Sept 10, 2010
MacLean on John's Style
Excerpt from: J. MacLean, Introduction to...John, (Cincinnati, 1895)
The Style of John - J. MacLean
VIII. The Style.
The style of the Gospel and of St. John's First Epistle are unique. Any reader can not help but notice it ; but the ablest critic can not give it a satisfactory analysis. Ever since Dionysius of Alexandria (250 A.D.) wrote his masterly criticism of the differences between the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse (Eusebius' Eccl. Hist. vii. xxv.), it has, for the most part, been assumed that the Gospel was written in very pure Greek, consequently free from all barbarous, irregular, or uncouth expressions. The term "very pure Greek" as applied to the Gospel is misleading. It is in pure Greek only in the sense of its simplicity.
Elegant, idiomatic, classical Greek it is not. It is free from blemishes because it avoids idioms and intricate constructions. The grammar is the same as that which is common to almost all languages. It is strong in its very simplicity ; for the characteristic marks of its separate sentences are directness, circumstantiality, repetition and personality. Its thoughts and sentences are grouped together in a corresponding manner. The sequence of its reasoning is not always wrought out, but left for sympathetic interpretation.
In pointing out the peculiarities of the style recourse will be had to its presentation by divisions.
The first idea is its extreme [grammatical] simplicity.
The clauses and sentences are not
made to depend one upon the other, but are joined by simple
"In him was life, and the life was the light of men" (Jn. 1:4).
Even where a strong contrast is indicated
a simple " and " is preferred to " nevertheless " or " notwithstanding ;"
"He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (Jn. 5:11).
In passages of great solemnity
the sentences are placed side by side without even a conjunction ;
" Jesus answered . . . Pilate answered . . . Jesus answered" (Jn. 17:34-30).
The words of others are given direct and not by oblique oration. This characteristic may be illustrated in any of the detailed incidents of the narrative :
This is the record of John, when the Jews sent . . . to ask him, "Who art thou?" And he confessed ... "I am not the Christ." And they asked him, "What then? Art thou Elijah?" And he saith, "I am not". (Jn 1:19-21).
Many of the people therefore, when they heard this saying, said, Of a truth this is the Prophet. Others said, this is the Christ. But some said, Shall Christ come out of Galilee? (Jn. 7:40-41).
This directness of construction is so universal in the Gospel that only one example of an oblique sentence has been noted (Jn. 4:51), where it should read, 'His servants met him, saying that his son lived' (as in the Revised Version), and not met him and told him, saying, "Thy Son liveth" (as in the Authorized [KJV]).
On the other hand the common oblique reading that he should ask who it should be of whom he spake (Jn. 13:24) must give way for and saith unto him, "Tell us who it is." the reading now preferred.
Belonging to the same method, we find the illustrative details added parenthetically or as distinct statements, and not wrought into the texture of the narrative (Jn. 4:6, Jn. 6:10, Jn. 10:22, Jn. 13:30, Jn. 18:40).
b. The simple co-ordination of sentences and avoidance of relatives and dependent clauses involves frequent repetition: and even where a repetition is not necessary it is employed for the sake of close connection and emphasis. Repetitions are singularly marked in the record of dialogues, in which the persons are constantly brought into prominence. Sentence after sentence begins with Jesus said, the Jews said, and similar ones, so that, in sharp contrast, the characters are kept clearly present to the mind (Jn. 2:18, Jn. 4:7, Jn. 8:48, Jn. 10:23).
This usage exhibits the personality of John's narrative; and is further illustrated by the frequency with which he introduces a demonstrative pronoun in order to call back the subject, when a clause has intervened between the subject and the verb.
Sometimes the pronoun of present reference is employed:
" He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit " (Jn 15:5)
Sometimes, which is the more characteristic usage, he employs the pronoun of remote, isolated reference:
"He that entereth not by the door . . . the same is a thief and a robber" (Jn. 10:1)
The frequency with which St. John uses the personal pronouns, and especially of the pronoun of the first person, is a feature of the same kind. The Lord's teachings depend, in his discourses, upon a careful recognition of the emphatic reference to his undivided personality.
"If I judge, my judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me" (Jn. 8:16).
Frequent use of Key Particles
c. St. John frequently points out a sequence in fact or in thought, although he connects his sentences so simply, and sometimes merely places them side by side without conjunctions. His two most characteristic particles are "therefore" and "in order that".
