THE FOURTH GOSPEL
The Gospel of John, students will examine the following as related to the Fourth Gospel: background context, author's purpose, literary structure, the picture of Jesus and other figures found in the Gospel of John, theological themes, comparisons and contrasts with the Synoptic Gospels, and contemporary relevance.
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ITS PURPOSE AND THEOLOGY CHAPTER I
CHARACTER AND INTENTION
ANY other signs did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His name." In these words, which form the close of the original Gospel, the Fourth Evangelist has himself indicated the general scope and character of his work. He declares, in the first place, that he has not aimed at presenting a complete and consecutive account of the life of Jesus. He has made a selection from the material before him, and deliberately omitted a large number of facts. Again, he acknowledges that his main purpose in making this selection has been to impress a certain belief on the minds of his readers. The narrative is composed with the set
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intention of proving that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.
The fundamental difference between the Fourth Gospel and the Synoptic is thus marked out explicitly by John himself. His statement may be contrasted with that of Luke in the address to Theophilus with which he prefaces his Gospel. The writer's design, as there indicated, is simply to record the facts, in a narrative more exact and orderly, more complete in detail, than those which were already in circulation. This fidelity to the historical tradition was undoubtedly the chief aim of the Synoptic writers. Their work may here and there bear traces of theological coloring, but their first interest was in the facts. Their part was not to interpret, but simply to record, as clearly and faithfully as they might, the actual events on which the new religion based itself. John, on the other hand, starts with a certain conception of the Person and life of Christ, and reads the facts in the light of it. They are valuable to him only as they afford evidence and illustration of a given belief. For this reason he dispenses with the fuller historical detail and contents himself with a few outstanding episodes, which witness in a signal manner to the divine worth of Jesus Christ.
Writing as he does with an express theological intention, John not only selects his material but adapts and modifies it. This result followed necessarily from his method. The historian who approaches his subject with a strong pre-posses-sion sees all the events from one particular point of
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view; unconsciously to himself he alters the perspective, and reads his own meaning into words and incidents, and disregards circumstances which seem to him immaterial. This, as becomes apparent from the most superficial comparison with the Synoptic, has been the procedure of the Fourth Evangelist. The import of the fact is always more valuable to him than the fact itself. Incidents are transposed in order to fit in more effectively with the general plan, and are so described as to bring out their hidden purport. In his Endeavour to accentuate the meaning of his story the writer is led naturally to introduce a large element of spoken discourse. Each incident is followed by a speech or a dialogue in which its inward significance is unfolded, and these discourses appear to be composed freely, according to the method employed in the narrative proper. Words actually uttered by Jesus are expanded and interpreted. Sayings are ascribed to Him which He may not literally have spoken, but which express His essential thought, as the evangelist conceived it.
John tells us, then, that he wrote with a definite purpose, which guided him in the treatment of his material. He proceeds to describe that purpose as a twofold one, " that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye may have life through His name." His interest on the one hand is in the historical Person of Jesus, in whom he recognizes the Son of God revealed in the flesh. But he desires at the same time to emphasize the abiding value and purpose of the historical life.
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Jesus Christ was more than a wonderful figure in the past. His appearance on earth had been only the beginning of a larger, enduring life, and it was still possible for His people to maintain fellowship with Him and to receive His quickening. The central purpose of the gospel is defined in these words, "that ye may have life through His name." In the Jesus who passes before us as a Person in history we are meant also to recognize the eternal Christ, who is still revealed, as an inward, life-giving presence, to those that believe in Him.
One significant phase in this passage, which forms John's own account of the aim and character of his work, may be taken as the point of departure for a larger survey. " That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God" The Messianic title of Jesus is here co-ordinated with a higher title, or rather is superseded by it; and this use of the double title may be regarded as an index to the nature of the Gospel as a whole. It is a work of transition, in which primitive Christianity is carried over into a different world of thought.
i. The transition, in the first place, is from one age to another. The date which may be assigned to the Gospel with a fair degree of certainty (the first or second decade of the second century) coincides with the most critical period in the history of the Church. In that third generation after Christ the new religion had became finally separated from its historical origins. The last representatives of the Apostolic age had passed away. The primitive hopes and impulses had spent themselves. The
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bonds with the mother religion of Judaism, which Paul had loosened, had been definitely broken. If Christianity was to endure as a living faith, it had to embody itself in new forms and come to an understanding with the ideas and interests of the modern time. It was the work of the Fourth Evangelist to transplant the religion of Christ into the new soil before its roots had had time to wither. From the age immediately behind him, in which the primitive tradition was still a living force, he carried the gospel over into his own generation. To perform this task, it was not enough simply to transmit the facts. Jesus had appeared at a given time in history, and His teaching had been influenced and in some respects limited by the conditions of that time, which had now fallen into the past. If the message was to continue as a life-giving power, it must be re-interpreted in terms of the new modes of thinking. The story of Christ's coming must be told in fresh language, with a different emphasis, so that it might appeal to the second century as it had done to the first.
Moreover, in the course of its hundred years of development the original Christian message had unfolded itself into a far larger significance. The great mind of Paul had worked on it. The experience of a growing church, gathered out of many different races and classes, had thrown new lights on its meaning. Even the heresies which had sprung up from time to time had served to suggest the wider bearings of genuine Christian truths. These later developments seemed, at first
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sight, alien to the primitive gospel, but they had grown out of it, and belonged to its real import. To understand the work of Christ it was necessary not only to consider His actual life and teaching, but to take into account this great movement to which He had given the impulse. The Evangelist in his picture of Jesus invests Him with the grandeur which in His lifetime had not been fully apparent. He reads into His recorded words the deeper meanings which they had disclosed to later thinkers. He presents the facts of the divine life, not as men saw them at the time, but as they appeared long afterwards in the retrospect of an enlightened faith.
2. Again, there is a transition not only to a new age, but to a different culture. In order that the religion might naturalize itself in the larger Gentile world to which, since the days of Paul, it had chiefly appealed, it required to find expression in the Hellenic modes of thought. Paul himself had adopted Greek categories into his thinking, but his system as a whole was Jewish in character, imperfectly intelligible to the Hellenic mind. The writer of the Fourth Gospel, not content with employing a Greek idea here and there, attempts an entire re-statement of the Christian message in terms of the current philosophy. Jesus, according to the primitive tradition, was the Messiah, who had come to inaugurate the promised kingdom of God. In the Fourth Gospel the Messianic idea is replaced by that of the Logos. The proclamation of the kingdom becomes the message of "eternal
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Life." Jewish conceptions are translated in almost every instance into the language of Greek speculation. It was impossible thus to transpose the Christian doctrine without modifying, often to a serious extent, its original character. The Greek ideas which John employs never correspond more than partially with the ideas of Jesus, and are sometimes alien to the whole spirit of His teaching. Yet it may fairly be argued that the Hellenic form is in some respects more adequate than the Jewish. There was a breadth and idealism in the thought of Jesus which transcended the limits imposed on Him by the Jewish modes of utterance. We cannot but feel in reading the Synoptic Gospels that He has sometimes to pour new wine into old bottles, to overstrain the language and imagery of traditional Hebrew thought in order to find expression for His message. The ideas of the Messiah and the kingdom of God, to take the most signal instances, meant infinitely more to the mind of Jesus than the names themselves could be made to signify. He was continually hampered by the inadequacy of the names, which as a Jewish teacher He was nevertheless constrained to use. The Fourth Evangelist, when he breaks with the literal tradition, and substitutes the language of Greek reflection for the actual words employed by Jesus, is not necessarily unfaithful to the Master's teaching. On the contrary, he gives truer expression in many cases to the intrinsic thought. There were elements in the gospel message, and these among the most valuable, which could not come to their own until
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they had received a new embodiment in Hellenic forms.
3. In yet a third way, as has been already indicated, the work of John effects a transition. It carries over the revelation of Christ from the world of outward fact to that of inward religious experience. At the time when the Gospel was written, that critical time which followed the close of the Apostolic age, Christianity was threatened with two great dangers, either of which would have destroyed its power as a living religion. There was a tendency on the one hand to dissolve the historical fact of the life of Jesus into a vague speculation. His life had now receded into the past; and the second generation, to which His personal influence had been mediated by His own disciples, had likewise disappeared. It seemed as if nothing remained but to sublimate the actual history into a philosophical allegory and so make it yield a certain permanent value. The other tendency, opposite to this, was equally destructive of vital faith. There were those who clung to the mere reminiscence, which was fading more and more into the distance. Their religion was wholly a matter of tradition, and was destitute of inward impulse and spiritual reality. Christianity, once separated from its historical beginnings, seemed to have no choice but to proceed in one or other of these two directions,—either to evaporate as a philosophy or to petrify as a mechanical tradition. That it was able to continue as a living faith was due mainly to the work of John. He presented
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the life of Jesus in its eternal meaning, and showed how true discipleship was still possible to those who had not seen and yet had believed. He claimed that this inward fellowship was even closer and more real than the outward one. And at the same time he assigned to the historical fact of Christ's appearance its necessary value. From the empty speculations of his time he went back to the actual record, and insisted that the Christ who manifests Himself to faith is one with Him who lived among us. His larger work, His eternal presence, cannot be understood apart from that historical revelation. It is the supreme service of the Fourth Evangelist that he interpreted the vision of faith by the light of the Gospel story. He ensured for all time that the Christ of inward experience should be no ideal abstraction, but the living Master who had once been manifest in the flesh.
In these three well-marked directions the Gospel is a work of transition, and this fact explains not a few of its main difficulties. The writer had to deal with diverse elements, and has not wholly succeeded in fusing them. His general purpose was to re-mould the original tradition according to his new conception of its meaning, but there was much in it that could neither be discarded nor yet find a natural place in the altered plan. Again and again we meet with isolated ideas which cannot be reconciled with the characteristic Johannine thought. They can only be regarded as fragments of the earlier doctrine that have simply
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been taken over without any, or with a very imperfect, attempt at assimilation. It is customary to speak of these alien fragments (the more important of which will be considered in due place) as " concessions" made by the evangelist to current modes of belief. This account of them, however, is scarcely just. A thinker who is reaching forward to a larger conception of truth does not break entirely with the common beliefs of his age. Even when they clash with his own belief he is not himself fully conscious of the opposition, and still allows room for them in his scheme of thought, although in spirit he has transcended them. John "concedes" no doctrine which he does not himself share with the primitive Church, but many of the doctrines thus taken over from the earlier time have ceased to be vital to him. They are incorporated in his work without in any way modifying its inward character.
Apart, however, from these alien fragments which do not enter into its substance, the Gospel is by no means uniform in its presentation of doctrine. The author, writing in a period of transition, is continually striving to find place within the same system for opposite types of thought and belief. He recognises the elements of truth in widely different conceptions, and seeks to preserve them all and to make them supplement and illuminate each other. This union of opposites which meets us constantly in the Gospel has led to the most diverse views as to its ultimate character and intention. It has been represented as a
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Gnostic manifesto, and as an orthodox reply to Gnosticism ; as a vindication of the historical facts, and as a bold attempt to explain them away; as a thoroughgoing exposition of the Logos idea, and as a simple narrative in which the Logos idea disappears after the prologue. Some critics find it dominated by a polemical interest, but differ as to the object of the polemic ; others interpret it as an ecclesiastical document, or as a work of speculation, or as a manual of practical religion. The Gospel offers itself to this wide variety of explanations, all of which can be supported more or less convincingly. It stands, as a matter of fact, at the conflux of many different currents in the life and thought of the Christian Church, and cannot be explained by any one hypothesis. We have rather to acknowledge the diversity of its teaching, and to see in this one chief element in its permanent value. More than any other book in the New Testament it has witnessed to the comprehensiveness of Christianity, and has afforded a meeting-ground for all the different types of religious temperament and thought.
The blending of various tendencies which marks the Gospel as a whole is no less visible when we examine its teaching in detail. Only a few examples, which will be considered more fully at a later stage, need be offered in illustration. The "world" is regarded sometimes as wholly evil,— the realm of darkness over against the light; and elsewhere as the object of the love of God. Man, according to one order of passages, decides for
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himself whether he will respond to Christ; according to another, he is determined by a power outside of him. The miracles of Jesus are alternately put forward as the main proof of His divine claims, and disparaged as a quite secondary evidence. An intellectual view of religion is combined with a strongly ethical view. The idea of an eternal life in the future stands side by side with that of a life realised here and now. The sacraments are regarded as mystically efficacious in themselves, and again set aside as mere symbols of the true spiritual influences. The Church as an outward institution is put in the forefront, and on the other hand religion is identified with an inward, personal fellowship with Christ. The Spirit is another name for the exalted Christ, and almost in the same verse a separate power. " Belief," which is sometimes hardly to be distinguished from the Pauline " faith," is elsewhere little more than an intellectual assent. The number of examples might be multiplied almost indefinitely if we took into account the minor discrepancies in John's thought. Nearly every sentence in the Gospel might be paralleled with another which appears to indicate a view of different tenor.
These inconsistencies, whether real or apparent, can be partly accounted for by the peculiar position of the writer, who stands between two epochs, two worlds of culture. But we shall find that to a large extent they have their roots in one grand antinomy which pervades the Gospel from end to end, and creates an actual cleavage in its religious teaching.
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The revelation through Christ is explained in the prologue as a temporary appearance in the flesh of the eternal Logos. This doctrine of the Logos, borrowed through Philo from the Greek philosophical thinkers, had nothing to do with the original Christian message. For the ethical view of the Person and life of Jesus it substituted a view which can only be described as metaphysical. Christ as Logos was a heavenly being, different in nature from man ; and nothing could be predicated of Him except that He was eternal, self-existent, one from the beginning with God. The evangelist sets out with this conception, and there can be little doubt that it pervades his whole narrative, although he does not revert after the prologue to the express Philonic term. But no one can read the Gospel in any spirit of sympathy without feeling that the theological view is combined with another of altogether different character. To John, as to the Synoptic writers, the revelation has come through the actual life of Jesus, and he seeks to explain by his theory of the incarnate Logos the impression which that life has made on him. He has recourse to the highest of philosophical categories in order to justify his faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Life-giver. The doctrine of the Logos was, however, by its very nature inadequate to his purpose. It belonged to a world of abstract speculation, and Jesus had revealed the Father by His love and goodness, by the moral glory and divineness of His life. In the Fourth Gospel we have really two distinct conceptions, which are con-
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stantly interchanging but can never be reconciled. Jesus is, on the one hand, the Logos, a supernatural being who makes God manifest because He partakes Himself of the divine essence. On the other hand, He is the Saviour whom we know, who dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. The Gospel moves throughout on these two conceptions of the Christian revelation, and they are never brought into real harmony. Instead of vainly striving to harmonise them, we have to acknowledge an inner contradiction which affects the Johannine teaching at its very centre.
The frequent oppositions of thought that meet us in the Gospel are traceable, therefore, to two main causes. An earlier type of Christian belief is combined with another which had arisen at a later time in a different environment; and a revelation given through a historical life is interpreted by means of a philosophical doctrine, with which it cannot, in any true sense, be reconciled. But we must further allow due weight to the temperament of the writer himself, who with all his speculative genius is not primarily a theologian, but a man of profound religious feeling. Ideas flow in upon him from various sources—from primitive Christian tradition, Paulinism, Alexandrian speculation; and he does not attempt to reason them out, or to coordinate them into a system. They may stand in mutual contradiction, but as long as he responds to them with some side of his religious nature he is willing to accept them. He tests them, not by any
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logical criterion, but by an inward tact and sympathy. Hence the widely different elements that find a place side by side within his Gospel; and hence also the indefinable unity in which these conflicting elements are held together. They have all formed part of a living experience, and have a spiritual affinity to each other even when they appear most diverse. It is here, perhaps, that we come upon the crucial difficulty in the interpretation of this writing of John. We have to deal not so much with a thinker whose system may be examined by the ordinary logical rules, as with a unique religious temperament. Ignorant as we are of the personality of the writer, we are for ever deprived of the ultimate key to his Gospel.
