Monday, November 13, 2017

Did John redate the crucifixion?

i) For modern readers, there's an apparent discrepancy between Synoptic chronology (Mk 14:12) and Johannine chronology (Jn 19:14) regarding the date of the crucifixion. I say modern readers, because we need to distinguish between modem readers and ancient readers. Inevitably, Scripture sometimes presents hermeneutical difficulties for modern readers that wouldn't be difficult for the original audience inasmuch as they had a lot of background knowledge which Bible writers took for granted–information that's lost to us. 

ii) There are different ways in which scholars and commentators explain the apparent discrepancy. Liberals think it's a historical blunder. Conversely, some scholars harmonize the respective presentations in ways that preserve the historicity and inerrancy of both. I've quoted solutions by Roger Beckwith and Eugene Merrill. I think both are plausible. Edward Klink has an explanation that I'll quote in another post. 

iii) However, some scholars and commentators finesse the issue by positing that John changed the date of the crucifixion for symbolic reasons. That explanation may preserve the inerrancy of the text, but at the expense of historicity. 

iv) Yet other issues aside, it's not entirely clear why they assume John changed the chronology. Even if we grant, for discussion purposes, that the difference is due to theological redaction, why presume that John altered the chronology rather than the Synoptics?

Perhaps the assumption is that John is the last Gospel to be written, so while he was able to redact the Synoptic chronology, the Synoptics were in no position to redact the Johannine chronology–inasmuch as that didn't even exist at the time when Mark was written (or Matthew or Luke). 

v) Actually, I'm not convinced that John was the last Gospel. No doubt his Gospel was later than Mark, but I'm not sure it was later than Matthew or Luke. It may well be that all three (Matthew, Luke, John) were written in the 60s. See the case by Bishop Robinson in Redating the New Testament (SCM 1976), chap. 9.

vi) In addition, even if John's Gospel was written in the 90s, it doesn't follow that he's directly interacting with the Synoptics. He may be entirely independent of what they wrote. Of course, John and the Synoptics often overlap, yet that's not primarily due to literary dependence–if at all–but due to dependence on a common event: the life of Christ. They all share that reference point. That's the ultimate source.

vii) Furthermore, a good case can be made for Johannine authorship–or at very least, that the narrator was an eyewitness. But in that event, the author of John was at least as well informed as the Synoptics. So there's no presumption that Mark got it right while John got it wrong. Indeed, if you're going to insist that they can't both be right, there's evidence that John has a more intimate and systematic knowledge of dominical chronology than Mark. Just in general, John's chronology is more detailed and discriminating. And if he was the Beloved Disciple, he had more firsthand knowledge of Christ's itinerary than Mark.  

1 comment:

  1. I've been quite impressed by some of Blomberg's points directly *against* the re-dating of the crucifixion. For example: John's Gentile readers wouldn't even have gotten symbolic points about the precise day and time when Jesus was crucified.

    If the phrase "the Preparation for the Passover" even could mean the preparation for a Passover day that was *not* the Sabbath, Mark must be used in any event to decide whether Jesus was crucified on a Friday or not. If Mark must be used anyway for the day, then it's arbitrary to hold that John was changing Mark concerning the relationship to the Passover. In any event "Preparation for the Passover" is *extremely* naturally taken to mean (perhaps even best taken to mean) the preparation for the Saturday in the seven-day feast.

    For the time of the crucifixion (this is a good one) John doesn't even mention how long Jesus was on the cross. Therefore, to get the so-called symbolism of Jesus' death at the *time* of the death of the Passover lambs, one must *accept* Mark's (the synoptics') evidence concerning how long Jesus was on the cross and *combine* it with the "3rd hour" given in John, which poses an apparent discrepancy with Mark! It is extremely unlikely that any author would try to create a symbolic meaning in this way, requiring a reader to ignore part of another gospel while accepting a different detail from that same other gospel concerning these very matters (when and how long Jesus was on the cross).

    The reference to "eating the Passover" in 18:28 is not even properly explained by the "moved the date" theory if it is correct that they would *not* have been rendered unclean for eating an evening Passover (because they could have cleansed themselves by a simple hand-washing). So there is no point in invoking the "moved the day" theory for that verse.

    These points are icing on the cake on top of the (to my mind) decisive point that John is not the kind of author to think it's cool to make "theological points" by writing partial fiction. His own emphasis is on his own eyewitness to, for example, the literal fulfillment of prophecy.