The Christology of the Fourth Gospel in Relation to the Synoptics Part III -- By: Everett F. Harrison

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 116:464 (Oct 1959)
Article: The Christology of the Fourth Gospel in Relation to the Synoptics Part III
Author: Everett F. Harrison

The Christology of the Fourth Gospel in Relation to the Synoptics
Part III

Everett F. Harrison

[Editor’s Note: This article is the third installment of the W. H. Griffith Thomas Memorial Lectures on the subject, “The Fourth Gospel in Relation to the Synoptics,” given November 18–21, 1958, at the Dallas Theological Seminary, by Dr. Harrison.]

It is clear that were it not for Jesus Christ none of our Gospels would have been written. He is central to them all. However, it was the mood of criticism not many decades ago to make a sharp distinction between the person of our Lord as set forth in the Synoptics and in John. It was held that in the Synoptics, especially in Mark, one could come to grips with the historical Jesus, devoid of all the theological trappings which the early church placed around His person in order to exalt Him. John, it was held, was at the opposite pole from Mark. The Fourth Gospel betrayed the process of apotheosis. Having started with a man, a prophet, a great teacher, the church ended up with a God. Both pictures could not be right. One must take his choice. And the temper of the times demanded that an honest criticism take the Synoptic picture. There were a few misgivings about a contrast so pat, since criticism had to question isolated texts in the Synoptics which seemed to breathe a Johannine spirit, but in general the verdict remained.

Critical serenity was painfully disturbed, yes blasted, by the work of Wilhelm Wrede, who in his book on the Messianic Secret (1901) made the claim that Mark, instead of being free of dogmatic elements, was fairly reeking with them. Here, according to Wrede, one finds the reading back of the Messiahship of Jesus. Originating in the church in connection with the faith in His resurrection, it is made to appear at an earlier point in the Gospel by the literary device of the Messianic Secret. Silence about his identity is imposed on the demons and on the disciples. So, according to Wrede, the

early church sought to read back its late discovery regarding the person of Jesus. Mark, then, in Wrede’s eyes, was anything but historical. It was highly dogmatic, which rendered it dubious as history. No longer could the critic complacently contrast Mark with John. Both were highly suspect.

More recent study of the Gospels, however, has evoked not only a much higher regard for these documents as a whole but also a gradual closing of the gap between the Synoptics and John in the matter of Christology. Today it is rather common for writers who have not been thought of as particularly conservative in their general outlook to admit freely that there is no essential difference between the portrayal of Christ in...

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