The Gospel of John is strikingly distinct from the other Gospels of the New Testament. In the first three Gospels, Jesus appears human. In the Gospel of John, he appears godlike. Biblical scholars have long believed that the Gospel of John is from a later date than the other gospels and that Christians had already deified Jesus by then. But Christians were already worshipping Jesus as a godlike creature very early on. In the Epistle to the Philippians, Paul cites a poem stating that Jesus is God in nature (Philippians 2:6-11). Scholars believe it is an older poem dating from the earliest days of Christianity.1 Another theory is that the Gospel of John originally was written by someone close to Jesus.
The first three Gospels probably contain stories about Jesus that circulated among the public. A small group of insiders may have known more about the nature of the relationship between God and Jesus. This insider account, after heavy redactions, may have become the Gospel of John. This Gospel likely has undergone several redactions and reviews. Viewing it in this way comes with a few interesting insights.
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Christianity may at first have had a separate creation myth in which Eve was God, gave birth to Adam, and then took him as Her husband. The account of the fall may also have been different. The Christian account of creation and fall may have contradicted the Jewish scriptures. Eve giving birth to Adam and taking him as her husband also carries a lewd suggestion. The tale of Eve and Adam is a myth, so it probably never happened, but people did not know that at the time.
And it may have had problematic consequences in early Christian communities. In the first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul writes, ‘It is reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud!’ (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). The scribes may have watered down this controversial fragment. And so, this man may have slept with his mother. The Christians in Corinth were proud of it, perhaps because this man followed the example of Christ.
Hence, the scribes may have taken out the creation myth, and under the influence of Platonic thinking, the Word became flesh in the form of Jesus (John 1:1-14). If Jesus is Adam, and all of humanity descends from Eve and Adam, one can imagine that without him, there is no life. And if Adam was a child of Eve, we are all children of God, and because God is a woman, Christians are born of God (John 1:13).
If you are already born, you have to be born again to enter the Kingdom of God. The meaning appears spiritual. Only, when arguing with Jesus, the Pharisee Nicodemus noted that you cannot enter a second time into your mother’s womb to be born again (John 3:4). Nicodemus may have correctly understood what Jesus meant, which is that Christians are figuratively born of God’s womb. Jesus then gave it a spiritual meaning in his answer, ‘No one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.’ (John 3:5)
There was a wedding in Galilee (John 2:1-10). Jesus was there, as were his mother and his disciples. When the wine was gone, his mother said to Jesus that there was no more wine. That would not have been his concern unless he was the bridegroom. Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come.’ It could mean that Jesus was not the bridegroom and was about to be married too. He called his mother ‘woman’. That makes sense when he considered God his Mother. Jesus started doing miracles at this wedding by turning water into wine. Perhaps, he became the Christ through this wedding. Hence, it may have been his wedding, and the scribes may have changed the narrative to make it appear that it is not.
And then John comes with a statement not found in the other Gospels, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said: ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The Bride belongs to the Bridegroom. The friend who attends the Bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the Bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:27-30) Apparently, Jesus was the Messiah because he was the Bridegroom in a heavenly marriage. The other Gospels also indicate that Jesus was the Bridegroom (Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19 and Luke 5:34). The Gospel compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who prepares a wedding banquet for his son (Matthew 22:2).
I and the Father are one
Jesus called God Father, making himself equal with God, so the Jews wanted to persecute him, the Gospel of John says (John 5:16-18). Jesus made other claims in this vein. If the Gospel of John is a heavily redacted insider account, these claims may reflect Jesus’ own words. For instance, if Jesus believed himself to be Adam, he could have said that before Abraham was born, he existed (John 8:58). The wording in the Gospel of John implies that he claimed to be God, but that may not have been what Jesus said.
