Sunday, February 27, 2011

Answering Rob Bowman's "Explanation" of John 5:19ff

Rob Bowman writes:

"In context, Jesus has just been accused of the SIN of
violating the Sabbath (John 5:18). In response, Jesus
stoutly maintains that he would never act
independently of the Father (John v. 19a), but always
does what the Father does (v. 19b). To assert that the
text has nothing to do with Christ's sinlessness
reflects, well, a highly 'superficial' reading of the
text."

My Reply:

Jn 5:19 is a response to two accusations: (1) Jesus
has broken the Sabbath; (2) the Son was calling God
his Father, seemingly making himself equal to God. In
reply, Jesus does not say that "he would never act
independently of the Father." Rather, he utters the
words: LEGW hUMIN OU DUNATAI hO hUIOS POIEIN AF'
hEAUTOU OUDEN AN MH TI BLEPHi TON PATERA POIOUNTA hA
GAR AN EKEINOS POIHi TAUTA KAI hO hUIOS hOMOIWS POIEI.


In _The Christology of the Fourth Gospel_, Paul N.
Anderson (pp. 3, 267) observes that Jesus is asserting
that he "can do nothing on his own authority" and is
"totally dependent" on his Father. For Anderson, Jn
5:19 is a Johannine "subordinationist" passage. In
other words, Christ is evidently stating that he does
not have the ability (OU DUNATAI) or authority to act
on his own initiative. He is not suggesting that he
would or could never act on his own. Such
sentiments are much too strong and misrepresent the
intentional (i.e. pragmatic) meaning of Jesus' words.
Moreover, when Jesus says that he does that which he
beholds the Father doing, the Greek hA is delimited by the
context. In particular, the things Jesus' Father does
have to do with sustaining the creation. Jn 5:17
supports this point by showing that God's ability to
split seas or know all things is not the issue.
Robertson also offers this comment:

"Can do nothing by himself (ou dunatai poiein aph'
heautou ouden). True in a sense of every man, but in a
much deeper sense of Christ because of the intimate
relation between him and the Father. See this same
point in Joh_5:30; Joh_7:28; Joh_8:28; Joh_14:10.
Jesus had already made it in Joh_5:17. Now he repeats
and defends it" (Word Pictures).

This certainly indicates that Robertson does not think
Christ's declaration means that he could not sin. In
conclusion, I agree with Charles Hodge (_Systematic
Theology_ 2:457) who argued that the temptations of
Christ were neither genuine nor effectual, if the Son
was impeccable or incapable of sinning. I also believe
that a free moral agent is one who always maintains the ability
to perform A (an action) or to refrain from performing A. Christ
was a free moral agent. He could thus choose to act
independently of the Father, if he so desired.
However, the Son would then have been impotent or incapable
of healing anyone or doing any good portentous works
(Acts 2:22 NWT).

Regards,
Edgar

3 comments:

sabrina said...

A cogent explanation, Edgar.

I find it ironic when Trinitarians base an argument for their beliefs on the utilization of Pharisaical rationale. ;-)

Of course, not only did Jesus not claim to be Almighty God, but neither did he break the Sabbath.

I wonder if Bowman and other contemporary Trinitarians realize that much of their inherited, traditional theology is the product not of scriptural exegesis so much as contingent secular, political and internecine conflicts and maneuverings. I am currently reading Philip Jenkins' "Jesus Wars," which chronicles the messy and often violent battles waged over the Monophysite controversy in the 5th century C.E.

Edgar Foster said...

Thanks, it's not a complete response, but I just wanted to show certain faulty premises of Bowman's argument. The bottom line (as you mentioned) is that Jesus neither broke the Sabbath nor claimed equality with God. I also like the work that Jenkins has done. Maybe you can provide some observations later about the work you're now reading. Best regards!

KentAZ said...

Hi Edgar. My apologies, but the previous comment by "Sabrina" was actually me (I didn't realize that my wife was signed in on the Google account!).

I will indeed offer some reflections on Jenkins' book after I finish reading it.

Kent