Theology/Religion Questions


PHOTO ESSAY Diverse Portraits of Jesus

Early Christian artists commonly emphasized Jesus’

relevance to their lives by portraying him dressed

as a contemporary, but they also envisioned him

in a variety of ways, ranging from a clean-shaven

youth to a mature, bearded fi gure. A fresco in the

Catacomb of Saint Domitilla in Rome ( above )

shows Jesus and the apostles as beardless, with

short hair, and wearing white linen tunics in the

Greco-Roman fashion. By contrast, the image of

Jesus on the famous Shroud of Turin ( detail left ),

a burial cloth in which Jesus’ crucifi ed body was

allegedly wrapped, shows a bearded fi gure with

long hair in what may have been the style of

Palestinian-Jewish men of the early fi rst century CE .

Although carbon 14 dating of a swath from the

shroud in 1988 indicated that it was woven in

about the fourteenth century CE , recent chemical

tests of other parts of the shroud suggest that it is

actually much older. (The cloth sample dated in

1988 reportedly was taken from a medieval-era

patch used to repair the shroud after it was

damaged by fi re.)

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In a mosaic from the mid-third century CE ( above ),

a Christian artist portrays Christ as the sun-god

Apollo, thereby expressing the glorifi ed Jesus’ cos-

mic importance. As the “light of the world,” Christ

replaces Greco-Roman solar deities and now

shines “like the sun in full strength” (Rev. 1:16).

Sixth-century mosaics in Ravenna depict scenes

from Jesus’ ministry: ( left ) A youthful Jesus sum-

mons the brothers Peter and Andrew to leave

their fi shing boat and follow him. ( below ) A

mature, bearded Jesus (with halo) and his disciples

are dressed in a style characteristic of the late

eastern Roman (Byzantine) period.

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Diverse Portraits of Jesus (continued)

( top ) As a disciple looks on, Jesus expels

demons from a man and casts them into

swine at Gergesa . ( middle ) On his fatal

journey to Jerusalem, a beardless Jesus

touches the eyes of a blind man to restore

his sight. ( bottom left ) Judas kisses Jesus

in the garden of Gethsemane, identifying

him to the guards who have come to arrest

him, as Peter draws his sword to cut off the

ear of Malchus , slave of the High Priest

(John 18:10, 26). ( bottom right ) In a

post resurrection appearance found only in

John’s Gospel, the risen Jesus allows a

skeptical Thomas to touch his wounds,

leading to Thomas’s recognition of Jesus

as “my Lord and my God.” ■

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Key Topics/Themes In John’s Gospel, the order of events and the portrayal of Jesus and his teaching are strikingly different from those in the Synoptic accounts. Whereas the Synoptics depict Jesus as an eschatological healer-exorcist whose teachings deal primarily with Torah rein- terpretation, John describes Jesus as an embodi- ment of heavenly Wisdom who performs no exorcisms and whose message centers on his own divine nature. In John, Jesus is the human form of God’s celestial Word, the cosmic expres- sion of divine Wisdom by which God created the universe. As the Word incarnate (made

fl esh), Jesus reveals otherwise unknowable truths about God’s being and purpose. To John, Jesus’ crucifi xion is not a humiliating ordeal (as Mark characterizes it), but a glorifi cation that frees Jesus to return to heaven. Although John’s Gospel alludes briefl y to Jesus’ future return, it contains no prophecies of the Second Coming comparable to those found in the Synoptics . Instead of emphasizing the Parousia , it argues that the risen Christ is eternally present in the invisible form of a surrogate—the Paraclete , or Holy Spirit, which continues to inspire and direct the believing community.

From the moment we read the opening lines of John’s Gospel—“When all things began, the Word already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was” (1:1)—we re- alize that we have entered a world of thought strikingly different from that of the Synoptic Gospels. “Word,” which John uses to denote the state of Jesus’ preexistence in heaven before he came to earth, translates the Greek term Logos. A philosophical concept with a long pre- Christian history, Logos can mean anything from a divine utterance to the principle of cosmic reason that

orders and governs the universe. To John, it is the infi nite wisdom of God personifi ed, the ulti- mate consummation of Israel’s long wisdom tradition (see below). Identifying his hero with the Greek Logos concept is only the fi rst of John’s many astonish- ing innovations in retelling Jesus’ story. While the three Synoptics give generally similar ac- counts of their subject’s life, John creates a por- trait of Jesus that differs in both outline and content from the other Gospels. Ninety percent of John’s material appears exclusively in his

