Is the Gospel of John History or Theology?

Gospel of John

Over the years, biblical scholars have challenged the historicity of the canonical gospels on a number of fronts.  But, no gospel has taken it on the chin like the Gospel of John.  Ever since Clement of Alexandria’s famous statement that the gospel of John was “a spiritual Gospel” (recorded in Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.14.7) critics have suggested that John has very little to do with history and has much more to do with theology.

The reasons for such critiques of John are not difficult to find.  John writes the story of Jesus in a lengthy, drawn-out style, (quite different than the pithy language of the Synoptics), he includes unique events (e.g., the man born blind, raising Lazarus from the dead), and, most of all, he highlights the divinity and pre-existence of Jesus (“In the beginning was the Word”).

If you want to know about the Jesus of history, the gospel of John, we are told, is not the place to go.

But, is it really true that John is more theology than history?  In 2007, Richard Bauckham published an article in NTS entitled, “Historiographical Characteristics of the Gospel of John,” which answers precisely this question.  In my opinion, Bauckham’s article has not received the attention it deserves.

In his article, Bauckham argues that John bears certain characteristics that his readers would have understood as historiographical—meaning they would have understood it to be a work of history. And these characteristics are actually more prominent in John than in the Synoptics. Let me just mention three of them.

1. Topography/Geography. John exhibits impressive knowledge of the places where the events of Jesus’ life took place.  John’s numerous geographical references have been tested and found to be very accurate.  But, even more than this, John is often much more specific than the Synoptics. He adds a layer of detail and precision that does not occur as often in the other three gospels, which tend to be more general in their geographical references.

2. Eyewitness Testimony. In the ancient world, good history was eyewitness history. For a historical account to be credible, a historian either needed to have witnessed the events himself, or he needed to have received his information from someone who did witness those events.  Here, the Gospel of John stands out because it expressly claims to have been written by the “beloved disciple” (21:24) who was an eyewitness from the beginning (1:35-40) and present at the last supper (13:23).

3. Length of Discourses.  While scholars suggest that John’s gospel must be embellished because the discourses are so much longer than the Synoptics, Bauckham makes almost the opposite point, namely that the Synoptics are more likely abbreviated versions of longer speeches. The Synoptic gospels give evidence of being summaries or condensed version of Jesus’ actual teachings (they are not for this reason unreliable; this was just what historians sometimes had to do).  This leads to the rather surprising reality that John’s lengthy discourses are, historically speaking, more realistic than the Synoptics. They capture more accurately what Jesus would have probably sounded like.

All of these considerations leave us with a rather counter-intuitive conclusion—at least from the perspective of modern critical scholarship—namely that John’s gospel actually contains clearer historiographical credentials than the Synoptics.  After all the hits that John’s gospel has taken over the years, this is remarkable fact.

It is a reminder, once again, that the “consensus” of the academy has its limitations. Indeed, sometimes the truth lies in the opposite direction. Thus, when it comes to John’s gospel, one can truly say, “The last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Comments

Is the Gospel of John History or Theology? — 48 Comments

  1. Having done almost 2 weeks of street evangelism in the last six weeks, I’ve given out a lot of Pocket Testament League’s Gospel of John. We’ve probably given out about 1000 of them this summer and instructed even more people to go home and read the Gospel of John. I’ve been rereading it. I’ve been trying to remember what it’s like to read John for the first time. I’ve considered trying to find some sort of commentary or notes to give out with John, even if only to point and explain the repeated claims of divinity by Jesus. Needless to say this topic is very timely for me. At a minimum it gives me some things to direct people to look for as they read. I always instruct them to slow down and visualize the story try to and imagine facial expressions and attitudes and understand motives and responses. So, thank you for some things to add to my “teachings.”

    Do you happen to have a link to the article by Bauckham?

  2. What are the chances that John’s Gospel was written as a considered supplement or even corrective to the Synoptics? I mean, did he read one or more of the Synoptics, and write his account, leaving out much of what was already written, but focusing on things he felt were missed?

  3. Dismissing the Gospel of John altogether is indeed problematic, for the reasons that you mention. But it remains the case that Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Gospel narrator all speak with the same distinctive style that is different from the way Jesus speaks in the other Gospels in important respects.

    • Thanks, James. You are absolutely correct that John has a uniform stye, and it is a style distinctive from the Synoptics. But, that does not change the point of my post, namely that John presents itself as historiography. No doubt John adapted Jesus’ speeches to his own style (a practice that was not uncommon in the ancient world). So, in this way, he could still preserve the impsissima vox (very voice) of Jesus, even though he does not preserve the ipsissima verba (the very words).

