Notes on the Fourth Gospel

By Alfred E. Garvie




(1) In dealing with this portion of the Fourth Gospel we are on ground common to it and the Synoptics, and are especially confronted with a discrepancy as regards the day and the hour of the death of Jesus. (i.) As regards the first point many scholars give the preference to the view of the Fourth Gospel, that the Lord's Supper was held · on the day prior to the Passover (xiii. l πρὸ δὲ τῆς ἑορτῆς τοῦ πάσχα, xviii. 28 ἵνα, μὴ μιανθῶσιν ἀλλὰ φάγωσιν τὸ πάσχα), and that Jesus died at the time when the Passover Lamb was being sacrificed. This seems to have been also Paul's view (τὸ πάσχα ἡμῶν ἐτύθη Χριστός l Cor. v. 7). It likewise appears to be the primary tradition in the Synoptics. According to Mark xiv. 2 (= Matt. xxvi. 5) the plan of the Jewish rulers was to take Jesus by craft, and to put Him to death, but " not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar of the people." "To the secondary tradition in the Synoptics is due the identification of the Last Supper with the Paschal meal; and to this view there are several objections. Work was going on (Mark xv. 21; Luke xxiii. 56) and arms' were being carried (Mark xiv. 47), both of which, as well as a meeting of the Sanhedrin, were strictly prohibited on the feast day. Some of the details preserved by the Synoptic Gospels about what happened on the day of the Crucifixion and the day after tally, in fact, with the primary tradition, and are inconsistent with the special identification of the Last Supper and the Passover. . . . The Synoptic Gospels are inconsistent with themselves, and the Fourth Gospel intervenes in support of the better tradition," (Moffatt's Introduction, etc., p. 544). Dr. Moffatt adds a very important general consideration. " The recognition of this has important bearings on the whole question of early Christian tradition, for if, in one case, the typological significance of an event is found to be derived from the event, there is a probability that in other cases an incident is not to be dismissed as unhistorical simply because it lends itself to a religious application or moral" (pp. 544-5). The evangelist did not invent history to illustrate doctrine, but actual history suggested doctrine to him. Dr. Moffatt also finds a confirmation of the Johannine view in the saying recorded by Luke. xxii. 15-16, in which Jesus expresses His desire to eat the Passover with His disciples, and also confesses the disappointment of His hope. The writer has preferred to set forth the argument in favour of the view of the Fourth Gospel in the words of a scholar who cannot be suspected, as he himself might be, of a bias to overestimate the value of the Gospel historically. (ii.) According to Mark xv. 25, to turn to the second point, the Crucifixion took place at the " third hour,'' that is nine in the morning; but according to John xix. 14 at the "sixth hour,'' that is noon, the trial was still going on. Not only has Mark three consistent notes of time: Jesus is brought to Pilate " straightway in the morning" (verse 1); the Crucifixion takes place at nine o'clock; and there is darkness from noon till three o'clock (verse 33); but the hour mentioned in the Fourth Gospel does not seem to allow time for all the events which followed before nightfall. Mark's notes of time might be challenged on the ground that as the slaughter of the Paschal lambs began at three o'clock, that hour would also be fixed as the time when the sacrifice of Christ was consummated; but against this view is the consideration that Mark places the Crucifixion on the day following the paschal meal, as he identifies the last supper with it. The difficulty has been evaded in several ways. A corruption of the text in the Fourth Gospel has been assumed (an ancient solution), and John is supposed to have used a different reckoning of time, corresponding to the modern, from midnight to noon, but even Westcott, who favours this explanation, admits that this mode was unusual (The Gospel of St. John, p. 282), and Dr. Sanday has given it up (Outlines, p. 147). Ramsay appeals to the elasticity of the reckoning of time in the East; but allowing for this to the utmost, could Mark's third hour follow John's sixth ~ With Dr. Sanday we must leave the question open, only adding that while in this instance the Synoptic reckoning seems more probable than the Johannine, yet that does not justify a suspicion of general inaccuracy in the Fourth Gospel.

