John on the Stand
by: Karl Southward
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A fundamentalist Christian book entitled “Evidence That Requires a Verdict” is the inspiration for this one act play or essay. That book brings the thought that the “Bible” should be treated as evidence. That is a great idea! In today’s courts, only actual witnesses to acts or events can present evidence. Hearsay is not evidence. A witness cannot say, “I heard this from someone who told someone”, or “I heard it from John who heard it from James”. Items and documents can be evidence; however, those must be authenticated. The following discussion is not the direction the author had in mind. Please check for yourself the validity of the various facts I have used in encyclopedias or major theology books and read the Bible references.
Let us put John on trial for his rendition of the “The Easter Story”.
The author of “John” takes the stand. For this purpose let’s call the prosecutor “P” and the purported author “J”. The supposedly lost NT source document “Quelle” let us call “Q”.
P, “You are the purported author of the short book now called “John” in the “New Testament”?
P, “Please state your name.”
J, “I don’t really know. No one really knows”.
P, “What do you mean, no one knows?”
J, “You see, I didn’t sign anything. Any real information as to my identity got lost. In fact some historians say that there were a couple of authors at work here, because of the change in writing style half way through.”
P, “Why then is the anonymous book you wrote called “John”?”
J, “A group of men in 185 AD assigned the name “John”. They thought “John” would be an authentic sounding name and give credence to my anonymous writings.”
P, “Just exactly when did you write “John”?”
J, “I cannot really say. You see, I did not date anything either”.
P, “Most historians date your work after 90AD, many after 100 AD. Just how old were you when you wrote?”
J, “There is no reference to my date of birth in any New Testament text. We must assume I was born in the same generation as Jesus and must have been about the same age.”
P, “Let me get this straight. You were approximately 100 years old when you wrote? Your hand was steady, eyesight good, and memory perfect?”
P, “Because of the time you wrote and your obvious age if you are to be the John of the twelve disciples when you wrote, I have a bit of a problem believing that you are that contemporary follower of Jesus. Then, where did you get your facts?”
J, “We had a strong oral tradition that I got from trusted friends.”
P, “These were Christian friends?”
P. “Did you have any written documentation such as “Q?”
J, “No, it has never been thought that I had access to “Q”. That’s why the other three “gospels” are called “synoptic gospels”. All three have some almost identical phrases, as if they all had a common written reference source.
P. “These trusted people, your friends, would have to have been actual witnesses to the described events to have any real testimony. Can you give us the names and ages of your sources and dates when these conversations occurred?”
J. “I did not record those.”
P, “What is your native language?’
P, “Were you literate in Greek and able to write in that language?”
J, “Not likely.”
P, “You do know your first and only recorded writing is in Greek?”
P, “So, you were about 100 years old when you wrote, you did not sign or date anything, and you did not give us the sources of your information? The only text available in 185 AD was in Greek. Do you expect us to believe everything you wrote?”
P, “Since it is commonly assumed you were inspired when you wrote, as it is assumed for the other three gospel writers, there should not be obvious conflicts in the texts. Let’s get to some specifics: One of the most glaring and interesting of the contradictions is in the accounts of the “Last Supper”. The “Last Supper” was also the “Passover Meal”, right? That’s what Matthew 26:2 and 19, Mark 14:1 and 6, and Luke 22:1 says. Your account in John 18:28 and clearly says it was the day before Passover. This is a clear contradiction. How do you explain this?”
J, “The other three must be wrong. I’ve seen a rationalization that we were using different calendars, but that is a bit humorous, don’t you think?”
P, “I will skip over some events and return later. The three other gospels, specifically Matthew 27:32, Mark 15:21 and Luke 23:26, all have the same statement. Simon bore Jesus’ cross. There is no note that Jesus even started with his cross. This is a direct contradiction with your testimony in John where Jesus bears the cross, and there is no mention of Simon. How do you reconcile this?”
