Monday 15 January 2024

Why was there nearly two millennia of neglecting and misinterpreting the Fourth Gospel ("John")?

I can conjecture what seems a plausible history and reason why the Fourth Gospel of The Bible (i.e. Chapters 1-20 of the Gospel usually called "John") has been so consistently downgraded, neglected and misinterpreted - in comparison what a focused reading of this Gospel (apparently) clearly and simply reveals to the 21st century reader.   

The reason is explained by my belief that the IV Gospel was written by the resurrected Lazarus; because, as a resurrected Man, Lazarus knows that each individual can have a direct knowledge of and relationship to Jesus Christ; and that there is therefore no necessity for Christianity to be mediated by a church or a priesthood. 

Lazarus knew this, because he had been resurrected and thereby had become a truly free agent: the only one (before Jesus's resurrection) who had seen both sides of the transformation of mortal life to resurrected life. 

Whereas the other Apostles were subject to the normal consciousness and expectations of the Men of their time and place - for whom it seemed both natural and necessary that the message and work of Jesus must be mediated by a priesthood, and that salvation was communal, and indeed "tribal" (albeit an open tribe) as it had been for the Hebrews of their time. It would seem natural that they (plus Paul) would proceed by means of establishing a new priesthood and church. 

And indeed; such a communal and mediated necessity was the almost-inevitable perspective of Men for many centuries afterwards - especially up into the "modern era" in "The West" and from the middling 1700s. 

But nowadays (and especially in The West) - after a belief in the necessity of a mediated communal salvation has dwindled, and the churches (and their apparatus of theology and scholarship) have been so widely and deeply corrupted; we can, as individuals cut-off from our fellow Men by modern alienated consciousness; perceive the clear and simple truth of the Fourth Gospel...

A clear and simple truth that was, in a sense, "always there" but heavily obscured by many combinations of buried assumptions - as well as by the placing of the IV Gospel bracketed by the Synoptics on the one side, and Acts and the Epistles on the other side; which are thereby allowed "outvote", to set the context; and in general subvert, distort and relegate the IV Gospel to the kind of optional-extra and "supplementary" status it has for mainstream, traditional, and in-general church-led Christians. 


Francis Berger said...

Also interesting have been the various pushes throughout the centuries to have the Fourth Gospel removed from the Bible altogether, largely due to its incongruity with the Synoptic Gospels and the rest of the NT, but as you have noted here, that incongruity speaks volumes and is definitely not a negative.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - I wasn't aware of such attempts at removal, but it does not surprise me.

The first time I encountered the IV Gospel was indirectly, in the Preface to GB Shaw's Androcles and the Lion - in 1979, I think:

"John, moreover, claims to be not only a chronicler but a witness. He declares that he is "the disciple whom Jesus loved," and that he actually leaned on the bosom of Jesus at the last supper and asked in a whisper which of them it was that should betray him...

"John's narrative is in many passages nearer to the realities of public life than the simple chronicle of Matthew or the sentimental romance of Luke. This may be because John was obviously more a man of the world than the others, and knew, as mere chroniclers and romancers never know, what actually happens away from books and desks. But it may also be because he saw and heard what happened instead of collecting traditions about it. The paleographers and daters of first quotations may say what they please: John's claim to give evidence as an eyewitness whilst the others are only compiling history is supported by a certain verisimilitude which appeals to me as one who has preached a new doctrine and argued about it, as well as written stories."

Shaw said plenty of wrong things in this Preface - e.g. Shaw states that "John" expected a second coming of Jesus within a few years, yet a second coming is never mentioned in IV Gospel, and is indeed contradictory to its whole argument). And, after all; GBS rejected by assumption all supernatural claims. Nonetheless these passages struck home at the time.