Category Archives: Gospel of John


How the Gospel of John Uses and Completes the Gospel of Mark

by Neil Godfrey

I skip ahead to the fourth paper of the first day of the Memory and the Reception of Jesus in Early Christianity Conference (10th-11th June 2016, St Mary’s University):

  • Helen Bond

    Helen Bond

    “The Reception of Jesus in the Gospel of John” by Helen Bond

I will return in the next post to the third and the discussion following. Bond’s topic I find much more interesting.

We can see how the Gospels of Matthew and Luke used the Gospel of Mark: they copied much of it and only slightly revised other parts. But that was not the way authors of that time normally used other texts. Matthew and Luke are unusual. Ancient authors were taught to add material, to omit and to re-arrange their source texts, even if only to produce something distinctively fresh and new. The Gospel of John has much more in common with other literature of the day in the way it uses its source material (Mark) and it is Matthew and Luke that are the outliers.

The blame for scholars in recent decades having had a difficult time accepting the idea that John was indebted to the synoptic gospels, in particular Mark, can be laid at the feet of form criticism. Form critics approached the gospels as if they were fundamentally copy and compilation documents. Their authors were transcribing other source and artlessly sticking them together to look like some sort of narrative. This view has not always been the common one, and once again it is being challenged by scholars who specialize in narrative criticism. Form critics have believed John could not possibly have known of Mark because its story segments are so alien to anything found in Mark. Narrative critics have always seen things differently and read John as a most artful composition, with even its awkward scene changes being the consciously constructed as rhetorical devices. Not that the gospel as we have it now was written in one go since there are nonetheless indications that the author returned a number of times to revise and add to it. Recall the second ending tagged on apparently as an afterthought, for example.

So how could John be so different from Mark yet still be dependent upon Mark? Helen Bond’s answer makes a lot of sense to me. The author of the fourth gospel knew the Gospel of Mark intimately, possibly so well we can imagine he knew it by heart. He had long reflected on Mark; had assimilated it into his own thinking and thought deeply, long and often, about its many facets and themes and messages. He was thus in a position to re-write it inside out, bringing to the fore his own meditations arising from its scenes and sayings.

Thus we find . . . .

John had no need to copy Mark’s exorcism episodes, because he realized Mark’s Jesus was in fact the conqueror of the ruler of the world — all of Mark’s episodic defeats of demons were subsumed under the direct presentation of Jesus as the one who defeated all powers.

John had no need to present John the Baptist as the Elijah because he had arrived at a new eschatology rendering Mark’s obsolete.

John had no need for a transfiguration scene because his Jesus was shown to be the ruler of all throughout the gospel.

Specific stories and sayings in Mark are broadened out in John to large thematic discussions. Mark’s Jesus spoke of serving all to be the first of all; John has a whole scene demonstrating this — the foot washing. Similarly the eucharist and baptism and holy spirit narratives in Mark are replaced by lengthy discussions of the meaning of the eucharist, of baptism and of the holy spirit.

The crucifixion scene in John takes up and develops ideas that are only muted in Mark. Example, Mark has the titulus crucis declaring Jesus to be the King of the Jews while John takes this detail and makes it a controlling metaphor of Jesus’ trial before Pilate.

It is often said that John’s trial scene owes little to those found in the synoptics but Helen Bond disagrees. Rather, the argument is advanced that the “Synoptic Jewish Trial” is scattered throughout John:

  • Mark’s Sanhedrin trial (prior to Jesus being sent to Pilate) is the source of John 11’s portrayal of the Sanhedrin condemning Jesus after the raising of Lazarus
  • Mark’s witnesses accusing Jesus of threatening to destroy the temple is expanded in John 2 with Jesus declaring just that
  • The question of Messiahship in Luke 22:67-70 is found in John 10.
  • Jesus announcement that his judges would see the Son of Man in the heavenly realm is transferred in John to chapter 1.

