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“And the same writer [Papias] uses testimonies from the first Epistle of John and from that of Peter likewise” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.17)
“For everyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is an anti-Christ; and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the Cross is of the devil: and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord for his own lusts, and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, – this man is the first-born of Satan.” (Polycarp, To the Philippians; cf. 1 John 4:2-3; 5:6-8; 2 John 7)
- “I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it; so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord.” (Irenaeus’s Letter to Florinus, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.20.6)
“What marvel is it then, if John so consistently mentions these particular points also in his Epistles, saying about himself, ‘What we have seen with our eyes and heard with our ears and our hands have handled, these things we have written to you?’… two of the above-mentioned (or, bearing the name of) John are counted (or, used) in the catholic [Church]” (Muratorian Canon, Lines 27-31, 68)
“And John, the disciple of the Lord, has intensified their condemnation, when he desires us not even to address to them the salutation of ‘good-spped'” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.16.3 [citing 2 John 1:11; cf. 3.16.5 [citing 1 John 2:18-19, 21-22]; cf. 3.16.8 [citing 1 John 4:1-2/2 John 1:7-8; 1 John 5:1])
“John, too, manifestly teaches the differences of sins, in his larger Epistle…” (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 2.15.66 [citing 1 John 5:16-17])
“Following the Gospel according to John, and in accordance with it, this [first] Epistle also contains the spiritual principle… The second Epistle of John, which is written to Virgins, is very simple. It was written to a Babylonian lady, by name Electa, and indicates the election of the holy Church.” (Clement of Alexandria, Adumbrationes on 1 and 2 John)
“He [John] has left also an epistle of very few lines; perhaps also a second and third; but not all consider them genuine, and together they do not contain hundred lines.” (Origen of Alexandria, in Ecclesiastical History 6.25.10)
“But I cannot readily admit that he [the John who wrote Revelation] was the apostle, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, by whom the Gospel of John and the Catholic Epistles were written” (Dionysius of Alexandria, in Ecclesiastical History 7.25.7, noting differences between the Johannine Gospel and Epistles from Revelation in terms of self-identification, vocabulary, and style)
“But of the writings of John, not only his Gospel, but also the former of his epistles, has been accepted without dispute both now and in ancient times. But the other two are disputed… next in order the extant former epistle of John [is undisputed]… those that are called the second and third of John [are disputed], whether they belong to the evangelist or another person of the same name.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.24.17; 3.25.2)
“He [John the apostle whom Jesus most loved] wrote also one Epistle which begins as follows ‘that which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our eyes and our hands handled concerning the word of life’ [1 John 1:1] which is esteemed of by all men who are interested in the church or in learning. The other two of which the first is ‘The elder to the elect lady and her children’ [2 John 1:1] and the other ‘The elder unto Gaius the beloved whom I love in the truth’ [3 John 1:1] are said to be the work of John the presbyter to the memory of whom another sepulchre is shown at Ephesus to the present day, though some think that there are two memorials of this same John the evangelist.” (Jerome, On Illustrious Men 9)
- “‘But whenever someone who had followed the presbyters came along, I [Papias of Hierapolis] would carefully ask about the words of the presbyters, what Andrew or what Peter had said or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the disciples of the Lord, and which Aristion and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord say too’… It is also worth calling attention here to his [Papias’s] listing the name of John twice, as he includes the first John with Peter and James and Matthew and the remaining apostles, clearly indicating the evangelist, but the other John, with separate wording, he places among the others outside the number of the apostles, and putting Aristion before him, he clearly calls him a presbyter… for it is likely that the second, unless someone should prefer the first, beheld the revelation that is circulated under the name of John.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.4-6)
- “And these things are borne witness to in writing by Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp, in his fourth book.” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.33.4)
- The Apostle John, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” who leaned back against Jesus at the last supper (cf. John 13:23), published the Gospel and Epistles during his stay in Ephesus according to church tradition.
- Some scholars identify the “elder” or “presbyter” in 2 John 1:1 and 3 John 1:1 with Papias’s “Elder John.” They note the parallels that Papias’s fragments have with the Johannine corpus including the seven “disciples” rather than “apostles” (cf. the order of the first four fits John 1:40-44 and 11:16, but the Gospel omits James, John, Matthew, and Aristion and the Elder John may not be in John 21:2), the Fourth Gospel’s excellent chronological and rhetorical arrangement, and the language of commandments given to the faith and in accordance with the truth.
- Should πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros) be translated as an ecclesiastical title (“presbyter”) or as an elderly person. Note that this figure remains anonymous, though his identity was known to his addressees.
- Does the “we” (authoritative “I”, “dissociative “we” connecting the author to like-minded colleagues, “associative we” connecting the author to the readers?) in 1 John 1:1-3 imply that the author was an eyewitness to the historical Jesus or was he just borrowing the language of the prologue to John’s Gospel to insist that they are guarding the communal tradition that was handed down from the beginning?
- Do the similarities and differences (generic, vocabulary, style, themes) between the Johannine Epistles support or rule out common authorship? The same question can be applied to the sender of the Epistles and the evangelist behind John’s Gospel.
- 1 John lacks any kind of epistolary features such as an address and may have been a tractate or sermon addressing a specific situation among a network of domestic congregations, while both 2 and 3 John conform to the epistolary format (length, sender, addressees, thanksgiving and blessings, body, conclusion, benediction).
- ἐκλεκτῇ κυρίᾳ (eklektē kyria) or “To the elect lady” (2 John 1:1; it is less likely that ἐκλεκτῇ κυρίᾳ should be translated as a personal name such as the “lady Electra” or the “elect Kyria”): was this a prominent individual or a symbol for a church? Note the reference to the elect lady’s sister (biological sister or fellow church?) and children (biological children or faithful believers) in verses 1, 4, and 13.
- 3 John 1:1 was addressed to a householder named Gaius. Note the non-Jewish names Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius.
- Ephesus: supported by the church tradition about the evangelist (cf. Irenaeus, Polycrates, Acts of John) and the text’s impact in Asia Minor (e.g. Quartodeciman crisis), the early reception of 1 John (Papias of Hierapolis, Polycarp of Smyrna), the existence of a Johannine “school” or network of churches explaining the shared parallels between the books of the so-called Johannine corpus (Gospel, Epistles, Revelation), and the cultural milieu that accounts for Johannine features (e.g. competition with local synagogues and Graeco-Roman socio-religious formations, possible affinities of the opponents of 1 John with Cerinthus of Ephesus).
- Alexandria: supported by the manuscript evidence from Egypt, the affinities of the Johannine Prologue (John 1:1-18; 1 John 1:1-3) with the thought of Philo of Alexandria (e.g. Logos, spiritualizing or allegorical hermeneutic), and the schism in 1 John as a precursor to the debate over John’s Gospel by proto-Orthodox and Valentinian interpreters.
- Syria: supported by the affinities of John’s Gospel with the Syriac Odes of Solomon and Ignatius of Antioch, including possible affinities of the opponents of 1 John with “docetists” who viewed Jesus as a phantom who only seemed or appeared (Greek δοκέω) to suffer (Ignatius, To the Smyreans 2.1), and the Gospel’s familiarity with nearby Judaea.
- Papias of Hierapolis seems to establish the terminus ad quem (“limit to which”) and his five-volume work Exposition of the Oracles of the Lord has been dated in the first quarter of the second century CE with an increasing majority dating it around 110 CE.
- There is debate over whether the Epistles postdate an earlier version or final edition of John’s Gospel, even constituting an orthodox commentary on it (e.g. reasserting the incarnation and vicarious death of Jesus against those whose divine Christology devalued Jesus’s earthly existence in 1 John 2:1-2; 4:2-3, 10; 5:6-7; 2 John 1:7), or whether they predated the Gospel (e.g. more primitive features such as the prologue in 1 John 1:1-3 or the apocalyptic eschatology in 2:18, 28; 3:2; 4:17). See my bullet points on the date of John’s Gospel.
- A schism involving a dispute over Christology (1 John 2:22; 4:1-3; 5:1, 6, 10; 2 John 7) and ethics (1 John 1:8, 10; 2:9-11, 19; 3:8, 10, 17; 4:6, 20) with the author’s opponents labelled as “anti-christs.”
- Denying Jesus is the Christ or rejecting the Son (1 John 2:22-23; 4:3; 5:1): this would seem to apply to non-Christ believing Jews (cf. John 9:22; 12:42; 16:22) or non-Jews, but it may also be general polemic against fellow Christ-believers who disagree with the author’s particular conception of Christology.
- Deny Jesus has come in the flesh (1 John 4:2; 2 John 1:7): “Gnostic” or demiurgical theologians, Ignatius’s docetists, those who hold a “separationist Christology” where the human Jesus was possessed by a spiritual entity called “Christ” (e.g. Cerinthus), or those who devalued Jesus’s earthly life and vicarious death in favour of his status as heavenly revealer of the Father or dispenser of the Spirit?
- Alternating accusations of perfectionism or breaking commands (1:6, 8; 2:4, 29; 3:4-10, 24; 5:2-3, 18; 2 John 1:6, 9): stock polemic about immorality or ties to the opponents devaluing of earthly existence including legal or moral codes due to their alleged direct communion with the Father and the indwelling Spirit.
- The love command (1:7-11; 3:11-17, 23; 4:7-8, 20-21; 2 John 1:5-6; cf. John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17): the opponents have broken the unity of the Johannine network of believers.
- 2 John encourages the elect lady and her children (for the referent see above) to remain united in obeying the love command and avoiding false teachers who create disunity; the itinerant false teachers are not to receive any greetings or hospitality in a household congregation (1:10-11).
- In contrast to Gaius’s hospitality towards the “brothers [and sisters]” who served as itinerant ministers (3 John 1:5-8), Diotrephes rejected the authority of the “elder” via his letter and missionaries and maligned him (1:9-10). It is uncertain whether the “presbyteros” or Diotrephes held an official church office, which one had the higher rank or better reputation among the churches in the area, and whether their dispute was related to the schism in 1 John or another personal, ecclesial, or theological matter.
“Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother… when James and Cephas and John, who were acknowledged pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised…. for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. (Galatians 1:18-19; 2:9, 12)
“… he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done…” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1)
“James, the brother of the Lord, succeeded to the government of the Church in conjunction with the apostles. He has been called the Just by all from the time of our Saviour to the present day; for there were many that bore the name of James. He was holy from his mother’s womb; and he drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh. No razor came upon his head; he did not anoint himself with oil, and he did not use the bath. He alone was permitted to enter into the holy place; for he wore not woolen but linen garments. And he was in the habit of entering alone into the temple, and was frequently found upon his knees begging forgiveness for the people, so that his knees became hard like those of a camel… [after throwing James off the temple and stoning him] And one of them, who was a fuller, took the club with which he beat out clothes and struck the just man on the head. And thus he suffered martyrdom. And they buried him on the spot, by the temple, and his monument still remains by the temple. He became a true witness, both to Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ. And immediately Vespasian besieged them.” (Hegesippus, in Ecclesiastical History 2.23.4-6, 18)
“Listen also to James, the brother of the Lord, testifying in similar fashion when he says, ‘Whoever wants to be a friend of this world makes himself an enemy of God.'” (Origen, Commentary on the Epistle of Romans 4.2)
“To sum up briefly, he [Clement] has given in the Hypotyposes abridged accounts of all canonical Scripture, not omitting the disputed books, — I refer to Jude and the other Catholic epistles, and Barnabas and the so-called Apocalypse of Peter” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 6.14.1; cf. Photius, Bibliotheca 109).
