I’ve been immersed in historical Jesus research and Markan studies for some time now and afraid to consider the great problem of the Fourth Gospel. For those who are not acquainted with the problems of harmonizing the Fourth Gospel and the synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), I will write about the problem some time (or you can look in one of Bart Ehrman’s books at your local bookstore [without buying it, I would recommend] to see the most skeptical view imaginable).
Anyway, I’m experimenting by posting some note here I’ve made for myself for further study and future writing. Some will be very familiar with the issues and understand everything I am referring to. Others will find some of this cryptic and perhaps alarming. Keep in mind, the problem of harmonizing the Fourth Gospel with the others will not go away by wishful thinking.
Anyway, I’ll write more about all this in the future, but for now, I’d love the hear feedback.
When you have wrestled for some time with the historical Yeshua in the gospels and then you come to Raymond Brown’s work on the Fourth Gospel, you feel as if at last there is hope for understanding.
The depths of the problem (how the synoptics and the Fourth Gospel can be talking about the same Yeshua and reflect the same early eyewitness experiences) call for some intricate theories toward a solution. Brown’s theories, as mediated and slightly improved by Francis Moloney in An Introduction to the Gospel of John (Raymond Brown, edited by Moloney), need not be rigth in every detail.
Yet they indicate first that the people behind the Fourth Gospel likely had a different perspective on a number of issues than the larger community behind the synoptics. That God would inspire a sect with significant but complementary differences in perspective from the larger Yeshua movement is at first hard to grasp. Yet in the Hebrew Bible, such varying perspectives are evident in, for example, the wisdom literature (the simplistic principle of retribution takes a beating in Job and Ecclesiastes, yet it would seem canonically that both are valuable and complementary ways of viewing wisdom).
Brown surmises four stages in the life of the communities that shaped the Fourth Gospel (I mix in a few of my ideas with his in this summary):
(1) Disciples of John the Baptist and a disciple known as the Beloved Disciple (with Yeshua from the beginning but not one of the twelve) write the story with a low christology (not yet understanding as in post-resurrection reflection) and a strong Moses-prophet and lamb-sacrifice view of Yeshua.
(2) A large group of Samaritans is brought into the community. This Johannine community faces expulsion from the synagogue and is forcibly separated from Judaism (whereas the Jerusalem congregation and its satellites were able to remain in much longer). The Johannine community likely regards the larger Yeshua movement as compromising in order to keep from being expelled.
(3) By the time the Johannine letters are written, the community has moved back toward conservatism. The mystical elements of the Fourth Gospel can be pushed too far into gnosticism and some did.
(4) By the time of Ignatius of Antioch, the Johannine community had made peace with the larger Yeshua movement. The mystical (Paraclete-dominated ecclesiology) has been largely lost in the attempt to centralize dogma (the movement lost its edge, but gained stability).
THEMES IN JOHN THAT WOULD MAKE GOOD ESSAYS FOR THE FUTURE
See Francis Moloney, Signs and Shadows
See Brown and Moloney, An Introduction to the Gospel of John, pp. 76-77, footnote 73 on surpassing vs. replacement
Life and judgment
“The consecrated place of encounter between God and human beings.” (Presence)
I might add: Temple
MY THOUGHT ON THE TEMPLE IN THE FOURTH GOSPEL
Yeshua as the presence incarnate surpasses (without replacing) the Temple.