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The Gospel of St. John

It is the constant and unbroken voice of Tradition that John, the son of Zebedee - the beloved disciple and Apostle of Christ - wrote the fourth Gospel. In all the manuscripts and versions, the Gospel bears his name. Whenever it is quoted, it is quoted as the Gospel according to St. John. A decisive testimony in regard to the Johannine authorship of the fourth Gospel comes to us from St. Irenaeus, a disciple of St. Polycarp who in turn was a disciple of St. John himself. St Irenaeus writes: "The John, the disciple of the Lord, who also leaned on His breast, himself also published a Gospel while he was at Ephesus in Asia." (Adv. Haer. III:1.) Tertullian, echoing the tradition of northern Africa, frequently quotes from the fourth Gospel, and designates its author as the beloved disciple - the Apostle John. From Egypt comes the testimony of Clement of Alexandria who in his extant works quotes the fourth Gospel more than one hundred times and refers to it as the work of the Apostle John. Clement says: "John, perceiving that the other Evangelists had set forth the human side of the Person of Jesus, at the instance of his disciples composed a spiritual Gospel." (Cited by Eusebius, Eccl. History, VI:14.)

St. John wrote his Gospel partly with a view to supplementing those of his predecessors but principally to establish on a firm basis the Divinity of Christ, even then impugned by Cerinth and other heretics. John has explicitly told us what was the object of his Gospel: "Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of His disciples which are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in his name" (20:30, 31). The Important passages affirming Christ's Divinity are the following: "The Word was God" (1:1) "For God so loved the world as to give His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish but may have life everlasting" (3:16); "My father worketh until now and I Work" (5:17); "I and the Father are one" (10:30); "He who sees Me sees the Father also; do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me?" (14:9-10) and Thomas' confession, "My Lord and my God" (20:28). While thus extolling the Divine character of Christ, St. John at the same time represents Him as true Man. The Incarnate Word is described as assisting at the wedding at Cana and at the feast at Bethany. We read of His friendship for the beloved disciple, for Lazarus, Martha and Mary. He sits weary at the well of Jacob and weeps at the tomb of Lazarus. His last discourse is an outpouring of love for His disciples.

He tastes the bitterness of the chalice (12:27). His last thought is for His Blessed Mother (19:26-27). Christ, according to St. John, is God, He is the Light of the World, enlightening all men that come into this world, and - according to their dispositions - attracting them or repelling them. This self-revelation of Christ, with the accompanying acceptance or rejection of Him by men, is emphasized throughout the fourth Gospel. The Gospel explains how it was that the Abrahamic promises were not fulfilled in the Jews of Jerusalem. It shows that Christ left nothing undone to convince the Jews of His Messianic and Divine dignity. Their rejection of Him was due entirely to their own deliberate obstinacy. "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him" - as many as believed in His doctrine - "He gave the power to be made sons of God." The gift of adoptive sonship was not to be dispensed merely because some by flesh and blood happened to be of the Jewish race.

The particular scope of the author and the time of composition have given the fourth Gospel a character quite different from that of the Synoptics. In the first place, St. John's Gospel has little of the Synoptic material. This absence is not due to St. John's ignorance of the first three Gospels, for he knows the Synoptics and makes a clear allusion to their contents (1:26-33; 6:68; 12-27). St. John's aim is not to rewrite the Synoptics but to give the Church another Gospel, a more profound presentation of the Person and teaching of Christ. St. John goes beyond the Synoptics, and presents a number of incidents and discourses which prove the special object which he set for himself. He is not a mere chronicler, and consequently passes over what the Synoptics had already told and what everyone already knew. He says nothing of the institution of the Eucharist and of Baptism - not because he did not know of these two sacraments, but because his Gospel is primarily doctrinal and not narrative. Instead of relating the institution of these two sacraments, he gives us two dogmatic discourses in which Christ foretells and explains the nature of each. That, on the other hand, so little of the Johannine material is found in the Synoptics likewise presents no serious difficulty. The Synoptics do not purport to be a complete history of Christ. No one Gospel pretends to be an exhaustive account of His life and teaching. The fourth Gospel is selective, the Synoptics are at best only fragmentary.

