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An Introduction to the Gospel of John

I have started to discuss Jesus’ view(s) of the afterlife, and it has occurred to me, based on some readers’ comments, that it may not be clear why I am not appealing to what Jesus says about such things in the Gospel of John.  That raises a very large question (or two) that I don’t recall dealing with head-on on the blog before (though surely some sleuth will point out that I did!): how John differs from the other Gospels and whether it can be used to establish what the historical Jesus of Nazareth actually preached and taught.

My views are that John is (a) *very* different from the other Gospels and that it is (b) *not* a reliable guide to the word of the historical Jesus.  That will be important for my discussion of Jesus’ view of the afterlife, and so I will devote several posts to the issue as a kind of sub-thread.

In this post I begin by giving some essential information about John’s Gospel, a foundational introduction to what it actually is and what it contains.  This is drawn from my college-level textbook The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings.


Despite its wide-ranging differences from the Synoptics, the Gospel of John clearly belongs in the same Greco-Roman genre. It too would be perceived by an ancient reader as a biography of a religious leader: it is a prose narrative that portrays an individual’s life within a chronological framework, focusing on his inspired teachings and miraculous deeds and leading up to his death and divine vindication.

As was the case with the other Gospels, the portrayal of Jesus is established at the very outset of the narrative, by the introductory passage known as the Johannine Prologue (1:1–18). This prologue, however, is quite unlike anything we have seen in our study of the Gospels to this stage. Rather than…

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Lunch in Boston?
Jesus’ Teaching About the Kingdom of God



  1. Avatar
    jhague  September 29, 2017

    It seems that most Christians believe that Jesus’ ministry was three years. Since the three Synoptic Gospels refer to just one Passover during his ministry and the Gospel of John refers to three Passovers, is it more likely that the Synoptic Gospels are more historical and Jesus’ ministry was closer to one year rather than three?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2017

      I tend to trust the Synoptics on such things…

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  October 2, 2017

        But the synoptics are to be treated as only one source, are they not, since Mt. & Lk. are copying Mk’s framework?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 2, 2017

          But they had other sources as well: Q, M, L (the latter two probably involving multiple sources).

          • Avatar
            SidDhartha1953  October 3, 2017

            Do those sources presume a timeline, or are they plugged in wherever the authors seem to think they fit?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 3, 2017

            The Gospel writers used them to create their own narratives. None of them, so far as we know, set out a chronological sequence of Jesus’ life.

      • Avatar
        jhague  October 2, 2017

        So its most likely that Jesus had around a one year ministry?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 2, 2017

          It’s like that that is what Mark thought. I’m not sure there’s much of anyway to know for sure, but I’d be inclined that way.

          • Avatar
            Michael Toon  October 5, 2017


            Did the historical Jesus think the world was coming a screeching halt within his actual lifetime—before his words at the trial about it— (see, e.g. Matthew 10:1-23)? If so can you cite the relevant passages (if that isn’t asking too much!)?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 6, 2017

            He seems to speak more often of the lifetime of his disciples (Mark 9:1; 13:33; 14:62) rather than his own lifetime. But Matthew 10:23 may suggest the latter.

    • Avatar
      godspell  October 1, 2017

      I don’t think John mentioning three Passovers proves anything, but why would you assume the others referred to every Passover during Jesus’ ministry, and none of those before it?

      None of the gospels are aspiring to be complete biographies, and the fact that they don’t mention something isn’t really evidence that it did not happen. Or that it did. However, I find it unlikely Jesus could have built enough of a following to get as much attention as he did in Jerusalem (enough to get him crucified) in just one year. Nor would his disciples likely have become so attached him in such a short time as to be unable to accept his death. Simply the amount of traveling described would have taken longer than one year.

      An exact chronology isn’t possible with the data we have, and it wasn’t possible for any of the gospel authors either, writing so long afterwards.

  2. talmoore
    talmoore  September 29, 2017

    Incidentally, when I read the discourses of Jesus in the Gospel of John, I’m reminded of the discourses of the Buddha in the Suttapitaka, a massive volume containing the purported dialogues between the Buddha and various peoples. For example, here’s a discourse from the Samyutta Nikaya that reads like something Jesus would say:

