Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What does this mean? Isn't Jesus God?

I believe this may be a teaching moment. Or is it just confusion, or a misquote? The Presbyterian News Service put up an article, “Empirical hermeneutics: Dutch scholar employs intercultural contextual Bible study to explore how study of scripture produces transformation.” The experiment was, according to theologian Hans de Wit, to send out a Scripture text to various cultural groups to study and receive back their cultural perspective of the text. Putting all of the perspectives together would supposedly enlarge scholars understanding of the text and its transformative power.
The first one sent out was John 4 “― the story of Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well ―.” According to the author of the article, Jerry L. Van Marter, de Wit gave several descriptions of how various cultures reacted to the text. Including one rather odd statement which leaves me with the question, “what does this mean?”

de Wit’s group was paired with a group of South African Pentecostal bishops “who were very mad at us because they have a very high Christology and could only read the text as God, but not Jesus, redeeming the Samaritan woman.”

Does it mean that they believe Jesus is God and that is how it is that Jesus redeemed the Samaritan woman, but de Wit doesn’t believe that Jesus is God? Does it mean that they divide Jesus from Christ and it is only Christ who redeemed and not Jesus? Does it mean that the Presbyterian News got their terminology and quote confused?
If I had been the reporter I would have asked de Wit what he meant. And then because I was a religious news reporter I would have clarified it for my readers. And this is why I would have asked and clarified.

A high Christology means that the person holding it believes Jesus is God. Yes the Incarnation means that Jesus is fully God and fully human.  But one can never say that only the human nature redeemed but the God nature did not, nor can one say that only the God nature redeemed but the human did not. Jesus is fully God and he is fully human, and his two natures may not be divided nor merged. So what did de Wit mean? Was the quote correct? Does de Wit believe Jesus is God?
I believe, since de Wit has a background in liberation theology there is much more to this story and its theological content.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. … And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. … No one has seen God at any time, the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:1, 14, 18)


Whit Brisky said...


It seems to me the answer to "what does this mean?" has to be answered in its original cultural context first. That is, what did the human author mean by the author's words, and what did the author's intended first readers understand? Only then can we ask the subsequent question, "what does this mean for us today?"

I think this is the fundamental error of progressive theologians, to skip the first question and go straight to the second.

Viola Larson said...

Whit, I was asking what de wit's statement meant. You can't say that someone has a high Christology and at the same time say they don't see Jesus redeeming-only God.