The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Sunday, August 18, 2019

A Forum on John’s Gospel

Between the 9:00 and the 11:00 services at St. Bart’s We have an event, known as the Rector’s Forum, where various speakers address issues relating to the Church, its mission, or the issues of interest to members of our parish. This summer, the clergy at St. Barts were given the opportunity to speak about various books of the New Testament. I spoke today, on the subject of the Fourth Gospel. Unlike a sermon, this wasn’t pre-scripted, but here, with some slight elaborations, are my bullet point notes:

The Outlier: Gospel According to John:

* What is its Claim to Historicity:

1. Author: Other than John’s Gospel, only Luke’s has some claim to identifying its author, by retrojecting Acts. The attribution requires (not unrealistically) assuming the “I” of Luke in Acts is the author of the Gospel (which is linked ). Mark is anonymous, linked to “John Mark” by tradition, and Matthew to Matthew the Levite by quotations from older works only found in Eusebius’s History of the Church (4th Century CE). The latter fits with the serious engagement with law that is throughout Matthew.

2. The Fourth Gospel claims to be the work of an eye-witness, and tries to prevent against the rumor of its author’s death as an impediment to faith. Jn. 20:2, 21: 20:

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” 23 So the rumor spread in the community[c] that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

See Matt 16:28; Mark 9:1. Luke 9:27 (“But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of GOD.’)

See Browning, A Death in the Desert,

What happens when “there is left on earth
"No one alive who knew (consider this!)
"—Saw with his eyes and handled with his hands
"That which was from the first, the Word of Life.
"How will it be when none more saith 'I saw'?”

(According to Abp Temple, at xvii Browning’s poem was “the most penetrating interpretation of St. John which exists in the English language.” See his Readings in St. John’s Gospel)

24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Antisemitism: Address the Wm McD Tully line that John’s Gospel reflects the “divorce between the nascent Christian movement” and Judaism; NB: from Oxford Annotated Bible that the “Jews” referred to were the authorities, not all Jews. But call out harm done; see Carroll’s Constantine’s Sword.

*How about the lengthy discourses?
As both Temple and John A.T. Robinson argue, judging the Gosepls by the standards of modern biography—quotes are exact, everything fully sourced—is imposing a 21st Century standard on a 1st Century document, one that was handwritten and hand-copied, too.
More applicable standard that of ancient biography, under whic, as Temple notes “the convention of historical writing in the ancient world approved the attribution to leading personages of speeches expressing what was known to be there view in a form which is due to the historian. In such compositions, key-words actually spoken would naturally be spoken.” (Readings, xvii) ; See also John A.T. Robinson, The Priority of John (1985) at 31.

*Different from the outset:

(a) Matt: The genealogy of Jesus, from Adam to Joseph;

(b) Mark: Isaiah on the Messenger, and John the Baptist;

(c) Luke: Refers to other narratives by “many” and writes an orderly account to the “Most Excellent Theophilus” (Aareal person of high rank? Or an ideal Christian?)

(d) John: Begins with poetry, or, rather a hymn.

I. Per Ed L. Miller--a complete hymn by the same author of the Gospel and the Epistles , with internal aesthetic literary coherence and internal theological logic. 4 sets of couplets, “suitable for antiphonal recitation and bearing a carefully ordered theological point.” [1]

Miller: use of Logos, “Word,” as a Christological title from the body of the Gospel through the ambiguity of the Prologue of the First Epistle to the clear identification of the λόγος with Jesus Christ in the Gospel Prologue. According to this proposed trajectory, λόγος and (perhaps) ῥῆμα are already used “in a theologically and christologically suggestive manner” in the body of the Gospel,3 where the two terms refer to the preaching and teaching of Jesus. [2]

The Logos Hymn makes multiple theological points, which the rest of the Gospel unpacks.

The Logos Hymn, verses 1-5:

1 In the beginning was the Word,/ and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 He was in the beginning with God.

3 All things came into being through him/, and without him not one thing came into being./ What has come into being

4 in him was life,[a]/ and the life was the light of all people.

5 The light shines in the darkness/ and the darkness did not overcome it.

Verses 6-8 describe the role of John, the “witness to the Light.”

