THE REFUTATION OF JOHN
by miriam berg
Jesus and his disciples then go over the
brook Kidron, to a garden where they had
often been before. This accords with the next episode
in the story told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke,
where Jesus goes into "a place called Gethsemane"
and prays to be released from his destiny,
but conquers his fear. It seems likely that the event
in the Synoptics was remembered and retold as a
dramatization by Jesus of his command to us
to carry our own cross in order to be his disciple,
with all the suffering that might ensue; but it has been
chiefly understood as an allegorical suffering on Jesus'
part, as John portrays, rather than real anguish as the
Synoptics report it (Mark 14:32-42; Matt. 26:36-46;
Luke 22:39-46). But this episode is missing completely
in John; we may perhaps be excused for suspecting that
John omitted it (if he even had known of it)
becauee it was inconsistent with his picture of Jesus
as a totally divine being.
Then Jesus is arrested. John has omitted Jesus' prediction
that they would all forsake him (Mark 14:27; Matt. 26:31),
and also omits here that the disciples all did flee
(Mark 14:50; Matt. 26:56)
. The detail of cutting
off the priest's ear is reported as well in the Synoptics;
but Jesus' reproof of Peter in John is based on his
having this assigned role from God instead of not repaying
evil with evil as the Synoptics report:
(John 18:11) The cup which the Father hath given me,
shall I not drink it?
(Matt. 26:52) They that take the sword shall perish
by the sword.
We prefer the report of Matthew, as being more consistent
with the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.
John portrays Jesus as so commanding in appearance
that the officers fall over backwards,
as earlier they return to the chief priests saying,
Never man so spake (John 7:46). Thus we find
another cobble in John's mosaic of Jesus as a divine
being. Mark and Matthew report that Jesus merely
asked them why they came out at him like he was a
robber when he had been sitting teaching in the temple
daily (Mark 14:48-49; Matt.26:55)
, which is typical
of his sharp untheological retorts at other places in the
Synoptics. Then instead of reporting that the disciples
flee, John says that Jesus told the officers to let them
go. But it is hard to believe that they would have stayed
even if Jesus had commanded them to, so powerful a
force is fear on the mind.
We need now to step very carefully, looking closely
at the correspondences between the reports of the trials
in John and those in the Synoptics. The first thing we notice
is that John reports that Jesus was first taken before Annas,
father-in-law to Caiaphas, the high priest. But Mark knows
nothing of this first interrogation, but reports Jesus
as being taken directly before the chief priests;
and only Matthew says that it was Caiaphas.
Johannine apologists say that Annas was the previous
high priest, but John himself does not, but refers to him
in these verses as the high priest. John then reports that
Jesus was next taken before Caiaphas, but gives no details
of the interview, in fact, omits it entirely. Now, did Annas
or Caiaphas first interrogate Jesus? Who rent his clothes?
Was it Caiaphas, as Mark reports? Or was it either of
them, since John does not mention it?
John also reports that both Peter and "another disciple
known unto the high priest" followed and that it was
the other disciple who asked that Peter be admitted.
But Mark reports that only Peter followed
and sat in their midst. That even Peter did so is surprising
in the light of Jesus' prediction that they all would forsake
him; but that this other disciple (not identified as the
author of this Gospel) did too is contradicted by that
prediction. Unless, of course, Jesus never actually made
that prediction, or perhaps he was mistaken, or perhaps
this unnamed disciple was not even one of the Twelve.
But why did not they accuse this other disciple of being
"one of them", as they did Peter? This glaring contradiction
in the story serves all the more to make us doubt John's
authorship or sources of information. This disciple was
"known unto the high priest" but apparently not known
to Peter, since Mark's report doesn't mention it, or even
to the author of John, since he nowhere names him. Of
course the excuse could be made that it is John himself,
and he is not mentioning his name out of modesty; but
his reference to himself as the "beloved" disciple makes
that modesty rather hollow.
But back to the first interview, no matter who
it was before, whether Annas or Caiaphas,
John reports that Jesus was asked about his teaching,
and here replied that he had been teaching openly
in the temple for days if not weeks or months.
But the story in Mark is that they "bare false witness"
against Jesus, including the accusation that he said
that if they destroy the temple he would raise it up
again in three days. John reports Jesus as indeed
saying this, at the beginning of his career when he
cast commerce from the temple, but Mark does not
report Jesus as saying it anywhere. So did Jesus say it
or not? If he said it as John reports, then Mark is
mistaken in calling it "false witness"; if it was a false
accusation as Mark reports then John is mistaken in
attributing it to Jesus. John does not report any false
accusations, but reports Jesus as being flip with Annas,
and later also with Pilate, but all three Synoptists
affirm that Jesus was silent during the trials. So we have
two conflicting reports: in John, a hearing before Annas,
where Jesus is not accused of anything but sasses Annas
and the officer standing by, then his being sent before
Caiaphas, where the "other disciple" apparently never
went; in the Synoptics, a trial before Caiaphas, where
he is accused falsely of many things by witnesses who
could not agree, and answers nothing, but is accused
by the high priest of blasphemy. The Synoptics report
that he replies, "You say so", "That is the charge" when
asked if he is the Messiah; but John does not mention
his even being asked. Which can we believe really
happened? Which is more consistent with the picture
generally given, in John versus the Synoptics? Which
leader would we prefer to follow and believe in? Why
should we believe John rather than Mark?
After that Jesus is led before Pilate. There can be
no doubt as to the sequence of events; nevertheless
the haste with which the whole thing is done is astonishing
and suggests condensation of the original occurrence.
Certainly justice, or rather, injustice often moves
overly quickly to prevent rebels or revolutionaries from
gaining support; but since the opposition to Jesus came
from the Jews, and we may believe that the Romans
couldn't have cared, we do not understand why they
would have moved so hastily. However, here again the stories
do not square: Luke reports direct political accusations
made against Jesus, all false:
And they began to accuse him, saying,
We found this man perverting our nation,
and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar,
and saying that he himself is Christ a king.
But John reports that they waffle:
They answered and said unto him, If this man were
not an evil-doer, we should not have delivered him
up unto thee. (John 18:30)
As much as to say, If a man is not there, then he must be here.
Anyway Pilate takes him inside, and questions him
regarding kingship and truth, and Jesus answers with a
mini-theological discourse. But again the Synoptics
report that Jesus said nothing, so that Pilate marvelled
(Mark 15: 4-5)
. So Pilate goes back outside, and
offers to release Jesus, but they demand instead the release
of Bar-abbas, a murderer and an insurrectionist, or,
in other words, a political rebel, no doubt a Zealot
involved in the movement to oust the Romans. The fact that
they prefer such a person is convincing indirect evidence
of Jesus' message in the Sermon on the Mount: Love your
enemies. So what was Jesus' conduct before Pilate? Did
he answer nothing, as Mark reports? Or did he claim a
kingship "not of this world", as John tells us, with all the
other phrases similar to other discourses in John?