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The De-apocalypticized Jesus of the Gospel of John

 

An important request I received recently!

 

QUESTION

At some point, I would like to hear more about the Gospel of John not having an apocalyptic view of Jesus.

 

RESPONSE

This question relates closely to the work I’ve been doing on the views of the afterlife in the early Christian tradition.   As I’ve pointed out on the blog many times before, John was the last canonical Gospel written, probably 60-65 years after Jesus’ death.  One of the most striking things about John’s account of Jesus message, at this far a remove from Jesus’ life, is that his message has become seriously de-apocalypticized.  In John, Jesus no longer speaks of the coming intervention of God to bring in his glorious kingdom.  Instead, he principally talks about heaven above, and how people can go there by believing in him.

That is not to say …

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Old and Ongoing Criticisms!
Today You Will Be With Me in Paradise?

45

Comments

  1. rborges  November 6, 2018

    Good afternoon, Dr. Ehrman. Although I am from a completely different field of the sciences (I am a Math professor in Brazil), I appreciate you work very much.

    The Gospel of John is so different from the Synoptics, both in content and theology, and the signs are so farfetched, that makes me wonder: how historically reliable is it?

    So I would like to ask, in your opinion, what parts of John are more probably historically accurate? And, is the Gospel of John more or less reliable than the Gospel of Thomas?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 7, 2018

      I think John has some reliable information in it, but almost always that is when it has material that is paralleled in the other Gospels. For the most part, it’s independent material is highly suspect (and can be shown to be so)

  2. RonaldTaska  November 6, 2018

    Thanks so much. It is very interesting to follow the evolution of these progressively changing views. This contrasts with the idea that there are some fixed, unchanging certainties about it all. Thanks again for your books, your blog, and your Great Courses. All this has been a really amazing contribution and it does not even include your university contributions. .

  3. jhague  November 6, 2018

    The Christians that I know rely mostly on the gospel of John (I assume because it was the last one written). When they read the other gospels, its generally by meshing all four gospels together as one. It’s interesting that Christians now talk about having a better life in the here and now plus talk about the future reward in heaven after death. It seems to me that some Christians believe that they go straight to heaven upon death and others believe there is a waiting time until Jesus returns at the end of time.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 7, 2018

      It has long been the favorite Gospel, in large part because of its more theologically oriented approach to telling the story.

      • godspell  November 8, 2018

        Also because people like saying “Johannine.” It makes you sound smart. 😉

        • Bart
          Bart  November 9, 2018

          I know. I expect people to add 10 points to my IQ every time I say it!

  4. Stephen  November 6, 2018

    “…the dominant theme is that eternal life is (somehow) here and now for those who believe in Jesus…”

    Isn’t this precisely the point of view that Paul is arguing against in 1 Cor?

    thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  November 7, 2018

      Yes, Paul and John would not have agreed on eschatology.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  November 11, 2018

        “Yes, Paul and John would not have agreed on eschatology.”

        What about George and Ringo?

        • Bart
          Bart  November 12, 2018

          Those two had decidedly *different* eschatologies from one another.

  5. fishician  November 6, 2018

    Is there any connection between John’s ideas and passages like 1 Peter 3:19, “…in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison…” which seem to imply that Jesus has already addressed those who are dead, so in essence everyone has been dealt with and no need for a future reckoning of the dead? So from now on the believers will live on, the unbelievers have sealed their fate, and the past dead have been sorted out.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 7, 2018

      Usually not seen to be a connection; John is referring to people who believe in Jesus in this life, and that very strange 1 Peter passage is talking about some kind of event that happened, apparently, to those previously dead (who? much debated) between Jesus’ death and resurrection.

  6. Pattylt  November 6, 2018

    Am I understanding that these passages in John conflict with Revelation by stating that there is no second judgement as Revelation states? If I’m understanding a conflict, how do Evangelicals rectify it?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 7, 2018

      I’m not sure what you mean by “second judgment” (in Revelation or generally). The Gospel of John does not hold to the importance of an apocalyptic cataclysmic event that would lead to a resurrectoin and the judgment of all people on Judgment Day. Revelation does.

