“Balderdash!: A Dozen Critically Flawed Biblical Scholarship Views Destined Deservedly for the Dust Bin—Part II”

If the Gospel of John were totally theological, with no mundane or historically grounded content, that would be telling, but such is not the case. John possesses more topographical and archaeologically verified content than all the gospels combined—canonical and otherwise.

See Part I

By Paul N. Anderson
George Fox University
Newberg, Oregon
April 2022

This essay follows on Part I, published recently,[1] updating biblical scholars and interested readers as to recent advances in Johannine studies, from my perspective. As such, it offers an overview of solid critical judgments made within 18 edited or authored Johannine books and over 100 published Johannine essays.[2] I also know that not all scholars will agree with some of these judgments, and I am willing to modify any position based on compelling evidence or reasoning. However, I also expect those with differing views to consider fuller analyses listed in the selective bibliography below, as well as other research. Dismissal without having considered fully an argument falls rather short, of course, of respectable, reasoned analysis. As academic research is a fast-moving stream, this overview is designed to be of service to scholars and students alike, seeking to facilitate keeping abreast with state-of-the-art Johannine studies from my perspective. Bibliographic references to other works are largely not included here, as they are engaged more fully in the essays and books below, comprising a new overall Johannine theory: The Dialogical Autonomy of the Fourth Gospel.[3]

As the earlier essay noted, biblical scholarship is an inch wide and a mile deep. Thus, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with even the multiplicity of disciplines applied to biblical texts, let alone treatments of particular passages or subjects in variegated disciplinary ways. Yet, as an advocate of interdisciplinary approaches to ancient texts, I believe that the best of methodologies must be applied most adequately to the most appropriate of issues and texts. This will include critical theory within literary, textual, contextual, sociological, anthropological, cognitive, and rhetorical fields, among others.[4] It is also a fact that to question a view is not to overturn it, so the onus of proof is also demanded of alternative views rather than assumption of a view by default, having challenged another. Thus, a robust embrace of second criticality[5] demands critical evaluation of critical views in addition to traditional ones, and along those lines the best of biblical scholarship makes its most enduring of advances.

The biblical views challenged in the first essay include: the dogmatic divorcing of history and theology, the absolute privileging of the Synoptics over John within Historical Jesus research, assuming a single author of the entire Johannine corpus, John’s purported use of alien sources, the disordering and rearranging of John’s narrative followed by a redactor’s disparate insertions, and John’s literary dependence upon Mark. When applied to critical scrutiny, none of these views remain standing, although each of them may have engaged particular features of the perplexing Johannine riddles, though unsatisfactorily.[6] The present essay continues the overview of what I believe are established advances over recent critical fallacies.

As a Quaker, “Balderdash” is rather strong language; I understand. And yet, if the future of Johannine studies can be furthered by acknowledging a number of dead ends destined for the dust bin here and there, it is in hopes of further advances in critical and compelling inquiry that the continuing overview is offered.


Critical Fallacy #7: The So-Called “Early Death of John” and Johannine de-Apostolization


For nearly two millennia, the near unanimous second-century view that John the Apostle moved to Ephesus during the Roman invasion of Israel (66-73 CE) and died around the turn of the century at the beginning of Trajan’s reign (98-117 CE). In 1888, however, a Dutch scholar by the name of Carl de Boor published an article claiming that references by Philip Sidetes (5th c.) and George Hamartolos (9th c.) to the martyrdom of James and John suggested that John died early. After all, if James was killed at the hand of the Jews in 44 CE (Acts 12:2), and if John died at the same time, there is no way the latter could have written the gospel attributed to him near the turn of the century. Assuming that a view such as this—going against tradition—would not have been concocted, this view was taken as the lectio difficilior—the more difficult reading—to be credited over and against traditional views, in the opinion of Martin Hengel and others.[7] As a result, several conjectures followed.

First, as Papias is mentioned by these two authors, given that his full writings are unavailable, de Boor conjectured that the early death of John report actually went back to a second century view that was later obscured, forgotten, or even submerged by false claims of authorship. Second, connecting John the Apostle with Johannine authorship must thus have been due to fanciful rhetoric, the confusion of “Johns” (the Elder, the Apostle, the Apocalyptist, etc.), or downright deception, inviting modern scholars to shine the light of critical skepticism upon the darkness of ancient deceptions. Third, alternative views of Johannine authorship were then posed as default alternatives, assuming the certain demise of the John’s apostolic authorship. Thus, such identifications as Lazarus (or one of his sisters, Mary or Martha—John 11:5—whom “Jesus loved”), Thomas, Mary Magdalene, John the Elder, or even an unknown follower of Jesus, were posed as the Fourth Evangelist, assuming the early death of John. Given John’s differences from the Synoptics, some scholars claimed it could not have been written by an eyewitness—let alone an Apostle—assigning the Fourth Gospel to genres of folklore or embellished theology, rather than history.

Among these perspectives, however, none of them has really won the day in scholarly opinion, although the recent plurality has seen John the Elder as at least the finalizer of the narrative. He might even have been the evangelist, as with the claims of the author of 1 John, not all eyewitnesses were apostles. This could have applied to the Johannine evangelist as well as the epistle writer, if they were not the same person. New problems arise, however, with all the other alternative views of John’s authorship. Even though the Son of Zebedee faces numerous obstacles to being considered the Beloved Disciple, none of the other personalities shares any of his strengths, such as: being the key companion of Peter in all four Gospels, Acts, and Galatians; showing personal knowledge of places and features of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea, corroborated by archaeological findings; and being connected with the Johannine tradition pervasively in the second century CE. Pierson Parker even listed twenty-one reasons for declaring that the impossibility of connecting John the son of Zebedee with the Beloved Disciple was the “one assured result of biblical critical scholarship,” despite the fact that none of them is compelling in particular or overall.[8]

Most egregiously, however, when the writings of Philip Sidetes and George Hamartolos are examined more fully, several facts come into focus. First, neither Philip nor George claims that James and John died at the same time; they simply say that they suffered martyrdom, obviously a conjectural reference to the prediction of Jesus in Mark 10:38-39 (cf. also Matt 20:23-24). Second, they both follow Eusebius in claiming that John the Apostle died in Ephesus after the Death of Domitian (96 CE). Philip claims that Domitian banished John the Apostle to Patmos, and George declares that John returned from Patmos under Nerva (ca. 98 CE). Third, martyrdom need not imply John’s stoning by the Jews; banishment is also form of martyrdom, although John was banished by the Romans, not by the Jews. Therefore, neither Philip nor George thought or said that John died early, and they clearly did not believe that. Thus, the so-called “early death of John” in Jerusalem was never believed in antiquity, and its positing over the last century or more is an embarrassment to critical biblical scholarship.

Further, the de-apostolization of the Beloved Disciple was furthered by some scholars on the basis of flawed, ecclesial interests. For instance, Oscar Cullmann rejected the Beloved Disciple’s apostolicity because of his omitting the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. How could the evangelist have been present and have missed the institution of a meal of remembrance—one might have asked—when Jesus came to institute new rites, having rejected older ones? And, Raymond Brown changed his view of the Beloved Disciple being an apostle because of the juxtaposition of Peter and the Beloved Disciple throughout the narrative. From his perspective, any deconstruction of Petrine leadership was unlikely to be apostolic in its origin; thus, perhaps the Beloved Disciple was an eyewitness (like the Johannine Elder, 1 John 1:1-3), but he need not have been a member of the Twelve. This would also account for John’s omission of the calling of the Twelve, the Transfiguration, and virtually every other instance in which the sons of Zebedee are mentioned in the Synoptics.

On the other hand, what if John sought not to duplicate Mark,[9] and what if John’s challenges to institutionalism reflect a more primitive ecclesiology than more developed models in the Synoptics?[10] And, what if the Johannine egalitarian and familial ecclesiology betrays a corrective to the rising institutionalism of Ignatius and Diotrephes (3 John 9-10) precisely because of an authentic apostolic memory, in contrast to the ways Matthew 16:17-19 and 18:18-20 were being leveraged by male hierarchical leaders toward the late first century? And, what if Paul’s movement from a full community meal to a symbolic meal of remembrance in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 was simply followed by Mark 14:12-25 and the other Synoptics? John’s presentation of the last supper as taking place on the day before the Passover (13:1) is more plausible, as Jesus is not killed on the Passover in any of the Gospels, including Mark. Note that at the evening before the crucifixion, the Jewish leaders did not want to defile themselves, so that they could celebrate the Passover the next day (John 18:28). Thus, John’s presentation of the last supper is more like a communal fellowship meal, as presented in Acts 2:43-47 and 4:32-37, than the more ritualized presentations in the Synoptics, following 1 Corinthians 11.

Interestingly, liberal and conservative scholars alike have found it easy to jettison the Fourth Gospel as a historical source for Jesus research, assuming its non-apostolic and thus ahistorical origin. This makes it easier to construct a portrait of the Synoptic Jesus, but it fails to note critically where John’s witness might be more historically plausible over those of the Synoptics.[11] Put bluntly, John the Apostle might indeed have died early, but neither Philip Sidetes nor George Hamartolos said so nor believed so. Such is a total misreading of ancient texts, and even though it provided a basis for alternative theories of John’s composition, alternative claims of authorship have foundered in terms of critical plausibility.[12] Each proposal bears with it new sets of problems that a modified traditional view does not. Thus, “the early death” that never was is an embarrassment to critical biblical scholarship, destined deservedly for the dust bin.

On this score, an overlooked late first-century connecting of John the Apostle with a Johannine phrase by Luke approximates a fact.[13] In Acts 4:19-20, Peter and John utter a composite statement (which is why it has been overlooked) wherein Peter declares: “we must obey God” (cf. Acts 5:29; 11:17), and John declares: “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (cf. John 3:32; 1 John 1:3). While seeing and hearing verbs occur with abundance in Luke/Acts, this is the only time they are presented in the third-person plural, past tense (like 1 John 1:3, though not exactly the same phrasing). Thus, while Johannine authorship remains a question, the explicit connecting of John the Apostle with a Johannine phrase occurred a full century before Irenaeus, and this fact requires critical consideration. As mentioned in the first essay (Part I), in my judgment, the most critically plausible view of Johannine authorship sees John the Apostle as the source and tradent behind the Johannine narrative, who is referenced after his death as the disciple Jesus loved by John the Elder, who, after writing the Epistles (ca. 85-95 CE) compiled the Fourth Gospel (adding chapters 6, 15-17, and 21 as a means of filling out the narrative, and adding the Christ-hymn to John 1:6-8, 15, 19ff.).[14] In that sense, a modified traditional view is the most critically compelling view of John’s composition and authorship, involving a modest two-edition view and seeing the final compiler as the author of the Epistles, who built on the paraphrastic memory of the Beloved Disciple as an autonomous and self-standing witness to Jesus of Nazareth.


