Saturday, January 27, 2007

The church, the whole church, and nothing but the church

Michael Pahls has written a response to something I said:

http://www.reformedcatholicism.com/?p=906

Actually, my remarks were not directed at Michael.

From what I’ve read of his stuff, and I’m not a regular at reformedcatholicism.com, Michael, along with Peter Escalante, is a man with whom it’s quite possible to have a constructive dialogue. Both men are erudite and reasonable.

“I don’t have a particular beef with Reformed Baptists (though there are numerous differences).”

For the record, I’m not a Reformed Baptist. I’m a Calvinist, but I don’t fee the need to choose between the Reformed Baptist tradition, Reformed Anglican tradition, Reformed Presbyterian tradition, or Reformed Welsh tradition.

On the sacraments, I’m closer to the Baptist end of the spectrum than the Presbyterian. But I’m not opposed to infant baptism.

However, I do think that one useful way of telling a Christian’s theological priorities is which side of the divide he’d break with if push came to shove.

For example, when a disgruntled Anglican leaves the Anglican Communion, he will often leave it for something more catholic (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy) rather than something more Evangelical (e.g. Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, SBC). That tells you a lot about his basic theological orientation.

So, to take the example of infant baptism, if I were forced to choose between credobaptism and the Federal Vision, I would, without hesitation, throw in my lot with the Baptists.

I don’t think I have to make that choice, but that is where my theological center of gravity lies.

Continuing with Michael:

“First, one must make the distinction between the original delivery of the ‘bread of life’ discourse and its situation in the Fourth Gospel. The Gospels never claim to present the ipsissima verba (very words) of Jesus and indeed cannot. Jesus likely spoke Aramaic or possibly Hebrew, but the Gospel autographs are all Greek (unless you propose a Hebrew original for Matthew, of course). Thus, the debate will really be the degree to which the recollections of Jesus’ statements in the Gospels diverge from the statements of the historical Jesus. Faith in an inspired Bible requires us to affirm that the Gospels do not falsify the words of Jesus and that they faithfully transmit his very voice (impsissima vox), but it is impossible to claim that the Gospels are a kind of transcript.”

This is not where Michael and I diverge. I stipulate to just about everything he says here, although his thesis is a bit overstated. Maurice Casey, in his studies on the Synoptic Gospels, has demonstrated the degree to which it's possible to retrotranslate the Greek back into the underlying Aramaic.

Continuing:

“All of this is faithful to an Evangelical understanding of inspiration and infallibility. Consult the various articles in Geisler’s Inerrancy to establish the distinction I am making. More importantly, it is true to John’s description of his own task. If stories of the words and works of Jesus are so numerous that the world couldn’t contain the volumes written (John 21:25) and if John selected from this pool a specific number of recollections to establish the faith of his audience (John 20:30-31), then the context of the late first century Johannine community does become important, and in some ways determinative for a proper apprehension of its theological content.”

i) This is true, but it can be misapplied. The understanding of the literary audience (for the Gospel) is a factor in our interpretations. That, however, does not override or cancel out the understanding of the narrative audience (for the speeches recorded in the Gospel).

ii) I’d add that I generally agree with the arguments of Barnett, Robinson, and Daniel Wallace in favoring a pre-70 AD dating for the Fourth Gospel.

(Conversely, the evidence seems to be a bit better for a post-70 AD dating of the Apocalypse, although there are first-rate scholars on both sides of that question.)

iii) Moreover, the Johannine community is responsible for being sensitive to the original setting of the discourses.

iv) And it’s more than possible that the Johannine community included Messianic Diaspora Jews who would appreciate the original setting as well.

“Secondly, this does not require a kind of independent historical access to the makeup of the Johannine community. The Gospel, Johannine epistles, and the Apocalypse allow us to isolate many of the central concerns of the community.”

This is true, although it necessitates the use of the grammatico-historical method to attempt a reconstruction of the Johannine community.

“We do know a bit about docetic/proto-Gnostic thinking in the Greco-Roman world that would have made their obsession with the physicality of Jesus intelligible. The preference for sarx over soma in John 6 is one such example. Its not that Jesus didn’t mandate the consumption of his flesh and blood to an audience of Jews, but the manner in which Jesus raises the stakes of the debate to make flesh and blood explicit probably proved useful to a much later community with a very different ideological opponent.”

This is where Michael and I more clearly diverge. It’s possible that proto-Gnostic thinking was afoot at the time John wrote the Gospel. At it’s possible that his selective emphasis, say, in Jn 20-21, is shadowboxing with that incipient heresy.

However, Jesus was not addressing proto-Gnostics in Jn 6. To backdate that idea to Jn 6 is too much like the old Bultmannian, form-critical view according to which the gospel narratives are not actually about the events they apparently descibe, but are really etiological allegories about the sitz-im-leben of the Church—wherein a fin de siècle church is inventing a backstory to illustrate and validate its later doctrine and practice.

That is not my view of the gospels, and I doubt it’s Michael’s.

