First – congratulations! – yesterday marked our halfway point on this journey!
• When and Where
Wednesday, we defined the time of writing fairly clearly to around 90AD. The where is quite a bit trickier. Early tradition suggested John wrote from Ephesus, but an increasing number of scholars are suggesting Alexandria in Egypt as more likely the home of a Johannine community. Clearly the setting is somewhere where several Jewish terms and customs need to be explained, so outside of Palestine. The gospel also clearly draws on oral tradition, and some different traditions than the other 3 gospels.
Some factors suggesting Alexandria are that the oldest extent copies of this Gospel were found in Egypt and the influence of the OT Wisdom traditions which are reflected in this text were particularly strong there. Further, early Egyptian gnostic movements valued this gospel. Evidence is inconclusive, but the distance from other early Christian centers such as Antioch, Asia Minor and Rome could help explain why John is so different from the Synoptics.
• Key Insights
Often when I lead groups in a study of the early church creeds, I’ll ask: “what is the debate that this statement resolves?” or “what claim is being made here, what is being affirmed?”
In many ways I think the same questions are useful of John. I sense that the debate in this author’s day was who Jesus was – with people accepting that he was a teacher and even prophet, but debating or perhaps dismissing his divinity. This gospel is a masterful proclamation of Jesus’ unity with God. I affirm this – indeed it is crucial to my faith. Yet also crucial to that faith is my understanding that Jesus probably didn’t talk about himself in the ways John depicts (for to do so would be to diminish or deny his humanity and trivialize his temptation and suffering.)
Borg writes: “This language tells us much about how Jesus was spoken about by a particular “Johannine” community of Christians near the end of the 1st Century. It does not, however, tell us very much about how Jesus himself spoke of himself.” Rather, this Gospel is, itself, an interpretation of the Jesus tradition for a community of believers now 2 generations removed from his life, death, and resurrection.
• Big Picture
God, through Jesus, is revealed as: creator, relational, life-giving, opposed but not defeated, powerful, hidden and present, faithful, justice-seeking, sending, giving.
Warren Carter summarizes John’s Gospel in this way: “The good news according to John is that Jesus is the definitive revealer of God’s life-giving purposes, whose mission continues in and through the alternative community, the church, an ‘antisociety’ that is sustained by the Spirit, or Paraclete, in a hostile world until God’s purposes are established in full.”
Blessings on your reading!