Monday, April 23, 2018


Today I saw Timothy McGrew's presentation on the Gospels at the Stand Firm conference:

He did that last month (March 24). I did two posts on the same subject this month (4/18 & 4/19):

There's so much conceptual overlap between his presentation and my two posts. We both quote from the two Wallace papers. We use very similar arguments.

A redaction critic would assume some literary interdependence. I redacted him or he redacted me. 

But he didn't have access to my posts since his presentation was given 3 weeks before, while I didn't have access to his presentation, which was only uploaded onto the internet today (at least, that's when I first saw it). And I only had access to the Wallace papers as of 4/17. 

What are the odds that my posts are independent of his presentation, and vice versa? What are the odds the we're both quoting from Wallace's two articles, less than a month apart? Just coincidental? How to account for the parallels. 

Yet, as a matter of fact, the timing actually precludes comparing notes. That illustrates the pitfalls of redaction criticism. 

Modern historiography

I am glad to see that in one major way Mike and I agree about the Gospels. We agree that we cannot hold the Gospels to modern standards of accuracy, because if we do, the Gospels are not accurate. In Mike’s words, the Gospels are “flexible with details” and they are comparable to modern movies that employ extensive “artistic license.” I couldn’t agree more.

My sense is that when people today want to know whether the Gospels are historically accurate, what they want to know is this: Did the events that are narrated in the Gospels actually happen in the way the stories are told or not?

And so the natural question arises, as Mike himself raises it: What do we mean by historical accuracy? Let me tell you what I think most people mean. My sense is that when people today want to know whether the Gospels are historically accurate, what they want to know is this: Did the events that are narrated in the Gospels actually happen in the way the stories are told or not? People in general are interested in that basic question, not so much in the points that Mike raises. That is to say, people are not overly interested in the question of whether the Gospels stack up nicely in comparison with ancient biographers such as Plutarch and Suetonius. Of course they’re not interested in that. Most people have never read Plutarch and Suetonius. I’d venture to say that most Bible readers have never even heard of Plutarch or Suetonius, or if they have, it’s simply as some vague name of someone from the ancient world.

People don’t care much, as a rule, about other ancient biographers and their tactics when talking about the Bible. They are interested in the Bible. Is it accurate? For most people that means: Did the stories happen in the way they are described or not? If they did happen that way, then the stories are accurate. If they did not happen in that way, they are not.

If it were, however, important to talk about the relationship of the Gospels to such ancient authors, then it would be worth pointing out, as Mike knows full well, that Plutarch and Suetonius are themselves not thought of as historically reliable sources in the way that many people hope and want the Gospels of the New Testament to be. Both authors tell a lot of unsubstantiated anecdotes about the subjects of their biographies; they include scandalous rumors and hearsay; they shape their accounts in light of their own interests; and they are far less interested in giving abundant historically accurate detail than in making overarching points about the moral qualities of their characters. That is what Plutarch explicitly tells us he wants to do. He wants the lives that he describes to be models of behavior for his readers, and he shapes his stories to achieve that end. He is not concerned simply to give a disinterested historical sketch of what actually happened.

Mike thinks the Gospels are like Plutarch, and I completely agree. They are far more like Plutarch, and Suetonius, than they are like modern attempts at biography. In modern biographies, an author is concerned to make sure that everything told has been verified and documented and represents events as they really and truly happened. Ancient biographies, including the Gospels, are not at all like that.

i) Ehrman's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, there is some value in judging ancient historical/biographical writing by ancient standards. For instance, it's not erroneous for a writer to use round numbers. Since he wasn't aiming for exactitude, he can't fail to hit a target he wasn't aiming for. 

ii) However, I disagree with the popular contention that the Gospels and Acts operate with essentially different standards than modern historical/biographical writings. It's often said that the Gospels weren't merely history, but interpretive history. That's true, but it's hardly distinctive to the Gospels.

Good historians and biographers don't content themselves with giving a bare chronicle of events. Rather, they wish to explain what caused events. Why did the Roman Empire fall? That sort of thing. 

They consider different determinants. The motivations of human participants. Economic factors. Social dislocation due to famine or pandemic. And so forth. Modern biographies and history books are interpretive history no less than the Gospels or Acts.  

