In John 3, where do the words of Jesus end and the words of the John begin?

Many “red-letter” Bibles will mark the entire section as the words of Jesus.  The ESV, for example, marks the whole section red, but drops the quote marks at 3:15 with an explanatory footnote.  The NIV2011 drops the red letters starting in 3:16, while many editions of the KJV run the words of Jesus through the end of the section.  The fact that an edition of the Bible prints letters in Red is a an editorial decision.  The pew Bibles in my church do not have red letters at all. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the first Red-Letter Bible was printed only in 1900!  For many people, the “red letters” are more important that the “black letters” because they are the words of Jesus.  In fact, I recently spoke to someone who told me they only read the Red Letters.  I suppose that limits one’s reading in the Old Testament, but I think his point was that he wanted to read the Words of Jesus and the color helped him in his Bible reading.

While this tradition of printing the words of Jesus in red is relatively recent, the tradition of decorating the “special words” in the Bible goes back to medieval manuscripts.  For example,the tenth century Codex 565  is considered one of the most beautiful of all texts, and is housed now at the public library in St. Petersburg.  The Gospels are written on purple vellum with gold lettering.  The 14th century manuscript Codex 16 contains the Gospels in Greek and Latin written in four colors of ink.  The regular text is vermillion, the words of Jesus and the angels, and Jesus’ genealogy are in red, words quoted from the Old Testament and the words of the disciples, Zachariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon, and John the Baptist are in blue.  The words of the Pharisees, the centurion, and Judas are in black.

Most often Bible editors break off from Jesus’ words after 3:15, making 3:16-21 an exposition of Jesus’ words by the author of the gospel.  John 3:13-15 are though to be the words of Jesus since uses the title “Son of Man,” a phrase used elsewhere only by Jesus to refer to himself.  The beginning of 3:16 implies an explanation of the preceding section (Köstenberger, John, 114).  There is quite a bit a of difference between scholars on where to end the words of Jesus.  For example:  Raymond Brown and Francis Maloney think that Jesus’ words continue through verse 21  Ben Witherington starts John’s section a 3:12. Schnackenburg starts John’s section at 3:13.

In addition, the use of μονογενής, “only born son” in 3:16 is an echo from John’s prologue (1:14, 18).  Clearly the prologue contains the words of the gospel writer, not Jesus.  The light / dark motif in 3:19-21 is typical of John as well, from the prologue and the epistles of John.  That the gospel writer should step in and comment on the words of Jesus is not unusual in John – it occurs again in 3:31-36 where the words of John the Baptist are expanded.

Does this issue matter?  The fact is that John is recording Jesus’ words in his own language, making it very difficult to sort out when he is offering a commentary on the words of Jesus and when he is reporting Jesus’ teaching. For many, the idea that Jesus did not say John 3:16 is a shock, although the content of that verse is echoed in the dialogue with Nicodemus.  Some editors have decided that Jesus’ words in in 3:15 for good reasons and communicate that decision with a splash of red-ink.

To me, this is a matter of truth – what did John intend when he wrote John 3?  It seems as though his intention was to offer a theological explanation of Jesus’ words, developing several themes which he originally raised in the prologue.  Certainly the whole passage is authoritative, whether the words are from Jesus or the inspired author of John.

Bibliography:
Raymond Brown, The Gospel According to St. John I-XII (AB 29A; New York: Doubleday, 1966).
Andreas Köstenberger, John, (BENTC; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2008).
Francis Maloney, The Gospel of John (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical, 1998).
Rudolf Schnackenburg, The Gospel According to St. John (trans. C. Hastings; 3 vol.; New York: Crossroad, 1990).
Ben Witherington, III,  John’s Wisdom (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1990).

Opening GenesisLogos Bible Software posted another book in their Free Book of the Month” Promotion. Opening Up Genesis by Kurt Strassner  was originally published  by Dayone  in 2009 as an easy-to-read Bible Study for either personal devotional reading or as a small group Bible Study. Strassner is a pastor at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church and blogs at The Rest Stop.

