Saturday, February 04, 2012

The younger generation is going to hell in a handbasket

Must Christians Always Forgive?

Does the NT reinterpret the OT?

Does the NT reinterpret OT prophecies and promises? Dispensationalists are understandably critical of this suggestion.

At the same time, we must take apostolic exegesis seriously. We can’t compartmentalize the OT and the NT, as if they represent diametrically opposing principles of promise and fulfillment.

However, I also think we need to go back a step. Even before we come to the NT, we need to explore how the OT develops the land-motif. There is evidence in the OT itself that OT writers view the land-motif in flexible, typological terms. Take the new Exodus theme. For instance:

12 He will raise a signal for the nations
   and will assemble the banished of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
   from the four corners of the earth.
13 The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart,
   and those who harass Judah shall be cut off;
Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah,
   and Judah shall not harass Ephraim.
14 But they shall swoop down on the shoulder of the Philistines in the west,
   and together they shall plunder the people of the east.
They shall put out their hand against Edom and Moab,
   and the Ammonites shall obey them.
15 And the LORD will utterly destroy
   the tongue of the Sea of Egypt,
and will wave his hand over the River
   with his scorching breath,
and strike it into seven channels,
   and he will lead people across in sandals.
16 And there will be a highway from Assyria
   for the remnant that remains of his people,
as there was for Israel
   when they came up from the land of Egypt.
(Isa 11:1-16)
1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
   the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
2 it shall blossom abundantly
   and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
   the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the LORD,
   the majesty of our God.
6 For waters break forth in the wilderness,
   and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,
   and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
   the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
(Isa 35:1-2,6-7)
14 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 15 but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers. (Jer 16:14-15)

On this typology, the post-exilic restoration recapitulates the Exodus. But there’s discontinuity as well as continuity. The land of Babylon stands for the land of Egypt. You also have imagery that alludes to the wilderness wandering, although the return route from Babylon to Israel clearly doesn’t run through the Sinai desert.

So the plot motif or structural motif (i.e. banishment/restoration) remains the same, but the territorial referents change.

Likewise, the OT has a new Eden theme. For instance:

3 For the LORD comforts Zion;
   he comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
   her desert like the garden of the LORD;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
   thanksgiving and the voice of song.
(Isa 51:3)
24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land...33 “Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. 34 And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. 35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ 36 Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the LORD; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it. (Ezk 36:24,33-36)

In context, the setting is exilic and postexilic. The Babylonians laid waste to the promised land. But God will restore the exiles to Israel.

Only this is depicted in terms of paradise lost and paradise regained. The promised land is portrayed in Edenic imagery. The Babylonian exile is analogous to the ancient expulsion from Eden. The post-exilic homecoming is analogous to returning to the ancestral garden.

Once again, the plot motif or structural motif (i.e. banishment/restoration) remains the same, but the territorial referents change.

It is possible, therefore, to oppose “Zionist” exegesis without taking the position that the NT reinterprets the OT. In principle, you could do that by taking OT typology as your benchmark or starting-point.

My objective is not to present a full-blown argument, but to mention a neglected interpretive strategy.

Krishna & Christ: part 5

Prof. Win Corduan has been doing a series on Krishna and Christ.

We've already posted part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

Here is part 5.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Doing the math

Ancient literacy

This is relevant to the liberal assumption that Jesus-tradition has to passed through decades of creative oral transmission before the Gospels were finally written:

The first rule of Arminian ethics: ethics don't apply to Arminians

Remember now, Hays is the one who just complained about all the Arminians who are always posting against Calvinists and Calvinism. Yet, in typical hypocritical fashion, he cannot keep from responding against Arminians and Arminianism. Oh, the irony!)

i) Once again, Birch is fibbing. He’s a chronic fibber. I didn’t object to Arminians posting against Calvinism and Calvinists. Rather, I pointed out that Arminians like Birch have a serious moral and spiritual problem when they shirk their ethical obligation to be truthful. And how does Birch respond when I document the fact that he’s untruthful? He responds untruthfully!

ii) Now, if Birch were an isolated case, we could let it slide. But in my experience, this is characteristic. It’s symptomatic of a larger pattern.

iii) Finally, my objection wasn’t a “complaint.” When Arminians are unethical, that’s not a problem for Calvinism–that’s a problem for Arminians.

