Monday, May 3, 2021

What did John know about Matthew, Mark and Luke?

 Let's keep going in John's Gospel, but this week at the beginning and not at the end.

One of the great scholarly questions about John's Gospel is, 

What did John know about the other gospels?

Answers stretch from "maybe nothing at all" to "something, but not a lot, it would seem." That something, some think, could particularly come from knowledge of Mark's Gospel.

The reason for these answers is that 

1. there is s o much difference between John and Matthew/Mark/Luke (e.g. the teaching of Jesus in John is almost wholly different from teaching recorded by the other three); 

2. even where there is similarity between John and Matthew/Mark/Luke (some events, miracles, Passion and Resurrection Narratives), only a comparatively few words suggest knowledge by John of text of other gospels. 

Might he only have known of one or more of the other gospels through hearsay?

Yet John is, if nothing else, a very clever man. (For one example, relating to yesterday's Gospel, John 15;1-8, see Ian Paul's exegesis here.)

Could he have cleverly "covered his tracks", that is, known the other gospels well, yet taken another compositional path than one which betrays that knowledge?

Here is a hypothesis, based on John 1.

Knowing the other Gospels:

A. John takes Mark's "beginning of the gospel" (1:1), Matthew's genealogy (going back to Abraham, 1:1-16); and in John's Gospel, Abraham is important), and Luke's genealogy (going back to "Adam, son of God", 3:23-38) and pushes the concept of the beginning of Jesus Christ to pre-existence.

B. Matthew makes a particular point of Jesus being the fulfilment of the law and the prophets. In various ways, Mark and Luke do this also. In John 1:45 we read that Philip finds Nathanael and says to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." In that report there is a nod to the human patrilineage of Jesus through Joseph, something Matthew majors on (chapters 1-2).

C. The high point of Mark's Gospel, or, if you like, the central fulcrum on which the story Mark tells in his gospel is Peter's confession that Jesus is the Messiah/Christ (8:29-30). In Matthew's Gospel this confession of faith leads to Simon son of Jonah being nicknamed Peter/the rock (16:15-19). In John 1:41-42 this confession and naming sequence is set down by John. In verse 41 Simon's brother Andrew says to Simon, ' "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated the Anointed/Christ.' In verse 42 Andrew brings Simon to Jesus who promptly says, ' "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter/Rock)'.

D. The great theme of John's Gospel, the relationship between God the Father and the Son of God Jesus Christ is introduced in John 1:14-18. But this is a theme found in Matthew 11:25-27/Luke 10:21-22 - verses which could summarise John's Gospel, or be the catalyst for the composition of John's Gospel.

In other words, according to this hypothesis: John does know the other three gospels (but conceals this knowledge in terms of, say, direct citation) and makes those three gospels the starting point for his gospel. Within his first chapter John demonstrates that he starts from those three gospels but is going to move on from the stories they tell and the theological reflections they have offered their readers to dig deeper into the meaning of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.


19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Richard Bauckham says somewhere (in "The Gospel for all Christians", I think) that John 3.24 presupposes that John's audience knows about John the Baptist's imprisonment and fate, of which he relates nothing, so some knowledge of Mark 6.14-29 or similar is assumed. That collection of essays rejects the idea that particular gospels were written just for certain churches although that is the way we have got used to thinking of them, as if through a kind of mirror reading we could discern the character and issues of the so-called "Johannine" or "Matthean communities". Once again it comes down to datings of the gospels and how far and wide copies circulated in the empire.
That said, there is a lot about Jerusalem in John and some have found a purported Christian Essene influence in the work.

Martin

Father Ron said...

apropos of Martin's comment here. One has to take in the FACT that most writers 'about' the Scriptures are conditioned by their cultural and social context when trying to exegete - as were the original Writers themselves, of course. This hits home when you read today's announcement by The U.S. Episcopal Church, that one of its own theological writers of the past, is to be deposed from his eminence in TEC - because of the conditioned racism of his cultural background:

https://episcopalnewsservice.us14.list-manage.com/track/click?u=11af1a2c9761394bbd97cdb1a&id=5a9f431f4b&e=13178e960c

Father Ron said...

