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Archive for the ‘Historicity of John’ Category

If you are someone who thinks the 200-year history of New Testament criticism contains unanswerable arguments against the Fourth Gospel as a source of actual words and acts of Jesus and the apostles, then I think you have never studied the critical defense of John’s Gospel by English scholars of the nineteenth century.

But fundamentalists beware – the best of this early critical scholarship on John’s Gospel (both English and German) was not buttressed by any special pleading for plenary inspiration.  Beginning about 1848, British scholars like B.F. Westcott and J.B. Lightfoot took up the task of refuting the negative German criticism by following the good example of Schleiermacher, Neander, de Wette, Lucke, Bleek, Bunsen, and B. Weiss in meeting the negative arguments point by point on valid historical and textual-critical grounds.

I know it will be asked – if battle was joined over 150 years ago and fairly won in 40 years time – how do we find today scholars of repute who hold the Fourth Gospel in less esteem than the other three?

Here is a story told by Henry Watkins, archdeacon and canon of Durham Cathedral, of a conversation he had with Bishop Lightfoot in 1889:

“One day while walking with the late Bishop of Durham, when we hoped he was regaining strength, I took the opportunity of asking him how he accounted for the fact of the frequent assertion that the genuineness of the Fourth Gospel was disproved by modern criticism, in the presence of the strong and accumulating evidence in its favour.”

(Henry William Watkins, Modern Criticism Considered in Relation to the Fourth Gospel, 1890, p.viii)

J.B. Lightfoot at age 61 suffered from a physical illness which was to end his life that year, at the height of a very productive scholarly and church career.  When Watkins later sent him a review in rough outline of the chief issues of the 40-year campaign, the Bishop gave his last efforts in life to securing the archdeacon’s appointment as the next Bampton Lecturer at Oxford.  “No subject,” wrote the Bishop before he died, “could be more useful at the present day, and I think that the time has arrived when it can be effectively treated”.

Last year I began a defense of the historicity of John on the blog, and I mean to keep pushing this point.  Last month I found Watkins’ 1890 Bampton Lectures in my favorite old seminary, and I want to get some results of reading posted in the near future.

It should come as no surprise that I feel the history of fundamentalist bluster against the higher criticism can play no real part in the issues at stake with John’s Gospel.  The evangelical mind seems – by habitual abdication in the presence of texts conceived to be almighty – to have neither taste nor capacity for this kind of argument.  Even the ex-evangelical mind seems unsuited to the task of positive criticism.  The negative German critics themselves were in some cases ex-evangelicals who, after losing their belief in the Bible’s divine authorship, were unable to envision any human author for the texts who was not a deceiving rogue or a gullible fool.

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Here I want to place Luke and John in closer relation to Mark’s 20 verses on the period between the arrest and the trial before Pilate, and to changes in Mark introduced by the author of Matthew

To me it seems unusual that Mark has recounted everything he has heard about this night as if it happened at a single location.  The confinement of Jesus, the denial of Peter, the first Jewish trial, the spitting, mocking, beating, and taunting, and the second, early morning consultation of the council – everything seems to occur at the same Jerusalem address.  One  reason to doubt the authenticity of this feature in Mark is, as I  suggested in a previous post , the fact that Luke contradicts Mark’s single-location storyline, and is  supported by the author of the gospel of John.

Attention to details of location is a characteristic quality of a good eyewitness report.  If we can believe Luke and John, Mark’s sources have missed an important change of scene. For the purpose of retelling the events which he has in hand, Mark has pretty good control of his ‘collapsed’ singularity of location.  However, when the author of Matthew blithely accepts Mark’s single-location story but attempts to flesh it out with additional facts and assumptions, the results are even less acceptable to John and arguably to Luke as well (For signs of Luke’s knowledge of Matthew’s passion, see Michael D. Goulder, Luke: A New Paradigm,1989, pp. 6-7, etc.).