“We can also know a bit about the liturgical context of the community from the various descriptions of the heavenly court in the Apocalypse. To the extent that John was anything of a biblical theologian, he would have noted how the Old Testament Tabernacle/Temple mirrored the divine throne room. He would have also been familiar with the manner in which synagogues were constructed as a kind of Temple in miniature (see Donald Binder’s work here). This presumes that the altar, the incense, the degrees of proximity to the throne, etc. found a counterpart in the liturgical space and liturgical practice of the Johannine community.”

Two problems:

i) This assumes that the Johannine community was worshipping in a synagogue rather than a house-church.

(Actually, it would be more logical of Michael to argue that the original discourse was delivered in a synagogue, and use that as his springboard, rather than appealing to the church architecture of the Johannine community.)

ii) Even if we made that very debatable assumption, vis-à-vis (i), it further assumes that tabernacular symbolism is sacramental in character.

Put another way, there were covenant signs under the Old Covenant as well as the New Covenant. So you could possibly speak of OT sacraments.

But that would simply relocate the debate over the nature of covenant signs from the NT to the OT milieu. Instead of debating the efficacy of communion, we debate the efficacy of the Passover.

“Finally, I really don’t have a problem with historical-grammatical exegesis per se. In fact, one can really establish most of what I have written here without recourse to the history of interpretation and reception of these texts in later Christian communities. That said, attending to this can give clues to how an audience could hear these texts without the pressing intrusions of our Western, modernist, post-industrial ontology. If there is a fairly unbroken sacramental understanding of these passages in the Patristic, Medieval, and Reformation-era churches, the burden of proof is really on the modern interpreter who denies that import. Its not that historical-grammatical exegesis is off base, but practitioners need to have a fairly healthy appreciation of the doctrine of Original Sin and thus need to acknowledge its noetic effects.”

Once again we disagree:

i) Appeal to the noetic effects of sin can cut both ways. A high churchman can invoke this against a low churchman, but a low churchman can invoke this against a high churchman. So it’s a wash.

ii) How is an *unbroken* sacramental understanding relevant to exegesis? At most, the only pertinent interpretive consideration would be early Patristic testimony in case that happened to be a historical witness to the primitive understanding of the text.

iii) Even that is very precarious. After all, Michael’s defense of the sacramental reading is that the Fourth Gospel was shaped, in part, by the need to refute certain heresies which were already afoot during the time of the apostolic church.

So it is more than possible for a primitive error to creep into the subapostolic church.

“This latter point might be the most important. Historical grammatical exegesis is an attempt at a quasi-scientific method. As such it is designed to mitigate the presuppositions and biases of the interpreter. The only problem is that the method itself reflects the concerns and pitfalls of post-Cartesian modernity and does not sufficiently deliver on what it promises. Thus the need for the Church and its rule of faith.”

That is not how I’d characterize the grammatico-historical method:

i) It is designed to mitigate anachronistic interpretations, in which the cultural presuppositions of the modern interpreter swap out the original presuppositions of the text.

We will always bring a set of presuppositions to the text. But we can become self-aware of our presuppositions, and thereby position ourselves to compare and contrast our initial cultural viewpoint with the viewpoint of the text, as a result of which we, as Christians, adjust our operating assumptions by allowing the text to correct our initial assumptions.

ii)”Science” is a slippery word. For example, Charles Hodge is often criticized for describing theology as a science.

But the question is whether we are using “science” in the modern sense of the natural *sciences* and the scientific method, or in the Medieval Latin sense of *scientia*.

Hodge, for one, stood at the crossroads of both usages. The motion of theology as the queen of the sciences is hardly a modern, post-Cartesian idea. So this would involve a rather complicated investigation into the history of ideas.

“This is not to say that the church is somehow above the Scripture, but only that there is wisdom in much counsel. If only the whole Church knows the whole truth (a necessary conclusion from 1 Cor. 12), it would seem more probable that reading the Scriptures with the people of God would yield a surer testimony than going it alone with only your self-selected method to save you from error.”

This is riddled with equivocations:

1.Where does Michael locate “the whole Church”? Who is included or excluded in this identification?

2.How does he map 1 Cor 12 onto church history? Where does he draw the boundaries?

3.When he speaks of “the people of God,” who is he really talking about? Is he, in fact, referring to “the whole Church,” or is he really referring a tiny subset of “the whole Church,” consisting in the Church Fathers and Doctors of the Church?

4.What happens when one part of the whole church disagrees with another part of the whole church? How does he adjudicate a difference between the way John Chrysostom construes a passage of Scripture and the way Jerome or Theodore of Mopsuestia construes the same passage of Scripture?

“The Spirit has been given to the Church first and to her individual children only secondarily for her edification. The ability to study the Scriptures with Spirit illuminated insight is not simply something to be kept in some private Spiritual cruvenet for our exclusive personal enjoyment. It is the common possession of the Church and other believers have a claim on our obedience as well as our insights.”