It is necessary to bear in mind that the Johannine thought, even more than the Pauline, is bound up with a personal temperament and experience. The theology of Paul would in great measure be a riddle to us if we knew nothing of the individual life out of which it had shaped itself. Our knowledge of the man himself, of his early training, his conversion and the circumstances that led up to it, his activities as an Apostle, his personal sympathies and characteristics,—supplies the light in which his whole thought becomes intelligible. In the case of John we have no such light, and have to feel our way dimly, with the help of some vague acquaintance with the times and conditions in which he worked and the sources from which he drew. The result has been that criticism has too often attempted to construe his
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Gospel externally. It has been treated as little more than a compilation in which various fragments of earlier systems are pieced together, while the personal factor has been left entirely out of sight. Now it cannot be too strongly emphasised that this factor, which is outside our range of knowledge, is yet the ultimate and all-important one. Whatever is borrowed from previous thinkers is not simply taken over, but is penetrated with new meanings ; and much as we are assisted in the right understanding of the Gospel by various collateral lines of research, we have to deal in the last resort with the writer himself, and his own individual conception of the message of Christ.
The individual character of the work is strikingly marked in the very method of its composition. It has been noted already that John did not set himself to write a complete history, but only to enforce a given view of the Christian revelation in the light of selected facts. He is thus left free to shape his narrative on a deliberate artistic plan, and it unfolds itself with something of the ordered majesty and simplicity of a Greek tragedy. First, in a solemn prologue, our minds are prepared for the action which is to follow ; and then the divine life passes before us in its few cardinal episodes. In the first four chapters the Light is seen rising on the world, and all men appear to welcome it and respond to it. Then follows a period of uncertainty, when friends and enemies begin to take their sides (v. and vi.). In
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the next section (vii.-xii.) the world settles down into definite antagonism, while the few whom Jesus has chosen are drawn to Him ever more closely. At last He is left alone with this small company of His true disciples, and reveals His inmost heart to them in the quiet of the supper-room (xiii.-xvii.). Meanwhile the hatred of His enemies, like the love of His chosen friends, has reached its height, and in the remaining chapters we see Him overwhelmed by the powers of darkness, yet in the end rising victorious.
The story thus groups itself around one central motive, that of the judgment, the sifting out of men, effected by the coming of Christ. After the first wonder has spent itself, the two classes of children of light and children of darkness begin to emerge definitely. Those who are repelled from Jesus become more intensely hostile, while those who accept Him are won to an always deeper and more intimate faith. This separation of men by their attitude to the Light is the governing motive of the book, and as such it serves an artistic as well as a theological purpose. By his conception of Jesus as the Logos, the writer was compelled to regard Him as a stationary figure. There could be no inward development of His character or consciousness, no reaction of circumstances upon His life. As the story of the Incarnate Logos the Gospel could be nothing more than a series of repetitions, without any real sequence or unifying interest. The difficulty is overcome by the aid of that other motive, which enables the narrative to
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march forward with a natural dramatic progress. Jesus Himself remains sovereign and impassive, awaiting His "hour"; but the effect of His presence on the world becomes more and more decisive. A judgment is in process, and we follow it stage by stage to the great climax.
The deliberate artistic purpose which governs the main structure of the Gospel is apparent also in matters of detail. Every reader has been struck with the contrast between the prevailing tone of mystical thought and the vivid realism of many of the separate pictures. The book abounds in clearly drawn portraits of character. Disciples who in the Synoptics are little more than names stand out in John with definitely marked features. The more prominent actors in the history (e.g. Peter, Judas, Pilate) are carefully individualised. Even those persons who have no real part in the action, and are only introduced for the purposes of doctrinal discussion (Nicodemus, the woman of Samaria, the blind man), are endowed with some distinctness of character. In like manner the writer delights in little pictorial touches which serve to give a concrete reality to his narrative. He records dates, hours, names of places. He works out special episodes with a wealth of lively detail. He adds an individual reference to vague statements in the Synoptics. (Peter was the man who struck, and Malchus the man wounded; Judas objected to the waste of ointment; Thomas is the representative of the " some who doubted.") He introduces, often with wonderful effect, dramatic
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contrasts and circumstances. (" And it was night." "Jesus wept." "Behold the man!" "What is truth ?") These are but a few examples of that study of the vivid and concrete which forms one of the best marked characteristics of the Fourth Gospel, abstract and theological as it is in its main teaching. The favorite argument for the general authenticity of the narrative is based on this feature in its composition, but the force of the argument disappears on closer analysis. It can be shown that many of the apparently lifelike details have a symbolic value, and are in reality nothing but veiled allegorical allusions. Possibly, if we had an adequate clue to the evangelist's aims and methods, a side-reference of this kind could be discovered in almost every instance. Apart, however, from its allegorical value, the picturesque detail in John's narrative can be set down, not to the accurate memory of the eye-witness, but to the fine instinct of the literary artist. All the more that the prevailing tenor of his work was abstract and meditative, he felt the need of relieving it with touches of livelier color.
The elaborate character of the work becomes still more apparent when we look with closer attention at its inner structure. A manner of writing is adopted which admits of singularly little variation, so that it is difficult at times to distinguish between the words of Jesus Himself and the commentary which follows them. This monotony of the ^Johannine style, due to a certain uniform, semi-rhythmical construction of sentence, has often
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been remarked. It is evidently intentional, and imparts to the whole book an air of majesty and religious awe, in keeping with its high argument. A similar uniformity is traceable in the conduct of almost all the dialogue in which Jesus takes part. The method invariably adopted is this;—a dark saying is thrown out by Jesus which is misapprehended by His hearers, and He then repeats the original saying, and proceeds to amplify and explain it. Whole chapters (e.g. v. vi. viii.) consist of a series of such dark utterances, misunderstood and then interpreted. A regular method is likewise followed in regard to the miracles. They are performed by Jesus on His own initiative, and embody great spiritual truths which are not apparent to the onlookers. Thus they serve as introductions to the several discourses, in which they are expounded in their inward significance.
The allegorical nature of many of the incidents and allusions contained in the Gospel has already been indicated. In the case of the miracles, John himself invites us to consider the outward event as the vehicle of a hidden meaning ; and his narrative, down to its minutest details, appears to be saturated with symbolism. Even where his chief interest is to record facts as they actually happened, he is careful to place them in such a light as to bring out a deeper spiritual import which was concealed in them. A conspicuous example is the incident of the spear-thrust, vouched for in the most emphatic manner as strictly historical. It was the unanswerable proof that Jesus really died upon the Cross, and
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the evangelist is solicitous, above all, to establish the fact. Yet even here the outward event merges in the symbol. The water and blood that issued from the side of Christ typify the double work effected by Him, and the two sacraments in which it is appropriated by the believer. In like manner throughout the Gospel we have to reckon with a strain of allegorical intention woven in at every point with the narrative proper. " Earthly things " are to this writer the shadow of " heavenly things," and they are chiefly valuable to him for the sake of those higher truths dimly reflected in them.
A particular interest attaches itself in this connection to John's use of numbers. In view of his relation to the allegorical school of Philo, we are prepared to find the mystical value of numbers playing a part in his work, and this expectation is borne out to a greater extent than is at first evident. Definite allusions are indeed comparatively few, but it has often been noted that a numerical scheme appears to be constantly before his mind. Jesus makes His journey thrice to Galilee and thrice to Jerusalem; there are three Passovers and three other feasts ; the Baptist makes three appearances as witness; Jesus is thrice condemned, speaks thrice from the Cross, appears three times after His Resurrection. Seven, the other sacred number, is likewise prominent. There are seven miracles, seven references to the " hour " ; the formula " I am," introducing some type under which Jesus describes Himself, occurs seven times, as also the solemn
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asseveration, " These things I have spoken to you," in the final discourse. It even seems probable that the structure of the Gospel as a whole is determined by these two numbers, three and seven. The book can be articulated into seven main sections, each of which falls naturally into three main parts; and a still further subdivision on the basis of the sacred numbers can be carried out with sufficient plausibility. This method of analysis is at best conjectural and may easily be overstrained, but it is distinctly possible that John worked consciously on a scheme of numbers in the composition of his work. Such a plan might seem at first sight to place a fatal restraint on the free activity of genius, but we have instances of great creative work—for example, the poem of Dante—produced under still stricter limitations. To minds of a certain type the observance of a rigid system is no burden, but rather a necessary condition to elevated and harmonious thought.
Enough has been said to prove that the Fourth Gospel, in outward appearance so unstudied and spontaneous, is in reality a work of complex art. It bears traces of elaborate design, alike in its plan as a whole and in all its separate details. We are prepared, therefore, to discover a similar complexity in the content of the Gospel. We can assume that in its thought as in its composition it is not simple, but is full of hidden intention, and meaning involved in meaning. This will become increasingly evident as we' examine more closely into its religious and theological teaching.
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Meanwhile a new light is thrown on the broad question which meets us at the outset,—What is the aim with which this Fourth Gospel was written ? In view of the evangelist's express statement, the answer to this question might seem to present little difficulty. He wrote in a purely religious interest, " that, believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, ye might have life through His name." This statement does not, however, cover the whole purpose of the Gospel. It arose, like the other New Testament writings, out of the immediate life and needs of the early Church ; and we cannot but feel, when we study it with some attention, that the religious aim is combined with a more practical one. Again and again we come on passages that seem capable of a double interpretation. They can be explained, quite naturally, in the light of that larger purpose which the writer professes to have kept before him; but they have a bearing, still more direct and evident, on certain definite questions that agitated the Church at a given time.
What, then, was the real aim of our evangelist ? Areweto regardhim as a purely religious teacher, concerned only with the timeless element in Christianity? Or was he rather a man of his age, whose thought was chiefly determined by the immediate conditions under which he lived? Much of the discussion which in recent times has gathered around these questions becomes irrelevant when allowance is made for the element of complexity that belongs to the very essence of the Fourth Gospel. It is fair to assume that in such a work a number of
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intentions may be equally present, and so involved with one another that they cannot easily be separated. There is no reason to set aside John's own statement when he declares that his aim was in the first instance religious ; but this paramount aim was complicated in his mind with others, imposed on him by the particular circumstances of his time. They can be traced with more or less distinctness in every chapter of the work, and continually influence its main teaching.
These subordinate aims may be grouped, for the sake of convenience, under two divisions. In the first place, the evangelist seeks to repel the attacks to which Christianity was subject, from several different sides, in the early years of the second century. His narrative is so presented as to serve an urgent polemical interest. He writes, in the second place, as a representative of the Church, with the object of building up the Church idea. It might seem, indeed, that nothing could be further removed from the field of ecclesiastical debate than this "spiritual Gospel" of John. The Church is not once alluded to by name; the mind of the writer dwells among eternal truths which appear to have little to do with Church politics and controversies. None the less we shall find reason to believe that the thought of the Church is constantly present to him. The story of the beginnings of Christianity is described in such a manner as to adumbrate the later development, in which an ordered community, with its set laws and sacraments, continued the work of Christ. A
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whole region of John's thinking becomes intelligible only when we take account of this ecclesiastical interest which underlies his Gospel.
It need hardly be said that this division is not to be regarded as a strict one. The polemical purpose intersects at every turn with that which we have defined as the ecclesiastical ; and in like manner both of the subordinate aims fall into harmony with the supreme religious aim. Written as it is with a threefold strain of intention, the Gospel impresses us throughout with a sense of magnificent unity. The complex elements of which it is composed are all fused and vitalised by the prevailing motive,—"that ye may believe in the Son of God, and have life through His name."
Here, again, the method of the Fourth Evangelist may in some measure be illustrated from that of Dante. The poem, like the Gospel, is governed by a spiritual purpose, and depends on this for its whole power and meaning. Blended, however, with the central purpose, there are various subordinate aims which may often seem to have little relation to it. The poet concerns himself with the politics of his time, with the theological controversies, with the many-sided intellectual movement, so that the higher intention is sometimes half buried. It cannot be maintained on that account that the quarrel of Guelph and Ghibelline is the whole key to the Divine Comedy; and just as little can we interpret the Fourth Gospel by dwelling exclusively on its minor issues. These have their place and cannot be overlooked, but the religioi
26 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
aim is paramount, and everything else must be explained in the light of it.
A few of the more striking characteristics of the Gospel have thus been indicated, and require to be borne in mind as we proceed to the more detailed criticism. It has been seen, in the first place, that John, by his own testimony, is not so much the reporter of historical facts, as a religious teacher who seeks to get behind the facts to their essential import. To his mind the idea was everything, and the outward event a mere shell and symbol. He considers it not only permissible but necessary to re-shape the tradition in order to render it transparent, more clearly significant of the spiritual truth conveyed in it. Again, his work was in more ways than one the product of an age of transition. It presented the Christian message to a new time, under the forms of a different culture. It sought to unite in one picture the two revelations of Christ,— that which He had given through His earthly life, and that which He still gives through His inward, eternal presence. Johannine theology thus represents the mingling of several currents of thought which do not altogether lose the traces of their original diversity. We meet constantly with types of doctrine which are not entirely harmonized, which even stand in mutual contradiction. The actual reminiscence of Jesus is combined throughout with a metaphysical theory derived from Greek speculation. Once more, the Gospel is no simple, spontaneous utterance, as it might appear to be, but a
CHARACTER AND INTENTION 27
work of elaborate art. In its most casual allusions we need to be prepared for some deeper allegorical meaning concealed beneath the immediate one. Its main religious intention is interwoven continually with various subordinate aims, polemical and ecclesiastical. The evangelist, so far as we know him from his work, was no secluded thinker, but an active leader of the Church in a difficult time. His Gospel is the purest exposition of the absolute religious spirit; but we have also to regard it as a contemporary document, written in the full whirl of the passions and controversies of the second century.
This writing of John is therefore a book of contrasts, of seeming contradictions. It combines a narrative, at times intensely real and human, with a profound metaphysic. It is concerned at once with the eternal verities of religion and with the practical issues of a given age. It finds room within itself for the most diverse types of thought, Greek, Pauline, early Christian. It defends the orthodox faith of the Church, and at the same time borrows from Gnosticism. With its matchless simplicity of literary form, it is a complex work of art. With its dependence on previous thinkers, alike in its main ideas and in detail, it impresses us more than any other book by its absolute originality. These are only a few of the contrasts in this wonderful Gospel, which makes a different appeal to every variety of Christian temperament and experience. The mystic, the churchman, the philosopher, the man of simple thought and feeling, have
THE FOURTH GOSPEL
all responded alike to the teaching of John. He gave the chief impulse to the development of dogma; he has also acted, in every age of the Church, as the great liberalising influence in Christian thought. Finality is impossible in the interpretation of such a book. Each new attempt to explain it is fragmentary at the best, and sends us back to the Gospel itself with a deeper sense of its ultimate mystery.
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES
Gospel of John is the most individual of the New Testament writings. All the diverse elements of which it is composed have been fused together in the mind of an original thinker, and bear his unmistakable impress. At the same time, the Fourth Evangelist was not, like Paul, a creator and discoverer. He works with only a few ideas, which he is content to reiterate almost in the same words. These ideas have all been given to him, and it would be possible to go over his Gospel in detail and trace its dependence, almost in every verse, on the work of previous thinkers. His originality is one of attitude, of temperament. Through his own inward experience he has arrived at a new conception of the meaning of Christianity, and he assimilates the results of earlier thought to this conception. They enter into new combinations and assume new values; in every case they have something added to them which changes their whole character.
Our knowledge of the sources from which John drew affords us, therefore, only a partial clue to his thought, and is sometimes positively misleading.
THE FOURTH GOSPEL
The fact that some term employed by him bears a certain meaning in Paul or in Philo, may signify very little. By reading the original idea into the borrowed term, we often miss the shade of difference which now belongs to its essential import. It may fairly be argued that much of the modern research into the possible influences that have gone to the making of John's Gospel has served to obscure its real purpose and character. In face of the vast array of analogies and parallel passages, it becomes increasingly difficult to take the book by itself and allow it to create its own impression. This, when all is said, is the only true method of approaching a work of genius; and, while examining the debt owed by our evangelist to writers before him, we must always remember that our chief concern is with himself. What he borrowed was for the most part rude material; what he gave was spirit and life.
