Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Manichaean worship

I’m going to post my serial response to B. C. Hodge (primarily):

It's wrong because it's meant to represent Him, not depict Him.

That distinction is not self-explanatory. Are you using "represent" in a symbolic rather than descriptive sense? I.e. the image plays a surrogate function?

In biblical religion, YHWH replaces the images with what He speaks, so that people must have a relationship with Him through that instead. Apart from it, a false relationship is formed (and the Bible seems to set these as conflicting trajectories to where we would not be able to combine both together). This is then extended to Jesus (hence, He is called the Word, we are to listen to the words that He speaks, He alone has words of eternal life, we are to obey His commandments, a little while and we will see Him no longer--and then, through His words, we will really "see" Him, we are to be sanctified in truth,which is God's Word, etc.).

But in the Gospels we have event-media as well as word-media. Christ reveals himself through emblematic miracles as well as spoken words. Dominical miracles are a type of sign language. Concrete, enacted parables

The golden calf doesn't misrepresent the aspect about YHWH it attempts to convey. It's actually the perfect image for what God has been telling them thus far about Himself (He is strong and will bring them into a fertile land--i.e., strength and fertility are its primary aspects and they represent YHWH well). The problem is that they take men away from worshiping God in spirit and in truth (i.e., through what He has spoken).

But in Exodus-Deuteronomy, Yahweh also reveals himself through theophanies and emblematic miracles. Not to mention the tabernacle, furnishings thereof, priestly vestments, &c. So it's directed at the eye no less than the ear. As such, I don't see any trajectory away from the visual.

Likewise, take the Apocalypse. That's the capstone of progressive revelation, so it comes at the tail-end of any trajectory. Yet it's a throwback to visionary revelation. Yes, it's a verbal record, but the words form word-pictures. Appealing to the reader's imagination. And that includes pictorial descriptions of Jesus, beginning with the graphic Christophany in Rev 1, as well as the warrior-king in Rev 19.

Christ actually doesn't reveal Himself through event media (unless you're talking about His work on the cross as a communication of His love, etc., but we know of those works through the spoken Word, and they are interpreted therein for us, so even they are subject to the interpretation of ‘God's Word’ to us, i.e., we must come to them through hearing the Word, not through our sense of sight that takes hold of those events as they are).

i) A non sequitur if, in fact, a Christian illustrator is illustrating the Gospels. He is using the written record as his primary source of information.

ii) And actually, he does reveal himself through event-media. For instance, the miracle of Cana is explicitly said to be revelatory. To take a few more examples, the multiplication of loaves and fish illustrate the fact that Jesus is the bread of life. The healing of the blind man illustrates the fact that Jesus is the light of the world. The raising of Lazarus illustrates the fact that Jesus is the resurrection and the life.

So miracles like these reveal the person and work of Christ. That’s what makes them “signs.”

Without word, Jesus is just another miracle worker who was executed by the Romans.

That fails to take into account the metaphorical significance of dominical miracles, as well as their evocation of OT types and shadows.

Miracles point to Him as verification for those who already believe, but they do not reveal Him.

That’s reductionistic. Dominical miracles have a purpose beyond attesting Jesus (see above).

It is the message that accompanies those miracles.

You’re erecting a false dichotomy. Word and sign are mutually interpretive.

Finally, God's theophanies in the OT are not meant to reveal Him, they are meant to hide Him, and those narratives make that clear…

To the contrary, the narratives indicate the revelatory significance of God’s OT theophanies and miracles. The plagues of Egypt have an explicitly revelatory function (e.g. Exod 7:5; 9:16). The theophanic angelophany in Exod 33 is explicitly revelatory. Theophanies both reveal and conceal.

What you need to do, Steve, is show how your arguments above don't undermine what God is saying in Deut 4.

That’s reversible. You need to show how your arguments don’t undermine what God is saying about the revelatory function of miracles and theophanies in Scripture.

Moreover, I’ve discussed Deut 4 before.