Healing touch

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly (Mk 7:31-35). 

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly (Mk 8:22-25).

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man's eyes with the mud 7 and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing (Jn 9:1-7).

This is striking for several reasons:

i) Jesus could simply willed people to be healed, without resort to any means whatsoever. So why are there occasions when he heals by touch? 

ii) Likewise, why the use of saliva on three different occasions? 

iii) Commentators find this a bit puzzling. The fact that we have to guess at why Jesus did it this way indicates that Gospel writers aren't inventing stories to illustrate theological claims, for had that been the case, we'd expect the symbolism to be more overt. Rather, they record these details because that's how it happened, and not due to the theological significance, if any, of the details. 

iv) I don't claim to know the reason, but these incidents are recorded for our benefit, so we should explore the possible reasons. One factor may be that sick and disabled people often suffer from physical isolation. People are more likely to avoid them. Humans are social creatures, and touch is extremely important in human relationships. By physically engaging them, at such a personal level, Jesus is affirming their worth.

v) In the first two examples, the narrator mentions that Jesus tried to heal the individuals as privately as possible. One reason might be that he's not treating them like circus animals. He's not trying to prove anything to others by healing them. Rather, he has the sensitivity to heal them in private because he cares about them. They likely already felt stigmatized, and by healing them away from public view, Jesus shields them from the shame of prying eyes and gossipy tongues. Their suffering is nobody's business. In that regard, notice how Jesus restored the daughter of Jairus. Where possible, he sometimes prefers to do these things is a more secluded setting.

vi) Because these individuals suffer from sensory deprivation (deaf, blind), Jesus takes a tactile approach. Two can't see him act while a third can't hear him speak, so he comes down to their level, entering their blinkered experience. Expressing solidarity. Leading them out of their predicament by going with them into their predicament. 

vii) These gestures reinforce the fact that the healing comes from Jesus. A chain of physical continuity. From his mouth to their mouth, his hands to their ears and eyes. 

Mary, don't you weep!

20 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

I'd like to comment on two puzzling features of this scene:

i) Why didn't the Magdalene recognize Jesus by sight? One simple explanation is that was still too dark to see clearly. Evidently, they went to the tomb at first light. In the twilight conditions when she spotted him, the lighting is too dim to clearly see his face. There's a difference between first light and sunrise. 

In addition, she didn't expect him to rise from the dead, which contributed to her mistaken identification. 

ii) Then there's his mystifying exclamation not to cling to him. Commentators are perplexed. I certainly don't know for sure what the explanation is. But I'll take a stab at it.

In the Mosaic cultus, there was the principle of sacred space. Certain objects and places were symbolically holy. These were off-limits to unauthorized personnel. Likewise, they might even be off-limits to authorized personnel at unauthorized times. Contact was only permissible for certain people at certain times. To transgress that was hazardous or fatal. 

Jesus supplants the temple. His resurrection is analogous to raising the temple (Jn 2:19-22). Perhaps, in the dewy bloom of the Resurrection, he was "dangerously" holy. Consecrated, set apart. Temporarily untouchable. 

iii) In addition, as Klink points out in his commentary (846-48), Jesus doesn't plan to stick around. The Easter appearances are intended to confirm the fact of the Resurrection, but he won't be physically accessible for the duration. Rather, the Holy Spirit will take his place. His Resurrection appearances are a temporary presence. In that sense, witnesses shouldn't get too used to having him back–because he will be leaving them to return to the Father.  

Thanks, atheism!

Why are there differences in the Gospels?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Unitarian apostates

Apostate unitarians and apostate atheists share something fundamental in common. As I've often noted, there's frequently a difference between atheists in general and apostates in particular. Typically, someone who deconverts from Christianity still uses Christianity as a frame of reference. There's lots of carryover. Apostate atheists typically retain a residual idealism and moralism that's at odds with naturalism. They act as though belief in God is a discrete, self-contained belief. They can put Christianity behind them but still retain everything of value. This is unlike atheists (e.g. David Benatar, Alex Rosenberg, Daniel Dennett, W. V. Quine) who don't use Christianity as a frame of reference, who labor to construct a secular worldview from the bottom up. 

