CF103 Lecture Summaries - Orthodox Christology and Trinitarian Theology I


  • To introduce students to the concept and theology of the Trinity and the theology of the person of Christ and their development in the Christian Church from the apostolic period through the fifth century A.D.
  • The course will focus both on the development of doctrine and on the ways in which the Trinity was understood and experienced by Christians in this period. The course will also explore the formulation of Christian belief in the first four Ecumenical Councils and introduce selected aspects of the importance and significance of these doctrines in the later Orthodox tradition.
  • It will explore the manner in which intellectual and religious controversies forced Christian thinkers to formulate a definition of the Trinity, which was expressed formally in the creeds of Nicaea (325 A.D.) and Constantine

On completion of the module, students should be able to:

  • Understand the importance of a ‘rule of faith’, or doctrinal creed, in the early Christian Church.
  • Realize the significance of the Ecumenical Councils in formulating the doctrine.
  • Discuss some of the key differences between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox formulations of the creed in relation to the Holy Trinity.
  • Have a grasp of the development of Trinitarian doctrine in the early Church.
  • Recognize the importance of the formulation of doctrine for later Church history and for the Orthodox Church today.

Knowledge and understanding:

• knowledge of the lineaments of Orthodox Trinitarian and Christological doctrine
• understanding of the historical dimension of the articulation of Christian doctrine
• familiarity with selected key theologians of the early Church
• knowledge and understanding of the first four Ecumenical Councils


Lecture 1 - Christian understanding of the Trinity in the New Testament and Sub-Apostolic periods 

Key Sources

  • Dr Mary Cunningham's Lecture
  • Handout for the study of Holy Trinity in the NT
  • Fr Boris Bobrinskoy: The Holy Spirit in the Church
  • The Apostolic Fathers: Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus (pp.5-42; 116-120, 129-132, 141-149; 244-304; 508-903)


Lecture 2 - Further development of Trinitarian doctrine in the late Second and Third Centuries A.D.

Key Sources

  • Dr Mary Cunningham's Lecture Handout
  • St Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon- The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching
  • Origen (esp. pp,422-449)
  • Audio file- Metropolitan Kallistos on Orthodox Approaches to the Trinitarian Theology before and after Nicea
  • Origen's "Philokalia" (with a schematic representation of Origen's Theory of Interpretation)
  • Karen Jo Torjesen, Hermeneutical procedure and theological method in Origen's exegesis (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1986), pp. 108-149.


Lecture 3 - Arius, Athanasius, and the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) 

Key Sources


Lecture 4 - The Cappadocian Fathers and the Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.) 

Key Sources


Lecture 5 - The Christology of the first four centuries

Key Sources

  • Handout for the Lecture by Dr Marcus Plested
  • Grillmeier: Christ in Christian Tradition
  • Placher: Truly Human-Truly Divine


Lecture 6 - The Christology of the Councils of Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451)

Key Sources

  • Handout for Lecture on Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon- Dr Marcus Plested
  • Further Handout on the Lecture (Dr Marcus Plested)
  • Dr Marcus Plested- Eutychianism
  • Hall: Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church
  • Fr John Meyendorff: Christ in Eastern Christian Thought
  • Chadwick: The Early Church
  • Metropolitan John of Pergamon (Zizioulas)- Christology


Lecture 7 - Optional Resources

CF102 Lecture Summaries - The Gospels

The John Rylands Fragment John 18:31-33 (117-138 AD).  The earliest known copy of any portion of the New Testament is from a papyrus codex (2.5 by 3.5 inches). It dates from the first half of the second century A.D. 117-138. (P.52)The papyrus is written on both sides and contains portions of five verses from the gospel of John (18:31-33,37-38). Because this fragment was found in Egypt a distance from the place of composition (Asia Minor) it demonstrates the chain of transmission. The fragment belongs to the John Rylands Library at Manchester, England.

The John Rylands Fragment John 18:31-33 (117-138 AD). The earliest known copy of any portion of the New Testament is from a papyrus codex (2.5 by 3.5 inches). It dates from the first half of the second century A.D. 117-138. (P.52)The papyrus is written on both sides and contains portions of five verses from the gospel of John (18:31-33,37-38). Because this fragment was found in Egypt a distance from the place of composition (Asia Minor) it demonstrates the chain of transmission. The fragment belongs to the John Rylands Library at Manchester, England.


This module explores the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel according to St John from an Orthodox perspective, with the intention of enabling students to develop an understanding of the historical context and theology(ies) of the Synoptic Gospels and that of St John.

The module aims to dedicate particular attention to understanding the writings of Evangelist John within the Orthodox tradition. It intends to do this by identifying and reflecting on some of the principal theological themes and questions of the Johannine writings.

Finally, the module will entertain the question how can modern biblical scholarship be useful to Christian believers wishing to grow closer to the Gospel text.

Lecture 1 - The Synoptic Gospels: Introduction

Students are introduced into the question of how Gospels should be studied. We touch on such methods as form criticism, narrative criticism. Special attention is given to the so-called “Synoptic Problem”. These methods are critically exposed in the light of an Orthodox approach.

Required Study:

Sanders and Davies: Studying the Synoptic Gospels
Stanton: The Gospels and Jesus
Fr John Florovsky: Bible Church Tradition (Chapter 1)
Fr John Breck: Orthodoxy and the Bible Today
Fr Demetrios Bathrellos: The Eastern Orthodox Tradition for Today and the Bible
Vesselin Kesich: The Gospel Image of Christ (Chapter 2)
Fr George Florovsky: The Lost Scriptural Mind
Fr George Florovsky: The Function of Tradition in the Ancient Church

Key Sources:

  • Stanton Graham, The Gospels and Jesus (Oxford, 1989).
  • Sanders E.P. and Davies M., Studying the Synoptic Gospels (London, 1989).
  • Tuckett, C. M. (ed.) Synoptic Studies (Sheffield, 1984).


Lecture 2 - The Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of St Matthew is examined in a way that focuses on its treatment of the Jewish roots of Christianity. Students will be introduced to an Orthodox approach to Matthean theology: how does Christ “fulfil the Law and the Prophets” according to St Matthew?

Key Sources:

  • Kingsbury, J.D., Matthew: Structure, Christology, and Kingdom (London, 1976)
  • Meier J. P., The Vision of Matthew: Christ, Church and Morality in the First Gospel (New York, 1979)
  • Hill D., The Gospel of Matthew (London, 1972).
  • Beare F.W., The Gospel according to Matthew (Oxford, 1981).


Lecture 3 - The Gospel of Mark

The lecture studies theological traits of St Mark’s account, attempting in an Orthodox way to answer questions raised by modern scholarship, such as the so-called Messianic secret (W. Wrede) and others.

Key Sources:

  • Best E., Mark — the Gospel as Story (Edinburgh 1983).
  • Best E., Following Jesus: Discipleship in the Gospel of Mark (Sheffield, 1981)
  • Hooker M., The Message of Mark (London, 1983)
  • Nineham D. E., The Gospel of St Mark (Harmondsworth, 1963).
  • Schweizer E., The Good News according to Mark (London, 1971).


Lecture 4 - The Gospel of Luke

Major theological themes of St Luke’s Gospel are examined, such as St Luke’s emphasis on the Holy Spirit, his universalism, his view of history, as well as his concern for women, the poor, outcasts and sinners.

Stanton: The Gospels and Jesus

Key Sources:

  • Barrett C. K., Luke the Historian in Recent Study (London, 1961).
  • Conzelmann H., The Theology of St Luke (London, 1960).
  • Marshall I.H., Luke, Historian and Theologian (Exeter, 1970).
  • Caird G.B., Saint Luke (Harmondsworth, 1963).
  • Firzmayer J. A., The Gospel according to Luke (New York, 1981-1985).


Lecture 5a - The Parables

Why did Christ speak in parables? The lecture examines this main form of Christ’s teaching. We shall look for an Orthodox answer to the question of the purpose and nature of Christ’s parables.

  • Dodd C. H., The Parables of the Kingdom (London, 1935).
  • Drury J., The Parables in the Gospels (London, 1985).
  • Jeremias J., The Parables of Jesus (London, 1963).
  • Hendrickx H., The Parables of Jesus (London, 1986).
  • Breech J., The Silence of Jesus. The Authentic Voice of the Historical Man (Philadelphia 1983)
  • Jones G. V., The Art and Truth of the Parables : a Study in Their Literary Form and Modern Interpretation (London, 1964)

Lecture 5b- Miracles

We also consider the theological function of Christ’s miracles as it is understood by the Synoptic writers. 


Lecture 6 - The Synoptic Gospels - Eschatology

The lecture introduces students to the field of recent biblical studies on St John. It considers the methods of the historical approach such as form and redaction criticism, as well as narrative criticism, with particular attention to the theories about Johannine community developed by R. Brown and L. Martyn. The critical evaluation of these methods from the Orthodox point of view produces a set of assumptions essential for an Orthodox approach to the Gospel.

Key Sources:

  • Moore A.L., The Parousia in the New Testament (Leiden, 1966).
  • Culmann O., Salvation in History (London, 1967).
  • Conzelmann H., The Theology of St Luke (London, 1960)
  • Meier J. P., Matthew (1985)


Lecture 7 - The Gospel of John

This presentation briefly explores Incarnational Christology (with particular attention to the Prologue and concept of the Logos), and highlights the intensive Johannine interest in the personhood of Christ, focusing on the concept of the “Lamb of God”. It further examines the “relational” aspect of Johannine Christology and Triadology (the concept of the Paraclete receives special attention). 

Key Sources:

  • Kysar R., The Maverick Gospel (Atlanta, 1993).
  • Koester C. R., Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel (Minneapolis, 2003).
  • Lindars Barnabas, John (Sheffield, 1990).
  • Smailey S., John – Evangelist and Interpreter (Exeter, 1983).


Lecture 8 - The Christology of John's Gospel

Here we look at Johannine ethics with their focus on “personalistic righteousness”, thus explaining the difference of presentation when compared with the Synoptic Gospels. It focuses on St John’s language of stories and personages, which serve as hypostatic paradigms. It further examines the paradigms of righteousness and discipleship (Peter, Beloved Disciple) and the paradigmatic presentation of sin (Judas, the Jews).

Key Sources:

  • Smith D. M., The Theology of the Gospel of John (Cambridge, 1995).
  • Ashton J., Studying John: Approaches to the Fourth Gospel (Oxford, 1998)


Chester Beatty Papyri (250 AD).  This important papyri consists of three codices and contains most of the New Testament. (P.45, P.46, P.47). The first codex(P.45) has 30 leaves (pages) of papyrus codex. 2 from Matthew, 2 from John, 6 from Mark, 7 from Luke and 13 from Acts. Originally there were 220 pages measuring 8x10 inches each. (P.46)The second codex has 86 leaves 11x6.5 inches. 104 pages of Paul’s epistles. P.47 is made of 10 leaves from Revelation measuring 9.5 by 5.5 inches.

Chester Beatty Papyri (250 AD). This important papyri consists of three codices and contains most of the New Testament. (P.45, P.46, P.47). The first codex(P.45) has 30 leaves (pages) of papyrus codex. 2 from Matthew, 2 from John, 6 from Mark, 7 from Luke and 13 from Acts. Originally there were 220 pages measuring 8x10 inches each. (P.46)The second codex has 86 leaves 11x6.5 inches. 104 pages of Paul’s epistles. P.47 is made of 10 leaves from Revelation measuring 9.5 by 5.5 inches.

Lecture 9 - Language of the Person, Hypostasis in the Gospel of John

This lecture highlights the fundamental significance of the human person and personal relationship in St John’s kerygma. From this perspective the central concepts of “πιστεύειν”, “eternal life”, “flesh and spirit” are examined . It further focuses on St John’s ethics of interpersonal relationship with particular attention to chapter 17 and the epistles. 

  • Prof. Panagiotis Nellas: Why Did God Become Man? The Archetype of Humanity is the Incarnate Word

Key Sources:

  • Brown R., The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York, 1979).
  • Martyn L., History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (Nashville, 1979).


Lecture 10 - St John's Gospel - The genesis of persona: Johannine anthropology

In focus here are some questions raised by modern biblical studies concerning the ecclesiological and sacramental perspectives in St John, as well as the significance and function of Christ’s symbolic actions and miracles in the 4th Gospel.









Topic Lecture 9 - Language of the Person, Hypostasis in the Gospel of John

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.


We spoke about Christology of relationship about theology of relationship and how important it is. The question now about translation at the beginning of the gospel of John. What does it mean when John writes “pros ton Theon”? There is much speculation but the word “pros” meaning in Greek “towards”. In the authorised version of the Gospel of John the translation stands as: “and the Word was with God”. But the actual translation of this proposition is “towards”. And many have noted, that this is exactly what John means. The Logos all of Christ’s being was towards God the Father. And this is a formula of love. This being towards the other is the true realisation of, not only divine person, but also the human person. So really what we have here is the notion, “and the Word was towards God”. And perhaps in the English language, that cannot be said, because it implies movement. And this principle of Christology being, towards God, is spelt out in the rest of the gospel. And if you look at any authentic relationship in the gospel it is always “pros ton allon”, towards the other. But as humans, we find a relationship towards others, through our love towards others, in self-sacrifice for another.

And if you notice, all the holy gifts in our church they are given, whatever you might name, priesthood, any other sacraments, they are given as a service to other people. The priest for example, cannot confess himself. He only has this authority towards service of another. So this is a principle that is a product of John’s Gospel. So perhaps, if we translate the word Logos, in principle there was this principle of love towards God in the beginning. 

Q&A. When do we know if the great “I am” is intended versus an everyday “I am”? For example, in John’s Gospel when the disciples are in the boat and the Lord retorts in chapter 3: “do not worry I am”, how are we to understand this I am? In John’s Gospel, you will find different ways that this saying is used at times, Christ says “I am a good Shepherd”. But here it is obviously a different I am, to the “I am” of Sinai. But there are definitely uses of “I am” without predicate. These definitely imply, this Sinai revelation, “I am that I am”. In Greek language, you may know that you do not need to use the pronoun “I am”, you simply say where you may be, for example: “I am home”, could simply be “home”. So it is indeed an emphatic use of the term “I am” with Sinaitic roots in Exodus.

In the Gospel of John, things are not as straightforward, as other writings. He operates at a level that we cannot presuppose intense at times, in order to analyse logically. In the Gospel affects us in various ways, in various levels. When we consider for example symbolic actions of Christ’s actions, in the fourth Gospel, John has many levels of appeal to his reader. And one of his techniques, is to play on these associations. To member in Exodus: where God says, “I am I am”. In the Gospel of Matthew, it would be a direct quotation so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But John, does not write like this. He wishes to maintain, a level of mystery, which is important, for the depth of Christian message. Because once you have no mystery, and everything is clear, our text may lose its power, and depth.

Hypostatic language

And speaking about mystery, and things that are not set, or not written, we should move to the next topic. If we compare, our Christian new Testament, or our Gospels to any other religious book, be it the Quran, or the Old Testament, perhaps your notice, that it is much much smaller in size. In this respect, Christian scripture is unique. In fact it offers very little instructions for us to do, in our everyday life. There is no instruction for our codex of behaviour. But if you take for example the old Testament law, the whole day of an Israelite, is prescribed to morning to end. It is like a 24-hour manual, what to do and how to. And this idea, of what to do and how to do it is the focus of the old Testament. But the new Testament starts very differently. Yes of course, there are some parallels, but it doesn’t constitute the core, the focus of the new Testament. And furthermore if you compare the fourth Gospel with the synoptic gospels one thing immediately strikes us, that there are hardly any that could be subsumed even remotely in a consistent ethical teaching of Christ.

The fourth Gospel offers us very little, in fact, a kind of instruction in codex of behaviour, in what we should do in our daily life. And if you look at the synoptic gospels, and compare the fourth Gospel with the Synoptics, you will see that for example in Matthew you do find chapters where Christ expounds the way people ought to be, and the way they should behave, because for Matthew, Christ’s teaching was important linking back to the old Testament, that even resembled old Testament law. In chapter 9 in Matthew for instance we hear that Jesus speaks about, “bless it are the poor”, the meek, the merciful, the good heart, and there are some kind of ethical instructions here. In Matthew, we also hear “thou shall not kill… But I say to you whoever is angry…” There are specific amendments.  But when we come to John’s Gospel, there are none of these commandments of Christ. In fact, very few. And they seem to concentrate about one theme, love and faith. None of such formulations found in Matthew shall find John. In John there are no instructions for daily life.

Also we do find, occasional parables in John’s Gospel. Of course, Christ taught in parables. But all of them are of a completely different nature. They do not function as allegorical encoding of his teaching, at least for the synoptic gospels, but as short illustrations, to his message. So it looks like in the fourth Gospel we have a shift of concern. Instead, there are stories about Christ, his miracles, he signs, his dialogues with the Jews, and finally the Last Supper where we see three chapters dedicated to this toward the crucifixion. It seems to be all about Christ, and not about how and what to do. In John we do not have any of that. So, can we say that, that John presents us with a different kind of spirituality? Does it pass over in silence, ethics that Christ wished to teach the crowds, in the other Gospels?

So why the difference? What can we make of it? Is this a radically different form of Christianity? Course, one possibility is that Matthew had recorded all of these things in his gospel, and if John had seen and read this Gospel, then there wouldn’t have been any need to repeat. However, some scholars believe that John had not read the Gospel of Matthew before he wrote his gospel. So what other reasons can we summate? So we need to remember, that none of the other evangelists, felt the need to write down every single detail that he witnessed of Christ’s teaching, or life. There is something more to this. And we will see, that there are sayings of Christ that are recorded in the Gospel, that reappear later in the Pauline epistles, and also in our church services. For example, in the service the blessing of myrh and oil, we find the commandment of Christ, which is not recorded anywhere apart from the service. And Christ says: “Whosoever falls and raises himself will be saved.” And you won’t find such a saying in none of the Gospels. It appears only there.