    At Savatthi, the King Pasenadi of Kosala approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, and sat down to one side. The Blessed One then said to him: “Where are you coming from, great king, in the middle of the day?”
    “Here, venerable sir, a financier householder in Sgvatthi has died. I have come after conveying his heirless fortune to the palace, as he died intestate. There were eighty lakhs of gold, not to speak of silver, and yet, venerable sir, that financier householder’s meals were like this: he ate red rice along with sour gruel. His clothes were like this: he wore a three-piece hempen garment. His vehicle was like this: he went about in a dilapidated little cart with a leaf awning.”
    “So it is, great king! So it is, great king! When an inferior man gains abundant wealth, he does not make himself happy and pleased, nor does he make his mother and father happy and pleased, nor his wife and children, nor his slaves, workers, and servants, nor his friends and colleagues; nor does he establish an offering for ascetics and brahmins, one leading upwards, of heavenly fruit, resulting in happiness, conducive to heaven. Because his wealth is not being used properly, kings take it away, or thieves take it away, or fire burns it, or water carries it away, or unloved heirs take it. Such being the case, great king, that wealth, not being used properly, goes to waste, not to utilization.
    “Suppose, great king, in a place uninhabited by human beings, there was a lotus pond with clear, cool, sweet, clean water, with good fords, delightful; but no people would take that water, or drink it, or bathe in it, or use it for any purpose. In such a case, great king, that water, not being used properly would go to waste, not to utilization. So too, great king, when an inferior man gains abundant wealth … that wealth, not being used properly, goes to waste, not to utilization.
    “But, great king, when a superior man gains abundant wealth, he makes himself happy and pleased, and he makes his mother and father happy and pleased, and his wife and children, and his slaves, workers, and servants, and his friends and colleagues; and he establishes an offering for ascetics and brahmins, one leading upwards, of heavenly fruit, resulting in happiness, conducive to heaven. Because his wealth is being used properly, kings do not take it away, thieves do not take it away, fire does not burn it, water does not carry it away, and unloved heirs do not take it. Such being the case, great king, that wealth, being used properly, goes to utilization, not to waste.
    “Suppose, great king, not far from a village or a town, there was a lotus pond with clear, cool, sweet, clean water, with good fords, delightful; and people would take that water, and drink it, and bathe in it, and use it for their purposes. In such a case, great king, that water, being used properly, would go to utilization, not to waste. So too, great king, when a superior man gains abundant wealth … that wealth, being used properly, goes to utilization, not to waste.”

  3. Avatar
    Nichrob  September 29, 2017

    My encouragement on writing a book on “the afterlife”.

    I am currently reading your book on how the Bilble addresses “suffering”. Your ability to take a theme and assemble a mass amount of information in one place is: outstanding. Throughout the book, I am learning important information. The chapter on apocalyptic theology is remarkable. To understand Paul and the New Testament, I needed that foundation. (And that’s why I’m reading the book…). To understand the writings, one must understand the psychology of the author or characters in the book. And you have helped tremendously!

    Back to your new book on the “afterlife”. I encourage you with this new book because, first, I think it is a very interesting subject. One that I have thought about many times. Second, by using the book on “suffering” as a model for this new book, you will assemble information that I simply did not know or you will inject a paradigm shift. So thanks for all your hard work and I look forward to reading your new book.

  4. Avatar
    Pattylt  September 29, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, do you think that if John had never been written, Christianity would have died out as most doomsday cults usually do. Or, do you think someone would have written a similar Gospel to bridge the gap of the kingdom on earth to the kingdom of heaven eventually? I’ve always felt as though John is what allowed Christianity to evolve into a religion (in spite of some real theological problems). Just curious as to your feelings on Johns significance.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2017

      I think it’s impossible to say; but I think other people were far more important for the spread of Christainity than the author of John.

  5. Avatar
    caesar  September 29, 2017

    I’ve often heard that Jesus’ ministry lasts 3 years in John, but only about 1 year in the other gospels. Is this accurate?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2017

      It certainly lasts over two years in John, since three Passovers are mentioned. Reading Mark it appears that it starts in the fall when fields are white for harvest and ends in the spring at the Passover.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  October 2, 2017

        I don’t know where he got it from, but Spong argues in one of his books that Mark was written to follow a liturgical cycle from the fall harvest festival (Sukkot?) to Passover and that Matthew (I think) expanded it to follow an entire liturgical year. Do you think there’s any merit to that?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 2, 2017

          I’ve never found the view convincing. We konw almost nothing about Jewish liturgical calendars at the time.

  6. DestinationReign
    DestinationReign  September 29, 2017

    If we analyze the Gospels as only QUASI-historical, we can begin to make much more sense of both their narrative and thematic differences, which reveal Truth on a plane higher than the literal/historical. This comes with understanding how the chronology of the Gospels aligns with the timeline progression of the Church Age, into the Kingdom Age.

    John is the “Kingdom Gospel.”