“Among the disputed writings, which are nevertheless recognized by many, are extant the so-called epistle of James and that of Jude (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.25.3)
“James, who is called the brother of the Lord, surnamed the Just, the son of Joseph by another wife, as some think, but, as appears to me, the son of Mary sister of the mother of our Lord of whom John makes mention in his book, after our Lord’s passion at once ordained by the apostles bishop of Jerusalem, wrote a single epistle, which is reckoned among the seven Catholic Epistles and even this is claimed by some to have been published by some one else under his name, and gradually, as time went on, to have gained authority… The Gospel also which is called the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and which I have recently translated into Greek and Latin and which also Origen often makes use of, after the account of the resurrection of the Saviour says,
but the Lord, after he had given his grave clothes to the servant of the priest, appeared to James (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he drank the cup of the Lord until he should see him rising again from among those that sleep)” (Jerome, On Illustrious Men 2)
- James, the son of Zebedee, was martyred too early (ca. 41-44 CE) to be the author (Acts 12:2) and we have little information about other candidates (e.g. James the son of Alphaeus, James the father of Judas) besides Jesus’s brother. James does not elaborate on his familial relationship with Jesus either because of authorial modesty or because his reputation was so well-established that he needed no introduction.
- The address to diaspora Jews (1:1) who meet in a synagogue (2:2), the influence of Jewish wisdom and Jesus traditions, the praise of the “perfect” or “royal” law (1:25; 2:8), the attack on antinomianism (2:8-26), and the rebuke of the rich who oppress their land tenants or labourers (5:1-5) fits a pre-70 Jewish writer from Judaea like James. The text does not address circumcision and kosher food since it presumes the authority of Torah and does not address would-be Gentile proselytes.
- There are parallels with the letter containing the apostolic decree sent out under the authority of James (Acts 15:23-29; cf. 15:13-21).
- The text exhibits a range of Greek vocabulary and Hellenistic tropes (e.g. rudder of a ship) and consults the Septuagint, but there are questions about the Greek literacy of the Galilean family members of Jesus. Some neutralize this point by arguing that James used an amanuensis or his preaching was recorded with editorial additions by a literate disciple.
- There are issues surrounding the dating of the epistle based on its parallels with other literary texts (see below).
- The external attestation of the text before Origen of Alexandria is not strong, so the text may have been slowly accepted as authoritative and there was some debate in the early church about its authorship.
- Conjectured dates for the writing of the epistle have ranged from the mid-first to the mid-second century CE.
- If written by James, the text has to date before his martyrdom around 62 CE. Some scholars (e.g. Daniel B. Wallace) date it even before the question of whether non-Jewish Jesus followers were required to Judaize was debated at the Jerusalem Council (ca. 49 CE).
- In James 2:8-26, did the writer intend to combat the theology of the Apostle Paul (based on a second-hand report of his preaching or an epistle such as Romans?), of Paulinist’s who misinterpreted Paul’s teaching on justification by faith(fullness), or of Marcion of Sinope who divorced the Christian revelation from its Jewish roots based on an (edited?) version of Paul’s Epistles (cf. David R. Nienhuis)?
- Is James in touch with oral traditions in a pre-Matthean form (see Mark Allan Powell’s “Parallels between James and the Sermon on the Mount“)?
- Is there a literary relationship between James and 1 Peter, 1 Clement, and the Shepherd of Hermas and, if so, what is the direction of influence? Or are the parallels based on shared traditions or a common cultural milieu? See the parallels between James and 1 Peter listed by Dale Allison and the analysis in The New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers and The Reception of the New Testament in the Apostolic Fathers.
- There is debate about the external attestation of the text before Origen (ca. 184-254 CE) and the earliest manuscript evidence from the third century CE is P20, P23, and P100.
“To the twelve tribes in the dispersion” (James 1:1)
- A general Christian audience: note how 1 Peter addresses a predominantly non-Jewish, Christ-following audience with Israelite and exile imagery (1 Pet 1:1, 17; 2:9-11; 5:13).
- A Jewish Christian audience: the authority of James, a straightforward reading of the epistolary address, the influence of Jesus’s ethical teachings, and the intra-Christian debate with Paulinism.
- A non-Christian Jewish audience: some scholars even went as far to argue that the text was a synagogue homily that has been lightly Christianized in 1:1 and 2:1; the parousia (“coming”) of the kyrios (“Lord”) could be taken in reference to either God or Jesus (5:7; cf. 5:4, 7-9).
- Primarily ethical exhortation rather than a systematic theological or Christological treatise.
- A mere expression of belief (e.g. confession of the Shema or the oneness of God) is insufficient if it is not accompanied by action (2:14-26). The examples given are biblical (e.g. Abraham offering his son and Rahab protecting the spies) and practical (e.g. well-wishes to the poor without providing for their material needs).
- Traditional wisdom and (eschatological) retribution theology: asking for wisdom (1:5; 3:13, 15, 17-18), obedience to the law (1:22-25; 2:10-13; 4:11), self-control over emotions (1:19-21), caring for the poor and showing non-partiality (1:17-18, 27; 2:1-6, 8-9, 15-16), taming the tongue (1:26; 3:1-12), avoiding envy and dissension (3:14-16; 4:1-2, 11-12; 5:9), having resolve without double-mindedness (1:5-8; 4:8; 5:12), and requesting prayer and healing (5:13-18). Innocent suffering in trials and temptations are acknowledged, including the biblical example of Job, but they have a character strengthening function (1:2-4, 12-16; 5:7-11).
- Countercultural wisdom: prophetic denunciations of rich oppressors and the accumulation of wealth (1:9-11; 2:6-7; 4:3-4, 9-10, 13-16; 5:1-6).
- Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:29-31; Matt 8:14-15; Luke 4:38-39)
- exorcism in the Capernaum synagogue (Mark 1:21-27; Luke 4:31-36; omitted in Matthew)
- evening of healings/exorcisms (Mark 1:32-34; Matt 8:16; Luke 4:40-41)
- summary statement (Mark 1:39; Matt 4:23-24 [?]; Luke 5:15)
- healings/exorcisms in Galilee (Mark 1:39; 3:10-12; Matt 4:23-24 [?]; Luke 6:17-19)
- leper (Mark 1:40-45; Matt 8:1-4; Luke 5:12-16)
- paralytic (Mark 2:1-12; Matt 9:1-8; Luke 5:17-26)
- man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6; Matt 12:9-14; Luke 6:6-11)
- apostles as exorcists/healers (Mark 3:15; 6:7, 13; Matt 10:1; Luke 9:1, 6)
- Beelzebul accusation (Mark 3:22-30; Matt 12:24-26, 29, 31; Luke 11:15, 17-18, 21-22; see here for triple, double, or single tradition in this so-called “Mark-Q overlap”)
- stilling the storm (Mark 4:35-41; Matt 8:23-27; Luke 8:22-25)
- Demoniac at the tombs (Mark 5:1-20; Matt 8:28-34; Luke 8:26-39)
- hemorrhaging woman (Mark 5:25-34; Matt 9:19-22; Luke 8:43-48)
- resurrection of the synagogue ruler’s daughter (Mark 5:35-34; Matt 9:23-26; Luke 8:49-56)
- Limited healings at the Nazarene synagogue (Mark 6:5; Matt 13:58; omitted in Luke 4:16-30)
- Ministry in the villages (Mark 6:6; Matt 9:35; Luke 8:1)
- feeding 5000 (Mark 6:32-44; Matt 14:13-21; Luke 9:10-17)
- healings at Gennesaret (Mark 6:53-56; Matt 14:34-36; omitted in Luke)
- walking on water (Mark 6:45-52; Matt 14:22-27; omitted in Luke)
- Syro-Phoenician (or Canaanite) woman’s daughter (Mark 7:24-30; Matt 15:21-28; omitted in Luke)
- feeding 4000 (Mark 8:1-10; Matt 15:32-39; omitted in Luke)
- epileptic child (Mark 9:14-29; Matt 17:14-19; Luke 9:37-42)
- rival exorcist (Mark 9:38-41; Luke 9:49-50; omitted in Matthew)
- blind man/men at Jericho (Mark 10:46-52; Matt 20:29-34; Luke 18:35-43)
- withered fig tree (Mark 11:12-14; Matt 21:18-19; omitted in Luke)
- resurrection of Jesus (Mark 16:1-8; Matt 28:1-8; Luke 24:1-8)
- centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10; Matt 8:5-13)
- response to inquirers sent by the baptizer (Luke 7:18-23; Matt 11:2-6)
- demon causes muteness (Luke 11:14; Matt 9:32-33; 12:22)
- Beelzebul accusation (double tradition in Matt 9:34/12:24-32 and Luke 11:15-26/12:10 such as Matt 12:27-28/Luke 11:19-20; see here for triple, double, or single tradition in this so-called “Mark-Q overlap”)
- commissioning the apostles to heal (Luke 10:9; Matt10:7-8)
- mighty works in Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum (Luke 10:13-15; Matt 11:21-23)
- deaf-mute man (Mark 7:31-37; cf. replaced by the summary statement of healings in Matt 15:30-31)
- two-stage healing of blind man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26)
- two blind men (Matt 9:27-31)
- the twelve are to freely offer their healing services (Matt 10:8)
- coin in fish’s mouth (Matt 17:24-27)
- healing in the temple courts (Matt 21:14)
- miraculous catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11; cf. John 21:1-14)
- Jesus’s speech in the Nazarene synagogue (Luke 4:16-27)
- widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-17)
- exorcism of Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2; cf. Mark 16:9)
- seventy disciples as exorcists (Luke 10:1, 17-20)
- crippled woman (Luke 13:10-17)
- man with edema or swelling (Luke 14:1-6)
- ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19)
- the ear of the high priest’s servant (Luke 22:51)
- clairvoyant perception of Nathaniel (1:47-51)
- water to wine (2:1-12)
- royal official’s son at Cana (4:46-54)
- paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (5:1-9)
- feeding 5000 (6:1-14)
- walking on water (6:16-21)
- blind man at the pool of Siloam (9:1-12)
- resurrection of Lazarus (11:38-44)
- resurrection of Jesus (20:1-29)
- miraculous catch of fish (21:1-14)
Controversial Sabbath Healings: A Closer Look
- The man with the withered hand (Mark 3:1-6), the crippled woman (Luke 13:10-17), the man with edema (Luke 14:1-6), and the healings at the pools of Bethesda and Siloam (John 5:1-17).
- The Sabbath command in the Decalogue (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15; cf. Exodus 31:14; 35:3-4). Note that the practice is justified by God’s rest on the seventh day of creation (cf. Genesis 2:2-3) or the reminder of deliverance from their heavy labour in Egypt.
- The Pharisees, and later the Rabbis (cf. Mishnah Shabbat 7.2), efforts to “build a fence around the Torah” and to define work in their oral tradition.
- Permissible exceptions: self-defense (1 Maccabees 2:41; Tosefta Eruvin 3.5; but cf. Jubilees 50:12-13) and saving life (Mishnah Yoma 8.6; Bavli Yoma 85b).
- Did healing by speaking a word constitute work? Did picking up one’s mat (John 5:10) or making mud (John 9:6, 15-16) constitute work?
- Synoptic defenses: the precedent of David eating the sacred bread perhaps on a Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28; cf. 1 Samuel 21:1-6; Leviticus 24:8), rescuing an animal in a pit (Matthew 12:11-12; Luke 14:5; contra Damascus Document 11.13-14), and the principle of doing good and the kingdom overcoming Satan.
