Looking for a Low Christology in the Gospel of John: A Review Article

Truth, Testimony, and Transformation

Kim, Yung Suk. Truth, Testimony, and Transformation: A New Reading of the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2014.

 

Yung Suk Kim is Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, Virginia Union University. He describes himself as a “humanist theologian.” In this short book (the body of which is 78 pages), Kim argues that the Gospel of John should be understood not as teaching exclusivism but inclusivism and empowerment through a “low Christology” in which Jesus was not God incarnate but “the Jewish Messiah” who worked on God’s behalf (ix, 1). Kim’s goal is to explain how John 14:6, in which Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” does not mean that Jesus himself is the way but that Jesus was someone who showed us the way. This interpretive maneuver then allows Kim to maintain that the way can be found apart from Jesus, thereby divesting the Christian faith of the “exclusivist” claim John 14:6 has traditionally been understood as expressing.

In order to make such a highly revisionist interpretation of the Gospel of John viable, Kim knows he must counter two traditional elements of the Christian faith. First, Kim must deny that Jesus died on the cross to atone for human sins, since obviously such an idea makes Jesus indispensable for human salvation. Second, he must reject the idea that Jesus is God, which would make him unique among all religious leaders and teachers in history. Kim therefore tries to show that the Gospel of John teaches neither of these ideas. It does not go well.
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Did Jesus Exist before He Was Born?

Angel appears to Joseph in a dream - Anton Raphael Mengs

Anton Raphael Mengs – Angel Appears to Joseph in a Dream (1773/1774)

Critics of the Trinitarian view of Jesus Christ as God incarnate sometimes argue that Jesus could not have existed before he was born. They point out that Jesus received his name “Jesus” when he was born (Matt. 1:21, 25; Luke 1:31; 2:21). Before that time, these critics conclude, Jesus simply didn’t exist. And if Jesus didn’t exist before his birth, then obviously he cannot be God, since God has always existed. For good measure, they often argue that Jesus was also not the Son of God prior to his birth because the angel Gabriel told Mary that her child was going to be “called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35, cf. 1:32).

As reasonable as these arguments no doubt seem to those who present them, they simply contradict the facts of what the New Testament writings actually say. As it turns out, in various places the New Testament refers to the person in question, in the context of the period of time preceding his birth, as “Jesus,” “Christ,” and God’s “Son.” Let’s look at each of them.

Jesus

The preincarnate person we know as Jesus is actually called Jesus in the best reading of Jude 5: “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (ESV). Many of the earliest manuscripts actually say “Jesus” instead of “the Lord” in verse 5, and this is most likely the original reading. Older English versions (KJV, NKJV, etc.) and a few newer ones (NASB, NIV, NRSV) follow the more familiar reading “the Lord” here, but several recent versions agree with the ESV in accepting the reading “Jesus” (CSB, NET, NLT). Ed Komoszewski and I give three reasons supporting this reading in our book Putting Jesus in His Place.[1]

It is, of course, reasonable to maintain that the person we call Jesus did not go by that name at the time of the Exodus. Continue reading

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8 Answers to Why Nabeel Qureshi Was Not Healed: Nabeel Qureshi and Healing, Part 10

Nabeel Qureshi being baptized by David Wood

Nabeel Qureshi being baptized by David Wood

Part 1 of this series, “A Failed Experiment,” provides the necessary background and explains my purpose in critiquing the late Nabeel Qureshi’s views on healing.

 

In this series, I have presented eight reasons why we should not expect God always to heal people, even Christian believers, in response to our prayers. We may ask God to heal, and sometimes he will—usually in providential ways, more rarely in overtly miraculous ways. Miraculous healings are the exception, not the rule. We should be pleasantly surprised and grateful when God does heal, not surprised when God does not heal. We should not be surprised, for example, that Nabeel Qureshi was not healed, as much as we had wished and prayed for it. Here is a summary of the eight reasons:

