Last week I read a terrific book. I spent a lot of time in doctor’s offices because I volunteer to drive people who need it to medical appointments. In the process I read The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: an Introduction to John by Paul N. Anderson.
What makes some Bible study dull is a lack of curiosity. What makes Anderson’s book a page-turner is that he fully engages his curiosity about John. And he carries his reader along with him.
My problem will be giving you an idea of his thinking without getting too far into the weeds.
Let me start by giving you an idea of the riddles Anderson covers.
There are theological riddles. One of these is whether Jesus is Divine or human. On the one hand, John affirms that the Logos was God and has Thomas confess Jesus as “My Lord and my God.” On the other hand, the Logos becomes flesh. And Jesus weeps and thirsts and bleeds. Another riddle is whether Jesus judges us or not. On the one hand, Jesus came not to judge the world and only God is the judge. On the other hand, it is for judgment that Jesus has come into the world (9:39). I have mentioned only two of several theological riddles.
There are historical riddles. There is the chronological difference from the Synoptics, where Jesus has a few months of ministry that starts only after the arrest of John the Baptist. In John there seems to be a two or three-year ministry that overlaps with John’s. There are big differences in how Jesus communicates. In the other gospels he speaks in parables. In John there are no parables, but there are many ironic discourses. So what was the real chronology and how did Jesus really talk? There are other historical riddles as well.
Finally there literary riddles. One of these is whether the prologue in chapter one was added after the rest of the gospel was complete. Another is a similar question about the epilogue in chapter 21. There are riddles about the relation of the gospel to the letters of John and the Book of Revelation. Among several other literary riddles is one about whether the Beloved Disciple is a literary device or whether he (or she) was a real person.
About this last riddle, I can’t resist sharing an idea Anderson presents that I have never seen before. He says that his resolution of the riddles works no matter who the author or authors were. But he tends to credit the ancient tradition that the apostle John had something to do with the book. Church Fathers in the second century affirm this. But Anderson points also to Acts 4:19-20.
But Peter and John replied, “Whether it is right before God to obey you rather than God, you decide, for it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” (NET Bible).
This reply is not a reply of Peter and John together. Instead, the statement about obeying God rather than men is a typical statement of Peter in Acts. But the last part about “what we have seen and heard” is typical of John’s gospel and epistles. So in Acts we may have a confirmation that John stood at the beginning of the tradition that comes to us in the fourth gospel.