Hence, the person who thinks he has a relationship with Jesus because he prays to a seventeenth century depiction of a Spaniard as representing Jesus isn't praying to Jesus, not because Jesus may not have looked like that Spaniard, but because Jesus doesn't accept that form of worship.

That’s a different objection. Moreover, that’s not the only potential motivation for artistic renderings of Jesus. For instance, an artistic rendering of Gospel scenes may be a visual interpretation of the narrative.

It must be through spirit (i.e., the unseen) and truth (i.e., via hearing).

That cuts against the grain of Jn 1:14.

That might be the case if people were merely attempting to represent Jesus' human nature, but they aren't. They are either attempting to represent Jesus' Person, and His Person is divine, not human, or Jesus as a whole (the God-man). So the divine Person of the Son is being represented (not depicted) with a human image.

Why assume an artist is trying to represent the person of Christ? What if he's merely attempting to illustrate an action of Christ recorded in the Gospels? In a sense, it's the action that represents the person of Christ via the work of Christ in the gospel narrative.

Likewise, why assume it's wrong to represent Christ with a "human image." After all, Christ projected a human image when he was here on earth. That's all the observers could see. His body. Corporeal actions.

I don't assume Jesus physically resembles Jim Caviezel. Likewise, I don't expect actors to physically resemble the historical figures they portray. For instance, I seriously doubt Cleopatra was the spitting image of Liz Taylor.

Suppose an East Indian director filmed the Gospel of John using native actors. I wouldn't have a problem with that.

Same thing with a cinematic adaptation of John's Gospel using Aborigines, Amerasians, Cherokees, Chinese, Chinooks, Filipinos, Gypsies, Incas, Pygmies, or Polynesians.

It says that the miracles done in Cana reveal His glory, not His Person and Work. This is like the heavens revealing the glory of God. They don’t reveal God in distinction from any other god, and yet, one must know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent in order to have eternal life (John 17:3). It is through words that this eternal life, i.e., that this relationship must come to us (6:68). Hence, John ends up arguing (and quoting Jesus) that what is seen is a hindrance to true faith that must come through hearing what is spoken.

i) In the Fourth Gospel, does the revelation of Christ’s glory reveal nothing about his person and work? Does the Fourth Gospel erect a wall between the manifest glory of Christ, on the one hand, and his person or work, on the other? Does Hodge seriously think that’s exegetically supportable?

ii) Does the Fourth Gospel drive a wedge between what is seen and what is heard? Or does the actual dichotomy lie in how both are either perceived or misperceived, depending on the spiritual condition of the percipient?

How do you know any of these events illustrate anything? You're getting that from the Word of God.

That objection reflects a number of Hodge’s systematic errors. Errors that will cycle through his response to me.

i) He commits a level-confusion by failing to distinguish between the audience for the event and the audience for the record of the event. But these miracles are initially directed, not at the reader of the Gospel, but at the observer of the event. Before they are significant to the reader, they are significant to the observer. It doesn’t depend, in the first instance, on the narrator’s interpretation.

ii) Apropos (i), there are two things that make these miracles significant:

a) A natural affinity between the nature of the sign and the nature of the significate. The reason the multiplication of loaves and fishes can illustrate the bread of life discourse is because there’s a natural analogy between physical sustenance and spiritual sustenance.

Same thing in the relationship between physical sight/blindness and spiritual sight/blindness. Same thing in the relationship between the raising of Lazarus and Jesus’ identity as the “resurrection and the life.”

b) There is also the chronological juxtaposition of word and sign. These happen in close conjunction so that observers (as well as readers) can discern how the emblematic action is designed to illustrate the person, work, and words of Jesus. The narrative preserves that sequence.

iii) Apropos (i-ii), the narrator can only interpret the significance of a miracle if there is something significant about the miracle in the first place. Unless the miracle was inherently meaningful, there would be nothing to interpret.

