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IV

THE JOHANNINE SAYINGS

The Passion-sayings in the Fourth Gospel must now be examined. However difficult and contentious may be the problems which they raise, these sayings are part of the evidence on which an understanding of the thought of Jesus in relation to His Passion depends.

The most serious problem is the question how the sayings are to be regarded from the historical point of view. It cannot be said, in Great Britain at least, that any common opinion has been reached by New Testament scholars as a whole, although there is a wide and growing conviction that the sayings are not the ipsissima verba of Jesus, but words which in some degree owe their form to the Evangelist. This opinion can be expressed in very different ways. In the view of J. E. Carpenter, the members of the Johannine circle represent Jesus in the Fourth Gospel 'as speaking by anticipation in their name'.11   The Johannine Writings, 225. According to P. Gardner, the Evangelist gives the teaching of Jesus as Plato gives the teaching of Socrates.22   The Ephesian Gospel, 100ff.; cf. C. J. Cadoux, Christianity and Catholicism, 340. B. H. Streeter thinks that the original readers would not have supposed the author to mean that the doctrine propounded in the discourses was verbally identical with what Jesus actually taught in Palestine, 'but rather that it was organically related to what Christ taught 231 in such a way as to be the doctrine which Christ would have taught had he been explicitly dealing with the problems confronting the Church at the time when the Gospel was written.'11   The Four Gospels, 371. W. F. Howard holds that 'it is the Evangelist's manner to take a saying of Jesus and render it into an idiom that is rich in meaning for his own contemporaries'.22   The Fourth Gospel in Recent Criticism and Interpretation, 221. 'He also harps on a word or thought of the Master until it rings through the Gospel. But even more distinctive of the Johannine mind is the way in which he receives a deep saying which has only just found isolated expression in the earlier Gospels, and develops it throughout the Gospel.'33   Ibid.

The view that the sayings in the Fourth Gospel are original sayings of Jesus transposed into 'the Johannine idiom', receives strong justification when parallel utterances in the Synoptics are patiently examined; but, in the light of the facts as a whole, it cannot be regarded as a complete explanation. The theory is a very important part of the truth, but it is not the whole truth regarding the sayings. Once it is recognized that original utterances have been pondered and expressed in a new idiom, it is necessary to go further. Can we be sure that the process always begins with an original saying, especially when there is no Synoptic parallel? And in what form were original sayings present to the Evangelist's mind? In some cases he will have been familiar with sayings preserved in Mark, or, possibly, in Q and in some independent collection; but in other cases they would reach him in an oral form already modified in the course of transmission. Moreover, it is not easy to suppose that the process of recasting would invariably begin with a definite 232 saying. Could the Evangelist always distinguish with any precision between a saying he had received and an idea which, in his belief, represented the mind of Jesus? Whatever element of uncertainty these possibilities may introduce into questions of exegesis, they are real and must be taken seriously into account; all the more, because the Evangelist was probably conscious of working under the creative impulse of the Spirit who should take of the things of Christ and guide believers into all the truth (cf. Jn. xvi. 13f.). The conclusion, therefore, which we must draw is that no simple formula will carry us through the task of evaluating the Johannine sayings. Many of them are original sayings expressed in another idiom, but others are free productions in which the Evangelist, in the consciousness that he is led by the Spirit, expresses what he believes to be the mind of Christ.

This estimate of the Johannine sayings renders it impossible to present them in quite the same manner as that in which the Synoptic Passion-sayings have been treated. Perhaps the best method is to examine, first, the passages in which the Evangelist clearly speaks in his own person, both in the Gospel and in I John, then, the Passion-sayings which he puts into the lips of others than Jesus, and, finally, the Passion-sayings of Jesus Himself. In view of what has already been said these divisions cannot be said to be mutually exclusive; but the method has the advantage of beginning with what is simple and relatively certain and of proceeding thence to what, in the nature of the case, is difficult and more open to debate.


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