Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Twilight of the gods

Unitarian Roman Montero has attempted another response to me:

So tell me what your argument is for asserting that Jesus is alluding to the Shema.

Several reasons. For instance:

i) Suppose Jesus said "The Father is one". Even unitarians would recognize an allusion to the Shema. After all, they think the Father is Yahweh. So "the Father is one" would be equivalent to "Yahweh is one". How could that fail to evoke the Shema? If so, what about "the Father and I are one"?

ii) You have the reaction of the Jews, who prepare to stone Jesus (v31). What would provoke that reaction? If they sense that Jesus has made himself the Lord of the Shema, that would explain their indignation. That's reinforced by v34: "we are going to stone you for blasphemy because you, being a man, make yourself God." If they take his statement in v30 to reference the Shema, where he audaciously incorporates himself into the Shema, their reaction makes perfect sense–since they think he's just a man. By contrast, the insipid unitarian interpretation would not provoke that reaction. 

iii) Finally, I don't interpret this pericope (Jn 10:22-39) in isolation. Rather, this is a resumption of an ongoing debate between Jesus and the Jewish establishment, beginning in chap 2 (e.g. vv19-21). It escalates to a breaking point in passages like 5:17-18 and 8:55-59, as well as here, where, not coincidentally, Jesus makes Yahwistic claims. So I construe Jn 10:30 as another case in kind. 

Now, I understand Jesus and his enemies were not speaking Greek; but I don’t have the original Aramaic text and neither do you, what we have is what John gave us.,,Claiming that ν in John 10:30 means something different then ες in the Shema (the former being conceptual and latter being individual) only proves my point.

i) Needless to say, Deut 6:4 doesn't use ες. Deut 6:4 was written in Hebrew, not Greek. This is Montero's predicament. He keeps leaning on a distinction that only exists in Greek, yet Deut 6:4 wasn't written in Greek, and the conversation in Jn 10:22-39 wasn't conducted in Greek.  

ii) It's hardly unusual for NT speakers and writers to paraphrase OT verses or offer interpretive summaries. 

The question was about whether or not Jesus was the Christ, not whether or not Jesus was Yahweh Incarnate.

Montero is constitutionally unable to engage the argument. What does it mean to be messiah? What are the properties and prerogatives of messiah?  

If verse 30 is an allusion to the Shema, how does it fit with the rest of the text? The entire point of the rest of Jesus’s answer is that he perfectly obeys his father and does the work of his father—because his father’s sheep have been given to him by the Father. This makes sense if the question he is answering is the actual question asked him i.e. are you the Messiah—it makes no sense if he decided to answer another question about whether or not he is Yahweh incarnate.

i) Where does the imagery of Jn 10:27-28 come from? Let's compare two passages:

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand (Jn 10:27-28).

7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice... (Ps 95:7).

Notice the specific parallels. Jn 10:27-28 is directly modeled on Ps 95:7. Yet in Ps 95, Yahweh is the shepherd. This means Jesus is reprising the role of Yahweh. So vv27-28 are a prooftext for the deity of Christ.

ii) Of course, a unitarian will say, no, that just means Jesus is Yahweh's agent. But that strategy is self-defeating. If a mundane agent can assume all of the roles of Yahweh, then there's no differential factor distinguishing the creature from Yahweh. Everything the OT says about Yahweh, to differentiate Yahweh from false gods, is take over by messiah. 

Here’s the point, instead of just making a claim, for goodness sakes—Make an actual argument for your claim.

Montero wouldn't know an argument if it slapped him in the face.

Let’s move on to the accusation and Jesus’s response. You assume two things here: that the opposers are claiming that Jesus calls himself Yahweh, the text doesn’t say that, it only says that they accuse him of making himself god (which can mean a number of things)

It can't mean number of things in the context of stoning a speaker for blasphemy. 

and that their accusation is valid—there is absolutely no reason we should think that the opposers understand Jesus correctly, or are making a valid accusation; all over the place in John the opposers misunderstand Jesus and slander him, why should we assume that in this one place they are perfectly lucid, rational and correctly understand Jesus and are correctly applying the Jewish law? It makes no sense to just assume that.