One cannot but wonder, from the evidence in John's Gospel, whether his insights were derived directly from the fact that; in considering himself to be "the disciple that Jesus loved"; John was more privy to the 'mind of Christ' than his fellow disciples? Would they, for instance. have had more personal times of intimate conversation than was possibile for he other disciples with Jesus? This could account for the more explicit teaching about the person of Jesus than was delivered by the writers of the synoptics.

Unknown said...

Why would St John set out to write another document like the synoptic gospels?

What would be lost if he didn't?

Could an alternate literary strategy explain the differences that we see between the Fourth Gospel and the others?

BW

Peter Carrell said...

Thank you for comments to date.

Yes, Mark is strongest contender to be the one gospel [should there have been only one, not all three] which John assumes his readers know.

I think John could have written in a manner which provided fewer differences to the Synoptics (e.g. placing the cleansing of the temple chronologically in a similar place to the Synoptics), We might then have wasted less scholarly energy on worrying about the differences!

Anonymous said...

Unless there were TWO "cleansings" of the temple ....
How do you know there weren't two events separated by three years? Notice that Mark 11.17 makes no reference to the words cited in Mark 14.58 on rebuilding the temple in three days "but not by hands" but this thought is expressed in John 2.19. What if Mark 14.58 reflects a garbled memory of three years ago and not four days?
Why should it be impossible that Jesus should do this twice? Did he give the "sermon on the mount" more than once? Mark makes no reference to Jesus visiting Jerusalem before chapter 11, but John has numerous visits over three years. The simplest solution is that John knew the traditional materials behing Mark as well as other information from the church in Jerusalem.

Martin

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Martin,
We do not know whether there were 1, or 2 (or even 3 - 1 for each visit to Jerusalem) temple cleansings, but if there were two, John could have helped the reader of Mark and John with a wee hint that there were two!

I am not convinced that work on the historicity of temple cleansing(s) is helped by talking about “garbled accounts”!

What we do know about John, e.g. looking at all the titles of Jesus built into John 1, is that John as a literary artist is prepared to construct elements of the story of Jesus in different ways to the Synoptics. On balance I think [with many commentators] that there was one cleansing, that it was a provocative action which likely occurred a few days out from Jesus’ arrest, but that John shifts its location within Jesus’ timeline-re-Jerusalem, for theological reasons.

Anonymous said...

My words were a "garbled memory", not "account", pointing out that there is no reference to these words in Mark 14.58 to the cleansing incident in ch. 11. The alternative is to say that John has "garbled the accounts" by dischronologizing the accounts (but why?), as you appear to believe, Peter.
You could equally say that John preserves the true order of events! Why say Mark is correct and John wrong?
Is this a reflection of the old prejudice against the historicity and reliability of John that became a commonplace in Gospel studies in the 19th century?
There is also a prejudice against harmonizations in many critical circles which stems, I think, from over-schematized and over-theoretical views about the origin of texts.
You ask why John didn't mention second cleansing if there were two. Well, John is certainly capable of omitting things in the Synoptic tradition as well - most prominently the bread and wine in the Last Supper. Why omit this and have foot washing instead?
Unlike the Synoptics, John depicts frequent visits to Jerusalem over three years and antagonism from religious leaders from the start. John gives a more historically comprehensible reason why the religious leaders from Jerusalem would want to get rid of Jesus than the impression we might get from the Synoptics.

Martin

Anonymous said...

Father Ron, you (or someone you know) may enjoy this free MOOC on Women's Spirituality in the Middle Ages--

https://www.coursera.org/learn/womens-spirituality

BW

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Martin
It is indeed possible that John has the chronology of the cleansing correct and the Synoptics do not. (Either way, I am sure that whatever the "memory" or handed down "account(s)" of the temple event or events, each of the gospel writers carefully weaves the incident into their narrative of how Jesus v Jewish leadership grows the confrontation which leads to his death).

John's Gospel is history and theology and some of the history is unknown from the Synoptics (even unknown by the Synoptic writers/the traditions they receive): likely because of a "Jerusalem connection".

