John-History or reframing?

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My questions are for everyone. The statement is made:

“I am sorry but Josh McDowell, Norman Geisler and Lee Strobel apologetics are failures. It’s easy to bankrupt them all on intellectual grounds. Lewis’s trilemma is equally a silly argument with no probative value. It rests on the assumption that Jesus walked around claiming to be God. In other words it assumes the historicity of the Johannine sayings material. Assuming is not arguing. 'The Gospel of John is absolutely true despite much of it not being history-remembered. Rather, it a realization of who Jesus was. Who he is and recasts his earthly life in that framework. John is correct. The transforming and risen Jesus is most certainly the way despite probably never issuing long monologues about his personal divinity and co-eternity with the Father while waking around Palestine.’”

How does someone prove that John is not history but a reframing? How can we know He is most certainly the way? Upon what then do we base these conclusions?

A comparison of GJohn to the synoptic Gospels. Though “prove” is too strong a word.

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How do we know John got it?

Saying John is “absolutely true” requires quite a bit of evidence, I think.

Aren’t the synoptics filled with errors and myths?

He arose from the dead and He is the way based on the other gospels? They indicate He rose from the dead, too.

The long monologues are probably not his and walking around claiming to be God isn’t true.

Let’s remove the monologues and his claims to be God while He’s walking. The Synoptics don’t count or do they?
So, what can we conclude from what is left? It cannot be word for word what Christ is quoted as saying. What remains is the author’s reframing His life in an “absolutely true” fashion?

I am not convinced this is the best interpretation of the NT records we have.

I was only answering your first question by the way. I quoted too much.


It depends. If you expect them to be historical biographies in the modern scenes then yes, there are lots of errors. If instead, you recognize a Gospels is not a historical biography, but tells a story that blends history, faith, pastoral concerns and what the spirit is telling Christians in a specific community, these errors go away. The authors took many known facts, actions of Jesus, teachings and strung them together theologically, telling us a story.

I didn’t think anyone actually believed this. Ipsissima vox vs Ipsissima verbs. Evangelicals have long held we have the voice of Jesus if not the exact words. Comparing the Gospel accounts of the same incidents makes it impossible for us to have the exact words. Not only are we dealing with an oral culture where these stories are told and retold, we are dealing with a translation of Jesus’ original preaching from Aramaic into Greek.

Of course they do. The incarnation (for some Son to God), death and resurrection form the backbone of the entire New Testament. That is what defines Christianity.

Edited to add more @Ralphie



I don’t see a rebuttal here.

Reframing to me. I was pleasantly surprised when I came across Michal Bird and NT Wrights treatment of John in their introduction to the New Testament. Both are very conservative scholars from my perspective and I may go much further than them, but it looks like we have similar thoughts on John.

“John thus artistically blends together the life of Jesus with the love of God revealed in Jesus. He offers historical testimony married to the spirit of truth, allowing the scriptural voice to serve as the background harmony to the living voice of the spirit. The Johannine gospels yields a creative blend of memory, mystery and midrash. The Johannine Jesus is what Jesus looks like viewed through the lens of the spirit, the paraclete.” pg 651 The New Testament in Its World.

This is what I believe. The version of Jesus in John is from a divine vantage point where all things were always in control. John is true, we are looking at the face of God in earth in Jesus. But there is a lot of theological development and creative thought going on here. I’ll lay out some current thoughts and quote some old material I had put together long ago.

There is a host of material found only in John and a host of material in the synoptics missing in John. This is to be expected if the accounts are independent but its clear patterns emerge in the type of material each retains and when there is overlap, John presents it in a different way, In John the subject of many of Jesus’ discourses is mainly himself. In the synoptics, however, he speaks mainly of the kingdom of God which is mostly absent from John. There are other noted differences between them and E.P. Sanders and Margaret Davies (Studying Synoptics p. 5) summarize them well:

“In the synoptics there are short, pithy statements, aphorisms and parables which focus not on Jesus’ person but on the kingdom of God. The synoptics’ Jesus must ask his disciples who they think he is (Mark 8:27 and parr.), and it is clear that he has not identified himself explicitly. He refuses to give a sign to those who ask (Mark 8:11-13). When he is on trial, according to Matthew and Luke, he will not even give a straightforward answer about who he is when asked by the high priest. The Jesus of the Gospel of John, however, talks in long monologues, and the subject is usually himself: his relationship to God on the one hand and to the disciples on the other. He offers ‘signs’ in abundance (see, for example, John 2.11), and he says explicitly that ‘I and the Father are one’ (John 10.30)."

