The Enigma Of The Fourth Gospel: Another Look -- By: David Wenham

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 48:1 (NA 1997)
Article: The Enigma Of The Fourth Gospel: Another Look
Author: David Wenham

The Enigma Of The Fourth Gospel: Another Look1

David Wenham


The Fourth Gospel is often said to have derived from a situation at the end of the first century when the Christian church had finally separated from the synagogue. Such a view is thought to explain the gospel’s polemic against ‘the Jews’, its dualistic outlook and other-worldly Christology, and its sectarian emphasis on Christians loving ‘one another’. However, these Johannine emphases are shown in this article to have significant parallels in Christian traditions that can be traced back to the time of Paul and perhaps earlier. The probability is that the author of the Fourth Gospel has highlighted certain strands in early Jesus tradition more than the Synoptic Gospels because of controversies about the person of Jesus inside and outside the Christian church.

I. A Scholarly Consensus Regarding The Fourth Gospel

The differences between the Synoptic Gospels and the Fourth Gospel are substantial, as is well known. The usual explanation for these differences, which commands the assent of most scholars, is that the Fourth Gospel’s account of Jesus is more theologically coloured and less historically traditional than that of the Synoptic Gospels. Modern scholars speak of the Fourth Gospel being preaching about Jesus2 as ‘poetic’ or ‘charismatic

history’,3 of a ‘two-level drama’.4 The Fourth Gospel, on this view, is a heavily reinterpreted account of Jesus, which reflects the situation and theology of its author(s) at least as much as the situation and theology of Jesus. The author justifies his stylised account implicitly by his frequent references to the Spirit’s inspiration of Jesus’ disciples.

There was a time when scholars saw the Fourth Gospel as a hellenistic reinterpretation of the Jewish Jesus-tradition. Although that view does probably have an important grain of truth in it,5 it has now largely been discarded, as scholars have come to appreciate the very Jewish and even Palestinian character of the Fourth Gospel. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls not only helped persuade scholars that Palestinian Judaism was much more hellenized than had been thought, but also threw up some particularly interesting parallels with the Fourth Gospel.

In place of the old consensus that saw the Fourth Gospel as a hellenistic reinterpretation of traditions about ...

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