Unlike the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), John’s Gospel has virtually litte about the kingdom of God with correlating parables, no exorcisms, no narratives of Jesus’ baptism or transfiguration, no institution of the Lord’s Table (Eucharist). On the other hand, John offers material absent from the Synoptics–the wedding in Cana, the meetings with Nicodemas and the Samaritan woman at the well, the extended story of the healing of the man born blind, the Jesus-as-good-shepherd teachings (cf. Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34), the Lazarus pericope. One scholar summarizes John’s distinctiveness as “John seems to have come…from another universe of thought” (288).
Burridge does make a good case, however, that even though John is out of step with the other canonical Gospels, John is still a “biographical narrative” as the other Gospels are. Because the law came through Moses, but “grace and truth” came through Jesus the Christ, Burridge see “grace” as an example of Jesus’ deeds (sacrificial acts of love) and “truth” as an expression of Jesus’ teachings, all leading up to the passion of Jesus (his death). So the genre of biographical narrative “fits” for John. The “signs” in God are expressions of “grace” and the “I am” declarations are expressions of “truth.”
Burridge deals with a number of scholarly theories about John’s composition and its alledged source from a tiny, hostile-to-the-world sectarian community. This theory views that community as a hunkered down, bunker-mentality group trying to survive their rejection by Jewish leaders from the synagogues. And this brings us to a major ethical issue in John: its seemingly furious anti-Semitism (see Burridge 313-322).
John presents, however, a more balanced, three-angled view of “the Jews”—positive (Jesus and the disciples are Jews themselves), neutral, and negative (e.g., where Jesus confronts the Jewish leaders calling them “sons of the devil”). The same goes for the term “world” in John–it has positive connotations, neutral, and negative (as we include John’s letters as well). John is not anti-world.
John presents a high Christology. Jesus is “in control” even in the chaotic turmoil of his arrest, trials, and crucifixion. There is a determined sovereignty in John’s depiction of Jesus, versus the passivity of Jesus in Matthew. John early on was titled “the spiritual gospel” by Clement of Alexandria, according to Eusebius (289). So John offers the strongest case for the deity of Jesus of Nazareth.
Scholars have stated that John “offers no explicit moral instruction” and “John does not do ethics” (291). However, as Burridge contends that while John has no specific moral code or ethical commands, the very life and teachings of Jesus (grace and truth) present to Jesus followers “a new commandment”–to love one another as I have loved you. To press this point, Burridge points out that only John uses the term hupodeigma (“example”) clearly expressing Jesus’ actions as an ethical pattern (see John 13:14-15). Jesus lives a life that his disciples are to emulate (343). That pattern is an ethic of sacrificial love that goes even to the point of laying down our lives for our friends (John 15:12-13). A good leader lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus is that good leader (John 10:11,14).
The response to John coming from a anti-world, hunkered-down sect, Burridge shows how John’s Gospel leads to and represents a radically accepting, mixed, inclusive community. Who are the Gospel’s characters? Quite a diverse collection! Nicodemas, the woman at the well, a lame man, a blind man, the Marys, Samaritan village people, Greeks seeking Jesus, disciples, etc. In John’s own way, Jesus is presented as “the friend of sinners.” The love for one another is not a private, just us and no more, exclusive love, but an expansive love designed to redeem/save the whole world.
The new commandment is not a rule; it is a way of life expressed as people follow Jesus and his example of self-giving love. The pattern is perhaps expressed best and succinctly by Paul in the great Philippian text regarding the kenosis (Phil. 2:1-8).
This concludes Burridge’s analysis of the Gospels as biographical narratives where the life of Jesus is the direction, pattern, even incarnation of New Testament ethics. We aren’t given a moral “to do, don’t do” list; we aren’t given an ethical code. We are given a life–the life of Jesus of Nazareth.
Next, Section VIII. Apartheid: An Ethical and Generic Challenge to Reading the New Testament
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