The narrative presentation of Jesus is different. The types of things Jesus says, his focus and manner of discourse all appear different. Kingdom of God in John? Maybe one verse. Littered all over the synoptics. Exorcisms in the synoptics? All over the place. In John are there even any? If we look at all the material in John, all the self-identification statements of Jesus are inexplicably absent from the synoptic Gospels. Jesus doesn’t even permit anyone to speak of him in the Gospel of Mark. He commands everyone to silence. In John it seems he doesn’t stop talking about him self. That is a completely different portrayal from the synoptic version of Jesus. The first three gospels are radically different in their presentation of Jesus. On historical grounds, its implausible to suggest we have independent streams of tradition that somehow made it into the synoptics and into John and that we should just harmonize them all as if they were factual. That does a disservice to both John and the Synoptics and God’s Church. I also will not take the secrecy route where John told a while bunch of different stuff to a beloved disciple. John ends up becoming like a “gnostic” Gospel possessing the secret sayings of Jesus in that case.

John Dominic Crossan wryly observed: "If you read the four gospels vertically and consecutively, from the start to finish and one after another, you get a generally persuasive impression of unity, harmony, and agreement. But if you read them horizontally and comparatively, focusing on this or that unit and comparing it across two, three or four versions, it is disagreement rather than agreement that strikes you most forcibly. And those divergences stem not from the random vagaries of memory and recall but from the coherent and consistent theologies of individual texts. The gospels are, in other words, interpretations.” (JRVp.X)

Looking at the Passion of Jesus:

[1] In Mark Jesus --greatly disturbed-- asks that the cup be taken away. In John (12:27) Jesus literally scoffs at the heretical notion of asking that the cup be taken from him.

[2] In Mark Jesus is seized or captured and the disciples run . In John Jesus lets the soldiers accompany him to his glorification and lets his disciples go free.

[3] In Mark it is Jesus who is prostrate on the ground praying before meeting his captors. In John it is the arresting party (a detachment of soldiers, their commander and Jewish leaders) who all fall to the ground when Jesus identifies himself.

[4] In Mark, Pilate interrogates Jesus. In John, one might get the impression Jesus is interrogating Pilate.

[5] In Mark, a painfully human Jesus is granted assistance carrying his cross. In John, the serenely transcendental and always-in-charge-Jesus requires no assistance at fulfilling the cup the father poured for him.

[6] In Mark Jesus is offered a drink while crying out on the cross My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? In John after Jesus realizes knowing all is finished and so that scripture could be fulfilled he says I am thirsty and someone brings him a drink.

[7] In Mark, Jesus lets out a loud cry and breaths his last breath. In John, knowing that all is fulfilled, Jesus chooses to give up his spirit. In John not only do the arresting party and Pilate have no power over Jesus, death itself does not have any power over Jesus.

The account in Mark shows a very human Jesus obedient to God, willing but nervous about death to the point of almost losing control (falling on the floor multiple times). The same Jesus not allowing anyone to speak about him. John depicts Jesus as fully in control and serenely transcendent at all times. He openly proclaims himself.

We can add to this. Why is a transfiguration lacking in GJohn? It wasn’t needed. Jesus is/was that way all along! To submit Jesus to a baptism by John? Ridiculous! John knows we are looking at the human face of God on earth and recast many narrative details in lieu of this.

Sure you can harmonize some of these details but that’s to misinterpret them altogether. John represents years of prayer and post-Easter beliefs of who Jesus ultimately was. He is writing from the Divine perspective and blending “memory, mystery and midrash” as he seems to hint at writing a new Genesis (John 1:1 and Gen 1:1). It is a response to the synoptic portraits of Jesus in some sense and a statement of who Jesus is.

John is also writing to a community harsh rejected by the “world” or synagogue. He is reinforcing their Jewish beliefs in the face of hostilities that they are God’s true children and that their beliefs are correct. The more hostile their rejection, the more certain they can be of their election just as the more Jesus identified with God, the more ferocious his opposition was (paraphrasing Bird and Wright). They are the legitimate heirs to the promises given to Israel.

Sanders and Davies offer interesting exegesis on the
Lost Sheep Parable found in Matt 18.12-13 and Luke 15:3-6. This is possibly an original parable that has been buried into a discourse now developed and attributed to Jesus as a monologue.

"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.

