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Donald L. Gelpi, S.J.

A Christology for
Converting Christians

Volume 3
Marquette Studies in Theology
No. 22

Andrew Tallon, Series Editor

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Gelpi, Donald L., 1934-

The firstborn of many : a christology for converting Christians / Donald
L. Gelpi.
p. cm. — (Marquette studies in theology ; no. 20, 21, 22) Includes
bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-87462-644-7 (pbk. : alk. paper), Volume 1: To hope in Jesus
Christ; ISBN 0-87462-645-5 (pbk. : alk. paper), Volume 2: Synoptic
narrative Christology; ISBN 0-87462-646-3 (pbk. : alk. paper). Volume
3: Doctrinal and practical Christology.
1. Jesus Christ—Person and offices. 2. Conversion—Christianity.
3. Catholic Church—Doctrines. I. Title. II. Marquette studies in the-
ology ; #20, #21, #22.
BT205 .G37 2001
232—dc21 00-012328

Cover image compliments of St. Isaac of Syria Skete.

We gratefully acknowledge the generous support of The New Orleans

Province of the Society of Jesus, also known as The Southern Province,
in making possible the publication of these three volumes.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be

reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise,
without prior permission of the publisher.
For My Mother, Alice,
Who Died As She Lived
with Great Hope, Faith, Love, Courage,
and Dignity
Volume 3
Table of Contents

Preface to Volume 3 ............................................................................ 7

Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines:

Johannine Narrative Christology ..................................................... 9

Chapter 1: The Beloved Disciple: His Community, His Prologue ...... 9

Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages ................................... 25
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John ............................. 101
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John ......................... 148
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John ....................... 192

Part 2: Doctrinal Christology ......................................................... 224

Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology ....................... 225

Chapter 7: Authenticating Chalcedon ............................................ 272
Chapter 8: Reformulating Chalcedon ............................................. 296
Chapter 9: Coordinating Chalcedonian and Trinitarian Doctrine... 332
Chapter 10: How Jesus Saves: Issues in Atonement Christology ..... 355
Chapter 11: Jesus the Savior ........................................................... 382
Chapter 12: Jesus the Prophet ......................................................... 415
Chapter 13: Jesus the Priest ............................................................ 428
Chapter 14: Jesus, Messiah And Judge ............................................ 469

Part 3: Practical Christology ........................................................... 488

Chapter 15: To Love As Jesus Loved ............................................... 488

Chapter 16: To Serve As Jesus Served.............................................. 514

Afterword ....................................................................................... 552

Glossary .......................................................................................... 557
Indices ............................................................................................ 580
Preface to Volume 3
This three-volume study responds to a significant crisis in contemporary
Christology: a plethora of so-called “low” Christologies has started an
identifiable drift into a form of neo-Arianism. Many “low” Christologies
so focus on the humanity of Jesus that they fail to give an adequate ac-
count of His divinity. They call Jesus a “human person,” but fail to alert
the reader to the fact that a human person cannot qualify as a divine
person. They call for a contemporary endorsement of “adoptionism” and
portray Jesus as a graced human being rather than as the personal human
incarnation of God. This study argues that one should replace the term
“low Christology” thus interpreted with “bad Christology.”
In these three volumes, I respond to the contemporary Christological
crisis by laying systematic theological foundations for Christological faith
in Lonergan’s sense of foundational. Lonergan’s method suggests that a
strictly normative theology of conversion provides the criteria needed to
distinguish between true and false theological doctrines. Volumes one
and two have explored the kinds of religious experiences on which doc-
trinal Christology reflects. In this third and final volume I shall test whether
a Christology which examines the kinds of realities encountered within a
Christian experience of conversion does in fact allow one to distinguish
sound from unsound Christological doctrines.
Because this foundational Christology reflects normatively on Chris-
tian conversion, it targets the restored catechumenate. I presuppose, how-
ever, that a Christology which addresses the faith needs of adult converts
will simultaneously address the faith needs of fully initiated Christians
who face the life-long process of ongoing conversion. A foundational
Christology asks the question: How ought an integrally converted Chris-
tian to relate experientially to Jesus Christ?
Laying foundations for a catechesis which addresses the needs of cat-
echumens and of adult Christians differs from formulating such a
catechesis. Instead of constructing a catechetical program for specific con-
verts, a foundational Christology thinks through systematically the kinds
of Christological issues on which a sound catechesis has to build. Those
who supervise the restored catechumenate will, then, need to adapt the
results of these foundational reflections to the needs of specific catechu-
mens. By the same token, adult Christians will need to ponder prayer-
fully the relevance of a Christology of conversion to their personal lives
and communities.
This study also ambitions an inculturated North American Christo-
logy. Inculturated religion actualizes a particular religious faith in a spe-
8 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

cific cultural context. Inculturated theology serves the needs of that actu-
Ordinarily, the process of religious inculturation takes generations, even
centuries. It begins with an attempt to translate an unfamiliar religion,
which derives from one culture, into terms which people living in an-
other culture can understand. Initial translation ordinarily gives rise to a
second stage of inculturation, namely, the assimilation of the new reli-
gion in some depth. Finally, in the third and last phase of inculturation,
the assimilated religion finds itself socially well placed to enter into a
transformative dialogue with the host culture. The resulting transforma-
tion ordinarily affects both the religion and the culture. All three stages
of inculturation can and often do overlap or run simultaneously in differ-
ent persons and situations.
The Christology developed in this study addresses culture in the United
States. From a methodological standpoint, it responds to three interre-
lated challenges. 1) This Christology seeks to speak with a Yankee idiom.
It invokes a metaphysics of experience systematically derived from the
North American philosophical tradition. 2) This study also challenges
the sinfulness of United States culture. As we shall see, practical Christo-
logy deals especially with relevant moral and social issues. 3) In a con-
temporary context, inculturated theological thinking needs also to take
into account the internationalization of culture. Accordingly, the Christo-
logy developed in these pages seeks to advance the dialogue between the
North American church and the world Church. It therefore takes into
account both the official pastoral magisterium and the state of Christo-
logical thinking in other parts of the world.
I owe a considerable debt of gratitude to Joseph Tetlow, S.J., Frank
Oppenheim, S.J., Simon Hendry, S.J., Robert Lassalle-Klein, Alejandro
Garcia-Ribera, William Spohn, Jay Johnson, and the other members of
the John Courtney Murray Group for their many suggestions for im-
proving this volume. I also need to express my gratitude to David Beckman
for reading the final chapter and for making very helpful suggestions for
improving it.

Donald L. Gelpi, S.J.

The Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley
Chapter 1: The Beloved Disciple: His Community, His Prologue 9

Part 1
The Transition to Doctrines:
Johannine Narrative Christology

Chapter 1
The Beloved Disciple:
His Community, His Prologue
This chapter begins a linkage analysis of the fourth gospel. Linkage analysis
examines the literary devices employed by an evangelist in order to stitch
together his largely anecdotal account of Jesus into a more or less unified
literary whole. As we saw in volume two, the linkage analysis here em-
ployed understands a gospel as a narrative whole by examining its dra-
matic, thematic, and allusive linkages. The application of linkage analysis
to all four gospels allows one to compare and contrast them dialectically
as narrative frames of reference which make a Christological statement.
As we have already seen, every narrative has a narrator and an audience.
The first part of this chapter therefore summarizes what historical-critical
method has to tell us about the Beloved Disciple, who wrote the fourth
gospel, and about the community for whom he wrote it. Part two exam-
ines the prologue to the fourth gospel and the themes which it enunciates.

John’s gospel gives little internal evidence of direct dependence on the
synoptic tradition, although some have argued that the Beloved Disciple
at least knew Mark. More likely, the fourth evangelist, like the synoptic
writers, drew on the oral and, perhaps, written traditions about Jesus
available to him. Those traditions echo on occasion synoptic themes; but
on the whole the fourth evangelist seems to have preferred his own sources
for telling Jesus’ story.

The Community of the Beloved Disciple

The fourth gospel gives evidence of having emerged from a community
in crisis. The evangelist seems to feel the need to define his position over
against a variety of adversaries.They include 1) the disciples of John the
Baptizer, 2) the Jewish community, who had already expelled the Johannine
Christians from the synagogue, and 3) dissident Christians within the
Johannine community who denied several basic Christian beliefs, among
them the divinity of Jesus, His presence in the eucharist, and the saving
character of His death.
10 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The Johannine community probably arose in or near Palestine. Its

members probably included former followers of John the Baptizer and
some eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry, among them the Beloved Disciple
himself. A second group with Samaritan connections may have merged
with the original community. Like the Hellenistic Christians who seem
to have first evangelized Samaria, the members of the second group ex-
hibited a strong anti-temple bias. The Johannine community seems also
to have contained Gentile converts; and it also seems at least possible that
at some point the community moved to the Diaspora. Eventually, the
Christian dissidents left the Johannine community and drifted toward
Gnosticism, while the rest of the community merged with the larger
sub-apostolic Church.1
The Johannine epistles give further evidence that the evangelist wrote
his gospel for a Christian community with serious internal divisions. While
the letters surely proceed from the community of the Beloved Disciple,
scholars debate whether or not they proceed from his pen or from that of
some other member of his community, possibly one of the later redactors of
the gospel. They also debate whether or not the gospel precedes the epistles.
The epistles, however, almost certainly postdate the gospel. The first
letter of John seems to presuppose familiarity with the text of the gospel
on whose themes it comments. Moreover, the letters give evidence that
the schism with the dissidents, which the gospel may have tried to avert,
had indeed happened. (1 Jn 2:18-9, 4:1; 2 Jn 7)
The letters of John also provide some evidence that his community
lacked adequate authority structures to deal with the heresy and schism
which divided it. (3 Jn 9-11) The Johannine church seems to have con-
sisted of a fellowship of house churches clustered around the Beloved
Disciple and around his teaching; but, initially at least, the Johannine
community probably lacked the more formal ecclesial structures of leader-
ship which had begun to characterize the great Church. The Johannine com-
munities did, however, have elders, or presbyters. (3 Jn 1) Traveling mission-
aries seem to have linked the cluster of Johannine communities.2 (2 Jn 10)
1. Cf. Raymond E. Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple: The Life, Loves, and
Hates of an Individual Church in New Testament Times (New York, NY: Paulist, 1979);
“The Gospel According to John—An Overview,” Chicago Studies, 37(1998), pp. 5-15;
Oscar Cullmann, The Johannine Circle, translated by John Bowden (London: SCM
Press, 1975); Günther Reim, “Zur Lokalisierung der Johanneischen Gemeinde,”
Biblische Zeitschrift, 32(1988), pp. 72-86; Stanley B. Marrow, S.J., “Johannine
Ecclesiology,” Chicago Studies, 37(1998), pp. 16-26; John F. O’Grady, “The Beloved
Disciple, His Community, His Church,” Chicago Studies, 37(1998), pp. 5-15.
2. The first epistle’s author writes that, because the members of the Johannine community
have the enlightenment of their Breath-inspired traditions concerning the revelation
made in Jesus, they do not need anyone to teach them the truth. As a consequence, the
author of the letter seeks not to catechize them, but to warn them “about those who
deceive you.” (1 Jn 2:26)
Chapter 1: The Beloved Disciple: His Community, His Prologue 11

Some opine that the Diotrephes of the third letter, seems to have re-
fused to choose openly between the Beloved Disciple and his followers,
In explaining why he is writing, the author of the first Johannine letter implicitly
betrays the one of the problems in the Johannine community: the belief that the divine
Breath directly inspires each of its members. While belief in the Breath’s direct
inspiration expresses a truth, it could easily lead to a distorted, individualistic, “inner
light” mysticism.
The first letter names the liars against whom the community needs to guard: 1)
anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ and 2) anyone who denies that Jesus is the
Son of God. (1 Jn 2:22) In the gospel of John, faith in Jesus as the incarnate Son of God
grounds faith in Him as messiah. The incarnation redefines the meaning of Jewish
messianic hope, because when the “Anointed One” appeared, the reality which He
embodied went far beyond the best hopes of the Jewish people. The letter warns that
those who deny the Son also deny the Father and therefore forfeit all claims to union
with both. Those who do confess Father and Son in virtue of that very confession
possess both. (1 Jn 2:23)
The exhortation which closes the first letter of John also illustrates the problem of
discerning the authentic inspiration of the divine Breath. The exhortation makes the
following points:
1) The fact that the dissidents claim the inspiration of the Breath of God for their
false teaching confronts the Johannine community with a problem in discernment. Not
every religious impulse which claims divine inspiration automatically enjoys it. (1 Jn 4:1)
2) In this the final age of salvation, false prophets abound. The multiplication of
lying prophetic voices makes the question of discernment all the more important and
acute. (1 Jn 4:1)
3) In the problem of discernment facing the Johannine community, a basic doctrinal
criterion allows believers to distinguish between the Breath of God and false prophecy:
namely, authentic prophecy from God “acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the
flesh.” False prophecy denies this fundamental truth. The Breath who proceeds from
the incarnate Christ could never inspire a denial of His incarnation. Those therefore
who deny the incarnation speak in the name of Antichrist. (1 Jn 4:2-4)
4) It follows, therefore, that only those who agree with the author of the first letter
speak in the name of God. (1 Jn 4:6)
5) The members of the Johannine community by confessing the incarnation of the
Son of God have already overcome the world and the false prophets who deceive it. The
Johannine community therefore belongs to God and not to the world. (1 Jn 4:4-6)
Cf. NJBC, 62: 28; Brown, Epistles, pp. 485-511; Klauch, op. cit., I, pp. 226-245;
Ignace de la Potterie, Au service de la parole de Dieu (Gembloux: Éditions J. Dudulot,
1969); H.H. Wendt, “Die Beziehung unseres ersten Johannesbriefes auf den zweiten,”
Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 21(1922), pp. 140-146; C. Spicq,
O.P., “La place ou le rôle des jeunes dans certaines communautes néotestamentaires,”
Revue Biblique, 76(1969), pp. 508- 527; John H. Elliot, “Ministry and Church Order
in the NT: A Traditio-Historical Analysis (1 Pt5, 1 & plls.),” Catholic Biblical
Quarterly, 32(1970), pp. 367-391; J. Michl, “Der Geist als Garant des rechten
Glaubens” in Vom Wort des Lebens (Münster: Aschendorf, 1951), pp. 142-151; Beda
Rigaux, L’Antichrist et l’opposition au royaume messianique dans l’Ancien et le Nouveau
Testament (Gembloux: Éditions J. Duculot, 1932); Pheme Perkins, “John’s Gospel
and Gnostic Christologies: The Nag Hammadi Evidence,” Anglican Theological
Review, Supplement 11(1990), pp. 68-76; François Vouga, “The Johannine School: A
Gnostic Primitive Tradition in Primitive Christianity,” Biblica, 69(1988), pp. 371-385;
Hans-Josef Klauk, “Kyria ekklêsia in Bauers Wörterbuch und die Exegese des zweiten
12 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

on the one hand, and the dissident members of the Johannine commu-
nity, on the other; but the failure of the third letter to mention the dissi-
dents casts doubt on that particular hypothesis. Some hypothesize (on
very little hard evidence) that Diotrephes was in fact attempting to estab-
lish the more stable leadership structures which eventually enabled the
Johannine community to blend into the larger apostolic Church.3 (3 Jn 9-11)
One cannot date the fourth gospel with any accuracy. The first version
of the gospel could conceivably have appeared sometime between the
years 70 and 85 a.d., although the text of John as we possess it gives
evidence of subsequent redactional editing and revision. Some date the
first gospel text even earlier. Ephesus ranks among the main contenders
for place of composition, although we cannot say for certain that the
fourth gospel emerged from that community.
Nor can one state with any certainty that John, the son of Zebedee,
wrote the fourth gospel. Of the four evangelists, however, the Beloved

Johannesbriefs,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 81(1990), pp.

135-138; “Zur rhetorischen Analyse der Johannesbriefe,” Zeitschrift für die
Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 81(1990), pp. 205-224; Bernhard Bonsack, “Der
Presbyteros des dritten Briefs und der geliebte Jünger des Evangeliums nach Johannes,”
Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 79(1988), pp. 45-62.
3. Cf. Jean Colson, L’énigme du disciple que Jésus aimet (Paris: Beauschense et ses Fils,
1969); M. de Jonge, “The Beloved Disciple and the Date of the Gospel of John” in Text
and Interpretation, edited by E. Best and R. McL. Wilson (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1979) pp. 99-114; Lewis Johnson, “Who Was the Beloved Disciple?”
Expository Times, 77(1966), pp. 157-158; Donald G. Rogers, “Who was the Beloved
Disciple,” Expository Times, 77(1966), pp. 213-214; Lewis Johnston, “The Beloved
Disciple—A Reply,” Expository Times, 77(1966), p. 380; B. Grey Griffith, “The
Disciple Whom Jesus Loved,” Expository Times, 32(1920-1921), pp. 379-381; H.
Mudie Draper, “The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved,” Expository Times, 32(1920-1921),
pp. 428-429; Floyd V. Vinson, “Who Was the Beloved Disciple?” Catholic Biblical
Quarterly, 68(1949), pp. 83-88; J. Edgar Bruns, “Ananda: The Fourth Evangelist’s
Model for the ‘Disciple Whom Jesus Loved,’” Studies in Religion, 3(1973-1974), pp.
236-243; N.E. Johnson, “The Beloved Disciple and the Fourth Gospel,” Church
Quarterly Review, 167(1966), pp. 278-291; Leon Morris, Studies in the Fourth Gospel
(Devon: Paternoster Press, 1969), pp. 139-214; G.D. Kilpatrick, “What John Tells Us
about John” in Studies in John (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1970), pp. 75-87; Paul S. Minear,
“The Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John,” Novum Testamentum, 19(1977), pp.
105-123; Jürgen Roloff, “Der johanneische ‘Lieblingsjünger’ und der Lehrer der
Gerichtigkeit,” New Testament Studies, 15(1968-1969), pp. 129-151; Eric L. Titus,
“The Identity of the Beloved Disciple,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 69(1950),
pp.323-328; Robert M. Price, “The Sitz-im-leben of Third John: A New Reconstruc-
tion,” Evangelical Quarterly, 61(1989), pp. 109-119; David J. Hawkins, “Johannine
Christianity and Ideological Commitment,” Expository Times, 102(1990), pp. 74- 77;
D.C. Parker, “The International Greek New Testament Project: The Gospel of John,”
New Testament Studies, 36(1990), pp. 157-160; Philip W. Comfort, “The Greek Text
of the Gospel of John According to Early Papyri,” New Testament Studies, 36(1990),
pp. 625-629; John Christopher Thomas, “The Order of the Composition of the
Johannine Epistles,” Novum Testamentum, 37(1995), pp. 68-75.
Chapter 1: The Beloved Disciple: His Community, His Prologue 13

Disciple shows the most accurate knowledge of first-century Palestinian

geography. The accuracy of his geography buttresses his claim to have
personally witnessed the events he narrates. Although scholars have tried
to identify the Beloved Disciple with specific New Testament figures, like
Lazarus or Barnabas, the absence of evidence makes firm identification
One may legitimately divide the fourth gospel into four parts: 1) the
Prologue (Jn 1:1-18); 2) the Book of Signs, which describes the public
ministry of Jesus in terms of a series of six revelatory miracles, each fol-
lowed, except for the first, second, and last by an explanatory discourse of
Jesus (Jn 1:19-12:50) ; 3) the Book of Glory, which narrates the passion,
death, and resurrection of Jesus as well as His sending of the Breath. (Jn
13:1-20:31); 4) the Epilogue, which appends stories of a post-resurrection
appearance in Galilee.5 (Jn 21:1-25)

The fourth gospel begins, not with an infancy narrative but with a hymn
interlaced with prose commentary. Probably of liturgical origin, the hymn
could conceivably have originated in the Johannine community. Either
the original evangelist or the final redactor of the gospel clearly intended
the hymn to introduce the gospel because two of the prose interpolations
refer to the ministry of John the Baptizer, which opens John’s narrative.
In addition, verse 11—”He came to his own, yet His own people re-
ceived Him not”—alludes in part to the Book of Signs; and verse 12—

4. Cf. Floyd V. Filson, “Who Was the Beloved Disciple?” Catholic Biblical Quarterly,
68(1949), pp. 83-88; John W. Pryor, “The Great Thanksgiving and the Fourth
Gospel,” Biblische Zeitschrift, 35(1991), pp. 157-179; Nicholas G. Timmins, “Varia-
tions in Style in the Johannine Literature,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament,
53(1994), pp. 47-64; Richard Bauckham, “The Beloved Disciple as Ideal Author,”
Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 49(1993), pp. 21-44; Duane F. Watson,
“Amplification Techniques in 1 John: The Interaction of Rhetorical Style and
Invention,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 51(1993), pp. 99-123; M.C. de
Boer, “Narrative Criticism, Historical Criticism, and the Gospel of John,” Journal for
the Study of the New Testament, 47(1992), pp. 35-48; Alastair H.B. Logan, “John and
the Gnostics: The Significance of the Apocryphon of John for the Debate about the
Origins of the Johannine Tradition,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament,
43(1991), pp. 41-69; Martin Rese, “Das Selbstzeugnis des Johannesevangeliums über
seinen Verfasser,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis, 72(1996), pp. 75-111; F.
Neirynck, “The Anonymous Disciple in John 1,”Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis,
66(1990), pp. 5-37.
5. For an alternative division, see: Charles H. Giblin, S.J., “The Tripartite Narrative
Structure of John’s Gospel,” Biblica, 71(1990), pp. 449-468; see also: Ruth B.
Edwards, “Reading the Book 4. The Gospel According to John,” Expository Times,
108(1997), pp. 101-105; Michael Oberweis, “Unbeachtete Lk-Parallelen in Stoffauswahl
und -Anordnung des Vierten Evangeliums,” Epehemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis,
72(1996), pp. 321-337.
14 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

”But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power
to become children of God”—alludes to the Book of Glory.
The hymn also introduces a number of other themes which the gospel
develops in considerable detail: Jesus’ pre-existence; His possession of
divine life as a personal prerogative; the fact that He functions as the
saving light of the world and of all humans; the conflict between light
and darkness; Jesus’ revelation of the divine glory; Jesus’ revelation as the
only Son of God.
Nevertheless, one also finds significant contrasts between the Prologue
and the gospel. The hymn celebrates the “Word (Logos)” of God (Jn 1:1);
but nowhere else in the gospel does one find “the Word” applied to Jesus
as a Christological title. Other key terms in the hymn also find no echo
in the gospel. After the prologue, the evangelist never again uses “charis”
as a term for covenant love. The term “fullness (pleroma)” which occurs
in verses 14 and 16 never reappears. The term “truth (aletheia),” which in
the prologue means “abiding fidelity,” means something quite different
in the gospel. Nor does the image of Jesus as having “pitched his tent”
among humans recur in the gospel narrative.
I shall consider the evangelist’s prose interpolations concerning John
and his ministry in the next chapter, which examines the Beloved Disciple’s
use of positive dramatic linkages. Here I focus exclusively on the four
poetic strophes of the hymn and on the other doctrinal comments which
the evangelist appends to the third and fourth strophes (vv. 17-8). The
first strophe (vv. 1-2) describes the relationship between the pre-existent
Word and God. The second (vv.3-5) explains the Word’s relationship to
creation. The third (vv. 10-12b) gives an account of the Word’s relation-
ship to “the world” and to the people in it. The fourth strophe (vv. 14
and 16) asserts the Word’s saving relationship to those who believe in
Him. The final doctrinal reflection which the evangelist appends to the
hymn functions both as a biblical inclusion (it alludes to the first stro-
phe) and as a reflection on strophes three and four.6
6. Cf. Schyler Brown, “Christology and the History of the Johannine Community in the
Prologue of the Fourth Gospel,” New Testament Studies, 30(1984), pp. 446-474; E.L.
Miller, “The Logic of the Logos Hymn: A New View,” New Testament Studies,
29(1983), pp. 552- 561; Gerard Rochais, “La formation du Prologue (Jn 1, 1-18),”
Science et Esprit, 1(1985), pp. 5-44, 2(1985), pp. 161-187; J.A.T. Robinson, “The
Relation of the Prologue to the Gospel of John,” New Testament Studies, 9(1962-1963),
pp. 120-129; Walter Schmithals, “Das Prolog des Johannesevangeliums,” Zeitschrift
für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 70(1979), pp. 16- 43; J.C. O’Neill, “The
Prologue to St. John’s Gospel,” Journal of Theological Studies, 20(1969), pp. 41-52;
Humphrey C. Green, “The Composition of St. John’s Prologue,” Expository Times,
66(1954-1955), pp. 291-294; Michael Theobald, Im Anfang war das Wort (Stuttgart:
Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1983); A. Feuillet, Le prologue du quatrième évangile (Paris:
Descleé de Brouwer, 1968); Joachim Jeremias, Der Prolog Johannesevangeliums (Stuttgart:
Caliver Verlag, 1967); Thomas H. Tobin, “The Prologue of John and Hellenistic
Chapter 1: The Beloved Disciple: His Community, His Prologue 15
The Hymnic Prologue
The first strophe proclaims:

In the beginning was the Word (ho Logos),

And the Word was with God (pros ton Theon),
And the Word was God (kai Theos ên ho Logos).
He was in the beginning with God (pros ton Theon).
(Jn 1:1-2)

What does John mean by “the Word”? Here one needs to avoid reading
into the evangelist’s text Platonized, patristic interpretations of the term
“Word.” The hymn speaks dispensational rather than metaphysical lan-
guage: it recapitulates the story of divine salvation from before the cre-
ation to the coming of Jesus. As we shall see in part two, one strain of
patristic theology interprets “the Word” in the light of middle and
Neo-Platonic metaphysics. This particular Platonization of the Johannine
Logos (the tradition offers others) views “the Word” as the conceived word
of God, i.e. as the divine mind or intelligence. As the dispensational lan-
guage of the hymn suggests, however. the Beloved Disciple probably un-
derstands “the Word” historically, as the spoken word of God, as the one
through whom God creates the world and reveals His saving glory. As we
shall soon see, other verses in the prologue support such a reading of the
Johannine Logos.
The phrase “in the beginning” alludes to Gen 1:1: “In the beginning
God created the heavens and the earth.” When God created, the Word
already was. The imperfect tense in the verb “to be” asserts that, when
God created all things, the Word already enjoyed existence. One might,
then, translate the first verse of the prologue in the following manner: “In
the beginning, the Word was already existing.” In the Beloved Disciple’s
narrative, Jesus’ frequent use of the divine name, I AM alludes to the
Word’s eternal pre-existence. The Word does not come into being, in the
way in which creatures do: it simply exists as God does.7
Jewish Speculation,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 52(1990), pp. 252-269; Domingo
Muñoz Leon, “Las Fuentes y Estadios de Composicion del Prologo de Juan segun
Hofrichter,” Estudios Biblicos, 49(1991), pp. 229-250; Warren Carter, “The Prologue
and John’s Gospel: Function, Symbol, and Definitive Word,” Journal for the Study of
the New Testament, 39(1990), pp. 35- 58; Roland Meynet, S.J., “Analyse théologique
du prologue de Jean,” Revue Biblique, 96(1989), pp. 481-510; Michael Theobald,
“Geist- und Inkarnationstheologie: zur Pragmatik des Johannesprologs,” Zeitschrift für
Katolische Theologie, 112(1990), pp. 129-149; Piet Schoonenberg, “A Sapiential
Reading of John’s Prologue: Some Reflections on Views of Reginald Fuller and James
Dunn,” Theology Digest, 33(1986), pp. 403-421; Simon Ross Valentine, “The Johannine
Prologue—a Microcosm of the Gospel,” Evangelical Quarterly, 68(1996), pp. 291- 304.
7. Cf. George Neyrand, “Le sens du ‘logos’ dans le prologue de Jean,” Nouvelle Revue
Théologique, 106(1984), pp. 59-71; David Hill, “The Relevance of Logos Christology,”
Expository Times, 78(1967), pp. 136-139; Werner H. Kelber, “In the Beginning Were
16 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The phrase “with God (pros ton Theon)” suggests that the Word existed
“beside God” as a co-eternal reality; but the proposition also connotes
relationship. The Word exists “turned toward God.” Moreover, as the
hymn proceeds it explicates the character of that relationship. Through
the Word God creates the world, effects saving enlightenment, and re-
veals His own glory. The hymn’s assertion that “the Word was God” also
finds an echo in the confession of Thomas—”My Lord and my God”—
which closes the gospel as the evangelist originally wrote it. (Jn 20:28)
Moreover, as the gospel unfolds the Son’s orientation to the Father ex-
presses itself in His unswerving obedience to the Father’s will.
Although John alone of the four evangelists deals with the pre-existence
of the Son of God, the idea of pre-existence probably predates Paul and
surfaces in the hymns reproduced in Philippians and Colossians. The
presence of pre-existence in three different New Testament hymns deriv-
ing from two different New Testament traditions suggests that the idea
enjoyed early currency in Christian liturgical worship.
Only the fourth evangelist tells the story of Jesus in a way which makes
His divine pre-existence a central doctrinal point of his gospel narrative.
John did not invent the idea of divine pre-existence; but, as we shall see,
he did develop it with theological complexity and subtlety.
Of the four evangelists, only John develops a language for talking about
the Christian God which begins to approximate the more technical philo-
sophical language of the fathers of the Church. John, however, modifies
biblical language in order to speak about the trinity instead of replacing it
with philosophical terminology, as the fathers would do. John speaks of
three distinct divine realities in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and
the Breath [or “other witness (Paraklêtos)” like Jesus]. Moreover, the evan-
gelist uses two other Biblical terms in order to designate what the three
divine beings share in common: “God (Theos)” without the article (as
here) and “Breath (pneuma)” without the article. “Pneuma,” moreover,
designates not only the vital reality common to the three members of the
divine triad but also the divine life They share with believers. (Cf. 3:6,
4:24, 6:63) Moreover, as we shall see, John’s gospel also suggests a rubric
for understanding the divine unity: namely, the dynamic, mutual ind-
welling of the divine persons. (Cf. Jn 14:10-1)
The fourth verse of the first strophe repeats and underscores both the
eternal existence of the Word and His relationship to God. (Jn 1:2a) The
following strophes explain the character of that relationship.8

the Words: The Apotheosis and Narrative Displacement of the Logos,” Journal of the
American Academy of Religion, 62(1994), pp. 343-375; Ed. L. Miller, “The Johannine
Origins of the Johannine Logos,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 112(1993), pp.
445-457; Burkill, New Light on the Earliest Gospel, pp. 48-120.
8. Cf. NJBC, 61:21-22.
Chapter 1: The Beloved Disciple: His Community, His Prologue 17

The second strophe asserts:

All things came to exist through Him,

And without Him (choris autou) nothing made came to exist.
In Him was life,
And the life was the light of humans (to phôs tôn anthrôpôn).
And the light shines on in the darkness,
And the darkness has not suppressed it (ou katelaben).
(Jn 1:3-5)

The first two verses of the second strophe portray the Word as the one
through whom God creates the world. One finds creation attributed to
the Son in other books of the New Testament. (Cf. Col 1:15-20; Heb
1:1-2; Rev 3:14) Moreover, here, as elsewhere in the New Testament,
creation through the Word connotes the existence of all things in the
Word: nothing exists apart from Him (choris autou).
The second verse of the second strophe also finds an echo later in Jesus’
final discourse to His disciples: “Without Me (choris emou) you can do
nothing.” (Jn 15:5) There too, the term “choris” not only designates Jesus
as the source of the disciples’ activity but also as the one in whom they exist.
Moreover, in the Prologue the light exists “in Him”; and, as the gospel will
assert, all those who live in the light also live in Him. (Jn 15:4)
In portraying the whole of creation as an expression of the Word of
God, the hymn underscores its revelatory character. Verse 10 will assert
the obscurity of that revelation: the world which came to be through the
Word did not acknowledge its divine source.
In designating the Word as the source of life, the hymn again alludes to
the book of Genesis, which portrays God as the source of all living things
and especially of human life. (Gen 1:1-2:7) The hymn’s identification of
life and light also recalls the priestly account of creation in Genesis, where
God makes light as the first of His creatures. (Gen 1:3) By calling life “the
light of humans,” however, the hymn also identifies light with the saving and
enlivening enlightenment of the Breath.9 (Jn 4:14, 7:37-9; Gen 3:1-7)
The present tense of the verb “shines (phainei)” connotes a continuous
activity. Despite the obtuseness and enmity of the darkness, the light
continues to shine. In the course of his gospel, moreover, the Beloved
Disciple will show how the struggle between the forces of light and dark-
ness, of God and Satan, leads to the ever clearer disclosure of the true
character of both antagonists. As it confronts the dark, the light shines
9. Cf. Georg Korting, “Joh 1,3,” Biblische Zeitschrift, 33(1989), pp. 97-104; Peter Cohee,
“John 1.3-4,” New Testament Studies, 41(1995), pp. 470-477; Jens W. Täger,
“‘Gesiegt! O himmlische Musik des Wortes!: Zur Entfaltung des Siegmotiv für
Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft und die Kunde der Alteren Kirche,” Zeitschrift für
die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 85(1994), pp. 26-46.
18 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

more and more brightly, while the forces of darkness, in their relentless
attempt to suppress the light, disclose ever more clearly their violence,
malice, and hypocrisy.
The term “katêlaben” resists easy translation into English because of
the richness of its connotations in Greek. It suggests cognitive obtuse-
ness: the failure of the darkness either to understand or to appreciate the
nature of the light. The same verb, however, can also mean to master or
to overcome. Given the poetic diction of the hymn, it could conceivably
connote all these things simultaneously. The darkness, in its inability to
understand and appreciate the light seeks to master and extinguish it, but
all to no avail.10
The third strophe announces:

It was the true light

which enlightens every human
who was coming into the world (erchomenon eis ton kosmon).
He was in the world
And the world came to exist through Him,
And the world knew Him not.
He came to His own
And His own people received Him not.
But to all those who received Him
He gave power to become children of God (tekna Theou). (Jn 1:9-12)

In designating the Word’s light as “true” the hymn implicitly contrasts

true and false enlightenment. “True light” reveals the truth, while false
enlightenment deceives. Moreover, “true light” excludes no one from its
saving illumination: it seeks to enlighten every human mind and heart.
The phrase “was coming into the world (erchomenon eis ton kosmon)
would seem to modify the “true light” rather than “every human.” If one
takes it as modifying “every human,” the phrase alludes redundantly to
the fact of human birth. If, however, one takes it as referring to the Light,
then the phrase designates an ongoing process of enlightenment. In that
case, the coming of Jesus into the world and to His own people functions
as the culmination of an historical process of the divine Word’s revela-
tion. His rejection by the world brings to a climax its failure to recognize
creation as a revelation of the Word. By the same token, Jesus’ rejection
10. Cf. NJBC, 61:21-22; Peder Borgen, “Logos Was the True Light,” Novum Testamen-
tum, 14(1972), pp. 115-130; C.K. Barrett, “Katelaben in John i, 5” Expository Times,
53(1941- 1942), p. 297; Herbert Schneider, S.J., “‘The Word Was Made Flesh’: An
Analysis of the Theology of Revelation in the Fourth Gospel,” Catholic Biblical
Quarterly, 3(1969), pp. 344- 356; Bruce Vawter, “What Came to Be in Him was Life”
(Jn 1,3b-4a), Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 25(1963), pp. 401-406; Jürgen Becker,
“Beobachtungen zum Dualismus in Johannesevangelium,” Zeitschrift für die
Neutestamentalische Wissenschaft, 65(1974), pp. 71- 87.
Chapter 1: The Beloved Disciple: His Community, His Prologue 19

by the chosen people brings to an historical climax their disobedience to

the Word of God. The coming of the light into the world has, moreover,
messianic connotations.11 (Cf. Is 9:2, 42:6, 60:1-2)
The doctrinal comment after the fourth strophe further teases out the
historical character of divine revelation. There the evangelist notes: “For
the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus
Christ.” (Jn 1:17) The Beloved Disciple regards Moses and the Law as
true divine witnesses to the event of Jesus. (Jn 5:46-7) Nevertheless, the
full and final manifestation of the “true light” which subsists in the Word
happens finally in the incarnation and especially in the final glorification
of the Word through His passion, resurrection, and sending of the Breath.
That revelation overcomes the insufficiency of the revelation made through
creation and through Mosaic religion.
Those who accept the “true light” find it empowering: it enables them
to live as children (tekna) of God. The fourth evangelist reserves the term
“Son (huios)” for Jesus, who enjoys divine sonship in a unique and privi-
leged way. The term “tekna” designates those who enjoy filiation through
the action of divine grace. The children of God live in the image of the
Word incarnate through the grace of adoption.
At this point the evangelist inserts a prose explanation of the kind of
gracious empowerment of which he speaks: “those who were born not
from blood, nor from the will of the flesh, nor from the human will, but
of God.” (Jn 1:13) The evangelist excludes any biological cause of second
birth (not from blood). (Cf. Jn 3:4-6) He also excludes sexual craving or
human decision as the cause of the second birth which he describes. Only
God can transform humans graciously into His children. The evangelist
will develop this idea of a second birth in his gospel when Jesus dis-
courses at night with the Pharisee Nichodemus. There Jesus will attribute
second birth to Christian baptism and to the action of the Breath of the
risen Christ. As we shall also see, the term “children (tekna)” in Johannine
vocabulary can serve as the equivalent of “believers.” (Jn 3:1-6)
The fourth strophe concludes the hymn:

And the Word became flesh (Kai Logos sarx egeneto)

And pitched His tent among us.
And we have seen His glory,
Glory as of the Only-Begotten of the Father
Full of grace and truth (charitos kai alêtheias).
For from His fullness (ek tou plêrômatos autou) we have
all received,
Grace upon grace (charin anti charitos). (Jn 1:14, 16)

11. Cf. John W. Pryor, “Jesus and Israel in the Fourth Gospel—John 1:11,” Novum
Testamentum, 32(1990), pp. 201-218; NJBC, 61:24.
20 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The Word’s coming into the world reaches its culmination in the incar-
nation. As the divine Word incarnate, Jesus confronts us as the supreme
historical revelation of God. The hymn contrasts the eternal existence of
the Logos (vv. 1-2) and His coming to be (egeneto) as flesh, i.e., as fully
human and as subjected to the weakness and mortality of human exist-
ence. Some prefer to translate “egeneto” as “was born.”
We find a second contrast. The Word who dwells eternally in God’s
presence dwelt only for a time (set up his tent) among humans. The
image of the tent recalls Yahweh’s tenting among the Israelites during the
first Exodus (Cf. Ex 25:8-9) as well as the dwelling of Wisdom among
mortals (Cf. Sir 24:13). The image, then, points to the humanity of Jesus,
in all its limitation and human mortality, as the temple of God and as the
glorious dwelling place of divine Wisdom.
Finally, the fourth strophe clearly contrasts the divinity of the eternal
Word (v. 1) with His fleshy, human existence. Given the fourth evangelist’s
stress on the glorious saving power of Jesus’ death, one may detect a po-
lemic intent in the use of the term “flesh” to designate the humanity of
Jesus in its weakness and mortality.12
The incarnate Word confronts the believer as one “filled with grace and
truth.” The term “grace (charis)” here translates the Hebrew word “hesed,”
while the term “truth (alêtheia)” translates the Hebrew term “‘emet.” The
term “hesed” designates the mercy of God in gratuitously choosing Israel
despite its lack of merit, while “‘emet” designates God’s loving fidelity to
His covenant. In other words, the incarnate Word confronts the believer
as the supreme expression of God’s faithful covenant love. The fourth
gospel will develop this insight in considerable detail.
The plentitude of faithful covenant love finds an echo in the fullness of
divine grace which overflows from the incarnate and risen Jesus. Although
the term “pleroma” occurs only once in the fourth gospel, in verse 16 of
the prologue, one can see in the fullness of grace a tacit reference to the
eschatological plentitude with which the divine Breath dwells in Jesus.
(Cf. Jn 3:34) In that case the inexhaustible mercy which the prologue discov-
ers in the risen Christ coincides with the inexhaustible gift “without measure”
of the sanctifying Breath who dwells in Him.13 (cf. Jn 20:22-3)
The “we” of verse 14 refers to those who have beheld the glory of the
incarnate Word, viz., to the apostolic witnesses of His resurrection, al-
12. Cf. NJBC, 61:25; Klaus Berger, “Zu ‘Das Wort war Fleisch’ Joh. I, 14a,” Novum
Testamentum, 16(1974), pp. 161-166; Etienne Trochme, “La Parole devint chair et
dressa sa tente parmi nous: Réflexions sur la théologie du IVe Evangile,” Revue
d’Histoire et de Philosophie Religieuses, 74(1994), pp. 399-409; J.C. O’Neill, “The
Word Did not ‘Become’ Flesh,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft,
82(1991), pp. 125-127.
13. Cf. Ruth B. Edwards, “Charin anti charitos (John 1.16): Grace and the Law in the
Johannine Prologue,”Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 32(1988), pp. 3-15.
Chapter 1: The Beloved Disciple: His Community, His Prologue 21

though, as we shall see, faith in the risen Christ without confronting

Him face-to-race also constitutes an especially blessed way of “seeing” the
risen Christ. (Jn 20:29) The glory of the risen One reveals the unique
relationship of the Son to the Father. As the “only begotten Son” of God,
the Word relates to the Father as His Son in a unique and normative way
which both measures and transcends the relationship to the Father of
those whom the Word graciously transforms into the “children (tekna)”
of God (v. 12).
The apostolic witnesses experience the only-begotten Son as [coming]
“from the Father.” i.e., as sent into the world by the Father. The phrase
“from the Father” refers therefore to the historical mission of the Word
rather than to His eternal procession from the Father, although in later
patristic trinitarian theology mission will reveal procession.

