Fourth Gospel Notes
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Fourth Gospel Revision
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Gospels & Jesus J L Martyn : History & Theology in the Fourth Gospel THE PROBLEM The Fourth Gospel seems to invite readers in every century to interpret it solely in their own terms. The Synoptic Gospels has 'external facts' which tie it to a certain time. No reader of the First Three Gospels can fail to sense the many ways in which the synoptic Jesus is far removed from the Western world today. John's Gospel seems far more detached from its ancient setting. It is spiritual and timeless, with aphorisms understood by every enlightened age : 'You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free'. It still has quite earthy moments. The previous general statement is in the context of a sharp exchange between Jesus and a group of Jews. Jesus accuses his questioners of trying to murder him, contests their claim to be descended from Abraham and suggests that their father is the devil. Considering the Gospel as a whole, one might give the most attention to the discourses of ch 14-16 - giving rise to a spiritual Gospel, one that is not bothering himself with the world of the first century. John seems to speak our modern languages with relative ease. Return to Chapter 8 : Why should the Johannine Jesus, himself a Jew, engage in an intensely hostile exchange with 'the Jew'? The question is notably pressing in light of Jesus' clear statement to the Samaritan Women in Chapter 4 - that 'salvation is from the Jews'.
- Scholars have characterised John's Gospel as the most Jewish and others have argued that it is the furthest removed from Judaism. APPROACH TO THE PROBLEM The early church shared with many groups of its time a concern for tradition which exceeds by far that known to most of us. The past lived on with power and mingled into events of the present. Reposes to contemporary issues involves careful consideration of the traditions inherited from one's forebears. Indeed it was responsible contemporary involvement which most often sharped the sense of need for tradition. None of the New Testament authors merely repeat the tradition. Everyone hears its in his own present and that means in his own way : All shape / bend / make selections / adds. Everyone reverences the tradition enough to make it his own.
- When we read the Fourth Gospel, we are listening both to tradition and to new and unique interpretation of that tradition. With
- By comparing John with the Synoptic Gospels we can identify many pieces which are obviously traditional : The preaching of John the Baptist, Jesus' baptism, the calling of disciplines etc. It is always easy to see that John has handled most of these traditional elements in ways which sharply diverge from those followed by the synoptists. And there are long discourses that are peculiar to John. EXCLUDED FROM SYNAGOGUE & ENTERS THE CHURCH A Blind Beggar Receives His Sight : 'So he went and washed and came back seeing'. This is presented as a formal drama, its actors are on a two-level stage so that each is actually a pair of actors playing two parts simultaneously. It seems, in part, to reflect experiences in the dramatic interaction between the synagogue and the Johannine Church. To observe these reflections one needs only to be aware of the two-level stage.
- But who are the Jews / Who are all the actors?
Verse 22 : 'For the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess him to be Messiah, he would become an excommunicate from the synagogue' 4 Elements : Expression 'the Jews' / 'had already agreed' / Messianic confession of Jesus / Predicate normative 'an excommunicate…'
- A formal decision of an authoritative group - at some time prior to John's writing. Confession of Jesus as expected Messiah is clearly at one point compatible with membership to the synagogue. Now, after the agreement, the dual commitment is no longer possible. In the latter part of chapter 15 Jesus speaks clearly about the world's hatred of him. Then without notice the hating world seems to become hostile Judaism, for Jesus says the world's hatred fulfils the saying written in their law.
- It is clear, that some members of the Johannine church have come to it from the synagogue via the formal step of exclusion from that body. Reference : Follows from the quotations from Isaiah regarding those who advent believe the report and whose eyes have been blinded (12:37). Isaiah said these things, comments the Evangelist, because he saw Jesus' glory : Isaiah spoke of Jesus. John continues that 'Many of the rulers believed in him, but on account of the Pharisees they made it practice not to confess him, lest they be excluded from the Synagogue' (12:42)
- In chapter 9, fear of exclusion was experienced by the Beggar's parents. Now we learn that many of the rulers believe in Jesus but do not confess out of fear. No reference is made to a prior agreement, as such, but the writer clearly presupposes it. Reference 2 : At some time prior to John's writing, an authoritative body within Judaism reached a formal decision regarding the messianic faith in Jesus. Some, like the Blind Beggar, clearly reveal commitment and are cast out. John's church has a number of members who have personally experienced the operation the agreement. They are Jewish excommunicates.
