I apologize for the length, but this is something everyone should be made aware of.
A COMPARISON BETWEEN THE FOURTH GOSPEL AND THE THREE SYNOPTICS
EVERY one, at least in the educated classes, knows that the authenticity of the fourth gospel has been long and widely disputed. The most careless reader is struck by the difference of tone between the simple histories ascribed to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and the theological and philosophical treatise which bears the name of John. After following the three narratives, so simple in their structure, so natural in their style, so unadorned by rhetoric, so free from philosophic terms,—after reading these, it is with a feeling of surprise that we find ourselves, plunged into the bewildering mazes of the Alexandrine philosophy, and open our fourth gospel to be told that, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” We ask instinctively, “How did John, the fisherman of Galilee, learn these phrases of the Greek schools, and why does he mix up the simple story of his master with the philosophy of that ‘world which by wisdom knew not God?'”
The general Christian tradition is as follows: The spread of “heretical” views about the person of Jesus alarmed the “orthodox” Christians, and they appealed to John, the last aged relic of the apostolic band, to write a history of Jesus which should confute their opponents, and establish the essential deity of the founder of their religion. At their repeated solicitations, John wrote the gospel which bears his name, and the doctrinal tone of it is due to its original intention,—a treatise written against Cerinthus, and designed to crush, with the authority of an apostle, the rising doubts as to the pre-existence and absolute deity of Jesus of Nazareth. So far non-Christians and Christians—including the writer of the gospel—are agreed. This fourth gospel is not—say Theists—a simple biography of Jesus written by a loving disciple as a memorial of a departed and cherished friend, but a history written with a special object and to prove a certain doctrine. “St. John’s gospel is a polemical (quarrelsome) treatise,” echoes Dr. Liddon. “These are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” confesses the writer himself. Now, in examining the credibility of any history, one of the first points to determine is whether the historian is perfectly unbiased in his judgment and is therefore likely give facts exactly as they occurred, un-colored by views of his own. Thus we do not turn to the pages of a Roman Catholic historian to gain a fair idea of Luther; rather, in reading the history of a partisan, do we instinctively make allowances for the recognized bias of his mind and heart.
That the fourth gospel comes to us prefaced by the announcement that it is written, not to give us a history, but to prove a certain predetermined opinion, is, then, so much doubt cast at starting on its probable accuracy; and, by the constitution of our minds, we at once guard ourselves against a too ready acquiescence in its assertions, and become anxious to test its statements by comparing them with some independent and more impartial authority. The history may be most accurate, but we require proof that the writer is never seduced into slightly—perhaps unconsciously—coloring an incident so as to favor the object he has at heart. For instance, Matthew, an honest writer enough, is often betrayed into most non-natural quotation of prophecy by his anxiety to connect Jesus with the Messiah expected by his countrymen. This latent wish of his leads him to insert various quotations from the Jewish Scriptures which, severed from their context, have a verbal similarity with the events he narrates. Thus, he refers to Hosea’s mention of the Exodus: “When Israel was a child then I loved him and called my son out of Egypt,” and by quoting only the last six words gives this as a “prophecy” of an alleged journey of Jesus into Egypt. Such an instance as this shows us how a man may allow himself to be blinded by a pre-conceived determination to prove a certain fact, and warns us to sift carefully any history that comes to us with the announcement that it is written to prove such and such a truth.
Unfortunately we have no independent contemporary history—except a sentence of Josephus—whereby to test the accuracy of the Christian records; we are therefore forced into the somewhat unsatisfactory task of comparing them one with another, and in cases of diverging testimony we must strike the balance of probability between them.
On examining, then, these four biographies of Jesus, we find a remarkable similarity between three of them, amid many divergences of detail; some regard them, therefore, as the condensation into writing of the oral teaching of the apostles, preserved in the various Churches they severally founded, and so, naturally, the same radically, although diverse in detail. “The synoptic Gospels contain the substance of the Apostles’ testimony, collected principally from their oral teaching current in the Church, partly also from written documents embodying portions of that teaching.”* Others think that the gospels which we possess, and which are ascribed severally to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are all three derived from an original gospel now lost, which was probably written in Hebrew or Aramaic, and variously translated into Greek. However this may be, the fact that such a statement as this has been put forward proves the striking similarity, the root identity, of the three “synoptical gospels,” as they are called.
