THE REFUTATION OF JOHN
by miriam berg
ARGUMENTS IN JERUSALEM
Go, and sin no more."
With these words
Jesus concludes one of the most remarkable incidents
in the gospels. Confronted with an example of a "sin"
according to the Mosaic law, for which death by stoning
was the penalty, he says nothing at first, then at last
Let him who is without sin
among you cast the first stone.
Then the woman's accusers leave, one by one; we are
not told why, but we may assume that even those scribes
and Pharisees realized that they were not without sin,
and were struck by his words, and left his presence
without his telling them to. Jesus expresses surprise:
Did no man condemn thee?
Neither do I condemn thee.
It is remarkable as an example of how we should behave
towards those whose actions we deplore; it is noteworthy
that most of the ancient manuscripts of John do not have
it, and some early manuscripts of Luke have it instead.
It is perhaps one of the most believable stories in the
gospel of John, ranking with the confrontation of Jesus
with the elders in the Synoptics, where he asks them why
they didn't believe in John the Baptizer, and where he tells
them to render unto God the things that are God's. Further
evidence, however, that it is interpolated into John at this
point, is how the next section follows and is directly
related to the previous chapter.
This next section is another argumentative discourse
by Jesus with the Jews, after which they take up
stones to cast at him, but he "hides" (it is reported) and
leaves the temple. This last is inconsistent with the
report in Luke that he passed through them and went his
way (Luke 4:30) on a similar occasion. Somehow Jesus
hiding is not the picture I have of the teacher who cried,
Woe unto the scribes and Pharisees! (Matt. 23:13-33;
Luke 11:39-52). Shall we believe John's report?
or that of the Synoptics?
But this discourse further is filled with sharp contrasts
with the teaching in Matthew, Mark, and Luke:
not a single parable, only repeated claims
that God is his special Father. Surely we may
believe that God was Jesus' Father, just as God is
the parent of us all; but we do not need to conclude
that Jesus was a god himself, any more than are we
all. Here are some of the contradictions between
sayings in John and the Synoptics:
|I am the light of the world. (8:12)
|Ye are the light of the world. |
|The Father that sent me
beareth witnessof me.
|Neither tell I you by what authority
I do these things. (Matt. 12:27)|
|I am from above; I am not
of this world.
|Why ca1lest thou me good? none is good,
save one, even God. (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19)|
|Except ye believe I am he, ye shall die
in your sins.
|For whoso shall do the will of God,
the same is my brother and sister and mother.
Everyone who shall speak a word against the son of
man, it shall be forgiven him. (Luke 12: 10)
|If a man keep my word, he shall never
|Be not afraid of them that kill the body and after
that have no more that they can do. But fear him, which after
he hath killed hath power to cast your body into the valley
of Gehenna. (Luke 12:4-5)|
|Before Abraham was, I am.
|Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not
the things which I say? (Luke 6:46)|
Now of course many verses in this discourse could be
said to be consistent with teachings in the Synoptics:
the condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus'
denial that he acts of himself, his assertion that he
seeks not his own glory. It is rather the overall tone
of the discourse which is so appallingly at variance
with Matthew, Mark, and Luke; Jesus there never
claims, I am this, or I am that; he says, (You) do this,
and do that, and God will reward you; the kingdom
or reign of God is within you; it comes not with
outward signs; it is like pearls of great value and a
treasure hidden in a field; it grows slowly and from
within. Jesus rarely uses "I" in the Synoptics but
rarely misses a chance in John. Whose report do we
think is the more accurate? Which is less likely to
have been words handed down by those who believed
Jesus was the Messiah, and therefore more likely to
be authentic, when compared with words which are
known to correspond with the beliefs held by the
early Christians? Who is the more convincing, the
man who astounded people with the authority of his
teaching in the Synoptics, or the one who complained,
Why seek ye to kill me? and, If I say truth, why do you
not believe me? and, Are ye wroth with me, because I
healed on the Sabbath? Jesus' sharp retorts in the
Synoptics ring with authority: Is not a man of more
value than a sheep? Unless your righteousness exceeds
that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not find the
kingdom of God; Let these words sink into your ears,
for the Son of man is delivered up into the hands of
men; Go and tell that fox, Herod, that I go on my way
today and tomorrow and the day following. Let us be
glad that Mark, Matthew, and Luke preserved these
sayings, even if John
didn't want to hand them down.