None of the evangelists has in mind to record an exhaustive teaching of Christ’s words. In John, we find the very essence of Christian spirituality. If you compare the new Testament with the old Testament, you will find that especially the Leviticus priestly code, it is obsessed with flesh, the physical parts of the human being. All these rites of purification, the type of food you’re supposed to eat the type of clothes you’re supposed to wear, the customs to purify your physical existence, this is very much in focus of the Leviticus code. And even the very mark of the old covenant is circumcision. It is very much to do with human flesh. So we can say in the old Testament, man was addressed, and treated by God above all as flesh, as mortal. But in the new Testament, we witness a completely new phenomenon. Consider Dr Zhivago, a novel by Pasternak (?), where he writes about, what is different in Christianity? What is the main contribution of Christianity, for the history of civilisation? And one of the expository dialogues, Pasternak says, before Christ there was no notion of person. He said, there was a history of anonymous masses, suffering unrecorded, and then Christ comes and gives place and name to each of these little sufferers, and that is how the concept of person was born. And indeed we may say that, the new Testament deals with the new category of the human person in the new Testament addresses man, above all as person. That’s why you won’t find this of session, with flesh, as refined in the old Testament. Christ says, it is not where you eat that if I was you, but will proceeds out of you from your person holds, from your heart. And indeed a person becomes like a point of departure, for new Testament ethics. For example, you remember this example, “the Sabbath is for man, and man not for the Sabbath.” And recall the story of the widow casting two mites, Christ said that she contributed more than anyone else, because she gave all that she had. So the person becomes a measure of righteousness.

And John takes the spiritual dimension, man not as flesh, but as person, as spirit. He takes this personal, spiritual dimension to the extreme. And he explains the new type of being to Nicodemus. Christ says in chapter 3, ”what is one of the flesh is of the flesh, but what is born of the spirit is spirit” “ the spirit that makes life flesh profits nothing” (?). So, this marks a radical departure from the old Testament flesh type of righteousness. Instead, of flesh, John shifts our attention to the domain of spirit. And Johannine writings, in fact promotes the ultimate essence of this spiritual righteousness.

And I do not believe we should press the differences between the Gospel of John and the Synoptics. Yes, we do not find, in John’s Gospel the same set of commandments, but in fact they have the same message. Even if all of Christ’s commandments, were lost, and were not recorded but if we would learn about his life, his example, it would still be enough for us to see in Christ’s fulfilment of all his commandments to which he had given to us in his person. And this idea of commandment, being encoded, in Christ’s person, as an example, is very much present in John’s Gospel. Simply by presenting Christ in his life, his actions, and his relationship, John communicates much more than just a set of commandments and down on paper. Christ said, in chapter 13, “I have given you an example that you should do as I have done to you”, so Christ sets himself as an example. He is exactly the word of God, the Logos became flesh, the word of God, the Torah that became flesh. He is presented to us as our living commandment.

And in this respect let us consider John 14:31, the idea of person becoming a commandment: “but the world might know that I love the Father, the father has given me commandment, even so I do”. This notion commandments, is in singular. What kind of commandment with the father give Christ? So Christ, lived by the father, he does everything according to the father, he does everything in the name of the Father, father becomes the focus of his existential concern and expression. Thus, the father, becomes a living commandment for Christ: what he hears from the father, he does is the father does. There is a dynamic dimension to this idea of Christ as a commandment. It is not something which was once said, and finished. No, Christ looks up to the father and acts and lives according to his will. “I lived by the father”, Christ says.

And as the father becomes a living commandment Christ, Christ becomes a living commandment for us. In fact, if you think, Christ he left us his commandment, “this is my commandment to love one another as I have loved you”. But what definition can you give to this commandment of love? How can you prescribe what we should do when you love another person? Is it possible to give a definition of life? So perhaps in a family relationship, if I were to list down all the things that are done as an expression of love e.g. if a spouse is the washing up et cetera you could not possibly exhaust all the things that are done in love. You cannot give a definite list of all the things that are done to manifest love in a relationship. Descriptions don’t help us. So the only way you can teach how to love is by example. And that is why, Christ is set for us as a living example, is a living commandment. And by his example, we learn, what it means to love another person. And not only for Christ, but interpersonal relationship with the Trinity. It is an eternal cycle of love, “perixorisis” within the Trinity. And this is something that John wishes to be projected, on a human plane.

And this idea of person as a commandment, is also in the synoptic gospels. The story of the young men who comes to cries what shall I do to inherit eternal life. And Christ says to him, do you know the oldest commandments, then he said to him one thing which you lack, “sell every thing that you have, and follow me”. Possibly, it would be enough just to follow Christ. Another example, Matthew chapter 11:29 “learn of me for I am meek and lowly of heart”. Christ sets himself as an example. But we can say that the whole of John’s Gospel is this formula “learn of me”. Christ is primordial hypostatic paradigm. And this is presented to us dynamically not statically, in his actions, in his words, in his deeds, in his reactions and his relations. And he for us to follow and imitate him. There is no in fact difference in message between John and the synoptic gospels, concerning teaching, concerning the commandments of Christ. Christ, in John’s Gospel, fulfils all these commandments which he was given in the synoptic gospels. Christ himself fulfils them in John’s Gospel.

When we look, at the sermon on the Mount, and we hear the words “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, of course Christ is speaking about himself, given he could do nothing without the father, and would do nothing without the father. If you take, “blessed that they that mourn”, we do know that Christ was moved to tears on occasion.” And then, “Blessed are the meek”. And Christ was meek, he even washed the disciple’s feet at the Last Supper. And the same occurs throughout the whole sermon, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst”, and again Christ is found hungry “give me something to eat” and later thirsting on the cross. “Blessed are the merciful”, of course Christ fulfils his own commandments when they bring to him the woman who has been accused of adultery, and shows mercy. “Blessed are the peacemakers”… This is a recurring theme, where Christ says “peace unto you”. Whenever Christ appeared he would spread peace around him. And back in Matthew we hear, “Blessed are the persecuted…”, v15, “let your light shine on men… Glorify your Father in heaven”… And everything is done by Christ for his father’s glory.

John. “Be reconciled with your enemies”; Christ constantly invites the Jews to reconcile with him, but they do not. “Do not resist evil”. Remember, when the mob come to take him away, and he commends them “whatever you do, do it quickly” (John 13:27). “Therefore, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. And Christ himself fulfilled this commandment to the absolute extent possible, people who saw him, saw the father. We could study the synoptic gospels in the same way, and see how Christ fulfilled all the commandments, sometimes directly, and at other times indirectly. John sets him as an example for us to follow.

So the way of salvation, leads to life, according to Matthew’s Gospel. The way in John’s Gospel, is not what, but who. He is Christ himself, “I am the way”. It is a dynamic commandment, that is in the living Christ. If we look, at the whole, sayings of Christ in John’s Gospel, this idea of “follow me”, “come after me” is dominant. The Gospel begins, with this idea following Christ, and it ends with this idea of following Christ. Chapter 1 the idea is used three times, “they followed Jesus”, and we now know for John it was a theological notion to follow Jesus, and to follow his example. “And he said to Philip, follow me…” So it is the very first commandment that Christ gives in the Gospel of John. Again it comes up in many chapters, ch 8: “who follows me shall not walk in darkness”. Ch 10: “the good Shepherd… And he goes before them”, and the sheep follow him. What is interesting and unusual about this presentation about a good Shepherd. It is in the ordering, and usually the sheep go before the Shepherd. The shepherds go behind the flock showing direction from behind… But sometimes in the Middle East if the sheep know the Shepherd, the shepherd will go sometimes a little bit ahead and the sheep will follow. And Christ said in chapter 12: “anyone who serves me, let him follow me.” This following of Christ, is precisely the way of salvation. “Where I am, there also my servants shall be”. It is not speaking about geography, he is speaking about a mode of being, divine being.

Now, following Christ in geographical terms doesn’t mean they will be saved many followed Christ right down to the crucifixion and were part responsible for what occurred. There was a crowd who constantly followed Christ in geographical terms, but nevertheless turned against him. And indeed, once you start to live the gospel in your own life, you will notice, you will find yourself exactly in these types of experiences that Christ had in the gospel. Once you start to follow him in this way you will find situations like this that are very familiar.

This language of hypostatic paradigms, is very effective. If you look at a modern culture, young kids they are very much into their own idols, their heroes their worldly icons, you can teach a kid what he should do and what you shouldn’t do but once he says a movie, or is fascinated by some kind of image all your teaching is gone in an instance. He will imitate the hero, just after one hour. And that is the language of hypostatic paradigms that works it is far more powerful than just words.

It is remarkable that the Gospel actually ends with this dynamic idea of following Christ, or perhaps dozen and because it is open ending. We hear about Peter, following Christ, and the beloved disciple joining them. So the Gospel actually joins with this idea of following Christ.

Hypostatic paradigm

It is crucial, because of the language and early because Christ is represented in this way to us, as an example as a paradigm, it is also the language of John, of righteousness and sin. They are exemplified, they are not spelled-out for us, what is seen, but they are at exemplified in his example is. Most of the heroes of the gospel you will see, they are shown to us in their relationship with Christ. They are examples of relationship with Christ. They are some who love Christ like Lazarus, like Martha and Mary, who will end up in the resurrection but there are also those who reject Christ and lose their salvation, like becoming Christ enemies, and we notice an interesting trend in all the Gospels, but especially in John. But after the resurrection of Christ, know one of the enemies of Christ is mentioned, only the ones who loved him, Mary, his mother, his beloved disciple, Nicodemus. Positive examples survive to the next life, after the depiction of the resurrection.

Q&A. Imitating Christ sounds like sublime ethics, but how can the average person begin? It sounds too difficult? It is a positive experience, that comes not from reading the gospel and following every commandment etc. It involves a personal knowledge of Christ, and desire of communion with Him. That is what we do in the Liturgy, we prepare and come closer to him through the Holy Eucharist. And not just partaking in the body and blood of Christ in the physical sense but also in the spiritual sense. We try to participate in the Spirit of Christ, not just in his flesh and body in bread and wine, but also in his spirit- there is also spiritual communion. Once a person goes to Church, regularly participates in the life of the Church, the following happens defacto, because in one way or another, our ecclesiastical tradition has provided, all necessary means for our following Christ, by itself but also in our life and liturgical service.

Q&A. If you try to take ethical rules out of the New Testament like there were in the Old Testament, you cannot do it. Fr Sophrony once said, “when he was on Mt Athos, for him the Gospel looked like Utopia. It was impossible to fulfil. That is why he valued very much his encounter to Silouan the Athonite who gave him an answer, how to understand this paradox in this life. We are given an example of divine life in Christ’s commandments… perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. And the answer of Silouan is this revelation of Christ: “keep your mind in hell, and despair not”. This is the paradox of Christian ethics. Someone published a book in Russia, on how to be pious. They just singled out all of these commandments of “teachings of Christ”, and of course, it wasn’t even the teaching of Christ without His example, and without a personal relationship with him. It is a very complex experience.

This idea of hypostatic paradigms which teaches us Christian ethics

If you notice, every character in John’s Gospel has a representative trait. In every dialogue, which is recorded in the Gospel, there is an opening of the dialogue, and then the dialogue runs into from a particular character to the universal. This is a remarkable thing, this flexible movement between the individual, and then this individual becomes representative of the group. So John gives us an indication that what he wants to see us, in every character, is a type of person, type of relationship with Christ. Father Sophrony like to employ the same principle in the monastery, he would often say, if you learn to live in peace and love in the monastery with one father, then you will learn to live in peace and love with millions of people in the world. This is a good example of the idea how every person represents a type of people that we might live by, and once we learn to live in peace with that person then you are able to live in peace and concord with all people. And we see that in John we have this existential presentation both of sin and righteousness for these characters.

Let us examine a few examples. John 3:1, we hear that a Pharisee a ruler of the Jews comes to Christ. And that once John sets him as a paradigm, represents a type of attitude to Christ faith that doesn’t have roots. And he switches dialogue into plural. Begins to speak on behalf of certain groups, and if you look at verse two, “Rabbi, you know that you come from God”. Immediately Christ also switches into plural, in verse 11. He says: “I say to you, we know… You don’t receive our witness”. Why would Christ speak in plural?  Well, I think John wants us to see in every person and example, paradigm, a type.  And indeed, we see how John moves from particular individual dialogue into universal, it becomes parabolic in its character. In fact in itself this dialogue becomes a parable.

By the end of the discourse, their meeting becomes a microcosm of encounter between Jesus and the world, the universal truth is exposed, man is born by water and spirit. Towards the end of the dialogue, we see how he moves to these universal themes. He speaks about condemnation, and the light that has come to the world, it of darkness rather than light, takes off on this universal domain. One of the authors called his commentary on John, ”the maverick gospel”. He says, John like an eagle takes off from the ground, and then he sores in heaven on this pan-universal scale.

Yes, Nicodemus, provides us an interesting example, paradigm. He is rather confused about Christ. Perhaps his faith is not strong enough that he can follow Christ. Perhaps many people would find familiar these same kind of spiritual problems. Nicodemus is mentioned again in chapter 7. Remember he’s the one that tried to defend Christ against the Jews - he said, “does our law judge the man before it hears him and knows what he does?” And indeed, out of reverence Nicodemus comes to Christ’s tomb at the end of the Gospel, chapter 19: “… And he brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, to anoint Christ”. But John gives us a very profound psychological analysis of what really happened to Nicodemus, why he followed Christ. John in chapter 12 after he speaks about Pharisees, he says: “out of the rulers many did believe in him because of the Pharisees they did not confess Leicester should be put out of the synagogue, for they love the glory of man more than the glory of God.” So Nicodemus is given to us as an example of one who was afraid to follow Christ. Many of the rulers out of fear, didn’t confess Christ because they were afraid to be put out the synagogue. Does this phrase remind you of anything from the synoptic gospels? There was a rich man who could not follow Christ because of his treasures on earth. But of course, the parable of the sower, this world, the temptations, and riches of this world, that is the faith that has no roots. This is not the seed that fell on stony ground it had no deep roots. And what we have here is a similar teaching, that Christ gives us in Nicodemus, but it is like a parable in the synoptic gospels. This is the same message, but in a different form, communicated to us in this language of hypostatic paradigms. So the message of the hypostatic parables in John’s Gospel and the message in the Synoptics is the same.

Let us see how the same principle works in other characters. The very next chapter, chapter 4 where Christ meets the Samaritan woman. Again, we have this leap from individual particular to representative in the broader spectrum. Again, a change from singular into plural. Remember Christ begins his dialogue with the Samaritan woman, and then he addresses her in singular but later by verse 22 he begins to speak in plural: “you worship, what you do not know…” We see again, Christ switches into this plural. So in essence, she becomes a representative a certain group of people, the Samaritans. Another dynamic portrait, a hypostatic paradigm, another person who came to believe in Christ. It had she come to believe? And many of Christ’s teachings according to the synoptic gospel, reveals itself in a different way, the Christ talking about marriage et cetera. He discusses, the question of marriage with the Samaritan woman, and he says to her: “five men that you are with…” Because Christ speaks against adultery here. He is teaching here about how to pray, “worship of God in spirit and in truth”. In one way or another, all the synoptic messages and teachings, are to be found also in the Gospel of John, but through a different style of writing.

Why did Christ speak in parables?

And why does John, speak in this way using hypostatic paradigms? Why doesn’t he want to give us the direct commandment of Christ? Such as, do this or do that. Why this Christ speaking parables? Why does John use the same language, parabolic language, for this hypostatic paradigms? Why do you think this is the case? If we compare, the language of Christ, the way he gives his commandments, his teachings, with that of the old Testament you will find that he doesn’t use imperative very often. Occasionally he does, been the old Testament commandments, they always use imperative is: “thou shall not”. But English poet W.H. Auden once said, “you can’t tell people what to do, you can tell them a parable”. And this is very much what Christ employs when he speaks in parables. Because as I said earlier we’re dealing in the New Testament with the spiritual history of mankind, of the human person. Person whose freedom, God is eager to preserve. That is why he doesn’t impose himself, but he represents truth in this parabolic language. So that person, is free to make a choice on whether or not to follow Christ. And this is perhaps why we can translate “I speaking parables, so seeing they have the opportunity not to see, and hearing they have an opportunity not to hear.” That is why Christ speaks in parables. He leaves us to be free. The same goes with hypostatic language, and paradigms, in John’s Gospel. We are left free to decide for ourselves who we can associate ourselves with in the Gospel. The beloved disciple, perhaps Judas, perhaps Mary Magdalen, and this is how this language of paradigms works.

Q&A. There is a book by Jonah he actually mentions that, if Christ did wish to communicate this idea of deliberately blinding people he would have used the Isaiah quotation in full, but he did not. In Isaiah there is some very strong language where God wishes for this people to be blinded. But Christ omits the most important part of that quotation.

Man is a fact for God himself. Once you remove human freedom, you no longer have human beings. That is why there was a restoration of the fallen Adam into this freedom. This freedom that Christ brought to mankind, which lets humans be free. This gives them the choice of whether they wish to follow Christ not, it is a personal choice which God does not want to interfere with. And this is a choice that we make in the very depths of our heart. And the language that is employed by St Peter afterwards, it is the same language of non-coercion. He says: “I am going fishing” and the apostles replied: “we will go with you”. He did not impose, “we shall all go fishing”. This is the basis of our orthodox ecclesiology. Like Komakhov (?) wrote, “Christ bequeathed his truth, not to power, but to love”. Instead of legal authority we would possibly find perhaps in some other confessions, a legalistic understanding of authority. In the orthodox understanding of authority, this an authority of love above all not of power. And we venerate Christ, not for his power but for his love.

The Paradigm of Peter

We read passages where Peter is mentioned. And we can think what the evangelists wishes to communicate to us. If we considered the whole spiritual career of Peter, was following Christ from the beginning to the end, even to the point of his death. And in fact Christ did mention, that he predicted that Peter would suffer martyrdom as Christ did. And Peter is given to us as an example of a follower of Christ, as he has his own witnesses but nevertheless he follows Christ to the end. And indeed, Peter experienced his own Golgotha, and his own crucifixion. What actually happened to him, if we begin to analyse the situation in human terms and you went to Jerusalem with Christ. And in the Last Supper he said: “I will never betray you, I would die if it was necessary”. And after a few days he betrays him, it was a real personal tragedy when he realised what he had done. He felt a real cheapness about his personhood, that he betrayed eternal God that Peter himself had witnessed the Transfiguration with his own eyes. And if you take the attestation further, he was the oldest of the apostles, how embarrassing it was for him to set such example, he was in a state of nothingness, ultimate.