The style of the Bible study is quite familiar, after a short commentary on a section of Genesis, Strassner asks a few guiding questions to help the reader dig deeper into the text. These would be ideal for small group discussions, the fifteen lessons make would be excellent for a weekly Bible Study. Do not think of this series as a “fluffy” Bible study, however. There is a great deal of good material in these books to enable a Bible student to get into the text of the Bible.

As a bonus, Logos has an “almost free book of the month,” Opening Up Exodus by Iain D. Campbell (pastor of Point Free Church, Free Church of Scotland on the Isle of Lewis) for only 99 cents. You can also enter a PunchTab contest to win the entire 40-book Opening Up the Bible series. Like the offer, this contest ends 12/31/2014.

John’s gospel quite different from the synoptic Gospels in that he includes a few stories from the “other disciples.” For example, in Galilee Jesus finds Philip and simply tells him, “follow me.” Philip is featured in John in several contexts (6:5–8; 12:21–22; 14:8–10). In the other gospels Philip. only appears in the lists of apostles.

St PhilipAt the feeding of the 5000, Philip does not anticipate the miracle, but focuses on the problem of feeding such a large group (John 6:5-8). We know that Jesus’ question was a test, and we have a sense that Philip did not “pass” the test. But what is it that Philip should have said or done?

In this context, what was Philip to think? Jesus asks him where they were to buy food – the only answer to that question would seem “nowhere” since we do not have the money, nor is there a place to buy sufficient food. Perhaps Philip was to search his memory for a scriptural context for the event in which he was about to participate. If he knew the scripture well (as was implied at the time of his calling), then he ought to have recalled that the Lord did in fact provide food for Israel in the wilderness, and that one of the images of the messianic age was supposed to be provision of food, so that no one would be hungry in true Israel. Philip therefore looks at the problem from a perfectly acceptable human perspective (this is too great of a problem to handle!), while Jesus looks at the problem from a divine perspective – God owns all the food in the world and provided for his people in the wilderness in the past.

Near the end of Jesus’ ministry, several Greek converts to Judaism ask to see Jesus. They ask Philip to arrange this meeting, but Jesus has told the disciples not to go to Gentiles. This raises a problem, so Philip tells Andrew (John 12:21-22). This too can be taken as a misunderstanding of the scripture. It is not that Gentiles will never be able to come the to the Messiah, Isa 25:6-8 makes it clear that the nations will come to Zion at the time of the Messiah’s banquet. But there is a stream of Judaism which did not think any nations would survive this encounter! Of all the disciples, Philip (the guy with the Greek name) should have understood this most clearly. If he lived in a gentile city, what did he think would happen to his neighbors when messiah came?

At the last supper, Philip misunderstands Jesus’ statement “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:8-10). Jesus says that he is about to go back to the father, but Philip cannot seem to understand this rather complex theological statement. Just show us the father, Philip says, and forget about these theological claims about yourself. “Philip’s words here are easy to understand because they represent the general human longing to gain a firsthand personal and practical confirmation of theological ideas and assertions” (Borchert, John 12-21, 112).

Here is the problem – Philip’s practicality prevents him from hearing the deep resonations of Jesus’ statement about himself. Jesus is claiming to be God here, Philip sets that aside rather easily. Jesus rebukes Philip, although Jesus does uses the plural pronoun. All the disciples misunderstand that the messiah is not just a deliverer, but the Glory of God incarnate.

Is Philip a rationalist? (Borchert says this, more or less.) Not really, but his pre-conceived ideas about who messiah could be has blinded him from hearing this (somewhat clear) revelation form Jesus that the Messiah is in fact God, dwelling among men, so that he can solve the problem of sin once for all.

