Presentation on theme: "The Gospel of John – first lecture The highest Christology."— Presentation transcript:
The Gospel of John – first lecture The highest Christology
“Low Christology”/ “High Christology” “Christology” – the theological understanding of “the Christ” – what Messiahship means. “Low Christology” = a Christology “from below”: based on the understanding of the historical Jesus’ earliest followers. Titles: messiah, rabbi, prophet, son of man, lord, son of God (the latter two without theological definition). Characteristics of Jesus: a charismatic teacher, healer, worker of miracles, messiah, raised from death by God. “Low Christology” is characteristic of the Synoptic tradition. Matthew and Luke add a divine origin to Jesus’ birth: son of God from his conception – his virginal conception -- (but still without theological definition). “High Christology” – a Christology “from above”: based on visions, personal revelations, less (or not at all) on historical testimony. Titles: Savior, Lord, Son of God, Word of God, Lamb of God, Equal to the Father, and finally, God. Characteristics: divine figure in human form (incarnate or enfleshed God), absolute knowledge of others, power over life and death. “High Christology” is characteristic of Paul and of Gospel of John.
The Fourth Gospel A very different Jesus from the Synoptic gospels. Written in opposition to the Synoptics? From perspective of Gospel of John, did the Synoptics get Jesus wrong? Last written of the canonical gospels. Written in a culture with somewhat different philosophical, cultural expectations. But also written in opposition to Gnosticism and Gnostic Christology. Jesus is human, has human flesh, but is essentially God. Instead of pericopés of teaching that go back to the historical Jesus, we get long theological discourses mainly centering on Jesus’ identity and nature.
John and the Synoptics About 90 percent different from Synoptics. Most of that 10 percent overlap centers on Passion narrative (but even here significant differences). Portrays overlapping ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist. Chasing money changers from Temple happens at beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Portrays three Passovers. Gives Jesus a ministry in Judea (around Jerusalem) -- synoptics see Jesus centered in Galilee. Puts the Last Supper before Passover. Contains very few of the Synoptic miracles. And hardly any of the Synoptic sayings. Instead a different set of miracles. And long discourses.
Least historical of the gospels Because of its rejection of the Synoptic tradition, scholars are generally suspicious of its historical character. The discourses don’t typically address the culture and context of the Jewish world of Jesus and disciples. It seems rather a late and highly theologized account. But there are some independent Palestinian traditions. And it’s fairly accurate in its Palestinian geography. So it may come from Syrian or northern Palestinian traditions. And it may contain some historical traditions about the historical Jesus – may not be just a late and highly theologized account. But it is a late and highly theologized account. In effect, a “channeling” of the risen Jesus; the writer is giving us what he believes is the essential nature of Jesus.
Who wrote John, and when? Gospel not mentioned by anyone before 180 C.E. Earlier biblical scholarship assumed it was written mid- second century. But papyrus fragments of the gospel dated C.E. discovered in Egypt. So gospel must have been written before this time. Gospel is aware of the expulsion of Christians from synagogues, 85 to 90 C.E. Written perhaps 90 to 100 C.E. Irenaeus, c. 180 C.E., says gospel written by John, son of Zebedee – on the authority of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. But does Mark 10: 39 imply John would be martyred, along with his brother James? (James, son of Zebedee, killed by Herod, around 44 – Acts 12: 1).
Who? There’s another John, John the Elder at Ephesus, circa 100 C.E., who is mention by Papias. Gospel nowhere mentions authorship by a “John,” but at the end claims connection to “the beloved disciple”: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.” So the gospel (or an editorial appendix) connects the gospel in some way with the authority of “the beloved disciple.” Who would have been extremely old in 90 to 100 CE, presumably too old in any case for literary endeavor. Gospel wants to claim connection to the unnamed “beloved disciple.” But the rejection of the Synoptic tradition makes this puzzling. And the mystical character of the gospel makes authorship puzzling. Writer seems to have more a mystical than historical connection with Jesus. A writer with a visionary sense of the “real” Jesus, the Jesus whom the merely historical Synoptics got wrong? In this sense is the writer someone like Paul, but two generations later, who links his mystical Christ to Palestinian traditions? So, finally, an anonymous writer whom the text connects with “the beloved disciple,” whoever that may be.
Narrative character of John Another “reader challenging” gospel, like Mark (though otherwise very different from Mark). No actual parables, but stories to be interpreted as parables, puzzles for the reader. All centered on the identity, nature of Jesus. Full of symbolic language: “light,” “truth,” “water,” “vine,” “spirit,” “flesh.” Longer speeches, discourses by Jesus. Punctuated by an essentially new set of miracles, arranged in ascending order. Culminating in the raising of Lazarus. And the puzzle of how one ingests, takes in, this divine figure.
John’s mystical prologue Beginning of John: no infancy gospel. Matthew and Luke begin with J’s birth, then through genealogies to Abraham (Matt.) and to Adam (Luke). John pushes J’s origin back even further, “In the beginning” – echoing Genesis! “Word” – Logos – Gk. means something like Reason, Speech, Thought. So the true origin of the Christ is the pre-existent Logos of God; Jesus is the enfleshment (incarnation) of that Logos in human form. All very philosophical, very Greek. But related to the idea of God’s Wisdom in Hebrew Scriptures.
Proverbs 8:22-31: the Wisdom of God The Lord created me [Wisdom ] at the beginning of his work, The first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, At the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, When there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, Before the hills, I was brought forth – When he had not yet made earth and fields, Or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there, When he drew a circle on the face of the deep, When he made firm the skies above, When he established the fountains of the deep, When he assigned the sea its limit, So that the waters might not transgress his command, When he marked out the foundations of the earth, Then I was beside him, like a master worker; And I was daily his delight, Rejoicing before him always, Rejoicing in his inhabited world And delighting in the human race.
The idea of Wisdom (Sophia in Greek) is also developed in the Book of Wisdom in the Apocrypha. John takes this Hebraic idea of Wisdom and translates it into the Greek philosophical terminology of Logos. Then asserts that the human person of Jesus was the enfleshment of that divine principle. It’s a long distance from the Synoptic “son of Man,” “Son of God.” But see the Pauline letter to Colossians (1: 15-17): “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in the heaven and in the earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions, or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together…” The visual image of this in St. Mark’s, IV.
John the Baptist Interesting that the gospel begins by insisting that John the Baptist is not the Christ, but only bears witness to the Christ. Why still a concern late in the first century? Remember Acts 19 mentions the existence of a group that still followed John the Baptist's teachings in Ephesus. All the gospels are concerned to show John the Baptist in a subordinate role to Jesus. (The Mandaeans are an ancient but surviving religious group who still trace their roots to John the Baptist.) The first episode in John enacts the turn from John the Baptist and his teaching to Jesus as true light. Note the conclusion in the two disciples of John leaving him and following Jesus. One turns out to be Andrew, the brother of Peter, who becomes the link between Peter and Jesus. Then the calling of Philip and Nathanael (who is not mentioned in the synoptics). Jesus' first prediction here is not of suffering and death, as in Mark, but in a divine glorification (1:51).
“Behold the Lamb of God” John 1: 29: “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” But why “lamb”? The phrase is so familiar, so much a part of tradition that we may just pass it by. But it should strike us as odd, surprising. Sets up something of a mystery in the gospel text. How will it be explained?