Top 10 Reasons for Accepting Jesus’ “I Am” Sayings in John as Historically Reliable

Mattias Stom, “Christ before Caiaphas” (ca. 1630)

In a recent online kerfuffle, various evangelicals have expressed diverse opinions about comments about Jesus’ “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John that were made by New Testament scholar Craig Evans in his 2012 debate with Bart Ehrman.[1] I do not wish to become embroiled in the “he said, she said” controversy in which some individuals on opposing sides, including personal friends of mine, made critical statements about one another that I would not wish to defend.[2] Instead, I want to address the historical question directly: Are those “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John historically reliable?

Let me first try to be as precise as I can about the question here. I am not inquiring as to whether Jesus made statements about himself that were tantamount to claims to deity. He did, as all of the evangelical participants in the recent controversy agree. My friend Ed Komoszewski and I adduced a wealth of evidence on this point from all four Gospels (as well as passages from the rest of the New Testament) in our book on the deity of Christ.[3]

On the other hand, I am not looking to defend the claim that John has given us an exact transcript of the words of Jesus in the “I am” sayings—what biblical scholars call the ipsissima verba (“very words”) of Jesus. Since I don’t think Jesus usually spoke in Greek, I assume that at best what the Gospels give us are translations of Jesus’ statements (with the occasional exceptions where they quote Jesus in Aramaic). And translations can vary in how literally (or how woodenly) they represent the words of the original-language sentences.

The usual term used by scholars to denote the view that the Gospels give us a reliable presentation of what Jesus said but not in his exact words is ipsissima vox (“very voice”). I am comfortable with this expression as long as we don’t use it too loosely. I think this may have happened in the current controversy. For example, to acknowledge that Jesus made statements that were tantamount to claims to deity, but nothing like the “I am” sayings in John, would as best I can see be a denial that John gives us the ipsissima vox of Jesus. On the other hand, if John is paraphrasing statements that Jesus actually made, so that each statement in John corresponds as a whole to something Jesus said, then John would be giving us Jesus’ ipsissima vox.

I’m sure much more could be said about this theoretical matter, but let’s get into the specific issue.

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What’s in Your Christology? Comparing Trinitarian and Nontrinitarian Views of Jesus Christ

Jesus famously asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27). The answers people were considering at the time were generally variations on a single notion, which was that Jesus was some sort of prophetic figure. Today the views that various religions proclaim about Jesus are far more diverse. However, we can classify most of these “Christologies”—doctrines about the person of Christ—into five basic types.

Unitarians believe that Jesus is a man, nothing more, although Jesus was a unique human being because he was born of a virgin and lived a sinless life. He died, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and was given an honorary status as God’s human representative. The ancient counterpart of this Christology is known as adoptionism (the idea being that God “adopted” Jesus as his Son). A growing movement known as Biblical Unitarianism seeks to make the case against the Trinity and for the Unitarian doctrine of Christ from the Bible alone.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is God’s first created being, an angel (specifically Michael the archangel). His life force was used to create the man Jesus. When Jesus died, his life force was used to re-create him as an angelic being again. Strong rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity is a prominent aspect of the teachings of the Watchtower Society. The closest ancient analogue to this Christology was Arianism, named for the fourth-century Alexandrian teacher Arius.

Mormons, or Latter-day Saints, believe that Jesus was the firstborn of the billions of spirit sons and daughters born to Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Jesus became a God and along with the Holy Ghost (perhaps another spirit son) joined the Father in the Godhead, a group of three Gods that rule our world. Jesus came as a mortal, died, rose from the dead, and was exalted as a greater deity because he now had a glorified, immortal physical body, which Mormonism teaches the Father also has. As God’s other spirit children, we can also become Gods like Christ and like our heavenly parents. Frankly, none of the ancient forms of Christianity taught a Christology that bore much resemblance to the Mormon view of Christ. In the medieval period some theologians held views that the church criticized as forms of tritheism, or belief in three Gods. However, none of those censured theologies came close to the explicit tritheism, or even polytheism, of Mormon theology.

Oneness Pentecostals believe that Jesus is a man in whom God the Father manifested himself in flesh. In effect, Jesus is God the Father, or more precisely the Father’s human manifestation. Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven as God in the flesh. The ancient doctrine known as Monarchianism, Modalism, or Patripassianism (a term meaning that the Father suffered) is very similar to the Oneness doctrine (although ancient Monarchians do not seem to have been at all “Pentecostal”).