What does this actually mean? Does this mean the Holy Spirit gives the Christian (or the Church) a crash-course in Egyptology when he reads Exodus? Does the Holy Spirit give him a crash-course in Assyriology when he reads 1-2 Kings?

Thomas Aquinas wrote commentaries on the Bible. And they are not without penetrating insights along the way. He was a man of genuine piety, profound erudition, and supreme intellect.

But, in all honestly, I can learn a whole lot more about Job by reading Clines rather than Aquinas; more about John by reading Keener rather than Aquinas; more about Romans by reading Fitzmyer rather than Aquinas.

10 comments:

  1. then the context of the late first century Johannine community does become important, and in some ways determinative for a proper apprehension of its theological content.”

    Agreed, but this period is *also* a period about which we know very little. Church historians freely admit this. What evidence is there that *they* would have drawn a Eucharisitic conclusion about this discourse? Exactly where were *they* located? What was *their* view of this text?

    Steve said: And it’s more than possible that the Johannine community included Messianic Diaspora Jews who would appreciate the original setting as well.

    Facts supported by the intimate connections that the gospel makes to Palestine. Note also the statements about Jesus dying for the nation and drawing together the sheep from two flocks (Jews and Gentiles) into one and Caiphas statements about Christ dying for the whole nation and those scattered abroad, a direct parallel with 1 John 2:2. What we're being asked to do to derive a Eucharistic interpretation from this passage is to conflate a possible *application* (praxis) with the actual meaning of the discourse in its original setting. In fact, it would involve running from John 6 in the Book of Signs, down to John 13. First, John 13 is not in the Book of Signs. Second, the only real parallel here is the concept of bread and eating. But what about the wine? For that, you have to run to John 2 (water into wine) then John 3 (the woman at the well) and then down to John 13 to connect Jesus making water into wine and his wine being the blood of the New Covenant? I've never seen any Eucharistic interpretation make that attempt, because these 3 pericopes don't relate directly in that manner. John 2 is about the making of a new covenant that is "wine" compared to the OC's "water," and Jesus is depicted as the water of life, from which "living - e.g. lively- water will spring in the believer, but how exactly does John 13 and the words of institution relate to John 2 and John 3? In John 6, the relation is between manna and Christ, not manna and the host/wafer and Christ. In short those items necessary to get a Eucharistic interpretation are simply missing from the text, you have to run off to other parts of the NT and make assumptions about the original audience that are unsustainable.

    “We can also know a bit about the liturgical context of the community from the various descriptions of the heavenly court in the Apocalypse. To the extent that John was anything of a biblical theologian, he would have noted how the Old Testament Tabernacle/Temple mirrored the divine throne room. He would have also been familiar with the manner in which synagogues were constructed as a kind of Temple in miniature (see Donald Binder’s work here). This presumes that the altar, the incense, the degrees of proximity to the throne, etc. found a counterpart in the liturgical space and liturgical practice of the Johannine community.

    Steve said: i) This assumes that the Johannine community was worshipping in a synagogue rather than a house-church.

    I would add that this tugs in a direct opposite to that of a post 70 AD date, which Michael has already stated he affirms. After 70 AD, they would *not* have been in a synagogue. Indeed, Acts tells us that the schism between the synagogue and the churches began before 70 AD.

    The only problem is that the method itself reflects the concerns and pitfalls of post-Cartesian modernity and does not sufficiently deliver on what it promises.

    Really, is that at all reflective of Zwingli, Bullinger, Ursinus, Heidegger, Bucer, Turretin, Twisse, Gomarus, etc.? Were *they* operating with Cartesianism in the background? Did *they* view grammatical-historical exegesis in their own day in that way? Is this what the historical record really says? Is that why there was controversy over vowel points? You could draw that conclusion from J.A. Turretini, Vernet, and others, but how does the exegetical conclusion of, say Charles Hodge or Berkhof in these matters differ from, say, F. Turretin?

    If only the whole Church knows the whole truth (a necessary conclusion from 1 Cor. 12), it would seem more probable that reading the Scriptures with the people of God would yield a surer testimony than going it alone with only your self-selected method to save you from error.”

    A. Was "the whole church" using one method of exegesis in the pre-Medieval church? I think not.
    B. Shall we trot out the different views of the Eucharist from Augustine and, say, Cyril of Jerusalem and juxtapose them? What is the voice of "the whole church?" Where is it located?

    I repeat:

    Raymond E. Brown: To the best of my knowledge the Roman Catholic Church has never defined the literal sense of a single passage of the Bible. Raymond E. Brown, The Critical Meaning of the Bible (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), p. 40.

    Raymond E. Brown, S.S.: Roman Catholics who appeal explicitly to Spirit-guided church teaching are often unaware that their church has seldom if ever definitively pronounced on the literal meaning of a passage of Scripture, i.e., what the author meant when he wrote it. Most often the church has commented on the on-going meaning of Scripture by resisting the claims of those who would reject established practices or beliefs as unbiblical. Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), p. 31.

    Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.: When one hears today the call for a return to a patristic interpretation of Scripture, there is often latent in it a recollection of Church documents that spoke at times of the ‘unanimous consent of the Fathers’ as the guide for biblical interpretation.(fn. 23) But just what this would entail is far from clear. For, as already mentioned, there were Church Fathers who did use a form of the historical-critical method, suited to their own day, and advocated a literal interpretation of Scripture, not the allegorical. But not all did so. Yet there was no uniform or monolithic patristic interpretation, either in the Greek Church of the East, Alexandrian or Antiochene, or in the Latin Church of the West. No one can ever tell us where such a “unanimous consent of the fathers” is to be found, and Pius XII finally thought it pertinent to call attention to the fact that there are but few texts whose sense has been defined by the authority of the Church, “nor are those more numerous about which the teaching of the Holy Fathers is unanimous.” (fn. 24) Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Scripture, The Soul of Theology (New York: Paulist Press, 1994), p. 70.

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  2. Friends,

    I was actually making a much humbler point that the one ascribed to me in your reflections. Allow me to venture a short response...

    First, I appreciate the depth at which you interacted with my statements and the careful notation of authors that you draw from. The feedback is an opportunity to clarify my own thinking and self-understanding. Many thanks.

    Second, Steve is essentially correct that reconstruction of historical context is a thorny problem. This is true whether one is looking at the original discourse or the later ecclesial context of the Gospel. Here we must content ourselves with probability judgments, but subsequent historical practice remains an important witness to consider. The fact is that Christians did celebrate the Eucharist in a liturgical setting that included Gospel proclamation and a sacramental meal. This is true before the history under consideration (Cf. Pauline "traditio" language in 1 Cor 11) and after (Cf. Didache, etc.). One needs to be very careful with how continuities and discontinuities are handled because diversity is an original condition prior to the Nicene consolidation of liturgical praxis, but that diversity need not be exaggerated to the degree that one sees no intelligible continuity. Baptism, for example, seems universal even where the Churches drew on Jesus' baptism by John rather than the Pauline "death and resurrection" texts for their warrant or where chrismation and the imposition of hands came before rather than after the application of water. Simply put, I am making the case that the sacramental import of John 6 would be intelligible to the Johannine community because of the universal Eucharistic setting of the various/variegated Christian communities. This can be established by appeals to the text, to the witness of texts of corresponding Christian communities, and to the subsequent reception and performance of these texts in later Christianity.

    Third, I am not proposing that the Johannine community worshipped in a synagogue. The point of noting the continuity of tabernacle-temple-synagogue in Binder's work is that one observes a similar continuity of tabernacle-temple-church in the Apocalypse. This makes as much sense of the cosmic liturgical descriptions of heaven in chapter 4 as it does of the descriptions of competing "synagogues" as "synagogues of Satan" in chapters 2 and 3. The specific location and architecture does not affect the interpretation either way, but the general pattern does suggest something about the liturgical and sacramental shape of Johannine worship. Again, continuities we observe in subsequent Christian communities in Syria, Asia Minor, Rome, etc. only strengthen the sense of continuity of the latter with the former.

    Fourth, suggesting a Eucharistic and anti-Docetic import of John 6 does not imply a denial of the historical veracity of the original discourse. As I said, John simply recalled an occasion where Jesus refuted the Jews and employed the statement (with a possible degree of sermonic license - ipsissima vox, remember) to a subsequent dispute with a later opponent. In either case the point is the same: The incarnation is deeply offensive and sharing in the divine life of a fully embodied Christ is doubly so. I am a sacramental realist so I have no problem saying that Christ is present under the form of bread and wine, but even if you want a more Augustinian distinction between signum and res, communion with body, blood, humanity, and divinity is in the eating with faith and thanksgiving. I do appreciate the nod of confidence in seeing a difference between me and Bultmann and you were right to perceive it.

    Fifth, genembridges appeals to the continuity with pre-moderns in the use of grammatical historical exegetical methods. To be sure those are there as luminaries ranging from Fitzmyer, Moises Silva, and Roger Olson have affirmed. That said, there are important discontinuites as well and these tend to locate in the denial of canonical and theological interpretations of the text. David Steinmetz made something of this case in his landmark essay: "The Superiority of Pre-Critical Exegesis." Hans Frei observed much the same phenomenon in his Eclipse of Biblical Narrative. Personally, I'm with my mentor, Kevin Vanhoozer, on this one. His Drama of Doctrine is a good one stop shop for narrative and theological exegesis.

    Finally, genembridges listed out a set of quotes from various catholic luminaries suggesting that the church has not fixed the positive pr comprehensive interpretation of any single passage of Scripture. While this is absolutely true, the church has fixed the sense of many passages negatively by anathematizing erroneous readings. For example, whatever one may say of Psalm 2:7, it cannot be interpreted as a denial of the eternality of the son (Arianism). Much more can and must be said, but this cannot.

    I would suggest that John 6 is a similar passage and in my reading of Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Brown , Schnackenberg, Hoskyns-Davies, William Temple, Leslie Newbigin, and Craig Keener, I have yet to see a denial of its sacramental sense.