Hodge acts as if the relation between word and sign is purely arbitrary. As if the narrator assigns a totally artificial significance to the miracle. Superimposes meaning on an essentially meaningless event.  But you can’t interpret what isn’t there. You can’t take more out of it than God put into it.

But, again, I don't want to argue this point, simply because miracles are what accompany the word that serves as YHWH’s/Jesus’ “image.” So let me just concede the point for argument’s sake and ask, So what?

I’m discussing this because Hodge brought it up.

Are miracles an image of deity? I've stated that the Bible has a problem with images of deity, not images in general. It has a problem with seeing God, not seeing what God does. I would still maintain that miracles are not sufficiently revelatory (and maybe that was my fault for not including the word “sufficiently,” and making it clear that I’m using “revelatory” in the sense of what reveals in distinction from something else), and "signs" refer to verification of the word to those who already believe, not revelations that point to who Jesus is.

i) I haven’t argued that miracles are an “image of deity.” I’m just responding to Hodge’s argument.

ii) However, since he brings it up, it’s superficial to confine an “image of God” to a physical, visible image. For a physical, visible “image of God” is just a concretized concept of God.

In a deeper sense, a miracle can be an “image of God” by manifesting the nature of God.

John continually contrasts faith in word versus faith by sight (and miracles play a role in faith by sight, which is seen as insufficient and even works against those who do not already believe via word). He doesn’t present them as revealing nothing, but he presents them as insufficient to reveal God, and when one’s faith in miracles is taken apart from that revelation, as evidencing superficial or false belief.

i) That’s rather confused. John contrasts discerning perception with undiscerning perception.

ii) It’s also misleading to speak of miracles taken apart from revelation, for many of Christ’s miracles have OT antecedents in OT miracles or paradigmatic events. The observer is supposed to appreciate the nature of the miracle in that larger context.

But I want to stay on my actual argument. Images of deity are always condemned throughout the OT and NT, as that which leads away from the Word rather than supporting or leading to it.

That’s vague. Theophanies are images of God.

Here's where this doesn't logically follow. They don't reveal the Person of Christ. They don't reveal His work either. They can't. They have to be interpreted, and we have that interpretation via the Word of God. Hence, John emphasizes that for us. What do signs point to? They point to the message already received. If that message is rejected, the sign will be interpreted differently (hence, the Jews said the miracles proved that Jesus was a demoniac and in league with the devil).

That repeats the same mistake (see above).

. . . which we interpret that way through the written report/word given to us. I’m not failing to take their significance into account. I’m arguing that all events and works must be interpreted for us by the Word of God and come to us through that venue if we are to remain faithful to biblical religion.

The Bible is chock-full of theological metaphors that are not interpreted. Rather, the reader is simply expected to be able to infer the significance of the metaphor. And the same principle applies to emblematic events.

Steve, I have to confess, I’m not sure what a “Dominical miracle” is, except that it may have to do with Jesus’ Lordship (but that would contradict your point). Maybe you can define that for me. Is that a Hayes’ coinage, or am I merely out of the loop on that one?

I find it surprising that someone with Hodge’s theological education doesn’t know what “dominical” means in this context. In theological usage, “dominical” is an adjective which means “of or pertaining to the Lord (Jesus Christ).”

Otherwise, I'm unclear what your argument is at this point. Either way, miracles accompany the Word, but without the Word, they testify that this guy is doing miracles (just like half a dozen other guys).

Is that how the Gospels treat dominical miracles? That half a dozen other guys could do the same thing?

I don’t think I am. If we must come to God through spirit and truth, then coming to Him through sight is not a false dichotomy, but a real one. Jesus makes this distinction Himself when He appears to Thomas (and if the resurrection is the uber-miracle, I don’t know what is).

i) Which begs the question of whether what’s physical or visible is someone unspiritual or untrue. Since, however, we’re discussing miraculous signs in the Fourth Gospel (and elsewhere in Scripture), it’s nonsensical to quote Jn 4:23-24 as if that that’s intended to contrast the words of Jesus or the words of the narrator with the miracles of Jesus. Does the narrator think the miracles of Jesus are untrue and/or unspiritual? 

ii) You act as if “truth” or “spiritual” is synonymous with something immaterial. But in the Fourth Gospel (and elsewhere in Scripture), what makes something true or spiritual is the use that God puts to it. The divine intention behind the action or event.