Father Sophrony said: “just imagine as pre-eternal God to have all this universal mission laid upon you, that is what happened later after the resurrection, but Peter felt such unworthiness, he said, “I will go fishing, I will do what I did at the beginning before I met Christ. After all this experience with Christ, Peter was broken with his betrayal of Christ so much, that he went back to doing what he was doing before, being fishermen.  This act in self, is a sign of profound spiritual property, humility. He does strange things, when he sees Christ in the boat, he jumps into the water. So have this very complex portrait of a Christian who has his weaknesses, his moments of not knowing what to do when he jumps and see. It is a very lively paradigm.

And there is also that of the beloved disciple. And if you notice the beloved disciple never speaks in the Gospel, he’s always silent, as someone who is always present with Christ.

Opposite of Righteousness

The opposite of righteousness is sin. What is sin? What is sinful? Can you give a definition? The way sin is portrayed in the new Testament, you cannot give a definition. In the same way that you can give a definition of love, cannot give a definition of sin. Sin, has now a personal dimension. In the old Testament, it was is to identify sin because you are doing certain actions to prescribed in the old Testament law the should be doing, if you’re doing this your sin. Sin in the old Testament is defined. But in the new Testament yes, Christ gives a list of the evils like what comes out of your heart (e.g. adultery), but this list of sins is not exhaustive. Can you give a definition of the sin of Judas, for example? What was wrong with what he did? The holy Fathers speak of Judas’s love for money, this perhaps was not the main point. The very fact that he betrayed Christ, was the major sin. He sinned against love. Judas was in a relationship of a follower to Jesus, and he severed that link by betraying him. But if you look at it according to the old Testament, Judas may not have committed any sinful action. He went to the Pharisees, told in the truth he didn’t lie, according to the old Testament he didn’t sin. But according to the new Testament, he sinned. And Judas did not only betray but delivered Christ to the Pharisees.

Sin is also given to us in this way, in the language of this hypostatic paradigm. And of course, there is a moment, where Satan enters Judas’s heart. Father Sophrony said that Judas was scandalised by Christ’s behaviour because remember the moment that he decided to betray him, a woman came to anoint him, and put precious oil and wiped his feet with her hair, and Judas at that moment thought, he receives pleasure from a woman, but he could not see the Christ was accepting her repentance. And this is the moment that Judas decided to betray him. But for Christ at this moment the salvation of this woman was so important. So what I am saying is that it is impossible to provide a definition of sin. Again, there is an infinite category of sin. Just like there is an infinite category of love, and love can be expressed in many forms. It is the same thing with sin, it can be expressed in many forms. In Soviet Russia people would report about their neighbours to authorities and they would think that they were doing nothing special because they were not seeing lies. So there were saying the truth, so what is wrong with the truth? Always in the right to say the truth? But you see according to the New Testament it is a sin which cannot be defined but it is a sin. In fact this personal dimension, people think at times that even if they see nice words but with a heavy heart, people can hurt, depends on the personal dimension. In the Akathist in our hymns to Christ we say: “Hail, now king of the Jews, king of Israel”. And of course, the same words were used by people who mocked him before the crucifixion. We can see that the same words can be understood differently given the different contexts infecting opposite ways.

Another hypostatic paradigm, in the fourth Gospel, other crowds. The concept of the crowd in John’s Gospel, is again, a very flexible and dynamic concept. If crowds are positively disposed towards Christ, find among the crowds his disciples. But in chapter 6, once the crowds turn hostile to Christ, they acquire a technical term “the Jews”. We see this dynamic from crowds to Jews. Bassler (?) Who asserts that the evangelist is not concerned with nationality, or geography, but he’s concerned with the type of attitude towards Christ, people who reject Christ and who do not accept Christ. So juice is not a nationality, but a type of people. This is crucial for our understanding, for political issues these days. Some fathers of the church believes the Gospel was anti-Semitic, but no this is not the case, and I would side with modern scholars that the term “Jew” was based on the type of attitude and behaviour.

Topic Lecture 7 - St John's Gospel

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

The Gospel of John is a unique Gospel. It is particularly close to the Orthodox Church. Once the Catholic Church was compared to the apostle Peter, the Protestant church to the apostle Paul, and the Orthodox Church was compared to St John the evangelist.

What the synoptic mean? Is synopsis. A common vision. This is in reference to the Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke. If we speak about Christ, then we need to present a common vision of Christ. Now John's Gospel gives us a different aspect. It is no coincidence that many people of this particular Gospel, because it has a profound personal impact like no other Gospels. St John's Gospel sends us into the most intimate dialogue with its reader. And the works of Christ recorded in this gospel penetrate the very depth of our inner selves. Father Nikolai was raised in an atheistic society, but he witnessed many people coming to Christ as a result of St John's Gospel, and it was no coincidence as it had a profound personal dimension.

How should we approach the text of the Gospel? How should we study it? What should we study? As mentioned, every form of literature has its own criteria. We might be looking in some texts for the politics style, and other text for the whether historical facts are recorded and consistency of the account.

So what criteria should we be using to study St John's Gospel? Scholars believe that to the 19th century that the Gospels were some kind of memoir of the apostles. And this view was held by the church actually until very late. See the book by David Stross (?), The life of Jesus, written in 1885. For the first time Stross used the term myth in relation to the new Testament. And in the 20th century, science and ousted the church from the field of biblical studies altogether. These included the structure of the narrative, historical analysis, historical verifiability, logical consistency. An interesting in the field of theology, the field of science brought to modern man.

We also find testimony about the authorship of the gospel in St Irenaeus, who wrote about 180 A.D. John remained at Ephesus until the time of his passing around 117 A.D.also have reference John's authorship of the gospel in Clement of Alexandria: "and last for the evangelist, John perceived that all the external facts been made plain in the Gospels, and he was urged by his friends by the Holy Spirit, to compose a spiritual Gospel". If you want to know more about what the fathers of the church set about the Gospel, there is a book by Maurice Wiles (?) Which is recommended for those who wish to study a patristic approach to the Gospel.

But some say that the language of the gospel implied a much later date. And there is no historical evidence that John was actually present at Ephesus. St possible for example, never mentions John in his letter to the Ephesians. Is this a valid argument? This is rather an invalid argument, if we think about it in the modern terms, if a scholar was to write to a particular university, he/she would not go mentioning another name which was unrelated.

So scholars started to search for another author, another John. 

Do we remember in the Gospel of John who it says whom Jesus loved? Of course, it was Lazarus. Because Jesus wept, at his death. So one of the scholars indicated that possibly it was Lazarus who wrote the Gospel of John. And if you look at chapter 21 there is a question about the death of the disciple. And in the Gospels we will never hear, anything that is said, from the beloved disciple. He is rather silent personality. He never speaks. And some even question whether he would live forever, on earth, although Christ never said this.

Barnabas Linders (?) commentary, said that the whole Johannine community was the beloved disciple. And yet another scholar believed it was Lazarus and Mary who wrote the Gospel of John together since Mary was the 1st to witness the Lord's resurrection. In this instance it was considered to be a cooperative endeavour. And there are many books on this topic, and there are very many candidates. But the Orthodox perspective is of course the youngest disciple, John wrote this gospel.

So scholars searched for various influences to the Gospel of John, and they found themselves in a jungle, confused state, mess. Because the whole period from from the first 60 years of the first century to the middle of the second century, was one of the most intensive religious quests. Various philosophers, the Gnostics, special monastic communities, various myths and sacraments, and Eastern religions, all this constituted one complex setting. It was very difficult to place any direct dependence on John.

Influences on St John's Gospel


Bultmann (?) believed that St John Hellenized Christianity. First of all there are very strong parallels with Platonism. Platonic philosophy maintained that behind this passing from this material world, there was a real eternal change in this world which led to the contrast between mind and body, spirit and flesh, world above and world below. Perhaps you can hear similarities with John's Gospel, about from on high, he speaks about the true minds about the truth, about one true God, this is very much Platonic vocabulary.


Secondly, stoicism: a particular and very important point is the concept of the Logos (?). The Stoics as you know, believed that focus was God, and in some sense also the whole universe. The Stoics were by no means crude pantheists. For they found seeds of divine Logos in the mind of man. There was a possibility of a special relationship between divine eternal universal laws and any human being. And what they saw as a duty of a human being was to live in accordance with this divine logos, to cultivate the seed of eternal logos within ourselves. This is how man becomes a child of God. Again we see parallels with John's Gospel.

Hermetic writings

A third remaining trend or influence comes from so-called Hermetic writings. What are these? At the beginning of the first century these two branches of Greek thought, Platonic and Stoic merged into one, and they appeared in a collection of works which were distributed in the second third and fourth centuries, known as hermetic writings. What can we say but these writings? There is a considerable emphasis on knowledge. Salvation was really to be found in knowing the truth knowing about God and the world, how to pass through and beyond this world, into the heavenly spheres. Much emphasis is placed about knowing the true God, chapter 17:3. Consider also light and life, in the context of the nature of God.


John's Gospel is used widely by Gnostic writers to claim their apostolic authority for their views. But also by the Orthodox fathers of the church, who wanted to refute that Gnostic heresies. The first commentary that survived in almost its complete extract, was the work of of Gnostic Heraklion (?). Again similar ideas in the Gospel of John, I'd is about knowledge, about life, about truth about sacraments. In this context what saves us is knowledge, one has to know the authorities of the world, about man about God, and about the way for man to escape from this world and to be united with God. But really the fourth Gospel is decisively different.

There is a difference between knowledge of God in the Gospel, and the knowledge within that Gnostic context. Or any other difference which deals with incarnation? What is it? The knowledge in the Gospel of Christ, is really about personal knowledge, it is not about information in the world. In the Gospel, it is about relation, and communion with God. It's about ontological knowledge, personal knowledge. We know God through love, through communion. This is what is implied by knowledge. Our type of knowledge implies ontological knowledge, ontological union, with God. Consider for example the term knowledge in the context of Adam and Eve, when we are told: Adam knew his wife. Which means he entered in full communion with his wife, including all levels, physical, spiritual, all of the levels. It was that tell a tear of the communion. And this is type of knowledge that is implied in the fourth Gospel, knowledge as communion.

Rudolff Bultmann believes that in the fourth Gospel, nothing else but the question form of the salvation myth which belongs to the Mandaeism. These were a Jewish sect, whom broke with Judaism in the first century, and they believed Jesus was the son of the founder of the Mandaeism, supposedly sent John the Baptist. They believed that it was sent John the Baptist who was sent from above, not Christ. And they believed that this world was made out of a fusion of light and darkness to the body of man belong to the kingdom of darkness but his soul comes from the kingdom of light. Thus it is the light that is trapped in the darkness of the human body. 

If you notice in the fourth Gospel we have a very interesting portrait of sent John the Baptist. There was a tendency to emphasise that John the Baptist was not the Messiah. And this is perhaps where the notion of myth arose. How did the Mandeists see  it? The king of light sends down to earth his son suitably disguised in a human form so he can reveal to human beings there are heavenly origin. And to instruct them how to return back to their true home. This sounds very much like the fourth Gospel. And then the person who was sent to do this work by God... And when their work is done they go back to heaven and the son collects their sparks of light, their souls into his hands, it is kingdom. And when they have all returned to heaven the work is done. There is a passage with Christ talks about bringing together all the children of God. This is very much like the notion of the Mandaeis. The Mandaens had a special liking towards the baptism ceremony. And not just once but regularly. For them the baptism rite equated to the rite of purification. They would wear white robes for every baptism, and for the ceremony. Thus the similarity between the Mandaeis and the fourth Gospel is obvious. So Bultmann believes that the Christians turned the cosmological myths of the Mandaeis into Christianity. They applied what was applied to sent John the Baptist, to Christ.

However we can see weaknesses in this point. Firstly the Mandaeis literature is very much later in the piece, the documents were distributed around the seventh century. Many scholars now tend to believe like Barrett and Burkitt (?) That actually it is not Christianity that is dependent on the Mandaeis but the Mandaeis on Christianity very much. There are also many other differences. For example, how do we become children of God? We're not defacto children of God until we find our salvation in Christ. And then become a child of Christ through Christ. And the Mandaeis believed that every man is heavenly de facto. The real innocence is the divine light that is contained within the person. The Mandaeis, as well as many other Greek writers and hermetic writers, believe that man's redemption comes through information. For us it comes through personal love and communion. There is a difference in the concept of knowledge. And how did they see sacraments? For us any sacrament increases out into communion with Christ himself. Every sacrament is Christ himself. For example consider Eucharist, we communion of the body and blood of Christ himself. And it is there, that the sacrament finds its fulfilment. If you take baptism for example, it is not just about washing hands, or going for a swim. We are baptised into Christ, St Paul says. We are baptised into the person. And for the Mandaeis did not have that notion of person. Sacraments were a kind of magical ritual. Your apply a certain formula and then something happens.

And so some scholars believed, that the Gospel of John could not have been written by John the apostle because many of the things spoken come from later date, e.g. ideas, and vocabulary much later than the first century. But all these theories collapsed in the recent archaeological discoveries prove them wrong. We're speaking here but the dead Sea Scrolls. When they came to light, there are no less parallels with contemporary Judaism in the fourth Gospel than in the Greek world or the Mandaeis. E.g., the manual discipline, the Damascus covenant, the commentary under cavicle (?). John Ashton, the Oxford Scholar believes that in light of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gospel of John is now considered as thoroughly Jewish document. In many ways these Scrolls have demonstrated that many of John's ideas which were thought to be of Greek influence, and probably of a later date, are quite explicable of a Palestinian-Jewish... there was already and established Jewish community when Christ was born. This means that the early date of the fourth gospel is not impossible, and we as Orthodox can only welcome this finding. We can prove that yes John was actually John the Apostle who was the writer of the Gospel of John.

When we come to the synoptic gospels, scholars believe that John belong to an independent tradition. He probably didn't even know the synoptic gospels. And it is a question whether he knew them or not. Our Orthodox tradition says yes he knew because of what St Clement of Alexandria said: "John, the last of all evangelists, after all the external facts had been made plain in other Gospels..." This phrase implies that he actually read them. And perhaps the question itself is not entirely relevant for us today.

There are stories that are not in the synoptic gospels: the woman of Samaria, the miracle at Canaan, which is an interesting detail which is not recorded in the Synoptics. The disciples of Christ baptised, as well as John the Baptist baptising. Even distinguished professors like George Mantzarides in your Orthodox tradition, have asked why is such an important event like the raising of Lazarus is not mentioned by any other evangelist. Well what do we say to that? Why was that the case? It was such a grand event the whole of Judaea witnessed it.

For John, the raising of Lazarus, had a very important theological significance. And that is why he records it. The synoptic writers, they speak about, other resurrections that John doesn't mention. For instance the raising of the son of the widow of Nine (?), And the raising of Jairus daughter. In fact it is possible that Christ raised many people, and all his miracles are not recorded. Christ did much more than we here in the Gospels but for John, he perceived the raising of Lazarus is having a special significance in the career of Christ as a whole, and having a theological significance, as a holy action which would proceed Christ's own resurrection. 

Yes, there are similarities as well, but the temple entry into Jerusalem, the anointing Bethany, and some other parallels like miracles like feeding a 5000 between the Gospel of John and the Synoptics etc. There are some differences in chronology and in geography in the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John. For example, in the synoptic gospels Christ comes a Jerusalem in the last stage of his ministry, while in John's Gospel he frequents Jerusalem often, and Jerusalem is mention quite a few times, in visits to the temple quite often there. One of the other differences is the style of writing of the Gospel of John, which are very different in terms of its structure. The synoptic gospels, for example, are composed of stories, little short stories about Christ. In John we find developed dialogues between Christ and other heroes of the Gospel. 

What can we say as a result of all of this findings? How does this comparison with the synoptic gospels help us to understand John's Gospel? How far does historical research advance our understanding of the actual text? And if you read modern biblical scholarship, the books try to contextualise the words of the Gospel. They try to put them in their context, into their Sitz im Leiben. There is a tendency to treat the Gospel, not as a universal of revelation but as a reflection of a particular historical situation. Something, that we can admit as Orthodox, but we wouldn't dwell on that. Because any Gospel is a universal revelation, because it is tied to particular historical context, but for us the new Testament is universal in its nature.

Possible Inconsistencies in the Text

Let's examine how this logic works of historical analysis. We have already gone through the various strands of thought, platonic, stoic, Gnostic, and so on, so scholars combine all this findings and they believe it is possible to reconstruct the actual history of the Johannine community, where the needs of the community dictated the content of the Gospel. Raymond Brown, writes on the "community of the beloved disciple", which still stands as the starting point for any Johannine study. And Lewis Martin (?), the "history and theology in the fourth Gospel". So let's examine how their logic works.

These scholars have noticed that the text of the fourth Gospel has been edited and re-edited several times. So how can we see this for example in the prologue of the Gospel is a far more theologically developed piece of the text it obviously doesn't correspond any style to the rest of the Gospel. It is like a poetic him. E.g 1:1-17. There are also in the text, many chronological and geographical inconsistencies for example chapter 6, we suddenly find ourselves in Galilee but in chapter 5 Christ was in Jerusalem. And another interesting example, chapter 14, verse one, Christ says: "Arise, let's go away from here", it looks like the end of the discussion but here Christ carries on with his discourse of the Last Supper for another couple of chapters. This can easily be explained by our cultural context whereby it is not that easy to remove oneself from a dialogue depending on the background.

In chapter 5, verse 25: "Christ said: 'I say to you that the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the son of God, and they who hear shall live". And just three verses below, Christ repeats the same thing: "for the hour is coming, who all in the graves shall hear his voice... And therefore come forth to the resurrection of life... And those who have done evil". It looks like the original idea in chapter 5:25, is corrected, clarified, interpreted. Additionally, we hear about the wedding in Canaan, where Christ turns water into wine, but then there is a puzzling comment in chapter 2, verse 11: "this is the beginning of miracles that Jesus did in Canaan of Galilee"; okay, but where is the rest? We don't hear about the rest of the miracles in Canaan. Well it depends how you interpret this phrase. We can always interpret this, is that this was the first miracle and there were many more to come throughout Christ's life. Scholars like Faulkner, "the Gospel of science: the reconstruction of the narrative source", believes there was a miracle walk that was incorporated into the Gospel of John by John. And this is why we have that strange phrase "the beginning of miracles". In chapter 20:30-31, reads like it is the end of the Gospel, "and truly Christ did many other signs... Which are not written in this book... But these are written so you could have life in his name." But the Gospel continues, we do not say in there. There is chapter 21. Scholars believe the chapter 21 is actually an appendix. And so scholars believe that the text has been edited, and re-edited.