Verse 9 makes the first major theological claim: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

Verses 10-13: The Mission of Christ, the Rejection, the Faithful

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him.

12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

Verses 14, 16-18:

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us/ and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son,[d] full of grace and truth. . . . 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. /

17 The law indeed was given through Moses/ grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

18 No one has ever seen God/ It is God the only Son,[e]who is close to the Father’s heart,[f] who has made him known.
Even in the NRSV bland, accuracy over euphony translation, you can hear that verses 1-5 are more rhythmic, though the later verses retain some poetic drive.

Paul Anderson notes the theological positions being staked out in the prologue, and elaborated on in the narrative:

Throughout the rest of the Johannine narrative, these three themes are displayed in dramatic ways.

1. While Jesus as the Christ came into the world, some received him, but others did not; they preferred darkness over light ( Jn 3:18–21), they claimed “we see” (while being blind, 9:41), and they loved the praise of humans rather than the glory of God (12:43).

2. On the other hand, Jesus’ disciples come to follow him (1:37–51), the Samaritans and Galileans believe—including the royal official and his household (4:1–54), and so do many of the Jews (or Judeans?)—as do also the Greeks that had come to Jerusalem for the festival (8:31; 11:45; 12:20–21). In that sense, Jesus reaches out to sheep within his fold but also beyond it, gathering those who receive him into a new community of fellowship and love.

3. On the cross, however, the full glory of the Son of Man is revealed, and as he is lifted up, all are drawn to him (12:32). And, in the presence of Jesus, something of the divine presence is encountered—an experience that continues on in post-resurrection consciousness (20:16–28). Encountering the glory of the flesh-becoming-Word is thus not only attested in the Prologue; it is documented in the narrative. [3]
II. “The Charter of Christian Mysticism” or “Anti-Mystical”

W.R. Inge, Christian Mysticism (1899): The first three gospels are not written in the language of mysticicsm….The Gospel of St. John. . . is the charter of Christian Mysticism. Indeed, Christian Mysticism, as I understand it might almost be called Johannine Christianity.” (P. 44)

Abp William Temple: Readings in St. John’s Gospel, First and Second Series (1945): “In the proper sense of the word ‘mystical’, as signifying a direct apprehension of God by the human mind St. John is strongly anti-mystical. But he is even more strongly sacramental.” Matter is the vehicle and instrument of the Spirit, and a reverence for the sacramental without the ethical and material component ;eads toward magical thinking.

III. Different Timeline & Different Ethics:

Temple: Synoptics appear to take place over 1 year; John describes 3 separate Passovers.

The Synoptics weight ethics more highly, John emphasizes, again and again, belief in Jesus as the Christ.

IV. The human touch: Jesus as put upon son at the Wedding at Cana; Mary as confident, slightly bossy, Mother. The Woman Taken in Adultery/The Samaritan Woman

V GBS—explain the Preface to Preface to Androcles and the Lion, GBS’s familiarity with form-criticism, well-read commentary of each Gospel and its concerns—an easy in to biblical scholarship.


[1] The Logic of the Logos Hymn: A New View, 29 New Test. Studies, pp 552-561 (1983).

[2] Ed. L. Miller, “The Johannine Origins of the Johannine Logos,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 112/3 (1993) ; see also Latham, Joseph Michael, "Word of Life, Word of God: An Examination of the Use of the Term Logos in the Johannine Literature" (2013). Dissertations, 528.

[3] The Logic of the Logos Hymn: A New View, 29 New Test. Studies, pp 552-561 (1983).
Ed. L. Miller, “The Johannine Origins of the Johannine Logos,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 112/3 (1993) ; see also Latham, Joseph Michael, "Word of Life, Word of God: An Examination of the Use of the Term Logos in the Johannine Literature" (2013). Dissertations. 528.

[4] Paul N. Anderson, "The Johannine Logos-Hymn: A Cross-Cultural Celebration of God’s Creative-Redemptive Work," in Creation Stories in Dialogue: The Bible, Science, and Folk Traditions (Radboud Prestige Lecture Series by Alan Culpepper), eds. R. Alan Culpepper and Jan van der Watt, BINS 139 (Leiden: E.J. Brill 2016)--uncorrected proofs.

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