If they can’t use honest arguments against Calvinism, then that exposes the intellectual weakness of their own position.  It’s getting to the point where Arminian ethics resembles exobiology: a science without a subject. 

Arminian bigotry

Here’s a comment left at Birch’s blog by an Arminian pastor:

Rick FruehJan 29, 2012 04:08 PM

And I noticed an article about the Judeao-Christian morality which is a myth and man made.

He’s alluding to this post:

However, he’s completely mangled van Inwagen’s argument. This is how I construe the argument:

i) Critics of OT ethics frequently take their own moral judgment for granted. But by what standard to they presume to judge OT ethics? Are they begging the question?

ii) Social mores are often culturebound. They vary in time and place. So why should critics of OT ethics automatically assume the superiority of their moral judgment to the moral judgment of the OT writers? Isn’t the moral outlook of the critics a reflection of their own social conditioning?

iii) Ironically, the moral judgment of the critics is unconsciously influenced by the very source they presume to criticize. Although they criticize OT ethics, they are historically indebted to Judeo-Christian morality. So they’ve sawed the legs off the chair they are sitting on. They are clueless about their intellectual dependence on the very the thing they swing around to attack.

Why would an Arminian object to this argument? Maybe Rick isn’t very sharp. Or maybe this is a just knee-jerk reaction to anything he finds on a Calvinist blog.

But I also noticed the article was written by a professor at Notre Dame University. I guess Roman Catholic heresy stops at the door of moral agreement. Perhaps hays would be happy to endorse the Manhattan Declaration?

This is unintentionally comical on several levels:

i) Is he inferring that van Inwagen must be Catholic just because he teaches at Notre Dame? As a matter of fact, van Inwagen happens to be Catholic. However, you don’t have to be Catholic to teach at Notre Dame. To take one obvious counterexample, Alvin Plantinga recently retired from Notre Dame.

ii) Why does he speculate on whether I’d endorse the Manhattan Declaration? All he has to do is Google “Triablogue” and “Manhattan Declaration” to find out where I stand.

iii) Not only that, but he’s also too lazy to Google the signatories. For instance:

Dr. Tom Oden
Theologian, United Methodist Minister; Professor, Drew University (Madison, N.J.)
Dr. Everett Piper
President, Oklahoma Wesleyan University (Bartlesville, Okla.)
Dr. Sarah Sumner
Professor of Theology and Ministry, Azusa Pacific University (Azusa, Calif.)
Dr. Timothy C. Tennent
President, Asbury Theological Seminary (Wilmore, Ky.)

So his conjecture backfires badly. The list of signatories includes leading Arminians.

Why doesn’t he bother to do a little fact-checking before he accuses Calvinists? Evidently, his default setting is to assume the best about Arminians and the worst about Calvinists. Classic confirmation bias.

Whatever happened to Toatl depravity? And how can a totally depraved sinner have any kind of morality? I love the puzzle piece theology which forces pieces to fit whenever they deem it convenient. Even we Arimaians know that fallen morality is no morality at all.

Well that’s ignorant. According to total depravity, the reprobate and/or unregenerate are unable to do any spiritual good. Unable to do anything pleasing to God. Unable to do anything justificatory in their graceless state.

But common grace often preserves a remnant of common decency among the reprobate and/or unregenerate. That’s necessary for the church to survive and flourish in a fallen world.

Why do so many internet Arminians act like Pharisees? Is there something about Arminian theology that fosters spiritual bigotry? 

Rage against the dying light

H. G. Wells was a famous secular humanist and science fiction pioneer. However, it’s more fun to be a youth atheist than an aging atheist. Just look at how bitter and cranky Richard Dawkins has become.

Here’s what Wells wrote at the end of his life–his swan song.