- The picture in John is coherent but may be so without being historical. The picture itself defines a number of problems. John says that there are Christian rulers - but how does he know of such people? How do these rulers consistently avoid making the decisive confession? Also, John tells us the ruling body are the Pharisees - but beyond that term, he does not tell us who they are. 'To be put out of the Synagogue' - Is this a recoverable reference apart from John?
The Formal Separation Between Church and Synagogue Has Been Accomplished in John's Milieu By Means Closely Related to the Jewish Benediction Against Heretics Recall John 9:22 : A priori one may believe that at some time in the first or second century Jewish authorities in one or more locales reached an agreement to apply the ban to Christian Jews as an inner-synagogue means of discipline. The ban being inner-synagogue hardly satisfies the point of excommunication from the Synagogue. Or the reader of Paul's epistles and of Acts, it is conceivable that the Apostle's activity evoked a hostility leading to his excommunication. He certainly founded churches in the diaspora which were completely separated from the neighbouring synagogues. However, this does not appear to have happened through excommunication - but Paul's own decision.
Looking for some sort of historical grounding, we are looking for a turn of events which may properly be termed a formal agreement / decision. Those responsible for the decision are Jewish Authorities. They view followers of Jesus as rivals, and the intention of their decision is to bring about complete separation of the two. The fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in C E 70 was a major threat to Judaism - from disintegration. IT is often remarked that the Judaism of Jesus' day was an ellipse, the two foci of which were the Temple and the Law. After CE 70 the ellipse became a circle whose centre was the Law. Prior to the shaking of its foundations, Judaism was at its most varied. In the uncertain years following the fall, a major stabilising force appears to have been provided by the rabbinic academy which assembled at Jamnia under Johanan ben Zakki and by the series of enactments or Takkanoth. It is possible that the formal decision / authoritative body is to be found in Jamnia in the period after the destruction of the Temple. Is there a reasonable link?
- A famous passage in the Babylonian Talmud : 'Simeon the cotton dealer arranged the eighteen benedictions in order in the presence of Rabban Gamaliel in Jamnia'
- In the service of worship a centrally important element was the formal prayer spoken by a member of the congregation. The wording of this prayer - the Eighteen Benedictions - was not fixed until long after the New Testament period, but it was understandably a conceder of the Jamnia authorities to standardise.
- Some circumstance then caused Rabban Gamaliel to request a reformulation of one of the Benedictions, that against the Minim or heretics (the Birkath ha-Minim) Questions :
1. Evidence that the reformulated Benediction was published as a Takkanah intended for a wide audience. To make decisions recording the synagogue liturgy was one of the major prerogative claimed by Jamnia.
2. Was the reformulation directed to the Christian church?
In order to consider who the heretic are and what goal might have been in mind in respect to them. In the centre of Jewish Worship, the Prayer of Twelfth Benediction, there is included in it a petition that God may cause Christian Jews (among others) to be destroyed and excluded from the Book of Life. The formulation is an official / authoritative decision, and it is directly related to the Christian movement.
3. What was the aim in mind?
Excommunication is not specified in the Benediction, but the words 'let them be blotted out of the Book of Life' can scarcely have been inner-synagogue discipline. Whoever utters this prayer asks for Jewish heretics a destiny wholly unthinkable for any member of the people of Israel. The Benediction is a culling out of those elements which do not conform to the Pharisaic image of Orthodoxy.
4. How was it to be accomplished?
There are 4 steps - action —> lead prayer —> recite prayer —> If he falters on Number 12 then he is banished. In the fourth Gospel we find references corresponding directly to action / recite prayer / falter. John 9:22 seems an ellipsis, fully expressed it would read 'The parents feared the Jewish authorities, for the latter had already enacted a means whereby followers of Jesus could be detected among Synagogue worshippers…'
In the two-level drama of John 9, the man born blind plays not only the part of a Jew healed by Jesus, but also the part of Jews known to John who have become members of the separated church because of their messianic faith and because of the Benediction. AF T E R T H E WALL I S E R R E C T E D The Johannine group did not consider itself to be an entity socially distinct fro the synagogue fellowship. Presumably, there were some separate meetings for celebrating the Eucharist. John 6 shows us that at one stage the Eucharist was made a subject of debate both in regular synagogue meetings and in the separate gatherings of messianic believers.
