A Bi-Optic Hypothesis: A Theory of Interfluentiality between the Johannine and Markan Gospels

Posted: July 18, 2012 in General

Dr. Paul Anderson is Professor of Biblical and Quaker Studies at George Fox University, Newberg, Oregon, USA. He is an authority and world leader in the field of Johannine Studies. I firstly met him at Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey, during the period 2004-2005 and then at Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Holland, in 2010. I consider him as an inspiring New Testament scholar who motivates students with innovative ideas and logically inclined arguments. Above all, he is a humble man of God. For more details about Dr. Paul Anderson go here.

Dr. Anderson’s proposal below entitled “A Bi-Optic Hypothesis: A Theory of Interfluentiality between the Johannine and Markan Gospels” was presented as the “Pacific Northwest AAR/SBL/ASOR Presidential Address” (2nd May 2008).

[While John’s material appears to reflect an independent Jesus tradition developing in its own individuated way over seven decades before its finalization, it does not appear to be isolated or out of contact with other traditions. Contact, however, does not imply dependence, nor does influence imply a singular direction of movement. Likewise, familiarity may have evoked dissonance as well as consonance, and it is highly unlikely that the timing and manner of the relation between John’s and all other traditions were uniform. John’s intertraditional contact may have even been different between different phases and forms of a particular tradition, such as Mark’s. Therefore, the following components are integral elements of a new synthesis regarding John’s dialogical autonomy and interfluential relationships with other gospel traditions. In that sense, John represents a “bi-optic” alternative to the Markan Gospels (Mark, Luke, and Matthew), as both complementary and dialogical engagements may plausibly be inferred as follows (see online essays: http://www.znt-online.de/heft23.html; http://www.jgrchj.net/volume5/JGRChJ5-7_Anderson.pdf; http://catholic-resources.org/SBL/JnLit-2001-Anderson.html):

  1. John’s Dialogical Autonomy Develops in Ways Parallel to Other Traditions. Parallel to the pre-Markan tradition, the early Johannine tradition developed in its own autonomous set of ways. First impressions developed into Johannine paraphrases, crafted to meet the needs of early audiences (including tensions with Judeans and Baptist adherents) and suited to the personal ministry of the Johannine evangelist, developing parallel to the human source(s) of the pre-Markan tradition.
  2. Interfluential Contacts between the Pre-Markan and Early Johannine Traditions. Early contacts between these two traditions created a set of commonly shared buzz-words, references and themes, explaining their non-identical similarities in the later texts. Especially within the oral stages of their traditions, influence may have crossed in both directions, making “interfluence” during the oral stages of the Johannine and Markan traditions a plausible inference.
  3. Augmentation and Correction of Written Mark. After Mark was written, at least some of it became familiar to the Johannine evangelist, evoking a complementary project. This explains some of the Markan echoes in John, and also some of John’s departures from Mark. Some of them may reflect knowing intentionality (Jn. 20:30), as the first edition of John was plausibly the second written gospel, and the thought of enjoying primarily local circulation. Therefore, Johannine-Synoptic differences are not factors of a three-against-one majority; rather, John and Mark deserve consideration as “the Bi-Optic Gospels.”
  4. John’s Formative Impact upon Luke. During the oral stages of the Johannine tradition, some of its material came to influence Luke’s tradition. This explains the fact that at least six dozen times Luke departs from Mark and sides with John. Because many of John’s features are not followed, the Johannine influence upon Luke is unlikely to have taken place in full, written form but probably reflects Lukan familiarity with the Johannine oral tradition. This explains also why Luke does not follow the Johannine ordering of the Temple cleansing and why Luke places the great catch of fish at the first calling of Peter and the disciples, rather than at their re-calling. Does Luke 1:2 imply acknowledgement of the Johannine tradition?
  5. John’s Influence upon the Q Tradition? Not implausible is the likelihood that the contacts between several Q passages and John imply early Johannine influences upon the Q tradition. The “bolt out of the Johannine blue” (Matt. 11:25-27; Lk. 10:21-22) especially points to such a possibility. Or, these motifs (the Father-Son language) may go back to the historical Jesus or earlier tradition, but the more plausible inference is that Q, if there was a Q tradition, was influenced by early Johannine tradition. Some interfluentiality may also have been involved regarding other Johannine and Q parallels.
  6. Johannine Preaching (and some writing) Continues. Following the first edition of the Johannine Gospel (80-85 CE), the Beloved Disciple continues to preach and teach, and possibly even to write. The fleshly suffering of Jesus becomes an example to emulate for Christians facing hardship under the reign of Domitian (81-96 CE), and the sustaining/guiding work of the Holy Spirit addresses new crises: dialogues with the Synagogue, the Roman presence, and Gentile docetizers.
  7. Matthean and Johannine Traditions Engage in an Interfluential Set of Dialogues. Especially on matters of church governance, the Matthean and Johannine traditions appear to have been engaged in a series of dialogues over how the risen Lord continues to lead the church. They also reinforced each other in their outreach to Jewish audiences over Jesus’ agency as the Jewish Messiah. Might we have two ecclesial models in parallel gospel traditions in dialogue with each other?
  8. The Johannine Epistles Were Written by the Elder. During this time (85-95 CE) the Johannine Elder writes the Johannine Epistles, calling for loving unity, corporate solidarity, willingness to suffer for the faith, and challenging the inhospitality of Diotrephes and his kin. The Johannine Epistles were thus written before and after the Johannine Gospel.
  9. The Johannine Gospel was Supplemented and Finalized by the Johannine Elder. After the death of the Beloved Disciple, the Elder added the Prologue and other material (chs. 6, 15-17, 21), circulating it around 100 CE as the witness of the Beloved Disciple, whose “testimony is true.” As the first edition calls for belief in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, the final edition of John calls for believers to abide in Jesus and his community, posing also a corrective to rising institutionalism in the name of the original intention of Jesus for his church. Acts 4:19-20 provides a first-century clue to Johannine authorship.
  10. The Spiritual Gospel Poses a BiOptic Alternative to the Somatic Gospels. While Matthew and Luke built upon Mark, John built around Mark. As an independent Jesus tradition developed theologically, however, the Johannine and Markan traditions all contribute to Gospel christological studies, as well as quests for the historical Jesus in bioptic perspective. Interestingly, the second ending of Mark (Mk. 16:9-20) contains Johannine content; interfluentiality continues!]
  1. James Tabor says:

