Inner/Outer Teachings of Jesus and the Gospel of John


#1

When I first started looking at biblical criticism, I found the observations about John’s distinct style to be powerful. The ‘old’ story of biblical criticism is that John represents later theological developments and was written after the more historically accurate Synoptics by a writer motivated to express his new Christological ideas.

Inspired by some threads on John here, I’ve read some responses to the ‘classical’ biblical criticism and they point out some very interesting things. These include the fact that the author of John has the most sensible chronology and better understanding of things like the geography of Israel. The Pool of Siloam is real after all!

One theory I had seen advanced for why John and the Synoptics are so different is that they represent the “inner” and “outer” teachings of Jesus, respectively. That is to say, John concerns the things that Jesus taught to His inner circle of followers, things which deal more with His own nature and includes the “signs” He did to illustrate that nature. His outer teachings were the ones that He taught publicly. Those public teachings completely avoided the famous “I am” statements, which He reserved for His closest disciples.

Is this theory compatible with Catholic interpretation of the scripture?


#2

It’s actually the Pool of Bethesda. Siloam was also referred to in the Old Testament (Isaiah 8:6; 22:9-11). Though to be fair, the true location of Siloam was also lost until recently (the real one was only discovered in 2004); for 1600 years, people had identified Siloam with a different (yet nearby) pool.

Many early modern scholars thought Bethesda was a myth because it isn’t mentioned in any other 1st century source aside from the gospel of John. Granted, later Christian pilgrim itineraries (travel books) do mention a pool of Bethesda, but the pilgrim accounts didn’t count as valid sources for them, since we all know what pilgrims sometimes do when they can’t find a place - they invent one for it.

Turns out that there actually was a five-porticoed pool (or rather, two pools) associated with healing in 1st century Jerusalem, and that these pilgrim accounts do refer to this pool. It’s just that the knowledge of its true location was also lost at some point, leading people to invent alternative identifications by pointing to other, different pools.

One theory I had seen advanced for why John and the Synoptics are so different is that they represent the “inner” and “outer” teachings of Jesus, respectively. That is to say, John concerns the things that Jesus taught to His inner circle of followers, things which deal more with His own nature and includes the “signs” He did to illustrate that nature. His outer teachings were the ones that He taught publicly. Those public teachings completely avoided the famous “I am” statements, which He reserved for His closest disciples.

Is this theory compatible with Catholic interpretation of the scripture?

I think this was taken from the idea found in the synoptics that Jesus taught in cryptic parables to the crowds, but He explained their meaning afterwards to the inner circle of circles. (Mark 4:33-34 “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”)

But the problem is, it doesn’t really fit the pattern. In John, Jesus speaks most of His ‘I am’ monologues not to the Twelve or any other close disciple of His, but to “the Judaeans / Jews,” who at times react negatively to it.

Of course, one might assume that Jesus literally changed His teaching style depending on the audience: He taught the people in the Galilee about “the kingdom of God/Heaven” indirectly using vague parables, while towards the people down south in Judaea He spoke in a more direct way about Himself. I don’t think this is very strong an idea, however.

Personally, (emphasis on the ‘personal’) just as I’ve said in other threads, I tend to lean towards the view that Jesus’ teachings in John isn’t just purely history or pure theology, but a combination of both. In other words, we’re not so much getting what Jesus actually would have said (ipsissima verba ‘the exact words’) but the underlying meaning or essence (ipsissima vox the ‘exact voice’) of whatever Jesus said back then, as post-Pentecost John finally realized the full meaning of Jesus’ teachings.

In other words, John’s gospel is the story of Jesus as filtered through John looking back with the gift of hindsight / the revelation of the Spirit making clear details and hidden meanings many people didn’t notice back then. John wasn’t telling just ‘the bare facts’, nor is he interested in that. His story of Jesus, you might say, transcends ‘history’ and ‘fact’.


#3

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.