L. Michael White: The Gospel of John and the Breach with Judaism

L. Michael White, Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite (HarperOne, 2010), 360.

The Gospel of John thus represents a social situation of much greater separation of the Christian community from its Jewish neighbors. The theme of rejection of the message about Jesus has not been magnified into a total rejection of Jesus and the one sent from heaven by God. The community’s own confessional statements about Jesus now function as strict boundary markers against Judaism per se. At the same time, there are reflections of the ongoing tensions that must have led the harsh turn in the polemics of separation.

The miracle of the blind man (9:1-34) that follows the “Light of the World” discourse exemplifies the dilemma. Jesus heals a man who had been blind from birth, but the Pharisees – anachronistically portrayed as religious authorities who oversee piety compliance – challenge the one who had been healed and his parents in order to denigrate Jesus’ power. Finally, they threaten anyone who persists in confessing Jesus with expulsion from the synagogue (9:22). When the now sighted man does so, they “cast him out” of the synagogue (9:34).

An anachronism from the dates of Jesus, this dramatization of the miracle story reflects the experience of some within the Johannine Christian community for whom confession of Jesus had meant expulsion from the Jewish community. Yet in the social context of the author and audience this experience cannot have been the norm any longer, as the distance from Judaism has grown. The story thus serves as further rationale for the denunciation of Judaism because it had rejected both Jesus and his followers. For the Johannine community, at least, the breach with Judaism had become irreparable. The Johannine Christology – Jesus, the man from heaven – is a nascent form of creedal confession that provides a correlative theological warrant for separateness. On the other hand, some features within the story seem to reflect growing tensions within Christian circles over the image of Jesus as the “man from heaven.”

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