But how are they mutually interpretive? Are you saying that a miracle interprets or must be interpreted? Again, I'm unclear. I'm not arguing any of this. I'm not sure how a miracle interprets anything. It's descriptive data.

Because miracles can be concrete metaphors. I cited some examples from John’s oGspel. A metaphor already has conceptual content. It isn’t just a cipher.

When Jesus says he’s the “true vine,” that metaphor has implicit propositional meaning. That’s why Scripture uses so much poetry. So many picturesque metaphors. Word-pictures.

When Jesus calls himself the “light of the world,” and when that occurs in apposition to the healing of the blind man, his emblematic act has interpretive significance. Yes, words interpret actions, but actions can also explicate the meaning of the words. Nonverbal communication is still communicative.

My point is that John contrasts the two and sets them against each other (not as exclusive to one another in every way, but one as insufficient and the other as sufficient criteria to reveal God and Jesus Christ who must be known to have eternal life). But this is in terms of miracles, not images of deity. Even if I were to grant you the argument about miracles (which I don’t), it is only a side argument, as the main argument concerns images of deity. John just uses all sight to contrast faith in what is spoken in order to highlight that one cannot know God/Jesus through images.

You act as if the sensible world is delusive. But God made the sensible world. God uses nonverbal as well as verbal communication.

The narratives do this where? You would say that the plagues in Egypt are a theophany, or are you still discussing the "miracles as revelatory" assertion?

They are revelatory miracles.

Where does Exod 7:5 and 9:6 tell us that the plagues are revelatory? Exod 7:5 doesn't tell us that the plagues reveal to the Egyptians that He is YHWH.

It doesn’t? “The Egyptians shall know that I am Yahweh, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.”

How would they do that as opposed to revealing the power of Re? It is the proclamation of Moses that reveals that. The plagues are interpreted through the words of Moses. That seems to make more logical sense in the context. Pharaoh's never even heard of YHWH before, so the plague events only back up, and are interpreted by, what Moses has told him (and we assume his words have gone out to the Egyptians in general by what is stated there).

I didn’t say words have no bearing on how the observer ought to understand the event. But you act as if the event has no inherent significance or interpretive value in its own right.

9:6 has an important waw in between the two purposes clauses. What I take that to mean is that YHWH allowed them to remain (1) to display His power and (2) to proclaim His name (which, again, in the context, is the interpretation of the displayed power). Again, this is miracle accompanying word, not as something seen that represents or reveals YHWH in distinction from other deities. How do the Egyptians know that this is Amun-Re punishing them for unbalancing ma‘at?

I didn’t cite Exod 9:6. I cited Exod 9:16.

But even if I were to grant you this (arguendo) there is a clear switch in emphasis from the pre-sinaitic emphasis to the post. It may be that God would have let them get away with making the golden calf before He delivered the Ten Commandments on Sinai, but we know He wouldn’t afterward. As Moses can strike a rock to get water, displaying power (and the works of God do display power, so they do reveal something, just nothing sufficient) before Sinai, afterward, he is to speak to the rock to get it. Sinai marks a divide between iconic and aniconic religion for Israel, where general revelation of God’s power is seen as insufficient to know YHWH. But I wouldn’t actually grant that miracles represent Him as an image would be meant to do so.

The OT has theophanies and emblematic miracles both before and after the Exodus. Where is the switch?

If I can isolate maybe what you're attempting to argue, it seems to be this: "We see images. We see miracles. Miracles are acceptable forms of revelation (even though they may be insufficient) because they reveal something about God. Images of deity (although they may be insufficient) also reveal something about God. Images of deity, therefore, are acceptable because things we see can be revelatory."

