strong statement, and the one for which they seek to stone him. I actually think we *can* press the comparison with John 10. In both cases they appear to be responding to a claim to deity.

John 19:7 certainly indicates what they understood Jesus to be saying about being the son of God. I think they put it all together and *correctly* took Jesus to be claiming deity, not some vague son-ship that was less than deity.

Thomas Pearne said...

I find Heiser very inconsistent in his exegesis. I believe the term pre-human existence describes the Son of God more properly than pre-existent divine being.

As for Past and present tense being combined in English and Greek, it is perfectly normal. Here is Smyth on the Greek and English translation of “progressive perfect.”

Present of Past and Present Combined.—The present, when accompanied by a definite or indefinite expression of past time, is used to express an action begun in the past and continued in the present. The ‘progressive perfect’ is often used in translation.

This English combination is quite normal as well:

The present perfect is a grammatical combination of the present tense and perfect aspect that is used to express a past event that has present consequences.[1] The term is used particularly in the context of English grammar to refer to forms like "I have finished".

And so, McKay is on very solid linguistic grounds with his 'I have been in existence since before Abraham was born'

The “I and my Father are one” statement should also not be over-pressed. The Greek “one” here is the neuter just like at John 17:21-22 where Jesus prays for his disciples“that they may be one, even as we are one;” (KJV)

Now, if at at John 10:30 the “one” was masculine it could conceivably refer to one God (θεός is masculine) but that's not the case.

Lydia McGrew said...

Color me unconvinced that "before Abraham was, I have been in existence" is a better translation. Again, he is of course claiming pre-existence prior to Abraham, but I see reason to think he is claiming a good deal more than that.

The Son and the Father are not one (masculine) person but they are both God--persons of the Godhead. Of course this is going to be difficult to express! Obviously the people hearing (and they are explicit about this) do not merely think that he is saying that he is united in heart with the Father or something like that, but rather that he is *equal* to God. I think they are right. That is what he's saying.

Thomas Pearne said...

>> Color me unconvinced that "before Abraham was, I have been in existence" is a better translation. Again, he is of course claiming pre-existence prior to Abraham, but I see reason to think he is claiming a good deal more than that.

I am interested in your reasoning on this. The grammatical references I used are unimpeachable. I see no reason to posit that Jesus spoke other than proper idiomatic Greek (see Smyth) and that we should render this as other than proper idiomatic English.

I can see Yoda speaking that way, but not Jesus. :)

>> The Son and the Father are not one (masculine) person but they are both God--persons of the Godhead.

I don't argue for the masculine gender for “one” based on “person” but on the masculine “God.” As for what Jesus meant, John 17 is explicit that his disciples are one just as he and his Father are one. Most commentators see this as oneness of purpose. Even John Calvin saw it that way for John 10:30.

>> Of course this is going to be difficult to express! Obviously the people hearing (and they are explicit about this) do not merely think that he is saying that he is united in heart with the Father or something like that, but rather that he is *equal* to God. I think they are right. That is what he's saying.

My hermeneutic is to base my exegesis on the subjective grammar and then look for contexts that fit the grammar.

Bear in mind that when the Jews claimed he was making himself equal with God it was based on calling God his Father.

John 5:18 Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

His response to this accusation was to say

19b The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise.

That's not an affirmation of their accusations, it's a denial. He makes this clear in verse 20

20 For the Father loveth the Son, and sheweth him all things that himself doeth: and he will shew him greater works than these, that ye may marvel.

Jesus claims that he is only able to do things because he is first shown them by his Father and also that the Father will show him greater things than this.

Why does the Father need to show an omniscient Son anything?

Clearly Jesus refutes that false accusation.

Lydia McGrew said...

Yes, I'm well aware of "subordinationist" verses in John. No doubt you are also aware of theological interpretations of them consistent with Trinitarian theology, which I take it is what you are challenging. At this point I'm even more interested in their historicity, by the way, which is what the o.p. is about. (I just feel like I should point out.)

I disagree, of course, that Jesus is denying that he is equal with God.

