Thank you for coming back to read more of this series, The New Testament in Review.
As much as I liked the Gospel of Luke, I am starting to get a bit bored with the Gospels. It’s the same thing as reading four novels based on the same events back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Even though the gospels are so different, and the authors had different views on what events happened and what they meant, in the end, the Gospels are far too similar for a fourth reading. Because of this, I am going to do my best to fly through John’s Gospel. If I can get through this in one week, I’ll be a happy camper.
Gospel of John
John immediately annoys me by stealing from the Dao De Jing, but twisting the words. Seriously, the first three lines of John 1 echo the first few lines of the Chapter 41:
In the beginning, the Word existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. Through him all things were made, and apart from him nothing was made that has been made.
The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.
John settles down and tells the tale of John the Baptist. Though verses 6-9 could just be John giving himself some love (“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify about the light, so that all might believe through him.”) John baptizes people and tells that Jesus will follow him and baptize people in the holy spirit. John gives the “I am not worthy to untile his sanda straps” bit.
John tells those gathered that he had heard God saying that Jesus was God’s son while John baptised Jesus. I can’t help notice here that only John heard this, and he then told everyone else “I heard this voice say…” Mind you, this is John the Baptist, he who wears clothes made out of camel hair, fasts all the time and chooses to live in the wilderness. In other words, he might not be the most credible witness in Judea at the time.
John tells his disciples that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” This sounds promising, so John’s disciples abandon him and run to follow Jesus instead. One of the two is Andrew, who also brought his brother Simon Peter to follow Jesus. Nathaniel also joins the group, but first delivers a line which made me giggle: “Out of Nazareth? What good can that be?”
We’ve mostly gone over this in the previous three Gospels. The wedding in Cana where Jesus turns water into very good wine at his mother Mary’s behest. On a side note: how much fun would it be for Mary to have a child who can perform miracles on demand? Instead of taking your son with you and saying “Why don’t you show Uncle Jim how well you can whistle,” you could say “Why don’t you show Uncle Jim that you can cure his skin cancer!”
Jesus also drives out the moneychanges and vendors from the Temple, using a whip out of cords. That sounds painful… Jesus’s disciples then remember a bit of scripture (“Zeal for your house will consume me.”) which doesn’t really seem to fit Jesus’s reaction, but they feel that Jesus just fulfilled that prophesy. I think that is something of a stretch.
Jesus also says the “destroy this sanctuary and I will rebuild it in three days” which – at least according to some of the previous gospels – ends up being the charge that leads Jesus to a death sentence.
Nicodemus the Pharisee comes to see Jesus. This gives Jesus a chance to dictate a favorite theme of John’s: a person must be baptized to see the kingdom of heaven. Jesus speaks in parable, of course, saying that a person must be born of spirit as well as flesh. Actually, I guess that isn’t really a parable. Still, his point comes across.
This chapter also contains the verse loved by sign holders everywhere, John 3:16. This is either supposed to be universally known or is a secret code known only to sign-holders and true believers, since the signs normally only say “John 3:16” with noting quoted out of the verse. I reckon I should do the same, but just in case some of my readers don’t know, this verse says “God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that those who believe in him may have everlasting life.” Or something like that.
I find this verse and the whole idea repugnant. Who would sacrifice their son? Who could condone human sacrifice, even if that human is part God? There is just something wrong with that whole concept. I know that many people use this as a tent pole for their faith. I see it as proof that God is off of his rocker. If God is God, he could’ve simply said “Sacrifices are no longer necessary, everyone’s sins can now be forgiven, you no longer need to use blood – animal or human.” Instead, he chooses to allow humans to torture then murder his only son? That is not a sign of a stable person. Or stable Deity. Take your pick. (Another side note: the Unitarian view reduces the harshness of this, since they believe that Jesus was God in his totality, so it wasn’t a son who was murdered, just a temporary form of the Almighty.)
John the Baptist is back. People have noticed that Jesus has started baptising people, and those who know of John want to know what the deal is. John says that he is not jealous, nor is Jesus wrong. John has a great line about being second fiddle: “It is the bridegroom who gets the bride, yet the bridegroom’s friend, who merely stands by and listens for him, is overjoyed to hear the bridegroom’s voice.” (John 3:29)
I think John is the first of the Gospel writers to point out that Jews had issues with Samaritans. This adds context to the story of the good Samaritan (though I am guessing that John doesn’t recount that particular story). The other Gospel authors could’ve just been assuming that their readers would know that Jews didn’t like Samaritans. Or this could be a bias on John’s part which wasn’t shared by the other three.
