The response given by Hold to the Rod was so well done and had so much effort put into it, that I spent quite a while studying what he had written. Thank you!
It helped me learn more. It also raised new questions.
But let me start properly.
I will first explain my perspective on what led me to ask my question. Then I will write any additional comments I have for Hold to the Rod.
The Problem with History
History is written by the victors.
History is often re-written and changed over the years.
These two have repeatedly occurred in history.
I am investigating my religion.
I think history changes with time. I also think that the gospels show a curious progression from Mark to John. I think the author of John’s gospel accidentally changed history.
How the Gospels Seem to Change
Mark’s author describes Jesus as the Messiah, whose story begins when the adult, Jewish Jesus comes from Nazareth to be baptized by John. He urges the people he heals to keep silent and tell no one who healed them. He teaches using parables. He calms a storm, walks on water, multiplies food. He uses the “prophet without honor” statement regarding himself. Jesus teaches very little about himself. Peter tells Jesus he must be the Messiah. Jesus begs God to be rescued from his crucifixion. In the end, Jesus dies alone in anguish at his abandonment by God.
Matthew’s author and Luke’s author say something similar. They also add genealogies and add that Jesus was born of a virgin mother.
John’s author writes a very different story. It starts at the beginning of time when Jesus existed as the Word, and ignores any earthly relationships, such as a virgin mother or a baptism by John. Here, Jesus waits for crowds to form before enacting a miracle and makes “I am” statements before the Jewish crowds. He makes extremely long speeches. Jesus talks extensively about himself. His personality is different. In the end, Jesus dies not anguished but victorious and glad.
Questioning Johannine Authorship
When I try to speak to others about whether Mark, Matthew, Luke and John wrote the gospels named for them, the response I get is that of course they did. Also, I am told that every word is divinely inspired and perfectly accurate.
That is not what scholarly sources say.
You can read more on this matter here, here and also here.
It can be understood that none of the authors are “authors” of the gospels, but collectors of the gospel stories, instead. They each collected what information was available to them, and with each successive writers, material was added or eliminated. Hence the extreme similarities between the synoptic gospels.
It seems that the early Christian communities used the gospels regardless of who the author was, and did not feel threatened by the fact that the gospels were not written by apostles necessarily.
So why must we be so determined to have the gospels authored by Mark, Matthew, Luke and John?
The Need for Apostolic Authorship
Apparently, that started once Christianity met Greek philosophy.
I am still studying this concept.
The fact that the Gospel of John might not be written by John raises the question of why the author changed the narrative so much. One possible answer could be that the author was trying to answer the questions raised by Greek philosophy and non-Christians.
“The earliest Christians had been content to believe in God and to worship Him, without endeavouring to define precisely the conception of Him which lay beneath their faith and their worship. They looked up to Him as their Father in heaven. They thought of Him as One, as beneficent, and as supreme. But they drew no fence of words round their idea of Him, and still less did they attempt to demonstrate by processes of reason that their idea of Him was true.” (here)
But once the Christians were meeting more and more questions from outsiders about what Christianity believes, writers started writing about theology more often than writing epistles to each other regarding church conduct. If you wish to investigate this yourself, try comparing the epistles and gospels of the first century with the Gospel of John and the church preoccupation with doctrine in the second century.
The Gospel of John’s New Additions to the Doctrine
- He takes out some of the key defining events of Jesus’ ministry, such as the baptism and the virgin birth.
- More than 80% of his material is not in any of the other gospels.
- Most importantly, most of the Trinitarian doctrine is based on John’s gospel.
This last point made the historicity of the gospel very important for me to study. I started to wonder if what the gospel said happened did not actually happen. In which case, I am going to go through the same crisis that the early Christians did and struggle to try to define what exactly my doctrine is.
And so I came to Hermeneutics to see if others could find something about the authorship of John that I could not.
Thank you for bearing with me. That explanation was longer than I meant to make it.
To Add to What Hold to the Rod Said:
Unexplainable Differences between the Synoptics and John
To say that John wrote new material into his gospel because he wanted to make sure we understood the theology is to make light of the other gospels. The synoptics were the first written down, and they were not written to only include some information. They were written to record the most important information.
In a world where few people could read and most information was transmitted orally, to claim that the authors of the gospel wrote some events down, but not important information about the identity of Jesus such as the “I am” statements, is not giving enough credit to the effort someone had to put in to get a scribe, have them write all of this down, then send copies out. They could have orally transmitted the information. But they wanted to record the message in a more permanent form. I find it difficult to believe that the authors wrote about Jesus walking on water, but not the identity of Jesus as a pre-existent being. One of these details is inferior in importance to the other.