By the way, for what it's worth, I'm not dogmatic about Jesus speaking Aramaic, but I would strongly argue against being dogmatic that he was speaking Greek. It is entirely plausible that in these scenes he spoke Aramaic originally. But even if Greek, it's kind of wild that you take it that "the Greek" just *means* that he *isn't* claiming equality with God in John 8:58. One would like to think that you would see that that's a very strong claim to put on one merely possible translation that you happen to favor.

Thomas Pearne said...

>> But even if Greek

Greek is what we have to work with. That is far superior to taking “I am” from a specific translation of Hebrew to King James English and a specific translation of Greek to the “I am” of the King James.

If Jesus spoke Aramaic here as some suggest you might be interested in the Syriac New Testament by Murdock with “Before Abraham existed I was."

Or, more to the point
A Translators Handbook to the Gospel of John, Nida: "Before Abraham existed, I existed, or II have existed."

>> , it's kind of wild that you take it that "the Greek" just *means* that he *isn't* claiming equality with God in John 8:58. One would like to think that you would see that that's a very strong claim to put on one merely possible translation that you happen to favor.

That conflates two different arguments. The context of John 5:19-20 proves that Jesus denied the Jewish accusation that he was equal with God. This was in response to your use of John 5:18.

Jesus denied nothing at John 8:58. He was answering the question he was asked in the preceding verse:

57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? (KJV)

He answered that question by explaining that he had existed since before Abraham. He claimed when he was, not who he was.

Interestingly, in the preceding verses he was debating the wicked Jews as to the identity of his Father vs the identity of their father, just like most of the verses we have just discussed.

Lydia McGrew said...

Please. The King James snobbery is ridiculous. Ain't nobody got time for that. Modern translations, one after another, translate it "I am," sometimes merely adding "born" as a gloss on "before Abraham was." And if in Aramaic, we should think he used the past tense or the equivalent thereof? That's blatantly unjustified speculation.

I think we're pretty much done here. Take care!

Thomas Pearne said...

Thanks for your patience.

Thomas Pearne said...

>> You're right: English *doesn't* combine past and present tenses in that way. Whaddaya know!

I appreciate your having taken the time with me yesterday and won't belabor any points of disagreement. However after reading that you are an expert at English I wanted to ask for a good reference on the above point. I have seen some argue that John 8:58 is a example of perfectly good idiomatic English, even though it sounds funny.

Lydia McGrew said...

The burden of proof would be the other way. Since the meaning of the statement, literally rendered, is hard to understand in many contexts (for example, if someone who was merely human said it about another mere human), it isn't perfectly good English, since perfectly good English is clear, whether idiomatic or otherwise. One doesn't, for example, find older humans referring in this way to the fact that they are older than other humans. They would use the past tense if expressing such a statement at all: "I *was* around before you *were* born." Etc. If someone wants to give examples of perfectly good idiomatic English in which one says this, he would need to do so.

Thomas Pearne said...

Thanks, but your example is not an example of past and present time combined.

I was looking for something along the lines of a universal rule for sequential or simultaneous states or actions such as what is found in this link.

Here is a contrived example I came up with.

The frog said, “I have been in existence since before I had legs and could jump, I have been in existence refers to when he was a tadpole.

Does a simple present tense in the second clause violate a published rule for English?

As in the frog said, “Before I had legs and could jump, I am in existence.

Lydia McGrew said...

To say, "Before I had...I am in existence" would sound like a foreigner speaking English. I'm not sure what you mean by a published rule, but yes, it should be corrected. If one knows about tadpoles one would conjecture that he meant to refer to his tadpole stage, but what it sounds like is a language speaker who feels uncomfortable with other forms of the verb "to be" and hence defaults to the present tense where one would normally use some form indicating past existence--either "was" or "have been since," as in your first sentence.

I know of no idiom or dialect in which your last sentence would be a standard usage.

Thomas Pearne said...

I agree that my example is wooden but feel it's grammatical, and I think you would have corrected me if it was not. Frogs don't talk.

How would a native English speaker combine past and present tense?

Here is another example. A Father tells his son to cut the grass and not quit to play video games while he is gone.

The son obediently starts to cut the grass before his Father leaves and is still hard at work when he gets back.

The Son says: I have been cutting the grass since before you left.

How else can one express a continuous action or state that started in the past and continues to present time?

Lydia McGrew said...