Trinitarians (orthodox Christians, whether Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or evangelical Protestant) believe that Jesus is God the Son become incarnate. This means that Jesus is both God (the Son) and man (fully human). The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are viewed as one God and yet as personally distinct from one another. Jesus died, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, where he rules from God’s throne as the God-man. The key terminology of Trinitarianism (Trinity, three persons) was in use by the late second century and the doctrine was given formal expression in the fourth century in the Nicene Creed, which was composed around early confessional statements found in the New Testament itself.

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Posted in Jehovah's Witnesses, Jesus and Christology, Mormonism, Oneness, Trinity, Unitarianism | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

10 Favorite Articles about Nabeel Qureshi

My friend Nabeel Qureshi, whom I had the pleasure of knowing for several years, passed away on Saturday, September 16, 2017. Nabeel was a convert from Islam to evangelical Christianity, having come to know Jesus Christ as his great God and Savior after trying to disprove Christianity. In a very short time he became an influential Christian apologist. Only 34 years old, Nabeel died after learning just last year that he had stage 4 stomach cancer. I am on my way to Houston for the memorial service tomorrow.

I will have some things to say about Nabeel’s lost fight against cancer at a later date. For now I want to share ten excellent articles posted online in the past few days.

Brown, Michael. “God Can Still Work Miracles. Why No Miracle for Nabeel Qureshi?” The Stream, Sept. 19, 2017. Reposted from AskDrBrown.org.

Karnuth, Julie. “A Memorial to Nabeel Qureshi.” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Sept. 16, 2017. A collection of quotations from No God but One, Qureshi’s last book.

Keener, Craig. “Nabeel Qureshi’s Passing and Hope.” Craig Keener (blog), Sept. 17, 2017.

Kelhawk, Terry. “Nabeel Qureshi and the Koran.” Huffington Post, Sept. 18, 2017.

Licona, Mike. “Remembering My Friend Nabeel Qureshi.” LogosTalk (blog), Sept. 18, 2017.

Moore, Art. “Ex-Muslim, Author, Evangelist Nabeel Qureshi Dead at 34.” WND, Sept. 18, 2017.

Murray, Abdu. “Steaks, Smiles, and Steely Faith: Remembering My Friend Nabeel Qureshi.” RZIM (blog), Sept. 19, 2017.

O’Neil, Tyler. “Nabeel Qureshi Shows Christians How to Die Well, With a Message of Love and Trust in Jesus Christ.” PJ Media, Sept. 16, 2017.

Taylor, Justin. “Nabeel Qureshi (1983-2017).” Gospel Coalition, Sept. 16, 2017.

Turek, Frank. “Why Didn’t God Heal Nabeel Qureshi?” The Stream, Sept. 18, 2017. Also posed on Townhall.com, Sept. 19, 2017.

Also worth your time is this video by David Wood, the Christian who led Nabeel to Christ: “Famous Last Words of Jesus, Muhammad, and Nabeel Qureshi” (YouTube, Sept. 18, 2017).

And please consider contributing to Nabeel’s fundraising campaign, which is now of importance to his wife and young daughter: https://www.gofundme.com/NabeelQureshi.

 

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The Bottom-Line Guide to Jesus, Parts 1 through 3

I recently completed the third installment in a series of articles entitled The Bottom-Line Guide to Jesus. This series of articles addresses common questions regarding what can be known about Jesus historically. The purpose of the articles is to equip readers to see through common skeptical objections to the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ life, teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection as well as to be discerning with regard to various religions’ claims about Jesus that are contrary to the New Testament. Here is a brief overview of the three articles done so far:

Part 1: Did Jesus Exist?

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Evangelicals, Conservatives, White Supremacists, and Racial Politics in America

As an evangelical and a political conservative, in the wake of the recent events in Charlottesville, I want to contribute to the effort to draw a clear, unmistakable line between the beliefs I and millions of other American evangelicals espouse and the evil doctrines of racist ideologies such as white supremacism and white nationalism. To that end, I have collected various articles and essays, most but not all from just the past few days, that address this and related subjects from the perspective of evangelicalism, conservatism, or both.

If you know of a useful article that is worthy of being added to this list, please tell me about it in the comments. Given the fact that discussions on these matters often become inflammatory, please read the guidelines for commenting on this blog (linked toward the top of the page) before you comment. I will delete without explanation any comment that is inappropriate. Recommended links that I find particularly helpful will be added to the blog so that others may benefit from it.