We gather from them an idea of Jesus which is substantially the same: a figure, calm, noble, simple, generous; pure in life, eager to draw men to that love of the Father and devotion to the Father which were his own distinguishing characteristics; finally, a teacher of a simple and high-toned morality, perfectly unfettered by dogmatism. The effect produced by the sketch of the Fourth Evangelist is totally different. The friend of sinners has disappeared (except in the narrative of the woman taken in adultery, which is generally admitted to be an interpolation), for his whole time is occupied in arguing about his own position; “the common people” who followed and “heard him gladly” and his enemies, the Scribes and Pharisees, are all massed together as “the Jews,” with whom he is in constant collision; his simple style of teaching—parabolic indeed, as was the custom of the East, but consisting of parables intelligible to a child—is exchanged for mystical discourses, causing perpetual misunderstandings, the true meaning of which is still wrangled about by Christian theologians; his earnest testimony to “your heavenly Father” is replaced by a constant self-assertion; while his command “do this and ye shall live,” is exchanged for “believe on me or perish.”
How great is the contrast between that discourse and the Sermon on the Mount…. In the last discourse it is His Person rather than his teaching which is especially prominent. His subject in that discourse is Himself.
Certainly he preaches himself in His relationship to His redeemed; but still he preaches above all, and in all, Himself. All radiates from Himself; all converges towards Himself…. in those matchless words all centers so consistently in Jesus that it might seem that “Jesus Alone is before us.”* These and similar differences, both of direct teaching and of the more subtle animating spirit, I propose to examine in detail; but before entering on these it seems necessary to glance at the disputed question of the authorship of our history, and determine whether, if it prove apostolic, it must therefore be binding on us.
From the account contained in the English Bible of John the Apostle, I gather the following points of his character: He was warm-hearted to his friends, bitter against his enemies, filled with a fiery and unbridled zeal against theological opponents; he was ambitious, egotistical, and pharisaical. I confess that I trace these characteristics through all the writings ascribed to him, and that they seem to be only softened by age in the fourth gospel. his unbridled zeal was rebuked by his master; the same cruel spirit is intensified in his “Revelation;” his ambition is apparent in his anxiety for a chief seat in Messiah’s kingdom; his egotism appears in the fearful curse he imprecates on those who alter his revelation; his pharisaism is marked in such a feeling as, “we know we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.” Many of these qualities appear to me to mark the gospel which bears his name; the same restricted tenderness, the same bitterness against opponents, the same fiery zeal for “the truth,” i.e., a special theological dogma, are everywhere apparent.
The same egotism is most noticeable, for in the other gospels John shares his master’s chief regard with two others, while here he is “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” and he is especially prominent in the closing scenes of Jesus’ life as the only faithful follower. We should also notice the remarkable similarity of expression and tone between the fourth gospel and the first epistle of John, a similarity the more striking as the language is peculiar to the writings attributed to John. It is, however, with the utmost diffidence that I offer these suggestions, well knowing that the greatest authorities are divided on this point of authorship, and that the balance is rather against the apostolic origin of the gospel than for it. I am, however, anxious to show that, even taking it as apostolic, it is untrustworthy and utterly unworthy of credit.
If John be the writer, we must suppose that his long residence in Ephesus had gradually obliterated his Jewish memories, so that he speaks of “the Jews” as a foreigner would. The stern Jewish monotheism would have grown feebler by contact with the subtle influence of the Alexandrine tone of thought; and he would have caught the expressions of that school from living in a city which was its second home. To use the Greek philosophy as a vehicle for Christian teaching would recommend itself to him as the easiest way of approaching minds imbued with these mystic ideas. Regarding the master of his youth through the glorifying medium of years, he gradually began to imagine him to be one of the emanations from the Supreme, of which he heard so much. Accustomed to the deification of Roman emperors, men of infamous lives, he must have been almost driven to claim divine honors for his leader. If his hearers regarded them as divine, what could he say to exalt him except that he was ever with God, nay, was himself God? If John be the writer of this gospel, some such change as this must have passed over him, and in his old age the gradual accretions of years must have crystallized themselves into a formal Christian theology.
