Sunday, January 19, 2014

The first meeting with Jesus for John the Evangelist?

St John Baptist Bearing Witness
Anniballi Caracci (Met)
The Gospel today was about John the Baptist referring two disciples to Jesus.
'...The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples;and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said "Behold, the Lamb of God!"  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said. "What do you seek?" And they said to him, "Rabbi (which means Teacher) where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see."  They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, it was about the tenth hour.  Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter was one of the two ...'

The point that stuck in my mind was why does it record "It was about the tenth hour."?  Space is precious in a scroll. So I pondered on this at home.

John' Gospel only mentions the time specifically on two other occasions (it was about the 6th hour when Jesus sits down with the woman of Samaria and when Pilate hands over Jesus to be crucified) but I don’t think this is the point.

We hear about John (the Baptist) and then John’s words to his disciples and then two of John’s disciples go to follow Jesus. One was Andrew who fetches Peter – who was the other one? We’re never told explicitly. But the Evangelist says “it was about the 10th hour”. How does he know?

He could have asked someone who was there at the time but this is a very odd detail to question someone about. I think he knows because he was the other disciple. And he mentions it to say in a modest and oblique way “I was there”. The time you first began to follow Jesus and meet him properly would be something you would remember forever. So this suggests that John the Evangelist was originally a disciple of John the Baptist, who hears John’s testimony and is the first along with Andrew to follow Jesus. But of course he never names himself in the Gospel – he is always “the other disciple”.

And there is no other incident in John which could be read as “the call of John”. Matthew records his calling and again it would be very odd to write a Gospel which didn’t give an account of the first time you met Jesus. And we know that James and John and Andrew and Peter were good friends.

Then I looked at the commentaries:
  • Tom Wright says “this passage introduces us to a shadowy character who is going to flit across the pages of this gospel several times …there is quite a good chance that this was John” 
  • William Barclay says “it may very well be that [the author] finishes that way because he was one of the two himself” 
  • CK Barrett says (in Peake) “it is possible (but beyond proof) that the other was John the son of Zebedee”
John Chrysostom says (Homily XVIII on John) "Wherefore then has he not made known the name of the other also? Some say, because it was the writer himself that followed; others, not so, but that he was not one of the distinguished disciples" though it seems that Chrysostom inclines towards the latter theory.

So I feel I'm in quite good company. What do people think?

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