An Introduction to the Gospel of John, by Raymond E. Brown, ed. Francis J. Moloney

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The very fact that John is classified as a Gospel presupposes that John is based on a tradition similar in character to the traditions behind the Synoptic Gospels. Even those commentators who treat the Fourth Gospel simply as a work of theology devoid of historical value must be impressed by the fact that this theology is written in a career-of-Jesus context (unlike the Johannine Epistles).1 Paul too was a theologian, but he did not write his theology in the framework of Jesus' earthly ministry.
1 Indeed, some would regard the Fourth Gospel as an attempt to prevent the kerygmatic preaching of the church from being mythologized and divorced from the history of Jesus of Nazareth.

Anne has returned to studying theology, and it's a subject that vaguely interests me as well so I was glad when this popped up at the top of one of my reading lists. It's a book with a slightly sad history – Brown, the original author, died in 1998 when it was almost finished, and Moloney stepped in to edit his notes and supply a last chapter. This gives rise to the odd situation on pages 257 and 258 where a short footnote by Brown disagreeing with Moloney has been substantially extended with a long defensive comment from Moloney explaining his own argument in more detail.

That aside, I found this a lot more digestible than the biography of St Paul that I recently tried. I have a particular affection for the Gospel of John anyway – way way back, the great C.-J. Bailey (who is 95, if he's still alive, but I don't see any indication that he isn't) tried to teach me New Testament Greek on the basis of the first chapter, and I can still recite it by heart:

1 Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
2 οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν.
3 πάντα δι’ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν. ὃ γέγονεν
4 ἐν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἦν, καὶ ἡ ζωὴ ἦν τὸ φῶς τῶν ἀνθρώπων ·
5 καὶ τὸ φῶς ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ φαίνει, καὶ ἡ σκοτία αὐτὸ οὐ κατέλαβεν.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God;
3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

(It's always puzzled me why, given that the original text for the end of the first verse is, literally, “and God was the Word”, “καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος”, most translations choose to put the two nouns the other way round.)

A lot of the theological discussion here is beyond me, but I found Brown's speculation about the process of composition very interesting: that there may have been an original text, now lost, heavily revised and supplemented a few decades later to produce the Gospel that we have, possibly by the same person. Moloney points out very pleasingly in the last chapter that this is also the story of this book – it is based on Brown's numerous earlier writings, but is itself a revision of them by Brown and then by Moloney.

I was also interested in the question of who John was writing against. There is clear polemic against followers of John the Baptist (though one wonders how many of them were left by the time the Gospel was written); against "the Jews", unhelpfully generalised; and against other followers of Jesus who were in disagreement with the writer. In the end, though, Brown agrees with the Gospel's own statement of its purpose at 20:31: "these [things] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" – the key purpose is encouragement for the believer, whatever their previous background may be.

Also pleasingly, Brown refers to John the Baptist throughout as "JBap", as if he were a rapper. You can see why, of course, there are a lot of Johns in this story.

I don't think even my regular reader will be rushing to add this to their library, but I got more from it than I had hoped, and you can get it here.

This was the top unread book added to my catalogue in 2019. Next on that list is Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd, by Mark Blake.

One thought on “An Introduction to the Gospel of John, by Raymond E. Brown, ed. Francis J. Moloney

  1. They were built differently in those days. If you tried to pull at a London residential property today, you’d get a handful of bricks, and have to go in with wrecking equipment to demolish the rest of the structure. In 17th century London you would have gathered a crowd of people with ropes, a carpenter to knock out some bits, and the whole thing would be pulled down flat like an Ikea wardrobe.

    [More, even, because a wardrobe is sheets of chipboard, and these houses were frameworks of columns, beams and diagonals. I guess the diagonals would probably be whacked with an axe to make the whole frame fold.]

    This London Fire Brigade site refers to things called fire hooks,

    which I expect would have been standard equipment that each parish would be expected to keep ready. There were about 120 parishes in the City, which would have been about 160 yards squared in size.

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