(2) While it lies beyond the purpose of these articles to attempt a minute comparison of the Fourth Gospel with the Synoptics to produce a complete harmony of their contents, we may glance at the omissions and additions in the Fourth Gospel in so far as by these we may learn &0mething of the character of the Gospel and the qualifications of the evangelist. Westcott's Gospel of St. John on pp. 249-250 gives a useful summary of these omissions and additions. Without attempting to deal with them all we may select the more important. (i.) Why does the Fourth Gospel omit an account of the agony in Gethsemane; and pass at once to an account of the arrest? (xviii. 13). As the evangelist is not ashamed of the humanity of Jesus, but lays stress on it, we are not justified in saying that the agony was doctrinally offensive to him, and so he passed it over. In a previous article it was suggested that xii. 27 sounds like a faint echo of the Synoptic tradition of the scene at which the evangelist was not an eyewitness. A reason may now be suggested for his absence from the Garden at the Agony, and his presence at the Arrest. If he was, as has been argued hitherto, an influential citizen of Jerusalem, connected by some close relationship, as we shall conclude in discussing verse 15, with the high priest, if he was the host at the Last Supper, and if he alone knew why Judas had left the board, what more probable than that, when Jesus went to Gethsemane, he went to the high­priest's house to discover what was being done, and that he came to Gethsemane with, or soon after, the band sent to arrest Jesus? He had not reached the spot when Judas gave the traitor's kiss (Mark xiv. 44; Luke xxii. 48), and so he does not record it. For had he witnessed it, he, who was not inclined to spare the traitor any of his infamy (cf. xii. 6), would not have passed over the shameful act. He had arrived, however, when Jesus made the voluntary surrender. While the motive which he assigns in verse 4 is in accord with his theological attitude, the effect of Jesus' presence he records in verse 6 need not be regarded as doctrine turned into history; for a similar power to overawe a crowd is ascribed to Jesus by Luke (iv. 30); and there are many authentic instances of such influence exercised by a strong personality, Jesus' appeal that His disciples should be spared (verse 8) is quite consistent with His character, even although the reason given for it in the following verse again betrays the evangelist's stand­point, and if intended to indicate Jesus' motive introduces an artificiality which we may be sure had no place in the "inner life" of Jesus. The mention of the name Malchus (verse 10) is not a suspicious realistic touch; but a proof of the evangelist's more intimate knowledge of the house­hold of the high priest. The words in which Jesus rebukes Peter repeat the image of the prayer in Gethsemane, and so bear the mark of authenticity (verse 11); and it is significant that the fourth evangelist offers us this close link with the Synoptic record. (ii.) Why, again, does the Fourth Gospel alone record the private examination before Annas or Caiaphas (xviii. 12-14, 19-24), and omit any men­tion of the public trial recorded by the Synoptics? We may here also surely follow the clue which has led us hitherto: The evangelist alone was present as a privileged spectator at the private examination, while the twelve who had forsaken Jesus at His arrest and fled made no attempt to rejoin Him for some time, even if it had been possible for them to gain admission. When Peter did venture back, it was only the influence of the disciple known to the high priest, i.e., the evangelist, which secured him admission to the outer court (verse 16), not the inner chamber, where the examination was going on. It is probable that as soon as the evangelist learned the intentions of this private conclave regarding Jesus, the confirmation of which by the public assembly of the Sanhedrin seemed certain, he did not wait any longer, but made his way to the palace of Pilate to use what influence he had to convey to the procurator the truth about the situation. Do not Pilate's attitude and conversation indicate that he knew more about Jesus than his accusers were imparting; and is not a reasonable explanation the intervention in some form of the evangelist? It must be admitted, however, that the course of events is not made quite clear in this passage. Is the high priest referred to in verse 19 Annas or Caiaphas? Verses 13 and 24 would indicate Caiaphas; but if Caiaphas examined Jesus in the house of Annas, why did Annas send Jesus bound to Caiaphas (verse 24) to undergo presumably another examination? Even if the high priest was Annas, since he bears that title in Acts iv. 6, and shares it with Caiaphas in Luke iii. 2, why after the examination was Jesus sent to Caiaphas? Further, the division into two parts of the story of Peter (verses 15-18 and 25-27) forces on us the conclusion that here again we are faced with a displacement. Dr. Mofiatt (The New Testament, p. 139) inserts verses 19-24 between verses 14 and 15, and so makes verses 15-18 continuous with verses 25-27, while omitting 25a as a repetition of 18a. This arrangement requires us to assume that the high priest in verse 19 is Caiaphas; but if he conducted the examination even in the house of Annas, why are we told in verse 24 that it was Annas who sent Jesus to Caiaphas? This difficulty remains. "The dispatch of Jesus," says Dr. Mofiatt, " to the latter ceases to be purposeless, as it is in the traditional order" (Introduction, p. 558). Surely this claim is unjustified. unless verse 24 is placed before verse 19. Then the order of events becomes clear. Taken to the house of Annas for some purpose of which we are now ignorant, and of which the evangelist himself may not have had personal knowledge, as he may not have had as free access to the house of Annas as to that of Caiaphas, Jesus was sent bound to Caiaphas, by whom the private examination was conducted. It is a bare conjecture that Annas had been more active in securing Jesus' arrest than Caiaphas, and that the captors would therefore go to him for further directions; but that to preserve the appearance of legality, as soon as possible the prisoner was sent to the high priest himself. It may be added that verse 15 speaks of the court of the high priest, and so presupposes that the removal from the house of Annas to that of Caiaphas had taken place, a further justification of the rearrangement proposed. But if, as is probable, the evangelist was present at the private examination within the chamber, while Peter was outside in the court while it was going on, that is an additional reason for placing verse 24 before verse 19. A minor point in this passage demands a brief notice. The evangelist's description of Caiaphas as "high priest that same year" (verse 13) is no proof of his ignorance of Jewish customs, for the words do not mean that he regarded the high priesthood as an annual appointment, but simply mean that in the recollection of the evangelist the year of the death of Jesus stood out from all other years, and the one thing memorable about Caiaphas was that he was the religious head of the nation in the year which was so significant for its destiny.

