D. Moody Smith, "Judaism and the Gospel of John"

in James H. Charlesworth, ed. Jews and Christians: Exploring the Past, Present, and Future (New York: Crossroad: 1990): 76-96.


The Gospel of John seems on the face of it a poor basis for Jewish-Christian dialogue. The Protestant New Testament scholar Eldon Jay Epp in 1975 advanced the thesis that

the attitude toward the Jews that finds expression in... the Gospel of John coacted with the extraordinary popularity of that gospel so as to encourage and to buttress anti-Semitic sentiments among Christians from the second century C.E. until the present time. This leads to the conclusion that the Fourth Gospel, more than any other book in the canonical body of Christian writings, is responsible for the frequent anti-Semitic expressions by Christians during the past eighteen or nineteen centuries, and particularly for the unfortunate and still existent characterization of the Jewish people by some Christians as 'Christ-killers.' 1

Similarly, the Roman Catholic theologian Rosemary Ruether characterized John as the gospel in which the Jews "are the very incarnation of the false, apostate principles of the fallen world, alienated from its true being in God." Moreover, "because they belong essentially to the world and its hostile, alienated principle of existence, their instinctive reaction to the revelation of the spiritual Son of God is murderousness'' (Jn 8:40, 44).2 If modem exegesis deemphasizes "the Jews" so as to understand the term to mean the unbelieving - as contrasted with the believing - mode of existence, rather than having any concrete historical referent or significance, well and good. "This indeed is . . . the only authentic way to read the antithesis between the 'believer' and 'the world' (qua 'the Jews') in John."3 Theologically speaking, it is a proper reading. Nevertheless, Christians, historically, have not read John in this way, says Ruether, because the gospel does not, in fact, demythologize the Jews. Rather, it mythologizes the distinction between two modes of existence, the believing and authentic over against unbelieving and unauthentic, by identifying them with two historically and empirically distinct communities, the Christian and the Jewish.

Whatever may be said about John on this score, modern exegetes agree that it does not represent the views of Jesus or his original disciples. "Jesus was a Jew, and so were his first disciples. In fact, the earliest Christians did not think of themselves as members of a new religion separate from Judaism. Yet from the beginning Jesus and his disciples represented something new.''4 That "something new," however, was not conceived of as the end of Judaism and the beginning of something called Christianity. As to the Law, Jesus did not reject it, but set about interpreting it anew for a new day. The famous statement in Matthew 5:17 ("Do not think that I have come to destroy the law and the prophets; I have come not to destroy but to fulfill.') may not actually have originated with Jesus. It can reasonably be argued that on Jesus' lips such a statement would have been superfluous. He and his followers, as well as his hearers, would have assumed as much. However that may be, Jesus certainly reckoned most seriously with the Jewish belief that God had spoken, that his will was concretized in Law, and that the Hebrew Scriptures were a faithful account of his speaking.

The new thing that Jesus proclaimed was the realization of the Rule of God, certainly no novel concept. But Jesus believed that its time had come and that his mission was to proclaim that the ancient faith in God as king was becoming reality in his own mission and message. Such an expectation and faith did not, of course, negate the Law and the prophets; rather, it was understood as their proper fulfillment. The Rule of God, expressed already in his Law, was to find effectual and final fulfillment. The question of exactly how Jesus conceived this fulfillment is one that has motivated and stimulated much New Testament scholarship, but probably admits of no final conclusion. In the Synoptic Gospels and tradition the kingdom impinges upon the present and is enormously relevant to decisions people make here and now. Yet at the same time it is not an inner spiritual experience or dimension, but the reality that everyone will have to reckon with ultimately, for it will impose itself upon us.

The revival of scholarly historical interest in Jesus of Nazareth has for good reason centered upon his Jewishness, that is, upon his rootedness in the traditions of Israel. Apart from that rootedness he cannot be understood. There is, of course, a sense in which "Jewish" is an anachronistic term, and one imposed from without. It is a term that does not appear on the lips of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels. Ancient Jews did not ordinarily understand or refer to themselves as such, except when assuming an outsider's perspective. (For example, the ancient lintel inscription from Corinth reads "Synagogue of the Hebrews.") Although the term "Jew" and the conceptualization of Judaism and Jewishness were certainly antecedent to the rise of Christianity, they have taken on a new and somewhat different significance as the two religions have separated from and interacted with one another. Nevertheless, it is not incorrect or misleading to speak of the Jewishness of Jesus as a way of indicating where he belongs historically and theologically. In one important sense, Bultmann was correct to see Jesus as a "presupposition" of New Testament theology and to place him within Judaism.5 Insofar as Jesus may become the subject matter of New Testament theology, however, scholars must take seriously that theology's Jewishness. (Possibly because of Bultmann's own modem, existentialist, and Lutheran presuppositions, he was unable to accomplish this adequately.)

The Meaning of "the Jews" in the Gospel of John

The Jewishness of Jesus shines through the Synoptic Gospels, even though they are all distinctly Christian documents, because it is enshrined in the traditions on which they draw. Those traditions, however much they may reflectrain their selection, arrangement, and editing or formulation--the interests of the early church, nevertheless enshrine the attitudes and emphases of Jesus. This fact becomes particularly clear in light of certain data of vocabulary and terminology, and espe-dally when those data are compared with evidence from the Gospel of John.

