Q. In the introduction to the Gospel of John (
A. The short answer, I’m afraid, is the scholar’s typical non-answer: well, that depends. You are certainly right in pointing to the fact that the Gospel of John is very focused on the interpretation of Jesus (Christology), not least on Jesus’ own self-understanding as illustrated in the dialogues and monologues of the Gospel. It was probably a similar observation that prompted Clement of Alexandria (around 200 C.E.) to describe John’s Gospel as “the spiritual Gospel.”
Yet, whether this observation renders the Gospel more or less ‘midrashic,’ is another question. Midrash (from Hebrew: drsh to seek, inquire) can be taken in a broad sense as simply relating to the act of interpreting the Jewish Bible/Old Testament; its narrow meaning, however, concerns a certain kind of rabbinic exegetical literature engaging in biblical interpretation (e.g. Mekhilta, Midrash Genesis). These works date from around 200 C.E. and later but may contain traditions that go back to the time when the Gospel of John was written (around 90 C.E.).
Whereas one may say that all New Testament gospels fit the first and broader definition, I would be more cautious to simply call John’s Gospel a midrash in the narrower sense. In terms of genre, scholars tend to understand the gospel as an ancient biography (bios/vita) that incorporates elements from other genres such as drama, romance, rhetoric, testament literature—and midrash. In terms of the latter, scholars have seen, for example, the bread-from-heaven discourse in
So, is the Gospel of John a midrash? I suppose the short answer remains: well, that depends.
- Borgen, Peder. Bread from Heaven: An Exegetical Study of the Concept of Manna in the Gospel of John and the Writings of Philo. Supplements to Novum Testamentum 10. Leiden: Brill 1965.
- Boyarin, Daniel. “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John” Harvard Theological Review 94 (2001): 243–84.
- Pérez Fernández, Miguel. “Midrash and the New Testament: A Methodology for the Study of Gospel Midrash.” Pages 367–84 in The New Testament and Rabbinic Literature. Edited by Reimund Bieringer et al. JSJSup 136. Leiden/Boston: Brill 2010.