Monday, March 31, 2008

False Belief Corrected

Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. (St. John 20:8-9)

I had always wondered about these verses, until today, when I ran across an explanation from St. Augustine which makes a lot of sense. He says that the words "he saw, and believed" refer merely to what the women had reported, namely "They have taken away the LORD out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him" (v2). Hence, what "they believed" was not the truth, but only the report which was a deduction from reason.

They believed what was not true, until Christ Himself corrected their false belief with His word.

St. Augustine's explanation explains why it says after "they believed" that "as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead."

And this in turn leads us to pay heed to the Scriptures, lest we likewise believe falsehoods on the basis of deduction from reason.


Peter said...

I think Augustine must be off here. The beloved disciple repeatedly places himself in a place of superiority over Peter. This follows the pattern. His faith is not a misguided faith. He sees and believes, like Thomas.
Later, they will see that it "had" to happen that way, in fulfillment of scripture.

Father Eckardt said...

Actually, the beloved disciple auspiciously places himself beneath Peter. Consider how he ran to the tomb first, but waited until Peter got there, and let him go in first.

solarblogger said...


And the report was not merely a report of an empty tomb without an interpretation. What was reported was all interpretation, i.e. "They have taken the LORD out of the sepulchre" (FALSE. He walked out of the sepulchre himself, and there is no "they" involved in that.) "and we do not know where they have laid him" (FALSE again. "He" is probably standing somewhere of his own accord.) Even the women's confession of ignorance contains false information.

This took me a few minutes to understand as I am used to thinking of the women's report primarily as the report of an empty tomb.

Peter said...

I guess I see it differently. John runs more quickly, and more quickly believes. (His reluctance to enter the tomb seems to have more to do with his thoughtfulness and awe.) Peter does not come off as well.

This seems to fit a pattern in John. He notes that it is he (not Peter) who is at the bosom of our Lord at the Supper. He also notes his special place at the foot of the cross.

As for Peter? Though he is first in every synoptic list, in the gospel of John we find it was Andrew who brought Peter in. We also find that it is Nathaniel, not Peter, who first calls Jesus the Son of God.

Father Eckardt said...

On Peter entering first, what seems clear to me is not only that the beloved disciple stopped and wondered, but that he wanted it to be a matter of record that Peter went in before he did.

Fr. Timothy D. May, S.S.P. said...

In discussing the deduction from reason it appears that you are wisely warning against "reason alone" (and positing instead - reason informed by Scripture, fides et ratio(?)). This does not mean not using reason, for earlier in the post you state, "...when I ran across an explanation from St. Augustine which makes a lot of sense."

To the point about Peter entering first - that sounds both reasonable and Scriptural (or vice versa).

Peter said...

Well, to complicate things, John notes that Peter "followed him." So, who's the leader? Secondly, John says that the beloved disciple entered first (protos), a word synoptically reserved for Peter. (NB: John does not say that Peter entered "first"; he saves that adjective for himself)

Peter said...

Sorry, I meant to say, of course, that John came to the tomb "first."

Father Eckardt said...

Regarding reason, yes, I meant "reason alone," or rather, reason over Scripture.

Regarding John and Peter, umm, you're losing me here. Look, John waits for Peter because he knows that Peter ought to go in first. Now why would he think that?

Peter said...

Ok. To review. John thinks of himself as "the beloved disciple." He makes the claim that he was closest to our Lord at the Last Supper. He does not includes Peter's great confession, but instead ascribes a very similar confession to Nathaniel. While the other gospels give the impression that Peter was called first, John notes that actually Peter first came to the Lord through the message of his brother Andrew.

Furthermore, John uses the adjective "protos" to describe himself as he approaches the tomb. (It is not said that Peter entered as the "first" one.) He notes that Peter "followed him."
Thus, he puts himself into a leadership position. And, he notes that at the most important moment, that he, John "believed," which is the very purpose of the gospel. No such thing is said about Peter.

Peter, on the other hand, goes into the tomb before John does. No reason is given. You contend it is out of deference. (Which I don't see).

I am not denying that Peter is the lead apostle. But, John repeatedly makes the necessary point that the leader of the church is not necessarily the one is the most faithful, or the one who is most theologically astute, insightful, or deep. John is giving another side of the apostolic story.