Critical Fallacy #8: “A Single Issue in the Johannine Dialectical Situation—Jewish-Johannine Tensions”


In his overview of the most important of Johannine books and essays since the mid-twentieth century, John Ashton claimed that the most important book since Rudolf Bultmann’s 1941 commentary on John was the 1968 monograph by J. Louis Martyn: History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel. And, he was right; although I might argue that the three-volumes of commentaries on the Johannine Gospel and Epistles by Raymond Brown, including his book on The Community of the Beloved Disciple, are actually more significant, overall.[15] Nonetheless, the Brown-Martyn hypothesis identified the Johannine-Jewish situational set of dialectical engagements as key for understanding how John’s presentation of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Thus, the bi-polar receptions of Jesus within the narrative should be seen as reflecting issues around the times of its finalization, not simply its origin. Brown, of course, saw all five Johannine writings as at least somewhat related, reflecting a largely similar situation, but Martyn did not. He largely rejected inferences of connectedness between the Johannine Gospel and Epistles, arguing a single issue within the Johannine situation. On both accounts, he was wrong.[16]

A further flaw in Martyn’s two-level reading of the Johannine narrative was to infer an alien source—Robert Fortna’s “Signs Gospel”—as underlying the theologically developed Johannine narrative, allowing him to read into the evangelist’s crafting of “the world” rejecting Jesus (especially in chs. 5-12 and 18-19) a contemporary form of theologizing apologetic, rather than the reporting of historical memory. Given the fact, however, that the evidence for Bultmann’s three major sources and Fortna’s single source underlying John is stylistically, contextually, and theologically insufficient, such inferences are critically non-compelling. Likewise, as 85% of John’s material is not replicated in the Synoptics, and the remaining parallels do not possess verbatim similarities for more than a word or two, John cannot be seen as Synoptic-dependent, either.[17] Thus, John’s story of Jesus reflects an independent memory of Jesus, as argued by C. H. Dodd, although it does seem to be familiar with Mark, developing in augmentive and somewhat corrective ways. Along these lines, the overall Johannine theory argued by Raymond Brown is more critically plausible, although Brown’s inferences of crypto-Christians Samaritans in the Johannine situation as narratival projections in John 3-4 is more speculative than compelling.

With Brown against Martyn, however, far more plausible is the inference of no fewer than seven crises in the Johannine situation over seven decades. Both Brown and Martyn infer three overall stages within the development of Johannine Christianity, and most compelling is he identification of at least two major crises, or sets of dialectical engagements within each, including an overall set of Johannine-Synoptic engagements over all three periods. With Brown, the first phase (in Palestine, ca. 30-70 CE) tensions between Judean leaders in Jerusalem and followers of the Galilean Prophet are palpable, with southern religio-political leaders opposing the charismatic leader from the north. A second set of competitive tensions is evident between followers of the baptizer and Jesus—palpable in Palestine, but perhaps also extending into Asia Minor, as reflected in Acts 18.

The second phase (in Asia Minor, ca. 70-85 CE) infers tensions between Jewish family and friends in local synagogue communities, and in my judgment, the secessionists refusing to believe Jesus was the Jewish Messiah/Christ (1 John 2:18-25) were proselytized back into the Synagogue.[18] A second crisis within its new Diaspora situation coincided with Domitian’s requirement of emperor laud, as a means of discouraging Jewish insurrectionism (81-96). Both Brown and Martyn failed to note this set of tensions, but the confession of Thomas in John 20:28 (“My Lord and my God!”) would clearly have been understood as anti-imperial (who required his lieutenants to refer to him as such), and being out of the synagogue (aposynagōgos, John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2) would require one to confess Caesar as Lord. One advantage of being distanced from the synagogue would have been not having to pay the Jewish tax—the Fiscus Ioudaicus—one disadvantage would have involved having to demonstrate public emperor laud on pain of persecution or death.[19]

The third phase (ca. 85-100 CE) involved dialogues with other Christians: docetizing traveling Gentile ministers, teaching assimilation with culture and pagan customs (salvation by grace, not Jewish works of the Law: 1 John 1:1-3; 2 John 7), and second, such proto-Ignatian hierarchical leaders as Diotrephes (philoprōteron—lover of primacy: 3 John 9-10), who rejected Johannine believers from his church and threatened to expel those who took them in. Again, a more dialectical Johannine situation in longitudinal perspective is far more plausible based upon the evidence (the four latter issues are also echoed in Revelation 1-3), and the limiting of Johannine situational issues to a single set of tensions after the fall of Jerusalem is totally contravened by the evidence in the Johannine writings, the letters of Ignatius, and the letters of Pliny the Younger.[20]

Therefore, in agreement with Raymond Brown, Wayne Meeks, Moody Smith, and others, the Johannine situation was highly dialectical, involving several targets of engagement over several decades. Further, the Jesus movement in Asia Minor continued to be the center of early Christianity for a full millennium until the separation of Eastern Orthodoxy from Western Catholicism in 1094 CE. Within such a cosmopolitan situation, a single socio-religious engagement in the first century CE is unthinkable.


Critical Fallacy #9: “A Single Community in Johannine Christianity”


Along those lines, a view that has steadily come under critical scrutiny is Raymond Brown’s inference of “the community of the Beloved Disciple.” On one hand, Brown’s theory has a number of attractive elements, although it also possesses a number of flaws. First, he correctly posits that whatever Johannine Christianity might have looked like in its last third of the first century CE Asia-Minor setting, there was at least one community of believers, within which the Beloved Disciple and the Johannine Elder were likely leaders. He earlier saw the former as John the Apostle, although he later acknowledged that one need not to have been an apostle to have been an eyewitness, as 1 John 1:1-3 attests. Brown connects his transition with that of Schnackenburg, but in so doing, he overreads him. Not necessarily need not imply necessarily not.

Second, Brown challenged conventional views, wondering if the community remnant might have been the minority—a small, fledgling group—left behind following the schismatic secession referenced in 1 John 2:18-25. This may have been the case, but I see it as unlikely. Given the fact that there were several house-churches in the region, and perhaps even in Ephesus proper, a more realistic scenario would have been the Beloved Disciple’s connectedness with several communities, which were also in fellowship with each other. 2 John and 3 John were clearly written to neighboring communities and leaders (the chosen lady and her children, and Gaius), and 1 John and Revelation 2-3 reflect the sending of circulars to other churches in the region, whose members would have numbered in the thousands. Further, outreach ministry in Ephesus (cf. Acts 18-19) was already drawing hundreds into the movement two or more decades earlier, during the ministry of Paul, so Brown’s overly modest guesswork on this account falls sort of believable.

Third, Brown identifies the visiting ministers in 1 John 4:1-3 and 2 John 7 as the same secessionists or adversaries overall—perhaps followers of Cerinthus, about whom we know fairly little—but this is totally wrong. The first crisis is past-oriented and secessionist: a departure of those rejecting the messianic divine agency of Jesus as the Christ; the second is future-oriented and invasionist: impending visitations of false prophets teaching that Jesus did not come in the flesh. The secessionist threat likely rejoined the Synagogue—whose rejection of the Son will jeopardize their embrace of the Father; the impending-visitors threat was docetizing—challenging a human and suffering Jesus as a means of rejecting the way of the cross, in favor of Gentile believers’ assimilation with worldly values and practices. Further, not much is known of Cerinthus and his followers, other than that they were considered heretical (especially by Jewish and Johannine believers) and corruptive. Along those lines, the teachings of Cerinthus might indeed have overlapped with those of the false teachers labeled “Antichrists” in 1 John 4:1-3 and 2 John 7, but they would have been different from the secessionists of 1 John 2:18-25, who likely were proselytized back into the religious security of local synagogues.[21]

A fourth element in Brown’s paradigm involved the hyperextended inference of contextual groups on the basis of the Johannine narrative—a two-level reading gone awry. Tensions with baptizer adherents might have been palpable in Asia Minor (echoed in John 3:22-30; note also those who know the baptism of John but not the Holy Spirit: Acts 18:24-28), but dialogues with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman need not imply Samaritans’ presence in the Ephesian audience, although such is not impossible. Pointedly, the presentation of Nicodemus coming to Jesus “by night” in John 3:2 need not imply crypto-Christians in Asia Minor synagogues. Likewise, Judas abandoning Jesus at night, need not imply Jesus-traitors in Anatolia, not that Brown argued such. The point, though, is that if “night” set the stage for what happened in Jerusalem during the ministry of Jesus, why not also infer the same regarding Judas? Further, Nicodemus is presented as standing up for Jesus in John 7 and helping with his burial in John 19. Thus, he is presented as an actual Jewish leader in Jerusalem during the ministry of Jesus, who “came ‘round” in his commitment to Jesus. He did not stay in the dark, but came out in support of Jesus before the Jewish leaders and also at the cross. These accounts of course would have inspired allegiance to Jesus in John’s later situation, but they need not imply the presence of “crypto-Christian” underground believers. Nor does the night-time departure of Judas imply the presence of traitors in the Johannine community.

A fifth element in Brown’s analysis that is totally bogus is his anti-charismatic inference that the Johannine adversaries were pneumatic incorrigibles—individuals and groups claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit—proto-Gnostics, or early Montanists, refusing to be reeled in by legitimate, institutional and hierarchical leaders. Indeed, the evangelist also taught that the Holy Spirit convinces believers of sin and of righteousness, leading them in the truth needed for the demands of the day (John 14-16), but this doesn’t mean that all, or even the primary, tensions within the Johannine situation were factors of pneumatism versus gospel order. On this point, Brown may have been unduly influenced by institution-enthusiasm debates within the second Christian millennium rather than historical realities in the late first-century situation. More likely is that socio-religious practices, beliefs, and relations set the mold for the two Antichristic crises—tensions between Jewish and Gentile believers in the second generation of the Pauline mission—rather than incorrigible pneumatists, who listen neither to reason nor authorities. Claiming to be “without sin” and “making God a liar” in the opening chapter of 1 John likely referenced disagreements between Gentile and Jewish members of the movement on matters of particular faith and practice, not proto-Gnostic perfectionism.

A sixth weakness of gospel studies of the 20th century overall is their inference that the canonical gospels were written for communities, rather than from communities, serving the larger Christian movement. While the teachings of the Beloved Disciple and the Johannine Elder were clearly addressing the needs of local audiences (as was each of the Synoptic Gospel writers), this does not mean that their finalization was targeted toward a single, local audience only, rather than being prepared for “all Christians,” as Richard Bauckham and Richard Burridge have well argued. Bauckham notes, in particular, that John 3:34 (this was before John was imprisoned) poses a corrective to Mark 1:14, and the whole of John 4 (especially v. 43) reflects pushback against the view of Mark 6:1-6 that Jesus was rejected in his hometown—note how the Samaritans, Galileans, and even a royal official and his family believed.[22] It is also likely, that the rejection of Johannine traveling ministers by the likes of Diotrephes and his kin (3 John 9-10) evoked the Elder’s circulating of the departed and dearly beloved apostle’s witness, that the Holy Spirit’s leadership is accessibly by all—including women, not just hierarchical males—functioned to push back against rising institutionalism and the rise of Petrine hierarchy as advocated by bishop Ignatius, whose embrace of Matthew 16:17-19, in appointing one bishop in every church, failed to also embrace Matthean incarnational sacramentality and inclusive graciousness (Matt 18:18-35). Thus, while the early Johannine tradition was likely delivered locally, its finalization by the compiler (ca. 100 CE) was clearly crafted for broader circulation.

Along these lines, of the seven crises over seven decades in the above mentioned above—all except the first two—would have been in play within the Johannine situation following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the move to Asia Minor. Some baptizer adherents might have been in play, but that dialectic was likely earlier and more locally confined to Palestine. The other five, though, were clearly in play in within the Diaspora churches during the second generation of the Pauline mission, and this is more clearly evident in the Johannine corpus than any other part of the New Testament. Again, tensions with local Jewish communities and with the Roman presence would have been real, but tensions with docetizing and assimilating traveling ministers, as well as proto-Ignatian hierarchical aspirants are also palpable. Likewise, an overarching set of dialectical engagements with other gospel traditions spanned all seven decades of the Johannine tradition’s development. John might also have influenced parallel traditions, and Johannine details in Mark and Matthew—and especially in Luke—bolster the likelihood that Johannine-Synoptic relations cannot be limited to a one-way Street(er).[23] An overall theory of gospel-tradition interfluentiality is more evidentiarily plausible than single-literary-source-dependence assumptions.