- John’s defenses: circumcision on the Sabbath (John 7:23) and Jesus’s equality with the Father (John 5:17-18)
- A short bibliography:
- Bockmuehl, Markus. Jewish Law in Gentile Churches: Halakhah and the Beginning of Christian Public Ethics. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2000.
- Casey, Maurice. Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teachings. London: T&T Clark International, 2010.
- Collins, Nina. Jesus, the Sabbath and the Jewish Debate: Healing on the Sabbath in the 1st and 2nd Centuries CE. LNTS 474. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.
- Crossley, James. The New Testament and the Jewish Law: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: T&T Clark International, 2010.
- Doering, Lutz. “Sabbath Laws in the New Testament Gospels.” In The New Testament and Rabbinic Literature. Edited by R. Bieringer, F. García Martínez, D. Pollefeyt, & P. Tomson. JSJSup 136. Leiden: Brill, 2010.
- Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew, Volume IV: Law and Love. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009.
- Sanders, E. P. Jesus and Judaism. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1985.
- Vermes, Geza. Jesus the Jew: A Historians Reading of the Gospels. London: Collins, 1973.
The Gerasene Demoniac: A Closer Look
- The text critical issue: Gerasa was 55 kilometres (34 miles) from the lake and Gadara was 8 kilometres (5 miles) from the lake. Origen thought the location may be “Gergesa” in his Commentary on John (6.41)
- A dramatic account of an exorcism of a multitude of demons, a politically subversive story, or both?
- Earthly empires represented in the heavens (cf. Daniel 10:13, 20-21).
- Invaded and colonized by a foreign power.
- A Roman legion could have up to 5100 soldiers.
- The Legio Decem Fretensis had a boar’s head as one of its emblems and played a role in the Jewish War.
- The herd of pigs drowning in the Sea is reminiscent of the fate of Pharaoh’s army in Exodus 14:26-28.
- A short bibliography:
Dormandy, Richard. “The Expulsion of Legion: A Political Reading of Mark 5:1-20.”Expository Times 111 (2000): 335-37.
- Horsley, Richard A. Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel. Louisville; London; Leiden: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001 (see also Robert Gundry, “Richard Horsley’s Hearing the Whole Story: A Critical Review of its Postcolonial Slant” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 26 : 131-149 and Horsley’s response on pages 151-169).
- Incigneri, Brian J. The Gospel to the Romans: The Setting and Rhetoric of Mark’s Gospel. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2003.
Myers, Ched. Binding the Strongman: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. Second Edition. Marynoll: Orbis, 2008.
- Newheart, Michael Willett. My Name is Legion: The Story and Soul of the Gerasene Demoniac. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2004.
Walking on Water: A Closer Look
- The Ancient Near Eastern Combat Myth (cf. the Babylonian/Akkadian myth Enuma Elish and the Ugaritic/Canaanite Baal Cycle)
- The defeat of the chaotic sea monster (Job 26:12; Psalm 74:13-15; Isaiah 27:1); compare this with the sovereignty of Elohim over the formless void and waters in the priestly creation account (Genesis 1:2).
- Yahweh trampling upon the waters of chaos (Job 9:8; 38:16). There are Greek and Roman stories of deities (or the horses pulling Poseidon’s chariot) running at super-speed across water.
- Moses and Elijah divided the waters (Exodus 14:21–29; 2 Kings 2:8; cf. Joshua 3:14-17) and multiplied food (Exodus 16:1–36; Numbers 11:1–9; 1 Kings 17:14–16). Philo praises Moses’s command of the elements (Life of Moses 1.55-58). Note the sequence of sea and feeding miracles, alluding to the sea-crossing followed by the provision of manna in the wilderness.
- The hubris of imperial rulers: the Persian emperor Herodotus commands that the Hellespont receive 300 lashes after a storm thwarts his efforts to cross over it on a bridge of boats (cf. Herodotus, Histories 7.35-57) and Antiochus IV Epiphanies imagines that he could sail on the land and walk on the sea (2 Maccabees 5:21; 9:8).
- Yahweh extends his power over the sea to king David (Psalm 89:9-10, 25)
- Does Mark 6:48-51 use the imagery of a theophany in the description of Jesus passing by the disciples (cf. LXX Exodus 33:17–23; 34:6) and use of ego eimi (“I am” or “it is I”)?
- Peter is invited to walk on the water, but he begins to sink in doubt before Jesus takes hold of him in Matthew 14:28-31.
- Compare the disciples’ hard hearts in Mark 6:51-52 with their confession and worship in Matthew 14:33.
- A short bibliography:
- Collins, Adela Yarbro. “Rulers, Divine Men, and Walking on the Water (Mark 6:45-52).” In Religious Propaganda and Missionary Competition in the New Testament World: Essays Honoring Dieter Georgi, 207-227. Edited by L. Bormann, K. del Tredici, and A. Standhartinger. Leiden: Brill, 1994.
- Cotter, Wendy J. The Christ of the Miracle Stories: Portrait through Encounter. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010.
- Hays, Richard. Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness. Waco: Baylor, 2014.
- Kirk, Daniel and Young, Stephen L. “I Will Set his Hand to the Sea: Psalm 88:26 (LXX) and Christology in Mark.” Journal of Biblical Literature 133 (2014): 333-340.
- Mcphee, Brian D. “Walk, Don’t Run: Jesus’s Water Walking is Unparalleled in Greco-Roman Mythology.” Journal of Biblical Literature 135.4 (2016): 763-777.
The Christ (ho Christos)
- The Greek “Christ” (Χριστός) translates the Hebrew noun mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ) or “anointed one.” The Hebrew verb mashach (מָשַׁח) means to “smear/anoint with oil.”
- Prophets, priests, and rulers could all be anointed to perform particular tasks; even the non-Jewish Persian ruler Cyrus II (“the Great”) was an “anointed” one who permitted the Jewish exiles to return from Babylon to the land (Isaiah 45:1).
- To uncover the range of messianic ideas, should scholars restrict their analysis to texts that use the terminology for “anointed” or wider their search to figures who perform messianic functions (e.g. idealized ruler)? Note that the absolute usage of “anointed one” without qualification is rare (but cf. 1QSa 2.11-12; Mark 8:29)
- Diverse messianic expectations in the Second Temple period:
- a ruler who would re-establish the Davidic empire due to the perpetual dynasty promised to David and his descendants (2 Samuel 7:12-14; 1 Chronicles 17:11-14; Psalms of Solomon 17:21-46)
- a high priest who will preside over the temple cult (Testament of Judah 21; The Community Rule [1QS] 9.11; Hebrews 4:14-7:28)
- a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19; 1 Maccabees 4:46; 14:41; 1QS 9.11; Philo, On the Special Laws 1.65; John 1:21; 6:14; Acts 3:22-23; 7:37-38)
- a preexistent, heavenly judge (see “the Son of Man” below).
The Son of God (ho huios tou theou)
- Divine or angelic beings (Genesis 6:2, 4; Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Psalm 29:1; 82:6; Daniel 3:25)
- The nation of Israel collectively (Hosea 11:1; cf. Matthew 2:15)
- The righteous (Wisdom of Solomon 2:13-20; Matthew 5:9)
- The heir to David’s throne (2 Samuel 7:12-14; Psalm 2:7-9)
- Octavian “Augustus” (“venerable”), the great-nephew and adopted son of the deified Julius Caesar, had the title divi filius (son of god) minted on his coins. See also the Priene Calendar Inscription (9 BCE).
- Did Jesus receive the title Son of God at his resurrection (Romans 1:3-4; Acts 13:32-35), his baptism (Mark 1:9-11; cf. 9:2-8; 15:37-39), or his birth (Luke 1:30-35)? Or was he eternally the Son of God before he became human (Romans 8:3-4; Galatians 4:4-5; Hebrews 1:1-3; John 1:18; cf. Philippians 2:6-11; Colossians 1:15-20; John 1:1-18)?
The Son of the Human (ho huios tou anthropou)
- Markan Tradition: Mark 2:10 (cf. Matthew 9:6; Luke 5:24); 2:28 (cf. Matthew 12:8; Luke 6:5)
- Double Tradition: Luke 6:22/Matthew 5:11 (Matthew has “my account”); Luke 7:34/Matthew 11:19; Luke 9:58/Matthew 8:20 (cf. Gospel of Thomas logion 86); Luke 11:30/Matthew 12:40 (was the sign of Jonah about Jesus’s preaching?); Luke 12:10/Matthew 12:32
- M or L Tradition: Matthew 13:37; 16:13 (but cf. Mark 8:27; Luke 9:18); Luke 19:10
- Johannine Tradition: John 1:51 (?); 3:13; John 5:27 (?); 6:27; 6:53 (?); 9:35
- Suffering and vindication:
- Markan Tradition: Mark 8:31 (cf. Luke 9:22; Matthew 16:21 indirect summary of Jesus’s suffering); 9:9 (cf. Matthew 17:9; Luke 9:36 omits the reference to the resurrection); 9:12 (cf. Matthew 17:11-12; omitted in Luke); 9:31 (cf. Matthew 17:22-23; Luke 9:44); 10:33-34 (cf. Matthew 20:18-19; Luke 18:31-33); 10:45 (cf. Matthew 20:28; Luke 22:27 has “I” and omits the ransom saying); 14:21 (cf. Matthew 26:24; Luke 22:22)
- Double Tradition: Luke 11:30/Matthew 12:40 (was the sign of Jonah about Jesus’s death and resurrection?)
- M or L Tradition: Matthew 26:2 (but cf. Mark 14:1-2; Luke 21:1-2); Luke 22:48 (but cf. Matthew 26:49-50; Mark 14:45); 24:7 (but cf. Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:6-7)
- Johannine Tradition: John 3:14; 6:53 (?); 8:28; 12:23; 12:34; 13:31
- Markan Tradition: Mark 8:38 (cf. Luke 9:26; Matthew 10:33 has “I”); 13:26 (cf. Matthew 24:30; Luke 21:27); 14:62 (cf. Matthew 26:64; Luke 22:69)
- Double Tradition: Luke 12:8/Matthew 10:32 (Matthew has “I”); Luke 17:24/Matthew 24:27; Luke 17:26/Matthew 24:37
- M or L Tradition: Matthew 10:23; 13:41; 16:27; 16:28 (but cf. Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27); 19:28a (but cf. Luke 22:30/Matthew 19:28b); 24:30a; 24:39b (cf. Luke 17:27/Matthew 24:38-39a); 25:31; Luke 17:22; 17:30; 18:8; 21:36
- Johannine Tradition: John 1:51 (?); 5:27 (?)
- 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 on the Lord’s descent on the clouds.
- The Aramaic bar enasha may be an idiomatic expression that was either a circumlocution for “I” or humanity in general with a particularizing reference to the speaker. See Mark 2:27-28; Luke 7:34/Matthew 11:19; Luke 9:58/Matthew 8:20; Mark 3:28-29/Luke 12:10/Matthew 12:31-32.
- The vision in Daniel 7: is the human-like figure a symbol for the saints of Israel who were oppressed by foreign empires but vindicated by God (cf. 7:27), the angelic representative of Israel in heaven (e.g. Michael), or the messianic “king” of the kingdom of the saints (cf. 7:17)?
- There is little evidence that “the Son of Man” was used as a title or for a common expectation of such a cosmic figure, but there is evidence that Daniel 7 was interpreted in an individualizing, messianic direction in the Gospels, the Similitudes of Enoch (chapters 37-71), and 4 Ezra 13:1-58. The date of the Similitudes (ca. 40 BCE – 70 CE) and its influence on the Gospel traditions (especially Matthew 25:31) is very contested.