In the Synoptic Gospels, there are only sixteen occurrences of the term Ioudaios (pl., Ioudaioi), "Jew(s)." They are found mostly in the passion narratives, where the Roman authorities are interested in the question of whether Jesus is the king of the Jews. Otherwise, the term rarely appears, and where it does it also, as in the passion narratives, betrays an extra-Jewish (whether Christian or Gentile) perspective (e.g., Mt 2:2; Mk 7:3). In the Synoptic Gospels' narrative of Jesus' ministry, the term "Jews" is superfluous because everyone is a Jew, unless otherwise designated, and the perspective of the narrator lies within the Judaism of first-century Palestine, or so it seems. Although modem redaction criticism has rightly emphasized the underlying, and sometimes explicit, Christian perspective of the authors, a critically innocent or naive reading of the texts sees in them a narrative of events transpiring within the world of Judaism and of the historical Jesus, as problematic as direct historical inferences from the narrative may be. It has often been observed that parties to discussion with Jesus are not called Jews, but are Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, scribes, disciples of John the Baptist, and chief priests. Jesus may even have had a Zealot among his disciples (Lk 6:15; Acts 1:13). Of these the Sadducees, Herodians, scribes, and Zealots do not appear at all in John.

On turning to John, we notice immediately that in contrast to synoptic usage, the Jews are spoken of quite frequently. There are seventy-one occurrences of the term in John, surpassed only by the eighty-odd occurrences in the Acts of the Apostles. (In the remainder of the New Testament, "the Jews" appears fewer than thirty times.) The preponderance of the term in John and Acts is interesting and significant. In both, disciples of Jesus (i.e., Christians) are clearly differentiated from Jews. This is not the case in the Synoptic Gospels, and not for the most part in the letters of Paul, who contrasts Jews and Greeks, not Jews and Christians. The situation in John and Acts seems almost prescient of later usage and determines the traditional Christian reading of the New Testament and understanding of the apostolic generation in ways that are not always historically felicitous.

It is fair to say that in John the Jews stand over against Jesus and his disciples, who are distinguished from them. Yet the Evangelist obviously knows that Jesus is a Jew (4:9) from Nazareth, the son of Joseph (1:45). His disciples, some of whom were followers of John the Baptist (1:35), were Jews as well (cf. 18:15). Despite his knowledge of the historical facts, John insists on characterizing the Jews as somehow dearly different and distinguishable from the band of Jesus and his disciples. Understandably, when Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that "salvation is of the Jews" (4:22), modem exegetes ask whether the Evangelist could have written such a thing and suggest it may be a later editorial insertion. (Just what purpose it might have served, however, is not immediately clear.) By and large, "the Jews" in John are the opponents of Jesus.

As such, they are quite often identified with the Pharisees (e.g., John 9), who appear frequently in the synoptic narratives as well. In the synoptics the Pharisees are, of course, a group within Judaism, whereas in John they sometimes seem to be identical with Judaism, or at least with its essence. We shall later consider the possible historical reasons for this significant difference. For the moment it is sufficient to note it and to observe that it ma)rbe significant in coming to terms with the nature and identity of "the Jews" in the Gospel of John. In John the Pharisees seem to be taking over Judaism. It is quite interesting and typical that the familiar synoptic linkage of the Pharisees to the Scribes is entirely missing from John. Instead, more than once the Pharisees are in league with the chief priests (7:45; 11:47). Probably they were unlikely political or religious bedfellows in the time of Jesus. Such a linkage occurs also in Matthew (21:45; 27:62), where a historical setting similar to John's, but different from Jesus' own, may be in view. It is not found in Mark and Luke, and when Pharisees and chief priests (or Sadducees) appear together in Acts, they are more often than not at odds with each other (Acts 5:34; 23:6-9).

In view of the prominence of the Pharisees, and their apparent identification with "the Jews," in John's Gospel it is all the more striking that they do not appear prominently in the passion narrative. True, only in John do the Pharisees appear in the party that goes out to arrest Jesus just before his trial and crucifixion (18:3). Yet thereafter they disappear completely (although there are Jews aplenty in the trial narratives). In this respect John agrees with the other gospels: despite the prominence of the Pharisees as Jesus' opponents throughout his public ministry, they do not figure in the events leading up to his execution. This striking fact is more likely a reflection of history and tradition than of the author's mentality, however, for he tends to identify the Pharisees with the Jews, who are already presented as the mortal enemies of Jesus. (Christians have long felt that "Pharisaic legalism" opposed Jesus and essentially did him in. This questionable view is encouraged by the presentation of them in John, but even there at the crucial point the Pharisees disappear from the scene. Jesus falls victim to Temple or priestly authorities.)

Who are these Jews? We address this question first of all from the standpoint of the phenomenology of the text. They are dearly Jewish people, but they are not all Jewish people. To begin with, Jesus and his disciples are not among "the Jews," although they are plainly Jewish. Moreover, no Galilean or Samaritan is called a Jew, except in chapter 6. That "the Jews" are residents of Judea is probably the case in most instances, but simply to translate Ioudaioi as "Judeans" will not do. They are both more and less than "Judeans." From John 9:22 one may infer that they are religious' leaders exercising authority in the synagogues to which at least some followers of Jesus belonged. From John 12:42 the same inference may be made, except in this case the most authoritative figures are called "Pharisees." They are powerful or influential enough to exercise authority over

other Jews, who are called "rulers" or "officials" of these synagogues. Particularly in view of the fact that both John 9:22 and 12:42 deal with expulsion from the synagogues, it is likely that the "Jews" in the one case and the "Pharisees" in the other are the same authorities. It is important to notice that they are authorities who exercise significant power over other Jewish people. At least in these contexts, "Jews" may be "Pharisees," but they are not to be identified or confused with the totality of the Jewish people.