    Matthew > Mark > Luke > John

    Beginning of Church Age > 2,000 years of darkness > End-time awakening > Kingdom dispensation

    “I must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day. The night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4-5)

    An understanding of the above passage may be THE most important element of Biblical study. And there are no great acrobatics required; the meaning is quite evident. When Christ left the world, night fell. The last 2,000 years have been a dispensation of darkness in which He has been hidden from the world, and Truth has been unknowable. But when He returns to reign in the Kingdom, His glory and divine essence will be fully revealed. Thus, we have Him keeping His identity concealed throughout the Synoptics, but on full display in the “Kingdom Gospel” of John.

    Light arrived then departed > Darkness reigns > Light returns > Kingdom

    This is also why there are no parables in John. Parables pertain to having no eyes to see or ears to hear higher Kingdom Truth (Mark 4:10-12). That has been the condition of both Christianity and the world since Christ left. But when the Kingdom is revealed, the light will reveal all; nothing will remain hidden (Luke 8:17). Thus, we have the three Church Age Synoptics full of parables, and the Kingdom Gospel of John with NO parables. This again is an anomaly that is peculiar if we place too strict of a meticulously historical emphasis on the Gospels; but one that is easily resolved with our Gospel/Timeline application.

    Lastly, it’s important to note that Jesus talks about TWO different “counselors” in John 14. The key is found in John 14:16, where He speaks of “ANOTHER” counselor to abide forever. This “another counselor” is something other than the Holy Spirit work at Pentecost 2,000 years ago, which did not last. John 14:16 is the Spirit of TRUTH that is arriving here at the end of the Church Age! There has been no Spirit of Truth during these 2,000 years of darkness.

    Light in the world > Age of darkness > Light returns
    Holy Spirit > Church Age > Spirit of TRUTH

    Or even:
    Former Rain > Drought > Latter Rain

    Let us also remember that the Israelites drew “water from the rock” at both the beginning and end of their wilderness venture. Once, after the Passover sacrifice that freed them from bondage (beginning of the Church Age when Christ was crucified), and once prior to entering the Promised Land (end of the Church Age/coming of the Kingdom).

    Light in the world > Age of darkness > Light returns
    Passover sacrifice > Wildernesss > Promised Land
    Water from rock > Long journey > Water from rock

    Many “clues” regarding the establishment of the Kingdom are laid out in patterns, Biblically, in ways that cannot be seen from a purely historical/literalistic approach. The revelation of these things is the beginning “sprinkle” of the latter rain Spirit of Truth!

  7. Avatar
    Todd  September 29, 2017

    Your discussion of The Gospel of John and the mystical prologue dealing with Jesus coming among us from the eternal past to reveal God caused me to think of a concept we haven’t discussed in this series, that is: “eternal life.”

    Your new book is about the “afterlife … the soul living forever after death. I think the “eternal life” is quite different from living forever on a linear time continuum.

    The “resurrection” has been discussed here a bit. The term “after life” appears nowhere in the scriptures, but “eternal life” is used in places quite frequently.

    I am of the opinion that the meaning of “eternal is quite different that just living an endless boring life in heaven forever.

    Question: In your book, will you deal with the “eternal life” concept in relation to just living forever after death?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2017

      Possibly. But what do you think eternal means if it doesn’t mean never-ending?

      • DestinationReign
        DestinationReign  October 1, 2017

        The absolute Biblical meaning of the word “eternal” (aionios) is a highly contested matter in certain Christian sectors, particularly between those of the conventional “eternal torment” position, and those who believe in eventual universal reconciliation of all.

        Many Greek scholars insist that it does not mean “forever” in the strict sense of never-ending, but pertaining to “the age.” (“Aionios” derives from “aion,” meaning “age.”) If this is so, the question becomes – WHAT age? There is overwhelming evidence to conclude that it is the coming Kingdom Age – the “millennial reign.”

        Have you ever noticed – in the very few (only 2 in a historical sense) references by Jesus to “eternal life” in the Synoptics, He refers to it in a FUTURE sense; the “age to come.” (Mat. 19:29, Mat. 25:46, Mark 10:30, Luke 18:30). But in John, He not only references “eternal life” no less than a dozen times, but in may of those instances, He refers to it in a PRESENT sense. (John 3:36, 5:24, 6:47, 10:28, etc.)

        Why is this the case? Once more, this shows us the Gospel/Timeline template, the Truth of which becomes self-evident time and time and time again!

        Matthew > Mark > Luke > John

        Church Age begins > 2,000-year Church Age > Church Age ends > Kingdom Age

        Eternal life:
        Future reference > Future reference> Future refernce> Present reference

        Thus, we see not only why “eternal life” is referenced in a present sense in John, but also why it is referenced far more than in all the Synoptics combined – because it is THE GOSPEL of the age of eternal life!