- While the Messianic believers knew that their actions were beginning to be a concern for the Jewish authorities, they assumed dual allegiance was possible. Yet at some point this changes - perhaps official messengers came from Jamnia with the reworded Benediction Against Heretics. Perhaps, conversely, reports sent to Jamnia by the authorities in John's city played a role.
- Either way - something changed and steps had to be taken to build a dam. The Benediction Against Heretic was employed for detecting such Jews who were promptly excommunicated. Dramatic Elements in John 5 & 7 John 5:1-18 - This consists of a miracle story which John has expanded. The evangelist is responsible for Verse 1. It shows the common three-element structure of healing stories :
1. The sickness is serious : v.5
2. Jesus heals the man : v.8
3. By carrying his pallet the man demonstrates the reality of his cure (v.9a-b). v.9c comments that the day was the Sabbath - thus setting the stage for drama. Breaching the Sabbath means discipline, but the Evangelist has Jesus justify his actions. The drama is presented on two levels : he not only broke the sabbath, but also called God his Father, making him equal to God.
- These are reasons for seeking to kill Jesus - now, in John's own day. John 7 - In Jerusalem Jesus has healed a cripple on the sabbath and has defended that deed through his relationship to God. Both elements cause the Jews to seek to kill him and thus he retires to Galilee.
- 7:12 'While some said, 'He is a good man', others said, 'No, he is leading people astray'. This verbally repeats 5:18. On the face of it the authorities are speaking of their police as possibly being people who are led astray. But they are actually saying something quite decisive - something which amounts to the second option , that Jesus is leading people astray.
- The authorities proceed on the basis of the Torah - the reason for the common people being led astray is that they are ignorant of the Torah. The identification of Jesus as deceiver does not seem to be legal, and it is made after his death. Martyn suggests that the legal charge of leading astray in John 7 double with Ben Strada (who some considered wrongly to be Jesus). In portraying action taken against Jesus on the basis of this charge, John is not dependent on Jesus-tradition but rather primarily on his own experience. In his city the second step taken by the Jewish authorities was designed not to frighten synagogue members with excommunication, but rather to stop Jewish Christians once for all from missioning among their people. John 5 & 7 is seen as two level drama much like John 9. The final verses of Chapter 7 show us that Gerousia assembled, prepared to hold a trial. It develops that the Jewish Christian is not present.
Gospels & Jesus W Meeks : The Man From Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism The uniqueness of the Fourth consists mostly in the special patterns of language which is uses to describe Jesus. Particularly Jesus as one who has descended from heaven and at the end of his mission, which constitutes as krisis for the world, reascends to the Father. Bultmann argued that any attempt to solve the Johannine puzzle must begin with this picture of the ascending/
descending redeemer. He say that it is not simply a question of explains the concept 'pre-existence' but rather of perceiving the origin / function of a myth. The solution could not be found by comparison with philosophical developments in the hellenistic schools, such as the long favoured logos of the Stoics. It is now commonly agreed that the Jewish Wisdom myth in some form lies behind both the Johannine christology and the gnostic soul and saviour myths. The question is whether both the Johannine and the gnostic myths are independent variants of the Jewish, or whether one has influenced the other. Meeks explores the function of the mythical pattern within the Johannine literature. The problem has been treated too one sidedly as a problem in the history of ideas. Mythical language tends to be reduced to theological categories and historical judgments are then made on the basis of presumed logical priority of one or other of these categories. Where this has occurred, Bultmann's insight, that the language of myth has a special logic has been ignored. The Bultmann-Jones theory of myth was a significant step towards a more appropriate hermeneutic for mythical language. But as Jonas observed, the categories of existential philosophy that seemed to fit the Gnostic myths are not a universal key. We have not yet learned symbolic language of Johannine literature in its own way. ASCENT / DESCENT It is important to indicate what is not said : The descent from heaven is not described, but everywhere presupposed. The story of Jesus is all played out on earth, despite the frequent indicators that he really belong elsewhere. Those stories which describe the commissioning of an envoy, his arming for the journey, and the dangers of descent itself are not parallels, for the centre of attention in them is different. The references to descent and ascent are introduced into the middle of things in John - as explanations of something else. The motif belongs exclusively to discourse not to narrative. In John, the motif is used exclusively to identify Jesus - not as a hero. It depicts him as a Stranger par excellence. 'Ascend / Descend' appears in John for the first time in the promise made to Nathaniel in 1:51: 'Amen, Amen I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man'. This depends on Gen 28:12 from which the participles are drawn. The prophecy in its context does two things :
1. Introduces the title 'Son of Man' - completing the series of titles whose announcement is evidently one of the major functions of the whole section.