I don't just "assume" that. Rather, I notice how often Jesus reinforces their interpretation of his claims and actions. 

As for the title “son of God”. First of all, they considered it blasphemous for him to invoke Psalms 110:1 and Daniel 7:13–14 for himself, not to call himself the “son of God” (if that were a divine title, then all the angels, King David, King Solomon, Adam, and so on would all be Yahweh). 

That's so simplistic:

i) It's necessary to distinguish between the connotations of the singular and the plural. 

ii) It's necessary to take the context into consideration. How do normative characters and foil characters in the narrative respond?

iii) It's necessary to consider how usage varies from one Bible writer to another. For instance, John doesn't call Christians "sons of God". John reserves that appellation (in the singular) for Jesus. He uses a different term for Christians. 

Second of all the text doesn’t tell us why it is blasphemous, it could be any number of things: if could be that he used the divine name out loud (which would explain why Matthew replace Mark Yahweh, not with κριος, as would be normal, but with δύναμις), it could be that they thought it blasphemous that someone who they considered unrighteous or unworthy would call himself God’s messiah, it could be that it was (gasp) a false charge, it could be any number of things.

Montero is casting decoys hither and yon to deflect attention away from the fact that the Gospels specify the words and actions of Jesus that his enemies found blasphemous. 

Also, what I consider to be blasphemous or not (Jesus being a god, in the sense of a divine creature) has no bearing on what the opponents of Jesus considered to be blasphemous.

I appreciate his concession that unitarian interpretations have no bearing on the issue at hand. 

So how about Jesus’s reply. So in your reading is this supposed to be a historical account? If yes then how on earth does you reading make sense? So Jesus, in your reading, responded to a charge of blasphemy by citing Psalms 82, and then saying “those to whom the word of god came were called ‘god’” and in saying that he was citing the prologue of John—which didn’t exist yet, by the time it was written almost everyone in that conversation would have been dead—but then saying that they are called gods? I still don’t understand your exegesis, where in Jesus’s reply is any thing regarding the not-yet-written prologue? 

i) Montero suffers from severe reading incomprehension. Did I say Jesus was citing the Prologue? No. In fact, I denied that. 

ii) What does "the word of God" refer to in this verse? It's a standard hermeneutical procedure to look for comparable usage in the same book when you wish to know what an author meant by a particular phrase. And, indeed, the Prologue is an interpretive guide for readers. That's why the narrator introduces his Gospel with that programmatic statement. 

iii) By contrast, people within the historical account found out who Jesus really is by seeing him and hearing him. They experience the truth of the Prologue. Is that such a foreign concept to Montero? 

Who are the god’s he is referring to? In Psalms 82 they are divine beings; to whom the word of God came (God was speaking to them in Psalms 82, it doesn’t matter who the text was written for, in the text God’s word came to them).

i) On one interpretation, Ps 82 is a satirical reference to the Canaanite pantheon. Polemical theology. 

On another interpretation, these are national guardian angels. That's a later Jewish gloss. A pious midrash. I think some Jews were uncomfortable with any suggestion that heathen deities exist. They had a tin ear for the satirical tone of Ps 82. 

On another interpretation, the "gods" are human (Jews). That's based in part on the fact that the "gods" in Ps 82 are mortal. However, in pagan mythology, the gods are not indestructible. Although they can't die of old age, they can be slain. 

ii) On the mythopoetic interpretation, what's the occasion that reference to the "word of God" harkens back to? In Ps 82, you have a contrast between the true God and false gods. And that fits the Christology of Jn 1, where the divine Logos is the creator of the world. The Creator God of Genesis. That's in opposition to pagan polytheism.  

And in the course of his public ministry, people discover what readers of the Prologue know. Jesus is Yahweh Incarnate. 

iii) The Prologue is paradoxical in the sense as it was written after the fact, yet in another sense the reader already knows something participants in the narrative do not, because, from the sequential viewpoint of the narrative, participants experience the past as future while readers experience the future as past. That's true of historical writing in general. We know how the story ends. But at the time, participants did not.  

iv) On the angelic interpretation, the Son is the Logos who made the angels. 