        I am not using hyperbole when I say that literally HUNDREDS of questions that have baffled Bible studiers of all persuasions become answered when applying the Gospel/Timeline template.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 2, 2017

          I don’t think the meaning of αιωνιος is much debated among Greek scholars is it?? Doesn’t it always mean “lasting an age”/”forever”/”never ending”? (I.e., outside of the biblical passages where you’re thinking it must mean something else?)

          • DestinationReign
            DestinationReign  October 2, 2017

            Probably not in mainstream sectors, but certainly in offshoot sectors, it IS a debated notion. William Barclay is one such scholar who argued on behalf of that term relating to the coming age; not “forever.” (If the notion that ‘aionios’ means “forever” can be disproven, it opens up the hope of an ultimate universal reconciliation for all; not some burning “forever and ever” in the lake of fire.)

            This all relates back to the idea of a dimensional shift. (Yes, that two-word phrase will cause many an eye-roll, but Biblically, that is what’s in store.) We are constricted to a certain confined perspective of “What Is.” So, when we think of “Jesus coming in His Kingdom,” we assume that’s it. That’s the grand finale. But that is not so! Revelation 20:7-9 tells us there will be all sorts of events to take place after that age. That is, after the age of “eternal life.” (If it is really “forever,” it can’t simply be an “age,” as Jesus calls it in the Synoptics.)

            So from our earthly perspective, ‘aionios’ means “forever.” That is the age to come, and we cannot conceive of anything beyond that. But Biblically, there is much more in store!

          • Bart
            Bart  October 3, 2017

            Yes, he’s giving his theological reflections on the meaning of the term. That’s not the same as determining what a Greek word actually meant in antiquity.

          • DestinationReign
            DestinationReign  October 3, 2017

            “That’s not the same as determining what a Greek word actually meant in antiquity.”

            That is correct, but just the fact that some reasonably reputable scholars disagree with its conventional interpretation is reason enough to consider that its meaning may not be as cut-and-dry as we have been told. This again brings us to the Gospel/Timeline template, and John’s application of “eternal life.”

            The bookend Synoptics, Matthew and Luke, each apply to a transition of the ages; Matthew to the transition into the Church Age, and Luke to the transition into the coming Kingdom Age. John then of course applies to “the age to come, eternal life.” (Again, it cannot merely be an “age” if it lasts “forever.”)

            Matthew > Mark > Luke > John

            Transition into Church Age > Church Age > Transition into Kingdom Age > Kingdom Age

            While Barclay was certainly onto something with his view on “aionios,” he died in 1978, and did not have a knowledge of the Gospel/Timeline template, which did not begin being revealed until the 1990’s.

      • Avatar
        Todd  October 2, 2017

        A dimension of time that is not linear, having a beginning and an end, or that counts minutes, hours, days years. Eternal, being more timeless, a dimension of reality that is without a beginning and an end.

        Question: what do the Greek words for the English term “Eternal life,” as commonly translated in the NT, mean to you in the context of the the times they were written?

        I think “Eternal life” has a bit more of a metaphysical meaning that simply “living forever.”

        I am seriously interested in the different terms used to designate the afterlife, and I am attracted to Paul Tillich’s use of that term.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 2, 2017

          The word translated “eternal” AIONOS simply means “lasting for the age” — i.e., as we would say, “for the ages,” or “not ending while anything else is still around — i.e., eternal.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  October 2, 2017

        I’ve thought along similar lines, not because of anything I’ve read in the Bible,* but as a philosophical concept of eternity. Given that theists argue that God exists/existed “before” the beginning of time, eternity from God’s perspective would not be endless time, but existence without reference to time. Maybe that would explain how eternal life would not be boring — it doesn’t go on and on and…. It just is. No past to remember or future to anticipate. I don’t believe it, but it’s another way of looking at it.
        *Actually, I probably started thinking about it because of Jesus’ statement in John — “Before Abraham was, I am.” Jesus is not only claiming to be YHWH, he is saying the past is present to him!

        • Avatar
          HawksJ  October 3, 2017

          That’s a very interesting way to think about it Sid!

      • Avatar
        Hormiga  October 2, 2017

        Well, it could also mean never-beginning as well as never-ending, which is the standard notion of God’s existence, isn’t it?

        Where was the immortal human soul, if one believes in such, before birth? It seems to me that religions that have eternal rebirth notions cope with this better than standard versions of Christianity.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 2, 2017

          I’m not sure the Greek word is ever used for “never beginning.”

          • Avatar
            Todd  October 3, 2017

            Thank you for all the comments on this.