    More can be and must be said, but I must conclude. Thanks for the opportunity to interract.

    Blessings to you both.

    MJP

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  3. michael said...

    "The fact is that Christians did celebrate the Eucharist in a liturgical setting that included Gospel proclamation and a sacramental meal. This is true before the history under consideration (Cf. Pauline 'traditio' language in 1 Cor 11) and after (Cf. Didache, etc.)....Simply put, I am making the case that the sacramental import of John 6 would be intelligible to the Johannine community because of the universal Eucharistic setting of the various/variegated Christian communities."

    I don't deny that when the Johannine community read or heard Jn 6, this might trigger Eucharistic associations. But why is that, and what's the significance of that association?

    What does Jn 6 stand for? The cross. What does the eucharist stand for? The cross?

    Because both Jn 6 and the eucharist share a common referent, they are mutually suggestive.

    This, however, doesn't mean that Jn 6 signifies the eucharist. If A signifies C, and B signifies C, it doesn't follow that A signifies B.

    Put another way, yes—Jn 6 may remind us of the eucharist. But what does the eucharist remind us of?

    They both remind us of the very same thing—Calvary.

    Therefore, you have a threefold association. But this crisscross connotation doesn't imply that Jn 6 *means* the eucharist.

    Rather, both Jn 6 and the Eucharist mean or signify the same thing, yet not in the sense that they point to each other, but rather, inasmuch as they point in the same direction—converging on Calvary.

    "I would suggest that John 6 is a similar passage and in my reading of Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Brown, Schnackenberg, Hoskyns-Davies, William Temple, Leslie Newbigin, and Craig Keener, I have yet to see a denial of its sacramental sense."

    I find this statement puzzling on several grounds:

    i) As I read him, Keener (1:689-91) generally undercuts the Eucharistic interpretation.

    ii) Several commentators quote Augustine as offering a non-Eucharistic interpretation of Jn 6.

    iii) Quite a few important commentators reject the Eucharistic reading of Jn 6. From my consultation, this includes Blomberg, Bruce, Carson, Morris, Köstenberger, Ridderbos, and Witherington—in addition to Keener (see above).

    iv) Colin Brown also rejects the Eucharistic reading. Cf. DNTT 2:535.

    So, with all due respect, I have to wonder if you've made a systematic study of the exegetical literature.

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  4. Steve,

    Your observation that Keener does prefer the notion that the passage refers to "embracing his death" (1:688), he also notes that "[i]t is difficult to miss some eucharistic language in the background. (1:690)." He notes that it is difficult to know what to do with it, but also says that "John's words invite his audience to look to Christ's death itself, not merely to those symbols which point to his death (ibid.)."

    One could only agree with the latter statement, but he wrongly judges that this negates the sacramental reading. The faithful sharing in the Eucharist is the means by which we participate in the broken body and shed blood of Christ (1 Cor. 10:16). If the Eucharist were indeed a "mere" sign or symbol, the point would hold, but the Eucharist is the proclamation of his death (1 Cor. 11:26). As a Pentecostal, Keener's mistake is not so much in his exegetical conclusions, but in his misunderstanding of sacramentology.

    In any case, he does not deny the sacramental import, but only "undercuts" as you have suggested. I would only say that he undercuts only what is specifically out of his disciplinary expertise.

    In the case of Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo was primarily concerned with the means of consumption and not with the Eucharistic import of the passage (Tractatus in evangelium Iohannis, 26:12). Augustine wrongly believed the realist reading to mandate that the promise of verse 54 be treated as a kind of contractual guarantee. By this reading, Augustine (and Calvin with him) preserves the holiness of sacrament against the manducatio impiorum (the “chewing” of the impious) at the expense of the scandalous physicality actually intended by Jesus and understood by the Jews. But this is completely unnecessary. Once we understand the promise as promise rather than as the description of a more or less mechanical transaction, that which is offensive to Augustine disappears. Also, one should not be overly selective in the reading of Augustine. He was also able to say the following:

    "That bread which you see on the altar, having been sanctified by the word of God is the body of Christ (corpus est Christi). That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ (sanguis est Christi). Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend his body and blood, which he poured out for us unto the forgiveness of sins. (Sermones 227, PL 38)"

    "Christ was carried in his own hands [Ferebatur enim Christus in manibus suis] when, referring to his own body, he said, 'This is my body.’ For he carried that body in his hands [Ferebat enim illud corpus in manibus suis]. (Enarrationes in Psalmos 33:1, 10, PL 36)."

    Regarding Carson and Köstenberger, I have studied with both men while at TEDS and am generally familiar with the position of both men. Carson in particular suffers from hard won anti-Catholic, anti-sacramental bias gleaned from experience as a baptist PK in French Quebec. His dad, Tom, hailed from Carrickfergus, near Belfast, Northern Ireland. You do the math.

    Köstenberger is one of Don's best students and is a guy I deeply respect, but to the extent that he follows Carson and Keener's readings, I would simply demur.

