The Resurrection of ChristA.M. Ramsey
TheGospels are works of an entirely novel and unique literary character. They are not biographies, for they pay little attention to the psychology of a hero and to many of those aspects of a life which are dear to a biographer. They are Gospels. They are written to tell of the events whereby the Reign of God came. The human story is told, as alone it survived to be told, in the frame of the Gospel of God. The Gospels reproduce the pattern of the preaching of the Apostles from the earliest days.
Finally there comes the Fourth Gospel bearing the name of John. Here the double perspective, that has been apparent at every stage of the apostolic writings, is seen with a special and deliberate vividness.
For in this baffling and glorious book we find a blending of an emphasis upon the importance of historical fact with an emphasis upon those aspects of the truth in Jesus Christ that lie beyond the historical events. This blending of two strains puzzles the reader, and has caused the book to be regarded as a kind of problem-piece among the writings about Jesus Christ. Is the author, we ask, giving us good history, supplementing and correcting the history provided by the earlier Gospels? or is he deserting history and leading us into the realms of mystical interpretation? The problem has been baffling, for neither of these alternatives seems wholly to correspond with the author’s purpose or wholly to explain all the characteristics of the book.
But when we have perceived that the double perspective exists in all the apostolic writings and in all the apostolic teaching from the earliest days, then the Fourth Gospel appears in a less problematic light. For while it does indeed contain its own problems, its main problem is not a new one. It sums up the inevitable tension in apostolic Christianity, and enables a truer understanding of that tension. John writes in order that his readers may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God and believing may have life in his name. With this end in view he will not allow his readers to ignore either of the two aspects of Christianity.
On the one hand he makes it clear that men in every age may be in touch with Jesus Christ, risen and glorified, and may by believing on him and feeding on him possess eternal life. ‘He, the Paraclete, shall glorify me, for he shall take of mine and shall declare it unto you’. ‘Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed.’ The Incarnation was the prelude to the greater works that the disciples would do when Jesus had gone to the Father, and to the closer union between the disciples and Jesus made possible by his departure. Here and now men may dwell in him, and he in them.
But at the same time John is at pains to show that the contemporary Christ is known aright and that union with him is possible only if the Christians are in a constant re lationship with the historical events of the Word-made-flesh. It is vital that the events really happened, events that men saw and heard and their hands handled. ‘Back to history’ is an avowed motive both in the Gospel and in the First Epistle of John.
From ‘The Resurrection of Christ’ by A.M. Ramsey
(Collins Fontana, 1961)
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