2. Introduces the pattern of ascending and descending.
The next time the 'Son of Man' appears is also the next time the verb-pair 'ascend/descend' appears, 3:13 - where we are told that the ascending and descending are the exclusive properties of the Son of Man. Throughout the gospel there is a curiously close connection between this title and the pair. In the dialogue with Nicodemus, the evangelist has brought together a number of disparate traditional motifs which have to be understood in terms of their place in the loose structure of the dialogue as a whole. Within this small collection of the descent/ascent of Jesus, it seems to serve as the warrant for the esoteric revelation which he brings. Only he can tell about heavenly things because only he has descending from heaven - and no one else has ascended.
- The exclusivity of the revelation by the Son of Man must be construed as a polemic against the claim of prophets /
septs to have received revelations by means of heavenly journeys - as for example in apocalyptic speculation, or in the traditions of the theophanies to Moses and the Patriarchs. Nicodemus plays the role of the stupid disciple whose questions provide the occasion for (a) the reader to feel superior and (b) for discourse to be delivered. The first and primary message of the dialogue is simply that Jesus is incomprehensible to Nicodemus. They belong in two different worlds, and despite Nicodemus' initial good intentions, Jesus' world seems opaque to him. It is important to discover what / whom Nicodemus represents - his obtuseness should be depicted so paradigmatically by the evangelist. Specifications of ruler of the Jews (7:50) / teacher of Israel (3:10) - provide a solid starting point. There is a consistent analogy between the narratives about Nicodemus and certain statements about the Jews in John which gives us important clues about his function in the gospel and also about the extraordinarily subtle way in which themes are elaborated in this gospel.
- First, he comes to Jesus by night - and this is then used to characterise Nicodemus. This casts suspicion over him, because of what is said in the dialogue itself about the division between those who come to the light and those who remain in darkness (3:19-21).
- He does come to the light, but is hesitant to make the decisive step from darkness to light.
- Nicodemus' opening statement to Jesus is a declaration of faith - he believes that Jesus has come from God and the basis for that belief is the signs which Jesus has performed.
- His case is closely parallel to that of the blind man healed by Jesus in ch 9 - who declares, from the signs, that Jesus is from God. For both him and Nicodemus, the faith, even if impact at least corresponds to an acceptable first stage of faith as viewed by the Johannine community. Also like the Blind man, Nicodemus will defend Jesus before the authorities (7:5). But unlike him, Nicodemus will not go so far as to master the fear of the Pharisees and risk being expelled from the synagogue.
- Nicodemus is a representative of those Jews mentioned in 2:23 who 'believed in Jesus' name because they saw the signs which he did' but to whom Jesus would not 'entrust himself' because of his superhuman knowledge of their hearts. The theme of Jews who have begun to believe in Jesus , but whose faith is not to be trusted is further developed in 8:30-59, a dialogue that depicts them in dark tones - potential Christ killers and sons of Cain.
- The final position of chapter 3 (vs 31-36) is so closely related to the themes of Nicodemus that many commentators have proposed that in some original form the verses stood immediately after vs 21. This view fails to perceive one of the most striking characteristics of the evangelist's literary procedure : The elucidation of themes by progressive repetition.
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