Back on June 3, 2016 I got involved in a thread published by Paul Williams under the title, Catholic Truth Society fails to answer its own question. My participation began with this post.
The next day, Paul Williams asked: "Where does Jesus say he is equal to God?" (link).
I responded with:
The Gospel of John is perhaps the most complex and deepest work in the NT. An important aspect of that complexity is the contrast between a number of passages which clearly speak of the subordination of the Son to the Father, with those which imply equality.
I then provided passages from the Gospel of John which illustrate the contrast mentioned above—i.e. subordination and equality—(link).
This led to Paul's subsequent denigration of the Gospel of John, invoking two liberal New Testament scholars (Raymond Brown and James Dunn)—and a couple days later, his own book, Jesus as Western Scholars See Him—for support.
The rest of this post will focus on the reliability of the Gospel of John. As I mentioned earlier, Paul brought into the discussion two liberal New Testament scholars: Dr./Fr. Raymond Brown and Dr. James Dunn. I published the following concerning Raymond Brown back on June 6 (correcting some typos):
Being a former Jehovah's Witness (4th generation) who utilized liberal scholarship to attack Christian orthodoxy, I am quite familiar with the works of such scholars as Brown, Collins, Dunn, Kung, Wiles, et al. The shelves of my library contain dozens of their books, which I began purchasing and reading back in the late-70s. For instance, I have Raymond E. Brown's The Birth of the Messiah, The Death of the Messiah (2 vols.), An Introduction to the New Testament, Gospel According to John (2 vols.), The Epistles of John, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind, Antioch & Rome, Peter in the New Testament, The Virginal Conception & Bodily Resurrection of Jesus, Biblical Exegesis & Church Doctrine, Responses to 101 Questions on the Bible and Priest and Bishop. Unfortunately, I do not have his The Community of the Beloved Disciple, so I cannot comment its content. But, I suspect that there is little in this more popular work of his which does not appear in his larger works; as such, I am fairly confident that what I am about to share will not conflict with its content.
Dr. Brown was somewhat of an enigma; on the one hand, he fully embraced liberal Biblical scholarship (i.e. the historical-critical method), while on the other, he retained personal belief in many of the doctrines that most higher critical scholars reject (e.g. Trinity, bodily resurrection of Jesus, virgin birth of Jesus; as well as the Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity and Assumption of Mary). As such, I rarely used Brown when I was a JW.
As for his higher-critical works on the New Testament, they are, to be brutally honest, in the end, based on highly subjective theories. What I find particularly interesting is that much of his higher-critical work has received formidable criticism/s from both conservative and liberal scholars. The breadth, depth and complexity of the higher-critical method/s is so massive, it would be folly to attempt delve into the topic in any detail within the confines of a combox. ( link)
Brown's acceptance of higher-criticism concerning the Bible did not affect his view of the Gospel of John as authoritative Scripture, his belief in the divinity of Jesus and the doctrine of the Trinity. Since Paul denies that the Gospel of John is Scripture, as well as the divinity of Jesus, and the doctrine of the Trinity, I shall let him deal with the why Dr. Brown continued to embrace these important doctrines.
Moving on to James Dunn, I shall start with what Paul published:
‘On the question of the historical value of John’s Gospel there is probably one of the biggest gulfs between New Testament scholarship and the ‘man in the pew’. In preaching and devotional Bible study the assumption is regularly made that all four Gospels are straightforward historical sources for information about what Jesus did or said. Whereas scholars have almost always found themselves pushed to the conclusion that John’s Gospel reflects much more of the early churches’ understanding of Jesus than of Jesus’ own self-understanding. There is Christian interpretation in the other three Gospels, as we have seen, but in John’s gospel there is much more of it. Again, evangelical or apologetic assertions regarding the claims of Christ will often quote the claims made by Jesus himself (in the Gospel of John) with the alternatives posed, ‘Mad, bad or God’, without allowing that there may be a further alternative (viz. Christian claims about Jesus rather than Jesus’ claims about himself). Or again, ecumenical pronouncements will frequently cite Jesus’ prayer, ‘that they may all be one’ (John 17:21), without ever raising the question as to whether the prayer was formulated by Jesus himself or at a later date.’
‘How then are we to understand John’s Gospel? The issue here is obviously a peculiarly sensitive one. And the answer to it will have wide repercussions on our use of John’s Gospel at all these different levels (preaching, evangelism, etc). It is important therefore that the Christian community at large should recognize how scholars see John’s Gospel and why they see it that way. That is our task here.’