c hapter 10

John’s Reinterpretation of Jesus Divine Wisdom Made Flesh

He who has faith in me will do what I am doing; and he will do greater things still. . . . Your Advocate [ Paraclete ], the Holy Spirit . . . will teach you everything,

and will call to mind all that I have told you. John 14:12, 26

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his fi rst coming and spotlighting his cosmic stature. Unlike the Synoptic writers, John gives little indication that Jesus was remembered as an apocalyptic prophet who announced God’s dawn- ing kingdom and who expelled demons to show that Satan no longer controlled humanity. In John, Jesus does not predict Jerusalem’s fall, prophesy about his return to earth, or perform a single exorcism. Instead, John portrays Jesus as effectively disclosing his “glory” during his earthly ministry. When the divine Logos became human as the man Jesus, his disciples could already see “his glory, such glory as befi ts the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). For John, the Crucifi xion itself reveals Jesus’ “hour of glory” and it is Jesus’ death and return to heaven, his place of origin, which allows him to reveal the “power and glory” that Mark had ascribed to the Second Coming (Mark 13:26; cf. John 1:14; 12:27–33; 17:5, 22, 24). In creating a portrait of Jesus so different from those in the Synoptic Gospels, John freely confesses that his purpose is not biographical but theological: His account was written “in order that you may hold the faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through this faith you may possess life by his name” (20:31). This declaration follows the Gospel’s climactic scene—a post res- urrection appearance in which the reality of Jesus’ living presence conquers the doubts of his most skeptical follower, Thomas. Confronted with a sudden manifestation of the risen Jesus, Thomas acknowledges him as “My Lord and my God”—a confession of faith that the reader is intended to echo.


Since the late second century ce , the Gospel of John (commonly labeled the Fourth Gospel to distinguish it from the Synoptics ) has been at- tributed to the apostle John, son of Zebedee and brother of James. In the Synoptics , John and James are Galilean fi shermen and, along

account and has no parallel in the Synoptics . The Fourth Gospel offers a different chronology of Jesus’ ministry, a different order of events, a dif- ferent teaching, and a distinctly different teacher. Instead of Mark’s humble carpenter-prophet, John presents a divine hero whose supernatural glory radiates through every speech he makes and every miracle he performs. John’s Jesus is a being of light even while walking the earth. Writing perhaps thirty years after Mark had invented the Gospel form, the author of the Fourth Gospel is aware that, even after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 ce , the End did not come and Jesus did not return. He is also aware that, despite its disappointment in the delayed Parousia, the Christian move- ment had not only survived the tribulations of  the Jewish wars and government persecu- tions, but had grown vigorously and expanded throughout the Roman Empire. Inspired by the Paraclete —which he defi nes as “the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16; 15:26)—the fourth Evangelist boldly reinterprets Jesus’ theological signifi - cance, emphasizing what Jesus accomplished at

The Gospel According to John

Author: Traditionally, John, son of Zebedee and brother of James, one of the Twelve. The writer, who does not identify himself, states that his version of Jesus’ life is based on testi- mony of an unnamed “Beloved Disciple.” Scholars classify the work as anonymous. Date: Between about 9 5 and 100 ce , after some Christians were expelled from Jewish synagogues. Small fragments of the Gospel found in Egypt, dating from the fi rst half of the second century ce , are the oldest surviving part of the New Testament. Place of composition: Unknown. The Gospel may have evolved at a number of different sites as the Johannine community moved from a Jewish-Palestinian to a Gentile environment. Sources: A compilation of Jesus’ miraculous acts, the hypothetical Signs Gospel; Greek and Jewish traditions involving heavenly Wisdom; and the oral teachings of an unidentifi ed “Beloved Disciple.” Audience: Communities infl uenced by a uniquely high Christology, including belief in Jesus’ prehuman existence as Cosmic Wisdom (the Logos), as well as a proto-Gnostic group.

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and Chapter 19 on the authorship of Revelation). The Gospel itself does not mention the author’s identity, stating instead that it is based on the testimony of an anonymous disciple “whom Jesus loved” (21:20–24). Tradition identifi es this “Beloved Disciple” with John (whose name does not appear in the Gospel), but scholars can fi nd no evidence to substantiate this claim. Jesus pre- dicted that John would suffer a death similar to his (Mark 10:39), whereas the Gospel implies that its author, unlike Peter, James, and John, did not die a martyr’s death (21:20–22). Many historians think it likely that Herod Agrippa ex- ecuted the apostle John along with his brother James about 41–43 ce (Acts 12:1–3). Some critics propose that another John, prominent in the church at Ephesus about 100 ce , is the author. Except that he was called “John the Elder” (presbyter), we know nothing that would connect him with the Johannine writ- ings. Lacking defi nite confi rmation of tradi- tional authorship, scholars regard the work as anonymous. For convenience, we refer to the author as John.