But when we come to the actual content of the Gospel, we find that there are numerous polemical passages. Christ is said to be arguing with Jews, Pharisees, the Samaritans, in such a way that he seems to speak on behalf of a certain group. As if the evangelist, tries to give Christ his own voice and concerns, he puts on his lips the words that express concern not of the subject of Christ himself but the Christian community. See the conversation with Nicodemus, in chapter 3. Christ says: "truly, truly I say to you we speak what we know and we testify what we have seen". Why this Christ speaking plural, about himself? As if Christ is speaking on behalf of a certain group. And also there is a Samaritan woman, and Christ says in 4:22, "you worship what you do not know, we know to worship the salvation of the Jews". Who is speaking in this passage? Christ speaks, "we know", about himself. Like, he speaking on behalf the Jews. So the evangelist, tries to sort out polemical questions, that are vested in his own community.

St John the Baptist continually repeats "I am not the Messiah", 1:20, and 3:28. So why to drive this point so persistently? There must be something behind. And if we look at the Johannine Epistles, we seen the first epistle that in John's community there was a schism, a split. 1 John 2:19, John the evangelists says: "they went out from us, but they were not of us, for if they were of us they would have continued with us". He speaks of a certain group of people who departed from his community. How do we explain these polemics? Brown, suggests that we need to dig deeper into the historical setting, as to understand all of these strange passages, these strange polemics, which formed an influence the content of the Gospel. That is how we can ultimately understand the fourth Gospel.

What would be the historical settings of these polemics? Perhaps the main historical event in the first century, which gave birth to Christianity as religion, was the expulsion of the Christians from the synagogue. When did this happen? Because we know that Christians worshipped alongside Jews in the synagogue. Until the mid-first century all Christians were Jews, who were worshipping in the temple when Christ came. And these early Christians, understood that Christ was the fulfilment of the old Testament prophecies, and were standing in the temple and confessing Christ as the Messiah. And in fact, Judaism was quite liberal at that time, in the first half of the first century, it was pluralistic in its nature, it would accommodate many other religions, such as Platonism, other Greek philosophy, and Christianity as well was in this liberal environment. That's why Judaism flourished, in a universally acknowledge religion. It's a liberal trend increased its popularity. But what happens next? We know that around 66 A.D. Jewish laws began, and they were directly formed for the Jews against the Roman authorities. And in 70 A.D. the Jewish feast of Passover, Emperor Titus, the Roman leader arrived in Jerusalem and the siege began. It consisted of five months of siege, and the great temple of Jerusalem was burned. And the whole city, 1 million Jews were killed at this time. Just imagine what this meant for Jewish people at that time. Hundreds of thousands of captives were taken to Caesarea. And after this devastation, the cultural and religious and educational centre of Judaism, that is Jerusalem, there was a Jewish party that settled in Jamnia. A place which was away from Jerusalem. And it is there that the pharisaic party took a leading role in the revival of Judaism. The Pharisees were not liberals at all. They wanted to read Judaism from outside influences. And they introduced new liturgical texts into their services, one of them which was cursing Christians, and it was from that moment the Christians could no longer be side-by-side in the temple with the Jews. Christians had to confess through these liturgical texts that Christianity was heresy, and they honestly couldn't do that as Christians themselves. And at this time, the Christians began to be expelled from the synagogue. And he's around this point, that Raymond Brown and Lewis Martin, build their theory of the history. 

So now if we open the text in the first chapter, verse 35, Raymond Brown believes that here we are dealing with the very outset of the Johannine community. "The next day John was standing with two of his disciples... And they follow Jesus". This is how the community started. So the Johannine community consisted of Jews who believed in an old Testament type Christology. In verse 38 if we look at the kinds of Christological titles written by John they include: "Jesus called Rabbi"; verse 41 "the Messiah", "one of whom Moses wrote in the law in the Prophets"; "the son of Joseph", "son of God", "king of Israel". What kind of ID to these titles give us? Do they speak about the pre-eternal existence of Christ? Do they speak about his divinity? Not at all. They speak about him as a kind of old Testament prophets, but nothing special about him and his divinity. This kind of Christology which was at the outset for the community when they worshipped in the synagogue, which is why the Jews in the temple initially accept these notions there was nothing wrong with them. But then, if we move further into chapter 4, we hear about Christ's visit to Samaria which is not found in the synoptic gospels. And here we hear about an interesting type of Christology, Christ is now not just the son of Joseph, he is like 4:42 says: "he is the saviour of the world". Now we have a very different type of Christology. This is a theology which is universal, speaks about Christ is the saviour of the world. And this side of Christology Brown believes is precisely what caused the controversy between Judaism and Christianity. This is the kind of Christology that brought Christians into conflict with the synagogue. And from that time, from the time of expulsion, the middle period begins in the history of the community. After the expulsion, life in the community is preoccupied with the polemics with the Jews. After chapter 4 we hear, how the Jews are portrayed constantly in a negative light. Christ rebukes them, he argues with them, in a very intense way. And chapter 15, crisis: "now they have no excuse for their sin". But it was at this stage that the Gospel was written down.

And then there comes a new period where the community was expelled from the synagogue, and it became exposed to the rest of the world. Christ is now the true light of every man. And along with these influences from the Greek world and the gnostic tendencies, and finally the community is split into two. John is within the Orthodox Church, separating himself from the Gnostics. This is how we understand the history of the Johannine community.

Raymond Brown himself, and once written in an introduction, that we should be careful not to exaggerate, not to give a wrong weight to  every little detail, however it seems he has himself not taken his own advice. For example why couldn't Christ simply have said "Love one another"? You don't need a historical context for these words. It was simply Christ expression of divine love.

Orthodox Approach to John's Gospel

How should we as Orthodox, treat the text of the gospel? Why can we accept this narrowing down of the gospel to this particular historical setting? For us the gospel is a universal revelation. Yes it was born within the context of history, but for us it is an eternal self revelation of God, no less than this. Of course it touches upon history but it shouldn't deny its universal nature. Secondly, for us, the Gospels, and the new Testament as a whole is a spiritual text, we cannot deny a spiritual dimension to our Scripture. If we say it was just the product of human talents, we will narrow the gospel to this drama of literature. For us Scripture above all is a revelation of God, which came into being through synergy, through co-working between God and man. And we preserve in our church the right attitude toward the gospel, within our Orthodox tradition. We keep our gospel in the altar, we venerate the gospel and this is the attitude that the first Christians had. For us, if you want to entertain an Orthodox approach to Scripture, without this belief in scripture, we believe in the divinely inspired character of the text. If we choose a different path it could be very interesting but it won't be Orthodox.

And we shouldn't be afraid to take this perspective into our academic studies, until now Orthodox biblical scholarship, has not yet entered the international arena of biblical studies. There is a great contribution to be made worldwide. 

Q&A. John Barton, re-read the new Testament, and once wrote: "we are dealing not with actual text we are dealing with a person". Through texts we have this notion that every evangelist is communicating to us the person of Christ, so we as readers can enter communion with Christ. For example, St Clement of Alexandria uses the same word "to partake" (metalavo) both for the holy Eucharist and for being immersed in the holy Scripture.

One of the gnostic myths which tell us very much about the certain medical figures, that would deliver information about, about God but a personal communion is not is not required, personal knowledge of the saviour is not required. In all of these Gnostic myths, the Redeemer is only one who delivers information, but he doesn't actually die for his flock. In our case, Christ died for us, he is the good shepherd that lays down his life for us, and this produces a completely new category which is unknown did Gnostics. It is indeed love. The gospel expects our response through love, in the gnostic doesn't require it. For Gnostics all that is required is certain sets of ideas and proofs, not love. Who has read the Jesus gospel? This piece of literature, it is said that Jesus laughs at finding his disciples in prayer, and he said to give information about how to pass from this world to the next. And from our personal experience of Christ as Orthodox, we could not possibly recognise Christ in this kind of literature.

In our church the gospel is a companion for our whole life, it is not just an object, for academic study. This is the main difference between Gnosticism and Christianity. Through Christ we enter into communion and are able to know God. In the other monotheistic religions, we are not told of a pre-eternal God being Incarnate, and entering into a relationship with humans. To such an extent that we know him not only as God but we know him as a person. The new Testament is above all his revelation for us personally. If you look at the old Testament we knew how magnificent God was his impotence, adjust it was, yes he was still a universal God but there was something missing. Remember in the book of Exodus Moses said "he couldn't see the prosopon" the person of God. And that is why Moses said, there is something more to come, there will be another Prophet who will teach you everything. Because he was speaking about Christ.

Q&A. Yes we read the Gospel person but also in the context of sobornost. There is no truth for us without this idea of sobornost. It means that we live in a believing community, within a body of Christ, in our church. And for instance this may be a main difference between Pentecostal understanding of the gospel as individual truth given to every man who is free to interpret what he wants, Christ speaks to everyone personally… Yes we acknowledge the latter, but we also have in mind this community, and ecclesiastical dimension, which allows for the common understanding of Scripture, tradition, and above all sacraments. Because if you know for the first Christians who would gather for their agape meals, they actually communed in the body and blood of Christ, was linked completely with words about Christ. And once we separate the sacrament the communion of the Eucharist, from the gospel itself, then both sides lose. Because we enter personal communion with Christ through our Eucharist as well from Scripture, they are one and the same thing for us as Orthodox. We cannot interpret scripture without tradition, as well there is no tradition without scripture, without a church. 

Where can we see a touch of gnosticism? Above all, when people are trying to read the Gospels with impersonal spectacles. Once you have an idea of knowledge which is not related to your personal life then we're dealing with gnosticism. And this is the same tendency which prevails in biblical studies these days, when researchers feel you do not have to enter communion with Christ, God, to study the Gospel. In fact it has now become a scientific discipline and people are detached from what they are studying, in the hope they can introduce objective pronouncements. And really when we consider this, if we want to be objective, as Orthodox, we strive to interpret what the Gospel always intended us to understand as objective; which is faith in Christ. Really, this so-called objectivity in modern academic circles, is limiting. For some of these academics, if not most working in biblical studies, faith is a non-starter because it is something which would influence, or bias your approach to the study. 

Q&A. We know that there is something fishy going on, when people try to dissect texts. For example a logical analysis, based on logical positivism, cannot accept the logic of the Gospels, so it dissects. When John says for example "the hour is coming, and now is", from a chronological perspective how is it possible to say is coming, and is now is; it is either coming or is. So scholars try to dissect the text to make sense of it. And the same goes with mistranslations. Once you start doing this, it is not canonical, it is a symptom that something is not consistent within your perception of the new Testament. If something doesn't fit your ideology, then you can change it. So you can have faith which is truth or you can have ideology which places different meaning on the actual text. We must avoid ideology.

Topic Lecture 3 - St Mark's Gospel

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

St Mark's Gospel is a very mysterious gospel. Mark's Gospel has been studied more intensively than any other gospel possibly. Most of the scholars have said it was the first gospel to be written. It has been given the pride of place in describing the historical Jesus.

If you look at the early church Mark is rather neglected. Scribes copied the gospel of some mark less than any other gospel. And few commentators discuss in detail. And if you look at the orthodox services, Mark's Gospel is used only occasionally. Why?

The reason is that most of the marketing material is found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. We do not hear about the birth of Christ, there is also no clear account of the resurrection, there is not much teaching about Christ recorded. What is the reason behind this gospel? St Augustine believed that Mark merely abbreviated Matthew.


The Gospel of Mark was written by the well-respected disciple of Peter. We find references to Mark's Gospel in historical references. Mark had become Peter's interpreter Bishop Heraclius (?) tells us. St Ireneaus in 185 A.D. writes: "after that of Peter and Paul, Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter, himself also handed down to us in writing the things that Peter had proclaimed. And in fact there are various reasons to believe that what we are dealing with here are sent Peter's testimony. Mark's Gospel is a fresh account of Jesus's life, the eyewitness view is present throughout. There are numerous passages which include Peter, more than any other gospel. These accounts are very vivid ones, we can even picture almost cinematographically, the dialogues between Peter and Christ. Then in Mark chapter 16 we have a sense of preferential treatment. Peter is singled out. "God tell his disciples, and Peter..."

The Gospel begins with Jesus's baptism. It was shortly after Peter meets Christ. Peter was a simple man and give any account of things which he had seen. For instance he didn't see the birth of Christ, so he didn't write about it. Then finally there is a mysterious young man in the garden of Gesthemane who is believed to be Mark himself. If you read chapter 14 this man runs away naked, and scholars believe it was possibly Mark himself, just to place himself in the story for instance.

In 1835 one of the modern scholars offered a neat explanation for the existence of Mark's Gospel. He came to believe that Mark's Gospel was the first gospel to be written, that is why it has survived in the church. There are a few reasons why Mark and authority and priority is accepted now, in modern academia. First if you analyse things logically indeed, Matthew and Luke contain Markan material. Then this particular scholar noted that Luke really changes the order of Mark and Matthew only does it in a few places. So they both follow Mark in their account. So there is a question also of style. Mark's style wasn't very advanced. He uses a lot of redundant phrases. "In evening when the sun set" this is the other evangelists who just said "in evening". It was somewhat abbreviated. There is a reference to a cushion in Mark, when Jesus slept in the boat – why would you mention this detail?

There is yet another point in favour of Markan priority. Scholars believe that in Mark we are dealing with the early stages of the formation of the Christian faith. Of course when Christ came people didn't know quickly who he was. He was the son of God the logos, the pre-eternal God, and people slowly began to figure out who Christ was. And throughout the whole of the new Testament we can discern three major types of Christology:

1. Adoptionistic Christology; if you read Mark's Gospel without reading any other gospel what picture do you get? We don't hear anything about Christ's supernatural birth, through the Holy Spirit. You simply have Jesus of Nazareth who came to be baptised in Jordan by John by the remission of sins. In Matthew, we find that that Matthew is rather embarrassed by this term "a baptism of repentance". The question is how could the sinless be baptised by a baptism of repentance? "And John the Baptist retorted, I need to be baptised by you and you come to me to be baptised?" In Matthew says, "this is my beloved son"; and in Mark the voice is attested to Christ himself "you might beloved son". So it looks like Jesus of Nazareth is a man, and is adopted by God the Father at his baptism. So in Matthew the word "this" is apparently addressed to the crowd, whereas in Mark "you" is addressed to Jesus himself. 

2. Yet in Matthew and Luke, we come to know that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is born supernaturally, of the Holy Spirit. He's not adopted he is revealed to the crowds. He is revealed to Israel as an agent of God. 

3. In John's Gospel, the incarnation Christology. John receive something much bolder. Christ is before the incarnation. He was in the beginning with God. He is God himself.

However in recent years, scholars have begun to challenge this view of the three different types of Christologies. A book by Simon Gallico(?) Is called the preexistent son, so that in Matthew Mark and Luke we are dealing with the preexistence of Christ. Do you see any phrase in the Gospels that might points to this preexistence notion which is shared between the synoptic gospels? Remember what John the Baptist preached: "prepare the ways of the Lord..." And also this phrase: "I have come to fulfil the law". Meaning, I have come into the world.

Scholars tend to see a more authentic portrait of Christ in the Gospel of Mark. And the other evangelists are considered to have added additional details. For example in chapter 1, Jesus is said to be moved with anger. Could Christ be angry? As an Orthodox, I say why not? And Father Sophrony, had a very good explanation. Remember when a leper came to Christ begging him, "if you wish you can make me clean". And Father Sophrony commented "what are called request". If you wish you can make me clean, if you want to it is your business you can make me clean. And Christ was angered and said: "I will".

In the monastery of St John the Baptist a book was read of Bishop Simeon Tentranski (?) on the life of St John of Kronstandt. How he became a Christian healer of people who were suffering of illnesses, and infirmities. He used to pray like this in the beginning, "Lord if you will kill the servant" but once of a babushka came to him and said to him "don't pray like this, if you will", you must pray rather "heal this person". And after this he did bring this way. He would come to a person who was sick, he would take away all the medicines that were on the table, and pray over the person so they would be healed.

There is another reference to Jesus's anger. Jesus was angry over the hardness of their hearts, he said to them and stretch out your hand. And he was angry because the men were so hard hearted. In chapter 3, there is a reference that people thought that Christ was out of his mind, and neither of the two other evangelists mentioned this episode. Then in chapter 6:35, Jesus seems to fail to heal a person. He didn't seem lucky had an ability to heal more than a few people in his own country. And blame for this weakness is transferred to people because of their unbelief. And this was an unprecedented account that Christ could not heal. Then there is an interesting reference in chapter 4:38- you consider how the disciples addressed Christ, remember they were in the boat the boat was sinking and they awaken Christ and said to him: "master do you not care that we are about to perish". In some ways this is a disrespectful reference to Christ. In Matthew and Luke you have a different account, "Lord save us with perish." And here there is greater reference to Christ.

Then we have a strange passage, where Peter says to the Lord: "you are the Christ". And in the very next verse, what Christ actually says, "he charges them that they should not tell anyone of this". We do not he is Christ actually agreed with Peter on this statement. Than very next verse Christ said do not tell anything about me to anyone. And then he began to teach, that the son of man must suffer very many things. He seems to avoid this title of Messiah. Christ changes the discussion immediately to a different Christological title, the son of man. One of the explanations, for such a title as the word Messiah, carried for Mark too much political implications about kinship which was very dangerous at that time. There is another explanation which is offered by William Reid which concerns the messianic secret. In Mark's Gospel, crushed charges his disciples not to tell anyone about his miracles for example.

Why is this?

Mark seems to avoid Christological titles. And concentrates on the title "son of man". Why? If you look at this from a theological point of view, what does it mean to be Messiah in the Jewish mind? Scholars believe that actually it was phrases the political notion of Messiah in the gospel. The Christology is not static, but dramatic. The notion of the Messiah is changing throughout the whole of this gospel.

Mark can be divided into two parts the first section is chapters 1 to 8: we have Christ's teaching, we have about the coming kingdom, mighty miracles, and to miraculous feedings of thousands of people, where we encounter the whole spender of his divine power. However, Sir Peter confesses him as the Messiah, the turn of the Gospel changes. The journey towards Jerusalem begins towards the cross. At this point we don't hear about miracles anymore, and we have quite remarkable detail in chapter 10, and they walk towards Jerusalem, and Jesus walked before his disciples, and they were amazed, as they followed as they were afraid. So they followed him at a distance. At this point everything moves towards the cross, after the crucifixion of Christ when Centurion says: "this was the son of God".