- Do the Similitudes interpret the human-like figure of Daniel 7 as the heavenly “anointed one” (48:10; 52:4), who is pre-existent (48:3, 6; 62:7) and will sit on a cosmic throne to receive worship and hand down judgment (45:3; 48:5; 51:3; 55:4; 61:8-9; 62:5-6, 8-9; 69:27-29), or does Enoch see a vision of his own exaltation or his heavenly double (71:14)?
- Ezra’s vision of a human from the sea who flies on the clouds is interpreted as a messianic figure or “my son” (4 Ezra 13:32, 37, 52). He was kept hidden for ages but emerges at an unknown time to rule on Mount Zion, to judge his enemies according to the law, and to re-gather the lost tribes of Israel. Interestingly, the Messiah dies after a 400-year reign (7:28-29) before the last judgment and general resurrection.
- See the work of the Enoch Seminar.
The Lord (ho kyrios)
- To prevent the misuse of the divine name in oaths or magical curses, the divine name YHWH or the Tetragrammaton was replaced with “Lord” in Hebrew (adonai) or Greek (kyrios). This convention is followed in English biblical translations that have the LORD in capital letters.
- A polite form of address to a social superior (e.g. sir, master). This may be the intended meaning when a person from the crowd, a recipient of a healing, or a disciple addresses Jesus.
- The kyrios or owner of property.
- As the patronage system was foundational in the ancient Mediterranean, the Roman Emperor was the supreme lord or patron who governs, provides, and protects and is owed honours and allegiance by his subjects. “Why, what harm is there in saying, Caesar is Lord, and offering incense” (Martyrdom of Polycarp 8:2)
- Maranatha (Μαραναθα) is a transliteration of an early Aramaic prayer for the Lord to come (1 Corinthians 16:22; Revelation 22:20; Didache 10:14).
- Kyrios texts that referred to Yahweh that were reapplied to Jesus: for example, see Mark 1:3 (Isaiah 40:3 LXX; cf. Mark 5:19-20), Romans 10:13 (Joel 2:32), and Philippians 2:9-11 (Isaiah 45:23-24).
Wisdom (sophia) and Word (Logos
- Lady Wisdom: the remnants of goddess worship, a personification of a divine attribute, or a divine hypostasis? See Proverbs 8; Sirach 24; Wisdom of Solomon 7:22-30; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-3.
- God’s creative and prophetic “word” (Genesis 1:3; Psalm 33:6; 107:20; 119:9, 11, 89, 105, 114; Isaiah 40:8; 55:11)
- Heraclitus of Ephesus (535-475 BCE):
- “Though this Word is true evermore, yet men are as unable to understand it when they hear it for the first time as before they have heard it at all. For, though all things come to pass in accordance with this Word, men seem as if they had no experience of them, when they make trial of words and deeds such as I set forth, dividing each thing according to its kind and showing how it is what it is.” (DK B1)
- “Though the logos is common, the many live as if they had a wisdom of their own.” (DK B2)
- The Logos in Stoicisim and Middle Platonism
- The synthesis of Jewish and Hellenistic philosophy in Philo of Alexandria: see “Philo’s Logos as Divine Mediator” (Masanobu Endo)
Here is a bibliography for further research.
The reception of the Sermon on the Mount for two millennia
- Warren S. Kissinger, The Sermon on the Mount: A History of Interpretation and Bibliography (Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1975); Jeffery P. Greenman, Timothy Larsen, and Stephen R. Spencer, eds, The Sermon on the Mount through the Centuries (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2007).
- A demand for ethical perfectionism?
- A call to the social gospel?
- Advanced discipleship in Christian monasticism?
- An impossible standard that necessitates grace?
- The “two kingdoms” doctrine and living under secular and divine authority?
- An interim ethic before the eschatological consummation of history?
On the setting of Jesus’s great sermon
- Did both Matthew and Luke draw on Mark 3:7-19 to contextualize Jesus’ sermon, or should Matthew’s sermon be located earlier in Mark’s narrative in the context of 1:21-22 or 1:39?
- Matthew presents Jesus as the new Moses interpreting Torah in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5:1), while Luke has Jesus descend the mountain to preach to the masses on a “level place” in the “Sermon on the Plains” (Luke 6:12-20).
On the beatitudes
- Did Jesus promise future eschatological blessings (i.e. a great social reversal in the coming kingdom) or a present state of blessedness (i.e. the objects of God’s concern or members of the Jesus community)?
- The beatitudes in Luke 6:20-23, accompanied by the Lukan woes in 6:24-26, focus on the impoverished and marginalized.
- The beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-11 focus on character: poor in spirit, mourning, meek (cf. Psalm 37:11), hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted for righteousness.
On the salt of the earth
- Matthew 5:13 and Luke 14:34-35
- A seasoning agent (improves the quality)?
- A preservative (connotes endurance)?
- A fertilizer (benefits the world around them)?
- Other metaphorical connotations (e.g. purity, sacrifice, wisdom, speech)
On the light of the world
- Matthew 5:14-16 and Luke 8:16-17 (cf. Mark 4:21-22); 11:33
- A general metaphor that could be applied to the righteous, an allusion to the vocation of Israel (see Isaiah 49:6), or sharing in the vocation of Jesus the Messiah (see Matthew 4:14-16 citing Isaiah 9:1-2)
- A lamp on its stand and a city on a hill demands that our practical discipleship is visible for all to observe. Is the metaphor referring to any city or to the holy city of Jerusalem?
On the Law and the Prophets
- Matthew 5:17-20 and Luke 16:16-17 (cf. Matthew 11:12-13)
- How do we reconcile statements about the duration of the law and prophets with how it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than the slightest dot of the law to be altered? What does the saying on the kingdom of God/heaven and violence mean: the kingdom forcefully advances against the darkness, people aggressively enter the kingdom, or the agents of the kingdom are violently persecuted?
- Christological fulfillment: the law and prophets had a prophetic function in foretelling Jesus’s advent.
- Ethical fulfillment: Jesus’s words and deeds embody the ethical requirements of the law and the prophets.
On the Matthean Antitheses
- “You have heard it said… but I say to you” (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44). Luke lacks this framework.
- Luke omits the discourses on murder (Matthew 5:21-24), adultery (Matthew 5:27-30), oaths (Matthew 5:33-37), almsgiving (Matthew 6:1-4), vain prayers (Matthew 6:5-8), and fasting (Matthew 6:16-17).
- Luke retains the words about enemy love and non-retaliation (6:27-36), the Lord’s prayer (11:1-4), about going to court (12:57-59), and about divorce (16:18). Note the sayings are re-contextualized: the Lord’s prayer occurs in a section on prayer, the divorce prohibition exemplifies Jesus’s fidelity to the Torah, and the advice about going to court refers to divine judgment rather than interpersonal conflict.
- Does Jesus’s authority supersede the Torah, get to the heart of the Torah, or “put a fence around” the Torah? For instance, one will not break the laws against murder or adultery if one avoids unrighteous anger or lust.
- Jesus’s critique of hypocritical piety that is motivated by the desire to impress people rather than out of devotion to God (e.g. praying, almsgiving, and fasting in secret).
On the Prohibition of Divorce
- Mark 10:1-12 (cf. Matthew 19:1-12) and Matthew 5:31-32/Luke 16:18.
- The law about divorce in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (cf. Leviticus 21:7, 14; 22:13; Numbers 30:9; Deuteronomy 22:19, 29; Malachi 2:14-16) and the rabbinic debate between the schools of Hillel and Shammai over whether to interpret ‘ervat davar (“indecency of a matter”) liberally as indecency in any matter or strictly as unchastity (cf. Mishnah Gittin 9.10).
- The creational intent of the union of the man (ish) and woman (ishah) (Genesis 2:24) and the biblical ideal of the indissoluble marriage covenant (Malachi 2:14-16). Does Jesus protect the vulnerable female partner from becoming destitute when she is divorced and removed from the protections of the patriarchal family unit?
- Note that Matthew grants an exception for sexual immorality (porneia) and affirms singleness or “eunuchs” for the kingdom of heaven.
- Note Paul’s discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:1-17 in which he offers his encouragement to singleness, reports the Lord’s command about divorce, and applies the command to a new context regarding marriage between a Christ-believer and a non-believing spouse.
On enemy Love and non-retaliation
- Matthew 5:38-42, 43-48 and Luke 6:27-28, 29-30, 32-36 (cf. Romans 12:14-21 and the citation of Proverbs 25:21-22).
- Political quietism or non-violent resistance (e.g. standing up to an insulting backhanded slap, shaming those who steal your undergarment by handing them your outer-garment and going naked, carrying the Roman soldier’s equipment beyond the mandatory one mile limit)?
- Imitating divine perfection or mercy?
On the Lord’s Prayer
- Matthew 6:9-15 is contrasted to the displays of false piety (e.g. making a public spectacle of oneself when praying or fasting).
- Luke 11:1-4 precedes a unique parable on bothering a friend at midnight (11:5-8) and the “ask, seek, knock” material (11:9-13) to encourage persistent in prayer to a gracious heavenly Father.
- Note similarities and differences between Matthew and Luke: the divine will done on earth as in heaven, the bread given “this day” or “each day,” the language of “debts” or “sins,” the petition for deliverance from the evil one, and the concluding note about the need to forgive as we have been forgiven (cf. Mark 11:26).
- For online discussion, see C. Clifton Black’s “The Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13/Luke 11:2-4)“, N. T. Wright’s “The Lord’s Prayer as a Paradigm of Christian Prayer“, and Jeffrey Gibson’s “Matthew 6:9-13//Luke 11:2-4: an eschatological prayer?” and “The Bread Petition of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’.”
On treasures in heaven
- Matthew 6:19-21 follows the point about the heavenly reward for pious acts done in secret. Heavenly treasures, unlike their earthly counterparts, neither rust nor are stolen and we should set our hearts on them.
- Luke 12:33b-34 follows the words about anxiety over earthly cares (12:22-31; cf. Matthew 6:25-34) and an instruction about alms (12:33)
On the evil eye
- Matthew 6:22-23, Luke 11:34-36, Mark 7:22, and Galatians 3:1
- See John H. Elliott’s (modified) article “The Evil Eye” in The Ancient Mediterranean Social World: A Sourcebook (ed. Zeba Crook; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016).
- Matthew 6:22-23 notes the “evil eye” in the discourse about treasures and wealth, so it pertains to greed and envy.
- Luke 11:34-36 links the metaphors of a lamp on its stand and the eyes as the lamp of the body, contrasting those in the light or the darkness.
On choosing between God and Mammon
- The statement about picking one master, God or wealth (Aramaic māmōnā, Greek mamōnas, Latin mammona), in Matthew 6:24 continues the theme against being devoted to earthly treasures and filled with envy.
- Luke 16:14 follows an example of the shrewd use of worldly wealth and precedes an indictment of the Pharisees’ greed.
- Matthew 6:25-34 concludes the theme about wealth with the futility about worrying about the days of our life, food, and possessions.
- Luke 12:22-31 follows the unique parable of a rich fool whose possessions were no good to him at the end of his life (12:13-21) and is concluded by the saying about treasures in heaven (12:33-34).
- Creation theology: God’s providential care for birds and lillies (contrasted with the extravagance of king Solomon).