The Beloved Disciple

Although the Gospel text does not identify its author, editorial notes added to the fi nal chap- ter associate him with the unnamed Beloved Disciple, suggesting that at the very least this disciple’s teachings are the Gospel’s primary source (21:23–24). Whether or not this anony- mous personage was a historical character, he is certainly an idealized fi gure, achieving an inti- macy and emotional rapport with Jesus un- matched by that with Peter or the other disciples. In the Gospel, he does not appear (at least as the one “Jesus loved”) until the fi nal night of Jesus’ life, when we fi nd him at the Last Supper, lying against his friend’s chest (13:23). (The Twelve dined in the Greco-Roman fashion, re- clining two-by-two on benches set around the table.) Designed to represent the Johannine com- munity’s special knowledge of Christ, the Beloved Disciple is invariably presented in competition

with Peter, form an inner circle of Jesus’ most intimate followers. The most prominent of the Twelve, the three are present when Jesus raises Jairus’s daughter (Mark 5:37), at the Transfi guration (Mark 9:2), and in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus is arrested (Mark 14:33). Jesus nicknames John and his brother “ Boanerges ,” meaning “sons of thunder,” per- haps for their aggressive temperaments, as when they ask Jesus to send fi re to consume a Samaritan village (Luke 9:54) or demand fi rst place in his kingdom (Mark 10:35–40). Writing in the mid-50s ce , Paul describes John as one of the three “pillars” in the Jerusalem church (Gal. 2:6–10) during its formative period. According to one church tradition, John eventually settled in Ephesus, where he lived to an exceptionally old age, writing his Gospel, three letters, and the Book of Revelation. These fi ve works are known collectively as the “ Johannine literature.” The tradition ascribing authorship to the son of Zebedee is relatively late. Before about 180 ce , church writers do not mention the Gospel’s existence. After that date, some lead- ing churchmen accept it as John’s composition, although others doubt its authenticity. Some even suggest that it was the work of Cerinthus , a Gnostic teacher. One church leader, Clement of Alexandria, states what became the offi cial view of John’s origin. Clement (c. 200 ce ) recognized the sa- lient differences between the Synoptics and John and noted that after the other Evangelists had preserved the “facts of history” John then wrote “a spiritual Gospel.” Both traditionalists and modern critics agree with Clement on two counts: that John’s Gospel was the last one writ- ten and that it profoundly “spiritualizes” Jesus.

Problems with the Traditional Theory

Most contemporary scholars doubt that the apos- tle John wrote the document bearing his name. Most scholars are also skeptical that the same au- thor wrote all of the Johannine literature ( see Chapter 18 for a discussion of the letters of John

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during the lifetimes of some original followers was a misapprehension, a mistaken interpreta- tion of Jesus’ teaching? Instead of emphasizing Jesus’ return to earth, John’s Gospel underscores Jesus’ return to heaven, his place of origin. At the Last Supper Jesus promises the disciples: “I will not leave you bereft; I am coming back to you,” coming not vis- ibly at the Parousia, but in the unseen form of the Paraclete, which Jesus describes as “your Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name” (14:26). Explaining the necessity of his re- turn to heaven, Jesus tells the disciples: “It is for your good that I am leaving you. If I do not go, your Advocate [the Paraclete] will not come, whereas if I go, I will send him to you” (16:7). Not the Parousia, but the Paraclete, the Spirit that as- sures Jesus’ continuing presence among believ- ers, will reveal Jesus’ “glory” and invisibly express God’s will in human society (16:8-15). One disciple clearly articulates Jesus’ intent in thus revising expectations of his Second Coming: “You mean to disclose yourself to us alone and not to the world?” (14:22). In the Johannine view, Jesus has already returned spir- itually to dwell within believers sanctifi ed by love, and perhaps will not manifest himself visibly to “the world” at a Parousia (14:10–29).

