Letters - 7 February 2020
From gospel diversity to predictions and pertinence
Janet Scott (17 January) questions whether John’s gospel corrects or complements the three synoptic gospels. Modern critical scholarship offers another possibility. It is now widely accepted that all four gospels were written many years after the death of Jesus and it seems clear that each reflects the different views of different Christian communities at different periods.
So Mark, the earliest, dated to shortly after 70 AD, focuses on John the Baptist’s view of Jesus as God’s messenger who is to usher in the Kingdom. The primary concern of Matthew, writing perhaps ten years later during fierce controversy between the followers of Jesus and Jews who revered the Baptist, injects a supposed correspondence between Jesus and John showing that forerunner and runner were not rivals but on the same page.
Luke, thought to be writing around 90 AD, goes further by adding to Matthew’s already colourful account of the birth of Jesus a new story revealing that the Baptist was a cousin of Jesus and he too had a miraculous birth. The message was clear: you can’t have one without the other.
The fourth gospel (attributed to a different John), dated to somewhere round the turn of the century, sees John in a different light: no longer either the Baptist or a miraculous addition to Jesus’ family but the first to recognise that Jesus was, as the author of the fourth gospel believed, the Son of God, the Word made flesh.
There was diversity in the Jesus movement from the very start. Perhaps that’s why it survived.
Fairness and sustainability
While Tommy Gee (10 January) raises questions about the use of paid workers by Quakers, his proposal to end paid employment and return the ‘“do it ourselves” of not so long ago’ is doomed unless Quakers accept that our internal structures, and breadth of external work, are no longer feasible in a time of an ageing and declining membership, a wider world of insecure work, and increasing demands on volunteers caused by austerity and lack of state support.
As convenor of the North East Thames Area Meeting Nominations Committee, I undertook an exercise which shows that as an Area Meeting (AM) we have over 138 roles but have just eighty-one Friends able to take on roles. This equates roughly to 1.5 AM roles for each Friend, and this number increases once you add Local Meeting roles. Many Friends have more than two roles, and five of us have between five and seven. This is not sustainable – and is certainly not the necessary ‘rich pool of volunteers’ needed to end the use of paid staff.
I am concerned by the suggestion that we use younger Friends or volunteers to do the work for a roof over their heads and modest expenses. The ‘internship’ model as used by other organisations is, rightly, being questioned as being exploitative and making experience only accessible to middle- or upper-class young people whose families are able to support them. For a good idea on how insecure the world of work and housing feels for many younger Friends, I suggest we go back to Chris Alton’s excellent 2018 Swarthmore Lecture. People do need jobs and money – and I think Quakers need to continue showing, as we do with the employment practices of Friends House, how it can be done fairly and sustainably.
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