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Re: [John_Lit] The Johannine Community

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  • Tobias Hägerland
    ... the ... of ... by ... Perhaps this summary of the late Fr Brown s theological agenda may be derived from reading his Community of the Beloved Disciple
    Message 1 of 10 , Sep 2, 2003
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      John M. Noble wrote:

      > Raymond Brown's agenda seems to be to present the teaching about
      the
      > paraclete in 4G and 1J in the context of a community divided and in
      > the process of self destructing, thus bringing into question this
      > aspect which he claims gives a 'different tone from apostolic
      > Christianity'. I personally don't see how 1J could be used to help
      > interpret 4G; it seems to go the other way around. So when RB makes
      > statements like 'the use of the epistles as a correct guide to
      > interpreting the Gospel finally won for John a place in the canon
      of
      > the church', I believe that he is really questioning the canonicity
      > of 4G. Particularly when he claims that the beloved disciple wasn't
      > John at all and anyway the letter wasn't written by him but rather
      by
      > an unreliable community.

      Perhaps this summary of the late Fr Brown's theological 'agenda' may
      be derived from reading his 'Community of the Beloved Disciple' in
      isolation? I do not think it will fit into the broader picture that
      one gets from reading other books written by this scholar.

      First, as a loyal Roman Catholic, Brown would hardly have arrogated
      for himself the authority to redefine the canon of Scripture. In his
      commentaries on the Gospel and Epistles of John, Brown frequently
      discusses the enduring theological import of particular passages, and
      gives his views regarding to what extent the contents is binding on
      contemporary Catholics. Besides showing himself to be not only an
      academic exegete but also a sensitive theologian, Brown thus
      demonstrates his full acceptance of the canon as defined by the
      Church. However, he would probably have been reluctant to treat any
      of the biblical books as canonical in and by itself. The canonical
      interpretation of a certain passage presupposes the entire canon.
      None of the different biblical books present a perfect theology in
      isolation, so each writing has to be 'balanced' by the other
      canonical writings. I think Brown would say that the Gospel according
      to John cannot function as a reliable norm for Christian faith and
      morals if it is not read as one of many voices in the canon. As far
      as I can remember, Brown spelled these things out quite clearly in
      his 'Introduction to the New Testament'.

      Second, Brown did not exactly depict the 'Johannine community' as
      self-destructing; rather, he thought that it had been incorporated
      and assimilated into the 'Great Church'. He may have held the view
      that the Johannine community could not survive as an isolated
      community, just as the Johannine literature had to be assumed into
      the larger biblical canon in order to retain enduring significance.
      But he certainly did not depict Johannine Christians as the bad guys.
      Brown, as I have understood him, was welcoming different 'tones' both
      in primitive and contemporary Christianity.

      Third, I doubt that Brown's reconstruction of the Johannine community
      (a reconstruction which I, incidentally, find quite removed from
      reality) was part of any 'agenda'. In his commentary on the Gospel,
      Brown still held to the traditional view which identified the Beloved
      Disciple as John, son of Zebedee. It was scholarly argument and
      hardly anything else that forced him to revise his opinion on this
      matter. To my mind, this sets an example for all of us who try to be
      honest scholars and truth-seekers.

      Tobias Hägerland, M.Th.
      Ph.D. Candidate
      Göteborg University
      Department of Religious Studies and Theology
    • Moloney, Francis J
      As someone who has worked extensively on Ray Brown s contribution, especially in editing, updating, introducing and concluding his posthumous Introduction to
      Message 2 of 10 , Sep 2, 2003
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        As someone who has worked extensively on Ray Brown's contribution, especially in editing, updating, introducing and concluding his posthumous "Introduction to the Gospel of John" (ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 2003), I very much appreciate Tobias' contribution. It matches my own conclusions, soon to be delivered at the Baltimore Conference: "The Gospel of John: The Legacy of Raymond E. Brown and Beyond." For an earlier reflection, see my "Raymond Brown's New Introduction to the Gospel of John: A Presentation and Some Questions," CBQ 65 (2003): 1-21.

        Thanks.

        Frank Moloney, SDB

        -----Original Message-----
        From: Tobias Hägerland [mailto:tobias.hagerland@...]
        Sent: Tuesday, September 02, 2003 4:17 AM
        To: johannine_literature@yahoogroups.com
        Subject: Re: [John_Lit] The Johannine Community


        John M. Noble wrote:

        > Raymond Brown's agenda seems to be to present the teaching about
        the
        > paraclete in 4G and 1J in the context of a community divided and in
        > the process of self destructing, thus bringing into question this
        > aspect which he claims gives a 'different tone from apostolic
        > Christianity'. I personally don't see how 1J could be used to help
        > interpret 4G; it seems to go the other way around. So when RB makes
        > statements like 'the use of the epistles as a correct guide to
        > interpreting the Gospel finally won for John a place in the canon
        of
        > the church', I believe that he is really questioning the canonicity
        > of 4G. Particularly when he claims that the beloved disciple wasn't
        > John at all and anyway the letter wasn't written by him but rather
        by
        > an unreliable community.

