Tuesday, November 25, 2008

writing ourselves in

“One of his disciples – the one whom Jesus loved – was reclining next to him.” – Jn 13:23

This unnamed disciple is associated with John – the author of the Gospel according to John. As a result, John is known as the “beloved disciple” in scholarly circles. I suppose we’re to assume that Jesus tolerated Peter and James but that he loved John. But this is all the info that the fourth evangelist gives us about himself. Who wrote this gospel? The one whom Jesus loved.

One assumes that the author of John’s gospel ** would at least make an appearance in Jesus’ story from time to time. If I were to write a Gospel, I’d at least mention one instance when I – John Newton – was really obedient to Jesus (of course as a model for the good of the church). In fact, there’s a 50/50 chance I’d work in my little league game-winning homer in the spring of '96. But this John is different. This John doesn’t even give a name (his name is John by tradition). Sure, this John wants to be remembered, but not for his faithfulness or for any achievements of his own. No - this John wants to be remembered as “the one whom Jesus loved.” That was John’s role in his version of the Jesus story. And make no mistake, he had to be selective (see Jn 21:25). John had to pick and choose. He could have “written himself in” in a more creative way. But for his part in the story, John didn’t even give his name. Who was John in Jesus’ story? He was “the one whom Jesus loved.”

The Bible compels each of us to take our own place in the Jesus-story. Christians aren’t detached observers. We’re not voyeurs. We’re actors and participants in the final scene of God’s salvation play. Like John, we too must enter Jesus’ story. We must “write ourselves in.” The only question is - what part are we going to play?

John gives us a roadmap. We are to “lose our lives” in Jesus’ story. Our name, like John’s name, isn’t significant. Only Jesus’ is. Jesus’ name is above every name and that includes our own (Phil 2:9). Our achievements aren’t central to the Jesus-narrative. Jesus must increase. We must decrease (Jn 3:30). And what does this mean practically? It means that our identity is shaped above all else by Jesus’ love for us. Who are we in Jesus’ story? We are the “one whom Jesus loves.”

FOR TODAY: An ethics professor of mine writes, “the question of identity is the question of difference.” For today, consider what informs your identity. In other words, who do you know yourself to be? This is an important question because our world is becoming increasingly achievement-oriented. We’re only about as good as our last accomplishment, our last assignment, our last business deal, our last sermon. But as Jesus’ disciples, we cannot accept the world’s terms. Regardless of what we do or don’t do, we are children of God and we are born of God (Jn 1:12-13). Above all else, this is who we are in Jesus’ story. For today, be changed by this wonderful truth.

** Authorship of JG is hard to attribute to one person. Most scholars contend that the final work was the product of John’s community and that John’s disciples finished what John himself had begun before his death in the latter part of the first century.


Jim said...

"Prove all things" is a Biblical admonition that Bible students need to take seriously. There are many things that people think are Biblical that don't appear in the Bible; but if we love the truth, then when we find that something we've told or taught doesn't is not Biblical then that error needs to be rejected. Sadly there is often little willingness to submit to the word of God and to much willingness among those who claim the name 'Christian' to turn-a-blind-eye to the Biblical admonition "prove all things" when then text of scripture happens to disprove some tradition of men that they choose to follow. For example, you stated: Who wrote this gospel? The one whom Jesus loved. This, of course, is the proper Biblical attribution for this anonymous author but many will simply ignore the facts recorded in scripture about this author and simply follow those who rely on NON-Bible sources in order to promote the unbiblical tradition that this person was John -- an idea that is proven false by the plain text of scripture.

The truth is there is not a single verse in scripture that would justify teaching the idea that John was the unnamed "other disciple whom Jesus loved" and yet most simply assume that this man-made tradition cannot be wrong and then interpret scripture to fit this idea. In order to sell this unbiblical idea it is claimed that John is referred to in the five passages that in fact never mention him but that rather talk only about the anonymous one whom "Jesus loved" -- but this is easily shown to be the logical fallacy called circular reasoning. This idea comes from NON-Bible sources and is imposed upon the text, when the text says nothing of the kind. In fact we see a stark contrast between the BEHAVIOR of John who repeatedly identifies himself by name in the Book of Revelation and the BEHAVIOR of the unnamed "other disciple, whom Jesus loved" who went to great lengths to conceal his identity in the fourth gospel.