  8. Avatar
    James Cotter  September 30, 2017

    dr ehrman
    in the gospel of matthew and mark, are the people who got jesus crucified fully aware of what they are doing? in the gospel of luke, it seems as if they are killing jesus due to ignorance, but is that the picture in the earlier stories? some christian apologists say that jesus was repeatedly begging god to forgive his killers while he was on the cross , if that was the case, why did mark, john and matthew choose to omit jesus repeatedly begging god to forgive his killers?

    matthew has the crowds take responsibility. how could they be ignorant of what they just said?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2017

      Yes, Luke wants to emphasize they didn’t know what they were doing. Paul says something similar. Matthew and John seem to suggest they know exactly what they’re doing.

      • Avatar
        James Cotter  October 1, 2017

        thanks for the reply, i have further question

        quote :
        45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land[p] until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”[q] 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.[r] 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.

        it says “curtain was torn in two…” then other events followed.
        did matthew write verses 51 and 52 as a response to the jewish mockery of jesus? has matthew understood mark in a completely different way when he has the curtains torn?

        in your one of your posts , you said,

        This curtain is to be understood as separating God from humanity – he was believed to dwell in the Holy of Holies behind the curtain, and only the high priest could go into his presence in that room, and that only once a year on the Day of Atonement to make a sacrifice for the people’s sins. Now, with the death of Jesus, in Mark, the curtain is destroyed, and people do have access to God.

        is matthew following similar thought as mark, or has matthew seen the events as divine response to the jews? is matthew hinting to other things such as destruction of the temple and how god will judge israel for rejecting the messiah?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 2, 2017

          At this particular point Matthew seems to be following Mark, although elsewhere, of course, he heightens his anti-Judaism.

          • Avatar
            Robby  October 4, 2017

            Dr. Ehrman,
            Should Matt.24: 52 “And the graves were opened: and many bodies of the saints which slept (died) arose, 53, and came out of the graves after his (Jesus) resurrection, and went into the holy city and appeared to many.” be
            taken to mean that literally these men had their physical bodies restored and walked around Jerusalem for who know how long (maybe years)? If this is correct and we have no further attestation of anyone ever interviewing
            and writing down their stories, which I find difficult to believe, then isn’t this a pretty clear case of legend and blatant falsehood?
            I would think these 2 verses would be the most amazing thing ever if they actually happened and people would have come from miles to get their stories, meet these people and record them yet we tend to just
            skip over them as if it was a common occurrence.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 6, 2017

            Yes, that appears to be what hte author literally means. It’s clearly legendary. Whether he believed it or not is hard to say.

  9. Avatar
    godspell  September 30, 2017

    I think anybody who wants to appeal to John’s Gospel should compare his account of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist with that of the previous three gospels.

    I mean, for one thing, there is no baptism. This gospel author solves the vexing problem of why The Immaculately Conceived Son of God needs a ritual for forgiveness of sin–by getting rid of it entirely! The Baptist sees Jesus, recognizes him (apparently without ever having seen him before, major conflict with Luke), tells all his followers that they are all now followers of Jesus (this being written at a time when the Cult of The Baptist was still an active thing, thus raising a new problem of why John had any followers after basically disbanding his own ministry and joining Team Jesus, but that’s nitpicking, right?)

    But it makes the same point you just made–that John’s Jesus is not even slightly human. He is God’s Word made flesh. And therefore The Baptist, a mere man, must bend the knee to him, and Jesus will not say (as he must have done in reality) that “No man born of woman is greater than John the Baptist”–a sign of respect to his former teacher, whose death came as a tremendous shock to him. The author of John’s Gospel can’t have this, because his Jesus could never have any earthly teacher, came into this world with all knowledge, is in complete control of every situation he finds himself in, and obviously could not possibly need baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Because he’s not really a man.

    And frankly, I find him very boring.

  10. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  September 30, 2017

    Do you agree with the scholars who say John is an expansion of an earlier Signs Gospel that lacked the Prologue, dialogues, and discourses? What is the earliest such a gospel might have been circulated?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2017

      I don’t think it’s simply an expansion of the signs source; I think it incorporated the signs source as one of its sources.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  October 2, 2017

        Do you have an opinion of a date for the Signs source? Is it as early as Mark or earlier?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 2, 2017

          No way to know for sure. But my guess is that it was a relatively early missionary tractate for Jews in Palestine, so probably pre-markan.

          • Avatar
            markedward  October 10, 2017

            I’m currently reading Robert Fortna’s book The Fourth Gospel and Its Predecessors. His suggestion is that ‘John’ consisted of discourses added onto an earlier ‘gospel’ book, the Signs Gospel (itself a short, coherent narrative built from a Signs Source and Passion Source). Some of his particular reconstructions seem dubious to me, but is the general premise commonly accepted?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 11, 2017

            Yes, that’s what I myself teach (influenced by Fortna’s views all the way back in grad school)

  11. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  September 30, 2017

    Readers of this blog might be interested in reading Spong’s “The Fourth Gospel.”