The searching skepticism of the writer's philosophical analysis has established this Antagonist as invincible reality for him, but all over the earth and from dates immemorial, introspective minds, minds of the quality of the brooding Shakespeare, have conceived a disgust of the stress, vexations and petty indignities of life and taken refuge from its apprehension of a conclusive end to things, in mystical withdrawal. On the whole mankind has shown itself tolerant, sympathetic and respectful to such retreats. That is the peculiar human element in this matter; the recurrent refusal to be satisfied with the normal real world. The question "Is this all?" has troubled countless unsatisfied minds throughout the ages, and, at the end of our tether, as it seems, here it is, still baffling but persistent.
To such discomfited minds the world of our everyday reality is no more than a more or less entertaining or distressful story thrown upon a cinema screen. The story holds together; it moves them greatly and yet they feel it is faked. The vast majority of the beholders accept all the conventions of the story, are completely part of the story, and live and suffer and rejoice and die in it and with it. But the skeptical mind says stoutly, "This is delusion".
"Golden lads and lasses must, like chimney sweepers, come to dust."
"No," says this ingrained streak of protest: "there is still something beyond the dust."
But is there?
There is no reason for saying there is. That skeptical mind may have overrated the thoroughness of its skepticism. As we are now discovering, there was still scope for doubting. The severer our thinking, the plainer it is that the dust-carts of Time trundle that dust off to the incinerator and there make an end to it. Hitherto, recurrence has seemed a primary law of life. Night has followed day and day night. But in this strange new phase of existence into which our universe is passing, it becomes evidence that events no longer recur. They go on and on to an impenetrable mystery, into the voiceless limitless darkness, against which this obstinate urgency of our dissatisfied minds may struggle, but will struggle only until it is altogether overcome.
Our world of self-delusion will admit none of that. It will perish amidst its evasions and fatuities. It is like a convoy lost in darkness on an unknown rocky coast, with quarrelling pirates in the chartroom and savages clambering up the sides of the ships to plunder and do evil as the whim may take them. That is the rough outline of the more and more jumbled movie on the screen before us. Mind near exhaustion still makes its final futile movement towards that "way out or round or through the impasse".
That is the utmost now that mind can do. And this, its last expiring thrust, is to demonstrate that the door closes upon us for evermore.
There is no way out, or round or through.

– Mind at the End of Its Tether

Krishna & Christ: part 4

Prof. Win Corduan has been doing a series on Krishna and Christ.

We've already posted part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Here is part 4.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

"Christianity's Success was not Incredible"

"Explaining the Resurrection Without Recourse to Miracle"

Abolition of Slavery: The Early Years

BWIII on miracles

Ben Witherington said...

Wow Ranisbrough "we've never seen x, y, z, miracles." 

Well, I am calling your bluff. Many of us have seen real miracles-- miracles of healing, miracles of paranormal phenomena, and yes I've run into someone who was genuinely raised from the dead in Siler City North Carolina-- flat e.k.g., dead for a good while, the whole shmeer. 

I quite agree that all such claims should be carefully scrutinized and you are of course right that there are plenty of gullible people out there. This doesn't mean miracles do not happen. And here's the problem for your point of view. Jesus warned us that believing is what leads to seeing and understanding miracles, not necessarily the other way around. 

I should tell you someday about the phone call my perfectly sane neighbor received from her dead best friend, in the presence of witnesses (woman had been confirmed dead a couple of hours before the phone call in Asheboro hospital). It freaked her smooth and I had to pick up the pieces.

Happy Easter--- and raise your expectations!


Ben Witherington said...

Ah no Mr. Rainsborough, 

I'll not have it, and neither should you. The woman in question had her son present in the very room she had the conversation with Mrs. Albright the woman who had been dead for some time. Her son not only was there when the phone rang, his mother told him whom she was speaking to. 

It is quite impossible for friends of 40 or more years to be mistaken for someone else in a 30 minute phone conversation! And her son was 25 years of age, shy and of absolutely sound mind. I am afraid you need to be skeptical of your own skeptism-- and if you will be, you shall be a much happier man by far. 

Of course you are right that the man in Siler City did not have a resurrection body. He was like Lazarus, coming back to this body. And frankly when there is no pulse, no heartbeat, no breathing, no e.k.g, no brain waves of any kind for a long period of time--- the man is dead! Sorry-- you can't blame it on faulty equipment. 

And what exactly would you make of what I saw in a faith healing service where I watched wretchedly deformed persons miraculously healed at Tremont Temple Church in downtown Boston in the late 70s? To see legs lengthened, goiters drop off, enormous deformities healed on the spot--- even the most skeptical would have to be Scrooge indeed to deny it happened. They would have to be willfully closing their eyes!

