Continuing our look at Timothy Ward’s book Words of Life, I want to focus our attention words of Christ. Ward ties Christ’s words in with the idea of “fullness.” In his words, “Moreover, the ‘fullness’ of God, which God was pleased to have dwell in Christ, also included the words Christ spoke…The most likely implication is that these words were given by the Father to Christ in eternity, and not exclusively during his earthly life, such as during his childhood, or his adult life before the beginning of his public ministry…” (38) In my mind, it is a bit odd to take passages from John (which is what Ward is working with, see John 8:28b, 12:49-50; 17:8a), which claim that Jesus does not speak on his own and that he speaks what he is commanded by the Father, to somehow entail a conversation between the Father and the Son in eternity. Jesus, then, is simply repeating what he was told. Furthermore, I think it is an incredible jump to claim, in Ward’s words,
We can say, then, that these statements by Jesus provide a glimpse into the eternal life of the triune God. It is a glimpse of the Father preparing for the appearing of the Son in human form by giving him words he would speak during his earthly ministry” (38).
Certainly, in a minimalistic sense, these passages in John offer some insight into the mission of the Son in relation to the Father, fair enough. But it still seems odd to me that we have this Father-Son dialogue where Jesus is learning what to say. It somewhat reminds me of the breakdown of the pactum salutis which begins to sound like a committee meeting in the triune life. I’m just not sure this kind of analysis is helpful.
Ward is clearly trying to God-saturate the teaching of Jesus in a way that moves beyond it merely being “true.” Therefore, quoting John 6:63 where Jesus claims his words are full of Spirit and life, Ward believes this is because they are God’s own words (passed from Father to Son in the inner-life): “It is not that Jesus is saying in some metaphorical sense that his words will bring fullness of life and lead people to walk in the power of the Spirit, if they obey them, true though that may be. Instead he means what he (literally) says: because his words are words which God identifies as entirely his own, they are literally ‘full of the Spirit’, who is himself God, and full of eternal life” (39). Again, I’m not sure why pushing these “words” back to eternity somehow saturates them with Spirit and truth more so than if Jesus proclaimed then through personal/Spiritual knowledge of the father in his earthly ministry.
Ward, expanding his point, states:
For the words God the Father gave to God the Son have been given by the Son, in ordinary human language, to his disciples. Now those words are to be passed on through the words of the disciples. Therefore everyone who never met the Word incarnate directly, but who hears the words of Christ from the disciples, nevertheless encounters the words of the Father and of Christ, who in those words present themselves to us as a covenant-making God” (42).
What do we think of this kind of analysis? I am not very excited about the path Ward chose to take. Any thoughts?