No, that’s not my argument. We’re discussing miracles because you posited a disjunction between word-media and event media. I haven’t said miracles justify pictures of Jesus. I’m merely responding to your false antithesis.

But my point wasn't that they don't reveal anything at all. The point from the Sinai Theology (specifically) is that they don't reveal YHWH in distinction from any other deities (just like miracles don't reveal Jesus from BarJesus) AND we (as fallen humans) replace word with image because of our tendency toward idolatry and justification of self worship. We can use an image to worship without ever knowing the deity in truth or changing our lives to accord with His will. The Word provides for us the true means to know Him.  Hence, miracles don't reveal YHWH (or Jesus). Again, how could they? They must be interpreted, and they are interpreted for us, through Scripture (in the OT via Mosaic interpretation and the NT via apostolic).

Once again, you’re confusing the history of the event with the history of reception. The plagues of Egypt are, in the first instance, directed at observers, not readers. The Egyptians weren’t reading the Book of Exodus. That was written in the Sinai, after the Israelites left Egypt. But Yahweh is describing something which happened in Egypt, something which the native Egyptians would be in a position to appreciate. So it must have some independent significance apart the subsequent canonical interpretation, for it to discharge the function that Yahweh ascribes to it (e.g. Exod 7:5; 9:16).

Likewise, dominical miracles are originally directed at contemporary observers of the event before they are later directed at future readers of the Gospel. It’s not as if the miracles are just a blank slate until, years later, Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John interpret the miracles.

But this begs the question, as the point I'm making is that the Gospel of John, that I think we can agree, gives us a grid through which to interpret the other gospels (and vice versa), tells us that seeing works against the reception and incorporation of the gospel, and that it must be heard instead. It is impossible to illustrate the contrary and still illustrate the Gospels without rejecting the very G of John's message it is supposedly attempting to communicate.

The Fourth Gospel describes a scene, like the wedding at Cana. If a Christian artist illustrates that scene, his interpretation of the event can also incorporate the narrator’s interpretation of the event. There’s no fundamental tension between these two things.

And I'm unclear to what reference you're referring in Exod 33? Where does it indicate that the cloud-pillar is revelatory? Or are you referring to God allowing Moses to see the trailing of Him? What does that reveal? The glory that trails Him? God’s glory is revealed. We both agree on that. How that reveals God specifically is beyond me, and how we can worship God, who is not revealed specifically, through a display of His glory in spirit and truth is also beyond me.

i) According to Exod 33:17-23, the theophanic angelophany was a revelatory event. Event-media. Disclosing the goodness and glory of the Lord.

ii) Somehow you treat that as a generic property of goodness or glory that isn’t specific to Yahweh. Yet the narrative makes this a privileged manifestation of Yahweh. Not some detachable accessory that another creature or imposter would simulate.

iii) And in the teeth of sacred account you continue to talk about “spirit and truth,” as if this theophany were unspiritual or false.

I have. Scripture doesn't present them as revelatory in the sense that you are presenting them (by "revelatory" I'm assuming you mean that they reveal God or Jesus in distinction from other gods and other miracle workers). If they are not in distinction then how are they revelatory? If you’re only using “revelatory” to refer to revealing something about someone, in distinction from some but not others, then I guess we would agree that they are revelatory in that sense (e.g., the heavens declare the glory of God, His invisible attributes—power and existence—have been known from creation, etc.), but this doesn’t distinguish Him from Amun-Re, Marduk, etc. So what miracles are insufficient revelations as good as any other data in nature that lacks interpretation toward a specific personal deity.

You’re the one who treats the miracles of Christ (in the Gospels) or the miracles of Yahweh (in the Pentateuch) as if they’re interchangeable with miracles by other gods or other miracle workers. Is that how the Pentateuch treats the miracles of Yahweh? Is that how the Gospels treat the miracles of Christ? Don’t these miracles demarcate the true God or the true Messiah from imposters in the Biblical narratives?