  4. Dr. Kruger, I believe John’s gospel is historical like you say it is. However, how do we go about reconciling the differences between John’s gospel and the Synoptics? This has troubled me a lot over the years. John’s gospel contains elements that are not emphasized hardly at all in the Synoptics. For example, the Synoptics portray Christ as sort of hiding his identity, while John portrays Christ as boldly proclaiming his identity. There is obviously no real contradiction between the four gospels. But how do we “fit” John’s gospel in with the Synoptics?

    What are some of the theories/views about how John’s gospels fits together with the Synoptics?

    • Hey Brad,

      Would you explain to those of us (me) who aren’t as familiar with this “issue” what you mean when ask how these “fit” together? Maybe more specifically when you say “..reconciling the differences..?”

      To me (love it when people start off with that phrase) this Gospel “fits” with the other Gospels much in the same was as the Epistles that have complementary and even paradoxical information “fit” together. They are all required parts of the whole, some of which contain stuff only found in that one part.
      But I think Im not really understanding the “problem” or your question? Thanks in advance!

    • See the books by Craig Blomberg linked to in my comment above for information on reconciling the gospels.

    • Brad… I share your quandary… I just finished “Cold Case Christianity” by J Warner Wallace. His abductive approach to the gospels and questions such as this has clarified the issues regarding apparent discrepencies and provided some excellent insights into reconciling them. His perspectives are helping immensely. I recommend his book. Hope this helps.
      Ross

  5. MF, thank you. I will look at that.

    Chris, John’s gospel portrays Christ as boldly proclaiming his identity as the Son of God. In the Synoptics, Jesus does not seem to want to draw attention to his identity as the Son of God. In fact, all through Matthew and Mark (mostly Mark) Jesus seems to want to keep his identity a secret. This may be an overstatement, but in the Synoptics Jesus seems to be trying to not cause a stir while in John Jesus seems to be intentionally saying and doing things to stir up trouble for himself.

    That’s what I wrestle with. Perhaps John is primarily focusing on events that happened towards the end of Jesus’ life while the Synoptics focus mostly on his overall ministry?

    Obviously I am not the only one who notices that there are stark differences between the Synoptics and John. Otherwise there wouldn’t even be this blog post or the huge debate that has been going on about this issue. LOL.

    I believe all four gospels are actual history (all of it really happened) and I believe every word of those four gospels are the very words of God. I don’t think I know how to explain why John seems so different from the Synoptics though.

    • Brad, I am hopeful that someone else will chime in here, but for the sake of discussion…

      Obviously the presentation of Christ as God and Son of God is going to be a fairly different picture than that of the other three presentations. So for John to be a good bit different should be expected. Of course I am referring to content rather than literary style. Style is a whole different topic and not what you seem to be referring to.

      I think you made a good point when you said “Perhaps John is primarily focusing on events that happened towards the end of Jesus’ life..”

      This is exactly the case. John chapters 6-21 all focus on the last year of His life. Chapter 6 is basically one large scene and the first part is recorded in the other Gospels. Then Chapter 7 picks up 6 months later, so now we have 15 of 21 chapters dealing with the last 6 months of His life. This is almost all in Jerusalem at feasts and at this point who He claims to be, and who people claim He is, is well know and He is no longer trying to hide it as in the first couple years of His ministry. John actually seems to even pick different times in Jesus’ life to record than in the Synoptics. Jesus’ time in Jerusalem in John 7 and 8 is omitted by the others. The feast of Dedication in 10 is omitted by the others. So John really does emphasize completely different aspects on not only who Jesus is, but portions of His ministry. We’d know almost nothing about Jesus’ actions in Jerusalem throughout His ministry if it weren’t for John. Even everything in John 2, the first Passover, is omitted by the others. The first half of 3 is a private conversation rather than a public proclamation.

      The the final 9 of 21 chapters all deal with a 48 hour window.

      Now if we compare the timeline found in Matthew, we see he covered a much different period. Matthew spends the first 18 chapters covering the periods up to John 7. And at this point we are even given explanations as to why He wanted to keep His ministry and identity a bit more private. So of course as Jesus’ ministry evolved through the proclamation of the King and Kingdom through the rejection of both, we should expect to see Jesus acting differently in the last 6 months of His life and ministry.