Brooks, Christopher W. Urban Apologetics: Why the Gospel is Good News for the City. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2014. 176 pp. Pb; $16.99.   Link to Kregel

Christopher W. Brooks is a graduate of Biola’s Master’s program in Christian Apologetics and is currently the senior pastor of Evangel Ministries in Detroit. This short book summarizes the sort of apologetic for the Christian faith Brooks does as a part of his ministry in downtown Detroit. While Brooks is involved in urban ministry, this book is targeted at a more broad audience and will appear to anyone looking for a basic introduction to some of the issues facing the church today.

Urban ApologeticsAfter initial chapter on the relevancy of the Christian message Brooks describes apologetics in evangelism as related disciplines. Before a Christian can become an effective apologist they must become a passionate evangelist (41). Brooks sees this method as essentially following the pattern of Jesus, who brought his message to where people are crossing cultural and traditional boundary lines in order to confront them with the Gospel. Brooks recognizes that one of the greatest roadblocks to evangelism is hypocritical behavior on the part of Christians. Many people who are apathetic about the gospel have experienced hypocrisy when in dealing with Christians in the past  and are therefore less interested in hearing the Gospel in the present (51). Chapter 3 deals with Christian morality in general. Brooks briefly describes relativistic and postmodern approaches to ethics. He contrasts the social uncertainty generated by these approaches with the Christian view of God as a higher moral agent and ethics rooted in God’s character.

Chapter 4 deals with what many would consider to be the greatest ethical difficulty Christians face today, abortion. Brooks addresses some of the important issues such as when life begins, the intrinsic value of human life, and the rights of the unborn from a scriptural perspective. It is remarkable however that he does not include up-to-date statistics describing the problem of abortion in an urban context. The most recent statistical data he cites is dated 2003, although this report supports Brooks’ theme. While there has been a steady decrease in abortions among white women, there has been a rise in abortions for black women over the same time period.

Chris BrooksChapter 5 deals with sexuality primarily with homosexuality. After providing some historical background to the present debate, Brooks examines six biblical passages that directly address homosexual behavior. His brief study of these passages supports the traditional Christian view of homosexuality. After surveying these texts, Brooks devotes several pages to the social impact of homosexuality, primarily of the effects of HIV and AIDS in urban communities. This struck me as odd since HIV/AIDS is not restricted to the homosexual community. Certainly this argument could be extended towards all sexual ethics, although that is not done in this chapter.

In chapter 6 Brooks deals with the urban crisis of family. Here he describes the problems faced by churches attempting to do discipleship in communities where there is virtually no emphasis on marriage or parenting. He briefly describes the biblical family model and compares this to the crisis urban churches face. The statistics concerning urban families in this chapter are in fact frightening, although I would have expected Brooks to relate this failure of the family in urban neighborhoods to a break down in social ethics. It is the task of the church Brooks argues, to model positive marriages and to clearly present the biblical message that marriage and parenting is important. Brooks says “the pulpit is arguably the greatest platform for urban revolution and change” (106).

Chapter 7 he deals with religious pluralism in the attraction of non-Christian religions in the urban context. For anyone doing ministry and intercity like Detroit, Islam is clearly the leading competitor to Christianity. Brooks therefore spent several pages describing Islam in some challenges and myths concerning Islam confronting the church. In addition to Islam, Brooks indicates there is a rise in skepticism in American life. Some of this comes from intellectually respectable sources (such as books and blogs), but most Americans have become increasingly apathetic towards religion in general. Instead of atheists many are “apatheist;” they simply no longer care whether there is a God or not. I’m not sure Brooks (or anyone) has an answer to this apathetic attitude in America. It seems to me that this great challenge faced the modern church should be approached as Jesus approached the sinners, with humility and grace.

