February 25, 2007 [LINK / comment]

The Gospel of John: discordant?

Somehow or other, I came across an interesting article at the secular Web site infidels.org last week, "Contextual Problems with the Gospel of John," by James Still, and it stirred me to do some extra Bible reading. I was quite aware that the Gospel of John (one of the Twelve Apostles also known as Saint John the Divine) differs in several respects from the three earlier "synoptic" Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and that it was written a generation later (circa 95 A.D., compared to A.D. 60-70). Still notes that John left out the parables that were a central means by which Jesus instructed his disciples on how they were to do the will of God. Whereas Jesus in the synoptic Gospels was reticent about his divine nature, in John, He declares quite forthrightly on many occasions that he was the Bread of Life, the Vine, the Light, etc.

I did not realize that there are other glaring omissions in John, as well as unique extra material, giving an entirely different perspective on the life of The Messiah. For example, in John there is no mention of the Last Supper, which was the last occasion on which Jesus taught his disciples, and upon which the Holy Eucharist (sanctifying the bread as Christ's body, and wine as Christ's blood) is based. Another rather odd difference is that John, who emphasizes supernatural miracles, does not mention the Ascension. (Actually, Matthew does not, either.) Still writes that John wrote from a distinctly Greek perspective, whereas the synoptic Gospels were more closely tied to the Judaic tradition. Thus, he argues, the Jesus as portrayed by John verged on a pagan "cult of Dionysus" -- the Greek god of fertility and wine.

So, what are we to make of the differences between John and the other three Gospel authors? I think Still's conclusions exaggerate and distort the differences, as many enthusiastic young scholars are prone to do. It will probably be a long time before I am able to address that question with a real degree of confidence.

In my readings, I have benefitted from a Spanish language version of the Bible given to Jacqueline by her friend Rosa Maria a number of years ago. It includes a very useful index of the Gospels, cataloguing which of the four books mention various events in Jesus's life. It also explains the slight difference between the Catholics and the Protestants with regard to which Old Testament books are included, and in which order. It has to do with the division in Judaism during the First Century A.D., with some Jews assimilating into Greco-Roman culture, and others holding steadfast to their Hebrew linguistic and religious roots.

John was also the author of the Book of Revelations, which is the subject of a series of sermons by Pastor John Hagee, whom I happened to watch this morning, just for a change of pace. Perhaps mainline Protestant denominations could use a little more "fire and brimstone" in their worship services.