Secondly, in the Synoptics Christ propounds His teaching in simple language and in parables derived from the scenes of everyday life; in the fourth Gospel the tone is always dogmatical, lofty, majestic, sublime and often very enigmatic. These two pictures of Christ's teaching method, however, are both historical and true. The Synoptists wrote during the infancy of the Church; St. John wrote at a time when the Church was well established. The Synoptists had indeed grasped the full doctrine concerning Christ; St. John lived in that doctrine, steeped his soul in it, and meditated upon it for seventy years before he wrote his Gospel. The synoptists wrote for the newly converted pagans and Jews who had to be taught the elements of Christianity; St. John wrote for the third generation of Christians, who already knew the Synoptics and whose deeper theological learning enabled them to understand the more profound aspect of our Lord's teaching as well as to detect the errors of heresy and false speculation. The Synoptists deal largely with our Lord's life and teaching in Galilee; St. John concentrates on the happenings in Judea. When Christ preached to the simple and unlettered population of Galilee, He presented His teaching in that popular and elementary way which the Synoptics portray; when He spoke to Jewish scholars in Jerusalem or was engaged in controversy with the theologically trained Scribes and Pharisees, His teaching was expressed in the language of the Jewish schools, was more profound and - when occasion demanded - also more guarded. St. John was an eye-and-ear-witness of what he relates, and hence the content of his Gospel is derived directly from Christ. But the style and form in which this matter is expressed are frequently John's.

It is pointed out, in the third place, that while St. John's account of the public ministry of Christ comprises three passovers (four if we include 5:1), the Synoptics speak of only one Pasch, the one during which the crucifixion took place. Since Christ's ministry doubtless began several months before the first Pasch, it lasted - according to St. John's Gospel - at least two years and a half (three years and a half if we include 5:1); according to the Synoptic scheme, on the other hand, it extended over only one year. St. John enumerates at least three pass overs:

"And the Pasch of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem" (2:13); "Now the Pasch, the festival day of the Jews, was near at hand" (6:4); "Jesus, therefore, six days before the Pasch, came to Bethania" (12:1).

Many scholars also refer to the Pasch the words found in 5:1: "After these things was a festival day of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem." Are we then in the presence of a contradiction between St. John and the Synoptists? We do not think so. The Synoptics are not exhaustive but at best fragmentary; they considerably abridge the Savour's public life and condense its events. Furthermore, it is not a case of three witnesses against one, but of an early Synoptic tradition in contrast with the mature theme of St. John. It is to be also noted that the Synoptic account really supposes several Paschal solemnities during our Lord's ministry (cf. Matthew 12:1; Mark 2:23; Luke 6:1). Finally, it is impossible to compress within the space of one year the work accomplished by our Lord.

All that going and coming described by the Synoptists, the journeys through the cities and villages of Galilee, the prolonged sojourns at Capharnaum, the excursions into the neighboring regions, the retreats to the mountains and solitary places - all these events cannot be embraced within a single year.

Since Mariology is being discussed especially in this series, it is fitting that we should consider in this connection the well-known statement of Our Lord recorded in St. John's Gospel: "WHAT IS THAT TO ME AND TO THEE?"

The phrase, "Woman, what is that to Me and to thee? My hour is not yet come," has been the object of many different interpretations. Some consider it as a rebuke to Mary on the part of our Lord, and appeal to it in their criticism of our filial devotion to the Blessed Virgin. The context in which the passage occurs is the following: "And the third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. And Jesus also was invited, and His disciples, to the marriage. And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to Him: They have no wine. And Jesus saith to her: Woman, what is that to Me and to thee? My hour is not yet come. His mother saith to the waiters: Whatsoever He shall say to you, do ye" (John 2:1-5).

