- Thanks, John, for your views; what do you make of Raymond Brown's commentary and monograph on the Johannine Epistles?
On John 6, I find several features of the Johannine situation being echoed (not just one, as in Martyn's history-and-theology treatment of John 9), and I might see the departure of Jesus' disciples in John 6 as an echo of the departure of the Antichristic community members in I John 2.
From: John M. Noble [mailto:jonob@...]
Sent: Friday, May 30, 2003 4:16 AM
>> But as it has become apparent to me that all you are going to do isproof text toward a predetermined conclusion
Isn't this what everybody is trying to do, particularly when it comes
to 1 John?
Following, for example, Colin Kruse and almost all the other recent
commentators, there appears to be a consensus that John was writing to
a particular 'Johannine Community', where the teaching had a peculiar
'Johannine slant'. Unfortunately, the followers were in danger of
being lead astray by the false teaching of ‘secessionists’.
Kruse takes 1 John 2v19 'They went out from us' as the conclusive
proof of the existence of this community, and the problems therein as
the motivation for writing the letter. His whole exigesis seems based
around the idea of 'mirror reading' assuming the existence of this
If there is one thing which persuades me against the Johannine
community, it is using 1 John 2v19 in favour of it.
In the first six chapters of his gospel, John shows Christ revealing
himself to larger and larger numbers. The punch line occurs after the
long discourse in chapter 6, when practically all the followers leave.
This is the punch line of a large section of John's gospel. The
prominence given illustrates John's attitude towards the problem. The
phenomenon of 'they went out from us' therefore is not something which
subsequently sprung up and not something peculiarly Johannine, but
something which John had seen and understood right from the beginning
even when Christ was still in the flesh, and which was characteristic
of the whole Christian community right from the beginning, not the
prerogative of a Johannine sect and not something which developed
Crucially, note that they went out not because of false teaching, but
precisely because of Christ’s teaching. They were not lead astray;
they left precisely when they understood what it was all about.
Much of the exegesis on 1 John seems firstly to grasp at straws to
take a tenuous line to establish the existence of a specific Johannine
community and, afterwards, exegetes the letter assuming its existence.
It is very difficult to find a single page in the commentary by Colin
Kruse which does not contain the word 'secessionist' and makes claims
about what the secessionists were doing based on what John seems to be
speaking out against and to understand 1 John in this light. Note that
the word 'secessionist' does not appear once in 1 John.
Yet it is difficult to leave a first course on John's letter at any
theology college without fervently believing by the end of it that
there is a secessionist hiding behind every lamppost.
At the college where I tried studying, the mistaken interpretation of
1 John, that it was written to strengthen weak believers in danger of
being lead astray by false teaching arose through a mistaken view of
pastoring; in some sense the pastors formed a spiritual a team of
wiser and better people and the ordinary church goers were the weak
and feeble Christians in danger of being lead astray. The angle on 1
John showed a real spiritual arrogance.
John M. Noble
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>Thanks, John, for your views; what do you make of Raymond Brown'sDear Professor Anderson,
>commentary and monograph on the Johannine Epistles?
>On John 6, I find several features of the Johannine situation being
>echoed (not just one, as in Martyn's history-and-theology treatment
>of John 9), and I might see the departure of Jesus' disciples in
>John 6 as an echo of the departure of the Antichristic community
>members in I John 2.
Sorry it has taken so long to reply. At the beginning of June, after
my teaching commitments finished, I went abroad for the summer, with
no access to my theological books back home. I have only just
returned, to take care of repeat exams and start the next semester.
It didn't seem correct to state what I thought about Raymond Brown
based on half remembered things, without his books in front of me.
Firstly, I'd like to give my background. I am not a theologian; I am
a mathematician (senior lecturer at Linköping university). I tried
taking a Batchelor of Divinity by distance learning with the
Evangelical Theological College of Wales, but circumstances forced me
to give it up after only one semester.
I wasn't disappointed, because several serious differences between
myself and the seminary had become apparent. Firstly, their unit on
special and general revelation only touched on Emil Brunner once,
very briefly, in order to make some disparaging remarks about the
damage he had apparently done to Christian thinking. Emil Brunner's
book 'The Mediator' is the one influence that has most shaped my
thinking on the main doctrines of our faith. It is inconceivable to
me that a reformed baptist college could give a course on special and
general revelation without serious reference to this work.
I also had very serious problems with their approach to pastoring,
which I was unfortunate enough to see during the residential week.
Somehow, the pastor / elder in their set up is seen as some sort of a
big cheese, part of the spiritual elite, whose job it is to prevent
weak believers from being lead astray. Humility becomes a form of
arrogance. There is no room in their set up for the most important
verse of scripture with reference to pastoring 1 Thess 4v11 'make it
your ambition to ... mind your own business'. They clearly didn't see
the eldership / pastorate as simply people who knew more because they
had studied more and therefore in a better position to construct a
reasonable sermon; whatever they might have said, the undertones were
clearly that the eldership were spiritual big cheeses.
