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« Islamic Reformation | Main | Religion and the Debate »

May 15, 2007


Jesus was once called "Good teacher," by a young man and in response Jesus asked "Why do you call me good?"

The young man was right to proclaim Jesus as "Good teacher" but he didn't know why.

Jesus wants rationality to lead to the truth. It is important that truth be rationally established otherwise it is easily abandoned.

In the situation with this young man, Jesus addresses the pretext.

Christ wasn't asking the man to be rational! He said in the next sentence: "There is none good, but one, that is God" (Matthew 19:17). There is nothing in the context that even implies that Christ is trying to get the young man to be "rational" about his assertion.

I disagree Kevin.

Christ asked for the reason he called Him good. Then, Christ gave him to rational answer.

See this entry and comment:


The next line is exactly what implies the drive for rationality.

Jesus of Nazareth was quite subtle in many of his actions and in many of his teachings.

His meeting with the young man is a fine example.

"Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone," should have led the young man to a converse formulation of Jesus' words. The young man should have thought something like "If Jesus is good then Jesus is God."

Perhaps the original language would make this more clear than the English in that "good" could more clearly or strongly have identified an essence for "teacher" rather than just qualifying. This is the difference between the descriptors "brick" and "neat" for a house. The house can be made of brick so long as it is that same house. And the the house be neat so long as it is not put into disarray. That which is an essence is more permanent than that which is a qualifier.

BTW, this is a great way to stun a Jehova's Witness. Jesus' brilliant subtlety to the rescue!!!


No, I don't see the 'reason' behind imputing a desire to increase the young man's 'rationality' in Christ's words. Christ was quite clear that "God" was greater than he: "my Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). Is God greater than himself? I'm not denying the deity of Christ in asking this, as I take a kenotic (i.e. Philippians 2:6-11) approach to Christology (as opposed to a two-nature theory, which to me is incomprehensible and endangers Christ's sacrifice).

P.S. I see little need to "stun" anyone on matters such as these. I've personally found such tactics to be in bad taste.


Not sure how kenosis and the dual nature God/man theory are supposed to give a different Jesus. Both say that Jesus is something more than an ordinary human being. You'll have to explain the distinction you make.

In response to the verse you quote consider John 14:11.

"Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves."

How can the greater be in the lesser?

Since you claim to grasp kenosis, is it possible that Jesus is describing the ascension as a reverse or anti-kenosis. Upon reaching the Father's side, does He attain full Godhood?

Kevin you seem to accept the deity of Christ but reject His oneness with the Father. Are you claiming that Jesus is a lesser god?

There is much more in John 14 than the two verse we have picked on.

Kevin, are you a JW or have you ever been part of a JW congregation?

Either way, the comment about JWs is only because JWs attempt to use the passage in Matthew 19 and Luke 18 as a proof text for why Jesus cannot be God co-eternal with the Creator.

Subtlety is generally the opposite of stunning, but in an argument regarding this passage pointing out the subtlety will deliver the verbal KO where it is understood.

There are more subtle details I'd like to point out but won't.


You ask, "How can the greater be in the lesser?"

I can very simply quote from another part of that Gospel (17:21-23):

21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

22 And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

23 I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

Christ is speaking quite clearly: we are to share in the unity just as (kathos) he is in the Father (see also John 14:20); we are to share with the glory that the Father has given Christ (see also Romans 8:17--"heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ"). Seeing that the unity that the Godhead shares is extendable to others is the first step in better understanding the kenotic theory that I hold to.

"Since you claim to grasp kenosis, is it possible that Jesus is describing the ascension as a reverse or anti-kenosis. Upon reaching the Father's side, does He attain full Godhood?"

I take literally the Biblical claim that Christ's authority comes from the Father (Luke 10:22; John 3:35; 5:22,27,43; 7:16; Acts 4:27; Hebrews 1:2; 2:9). Thus, when he "emptied himself," because of his love of man, he had not the power to ascend on his own; that was in the Father's provenance. But he had the properties of God in potentia, though also partially realized insofar as knowledge and power are 'properties' that humans possess (it is not all or nothing, but graded). As Paul says of Jesus ("by whom are all things," hence Jesus as creator, not Jesus as human nature somehow conjuncted onto the divine nature) "in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren" (Hebrews 2:17). As such, I think calling the ascension an "anti-kenosis" would be appropriate, but only after he "learned...obedience by the things which he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8).

"Kevin you seem to accept the deity of Christ but reject His oneness with the Father. Are you claiming that Jesus is a lesser god?"

