The Gospel of John is well known for being very different in nature from the three synoptic Gospels. But one thing has puzzled me about John for a while. There are four things, in particular that are very important to the Church that John takes pains to avoid:
the name of the mother of Jesus.
the name of the disciple whom Jesus loved.
no command to baptize nor formula for it
the institution of the Eucharist.
The last is particularly troubling, in that John spends so much time talking about Baptism and the Eucharist indirectly. To those who believe that the Gospel of John proves that these are merely symbols and that John must be interpreted symbolically, my only response is that the other Gospels, Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, and the tradition of the earliest Church all contradict that hypothesis strongly. I am unaware of the early Church fathers treating John as if it was purely symbolic. Nor does such symbolism explain John not mentioning the other two in my list.
Is there any scholarly hypothesis about why John would be so explicit about so many other things but deliberately, in my mind, leave out these four things?
I don’t think we can say John “took pains to avoid” things…we can’t know that. In the introduction to John’s Gospel in the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible a statement is put forth that addresses the question about the Eucharist and the disciple who Jesus loved and probably covers the other two also. Here’s the reference to the Eucharist:
…“John is silent about the eucharistic words and actions of Jesus, choosing instead to recount the Bread of Life discourse where Jesus first promises to give himself to the world as sacramental food. These differences have suggested to several scholars, ancient and modern alike, that John was familiar with one or more of the Synoptic Gospels. If so, he must have wanted to give readers additional information about the life and teaching of Jesus that would supplement the authentic Gospels already in circulation” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, New Testament, pg. 158).
I would say that John’s Gospel is a highly developed theological work … it utilizes symbolic language to provide the venue for deeper understanding of the realities of the Incarnation of God …
From its beginning to its end - every passage is dripping with ever deeper meanings …
For example - John begins his Gospel by paralleling the Book of Genesis -where we have the beginning of Salvation History … In John’s Gospel we have Salvation history fulfilled in the Incarnation of the Word Made Flesh [Jesus] - the same Word that was in the beginning, the Word that was with God, the Word that was God …
A person could say that John is using “the Word” in a symbolic manner … and he is … but he also means it in a very real sense at the same time … John’s symbols and theology are the fullness of the reality that is our Lord who came to save us …
Thus … you always have to ask … who does this person represents in Salvation history? …
The location - what events occur at this or similar locations? …
What role in some ceremony or event is being performed by this person and why?
What old testament stories provide a parallel and what does that information add to understanding this passage?
My understanding is that the Gospels were written for different audiences and if I have this correctly, John was mostly written for the Jews and the purpose of his Gospel is explained in Chap 20:30 & 31 “Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of His disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in his name”.
The Gospel of John appears less of a narrative and a more profound teaching about Jesus. He starts with “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” moving to “And the Word became flesh”. To me, it seems as if John is going building on, and taking us beyond genealogy and the facts of Jesus’ birth into a beautiful mystery. The Catholic News Agency sums it up better ( catholicnewsagency.com/resources/bible/introduction-to-the-new-testament/gospel-of-john/) where it says ““Unlike the authors of the synoptic gospels, John steeps his gospel in abundant symbolism, both theological and sacramental. Images like bread, light, sheep, water and world suffuse the text providing rich food for meditation. John presents no parables and relatively few stories of healings. Instead, Jesus gives several long discourses which are teeming with theological content.”
Each of the Gospels contains unique references whether to parables or incidents in Jesus’ life and I can only guess that even added together, they would not cover everything.
Mary Magdalene (named) reports the empty tomb to Peter and the Beloved Disciple in chapter 20, verse 2. That would seem to make it unlikely that she is the Beloved Disciple.
Also, whoever the Beloved Disciple is, that person is credited at the end of the book with writing the book (which is presumably why we call it the Gospel of John, since John is the most common identification of the Beloved). So whoever it was seems to have picked that title for him- or herself, rather than covering up someone else’s name.
Richard Bauckham (in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses) has an interesting thesis that the writer of the Gospel of John was not John the Apostle, but John the Elder, a well-known figure in the Early Church and a mentor to Papias and others. John was not an Apostle, but a disciple from very early on - possibly the young man who escapes without his clothes at the arrest of Jesus.
Bauckham points to the Gospel writer’s use of a common ancient literary technique called “inclusio” to show that his own witness (he is the first and last person mentioned in the Gospel) can be relied upon to tell the entire story reliably. The idea of “first and last,” (Alpha and Omega) appear in Revelation, as well, which ties that book to the Gospel.
