Authorial Purpose and Textual Conflation: When Evangelicals and Jehovah Witnesses Argue Over Jesus’s Divinity, are They Both Missing Something?

It’s a curious thing to see Evangelicals argue with Jehovah Witnesses, for they cannot seem to agree on a crucial question: Was Jesus, ultimately, just the “Son of God” or was he also “God incarnate”?

Invariably, Jehovah Witnesses appeal to texts in Mark’s gospel and Evangelicals appeal to texts in John’s gospel.

So who’s right?

Academic biblical scholarship would say that neither group is probably “right”—and that both groups have engaged in a fallacy of textual analysis: they have assumed, without evidence, that Mark and John, had they known one another, would have ultimately agreed about Jesus’s nature.

In other words, academic biblical scholars tend to see differences in CHRISTOLOGY between the texts. John’s gospel, for example, has a high Christology, but in Mark’s gospel Jesus seems to insist on his inferiority to the Father, and deny that he is God. Most academic scholars don’t try to “reconcile” such texts. They instead acknowledge that both Mark and John had their own authorial purposes.

Thus, from the vantage of secular biblical scholarship, both Evangelicals and Jehovah Witnesses share more in common with one another than at first appears. They are both in the habit of conflating texts that their authors may not have wished to have conflated. Jehovah Witnesses simply give interpretive priority to Mark, and then make John “fit” Mark, and Evangelicals give interpretive priority to John, and make Mark “fit” John. But maybe John and Mark wouldn’t have agreed with one another, and it’s as simple as that.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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