Three main influences are everywhere traceable in the Gospel,—the Synoptic tradition, the writings of Paul, the Alexandrian philosophy. To these may be added two contemporary influences,—those of the orthodox Church doctrine and of Gnostic speculation. One important question, however, falls to be considered at the outset. May we assume that, besides these known sources, the author drew from some other source now lost to us, in his representation of the life and words of Christ? By the nature of the case no certain answer can be given to this question. Granted that the Gospel was written in the first decade of
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 31
the second century, we can easily conceive that many authentic traditions of the life of Jesus were still extant. Men were living who had conversed with the Apostles, and we can hardly doubt that the Fourth Evangelist availed himself of their testimony. He would be at least as anxious as Papias " to inquire into the discourses of the elders, what Andrew or Peter said, or what Philip or what Thomas or James, or what John or Matthew or any other of the disciples of the Lord." In one memorable passage (xix. 35) he appears to make emphatic allusion to evidence received directly from an eye-witness; and in other cases not so carefully specified we may believe that he drew from authentic records, written or unwritten, which find no place in the Synoptics. At the same time, there is no ground for assuming that these other records were more than fragmentary. They may have supplied him with isolated sayings or incidents, but cannot be proved to have constituted a positive independent source. The theory of an original document underlying our present Gospel has recently been defended with vast learning and ingenuity by Wendt. This critic maintains that the discourses of Jesus, practically in the form in which we have them, were contained in an early Apostolic work, which was redacted by the later evangelist and thrown into an ordered narrative. The argument, however, makes shipwreck on two insuperable difficulties. In the first place, the Gospel as it stands is an organic unity and cannot be broken up into discourses and narrative, sub-
THE FOURTH GOSPEL
stance and framework; the impression of a single mind and a single hand rests upon every line of it, and a twofold authorship is simply inconceivable. Again, the portions assigned by Wendt to the original document are pervaded, like the rest of the book, with Pauline and Alexandrian influences. The source would thus offer exactly the same problems as the Gospel does, and would compel us to the same conclusions in regard to its date and authorship and intention. On these two grounds alone it seems impossible to accept any such theory as that which has been elaborated by Wendt. It may be freely admitted that John had access to many genuine fragments of Apostolic tradition, and embodied them in his work. Facts and incidents, touches of local colour, here and there a saying that bears the true accent of Jesus, may thus have been given him; but the large features of his picture, the general conception of the Lord's life and message, cannot with any probability be assigned to a primitive record now lost. We are thrown back on the assumption that the sources still accessible to us are the chief, and practically the only, sources from which the Gospel is derived.
Among these the first place must undoubtedly be given to the Synoptics. John would appear to have possessed these Gospels in much the same form as we have them now, and draws freely upon them all. There is little trace of critical discrimination in his use of them. It may be said generally
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 33
that for the sequence of events he gives the preference to Mark, for separate details to Matthew, while in his larger view of the significance of Christ's life and work he is most in sympathy with Luke. In the main, however, he uses the three Gospels as a single authoritative source.
The dependence on the Synoptics is naturally most apparent in the narrative portion of John's work. He sets before us the same general picture of Jesus as a teacher, a worker of miracles, a Master surrounded by disciples who only half understood Him. The conception of the character of Jesus, heightened though it is by the dominant idea of the Logos, is yet essentially the same as in the earlier evangelists. These large features of resemblance do not necessarily imply a direct borrowing, but there are further similarities which cannot otherwise be explained.
In the first place, the main divisions under which the Synoptic narrative unfolds itself are carefully imitated by John. The ministry of Jesus is preceded by that of the Baptist. The beginning of miracles takes place in Galilee, under conditions of gladness and bright promise; then follows a period of debate, ever more embittered as time goes on, corresponding to the strife with scribes and Pharisees in the Synoptics. The confession of Peter (vi. 69) answers to the scene at Csesarea Philippi, and, like it, marks the turning-point in the story. In the closing sections of the book the Synoptic order is closely followed, although at 3
THE FOURTH GOSPEL
every step its details are skilfully adapted to the
The evangelist thus keeps himself in line with a sequence of events which in his own reading of the history had lost all its real significance. Jesus, as he conceived Him, came forth at once as the declared Messiah; His course was not shaped for Him by outward circumstances; He knew the end from the beginning, and ordered it according to His own will. But in this new reading of the divine life John had to reckon with the tradition already fixed by the written documents. He accepts the fundamental frame-work which they afforded him, and fills it in after his own manner, so that the original lines of the history are largely obliterated. The Galilsean ministry, with its brightness and hopefulness, is summed up in the opening miracle at the wedding-feast, and then gives place to the more conspicuous work at Jerusalem. The controversy with scribes and Pharisees on definite matters of the moral and religious life becomes a theological polemic against "the Jews." Peter's confession loses its true significance as the first acknowledgment of Jesus as the Messiah. This, in John's view, had never been open to doubt, and the confession only marks the growing faith of the disciples in contrast to the growing unbelief of the world. So in each case the broad Synoptic divisions are adapted to new purposes, though at the same time they are recognised. The evangelist seeks to base himself as far as possible on the foundations already laid
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 35
down. He reproduces, feature by feature, the history which was familiar to all Christian readers, while he presents it under a different light, so as to bring out more clearly its inward meaning.
In the details of the narrative, no less than in its general sequence, we can distinctly trace the Synoptic ground-work. The incidents are, with a few exceptions, taken over from the earlier evangelists with characteristic Johannine differences. We can easily identify the original sources of the story of John the Baptist, the cleansing of the Temple, the healing of the nobleman's son, the feeding of the five thousand, the walking on the sea, the anointing at Bethany, the entry into Jerusalem, the main episodes of the Passion and Resurrection. In all these parallels we have traces of a literary dependence which make it certain that the writer was borrowing from our present Synoptic Gospels. It is noticeable, however, that he never fails to modify in some fashion the material given him, sometimes changing its whole character. Compare, for instance, the account of the believing centurion with that of the nobleman whose son was healed. Apart from minor changes, —all of them introduced with evident intention— the purpose of the incident is altered. In the Synoptics the one prominent feature is the faith of the centurion, which secures an immediate answer to his prayer. In John the emphasis is all laid on the greatness of the miracle. Jesus performs it, not at the call of faith, but in order to evoke faith, complaining at the same time that men
36 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
cannot be persuaded except by signs and wonders. Thus, while he borrows the Synoptic story, John completely changes its meaning; and in the other instances he follows a similar method. Setting out from his own conception of the life of Christ, he adapts and modifies his originals, while still, in the main, adhering to them.
A more complicated question presents itself when we pass from these direct borrowings to certain other episodes in the Gospel which cannot be traced so. immediately to Synoptic sources. How did John obtain his knowledge of the marriage at Cana, the second testimony of the Baptist, the meeting with Nicodemus and with the Samaritan woman, the healing of the paralytic at Bethesda and of the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus ? The presence of these episodes might seem to prove conclusively that the Fourth Gospel embodies an independent tradition. Certainly it is possible, as has been indicated above, that John had sources of information, oral or written, apart from our present Synoptics. Such an incident as the meeting with the Samaritan woman may easily be supposed to rest on some actual fact which the evangelist took over from tradition and elaborated in his own characteristic manner. So, in regard to all the instances given, we are free to assume that he worked on lingering reminiscences that had come down from the Apostolic times. But, in view of his close dependence elsewhere on the Synoptic records, we have to admit the probability that here also he is drawing upon them, though not so directly
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 37
and apparently. As a matter of fact, when we examine these peculiarly Johannine incidents with some attention, we arc rarely at a loss to connect them with parallel incidents in the earlier Gospels. Nicodemus has his counterpart in the rich young ruler who inquired of Jesus concerning eternal life. The miracle at Cana, obviously symbolic in its character, may well have been suggested by the two sayings of Jesus (Mark ii. 19, 22) about the children of the bride-chamber and the new wine. The second testimony of John seems to correspond with his sending of the embassy from prison ; only the witness, instead of wavering, reiterates his faith. The paralytic of Bethesda reminds us of the man who " took up his bed and walked " at Capernaum, and the man born blind of the blind Bartimseus. Possibly the story of Lazarus is likewise to be explained by the working up of different Synoptic suggestions into a single narrative. As it stands, we cannot, with any show of probability, find room for it in an intelligible scheme of the life of Christ. It is inconceivable that a miracle of such magnitude, performed on the very eve of the last momentous week of our Lord's life, and in presence of crowds of people in a suburb of Jerusalem,—a miracle, moreover, which was the immediate cause, according to John, of the Crucifixion,—should have been simply passed over by the other evangelists We are almost compelled to the conclusion that the narrative is in the main symbolical, gathering up under the form of "earthly things" the supreme doctrine of Christ the Life-giver. At the same
38 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
time it is woven together out of scattered hints supplied by the Synoptics,—the raising of J aims' daughter and the youth of Nain, the Lucan account of the two sisters Martha and Mary, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, with its significant closing words, " Neither will they believe though one be raised from the dead." In no other instance does the evangelist depart so daringly from the historical tradition, yet he bases throughout on Synoptic reminiscences. He deals with them freely, and so combines and rearranges them as to form an entirely new narrative, but all the while he is careful to build with material given him. This is in accordance with his whole method and intention. He does not aim at writing a new life of Christ, but at re-stating the traditional facts in the light of what he regards as their inward meaning. The material is all borrowed from sources already familiar, and only the " truth," the higher spiritual
interpretation, is new.
When we pass from the narrative to the discourses, which form the larger and more important section of the Gospel, we can still trace a continual dependence on the Synoptic records. Here, however, it is almost wholly a question of indirect influence. Two or three isolated sayings are taken literally from the Synoptics, but for the most part Jesus speaks in a language that seems entirely different. He no longer uses parables, or studies to express Himself in the simplest, directest words. His favourite mode of utterance is in dark sentences, which are often capable of several mean-
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 39
ings and are not intended to be fully understood.
In substance even more than in form the Johannine
discourses appear to stand in complete contrast to
the Synoptic teaching. The message of the
kingdom of God is barely alluded to, and in place
of it Jesus is occupied almost exclusively with the
doctrine of His own Person. In view of the
marked differences, it seems hard to establish any
connection between John's account of our Lord's
teaching and that of the other evangelists; the
discourses are either the product of free invention,
or they are based on an independent tradition now
lost to us. But there is a third alternative which
commends itself on closer examination as the
most probable. In the discourses, as in the narrative,
John draws from the Synoptics; but he uses his
sources freely, expanding, compressing, changing
the emphasis, re-stating the actual words to bring
out more fully the inward idea. There are few
Johannine utterances to which we cannot find some
parallel in the other Gospels. The resemblance
may not be immediately apparent, and is often
little more than a vague echo, but in almost every
case the thought is derivable from some authentic
saying of Christ preserved .in our Synoptics.
Examples might easily be multiplied, but we need
only refer to one, which illustrates in a very striking
manner the evangelist's method. The doctrine of
the New Birth as set forth in the dialogue with
Nicodemus is peculiar to the Fourth Gospel, and
can be traced back to a variety of sources. Ideas
that had grown up around the Mysteries are blended
40 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
in the mind of John with Pauline reminiscences, with theological reflections on the meaning of the Church rite of Baptism. Thus far the whole passage may be explained as a later addition, which has little to do with the recorded teaching of Jesus. Nevertheless the ultimate suggestion of the doctrine may be discovered in the earlier Gospels. The answer to Nicodemus : " Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God," takes us back to the familiar verse, " Except ye turn and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." In both sayings we have the same essential thought of a new life taking its departure from an entire break with the past. In both, likewise, the image is primarily the same. John has merely developed in its full implication the idea of " becoming like a little child," and sought to interpret it in line with his own conception. Most of the passages in which he appears at first sight to vary most widely from the other evangelists, might be analysed in similar fashion with a like result. Working as he does in a spirit of freedom, he yet draws throughout from the Synoptic sources. To him, as to us, those earliest records of the words of Christ were authoritative, and he is careful to use them as his ground-work, while at the same time he modifies and interprets them.
It may be granted that in the separate discourses John avails himself thus of suggestions given him by the Synoptic records ; but how are we to explain his new presentation of the whole tenor and context of our Lord's teaching ? In the Sermon
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 41
on the Mount and the Parables the Speaker says little about His own Person. All the stress is laid on the moral truths to which He bore witness, and on God's kingdom and Fatherhood. In the Fourth Gospel the revelation of Jesus centres wholly upon Himself. His actions and words alike have no other purpose than to assert the worth of His Person, and to compel belief in Him as the Son of God. This change in the whole subject of the Gospel message marks the most serious difference between John and the Synoptics ; but here also he is simply interpreting his sources, with a true insight into their real import. Jesus, indeed, says little in the earlier Gospels about Himself. None the less we are made to feel in every sentence that the authority of the Person is behind the teaching. His "Verily I say" is the ultimate sanction of each new commandment; His own life and character give meaning to His revelation of God. His words are recorded, not so much for their own sake as for the knowledge they afford us of His mind and spirit. He Himself in His living Person was infinitely more than His message, and it was a message of truth and power because He spoke it. Thus the chief purpose of the Synoptic writers is to reproduce in some faint measure the impression which Christ Himself made on men; and in the Fourth Gospel this underlying purpose becomes explicit. Jesus is not only the messenger, but is Himself the subject of the message. Instead of proclaiming the kingdom and witnessing to God's love and providence, He dwells on the significance
42 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
of His own Person. " I am the Light of the world." " I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." " He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." These sayings, and a hundred others like them, have no direct parallels in the Synoptic Gospels, but they express the latent intention of those Gospels. Jesus revealed the Father, and opened up the way to eternal life, by the manifestation of Himself.
Thus far we have sought to prove that John works on the material given him by the earlier evangelists. His dependence on their record is so marked and constant, that we are the more struck by his omission of certain elements in it which are evidently of the first importance. He tells us, indeed, that he does not propose to write a complete life of Christ, but only to select the incidents that fit in with his practical religious aim. This accounts for the omission of many minor incidents; but it does not explain why a whole series of episodes, cardinal to the Synoptic story, is simply passed over. Nothing is said, for instance, about the genealogy and the Virgin Birth, the Baptism, the Temptation, the Transfiguration, the institution of the Supper, the agony in Geth-semane, the Ascension. Although the discourses of Jesus occupy the larger part of the Gospel, it contains not a single parable (the so-called parables of the Good Shepherd and the True Vine being pure allegories, which have nothing in common with the Synoptic parables). These remarkable omissions, which alter the whole character of the history, cannot be due to oversight or to the leav-
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 43
ing out of what was non-essential. Without doubt they have been made deliberately, in view of certain theories and pre-suppositions with which the writer approached his subject. Indeed, in most of the instances it is not difficult to read the intention that was in his mind. His conception of Jesus as the Son of God did not admit of the apparent humbling of Him to human level, implied in the Baptism or the Temptation or the Agony. The scene of the Transfiguration became unnecessary, since Jesus was invested always with a divine glory, which shone out, not once by a special miracle, but in all His words and actions. The Virgin Birth was replaced by the doctrine of the incarnation of the Word ; before His birth in time Christ was the eternal Son of God, and came into the world as man by His own voluntary act. The Ascension disappears from the narrative for a similar reason. Jesus had never ceased to be the eternal Son, and required no special act of exaltation to restore Him to His place with the Father. In all these instances the divergence from the Synoptics is immediately due to the influence of the Logos idea; the discarded elements either conflicted with that idea, or seemed to fall beneath it, or served a theological interest which it already supplied. The omission of the parables and of the institution of the Supper must be accounted for on other grounds. The question of the Supper, which is peculiarly difficult and complicated, will be examined later. With regard to the parables, the evangelist himself indicates the reason why he passed them over.
44 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
He apparently shared the view, of which we have traces in the Synoptic writers themselves, that they were intended by Jesus to veil His true teaching. They were addressed to the unthinking multitude, " that seeing they might not perceive, and hearing they might not understand;" and John wrote his Gospel in order to disclose the "truth" which Jesus Himself had half indicated and half concealed. " These things have I spoken unto you in parables, but the time cometh when I shall no more speak unto you in parables, but I shall show you plainly of the Father" (xvi. 25).
