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Is the Gospel of John History or Theology?
by Michael Kruger
Over the years, biblical scholars have challenged the historicity of the canonical gospels on a number of fronts. But, no gospel has taken it on the chin like the Gospel of John. Ever since Clement of Alexandria’s famous statement that the gospel of John was “a spiritual Gospel” (recorded in Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 6.14.7) critics have suggested that John has very little to do with history and has much more to do with theology.
The reasons for such critiques of John are not difficult to find. John writes the story of Jesus in a lengthy, drawn-out style, (quite different than the pithy language of the Synoptics), he includes unique events (e.g., the man born blind, raising Lazarus from the dead), and, most of all, he highlights the divinity and pre-existence of Jesus (“In the beginning was the Word”).
If you want to know about the Jesus of history, the gospel of John, we are told, is not the place to go.
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But, is it really true that John is more theology than history? In 2007, Richard Bauckham published an article in NTS entitled, “Historiographical Characteristics of the Gospel of John,” which answers precisely this question. In my opinion, Bauckham’s article has not received the attention it deserves.
In his article, Bauckham argues that John bears certain characteristics that his readers would have understood as historiographical—meaning they would have understood it to be a work of history. And these characteristics are actually more prominent in John than in the Synoptics. Let me just mention three of them…
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