I’m getting quite bored of having claims thrown at me but no exegesis, no argument, not actual coherent reading of the text—let’s go there and then we can actually have a basis on which to discuss the meaning of the text. Once we do that, we can move on to other things, but you need to stop dodging the issue and actually give a proper exegesis and argument for your exegesis, otherwise you’re just playing pattycake and getting nowhere in getting to the bottom of John 10:24–39 … 

Montero is not my standard of comparison. I'm not writing for his benefit. He's just a foil. 


  1. Roman, I can agree with much of what Steve says as well as some of the stuff you've been arguing because I interpret the passage in the way Daniel Waterland did in his book A Vindication of Christ's Divinity:

    From hence you [Waterland's theological opponent] endeavor to prove, that Christ is God in the subordinate Sense only; that is, as I have said, not properly or truly God. But I can see no manner of ground for this Inference from the Words before us. Our Blessed Lord had insinuated that He was really and truly God; but had not asserted it in plain and express Terms: Upon this bare innuendo, the Jews charge Him with direct Blasphemy: He to evade their Malice and to keep to the Truth, neither affirms, nor denies that He meant it in the Sense which they apprehended. However, his Discourse being in general Terms, and not explicite [sic] enough to found a charge of Blasphemy upon, He appeals to their Law, in order to show, that it is not always Blasphemy, to make one's Self God, or to apply the Title of God, even to mortal Men, and Men inferior to Himself, considered only as Man. This was answer sufficient to Them; who could not from his own Expressions clearly convict Him of meaning more, than that He was God in the improper Sense of the Word, as it had been used, Psal. 82.6. Nevertheless, He leaves the point of his Divinity undecided; or rather, still goes on to insinuate, in Words which they could not directly lay hold on, the very Thing which they charged Him with. This enraged them so much the more: and therefore they again sought to take Him, v. 39. But He escaped out of their Hand. This Interpretation may suffice to take of the force of your Argument. Yet, the Words may admit of other, and perhaps better Interpretations, consistent with the Principles which I here maintain. [[All italics are original to the best of my knowledge/ability - AP]]

    Jesus was prevaricating. I think Jesus was hinting at His being YHVH along with the Father, but He didn't given a direct statement to that effect. What He said was true enough, even though it wasn't the full truth. While they did attempt to arrest Him (v. 39), they would have been more aggressive and probably successful [sans Divine intervention] if Jesus had been more explicit about His claims.

    1. Basically in that interpretation Jesus was missleading the audience, his statement would not only be missleading if he actually was Yahweh incarnate, but it would be completely confused ... If "son of god" was a title applicable to Yahweh, what does it make sense to Call himself that, while at the same time citing Psalms 82 in refrence to lesser gods? His point is that God himself called them "gods", but he Calls himself Gods son, because he is sanctified and sent into the world by God.

      If he was Yahweh incarnate that answer would be both deceptive and incoherent.

    2. You think an a fortiori argument is deceptive?

    3. If you could actually demonstrate, From the text, that Jesus is making an a fortiori argument, and exegete the text coherently, then we could have that discussion.

  2. https://theologyandjustice.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/hays-non-exegesis-of-john-1034-6-where-is-the-exegesis/

    Are you ever going to actually give an exegesis of John 10:34-36? An actual break Down of what the text means? IN context, and in a coherant way?

    1. You have no idea what exegesis is.

    2. Why don't you actually give us a Reading that makes sense of the text; the actual text as it is written.

    3. Why don't you drop the egotistical assumption that you're the arbiter of what makes sense of the text?

    4. Here ya' go - an a fortiori argument:

      An alternative interpretation agrees that the "gods" are Israelite judges, but sees the use of the term "gods" as an ironic figure of speech. Irony is a rhetorical device in which something is said to be the case in such a way as to make the assertion seem ridiculous (compare Paul's ironic "you have become kings" in 1 Corinthians 4:8, where Paul's point is that they had _not_ become kings). According to this interpretation, the parallel description of the "gods" as "sons of the Most High" (which, it is argued, is not in keeping with the Old Testament use of the term "sons" of God), the condemnation of the judges for their wicked judgment, and especially the statement, "Nevertheless, you will die as men," all point to the conclusion that the judges are called "gods" in irony.

