9/23/13, 9/26/13, and 2/7/17]
Gospel of John
As I hope I made it
clear last time, today's New Testament
scholars cannot come to agreement on Jesus--not even
close. John Crossan's The
Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant and
John Meier's A Marginal Jew:
Rethinking the Historical Jesus are both immense volumes, each
representing pretty much a lifetime of scholarly
work. But the pictures they present of Jesus are completely
incompatible! Certainly somebody
has wasted a lifetime of scholarly evidence. Maybe two
this inevitable? No. The only credible sources we have for
the life of Christ, the four canonical gospels give us a remarkably
picture, and when one's sources agree, one does well to accept their
But do the sources agree? What about the Gospel of John?
The Gospel of John is in some ways very different from the
gospels, so different that many have maintained that the events and
described in it have little relationship to the historical Christ or
synoptics. However, a close examination of this gospel shows that
the picture of Jesus and his teachings given in this gospel does not
with that of the synoptics but complements and supplements
in surprising ways.
[I suggested in class that one
possible way of comparing/contrasting John's gospel to the synoptics is
to look at the five "Narrative Essentials," plot, character, theme,
setting, and tone. Note that John's setting is different: he
focuses more on Jesus in Jerusalem, while the synoptics focus on Jesus
in Galilee. The synoptics focus more on Jesus' public teaching
(things like the Sermon on the Mount and the parables) while John
spends more time on Jesus' private teaching (see the "exoteric" vs.
"esoteric" distinction below). John often does more with
character with they synoptics, and his tone is different as well.
There seem to be some thematic differences as well.]
Now in much scholarly
discussion of the life of Christ, the
of John is strangely neglected. That's in part because 19th
scholarship relegated the gospel to late date in history, alleging that
none of it
is historical. F.C. Bauer and the Hegelians claimed that the
John was written as late as 250 BC, more than 200 years after the
death of Jesus. What was their evidence? None: but that was
the dating of John that matched their paradigm. The Deists of the 18th
century, and, even more, those who wrote the liberal lives of Jesus in
the 19th century were absolutely convinced that Jesus was merely a
great teacher who had never claimed to be any more than that.
Only later did
the Christian writers turned Jesus the Teacher into the divine son of
This is the main reason
19th century scholarship insisted that
the gospel of Mark was first. Mark presents a very human Jesus,
so they say, and is therefore early. John, on the other hand is
more explicit: Jesus' claims to
divinity in John are so clear that this gospel just had to be late.
But this paradigm is
simply wrong. The need of the early
church was not to emphasize more and more the divinity of
Jesus. The real problem was to affirm Jesus' humanity.
Docetism (reflected later in Islam!) claimed that Jesus only appeared
to have an earthly body. Notice the line from I John, "Any spirit
that confesses not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of
God." Further, just as eschatology doesn't work well as an "index
fossil" for the Biblical text, neither does Christology. Just as
today's church-goers differ radically in their Christology, so early
followers of Jesus probably differed as well.
As Biblical archaeology
began to get going in the 20th century,
those who late-dated John should have been admitting their mistakes
with a good deal of embarrassment when the archaeologists working at
Oxyrynchus in Egypt dug up a fragment of John's gospel that clearly
dated from the first half of 2nd century AD!!! Oddly, there are
lots of textbooks that still date John's gospel to 150
AD. Being a scholar means never
to say you're sorry. But it might also mean ever learning and
able to come to knowledge of the truth.
So when was John written? Early Christian writers
that John himself was the last of the apostles to survive, and that he
wrote the gospel close to the end of his life, around 90 AD, and that’s
still the consensus date.
In his "Redating the New Testament," J.A.T. Robinson argues for an even
earlier date. Robinson's claim is that there is no reason to
believe any of the NT books was written after 70 AD and lots of
to think they were written before that date. Robinson is no
conservative: he's just having a good time tweaking the noses of those
who speak with such authority and arrogance without any real evidence
to back their theories.
While it's possible the Gospel of John was written as early as Robinson
thinks, the end of the gospel does suggest a somewhat later date.
The final chapter talks of a widely-circulated story that John wouldn't
die until Christ returned, and corrects a misunderstanding: what
Jesus had said was not that that apostle wouldn't die. Jesus
simply said if he tarry until I come, what is that to thee? In view
of the way the gospel ends, the 90 AD date of John seems likely, as is
the tradition of the church that John was specifically asked to
supplement what the other gospels had to say.
Also making the
somewhat later date likely is the way John talks about the Jewish
leaders. One difference between the synoptics and John is that the
latter refers to “Jews”
rather than Pharisees and Sadducees. John certainly knows the
difference: In John 18:15, John is referring to himself
when he says, “That disciple was
known unto the high priest.”
So why the generic reference
to Jews? Notice Acts 12 where Herod kills
James the brother of John, and when he saw it pleased the Jews,
imprisons Peter. Notice
that Luke has shifted here a bit too…and John maybe begins to shift at
this point: Christians and Jews are going their separate ways.