    Regarding the NIDNTT, Colin Brown's editorial intrusion into Bertold Klappert's article is actually salvageable for my point. He concludes that "the whole of the Christian life should be characterized by this kind of feeding on Christ...," but I would repackage this saying that the crucified, resurrected body and blood of Jesus, received in and through the Eucharist, is the "source and summit of the Christian life" (Lumen gentium, 11).

    Thus the point, or so I would argue, is that John 6 is not about the cross, but about the crucified body and blood, received by the baptized. Calvin (and I presume with Ridderbos and Bruce as with Brown) would speak of this as "the matter of the sacrament" and not the sacrament itself because their theology will not allow them to speak of the sacramental identity of the sign and signified (Cf. Institutes of the Christian Religion [1559] 4.14.15, etc.). Fine and good, but I don't think Calvin's theology works on the whole. He fails to sufficiently account for the resurrection in his christological critique of realist traditions (whether Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, or certain varieties of Anglicanism).

    In general, the drift of modern (post-Reformation) New Testament scholarship on the passage at hand suffers for its presumption that developed sacramentology, liturgiology, and ecclesiology are all foreign to the New Testament and only appear later in the sub-apostolic period. As Jonathan Smith has demonstrated, however, much of this consensus is premised on a Protestant, anti-Catholic, polemic (Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity [University of Chicago, 1994]. In my own reading, I have a hard time finding one Protestant in a hundred who actually understands sacramentology from a Catholic or Orthodox perspective. Catholics bear a share of the blame for their failure to clearly commend their tradition, but debates over transubstantiation and the like get so lost in Reformation-era polemic that the precise teaching gets lost.

    In any case, I appreciate the dialogue. You are certainly pressing me to clarify important points in my own thinking. Thanks.

    Blessings.

    MJP

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  5. Hi Michael,

    Sorry to be such a confounded nuisance, but I find your replies increasingly erratic.

    1. You originally said:

    “I would suggest that John 6 is a similar passage and in my reading of Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Brown , Schnackenberg, Hoskyns-Davies, William Temple, Leslie Newbigin, and Craig Keener, I have yet to see a denial of its sacramental sense.”

    This suggested to me that you were citing these men in support of your position.

    Now, however, you say things like:

    “As a Pentecostal, Keener's mistake is not so much in his exegetical conclusions, but in his misunderstanding of sacramentology.”

    And:

    “In the case of Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo was primarily concerned with the means of consumption and not with the Eucharistic import of the passage (Tractatus in evangelium Iohannis, 26:12). Augustine wrongly believed the realist reading to mandate that the promise of verse 54 be treated as a kind of contractual guarantee.”

    And:

    “Thus the point, or so I would argue, is that John 6 is not about the cross, but about the crucified body and blood, received by the baptized. Calvin (and I presume with Ridderbos and Bruce as with Brown) would speak of this as "the matter of the sacrament" and not the sacrament itself because their theology will not allow them to speak of the sacramental identity of the sign and signified (Cf. Institutes of the Christian Religion [1559] 4.14.15, etc.). Fine and good, but I don't think Calvin's theology works on the whole. He fails to sufficiently account for the resurrection in his christological critique of realist traditions (whether Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, or certain varieties of Anglicanism).”

    So do you or do you not believe that Keener, Calvin, and Augustine support your reading of Jn 6?

    2.I add that you were the one who originally cited Calvin, not me. I didn’t cite Calvin or Calvinism in support of my interpretation.

    So how is that a relevant objection to my own position?

    The truth or falsity of Calvinism, and the truth or falsity of the Eucharistic reading of Jn 6, are separate issues.

    3. You originally said:

    “I have yet to see a denial of its sacramental sense.”

    But when I proceed to tick off a number of conspicuous exceptions to your claim, you dismiss their interpretation on the grounds that it was dictated by their socio-religious conditioning. But there are several problems with this response:

    i) When you said ““I have yet to see a denial of its sacramental sense,” this indicates to me that you thought that was a point in your favor.

    If, however, it turns out that you mistakenly overstated the case, leaving out of consideration a number of major commentators who do, in fact, deny its sacramental sense, then where does that leave your original contention?

    Did you or did you not think it was important that you had yet to see a denial of its sacramental sense?

    Why would you make that statement if you thought it was unimportant to your own interpretation?

    But if the alleged absence of a non-sacramental reading is important to you, then shouldn’t the actual presence of a non-sacramental reading be equally important to you?

    If, as a matter of fact, there are a number of commentators who deny the very thing you claim to be the case, then why do you suddenly shift gears in mid-course and act as if it doesn’t matter?

    I’m simply answering you at the level at which you chose to set the bar. When you pivot on me, it makes me wonder if you’re even trying to be consistent. Are your stated reasons your real reasons?

    ii) It may well be that socio-religious conditioning has an effect on their interpretation. But you know as well as I do that such a purely ad hominem dismissal commits the genetic fallacy.

