Monday, March 11, 2019

Cutting Jesus down to size

Randal Rauser 
That depends. To note one example, Jesus refers to Moses (John 6). That provides prima facie evidence for the Christian to believe that Moses did in fact exist. But if there is strong evidence that Moses did not exist, the Christian could conclude based on that evidence that Moses does not exist. In that case, the Christian may come to believe that Jesus was accommodating to the errant beliefs of his audience because he was aiming to teach about his own messiahship, not a history lesson on the ANE. Or one could believe that Jesus adopted to the common knowledge of his day in accord with the kenotic emptying described in Philippians 2:6 ff. Or, one could believe that the text is a post-New Testament theological reflection on Jesus and his unique status. If the evidence for Moses were problematic, I would think the first (accommodation) explanation is the most natural one. (Cf. Jesus saying the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds.)

Several issues:

i) This is a good illustration of progressive theology. Rauser has a Rauser-sized Jesus. A domesticated Jesus. Rauser has Jesus on a leash. Rauser's Jesus isn't big enough to ever pose an intellectual challenge to what Rauser is prepared to believe. Rauser's Jesus isn't any bigger than Rauser. Indeed, Rauser's Jesus is smaller than Rauser. A child of his times. Rauser's Jesus is a Jesus Rauser can manipulate and control. 

ii) Notice the false dichotomy between the historicity of Moses and the messiahship of Jesus. But in Scripture, the credentials of Jesus must be validated by the OT. Jesus is a superior counterpart to Moses. 

iii) What would count as strong evidence that Moses didn't exist?

iv) Phil 2:7 doesn't describe kenotic emptying. That's a 19C misinterpretation. Consult any good commentary. For instance, as Fee explains:

Christ did not empty himself of anything. He simply…poured himself out. This is metaphor, pure and simple. G. Fee, Paul's Letter to the Philippians (Eerdmans 1995), 210.

What is literally meant by the metaphor is explicated in terms of incarnation, undertaking the status of a slave, and a criminal.  

v) Rauser proposes another explanation: this is a fictional speech which the narrator put in the mouth of Jesus, like a ventriloquist dummy. That makes the Johannine Jesus an imaginary character. There may be a historical Jesus who lies in the distant background, but the Johannine Jesus is a product of legendary embellishment–like King Arthur. The Johannine Jesus never existed in real life. That's the implication of Rauser's proposal. 

vi) To say the comparison with the mustard seed is divine accommodation is an absurdly inflationary characterization. Why not just say it's idiomatic, proverbial, maybe hyperbolic? 

vii) Finally, this is a good example of how termites burrow into evangelical institutions. Rauser teaches at a nominally evangelical seminary with a token statement of faith that affirms inerrancy, but he has little gimmicks to evade that, and the administration lets him get away with it. This inerrancy statement is just for show, to hoodwink gullible parents and donors. 

Likewise, he's a contributor to The Christian Post. Richard Land is the editor, but Land is asleep at the switch. There's no serious vetting process for contributors. That laxity gives progressives openings to hollow out evangelical institutions from the inside, until there's nothing left but the facade. 


  1. I wouldn't be surprised to later learn that when Randal says 'Jesus', he really means "'Jesus'", and that it's just an accommodation to the naïve belief of the audience that there was such a figure.

    After all, if we can still derive the fundamental and ultimate theological realities that "you're all right, I'm all right, everybody's all right", then it all comes down to the same thing in the end, doesn't it?

  2. How is Rauser a member of ETS and not hold to inerrancy? I've been a member since 2008 and I was under the assumption that one who does not hold to inerrancy is not allowed membership. They had me sign my name to pledge fidelity to an inerrant Bible. Has there been a change recently?

  3. No change in ETS policy. Steve is saying you can pay lip service to inerrancy but deviate nonetheless. Policing is a tricky thing and people get overlooked many times.

    Its the classic sheep/wolves problem, or wheat/chaff.