By the same token, apostate unitarians like Dale Tuggy still use traditional Christianity as a frame of reference. They act as though belief in the Trinity and Incarnation are expendable, self-contained beliefs that you can discard while leaving the overall structure intact. They're not constructing unitarianism from scratch. 

For instance, why is the unitarian Jesus sinless? He's just another guy like you and me. What makes him the lone exception to the universality of sin? 

What's so special about his death? What makes his death vicarious compared to the death of any other martyr? Isn't he essentially interchangeable with other human beings? The difference is just the arbitrary assignment of a unique role. But in principle, God could just as well pick another man to play the same role.

How can the unitarian Jesus process millions of prayers a day in hundreds of different languages? Here the cult of the unitarian Jesus suffers from the same incoherence as the cult of Mary. 

If the Incarnation is true, then God is accessible to humans in a way that's not the case if unitarianism is true. God comes down to our own level, as one of us. Likewise, if the Trinity is true, then God is essentially interpersonal. 

This is why the Deity of unitarian traditions like Islam and rabbinical Judaism is so unapproachable. There's a fundamental lack of commonality to bridge the metaphysical distance. In Islam and rabbinical Judaism, you have divine transcendence without divine immanence. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Ares redivivus

Apostate Dale Tuggy's philosophical objection to the Trinity is that it (allegedly) violates the law of identity. One issue this raises is how to define identity. For instance, I've argued that if A and B can be put into point-by-point correspondence, then that's a rigorous definition of identity. However, reflection symmetries meet that condition, yet reflection symmetries remain distinguishable by virtue of chirality. 

But another issue is whether ancient people operated with a stringent definition of identity. Let's take hypothetical example.  In paganism, the gods are not indestructible. One god can kill another god. In that event, he ceases to exist. No more body. No more consciousness. Yet it's possible to recreate him through sorcery. 

Suppose Zeus gets really miffed with Ares and zaps him out of existence, but Hera brings him back through some magic ritual. There's a gap in his existence: from existence to nonexistence to reexistence. Would pagans regard Ares redivivus as one and the same individual? While some metaphysicians might balk, I have no reason to think ordinary ancient people would regard Ares redivivus as a different individual from his former self. 

Quantifying miracles

i) The issue miracles is often framed in terms of mathematical odds. Like there's a presumption against having a license plate with that particular number, given tens of millions of license plates, but that presumption can be overcome by specific evidence to the contrary. By the same token, miracles are said to be very rare. Therefore, the mathematical odds against the occurrence of a miracle are high, though not insurmountable. 

I've never been impressed by that way of framing the issue. To take a comparison, consider a corridor with closed doors on both sides. Let's say there are 100 doors total. What are the odds that any particular door is locked?

I don't think the mathematical odds are relevant. That's the wrong way to broach the issue. There's no presumption that the closed doors are either locked or unlocked. That depends on other variables. 

If it's during business hours, many doors may be closed but unlocked. If it's after business hours, they are more likely to be locked. Yet even then you have workaholic employees who are still slaving away in their office. Or doors may be unlocked because the cleaning crew is servicing offices. 

Some doors lead to conference rooms. These remain unlocked day or night. There might be a door to a utility room that's normally locked.

The abstract odds have no bearing on the probability that any particular door is locked or unlocked. There's no presumption one way or the other. 

ii) Even if miracles are very rare, that's not a mathematical assumption. Rather, that's an empirical observation. In our experience, miracles are (allegedly) very rare. That's not a question of a priori mathematical odds, but a posteriori evidence.

Moreover, it's ambiguous to say miracles are rare. Rare overall? We'd expect miracles to be underreported since most Christians aren't famous. Miracles might be frequent, but most of them will never be a matter of public record. 

Something can be rare but still be common if the absolute number is large even if the relative number is small. It might be a fraction of total events, yet the percentages are considerable. Green eyes are rare, but if millions of people have green eyes, that's a lot of green eyes. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Ontological arguments

For the philosophically inclined:

A god apart

Have you ever noticed the enormous emphasis on social ethics in Islam and Rabbinical Judaism? Jewish philosophers are generally social commentators and existentialists. They don't focus on God the way Christian philosophers and theologians do. To the extent that they talk about God, it's God as the source of morality. Same thing with so much Islamic discourse. 