Thus Jesus, his followers, Galileans, and perhaps Samaritans are Jewish, but they are not "the Jews." There are also people explicitly called "Jews" who are not enemies of Jesus. Prominent among them is Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews (3:1), who keeps coming back to Jesus, speaks for him (7:50), and helps bury him (19:39). We never read that he believed in Jesus, though some Jews (or Pharisees) do (9:16; cf., 8:31). The people who mourn Lazarus with Mary and Martha are said to be Jews, although they also are not hostile to Jesus. Moreover, throughout John's Gospel "Israel" and "Israelite" are used in a positive sense. Thus Nathanael can be called "truly an Israelite in whom there is no guile" (1:47) and Jesus is hailed as "king of Israel" (1:49), a title whose entirely positive connotations contrast with "king of the Jews," which has a negative and sarcastic ring on the lips of Romans (e.g., 19:3).

"The Jews" is, then, a term used of a group of Jewish leaders who exercise great authority among their compatriots and are especially hostile to Jesus and his disciples. A recent study of the gospels' use of Ioudaioi confirms the view that when it is used in a peculiarly Johannine sense, that is, not with reference to Judeans or to Jewish customs, feasts, and so forth, it refers to certain authorities rather than to the people as a whole.6 It is these authorities, not Jewish people generally, who are portrayed as hostile to Jesus throughout John and make that gospel appear anti-Jewish. This being the case, it is reasonable--and probably correct to contend that the anti-Jewish aura of the Fourth Gospel is a misreading of the text and, presumably, of the intention of its author(s). Nevertheless, it is a misreading that has all too easily and understandably arisen in the history of Christian exegesis, and it may be well-nigh impossible to put it to rest in all the circles in which the gospel is read and treasured.

Before dealing with this larger issue, however, it will be useful to inquire further into the historical setting and putative purpose of the portrayal of "the Jews" in the Gospel of John. We proceed on the assumption that only a setting different from the immediate historical setting and purpose of Jesus himself will explain the statements and perspective of the Fourth Gospel. Jesus of Nazareth did not distinguish himself from the Jews in the way the Johannine Jesus does. Nor did he dwell upon his messianic role. If he ever acknowledged the claim that he was the messiah (cf., Mk 8:27-30), he did not give it the emphasis it receives in the Fourth Gospel.

Expulsion from the Synagogue

The absence of Zealots, Sadducees, and Herodians in the Gospel of John and the tendency for Jews to be equated with Pharisees suggests that John appeared after the Roman War, that is, after 70 C.E. Following the war, the so-called Council of Jamnia began the process of retrenching and redefining Jewish life and collecting and codifying traditions that would eventuate in the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism as the heir of Pharisaism. The language of John's Gospel apparently reflects this state of affairs when the Pharisees are equated with the Jewish authorities, precisely the authorities who are able to say who belongs within the synagogue and who must be excluded. They are in the Fourth Gospel, as in broader Jewish history, defining what Judaism shall be. In putting Johannine Christianity beyond the pale, the Pharisees of the Fourth Gospel affirmed a religion of law and absolute monotheism. They rejected a sectarianism based on charismatic inspiration and seemingly limitless transferral of divine prerogatives and attributes to a crucified messianic claimant whose followers believed had risen from the dead. Almost certainly John's Gospel reflects this post-70 situation in Judaism, as well as in what we might call Jewish-Christian relations.

Can the setting and purpose of the Fourth Gospel be defined more precisely? Nearly two decades ago, J. Louis Martyn made an ingenious proposal based primarily on the three instances in the Fourth Gospel in which the threat of expulsion from the synagogue is reflected or predicted (9:22; 12:42; 16:2).7 If such a threat was not made and was scarcely even conceivable in Jesus' own day, Martyn asks when and under what circumstances it may have been found. His underlying assumption is that the statements in John mirror an actual historical situation and set of circumstances. In this respect the Gospel of John affords primary testimony for the circumstances under which it was written (as argued by many, esp. Bultmann, Wellhausen). These in turn have been retrojected into the time of Jesus and his disciples. (It is thus only secondarily testimony for the times and events it purports to narrate.) This process took place without deliberate design and forethought over a period of years.

Martyn thought it likely that a primitive narrative gospel consisting of a collection of miracle stories and probably also a rudimentary passion narrative was used by Jewish followers of Jesus to attract adherents to their movement within the synagogue. Such a gospel had been analyzed from the canonical text by Martyn's student Robert T. Fortna on other, chiefly unrelated, grounds.8 It was a missionary gospel, and its original conclusion (now found in Jn 20:30-31) reflects this fact. As Christian missioners using such narratives, or such a primitive gospel, attained success in persuading their fellow Jews that their Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah of Israel, a backlash or reaction among the majority who were not convinced set in. In this connection the Twelfth Benediction of the Shemoneh Esreh was reformulated, in such a way as to condemn sectarians (minim) and Nazarenes (notzrim).9 Presumably its purpose was to smoke out Christ-confessors within the synagogue, who could not pronounce this benediction, or malediction, against themselves. This reformulation of the Twelfth Benediction took place in the Rabbinic Academy at Jamnia. According to tradition, it was done by a sage called Samuel the Small under the auspices of Rabbi Gamaliel II, and it has been dated in the ninth decade of the first century. The status of the synagogue ban as a general edict or decree of Jamnia is inferred from the statement of John 9:22, that "the Jews had already agreed .... "