Now note that John was in a very good position to supplement the basic
story told by the synoptic writers. In some ways, he was the closest to
Jesus of all the Apostles. Unlike the other gospel writers, he
heard John the Baptist's preaching directly (Matthew was called
later, remember, and Luke says specifically that he interviewed those
who were eyewitnesses) so he is able to supplement quite well the
synoptic account of John the Baptist and his conflicts with the Jewish
Also, John is the one disciple who (more or less) does what Peter
claimed he could do…stick with Jesus until the end (woman, behold thy
son….), and, because of this, can add to the trial and crucifixion
accounts of the synoptics.
John begins to supplement the synoptic message right from the
beginning of his gospel.
Why does John begin his gospel where he
does this add to the synoptic account?
Another area in
which John supplements the synoptic account is in his
information on John the Baptist.
- echo of Genesis
(like Matthew in using OT imagery)
- use of term logos
(necessary in explaining how Jesus can be God)
- use of light
imagery (cf. Luke 1:79/2:32)
- makes explicit
what is implied in other gospels, Jesus
- the rejection of
Jesus by "his own" (At the beginning!
also the emphasis
on becoming sons of God from beginning and how this fits with the "Our
How is John's treatment of John the Baptist
from that of the synoptic gospels? Why are there these
John also supplements
the synoptics by giving us information on
not described much in the synoptics and additional information on some
instance, talks about Philip
John's attempt to
supplement the synoptics leads to some alleged
e.g. John places the "cleansing of the temple" early in
ministry. The synoptics place it late. Is this a
Why the seeming conflict?
- Explains John's
conflict with Pharisees (in the synoptics,
as the Jewish leaders approach John he calls them a generation of
apropos of nothing. We've got an explanation here, the earlier
challenge from the Jewish leader to John: "who are you."
- Fills in Mark's
jump from baptism of Jesus to imprisonment of
background to calling of disciples, and explains
what seems strange in the synoptics, their immediate response to his
"follow me "command.
- Note that John
actual baptism of Jesus. Is this a conflict? No!!!
Really, what we have here is a repeated
And, in view of fact that John fits Mark in particular like a jigsaw
puzzle, it seems
more likely just an additional piece of the puzzle. And the more
you look at John, the more convincing the "jigsaw puzzle" view
almost never includes what synoptics give you already, and includes
that they don't, e.g. the conversation with Nicodemus, the story of the
woman at the well, the turning of water into wine, the healing of the
man at Bethesda, the healing of the man born blind, and the raising of
Lazarus. Much of what John includes ties well to the themes of
the other gospels:
The problem here is to
figure out why, while the synoptic writers overlapped substantially
with one another and seem to reflect a common core of fundamental Jesus
works and deeds, John's material doesn't overlap nearly as much, and
there does seem a fairly substantial difference between the John
material and the synoptic material.
- The woman at the
well story gives us another Samaritan incident, consistent
Luke's concern for Samaritans
- Jesus "my meat is
to do will of him that sent me" line is consistent
with temptation account and with the synoptic account of Jesus working
- John 6:53 fits
particularly well to Luke's communion account--though, when talking
about the Last Supper itself, John doesn't include the bread-breaking
or the cup!
John's miracles almost all take place in Jerusalem, and the part of
Jesus teaching John gives is likewise mostly Jerusalem material.
This is an important way in which John supplements
The Synoptics deal mostly with Galilee miracles and teaching. Would
this make a difference? I think so. My teaching at NSU is a
lot different from what I might do at a conference or from what I say
if I am a guest speaker when I go back to California. For Jesus
too the many trips to Jerusalem meant a change from the usual ministry
in Galilee. And notice how much this adds! John alone
really gives you the background to conflicts with Jerusalem
authorities. John records progressively greater miracles and
emphasizes far more greatly the conflicts of Jesus and the Jewish
authorities involving the temple (cf. the Chapter 10 account of the
Feast of Dedication).
John does occasionally
deal with Galilean events, e.g., the water into
at Cana and the healing of a man's son. But he does this for a
reason. These are the first and second
miracles Jesus did. Notice John's words, "And his disciples
believed on him." This helps explain why, later, they left their
nets to follow more closely. One other Galilean event overlaps:
the feeding five
thousand. This account is almost
identical with Mark's in detail, but John adds an important discourse.
John includes supplement nicely then those
in Synoptics. But what about characters portrayed? What
about John the
Baptist, Thomas, John himself--and, most importantly, Jesus?
Notice the questions put to Jesus in the Gospel of John and
answers he gives. Is this consistent with the synoptic picture of
Jesus' technique in dealing with questions? Of course it
is. It's the typical Jesus
and answer exchange, compare the "give unto Caeasar" story with the
"woman in adultery" story.
What about the miracles
Jesus performs? Are the
described in the Gospel of John consistent with the miracles of the
Of course. Compare John 7:21-23 and Matthew 12:9-14: both dealing
with Sabbath healings.
Is the Christology of the Gospel of John consistent
the Christology of the other gospels, i.e. does John seem to have the
view of who and what Jesus is as the synoptic writers? Here, of
course, is a major controversy between conservative and liberal
scholars--and it's a question I'll leave my students to think about and
to discuss in class.