In that regard it's not coincidental that Islam and Rabbinical Judaism are militantly unitarian. Anti-incarnational. 

Because the Deity of Islam and Rabbinical Judaism is not an essentially interpersonal being, because the idea of a divine Incarnation is inimical to their theology, the Deity of Islam and Rabbinical Judaism is very abstract. Inscrutable. Ineffable. 

The result is to collapse the vertical dimension of religion to the horizontal dimension. We're reduced to immanence. Human relationships. That's because a unitarian Deity isn't very relatable. From above, he creates and sustains a moral and metaphysical framework. And that's about it. A unitarian Deity isn't very engaging, approachable, or sociable–unlike an Incarnational, Trinitarian Deity. A religion of rules that never rises above human social dynamics. A unitarian Deity can be a benefactor, but not a friend or father. 

So many Christians–so few lions!

A standard objection to Christianity is whether inclusivism is fair. Is it fair that so many never had a chance to hear the Gospel? This is an issue in freewill theism as well as Calvinism.

There are familiar strategies in fielding this objection. But I'd like to remark on a neglected consideration. It's striking how frequently unbelievers respond to the Gospel with seething antipathy. It's not as if they exclaim, "That's just what I was always waiting for! Where have you been all my life!" 

I'm not saying nobody responds that way. But notice how many people, when exposed to the Gospel, how many people, when given the opportunity, far from welcoming the message, greet the message with implacable enmity, to the point of persecuting or martyring Christians. Silencing them. Torturing them to death. "So many Christians–so few lions!"

It's not as if many people go to hell simply because they never had a chance to hear the Gospel. As though, had they only been given the opportunity, they'd be overjoyed and feel privileged. So often unbelievers react like drowning swimmers who fight the lifeguard: "How dare you save my life!"

I'm not saying this covers every case, but it's worth pondering. How frequently those who need it the most are the most antagonistic. Violently belligerent.  

Christianity Considered: A Guide for Skeptics and Seekers

Accident of birth

Stephen J. Graham
Suppose God sent to Hell everyone who was born in South America before 10am. The rest of us go to heaven. Is there any reason on Calvinism to think there is anything wrong with God holding people morally accountable for being born in South America before 10am?
Secular Outpost Retweeted

Stephen J. Graham
Can South Americans born before 10am complain to their creator "Why did you make me thus?" Who are they that they should talk back to God? (cf Romans 9:20)

Stephen J. Graham
I'm asking whether it makes any moral sense for God to hold someone accountable for something beyond their control. I don't think the issue is about divine command ethics.

I wouldn't normally comment on some random tweet by an atheist, by since this was retweeted by Jeff Lowder at the Secular Outpost, I'll bite:

i) God wouldn't be holding folks morally accountable for when and where they are born, but for their sin. For instance, if an arsonist trips a silent alarm, and the police arrest him before he had a chance to get away, he wasn't held accountable for his poor timing. That's an incidental circumstance. 

ii) Since many South Americans are Christians, it would be morally wrong for God to damn them. For one thing, God would be breaking his promise to save those who trust in Jesus.

ii) In addition, it would be wrong for God to damn those whom Christ redeemed. Since Christ atoned for the sins of Christians (i.e. the elect), there's no judicial basis for damning them. Admittedly, some professing Christians are nominal Christians, but I'm referring to the elect.

iii) Hence, Rom 9:20 doesn't apply.

iv) Sometimes we're responsible for things beyond our control and sometimes not. Depends on the example. If a mother leaves her newborn baby on my doorstep, I'm not responsible for the child in the sense that I'm not its father. And I didn't create that situation. But having been thrust into a situation not of my own choosing, I'm responsible to see to it that the newborn doesn't die on my doorstep from exposure or predation. 

Woke church

1. In addition to race-baiters like Thabiti Anyabwile, Anthony Bradley, RAAN, Reformed Margins et al., we have a social contagion that's spreading to race-baiter enablers like Danny Akin, Matt Chandler, Ligon Duncan, Albert Mohler, Russell Moore, John Piper, David Platt et al. And that in turn has a coercive impact on students and employees to tow the party line or else.  