      If the former interpretation is correct, then in John 10:34-35 Jesus would be understood to mean that if God called wicked judges "gods" how much more appropriate is it for Him, Jesus, to be called God, or even the Son of God. If the ironic interpretation of Psalm 82:6 is correct, then in John 10:34-35 Jesus' point would still be basically the same. It is also possible that Jesus was implying that the Old Testament application of the term "gods" to wicked judges was fulfilled (taking "not to be broken" to mean "not to be unfulfilled," cf. John 7:23) in Himself as the true Judge (cf. John 5:22,27-30; 9:39).[18] Those wicked men were, then, at best called "gods" and "sons of the Most High" in a special and figurative sense; and at worst they were pseudo-gods and pseudo-sons of God. Jesus, on the other hand, is truly God (cf. John 1:1,18; 20:28; 1 John 5:20) and the unique Son of God (John 10:36; 20:31; etc.)

      - "'Ye Are Gods?' Orthodox and Heretical Views on the Deification of Man" (Christian Research Journal, Winter/Spring 1987), Robert M. Bowman, Jr

    5. So let me try and apply Your interpretation to the text.
      They say:
      “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.”
      Jesus reples:

      “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’?”

      By which he means “is it not written that you are “gods” ironically, who will actually die like men, thus you’re not really gods.

      “If those to whom the word of God came were called ‘gods’—and the scripture cannot be annulled— can you say that the one whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world is blaspheming because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?”

      See here is where Your interpretation has problems. How does the rest of Jesus’s reply fit With that? If he says that then how do you interpret this verse?
      If the Word of God came to those who were ironically called “gods” but aren’t really gods, how can you say that I balspheme when I was sanctified and sent into the world becuase I say I am Gods son?

      The argument Jesus is making is based on the fact that they were called “gods”, not based on the fact that they were unfaithful, Jesus doesn’t mention that. Not only that if “dying like a man” disqualifies someone from being a god, thus making the claim that they are gods ironic; then Jesus would fit that … he died like a man, but again, that wasn’t the point he was making.

      As to Your interpretation of Psalms 82, there is no reason to think these were not actual “Gods”, spirit beings.

      Israelite judges were never called “a Divine Council”, they are called gods in verse 1, not at all ironically, also the realm talked about here is not Israel … it’s the Earth. The best explination here is that God is judging the Divine beings (angels) that rule over the nations of the Earth.

      Thanks for actually trying to make an exegesis of the text, you’re doing more than what Steve Hays did, but I’m afraid it doesn’t actually make sense of the text.

  3. One more...

    "The whole point of Psalm 82 is that earthly judges must act with impartiality and true justice, because even judges must stand someday before the Judge. Verses 6 and 7 warn human magistrates that they, too, must be judged: “I said, `You are gods; you are all sons of the Most High.' But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.” This passage is saying that God has appointed men to positions of authority in which they are considered as gods among the people. They are to remember that, even though they are representing God in this world, they are mortal and must eventually give an account to God for how they used that authority.

    Now, let’s look at how Jesus uses this passage. Jesus had just claimed to be the Son of God (John 10:25-30). The unbelieving Jews respond by charging Jesus with blasphemy, since He claimed to be God (verse 33). Jesus then quotes Psalm 82:6, reminding the Jews that the Law refers to mere men—albeit men of authority and prestige—as “gods.” Jesus’ point is this: you charge me with blasphemy based on my use of the title “Son of God”; yet your own Scriptures apply the same term to magistrates in general. If those who hold a divinely appointed office can be considered “gods,” how much more can the One whom God has chosen and sent (verses 34-36)?"

    1. Sarin,

      If that's the Reading, what is Jesus's reply? It's that it is not blasphemy for People to be called gods, since non-Yahweh beings are called gods, so how could I be blaspheming since I Call myself "gods son" ... He answers the charge there.

      IF however the charge is "you are making yourself Yahweh" then he isn't answering the charge, he's just making up a different question to answer. If they are using the term "God" ambiguously (which it seems like they are doing), then he's actually answering them, but then Jesus applies the term to beings which are not Yahweh to answer the charge.