    This is a fantastic overview of Anderson’s work and that of the SBL group. I hope others will join us. I have been posting on Mark and John on my blog this month, see http://jamestabor.com

  2. […] I have posted quite a few things lately on the relationship between the gospels of Mark and the gospel of John. I want to strongly recommend Paul Anderson’s recent piece with the fascinating title, “A Bioptic Hypothesis: A Theory of Influentiality Between the Johannine and Markan Gospels,” along with the links to the work of our SBL group on the historical value of the Gospel of John. You can read a summary of Anderson’s thoughts on this subject here. […]

  3. Wayne Johnson says:

    Thanks Dr. Anderson. What are your thoughts about the identity of the Beloved Disciple? Could it be Lazarus? And what do you think of Secret Mark?

  4. Thanks, Wayne, I discuss the Lazarus hypothesis in more detail in Vol. 2 of the John, Jesus and History Project, as well as in Riddles of the Fourth Gospel. Indeed, Jesus loved Lazarus (and his sisters), although Lazarus is not connected with Peter in any of the Gospels (actually, not mentioned at all), and one need not have lived in Bethany to have been familiar with Jerusalem. So, given my thoughts on Acts 4:19-20 reflecting a first-century connecting of John with a Johannine phrase (what we have seen and heard–cf. 1 Jn. 1:3), I think there’s more critical evidence pointing toward John than scholars have recently allowed. Also, neither Philip of Sides nor George the sinner believe he died early, so their “evidence” of an early death has completely been distorted. Finally, we cannot know who the author was, but there’s more critical evidence supporting John than modern scholarship has allowed.

  5. Roger Dreisbach-Williams says:

    The unexpected martyrdom of a spiritual anchor in my faith community made the opening of John very real for me. Yes, the rest of the gospel can be seen as an expansion of the prologue, but to me it feels like the experience of someone who had direct personal knowledge of Jesus.
    I’m also a bit puzzled by the scholarly debate over who influenced whom: Hello?!? Does anyone remember that it was meeting Jesus that changed/changes everyone?

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  7. […] John more specifically see Paul Anderson’s summary of his “Bi-Optic Hypothesis” here. My own contribution on the “geography” of John in the light of archaeology you can […]

  8. […] I have posted quite a few things lately on the relationship between the gospels of Mark and the gospel of John. I want to strongly recommend Paul Anderson’s recent piece with the fascinating title, “A Bioptic Hypothesis: A Theory of Influentiality Between the Johannine and Markan Gospels,” along with the links to the work of our SBL group on the historical value of the Gospel of John. You can read a summary of Anderson’s thoughts on this subject here. […]

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