On April 19, 2016, I posted some thoughts I had while studying the Gospel of John. I have now reached the twenty-second chapter, which begins “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdelene came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb; so she went running to Simon Peter and to the other disciple (the one whom Jesus loved) and told them, “they took the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put him.”

I have difficulty with the whole account of the resurrection. My earlier post, “Demythologizing Jesus,” referred to finding an explanation for the changing of water to wine. I find it more difficult to find a plausible, non-miraculous explanation for the last two chapters of the gospel. I’ve put aside studying it for a while. Liberal Protestants often see the resurrection as the disciples having a feeling of the presence of Jesus, and this may be the best we can do.

For many in my own Quaker tradition, Jesus is the one who speaks to them as they sit in silent worship. For other Quakers, the inner voice may be thought of as God, the Holy Spirit, the Earth, or a nameless mystery. The epistles of Saint Paul refer to prophesying, which was speaking out in worship in the same manner as Quakers do today. No one is obligated to think of something said in Meeting to be the Word of God, but if others recognize the truth of what is said, it becomes a truth for the meeting.

When the disciples first felt the presence of Jesus, one of them would speak as he was moved, giving what he felt was Jesus’ message. Others would feel that truth of what he said, and the message would come of all of them. As the accounts of the evangelist were translated into Greek and repeated by early Christians, the reality of Jesus’ appearance was no longer thought of as feeling but rather as sight.

The words of prophesy transformed the disciples from discouraged mourners to valiant apostles. This transformation is the miracle of the resurrection. I will be studying the messages which the disciples received, looking to understand what brought on the faith that transformed the disciples. I’ll report on that in this blog.

Demythologizing Jesus

April 19, 2016

Dictionary.com defines “demythologize” as follows: “to divest of mythological or legendary attributes or forms, as in order to permit clearer appraisal and under-standing.” In reading the Gospel of John I find that I can have a clearer understanding of what are purported to be miracles if I ask what the probably truth is behind the miracles.

An example of this is found in the first ten verses if the second chapter of John’s Gospel:

  1. And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:
  2. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.
  3. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.
  4. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
  5. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.
  6. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.
  7. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.
  8. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.
  9. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,
  10. And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth. Tradition tells us that his father was a carpenter, and probably the family didn’t have much money. It’s quite possible that at times the family didn’t have wine to bless and drink on the Sabbath; so Jesus, being a practical kind of guy, would take some water and bless it and the family would drink it as their Sabbath wine.

Wine was not only something used in Sabbath devotions, it was an important part of the Jewish marriage ritual, as it is today. So when Mary reported that they had no wine, she was saying that the ceremony couldn’t be performed. But Jesus was reluctant to do in public what he had done at home. He said he was not ready to assume the role of a spiritual leader.

Mary ignored this and simply told the servants to do what Jesus said, so Jesus had them fill six waterpots, blessed the water, and told those assembled to use this water as wine for their ceremony.

Here we have a compelling picture of Jesus as a man who identified with the poor. Not being able to afford wine was no barrier to God’s grace. His own family’s poverty had opened him up to the truth that it was the spirit and not an ancient ritual that brought blessing to everyone.

Who Wrote the Gospel of John?

November 21, 2014

Recently, I have been studying The Gospel of John using a two volume translation with extensive commentary by Raymond Brown – part of The Anchor Yale Bible. I see John as a man who had a profound relationship not only with the historical Jesus, but with the inward Christ, the spirit of God within himself. It is this Spirit that I sense as I read the Gospel – and this is in full harmony with my own Quaker tradition, which looks not to scripture as authority, but to the Spirit through which Scripture was created.

Brown, according to the notes on the book’s jacket, is “internationally regarded as the dean of New Testament scholars.” As a scholar, he is surely familiar with William of Occam, a fourteenth century philosopher best known for the principle of “Occam’s razor” which states “that the simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable.” Brown doesn’t follow this principle. He postulates an original author, who probably was John, but then thinks that the gospel went through several revisions and finally was placed in its present form by an anonymous editor. He has examined the ancient documents relating to this Gospel far more thoroughly than I. Still, I feel drawn to stating my own theory.

There are only a few references to John in Acts – and in one he is described as “unlearned and ignorant” (Acts 4:13). Like Peter, John was a fishermen when Jesus called him to be an apostles. A scribe was needed to write down what he said. Furthermore, Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, while the New Testament as we have it, was written in Greek.

It would appear that John did not travel widely, but may have settled in Ephesus or another community in the Near East There he ministered to a flock that was probably mostly Jewish believers in Jesus. He would recount episodes in Jesus life that would be orally translated into the Greek. There is a reference in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel, “Now among those who had come up to worship at the feast there were some Greeks.” (John 12:20) We know that in Egypt, Judaism enjoyed some popularity, and its scriptures were translated into Greek about a century before the birth of Jesus. Philo of Alexandria was a Jewish contemporary of Jesus heavily influenced by Greek thought, and reference to “the Word,” in the first chapter of the Gospel, shows an influence of Hellenistic Judaism that has parallels in the work of Philo. The Greeks mentioned here may have become members of John’s flock.

John’s community came to be in strong conflict with the established Jewish institutions. Those who would follow Jesus were expelled from the synagogue and disowned by their own people. Because of this, the emphasis on the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees became a conflict between him and “the Jews.” That conflict was probably in full swing at the time John died.

After his death – maybe immediately after, maybe after a number of years – members of his flock came together, and had a scribe write down the words that they had heard repeated many times. Those who told the words of John didn’t have the sense of time and place that John himself might have had, just as parishioners in a church who had never had a college class in the Bible would know the stories of the life of Jesus but not know the order. That several speakers were involved may account for stylistic variations in the passages. They also may have added some commentary to their accounts. An example of this: in the twenty-first chapter, versus 20-22 recount an incident between Peter and Jesus where John was present:

Then Peter turned around and noticed that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following …. Seeing him, Peter was prompted to ask Jesus, “But Lord, what about him?”

“Suppose I would like him to remain until I come,” Jesus replied, “how does that concern you? Your concern is to follow me.”

Verse 23 appears to be a comment by those who were putting the Gospel into written form:

This is how the word got around among all the brothers that this disciple was not going to die. As a matter of fact, Jesus never told him that he was not going to die; all he said was: “Suppose I would like him to remain until I come.”

The death of John must have had a profoundly negative impact on those expecting an immanent return of Jesus, so this passage seems to have been added for “damage control.”

As I continue to study the Gospel of John, I expect I’ll have other insights to write about in this blog.

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