Last Wednesday (March 10), Paul Anderson presented on two of four Johannine crises that lay in the background of the Johannine literature, particularly the Epistles and Revelation. Before I report on this, I would like to back up to Session 2 and make some additions/corrections.

In Session 2, Anderson noted four threats in history which the Johannine writings were seeking to address. Anderson gave a few evidences for these. I already noted the compositional evidence and the Epistles. In addition to those, here are some other evidences for these threats: 1) two-edition hypothesis of John, 2) echoes from the Apocalypse, 3) letters of Igantius, and 4) John 6 and traces of history. In regard to the two-edition hypothesis of John, the first edition (namely the Gospel of John without the Prologue, ch. 6, chs. 15-17, and ch. 21) addressed synagogue tensions and presented Jesus as the Messianic king. With the additional material added in later to form the second and final edition of John, the Gospel addressed gnostic tendencies and ecclesiology. The letters of Ignatius provide a corroborative witness to these threats. I am thankful to Anderson for providing me with his outline for all the lectures.

Coming to Session 3, Anderson began by addressing a question on his two-edition hypothesis and the interfluence between John and the other Gospels. He has allowed me to share with us an outline of his Bi-Optic Hypothesis and below I have reproduced the interfluence chart found therein:

A Charting of Johannine-Synotpic Interfluential Relations

Of note are the following: 1) Markan and Johannine traditions have influence on each other, 2) Johannine tradition has influence on Q and the Lukan tradition, and 3) after the first written edition of John, the continued preaching of John interacts with the Matthew’s Gospel until the production of John’s final edition.

Now onto the two crises that Anderson covered. These were:

  • The Synagogue and Antichrist threat (1 John 2:18-25)
  • Emperor Worship and its Implications: “the Second Beast” and “666” (Revelation 13)

Because I have already mentioned the antichrists more than a few times, I only want to point out that the message here is: Abide with Jesus and his community and love one another. With regard to the second crisis, Anderson mentioned that the topic of emperor worship is a pressing one in Revelation. Underlying this are the emperors Nero (reigned 54-68 CE) and Domitian (reigned 81-96 CE), both known persecutors of Christians. Because of the synagogue threat, in which Christian Jews were expelled due to their perceived ditheism, Christians were vulnerable because they were no longer under the religious protection afforded to Judaism. This left the Christians open to persecution as the Roman government did not take kindly to any “new” religious movement. Christians were also the recipients of persecution due to the institution of emperor worship. As Christianity became predominantly Gentile in population, the potential for emperor worship grew. Perhaps Gentiles were being persuaded to just go through the motions of offering incense and giving homage to the emperor without really meaning it; perhaps some Gentiles saw nothing wrong with syncretization—after all, the Pantheon had many gods and Christ could be one god while the emperor could be the other. For Gentiles, the threat of persecution could cause them to reason in this manner. Revelation would be a corrective and a guide for those facing such temptation.

James McGrath pointed out in a comment on my first summary that “666” was the number for Nero; most scholars would agree. There is a numerological system in Hebrew that allows for each letter of Nero to be assigned a numerical value: when added together, the number is 666. Some manuscripts have “616” because of the deletion of a final letter of a word that can but does not always have to be present in the original language. Because 666 is applied to Nero as the mark, then the Beast would be reference to Nero and his fierce persecution of Christians. When Domitian came upon the scene, he was just as fierce as Nero, if not more fierce. Domitian then becomes the second Beast in Revelation. The number 666 also becomes applied to him. The imagery in Revelation is meant to address the issue of imperial religion.

The message in Revelation for the original recipients in this crisis would be two-fold: 1) do not bow down or worship, contra to “all the world” doing so; and 2) those who overcome will be recorded in the Book of Life.