The first striking peculiarity of this gospel is that all the people in it talk in exactly the same style and use the same markedly peculiar phraseology, (a) “The Father loveth the Son and hath given all things into his hand.” (b) “For the Father loveth the Son and showeth him all things that Himself doeth.” (c) “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hand.” These sentences are evidently the outcome of the same mind, and no one, unacquainted with our gospel, would guess that (a) was spoken by John the Baptist, (b) by Jesus, (c) by the writer of the gospel. When the Jews speak, the words still run in the same groove: “If any man be a worshipper of God, and doeth His will, him He heareth,” is not said, as might be supposed, by Jesus, but by the man who was born blind. Indeed, commentators are sometimes puzzled, as in John III. 10-21, to know where, if at all, the words of Jesus stop and are succeeded by the commentary of the narrator. In an accurate history different characters stand out in striking individuality, so that we come to recognize them as distinct personalities, and can even guess beforehand how they will probably speak and act under certain conditions. But here we have one figure in various disguises, one voice from different speakers, and one mind in opposing characters.
We have here no beings of flesh and blood, but airy phantoms, behind which we see clearly the solitary preacher. For Jesus and John the Baptist are two characters as distinct as can well be imagined, yet their speeches are absolutely indistinguishable, and their thoughts run in the same groove. Jesus tells Nicodemus: “We speak that we do know and testify that we have seen, and ye receive not our witness; and no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven.” John says to his disciples: “He that cometh from heaven is above all, and what he hath seen and heard that he testifies, and no man receiveth his testimony.” But it is wasting time to prove so self-evident a fact: let us rather see how a Christian advocate meets an argument whose force he cannot deny. “The character and diction of our Lord’s discourses entirely penetrated and assimilated the habits of thought of His beloved Apostle; so that in his first epistle he writes in the very tone and spirit of those discourses; and when reporting the sayings of his former teacher, the Baptist, he gives them, consistently with the deepest inner truth of narration, the forms and cadences so familiar and habitual to himself.”*
But further, that the “character and diction” of this gospel are molded on that of Jesus, seems a most unwarrantable assertion. Through all the recorded sayings of Jesus in the three gospels, there is no trace of this very peculiar style, except in one case of Matt. XI 27 a passage which comes in abruptly and unconnectedly, and stands absolutely alone in style in the three synoptics, a position which throws much doubt on its authenticity. It has been suggested that this marked difference of style arises from the different auditories addressed in the three gospels and in the fourth; on this we remark that (a), we intuitively recognize such discourses as that in Matt. X. as perfectly consistent with the usual style of Jesus, although this is addressed to “his own;” (b), In this fourth gospel the discourses addressed to “his own” and to the Jews are in exactly the same style; so that, neither in this gospel, nor in the synoptics do we find any difference—more than might be reasonably expected—between the style of the discourses addressed to the disciples and those addressed to the multitudes. But we do find a very marked difference between the style attributed to Jesus by the three synoptics and that put into his mouth by the fourth evangelist; this last being a style so remarkable that, if usual to Jesus, it is impossible that its traces should not appear through all his recorded speeches. From which fact we may, I think, boldly deduce the conclusion that the style in question is not that of Jesus, the simple carpenter’s son, but is one caught from the dignified and stately march of the oratory of Ephesian philosophers, and is put into his mouth by the writer of his life. And this conclusion is rendered indubitable by the fact above-mentioned, that all the characters adopt this poetically and musically-rounded phraseology.
Thus our first objection against the trustworthiness of our historian is that all the persons he introduces, however different in character, speak exactly alike, and that this style, when put into the mouth of Jesus, is totally different from that attributed to him by the three synoptics. We conclude, therefore, that the style belongs wholly to the writer, and that he cannot, consequently, be trusted in his reports of speeches. The major part, by far the most important part, of this gospel is thus at once stamped as untrustworthy.