Bond compares the viewpoint of the renowned Raymond Brown who argued that John’s trial scene was more historically accurate than those in the synoptics because the author of John had to have relied upon eyewitnesses, whereas in the synoptic versions we know that the disciples had fled the scene and could not have relayed the events that are written there. The synoptic authors instead cobbled together a more convoluted trial scene(s) by drawing upon recollections of disparate scenes throughout Jesus’ life. (Brown apparently was so steeped in form-critical assumptions and unable to seriously consider John as a creative author rewriting Markan themes that he argued that he only knew of the cleansing of the Temple story from an isolated account on a single leaf or sheet and not as part of a narrative — hence his placing it at the beginning of the gospel and not at the end as in Mark.)

Helen Bond believes that John could only have used and played with Mark these ways if he knew Mark intimately and had pondered it deeply.

How was the Gospel of John received?

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Bowling with Bumpers or How Not to Do Critical Scholarship

by Tim Widowfield

Note: I wrote this post back in February of 2012. I just never got around to adding a nice conclusion and finishing it. I offer it up now as a way to kick-start my blogging habit again.

Failure-proofing the world

I suck at bowling. I’ve tried. Heaven knows I’ve tried. I even bought a pair of bowling shoes, had a ball drilled to fit my hand, the works. Doesn’t matter. I still stink.

watching the ball go

watching the ball go (Photo credit: whatnot)

But hang on — help is on the way. There’s a surefire method for keeping your ball (if not your mind) out of the gutter. They call it “Bumper Bowling.” Just toss the ball down the lane and you’re at least assured of knocking down the seven or the ten pin.

In our “losing-is-too-hard” culture, which simply delays the age at which children learn that the world is a lonely, cold, hard place, we don’t want anyone to suffer the pain of failure, so we reward any effort. No more tears at the bowling alley. Any errant ball is gently kept on its course to the pins thanks to a set of railings, or in some cases, a gaudy pair of inflatable tubes.

Of course my problem isn’t landing in the channel, it’s missing the easy spares. So while the bumpers keep the very young, the weak, and the infirm from getting skunked, it won’t assure them of a decent score. Unless, that is, they start handing out strikes for knocking down eight or nine pins. “Close enough, Tyler! High five, Brianna!”

The Gospel of John as a beautiful, clumsy child

Pity poor John. If you wanted to explain Christianity to someone who knew nothing about it, wouldn’t the Gospel of John be the first thing you’d show him or her? It’s just so “right.” Jesus knows who he is from the very start. His disciples immediately know he’s the Messiah, even before they become disciples. “Peter, come quick! We have found the Messiah!”

And then there’s all that wonderful stuff in the discourses. “I go to prepare a place for you. In my father’s house there are many mansions.” That’s unforgettable. It’s sweet, poetic, and comforting.

But when it comes to historicity, the Gospel of John is the beautiful child who can’t throw, can’t catch, and runs like an eggbeater. From the very start, commentators on John’s gospel said it was a “spiritual gospel.” That’s like when your grandma cocks her head to one side and says, “Oh, bless his heart. He tries so hard.” read more »


Did Jesus Really Baptize — and if so, How?

by Neil Godfrey

brodie-johnHere’s a little comment I just left at another discussion forum. Thought it might be of interest to a few readers here.

The question being addressed is, Did Jesus Baptise people?

The passage under discussion is John 3.22-4.3

[22]After this Jesus and his disciples went into the land of Judea; there he remained with them and baptized.
[23] John also was baptizing at Ae’non near Salim, because there was much water there; and people came and were baptized.
[24] For John had not yet been put in prison.
[25]Now a discussion arose between John’s disciples and a Jew over purifying.
[26] And they came to John, and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you bore witness, here he is, baptizing, and all are going to him.”
[27] John answered, “No one can receive anything except what is given him from heaven.
[28] You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.
[29] He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full.
[30] He must increase, but I must decrease.”
[31] He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks; he who comes from heaven is above all.
[32] He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony;
[33] he who receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.
[34] For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that he gives the Spirit;
[35] the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into his hand.
[36] He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him.
[John 4:1]
Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John
[2] (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),
[3] he left Judea and departed again to Galilee.

John 4:2 stands as a gauche contradiction to 3:22 — hence the question: Did Jesus himself baptize?

My response was to toss in an interpretation from the left field. It’s from Thomas L. Brodie’s commentary on John. His proposed interpretation references other passages, in particular the following:

John 1:33

And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, he said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he that baptizeth with the Holy Spirit.

John 4:3-7

he left Judea and departed again to Galilee. He had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

It is commonplace for scholarly interpreters to say that John 4:2 (explaining that Jesus did not baptize after all) is a later editorial insertion. A maverick view comes from Thomas Brodie who has a quite different perspective.  read more »


Metonymy, Messianism, and Historicity in the New Testament

by Tim Widowfield
Jesus uppväcker Lazarus, målning av Karl Isaks...

Jesus Raising Lazarus from the Dead — Karl Isaksson, 1872-1922 Kategori:Målningar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, I happened to notice a post on James McGrath’s site concerning a paper by Tom Thatcher about Jesus as a healer and a “controversialist.” As I take it, that term describes a figure who is no mere contrarian, but rather one who makes controversial statements or engages in controversial actions to stimulate debate or to educate and elucidate.

Thatcher presented his paper, which apparently isn’t yet available to the public, at the Society of Biblical Research’s 2015 Annual Meeting in Atlanta. His session, entitled “Jesus as Controversialist: Media-Critical Perspectives on the Historicity of the Johannine Sabbath Controversies,” bears the following abstract:

Apart from scattered sayings with clear parallels in other texts, it remains the case that the Johannine discourses are almost categorically disregarded as useful sources for the message of Jesus. Consistent with this approach, the dialogues of Jesus in John 5–10, which include some of the most significant Christological statements in the Gospel, are generally discounted whole as reflections of the Johannine imagination. The present paper will utilize insights drawn from media-criticism to propose a more holistic approach that seeks to identify broad patterns in John’s presentation that reflect widely-accepted themes in the message and program of the historical Jesus. Close analysis reveals that the discourses in John 5-10 are prompted by specific acts of protest by Jesus (the two Sabbath healings) that are directed toward the brokers of the Jerusalem great tradition. Against the establishment claim that he is a “sinner,” Jesus contends that his widely-documented activity as a healer would be impossible were it not sanctioned by God: If God objected to healing on Sabbath, then how could Jesus do so? One may reasonably conclude that the more elaborate theological statements in this central section of the Gospel are in fact grounded in three widely accepted conclusions: that the historical Jesus was a healer; that he challenged conventional views of Sabbath; and, that he openly opposed the Judean religious establishment. (Thatcher, 2015, emphasis mine)

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Curious Contacts Between John’s Gospel and the Asclepius Myth

by Tim Widowfield

I’ve been trying to think of something worthy of posting on this Easter Sunday, 2015. All I can come up with at the moment is a subject I’ve had on the back burner for some time, namely the handful of references in the Fourth Gospel (FG) that remind us of Asclepius. Longtime readers may recall Neil’s description from his review of Jesus Potter Harry Christ.

Asclepius the gentle and personally accessible deity, lover of children, gentle, exorcist and healer, and one whose cult was considered at certain times the greatest threat to Christianity.

Several scholars have remarked upon the parallels in terminology and legends that surround both Jesus and Asclepius. Of course, the most obvious things that come to mind would include the designations of savior (sōtēr | σωτήρ) and healer or physician (iatros | ἰατρός). But I’m more interested for now in the specific events or ideas presented in the Gospel of John.

Rod of Asclepius

Rod of Asclepius (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Bronze Serpent and the Rod of Asclepius

I’ll start with the most obvious connections and proceed to the more tenuous. The most prominent correlation between Asclepius and the FG has to be the brazen serpent.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. (John 3:14-15, KJV)

In the United States, especially, we tend to confuse the caduceus and the Rod of Asclepius. We should associate the caduceus with the god Hermes; hence, it’s a symbol for traders, heralds, or ambassadors. The Rod (or Staff) of Asclepius, on the other hand, is a symbol of healing.

The bronze serpent or Nehushtan in the Hebrew Bible also had specific healing properties.

And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:9, NASB)

Oddly enough, we read that during Hezekiah’s reign, the bronze serpent was destroyed as a part of his reform movement. read more »


How John Used Mark: Investigating the Methods of the Fourth Evangelist (Part 3)

by Tim Widowfield
Cleansing the Temple (Quarter from Augustinian...

Cleansing the Temple (Quarter from Augustinian polyptych). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Part 3: John Displaces and Rewrites the Cleansing of the Temple

All four evangelists recount Jesus’ cleansing of the temple at Jerusalem. The Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) place the event during the week before the crucifixion, while John sets it near the very start of Jesus’ ministry. In the ancient church, many, if not most, commentators assumed these accounts of disturbances at the temple described two different events. In fact, you can find apologists today who claim Jesus did it every time he went to Jerusalem, which — if we harmonize John with the other three — suggests that it happened three times or more.

At this point, we’re not going to cover all the detailed reasons that most scholars now believe the pericopae in John and the Synoptics refer to the same event. Nor will we dwell for long on the arguments concerning whether John knew Mark or a pre-Markan oral tradition. As I’ve said many times before, I maintain that John knew the written gospel of Mark. In this case, he used Mark’s account of the cleansing, but he moved it in time and changed it in form and substance for theological reasons.


John agrees with the Synoptics on several basic elements. Jesus arrives in Jerusalem during the time of the Passover, enters the temple’s outer courtyard, and begins to make a scene. We have similar vocabulary in both versions, including the words for “tables” [τράπεζα (trapeza)] and “money changers” [κολλυβιστῶν (kollybistōn)].

In the Johannine and Markan versions, Jesus is wholly successful. John says he drove them “all” [πάντας (pantas)] out, while Mark claims that nobody could carry a vessel through the temple. Both evangelists concur that for a period of time, just before Passover, Jesus single-handedly blocked all temple trade. On the other hand, parts of John’s story diverge from the Markan source. For example, in John’s version we have not just birds and money changers, but large, domesticated animals: sheep and oxen. Did you ever wonder whether they really had livestock pens in the temple courtyard? Andrew Lincoln, in his commentary on the Gospel of John notes:

John’s addition of animals as large as cows has produced some questions about its verisimilitude. Jewish sources fail to mention such animals in the temple precincts and their excrement would have caused problems of pollution of the sacred site. (Lincoln, 2005, p. 137, emphasis mine)

For scholars who think John contains actual eyewitness material, these sorts of puzzles usually elicit a shrug and a “Why not?” However, those of us who are unencumbered by the anxiety of historicity may rightly ask: “Why did John embellish upon the legend? What is the significance behind Jesus’ driving out the sacrificial animals? Is it a portent of the passing of the age of sacrifice (post 70 CE) or is it something else?”

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Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple: Rationalizing a Miracle

by Tim Widowfield
Christ Cleansing the Temple, c 1655 (J. Paul G...

Christ Cleansing the Temple, c 1655 (J. Paul Getty Museum) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Disorderly Conduct

While researching the similarities and differences between Mark’s and John’s account of the Cleansing of the Temple in Jerusalem, I came across some fascinating observations by David Friedrich Strauss in The Life of Jesus Critically Examined. As you no doubt already know, the cleansing of, or what many Historical Jesus (HJ) scholars today often call a disturbance at, the Temple is an event recounted in all four gospels, which imagines a lone Jesus disrupting all business occurring in the outer courtyard.

HJ scholars who claim Jesus was some sort of apocalyptic prophet prefer to believe the event really happened, because it fits in with the eschatological message of their reconstructed Jesus. On the other hand, taking the stories at face value raises many issues. Bart Ehrman, in Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, writes:

Most scholars recognize that some aspects of our accounts appear exaggerated, including Mark’s claim that Jesus completely shut down the operation of the Temple (if no one could carry any vessels, it would have been impossible to sacrifice and butcher the animals—which was after all what the Temple was for). As we have seen, the Temple complex was immense, and there would have been armed guards present to prevent any major disturbances. Moreover, if Jesus had actually created an enormous stir in the Temple, it’s nearly impossible to explain why he wasn’t arrested on the spot and taken out of the way before he could stir up the crowds. For these reasons, it looks as if Mark’s account represents an exaggeration of Jesus’ actions. But exaggerations aside, it is almost certain that Jesus did something that caused a disturbance in the Temple — for example, overturned some tables and made at least a bit of a ruckus. (Ehrman, p. 212, emphasis mine)

So for Ehrman, the Temple “disturbance” almost certainly happened, but not the way the gospels tell it. Instead, he would argue, the gospels contain a nugget of truth inside an otherwise unbelievable story.

Meanwhile, other NT scholars don’t buy into the historicity of the event. For example, in A Myth of Innocence Burton Mack called the story a “Markan fabrication.” (See p. 292.) For more on the historical aspects of the cleansing, read Neil’s excellent post: “Why the Temple Act of Jesus is almost certainly not historical.”

Identifying the form

Before we go any further, let’s recall an often forgotten rule in biblical studies: To understand what a story means, you must first determine what it is. And so I come back to Strauss’s analysis of the alleged Temple event. With respect to Origen’s take on the Temple tantrum, he wrote:

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How John Used Mark: Investigating the Methods of the Fourth Evangelist (Part 2)

by Tim Widowfield

Part 2: A Markan Sandwich in John’s Gospel

The Denial of St Peter

The Denial of St Peter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scholars have long noted that both the gospel of John and the gospel of Mark interrupt the story of Peter’s denial with Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin (Mark) or interrogation before Annas (John). Both authors begin with Peter in the courtyard of the high priest late at night, pause the story to describe Jesus’ initial questioning before the Jewish authority, then resume the denial narrative. In other words, the author of John’s gospel has apparently used the same literary device found in Mark.

For New Testament scholars who think that John knew the Synoptics, especially Mark, this situation poses no problems. However, scholars who believe John did not know Mark must explain this evidence, which tends to indicate literary dependence. For example, they might argue that John and Mark:

  1. independently chose to use the intercalation (sandwich) technique to tell the two stories,
  2. used a pre-gospel Passion narrative in which this literary device existed,
  3. or knew the same oral tradition, which happened to contain the sandwich.

Comparing sandwiches

For the purposes of discussion, it’s helpful to see the sandwiches side by side.

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Blind Bartimaeus in the Gospel of Mark: Interpreted by the Gospel of John?

by Neil Godfrey

Here beginneth the lesson. The Gospel of Mark, chapter 10, verses 46 to 52, in the original King James English:

And as [Jesus] went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging.

And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.

And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou Son of David, have mercy on me.

And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called.

And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee.

And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.

And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.

The author of this passage appears to have inserted a couple of clues to alert the observant readers that they will miss the point entirely if they interpret this story literally. It is not about a real blind man who was literally healed by Jesus. But I’ll save those clues for the end of this post. (As Paul would say, “Does God take care for oxen and blind beggars? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written.”)

completely-differentThere are many commentaries on this passage and I have posted about Bartimaeus a few times now. But this time I’ve just read something completely different so here’s another one. (Well at least the bit about why Jesus stood still will be different, yes?)


Mark uses different words for “sight” and “seeing”. Of the word used in “receive my sight” and “received his sight” is anablepo — “look up” — which Karel Hanhart says, the the Gospel of Mark (6:41; 7:34; 8:24; 16:4), “means to look at life with new eyes opened by faith”.

Many scholars agree that this usage is related to the two “blind receiving sight” stories (8:22-26; 10:46-52) which offset the central section of the Gospel and highlight the need of conversion if one is to understand Jesus’ “way to the cross” (cf. 8:34). (p. 124, The Open Tomb)

Hanhart, like a few other scholars who also identify Mark’s theme of the Way or Second Exodus in Isaiah, believes Mark is evoking passages such as Isaiah 42:16 read more »


The Devil’s Father and Gnostic Hints In the Gospel of John

by Neil Godfrey

184465687XApril DeConick has written an interesting article, Who is Hiding in the Gospel of John? Reconceptualizing Johannine Theology and the Roots of Gnosticism (published as a chapter in Histories of the Hidden God) that coincidentally ties in remarkably well with the view of Roger Parvus (posted in part here) that the Gospel of John is an orthodox redaction of the Gospel of an apostate from Marcionism, Apelles. Not that DeConick argues Parvus’s thesis. In fact she has a different explanation for the evidence she reads in the Gospel. But I think readers of Roger Parvus’s posts here may well think the doctrines April identifies in the Gospel do indeed match the teachings of Apelles the ex-Marcionite .

The Father of the Jews is the Father of the Devil

The passage that sparked April DeConick’s particular interest in the Gospel of John was the Greek working in 8:44

ὑμεῖς ἐκ τοῦ πατρὸς τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστὲ
you of the father the devil are

DeConick explains (my bolding):

With the article preceding πατρός, the phrase του διαβόλου is a genitive phrase modifying the nominal phrase έκ του πατρός.. Thus: “You are from the father of the Devil.” If the statement were to mean, as the standard English translation renders it, “You are of the father, the Devil,” then ‘the article preceding πατρός would not be present.

Look at the complete verse as it is normally translated into English:

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (KJV)

“Father of it” does sound a wee awkward. Notice how Youngs Literal Translation treats that last phrase:

. . . . because he is a liar — also his father.

And that’s what April DeConick also points out is the “literal reading of John 8:44f

. . . . because he is a liar and so is his father.

So John 8:44 speaks the father of the Devil. read more »


How John Used Mark: Investigating the Methods of the Fourth Evangelist (Part 1)

by Tim Widowfield

Part 1: Turning Mark Inside Out

In a comment to Neil’s post, Discovering the Sources for the First Gospel, 3 — Criteria, from way back in May of 2012, I introduced a way to explain how the Fourth Evangelist may have used the Gospel of Mark. It might not be a novel approach — there is no new thing under the sun — and I certainly don’t have access to all the commentaries and exegeses on John. However, it’s new to me.

English: John the Evangelist, miniature, Gospe...

English: John the Evangelist, miniature, Gospel Book, Vatopedi monastery, cod. 16 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For simplicity’s sake, here’s my comment, with some minor edits:

In Mark 15:37, Jesus “breathes his last.” In the following verse the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom. And in verse 39, the centurion declares him to be the Son of God.

Key words to notice in verse 15:36 are (1) ἐσχίσθη (eschisthē) — “was torn” and (2) ἄνωθεν (anōthen) — “from [the] top.” A close, literal translation of the verse might be: “And the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom.”

In John, conversely, at the beginning of the crucifixion (19:23) the soldiers take Jesus’ belongings and split them among themselves. They divide his garments into four equal piles, but they notice that Jesus’ tunic is formed of a single piece of woven fabric without seams. John says that the tunic was “seamless from the top (anōthen), woven throughout all.” And in the next verse, they decide not to tear (σχίσωμεν (schisōmen)) the tunic, but cast lots for it instead. It was not torn.

The garment John describes has reminded several commentators of the priestly vestment described by Josephus: “Now this vesture was not composed of two pieces, nor was it sewed together upon the shoulders and the sides, but it was one long vestment so woven as to have an aperture for the neck; not an oblique one, but parted all along the breast and the back.” (

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Blood and Water: What Is the Function of John 19:34?

by Tim Widowfield
c. 1400

Crucifixion with a Dominican friar c. 1400 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 A shock to the system

33  But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs.

34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.

