Chapter Eight: Gary Collins' Interview
This chapter’s about the Trilemma, and Price decides to mostly bypass a direct address of CFC. He begins instead by arguing that we can’t accept the self-revelations of Jesus recorded by John. However, only one argument is given for why this is so: The fact that those self-revelation statements aren’t paralleled in the Synoptics.
This is not a good reason to dismiss the record of John. The social world of the Bible made a distinction between the way you proclaimed your identity in private, among your own ingroup, and the way you proclaimed it in public, with strangers. With your ingroup, among people who acknowledged you and your identity, it was much more acceptable to make open statements about who you were.
It is readily seen that most of the divine self-proclamations in John made by Jesus were in one of two places: The first place was among his disciples – his ingroup. We’d expect him to be more open there. The other place was in front of his opponents, the people who ended up wanting to stone him. There, since there Jesus’ honor was being challenged, we would also expect him to make brazen self-identifications – though you can see what happened as a result: They tried to stone him. That’s also what we’d expect from that social setting.
As for the Synoptics, most of the talk Jesus did in those was in public. That’s exactly when we would expect him to be most ‘tactfully coy’ as Price puts it. So in the end: When Jesus proclaimed himself most openly, that is when he received the most hostile reactions. In other cases (the Samaritan woman) we see him using oblique language to speak of himself and allowing others to "gather data" first and reach a conclusion, so that, appropriate to that social setting, it is they who proclaim his identity rather than he. In this light Jesus in John is in the same social situation as Jesus in the Synoptics, and the portraits are completely consistent.
After this Price discusses three passages in the Synoptics, though in reality, there’s lots more he needs to look at (see series here). The first is Matt. 11:27/Luke 10:22, which is a lot like John 1:18. Price’s only argument for why it is not authentic is that it “presupposes the resurrection and exaltation.” In other words, it can’t be true, because then it would be true – Price’s only argument is thus abjectly circular. The second passage is Mark 12:1-9, the Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Price says it is an “anachronism looking back on the career of Jesus” which is the same abjectly circular argument as the last one. He also adds that is can’t come from Jesus, because he cannot see why Jesus would depict God as a “rapacious absentee landlord and made the poor sharecroppers villains.”
Well, for starters, as Mark 12:12 (cf. 11:27-33) makes clear, the “poor sharecroppers” were meant to represent the establishment, and Jesus would certainly do well to make that bunch out to be villains – and very few would have minded God doing that rapacious landlord bit on those guys. The Essenes probably would have done Jesus one better on that, in fact.
Next, Price takes issue with Jesus’ use of “the Father” as significant of his identity. Actually we’re with him here, believe it or not: “The Father” we’d say does indicate some sort of relationship, but not anything that can be quantified by itself; after all, Roman Emperors were called “Fathers” of Rome. That said, Price’s dismissal of Jesus possibly using the term on the grounds of counting how many times it is used in each Gospel is rather off the mark, as we discussed here some time ago.
Price’s next serious objection is that trhe Trilemma is a case of the “Bifurcation Fallacy” – “oversimplifying the options in order to manipulate the audience into choosing the option you favor.” Very well, then, what option would Price add to the mix? We asked that question before and the best option anyone could come up with was, “maybe Jesus was honestly mistaken about being God,” which is hardly workable. Price doesn’t do much better, as he offers the possibility of “gurus who viewed themselves as divine avatars,” but why this is an option on monolatrous Jewish Palestine is not explained. Please note that the Trilemma works with valid options in its context. “Jesus was actually one of those dyslexics and he was saying he was a dog, not God” is not made a valid option just because you throw it in the air, and neither is Price’s “guru” option. (His protest that it is, doesn’t address the point that it’s a non-Palestinian Jewish option; nor that it’s not entirely unrealistic, his attempt to suggest that it isn’t notwithstanding. Claiming to be breaking out of the Samsara wheel just isn’t that extraordinary.)
At this point Price decides to address a bit of what Collins says in CFC. To the point that no one saw Jesus doing stuff crazy people do, Price replies, “True, but then again, what do they always say about serial killers before they go on their shooting sprees? They were the nicest guys, cared about people, never gave a hint of what they finally proved themselves capable of doing.”
The analogy here is deeply flawed: Serial killers, generally, are not crazy. They’re evil. Same for Jim Jones. Price has fallen for the humanist view that people like Hitler, et al couldn’t possibly have done what they did in their right minds. But the issue here is psychological disorder – not bad behavior. Price is confusing the two.
Collins says, “No normal, human brain may hold a belief in its own deity,” and Price replies with a theological objection that is most peculiar: “It means that Jesus must have been out of his mind even if he were correct about being God. Such a belief would have exploded any merely mortal mind, If the belief did not drive him mad, he must have had a qualitatively superhuman mind, and that, if I am not mistaken, amounts to the Apollinarian heresy.”
There’s an irony here in that Price, a professed apostate, is acting out the role of heresy hunter. Still and all, is that indeed what’d we have? Not at all. Price is making the standard error many critics (and even Christians) do of imposing modern anthropological categories on the Chalcedonian definition. (See more on this in an article in the May 2010 E-Block.) Having a super-brain (or something that made his own brain capable of accepting his divine identity) would not have disqualified Jesus as “man” according to the ancient categories that mattered. What mattered there most was his human ancestry. That defined Jesus as “man” and nothing would change that. There is no need for any deeper theological solution.