(iii.) It has been necessary to refer to the passage which deals with Peter's denial, and a restoration of its unity has been suggested (verses 15-18, 25b-27). John's account does not agree closely with the Synoptics; but the differences are not such as to challenge his trustworthiness as a historian. As has just been suggested, he was no eye­witness of the scene, but was within the chamber when the examination of Jesus was going on at the same time. If he got his account secondhand even from Peter himself, the condition of the disciple who denied at the time was such that he probably had not so distinct a recollection as always to give a quite coherent account. And it is not impossible that the account came to the evangelists through some servant in the high priest's court. Of such a. scene different eyewitnesses would give very varying accounts. It is not necessary to attempt the task of harmonising. The significance of verses 15 and 16 as regards the personality of the evangelist must be reserved for subsequent discussion.

(iv.) Peculiar to the Fourth Gospel is the account of the first conference of the Jews with Pilate and Pilate's private examinations of Jesus (xviii. 28-38a; xix. 9-11). We may offer the same explanation as before. At the conference and private examinations the evangelist was present, as one who had access to the governor as he had to the high priest. Possibly the language of Jesus has been modified to some extent by the characteristic phraseology of the evangelist, and his distinctive view of the truth and witness-bearing. The conversation between Pilate and Jesus does not appear at all improbable, even if we have not a verbatim report of it. Pilate was anxious to discover if Jesus cherished the political ambition charged against Him. Jesus convinced Pilate that no danger to the Roman dominion need be feared from Him. In emphasising the spirituality of His aims He impressed Pilate as a harmless visionary. The contemptuous, sceptical question, What is truth? suits both context and occasion.

Verse 32 betrays the evangelist's theological interest and standpoint. Is it likely that Jesus in speaking to Pilate would have described His enemies as the Jews (verse 36), as He is also represented as doing in addressing His disciples (xiii. 33)? A characteristic of the evangelist's terminology has been transferred to the speech of Jesus. The account in the Fourth Gospel covers common ground with the Synoptics as regards the offer of the release of a prisoner, and the choice of Barabbas rather than Jesus (xviii. 39-40); but differs from the Synoptics in placing a scourging, a meeting by the soldiers, and the Ecce Homo (xix. 15) between this choice and the call for crucifixion. He alone reports the charge of blasphemy made by the chief priests and officers (verse 7), when Pilate refused to condemn on the political accusation; and Pilate's attempt to probe the matter to the bottom in the second private interview with Jesus (verses 9-11).

Jesus' silence at the beginning in this second inquiry was a rebuke of the treatment of His previous declaration by Pilate (xviii. 38); but it was broken in compassion to remind Pilate, who claimed the authority of judge, that his position involved the obligation of righteous judgment. There is a touch of pity in the declaration that Caiaphas' sin was made the more heinous because he was using the Roman judge as his tool, and in the indirect indication that in consenting to be so used Pilate himself could not remain guiltless. In all these and other additional details there is nothing that need excite our suspicion; as the evangelist had sources of information which the Synoptists lacked, and their accounts cannot be taken as the absolute standard of historical accuracy.

(v.) In the final encounter of Pilate with the Jews (1216) ending in his weak compliance the fourth evangelist is in substantial agreement with the Synoptists, although differing in detail. His omission of the second mockery after the condemnation, the impressments of Simon, the lamentations of the women and Jesus' compassionate warning, the repentance of the second robber,. is no proof of any tendency; but rather confirms the assumption which the writer believes all the evidence warrants, that the evangelist almost entirely reported only what he had himself seen and heard; and this is surely a safer clue to follow in explaining both omissions and additions than the constant ascription of this or that tendency unless the evangelist's pragmatism is quite obvious.

