I am almost finished with Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. With the holiday weekend activities coming on (Labor Day in the USA), I do not quite feel up to summing it all up yet. So today’s post is a side note.
Bauckham’s theory about the authorship of John’s gospel really is not the main theme of this book. His main theme is that eyewitnesses can be identified as guarantors of the reliability of the New Testament gospel’s witness to Jesus. In language we usually use about the Hebrew Bible, Bauckham is a maximalist, whereas many scholars– most of those associated with the Jesus Seminar, for instance– are minimalists.
However, despite it not being his main theme, he devotes a lot of space to discussing his theory that someone named John, an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus but not a member of the Twelve,was the author of John. This John, he believes was the senior teacher and elder of the church at Ephesus about the end of the first century.
In the course of doing this he has a chapter about what the church fathers, Polycrates and Ireneaus, said about the authorship of John.
Now Ireneaus is my favorite patriarch. He was bishop at Lyons in about 180 CE. He has a theology that enables one to go back behind Augustine and see other orthodox possibilities for understanding things like original sin and the atonement.
But Bauckham reminded me that Ireneaus strongly argued that the common idea that Jesus was 33 years old at the time of his passion was wrong. Ireneaus claimed that Jesus was over 40. He said that John 8:57–“you are not yet 50 years old”–means that Jesus was over 40. Otherwise they would have said, “you are not yet 40”. This was part what appears to be a preference for information from John over the other gospels. John had been an eyewitness, so he would know.
Ireneaus had a theological point to make with this argument. His recapitulation theory that Jesus’ atonement involved redeeming every aspect of human life, meant that Jesus had to have lived past mid-life. That way Jesus experienced youth, middle age, and what Ireneaus thought of as old age. Of course, I would wonder why Jesus did not have to be female as well in order to redeem every aspect of human life.
Still, it is worth noting that Luke’s statement that Jesus was about 30 at the time of his baptism is pretty inexact. Did Luke really know? Or was he estimating? And does “about 30” correspond to our phrase, “30 something.” The popular notion that Jesus lived exactly 33 years is not biblical.