Friday, 11 May 2018

Resolving apparent inconsistencies/ omissions in the fourth Gospel

Long-term readers of this blog will know that I am trying to understand Christianity using only the fourth Gospel, as if it was my only source; because I regard it as qualitatively the most authoritative scripture.

On that basis I have come to regard the author (the disciple who 'Jesus loved') of the gospel as the resurrected Lazarus (and that Lazarus was resurrected, not just brought back to life); that Lazarus's sister Mary (of Bethany) was married to Jesus in Cana (in an 'ordinary' Jewish ceremony) when the first miracle was performed, and that there was a further mystical marriage at the time of the anointing of Jesus's feet with Spikenard on Mary's hair, and that this Mary is the same person as Mary Magdalene ('both' Mary's treating Jesus with loving but respectful familiarity, and 'both' engaging in physical contact appropriate only to a wife)...

Anyway; this is the background for trying to interpret an anomalous verse John 2: 4 - when Jesus says to his mother "Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is yet to come."

To me, there is something clearly wrong with this verse - certainly it does Not mean any kind of rejection of Jesus's mother, since she accompanies Jesus (and his brothers) to Capernum in verse 12. The verse might be garbled, or interposed - but my guess is that - since Jesus is the 'bridegroom' of the marriage feast, it may refer to Jesus's new allegiance to his wife.

And this may answer another puzzle about the fourth Gospel: why did Jesus's ministry start when it did? The answer seems to be that Jesus's ministry began when he was baptised by John the Baptist, and JtB recognised Jesus as the Christ, as the divine Spirit descended upon him and stayed - causing Jesus's new self-awareness as Son of God (to become Son of Man, at his ascension), and his new powers.

But why did Jesus get baptised by JtB? Well, the author doesn't say that Jesus and John are cousins  (that is in another gospel) - which seems like a strange omission, since the author of the fourth gospel - Lazarus - was a disciple first of John then of Jesus. So, if they were cousins, then he would know!

However, I think we can assume that it was Lazarus who brought his future brother-in-law Jesus to be baptised by his then-Master John the Baptist, just two days before the wedding. Perhaps (as in my own extended family) terms like 'sister' (referring to John's and Jesus's mothers), did not necessarily mean sharing the same parents - and perhaps the real link was the marriage-link between Lazarus's and Jesus's families, and that was underpinned by some childhood relation between the mothers of Jesus and Lazarus... (The beloved disciple is asked, by Jesus on the cross, to look-after Jesus's mother.)

Thus it was Lazarus who was responsible for the timing of  Jesus's ministry; and Lazarus was present at his sister's wedding to Jesus in Cana two days later when Jesus's new status as the Messiah became explicit with the first miracle - in which water to wine is both literal and deeply symbolic (the symbolism - which is itself literal - being multiply expressed in other parts of the fourth Gospel).

The second omission is more obvious and important than the garbled comment of Jesus to his mother; and it is the dispute among the Jewish leaders about whether Jesus could be the Messiah given that he had not been born in Bethlehem.

John 7: 41-3 - Others said, This is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? Hath not the scripture said, That Christ cometh out of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem, where Davis was? So there was a division among the people because of him.

Having raised this as an important issue, the author of the fourth Gospel does not resolve it for us. Of course, we are told in Matthew and Luke that Jesus was born in Bethlehem... But we are not told this in the fourth Gospel, where the issue is left 'up in the air' and (so far as I can see) never resolved for the reader.

This could be some omission from the Gospel, something that was lost - a statement that Jesus was born in Bethlehem; because it seems strange that, if Jesus was indeed born in Bethelehem, the dispute reported in the fourth Gospel was not simply settled.

Or, if nothing was lost; and since I regard the fourth Gospel as more authoritative than any of the Synoptics (or Epistles); perhaps this really was one way in which Jesus did not fulfil all the prophecies - but one which was later patched-up by oral history and legend...

After all, the fourth Gospel provides in abundance all the evidence necessary to prove that Jesus really was the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah... There is, in particular, the testimony of John the Baptist (the most authoritative witness of that time and place); the miracles - especially the raising of Lazarus; and of course Jesus's resurrection, ascension, and his sending of the Holy Ghost.


Chent said...