The Greek word (ουν) translated "therefore" occurs 202 times and in the Authorized version is translated "therefore" 64 times, and as thus used is found almost exclusively in narrative, and points out that one fact is a consequence of another, sometimes in cases where this would not have been obvious; Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee (Jn. 4:46), because of the reception he had previously received there.
The frequent use of "therefore" points to the conviction that nothing happens without a cause, and consequently the frequent use of "in order that" points to the belief that nothing happens without a purpose.
The Greek particle (ινα) occurs in John's Gospel one 145 times, and is used not only where some other construction would have been suitable, but also where some other construction would appear to be more desirable;
"I am not worthy to unloose" (i. 27),
"My meat is to do the will" (iv. 34),
"This is the work of God that ye believe" (vi. 29),
"Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind" (ix. 2),
"It is expedient for you that I go away" (xvi. 7).
This is a favorite construction of St. John, who uses it to point out the working of the Divine purpose and also of the fulfilment of prophecy (Jn. 18:9, Jn. 19:24,28,29).
The elliptical expression "but that" is not uncommon; "Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents; but that..." etc. (Jn. 9:3).
This multiplication of simple elements produces in the end an effect of imposing grandeur; and thus whole sections of the work are marked by this method of directness and simplicity.
Frequent use of Key Particles
d. Poetic Parallelism: In some cases the repetition leads to a perfect poetic parallelism. John was full of the spirit of Hebrew poetry, and its essentials run through the whole record, both in its general structure and in the structure of its parts. Each incident and discourse presupposes what has gone before and adds to the result something new.
"The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him" (Jn 13:16);
"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. . . . Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid " (Jn. 14:27)
Sometimes the parallelism is antithetic, and the second clause denies the opposite of the first;
he confessed, and denied not (Jn. 1:20); "I give unto them eternal life: and they shall never perish" (Jn. 10:28).
e. Minuteness of detail - is another peculiarity, which also is of Hebrew origin. St. John uses two or three words in stating the details of an action instead of summing the whole action in one word : They asked him and said (Jn. 1:25); John bare record, saying (Jn. 5:32) ; Then cried Jesus in the temple as he taught, saying (Jn 7:28).
The phrase "answered and said" occurs in this Gospel 34 times, and only two or three times in the Synoptics, where it is different, "having answered said", "answered saying."
f. Key Phrases: St. John's favorite words and phrases also bear special mention. "Abide" especially in the phrases expressing abiding on one another ; "believe on" a person ; "true" as opposed to lying, and "true" as opposed to spurious, "truly" and "truth;" "witness" and "bear witness;" "the darkness" of moral darkness; "the light," of spiritual light; "life;" "love ;" "eternal life", "in frankness" or "openly;" "keep my word;" "manifest;" "the Jews," of the opponents of Christ; "the world," of those alienated from Christ.
The following words and phrases are used only by St. John :
Paraclete" or the "Advocate", of the Holy Spirit;
"the Word" of the Son;
"only-begotten" of the Son;
"come out from God" of the Son ;
"lay down my life," of Jesus Christ;
" the ruler of this world ;"
" the last day."
This apparent sameness of phraseology produces throughout an impressive emphasis. It is probable that as the Evangelist made this record when old, he has given the utterance of others in his own language, at least in part, though scarcely when giving (xviii. 38) the answer of Pilate.
narrative, dialogue, and Paul
This part of the discussion is further illustrated in the appended comparison. The left' hand column gives the language of the Evangelist, the right gives that of others as reported by him. The latter is the reported language of Jesus, except where the name of another is subjoined.
It should be observed that the expression "abide in", sometimes translated "remain, continue, or dwell in", is not uncommon as the designation of physical residence in a place. Moreover, its figurative use is not entirely peculiar to St. John, for there are four passages in St. Paul's writings, i. e.,
1 Cor. 7:20, 24, abide in the calling ;
1 Tim. 2:15, if they continue (abide) in faith, charity and holiness;
2 Tim. 3:14, abide in the things which thou hast learned
— which are analogous to some, though not to all of the above expressions. The frequency, however, and some forms of the figurative use, are peculiar to St. John.
And in his Gospel alone do we find it in the reported language of the Savior. In the Synoptics there is but one instance of its use by the Savior, and that in the physical sense : Luke 10:7, "in the same house remain (abide)."
