Wednesday, 20 April 2016

The centrality of John's gospel to reading and understanding the Bible

It is clear that modern people - me included - find it very difficult to 'read the Bible' - even if that reading is largely restricted to the New Testament.

The experience is too often confusing rather than enlightening, misleading rather than clarifying; and the reigning rival paradigms for reading the Bible - either regarding the book as 'inerrant' on a line-by-line basis, or else regarding it as if it was just another historical document to be dissected by scholars - both do more harm than good by regarding the text as if it were a mosaic composed of detachable and autonomous words and sayings.

Here is a concrete suggestion that I have been using for a while: I regard John's gospel as the central text of the Bible, and read outwards from that to the other Synoptic gospels, the rest of the New Testament, and then to the Old - regarding them mainly in terms of explaining and expanding the message of John.

The reasons I regard John's gospel is central are manyfold: that it was written by a disciple, eyewitness and participant in the events; the disciple that Jesus most loved and who was most faithful to Jesus; the only disciple who remained loyal and did not hide after Jesus's arrest; the only disciple who was present at the crucifixion, standing with the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene - where Jesus from the cross entrusted to John the care of His mother; who responded to Mary Magdalene's news of the risen Christ and who ran faster than Simon Peter to arrive first at the opened tomb; the disciple who did not die but is still alive today and with us - ministering until the second coming; and the Biblical author whose gospel is unmatched in its beauty, coherence and the goodness and newness of its message.

I think that reading John as a whole (in the Authorised Version, the King James Bible - which is the only divinely-inspired English translation) gives us the gospel, the good news which Christ was; and does this in a way that is uniquely authoritative, and at the level of the highest poetry - which is the only language capable of whole-truth.

John's Gospel is the very heart of the Christian message: and surely that is what we most need and the obvious place for our understanding to be located.