So you must really rethink your posture in this matter--- you do not KNOW that we live in a closed materialistic system at all. You just believe we do--- in other words this is faith postulate based on what you take to be sufficient evidence. 

In other words, your posture is no different from mine. Its just my evidence differs from yours. 

Think on these things.



Miracles never happen...except when they do!

Them be fightin' words!

Krishna & Christ: part 3

Prof. Win Corduan has been doing a series on Krishna and Christ.

We've already posted part 1 and part 2.

Here is part 3.

Can a leopard change his spots?

According to Tony Flood:

It seems that a certain non-philosopher has a difficult time fairly exegeting my plain words.

It seems that a certain apologist for Hare Krishna has a difficult time explaining himself.

That he also lacks charity in his expression of disagreement is also much in evidence. I have indeed returned to Christian orthodoxy -- the Nicene Creed was the standard implied by James Anderson in the discussion in question, and that will suffice for my purposes.

Yes, well, you know the old saying about the leopard changing his spots (Jer 13:23). The fact that Tony strenuously defends panentheism as “orthodox,” in the added context of Sudduth’s conversion of Hare Krishna, no less, suggests the spot remover was temporary.

In my initial post I had said they warrant a prima facie presumption -- a defeasible, "at first glance" presumption -- in favor of panentheism…I don't assume the locative sense for the Greek en, but the neither should the instrumental sense be assumed.

Tony fails to grasp what conditions must be met for Acts 17:28 to even constitute a prima facie prooftext for panentheism. Since he can’t see that for himself, let’s walk him through the process:

i) He’d have to show that the locative sense is the prima facie preferred meaning of the Greek preposition. Otherwise, Flood’s appeal is equivocal.

ii) Assuming he did (i), he’d have to show that the locative sense was prima facie meant literally rather than figuratively. Otherwise, Flood’s appeal is equivocal.

iii) Assuming he did (ii), he’d have to show that the quote prima facie teaches panentheism rather than pantheism. Otherwise, Flood’s appeal is equivocal.

iv) Assuming he did (iii), he’d have to show that even if the quote originally taught panentheism in Classical usage, that this was still the prima facie understanding in Hellenistic times. Otherwise, Flood’s appeal is equivocal.

v) Assuming he did (iv), he’d have to show that even if the quote was understood panentheistically by Paul’s pagan audience, that this is also how Paul prima facie intended to exploit the quote. Otherwise, Flood’s appeal is equivocal.

vi) Assuming he did (v) he’d have to show that even if Paul intended the passage panentheistically, that Paul’s model of panentheism is prima facie isometric with Flood’s panexperientialist model of panentheism. Otherwise, Flood’s appeal is equivocal.

vii) Assuming he did (vi), Flood would also have to show that his panexperiential model of pantheism is prima facie isometric with the panentheism of the Hare Krishna cult.

So Flood must establish each of seven individual propositions to even justify his prima facie appeal.

"Paul clearly has a different worldview than the pagan source he quotes," but even a broken clock tells time correctly twice a day, and this was one of those times.

That’s a non sequitur. The fact that Paul is exploiting a pagan source doesn’t necessarily or even probably mean that they coincidentally agree at this particular juncture.

Rather, Paul could just as well, or better, be mounting an ad hominem argument, by addressing his pagan audience on its own grounds. For Paul’s purposes, what matters is not what he thought the original writer meant, but what his audience would take the quote to mean, especially as a Paul recontextualizes the source material. Paul’s intent is determinative.

A pagan writer had said that we are the offspring of the Gods, but instead of denying that genealogy, Paul drew a lesson from it: "we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone" (Acts 17:29a). I suggested a panexperientialist model of how one thing can be “in” another, one person can be “in” another, and how creation can be “in” the creator. Again, why beg the question against that model? The most important question is: which model makes the most sense of all the scriptures?

i) To begin with, notice the bait-n-switch. Flood initially told Anderson that “it would be good to have Anderson’s interpretation of Acts 17:28...which at least prima facie supports a panentheistic understanding of the creator-creature relationship.”

