A Guest Post by Paul Anderson

I’ve been reviewing Paul’s The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel (here).    What follows is Paul’s response to that review to this point.  I appreciate his work and I appreciate his interaction.

Dear Jim,

Thanks for your thoughtful and careful engagement of Riddles! Yes, there’s a lot there, and in trying to write an introduction to John that students will find engaging and scholars will find informative is an impossible task! So, why not give it a try? Some challenges are important enough to attempt addressing, even if formidable.

About the format, what I wanted to do was to get the reader involved—inductively and experientially, right off the bat. Warning that John has been called a river in which a child may wade and an elephant can swim, I set the tensions out deliberately—in stark contrast and juxtaposition, for readers to look up and consider for themselves. In teaching this material every year for over twenty years, rather than start with a review of scholarly approaches to the subject, I wanted students (and scholars) to be confronted with the crisis (crises) of the text. Full stop. Then, the reader will be more sympathetic with the views of scholars attempting to address one issue or another, whether or not one agrees or disagrees with a particular approach to an issue, finally.

So, rather than begin with the views of Bultmann, Westcott, Brown, Barrett, Lindars, Culpepper, Staley, Bauckham, Witherington, Charlesworth, Smith (Moody), Gardner-Smith, Matson, Schnackenburg, Keener, or two dozen other scholars, I sought to focus directly on the textual headaches themselves, showing how the Patristic fathers (and mothers) sought to deal with these Johannine tensions (especially theological ones) and how modern critical scholars have sought to deal with Johannine conundrums (especially historical and literary perplexities) over the last two centuries. So, we’ll see how well it works. I also wanted the reader to know why different scholars have argued the things they have, as well as why there is more disagreement in this field (even among the experts) than just about any other subject in biblical studies. An evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, then, allows me to suggest several ways forward within a larger new synthesis and paradigm.

Two comments, now, on Jim’s good preview!

First, excellent point about John 17 and the question of whether it reflects a later encapsulation of the evangelist’s thought or whether it might represent a nugget—going back earlier (perhaps even to Jesus?)—that is expanded upon within the rest of the narrative (and tradition). Here the safest approach (and, scholars try not to make mistakes, although real advances in any field of inquiry must involve some risk) is to see it as a final digest and summary of the evangelist’s convictions regarding Jesus’ mission in the light of later developments within the community’s history. Kaesemann described John 17 as “the last will and testament” of the Johannine Jesus—as articulated by the evangelist within his own situation. And, many of the themes in the Gospel and Epistles of John are present, here, so that is “at least” what we have. Further, it reflects the concerns of the narrator’s own words elsewhere in the Gospel, even when not citing Jesus. So, “at least” it is that much.

Here, however, is where Jim’s question is worth thinking about: is it “only” that much? Here one might wonder if there is primitive material within John 17 that might reflect earlier tradition (or, perhaps even Jesus’ own thoughts about his mission), despite being finalized later. Some of this will be explored later in the Riddles book, in Chapter 9, where connections are made with the Lord’s prayer in Matthew and Luke, but here are some directions this might profitably be explored. In other words, here are some ways Jim’s question might be on the right track.

a)       Jesus’ concern for his own (that none be lost) could be rooted in early memory of his love for his followers. They probably felt real danger around his arrest and crucifixion, and despite the fact that Jesus adherents faced later dangers as well, this might reflect early sentiments within the movement.

b)       Jesus’ emphasis on God’s love and the importance of abiding in it fits with his overall teaching and concerns.

c)       Most conspicuously, Jesus’ sense of agency—being sent from the Father (connecting overall with Deut. 18:15-22) connects with what Jesus plausibly may have felt about his own mission. The Mosaic agency motif plausibly goes back to (or at least coheres with) Jesus’ self estimation of his mission, so something of that is palpable here, although it is in more developed form.

Here, however, are some apparently later motifs in John 17:

a)       Jesus’ prayer that God will keep his disciples in the world but not of the world would certainly fit the needs of the later Johannine situation as reflected in 1 John 2 and 5, so it does seem to have some later features.

b)       Another later feature is the sense of ongoing guidance of the Spirit, even in a later situation—reflecting the needs of the sub apostolic situation (to use Brown’s terminology).

c)       Finally, the prayer for unity, as a witness to the world, seems a clearly distinctive later concern—as Johannine Christianity was facing struggles with division and unity (again, see the epistles).

So, these are some of the reasons why John 17 may be seen to have some earlier and later material in it—at least later material, but not necessarily “totally” later material. So, a good point, Jim, although I do think it still represents overall the evangelist’s understanding of Jesus’ mission.

A second point is just to comment with appreciation on Jim’s noting the way that John’s theological and historical tensions should be laid out. Fortna and Bultmann made a lot out of particular features supposedly denoting a difference of sources, but they missed many other features worth considering, as well as other ways of understanding some of John’s historical, theological, and literary riddles. If the evangelist was a dialectical thinker, many of these tensions can be appreciated as expressions of his thinking rather than a dialogue with an imagined source. On the eschatology tensions, for instance, note 2 Baruch 28, where manna comes down from heaven now, as well as leading to hopes in the future. The very power of eschatological reference is its both-and quality, so such tensions are really not markers of disparate literary sources, nor are the tensions over the meaning of the signs. They reflect other sorts of dialectical realities—not different literary sources, necessarily.

Thanks, Jim, for the thoughtful engagements! Looking forward to your further thoughts, as well.


Paul Anderson

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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