But this is exactly what I’ve been arguing. We cannot have a relationship with God through what is physical. We must do so through the Word.

I haven’t discussed that one way or the other. But on the face of it your statement is false. For instance, the physical medium of the tabernacle was one way in which Jews could  relate to Yahweh. Indeed, a divinely authorized medium.

The physical gives a false impression of relationship where there is none.

That sounds more Platonic or gnostic than Scriptural. Why does the Bible use so many theological metaphors, drawn from physical objects and activities, to convey an impression of what God is like and how we ought to relate to God?

The Word is capable of telling us whether we truly have a relationship with Him, and how we might have a relationship with Him if we don’t already. Miracles don’t do that. Images of deity definitely don’t do that. The physical is impotent to communicate, and to provide a vehicle to commune with, a specific invisible God.

i) Both the spoken world and written word are physical communicative media. Audiovisual modes of communication.

ii) You also act as if there’s no such thing as nonverbal communication. But I can communicate with my dog through gestures like pointing, or whistling. I can communicate affection by petting my dog.

Jesus, to us, is invisible, and when He wasn’t to the disciples, John makes the argument that His physical presence hindered them from truly knowing Him.

Really? Where does the Gospel of John argue that Jesus’ physical presence hindered the disciples from truly knowing him?

Think of it in terms of two ugly people falling in love on the internet. An atmosphere is provided where they can get to know each other without the hindrance of physical obstructions. Of course, their physical presence will reveal what they look like, but it doesn’t sufficiently reveal who they are as individuals. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it merely gives us something similar to what I think God is trying to do with us as idolaters (i.e., move us away from seeing to believe and toward believing to see).

In that event, why the Incarnation? Why did Jesus ever appear to anyone?

I'm sorry I missed it. Can you just give me sentence or two that sums up why your argument wouldn't also undermine the explanation of the 2d Commandment there? From what I've read, you agree with me that images of YHWH are prohibited. Is that right? But what you're arguing now seems to argue against that, as the argument in favor of images of Christ can be used in favor of images of YHWH as well.

Patrick Chan has a recent post which gives the links to previous discussion.

But here's the issue. The command is about making any image to represent deity, not just making any image of deity for certain reasons. The reason why is because our minds, both ancient and modern, tend toward idolatry when we see a favorable image of our deity. Hence, even if the intentions are well meant, the artist is taking away from the reception of the gospel rather than aiding it. So it really doesn’t matter what the motivation of creating an image of deity might be, since the commandment deals only in the act that purposes to create an image of deity, not in the further use of the created image. In other words, as long as one intends to create an image of deity, it doesn’t matter what good or bad intentions/purposes he or she may have for it after that point. The motivations for creating it are irrelevant to the commandment.

But now you’re changing the subject.

Moreover, your objection is a bit silly. You seem to be suggesting that when we read the gospels, where they describe people, places and objects, we should consciously suppress any spontaneous mental images which the picturesque descriptions naturally trigger. When, for instance, we read Jn 4, we should make a strenuous effort not to visualize a woman, a well, white fields, a mountain in the distance, and so on. And under no circumstances should we imagine Jesus as a tired, thirsty traveler. We must keep our imagination absolutely blank as we read this account, with its many pictorial asides.

How so? Do you think v. 14 is saying that Jesus revealed God through His physical form? I think they behold His physical form, but the truth that is revealed comes to us through the Logos, not via the physical.

Jesus reveals God through his actions as well as his words.