And this isn't confined to "racial reconciliation". "The church" is to confess its historical mistreatment of LGBT people. 

2. One of the acute ironies of this movement is that if you wish to fan or reignite racial animus, then collective defamation is a predictable accelerant. In identity politics, straight white Christian males are at the bottom of the pecking order. "Evangelical" race-baiters and their enablers unwitting stoke the alt-right. If you keep scapegoating men, or white men, or straight white men, or straight white Christian men, that provokes an utterly predictable backlash. That's how Trump got elected. The Obama administration fueled racial animosity, with predictable results in the voting booth. The race-baiters and their enablers feed they very thing they fear. And that has a lot to do with Jordan Peterson's ascendancy. 

3. In addition, if you constantly cry wolf, people tune out, so that when there are bona fide cases of unjust discrimination, that's discounted as fake news. The race-baiters and their enablers make the point that the past has present-day reverberations. That's true, but we don't agree on how they interpret the racial dynamic in modern-day America.

There are actually some things that both sides could agree on, if there was a shift in emphasis. For instance, high rates of black incarceration are due in part to criminalizing victimless crimes (e.g. a drug habit). According to Ben Shapiro, that was originally pushed by black politicians. 

But presumably white libertarians don't think we should criminalized victimless crimes. So there's a potential meeting of minds on that issue. This is not to deny that a drug habit has collateral damage, but that's true of many self-destructive behaviors we don't criminalize.

4. The attitude of race-baiters and their enablers is a throwback to heathen funerary cults, where the dead were thought to exert a malign influence on the living. There were rituals to appease revenants and vengeful spirits. For the race-baiters and their enablers, it seems that nothing short of sacrificing a batch of chickens will atone for the guilt of one's nameless ancestors. We need to obtain execration spells from a voodoo queen. Let the ceremonies begin! 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Infinity mirror

Apostate Dale Tuggy labors to trip up Christians by generating contradictions in how the word "God" is used in verbal formulations of the Trinity. Two brief observations:

1. When I say the Trinity is "God", I'm using "God" in a categorical sense. When I say the Father is "God", the Son is "God", and the Spirit is "God", I'm using "God" in a qualitative sense. So there's no contradiction.

2. I can say the Trinity is "God" as well as each person of the Deity. To take a comparison, consider an infinity mirror: An infinity mirror is a pair of parallel mirrors that generate a series of smaller scale reflections that seem to recede into an infinite distance. The same image (or information) is contained in the whole series as well as each individual reflection. That's not paradoxical or contradictory. 

Is the Trinity tritheistic?

Is the Trinity tritheistic? Compared to what? What's the point of contrast in biblical monotheism? Pagan polytheism. Physical humanoid gods with superhuman, but finite abilities. Gods who come into being, usually through sexual intercourse between a god and goddess. Gods who can pass out of existence. Gods who are physically and psychologically separate from each other. Who come into existence at different times. Some are the offspring of gods. 

By contrast, Yahweh is immaterial. Yahweh has no beginning or ending. If there's internal differentiation in Yahweh, it's not tritheistic in the sense of pagan polytheism. Yet that's the biblical frame of reference by which something would be tritheistic.  

The Swedish Model

Is the Holy Spirit a personification?

The Spirit says

I'm going to comment on some related passages of Scripture, then consider their implications:

But the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and he spoke with me and said to me, “Go, shut yourself within your house (Ezk 3:24; cf. 2:1-3).

Syntactically, the speaker seems to be the Spirit of God. God's Spirit enters Ezekiel and then proceeds to speak to him. 

However, I suppose it's possible that the speaker is the glory of Yahweh, in the preceding verse. 

Strictly speaking, the "Spirit" in v24 (cf. 2:2) isn't identified as God's Spirit. However, it can't be Ezekiel's own spirit that enters him, since Ezekiel's own spirit is always present in Ezekiel. In context, it can't be an evil spirit. 

No indication of an angelic spirit. Moreover, angelic spirits are never said to enter people, although there's a sense in which an angel appearing to someone in a dream might qualify, but that's not the context.   

And the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and he said to me, “Say, Thus says the Lord: So you think, O house of Israel. For I know the things that come into your mind (Ezk 11:5).

