I initially intended to make this a footnote to my question on main, but I would like some feedback from the community so I figured this is a better place to do that. I'm trying to figure out what rules of pseudo-neutrality in questions may or may not be operative around here. (Moderator or not, I'm relatively new to BH.SE, so I appreciate you bearing with me.)

The (potential) trouble with this question is that my own bias has framed the question with the assumption that John's gospel records (albeit in translation) words actually spoken by Jesus.* The "easiest" answer may be that this passage instead reflects the christology of the author of John's gospel projected back onto the lips of Jesus, without the need for a Semitic correlate.

In reflecting on how to structure the question to deal with this, I considered adding to my list of options, "Jesus didn't say this at all..." However, this seems to open a totally different line of argumentation — one that would require analysis far beyond this passage, and probably one that isn't scoped appropriately for a BH.SE question.

Is the question acceptable, or is there a way to change it so that it is?

*While we have many questions that assume the historicity of various aspects of the biblical text, it seems like the words of Jesus as recorded in John's gospel may be a special case, as there is a substantial contingent who takes the text seriously yet understands these words as something other than direct quotations....a view I won't attempt to characterize further as I'd probably do it incorrectly.

2 Answers 2


Pseudo-neutrality never completely took off as official site guidelines (and despite being the primary proponent of them, I'm actually kind of glad about that after many discussions with folks like Jack Douglas, Jon Ericson, etc.). While elements of it are in effect to some extent, they are often clarified under other ideas (e.g. questions must start from and arise naturally/obviously from the text).

Assuming Jesus was a real person and that John's gospel records his words (most likely translated into Greek) is not problematic—it is clear to me how that arises naturally from the text. So long as you are open to an answer that contends otherwise (which it appears you are), that's fine.1

What Jack Douglas and others helped me realize is that all questions have assumptions, and they are unavoidable. The goal is to minimize those as much as possible to encourage a diversity of answers, but we'll never make everyone happy. If we push pseudo-neutrality to its extremes, no one could ask anything.

If you can't tell, I'm no longer a huge proponent of strict pseudo-neutrality. I've shifted my focus to other, more specific things. The key thing is that the question arises naturally/obviously from the text. In this case I think it's clear that it does. +1 from me.

1 The only contention I would have is that it is technically unanswerable to tell you what someone actually said (certainty) unless we have an eyewitness/recording. What answers can do is tell you what he most likely said (probability), but that is a pedantic distinction. I wouldn't bother editing it—it's a good question as is.

  • Pedantic suggestion heeded, good point. It's helpful to have your ok on this, thanks!
    – Susan
    Sep 30, 2014 at 13:36
  • I agree that it is "neutral" enough, and that it "arises naturally/obviously from the text," but I perhaps have slightly more issue with the fact of it (1) being "technically unanswerable," with most of the likely probabilities already noted in the question, but nothing likely to distinguish between them (especially between אהיה and אני אהיה), and...
    – ScottS
    Sep 30, 2014 at 19:05
  • (2) hermeneutically irrelevant to understanding why the Jews took up stones to kill Jesus, since any of the suggested phrases would account for such a reaction given his statement of temporal relation to Abraham.
    – ScottS
    Sep 30, 2014 at 19:05
  • 1
    It certainly requires an Aramaic approach to the text, but there is scholarship in this area that can be referenced. But yes, changing it to probability rather than certainty helps deal with the (justified) unanswerable issue.
    – Dan
    Sep 30, 2014 at 22:11
  • @majnemɪzdæn Yes indeed! Thank you for posting your current frame of reference; now we can move on to 'bigger and better things'.
    – Tau
    Nov 6, 2014 at 19:44

I have already added an answer on "main", and UV'ed here. The question is a (better than) good one. Perhaps there was a slightly better way of framing the question, although OP's tweak from "actually" to "likely" headed in a good direction. ;)

The main points I want to make on Meta are:

  1. This question is no more "opinion based" that 84.7% of the questions asked on BH.SE that involve interpretation arising out of historical context. Responses to such questions necessarily require eliciting evidence, weighing it, and providing argumentation for its shaping a response in one way or another. This question does precisely that.

  2. I'm afraid that claims that there is "no evidence" for this question were simply made in ignorance. There is a large body of scholarly discussion of this issue, and it hasn't all simply been snatched out of the air. One needn't even be familiar with the specialist literature: a simple survey of standard commentaries would make this clear.

  3. Initial assumptions about where any evidence might, in fact, come from also turned out to be misplaced. Answering questions on BH.SE often necessitates doing research -- or a least a minimal bit of homework. This might sometimes be the case even for offering comments on questions. Difficulties arise when we don't know what we don't know ;) -- but I get the sense that most participants on BH.SE have a bit of humility and are here in order to learn.

So my take on this -- and generalizing from this particular case -- arrives at the same position that a previous response offered. Thoughtfully framed, well-researched questions that arise out of the text are very likely to be "on topic", even if they might need some help in formulating the question most effectively.

  • My initial rejection was not because it sought opinion from historical context, but that normally "exact words spoken" is pure speculation (pure opinion) with only the text itself to argue from. Your excellent answer showed for this case there may be more to argue from. But I believe you would admit that such a body of evidence is rare for exact words said 2000 years ago in a language other than what is written. Indeed, I did not know what I did not know, and researched no further (believing it futile) since I see the context alone answers why the Jewish reaction (and still do). Good find.
    – ScottS
    Oct 1, 2014 at 14:14
  • 4
    I guess I heard in it from the start the underlying question: if this is the Greek, what is the Hebrew/Aramaic that must lie behind it? Susan's use of "actually" didn't slow me down at all, as it happens. We all know there was no camcorder running, and (as noted in my answer) this question has had serious scholarly attention. But, in the end (if this is the end!), it seems to have been a productive Q&A+D ("D"iscussion). :)
    – Dɑvïd
    Oct 1, 2014 at 14:59
  • I "heard" the same thing as you, but such is essentially "unanswerable" (pure speculation) given that there are many words it might have represented. In the normal absence of extra background material for a verbal statement, picking among the options would be purely opinion based. After all, that was essentially why this very similar (though far less well developed and stated) question was closed.
    – ScottS
    Oct 1, 2014 at 15:30
  • 5
    Just my 2¢: occasionally questions that are "unanswerable" in terms of their topic matter are actually answerable in the SE format. In the case of a well scoped questions asking about the answer to some riddle, a valid answer that only an expert may be able to give could say "we don't have enough information to know". That in itself might be the definitive expert answer that is needed and closing such questions doesn't serve any purpose over answering. Of course [the more common] questions that insist on attempts to speculate in spite of that awareness can be closed forthwith as opinion based.
    – Caleb
    Oct 2, 2014 at 8:11

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