The Johannine situation was regional and clearly larger than a single community. It is also questionable that John the Apostle (or whoever the Johannine evangelist might have been) and John the Elder (or whoever the Johannine epistle writer might have been) were connected only with a single, fledgling community of faith. Imagine the same inference being made of Paul, Peter, Timothy, or Apollos. While all leaders in the first-century Jesus movement were probably attached to a primary home community during particular phases of their ministries, it would be ridiculous to say that any of them were exclusively connected with only one community over two or more decades, rather than traveling among the churches or enjoying primary residence in one community for several months or years before circulating more broadly among other fellowships of believers, and even synagogues. 1 John is written as an open epistle, as a circular among the churches in the region; and Revelation 2-3 explicitly names seven churches in Asia Minor, to be circulated and read by an itinerant leader from John the apocalyptist in exile. Even within such major cities as Ephesus and Pergamum, there were likely more than one house church operative, as these would only have been able to hold several dozen (say, between 30 and 60) at a time.

Thus, the inference of a single Johannine community is historically implausible, functioning to distort scholars’ understandings of what Johannine Christianity was like. It was not a small, sectarian, isolated group; it involved multiple communities with generous and permeable exchanges between them. At least the Johannine evangelist was a leader in a particular community, but the Johannine Elder might also have been a partner in ministry within a neighboring community. Even if the Elder was a disciple of John the Apostle, as Polycarp of Smyrna claims to have been, this does not imply that they were co-leaders in the same house church simultaneously or for an extended period of time. Rather, a more realistic impression of the larger Johannine situation encompassed a series of house-church fellowships throughout the Anatolian Jesus movement, involving engagement with local Jewish fellowships, while also embracing believers in the second-generation Pauline mission to the Gentiles. And, such factors are the most likely origins of community glories, foibles, and tensions.


Critical Fallacy #10: “Anti-Judaism in the Gospel of John”


Despite the fact that Luther and others built their theological antisemitism upon John 8:44 and other texts (referencing the father of the Jewish leaders as the devil; cf. also Matt 23:33),[24] and despite the fact that tensions between Jesus and religious leaders in the Gospel of John are pronounced, this does not mean that the Fourth Gospel is anti-Semitic, or even anti-Jewish. While so-called “anti-Judaism” in John is an advance over racial anti-Semitism, it is still flawed and wrong-headed from a historical-critical perspective; it deserves to be abandoned for good, destined for the hermeneutical dust bin. Nonetheless, even some thoughtful New Testament scholars have seen the Johannine writings as anti-Jewish, based upon the following inferences: (a) a departure of the ways between the Jesus movement and contemporary Judaism in the last third of the first century CE; (b) assuming that Jewish actants in the Johannine narrative are pervasively portrayed negatively; and (c) equating “the Jews” in the Johannine tradition with the unbelieving and hostile “world” in its Diaspora setting, to be opposed and not to be loved. However, each of these inferences is factually wrong.

First, while tensions between the Pauline Jewish mission to the Gentiles and its succeeding developments resulted in tensions within Judaism over the Jesus movement, as late as the fourth century CE, John Chrysostom appealed to Christians to choose between synagogue and church. Three centuries later, many were worshiping in both. While the birkat haminim was added to the 12th Benediction among the 18 within Jewish liturgies likely following the 70 CE destruction of the Jerusalem temple, the curse against the “Nazoreans” does not mean that all followers of Jesus of Nazareth were programmatically expelled from all Jewish synagogues regionally or worldwide. The birkat might even have been earlier, rooted in a Jerusalem-based concern to distance Nazareth-based insurrectionists (going back to Judas the Galilean and the tax revolt, ca. 6 CE), wary of Roman crackdowns on Jewish zealotry.[25] If, though, there were some connection with the aposynagōgos references in John 9:22; 12:42; and 16:2, this does not mean that all Christians were expelled from all synagogues. Rather, the birkat more realistically might have served as a means of disciplining high Christological expressions among believers in Jesus, embacing the fatherhood of the one God over and against the sonship of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah-Christ (Deut 6:4). It appears, though, that excommunication was not the interest, as some Johannine believers were proselytized back into the synagogue. According to 1 John 2:18-25, whereby the secessionists are warned that if they fail to believe in Jesus as the Messiah-Christ, they will forfeit the Father. Thus, even within Johannine Christianity, the closeness of Jesus adherents to local Jewish family and friends is palpable.

What is likely is that many Diaspora believers in Jesus worshiped in local synagogues on Sabbath and in Gentile house-churches on First Day. This created some individuation, but to say that the ways had parted is too strong. Synagogue-related tensions with the Jesus movement thus were not inter-faith debates; they represent intra-faith tensions. For instance, Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 reference those in Smyrna and Philadelphia who “claim to be Jews, but are not,” emphasizing that “we are the real Jews,” by the way! Territoriality exists only among members of like species. Some four or five decades later, Jesus adherents distanced themselves and are distanced by some more nationalistic followers of bar Kosiba, as they opposed viewing him as the Jewish Messiah. This may have been for two reasons: first, Jesus, they held, was the true Messiah. Second, in following the way of Jesus, they may have objected (as did John the baptizer and Jesus) to the Maccabean and zealot view of messiahship (along with Josephus also), viewing a violent uprising as a departure from the ideals of authentic Israel—a peaceable light to the nations, in Isaianic perspective.

On the fiscus Judaicus, requiring Jews to pay 2 drachmas to the temple of Jupiter Capitolina in Rome (the same amount as the Jerusalem temple tax destroyed in 70 CE), Domitian (81-96 CE) insisted that all circumcised males pay the tax, which included Jesus adherents. While Nerva (96-98 CE) relaxed this policy, distinguishing Judaism from Jesus adherents, the result was not exactly fortuitous for Jesus adherents. Whereas they were not required to pay the tax, they were required to worship the Emperor, to confess Caesar as Lord, and to deny Christ—a longstanding policy by the time Pliny’s correspondence with Trajan was written (ca. 110 CE).[26] Thus, individuation from Judaism relieved one from a tax burden, but it precipitated a more pressing crisis for Jesus adherents—especially those of Jewish, monotheistic conviction—worship Caesar or suffer the consequences.

Nonetheless, Jesus adherents still saw themselves as fulfilling the Abrahamic blessing to the nations as a Jewish outreach appeal within the larger Greco-Roman society. Even in Justin’s dialogue with Trypho the Jew (mid second century CE), Justin’s argument is that the Jesus movement represents the fulfillment of Jewish Scripture, asserting that if Trypho really wanted to be authentically Jewish, he should become a Jesus follower. The same can be said of the Matthean and Johannine traditions, as they developed in their pre- and post-70 CE situations. Rather than representing a departure of the ways, they both represent a contesting of the ways within the Jewish orbit, rather than beyond its bounds.

Marcion, of course, represents the rejection of the Jewish God in favor of the God represented by Jesus, and among non-Jewish Christians by the mid-second century, individuation was indeed in play. Even if some Johannine Jesus adherents were alienated from local synagogues in Anatolia, however, there were no closer faith communities than the local synagogue for Jesus adherents worshiping on First Day. Whereas Paul debated the boundaries of Judaism, the Johannine evangelist argued for the heart of Judaism. In that sense, John was radically Jewish (radix = root). To be fully and authentically Jewish is to receive believingly the one of whom Moses wrote (Deut 18:15-22; John 5:19-47), whose signifying works and fulfilled words confirm his divine agency and sonship (John 20:30-31).[27]

Second, while many of the Ioudaioi refuse to believe in Jesus in the Johannine narrative, it is factually wrong to say that all of these references were to Jews in general (versus “Judeans” or religious leaders in Jerusalem-proper), and that all of those references are negative. When all 72 of the references to Ioudaios, Ioudaioi, and Ioudaia are analyzed individually, the following facts become plain. (a) None of the general references to Jews are negative. All of them are either neutral (Jewish customs, the Jewish Passover, etc.), and some of them are positive: “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Likewise, all five of the references to Israel are positive (1:31; 47, 49; 3:10; 12:13), and the I-Am sayings of Jesus in John fulfill the typologies of Israel.[28] (b) The only negative references to Ioudaioi are in Ioudaia or Jerusalem, so those references should be translated “Judeans” rather than “Jews.” Thus, if the Synoptics also corroborate the Johannine memory of Jesus and his ministry (Matt 21:10-11; Mark 14:70; Luke 13:1-5; 22:59; 23:5-6; Acts 5:37), it is primarily the Judean religious and political elite who opposed Jesus most intensely. John’s presentation even references anti-Galilean sentiments on their behalf (John 7:41, 52), so the primary issue was the centralized religious elite versus the non-official prophetic figure from the hinterlands. After all, the Messiah comes from David’s town—Bethlehem in Judea—not from Galilee, so the Judeans claimed (v. 42). (c) While about half of the references to Judeans are negative, however, not all of them are. Half are either neutral or positive. Note, for instance, these positive references to Judeans, some of which do believe in Jesus.

Ioudaioi as Judeans Who Believe in Jesus

  • John 2:23—When Jesus was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many (of the Judeans) believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing.
  • John 7:31—Yet many in the Jerusalem crowd believed in him and were saying, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more signs than this man has done?”
  • John 8:30-32—As Jesus was speaking in Jerusalem, many believed in him. Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
  • John 9:38—Following the healing near the Jerusalem Pool of Siloam, the man born blind said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 
  • John 10:40-42—Jesus departed again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many (in that region of Judea) believed in him there.
  • John 11:45—Many of the Judeans therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in Jesus.
  • John 12:42-43—Nevertheless many, even of the Jerusalem authorities, believed in Jesus; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue. For they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.

Put otherwise, everyone who believed in Jesus in the Johannine narrative was either Jewish or Samaritan, so while the Galilean prophet from the North received an ambivalent reception in the South (Ioudaia), this does not mean that all Ioudaioi were against Jesus and refused to believe. This is a textual fact. Scholars may have their own theories; they cannot have their own facts. Likewise, while even some of the Galilean disciples of Jesus abandoned him and chose to follow him no longer (John 6:66), this does not prove that the Johannine evangelist was anti-Galilean. Jesus received a mixed reception in the North and the South, although less so in the North.

Jesus was also crucified by the Romans in Jerusalem, clearly with the support of Judean religious leaders and the crowds, but this does not mean the narrator was anti-Jewish. That would be like saying the Righteous Teacher and his followers of Qumran were anti-Jewish because they had been spurned by the Wicked Priest and the religious elite of Jerusalem. Balderdash! If anything, the Fourth Evangelist was radically Jewish—arguing for the heart of Judaism—just as Paul argued the permeability of its boundaries. The Johannine Jesus fulfills Jewish Scripture, embodies the typologies of Moses and Elijah with his signs, and he assumes the legacies of Israel within his I-Am references.[29]

Third, good point among scholars noting that in the Johannine narrative, “the world” often rejects the Revealer—scandalized by the divine initiative of revelation—holding on to the creaturely investments of conventional religion and human approval. This does not mean, though, that “the world” referenced Jews only, not Gentiles. Nor did the term have a singular target over the seven decades of the Johannine tradition’s multi-contextual development. When noted also in the Johannine Epistles, several facts come clear about the world, Jesus, and authentic believers in God.

(a) To begin with, it is God who so loved the world that he gave his Son to die so that humanity might receive the gift of eternal life (John 3:16). As the lamb of God, Jesus takes away the sin of the world (1:29); as the bread of life, Jesus gives his flesh (on the cross) for the life of the world (6:33, 51-58); and as the light of the world (8:12; 9:5; 12:46), Jesus keeps people from stumbling and saves the world (3:17; 11:9; 12:47); Jesus is the Savior of the world (4:42; 1 John 2:2; 4:14), and his Kingdom is one of truth (18:37).