No one has ever seen God; the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of
the Father, He opened the way to Him. (Jn 1:18)

Some scripture scholars would include verse 18 in the prologue. More-

over, some manuscripts speak, not of “the only-begotten Son” but of “the
only-begotten God,” although “only-begotten Son” provides the better
reading. The verse’s diction, however, differs sufficiently from the rest of
the prologue (note, for example, the lack of kai’s) to suggest that it comes
from the pen of the evangelist rather than from the hymn’s composer.
Does the reference to the Son’s presence “in the bosom of the Father”
refer to Jesus’ ascension after His resurrection and reflect that pattern of
divine descent and ascent which characterizes the fourth gospel’s han-
dling of Jesus’ resurrection appearances? Possibly, but we shall probably
never know for certain.
Verse 18 closes the gospel’s hymnic introduction with a biblical inclu-
sion which refers back to the first verse of the prologue. The Son’s pres-
ence “in the bosom of the Father” echoes the fact that the Word dwells
eternally oriented “toward God” (v. 1), the Father. Moreover, together
with verse 17, verse 18 again designates the incarnate Word as the su-
preme, historical revelation of God’s faithful covenant love.14
14. Cf. NJBC, 61:26; Ignace de la Potterie, “C’est lui qui a ouvert la voie: la finale du
prologue johannique,” Biblica, 69(1988), pp. 340-370; Otfried Hofius, “‘Der in des
Vaters Schoss ist’ Joh 1,18,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 80(1989),
pp. 163-171; M.-E. Boismard, O.P., “‘Dans le sein du Père’ (Jo. 1,18),” Revue Biblique,
59(1952), pp. 23-39; Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John (2 vols.; New
York, NY: Doubleday, 1966), I, pp. 4-37; Ernst Hänchen, A Commentary on the Gospel
of John, translated by Robert W. Funk (2 vols.: Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1984), I, pp.
The first Johannine letter, which may have functioned as a kind of circular letter to
all the Johannine house churches (1 Jn 3:9), begins without a formal salutation and
clearly echoes themes from the prologue of the gospel.
22 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology
The Analogy of Christological Knowing
In studying the synoptic narrative Christology, I frequently reflected on
what I called “the analogy of Christological knowing.” By “Christological

We are announcing to you something we saw and heard, so that you might
have communion with us and communion with the Father and His Son, Jesus
Christ—something which existed from the beginning (ho ên ap’ archês), some-
thing we heard, something we saw with our eyes, something we perceived and
touched with our hands concerning the Word of life: this very life appeared
and we saw [it] and testify [to it]. And we are writing these things so that our
joy may reach fulfillment. (1 Jn 1:4)
In translating the above passage, one almost needs to paraphrase its fractured Greek
in order to render it into flowing English. Nevertheless, grammatically fractured or not,
the passage makes its point with sensate force.
The phrase “from the beginning” could conceivably allude to the opening words of
the Prologue of the gospel: “In the beginning the Word already was....” (Jn 1:1)
Scholars offer a variety of explanations for the shift in pronoun from “in” to “from.”
They also offer a variety of explanations of the term “beginning.”
In the context of the letter, however, “beginning” probably refers to the beginning
of Jesus’ ministry, i.e, the beginning of the sensible manifestation of the Word of life.
That could suggest that the Beloved Disciple himself, who claims in the gospel to have
witnessed Jesus’ ministry personally, wrote the first letter. (Cf. Jn 19:36, 21:24) The
“Word of life” would seem to refer to both the person and message of Jesus.
The introduction to the letter underscores a truth which the Prologue to the gospel
also asserts. The Prologue culminates in the proclamation that the eternal, pre-existent
Word of God became flesh. (Jn 1:1-5, 13-4) The introduction to the letter insists on
the physical, embodied character of “the Word, who is life.” The letter proclaims a
divine revelation which one could see, hear, and physically touch. (1 Jn 1:1)
Moreover, belief in the incarnate, physical, sensate character of the self-revelation of
the divine Word in Christ defines the basic condition for membership in the Johannine
At the same time, communion in faith also insures union with the living realities to
which faith testifies: namely, union with the Father and with Jesus Christ. (1 Jn 1:3)
Finally, communion with the reality of God in a community of faith motivates the
shared joy of believers. (1 Jn 1:4) The author of the first epistle regards the Breath of
God as the living foundation of that communion (1 Jn 3:23-4, 4:1-6, 5:5-12)
The second and third letters do not elaborate a formal Christological doctrine,
although the salutation of the second letter and its body make some clear doctrinal
Truly, I love you—and not only I but also those who have come to know the
truth, through the truth abiding in us which will remain with us forever. Grace,
mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father, and from Jesus Christ,
the Son of the Father, in truth and love. (2 Jn 1-3)
The author of the second letter greets those who all abide in the same truth as he.
Clearly, that truth includes the confession of the creator God as Father and Jesus Christ
as the Son of God. The author assures those to whom he writes that, if the truth
continues to “abide (menousan)” with them, it will confirm them in the truth forever.
Their abiding in the truth expresses their obedience to the Father, who commands just
such faith. (2 Jn 4)
Chapter 1: The Beloved Disciple: His Community, His Prologue 23

knowing” I mean the knowledge of Jesus which results from practical

assimilation to Him in the power of His Breath. By “the analogy of Christo-
logical knowing,” I mean the way in which a particular evangelist adapts
the story of Jesus to the conversion needs of a particular community with
a view to fostering its progress in practical, pneumatically inspired knowl-
edge of Jesus. The adaptations challenge a particular community of be-
lievers to face and to transcend specific obstacles to personal and corpo-
rate assimilation to Jesus in faith.
In analyzing Johannine narrative Christology, I shall also reflect on the
analogy of Christological knowing. The Beloved Disciple, as we shall see,
like the synoptic evangelists regards the knowledge of Jesus Christ as in-
herently practical. Because, however, the fourth evangelist writes for a
doctrinally divided community, he includes in his understanding of prac-
tical assimilation to Jesus “the deed of faith.” (Cf. Jn 6:28-29) Christian
practice, for the Beloved Disciple, includes acknowledging fully the di-
vine truth incarnate in Jesus. That knowledge has other moral conse-
quences; but the Beloved Disciple places consent to doctrinal truth about
the paschal mystery at the heart of Christological knowing.
Focal emphasis on the deed of faith already distinguishes the Beloved
Disciple’s mode of telling Jesus’ story from that of the synoptics. The
latter presuppose a context of faith as a condition for practical, moral
assimilation to Jesus in the power of His Breath. They tend, however, to

The author of the letter contrasts this truth with the fundamental error of the
dissidents, who “do not confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh.” (2 Jn 7) In denying
the fundamental truth of the incarnation, the dissidents have not only severed
connection with the rest of the Johannine community, but they have also forfeited their
share in divine life:
Everyone who departs and does not remain in the teaching of Christ does not
possess God. One who abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
(2 Jn 9)
Cf. NJBC, 62: 15, 36, 38; Brown, Epistles, pp. 149-188, 645-697; Klauck, op. cit.,
I, pp. 53-78; II, pp. 27-63; A. Feuillet, Le prologue du quatrième évangile (Paris: Desclée
de Brouwer, 1968), pp. 210-217; H.A. Guy, “1 John i, 1-3,” Expository Times,
62(1959-1951), p. 125; K. Greyston, “‘Logos’ in 1 John 1,1,” Expository Times,
86(1974-1975), p. 279; J.E. Weir, “The Identity of the Logos in the First Epistle of
John,” Expository Times, 86(1974-1975), pp. 118-120; M. de Jonge, “An Analysis of
1 John 1. 1-4” Bible Translator, 29(1978), pp. 322-330; Marc-François Lacan,
“L’oeuvre de la vie (1 Jo., 1, 4),” Recherches de Science Religieuse, 45(1957), pp. 61-78;
Joachim Kügler, “Die Belehrung der Unbelehrbaren: Zu Funktion des Traditions-
argument in 1 Joh,” Biblische Zeitschrift, 32(1988), pp. 249-254; Judith M. Lieu,
“What Was From the Beginning: Scripture and Tradition in the Johannine Epistles,”
New Testament Studies, 39(1993), pp. 458-477; Martinus C. de Boer, “The Death of
Jesus Christ and His Coming in the Flesh (1 John 4:2),” Novum Testamentum,
33(1991), pp. 326-346; Bart D. Ehrman, “1 Joh 4.3 and the Orthodox Corruption of
Scripture,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 79 (1988), pp. 221-243.
24 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

view obedience to the moral demands of life in the kingdom, rather than
doctrinal orthodoxy, as the practical test of faith.
The prologue to the fourth gospel reflects the fourth gospel’s doctrinal
focus. The prologue performs a literary function somewhat analogous to
the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke but closer to the hymn which
serves as the thematic introduction to the letter to the Colossians. Like
the infancy narratives, the Johannine prologue introduces themes which
the gospel narrative will develop in greater detail. Like the introductory
hymn in Colossians, the prologue focuses on doctrinal issues.
That the evangelist or a later redcator would prefer a hymn to an in-
fancy gospel as the literary form best suited to introduce the narrative
which follows, itself deserves attention and comment. Hymns express the
shared faith of a worshipping community. Liturgical in origin, they ap-
peal, when used as literary prefaces, directly to shared worship as the
proper context for understanding the text which they introduce. Like the
hymn in Colossians, the prologue to John enunciates a common faith
expressed in shared prayer, very likely in shared eucharistic worship. Shared
faith and worship, therefore, provide an important hermeneutical key to
the narrative which follows.
When, moreover, one views the three most extended liturgical hymns
cited in the New Testament (Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; Jn 1:1-18) as
expressions of shared faith and worship, then the fact that all three assert
the pre-existence of the divine reality embodied in Jesus of Nazareth sug-
gests that this particular Christological motif functioned as a significant
theme in early Christian liturgical worship. In the case of the Johannine
prologue, in affirming the Son of God’s pre-existence with the Father, the
hymn enunciates a central doctrinal focus of the fourth gospel. Divine
pre-existence also contextualizes the other doctrinal themes which the
prologue introduces and which the gospel develops.
This chapter has examined the social context from which the fourth
gospel probably emerged. It has also analyzed the literary and thematic
structure of the fourth gospel’s hymnic prologue. The chapter which fol-
lows begins an analysis of the fourth gospel’s narrative structure by pon-
dering its positive dramatic linkages.
Chapter 1: The Beloved Disciple: His Community, His Prologue 25

Chapter 2
John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages
This chapter examines the Beloved Disciple’s use of positive dramatic
linkages in order to structure the story of Jesus. The Johannine Jesus re-
lates positively to John the Baptizer, to the Father, to the Breath. As in the
synoptics, all these relationships have revelatory significance. In the fourth
gospel, however, Jesus also relates positively to two symbolic individuals:
namely, to the Beloved Disciple and to Mary.
This chapter divides into four parts. Part one examines Jesus’ relation-
ship to the Baptizer. Part two develops His relationship to the Father.
Part three describes how Jesus and the Breath relate. Part four depicts
Jesus’ relationship to the symbolic figures of Mary and of the Beloved

Two prose passages about John the Baptizer comment on the text of the
Prologue. Both concern the witness which John gave to Jesus. Both serve
the purpose of tying the Prologue to the account of John’s ministry which
immediately follows the prologue. The first prose passage about John in
the prologue states:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for
testimony (eis martyrian), in order to bear witness to the light, that all
might believe through Him. He was not the light; but came to bear wit-
ness to the light. (Jn 1:6-8)

Though only human, the Baptizer speaks with a divine authority derived
from his prophetic commissioning by God. Although in the synoptic
gospels, the Baptizer directs his message of repentance primarily to Israel,
the fourth evangelist here interprets the Baptizer’s ministry theologically
within the broad sweep of salvation history: since Jesus came to bring a
universal salvation, the Baptizer’s witness to the Word ultimately serves
that universal salvation, which Jesus alone effects. As the light of the world,
only Jesus effects a universal saving enlightenment through His gift of
the Breath. The Baptizer testifies to Jesus’ saving act.

John the Baptizer Testifies to Jesus

In the fourth gospel, God sends the Baptizer primarily in order to testify
to Jesus. Some commentators find in this circumscription of the Baptizer’s
ministry evidence of a confrontation between the Johannine community
and the disciples of the Baptizer. Possibly so.
26 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Without a doubt, however, in portraying the Baptizer as a witness to

Jesus, the Beloved Disciple introduces the forensic metaphor which he
will develop extensively in his narrative. By John’s forensic metaphor, I
mean that the evangelist portrays Jesus’ entire ministry as a kind of legal
trial in which His adversaries cross-examine Him about His own testi-
mony to the Father. Mark uses the messianic secret as an organizing meta-
phor for Jesus’ ministry. The proclamation of Christian Torah functions
as an organizing narrative metaphor for Matthew. The image of the pil-
grimage provides an organizing narrative metaphor for Luke. In the same
way, the metaphor of the trial textures the gospel of John. The Beloved
Disciple portrays the entire ministry of Jesus as His trial by His own
people and ultimately by the Roman empire. In the course of that trial,
humans pass a false judgment on Him, a judgment which the resurrec-
tion and the divine Breath’s witness overturns. In trying God’s Son, they
put God to the test. (Jn 16:8-11)
The image of the trial also fuels the Beloved Disciple’s theology of judg-
ment which re-enforces the metaphor. The image underscores the crucial
importance of commitment in faith to Jesus. Only those who believe
escape the judgment. Those who try Him, who put Him to the test in
their darkness and unbelief, place themselves by their malice under the
divine judgment. (Jn 3:16-21)
The first scene of the gospel immediately strikes a forensic note. It
describes John’s cross-examination by priests and levites from Jerusalem.
In the course of the gospel, Jesus’ enemies will subject Him in turn to
similar cross-examinations. Moreover, in responding to His cross-ques-
tioners, Jesus will more than once invoke the three corroborating wit-
nesses required by Jewish law to substantiate the truth of His own testi-
mony: namely, the testimony of the Father, the testimony of John the
Baptizer, and the testimony of the Jewish scriptures.1
In verse 14 of the Prologue,a redactor of the gospel has inserted a state-
ment of John the Baptizer about Jesus which reappears in Jn 1:30. In His
testimony, the Baptizer, testifies to Jesus’ pre-existence prior to His com-
ing in the flesh:

John bore witness to Him and cried: “This is He of whom I said, ‘He who
comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.” (Jn 1:15, 30)

1. Cf. NJBC, 61:23; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, 27-28, 35-36; Hänchen, Commentary
on John, I, pp. 131-142; James Montgomery Boice, Witness and Revelation in the Gospel
of John (Toronto: Paternoster Press, 1976); M.-E. Boismard, “L’évolution du thème
eschatologique dans les traditions johanniques,” Revue Biblique, 68(1961), pp. 518-523;
Andrew T. Lincoln, “Trials, Plots and the Narrative of the Fourth Gospel,” Journal for
the Study of the New Testament, 56(1994), pp. 3-30.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 27

Some commentators have suggested that John the Baptizer here presents
himself as preparing the way for the return of Elijah, who had been taken
up to heaven and, by popular expectation, would return before the Day
of the Lord. In this sense, then, the one who came after the Baptizer
would also have existed before him. Perhaps so.
In thus summarizing the Baptizer’s witness, the final redactor could
also have reworked the Baptizer’s prophecy, recorded in the synoptics, of
the coming of the “mightier one.” Certainly, however, the redactor by
inserting the Baptizer’s witness into the prologue is explaining theologi-
cally the reason why Jesus “ranks before” John: As the pre-existent Logos,
the Son of God exists from all eternity.
In the synoptics, the Baptizer explains the superiority of the “mightier
one,” not by His divine pre-existence, but by his ability to baptize, not
just with water, but with a sanctifying Breath and with the fire of divine
holiness. Later in the fourth gospel, the Baptizer will testify that Jesus
alone will baptize with a Holy Breath; but, on that occasion the Baptizer
will fail to describe the Breath Baptizer as the “mightier one” of the syn-
optic gospels.
Some contemporary exegetes find in this initial testimony of the Bap-
tizer and in his subsequent testimony to Jesus evidence of a polemic con-
frontation between the Beloved Disciple’s community and the disciples
of the Baptizer. As we have seen, the synoptic gospels exhibit some em-
barrassment over the fact that Jesus, the leader of the Christian “way,”
submitted to the baptism of John. As a consequence, the synoptics use a
variety of narrative strategies in order to assert the superiority of Chris-
tian to Johannine baptism. The fourth evangelist, for his part, omits all
mention of Jesus’ having submitted to John’s baptism. Instead, the Be-
loved Disciple summarizes the two men’s relationship to one another by
having the Baptizer’s witness to Jesus’ allude, at least implicitly, to the
latter’s divine pre-existence.2
“The Jews” send, apparently, two different delegations to cross-examine
John the Baptizer in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where he is baptizing:
priests and levites from Jerusalem and representatives of the Pharisees.
(Jn 1:19, 24, 28)
The priests and levites represent the Sanhedrin and confront John as
national leaders with the highest ritual authority in Israel. The priests
and levites also show themselves most interested in issues of authority:
Does John have messianic pretensions? Does he claim to speak as Elijah
redivivus, or as the “prophet like Moses” foretold in Dt 18:15-18? In each
case John testifies with a negative answer. (Jn 1:19-21)

2. Cf. Georg Richter, “Bist du Elias? (Joh, 1,21)” in Studien zum Johannesevangelium
(Regensberg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 1977), pp. 1-41; Ernst Hänchen, Gott und
Mensch: Gesammelte Aussœtze (Tübingen: Mohr-Seibeck, 1965), pp. 329-332.
28 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

When pressed by the priestly delegation to justify his ministry of preach-

ing and baptism, the Baptizer cites Is 40:3. Both Mark and Matthew
assert that the ministry of the Baptizer fulfills this prophecy; but only the
fourth evangelist places this Isaian oracle on the lips of the Baptizer himself.
The fourth evangelist, also modifies slightly the text of the prophecy as
it appears in the synoptics. In the fourth gospel, the Baptizer has come
not to “prepare” the way of the Lord but to “make straight” His way. The
change in verb probably results from the fact that the text of the fourth
gospel deletes the second half of the prophecy as it appears in Isaiah. The
second half commands “Make straight in the desert a highway for our
God.” (Jn 1:22-3; Is 40:3; Mk 1:3; Mt 3:3)
In the fourth gospel as in the synoptics, the prophecy in Isaiah, which
originally looked forward to the return from the Babylonian exile as a
second exodus, takes on new apocalyptic connotations. The Baptizer de-
scribes the coming of God to save His people through a culminating,
decisive act.
The Baptizer’s ministry in the desert has the same symbolic overtones
as in the synoptics: Jewish hope located the dawning of final salvation in
the desert. In the fourth gospel, that dawning consists primarily in the
Baptizer’s testimony to Jesus. Desert symbolism also explains the concern
of the Jerusalem authorities with John’s authority: a prophetic voice in
the desert announcing the final dawning of salvation offered to popular
piety a religious authority distinct from the institutional authority of the
levitical priesthood.
A second delegation, this one from the Pharisees, then asks John to
justify His ministry of baptism, since he eschews messianic authority, on
the one hand, and the prophetic authority of either Elijah or the prophet
like Moses, on the other. If one reads the passage historically, the Phari-
sees interrogate John, not as the vested religious authority in Palestine,
but as committed Jews seeking a theological clarification of his response
to the priests and levites.
As in Matthew’s gospel, however, the Beloved Disciple associates the
Pharisees with the chief priests as a way of portraying them theologically
as the chief priests’ eventual heirs in leading the Jewish community. Later
in John’s gospel, for example, the Pharisees exercise high priestly author-
ity anachronistically; and they routinely expel those who confess Jesus
from the synagogue. (Jn 9:34, 11:47) Because in the evangelist’s day the
Pharisees seem to have led the attack against the disciples of Jesus, the
Beloved Disciple, like Matthew, links them in Jesus’ day with the chief
priests who opposed both John and Jesus. In Jesus’ day the Pharisees
would have had no authority to excommunicate.
The delegation from the Pharisees asks John: why, if you eschew an
eschatological identity, do you perform an eschatologically symbolic act
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 29

like baptizing? The fourth evangelist’s John answers in a self-deprecating


I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know,
the one who is coming after me, the thong of whose sandals I am unwor-
thy to untie. (Jn 1:26)

John’s reply echoes, with significant variations, words of John preserved

in Mark and in Matthew. (Mk 1:7-8; Mt 3:11) In this passage the
Johannine Baptizer unlike the synoptic Baptizer does not contrast his
own baptism with the Breath-baptism of the mightier one, even though,
later in the fourth gospel, the Baptizer does testify to Jesus as
Breath-baptizer. (Jn 1:33) Instead, the Johannine Baptizer stresses the
servile character of his relationship to Jesus. Slaves undid their masters’
sandal straps.
Some exegetes see in “the one who is coming” a cryptic reference to
Elijah. The Baptizer’s testimony on the following day, however, leaves no
doubt that in the evangelist’s estimate Jesus coincides with the one who
comes after John.3 (Jn 1:29)
The next day, the Baptizer sees Jesus coming toward him and testifies:

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he
of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me, because he
was before me.” I myself never recognized Him, though the very reason I
came and baptized with water was that He might be revealed to Israel. (Jn

One can read three different meanings into the phrase “the Lamb of God.”
In the first instance, it probably designates Jesus as the victorious Lamb
of Jewish apocalyptic who conquers the forces of evil opposed to God. In
the second instance, the image probably refers to the servant of God in
second Isaiah, who goes to his death like a lamb to the slaughter. By his
innocent suffering, the servant atones for the sins of “the many.” (Is 53:7)
Finally, the Lamb of God designates Jesus as the passover lamb. The Be-
loved Disciple’s passion account makes this third reference explicit. (Jn
19:29, 31) As the paschal lamb, Jesus frees those who believe in Him
from the slavery of sin. (Cf. Jn 8:44) By sheding His covenant blood,
Jesus effects a new exodus, a new liberation.

3. Cf. Pierson Parker, “‘Bethany Beyond Jordan,’” Journal of Biblical Literature, 74(1955),
pp. 257-261; Ivor Buse, “St. John and the First Synoptic Pericope,” Novum Testamen-
tum, 3(1959), pp. 57-61; B.M.F. Iersel, “Tradition und Redaktion in Joh. I 19-36,”
Novum Testamentum, 5(1962), pp. 245-267; Ernst Bammel, “The Baptist in Early
Christian Tradition,” New Testament Studies, 18(1971-1972), pp. 95-128.
30 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The Baptizer repeats now his earlier testimony to Jesus already cited in
the prologue to his gospel. The Baptizer reminds the reader that he has
already said: “After me comes a man who has ranked before me (literally:
“has come to be before me”), because He was before me.” By reformulat-
ing the Baptizer’s witness from the prologue, the final redactor clarifies its
meaning. The one who follows the Baptizer temporally has already a greater
dignity than the Baptizer in virtue of His eternal existence (“He was be-
fore me”). Not only does Jesus’ pre-existence as the Word make Him
transcendently superior to the Baptizer; but it also holds the key to Jesus’
threefold ministry as the Lamb of God. As the Word of God incarnate,
Jesus triumphs decisively over sin and evil, atones for the wickedness of
“the many,” seals a new covenant, and effects a new exodus.
In his reply to the Pharisees on the preceding day, the Baptizer de-
scribed Jesus as one whom the Pharisees do not know. The ignorance of
the Pharisees foreshadows the unbelief which they will show toward Jesus
once He begins His ministry. Their ignorance also points to Jesus as a
“hidden messiah,” as one who grows and develops secretly in the midst of
Israel. It also foreshadows the unbelief of the Pharisaical leaders of the
hostile synagogue during the evangelist’s own day.
After testifying to Jesus as Lamb of God and as pre-existent, the Bap-
tizer underscores the theme of Jesus’ messianic hiddenness. John avows
that at the beginning of his own ministry, he himself did not know Jesus’
messianic identity.The Baptizer acknowledges the irony of his ignorance,
because his own ministry had only one purpose: namely, the disclosure of
the hidden messiah to Israel.
Moreover, the evangelist immediately qualifies the Baptizer’s ignorance
of Jesus’ messianic identity by having the Baptizer witness to the Holy
Breath’s descent on Jesus. She comes in order to transform Him into the
Breath-baptizer. The Breath’s descent dispels the Baptizer’s ignorance of
Jesus’ messianic identity and reveals Jesus as the chosen one of God.4
The Baptizer in the fourth gospel differs, then, from the Baptizer in
Matthew and Luke both in his perception of the Holy Breath’s descent
and in his certitude concerning Jesus’ messianic identity. (Mt 11:2-10,
Lk 7:18-28)
The Beloved Disciple writes:

4. Cf. NJBC, 61:30-32; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 42-54; Hänchen, Commentary
on John, I, pp. 143-156; C.E. Blakeway, “‘Behold the Lamb of God’ (S. John i. 29, 36),”
Expository Times, 31(1919-1920), pp. 364-365; E.J. Gilchrist, “‘And I Knew Him
Not,’” Expository Times, 19(1907-1908); pp. 379-380; J. Holzmeister, S.J., “Medius
vestrum stetit quem vos nescitis,” Verbum Domini, 20(1940), pp. 329-332.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 31
And John bore witness: “I saw a Breath descend as a dove from heaven,
and it remained on Him. I myself did not know Him; but He who sent me
to baptize with water said to me: ‘He on whom you see the Breath descend
and remain, this is He who baptizes with a Holy Breath.’ And I have seen
and have borne witness that this is God’s chosen one.” (Jn 1:32-4)

In portraying the Baptizer as sent for no other purpose than to mani-

fest the hidden messiah to Israel, the fourth evangelist severely circum-
scribes the providential purpose of the Baptizer’s mission. The fourth
evangelist’s Baptizer paradoxically does not come primarily in order to
baptize. Instead, He comes primarily in order to testify to Jesus.5
In his account of the Baptizer’s testimony, the fourth evangelist is prob-
ably reworking theologically traditions about Jesus’ baptism analogous to
those recorded in the synoptics. In both the synoptic and Johannine tra-
ditions, the Baptizer predicts the coming of a Breath-baptizer. Both tra-
ditions identify Jesus as the Breath-baptizer of whom John spoke. In both
traditions the Breath descends on Jesus under the sign of a dove. In the
synoptics, the Father’s voice clarifies the dove’s symbolic meaning: the
Breath’s descent under the sign of the dove reveals Jesus, among other
things, as the specially beloved of God and as the beginning of a new
Israel. The Beloved Disciple, however, leaves the dove’s meaning shrouded
in obscurity.6
The Johannine account of the Breath’s descent departs from the synoptics
in other respects:
1) As we have seen, probably for polemic reasons, the fourth evangelist
omits any mention of Jesus’ baptism by John and therefore fails to link
the descent of the Breath to that event.
2) In Mark and Matthew, Jesus alone experiences the descent of the
Breath under the sign of a dove. Luke makes the descent a semi-public
event by having the Breath descend in bodily form. (Mk 1:9-11; Mt
3:16-7; Lk 3:21-2) In the fourth gospel, the Baptizer sees with his own
eyes the Breath’s descent.
3) In the fourth gospel the Father promises the Baptizer in advance
that he will witness the Breath’s descent on some person. Her descent will
5. The Beloved Disciple recognizes that John baptized (cf. Jn 10:40); but he completely
subordinates the Baptizer’s ritual activity to his testimony to Jesus.
6. Cf. Paul Jouon, S.J., “L’agneau de Dieu (Jean 1, 29),” Nouvelle Revue Théologique,
67(1940-1945), pp. 318-321; A. Negoista and C. Daniel, “L’agneau de Dieu est le
Verbe de Dieu,” Novum Testamentum, 13(1971), pp. 24-37; C.K. Barrett, “The Lamb
of God,” New Testament Studies, 1(1954-1955), pp. 210-218; John Howton, “Son of
God in the Fourth Gospel,” Novum Testamentum, 10(1963-1964), pp.227-233;
Joachim Jeremias, “‘Amnos tou Theou—pais Theou,’” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische
Wissenschaft, 34(1935), pp. 115-123; A.Feuillet, “Le symbolisme de la colombe dans
les récits évangeliques du baptème,” Recherches de Science Religieuse, 46(1958), pp.
32 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

mark that person out as the Breath-baptizer. The Baptizer subsequently

sees the Breath descend “as a dove from heaven and remain” on Jesus.
The Johannine Baptizer sees the descent of the Breath so that, in his role
as forensic witness to Jesus, he may testify to Jesus’ abiding possession of
the divine Breath. (Jn 1:32, 34)
4) The fact that the Breath abides with Jesus has special theological
connotations for the fourth evangelist. It suggests that, as Breath-baptizer,
Jesus possesses and dispenses the Breath in eschatological plentitude. (Jn
3:34, 7:38-9, 20:22; cf. 3:5)
5) The synoptics underscore the difference between John’s water bap-
tism and Jesus’ Breath-baptism. The fourth evangelist notes the differ-
ence but stresses it less than the synoptics, largely because the Beloved
Disciple desires to portray the ministry of the Baptizer primarily as foren-
sic testimony to Jesus.
6) In the synoptics, Jesus calls His disciples quite independently of
John. In the fourth gospel, the Baptizer’s testimony to Jesus plays a cru-
cial role in the call of the first disciples. The Beloved Disciple’s Baptizer
points Jesus out to two of his own disciples as “the Lamb of God.” Out of
curiosity they follow Him and immediately recognize Him as the mes-
siah. (Jn 1:35-41) The synoptics all portray John’s ministry as preparing
Jesus’ own; but they do not go out of their way, as the fourth evangelist
does, to identify Jesus’ first disciples as former disciples of the Baptizer.7
The fourth gospel notes that John suffered imprisonment but makes
no mention of his martyrdom at the hands of Herod. (Jn 3:24) Before
John’s imprisonment, some of his disciples, envious of the fact that Jesus
is baptizing more people than John himself, complain to the Baptizer of
Jesus’ greater success. (Jn 3:25-6) This verse in the fourth gospel gives the
only textual evidence we possess that Jesus initially claimed his disciples
by administering a baptism similar to John’s. A subsequent verse of the
fourth gospel, apparently inserted by a scribe, suggests that Jesus Himself
subsequently abandoned the ritual even though His disciples continued
to administer it. (Jn 4:1-3)
The disciples of John complain about Jesus’ baptism because a contro-
versy with “a Jew” over rites of purification has left them troubled. The
nature of the controversy remains obscure. (Jn 3:25) The fact, however,
that the fourth evangelist situates the complaint of the Baptizer’s dis-
ciples in the context of a controversy over ritual cleansing could reflect
the Johannine community’s quarrel with the Baptizer’s disciples over the
“purifying” merits of Christian and Johannine baptism. In that case the
7. Cf. Francis E. Williams, “The Fourth Gospel and Synoptic Tradition: Two Johannine
Passages,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 86(1967), pp. 311-319; Walter Wink, John the
Baptist in the New Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968); Georg
Richter, “Zur Frage von Tradition und Redaktion in Joh I, 19-34” in Studien zum
Johannesevangelium, pp. 288-314.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 33

Jew in question would have challenged the Baptizer’s disciples to recog-

nize the superiority of Jesus’ baptism on the evidence of its greater suc-
cess. The fact that the Baptizer’s disciples complain to him that “all are
going to Him [Jesus]” tends to support such an interpretation.
The disciples’ complaint gives the Baptizer the opportunity to reca-
pitulate and embellish his earlier testimony to Jesus. He reminds his dis-
ciples that he acts at God’s behest: “No one can receive anything except
what is given one from heaven.” (Jn 3:27) The reminder reasserts that the
Baptizer has one providential task to perform: namely, to bear witness to
Jesus. The Baptizer’s disciples should, then, feel no surprise that Jesus is
in fact supplanting the Baptizer by His greater success.
The Baptizer also reminds his disciples that he has denied any messi-
anic authority for himself.

You yourselves bear me witness that I said, “I am not the Christ” but that
I am sent before Him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend
of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the
bridegroom’s voice; therefore, this joy of mine is now full. It is necessary
that He increase and that I decrease. (Jn 3:27-30)

The Baptizer here alludes to his denial of his own messianic identity to
the priests and Levites in the fourth gospel’s opening scene. In allowing
that he precedes the messiah temporally, the Baptizer probably recalls his
earlier citation of Is 40:3. In applying the Isaian text to himself, John
avows his role as Jesus’ forerunner. The phrase “I am sent before Him”
could also refer to the Baptizer’s subsequent statement that His ministry
has no other purpose than to reveal Jesus to Israel.
As we have seen, in the synoptic tradition, Jesus applies the metaphor
of the bridegroom to Himself as an explanation of His disciples’ failure to
imitate the penitential fasting of John’s and of the Pharisees’ disciples.
(Mk 2:18-19; Mt 9:14-7; Lk 5:33-9) In both the synoptic and Johannine
traditions. the image of the bridegroom points to Jesus as the divine spouse
of Israel whose presence fills His disciples with spontaneous joy.
The fourth evangelist places this metaphor on the lips of the Baptizer
himself. The swelling number of Jesus’ disciples all relate to Him as their
spouse, while Jesus relates to them as the divine, messianic bridegroom,
the loving, forgiving husband of the new Israel. In the union between
Jesus and His disciples, the Baptizer plays a subservient role, analogous to
that of the best man.8
8. Cf. T. Francis Glassen, “John the Baptist in the Fourth Gospel,” Expository Times,
67(1955-1956), pp. 245-246; James Mulenberg, “Literary Form of the Fourth
Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 51(1932), pp. 40-53; M.-E. Boismard, O.P.,
“Aenon près de Salem,” Revue Biblique, 80(1973), pp. 218-229; Oscar Cullmann,
“Der johannische Gebrauch doppeldeutiger Ausdrüke als Schlussel zum Verständnis
34 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The Baptizer’s final witness clarifies the significance of the first sign
which Jesus gives His disciples when He transforms water into wine at
Cana. On that occasion, the steward complains to the bridegroom about
serving the best wine last. The complaint exemplifies Johannine irony:
the steward has come to the wrong bridegroom. Jesus, who gives messi-
anic wine in eschatological plentitude, stands revealed in this first sign as
the real bridegroom, as the divine messianic bridegroom. (Jn 2:1-11)
The Baptizer, as the bridegroom’s friend, rejoices to hear the
bridegroom’s, i.e., Jesus’ voice. In what context does the Baptizer hear
Jesus speak? The Baptizer himself leaves the context obscure; but the evan-
gelist supplies it in the commentary which immediately follows the
Baptizer’s testimony:

He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to
the earth, and of the earth he speaks; he who comes from heaven is above
all. He bears witness to what He has seen and heard, yet no one receives
His testimony. He who receives His testimony sets his seal on this, that
God is true. For He whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is
not by measure that He gives the Breath; the Father loves the Son, and has
given all things into His hand; He who believes in the Son has eternal life;
he who does not obey the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God rests
upon Him. (Jn 3:31-6)

Both the Prologue and the Baptizer have alluded to Jesus’ eternal exist-
ence with the Father. (Jn 1:1-2a, 30) Here the evangelist probably speaks
in his own voice in order to link the Baptizer’s final witness to Jesus’
pre-existence with the Father prior to His incarnation. The evangelist
contrasts Jesus, who comes from heaven (above), with one who, like John,
has only an earthly origin. He also contrasts the testimony of Jesus, who
speaks of heavenly things which He has seen and heard, with the speech
of earthlings who, like John, know only the things of this world. To have
an earthly origin does not have malicious connotations in the fourth gos-
pel, although to have a worldly origin does, since Satan rules “the world”
and sets it in opposition to Jesus. Earthly origin connotes only finitude
and creaturely limitation. Only a person of divine, heavenly origin can
speak divine, heavenly truths. One whose created, human experience re-
mains earth-bound, can, like John, speak only of things which happen
on earth.
The evangelist also contrasts two ways of responding to the words of
one who speaks with divine, heavenly authority: namely, with either be-
lief or unbelief. Those who believe acknowledge and endorse (“set their
des vierten Evangelium,” Theologische Zeitschrift, 4(1948), pp. 360-372; Walter
Klaiber, “Der irdische und der himmlische Zeuge: Eine Auslegung von Joh 3.22-36,”
New Testament Studies, 36(1990), pp. 205-233.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 35

seal on”) the truth of the heavenly person’s words. By disclosing transcen-
dent, heavenly realities, those words claim the believer with God’s own
authority. One must believe in Jesus as the Son of God sent from heaven
both by the Father and with the Father’s authoritative endorsement. Faith
in Jesus as the divinely sent Son of God leads to life.
Believers recognize that Jesus speaks God’s own words in virtue of the
fact that He both possesses and dispenses the Breath with eschatological
plentitude. The subject of the phrase “it is not by measure that He gives
the Breath” remains, however, ambiguous. It could refer either to Jesus or
to the Father. Does the Father send the Breath to Jesus in eschatological
plentitude, or does Jesus dispenses the Breath in eschatological plentitude?
Given the quasi-poetic diction of the fourth gospel, the evangelist very
probably intended both meanings. As we shall see, as life-giving water,
the Breath of Jesus quenches human thirst for endless life.
Unbelief does not lead to life. Instead, it subjects one to the wrathful
judgment of God. Here the evangelist alludes to the theology of divine
judgment initially developed in the conversation between Jesus and
Nichodemus. In Johannine theology, God judges the world by sending
His Son to save it. Those who believe in Him escape judgment, while
those who fail to believe stand judged in virtue of their own malicious
unbelief. (Jn 3:16-21)
As in the synoptics, then, the Johannine Jesus surpasses the Baptizer
because He baptizes with a sanctifying Breath, while John does not. More-
over, in the fourth gospel, Jesus dispenses the Breath with eschatological
plentitude. Jesus also surpasses the Baptizer because, as the incarnate Son
of God, He has existed eternally with God. The Baptizer has no such
divine dignity or authority. As the prophetic forerunner of Jesus, the Bap-
tizer plays the strictly minor role in salvation history of announcing Jesus’
arrival. Having done that, when confronted with Jesus’ testimony to the
Father, John fades contentedly into historical obscurity.9
In defending His sabbath healings, the Johannine Jesus invokes the
Baptizer’s testimony concerning Him. Jesus does so in the course of con-
structing a forensic argument based on Dt 19:15. The text in Deuteronomy
forbids the condemnation of anyone on the basis of the testimony of
only a single witness. Jesus then invokes John as someone who, together
with the Father and with Moses, has testified to Him and to the truth of

9. Cf. NJBC, 61:54-55; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 151-163; Hänchen, Commen-
tary on John, I, pp. 209-212; Georg Richter, Studien zum Johannesevangelium, pp.
387-391; Eta Linnemann, “Jesus und der Tœufer,” in Festschrift für Ernst Fuchs, edited
by G. Ebeling et al. (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1973), pp. 219-236; Rudolf
Schnackenburg, “Die ‘situationsgelösten’ Redestücke in Joh. 3,” Zeitschrift für die
Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 49(1758), pp. 88-99; Barnabas Lindars, “Two Parables
in John,” New Testament Studies, 16(1969-1970), pp. 318-329.
36 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

His ministry (Jn 5:31-3) Even in invoking John’s testimony, however, the
Jesus of the fourth gospel claims greater authority for His own testimony
and for that of the Father. (Jn 5:34)
Jesus describes John as “a lamp, set alight and burning brightly.” (Jn
5:35) The image of the lamp locates John in the realm of light, i.e., in the
realm of those who believe. It also assimilates John to the prophet Elijah,
whom the wisdom of Ben Sirah calls “a flame like a torch.” (Sir 48:1)
Jesus, however, rebukes the ephemeral character of His adversaries’ re-
sponse to John: “...and for a while you yourselves willingly exulted in his
light.” (Jn 5:35) Jesus’ remark underscores the passing character of John’s
ministry. It also deplores the superficial religious enthusiasm which it
temporarily evoked. Given the divine, transcendent authority of His own
and of the Father’s testimony, Jesus does not need the human, prophetic
witness of the Baptizer; but He invokes John’s testimony for the sake of
forensic argument.10
After the feast of Dedication, as Jesus’ ministry draws to a close, He
returns to the place where He began His own ministry: namely, to the
Jordan where John used to baptize. The return marks a Biblical inclusion
and recalls John’s testimony to Jesus which opened the fourth gospel.
While Jesus remains in the region, crowds flock to Him and give sponta-
neous testimony to the truth of John’s witness to Jesus: “John never per-
formed a sign....but whatever John said about this man was true.” As we
shall see, the signs which Jesus performs all find fulfillment in the paschal
mystery. In them the Father testifies to Jesus’ divinity and pre-existence,
which the paschal mystery discloses. As a mere earth-bound witness to
Jesus, the Baptizer performs no such signs. (Jn 10:40-2) The curious crowds
avow the truth of everything which John has said about Jesus even though the
paschal mystery, which validates the Baptizer’s testimony and reveals the deep
significance of Jesus’ miracles, still lies in the future.11

The Analogy of Christological Knowing

The Beloved Disciple’s forensic theology of judgment motivates in sig-
nificant ways his somewhat paradoxical portrait of the Baptizer. The evan-
gelist assigns the Baptizer the relatively minor role of a subordinate wit-
ness to Jesus. Humanity’s historical attempt to test God by putting the
incarnate Son of God on trial contextualizes theologically the Baptizer’s
10. Cf. NJBC, 61:81-82; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 222-223; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 261-267; Urban von Whalde, “The Witnesses to Jesus in
John 5:31-40 and Belief in the Fourth Gospel,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 43(1981),
pp. 385-404.
11. Cf. NJBC, 61:44; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 413-415; Hänchen, Commentary
on John, II, pp. 43-52; Ernst Bammel, “‘John Did No Miracle,’” in Miracles, edited by
C.F.D. Moule (London: A.R. Moubray and Co., Ltd., 1965), pp. 181-202.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 37

I call the fourth evangelist’s portrait of John paradoxical because it

downplays the central thrust of John’s historical ministry: namely, his
administration of a baptism of repentance which prepared Israel to face
an immanent divine judgment. The fourth gospel acknowledges John’s
baptismal activity; but, without any other account of John than the Be-
loved Disciple’s, one might wonder why people called John “the Bap-
tizer” rather than “the Witness.” Certainly, in the fourth gospel, witness-
ing to Jesus, rather than baptizing defines the supreme providential pur-
pose of the Baptizer’s ministry.
More than polemic confrontation with the Baptizer’s disciples moti-
vates the Beloved Disciple’s redefinition of the Baptizer’s role in salvation
history. History forced the Beloved Disciple to acknowledge a relation-
ship between Jesus and the Baptizer; but the narrative centrality which
the fourth evangelist assigns to the paschal mystery also forced him to
re-conceive their relationship. The fourth evangelist made it clear that
the prophetic witness of a human figure like John belongs to a different
order of religious authority from the historical testimony of the Son of
God incarnate and of the Father who sent Him. The Baptizer spoke for a
short time with prophetic authority; Jesus, however, speaks with the au-
thority of the eternal Word of God made flesh. The deviations of the
Beloved Disciple’s portrait of the Baptizer from the kind of portrait which
the synoptics paint all serve these complex doctrinal ends in the fourth
evangelist’s narrative Christology.
This section has presented the Beloved Disciple’s account of Jesus’ rela-
tionship to John the Baptizer. The section which follows examines Jesus’
relationship to the Father by examining the pertinent Johannine texts. As
we shall see, Jesus’ relationship to the Father provides the fourth gospel
with one of its most developed doctrinal themes.

Jesus’ relationship to the Father constitutes a major doctrinal focus of the
fourth gospel. Hence, references to the Father abound there with far greater
frequency than they do in the synoptic gospels. As a consequence, the
Beloved Disciple elaborates a much more developed doctrine of the Fa-
ther than do any of the synoptic evangelists.
As in the synoptic gospels, the Greek word for “God”—Theos with a
definite article—refers to the Father. Hence, I shall once again consider
texts which use the term “ho Theos” together with texts which explicitly
invoke the Father’s name.
The Jesus of the synoptics proclaims the kingdom to crowds and cat-
echizes His disciples in the moral demands of discipleship. The Jesus of
the fourth gospel mentions the kingdom on only two occasions: once in
secret and a second time during His trial. (Jn 3:3,5, 18:36) Instead, the
38 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Johannine Jesus during His mortal ministry with dogged determination

proclaims His own divinity to unbelieving Jews. Moreover, in describing
Jesus’ relationship to the Father, the fourth gospel returns repetitiously to
the same themes: Jesus’ privileged knowledge of the Father, His eternal
pre-existence with the Father, and His co-equality with the Father. In-
stead of simply repeating these themes, however, John’s Jesus develops
them incrementally. In the struggle of light against darkness, the full im-
plications of Jesus’ doctrinal claims emerge gradually, as the light grows
brighter and brighter.