Let us next remark the partiality attributed by this gospel to Him Who has said—according to the Bible—”all souls-are Mine.” We find the doctrine of predestination, i.e., of favoritism, constantly put forward. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me.” “No man can come to me except the Father draw him.” “That of all which He hath given me I should lose nothing.” “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” “Though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled.” “Therefore, they could not believe because that Esaias said. I have chosen you out of the world.” “Thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given him?” “Those that thou gavest me I have kept and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” These are the most striking of the passages which teach that doctrine which has been the most prolific parent of immorality and the bringer of despair to the sinner. Frightfully immoral as it is, this doctrine is taught in all its awful hopelessness and plainness by this gospel: some “could not believe” because an old prophet prophesied that they should not-So, “according to St. John,” these unbelieving Jews were pre-ordained to eternal damnation and the abiding wrath of God. They were cast into an endless hell, which “they could not” avoid. We reject this gospel, secondly, for the partiality it dares to attribute to Almighty God.
We will now pass to the historical discrepancies between this gospel and the three synoptics, following the order of the former.
It tells us (ch. I) that at the beginning of his ministry Jesus was at Bethabara, a town near the junction of the Jordan with the Dead Sea; here he gains three disciples, Andrew and another, and then Simon Peter: the next day he goes into Galilee and finds Philip and Nathanael, and on the following day—somewhat rapid travelling—he is present, with these disciples, at Cana, where he performs his first miracle, going afterwards with them to Capernaum and Jerusalem. At Jerusalem, whither he goes for “the Jews’ Passover,” he drives out the traders from the temple, and remarks, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up:” which remark causes the first of the strange misunderstandings between Jesus and the Jews, peculiar to this Gospel, simple misconceptions which Jesus never troubles himself to set right. Jesus and his disciples then go to the Jordan, baptizing, whence Jesus departs into Galilee with them, because he hears that the Pharisees know he is becoming more popular than the Baptist (ch. IV 1-3). All this happens before John is cast into prison, an occurrence which is a convenient note of time. We turn to the beginning of the ministry of Jesus as related by the three.
Jesus is in the south of Palestine, but, hearing that John is cast into prison, he departs into Galilee, and resides at Capernaum. There is no mention of any ministry in Galilee and Judaea before this; on the contrary, it is only “from that time” that “Jesus began to preach.” He is alone, without disciples, but, walking by the sea, he comes upon Peter, Andrew, James, and John, and calls them. Now if the fourth gospel is true, these men had joined him in Judaea, followed him to Galilee, south again to Jerusalem, and back to Galilee, had seen his miracles and acknowledged him as Christ, so it seems strange that they had deserted him and needed a second call, and yet more strange is it that Peter (Luke V 1:2) was so astonished and amazed at the miracle of the fishes. The driving out of the traders from the temple is placed by the synoptics at the very end of his ministry, and the remark following it is used against him at his trial: so was probably made just before it.
The next point of contact is the history of the 5000 fed by five loaves (ch. VI), the preceding chapter relates to a visit to Jerusalem unnoticed by the three: indeed, the histories seem written of two men, one the “prophet of Galilee” teaching in its cities, the other concentrating his energies on Jerusalem. The account of the miraculous, feeding is alike in all: not so the succeeding account of the conduct of the multitude. In the fourth gospel, Jesus and the crowd fall to disputing, as usual, and he loses many disciples: among the three, Luke says nothing of the immediately following events, while Matthew and Mark tell us that the multitudes—as would be natural—crowded round him to touch even the hem of his garment. This is the same as always: in the three the crowd loves him; in the fourth it carps at and argues with him.
We must again miss the sojourn of Jesus in Galilee, according to the three, and his visit to Jerusalem, according to the one, and pass to his entry into Jerusalem in triumph. Here we notice a most remarkable divergence: the synoptics tell us that he was going up to Jerusalem from Galilee, and, arriving on his way at Bethphage, he sent for an ass and rode thereon into Jerusalem: the fourth gospel relates that he was dwelling at Jerusalem, and leaving it, for fear of the Jews, he retired, not into Galilee, but “beyond Jordan, into the place where John at first baptised,” i.e., Bethabara, “and there he abode” From there he went to Bethany and raised to life a putrefying corpse: this stupendous miracle is never appealed to by the earlier historians in proof of their master’s greatness, though “much people of the Jews” are said to have seen Lazarus after his resurrection: this miracle is also given as the reason for the active hostility of the priests, “from that day forward.” Jesus then retires to Ephraim near the wilderness, from which town he goes to Bethany, and thence in triumph to Jerusalem, being met by the people “for that they heard that he had done this miracle.”