    So why do you fall back on a textbook fallacy?

    iii) Apropos (ii), even if your psychoanalysis is correct, that is no excuse to dismiss their exegetical arguments out of hand.

    iv) Moreover, your appeal cuts both ways. Don’t you suppose the Eucharistic reading of Brown and Schnackenberg may well be conditioned by their Catholic background and/or Catholic commitments?

    Why are you being so inconsistent? And why are you using arguments you must know are fallacious arguments?

    I’m trying to be as respectful as I can, but you aren’t making it very easy. Is logical validity and material consistency with your own stated principles too much to ask? Should I lower my expectations?

    My advice would be that you go back and actually work through the commentaries I cited.

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  6. Steve,

    For crying out loud, you are giving a perfect illustration of why it is impossible to enter into a reasonable discussion with your ilk. I can't believe that Rev. Pahls has been as patient as he has been with your clumsy critiques, because the nicer he is to you, the bolder you get in thrusting forth your half-baked misunderstandings. Pahls doesn't need me to defend him, but I can't resist making a few points.

    1. When Pahls said that these commentators did not "deny" the sacramental sense of John 6, he was simply saying that they allow for that as at least a natural and intentional application of the language of the passage. Is that so hard to grasp?

    With Keener for instance, Pahls is disagreeing with his general downplaying of the way Jesus' language is fulfilled in the Eucharist, while still at the same time noting that even Keener grants that there is some Eucharistic background in the language. That is not a difficult point to grasp unless you are just being obstinate. And as for Augustine, you don't appear to have even followed the distinction Pahls was trying to make with respect to Augustine's concerns in the appropriation of the passage.

    2. With regard to Calvin, Pahls was trying to show why the Calvinistic distinction between the sign and the thing signified leads some commentators to reject a direct Eucharistic reading of John 6. But you appear to have missed his point, and assume he was discussing Calvin to "prove" something for his own position. This is the mistake Pahls made. He assumed you were actually interested in discussing and thinking about an issue, whereas all you are concerned about is "winning" the argument.

    The bottom line here is Steve, you are not as smart or as learned as you like to depict yourself. All you are interested in doing here is posturing for the crowd. So when Pahls begins to make some points which go over your head, you start using your usual loaded language. You describe his views as "erratic;" you wonder if he's even "trying" to be consistent; you say that you want to be respectful but he "isn't making it very easy;" you tell him to go back and "actually work through" the literature being cited.

    The fact of the matter is that you are a middle-aged seminary student who does not yet know enough to recognize how little he knows. Why don't you at least finish your seminary degree before acting like you are some sort of authority in NT studies? Speaking as a published scholar in the field (and yes, I know I'll catch endless abuse for citing my credentials when the occasion calls for it), who has a terminal degree in New Testament studies, I can tell you, you most plainly are not any kind of authority in these issues.

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  7. Steve,

    I apologize if the line of thought was lost in muddled writing, but I am working in good faith and with a degree of experience on these issues. You have questioned my textual competence on a couple of occasions and have now taken me to task for a lack of material consistency and logical validity. If the conversation is straining your patience to the extent that you unable to remain gracious, I would suggest that we end the conversation with mutual blessings and prayer. No sense in getting riled up over these things. My only hope was to offer an account of how I have come to see things. The fact that you may not perceive consistency or validity doesn't mean it isn't there. I'll try to be clearer.

    My explicit statement was that "in my reading of Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Brown , Schnackenberg, Hoskyns-Davies, William Temple, Leslie Newbigin, and Craig Keener, I have yet to see a denial of its sacramental sense."

    Contrary to your presentation of my statement, I didn't mention or intend Carson, Bruce, Ridderbos, Witherington, Köstenberger, or Brown (though I am basically familiar with them all) and I made explicit defense of my use of Keener. Keener doesn't, in fact, deny the sacramental import of the passage and his confusion over "what to make of it" can be cleared up with a proper understanding of sacramentology and how it works.

    Craig and I share a common alma mater in Central Bible College and I personally know a good chunk of the faculty he studied under down town at AGTS. I know him to be brilliant, but he isn't likely to have read widely in sacramentology. It certainly isn't reflected in his otherwise excellent commentary.

    The point about Augustine was that his work on John doesn't, in fact, deny the sacramental import of the text. Rather his reception of the sacramental dimension of the text is conformed to his sacramental semiotics in De Doctrina Chrisitana. I think that this was an unnecessary move, but one cannot employ him in support of a strictly non-sacramental reading of John 6.

    I'll let my statements regarding Calvin stand for themselves. I only mentioned him because he is the usual transmitter of Augustine in most Protestant commentary on John 6.

    Conclusion: You ask, "So do you or do you not believe that Keener, Calvin, and Augustine support your reading of Jn 6?"

    My answer: Perhaps not fully. Certainly none of the three see things exactly the way I do, but each in his own way can be salvaged for my point. None of the three deny the sacramental reading I propose or negate its possibility.

