John Arranges Things Differently

The Gospel According to John differs from the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke). Markedly so, in some areas. John’s Gospel contains things the Synoptics lack, yet omits content they have. But even the overlapping content is somewhat different in John.

It’s similar to Claudio Abbado as compared to Rudolf Barshai conducting Bartók.

Or like John Coltrane’s rendition(s) of “My Favorite Things” compared to Julie Andrews’ vocal version in The Sound of Music. Like Miles Davis’ cover of Cindy Lauper’s “Time After Time”.

Or like R.E.M.’s cover of Wire’s “Strange” (or the fact that early R.E.M. borrowed a bit from the sound of The Byrds).

Or like Public Enemy’s (and others’) sampling of Melvin Bliss’ “Synthetic Substitution”—specifically, the great Bernard “Pretty” Purdie’s drum intro—in their “Don’t Believe the Hype”.[1]

Quoting P. Gardner, F. F. Bruce suggests John’s Gospel is a transposition into a higher key.[2] Continuing the musical analogies, John doesn’t so much harmonize with the Synoptics as provide counterpoint. Similarly, John resembles Ravel in taking his own six movement piano solo suite Le Tambeau de Couperin and later transforming into four movements for orchestra. Some elements are the same, colors and shades are added, some notation is omitted.

Putting the earlier words of Bruce in context:

If in this Gospel the words and deeds of Jesus appear to have undergone ‘transposition into a higher key’ [as compared to] the Synoptic Gospels, this is the effect of the Spirit’s enabling the Evangelist to adapt the story of Jesus to a different public…[3]

Following this, Bruce provides a Shakespearean analogy.

The day following Julius Caesar’s assassination is recorded in Plutarch’s Life of Brutus. Plutarch provides the account of Mark Antony reading Caesar’s will to the public. When the audience heard that, among other things, the dictator had willed 75 drachmas to each citizen, they grew sympathetic. Sensing this, Antony adjusted his speech and tone, taking Caesar’s bloodied gown in his hand and graphically pointing to the knife and sword cuts into it. At this, the crowd grew angry at his assassins. Chaos ensued. Some insisted that those who had slain Caesar should be killed.

Shakespeare paraphrases and amplifies this account. However, he also reorders it. The writer situates Antony holding up the tattered gown and showing Caesar’s bloodied corpse before reading the will. Moreover, he ‘quotes’ Antony using words not even recorded in Plutarch’s account.[4]

Bruce calls this

a translation of the freest kind, a transposition into another key; but Shakespeare’s genius enables him to put just the right words into Antony’s mouth…‘to give the general purport of what was actually said.’*

What Shakespeare does by dramatic insight (and, it may be added, what many a preacher does by homiletical skill), all this and much more the Spirit of God accomplished in our Evangelist. It does not take divine inspiration to provide a verbatim transcript; but to reproduce the words which were spirit and life to their first believing readers in such a way that they continue to communicate their saving message and prove themselves to be spirit and life to men and women today…—that is the work of the Spirit. It is through the Spirit’s operation that, in William Temple’s words, ‘the mind of Jesus himself was what the Fourth Gospel disclosed’;** and it is through the illumination granted by the same Spirit that one may still recognize in this Gospel the authentic voice of Jesus.[5]

John is different. I like that. I can’t wait to meet John on the other side.

__________________________

[1] Unrelatedly, tangentially: Is Public Enemy (PE) original in coining the idea of “fake news”? Witness these lyrics from “Don’t Believe the Hype”, relating to how the music press distorted PE (in their view):
Chuck D.: False media, we don’t need it, do we?
Flavor Flav: It’s fake that’s what it be to ya, dig me?

[2] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel & Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983), p 15. Bruce here quotes Gardner’s The Ephesian Gospel (London, 1915), p 284.

[3] Bruce, p 15.

[4] Bruce, pp 15-16.

[5] Bruce, pp 16-17. *Here Bruce cites Thucydides’ History 1.22.1. **Here Bruce quotes Temple’s Readings in St. John’s Gospel (London, 1939), p xxxii.

Independent Thoughts

Just now as I was perusing Greek professor Dr. David Alan Black’s unblog, I was struck by the following from his Friday, July 31 entry:

As I was riding along a thought had been forming in my subconscious mind and now I let it surface and examined it. One of the things I really want to emphasize in my classes this year is independent thinking. Tell me, do you have a mind of your own so that you reach your own mature, Christian convictions? Or are you like the persons described in Ephesians 4 who are tossed unsteadily about by the strange doctrines of others and whose opinion is always that of the last person they spoke to or the last book they read? You don’t know what you believe or why you believe what you do believe. I strongly believe that all of us need to develop a holy discontentment with the ecclesiastical status quo (bold added).

Amen! This idea was one of the thoughts undergirding yesterday’s Consider the Source post.

For Black’s thoughts on what a New Testament ‘church’ (ekklēsia) should look like, see his booklet Seven Marks of a New Testament Church: A Guide for Christians of All Ages.

Continuing Black’s words:

Most of us are too conservative, too complacent, too content to parrot what others are saying. We are content with our church practices and polities even when there is no scriptural support for them. The end result is a dull, mindless, conformity. But Paul teaches that the church should be constantly growing into maturity in Christ. I don’t know the way through to the other side on this one, folks, but I do know that I don’t want to be ruled by ravenous groupthink anymore. Full life is lived when we have a personal encounter with the living God through his word, and when the mind and heart work together to discover and practice the truth. Coming back to a tired old cliché, less is more. Less commentaries, more Bible. Less podcasts, more listening to the Holy Spirit. In my life, I’m a more kind of guy, and I struggle with making this transition. But if I don’t make it, how can I turn around and ask my students to do the same? It would be a dreadful thing to be deluded in this matter — to think that we are pleasing God with our minds when we are not. The only way to avoid this error is to find out what God wants by turning to his word, the Bible. This is what I will doing in my four classes this fall, and my five in the spring. Holy discontentment will be an emphasis in my teaching this year because I am concerned that much of our thinking about the church is confused and often unbiblical. Don’t take my word for it. Make up your own mind to study the Scriptures to see what God says about this important subject! (bold added for my emphasis)

It’s as if he took the thoughts right out of my head and filtered them through his own experiences!

I’ve long been frustrated with the way ‘church’ has become a “dull, mindless, conformity”. Where’s the true vibrancy of Christian fellowship? It’s too often a Sunday-only thing, with the rest of the week consumed by secular concerns. Bible study? That’s many times relegated to whatever time is left after all other ‘obligations’. And, of course, that typically means no time at all.

I differ a little bit, though, as I do enjoy reading commentaries for points of view I’d not considered. Or points of view that are not commonly promoted. In a post I’ve been working on for a while (taking MUCH longer than I’d anticipated!), after wrestling with the Greek text, I turned to a few commentaries for clarification on matters. Most, of course, parrot the same line; but, there were a few with some different lines of enquiry. Now, that gets me thinking! It doesn’t mean they are right, and there are times when I’ll reject a particular line of thought. But there are other times when the insights of the writer provide astute illumination to the text. In response, my heart and spirit overflow with joy: “Yes!” How wondrous is his word!

Yet, I constantly struggle with this thought: Am I reading/studying/thinking for my own intellectual curiosity, or is there a higher purpose? Am I pleasing God or myself—or both? I hope it’s both.

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