And then comes an intriguing assertion, ‘I and the Father are one.’ (John 10:30) It appears that Jesus claimed to be God. And so, the Jews wanted to stone him for blasphemy (John 10:33). But marriage is a way to become one with another person (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:4-6). If Jesus had implied that he was married to God, it would still have been blasphemy to the Jews. And if Mary Magdalene had remained in the background to let Jesus do Her bidding, and Jesus believed himself to be Adam from whom all of humanity descends, then Jesus may have said something similar to, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ (John 14:6)
Love is a central theme: ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’ (John 15:9-12) That is an unusual amount of love. But if Jesus was God’s husband, it makes sense. That brings us to the loving and intimate relationship that Mary Magdalene and Jesus may have had. The Gospel of John features an enigmatic beloved disciple.
The beloved disciple
Perhaps, Mary Magdalene became Jesus’ most beloved disciple in an early redaction of the text. That could still have raised questions, so later redactions may have turned the beloved disciple into the anonymous author of the gospel and a separate person distinct from Mary Magdalene. This perspective can provide us an explanation that resolves a few contradictions. One of those contradictions is the following fragment, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there and the disciple he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.”
The fragment states that four women were near the cross. If you take the text literally, then the beloved disciple must be one of these four women because the first sentence does not mention the beloved disciple. The most likely candidate is Mary Magdalene. And if Mary Magdalene was God, then Jesus may have said to Her, ‘Mother, here is your son.’ And then to his birth mother, ‘Here is your Mother.’ A few arguments can support this view. First, it is more plausible that Mary Magdalene took Jesus’ birth mother into Her home than a male disciple. And second, the Gospels suggest that Simon Peter was Jesus’ favourite apostle. For instance, Jesus had asked him to take care of the sheep (John 21:15-18). Only, he had fled the crucifixion scene (Mark 14:50-52), so he was not present.
According to Paul, Simon Peter saw the resurrected Jesus first, and then Jesus appeared to the other disciples (1 Corinthians 15:4-6). It probably is a statement of faith handed over to Paul. It might be the truth because it was an early belief dating from only a few years after Jesus’ death. And it agrees with the idea that Simon Peter was Jesus’ favourite disciple. The Gospel of John tells a different story. It claims that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. She then ran to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!’ So Peter and the beloved disciple went to the tomb. The beloved disciple came there first. He saw the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went into the tomb (John 20:1-6).
Then the beloved disciple went in. And he saw and believed (John 20:8). Apparently, the beloved disciple saw and believed, but two men were inside. Strangely, it is not mentioned that Simon Peter saw and believed. If the scribes had added the beloved disciple to the story later, it probably was Simon Peter who saw and believed. An empty tomb alone would not have made him think that Jesus had risen. And so, he may have seen Jesus there, apparently alive.
The Gospel of John tells that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene first (John 20:11-18). If Mary Magdalene had become the beloved disciple in an earlier redaction, then it was only natural that Jesus first appeared to Her and not to Simon Peter. The scribes may have changed the story accordingly. When, in a later redaction, Mary Magdalene and the beloved disciple became separate individuals, the narrative changed again. And so, the beloved disciple saw something and believed, while Mary Magdalene saw Jesus first but had trouble believing it. After that, Jesus appeared to the disciples (John 20:19-23). If we follow this explanation, Paul may tell the truth in 1 Corinthians 15. It also implies that Mary Magdalene set in motion the resurrection beliefs by bringing Simon Peter to the tomb.
The resolution of this contradiction comes with a thought-provoking conclusion. Most likely, Jesus did appear to his disciples, and probably already on the third day after the crucifixion. When Paul joined the Christian movement a few years after the resurrection supposedly happened, this was an established belief among the disciples. A group of first-hand witnesses probably remember what happened and the number of days between two events of such importance that occurred only a few years earlier. And if Mary Magdalene was God, that might explain why Paul does not mention Her name in his epistles.
The Gospel of John contains a remark that you can easily overlook, ‘Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father.’ (John 16:25) Why should Jesus not speak plainly about God? Possibly, the scribes who redacted this gospel and performed the sex change on God have been aware of what they were doing and realised that the truth would come out one day.
Latest revision: 3 May 2022
1. How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher. Bart D. Ehrman (2014). HarperCollins Publishers.