Jesus and His Father

As we have seen, the Prologue to John’s gospel refers more than once to
the Father. The Word exists eternally with God and turned toward God.
The Word possesses divinity along with the Father. (Jn 1:1) The Son of
God dwells “in the bosom of the Father (eis ton kolpon tou patros).” The
phrase suggests the intimacy of Their relationship. (Jn 1:18) It also fore-
shadows the intimacy with which the Beloved Disciple relates to Jesus. At
the last supper, the Beloved Disciple will recline on Jesus’ bosom (En to
kolpo tou Jesou). (Jn 13:23) As we shall see, the Beloved Disciple symbol-
izes every believer.
The incarnate Word, as Son of God, reveals the Father’s glory, His di-
vine reality in all its effulgent excellence. (Jn 1:14) The Word does this by
sharing some measure of His Sonship with those who believe in Him: He
empowers them to become children of God by the grace of rebirth. (Jn
1:12-3, 3:3-5) No mere creature has ever seen God face to face. Only the
incarnate Son, the Word made flesh, has the power to reveal Him to
humans by transforming them into God’s children. The intimacy of their
friendship with Jesus causes them to enter into His own intimate rela-
tionship with the Father. (Jn 1:18)
As we have also seen, only in the fourth gospel does the Baptizer point
Jesus out as “the Lamb of God.” (Jn 1:29-36) When the image of the
lamb designates Jesus as the suffering servant, then the phrase “of God”
points to the Father as the object of Jesus’ service. When the image of the
lamb designates Jesus as the paschal lamb, then the Father provides the
lamb of sacrifice by sending Jesus. As a sacrificial lamb, Jesus gives His
life in obedience to the Father. The fourth evangelist also calls Jesus “the
Son of God.” The title has both messianic and incarnational connota-
tions. (Jn 1:34)
In the Johannine account of the call of the disciples, Nathanael calls
Jesus “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel.” (Jn 1:49) On Nathanael’s
lips both titles have messianic meaning. Jesus, however, immediately as-
sures Nathanael that he has only begun to glimpse the truth about Jesus’
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 39

You believe, do you, just because I told you that I saw you under the fig
tree? You will see far greater things than that....Truly, I tell you, you will
see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the
Son of Man. (Jn 1:50-1)

As the glorified Son of Man, Jesus in the New Testament normally

functions as the one who passes final judgment on a sinful world. Here,
however, the Son of Man constitutes the privileged link between heaven
and earth. Jesus transforms the Son of Man into Jacob’s ladder. In Jacob’s
dream in Gen 28:10-9, the patriarch sees a ladder stretching from heaven
to earth with angels ascending and descending on it. Angels function as
God’s messengers and make the will of the invisible God known to hu-
mans. The apocalyptic rending of the heavens to which Jesus refers sym-
bolizes a revelation of the end time. Soon Jesus, as the glorified Son of
Man will mediate between God and those who see Him with the eyes of
faith. On that day, Nathanael will realize that all communication be-
tween God and humanity passes through Jesus.
The fact that Jesus describes the angels as belonging to God designates
the Father as the one who rules over the angelic realm. From Him the
angels descend to earth and to Him they return. When, therefore, the
disciples finally see the full revelation of Jesus’ glory, they will acknowl-
edge Him as their unique mediator with the Father.12
The final redactor of the fourth gospel places the cleansing of the temple
toward the beginning of Jesus’ public career, not during his final Jerusa-
lem ministry, as the synoptics do. The Beloved Disciple, however, at-
tributes Jesus’ prophetic action to much the same motives as do the
synoptics. Jesus rebukes the priests’ economic exploitation of temple
worship as scandalous. As in the synoptics, Jesus all but claims propri-
etary rights over His Father’s house.13 (Jn 2:13-7)
In the confrontation between Jesus and Nicodemus, the fourth evan-
gelist reflects on the Father’s saving purpose in sending Jesus. Some ex-
egetes opine that in the original version of the fourth gospel, this story
followed that of the man born blind, in order to contrast Nicodemus’
timidity in avowing any relationship to Jesus with the healed blind man’s
open confession of Him. Two arguments support this suggestion.
Nicodemus’s reference to the “many signs” Jesus has done. (Jn 3:2) As the
gospel now reads, Jesus has in fact performed only one sign, the first
miracle at Cana. (Jn 2:1-12) If, however, the encounter with Nicodemus
12. Cf. NJBC, 61:27-39; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 73-96; Hänchen, Commentary
on John, I, pp. 157-168; William O. Walker, Jr., “John 1.43-51 and ‘The Son of Man’
in the Fourth Gospel,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 56(1994), pp. 31-42.
13. Cf. NJBC, 61:42-45; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 116-125; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 180-190.
40 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

belongs after Tabernacles, then Jesus would indeed have performed “many
signs.” The second argument points out that Jesus’ exchange with
Nicodemus develops the baptismal imagery implicit in the story of the
blind man’s cure.14 (Jn 9:6-7)
At the beginning of the incident, Nicodemus recognizes that Jesus comes
from God because of the many signs, or miracles, He has worked in Jerusa-
lem during the first of three Passovers in John’s gospel. (Jn 3:1-21; 2:23-5)
Jesus’ responds to Nicodemus’ incipient faith in His mission from God
by assuring him that only rebirth through water and the Breath intro-
duces one into the kingdom of God. (Jn 3:3-6) Jesus insists on the mys-
terious character of this second birth effected by God’s Breath. (Jn 3:7-8)
Then, Jesus promises Nicodemus that He, Jesus, is speaking the truth,
because He is only describing things which He has seen personally. In
speaking of rebirth in water and the Breath, however, Jesus still speaks of
an earth-bound event. If Jesus desired, however, He could speak of even
more mysterious things, of the things which He has personally witnessed
in heaven:

Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet do not understand this? I assure you
solemnly, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have
seen; but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things,
how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended
into heaven but He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as
Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be
lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have life eternal. (Jn 3:9-14)

Here several points need noting. First, Jesus, in virtue of His divine
pre-existence, claims the ability to speak of events inaccessible to anyone
but Himself, heavenly events which He has personally witnessed. Indeed,
throughout the discourse Jesus speaks from an exalted, atemporal stand-
point, from the standpoint of one who perceives the paschal mystery in
prophetic anticipation as though it has already occurred.
Second, Jesus does not reveal to Nicodemus the heavenly events to
which he has unique access. He describes only events which happen on

14. Although I personally deem fairly straightforward the sacramental connotations of the
dialogue with Nicodemus, some exegetes question those connotations. Cf. Russell
Fowler, “Born of Water and Spirit (Jn 3),” Expository Times, 82(1970-1971), p. 159;
J. de la Potterie, “Naitre d’eau et naitre de l’Esprit: le texte baptismal de Jn 3,5,” Sciences
Ecclesiastiques, 14(1962), pp. 417-443; D.G. Spriggs, “The Meaning of ‘Water’ in
John 3.5,” Expository Times, 8(1969-1970), pp. 149-150; Hughes Smith, “houtos estin
pas ho gegennômenos ek tou pneumatos,” Expository Times, 81(1969-1970), p. 189; R.
Schnackenburg, “Die Sakramente im Johannesevangelium” in Sacra Pagina, edited by
J. Coppens et al. (Paris: J. Gabalda, Gembloux, Duculot, 1959), 2:235-254; William
C. Giese, “‘Unless One is Born Again’: The Use of a Heavenly Journey in John 3,”
Journal of Biblical Literature, 107(1988), pp. 677-693.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 41

earth. He names two such events, both of them intimately related: namely,
rebirth in water and the Holy Breath and His being lifted up on the cross
into glory. Indeed, the fourth gospel ends with the crucified and glorified
Jesus breathing the divine Breath into His disciples so that they can com-
municate Her to others. (Jn 7:39, 12:32-3, 20:22-3) Any baptism ad-
ministered by Jesus or His disciples during His ministry would have re-
sembled Johannine baptism more than Christian baptism. (Cf. Jn 3:22,
4:2) The Johannine Christian would, however, have equated rebirth
through water and the Breath with Christian baptism.
Third, Jesus describes His ascension into heaven, His return to the
Father, as though it has already occurred. (Jn 3:13) Moreover, He uses
the perfect tense which connotes past finality. By describing a future event
with the perfect tense, the Beloved Disciple transforms it into a fait ac-
compli. Moreover, Jesus’ ascent to the Father will manifests His descent
from the Father.15 (Cf. Jn 16:9)
Finally, Jesus does not really answer Nicodemus’s question about what
makes rebirth in water and the Breath possible until He speaks of His
own passion: of His being lifted up in the way in which Moses lifted up
the serpent in the wilderness. (Num 21:4-9) All those stung by the saraph
serpents recovered from the bite if they gazed in faith on the bronze ser-
pent which Moses lifted on a pole. In an analogous way, the twice-born
will gaze with faith on Jesus lifted up on the cross and into glory. As we
shall see, in Johannine theology, Jesus’ lifting up on the cross itself begins
the revelation of His divine glory.
The Breath of God inspires faith in the glorified Jesus. The Breath,
moreover, coincides with the living water which will slake human thirst
for eternal life. Baptism will give mortals access to that living water and
so will make rebirth to eternal life possible.16 (Jn 4:13-5, 7:37-9; 1 Jn
The passage which follows Jesus’ response to Nicodemus probably ap-
pends the evangelist’s own doctrinal reflections on Jesus’ words.17
15. Cf. Wayne E. Meeks, “The Man From Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism,” Journal
of Biblical Literature, 91(1972), pp. 44-72; A. Vergote, “L’exaltation du Christ en croix
selon le quatrième évangile,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis, 28(1952), pp. 5-23.
16. Cf. John Bligh, S.J., “Four Studies in St. John II: Nichodemus,” Heythrop Journal,
8(1967), pp. 40-51; Otto Böcker, “Wasser und Geist,” Verborum Veritas, edited by O.
Böcker and K. Hänchen (Wuppertal: Theologischer Verlag Rolf Brockhaus, 1970),
pp. 197-202; J. de la Potterie, “Jesus et Nicodemus: de necessitate generationis ex
Spiritu,” Verbum Domini, 47(1969), pp. 141-150, 257-283; H. Hollis, “The Root of
the Johannine Pun—hypsôthênai,” New Testament Studies, 35(1989), pp. 475-478;
Ben Witherington III, “The Waters of Rebirth: John 3.5 and 1 John 5.6-8,” New
Testament Studies, 35(1989), pp. 155-160.
17. Some see this passage as a continuation of Jesus’ own discourse; some, as the
evangelist’s reflection on Jesus’ preceding words. If, on the one hand, the evangelist
wrote these reflections as a personal meditation on the words of Jesus, the fact that he
42 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten18 Son, that
whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God
sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world
might be saved through Him. One who believes in Him is not condemned;
one who does not believe is condemned already because of not having
believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment,
that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather
than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates
the light, and does not come to the light, lest one’s deeds be exposed. But
one who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be seen that one’s
deeds have been wrought in God. (Jn 3:16-21)

This passage recapitulates much of the gospel’s prologue.19 It also enunci-

ates clearly the Father’s intentions in sending the Son into a sinful world,
subjected to the power of Satan. The Father desires only to save the world,
not to condemn it. As we have already seen, this passage foreshadows in its
own way the witness of the Baptizer, which follows immediately in the gospel
text. (Jn 3:22-30) In Jesus, the divine bridegroom, God reveals that He re-
lates to a sinful world only with a faithful love. That love seeks the world’s
good and desires to gift with eternal life those who live in the world.20
God, then, judges the world by revealing to it the absolute and uncon-
ditioned character of divine love. Those who reject that revelation stand
judged by their own loveless lack of faith. The struggle between light and
darkness which the gospel narrative will describe in considerable detail
embodies and begins God’s final judgment. In that struggle, God rejects
and condemns no one. Instead, sinners condemn themselves by sinning
against the light, by rejecting the light of divine love revealed in Jesus.
Those who suffer divine judgment do so because in their blindness they
cling to the sinful darkness and prefer it to the light.
In the course of the judgment two things happen. First, those who love
the darkness manifest more and more clearly the malice which motivates
appends them without any transition dramatizes the fact that theological concern
shapes the Beloved Disciple’s rhetoric. If, on the other hand, one takes the passage as
Jesus’ own words, the fact that He speaks of Himself in the third person and discourses
about the future conditions necessary for Christian baptism also re-enforces the
passage’s atemporal, doctrinal viewpoint. The passage, then, offers evidence that the
evangelist wants the reader to understand it as Jesus does: namely, from an atemporal,
doctrinal standpoint.
18. Cf. R.L. Roberts, “The Rendering of ‘Only Begotten’ in John 3:16,” Restoration
Quarterly, 16(1973), pp. 2-15.
19. Cf. Jerome Neyrey, “John III—A Debate over Johannine Epistemology,” Novum
Testamentum, 23(1981), pp. 115-127.
20. Cf. Pablo A. Cavallero, “Alcance teologico de me + Indicativo: A Proposito de Jn 3,
18 y otros loci neotestamenticos,” Estudios Biblicos, 40(1991), pp. 483-495; J.-G.
Gourbillon, O.P., “La parabole du serpent d’arain et la ‘lacune’ du Ch. III de l’évangile
selon S. Jean,” Revue Biblique, 51(1942), pp. 213-226.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 43

their actions. Second, those who do believe in Jesus find themselves forced
to confess Him publicly. Nicodemus illustrates the second process. He
typifies the Jewish Christian who would prefer to confess Jesus secretly
and thus avoid expulsion from the synagogue. Nicodemus, therefore,
begins by seeking out Jesus secretly under the shelter of darkness. Later,
however, Nicodemus defends Jesus publicly to the Sanhedrin (Jn 7:50-1);
and, in the end, Nichodemus comes into the light. He declares his alle-
giance to Jesus publicly by joining Joseph of Aramathea in burying Him
with the reverence due to a king. The mode of burial expresses Nicodemus’s
public confession of faith in Jesus.21 (Jn 19:39)
The evangelist underlines the importance of his theology of divine judg-
ment by putting it later on the lips of Jesus Himself. (Jn 12:46-8) More-
over, the Beloved Disciple develops these same insights further in the
theological reflections which he appends to the Baptizer’s final witness to
Jesus. (Jn 3:31-6)
In the course of these reflections, the evangelist makes the following
points: 1) Jesus testifies to heavenly realities which in His pre-existence
He has personally witnessed. 2) The Father has sent Him into the world
to bear witness to these heavenly realities. 3) Some believe Jesus and some
do not. 4) Those who believe endorse and confess the truth which Jesus
reveals and embodies. In so doing, they confess the Father’s truthfulness
as well, for the Father sends the Son to testify to divine realities. 5) Jesus’
possession and sending of the Breath in eschatological abundance mani-
fests the truth which Jesus embodies and proclaims. 6) Out of love, the
Father has given all things into the Son’s hand so that the Son may serve
as the Father’s instrument of universal salvation and of universal judg-
ment. 7) Those saved through faith in Jesus will enjoy eternal life. 8)
Those who reject Jesus and His testimony call down upon themselves the
judgment and wrath of God.22
In his account of the exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman,
the evangelist develops further the theme of the messianic purification of
temple worship which the cleansing of the temple introduces. When the
Samaritan woman asks Jesus how He, a Jew, can ask her, a hated Samari-
tan and a woman, for a drink of water, Jesus replies: “If you had known
the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you
would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (Jn
21. Cf. Max Krenkel, “Joseph von Aramathäa und Nikodemus,” Zeitschrift für
Wissenschaftlische Theologie, 8(1965), pp. 438-445.
22. Cf. NJBC, 61:46-55; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 128-149; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 194-207; L. John Topel, “A Note on the Methodology of
Structural Analysis in Jn 2:23-3:21,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 33(1971), pp.
211-220; F. Roustang, S.J., “ L’entretien avec Nicodeme,” Nouvelle Revue Theologique,
78(1956), pp. 337- 338; J. Duncan M. Derrett, “The Samaritan Woman’s Purity
(John 4:4-52),” Evangelical Quarterly, 60(1988), pp. 291-298.
44 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

4:10) Some interpret the “gift of God” as Jesus Himself, others as the gift
Jesus will give, i.e., the living water of the Breath. (Cf. Jn 7:39) Given the
poetic character of John’s diction and the fact that the poetic mind pre-
fers free association to clear logical distinctions, the evangelist probably
intended both meanings.
Later in the dialogue, when the woman asks Jesus whether one should
worship God in the temple on Mount Gerizim or in the temple in Jerusa-
lem, Jesus replies:

Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain
nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do
not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But
the hour is coming and is already here when the true worshippers will
worship the Father in Breath and in truth (en pneumati kai aletheia). For
the Father seeks such people to worship Him. God is Breath (pneuma ho
Theos) and those who worship Him, must worship Him in Breath and
truth (en pneumati kai aletheia). (Jn 4:21-4)

When Jesus gives the living water, the Breath who slakes human thirst for
eternal life, then Breath-inspired worship, wherever it occurs, will replace
the temple worship atop both Mount Gerizim and Mount Zion.
Breath-inspired worship will acknowledge and disclose the truth incar-
nate in Jesus. Breath-inspired worship, however, terminates ultimately at
the Father whom Jesus reveals. (Jn 8:45, 14:6, 17, 15:26, 18:37)
The term “pneuma (Breath)” without the definite article designates the
life which the Father possesses and shares with the Son and with the Holy
Breath. The gift of “the Breath (to pneuma)”— or Breath with a definite
article—communicates this divine life (“pneuma” without the article) to
those who believe. Without the article, then, the term “pneuma” desig-
nates both the life shared by the members of the divine triad and the
divine life which they communicate to those who believe. A share in
God’s own life slakes human thirst for life without end. That thirst only
the gift of living water, of the Breath Herself, can slake; for She commu-
nicates pneuma, a share in imperishable divine life.
Authentic worship of the Father must, then, embody divine life just as
it must acknowledge Jesus in faith as “truth,” as the unique and privi-
leged revelation of the Father. Later, in the bread-of-life discourse, the
evangelist will equate worship in Breath and truth with a eucharistic wor-
ship which acknowledges the real presence of Christ in the bread and
wine, His eucharistic body and blood.23 (Jn 6:52-65)
Jesus’ discourse after the cure of the paralytic at the pool of Bethsaida
further develops the theme of judgment. (Jn 5:24) In the process of re-
23. Cf. NJBC, 61:62; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 166-185; Hänchen, Commentary
on John, I, pp. 213-231; Günther Reim “Nordreich-Sudreich: Der vierte Evangelist als
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 45

flecting on the judgmental character of Jesus’ sabbath healings, the fourth

evangelist offers his own distinctive theological interpretation of their
revelatory meaning: they fulfill the meaning of the sabbath by manifest-
ing that the Father chooses to judge the world through the Son.
Jesus in justifying His sabbath healings makes an astonishing claim:
“My Father is working still, and I am working.” (Jn 5:17) As we have
seen, in the synoptic tradition Jesus gives an ethical justification for His
sabbath healings by appealing to the true purpose of the sabbath: the
sabbath seeks in Jewish piety to encourage not only worship of God but
the cultivation of virtue. Hence, good deeds done on the sabbath do not
violate the sabbath rest and do not count as “work.” John’s Jesus, by con-
trast, does not deny that He is working on the sabbath by performing
cures. Instead, He claims to imitate the Father, who also works on the
sabbath. In other words, John’s Jesus gives a doctrinal rather than an ethi-
cal justification for His sabbath miracles.
John’s Jesus is appealing to traditional rabbinic teaching. The rabbis
taught that, when God rested from creating the world on the seventh
day, God did not cease to act, even though God did terminate His active
creation of the world. On the sabbath, the rabbis taught, God retains
three keys which He never surrenders: the key of rain, the key of birth,
and the key of resurrection. Each “key” in its own way imparts life. By
imparting or withholding the gift of unending, risen life, God judges the
world. Hence, by constituting Jesus the source of risen life, the Father
reveals that He judges the world through the Son whom He has sent into
the world in order to save it. In claiming that His sabbath healings imi-
tate God’s action of the sabbath, Jesus portrays them as foreshadowing
the gift of risen life which He will impart when He breathes the divine
Breath into the disciples. In claiming to have the same right as the Father
to work on the sabbath, Jesus, as the evangelist notes, implicitly asserts
His equality with God the Father.24 (Jn 5:18-9)

Vertreter Christlicher Nordreichstheologie,” Biblische Zeitschrift, 36(1992), pp.

235-240; Tod D. Swanson, “To Prepare a Place: Johannine Christianity and the
Collapse of Ethnic Territory,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 62(1994),
pp. 241-263; R. Koester, “The Savior of the World (John 4:42),” Journal of Biblical
Literature, 109(1990), pp. 665-680; Rudolf Schnackenburg, “Die ‘Anbetung in Geist
and Warheit’ (Joh 4,23) im Lichte von Quran Texte,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische
Wissenschaft, 3(1959), pp. 88-94; William P. Hatch, “An Allusion to the Destruction
of Jerusalem in the Fourth Gospel,” Expositor, 17(1919), pp. 194-198; A. F. Wedel,
“John 4:5-26(5-42),” Interpretation, 31(1977), pp. 406-412; R. Loewe, “‘Salvation’ is
Not of the Jews,” Journal of Theological Studies, 32(1981), pp. 341-368; M. Taylor,
Jesus at the Well: John IV, 1-42 (New York, NY: A.D.F. Randolph & Co., 1984);
Winsome Munro, “The Pharisee and the Samaritan in John: Polar or Parallel,” Catholic
Biblical Quarterly, 57(1995), pp. 710-728.
24. Cf. Henry van den Bussche, “Guérison d’un paralytique à Jerusalem le jour de sabbat:
Jean 5, 1-18,” Bible et Vie Chrétienne, 61(1965), pp. 18-28.
46 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Jesus’ discourse divides into two parts. Each in its own way develops
the theme of judgment and clarifies Jesus’ relationship to the Father.
Moreover, the first part of the discourse subdivides into two sections.
In the first section of the first part of the discourse, Jesus asserts that in
claiming the right to imitate the Father by working on the sabbath, He in
no way seeks to set Himself either over the Father or in opposition to the
Father. As Son, Jesus does not act “on His own accord (eph heautou).”
The Johannine Jesus has already declared that His “food is to do the
will of the one who sent me, and to accomplish His work.” (Jn 4:34)
Here, acting at the Father’s behest implies two things: 1) the Son never
deviates from the Father’s own activity but faithfully imitates whatever
He sees the Father doing; and 2) the Father out of love teaches the Son to
do the things He does by setting up the Son as an example for imitation.
Jesus, moreover, warns His adversaries that the Father intends to show
the Son how to do even greater works than curing a paralytic on the
sabbath. (Jn 5:19-30) The rest of the discourse reflects on the character
of those works. Initially, however, the Son’s obedient imitation of the
Father establishes an operational identity between the two. As the gospel
unfolds, Jesus will make it clear that this obediential, operational identity
flows from a deeper kind of unity: “The Father and I are one.”25 (Jn 10:30)
Jesus then names two works which the Father will give Him to per-
form. Both qualify as greater than the cure He has just effected. 1) The
Father, who has the power to raise from the dead and give life, will impart
the same power to the Son. (Jn 5:21) Later in John’s gospel, Jesus’ raising
of Lazarus will reveal Him in a preliminary way as “the resurrection and
the life.” (Jn 9:25-6) Jesus’ full revelation as resurrection and life begins,
of course, only with the paschal mystery. 2) The Father will entrust to the
Son the task of judgment. Moreover, the Father will do this in order that
humans may learn to show to the Son the same reverence which they
show the Father. (Jn 5:22-3)
At this point, the evangelist reminds the reader of the paradoxical way
in which the Father has chosen to judge the world: namely, by sending
the Son, not to condemn the world but to save it. (Jn 3:17; cf. 12:47) As
a consequence, anyone who accepts Jesus’ testimony not only honors and
believes in the Father who sent Him but will also escape judgment by
accepting the salvation, the eternal life, which Jesus has come to impart.
Paradoxically, then, the Father’s very sending of the Son into the world
in order to save it also judges the world, because those who do not believe
bring down God’s wrath on themselves. Jesus, then, would seem to func-
tion as judge differently for the damned and for the saved. He “judges”

25. Cf. Eduard Lohse, Die Einheit des neuen Testaments (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 1973), pp. 62-72; Herold Weiss, “The Sabbath in the Fourth Gospel,”
Journal of Biblical Literature, 110(1991), pp. 311-321.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 47

the saved by raising them to eternal life. He judges the unbeliever by

provoking the choice for unbelief instead of the obedience of faith. That
choice effects a judgment of perdition which the Father acting through
the Son will ratify on the last day. (Jn 5:21-4; cf. 9:39)
The evangelist describes the manner in which final judgment will oc-
cur in the second section of the first part of this discourse:

I solemnly assure you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will
hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the
Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son also to have life in
Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is
the Son of man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all
who are in the tombs will hear His voice and come forth, those who have
done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the
resurrection of judgment. (Jn 5:25-29)

The fourth gospel espouses a realized eschatology analogous to that

presented in the synoptics. Already in the ministry of Jesus, the final
judgment is taking place. Those who hear Him in faith receive the kind
of life which will culminate in resurrection, while those who reject Him
place themselves under the judgment of ultimate divine rejection.
The life which the Son in His role as Son of Man imparts to the dead
comes to Him from the Father. Both Father and Son possess eternal life
in themselves, i.e., as a personal prerogative. The life in question consists
of the divine “breath (pneuma without the article)” which the Holy Breath,
whom Father and Son will together send, will impart to those who be-
lieve. (Jn 3:6, 14:15-24, 16:7)
The Father, then, establishes the Son as judge by empowering Him to
impart divine life to those who believe in Him and to withhold it from
those who reject Him. The full extent of this judicial authority will ap-
pear at the final resurrection when the dead will rise at Jesus’ voice. The
good will rise as a consequence of the saving gift of life He imparts to
them. The evil will rise to judgment.26
The first section of the discourse closes with a Biblical inclusion, as
Jesus repeats the same idea which opened the discourse: namely, Jesus
protests again that He does nothing of Himself but only what He sees the
Father doing. By the end of the first section of the discourse, however,
26. Cf. Joachim Wanke, “Die Zukunft des Glaubenden: Theologische Erwägungen zur
Johannischen Eschatologie,” Theologie und Glaube, 71(1981), pp. 129-139; Ray
Summers, “The Johannine View of Future Life,” Review and Expositor, 58(1961), pp.
331-347; Gustav Stählin, “Zum Problem der johanneischen Eschatologie,” Zeitschrift
für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 33(1934), pp. 225-259; C.F.D. Moule, “A
Neglected Factor in the Interpretation of Johannine Eschatology” in Studies in John
(Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1970), pp. 155-160; M.-E. Boismard, O.P., “Evolution du thème
eschatologique dans les traditions johanniques,” Revue Biblique, 68(1961), pp. 507-524.
48 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Jesus has made it clear that His obedient imitation of the Father includes
not only His sabbath cures but also the greater works of raising the dead
and judging the world.
As the fourth gospel unfolds, the preceding theological themes surface
again and again in Jesus’ teachings concerning His relationship to the
Father. The Johannine Jesus never tires of repeating that His obediential
relationship to the Father reveals His real identity with the Father and
empowers Him, in the Father’s name, to judge the world and raise the
dead, even though in His first coming—i.e., in His incarnation—He
comes to save, not to judge, the world. (Cf. Jn 6:36-40; 7:16-7; 8:26,
28-9, 48-51, 55-58; 13:27-28; 12:44-50)
The second section of Jesus’ discourse on His sabbath healing also di-
vides into two parts. In the first subsection, Jesus constructs a forensic
argument to justify the truth of what He has just said. In the second
subsection, Jesus attacks the persistent unbelief of His adversaries by ap-
pealing to three witnesses whose testimony by Mosaic law establishes ju-
ridically the truth of His testimony: John the Baptizer, the Father, and
Moses. The second part of the discourse relates to the first by naming the
witnesses who will testify against unbelievers on the last day just as they
have testified on Jesus’ behalf during His ministry.
Jesus concedes that if He alone were to make the claims He has just
made, His adversaries could legitimately question the truth of what He
says. Citing Dt 19:15, however, Jesus argues forensically that the concor-
dant testimony of three witnesses suffices to establish its truth. Jesus then
names the three other witnesses who testify to Him.
Jesus first appeals to the witness of John the Baptizer and then to the
Father’s witness. The Father witnesses to Jesus by empowering the signs
He does. The fact that Jesus’ enemies fail to credit the Father’s testimony
manifests that they have neither heard the Father’s voice nor seen what
He looks like; nor do they possess His word in their hearts.
Again the book of Deuteronomy provides the background for Jesus’
words. (Dt 4:12-15) Deuteronomy states that in the revelation at Sinai
the people heard God’s voice even though they did not see Him. Jesus,
however, charges that His adversaries neither hear nor see God, because
they give no sign of cherishing His word in their hearts. If they had heard
God speaking, they would now acknowledge that Jesus speaks in the
Father’s name; and they would put faith in both Jesus and His word. (Jn
Finally, Jesus explicitly cites the word of the Scriptures as the third
witness which testifies in His behalf. The Jews cling to the Scriptures,
especially to the Mosaic Law, as the life-giving word of God; but, if they
really believed the testimony of the Torah, they would recognize that it
gives life by pointing to Jesus as the source of that life. The fact that “the
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 49

Jews” refuse to come to Him in faith to receive the gift of life shows that
they do not in fact believe the testimony of the Scriptures. (Jn 5:39-40)
The second part of the second section of the discourse expands the
charge against Jesus’ enemies. They lack not only faith but love in their
hearts. The love in question has two possible meanings, probably both
intended. Jesus’ enemies neither imitate God’s love for humans, nor do
they love God in His own right. If they did love God, they would recog-
nize that Jesus shares in the very glory of the Father. Ironically, they ac-
cept readily enough the teachings of famous rabbis whom mere humans
praise; but they ignore the divine glory present in Jesus. They believe in
teachers who speak only in their own names and with human authority;
but they refuse to heed Jesus who speaks in the Father’s name and with
divine authority. Jesus, however, does not seek their approbation for Him-
self but for the Father in whose name He speaks.
The discourse ends with the warning that the Father will have no need
to accuse His unbelieving adversaries of their lack of faith and love. Moses,
the lawgiver, in whom they place their religious hopes, will himself repu-
diate them and accuse them before God. Moses, who testifies to Jesus in
the Scriptures, will testify at the last judgment that Jesus’ enemies never
believed in the things which he, Moses, wrote, because in his writings
Moses foretold the coming of Jesus. When, however, Jesus came, His
fellow countrymen failed to believe Him.
This condemnation of “the Jews” goes beyond anything one finds in
the synoptic tradition. As we shall see, however, the term “the Jews” takes
on negative connotations in John only when it connotes unbelief. In the
end, unbelief, not Jewishness, makes one an adversary of God.27
The bread-of-life discourse continues the diatribe against “the Jews’”
unbelief; but the bread-of-life discourse focuses on their refusal to accept
the life-giving bread of wisdom Jesus offers them. They also refuse to
acknowledge the eucharist as His body and blood. Moreover, as the dis-
course develops, it becomes clear that “the Jews” on this occasion include
also some of Jesus’ unbelieving disciples.

27. Cf. NJBC, 61:72-84; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 205-230; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 239-267; John Bligh, S.J., “Jesus in Jerusalem,” Heythrop
Journal, 4(1963), pp. 115-134. In Jn 7:22-23 the evangelist again returns to Jesus’
sabbath healing. In the arguments which heat up during the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus
justifies His right to heal on the sabbath by appealing to the fact that circumcision could
occur on the sabbath. Circumcision in Jewish tradition makes the male child perfect
and whole by conforming him to Abraham, whom God urged to perfection. Despite
circumcision, the crippled man whom Jesus healed lacked wholeness. Jesus argues that
in healing him, He, Jesus, made the cripple whole in a way which parallels but even goes
beyond circumcision. See: J. Duncan M. Derrett, “Circumcision and Perfection: A
Johannine Equation (Jn 7:22-23),” Evangelical Quarterly, 63(1991), pp. 211-224.
50 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The discourse opens with a dialogue between Jesus and the crowds
whom He fed in the desert. They had responded inappropriately to the
miracle by seeking to make Jesus king. When they seek Jesus out after the
miracle, He chides them once again for their unbelief:

I solemnly assure you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but be-
cause you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which
perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of
Man will give you; for on Him God the Father has set His seal. (Jn 6:26-27)

Jesus’ sealing by the Father has received three different interpretations.

Some see it as an act of divine consecration, perhaps for sacrifice. Other’s
see the seal as a reference to the fact that Jesus images the Father: a seal
impresses upon wax the image which it bears. A seal on a letter or docu-
ment, however, also certifies the origin or source of the document, its
official sender. Jesus’ sealing by the Father, in this sense, probably refers
to the Father’s authentication of Jesus’ ministry by testifying in the signs
which Jesus works.
Once again, the evangelist might well have intended all three mean-
ings; but the crowd’s subsequent request that Jesus work a sign to move
them to faith favors the third interpretation. (Jn 6:30-1) So does Jesus’
insistence that the crowds recognize Him as sent by God. (Jn 6:29) More-
over, since Jesus’ sealing by the Father marks Him out as the source of
eternal life, Jesus’ sealing by the Father would also seem to include the
fact that He possesses and sends the Breath of God in eschatological abun-
dance.28 (Jn 1:33, 3:34-35)
When the crowd asks Jesus what “works of God” they should do as a
sign of their faith, Jesus replies: “This is the work of God: that you be-
lieve in Him whom He has sent.” (Jn 6:29) In the dispute between Pauline
and Jewish Christians on the relationship between faith and works, John
the evangelist claims the middle ground. The act of faith itself constitutes
a work pleasing to God.
Like both Paul and James, the Beloved Disciple sees faith as inherently
practical. Hence, Johannine faith and Christological knowing coincide,
since practical faith assimilates one to Jesus. The Beloved Disciple, how-
ever, develops the synoptic understanding of Christological knowing in
significant ways. The synoptics, as we have seen, tend to focus on the
moral consequences of commitment in faith to Jesus Christ, while as-
suming a creedal and liturgical context for Christian moral striving. Het-
erodoxy in the Johannine community, however, forced the Beloved Dis-

28. Cf. A. Feuillet, “Les thèmes bibliques majeurs du discours sur le pain de vie (Jn 6),”
Nouvelle Revue Théologique, 82(1960), pp. 803-822; B.J. Mahna, The Palestinian
Manna Tradition (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1968).
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 51

ciple to realize that doctrinal beliefs and beliefs about the meaning of
Christian worship give definitive shape to religious practice. As a conse-
quence, in the Johannine tradition, the deed of faith, what I have called
Christological knowing, encompasses not just Christian moral striving
but doctrinal assent as well. In Johannine theology, Christian orthopraxis
expands to include Christian orthodoxy. The deed of faith includes both
moral assimilation to Jesus and commitment to sound doctrinal inter-
pretations of both Jesus’ person and of the eucharistic worship which
nourishes Christian faith. Moreover, the Beloved Disciple insists on in-
terpreting both in thoroughly incarnational terms.29
The crowds react to this challenge with increasing hostility. They de-
mand that Jesus perform some sign which will justify their putting faith
in Him. They remind Jesus of the rabbinic belief that at the return of the
messiah, the manna, the heaven-sent bread which sustained the Israelites
in their desert wanderings and which ceased as soon as the Hebrews had
eaten the fruits of the promised land, would once again fall from heaven.
(Cf. Ex 16:4-36; Jos 5:12-13) In effect, then, the crowds are saying that,
if Jesus can make manna fall from the sky, they will consider believing in
His messianic identity. By making this demand, the crowds sin by “test-
ing God,” by setting the conditions which God must meet before they
will believe.30 (Jn 6:30-1)
Jesus replies by questioning the presupposition which underlies the
crowd’s request. In expecting that the messiah will cause bread to rain
from heaven, they misinterpret the Scripture. The messiah will not make
bread rain from heaven any more than Moses did. Only the Father gives
the true bread from heaven; and it gives life to the world. (Jn 6:32-3)
When the crowds ask Jesus for the gift of this life-giving bread, He

I am the bread of life; the one who comes to Me shall not hunger, and the
one who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I have said to you that you
have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come
to me; and the one who comes to me I will not cast out. For I have come
down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent
me, that I should lose nothing of everything which He has given me, but
raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that every one
who sees the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life; and I will
raise him up on the last day. (Jn 6:35-40)

29. Cf. Roland Bergmeier, “Glaube und Werk: die ‘Werke Gottes’ in Damaskusschrift
II, 14-15 und Johannes 6, 28-29,” Revue de Qumran, 6(1967-1969), pp. 251-260.
30. Cf. M.J.J. Menken, “The Provenance and Meaning of the Old Testament Quotation
in John 6:31,” Novum Testamentum, 30(1988), pp. 39-56.
52 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The bread of life gives life. In claiming to embody that bread and to
have the power to slake every human thirst, Jesus in His own way echoes
the words of divine Wisdom in the book of Ben Sirah. (Si 24:21) His
words also recall Is 49:10, which predicts that in the second exodus, in
the return from exile in Babylon, the people of God will know neither
hunger or thirst. Jesus, then, is claiming to embody at one and the same
time both the bread of divine wisdom and the way-bread of a new exo-
In the bread-of-life discourse, Jesus’ obedience to the Father expands to
include His willingness to welcome all those whom the Father gives Him.
In portraying the Father as the ultimate efficacious source of faith in
Jesus, the fourth evangelist explains what it means for the Father to dis-
pense bread from heaven: through the enlightenment of faith the Father
teaches believers to feed on Jesus as the bread of wisdom.
When the Jews murmur against Jesus in unbelief, He rebukes them
and repeats what He has just said: “No one can come to Me unless the
Father who sent Me draws him. And I shall raise him up on the last day.”
(Jn 6:44) Jesus then goes on to contrast knowledge of the Father through
faith with His own knowledge of the Father which results from face-to-face

It is written in the prophets, “And they shall be taught of God.” Everyone

who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone
has seen the Father except Him who is from God; He has seen the Father.
I solemnly assure you, the one who believes in Me has eternal life. I am the
bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the desert and died. This is the
bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat it and not die.
(Jn 6:41-9)

Jesus interprets the Father’s action in leading believers to consent to

Him in faith as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Deutero-Isaiah that, in
the new Jerusalem, God would instruct the people personally. (Is 54:13)
Then Jesus immediately contrasts the knowledge of God which faith yields
with His own immediate and privileged knowledge of the Father. The
Father functions as the ultimate source of Jesus’ mission to save the world.
Jesus’ mission from the Father connotes His pre-existence with the Fa-
ther. The Son enjoys privileged, immediate knowledge of the Father be-
cause prior to His incarnation He lived in the immediate presence of the
Jesus then returns to the theme of manna: to feed on Him in faith as
the bread of wisdom provides a messianic bread far superior to the kind
of manna which the crowds had demanded, more than a mere renewal of
31. Cf. A. Feuillet, “Les thèmes bibliques majeurs du discours sur le pain de vie,” Nouvelle
Revue Théologique, 82(1960), pp. 918-939.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 53

the ancient manna. The ancient manna had no power to impart immor-
tality. Those who feed on Jesus in faith will never die because the Father
has appointed Him as the unique channel of imperishable, risen life. This
passage provides a rhetorical transition to the second, eucharistic section
of the Bread-of-life discourse.
In the first part of the discourse, to eat the bread of wisdom means to
acknowledge Jesus’ mission from the Father and eternal co-existence with
Him. In the second part of the discourse, the bread of wisdom trans-
forms itself into the eucharistic bread. In the second part of the discourse,
eating the bread of wisdom means to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and
to drink His blood.” Eucharistic faith defines the condition for final res-
urrection, and the acceptance of Jesus as the personal incarnation of di-
vine Wisdom defines the content of eucharistic faith. In other words, a
thoroughly incarnational faith in Jesus also affirms His real eucharistic
presence. (Jn 6:52-4) Jesus concludes:

The one who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me and I in
him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the
one who eats Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came
down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; the one who eats
this bread will live for ever. (Jn 6:56-58)

The eucharist imparts unending life because it causes the mutual ind-
welling of Jesus and those who feed upon Him eucharistically in faith.
That indwelling creates a bond between Jesus and those who feed on
Him, a bond which imitates the bond between Jesus and the Father. Jesus’
very mission into the world by the Father reveals that He draws His life
from the Father. In an analogous way those who feed on Him
eucharistically in faith will draw their life from Him. In the Bread-of-life
discourse, unending life means transforming, risen life. (Jn 6:44) Those,
then, who live with the life which eucharistic communion with Jesus
imparts will live forever because they will one day share in His resurrec-
tion. Eucharistic communion imparts, then, a down-payment on resur-
rection. Finally, verse 65 makes it clear that, just as the Father teaches
people to feed on Jesus as the Bread of wisdom, so too the Father func-
tions as the ultimate source of eucharistic faith in Jesus.32 (Jn 6:65)
32. Cf. NJBC, 61:85-103; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 231-304; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 269-308; Peder Borgen, Bread from Heaven: An Exegetical
Study of the Concept of Manna in the Gospel of John and the Writings of Philo (Leiden:
E.J. Brill, 1965); A. Feuillet, “Les thèmes bibliques majeurs du discours sur le pain de
vie (Jn 6),” Nouvelle Revue Théologique, 82(1960), pp. 1039-1062; Edward Kilmartin,
S.J., “Liturgical Influence in John 6,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 22(1960), pp.
183-191; Xavier Leon-Dufour, S.J., “Le mystère du pain de vie,” Recherches de Science
Religieuse, 46(1958), pp. 481-523; Ulrich Wilckens, “Der eucharistische Abschnitt der
Johanneischen Rede von Lebensbrot (Joh 6:51-58)” in Neues Testament und Kirche,
54 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

In the fourth gospel, during the feasts of Tabernacles and Dedication,

the struggle between the light and the darkness intensifies. Tabernacles
celebrated the harvest; Dedication recalled the reconsecration of the temple
by Judas Maccabaeus. The Beloved Disciple situates the intensified struggle
between light an darkness during Tabernacles because its ceremonials in-
cluded, among other things, the illumination of the streets of Jerusalem
at night with flaming torches. As they close in combat, the forces of light
and the forces of darkness reveal their true identities with greater clarity.
Early in the embittered debates which mark Tabernacles, Jesus claims
that His teaching comes to Him directly from the Father. When Jesus’
adversaries marvel at His learning even though He has never had the
benefit of formal rabbinic training, Jesus replies:

My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me; if any one’s will is to do
His will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am
speaking on My own authority. One who speaks on His own authority
seeks his own glory; but one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is
true, and in him there is no falsehood. Did not Moses give you the Law?
Yet none of you keeps the Law. Why do you seek to kill Me? (Jn 7:16-19)

Once again we find ourselves on familiar ground (Cf Jn 5:41-47). Jesus

derives His teaching, not from rabbis, but directly from the Father who
sent Him. In teaching as He does, Jesus obeys the Father. Those then
who desire to obey the Father will spontaneously recognize that Jesus’
teaching comes from God. Far from obeying the Law of God, however,
Jesus’ enemies betray their malice of will by plotting His murder.
The evangelist strikes a new note, however, when he observes that Jesus
does not seek praise, approval, or adulation for Himself but only for the
Father whose message He brings. Jesus’ self-effacement in seeking the
Father’s glory at the risk of His own life manifests that in claiming divine
Sonship He does not teach out of motives of selfish self-glorification. On
the contrary, in bearing witness to the Father Jesus risks violent death at
the hands of His enemies. That Jesus would continue to speak at such
personal risk manifests the selflessness with which He teaches and invites
edited by Joachim Glinka (Herder: Freiburg, 1974), pp. 220-248; Raymond E. Brown,
S.S., “The Eucharist and Baptism in John” in New Testament Essays (Milwaukee, WI:
Bruce, 1965), pp. 77-95; G.H.C. Macgregor, “The Eucharist in the Fourth Gospel,”
New Testament Studies, 9(1962-1963), pp. 111-119; Oscar S. Brooks, “The Johannine
Eucharist: Another Interpretation,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 82(1963), pp.
293-300; J.M. Thompson, “The Interpretation of John VI,” The Expositor, 11(1916),
pp. 337- 348; Barnabas Lindars, S.S.F., “Word and Sacrament in the Fourth Gospel,”
Scottish Journal of Theology, 29(1976), 49-63; John M. Perry, “The Evolution of the
Johannine Eucharist,” New Testament Studies, 39(1993), pp. 22-35; Eduard Schweizer,
“Joh 6, 51c-58—vom Evangelisten übernommene Tradition?” Zeitschrift für die
Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 82(1991), p. 274.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 55

faith in those to whom He preaches. By the same token, Jesus’ actual

death embodies the ultimate certification of the selfless truth with which
He speaks.
Jesus’ teachings at Tabernacles repeat themes from the discourse fol-
lowing the cure of the paralytic at the pool of Bethsaida. Now, however,
they begin to reveal Jesus as the light of the world by developing and
deepening earlier themes. The light is growing. As the light shines more
brightly, the darkness simultaneously intensifies, exposed in all of its de-
structive malice by the light. The enemies of Jesus begin to betray their
violence of heart, even though they hypocritically deny it. Despite lip
service to Moses and the Law, their sinful disobedience to God makes
them lust for Jesus’ blood. Their malice contrasts with the selflessness
with which Jesus obediently proclaims His relationship to the Father.
While Jesus’ enemies plot His death, He willingly puts His life on the line for
the sake of the Father and in order to reveal the Father’s glory. As the struggle
between light and darkness intensifies, the two begin to separate.33
As in the discourse after His sabbath healing, Jesus, during the feast of
Tabernacles, again appeals to the Father’s testimony:

Even if I do bear witness to Myself, my testimony is true, for I know where

I have come from and to where I am going, but you do not know where I
come from or to where I am going. You judge according to the flesh, I
judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is true, for it is not I
alone who judge, but I and He who sent me. In your Law it is written that
the testimony of two men is true; I bear witness to Myself, and the Father
who sent Me bears witness to Me. (Jn 8:14-17)

The passage repeats some familiar themes: 1) The truth of Jesus’ testi-
mony roots itself ultimately in His pre-existence with the Father from
whom He comes and to whom He returns. 2) His adversaries fail to
receive His testimony about His relationship to the Father because they
judge according to the flesh, by weak and fallible human standards. 3)
Jesus does not come to pass judgment on anyone. As we have seen, He
seeks instead to save the world. The same passage also says something
new: even were Jesus to judge the world, He would judge truly because
the Father ratifies His judgment on human sinfulness.34
As the struggle between light and darkness intensifies, the adversaries
of Jesus betray the fact that they do not know the Father. They do so by
asking Jesus, “Where is your Father?” Their question only dramatizes the
truth of what Jesus has just said, namely, that His adversaries have no clue
33. Cf. Johannes Mehlmann, O.S.B., “Propheta a Moyse promissus in Jo 7, 52 citatus,”
Verbum Domini, 44(1966), pp. 79-88.
34. Cf. Jean Pierre Charlier, O.P., “L’exegèse johannique d’un précepte légal, Jean VIII,
17,” Revue Biblique, 67(1960), pp. 503-515.
56 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

about where He comes from or where He is going. If they did, they would
know the Father who sends Jesus and recognize where to find the Father.
With the intensified struggle, the Light too shines more brightly. Jesus
begins His final testimony on the feast of Tabernacles by declaring: “I am
the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness;
no, he will possess the light of life.” (Jn 8:12) This declaration clearly
alludes to the prologue of the gospel and begins in earnest to describe
how the light succeeds in shining despite darkness’s attempt to quench it.
(Jn 1:4-5) Moreover, as the dispute with the unbelieving “Jews” unfolds,
Jesus makes it clear that those who walk in the light confess His divinity.
Jesus has already alluded once to His return to the Father. He does so a
second time by saying: “I am going away and you will look for Me; but
you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” (Jn 8:21)
Hypocritically, His adversaries suggest that Jesus must be contemplating sui-
cide to talk about “going away.” (Jn 8:22) In fact, they themselves desire to
kill Him. Jesus, for His part, is alluding to His approaching martyrdom.
Deceit and incomprehension force Jesus to clarify the nature of His
relationship to the Father:

You belong to what is below, I belong to what is above, you belong to this
world—this world to which I do not belong. That is why I have told you
that you would die in your sins. Unless you believe that I AM, you will
surely die in your sins. (Jn 8:23-24)

As we have seen, in their account of Jesus’ walking on the water after

the second multiplication of loaves, both Mark and Matthew have Jesus
invoke the divine name—“I AM (ego eimi)”—as a narrative strategy for
transforming the miracle into a theophany which manifests His divinity.
(Mk 6:30; Mt 14:27) The fourth evangelist uses the same event as one of
the “signs” which precede the bread-of-life discourse. (Jn 6:19) In the
fourth gospel, Jesus has, then, already manifested His divinity to His
disciples. Now as the struggle between light and dark intensifies, He pro-
claims it boldly to the His adversaries.
Jesus, however, expects no response of faith to this proclamation. (Cf.
Jn 2:23-25) He recognizes the gulf which separates Him from unbeliev-
ers. They belong not simply to the realm of flesh, which the incarnate
Son of God has freely entered (Jn 1:14), but also to “the world,” to the
realm dominated and ruled by Satan. Jesus’ adversaries have already mani-
fested their Satanic affiliations by their murderous intent, by their unbe-
lief, and by their hypocritical lack of repentance. Jesus, for His part, even
though He comes to save the world, distances Himself utterly from the
world in its sinfulness. At the same time, He names the condition which
His Adversaries must meet if they hope to pass from the realm of dark-
ness to the realm of light: they must confess His divinity.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 57

The warning, however, meets only with incomprehension. Jesus’ hos-

tile interlocutors ask Jesus, “Who, then, are you?” (Jn 8:25) Jesus replies:

Even what I told you from the beginning. I have many things to say about
you and condemn. But the one who sent me is true; and I speak to the
world the things which I have heard from Him. (Jn 8:26)

By their stubborn unbelief Jesus’ adversaries stand under the divine judg-
ment for their refusal to see the light shining in their midst. Jesus could,
then, pass judgment on them but refrains, since the Father has sent Him
to save rather than to condemn. He keeps repeating His message obedi-
ently to the world, despite its sinfulness and unbelief.
The crowds, however, persist in missing Jesus’ point.They do not even
understand that, when Jesus speaks of “the one who sent me,” He is actu-
ally talking about the Father. The obtuseness of the crowds manifests that
they ignore utterly Jesus’ heavenly origin. Jesus, realizing their lack of
faith, then says:

When you will have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I
AM and that I do nothing on My own initiative. No, I say only those
things which the Father taught Me. And the One who sent Me is with Me.
He has not left me alone, since I always do what pleases Him. (Jn 8:28-29)

In the final redaction of the fourth gospel, Jesus, in His conversation

with Nichodemus, has already alluded to His being “lifted up.”35 (Jn
3:14-5) On that occasion, Jesus had indicated its purpose: His elevation
in suffering and in glory would happen so that people could look to Him
with the eyes of faith and believe. Jesus now supplies the content of that
saving faith: it must acknowledge Jesus’ divinity, His identity with the
Father whose divine name He shares. Jesus also asserts here with greater
clarity than heretofore that his obediential relationship to the Father to
which He has repeatedly alluded actually manifests His divinity, His di-
vine identity with the Father.36
This time Jesus’ words seem to evoke a measure of consent from His
hearers. It will, however, soon become clear that the “believers” also refuse
to confess Jesus’ divinity. These half-believing disciples probably envisage
a faction among the evangelist’s adversaries who acknowledged Jesus as a
teacher or even as a prophetic teacher but drew the line at confessing His

35. In the original gospel, the Nichodemus incident probably followed the debates at
36. Cf. Geraldo Morujao, “A Unidade de Jesús com o pai em Jo 10,30,”Estudios Biblicos,
47(1989), pp. 47-64; Johannes Reidl, “Wehn ihr den Menschensohn erhoht habt,
werdet ihr erkennen (Joh 8, 28)” in Jesus und der Menschensohn (Freiburg: Herder,
1975), pp. 355-370.
58 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

divinity. Their lack of faith joins them to other unbelievers who reject
Jesus’ divinity. The separation of the light from the darkness now deep-
ens the division within the Johannine community which the bread-of-life
discourse began.
Jesus begins to instruct those who profess to believe in Him by setting
down the conditions for authentic discipleship:

If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the
truth, and truth will set you free. (Jn 8:31-2)

Those who abide in Jesus not only believe in Him but obey His com-
mandments as well. As we shall see, in the last discourse, those who abide
in Jesus bear abundant fruit. They draw their life from Him as branches
from the vine. They escape judgment. They live in the assurance that the
Father will hear and answer their prayers. (Cf. Jn 15:1-8)
The “believing” Jews, however, immediately make it clear that they
have no intention of abiding in Jesus. They do so by taking immediate
issue with what He has just said. They protest that they descend from
Abraham and have never lived as slaves to anyone. Their response sug-
gests that racial pride prevents them from hearing Jesus’ message of re-
pentance. The false disciples also confuse the slavery to sin of which Jesus
speaks with political and economic slavery. Hence, they fail to grasp what
Jesus means by abiding in His word: namely, that those who abide in His
word eschew sin. (Cf. Mt 3:8-9; Lk 3:7-8)
Jesus clarifies the kind of enslavement of which He speaks. He replies
that all those who sin suffer sin’s enslavement, an enslavement from which
only the Son of God can free them. Moreover, in freeing them He can
empower them to live as legitimate children of the Father, something a
slave of sin cannot do. Jesus can do this because He enjoys a privileged
kind of Sonship, a privileged relationship to the Father. (Jn 8:34-6)
Instead of rejecting their racial pride, Jesus’ interlocutors cling stub-
bornly to it. Their refusal to hear Jesus’ summons to repentance focuses
the rest of the dialogue on the question of fatherhood: the unbelieving
Jews claim first Abraham, then God Himself, as their Father; but they
cannot recognize in Jesus the one who reveals God as Father. Hence, by
their unrepentant lack of faith they finally reveal themselves as the chil-
dren, not of God, but of Satan.37
37. Cf. Henri van den Bussche, “Leur écriture et son enseignement: Jean 7.14-36,” Revue
Biblique, 72(1966), pp. 21-30; C.W.F. Smith, “Tabernacles in the Fourth Gospel and
Mark,” New Testament Studies, 9(1962-1963), pp. 130-146; Erich Grasser, “Die Juden
als Teufelssohne in Johannes 8, 37-47” in Antijüdaismus im Neuen Testament?, edited
by W. Eckert et al. (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1967), pp. 157-170; Nils Dahl, “Der
Erstgeborene Satans und der Vater des Teufels” in Apophorata, edited by W. Eltester
(Berlin: Töpelmann, 1964), pp. 69-84; Theo Preiss, “Aramasches in Joh. 8, 30-36,”
Theologische Zeitschrift, 3(1947), pp. 78-80.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 59

In this final exchange during the feast of Tabernacles, the reposts occur
with greater and greater rapidity and hostility. In the course of the rapid-fire
exchange, Jesus’ enemies move from verbal hostility to attempted murder.
First, Jesus challenges His hearers’ racial pride by insisting that true
descent from Abraham must transcend mere physical generation. True
children of Abraham live by faith as Abraham did. Instead, Jesus’ enemies
refuse to consent to the word of God, a word which Jesus has received
from God Himself. Abraham by contrast heeded God’s word and did not
seek to murder those who proclaim it.
By imitating their father, the false disciples reveal their and his true
identity, much as Jesus reveals His Father by imitating Him obediently.
The false disciples descend from Satan, who from the beginning mur-
dered and lied. Satan lied in tempting Adam and Eve to sin. He mur-
dered in bringing death into the world. (Gen 2:15-17, 3:1-19) Jesus’ en-
emies slander Him and seek His death. Jesus, for His part, reveals His
true origin by the perfection of His obedience to the Father. The way one
lives, then, reveals one’s true origin. (Jn 8:39-44)
While boasting of having both Abraham and God as their father, Jesus’
enemies reject, revile, and insult Him. They ridicule His claim to have
God as His Father by questioning the legitimacy of His own birth. (Jn
8:41) Then they call Him a Samaritan and question His sanity. (Jn 8:48)
The epithet “Samaritan” not only expresses contempt but implies hetero-
doxy as well. (Jn 8:41) These accusations may well echo debates between
the Johannine community and its adversaries concerning Jesus’ identity.
Jesus replies:

I am not demented, but I do honor my Father while you fail to honor Me.
I do not seek glory for Myself; there is One who does seek it and He passes
judgment. I solemnly assure you, if anyone keeps my word, he shall never
see death. (Jn 8:48-51)

Jesus has already proclaimed repeatedly that He seeks not His glory but
the Father’s. He has repeatedly warned His adversaries that persistent
unbelief and sin will place them under God’s judgment. Here, however,
He sounds a new note. If Jesus does not seek His own glory, the Father
does. If then the Father seeks to glorify the Son, His enemies only betray
their ignorance of the Father by insulting and vilifying His Son. Jesus
therefore warns His adversaries to reflect that the Father will in this dis-
pute have the final word and will ensure the Son’s ultimate glorification.
(Cf. Jn 13:31)
When, however, Jesus promises that those who keep His word will never
see death, His enemies ridicule His claim as proof of His insanity. Since
Abraham and the prophets all died, Jesus in claiming to liberate His dis-
60 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

ciples from death must lay claim to a greater importance and dignity
than they. (Jn 8:52-53)
Jesus replies:

If I glorify Myself, My glory amounts to nothing. The One who glorifies

Me is the Father, whom you claim as “our God,” even though you do not
know Him. But I do know Him; and, if I say I do not know Him, I will be
like you: a liar. But I do know Him, and I keep His word. Your father
Abraham rejoiced at the prospect of seeing my day. When he saw it, he was
glad. (Jn 8:54-56)

The opposition between Jesus and His adversaries has reached a climax.
The Father seeks to glorify the Son, who alone knows Him and speaks
the truth about Him; but Jesus’ enemies reject and revile Him. Their
rejection of the Son whom the Father sent demonstrates their ignorance
of the Father Himself, whom they hypocritically claim to worship as God.
Were Jesus for His part to deny the truth of His message about the Fa-
ther, He would have to deny the Father, lie, and claim Satan as His Fa-
ther. Instead Jesus abides in His knowledge of the Father and obediently
keeps His word.
How did Abraham see Jesus’ day? In Jn 12:41, the evangelist, referring
to the prophet Isaiah’s inaugural vision, says that the prophet witnessed
the glory of Jesus. In other words, the Beloved Disciple views all manifes-
tations of the divine glory in the history of Israel as proleptic revelations
of the glory of the risen Christ. A similar notion probably grounds the
assertion that Abraham saw Jesus’ day.
Rabbinic teaching transformed into a laugh of joy Abraham’s scornful
laugh in Genesis at the idea of his becoming a father in his and Sarah’s old
age. (Cf. Gen 17:17) Moreover, the book of Jubilees (xvi 17-9) portrays
both Abraham and Sarah rejoicing at the divine promise that the chosen
people will descend from Isaac. The miraculous birth of Isaac foreshad-
ows the full revelation of God’s saving power in Jesus. Abraham’s joy at
Isaac’s birth perceives, then, in anticipation the “day” of Jesus and the
salvation which He brings.
When Jesus’ adversaries object: “You are not even fifty years old. How
can you have seen Abraham?” Jesus replies with a third solemn proclama-
tion of His divinity: “I solemnly assure you, before Abraham even came
to exist I AM.” (Jn 8:57) Jesus’ enemies finally realize that, in invoking
the divine name, He is claiming equal and eternal coexistence with God.
(Cf. Jn 1:1) Suddenly, the murderous violence in their hearts erupts and
they pick up stones to execute Him for blasphemy. Jesus, however, eludes
From the evangelist’s standpoint, the violent attack on Jesus reveals His
adversaries’ true identity. They belong to the forces of darkness, the forces
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 61

of violence and of unbelief. The light, however, continues to shine in the

darkness; for Jesus, undaunted, boldly proclaims His divinity and
co-equality with the Father. Moreover, the darkness cannot quench the
light, because Jesus escapes from His murderers’ hands. In the resurrec-
tion He will also confound those who kill Him when He returns in risen
The embittered debates at the feast of Tabernacles culminate in Jesus’
cure of the man born blind as a sign that He is indeed the light of the
world, as he has just claimed. (Cf. Jn 8:12) In the story of the cure one
finds several references to “God” which in their own way underscore some
of the points made about Jesus’ relationship to God the Father in the
course of the debates which precede the miracle.
When the disciples see the man born blind they ask Jesus whether the
man’s blindness results from a sin of his parents or from his own sinful-
ness. Jesus rejects the notion that physical suffering always results from
sin. Jesus says:

It was no sin on this man’s part, nor on his parents’ part. Rather, it was to
let God’s works be revealed in him. We must work the works of Him who
sent Me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. As long as
I am in the world, I am the light of the world. (Jn 9:1-5)

Instead of resulting from sin, the man’s blindness has a saving purpose.
It will allow God to perform “works” in him. Jesus has already made it
clear that all who come to Him in faith do so because the Father draws
them. In consequence of His cure at Jesus hands, the blind man will grow
in the enlightenment of faith. He will see deeper and deeper into the
person of Jesus. In speaking of the works the Father intends to accom-
plish in the blind man, Jesus refers, then, not only to his physical cure but
also and especially to the work of faith which the Father will accomplish
in Him. These works which the Father performs in and through Jesus
manifest that the Father has sent the Son into the world as its saving
light. Jesus’ own approaching passion will bring on the night when no
one can work. (Cf. Jn 13:30) Before darkness falls, however, Jesus must
reveal His identity as Light of the world by healing the blind man and
drawing Him to faith.

38. Cf. NJBC, 61:104-126; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 305-368; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 5-32; Johannes Schneider, “Zum Komposition von Joh
7,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 45(1954), pp. 108-119; J. Blank,
Schriftanlegung in Theorie und Praxis (Munich: Kösel Verlag, 1969), pp. 207-220;
Horacio E. Lona, Abraham in Johannes 8: Ein Beitrag zur Methodenfrage (Bern:Herbert
Lang, 1976); M.J. Edwards, “‘Not Yet Fifty Years Old: John 8:57,” New Testament
Studies, 40(1994), pp. 449-454.
62 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The divine origin of Jesus’ power to heal constitutes the central issue
between the cured blind man and the Pharisees who cross examine him.
The Pharisees begin by insisting that no one who violates the sabbath as
Jesus has in curing the cripple at the pool of Bethsaida can come “from
God.” (Jn 9:16) Jesus’ sabbath cure of the cripple also surfaced as an issue
in the debate between Him and “the Jews” which has just concluded. (Jn
7:21-24) As we have seen, in the fourth gospel Jesus’ sabbath cures in
John reveal Him as the Father’s chosen instrument for judging the unbe-
lieving. The Pharisees who cross-examine the blind man remain them-
selves blind to the meaning of Jesus’ sabbath healings. Their unbelief
places them under the judgment of God because in their intransigence
they persist in passing false judgment on Jesus. (Cf. Jn 7:24) Like Pilate
and the chief priests in Jesus’ trial, the Pharisees in judging the blind man
find themselves judged by Jesus in virtue of their unbelief. The blind
man, however, knows better. He makes his first step in faith when he
acknowledges Jesus as a prophet, as one who does indeed come from
God.39 (Jn 9:17)
In their second examination of the blind man, the Pharisees challenge
the cured blind man to “give glory to God” by confessing that Jesus is in
fact a sinner. The blind man at first professes ignorance of whether or not
Jesus is a sinner and repeats doggedly that he knows only that though
born blind he now sees. (Jn 9:24-5) As the cross examination proceeds,
however, the Pharisees accuse the cured blind man of being a disciple of
Jesus. At this the blind man confesses that, if Jesus had sinned, God would
not have worked the blind man’s cure through Him. At this confession of
faith, the Pharisees (anachronistically) expel the blind man from the syna-
gogue. (Jn 9:30-34)
Prior to passing judgment on the blind man, the Pharisees make their
own profession of faith: “We are disciples of Moses. We know that God
has spoken through Moses, but we don’t even know where this man comes
from.” (Jn 9:28b-29) We find here another tacit reference to the cure of
the cripple at Bethsaida and to the discourse which follows it. In that
discourse, Jesus invoked Moses as one of those who testify to Him and to
the truth of what He teaches. Jesus also insisted that those who believe
Moses will also believe in Him. (Jn 5:45-47)
Now the Pharisees manifest their hypocrisy by invoking the authority
of Moses while refusing to believe in Jesus. They ironically confess their
lack of faith by admitting their ignorance of Jesus’ origins. The reader, of
course, knows that Jesus comes from God.
As in the debate during Tabernacles which has just concluded (Jn
18:12-59), the discussion between the Pharisees and the cured blind man

39. Cf. Ernst Bammel, “Johannes 9.17,” New Testament Studies, 40(1994), pp. 455-456.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 63

focuses on Jesus’ origin. In acknowledging Jesus as one who proceeds

from God, the cured blind man functions in the story as a type of the
disciple of Jesus who confesses Him fearlessly even though it means ex-
pulsion from the synagogue. (Cf. Jn 16:1-2)
Other images transform the cured blind man into a type of the dis-
ciple. At the end of John’s gospel, Jesus will send His disciples to testify to
Him in the power of the Breath. (Jn 20:19-23) That commissioning event
will reveal Jesus as Breath-baptizer. The fact, then, that Jesus cures the
blind man by sending Him to wash in the pool of Siloam, which means
“sent,” probably foreshadows Christian baptism, which incorporates be-
lievers into the apostles’ mission to bear witness to the risen Christ.
In some manuscripts, the encounter between Jesus and the blind man
after his expulsion from the synagogue culminates in the blind man con-
fessing faith in Jesus as the Son of Man. The blind man then bows down
to worship Him. (Jn 9:38) It seems likely, however, that some later redac-
tor added this verse to the story as a way of explicating the cured blind
man’s complete faith in Jesus.
Even without the added verse, however, the blind man clearly func-
tions in the story as a type of the believing disciple who escapes divine
judgment by his faith in Jesus. The Pharisees, by contrast, fall under God’s
judgment by hypocritically professing to believe in God at the same time
that they refuse to put faith in Jesus. Because of their unbelief they re-
main in their sins and will die in them.40 (Jn 9:39-41, cf. 8:24)
A discourse of Jesus in which He presents Himself as the good shep-
herd marks the transition from Tabernacles to the feast of Dedication.
The feast of Dedication celebrated the consecration of all the temples of
God in Israel’s history. Some evidence suggests that readings with pasto-
ral imagery marked the synagogue celebration of Dedication. During
Dedication, Jesus’ discourse develops the image of shepherd and applies
it to Himself.
In the fourth gospel, the events surrounding the feast of Dedication
call attention to the consequences of Israel’s rejecting Jesus as the light of

40. Cf. NJBC, 61:127-133; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 269-382; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 33-42; J. Louis Martyn, History and Theology in the Fourth
Gospel (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1968), pp. 3-41; Calvin L. Porter, “John IX.
38, 39a: A Liturgical Addition to the Text,” New Testament Studies, 13(1966-1967),
pp. 387-394; Donatien Mollat, S.J., “Le guérison de l’aveugle-né,” Bible et Vie
Chrétienne, 23(1958), pp. 22- 31; John Bligh, “Four Studies in St. John, I: The Man
Born Blind,” Heythrop Journal, 7(1966), pp. 129-144; D. Bornhaeuser, “Meister, wer
hat gesuendight, dieser oder seine Eltern, dass he ist blind geboren? Joh. 9.2,” Neue
Kirchlische Zeitschrift, 38(1927), pp. 433-437; Mogens Mueller, “‘Have you Faith in
the Son of Man?’ (John 9.35),” New Testament Studies, 37(1991), pp. 291-294; J.M.
Lieu, “Blunders in the Johannine Tradition,” New Testament Studies, 34(1988), pp.
64 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

the world: in repudiating Jesus, one repudiates the divine shepherd of

Israel Himself.
In presenting Himself as the good shepherd, Jesus makes several refer-
ences to His relationship to the Father. The image of the good shepherd
interweaves the themes of knowledge, obedience, and love. As the good
shepherd, Jesus knows His sheep and they Him with the same intimacy
as He and the Father know one another. (Jn 10:14-15)
As we have seen, however, Jesus knows the Father actively by imitating
Him with perfect obedience. Jesus’ obedience to the Father, therefore,
also includes the way He relates to His sheep: He lays down His life for
them in obedience to the Father, and takes it up again for their sake. As
we shall see, in the last discourse, Jesus will refer to His death for His
disciples as the supreme expression of His love for them. (Jn 15:12-13)
His death simultaneously expresses His perfect love and obedience to-
ward the Father. (Jn 14:31) The disciples will obey Jesus if they love one
another as He has loved them and willingly die for one another. (Jn
The universality of the Father’s saving love appears in this, that Jesus
seeks ultimately to gather all people into His flock. (Jn 10:16) Moreover,
the Father endows Jesus’ death and resurrection with its universal saving
power and significance. (Jn 10:15, 17-18)
In the synoptic tradition, the Father raises Jesus from the dead. The
fourth evangelist, however, underscores the unity of Father and Son by
having the Father empower the Son to lay His own life down and take it
up again. As we have seen, in John, the operational unity of Father and
Son manifest their unity in being.41
Jesus’ speech on the feast of the Dedication interweaves the pastoral
image of the good shepherd with themes from the debate during the feast
of Tabernacles. Asked by the crowds to say plainly whether or not He
claims messianic identity, Jesus answers:

I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works which I am doing in My
Father’s name give testimony for me, but you refuse to believe because you
are not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; and I know them, and they
follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can
snatch them from my hand. My Father who gave them to me is greater
than all, and no one can wrest from My Father’s hand. I and the Father are
One. (Jn 10:25-30)

41. Cf. NJBC, 61:134-139; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 383-400; Louis T. Brodie,
“Creative Writing: Key to a New Methodology,” SBL Seminar Papers, edited by Paul
J. Achtmeier (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1978), vol. II, pp. 261-267; Jerome H.
Neyrey, “I Said: You are Gods: Ps 82:6 and John 10,” Journal of Biblical Literature,
108(1989), pp. 647- 663.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 65

Familiar echoes from the discourse during Tabernacles include: 1) the

Father’s testimony to Jesus in the works He performs, 2) the persistent
unbelief of His adversaries, and 3) Jesus’ complete identity with the Fa-
Entwined with these themes, however, we find the following pastoral
images, which develop the parable of the good shepherd: 1) The intimate
cognitive relationship between shepherd and sheep manifests itself in the
sheep’s obedience to the shepherd. 2) The gift of eternal life demands
such obedience. 3) The unbreakable bond between shepherd and sheep
resists all hostility and opposition. 4) Jesus’ complete identity with the
Father whom no one ever overpowers or bests makes the bond between
shepherd and sheep unbreakable.42
Jesus’ claim to unity with God provokes the same reaction it did during
Tabernacles: the Jews pick up stones to execute Him for the sin of blas-
phemy. (Jn 10:31-3) Jesus refuses, however, to back down and again ap-
peals to the works the Father accomplishes through Him:

Is it not written in your Law, “I have said, ‘You are gods’?” If it calls “gods”
those to whom God’s word was directed, and Scripture cannot be annulled,
do you claim that I, whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world,
am blaspheming because I said: “I am Son of God”? If I do not do the
works of the Father, even if you do not believe Me, believe the works so
that you may come to know and understand that the Father is in Me and
I am in the Father. (Jn 10:34-38)

Jesus cites, not the Pentateuch, but the book of Psalms. Psalm 82:6
assimilates to God humans given power to pass judgment over other per-
sons. The psalm in fact castigates false judges by reminding them of their
In citing Psalm 82, Jesus seems on first reading to gloss over the differ-
ence between the psalm’s metaphorical use of the word “gods” and the
literal sense in which He claims divine Sonship through His identity with
the Father. In fact, however, Jesus is arguing from the lesser to the greater.
If the psalm can call even fallible human judges “gods” in a metaphorical
sense, then the one through whom God has chosen to execute judgment
over the entire world can claim the title “Son of God” in a transcendent

42. Cf. J. Duncan M. Derrett, “The Good Shepherd: St. John’s Use of Jewish Halakah
and Haggadah,” Studia Theologica, 27(1973), pp. 25-50; Otfried Hofius, “Die
Sammlung der Herden zum Herde Israels (Joh 10.16-11.51f),” Zeitschrift für die
Neutestamentalische Wissenschaft, 58(1967), pp. 289-291; Gilbert Becquent, “Jésus,
bon pasteur, donne vie à une nouvelle communauté,” Esprit et Vie, 16(1970), pp.
241-242; J. Edgar Burns, “The Discourse on the Good Shepherd and the Rite of
Ordination,” American Ecclesiastical Review, 149(1963), pp. 386-391.
66 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The Father’s consecration of Jesus fulfills the meaning of the feast of

Dedication, which commemorated the reconsecration of the Temple by
Judas Maccabeus after its profanation by the Syrians. The term “conse-
crated” also alludes to Jesus’ priestly consecration as Temple and victim
in His own passion.43 (Jn 17:19)
The book of signs ends as Jesus moves inexorably toward His “hour.”
The raising of Lazarus sets the stage for the final confrontation between
Jesus and His enemies by consolidating the hatred of the chief priests
against Him. The raising of Lazarus reveals Jesus as the resurrection and
the life. (Jn 11:25-26) The chief priests in condemning the source of
resurrection illegally to death refuse to acknowledge the truth which the
raising of Lazarus reveals. (Jn 11:26)
Jesus proclaims that Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death but will
instead glorify both God and God’s Son. (Jn 11:4) Still Jesus delays going
to Lazarus’s bedside, with the result that Lazarus dies before He arrives in
Bethany. (Jn 11:11-15)
When Martha comes out to greet Jesus on His arrival, she says: “Lord,
if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now, I am
sure that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” (Jn 11:22)
Throughout the incident Martha functions as the woman of imperfect
faith who recognizes Jesus’ special relationship to the Father and con-
fesses His messianic authority but fails to grasp the full mystery of His
Despite her messianic faith in Jesus, for example, Martha fails to com-
prehend the full extent of Jesus’ power to raise people from the dead. (Jn
11:25) When Jesus orders the stone which closes Lazarus’s tomb rolled
back, Martha objects that, with the decomposition of the body after four
days, there will be a stench. Martha’s remark betrays the imperfection of
her faith, but it also draws dramatic attention to the full scope of the
miracle Jesus will soon perform. As a sign of His power to raise the dead,
Jesus will even restore life to a rotting corpse.
Jesus assures Martha: “Didn’t I assure you that if you believed, you
would see the glory of God?” (Jn 11:38b-40) As we have seen, the ac-
count of the raising of Lazarus begins with Jesus’ promise to the disciples
that Lazarus’s illness will in the end glorify God. The two references to
God’s glory function as a Biblical inclusion. They also underscore the
43. Cf. NJBC, 61:140-143; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 401-412; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 43-52; James S. Ackerman, “The Rabbinic Interpretation
of Psalm 82 and the Gospel of John,” Harvard Theological Review, 59(1966), pp.
186-191; J.A. Emerton, “Melchizedek and the God: Fresh Evidence for the Jewish
Background of John x. 34-36,” Journal of Theological Studies, 17(1966), pp. 399-401;
Anthony Hansen, “John’s Citation of Psalm LXXXII,” New Testament Studies,
11(1964-1965), pp. 158-162; “John’s Citation of Psalm LXXXII Reconsidered,” New
Testament Studies, 13(1966-1967), pp. 363-367.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 67

purpose of the miracle. The raising of Lazarus glorifies God by revealing

the Son of God as “the resurrection and life.” (Jn 11:25-26)
Jesus ensures that the Father will receive glory from the raising of Lazarus
by praying publicly to the Father before He performs the miracle:

Father, I thank you because You heard Me. Of course, I knew that you
always hear me, but I say it because of the crowd standing by, that they
may believe that You sent Me. (Jn 11:41-42)

The prayer also clarifies further the way in which the miracle will glorify
both God and Jesus: namely, by evoking from those who witness the
miracle a faith which recognizes in the raising of Lazarus the Father’s
testimony to the Son. The miracle testifies that He has constituted the
Son the privileged source of risen life to those who put their faith in
Him. The fact that the Father has already heard Jesus’ prayer endows the
miracle with inevitability.44
In the synoptic tradition, the Father testifies verbally to Jesus in His
baptismal commissioning and in the transfiguration. In the fourth gos-
pel, the Father, as we have seen, testifies to Jesus principally by empower-
ing His miracles, the signs which reveal the full reality of His person.
During Jesus’ final Jerusalem ministry, however, the Father also testifies
to Jesus verbally.
During Jesus’ final Jerusalem ministry, some Greek pilgrims to the feast
ask to see Jesus. We are dealing here with “God fearers,” or Gentiles who
had converted to Judaism. Jesus takes their request as a sign of the saving
efficacy of the death He will soon die. The desire of the Greeks to “see”
Jesus foreshadows the faith of the Gentiles who will believe in Him. The
incident probably alludes to Is 52:15 and implicitly portrays Jesus as the
suffering servant of Duetero-Isaiah.45
Jesus does not respond directly to the request of the Greeks. Instead,
He comments on the deeper meaning of their desire to “see” Him:

44. Cf. NJBC, 61:145-152; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 420-437; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 53-72; Max Wilcox, “The ‘Prayer’ of Jesus in John
XI.41b-42,” New Testament Studies, 24(1977-1978), pp. 128-132; James P. Martin,
“History and Eschatology in the Lazarus Narrative,” Scottish Journal of Theology,
17(1964), pp. 332-343; W.H. Cadman, “The Raising of Lazarus,” Studia Evangelica,
I, (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1959), pp. 423-424; Brain McNeil, “The Raising of
Lazarus,” Downside Review, 92(1974), pp. 269-275; Francis J.Moloney, “The Faith of
Martha and Mary: A Narrative Approach to John,” Biblica, 75(1994), pp. 471-493;
Manuel Rodríguez-Ruiz, “Significado Christológico y Soteriológico de Jn 11, 25-27,”
Estudios Biblicos, 55(1997), pp. 199-222.
45. Cf. H.B. Kossen, “Who Were the Greeks of John XII, 20?” in Studies in John (Leiden:
Brill, 1970), pp. 97-110; W.E. Moore, “Sir, We Wish to See Jesus: Was This a
Temptation?” Scottish Journal of Theology, 20(1967), pp. 75-95; Johannes Beutler, S.J.,
“Greeks Come to See Jesus,” Biblica, 71(1990), pp. 333-347.
68 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I solemnly assure
you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains only a
single grain; but, if it dies, it bears much fruit. The one who loves his life
destroys it; while the one who hates his life in this world preserves it to live
eternally. If anyone would serve Me, let him follow Me, and where I am,
my servant will also be. The Father will honor anyone who serves me. (Jn

In referring to His “hour,” Jesus alludes to the paschal mystery, the time
for His being lifted upon in suffering and in glory. Jesus foresees the
enormous fruit which will result from His death and glorification: namely,
the conversion of the Gentiles, the gathering into His fold of the “other
sheep” for whom He yearns.
Jesus also contrasts a life lived in egotistical self-love with His own will-
ingness to lay down His life in selfless obedience to the Father. The selfish
egotist ends by destroying the life he so jealously seeks to foster and pro-
tect. Jesus by contrast in dying will indeed preserve eternally not only His
own life but will also empower all those who believe in Him to do the
The disciples will manifest that they possesses eternal life just as Jesus
does, if they exhibit the willingness to live and die with the same kind of
selfless love as Jesus exemplifies. (Cf. Jn 15:12-17) Those who serve Jesus
imitate Him as He imitates the Father: they stand by Him and share in
His passion so that they can also join Him in His glory. (Jn 14:1-3,
15:13-16:4) The Father honors those who truly serve Jesus by imitating
Him. The Father does so by insuring that they share in Jesus’ risen glory.46
Jesus, however, suddenly experiences dismay at the ordeal of suffering
which faces Him:

Now my soul is troubled. Yet what should I say: “Father, save me from this
hour?” No, this is just the reason why I came into the world. Father glorify
Your name!” (Jn 12:27-28)

The fourth gospel makes no mention of Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane,

although, as we shall see, Jesus’ question to Peter in the garden, “Shall I
not drink the cup the Father has given me?” does echo Jesus’ prayer in the
garden which the synoptic evangelists record. (Mt 26:39; Mk 14:36; Lk
22:42) Jesus’ expression of dismay at His approaching ordeal marks the
fourth evangelist’s closest approach to the synoptic Jesus’ prayer in
Gethsemane. In voicing His dismay, the Johannine Jesus insists once again
that the incarnation happened for no other reason than that Jesus be
lifted up in both suffering and glory. Jesus’ insistence places the paschal
46. Cf. Aemelius Rasco, S.J., “Christus, granum frumenti,” Verbum Domini, 37(1959),
pp. 12- 35, 65-77.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 69

mystery at the heart of the incarnation. Moreover, Jesus overcomes His

dismay by surrendering in obedience to the Father. “Father, glorify Your
name!” means the same as “Your will be done.”47 (Mt 26:42)
The Father responds to Jesus’ prayer by publicly testifying to the Son.
A voice from heaven proclaims: “I have glorified it and will glorify it
again.” (Jn 12:28) The first personal pronoun in the voice’s statement
identifies it as the Father’s voice. As we have seen, in the synoptics, the
Father’s voice proclaims Jesus messianic Son of God in the image of the
suffering servant. In the fourth gospel, the voice insists on the typically
Johannine theme that both the passion and resurrection count as a single
saving act which reveals the divine glory.
The Father’s voice alludes both to Jesus’ exalted dignity and to His
approaching passion. In the synoptic tradition the Father’s voice desig-
nates Jesus as beloved Son of God, messiah, and suffering servant. In an
analogous manner, the Father’s voice in the fourth gospel first responds
to Jesus’ dismay by assuring Him that He, the Father, has already glori-
fied the Son’s name. This the Father has accomplished in the signs through
which He has testified to the truth of Jesus’ message. The Father then
assures the Son that He will also glorify Him in the future: both in His
passion and in His resurrection, which will bring to its culmination the
revelation of divine glory already disclosed in Jesus’ ministry.48 (Cf. Jn
The unbelieving crowds, misunderstand the voice. Some dismiss it as
thunder, while others think that an angel has spoken to Jesus.49 (Jn 12:29)
The Book of Signs ends with a summary evaluation of Jesus’ ministry
to His own people and with a summary proclamation of His message to
them. In it the Beloved Disciple ponders the reasons for Jesus’ rejection
by His people and the saving significance of His person and message.
The evangelist cites two Old Testament texts in order to explain the
unbelief which greeted Jesus’ testimony to the Jews: Is 53:1 and Is 6:9-10.
The first citation asks why the chosen people as a whole failed to put
faith in Jesus. The second assimilates Him to the prophet Isaiah, whose

47. Cf. Xavier Léon-Dufour, “‘Père, fais-moi passer sain et soif à travers cette heure’ (Jn
12, 27)” in Neues Testament und Geschichte, edited by H. Ballensweiler and Bo Reicke
(Zürich: Theologische Verlag, 1972), pp. 157-165; Henri van den Bussce, “Si, le grain
de blé ne tombe en terre....(Jean 12, 20-39),” Bible et Vie Chrétienne, 5(1954), pp.
48. Cf. Charles C.Torrey, “‘When I am Lifted Up from the Earth’ John 12,32,” Journal
of Biblical Literature, 51(1932), pp. 320-322; Ignace de la Potterie, S.J., “L’exaltation
du Fils de l’homme (Jn 12, 31-36),” Gergorianum, 49(1968), pp. 460-478; George B.
Caird, “Judgment and Salvation: An Exposition of John 12:31-32,” Canadian Journal
of Theology, 2 (1956), pp. 231-237.
49. Cf. NJBC, 61:161-166; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 465-480; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 95-99.
70 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

message too was destined to go unheeded until divine retribution de-

stroyed the kingdom of Judah. (Jn 12:37-42)
One finds Is 6:9-10 cited in all the gospels as an explanation of the
failure of the Jewish people as a whole to respond to Jesus and His mes-
sage. (Cf. Mk 4:12; Mt 13:13-5; Lk 8:10) The synoptic tradition, follow-
ing Mark, uses the text to explain why Jesus spoke in parables. Instead of
using parables, the Johannine Jesus talks constantly and explicitly to the
vacillating and unbelieving crowds about His relationship to the Father.
Moreover, the fourth evangelist attributes the unbelief which Jesus’ teach-
ing receives to His enemies’ violence of heart and hypocrisy.
The evangelist ends the book of signs by lamenting the fact that many
Jews, even members of the ruling class, believed in Jesus secretly; but, for
fear of being expelled from the synagogue by the Pharisees, they failed to
confess their faith openly. The evangelist’s lament indulges in anachro-
nism. The Beloved Disciple retrojects his community’s expulsion from
the synagogue back to the time of Jesus’ ministry. At the time of Jesus,
the Pharisees had no authority to expel anyone from the synagogue. Even
less could they have expelled those “in authority.” Here, the Beloved Dis-
ciple rebukes crypto-Christians in the Jewish community of his own day
who refused to profess Jesus publicly for fear of expulsion from the syna-
gogue. (Cf. Jn 9:22)
In assessing the reluctance of crypto-Christians to acknowledge openly
their faith in Jesus, the evangelist notes ruefully: “They preferred the praise
(doxa) of humans more than the glory (doxa) of God.” (Jn 12:42-43) The
evangelist puns on the Greek word “doxa.” Instead of confessing the di-
vine glory (doxa) revealed in Jesus, those who refuse to profess their faith
in Him openly settle for mere human approval (doxa).50
After the evangelist’s assessment of Jewish unbelief, the Johannine Jesus
recapitulates the divinely revealed doctrines which will save those who
openly confess them. The same doctrines will stand in judgment over
those who refuse to believe. (Jn 12:44-50)
Jesus makes the following doctrinal points: 1) Those who believe in
Him believe in the Father who sent Him. (Jn 13:20; cf. Mt 10:41) 2)
Anyone who sees Jesus with the eyes of faith sees the Father also. (Jn
8:19; 14:7-9) 3) Jesus comes into the world in order to dispel its darkness
and in order to save the world. One need only confess Jesus as the light of
the world in order to escape the darkness of unbelief and sin. (Jn 1:3-9,
8:12-26) 4) Anyone who does put faith in Jesus escapes the judgment of
God. (Jn 3:16-8) 5) Those who refuse to put faith in Jesus stand con-
demned by the word He has spoken to them and by their own refusal to
believe. (Jn 3:18-21, 8:37-47) 6) Jesus speaks with perfect obedience only
50. Cf. M.J.J. Menken, “Die Form des Zitats aus Jes 6,10 in Joh 12,40,” Biblische
Zeitschrift, 32(1988), pp. 189-209.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 71

what the Father tells Him to speak. (Jn 14:10) 7) Jesus obeys the Father’s
command by speaking what the Father tells Him to speak because He
knows that the Father’s message brings eternal life to those who hear it.
(Jn 6:63) Jesus’ reference to the Father’s commandment alludes to the
book of Deuteronomy 18:18-19, which prophesies the coming of a
prophet like Moses who will tell Israel whatever God commands Him.
The summary repetition of these familiar Johannine themes illustrates
the central place which Jesus’ relationship to the Father occupies in the
Beloved Disciple’s theological vision.51

The Father in Jesus “Hour”

In the fourth gospel, the Book of Glory narrates the story of Jesus’ “hour,”
the process by which He passes “from this world to the Father.” The
passion belongs in the Book of Glory because in Johannine theology it
too reveals the glory of God by disclosing Jesus finally and fully as the
divine bridegroom whose love leads him to lay down His very life for His
disciples in obedience to the Father’s will. (Jn 13:1-2)
Luke as we have seen records a brief discourse of Jesus at the last sup-
per. It numbers among the shorter discourses in Luke and pales by com-
parison with the journey discourse. Nothing in the synoptic tradition,
however, resembles the prolonged discourse to the disciples which John
records. The synoptic gospels all testify that Jesus during His public min-
istry gave instructions to His disciples about the moral demands of life in
the kingdom. The synoptics even suggest that He may have concentrated
His attention on them as He saw death approach. In the fourth gospel,
however, Jesus spends most of His public ministry upbraiding unbeliev-
ing Jews for refusing to acknowledge His pre-existence and equality with
the Father. John’s Jesus makes occasional remarks to His disciples during
His public ministry; but He addresses only one major discourse to the
disciples as such, namely, His last discourse. That Jesus would have waited
until He stood on the threshold of death in order to catechize His own
disciples lacks historical verisimilitude. The fact, however that the fourth
evangelist locates most of Jesus’ instructions to His disciples within the
Book of Glory underscores the eschatological character of discipleship.
We shall reflect on these issues in more detail in a subsequent chapter.
In its present form the last discourse gives internal evidence of consid-
erable redaction. In its original form the discourse probably ended with
Jesus’ command to leave the cenacle. (Jn 14:31) In its present form, how-
ever, the discourse continues for three more chapters. Later redactors have
expanded the original discourse itself with other sayings of Jesus. In the
course of the enitre discourse, Jesus speaks frequently of the Father.