Jesus ends up in Samaria after fleeing from the Pharisees. This was apparently a very long journey, because Jesus is so weary from the journey that he collapses at the side of a well (Jacob’s Well). He asks a woman if she can get him a drink from the well. The unnamed woman knows how Jews feel about Samaritans, so she is very shocked to have Jesus make such a request. Jesus tells her about living waters and eternal springs. John appears to find this whole subject very interesting, but it really isn’t. The end result: Jesus’s disciples return to him before the woman actually gets Jesus a drink.
The disciples are mortified that Jesus is talking to a woman (they apparently have nothing against Samaritans either) but hold their tongues. The woman leaves her water jar and presuably drinks.
You know, I almost think that Jesus is delirius from hunger and thirst here. The subjects he speaks of are random, and his words seem disoriented or hazy. For example, in verse 22, he tells the woman, “You don’t know what you’re worshiping. We know what we’re worshiping, for salvation comes from the Jews.” In verse 34, Jesus answers a question of “have something to eat!” with “My food is doing the will of the one who sent me and completing his work. You say, don’t you, In four more months the harvest will be here? Look, I tell you, open your eyes and observe that the fields are ready for harvesting!” That just seems a bit random to me…
John’s view of Jesus is… I guess “interesting” is the best word. In John, Jesus spends a lot of time telling everyone that he is the son of God. He’s trying to convince people of this, but in a really weird, indirect way, it sounds like he is trying to convince himself. Either that, or he is trying his hand at fake humility. In John 5:31-34, Jesus says “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true” but if John the Baptist says that Jesus is the Christ, then it has to be true. At least, I am assuming he is referring to Mr. The Baptist. He only mentions “John,” so this could be Gospel author John proclaiming his own importance to Jesus’s teachings and claims of being the Son of God. At this point, I really don’t know. This chapter has officially lost me.
Oh, at the end of the chapter, Jesus says that Moses was writing about Jesus. That might or might not be important further on in the story, but I figure it can’t hurt to mention it.
John’s Jesus has an air of a arrogance about him that is inherently disagreeable. It reminds me a bit of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when Harry starts getting so distraught that he became a bit unlikable. The same kind of thing is happening here. For example: in the miracle of the loaves and fish, John says that “Jesus said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.” That feels wrong to me; it’s almost teasing his disciples, who just wanted to do right by him. John also states that Jesus realized the people were “about to come and take him by force to make him king.” Where did that come from? In the previous Gospels, the people loved Jesus and referred to him as their great prophet and teacher. They never wanted to make him a King, though. Where’d John come up with this?
Jesus and his disciples head back to Capernaum (one thing all of the Gospel authors agree on: Jesus was practically tied to Capernaum. He always returned back to the town, though we aren’t given a reason as to why). In the synagogue there, Jesus goes back to teaching the people. And again, Jesus’s words seem to be mostly about establishing himself as the definite, true son of god: “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything that he has given me, but should raise it to life on the last day. For this is my Father’s will, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him to life on the last day.”
(Another interesting disparity between John and the other three Gospels: in John’s gospel, Jesus constantly says “Truly, truly I tell you…” while in the other three, Jesus does not add the forceful repetition of “truly.” Contrast “Truly I tell you” with “Truly, truly I tell you.” Does not the second implore – almost command – one to believe?)
Jesus spends the last half of this chapter declaring and repeating that his flesh and blood are the true bread and wine of everlasting life, and that everyone who wants to believe must both eat and drink of these. He says this so many times and the imagery is so stark that all of his disciples except for the 12 abandon Jesus. Where in the world did that come from? The previous three gospels didn’t hint at this, either.
Jesus finishes off this chapter by reassuring the 12 remaining disciples: “I chose you twelve, didn’t I? Yet one of you is a devil.”
Ayup, that was pretty reassuring.
New installments of The New Testament In Review will be posted each Monday and Thursday. The new posts will always be on my blog, http://biffster.org. The entire series is accessible via http://biffster.org/ntir. If you are one of my Facebook friends, you can get an advance preview on my Facebook page. You can also follow me (@biffster) on Twitter to be alerted to new posts.