- The priority of the kingdom (“and righteousness” in Matthew)
On not judging
- Matthew 7:1-5 begins a new section with the admonition of not judging and the hypocrisy of removing a speck from another’s eye while having a log in one’s own. Note the instructions in 18:15-20 for judging within the Christ assemblies, followed by a parable about forgiveness (18:21-35).
- Luke 6:37-42 follows the saying on imitating God’s mercy and expands on the saying about judging with the images of blind guides (Matthew 15:14) and disciples resembling their teacher (Matthew 10:24-25).
On pearls before swine
- The saying in Matthew 7:6 is not included in Luke’s Gospel
- Since dogs were seen as scavengers and pigs as unclean, the imagery of profaning holy or precious items may caution against sharing Jesus’s teachings with outsiders (Gentiles, oppressors, evil people, apostates?).
On asking, seeking, and knocking
- Matthew 7:7-11 promises that the heavenly Father responds to the one who asks, seeks, and knocks on the basis that even earthly fathers know to give good gifts to their children.
- Luke 11:9-13 concludes the prayer section (11:1-8). Luke 11:13 highlights the gift of the Holy Spirit, reflecting the writer’s theological interests.
On the Golden Rule
- Matthew 7:12 is the last ethical exhortation of the Sermon on the Mount.
- Luke 6:31 sees the golden rule exemplified in how we respond to our enemies or those who do us harm.
- “The Universality of the Golden Rule in the World Religions“
On the wide and narrow gates
- Two Ways (Deuteronomy 30:15-19; Jeremiah 21:18; Sirach 33:14-15; Community Rule [1QS] 3.18-4.26; Testament of Abraham 11; Testament of Asher 1.3-9; Didache 1.1-6.2; Barnabas 18.1-21.9; 2 Enoch 30:14-15).
- Matthew 7:13-14 is a reminder that few enter the narrow gate onto the hard way of radical discipleship demanded in the Sermon on the Mount.
- In answer to the query about how many will be saved at the last judgement, Luke 13:24-25 speaks of a “narrow door” that will be shut by a householder, preventing many from entering.
On the fruit produced by a good or bad tree
- Matthew 7:15-20 is preceded by a unique saying about false prophets as wolves in sheep’s clothing, so the test of a prophet is his or her works.
- Luke 6:43-45 uses the image of the tree and its fruit about good or bad individuals more generally and concludes with a saying that appears in the context of Jesus’s controversy with the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34-35.
On doing the Lord’s will
- Matthew 7:21-23 warns about fraudulent teachers, prophets, or miracle workers who express a superficial knowledge of the “Lord” (Jesus) but have no allegiance to him as shown by their failure to do the will of the heavenly Father.
- Luke 6:43-49 has a similar order to Matthew (good and bad trees, doing the Lord’s will, and the house on a firm foundation). Luke repeats the image of the Lord casting out hearers whom he never knew in 13:25-27, replacing them with others from the east and west (cf. Matthew 8:11 in the context of healing a centurion’s servant).
On building on a firm foundation
- The concluding parable of the sermon in both Matthew 7:24-27 and Luke 6:47-49.
Arguments for a pre-Markan Passion Narrative:
- There were eyewitnesses including Simon of Cyrene, whose sons were known to Mark’s readers (Mark 15:21), and the named women who went to anoint Jesus’s corpse when they found the tomb empty.
- Since Jesus was remembered as a great sage, miracle-working prophet, and messianic deliverer, it may have been a necessity to rationalize why God allowed Jesus to undergo such an ignoble death.
- Social memories were intertwined with scriptural reflections on the meaning of Jesus’s death at the outset. His suffering was interpreted through the lens of the laments (e.g., Psalm 22), the experiences of the prophets (e.g., Jeremiah) or king David (e.g., 2 Samuel 15-17), the servant songs in Deutero-Isaiah (e.g., Isaiah 53), the human-like figure who is oppressed yet vindicated over the beasts (Daniel 7), the trials of Wisdom’s child (Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20), and the Maccabean martyrs (2 Maccabees 7). They may have also drawn on Graeco-Roman models of noble death (e.g., Socrates) or vicarious sacrifice (e.g., Alcestis).
- Paul independently attests to Jesus’s voluntary self-sacrifice, words at his last supper, crucifixion as a messianic pretender by the Roman imperial authorities with collusion from some of the religious establishment, burial, and resurrection (e.g., 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; 1 Corinthians 2:6-8; 11:23-25; 15:1-3; Romans 1:3-4; Philippians 2:8).
- Mark links episodes together in a loose chronological framework (e.g., non-specific temporal references and locations), but includes an interconnected Passion narrative where one event necessarily following what precedes it and with clear indications of time.
- The similarities and differences between the Gospels of John and Mark may show that both drew on a common Passion source. The same inference could be made about the similarities and differences with the Gospel of Peter.
Arguments against a pre-Markan Passion Narrative:
- The evangelist Mark may have freely composed the narrative based on the scriptural and Graeco-Roman precedents above.
- The Passion Narrative conforms to larger themes in Mark’s Gospel (e.g., the messianic secret disclosed, the dramatic irony of Jesus’s enemies announcing his true identity, the display of power in weakness).
- Some traditions like the ritual supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-25; Mark 14:22-25; Matthew 26:17-30; Luke 22:16-20; Didache 9:1-3) may have circulated independently rather than in an integrated Passion Narrative.
- Mark was possibly influenced (directly or indirectly) by Paul’s earlier theological reflections on the meaning of the cross.
- The Gospels of John and Peter possibly depended on and revised Mark’s text, which might mean they were not independent witnesses to a pre-Markan Passion source.
The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
- See Mark 11:1-10; Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19.
- Did Jesus exhibit supernatural foreknowledge or make pre-arrangements before entering Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-6; cf. 14:13-16)?
- While the crowds were excited about the re-establishment of the Davidic monarchy in Mark 11:10, there are explicit citations of the scriptural proof-text (Matthew 21:4-5; John 12:15) and identifications of Jesus as king (Luke 19:38; John 12:13, 15-16) or son of David (Matthew 21:9). Note that Matthew 21:7 has a donkey and a colt based on Zechariah 9:9.
- Luke 19:41-45 viewed the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE is viewed as a divine judgment.
- John ties the popular reception of Jesus by the crowds as due to the previous miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus (John 12:17)
The “Cleansing of the Temple”
- Compare Mark 11:15-19 (sandwiched between the cursing of the fig tree), Matthew 21:12-17, Luke 19:45-48, and John 2:13-16. Note that John places it at the start of Jesus’s ministry. Note also the recurring accusation that Jesus threatened to destroy the temple in Mark (13:1-2; 14:57-59; 29)
- Did Jesus oppose the sale of sacrificial animals and exchange of currency on sacred grounds? Did he resist the exclusion of non-Jews and the fomenting of revolutionary zeal in the “court of the Gentiles?” Did he protest the economic exploitation of impoverished worshipers? Did he expect the temple to be destroyed and replaced by an eschatological temple (i.e. a literal building or the eschatological community)?
‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’ (Mark 11:17)
Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, ‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.” (Mark 14:57-59, cf. Mark 15:29)
See, your house is left to you, desolate. (Matthew 23:38/Luke 13:35)
‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’… Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’… But he was speaking of the temple of his body. (John 2:16, 19, 21)
“I will destroy [this] house, and no one will be able to build it […].” (Thomas, logion 71)
“They set up false witnesses who said, ‘This man [Stephen] never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.’… [Stephen said] ‘Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands'” (Acts 6:14-15; 7:48)
“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship [temple cult], and the promises” (Romans 9:4)
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16)
“…for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, cf. Mark 13:14)
The Lord’s Supper
- A woman pours costly ointment over Jesus’s head when he was in Bethany two days before the Passover, which he interpreted as anointing him for burial (Mark 14:3-9; Matthew 26:6-13). In John’s account, this episode occurs six days before the Passover and she anoints Jesus’s feet with the costly ointment and wipes his feet with her hair (John 12:1-8), much like the sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50.
- Was the Last Supper a Passover meal: compare Mark 14:12-25 and John 13:1; 19:31. See also Jesus as the Paschal Lamb in John 1:29, 35; 19:31-37; 1 Corinthians 5:7.
- Compare the Passover meal in the Synoptics to the cultic meal that was repeated in commemoration of the Lord’s sacrifice in Corinth?
While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’ (Mark 14:22-25; cf. Matthew 26:17-30)
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:16-20, the bolded words are attested in the huge majority of manuscripts but omitted in some Western witnesses like Codex Bezae. This is one example of the shorter readings that some label as “Western non-interpolations.”)
For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ (1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
And concerning the Eucharist, hold Eucharist thus: First concerning the Cup, “We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the Holy Vine of David thy child, which, thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy child; to thee be glory for ever.” And concerning the broken Bread: “We give thee thanks, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou didst make known to us through Jesus thy Child. To thee be glory for ever. (Didache 9:1-3)
The Death of Jesus
- The prayer to remove the cup in Mark 14:36, Matthew 26:39, 42, Luke
- The fulfillment of Jesus’s predictions about Peter’s denials (cf. Mark 14:29-31, 54, 66-72; Matthew 26:33-35, 58, 69-75; Luke 22:31-34, 54-62; John 13:36-38; 18:15-18, 15-27).
- The fulfillment of Jesus’s predictions about Judas’s betrayals (Mark 14:10-11, 18-21, 43-45; Matthew 26:14-16, 21-25, 47-50; Luke 22:3-6, 21-23, 47-48; John 6:70-71; 13:21-30; 18:12-13). The death of Judas is narrated in Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18-19.
- Compare the questions put to Jesus by the Jewish Sanhedrin and his responses in Mark 14:53, 55-65; Matthew 28:57, 59-68, and Luke 22:42 (cf. Isaiah 51:17, 22; Jeremiah 25:15; Ezekiel 23:31-33; Mark 10:38; Matthew 20:22). John does not narrate Jesus’s struggle in the garden of Gethsemane (but not John 12:27-28).
- Compare the account of Jesus’ arrest in Mark 14:43-52, Matthew 26:47-56, Luke 22:47-53, and John 18:2-12.
- The Twelve flee out of cowardice and Mark seems to heighten the shame by narrating the story of the youth who runs away naked (Mark 14:51-52), but John recounts how one of the male disciples remained loyal to Jesus to the cross (18:15-16; 19:26-27, 35).
- Was Pilate exonerated or presented as a powerless, inept governor? Note the custom of releasing a prisoner and the choice of the rebel Barabbas (“son of a father”), the dream of Pilate’s wife and his act of washing his hands (Matthew 27:19, 24-25), the shifting of responsibility over to the Tetrarch Herod (Luke 23:6-12), and the philosophical conversation between Jesus and Pilate (John 18:33-38; 19:9-11).
- Compare the narratives of the crucifixion in Mark 15:15-41, Matthew 27:26-56, Luke 23:24-49, and John 19:16-37.
- Note the scriptural proof-texts interwoven into the accounts (e.g. compare the accounts with Psalm 23).
- How do the dying words of Jesus fit his characterization in each Gospel (e.g., exemplifying Jesus’s power in weakness or presenting him in full control of his fate)?
- Note the spear thrust into Jesus and the blood and water that pours out of Jesus’s side in John 19:34-37. Was this detail included to offer medical proof that Jesus had expired, to challenge “docetist” ideas that denied Jesus’s full humanity and vicarious sacrifice, to testify that Jesus was the fountain of life (cf. John 7:37-39), or to legitimate the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist.
- The tearing of the curtain in the temple: the curtain separating the divine presence in the Holy of Holies (cf. Hebrews 6:19-20; 10:19-20), the curtain separating the sanctuary from the outer courts of the Gentiles, or a picture of God rending His garments in mourning for the Son (cf. Amos 8:9-10).