Reliable witnesses in ancient times were those who knew or witnessed to the entirety of the sequence of important events. This is why the Word (from the Beginning to the End of all time) is to be trusted as the Alpha and Omega. Thus, John as a witness from the beginning to the end of Jesus’ life (first and last reference in the Gospel) is to be trusted as an authentic and reliable witness to the teaching and life of Jesus.
Bauckham also explains in great detail why some characters in the Gospels were named and others not. Much of this has to do with the year that each Gospel was written and how naming specific characters might have put them in jeopardy with the Jewish authorities.
So, for example, the woman who anointed Jesus in preparation for his entry into Jerusalem was not named in earlier written Gospels because that would have made her an accomplice as far as the charges against Jesus as “King of the Jews.” She anointed him in the manner that a king would have been. Also, making known the identity of the owner of the room where the Last Supper was held (the later meeting place of the disciples) would have placed him in danger. These characters could have been named later on when immanent danger to them had passed, say after the destruction of Jerusalem.
This is why John never names himself as the author of the Gospel, but places himself in it as a witness using literary and cryptic techniques. Partly to keep his own identity secret but also out of deference to the important figures in the Gospel story. He views himself as a very reliable witness but not an important character in the narrative itself.
If I recall correctly, Bauckham argues for an early dating of Mark, Matthew and John, but a slightly later dating for Luke. He makes a compelling case.
Concerning the testimony of John being cryptic, but yet quite discernible…
The actual narrative of Jesus’ life begins with…
And this is the testimony of John
Ostensibly, meaning the testimony of John the Baptist, but obscurely referring to John, himself, the writer of the Gospel.
Note that two of John the Baptist’s disciples were the first to follow Jesus. One is identified as Andrew, the other is never identified. This other disciple, Bauckham suggests, is the writer of the Gospel.
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
Since the disciples were disciples of John the Baptist the implicit claim is that they were with him from near the beginning of his mission, they would have been there to witness the Baptist’s prophetic words about Jesus ("There is one coming…) and to the entire public life of Jesus from the point of his being baptized by John the Baptist. Note also, that the Gospel writer refrains from saying anything about the birth and early life of Jesus because he did not himself witness any of it. He was keeping his testimony very strictly to what he himself witnessed.
In addition to what others have already posted, consider the following:
[quote=John 19:25-27]Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
Here we see:
Mary Magdaline is specifically mentioned by name distinct from the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” and
The disciple is explicitly referred to as being a male.
Therefore, it is not possible that Mary Magdaline was the disciple whom Jesus loved.
This is also the reason that Peter refers to Rome (where he is writing the letter from) as “Babylon”. They didn’t want the letter (and eventual copies) being read by the Romans and they learn that Peter is in Rome.
Also, this is why in Revelation they identify Caesar with the number 666 or 616 (the sum total of his name in Roman numerals).
When your group is being crucified, tortured, fed to lions, and other awful stuff, no need to help them to find you.
Personally, I think this was also a reason why confessions in the early Church were public confessions in front of everyone. The safety of the group depended on it. If you sinned by siding with the Romans, or worshipped Caeser, you were a threat to the congregation, and needed to perform a significant penance to show that you were no longer a threat.
This is called reading our own prejudices and preconceptions back into history.
As if proclaiming that Jesus was the Son of God, equal to the Father, did not cause far more acute problems for the early Church. Obviously, it did. Recall that Paul was on a mission to persecute and kill early Christians. Stephen was stoned and James thrown from the Temple parapet. I would say their problems were caused by what they said, which were far more disturbing to the Jews and Romans than that Jesus loved Mary of Magdala.
In point of fact, Jesus, himself, said many things that the Jewish authorities found exceedingly disturbing. Which do you suppose they would deem worse:
Claiming to be God?
Claiming to love a woman?
Given that the expected behaviour of young Jewish men at the time was to take a wife, for his followers to claim Jesus loved Mary of Magdala would have been far less problematic than to insist he is the Messiah, the Son of God or that he resurrected from the dead.
It is certain that if Jesus had merely claimed that Mary was his most beloved disciple, the Sanhedren would have been thrilled about his orthodoxy to Judaism, Pilate relieved of his dilemma and there would not have had much of a reason to crucify him.
Let’s, at least, calibrate our “disturbance meter” properly and not anachronistically before we go around indulging hunches.