This is more explicit. The speaker is the Spirit of God. This is direct speech. The Spirit addressing Ezekiel, like an audible voice. And this verse might help to clarify the referent in Ezk 2:2 & 3:24. 

In principle, the Spirit could inspire a prophet at a subliminal level, so that what the prophet things and says is the result of inspiration, even though he doesn't hear a voice speaking words to him. But that's not what this verse says.

And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot” (Acts 8:29).

Another example of the Spirit speaking directly to someone.

And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you (Acts 10:19).

Yet another example of the Spirit speaking directly to someone.

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).

This might be direct speech, or it might be shorthand for Christian prophets who convey a revelation to Saul and Barnabas. 

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons (1 Tim 4:1).

Paul seems to be alluding to a message by Christian prophets. If so, that's indirect speech. The Spirit speaking through a second party. 

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice (Heb 3:7; cf. 10:15-17).

In context, this is indirect speech. The Spirit as the source of Scripture. 

That involves a dialectical interplay. For a reader, the Spirit's message is mediated by Scripture. But for a prophet, Scripture is mediated by the Spirit. The Spirit's message becomes inscripturated. 

This is a common Biblical theme. The Spirit inspires prophets to speak the words of God. In addition, the Spirit inspires revelatory dreams and visions, which may include auditions. 

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 2:7).

Here we have two speakers: Jesus and the Spirit. The Spirit inspires John to convey what Jesus says.

Now let's take stock:

1. In some cases the Spirit speaks directly to somebody, in an audible voice. That's something only a personal, external agent can do. Moreover, that requires intelligence.

That's true even if the voice is telepathic. For the prophet hears a voice that's not a figment of his own imagination. It's not like interior monologue, where he wills himself to hear a mental voice. Rather, this is one mind interacting with another mind. Temporary possession. 

And it's not interior monologue as a rhetorical device (e.g. Ps 42). These are prosaic rather than poetic descriptions. Nothing like the genre of Ps 42. 

2. In other cases, the Spirit speaks indirectly by inspiring prophets to speak the words of God. Once again, that requires the Spirit to be a rational agent. To convey a message requires an intelligent messenger. Informing the prophet.

In addition, it requires a divine agent to inspire divine words. The product of the Spirit's agency is the very word of God. 

3. In these passages, is the Spirit just a synonym for God? Could you substitute "God" for "Spirit"? 

That depends on what you mean by "God". If by "God", you mean the Father or the Trinity, then the Spirit isn't God in that respect. But the Spirit is "God" in the sense of fully divine, just like the Father.

If the Spirit is just a synonym for God, why does Scripture so often attribute actions to the Spirit rather than God? That implies some sort of internal duality within the Deity.

4. Does Scripture represent the Spirit as a personal agent due to personification? But what would the Spirit personify? If the Spirit is a personification, then it personifies something impersonal. Yet the actions and properties in view are inherently rational. It's not like ascribing intelligence or intentionality to inanimate objects (e.g. "The moon methinks looks with a watery eye; And when she weeps, weeps every little flower"). 

If the Spirit personifies anything, that has to be the Deity. But it's nonsensical to personify a personal agent. That's not how personification works.

If you say the Spirit personifies the wisdom of God, that's a divine attribute. A personal attribute. That's inseparable from the Deity himself.  

It's not personification like Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly in Prov 8-9, where they function as fictional characters in parabolic allegories. It's not like Cupid, which is clearly imaginary.  

5. Moreover, to say rational ascriptions to the Spirit are just personifications is a double-edged sword. An atheist will take that one step further and say the voice of God is a personification of the prophet's psychotic imagination. A deified hallucination. A self-projection. 

Silly Putty Jesus

At a 2000 meeting of the SBL, Dan Wallace read a paper ("Ipsissima Vox and the Seven Words from the Cross: A Test Case for John’s Use of the Tradition"). Wallace's 2000 address may well be building on his 1999 address, so they go together. Hence, this is a sequel to my previous post:

Somebody might object that I'm quoting and commenting on unpublished presentations. However, the Christian faith is not supposed to operate like a secret society, where there's one message for the rank-and-file, and a different message for favored initiates. Christianity is a public religion. It's the same message for everyone, believers and unbelievers alike. There is no disciplina arcana. Christianity isn't supposed to have a dichotomy between what is said from the pulpit, for popular consumption, and what the preacher really believes–which he only shares with fellow elites. 

