Is the Gospel of John really a true gospel? I mean in a manner like Mark, Matthew and Luke?
Rylands Papyrus P52, the oldest fragment of NT
with the text of John 18:31–33
dated roughly to 125 CE.
If you ever opened the Bible and read these gospels you know what I am talking about. The differences are glaring and they stare right into your face.
For instance, synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew and Luke) contain a plethora of short healing stories. They are presented in just a few sentences and sometimes closed with brief controversies. John on the other hand has just a handful of miracles which are presented in a highly loquacious style. John calls them signs. And they are followed with lengthy exposition speeches explaining their spiritual meaning.
Another difference, perhaps even more important - Mark and especially Matthew and Luke contain quite a number of Jesus’ parables, aphorisms and pointed pronouncements called logia. Jesus is frugal with words and often compares the rule of God, (kingdom of god) to everyday mostly farming experiences. In John’s account, on the other hand, Jesus is unrecognizable, delivering lengthy, convoluted, repetitive and often pompous spiritual speeches. The Kingdom of God, Jesus’ hallmark message in Mark, Matthew and Luke is all but gone, and so is his concern with social, political and religious justice. In John it is replaced with philosophizing about light, life, word, truth and the like. Jesus would almost certainly not recognize himself in this “gospel” of John.
And so there is a large consensus among the scholars that what is called Gospel of John is in fact a theological and philosophical reflection of one of the early Christian groups on the importance of Jesus from the distance of at least three generations (60 and possibly 90 years later). Thus - strictly speaking, the Gospel of John is not really a gospel, certainly not in the sense of the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke or even the non-canonical gospel of Thomas. John is a theological reflection, or if you wish, an early Christian spiritual essay on the importance of Jesus. And that is something many might not know about the Bible.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it is a good thing to have this insight into early Christian reflections. They offer us insight into the spiritual development of our faith and the early interpretation trends. And one of those powerful theological dicta about the world changing importance of Jesus will be our theme this Sunday. We will hear how much God loved the world.
About this blog
I invite you to search, listen and observe with me for "the word of tree, whisper of stone, and humming together of the abyss and stars."
Not a Gospel?
Our subject today is a creature whose mythic origins are obscure in the thick mist of religious history. It is a mythical and mystical creature proverbial for its extreme longevity but irrespective of its extreme great age not at all frail and decrepit because it is endowed with an uncanny ability of periodical rejuvenation.
Every five hundred years or so the story goes this creature builds a nest of fragrant spices in which it closes itself and dies only to be reborn. Sometimes it is described as being reborn in flames, sometimes even as rising from still glowing embers. You probably guessed by now that I am talking about the Phoenix – that ancient mythical bird associated with Sun and elemental fire.
The Bible mentions quite a number of mythical beasts, fiery serpents like Nehushtan, dangerous mega-beasts like Behemoth, dragon-like monsters like Leviathan. And in this mythical biblical bestiary there is also one unique but quite clear allusion to the phoenix in the Book of Job.
And that is something you might not know about the bible.
And this biblical-mythical Phoenix is a marvelous and hopeful image for us this Pentecost Sunday just as we are slowly emerging from the trials and tribulations of the past year and half. Join us in worship if you can.
Liberating the Ascension
Luke took different theological aspects of the Easter Message, he analyzed them, distilled them, divided them, and distributed them along the time axis. Thus the resurrection was followed by the ascension, which was followed by the gift of the Spirit. This Luke’s solution is simple, instructive, easy to remember, and it became the foundation of the Christian calendar ever since it was created.
But as simple, instructive, easy, and ubiquitous as it might been, it also trivialized, domesticated, and de-radicalised Easter faith and theology. It led to what I would describe as spacial-temporal fundamentalism and a simplistic historisation of the original radical early Christian message.
This Sunday we will try to undo this Luke’s approach and liberate the Ascension from its temporal and special caricature into a radical event which continues to shatter boundaries of time, space, and authority.
God our mother
“In the name of God, most gracious the most merciful.” Almost every Koranic Sura opens this way and also it is opening of many Muslim scholarly discourses. God most gracious and most merciful are divine epithets of God in Islam.
The Bible has a similar, almost identical way of speaking about the LORD. “Gracious and Merciful LORD, slow to anger and big in love.” (חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם יְהוָה אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וּגְדָל־חָסֶד)
At the center of both Hebrew and Arabic expressions is the word translated to English as “Merciful” and both in Arabic and Hebrew this word is closely associated with the root rḥm expressing gentleness and softness and word reḥem - רֶחֶם (Raḥim in Arabic) which means the womb.
Thus when Al Quran or the Bible speak about the Merciful God, when Jews, Christians and Muslims appeal to divine mercy we all appeal to the motherly, tender, love of God.
And that is something you might not know about God in Abrahamic religions and about Semitic languages.
But this expression of divine tender love can be traced even further beyond this mere metonymy of tender love an womb. There are archaic biblical passages clearly hinting a possibility that Hebrew God actually was perceived as having a womb and giving birth to his people. I talked about it in a videoblog a few months ago.
It is absolutely appropriate for the people of faith to worship "God our mother". And on this Mother’s day Sunday we will do just that - rejoice in Motherly love of our God.