Place and Date of Composition

Despite its use of Hellenistic terms and ideas, recent studies indicate that John’s Gospel is deeply rooted in Palestinian tradition. It shows a greater familiarity with Palestinian geography than the Synoptics and reveals close connec- tions with fi rst-century Palestinian Judaisms , particularly concepts prevailing in the Essene community at Qumran. Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran reveals many parallels be- tween Essene ideas and those prevailing in the Johannine community. Essene writers and the author of John use a remarkably similar vocab- ulary to express the same kind of ethical du- alism, dividing the world into two opposing groups of people: those who walk in the light (symbolizing truth and goodness) and those

with Peter, who may represent the larger apos- tolic church from which the disciple’s exclusive group is somewhat distanced. At the Last Supper, the Beloved Disciple is Peter’s intermediary, trans- mitting to Jesus Peter’s question about Judas’s betrayal (13:21–29). Acquainted with the High Priest, he has access to Pilate’s court, thus gaining Peter’s admittance to the hearing, where Peter denies knowing Jesus (18:15–18). The only male disciple at the cross, he receives Jesus’ charge to care for Mary, becoming her “son” and hence Jesus’ “brother” as well (19:26–27). Outrunning Peter to the empty tomb on Easter morning, he arrives there fi rst and is the fi rst to believe that Jesus is risen (20:2–10). In a boat fi shing with Peter on the Sea of Galilee, the disciple is the fi rst to recognize the resur- rected Jesus standing on the shore, identifying him to Peter (21:4–7). Peter, future “pillar” of the Jerusalem church, is commissioned to “feed” (or spiritually nourish) Jesus’ “sheep” (his future followers), but Jesus has a special prophecy for the Beloved Disciple’s future: He may live until the Master returns (21:20–22). This brief allusion to the Beloved Disciple’s surviving until Jesus’ return is one of only two explicit references to the Parousia in John’s Gospel. The single reference to Jesus’ coming again in the main body of the Gospel appears in John 14:3, where it is placed in the context of Jesus’ receiving the disciples into their everlast- ing home, perhaps at the hour of their deaths. In John 21, which scholars believe is an epilogue to the Gospel and by a writer or editor different from that of the main narrative, the author states that Jesus’ words about the Beloved Disciple had been misunderstood “in the brotherhood,” the community that produced the Gospel. “But in fact Jesus did not say that he would not die,” the editor points out, “he only said, ‘If it should be my will that he wait until I come, what is it to you?’” (21:23). By the time the epilogue was written, the Beloved Disciple had apparently al- ready died, suggesting that even the longest-lived followers who had personally known Jesus had by then passed from the scene. Does the writer mean to imply that expectations of Jesus’ return

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similarities between Essene and Johannine thought, however, now incline many scholars to fi x the Gospel’s place of composition (at least its fi rst edition) in Palestine or Syria. Some critics once thought that John’s Gospel was composed late in the second cen- tury, when Christian authors fi rst mention it. However, tiny manuscript fragments of John discovered in the Egyptian desert have been dated to about 125 to 150 ce , making them the oldest surviving part of a New Testament book. Allowing time for the Gospel to have circulated abroad as far as Egypt, the work could not have originated much later than about 100 ce . The Gospel’s references to be- lievers’ being expelled from Jewish synagogues (9:22, 34–35)—an extended process that be- gan about 85 or 90  ce —suggest that the deci- sive break between church and synagogue was already in effect when it was written. Hence, the Gospel is usually dated to between about 9 5 and 100 ce .

Relation to the Synoptic Gospels

Despite some verbal parallels to Mark (cf. John 6:7 and Mark 6:37; John 12:27–28 and Mark 14:34–36), most scholars do not think that the author of John’s Gospel drew on the earlier Gospels. A few scholars, however, such as Thomas Brodie (see “Recommended Reading”), argue that the author created his account by appropriating material from the Synoptics and thoroughly transforming it. After carefully ana- lyzing John’s presumed reworking of his sources (primarily Mark, Matthew, Ephesians, and the Mosaic Torah), Brodie concludes that John’s Gospel is basically a theological reinterpretation of previously existing traditions about Jesus’ life and meaning. Instead of deriving from a mar- ginal Christian group, the supposedly indepen- dent Johannine community, John’s narrative actually represents mainstream Christianity. The enormous differences between the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel, however, per- suade most scholars that John’s vision of Jesus does not derive from the older canonical Gospels