  12. Avatar
    Tempo1936  October 1, 2017

    Does John teach a view of the atonement similar to Matthew and mark (Jesus’ death provided forgiveness of sin for many)?
    It seems John is saying when you believe you receive Eternal life.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2017

      He certainly thinks that Jesus gave his life for his disciples.

  13. Avatar
    JR  October 2, 2017

    I understand that most scholars think that John’s author had access to Matthew Mark and Luke, or at the very least would be familiar with their content. If this is so then surely his readers would also be familiar with the synoptic tradition? So why would they accept a new and very different account?

    Did johns gospel reflect what they already had come to believe? Does it represent a challenge to other Christian communities that based their theology of the Synoptics?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 2, 2017

      No, it is highly debated of John had access to the others. I myself don’t think so.

      • Avatar
        godspell  October 3, 2017

        He couldn’t have been so isolated from other Christians as to have not heard a lot of the stories in those gospels.

        And he actively rejected many of them, in my opinion.

        Trying to create his own version of Christianity–an outlier.

        And perhaps a bit mad. As poets sometimes are.

  14. Avatar
    john76  October 2, 2017

    I have recently finished Dr. Dennis MacDonald’s new book “The Dionysian Gospel: The Fourth Gospel And Euripides (2017).”  It is another superb job by Dr. Dennis MacDonald, who this time turns his critical eye to the relationship between Euripides’ “Bacchae” and The Gospel of John. There can no longer be any doubt about the mimesis relationship between Christian origins and the “Bacchae.”

    Dr. Dennis MacDonald’s analysis also leaves open plenty of room to ask why the Fourth Gospel and Luke may have been imitating the “Bacchae,” beyond the point that the author of The Fourth Gospel was trying to present Jesus as greater than Dionysus. If the goal of the first Christians was to replace the corrupt, Roman loving temple cult with faith in Jesus, perhaps in imitating the “Bacchae” The Fourth Gospel was poking fun at a literal understanding of Jesus’ miracles and resurrection.

    When considering the “Bacchae” and what is essential in it to the ancient ear, we must always turn to the provocative speech by Cadmus where he says, regarding Dionysus, that: “Even though he (Dionysus) be no God, as you say, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him to be the son of Semele, for this will make it seem that she is the mother of a God, and will confer honor on all our race.” This is reminiscent of the argument to put forth a Noble Lie in Plato’s “Republic” to help encourage people to care more for each other and the Polis. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy characterizes it in the following way:

    “For Plato we should live according to what reason is able to deduce from what we regard as reliable evidence. This is what real philosophers, like Socrates, do. But the non-philosophers are reluctant to ground their lives on logic and arguments. They have to be persuaded. One means of persuasion is myth. Myth inculcates beliefs. It is efficient in making the less philosophically inclined, as well as children (cf. Republic 377a ff.), believe noble things. In the Republic the Noble Lie is supposed to make the citizens of Callipolis care more for their city. For instance, Schofield (2009) argues that the guards, having to do philosophy from their youth, may eventually find philosophizing “more attractive than doing their patriotic duty” (115). Philosophy, claims Schofield, provides the guards with knowledge, not with love and devotion for their city. The Noble Lie is supposed to engender in them devotion for their city and instill in them the belief that they should “invest their best energies into promoting what they judge to be the city’s best interests” (113). The preambles to a number of laws in the Laws that are meant to be taken as exhortations to the laws in question and that contain elements of traditional mythology (see 790c3, 812a2, 841c6) may also be taken as “noble lies”.”

    Lying about Jesus’ resurrection appearances/miracle stories might have been a cause the original Christians may have been willing to die for (if you believe the martyr stories, which most critical scholars don’t). In any case, maybe the author of the Fourth Gospel wanted us as a society to eventually see through the miracle/resurrection stories once enough time had passed and we had been baptized in Jesus’ ethical philosophy of loving your enemy and neighbor, and the world had become a better place. Maybe what the author of the Fourth Gospel wanted was for us as a society to grow up, and subsequently leave Jesus behind when we realize he had been modelled around the Noble Lie about Dionysus – fictions told to encourage loving behavior..

    Dr. Dennis MacDonald’s fine book “The Dionysian Gospel: The Fourth Gospel And Euripides (2017)” should be read along with John Shelby Spong’s recent book “The Fourth Gospel: Tales Of A Jewish Mystic,” the latter of which argues against the historicity of much of the material that is presented in The Fourth Gospel.