Your objection is leveled at my statement, which is almost verbatim John 4:24. So either, John is wrong. I am wrong in my use of John 4:24, or you are wrong in your use of 1:14. Obviously, neither of us thinks that John is wrong, so your objection cannot argue against John's statement that those who worship God "must (dei) worship Him through S/spirit and truth." So in what way can we know Him (in the Johannine sense) through His physical form?
Notice that the word in v. 14 is “glory.” That is what is beheld. That is what is always beheld when man sees something physical “of God.” But seeing and interpreting it are two different things. Everyone sees God’s glory in creation. They interpret it differently and attribute it to different deities. Note also that Jesus’ glory is not what is full of grace and truth, but Jesus (or one could say, the Father here as well) is full of grace and truth. The glory (feminine) doesn’t tell us the truth and give us grace here, because what is full (masculine) of grace and truth is the unique Son (masculine). So grace and truth, with which the unique Son of God is filled, is communicated to us through His unseen words, not through the physical, which Jesus says profits nothing: "It is the S/spirit who/which gives life; the physical profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life" (6:63).This is something John works out through the rest of the book. It's all over the place.
Here’s what my argument boils down to: God is spirit and we must worship Him in spirit and truth. Hence, as He is unseen, we relate with Him, not through the visual, but through the unseen. Hence, imagery of God, not physical images of God, in literature work fine for this. What is spoken creates pictures in our heads to where we have to think about what is being said. The image doesn’t do this. It allows us to believe we have a relationship with the deity without ever relating with Him. Hence, we are told to be extremely careful not to make any physical representation of God. John applies this Sinai Theology to Jesus. Jesus is the Word. It’s of benefit that He goes away and sends the Holy (unseen) Spirit as our helper instead of staying here with us. We can then “see” Him once He’s gone (note John’s play on the words for “see” there). Blessed are those who have not seen, but believe (we assume in the narrative that those who see and believe are not blessed, even though logically we could make the argument that those who do not see and believe are “more blessed” than those who believe by sight). We love Jesus by hearing/obeying His commandments (just like YHWH in Deut 4-6). He alone dwells in unapproachable light and no man has ever seen Him nor could they see Him (1 Tim 6:13-16--although this likely refers to the Father in context, the point is that Jesus never revealed YHWH through His physical form. No one has ever seen Him, not even through Jesus. Jesus reveals Him because He (i.e., Himself revealed in the words that He speaks) is the Logos Theou, i.e., the Word of God. That is what John is arguing.
i) In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus isn’t just the Logos or Word of God. He’s also the bread, the bridegroom, the shepherd, the sheep gate, the lamb, the light, the vine, and the way. These are vivid metaphors which appeal to the eye, not the ear. To something visible, not invisible. They may signify abstract properties, but they do so via earthly items.

ii) You can say God is invisible, but by the same token you can also say God is inaudible. Your principle rules out the spoken word, which is often the basis of the written word, viz. the recorded words of Jesus.

iii) You allude to Jn 1:18, but that’s a contrast between the discarnate Father and the Incarnate Son. The disciples did, indeed, see “God” revealed in Christ.

iv) Yes, Jesus goes away and sends the Spirit in his place. But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus is coming back. The physical return of Christ.

Moreover, John saw a Christophany (Rev 1).

v) You also misconstrue Jn 6:63. In context, “flesh” isn’t a synonym for “physical.” Rather, “flesh” is a synonym for death. Mortal flesh. The impending death of Christ.

And death is unprofitable apart from resurrection. That’s the intended contrast.

vi) Naturally Christians are obligated to believe in Jesus without seeing him, since he isn’t here to be seen. That hardly means there’s something unspiritual or deleterious about his physical presence. 

vii) Moreover, it’s not just words that create a vital relationship with God. It’s also regeneration. The work of the Spirit in regeneration as well as inspiration.

Your position resembles Manichaean dualism, as if there’s an evil God who made the sensible world to lure us away from the good God, who relates to us through invisible words.


  1. Thanks Steve. This is my last response here: http://theologicalsushi.blogspot.com/2011/10/one-last-round-no-graven-images.html

    Thanks again for the good discussion.

    (And, no, I'm really not a Manichean. LOL)

  2. A compilation of most if not all our posts on the topic of graven images and the second commandment can be found here.