The characteristics which have been above treated, combined in St. John's Gospel, stand alone in Christian literature, as its author must always stand alone among Christian teachers. The book was the work of one who for three score years and ten labored most efficiently as an Apostle. "When a lad he was called to follow the Baptist, and by him was soon transferred to the Christ, and in all probability was the first who from his youth up was a Christian. No man could have been found better able to grasp and state in their true proportions and with fitting impressiveness the great truths of the Christian faith. His manner of life and environments were eminently calculated to fit him for such a wonderful production. Commencing at an early stage of his existence the Gospel found an unobstructed path, and consequently experienced no sudden wrench from deep-seated prejudices. Kor had he the trying excitement of wandering abroad over the face of the earth , like most of the Twelve. He remained at his post in Ephesus, directing, teaching, meditating; until at last, when fully ripe, the fruit was given to the Church in the fulness of its power and beauty, and is preserved for the generations to profit by its lessons.
Remarks on John 7:53-8:11 (p. 171 fwd)
Modern Preface: Mr. MacLean does not here enter any details about alleged internal evidence, but simply restates current opinions among many textual critics of the 19th century. On the other hand, he believes the 21st chapter of John to be authentic, on the same basis of internal evidence (unspecified).
The remarkable narrative of the woman taken in adultery (the whole text from 7:53 to 8:11) is now generally conceded to be an interpolation. The external evidence may be thus briefly summed up:
It is omitted by all the oldest Greek MSS. with one exception, and by a considerable number of the later MSS. which generally give a very ancient text. In many MSS. which contain it the passage is marked by asterisks or obeli.
Euthymius Zygadenus (1118 A.D.), the earliest Greek commentator who writes upon it, observes that it is not found in "the accurate copies," or is obelized in them, and that therefore it is not to be counted genuine.
In one MS. it is inserted at the end of the Gospel, and in 10 others at other places. It is omitted by important Latin copies, by the Egyptian versions, the Old Syriac, the Gothic, the best MSS. of the Peshito, and of the Armenian versions.
It was not read as a part of the Gospel by Tertullian, Origen, Theodore of Mopsuesta, Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, nor is there any evidence that it was known to Cyprian or Hilary.
The earliest Greek text (that in D) differs considerably from the common text. In short, it is omitted by the oldest representatives of every kind of evidence (MSS., versions, fathers) ; and the critical character of the text is such as to distinguish it from the rest of the book with which it is connected.
On the other hand it is found in Codex D and in the mass of the later uncial and cursive texts ; Jerome says it was found in his time in many Greek and Latin MSS in the Gospel according to St, John ; in most Latin copies of the Vulgate; in the Jerusalem Syriac ; in the Ethiopic ;
It is used as a part of the Gospel by Augustine and Ambrose, and read in the service at Rome in the time of Gregory the Great.
Here it should be observed that Codex D is conspicuous for additions similar in character to this narrative, though less in extent, and some of which obtained wide currency ; Jerome did not speak on critical questions after a very large examination of authorities; the early Latin copies are just those which admitted interpolations most freely; the Jerusalem Syriac is a lectionary, and is not earlier than the 11th century.
The internal evidence shows that the language of the narrative is different from that of St. John both in vocabulary and structure. The tone of the narrative is alien from St. John, and akin to that used in the Synoptics.
It is true there was a narrative similar to this preserved by Papias, and was also found in the Gospel according to the Hebrews. Papias collected traditions illustrative of "the oracles of the Lord".
Sometimes interpolations were first written on the margins, and afterwards incorporated into the text.
The genuineness of the 21st chapter has been called in question. The words of Jn. 20:30 have been supposed to form the evident close of the Gospel ; and the remainder to bear traces of spuriousness.
A careful estimate of the total structure of the Gospel leads to a plan which constitutionally includes the 21st chapter. In this view we distinguish the Prologue, the Historical Gospel, and the Epilogue. The style and general character of the language of the last chapter lead to the conclusion that it was written by the author of the Gospel. There is no evidence to show that the Gospel was given out before the concluding part was added.
The concluding part of the 21st chapter (Jn. 21:24-25) has already been referred to. The Gospel closes with the words
"This is the disciple which testitieth of these things, and wrote these things " (Jn. 21:24).
The remaining words were probably added by the Ephesian elders, to whom the preceding narrative had been given both orally and in writing.
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