      So all in all, when I look at His ministry in chronological order, almost as in a Harmony, it really does not seem at all odd to me. They Gospels really complement each other nicely. And considering the gnostic stuff that was going on at the time of John’s writing, I can understand why certain emphasis would be stressed.

      I hope you don’t feel I’m trying to just sweep this under the rug. I’m just giving an honest viewpoint of what Im seeing from here. Feel free to continue the discussion if you like, and know that being an evangelist, I have fairly thick skin so feel free to dig in brother :)

      • Chris, thank you. That makes quite a bit of sense. I am an average guy who loves to study the Bible. I have several friends who went to RTS and were in some of Dr. Kruger’s classes, which is how I know of him. I rode down to Charlotte to sit in on a class a few times and enjoyed what he taught on, so when I saw he had a blog I figured I would follow it.

        I appreciate learning new things about the Bible. I help young guys like myself (I am in my mid-20’s) who are part of my church understand the basics of what Scripture teaches, but I’m definitely no pastor-scholar. I understand (for the most part) and believe just about everything the Westminster Standards teach and I know the Bible pretty well, but I don’t know anything like Greek or Hebrew (maybe someday I’ll learn Greek, if time allows). I work a regular job and help out at my local church (wherever help is needed). I try to plug into blogs like this one and read books about theology pretty regularly. I generally find blogs like this very helpful.

        Thanks for taking the time to respond. This was helpful.

        By the way, praise God that you are evangelizing! That’s not something I hear a lot about in the Reformed world (not in any formal setting anyway; as opposed to meeting with friends or coworkers casually). And yes, I know Reformed folks do evangelize. It’s just not something I hear about as frequently as I do in other denominations/facets of evangelicalism.

        • Brad, thanks for the response. It’s really encouraging. I came to Christ in my late 20’s and God used me in a very similar way before making it clear to me I was to go to Seminary. Please continue doing what you are doing. It is VERY important. Unfortunately most churches do not have the elders to do the discipleship commanded by Christ, and the elders that are there are very busy, so please keep filling the gap the best you can!

          While I am reformed, I’m not like most. I would tongue in check go so far as to say that I am more reformed than most here, as I am calvinist who is also premillennial :) But yes, unfortunately in my experience I come across far more people doing evangelism who are not reformed calvinist than who are. There seems to be a link between the idea that man can choose God and a desire or even obligation to go and share the gospel with the lost that unfortunately just seems to get lost on those who don’t believe the same. I don’t say that to be divisive, I’m just making an observation about what Ive experienced while being involved in both organized and un-organized evangelistic campaigns in Florida, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. And what’s sad is that my wife and I grew the absolute most sitting under Tullian Tchividjian at Coral Ridge Presbyterian in Ft Lauderdale and much of what we learned about Gospel came from there, and also other reformed Presbyterian (Evangelistic and PCA) churches, its also been my experience that those places had the absolute least amount of people doing any type of intentional evangelism. In all honesty, the Calvary Chapel movement is probably responsible for more than half the intentional evangelism in the US. At least thats been my experience in every state that Ive been to and from paying attention to what Ray Comfort and Todd Friel are doing out in California, that seems to be the trend out there too. But that’s another topic for another day :) Keep it up my brother!

        • Thanks for the links.
          Unfortunately you lost me in the third paragraph of your notes when you stated:

          ” The only answer seems to be to regard the author of the Fourth Gospel as doing what was a frequent practice in his time: based on the words of his master, the author created discourses in which he presented what he considers that his master would have said in response to certain new situations which have arisen since his death.”

          Just to be completely honest, I’m not well spoken or educated enough to say much more than – thats just ridiculous! I hope that as a brother you don’t take offense at what I’m saying and I really do not intend to be insulting at all, but I find your conclusion to be offensive and borderline blasphemous. I will read through the notes in their entirety as I don’t want to reject your position without hearing you out as I respect your scholarship. But wow, your conclusion creates more problems than it solves and really opens a can or worms!

          • You are free to think that they are blasphemous, offensive, or ridiculous. But that doesn’t mean I’m incorrect. Do you have a better explanation for what we find in the Gospel of John, and the fact that Jesus and John the Baptist speak in the exact same distinctive style of the narrator? I didn’t particularly like this conclusion either, it is one that I came to as a result of studying the evidence. I am open to changing my mind on the subject, to be honest, the fact that you dislike it because it is at odds with your presuppositions isn’t a persuasive argument for me. My own presuppositions when I began studying the Bible at a more advanced level were, I suspect, rather similar to yours. It was study of the Bible that changed my mind.