  1. Neither extreme cessationism nor extreme continuationism with regard to miracles of healing is a biblically sound position. Extreme cessationism is false because God is free to heal people providentially or miraculously whenever he chooses. Extreme continuationism is false because our situation is clearly different in that Jesus is not physically present and we have no living apostles or prophets. Miracles have occurred throughout church history, but sporadically and unpredictably. (Part 2)
  2. Although all Christians are disciples, not all disciples are empowered to perform miracles of healing at will. In the NT, Jesus and the apostles (and their inspired associates) were the only persons who could heal others at will, and they did so to authenticate the gospel, not to establish healing as something promised to all believers throughout time. God still heals people today, but there are no individuals living today who are empowered to heal others at will. (Part 3)
  3. Jesus healed everyone who came to him or were brought to him for healing while he was physically present because he was there in the flesh demonstrating his divine power and intention to save, not because he promised to heal all believers throughout church history. God does not normally intervene miraculously to heal people because he has ordered life in his creation so that our actions have meaning and consequences. (Part 4)
  4. God can be glorified in our lives whether we are healed or not, and the full, complete revelation of God’s glory awaits the future resurrection and consummation. (Part 5)
  5. In context, Matthew 8:17 affirms that Jesus healed people as a sign of his mission to save people from their sins, not to reveal that it is always God’s will to heal people. (Part 6)
  6. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead to demonstrate that in him we have the assurance of eternal life, not to encourage people to pray for the dead to be resurrected now. (Part 7)
  7. Jesus granted healing to people who came to him believing that he could—not that he necessarily would—heal them or their loved ones. (Part 8)
  8. Having around a sick person a group of people who all have faith is neither necessary nor sufficient to bring about healing: it is not necessary because Jesus even healed the sick while hostile critics watched, and it is not sufficient because the NT says nothing to suggest that a group of people with faith are assured of obtaining the desired healing. (Part 9)

Getting this issue right is of extreme importance in the proclamation and defense of the gospel. Continue reading

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Communal Faith and Healing: Nabeel Qureshi and Healing, Part 9

George Percy Jacomb Hood - The Raising of Jairus' Daughter (1895)

George Percy Jacomb Hood – The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter (1895)

Part 1 of this series, “A Failed Experiment,” provides the necessary background and explains my purpose in critiquing the late Nabeel Qureshi’s views on healing.

 

A key idea in Nabeel Qureshi’s thinking about miraculous healing was that such healing required that the sick person be surrounded by people who had faith that he would be healed. Nabeel thought he had found this idea supported in several miracle accounts in the New Testament. Let’s take a close look at the passages and see.

 

The Faith of the Paralytic’s Friends—and the Unbelief of Jesus’ Foes

Let’s start with the account of the paralytic (Matt. 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-13; Luke 5:18-26). We have already shown earlier in this series (Part 6) that Jesus’ healing of the paralytic was done as a demonstration of his greater purpose in coming, which was to save people from their sins. That fact about Jesus’ healings poses a problem for the belief that we can bring about a person’s healing if we agree together in faith that God will heal him. Jesus’ healing people is no more dependent on the faith of others than is his saving people from their sins.

Nabeel mentioned more than once that Jesus seems to have healed the paralytic because of the faith of his associates (who had lowered him through a hole in the roof so as to get him to Jesus) rather than his own faith. I think this is mistaken. Continue reading

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Faith and Healing in Jesus’ Ministry: Nabeel Qureshi and Healing, Part 8

James Tissot, The Possessed Boy at the Foot of Mount Tabor (ca. 1890)

James Tissot, The Possessed Boy at the Foot of Mount Tabor (ca. 1890)

Part 1 of this series, “A Failed Experiment,” provides the necessary background and explains my purpose in critiquing the late Nabeel Qureshi’s views on healing.

 

In at least three of Nabeel Qureshi’s vlogs, he spent some time commenting on the role of faith in the healings that Jesus performed. I appreciated his cautiousness on this subject. He acknowledged more than once that some people who appear to have faith are not healed, and he candidly admitted he didn’t know what to do with that fact. He agreed that it would be improper to blame a person’s lack of healing on his or her lack of faith.