This is getting tedious. I never said there was anything wrong with "I have been ___ since before ___." There isn't anything wrong with it. It is, in fact, ungrammatical English to say, "I am ____ since before ____." That's why English has a present perfect progressive tense, which we express using the auxiliary verbs "have been." The simple present (is, am, are) with no helping verbs is not grammatically equivalent to the present perfect progressive.

Thomas Pearne said...

Thanks, and sorry for being tedious. :)

I was not sure of your view as an expert at English since you earlier did not accept McKay's rendering of John 8:58.

Some thought Jesus was Elijah resurrected and if that had been true he could have said (as per one of your examples), "I was around before" Abraham was born even if he had died and was resurrected.

Kevin Wells said...

Unless one want to be poetically transcendent as in:
“When did you start loving me, mommy?”
“As soon as I knew you were in my tummy, I love you!
When I first held you in my arms, I love you!

Of course that’s not great (sappy country song fare), but given Jesus’ penchant for deliberately provocative hyperbole and allusions etc. He may have been after such a construction which would imply more than a conventional usage.

Which brings us right back to the polemical usage of the “I AM”.

Ok, NOW it’s tedious ;)

Lydia McGrew said...

Abraham was waaaay before Elijah.

Thomas Pearne said...

True, but misses my point that if Jesus merely said he was around a long time ago it could still be true that he lived, died, and was resurrected. Therefore it does not satisfy the syntax at John 8:58.

I really don't see an alternative to using "have been" in the English rendering, do you?

If so, what?

Lydia McGrew said...

If Jesus didn't mean what I'm quite convinced he *did* mean, would "have been" be a better rendering into English? Um, yeah, maybe, depending on what he meant, but I think he did mean what I think he meant, in which case "have been" is not a better rendering.

And he would never have said that he existed *before* Abraham if he were the reincarnation of a figure who lived *after* Abraham and was, in fact, descended from Abraham. I mean, this should go without saying.

Thomas Pearne said...

That's very confusing.

If Jesus had eternally existed when he answered the question as to how he could have seen Abraham, saying "I have been in existence since before Abraham was born" answers that question.

If Jesus was created "in the beginning" before the world was created the statement is still accurate and to the point.

The only ways this statement could not be true is if Jesus began his existence when born as a human or if he had been resurrected after dying many years earlier.

I'm still confused as to what rendering fits your view of the context.

Care to share?

Lydia McGrew said...

I don't think I've said anything confusing, and this just gets even more tedious.

Obviously, he could have used a plain-old past tense: Before Abraham was, I was. Or I already was. Words to that effect. That is, if *all* he meant to assert was that he existed before Abraham.

Thomas Pearne said...

That does not work for me for a couple reasons.

It does not represent the past and present tenses as one state as does the Greek. The simple past tense only relates that he existed in the past. The present tense indicates he currently exists. But it says nothing of continuous existence from the past till the time of speaking. That can only be done with the present perfect as you have already noted.

If you add the word “already” it gets closer but that's not in the Greek.

The second reason is John’s testimony in the prologue. The Word was in the beginning and what came to be in him was life. (John 1:3-4 Nestle Aland Greek text)

When the Word became flesh, (1:14) the same life was retained. The Word did not die to be reincarnated as a human. The Word dwelt with humans.

So, I have a problem with any rendering of John 8:58 that does not retain this continuity of life for contextual reasons as well as grammatical.

So, Jesus did not just mean he existed in the past and also the present. He continually existed from past to present.

Lydia McGrew said...

I *know* "already" is not in the Greek. That's my point!!! There would have been ways for him to express himself if all that he meant was pre-existence continuing to the present and *not* deity, but that's NOT WHAT HE SAID. I was answering any sort of argument that somehow Jesus would have had to express himself in this way (that just *happens* to look like a claim to deity) even if he were merely claiming to have been around since before Abraham. Maybe I should just let you go on talking and moderate your comments through but not answer them or something? I can't believe you raised that as an objection to what I just said.

Thomas Pearne said...

I don't see how his answer to John 8:57 can possibly be construed as a claim to deity, but since that word has a broad range of meaning, how do you define it? If you mean a class of beings described as gods at Psalm 82:1, I could see that.

