THE REFUTATION OF JOHN
by miriam berg
John next reports that an elder named Nicodemus
comes to visit Jesus, at night, and that Jesus delivers
a discourse on spiritual rebirth and eternal life.
Now once again, we must observe that the Synoptics do
not so much as mention Nicodemus, even in passing,
although he is labelled as a "ruler of the Jews" by John.
We must also observe that there is no mention of rebirth
in the Synoptics, but we can see the following progression
of thought from Mark to Matthew to John:
(Mark 10:15) Whoso shall not receive the kingdom of God
as a little child, shall in no wise enter therein.
(Matt.18:3) Except ye turn, and become as little children,
ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of God.
(John 3:5) Except a man be born anew, of water and
the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Could it be possible that the Johannine statement was
de-theologized into the warmer, more human statement in Mark,
and is it the original; or is it more likely
that the simple statement according to Mark,
on the occasion of suffering the little children
to come to him, would have evolved into the more dogmatic,
allegorical, metaphysical statement found in John?
The rest of the discourse, about the son of man
and Son of God, bears every stamp
of having been put into Jesus' mouth by the author.
It is worded in the past tense, and clearly represents
the thinking of the early Christians following Jesus' death;
but even so nowhere in it does Jesus claim a unique
relationship with God. Furthermore, not one discourse
in the Synoptics bears any resemblance to this style of
discourse; only one paragraph in them (Matt. 11:27;
Luke 10:22) contains any reference to the Father
and the Son. And we are also told there that Jesus
taught in parables, and that without a parable spake he not
unto them; but these remarks in John, about rebirth, and
water and the spirit, are not a parable,
because Jesus treats them as real, not as a simile
or a metaphor.
To make this quite clear, note that Jesus is not reported
as saying, The kingdom of God is like being born anew;
he does not say, It is like being born of water
and the spirit. Nor in the Synoptics does he say,
The kingdom of God is a grain of mustard seed, growing
high overhead; nor, the kingdom of God is a man sowing
seed in a field, or is a merchant seeking goodly pearls. A
parable teIIs what something is like; but the Jesus of John
here says, Ye must be born anew; ye must believe on the
Son to have eternal life; God sent the Son so that the world
might be saved. All of these ponderous assertions are
contradicted by the Synoptics: in a day that thou knowest
not the son of man cometh (Luke 12:40); whoso shall seek
to save his life shall lose it (Mark 8:35; Luke 17:33);
except ye repent, ye shall likewise perish (Luke 13:3,5);
seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all else shall be added
unto you (Matt. 6:35; Luke 16:31).
The rest of this chapter contains no more words from Jesus,
but reports John the Baptizer as saying
all kinds of eulogizing things about Jesus. But the records
of Matthew, Mark, and Luke not only do not contain
any such opinion about Jesus on the part of John,
but Matthew and Luke actually report John as doubting that Jesus
was the one who he said would come (Matt. 11:2,3; Luke 7:18,19).
Which report should we be1ieve? Did John proclaim Jesus to be
the Messiah or not? Would Matthew and Luke have reported such
doubts on the part of John if he had not actually had them?
Further examination of the above verses
and the beginning of the next chapter
shows that they are wholly questionable. In verse 3:24
we are told that John was not yet cast into prison,
whereas in the Synoptics we are explicitly told that Jesus
did not begin to preach until after John had been cast into
prison. Whom are we to believe? And in verse 3:22 we are
told that Jesus went into Judea, and baptized; but John
contradicts himself later, at verse 4:2, when he says that
Jesus baptized not, and in the Synoptics we can find no
record of Jesus' ever having baptized. Is John a careful and
accurate reporter? So far nearly everything John has told us
(either the Baptizer or the Evangelist) is contradicted in
one way or another by the Synoptics, or is obviously later
and more theologically evolved. Should we accept his
report as'more reliable than the Synoptics, or not? Well,
let us defer our answer until we have studied further.