I am not denying his oneness with the Father; he is quite clear in scripture that he has such (see above). What I am disputing is the claim that he is "ontologically" one with the Father, of the "same substance" (which is actually a bad translation of homoousious, which is better translated "similar substance"). As said above, this unity is something that can be shared with others; we can have the unity "just as" (kathos) Christ has it with the Father.

As for whether Christ was "lesser," I do believe that his authority and divinity is contingent with his unity with the Father (as it would be for us as well), but when he is in that unity he shares a unity of life with the Father and Spirit. They are mutually indwelling such that one's thoughts are another's thoughts, one's feelings are another's feelings, one's joy is another's joy, etc. In such a state of ultimate intimacy there are no gradients of "lesser" and "greater"; there is simply pure love (1 Corinthians 13:4--"charity vaunteth not itself"). No doubt you will think that "dependence" is a "lesser" quality, but insofar as "love" is "the greatest" (1 Corinthians 13:13; also 1 John 4:8) and insofar as love requires a beloved (i.e. is dependent on a beloved to be loved), then I don't see it that way. In fact, I think absolute independence is the thing of monsters: we do not praise the man who is not touched (i.e. moved) by the plight of his children, yet the Unmoved Mover, the absolutely independent must be such.

No, I have never been affiliated with the Jehovah's Witnesses nor do I accept their view of Christology. That said, I still think the metaphor you continue to use--that of battle/fighting (i.e. "the verbal KO")--is still in bad taste. But that's just my apologetic preference.


Your response is well expounded and rational too. I admire what is obviously your quest for consistency of thought.

I think I understand your concern about the metaphorical speech for debate, at least, I think it comes from a good place.

I don't intend to seem combative, but the textual format and my writing style can, I suppose, make things appear that way.

Having established my intent, I do ask that you not frown so much on the metaphor as there is such a thing as the armor of God and the sword of the Spirit which is God's word described in Ephesians 6. Paul describes the Christian life as a struggle.

I guess that our extended communication is due to each of us having a different focus in interpreting the passage. I strongly value having a right view of God's nature as you have shown yourself to, but I approach this passage more with a focus on the role that Jesus is playing mostly that of teacher. You are concerned more with the ontology, I more with the modalism -- the role playing.

My habit is to see Jesus as a teacher in all his interaction with other human beings. This, is my standing assumption and a safe one too. Jesus came to deliver people out of darkness both spiritual and intellectual.

If you will, suggest another passage where Jesus is advocating rational thought.

Thanks for the input, you effort not in vain. The view you present adds to the BIG picture.


I don't think there is a place where Jesus is "advocating rational thought." The most that happens is that of sound interpretation, which I hold is different from consciously following explicit laws of logic to 'rational' conclusions. Even with the supposed reductios that Christ gives, I think approaching them as "advocating rational thought" is to impute 20th century philosophical practices to a 1st century Jew (i.e. it is anachronistic). In short, I do not think that Christ was a foundationalist... :o)

Is He just a 1st century Jew or does he transcend time? Anachronism does not apply if Jesus transcends time.

In the beginning was the Logos. Rational thought is not something invented in the 20th century. Let us not be arrogant toward those of the past thinking that we have an inherently greater intellect by virtue of our later birth dates.

Jesus taught "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." --Matthew 7:23-27

Will this do?

The modern terminology is not found, but here is a stress on right beginnings.

Am I still imputing?

Why should the young man have sought Jesus' advice? Because Jesus is the foundation upon which the wise build.

Jesus is "The true light that gives light to every man." Can this "light" be knowledge, wisdom, and rationality? Add this to your ontology.

If you think that I don't have a proof text then offer one. If you reject the idea that Jesus should care enough to want people to make sense and actually teach people how, then stop pretending to have greater heart then He by trying to offer correction. If Jesus the Logos doesn't care about rational thought then why should anyone?

Frustrated where before I had sincerely offered compliment.


I do not believe that Christ or God "transcends time." I find Evangelical John Feinberg's (apparently exhaustive) analysis of the temporality of God in No One Like Him to be quite persuasive; even in the case of "eternity", all temporal predicates as they refer to God are within time, not extra-temporal. But if we are talking specifically about what Christ did or did not know, I honestly don't think either of us are in a position to know what an incarnate God who is "in all things...made like unto his brethren" (Hebrews 2:17) knows or does not know (given that Christ does exemplify ignorance: Matthew 24:36 [note: the Greek simply says "none knoweth," there is no designation of "man"], as also in Matthew 27:46 [unless you think Christ was merely waxing poetic]). Much like our representations of 'perfection' in movies tend to be wooden, I don't think we are in a position to know the mind of an incarnate God. I may be willing to speculate, but I must admit that it is simply that: speculation.