His chapter on social justice (chapter 8) is particularly interesting in the light of recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. Conservative Christians are usually nervous when African-Americans begin to speak about social justice. Brooks therefore begins his chapter with Calvin’s commentary on Isaiah 58. Calvin believed “the Bible charged believers to stand against injustice, while challenging us to model the lifestyle that shows generosity and care for the poor” (132). Brooks therefore briefly describes six major social justice issues the church must address. These include economic fairness, educational quality, immigration reform, sanctity of life, women’s rights, and religious liberty. This list is remarkable since most of social justice activists would not include sanctity of life or religious liberty.  Brooks suggests “Christians ought to take seriously the call to action given to us by our Savior to protect all people, including homosexuals, from abuse, violence, and ask of hatred” (137). If we are failing on these issues Brooks says we lose credibility for doing evangelism. After having described several approaches to economic justice Brooks speaks positively towards capitalism something unusual when speaking about social justice (143).

Brooks offer some thoughts on doing urban apologetics in the local church (chapter 9). Unfortunately the church in an urban environment often has to take the place of parents. The church therefore is responsible for training constructing and developing believers until they reach maturity. In addition to parenting the local church can partner with other organizations to create a platform for ministry.

In an appendix, Brooks deals with interest in Islam and other new religions especially among African-Americans in urban environments. This is interesting to me because I was unaware of things like Moorish science temple of America or the nation of gods and earth or the Black Hebrew Israelites. Certainly the Nation of Islam is well-known, but some of these other smaller groups are not at all known in White suburban America.

Conclusion. This is an excellent introduction to several apologetic issues that are of interest in any environment not just an inner-city, urban, African-American church. What I found remarkable about this book is that there was less specific information on doing African-American ministry than expected. Having read interviews with Christopher Brooks in the past I expected a more targeted apologetic. There is some of this in this chapter on sexuality, but the statistics he cites are just is true for suburban in teens as inner city. Another example might be challenges faced for people attempting to reach urban teens. In a recent interview, Brooks commented “the Christian hip-hop artist is the modern equivalent of the ancient prophet” (CT interview). I particularly liked the way he put this but I don’t see that kind of attitude in this book. This is not a problem since the book is not on the “doing ministry in a black community.”

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

We know far less about Andrew than Peter, James and John, although he is often listed along with these three in the gospels.  Andrew and Peter were brothers, as were James and John, working in the same fishing village in Galilee when they are called to be followers of Jesus.  But all four seem to have been looking for the coming of the Messiah, as we see from reading John 1.

AndrewWhen John the Baptist was still baptizing in the Jordan, Andrew is following him.  They encounter the Lord and John the Baptist announce that Jesus is the Messiah.  In John’s gospel, this is the third day, usually significant in the Bible!  The witness of John starts a “chain reaction” as Jesus is followed by Andrew and another disciple of John the Baptist (1:35-39).

John declares that Jesus is the lamb of God, this time some of his disciples begin to follow Jesus, in effect transferring from John’s ministry to Jesus’. Andrew is one of the disciples simply mentioned in the Synoptics.  In John he figures significantly in several stories.  In each story, he is described as bringing someone or something to Jesus.  This other disciple may be the “disciple whom Jesus loved” in the second half of the gospel.  Andrew declares that Jesus is a teacher and Messiah, and bring Simon, Cephas (Peter) to Jesus.

The next day (the fourth over all), Andrew invites his brother Simon to follow Jesus (John 1:40-42).  Andrew confesses to Simon that they have found the Messiah.   This is a unique occurrence of the word Messiah rather than the common Greek translation, “Christ.” It is significant that Peter’s brother makes this confession early on, later Peter will make the same statement in 6:68, although he uses the title, “holy one of God,” something of a higher Christological statement than Andrew. Andrew is therefore the first disciple to actually call Jesus the Messiah in John’s gospel, although we are not at all sure to what extent he understood the term.

The second time Andrew appears in the story of John’s gospel is at the Feeding of the 5000 (John 6:1-14).  John contrasts two disciples, Phil and Andrew.  Philip, we are told, was tested and his response is a bit flat.  Perhaps Andrew too was tested, although I wonder if his response is a great deal better.  Obviously he sees the same problem as Philip, it is going to be impossible to feed all of these people.   But rather than state the impossibility of the situation, he begins to find a solution.  He made a start at the impossible task, even though it looks a bit weak to the other disciples.