Grace Stanton (?) believes that this plot is motivated by the adoptionist Christology. From human being, Christ becomes the son of God. Christ is adopted by God in baptism, and he develops his divine sons ship throughout the Gospel. And yet there is another twist, how can we explain this type of Christology as Orthodox? Why do you think Mark avoids these Christological titles such as Messiah? Instead Mark concentrates on the son of man, why? To look at the origin of this title, son of man, you find it in the book of Daniel chapter 7. Yes we can read into this title, the prophecy in the book of Daniel. But possibly Christ himself preferred this title. Why?

Father Sophrony, said if you look across ministry, he avoids at every cost the manifestation of his own divinity. Everything that it does, is done in the name of the Father. For example feeding the 5000, and any other miracle he prays to God the Father, he does not heal himself. And this is the kenotic way of Christ. Given the ambiguous title son of man, which in Aramaic meant simply a human being. At times Mark and the Lord play upon this ambiguity, "so you know that the son of man has authority upon earth to forgive sins". Does it refer to Christ alone? Or in fact to any human being? Chapter 28, "the son of man is also Lord of the Sabbath".

So Markan Christology, is a minimalist Christology. The title is almost neutral in itself. The son of man who suffers, the son of man who dies, the man who is crucified on the cross he rises on the third day and he will come again in his glory.

There is another interesting point about Mark's Gospel. He very often refers to Christ teaching. So he refers many times of the fact that Christ taught, but he never really spells out what he taught. Why do you think he never spells out his teachings? One of the answers is yes we have Christ's teaching in Matthew's Gospel, Luke's Gospel, perhaps there is no reason for this in Mark. Why do you think this is the case? It is possible, that he was just a very simple man. But there is also another twist to that, what is the point of teaching, we don't fulfil the teaching ourself.

Once there was a teacher who taught dogmatics, relying on God's providence. And once a student passing by saw this teacher enter a news agency and place numbers for a lottery. At this moment all his teachings collapsed in the eyes of the student. This is perhaps have your looks fathers view action more important than words. And if you look at St Paul's account of the teaching of Christ, he tries to present to us what Christ actually did for us, rather than what he said. In the Orthodox tradition, in apostolic tenants, there is an interesting chapter, chapter 11 telling us how to discern, whether a profit or a priest is reliable as a spiritual father, or not. Look at his action. If a profit does not live according to his prophecy, then he is a false prophet.

And if we look at Mark's Gospel market equates the notion of the "evangellion" with Christ himself. In this notion, "evangellion" is used by St Paul. Paul uses the term and refers to the death and resurrection of Christ in Philippians chapter 15., As well as the first Epistle to the Thessalonians.

For Mark it is the whole person of Christ. This is the Gospel for him. Mark uses the term "evangelion" seven times. Is different for Matthew: "whosever, loses his life for my sake and the gospel's sake shall save it". Chapter 10, "everything for my sake, and the Gospels sake". Evangellion is the whole teaching of Christ, his personhood. 

In Matthew's Gospel, Christ said to his disciples, "go into all the world, proclaimed the gospel". It is Christ himself chapter 16. And when we relate to the person, and make judgement about him or her, above all, it is not with the person says, bought the person does to us.

For example you can listen to a professor University for decades and are nothing about him, but when it comes to exams you will expect to a kind of result you will get from this professor, a good mark or a poor mark and you will decide on whether this is a good person or not. 

There is a notion referred to as "diastasis" which is the distance between actions and words.

And when Christ teaches, he is teaching by his example and by his actions. That is why Mark likes to emphasise that Christ taught with authority. Authority which is built on his actions. And best, writes, people are more interested in what Christ does than in who he is.  The question of Christ's nature is pursued strongly in this gospel. In Mark, they asked Jesus in effect, what can you do for us. The emphasis lay, continually on his activity. This is a key point when considering the theology of the person. We can only know a person, if that person manifests themselves through acts through their deeds.

The question is, why do we believe in Christ? What is the basis for our faith. Do we love his words, his teaching? I think we have faith in Christ because of what he does for us, what he did for us. If you look at our Orthodox liturgy, in our anaphora, Eucharist, we don't mention Christ's teaching but we mention his actions, and his sacrificial death. This is the basis of our love for Christ. We love him for his ministry, what he did for us not just for his words. That is why Mark is eager to put in as much of Christ's activities as he can, that is why we find in Mark quite a few general statements, summaries of Christ's ministries, to underline this principle person in action. For example in chapter 1:32-34, we have the general statement concerning healings, a summary that the evangelists himself has provided: "they brought to him all who were sick and possess with Demons, and the whole city was gathered around the door, and he healed many who were sick with various diseases and evil spirits…" We have a sense of the universal activity of Christ, who heals, who helps, who loves us.

In we see that in this short Gospel, which is very small in comparison to Matthews and Lukes, we have a miracle of the fitting of the crowd twice. And why do we have two events like this, in effect miracles, which are the same of the presentation and account? Chapter 6 Christ feeds 5000, and in chapter 8 he feeds 4000. Why in such a small Gospel, does market decide to put both of these accounts. Again, Mark wants us to feel what Christ does for mankind, and for us personally.

The other set of actions, activities of Christ, focuses on exorcisms. Again this is a silent pointer, to the identity of Christ, his battle for the sake of his people to defend the human race against evil powers. This is why we find such stories in this particular Gospel of Mark. At that time there was not such a strong distinction between illnesses and evil spirits. For many of the early Christians health was one and the same. See for example Mark 1:31, "he came to Peter's house, and held his mother... And instantly the fever left her". 

What is important in St Mark, is what Christ did for us, not so much what he actually said. Because when need to emphasise again, Peter only records what he sees with his own eyes. 

So it is person in action, Christology in action. It is a sense of fast paced drama. What we see in Mark's Gospel, are so many events, one going after another so quickly. That's why Mark uses present historical tense. Christ goes to the wilderness, Christ's sense, the leper asks. Every preposition begins with the word and, which links every event together, in one single fast paced drama.

Why this urgency?

Modern scholars, suggest that Mark has given us a liturgical text, to be read at once from the beginning to the end. In a book by G. Bauman (?) He suggests what we have in Mark is the question style of Passover known as "haggadah", the Jewish feast. This is when all the people of Jerusalem would go on like candles, and go to their houses, and in a family context, recite the same events using the typology of the feast, and the history of events. And Bauman suggests that Mark is this reinterpretation of this Jewish feast, Passover haggadah which is read in this family context, perhaps in a liturgical context in the Christian setting. 

But our response, is that Mark wants to build up a picture, a porch of Christ as a man of action to provoke a response of love in us towards him. Weis (and Marxton) (?) believe, that Mark's Gospel because of this intensity which builds up towards chapter 13, were Christ predicts what will happen to mankind in the future, eschatological discourse which is known as the Markan apocalypse, believe that Mark wrote this gospel as an apocalyptic document to give a signal to Christians, to flee from Judea... We read here about the destruction of the temple, about the abomination of desolation, let the reader understand, Mark's Gospel adds… And thus, the coming of Christ, signals the end of the world. The message is try to flee and pack up your things and go.

Every Gospel was designed, for liturgical use. Note that we read from the Gospel at a very important time in every liturgy in the Orthodox Church. For example at Matins, the Gospel is read at the very climax of the service. In our liturgy, in the Orthodox Eucharist, we read the Gospel just before the anaphora, and in the liturgy of the faithful begins.

Orthodox clergy this is especially an incredible experience, because the reading of the Gospel from the altar to those who believe in Christ, is a quite different experience than to simply reading it at home on your own by yourself. One can feel that there is a sense of communion, between the faithful and Christ.

If you read Mark's Gospel he get the sense that the disciples of Christ were rather inadequate, to put it mildly in the spiritual and mental abilities. Mark seems to highlight their weaknesses, their constant failures, even their stupidities at times. Christ seemed to have difficulties with them, their lack of understanding, he frequently has to clarify to explain his teaching to them, to spell it out for them. For example when Christ delivers his parable in chapter 4, the evangelist adds his own comment: "and many such parables he spoke to them to the crowds as they were able to hear it, and he didn't speak to the crowds without a parable, but privately to his disciples he explained everything..." To the disciples required a special explanation, because the crowds would understand what Christ was saying but as far as the disciples were concerned than it is a private session with Christ. Than it in explanation for each parable. In fact, the Pharisees understood Christ far more clearly, and much quicker than the disciples. And in chapter 12: "the Pharisees sought to seize Christ but they were afraid of the crowds for they knew that he spoke the parable against them". On two occasions, Jesus had to give further explanation to the disciples, privately in the house. In chapter 7, we read: "when he had entered the house, and that the people his disciples asked him about the parable..." The same story in chapter 10, when Christ but the but divorce, and delivered his teaching on managing divorce, the disciples did not quite understand it.. And in the house his disciples asked him again about the same". So what is going on?

Again in spite of this preferential treatment is disciples get from the Lord, they seem to miss obvious points, which is obvious even for the first time reader of the Gospel. For example Christ feeds the crowd twice, but yet, the disciples didn't quite get what this was all about. And any chapter 8 his disciples asked: "why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread, do you not see or understand, you half-hearted, do you not remember?" They always seem to do and say wrong thing, discouraging those who are bringing children to Christ. Not surprisingly Jesus is indignant, "that the children come to me, do not hinder them". And also an interesting fact is that the disciples are given authority over demons to exorcise evil spirits, they fail in their ministry chapter 9. Christ has a do it himself. And with all that they still dare to protest against someone who is casting out the evil spirit in Jesus's name.

In comparison in Matthew and Luke, to the portraits of the disciples, Mark doesn't want to smooth soften is criticism of the disciples." Do you not have eyes and do not see, and ease and do not hear, do you not remember..." And the same words in Matthew are softer. It is quite a different account. So what do you think, Mark is so harsh on the disciples? 

Mark is consistent in his portrait of the disciples. One of the explanations, which is offered by modern academia, is that if you look at the first century there was a controversy between the Jewish party and Jerusalem and the so-called Gentile party. See from the acts of the apostles a question about how Jewish Christianity should be, and one of the explanations is offered by scholars is that the Markan Gospel tries to undermine the authority of Jewish Christianity, in fact the disciples of Christ who seem to miss the main points which crisis brought to us, especially the universal mission to the Gentiles which was headed by Paul.

Indeed when we look at Mark's treatment of the old Testament, it doesn't quote much from the old Testament. And also he feels the need to explain Jewish customs for apparently a Gentile audience. He uses the translation of Aramaic words, for the benefit of the Gentile reader. His Gospel therefore is addressed to the Gentile reader, and trying to explain, that in fact, you can be Christians in Jerusalem. So that is one explanation that the authority of Jerusalem is undermined to leave the door open for the Gentiles. But really it doesn't seem that this is plausible.

There is another popular theory by Timothy Weedon, 1968 (?) Who suggests that Mark writes not against the apostles, but against certain views and misunderstandings about Christ in the early church. Until now you might have noticed that people are very much interested in miracles, for them Christ is someone who performs miracles to improve the quality of their very own life. In the first parts of Mark's Gospel we are dealing with miracles, but then we move towards the end and the less miracles we encounter. What Mark is trying to do is to divert the excitement from miracles to the cross of Christ. It is the main purpose of this coming, to die for us. And we see this kind of polemics the disciples about miracles, in the first chapter, remember how Peter finds Christ, when he was alone, and says "all are seeking you", and cross responds let us go into the next town so that I can proclaim the also because this is the reason why I came... Why did people seek Christ? Because he performed miracles

there is a painting showing Christ teaching, and then there is Christ in a boat on a lake, and his disciples are sitting in a circle right next to Christ. And then there is a crowd, the front a interested in what Christ has to say yet the people in the back somewhat chatting to one another. And the further away you go from Christ there is a huge crowd who are not interested at all in what Christ had to say, and they're waiting for just yet another miracle. Remember there was no TV, a lack of theatre, and the only excitement people would get us to see figures in the town. And what greater thing to watch than to see the performance of a miracle. It was a kind of entertainment. And what scholars believe, is that Mark is trying to divert the attention of of a figure, a type of hero who comes and performs miracles, Mark is trying to convey that Jesus is not this kind of figure. He came to die for us.

And get there is just even another explanation, to this portion of the disciples, given to us by William Reid, in his book titled messianic secrets. It is quite an old theory, because William Reid wrote his book the end of the 19th century. Read attempts to see the Gospel of Mark as an apology. Why so many Jews rejected Christ? Why Christ wasn't accepted on the whole by Israel? Why very few people comparatively followed Christ's message at that time. And Reid says, Mark is trying to find reasons, trying to explain to Jewish people why Christ was rejected. Indeed why Christ after every miracle, tells his disciples or those healed not to speak about the miracle. Why he silences the miracles? Why Christ speaks in parables to disguise his message. In Mark chapter 4, Christ speaks parables, "in order that seeing they may see and not see". So William Reid tries to read into Mark's text, so-called messianic secrets. He presents Christ as if he's trying to hide his Messiahship, and that is why Jewish people didn't accept Christ, because they fail to see, the Messiah ship of Christ. And there is a sense of predetermination, only the chosen people could see the Messiah in Christ before the rest of the people crisis trying to hide his Messiahship. Perhaps Protestant teaching could be built on that theory of predeterminism.

So what can we say about this as Orthodox people? First of all I would like to mention that there are positive elements of the disciples in Mark. If you are reading the Gospel for the first time, perhaps you would associate yourself with the disciples of Christ, rather than the Pharisees who were his opponents. This goes without saying. They are given to us as our example. And we should remember that it was to them work that was given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, so there are positive features about the disciples there. The disciples are sharing with Christ his rejection, is critiqued by the Pharisees chapter 2, and the 12 a given authority to preach and to cast out Demons. So there is a positive elements about Christ disciples. One of the reasons for that, we need to know about not only the strength of the disciples, but also about their weaknesses. Even in Christ we see a moment in hesitation, and human weakness: "a father if it is possible let this cup pass from me". And we are given to see this weakness, and it is essential for us in our spiritual life to know, there are weaknesses even in such great people as the apostles. Because if we compared ourselves to others who were simply perfect, in terms of the apostles then we would not be able, as sinners to relate to them to their journeys. There would in fact be no hope of salvation. Saint Ephraim the Syrian says: "our church, is a church of perishing ones", so we need to keep in mind that we need to have these paradigms of weakness so we can build our strength through them.

Christ delivers his teaching only within the context of going towards Jerusalem, toward the cross. I don't think you will find any other founder of religion which would fulfil his teaching to such an extent, to the point of death. That is why Mark emphasises that Christ teaches with authority, which is built through his example. When Christ delivers his teaching about the cross and his death, about the necessity for us to follow the same path, when he himself is moving towards Jerusalem, to was the cross. It is there, that the unity between Christ teaching and his action, at the cross becomes complete, it is there that his word becomes flesh. Christ dies on the cross for us. It is the antipode of hypocrisy. The crucifixion is the seal of authenticity, for each of the words that Christ taught and said.

Topic Lecture 4 - The Gospel of Luke

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

Luke's Gospel received particular popularity in modern times. Why? The reason behind this is perhaps this is the most inward Gospel, Jesus the man is in the focus. Luke is very sensitive to our concerns, Luke speaks about the role of women, people on the fringes of society, the poor and destitute, tax collectors, sinners et cetera.

In addition exclusively we read here on the parable of the good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the rich man Lazarus et cetera. So we may say that essential and the evangelists has shaped our church dogmatically, Luke has shaped Christianity in a popular and accessible way.


the uniform belief of the ancient church, is that it was Luke the physician that was the author of the Gospel of Luke. This is the same Luke the Paul mentions in Colossians, who is his companion. In 2008 a new theory appeared, that it was Luke the priest not a doctor that was the author. But then we have an early Christian writings, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, I Origen, Jerome, so we do know that he was Luke the doctor. And in fact there is a great deal of support they was Luke the doctor. There was a book by William Holbert, which analysed the medical language in the Gospel of Luke.

Luke probably wrote his gospel between 80 – 85 A.D, not far from the time that Matthew wrote his gospel. They both responded to this common situation when the vast majority of Jewish people had rejected the Gospel of Christ, and its future seems to lie with the Gentiles.

One of the reasons for the popularity of Luke's Gospel was its style. His writings are very close to poetry. If you look at our orthodox services, quite a few liturgical texts, are taken from the Gospel of Luke. For example the Magnificat "my soul does magnify the Lord", and elsewhere "let now thy servants depart in peace". We read this prayer in our Vespers.

There are other features that are endearing in this gospel. Luke brings the message of Christ down to earth as it were. He immerses the good news into the realm of history of mankind. It is because of mainly sent Luke that we cannot apply this fashionable word myth to the story of Jesus. Because to St Luke, Christ is not a myth, he is a person who worked and acted in history. And to ground this Christ event further, into history of mankind, he wrote a sequel to his gospel, the acts of the apostle. Perhaps you know, that sent Luke's Gospel and the acts of the Apostles were one and the same document and they were divided into two sections 1 the Gospel of Luke and one the acts of the apostle, by the early church. But for sent Luke, in his writing, it was one and the same event. The coming of Christ, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles and Christ disciples and their mission to the world was one and the same event.

Thematic approach to the Gospel of Luke

The very first theme is a very obvious one, this perspective in sent Luke, that moves all the acts of Christ towards the greatest event the Pentecost. The Gospel actually finishes of how the apostles remained in the temple waiting for the Holy Spirit, the outpouring. So it is no coincidence that some of the scholars describe the acts of the apostles, but the acts of the Holy Spirit. It is because of the activity of the Holy Spirit, the outpouring on the disciples. His last promise according to St Luke's Gospel, Jesus dispenses the spirit onto the disciples in chapter 24: "behold I send the promise of my father on you to sit in the seat of Jerusalem until you are clothed from power from on high".

If you look at the old Testament, you won't find many prophecies about Christ resurrection, or Christ's crucifixion. There are far more many prophecies about the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is there that the heart of the Christ event lies. It is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is the result of Christ's ministry. The prophecies are the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We find in the Ezekiel chapter 36, and the prophet Jeremiah chapter 36.