On the other hand, Nabeel argued that in many instances it was the faith of those around the sick person, not necessarily the faith of that sick individual, that was instrumental in his healing. He went so far as to suggest that when Jesus was performing healings he excluded from his presence people who lacked faith or who doubted, presumably (if I understood Nabeel’s point) because their unbelief or doubt would interfere with or impede the act of obtaining the person’s healing. The healing accounts he mentioned in these comments were those of the paralytic, the deaf-mute man, Jairus’s daughter, and the demonized boy (##15, 29, and 32).

Before looking at individual texts, I think it would be helpful to distinguish three categories of miraculous works: healings, exorcisms, and resurrections from the dead. In both exorcisms and resurrections, the affected individual cannot ask for help and cannot have faith. In all of the Gospel accounts, the demon-possessed person has no control over his or her faculties and if anything, due to the demon, is frightened of Jesus. Dead people cannot believe and cannot request help, obviously. This leaves the matter of healings, in which the sick, ill, or infirm person is physically capable of asking for help and is constitutionally able to believe (whatever his or her moral and spiritual condition). So in practical terms accounts of exorcisms and resurrections are not going to involve the beneficiary having faith. Continue reading

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The Resurrection of Lazarus and the Christian Hope: Nabeel Qureshi and Healing, Part 7

Sebastiano del Piombo, The Raising of Lazarus (ca. 1518)

Sebastiano del Piombo, The Raising of Lazarus (ca. 1518)

Part 1 of this series, “A Failed Experiment,” provides the necessary background and explains my purpose in critiquing the late Nabeel Qureshi’s views on healing.

 

In one of Nabeel Qureshi’s vlogs (#28), he spent considerable time reflecting on Martha’s words to Jesus four days after Lazarus had died: “But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you” (John 11:22). Those words “even now” express a confidence in Jesus of his ability to overcome death itself. Martha’s faith in Jesus was remarkable considering that this had taken place before Jesus had died and risen from the dead.

I think Nabeel was right in thinking that Christians should have this kind of faith in Jesus, that is, that we should trust him even in the wake of death. The question I would like to explore is what we should take away from this account of the raising of Lazarus with respect to miraculous healing today.

One place to start is with the fact that what Jesus did was to raise Lazarus from the dead, which is something much different than healing someone who was sick. Certainly we can say that if Jesus could raise the dead he could make a sick person well; such an argument a minore ad maius (from the lesser to the greater) seems quite sound to me. Continue reading

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Jesus’ Healings as Types of Salvation: Nabeel Qureshi and Healing, Part 6

James Tissot, Jesus Stilling the Tempest (ca. 1890)

James Tissot, Jesus Stilling the Tempest (ca. 1890)

Part 1 of this series, “A Failed Experiment,” provides the necessary background and explains my purpose in critiquing the late Nabeel Qureshi’s views on healing.

 

In one of his YouTube vlogs (#15), Nabeel Qureshi cited Matthew 8:17 in support of the belief that Jesus came to free us from sickness. I quite agree. However, as explained in Part 5 of this series, we receive that freedom from sickness in the future resurrection to immortality. The redemption accomplished through Jesus Christ comes in stages. First we are freed from the condemnation of sin; later we will be freed from the effects of sin. Between these two stages of redemption, we live in what theologians call the “already—not” yet tension in which the effects of sin are sometimes ameliorated but never eliminated.

 

Suffering for Our Sins: Matthew 8:17 and Isaiah 53:4

Let’s take a closer look at Matthew 8:17. Matthew is actually quoting Isaiah 53:4. Here is what Isaiah says in context (my literal translation of the Hebrew text):

Surely our sicknesses he carried
And our sorrows he bore;
Yet we considered him stricken,
Smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced because of our rebellions,
He was crushed because of our iniquities;
The chastening for our peace was upon him,
And by his scourgings we were healed. (Isa. 53:4-5)

This text, part of the famous “Suffering Servant” passage, strongly echoes the opening lines of the book of Isaiah:

Children have I reared and brought up,
But they have rebelled against me….
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity,
Offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly!…
Why will you still be smitten?
Why will you continue to rebel?
The whole head has sickness,
And the whole heart is faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it,
But bruises and scourgings and raw wounds… (Isa. 1:2-6).

