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Gospel of John by James F. McGrath

Q. Is the Gospel of John a Jewish mystical work?

A. It is appropriate to note that there are scholars who would deny that the Gospel of John is Jewish and/or that it is mystical. My own view, however, is that there is good reason to answer the question in the affirmative. The fourth Gospel has not only the Jewish Scriptures but Jewish traditions of interpretation woven into its very fabric. And the Christians by and for whom it was written had previously been expelled from their local synagogue by other Jews who disagreed with their views. The prologue (John 1:1-18) presents the lens through which the Gospel author wishes Jesus to be viewed, and it shares key concepts with the Jewish mystical philosopher Philo of Alexandria. The Gospel speaks of visions (John 1:51), which were an important part of mysticism, and emphasizes union with Jesus and ultimately with God through the spirit. It is possible that Jesus himself is viewed as a mystic, one who speaks with the divine voice because the divine Word/Spirit dwells in him. For all these reasons and more, the Gospel of John seems aptly described as a “Jewish mystical work.”

If you'd like to read further, Maurice Casey's Is John's Gospel True? is an example of a scholar denying the Jewishness of the Gospel of John. In contrast, Wayne Meeks famously said that the Gospel of John is the most Jewish at precisely those moments when it is also the most anti-Jewish! Two books sympathetic to the mystical view are Jey Kanagaraj's Mysticism in the Gospel of John and April DeConick's Voices of the Mystics, which includes a treatment of John.

James F. McGrath, "Gospel of John", n.p. [cited 25 May 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/ask-a-scholar/Gospel of John

Contributors

James F. McGrath

James F. McGrath
Professor, Butler University

James F. McGrath is a professor in New Testament language and literature at Butler University in Indianapolis.

A gospel is an account that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth.

Characteristic of a deity (a god or goddess).

A Jewish philosopher who lived from roughly 20 B.C.E. to 50 C.E. whose writings bridge Greek culture and Jewish thought.

John 1:1-18

The Word Became Flesh
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.2He was in the beginning with God.3All things came into be ... View more

John 1:51

51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

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