        • Dr. McGrath,

          I want to be careful to show you the respect and honor you deserve, while still engaging in this disagreement. Please know that is my intent. If you were to come to my home, I’d wait on you hand and foot. So please forgive my lack of tact and ability to express myself.

          “You are free to think that they are blasphemous, offensive, or ridiculous. ”
          Yes, thank you.

          “But that doesn’t mean I’m incorrect.””
          Yes, that is correct.

          “Do you have a better explanation for what we find in the Gospel of John, and the fact that Jesus and John the Baptist speak in the exact same distinctive style of the narrator?”

          Unfortunately I do not, however I am certain there are good explanations. I hate to say it, but hopefully Dr Kruger will come to my aid…

          What I do know is that your conclusion that I quoted earlier is at distinct odds with my exegesis of what the “author of the Fourth Gospel” has to say in 20:30 and 21:25

          “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;”

          “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

          The author clearly intends to be representing actual events and conversations of Jesus and not “created discourses in which he presented what he considers that his master would have said” as you put it.

          I understand your scholastic background. I understand your beliefs somewhat from becoming familiar with you from Randal Rauser’s blog, which I stopped visiting some time ago.

          For me, I have to keep my conscience clear. For me, what you have stated here is false teaching. My conscience will not be clear unless I cry out from the wall so to speak, because I know there are people like Brad reading this and people who are going to take what they’ve read and teach it to others. So for my conscience sake, I have to cry fowl. God has called me to be a shepherd and I hope and trust that you will accept my comments in that context.

          Now, do I hold false beliefs? Absolutely. Have I taught my false beliefs to others? Absolutely. Am I really making an effort to examine and question my beliefs and presuppositions? Absolutely. I’m trying. I’m starting Seminary in a couple of weeks. I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on for the last few years.
          But I have to draw the line somewhere. And when I look back on God’s sovereignty in my salvation, and in my sanctification, I can see that because of the role He has created me for He has kept me from many false teachings and heresies. He has personally shepherded me and brought me to this point. So while I may be not be able to give a better explanation as to why what you have said is wrong, I am certain that it is. I’m willing to bet I’d have the majority of Church History on my side as well as the majority of the current church universal, and yes, I know these are fallacious appeals however there is something to be said for Church History and what the current Church universal thinks. But for now, now that I have cried foul on your conclusion, I have to rest my case and see if someone more qualified will pick up.

          • It isn’t clear to me that you have made a case. You have indicated that you have an idea of “false teaching” which you consider superior to the Bible and to which the Bible’s contents must conform. Because I came to this matter from the perspective of a view that the Bible should be the ultimate authority, I realized that I could not allow a doctrine of Scripture that I formulated to be imposed upon the Bible, one that even evidence from the Bible could not challenge. If the evidence of what we find in the Bible, understood within its historical, cultural, and linguistic context, is not what ultimately decides a matter like this, but a notion of false teaching or a doctrine of Scripture that comes from your church, then we are unlikely to have a common basis for discussing this, much less reasoning to a conclusion.

          • “It isn’t clear to me that you have made a case. ”

            I thought my statement was pretty clear:

            “What I do know is that your conclusion that I quoted earlier is at distinct odds with my exegesis of what the “author of the Fourth Gospel” has to say in 20:30 and 21:25
            “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;”
            “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

            The author clearly intends to be representing actual events and conversations of Jesus and not “created discourses in which he presented what he considers that his master would have said” as you put it.” “

            The author is presenting this as a historical narrative. He is indicating that these are actual narratives and actual discourses. Thats absolutely clearly claimed. For you to say that its not actual historical narrative but “created discourses” and “would have’s” is directly contradicting what the author claims.

          • Even setting aside broader matters, the statement is that Jesus did signs, not that the way they are presented, or the words which are placed on the lips of Jesus to interpret them, are historical in the modern sense. If you try to recall what a teacher said to you at some point in the past, you are unlikely to produce the exact words consistently in a longer discourse. You are free to assume that the Gospel author had supernatural help, but that is going beyond what the text says. If the author took things that Jesus did, and placed on Jesus lips a combination of things he remembered and the gist of what he understood with the benefit of hindsight to have been the significance of Jesus’ words, how is that at odds with the stated aim of the Gospel?

