Thursday, January 24, 2013

I am Discourses

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Religious Studies Essay

The term discourse has a very diverse meaning as it can be seen if you looks at a dictionary definition. A discourse may be a talk, yet the talk could be a short address or a lecture. More generally a conversation may be thought of, suggesting the involvement of more than one person, or even, when considering ‘religious’ discourse, a sermon might be intended.

Therefore when we consider the fourth gospel the term discourse may be seen as an ‘Umbrella’ term, this is confirmed by the way certain scholars use discourse to describe a variety of communication types. Dodd for example frequently uses dialogue when considering discourses. It is through this dialogue the dramatic events of chapters and 4 are shown, or as sustained dialogue between Jesus and the crowd in Chapter 6. Such sustained elements are also present as long continuous discourses in Chapter 5 and 10, though these are different from the conversations of Chapters 7 and 8, which are more controversial.

Bultman suggests that it is part of a Johannine style to have a discourse where people butting in interrupt the flow. These people are called interlocutors, and it is their interruptions that allow a clarification of intended meaning as the audience takes literally what is meant to be symbolic. Barret suggests there emerges a pattern with a statement leading to a misunderstanding, followed by further teaching to advance the ideas being put forward. Bultman also hints that the initial statement has intended double meanings, if this is the case it shows how the people didn’t fully understand Jesus, they could only see him superficially.


A further description of Johannine discourses is monologue. For example, in the Nicodemus passage in Chapter , the initial dialogue passes into monologue, as Nicodemus seems to disappear, leaving Jesus to deliver his teaching. Scholars also refer to Johannine discourse material as sermon. They believe his gospel shows more sitz im leben of the evangelist church or teachings of the Johannine church.

There is also a suggestion that the discourses reflect the dialogue between Christians and Jews. Such material is referred to as debatable, through which is revealed the sharpest antagonism to the Jews. Such comments may lead to the conclusions that discourse material in Johns Gospel may have the least claim to authenticity in terms of Jesus’ actual words. However others scholars believe that the Johannine discourses are in fact enshrining a genuine part of Jesus that did not find a place in the synoptics.

The phrase ‘I am’ occurs times in Johns Gospel, of which 6 times are spoken by Jesus. This causes the scholar to conclude that ‘I am’ is consciously used and theologically significant expression.

The background has been debatable. Some scholars suggest a Pagan or Hellenistic background. For example, references are made to the goddess Isis, using I am. Many scholars cite the Old Testament where I am seems to be the language of the divine as in Deuteronomy and Isaiah. Barret suggests that I am the divine word of self-revelation and command. In Jewish wisdom literature, wisdom declares herself to be I am and so the use of the title would suggest that Jesus was wisdom made incarnate. In the synoptic tradition Jesus does not call himself I am, but he does use the expression ‘but I say to you’ often when he is criticising Old Testament teaching. In this tradition he does claim to be the one who has the authority to reveal God’s will.

(b) The fourth gospel stands apart from the synoptic. The synoptic gospels contain teachings of Jesus that would have been used by a first century rabbi. The teaching of Jesus in the fourth gospel is quite different. There are no parables or short sayings drawn from life and in their place are heavy theological discourses, which in the opinion of most scholars are not accounts of Jesus’ teaching. It is impossible to believe that the same person could have taught using the synoptic parables and the material in John.

In Johns Gospel, John presents answers to the questions, like who was Jesus and what was his significance. It is this evolved idea of theology concerning Jesus that has discouraged scholars in believing that a first century Jew could have written it. They believe John has been compiled using better sources and by clever people.

The verse, ‘I am the bread of life’ has been interpreted by scholars to be a reference to the Eucharist. But according to the synoptic gospels the only reference Jesus made to the Eucharist was done during the last supper. This raises more questions, as John does not include the story of last supper in his gospel.

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