      • Pattylt  November 7, 2018

        Quote: Then there is a final resurrection of the dead. Humans are all raised to face judgment. Those whose names are written in “the book of life” are rewarded; those not found in the book are thrown into the lake of fire.

        I’m probably totally confused as I thought Revelation predicted some that are dead would be brought back to life to face a second deathl. John has removed this idea, correct? Just wondering if this is the case and how literalists reconcile it. If I’ve got it wrong…nevermind. I’m used to being confused in regards to theology! 😂

        • Bart
          Bart  November 9, 2018

          Ah, I see what you’re saying. Yes, in Revelation the dead are raised and those who are wicked and not followers of Jesus are destroyed for all time (in the lake of fire). John’s Gospel does not share this view (except in a few random verses that he may have inherited from older sources)

  7. talmoore
    talmoore  November 6, 2018

    “Truly, truly I tell you, the one who hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)”

    This is the point I was trying to make in my previous comments. The first Christians believed that those who accepted Jesus received a VIP ticket into Paradise, without having to face Judgment. It’s not that the Judgment wouldn’t happen. The Judgment would still happen for everyone else, but the followers of Jesus would get to skip it, because they were “Saints” as Paul calls them.

    Like I said at the end of my previous comments, if you read the New Testament through the lens of at least two types of saved people — Qodeshim vs Tzaddiqim — then a lot of the sticking points and perceived ambiguities seem to resolve themselves.

    • TheologyMaven  November 7, 2018

      Tal.. I haven’t read every post recently and am very interested in what you said at “the end of previous comments”. Could you point me to where that is? Comments on which post? Thanks!

      • talmoore
        talmoore  November 9, 2018

        Comments I made in Bart’s “Today You Will Be With Me In Paradise” post.

  8. Bamayorgo  November 6, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman,
    New to NT Studies!
    Did John use the Synoptic Gospels when composing his?
    Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  November 7, 2018

      Much debated. My view is no; others think yes! But there are very few verbatim agreements among them, which makes me think there simply isn’t much evidence to support John’s use of the others.

      • Bamayorgo  November 7, 2018

        Thank you, Dr. Ehrman!

      • JohnKesler  November 7, 2018

        1) Since crucifixion victims customarily carried their own crossbeams to the crucifixion site, could John 19:17’s explicit statement that Jesus carried the cross “by himself” be a refutation of the Simon-of-Cyrene tradition found in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26)?
        2) Why would there need to be verbatim agreement to show that John knew the Synoptic Gospels? The Chronicler didn’t always copy verbatim from the books of Samuel and Kings, yet he almost certainly knew them.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 9, 2018

          1. Yes, either a refutation or in full ignorance of what the others said; 2. There doesn’t need to be verbatim agreement in order for John to have *been* influenced, only to *show* it. You have to have reasons for thinking one author used another as a source. With the Chronicler you have abundant evidence.

      • godspell  November 8, 2018

        It’s possible John’s vision of Jesus was so incompatible with the earlier gospels that he simply chose to reject much of what they said, and heavily rewrite the rest. I would think he hoped his gospel would supplant the others, and people would forget the earlier versions of the story entirely.

        You look at his version of the baptism story–with no baptism! Obviously he knew the story of John baptizing Jesus (or why is John in there at all?) And was perturbed, perhaps even enraged, at the notion that GOD would need to be baptized. He understands the implication of that story, so the story has to go, be replaced with a cover story.

        Matthew and Luke just try to explain it away, but he gets rid of it entirely, airbrushes it out. It was known to have happened, but his intention is to erase it from memory. Yes, there was this John the Baptist fellow, he had his little role to play, but the moment he saw Jesus, he knew his time was over.

        From John, more than any other gospel, I get the distinct aroma of propaganda. Sincere, no doubt. But he most of all would understand the old axiom, print the legend. Forget the facts. They’re in the way.

  9. doug  November 6, 2018

    I feel a little sorry for Jesus’ earliest followers who eagerly awaited the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God on Earth… and waited… and waited……. and waited…………

    • Bart
      Bart  November 7, 2018

      And still waiting! But true believers have always had ways of explaining why there is a delay.

