As Brian noted in a couple of places (here and here), he and I attended the presentation on the Gospels with Paul Anderson and Marcus Borg on May 19, 2010. This post is to recap on Paul Anderson’s part of the presentation, where he dealt specifically with the Gospel of John.

First, I want to note that I especially appreciated Marcus Borg’s lucid and concise presentation, which Brian did a great job summarizing and engaging. Borg began with a prayer of Augustine and went on to share his passion: adult theological re-education at the congregational level. It is apparent to me that education is Borg’s forte and I came away having added to my knowledge on the Synoptics, even though I had studied this area at the graduate level in seminary.

Likewise, I also came away from Paul Anderson’s presentation on the Fourth Gospel with a greater understanding. Anderson’s presentation came in four parts: (1) John, the Problem!, (2)  Riddles of the Fourth Gospel, (3) Approaches to the Johannine Riddles, and (4) Ways Forward with the Gospel of John.

John, the Problem!

Anderson noted the problem many scholars have had with John throughout the centuries. For one, John is least like the Synoptics, but yet it claims eyewitness. Another is that much of the contents that the Synoptics have are omitted in John (for example, the birth narratives), and vice versa.

Riddles of the Fourth Gospel

Anderson explained the Fourth Gospel’s riddles in terms of three aspects: (1) literary, (2) theological, and (3) historical. At the literary level, there are rough transitions. For example, John 5 moves smoothly into John 7, with John 6 as something of an abrupt transition geographically. Then, there are also apparent additions in John; instead of Jesus’ dialogue with the disciples primarily in private (as in the Synoptics), John has much of the Jesus-disciple dialogue in public. Theologically, John has more tensions and apparent contradictions: Jesus is both very divine but very human, the Son is equal to the Father and subordinate to the Father, there is an emphasis on Jesus’ incarnation but His glory is also emphasized, and so forth. John is also a riddle in terms of historical material: as mentioned, there are departures from the Synoptics and divine presentations, but there is also mundane material.

A greater treatment of these riddles is found in Anderson’s forthcoming book, The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010).

Approaches to Johannine Riddles

Anderson then covered the various approaches at solving these riddles, noting their limitations and strengths. Space does not permit me to cover in detail the points, but this is the outline:

John is . . .

  • The “Spiritual” Gospel (a la Clement)
  • The Eyewitness Gospel of the Beloved Disciple
  • The “Concocted Gospel”
  • A Spiritualization of Mark and other Synoptic Material
  • Use of Independent Sources and Additions to the Evangelist’s Work by a Redactor (a la Bultmann)
  • A Representation of an Independent Tradition that Developed in its own Distinctive Ways, partly due to the History of the Johannine Situation
  • A Historical Drama
  • A Literary Device

Ways Forward

The Synoptic Hypothesis

Paul Anderson put forth his view of relationship between the Synoptics and John via the Synoptic Hypothesis. He begins first with two editions of John: the first edition was produced in Asia minor by the Beloved Disciple in the early to mid-80’s and who continues to preach until his death c. 100 CE. The Epistles were written by John the Elder, who also finalized the Gospel of John after the death of the Beloved Disciple by adding the Prologue, chapter 6, chapters 15-17, and chapter 21.

John’s relation to the individual Synoptics is as follows:

  • John and Mark: Interfluential, Augmentive, Corrective
  • John and Luke: Formative, Orderly, Theological
  • John and Q(?): Q is dependent upon John
  • John and Matthew: Dialogical, Reforcing, and Corrective

Dialogical Autonomy

Anderson presented John as autonomous, yet interactive with the Synoptics, and not derivative from them. For instance, with Mark, there are points of contact that suggest interfluence between the oral forms of John and Mark, particularly the strong similarities found in John 6, and Mark 6 and 8. In Acts 4, there is mention of Peter and John preaching together, and getting reprimanded by the Pharisees. The response comes from both Peter and John, and has a Petrine statement “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you judge” (Acts 4:19a NRSV), and a Johannine statement “for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20 NRSV; cf. 1 John 1:1-3). Papias notes that Mark recorded Peter’s preaching, but got events in the wrong order; John, then, wrote to set the record straight.

There are instances where Luke departs from Mark and sides with John more than a few dozen times. Luke’s has teachings on the Holy Spirit and positive presentations of women and Samaritans, just like John. Luke mentions that his document is what he received from “eyewitnesses and servants of the word (logos)” (Luke 1:1 NRSV).

John and Matthew appear to dialogue over church structure and government. Matthew is the only gospel where Peter is handed the keys. John’s presentation of church leadership is based on the leading of the Spirit (John 14:26: “the Holy Spirit . . . will teach you everything”), and has an egalitarian tone to it (see, particularly, the emphasis on loving one another in 1 John 2-4). In John, Peter acknowledges that Jesus alone has all authority in John 6:68: perhaps Peter is returning the keys?

When this is all placed in a diagram form, it looks like the following (this chart, including an explanatory outline, can be downloaded by clicking on the title above the chart below):

A Charting of Johannine-Synoptic Interfluential Relationships

Final Thoughts

As the session came to a close, after a period of Q and A, Borg posed a question to Anderson, asking something along the lines of what impact does Anderson’s bi-optic study have for the bigger picture. Someone once told me that when the bi-optic hypothesis first appeared, he did not think it would last long. But the John, Jesus, and History Project has been around for almost a decade now. In my estimation, that points toward a promising future for John in historical Jesus studies. I am excited to see the extent of the Project’s impact, in general, and the that of the bi-optic hypothesis in particular, on later biblical studies scholarship.

My own limited reporting on this event could not do it justice—either to the event as a whole or to Dr. Anderson’s talk. In all, I would say this was a rich and informative session, one of only many more to come. I only wished I could have attended the Saturday forum.

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