The Gospel of John, the Verb “is,” and Liberal Christianity

The Gospel of John, the Verb “is,” and Liberal Christianity

While I was serving as a pastor, I was required to take a minimum of two seminary-like classes each year.  During that time I cannot say that I really learned a lot about Jesus and the Bible – I was too busy defending my faith there.  That is because I attended a somewhat liberal school, and was required to read literature from mostly a liberal point of view.  It is a point of view that I rarely saw as agreeable with the facts.

    During these classes I discovered one of the basic differences between liberal and conservative Christianity.  That is; where conservative Christianity is open to the supernatural, liberal Christianity tends to deny the same.  For example, extreme liberal Christianity denies that Jesus performed many (or all) of the miracles described by the New Testament writers.  They also deny many of the statements Jesus made – especially those that seem to be suggestive of His deity.  If these and other similar statements in the NT can be denied, then we might doubt if Jesus was really God, and if He really did anything supernatural on earth.  Now, of course, there are other brands of liberalism within Christianity that would not go quite this far.  But, what these varying brands would disagree on is generally far less than what they have in common.

    One card that many liberal scholars enjoy playing is the late-dating of the Gospels.  They like to suggest that there was a considerable gap in time between Jesus’ life and the writing down of those events.  As a result – they say – the Gospels should not be considered very reliable.  For example, if John’s Gospel was not written until around 170 AD (as F.C. Baur once argued), then not only could it have not been written by the Apostle John, but one could hardly assume that the material contained it was even reliable.  Certainly, this type of thinking caused many to lose their trust in the Scriptures, and to even doubt God.

    So what is this article all about?  Well, there is a tiny verb in the Gospel of John that I find incredibly intriguing.  It is found in John 5:2, which reads, “Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches…”

    Hardly noticeable in this passage is the verb “is,” yet it may carry a huge punch.

    John is telling the story of how Jesus healed a man at the Pool of Bethesda.  In the first verse of the chapter, John writes that there “was” a Jewish feast, and that Jesus “went” to Jerusalem – both signifying past tense.  Then, John notes that “there is in Jerusalem..”  This verb is clearly in the present tense – as if John is telling us that the pool was still there when he wrote about it.  Why is that important? Well, historical records reveal that the Pool, as well as the Temple that it was part of were both completely destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.  If John were writing this account many years later then he should have used the past tense –  as in the rest of the account.  But, that he moves to the present tense suggests that the Pool was still in Jerusalem as he wrote about it.  This certainly leaves one with the impression that the Gospel of John was written before 70 AD.

    I am not suggesting that this is the only evidence we have for an early writing of John, or that it closes the case on the matter. However, it is one that the liberal must deal with in order to sustain the argument that the Gospels were written much, much later.