Thursday 7 June 2018

Why has the Fourth Gospel been historically downgraded?

It seems that almost everything rests on assumptions... When reading, and indeed when originally making, the New Testament, our assumptions concerning relative authority, make a really Big difference to what we get from it.

Given that the Fourth Gospel is, by its own account, written by the disciple whom Jesus loved; it ought to have priority over all other parts of the New Testament. At the very least, and given it begins with the beginning of creation, it surely ought to be the First Gospel: first in position, first in composition, and first in authority due to its authorship.

However, if the Fourth Gospel had been placed first in position and authority, it would have framed the rest of the New Testament in ways that are very different from how Christianity evolved over the next many hundreds of years. As it is, the Gospels open with the three 'Synoptics' - Matthew, Mark and Luke - which are similar in structure and doctrine; that is, the accounts of Jesus open with the genealogy of Jesus leading back to the ancient prophets of the Old testament, and a version of the Nativity story. 

Why are the Synoptics put first in sequence and in authority, when they do not even claim to be eye-witness accounts; and indeed have internal evidence of being compilations? - When by comparison the Fourth Gospel is a wonder of integration, harmony and unity!

(Except for Chapter 21, which seems to have been added some time after the death of Simon Peter; said to be in the early 60s AD.) 

Unless we really disbelieve the claims of the Fourth Gospel - in which case it should not be in the Bible at all, since it is clearly dishonest - then it should be First.

Instead, the Synoptics are de facto given priority, by the simple means of claiming to regard all the Gospels as equal - or, indeed, especially among Confessional Protestants, inferior in authority to the Pauline Epistles.

Since the Fourth Gospel is qualitatively different from the Synoptics (and Paul's Epistles) in content, emphasis and several significant features; when it is regarded as 'equal' in authority, it is simply out-voted!

This means that, in actual practice (and for many hundreds of years), the Fourth Gospel (which ought-to-be First in priority) has-been and is merely fitted-into the other Gospels and/ or the Pauline Epistles; and any differences are explained-away.

This is simply a fact; the question is whether it is justified.

And that hinges on our understanding of what happened in the early 'post-apostolic' era of the Christian church - and to what extent it was divinely inspired, and to what extent it was human, flawed and corrupt.

Do we trust that the early and dominant theologians and church leaders were fundamentally correct? - I don't.

Do we trust that God inspired at least some translations of scripture to be sufficiently true? - I do: wrt the Septuagint, the Vulgate, Luther's and the 'King James'; which I regard as all equivalently valid (although not identical). 

By these assumptions, we can trust and use scripture (in these four versions), overall; and we can (as I do here) use scripture as evidence against the compilers and interpreters of The Bible.

You may not believe my assumptions are correct - and I cannot argue for them with 'evidence', since they are assumptions - but this procedure is coherent and reasonable.



Anonymous said...

I must respectfully disagree. The Roman Catholic Mass is fundamentally about the Logos who came down from Heaven and returned. It is not about the Jewish Messiah. In practice, Christianity is John, not the Synoptics. Christianity is late Paul (Ephesians), not early Paul (Thessalonians).

Bruce Charlton said...

@JQP (What a horrible pseudonym!) To engage with this post, you really need to describe your different metaphysical assumptions. Stating your bare conclusions is beside the point to *this* discussion.

Michael Dyer said...

It's one of those things where a result needed to happen (sidelining the gospel meant for us , the Gentiles) so a reason was found.

The honesty of the textual critics and "scholars" has to be in question at this point. Dean Burgon and others even pointed it out at the time.

It's just that there needed to be a reason to make scripture doubtful, or failing that, to make it obscure (which verse belongs and doesn't, and "of course you can't understand it without knowledge of the original Greek and Hebrew, etc.").

The word of God is powerful on it's own because it provides a means for God to communicate to every one of us. It is the means by which faith is received. No mere mortal can really dynamite it.

When the Authorized English Version of the Oxford Text was translated, it was three groups of scholars the equal of which has never been seen (some of these men's intellectual capacities boggle the mind to this day) all praying, translating and checking each others work. Of course when I went to the largest Evangelical university in the world, every professor in the religion department knew better than all of them. And in nearly every church, the pastor did too. Somehow.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MD - Indeed. I find it amazing that modern Christians fail to notice the intrinsically destructive effect of having hundreds of English Language 'versions' of the Bible, and with new ones emerging all the time.

Anonymous said...

Christianity has nothing to do with metaphysics.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JQP - Quite right; but all churches and denominations do, all creeds and dogmas do.

Chip said...

If "John" is Lazarus and continued thru the decades, could he be a "missing link" to more or less keep the post-apostolic fathers on the right track, an instrument of the Comforter?

Chip said...

Yes, it does seem that preservation of God's word would be a vital part of inspiration. Since we don't have the original manuscripts and can't be expected to be multilingual scholars, it seems right that perhaps various versions have been providentially provided for different peoples, such as kjv for 17th century plus english speaking peoples.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Chip - I get a sense that God cannot keep control of human institutions - at least, they generally run to corruption very rapidly, and sometimes very completely. Presumably because these are complex interactions of many individual 'free agencies'.

The adversary has it easy, in this respect, as we see all around us - when all modern Western institutions are corrupt in the same way.

It is difficult to be Good and easy to be evil in this life; and there are more paths to evil than of Good.

This innate asymmetrical tendency is perhaps the reason why the end times will happen later if not sooner.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Bradley - This blog is about my own spiritual development as a Christian, and I don't see myself as teaching.

I would, indeed, be reluctant to do so - because I think the essence of this era is that of individual struggle for direct revelation.

But the best way to see what I have had to say about Lazarus is to word search this blog for Lazarus: