In praise of John

First, an irrelevant update to the rest of this post: the Andalusada Scrapbook is currently hovering at 1999 posts right now. My little blog is growing up, and catching it at a moment like that feels like seeing your child take their first step, or getting the first printed copy of your own book.

And now, for the serious one: on today's "Smart people saying smart things," walden posted this:
It's interesting.  This part of the gospel of John is widely regarded as an interpolation and is not in the oldest of the versions to have come down to us.  So in all the scholarly editions, it's in fine print or is footnoted.
But it seems to me to be way more authentic and in keeping with the gospel than most of the rest of John -- which is filled with a lot of neo-platonism and philosophical claptrap.  Which seems more like Jesus of the synoptics -- the woman taken in adultery? or the long self-referential preaching prayer that takes up pretty much of three chapters of the last supper sequence?
I think that John mostly doesn't belong in the N.T., but that this story (based probably on an older oral tradition) does belong.
What exactly do you say to something like that? In my case, I said this:
Serious question here, walden: If we're setting the Synoptics as the litmus test of Jesus's biography, the Pericope's doubly problematic. It not only "isn't" in John (until it was), but it isn't in ANY Synoptic Gospel, and while there were several versions of the Jesus-forgives-a-sinning-woman story circulating that's no guarantee of accuracy.
So on what grounds could we now declare that the Pericope should be in the NT canon and John SHOULDN'T be? Because I don't see any good-faith way to argue that position without making glaringly bad assumptions, the first and worst being "There's nothing wrong with editing NT canon to make it sound more like what we think it should."
(I'd also argue that the Johannine tradition's theology is a really important feature and not a bug, but that's for later.)
 And since it is later, I may as well take the opportunity to get my thoughts down.

Since I haven't mentioned it yet, and it's relevant to the discussion at hand: I've been memorizing 1 John since mid-July. Six weeks learning to appreciate the Johannine tradition has made me a bit partisan on this topic; my adolescent Jesus Seminar fanboyism (and I remember them basically sniffing at anything Jesus-in-John said) has made me moreso.

But anyways, in no particular order, I'm gonna set down my problems with walden's words.
  • Why is "neo-Platonism and philosophical claptrap" bad? If you're going to claim "relationship, not religion" I can see why John's explicit theology is such a problem. Likewise if you're going to object to it forcing the framing of the whole thing. But why is that bad?

    Dogmatic, definitional statement here: Christianity is not a vaunted "personal relationship with Jesus," but an ongoing participation in Christian history. And if we're going to be remotely honest about that history, we're gonna have to face the fact that it was religious - and theological - pretty much from the very beginning. "Neo-Platonism and philosophical claptrap" are our roots; wrestle with them however you want, reconcile with them or not, but there's no way to disavow them.
  • The Gospels aren't purely biographical. "Biography" was a very different genre in antiquity than in (post)modernity.
  • John refutes modern bad theology by existing. Without John, it would be relatively simple to take the Biblical literalist stance towards the NT: that the Gospels are the same, or only slightly different, and therefore factually true. (Which I affirm and deny - affirm because I'll claim the truth of the Resurrection itself, and deny because "facts" implicitly concedes the entire ground to Kant and vulgar positivism.) John prevents that.

    A Bible that contains John can't be a Bible that supports "literalism" or "inerrancy." It's a Bible that has to acknowledge the Pericope Adulterae (and, in the broader corpus, the Comma Johanneum too) - that anybody can point to and trigger a reconciling. Even more than that, a Bible that contains the Gospel of John is a Bible that contains John 5:39-40 - and that (first brought to my attention by Morgan Guyton; thank you, Morgan!) is the single greatest prooftext against Biblicism that we have.

    A Bible without John is a Gospel that can be mastered, not served.
...this is going to need revision once I clear my head up a bit, but until that time here it is.

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