- When the Roman centurion exclaims that Jesus was a/the Son of God, was he making a full Christian confession, was he presenting Jesus as a son of a deity in line when Roman polytheistic views or as equivalent to a Roman emperor like Octavian Augustus (i.e. the adopted son of the deified Julius Caesar and “a son of god”), or was this another ironically true statement that had been made to mock Jesus (cf. Mark 15:29-32)?
The Burial and Resurrection of Jesus
- The burial of Jesus in Mark 15:42-47, Matthew 27:57-61, Luke 23:50-56, and John 19:38-41. Compare how Joseph of Arimathea is characterized and the description of Jesus’s burial in each Gospel. Note that Matthew reports the guards at the tomb to refute the false rumour that the disciples stole the body (27:62-66; 28:11-150).
- After the women find the tomb empty and are instructed by a “youth” to tell the disciples that the risen Lord awaits them in Galilee, Mark 16:8 ends on the note that they were afraid and said “nothing to anyone.”
- Did the evangelist leave the Gospel unfinished, was the original ending lost in the scribal transmission of the Gospel, or was the open-ending a literary device to encourage the reader to not be silent and proclaim the good news?
- Did the women disobey the command to report back to the disciples or does the Greek means that the women told no one else besides the disciples to whom they were directed to tell (cf. Mark 1:44)?
- In Matthew 28:9-10, the women rush out with joy to tell the disciples before Jesus meets them on route.
- In Luke 24:9-12, the disciples ignorantly dismiss the womens’ report as an idle tale, except for Peter who inspects the tomb and is perplexed (but cf. Luke 24:34).
- A scribe attached the longer ending after Mark 16:8 (16:9-20), including details found in the Gospels of Luke and John. It repeats Jesus’s appearances to Mary Magdalene (cf. John 20:11-18), noting that she formerly was the recipient of an exorcism (cf. Luke 8:2), and to a couple of travelers walking into the country (cf. Luk3 24:13-34) and to the “eleven” (cf. Luke 24:9).
- A similar core and minor variations in detail:
- Women go to anoint the body, but at what time of day (Mark 16:2; Matthew 28:1; Luke 24:1; John 20:1)?
- How many women were at the tomb and what were their names (Matthew 28:1; Mark 15:47-16:1; Luke 23:55-24:1; John 20:1-2)
- How many heavenly beings or figures dressed in heavenly apparel were present at the empty tomb (Mark 16:5-7; Matthew 28:2-7; Luke 24:4-7; John 20:12-13)?
- Peter’s inspection of the empty tomb with other companions (Luke 24:12, 24; John 20:3-10)
- The appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene or plural women (Matthew 28:9-10; John 20:11-18; cf. Mark 16:9)
- The appearances to Peter and the rest of the Twelve (Mark 14:28; 16:7 [implicit]; Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:36-48; John 20:19-29; 21:1-22; Acts 1:3-5; 1 Corinthians 15:5). Note the importance of the appearances in Galilee in Mark 16 and Matthew 28 (cf. John 21:1-22) and in Jerusalem in Luke 24 (cf. how Luke 24:6-7 rewords Mark 16:7) and John 20.
- Further resurrection appearances (Luke 24:13-35; John 21:1-14; Acts 1:3; 1 Corinthians 15:6-8)
- Compare the ascension and final commission of the disciples in Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:3-11)
Jewish and Graeco-Roman Sources on Jesus
“… he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done…” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1)
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.3)
- For more on the Testimonium Flavianum, see the textual references at Text Excavation (Ben C. Smith) and “Josephus in the Ante-Nicene Fathers: All the References” (Roger Pearse), “Jesus in Josephus: A Modest Proposal” (John P. Meier), “The Testimonium Flavianus in Syriac and Arabic” (Alice Whealey) and “The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Antiquity to the Present” (Alice Whealey, HT Roger Pearse), “A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum” (Ken Olson), and the overview on Early Christian Writings (Peter Kirby)
“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.” (Tacitus, Annals 15.44)
“Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [a misspelling of “Christ” or a local person in Rome?], he expelled them from Rome” (Seutonius, Claudius 25).
“What are we to say, when the wise are dragged by force by the hands of tyrants, and their wisdom is deprived of its freedom by slander, and they are plundered for their superior intelligence, without the opportunity of making a defence? They are not wholly to be pitied. For what benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death, seeing that they received as retribution for it famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, seeing that in one hour the. whole of their country was covered with sand? Or the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them?” (Mara bar Serapion letter)
“… on a stated day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak and to recite a hymn among themselves to Christ, as though he were a god…” (correspondence between Pliny the Younger and Emperor Trajan, Letters 10.96)
Christian Sources on Jesus
- Jesus was miraculously conceived by Mary and born in Bethlehem before Herod the Great died in 4 BCE (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2). His family was known in his hometown village of Nazareth (Mark 6:1-6; Matthew 13:54-58) and his brother James became a leader of the Jesus movement in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13-21; 1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 2:9, 12; James 1:1; Jude 1; Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1; Thomas logion 12; Hegesippus, Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 2.23.4-18).
- Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John (Mark 1:4-11; Matthew 3:1-17; Luke 3:2-22; John 1:19-34) and frequently compared to him (Matthew 11:1-19/Luke 7:18-35; Mark 6:14-16; 8:27-28; John 3:22-30).
- The Synoptic Gospels record Jesus mainly ministering in Galilean villages (e.g., Capernaum, Nazareth, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Genessaret, Sea of Galilee) and in the Decapolis, without noting if he visited urban centers like Tiberius and Sepphoris, and records his last visit to Jerusalem. John’s Gospel records multiple visits to Jerusalem to celebrate Jewish festivals.
- Jesus had a preaching, healing, and exorcism ministry. He chose twelve apostles (“sent ones”) representing Israel’s twelve tribes (Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 10:1-2, 5-42; 19:28; Luke 6:12-16; 9:1-6; 22:30; John 6:70).
- Jesus’s table fellowship with tax collectors and “sinners” (cultically impure, Torah transgressors, or rich oppressors?) was criticized (Mark 2:13-17; Matthew 11:19/Luke 7:34; cf. Deuteronomy 21:19-20).
- Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem (Mark 11:1-11; Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19).
- Jesus stages a provocative act of overturning the tables of the money changers in the outer court of the temple, symbolically foreshadowing future judgment on the temple (Mark 11:15-19; Matthew 21:12-17; Luke 19:45-48). Note that John’s Gospel places this act near the beginning of Jesus’s ministry (John 2:13-22) and has the resurrection of Lazarus precipitate the plot against Jesus (John 11).
- There is debate over whether the Last Supper was a Paschal meal (compare Mark 14:12-26 with John 13:1; 19:31-37). The Synoptic Gospels record Jesus’ words about the bread and cup (Mark 14:22-25; cf. Matthew 26:17-30; Luke 22:16-20; cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-25), while John records Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:1-17).
- Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, put on trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, and ordered to be executed by crucifixion by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate.
- Jesus was given a dishonourable burial by the Jewish council member Joseph of Arimathea (Mark 15:42-47; compare with John 20:38-42).
- The tomb was discovered empty by a group of Jesus’s female disciples (Mark 16:1-8; Matthew 28:1-10; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:1-2) and inspected by Peter and his companions (Luke 24:12, 24; John 20:3-10). The disciples believed that the risen Jesus had appeared to them (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:13-51; John 20:11-29).
The Quest for the Historical Jesus Criteria
Assuming form and redaction criticism, scholars developed the “criteria of authenticity” to distinguish what Jesus said and did from the later traditions about him circulating in the Christ congregations or added by the Gospel writers.
1. Double Dissimilarity: it cannot be ascribed to Jesus’ Jewish predecessors or contemporaries or his followers.
- “Let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:21-22; Luke 8:59-60)
- “Love your enemies” (Matt 5:44/Luke 6:27; but see Proverbs 25:21, 22 and Romans 12:14, 20)
- Why the disciples do not fast: “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” (Mark 2:18).
2. Embarrassment: sayings or actions that the Christian tradents or the evangelists may explain away since they seem counterproductive to their theological viewpoints.
- In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John. (Mark 1:4, 9)
- Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:13-15)
- [Herod] shut up John in prison. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized… (Luke 3:20-21)
- “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness, “I saw the Spirit descend as a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)
- “In the Gospel according to the Hebrews… But He [Jesus] said to them, ‘what sin have I committed that I should go and be baptized by him’ (Jerome, Against the Pelagians 3.2)
3. Multiple Attestation: it is found in multiple sources that are literarily independent of each other.
- John Dominic Crossan’s “An Inventory of the Jesus Tradition by Independent Attestation” (also here, here, and here) has been uploaded online, but his results depend on his controversial decisions about the early dating of some Gospel texts/fragments and their literary independence from the New Testament Gospels.
- See the multiply attested divorce saying (Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18/Matthew 5:31-32; 1 Corinthians 7:10) under the post “The Ethics of Jesus.”
- See the multiply attested threat of the temple’s desecration or destruction (Mark 11:17; 14:57-59; John 2:19; Acts 6:14-15; Thomas logion 71) under the post “The Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.”
- See the multiply attested theme of the Son of Man’s eschatological return (e.g. Mark 8:38; 13:26; Luke 17:24/Matthew 24:27; Matthew 10:23; Luke 18:8; 21:36; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16) under the post “The Christological Titles of Jesus.”
4. Aramaic reconstruction:
- Jesus’s use of Abba (cf. James Barr, “Abba Isn’t Daddy” Journal of Theological Studies 39.1 : 28-47) in praying to God the Father (Mark 14:36; cf. Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6)
- See the discussion about the reconstruction of an Aramaic idiom underlying the Greek title “The Son of Man” under the post “The Christological Titles of Jesus.”
5. Coherence: it coheres with traditions that passed the criteria tests.
6. Historical Plausibility: contradicting double dissimilarity, it fits the context of Second Temple Judaism and explains later Christian beliefs or practices
- “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6.9)
- “Father, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come.” (Luke 11.2)
- “May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (Amen.) in the world that He created as He willed. May He give reign to His kingship in your lifetimes and in your days, and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel, swiftly and soon.” (the Kaddish)
- Then comes the end, when he [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:24)
- “…as the Lord commanded in his Gospel, pray thus: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, as in Heaven so also upon earth; give us to-day our daily bread, and forgive us our debt as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into trial, but deliver us from the Evil One, for thine is the power and the glory for ever.” Pray thus three times a day. (Didache 8:2-3)
There has been a major challenge to the criteria approach in Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, eds., Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (New York: T&T Clark, 2012). The memory approach does not attempt to go behind the Gospel texts, but takes the social memories about Jesus represented by the texts themselves seriously and asks what kind of reconstructed historical figure could have generated those memories.
Case Study: The Already, Not-Yet Kingdom of God
Did Jesus expect a dramatic divine intervention in the future to establish the kingdom of God or did he believe the kingdom had already arrived in his ministry (i.e. future or realized eschatology)?
Kingdom of God #1
He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’ (Mark 4:30-32; see also Ezek 17:23; 31:16; Dan 4:10-12.)