My hypothesis is that instead of seven discrete words from the cross, the gospels actually record four. This reduction comes through two avenues: one text-critical and one redactional. That is to say, I regard Luke’s first saying [Lk 23:34] as a later addition, and I take the last two words in John as this evangelist’s version of two of the utterances found in the synoptic tradition.

From what I've read, Lk 23:34 may well be  a scribal gloss or scribal interpolation. I don't have a problem with that part of Wallace's address. 

Narrative plot. John’s plot is the most highly developed of all the gospels. 

i) I suppose you could put it that way, but it's misleading. Too literary. Why not say John often has the most historical detail, including a fuller chronology? 

Since so much Scripture is narrative, it can be convenient to borrow terms that drama critics and literary use to analyze plays and novels. But we need to maintain the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. 

ii) This goes to a larger issue. Because the Bible is a text, Bible scholars have a textual orientation. That's legitimate and necessary up to a point. There are, however, different kinds of texts. John's Gospel and Pilgrim's Progress are both texts. In addition, they are both narratives. However, John's Gospel is referential in a way that Pilgrim's Progress is not. As a fictional story, Pilgrim's Progress is self-enclosed world.  

By contrast, a text like John's Gospel originates in real-world events. A witness to history. John's Gospel is a window, not a painting. The narrative isn't like the composition of a painting, which is self-referential. The narrative points outside itself. 

There has been much discussion, from the second century to the twentieth, as to how these seven words should be arranged.2 Those who are prone to see them all as authentic dominical sayings still have some difficulty in the proper chronological sequence, though the most common arrangement is 2, 3, 5, 1, 6, 7, 4. Our point here is that the assumption of authenticity is almost always the foundation on which seven sayings are in view.

The fourth word, the final word from the cross, can now be examined. Both Matthew and Mark record this final cry as simply an inarticulate “loud cry.” Luke says that Jesus proclaimed, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” and John has “it is finished” as the final utterance...Luke’s and John’s final sayings—“Into your hands I commit my spirit” and “it is finished”—are victorious words of the one who accomplished the task set before him. What Matthew and Mark record only as an inarticulate cry, Luke and John give form to. Luke’s “into your hands I commit my spirit” is probably closest to the tradition, while John’s “it is finished” transforms this into the language of accomplishment that is a subtheme of John’s gospel, as we saw earlier. 

We need to guard against treating Jesus' words from the cross as literature. For instance, does someone dying know when he's about to die? Someone who's dying may sense that the end is near. He may know that he could expire at any moment. He may feel himself slipping away, at which point he assumes that this is the moment of death, and he may say something that's appropriate to go out on. 

Yet there may be several moments like that, where he passes in and out of consciousness. The fact that he says something that sounds like he intended that to be the very last thing he says doesn't mean that's the very last thing he says, for depending on his condition, he may be intermittently lucid. The words on the cross aren't scripted. Jesus isn't a character in a play who has the perfect closing statement to round out that scene. Not unless you think the Gospels are inspirational hagiographies. 

My proposal is this: the Johannine Jesus’ “I thirst” (John 19:28) is a dynamic equivalent transformation of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

Designations like the Johannine Jesus can be innocuous descriptors for the record of Jesus in the respective Gospels, but it becomes dangerous when that means each Gospel has a designer Jesus. 

A flat reading of the language here not only misses a Leitmotiv in John but also necessarily imports a meaning that is foreign to this evangelist..Thirst in John fundamentally involves a double entendre.19 To thirst in John means to be devoid of the Spirit, to stand in the place of the sinner, to be abandoned by God.

Although John's Gospel contains irony and double entendres, that's context-dependent. And the fact that John uses theological metaphors about thirst and water doesn't mean you turn every episode using that imagery into a parable. In John's Gospel, there's real water, like the body of water used by disciples of John the Baptist. There's real wine. Real bread. Sometimes Jesus is really hungry and thirsty. John's Gospel isn't an allegory like the Inferno or Pilgrim's Progress. It's not a fictional plot with a set of internal relations. 