In its omissions, then, as much as in its correspondences, the Fourth Gospel can be understood only by the light of the Synoptics. What John contributes is his new conception of the inward meaning of Christ's message. So long as the material given him can be harmonised with this conception, he accepts it, while at the same time re-moulding it freely. When he discards any important element in the Synoptic record, his reason invariably is that it will not blend with his own theological view. It is noticeable, also, that even when he omits, he shows a desire to conserve at least some vestige of the original tradition. The scene of Gethsemane could not be related without doing violence to the Logos hypothesis, yet there is a faint reminiscence of it (xii. 27-29) when Jesus trembles for a moment on the verge of His week of Passion. Here we can trace, however dimly, the several details of the Agony, in the trouble of Jesus under the shadow of death, His prayer, His
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 45
submission to God's will, the divine help that strengthens Him. So the Ascension, although not recorded, is darkly alluded to in the words of the risen Christ to Mary (xx. 17). It would be possible to illustrate in like manner how the missing elements in the story are all replaced by something equivalent,—as when the prologue is substituted for the account of the miraculous birth, or the frequent allusions to Christ's manifest "glory" for the single scene of the Transfiguration. Throughout his Gospel the evangelist bases himself, consciously and deliberately, on the Synoptic writers. He accepts their narrative as the authentic record of the life of Jesus, and endeavours to keep in line with it even when it cannot be wholly reconciled with his own conception. At the same time he is more concerned with the "truth" of the original narrative, with its inward drift and significance, than with its literal content. " Having observed," says Clement of Alexandria, " that the bodily things had been exhibited in the other Gospels, John, inspired by the Spirit, produced a spiritual Gospel." This earliest criticism reveals a true insight into the purpose and method of John. He takes over from the Synoptic record the "bodily things," the actual facts of the Christian history, and makes it his special task to supply the interpretation. The Spirit guided him into all truth, yet the Spirit did not speak of Himself, but took of the things of Christ, as they were treasured in the familiar story, and unfolded them in their deeper meaning.
46 , THE FOURTH GOSPEL
II. A second influence, only less powerful than that of the Synoptic tradition has left its impress on the Gospel. Nearly half a century had passed since the death of Paul, and the mind of the Church had become impregnated with Pauline ideas. More especially in Ephesus, which had been one of the chief centres of the Apostle's activity, the theological development had followed the lines marked out by him. Much, indeed, that was primary in the Pauline system had now fallen into the background. The Church had long since broken with Judaism, and the controversy concerning the relations of Law and Gospel possessed a merely historical interest. With this change in the outward situation the key to Paul's theology had been in great measure lost. Moreover, the Christianity of Paul was so much the product of his individual mind and experience, that it could not pass in its entirety into the common life of the Church. It was gradually broken up into its various component elements, which were thrown into new combinations and invested with new values. All this must be borne in mind as we approach the question of the Pauline influence on the Fourth Gospel. The evangelist is everywhere indebted to Paul, yet we are not to look for any literal reproduction of the Pauline theology. Some of the Apostle's main conceptions are passed over or barely recognised; others are so blended with foreign ideas as to lose their original meaning; in all cases there is something added or discarded.
According to an ingenious conjecture, which
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 47
has found acceptance with several recent critics, Paul is actually introduced into the Gospel under the figure of Nathanael. This mysterious disciple, who is nowhere mentioned in the Synoptic narratives, and whose call is yet described with peculiar fulness and solemnity, has always been one of the riddles of the book. It is impossible to identify him with any of the familiar Twelve, and we must regard him either as a purely ideal figure or as the symbolical counterpart of a real personage. If the latter alternative is adopted, there seems to be no other than Paul, who fulfils all the conditions. He was not of the Twelve, and yet ranked with them in the Apostleship, and received his call from Christ Himself. Like Nathanael, he was the last to enter the Apostolic band,—"as one born out of due time." He was at first adverse and contemptuous in his attitude, and was won over, not by the persuasion of the disciples, but by the immediate voice of Christ. "When thou wast under the fig-tree I saw thee," describes in a graphic image his predestination to Christian service while still under the shadow of the Law. " Behold an Israelite indeed " suggests more than one passage of Paul's own writings, in which he speaks of the "true Israel," the "Jew who is one inwardly," the spiritual seed of Abraham. The great promise to Nathanael (" Thou shalt see heaven opened," etc.) finds its truest fulfilment in the career of Paul, who had moments of ecstatic vision when he was rapt up to the third heaven, while in his ever-deepening faith and spiritual insight he beheld the Son of
THE FOURTH GOSPEL
man, more and more clearly revealed to him. On all these grounds it may be considered at least possible that in the story of Nathanael the evangelist alludes symbolically to Paul, and claims for him his rightful place among the very chiefest
of the Apostles.
Whatever be the worth of this conjecture, it is certain that John owes an incalculable debt to his great predecessor. In the course of the following chapters we shall have constant occasion to recognise his dependence on Pauline thought, and here it will be enough to touch more generally on the main points of contact. Reference may be made, in the first place, to particular verses and passages which appear to have been suggested by parallel sayings in the epistles. These reminiscences are for the most part vague and inconclusive, but here and there the Pauline original is unmistakeable. For example, the answer of Jesus (vi. 29): " This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent," reminds us at once of Paul's teaching on faith and works ; it may be said, indeed, to sum up the Pauline position in a sort of epigram. In another controversial passage (viii. 33-39) we meet with a whole series of ideas obviously derived from Paul. " Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin ; " " The servant abideth not in the house for ever, but the Son abideth for ever ;" " If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed ;"—each of these sayings has its almost verbal parallel in the epistles (cf. Rom. vi. 16-23 '> Gal. iv. 30, v. i). The claim of the Jews to special privilege in virtue of
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 49
their descent from Abraham is answered on the familiar lines of Pauline polemic. So the later verse (viii. 56), "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day," repeats, with an added touch of Johan-nine mysticism, the idea of Paul that the new dispensation of faith was implicit in the promise made to Abraham.
Such instances of separate Pauline thoughts reappearing in the Gospel might easily be multiplied; but we pass to a much more important manifestation of the influence. For almost all his larger doctrines the evangelist is indebted, more or less immediately, to Paul. The nature and extent of the borrowing will concern us more particularly, when we come to examine his teaching on the several aspects of the Saviour's work, and on Life, the Holy Spirit, union with Christ, the Lord's Return to His people. The doctrines that fall to be included under these heads are cardinal to the Gospel, and in each case the main conception is either derived from Paul or is combined with distinctively Pauline ideas. In some respects the Johannine theology may be considered as little more than the natural development, along one particular line, of Paulinism ; although here again we must keep in view the essential originality of the later thinker. He deals with Paul as we have already found him dealing with the Synoptics. He seeks to penetrate through the outward form of the Apostle's teaching to what appeals to him as its real and abiding import, and in so doing he profoundly modifies the Pauline ideas. Even when he seems to borrow most directly, his thought is 4
50 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
never that of Paul, but something individual and
But apart from special doctrines, John is influenced by Paul in his whole attitude to the Christian revelation. It was Paul who first conceived of the glorified Christ as the real object of faith. The Lord whom he knew was the ascended Lord, who had been revealed to him, not in the intercourse of friend with friend, but in an inward spiritual experience. He claimed that this knowledge was as valid as that of the actual disciples, and even more real and intimate. John accepts this Pauline view with all its implications. To him also Jesus has become a heavenly being, whose life on earth had been only the beginning of an endless life, in which He is still present to those who believe in Him and love Him. In two directions, however, the Fourth Gospel advances on the
thought of Paul.
In the first place, the divine glory of Jesus is expressed under a yet higher category. Paul speaks of Jesus constantly as the Son of God, but the name as he uses it does not possess a definite theological value. It is partly associated with apocalyptic ideas of the Messiah, and partly runs back to a purely religious judgment on the relation of Christ to God. Paul nowhere attempts to define that relation. He is content to think of Christ vaguely as a higher being, " the Man from Heaven," who had taken on Himself the form of a servant, and was now declared to be the^Son of God with power. In the Fourth Gospel Jesus is the Son of God in a
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 51
strict and literal sense. He is identified with the Logos who was with God from the beginning, and partakes of the attributes and the essential nature of God.
Again, the glory which Paul ascribes to the exalted Christ is thrown back by John on the actual life on earth. When the Apostle wrote, the historical figure of Jesus was still too near, too much entangled with petty realities, to disclose itself in its full majesty. It was difficult for those who had known Christ after the flesh to think of Him as a divine being, and Paul turned his eyes from the earthly appearance to the ascended Lord, whose glory had now become manifest. In the second century, however, the life of Jesus had receded into the past. The veil of trivial circumstance had fallen away, and the life could stand out in its true proportions, as an authentic revelation of God. It was now possible to reflect the ideal conception of Jesus on the facts of His earthly history. The Lord who revealed Himself to Paul in the experience of faith is to the evangelist one with Jesus Christ, who had lived and taught and suffered. Even then, while He still dwelt among us, " we beheld His glory as of the only-begotten of the Father."
The Fourth Gospel is thus built on foundations which had already been laid by Paul; but there are certain all-important differences between the two types of teaching. Three of the most significant may here be briefly indicated, although they will demand a closer attention in subsequent chapters, (i) The idea of Sin, which lies at the centre of all
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Paul's thinking, is reduced to a subordinate place. Salvation is regarded in its positive aspect as the entrance into a higher life, and the need of a deliverance from sin hardly appears to be realised. (2) The death of Christ no longer occupies the position which is assigned to it by Paul. Apart from one or two allusions of quite secondary importance, the Pauline doctrine of an Atonement has disappeared. The emphasis is removed from the death of Christ to His coming in the flesh ; and so far as the death is theologically interpreted the theory of Paul gives place to another and wholly different one. (3) The word "faith"—the keyword of Paul's theology—is absent from the Gospel. Instead of it we have a continual repetition of the verb "believe" in all its various forms; but this believing has little in common with the Pauline "faith." In itself it only signifies an intellectual assent, and has to be filled out and supplemented before it can be made to connote the
These are the salient differences between the theology of Paul and that of John, and to some extent, doubtless, they are capable of reconciliation. The evangelist does not insist on the explicit Pauline doctrines, because he presents them, in what he considers their essential purport, under other forms. The death of Christ, to take no other exaBsfele, sums up for Paul the whole result and character of the Saviour's life. He isolates the one crowning act as the revelation of the divine love ; while John takes account of the whole life and dis-
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 53
covers in it the same significance as Paul had ascribed to the Cross. But the difference can only be reconciled in part. We have to admit that John's development of Paulinism resulted in a new type of doctrine, new in substance as well as in outward form. The divergence was due in great measure to the changed conditions under which the Gospel was written. Paulinism could not be set free from what appeared its temporary and accidental elements without a loss of many things that belonged to its very essence. Much more, the difference between the two thinkers arose from a personal difference, in temperament and in religious experience. In his relation to his great predecessor we have perhaps the most striking evidence of the originality of John in his interpretation of the Christian message. Working throughout under the Pauline influence, he never allows himself to be mastered by it, but subordinates whatever is given him to his own conception of the truth.
III. We have now to consider a third influence which is all-pervasive in the Fourth Gospel. From an early time the Pauline tradition, more especially in the region of Ephesus, was crossed with the Alexandrian philosophy. The book of Acts (xviii. 24) tells of Apollos, "a Jew born at Alexandria,' who came to Ephesus and spoke and taught the things of the Lord. All the allusions to him appear to mark him out as an adept in the allegorical method of Philo, which he pressed into the service of the Christian mission. The fact, however, of an
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early intersection of Paulinism and Alexandrianism is placed beyond doubt by the presence of certain books in the New Testament, most notably the Epistle to the Hebrews, and, to a less degree, the Epistles to Ephesians and Colossians. In the first of these writings we find a thorough-going application of the method of Philo, together with some of his most characteristic phrases and ideas. In the two others his grand conception of the Logos, though not expressly mentioned, is clearly indicated and transferred to the Person of Christ. The main theology of these two epistles is strongly Pauline, and is not modified in any vital respect by the new conception; but none the less it is apparent that Paulinism has definitely allied itself with the philosophy of Alexandria.
The development which had thus begun in Paul's lifetime, or in any case shortly after his death, comes to its full maturity in the Fourth Gospel. The prologue consists of a succinct statement of the Philonic doctrine of the Logos, which is forthwith identified with Jesus Christ. And although the term "Logos" as applied to Christ does not occur again, the idea is everywhere present, as the inseparable co-efficient to every portion of the history. The evangelist has set himself consciously to re-write the life of Christ from the point of view afforded him by Philo's doctrine. He seeks to apply in its whole extent, and tcr^ork out into all its bearings and issues, the idea which previous Christian thinkers had only adopted partially.
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 55
At the same time it is easy to exaggerate the influence of Alexandria on Johannine thought. The attempt has been made by more than one recent writer to explain the Gospel wholly as an Alexandrian work, and the influence of Philo has been discovered, not only in the central conception, but in almost every idea and sentence. To such a view it may be objected that there are at least two other influences, quite distinct from the Alexandrian, which contribute, as we have seen, to the making of the Gospel. Its dependence on the Synoptics and Paul is everywhere apparent, and when the largest allowance is made for all other influences, these two must still be regarded as primary. Again, we have found that in his employment of New Testament sources John works in a spirit of freedom. He borrows continually, but adapts whatever he borrows to his own purposes. We naturally expect that his attitude to the Alexandrian sources will be of similar character. He will not simply reproduce, but will select and modify and interpret, assigning a new value to each idea that he seems to borrow. There can be little doubt that this has indeed been his method. It may be granted (for this appears to be more than probable) that he had some direct acquaintance with the works of Philo, and frequently draws from them, but it does not follow that his thought is dependent, in more than a very partial sense, on that of Philo. The borrowed ideas have all become different, and sometimes essentially so, in the process of transference. Once more, the attempt to resolve the Gospel into a mere echo or
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adaptation of Philonism, breaks down when we compare the two theologies in their wider context and purpose. It is easy to single out a number of detached passages from Philo and set them side by side with passages in John to which they bear a strong resemblance. Turn, however, to Philo as a. whole. His work is a dreary chaos, in which science, metaphysic, history, philology, moral reflection are all heaped together without plan or motive. The underlying ideas of his system have to be disengaged from a huge bulk of heterogeneous material, and are still obscure in spite of the labours of many able expositors. The contrast between Philo's rambling allegory and the Fourth Gospel is infinitely more striking than the occasional likeness. Something, no doubt, is borrowed, as certain parts of the Sermon on the Mount are borrowed from the Rabbinical teaching. But in the one case as in the other, we have always to lay the chief emphasis on what has been omitted.
The dependence of John on Philo appears mainly in three directions : (i) I n the use of the allegorical method; (2) In special passages, scattered up and down the Gospel, which can be paralleled from the writings of Philo; (3) In the dominant conception of the Logos.
(i) It can hardly be questioned that the allegorical character of the Gospel is due to Alexandrian influence. In their effort to discover Greek philosophy in the Old Testament, the Alexandrian thinkers were driven to adopt a new system of exposition, whereby the letter of Scripture became
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 57
indicative of a deeper sense. Allegory had indeed long been employed in the Rabbinical schools for the explanation of certain difficult texts, but in Alexandria it was accepted as the sole method of interpretation. The Bible history was nothing but a series of symbolical images, in which, to the enlightened mind, a higher esoteric teaching was shadowed forth. Persons became the types of spiritual qualities, incidents were figurative of the various phases in the life of the soul; places, names, numbers had all a mystical import. By the help of this method, applied in a perfectly arbitrary manner, Philo transforms the book of Genesis into an elaborate statement of his Hellenised theology. In the Fourth Gospel, likewise, outward facts are symbolical of an inward spiritual meaning. The events of the history have all a deeper reference. The persons described (Nicodemus, Thomas, Philip, the Beloved Disciple) are not so much individuals as religious types. Places (e.g. Bethesda, Siloam), numbers, dates have all their secret significance. In view of this pervading use of the allegorical method, it has been maintained by some critics that John simply deals with the Synoptic narrative as Philo dealt with the Old Testament. The historical record dissolves under his touch into a pure allegory, in which the apparent fact is nothing but a symbol or parable. This, however, is to overlook the obvious differences between the evangelist's method and that of Philo. It is noticeable, in the first place, that John's use of allegory is never merely arbitrary ; the higher meaning is not forced into the symbol,
THE FOURTH GOSPEL
but grows out of it naturally and inevitably. The feeding of the five thousand leads of its own accord to the great discourse in which Jesus declares Himself the bread of life. The miracle at Cana reveals its symbolic meaning with perfect transparency. So in every part of the history the spiritual significance, as John seeks to unfold it, is the real interpretation of the facts. Again (and this is the crucial difference), the material fact has no value to Philo except as a dim suggestion of some abstract idea. The history is allegorical to him in the strict sense,—an adumbration under sensible forms of higher realities. John, on the other hand, attaches a supreme importance to the fact. The Gospel rests on the grand assumption that the Word has become flesh, the higher truth has embodied itself in the actual life of humanity; and this assumption involves at every point a profound departure from Alexandrian modes of thought. The whole interest of Philo is to break away from the material symbol and resolve it entirely into its ideal meaning, while John is concerned for the fact as much as for the idea. He seeks to show how the spiritual things have become concrete realities in the historical appearance and work of Jesus Christ.
(2) The Gospel contains a number of passages in which we can trace coincidences, more or less close, with passages in the Philonic writings. It is possible, by a little ingenuity, to multiply these parallels almost indefinitely. In the vast extent of Philo's work there are necessarily many scattered sentences which offer a certain resemblance to
SOURCES AND INFLUENCES 59
Johannine sayings; and this is the more unavoidable, as the Logos conception is the same, generally speaking, in both writers, and cannot be set forth without many analogies in thought and language. For example, when Philo describes the Logos as "eternal,"1 "uniting all things,"2 "incapable of evil,"3 "imparting joy and peace,"4 we need not infer that the corresponding Johannine ideas are immediately derived from him. Even when he speaks of the Logos under definite images as " leader on the way,"6 " shepherd,"8 "sustenance of the soul,"7 " well of fair deeds,"8 " healer,"9 " high-priest,"10 we are still within the region of natural coincidence. These images may well have offered themselves independently to both writers as the simplest and most expressive. They are part of the common religious language of all times. By far the greater number of the parallels to John which may be collected out of the Alexandrian writings may be set aside, in like manner, as at least inconclusive. There are passages in the Gospel, however, which seem to point to a definite reminiscence. One striking instance is the defence of Jesus for His breaking of the Sabbath—" My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (v. 17). Here we have a thought which is several times insisted on by Philo,11 that God never ceases the work of creation which He accomplishes through the agency of the
1 Conf. lingu. n. * Somn. ii. 37.
T Leg. alleg. iii. 59. 8 Poster. Caini, 37. 10 Somn. i. 37. u Leg. alleg. i. 7 ; i. 3.
3 Qu. rer. dii>. 38. * Migr. Abr.y..
8 Prof. 21.
6 Agric. 12.
9 Leg. alleg. iii,
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Logos. This Philonic idea takes the place of the simple Synoptic argument that "itjs lawful to do good on the Sabbath day." Again, the saying (v. 19), " The Son can do nothing of Himself, but only what He sees the Father do," has an almost literal equivalent in Philo : " The Father of the universe has brought Him [the Logos] into being as His eldest Son, whom elsewhere He calls His first-born ; and He who was begotten, imitating the ways of His Father, and looking to His archetypal patterns, kept forming the separate species."1 A resemblance like this, in which the thought and the image are both so peculiar, can hardly be explained on any theory of chance. A third parallel, in some respects the most notable of all, is found in the great discourse on the bread of life in the sixth chapter. Philo in several places dwells on the significance ot the manna, and in each instance his thought anticipates that of John. "The Logos distributes to all the heavenly food of the soul, which is called manna."2 "You see, then, what the food of the soul consists in,—in the Word of God, given continually like the dew."s " They who have inquired what it is that nourishes the soul, have found it to be the Word of God and divine wisdom, from which all kinds of instruction and wisdom for ever flow. This is the heavenly food, and it is indicated in the sacred Scriptures, where the cause of all things says, Behold, I rain on you bread from heaven."4 The Johannine discourse appears to bear distinct traces
1 Conf. lingu. 14. 3 Leg. alleg. iii. 59.
2 Qu. rer. div. 39. 4 Profug. 2$.
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of the idea expressed in these and similar passages, that the Logos is the true manna, the bread from heaven, the food of the soul. At the same time we can observe in this typical instance how the Philonic thought changes its character. In the first place it is brought into relation with a peculiar order of ideas suggested by the Lord's Supper. Then the " nourishment of the soul " is understood mystically and religiously;—it does not consist merely in "all kinds of wisdom and instruction," but in a real communication of the divine life. Lastly, the whole force of the Johannine argument depends on the identification of the Logos with Jesus Christ. He, as He reveals Himself in the gospel history and in the inward Christian experience, is " the bread of life." The one condition of true life is to enter into personal union with Him, to incorporate, as it were, His spirit and nature into our own. It might be demonstrated in the same manner, that there is always an essential difference between John's thought and that of Philo, even when the apparent resemblance is closest.
(3) The Alexandrian influence is most evident in the Logos doctrine, which is expressly formulated in the prologue, and everywhere pre-supposed in the body of the Gospel. John does not, however, adopt the Philonic doctrine without subjecting it to certain profound modifications, which will be discussed in their due place in a later chapter. For the present it need only be indicated that the purely philosophical conception of Philo assumes an entirely new value when it is brought into relation
62 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
with the historical Person of Christ. It has indeed been argued that Philo also conceived of his Logos as a personal being, and his language in many places might seem to bear out this contention. Admitting, however, that he ascribes a real, and not merely a figurative, personality to the Logos, it still remains certain that he keeps within the limits of abstract speculation. He is thinking all the while of the divine reason and activity, which he personifies as the intermediate agent between God and the world. John, on the other hand, starts from an actual knowledge of the earthly life of Jesus, and the conception of the Logos is always blended in his mind with the impression left on him by the Person. Even in the prologue, when he speaks of the pre-existent Word in language purely Alexandrian, he looks forward to the subsequent revelation, when this Word became flesh. For this reason alone it is impossible to regard the Logos of the Fourth Gospel as merely equivalent to that of Philo. John accepts the Alexandrian idea, and is largely determined by it in his treatment of the history, but the history likewise re-acts on the idea. The speculative view of Christ's Person merges itself at every point in the simple religious view.
To sum up, the influence of Alexandrianism in the Gospel is a real influence which must constantly be borne in mind. The evangelist had passed through the discipline of the Alexandrian school, had learned its methods and assimilated many of its ideas,—above all its central idea of the Logos. Nevertheless the Alexandrian influence is not to be
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recognised as primary, like that of the Synoptics or Paul. It does not affect the substance of the Johannine thought so much as the forms under which it is presented. The task of the Fourth Evangelist, it must be remembered, was somewhat similar to that attempted by Philo. Like the Alexandrian thinker, he sought to transplant into the world of Hellenic culture a revelation originally given through Judaism. By this similarity of aim he was constrained to follow, up to a certain point, the path marked out by Philo. He availed himself of the method of allegory as a means of penetrating through the facts to their deeper import. He expressed the Christian message in terms of the metaphysical conception of the Logos. The form in which his thought is embodied has thus been given him by Philo, and the thought itself is necessarily moulded, in some measure, by the form. But the vital and permanent elements in the Gospel are quite apart from the Alexandrian influence. They are derived immediately from the Christian tradition, as interpreted by the writer's inward and personal experience of the truth of Christ.
Thus far we have sought to determine the relation of the Fourth Evangelist to his three main sources—the Synoptic narratives, Paulinism, Alexandrian philosophy. The problem is a comparatively simple one, since in each case he availed himself of certain written documents which are still preserved to us. With regard to the two remaining influences, —the orthodox Church doctrine and Gnostic specu-
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lation,—which have left their impress on the thought of the Gospel, the question is much more complicated. In order to arrive at some approximate conclusion, it will be necessary, in the two following chapters, to examine the book more closely in its bearing on the particular religious interests of its age.
r I "'HE writings which compose the New Testa-_L ment had their origin in the immediate practical needs of the early Church. They were called forth by the exigencies of the mission, by the attacks of adversaries, by the conflict with different forms of false teaching. The Epistles of Paul are typical in this respect of all the New Testament books. Paul's object in the first instance was not to shape out a Christian theology for all time, but to defend his claims to Apostleship and the authenticity of his message, when these had been called in question. His permanent contribution to religious thought was thrown out almost incidentally in the course of a controversy which in itself had little more than a temporary interest. The other books arose in a similar manner out of some given historical situation. They were not the work of professed theologians, but of active leaders and missionaries, whose first concern was with the difficulties and the practical requirements of their own age.
It might seem at first sight as if the contemporary element which thus bulks so largely in 5
66 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
the writings would lessen their enduring value. Addressed as they were to a particular time in view of its social interests, how can they possess the absolute significance which we commonly ascribe to them? Especially in the case of the Fourth Gospel we are apt to shrink from the suggestion of mere controversial aim. This writing, above all others, seems to breathe the timeless spirit —to detach itself completely from the petty antagonisms of its own day, and to set forth the Christian message in its eternal aspects. Nothing, however, is gained by thus isolating the Gospel from the age in which it was written. The power of the New Testament writings is due in large measure to the very fact that they grew directly out of the life of the Church in a given time and in given circumstances. They show us Christianity in movement; responding to present needs, adapting itself to real conditions, re-acting on definite forms of opposition. The message they convey is pressed home to the life of the age, and is therefore invested with a new reality and with a fuller meaning and power. The Fourth Gospel loses nothing of its abiding value when we cease to regard it as an abstract meditation and endeavour to relate it to its own particular time. It becomes, on the contrary, a living book, and makes a closer and more intelligible appeal
From the analogy, then, of the other New Testament writings we are prepared to discover a controversial interest present in the Gospel. The first age of the Church was necessarily one of
conflict. There were enemies without and alien forces working from within, and the Church could not establish its positive teaching without at the same time replying to the different forms of error. In the Epistles of Paul the polemical issue is clear and simple. The great struggle was in progress between Christianity, as something new and independent, and the old religion of the Law; and the whole thought of Paul is connected, more or less directly, with this struggle. The controversial issue in the Fourth Gospel is much more difficult to determine. In the first place, the evangelist writes under severe restrictions, imposed on him by the narrative form in which his work is cast. He is recording the life of Jesus, which had been lived a century before, under conditions entirely different from those of his own time, and if he deals with contemporary debates it can only be indirectly, by way of implication and covert allusion. Again, our information regarding the Johannine age is obscure and fragmentary. Except for a few scanty historical notices, we have to feel our way to a knowledge of the time and of the questions that agitated it by the help of the Gospel itself. The key to John's polemic is thus to a great extent lost. Its general direction can be inferred with some degree of certainty, but the precise bearing of much of the argument must always remain doubtful. Once more, the controversy is no longer limited to a single issue, as in the case of Paul's Epistles. A generation had passed, during which the Church had widened its boundaries and come face to face
68 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
with many new problems. Where Paul had to deal with owu-sharply denned form of opposition, the evangelist was called on to confront attacks at different points over an extended line. There appear to be several polemical intentions in his work, and they cannot easily be brought into relation with one another. It is hard to determine which of them is central, or whether they are all intended to rank equally in importance.
In regard to the main question, there can be little doubt that the Gospel is largely controversial in its character. Whole chapters consist of elaborate dialectic, in which the objections and misunderstandings of various opponents are carefully answered. Comparison with the Synoptics at once makes it evident that the criticism thus dealt with is different in kind from that which Jesus encountered in His lifetime. The writer is carrying back into the Gospel period the discussions of his own age. He is thinking not of the actual opposition which scribes and Pharisees offered to Jesus, but of the attacks directed in the present against the Christian Church. It was only natural in any case that the evangelist should adapt the history, as far as might be, to the conditions of a later time. Even if he had intended to write a literal record of the words and actions of Jesus, he would be led to lay a special emphasis on those which seemed to bear on present difficulties, and would unconsciously modify his account of them. The Synoptic writers themselves, faithful as they are to the essential facts, have composed their narratives
with a well-marked contemporary bias; and this was the more unavoidable in a work written many years later, for a circle of readers to whom the circumstances of the Gospel history were entirely foreign.
The evangelist, however, has not merely coloured the past events by the unconscious reflection of the present. He has deliberately taken the changed conditions into account, so that his work throughout has a double bearing on the actual life of Jesus and on the life of the Church in the second century. This, indeed, is part of the general intention with which his book is written. In the historical figure of Jesus he seeks to adumbrate the eternal Christ, who is still present with His people, sharing their warfare, revealing Himself under ever-changing aspects. The Gospel is so composed that the earlier time and the later are always merging in one another. Jesus speaks in His earthly life as He is speaking now in the consciousness of the Christian Church.
In one significant passage the double intention is expressly indicated: "Verily I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness" (Hi. n.). Here the words of Jesus pass insensibly into a declaration by the Christian community. Unless the change of person is due to forgetfulness (which is hardly possible in a work so elaborately finished), the writer desires to suggest that the Jesus of the past is still speaking through the voice of His Church. This inference is more than borne out by
70 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
a detailed study of the Gospel. In several distinct directions it is a work of second-century controversy, and can be explained only on this hypothesis. The Church in the name of Jesus, and under the guidance of His Spirit, formulates its answer to certain groups of opponents who can still, at least in a general way, be identified.
I. There is one controversial purpose which is written large in almost every chapter of the Gospel. "The Jews" come forward constantly as the chief adversaries of Jesus,—not any sect or party of them, but simply "the Jews." This vagueness in the description might be partly explained by the fading of the historical perspective. After the lapse of a hundred years, the particular assailants of Jesus might well have been forgotten, and only the large fact have stood out clear that His own countrymen had opposed Him and compassed His death. Not only, however, are the different sects confounded in the one hostile party of " the Jews," but the opposition to Jesus assumes quite another character from that which is pourtrayed, in self-authenticating colours, by the Synoptics. The controversy no longer turns on our Lord's attitude to the Law or the theocratic hopes. His denunciations of pride, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, worldliness, are never mentioned. Even the question of His Messiahship falls into the background, lost sight of in His claim to a yet higher dignity. The objections urged against Him by the Jews are all of a kind
which suggests a later age, when the broad lines of Christian theology had been definitely laid down. " He makes Himself equal with God." "Can this Man give us His flesh to eat ?" " Art Thou greater than our father Abraham ?" " We were never in bondage to any man, and how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?" These sayings, and many others like them, take us into the thick of the conflict which arose afterwards when Judaism and Christianity confronted each other as powerful rivals. They echo the objections that were continually urged in the course of that struggle. Christianity seemed to impugn the monotheistic idea by raising Jesus to an equality with God. It assailed the racial privileges of the Jews by its insistence on faith in Christ as the one condition of salvation. Above all, it came into collision with Judaism through its sacrament of the Lord's Supper. The conflict between Jesus and the Jews in the Fourth Gospel comes to a head in the great Eucharistic discussion (vi. 32-59), a discussion which was plainly impossible in our Lord's lifetime, before the sacrament was yet instituted. It belongs to a later age, when the Supper had become the central object of the Jewish attack on Christianity.
The real nature of the controversy is still more apparent when we take account of certain details which are made prominent in it. For example, we are struck repeatedly with the author's evident intention to defend the work of Jesus from possible misrepresentations. He is aware of various
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objections which might be made, or have actually been made, to the facts of the Gospel history, and goes out of his way again and again in order to answer them. Thus he is careful to assert the publicity of our Lord's mission (vii. 4, xviii. 20), and subordinates the Galilsean teaching to the more conspicuous work in the capital. He shows that the rejection of a Messiah from Nazareth has its ground in an empty prejudice (i. 46, vii. 52). He lays emphasis on Pilate's declaration that he cannot condemn Jesus as a malefactor (xix. 4). He is manifestly perplexed by the episode of Judas Iscariot. Why did one of the Lord's own followers betray Him, and how could the All-Knowing One admit the traitor into His company of disciples? The twofold difficulty is met, on the one hand, by assigning the action of Judas to a direct impulse from Satan (xiii. 27), and, on the other hand, by the bold theory that Jesus foreknew and permitted the betrayal (vi. 64, xiii. 11). A like solution is given to the problem of the comparative failure of the Lord's appeal during His lifetime; this result also was foreseen and even designed. The evangelist notices in passing even the more trivial criticisms to which the Person and work of Christ seem liable. "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" (vii. 15). "Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him?" (vii. 48). " Hath not the scripture said that Christ cometh of the seed of David, and out of the town of Bethlehem ? " (vii. 42). The supreme difficulty of the Cross is fully recognised, and the effort to
overcome it leads to the peculiar Johannine view of the death of Christ as a self-determined act, necessary to His entrance into glory.