    Nota Bene: If anyone is interested, I wrote a short blog post about “Noble Lies” in the Judeo Christian tradition here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.ca/

    • Avatar
      john76  October 8, 2017

      If anyone is interested, here is a video of Dr. Dennis MacDonald giving the 2016 Florida State University “John Priest” lecture on the topic of The Gospel of John imitating (mimesis) Euripides’ “Bacchae” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxHvhx6g2wI

  15. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  October 3, 2017

    I thought I had asked a question about the Bread of Life Discourse in John 6, but I don’t see it now. Maybe I forgot to “add comment.” Is that discourse possibly based on a Johannine Eucharistic liturgy, which would explain why there is no reference to the eucharist in John’s passion narrative? If that is the case, did some early Christians think of Jesus coming to them in their common meals as something other than a sacrificial offering — an unseen guest, like Elijah at the seder, maybe?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 3, 2017

      Yup, you asked and I replied. My answer was “Yup.”

  16. Avatar
    Jana  October 15, 2017

    It’s a moving story as you’ve outlined Dr. Ehrman .. I feel uplifted in reading right now. And why? Why the appeal? I wonder?? (trying at last to catch up)

  17. Avatar
    Calvinsx76  October 15, 2017

    Dr Ehrman ,

    I know its been weeks since our last conversation, but in my follow-up video on the defense of the PA, I am hoping my arguments can help you understand why I find it difficult to accept your narrative on how we got the text of the New Testament and your interpolation stories. .https://youtu.be/-gi1c_0l3cc

    I’ll be waiting for your reply

    • Bart
      Bart  October 16, 2017

      I’m afraid I don’t have time to watch youtube videos, but if you have an objection you’d like to raise here, I’d be happy to address it.

      • Avatar
        Calvinsx76  October 16, 2017

        Thank you for your response Dr Ehrman

        Now if you maintain the hypothesis that the original gospel of john was deficient John 7:53-8:11, then how do you account for its existence in the text of Ambrose in Milan, Augustine’s Text in North Africa, Pacians Text in Spain, Didamus text in Alexandria, Jerome s Vulgate and his empirical observation that he found the passage in many Greek and Latin manuscripts. Remember, Augustine found nothing to object to in Jerome s Gospel translation after he compared it to the Greek Manuscripts he had access too.

        So Dr Ehrman, please document who were these scribes, what was their names, where did this first occur, and how did they infiltrate the texts without anyone ever noticing in the Latin west and the Greek East?

        Note we have testimony from Augustine, Ambrose and Nikon to account for its removal from some scriptural texts, so please document the means by which this passage of scripture ended up in the Majority of Latin and Greek Texts prior to Jerome translation.

        I’ll be waiting for your reply

        • Bart
          Bart  October 17, 2017

          I think maybe the way to answer your question for yourself is to dig deeper into what we know about textual variatoin more generally — the thousands of changes in teh text that survived, some of them in the majority of manuscripts for centuries, even though they weren’t original. You could start by reading the two main primers in the field, both called The Text of the New Testament, one written by Bruce Metzger and the other by Kurt and Barbara Aland. You’ll see how variation worked and how sometimes readings not original became dominant in the tradition.

  18. Avatar
    Calvinsx76  October 18, 2017

    Well thank you for your response Dr Ehrman,
    But I want to remind you that we are not discussing spelling errors, copyist slips, word/line omissions or variants, but the Pericope Adulterae is a consistent reading within the textual traditions of the Greek, Latin, and some Aramaic Apostolic Churches. Now there are variants of this reading as you well know, but nevertheless the reading can be identified. And Dr Ehrman this has never been about this one reading; though the PA & the Last 12 verses of Mark are the biggest; but as you know, and I know, we are really talking about the hundreds of consistent traditional readings (i.e doxology, without cause, father forgive them, who is in heaven, good will towards men…you get the point) that is commonly received that have come down through the Apostolic Churches.

    Dr Ehrman, I’m confident your familiar with Kurt and Barbara Aland statement when they say: “ (…) no adequate history has yet been written of the Byzantine text (…) But this is a task we may well leave to a future generation, or to specialists particularly interested in it today… (so Kurt and Barbara really can’t answer my questions
    And also J.N. Birdsall statement that “It is evident that all presuppositions concerning the Byzantine Text or texts, except its inferiority to other types, must be doubted and investigated de novo” makes it clear that your theories to try to explain the creation of these traditional readings, whether it was Horts conflation theory, or Kenyon’s process theories, and/or a thousand year process theory are all basically false.

