Friday, April 11, 2008

Johannine inerrancy

I really shouldn't fire off a post like that just before going off on holiday :)

This, in slightly more formal terms, is my argument. It's a train of thought, it hasn't had all the wrinkles removed, I might conceivably change my mind.... and so on. Click 'full post' for text.

1. There is a major difference in the presentation of Jesus from the synoptics to John. Specifically the character of Jesus exhibited through the great 'I am' monologues is difficult to tie together with the character presented in the other three gospels. It is not academically exceptional to treat the synoptics as providing a more solid historical framework.

2. I'm happy to accept that much (not all) of the material presented as coming out of the mouth of Jesus in John's gospel was not originally spoken by Jesus of Nazareth.

3. I see these monologues as divinely inspired. That is, I see them as teaching eternal truths about Jesus' identity. I see them as revelation. I believe, for example, that it is true that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

4. I would therefore be happy to talk about the inerrancy of John's gospel. What I would mean by this is that John's gospel contains no errors concerning the nature of the living Word. It is a finger which truly points to the moon.

5. I would distinguish this form of inerrancy from a form which emphasises an inerrancy of 'fact'. I see the concept of 'fact', used in this context, as at best misleading, at worst idolatrous. This concept of fact - by which is meant something like empirically verifiable data - was developed as a consequence of the scientific revolution. I don't see those 'facts' as the most important material for guidance in our life; rather I see them as trivial.

6. Some background thoughts: the people alive at the time of Jesus did not fully understand who he was. It is possible that Jesus himself, prior to the resurrection, did not fully understand every aspect of who he was (part of his being fully human perhaps). John's gospel is a fulfilment of the other three; it draws out more fully the implications of the other three; you could say that the other three - indeed the entire rest of the Bible - is pregnant with John, and John's gospel is the baby. Except I'd rather say that Jesus is the baby, and John's gospel is the inerrant witness to that baby.

7. Any language about inerrancy - treated positively - is a conservative position. Yet #2 above is anathema to more conservative understandings of John's gospel. I want to argue (have argued elsewhere) that to defend the status of John's gospel in terms of 'fact' (= enlightenment epistemology) is to falsely elevate that epistemology above the much more important spiritual truths which John's gospel inerrantly conveys. The inerrancy does not consist in the gospel being factually robust but in truly pointing to the living Word.

8. "But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."

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