Begin Sanders/Davies:

“This is a parable. It is short, the similitude or metaphor is simple and it makes one point. That is not to say that it is only a commonplace. It is quite surprising that the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine without protection, and the surprise lends emphasis to the point that God seeks the lost. We note that the primary point of the similitude is that of a situation: as it is with the shepherd and the sheep, so it is with God and people. To the degree that the ‘characters’ in the parable have counterparts, the shepherd represents God himself: it is God who goes in search of the ‘sheep’ (the lost person), God who rejoices when it is found. There is no explicit self-assertion on the part of Jesus, though he presumably sees himself as doing God’s will and seeking the lost.

John’s passage which uses ‘sheep’ as a figure is a long monologue, covering eighteen verses, which focuses precisely on the person of Jesus. First, we read that it is the shepherd, not a thief, who enters by the door of the sheepfold. ‘To him the gatekeeper opens: the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out’. These sheep will follow only their own shepherd (10:1-6). Next Jesus states that he himself is ‘the door of the sheep’ and that only those who enter by him can be saved (10.7-10). Third, he says that he is the good shepherd and that ‘the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’, and then he reiterates and explains:

I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (10.11-15).

Fourth, he adds that he has other sheep ‘that are not of this fold’. He will bring these as well, ‘so there shall be one flock, one shepherd’ (10.16). The monologue concludes with the reassurance that the Father loves him, Jesus, because he lays down his life, and that he lays it down of his own accord and has the power to take it up again (10.17-18).

Very little of this long passage could possibly make parabolic sense. In a parable a person could not be both ‘door’ and ‘shepherd’. Further, in real life sheep can be driven by anyone and do not respond only to their own shepherd. Finally, if one wanted to define a ‘good shepherd’ in the Galilean hill country, it would be the one who successfully kills the wolf, not one who voluntarily dies and who can take his life back up again. This is not a parable, but an involved series of metaphors which can be understood only if we see that the different parts apply to Jesus in different ways. He is both the way in – the door, and the means of access to salvation – and the leader of his followers – the shepherd. The passage also depends on knowing important points of Christian doctrine: that Jesus willingly gave his life, that he had the power of resurrection, and that he was the intermediary in all ways between the Father and the believers. We even learn that the importance of Jesus as mediator extends beyond Palestine: ‘there are sheep ‘who are not of this fold’. Here the worldwide mission of the church is indicated. We have, in short, a complicated theological meditation of the figure ‘sheep’, one which shows how many ways it can be turned. It makes sense only when one knows the view that those who believe in Jesus are saved by his death. A parable may be surprising, but it must make sense in everyday life. The discourse on sheep in John 10 does not do so.” <>


Oh my. Ehrman disagrees.

[1] Scholars disagree with one another all the time. What is your point?
[2] Feel free to elaborate instead if being cryptic and vague.
[3] I think you are misinformed. What I wrote about GJohn vs the Synoptics is standard in the field.

This is a quote of Ehrman’s own words:

In the Synoptic Gospels, you will have noticed that Jesus scarcely ever speaks about himself. There his message is about the coming kingdom of God and about what people must do to prepare for it. His regular mode of instruction is the parable. In John, however, Jesus does not speak in parables (which he never uses), nor does he proclaim the imminent appearance of the kingdom (which he never mentions). He instead focuses his words on identifying himself as the one sent from God. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus…

Sounds a lot like what I wrote.


Interesting discussion. I wonder how if John being an eye witness to Jesus, and the synoptic gospels making no such claim enters into it.


And by comparing John with the three you reach the conclusion that John is absolutely true. That is what you wrote and I don’t agree with your position.

“Do Matthew, Mark, Luke consider Jesus to be God? I always thought the answer was a decided no (unlike the Gospel of John). In doing my research for my book How Jesus Became God, I ended up realizing I was probably wrong.” Bart
He admits now that He was wrong.

Again, you insult me by accusing me of being cryptic and vague. Not at all. Please stop. Thanks

Interesting question. I believe we have a tendency to compartmentalize so much of the NT. Peter, when he realized Jesus was on the shore, quickly threw some clothes on and jumped in the water and swam like a mad dog to see him. Do we have the slightest idea what that scene looked like? What it tells us? These guys were human beings. Pete loved Jesus. He liked him. They were best of friends. They thought He was gone. Murdered. Unjustly tried and convicted and sentenced to a horrible, horrible death, tortured and nailed and punched repeatedly with clenched fists–and He came back. He was no longer dead and they went berserk. He came back and appeared a few more times before He returned to paradise and Pete was crazy happy to see his pal, his bosom buddy, his long time bestie forever.
They were just people. They were just some guys living average lives and something happened to them that they couldn’t dream of in 20 trillion years. God showed up, in person, as real as can be. If we can’t keep in mind their humanity, and their love for one another, we can’t get this whole deal.

At the risk of repeating what may have been often asserted within long posts already; isn’t the author(s) kind of open about this?