    So I think it’s a fair assessment to say that this school of thought really doesn’t know. These theories would get a little traction if you had a letter from a bishop as in the case of Jerome’s translation from gourde to ivy, which resulted in a riot, especially amongst the Greeks, and elicited a response from Augustine at the request of bishops in his area…or if you could show me a decree from a council or synod as was the case of Boniface challenging the text of Revelation, which the churches of North Africa responded with the Council of Carthage addressing pope Boniface directly in its cannons saying “These texts were received from the fathers…(I actually first got that information from Metgers research)…

    So Dr Ehrman, this is the evidence I am looking for; a letter from a Bishop, a council or synod, an actual person in the ancient world fighting for these readings to get into the text. Jerome, Augustine, Ireneus were all aware of variants, copyist errors and changes to the biblical texts. When you try to explain the PA as an interpolation at the hands of scribes; I wonder Dr Ehrman, do you really stand by that assertion? Because if you do, then you have to document how these scribes were able to get it into the majority of Greek and Latin Texts prior to Jerome’s Vulgate..
    These narratives create bigger problems for you Dr Ehrman when you assert that the Gospels were a result of well-educated Greeks, who didn’t write in Attic, but Koine with smatterings of Aramaic, because you then have to explain how the majority of independent Greek, Latin, Aramaic, and Coptic Apostolic churches came up with the same four gospels naming the same authors if the writings doesn’t go back to the apostles as Ireneus, Tertullian and the Apostolic churches said they did.

    I leave you with this Dr Ehrman, Why don’t you accept what the Apostolic Churches said as evinced in the writings of Tertullian and Ireneus on the system that was set up to preserve the text of the New testament and their objective criterion for the text of the New testament (including it’s readings) which successfully ruled out the shorter biblical text of Marcion and his interpolation theories?

    I’ll be waiting for your reply.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 20, 2017

      Yes, as you might imagine, I realize we are not talking about a slip of the pen. 🙂 I’m not sure how much scholarship you have read on the passage?

      The definitive study — massively documented and highly erudite — will appear next year, a book by Jennifer Knust and Tommy Wasserman, many years int he making. It will tell you every thing you want to know, and then some!

      • Avatar
        Calvinsx76  October 28, 2017

        Thanks for telling me about the book, but are you really saying that if I read the book I would be able to explain it better than you, a qualified teaching professor? I highly doubt it. Although I do appreciate the honor of you thinking so highly of me, but I do realize my limitations.

        I shall be waiting for actual historical documentation of the bishop or synod ordering the PA to be put in and the many other verses in the text that were copied and received in the Orthodox Churches. It will be very interesting reading.

        Sincerely yours
        Jonathan Sheffield, the Autodidact

        • Bart
          Bart  October 29, 2017

          My point is that among the hundreds of thousands of textual variations that involve scribes altering the text, you never ever have a “bishop or synod ordering” it to be put into the text. And so there is no reason to expect to find that for the PA either. Scribes changed their texts, sometimes massively, and those changes often were copied by later scribes to become the standard text of the late middle ages. It happened a lot, not just in this one instance.

  19. Avatar
    davitako  October 20, 2017

    Hi Bart,

    I’ve always wondered about the John 21:15-17 passage where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him. It’s obviously related to Peter’s rejection of Jesus three times when he was arrested. But the way I understand it, it’s a bit deeper than that, because the Greek for ‘love’ is used differently by Jesus and Peter:

    Jesus: “Do you love (agapas) me more than these?”
    Peter: “Lord, you know I love (philos) you.”

    Jesus: “Do you love (agapas) me?”
    Peter: “Lord, you know I love (philos) you.”

    And the third time:
    Jesus: “Do you “phileis” me?”

    What is John trying to say by using different versions of the word “love” here?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 22, 2017

      It’s a longstanding question without a good or satisfying answer. The question is whether or not the passage shows the two terms are synonymous or not.

  20. Avatar
    osman  November 1, 2017

    prof ehrman

    1. who is telling the story in the prologue? obviously “john” wasn’t there. is it from the pov of the father, jesus or the holy spirit?
    2. does it matter who is telling the story? what’s the opinion of scholars?what’s the opinion of theologians?
    3. “in the beginning”. in the beginning of what? the universe(that is to say time and matter)? could that mean that the word was created just before the creation of the universe(john 1:2)? could that mean that the word is everlasting but not eternal? isn’t this a parallell to proverbs 8 relating to sophia?
    thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 3, 2017

      The author of John is telling it; he is taking the perspective of the “omniscient narrator.” I’m not sure what you’re asking “does it matter.” In the beginning refers to Genesis 1:1, the beginning of creation.

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