I would always want to harmonize the gospel accounts as much as possible: there was but one Jesus, and the majority of each account is focused on a few years of his adult life, so harmonization is plausible.

But there does seem to be a difference between (say) the last supper: bread is broken, blessed and distributed (Mt Mk Lk) and feet are washed (Jn); both actions happened; Synoptics focus on one, John on the other; and the temple cleansing(s) because we can only harmonize via positing two cleansings, something neither the Synoptics nor John attest to.

Shawn said...

Hello all. In reference to BW's mention of medieval women's spirituality, I have recently finished reading Barbara Newman's book "Sister of Wisdom" about Hildegard of Bingen's spirituality of the Divine feminine, and am now part way through another of Newman's books, "God and the Goddesses" which deals with female metaphors for the Divine and other archetypes, such as Lady Poverty, in the imagination of medieval writers and artists. Both books are excellent and the latter in particular has proven to be an eye opener with regards to the sheer diversity and fecundity of the medieval religious imagination.

Anonymous said...

If John can relate a real tradition about the Last Supper (the footwashing) on which the Synoptics are silent, why can't he relate an accurate one about thd beginning of Jesus's public ministry on which the Synoptics are also silent? Surely the logical conclusion of the alternative view ("John is theologically driven, not historically") is that the foot washing incident is fictional and reflects the late practice of the so-called "Johannine community"? Why privilege this account but not an earlier "temple cleansing"?
I suspect one reason some commentators baulk at the idea of two temple cleansings is because they don't even like the idea of one! It sits ill with a popular, pacifist view of Jesus and seems unduly aggressive. Maybe that's how Mennonites picture it? I mean, can you imagine a stirrer like Dun Mihaka doing a whakapohane TWICE?
But "Jesus did many other things that were not written down" in this book (John 21.25)! Both Augustine and Aquinas among older writers thought there were two cleansings. Commentators in our day, like Blomberg, Carson, Morris, note six differences (at least) between the Synpoptic cleansing and John 2. Most interesting, I think, is the time reference in John 2.20, which probably places this incident about AD 27 (assuming from Josephus that temple rebuilding began in 19 BC).

Martin

Unknown said...

In this thread, I am most enjoying the juxtaposition of Richard Bauckham and Barbara Newman. What sense that makes to me and why will have to wait for another day. For now, my thanks to Martin and Shawn, and of course + Peter.

BW

Jean said...

It appears all ‘theories’ are possible and I do not have enough of an understanding of each to advocate the merit of one over the other.

I do find myself questioning why John would for theological reasons alter the timing of his accounting of the temple cleansing as it reads (in the English translation anyway) as if it follows on from the previous text. While it is common to both write and come across written work that mentions happenings out of chronological order, to illustrate a point or simply narrate a stream of consciousness, if this was the case then why the need to record the accounting as though it occurred at that time?

On the other hand the verses on cleansing the temple in the Synoptics and in John are incredibly similar - doves, merchant tables being turned over, money being tipped out. It does seem in the John’s Gospel that the majority of events told are different from those of the Synoptics making one wonder if he wrote to include what was important to know about Jesus’s life and teachings that did not seem to be known widely - weren’t included in other writings. To assume ones readers already know a certain amount of information is not uncommon either if you are writing for a particular audience and are aware of the resources or knowledge they already have. Why write how to turn on a computer 101 when it’s been adequately covered by others?

Interestingly if I have my information correct, John is the only Gospel with the accounting of the appearance of Jesus after his resurrection to the disciples while they were out fishing. This of course also parallels an earlier accounting of a very similar setting portrayed in the Synoptics. One curious differentiation being in the first accounting when Jesus instructed the men to try to catch more fish they caught so many the net broke, in John’s accounting later on when Jesus encouraged them to fish on the other side of the boat they again caught many fish but the nets did not break. Similar but different also.

Anonymous said...

