I’m going to be talking about the Bible today. Don’t worry: I’m not going to ask you’ve accepted Jesus Christ is your personal savior or anything like that. I’m not wearing a white shirt with a monochrome tie and a crewcut: no, I’m sitting on a barstool in my unbuttoned-sleeve paisley shirt, trying not to get my ponytail in my vegan cheeseburger pockets.
Now that I’ve established just what sort of crazy obsessive person I am, let’s get to the topic. Those who know a little about the New Testament know that the story of Jesus is divided into four gospels: the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each is supposedly written by a different Apostle of Jesus, and records their “eyewitness” view of Jesus’ deeds. With me so far?
We’re going to discuss John today. Why John? Because his Gospel is the most widely divergent of the four: the other three tell roughly the same story in the same order and describe the story’s events in a similar fashion. Jesus speaks mostly in parables and performs judgments and miracles. Though they differ slightly in what deeds and characteristics from Jesus’ story they emphasize, they see things so similarly that scholars know them as the “synoptic gospels”, synoptic roughly meaning “seeing the same”.
That makes John a bit of an outsider. John’s version of Jesus had some important differences than that portrayed in the other gospels. For one, John’s Jesus speaks of himself quite a bit. This is a big departure from the synoptics, whose Jesus never really talks about himself as someone of great importance. In the synoptics, Jesus’ actions speak for themselves; in John, he feels the need to get explicit.
He starts saying things like “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh to the Father, but by me.” Sounds a little far from “nor shall they say, Lo, here, or Lo, there; for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” In fact, John’s the book that introduces the whole theme of darkness and light into Christian thought.
It all sounds a little… Greek. Neo-platonic, to be specific. The neo-platonics believed that there is one true “thing” in the universe, and that the goal of a spiritual life is to become closer to this One, and enjoy eternal life. The flipside? If you are far away from the One – if you do not have knowledge of the One – then you will be lost in darkness forever. The One is known by the Greek name logos, the Word. So John starts: “In the beginning there was the Word, and the word was with God…”
What did this neo-platonic infusion bring to Christianity, you ask? It made it trendy. It was the Roaring Zeroes and grueling spiritual journeys toward absolution were sexy. The cult of Mithras was in full swing –
“[F]irst beginning of my beginning, …spirit of spirit, the first spirit in me, …now if it be your will, …give me over to immortal birth and, following that, to my underlying nature, so that, after the present need which is pressing me exceedingly, I may gaze upon the immortal beginning with the immortal spirit, …that I may be born again in thought.”
- as was the cult of Hermes –
“And I do say: Who art thou?
He saith: I am Man-Shepherd, Mind of all-masterhood; I know what thou desirest and I’m with thee everywhere.”
So the Church Fathers gave Jesus a makeover. Scholars suspect that John was written by Church fathers decades after the other three gospels. In my mind, this explains Jesus’ self-explanations of his meta-physical nature in John.
There’s one other important thing that these clarifications do: it draws a dividing line between the “in” and the “out”, starting a two millennia long war of clarification between the saved and the damned. It detracts from what I think is Jesus’ true message, one of inclusion, goodwill towards others, and hope, replacing it with a recipe for top-down leadership, dogma, and “us vs. them” thinking. It’s sad how this early twisting of words could bring so much evil into the world.
That’s my bit. It was unscientific but hopefully thought-provoking and entertaining. I’ll be happy to argue it out below.
-Marshall Edwards has a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and Religion, and has been writing since 2007, mostly in the field of Graphic Novels. You can contact him via email email@example.com.
If you are interested in writing a guest post for Screaming Voice of Reason, please email me: Mbrotherton@ScreamingVoiceofReason.com