J, “I wrote for drama. The whole Christian world visualizes and remembers my passage, and it occurs in every Passion play. It would not be nearly so dramatic for a stranger to portray such a holy image.”
P, “This next question does not directly relate to the “Passion”. This one relates to credibility:
Matthew 16:2 says about the same thing as John 8:51, but your statement in John is far more direct. You wrote that Jesus said, “My followers will never see death.” It is obvious you and others expected Jesus to return in your lifetimes; but, of course, that did not happen. Those verses require rationalizations beyond all reason. They are untrue! How do you explain this?”
J, “I guess we were wrong”
P, “If you were wrong here, how many other places were you wrong?’
J, “I plead the fifth.”
P. “Like in the other gospels you have missing reporters. Please explain this one: You state in John that in Jesus’ trial before Pilate that was held in “The Hall of Judgment” there were no Jews present. Yet, you give a word by word account of the exchange between those two. Did Pilate recount this conversation to you, or was it a centurion, or a Roman guard? All seem improbable sources, and you do not give us a clue?” Just who, exactly, relayed these verbatim conversations to you?
J, “I just knew.”
P, “Were you inspired by God as you wrote?”
J, “I never claimed inspiration, and no one in the New Testament claimed it for me.”
P, “How then did this rumor start that you were inspired?”
J, “It was most likely a group of men, led by Bishop Irenaeus, in 185 AD that started this story about the now currently accepted four gospels being inspired. This was done to put down competing and disparate stories broadly circulated and believed at that time.”
P, “You have just said that no one in the New Testament claimed inspiration for you. Was inspiration claimed for any writers so that you might be included?”
P, “Some might disagree with you here. Would you please explain?”
J, “Though I likely never met him, Paul in Timothy II, verse 3:16 wrote the scriptures are inspired (“God breathed”). Any student of NT history knows that Paul wrote 40-45 AD, decades before the Gospels were written and almost 200 years before any of the New Testament was put together in a now familiar form. Therefore, Paul was writing about the “Old Testament”, not the New Testament. Therefore, people ignorant of New Testament history often quote Paul to establish the inspiration, likely because his writings are placed after the gospels in the currently published New Testament.”
P, “Even though there are numerous differences in yours and the other gospel accounts of the events following the resurrection, I can see that I would be wasting the court’s time to query you further. Thank you. You may step down.”
P, “Your Honor, I respectfully submit that the entire testimony of this person be stricken. There is obviously no evidence here.”
Facts from the above not in question:
- There is no evidence of “the four gospels” being assembled together prior to 185 AD.
- In 185 AD there were several competing “gospels” and versions of Christianity.
- All of the principal characters of the New Testament spoke Aramaic.
- The only New Testament documents available in 185 AD were in Greek.
- None of the available gospel documents in 185 AD (or since) were signed or dated.
- There was no authentication of the documents except a best guess as to who wrote them.
- None of the New Testament writers claimed to be inspired or claimed it for the others.
- Writing was pretty much a special skill not possessed by “common folks”.
Facts from above that are in some dispute:
(The following discussions were taken from Wikipedia, the on line encyclopedia. There are similar discussions in the Britannica and Encarta encyclopedias.)
AUTHORSHIP: The authorship (of John) has been disputed since at least the second century, with mainstream Christianity traditionally holding that the author was John the Apostle, son of Zebedee. Several other authors have historically been suggested, including Papias, John the Presbyter and Cerinthus, though many apologetic Christian scholars still hold to the conservative view that ascribes authorship to John the Apostle. Most modern experts conclude the author to be an unknown non-eyewitness.
DATE: Most scholars agree on a range of c. 90100 for when the gospel (John) was written, though dates as early as the 60s or as late as the 140s have been advanced by a small number of scholars. Justin Martyr quoted from the gospel of John, which would also support that the Gospel was in existence by at least the middle of the second century, and the Rylands Library Papyrus P52, which records a fragment of this gospel, is usually dated between 125 and 160 CE.