Jesus honors Andrew’s offering, weak as it was, and uses the five loaves and two fish to not only do a great miracle, but also to demonstrate something very important about himself – he is the bread of Life, just as Israel had manna in the wilderness, so too Jesus gives food in the wilderness.  This is an extremely important connection, given that this is around the time of Passover.

Andrew therefore did the right thing, although it seemed fairly insignificant at the time.

 

Michael Bird - The Gospel of the LordToday is the day I pick a winner for Michael Bird’s The Gospel of the Lord (Eerdmans, 2014). There were 46 people signed up (there were more comments, but I allowed only one entry per person). I took each of your names, sorted randomly and then pasted them into Excel. Random.org gave me a number between 1-57, and the winner is…..

Craig Benno

Congrats to Craig, please contact me via email (plong42 at gmail .com) with your mailing address and I will whip the book to you ASAP. Better luck next time for the rest of you, I will probably run another giveaway in a couple of weeks.

As for the Gospels scholar people are most thankful for, N.T. Wright led the list with six votes, followed by Michael Bird with five. I was hoping for a tie so I could schedule a steel-cage death match to decide a winner. Scot McKnight had three votes followed by R.T. France, Jonathan Pennington, Darrell Bock, D.A. Carson, Craig Blomberg, Chris Tilling and Ben Witherington with two each. Thanks to everyone who offered their favorite scholar, there were many good suggestions, it is worth looking over the list for a basic reading list for Gospels studies.

NB: This book was my own personal copy; it was not provided by the publisher.

Carnival-of-SoulsJim just posted a twitterific, SBL laced, November 2014 Biblical Studies Carnival. As expected, Jim has a great collection of links with bonus twitter handles so you can follow all the “really important people” on Twitter. Brian Small has a great collection of Hebrews Highlights for November.

Daniel Gullotta will be hosting in December (due Jan 1), so plan on making a few nominations to help Dan make his first Carnival memorable.  The January Carnival will be hosted by Vincent Artale (@VincentArtale) at his Talmidimblogging and in February 2015  Jennifer Guo (@jenniferguo) will host the Biblical Studies Carnival. March and April are open for volunteers, the May Carnival will be hosted by Claude Mariottini (@DrMariottini).

Carnivals are a great way to attract attention to your site if you are new blogger, but more importantly it gives you a chance to highlight the best and the brightest in the world of bibliblogs. If you would like to host a Carnival in 2015, send me an email  (plong42 at gmail dot com), or a comment on this post and I can contact you.

 

The identity of Nathaniel is a problem since he is not mentioned as a disciple in the synoptic gospels.  Usually he is identified as Bartholomew based on the order of the apostles in the Synoptics.  (Bartholomew always follows Philip in the lists.)  Bar-Tholami is the from of the name in Aramaic, meaning “son of Tholami,” therefore his full name was likely  Nathaniel Bar-Tholami (cf. Simon Bar-Jonah). John seems to treat Nathaniel as an apostle, and he never mentions Bartholomew, making the identification quite likely.

Saint NathanaelWhen Philip declares that he has found the Messiah, he describes Jesus in biblical terms: Jesus is the one whom Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets wrote about (John 1:43-45).  That the Law and the Prophets testify to the messiah is clear from other New Testament texts.  Early on the apostles drew together a number of texts which were proofs that Jesus was the Messiah, but their source for much of this material is Jewish thinking about what to expect in the Messiah.

Nathaniel’s response is stunning:  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  (1:46) This seems a rude statement of prejudice, probably because Nazareth was a rather small and insignificant town in Galilee. It is true both towns were small and insignificant, but what should Nathaniel have said?  Presumably he ought to have recalled that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem, according to Mi 5:2; or that he should be in the line of David from Psalm 2, or that he will be a king of Israel as in Zeph 3:15, or that he will come as a peaceful king riding a donkey, as in Zech 9:9.  But not that he will be a carpenter form Nazareth!