(b) Nonetheless, “the world” did not recognize the light (1:10), preferring darkness lest its evil deeds be exposed (3:19). It also hates and opposes the Revealer, who exposes its deeds as evil (7:7). This is because the world has not known the Father (17:25; 1 John 3:1) but is under the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19)—the abode of deceivers and antichrists (1 John 4:3; 2 John 7).

(c) Therefore, because believers do not belong to the world (John 15:19; 17:14, 16), they ought not to love the world and its pleasures (1 John 2:15-16). Rather, just as Christ has conquered the world (John 16:33), whatever is born of God conquers the world (1 John 5:4). The Kingdom of Jesus is not of this world; thus, his followers cannot fight to further it, as its authority roots in truth rather than force (18:36).

While tensions with local Jewish leaders in Asia Minor are evident within the Johannine Gospel, Epistles, and Apocalypse, they are by no means the only adversaries engaged over the seven decades of the tradition’s development. Most of the tensions between Jesus and Jewish leaders in the narrative reflect memories of Jesus in Jerusalem, augmenting the Markan witness along those lines. Nor are the Johannine leaders against Judaism rather than championing Judaism. They are committed to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah-Christ. Rather, in tension with Judean and Jerusalem-centered religious and political leadership (30-70 CE), followers of the Galilean Prophet find some success in their apologetic advocacy, while they also continue to meet resistance among those who were also scandalized by Jesus and the mission to the Gentiles. With the Diaspora relocation, likely in Asia Minor, tensions between Jewish family and friends appear to have taken on new bouts of engagement, likely over Mosaic authority (say, Deut 6:4 vs. 18:15-22). Within that context, the Johannine thrust seeks to prove that Jesus fulfills Jewish Scripture as a radically Jewish apologetic. Opposition by “the world” refers to earlier religio-political challenges to the Revealer, but in the now Hellenistic Johannine situation, “the world” clearly refers to idolatrous and assimilative pressures within John’s cosmopolitan setting. Under the imperial cult of Domitian (81-96 CE), worldly pressures would not have involved local synagogues primarily; they would have been rooted in Roman persecution of believers refusing to participate in the imperial cult, and civic estrangement resulting from reluctance to engage in socio-religious festivities (1 John 5:21).

Therefore, tensions with Jewish leaders are clear in John, reported regarding the ambivalent reception of the Galilean Prophet in Jerusalem, and those tensions continued among Jewish family and friends in John’s later Diaspora setting. The debates, though, reflect intra-faith engagements rather than inter-faith polemics. Never are general references to the Jewish people or history negative in the Johannine narrative, and Jesus himself declares that salvation is “of the Jews” in John 4:22. Thus, the Fourth Gospel cannot be considered anti-Jewish, and is obviously not anti-Semitic. Rather, John is radically Jewish, arguing for the heart of Judaism as revealed in Scripture, the witness of the baptizer, and the words and works of Jesus as the Jewish Messiah-Christ. As Henry Cadbury said in one of his classes at Harvard, it might take us 500 years to get the interpretation of this biblical text right, but we’re going to start today.


Critical Fallacy #11: “Johannine Sectarianism Versus Johannine Cosmopolitanism”


Following the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, dualism ceased to be thought of as non-Jewish and Hellenic. Rather, parallels between Johannine dualism and the “Treatise of the Two Spirits” (1QS 3.13-14:26) in the Community Rule abound. Such dichotomies as light versus darkness, life versus death, and good versus evil show that dualism was rife within contemporary Judaism, and this applies to the ethos of Qumranic and Johannine communities alike. Further, given the acrimonious relations with “the world” in the Gospel and Epistles of John, it might seem that Johannine Christianity was sectarian, like Qumran, which would account for some of its rigidity. Wayne Meeks advocated such an inference, and John Ashton, in noting similarities between the Johannine and Qumranic writings, believed that the evangelist himself must have been a member of Qumran. Its sectarian ethos, in Ashton’s view, was “in his bones.” This is one reason that “the Johannine community,” as envisioned by Raymond Brown, might have been the smaller “left behind” group, following the departure of Johannine secessionists (1 John 2:18-25).[30]

These views, however, are contradicted by the facts of the texts and contemporary literature. If indeed the unanimous second-century locating of Johannine Christianity was in Anatolia, Paul’s bringing of the gospel to Ephesus and Asia Minor two decades earlier would have involved converts to the Jesus movement among Jewish and Gentile populations, alike. This is also borne out in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. The Letters of Ignatius to churches in the region (ca. 90-110 CE) also describe tensions with Judaizers and Docetists within the context of the adversarial Roman imperial cult (Ignatius himself was martyred in Rome ca. 115 CE). Likewise, the correspondence between Pliny and Trajan (ca. 110 CE) referenced non-Jewish believers, who were expected to demonstrate public emperor laud, lest they be punished or even killed. Thus, Jesus adherents in Asia Minor are described universally as including combinations of Jews and Gentiles, and some Jesus adherents might have worshiped in the local synagogue, or in First Day house churches, or both.[31]

Therefore, Johannine Christianity—or better put, Johannine Jesus adherents, which included Jewish and Gentile believers within various gradations of religious inclination—would have been less sectarian than local Jews worshiping in synagogue-only settings. And, the straddling of Jewish and Gentile matters of faith and practice is primarily what caused the tensions within the movement. Point: tensions between Jewish communities and believers in Jesus in Diaspora settings did not disappear after the ministries of Paul and Peter had ceased. They continued into the following decades, and even centuries, and this is clearly evident in the admonitions against loving the world in the Johannine Epistles. Flawed is the assumption that the second antichristic threat was Gnostic; all Gnostics were Docetists, but not all Docetists were Gnostics.

While visiting adversaries might have carried Johannine themes into the development of later Gnostic Christianity, simply denying the humanity of Jesus does not make one a Marcionite, a Valentinian, or even a Cerinthian. Rather, the refusal to accept a suffering Jesus was due to the existential implications. If Jesus did not suffer, neither need his followers do the same. Thus, the problematic teachings of later visiting ministers pejoratively labeled “Antichrists” by the Johannine Elder in 1 John 4:1-3 and 2 John 7 probably had to do with cheap grace and easy discipleship. As Gentile believers in Jesus, they were likely the sort of people who distorted the teachings of Paul on grace through faith—not Jewish works or customs of the Law—as referenced by 2 Peter 3:14-16 and Jude 4-16. Thus, the main problem with their teaching was not Christology; it was ethics. They advocated assimilation with culture, rejecting normative Jewish standards of faith and practice, which was problematic to the Johannine Jewish leadership, and others, of course.

These Gentile-Jewish tensions within the cosmopolitan Johannine situation are reflected by the following facts. (a) First, the death-producing sin referenced in 1 John 5:16-17 is clearly a reference to the final injunction to stay away from idols (v. 21). The Romans required venerating Domitian’s statue, on pain of punishment or death, requiring people to reference him as “Lord and God” (Dio, Roman History 67.4:7. Thus, the confession of Thomas in John 20:28 (“My Lord and my God!” See also Rev 4:11) would have clearly been understood as a direct challenge to the imperial cult. The injunctions to “love not the world” in 1 John 2:7-17 are not references to staying away from Judaism; they rebuke participation in pagan festivities, such as the Artemis cult and Aphrodite worship, as well as the imperial cult, which the Hellenistic ministers might not have condemned. Remember, Paul had earlier taught liberty of conscience regarding the eating of meat offered to idols, yet he also advocated concern for “the weaker brethren,” who might have been drawn into idolatry as a result of believers’ liberties (1 Cor 8:1-13).

(b) A second fact is that the reference to making God a liar in 1 John 1:5-10, if related to 5:21, can be taken as a direct reference to the first two Commandments—have no other gods before you, and do not worship graven images (Ex 20:1-6). The Elder calls for obedience to God’s Commandments (1 John 2:3-6) and belief in Jesus as the Christ (3:21-24). God’s Commandments are not burdensome, but keeping them involves the faith that overcomes the world (1 John 5:1-5). This leads then to an “old commandment” that has been heard from the beginning (John 13:34-35), which is to love one another (1 John 2:7-11; 4:7-21). Thus, the commandment of Jesus to love one another is taken to build on the first two of the original Ten Commandments. It also builds on the two greatest commandments of Jesus (love God; love neighbor, Mark 12:29-31) but emphasizing also the importance of loving one another and not offending community members—especially Jewish ones—with idolatrous and syncretizing assimilations. The offense of participating in the imperial cult and in other pagan practices would also have been affront to local synagogue members, and such is also likely what precipitated the splitting off of Jewish community members (1 John 2:18-25) back into the synagogue. John’s high Christology would have been problematic, but syncretistic assimilation may have been far more of an offense for Jewish family and friends.

(c) Third, while the main thrust of the false teachers might not have been a docetizing Christology, that became a means of testing whether their teachings were fitting or not. Again, if traveling Gentile ministers would have been teaching salvation by grace through faith—not requiring strict abstinence from pagan worship and religious festivals—the Johannine leadership would have emphasized faithfulness to Jewish standards of faith and practice, including the cost of discipleship. If Jesus suffered, his followers must be willing to do the same. At this, adherrents to Hellenistic elevated Christology would likely have been leveraged a nonsuffering Jesus as a defense of assimilation. Jesus did not suffer; he was divine! This is why the Elder (and the eyewitness behind John 19:34-35) emphasized the testimony of the water and the blood (1 John 5:6-8). The eyewitness beheld the humanity of Jesus, not his divinity. Put even more pointedly in the gospel narrative, the bread given by Jesus is his flesh on the cross; and, unless one is willing to ingest his flesh and blood suffering and death—the martyrological way of the cross—one has no hope of being raised up on the last day (John 6:51-58).[32] The content is parallel to the baptismal and eucharistic references in Mark 10:38-39.

Given that there was not just one single, small, fledgling Johannine community (versus Brown), and given the fact that the Johannine sector of early Christianity involved multiple communities and house churches throughout Asia Minor (cf. Rev 2-3), there is no way that they could have seen themselves as sectarian. Rather, they were less sectarian than their parent Judaism, and it is precisely because they were seeking to maintain a third-generation Jesus-adherent ethos within a cosmopolitan setting that they experienced secessions, divisions, and the threat of compromising ministers. In that sense, the final word of 1 John 5:21 is also the first word of the entire circular. “Little children” (and, I’ve been getting at this indirectly and in a number of ways already), “stay away from idols!