It is certain that the words, "Woman, what is that to Me and to thee? My hour is not yet come," do not contain a repulse or rebuke. A rebuke presupposes guilt and Mary - as the Council of Trent teaches - was free from the slightest taint of sin. In fact there was nothing in her request deserving of a rebuke. Her request was prompted by charity and expressed with great prudence. In simple terms

Mary explained the embarrassment of the spouses and left it to her Son to perform a miracle, if He judged opportune. Besides, since she saw her Son heralded by the Baptist and surrounded by disciples, she could prudently judge that the hour of His manifesting Himself through miracles had arrived.

The title "woman" contains nothing disrespectful. In trying to penetrate the meaning of the term we must not take for a criterion our own social code but must place ourselves in the circumstances and social customs in which it was used. Now, in the Syro-Chaldaic language, which Jesus spoke, this was the customary and honorable form of address to any woman. The same usage of the term "woman" prevailed among the Greeks; as Aeschylus tells us, even queens were addressed in that way. Augustus is said to have used this title in addressing Cleopatra. In Spain the word "mujer," "woman," is still used as an affectionate form of address. That Jesus did not consider it in any way offensive is evident from the fact that He used it again on the Cross, when He was entrusting His mother to the care and kind offices of St. John: "Woman, behold thy son." Christ also used it in addressing the weeping Magdalene at the tomb: "Woman, why weepest thou?" Surely our Lord would use only the kindest form of address to a woman who was weeping through great love of Him.

While we know with certainty what the words, "Woman, what is (that) to Me and to thee? My hour is not yet come," do not imply, it is more difficult to say what they signify positively. We shall briefly state the principle interpretations as presented by the Belgian Scripturist, F. C. Ceulemans, in his Commentary on St. John's Gospel (p. 35):

A. Some take the words, "What is that to Me and to thee?," as equivalent to saying, "What have I and you in common, O woman, in this work of performing miracles? In these I depend not on the will of man but on the will of My Father." This is held to be the reason, too, why Christ said, "Woman" and not "mother."

Such an answer, however, could hardly be excused from irreverence. It is excluded by the words of Christ Himself. The reason why Christ said, "What is that to Me and to thee?," is not the fact that they have nothing in common in this matter but that "My hour is not yet come." The explanation is likewise excluded by the next verse, which shows that Mary understood that the miracle would be performed.

B. In view of the fact that Christ said: "My hour is not yet come," and nevertheless worked the miracle, some maintain that a considerable period of time elapsed between the words of Christ and the performance of the miracle. Since Mary asked for the miracle at an inopportune time, Christ said to her: "Let Me take care of that; the moment for acting has not yet come." From this answer Mary understood that her Son would provide at an opportune time, and accordingly advised the waiter to do "whatever He shall say to you."

This explanation is unacceptable for two reasons: first, Mary began to petition when the wine had failed or began to fail - at a moment, consequently, which was opportune for the miracle; secondly, only a short time seems to have intervened between Christ's response and the miracle, for the latter could hardly be deferred without embarrassment to the spouses.

C. The Jesuit exegete Knabenbauer maintains that both members of the passage should be followed by a question mark and read as follows: "What is that to Me and to thee? Has My hour not yet come?" The text consequently would convey the following meaning: "What need is there that you urge Me? Has not the hour of My manifestation already come?" In other words, "I am ready to do what you desire, since the moment of manifesting My mission publicly has already come." Several arguments seem to favor this interpretation. Tatian and Gregory of Nyssa punctuated the passage in this way. There are many passages in the Gospels which should be read with an interrogation point but which lack the question mark.

Christ no doubt came to the marriage feast to manifest Himself in a special manner, and Mary understood from Christ's answer that a miracle would be granted. This theory is open to two objections: first, the Fathers of the Church and the oldest codices of the Bible read the passage, "My hour is not yet come," without a question mark; second, this explanation deprives Mary of all share and part in the miracle.

