Gospel of John Historical Jesus

John, Jesus, and History: Mark Allan Powell’s Thought Experiment

For the most part, historical Jesus scholarship has traditionally focused on the Synoptic Gospels. The Gospel of John has often been viewed as essentially irrelevant to the task of Jesus research. For a number of years, the “John, Jesus, and History” group at the Society of Biblical Literature has been challenging this perspective.

I was just reading something about the use of John in Jesus research and I recalled a passage from the first volume that the John, Jesus, and History group published. Mark Allan Powell writes:

If John’s Gospel had not made it into the canon, if it had been lost to history only to be discovered now, the impact on historical Jesus studies would be revolutionary. Imagine! A book on the life and teachings of Jesus that is almost as early as the Synoptic Gospels, that claims to be based in part on eyewitness testimony, that contains some material that is almost certainly very primitive, that may very well be independent of the other Gospels while corroborating what they say at many points, and that offers what is ultimately a rather different (although not wholly incompatible) spin on the Jesus story. The implications of such a discovery would be phenomenal: every work previously written on the historical Jesus would be deemed obsolete and the full attention of scholarship would turn toward discovering what this alternative tradition had to offer. Of course, nothing like this has occurred, but many scholars seem to be saying, “we do have such a book; perhaps we should not ignore it.”

Mark Allan Powell, “The De-Johannification of Jesus: The Twentieth Century and Beyond,” in John, Jesus, and History, Volume 1: Critical Appraisals of Critical Views, eds. Paul N. Anderson, Felix Just, S.J., and Tom Thatcher (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007), 132.

I have some quibbles with this. Among other things, I think there is good reason to believe that John was familiar with not only Mark, but also Luke and even Matthew. Nonetheless, Mark Allan Powell’s point is a good one: had we only recently discovered the Fourth Gospel, it would certainly be the sensational discovery of our day. It is a shame it is often ignored in Jesus research.

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