For the Jews, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, meant that the final one has arrived. It was the final apocalyptic event. No wonder that, that the Gospels are classified in apocalyptic genre at times. Why is this a distress on the Holy Spirit? If we, go back to Adam, he was created, as the son of God. And where was the last reference to the "sons of God" in the Bible, before the coming of Christ? Yes it was with respect to the sons of men. So what does it mean, is that Adam who was the disciple by virtue of his position of the Holy Spirit has lost this Sonship through losing the Holy Spirit. Recollect when the Lord said, "my spirit shall no longer strive with man, given his corruptions for his flesh". So possession of the Holy Spirit meant Sonship with God. These ideas you'll find in most of the fathers, especially St Athanasius, St Cyril of Alexandria who equates possession of the Holy Spirit with divine Sonship. And what we have now in the Christ event, is that we see a human being, born of the Holy Spirit, and Adam is restored. This is so important for sent Luke, this concentration of this period bearing capacity of humankind. 

Recollect how Luke opens the very first preaching of Christ. Christ says: "the spirit of the Lord is on me." If you compare how the Holy Spirit operated in the old Testament, and in the new Testament, what is the difference? Because the prophets did speak through the power of the Holy Spirit. So in the old Testament prophets, the spirit of the Lord would come and descend on the prophet, and the prophet would at a prophecy, and in the spirit would leave there was no ontological union between man and the Holy Spirit. And in fact, in some of the scholars like Conzleman (?) believe that in the first chapter of Luke, we have this recreation of this prophetic equal, as we hear about prophets like Zechariah, then Elizabeth was blessed by the Holy Spirit at the prophecy, and then St John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit and began to preach: "behold". And also a reference to the Holy Spirit is given to us by the city of the just, the Holy Spirit was on him not in him when he prophesied. He is instructed by the Holy Spirit, the Gospel says. And now we have completely new phenomenon in the history of mankind, since the fall of Adam. Luke chapter 1 verse 35, the angel answers and says to Mary "the Holy Spirit will come on you and the power of the highest will overshadow you". Additionally, "the holy one that is born of you will be called son of God". So we have the restoration of divine Sonship of Christ man is born by the Holy Spirit.

Where else to be find in the new Testament immense capacity to bear the Holy Spirit? St Paul says:" that the first man Adam became a living soul, the last Adam was a living spirit." That is why Luke is eager to emphasise that he was a new category of human being ontologically united with Holy Spirit. And that is why Luke is eager to write every detail of Christ, every detail about the Holy Spirit. "The Holy Spirit will come on you through the power of the highest". And later on throughout the narrative, Luke never loses sight of the spirit bearing capacity is in Christ. The Holy Spirit dwells in him. It just doesn't come upon him it was on him. 

There are differences for instance in how sent Luke understands the function of the Holy Spirit, with how Mark in his gospel does. In Mark we find a rather old Testament perspective of the Holy Spirit. For Mark, the Holy Spirit somewhat forces someone to do something, a common understanding as it were in the old Testament. E.g. consider how the old Testament prophets were forced at a prophecy almost under coercion of the Holy Spirit. In Mark was in interesting reference, where Christ was virtually driven out by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness "ekvalis" in Greek, which means thrown out into the desert by the Holy Spirit. But in Luke, the words "full of the Holy Spirit, and was led in the spirit into the wilderness", we have a sense of union between the human and the divine spirit, there is a sense of synergy. This is a great word to express this new anthropology which we find in Saint Luke.

And the very first words of Christ: "the spirit of the Lord is on me", and we learn that the whole of his ministry proceeds from his power of the Holy Spirit. And given this, the position of the Holy Spirit, he has anointed me, to deliver the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. It is not only Christ himself the possesses the Holy Spirit, but everyone who is born of the Holy Spirit. It is the whole new Christian way. See in Luke chapter 11, we are given instruction what we should pray for, and Christ's words recorded there: "how much more should your heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit of those who ask him".

It is a great joy for us as Orthodox Christians, to hear the same words from the Saints. Remember what St Seraphim said to Motovilov: "what is the aim of the Christian life?" The aim of Christian life censor of them said is to acquire the Holy Spirit. This is the main focus of our life, to be a god bearing person, spirit bearing person. And is something about Luke's concern of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

There is another interesting theme in the Gospel that was highlighted by the German scholar Hands Conzleman (?). He says that Luke has his own way of relating to the old Testament. In Matthew Christ is the fulfilment of the law. In Luke we find a slightly different approach yet similar in essence. In Luke we find, yes, now that the time of the profits is finished, with the coming of Christ to have a new period in the history of mankind, and then with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we have yet a third period in history of mankind. We see that Luke is very eager to separate the Epoch of the prophets, from the Ministry of Christ. That is why he gives all the stories of St John the Baptist, his imprisonment and his preaching, before Christ begins his ministry. When St John the Baptist disappears from the scene, this is when Christ begins his ministry. And Conzleman's book is called the middle of time. It means that the Gospel is about this middle time, the time of Christ.

Sent Luke tries to reduce this apocalyptic agiotage, about the coming end. You will see in St Luke's Gospel there are moments where he speaks about the delay of the second coming of Christ. Because now it is about the time not of the second coming of Christ but the time of the church. When the Holy Spirit acts to bring the whole of mankind to the faith of Christ. And one of the interesting pictures of Luke's Gospel if we really divide into these periods, we see that Luke is at pains, to show that there is a time of Christ to act, and then a time for his disciples to act after Christ's resurrection. That is why in the first chapters Luke is at pains to focus attention on Jesus alone, not on his disciples but on Jesus who is in the middle, in the focus he is the main hero. By chapter 5, when Christ called his first disciples, Christ has already accomplished quite a bit of his ministry, so much so that he was almost killed after his first sermon in the synagogue see chapter 4. By the time Christ meets his disciples, his popularity, seem to have reached quite a substantial level. Crowds pressed to hear him, chapter 5.

For Luke it is important to emphasise that the Epoch of the old Testament is finished and Christ has come on now what we have is continuation of the Christ event in the life of the church. Luke is very eager to emphasise that there is a direct connection between our life in the church and the events that happened 2000 years ago of Christ's death and resurrection. Because it is to continue the work of the apostolic ministry, in the life of the church.

Luke tries to diminish somewhat this apocalyptic agiotage, this apocalyptic excitement among Christians. He speaks about delay. And he tries to focus his attention on our daily life. He tries to convey details which are important enough on a daily Christian life, which somehow for instance in the Gospel of Mark is absent. Because in Mark's Gospel we have action, and buildup of this apocalyptic discourse in Christ's death and resurrection in Jerusalem. Luke somehow tries to calm things down, and he focuses our attention, onto the details of Christ daily life.

For example Christ is said to be praying, get a sense that Christ was praying all the time, and more importantly he was praying at the most important moments of his ministry are key points of his ministry. E.g. chapter 3 Christ's baptism: "Jesus also been baptised, and praying", Jesus was praying to the evangelists before the Holy Spirit descended; another moment was in the appointment of the 12, he was praying all night before he chose his disciples; and at the moment of transfiguration, once again Christ is praying to God the Father; we get a sense that everything that happens to Christ doesn't happen automatically. But comes as a result of Christ's continuous dialogue with the father.

And the same legacy of Luke, he speaks of our need for prayer. In Luke there is great attention the Christ taught his disciples how to pray. If in Matthew's Gospel, the Lord's Gospel is given just as an example of prayer, in Luke we get a sense that Christ was trying to teach his disciples how to pray. In Chapter 11 we read, "it happened as he was praying in a certain place" and, and when he stopped one of his disciples said to him: "Lord teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples". And in other places we see how Christ speaks about perseverance in prayer, what we should ask of in prayer, it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. A good example is of the parable of the unjust judge, chapter 18. It is really all about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

When we are speaking about the Gospels, and in fact the whole of the new Testament, we should keep in mind that we are dealing here with divinely inspired text. Sometimes perhaps even in our daily practice, God can inspire even ordinary people to say certain things.

Story of Fr Porphyri who was visited by a US citizen. US citizen was adamant he spoke in English but Fr doesn't know any English.

Peter confesses Christ is the son of the living God. And Christ actually prayed for the apostles, that God gives them understanding to reveal who he is- the son of God. This prayer again took place in Gesthemane and at the Resurrection: "Father forgive them for they do not know what they do". And again it seems Christ prayed for his disciples continuously, "Simon Simon... To sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you." It is only in Luke that we see this kind of dialogue. 


it was indeed a major concern for sent Luke to prove and to show that Christ is the saviour of the whole world, not just of the Jewish nation. The consensus from the very beginning. Remember in Matthew we have genealogies, it goes back to Abraham. But in Luke the same genealogy goes to Adam himself, is Father of the whole human nation because it was important to emphasise this universalistic ring of the gospel. From the very beginning there is a universal message to the Gospel of Luke. Remember what the angel said: "give to you a tidying of great joy, it shall be to all people to all mankind." And again, "my eyes have seen the salvation, which now has prepared in the face of all the peoples". In Matthew and Mark, we see a very short quotation from Isaiah. But Luke goes further. And why does he want to give a full quotation? "And all flesh see the salvation of God." So he we have the universalistic vision of St Luke.

And for us as Orthodox Christians, it is very important to have this universalistic dimension to the message of Christ. The whole of our history of salvation of mankind is about universalism. Let us go back to the old Testament, and the human race. After the fall of Adam, which was the first covenant? He was it was with Noah. It was with a family: "you and your seed to have my blessing". After the fall of Adam everything disintegrated, there was no connection with universalism. It was rather individualism. Humankind became atomised. An atom is something which cannot be divided. So the human race disintegrated into the small atoms that were not connected. Remember the first thing that Adam said to God after his fall: "it is this wife, which you gave me, she gave me to eat". He immediately separated himself from Eve. So the first chance God created covenant with the family of Noah, so that there would be harmony love and peace within themselves and each other.

So the next covenant in history, was with Abraham. It was to create a nation. Once this level of unity was credit in the family, then God took on the nation. So God creates a nation. In fact it is a very Jewish concept, because before Israel there were no nations. Even until now if you go to the Middle East people live in clans, in families, in groups. So as a Christian nation, we inherited this concept from Israel. And today it is about achieving a larger unity, in a nation.

But what is the next level after a nation? It is the whole of mankind, and it is when Christ comes. It is the unity of the whole of mankind. Remember what we sing in Pentecost at the celebration of the Holy Spirit: "calling all man to unity". This is absolutely essential to Christian thinking. To think in these universal ways. Of course for sent Paul, but is to send Luke especially. For him it was important to emphasise this universalistic dimension of Christianity.

The history of the old Testament, the last book, which came into circulation, it was the book of Jonah. In the book of Jonah, God began to move slowly from this notion of a nation to the whole world. Prophet Jonah was sent to Nineveh to preach repentance, and Nineveh was the capital of Babylon. And that is where the Israelites were held captive. God sent his prophets, to preach even to the worst enemies of Israel.

The Outcasts in Luke's Gospel

there are the anonymous masses of people who suffered, they are the suffering masses, their names are lost to history. Now in Christ, there is no more of these little ones who are forgotten. From the time on of Christianity, there are no more outcasts for Christ. Those who are excluded from the covenants, outcasts, sinners, Gentiles, women, the ill and unclean people. Now they are all incorporated to this mighty nation of the children of God.

Remember how Christ begins his first preaching in the Gospel of Luke: "the spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim the gospel to the poor, he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim to the captives to give sight to the blind.. Those who have been crushed." 

Many scholars have picked up on this, and said that we are dealing in the Gospel of Luke with a political message. And in South America in particular you'll find that many theologians like to speculate about liberation Christology. A Brazilian author wrote, Christos Libertargo (?). So some scholars have taken the Christian message in the Gospel of Luke is a political message. Christ is for the poor, the underprivileged. "Christ loves everyone, he is against the rich because he loves the poor"... note this is from a liberation christology point of view. But we should be very careful not to politicise Christ's message. We should remember what Christ said:" my kingdom is not of this world".

We get a sense, in Luke's Gospel, the Christ seemed to promote poverty. If in St Matthew's Gospel we have the notion: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven ", in Luke we have a straightforward "Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven". Consider also the parable of the rich man in chapter 12. Christ speaks against those who have laid up treasures for themselves in this world. And in chapter 15 he calls the poor, the lame..." 

So is Christ against riches, what do you think? We must remember that poverty in itself is not a virtue. This is the same as riches in themselves they are not a sin. It is what you do with these riches that matters. Because if we notice, every gift in our church of the Holy Spirit is a service toward other people. There is nothing that it is oriented towards ourselves. Riches, if you take them as something that is given to you, and that you use for yourself, this is turning into yourself. But if you consider it as a gift of God which is gift to you which is used to minister to others, then it becomes a gift of salvation.

We can consider this, when we recollect St John of Kronstadt, who received so many gifts from people that he didn't have enough time even to distribute them at times. There is a famous story where he was once given a bundle of money in an envelope by a rich man, and as soon as he received the money, he gave it to a poor person who needed it. The response of the rich man was a tell St John of constant but do you know there was money enough in this envelope to buy all of St Petersburg, St John replied to the rich man yes I know there was a lot of money in the envelope, but this man needed it desperately. He was ready to receive this gift.


This term soteriology, is related to our salvation. Looking at material recorded by Saint Luke, we can build a very clear picture of what this is. 

There was an account of Rowan Williams, the revered Archbishop in the UK in the BBC. He was visiting Cardiff, and many reporters came there to ask, is the church sexist, what is the definition of sin? And he was also asked what is hell like and who is going there? And the Archbishop replied in a wonderful way hell is being by yourself forever. Who is going there, God knows. This is a wonderful definition. When you turn your existential orientation towards yourself, then you don't see other people, then you are not human. For example let's take the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man would dress up look luxurious, and eat luxurious foods and this poor man Lazarus was lying at his gates without any help. What was wrong with this man? He simply didn't notice the other human being. He didn't notice another person who was in need of help. Certainly if he would have noticed he would have given him something, food and clothes. Notice something important, that the rich man doesn't even have a name. It is because he is not human, and Lazarus is human. In suffering, Lazarus perhaps was educated in compassion and love. But this rich man was unable to see another person.

So what is the outward dimension of our whole Christian message? What is the eschato of the gospel? What is the last theme that we shall experience in our temporal being, in the dimension of time? 

In Matthew's Gospel, we have a parable about the last judgement. But there will be one simple criteria whether we pass on what do not pass. We notice these little ones, people who suffer, they give them food, they clothe them, they visit them in prisons. Then you are human, and then you are saved. Then your fits for the kingdom of heaven if you haven't there is no space for you, in the kingdom of heaven. And this is a very powerful message because Christ equates with himself little ones: "it was me who you clothed, and fed  and in prison". It is the ultimate dimension of the gospel, the result of the whole history of mankind. It comes to these very simple facts of our life. If we see another person next to us there is a need many to help them.

If we look at Luke on the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector, he was praying in the temple. And the Pharisee was proud of himself and he was saying to himself to the Lord thank you that I'm not like other people. While the poor tax collector was beating his breasts, and shouting "Lord have mercy". What was wrong with the Pharisee? He didn't do anything for instance, that was against the law, he was simply praying and thanking God. What was wrong with this? In the Greek text we read that the Pharisee was standing unto himself praying. But when we have this orientation towards ourselves, our ego, we do not develop as human beings. The principle of whole creation, the logos, is toward God, facing God "pros ton Theon". Towards the other, not towards oneself.

The same went for the rich man. He said to his soul, eat and drink and be merry. I have enough goods for you for many years. And the problem with this approach, he never mentioned another human being. He always thought about himself he did not think about other people. He did not serve the others he built up his own ego. 

In St Macarius of Egypt we have quite an interesting description of hell. He walk through the desert and found a human skull. His thoughts, I wonder who this man is, and where he is now? And he started to pray for this person. And this goal spoke to him and said, I used to be a pagan priest. Saint Macarius asked him: "where is your soul now"? In the sky replied, "I am burning in hell, and the joy for me, is once in a while, I can see a face of another person". This is really hell, to echo the words of the Archbishop Rowan. Hell is being by yourself forever.

And this is something we can create through our riches for ourselves, we can be shut out. A survey should communion and compassion. In Matthew we have: "be perfect just like a father in heaven is perfect", but in Saint Luke we have: "be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful". This is the key message of Saint Luke, concern for the suffering ones.


there is of course a feminist reading of Saint Luke's Gospel. Is an interesting that the church starts its commemoration of Easter with women the myrrh bearing women. It has become a landmark of Christianity. This is how Christ opened his ministry. To heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim deliverance, to set at liberty. And the first people he would have been speaking about was women. If we look old Testament, women were not even counted as human beings, were not part of the Covenant because of circumcision which was a very male thing, and women were not even a part of the covenant, they were part of possessions that man had. Men had cattle that had women and other possessions. 

To Christ brought to us much. He brought the notion of marriage. There was no marriage before Christianity. Something that year from Judaism or Islam now was borrowed from Christianity, in the idea of marriage. Because it was so wonderful, splendid in its idea, no one could contest its. Even marriage has been brought to us through Christianity. It is because Christ change the perception of women. Now a woman is a person a human being, on the image of God, on par with men. Thank you to Saint Luke, this wonderful picture with from within the text, of the daughters of Jerusalem, emerged. From the very first opening chapters in Luke we see the discussion on women, the stories are numerous. We hear about Elizabeth, we hear about Mary, Anna the widow of nine, Mary Magdalene who showed great love for Christ, Joanna Susanna, and the list of women mentioned goes on and on, Martha and Mary, women in the parables, et cetera. There is the widow demanding justice, the women lamenting Christ, etc. women are allowed a prominent place. And many types of womanhood are placed before us.

If you look at the presence of women around Christ in this gospel, it is really remarkable, they are almost always there, they are among the disciples. In chapter 8: 1-3. "And also certain women..." We have this constant, silent, presence of women around Christ. And the women were the ones who were faithful to Christ to the very end. In chapter 23, it was women who were at the cross not the disciples, they were the ones who stayed until the end. It is because of women that we know where cross was buried. Luke notices that the commitment of women to Christ was much deeper at times than it was from men. In chapter 23, we hear "a great multitude of people followed him, and women also work bewailing and lamenting him. And Christ said to them, "daughters of Jerusalem do not weep for me but weep for yourselves and your children." This is the last teaching of Christ addressed to women, as men were unable to listen or to hear. The question then is, women had authority whether in fact Christ would ever have been crucified, because women were lamenting together, for the male world who condemned him. This is just a glimpse of a feminist reading.

