I have talked about Paul N. Anderson’s The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel in a scattered way, taking up points that interested me. The scattered nature of this discussion is partly my fault. But it also stems from the repetitious plan of the book. Anderson raises the riddles first without presenting his own answers. Then, later, he comes back to them and makes his own suggestions as to solutions.
It makes the book interesting. You want to keep reading to get to the answers. But you don’t dare skip over anything. So, rather than trying to go over things more than once myself, I have just pulled out topics that interest me. I hope that in the process I have given readers some idea of how good this book is.
It is time for me to move on. It seems fitting to end with a mention of John’s passion story.
The other gospels open the story with a Passover Meal. John gives us a different date for the meal. Anderson believes that John is more likely to have the history of this right. He also thinks it gave John an opportunity to make the foot washing episode central and thus further his relational view of the church with a fleshing out of the command to love one another.
Another feature in John is that Jesus seems very specifically to predict his own death. John 18:32 claims that he had predicted crucifixion. I do not see how this is unique. In the synoptic gospels Jesus talks about taking up the cross. Anderson points out that there is nothing improbable about Jesus having anticipated his death. In recent times we can remember that Martin Luther King, Jr. seemed to anticipate his own death and see it as somehow redemptive.
Anderson makes a plausible case that some of the tension between Jesus and the authorities resulted from hostility of “Judeans” to Galileans. So he translates the references to “the Jews” as speaking of “Judeans”. A further point about this is that Judas, being from the village of Kerioth, seems to be the only Judean among the twelve.
The story of the arrest of Jesus by a troop of Jewish police and Pharisees led by Judas has a striking realism. So does the story of Jesus’ Jewish trial. This includes the preliminary examination before Annas who used to be the High Priest and probably still was the power behind the high priesthood. John also knows, correctly, that Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas. Anderson thinks it is improbable that John seems to have more real information about what happened than Mark and the others did.
Then there is the back-and-forth with Pilate about the kingdom of God. This would have been the real point of tension between Rome and Jesus. So John, whether he knew exactly what was said or not, probably got the main issue for Pilate right. The procurator had “the King of the Jews” written on the sign over the cross–probably as sarcasm. He declines the request to change the sign into a straightforward charge that Jesus “claimed” the title of king (John 19:21-22).
In John, Jesus tells Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world. John has shown Jesus previously avoiding an attempt to make him a king (John 6:15). So Jesus’ apparent claim that his kingdom was one of truth (John 18:37) rather than of military or political power seems right.
In the narrative of the crucifixion and burial Anderson again finds a realism that is not there in the other gospels.
Only John tells us about the three languages of the inscription over the cross and that it included the phrase “Jesus of Nazareth”.
Only John says the crucifixion took place close to the city (although Hebrews 13:12 seems to also say this). This would have served the Roman purpose of making the crucifixion as public as possible to warn insurrectionists.
Only John mentions the nails used in the crucifixion. Sometimes they only used ropes. But near Jerusalem we have found a skeleton from the time with a spike still through the heel bone.
John has the women near the cross during the crucifixion, while Mark seems to have them at some distance. Jesus giving his mother into the care of the beloved disciple “reflects human concerns and familial care” that are often part of real death scenarios.
John claims an eye-witness saw the piercing of Jesus’ side.
John seems to have a lot of very details about the burial (John 19:41-42) many of which are confirmed by Luke 23:53-54.
John’s gospel includes a lot of specifics such as that the police carried torches, that Peter warmed himself over a charcoal fire, that Annas had Jesus bound and sent to Caiaphas, that one of Peter’s questioners was a relative of Malchus, that Jesus was taken to the Praetorium, that Jews wouldn’t enter for fear of being made unclean for Passover, and that Pilate pronounced judgment from a place called “the Stone Pavement”.
John did not get these details from the other gospels. Anderson finds it impossible that John just made them up. Moreover, the idea that John had an independent passion source is an unprovable hypotheses. Anderson thinks that John was his own source.
There are certainly some implications to Anderson’s claim that gospel studies and theology have tended to de-Johannify Jesus. I notice, for instance, that articles about the teaching of Jesus usually only take the synoptic gospels into account. Does this skew the balance for “Red Letter Christians” who want to make more of the teaching of Jesus?
Today books that contain “gospel parallels” often only have the other three gospels in parallel columns. A way to begin to correct this would be to use Ralph Heim’s old Harmony of the Gospels, which includes John. There is another harmony in the NIV that revises the very old Robertson/Broadus harmony. However, I understand the revision somehow builds in a bias toward dispensational eschatology. I prefer to let the text speak for itself about such things.