Interestingly, even as Peter is restored in John 21, John makes the note again that he, John, was the one who was at the bosom of our Lord. And, in the end, Peter gets a firm but gentle rebuke abuot the continuing status of John within the church.

Ok. I guess that's enough. Sorry. I do tend to go on a bit.

Pr. H. R. said...

Here we go again. . .

I think I've mentioned the following thoughts to both of you, either here or at Petersen's, but I think it bears repeating.

Each age has its strength and weakness in coming to the Scriptures. Hence the need for each age to correct the other.

One of our age's strengths is a strong view of each Gospel in its own voice. But this can also be a weakness.

Peter's (not the Apostle - but the prof.) close reading of John over against the Synoptics can provide keen insights. It also can skirt close to an acceptance of conflict rather than nuance between the Gospels.

I prefer to read Matthew and John together - assuming as I do that the Holy Spirit is the author of both volumes. When that is done the picture comes out beautifully.

Matthew 16 - "flesh and blood have not revealed this to you"

John 1 - Andrew tells Peter, "We've found the Christ"

John 20 and Matthew 28 - men are sent to preach the Word of God.

They go nicely together - see?

So, Peter, a challenge for you. Taking the insights of today's close reading of each Gospel in its own voice - can you use those skills and techniques toward an Augustinian goal? How can your close reading of both John and the Synoptics help us understand how each is truly reporting differing shades of the same truth here in the Resurrection narratives?


Not Alone +++ PAS said...

Father Eckardt,

If you examine the text more closely, you will find that John explains the matter quite fully. Augustine unfortunately did set his own reason above the Scriptures and applied his own interpretation. While the point that you make (and possibly Augustine, too) about their faith needing to be corrected even after seeing the evidence of the resurrection, John does not indicate what Augustine and you are imposing upon the text.

In verse 8 John writes saw and believed, eiden and episteusen, both are aorist, active, indicatives.

In verse 9 John writes “For as yet they had not seen the Scriptures . . .” Here John uses the pluperfect edeisan from eido, to see or perceive.

So, John records that he saw what he had not been seeing up until now. Even though Jesus had told them over and over again, showing this from the Scriptures, they had not been seeing it. Now at least John saw it and believed.

Mary, who had been with the other ladies and heard the explanation from the angel apparently did not see the Scriptures until Jesus revealed Himself to her. Luke records that the ladies heard the words of the angel and were caused to remember His words, and returned to the others and uttered all these things. But John records that Mary did not believe what the angel told her. John however, saw and believed, now seeing the Scriptures through faith. This is his point in verses 30-31. He wants the readers to see AND believe the written record, that is, the Scriptures.

Peter said...

Augustinian challenge? If you put it that way, I would say that's what I'm doing. I'm pointing out the nuances. I don't see any contradictions, though the differences are illuminating.

And, as for your examples, I'm not sure they're on target. There is no need for John's story about Andrew to make sense of Matthew
16. I'd say that it was Jesus' own words and deeds that led Peter to confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. (At least, that's what I think Jesus means in Matthew 16).

Father Eckardt said...

Well, Fr. Siems, I like the way you have set about parsing the reading, and I'll grant that your argument has some merit, although I think you take the matter a bit unnecessarily far when you suggest that reason has the upper hand for Augustine (and for me).

The study of Scripture requires a certain kind of reason, after all, as does all study -- prior in this thread I indicated that this is not what I meant by the inappropriate guidance of reason; what you are suggesting is that reason has become more than ministerial in these interpretations, which would be a problem, but for which you will be hard pressed to supply evidence on Augustine's part. He is simply seeking to interpret the meaning of the Gospel here, on its own terms, as should we all.

That said, I return to the matter at hand. The pluperfect is rightly translated "had not yet believed." You suggest it means "until this point," which, I admit, is a possibility, though not one demaded by the verb form, as you seem to be insisting.

I remain persuaded that the greater likelihood is that he was making a play on words here, viz., "he saw and believed that the body was stolen, for he had not yet 'seen' what the Scriptures declare, that he must rise from the dead."