Is this an irrational prejudice? Most likely, and it is this sort of prejudice which blinds people to the gospels – how can someone like that possible have something to share with me spiritually?  Perhaps we do not suffer from a prejudice, but other people might very well have a real problem with us and will not hear the gospel because we are overplaying a less important issue rather than helping people to encounter Jesus.  In Nathaniel’s case, prejudice does not prevent him from coming to faith in Jesus.  He is able to set aside his preconceptions and encounter Jesus as he really is – the Son of God.

When Jesus arrives he declares that Nathaniel is an “Israelite in whom there is no guile.”   The background to this equally puzzling statement is the story of Jacob.  Jesus might as well have said, “here is a son of Israel with no Jacob left in him!” Just as the true heir of the promise was Jacob, not Esau; the true heir of the promise in John are the disciples, not the Pharisees, etc.  That there is a bit of play on the Jacob story is also clear in the reference to “heaven opening” and angels ascending and descending.  Essentially Jesus is saying that Jacob is a true Israelite, a man who is honestly seeking his God and is not distracted by the Works of the Law (Romans 2:28-29, 9:6-7)  In John 8:31 Jesus says that if the disciples abide in his words they will truly be his disciples, the same word is used as 1:47.

Nathaniel is a True Israelite, and if the disciples really understand and internalize his Jesus’ words they too will be True Israel.

The differences between John and the Synoptics provide an opportunity for scholars to study the formation of a gospel from a different angle. John may have used other Gospels, or purposefully ignored them. Often complicated scenarios are created in order to describe multiple versions of the Gospel of John. Raymond Brown suggested a plausible multiple edition theory to explain how John’s gospel developed over a period of time. In most “multiple editions” theories there was a single base document which underwent several revisions, possibly at the hand of the original author, over a number of years.

John EditionsBrown’s first stage was the actual public ministry of Jesus and his disciples. After the resurrection, the twelve apostles publicly preached the resurrection of Jesus. The synoptic gospels reflect this apostolic preaching. The tradition that Mark preserve the preaching of Peter may indicate that the outline and content of the book as the content to of the apostolic “trust.” Matthew and Luke make use of Mark, and possible Q (or Matthew has the Q material, either way, Matthew and Luke reflect the Galilean disciples of Jesus).

According to Brown, John reflects the preaching and teaching of the disciples of Jesus in and around Jerusalem. This accounts for the different sorts of information that was remembered and passed along, for differences in tone and language, for the emphasis on Jerusalem and the Jewish festivals, and possible (so says Brown), the Light / Dark theme that is parallel to what we read in the Qumran materials.

It is possible that the Johannine Community included Samaritans, based on John 4 and 8:48 (Jesus is accused of being a Samaritan.)  Jews and Samaritans sharing fellowship in a single religious community would have been scandalous, especially in pre-70 Judea. Brown suggests that Jews that accepted Jesus as the Messiah convinced in synagogues.

But relationships between these Jews and Samaritans would have been tense. Discussion of Jesus as Messiah generated a number of “homilies” preserving Jesus’ teaching as attempts to convince Jews he was the Messiah. It is possible that some time before A. D. 70 these Jewish Christians were expelled from the synagogue, ostracized and persecuted (as implied in John 1:11, 10:28-29; 15:18, 16:2 and the “not of this world” theme in 15:18, 16:3, 16:33).

The Gospel of John therefore could be aimed at Jewish Christians that are still in the synagogue (“crypto-Christians” in Brown) who are not fully “Christian” in the opinion of the author. They need to come out and be separate from the Synagogue. A second aim would therefore be to continue to try and convince Jews and Jesus was the Messiah.