I have translated five key Hebrew words that appear in both texts with the same English words and italicized them for ease of comparison. One of these words, notably, is the word “sickness” (holî), found in both Isaiah 1:5 and 53:4. In Isaiah 1:5, there is no doubt that sickness is a metaphor for the sinful condition of the nation of Judah and the devastating effects of that sinful rebellion against the Lord. This metaphorical use is surely evident also in Isaiah 53:4, since the rest of the text clearly states in several ways that the Servant suffered because of the sinful rebellion of the people. The Septuagint reflects this understanding by actually translating the word for “sicknesses” with the Greek word ἁμαρτίας, meaning “sins.”

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Glorifying God through Healing: Nabeel Qureshi and Healing, Part 5

Mario Minniti - Miracle of the Resurrection of the Son of the Widow of Nain (ca. 1640)

Mario Minniti – Miracle of the Resurrection of the Son of the Widow of Nain (ca. 1640)

Part 1 of this series, “A Failed Experiment,” provides the necessary background and explains my purpose in critiquing the late Nabeel Qureshi’s views on healing.

 

One of the reasons Nabeel Qureshi gave for thinking that it would be God’s will to heal him was that in the Gospels, God was glorified by people being healed, not by enduring their sickness or disease well (vlog #29). I think his intended argument could be stated deductively as follows:

Premise 1: God was glorified through people being miraculously healed.
Premise 2: God should be glorified today.
Therefore,
Conclusion: People should be miraculously healed today.

I agree with both of the premises of this argument:

  • We do find references in all four Gospels to God being glorified on account of Jesus’ miracles of healing and resurrection (Matt. 9:8 / Mark 2:12 / Luke 5:25-26; Matt. 15:31; Luke 7:16; 13:13, 17; 18:43; John 2:11; 11:4, 40).
  • And of course I agree that God should be (and is) glorified today and forever (Rom. 11:36; 15:6-9; 16:27; 1 Cor. 6:20; 10:31; 2 Cor. 1:20; 4:15; 8:19; 9:13; Gal. 1:5; Eph. 3:21; Phil. 1:11; 2:11; 4:20; 1 Tim. 1:17; 2 Tim. 4:18; Heb. 13:21; 1 Peter 2:12; 4:11, 16; 2 Peter 3:18; Jude 25; Rev. 1:6; 4:9, 11; 5:12-13; 11:13; 14:7; 15:4; 19:7).

However, the conclusion simply does not follow from the premises. Continue reading

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If Jesus Healed Everyone Then, Why Not Now? Nabeel Qureshi and Healing, Part 4

James Tissot - Healing of Ten Lepers, Brooklyn Museum (ca. 1890)

James Tissot – Healing of Ten Lepers, Brooklyn Museum (ca. 1890)

Part 1 of this series, “A Failed Experiment,” provides the necessary background and explains my purpose in critiquing the late Nabeel Qureshi’s views on healing.

 

Perhaps Nabeel Qureshi’s main argument for thinking that it is always God’s will for us to be healed was that Jesus healed everyone who came to him for healing. He made this point in several of his vlogs. If Jesus healed everyone then, Nabeel reasoned, we should expect him to heal everyone now if they go to him for healing. Jesus clearly wanted to heal all of them, and of course he had the ability to heal them—and he did heal them. Just as obviously, Jesus has the ability to heal anyone now; so why wouldn’t he heal anyone who came to him today? It seems intolerable to suggest that Jesus doesn’t want to heal people today. So why should we think anything has changed?

Nabeel’s argument can be set forth simply in the following deductive form:

Premise 1: Jesus was willing to heal everyone who went to him for healing.
Premise 2: Jesus is the same today as he was then.
Therefore,
Conclusion: Jesus is willing to heal everyone who goes to him for healing today.

It may seem cold to put the argument in such a formal way, but doing so will help us think more clearly about the matter. So let’s look at this argument, beginning with the two premises.

