Anderson-dialectical thinking

I am reading Paul N. Anderson’s The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel.

The fourth gospel has been the center of controversy about the nature of God, Christ and the Trinity. Church history has seen several clashes about this. These stem from what Anderson calls the theological riddles of John.

One of the most arcane, from the modern point of view, and yet consequential in history is the argument about whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or the Son as well as the Father. Along with some calendar issues, this was a major cause of the division of the church between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic in 1054 CE. Rome added a phrase to the creed as follows:

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father ⟨and the Son⟩.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.

John’s gospel does not clarify this point.

In one of Anderson’s on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand passages he says:

On the one hand,

*Jesus declares that he will ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit (14:16), and he also declares that the Father will send the Holy Spirit in his name (14:26); as the Son proceeds from the Father, so does the Spirit (15:26).

On the other hand,

*Jesus also declares that he will send the Holy Spirit from the Father (15:26), and he promises to send the Parakletos after he departs (16:7), the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus as the Christ who reminds believers of Jesus’ teachings and who makes his will known (14:26, 16:13-15), testifying of Jesus’ behalf (15:26).

This is why theology makes my head hurt. I have a hard time comprehending the distinction or why the distinction matters. Maybe this is because I do not believe in the social Trinity. In other words, from the Hebrew Bible we learn that there is only one God. Yes God has manifested the divine nature as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But we are still monotheists. So God gives the Holy Spirit. God the Father? God the Son? God gives the Spirit and the Spirit is the gift of the divine self–so the Holy Spirit is God too. That is about as complicated as my small intellect will allow me to be.

Back to Anderson: he proposes that John has all these theological riddles because he was a dialectical thinker. John said this is true and that is also true. He held contrasting truths in a necessary tension. This is because he was dealing with several kinds of errors. Some of these errors were on one side and some were on the other side. It is as though John navigated the church between two shoals. His job was to get people to affirm both sides of the truth and so stay on course.

Anderson believes that the passages about antichrists in letters of John cannot be lumped together. There was one group that denied that Jesus was the Messiah, and so wanted to go back to Judaism. There was a different group that denied the suffering of Jesus and said that he had not come in the flesh. These were willing to compromise with Roman religion.

Farther back in the history of the communities that pertain to John, there had been need to dispute with disciples of John the Baptist, Samaritans, Palestinian Jews, Hellenistic Jews, and new Gentile converts. The community had existed in Palestine for a while. Then it had moved to Asia Minor. The gospel is many-sided because it reflects all these contacts.

Anderson does not think the paradoxes are so polarized that we need to resort to theories of contradictory sources or large-scale displacements in the text. Most of the paradoxes are just the author exercising a brilliant dialectical mind and trying to correct several different kinds of error.

In regard to the Holy Spirit the point is that the teaching of Christ is still available to the church. John seems to balance a kind of free wheeling charismatic authority with the growing tendency of the church to give power to bishops and other officials. But Christ had sent the Spirit to have the role of Paraclete (traditionally translated as Comforter, but better as Counselor). This meant that God was not just a distant figure in a far off heaven and Jesus was not just a figure from the past. The Spirit represented a divine authority that could still challenge human presumption.

Next I will turn to historical tensions and take you through Anderson’s reconstruction of the John community’s history.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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