D. The expression, "What is that to Me and to thee?" occurs about twelve times in the Bible. Hence the proper approach to an understanding of the phrase is to study it successively in these twelve contexts and determine the meaning common to all of them. Now, what results does such an inductive study yield? In these contexts the phrase is equivalent to the question why an agent acts in a certain manner. More specifically, it expresses disapproval of some action or line of conduct which another is practicing toward the speaker. The phrase may be used to enemies or friends; when employed to enemies it contains an indignant protest against some action; when employed to friends it indicates that some action proposed or executed was ill-advised and importunate. In what sense the phrase is used is to be determined from the circumstance of the discourse, and from the facial expression, gestures and tone of voice of the speaker. That our Lord pronounced the words gently and kindly is clear from the fact that Mary understood that her petition was heard and was soon to be fulfilled. Taking the phrase, "My hour has not yet come," as referring to the beginning of the series of miracles, we may render the whole passage as follows: "Why dost thou constrain Me by thy prayers? My hour of performing miracles has not yet come."

After having verbally refused to perform the miracle, why does Christ shortly afterward nevertheless do so? Is there a contradiction between His assertion and His action? A parallel event in our Lord's life, narrated in Matthew 15:21-28, helps us to understand the present incident. In that section we read that the Canaanite woman besought the Lord to heal her daughter possessed by the devil. Christ at first seems to ignore her. When the disciples besought Him in her behalf, Jesus answered that He was sent only to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel.

But because the woman's faith persisted, Jesus finally hears her and heals her daughter. What caused Him to do that which He at first seems to decline? Faith! "O woman, great is thy faith, be it done to thee as thou wilt." Our Lord's initial negative attitude had the precise purpose of bringing out into greater relief - for the instruction and edification of others - the all-important prerequisite of the miracle, namely, faith in His Divine power. Our Lord frequently tested the faith of those nearest to Him: On the lake in the storm Jesus slept until the Apostles cried out to Him in despair; when Martha and Mary sent Him word that their brother was sick, He allowed the man to die, in order to put to a greater test their faith in Him as Author of life.

Now let us transport ourselves to Cana. Our Lord lovingly seems to decline: "What is that to Me and to thee? My hour is not yet come." Why? In order to call attention to that all-important element which made Him advance, as it were, the hour of His miracles - namely, Mary's abiding faith in His Divine Omnipotence. How much faith, indeed, is concealed in those words. "They have no wine;" "Whatever He shall say to you" - although you may not understand the motive of His command - "do ye." It was very important to call attention to this persevering faith in His Divinity, lest it appear that He was performing the miracle from a social motive, for the private benefit of His friends and acquaintances. Since Christ was not testing Mary's faith but rather showing unto us its perfection, He used a Hebraism which conveyed the idea at once of an importunity and an assurance of a request granted.

Discussion Aids
Set I

1. Who was the author of the fourth Gospel?
2. Why did St. John write his Gospel?
3. Quote some of the passages in which St. John proclaims the divinity of Christ; the humanity of Christ.
4. What, according to St. John, was the reaction of the Jews to Christ's mission?
5. Make a list of the differences between St. John's Gospel and the Synoptics.
6. In what circumstances of life would you pray especially to St. John?
7. Why was St. John called the "disciple whom Jesus loved" (e.g. 21:20)?
8. Why did St. John deserve to be entrusted with the custody of the Blessed Virgin Mary (19:27)?

Set II
1. Do the words - "What is that to Me and to thee" - contain a rebuke to Mary?
2. Does the title "woman" imply anything disrespectful?
3. Are the words - "What is that to Me and to thee" - to be understood as excluding Mary from any connection with the miracle?
4. Did considerable time elapse between the words of Christ and the performance of the miracle?

5. What is the theory of the Scripturist Knabenbauer?
6. How is the correct meaning to be determined?
7. What moved Christ to perform the miracle after He had verbally declined?
8. What lesson does the miracle teach us?
9. How does it establish Mary's intercessory power?
10. Show how Matthew 12:46-50, far from containing any slight to Mary, brings out one of her virtues.
11. Do you see any connection between John 2:4, 19:26, and Genesis 3:15 ("woman")?

Religious Practices
1. I will read with attention and reverence the Prologue of St John's Gospel said at the end of Mass.
2. I will make an act of faith in the Incarnation internally when I genuflect at the words, "And the Word was made flesh" (John 1:14).
3. I will have great confidence in Mary's intercessory power and in my prayers imitate her faith in Christ's divine power.