The criticism which he pre-supposes, in these instances and many others that might be adduced, is all of one well-marked character. It turns on difficulties that would present themselves most readily to Jewish opponents of Christianity. The wider Gentile world was content to offer a general hostility to the new religion, and did not trouble to inquire too curiously into its origin. The Jews alone were in a position to attempt any detailed criticism. They were acquainted with the facts of the life of Jesus, and had been discussing them in schools and Synagogues ever since the claims of this new Messiah had first been pressed on them. The objections touched upon in the Fourth Gospel were precisely those on which Jewish malignity would fasten; many of them re-appear in the Talmudic writings and in the work of Celsus, who derived his more specific arguments from Jewish sources. Thus it was urged that the Messiah of the Christians was an unlettered man from an obscure village. His claims were at variance with the clear indications of Old Testament prophecy. His supposed miracles were performed in a remote province among an ignorant, easily deluded peasantry. He made no impression during His lifetime, and if He attracted a few followers it was only from the credulous multitude. One of His own disciples was so doubtful of Him as eventually to betray Him ; and
74 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
He Himself, who laid claim to supernatural knowledge, had chosen the traitor to be of His company. He was condemned as an evil-doer, not only by the Sanhedrim, but by the Roman judge, who was presumably impartial. These were the stock arguments of the Jewish opposition, and they betray their Jewish origin alike by the detailed knowledge on which they are based and by the personal enmity to Jesus which inspires them. At the same time they are arguments due to later reflection, and could not have become current until a date long subsequent to our Lord's death. When we find them recognised in the Gospel, we can only conclude that in the evangelist's own age and neighbourhood there was a Jewish community which offered a powerful hostility to the Christian Church. The Gospel, at least in one of its aspects, is the Christian reply to this Jewish polemic. Here, however, we are met with one of those apparent contradictions which form a peculiar difficulty in the study of this Gospel. The same writer who so pointedly dissociates himself from the Jews, and marks them as his special antagonists, appears at times to regard them with sympathy. " Behold, an Israelite indeed," is the high encomium passed upon Nathanael. In the dialogue with the woman of Samaria, Jesus identifies Himself with the Jews (iv. 22), and asserts the purity of their religion, as contrasted with that of alien peoples. Appeal is constantly made to Moses and the prophets, whose word is accepted as authoritative. "The mother of Jesus "would seem to represent
the ancient faith,—the " mother " that had given birth to Christianity,—and Jesus commends her, as He dies, to the care of His beloved disciple. How are we to explain this partiality for Judaism which appears side by side with the fierce polemic ? It may be set down, in some measure, to the evangelist's natural sympathy with his own race breaking occasionally through the religious antagonism. That he was by birth a Jew is an almost certain inference, not only from his close acquaintance with the customs and localities of Palestine, but still more from the Hebraic cast of his language and his thinking. Steeped as he is in Greek culture, he is still in the essential character of his mind a Jew. But, apart from racial sympathies, he cannot forget that the two religions, in spite of their present alienation, are historically related and have much in common. The defence of Christianity involved, up to a certain point, the defence of Judaism, with which it was still vaguely confused in the mind of the outside world. And here probably we obtain a clue to the real drift of his polemic. He makes a distinction, already suggested by Paul, between the true community of Israel and the Jews as a religious party. What was valuable and permanent in Judaism has now passed over to Christianity : the " mother of Jesus " dwells in the house of His disciple. The Jews of the Synagogue are to be regarded only as an irresponsible sect which has broken off from the genuine stem of the covenant people. Their criticism of Christianity carries no weight, since they are not the repre-
76 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
sentatives of the old religion, but a mere outside party like any other.
This attitude of the evangelist may be illustrated by a striking verse in Revelation (ii. 9) : "I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, but are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan." The verse throws an important side-light on the conditions which prevailed in the very neighbourhood in which we may fairly assume that the Gospel was written. It informs us in so many words that a Jewish party existed and troubled the Church by its "blasphemies," its slanderous attacks on the rival religion. It indicates, further, that these attacks were met by a counter-attack. The Church denied that its assailants had any real title to the name of Jews on which they rested their authority. An almost literal parallel to the verse is found in the Fourth Gospel: " They said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham. . . . Ye are of your father the devil" (viii. 39, 44).
We may thus conclude that the apparent sympathy with the Jews, which seems at first sight to neutralise the polemic, is a consistent part of it. The Synagogue spoke in the name of the mother-religion. It denounced the Church as an erring sect, which it had cast out from its communion, and for this reason more than any other the attack was dangerous. In a matter affecting Jewish religion the world accepted the judgment of the elder, legitimate representative. Jo'hn endeavours,
therefore, to set the dispute upon a different footing. He argues that the Church is the true Israel, and that the Jews, despite their name, are the schismatic sect. By the rejection of Christ they have finally cut themselves off from the people of God. In other words, the attack which they directed against the Church is not only repelled by an elaborate answer to their criticisms, but is carried boldly into their own camp. They had been disloyal to the spirit of their professed religion, and had no further standing even as Jews. " Do not think," says Jesus, in the emphatic close of the great controversy in the fifth chapter, " that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me."
II. One of the most interesting and perplexing questions in Johannine criticism is concerned with the name of John the Baptist. It is apparent on the surface that the account of John and his mission which is presented in the Fourth Gospel is quite at variance with that given by the Synoptics. In the latter, John appears as the champion of a religious reformation, a preacher of repentance and good works. The character of his mission is entirely changed in the later Gospel. His office as there described is simply to bear witness to the light, and when once he has pointed out Jesus as the Christ he is content to disappear. The two most striking episodes in the Synoptic
78 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
account of John—his baptism of Jesus and his sending of the embassy from prison under a sudden access of doubt—are both omitted.
It is evident, also, that the evangelist writes with a deliberate intention to subordinate John to Jesus. Even the prologue is interrupted in order to emphasise the inferiority of the mere witness, to Him who was the light itself; and when John is introduced in his own person he hastens to make it clear that he is not the Christ. He encourages his disciples to exchange his service for that of the true Master. In his witness to Jesus he dwells on the contrast between himself and this higher Being " who cometh after me, but is preferred before me." As he disappears from the scene, he formally resigns his place to Jesus, repeating his testimony that he himself is not the Christ, but only the friend who stands by and hears the bridegroom's voice. The allusions to John, apart from his own utterances, are all of a like ten our. Jesus does not Himself baptize, as John did, but leaves that lower office to His disciples (iv. 2). John's light, however brilliant, was only "for a season" (v. 35). The people recognise that " John did no miracle, while all that he spake of this man was true" (x. 41). Thus the evangelist shows a constant anxiety to assure us of a fact which might have been taken for granted, — that John was inferior to Jesus. Indeed, it is not too much to say that John is introduced into the narrative for no other purpose than to bring out this fact of his inferiority. " I am not the Christ, but am sent
before Him. . . . He must increase, but I must decrease " (iii. 28, 30).
The intention of these many passages in which the figure of the Baptist is so carefully subordinated to that of Jesus, can scarcely admit of doubt. If the writer considers it necessary to prove that John was not the Christ, he must know of some who have claimed that dignity for him. Not only so, but he must regard the question with more than a historical interest. It may well have been that in the Baptist's own lifetime extravagant claims were put forward on his behalf; but if they had been abandoned after his death there was no need to disprove them by elaborate evidence. Since this is done in the Fourth Gospel, we can only infer that the relative positions of John and Jesus were still debated in the circles for which the Gospel was written, and that in his account of the person and work of the Baptist the writer is influenced by a direct polemical intention.
The clue to his attitude appears to be given us in certain notices contained in the book of Acts (xviii. 25, xix. 3, 4), which point to the existence of a Baptist party long after John's death. It is significant that Paul came into contact with this party during his visit to Ephesus, where our Gospel was in all probability written. The references in Acts are fragmentary, and would seem to suggest that after Paul's visit the belated followers of the Baptist were quietly incorporated into the Christian Church ; but this can have happened only in part. A religious sect does not so easily give up its
80 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
separate existence, even though its more liberal spirits may see reason to detach themselves. It is much more likely that after the better minds of the Baptist party had been won over, a residue was left which took up an attitude of sharp opposition to the Church. This, indeed, is not a mere matter of inference. We have direct evidence in several latter writings of the antagonism of a Baptist sect, presumably the same as that which Paul encountered at Ephesus. Specially interesting in their bearing on the argument of the Gospel are the references in the Clementine Recognitions (dating possibly from the first half of the third century) : " Some even of the disciples of John, who seemed to be great ones, have separated themselves and proclaimed their own master as the Christ" (i. 54). "Then one of the disciples of John asserted that John was the Christ, and not Jesus, inasmuch as Jesus Himself declared that John was greater than all the prophets. . . . But John was indeed greater than all the prophets and all that are born of women, yet he is not greater than the Son of man. Accordingly Jesus is the Christ, whereas John is only a prophet" (i. 60). Here we have evidence not only of a Baptist party existing alongside of the Church, but of an active controversy with it, which was still in process at the beginning of the third century.
A motive may thus be discovered for the otherwise inexplicable attitude of the Fourth Evangelist. He was confronted in his own age and neighbourhood with a Baptist community, who alleged that
POLEMICAL AIMS 81
their master was the Christ, and supported his claims from the testimony of the Gospel records themselves. John had preceded Jesus, and had baptized Him as one of his own disciples. His pre-eminence had been fully acknowledged by Jesus in the saying that " none greater had been born of woman." His very name, "the Baptist," marked him out as the original founder of the sacred rite, which was held in ever-increasing reverence by the Christian Church. In the Fourth Gospel the Synoptic account is so modified as to deprive these and similar arguments of their apparent weight. John is nowhere called "the Baptist," and the inferior character of his "baptism by water" is constantly insisted on. The episode of the baptism of Jesus gives place to the recognition of Him by His forerunner as the Son of God. Even the precedence in time of John to Jesus is qualified by assigning to the later Messenger a timeless priority: " He that cometh after me is preferred before me, for He was before me " (i. 30). Above all, the whole significance of John is altered by the representation of him as simply a witness, whose office it was to lead men to the true Light.
The prominence given in the Gospel to this particular controversy is sufficient proof that the Baptist party was a serious element in the forces opposed to the Church. Since the time of Paul its strength had probably grown, rather than diminished. The increasing importance which the rite of baptism had assumed in the life of the Church would tell, we can hardly doubt, in favour 6
82 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
of this sect, which claimed to have inherited the rite from its real founder. There are indications, moreover, that the Baptist controversy is bound up with that larger Jewish one which has already been discussed. From the beginning the Jewish leaders had regarded John with a certain measure of sympathy, and his followers, if we can trust a somewhat obscure reference in Justin (Trypho, 80), took rank among the orthodox sects. But apart from this traditional alliance we can well believe that the Jews threw their weight on the side of the Baptist party in their opposition to the Church. Here was a powerful weapon laid ready to their hands. A sect existed, kindred in some respects to the Christians, which yet subordinated Jesus to a rival prophet, and made out that His work was secondary and derivative. For the purposes of their own polemic the Jews would take up the cause of John, and support his followers in their antagonism. This may partly account for the important place occupied in our Gospel by the Baptist controversy. Whatever may have been the actual strength of the sect which reverenced John as the Messiah, it afforded cover to the Jewish opposition, and for this reason, if for no other, was dangerous.
Thus far we have spoken of the evangelist's attitude as polemical, but it probably had another side. The Baptist party, though it had ranged itself against the Church, had many traditions in common with it, and might have been expected long before to join its fellowship. Already in the
POLEMICAL AIMS 83
days of Paul the baptism of John had led up to Christian baptism; and while the evangelist sets himself to refute the errors of the rival sect, he may well have cherished the intention of convincing it and winning it over to the Christian Church. It is very noticeable that he is never tempted in the passion of controversy to speak disparagingly of John. ' The extravagant claims put forward for him by others are firmly set aside, but in such a manner as to vindicate more surely than ever his essential greatness. He is not the light, but remains the chief witness to the light. His very admission of his own inferiority is invested with a splendid moral grandeur, so that we honour him the more for his self-abasement. This reverence paid to John throughout the Gospel cannot be wholly accounted for by the demands of the historical tradition, but belongs, we may well conjecture, to the writer's deliberate plan. While opposing the Baptist party, he wished to persuade and gain them, and for this reason joined with them, as far as might be, in honour to their great prophet. The intention becomes still more apparent in the passages which describe how certain of John's disciples exchanged his service for that of Jesus. It is suggested that John himself desired and encouraged them to make the exchange;—he had only been preparing them, in order that they might find their way eventually into the higher fellowship. The story of those early disciples of John would convey a practical meaning to the later community, which was wavering between the Jewish alliance
8.4 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
and the Christian Church. Its true path had been indicated for it long ago by the prophet himself, when he bore witness of Jesus to his followers, and bade them enter the higher service.
The Baptist controversy is thus different in character from the larger controversy with the Jews, although to some extent they are involved together. The evangelist's attitude to the Synagogue is one of open hostility. Paul, when he broke with the old religion, was conciliatory towards it, and looked forward to a time when Israel also would be gathered in ; but in the intervening years the breach had become irreparable. The Church had cast in its lot definitely with the Gentiles, and had learned to regard the Jews as declared enemies, with whom no peace was possible. The Baptists, on the other hand, were a kindred sect, and had already supplied many converts to the Church. Their prophet John was a consecrated figure in Christian history, although the excessive claims that had been advanced for him could not for a moment be conceded. It was necessary to combat the Baptist position, all the more that it lent support to Jewish antagonism, but the polemical note required a certain softening. There was always the possibility that these present opponents might be reconciled, and the evangelist is careful to say nothing that will embitter them. Combined with the controversial aim, we can always trace the positive one of reasoning with these half-brethren, and leading them from John to Christ.
In any case, it does not appear that the Baptist
controversy is more than a subordinate motive in the Gospel. It comes prominently forward only in the first chapter, and after the third passes wholly out of sight, except for a few chance references. This alone would seem to be sufficient answer to the view of Baldensperger, that the Gospel was primarily intended as a polemic against the followers of John. Baldensperger rests his main argument on the prologue, with its singular transitions from the pre-existent Logos to the "man sent, from God." In these verses, which present the thesis of the ensuing Gospel, we have a series of deliberate contrasts between the supreme worth of Jesus and the inferior dignity of John. Once and again the sublime account of the eternal Word is suddenly interrupted by a reference, apparently needless, to him who was only a witness.
It is possible, however, to explain the difficulty without assuming that the polemical purpose, thus suggested at the outset, is cardinal to the whole work. In the first place, the introduction of John into the heart of the prologue serves to connect the historical narrative with the theological doctrine of the Logos. The evangelist had no intention of dividing the prologue sharply from the body of the Gospel, but desired, on the contrary, to bring it into close relation to it, so that the earthly history of the Logos might run back without a break into the pre-existent life. Properly speaking, there is no separate "prologue." The Gospel is a unity from first to last, and this fact is emphasised by the sudden and apparently incongruous transitions
86 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
to John. What would otherwise be a theological preface becomes an integral part of the Gospel narrative. Again, we have seen that the evangelist, while re-moulding his material freely, endeavours to keep himself in line as far as possible with the Synoptic record. In that record the baptism by John marks the moment when the divine Sonship of Jesus is rendered manifest by the descent ot the Spirit upon Him. The Fourth Gospel says nothing of the Baptism, and takes for granted that Jesus was from the beginning the acknowledged Son of God, but the Synoptic tradition still lingers in the writer's mind. As he speaks of the incarnation, his thoughts pass at once to John, with whose ministry the descent of the Spirit on Jesus was popularly associated. Viewed in this light, the abrupt references lose much of their seeming incongruity.
The singular structure of the prologue is thus
capable of a natural explanation, and cannot bear
the weight of Baldensperger's argument. No
doubt the first allusions to John, like the later
ones, are tinged with a polemical intention. The
evangelist is careful from the outset to leave no
shadow of a question as to the relative dignity of
John and Jesus. But the references in the prologue
do not bear wholly on the Baptist controversy.