James DG Dunn The Evidence for Jesus pp. 31-32 (link)
As with Raymond Brown, James Dunn is an enigma to me, for like Brown he has retained the views that Scripture is authorative, as well as the full divinity of Christ, and the doctrine of the Trinity. (See THIS INTERVIEW for his perspectives on these issues.)
Though Dunn himself claims that he has retained some important elements of 'orthodoxy', his numerous works have certainly given ample ammunition to those who have not done the same. For instance, I myself retained my 'Arian' (Homoian) theology for a good 4-5 years longer than I would have if I had not come under the influence of liberal theologians like James Dunn and Maurice Wiles. But I digress—time to get back to what Dunn wrote. I will be using his book—referenced by Paul—The Evidence for Jesus. After presenting, "three possible explanations for the rather striking contrasts between the Synoptic Gospels and John's Gospel (p. 35), he summarizes that:
...the Jesus of John is not to be identified in a complete way with the Jesus who meets us in the Synoptics. The Jesus of John is also Jesus as he was increasingly seen to be, as the understanding of who Jesus was deepened through the decades of the first century. John's Gospel, we may say, is intended to present the truth about Jesus, but not by means of a strictly historical portrayal. The Synoptic Gospels, if you like, are more like a portrait of Jesus; John's Gospel is more like an impressionist painting of Jesus. Both present the real Jesus, but in different ways. (Page 43 - italics in the original; bold emphasis mine.)
He goes on to write:
Such utterances as "I am the light of the world' (John 8.12) and 'I and the Father are one' (John 10.30) bear testimony to John's experience of Jesus (during his life and since), Jesus' witness to himself through the Spirit, as John would no doubt want to claim (John 15.26; 16.12-15), rather than Jesus' witness to himself while on earth – the truth of Jesus in retrospect rather than as expressed by Jesus at the time.
But that is not the complete answer. For the same evidence shows that this teaching was not invented by John. It is rather an enlargement of an element which was already present in Jesus' teaching from the beginning. It was important for John that the Spirit was revealing to them 'many things' Jesus had not said to them while on earth, many things which glorified Jesus (John 16.12, 14). But it was also what Jesus had said while he was still with them (John 14.25-26). It is likely then that the expanded teaching of Jesus about his divine sonship is just that, expanded teaching of Jesus. Or to put it more precisely, it is likely that this element of Jesus' discourses too has firm roots in the earliest memory of what Jesus had said while with his first disciples. As in other cases the discourses seem to have grown round particular sayings of Jesus which we know of also from the Synoptics (p.38), so here Jesus' teaching on his divine sonship in John has probably grown round the memory of things Jesus actually did say on the subject. (Pages 44, 45.)
And a bit later, he states:
Although John's Gospel is a well developed portrayal of Jesus' claims to divine sonship, that claim is in fact rooted in Jesus' own ministry, and particularly in his prayer address to God as 'Abba', Jesus, we may say with confidence, thought of himself as God's son and encourages his disciples to share his own intimate relationship with God as his son. (Page 49.)
In the next chapter of the book, "Beliefs about the Resurrection", he includes a section titled: The very high estimate of Jesus which soon became established in Christian faith. From this section we read:
Here the data focuses on the striking fact that within a few years the first Christians were speaking about Jesus in divine terms. The most outspoken testimony comes from John's Gospel. It begins by speaking of 'the Word' which/who was in the beginning with God and was God, through which/who 'all things were made' , and which/who became flesh in Jesus Christ (John 1.1-3, 14). The prologue to the Gospel ends by calling Jesus 'the only son', or 'the only-begotten God' (John 1.18); there are different readings in the Greek manuscripts, but the latter is more likely. In the same vein the Gospel reaches its climax in the adoring confession of Thomas, 'My Lord and my God!' (John 20.28). In addition we may simply recall the very high view of Jesus presented by John the Evangelist (above chapter 2). The probability that this is a developed view (chapter 2) is of no consequence here. It is the fact of such development within seventy years of Jesus' ministry which is so striking. (Page 61.)
So, despite the use of unproven higher-critical methods/theories, James Dunn still arrives at some very important conclusions shared by conservative New Testament scholars: first, the Gospels (including John) are authoritative; second, Jesus claimed to be the divine Son of God; third, Jesus' claims about himself and his relationship to God, led his disciples to conclude that he was in a very real sense God.
With the above in mind, I would like to suggest to Paul that he rethink his use of James Dunn.
Grace and peace,