      Again, I thank you for your response ... THIS was the kind of discussion I was looking for, an actual discussion over the exegesis of the text itself.

  4. The term אחד in Deut. 6.4 denotes a compound or unified oneness. If Moses were a Unitarian he would not presuppose אחד to be applied to God. For instance, when the New Covenant becomes instantiated, God will give His people "one heart" - אחד (Jer. 32:39). So then, you can have a plurality of persons, yet can be "one" in a composite *sense*. It's one and many at the same time. If Yahweh is אחד, then it follows inescapably that he is "one" in a composite of several persons.

    I just need one systematic example for this argument to go through. It's not necessary that I pepper my reply with a slew of passages. Turning to John 10:10...

    What did Jesus intend when he said, "I and the Father are one". This is clearly a conceptual echo to אחד (Deut. 6:4). I'm assuming that Jesus' words was utterly perspicuous, and that he was aware of the outrageous claim that he made. I also give Jesus the benefit of the doubt that, he also knew the hostile reaction that would eventuate. Jesus being a Jew would certainly know what counts as a blasphemous, and the reaction that follow was natural and inevitable. To suggest otherwise, is to side with the murderous Pharisees.

    The reactions are natural irrespective of the narrative was linguistically transmuted. This is a red-herring, and an embarrassing counter. This is where you get linguistically fallacious, thinking that the truth of a narrative is necessarily dependent on a fixed pattern of syntax in a particular lingua. That's fallacious. All that it's required is the *concept* to go through; the language is just a tool to convey an idea conceptually.

    I also didn't see a denial, nor a refutation of the a fortiori argument provided. Moreover, your responses are convoluted because you equivocate "gods" from one clause to the other. Even if - iff - Jesus did not intend to mean that he is co-divine like the Father (10:10), no logician would deny that Jesus is establishing common ground from the weaker sense (Ps. 82), to the greater of his own statement. You requested that this be shown, and again, you didn't deny it, much less refute it.

    I doubt that you can read Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic, which explains how your take on this pericope is more reflective of an indefensible ideology, than the high Christology in John's gospel.

    1. I don't read Hebrew or Aramaic, I do read Greek though. John was written to a gentile audience, and it is unlikely they read Hebrew, and it is likely that if they were familiar with the hebrew bible it was the Greek version.

      If you can find a relevant rendering of the Shema in Greek using the language of John 10:30 show me.

      For the a forteriori provided; I think it does work the way you described it, but the problem is that psalms 82 is not talking about magistrates (why would it be any surprise that they would die like men, and verse 1 makes it clear they are "gods")

      If Jesus was Yahweh in the flesh how would that answer be anything but a denial of that?

      The term gods in psalms 82 is not being used the same way as when the term god is applied to Yahweh; yet Jesus uses psalms 82 to defend himself; meaning he is putting himself in that same category of divinity (even though he is higher, he is the unique son of god). He is a god the same way they are, not the way Yahweh is.

      If he was God he same way Yahweh is his reply wouldn't make sense, unless he was being dishonest.

      Btw, let's say the Shema in Hebrew used "one" to mean a conceptual "one" of the Shema; then it kind of undermines Steven's argument doesn't it? He claimed that the reason John 10:30 uses the neuter form whereas the LXX and every other greek rendering of the Shema that I know of uses the masculine form is that John 10:30 is using "one" conceputally, rather than personally, so is the LXX and the writers of the NT translating the term "one" wrong? BTW, I don't know of any rule that says that a conceptual use of the word "one" has to be neuter ... as I already pointed out there are gendered forms of the word "one" using in the NT conceptually, so that argument is dead in the water to begin with.

      BTW, I have a high Christology, John has a high Christology, but that doesn't get you to the claim that Jesus is Yahweh.

    2. "BTW, I don't know of any rule that says that a conceptual use of the word "one" has to be neuter ... as I already pointed out there are gendered forms of the word 'one' using in the NT conceptually, so that argument is dead in the water to begin with."

      You offered a single would-be counterexample which I critiqued.