There, as afterwards, it is only a subordinate motive,
and the real issues of the Gospel lie quite outside
III. It may be assumed, then, with a fair degree of certainty, that in two distinct directions
the Gospel is a controversial work. Little as we know about the situation of the Church in the early part of the second century, we have sufficient evidence of long-continued disputes with the Jews and with the Baptist party, and when we turn to the Fourth Gospel we find these differences clearly reflected. A more difficult question arises with regard to the evangelist's attitude towards the internal controversies of the Church. Ever since apostolic times, certain tendencies had been at work which threatened to disintegrate the primitive faith, and had become more and more apparent as the Church acclimatised itself in the Gentile world and yielded insensibly to extra-Christian influences. Already in several of the New Testament writings a strong opposition is offered to these dangerous tendencies, and the controversy becomes ever more violent in the works of the later Apologists. Towards the end of the second century the battle between the orthodox faith and Gnosticism is the one dominant interest in the life of the Church. It may reasonably be expected that the Fourth Gospel will have some bearing on the great controversy, which had not yet reached its head, but had already passed its earliest stages.
There is one significant fact which lends weight to this presumption. The New Testament writings that stand in the closest relation to our Gospel are precisely those in which we have the best marked allusions to early phases of Gnosticism. The Book of Revelation, different as it is from the Gospel in its whole scope and character, originated almost
THE FOURTH GOSPEL
certainly in the same region of Asia Minor, under similar conditions. It appears from several passages in this book that the Asian Church was imperilled by false teachers within its borders ("that woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess," " Balaam," "the Nicolaitanes"), and the errors attributed to these heretics have striking parallels among Gnostic sects in later times. One of the technical phrases of Gnosticism is easily discernible in the scornful reference to " the depths of Satan, as they say" (ii. 24). The Epistle to Colossians is the connecting link between the Pauline writings and the Fourth Gospel; in several of its leading conceptions it approaches even more nearly to the Johannine type of thought than the sister Epistle to Ephesians. The immediate purpose of Colossians is to warn the Church against certain heresies which are plainly of a Gnostic character. In Christ, the writer insists, "are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge " (ii. 3); " in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (ii. 9). Such verses are directed against a form of Gnosticism in which the outstanding features of the later development have already declared themselves in more than outline. The most important evidence, however, is that of the First Epistle of John, a writing which cannot with any certainty be assigned to the author of our Gospel, but which bears the impress of the same school of thought, and is meant to unfold and emphasise the same message. This Epistle, like that to the Colossians, conveys a warning against heretical teachers, the nature of
whose doctrine is indicated with some detail. They deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh ; they disbelieve in the reality of His death ; they claim to have known Him although they do not keep His commandments (i John i. 2, 3, ii. 22, iv. 3, i. 6f., v. 5). From this description it can be inferred that they belonged to a docetic sect, representing the type of opinion which was afterwards to 'culminate in Gnosticism. The author of the Epistle replies to them by insisting on the supreme value of the historical revelation, and his argument throughout is in striking accordance with that of the Fourth Evangelist.
We thus discover that the writings which stand nearest to the Gospel have all a reference to a special mode of heresy, broadly definable as incipient Gnosticism. In the Gospel itself there is no express mention of any such heresy, but we have abundant evidence, of an indirect nature, that it was constantly present to the writer's mind. He touches repeatedly on the dominant ideas of Gnosticism, and even makes use of some of its characteristic words. Not only so, but his thought in more than one of its cardinal aspects can only be explained when we set it in relation to the Gnostic movement. Here, however, we are confronted with a serious problem, which affects the very substance of the Gospel. Was it written, like the Epistle, as a polemic against the rising heresy, or must we regard it rather as itself a product of the Gnostic type of Christianity? Towards the close of the second century there were already two
90 THE FOURTH GOSPEL
opposite views concerning it—one that it contains John's answer to Cerinthus, the other that Cerinthus himself was its author. Irenaeus quotes from it repeatedly in his controversy with the Gnostics, while he informs us at the same time that it was the favourite Gospel of the Gnostic schools. In nothing is the contradictory character of the book more apparent than in this double relation to Gnosticism, which was recognised in ancient times and still constitutes the chief crux in the many-sided Johannine problem. Before attempting to arrive at some decision, it will be necessary to consider the two sides of the relation separately. What evidence does the Gospel afford on the one hand of antagonism, on the other of approximation, to the Gnostic mode of thought ?
(i) The affinity between the Gospel and the Epistle makes it probable at the outset that a similar purpose underlies both writings. Both of them follow out the same general line of argument; they are alike in their strong affirmation of the reality of Christ's appearance, in their demand for ethical obedience as well as knowledge, in their employment of the three great categories, life, light, love. It seems a reasonable inference that since the Epistle was written in refutation of a given type of false teaching, the Gospel, so closely parallel to it, has a like intention. Many of the most remarkable features of the Gospel assume a new meaning when we read it in the light of the Epistle, and trace in it the same controversial interest. We can understand, for instance, why the evangelist lays
such peculiar stress on physical details which prove the reality of Christ's life, and especially of His death (e.g. the print of the nails, the spear wound, the allusions to thirst, weariness, etc.). Like the writer of the Epistle, he is answering those who would deny that Christ came in the flesh, and regard His seeming death as an illusion. In this connection we may read a special significance in the omission of all reference to Simon of Cyrene, who, according to one well-known Gnostic legend, was crucified in place of Jesus. He not only disappears from the story, but we are assured with a marked emphasis, that "Jesus went forth, bearing the cross for Himself" (/3ao-Ta£ow eavrp TOV <rravp6v). Apart from questions of detail, the very fact that the work takes the form of a Gospel, a record of the actual life of Christ, indicates very plainly that the author set a supreme value on that life, once visibly lived in the flesh. His desire to affirm its value may well have been due in some measure to the existence of a school of thought which denied the earthly life or resolved it into an unreal appearance.
In several other respects the Gospel runs counter to the chief Gnostic positions, apparently with deliberate intention. The hierarchy of spiritual agencies, which plays an all-essential part in Gnosticism, entirely disappears. The whole book is like an amplification of the saying in Colossians, that "all the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Christ." The "angels" of popular belief, which are often alluded to in the Synoptics, are absent from the Fourth Gospel, and still more remarkable
THE FOURTH GOSPEL
is the suppression of all reference to evil spirits. It seems to be a paramount object with the evangelist to disown the whole machinery of intermediate spiritual beings on which the Gnostic doctrine rested. Indeed, he expressly does this in the emphatic words of the prologue, " And without Him was not anything made that was made." The multitude of aeons which mediated the creative activity of the supreme God in the Gnostic mythologies, is here at the outset swept away.
Not less striking is the opposition to Gnosticism involved in John's attitude towards the Old Testament. The heretical doctrine that the God of the Old Testament was a lower God, and that the ancient revelation was worthless, is altogether wanting in the Gospel. It is pre-supposed, without the shadow of a question, that the Father of Jesus Christ was the God of Israel. Abraham, Moses, and the prophets are always mentioned with reverence, and their witness accepted as true. In spite of his controversy with the Jews, the evangelist, as we have seen, pays homage to the old religion. It was the only religion hitherto in which the truth had partially revealed itself, and which was fitted therefore to be the "mother" of Christianity. "Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews" (iv. 22).
Again, there is a marked divergence from Gnosticism in the position laid down in the prologue and uniformly enforced throughout the Gospel: " To them gave He power to become the
sons of God." Divine sonship is not an inherent quality of certain natures, as was maintained in the Gnostic doctrine, but is only made possible by the work of Christ, who is the mediator of a new life. It is the more important to note this point of antagonism, as John appears in many places to concede the Gnostic theory of lower and higher natures. All that he grants, however, is the predisposition on the part of some men more than others, to hear the voice of Christ and embrace the light. On the main question his contention is directly the opposite of that which obtained in all the Gnostic systems.
Lastly, we cannot but be struck with the studied avoidance in the Gospel of certain Gnostic watchwords, even though the ideas expressed in them are constantly present. Three omissions in particular can hardly be explained as accidental. The evangelist more than' any other writer in the New Testament dwells on ideas which would be conveyed most naturally by the words yv&a-iy, a-o(f>la, Trio-™?. Two of these words are always recurring under the verbal forms yiyvaxncew, •ma-reveiv, but the sentence is never constructed in such a manner as to admit the substantive. The third term crofaa is replaced by akrjQeia, a word which carries with it in the Johannine vocabulary a peculiar and technical meaning. There must be some reason for this pointed omission of the very terms on which the thought of the Gospel in large measure revolves ; and it is connected, we can hardly doubt, with the appropriation of the terms by Gnostic theology.
THE FOURTH GOSPEL
The writer wishes to guard himself from any possible confusion of his teaching with that of the heretical systems. Where his thought approximates to them he is careful to mark the difference by the use of language which does not involve the full Gnostic connotation. A still more direct controversial purpose may possibly be discerned in the substitution of verbal equivalents for YVWO-M and irla-ri<i. These words had acquired a definite Gnostic import from which they could hardly be dissociated, and the evangelist seeks to get back again to their simple root-meaning. Salvation, he seems to say, is not dependent on yv&o-is and TT/O-TM in the Gnostic, esoteric sense, but on a real " knowing " and " believing."
(2) Against these evidences of an anti-Gnostic polemic running through the Gospel we can easily discover arguments which point to a different conclusion. The Epistle, it may be urged at the outset, affords no indubitable clue to the intention of the Gospel. The divergences in its teaching, all the more remarkable because of the general resemblance, are strong proof that it was written by a different author at a later date. It may be that this second writer misunderstood the drift of the evangelist's work, or even purposely employed his line of argument in a quite opposite interest. This is improbable, but the bare possibility makes the evidence of the Epistle insecure.
Turning then to the Gospel itself, we cannot but observe the absence of any pronounced condemnation of Gnostic heresy. Already at the date
of Colossians and the Apocalypse, the dangerous nature of the new speculations had been recognised, and towards the end of the second century no language is vehement enough to denounce them. If John's attitude, likewise, is one of opposition, we should expect him on this subject, above all others, to express himself decisively. He finds room within the historical limitations of his narrative to wage a sharp polemic with his Jewish adversaries, and he might just as easily have assailed the Gnostics in terms that could not be mistaken. But if he opposes them at all he contents himself with a few faint allusions, with a vague and general argument that still leaves his position doubtful. Apart, however, from this absence of any strongly marked polemic, we seem to distinguish everywhere in the Gospel traces of actual sympathy with the doctrines of Gnosticism.
In the first place, while the reality of Christ's earthly life is firmly insisted on, an equal emphasis is laid on its ideal value. The historical Jesus was also the Logos through whom the worlds were made, and His actions are all symbolical of great spiritual facts in the life of the Church and of the individual believer. Thus, in spite of its fundamental thesis that "the Word was made flesh," the Gospel itself bears a semi-docetic character. The actual Jesus passes continually into an ideal being, who was never truly visible except to the apprehension of faith. In the conception of the work of Christ, as well as in that of His Person, a Gnostic influence is distinctly traceable. Gnosticism,
THE FOURTH GOSPEL
in all its forms, centres on the idea of Redemption, viewed as a deliverance from the lower world of matter in which the human soul has become entangled. This deliverance is effected by the Saviour (<ra>rrjp in a specific sense) through His victory over the material forces, and is appropriated by yvwcrts, knowledge of the mysterious divine plan. The ethical moment is thus markedly absent; redemption is no longer related to sin, but only to the lower status of man's material life. John's doctrine of salvation is not to be confounded with this Gnostic one ; but there are distinct points of contact in the falling away of the idea of sin, and in the opposition of the natural life to the higher spiritual life into which the believer is born again through Christ. The Gnostic view that the resurrection takes place here and now, when a man attains to the true "knowledge," has likewise a striking parallel in the Johannine doctrine. To John also the mere fact of physical death has little to do with the great change. "He that heareth my word and believeth on Him that sent me . . . is passed from death unto life " (v. 24).
The Gnostic theory of salvation rests on the grand antithesis of the two worlds—the lower and higher, the earthly and heavenly, the world of light and the world of darkness. This antithesis is accepted by John as the framework of his own thought. It appears more especially in his favourite opposition of "light" and "darkness," which occurs repeatedly in a definite theological sense, analogous to that which attaches to it in
the Gnostic thinkers. Reference has been made already to the kindred antithesis of the two classes of men—the earthly and the spiritual. We have seen that John refuses to accept this distinction in its full sense, and requires that all alike should "become sons of God" through the power given them by Christ. None the less, in a mitigated form the Gnostic doctrine of the two natures is constantly present to him, and exercises a decided influence, as we shall discover, on some important aspects of his teaching. The whole work of Christ, as he conceives it, is determined by this presupposition that certain elect natures have an inborn affinity to the light
Gnosticism derived its name from that insistence on "knowledge" which was the dominant note in its teaching, and the question of John's relation to it must largely turn on the place he assigns to knowledge. We have observed already that he avoids the special term yw»o-«, out of a desire, most probably, to dissociate himself from the current Gnostic doctrine. " Knowledge" to him is not the initiation into a particular discipline, and is more even than a purely intellectual process. We shall find, in the course of our inquiry, that the Johannine " knowledge " includes certain spiritual and ethical elements which make it equivalent in some degree to the Pauline "faith." At the same time the fact is significant that John describes the supreme energy of the religious life as an act of " knowing " : " This is life eternal to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ 7
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whom Thou hast sent" (xvii. 3). The intellectual idea, combined though it is with the ethical and spiritual, is still present, and indeed determinative. A value is thus assigned to knowledge which affects in a vital manner the whole theology of the Gospel. The purely religious view is overlaid and obscured by the conception of Christianity as a speculative system, which makes its primary appeal to the logical intelligence. In this respect, more clearly than in any other, the evangelist's attitude to Gnosticism appears to be one of sympathy. He has been influenced, more or less directly, by the tendency to construe religion as a ^VUGR, a higher type of knowledge, which is revealed rather to the wise and prudent than to babes.
Such, in brief outline, is the antinomy that confronts us in the Fourth Gospel. On the one hand, there are fair grounds for argument that the first aim of the evangelist, as of the writer of the Epistle, was to counteract the heretical teaching. On the other hand, we seem led to conclude, on equally positive evidence, that he himself had accepted, at least partially, the chief principles of Gnosticism. How is the contradiction to be reconciled ?
In the first place, it requires to be borne in mind that the cleavage between the orthodox faith and Gnosticism had not yet become so broad and decisive as we find it towards the close of the century. The references in Colossians and Revelation, hostile as they are, are directed against a party within the Church. The doctrine
that was afterwards to develop into the finished Gnostic systems was still a legitimate form of Christian opinion, and was maintained, we can well believe, by many who professed a more liberal faith and yet repudiated the charge of heresy. The evangelist, writing in those earlier days of the Gnostic movement, was able, without any sense of inner contradiction, to assume a double attitude towards it. He foresaw the possible dangers of the new teaching, but there were certain features in it with which he found himself in accord. Its relation to orthodox Christianity was still so undetermined, that he could accept the truth which it seemed to offer him while opposing its tendency as a whole. Such an attitude is not only possible but inevitable in a broad - minded thinker at a time of religious transition.
Again, the Gnostic movement was much more than a phase in the development of Christian doctrine. It had its ultimate ground in the general conditions of the world's thought and culture in the early centuries, when the alien religions of the East were seeking to fuse themselves with the intellectual life of the West. In all the philosophy and literature of the age we can trace ideas corresponding with those which found expression in the Gnostic systems. They belonged not to one peculiar drift of thought, but to the whole atmosphere in which all the thinkers lived and moved. Even the Apologists who set themselves in declared opposition to
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Gnosticism are themselves touched with Gnostic modes of thinking. They do battle not so much with the inner spirit of the movement, as with the special fantastic forms in which it had embodied itself. The evangelist, writing in an earlier age, when the new ideas were not yet crystallised into system, could far less escape their influence. He fell into agreement at many points with the heretical teachers, not because he borrowed from them or inclined to their position, but because he drew, like them, from the common thought of the time.
