Here’s a difficult question, and one I’ve been struggling with for a while. Is it possible that the Gospel of John contains certain sayings ascribed to Jesus that he didn’t actually say? I realize that this question sounds like it implies an attack on Biblical Inerrancy, but that problem can be avoided by making a case that John’s Gospel is of a slightly different genre then the synoptics and would therefore allow for the changing of historic events in order to make a theological point.
The anachronisms I’m concerned about are John 3:5 when Jesus says "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit," and John 6:55 when he says, "For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." These verses seem to be talking about baptism and communion before baptism and communion were revealed.
In the case of Baptism, It seems rather strange that Jesus would say that you need to participate in his death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6) before he died, was buried, and resurrected. Jesus even says to Nicodemus that he shouldn’t be surprised at this. I would think that Nicodemus should be a little surprised that he, a righteous Jew, should have to undergo baptism. Similarly, with John 6, it seems strange that Jesus would tell people that they needed to eat his body and drink his blood while he was still alive. But if we can allow John’s Gospel to be more of a theological document, then we can say that John was teaching about the significance of Baptism and Communion.
It could be said that Jesus was foretelling the future with respect to Baptism and Communion. In that case its a little interesting that John reported Jesus foretelling these things after they had been fulfilled. Some claim that Mark was doing the same thing when he reported that Jesus predicted the destruction of the temple in Mark 13.
In a recent debate between Craig Evans and Bart Ehrman, Dr. Evans explained that he didn’t think Jesus said any of the "I am" metaphors ascribed to him in John’s Gospel. He didn’t explain why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that there are seven "I am" metaphors, and seven non-metaphorical "I am" statements. This seems a little convenient because 7 is the number of completion. I think it’s likely that John constructed his narrative that way intentionally.
What do you guys think?
I believe that these are not anachronisms.
It is true that no one can enter the Kingdom of Heaven unless he is born again of the water and the spirit. What Jesus said was true. Clearly, Nicodemus understood the implications. There is a sense in which the teaching which Jesus gave to Nicodemus came to full realization only after he died. However, there were MANY examples of this in Jesus’ teachings. Jesus was a prophet. There are many things he said which only made full sense to the apostles at a later date. In fact there are a couple of times where the gospel writers note that the apostles only understood later what Jesus meant by what he said.
I agree that John 3:5 is talking about baptism, but I do not agree that John 6:55 is talking about the Lord’s Supper. This is a traditional interpretation, but when Jesus said, "unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood" he was talking about an intimate relationship with himself, not the Eucharist. He said "This is the bread…" Then later, he said, "I am the bread." So there is not even a possible anachronism in this passage, although
I think you could argue/construe (incorrectly, in my opinion, but…) that John 3:5 is an "anachronism" as it is an allusion to baptism.
John 3:5 was a personal teaching between Jesus and Nicodemus, not a public doctrinal teaching. Nicodemus was to be a Christian later. What he said on this occasion was a challenge to Nic that he must start from scratch and become like a child. He must accept Jesus as his Rabbi. I assume that this is exactly what Nicodemus needed to hear. I am guessing that later on, Nicodemus and the apostles saw a connection to baptism, but at the time, I am guessing that they had only a fairly dim understanding of the implications. When Jesus breathed on the apostles (John 20:21) I believe that many of the sayings Jesus had given them earlier began to take on a new meaning, including what he had said to Nicodemus.
I am happy to listen to and learn from others, but when people do not come from a faith perspective, we should take what thye says with a grain of salt. To simply accept the obvious, which is that these are things which Jesus said–most of them dozens of times, is not interesting enough for such scholars and they cannot become famous having such an uninteresting theory. The reason John and the other gospel writers report Jesus making foreshadow statements after the fact is because he said them and they wrote after they happened. Simple.
Please forgive my ranting here….
As to the 7s in John, I believe that they probably are not an accident. Whether John was purposefully arranging his thoughts in sevens (more likely, in my opinion, but I really am not sure) or whether the Holy Spirit was causing him to do this, and John was not aware (possible, but less likely in my opinoin) is debatable. Either way, I do NOT believe it is accidental that these things divide so neatly into sevens. So I agree with you that John constructed his gospels very carefully. However, to claim that Jesus did not say "I AM the bread of life," or "I am the resurrection and the life" or I AM the good shepherd–that the gospel writers made this up out of whole cloth– I definitely will not go there. I believe that the Bible is inspired by God and that the gospel accounts are a faithful rendering of things which actually happened and which Jesus actually said. I would imagine that Jesus made most of these I AM statements multiple times. I get a bit annoyed when these arrogant "smart" scholars make such gross speculations which are so obviously not true. If they were to question if perhaps one or two of them were not actually said by Jesus or if they speculated that he make 9 or 10 I AM statments and John trimmed them back to 7 on purpose to create a symmetric account, I could take them seriously, but to say that he said none of these ever, really…..!!!! Such scholars lose all credibility in my mind.