There is actually no direct evidence that the Twelfth Benediction was reformulated or originally used for the purpose of identifying Christ-confessors specifically and expelling them from the synagogue. If a dating in the 80s is correct, it would antedate the publication of the Fourth Gospel by about a decade (just the right amount of time) if that gospel were composed--as is usually thought--between 90 and 110. Before Martyn's book appeared, W.D. Davies had already proposed such a date and use of the Twelfth Benediction in his work on Matthew.10 Davies also cited the several places in Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho that can be construed as allusions to the use of the Twelfth Benediction to drive Christians out of the synagogue. The evidence is indirect and circumstantial, but impressive, particularly when it is correlated with the fears and predictions of expulsion from the synagogue found in the Gospel of John. As we have noted, this state of affairs scarcely corresponds to a setting in the ministry of Jesus, and one is impelled by its prominence in the Fourth Gospel, together with other evidence bearing on Jewish-Christian conflict, to seek a plausible setting for it. Martyn's proposal is then a logical--as well as a brilliant --intuition of the historical imagination.

Nevertheless, it is a proposal and not a demonstration, as subsequent discussion has revealed, and, indeed, as Martyn had recognized from the beginning. Between the initial publication of Martyn's work and the appearance of the second, revised edition a decade later, he had entertained, in conversation and correspondence, the objections and reservations of Wayne A. Meeks and Morton Smith.11 Meeks and Smith were unwilling to assign the reformulation of the Twelfth Benediction as early a date as Martyn had proposed. Hence they raise questions about a direct connection between the Benediction and passages such as John 9:22 that Martyn had made. (Nevertheless, Meeks and Smith agree with Martyn that the Twelfth Benediction and the Johannine aposynagogoi are manifestations of the same or related historical developments.) Subsequently, others have more sharply questioned the early dating of the reformulated Twelfth Benediction that Martyn had accepted, its relation to the Fourth Gospel, and its possible reflection in patristic texts such as Justin's Dialogue with Trypho.12 The authority of Jamnia to promulgate what in effect was a decree against Jewish Christians has also been challenged. Later Rabbinic sources afford precious little evidence of its use in this way. On the contrary, the evidence of the fourth-century bishop John Chrysostom indicates that Christians were then welcome in synagogues and, in Chrysostom's view, had to be warned away from them. Moreover, even the question of when Samuel the Small altered the text of the Twelfth Benediction may presuppose a textual stability that did not exist at that time.13 It can reasonably be argued that at most the evidence suggests local rather than universal measures against Christ-confessors in the synagogue and that these were, moreover, a passing phase. One sadly notes that Christian-Jewish conflict has apparently left bolder evidence than Christian-Jewish harmony or tolerance, which may have been as common in the pre-Constantinian era.

Martyn and others involved in the scholarly discussion are working on a problem of ancient historiography, and their honesty and integrity as historians can only be honored and admired. The possible bearing of this attempted historical reconstruction and objections to it upon modem Jewish-Christian dialogue is, however, interesting. The implication of Martyn's thesis is that the Gospel of John is not, as might first appear, a generally and vehemently anti-Semitic (more accurately, anti-Jewish) document, but a response to a specific crisis in Jewish-Christian relations that had been initiated, or at least exacerbated, by the promulgation of the revised Twelfth Benediction. (Of course, according to Martyn's thesis, the controversy began within the synagogue, among Jews, and that intramural status still pertained at the point of the reformulation of the Benediction.

Ironically, the objections by Jewish scholars such as Kimelman and Katz, which are substantial, in distancing the Fourth Gospel from the Twelfth Benediction and its postulated function, tend to push it back in the direction of a generally anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish writing. Obviously, a scholarly historical issue cannot be decided on the basis of the needs of contemporary Jewish-Christian dialogue. Nor is it helpful, and it is probably not accurate, to say that the truth lies somewhere in between. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that the sources available to us do not permit us to say exactly what transpired to produce the tension between Johannine Christianity and Judaism that is evident in the Fourth Gospel. If the problem with the Martyn thesis is the lack of positive and explicit, as opposed to suggestive, evidence in the rabbinic sources particularly, the problem with simply dismissing it is the evidence--in John, and elsewhere in the New Testament and early Christian sources--of strong tension between Jews and Christians, and occasional persecution.

However that may be, it is unnecessary and hazardous hurriedly to draw parallels or relations between this ancient situation and the present, or between it and instances of Jewish-Christian tension and persecution in intervening centuries. If, in fact, Johannine Christians were persecuted by some Jews or Jewish authorities, as Saul at first persecuted the Christian sectarians, this is obviously no justification for Christians' persecuting Jews subsequently. Such persecution, or threat thereof, makes historically understandable certain statements in the Gospel of John that otherwise appear to be the product of a gratuitous anti-Judaism. If John is properly read only in the latter way, the consequences for Jewish-Christian dialogue are unfortunate, particularly in view of the virtual certainty that Christians will continue to accord John a high, canonical authority in their own religion and theology. But the seemingly anti-Jewish statements in the Gospel of John are disastrous theologically only on the basis of a rather narrow and literalistic conception of the authority of the New Testament Scriptures.