Now Flood suddenly swapped out Acts 17:28 and swapped in Acts 17:29a.

ii) Even so, Flood must now explain how his new prooftext furnishes prima facie support for panentheism.

iii) He also needs to show that Paul’s alleged model of panentheism maps onto Flood’s preferred model.

iv) Finally, let’s briefly consider Flood’s own model. He said:

On a panexperientialist metaphysics, God experiences – not merely contemplates at a safe distance – His creatures, which are, at the basic level, also subjects of (at least rudimentary) experience, and they all experience God. Experience provides a non-spatial model for understanding how one entity can be “in” another – even how one Divine Person can be in Another – which is most assuredly not like Bob’s being in the kitchen. Neither is it a mereological (whole and its parts) affair (or set and subsets), on which your putative refutation trades. According to this panexperientialist model, God has judged and redeemed the fallen creation that He experiences, but its fallenness does not demote Him metaphysically in any way. It does not “pollute” Him, to use your descriptor, or derange Him. He knows His creation from the inside as well as from the outside. We enjoy the good and suffer evil, and so does God, He does so but eminently.

i) To suggest that in Classical Christian theism (e.g. divine impassibility), God contemplates his creation at a “safe distance” is a rather tendentious way of framing the issue.

For instance, a virologist might study a deadly virus at a safe distance to avoid infecting himself. But he’s not doing that merely to protect himself. Rather, if he were to risk infection, and thereby die, he’d be in no position to discover a cure. Putting himself at risk puts his patients at risk. He can’t treat his patients effectively if he himself is a dying patient.

Likewise, if a psychiatrist is treating a mental patient, it’s preferable than the psychiatrist is not himself mentally ill. The sane should treat the insane; not the insane treating each other. A psychiatrist shouldn’t experience the insanity of the patient. If he shared the insider perspective of his mental patient, he’d be incompetent to treat the patient.

“Distance” can be a good thing.

ii) Likewise, if God feels whatever Ted Bundy feels, then that does indeed, pollute or derange God. Bundy didn’t enjoy the good and suffer the evil. Rather, Bundy enjoyed the evil. If God truly identifies with the viewpoint of his creatures, from the inside out, then he takes pleasure in what pleases Ted Bundy.

While we’re on the subject of Flood’s spooftexting, he also cited 2 Pet 1:4 as prima facie evidence for his position. But as a standard commentary explains:

Peter's affirmation enters into the ancient discussion about the nature of the gods, humans, and the animal world. The question raised was not about humans becoming divine but rather which characteristics and attributes these different classes of beings shared or did not share (see 1:3 and comments).
Peter’s thought has to do with moral transformation and not divinization or becoming divine men...about the acquisition of moral character...Peter underscores the moral aspect of participation in the divine nature...

G. Green, Jude & 2 Peter, 186-87.

As such, that text supplies no prima facie support for Flood’s appeal.

Finally, the irenic tone James Anderson took in his last reply to me should be noted. It would be nice if it were also emulated.

It would also be nice if Flood led by example. When is Flood going to emulate the virtues which he urges on others?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Is God free?

2. But to uphold the divine absoluteness, it is also necessary that God be libertarianly free in his production of creatures.  For suppose there is something in the divine nature that necessitates God's creation.  Then God would depend on the world to be himself and to be fully actual.  He would need what is other than himself to actualize himself.  This entanglement with the relative would compromise the divine absoluteness.  God would need the world as much as the world needs God.  Each would require the other to be what it is.  (210)
3.  So God must be both simple and free to be absolute.  But it is very difficult to understand how a simple being could be free in the unconditional 'could have done otherwise' sense.    If God is simple, then he is pure act in which case he is devoid of unrealized powers, potentialities or possibilities.  To act freely, however is to act in such a way that one (unconditionally) could have done otherwise, which implies unrealized possibilities.

In this post I’m not going to take a general position on divine simplicity. Instead, I’m going to make a narrower point.

It seems to me that this objection suffers from a crude notion of potentiality which conflates different types of potentiality.

i) For instance, we might say a boy is potentially a man. Boyhood is a goal-oriented stage whose telos is manhood.

If a boy doesn't achieve manhood, then he's unfulfilled in that respect. He doesn't become what he was meant to be. He's essentially frustrated. He failed to achieve his natural telos. 

ii) Consider another type of potentiality: I could either wear a tie to church or not wear a tie to church.