Once more, the approximations to Gnosticism in the Fourth Gospel are in many respects more apparent than real. Starting from his own premises, and advancing on his own characteristic lines, John was led to conclusions which bear a. superficial resemblance to those of the Gnostics, but on closer analysis are radically different. This is true, more especially, of his conception of the Person of Christ. We have seen that for all his insistence on the reality of the human life of Jesus, he presents it at the same time symbolically. Christ in His visible appearance seems to be resolved into a sort of type or adumbration of the ideal, eternal Christ. But this Johannine conception is different in its origin and nature from that of the docetic schools. John does not set out from a mythological speculation, but from a fact of Christian experience. Like Paul before him, he has known the fellowship of the living Christ, and reads the earthly history by the light of this
inward knowledge, so that it is all imbued with a spiritual meaning. Intrinsically there is nothing in common between the fanciful docetic view of the Person of Christ and the profound conception of the Fourth Gospel. In like manner, many of the seeming coincidences with Gnostic doctrine are only superficial and accidental. The evangelist is working out some thought of his own, altogether different from anything in Gnosticism, though he happens to express it under roughly analogous forms. And even when the affinities appear to be most real and obvious, we must be careful not to press them too closely. It cannot be too often repeated that this evangelist, open as he is to the many influences around him, is never merely a borrower. He informs whatever is given him with his own peculiar spirit; it ceases to be Pauline or Philonic or Gnostic, and becomes simply the thought of John.
We can thus appreciate in some measure the curious double relation in which the Gospel stands to the Gnostic movement. In so far as the relation is one of sympathy, it may be accounted for without concluding that John was himself in any true sense a Gnostic. He adopted ideas which belonged in the first instance to the common culture of the time, and were only identified afterwards with one prominent school. He was led by his own individual thinking to views that seem partly akin to Gnosticism, though in reality they have sprung from a different source. The conscious attitude of the evangelist, like that of the writer of the
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Epistle, is antagonistic to the new movement. He stands for the historical tradition as against the attempts to dissolve it in a vague idealism. He gives prominence to the ethical demands of Christianity, which had been set aside by the intellectual pride of the Gnosticising teachers. At the same time, the opposition between the orthodox faith and Gnosticism was as yet too loosely defined to admit of a thorough - going polemic. A generation before, when the Epistle to Colossians was written, the foreign ideas had just begun to seek an entrance into Christianity, and their dangerous tendency was distinctly felt. A generation later, they had declared themselves so plainly in highly developed systems that the Church was compelled to put forth all its energy in order to uproot them. There was an age between, the age of our Gospel, when the first opposition had partly died down and the later struggle had not yet commenced. The Church had familiarised itself with the heretical ideas and admitted them to a certain hospitality; and the evangelist could employ them without misgiving wherever they seemed to him true and valuable. It is not improbable that he was influenced also by a practical motive,—that of regaining for the orthodox faith the more speculative minds which were gradually drifting apart from it. He may well have judged that mere antagonism to the prevailing errors would serve little purpose. What was needed was such a widening and deepening of the common faith that all the varieties of religious
temperament might find their home within the Church of Christ.
Much of the peculiar character of the Gospel is due to that strain of partial sympathy with Gnosticism which underlies its re - affirmation of the great facts of Christianity. Nor does this detract in any wise from its abiding truth and value. Gnosticism, though it spent itself at a later time in wild and futile imaginations, would never have arisen unless it had responded in some measure to an authentic longing in the human soul. In the following age it could only be condemned unreservedly as a heresy, and the truth in it had to be rejected along with the error. To maintain its own existence the Church had no choice but to close its doors against every form of the alien teaching, and so far to impoverish its faith. But all that was vital and enduring in Gnostic thought had already been absorbed, and was preserved to the future ages as an element in Christianity. Before the great conflict opened there was a period of truce, and it was then that John wrote his Gospel. In his criticism of the new movement he was still able to do justice to it, and to accept whatever it had to offer towards a larger interpretation of the truth.
THE Fourth Gospel closes with a short epilogue, added apparently when the work was first made public after the writer's death. One purpose of this epilogue, however we may explain it otherwise, is undoubtedly to present the Gospel to the world with some kind of official sanction. A body of men who can speak with acknowledged authority set their imprimatur on "the witness of this disciple." The fact is highly important, indicating as it does that the Church from the first accepted the Gospel as a manifesto. The evangelist had not spoken merely in his own name, but had laid down once for all the principles of the common faith.
We have already seen that the polemic of the Gospel has a representative character. John identifies himself with the Church in its various antagonisms, taking for granted that he only defines the common Christian position. "We speak that which we know, and testify that which we have seen." It is a controversy of parties,— the Church against the Jews and the Baptists. The arguments of the Gospel carry weight because
they express the mind of the whole party, not simply that of the individual writer. In one respect, therefore, the judgment implied in the epilogue appears to be well founded. So far as it is a work of controversy, the Gospel was written deliberately in the name of the Church, and contains its authoritative reply to the criticisms of the hostile sects.
There is reason to believe, however, that in a wider and in a more intimate sense John wrote as representing the Church. It might seem -at first sight as if no work could have less bearing on mere ecclesiastical interests than this " spiritual Gospel." We think of its author as a contemplative nature, withdrawn from the tumult of sects and parties, and wrapt up wholly in the inward devotional life. But there are many instances in history of mystical temperaments to which the idea of the Church, as an outward institution, appealed with singular power. The New Testament offers us one such instance in the writer to the Ephesians ; and in the Fourth Evangelist, there can be little doubt, we have another. He never once mentions the Church by name, but his whole mind is penetrated with the thought of it. His work is one of our most important documents for tracing the development towards the idea of the Catholic Church.
The conception of a Christian brotherhood, scattered through many lands but spiritually one, is first set before us in the writings of Paul. It was the necessary outcome, on the one hand of his view of Christianity as a new and distinct religion,
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on the other hand of his widespread missionary activity. He sought to inspire the different communities with a sense of their mutual obligations and their fellowship in the faith. He looked forward to a time when the Church throughout the world would be like one body, moved by the spirit of Christ. Much had happened in the generation since, to realise Paul's great conception. A common danger had served to draw the Christians closer together; the growing success of the mission had led to a more perfect organisation; even divergences of doctrine had helped the cause of unity by creating a need for some acknowledged standard. Right on from the age of the sub-Pauline writings the idea of the Church became a paramount interest in Christian theology.
There were two special causes which began to operate in full force towards the end of the first century, and hastened the development of the ecclesiastical idea. In the first place, the wave of enthusiasm on which Christianity had launched itself upon the world was now almost spent. The original Apostles had passed away, and the immediate power of the Spirit, which had been sufficient guidance to the primitive Church, was felt ever more rarely. In every great movement the first period of ardour, when the whole body regulates itself with the spontaneity of life, is followed by one in which law and institution must take the place of impulse. The Christian religion was now entering on this secondary period. If the results attained in the first age were to be con-
served, and the new ideal of life made possible for the future, there must be a fixed organisation, able to enforce what had hitherto come freely. From this time onward the Church becomes authoritative instead of the living Spirit. The mystical ideas which had attached themselves to the working of the Spirit became more and more identified with the conception of the outward Church. The other factor which began to operate powerfully about this time was the doctrine of the Sacraments. From the beginning, Baptism and the Supper had been the outward signs of communion with Christ, and already in the theology of Paul they are invested with a high religious value. But in a later time, partly in consequence of the growing externalism, partly through the influence of Greek mysteriology, they became the central interest in Christian devotion. The extravagant value set on the Sacraments reacted on the idea of the Church. It was regarded as much more than an outward institution. It was the steward of these divine mysteries, the intermediary between Christ and His people. Already before the end of the first century we can trace the clear beginnings of the conception of the Church as the visible kingdom of God, the seat of all spiritual authority, the mystical body outside of which there is no salvation.
The Fourth Gospel has come to us out of this age, in which the Church had become a dominant fact in Christian theology. Even if the evangelist had been a solitary thinker, such as we are wont to imagine him, he could hardly have remained
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untouched by this all-pervading interest of his time. We have seen, however, that so far from standing aloof he claims to represent the Church in its controversy with hostile sects. His work is accepted by the Church leaders of the following generation as a true embodiment of their own belief. It is reasonable to infer that the doctrine of the Church, which filled such a large place in contemporary thought, is a matter of vital concern to him. He writes, indeed, under limitations imposed on him by the historical form of his work. If he deals with the later developments of the ecclesiastical idea, it can only be by way of implication and veiled allusion. Many of the details of his teaching are for this reason obscure, but we can still make out its general character and purpose.
In considering the place of the Church in the Fourth Gospel, our natural point of departure is the seventeenth chapter, the " intercessory prayer" after the Last Supper. This chapter marks the culmination of the life of Jesus, when He has finished the work given Him to do, and looks forward into the great future that will grow out of it. His work had consisted in imparting the revelation of God to the little band of disciples. They had at last been won to a triumphant belief, and Jesus sees in them the first fruits of a great multitude who will afterwards believe through their word. The prayer is thus the consecration of the Church, which already existed germinally in that knot of disciples.
They are solemnly set apart from " the world " and commended to the love and keeping of God. They are henceforth to be "one," in a mystical communion like that of the Father with the Son. They are to bear witness to the world, by their mutual fellowship and the presence of God among them, of the divine mission of Christ.
This chapter therefore refers, we may almost say explicitly, to the future Church ; and its place at the very summit of the Gospel is worthy of attention. From the outset the story has centred on the selection by Jesus of a body of disciples. He draws to Himself out of the unbelieving world those who are able to receive His message, and their faith grows ever clearer as the world's hostility deepens. The relation of Christ to His disciples becomes more and more the one theme of the Gospel, and at last in the crowning chapter we learn who the disciples were. They were the beginning of the Church. They represented in miniature the great community that Christ would gather to Himself hereafter out of the world. A light is thus thrown back on the whole intention of the Gospel. It is the story of the upbuilding of the Church, —the formation of the elect company to which Christ had revealed Himself and imparted His gift of life.
This view of the Gospel is confirmed by the presence of certain episodes in which the later history of the Church is plainly shadowed forth. The evangelist, writing at a time when Christianity had become mainly a Gentile religion, was con-
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fronted with the fact that Christ's own activity had been limited to the Jews. It was impossible to introduce any Gentile element into the elect body of the Twelve, and yet if the narrative was to anticipate in any adequate manner the formation of the Church, there needed to be some acknowledgment of the future mission to the Gentiles. This is effected by two remarkable passages, which connect the work of Christ with a wider circle of disciples. First, there is the incident of the visit to Samaria, resulting in the addition of many of the Samaritans to the company of believers. The story may well rest on some authentic record, but in view of the unity of purpose that runs through the Gospel we cannot suppose that the author introduced it as a mere detached episode. A reference is almost certainly implied to the first extension of the Christian Church beyond Jewish boundaries (Acts viii. 5, 6). The later mission to Samaria is prefigured, and at the same time justified; for it is on this soil, where the Church was first to take root among an alien people, that Jesus makes His great declaration of the universality of His religion. The Samaritan incident is placed at the beginning of Christ's ministry, and another of similar import comes at the very end (xii. 20). Though in itself apparently trivial, it is introduced with peculiar solemnity, as marking in some sense the consummation of the whole work of Christ. Certain Greeks at the feast desire to see Jesus, and the disciples, after anxious consultation with one another, bring them to the Master. He recognises this
meeting as the immediate sign of the end. His life has at last attained its purpose: "the hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified." Here the allusion is unmistakable to the Gentile mission in which Christianity was to achieve its permanent triumph. We are made to realise that this extension of His Church to the great Hellenic world was the ultimate object of Jesus in His work among His own people. That is the meaning of the emotion that thrills Him on His meeting with the Greeks. The goal towards which He has been moving is now in sight, and He can depart again into His glory.
The evangelist thus endeavours in his record of the life of Jesus to adumbrate the formation of the Church. The work of Christ, as he conceives it, was not only to reveal the truth but to build up a community to which the revelation should henceforth be entrusted. The disciples are the Church in its first institution. They are separated from the world and become partakers of the new life communicated through Christ. And though the community as yet is limited to this small inner circle of believers, there is a foreshadowing of the world-wide extension that was to follow. It was in the plan of Christ from the beginning that His Church should be thrown open to all the nations, and already He had Himself begun and sanctioned the great Gentile mission. " Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white even now unto harvest" (iv. 35).
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There are thus two main conceptions in the idea of the Church as set before us in the Gospel. In the first place, this spiritual community which Christ Himself had originated is universal in its character. The time had passed when the admission of the Gentiles could be regarded as a debateable question. John sees clearly that the world-wide Church was involved in the very nature of Christianity, and had been contemplated from the outset by Jesus Himself. On the other hand, he insists on the separation between the Church and the world. The message of Christ does indeed appeal to all men, without distinction of race and class, but only a few are able to respond to it. They form a community by themselves, and have nothing in common with the unbelieving world round about them. It is necessary to look a little more closely at these two opposite sides of the Johannine conception.
First, the universal nature of Christianity is more fully recognised than in any other New Testament book. The principle which Paul had fought for is accepted by John in its widest compass, and determines his whole theology. Jesus is the Logos, the light that lighteth every man. His appeal throughout is to " the world," of which He is the Light, the Life, the Saviour, the True Bread. He has come to break down the old limitations and to inaugurate a spiritual worship in which all may join alike. He bears witness to a love of God that embraces the whole world (iii. 16). The idea of the Church as set before us in
the Gospel corresponds with this conception of Christianity as the absolute, universal religion. We have seen that in the episodes of the Samaritans and the Greeks the beginnings of the Gentile mission are traced back to the personal activity of Jesus. He intended from the first that all peoples should have entrance into the fellowship of believers. The great extension that had come about since His death was no new departure, forced on the Church after a violent struggle, but the natural fulfilment of the plan of Christ Himself. In several passages the thought which underlies these episodes is stated clearly and definitely. " Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd " (x. 16). " I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me " (xii. 32), where the emphasis rests on "all men," as contrasted with the few that had been drawn hitherto. So in the striking words of comment on the unconscious prophecy of Caiaphas : "And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together into one the children of God that were scattered abroad." It will be noticed that in these and similar passages the future extension of the Church is closely connected with the death of Christ. This, indeed, is one chief element in the Johannine theory of the death, that it was the appointed means of freeing the work of Christ from its necessary limitations and making it available for all the world. The theory is partly due to reflection on the actual
course of the subsequent history, but it bears a
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witness in any case to the central importance attached by John to the idea of a universal Church. The purpose of Christ's coming was to found a community into which all men should have the right of entrance. He had died in order to fulfil this purpose, and bring into one fold, under one Shepherd, those who were scattered abroad.
This universalism, however, is combined with another strain of thought which serves in great measure to neutralise it. The Church is universal, in the sense that men of all nations and classes are drawn into it, but it is separated in the most emphatic manner from " the world." It might even appear at times as if John removed the old racial limitations in order to replace them by others of a more stringent character. He assumes that while the appeal of Christ is made to all men, only certain elect natures are predisposed to hear it and respond to it. Christ does not convert the sinful world, but sifts out from it " those who are of the truth," the "scattered children of God," and unites them within His Church. This apparent dualism in the Gospel has already been touched upon, and will require a fuller treatment in a later chapter. At present it is enough for our purpose to note the distinction which is everywhere presupposed between the Christian community and " the world." The work of Christ, as the evangelist conceives it, was to draw to Himself certain disciples out of the unbelieving mass and to consecrate them as a people apart,—different in aims and character and destiny from their fellow-men. They have
special ties binding them to each other in which the world claims no part. The revelation made to them is unintelligible to the world. They exist in the world, but are radically separate from it. The farewell discourses are based throughout on this conception of a chosen community which has broken with the life around it and is complete within itself. The world has now been judged, and Jesus is left alone with the little company of "His own." His promises and exhortations are addressed solely to them. He says expressly, " I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me." Even the new commandment of mutual love is laid on the disciples as members of the Christian community. Their love is not to be to all men, but only to one another, so that the world may know them, by their spirit of fellowship, to be the people of Christ.
The Fourth Gospel, which gives the grandest expression to the universalism of the Christian religion, is thus at the same time the most exclusive of the New Testament writings. It draws a sharp division between the Church of Christ and the outlying world, which is regarded as merely foreign and hostile. This exclusiveness is partly to be set down to the historical conditions under which the Gospel was written. A time had been when the Church had hopes of securing the protection of the Roman government, and its attitude to the world around it was one of conciliation and even of friendliness. Since the days of Paul, however, the secular power had declared itself, more
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