          • ” If the author took things that Jesus did, and placed on Jesus lips a combination of things he remembered and the gist of what he understood with the benefit of hindsight…”

            That’s not the position that you put forward in the paper you linked. You position was pretty clearly stated to be that these were not actual events and discourses.

            “You are free to assume that the Gospel author had supernatural help, but that is going beyond what the text says.”

            You don’t really want to go down that path do you?

          • When asking historical questions, you have to take things on a case by case basis. It may be that the discussion of Dodd and Robinson is too cursory and thus the point was not clear, but it is the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John that are particularly historically problematic, more so than other details.

            It is clear from a comparison of the Synoptic Gospels that adding, changing, and deleting was not felt to be at odds with their purpose. And so this isn’t an issue related only to John. The Gospels on the whole do not seem to conform to what you want them to be. I consider the appropriate response to be to view them differently, to change your expectations, rather than to insist that the Gospels must conform to your doctrines about them.

          • “…but it is the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John that are particularly historically problematic, more so than other details.”

            You keep shifting the goal post here. You’ve stated something different literally every time now. It seem clear that you do not hold a firm position in which you want to clearly state and then defend, so why don’t we just move on to another topic. It’s silly to continue when you just keep changing your position.

            “It is clear from a comparison of the Synoptic Gospels that adding, changing, and deleting was not felt to be at odds with their purpose.”

            Really? Do please explain, rather than assert. And let’s be sure to define our terms and not lump everything together as if it’s all the same, because it’s not. You’re making this statement in an negative connotation so please be clear about what you mean.

            ” adding” Are you saying they added things that were not literally said or done? Or maybe that they added parts not recorded by others? Please be clear and precise.

            ” changing” Again, what do you mean exactly?

            “deleting” Again, what do you mean exactly? I have absolutely no problem with the authors editing out parts that they find irrelevant. So

            “The Gospels on the whole do not seem to conform to what you want them to be.”

            What exactly do you think I want them to be? Let me give you a hint, I did not grow up in the “church” and I did not grow up trusting the NT or OT documents, either the manuscripts we have, or the translations of them. I had little to no trust in the reliability of the texts. And I currently am not a Presbyterian or a Baptist. So please, do tell me, what do I want the gospels to be?

            ” I consider the appropriate response to be to view them differently, to change your expectations, rather than to insist that the Gospels must conform to your doctrines about them.”

            It’s funny that you say that because my “doctrines about them” have been changing. I began with little to no trust in them accuracy or reliability. But I would appreciate you explaining exactly what “want them to be” so that I can try to critique my own presuppositions.

          • I don’t think this conversation (if one can call it that) is going in a helpful direction. You can read my own views, as I nuanced them some years ago now, in my book John’s Apologetic Christology. I apologize if the brief statements that I have made in various places and at various times have appeared to be contradictory. I suspect that it may be because you assumed that, if I regard some things as ahistorical, then I must view everything in that way. But historical criticism is a nuanced and evidence-based undertaking, and the conclusions drawn are not normally on the level of an entire document, but on the level of individual details, although there are indeed those who will make sweeping assertions one way or the other.

            If I have misunderstood your views, I apologize. I had the impression that you were an inerrantist, a position that insists that the Bible must be without error, and then crowbars the Bible into that straightjacket, steamrolling its richness and silencing the diversity in its voices.

          • ” I apologize if the brief statements that I have made in various places and at various times have appeared to be contradictory. I suspect that it may be because you assumed that, if I regard some things as ahistorical, then I must view everything in that way. But historical criticism is a nuanced and evidence-based undertaking, and the conclusions drawn are not normally on the level of an entire document, but on the level of individual details, although there are indeed those who will make sweeping assertions one way or the other.”

            I guess it really all comes down to is the statement you made in the paper you linked where you said:

            ” The only answer seems to be to regard the author of the Fourth Gospel as doing what was a frequent practice in his time: based on the words of his master, the author created discourses in which he presented what he considers that his master would have said in response to certain new situations which have arisen since his death.”

            Then to make sure your point was clear, you immediately went on to elaborate by saying:

            ” One may usefully compare John’s presentation of Jesus with Plato’s presentation of Socrates’ trial, where it is generally assumed that Plato did not present an account of what Socrates said on that occasion, but primarily what he felt that he would have said had he been given the opportunity to answer his accusers at such length.”

            It seem pretty clear that you are saying that much of what is said and done in this fourth gospel was not literally done or said. Not all is “created” but everything that “differs” from the synoptics.

