The Johannine Corpus in the Early Church

By Charles E. Hill | Go to book overview
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7 John among the Orthodox, before c.150

The period before the midpoint of the second century is, of course, of critical interest for our study. It is the period of silence for the Fourth Gospel in the Great Church. 'One of the remarkable items in the history of the traditions about John', writes Culpepper, is 'the nearly complete silence of the record during the crucial decades of the early second century'. 1 According to the dominant paradigm of scholarship, in the period before c.150 the Fourth Gospel was predominantly known and used by 'gnostic' or heterodox groups. To the extent it was known among the orthodox it was used with caution or suspicion, or else rejected altogether.

There are several documents from this period which might seem to support the paradigm. Convincing signs of the use of the Fourth Gospel have been held to be absent from 1 Clement, the Didache, the Ps. Barnabas, and 2 Clement. They are often denied as well for Ignatius' epistles, Polycarp's Epistle to the Philippians, and the Shepherd of Hermas, not to mention Papias of Hierapolis. For some of these works the silence, or near silence in any case, is puzzling and perhaps telling, in some way. But for others one will have to admit at the outset that the significance is minimal at best. Most scholars regard 1 Clement as closely contemporary with or as predating the Fourth Gospel. It does contain some parallels to the Fourth Gospel but these are not very close or numerous. The Fourth Gospel appears to be unknown to the author of the Didache, but this work too may well be as early as or earlier than the Fourth Gospel. Some would place the Shepherd of Hermas in this category of early works, though I am not convinced of this and will examine the matter below. Nor, in my view, is Ps. Barnabas quite this early, though it may well be from about the time of Ignatius' letters and may still be unfamiliar with the recently published Gospel according to John. There is a possible trace of the Fourth Gospel's influence in this work, in its use of an Old Testament symbol which is used also by the Fourth Gospel. 2 But this is admittedly tenuous. Perhaps more significant is the epistle known as 2 Clement, which is surely later than the Fourth Gospel and which contains no very probable influence from the Fourth Gospel, while it does contain many citations or paraphrases of Jesus' word from Synoptic sources, and from some apocryphal source(s). It remains to be seen, then, whether 2

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