"The Jews" in Other Johannine Writings

The prominence of "the Jews" in the Fourth Gospel bespeaks a real, historical situation and confrontation, wherever and whenever it may have occurred. The Gospel of John, however, is only one of five "Johannine" writings in the New Testament. In none of the others do Jews or Judaism figure in the same way; in fact, even in a long section of the gospel (chaps. 13-17) this confrontation fades completely into the background. The Revelation of John stands at the periphery of the Johannine circle, and, in the judgment of some, wholly outside it. As I have suggested elsewhere, however, there are a sufficient number of points of contact and similarity to warrant the assumption of a significant relationship or consanguinity.14

Revelation, interestingly enough, reflects less hostility toward Jews than does John's Gospel. The term Ioudaioi appears only twice in Revelation (2:9; 3:9), in both cases in an indirectly positive sense. That is, members of the "synagogue of Satan" are said to claim to be Jews although in reality they are not. The presumption is that it is good to be a Jew. "Jew" is still used in a positive sense, even as it is in Paul's Letter to the Romans (2:17, 28, 29; cf., 3:1). This remains the case even if the "synagogue of Satan" means Jews in Smyrna, or Philadelphia, or even contemporary Jews generally. In that case, they have defected from proper Judaism, from what it should mean to be a Jew. It is not certain, however, that by the "synagogue of Satan" John means all Jews or Judaism generally, as many Christian exegetes have assumed.15 He may mean only Jews in the aforementioned localities who have persecuted or driver out the followers of Jesus who are being addressed. In that case we may be very near the milieu of the Gospel of John.16 It is not necessary to assume that John regards all Jews as necessarily members of the Synagogue of Satan, as the author of the Fourth Gospel would, at least if the evidence of passages such as John 8:44 is determinative. In other words, the Fourth Gospel may represent the expansion or tendency to generalize attitudes only nascent in Revelation. Revelation 2:9 and 3:9 may not be derived from, or inferred from, the broader condemnation of Jews and Judaism rather common in the Fourth Gospel. In Revelation, ''Jew" is still a good word; in the Fourth Gospel, it is not, having been displaced by "Israelite." Revelation, if basically earlier than this gospel (as, for example, Barrett argues), may represent a period prior to the Gospel of John. Possibly Revelation 3:9 still contemplates the conversion of such Jews.

On the other side of the Fourth Gospel, then, one would locate the Johannine epistles. Ioudaios/oi appears not once in any of them, a remarkable fact in view of its frequency in John, which is in many respects so closely related theologically to them. There is an obvious reason for this. The opponents, who come frequently into view in the letters, are not Jews but other Christians, whose life-style, ethics, and theology do not meet with the author's approval. To hear him tell it, they are loveless heretics who falsely claim to be without sin and perhaps for that reason are especially incorrigible. If, as on other grounds appears likely, the Johannine epistles are later than the Johan-nine gospel and presuppose it, a significant change in fronts has occurred. The struggle with Jews seems to be a thing of the past. Perhaps significantly, the vehemence of the opposition is still by no means diminished for that reason. If the Christian opponents are not "children of Satan," they are children of this world, "anti-Christs" (1 Jn 4:3, 5; 2 Jn 7). This is not significantly better.

The farewell discourses of John are in some respects closer to the Johannine epistles than to the rest of that gospel, in which such open opposition to Jews is manifest. In chapters 13 through 17 Ioudaioi occurs only in 13:33, where Jesus tells his disciples what he says to them he has already told the Jews. The reference to being put out of the synagogue and being killed (16:2) would seem to have Jewish opposition in view, and Jesus' discussion of the world's hatred (15:18-16:4) doubtless includes Jewish opposition. But otherwise, the farewell discourses are concerned with distinctly Christian theological and related issues, not with external opposition. For good reason it has been argued that the farewell discourses are in some respects, or in some part, closer to these epistles than to the rest of this gospel,l7 The farewell discourses, then, represent a Johannine Christianity that has weathered the synagogue controversy and moved on to other concerns.

One cannot fail to note an anomaly present in both this gospel and these epistles. In no other New Testament opus is there stronger emphasis on God's love, as expressed in Jesus his Son (3:16; 1 Jn 4:10, 14, 16) or on the command to love as the expression of true discipleship. Only those who truly love one another can claim to be recipients of God's love or, for that matter, can claim to love God (1 Jn 4:20). Yet love is expressed only within the circle of believers: "Love one another" (Jn 13:34-35; 15:12-13; 1 Jn 3:23; 2 Jn 5). Commandments and exhortations to love the neighbor (Mk 12:31)--and even the enemy (Mt 5:44)--are absent from the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles. Outsiders, whether because they have not believed or because they have believed wrongly, are not necessarily to be loved. While the Gospel of John does not teach that Christians should hate their enemies (cf. Mt 5:43), 1 John comes close: "the world'--those outside the faith (or the church)--is not to be loved (1 Jn 2:15); "the world" will hate believers (Jn 15:18, 19). Believers are not told to love the emissaries of the world as if they too are children of God. In fact, the only true children of God are believers (1:12). The Johannine Jesus gives no instructions to disciples about how they should behave toward those who hate them. Perhaps a position of relative powerlessness is assumed. They are simply warned so that they will be prepared for the world's hatred and be able to overcome it. Even the command to love is subsumed within John's dualism, and does not overcome it. Only God does that: the world may hate God (Jn 15:23), but God nevertheless loves the world--in spite of, perhaps because of, its sinfulness. However that may be, believers are not--at least not explicitly--urged to emulate God in this respect.