At the very end of the book we already see a “committee” as it were acknowledging that they have a hand in this compilation because they refer to John “who wrote these things down” … “and we know that his testimony is true”. I suppose one stock answer is that his (John’s) disciples compiled John’s writings and put them together as John’s gospel, only adding their own gloss at the end as an endorsement. But I rather think that the “framing of the narrative” is going on throughout the gospel. Because of the commentary that is scattered very openly about the book.

I’m not sure I see a committee and I don’t understand your idea. Fill me in, please.

That was just my word for it. At the end of John there is the statement: “…and we know his (John’s) testimony is true…” (emphasis added). “We” implies at least two people - probably more. John had followers who would have in turn been taught and discipled by him. They are probably the ones that got it all compiled, collected, written up, etc even if John was gone by that point.

“This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.”

I wondered if that’s what you meant. I always thought he was using “we” like nurses do. “Are we ready for our bath?” But, obviously, you could be correct.
IMO there were swarms of people looking for something, anything, they could do to be part of the community of believers and to advance Christ’s cause. What would we do today if God presented himself and fed thousands, raising dead people, giving sight to the blind, tossing out demons in crazed lunatic who terrified everybody, finding him clean, clothed, calm and clear headed. I think we are so familiar with what is printed on paper, that took place so long ago, that the spirit of that miraculous time has been crammed into the distant background. We don’t find the realism, the tone, the vibe of these people. They, many of them, took off for foreign lands to preach. Many sacrificed their status, their friendships, their ties to their synagogues, their livelihoods, their health and safety. They were not messing. They gave all their material goods to the benefit of the family of God. It was the Revival of all Revivals times a million. They were alive, forgiven, filled with the Holy Spirit, capable of speaking in foreign languages without trying.

Mark is history, one way or another, John is reframing. It’s as if John knew nothing of Mark, or didn’t care. What prised all but my pinkie off the cliff is the realization, which I could have had for 20, 40 years if I’d read the foot notes, but probably not as I don’t know when I realized the Holy Ghost hadn’t miraculously preserved the Bible at all, that the Pericope Adulterae, unique to John, doesn’t belong there. Or anywhere else. I tear up writing this. Again. Unbidden. It was the overwhelming proof of divine intelligence in Jesus, faithfully recorded. Now it’s a late humanist addition. I burst in to tears and brokenly howled at God just this week. At 66. Pathetic isn’t it. Reading The God Delusion doesn’t help. Flawless. I just have to be a better person regardless. All a bit too late. One has to be brave. Sorry.

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They don’t know for sure where it belongs. But, it belongs. Of course the scene is real. Who would think to make it up? Of course Jesus would handle the situation exactly as it is explained in John. That was Jesus doing exactly what Jesus did and does. It is a beautiful story and it is undoubtedly an accurate account of Jesus in real time, in a real place, dealing with thugs trying to trap him over a woman they were making sport over.
I have asked several times if we could discuss the NT starting with John Chapters 14, 15, and 16. No interest yet.
I want to begin by asking: "Who thought of these words attributed to Christ? Who? Do you know anyone, anywhere, from any time, who could have written what is in those chapters? Who? No one, I contend, ever thought up such things, except Christ, ever. Of all the literature that’s been created, none is anything like these chapters. Not even possible. Why? Because we don’t think like that. We don’t think that way. We don’t know anyone who does. In all of history, nothing even remotely similar is known. That has significance, by itself, that is extremely important, extremely revealing, a huge clue about the nature of the content in the NT.

It is great how differently Jesus is portrayed in John. It adds credibility to its accuracy.
How would Shakespeare write of his experiences with Christ compared with say General George S. Patton or General Norman Schwarzkopf compared with Eddie Allan Poe? Their versions would be dead on precise and completely different.

He’s inside you and me! People what have you done? Locked him in his golden cage? Him resurrected from the grave.
Remember Tull? Listen to “MY GOD”.

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You’re a good man Ralphie. Something happened in Palestine for sure. A remarkable confluence of languages, ideas, particularly post-Babylonian-Persian Exilic, Second Temple Jewish (monotheist Canaanites-Babylonians) Messianic and Greek and all points east: Persia-India. They came together in the humanitarian person of Jesus or/and the myth of Him. They transformed Jews, Greeks and Romans. The Pericope Adulterae (PA ) is dated to four centuries after Jesus. And the late Roman Jesus is quite evolved enough by then to be that brilliant. If Jesus is not God incarnate, then the Beatitudes et al (inc. the PA) are the greatest human moral advance of all time. We will never do better.

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