Critical Fallacy #12: “John: The Spiritualized Gospel Versus John: The Mundane Gospel”


A final fallacy of critical scholars and readers that deserves to be buried once and for all is the overdone dichotomizing of history and theology. Good points: objectively verified reporting is more historically plausible than subjectively slanted embellishments, and supranatural claims are more historically problematic than cause-and-effect accounts. This doesn’t mean, though, that the presence of theological interest in reporting the work of a religious figure implies ahistoricity or historical insufficiency. That would be like saying that politically interested historians should not be trusted when covering political figures, or that a literary aficionado would be unworthy as a narrator of a poet’s or playwright’s life, or that no philosopher could be trusted to write a history of a philosopher’s influence. Balderdash! It is only the subjective inference of significance that make an event seem historic and worth reporting. There is no such thing as non-subjective historicity. The questions are whether the importance of a reported event transcends the invested interests of the reporter, and whether the account is balanced, fair, and plausible, which would of course be bolstered (though not necessarily required) if corroborated by independent attestation.[33]

Therefore, the skeptical disparaging of John’s historicity due to its theological thrust is well taken, but such must also be evaluated critically. On this score, the two dichotomies of David F. Strauss deserve critical reconsideration.[34] The mere presence of theological interest does not imply ahistoricity categorically, and thus, the preference of the Synoptics over John is also problematic. After all, the Synoptics also reflect theological investments. Further, given the fact that Matthew and Luke build upon Mark, while also corroborating much of Mark’s presentation with their own traditions, the overall choice is between Mark and John—the Bi-Optic Gospels.[35] Thus, if John is familiar with at least Mark, its echoes, departures, and additions deserve evaluation accordingly. In critical appraisal, some Synoptic accounts will emerge as more historically plausible than John’s (Jesus’ teaching in parables about the Kingdom, exorcisms, dining with sinners, etc.), and vice versa (John’s chronology, multiple visits to Jerusalem, presentation of the relation between Jesus and the baptizer, engagements with religious leaders over Sabbath healings, etc.). Thus, the simplistic dehistoricization of John and de-Johannification of Jesus by Strauss and his followers is critically flawed from day one.[36]

Then again, if the Gospel of John were totally theological, with no mundane or historically grounded content, that would be telling, but such is not the case. John possesses more topographical and archaeologically verified content than all the gospels combined—canonical and otherwise.[37] And, John’s empiricism is an empirical fact. All five senses are mentioned in John’s report. This is why, fallaciously assuming the so-called early death of John, yet also convinced of John’s independence from the Synoptics (followed by Moody Smith), Bultmann argued that the Johannine narrative had to have been built upon alternative historical sources (the Sēmeia Source and the Passion Source, among others), and why Barrett and the Leuven School argued that John at least reflects an expansion upon Mark and the Synoptics.[38] Note that in both cases, John’s theological thrust and distinctive features contributed to their judgments—however it may have transpired—that the Johannine narrative possesses little or no historical content on its own. Thus, imagined theories of John’s derivative and ahistorical origin were concocted, based upon a number of critically flawed inferences to begin with.

Conversely, C. H. Dodd, Rudolf Schnackenburg, Raymond Brown, Barnabas Lindars, Moody Smith, Craig Keener, Marianne Meye Thompson and many others have argued for seeing John’s tradition as an independent tradition—parallel to the Synoptics without being dependent on them—conveying an alternative history of Jesus. Nonetheless, McGiffert’s 1890 mistranslation of Clement of Alexandria’s dictum (ca. 200 CE, reported by Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. 6.14.5-7), that John wrote a spiritual gospel after the Synoptic “facts” had been recorded, corrupted scholarly thinking. The word “facts,” however, is inaccurate and misleading. The Greek word there is somatika (bodily things), so the contrast made by Clement (a full century after John’s finalization) is between body and spirit, not between facts and theologization. Assuming John’s hyper-spiritualization, numerous speculative interpretations of John’s distinctive material have been advanced as reflecting the evangelist’s theological expansions upon details in the narrative. Thus, historical studies were able to proceed without interference from John’s content, assuming there is nothing factual in John, only theologized story.

Along these lines, several facts regarding John’s mundane narrative require a critical rejection of the dehistoricization of John and the de-Johannification of Jesus.[39] Yes, John is theological, but not solely, and perhaps not even pervasively.

(a) First, John’s extensive mundane referentiality reflects grounded, first-hand knowledge of Palestine, including Galilee, Samaria, Judea, and Jerusalem. Such spatial features include:

  • John’s ministry is beyond the Jordan (1:28; 3:26; 10:40)
  • going “down” to Capernaum (2:12)
  • going “up” to Jerusalem (2:13; 5:1; 11:55)
  • the waters of Aenon near Salim are known (3:23)
  • having to go through Samaria between Galilee and Jerusalem (4:4)
  • the disciples having rowed 25 or 30 stadia—halfway across the lake (6:19)
  • the feeding is on the other side of the sea (6:1)
  • boats come from Tiberias to the other side of the lake and then to Capernaum (6:22-24)
  • Bethany being 15 stadia from Jerusalem (11:18)
  • Jesus visits Ephraim near the wilderness (11:54)
  • the Kidron gulch was crossed by on the way to the garden (18:1)
  • an unused tomb is offered to Jesus (19:41)
  • the boat is 200 stadia from shore (21:8)

(b) Second, like Mark, but unlike Matthew and Luke, John translates Hebrew and Aramaic terms and explain Jewish customs for Hellenistic audiences:

  • Rabbi is translated as “teacher” (1:37)
  • Messias is translated as Anointed One, or “Christ” (1:41)
  • Kēphas is translated as rock, or “Peter” (1:42)
  • Siloam is translated as “sent” (9:7)
  • Golgotha is translated as “place of the skull” (19:17)
  • Rabbouni is translated as “master” (20:17)


  • the Jewish Passover was near (2:13; 6:4; 11:55)
  • the wedding featured stone water jars used for Jewish purification (2:6)
  • drinking vessels were not shared between Jews and Samaritans (4:9)
  • Sabbath expectations and regulations are referenced (5:1-18; 7:22-23; 9:16; 19:31)
  • Jewish festivals of Tabernacles and Dedication and the “day of preparation” are mentioned (7:2; 10:22; 19:14, 42)
  • the season of the Dedication Festival is stipulated as winter (10:22)
  • Jewish burial customs are noted (11:17-38; 19:38-42)

(c) Personal knowledge of people and whence they hail is referenced in John:

  • Bethsaida is the home of Philip, Andrew, and Peter (1:44; 12:20-21)
  • Cana is the home of Nathanael (21:2)
  • Kerioth is whence Judas (son of Simon) hails, in Judea (6:71; 12:4; 13:2)
  • Bethany is the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (11:1, 18; 12:1)
  • Magdala is the home of Mary (19:25-26; 20:1, 18)
  • Arimathea is whence Joseph hails (19:38)
  • Roman names for places are also used alongside Galilean ones (Galilee is called “Tiberias,” 6:1; 21:1)

(d) A number of archaeological discoveries over the last several decades have corroborated John’s grounded account of Jesus and his ministry:

  • the Transjordan baptismal site of John (1:28; 3:26; 11:40) has been found at Wadi al-Kharrar
  • stone jars used for purification are found only in Palestine (2:6), and several large houses (where a wedding may have been held) are found in Cana
  • the five porticoes at the Pool of Bethzatha are accounted for by there being two pools, with a divider in between (5:2)
  • a second Pool of Siloam (9:7) was discovered in 2004, as a purification pool, explaining Jesus commanding the formerly blind man to wash in it
  • the courtyard of the high priest (18:15) is referenced, cohering with Jerusalem excavations
  • the stone pavement and Pilate’s Praetorium (19:13) are referenced knowingly in John, including Gabbatha as the Aramaic name for the site
  • Pilate’s stone, discovered at Herod’s palace at Caesarea Maritima, shows a grounded record his connection to the region
  • the crucifixion of Jesus near the city (19:20; cf. Heb 13:12) coheres with research on the site
  • the spike through the heelbone of Jehohanan, a Jerusalem victim of Roman crucifixion ca. 70 CE, bolsters John’s presentation of nails being used on Jesus (20:25) as well as the breaking of bones of some crucifixion victims (19:31)
  • rolled away stones cohere with typical burial customs in Palestine (11:39; 20:1)

The significance of these distinctive, mundane features in John is that most of them serve little or no theological or symbolizing function (although “Siloam” is translated as “sent” in 9:7).[40] Further, they are not referenced in the Synoptics or other known contemporary sources, so accounting for their presence on the basis of literary borrowing falls flat factually. Thus, allowing no form of Johannine first-hand familiarity is implausible. Even more telling is the striking contrast between John’s account and second-century apocryphal gospel narratives. None of them conveys anything close to the level of John’s grounded verisimilitude. Likewise, neither do the Synoptics, although Mark is closest to John in referencing Aramaic and Hebrew terms and some other grounded features. Therefore, Johannine verisimilitude echoing known topographical, anthropological, sociological, and archaeological realia commands a renewed consideration of John’s contribution as a historical resource in Jesus research. If all worthy resources are to be consulted in Jesus research, the Fourth Gospel cannot reasonably be excluded.[41] Problematic, yes; excluded, no.

But, what of John’s high-christological content? Does it not diminish John’s overall presentation of Jesus and his ministry? No, but it does qualify it. (a) First, Jesus speaks in the language of the evangelist; thus, it likely reflects the paraphrastic memory and ministry of the Fourth Evangelist.[42] (b) Second, Jesus “knowing” the thoughts of others and how things would turn out is clearly interpretive; and yet, it need not be considered implausible. It reflects the respect of a follower Jesus, who believed in the Master, and while it may suggest embellishment, it also reflects being impressed with the charismatic power of Jesus inherent to the movement.[43] (c) Third, Scripture connections were clearly added over the years, and that may have affected the presentation of things, but such does not imply historicity.[44] (d) Finally, the Logos-hymn was not the first stroke of the evangelist’s quill. In fact, it is far more like 1 John 1:1-3 (and thus, likely the composition of the Elder) than the rest of the prose narrative of the Gospel.[45]

Therefore, like the Prologue of 1 John, the Prologue of the Gospel likely originated as a response to the evangelist’s narrating the ministry of Jesus, reflecting a confessional affirmation on the part of Johannine believers. Its transcendent perspective therefore need not detract from the mundane character of the narrative overall. Rather, John’s original account likely began with 1:6-8, 15, 19ff., serving as a grounded augmentation of Mark. The origin of John’s account of Jesus and his ministry, in relation to Mark, was not a theologization of the first biography of Jesus; it was an augmentive, complementary, and modestly corrective autonomous account, deserving consideration as the second biography of Jesus, which was then filled out later by the compiler, adding the later ministry of the evangelist.

That being the case, a Fourth Quest for Jesus requires new criteria for determining historicity.[46] The first three Quests of Jesus were designed to exclude John, but this is critically inadequate if all valid sources are to be employed. Rather than reductionistic and parsimonious criteria, inclusive and more adequate criteria for determining historicity include the following:[47]

  • Corroborative impression versus multiple attestation
  • Primitivity versus dissimilarity of embarrassment
  • Critical realism versus dogmatic naturalism or dogmatic supranaturalism
  • Open coherence versus closed portraiture

Therefore, when Jesus is researched in bi-optic perspective, three sets of building blocks are worth embracing. Note that in some instances, John provides an independent corroboration of the Synoptic account. Note also that on some matters, either the Synoptics or John is more robust in terms of historical plausibility, so such factors deserve individuated consideration within historical-critical Jesus research.[48]

(a) Johannine Independent Corroborations of Synoptic Presentations of Jesus:

  • Jesus’ association with John the Baptist and the beginning of his public ministry
  • Jesus’ calling of disciples as a corporate venture
  • A “Revolt in the Desert” (the feeding of the multitude)?
  • Jesus as a healer; healing on the Sabbath
  • Jesus’ sense of prophetic agency from the Father and religious resistance
  • Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple
  • The culmination of Jesus’ ministry—his arrest, trials and death in Jerusalem
  • Attestations to appearances, and the beginning of the Jesus movement

(b) Synoptic Contributions to Historical Jesus Studies:

  • Jesus’ teachings about the Kingdom of God in parables and in short, pithy sayings
  • Messianic subtlety and secrecy and the hiddenness of the Kingdom
  • Jesus’ healing and exorcizing ministries
  • Jesus’ sending out his disciples to further the work of the Kingdom
  • Jesus’ dining with “sinners” and provocations toward renewal
  • Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple as a pointed challenge to restricting redemptive access
  • Jesus’ teaching on the heart of the Law—the love of God and humanity
  • Jesus’ apocalyptic mission

C. Johannine Contributions to Historical Jesus Studies:

  • Jesus’ simultaneous ministry alongside John the baptizer and the prolific availability of purifying power
  • Jesus’ Temple cleansing as an inaugural prophetic sign
  • Jesus’ travel to and from Jerusalem, and his multi-year ministry
  • Early events in the public ministry of Jesus
  • Favorable receptions in Galilee among Samaritans, women, and Gentiles
  • Jesus’ Judean ministry and archaeological realism
  • The Last Supper as a common meal and its proper dating
  • Jesus’ teaching about the way of the Spirit and the reign of truth

In the light of this analysis, taking seriously the potential contribution of the Fourth Gospel to researching the Jesus of Nazareth is essential for the endeavor to be a worthy one, critically. While the Gospel of John contributed significantly to early Christian theological developments,[49] this does not mean that John’s genre or primary interest was theological. It clearly had historical interests, as well, and a good bit of the evangelist’s design was to set forth an autonomous Jesus tradition with its own set of apologetic, pastoral, and theological interests.[50] Therefore, when conducing Jesus research, including John among the Gospels, the best procedure is: (a) begin with Mark, (b) proceed with noting Matthean and Lukan uses of and additions to Mark, and (c) noting also non-Markan double tradition in Matthew and Luke (either reflecting a Q tradition, or perhaps Luke’s access to Matthew); followed by (a) noting John’s similarities to and differences from Mark, (b) noting ways that Luke likely incorporated some of John’s distinctive material in his additions to Mark, and (c) noting ways that common subjects addressed by Matthew and John (and perhaps Q and John) reflect sets of dialectical engagements within early Christianity regarding ministry and leadership in the early church.