The very first sight of Christ after his resurrection, is when Mary comes to the sepulchre. And she asked: "where is my teacher buried?" Then Christ said to the woman away you crying? And she replied I do not know when my master is, and where they buried him. And then Christ said Mary, and she immediately recognised him. Why did she recognise him when he called her by name? And of course what we have to remember is at that time nobody called women by their first names. No one even noticed them. For instance, the Pharisee is addressed Mary, who came to the house as: "that sinful woman". She wasn't even a person in the eyes of those people. But it was Christ who treated her as a person. Therefore she immediately recognised that it was him. But his appearance was different. But she recognised him from his attitude. This is a very powerful story.

Now with respect to women in Orthodox tradition. Yes there are some times hiccups concerning women in our tradition, especially in monasticism. Those who write about chastity, for example may write about women in negative ways. But God massively and kindly corrects those stories. Remember the story of St John Cassian, who was a monk who was trying to achieve the highest level of purity, and he talked himself to hate women. He was known even to have a fit for example, when he saw a woman. And it was providence of God, that the monks who served him, were nuns in disguise. So he changed his attitude ever so quickly. For instance, remember what John (H)? Used to say before he met his spiritual friend Olympiada, who became his closest friend.

So at times, the orthodox position on women has been harsh, but God corrects this. The reason why monks can be so negative about women sometimes is because I haven't learnt to see a woman as a person above all, not an object, not a perceived human being. And this is what monks learn to do, they go and hide until they can learn to treat women equally, as persons.

In the Soviet Union, churches were filled with women, all these babushkas, old women who save the church, who preserved the Orthodox faith in Russia. It was like an army of women who supported the bearded men. Their deserve the highest respect for the dedication and faith.

Q&A. We can say, for example, today we have the same pattern of attendance, is mainly women again who attend the services.

Saint Luke is very sensitive to this issue. It is very important to us as Christians. The authenticity of any religion, is likely measured by its acceptance of women. 

We should consider, that the closer we get to God when we study women in the church, the greater those women were elevated. In the Orthodox church, as well is in the Catholic, we have highest image of the mother of God. She was a human being, a woman who was elevated above the cherubims and the seraphims, above any other being created in this world. She is next to God, even in our iconography. This is a very powerful message. But if you look at Islam, do you know of any woman who is mentioned in the Quran? It is Mary again. Only Mary.

So you will see in our Orthodox Church, in our Orthodox faith, women are given tremendous roles. It is often said that without women the church would not exist. It is not only their parental duties which make them so significant, but also their presence, their prayers, and their ministry. They are not servants of the church but ministers of the church.

Topic 2 Lecture: The Gospel of Matthew

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

In the early church Matthew's Gospel was used more widely and more extensively than any other gospel. That's why it was very much loved by the church. Why? Firstly because of its authority. It was believed to belong to the apostle Matthew an eyewitness of the life of Christ, but secondly it's style. It is very well ordered, and it is very simple, often poetic phrases stick in your mind very easily. And finally it is where we find a very extensive record of Christ's teaching.

In the early church it was widely believed that Matthew was one of the disciples of Jesus. We find support for this in Pappias statement around 130 A.D. It is believed that Matthew gathered the sayings as he could and interpreted them. What are the sayings and how did he interpret them? However modern academia rejects this view. Firstly they say Matthew did exist in Hebrew or Aramaic, there is no evidence of these texts. And also, the very fact that the evangelist wrote in Greek shows for some that the author really wasn't a Hebrew. And they also say that he used Mark for his sources.

There is one puzzling fact that is located in Matthew 9:9, which is called Levi which is in the account of Mark. Why was Levi changed to Matthew is the question. Why is it this Gospel alone that refers to Levi as a tax collector. Finally, Pappias statement alone is ambiguous what does it mean that Matthew collected the sayings and interpreted them. All this sounds a bit obscure. The name Matthew was attached to the Gospel of Matthew in the early church to demonstrate its authority.

Terms of the place of origin, the Gospel of Matthew is located to Antioch. It was quoted by, Didache, the Christian writing which may have originated in Syria not far from Antioch around 100 A.D.

We can date the Gospel of Matthew based on the account of the marriage feast which appears into Gospels. And there is an important addition in Matthew, which is not found in Luke- this notion surrounding the burning of a city, which was really the destruction of Jerusalem. That's why scholars tend to date this Gospel after the destruction of Jerusalem. And by the beginning of the second century, the Gospel of Matthew had not just been cited by Pappias, but by Ignatius of Antioch.

There is another reason for the popularity of Matthew, in early Christianity, on the one hand the evangelist has been very mindful of the old Testament and of contemporary Judaism. His gospel is always regarded as the most Jewish of the four Gospels. On the other hand his gospel includes a number of passages, which have clear universalistic undertones. This Gospel will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations (Matthew 34). There is universalism in this Gospel. 

So the Gospel of Matthew relies very much on linkages to the old Testament and this was very important for the early church.

Once, it was said, that the old Testament was consulted by a jury. And the question is, does the old Testament, still have a binding force to Christians? How do we treat the book? Do we disregard it in our daily life? Is a straightforward question, but it is very difficult to answer perhaps.

Q&A. We keep it in the Bible. The old Testament prepares us for the coming of Christ.

So what about the old Testament Commandments of Moses, how do we do with these?

In fact, this was the number one question for the early church- what to do with the old Testament. 

Remember, the very first church council recorded the Book of Acts ch. 15, it discussed this very such thing what shall we do with the old Testament. What shall we keep and what should we keep. So why do you think you were so important for the early church to discuss this question of the law? Answering this question helps us to answer what Christianity and more specifically Christ brought to us, to mankind. What benefits, what new things. In which we keep is our roots. So in chapter 15 we see, the exactness of writing to those, to abstain from pollutions of idols, from fornication, from things strangled and from blood. It defines were actually Christ has brought something new came into the history of mankind. 

And where does Matthew stand in these debates in the early church? His attitude to the law is rather complex. It is definitely positive. You will find that a single bad word from him about the law. This is unlike St Paul who can be very critical of the law. There are strong anti-Jewish tones in this Gospel. The messages one way to interpret this is to locate within the community on a historical map to find its Sitz im Leiben. And this will help us to understand where Matthew stands in these debates.

And there are two views that exist in modern biblical scholarship. The first Christians attended the temples and the synagogues but in the late 60s there was a break with Christianity and Judaism which became inevitable. The official Jewish synagogue began expelling Christians from its communication. And scholars suggest let us see where Matthew is at this time. Is he still in the synagogue or has he been expelled. So we have two major views and these are intramurals and extra murals. To be more explicit this is the idea that is either Matthew being within the walls of Judaism or outside the walls of Judaism.

Option one is to understand Matthew being within the synagogue. And Matthew is at pains to defend Christianity as a Jewish phenomenon. Christ is Jewish, and Matthew trust him right in apology to prove the authorities that Christianity and Christ is very Jewish. There is no need to expel them. Christ is fulfilment of the synagogue teaches us. So Bultmann writes, the struggle with Israel, is still a struggle within its own walls. W. Berries (?) attempts to see Matthew within specific historical events. In 64 A.D. Judaism was no longer able to function as it did before in Jerusalem. However there was an attempt to restore Judaism, not in Jerusalem but in the Israelite city of Jamnia in 70s A.D. And something happened at that point with Judaism. Before the destruction of Jerusalem, Judaism was a very liberal religion. It accommodated many strands of thought. And Christianity felt at home with such liberal Judaism. But once Judaism moved to Jamnia, it was headed now by very rigourous pharisaic party. And they decided to purge Judaism from everything that was not very Jewish. And they introduce a curse against all those who have gone astray, and naturally Christians had no space in the synagogue anymore. And some believe that the Gospel of Matthew is a response to the Jamnia strand of Judaism. Christ is Jewish says the Gospel. Chapter 5 and 7 are seen as a Christian and is to Jamnia. And the many benedictions in the Gospel of Matthew, for example, "blessed are the meek..." this is a very Jewish form used in Jamnia.

Now the second option extramural view of the Gospel of Matthew. Another group of scholars believes that the final break with Judaism has taken place. Matthew writes against the Jews, to convince the Gentiles how this happened. And why the Jews rejected Christ, and why the Gentiles are now welcome. Matthew's community, the scholars believe, is a Gentile community. And for them Matthew is a Gentile editor. His focus is to the Gentile reader. In Matthew's Gospel is an apology, to strengthen and unite Christians.

"But truly I say to you, heaven and earth will pass away for not one jot or one tittle will in any way pass from the law until all is fulfilled." To the validity of the law is emphasised. Secondly if you look at how Christ speaks but the Pharisees, in chapter 23 crisis, "therefore whatever they tell you to observe, observe and do... The validity of the commandments (Old Testament) is the way of salvation". "What shall I do that I may have eternal life". Christ in Matthew's Gospel says, "keep the commandments". In the Gospel of Mark and Luke, Christ's response is
"you know the commandments keep them". But for Matthew it is the Decalogue, this is the way of salvation. Then he adds," if you want to be perfect go and sell what you have"... But in Mark and Luke, there is something missing. So Matthew records, do the commandments, and if you want to be perfect go sell what you have. There is a difference in the text. Another thing but the law, is of the disciples are expected to keep the Sabbath (ch. 24). Pray that your flight is not in the winter, or in the Sabbath day. They are expected to keep the Sabbath, they are expected to fast (6:16), they are also expected to bring the offerings, according to the Jewish tradition (ch 5).

When the Pharisees come to Christ to discuss the law, Matthew gives a full description of this dialogue. Some scholars believe that the law of Moses is radicalised, and the true meaning comes out. In chapter 23, Matthew describes a scene "woe unto the scribes... According to the law". In chapter 12, the disciples were hungry, and the Pharisees objected to them eating. Same can be said of the passage, "whoever holds mother or father higher than me..." It seems there is differing interpretations among the rabbis of the time with the establishment of the new Testament. Chapter 23, when Christ goes over the law, commenting on some fine details, "whoever shall swear by the temple..." So Christ just corrects, their interpretation of the law. And in chapter 17, we find that the Christians are expected to pay the temple tax. Matthew also uses some Jewish terminology, without explaining it, when he speaks about "tradition of the elders" (ch 15). He uses some Jewish terms without explaining them in chapter 33.

The other thing about Matthew is that he uses a very rabbinical formula, to say: "is it lawful?" When we are told, about the Lord's prayer, in Matthew we have the addition, when compared to the other two synoptic gospels, the words "for thine is the kingdom and the glory and the power..." And this comes a course, from the synagogue. Matthew, is at pains, to show that Christ is Jewish. And that we should not be afraid. 


in the 1930s, William Bacon suggested, the Gospel of Matthew is composed in a way like the Pentateuch is composed. In Matthew what do we have, the prologue, the introduction, the infancy narratives, St John the Baptist, and then what stands out? There are five discourses, which are clearly marked by the evangelists. 1. ch 5, 7, sermon on the Mount; 2. ch 10 Christ calls his disciples and tells them how to behave, 3. ch 13 the collection of parables of Christ, 4. ch 18 instruction to the community on how to behave; 5 ch 24, 25 teaching concerning the future. Indoor five discourses have been constructed in a similar way. They are arranged thematically, and all five have thematic unity. At the end of each of the discourse, you have the same phrase: "and when Jesus had finished these sayings..." And in the 5th discourse, we have: "it happens when Jesus finished all these sayings." And therefore because of the five discourses, William Bacon proposes we are dealing with the new law, it is the new Pentateuch.

Importance of Christ's teaching

Teaching in itself, is a very Jewish thing. The way that the law is interpreted, it is teaching itself.

Q&A. Can a Christian theologian have his own teaching? We need to adhere to the teaching of the Church. Once you have your own teaching about Christ, like Tolstoy, or Arius or Nestorius, then you become a non-orthodox believer. Basically a heretic. For us, what we have to do in our Christian life is to absorb, to assimilate, the fathers of the church. Once you start having your own teaching it is very dangerous enterprise. What about early Christians?

The early Christians, after the event of the coming of Christ, were in a very privileged position, as they got things fresh from Christ, and directly. But on the other hand there was a danger that this newness of life would take you very far. And that is what happened with Gnostics. In Matthew's mind the whole idea was to register, and give a sense of direction to the Christians. 

So in the Gospel of John, we don't see much, on the teaching of Christ. In the Gospel of John, there is a Christ – centrism, "I am the way.." This is typical Johannine language in use. Were the 10 commandments for example, John doesn't speak much about this. For John what was important was the new message of Christianity that was to be brought out and preached to the world. And it was new, and it should be obstructed by the old Testament form. But on the other hand we have the the Matthean tendency. Yes Christ is sensation, no doubt about that, but we don't want to become a sect, a new religion, we don't want to become like the Gnostic sect, to become our para–religion. For Matthew was important to emphasise that Christianity is the fulfilment of all the old Testament hopes, and promises. That is why he tries to fit Christianity into the old Testament forms, so that there is continuity, and there is a sense of fulfilment.

That is why in Matthew's Gospel, you will see a unique presentation of St John the Baptist. That is why you find, the words: "repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand". And then we have this reference to the saddest is an Pharisees, where he called them "generational vipers." And in Matthew the same language is repeated "offspring of vipers". It is important for Matthew to emphasise continuity. It is important to have teaching.

Another interesting point about Matthew's Gospel is that it is in this gospel will find elements of our ecclesiology. The very word "ekklesia" is used in Matthew, and among other NT writers it is used in Luke, and Paul. And Matthew emphasises the foundation of the Church: "on this rock I will build my church". Again in chapter 18, Matthew intended to give over to the church, a manual of discipline, catechism, Christian behaviour.

Q&A. What is another reason, that Matthew emphasised Christ's teaching. What is the best way to preach Christ? You can go until people, that Christ is God. And he redeemed us and so on. But there is map much effect in seeing there is. But for Matthew, your personal way of life.

In the Patericon, there is a young man who comes to a famous geronta, and he says "give me a word". The community wants me to become an Abbot, and I don't know what to do. And the geronta replies: "don't be 'nomothetis'" but be "peoplethetis". Don't be a giver of the law, but a giver of an example. And for Matthew, he recognised that this is the best missionary strategy. Your own behaviour, when Christians would stand, in the synagogue next to the queues, and their righteousness would exceed the righteousness of the people around them, that would be the best preaching of Christ. And indeed, in a Russian monastery, there was a famous geronta, who has passed on now father John Christianki (?).

In Soviet times this monastery would be visited by foreign tourists. And just seeing this man, who was full of love, who was full of concern for all the people around him, they would believe in God, there would believe in Christ, just at the sight of him. This is why for Matthew, preaching and righteousness, is taken to a far higher level, a personal level, it becomes part of your personality, the commandments of God becomes a part of your personality. Unlike the Pharisees, who were hypocrites, when the acts, and deeds, and words, were not a part of their intrinsic maker. Only when the commandments of God, become a part of you then we have true righteousness.

Old Testament Typology

Yes we have established, that there are five discourses, and we have said that these five discourses point to the Pentateuch in the old Testament. But there is also a very rich typology of the old Testament running throughout the whole Gospel of Matthew. And scholars like William Bacon have suggested the Gospel of Matthew should be studied typologically. Indeed, when you do this analysis, it becomes very interesting. We see this with descriptions of Christ, following the pattern of the Moses legend. Recollect, how Moses was born, the deliverer of Israel. And at that time all the children were put to death by the Pharaoh. The king of Egypt said, that all male babies would be killed. And remember what happened to Christ when Christ was born, Herod kills all the boys in Bethlehem. Remember how Moses, and Israel left Egypt by night. So Joseph and his family also fled by night. I think Matthew wants to have exact textual parallel with Exodus. The language is kept without adaptations.

Another interesting typology, what happens to Christ after baptism? He goes into the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. What happened to Moses, again he too went into the desert. Remember how Christ fasted for 40 days and 40 nights, again Moses to the same. Remember when Christ delivers his first preaching from the sermon on the Mount, and Moses did the same at Mount Sinai. There are major parallels. There is a very interesting book by Alison Dale (?) called "the new Moses". That everything that Matthew writes about Christ, could be related equally to Moses. Consider Josephus. 

So this is a topological appeal, to the Jewish mind, in Matthew's Gospel. Matthew's desire is to prove that the whole Christ event is entirely a Jewish phenomenon. That is why he is very fond of using old Testament quotations. Though scholars have identified, that there is a significant number of what is known as fulfilment passages. And there was a set formula about this, and it was declared, and then noted that he had to be fulfilled.

Some scholars believe that Matthew represents, a particular school of interpretation. Matthew himself was a scribe. In ch 13. "Every scribe who is instructed to the kingdom of heaven."

Q&A. How we as Orthodox should we understand this typology? What does it say to us? For us as Orthodox the quotation of the old Testament is essential. In fact, it is the very foundation, of our Christian faith. Remember what Christ did, the very first thing after his resurrection, when he appeared to Luke (?) and Cleopas, he opened their mind to interpret scripture. 

Q&A. Matthew saw through his lenses, the typology of Christ within the old Testament. It should not be surprising that some feast days, we read in the Orthodox services from the old Testament. And how does it relate to Christ? It somehow fits together so well, and Matthew gives us a type of interpretation, not a logical interpretation. And again one has to fill this connection in one's spirit and one's heart because the old Testament and the new Testament are both spiritual phenomena. One has to have a spirit, and spectacles to interpret, and not just in a way of pure logic and mathematical calculations.  

What are we to make from antinomies? On the one hand Christ upholds the law, and on the other hand he rejects Israel. How can we reconcile these two sets of ideas about God? John Myers view, is likely attractive to Orthodox. So to the Caanan woman Christ says," I came for the children of Israel", but later he says for the whole world, for all nations. So throughout the text, the attitude to the law is changing. "Truly I say to you, not a single jot show by any way pass, until all is fulfilled." So now the law, is viewed in a eschatological terms. It enters our dimension of time, unto all is fulfilled, sometime in the future. And when the law is fulfilled, the law will no longer be necessary.