Again, to say that the authors were just interested in writing down some events rather than teaching theology, makes light of the authors. The gospels were redacting previous gospels (Mark using his own source, Matthew and Luke using Mark as well as other sources) to compile a large collections of events. Had there been too much important information to include in one scroll, one or another writer could and did simply leave out some of the miracles that Mark or the other synoptic had, and simply include more stories or theology that the author felt needed to be included in order to preserve the true teachings of Jesus and the true identity of Jesus.
Had the concern been, as Hold to the Rod identifies, that the scroll sizes were too small to contain everything, there was no need to include so much of the same information as the other synoptics (which were available for study and copying already to the church as proven by the next gospel using them as sources) and rather more space could have been given to teaching the identity of Jesus. You cannot write a collection of Jesus’ good news and not elaborate on the “I am” statements that tell us so much about how Jesus understood himself!
Who Jesus was and the “I am” statements are very closely linked. However, while studying the reason behind why John is so different from the synoptic, I learned that most historical scholars do not consider John to be historically accurate, and believe instead that the sayings in John were never spoken by Jesus.
You can read more on this matter here.
What about Hold to the Rod’s References to Johannine Scholarship?
Just as you are able to show sources that argue that the Gospel of John was written by an eyewitness, there are also sources which argue that the gospel was not written by an eyewitness at all. So your sources are good to have, but did not manage to negate the opposite arguments. But I thank you for helping me reach these resources. (The opposing views can be found here.)
One problem with how we argue internal and external evidence of the gospel authorship is that we give reasons that are too vague and easily refutable. For example, the internal evidence you cite state that the author was a Jew from Palestine who was in the inner circle of Jesus. Any author could be a Palestinian Jew, and how do we know that he was writing the truth and not making up the details of his inner-circle observations, if his eye witness accounts are not mentioned and seconded by any other writer?
What about Irenaeus?
The problem with his witness is that it hinges on Polycarp actually being John’s disciple. Also, what about Justin Martyr making no mention of the Gospel of John, and Eusebius claiming that Polycarp was not the student of John?
I will definitely dive into your reasoning regarding Irenaeus, but I think this post is already too long!
What about the Milk and the Meat?
“If the synoptics are milk, John is the meat. Much of what Jesus said would have been overwhelming to those who did not have the foundation to understand who Jesus was and why He could say these things.”
I am afraid that in a historical context, the milk and the meat analogy does not work. Were I to write the history of WWII in 1950 and then again in 2010, I would need the two accounts to match each other. If the two accounts describe completely different aspects of the war, then there is actually no way to tell if the later account is historically accurate, since there is so little information overlap between the two accounts.
In such a case, I do not feel comforted that John wrote completely new ideas (meat) due to my now being ready to understand what happened 60 years ago when Jesus was preaching. In fact, the reason I am here on Hermeneutics in the first place is because John tried to give me meat, after all the earlier accounts saying Jesus only preached milk. This is why I doubted John’s historicity in the first place: the appearance of a new story that does not match the prior story.
As I had written in my initial question, since Peter and John were supposed to be working together to preach Jesus’ good news, there should have been more mixing of theology between them, more mixing of the milk and the meat. The theology of John should not differ so much from the theology of Peter.
I have to point something out.
“If John 21:24 were a lie the original recipients of the 4th Gospel could have called the bluff. That John’s Gospel spread so effectively and so fast (it was already in Egypt ~125, see here)—and all of that with almost no early voices ever challenging or even questioning its authenticity—suggests that whoever “we” is in John 21:24, their credibility was pretty solid.”
Early voices DID challenge the authenticity of these gospels. Irenaeus himself states in Against Heresies, 3.11.7, that “the Ebionites use Matthew's Gospel, Marcion mutilates Luke's, the Docetists use Mark's, the Valentinians use John's”. These communities were not using their gospel of choice because they did not have access to the other gospels. They were using their gospel of choice because they doubted the integrity of the other gospels.
In my conclusion, I would like to say that I still need to go through the evidence and counter-evidence of Irenaeus, Justin Martyr and Eusebius regarding the authorship of the Gospel of John.
Thank you so much, Hold to the Rod! Your response was refreshingly detailed and although I differed in my opinion a