John 19:33-34, NRSV

Today in this short post I return to a recurring theme here on Vridar. The anxiety of historicity (or authenticity) has played such a dominant role in both mainstream and apologetic Jesus studies (if it’s possible to separate them), that we often lose sight of original intent. In other words, scholars and clergymen over the past two centuries have spilled gallons of ink explaining how certain events are plausible, while giving short shrift to the questions concerning the evangelist’s purpose for a story or how that story functioned in the setting of the early church.

The events surrounding the crucifixion are no exception. In fact, a curious blend of wannabe medical experts and earnest confessional scholars have contributed to a vast library of works “explaining” the plausibility of every last detail of the Passion narrative. In the case of the spear piercing Jesus’ side, for example, these experts — who seem to have more interest in forensic science and human anatomy than in the religious meaning of the text — have dominated the conversation.

Above all else, they must impress upon us that “this really did happen,” not in some mythological story, but in the real, material world. Consider the following paragraph:

Prior to death, the sustained rapid heartbeat caused by hypovolemic shock also causes fluid to gather in the sack around the heart and around the lungs. This gathering of fluid in the membrane around the heart is called pericardial effusion, and the fluid gathering around the lungs is called pleural effusion. This explains why, after Jesus died and a Roman soldier thrust a spear through Jesus’ side (probably His right side, piercing both the lungs and the heart), blood and water came from His side just as John recorded in his Gospel (John 19:34).

(Note: I was going to credit a certain apologetic web site ( with the above paragraph, but I’ve found that if you Google the first sentence, you’ll get so many copypasta hits that it’s difficult to tell exactly where the hell it originated.)

Sciencey, ergo plausible, ergo true

Naturally, I don’t expect apologists really understand hypovolemic shock any more than they do the Second Law of Thermodynamics. And that, of course, is why they copy the text word for word. But the point is it sounds sciencey and very sophisticated. It sounds true.

I can remember listening to visiting lecturers in the church I grew up in who would explain “what Jesus actually endured” during the scourging and the crucifixion. I would suppose that Mel Gibson’s Texas Chainsaw Jesus movie spawned even more such discussions. Suffice it to say that at the time, in my early teens, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of why blood and water flowed from Jesus’ wound.

Recently, however, while reading David Friedrich Strauss’s The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, I was struck by his unusual perspective. Why did John tell the story of the spear and the flowing blood and water?

This event is ordinarily regarded as the chief voucher for the reality of the death of Jesus, and in relation to it the proof to be drawn from the synoptists is held inadequate. (p. 697)

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Making of a Mythicist, Act 3, Scene 1 (Too Strange!)

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery

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Part III

The Third Revolution: Literary Art, Including Form/Genre

Becoming aware of how biblical writers redesigned their materials into a new work of art

Chapter 8


Dramatic happenings in the next room

Old Testament studies were much more action-packed in the 1970s than those of the New Testament.

With these two publications there was little ground left for taking anything or anyone in Genesis as being historical.

With this work everything from Genesis to Joshua was rendered suspect. Even Joshua was thus more validly classified with the “former Prophets” than with “history”. But the Book of Judges was said to be historical to the extent that its “jumbled-looking sequence and style” appeared to indicate that it was a collation of oral traditions.


What are we going to do with St John?

Meanwhile, back in St Louis, Missouri, Thomas Brodie was not getting very far in his search for the Gospel of John’s sources. Recall in our previous post that Brodie was struggling with this question since 1982, particularly through the window John 9 (the healing of the man born blind) and its apparent view out to Mark’s accounts of healings of the blind (Mark 8.11-9.8). Brodie was becoming increasingly aware that discerning John’s sources was a question that was inseparable from John’s meaning, and the the meaning of John 9 could not be separated from the rest of the Gospel. The meaning of the Gospel of John was also bound up in the narrative spanning Jesus’ ministry out over three years (as opposed to Matthew, Mark and Luke’s one year ministry). The explanations to all of these questions could not be summed up in a single article.