Bruce, with all respect, there is a difference between

a) considering the fourth Gospel the most authoritative source (that is, better than the other gospels and the Epistles, which were earlier in time)

b) considering the fourth Gospel the only authoritative source, disregarding the information of other gospels and writings. Let alone the information in the Apostolic Fathers, who were closer than us and received tradition from the Apostles.

That the fourth gospels omits an information does not mean anything, because absence of information does not prove anything. All gospels and the Epistles omit information, in a time where writing was expensive and time-expensive. Every writing addresses an audience. For example, Matthew has a Hebrew audience so it emphasizes the fulfillment of the profecies in the Old Testament, in a way other gospels do not.

This is why the book "Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts" by Lydia McGrew explains how some Gospels unconsciously shed light upon the omissions and misteries of other Gospels.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Chent - I am describing what I am doing, and why. I am not trying to persuade everybody else to do the same.

But one thing I have begun, slowly, to realise is that I had unconsciously been making the assumption that The Truth was discovered by regarding all parts of the Bible (or, at least, the NT; or minimally the Gospels) as equally authoritative - and therefore using a 'synthetic' method to discover the truth.

Since I don't share this assumption, I need to do something else. Also, I believe that we only know something when we rediscover it for ourselves, by personal revelation. We can't be passive about this matters, and I am not sure that I trust anybody else to do it for me.

The 'plan' is to keep reading the fourth gospel until I feel that I really understand it in its own terms, then move on to the synoptics, one at a time, and then the Epistles, starting with Paul.

But I have not got to the bottom of the fourth gospel yet - it has taken me a great deal longer than I had expected, as I continue to make 'discoveries'...

TheDoctorofOdoIsland said...

Tradition and textual clues affirm the fourth gospel was indeed written later than the other gospels. This would mean we're supposed to be familiar with details presented in Mark and Matthew before reading John (on the other hand I'm persuaded to think the gospel of Luke was written after, and is dependent on, John).

Also interesting to see that you've embraced Orson Hyde's notion that it was Jesus' wedding they were celebrating at Cana!

- Carter Craft

Bruce Charlton said...

@Carter I disagree that 'John' is the last Gospel - I think it was the first and/or written in complete ignorance of/ indifference to the others.

Yes, the text tells us that 'the bridegroom' is Jesus - as Jesus is named 'bridegroom' by JtB not long afterwards.

Karl said...

Part of the puzzlement of "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" for English-speaking readers is the vocative use of "woman", which to us doesn't sound polite. But the Greek word is used in tragedy to address queens, so there is nothing disrespectful about the mode of address.

Daniel said...

Dear Bruce,

I would like to thank you for introducing me to Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield.

I would be interested to know what you think of Rudolf Steiner's explanation:

About half way down. He says that 'Woman, what have I to do with thee?' is a poor translation and that the original Greek has 'O woman, this passeth there from me to thee'. That as this is Jesus' first miracle, he needs his mother's help--giving birth to his ministry on Earth, as it were. I feel that Steiner's translations are often very creative, but I find his exegesis of the first miracle both beautiful and true.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Daniel - Glad to hear that youve been reading RS and OB!

Steiner's idea here doesn't strike me as true - but I don't have any precise alternative to suggest.

(Also I am opposed to using 'Biblical Scholarship' to 'correct' the Authorized Version, for reasons I will describe in a post above.)

Steiner certainly has valuable insights scattered through his commenaries on the gospels (although I didn't get anything useful from his Fifth Gospel); but also his characteristic faults of over-precision and over-systematization by which (I infer) his intuitions get expanded and joined up by mere logic... and once Steiner has spoken or written something, he seems very resistant to admitting error and abandoning it.

For somebody generating material in such vast quantity as Steiner did, and 'on demand' - this amounts to a serious personality flaw and corrupting influence.

Indeed, I would say that this was a personality trait of Steiner's - and related to his (to me, unfortunate) 'empire-building' proclivities...

Yet even at the height of his over-productivity, or in his last illness, Steiner generated new insights and displayed great wisdom - a real mixture!

Chiu ChunLing said...

I'm inclined to believe that the story of Joseph and Mary taking Jesus and escaping from the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem was sufficiently well known by everyone who actually knew the family as to require no clarification.

That's one of those things that, if it happened to a family you personally knew, you'd know about it.

It became necessary later to specify it in accounts for people who had no primary knowledge of Jesus' family, who would know only what was actually written in the account.