In the light of critical research, facts, and findings over the last half century and more, the Johannine tradition—nearly a quarter of the New Testament—is not:

  • theology over and against history
  • a step-sister to the Synoptics historiographically
  • the work of a single author
  • dependent upon alien sources or the Synoptics
  • a disordered and reconfigured amalgam
  • a redactor’s distortion
  • the work of a non-apostolic pretender
  • a product of Jewish-Johannine tensions alone
  • the internal musings of a single community
  • an anti-Jewish manifesto
  • a sectarian manual
  • nor a theologized flourish

Balderdash! The Johannine witness represents a self-standing Jesus tradition, developing over three phases spanning seven decades—originating in Palestine and finalized in Asia Minor—involving at least two editions of a gospel narrative, three epistles, and an apocalyptic circular that was likely traveled around the region in the last decade of the first century CE.

As an alternative memory of Jesus and his ministry, the early stages of the Johannine witness assume Markan familiarity among its audiences, adding five distinctive signs of Jesus (those not in Mark), demonstrating Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah/Christ (20:30-31), while also setting a few things straight in terms of chronology, nuance, and presentation. Dozens of Luke’s departures from Mark in Johannine directions reflect Luke’s at least partial access to Johannine material, and Matthean-Johannine links reflect dialectical engagements over church leadership and its developments in the post-70 CE Jesus movement.

Rather than a single community crisis, the Johannine situation reflects no fewer than seven crises over seven decades, which were largely sequential but somewhat overlapping. Thus, anti-Jewish and sectarian inferences of Johannine Christianity are totally flawed. There is no evidence of an alien tradition upon which the Johannine narrative was constructed as a history-and-theology amalgam. The story of Jesus of Nazareth is presented as offending the religious elite in Judea over Sabbath infractions and claiming Mosaic authorization, and such tensions carried over into local debates within a Diaspora situation and among local synagogue leaders. However, these were not the only tensions faced within the Johannine situation. With the raising of imperial cult requirements under Domitian (81-96 CE), and with Gentile believers unwilling to abandon civic and folkloric customs, this also offended Jewish sensibilities. The assimilative teachings of the invasionist Johannine “Antichrists” likely precipitated Jewish disciplinary measures, resulting in Johannine defections from Jewish communities of faith, followed by proselytization back into the synagogue. Thus, the offense of Johannine Jesus-adherents among local Jewish family and friends was likely its perceived liberalism and universalism within a cosmopolitan environment. If the light of Christ is available to all (1:9), such theological openness would pose a scandal on several levels.

As Raymond Brown introduced his book on the community of the Beloved Disciple in 1979, he noted that he would be happy if scholars accepted at least 60% of his inferences. I certainly found more than that amount compelling, and I would say that my overall theory of John’s Dialogical Autonomy is closest to Brown’s by and large.[51] Still, with Brown, I would be happy if contemporary readers and scholars would agree with the same percentage of this new interdisciplinary Johannine paradigm, or perhaps a bit more. What I would encourage, if particular elements in this overview seem compelling or not, is for interested readers to inquire further, taking in the books and essays cited below. Having edited or written 18 Johannine books and having written over 100 published Johannine essays, I’m aware that the volume of my own contributions might pose a challenge for the reader. Nonetheless, noting the particulars of an argument is essential for its fair evaluation, and such will ever be the standard for respectable inquiry.

For now, however, regarding the dozen Johannine views engaged above: Balderdash! Each of these views addresses salient elements among the Johannine riddles, but more plausible ways forward abound.


Select Bibliography and Works Cited by Paul N. Anderson


Anderson, Paul N. 1996/1997/2010. The Christology of the Fourth Gospel: Its Unity and Disunity in the Light of John 6, WUNT 2.78. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck (3rd edition with new Introduction and Epilogue, Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2010).

Anderson, Paul N. 1997. “The Sitz im Leben of the Johannine Bread of Life Discourse and Its Evolving Context.” Pages 1-59 in Critical Readings of John 6. Edited by R. Alan Culpepper. BIS 22. Leiden: Brill.

Anderson, Paul N. 1999. “The Having-Sent-Me Father—Aspects of Agency, Encounter, and Irony in the Johannine Father-Son Relationship.” Semeia 85, edited by Adele Reinhartz: 33-57.

Anderson, Paul N. 1999a. Response to five reviews (by Robert Kysar, Sandra Schneiders, Alan Culpepper, Graham Stanton and Alan Padgett) of The Christology of the Fourth Gospel; Its Unity and Disunity in the Light of John 6, in Review of Biblical Literature 1: 38-72.

Anderson, Paul N. 2000. “On Jesus: Quests for Historicity, and the History of Recent Quests.”  Quaker Religious Thought Vol. 29:4, #94: 5-39.

Anderson, Paul N. 2000a. Navigating the Living Waters of the Gospel of John–On Wading with Children and Swimming with Elephants. Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Pamphlet #352.

Anderson, Paul N. 2001. “Mark and John—the Bi-Optic Gospels.” Pages 175-88 in Jesus in Johannine Tradition. Edited by Robert T. Fortna and Tom Thatcher. Louisville: Westminster John Knox.

Anderson, Paul N. 2002. “Jesus Matters: A Response to Professors Borg, Powell, and Kinkel.” Quaker Religious Thought Vol. 30:4, #98: 43-54.

Anderson, Paul N. 2002a. “Interfluential, Formative, and Dialectical—A Theory of John’s Relation to the Synoptics.” Pages 19-58 in Für und Wider die Priorität des Johannesevangeliums, Theologische Texte und Studien 9, Peter Hofrichter, ed. Hildesheim, Zürich, and New York: Georg Olms Verlag.

Anderson, Paul N. 2004. “The Cognitive Origins of John’s Christological Unity and Disunity” (Vol. 3, pp. 127-49); “A Way Forward in the Scientific Investigation of Gospel Traditions: Cognitive-Critical Analysis (introduction and reception report)” (Vol. 4, pp. 247-76; by Paul Anderson, J. Harold Ellens, and James Fowler). Psychology and the Bible; A New Way to Read the Scriptures, edited by J. Harold Ellens (4 Volumes). Westport/London: Praeger Publishers.

Anderson, Paul N. 2006. “Aspects of Historicity in John: Implications for Archaeological and Jesus Studies.” Pages 587-618 in Jesus and Archaeology. Edited by James H. Charlesworth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Anderson, Paul. 2006a. The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus: Modern Foundations Reconsidered, LNTS 321. London: T&T Clark.

Anderson, Paul N. 2006b. “Gradations of Symbolization in the Johannine Passion Narrative: Control Measures for Theologizing Speculation Gone Awry.” Pages 157-94 in Imagery in the Gospel of John, WUNT 2.200. Edited by Jörg Frey, Jan G. van der Watt, and Ruben Zimmermann. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Anderson, Paul N. 2007. “Why This Study Is Needed, and Why It Is Needed Now.” Pages 13-73 in John, Jesus, and History, Volume 1: Critical Appraisals of Critical Views. SBLSymS 44. Edited by Anderson, Just, and Thatcher. Atlanta: SBL Press.

Anderson, Paul N. 2007a. “On Guessing Points and Naming Stars—The Epistemological Origins of Johns Christological Tensions.” Pages 311-45 in The Gospel of St. John and Christian Theology. Edited by Richard Bauckham and Carl Mosser. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Anderson, Paul N. 2007b. “Aspects of Interfluentiality between John and the Synoptics: John 18-19 as a Case Study.” Pages 711-28 in Gilbert Van Belle, editor, The Death of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. Colloquium Biblicum Lovaniense LIV, 2005, Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, 200. Leuven: University Press / Peeters.

Anderson, Paul N. 2007c. “‘You Have the Words of Eternal Life!’ Is Peter Presented as Returning the Keys of the Kingdom to Jesus in John 6:68?” Neotestamentica 41:1: 6-41.

Anderson, Paul N. 2007d. “Bakhtin’s Dialogism and the Corrective Rhetoric of the Johannine Misunderstanding Dialogue: Exposing Seven Crises in the Johannine Situation.” Pages 133-59 in Bakhtin and Genre Theory in Biblical Studies; Semeia Studies 63. Edited by Roland Boer (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2007).

Anderson, Paul N. 2007e. “Antichristic Errors—Flawed Interpretations Regarding the Johannine Antichrists.” Pages 196-216 in Text and Community, Essay in Commemoration of Bruce M. Metzger, Vol. 1. J. Harold Ellens, ed. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press.

Anderson, Paul N. 2007f. “Errors of the Antichrists—Proselytizing Schism and Assimilative Teaching within the Johannine Situation.” Pages 217-40 in Text and Community, Essay in Commemoration of Bruce M. Metzger, Vol. 1. J. Harold Ellens, ed. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press.

Anderson, Paul N. 2008. “From One Dialogue to Another—Johannine Polyvalence from Origins to Receptions.” Pages 93-119 in Anatomies of Narrative Criticism; The Past, Present, and Future of the Fourth Gospel as Literature. Stephen Moore and Tom Thatcher, eds. Resources in Biblical Studies 55. Atlanta/Leiden: SBL Press/E. J. Brill.

Anderson, Paul N. 2009. “Aspects of History in the Fourth Gospel.” Pages 379-86 in John, Jesus, and History, Volume 2: Aspects of Historicity in the Fourth Gospel. Edited by Anderson, Just, and Thatcher. SBLSymS 49 / ECL 1. Atlanta: SBL Press.

Anderson, Paul N. 2009a. “Revelation 17:1-14,” Interpretation (Jan. 2009): 60-61.

Anderson, Paul N. 2010. Acts 4:19-20—An Overlooked First-Century Clue to Johannine Authorship and Luke’s Dependence upon the Johannine Tradition.” The Bible and Interpretation (September 2010, http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/acts357920.shtml).

Anderson, Paul N. 2010a. “A New Introduction and Outlines.” Pages xxxv-lxxxix in Paul N. Anderson, The Christology of the Fourth Gospel: Its Unity and Disunity in the Light of John 6 (3rd edn.). Eugene: Cascade Books.