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 5:3); Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20)
From the days of John the Baptist until now the Kingdom of Heaven forcefully advances, and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John (Matt 11:12-13); The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the Kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently. (Luke 16:16)
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you’ (Luke 17:20-21)
But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. (Matthew 12:28); But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you (Luke 11:20)
The disciples of John reported to him about all these things. Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for someone else?” When the men came to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for someone else?’” At that very time he cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and he gave sight to many who were blind. And he answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news proclaimed to them (Isa 26:19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:7, 18; 61:1). Blessed is he who does not take offense at me.” (Luke 7:8-23; see also Matthew 11:2-6)
Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ (Mark 10:15); Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above… Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. (John 3:3, 5)
His disciples said to him, “When will the kingdom come?” “It will not come by watching for it. It will not be said, ‘Look, here!’ or ‘Look, there!’ Rather, the Father’s kingdom is spread out upon the earth, and people don’t see it” (Gospel of Thomas logion 113)
Kingdom of God #2
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has drawn near; repent, and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:14-15)
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:48)
‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’ (Mark 9:1)
I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 8:11)
… for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes. (Matthew 11:30)
‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. (Matthew 19:28-30); I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:29-30)
Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he [or “it”] is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place… ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (Mark 13:26-32)
Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’ (Mark 14:25)
Evidence for the oral tradition:
- It was an oral culture with low literacy rates; even the written Gospels were primarily heard by their audiences in an oral performance
- A plausible explanation for some of the variations in detail in the Triple or Double Tradition and for the doublets in the Synoptic Gospels
- A plausible explanation for some material in the Gospels of John and Thomas that is paralleled in the Synoptic Gospels if these are judged to be literarily independent
- The many predecessors in Luke 1:1-4
- Not enough books to cover Jesus’s deeds in John 21:24
- Christian writings (e.g., New Testament Epistles, Apostolic Fathers, non-canonical Gospels) that may independently attest to sayings or traditions appearing in the New Testament Gospels
- The agrapha or “non-written” sayings of Jesus that are unparalleled in the New Testament Gospels (e.g., Acts 20:35)
- The preference for the viva voce or “living voice” (Papias, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.39.4)
The tenets of Formgeschichte (form history) or Form Criticism
- The Gospels retell the story of Jesus through a post-Easter theological lens (cf. William Wrede).
- Low literacy rates and imminent expectations of the end of the age did not encourage writing, so isolated sayings of Jesus or short memorable episodes were passed down by word of mouth.
- Except for the previously interconnected Passion Narrative, the evangelist “Mark” linked independent oral traditions together in a loose chronological framework (e.g. note the literary seams from the phrase “and immediately” to non-specific temporal references and locations) or grouped them topically (e.g., controversies in 2:1-3:6 or parables in 4:1-34).
- The oral units can be classified according to their literary forms:
Paradigms, Tales, Legends, Exhortations, Mythological Stories Apophthegms (controversial, scholastic, biographical); Dominical Sayings (Logia, Prophetic, Legal or Church-Rules, I-sayings, Similitudes); Miracle Stories (Healing, Nature); Historical Stories and Legends Pronouncement Stories, Miracle Stories, Sayings & Parables, Stories about Jesus
- A form corresponded to a Sitz im Leben (“situation in life”): missionary preaching, catechetical teachings, guidelines on church discipline, worship, or debates with outsiders.
- Traditions grew over time: forms were combined (e.g. Mark 2:1-12: pronouncement or miracle story?), sayings were lengthened, details were embellished, prophetic utterances in the name of the risen Jesus were read back into Jesus’s earthly life, and there was cultural translation from a Jewish to a Hellenistic milieu.
- Redaction criticism: how the evangelists selected, arranged, and edited their oral and written sources.
- Key names: Karl Ludwig Schmidt, Martin Dibelius, Rudolf Bultmann.
Assumptions of form criticism that are open to critique
- modern form classifications that are unparalleled in ancient rhetoric
- original unitary forms that had a single function in one setting
- set trajectories for how traditions expand over time (cf. E. P. Sanders)
- individual sayings or deeds of Jesus circulated in isolation from larger interpretive frameworks (e.g. longer thematic discourses, social memories of the general outline of Jesus’s ministry or his individual character)
- the form critics downplayed the literary and theological skill of the evangelists when they were treated as compilers of tradition
- the early Christ followers did not distinguish Jesus’s authoritative teachings from their own personal declarations (contra 1 Corinthians 7:8-16)
- eschatological enthusiasm as an impediment to writing (contra the Dead Sea Scrolls) and an alleged lack of interest in written sources
- the Jewish versus Hellenistic dichotomy (cf. Martin Hengel)
- See Stephen H. Travis, “Form Criticism” in New Testament Interpretation: Essays on Principles and Methods (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1977).
Alternative models to Form Criticism:
- An analogy of how oral tradition was controlled by authorized teachers and strictly memorized in rabbinic literature. See the work of Harald Riesenfeld and Birger Gerhardsson.
- An analogy of Middle Eastern village communities informally exercising control over how oral traditions are retold based on their communal memory and deciding how much flexibility is permitted in the retelling (e.g. poems or proverbs were unaltered while parables or stories can vary in the details as long as the “punch line” is intact). See the work of Kenneth Bailey taken up by James D. G. Dunn and N. T. Wright.
- The Gospel writers name (or occasionally use “protective anonymity” for) their eyewitness sources and local informants within their narratives. See the work of Samuel Byrskog and Richard Bauckham.
- The effort to reconstruct Aramaic sources behind the Greek Gospels. See the work of Maurice Casey.
- More sophisticated studies of individual and social memory that emphasize how the past is both preserved and interpreted in the present. See Anthony Le Donne’s “Social Memory Theories and Gospels: A Preliminary Biography” and the video lectures about memory studies on the website Biblical Studies Online.
Example: The Pronouncement Story
- “a brief narrative in which the climatic (and often final) element is a pronouncement which is presented as a particular person’s response to something said or observed on a particular occasion of the past. There are two main parts of a pronouncement story: the pronouncement and its setting, i.e., the response and the situation that provoked the response.” (Robert Tannehill, “Introduction: The Pronouncement Story and Its Types” Semeia 20 : 1)
- The χρεία (chreia) as defined by Theon in the Progymnasmata (96) as “a brief saying or action making a point, attributed to some specified person or something corresponding to a person…” For a list of 14 rhetorical exercises, see Gideon O. Burton’s page on the Progymnasmata.
- For further research, see Vernon K. Robbins’ “Chreia & Pronouncement Story in Synoptic Studies“, Ben Witherington III’s “NT Rhetoric: A Handbook“, and Keith Reich’s “Rhetoric and the NT” blog.
- For specific cases in the Synoptic Gospels, see Mark Allan Powell handout on “Pronouncement Stories in the Gospels: Some Examples“
Example: The Parable
- From the Hebrew mashal and the Greek parabolḗ
- The allegorical method: see David B. Gowler’s discussion of Saint Augustine’s interpretation on the parable of the Good Samaritan (Questions on the Gospels 2.19) on his blog “A Chorus of Voices: The Reception History of the Parables“
- Adolf Jülicher (1857-1938): Jesus’s authentic parables were simple comparisons between an image and the object that it corresponded to (e.g. the kingdom is like a mustard seed [Mark 4:30-32], leaven in dough [Matthew 13:33/Luke 13:20-21], buried treasure [Matthew 13:44], and a dragnet full of fish [Matthew 13:47-50]). Allegorical elements in the Gospels are secondary (e.g. parable of the sower [Mark 4:1-20]).
- De-contextualized parables in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas (compare the parable of the wicked tenants in Mark 12:1-12 with Thomas logion 65 + 66). To compare the parables in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and Thomas, see Anne McGuire’s “Parallel Versions of the Parables of Jesus” and “List of the Parables of Jesus.”
- Literary (e.g. structuralism, reader-response theory) and political approaches to the parables.
- The parables in canonical contexts: extended metaphors (even a chastened return to allegory?), a comparison with rabbinic parables, and prophetic challenges.
- A brief bibliography (see also Philip J. Long’s review of parable research at his blog “Reading Acts“)
- Blomberg, Craig. Interpreting the Parables. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990.
- Crossan, John Dominic. In Parables: The Challenge of the Historical Jesus. San Francisco: Harper, 1985.
- Dodd, C. H. The Parables of the Kingdom. London: Nisbet and Company, Ltd, 1935.
- Funk, Robert W. Language, Hermeneutic, and Word of God: The Problem of Language in the New Testament and Contemporary Theology. New York: Harper, 1966.
- Herzog II, William The Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994.
- Jeremias, Joachim. The Parables of Jesus. Translated by H. Hooke. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1955.
- Levine, Amy-Jill. Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi. New York: HarperOne, 2014.
- Linnemann, Eta. Jesus of the Parables: Introduction and Exposition. New York: Harper and Row, 1966.
- Snodgrass, Klyne. Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. See also his Bible Odyssey post “The Parables of Jesus“
- Example: Miracle Stories
- Divided into Healing and Nature Miracles
- See this post for a closer examination of the miracle stories in the Gospels
Synoptic derives from the prefix σύν (syn, with, together) and ὀπτῐκός (optikos, “sight”). The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are the Synoptic Gospels because they are so much alike and, by consulting a Synopsis, one can read the three Gospels side by side in parallel columns.
There must be a literary relationship between the three Gospels:
- The agreement in order and wording, including verbatim agreement
- There are even agreements in the authors’ explanatory asides:
- So when you see the desolating sacrilege standing in the holy place, as was spoken of by the prophet Daniel (let the reader understand) (Matthew 24:15)
- But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand) (Mark 13:14)
- When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near (Luke 21:20)
- Triple Tradition: material shared by all three Synoptic Gospels
- Double Tradition: material shared by Matthew and Luke but not Mark
- Sondergut: “special material” unique to a Gospel such as “M” or “L“
Diagrams of the Synoptic Problem
- Two/Four Source, Farrer (Mark without Q), Griesbach (Two Gospel), and Augustinian hypotheses (courtesy of Felix Just’s The Synoptic Problem)
- More diagrams can be found at Stephen Carlson’s Synoptic Problem Website under “Overview of Proposed Solutions“
Markan Posterity or Priority?
- The Patristic consensus and the Canonical and Western ordering of the Gospels favours Matthean priority.
- Is Mark’s Gospel an abridgment or harmonizing summary of the Jewish Christian Gospel of Matthew and the Gentile Christian Gospel of Luke?
- Mark’s outline covers John’s baptism ministry to the empty tomb (1:1-16:8), lacking accounts of Jesus’s birth and Easter appearances to his disciples (cf. Matthew 1-2; 28:9-20; Luke 1-2; 24:9-53).
- Mark has more details in individual episodes that are unparalleled in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, including the emotional states of Jesus (Mark 1:41; 3:5), the hostility of Jesus’s family towards him (3:31), the use of saliva to heal and the two-stage healing of the blind person (7:32-35; 8:23-26), the aside that it was not the season for figs (11:14), the sons of Simon of Cyrene (15:21), and the flight of a naked young man in the Garden (14:51-52).
- Order: Mark is often the “middle term,” meaning that Matthew and Luke rarely agree in wording or order against Mark.
- Length: Matthew reproduces around 90% of Mark’s content while Luke around 65% with some major omissions (e.g. Mark 6:45-8:26).
- The refined grammatical and literary style of Matthew and Luke:
- Mark’s Aramaic expressions (3:17; 5:41; 7:11, 34; 14:36)
- Mark’s repetitive use of καὶ εὐθύς (“and immediately”)
- Compare the imagery in Mark 1:12, Matthew 4:1, and Luke 4:1.
- Compare the title given to Herod in Mark 6:14 and Luke 3:19.
- Mark’s Gospel features some harder readings:
- Compare the accounts of the Sabbath incident in Mark 2:23-28, Matthew 12:1-8, and Luke 6:1-5.