The two accounts have absolutely nothing in common except the entry into Jerusalem, and the preceding events of the synoptics exclude those of the fourth gospel, as does the latter theirs. If Jesus abode in Bethabara and Ephraim, he could not have come from Galilee; if he started from Galilee, he was not abiding in the south. John xiii.-xvii stands alone, with the exception of the mention of the traitor. On the arrest of Jesus, he is led (ch. 18 13) to Annas, who sends him to Caiaphas, while the others send him direct to Caiaphas, but this is immaterial. He is then taken to Pilate: the Jews do not enter the judgment-hall, lest, being defiled, they could not eat the Passover, a feast which, according to the synoptics, was over, Jesus and his disciples having eaten it the night before. Jesus is exposed to the people at the sixth hour (ch. xix. 14), while Mark tells us he was crucified three hours before—at the third hour—a note of time which agrees with the others, since they all relate that there was darkness from the sixth to the ninth hour, i.e., there was thick darkness at the time when, “according to St. John,” Jesus was exposed. Here our evangelist is in hopeless conflict with the three.
The accounts of the resurrection are irreconcilable in all the gospels, and mutually destructive. It remains to notice, among these discrepancies, one or two points which did not come in conveniently in the course of the narrative. During the whole of the fourth gospel, we find Jesus constantly arguing for his right to the title of Messiah. Andrew speaks of him as such (i. 41); the Samaritans acknowledge him (iv. 42); Peter owns him (vi. 69); the people call him so-(vii. 26, 31, 41); Jesus claims it (viii. 24); it is the subject of a law (ix. 22); Jesus speaks of it as already claimed by him (x. 24, 25); Martha recognizes it (xi. 27). We thus find that, from the very first, this title is openly claimed by Jesus, and his right to it openly canvassed by the Jews. But in the three, the disciples acknowledge him as Christ and he charges them to “tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ” (Matt. xvi. 20; Mark viii. 29, 30; Luke ix. 20, 21) and this in the same year that he blames the Jews for not owning this Messiahship, since he had told them who he was. “from the beginning” (ch. viii. 24, 25); so that, if “John” was right, we fail to see the object of all the mystery about it, related by the synoptics.
We mark, too, how Peter is, in their account, praised for confessing him, for flesh and blood had not revealed it to him, while in the fourth gospel, “flesh and blood,” in the person of Andrew, reveal to Peter that the Christ is found; and there seems little praise due to Peter for a confession which had been made two or three years earlier by Andrew, Nathanael, John Baptist, and the Samaritans. Contradiction can scarcely be more direct. In John vii, Jesus owns that the Jews know his birthplace (28), and they state (41, 42) that he comes from Galilee, while Christ should be born at Bethlehem. Matthew and Luke distinctly say Jesus was born at Bethlehem; but here Jesus confesses the right knowledge of those who attribute his birthplace to Galilee, instead of setting their difficulty at rest by explaining that though brought up at Nazareth, he was born in Bethlehem. But our writer was apparently-ignorant of their accounts. We reject this gospel, thirdly, because its historical statements are in direct contradiction to the history of the synoptics.
The next point to which I wish to direct attention is the relative position of faith and morals in the three synoptics and the fourth gospel. It is not too much to say that on this point their teaching is absolutely irreconcilable, and one or the other must be fatally in the wrong. Here the fourth gospel clasps hands with Paul, while the others take the side of James. The opposition may be most plainly shown by parallel columns of quotations:
"Except your righteousness "He that believeth on the Son
exceed that of the scribes and hath everlasting life."—iii. 36.
Pharisees, ye shall in no
case enter Heaven."—Matt. v. 20.
"Have we not prophesied in "He that believeth on Him is
thy name and in thy name done not condemned."—iii. 18.
many wonderful works?"
"Then will I profess unto them...
Depart...ye that work iniquity."