51. Cf. NJBC, 61:167-168; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 483-493; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 100-101.
72 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

At the beginning of the discourse, Jesus enunciates the fundamental

theme of the Book of Glory:

Now has the Son of Man been glorified, and God has been glorified in
Him. [If God has been glorified in Him,] God will in turn glorify Him in
Himself and will glorify Him immediately. (Jn 13:31-32)

Jesus announces that His passion marks the hour of His and of the Father’s
glorification. God in the passion reveals His glory in the Son through the
Son’s obedient death on the cross out of love for the Father.
Jesus speaks of His own passion in the past (aorist) tense and of the
resurrection and His eschatological glorification “in Himself ” in the fu-
ture tense. (Cf. Jn 12:28) The tense shift sharpens the distinction be-
tween the revelation of Jesus’ glory in His ministry and passion, on the
one hand, and its full revelation in His resurrection. The use of the past
tense also transforms the passion into a fait accompli.
Later in the last discourse, Jesus will enjoin the disciples to keep the
commands which He has given them. (Jn 14:15) Those commands in-
clude the disciples’ willingness to trust in the Father despite Jesus’ depar-
ture from them. They must have faith in the Father just as they have
placed their faith in Jesus Himself. (Jn 14:1; cf. Mk 11:22-24)
The trust which the disciples must place in Jesus has a strong
eschatological flavor. They must trust that, in leaving them, Jesus is actu-
ally going to prepare a “dwelling place (mone)” for them in His Father’s
house. The disciples must believe that the Father’s house has ample room
for all believers. (Jn 14:2-4) In describing heaven as a house with ample
room for all those who believe in Him, Jesus endows heaven with a cer-
tain intimacy. To dwell with Jesus in the Father’s house also connotes, of
course, life without end. In addition, the disciples must trust in Jesus’
eventual return in order to take them to dwell with Him in the Father’s
house. In speaking of His return, Jesus refers to the parousia, to His final
coming as eschatological judge. Dwelling with Jesus in the Father’s house
also alludes to the evangelist’s theology of mutual indwelling.
When Jesus assures the disciples that they know the way by which He
is going, the puzzled Thomas objects that they know neither where He is
going nor the way which leads there. (Jn 14:5) Thomas’s obtuseness forces
Jesus to respond:

I am the way and the truth and the life: no one comes to the Father except
through Me. If you knew me, you would recognize my Father too. From
now on you do know Him and have seen Him. (Jn 14:6-7; cf. Jn 10:1-5)

The first Christians, as we have already seen, originally called Christian-

ity “the way.” Here Jesus embodies the way to the Father, because, in
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 73

virtue of His identity with the Father, He reveals the Father in a privi-
leged manner.
“The truth” and “the life” clarify the manner in which Jesus functions
as “the way.” Jesus incarnates the truth about God, saving truth. He does
so both because of His identification with the Father and because of His
perfect obedience in teaching and doing everything which the Father has
commanded Him. The disciples will know the truth Jesus reveals by as-
similation to Him as the way. In other words, the Johannine tradition,
like the synoptic tradition, regards practical assimilation to Jesus as the
only genuine “way” to know Him in faith.
Truth and life coincide in Johannine theology. (Jn 1:4) In other words,
the life which Jesus communicates includes saving enlightenment. More-
over, in virtue of His identity with the Father, Jesus embodies divine life,
life itself. Hence, as we have seen, the life which He gives, the living water
of the Breath, slakes human thirst for eternal life. (Jn 3:14, 7:18-19,
20:22-23) The Breath’s enlightenment also inspires and empowers prac-
tical knowledge of the Father through assimilation to Jesus.52
Philip misses the point of Jesus’ statement that the disciples have al-
ready seen the Father and tells Jesus that, if He will only show them the
Father, they will rest content. (Jn 14:8) Jesus replies with the reproachful
question: “Philip, am I with you all this time, and you still do not know
Jesus now repeats for the disciples’ benefit many of the things He has
already said in His final summary statement at the end of the Book of
Signs. (Jn 12:44-50) 1) Anyone who sees Jesus sees the Father because
He and the Father exist in one another. (Jn 14:9-10; cf. 1:18, 12:45) 2)
The Father’s existence in Jesus manifests itself in the fact that He speaks
to them the words which the Father causes Him to speak. (Jn 14:10; cf.
12:49) 3) The disciples must believe in the mutual inexistence of Son
and Father, if not on the basis of the Son’s words then on the basis of the
works, the signs, which the Father accomplishes in the Son. (Jn 14:11; cf.
10:38) Jesus’ works manifest the dynamic, mutual indwelling of Father
and Son.
As this point, however, Jesus strikes a new note. He promises that,
because He is going to the Father, one who believes in Him will perform
even greater works than Jesus Himself. Prayer to Jesus and the invocation
of His name will effect the signs which the disciples will work. In other
words, Jesus’ presence with the Father in heaven will manifest the fact
that He shares personally the Father’s power to work miracles by empow-
ering the manifold signs which His disciples will work in their turn. By

52. Cf. Ignace de la Potterie, “‘Je suis la Voie, la Verité et la Vie’ (Jn 14,6),” Nouvelle Revue
Théologique, 88(1966), pp. 907-942; Rudolf Schnackenburg, “Johannes 14:7” in
Studies in New Testament Language and Text (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1976), pp. 345-356.
74 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

answering prayers made in the Son’s name, the Father too will manifest
His own glory, but “in the Son” through whom He acts. The diffusion of
Jesus’ miraculous powers throughout the community could conceivably
make their witness “greater” than His.53
Once again, the fourth evangelist conceives the mutual indwelling of
Son and Father in efficacious, dynamic terms. The Son has the power to
do whatever the disciples ask and will in fact answer any prayer they
make. The fact that the Son empowers the disciples to do what the Father
empowers Him to do manifests the mutual indwelling of the Father and
Son. It does so because Father and Son act simultaneously and effica-
ciously in responding to the disciples’ prayers which they offer in Jesus’
name. Jesus’ promise testifies to the revelatory significance which answered
prayer in Jesus’ name enjoyed in the Johannine community. (Jn 14:12-13)
Jesus makes another momentous promise: If the disciples obey His com-
mandments, He will ask the Father to send them “another witness (allon
parakleton)” like Jesus Himself. We shall reflect on the meaning of the
term “parakletos” in reflecting on Jesus’ relationship to the divine Breath.
Here it suffices to note that after Jesus returns to the Father, the “other
witness,” whom the Father will send the disciples, will abide thereafter
with them. Because the Father sends the “other witness” in response to
the Son’s prayer, Father and Son function as Her co-senders. (Jn 14:15-16)
Jesus then assures the disciples that, even if at present they do not fully
understand what Jesus means when He speaks of the mutual inexistence
of the Father and the Son, they will understand when He returns to them
in risen glory. (Jn 14:18-20) When the risen Christ confronts the dis-
ciples on Easter day, He will in fact impart to them the “other witness,”
the Holy Breath. (Jn 20:22-23)
The risen glory of Jesus’ resurrection manifests His divinity. It there-
fore reveals that the Father dwells in the Son and He in the Father. In
Johannine theology that mutual indwelling expresses the identity of life
which the Father and Son share. Moreover, the Beloved Disciple sees an
important link between resurrection and mutual indwelling. The resur-
rection will manifest that the Father acts efficaciously through the risen
Jesus in order to impart the Breath to the disciples. Because only God
sends God, Jesus’ co-sending of the Breath manifests Jesus’ divinity, His
oneness with the Father. Hence, the resurrection also reveals the perfect
mutual indwelling of Father and Son.
The gift of the Breath will, in addition, also enable the disciples to
understand the mutual inexistence of Father and Son because possession
of the Breath will cause the disciples to exist in the Son and Him in them.
By experiencing their own existence in the Son and His presence in them
53. Cf. Victor Manuel Fernandez, “Hacer ‘Obras Mayores’ que las de Cristo (Juan
14:12-14),” Revista Biblica, 58(1995), pp. 65-91.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 75

through the Breath’s indwelling, the disciples will begin to experience

personally how Father and Son dwell in one another.
Jesus, however, puts a condition on the sending of the “other witness”:
only those who live in faithful obedience to His commands by imitating
His own obedience to the Father will experience the coming of the “other
witness.” The disciples’ obedience will manifest their love of Jesus. The
Father will respond to such love on the disciples’ part by loving them in
turn. Jesus too promises to love the disciples for loving Him. Jesus will
reveal His love finally and fully to the disciples when He rises and com-
municates the Breath to them; for that gift will express the fullness of that
love. (Jn 14:20-21)
Since Father and Son dwell in one another, the existence of the dis-
ciples in the Son through the action of the Breath will also cause the
Father to exist in the disciples as well. Since the Breath abides as a perma-
nent gift, both Father and Son will dwell permanently in the disciples.
They will make their home in those who believe and whose faith mani-
fests itself practically in obedience to Jesus’ commands. (Jn 14:13)
In obeying the Son, the disciples also obey the Father, because the com-
mands the Son speaks have been communicated to Him by the Father.
Hence, obedience to the Son’s commands will please the Father and mo-
tivate His gift of the Breath to the disciples. (Jn 14:24)
As the last discourse in its original form draws to a close, Jesus reverts
to the theme of His return to the Father. Instead of feeling sadness be-
cause Jesus goes to the Father, the disciples ought to rejoice “because the
Father is greater than I (meizon mou).” (Jn 14:28) The term “greater”
envisages the Son’s obediential relationship to the Father. Hence, the fact
that the Son regards the Father as “greater” presupposes rather than de-
nies their perfect unity with one another, because, as we have seen, the
perfect indwelling of Father and Son manifests itself in the perfection of
the Son’s obedience to the Father.54 (Jn 14:31)
In the extended form of the last discourse as we now possess it, Jesus
compares the mutual indwelling of the Son and of His believing disciples
to the organic unity between a vine and its branches. The disciples must
dwell in Jesus as the branch unites itself to the vine. The vine animates
the branch. Hence, only by dwelling obediently in Jesus can the disciple
hope to bear any fruit. Without Jesus the vine, the branches, the dis-
ciples, wither and die. (Jn 15:4-5)
Since the vine in prophetic preaching and psalms symbolizes Israel,
Jesus in claiming to be “the true vine” identifies all those who dwell in

54. Cf. NJBC, 61:177-187; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 581-657; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 115-128; Charles Kingsley Barrett, “The Father is Greater
Than I” in Neues Testament und Kirche für Rudolf Schnackenburg, edited by J. Glinka
(Freiburg: Herder, 1974), pp. 144-159.
76 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Him through faith as members of the true Israel, of the faithful remnant
who believe. (Jn 15:1; cf. Is 5:1-7; Jr 2:21; Ps 80:8-18) In this context
Jesus imagines the Father as the gardener who tends the vine. He cuts off
fruitless branches and burns them; and He prunes fruitful branches to
make them even more fruitful. (Jn 15:1-2)
One bears fruit by faith in Jesus and by fidelity to His commands.
Those who fail to believe and to obey place themselves, as we have seen,
under the judgment of God. Branches severed from the life-giving vine,
they wither. The flames into which the vine dresser casts the faithless and
disobedient symbolizes the holiness of God as a judgmental force which
consumes God’s enemies.
The Father prunes the branches which remain on the vine. He does so
by sending Jesus to instruct the disciples in the truth. Fidelity to Jesus’
teachings will therefore render the disciples fruitful.55 (Jn 15:2-3)
The disciples reveal the Father’s glory. They do so in three ways.
First, they manifest the Father’s glory when they abide in Jesus through
faith and through obedience to His commands. Mutual love in obedi-
ence to Jesus’ commandments more than anything else reveals the mu-
tual indwelling of Jesus and His disciples. At the same time, Jesus’ obedi-
ent love for the disciples manifests the Father’s own love for them, since
all Jesus does expresses His obediential relationship to the Father. The
loving mutual indwelling of Father and Son models for the disciples how
they should relate to one another by living in obedient union with the
Son. The disciples’ obedient love of the Son will, then, cause the Father’s
love to bear fruit in their own lives and thus manifest the divine glory. (Jn
Second, the Father receives glory from the faith and obedient love of
the disciples in yet another way. In obeying Jesus’ commands, the dis-
ciples actually obey the Father because Jesus commands nothing He has
not learned from the Father. The disciples live as friends of Jesus when
they heed His commands. Through their faith and obedient love, they
prolong in space and time Jesus’ own mission by the Father. As Jesus’
obedient fulfillment of that mission glorified God, so too will theirs. (Jn
Third, the Father also receives glory in the disciples by answering any
prayer made in Jesus’ name. The answered prayer manifests that the Fa-
ther and Son act as one. (Jn 15:16-17)
In summary then, love, obedience, and answered prayer all manifest
the Father’s glory in the disciples. The fact, then, that Jesus has called and
chosen the disciples to serve as the medium through which the Father’s

55. Cf. Jan G. Van der Watt, “‘Metaphorik’ in Joh 15,1-8,” Biblische Zeitschrift,
38(1994), pp. 67-80.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 77

glory becomes historically manifest ought to fill them with the fullness of
joy. (Jn 15:11)
As branches on the vine of Christ pruned by His teachings, the dis-
ciples can expect to meet with hatred and hostility from the world, the
Satanic realm which hates both Jesus and the Father. The perfect mutual
indwelling of the Father and Son transforms hatred for the Son into ha-
tred for the Father. The world hates Jesus because He has proclaimed His
identity with the Father. The world, therefore, will also hate the disciples
for repeating that testimony. (Jn 15:22-24)
The risen Christ will send the Holy Breath, the “other witness,” in
order to empower the disciples to bear witness to Jesus in the midst of a
hostile world. She will come to them from both Jesus and the Father and
will therefore manifest Their joint presence in the disciples. The fact,
then, that the Holy Breath issues from the Father as Her ultimate source
means that She makes the Father present in the disciples in a manner
analogous to His presence in Jesus. The disciples must therefore antici-
pate that their witness to the indwelling of God will subject them to the
same hatred and hostility which the world has shown Jesus Himself. As
in the Jesus’ case, the violent persecution of His followers will manifest
the unbelief and murderous malice of the dark powers. (Jn 15:18-20,
Despite the hostility of the world, the Holy Breath’s action in the dis-
ciples will manifest Jesus’ presence in them and the righteousness of His
cause by inspiring their fearless testimony to His unity with the Father.
(Jn 16:10) The “other witness” will ensure that the disciples’ testimony
expresses faithful obedience to Jesus, the same kind of obedience as Jesus
exhibited to the Father. In testifying to Jesus, then, the disciples will obey
both Son and Father; and that sinless obedience will vindicate the justice
(dikaiosounês) both of Jesus and of His cause. (Jn 16:14-15)
Like the first part of the last discourse, the second returns as it closes to
the theme of Jesus’ return to the Father. In treating of Jesus’ return, the
second part of the last discourse both repeats things already said and
embellishes them with new insights.
The disciples want to ask Jesus to clarify the meaning both of His im-
manent separation from them for a short time and of His return to the
Father; but the disciples fear exposing their own ignorance. (Jn 16:17-19)
Jesus answers their unspoken question by assuring them that they face a
time of extreme sorrow but that it will not last long. (Jn 16:20-21) Jesus
also assures them that the joy which they will experience when He re-
turns to them will give them full satisfaction. When that day comes, they
will know the Father with a new immediacy which will make it unneces-
sary for Jesus to speak about the Father in metaphors and figures of speech.
Their new intimacy with the Father will express itself in petitionary prayer;
78 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

and the Father’s unceasing response to prayers offered to Him in Jesus’

name will manifest the intimate love which the Father has for all those
who love the Son. This intimate experience of the Father’s generous love
will bring the disciples’ joy to its fullness. Indeed, efficacious use of peti-
tionary prayer will draw the disciples into Jesus’ own Abba experience.
(Jn 16:23-27)
As for His return to the Father, Jesus asserts that He is simply returning
to the same state of existence He had before He came into the world. (Jn
16:28) Moreover, Jesus assures the disciples that, even though they will
abandon Him in the ordeal He is about to face, the Father will not aban-
don Him. No suffering or trial should, then, cause the disciples to doubt
that even in His passion Jesus triumphs over the world.56 (Jn 16:31-32)
The last discourse closes with Jesus’ priestly prayer. In the prayer, Jesus
models for the disciples the kind of intimate relationship to the Father
which they will experience after Jesus’ resurrection and after the coming
of the Breath. At the same time, the prayer expresses the abiding love and
concern for the disciples which Jesus will continue to have for them after
He has left them. The priestly prayer also recapitulates many of the themes
which Jesus has developed during the last discourse: the Son’s glorifica-
tion in Himself, His revelation to the disciples of the truth the Father has
entrusted to Him, the world’s abiding hostility to Jesus and to His dis-
ciples. Finally, the evangelist names Jesus’ motive in praying the prayer:
as He moves on to the full revelation of His glory through His passion
and resurrection, Jesus desires to share with the disciples the fullness of
His joy. (Jn 17:3)
Jesus begins the prayer by begging the Father to reveal His glory in the
Son so that the Son in turn can glorify the Father by imparting to the
disciples eternal life. As we have seen, this He will do by communicating
to them the living water of the divine Breath. That gift will manifest itself
in the disciples’ faith and confession of Jesus as the one who reveals the
Father and thus makes the one true God present. (Jn 17:1-3) The Son’s
glory does not differ, then, from the Father’s but itself manifests the Father’s
glory in and through the gift of the Breath. Moreover, the manifestation
of the divine glory unites the disciples to God and so ensures their life
with God after death.
Through His obedient fulfillment of His mission from the Father, Jesus
has already glorified the Father on earth. The full revelation of His divine
glory in the paschal mystery develops, therefore, in continuity with the
divine glory already revealed in Jesus’ life, in His ministry, in His teach-
ing, and in the signs He has performed. During His ministry, Jesus has
glorified the Father by teaching the disciples to name the one true God as
56. Cf. NJBC, 61:188-198; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 658-738; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 129-146.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 79

their Father. This Jesus has accomplished by revealing His own identity
with the Father, by revealing that He shares the same divine name (“I
AM”) as the Father. The revelation of the Son’s divinity coincides, there-
fore, with the revelation of the creator God as Father. (Cf. Jn 8:28)
In Jesus’ revelation as Son, the Father takes an active role. He draws the
disciples to Jesus and gives them to Him as a gift. Through faith in Jesus
they have come to know the Father in two ways: 1) they recognize that
Jesus comes to them from the Father, and 2) they have accepted all He
has taught and revealed to them as also coming from the Father. (Jn 17:4-8)
Moreover, having glorified the Father in all these ways, Jesus now begs
the Father to manifest the glory which He possessed before He became
incarnate. (Jn 17:5) That manifestation includes not only Jesus’ resurrec-
tion but the disciple’s testimony to Him in the power of the Breath. Jesus,
therefore, prays to the Father for His disciples, because they will continue
to manifest the Son’s glory on earth after He departs from them. Indeed,
the Father has given the disciples to Jesus for the express purpose that
they prolong historically the revelation of the Son’s glory on earth. The
disciples belong to the Father; and for that reason the Father has the
power to give the disciples to the Son as His own. The disciples will
manifest the glory of Jesus by their fidelity to the God Jesus reveals and
by their faith in God as Father. They will also reveal Jesus’ glory by their
union with one another in faith, obedience, and love.57 (Jn 17:10-12)
The fact that the disciples belong to the Father and to Jesus sets them
apart from the world by translating them into the realm of obedient faith
and love. (Jn 17:9, 14, 16) Among the disciples only Judas has fallen
victim to Satan’s wiles and thrown his lot in with the world by betraying
Jesus; and even this happened in order to fulfill the scriptures. (Jn 17:12,
cf. 13:27) Having kept the rest of the disciples safe from the hostile world,
Jesus, as he departs, commends the disciples to the Father’s care, because
they must continue to live in the world and suffer its hostility. (Jn
17:13-16) John’s Jesus, then, anticipates an abiding hostility between His
disciples and the world; but even though the hostile world will resist
them in hatred, the disciples, like Jesus, need to persist in challenging it
to repentance and to faith in Him.
Jesus asks the Father to “consecrate” the disciples “in truth.” Consecra-
tion sanctifies: it sets aside created realities for God and for divine pur-
poses. The disciples will experience that sanctification only if they cling
to the truth of the word which Jesus embodies and proclaims. Indeed,

57. Cf. Wilhelm Thüsing, Die Erhöhung und Verherrlichung Jesu in Johannesevangelium
(Münster: Verlag Aschendorff, 1970); Joseph Huby, “Un double problème de critique
textuelle et d’intepretation: Saint Jean XVII 11, 12,” Recherches de Science Religieuse,
27(1937), pp. 408- 421.
80 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

that very truth sanctifies them and so consecrates them to God by draw-
ing them into Jesus’ passion. (Jn 17:17)
Having asked the Father to consecrate the disciples, Jesus then “conse-
crates Himself.” In what does this self-consecration consist? As the bearer
and embodiment of God’s sanctifying word, Jesus incarnates the holiness
He communicates to the disciples and in this sense enjoys a consecration
“in truth” similar to the consecration He begs for the disciples, though
superior to it. Jesus, however, also says that He consecrates Himself for
the sake of the disciples (hyper autôn). (Jn 17:18) He consecrates Himself
in the same way in which sacrificial victims underwent consecration prior
to their ritual slaughter. Jesus is, then, looking forward to His own death
as a redemptive sacrifice for the sake of the disciples. The revelation of
His glory on the cross, in His resurrection, and in sending of the Breath
will all consecrate the disciples in truth.
The two consecrations have, as a consequence, an intimate connection
with one another. Jesus’ loving sacrifice of Himself for the disciples will
reach its culmination when, as risen Lord, He commissions them to bear
witness in the Breath’s power to the same truth to which Jesus Himself
testified. The disciples will, then, experience their own consecration in
truth by witnessing to Jesus. Then, through the world’s hostile opposi-
tion to their testimony, they will find themselves drawn into Jesus’ aton-
ing death.58 (Jn 17:18-19)
Having described the mission of the disciples as their consecration “in
truth,” Jesus closes the priestly prayer by commending to the Father all
those who will believe because of the disciples’ witness of faith. More
specifically, Jesus prays that all those who come to believe in Him will
participate in the unity which results from the mutual indwelling of the
divine persons. Father and Son dwell in one another within the Godhead
and so share the same divinity and life. The unity of Christians with one
another in obedient faith and love, their mutual indwelling in commu-
nity, will, then, manifest that they also dwell in God and God in them.
(Jn 17:20-21)
The unity of the disciples with one another and with Father and Son
through the action of the indwelling Breath will challenge the world to
believe in Jesus and in His mission by the Father. It will do so because it
will make the divine glory visible. The disciples’ love for one another will
also reflect and manifest Jesus’ love for them, just as Jesus’ love for His
disciples manifests the Father’s own love in sending the Son. (Jn 17:22-23)

58. Cf. Andre Feuillet, The Priesthood of Christ and His Ministers, translated by Matthew
J. O’Connell (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1975); Jean Delorme, “Sacerdoce du
Christ et ministère: (à propos de Jean 17) semantique et théologie biblique,” Recherches
de Science Religieuse, 62(1974), pp. 199-219; Jean Giblet, “Sanctifie-les dans la verité—
Jean 17:1-26,” Bible et Vie Chrétienne, 19(1957), pp. 58-73.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 81

Finally, Jesus prays to the Father that all those who believe will one day
behold His divine glory face to face in heaven, the same glory which the
Son enjoys eternally as the Father’s gift. (Jn 17:24-25)
Clearly, for the fourth evangelist, the divine triad provides the proto-
type of all communal unity on earth. The mutual bond of love uniting
Christians causes them to dwell in one another in such a way as to unite
them perfectly and endow them with divine life and glory. The unity of
the Christian community in mutual love approximates the divine unity
because it results from God’s action in the community and imitates the
divine love and mutual indwelling of Father, Son, and Breath. While the
priestly prayer does not address the question of the institutional unity of
the visible Church, it does rule out any institutional divisions incompat-
ible with the perfection of love to which faith in Jesus summons believ-
Moreover, the evangelist clearly regards union with Jesus in heaven as a
direct result of the union the disciples have had with Him on earth. The
face-to-face vision of His glory will bring the inchoate union with Him
which believers enjoy in this life to its culmination and perfection.59
The priestly prayer ends with the following promise:

Righteous Father, the world has not known you; but I have known you
and these have known that you have sent me. I have made your name
known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love with
which you loved me may be in them, and so that I may be in them. (Jn

In the first letter of John, the righteousness of God stands revealed in

His power to forgive sin and to purify human conduct of any trace of
moral or religious defilement. (1 Jn 1:9) The righteousness of the Father
contrasts, then, with the sinful unbelief of the world. It also grounds the
obedient faith of the disciples. In bringing the disciples to faith and in
separating them from a sinful world through divine forgiveness, the Fa-
ther holds the initiative. In accepting Jesus as sent by the Father, the
disciples both acknowledge His divinity and confess that the Son’s revela-
tion as Son simultaneously reveals the Father as Father.
Jesus promises that He will continue to reveal the Father’s name to the
disciples. As we have already seen, the Holy Breath in Her function as
“another witness” like Jesus makes the risen Christ present in the com-
munity. The community will then continue to know the Father to the
extent that the activity of the indwelling, divine Breath causes them to
embody the same kind of filial relationship to the Father as Jesus did.
59. Cf. Mark L. Appold, The Oneness Motif in the Fourth Gospel (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr,
1976); Jean Cadier, “The Unity of the Church: An Exposition of John 17,” Interpre-
tation, 11(1957), pp. 166-176.
82 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

When they do that, then Jesus will indeed dwell in them and they in
Him. Moreover, just as the Son’s love for the Father responds to the Father’s
prior love, so too the community’s love for the Father will respond to the
Father’s prior gift of love in the Son and Breath. The same love which
binds the members of the divine triad to one another will bind the dis-
ciples to the Father by teaching them to incarnate Jesus’ own love. In
Johannine theology, love provides the key to Christological knowing.60

The Father in the Passion

Although Jesus has assured the disciples that the Father will remain with
Him in His passion, we find only one reference to the Father in the fourth
evangelist’s passion narrative. In the garden after Jesus’ arrest Peter cuts
off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Jesus rebukes
him: “Sheath your sword. Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given
me?” (Jn 18:11; cf. Mk 14:47, Mt 26:515; Lk 22:49-50)
As we have seen, the fourth evangelist in his concern to portray Jesus’
passion as the saving manifestation of His divine glory omits any shame-
ful details from his narrative which might derogate from that revelation.
After Jesus’ scourging, for example, the soldiers strike but do not degrade
Him with mockery and spittle. (Jn 19:1-3)
The fourth evangelist seems to have omitted the agony in the garden
for similar reasons. Any sign of weakness on Jesus’ part would call atten-
tion to His humanity rather than to the divine glory His suffering mani-
fests. As we have seen, however, Jesus’ words to Peter do echo His prayer
to the Father as we find it recorded in the synoptic tradition. In all four
gospels Jesus speaks of the cup of suffering which the Father asks Him to
drain. (Cf. Mk 14:36, Mt 26:39; Lk 22:42) Like Jesus’ prayer in the
synoptics, Jesus’ rebuke to Peter points to His death as the ultimate ex-
pression of His obedience to the Father.61 (Jn 18:1-12)

The Father in the Resurrection

When Jesus appears to the ten disciples in the upper room on the evening
of Easter Sunday, He invokes the Father’s name in imparting to the dis-
ciples the gift of the divine Breath.

“Peace to you,” he said to them again; “As the Father has sent Me, so I send
you.” And when He had said this, He breathed upon them with the words:
“Receive a sanctifying Breath. If you forgive others’ sins, their sins are for-
given; if you hold them bound, they are held bound.” (Jn 19:21-23)

60. Cf. NJBC, 61:199-205; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 739-783; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 147-159.
61. Cf. NJBC, 61:208; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 805-818; Hänchen, Commen-
tary on John, II, pp. 160-174.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 83

During the last discourse, Jesus has, as we have seen, promised to im-
part to His disciples an abiding peace which transcends anything which
the world can give. (Jn 14:27) Now as the risen Christ He fulfills that
promise through the gift of the sanctifying, sin-forgiving Breath. The
fact that the Breath comes in sanctification and in order to effect the
forgiveness of sins, manifests the righteousness of the Father. (Jn 18:25)
Ultimately, the Breath comes from the Father since She comes to the
disciples through the Son whom the Father sends. (Jn 14:25-26, 16:7,
13) Moreover, Jesus’ words make it clear that He sends the sin-forgiving
Breath to the disciples in order that they might prolong His own mission
from the Father.
The risen Christ retains the wounds of His passion, (Jn 20:20) His
death, resurrection, and mission of the Breath in other words, stand his-
torically revealed as a single, saving event which effects the forgiveness of
sins. A sinful humanity will, however, experience that forgiveness only
through faith in Jesus and through obedience to His commands. Unbe-
lievers and sinners remain bound by the judgment of God.62

The Analogy of Christological Knowing

The synoptic Jesus proclaims the reign of God; the Johannine Jesus men-
tions the kingdom only once during His public ministry, and then only
in private discourse. (Jn 3:3) In Johannine theology, the paschal mystery
reveals the kingdom and the full scope of Jesus’ divine messianic king-
ship. Focus on the paschal mystery and on the divine truths which it
discloses also colors the Beloved Disciple’s account of Jesus’ relationship
to the Father.
As we saw in volume two, the synoptic evangelists use a variety of nar-
rative and rhetorical strategies in order to assert Jesus’ divinity. In their
portrait of Jesus’ relationship to the Father, however, the synoptic gospels
stress the moral attitudes toward the Father which Jesus exemplifies for
the disciples’ imitation. In all three synoptics, Jesus relates to the Father
in perfect obedience, unconditioned trust, and all-consuming love. More-
over, the synoptic Jesus typically effaces Himself before the Father.
Obedience, trust, and love also characterize the Johannine Jesus’ rela-
tionship to the Father; but, unlike the Jesus of the synoptics, the Johannine
Jesus constantly harangues unbelieving Jews about His co-equality with
the Father. In virtue of His divine pre-existence with the Father, the Jesus
of the fourth gospel claims unique knowledge of the inner life of God
and of other heavenly goings-on.
The atemporal viewpoint from which the Johannine Jesus discourses
about His relationship to the Father enables the fourth evangelist to clarify

62. Cf. NJBC, 61:234; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 1018-1052; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 206-217.
84 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

the ontological character of that relationship in much greater detail than

the synoptics. Even in discoursing about Jesus’ eternal relationship to the
Father, however, the Beloved Disciple appeals to the shared faith experi-
ence of his community rather than to metaphysical a prioris, in the man-
ner of some of the fathers of the Church.
The Johannine doctrine of the mutual indwelling of the divine persons
illustrates what I mean. The Beloved Disciple appeals to the Christian
community’s experience of the indwelling of the risen Christ in them
through the power of His Breath in order to validate his claim that within
the Godhead Father and Son dwell in one another. In both cases, obedi-
ence and co-activity provide the key to understanding the meaning of
indwelling rather than abstract metaphysical concepts. Moreover, the ex-
perience of the disciples’ dwelling in the Son through the power of His
Breath engages the Johannine community’s confession of Jesus’ real eu-
charistic presence. The obedience of faith and the experience of shared
eucharistic worship, therefore, provide the experiential keys which un-
lock the Johannine notion of mutual indwelling.
In the same way, a Johannine theology of the divine glory appeals di-
rectly to the faith experience of the Johannine community. The commu-
nity participates in the glory of the risen Christ through proclaiming His
oneness to the Father. At least, the community does so when it makes
that proclamation with the same selfless dedication to revealed Truth as
Jesus Himself exemplified. The Father’s glorification of the Son for the
fidelity of His testimony to the Father transforms the Son into the
Breath-baptizer; and the Breath whom He imparts reveals Jesus’ glory by
inspiring the disciples’ faith-witness to His divinity.
In other words, despite the Beloved Disciple’s insistence on doctrinal
aspects of Jesus’ relationship to the Father, the evangelist, like the synoptics,
vindicates the inherently practical character of Christological knowing.
Jesus knows the Father lovingly and obedientially. The disciples must
learn in their turn to know both Jesus and the Father lovingly and
obedientially. The disciples know the Father through loving, obediential
assimilation to Jesus, especially in His witness to the Father.
The beleaguered state of the Johannine community: its expulsion from
the synagogue for heresy, its polemic confrontation with the Baptizer’s
disciples, its internal debate with the Christian dissidents all color the
dualistic rhetoric of Johannine soteriology. Crisis precludes compromise.
Hence, the Beloved Disciple describes his community’s confrontation with
hostile unbelief and with internal doctrinal dissension as the conflict be-
tween two irreconcilables: the light and the darkness. In that conflict,
however, the Father’s universal saving will mutes somewhat the
soteriological dualism. Despite the world’s sinful self-alliance with the
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 85

forces of darkness, the Father desires only to save it and reveals in Jesus
the universal scope of His saving intentions.
With all its doctrinal sophistication, therefore, the Beloved Disciple’s
theological account of Jesus’ relationship to the Father roots itself in the
experience of Christological knowing. One comes to know who Jesus is
and the nature of His relationship to the Father through practical assimi-
lation to Him in the power of His Breath. That assimilation transforms
one into a child of God in His image. In the fourth gospel, such practical
assimilation also includes the deed of faith.
Those who respond to the Breath of the risen Christ prolong Jesus’
saving mission to a sinful world and like Him serve paradoxically as in-
struments of God’s judgment. That negative judgment falls, however,
only on those who stubbornly sin against the light. By glorifying God in
their faithful witness to Jesus’ divinity, the disciples come to know who
Jesus is by imitating Jesus’ own faithful witness to the Father in obedi-
ence, trust, and love.
This section has dealt with the Beloved Disciple’s perception of the
relationship between Jesus and the Father. The section which follows ex-
amines His relationship to the divine Breath.

The fourth gospel refers more frequently to the Father than to the divine
Breath. Still, the Beloved Disciple develops a rich pneumatology.

Jesus and the Holy Breath

As in the synoptic gospels, John the Baptizer insists on Jesus’ superiority
to himself and on the superiority of Christian baptism to Johannine. (Jn
1:24-27) As we have seen, however, the forensic tone of the Johannine
narrative transforms the Baptizer into one of the witnesses whose testi-
mony helps establish legally the truth of Jesus’ own proclamation of the
Father. In the fourth gospel the Baptizer actually witnesses the descent of
the Breath on Jesus and testifies to it.
The fourth evangelist insists characteristically on the permanence with
which the Holy Breath dwells in Jesus. She descends upon Him to re-
main (menein) with Him. The permanence of Her presence develops a
theology of divine indwelling. (Jn 1:32-34)
The Johannine Jesus fulfills the Baptizer’s promise that He will baptize
with a sanctifying Breath when on Easter He breathes Her into the dis-
ciples. She will dwell permanently in them and empower them to pro-
long Jesus’ own mission on earth by proclaiming the forgiveness of sins.63
(Jn 20:19-23; 14:27, 16:33)

63. Cf. NJBC, 61:32; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 55-72; Hänchen, Commentary on
John, I, pp. 150-156.
86 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

In His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus reveals more about the na-
ture of Christian baptism: it effects rebirth in water and the Breath. The
Breath begets a share in divine life, pneuma without the definite article.
This heavenly, pneumatic begetting of life differs in kind from physical
begetting, which gives rise only to death-bound life, to flesh. The Breath
communicates by contrast Pneuma, or imperishable risen life. (Jn 5:5-6;
cf. 1 Jn 3:9, 5:1, 18) Moreover, the gift of “Breath” makes possible au-
thentic eucharistic worship by inspiring faith in Christ’s real presence in
the eucharistic elements. (Jn 6:52-65)
As we have already seen, in the fourth gospel the kingdom does not
occupy the central place in Jesus’ preaching which it holds in the synoptics.
Still, by portraying Christian baptism as the door which leads into the
kingdom, The Beloved Disciple implicitly points to the Christian com-
munity as the incipient realization of the divine reign on earth.
Those begotten of the Breath derive their life from above (anôthen).
(Jn 3:7) Jesus describes this heavenly begetting as a mysterious event.
Like the wind its origin and ultimate destiny remain mysterious; but the
baptized do experience the Breath in this life. They experience Her as a
powerful and mysterious force which draws them into the mystery of
Her origin and of their destiny. As we have seen, She comes from God,
the gift of Father and Son, and leads to risen life. The disciples can no
more control the Breath than they can control the wind. They must,
then, submit to the pneumatic impulse which Breath-baptism brings.
This account of pneumatic begetting clarifies what the prologue means
by being born of God.64 (Jn 1:13)
In His final testimony to Jesus, the Baptizer makes it clear that Jesus
imparts the Breath in eschatological abundance. John says: “He whom
God has sent utters the words of God, for without measure does He give
the Breath.” (Jn 3:34) The antecedent of the subject of the verb “give”
remains ambiguous. Does it refer to the Father who gives the Breath with-
out measure to the Son? Or does it refer to the Son who gives the Breath
without measure to the disciples? The evangelist probably intends both
meanings because He immediately adds that the Father gives all things to
the Son. In other words, the Father sends the Breath to dwell in the Son
in eschatological abundance so that the Son can breathe Her forth with
the same inexhaustible abundance. (Jn 3:35)
A similar ambiguity attends the Baptizer’s words: “He whom God has
sent utters the words of God.” (Jn 3:34) They could refer either to the

64. Cf. NJBC, 61:46-52; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 128-149; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 194-207; Ignace de la Potterie, “Jesus et Nicodemus: de
revelatione Jesus et vera fide in eum (Jo 3:11-21),” Verbum Domini, 47(1969), pp.
141-150, 257- 283; Linda Bellville, “‘Born of Water and the Spirit’: John 3:5,” Trinity
Journal,1(1980), pp. 125-141.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 87

Baptizer or to Jesus. John speaks with prophetic authority and therefore

derives His mission from God. Jesus speaks as the Son of God sent by the
Father to save the world. Again the evangelist probably intends the ambi-
guity: the Baptizer’s witness to Jesus helps validate the truth which Jesus’
speaks in the Father’s name, even though as Son of God incarnate Jesus
speaks with an even greater authority than the Baptizer.65
As we have already seen, in His conversation with the Samaritan woman,
Jesus offers to give “living water” which slakes human thirst for everlast-
ing life. (Jn 4:10-14) Living water means flowing, potable water, water
which causes plants to grow, relieves thirst, and animates living things.
Living water contrasts with the saline waters of the Dead Sea: unpotable
and death dealing.
Jesus also promises the Samaritan woman that the Breath will resemble
a “spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn 4:14) Later in the same
conversation, Jesus foretells the day when people will worship God “in
breath and truth.” As we have seen, Jesus identifies “breath” (pneuma
without the definite article) with the life common to Father, Son, and
Breath. (Jn 4:23-24) The Breath begets Breath. Moreover, as we have also
seen, since the risen Christ functions as Her source, the Breath also acts
as a principle of risen life.66 (Jn 20:22-23)
During the feast of Tabernacles, the evangelist identifies the living wa-
ter which Jesus will give with the gift of the Holy Breath:

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out:
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me; let whoever believes in Me drink.
Scripture has it: ‘From within Him rivers of living water shall flow.’” Now
He said this about the Breath, which those who believed in Him were to
receive; for as yet the Breath was not [given], for Jesus was not yet glori-
fied. (Jn 7:37-39)

The Feast of Tabernacles celebrated the harvest. Every day of the

week-long celebration a priest scooped water with a golden pitcher from
the stream which supplied water to the pool of Siloam saying: “With joy
you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” The priest then carried
the pitcher in procession into the temple accompanied by the people
carrying myrtle and lemon branches. In the temple the priest poured the
water onto the ground through a silver funnel. On the last day, a seven-fold
65. Cf. NJBC, 61:54-55; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 150-163; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 208-212; John W. Pryor, “John 3.3,5: A Study in the
Relation of John’s Gospel to the Synoptic Tradition,” Journal for the Study of the New
Testament, 41(1991), pp. 71-95.
66. Cf. NJBC, 61:56-62; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 166-185; G.J. van der Watt,
“The Use of ‘Aionios’ in the Concept Zoê Aionios in John’s Gospel,” Novum Testamen-
tum, 31(1989), pp. 217-228; J.-L. Ska, S.J., “Jésus et la Samaritaine (Jn 4): Utilité de
l’ancien testament,” Nouvelle Revue Théologique, 118(1996), pp. 641-652 .
88 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

circumambulation of the altar in the temple accompanied the pouring of

the water. These rituals provide the symbolic background of Jesus’ re-
newed promise of the living water.67
Jesus speaks in the preceding text as divine wisdom personified. In the
book of Proverbs, divine Wisdom invites people to come to her to eat
and drink. (Pr 9:3) The gift of living water will, then, impart divine wis-
dom to those who receive it. As we have also seen, it will in addition
communicate imperishable risen life; for, as the prologue has made clear,
in God life and light coincide. (Jn 1:4-5)
The Scripture text Jesus cites in verse 38 has no parallel in the Old
Testament. Some have suggested that it blends several texts (for example,
Zech 14:8 and Ez 47:1ff.). Whatever its source, the text contains another
grammatical ambiguity. To whose heart does the evangelist refer: to Jesus’
heart or to the believer’s? Once again the Beloved Disciples probably in-
tends both meanings. John has already referred to Jesus as Breath-baptizer
and source of the Breath. (Jn 1:33) At the same time, Jesus will commu-
nicate the Breath to the disciples to share with others in forgiving sins.
Scholars continue to debate both the punctuation and meaning of this
difficult passage.68 (Jn 20:21-23)
67. Cf. David Michael Stanley, S.J. “The Feast of Tents: Jesus’ Self-Revelation,” Worship,
34(1959-1960), pp. 20-27.
68. Cf. NJBC, 61:111-112; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 319-331; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 9-20; C.F. Burney, “The Lord’s Old Testament Reference
in St. John VII. 37,38,” The Expositor, 20(1920), pp. 385-388; T. Herbert Bindley,
“John VII, 37, 38,” The Expositor, 20(1920), pp. 443-447; M.-E. Boismard, “De son
ventre couleront des fleuves d’eau,” Revue Biblique, 65(1958), pp. 522-546; Jean-Paul
Audet, “Les citations targumiques dans le quatrième évangile,” Revue Biblique,
66(1959), pp. 374-386; J. Blenkensopp, “John VII. 37-9: Another Note on a
Notorious Crux,” New Testament Studies, 6(1959-1960), pp. 95-98; Juan B. Cortes,
S.J., “Yet Another Look at Jn 7:37-38,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 29(1967), pp.
75-86; “‘Torrentes de agua viva,’ Una Nueva Interpretation de Jn 7, 37-38, Estudios
Biblicos, 16(1957), pp. 279-306; Gordon D. Fee, “Once More—John 7, 37-39,”
Expository Times, 89(1977-1978), pp. 116-118; A.-M. Dubarle, “Les fleuves d’eau vive
(S. Jean vii, 37-39),” Revue Biblique, 52(1945), pp. 238-241; Pierre Grelot, “‘De son
ventre couleront des fleuves d’eau’: La citation scripturaire de Jean VII, 38,” Revue
Biblique, 66(1959), pp. 369-374; “A propos de Jean VII, 38,” Revue Biblique,
67(1960), pp. 224-225; “Jean VII, 38: Eau du rocher ou source du temple,” Revue
Biblique, 70(1963), pp. 43-51; S.H. Hooke, “‘The Spirit Was Not Yet,” New
Testament Studies, 9(1962-1963), pp. 372-380; G.D. Kilpatrick, “The Punctuation of
John VII. 37-38,” Journal of Theological Studies, 11(1960) pp. 340-398; C.H. Turner,
“On the Punctuation of St. John VII, 37, 38,” Journal of Theological Studies, 11(1960),
pp. 340-342; M. Miguens, “El Agua y el Espiritu en Jn 7, 37-39,” Estudios Biblicos,
31(1972), pp. 369-398; C.H. Turner, “On the Punctuation of St. John VII, 37, 38,”
Journal of Theological Studies, 24(1923), pp. 66-70; H.D. Woodhouse, “Hard Say-
ings—IX ‘The Holy Ghost was not yet given’ John 7. 39,” Theology, 67(1964), pp.
310-312; K.H. Kuhn, “John VII. 37-8,” New Testament Studies, 4(1957-1958), PP.
63-65; Mariette Canevet, “Une fausse symetrie: La venue du Christ chez les parfaits
dans l”Ancien et le Nouveau Testaments selon Origène, in Joh I, VII, 37-40,”
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 89

