Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Square:Cube::Ex nihilo:ex vetere

(Yes, another theology post, sometimes it just works out this way!)

This is a quote from a Q&A Panel at a recent Wheaton conference about N.T. Wright, which included much critical commentary on his scholarship, including the fact that he wrote a book Jesus and the Victory of God (JVG) in 1996 about the historical Jesus, followed by a book about the resurrection in 2003. One question is, why did you do that? How can you write about Jesus without talking about the resurrection (even if you eventually devote more pages to the latter than the former)? How can you know anything about Jesus from just history without the resurrection? Here's his answer and a follow-up about JVG.

NT Wright: What we see going on in John 20 and 21 in the encounters with the risen Jesus with Thomas and Peter and even before that with Mary as well in the garden, is, among many many other things, the introduction of a new sort of knowing, a new way of knowing. And this is not to collapse back into an Enlightenment category and say “This is not objective knowing but it’s purely subjective or spiritual knowing,” because I really don’t want to say that. It is a knowing which goes beyond merely what you can put into a test tube or whatever, but it includes that because this is about new creation, and new creation is a creation ex vetere not ex nihilo. That is to say it is a transformation of the old creation so that the old epistemological rules still apply but they are like the 2 dimensional version and we now have a 3 dimensional thing . If you have a cube, a cube is still a square if you look at it from one point of view and how you know a cube is to know it in 3 dimensions but that doesn’t take away the first 2. So I want to say that the historical knowledge you know, the knowledge of Cicero, or Seneca or Julius Caesar -- to take figures from Roman history of the same period, we can know quite a lot about who they were about what their motivations were, about why they thought what they thought, about why they did some of the strange things that they did -- we can explore that as historians and that is fine, that’s part of the 2 dimensions. What we get in the resurrection is a 3rd dimension – a new creation which doesn’t deny but rather enhances, I would say, the 2 dimensions we’ve already got. In order to have a discussion about real knowledge and how we know things and what is true you need to have an entire conference on epistemology and set up those questions but I think this is a place to start anyway. I would be interested to know what Marianne says.

Marianne Meye Thompson: I don’t have a lot to add to that, but it was Richard’s phrase that the resurrection is an epistemological key or clue to knowing Jesus, but I think the 2/3 dimensional thing may be helpful there, but the question that Richard put to you, Tom, is now that you have written the resurrection of the son of God would you do the Jesus project differently or would you say that the Jesus who is known through the resurrection is the 3 dimensional Jesus which renders any other Jesus, including the Jesus of JVG, a 2-dimentional Jesus or at least a limited – or not the whole story… and maybe that’s the question we are after.

NT Wright: Yes, that’s very interesting. In fact I’ll respond to that because I think it is germane to the question asked. I think granted that much of the quest for Jesus was basically 2 dimensional in that sense. I think what I was doing in JVG was saying okay let’s accept those terms of the argument and let’s describe those 2 dimensions as thoroughly as we can and point after point we find those 2 dimensions saying actually there is more – actually we think there is probably a cube here and not just a square.

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