Here we see a collision between the quasi-metaphysical dualism of the Fourth Gospel and its basic theological-ethical affirmation. That is, the dualistic conceptual framework seems to impede, if not prevent, the universal extension of the love of God and humanity which is the fundamental axiom of John. This impediment obviously has to do with the role of belief (i.e., reception of that love). When revelation meets unbelief all bets are off and love's expression is thwarted, at least among human beings. Nevertheless, in John's view, the love of God is not defeated. Whether human love ought to stop at the boundary of belief and unbelief is a question that merits reflection. In the view of the synoptic Jesus, who in this respect is also more likely the historical Jesus, it should not. The fact that in John human love does stop at this boundary is, as we have seen, related to the author's and the community's dualism. How it is related is a good question. Does that dualism set limits conceptually so as to override John's intent? Is the love of which the author of John speaks effective only within the limits set out by a fideistic, if not ontological, dualism? Or is that dualism itself a product of the sodal situation of John, in that the rejection of the community's claims, of its evangelical effort, results in an ossification of boundaries? In that case, one might ask whether John's response is the only, or the best, one in the face of the rejection of missionary witness. John seems to know, however, that the expression of love, even within the community, is the most effective form of witness to those outside (15:12; cf. 17:20-23). If love within the community is a powerful witness, how much more might the expression of love towards those outside the community witness to them?

Implications of the Issue for Contemporary Jewish-Christian Dialogue

A generation ago, scholarship tended to gloss over the Jews in the Gospel of John. For Bultmann the Jews were a surrogate for the world, their presence apparently accounted for by the historical setting of Jesus' ministry within Judaism.18 John had no great interest in polemicizing against historical, empirical Jews in his own life-setting, although Bultmann notes that insofar as "the situation of the Church is reflected in the Gospel
of John, its problem is the conflict with Judaism, and its theme is faith in Jesus as the Son of God."19 Bultmann's interest was definitely the theological theme rather than the setting. His English contemporary and counterpart, C. H. Dodd, much more than Bultmann, took into account the Jewish and Old Testament conceptual background of John. Yet Dodd found in the Hermetic literature--of fundamentally pagan origin—the closest affinities with the Fourth Gospel.20 Dodd saw John as a book addressed not primarily to Christians, much less to Jews or Jewish Christians, but to a non-Christian public, to "devout and thoughtful persons.., in the varied and cosmopolitan society of a great Hellenistic city such as Ephesus under the
Roman Empire.''21 For Dodd, even less than for Bultmann, a rather vociferous internedne conflict among Jews, or between Jews and Christians, was not the substratum of Johannine thought; and the exegete did not need to take it into account in order to understand John. Developments of the past two decades, epitomized by Martyn's thesis, have wrought a significant change in Johannine exegesis and interpretation. In different ways, Raymond

Brown, Wayne A. Meeks, Marinus de Jonge, Klaus Wengst, Oscar Cullmann, Georg Richter, and others have underscored and demonstrated the significance of the Jewish or Jewish-Christian milieu and affinities of the Fourth Gospel. The second edition of Barrett’s justly famous commentary is an accurate barometer of this change.22 Scholars seeking to understand and interpret the Gospel of John may no longer bypass or downplay this dimension of its historical setting or horizon, as had Bultmann and Dodd. Rather, the Jewishness of the Fourth Gospel has been established in such a way as to press upon us the importance of Jewish-Christian relations--and Jewish-Christian disagreements--as ingredients of any historically responsible exegesis.

By the same token, the Jewish dimension of the origin and purpose of the Fourth Gospel can scarcely be acknowledged as something that, while real, belongs essentially to the past. In vital respects the issues upon which the Fourth Gospel focuses with such unremitting starkness and clarity remain before us. That is, Christians in the contemporary world, like the Christians of the Johannine community, live in the presence of Jews who do not accept the theologically daring--even extreme--propositions about Jesus that the author of John set forth. They could not do so and remain Jews in the now generally accepted sense of the term. Thus the Fourth Gospel seems to offer little hope or basis for dialogue between Christians and Jews. At the same time, the fact that John belongs to the Christian canon of scripture--to the New Testament--makes such dialogue all the more necessary.

As we have noted, the harshness of the alternatives as posed by the Jesus of the Fourth Gospel--and equally by "the Jews" mentioned in it--is somewhat mitigated by an appreciation of the dire historical circumstances of those ancient Jews and Christians. Both lived under conditions of great stress and duress. The stress under which those Jews lived is not always recorded in as direct or obvious a fashion as is that which beset the Johannine Christians (although, of course, in John theirs is also recorded indirectly, as if it applied to Jesus rather than his disciples). The portrait of late first-century Judaism is buried in the difficult, laconic, and often obscure statements of rabbinic sources. It comes to light in the imagery of the post-70 Apocalypses of Ezra and Baruch. And it is fleshed out in the long historical narrations of Josephus, which attempt both to justify the

dominance of Rome in Jewish eyes and to define and defend the essential character of Judaism as a monotheistic religion and a sane and sober ethical philosophy rather than a dangerous and subversive movement. The Judaism of the late first century was badly, if not mortally, wounded after the bloody and disastrous war of 66-70 C.E. It was to suffer further trauma within another half-century in the wake of the suppression of the Bar Kokhba rebellion. The sober sages who were conducting the retrenchment of Judaism, preserving the ancient traditions along Pharisaic lines, truly had no need of the spiritual enthusiasm, messianism, sectarianism, and apparent challenge to the Law and to traditional monotheism that the Johannine community represented.