        Perhaps this summary of the late Fr Brown's theological 'agenda' may
        be derived from reading his 'Community of the Beloved Disciple' in
        isolation? I do not think it will fit into the broader picture that
        one gets from reading other books written by this scholar.

        First, as a loyal Roman Catholic, Brown would hardly have arrogated
        for himself the authority to redefine the canon of Scripture. In his
        commentaries on the Gospel and Epistles of John, Brown frequently
        discusses the enduring theological import of particular passages, and
        gives his views regarding to what extent the contents is binding on
        contemporary Catholics. Besides showing himself to be not only an
        academic exegete but also a sensitive theologian, Brown thus
        demonstrates his full acceptance of the canon as defined by the
        Church. However, he would probably have been reluctant to treat any
        of the biblical books as canonical in and by itself. The canonical
        interpretation of a certain passage presupposes the entire canon.
        None of the different biblical books present a perfect theology in
        isolation, so each writing has to be 'balanced' by the other
        canonical writings. I think Brown would say that the Gospel according
        to John cannot function as a reliable norm for Christian faith and
        morals if it is not read as one of many voices in the canon. As far
        as I can remember, Brown spelled these things out quite clearly in
        his 'Introduction to the New Testament'.

        Second, Brown did not exactly depict the 'Johannine community' as
        self-destructing; rather, he thought that it had been incorporated
        and assimilated into the 'Great Church'. He may have held the view
        that the Johannine community could not survive as an isolated
        community, just as the Johannine literature had to be assumed into
        the larger biblical canon in order to retain enduring significance.
        But he certainly did not depict Johannine Christians as the bad guys.
        Brown, as I have understood him, was welcoming different 'tones' both
        in primitive and contemporary Christianity.

        Third, I doubt that Brown's reconstruction of the Johannine community
        (a reconstruction which I, incidentally, find quite removed from
        reality) was part of any 'agenda'. In his commentary on the Gospel,
        Brown still held to the traditional view which identified the Beloved
        Disciple as John, son of Zebedee. It was scholarly argument and
        hardly anything else that forced him to revise his opinion on this
        matter. To my mind, this sets an example for all of us who try to be
        honest scholars and truth-seekers.

        Tobias Hägerland, M.Th.
        Ph.D. Candidate
        Göteborg University
        Department of Religious Studies and Theology



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      • John M. Noble
        Hej, Tobias! Thanks for your mail. I admit I was being a little (only a little) provocative in the tone of the last paragraph; I was trying to see what sort of
        Message 3 of 10 , Sep 2, 2003
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          Hej, Tobias!

          Thanks for your mail. I admit I was being a little (only a little)
          provocative in the tone of the last paragraph; I was trying to see
          what sort of reaction there would be if I applied to RB's work the
          sort of techniques he applied to holy scripture (namely, seeing
          spooks under the carpet and agendas in places where there probably
          aren't any). The reply was pretty much as I expected, but it was
          quite satisfying to get it anyway.

          You brought in an extra element; namely, the beliefs, loyalties and
          sincerely held faith of RB. I had simply pointed to apparently
          disparaging remarks he had made concerning 1J and 4G and suggested
          that such a view essentially questioned whether the works were
          canonical. I'll respond briefly to my views on RB's faith, but only
          briefly, since I feel that it is off topic for this list.

          >First, as a loyal Roman Catholic, Brown would hardly have arrogated
          >for himself the authority to redefine the canon of Scripture. In his
          >commentaries on the Gospel and Epistles of John, Brown frequently
          >discusses the enduring theological import of particular passages, and
          >gives his views regarding to what extent the contents is binding on
          >contemporary Catholics. Besides showing himself to be not only an
          >academic exegete but also a sensitive theologian, Brown thus
          >demonstrates his full acceptance of the canon as defined by the
          >Church.

          I didn't get that impression from his work. He quotes that the church
          teaches 'a qualified estimation of the gospels' (footnote on p.26 of
          Community of Beloved Disciple' and then goes on to use this
          qualification fairly liberally. I noted the 'nihil obstat' and
          'imprimatur' labels inside the front cover and imagined that the
          censors must have given approval through clenched teeth,
          understanding that technically RB had not erred, but wondering if the
          1964 Biblical Commission Instruction (which he quotes to show that he
          really is such a good sensitive Catholic interpreter and teacher)
          knew what they were letting themselves in for by permitting such
          interpretational liberty.

          In response to your question: no, my view does not come from reading
          'Community' alone. It comes primarily from statements in his
          commentary on 1J, one statement in particular.

          Looking at 1J3v6, on sinless perfection, he says quite bluntly 'No
          other NT author contradicts himself so sharply within such a short
          span of writing.'

          I personally would never claim that an NT author had contradicted
          himself. Yes, anyone who makes such a statement does arrogate himself
          above scripture in so doing. It's quite all right for an academic and
          scholar to do this, but it is incompatible with a Christian
          confession of faith, RC or otherwise.

