Friday, September 18, 2015

John 17:3 and John Behr

Dated 5/24/2002

Greetings all,

I have been perusing a book here lately by John Behr entitled The
Way to Nicaea
. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2001.

This monograph provides an interesting historical account of how the
Trinity dogma developed through time. Of course, the author is pro-
Trinitarian and concludes what one a priori thinks he will conclude.

But I found this passage in his work to be of interest:

"There are no applications of the term 'God' (hO QEOS) to Jesus
Christ in the Synoptics, while the Gospel according to John, on the
other hand, both categorically affirms and explicitly denies the
applicability of this term, so presenting, again, a heightened,
profound, antithetical tension. The most striking use of the
term 'God' occurs in Christ's own statement, 'this is eternal life,
that they might know you, the only true God (TON ALHQINON QEON), and
Jesus Christ, whom you have sent' (Jn 17:3). Despite associating the
knowledge of Jesus Christ with the knowledge of God in the
identification of eternal life, and how could it be otherwise when
John repeatedly affirms that there is no other way to the Father but
through the Son, nevertheless only the Father merits the title 'God'
(ho QEOS). The description of this only true God as 'Father' is
frequent in John" (page 60).

However, Behr goes on to contend that Jn 1:1c says that the Word is
fully God. But I think he makes this assumption on a faulty premise,
namely, Colwell's rule. He also appeals to Jn 1:18 which is riddled
with many textual issues as we have discussed on this list. But at
any rate, it does not appear that 1:18 is saying that the Son is
fully God in the same way that the Father is hO QEOS: he is the
unique or brought-forth god.

Finally Behr references Jn 20:28. He then writes: "This is the most
categorical and explicit affirmation of Jesus Christ as God, in the
fullest (articular) sense, in the pages of the New Testament. Yet it
must hold inseparably together with the affirmation that it is the
Father of Jesus who alone is the one true God; on this basis, it is
possible to affirm that Jesus is as divine as his Father is, and as
such can be addressed as himself God" (61).


Anonymous said...

Strange how so few exegetes seem to realize that for one to be *called* God a determinitive guide for establishing that said individual is the one God of Jewish and Christian monotheism. This reminds me of concluding remarks I made in my blog post "On the Problem of Expectation":

"...divine titles could be applied to agents of God in pretty much all forms of Jewish literature that existed at the time the New Testament was written. One often finds a strange disconnect in the writings of so many scholars and religious commentators in that while they often discuss the uncontroversial application of divine titles to agents of God in the Bible and in the literature of the period, they fail to recognize that it is precisely because Jesus is God's agent -- his living, breathing power-of-attorney -- that we find divine titles applied to him. Once we recognize (a) the flexible use of such divine titles in the biblical period among monotheistic Jews, and (b) the contexts in which such applications were considered appropriate, then we come to realize something we might not have expected: Not only is it not surprising to find divine titles applied to Jesus in the New Testament, but it in light of his unique status as God's agent par excellence, it would be downright shocking to find that such titles were not applied to him!"

~Sean (Kaz)

David Waltz said...

Hi Edgar,

Good post. It had been quite awhile since I last read Behr's, The Way to Nicaea, but your post prompted me to pull the book down from the shelf, and reread the portions I had previously highlighted. I found the following on page 63 to be very interesting:

"Jesus is all that YHWH himself is, that is, fully divine, yet without actually being YHWH himself, for YHWH is the Father." (Behr repeats this same theme in THIS ONLINE ESSAY.)

Behr's comments reminds of the all too often repeated phrase by so many Evangelicals: 'Jesus is Jehovah'. One could say that this phrase has become an embedded 'tradition' within Evangelicalism; but, it is a 'tradition' without any foundation in the Bible (so much for sola scriptura !!!), or the early Church Fathers.

Grace and peace,


Philip Fletcher said...

Since we are on the subject. I was thinking of Isaiah 9:6, the expression El Gibbor, mighty God, mighty divine one. Were the Jews to be expecting a second God, mighty divine one?

Edgar Foster said...

Kaz: Even some who concede that Christ is God's agent or shaliach want to still depict him as fully God and coequal to the Father in substance. I believe Bauckham contends that Christ cannot legitimately be compared to the exalted figures of 2nd Temple Judaism. It's been a while since I read his work, but I recall him making this kind of observation.

David: Thanks for the quote and link. I'll bookmark Behr's online essay. His view of Jn 17:3 is still curious to me. It sounds ambivalent.