The Johannine Christians, on the other hand, had the uncompromising zeal of new converts. They were not so much converts from Judaism to Christianity as converts to Jesus, filled with his spirit, born from above, filled with power and glory. (But their conversion to Jesus took them sharply away from the direction in which contemporary Judaism was heading; hence the continuing controversy with "the Pharisees.") They had received--and continued to receive--God's ultimate revelation of himself in the crucified Jesus, whom they believed to be the divine Son of God. If "the world," and particularly their Jewish confreres, insisted upon rejecting God's revelation, the only satisfying explanation was the darkness of their origin and their destiny of sin and death. On the other hand, God not only assured believers of eternal fellowship with himself, but granted them life and joy in this world. Thus the lines were fully and finally drawn; or so it seemed.

Historical circumstances have changed, and continue to change. The setting of modern Judaism is in many respects both more diverse and more hopeful than that of its late first-century counterpart. Yet the continued threat to the existence of modern Israel is almost universally viewed by Jews as a threat to Jewish survival. The Holocaust, of recent and bitter memory, represented a more dire threat to Judaism than the Roman war. After all, the Romans only wanted the Jews to be reasonable--by Roman standards, of course; they did not want to destroy the Jewish people or their religion. The Nazis wanted to destroy both.

There is something in the Johannine blacklisting of the Jews, the consigning of them to this world and to Satan, that in Jewish eyes foreshadows the Holocaust or the annihilation of Judaism. Such a dire, negative view of Jews and of the whole world is undeniably present in John. But, paradoxically, it is precisely John's Gospel that presents the motivation, meaning, and effect of God's revelation in Jesus as love. Furthermore, the love of God finds its true response in reciprocal human love that will lead to the unity of the community of love. It is a concept of revelation and response that is in principle universal. In the course of the vagaries and vicissitudes of history, the universal goal was jeopardized, and the dualistic division between truth and falsehood, light and darkness, seemed to be the last word.

Johannine Christianity and Pharisaic Judaism represent opposite poles and possibilities arising out of a common religious tradition. In its need to retrench and conserve the heritage the past had bequeathed to it, this Judaism appears in the Gospel of John as remarkably conservative, which in a sense it certainly was. If Johannine Christianity would scarcely qualify as "liberal,'' it nevertheless enshrines and places a high premium upon elements of spontaneity, novelty, and uniqueness, which are, however, indigenous to--and derived from--the same parent tradition. Within that tradition it is in the nature of the new to take a critical stance towards the old, and of the old to look askance at the new. The potential polarities arising out of a common tradition could not be better illustrated. They stand over against each other as making mutually exclusive claims for allegiance and loyalty (e.g., Jn 9:28; 14:6). The resolution of those claims seems impossible apart from the dissolution of one side or the other. It belongs to the honesty and the integrity of the discussion to honor the reality of the opposing claims. It belongs to the necessity of our mutuality and coexistence, however, not to terminate the conversation but, despite the Pharisees and the Johannine Christians, to continue that dialogue for the sake of the revelation and tradition out of which we both live.

One final observation: it would be wrong to conclude from the tension between Pharisaic Judaism and Johannine Christianity that the one simply represents a conservative and defensive posture toward the inherited tradition while the other represents spontaneity and the claim to new revelations and insights. Within the former, the impetus to preserve the tradition precisely by correlating it with, or making it applicable to, new and emerging problems and situations is a mark of Pharisaism's distinctiveness and originality. Moreover, within Johannine Christianity the need to hold on to what through revelation or experience has established itself soon became urgent, as Raymond Brown has recently shown.23 The Johannine Epistles are "Johannine Pastorals" (Conzelmann); that is, their goal is to assert and defend the revelation already given. Thus they lay heavy stress on what was "from the beginning" (of the tradition); they speak of the love command as the "old commandment" (1 Jn 2:7) rather than the new (Jn 13:34). This point is important to bear in mind, for it shows that the tensions between Pharisaic Judaism and Johannine Christianity are, phe-nomenologically speaking, not tensions proper to Judaism and Christianity as separate religions, but tensions that arise almost inevitably within a religion, particularly within religions such as Christianity and Judaism, whose essence consists both of the claim that God has spoken and of the claim, however refined or attenuated by qualification or concepts of inference or mediation, that God continues to speak in ways that are--or should be--determinative of human existence.24


1. E. J. Epp, "Anti-Semitism and the Popularity of the Fourth Gospel in Christianity," Journal of the Central Conference of American Rabbis 22 (1975) 35. "Anti-Semitism," which has distinctly racial overtones, is inappropriate to describe the attitude of the Fourth Gospel, where the roots of conflict were theological and in all probability lay within the synagogue, between Jews who believed in Jesus and the majority, who did not. Nevertheless, the reading of John has contributed to the growth of anti-Semitism among Christians and others. See the excellent discussion of this matter and the entire question in R. A. Culpepper, "The Gospel of John and the Jews," Review and Expositor 84 (1987) 273-88, esp. pp. 282-85. Culpepper's citation of the literature is a useful bibliographical aid. Note particularly the important article by J. Ashton, "The Identity and Function of the loudaioi in the Fourth Gospel," Novurn Testamentum 27 (1985) 40-75.

2R. R. Ruether, Faith and Fratricide: The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism (New York, 1974) p. 113.

3. Ibid., p. 116.

4. R. A. Spivey and D. M. Smith, Anatomy of the New Testament, 3d ed. (New York, 1982) p. 13.

5. R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, vol. 1, trans., K. Groebel (New York, 1951) p. 1: "The message of Jesus is a presupposition for the theology of the New Testament rather than a part of that theology itself."