            That sir is a pretty strong claim. And you have now spent the last few posts back tracking from that claim in one way or another. And because of that I have to agree with you when you say “I don’t think this conversation (if one can call it that) is going in a helpful direction” simply because you refuse to stand behind what you’ve published, or explain exactly what you mean so as to be clear. Instead, you’ve used several posts to point out what you might not mean.

          • If you got the impression that I was backtracking, then I must not have expressed myself clearly. Let me be direct and succinct, and see if that helps.

            The actions and places that form the setting of the discourses in the Gospel of John have some claim to historical events lying behind them, although each must be evaluated on its merits.

            The words attributed to Jesus are largely in the author’s distinctive style, and express his unique theology. That is why Jesus speaks as one conscious of having pre-existed in this Gospel but not in any of the others.

            Here too, however, there are actual sayings of Jesus that are echoed or embedded. When Jesus talks about he need to be “born from above” that is not entirely unlike the call in the Synoptics to turn and become as little children.

            And so simply saying it is all historical or none of it is in any sense historical is too sweeping. There are elements of historical memory, and a unique Christology which is clearly a development beyond what is found in pre-Johannine sources.

            Does this make things clearer?

          • “….That is why Jesus speaks as one conscious of having pre-existed in this Gospel but not in any of the others.”

            Reaaaaally? Do you really think that Jesus was unaware of His pre-existance, considering He knew He was the Son of Man, the Lord of Psalm 110, the servant of Micah 5:2, the Branch of Jer 23 among many others?
            Though Jesus knew He was the Messiah, you think He did not know that the He/The Messiah was eternal?

          • I don’t think you are understanding my point. You certainly are not addressing it in your comment, which assumes that the Messiah is eternal, and then says Jesus would have known it. My point is that the other Gospels do not have anything equivalent to the statements one finds in John, such as the reference to the Son of Man “ascending to where he was before.” Obviously once one has pre-existence in mind, one can read it into any text one wishes. My point was about it needing to be read in, as opposed to it being explicitly stated as it is in John.

          • Do you believe that Jesus understood that the OT teaches that the Messiah is eternal?

          • Do you mean, do I think he viewed the Similitudes of Enoch as Scripture? I’m not sure that would settle the matter, even if we could answer the question. The Gospel of Matthew seems to know the Similitudes, and yet still does not depict Jesus as one conscious of having pre-existed in heaven, the way that the Gospel of John does.

          • No, my question is, do you think that Jesus believed the Old Testament teaches that the Messiah is eternal?

            I’ll add a question – do you think the Old Testament teaches that the Messiah is eternal?

            These are fairly simple questions so hopefully you can give a direct answer for a change.

          • Is the “Old Testament” in question the Jewish Scriptures? And is “the Messiah” a reference to what “anointed one” means in those texts, referring to the king, the high priest, and in Deutero-Isaiah to Cyrus? I do not think that any of those texts envisage an individual Davidic king or Aaronic high priest as literally eternal, no.

          • ” ..Deutero-Isaiah..”

            Really? I guess I should have known better.

            However let me just cite a couple of your recent comments to make sure this is the same James F McGrath, as I don’t want to accuse you of talking out both sides of your mouth if someone is actually impersonating you.

            “If one allows doctrines and metaphysics to dictate what the Bible is or is not allowed to mean or to be, so be it, but do not claim that the Bible is your ultimate authority then, since the evidence of the Bible is not allowed to challenge or change your doctrine or your metaphysics.”

            “Because I came to this matter from the perspective of a view that the Bible should be the ultimate authority, I realized that I could not allow a doctrine of Scripture that I formulated to be imposed upon the Bible, one that even evidence from the Bible could not challenge. If the evidence of what we find in the Bible, understood within its historical, cultural, and linguistic context, is not what ultimately decides a matter like this, but a notion of false teaching or a doctrine of Scripture that comes from your church, then we are unlikely to have a common basis for discussing this, much less reasoning to a conclusion”

            “You have indicated that you have an idea of “false teaching” which you consider superior to the Bible and to which the Bible’s contents must conform.”

            “I think that any doctrine about Scripture, which has to be forced onto Scripture even when it does not fit well, undermines rather than enhances Biblical authority.”

            So if I am talking to the same James F McGrath then I am really not sure what to say. Either you are being willfully ignorant, or intentionally dishonest, neither of which suited very well for you. Let me just remind you of a couple of little details about Isaiah that you’ve either missed, or chosen to ignore:

            11 different times in the NT Isaiah is named by name as the author of the “latter” portion.

