Tag Archives: Gospel of John

Self-Serving Wealth Isn’t the Plan of God

Luther remarks (in his Sermons on John)

It is a fact that the nobility today regards all other classes as a stench in their nostrils. God did not grant you your nobility as a cause for conceit, but for useful service…  [But] a nobleman acts as the peasant’s tormentor and vampire; a rich citizen bleeds a poor one; so the peasant, too, will skin and flay the townspeople. This is the general custom in all walks of life. It has all degenerated into boasting and blustering. But God did not ordain it that way. This is not the purpose God had in mind with a king, a nobleman, a rich burgher. No, His plan was that these all were to be agents in the service of man’s welfare.*

Did you hear that?   God gives wealth and power not so that the recipients could lavish them upon themselves but that they might serve the well being of others.

*Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4, (Jn 1:13).

Dilly Winner of the Week: Paul Oestreicher

This week’s winner is Paul Oestreicher, for this dilettantish piece in the Guardian in which he, without foundation or exegetical reason, asserts that Jesus was gay and in love with ‘John’ whom Oestreicher equates with the ‘beloved disciple’.

… That disciple was John whom Jesus, the gospels affirm, loved in a special way. All the other disciples had fled in fear. Three women but only one man had the courage to go with Jesus to his execution. That man clearly had a unique place in the affection of Jesus. In all classic depictions of the Last Supper, a favourite subject of Christian art, John is next to Jesus, very often his head resting on Jesus’s breast. Dying, Jesus asks John to look after his mother and asks his mother to accept John as her son. John takes Mary home. John becomes unmistakably part of Jesus’s family.

Guess what, Paul, John is never equated with the ‘Beloved Disciple’ except in later tradition by imbeciles.  The Gospel of John itself NEVER ONCE says that John is he.  Furthermore, the fact that Jesus handed his mother over to the beloved disciple (whoever that was) for safe keeping is not at all as remarkable as you pretend.

Perhaps before you preach again you should read the text exegetically instead of importing into it readings you wish were there simply to satisfy your own ideology.  It is exceedingly tiresome to see this sort of misrepresentation of the biblical text over and over again by, you would think, people who should know better.

Here’s you’re award.  Congratulations.

The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel: Issues and Commentary

This isn’t a new book.  It was actually published 10, nearly 11 years ago now.  But in light of the resurgence of interest in Johannine historical issues (thanks in large part to the work of the SBL John, Jesus and History section) I asked the nice folk at IVP Academic to send a review copy and they did.

I’m interested in it precisely because it is counter to my own views on the gospel’s historicity and I hope to learn from it something insightful.  However, be forewarned, the entire program of investigating the historicity of particulars in the Gospels (including John) is suspect to me.  Biblical texts are theological texts- sermons- the Word of God proclaimed and historical matters are at most tangential.

But I’m willing to hear Blomberg’s case.  I’ll post my review here.

Richard Bauckham as the Clark Lecturer at Duke

These are free public lectures. No pre-registration is necessary. Bauckham will lecture on Individualism and Community in the Gospel of John.

Lecture 1
Thursday, February 24, 2011
4:00-5:15 p.m.
0016 Westbrook, Duke Divinity School

Lecture 2
Friday, February 25, 2011
12:20-1:20 p.m.
0016 Westbrook, Duke Divinity School

Please contact Jacquelyn Norris at (919) 660-3529 with any questions.


Another Guest Post by Paul Anderson

I’m so very appreciative of Paul’s interaction with my review.  Below, his response to Part Two of it.

I appreciate Jim West’s engagement with some of the important features of chapter 7 in Part 2, “Addressing the Johannine Riddles” and this chapter attempts to identify the epistemological origins of John’s riddles and tensions. As my earlier book, The Christology of the Fourth Gospel (1996, 1997, third printing 2010, Cascade Books, with a new introduction, outlines, and epilogue), I concluded with identifying the four origins of John’s christological tensions; this chapter extends that sort of analysis to literary and historical tensions, as well. My contention is that such an analysis will be central to adequate interpretation, which I attempt to carry out in Part 3. We’ll see, of course, what Jim thinks about that later.

Before engaging Jim’s comments, though, I want to simply point the reader to the outlines of chapters 5 and 6—arguably the most important chapters of the book. In chapter 5 I lay out twelve leading theories about John’s composition—noting in each case how each has attempted to address some combination of the 36 riddles (twelve in each category—theological, historical, literary—two sides in each case, for a total of 72 factors with multiple features) with greater and lesser degrees of success. It struck me that one of the reasons why scholars have posed diachronic or derivative theories of John’s composition is that they have come to a prior conclusion as to who the author cannot have been. Conversely, another way scholars have approached the Johannine riddles is to argue who the author must have been. However, the most flexible (and sound) approach is to develop a theory of composition regardless of who the author might or might not have been, and this is what I attempt to do. Nonetheless, this chapter concludes with an excursus posing an overlooked first-century clue to John’s authorship, so that may be of interest to some. It might not prove a theory of authorship, but it functions to overturn the view that the first century is totally silent on John’s authorship.

Chapter 6, then, puts forward my own paradigm for interpreting John. I’ll point the reader to the table of contents for an overview of the seven or eight elements that seem to me the most plausible ways to understand the history, development, and character of the Johannine tradition. Such elements pose a workable basis for addressing and interpreting the Johannine riddles. Allow me, now to engage Jim West’s analysis.

First, I don’t agree that the Synoptics were not intended to be historical; I think they were both historical and theological (as was John). Then again, Jim’s right, each of the Gospels is highly rhetorical (even apologetic), and yet, each also makes claims about things believed to have happened—both what Jesus did and said, as well as what others also did and said. So, I can’t agree that the rhetorical features of Gospel traditions eliminate historical problems; I think we indeed have (using Gail O’Day’s terminology) “narrative modes and theological claims”, but we also have historical claims as well. So, the historical problems that are factors of Gospel similarities and differences still remain; they cannot be escaped.