6. U. C. von Walde, "The Johannine Jews: A Critical Survey," New Testament Studies 28 (1982) 33-60.

7. J. L. Martyn, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel, rev. ed. (Nashville, 1979). The book was first published in 1968. See R. E. Brown, The Gospel of John (Anchor Bible 29; Garden City, N.Y., 1966) vol. 1, pp. LXX-LXXV, LXXXV, who also linked the origin of the Fourth Gospel to a similarly conceived synagogue controversy. Although their proposals were made independently, Martin and Brown have subsequently carried on a mutually fructifying discussion. Brown's own position is set out most fully in The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York, 1979).

8. Cf. R. T. Fortna, The Gospel of Signs: A Reconstruction of the Narrative Source Underlying the Fourth Gospel (SNTS MS 11; Cambridge, 1970), originally a dissertation with Martyn at Union Theological Seminary.

9The form of the benediction, as reformulated, accepted by Martyn (History, p. 58) is as follows:

For the apostate let there be no hope

And let the arrogant government

be speedily uprooted in our days.

Let the Nazarenes (notzrim , = Christians) and the Minim (heretics) be destroyed in a moment

And let them be blotted out of the Book of Life and not

be inscribed together with the righteous.

Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who humblest the proud!

The malediction against the Nazarenes and Minim is thought to be the work of Samuel the Small (80-90 C.E.).

10. W. D. Davies, The Setting of the Sermon on the Mount (Cambridge, 1964), pp. 275-79.

11. Cited by Martyn, History, nn. 69 and 75; cf. also no.81, in which he responds to D. R. A. Hare.

12. For example, R. Kimelman, "Birkat ha-Minim and the Lack of Evidence for an Anti-Christian Jewish Prayer in Late Antiquity," in E. P. Sanders et al., eds., Jewish and Christian Self-Definition, (Philadelphia, 1981) vol. 2, pp. 226--44; also S. T. Katz, "Issues in the Separation of Judaism and Christianity after 70 c.E.: A Reconsideration," Journal of Biblical Literature 103 (1984) 43-76. The near consensus at the end of the 1970s was stated well by J. T. Townsend, "The Gospel of John and the Jews: The Story of Religious Divorce,' in A. Davies, ed., Antisemitism and the Foundations of Christianity (New York, 1979) pp. 72-97.

13. According to the assessment of most recent scholarship by A. L. Nations, "Jewish Persecution of Christians in the Gospel of John" (unpublished paper read before the Fourth Gospel Section of the Society of Biblical Literature national meeting, Atlanta, November, 1986).

14. D. M. Smith, "Johannine Christianity: Some Reflections on Its Character and Delineation,' New Testament Studies 21 (1975) 222--48, esp. pp. 233, 234. See R. E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple, p. 6, n. 5.

15. For example, R. H. Charles, The Revelation of St. John, International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh, 1920) vol. 1, pp. 56--57, 88-89.

16. On the possible relation of the conflict between Jews and Christians in Revelation to the Birkat ha-Minim and thus to the Gospel of John, see C. J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Social Setting (Sheffield, England, 1986) pp. 4, 9, 12, 149.

17. F. F. Segovia, Love Relationships in the Fourth Gospel: Agape/Agapan in I John and the Fourth Gospel (Atlanta, 1982), especially pp. 21-24, 217-19, argues that the final redaction of the discourse is the work of the author of 1 John or someone closely related to him in theology and ecclesiastical setting.

18. R. Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, trans., G. R. Beasley-Murray, et al. (Philadelphia, 1971) pp. 86-87. R. A. Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design (New Testament Foundation and Facets; Philadelphia, 1983) pp. 128-31, brings out the important element of truth in Bultmann's position: "Through the Jews, John explores the heart and soul of unbelief" (p. 129). See also Ashton, 'Ioudaioi in the Fourth Gospel," Novurn Testamenturn 27 (1985) 68.

19. Theology of the New Testament, trans., K. Grobel (New York, 1955) vol. 2, p. 5.

20. C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge, 1953) p. 5.

21. Ibid., p. 9.

22. C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John (Philadelphia, 1978) p. 93, n. 1: "The best attempt to provide a specific Sitz im Leben for the Gospel is that of Martyn"; see pp. 137-38 and passim. Barrett has reservations only as to whether Martyn's thesis alone does justice to the range of John's background and intention. Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel, has a different agenda and perspective, but his literary analysis achieves results that are not at all incongruous with Martyn's.

23. The Community of the Beloved Disciple, pp. 93-144. This view becomes basic to his magisterial commentary, The Epistles of John (Anchor Bible 30; Garden City, N.Y., 1982), where he sets it out and defends it exegetically.

24. Only after having completed this paper did I become aware of the careful study and proposals put forward by N. A. Beck, Mature Christianity: The Recognition and Repudiation of the Anti-Jewish Polemic of the New Testament (London and Toronto, 1985) esp. pp. 248-74. Beck is thoroughly cognizant of historical-critical issues and literature, and should be consulted for the latter. He makes the noteworthy point that John's polemic operates at different levels (see R. E. Brown) and is not simply directed against Jews in an undifferentiated way (pp. 268-70). Whether one should drop "the Jews" in translating Ioudaioi and replace it with "the religious authorities" or the like, as Beck suggests, is an important and debatable question. Exactly the same issue arises from the standpoint of feminist hermeneutic in dealing with and translating allegedly sexist or paternalistic language in the Bible. My own conviction is that we cannot resolve these issues by removing offensive aspects of Scripture occasioned by the concrete circumstances of historical origin. Those who want to read "Jews" will continue to do so, no matter what others say or think!