Anderson, Paul N. 2010b. “A Fourth Quest for Jesus—So What, and How So?” The Bible and Interpretation (July 2010, online, http://www.bibleinterp.com/opeds/fourth357921.shtml).

Anderson, Paul N. 2011. The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John. Minneapolis: Fortress.

Anderson, Paul N. 2011a. “The Origin and Development of the Johannine Egō Eimi Sayings in Cognitive-Critical Perspective.” JSHJ 9: 139-206.

Anderson, Paul N. 2011b. “John and Qumran: Discovery and Interpretation over Sixty Years.” Pages 15-50 in John, Qumran, and the Dead Sea Scrolls: Sixty Years of Discovery and Debate, Early Judaism and its Literature 32; ed. by Mary Coloe PVBM and Tom Thatcher. Atlanta: SBL Press.

Anderson, Paul N. 2013. “Mark, John, and Answerability: Interfluentiality and Dialectic between the Second and Fourth Gospels.” Liber Annuus 63: 197-245.

Anderson, Paul N. 2013a. “Incidents Dispersed in the Synoptics and Cohering in John: Dodd, Brown, and Historicity.” Pages 176-202 in Engaging with C. H. Dodd on the Gospel of John: Sixty Years of Tradition and Interpretation. Edited by Tom Thatcher and Catrin Williams. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Anderson, Paul N. 2013b. “The Jesus of History, the Christ of Faith, and the Gospel of John.” Pages 63-81 in The Gospels: History and Christology; the Search of Joseph Ratzinger—Benedict XVI, Vol. 2.

Anderson, Paul N. 2014. From Crisis to Christ: A Contextual Introduction to the New Testament. Nashville: Abingdon.

Anderson, Paul N. 2014a. “The Community that Raymond Brown Left Behind—Reflections on the Dialectical Johannine Situation.” Pages 47-93 in Paul N. Anderson and R. Alan Culpepper, eds. Communities in Dispute: Current Scholarship on the Johannine Epistles, Early Christianity and its Literature 13 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2014) Also published in The Bible and Interpretation (September 2013, http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2013/09/and378030.shtml.

Anderson, Paul N. 2015. “On Seamless Robes and Leftover Fragments—A Theory of Johannine Composition.” Pages 169-218 in Structure, Composition, and Authorship of Johns Gospel. Edited by Stanley E. Porter and Hughson Ong; The Origins of Johns Gospel, Vol. 2. Leiden: Brill.

Anderson, Paul N. 2015a. “Foreword.” Pages xi-xxiii in John’s Gospel in New Perspective: Christology and the Realities of Roman Power, by Richard J. Cassidy. Johannine Monograph Series 3. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.

Anderson, Paul N. 2016. “The Johannine Logos-Hymn: A Cross-Cultural Celebration of Gods Creative-Redemptive Work.” Pages 219-242 in Creation Stories in Dialogue: The Bible, Science, and Folk Traditions (Radboud Prestige Lecture Series by Alan Culpepper). Edited by R. Alan Culpepper and Jan van der Watt. BINS 139. Leiden: Brill.

Anderson, Paul N. 2017. “Anti-Semitism and Religious Violence as Flawed Interpretations of the Gospel of John.” Pages 265-311 in John and Judaism: A Contested Relationship in Context. Edited by R. Alan Culpepper and Paul N. Anderson. SBLRBS 87. Atlanta: SBL Press (a longer edition published on The Bible and Interpretation, October 2017, https://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2017/10/and418017.shtml).

Anderson, Paul N. 2018. “Jesus, the Eschatological Prophet in the Fourth Gospel: A Case Study in Johns Dialectical Tensions.” Pages 271-99 in Reading the Gospel of Johns Christology as Jewish Messianism: Royal, Prophetic, and Divine Messiahs. Edited by Ben Reynolds and Gabriele Boccaccini. Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity 106. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Anderson, Paul N. 2018a. “Juan. El Evangelio Terrenal y la Arqueología.” Arqueología e Historia 18: 39-45.

Anderson, Paul N. 2018b. “The Son of Zebedee and the Fourth Gospel: Some Clues on John’s Authorship and the State of the Johannine Question.” Pages 17-82 in El Evangelio de Juan. Origen, Contenido, Perspectivas—The Gospel of John. Origin, Content, Perspectives, Colección Teología Hoy No. 80. Edited by Bernardo Estrada and Luis Guillermo Sarasa. Bogota: Editorial Pontificia Universidad Javeriana / Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas.

Anderson, Paul N. 2018c. “The Johannine Riddles and their Place in the Development of Trinitarian Theology.” Pages 84-108 in The Bible and Early Trinitarian Theology, edited by Christopher A. Beeley and Mark E. Weedman. Studies in Early Christianity 5. Washington DC: Catholic University Press.

Anderson, Paul N. 2019. “The John, Jesus, and History Project and a Fourth Quest for Jesus.” Pages 222-68 in Jesus, Skepticism, and the Problem of History: Criteria and Context in the Study of Christian Origins. Edited by Darrell Bock and Ed Komoszewski. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Anderson, Paul N. 2019a. “Why the Gospel of John is Fundamental to Jesus Research.” Pages 7-46 and 264-69 in The Gospel of John in Historical Inquiry: The Third Princeton-Prague Symposium on Jesus Research, Princeton 2016. JCT 26. Edited by James H. Charlesworth with Jolyon and G. R. Pruszinski, in consultation with Petr Pokorný and Jan Roskovec. London: Bloomsbury.

Anderson, Paul N. 2020. “On Biblical Forgeries and Imagined Communities—A Critical Analysis of recent Criticism.” The Bible and Interpretation (April 2020): https://bibleinterp.arizona.edu/articles/biblical-forgeries-and-imagined-communities-critical-analysis-recent-criticism.

Anderson, Paul N. 2020a. “John: The Mundane Gospel and Its Archaeology-Related Features.” The Bible and Interpretation (July 2020: https://bibleinterp.arizona.edu/articles/john-mundane-gospel-and-its-archaeology-related-features).

Anderson, Paul N., ed. 2021. Revelation and the Fourth Gospel: And Eight Johannine Essays. Johannine Monograph Series 9. Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2021.

Anderson, Paul N., ed. 2021. Archaeology, John, and Jesus: What Recent Discoveries Tell Us About Jesus From the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (forthcoming).

Anderson, Paul N. 2022. Jesus in Johannine Perspective: A Fourth Quest for Jesus. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans (forthcoming).

Anderson, Paul N., Felix Just, S.J., and Tom Thatcher, eds. 2007. John, Jesus, and History, Volume 1: Critical Appraisals of Critical Views, SBLSymS 44. Atlanta: SBL Press.

Anderson, Paul N., Felix Just, S.J., and Tom Thatcher, eds. 2009. John, Jesus, and History, Volume 2: Aspects of Historicity in the Fourth Gospel. SBLSymS 49 / ECL 1. Atlanta: SBL Press.

Anderson, Paul N. and R. Alan Culpepper, eds. 2014. Communities in Dispute: Current Scholarship on the Johannine Epistles. ECL 13. Atlanta: SBL Press.

Anderson, Paul N. and Jaime Clark-Soles (2015) 2016. “Glimpses of Jesus Through the Johannine Lens—An Introduction and Overview of John, Jesus, and History, Vol. 3.” Pages 1-25 in Anderson et al, John, Jesus, and History, Volume 3. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016 (also published in The Bible and Interpretation, December 2015: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/2015/12/and398021.shtml).

Anderson, Paul N., Felix Just, S.J., and Tom Thatcher, eds. 2016. John, Jesus, and History, Volume 3: Glimpses of Jesus Through the Johannine Lens. ECL 18. Atlanta: SBL Press.


[2] For my overall Johannine Bibliography, of which two thirds of the essays are critically significant (excluding reviews and general audience essays), see: https://www.academia.edu/28983118/Johannine_Bibliography_2021_docx.

[3] Spelled out in a number of places, my overall Johannine theory of John’s dialogical autonomy is outlined in The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel, following critical and constructive overviews of a dozen theories of John’s development and composition: Anderson 2011, 125-55.

[4] See the overview of disciplinary approaches to biblical studies: Anderson 2014, 1-17.

[5] See my description of “second criticality” in my contextual introduction to the New Testament: Anderson 2014, x-xii.

[6] See my overview of three dozen perplexing riddles—theological, historical, literary—as well as a critical evaluation of a dozen leading theories of Johannine composition: Anderson 2011, 25-124. Most of these issues originated from my Glasgow thesis on John’s Christology (1989, Anderson 1996/1997/2010), followed up in my second monograph on the Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus: Anderson, 2006a.

[7] See my analysis of these issues in Anderson 2018b.

[8] Each of Parker’s 21 bases for excluding the son of Zebedee as the Beloved Disciple is weighed critically in that same essay, and none of them carries any weight critically, ibid.

[9] See my analysis of the citation of the Johannine Elder’s critique of Mark (Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. 3.39), which poses three Johannine critiques of Mark: it is a fair treatment but in the wrong order; it is not really a historical representation, but a Petrine paraphrase of Jesus and his ministry crafted for his audience; Mark’s duplications should be excused, because he was simply wanting to not leave anything out: Anderson 2013b.

Thus, if non-duplication was a Johannine concern, the absence of Markan material in John’s first edition plausibly suggests familiarity with Mark—not wanting to duplicate Mark—not John’s non-apostolicity.

[10] On this score, “Was the Fourth Evangelist a Quaker?” (cf. Anderson 1991). Of course, he wasn’t; that’s anachronistic. Nonetheless, with Harnack, Käsemann, Barrett, Agourides, and others, we do seem to have a Johannine challenge to hierarchical developments in the late first-century Ignatian situation. See also Anderson 1997 and 2007c.

[11] Thus, the programmatic exclusion of John from Jesus research by the Jesus Seminar and the first three quests for Jesus is better termed “the Modern Quest for Jesus” rather than the “Historical Quest for Jesus” (cf. my engagements with Marcus Borg and Gary Kinkel along these lines: Anderson 2000 and 2002).

[12] See, for instance, Bultmann’s inferencing of John’s dependence upon alien sources, as referenced by Schmittals in his introduction to Bultmann’s commentary. It is also upon this basis that Hengel’s inference that the Fourth Evangelist must have been John the Elder, not John the Apostle. Anderson 2018b.

[13] This discovery was first published in Appendix VIII in The Christology of the Fourth Gospel (Anderson, 1996/1997/2010, 274-77), and a fuller analysis was published 14 years later (Anderson, 2010).

[14] On John’s composition, see Anderson 2015; on John’s authorship, see Anderson 2018b.

[15] See my analysis of the Johannine Community that Raymond Brown left behind: Anderson 2014a.

[16] One of Martyn’s interests was to distance his inference of the Johannine-Jewish tensions from the clearly Hellenistic docetist threats of 1 John 4:1-3 and 2 John 7. Here Ockham’s razor shaved too close, as sometimes the simplest explanation, in the light of the situational complexities, includes several realities, not just one.

[17] See my extensive analyses of evidence for multiple sources underlying and overlaying the Johannine narrative (Bultmann), the posing of a Signs Gospel by Fortna, and the inference of alien sources by other scholars in The Christology of the Fourth Gospel (Anderson 1996/1997/2010, 33-166). There is absolutely no evidence of non-Johannine material as the originative source of the Johannine witness, and Robert Kysar agreed with my critique in his review at the Orlando meetings, declaring the changing of his mind (Anderson 1999a). Nor is there any evidence of John’s literary dependence on Mark or the Synoptics. While P. Gardner-Smith identified 4 ways John 6 differed from Mark (and thus would not have depended on Mark for its content), my analysis identified a total of 45 similarities-and-differences between John 6 and Mark 6 and 8 (24 with Mark 6; 21 with Mark 8) demonstrating compellingly a non-derivative relationship (Anderson 1996/1997/2010, 90-109, 170-93).

