The Greatest Book Ever Written
As we ponder, each in our own way, this most special of holidays, I have a suggestion: read (or reread) the greatest book ever written — the Gospel of John.
Christianity has given the world many things. Its detractors say Christianity has provided the world holy wars and religious persecution. Its adherents proclaim that it has brought salvation to mankind. As a philosopher I find some truth, and much exaggeration, in each of those positions. Christianity has a checkered past and a challenging future. It also has the most important manuscript ever penned by a human being.
Scholars still dispute the date when the Gospel of John was written and they argue about who wrote it. I have always found these debates not only tedious — but also pointless. If ever a book transcended time and authorship, it is the Gospel of John. Perfection mocks lowly time. Inspiration requires no byline.
As prose the Gospel of John has no peers. (The Dialogues of Plato and some of the works of Shakespeare are as close as any get.) The Gospel is an unsurpassed literary masterpiece. It is history, philosophy, poetry, and religion seamlessly woven. The composition is so close to flawless that the words translate easily into almost any language.
Appropriately enough the greatest book ever written begins with a reflection on writing. The language soars in the original Greek:
Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.
It pounds like the jackhammer of truth in Latin:
In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum.
And it mesmerizes in English (especially the KJV):
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
A book, which can only be written with words, commences by reminding us that everything begins with the Word … and with God. Perfect. This is faultless prose.
As theology the book was, and forever will be, revolutionary. The book tells us how to achieve oneness with God. There is no mystical hocus pocus here. The Gospel speaks openly, honestly, and sincerely:
That they all may be one; as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they may also be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and has loved them, as thou hast loved me.
Oneness with God through love. That is the message of the Gospel of John. The human relationship with God is portrayed in such a manner that, even if it is not true, all reasonable human beings cannot help but be attracted to the possibility.
The idea of oneness through love was new and radical when it was written. It is fresh and still inspires today.
As philosophy the Gospel of John is an unknown treasure. I have read the book dozens of times and the subtle rational structure never ceases to amaze. At one level the Gospel is like a treatise on the logic of morality and the meaning of love. The logical composition comes across vividly in the Greek — but the structure is present in the King James Version so I will use that translation.
The book contains a series of “if/then” propositions. (These are known in logic as “conditionals” or “implications.”) Let’s look quickly at some of these arguments in chapters 13 and 14:[i]
If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.If God be glorified in him, God shall also glorify him in himself, and shall straightway glorify him.And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
This string of conditionals contains what is perhaps the most famous argument ever written. (Though very few people seem to realize the logic behind this phrase.):
If ye love me, keep my commandments.
This simple conditional phrase is the logical foundation of all moral conduct. Christ tells us that if we love him we will keep God’s law. The most important moral imperative ever written has nothing to do with coercion. We are commanded to obey the law because we love the creator of that law.
And if we choose to love, and to obey, we are given a promise:
I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.
This is the logic, the promise, and the wisdom of the greatest book ever written.
Larrey Anderson is a writer, philosopher, and the submissions editor for American Thinker. His award-winning novel, The Order of the Beloved, is a tribute to the writer of the greatest book ever written.
[i] Space does not permit going into the logic of the Gospel in detail. I will point out some of the simpler arguments here. If the reader would like a rewarding and challenging intellectual exercise, read John chapters 13 and 14 and think through how this series of conjunctions is interconnected and how, in some cases, a previous implication logically grounds the next implication.