The Discourses of the Fourth Gospel Part IV -- By: Everett F. Harrison
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The Discourses of the Fourth Gospel
[Editor’s Note: This article is the final 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.]
Among those who have adopted a negative attitude toward the Fourth Gospel we discern two broad types—those who repudiate the book in its entirety, on the ground that it is unhistorical and unreliable, and those who accept the historical framework but reject the discourse material. A good example of this second group is Olmstead, who wrote Jesus in the Light of History. Albright comments on this dichotomizing in the following language: “There can be no doubt that Olmstead had acquired a very good instinct for the degree of reliability to be attributed to ancient narratives; it is also clear that his lack of equal insight into the history of ideas led him to an indefensible separation of the words and sermons of Jesus from the narrative sections.”1
It remains true that many scholars have found difficulty with the discourses, so that any study of the Fourth Gospel which seeks to do justice to the critical approach must wrestle with this problem.
For the sake of convenience, we may divide the discourses into three broad types. The first is the private teaching intended for a single person, such as the conversation with Nicodemus or the woman of Samaria. The second is teaching addressed to the Jews, whether to the rank and file of the people or to the leaders of the nation. Often these become more or less debates between Christ and his hearers, since the latter are frequently hostile. The third type is found in the Upper Room Discourse, where Jesus is shut in with the disciples and speaks to them about Himself and about their own future as His chosen company.
Our first task is to examine into the grounds of suspicion or outright rejection of the discourses in John. The complaint
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about their length is so inconsequential that it can be readily dismissed. Most of the discourses, it is true, are longer than many of the examples of teaching in the Synoptics, but this is not always so. Actually, the Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet Discourse are longer than those in John. The Olivet Discourse is as long as the Upper Room teaching; the Sermon on the Mount is even longer.
A second objection is more potent. It pertains to the style of the Fourth Gospel, and consists in the observation that as we move from the narrative portions into the discourses t...
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