            The “latter” portion is attributed to Isaiah by 5 different authors

            The “latter” portion is attributed to Isaiah by 7 different speakers.

            Jesus Himself says in John 12:38-40 that the same Isaiah wrote both “halves.”

            And not only this but the very structure of the book shows in to be a single text with chapter 39 beginning the second to last introversion matching up with the Voice from 6:1

            I could go on and on addressing the exact words and phrases from the “former” to the “latter” and refute claim after claim about the differences between the latter and the former, but it’s pretty clear at this point that you have entrenched yourself in your blindness so badly that just a simple review of your comments cited above which criticize holding to doctrines that contradict what the text itself clearly declares while you sit here and cling to a long since soundly debunked deutero-Isaiah claim, you make yourself a candidate for hypocrite of the year award and I’m going to hold onto my pearls from here on out. I truly hope you will go back and do some serious studies in the OT because you obviously have HUGE holes in your theology and your “curriculum vitae” confirms this. I wish you all the best.

  6. Guys, I think a lot of this goes back to what Dr. Kruger originally stated in his comment. John preserves ” the impsissima vox (very voice) of Jesus, even though he does not preserve the ipsissima verba (the very words).” That gets to the heart of the matter, in my opinion.

    If I get in a car wreck, I am going to talk about the incident differently to different audiences. I am going to talk to my 5 year old nephew differently than I will to my parents and differently still to the insurance company. I may be being truthful in every instance that I say it, but I will tell the story differently.

    Most of us stylize stories anyway. We do it for a lot of reasons, and most of the time we are not being dishonest.

    John’s gospels IS historical, but it is like the Synoptics in that it is an eyewitness account. It’s not intended to be a recording of history in the way that court cases are recorded (word for word).

    I think it’s fair to say that John accurately represents things that actually happened and things that were actually said. I think if we say that’s not the case then we’re dismissing what the book/gospel actually says about itself.

  7. Dr. McGrath, do you believe that Scripture is inerrant and infallible in the way that historic Protestantism has always taught that it is?

    For example, the teachings of the Westminster Confession or the 3 Forms of Unity.

    I’m not challenging or accusing you of believing or not believing in this historic Protestant doctrine. I am just genuinely curious about your views on that doctrine.

    • I am an American Baptist, not a Presbyterian.

      I think that the critical study of the Bible is a natural outgrowth of the challenge to authority, and the willingness to evaluate the contents of texts included within the canon, that we see in Martin Luther. I do not find terms like “infallibility”, much less “inerrancy,” to be helpful, since they (as normally understood) fit what we find in the Bible so poorly. I think that any doctrine about Scripture, which has to be forced onto Scripture even when it does not fit well, undermines rather than enhances Biblical authority.

  8. Of course, that’s all your opinion, James. Your free to be a part of the radical reformation if you wish. What you’ve argued about John, most with which I would agree, has nothing to do with the metaphysics of the Bible, and therefore, its inerrancy. I think this conversation has been a good example thus far of liberals attempting to use the historical argument to undermine conservative doctrines of the Bible, and fundamentalists falling for that trick and attempting to argue against what may be true statements about the history of the text, but have nothing to do with the metaphysics of it. Ergo, you did not come to your position because you studied the Bible and came out with those conclusions, as the premises don’t warrant the conclusions. Your presuppositions do. But we’ve been over that before.

    • I am aware that it is possible to impose one’s metaphysics, and one’s doctrine of Scripture, onto the Bible, so that the metaphysics and doctrine are allowed to be independent of the Bible. But I found that, as a Protestant for whom the Bible was supposed to be the ultimate authority, I could not do that with a clear conscience. If one allows doctrines and metaphysics to dictate what the Bible is or is not allowed to mean or to be, so be it, but do not claim that the Bible is your ultimate authority then, since the evidence of the Bible is not allowed to challenge or change your doctrine or your metaphysics.

      • I’m not really sure why McGrath’s comments are causing so much of a fuss. He isn’t saying anything about John that would not be standard fare at any mainstream evangelical seminary. Of course, all the stories in the Gospels contain a mixture of memory, creativity, imagination and editorial application to the post-Easter context for which they were composed. Having attended both Talbot and Dallas Seminary in my graduate studies, I don’t know any serious students of the Gospels who would deny to the biblical authors a measure of freedom in terms of how they crafted the plots of their narratives. In terms of the Jesus Seminar’s color scheme, all the Gospels (not only John) contain a mixture of red, pink and grey materials.