Brown’s work is well-respected and is always discussed in recent study of the Gospel of John, but it does not appear this scenario has convinced everyone, as Paul Rainbow comments in his recent introduction to Johannine Theology, scholars “amass tomes trying to squeeze theories from the almost dearth of information that we have about unknown authors and redactors” (53).

Nevertheless, there is something to Brown’s contention that the Gospel of John is a kind of reflection of the “parting of the ways” between Judaism and Christianity in the last third of the first century. This accounts for the Jewishness of John’s Gospel while also reflecting a fairly well-developed Christology. If this Gospel is some kind of a Jewish-Christian missionary tract, how would our reading of John change?

Are there specific elements in John that are more “Jewish” than often assumed?

It is well known that the gospel of John is considerably different than the other three Gospels.  One of the reasons that the Gospel of John seems so different is that the three synoptic gospels are so similar.  Because of the similarities between Matthew, Mark, and Luke some theory of literary dependence must be given to explain the close relationship.

Gospel of JohnFor example, there is no birth, baptism or temptation in John. While Jesus does seven miracles, they are called “signs” and there are no exorcisms. There are no parables, despite Mt 13:34 and Mk 4:34 which indicate that Jesus primarily spoke in parables in the second half of his ministry.

There are several extended dialogues which have no real parallel in the synoptic gospels. Jesus does not re-interpret the Mosaic law, as in the Sermon on the Mount, nor does he predict the fall of Jerusalem (cf. Mark 13 and parallels.)  In fact, there is no prediction of a second coming in John, although Jesus does promise to send the Paraclete to the disciples after he returns to heaven (14:25-26, 16:7-15).  The Last Supper is not described as an ongoing celebration, rather, John describes Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (13:1-16).  While the arrest and crucifixion is described in similar ways to the synoptic gospels, there is no agony in the garden of Gethsemane.

I am following Andreas J. Köstenberger, A Theology of John’s Gospel and his Letters (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2009). Köstenberger follows B. F. Wescott’s observation that John’s Gospel was written after the success of the (Pauline) Gentile Mission, after the destruction of Jerusalem, and at the same time as the emergence of Gnosticism as competitor to Apostolic Christianity.

For Köstenberger, the Fall of Jerusalem is the most important factor.  I am sure that the rise of Gnosticism is a major factor, but I am not sure that the success of the Gentile mission is as much of a factor than sometimes assumed.  John wrote the gospel some thirty years after the death of Paul, from Ephesus, the city where Paul had his most success among Gentiles. Yet the Gospel has very little to say about Gentiles. The Samaritan Woman (John 4) is a possible example, but Samaritans are a in many ways neither Jew nor Gentile.  The healing of the official’s son in John 4:46-54 is sometimes offered as an example of a Gentile who encounters Jesus, but if he is John certainly does not make this explicit.

On the one hand, the Gospel is evangelistic.  John wrote to Jewish readers who might be open to Jesus as an alternative to the Temple and the festivals.  But there are a few stories which are could be described as drawing Gentiles to Jesus.  The story of the blind man who is healed in John 5 may show that Jesus is superior to Asclepius, a Roman god of healing.  Given the number of allusions to the Hebrew Bible and the importance of the Jewish story of redemption, it is clear that the main target of the Gospel is Jewish.

On the other hand, the Gospel is apologetic.  John wrote to Christians (either Jewish or Gentile) in order to clarify who Jesus was as an answer to growing questions raised by developing Gnostic theology. There is a serious theological challenge developing in the church, John must address this as insufficient for explaining who Jesus was.   John describes Jesus as the Word, equal with God because he is God. But Jesus is also flesh, fully human. These two facts are stated in the prologue and supported throughout the Gospel of John.

The Gospel of John is therefore a window into the end of the apostolic era. Christianity was making progress against paganism, but needed to to develop a theology of Jesus in the face of an internal challenge. Can we draw other implications from the differences between John and the Synoptics?

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Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time.

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