Ten Tidbits: John

Prior post on gospels, with link to series intro.

1. Of the four canonical gospels, John was probably written last, in stages, over the end of the first century and beginning decades of the second century. By that time, Jesus still had not returned, as it was expected that he would soon (1 John 2:18, 28), and the Beloved Disciple appears to have died when chapter 21 was written/added in the final stage (John 21:23; compare D&C 7).

2. Scholars associated with the German school of the history of religions theorized that the figure of Jesus as descending and ascending redeemer was based on a pre-Christian eastern pagan gnostic myth which these scholars reconstructed/invented primarily from late Mandaean and Manichean literature. Just as the theory was more or less discredited, among the Nag Hammadi codices ‘stupendous parallels’ to the Johannine prologue were found in an early Christian(ized?) text entitled First-thought in Three Forms, which describes the descent of the Word and seems to polemicize against Johannine Christianity. Debate continues (or has stymied) as to the relationship between these texts and another text from the same codices, the so-called Hymn of Forethought, recounting the descents and ascents of a redeemer figure, at the end of the long manuscripts of the Apocryphon of John.

3. Even if the people who wrote the fourth gospel did not know the synoptic gospels in their written form, they knew at least some similar traditions, which they seem to react to and rewrite in places.

4. Aside from Simon Peter’s patronymic, the only John mentioned in the text is John the Baptist (compare D&C 93:4-18 and this post), who is portrayed as fully recognizing Jesus, unlike in the synoptics. In Mark, the Baptist does not seem to recognize Jesus at his baptism or thereafter. In Matthew and Luke’s common source (Q), after the baptism he specifically asks Jesus whether he is the one (Matt 11:2-6 // Luke 7:18-23). This, despite the fact that in Matthew, according to the apologetic explanation for Jesus’ baptism, the Baptist had already recognized him (Matt 3:14-15; compare 2 Nephi 31:5-7); and despite the fact that in Luke, according to the infancy narrative there, the Baptist or at least his mother had recognized Jesus even before he was born (Luke 1:39-44). In John, not only is the Baptist sent by God (1:6-8), like the divine Word, but lesser than it, he recognizes Jesus at the baptism (1:29-34), contributes the very first disciples to Jesus’ movement, namely Andrew and perhaps the Beloved Disciple himself (1:35-37), and the Baptist defers to Jesus when his remaining disciples become envious of Jesus’ success (3:26-30).

5. Unlike in the synoptics, Jesus does not institute the sacrament on the evening of the betrayal in chapter 13. There is no (new) covenant/testament here. If the bread and wine are alluded to, it is in chapter 6.

6. Unlike in the synoptics, Jesus does not eat the Passover meal with the disciples on the evening of the betrayal either. Passover does not begin on Thursday. It begins on Friday, the day of the crucifixion in chapter 19, with Jesus as the l/Lamb, and to make a theological point.

7. The new commandment to love one another (14:34) does not necessarily support the idea, however pleasant, that Jesus loved and accepted everybody, and that his disciples did and should do the same. In chapter 8, the Johannine Jesus also tells people who disagree with him that they are worldly (8:23) diabolical (8:44) liars (8:55). And at least one member of the rather sectarian Johannine community says (1 John 2:15): “Do not love the world or the things in the world ….” Far from loving and accepting everyone, he naturally claims that he and his constituents are children of God like Jesus, as opposed to non/ex-community members who are children of the devil (1 John 3:1-10). The same or another member of the Johannine community warns against admitting and welcoming teachers with beliefs about Jesus that are different from his own (2 John 10-11), “for to welcome is to participate in the evil deeds of such a person.”

8. And yet, as cosmic savior, the Johannine Jesus atones for the sin of the world (1:29); God loves the world and sends Jesus to save it (3:16-17); Jesus dies for all the children of God, not only the Jewish nation (11:52) or the limited ‘many,’ for whom the blood of the (new) covenant/testament is poured out in Mark and Matthew.

9. But, unlike in the synoptics, Jesus does not suffer in the garden in chapter 18. This is apparently not a matter of the Johannine record being silent but a reaction to and rewriting of tradition. Whereas Jesus asks for the cup to be removed from him in his prayer to the Father in the synoptics, he does not pray at all in any moment of weakness in chapter 18. Instead, telling Peter to put his sword away, he says (18:11), “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” And earlier, in chapter 12, though troubled, he says (12:27), “And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour” (compare D&C 19:18). In fact the portrayal of Jesus in general is surprisingly, some have said even naively, not human.

10. As a final tidbit, unlike in the synoptics, Jesus carries the cross by himself in chapter 19. There is no question of him needing help from any Simon of Cyrene, or question of the divine entity that possessed him at his baptism now leaving its host, as some (later) Christians believed.

Ten [More] Tidbits from the Sermon on the Mount

1. Although this discourse opens by naming the disciples as the audience, at its conclusion the crowds are said to be listening and “astounded at his teaching” (7:28).

2. The first antithesis (5:21-26), against anger, requires disciples to maintain their relationships despite (or through) their frustrations and displeasure with others.

3. The KJV reads (5:22) “..whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…” The bolded phrase, which suggests that anger “with cause” has a place in the life of a disciple, is a textual variant and is not found in modern translations.