(vi.) Without noticing any further details of the narrative we may concentrate our attention on the words from the Cross reported by John alone, the last charge, the cry of bodily need, the sigh of relief or shout of triumph (xix. 26, 27, 28, 30). That the mother of Jesus was committed to the care of the beloved disciple is not in itself improbable, because the brethren of Jesus had remained unbelieving, and the tragedy of the Cross was likely to harden them in unbelief; because he alone had a home in Jerusalem, to which he could at once take her; and because he, with his more intimate knowledge of the mind of Jesus, could help and comfort her more than any of the twelve. If, whenever the charge was given, he led the mother away to his home (verse 27), his absence for a time from the Cross may explain his silence regarding one or two of the sayings recorded elsewhere. Even if he reported the confession of thirst in opposition to the docetism which he met with in his later years, yet such a cry is altogether probable, as a burning thirst was one of the worst tortures accompanying crucifixion. Whatever meaning we attach to the words " It is finished," whether uttered in resignation or in triumph, there is nothing intrinsically improbable in them. The omission of the cry of desolation need not be explained by the evangelist's Christology ; but it may have been uttered during his absence for the reason given in verse 27. Of the phenomenon recorded in verse 34 there is said to be a physiological explanation, and the narrative has no hint of the symbolical meaning which seems to be assigned in 1 John v. 6, although the reference there may be to the Baptism and Crucifixion; and we need not here assume that history is invented to illustrate doctrine.

The 28th verse has a suspicious appearance at first sight, but it vanishes if we accept Marcus Dods' explanation. " Jesus did not feel thirsty and proclaim it with the intention of fulfilling Scripture, which would be a spurious fulfilment, but in His complaint and the response to it, John sees a fulfilment of Psalm lxix. 22" (Expositor's Greek Testament, i. p. 858). This argument from prophecy appears also in verses 24, 36, and 37, but there is nothing in the details in which such fulfilment is found to warrant the assumption that the history was made to shape the prophecy. In verse 35 the evangelist may appear to " protest too much "; but it is by no means certain that the verse is the evangelist's. Probably it is an editorial gloss, such as may be suspected elsewhere, an attestation of the trustworthiness of the eyewitness whose record the Gospel claims to be. Why it should be inserted just at this point it is hard to understand. The phenomenon may have appeared so extraordinary as to demand specially reliable evidence. Or a symbolical meaning afterwards attached to it may have seemed so important as to demand such emphasis. Whatever the explanation, we are not compelled to charge the evangelist with an ostentatious display of his own trustworthiness.

(3) We must now consider the significance of the state­ment in xviii. 15 that " that disciple was known unto the high priest." Is it likely that a Galilean fisherman would have such acquaintance with the high priest, and such access to his house? Even if, as has been conjectured, John, the son of Zebedee, looked after the sale of his father's fish in Jerusalem, and the high priest was a customer, is the fishmonger more likely than the fishermen to have had this privileged position? During the ministry of Jesus this John was with Jesus in Galilee, and if he be identified with the unnamed disciple who followed Jesus, he was with John the Baptist before that; and so he had not so recent a connexion with the high priest's

household as the description suggests. It has again and again been pointed out how familiar the evangelist was with the varied and varying state of opinion and senti­ment in Jerusalem, how well informed he was of the designs of the priesthood against Jesus; and in this article it has already been suggested as probable that he was an eye­witness of the private examination before Caiaphas, and also of the private interview of Jesus with Pilate. This, combined with the statement here, is surely cumulative evidence that he was a person of distinction and influence in Jerusalem. A confirmation of this view may be found in the testimony of Polycrates, bishop of Ephesus, in a letter written to Rome about 190 A.D., that "John, too, who leaned on the Lord's breast, who had been a priest and worn the high priest's mitre (τὸ πέταλον), both witness (μάρτυς) and teacher he sleeps in Ephesus" (Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, Bk. v., c. 24). Professor Burkitt's com­ment on this statement is, " Here it is definitely implied that the Fourth Evangelist was a member of one of the chief priestly families" (The Gospel History, p. 251). According to this writer the conclusions we may draw about the evangelist are that (1) he had been a Jew of Jerusalem;

(2) he had been (as some evidence in his Gospel indicates his views of the resurrection and angels) an adherent of the Sadducean party; (3) he had been a priest, for he describes himself as known unto the high priest (xviii. 15), and Polycrates ascribes to him even high priestly functions. If it be objected that a disciple of such position would have been expressly mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, we may recall what has been before said about what appears to be the intentional concealment in the Synoptics in regard to the family in Bethany; and we may further observe that, if this Gospel is to be trusted, there were Judean disciples, and yet in the history of the early church these Judman disciples do not come into prominence. Wal!I there a reason in some family connexion why the evangelist did not openly cast in his lot with the primitive community, and hold a conspicuous position in it? Did he hope by avoiding an open breach with the priesthood to continue the exercise of his influence on behalf of the disciples as we have conjectured he did on behalf of the Master? Can xii. 42-43 contain a personal confession? Such questions are worth pondering.