Which brings me on to the unit on 1 John, which I studied. Before
taking this unit, I always found 1 John to be the difficult part of
scripture. I had looked (vaguely) at the commentary by Robert
Candlish. While Candlish clearly sees some statements made by John as
a response to false doctrines that had been emerging (he clearly
feels that docetism was at least in its early stages), he doesn't
make any attempt to establish any Johannine Community.
So I had never previously heard of The 'Johannine Community', before
I took a unit in which the Johannine community, with all its
problems, was something taken as read; a necessary part of a proper
exegetical and hermeneutical understanding of 1 John. All the
suggested commentaries and texts actively upheld this idea; for
example, Howard Marshall and Colin Kruse. Robert Candlish wasn't
mentioned at all and his ideas seemed to be at odds with any
realistic way of understanding the text.
I didn't like the various assumptions being made, concerning the
Johannine community, its existence and characteristics, but it did
seem to fit very well with their view of pastoring, basically
regarding your average church goers as a bunch of stupid ninnies
ready to be lead astray by anything the nasty horrible secessionists
would throw at them and the eldership being the spiritual A-team to
ensure that this didn't happen. I wondered where the idea of the
Johannine Community had come from, which seemed to permeate
everything, and it wasn't hard to trace it back to Raymond Brown; his
commentary and book 'The Community of the Beloved Disciple'.
That is my experience of Johannine literature, which probably isn't
sufficient to justify me being on the list. When I joined up, I was
rather hoping simply to watch the discussion between professionals,
read what was developing and draw conclusions about what is currently
fashionable in the understanding of 1 John. Is the approach taken by
Raymond Brown mainstream? or are there serious Johannine scholars out
there who are deeply sceptical about the whole Johannine community
business? I had been expecting simply to observe the discussions, but
none appear to have taken place.
As far as Raymond Brown goes, it is clear that someone of my
background will not be impressed by the basic assumptions made in
order to reach these conclusions. He seems to start with the idea of
the Johannine Community and then he decides to milk scripture as much
as he can in order to draw as many conclusions as possible concerning
the community. It is, of course, much more convenient for him if the
Johannine literature was written by the community rather than by John
himself. For Raymond Brown, therefore, John *must* be dead at the
time of writing, both of the gospel and of his first letter. These
works were written by members of the Johannine community as their
manifesto explaining why they were different from other Christians.
For example, 'The author of the epistle was not himself an
eyewitness', even though the opening of the letter says that he was
one of several eyewitnesses. I think it is a bit much to claim that
in John 21v20-23 the author reports distress in the community over
the beloved disciple's death; I don't see the evidence that he's dead
at the time of writing. Rather, it looks more as if he is still alive
and he's countering speculation that he may go on for ever. But
Raymond Brown really needs John to be well and truly dead. He must
establish that these works were written by the Johannine community,
so that he can then do some mirror reading and establish various
features of this community. He goes on to describe 'the
"one-upmanship" of the Beloved Disciple in relation to Simon Peter in
the fourth gospel' and concludes 'The Johannine Christians
represented by the Beloved Disciple, clearly regard themselves as
closer to Jesus and more perceptive than the Christians of the
He also finds some deep significance in the fact that John doesn't
seem to say an awful lot about the sacraments. Personally, I prefer
simpler explanations when available. Perhaps, for example, John's
gospel was written rather late when other writing was around. He
simply didn't feel the need to cover ground that others had already
covered perfectly adequately. They were all writing essentially for
one Christian community.
Raymond Brown has his own agenda. Having thought of the Johannine
community, he wants to push it as much as possible and he's prepared
to loosen his view of scripture in order to do this. But I get the
distinct impression that other commentators (for example, Howard
Marshall) have lifted his key ideas and sanitized them in an
unconvincing way to make them acceptable in different circles. It is
this last part that I find difficult to understand.
John M. Noble
- Dear John Noble
I am intrigued by the deliberate tone of your criticism of the Community
concept. At least two books I have read recently have severely critiqued
this concept as circular reasoning.
Four Gospels and the One Gospel of Jesus Christ, Martin Hengel
The Origins of Mark, The Markan Community in Current Debate, Dwight N.
While there is a reality to the stimulus of community in writing,
nonetheless, there is no substitute for the writing itself by a single mind
based on whatever sources are available and digested.
Hengel is particularly scathing and assumes a real leadership and
If there was not a 'Johannine' community - what makes this Gospel unique?
Someone suggested it was an answer to the gospel of Thomas.
+ + + Victoria, B.C., Canada + + +
Catch the foxes for us,
the little foxes that make havoc of the vineyards,
for our vineyards are in flower. (Song 2.15)