—Matt. vii. 22, 23.
"If thou wilt enter into life, "He that believeth not the Son
keep the commandments."—Mark shall not see life."—iii. 36. x. 17-28.
"Her sins, which are many, are "If ye believe not that I am he
forgiven, for she loved much."— ye shall die in your sins."—viii.
Luke vii. 47. 24.
These few quotations, which might be indefinitely multiplied, are enough to show that, while in the three gospels doing is the test of religion, and no profession of discipleship is worth anything unless shown by “its fruits,” in the fourth believing is the cardinal matter: in the three we hear absolutely nothing of faith in Jesus as requisite, but in the fourth we hear of little else: works are thrown completely into the background and salvation rests on believing—not even in God—but in Jesus. We reject this gospel, fourthly, for setting faith above works, and so contradicting the general teaching of Jesus himself.
The relative positions of the Father and Jesus are reversed by the fourth evangelist, and the teaching of Jesus on this head in the three gospels is directly contradicted. Throughout them Jesus preaches the Father only: he is always reiterating “your heavenly Father;” “that ye may be the children of your Father,” is his argument for forgiving others; “your Father is perfect,” is his spur to a higher life; “your Father knoweth,” is his anodyne in anxiety; “it is the Father’s good pleasure,” is his certainty of coming happiness; “one is your Father, which is in heaven,” is, by an even extravagant loyalty, made a reason for denying the very name to any other. But in the fourth gospel all is changed: if the Father is mentioned at all, it is only as the sender of Jesus, as his Witness and his Glorifier. All love, all devotion, all homage, is directed to Jesus and to Jesus only: even “on the Christian hypothesis the Father is eclipsed by His only begotten Son.”* “All judgment” is in the hands of the Son: he has “life in himself;” “the work of God” is to believe on him; he gives “life unto the world;” he will “raise” us “up at the last day;” except by eating him there is “no life;” he is “the light of the world;” he gives true freedom; he is the “one shepherd: none can pluck” us out of his hand; he will “draw all men unto” himself: he is the “Lord and Master,” “the truth and the life;” what is even asked of the Father, he will do; he will come to his disciples and abide in them; his peace and joy are their reward. Verily, we need no more: he who gives us eternal life, who raises us from the dead, who is our judge, who hears our prayers, and gives us light, freedom, and truth, He, He only, is our God; none can do more for us than he: in Him only will we trust in life and death. So, consistently, the Son is no longer the drawer of believers to the Father, but the Father is degraded into becoming the way to the Son, and none can come to Jesus unless Almighty God draws them to him. Jesus is no longer the way into the Holiest, but the Eternal Father is made the means to an end beyond himself.
For this fifth reason, more than for anything else, we reject this gospel with the most passionate earnestness, with the most burning indignation, as an insult to the One Father of spirits, the ultimate Object of all faith and hope and love.
And who is this who thus dethrones our heavenly Father? It is not even the Jesus whose fair moral beauty has exacted our hearty admiration. To worship him would be an idolatry, but to worship him—were he such as “John” describes him—would be an idolatry as degrading as it would be baseless. For let us mark the character portrayed in this fourth gospel. His public career begins with an undignified miracle: at a marriage, where the wine runs short, he turns water into wine, in order to supply men who have already “well drunk” (ch. ii. 10). [We may ask, in passing, what led Mary to expect a miracle, when we are told that this was the first, and she could not, therefore, know of her son’s gifts.] The next important point is the conversation with Nicodemus, where we scarcely knew which to marvel at most, the stolid stupidity of a “Master in Israel” misunderstanding a metaphor that must have been familiar to him, or the aggressive way in which Jesus speaks as to the non-reception of his message before he had been in public many months, and as to non-belief in his person before belief had become possible.