But why would John feel the need to make such a substitution? As many authors note, the cross in John is seen as Christ’s moment of glory—even of his enthronement. “Jesus hangs on the cross not as a sufferer, but as the hidden ‘king’...” 27 But more on that later. Suffice it to say here that, as Brown notes, “the theme of Ps 22:[1] which has Jesus forsaken by God would be irreconcilable with Johannine christology.”28 Thus, instead of screaming out29 the question of his abandonment by God with a great voice, the Johannine Jesus makes a statement that is nevertheless pregnant with the same spiritual ramifications as Psalm 22:1.

On Wallace's interpretation, the four Gospels reflect divergent Christologies. John crosses out Ps 22:1 because the Johannine Jesus wouldn't say something like that–even if that's what Jesus actually said. Wallace is driving a wedge between the historical Jesus and the Johannine Jesus. Crafting a Christ of faith who doesn't match up with the Jesus of history. 

In Matthew-Mark, when Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1, people think he’s calling for Elijah to come and save him (a common Jewish expectation). But Matthew-Mark do not make clear why, therefore, wine is then offered to Jesus. John not only does not mention Psalm 22:1, he also does not mention Elijah. His treatment of Elijah, in fact, is more subdued than that of the synoptic gospels (occurring only in the Jewish interrogation of John the Baptist in chapter one). Further, to introduce Elijah’s name here would be to diminish Jesus as being in control of his own circumstances. John consistently paints a portrait of Jesus in which he is seen at all times to be the master of his own fate, in complete control of his own destiny. Even a perception of a cry for Elijah might disrupt that picture.

This reduces the Johannine Jesus to a storybook character who only says what the narrator allows him to say. The narrator composes speeches which he puts in the mouth of Jesus. That's a classically and quintessentially liberal view of the Gospels. And at that juncture the canonical Gospels blend into the apocryphal Gospels. 

However, there is another thematic layer in John that would seem to prevent the evangelist from saying this kind of thing: the Spirit is given to the disciples in John, not to God. And the Spirit could not be given until Jesus was glorified (John 7:39). Thus, the glorification of Jesus, seen in his death and articulated by his last utterance of “it is finished,” is the very thing that permits the release of the Spirit.

Is the Holy Spirit trapped inside the body of Jesus? Can the Sprit only escape when the host dies? 

The last breath is simply an idiom for death, based on the practical association between breathing, expiration, and death. 

Second, John’s method opens up some other possibilities to ponder. Is, for example, John 15:1-17 (the story of the vine and the branches) a transformation of the parable of the soils— perhaps to make the organic connection between Jesus and his followers explicit (something that the original parable could not do)? There are many parallels between John 15 and the parable of the soils on a deep theological level, though the surface of course looks quite different.43 John 15 has come as close to a parable as anything in the Fourth Gospel; there is thus the possibility that it is a repackaged parable. 

Yes, there are some conceptual affinities between the parable of the sower and the parable of the true vine. There's no reason to think that means the Johannine narrator rewrote the Synoptic parable of the sower. Rather, it's much more natural to think Jesus used the same basal agricultural metaphor to compose two different parables. 

And what about John 14:1-3? If we start with John’s basic realized eschatology and his focus on believers as opposed to outsiders, what remains of the Olivet Discourse is present and heavenly comfort to believers.

Is Wallace suggesting that the author of John rewrote the Olivet Discourse, then put that speech on the lips of Jesus? Wallace is treating Jesus like a character in novel or play who says what the novelist or dramatist makes the character say. A Jesus who's the literary artifact of the narrator. A Jesus who only exists and acts in the self-contained universe of the fictional plot. 

Notice how Wallace says you can keep extending this principle to other dominical discourses in the Gospel of John. This is like the Jesus of the apocryphal Gospels. A Jesus who's the product of the author's theological imagination. A mouthpiece of the author's agenda. Instead of the Johannine narrator as a witness to an objective historical figure, the Johannine Jesus is a personification of the narrator. Yes, it may be based on a true story, but it undergoes legendary embellishment. Historical fiction, mixing fact and fancy.