- Compare the accounts of Jesus walking on the water in Mark 6:47-52 and Matthew 14:24-33 (omitted by Luke).
- Compare Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi and the aftermath in Mark 8:27-9:1, Matthew 16:13-28, and Luke 9:18-27.
- Compare the reactions to Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth in Mark 6:2-6, Matthew 13:54-58, and Luke 4:16-30.
- Compare the accounts of Jesus’s interaction with a rich man in Mark 10:17-31, Matthew 19:16-30, and Luke 18:18-30.
- Compare the predictions of Peter’s denials in Mark 14:29-31, Matthew 26:33-35, and Luke 22:31-34.
Double Tradition: derived from a common source (German Quelle) or from Luke’s use of Matthew’s Gospel (or vice-versa)?
- The Double Tradition mostly consists of sayings of Jesus, but there is a handful of narrative episodes.
- Lack of Matthew’s additions to Mark’s text in Luke’s Gospel: evidence of Luke’s independence from Matthew or a choice to generally privilege Mark’s account without the Matthean additions?
- Matt 3:14-15 – the dialogue between Jesus and John the Baptist.
- Matt 16:16-19 – imparting on Peter blessing and keys to the kingdom
- Lack of “M” (Matthew’s unique material) in Luke’s Gospel: evidence of Luke’s independence from Matthew or an editorial choice to exclude some of Matthew’s special material?
- Compare the nativity accounts in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2.
- Compare Judas’s death in Matthew 27:3-10 and Acts 1:18-20.
- The general lack of agreement between Matthew and Luke when departing from Mark’s order.
- When was Peter’s mother-in-law and the leper healed in Mark (1:29-31, 40-45), Matthew (8:1-4, 14-15), and Luke (4:38-39; 5:12-15).
- When did Jesus visit the synagogue in Nazareth in Mark 6:1-6, Matthew 13:54-58, and Luke 4:16-30?
- Alternating Primitivity?
- Compare the beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-23 (cf. woes in 6:24-26)
- Compare the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4.
- Compare the sayings about Wisdom in Matthew 11:19 and 23:34-35 (cf. 11:28-30; Sirach 51:25-26) and Luke 7:35 and 11:49.
- The different ordering of Jesus’s teachings.
- Compare the two major teaching blocks in Luke 6:20-7:50 and 9:51-18:14 and the five discourses in Matthew 5:1-7:28, 10:1-11:1, 13:1-53, 18:1-19:1, and 24:4-26:1.
- Compare the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7 and “Sermon on the Plains” in Luke 6:20-49.
- Scholarly reconstructions of “The Sayings Gospel Q” and online resources pertaining to Q scholarship.
- Objections to Luke’s independence from Matthew: minor agreements.
- Matthew and Luke agree in numerous instances against Mark in the Triple Tradition (common grammar or phrasing, additions or deletions to Mark’s text)
- Example: the guards mock Jesus to prophesy in Mark 14:65, but specify “who hit you” in Matthew 26:67-8 and Luke 22:64.
- Objections to Luke’s independence from Matthew: major agreements or Mark-Q overlaps.
- John’s preaching (Matthew 3:7-10, 11b-12; Luke 3:7-9, 16b-17).
- Jesus’s temptations (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13; cf. Mark 1:12-13).
- the authority behind Jesus’s exorcisms (Matthew 12:25-32; Luke 11:17-23; 12:10; cf. Mark 3:23-30).
- the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10)
Authorship: External Evidence
- “But I will not hesitate to supplement at any time for you too the interpretations with whatever I learned thoroughly and remembered thoroughly from the presbyters [or “elders”], since I am confident in the truth on their account. For unlike many I was not delighted with those who say many things but with those who teach the truth, or with those who remember not the commandments of others but those given by the Lord to the faith and derived from truth itself. But whenever someone who had followed the presbyters came along, I would carefully ask about the words of the presbyters, what Andrew or what Peter had said or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the disciples of the Lord, and which Aristion and the presbyter John, disciples of the Lord say too. For I did not assume that whatever comes from books is as helpful to me as what comes from a living and lasting voice.” (Papias, in Ecclesiastical History 3.39.3-4).
- “Then John, the disciple of the Lord and also the one who leaned against his chest, also published the gospel when residing in Ephesus of Asia” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1).
- “John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep in Ephesus.” (Polycrates, in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.24.2-3)
- “…but John, last, aware that the physical facts were disclosed in the gospels, urged by friends, and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual gospel” (Clement of Alexandria, in Ecclesiastical History 6.14.7).
- “The fourth of the Gospels is that of John, [one] of the disciples. To his fellow disciples and bishops, who had been urging him [to write], he said, ‘Fast with me from today to three days, and what will be revealed to each one let us tell it to one another.’ In the same night it was revealed to Andrew, [one] of the apostles, that John should write down all things in his own name while all of them should review it” (Muratorian Canon, 9-16).
- “Nevertheless, of all the disciples of the Lord, only Matthew and John have left us written memorials, and they, tradition says, were led to write only under the pressure of necessity… John accordingly, in his Gospel, records the deeds of Christ which were performed before the Baptist was cast into prison, but the other three evangelists mention the events which happened after that time.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.24.5, 12)
Authorship: Internal Evidence
The passages on the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 1:35-40 [?], 13:23-25; 18:15-16 [?], 19:25-27, 19:35 [?], 20:2-10, 21:1-7, 20-24). The most popular suggestions for the beloved disciple are the Apostle John, the Elder John, Lazarus, John Mark, an anonymous Judaean disciple, or a literary fiction (the most extensive list is in James Charlesworth’s The Beloved Disciple: Whose Witness Validates the Gospel of John?). Here are some of the pros and cons over identifying the beloved disciple as the Apostle John:
- John is never named in the Fourth Gospel, but none of the scenes that feature him in the Synoptic Gospels occur in the Fourth Gospel (see Mark 1:19-20, 29-32; 5:37-42; 9:2-10; 10:35-40; 13:3; 14:33-34). The one exception is the parallel between John 21:1-14 and Luke 5:1-11.
- John may be the anonymous disciple with Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, in John 1:35-42. Yet the Johannine scene where Jesus recruits two disciples from the movement of John the Baptizer differs from the calling of the two sets of brothers (Peter and Andrew, James and John) from their fishing occupations in Mark 1:16-20.
- The Twelve were at the Last Supper in the Synoptic Gospels, but the Fourth Gospel never restricts this event to the Twelve who are rarely mentioned in the text (cf. John 6:67, 70; 20:24) and a local follower from Jerusalem may have hosted the meal.
- In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is especially close to three disciples (Peter, James, John) and James is executed by Herod Agrippa I around 40 CE. John is also paired with Peter in the book of Acts. But the Gospel of John never mentions this trio as an inner circle among the disciples.
- Unlike the Twleve who fled, the beloved disciple is loyal to the point where he stands at the foot of the cross (19:25-27, 35).
- The beloved disciple almost exclusively shows up in Jerusalem with the exception of John 21:7, 20-24 (and possibly 1:35-40) and John 19:25-27 may also imply that he had a residence in or near Jerusalem.
- If the “other disciple” in John 18:15-16 is the beloved disciple, he may have been a prominent person with connections to the high priest.
- The beloved disciple has to be among the group of seven disciples in John 21:2, but it may be more likely that the beloved disciple is among the two anonymous disciples than the named “sons of Zebedee.”
- The Rylands Library Papyrus 52 is a fragment of a few verses from John 18:31-33, 37-38 and commonly dated in the first half of the 2nd century.
- Early Patristic references or allusions to the Gospel of John or the First Epistle of John (e.g. Papias of Hierapolis, Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyna, Justin Martyr).
- 1 John may be an orthodox commentary on the Gospel, opposing secessionists who denied the incarnation or at least saving significance of the life and death of Jesus “in the flesh” (4:2-3; 5:6-8; 2 John 7).
- There is debate about whether John’s Gospel exhibits literary dependence on one or more of the Synoptic Gospels.
- There is debate about the other oral or written sources that were utilized in John’s Gospel (e.g. a hymn to the Logos or “Word,” a signs source, a discourse source, a passion narrative).
- There is debate about how long it took for the high Christology in John’s Gospel to have developed (1:1-3; 5:17-18; 8:58; 20:28).
- There is debate about whether the polemic against hoi Ioudaioi (“the Jews” or “the Judaeans”), along with the references to the expulsions of Jesus’s followers from the synagogue (9:22; 12:42; 16:2), reflects a contemporary schism between the Johannine community with their local synagogue. Older scholarship correlated this with the alleged formulation of a liturgical malediction against “heretics” at the council of Yavneh in the late first century called the birkat ha-minim (cf. B. Berakhot 28b-29a).
- There is debate about how many editorial revisions went into the composition of John’s Gospel. The final form of the book included the epilogue in chapter 21 which contained traditions about the deaths of Peter (by crucifixion?) and the beloved disciple (cf. John 21:20-25).
- Ephesus: supported by the external church tradition about Saint John in Ephesus (cf. Irenaeus, Polycrates, the Acts of John), the early reception of 1 John by Papias of Hierapolis and Polycarp of Smyrna and the major impact that John’s Gospel had in Asia Minor (e.g. the Quartodeciman controversy), the affinities with the book of Revelation (e.g. Christological titles such as Word or Lamb), and the cultural milieu where Jews, Christians, and other socio-religious formations interacted.
- Alexandria: supported by the manuscript evidence from Egypt, the positive reception of John’s Gospel among proto-Orthodox and Valentinian Christians in Alexandria, the affinities with the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (e.g. the Logos), and the interest in a spiritualizing or allegorizing hermeneutic.
- Syria: supported by the affinities with the Syriac Odes of Solomon and with Ignatius of Antioch (e.g. high Christology, opposition to “Docetism”). The close proximity to Palestine may also explain John’s accurate topographical and cultural knowledge of the region.
- High Christology:
- Jesus is the pre-existent “Word” (logos) who was both God and was God, who created all things, and who became incarnate in the flesh (sarx) (1:1-18)
- The “I Am” speeches
- Balancing the theme of Jesus’s oneness with the Father (5:17-18; 10:27-28; 17:11, 21-23) with the theme of his subordination (14:28)
- There was a schism in the first epistle of John over whether Jesus had come in the flesh (1 John 2:22-23; 4:1-3; 2 John 1:7).
- There is a sharp dualism between light and darkness, between the followers of Jesus who have been called out of the “world” (kosmos) and the world that is hostile towards them. Although Jesus and his disciples were Jewish (cf. John 4:9, 22), the Gospel represents hoi Ioudaioi (“the Jews”, “the Jewish leaders”, “the Judeans”) of persecuting the followers of Jesus to the point that they were “expelled” (aposynagōgos) from the synagogues (John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2).
- The fellowship of believers is to be completely united and “one,” just as Jesus was one with the Father, and are to follow the great commandment to love one another as Jesus had loved them (John 13:34-35; 17:20-23).
- Jesus’ death is represented as his exaltation or the “lifting up” of the Son of Man (John 3:14-15; 8:28; 12:32).
- The preferred expression is “eternal life” rather than “kingdom of God.” This was available in the present through trusting that Jesus was sent by God, but there would be a future judgment and resurrection (e.g. 5:25-29; 6:39-58).
Case Study: The “I Am Speeches”
- the Bread of Life (6:35, 48)
- the Light of the World (8:12; 9:15)
- the “I Am” (8:58; cf. Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10)
- the Door of the Gate (10:7)
- the Good Shepherd that lays down his life for the sheep (10:11)
- the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)
- the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6)
- the Vine that supports the branches (15:1).