As we have already seen, Jesus in His last discourse promises to send

the disciples “another witness (parakleton),” whom He identifies as the
Breath of truth and as the Holy Breath with which He will baptize. (Jn
14:16-7, 26) No other New Testament writer uses the term “parakletos.”
Its use in John reflects the forensic tone of His gospel.
“Parakletos” in Greek can mean an advocate, or attorney-at-law. It can
also mean a spokesperson, or intercessor. It can mean a comforter, or
consoler. Finally, it can mean a witness, or teacher.
Of the possible meanings “witness” seems the one most likely intended
by the evangelist. Although translators frequently render “parakletos” as
comforter, in the fourth gospel the Breath comes, not so much as a source
of comfort, but as the inspiration of the disciples’ witness, or testimony,
to Jesus. As She inspired Jesus’ testimony to the Father, so She will inspire
the disciple’s testimony to Him. The Breath of truth will come to the
disciples and abide in them as She abides in Jesus. As we have seen, this
insistence on the abiding character of the Breath typifies the fourth
evangelist’s understanding of our relationship to God. The Breath comes
only to those who respond to Jesus in faith. Hence, She cannot come to a
world trapped in sinful unbelief. (Jn 14:17) As the Breath of truth, the
second witness will enable the disciples to testify to the divine truth in-
carnate in Jesus. This She will accomplish by instructing them and re-
minding them of everything which Jesus taught. The term “witness” ac-
cords well with the Beloved Disciple’s forensic theology. (Jn 14:26)
It would appear that the Breath will instruct the disciples differently
from the way in which Jesus did. She will enable them to appropriate in
a new, vivid, and immediate way whatever Jesus has said to them. In
other words, She will bring a wise enlightenment which endows Jesus’
verbal instructions with new meaning. More than an angelic presence,
the Breath of truth teaches the disciples to grasp through obedient imita-
tion the very truth which Jesus embodies. As we have already seen, in the
fourth gospel as in the synoptics, the disciples know the truth Jesus em-
bodies by practical assimilation to Him, by entering into His own filial
relationship to the Father.
The enlightenment of the Breath will empower the disciples to pro-
long Jesus’ testimony to the Father. Both Son and Father send the Breath
to the disciples. (Jn 14:26, 15:26-27) As a consequence, She makes Them
present to the disciples and the disciples to Them.
Her testimony about Jesus to the disciples will find expression in the
disciples’ own testimony to Jesus and to the Father He reveals. The testi-
monies of the Breath and of the disciples coincide: the Breath testifies in
the disciples’ testimony. Moreover, the fact that the disciples have been
Gregorianum, 75(1994), pp. 743-749; Marten J.J. Menken, “The Origin of the Old
Testament Quotation in John 7:38,” Novum Testamentum, 38(1996), pp. 160-175.
90 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry means that they can with
the Breath’s inspiration hand on faithfully everything which Jesus taught.69
Through Her testimony to Jesus in the disciples, the other witness will
also serve as an instrument of divine judgment. The unbelief of many
who heard Jesus and rejected Him has placed them under the divine judg-
ment. In the same way, the world’s hostility to Jesus, its refusal to believe
the Breath-inspired witness of His disciples, will cause it and those who
belong to it to stand before God condemned by their stubborn refusal to
believe. (Jn 16:7-11)
Specifically, the Breath will unmask the lies and errors of the world.
She will prove the world wrong on three issues. First, She will prove the
world wrong about sin. (Jn 16:9) The world condemned Jesus as a sin-
ner; and those guilty of the crime hypocritically protested their own faith
in God while murdering Him. When the Breath comes, She will make it
clear that Jesus’ murderers passed false judgment on Him precisely be-
cause they refused to believe in Him. Their violence and unbelief marks
them, not Him, as the real sinners.
Second, the other witness will, as we have seen, also show that the
world erred about justice. In condemning Jesus the world pretended to
act justly. The second witness will make it clear that His glorification and
return to the Father in heaven reverses the world’s judgment and un-
masks its injustice. (Jn 16:10) This the Breath will do by revealing the
justice of God in the forgiveness of sins. (Jn 20:19-23)
Finally, the other witness will prove the world wrong about condemna-
tion. The world condemned Jesus; but the other witness will make it
clear that in condemning Jesus the world through its sinful unbelief placed
itself under Jesus’ own judgment as eschatological judge. The Father, as
we have seen, sanctions Jesus’ condemnation of unbelief. The Breath of
truth, for Her part, manifests the truth in part by revealing that the world
stands under the dominion of Satan, not of God, and that God in the
paschal mystery has already condemned Satan. (Jn 16:11)
In summary, then, the Holy Breath, a witness for Jesus in the drama of
cosmic judgment, will confound the world by unmasking its lies and
falsehood. Without the cover of deceit, the world will stand clearly and
justly condemned by God and by His incarnate Son.70
Jesus must depart before the Breath can come, for She proceeds from
the risen Christ and therefore mediates risen life. Jesus’ glorification by
the Father in His passion and resurrection mediates the gift of the Breath
to the disciples. (Jn 16:7, 19:30, 20:22-23) Jesus’ departure should not,
69. Cf. NJBC, 61:183-185; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 649-657; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 119-128.
70. Cf. M.F. Boismard, O.P., “Le paraklet, défenseur du Christ devant la conscience du
croyant (Jo. XVI, 8-11),” Revue des Sciences Philosophiques et Théologiques, 33(1949),
pp. 361-389.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 91

however, cause the disciples concern or anxiety, because the Holy Breath
of truth will enable them to appropriate the truth about Jesus. She will
also reveal to them truths which He, because of their weakness and ob-
tuseness, could not reveal to them while He lived among them. She will
instruct the disciples about the shape of the eschatological future which
is in process of dawning. (Jn 16:12-13)
The Beloved Disciple, using dispensational rather than metaphysical
language, characterizes the Breath’s relationship to the Son as obedien-
tial. Just as Jesus obeyed perfectly the Father who sent Him, so too the
Breath will obey Jesus who sends Her. Moreover, in virtue of Jesus’ obedi-
ential relationship to the Father, the Father sanctions everything the Son
says and does. Hence, the Father like the Son will sanction the new truths
to which the Breath in obedience to the Son will lead the Christian com-
munity. (Jn 16:14-15)
The Beloved Disciple espouses an open-ended understanding of divine
revelation. The self-disclosure of God begun in the incarnation reaches
its completion with the coming of the Breath who guides the Christian
community to “all truth,” even to truths which Jesus Himself never spoke.
(Jn 16:13) The perfect co-activity which discloses the mutual indwelling
of the divine persons ensures that both Father and Son endorse the Holy
Breath’s revelations about the future. The truth disclosed as revelation
unfolds enjoys, then, the authoritative sanction of all three members of
the divine triad.71
As we have seen, when the risen Christ appears to the disciples on
Easter, after a greeting of peace, He breathes on them and says:

As the Father has sent me, so I also send you. Receive a sanctifying Breath.
Whoever’s sins you forgive are forgiven them. Whoever’s sin you retain are
retained. (Jn 20:19-23)
71. Cf. NJBC, 61:194-198; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 703-717; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 140-148; Otto Betz, Der Paraklet (Leiden: E.J. Brill,
1963); Raymond E. Brown, “The Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel,” New Testament
Studies, 13(1966- 1967), pp. 113-122; C.K. Barrett, “The Holy Spirit in the Fourth
Gospel,” Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 1(1950), pp. 1-15; B.W. Brown, “The
‘Other’ Comforter,” The Expositor, 8th ser., 14(1917), pp. 273-282; George Johnston,
The Spirit-Paraclete in the Gospel of John (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1970); Sr. John Mary Hurley, C.S.N., “The Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel,” Bible
Today, 36(1968), pp. 2485-2488; J.G. Davies, “The Primary Meaning of
PARAKLETOS,” Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 4(1953), pp. 35-38; Franz Mussner,
Praesentia Salutis (Düsseldorf: Patmos Verlag, 1967), pp. 146-158; Rudolf
Schnackenburg, “Die johanneische Gemeinde und ihre Geisterfahrung” in Die Kirche
des Anfangs, edited by R. Schnackenburg et al. (Leipzig: St. Benno Verlag, 1977), pp.
277-304; George Montague, The Holy Spirit: Growth of a Biblical Tradition (New
York, NY: Paulist, 1976), pp. 333-365; Bernard Guillieron, Le Saint-Esprit: Actualité
du Christ (Geneva: Labor et Fides, 1978), pp. 79-105; Kurt Niederwimmer, “Zure
Eschatologie im Corpus Johanneum,” Novum Testamentum, 39(1997), pp. 105-116.
92 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The Holy Breath comes to fulfill Jesus’ promise of a peace other than
the peace which the world gives. (Jn 14:27) The Breath creates peace by
forgiving sins and by revealing the justice of God. Moreover, as the source
of imperishable risen life, She creates a permanent peace which reconciles
humans to God and to one another.
As the other witness, the Holy Breath also comes to commission the
disciples. Jesus sends them forth to testify to Him in Her power. As She
inspired His witness to the Father, so She will now inspire their witness to
Jesus sends the disciples forth to mediate the sanctifying Breath to oth-
ers by forgiving their sins. One accepts divine forgiveness by believing
the disciples’ witness to Jesus as the divine bridegroom who loved a sinful
humanity enough to atone for their sins by His death, resurrection, and
mission of the Breath. That atonement reconciles sinners to God through
the action of the sin-forgiving Breath.72

The Analogy of Christological Knowing

Johannine pneumatology echoes a number of synoptic themes. Only Jesus
baptizes with the divine Breath. Breath-baptism draws one into Jesus’
own mission. The Breath conforms to Jesus those in whom She dwells.
The Breath inspires willingness to testify to Jesus even at the risk of one’s
life. Like Luke, the fourth evangelist stresses the judgmental character of
the Church’s proclamation of the risen Christ.
One also finds, however, important contrasts between synoptic and
Johannine pneumatology. While the synoptics tend to portray practical
obedience to life in the kingdom as the decisive sign of Breath-baptism,
Johannine pneumatology focuses more on the Breath’s inspiration of the
disciples’ testimony to Jesus’ divinity. Concern with belief in Jesus’ eu-
charistic presence also causes the Beloved Disciple to stress more than the
synoptics the Breath-inspired character of eucharistic worship.
Sharp theological focus on the revelatory centrality of the paschal mys-
tery also leads the Beloved Disciple to develop through narrative and
imagery the Pauline theme that the Breath confers a share in risen life. In
Johannine theology, moreover, the image of living water which imparts

72. Cf. NJBC, 61:234; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 1018-1045; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 203-217; Ernest C. Colwell and Eric L. Titus, The Gospel
of the Spirit: A Study in the Fourth Gospel (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1953); W.
Bartlett, “The Coming of the Holy Spirit According to the Fourth Gospel,” Expository
Times, 37(1925- 1926), pp. 71-75; Max Turner and Gary M. Burge, “The Anointed
Community: A Review and Response,” Evangelical Quarterly, 62(1990), pp. 253-268;
Udo Schnelle, “Johannes als Geisttheologie,” Novum Testamentum, 49(1998), pp.
17-31; Miguel Rodríguez-Ruiz, “Estructura del Evangelio de San Juan desde Punto de
Vista Cristológico y Ecclesiológico,” Estudios Biblicos, 56(1998), pp. 75-96.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 93

endless risen life links this aspect of the Breath’s saving presence both to
baptism and to Jesus’ redemptive death.
Finally, the Beloved Disciple stresses more than the synoptics the role
of the abiding, indwelling Breath in developing doctrine and in revealing
the eschatological future. This stress may reflect another aspect of the
situation in which the Beloved Disciple’s community found itself. With
the death of the apostolic witnesses to the risen Christ, the community
may have wondered who would insure the Church’s fidelity to their testi-
mony. The Beloved Disciple looks to the Breath of the risen Christ as the
Church’s link to its risen Lord. Not only will She teach Jesus’ followers to
assimilate His teachings in a new and vivid way; but She will also reveal
to them things of which Jesus could not discourse prior to Her arrival.
Since She proceeds from the risen Christ, the divine Breath will faithfully
lead the Church into the eschatological future which He defines.
This section has examined the Johannine Jesus’ positive relationship to
the Breath. The section which follows meditates His positive relationship
to two historical but symbolic individuals: namely, to Mary, His mother,
and to the Beloved Disciple.

In the fourth gospel Jesus stands in a completely positive relationship to
two historical individuals: to His mother, Mary, and to the Beloved Dis-

Jesus, the Beloved Disciple, and the New Eve

“The disciple whom Jesus loved” appears only in the Book of Glory, which
narrates the paschal mystery. The Beloved Disciple makes an entrance at
the last supper, where he reclines “close to the breast of Jesus,” a phrase
which expresses a personal intimacy analogous to Jesus’ intimacy with
the Father. (Cf. Jn 1:18) At Jesus’ announcement of the impending treach-
ery of one of the disciples, Peter signals to the Beloved Disciple to ask
Jesus to identify the traitor. The Beloved Disciple complies with the re-
quest. (Jn 13:21-25)
The Beloved Disciple joins Peter in following Jesus after His arrest; and
he also stands at the foot of Jesus’ cross on Calvary. The Beloved Disciple’s
presence at the beginning and at the end of the passion suggests his will-
ingness to accompany Jesus throughout the ordeal. (Jn 18:15, 19:25-27)
The Beloved Disciple also witnesses the sign of the blood and water
which flows from Jesus’ pierced side on the cross. Although the evangelist
seems to regard this event as another miraculous sign, the water he wit-
nessed could conceivably have consisted of bodily fluid. The evangelist,
however, sees revelatory significance in the fact that water as well as blood
flowed from Jesus’ side.
94 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The blood symbolizes Jesus’ eucharistic blood which when drunk in

faith insures resurrection. (Jn 6:23) The water foreshadows the gift of the
Breath, the life-giving water imparted in Breath-baptism. (Jn 19:31-37)
The sign of water also refers to John 7:38-39, where Jesus prophesies that
living water will flow from His breast. The flow of water symbolizes the
Breath He will soon pour out on the disciples. With the blood, the water
testifies to the saving character of His death. So too does the fact that in
dying, Jesus “handed over the breath (paredoken to pneuma).” (Jn 19:30)
Jesus’ dying breath foreshadows His eschatological gift of the divine Breath
on Easter. (Jn 20:21-23) Finally, the water flowing from the side of the
crucified Christ reveals Him as the true temple of God from whom living
waters flow to give life to all the land.73 (Ez 47:1-12)
The preparation of the paschal lamb requires that its legs remain un-
broken. (Ex 12:46) The fact that the soldiers did not break Jesus’ legs as
He hung on the cross reveals Jesus as the paschal lamb, the lamb of God
to whom the Baptizer testified. By recalling the Baptizer’s prophecy, the
evangelist also implicitly recalls its other levels of meaning. The allusion
to the paschal lamb thus implicitly compares Jesus both to the suffering
servant, who dies as docilely as a lamb, and to the victorious lamb of
Jewish and Christian apocalyptic.
The fact that the soldiers leave Jesus’ legs unbroken probably alludes as
well to Ps 34:21. There God insures that the just who suffer persecution
will yet preserve their limbs intact. If so, then Jesus’ unbroken legs testify
to His innocent suffering.
The Beloved Disciple also notes that the piercing of Jesus’ side fulfills
another Old Testament prophecy: “They shall look on Him whom they
have pierced.” This prophecy offers a variant reading of Zech 12:10. The
full text of Zechariah describes the day of the Lord when He will in judg-
ment destroy all the enemies of Jerusalem. On that day the House of
David and the citizens of Jerusalem will look on the pierced one and
mourn for him as for a first-born son or only child. The death of the
pierced one resembles that of the suffering servant in second Isaiah in
that it brings redemption: it seems to lift the siege of Jerusalem and cause
Her vindication. (Zech 12:9-14)

73. Cf. Georg Richter, Studien zum Johannesevangelium, edited by Josef Hainz (Regensburg:
Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 1977), pp. 120-142; John Wilkenson, “The Incident of Blood
and Water in John 19.34,” Scottish Journal of Theology, 28(1975), pp. 149-172; A.F.
Sava, “The Wound in the Side of Christ,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 19(1957), pp.
343-346; J. Massingberd Ford, “‘Mingled Blood’ from the Side of Christ (John XIX,
34),” New Testament Studies, 15(1968-1969), pp. 337-338; Martinus J.J. Menkin,
“The Textual Form and Meaning of the Quotation from Zechariah 12:10 in John
19:37,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 55(1993), pp. 494-511; Martinus C. De Boer,
“Jesus the Baptizer: 1 John 5:5-8 and the Gospel of John,” Journal of Biblical Literature,
107(1988), pp. 87-106.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 95

The passage in Zechariah concludes; “When that day comes, a foun-

tain will be opened for the house of David and for the citizens of Jerusa-
lem.” (Zech 13:1) For the evangelist, then, the prophecy of Zechariah
calls attention to the Easter gift of the living water: the gift of the Holy
Breath and of the forgiveness of sins which She will effect. In other words,
the water flowing from the side of the pierced Christ foreshadows that
Jesus is about to fulfill the text: “from within Him shall flow rivers of
living water.” (Jn 7:37-38) This Jesus will do when on Easter He pours
forth the divine Breath as the living water which slakes human thirst for
Even though it seems historically unlikely that the Roman execution-
ers would have allowed people sympathetic to Jesus to stand at the foot of
the cross, the fourth gospel clearly portrays the Beloved Disciple as an
historical personage who witnessed Jesus’ death and the events which
accompanied it. The appendix to the gospel also identifies the Beloved
Disciple with the person of the evangelist. (Jn 21:24)
Like other historical figures in the fourth gospel, however, the Beloved
Disciple also takes on symbolic meaning. The Book of Glory transforms
the Beloved Disciple into a type of the believing Christian. Let us reflect
on the narrative strategies which the evangelist employs in endowing the
figure of the Beloved Disciple with symbolic meaning.74
As we have seen, the Beloved Disciple relates to Jesus with special inti-
macy. The fourth gospel invites the reader to enjoy a similar intimacy.
The Beloved Disciple testifies to the saving significance of Jesus’ death.
The evangelist clearly expects every disciple to share that faith and to
endorse that witness publicly.
The Beloved Disciple also models the way in which the believing Chris-
tian ought to relate to the risen Jesus. As we shall see when we reflect on
Jesus’ relationship to the disciples, the story of Jesus’ apparition to the
disciples parallels their call. The call of the disciples begins with Jesus’
invitation to them to “Come and see.” (Jn 1:39) The invitation sum-
mons them to more than physical sight. Instead, Jesus is inviting the
disciples to see deeply into the reality He incarnates and to do so with the
eyes of faith.
As the disciples begin to gather around Jesus, they recognize Him first
as the Lamb of God, then as the messiah. As we have also seen, Jesus then
promises them that, when the eschatological age dawns, they will “see” in
Him their privileged link to the Father. (Jn 1:35-51)
The disciples finally reach that culminating insight when they encoun-
ter the risen Christ. As a consequence, the fourth evangelist makes com-

74. Cf. NJBC, 61:227; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 932-962; Antonio Vincent
Cernuda, “El desviado Lazaro y el delumbrador Discipulo amado,” Estudios Biblicos,
52(1994), pp. 453-516.
96 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

ing to the vision of faith the motif of his resurrection narrative. In his
account of Jesus’ resurrection appearances, the Beloved Disciple repeat-
edly plays the terms “seeing” and “believing” off against one another. In
each encounter with the risen Christ, each disciple learns to “see” the
risen Christ through a different process of personal transformation in
Among the disciples, however, only the Beloved Disciple comes to res-
urrection faith without laying eyes on the risen Christ. When Mary
Magdalene informs the disciples about the empty tomb, both Peter and
the Beloved Disciple run to the tomb. The latter arrives first but waits for
Peter to catch up before entering the tomb. Peter sees its emptiness and
the burial cloths but does not come to resurrection faith until he encoun-
ters the risen Christ that evening in the upper room. The Beloved Dis-
ciple, by contrast, believes in the risen Christ only on the evidence of the
empty tomb and of the now useless burial cloths. (Jn 20:1-10) The deeper
faith of the Beloved Disciple also appears in the fact that he recognizes
Jesus instantly in His apparition on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Peter
does not recognize Jesus until the Beloved Disciple names Him. (Jn 21:7-8)
The Beloved Disciple’s ability to believe in the resurrection without even
seeing the risen Christ transforms him into a type of all those believers
for whom the fourth evangelist wrote his gospel. (Jn 20:29-31)
The symbolic meaning surrounding the Beloved Disciple helps endow
another historical personage with analogous symbolism: namely, Mary,
the mother of Jesus. In the synoptic gospels, only the women witness
Jesus’ death; and Jesus’ mother does not number among them. In the
fourth gospel, Mary stands at the foot of the cross together with the Be-
loved Disciple. (Jn 19:26) The Beloved Disciple’s presence at the foot of
the cross exemplifies another ideal which all believers should imitate: the
willingness to stand by Jesus in His passion, even at the risk of one’s own
life. Moreover, only in the fourth gospel does the dying Jesus give the
Beloved Disciple to His mother as her own son:

When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing
near, He said to His mother: “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to
the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took
her to his own home.75 (Jn 19:26-27)

75. Cf. NJBC, 61:224; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 897-931; Hänchen, Commen-
tary on John, II, pp. 189-202; Thorwald Lorenzen, Der Lieblingsjünger in
Johannesevangelium (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk Verlag, 1971); Ralph Russell,
O.S.B., The Beloved Disciple and the Resurrection,” Scripture, 8(1956), pp. 41-50;
Martin Rese, “Das Selbstzeugnis des Johannesevangeliums über seiner Verfasser,”
Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis, 72(1996), pp. 75-111.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 97

Mary appears only twice in John’s gospel. She persuades Jesus to work
His first sign at Cana; and she stands at the foot of His cross. The two
appearances, one at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and another at its
end, both occur on the last day of a symbolic week of events. They func-
tion, therefore, as a biblical inclusion. Mary at Cana also foreshadows
Mary on Calvary because the sign which she causes Jesus to work at Cana
anticipates His “hour,” the hour of His exaltation in suffering and in
glory. (Jn 2:4, 19:26)
In her first appearance at the marriage at Cana, Mary informs Jesus
that the wine provided for the wedding has run out. Jesus replies to her
enigmatically: “What to Me and to you, woman? My hour is not yet
come.” (Jn 2:5) The phrase “what to me and to you?” translates literally a
Semitic idiom. The idiom expresses mild disagreement with something
just said. By following the question “What to Me and to You?” with a
further statement—namely, “My hour is not yet come”—the evangelist
endows the idiomatic question with symbolic meaning. In effect, Jesus is
saying that the time has not come for Him to provide the wine He most
desires to provide. That gift must await the hour when He is lifted up in
suffering and in glory. Jesus is, of course, referring to the wine of the
eucharist which He will give as His blood when His hour comes. The
eucharistic wine will recall His saving death; but it will also foreshadow
in turn the messianic wine which the victorious Jesus will share with His
disciples at His second coming. These eschatological, eucharistic allu-
sions endow the question “What to Me and to you?” with deeper sym-
bolic meaning. Jesus is equivalently saying: “To what kind of wine are
you referring? My hour is not yet come.”76
76. The first letter of John both alludes to Jesus’ “hour” and develops its theological
meaning. The letter associates the coming of the Antichrist (1 Jn 2:18) with the second
coming. (1 Jn 2:28) The arrival of the “many Antichrists (antichristoi polloi)” makes it
certain that the second coming cannot lie far in the future. (1 Jn 2:18) By “many
Antichrists” the author of the letter probably means the dissident Christians who left
the Johannine community. The author brands them as false prophets. (1 Jn 2:19, 4:1)
Instead of yielding to the false blandishments of these Antichrists, the Johannine
community must recognize the true meaning of righteousness, the righteousness
revealed by God in Christ, so that when the Son of God returns they may welcome Him
in all confidence and not in shame. (1 Jn 2:28-9)
The author of the letter describes the eschatological situation of the Johannine
community as “the last hour (eschate hora)” approaches. (1 Jn 2:18) We find here a tacit
reference to “the hour” of Jesus in the gospel of John, the time of His lifting up in glory,
which includes not only His passion and resurrection but also the sending of the Holy
Breath. The hour of Jesus begins the last age of salvation which will culminate in the
second coming. The disciples continue to live that “hour,” namely, in the time of the
In the first letter’s allusion to the second coming and final judgment, we also find
a tacit reference to the theology of judgment developed in the fourth gospel. Those who
live righteously in the light escape the judgment of God and need not fear the second
98 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Mary apparently senses that the question “What to Me and to you?”

has a double meaning. She does not take Jesus’ reply as a refusal to do
anything to alleviate the embarrassing predicament of the bride and groom.
Instead, she senses the opposite and tells the servants to do whatever
Jesus tells them. Jesus then transforms fifteen to twenty-five gallons of
water into a wine more excellent that the one the married couple had
provided. (Jn 2:5-10) The abundance and excellence of the wine Jesus
provides also has symbolic significance: it foreshadows the abundance
and excellence of the messianic wine which Jesus will one day provide
and which the eucharist foreshadows.77
Both at Cana and on the cross, Jesus addresses Mary as “woman.” Jesus
uses the same title in addressing Martha. (Jn 19:26) The title has no
negative connotations in the fourth gospel and functions merely as a po-
lite way of addressing a mature person of the feminine gender. Ordi-
narily, however, a son would not have addressed his mother with this
title. In the fourth gospel, Jesus does so for symbolic reasons.
In Mary’s appearance at the foot of the cross, the evangelist endows the
title “woman” with symbolic significance. The Beloved Disciple, as we
have seen, functions as a symbol of all those who believe in Jesus without
having seen Him in His risen glory. In giving the Beloved Disciple to
Mary as her own son, Jesus therefore transforms her into the mother of
all who believe, into the new Eve of the new creation which He begins.
The first Eve mothered all humans in the flesh, the second Eve mothers

coming. Only those who disobey God and the commands which He has revealed
through His incarnate Son need fear judgment.
Cf. NJBC, 62: 22-24; Brown, Epistles, pp. 329-376; Klauck, op. cit., I, pp. 145-177;
W. Bosset, Der Antichrist in der Überlieferung des Judentums, des Neuen Testaments und
der alter Kirche (Göttingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 1895); Ignace de la Potterie,
“Anointing of the Christian by Faith” in The Christian Lives by the Spirit, edited by I.
de la Potterie and S. Lyonnet (Staten Island, NY: Alba, 1971), pp. 79-143; H. Hanse,
“Gott Haben” in der antike und im frühen Christentum (Berlin: Töpelmann, 1939), pp.
104-108; J. Michl, “Der Geist als Garant des rechten Glaubens” in Vom Wort des
Lebens, edited by N. Adler (Münster: Aschendorf, 1951), pp. 142-151; R. Yates, “The
Antichrist,” Evangelical Quarterly, 46(1974), pp. 42-50.
77. Cf. NJBC, 61:41; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 97-111; Hänchen, Commentary
on John, I, pp. 169-179; A. Feuillet, “L’heure de Jésus et le signe de Cana: Contribution
a l’étude de la structure de quatrième evangile,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis,
36(1960), pp. 5- 22; “La signification fondamentale du premier miracle de Cana (Jn
II, 1-11) et le symbolisme Johannique,” Revue Thomiste, 65(1965), pp. 517-535;
Johannine Studies, translated by Thomas E. Crane (Staten Island, NY: Alba House,
1964), pp. 17-34; F.J. Braun, O.P., Mother of God’s People, translated by John Clarke,
O.C.P. (Staten Island, NY: Alba House, 1967), pp. 48- 73; Jean Zumsteen, “Johannes
19,25-27,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, 94(1997), pp. 131-154; Jidith M. Lieu,
“The Mother of the Son in the Fourth Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature,
117(1998), pp. 61-77.
Chapter 2: John’s Positive Dramatic Linkages 99

all the children of God reborn through faith and Breath-baptism. (Cf.
Gen 3:20)
The evangelist re-enforces this allusion to Genesis with hebdomadal
imagery. As we shall see, the events which begin and end Jesus’ ministry
both transpire within the compass of a week. (Cf. Jn 1:19, 35, 43, 2:1)
Jesus also dies on the seventh day after His anointing at Bethany. (Cf. Jn
12:1) In the priestly account of creation in Genesis, it happens in a week.
(Gen 1:1-2:4) These two weeks which begin and end Jesus’ ministry sym-
bolize the new creation. In that new creation, Jesus, as we shall see below
in greater detail, functions as the new Adam, while Mary, by accepting
the Beloved Disciple as her son stands revealed as the new Eve, as the
mother of all those who believe in Jesus, even without seeing Him.78

The Analogy of Christological Knowing

Luke’s infancy gospel, as we saw in volume two, transforms Mary into a
type of the believing disciple. The Beloved Disciple, however, develops a
much more extensive personal typology than Luke. As in the case of Luke’s
Mary, Johannine typology endows historical individuals with revelatory
The evangelist, who did not see the risen Christ, even transforms him-
self into a type of any other true believer. Through the quality of his faith
and through his witness to the sign of blood and water, the Beloved Dis-
ciple models for the reader the kind of graced response of faith which the
fourth gospel seeks to evoke.
Moreover, Johannine typology endows the figure of Mary with a more
exalted typological dignity than does Luke’s infancy gospel. As mother of
the Beloved Disciple, the Johannine Mary confronts the reader, not sim-
ply as a model for all believers, but as their mother in faith, as the new
Eve of the new creation which Jesus begins.
In a doctrinally divided community in bitter conflict with the local
synagogue over issues of faith, the Beloved Disciple recommends to Jesus’
faithful disciples two strategies for responding to such conflict. 1) They
must cultivate a special relationship of intimate love of the person of
Jesus. 2) They must testify to the full saving reality incarnate in the pas-

78. Cf. A. Feuillet, L’heure de la mère de Jésus. Étude de théologie johannique (Paris:
Franjeux-Prouille, 1969); “L’heure de la femme (Jn 16,21) et l’heure de la Mère de
Jésus (Jn 19:25-27), Biblica, 47(1966), pp. 169-184, 361-380, 557-573; Hugolinus
Langkammer, O.F.M., “Christ ‘Last Will and Testament’ (Jn 19, 26.27) in the
Interpretation of the Fathers of the Church and the Scholastics,” Antonianum,
43(1968), pp. 99-109; Anton Dauer, “Das Wort des Gekreuzigten an seine Mutter
und den ‘Jünger den er liebte,” Biblische Zeitschrift, 11(1967), pp. 222-239; 12(1968),
pp. 89-93; Braun, op. cit., pp. 77-124; Raymond E. Brown, S.S., “The Mother of Jesus
in the Fourth Gospel” in L’évangile de Jean, edited by M. de Jonge (Leuven: University
Press, 1975), pp. 307-310.
100 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

chal mystery. These activities will transform them into Jesus’ sisters and
brothers whose faith imitates that of Mary, the new Eve of the new cre-
This chapter has reflected on the Beloved Disciple’s distinctive han-
dling of the positive dramatic linkages which structure His gospel. The
chapter which follows ponders his equally distinctive development of the
negative dramatic linkages.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 101

Chapter 3
Negative Dramatic Linkages in John
In the fourth gospel Jesus relates negatively to Satan, to “the Jews,” to the
Pharisees, to the chief priests, to Pilate and the Roman empire. This chapter
divides, then, into five parts. Part one examines the Johannine Jesus’ rela-
tionship to Satan. Part two ponders how He relates to “the Jews.” Part
three treats his conflict with the Pharisees. Part four analyzes his relation-
ship to the chief priests. Part five describes how Jesus relates to Pilate and
the Roman empire.

The fourth evangelist handles the figure of Satan very differently from
the synoptics. The Beloved Disciple describes no face-to-face confronta-
tion between Jesus and Satan in the desert. Indeed, we find the name
“Satan” in only one verse of the fourth gospel. At the last supper, Satan
takes possession of Judas after he eats the morsel of food Jesus gives him.
(Jn 13:27) Judas, now a creature of the dark powers, departs into the
night to work his treachery. (Jn 13: 30) Nevertheless, the fourth gospel
does develop a distinctive Satanology.

Jesus and Satan

The Johannine Jesus does not confront Satan personally in the desert;
but He does undergo temptations which echo His desert temptations in
the synoptics. Outside the Samaritan village of Sichar, the disciples urge
the hungry Jesus to eat. Jesus, however, refuses food protesting that “Do-
ing the will of Him who sent Me and bringing His work to comple-
tion—that is my food.” (Jn 4:31-3) In refusing the food offered to Him
by His disciples, Jesus makes substantially the same point as He does in
His first temptation in Matthew and in Luke. Humans draw their life
ultimately from obedience to God and not from bread or from the other
physical supports of survival.1 (Mt 4:1-4; Lk 4:1-4) After the multiplica-
tion of the loaves, the crowds try to take the Johannine Jesus by force and
make Him king. Jesus, however, eludes the king-makers and flees to the
mountain alone. (Jn 6:14-15) This incident echoes in its own way Satan’s
offer in the synoptics to give Jesus the kingdoms of this world. (Mt 4:8-11;
Lk 4:5-8) As His passion draws near, Jesus finds Himself tempted to ask
the Father to spare Him this ordeal but rejects the temptation. (Jn
12:27-28) This third temptation corresponds in its own way to the syn-
optic temptation to test God by setting conditions on personal willing-
ness to trust the Father. (Mt 4:5-7; Lk 4:9-12)
1. Cf. Alton F. Wedel, “John 4:5-26(5-42),” Interpretation, 31(1977), pp. 406-412.
102 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The fourth evangelist portrays Jesus’ passion as Satan’s supreme effort

to put Him to the test. (Jn 14:30; Lk 4:13) Only Jesus’ last temptation in
John has, then overt Satanic connotations. Nevertheless, it fits the de-
monology of the fourth gospel that human agents should serve as Satan’s
instruments in putting Jesus to His final test.
At the end of the first part of the last discourse, Jesus tells His disciples
that “the ruler (archon) of this world” is drawing near but that “He has no
hold on Me (en emoi echei ouden).” (Jn 14:30) Jesus is referring to the fact
that He will soon confront Satan in the person of Judas in the garden,
just as the first Adam confronted Satan in Eden. (Jn 18:5) In arresting
Jesus, the chief priests, temple guards, and Roman soldiers all function as
Satan’s minions. John the evangelist is, then, portraying the passion of
Jesus as Satan’s supreme attempt to put Him to the test. In the fourth
gospel, Satan uses Judas as his special instrument.
One cannot, however, understand the identity of “the ruler of this world”
in John without understanding “the world,” which constitutes Satan’s
special realm. The fourth evangelist distinguishes two senses of “the world,”
one positive (or at least morally neutral), the other negative (and morally
pejorative). Only in its negative sense does the world belong to Satan,
and then entirely by its own choice.
Viewed positively, the world simply means creation: the realm of space
and time in which history transpires. God creates the world through His
Son. (Jn 1:10, 13:1) As a morally neutral term, “the world” in the fourth
gospel can also function as a synonym for “everybody.” (Jn 12:19, 14:22)
Even viewed negatively, however, the world remains an object of God’s
love. God sends His Son into a sinful world in order to take away its
sinfulness. God does not even send the Son to pass judgment on the
world’s wickedness. Instead, God sends the Son in order to save the world.
(Jn 1:9-10, 29, 3:16-17, 10:36) Jesus, therefore, relates to the world as its
light who seeks to put it in a life-giving relationship with God. (Jn 3:19,
4:42, 8:12, 9:5, 11:9-10, 12:46-47) Jesus also offers to the world the
enlivening bread of divine wisdom and life-giving eucharistic bread. (Jn
6:33-51) He openly proclaims to the world the saving message which the
Father wants it to hear. (Jn 8:26, 18:19)
Nevertheless, the world vitiated by sin hates Jesus because His testi-
mony lays bare its sinfulness. (Jn 7:7) The sinful world has closed its
heart to the gift of Jesus’ Breath and therefore does not respond to Him
in faith. (Jn 14:17) Because it ignores the Son, this wicked world also
ignores the Father who sent Him. (Jn 17:25) A sinful world passes false
judgment on Jesus and casts Him out as a sinner. (Jn 16:8-11) This world
even rejoices over Jesus’ passion and death. (Jn 16:20)
The evil world hates Jesus because He does not belong to it. (Jn 8:23)
Jesus does not belong to a world of sin because He takes His origin from
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 103

the Father before the creation of the world. (Jn 8:23, 17:5, 16) When,
therefore, Jesus leaves the world, He returns to the Father. (Jn 16:28,
17:11) The world, for its part, by its sinful refusal to believe in Jesus
transforms itself into the realm of darkness and of evil. (Jn 3:19-21)
The world’s resistance to Jesus’ saving message makes it morally inevi-
table that He will pronounce over it a judgment of condemnation, even
though He has come, not to condemn the world, but to save it. (Jn 9:39,
12:31) The world, for its part, stands judged by its own choice, by its
refusal to accept Jesus’ testimony to divine truth. (Jn 12:31, 16:8-11) In
the end therefore, Jesus relates lovingly to His own disciples, but stands
in a negative, adversarial relationship to an unrepentant, sinful world
because of its unrepentant sinfulness. In His priestly prayer, Jesus prays
to the Father for His disciples; but He does not pray for the world. (Jn
9:39, 12:31, 15:18, 17:9)
The obedience of faith translates one from a world of darkness into the
realm of light. (Jn 17:6, 9) God holds the initiative in separating sinners
from the world. Jesus’ choice and the Father’s saving gift cause one to
belong to God and not to the world. (Jn 15:19, 17:6, 9) Those who have
left the sinful, skeptical world know the abiding peace which Jesus brings,
a peace which flows from the forgiveness of sin and from the reconcilia-
tion of humans to one another and to God. The empowering gift of the
Breath effects that peace. (Jn 17:14-27, 20:19-23)
Although the disciples cease to belong to the world once they believe in
Jesus, they nevertheless remain in a hostile world after He returns to the
Father. (Jn 13:1, 14:19, 17:11) Faith in Jesus and in the Father whom He
reveals transforms one into the world’s enemy and demands that one
assume the same kind of adversarial prophetic stance toward the world as
Jesus did. (Jn 15:18-9)
As long as they live in the world, the disciples will, then, experience
trouble and persecution. Nevertheless, they should draw comfort from
the fact that Jesus by His sinless witness to divine truth has in fact over-
come both the world and its Satanic prince. Jesus’ own witness culmi-
nates in the paschal mystery. (Jn 16:33) Jesus, then, on leaving the dis-
ciples in a hostile world, places them under the tutelage of the “other
witness,” the Breath whom He sends them. Jesus also entrusts the dis-
ciples to the Father to protect from the evil one; for Satan will seek to put
them to the test just as he put Jesus to the test. (Jn 17:14-16)
Jesus leaves the disciples in the world because, despite the world’s hos-
tility, violence, and sinfulness, He still desires its salvation. He therefore
entrusts His disciples with the prolongation of His own mission to the
world. Just as He has testified to the world concerning the truth about
God, so too He sends the disciples into the world to testify to Him, so
that all might believe that the Father sent Him. (Jn 17:18-23, 18:37) As
104 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

members of the kingdom of light which Jesus creates, however, the dis-
ciples look for the fulfillment of their hopes, not in the world, but with
Jesus in heaven. (Jn 18:36)
Clearly, then, a good or morally neutral world becomes morally evil
and subject to Satan by its own stubborn resistance to the action of di-
vine grace, by its lack of repentance and of faith. As an embodied force of
evil and unbelief, the world in the fourth gospel numbers among its mem-
bers the hostile Jews, the Pharisees, the chief priests, Pilate, the Roman
empire, and everything which they symbolize.
As in the synoptic gospels, those who oppose Jesus and refuse to believe
in Him accuse Him of being possessed by the devil, although the fourth
evangelist does not transform this slander into the sin against the Holy
Breath as Mark and Matthew do. (Jn 7:20, 8:48-49, 52, 10:20-21; cf.
Mk 3:22-30, Mt 12:24-32) Rather for John, the devil, the father of lies,
uses his evil children to oppose and slander Jesus.2 (Jn 8:44)

2. Cf. Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 508-509; Elizabeth R. Achtemeier, “Jesus Christ,
the Light of the World,” Interpretation, 17(1963), pp. 439-449; Takashi Onuki,
Gemeinde und Welt: Ein Beitrag zur Frage nach theologischen und praktschen Funktion
des Johannischen Dualismus (Düsseldorf: Neukirchlicher Verlag, 1984); Erich Grässer,
“Die Juden as Teufelssohne in Johannes 8:37-47” in Antijudaismus im Neuen Testa-
ment, edited by W. Eckert et al. (Munich: Chr. Kaiser, 1967), pp. 157-170; Nils Dahl,
“Die Erstgeborene Satans und der Vater des Teufels” in Apophorata, edited by W.
Eltester (Berlin: Alfred Topelmann, 1964), pp. 69-84; Heinz Kruse, S.J., “Das Reich
Satans,” Biblica, 58(1977), pp. 29-64.
Like the fourth gospel, the first Johannine letter reminds the believing community
that the faith and love to which they dedicate their lives sets them apart from “the
world.” The same ethical dualism between the world and the community of disciples,
between darkness and light as characterizes the forth gospel surfaces in the Johannine
letters as well. Membership in the Johannine community demands the renunciation of
the world and everything which it embodies. One cannot simultaneously love the
world and the Father of Jesus Christ. (1 Jn 2:15-6)
The world offers three illusory goods which corrupt the heart: “the desires of the flesh
(hê epithumia tês sarkos), the desires of the eyes (hê epithumia tôn ophthalmôn), and the
pride of life (hê alazoneia tou biou).” (1 Jn 2:16) The author of the first Johannine letter
dismisses the world and it desires as doomed to perish. (1 Jn 2:17) In what then, do
these ephemeral, corrupting desires consist?
In speaking of “the desires of the flesh” the author of the letter probably has more
in mind than illegitimate sexual desires and other purely carnal cravings. The term
probably includes all selfish sinful desires, whether closely tied to sins of the flesh or not.
“The desire of the eyes” probably means the human tendency to yield to the allure of
outward show, without asking about or understanding what constitutes true and
lasting value. “The pride of life” probably means all boastfulness, arrogance, and sinful
self-reliance which springs from the possession of things which support only biological
life, i.e., life in this world.
To these illusory and corrupting values, the first letter opposes the desire for what
lasts and has incorruptible value: namely, doing the will of God. “And the world is
passing away with its desires; but the one who does the will of God abides for eternity
(eis ton aiona).” (1 Jn 2:17)
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 105

Long before His betrayal by Judas, Jesus calls the disciple a devil; for in
the fourth gospel Jesus with preternatural prescience knows from the be-
ginning which of the Twelve will betray Him. (Jn 6:70-71) The devil
sows the seed of treachery in Judas’s heart. (Jn 13:2) When the moment
of betrayal comes, Satan, as we have seen, actually enters into Judas. (Jn
13:27) As a result, the confrontation between Jesus and Judas in the gar-
den of betrayal recalls, as we have also seen, the confrontation of the first
Adam with Satan in the garden of Eden. By the Christian era, the figures
of Satan and of the serpent had fused. Jesus, the new Adam, triumphs in
the garden over Satan and the forces of darkness to which the first Adam
succumbed. (Jn 18:1-12)
In the fourth gospel, then, Satan does not act directly on Jesus but
always uses human instruments. John’s Jesus does not even exorcise
demoniacs. Moreover, the evangelist names the created forces of evil which
conspired to nail Jesus to the cross: hypocritical lack of repentance, lack
of faith, violence of heart, treachery, and institutionalized oppression,
whether secular or ecclesiastical. (Jn 7:19, 25-30, 8:12-59, 10:31-39,
11:45-53, 19:1-16) The same Satanic forces which conspired to crucify
Jesus, continue to conspire to oppress His disciples.3 (Jn 15:18-16:4)