Note: This article has been updated twice as of August 29, 2017. My thanks to E. Calvin Beisner for drawing my attention to some excellent additional items.

 

Benson, Guy. “The Charlottesville Dystopia: Dark Souls, Tested Principles, and Presidential Weakness.” Townhall, Aug. 14, 2017. Fair-minded analysis.

Burton, Tara Isabella. “What a unanimous Southern Baptist condemnation of the alt-right says about evangelicals in America.” Vox, June 14, 2017. Liberal media outlet’s report acknowledges (somewhat grudgingly) that Southern Baptists have made great strides in race relations.

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Apologetics ABCs: First Understand, Then Answer

What’s your favorite verse in the Bible? I may be the only person in the history of Christianity who gives this answer, but my favorite is Proverbs 18:13. I’ll quote it in a few different versions:

“He that answereth a matter before he heareth it,
it is folly and shame unto him” (Prov. 18:13 KJV).

“Spouting off before listening to the facts
is both shameful and foolish” (Prov. 18:13 NLT).

“If you criticize something before you understand it
You’ll just look stupid” (Prov. 18:13 BAT).

In case you’re not familiar with that last version, it’s the Bowman Apologetics Translation©.

Proverbs 18:13 has long functioned as the “theme verse” of my ministry as a Christian apologist. I work hard to understand the issues before “spouting off” because I really don’t want to look foolish!

Let me offer some very brief suggestions as to how we can and should apply Proverbs 18:13 in Christian apologetics. Continue reading

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An Evangelical Goes to Provo

LDS scholar Brant Gardner speaks at FairMormon 2017

Every year FairMormon, the most popular pro-LDS apologetics organization, holds a conference at which Mormons, including some scholars from Brigham Young University, defend their beliefs. I attended it in 2012 and this year attended its 2017 conference on August 2nd and 3rd, held at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo, Utah. I would guess that roughly three hundred people attended each day.

A great deal of attention was given at the conference to defending the Book of Mormon. Four issues stood out from these defenses. First, Mormons don’t know where the Book of Mormon civilization was located. Second, Mormons admit there is no direct evidence for the existence of that civilization. Third, there is evidence against many of the things the Book of Mormon says, which forces Mormons to argue that many statements in the Book of Mormon don’t mean what they seem to mean, even though it was supposedly inspired and translated by divine inspiration. For example, one speaker suggested that references in the Book of Mormon to horses and chariots, which are problems because people in ancient North and Central America did not use wheeled or horse-drawn vehicles, might refer to dogs walking alongside litters carrying royal figures. Fourth, Mormon apologists recognize that it is rather embarrassing that Joseph Smith dictated the Book of Mormon with his face buried in his hat in which he put his treasure-hunting “seer stone,” but claim it doesn’t matter how he did it as long as it was a miracle. I discuss each of these issues and explain briefly why the Mormon arguments don’t work in a new article on IRR’s website, “FairMormon 2017: Recent Book of Mormon Defense Strategies.”

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Welcome to RobertBowman.net

The other Rob Bowman

Rob Bowman

You’ve found the blog of Robert M. Bowman Jr., better known as Rob Bowman. No, not the guy that directed episodes of The X-Files, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and other classy shows. What I do is much more interesting: I explore the strange old worlds of the Bible, seek out new answers to new questions that skeptics and people of other religions ask, and in general boldly go where few Christian apologists have gone before. I am the executive director at the Institute for Religious Research and the author of a dozen books including Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, which I co-authored with my good friend Ed Komoszewski.

If you were searching for Robert M. Bowman the aerospace scientist, Air Force combat veteran, and peace activist, that was my father. He passed away on August 22, 2013.

Yesterday was my 60th birthday, so this seemed a good time to launch this personal blog site. I have needed a personal blog for some time for three reasons. First, my work is scattered on the web in various places and this is a way to bring all of it together. Second, sometimes I want to comment on matters outside the usual subject areas of the ministry and academic websites where I do most of my writing. I might even want to talk about something personal. So this is where I will do these things. I’ll also announce new resources of interest here as they become available. Third, although I will continue to use Facebook, I want a place to post my thoughts on various topics where the material is easier to organize, control, and find.

I am under no illusions that there will be heavy traffic coming to this site, but I will allow comments as long as they are constructive, civil, and appropriate. See the page “Commenting on This Site” (in the black bar near the top of the page) if you are interested in posting a comment here.

The title of this blog was chosen to express my objective in everything I write. To what extent I consistently hit the target will no doubt be a matter of debate.

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