Then one day I woke up and realized I was being drawn into writing a commentary! (Beyond, p. 80)

culpepperBrodie did not clearly recognize it at the time, but what at this point he was entering a new, the third, revolution of his understanding. Others were also beginning to develop these new ideas to some extent. One landmark example was Alan Culpepper’s Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel (1983). Effectively for the first time the Gospel was being studied for its qualities as a finished literary product. This departed from earlier studies that sought to discern its various parts that had presumably been stitched together over time and to understand their respective histories.

If I were to deal responsibly with John’s Gospel, I would have to take account of both aspects — the sources that underlie it, insofar as they can be identified, and also the completed body, all the features of ancient rhetorical art, especially its basic form (is it . . . history or story?). (Beyond, p. 81)

To step outside Beyond the Quest for a moment, I might point out that later when Brodie finally published The Quest for the Origins of John’s Gospel in 1993 he devoted a chapter to comparing John 9 with the Markan section on healings of blind, pointing out that as the centre episode in John’s gospel it was indeed the window into the meaning of the entire Gospel

A new tool is discovered

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The Distinctive Uses of Names in the Gospel of John

by Neil Godfrey

questoriginjohngospelWhoever wrote the Gospel of John knew how to blend geographical and personal names with other-worldly theological symbolism. So suggests Thomas L. Brodie in an appendix to The Quest for the Origin of John’s Gospel.

To address just a few. (I have in other posts addressed several of these already: otherwise unknown places like Capernaum meaning “village of comfort”; Aenon near Salim meaning “springs of peace”; and so forth.)

Sea of Galilee of Tiberias

Only John speaks of the “sea of Galilee of Tiberias” (John 6:1). Brodie comments that this name

is awkward but . . . has a connotation of universality appropriate to the theme of chapter 6. (p. 160)

So I went back to have another look at John 6 and wonder if he might have a point. The setting introduces the miracle of the miraculous feeding of the 5000, a miracle related in all four gospels. But in the Gospel of John there are two named disciples, Philip and Andrew (who is again said to be Simon Peter’s brother), who are addressed in order to initiate the miracle. This gospel also points out that all this happened at the Passover, which is explicitly said to be the Jews’ feast. We are reminded of the end of the gospel where again on the eve of the Passover we read of Philip being approached to Greeks asking to see Jesus. Philip is a Greek name and here at the sea of the Roman Tiberias we have Greek and Jewish names coming together at the meal symbolizing the salvation of the world through Christ’s whose passover flesh and bread will save all those who eat.

Ephraim near the wilderness

Then in John 11:54 we read that Jesus went to another otherwise unknown “city/polis” called Ephraim. This “city” is said to be near the wilderness. Is it significant that the name of this city beside the wilderness means “fruitful”? This apparently rather pointless little detail, of Jesus going to an otherwise unknown village, does little more, it seems, than pause the reader before going on to read about Jesus being anointed for his death and then being hailed as the King of Israel with the “whole world going after him”. Jesus’ words concluding this section are a metaphor: a grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die and only then will it bear much fruit in abundance. Ephraim alongside the wilderness?

Bethany beyond Jordan and Bethany beside Jerusalem

The beginning of the Gospel finds John the Baptist preaching at Bethany beyond Jordan (John 1:28).

Then before Jesus is to die we are taken to another Bethany (John 11:1) not far outside Jerusalem (John 11:18) to witness the mournful moment of the death of Lazarus. Jesus is called for but he stays away to let him die for a reason. But where is he?

In John 10:40 the reader is informed that Jesus had returned to the place where John was baptizing. Bethany beyond Jordan, if we recall. Brodie sees here

an ambiguity which is perfectly suited to the Lazarus story: it suggests, when death strikes, that the Lord, who apparently is absent, in fact is present. (p. 161)

Theology outweighs geography

Thus while the theological dimension of John’s cities is strong, their hold on history is often fragile.

A further factor is worth noting. Most of the cities or towns peculiar to John are largely or totally unknown to geographers — Bethany beyond the Jordan, Aenon near Salim, Sychar, Ephraim. Thus while the theological dimension of John’s cities is strong, their hold on history is often fragile. (p. 161, my highlighting)

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