But surely that's a very different type of potentiality. Whether or not I wear a tie is hardly intrinsic to my nature. I'm not unfulfilled by having that unexemplified possibility. That's not like a process of maturation, or a phase in my self-actualization. I'm not stunted thereby.

iii) To put this another way, whether or not God makes the world (or makes a different world) is irrelevant to his personal fulfillment. He has nothing to gain (or lose) by that action. In that sense, God has no ends–no intrinsic telos to be realized or unrealized. God is goal-oriented, but he's not the beneficiary of what he plans.

Is John's gospel historical?

One stock objection to the historicity of John’s Gospel is the stylistic uniformity of John. Both direct and indirect discourse are rendered in the same idiom. Speakers don’t have a distinctive voice. They all sound like the narrator. As such, we’re not hearing the actual voice of Jesus in the narrative; rather, we’re hearing the voice of the anonymous narrator, who uses the character of Jesus as a mouthpiece for his own theology.

Even if we identify the narrator with the beloved disciple, the beloved disciple is, himself, a fictitious character, a literary device. Or so goes the argument. On this view, the narrator composes monologues and dialogues which he puts on the lips of Jesus and other characters.

Other issues aside, let’s see how well this stacks up to the actual phenomena of the Fourth Gospel. Take this lengthy dialogue:

John 8

 12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me. 17 In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” 19 They said to him therefore, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 These words he spoke in the treasury, as he taught in the temple; but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
 21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
 31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
 39 They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, 40 but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. 41 You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”
 48 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

In several respects, this doesn’t read like a tightly-scripted dialogue.

i) If the narrator were composing serene, lofty platitudes for the spiritual edification of his audience, why would he write this acidic exchange? It doesn’t make for pleasant reading.

ii) Apropos (i), it degenerates into a very personal and rather unseemly squabble between Jesus and his adversaries. And this is how real enemies talk. The sneering, spite, bluster, innuendo, gossip. The schoolyard taunts about Christ’s paternity.

iii) And, in order to vindicate his mission and ministry, Jesus must, to some degree, come down to their level to set the record straight.

iii) Likewise, there’s a ragged quality to the dialogue. The twists and turns. If the narrator were making this up as a set-piece, we’d expect a more shapely rounded form, with nice linear flow and smooth transitions.  When we get instead is the digressive quality of a real debate.

So this is all very realistic.

Let’s take another example:

John 4

 1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
 7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
 27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.
 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

i) Unlike John 8, this isn’t petty or abrasive. Yet it reflects the free association of a real conversation, as the woman flits from one topic to another. Likewise, the abrupt break in their private exchange when the disciples show up. 

ii) The conversation also takes its cue from incidental details supplied by the concrete setting–the time of day, Jesus’ fatigue, Jesus’ thirst, a well, a mountain, farmland.

We wouldn’t expect a canned dialogue to have this topical, stream-of-consciousness quality.

iii) Likewise, the woman deflects Jesus’ probing statements about her personal life. She’s clearly caught off-guard. Tries to parry the veiled accusation by changing the subject. This is how real people improvise in real conversations.

Or take this little snippet:

John 7

 1 After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. 2 Now the Jews' Feast of Booths was at hand. 3 So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. 4 For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For not even his brothers believed in him. 6 Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. 8 You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” 9 After saying this, he remained in Galilee.
 10 But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.

Isn’t this typical of families? Those who ought to know you best know you least? Never less helpful than when they try to be helpful. Dishing out unwanted, unsolicited advice.

Or Jesus’ last-minute change of plans. If the narrator were inventing scenes and speeches to further his theological agenda, this would be a pretty clumsy way of doing it.

In the end, Jesus takes their advice–but with a twist. He does it his own way. He avoids them. He goes up to Jerusalem, but not with them. Not given their attitude.

You can almost sense how tiresome he must find it having to explain himself to his stepbrothers. How many times has he had to do this?

Liberals think John’s Christology is too exalted to be authentic, yet this is all very human, don’t you think?

Then there’s the editorial aside in v5, where the narrator breaks in to clarify something for the benefit of the reader. But if the author was composing this from scratch, why is that literary expedient necessary? Why not write that into the story?

We could study other examples in the Fourth Gospel. Or examine these examples in more detail. I’m just illustrating a neglected feature of the Johannine narrative.