The Analogy of Christological Knowing

The fourth evangelist differs most obviously from the synoptics’ account
of Jesus’ adversarial relationship to Satan in his omission of any mention
of Jesus’ desert temptations. The fourth evangelist also makes no men-
tion of the controversy over Beelzebul, although during the feast of Tab-
ernacles, the Johannine Jesus’ enemies call Him demon-possessed. (Jn

Read in context, the repudiation of the world and its desires distinguishes the
Johannine community of genuine believers from the dissidents, who have chosen not
to do the will of God but to follow the world and its desires. The author of the letter
makes this point more explicitly by paralleling the admonition to repudiate the world
and its cravings with a warning against the Antichrist, whom the dissidents follow and
proclaim. Moreover, in dedicating themselves to the shallow, passing values of the
world, the dissidents have forfeited their access to eternal life with God in Christ.
Cf. NJBC, 62: 21; Brown, Epistles, pp. 293-328; Klauck, op. cit., I, pp. 136-145; K.G.
Kuhn, “New Light on Temptation, Sin and the Flesh in the New Testament” in The
Scrolls and the New Testament, edited by K. Stehdahl (New York, NY: Harper, 1957),
pp. 94-113; Eduard Schweize, “Die hellenistische Komponent im neutestamentlische
Sarx-Begriff,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 48(1957), pp. 237-253;
John Pryke, “‘Spirit’ and ‘Flesh’ in the Qumran Documents and Some New Testament
Parallels,” Revue de Qumran, 5(1964-1965), pp. 345-360; Hans Josef Klauck, “In der
Welt—aus der Welt (1 Joh 2, 15-17): Beoboachtungen zur Ambivalenz der
Johanneischen Kosmosbegriffs,” Franziskanische Studien, 71(1989), pp. 58-68.
3. Cf. Eric Plummer, “The Absence of Exorcisms in the Fourth Gospel,” Biblica,
78(1997), pp. 350-368.
106 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The absence from the fourth gospel of any personal confrontation be-
tween Jesus and Satan reflects the Beloved Disciple’s conviction that the
forces of anti-Christ take concrete embodiment in the world: i.e, in per-
sons and institutions who by their free choice prefer the darkness of hy-
pocrisy, unbelief, and violence to the light of God.
In this respect, Johannine Satanology bears a clear analogy to the Satan-
ology of the book of Revelation. In Revelation, Satan takes embodied
form in the Roman empire and in the blasphemous emperor Domitian
and his minions. In an analogous way, the Beloved Disciple’s account of
Jesus’ confrontation with Satan culminates in His trial before the Roman
This section has reflected on the Johannine Jesus’ negative relationship
to Satan. The section which follows ponders His negative relation to “the

The term “the Jews (hoi Judaioi)” has more than one meaning in the
fourth gospel, not all of them pejorative. First, “the Jews” designates the
Jewish people as a nation with particular ethnic customs. (Cf. Jn 2:6, 13;
4:9, 22; 5:1; 7:2; 11:55; 18:33, 35; 19:3, 20-21, 40) In this first use the
term has no negative connotations. Second, in chapters eleven and twelve
of the gospel, the term means “Judaeans” and refers to the people who
lived in the province of Judaea whether they supported or opposed Jesus.
In its second sense, therefore, “the Jews” can have either positive or nega-
tive connotations. Most frequently, however, “the Jews” in the fourth gospel
designates the enemies of Jesus. In its negative, purely pejorative sense,
the term “the Jews” refers to any who oppose Jesus. As a result, “the Jews”
refers often, though not exclusively, to the high priestly authorities in
Jerusalem. As in the case of “the world,” unbelief, not Jewishness as such,
endows the term “the Jews” with negative connotations. In this sense, the
Beloved disciple avoids anti-semitism; but his rhetorical use of the term
“the Jews” unfortunately invites an anti-semitic interpretation. In what
follows, I shall include the term “the Jews” in quotation marks whenever
in Johannine theology it refers restrictively and negatively to those who
resist faith in Jesus. The quotation marks seek to remind the reader that
the term does not designate all Jewish people.4

4. Cf. John Christopher Thomas, “The Fourth Gospel and Rabbinic Judaism,” Zeitschrift
für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 82(1991), pp. 159-182; Ingo Broer, “ Die
Juden im Johannesevangelium,” Diakonia: Internationale Zeitschrift für die Praxis der
Kirche, 14(1983), pp. 332-341; John Pawlikowski, “A Faith Without Shadow:
Liberating Christian Faith from Anti-Semitism,” Theology Digest, 43(1996), pp.
203-217, see especially: pp. 206-208.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 107
Jesus and “the Jews”
Only the fourth gospel repeatedly calls the enemies of Jesus “the Jews.”
The evangelist’s pejorative designation of the enemies of Jesus as “the
Jews” reflects his own historical situation. The community of the Beloved
Disciple certainly stood in an adversarial relationship with the synagogue,
which had expelled the Johannine Christians for confessing Jesus’ divin-
ity. From a Jewish standpoint to attribute the divine name to any creature
amounted to idolatry and blasphemy. The Beloved Disciple, of course,
saw things differently.
Since Christianity in the first century had no status as an official reli-
gion of the empire, the expulsion of Christians from the synagogue had
serious political consequences and made Christians vulnerable to Roman
persecution. Under Roman law those who attended unauthorized public
gatherings could suffer arrest and interrogation under suspicion of con-
spiracy. The evangelist and his community had, then, suffered at the hands
of “the Jews” and could suffer more. The hostility between the synagogue
and Johannine Christians had, moreover, reached such a pitch that the
evangelist had ceased to hope for reconciliation with the local Jewish
community. His ethical dualism therefore caused him frequently to iden-
tify “the Jews” with the world, with those who stubbornly refuse to be-
lieve in Jesus.
In its pejorative uses, the term “the Jews,” has, then, both an historical
and a symbolic meaning in the fourth gospel. It designates especially the
hostile religious leaders of Palestinian Judaism. Symbolically, however,
those leaders symbolize the hostile synagogue of the evangelist’s own time,
especially the Pharisees. Moreover, as we shall see, on occasion in its pejo-
rative connotations the term “the Jews” refers also to dissident “Chris-
tians” who refused to confess the divinity of Jesus or to acknowledge His
real eucharistic presence.
In what follows, I shall examine those passages in which the term “the
Jews” refers to anyone who refuses to believe in Jesus. As we shall see, in
this context, the Beloved Disciples identifies “the Jews” both with those
Jews who reject faith in Jesus and with the Johannine dissidents.
Significantly, in his account of the bread-of-life discourse, the evange-
list does not refer to Jesus’ interlocutors as “the Jews” until they turn
hostile. “The Jews” refuse to believe that Jesus is the bread of divine wis-
dom who has descended from heaven. (Jn 6:35-41) The fourth evange-
list places on the lips of the unbelieving Jews an objection which resembles
in some ways the reaction of the unbelieving Nazarenes in the synoptics;
but the fourth evangelist gives the objection his own theological slant.
“The Jews” object: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Don’t we know
His father and mother? How can He claim to have come down from
heaven?” (Jn 6:41-42; cf. Mk 6:1-6, Mt 13:53-58)
108 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

In the synoptic gospels, familiarity breeds contempt. The fact that the
people of Nazareth know well both Jesus and His family makes them
skeptical of His message and of His power to heal. The fourth evangelist,
however, transforms the fact that Jesus had human parents known to the
crowds into an objection against His existence in heaven prior to His
human birth. This denial of Jesus’ pre-existence amounts to a denial of
His divinity.
“The Jews” next find incredible Jesus’ promise to give them His body
and blood as food and drink. Moreover, despite Jesus’ warning that, un-
less they eat His flesh and drink His blood, they will never share in the
resurrection from the dead, large numbers abandon Him in disbelief.
The fourth evangelist identifies these “Jews” as disciples of Jesus. (Jn
Although the fourth evangelist insists on the crucial importance of eu-
charistic worship and of faith in Jesus’ real presence in the eucharist, the
fourth gospel has, paradoxically, no account of the institution of the
eucharist. It seems at least plausible, even probable, that the gospel’s re-
dactor adapted the eucharistic section of the Bread of Life discourse from
the gospel’s original institution narrative. The fact that the Bread of Life
discourse takes place near the second Passover would have made it a suit-
able liturgical reading for Easter; and liturgical motives could conceiv-
ably have motivated our putative redactor’s editorial changes. We cannot
know for certain if this hypothesis explains the absence of an institution
narrative in John or not; but it enjoys genuine plausibility. In any case it
seems, at the very least, historically extremely improbable that Jesus dur-
ing His lifetime would have debated His contemporaries about His real
presence in the eucharist.
More likely, the evangelist is attributing anachronistically to Jesus’ con-
temporaries beliefs and attitudes which divided the Johannine commu-
nity itself. These references to “the Jews” suggest that some members of
the community of the Beloved Disciple, probably proto-Docetists, de-
nied not only the divinity of Jesus and His eternal existence with the
Father but also His ability to dwell in anything as material as bread and
wine. The evangelist’s adversaries in the synagogue would, no doubt, have
also denied both of these doctrines. In the Bread of Life discourse, then,
the evangelist apparently lumps together as “the Jews” both anti-Christian
Jews and heretical Christians.5
At Tabernacles, the evangelist again calls the crowds hostile to Jesus
“the Jews.” Even though some of the people in Jerusalem begin to regard
Jesus as the messiah, those hostile to Him come up with one rationaliza-

5. Cf. NJBC, 61:94-103; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 268-294; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 284-308; Roger Le Deant “Une aggadah targumique et les
murmurs de Jean 6,” Biblica, 51(1970), pp. 80-83.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 109

tion after another for not believing Him. Initially, people express aston-
ishment at Jesus’ teaching because He has not studied under one of the
outstanding rabbis in Jerusalem. (Jn 7:15) When Jesus charges the hos-
tile crowds with wanting His blood, they call Him a lunatic. (Jn 7:20)
Some of the people in the crowds wonder that the authorities in Jerusa-
lem have not taken action against Jesus and speculate whether even the
leaders have come to accept Jesus as the messiah; but they dismiss Jesus’
claims to messianic authority because they know His origins, that He
comes from Nazareth and not from Bethlehem. (Jn 7:25-28, 40-44)
At Tabernacles, therefore, after vacillation on the part of some of the
crowds, in the end “the Jews” turn against Jesus and seek His death. Here,
“the Jews” designates the chief priests, the Sanhedrin, and Pharisees; but
it also includes all those whose lack of faith in Jesus makes them hostile to
Him. As we shall soon see, the Beloved Disciple associates the Pharisees
with the chief priests because in his eyes the Pharisaical leaders of a hos-
tile synagogue perpetuated in his day the same unrepentant lack of faith
and violence of heart which the chief priests had exhibited in Jesus’ day.
In the course of His exchange with the crowds, Jesus Himself names
the reasons why His enemies refuse to believe in Him: 1) His cure of the
cripple on the sabbath (Jn 7:21-22); 2) the fact that they belong to the
world and not to God (Jn 8:23-24); 3) the fact that His hour has not yet
arrived for the full revelation of His divinity (Jn 8:28); 4) racial pride (Jn
8:39); 5) the fact that they are children of Satan. (Jn 8:44) As Jesus fore-
told in His conversation with His brothers, His testimony to the truth
and to the world’s malice turns “the Jews” against Him.6
6. The first letter of John calls its adversaries Antichrists. Having made this charge, the
letter identifies the fundamental norm which allows one to distinguish the children of
light from the children of darkness, the children of God from the children of Satan:
namely, living practical faith:
Everyone who acts justly has been begotten by God....Everyone who acts sin-
fully is really working lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness. And you know well
that Christ was revealed to take away sins, and there is nothing sinful in Him.
Everyone who abides in Him does not commit sin. Everyone who sins, has
never seen Him nor come to know Him. (1 Jn 2:29, 3:4-6)
We find here another echo of a fundamental theme in the gospel of John: God
requires of sinful mortals the deed of faith, which includes obedience to the divine
commands. (Jn 6:29, 15:7-12) For John the commands of Jesus replace the Torah as
the fundamental law of the Christian community. Those who disobey the commands
of God proclaimed by Jesus manifest by their disobedience their lack of faith. In
claiming their sinlessness and denying the saving efficacy of Jesus’ death, the dissidents
in fact manifest their sinful disobedience to the command of faith. They thus reveal that
they never knew or understood the divine revelation embodied in Jesus.
Tacitly recalling the confrontation in the fourth gospel between Jesus and His
adversaries during the feast of Tabernacles, the author of the first letter equates sinners
with the children of the devil and believers with the children of God. Those who live
110 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The designation of the hostile crowds as “children of the devil” casts an

important light on the Beloved Disciple’s demonology. Any individual,
with the holiness of Christ live as God’s children, while all who sin against the
obedience of faith belong to the devil, since the devil functions as the source of sin just
as Jesus functions as the source of divine life. (1 Jn 3:3-8)
The author of the letter concludes:
And you know that That One appeared in order to take away sin, and that sin
is not in Him. Anyone abiding in Him does not sin; all who sin have never
seen or known Him. (1 Jn 3:5-6)
In effect, the author of the letter summarizes and sharpens the issue dividing him
from the dissidents. 1) In denying the saving character of Jesus’ death, the dissidents
deny the whole purpose of the incarnation. 2) Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, defines
the meaning of sinless living; hence, anyone who professes living, practical faith in Him
avoids sin. 3) In denying Him and His saving mission, the dissidents sin through their
very lack of faith.
In a brief aside, the author of the letter underscores the saving consequences of
authentic belief in Jesus Christ:
Look how much love the Father has shown us so that we may be called chil-
dren of God, as we are. On account of that the world does not know you, just
as it did not know Him. Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we
shall be has not yet appeared. We know that whenever He may appear, we
shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone having
that hope purifies himself, just as He is pure. (1 Jn 3:1-3)
One finds here a significant development of some traditional Johannine Christo-
logical themes, although several themes strike a familiar note. The latter include: 1) The
incarnate Son of God embodies the love of the Father. 2) He came to transform those
who believe in Him into children of God. 3) The world fails to acknowledge those who
believe in Jesus just as it repudiated Him. Moreover, the world’s failure to recognize
God’s incarnate Son makes it impossible for the world to acknowledge God’s children
by grace.
Interwoven with these familiar themes, however, one finds some significant new
1) The author of the letter contrasts the disciples’ present state and dignity as
children of God with what they shall become. What the disciples shall become when
they share fully in the glory of the risen Christ remains, however, shrouded in the
eschatological future.
2) The final appearance of Christ in glory will simultaneously disclose to them the
fullness of glory to which their present faith in Christ now destines them.
3) What the disciples will be when they share fully in risen glory exists on a
continuum with their present experience of faith. Even though the agnostic stance
which the author of the letter takes toward the concrete form which risen glory will take
in the case of the disciples leaves the meaning of glorification in Christ shrouded in the
mystery of the dawning eschatological future, nevertheless, glorification will bring to
perfection the knowledge of Christ which faith presently yields, since glorification will
yield face-to-face vision of the glorified Son of God. Nowhere in the gospel of John do
we find as strong a statement of the mysterious character of risen life with Christ,
although one could find here a development of Jn 3:8. There Jesus assures Nicodemus
that the future into which the Breath draws the believer remains shrouded in mystery.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 111

any group of individuals, any institution opposed to Jesus in hostile un-

belief belongs to the sinful world and serves as a demonic instrument of
the forces of darkness in an evil parody of graced, divine filiation.
The stories of the cure of the blind man and of the raising of Lazarus
make it clear that “the Jews” intend to treat Jesus’ disciples with the same
violence which they showed toward Him. The man born blind serves, as
we have seen, as a type of the believing, persecuted Christian cast out of
the synagogue for confessing Jesus. (Jn 9:22, 34) Similarly, when the rais-
ing of Lazarus causes many to believe in Jesus, the chief priests add Lazarus’s
name to their death list.7 (Jn 12:9-11)

The Analogy of Christological Knowing

Johannine polemic against “the Jews” finds no parallel in the synoptic
gospels. It has earned the Beloved Disciple the charge of disseminating
4) The desire to share in the fullness of risen glory motivates the believing Christian’s
present avoidance of all sinful defilement. The true believer’s repentant concern to
avoid sin contrasts with the dissidents self-deceptive claims to impeccability.
The author of the letter would seem to be arguing at least implicitly that the present
distinction between the children of God and the children of the devil will reach full
revelatory clarity in the second coming and final judgment. Then the true children of
God will share fully in the glory of the risen Christ. Supply that the children of the devil
will share in the ultimate destruction of Satan and of His minions.
Cf. NJBC, 62: 25-26; Brown, Epistles, pp, 378-345; Klauck, op. cit., I, pp. 160-171;
S. Lyonnet, “The Notion of Sin in the Johannine Writings” in Sin, Redemption, and
Sacrifice, by S. Lyonnet and L. Sabourin (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1970),
pp. 38-45; I. de la Potterie, “The Impeccability of the Christian According to 1 Jn 3,
6-9” in The Christian Lives by the Spirit, by I. de la Potterie and S. Lyonnet (Staten
Island, NY: Alba, 1971), pp. 175-196; J. du Preez, “‘Sperma autou’ in 1 Jn 3:9,”
Neotestamentica, 9(1975), pp. 105-112; Antonio Vincent Cernuda, “La filiacion
divina segun kai en 1 Jn 2, 29 y 3, 1,” Estudios Biblicos, 36(1977), pp. 85-90.
7. Cf. NJBC, 61:104-126; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. lxvii-lxxix, 305-368; Robert
G. Brachter, “‘The Jews in the Gospel of John,” Bible Translator, 26(1975), pp.
401-409; C.K. Barrett, The Gospel of John and Judaism, translated by D.M. Smith
(Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1975); J. Jorz, “Die Juden im Johannesevangelium,”
Judaica, 3(1953), pp. 129-142; Malcolm Lowe, “Who are the IOUDAIOI?” Novum
Testamentum, 18(1976), pp. 101-130; Ephrem Florival, O.S.B., “Les seins ne l’ont pas
recu (Jn 1, 11), Nouvelle Revue Théologique, 89(1967), pp. 43-66; Reginald Fuller,
“The ‘Jews’ in the Fourth Gospel,” Dialog, 16(1977), pp. 31-37; Philip Kaufmann,
O.S.B., The Beloved Disciple: Witness Against Anti-Semitism (Collegeville, MI: The
Liturgical Press, 1991); Erich Grässer, “Die Antijüdische Polemik im Johannes-
evangelium, New Testament Studies, 11(1964-1965), pp. 74-90; Severino Pancaro,
“The Church and Israel in the Gospel of John,” New Testament Studies, 21(1974-1975),
pp. 396-405; Walter W. Sikes, “The Antisemitism of the Fourth Gospel,” Journal of
Religion, 21(1941), pp. 23-30; G.A.F. Knight, “Antisemitismin the fourth Gospel,”
Reformed Theological Review, 27(1968), pp. 81-88; C. Dekker, “Grundschrift und
Redaktion im Johannesevangelium,” New Testament Studies, 13(1966-1967), pp.
66-80; Ludger Schenke, “Der Dialog Jesu mit den ‘Juden’ im Johannesevangelium:
eine Rekonstruktionsversuch,” New Testament Studies, 34(1988), pp. 573-603.
112 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

anti-Semitic bigotry. Certainly, over the centuries those who called them-
selves Christians too often quoted the fourth gospel in order to justify
their own sinful, bigoted, anti-Semitic attitudes.
Within the synoptic tradition, this strain in Johannine rhetoric finds
its closest narrative parallel in Luke’s account of Paul’s Gentile mission.
There Israel’s refusal to recognize that God chose it, not just for itself, but
for the sake of a universal salvation motivates repeated Jewish resistance
to the gospel.
The conflict between the Johannine community and the synagogue
helps contextualize historically the pejorative connotations which the
Beloved Disciple frequently ascribes to the term “the Jews.” Careful at-
tention to the different meanings with which the evangelist endows the
term suggests, however, that not Jewishness as such but unbelieving hos-
tility to his own community and its religious faith motivates the Beloved
Disciple’s negative use of the term. The evangelist’s extension of the term
to the Christian dissidents illustrates this point.
This section has examined how the Beloved Disciple employs the term
“the Jews.” The two sections which follow examine Jesus’ negative rela-
tionship to two groups among “the Jews”: namely, to the Pharisees and to
the chief priests. As we shall see, the Beloved Disciple regards both groups
as embodiments of the same dark powers.

Only one reference to scribes occurs in John’s gospel. Some scribes join
the Pharisees in bringing the woman caught in adultery to Jesus for judg-
ment. (Jn 8:3) Since the style of this story could suggest that someone
other than the original evangelist wrote it, it seems likely that a subse-
quent editor of the gospel inserted it into the events surrounding the
feast of Tabernacles. In other words, the original evangelist apparently
showed no interest at all in the scribal class at Jesus’ time.

Jesus and the Pharisees

The Beloved Disciple did, however, have definite opinions about Phari-
sees. The Pharisee Nicodemus, as we have seen, typifies one kind of Jew,
probably Jewish Christian members of the Beloved Disciple’s own com-
munity, who would have preferred to keep their faith in Jesus a secret but
who found themselves forced by persecution to come out into the open.
(Jn 3:1-9, 7:50, 19:39). As we have seen, in the unedited version of the
fourth gospel, Nicodemus probably made his appearance after the story
of the man born blind. If so, the juxtaposition contrasted his fearful ap-
proach to Jesus under the cover of darkness with the bold faith of the
healed blind man.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 113

The Pharisees in the fourth gospel number among the enemies of Jesus
who refuse to believe in Him. In their relationship to John the Baptizer
and Jesus, the Johannine Pharisees, as we have seen, move from suspicion
to overt hostility. Representatives of the Pharisees join the chief priests
and Levites in cross-examining John the Baptizer. (Jn 1:24)
The Pharisees also keep a weather eye cocked on Jesus and note that He
is soon making even more disciples than John the Baptizer. (Jn 4:1) Fi-
nally, the Pharisees turn overtly hostile to Jesus during the feast of Taber-
nacles. When they recognize that some of the people are beginning to put
faith in Jesus, they (anachronistically) attempt to arrest Him. (Jn 7:32,
At one point, in a scribal gloss, the fourth gospel asserts that the Phari-
sees sent the temple police to effect Jesus’ arrest. The Pharisees of Jesus’
day would, of course, have had no jurisdiction over the temple police.
The scribe, however, desires to portray the Pharisees of his own day as
sharing the chief priests’ hostility toward Jesus.8 (Jn 7:30-32)
When the temple police return from the attempted arrest empty handed,
they explain their failure by saying: “Never has a man spoken like this.”
(Jn 7:46) The Pharisees reject their explanation with self-righteous con-
tempt. They point out that none of the right people believe in Jesus:
neither they, nor the Sanhedrin. Only the masses of the people believe
who know “nothing of the Law—and they are damned!” (Jn 7:48-49)
During the feast of Tabernacles, scribes and Pharisees bring a woman
caught in adultery to Jesus for judgment. (Jn 7:2-6) (As we have seen, a
later redactor added this scene to the gospel.) These men of the Law have
contrived a neat legal trap for Jesus. If Jesus absolves the woman, He will
violate Mosaic law. If He orders her execution as Mosaic Law demands,
He will be in trouble with the Romans for ordering an execution without
Jesus, however, eludes the trap by refusing to do anything. He doodles
on the ground and remains silent until pressed. Then He responds, “Let
the one among you who has no sin cast the first stone.” (Jn 7:6-8)
Jesus recognizes that the scribes and Pharisees are simply using the
woman to trap Him legally. He acknowledges that Mosaic Law requires

8. Cf. NJBC, 61:109; Some have suggested that the original evangelist in referring to “the
Pharisees” here means the Sanhedrin; but that body did not consist exclusively of
Pharisees, although it may have contained some. The priestly Sadducees probably
dominated the Sanhedrin. Moreover, the evangelist understood well the difference
between the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin. It seems more likely, then, that the text is
anachronistically attributing to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day more authority than they
actually possessed. The fourth evangelist certainly portrays the Pharisees as
co-conspirators with the chief priests against Jesus. (Jn 7:45) Here the text attributes
to them an authority on a par with the priests, an authority they never wielded in Jesus’
114 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

her execution by stoning; but He also censures the self-righteousness with

which His enemies have judged the woman. Their condemnation follows
the letter of the Law but fails to embody the Law’s true intent: compas-
sion, understanding, and mercy.
When one by one, beginning with the oldest, the scribes and Pharisees
retire in confusion, Jesus asks the woman whether anyone has condemned
her. She replies that no one has. Then Jesus says: “Nor do I condemn
you. You may go. But from now on avoid this sin.” (Jn 7:8-11)
Jesus’ merciful refusal to condemn the woman accords with the
Johannine doctrine that He has come not to condemn the world but to
save it. Indeed, the fact that immediately after the story of the adulterous
woman, Jesus reminds the Pharisees that He has not come to pass judg-
ment on the world may have motivated the editorial insertion of the
story of the adulterous woman as its preface. (Jn 8:15)
Jesus reasserts the non-judgmental character of His mission in another
discussion with a group of Pharisees. The legalistic Pharisees object to
Jesus that what He says carries no legal weight because He acts as His
own witness. (Jn 8:13) Their legalism cloaks a deeper lack of faith, which
Jesus quickly points out to them. They fail to recognize that He comes
from God and is returning to God. They fail to see that His Father stands
by Him and testifies to the truth of what He says in the signs He works.
If therefore the Pharisees judged with the eyes of faith, they would recog-
nize that even by strict legal standards Jesus’ word stands; for two wit-
nesses—He and the Father—testify to the truth of what Jesus teaches.9
(Jn 8:13-20)
After Jesus cures the man born blind, the Pharisees engineer his expul-
sion from the synagogue. When neighbors take the cured man to the
Pharisees, the latter first argue that Jesus could not come from God be-
cause He heals on the sabbath. (Jn 9:13-16) In fact, the Pharisees by
rejecting the miracle verify what Jesus has just said to them: namely, they
fail to recognize that the Father testifies to the Son by empowering Him
to do what only God can do. (Jn 9:17)
The fact that the miracle occurs on the sabbath recalls the sabbath cure
of the paralytic at the pool of Bethsaida. (Jn 5:1-47) Jesus’ discourse on

9. Cf. NJBC, 61:115; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 332-338; Hänchen, Commentary
on John, II, pp. 21-22; John Paul Heil, “The Story of Jesus and the Adulteress (John
7.53-8.11) Reconsidered,” Biblica, 72(1991), pp. 182-191; J. Duncan M. Derrett,
“Exercitations on John 8,” Estudios Biblicos, 52(1994), pp. 439-451; Gail O’Day,
“John 7:53-8:11: A Study in Misreading,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 111(1992),
pp. 631-640; Bart D. Ehrman, “Jesus and the Adulteress,” New Testament Studies,
34(1988), pp. 24-44; Dieter Lührmann, “Die Geschichte von einer Sünderin und
andere Apokryphe Jesusüberlieferungen by Didymos von Alexandria,” Novum Testa-
mentum, 32(1990), pp. 291-316; Harald Shondorf, “Jesus schreibt mit dem Finger auf
die Erde, Joh 8, 6b-8,” Biblische Zeitschrift, 40(1996), pp. 91-93.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 115

that occasion provides, therefore, the theological context for interpreting

the cure of the man born blind. As we have seen, Jesus’ first sabbath cure
reveals the signs which he performs as acts of divine judgment in the
Johannine sense of judgment. The signs reveal in a proleptic way the
divine truth which the paschal mystery will disclose in its fullness. In the
fourth gospel, divine truth and divine love coincide. The Father effects
judgment by sending the Son in order to incarnate divine truth and love
and in order to demand that people choose in the face of that revelation.
The judgment begun in the cure of the paralytic now continues in the
cure of the man born blind.
The cure of the blind man also reproduces the forensic tone of Jesus’
first sabbath miracle. In His defence of His cure of the cripple, Jesus, as
we have seen, appeals for legal justification to the testimony of three wit-
nesses: the Father, John the Baptizer, and Moses. The legal trial of the
cured blind man prior to his expulsion from the synagogue prolongs the
same forensic metaphor. The blind man’s legal trial prior to expulsion
invokes explicitly a Johannine theology of judgment. The Pharisees who
put the blind man on trial and who pass negative judgment on both him
and Jesus themselves stand judged by their blindness to the Light which
Jesus embodied. As we shall see, Pilate and the chief priests will experi-
ence a similar judgment when they condemn Jesus. (Jn 9:38-41)
At first, the Pharisees refuse to believe that, in the case of the blind
man, a miracle has in fact occurred. They summon the man’s parents to
testify to the fact that he suffered from blindness since birth. The parents
do so testify but will not discuss his cure for fear of expulsion from the
synagogue. (Jn 9:18-22) Obstinate in their unbelief to the end, the Phari-
sees repudiate both Jesus and the man born blind as sinners; and they
expel the man from the synagogue when he refuses to denounce Jesus.
They also contradict Jesus’ statement that sin did not cause the man’s
blindness. Instead, the Pharisees count his physical disability as proof of
his sin. (Jn 9:1-5, 24-34)
The story identifies the Pharisees with the unbelieving “Jews.” It also
points to them as those chiefly concerned to expel the disciples of Jesus
from the synagogue.10
The raising of Lazarus causes many to believe in Jesus. Witnesses of the
event inform the Pharisees about what Jesus has done and, presumably,
about the popular faith which His action has evoked. Alarmed, the Phari-
sees join the chief priests in plotting Jesus’ death. (Jn 11:45-7) The Phari-
sees also anachronistically join the chief priests in ordering Jesus’ arrest,
should He come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. (Jn 11:57)

10. Cf. J. Warren Holleran, “Seeing the Light: A Narrative Reading of John 9,”Ephemeri-
des Theologicae Lovaniensis, 69(1993), pp. 354-382.
116 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

When Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph, the Pharisees lament in dis-

couragement that the whole world is running after Jesus. (Jn 12:19) The
Pharisees’ own day arrives, however, when they join the chief priests in
sending the temple guards to arrest Jesus. (Jn 18:3)
Like Matthew, John makes the Pharisees directly responsible for Jesus’
death, although historically the chief priests and the Sanhedrin almost
certainly functioned as the principal agents of Jesus’ arrest and condem-
nation. Both evangelists are, however, projecting onto the Pharisees of
Jesus’ day the hostility which they themselves encountered in the Phari-
sees of their own generation. As in Matthew’s gospel, the anachronism
portrays the Pharisaical adversaries of the Johannine community as the
heirs to the priests’ leadership of the Jewish community. One with the
priests in wielding religious authority, they also inherit the priests’ unre-
pentant blindness and violence of heart. Both priests and Pharisees, there-
fore, serve as the instruments of the same dark powers.11

The Analogy of Christological Knowing

All four gospels describe conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. In all
four gospels, these stories of conflict recall real confrontations during
Jesus’ ministry; but they also target “Pharisaical” tendencies in the Chris-
tian community. The synoptic evangelists identify those tendencies with
unbelief, legalism, formalism, judgmentalism, hypocrisy, and, on occa-
sion, greed.
The Beloved Disciple’s treatment of the Pharisees finds its closest ana-
logue among the synoptic evangelists in Matthew. The analogy springs
from an analogous cause: both communities found themselves in conflict
with a synagogue led by hostile Pharisees. Both evangelists portray an
alliance between the Pharisees and the chief priests to destroy Jesus.
This alliance almost certainly has theological rather than historical mo-
tives. Although some Pharisees may have belonged to the Sanhedrin, the
Pharisees of Jesus’ day lacked both the authority and the political clout
which both Matthew and John ascribe to them. In associating the Phari-
sees with the chief priests in their opposition to Jesus, both evangelists
seek to portray the Pharisees of their own day as the religious heirs of the
priestly aristocracy who engineered Jesus’ crucifixion. The Pharisees have
inherited the de facto leadership of the Jewish community which the chief
priests exercised in Palestine. Moreover, Pharisaical opposition to Jesus’
disciples proves them heirs to the unbelief and hostility with which the
11. Cf. NJBC, 61:127-133; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 369-382; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 33-42; Kenneth L. Carroll, “The Fourth Gospel and the
Exclusion of Christians from the Synagogues,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
Manchester, 40(1957-1958), pp. 19-32; Felix Gryglewicz, “Die Pharisäer und die
Johanneskirche” in Probleme der Forschung, edited by A. Fuchs (Munich: Verlag
Harold Wien, 1978), pp. 144-158.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 117

chief priests greeted Jesus and His message. In the mind of both evange-
lists, Pharisaical persecution of Jesus’ disciples continues the work of the
chief priests. It embodies the same kinds of religious hypocrisy and unbe-
lief. Both evangelists make this point through narrative by linking the
Pharisees to the sacerdotal plot against Jesus.
Conflict between Church and synagogue, in other words, led both evan-
gelists to demonize their Pharisaical adversaries. Even though the Matthean
community seems not to have suffered as yet the formal expulsion which
confronted the Johannine community, Matthew paints an even more
negative portrait of the Pharisees than does the Beloved Disciple. In the
fourth gospel, the Pharisees clearly embody the forces of darkness, hy-
pocrisy, unrepentance, unbelief, and violence of heart as the chief priests;
but nowhere in John does one find anything resembling the bitter woes
against the scribes and Pharisees which the Matthean Jesus thunders. Para-
doxically, the fact that the Matthean community seems to have preserved
still some ties to the synagogue may help explain the virulence of Matthew’s
anti-Pharisaical rhetoric in comparison with John’s. Matthew seems to
have feared that Pharisaical influence upon Christian leaders would cause
them to ape all the Pharisaical vices which, in the evangelist’s eyes, con-
tradict the fundamental demands of Christian leadership. The expelled
leaders of the Johannine community probably felt no such temptation.
Moreover, the Beloved Disciple seems to have despaired of reconciliation
with the synagogue. As a consequence, the fourth evangelist contents
himself with associating the Pharisees hand-in-glove with the chief priests
as institutional embodiments of the dark powers.
This section has reflected on the Beloved Disciple’s inclusion of the
Pharisees among the unbelieving Jews. The section which follows reflects
on the conflict between Jesus and the chief priests.

The fourth evangelist frequently uses the term “the Jews” as a synonym
for “chief priests.” When, for example, “the Jews” send priests and Levites
to question John the Baptizer, the delegation clearly comes from the chief
priests in Jerusalem. (Jn 1:19)

Jesus and the Priests

The cleansing of the temple, as we have seen, occurs early in John’s gos-
pel. In his account of this incident, the fourth evangelist includes an in-
teresting narrative detail. John’s Jesus in driving out the sellers and money
changers distinguishes between the rich and the poor. He deals with the
richer merchants more violently: with a whip of cords He drives out those
selling sheep and oxen together with their animals, and He overturns the
tables of the money changers. The poor vendors of doves, however, He
118 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

simply orders from the temple precincts with a command: “Get out of
here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a market place!” (Jn 2:13-16)
As in the synoptic gospels, Jesus by a prophetic act denounces the com-
mercialization of temple worship as a means of enriching an aristocratic
priesthood, whose members already belonged to the rich landed class.
Moreover, as in the synoptics, the temple officials challenge Jesus’ au-
thority to do what He is doing. With a typically Johannine twist, how-
ever, “the Jews” ask Jesus for a “sign” authorizing Him to take charge of
the temple. John’s Jesus replies: “Destroy this Temple and in three days I
will raise it up.” (Jn 2:18-19)
Here we find a major discrepancy between the synoptics and the fourth
evangelist. In the synoptic tradition we find the charge that Jesus will
destroy the temple and rebuild it on the lips of his adversaries. In Mark
and Matthew the false witnesses at Jesus’ trial charge Him with making
the boast. (Mk 14:58; Mt 26:61) The same two gospels place the charge
on the lips of those who taunt Jesus as He hangs on the cross. (Mk 25:9
Mt 27:40) In Acts Luke has the enemies of Stephen charge him with
saying that Jesus will destroy the temple. (Acts 4:14) The fourth evange-
list, however, puts this promise of rebuilding the temple on the lips of
Jesus Himself.
If one reads John’s account as an historical statement, Jesus charges the
chief priests with destroying the temple. He does not promise to destroy
it Himself. Taken historically, then, Jesus’ words assert that the commer-
cial corruption of worship over which the temple priests preside will one
day lead to the destruction of the Herodian temple, just as the sinfulness
of Israel had led to the destruction of Solomon’s temple. Viewed as an
historical statement, Jesus’ allusion to rebuilding the temple could, then,
signify the messianic act of rebuilding the temple and purifying its wor-
ship. The evangelist interprets the temple’s rebuilding as Jesus’ bodily
Like the synoptics, the fourth evangelist states that the cleansing of the
temple took place at Passover time; but in contrast to the synoptics it
does not happen at the Passover when Jesus died. John, as we have seen,
speaks of three Passovers in all: this one, the one which followed Jesus’
Bread of Life discourse, and the one at which He died.
The first two Passovers foreshadow the third. Moreover, as we have also
seen, the first two Passovers both allude to the purification of worship.
The first Passover begins the messianic purification of the temple by con-
demning the commercialization of its worship, while the second prom-
ises the eucharist which will embody authentic, pneumatically inspired
worship of God when people cease to worship either on Mount Gerizim
or in Jerusalem. (Jn 2:13-22, 4:21-23, 6:1-59, 13:1 ff.) Viewed theologi-
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 119

cally, the three Passovers reveal cumulatively that the paschal mystery
abolishes and supersedes both the Passover rite and temple worship.12
The cure of the cripple at the pool of Bethsaida again brings Jesus into
conflict with the hostile Jerusalem leaders, whom the evangelist again
calls “the Jews.” “The Jews” accuse the cured cripple of violating the sab-
bath by carrying the mat on which he had lain beside the pool. The man
replies that he is simply following the order of the one who cured him;
but, when pressed to disclose Jesus’ name, the cured cripple confesses
that he does not know it. (Jn 5:9b-13) Later, however, when Jesus con-
fronts the man and tells him not to sin again lest worse befall him, the
cured cripple informs the Jerusalem authorities that Jesus in fact per-
formed the miracle. (Jn 5:14-15)
In the synoptics, Jesus’ enemies object to His sabbath cures as viola-
tions of the sabbath rest. “The Jews” make the same objection in the
fourth gospel but add another objection: namely, that Jesus justifies His
sabbath cures by claiming the divine right to work on the sabbath, thus
making Himself equal to God. (Jn 5:15-18) In citing the second reason
for the hostility of the Jerusalem leaders to Jesus, the evangelist is prob-
ably projecting anachronistically onto the historical enemies of Jesus is-
sues which divided the Johannine community and the synagogue.
John begins the account of Tabernacles by noting that Jesus remained
in Galilee because “the Jews” desired to kill him. (Jn 7:1) Here the term
“the Jews” refers especially to the temple priesthood and to the Sanhedrin;
but, as the debates between Jesus and His adversaries unfold during Tab-
ernacles, He also charges the hostile crowds with seeking His blood.
The exchange between Jesus and His brothers before the feast makes it
clear that those who seek Jesus’ life belong to the world. Jesus’ brothers
urge Him to leave Galilee and go to Jerusalem during the feast as a way of
publicizing His miracles. The evangelist notes, however, that Jesus’ brothers
themselves did not in fact believe in Him. Conceivably, the Beloved Dis-

12. Cf. NJBC, 61:42-45; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 114-125; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 180-190; see also, Ernst Hänchen, Gott und Mensch:
Gesammelte Aufsätze (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1965), pp. 93-105; F.-M. Braun, O.P.,
“L’expulsion des vendeurs du temple,” Revue Biblique, 38(1929), pp. 178-200; “In
Spiritu et Veritate,” Revue Thomiste, 52(1952), pp. 245-274; Henri van den Bussche,
“Le Signe du temple (Jean 2, 13-22),” Bible et Vie Chrétienne, 20(1957-1958),) pp.
92-101; Ocsar Cullmann, “L’opposition contre le temple de Jerusalem, motif commun
de la théologie Johannique et du monde ambiant,” New Testament Studies, 5(1958-1959),
pp. 157-173; Victor Eppstein, “The Historicity of the Gospel Account of the
Cleansing of the Temple,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 55(1964),
pp. 42-58; Siegfried Mendner, “Die Tempelreinigung und Golgotha (Joh 2:19-22),”
Biblische Zeitschrift, 6(1962), pp. 102-107; Xavier Léon-Dufour, “Le signe du temple
selon Saint Jean,” Recherches de Science Religieuse, 39(1951-1952), pp. 155-175; Udo
Schnelle, “Die Tempelreinigung unde die Christologie des Johnnesevangeliums,” New
Testament Studies, 42(1996), pp. 359-373.
120 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

ciple desires the reader to contrast the unbelief of these brothers in the
flesh with the faith of the Beloved Disciple who becomes Jesus’ brother in
faith at the foot of the cross. The advice of Jesus’ natural brothers seems
to spring from their false perception of Jesus as aspiring to secular
messianism. (Jn 7:1-4)
Jesus replies:

My time (kairos) is not yet come; but the time (kairos) is always suitable for
you. The world cannot possibly hate you, but it does hate Me because I
bear witness concerning it that its deeds are wicked. Go up to the feast
yourselves. I am not going up to this feast because my time (kairos) is not
yet ripe. (Jn 7: 6-8)

The term “kairos” designates a decisive moment of salvation. Jesus, of

course, is referring to His “hour,” to the time when He will be lifted up in
suffering and in glory. He is telling His brothers that He will make the
kind of public display for which they are calling when His hour comes.
Jesus fulfills this promise when He enters Jerusalem in triumph prior to
His passion. (Jn 12:12-19) In fact, Jesus goes to the feast of Tabernacles, but
secretly and not in the ostentatious way His brothers suggest (Jn 7:10)
Jesus recognizes that His brothers’ suggestion does not proceed from
faith in Him. His brothers, because of their unbelief and commitment to
secular messianism belong to the world. The world, therefore, looks fondly
upon them. Moreover, unlike Jesus, they have no need to wait the hour
appointed by the Father. By the world’s standards, any time suits for grasp-
ing power.
Finally, in His exchange with His brothers, Jesus enunciates a central
theme which the evangelist will dramatize during His account of Taber-
nacles: the world hates Jesus for speaking the truth about it and for un-
masking its hypocrisy and violence.
“The Jews”—namely, the chief priests and Sanhedrin—also expect Jesus
to engage in the kind of public display to which His brothers urge him.
(Jn 7:11) The crowds at Tabernacles divide into those who approve of
what Jesus is doing and those who regard Him as a charlatan. In their fear
of the Jerusalem authorities, the crowds fear to speak openly about Jesus.13
(Jn 7:11-13)
During the feast of Tabernacles, the evangelist speaks of two different
attempts to arrest Jesus. Although the evangelist leaves vague the identity
of those who initiate the first arrest, the context points to the temple
priesthood. After noting twice that Jesus was teaching in the temple, the
13. Cf. NJBC, 61:104-106; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 304-309; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 5-8; Christian Dietzfelbinger, “Der ungeliebte Bruder:
Der Herrenbruder Jakobus im Johannesevangelium,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und
Kirche, 89(1992), pp. 377-403.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 121

evangelist says: “Then they tried to arrest Him, but no one laid a finger
on Him because His hour had not yet come.”14 (Jn 7:30, cf.14, 28) The
attempt fails because the temple police find themselves spellbound by
Jesus’ words and return empty-handed. (Jn 7:46)
The second attempt also fails because the temple police once again find
themselves hard put to resist Jesus’ words. (Jn 7:46) When Jesus responds
to the attempted arrest with the warning that He will soon depart and
return to the Father, a place to which the unbelieving crowds have no
access, “the Jews” systematically distort what He has said by imagining
that He intends to take His ministry to Jews of the Diaspora. (Jn 7:35-36)
Later, when Jesus repeats the same warning, “the Jews” suggest in disbe-
lief that Jesus must be contemplating suicide when He suggests that He is
going where others cannot follow. (Jn 8:22) In both cases, “the Jews” prob-
ably designates both the unbelieving crowds and Jesus’ priestly adversaries.
Both slanderous suggestions point to an ironic truth. After Jesus’ resur-
rection, His disciples will spread His ministry not only to Jews of the
Diaspora but to Gentiles as well. Jesus will not, of course, commit sui-
cide; but He will freely lay does His life for those whom He seeks to save.
Disagreement about Jesus also surfaces in the Sanhedrin when
Nichodemus attempts to defend Jesus against the Pharisees. (Jn 7:47-52)
Nevertheless, “the Jews”—here, members of the Sanhedrin—fail to grasp
Jesus’ true identity or to understand that He is speaking to them about
the Father. (Jn 8:25, 27)
At the feast of Dedication, the hostile “Jews” in Jerusalem—most likely,
the priestly leaders or their representatives—challenge Jesus to declare
openly His messianic pretensions. Jesus replies that He has already told
them what they ask; but that they do not believe Him. (Jn 10:22-25)
Once again they seek to stone Jesus for claiming identity with the Father
(Jn 10:31-34, 11:8); and they make another unsuccessful attempt to ar-
rest Jesus. (Jn 10:39)
After the raising of Lazarus causes many to believe in Jesus, the Sanhedrin
conspires with the Pharisees to do away with Him. They do so to protect
the political hegemony of the client priesthood and the Jewish client ar-

“What are we to do,” they said, “now that this man is performing many
signs? If we let Him go on like this, everybody will believe in Him; and the
Romans will come and take away our holy place and our nation.” (Jn
14. Only the chief priests would have had jurisdiction to initiate an arrest within the
temple itself. As we have seen, the fourth evangelist portrays the Pharisees as joining the
attempt to arrest Jesus because he assimilates theologically priestly unbelief and
hostility to the unbelief and hostility of the Pharisaical leaders in the synagogue of his
own day. (Jn 7:32)
122 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

These two verses also teem with ironies. In the signs Jesus performs,
the Father testifies to Him. The crowds, whom the Pharisees have already
dismissed as ignorant of the Law and therefore damned, recognize the
signs and believe in them; but the religious leaders and the Pharisees do
not. Their dismay at the faith of the crowds springs from their own lack
of faith. In addition, the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees fear that, if every-
one believes in Jesus, then the Romans will destroy Jerusalem and raze
the temple. That destruction will happen; but, from the evangelist’s stand-
point, it will follow from the stubborn unbelief of the chief priests and
Pharisees, not from faith in Jesus.
The evangelist adds to these ironies another. Caiphas, the high priest
replies to his co-conspirators’ cry of dismay with an abrupt rebuke: “You
know nothing; and you do not realize that it profits you that one man die
[for the people (hyper tou laou)] rather than have the whole nation per-
ish.” (Jn 11:49)
The term “laos” designates Israel as a theocratic nation. The phrase “for
the people” does not, however, appear in some of the early Latin patristic
writers, and it sounds strange on the lips of Caiphas. It makes his state-
ment into something like a profession of faith, while its omission turns it
into a cynical political calculation. A later redactor may, then, have added
the phrase to the text.
The evangelist, however, calls attention to an ironic double meaning in
the high priest’s advice, a double meaning which the scribe who probably
inserted “for the people” clearly understood. The evangelist does so by
interpreting Caiphas’s words as a “prophecy.” Caiphas is talking about
murdering Jesus in order to avoid Roman reprisals and to maintain the
status quo. In fact Jesus’ death will save the people, though not from the
Roman reprisals which will, in the evangelist’s estimate, punish the obsti-
nate unbelief of Jesus’ enemies. Rather, Jesus will save the people when
He dies, rises, and sends the sin-forgiving Breath to effect the universal
reconciliation of humanity with God and with one another through the
gift of endless messianic peace.
The evangelist interprets ironically the deeper, saving meaning of the
high priest’s cynical advice as a “prophecy.” (Jn 11:51) Calling the mur-
derous words of the high priest a prophecy contains yet another irony.
No matter what the chief priests do to prevent Jesus from succeeding,
their malice remains doomed to fail. God will use the very murder of
Jesus in order to insure His triumph; for Jesus by His love will transform
His murder into the supreme expression of divine love for a sinful hu-
manity. As the story of Jesus’ conflict with the temple priesthood un-
folds, the evangelist will develop this irony further, especially in the trial
of Jesus before Pilate.15
15. Cf. NJBC, 61:153-155; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 438-444; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 73-81; J.T. Ensfelder, “Die Weissagung des Hohenpriesters
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 123

In the fourth gospel, the Sanhedrin’s secret plot against Jesus replaces
His public trial by that body. As we shall see, in his passion narrative the
fourth evangelist alone describes Jesus’ informal interrogation by Annas,
the father-in-law of Caiphas, the real high priest for that year. No other
gospel records this incident. In the fourth gospel, moreover, the interro-
gation comes as close as Jesus gets to a formal trial before the Sanhedrin.
The Beloved Disciple may offer the most historically plausible account
of Jesus’ legal encounter with the Sanhedrin. The absence of any formal
trial before the Sanhedrin also serves important narrative and theological
purposes in the fourth gospel. From the standpoint of narrative struc-
ture, the lack of a trial before the Sanhedrin focuses dramatic attention
on the trial before Pilate. As we shall see, the Beloved Disciple will por-
tray Jesus’ trial before the Roman governor as the judgmental confronta-
tion between the heavenly kingdom which Jesus embodies and the Ro-
man empire, which typifies the kingdoms of this world.
Jesus’ unofficial condemnation by the Sanhedrin without a trial causes
Him to withdraw temporarily in order to avoid direct confrontation with
the chief priests and Pharisees until His hour comes. (Jn 11:54) His en-
emies, for their part, stand ready to act against Him when He finally
makes His move. They have ordered anyone who knows Jesus’ where-
abouts to report it to them so that the temple police can arrest Him. (Jn
Moreover, as we have seen, since the raising of Lazarus has caused the
people to turn to Jesus in faith, the chief priests decide to include Lazarus
on their hit list as well. (Jn 12:10) By including this detail, the evangelist
makes it clear that those whom Jesus has raised to life through baptismal
faith must stand ready to die with Him, if necessary.