          He does go on to modify this initial blunt statement, but the
          statement has already been clearly made. The author of the epistle is
          referring to two different things. RB seems to be suggesting that the
          two types of perfection discussed in 1 John are heretical and
          orthodox; these are somehow supposed to represent heretical and
          orthodox interpretations of 4G. I find this resolution deeply
          unsatisfactory, since there is no evidence in the text to suggest
          that the author believes that one of his two positions concerning
          sinless perfection is wrong.

          I personally would never presume to suggest that there is any
          contradiction in the Holy Writ. If there appears to be one and I
          can't resolve it, I simply take the view that my brain isn't big
          enough and hopefully I'll be able to resolve it later.

          At this point in particular, it is my sincerely held belief that to
          reject the idea that both 1J1v8,9 and 1J3v6 are true in a believer's
          life at one and the same time is to reject the heart and guts of the
          Christian faith. That is my heartfelt belief about RB's faith; he has
          rejected Christ and Him crucified. I base my conclusion entirely on
          his own confession, the statement he made concerning 1J3v6. I didn't
          want to mention this (because I prefer to avoid thinking about such
          things and reaching such conclusions and anyway it is off the topic
          for the list), but you forced it by mentioning that RB was a loyal
          Roman Catholic, who wouldn't arrogate himself above scripture. Here
          he has stated that scripture is self contradictory which very much is
          arrogating himself above scripture. Much more importantly, he has
          missed something utterly vital in the process of so doing.

          I believe that Luther's lecture on Romans 7v14-25 lead to a good
          understanding of the dichotomy found in 1J1v8,9 and 1J3v6.

          >However, he would probably have been reluctant to treat any
          >of the biblical books as canonical in and by itself. The canonical
          >interpretation of a certain passage presupposes the entire canon.
          >None of the different biblical books present a perfect theology in
          >isolation, so each writing has to be 'balanced' by the other
          >canonical writings. I think Brown would say that the Gospel according
          >to John cannot function as a reliable norm for Christian faith and
          >morals if it is not read as one of many voices in the canon. As far
          >as I can remember, Brown spelled these things out quite clearly in
          >his 'Introduction to the New Testament'.

          A fine theoretical statement, if you take it to mean that one needs
          the whole canon to understand the true meaning of any individual
          part. I'm sure that many would agree with this statement of theory,
          but would sharply differ on how to put it into practice, rendering
          the statement vague and meaningless. Whatever he might have said to
          clarify this in his 'Introduction to the New Testament', it seems
          incompatible with his statement that scripture is self contradictory.

          >Second, Brown did not exactly depict the 'Johannine community' as
          >self-destructing; rather, he thought that it had been incorporated
          >and assimilated into the 'Great Church'. He may have held the view
          >that the Johannine community could not survive as an isolated
          >community, just as the Johannine literature had to be assumed into
          >the larger biblical canon in order to retain enduring significance.
          >But he certainly did not depict Johannine Christians as the bad guys.
          >Brown, as I have understood him, was welcoming different 'tones' both
          >in primitive and contemporary Christianity.

          OK ... If these are the good guys, then I certainly wouldn't like to
          meet the bad guys!!!! I already quoted from his book in previous
          submission statements that give this impression and left them looking
          pretty bad, at least to me.

          >Third, I doubt that Brown's reconstruction of the Johannine community
          >(a reconstruction which I, incidentally, find quite removed from
          >reality) was part of any 'agenda'. In his commentary on the Gospel,
          >Brown still held to the traditional view which identified the Beloved
          >Disciple as John, son of Zebedee. It was scholarly argument and
          >hardly anything else that forced him to revise his opinion on this
          >matter. To my mind, this sets an example for all of us who try to be
          >honest scholars and truth-seekers.

          With reference to your second point, the reasons he gives for placing
          the beloved disciple as someone different from the big three are
          hardly complimentary! either for the beloved disciple, or for the big
          three, or for the community.

          Whether there is an intentional 'agenda' or not, the community
          certainly enables him to bypass the clear and plain resolution of the
          dichotomy between 1J1v8,9 and 1J3v6 and give a somewhat strained
          explanation of something that is intended to apply to each and every
          individual believer in terms of two points of view within the
          community, thus conveniently removing the Christian content of the
          letter.

          John M. Noble

          >
          >Tobias Hägerland, M.Th.
          >Ph.D. Candidate
          >Göteborg University
          >Department of Religious Studies and Theology
        • Tobias Hägerland
          John M. Noble, You obviously posted your message on this list before we had our off- list e-mail exchange on this topic. I think that the latter sorted some
          Message 4 of 10 , Sep 8, 2003
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            John M. Noble,

            You obviously posted your message on this list before we had our off-
            list e-mail exchange on this topic. I think that the latter sorted
            some things out, and I feel that the discussion is rapidly moving
            away from matters exegetical, so I will not continue the debate here.

            One final comment though: sometimes provoking language can be quite
            healthy and inspiring, but you should be careful not to go too far in
            that direction. And to suggest that someone has 'rejected Christ' is,
            to my mind, an accusation too serious to be launched on such shaky
            foundations.

            Respectfully,
            Tobias Hägerland, M.Th.
            Ph.D. Candidate
            Göteborg University
            Department of Religious Studies and Theology
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