And the same happens, in chapter 24 when he says," truly I say to you this generation shall not pass until all these things are fulfilled". Again, a promise that this generation will see all these things "panta tafta". What is going on? The answer is in chapter 11 of Matthew: "for all the prophets and the law prophesied until John". Consider this, that the law itself prophesy is. How can law prophesy? Indeed there are occasional prophecies in the law. But it is not just actual prophecies, there is also ethical prophecy in the law which points to Christ.

And when we come to fulfilment of the law in these terms, and the law prophesied about Christ, indeed all these things were fulfilled in Christ's death, and resurrection. And in Matthew 24, we see an apocalyptic perspective, in Christ's resurrection description, which is different to that of the Gospel of Luke. "And behold a great earthquake occurred for coming down from heaven.. An angel of the Lord, rolled back the stone... His countenance was like lightning and his clothing as white as snow"... For Matthew the death and resurrection of Christ, was a turning point in history. Where all the prophecies of the law were fulfilled. So every prophecy is fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ. So the law is fulfilled, and this generation did witness this fulfilment. 

An Orthodox perspective? How does Christ fulfil the law? 

Christ fulfils the law in his own person. Not only the prophecies of the old Testament that Christ fulfils but he also fulfils all righteousness as he says in chapter 4. He came to be baptised, and John wanted to stop him and say I should be baptised by you, and crisis that all righteousness be fulfilled. In John's Gospel, the notion that the word of God becomes flesh. And for Matthew, it seems to be exactly the same. Christ is our written word, Torah, it becomes a living word, a living person, Christ. We have this tendency to personify the Torah, in the old Testament, and in profits especially like prophet Isaiah: "my word which comes out of my mouth shall not return to me avoid until it accomplishes all what I please". This becomes hypostatic. Not only fulfilment of the law, but also fulfilment of the whole history of Israel. That is why there is typology, and Christ is brought back to every old Testament prophecy. In his personal life he lives the history of all of Israel, of all the Jewish nation.

So now we can ask the question of why does Matthew begin the Gospel with the genealogy of Christ? This is hypostatic fulfilment taking place. Christ himself is fulfilment of the history of Israel, he absorbs all that Israel went through into his personhood. He embraces in his own person, the whole history of Israel. And we have this example of hypostatic fulfilment in our Orthodox tradition. A readout associate himself with the history of Israel, the history of mankind. So it is not something which is alien to our Orthodox spirituality.

Topic 8 - Lecture: The Christology of St John's Gospel

These notes are assembled after listening to the lecture delivered by Rev. Dr. Nikolai Sakharov. Disclaimer: Any errors are completely my own as I intertwine the lecture material with my own reflections and additional source material.

We can credit the Gospel of John for the way in which Christianity has been shaped. We see in the very first lines of the Gospel of John the uniqueness becomes manifest read away, we're dealing here with the divine absolute who becomes a particular person who enters history and lives with us. And it was he, God himself, John says to us.

In John's Gospel we are dealing with a very different kind of Christology that we will not find in the Gospels of Mark, Matthew or Luke. 

There are three types of Christology: 1. Love (?) Christology. 2. Christology of divine agency and 3. Incarnation Christology.

In Mark's Gospel we are dealing with so-called adoptionistic Christology. We don't hear for example anything about Christ's birth, and we are thrust into the later stages of his life. We know course that Christ is baptised by John in the River Jordan and the next thing we hear a voice from heaven 'you are my beloved son'. The words are addressed to Christ himself in this gospel. For the greater part we don't see anything particularly divine about Christ, only towards the end Christ is called son of God. So in Mark's Gospel you do not get a sense that Christ is pre-eternal.

In Matthew and Luke we have a very different type of Christology, known as ancient. Here we hear about the birth of Christ, how he was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and his baptism. We hear the words 'this is my beloved son'. It was a revelation of Christ not so much adoption of Christ, to the crowd of people.

John says to us Christ is before the incarnation, that is why there is not so much description of Christ birth. In John it is the Logos, God. He was in the beginning, and no single thing was created without him.

So the three other evangelists, who sent us only with economical activities, oikonomia in Greek. They speak about his earthly economy.

John tells us about Christ pre-eternal existence. In this way he breaks the confines of time, and goes into eternity. 

What we find in the Epistle of Philippians written by St Paul, 2:6-11, Christ was in the form of God but he took the form of a servant.

However as a member of the Orthodox church, I would not like to stress the differences in the Gospel each individualistically. In fact, they produce a common vision of Christ.

A book titled 'the preexistence of Christ: in the Gospels of Matthew Mark and Luke'. Even in the synoptic gospels we do see clear descriptions on the preexistence of Christ.

'I have come to fulfil the law, not to destroy.': This formula 'I have come' points to his pre-eternal existence. Matthew 5:17. When this formula is used here refers not to a geographical location but this idea of coming into the world. He didn't come from Galilee to Jerusalem into the world. 

These things change the course of the history of mankind. The first 18 verses of the Gospel of John, are our the most significant in our scriptures in terms of having been studied the most. They present the mystery that has remained unsolved until now.

The style, the message, the ideas, are so surprisingly and so convincingly confident that there is no need for further attestation, because they encode the entire message of Christianity. No wonder these magnificent versus we read in our church. 

It was important to elevate the Gospel to its authentic level.

The opening verses embrace this universal scale from the outset, both in terms of space and time. It goes even before time, presenting the universal context. Goes beyond any space, with such universal concepts as: light and darkness, the world.

The absolute became flesh. This divine absolute becomes a human person.

The prologue to the Gospel of John as it stands in Greek, reads like poetry. In many translations you will see that the prologue, the first 18 verses, but published in poetic form. There is such a hymnic rhythm, to the opening of the Gospel of John, that some propose that you was added on later. But I do not agree with this. The language may well be different but Christology are in fact completely integral to the rest of the Gospel. The rest of the Gospel sort of sets and explains out for us what is written in the prologue.

The concept of Logos

The term Logos appears here only in the new Testament. It won't appear anywhere else. Why does evangelist John use this term in the Gospel of John. We see here inferences of Stoicism, so much so, that they try to equate the Logos being Christ with historical Logos. 

Logos in stoicism is a cosmic reason, the governing principle of all that is. And yet all other reasonable creatures, there have seeds of laws. And was a similar ideas in John's Gospel. Christ enlightens every man that comes into the world, Gospel of John 1.1. In stoicism of course is very flexible, it can be adapted to other religions.

I tried to see this concept of Logos not as historic images, but as all embracing concept. The definition of Logos means the word in Greek. In Greek it has many meanings for example it might mean principle, it may mean reason, it may mean thought. In this context it is used to embrace as wide a meaning as possible. In the concept of word of God can be found in Judaism.

The word of God acquires semi-personified existence.

For the Jewish people the word of God was the Torah itself. It was the law that was given to Moses. And in John, find the synthesis of all of these ideas.

Finally the word of God became a person. We have this tendency towards personification in Judaism, and John brings this tendency towards final fulfilment in his Gospel. The word of God becomes flesh, it becomes a human person.

One of the striking images of the Gospel, is that no one else would you find Christ referring to himself as "I am". You will find this in various Eastern religions and also in the Hellenic world, Bultmann makes this comparison with Hellenic ideas. For example various mythical gods are quoted as saying I am. And in the hermetic(?)  corpus, X(?) reveals himself to Hermes, 'who am I the treasure of life'. In the mundene(?) literature, 'a shepherd and my who loves his sheep'. We should not really press these arguments and parallels to far. Because it is undoubtably a reference to Exodus chapter 3:14 'I am that I am', says God in his revelation. And Christ repeats the same revelation.

In chapter 18 Christ asks? "Whom do you seek?" The reply is "Jesus of Nazareth", and Christ says "I am". And as soon as he said this to them, they went backwards and fell to the ground, because they recognised the divine name.

So soon as John uses this title "I am", whatever other title that he had used like "the chosen one", the Messiah, the man spoken of by Moses and the prophets, all of them imply a divinity of Christ, and reinterpreted in the context of Christ saying "I am that I am".

Characteristic of John

Can you think of the Christological title that was in John's Gospel that was not in the synoptic gospels? Well, the various first thing that John the Baptist says about Christ: "this is the Lamb of God". Why do you think he uses this title? On the one hand, all the Jewish hearers would recall to memory the only begotten son of Abraham, the sacrificial lamb Genesis chapter 22, in Exodus, and many other associations in the old Testament. Before the coming of Christ, there was an association of Israel the nation with a lamb. If you look at the images of the suffering servant of Isaiah chapter 42 and 49, Israel is associated with suffering, and this imagery in fact, is the Lamb of God which takes upon its self the sins of others. This would have been quite understanding to Jewish hearts and minds, so when John the Baptist uses this term, the Israelites would be very much at home with this term. But the something more to this.

So what do these titles tell us? For example, "the son of God". This refers to Christ's divinity. And when we say, "the son of man", this speaks of his human nature. So these points to nature, divine or human.

If we consider other titles, like "King of Israel", they point to function, like Messiah. This is Christ's function in salvation. But they do not point to his character. For example if we say, "King of Israel", this does not point to character, a good king or about King, it does not point to what Christ is like as a person. Same as, "Lamb of God", "son of man", they point instead to Christ's nature in function. But when we speak about the Lamb of God, Christ immediately emerges as a personality, a person. And what kind of feeling does this title "Lamb of God" evoke in us? Someone that is innocent, defenceless, one who would do harm to anyone, so these labels can evoke an image of Christ. This is very specific to John who tries to present us with Christ who is not just the son of God, but also of man, as a person, so that we would know Christ, what he is like as a person. 

Q&A. What about the title 'Son of David'? This label points to his lineage, his Messiah-ship. The Jewish peoples expected the Messiah to be a descendant of King David. David had received the promise. 

Uniqueness of John's presentation of Christ

For John it was importance, to present Christ as a person. And perhaps you might notice, hacking you learn about someone another person? How do you go about this? How do you know if a person is good or bad for instance? How can you know another person? By talking to them. When you enter relationship, you get to know another person. When you enter a dialogue, for example you can lecture, see a professor at University in lecture hall, for 5 to 10 years, but you would not know what he's like as a person. But if he invited for a cup of tea, you can get a rough idea of what he is like as a person. And this is something unique in John's Gospel, he tries to present to us Christ through his relationship to other people. He gives us pictures, sketches of his dialogues, his relationship with other people so his person is clear to us. 

And there is something unique in principle here, if you look, he does not like public scenes very much, there are of course public teachings, but all of his dialogues, where Christ actually reveals himself, who he is and where is from, come from personal contact. John tries to depict this from public, to behind closed doors. To intimate settings where Christ enters a dialogue, and enters a personal relationship, and his divinity, his Messiah-ship becomes manifest. Let us look at the first chapter 1:38-39. The very first disciples who followed Christ, he asked them, who do you seek? And they said to him, Rabbi, that is teacher, where do you live? And he says to them, come and see. And they came and saw where he lived and stayed with him that they, and it was about the 10th hour. At first where there is no personal dialogue taken place, Christ addresses as preacher someone who has a message, but this title Rabbi could be applied to anything in Judaism. But then they go to his house, far more intimate, and after one day of staying with him, after this personal communication, the confession of Christ as Messiah grows. In 1:41, we read, Simon said to him, we have found the Messiah. And this was after only a mere 24 hours of staying with Christ. There was personal contact with him. Now when you come to chapter 3, we John has meaning of these personal settings, where man can open his heart. When Nicodemus came to him, by night, again it was a very personal setting when no one can see someone, and you come face-to-face with Christ. Again this is another intimate context. 

If we continue this approach in reading the Gospel of John, we can point to the Samaritan lady and her conversation with Christ at the fountain. Again Christ speaks to the Samaritan woman face to face. And John writes, and "Jesus spoke to her". And when this was happening it was important for John to emphasise that the disciples had gone away to buy food. And it was Jesus, face-to-face with the Samaritan woman. The result after this conversation? She confesses him as Messiah. 

If you study all the other personal dialogues, you will see that they all have a personal setting. Even if the setting, is in the midst of a crowd. And we see that this courses, and dialogues is the main form of revelation in John's Gospel. It is through the personal contact the people have with Christ, when they confess him as Messiah. And when we study the reaction of the Pharisees for example, they are not described in this personal way, we do not hear about their names for instance.

And when the plot of the Gospel of John moves to the Last Supper, again we see an intimate setting. And in chapter 13, again we read that it was night. And he devotes three chapters to the setting of the Last Supper which is an enormous amount of space relative to the Gospels size in words. For John such settings were important, this is where God opens his heart, in the dialogue with the disciples, and John wants to convey every single detail.

That is why perhaps you will notice that there is no public appearances of Christ after his resurrection. He appears to his disciples, he appears to Peter, but never to crowds. In fact, perhaps you now understand why we believe, that public manifestation of Christ in a large crowd today would not happen. If it is not in private, then we do not believe it.

This is known as intimate Christology as it is through personal encounter.

Johannine Vision of the Godhead

When we consider John's vision of the Godhead, the Holy Trinity. We cannot say for sure that it was John that developed Triadology as we understand it now in 2000 years of Orthodoxy. But nevertheless he lays the foundation for our Trinitarian teaching. 

And it is only in John's gospel that we find the title 'Son' without any predicate. He just says "son" and "father". Christ is presented, not only, in the context of belonging to simply as Son God, or Son of Man, but also he presents him as the Son of the Father. What is the difference if we present him as Son of the Father, what does this mean? Why is this word used "Son"? He uses this term deliberately to point to Christ's status in relation to his "Father". We have the Christology of Relationship. We do not invent this or weave it into the Gospel, the evangelist tries to show us that he is in relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It justifies our approach.

If we look at the Synoptic gospels, we hear very little about what Christ felt about his father. yes we have witnessed the manifestation of the spirit during baptism, but these are somewhat impersonal, we are not told much about their relationship. At the baptism of Christ, the Holy Spirit, descends on the Son as a dove, we hear the voice of the Father, but we do not hear much about the relationship. And for John it is important to show the inter-relationship.

See how the father relates to the Son- an existential attitude is revealed. 

But in John, we find this relationship all over the text.

Yet, if there were no examples of this relationship in the synoptic gospels, it would be rather problematic. But certainly it is in the Gospel of John where this resonates more powerfully. Of course will see all the Gospels in unity.

Now let us see, what is this relationship? It is total commitment, total surrender, of all the fathers being to the son. John 3:35- the father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Again, throughout gospel John 13 'all things into his hands'; John 16 'all things that the father has is mine.'  There is also the commission of the Father's function. 'The father shows the son' everything... he commends to the Son, all his power and source of being. The father raises up the dead. John 5 'the Father has life in himself'... whole of Father's authority is given to the Son. Everything that he has has been given to the Son. The Father judges no man, but handed all judgement to the Son.

Fr Sophrony: once when he became a monk in Mount Athos, he had an argument with God. He said, how can you judge me, you are God, and I'm a human. And he was praying to God, and he said to him I am a feeble human being and any day I can die of hunger, illness, and any number of things. How can you judge me? Because the judge should been the same condition as the one being judged. And in his heart came these words: father judges no man, and has committed or judgement to his son, because he is the son of man. So Fr Sophrony lost his argument because the son of man lived with all these conditions, and endured much more difficulties, than father Sophrony himself.

So we seem from this passages at the father seems to almost belittle himself, in favour of the son, his whole life, his honour, his power, his authority, his real kenosis (emptying) for the son.

Now briefly, we turn to the attitude of the son towards the father. So we know from the previous verses that the sun, seems to have everything handed down to him from the father. But now we can illustrate the reciprocity, how the son returns everything back to the father that was given to him. And perhaps, that the mystery of Christ can be summarised under this formula: "Not I, but the Father". John 5: "I come in my father's name". His whole consciousness is focused on the Father. Whatever the sun does, he doesn't for the father, in the father's name. "The son can do nothing of himself saved through the father." "By my own self I can do nothing." Jesus does everything by the father. In the judgement for example, he does things, only as the father would have judged. "And my judgement is just, because I do not seek my own will but that of the father." Same with glory, Jesus is quick to return the glory to his father (John ch 14). So we have this notion of "perixorisis". This word in Greek means exchange, intercommunications between the persons of the holy Trinity. 

So we have a picture now, of the relationship within the Trinity. We hear about the son, we hear about the father and then we hear about another person, the Paraclete. So there is another apart from the two, and he is identified in a number of different ways. In chapter 14 his call the Paraclete, a spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit. And this theology of kenotic love which we outlined in our presentation of the father and son relationship, concerns also the Holy Spirit. The Greek word, "Parakletos", is difficult to translate. The King James version, translated as comforter, but this doesn't exhaust the meaning of this word. "Parakletos" might have a variety of meanings. For example, a common translation would be, someone who is present in the court. Someone who is called by "Para-kalw". You call someone to be by you, next to you. And in Greek courts, this meant the presence of an attorney. Like an intercessor, one who intercedes. An advocate. And, there is an element of this Court vocabulary, in chapter 15. 'The comforter is come whom I sent unto you from the Father, even the spirit of truth... He will testify of me'. The spirit will judge the world and divide the world of sin and righteousness. We can also translate this term as "proclaims". You can also translate this word as "helper". We see that John tries to combine all the meanings, in a new way to create a new concept. Just as the term "logos" is all embracing, the term "paraclete" give so much death to the meaning of the spirit. And John attaches this label, to the Holy Spirit, so is to show his activity, of his kind of service. 

The doctrine of the Holy Spirit, came into our church quite late. As late as 380 a.D., Gregory Nanzianzus, wrote, "to be in error of the Holy Spirit, was to be orthodox". Because until that time, people were hesitant to call the Holy Spirit, God. And how can we discern his divinity. And the main argument of St Athanasius was "we must take our knowledge of the spirit from the son and it is appropriate to put forward proofs that derive from him." And we can discern the divinity of the Holy Spirit through activity. Because he acts in the same way as the son. Christ did not speak of himself, but only with the father would tell him. So the Holy Spirit, chapter 16, "when we hear the spirit of truth... he cannot speak of himself, but whatsoever he hears he will speak". Just as the Son came in the name of the Father so will the Paraclete come in the name of the Son (John 14). So we can discern the same language, the same kenotic activity: The father towards the son, and the Holy Spirit towards the son. 

There is some interesting detail with respect to the Triadology found in John's Gospel. The father, engages the Holy Spirit, but only at the son's request. So there is a sense of coordination in the holy Trinity. Especially in the synoptic gospels, were Christ was led by the Holy Spirit in the wilderness.