If one will heed Ps. 118:8 then the NON-BIBLE sources on which this man-made error is based will give way to the facts in scripture which prove that WHOEVER this anonymous author was he most certainly was not John.
It can hardly be honoring to God for one to present an idea AS IF IT WERE BIBLICAL if they cannot cite a single verse that would justify teaching that idea -- but those who promote the unbiblical tradition that the "other disciple whom Jesus loved" was John do just that.

We're told, "[It is] better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man". Given this explicit statement (along with similar statements in scripture on this matter) it is clear that one should be leery of those who encourage people trust in NON-Bible sources and put their confidence in unbiblical man-made traditions. To show respect for the word of God we need to heed the Biblical admonition to "prove all things" - and not simply be repeating the ideas of men but rather looking to scripture and searching the scriptures to see if what we have read or have been told can stand up to Biblical scrutiny.

Defenders of the John tradition can choose to ignore the facts stated in the plain text of scripture if they prefer to quote the words of men who quote other men who quote other men but one thing that neither they nor their NON-Bible sources cannot do is cite even a single verse that would justify this idea. No one ever has -- not those who originated this unbiblical idea and not those who still promote that idea today.

Given your statement that the author's self description in 13:23 was 'all the info that the fourth evangelist gives us about himself' and your wondering about why didn't this unnamed author 'at least make an appearance in Jesus’ story from time to time' it is clear that you missed much of what the author has told us about himself -- because there are at least five passages where he references his involvement in the ministry of Jesus.

Not one of the God inspired authors of scripture recorded not a shred of Biblical evidence that would suggest that the unnamed "other disciple whom Jesus loved" was a person named John. The men who added a title to the fourth gospel that included the name John did so because they ASSUMED that the beloved disciple was a reference to the Apostle John but the Bible can prove that they were mistaken.

John Newton said...

Dear Jim,

My blog is a theological reflection / meditation. First, I am sorry for the confusion. I did not mean to give anyone the impression that A) the “John” behind JG is the same as “John of Patmos” in Revelation. He isn’t. But I never explicitly implied that he was. B) That “human tradition” should trump what the Bible says or that human tradition is always reliable. It shouldn’t, it isn’t. I’m sorry if I implicitly implied otherwise. C) That from a “scholarly” perspective, this is all of the info we have about the author or about our author’s community. It isn’t. (However I thought I hinted at that by referencing John 21.25)

Second, I’ll also concede that the “disciple whom Jesus loved” may have no relation at all to the author of JG. Of course, I think he did – but I took some creative license. But that’s what spiritual discipline and growth requires – creativity. But please reread my blog’s purpose on my homepage – “it’s a private spiritual practice that I’ve chosen to make public.” It’s not a scholar exegetical analysis of the Bible – though I do try and do some of that. My goal is to contemplate the scriptures and then to enter into them – not because this is intrinsically valuable – but b/c God has ordained this as an important means to a greater end: loving, serving, and apprenticing myself to Jesus Christ. What I’m doing is spiritual reflection – not biblical historical criticism. I’m afraid this is just a misunderstanding on several accounts.

Jim, thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. I would be very interested in receiving an email from you (jnewton@utepiscopal.org). I’m curious to know who you are, and how you found my blog …

May God bless you brother,

John Newton

KAM said...


After consulting a few non-Biblical sources, I've reached the following conclusion: you have poor grammar.

Furthermore, you claim there is Biblical evidence proving that the anonymous author of The Gospel According to John is not John the Apostle. Your lack of understanding regarding the basic tenet of anonymity notwithstanding, please state your case, complete with Biblical references.

Finally, I have a joke about you being a logical fallacy, but I'm saving it for when you employ circular reasoning in your reply.

Until then,