Since I didn’t take a class during the three week term in January, Beth graciously agreed for me to have a few hours everyday for research. Toward the end of the month this time was used for reading ahead for the Spring term. However, for the first week or so I was able to let some thoughts percolate that otherwise had been stifled by the many assignments hanging over my head.
Epistemology and John:
Testimony is a dominant theme throughout the book, in fact John says at the very end of the book “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (21:24). We are to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ (20:31), because of his testimony. And yet Jesus says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet who have believed” (20:29). So our belief in John’s testimony is epistemically as justified as empirical beliefs which we would call verifiable (and even veridical); Thomas puts his hand in the risen Jesus’ side. However, though testimony is no less epistemologically justified its justification is derivative to the empirical fact. Another way this relationship could be construed is in terms of authority: John and Thomas’ eyewitness testimony is much more authoritative than mine would be.
The odd and great thing about this testimony is that there is still much wiggle room for the person hearing it; i.e. you can still reject it and have your reason intact. Testimony is not the same as logical proof (though I often wish it was when I am in the midst of conversations!) Even after the most convincing statement from a trustworthy source you are still left to decide whether you believe them. It is different from empirical ‘data’ insofar as the source of the putative belief is still in question, however none of us question our senses (ceteres paribus).
Yet, my sense is that John goes through much trouble to demonstrate that his testimony to the reader (not to mention Jesus’ testimony to Israel and the Pharisees), is credible in every regard. All of the criteria which we might bring to evaluate whether his claims are trustworthy are met with flying colors. So although his testimony is credible and sufficient (again, not exhaustive), it has not been accepted (as seen in the case of the Pharisees (cf. esp. John 5). It seems then that some corrolaries can be traced out which might help to further eludcidate our understanding of the biblical account/doctrine of the noetic effects of sin/the fall.
- There is a natural ability to listen to the testimony and even understand it. It seems like Jesus assumes that Nicodemus ought to understand regeneration by the Spirit though he is clearly not regenerate. This runs up against what seemed to me basic to our reformed apologetic: in order to believe, your fundamental assumptions/allegiance has to be altered, and your person has to be the subject of the Spirit’s regenerating work. So, by God’s common and sustaining grace, fallen humanity is able to understand the testimony though not accept it.
- The question then is, “is this rejection not evidence of a further more fundamental level of deception as a result of the noetic effects of sin?” What is the exact locus, or effect of sin on the mind? I am convinced that there is both an element in which the mind cannot understand revelation and stubbornly will not humbly receive revelation apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit. Thus Romans 8:7, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot.” Again, John 3:19, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
- Wherever the locus of the fall on the mind and the will is, there is nonetheless an Ethics of Knowing which comes into play. The will is displayed in your beliefs more than anything else. You are no neutral observer, but a willful agent in the whole matter, choosing to believe one set of claims over against another for various reasons (none of which are epistemological checkmates).
- The big question is how does all of this relate to Natural Law?
- After all, revelation takes place with cultural/intellectual categories
- Yet some element is either rejected or unable to be accepted
- The end game seems to be that a fundamental shift of loyalty is needed with the mind and will. The illuminating work of the Spirit is needed.
If some of this is slightly confusing; I apologize. I tried to provide a bit of context for some of my comments as well as some dialectical conversational dynamic. But this is only fragments of the whole; it is not all said and done.
PS: Just to demonstrate the importance of epistemology…. I’ve been thinking about one of the sticking points between Catholics and Protestants lately; Tradition vs. Scripture. This is essentially an epistemological question.