4. The second antithesis (5:27-30) requires disciples to guard and protect the marriage relationships of others. The word translated as “woman” in 5:28 may also be understood as “wife”: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at [a married woman] with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

5. The injunction against looking “on a woman/wife with lust” is probably best understood as prohibiting active planning or scheming to act on sexual attraction rather than a passive appreciation of another person’s appearance or other qualities.

6. The third antithesis (5:31-32) requires disciples to maintain their own marriage relationships except on condition of “unchastity.” The Greek word behind “unchastity” means broadly any form of unlawful sexual intercourse.

7. The fourth antithesis defines the integrity required of a disciple in all relationships. The key element (5:37),” Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’” can be read as “let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’” The ancient world regarded oaths as potent guarantees of fulfillment but the disciple needs no such crutch.

8. The fifth antithesis (5:38-42) requires disciples to remain open to establishing or repairing a relationships otherwise damaged through insult, litigation, etc., etc. The disciple must replace a response in kind with a generous reaction.

9. The sixth antithesis (5:43-47) establishes God’s benevolence as the paradigm for a disciple’s relationships.

10. One fruitful way to understand the command to be perfect (5:48) is to read it through the sixth antithesis (5:43-47), that is, as a commandment to extend love and mercy as impartially as God does.

Ten Tidbits About the Ten Commandments

1. Although commonly referred to as the “Ten Commandments,” in the Hebrew Bible itself they are not so called; rather, they are referred to as the “ten words/sayings” (Exod 34:28; Deut 4:13; 10:4). Thus a better designation perhaps is that derived from the ancient Greek translation of the Bible, known as the Septuagint (LXX), from the 3rd or 2ndcentury B.C.E: the “Decalogue.”  The word “Decalogue” comes into English via French and Old Latin from the Greek, deka meaning “ten,” and logos (pl. logoi), meaning “word, saying.” There are at least two versions of the Decalogue in the Hebrew Bible: Exod 20:2–17 and Deut 5:6–21. Continue reading “Ten Tidbits About the Ten Commandments”

Ten Tidbits about the Sermon on the Mount

1. The Sermon on the Mount only appears in Matthew’s gospel. In Luke, the sermon is given not on a mountain, but a “level place” (6:17), and is frequently referred to as the Sermon on the Plain. These two sermons share some material, but diverge greatly. Attempts at harmonization argue that Matthew and Luke record two different sermons, but most believe that the authors are working from shared sayings that have been put together in different ways. Most of what is in Matthew’s Sermon is found scattered about in different narrative contexts in Luke. Mark and John contain almost none of what is in Matthew’s sermon.
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Ten Tidbits About Prophets and Prophecy in the Old Testament

1. The biblical, or so-called “canonical,” prophets–those whom we tend to consider the prophets–in many instances (e.g., Amos, Isaiah, Micah, and Hosea) are not called prophets (Hebrew nabi’) in the superscriptions to their books, or elsewhere, and indeed probably would have rejected this label for themselves. For instance, in a third person biographical narrative about Amos, he rejects the Bethel priest Amaziah’s suggestion that he is a nabi’ (See Amos 7:10-17; cf. Hosea 9:7; Micah 3). This is because… Continue reading “Ten Tidbits About Prophets and Prophecy in the Old Testament”

Ten Tidbits about the Gospels

Four years ago we launched a “Ten Tidbits” Series that sought to introduce some basic information about scriptural texts assumed by scholars, but not necessarily well known by Latter-day Saints. The goal was to introduce these points as the results of close readings that could lead to a more accurate understanding of the scriptural texts for LDS readers. I’d like to continue that series with a more focused look not at entire books of scripture, but smaller portions. Some of these points may be widely known, and some may not be.

1. The four gospels cannot be harmonized. They contain different ideas about who Jesus is, narrative orders of his actions, content of his teachings, meaning of his miracles, etc. None of the gospel writers imagined that their text would have been read alongside any other, and in some cases directly contradict the others. In fact, the reasons that Matthew and Luke rewrote Mark was because they wanted to replace it.
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Ten Tidbits about the Old Testament

This post joins the previous ones of similar title on the New Testament and Book of Mormon.

I make no claims that these are the biggest nor the most tantalizing, but here are ten tidbits about the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) that receive little attention (in my experience) in Church settings. I’m intentionally leaving out the better known biggies, such as JEDP, two or three Isaiahs, or the fact that “history” in the modern sense wasn’t an operative category for the authors of the Hebrew Bible. These topics are more widely discussed elsewhere and don’t lend themselves easily to one-line smackdowns. Here’s the list, with thanks to my fellow bloggers for corrections and additions, esp Moggett, Nitsav, and HP:

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Ten Tidbits about the NT

A friend of mine recently asked me to sketch out ten “provocative” axioms about the New Testament that Latter-day Saints might find surprising given the assumptions that they typically bring to the text. This exercise is by no means unique to the New Testament. Similar lists could be produced about the OT, other religions, LDS church history, etc. However, since this year we are studying the NT in Sunday School, it might be a useful time to reflect theologically on the significance of some of these axioms, and how these changes to our assumptions might help us to better understand ourselves and the writings we consider sacred. Thus, in no particular order, I present the following ten axioms:
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