 

The True but Ambiguous First Premise: Jesus Healed Everyone Who Went to Him for Healing

As I read the Gospels, Nabeel’s premise here is correct: From what we are told in the Gospels, it appears that while Jesus was engaged in his public ministry on earth, he healed everyone who came to him, or who was brought to him, for healing (Matt. 4:23-24; 8:16; 9:35; 12:15; Luke 4:40; cf. Mark 3:10; Acts 10:38). I agree that Jesus did not make inscrutable judgments about which petitioners to heal and which not to heal, a point Nabeel nicely illustrated with the healing of the ten lepers in Luke 17:14 (vlog #15).

Similarly, in response to the leper who asked Jesus to heal him if he was “willing,” Jesus responded by affirming that he was indeed willing (Matt. 8:2-3 / Mark 1:40-41). The text does not make the generalization that Jesus was willing to heal everyone who asked, as Nabeel implicitly inferred (vlog #17), but it is a natural inference to make in light of the several statements in the Gospels that Jesus healed everyone who came or was brought to him for healing.

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Apostles, Prophets, Disciples, and Healing: Nabeel Qureshi and Healing, Part 3

Rembrandt, Jesus and his Disciples (1633)

Rembrandt, Jesus and his Disciples (1633)

 

Part 1 of this series, “A Failed Experiment,” provides the necessary background and explains my purpose in critiquing the late Nabeel Qureshi’s views on healing.

 

A key argument in Nabeel Qureshi’s vlogs about healing is that not only did Jesus heal people but so did his disciples. The argument can be stated formally as follows:

Premise 1: Jesus’ disciples were able to perform healing miracles.
Premise 2: We are Jesus’ disciples.
Therefore,
Conclusion: We are able to perform healing miracles.

In vlog #32 Nabeel made this argument explicit. However, I think he also acknowledged a glitch in the argument when he affirmed that we are also Jesus’ disciples but then added, “in a certain way.” The problem is that the argument equivocates in its use of the term disciples.

 

Apostles and Prophets

The first generation of the Christian movement had special leaders whom Paul called apostles and prophets (1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11). As I stated in Part 2, the apostles were a foundational group of Christian leaders who functioned as witnesses to the risen Christ in the first generation of the church. All four Gospels report Jesus speaking to the apostles about their coming role as witnesses giving testimony to him (Matt. 10:18; Mark 6:11; 13:9; Luke 9:5; 21:13; 24:44-49; John 15:25-26; 19:35; 21:24). This understanding of the apostles as special, authoritative witnesses to Jesus is a significant theme in Acts (1:8, 21-26; 2:11, 32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:31-32; 10:39-42; 13:30-31; 22:14-15; 23:11; 26:16) and appears in various epistles (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:5-8, 15; 2 Thess. 1:10; 2 Tim. 1:8; 1 Peter 5:1; 1 John 1:2; 4:14). The apostolic witness functioned in conjunction to the prior, prophetic witness of the Scriptures, our Old Testament, to the coming Messiah (Acts 2:30-32; 3:18; 10:43, cf. 10:39-42; Rom. 3:21; Heb. 7:17).

Note that the apostles were not limited to twelve men, although the twelve were the core group of apostles. In addition to the twelve, the NT identifies as apostles Barnabas (Acts 14:14; 1 Cor. 9:5-6; cf. Gal. 2:8-9), Paul (Acts 14:14; Rom. 1:1; etc.), James the Lord’s brother (1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19; 2:9; cf. James 1:1), and possibly Andronicus and Junias/Junia (Rom. 16:7). Thus, the total number of apostles of Christ seems to have been no less than fifteen and possibly seventeen (that we know by name). In the upper room after Jesus’ ascension and before Pentecost, Judas’s replacement was chosen from a pool of up to 120 persons present at the time, and Paul refers to a group of some 500 individuals who were witnesses of the risen Christ, any of whom potentially could have been given apostolic commissions (1 Cor. 15:6).

In addition to the apostles, other individuals whom Luke and Paul called prophets (Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; 21:10; 1 Cor. 14:29, 32, 37) were associates of the apostles and were also inspired to deliver special messages from Christ.

In part 2, I made the generalization that the New Testament gives accounts of healings performed by Jesus, apostles, and prophets, but not of healings performed by other individuals. There are two persons in the Book of Acts that might be considered exceptions: Stephen and Ananias. Let’s look at both of these men.

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