This will be my last post for awhile on the Gospels, Lydia McGrew’s claims, and Lydia McGrew’s claims about what others have meant when they’ve talked about the Gospels. It has become quite a complex discussion that some people have been following for several months.
At the beginning of this small series I noted my interest in engaging with the writings of Lydia McGrew on the Gospels. My interest has been in analyzing a number of her claims about the Gospels (or even about what others have said about the Gospels), especially since it appears that nobody else was willing to write any critical responses to her blogs. While her husband Tim has claimed that I have a vendetta against her, that I’ve even committed “extortion” (though he later retracted that admitting to some meaning other than what the dictionary says the word means), that I’ve “‘completely lost [my] grip on reality,” this is nothing of the sort. Some of us do not have the same intelligence as the McGrews, but that does not mean they are always correct … especially when they attempt to ascribe motive and intent. My motive and intent has been to seek out the truth and to defend those who are being unfairly criticized.
This past week I interviewed Dr. Craig Evans on the show and one of the questions I asked him concerned the ‘I am’ discourses and a phrase he used last spring that Jesus goes “on and on and on for many verses.” That statement has led Lydia McGrew and her followers to believe that Evans meant Jesus is speaking in monologues (i.e., speaking solo at length uninterrupted). For example:[blockquote2]That there are not seven, nor even several, “long I am discourses” in John can be seen simply by opening one’s Bible. Check out “I am the light of the world,” which Evans explicitly claims inaugurates such a discourse in which Jesus “goes on and on and on.” On the contrary, it is a short saying that takes up one single verse (John 8:12) and is immediately followed by a challenge from the crowd to the effect that Jesus’ testimony is not true since he is testifying to himself. This inaugurates a back-and-forth dialogue, not about his being the light of the world but about testimony, Abraham, and who their father is and who Jesus’ father is, culminating in “Before Abraham was, I am” in verse 58, at which point they try to stone him. There is no long discourse anywhere in sight.[/blockquote2]
This has led her to write, in different blog posts and comments:
1. “It would be difficult for Evans to have been more incorrect, on a sheerly factual level, in this statement about Jesus as a monologuing fellow in the Gospel of John.”
2. “It’s rather interesting to see how many errors could be packed into such a short statement.”
3. “That there are not seven, nor even several, “long I am discourses” in John can be seen simply by opening one’s Bible.”
4. “In Evans’s case, of course, we do have that description, ‘Goes on and on and on for many verses’ which is outright false in any case concerning most of the sayings he listed.”
If you listen to my interview with Evans, you’ll hear him reject the above interpretation of his words about the ‘I am’ discourses: “No, I don’t believe the historical Jesus is monologuing. I’m talking about how Jesus is presented, or how his teaching is assembled, by the respective Evangelists. … I’ve never even thought of monologue as some sort of a genre.”
One of my Facebook friends kindly pointed out that Evans’s answer was chiefly about the historical Jesus (contra, John’s portrayal of Jesus). Evans does mention “genre,” so I took that to be a confirmation about the text (i.e. John’s portrayal). Nevertheless, if there were any doubt, I sought one final question from Evans via email. My question was this: “Do you believe that John’s portrayal of Jesus (not the historical Jesus) in the ‘I am’ discourses is of a monologuing Jesus?”
CE’s full reply: “I do find this ‘monologuing’ question odd. The evangelist John has created discourses, in which [Jesus] is portrayed as speaking, almost as a monologue. Even so, Jesus rarely goes for more than two or three paragraphs before someone asks a question and Jesus replies. The Johannine discourses could be described as ‘monologues,’ but only in qualified, limited sense.”
First and most importantly, note Evans’s recognition that Jesus “rarely goes for more than two or three paragraphs before someone asks a question.” From this we can plainly see that McGrew has presented a caricature of Evans’s position. Evans does not mean that Jesus speaks solo, at length, uninterrupted. Next, Evans does say that the ‘I am’ discourses are “almost as a monologue” because (if I understand his view correctly) he thinks Jesus is in a teaching-like mode, like a professor might be. Professors engage their students, asks them questions, answers their questions, etc. When a professor does this, we wouldn’t say that he is actually delivering a monologue (like how a politician might deliver a speech, e.g. the State of the Union address). Finally, note Evans’s last sentence where he shies away from using the term. It’s a word which would require qualification and could only be used in a “limited sense.”
To conclude this point, I find no substantial difference between Evans’s view and my interpretation of his view, even if I have parsed it out differently than he would. From this answer we can rightly deduce that if I had asked him, ‘Does Jesus speak at length, by himself, uninterrupted in the “I am” discourses?’ his answer would have been, ‘No.’ Therefore, his position is not the one that McGrew describes in her blog posts critiquing him.
Sometimes scholars will disagree over what a person meant by a statement or there will be miscommunication on some issue and that’s the end of the road. There are other times when, after receiving clarification, scholars will submit updates or retractions for their remarks. We now have a situation where one scholar has clarified what he meant and what he meant is not how another scholar (from a different field) has depicted what he meant. I’d like to believe that the McGrews (both Lydia and her husband, Tim) would retract their unfair criticism of Evans on this point. Unfortunately, that won’t be happening.
I want to invite everybody to watch my interview with Evans to judge for himself or herself what Evans’s intentions were with his answers.
My Autumn schedule is extremely busy, so I’ll be bowing out of further writing on this topic. Thanks for following along and let me know if there are any topics on your mind!