  10. mikezamjara  November 7, 2018

    jews believe that satan is good and is a servant of god. For them, satan is the adversary that god uses to make men grow. In the letters of Paul and apocalypse and generally in the new testament, satan is the leader of the bad guys team and is the ultimate evil and the enemy the must be beaten,. What do you think Jesus believed?, the jew or the “christian” version of satan?.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 7, 2018

      There wasn’t a single view of Satan among Jews; apocalyptic Jews understood him as a personal opponent of God, a view they passed along to the followers of Jesus.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  November 7, 2018

      “jews believe that satan is good and is a servant of god.”

      Not true. Though Satan was originally just an adversarial member of God’s divine council — somewhat like the archetypal trickster god — he eventually came to be seen as “the leader of the bad guys” well be before Jesus. By then Satan was filling a role in Judaic cosmology similar to, for instance, Angra Mainyu in Zoroastrianism.

  11. caesar  November 7, 2018

    Because John seems out of step on a lot of issues with the synoptic gospels and John was later…does that suggest that John was inaccurate about a lot of things?

  12. paul.wright  November 7, 2018

    This seems like a good time to ask about the relationship between the Epistles of John and the Gospel of John. Are they the product of the same community even if they don’t have the same author? 1 John 2:18 is clearly apocalyptic. Does that mean the letter is earlier than the gospel and reflects an older view? Or is something else going on?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 7, 2018

      The most common view today is that they were written by someone in the same *community* as the person who earlier wrote the Gospel of John; this other person had many of the same views and vocabulary to express them, but also was dealing with other situations/problems and had some different perspectives from his predecessor.

  13. Silver  November 7, 2018

    Is it not possible that John can be interpreted to suggest that it is the PROMISE of everlasting life which is received immediately one acknowledges belief in Jesus -the ACTUAL reward comes later?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 7, 2018

      Yes, that’s a possible interpretation; but some passages (e.g. Jesus sayings in ch. 11 connected with the raising of Lazarus) seem to go against it.

  14. Rick
    Rick  November 8, 2018

    Professor, would you hazard a ballpark guess as to the percentage of Christian Theology/Dogma that comes from John vs the synoptics vs thin air? Seems to me like John is the key source…. Enjoyed this post
    Thanx

    • Bart
      Bart  November 9, 2018

      I don’t have any way of putting a number on it, but certainly the understanding of Jesus’ divine nature comes more from John than the others. (Whereas, say, the virgin birth is lacking in John)

  15. Eric  November 8, 2018

    This topic suggests to me what would be a REALLY interesting trade book, at least to me and probably to other blog members.

    It may not rely on textual criticism, so may not be of interest in your long list of possible future books — if so, keep an eye out for a colleague with your ability to write for laymen and pass it along to him/her!

    You have mentioned th eexercise you put your class through — write out the events of the gospels side by side. Your point there is to point out contradictions, and with your demographic student base, obviously very eye-opening.

    I am thinking of something that you mention in stride, indirectly, all the time: the fact that each gospel is a stand-alone writing, complete in itself and for its own purpose. Probably very well understood by academics in your field, but not by laymen. Again, I am not talking a about an “upset evangelical apple carts” kind of book. Rather an interested laymen kind of book.

    My idea would be indepednt examinations of each gospel, telling tis story and meaning, best as can be discerned, for its author. For instance, the section on mark is simply all about Mark’s view and purpsoe as though we had no other gospels.

    After you’ve treated each gospel, you could compare and contrast, not for purposes of contradiction but for purposes of readers’ appreciation of the different writers/world views, etc. Last chapter could be about the amalgamation and aftermath as exhibited in Christianity since the canon came to be codified.

    I for one would be interested in thinking about “Markan Christianity”, etc, on its own, independent of its later shoe-horning in with other strains.

    • Bart
      Bart  November 9, 2018

      There are a number of very good books like this; you nmight try the ones, for example, by John T. Carroll and by Mark Powell, or the older one by Graham Stanton. I had once thought about doing one myself, but decided to do other things instead.

      • bwithers55  November 11, 2018

        Thanks for the leads on John Carroll and Mark Alan Powell. -bw

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