May I be a bit self-critical at this point? If John’s historicity is bolstered to a higher degree than its former appraisals—if John is deemed historically more plausible here and there, over and against the Synoptics—one against three, this will create new problems for both conservative and critical scholars. Many Synoptic features, of course, are explicable on the basis of Matthew’s and Luke’s using Mark, so if Mark got it wrong, the others did too. Here’s the way I might put Jim’s point about the Synoptics and historicity: if Mark is a collection of traditional units and periscopes organized into a general chronology with a climactic narrative thrust operative (rather than a historically derived chronology—as such), this might even reverse the conventional approach among scholars regarding gospel historicity. Rather than seeing the Synoptics as “factual” in their chronologies and John as “spiritual”, it could be that Mark’s order is not chronologically ordered, but narratologically so, while John’s may have been ordered by a good deal of chronological opinion—perhaps even as a corrective to Mark. Some of John’s interest may even have been to set some features of Mark straight, and this is suggested by evidence conveyed by Eusebius. Some of those arguments will follow, in chapter 9, but these are just some of the ways that the Gospel of John—if understood correctly—may pose a key to understanding the other Gospels, as well.

A second point is that in saying everything in the Gospels is both historical and theological, I am simply stating a fact. The question is what sort of history and what sort of theology? Some may emerge from eyewitness memory, some may emerge from extended and highly developed tradition—both are forms of history. And, any valuation of memory or a report that is passed along to others is itself a reflection of theological interest, so again, the question is what sort of history and what sort of theology—let alone the content itself. On Bauckham and the eyewitnesses, a strange feature about his approach is that he stresses profusely the likelihood of an eyewitness basis for the Gospel of John, and then he works extremely hard to deny this tradition of its unanimous second-century attributed eyewitness source. While I don’t make much of the particulars in this chapter, I do introduce a first-century clue to John’s authorship in chapter 9 (as mentioned above), so I might like to hear what Jim thinks about that.

Still, although I believe there is a good deal of eyewitness memory underlying the Fourth Gospel, I think it is very difficult to know what, in particular, it might be. It could be that all of it is—much in highly developed form, of course, or it could be that only some of it is. What I think is most worthy of challenging, though, is the view that because of major problems (see chapters 2-4), none of John is historical or goes back to an eyewitness source or memory. I believe my book, The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus (T & T Clark, 2006), renders such an opinion critically unworkable (as does much of the work of the JJH Project), and yet we must also be modest in our claims as to what we really know.

So, I think it wise and serviceable to remain understated in what we assert, lest we offend reasoned sensibilities in any number of directions. At least we have some first-hand knowledge represented in the Johannine tradition, so its claims to such are not unfounded. Conversely, some of John’s tradition reflects later developments, as well, although some of these could nonetheless retain contact with primitive memory and experience.

A third point is to clarify what I’m getting at regarding the high and low christological content in John and its relation to the earlier and later material. Here the evidence points against the view that John’s christological claims started low (Jesus as a lowly prophet), evolving into a divinized figure later on (Jesus as the cosmic Logos). Some of that is true, but high christological material is also early, and virtually all of the incarnational and antidocetic references are in the later material. For instance, experiences of being “known” in the presence of the man Jesus—accompanied by the sense of wonder in the presence of a holy person (consider, for instance, Marcus Borg’s theory of Jesus as conveying a powerful sense of spiritual presence) probably rooted in first-hand encounters with Jesus, although they also are presented with rhetorical effect within the narrative. Likewise, references to the mundane in John, including mentions of Jesus’ thirst, hunger, and pathos, likely rooted in first-hand impressions and memory. Additionally, while the Prologue was likely added as a new introduction to an earlier edition, reflecting the worship confessions of the Johannine community, note that it also emphasizes that Jesus became flesh (Jn. 1:14). Likewise, later claims regarding the eyewitness testimony do not assert Jesus’ divinity, but they affirm his suffering humanity—water and blood flowed from his side (Jn. 19:34-35). So, it cannot be claimed that high or low christological claims were either early or late, only. It appears that both were both, though in somewhat different ways.

These and other themes will be developed further in the final three chapters, but appreciating the development and character of the Johannine tradition avails valuable insights into the meaning of its content.

Of course, only a few of the many interesting points in the book are here engaged, but I look forward to Jim’s next post!


Paul Anderson

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

The Gospel of John: The New International Commentary on the New Testament

J. Ramsey Michaels is the author of this very new massive volume on the Gospel of John which consists of a lengthy introduction in seven parts and exposition in five.  You can read an excerpt here.  The awesome folk at Eerdmans have sent a copy for review, which I post in parts as follows:


This is an excellent, excellent commentary.  I recommend it mightily.

Will the Gospel of John Become the Foundation of a ‘Fourth’ Quest for the Historical Jesus

The Sheffieldians don’t seem to think so while Paul Anderson does seem to think so.  So this is quite a conundrum: on the one hand we have M. Casey’s new volume questing for an Aramaic Jesus and Michaels describing (in his new commentary on John) the importance of John for HJ studies, and Anderson and Thatcher’s interest in the Gospel of John as source for HJ reconstruction.

Fun times ahead!

[And I’ll go ahead and make the pre-announcement- that on the Biblical Studies list very early in the New Year we will host a colloquium with Tom Thatcher on the Gospel of John as source for the Historical Jesus.  A colloquium which will follow on the heels of our discussions with Maurice Casey.  The full announcement and details will appear in November].