Jean,
You make an important point and you have reminded me that, in the opinion of liberal-critical scholars of a previous generation, the miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5.1-11 and the account in John 21 are really "the same story", defracted across time and communities; in other words, the old Bultmannian form-critical theory that was so influential in the latter half of the 20th century. According to this theory, stories (and legends) about Jesus circulated orally in different places for 40-60 years before they were written down - and we know what happens to fishermen's tales!
In fact I remember many years ago a lecturer (himself educated as an evangelical) telling me that John 21 was "really" a dislocated and dischronlogised version of Luke 5.1-11. I didn't dispute that claim with him then as I had other fish to fry. :)
However, it strikes me that the Bultmannian form-critical theory could be the underlying reason why liberals reject the historicity of a temple cleansing at the start of Jesus's ministry and think John has disordered the event - just as they think John has disordered the tradition reported in Luke 5.1-11 and assigned it to the post-resurrection period. And this is exactly what is stated in the footnotes of The New American Bible (and was taught by liberal popularisers like William Barclay).
After all, it is impossible to think there could be TWO miraculous catches of fish, isn't it?
Just as it is impossible to think there could be TWO miraculous multiplicatons of loaves and fishes ...
/irony

Martin

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Martin and Jean,
Doublets are interesting and it is true that for some gospel scholars two dramatic tales of more or less the same thing can only be about one underlying event.

Clearly Jesus did do some things on more than one occasion, even on more than two occasions (healings, exorcisms, sermons, calming storms on Galilee, etc).

1. There is no intrinsic reason why there could not have been two cleansings (noting, e.g. feeding of the 5000 and feeding of the 4000; large fishing net in Luke 5 when Peter is called and large fishing net in John 21 when Peter is called again).

2. But doublets such as the two feedings, two fishings give indications of the significance of the second event (the four thousand relates to the mission spreading into Gentile territory; the second fishing net recalls the first fishing net story in the context of Peter needing to be called again to follow Jesus after the fiasco of his denial of Jesus).

I would like to see a stronger sense of the point of the “second” Temple cleansing before subscribing to their being two cleansings.

Anonymous said...

We need to distinguish between literary "doublets" - the same story told twice - and repetition of the act on another occasion. I don't see how your point 2 would work in the context of John's Gospel which doesn't describe an earlier miraculous catch of fish. From a four gospel approach, however, that would be interesting. Some have attempted something similar with the thesis of two temple cleansings, suggesting a change or intensification of Jesus's thinking about the temple over three years.
It is to Bultmann primarily that we owe the idea that John 21 is an embroidered version of the tradition recounted in Luke 5. Bultmann, along with the liberal tradition generally, took a low view of the historicity of John - as well as most of the miracles of the gospel.
John's account of the temple cleansing is ascribed to (probably) AD 26 or 27, acording to John 2.20. Do we take John's time indicators seriously or as fictional?

Martin

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Martin
I imagine you know that John raises at least one question about chronological fiction/reality through his dating of the crucifixion to the Day Before Passover rather than the Day of Passover [Synoptics].
I presume you also know and would want me to know that there are attempts to harmonise the discrepancy (e.g. via two different dates for Passover observed by different groups of Jews in those days).
I tend to think that only one date is historically correct.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you're very familiar with the lineaments of that debate, Peter! I have a friend who did his doctorate on first century calendars and indications from Qumran (on the thesis that the Jerusalem community had an Essene element in it). Ian Paul's Psephizo blog in England had an interesting discussion on this recently, with one contributor (following a Cambridge scholar, I think) arguing that the Last Supper was in fact on a Wednesday and the trials of Jesus before the Jewish authorities in daylight during the Thursday. In this way, it was argued, some of the difficulties of the conventional timing (too little time for all this, anomaly of night time trials against Jewish practice as known later, when did Pilate's wife have her dream?) are more easily resolved.
For myself, I don't know enough about Jewish calendars or how strictly they wee followed in that period to have much of an opinion on the subject. But it is good to be able to revisit old ideas about the Gospels and rethink some of them. Ian Paul has done a good job, for example, in geting people to rethink popular ideas about the Nativity, and I have been thinking a lot recently about how much Jesus may have used Greek in his teaching. One thing I am sure of is that pre-70 Judaism was more diverse than an older generation of scholarship appreciated. After 70, things got much stricter. Bultmann is long gone but his shadow is still around in some circles.

Martin