Baker Academic

Monday, February 29, 2016

Reading John (the movie)

In a previous post I mentioned Christopher Skinner's book, Reading John (Cascade, 2015). This doesn't happen often with books on the Bible, but Reading John: The Movie has been released online. Not since Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ has the big screen seemed too small for its subject.

In all seriousness, I repeat my recommendation of Reading John for anyone interested in diving into the Gospel according to John but unsure where to begin. There's lots to dialogue with here; Skinner makes observations both interesting and controversial (does he really say you can't say anything about the New Testament until you've accounted for John's Jesus?!), and always with the heart of someone who longs to teach others to engage the texts of the New Testament with honesty and curiosity.


  1. Does John really offer unequivocal support for Jesus as specifically, "Christ"? The gospel opens not with a Christ, but a rather mysterious Word. Logos if anything. As in other gospels, only others say Jesus is Christ (1.41). As Jesus speaks of an ambiguous Son of Man in third person.

    Already the text often sees Jesus and God more as spirit, than real 3.4-8, 4.24 etc.... Regarding a Christ, he uses the ambiguous I AM in 4.26. He is other things: the bread of life, and other ambiguous titles 6.35. Increasinly all good persons are not physical or even real, But are dematerialized spirit (6.63). Jesus is "light."

    But what about an explicit "Christ"? He does not unequivocally claim it. Partly because his works don't justify it: Jesus had not yet brought the full earthly kingdom that a Christ should bring to this world 18.36. 21.19-22. Which only comes later, in Rev. 21.1-2.

    1. John offers us direct evidence of what he, as the author of the Gospel, thinks. And, yes, he clearly thinks that Jesus was the Christ. That's not even up for debate.

  2. Was John, the often presumed author of the non-synoptic gospel, reliable? The New Testament includes dozens of warnings about bad things even in our highest Christian churches and holy men. Including the apostles (eg Mat. 16.23). And including the authors of John.

    Specifically, GJohn ends with an important dialogue about the apostles. Including the one often thought to be the author of GJohn: the one who Jesus loved. Who asks which disciple would betray Jesus. The answer is evasive.

    Which disciples and authors of our Bibles betray Jesus? Curiously, Jesus does not explicitly name Judas here. Indeed the Bible, mentioning both John as it seems, and the one who would betray Jesus, begins to mix them indistinguishably together. Till you cannot tell who "this disciple" refers to. One or the other - or both together. And the end tells us ambiguously that "this" disciple might not be killed, and might remain.

    Finally the book shifts to a likewise unidentified editorial "we." Who assures us the witness of "this" disciple is true. But we don't know who this "we" is in turn. Or again, who "this" disciple was. Even as the text ends - by noting the inadequacy of all books. Including presumably the Biblical books. Which cannot contain all the things that Jesus did and said (John 21.24-5).

    So who was the disciple who betrayed Jesus. And who was the disciple who wrote the Gospel of John? And how reliable was either? And who was the editorial "we" who left all in Limbo?

    The book itself admits that not everything was written down. So we are left in John with equivocation and uncertainty. Just as in the truncated ending of Mark.

    Finally the New Testament itself was far, far less sure about things than our preachers and other holy men taught us.

    1. Thanks for this mish-mash of thoughts. The NT does not address "our highest Christian churches and holy men" at all. It addresses people in the first century, and possibly early second century.

    2. But it talks about say, the twelve disciples. Who were later pictured in countless works as among our holy leaders. Flawed as they were (Mat. 16.23, etc.). Even as these flawed leaders were given the Great Commission and so forth.

    3. Does the Gospel of John offer a firm picture of Jesus as Christ? One way to get at that, is to try to find out who the author of the Gospel is. To see if he was reliable.

      Where did the gospels come from? Who wrote them? Are the authors reliable, and is their picture of Christ true?
      Some sermons assume that the Gospel of John was written by or after a person named John. Perhaps one if the twelve.

      In the New Testament generally, we find several Johns. But looking into the Gospel of John, we find signs of attribution to "the disciple Jesus loved." However, his identity is oddly mixed in with warnings about a disciple who betrays Jesus.

      So isn't the Bible hinting at problems with GJohn - and ultimately, his Christ too?

  3. The gospel of John poses some very, very high terms for its heroes: "light"; the" word" or Logos; repository of a great "spirit." But do all these very high, elevated terms always refer solely and unambiguously to Jesus? (C.f. "Son of Man").

    The hypothetical Christology seemingly presented in John is very,very high. But it is just as uncertain here, as in the other gospels, whether it applies to Jesus.

    And it is quite uncertain too, whether John himself, or the Gospel of John, was reliable.