The Gospel of Matthew adds to Mark’s opening verses two new things (Mk14:53-4/ Mt 26:57-8).  First, in 26:57, is the  assumption that the location to which Jesus was taken immediately after his arrest was the residence of Caiaphas.  This addition, which seems at least to be a  reasonably well-educated guess,  is not confirmed by Luke and is flatly contradicted by John. Next, in 26:58, is the elimination of Mark’s courtyard fire, and the addition of a specific intent of Peter to ‘see’ the result of the trial.  This could be an attempt to raise Peter’s status as eyewitness, but more to the point, the implied darkness and outerness of Mark’s fire-lit courtyard is gone in Matthew – we now appear to be in an indoor court.  I think it is very interesting that Luke and John, who do not follow Matthew in this matter of identifying the residence with Caiaphas, retain Mark’s outdoor fire.

Too often I think modern critics of the gospels ascribe to the apostles and evangelists unworthy aims and ulterior motives in their writing.

Duccio di Buoninsenga - Jesus before Annas/Peter's first denial

But I find three practical and historical inducements for the author of John to make changes in the recorded history of events immediately following the arrest of Jesus: 

(1)  Correction of the tendency  of Matthew’s  additional matter to alter events remembered differently by his own sources;

(2)  Support for Luke’s tradition of a second location for the Jewish trial over the single-location version of Mark (followed by Matthew);

(3)  Introduction of eyewitness material  which builds on Luke’s two-location story by correcting the location of Peter’s denial – in the courtyard of Annas before Jesus is taken to Caiaphas for the official trial.

Note:  The right of Annas to interview Jesus before trial seems indirectly confirmed by the report of the historian Josephus (Ant.xviii.2.1 f) – that the wealthy former high priest was long a power in Judaism after the Romans arbitrarily removed him as high priest (an office traditionally granted for life).  I think Edersheim has evidence that Annas retained rule over the temple trade in animals and coin (I’ll confirm that).

For a treatment of the problem from a strictly synoptic viewpoint, without the help of the Fourth Gospel, see Matthew D. Larsen’s series on the Jewish trials.

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My aim in this series is simply to demonstrate an example of how the Gospel of John can contribute to the solution of problems of historical detail in cases where the synoptics offer conflicting or confusing reports of events in the life of Jesus – in this case the events occurring after the arrest of Jesus and before he is brought to Pilate.

For analysis of the synoptic side of the problem I am glad to have Matthew D. Larsen’s three recent posts on the Jewish trials only a click away. 

Larsen illustrates the matter and degree of Luke’s divergence from Mark and Matthew in his account of this night’s events, and offers an explanation of this divergence on the basis of the synoptics alone.  For my part, I wish to show that the Fourth Gospel narrative holds a key to a better explanation of Luke’s differences.

Modern criticism has long taken note of the uncanny similarities between Luke and John in some particulars of their accounts following Jesus’ arrest.    The point is not that Luke follows John here (hardly possible), but rather that John, knowing the work of all three predecessors, lends support to Luke’s version by contributing to the story a key fact to which he alleges himself an eyewitness.

I will start with the first two particulars of the Luke-John resemblance and continue with some others in my next post.

1a. In Luke 22:54 Jesus is brought after arrest ‘into the high priest’s house’ (Caiaphas is not named by Luke) with Peter following afar off, but there is no report of an official trial until Jesus is moved to a different location.

1b.  In John’s narrative (Jn18:13), ‘they led him away to Annas first’ (the former high priest), with Peter (and John) following him there.  There is no report of an official trial at this first location (only an interview between Annas and Jesus).  From here Jesus is taken to a different location (to Caiaphas).

2a. In Luke, it is at this (unnamed) high priest’s house that Peter’s denial takes place, and not in a location associated with a trial.

2b. In John it is the walled courtyard (Jn18:16) of the house of the high priest Annas (not any place associated with a trial) that Peter’s denial of Jesus takes place.

The Johannine tradition of Peter’s denial separates it spatially and temporally from the trial before Caiaphas.  If Luke has also heard of this two-location tradition, and judged it closer to the truth, it would explain his stubborn rejection of Mark’s single-location setting for Peter’s denial and the official trials and abuses, etc., of Jesus.

[to be continued]

Part 1 of this series can be found here

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Church fresco in Overselo, Sweden. Photo by Klafui

As announced by JohnDave Medina at Near Emmaus, Dr. Paul N. Anderson’s lecture series on John, Jesus, and History should begin today at Reedwood Friends Church, Portland, Oregon.  JohnDave indicated to me that Dr. Anderson was agreeable to the idea of uploading audio and/or video of one or more key sessions in the program.  I’m eager to see that happen.