who walk in darkness (symbolizing deceit and evil). In comparing John with the Dead Sea Scroll known as the Rule of the Community, schol- ars fi nd not only an almost identical use of dis- tinctive terms but also a comparable worldview according to which the universe is a battle- ground of polar opposites. In this dualistic cos- mos, the devil (synonymous with “liar”) and his “spirit of error” oppose Jesus’ “spirit of truth” (cf. John 8:44; 12:35; 14:17; 15:26 with Rule of the Community 1QS 3.13, 17–21). The Qumran and Johannine communities are also alike in that each is apparently based on the teachings of a spiritually enlightened founder. As the mysterious Teacher of Righteousness had earlier brought the light of true understanding to the Essenes , so the Johannine Jesus—“the light of  the world”—came to illuminate humanity’s mental and spiritual darkness. Although the unidentifi ed Essene teacher receives nothing comparable to the exaltation the Johannine writer accords Jesus, the two groups display similar attitudes, regarding them- selves as specially chosen to fulfi ll the divine will. Both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Johannine writings claim exclusive knowledge of God de- nied to outsiders and both view their respective groups, tiny as they were, as the only guardians of light and truth in a fatally benighted world. Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, many scholars believed that John’s Gospel—with its seemingly Platonic dualism and use of Greek philosophical terms such as Logos —originated in a Hellenistic environment, perhaps in Ephesus, the traditional home of the apostle John in his old age. A wealthy seaport and capital of the Roman province of Asia (western Turkey), Ephesus was a crossroads of Greek and Near Eastern ideas. With a large colony of Jews, it was a center for Paul’s missionary work, as well as the base of a John-the-Baptist sect (Acts 19:1–7). If the Gospel was composed in an area where the Baptist was regarded as Jesus’ superior, it would account for the writer’s severe limitation of the Baptist’s role in the messianic drama, reduc- ing his function to that of a mere “voice” bear- ing witness to Jesus (1:6–9, 19–28). The many

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Concept of the Logos: Before coming to earth, Jesus preexisted in heaven, where he was God’s mediator in creating the universe (1:1–18).

Miracle at Cana: Jesus changes water into wine (the fi rst “sign”) (2:1–12).

Principle of spiritual rebirth: the conversation with Nicodemus (3:1–21; see also 7:50–52; 19:39).

Conversation with the Samaritan woman (4:1–42). Jesus healing the invalid at Jerusalem’s Sheep

Pool (5:1–47). The “I am” sayings: Jesus speaks as divine Wisdom

revealed from above, equating himself with objects or concepts of great symbolic value,

such as “the bread of life” (6:22–66) and “the resurrection and the life” (11:25).

Cure of the man born blind: debate between church and synagogue (9:1–41).

The raising of Lazarus (the seventh “sign”) (11:1–12:11).

A different tradition of the Last Supper: washing the disciples’ feet (13:1–20) and delivering the farewell discourses (13:31–17:26).

Resurrection appearances in or near Jerusalem to Mary Magdalene and the disciples, including Thomas (20:1–29).

Resurrection appearances in Galilee to Peter and to the Beloved Disciple (21:1–23).

box 10.1 Representative Examples of Material Found Only in John

(see Boxes 1 0 .1 and 1 0 .2). Concentrating on Jesus as a heavenly revealer of ultimate truth, John does not present his hero in Synoptic terms. Most of the material that appears in the Synoptics does not appear in John; conversely, most of John’s contents are not even alluded to in the Synoptic Gospels. A dozen representative differences between John and the Synoptics follow, along with brief suggestions about the author’s possible rea- sons for not including characteristic Synoptic material:

1. John has no birth story or reference to Jesus’ virginal conception, perhaps because he sees Christ as the eternal Word (Logos) who “became fl esh” (1:14) as the man Jesus of Nazareth. John’s doctrine of the Incarnation (the spiritual Logos becoming physically human) makes the manner of Jesus’ human conception irrelevant.

2. John contains no record of Jesus’ baptism by John, emphasizing Jesus’ independence of and superiority to the Baptist. Besides de- nying the Baptist an Elijah role, the author shows Jesus conducting his own baptism

campaign, thus competing with the Baptist (3:22–23; 4:1).

3. John includes no period of contemplation in the Judean wilderness or temptation by Satan. His Jesus possesses a vital unity with the Father that makes worldly temptation impossible.

4. John never mentions Jesus’ exorcisms, which play so large a role in Mark’s and Matthew’s reports of his ministry. Instead, Jesus himself is accused of “having a demon” (7:20; 8:46–52; 10:19–20).

5. Although he recounts some friction between Jesus and his brothers (7:1–6), John does not reproduce the Markan tradition that Jesus’ family thought he was mentally un- balanced or that his neighbors in Nazareth viewed him as nothing extraordinary (Mark 3:20–21, 31–35; 6:1–6). In John, Jesus meets considerable opposition, but he is always too commanding and powerful a fi gure to be ig- nored or devalued.

6. John presents Jesus’ teaching in a form radically different from that of the Synoptics . Both Mark and Matthew state that Jesus “never” taught without using parables

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love. In both the Gospel and the Epistles, this is Jesus’ single explicit directive; in …