A possibility about John 8:58

Ron Henzel (rhenzel@wheaton.edu)
Tue, 13 Aug 1996 17:13:43 CST6CDT

Robbert A. Veen, of Lelystad, the Netherlands, wrote:

> How about this possibility:

> by trying to fit Jesus' words into his own theology, John had to
> make up a story about the Jews' indignation about Jesus' claim to
> be God.

> The 'original' saying of Jesus (If that is at all what we have here.)
> might be about his pre-existence as Messiah, or about his emphatic
> identification with God, but that He, as a first-century jew, would
> explicitly try to proclaim his divinity, seems to me be a 2nd century
> folly of enormous magnitude (read into John) or a first century folly,
> by the writer of the gospel of John.

The fact that you would consider it possible that the <ego eimi>
statement of John 8:58 might have been "a first century folly, by the
writer of the gospel of John," indicates that you are working with a
different set of presuppositions than EITHER Mitchell Andrews OR
myself are. You see, despite all our difference, if Mitchell is a
faithful Jehovah's Witness, then both he and I at least share the
conviction that the New Testament is the inspired Word of God.
Therefore, this presupposition excludes that possibility from our
thinking. This we should all freely admit.

Not that our presupposition prohibits us from thinking about such
possibilities. If we are to have cognitive integrity, we must at
least consider the possible merit of such attacks on the
infallibility of Scripture. But it seems to me (and I assume it
would seem to Mitchell as well, although I don't presume to speak for
him) that the burden of proof rests on the person who seeks to
discredit the Apostolic testimony found in the Gospels. My quarrel
with Mitchell is not over the authority of Scripture per se, but over
the exegesis of it.

Now -- I do not intend to complain about the nature of your message
-- but if you can provide some sort of EXEGETICAL evidence of what
you are proposing, then I think that would be more appropriate to
this discussion group. Questions like whether the Apostle John was
CORRECT in what he wrote go far beyond the MEANING of what he wrote.

> If He would have proclaimed his divinity, they wouldn't have tried
> to stone him. Precisely in that case they would have considered Him
> to be a lunatic.

Well, now you've backed yourself into a corner -- because just a
short while later in John's Gospel Christ's self-proclaimed divinity
is PRECISELY why the scribes and Pharisees sought to stone him. John
chapter 10 (NIV):

30 [Jesus said,] "I and the Father are one."
31 Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him,
32 but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from
the Father. For which of these do you stone me?"
33 "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but
for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."

A Jehovah's Witness would argue that Jesus did not actually claim to
be God, but rather that is how His hearers misinterpreted Him.
Nevertheless, even if my JW friend is right, it serves to reinforce
my point to you that the Jews at least THOUGHT Christ was claiming
divinity (I would say "Deity"), and that such a claim WAS a ground
for stoning. As for my JW friend's claim, the context of the next
few verses in John 10 does not bear out the "misinterpretation

> That He proclaimed Himself to be the Messiah, by taking on the
> attribute of pre-existence, looks to me the be the best way of
> understanding a possible jewish indignation.

Except that I cannot think of any evidence that ancient Jews
(either inter-testamental or first century) conceived of their
expected Messiah as having a pre-existent nature. Surely the New
Testament pointed out that this was the true meaning of Old Testament
messianic prophecies, and surely the historic Christian Church has
always held that Christ was pre-existent (and "very God of very God"
to boot!), but there were many, many things that were hidden from the
understanding of the Jews -- including the Apostles themselves! --
that did not become apparent until after they were fulfilled. Things
like the crucifixion and the resurrection, for example.

In my opinion, the concept that the Messiah was pre-existent was not
in common currency in first century Judaism, but only came about as
Christians reflected upon the truth of Christ's identity as God
Incarnate. And THAT concept, in turn, came through direct revelation
from God -- direct revelation from God the Son, and God the Holy
Spirit, Who inspired the Scriptures.

> Perhaps others can shed some light on this.

Perhaps so.

> My 'assumptions' are based upon my studies of jewish literature,
> and my unitarianist faith.

Bravo for your very forthright admission of the source of your
assumptions! How important it is that we all recognize that our
views begin with a specific "faith-position." Our natural human
tendency is to "assume" that our views come from the supposed "light
of reason," but they do not. If our power-of-reason had all the
time in the world, they could never have arrived at the conclusions
which our power-of-will has arrived at by faith -- that is, by
putting faith in some message we have heard.

It is only after we realize this that we can be free to examine the
foundations of our "faith-positions." If we claim our faith is based
on Scripture, what better way to examine the foundation than to check
to see if we understand what the Scripture says? And if ours is a
"New Testament faith," where else to begin than with a study of Koine

I assert that the NT writers used a normal, everyday language in
common currency (Koine) to communicate their message. I also assert
that the Koine of the first century was understood in the normal,
everyday sense it was intended when John quoted Jesus as saying,
"Before Abraham was, I AM." (Cf. Exodus 3:14.)
sola (scriptura + gratia + fide) = solus Christus,

-- Ron Henzel