It’s a Sunday-Wednesday split venue.  The Sunday series, Reading John again … for the First Time, is scheduled to begin today and finish next Sunday.  The Wednesday series, Jesus, Christ, and John, begins this Wednesday, April 21, and concludes April 28. 

Paul N. Anderson is founding co-chair of the John, Jesus, and History Group at the national Society of Biblical Literature.  I am currently reading Volume 1 of this group’s work (ed. Anderson et al, 2007 by SBL).

Capping off the series, Anderson promises a joint session with Marcus Borg entitled, The Origin of the Gospels – The Synoptics and John, scheduled for Wednesday, May 19.  There will also be a public symposium tabled by Anderson and Borg at Reedwood the following Saturday, May 22, Jesus in Bi-Optic Perspective: Latest Scholarship on the Synoptics and John.

Has the Fourth Quest for the historical Jesus already begun?  How fitting if it is to be characterized by a just resort to the Fourth Gospel – a supplementation of the synoptic approach with this very promising ‘Bi-Optic’ approach which Anderson is talking about!

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This morning’s studies have been illuminated by the ongoing Wheaton Conference blogging of Nijay Gupta especially the link I found there to the conference videos and MP3

Needless to say I was very much edified to listen in full to Marianne Meye Thompson’s talk on “The Gospel of John Meets Jesus and the Victory of God.”  Thompson gives a convincing recommendation of the value of John’s Gospel as a supplement (and more than a supplement) to the ostensibly limited synoptic views of NT Wright’s book.

I doubt Wright will contradict, although I haven’t been able to find interaction between him and Thompson yet. 

Thanks to Brian LePort at Near Emmaus for the initial link to Nijay’s post.

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I have been looking on at Matthew D. Larsen’s blog as he analyzes the differences between the synoptic versions of the Jewish trial[s] of Jesus.  Matt has made it pretty clear that Luke differs too much here to call this part of the story a ‘synoptic’ view of events.  I think the synoptics fail here to deliver (as a threesome) a cohesive ‘history’ of events between Jesus’ arrest and his appearance before Pilate.

Mr. Larsen has exercised his critical right to attempt an explanation of why Luke isn’t seeing eye-to-eye with Mark and Matthew at this point.  Now I want to suggest that – not in all cases but in this particular case – when the synoptics are in conflict, an examination of the Fourth Gospel is warranted before attempting a solution based upon the synoptics alone.

Recently I was pleased to find a very early modern example of a fruitful resort to the Gospel of John to solve the riddle of Luke’s diversion from Mark and Matthew in the matter of these trials.  F.D.E. Schleiermacher applies the text of John to the problem of this particular synoptic conflict in his lectures of 1832 on the life of Jesus (The Life of Jesus, Eng 1975, p.395-401).  And Schleiermacher was not ignorant of the modern criticism of John’s historicity – neither Strauss nor FC Bauer had yet published, but he knew and rejected Karl Bretschneider’s early (1820) attack on John (Ibid, Introduction, p.xxxi).

John’s account differs significantly from the account in Mark by its rejection of Mark’s report of an immediate appearance before Caiaphas.  And this is a place that Luke differs from Mark as well.  John states that Jesus (with Peter and ‘another disciple’ following) was first taken to the house of Annas, the former high priest and father-in-law to Caiaphas.

Could John be here offering an eyewitness account which enables this synoptic ‘problem’ to be solved?  Schleiermacher thought so (p.398).  Is John’s claim of relation to the high priest (whether by business or marriage) absurd for a son of Zebedee of Capernaum? And is it fair to assume that ‘another disciple’ (18:15) is an authorial reference?  In future posts I want to examine what special characteristic of ‘eyewitness’ accounts scholars have noticed in John.

In my next post I will show how huge this material from John can be for a better understanding of events which transpired between the arrest of Jesus and his appearance before Pilate.  Larsen has done his work by showing how tenuous our ground of resort to the synoptics is (since Luke differs so much from the other two).

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