In Chapters 13-17 John
includes many words of Jesus not
the other gospels. Are the teachings here consistent with the
of Jesus' teaching? How do you explain the fact that the other
do not include any direct reference to these ideas?
Note that the synoptic gospels
all contain the apostles' question, "why
do you speak to them in parables?"--a suggestion that Jesus taught
those "without" in a way different from the way he taught his
disciples. Here, Jesus is speaking more
yet still using parable type of imagery. What we've got seems a
contrast between public teaching and private
conversation. In some ways, this method is typical of ancient
teachers. Aristotle, for instance is said to have two types of
teaching, esoteric (for those on the inside) and exoteric (for general
With Aristotle, we have only esoteric teaching! In John, what we're
probably getting here is Jesus' esoteric teaching, while in the
have the exoteric teaching.
Especially important in
these chapters is the way John treats
the Last Supper. The Last Supper was a Passover meal. As today, it was
meal with lots of
telling of the Exodus story and different ceremonial things to eat,
wine, lamb. The actual supper takes place before some of the
elements. Only a very small part of this Passover service is
in the Synoptics, e.g., the last bit with the unleavened bread and the
last cup of wine reserved
the coming messiah (well, they say Elijah today).
Jesus gives these elements
new meaning, and they become the central sacrament of the
But do you notice something odd? John does not include this part
of the feast! No "this is my body", etc. Not important to
No, these things are very important (cf. John 6:53-58). How do
these things out? The most likely explanation is that he doesn't
need to repeat a part of the story Christians hear every Sunday.
John only goes over synoptic events if he has something
to add. And he does have something to add to the story of the
of the Last Supper, e.g. foot-washing. This is important!
disciples arguing about at last supper, according to Luke? Who
be greatest! John doesn't include argument, but he does show part
of Jesus answer. Also, Jesus command to "love one another as I
you: by this shall all know that ye are my disciples" goes to
heart of this argument.
How does John's
treatment of the trial, crucifixion,
of Jesus differ from that of the Synoptics? How do we explain
- The cup of
18:11 makes sense only if one already knows about the cup prayer in the
Garden of Gethsemane
- In 18:10-11
giving the servant's name (Malchus) adds some important
information on what happens with Peter: A Malchus relative is one of
questioning Peter. John also notes that it was cold and
Peter wanted the warmth of
conduct is more fully explained, and we see why he is brought
an innocent man. In the days of Tiberius when the crime of "maiestas"
meant loss of life and fortune, Pilate couldn't afford to be denounced
as someone who wasn't "Caesar's friend."
- John adds
other details: Mary and John's relationship, the blood and
water from Jesus' side.
All these things show
John as a supplement to the Synoptics, but, perhaps the most important
way in which John is a supplement to Synoptics is in which it clarifies
choice: why some followed Jesus and why others didn’t.
appearance of the resurrected Jesus is clarified. In the
disciples are told to meet Jesus in Galilee, but the actual
appearances are in Jerusalem. John makes it clear. First
their are Jerusalem
appearances, then a return to Galilee and more appearances.
It makes it more
clear why Jesus was a problem for Jewish leaders:
His claim to be Messiah created a legitimate fear that Romans would
come and take away city and sanctuary.
Jesus was plain provocative: note his actions at Feast of Dedication,
Hanukkah, in John 10:23. They ask him, “if you’re Christ tell us
plainly.” Jesus ends up saying “I and my Father are one.”
But John insists that the real problems are spiritual:
Truth makes us uncomfortable ("Men love darkness because their deeds
pressure ("How can
ye believe which receive honor one of another?")
peer pressure (Fear of
being cast out of synagogue)
Following Jesus is too hard (note the "hard
And yet plenty to keep
people following as well. Consider the following:
- The healing of
the man born blind. Note that such miracles impressed many, e.g.
Nicodemus, and led to a willingness to listen to Jesus teaching.
also Jesus's question to his disciples and their answer (“Will you too
go away?”, "Thou hast the words of eternal life.").
Jesus' ability to touch people’s hearts and his resolution of the
sin/forgiveness dilemma in passages like John 8 (the woman taken in
compare/contrast to the Synoptics: John's portrayal of
the resurrection. For all the gospels, the resurrection is
supremely important, marking the start of something
But John is more upbeat than the Synoptics. Matthew shows the
Jews still covering
Mark and Luke show the failure of even the disciples to stand with
Jesus and their
to understand. John--well, they still betray him and they are
slow to understand, but look at that last scene!
The story of Peter's denial and ultimate restoration
is a clear indication of one of main strengths of Christianity: it's
the great "Mulligan" religion.
the "raising of Lazarus" story
And, I suppose,
if anything needed to be added to the
this would be it. But, as John said, this is still only the
beginning. Note the similar idea in Mark's gospel, the opening
words of which seem to indicate that the story of Jesus is only
"the beginning of the Gospel." John puts the reminder at the end: this
in only the
And as it turned out--well, as they used to say at the end of the old
radio and television shows, stay tuned.