[18] See my analyses of the dialectical Johannine situation (emerging from Christology, Anderson 1996/1997/2010, 221-51): Anderson 1997, 1999, 2007d, 2007e, 2007f.

[19] Ibid. See also my introduction to Richard Cassidy’s monograph on the imperial cult underlying the Johannine writings: Anderson 2015a.

[20] Anderson 1997, 1999, 2007d. See also Anderson 2007c (and 1996/1997/2010, 221-51), where Peter’s confession in John 6 can be seen as returning the keys of the kingdom to Jesus, where they belonged all along.

[21] On this matter, the questioning of a single community need not imply the absence of communities—as pseudepigraphical forgeries—within the Johannine situation. Describing the evangelist as “the Beloved Disciple” and introducing himself as “the Elder” do not constitute forgeries (Revelation 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8 could be, but such a claim must also be argued compellingly on the basis of evidence, of which there is little or none), and the questioning of Brown inference of a single Johannine community does not prove that there were none in Asia Minor in the late first century. Cf. a refutation of Hugo Mendez along these lines in Anderson 2020a.

[22] See my treatments of Mark and John as the Bi-Optic Gospels (Anderson 2001, 2013, 2015); Matthew and Luke built upon Mark; John built around Mark.

[23] B.F. Streeter argued nearly a century ago that the Gospel of John, finalized last, involved a theological expansion upon the Synoptic Gospels, thus diminishing its autonomous and historical character. Indeed, the textual facts show that inter-traditional engagements were more complex than that, as there is clearly Johannine influence within each of the Synoptic Gospels. Anderson 2002a.

[24] Peter’s confession in John 6:68-69 (using the same language as the demoniac in Mark 1:24) is also slammed by Jesus, alleging that “one of you is the devil” (v. 70—of course, clarified the compiler, he can’t have meant Peter; he must have meant Judas—v. 71). Invective here does not mean that John is anti-disciples (Anderson 1996/1997/2010, 221-51), nor does its presence in John 8 indicate anti-Judaism (Anderson 2017).

[25] Such is the view of Jonathan Bernier (BINS 122), who demonstrates the likelihood of a Jerusalem-based rejection of Nazarene revolutionaries from Judean synagogues for fear of Roman retaliation. And, David Instone-Brewer notes pre-70 CE uses of the birkat, including its use in Qumran (JTS 54, 2003: 25-55). 

[26] Pliny references some who claimed that they had pulled out of the Jesus movement (and were thus innocent of the crime of bearing the name) and had worshiped Caesar for two decades—clearly going back to the era of Domitian. They denied being Christians; they simply met with them before dawn on a certain day of the week, ate common food, and sang a hymn to Christ as though he were god (quasi deo; Letters 10.96-97). Anderson 2015a.

[27] For the presentation of Jesus as the Eschatological Jewish Prophet, see Anderson 2018; for the fulfilled word proving the authentic Messiahship of Jesus in John, see Anderson 1999 and 2000a.

[28] Anderson 1996/1997/2010, 21.

[29] Anderson 2017.

[30] For my overview of the secondary literature on John and Qumran, see Anderson 2011b.

[31] Anderson 2015a.

[32] See my analysis of John 6:51-58 in Anderson 1996/1997/2010. See also Anderson 1997, 2007c, 2007d, 2007e, 2007f, 2009a.

[33] On critically adequate understandings of historicity, see Anderson 2006a, 174-90.

[34] See my critical assessment of Strauss: Anderson 2013b.

[35] On John and Mark, the Bi-Optic Gospels, see Anderson 2001, 2002a, 2007b, 2013.

[36] Anderson 2007, 2013b.

[37] Anderson 2006, 2020a.

[38] See my analyses of the composition theories of Bultmann, Schnackenburg, Barrett, Brown, Lindars, and others: Anderson 1996/1997/2010, 33-69.

[39] Anderson 2006, 2020a.

[40] On gradations of symbolization in John 18-19, see Anderson 2006b.

[41] Anderson 2019a. Such is the impetus of the John, Jesus, and History Project, wherein 264 papers were recruited over a 15-year period. Three central volumes include: Anderson, Just, and Thatcher, eds., 2007, 2009, 2016.

[42] From a cognitive-critical standpoint, note how the evangelist crafts the language of Jesus—even as corroborated in the Synoptics—into his own Christocentric appropriation of the Johannine I-Am sayings: Anderson, 2004, 2011a.

[43] Anderson, 1996/1997/2010a, 137-66.

[44] Note the explicit references to Scripture fulfillment in John, as well as the implicit (typological) fulfillments of Scripture, both as developed features of the Johannine narrative: Anderson 2011, 83-85.

[45] Three verses of the Johannine Logos-hymn (John 1:1-5, 9-13, 14 and 16-18) were likely added by the compiler (John the Elder) to the final edition of the Gospel (ca. 100 CE) as an experientially engaging introduction to the gospel narrative. Anderson 2007a, 2015, 2016.

[46] While the periodization of Jesus research is somewhat problematic, the fact is that the 19th century Quest (punctuated by Albert Schweitzer), followed by the New Quest (1954 and following, named by James Robinson) and the Third Quest (coined by N. T. Wright in 1982) all have one thing in common: the exclusion or marginalization of the Gospel of John within the inquiry. Thus, it is not only the new set of inclusive inquiries beginning in the new millennium that reflects the emergence of the Fourth Quest, but it is also the proposing of new, inclusive criteria for determining historicity, which separates this critical inquiry from previous chapters. Anderson 2000, 2002, 2006, 2018b, 2019, 2019a; Anderson, Just, and Thatcher 2007, 2009, 2016.

[47] These new criteria for determining historicity are spelled out in Anderson and Clark-Soles (2015) 2016.

[48] These two-dozen points are developed further in Anderson 2006, 127-73.

[49] See, for instance, the contribution of John’s theological riddles to three centuries or more of theological and trinitarian developments: Anderson 2018c.

[50] John’s first edition thus was apologetic, leading hearers and readers to believe in Jesus as the Christ (20:30-31), and John’s later material emphasizes abiding in Christ and his community, reflecting pastoral concern (chs. 6, 15-17, 21). Finally, the Johannine Logos-hymn sets forth the cosmic, communal, and personal stage for embracing the account that follows, emphasizing the flesh and glory of the only begotten Son. Anderson 2015, 2016.

[51] Anderson 2011, 125-55.

Article Comments

Submitted by Peter Herz on Fri, 04/30/2021 - 15:57


Thank you for your article. I'll have to re-read it, and look up some of your books.
Re John as anti-Jewish, it occurred to me some time ago that such as understanding neglects Jesus' and his movement as prophetic. The self-critical spirit of the West came not from the Greek philosophers, but from the prophets of Israel; and it is surely the case that Jesus and his movement saw themselves as standing in that prophetic tradition. John speaks from within the Jewish ethnos. Perhaps the critical scholarship msses this because the critics were raised in the post-enlightenment tradition of self-congratulation rather than prophetic critique and lamentation. John, like Josephus and others uses "the Jews" not as outsiders ,but as a synonym for "the people" (given the context in which the Gospel is set). Ladt of all, can John's Jesus be seen as the father of "anti-Semitism" (apparently coined by the 19th century Wilhelm Marr) when the Samaritan woman and Pilate both identify him as a Jew, and when Jesus tells the formr "salvation is of the Jews" (Jn. 4:22--how chauvinistic and non-inclusive!)?

Submitted by Richard Faussette on Thu, 05/06/2021 - 11:06


"And chant grew into human flesh through the sacrifice."
From Meditations Through the Rig Veda by Antonio T. de Nicolas, Chapter: the hymn and the sacrifice, page 62

Yes. It's that old. It's in our oldest religious text and comes from a time before there was writing.
What was chanted grew into human flesh through the self-sacrifice.

So the Word became flesh; and He came to dwell among us. (and he made the self-sacrifice / rf)
John 1:14

And they, teachers of lies and SEERS of falsehood,
have schemed against me a devilish scheme,
to exchange the LAW ENGRAVED ON MY HEART by Thee,
for the smooth things (which they speak) to Thy people.
and they withhold from the thirsty the drink of Knowledge,
and assuage their thirst with vinegar...
DSS Thanksgiving Hymn # 12

This self-sacrifice, this circumcision, writing, engraving of the Law on the heart, this setting of God’s Law in your understanding, in your mind, and on the tablet of your memory, is the original pastoral theology of the book of Genesis and the amazing self-discipline to which Jesus Christ “Returned.”

Jesus' argument with the tannaim (developing rabbinical Judaism) was over the retirement of Jewish "seers" who memorized and internalized the Torah, a group of them studied at Qumran and sang Thanksgiving Hymn #12. Jesus was a "seer." His life and death were his demonstrated resistance to this change from "seers" who memorized and internalized the Torah to "portable Torah scrolls" permitting many lesser qualified men to become tannaim / rabbis because there were only a few who had completed the many years of training and self-sacrifice to internalize the Torah.

John's gospel is not anti-Semitic. He is always referring to the word become flesh, which is logically superior to the written Torah, because it is a living Torah = the Word became flesh and dwell amongst us.
It was a sectarian conflict within Judaism over the role of the "seers" in the face of new technology. By definition, not anti-Semitism.
When the letter to the Hebrews compares Jesus favorably to the written Torah, the author is not denigrating the written Torah, he is saying that the circumcision of the heart / The LAW ENGRAVED ON YOUR HEART is "completely profitable." logion 53 GofT

I became firmly convinced of this when reading that Jesus (the person) AND Melchizedek (Jesus' role) were BOTH deprecated in the Talmud.

Jesus in the Talmud by Peter Schafer (the person)

Steven M. Donnelly, The Divine Rites and Rejection of the Priest-King: Melchizedek on the Margins of Early Jewish and Christian
Interpretation, A thesis, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 2014, Dept. of Comparative Religion (the role)

Submitted by Richard Faussette on Tue, 05/11/2021 - 06:16


There is nothing new under the sun, though there are old things that still need clarification and support. I found the following quote yesterday. It is from a review of Daniel Boyarin's 'Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity.' The review is by Emmanouela Grypeou of the University of Cambridge.

"Daniel Boyarin is Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture and rhetoric at the University of California Berkeley. He has been, among other things, an NEH Fellow (twice), a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem, a holder of the Berlin Prize at the American Academy in Berlin and a Ford Foundation Fellow. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 2006."

From the review:

The development of rabbinic Judaism and orthodox Christianity as two distinct systems was founded in great part on what Boyarin calls – following Isaac Heinemann – the “Shattering of the Logos.” In rabbinic literature, the Oral Torah acquired a normative authority, while dissensus became the norm. The textual representation of rabbinic theology was based on the principle that “any verse can have multiple meanings.” Accordingly, the postulated monovocality of Christian orthodoxy in Late Antiquity was opposed to the multivalence of rabbinic dialectics as a “representation of the polynoia of the divine Word and the divine mind” (p. 191). Boyarin argues that this was a development within Judaism and “not a transcendental essence” as it is usually seen...
[end snip]

So, the characterization of Christianity as a mystery religion, not sprung from Judaism at all should be abandoned as should the position that NT texts are anti-Semitic because they value the Law written on the heart over the Law written on tablets and scrolls.

The chant became flesh through the sacrifice.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

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