"In the beginning was the Logos. Rational thought is not something invented in the 20th century."

Referring again to another's work, I agree with F.F. Bruce:

"No doubt the English term 'Word' is an inadequate rendering of the Greek logos, but it would be difficult to find one less inadequate... But if logos is not completely meaningless to an ordinary reader, it probably suggest something like 'reason', and that is more misleading than 'Word'. A 'word' is a means of communication, the expression of what is in one's mind...

"The term logos was familiar in some Greek philosophical schools, where it denoted the principle of reason or order immanent in the universe, the principle which imposes form on the material world and constitutes the rational soul in man. It is not in Greek philosophical usage, however, that the background of John's thought and language should be sought. Yet, because of that usage, logos constituted a bridge-word by which people brought up in Greek philosophy, like Justin Martyr in the second century, found their way into Johannine Christianity.

"The true background of John's thought and language is found not in Greek philosophy but in Hebrew revelation. The 'word of God' in the Old Testament denotes God in action, especially in creation, revelation and deliverance."
The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition, and Notes, 29.

While I admit that "reason" is not new with post-17th century thought, it is undeniable that around the time of Descartes "reason" took on a new significance (more below).

"Let us not be arrogant toward those of the past thinking that we have an inherently greater intellect by virtue of our later birth dates."

I most certainly do not think that. In fact, I would argue that both the ancients and those prior to Descartes (and some after as well, particularly in the Renaissance) had a much better view of 'reason' that so-called analytic philosophers today. Today "reason" has been hijacked by logical forms and grammar. But prior to this, for example in the Scottish Philosophers, we have such things as "taste" that, before they were 'subjectivized' in Kant, was understood as both an epistemological and ethical category: to have good taste is, in fact, to see things clearly, to be able to discern the tasteful from the distasteful (regardless of personal preference, much like food connoisseurs today). These were not codifiable in 'logical rules' that one could follow to have 'valid judgments,' but were more akin to being attunements to things, sensitivities that made salient the things being perceived. The same is the case with so-called 'common sense'--before it was something equally shared by everyone, understood primarily as simple know-how and etiquette, it was sensus communis, the sense of the community, an ethical and political skill that was to be nurtured and developed, not merely assumed. All of these are part of what is considered 'reasonable,' despite the inability to codify them or demonstrate them from basic propositions. I am also reminded of what is usually (and unfortunately) taken as a Biblical euphemism for sex in relation to 'knowledge': to know is to be intimately related to another, not to develop well-founded propositions about them (though our relation to them will no doubt have propositions as well). Yes, this is not contradictory to developing logical thought (as commonly construed in our 'analytic' world), but these basic moral sensitivities are more primordial, they are what give logic and logical argument their substance.

Jesus taught "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock""

Please understand me: foundationalism, in the most basic terms, is the belief in 'properly basic beliefs' that ground knowledge; any knowledge that we have, as propositional, must be derived from these basic propositions in order for them to be properly justified. Nothing in the verse you quote (which I fully agree with, by the way) endorses this view. Christ never gives or gives divine credence to any proposition as properly basic. As with the Gospel of Mark, all knowledge (or at least all knowledge worth having) comes directly from God alone, not from human thought or artifacts. Therefore, this knowledge is founded on a more basic understanding of reason, as given above: of being sensitive to God's promptings through the Holy Spirit; of being ethically and politically related to God through his Christ. Thus, you are equivocating if you think that giving that verse answers my statement: they refer to two different things.

"The modern terminology is not found, but here is a stress on right beginnings."

Yes, the way we begin is very important. But Christ is not saying that we are beginning with basic propositions that create the foundation for our knowledge. For Christ it is a matter of 'hearing' and 'practicing,' not of 'deducing' through abstract logical laws. Christ's pragmatism (using that term loosely) is much stronger than his rationalism (understanding that the latter is not entirely missing).

"Why should the young man have sought Jesus' advice? Because Jesus is the foundation upon which the wise build."

Yes, Jesus is the proper foundation; our direct relation to another being is what is the foundation. Not properly basic propositions. I thought that was part of the Sermon on the Mount: while the Ten Commandments are true within their own sphere, what is more foundational is the relationship that we have with others.

"Can this "light" be knowledge, wisdom, and rationality?"

Yes, in fact I would say that "wisdom" is more akin to what I've provided above rather than being intrinsically tied to "rationality." Thus, I do accept these in my ontology: I think that 'reason' as modernly construed is a necessary aspect of the human mode of being, but I do not accept it as fundamental or 'foundational.'

I am sorry if what I provided was frustrating, but I hope you see that most of the frustration comes from misunderstanding more than anything else.

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