    Regarding Carson, by my reading his anti-Catholicism does color his exegesis throughout the commentary on John and does so in a way that is not true with Brown or Schnackenberg. If anything Brown and Schnackenberg are mavericks by Catholic standards in that they are among the first generation of that tradition to make use of historical critical (and thus Protestant) methods.

    Conclusion: You ask, "So why do you fall back on a textbook fallacy?

    My answer: One cannot logically quantify an opinion. We're not doing mathematics and personality is part of the issue.

    Accept my characterizations or not, but I've known Don for something like twelve years and am friends with people who have known him far longer. Exegesis isn't a hard science no matter how much we try to imagine it so. The discrete A vs. B decisions, whether in the sense of a genitive or the verbal aspect of an aorist come down to how one harmonizes a text with the canon and with the rule of faith. Carson is fairly allergic to the more catholic dimensions of the faith and this problematizes some of his conclusions. Note, for example, how much more definitive he is on the sacramental question in John 6 and 10 than Keener.

    Final thoughts...

    This may boil down to more basic differences in how we configure this exegetical problem. You seem fairly frustrated by my willingness to approve of or salvage interpreters who seem at first blush to disagree with my conclusion. Perhaps this is because I want to resist the either/or reading of the passage that I seem to be forced into. Part of the catholic impulse in me is the desire to mediate seemingly disparate readings in favor of a positive reconciliation. If this frustrates the drawing of bright, clear, shiny lines, I can only rejoice.

    My basic point is that the sacramental implication of John 6 is inherent in its meaning. Yes, Jesus is speaking of reality of his crucified flesh and blood (and speaks of it historically prior to the cross as well as the Last Supper). Yes, he is gesturing to the sacramental nature of the Christian life whereby a believer constantly feeds on Christ (Colin Brown's point). This, however, is entailed and inherent in a Eucharistic reading. So its not an either/or dilemma nor is it even properly a sacrament/matter of the sacrament dilemma (though this is better). As I said before, "John 6 is not about the cross, but about the crucified body and blood, received by the baptized." This is the Eucharist with its implications and its mystery. A sufficiently thick (as opposed to thin) interpretation of the passage must bring this in for good historical-grammatical and theological reasons.

    If it appears that I get to have my cake and eat it too, I apologize. This is just the way things seem to me and to the extent that my reading accords with a whole host of interpreters from Late Antiquity to the present, I feel that I am safely within the bounds of Mother Church.

    Blessings and thanks again.

    MJP

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  8. MICHAEL SAID:

    "Contrary to your presentation of my statement, I didn't mention or intend Carson, Bruce, Ridderbos, Witherington, Köstenberger, or Brown (though I am basically familiar with them all)."

    I won't challenge your interpretation of your own statement. You know what you meant.

    But if that is what you meant (which I'm happy to grant), then the appeal is circular.

    If you only refer to commentators who either support the sacramental sense or, short of that, do not deny the sacramental sense, then, by definition, none of them will deny the sacramental sense. You're invoking a subset of writers who are self-selected to share your opinion.

    How does that contribute to your case for the Eucharistic interpretation?

    You're not giving us their arguments, or addressing the counterarguments by commentators who reason otherwise.

    There's nothing wrong with citing commentators who agree with us. We all do that.

    But there's nothing significant per se in citing commentators who agree with us since one can frequently find a commentator on every side of every issue.

    At some point we still need to compare and contrast their respective arguments.

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  9. Steve,

    Not for nothing, but the list I originally referenced represented a kind of "greatest hits" of John commentaries as I saw them on my shelf. Hoskyns-Davies, William Temple, and Leslie Newbigin hearken to a kind of sweet spot in the literature. Brown and Schnackenberg represent the "gold standard" only approached in recent memory by Keener. Perhaps I neglected Bultmann, but only for obvious reasons. I have registered my dissent from Carson's view, but Keener pretty well gleans what is noteworthy in his Pillar commentary.

    I left out Bruce and Ridderbos because of their similitude with Calvin and I also missed Burge, Morris, Beasley-Murray, and Brodie because I didn't understand the expectation that I must say everything before saying anything.

    As far as actual argumentation goes, I have pretty well said my peace regarding sarx vs. soma, reference to cross vs. crucified body, the importance of the Johannine community to interpretation, the application of Jesus voice to a Jewish context vs. a context informed by debate with proto-Gnostic docetism, and the possible liturgical/sacramental practices of the community addressed by the Gospel. I have also tried to interact synthetically with the comments of at least half a dozen specific interpreters, noting page numbers or critical citations where applicable.

    At a certain point one wonders if it is my reader that is failing to interact in good faith. Perhaps I am wrong (and I do hope so), but this will be the point where I say God bless and pray that he will continue to bring your good work to perfection (Rule of St. Benedict, prologue, v.4. Cf. Philippians 1.6)

    MJP

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  10. Kevin Johnson1/30/2007 12:20 AM

    Owen,

    You are such a theological blowhard, it's amazing (I don't get to spout off like that over at ReformedCatholicism.com as the big man would fire me, but it feels oh so good)....

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