We then come to the series of discourses related in ch. v. 10. Perfect egotism pervades them all; in all appear the same strange misunderstandings on the part of the people, the same strange persistence in puzzling them on the part of the speaker. In one of them the people honestly wonder at his mysterious words: “How is it that he saith, I come down from heaven,” and, instead of any explanation, Jesus retorts that they should not murmur, since no man can come to him unless the Father draw him; so that, when he puts forward a statement apparently contrary to fact—”his father and mother we know,” say the puzzled Jews—he refuses to explain it, and falls back on his favorite doctrine: “Unless you are of those favored ones whom God enlightens, you cannot expect to understand me.” Little wonder indeed that “many of his disciples walked no more with” a teacher so perplexing and so discouraging; with one who presented for their belief a mysterious doctrine, contrary to their experience, and then, in answer to their prayer for enlightenment, taunts them with an ignorance he admits was unavoidable.
The next important conversation occurs in the temple, and here Jesus, the friend of sinners, the bringer of hope to the despairing—this Jesus has no tenderness for some who “believed on him;” he ruthlessly tramples on the bruised reed and quenches the smoking flax. First he irritates their Jewish pride with accusations of slavery and low descent; then, groping after his meaning, they exclaim, “We have one Father, even God,” and he—whom we know as the tenderest preacher of that Father’s universal love—surely he gladly catches at their struggling appreciation of his favorite topic, and fans the hopeful spark into a flame? Yes! Jesus of Nazareth would have done so. But Jesus, “according to St. John,” turns fiercely on them, denying the Sonship he elsewhere proclaims, and retorts, “Ye are of your father, the devil.” And this to men who “believed on him;” this from lips which said, “One is your Father,” and He, in heaven.
He argues next with the Pharisees, and we find him arrogantly exclaiming: “all that ever came before me were thieves and robbers.” What, all; Moses and Elijah, Isaiah and all the prophets? “Other men have been called gods, so surely I do not blaspheme by calling myself God’s son.” Never let us forget that in this gospel, the stronghold of the Divinity of Jesus, Jesus himself explains his strongest assertion “I and my Father are one” in a manner which can only be honest in the mouth of a man.
We pass to the celebrated “last discourse.” In this we find the same peculiar style, the same self-assertion, but we must note, in addition, the distinct tri-theism which pervades it. There are three distinct Beings, each necessarily deprived of some attribute of Divinity: thus, the Deity is Infinite, but if He is divided He becomes finite, since two Infinites are an impossible absurdity, and unless they are identical they must bound each other, so becoming finite. Accordingly “the Comforter” cannot be present till Jesus departs; therefore neither Jesus nor the Comforter can be God, since God is omnipresent. Since, then, prayer is to be addressed to Jesus as God, the low theory of tri-theism, of a plurality of Gods, none of whom is a perfect God, is here taught. In this discourse, also, the Christian horizon is bounded by the figure of Jesus; the office of the Comforter is subservient to this one worship, “he shall glorify me.”
Jesus, at last, prays for his disciples, markedly excluding from his intercession “the world” he was said to have come to save, and, as throughout this gospel, restricting all his love, all his care, all his tenderness to “these, whom Thou hast given me.” Here we come to the essence of the spirit which pervades this whole gospel. “I pray for them; I pray not for the world: not for them who are of their father the devil, nor for my betrayer, the son of perdition.” This is the spirit which Christians dare to ascribe to Jesus of Nazareth, the tenderest, gentlest, widest-hearted man who has yet graced humanity. This is the spirit, they tell us, which dwelt in his bosom, who gave us the parables of the lost sheep and the prodigal son. “No,” we answer, “this is not the spirit of the Prophet of Nazareth, but” (Dr. Liddon will pardon the appropriation) “this is the temper of a man who will not enter the public baths along with the heretic who has dishonored his Lord.”
We reject this gospel, sixthly, for the cruel spirit, the arrogance, the self-assertion, the bigotry, the unreality, attributed by it to Jesus, and we denounce it as a slander on his memory and an insult to his noble life.
We may, perhaps, note, as another peculiarity of this gospel—although I do not enter here into the argument of the divinity of Jesus,—that when Dr. Liddon, in his celebrated Brampton Lectures, is anxious to prove the Deity of Jesus from his own mouth, he is compelled to quote exclusively from this gospel. Such a fact as this cannot be overlooked, when we remember that “St. John’s gospel is a polemical (quarrelsome) treatise” written to prove this special point. We cannot avoid noting the coincidence.
Quoted from Annie Wood Besant’s book “My path to Atheism”