Psalm 82:1 God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. (KJV)

Lydia McGrew said...

I'm an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. If you don't know what an orthodox Trinitarian Christian means by Jesus' deity, then I'm at something of a loss. I doubt that a combox thread is the place to start explaining it, especially since you obviously aren't just someone to whom all of this is new. In fact, it's a little hard to know how to regard that request for explanation from someone who is presenting himself as you are except as a kind of genteel trolling.

Take care!

Thomas Pearne said...

I never assume to know how people define words like that.

If you had said Deity and not deity it would have been clear, at least to me.

Bauer-Danker-Arndt-Gingrich Greek lexicon uses "deity" to refer to the Word but distinguishes him from God in the monotheistic sense at John 1:1.

In any event, θ. certainly refers to Christ, as one who manifests primary characteristics of deity, in the foll. NT pass.: J 1:1b (w. ὁ θεός 1:1a, which refers to God in the monotheistic context of Israel’s tradition. On the problem raised by such attribution s. J 10:34 [cp. Ex 7:1; Ps 81:6];

BDAG is financed by Lutherans and they are also orthodox Trinitarians.

Lydia McGrew said...

1:1a is the phrase "and the Word was with God." As distinct from 1:1b, "and the Word was God." Which is saying that Jesus is God. As they say.

Okay, enough.

Thomas Pearne said...

Or McKenzie with

John L. McKenzie (Catholic Biblical scholar) wrote that ho Theos is God the Father, and adds that John 1:1 should be translated "the word was with the God [=the Father], and the word was a divine being."

I'll let you have the last word. :)

Kevin Wells said...


what did late second-temple pharisaic jews mean by deity? They were the targets of Jesus’ polemic.

Thomas Pearne said...

Do you mean the view of those who John recorded?

I am not big on reading extra biblical literature and applying this to the interpretation of biblical passages.

I am not aware of them specifically using the word "deity" and am not sure what Greek word you have in mind.

Can you give a specific example from scripture?

Kevin Wells said...

The context of the ‘before Abraham was...” statement was a vigorous And highly polemical debate between to parties having specific strongly held views and religious traditions. If the modern reader is not aware of these views, he will likely badly misunderstand the dialog. The historical passages in the Bible assume the reader is aware of the contemporary settings and contexts. We see this bc luke and other authors include explanatory parenthetical passages when they can assume the reader is situated in a foreign social context.

The question is not what we might be able to do to ‘normalize’ the hard sayings of Jesus for modern ears, but rather how did those standing within earshot understand his words. To do otherwise is like reading Shakespeare and not knowing that “codpiece” does not refer to a bite of fish.

Thomas Pearne said...

I have been reading a bit and thought I would share something.

As I posted earlier, I am in favor of looking at what the grammar can say and then looking at what contexts fit the grammar.

I also strongly favor the immediate context over vague and complex theories used to overturn it along with the grammar.

In short, I have a very, very strong Preference for Simple over Complex Theories.

To illustrate, it has been adequately demonstrated that a common translation at John 8:58 (i.e. the present tense “I am”) does not cohere with the past tense adverbial phrase that precedes it.

The simple theory to render this text is to take the well known Greek idiom of combining past and present aspects I to a progressive perfect.

To support the rendering of “I am,” a complex, unnecessary and unsupported theory to compare Exodus 3:14 to John 8:58 is frequently used today even though many if not most Evangelical scholars don't support it any longer. I recently posted the incongruences at length in this blog.

Add to this that the simple interpretation would be to acknowledge that Jesus answered the question from verse 57 in his reply. That's it.

But complex theories have arisen to read more into his simple grammatical and contextual response, presumably to support a teaching found nowhere by any bible writer in context. This is the admittedly complex teaching that Jesus is one person in three that is called a mystery even by its adherents.

So is a “Preference for Complex over Simple Theories” a good hermeneutic or a bad one?

Thomas Pearne said...


I am willing to consider your hermeneutic if you care to share.

I do have doubts that any single view of this group is held by all scholars.

Which one should be selected and on what grounds? I prefer to take the immediate context, the surrounding narrative, the same book, the same author and then the NT to interpret texts like John 8:58.

I am especially wary of remote sources that serve to add to the immediate contexts.

But I will consider your process.