        • The Jesus Seminar? Surely someone whose attended both DTS and Talbot knows how little that farce matters to current scholarship.

          • Derek, I made reference to the Jesus Seminar for purposes of illustration. If you check out Darrell Bock’s commentary on Luke he makes the same point I am making.

  9. James, the problem is, and has always been, that you don’t understand that you already are imposing a metaphysic on the Bible and letting it dictate what it is. In fact, only a metaphysic can tell you what it ultimately is, so you’re comments just evidence confusion on your part concerning the matter.

    Paul, I think the issue is that James thinks what he has concluded has something to do with his metaphysic presuppositions concerning what the Bible is. That’s the old liberal canard that thinks the observations made by scholarship of the “humanness” of the Bible somehow undermines how much divine influence is at play. Hence, liberals think that such observations undermine inerrancy. That’s simply nonsense and evidences a lack of sophistication in understanding the various types of inerrancy and what the doctrine actually entails.

    Interestingly enough, in James’ mind, all conservative scholars, even though they are working with the same text, observing the same things, have a completely consistent view of inerrancy with all of that. Yet, James has to caricature them as blind apologists because he doesn’t understand that is his imposed metaphysic that has determined his view of the doctrine, not the biblical material. In fact, he accounts for the biblical material with that presupposition, and hence, it is impossible to just get his views from the Bible. Ironically, this is a fundamentalist position, stemming from the radical reformation (i.e., just me and my Bible will come to the truth of a doctrine), that James decries so much. Yet, here we see him doing that very thing. Fundamentalists and liberals are two sides of the same radical reformation coin.

  10. On another note, being Protestant is a vague designation. There are really two major branches of Protestantism that one can broadly identify as the radical and magisterial reformations. It is clear that James had the idea that he could approach the Bible through some sort of metaphysical neutrality, which of course, made him unaware of the presuppositions that govern various methodologies of inquiry and their conclusions within the academia. He was easy pickin’s at that point. And that’s what precisely happens to fundamentalists who enter into the academy, and are oblivious to their presuppositions or the metaphysical presuppositions of their professors, i.e., they become liberals. Rather than see James’ story as a “I once was blind but then saw the light” conversion to liberalism as some sort of anomaly that could only be explained by his neutral study of the Bible, I would expect nothing less than a full conversion to liberalism once certain presuppositions concerning what the Bible is has been adopted, first implicitly through adopting the conclusions and methodologies that are governed by them, and then being voiced in a cognitive recognition of a more explicit faith.

      • James, to come at all this from another angle, do you disagree with the judgment that even in the synoptic gospels (as argued by N. T. Wright for example), Jesus is depicted as one who spoke and acted as though his life constituted the entrance of Israel’s God into the physical world, and the political scene of first-century Palestine in particular. And yet he is also depicted in the synoptics as having an intimate relation with the One he addressed as “Father.” Given such a scenario, is not the notion of divine identity and pre-existence (such as we find in John) natural, perhaps necessary, as a conceptual grid for making sense of the message of Jesus? Or do you follow Dunn in arguing that Jesus was not identified with God in earliest Christianity, but only as the one in whose human life the true God was making himself known?

  11. About a question from Brad Jones:
    “What are some of the theories/views about how John’s gospels fits together with the Synoptics?”

    I studied the question for years.
    Here are some of the result of my research on gJohn:

    1) The original gJohn (2/3 of the canonical one) was written fairly early (75-80) by a Gentile Christian from Asia Minor with the full knowledge of gMark. The timeline of that original gJohn is similar of the one in gMark. ‘Jesus in Galilee’ was curtailed but ‘Jesus in Judea (=Jerusalem)’ was considerably enlarged.
    The gospel ended then at 20:10

    2) The gospel was then greatly expanded with some reshuffling after gLuke was known.
    The gospel ended then at 20:23

    3) The gospel was later added on after ‘Acts’ got known.
    The gospel ended then at 20:31

    4) Finally the gospel was completed when presbyter John (aka John the elder) died in very old age.
    The gospel ended then at 21:25

    All explanations starting here:
    http://historical-jesus.info/jnintro.html

    Finally, “It is today freely accepted that the fourth Gospel underwent a complex development before it reached its final form.” Introduction to the Gospel of John, The New Jerusalem Bible (version published around 1970)

    Cordially, Bernard