The Chief Priests in the Passion

As we have already seen, the chief priests and Pharisees act in concert to
send the detachment which arrests Jesus. (Jn 18:2-3) In John, moreover,
the arresting band includes Roman soldiers as well as temple police. (Jn
Kaiphas—Eine exegetische Versuch über Joh XI, 50-51,” Theologische Jahrbücher
1(Tübingen, 1942), pp. 792-800; Werner Grimm, “Preisgabe einer Menschen zur
Rettung des Volkes” in Josepus Studien, edited by Otto Betz et al. (Göttingen:
Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 1974), pp. 133-146; Prosper Shecpens, “‘Pontifex anni
illius’ (Ev. de saint Jean, XI, 49, 51; XVIII, 14,” Recherches de Science Religieuse,
11(1921), pp. 372-374; Severeno Pancaro, “‘People of God’ in St. John’s Gospel,”
New Testament Studies, 16(1969-1970), pp. 114-129; Ernst Bammel, “John 11,
45-47” in The Trial of Jesus: Cambridge Studies in Honor of C.F.D. Moule, edited by E.
Bammel, SBT13 (Napierville, IL: Allenson, 1970), pp. 11-40; Margaret Barker,
“Caiphas’ Words in Jn 11, 50 refer to Messiah ben Joseph,” Ibid., pp. 41-46; James
Louis Martyn, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (Nashville, TN: Abingdon,
1979), pp. 64-100; Johannes Buetler, S.J., “Two Ways of Gathering: The Plot to Kill
Jesus in John 11:47-53,” New Testament Studies, 40(1994), pp. 399-406.
124 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

18:12) Temple and empire, as embodiments of the dark powers (Jn

14:3-31), conspire to put the Son of God on trial.
As we have also seen, for the fourth evangelist, Jesus’ passion begins the
full revelation of His glory. Narrative emphasis on the divine glory ex-
plains the Beloved Disciple’s omission of the agony in the garden; and
Jesus manifests His glory in a positive way by conquering His enemies
with a final proclamation of His divinity.
Jesus, fully aware of everything about to happen to Him, asks the ar-
resting band: “For whom are you looking?” The question recalls Jesus’
question to His first disciples and His subsequent invitation to them to
come and see. It also foreshadows the risen Christ’s question to Mary
Magdalene: “Whom are your seeking?” (Jn 20:15) John’s Jesus follows
His question to His disciples with the invitation to “come and see.” Soon
after hearing the question of the risen Christ, Mary Magdalene “sees”
Him in His risen glory. The Beloved Disciple also desires the reader to
“see” deeply into the events which follow Jesus’ question to His enemies.16
When Jesus’ enemies reply, “Jesus, the Nazorean,” Jesus responds by
saying, “I AM (ego eimi).” (Jn 18:4-5) Translators often render the words
“ego eimi” as “I am He,” but the Greek text has no “He” in it. The words
“ego eimi” identify Jesus as the one the cohort seeks; but they also pro-
claim the divine name “I AM” which He shares with the Father.
When the temple police and soldiers hear Jesus pronounce the divine
name they draw back and fall to the ground. (Jn 18:6) The Beloved Dis-
ciple thus transforms Jesus’ very arrest into a theophany. By merely pro-
nouncing the divine name which He shares with the Father, Jesus renders
those who have come to arrest Him powerless. Only after Jesus has dem-
onstrated that He remains in complete control of the situation does He
freely surrender Himself to the soldiers. (Jn 18:18) In the very moment
of His arrest, Jesus speaks and acts with a divine authority which mani-
fests His glory.
In surrendering Himself Jesus also makes sure that the soldiers allow
the disciples to depart. The act expresses His advance forgiveness of their
abandonment of Him in His passion. (Jn 13:38, 16:32-33) It also insures
the fulfillment of the promise which He made to the disciples in His
priestly prayer. In His priestly prayer Jesus had assured the disciples that,
from among their number, only Judas would know perdition, and then
only to fulfill the Scriptures.17 (Jn 17:12)
16. Cf. Raymond E. Brown, S.S., The Death of the Messiah (2 vols.; New York, NY:
Doubleday, 1994), I, pp. 259-262.
17. Cf. Gottfried Schulle, “Das Leiden des Herrn: Die evangelistische Passionstradition
und ihr ‘Sitz im Leben,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, 52(1955), pp. 161-205;
Sebastian Bartina, S.J., “‘Jo soy Yahweh’ Nota exegetica a Jo 18, 4-8,” Estudios
Ecclesiasticos, 32(1958), pp. 403-426; John Monro Gibson, “The Gethsemane of the
Fourth Gospel,” Expository Times, 30(1918-1919), pp. 76-79; Paul Winter, The Trial
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 125

Peter cuts off the ear of the servant of the high priest, possibly the high
ranking official who has accompanied the cohort which arrests Jesus. Only
the fourth evangelist names both the aggressive disciple and the maimed
servant. That a Hellenizing Jewish priest would have adopted a Gentile
name like Malchus has the ring of plausibility.
Peter wields the sword, the ear of Malchus falls to the ground. Luke as
we have seen, has Jesus heal the ear and rebuke any use of violence in His
defence. (Lk 22:51) John makes no mention of a healing. Instead he
gives the rebuke to Peter a different twist. The Johannine Jesus says: “Put
that sword back! Shall I not drink the cup my Father has given Me?” (Jn
Jesus’ question, as we have seen, echoes the prayer which the synoptic
Jesus makes during His agony in the garden. (Mk 14:32-46; Mt 26:36-46;
Lk 22:41-2) One finds, however, no hint in John of conflict or of agony.
Instead, Jesus’ words express the same total and sovereign submission to
the Father as one finds in His last discourse. Jesus’ words reveal that the
world has finally no power over Jesus. He for His part freely submits to
the world’s violence in obedience to the Father.18 (Jn 14:30-31)
Only the fourth evangelist records the informal interrogation of Jesus
by Annas, the father-in-law of Caiphas, the high priest. (Jn 18:13-14)
The evangelist portrays this interrogation as a pure formality by remind-
ing the reader that the high priestly caste has already condemned Jesus to
death.19 (Jn 18:14)
As we shall see in considering Jesus’ relationship to His disciples, the
Beloved Disciple focuses the point of the interrogation on Jesus’ relation-
ship to His disciples. When Annas asks Jesus about His disciples and
doctrine, Jesus tells the high priest to question those He has taught, since
He has said nothing in secret. One of the temple police then slaps Jesus
in the face for speaking insolently. Jesus rebukes the guard with the words:
“If I spoke evil, bear witness to the evil; if rightly, why do you strike Me?”
(Jn 18:19-23)
The guard in striking Jesus suggests that He has violated Ex. 22:28,
“You shall not revile God nor curse a ruler of your people.” Jesus in reply-
ing takes note of that law but denies any culpability. He challenges the
temple guard to justify both his accusation and his violent act. Jesus’

of Jesus (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1961), pp. 44-50; Dieter Dormeyer, “Joh
18.1-14 par Mk 14.43-53: Methodologische Überlegungen zur Rekonstruktion einer
vorsynoptischen Passionsgeschichte,” New Testament Studies, 41(1995), pp. 218-239.
18. Cf. NJBC, 61: 207-208; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 805-818.
19. Having indicated that Caiphas, not Annas, presided as high priest that year, the
evangelist nevertheless designates Annas in the interrogation as “the high priest.”
Exegetes have puzzled over this apparent contradiction; but the evangelist could be
designating Annas as a member of the high priestly caste from whose number the
presiding high priest came. (Jn 18:19)
126 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

response also alludes to an incident during the feast of Tabernacles. On

that occasion Jesus countered the hatred of the crowd by challenging
them to convict Him of any sin or wrongdoing. (Jn 15:25) The policeman’s
violence now reproduces the same kind of unjust disbelief. His action
also reminds one of Jn 15:25: “They have hated Me without cause.” Annas
sends Jesus bound to Caiphas.20 (Jn 18:24)
The next morning, without a formal trial before the Sanhedrin, the
high priests take Jesus to Pilate for judgment; but they refuse to enter the
praetorium lest they incur ritual defilement. (Jn 18:28) This priestly con-
cern for ritual niceties at the very moment when they are engaged in
legalized murder strikes a bitterly ironic note by dramatizing the high
priests’ hypocrisy and shallow legalism.21
The priests’ legal scruple also provides the literary conceit which struc-
tures John’s account of the trial before Pilate; for the priests’ refusal to
enter the Praetorium forces Pilate to leave the building in order to con-
front the priests and to re-enter it in order to interrogate Jesus. His en-
trances and exits divide Jesus’ trial into scenes.
In the first scene, the high priests explain why they have not tried Jesus
according to Jewish law: they desire His crucifixion but have no author-
ity to order it. (Jn 18:31) Pilate asks what specific charge the chief priests
bring against Jesus. They reply that, if Jesus were not a criminal, they
would not have brought Him to Pilate for judgment. (Jn 18:29-30) When
Pilate tells the priests to judge Jesus by Mosaic law, the chief priests re-
mind Pilate that they cannot execute anyone and that the Romans must
handle capital punishment.22 (Jn 18:31-32)
Jesus’ enemies have already judged Him guilty of blasphemy. A charge
of blasphemy rooted in Jewish religious beliefs would, however, have car-
20. Cf. NJBC, 61:209-213; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 818-842; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 16-174; Robert T. Fortna, “Jesus and Peter at the High
Priest’s House: A Test Case for the Question of the Relation between Mark’s and John’s
Gospel,” New Testament Studies, 24(1977-1978), pp. 371-383; Max Alain Chevallier,
“La comparution de Jésus devant Hanne et devant Caiphe” in Neues Testament und
Geschichte, edited by H.B. Weiler and Bo Reicke (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1972), pp.
179-185; W. Randoph Church, “The Dislocation in the Eighteenth Chapter of John,”
Journal of Biblical Literature, 49(1930), pp. 375-383; Johannes Schneider, “Zur
Komposition von Joh 18, 12-27,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft,
48(1951), pp. 111-119; Paul Winter, The Trial of Jesus, pp. 1-50; “Marginal Notes on
the Trial of Jesus,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 50(1959), pp.
221-251; Patrick Valentin, “Les Comparution de Jésus devant le sanhedrin,” Recherches
de Science Religieuse, 59(1971), pp. 230-236; Frank J. Matera, “Jesus before Annas:
John 18, 13-14. 19-24,” Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis, 66(1990), pp. 38-55.
21. Cf. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, I, pp. 744-747.
22. Scholars debate the extent of the Sanhedrin’s authority to carry out death sentences
under Roman law. Some of the evidence does, however, support the fourth evangelist’s
statement that in Jesus’ time the Romans had in fact forbidden formal executions by
the Jewish authorities. (Jn 18:31)
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 127

ried no weight under Roman law. The chief priests, therefore, assure Pilate
that Jesus has committed a crime deserving capital punishment, but they
fail to name the crime in question. Eventually, as the trial unfolds, Pilate
will force them to confess their duplicity.
The evangelist observes at this point that in bringing about Jesus’ cru-
cifixion, the chief priests are in fact fulfilling Jesus’ own prediction of
how He would die. In speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus, as we have seen,
had predicted that He must be lifted up just as Moses lifted up the ser-
pent in the desert. (Jn 3:13-14) His lifting up will draw all to Himself. In
other words, it will accomplish the universal salvation which Jesus has
come to accomplish. (Jn 12:32)
The first phase of Jesus’ trial ends with Pilate exonerating the accused.
The governor declares that he finds the criminal charges against Jesus
without foundation. Pilate’s preliminary judgment suggests that he rec-
ognizes the religious character of the dispute between Jesus and the chief
priests. Accordingly, the governor refuses to involve the empire in decid-
ing the private religious disputes of its subjects.
As in the synoptics, however, Pilate waffles. He reminds “the Jews” that
at the feast of Passover he customarily releases a prisoner; and he offers to
release Jesus rather than the bandit Barabbas. “The Jews,” however, call
for Barabbas’s release instead. (Jn 18:38b-40) Here the term “the Jews”
refers to the high priests. (Cf. Jn 18:24, 35; 19:6) As in the synoptics, the
priests’ preference for the wrong “son of the father” foreshadows their
final repudiation of the Son of God incarnate. As a sop for the priests,
Pilate has Jesus scourged. (Jn 19:1-3)
Pilate, though balked, has not yet played out his hand. When the chief
priests and temple police see the scourged Jesus cloaked in purple and
crowned with thorns, they again demand His crucifixion. Pilate tells them
scornfully to execute Jesus on their own authority. For his part, he finds
no reason to require Jesus’ death. (Jn 19:4-6) This rebuke causes the chief
priests to say: “We have our own Law and according to that Law He must
die because He pretended to be God’s Son.” (Jn 19:7) In other words,
Pilate’s stubbornness forces the chief priests to confess that they are in
fact seeking a civil execution for the religious crime of blasphemy.
In the fourth evangelist’s vision of the struggle between light and dark-
ness, the conflict, as we have seen, makes the light to shine more brightly
and the darkness to grow deeper. Both happen when the chief priests
confess their true motives for desiring Jesus’ death. They reveal their mal-
ice and hypocrisy in having trumped up criminal charges against Jesus,
when in fact they seek His execution on religious grounds. At the same
time, in revealing the real reason why they want Him dead, they willy-nilly
proclaim His divine Sonship to the Roman governor. In the process they
draw Pilate deeper into guilt. They force the skeptical pagan governor (Jn
128 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

18:38) to face the religious implications of what they are demanding of

Pilate reacts with dread. What motivates the dread? The realization
that by meddling in religious matters he could bring himself under the
censure of Rome? Superstitious dread of Jesus as a divine man? (Jn 19:8) In
John’s passion narrative, both motives could in fact motivate Pilate’s fear.
In the final scene of Jesus’ trial, the chief priests threaten Pilate by say-
ing: “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend; every one who
makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar.” (Jn 19:12) A group of
senators together with some invited members of equestrian rank who
surrounded both Augustus and Tiberius bore the name “amici,” or
“friends” of Caesar. One has no way of knowing, however, whether the
phrase bore those connotations on the lips of the Johannine high priests.23
Some commentators see in the threat an implicit reference to the politi-
cal downfall of Sejanus in Rome in the year 31 a.d. Under such an inter-
pretation, the priests warn Pilate that he could suffer the same fate as
Sejanus unless he takes a hard line against Jewish secular messianism.
Other commentators find the allusion to Sejanus contrived.
In any case, the invocation of Caesar’s name persuades Pilate to con-
demn Jesus as a messianic pretender, even though Pilate has already judged
that the legal evidence does not support such a charge. (Jn 19:12)
Pilate, however, has not yet done with the priests. He forces them to
declare how they themselves view Jesus’ messianic status. He presents
Jesus to the priests as their king. The priests reply “We have no king but
Caesar.” (Jn 19:14-15) In other words, having been manipulated by the
priests to condemn Jesus unjustly, Pilate forces the chief priests to replace
allegiance to their true king and messiah with political allegiance to the
dark powers.24
In the fourth gospel, the chief priests do not mock the crucified Jesus as
they do in the synoptic gospels. Instead, they attempt to get Pilate to
revise the official inscription nailed to Jesus’ cross. The inscription publi-
cizes the crime which justifies Jesus’ condemnation and execution. Pilate
had written “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” The chief priests urge
the governor to revise the text to read: “This man said, ‘I am King of the
Jews.’” Pilate refuses. The chief priests have chosen Caesar as their king;
now they must suffer the curt rebuff of Caesar’s representative. (Jn
The priests began by accusing Jesus of criminal activity, then confessed
that they really wanted Him executed for blasphemy. The priests next

23. Cf. Ernst Bammel, “Philos tou Kaisaros,” Theologische Literaturzeitung, 4(1952), pp.
24. Cf. NJBC, 61:214-221; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 842-896; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 175-188.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 129

manipulated the governor’s political anxieties until Pilate condemned Jesus

as a secular messiah. Now they try to get Pilate to say that Jesus only
pretended to have royal messianic authority. Pilate refuses; and his refusal
means that Jesus, even as He hangs on the cross, still confronts the world
as its true messiah. At the very moment when the powers of darkness
seem to have triumphed decisively, the light continues to shine. The dark-
ness cannot overcome it. (Jn 1:5)
Moreover, Pilate has the inscription written in Hebrew, Greek, and
Latin in order to insure that anyone can understand the charge against
Jesus. In fact, the public execution near to Jerusalem causes many who
pass by to read and understand the charge. (Jn 19:20) The public publi-
cation of Jesus as the real king of the Jews, not only in Hebrew but in the
more universal languages of Latin and Greek, foreshadows ironically Jesus’
successful proclamation to the Gentiles as messiah and Lord. That proc-
lamation will follow upon His glorification.25
The chief priests make their final appearance in John when, under the
ambiguous designation “the Jews,” they ask Pilate to remove the cruci-
fied bodies from the crosses before the solemn sabbath. The priests’ shal-
low concern with ritual propriety after an act of legalized murder recalls
their hypocritical concern at the beginning of Jesus’ trial to avoid legal
impurity by refusing to enter the Praetorium. (Jn 19:31; cf. 18:28)

The Analogy of Christological Knowing

Like the synoptic evangelists, the Beloved Disciple regards the chief priests
as the principal agents of Jesus’ crucifixion. Like the synoptics, John por-
trays the priests as cynical, politically ambitious, calculating, hypocriti-
cal, religiously skeptical, and oppressive. Two theological motives color
the Beloved Disciple’s distinctive handling of the chief priests: his under-
standing of the providentially predetermined outcome of the struggle
between light and darkness and his forensic theology of judgment.
The conflict between Jesus and the chief priests which intensifies dur-
ing the feast of Tabernacles brings the theme of the struggle between light
and darkness to front and center stage. That struggle in a sense culmi-
nates in the chief priests’ frustrated attempt to keep Pilate from proclaim-
ing the crucified Jesus the king of the Jews. Despite its worst efforts, the
darkness lacks the power to quench or to hide the divine Light embodied
in Jesus.
The Beloved Disciple’s account of the conflict between the chief priests
and Jesus reaches a climax in Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Here the struggle of
the darkness against the light blends with the theme of judgment. In
condemning Jesus and in hypocritically forcing Pilate to condemn Him,

25. Cf. NJBC, 61:223; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 918-920; Hänchen, Commen-
tary on John, II, pp. 192-193.
130 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

the chief priests together with Pilate stand judged before the one who
will condemn their action on the last day.
Ironically the very struggle between darkness and light also insures the
chief priests’ condemnation in the eyes of God. They stand condemned,
not by divine vindictiveness, but by their own choice. God seeks only to
save them in Christ; but, as a direct result of their successful attempt to
force Pilate to condemn Jesus, the chief priests find themselves forced to
confess publicly that they believe more in the Roman empire than in the
kingdom of God which Jesus embodies and which the pachal mystery
The Beloved Disciple’s vision of the struggle between light and dark-
ness offered the Johannine community comfort. It assured a beleaguered
community expelled for heresy from the synagogue and divided in its
own faith that no matter how hard the darkness seeks to quench the
light, the dark powers will fail. The chief priests had failed to quench the
light even on Calvary. Beside the crucifixion of God, the trials of the
Johannine community paled by comparison.
A Johannine theology of judgment also posed a challenge to Johannine
Christians. In Jesus God has revealed His absolute will to save; but every-
thing depends on human choice. Those who sin against the light choose
divine judgment. Johannine Christians must, then, choose wisely, or else
find themselves, side by side with the dissidents, the Pharisees, and the
chief priests, dominated by the forces of darkness. That warning would
have targeted especially the Johannine dissidents.
Only one negative dramatic linkage requires examination: namely, Jesus’
relationship to Pilate and to the Roman empire. The following section
ponders that relationship.

In contrast to the synoptics, the fourth gospel never mentions any of the
Herods. Instead, only Pilate, the Roman governor, stands as the personi-
fication of the rulers of this world. Pilate also symbolizes the skeptical,
unbelieving Gentile. (Jn 18:38) In the Beloved Disciple’s passion narra-
tive, therefore, the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate embodies a
face off between the heavenly kingdom which Jesus incarnates and the dark
powers of violence and unbelief which the Roman empire incarnates.

Jesus and Pilate

The evangelist structures the seven scenes of Jesus’ trial before Pilate
chiastically. The first scene and final scene correspond to one another. In
the first scene, the chief priests demand Jesus’ death (Jn 18:28-32); in the
seventh and last scene, they obtain it. (Jn 19:12-16a) The second and
sixth scenes also correspond. In both, Pilate interrogates Jesus. (Jn
18:33-8a, 19:9-11) The third and fifth scenes correspond. In both Pilate
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 131

declares Jesus innocent and gives His enemies a chance to choose for
rather than against Him. (Jn 18:38b-40, 19:4-8) In the central scene of
Jesus’ trial before Pilate, the Roman soldiers scourge Jesus and then mock
Him as King of the Jews. (Jn 19:1-3)
As we shall see in greater detail later, the Beloved Disciple will have
none of Mark’s messianic secret. The Johannine Jesus practices an open
messianism. He publicly acknowledges and proclaims His messianic dig-
nity. (Jn 4:26, 10:25-26) Moreover, in the course of telling Jesus’ story,
the evangelist has already portrayed others acknowledging Him as the
messiah. Andrew has called Jesus messiah. (Jn 1:41) Nathanael has pro-
claimed Him messianic Son of God and King of Israel. (Jn 1:49) After
the miracle of the loaves before the Bread of Life discourse, the people
come to make Jesus messianic king. (Jn 6:15) The crowds greet Jesus in
His triumphal entry as King of Israel. (Jn 12:13) On that occasion, the
evangelist interprets the triumphal entry as a fulfillment of a messianic
prophecy. (Jn 12:15)
As I have already indicated, the Johannine Jesus speaks only once about
the kingdom during his ministry, in a private conversation with
Nichodemus. (Jn 3:3, 5) Both the kingdom of God and Jesus’ royal dig-
nity function, however, as a central focus of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. That
the evangelist would center the proclamation of the kingdom primarily
in the paschal mystery rather than in Jesus’ public ministry reflects con-
sistently the movement of His Christological thought. As we shall see
below in considering the signs Jesus works, the fourth evangelist focuses
Jesus’ entire story on the paschal mystery, on “the hour” of His final and
full revelation in glory. When “the hour” comes, Pilate, the Roman gov-
ernor, serves ironically as the instrument providentially chosen by God to
proclaim publicly and officially that Jesus reigns as king of the Jews. In its
focus on the paschal mystery, Johannine narrative Christology resembles
Pauline kerygmatic Christology.
Pilate makes his first appearance in the first scene of Jesus’ trial. The
drama of the trial lies in the interaction between Pilate with the chief
priests, on the one hand, and between Pilate and Jesus, on the other. As
we have seen, the refusal of the chief priests to enter the Praetorium lest
they incur legal impurity creates the literary convention which separates
the different scenes in John’s account of Jesus’ trial.
Moreover, Pilate’s toing and froing cause him to oscillate between the
powers of darkness, represented by the chief priests, and Jesus, the light
of the world. Pilate’s physical movement dramatizes the governor’s moral

26. Cf. Cf. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, I, p. 744; Gerard S. Sloyan, Jesus on Trial
(Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1973), pp. 110-125; J. Ramsey Michaels, “John 18.31 and
the ‘Trial’ of Jesus,” New Testament Studies, 36(1990), pp. 474-479.
132 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

As we have seen, in the first scene of Jesus’ trial the chief priests accuse
Jesus of criminal activity and indicate their intention to have Him cruci-
fied. In reflecting on the first scene the evangelist reminds the reader that
Jesus’ crucifixion will in fact “lift Him up” in suffering and in glory and
will transform Him into an instrument of universal salvation. (Jn
18:28-32) Despite all the machinations of the high priests, God has al-
ready determined the victorious outcome of Jesus’ confrontation with
the empire and with all the dark powers of this world.27
In the second scene of the trial Pilate confronts Jesus face to face for the
first time. He begins by asking Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Jn
18:33) Here “the Jews” refers to the Jewish nation as a whole and has no
pejorative connotations. Pilate does not beat around the bush; he wants
to know whether Jesus claims secular, messianic authority and stands in
rebellion against Rome.
Josephus’s history of the Jewish wars indicates that in the decades be-
fore the destruction of Jerusalem more than one messianic claimant to
royal authority arose from the peasant class. Before entering into open
insurrection against Rome, these peasant messiahs not infrequently func-
tioned as bandit chieftains, just as David had before replacing Saul on the
throne. Pilate wants to know whether Jesus stands in insurrection against
Roman authority in the manner of these bandit chiefs.
Jesus answers with a question of His own: “Do you speak for yourself,
or did others say it to you about me?” (Jn 18:34) Jesus asks Pilate whether
he as governor has reasons to ask Him about His messianic pretensions or
whether the question flows from the accusations of the chief priests. Pilate

I’m not a Jew, am I? Your nation and chief priests handed you over to me.
What have you done? (Jn 18:35)

Pilate responds sarcastically to Jesus’ question: “Do you speak for your-
self?” He takes Jesus’ question to mean, “Do you yourself believe Me the
messiah?” He also seems to take the question to imply that he, Pilate,
takes messianism seriously. Pilate’s question: “I’m not a Jew, am I?” makes
it clear that he has no truck with Jewish messianic hopes and pretensions.
At the same time he confesses that he would not be interrogating Jesus
unless the chief priests had pressed criminal charges against Him. As gov-

27. Cf. Paul Winter, The Trial of Jesus, pp. 51-110; Donatien Mollat, S.J., “Jésus devant
Pilate,” Bible et Vie Chrétienne, 39(1961), pp. 23-31; Jacques Esiande, “Jésus devant
Pilate,” Foi et Vie, 73(1974), pp. 66-81; Josef Blank, “Die Verhandlung vor Pilatus, Joh
18, 28-19, 16 im licht Johanneischer Theologie,” Biblische Zeitschrift, 3(1953), pp.
60-81; J.E. Allen, “Why Pilate?” in The Trial of Jesus, edited by E. Bammel,
(Napierville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, Inc., 1970), 78-83.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 133

ernor, Pilate wants to know how Jesus pleads to the charges laid against
Him: “What have your done?”
Jesus replies by stating that the kingdom of God which He proclaims
has nothing in common with the kingdoms of the world:

My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world my

subjects would be fighting to prevent my being handed over to the Jews;
now my kingdom does not belong here. (Jn 18:36)

In fact, Peter, as we have seen, fought in the garden to keep Jesus from
being arrested; but Jesus rebuked him and told him to sheath his sword.
(Jn 18:11) In the fourth gospel, the arresting party included Roman sol-
diers. According to the Beloved Disciple’s story line, therefore, Pilate could
quite possibly have received a report of the arrest. In the context of John’s
narrative, then, Jesus could conceivably be reminding Pilate that, at the
moment of His arrest, He had forbidden His disciples to take up arms
against the chief priests and the Romans. If so, then Jesus is adducing His
non-violent response to His own arrest as evidence that the kingdom of
God which He embodies belongs to a different order from the Roman
empire and from any other worldly kingdom.
The Beloved Disciple espouses, however, a realized eschatology. In the
incarnation of God’s only Son, the kingdom is already present, has al-
ready begun. The fact that the kingdom of God does not come from the
world implicitly designates heaven as its source. The fact that it does not
belong in the world designates heaven as the place where Jesus’ kingdom
will come to full and final realization.28
As we shall see in more detail below, however, the separation of “the
world” from the kingdom of God asserts a moral rather than a strict
metaphysical dualism. The two kingdoms rest on contradictory ethical
and religious presuppositions which demand a radical choice between them.
Pilate has twice asked Jesus if He claims the title “king of the Jews.”
Jesus now responds by pointing out that “the Jews,” acting in the person
of their official leaders, have delivered Him over to Pilate. They do not in
fact relate to Him as king but as their mortal enemy. Jesus, in other words,
also adduces the hostility of the Jewish leaders as evidence that the king-
dom of God which He proclaims has nothing to do with secular
Pilate seems to accept the fact that the hostility of Jesus’ own people
argues against His being king of the Jews; but the governor remains un-
satisfied. Jesus has spoken of a kingdom and of subjects. Pilate wants to
know, therefore, whether Jesus lays claim to any royal title which opposes
the authority of Caesar. The governor therefore asks: “So you are a king?”

28. Cf. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, I, pp. 749-751.

134 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

In effect, Pilate is asking: “Even if you do not claim secular royal author-
ity over the Jewish people, do you in fact claim any kind of royal author-
ity?” (Jn 18:37a)
Jesus replies: “You are saying that I am a king. For this I was born, and
for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone
who is of the truth hears my voice.” (Jn 18:37b) Jesus notes first of all
that he, Pilate, is attributing to Jesus a secular kingship which He Him-
self does not claim. Jesus then states the authentic nature and scope of
His religious mission: to bear witness to “the truth.” As we have seen,
“the truth” in John means the saving truth about Jesus’ identity with the
Father together with everything which that truth implies.
Taken in context Jesus’ words suggest that His testimony to the truth
will culminate in His own death. During the feast of Tabernacles, as we
have seen, Jesus argued from His selfless willingness to risk death, to the
truth of His testimony to the Father. By actually dying for the message
He proclaims, Jesus will now give His ultimate testimony to its truth.
Having explained the true nature of His mission, Jesus then clarifies
for Pilate His relationship to His disciples: they do not relate to Him in
the way in which subjects relate to a secular king. Instead, they simply
accept the truth which He proclaims and incarnates.
Pilate replies to this proclamation of divine truth with the skeptical
question: “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38) The reply has no deep philosophi-
cal implications. Instead, it places Pilate outside the pale of those who
belong to “the truth.” Far from assenting to the truth which Jesus incar-
nates, Pilate does not even know what the term means. As we have seen,
failure to believe in the truth which Jesus proclaims and embodies places
one under the judgment of God. Pilate’s skeptical unbelief foreshadows
that despite his vacillation he, like the chief priests, will take his stand
finally with the forces of darkness and under divine judgment.29
Despite his mocking skepticism toward Jesus’ religious claims, Pilate,
on returning to the high priests, professes himself convinced by Jesus’
testimony that He poses no political threat to the empire. (Jn 18:38b) As
we have seen, Pilate then offers the chief priests their first opportunity to
repent of their enmity against Jesus. Pilate asks them to choose between
Jesus and Barabbas. They, of course, choose Barabbas, the bandit chief
and false “son of the father.” (Jn 18:39-40) Despite their professed zeal
for the Roman law, the priests, with Johannine irony, hypocritically pre-
fer to Jesus, whom a Roman judge has just exonerated, a bandit chief
already convicted of criminal and subversive activity.30
29. Cf. Benedict Schwank, “Was ist Wahrheit? (Joh 18, 38), Erbe und Auftrage, 47(1971),
pp. 487-496; Antonio Vincent Cernuda, “Nacimiento y Verdad de Jesús ante Pilato,”
Estudios Biblicos, 50(1992), pp. 537-551.
30. Cf. Mariano Herranz Marco, “Un problema de critica historica en el relato de la
Pasion: la liberacion de Barrabbas,” Estudios Biblicos, 30(1971), pp. 137-160; Alois
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 135

Pilate then orders Jesus scourged. (Jn 19:1) In Mark and Matthew the
scourging follows Jesus’ condemnation. The chiastic structure of the trial
narrative in the fourth gospel transforms the scourging into the central
event of the trial. As a consequence, the Johannine Jesus suffers scourging
before His condemnation. The centrality of the scourging in John also
reflects the fact that Jesus’ trial before Pilate proclaims the kingdom. In
mocking the scourged Jesus as king of the Jews, the soldiers proclaim a
deeper truth than they themselves realize.
The fact that the Johannine Pilate later declares that he finds Jesus
innocent of any crime (Jn 19:4) suggests that Pilate orders the scourging,
not as the preliminary to crucifixion, but, possibly, as a corrective pun-
ishment. Pilate also seems to hope that the chief priests will rest content
with the scourging. The fact that Pilate has ordered Jesus scourged de-
spite the fact that he finds Jesus guilty of no crime dramatizes the vio-
lence with which Roman legal “justice” dealt with difficult peasants like
In the central scene of Jesus’ trial, the soldiers, after the scourging, mock
Jesus as a false messiah. They put a purple cloak on Him, crown Him
with a crown of thorns, and for a prolonged period of time offer Him
mock reverence as king, while striking Him. (Jn 19:2-3) As we have seen,
the evangelist omits the degrading detail that the soldiers also spat on
The scene’s situation at the heart and center of Jesus’ trial endows the
mockery with ironic revelatory significance. In mocking Jesus as King of
the Jews, the soldiers, in the evangelist’s mind, ironically proclaim a deeper
truth than they realize. Jesus in fact reigns as messiah, but not for the
reasons which the soldiers contemn by their mockery. For the fourth
evangelist, Jesus’ messianic authority derives from the fact that He con-
fronts humanity as God incarnate and ultimately as humanity’s eschato-
logical judge. In mocking and abusing Jesus the soldiers unwittingly pro-
claim His kingship at the same time that they place themselves by their
violence and unbelief under His divine judgment.
Pilate displays the scourged Jesus, crowned with thorns and clothed in
royal purple, before the chief priests with the words: “See, I am bringing
Him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in Him.” When
Jesus appears wearing the cloak and crown of thorns, Pilate says with
apparent contempt: “Look at the fellow! (idou ho anthrôpos)” (Jn 19:4-5)
Commentators on John’s gospel have found different symbolic mean-
ings in Pilate’s words: “idou ho anthropos.” One finds them frequently
translated as “Behold the man!” Some scholars believe that “the man”

Bajsic, “Pilatus, Jesus, und Barabbas,” Biblica, 48(1967), pp. 7-28; Johannes Merkel,
“Die Begnadigung am Passahfeste,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft,
6(1905), pp. 293-316.
136 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

refers to Jewish Hellenistic myths of the primal man. Others see in Pilate’s
words an unbelieving reference to Jesus as “mere man,” i.e., not the incar-
nate Son of God. Others equate “the man” with “the man of sorrows,”
the suffering servant of second Isaiah. Others find in “the man” an
eschatological title. Others still see in Pilate’s words a reference to 1 Sam
8:9 and a proclamation of Jesus as the divine king of Israel.
If one attends to the symbolic structure of John’s passion narrative,
however, one senses that the evangelist may well desire to parallel Jesus,
“the man,” with Mary, “the woman.” As we have seen, in Jesus’ passion
Mary by accepting the Beloved Disciple as her child becomes the mother
of all believers, the new Eve, “the woman” par excellence in the new cre-
ation. As we shall see, this occurs in the central scene of John’s crucifixion
narrative, a position which underscores its importance. Even on Calvary
Jesus begins the new creation by making Mary its Eve, the mother of all
who believe. I find it at least plausible, then, that in having Pilate call
Jesus “the man” the evangelist designates Him symbolically as the new
Adam, as “the man” par excellence in the new creation which He begins.
This interpretation finds textual support in the other Adamic imagery
present in the Johannine passion account. The passion narrative begins
in a garden. The image of the garden recalls the garden of Eden. In His
arrest Jesus confronts Satan in the person of Judas, just as Adam in the
garden of Eden confronted the serpent, which Jewish tradition later
conflated with Satan. (Jn 18:1-2, 5)
Jesus’ burial in a garden functions within John’s passion narrative as a
biblical inclusion. This second allusion to Eden suggests that the evange-
list desires the reader to interpret the entire passion narrative as a revela-
tion of Jesus as the new Adam. (Jn 19:41-42)
Finally, the fact that “anthrôpos” can designate any human, male or
female, fits in with Adamic symbolism. In the biblical account of human
origins, Adam would seem to have been created androgynous, since Eve
proceeds from him.31 (Gen 2:21-23)
As we have seen, the chief priests reject absolutely Pilate’s attempt to
save Jesus. At the sight of Him, the chief priests and temple police cry
out: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate replies: “Take Him yourselves
and crucify Him, for I find no crime in Him.” (Jn 19:6-7)
As we have seen, Pilate’s second proclamation of Jesus’ innocence forces
the chief priests to admit the deceit which led them to accuse Jesus of
having violated Roman law. Nevertheless, they continue to press for Jesus’

31. Cf. Dieter Bohler, “‘Ecce Homo!’ (Jn 19,5): ein Zitat aus dem Alten Testament,”
Biblische Zeitschrift, 39(1995), pp. 104-108; Rudolf Schnackenburg, “Die
Ecce-Homo-Szene und der Menschensohn” in Jesus und der Menschensohn für Anton
Vötgle, edited by R. Pesch and R. Schnackenburg (Freiburg: Herder, 1975), pp.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 137

death on the cross on theological grounds: Jesus must die on the cross,
not because He claims secular messianic authority, but because He has
violated Jewish law by blasphemously claiming equality with God. This
claim implicitly portrays Jesus as a false charismatic prophet whose de-
ceptions merit death.32 (Jn 19:4-8)
As we have seen, this shift in the charges brought against Jesus quite
possibly inspires in Pilate a double fear. On the one hand, he recognizes
that the chief priests are pressuring Him to crucify Jesus on religious
grounds, an act which could jeopardize his own political career. On the
other hand, Pilate begins to suspect that he is confronting a genuine reli-
gious reality; and that possibility inspires in him a superstitious religious
fear. In other words, by their religious hatred for Jesus, the chief priests
force Pilate beyond the mocking cynicism which he exhibited in his first
interrogation of Jesus.
Disturbed by these fears, Pilate tries to get to the bottom of Jesus’ reli-
gious claims. He brings Jesus back inside the Praetorium for a second
interrogation and asks Him: “Where are you from?” (Jn 19:9) The ques-
tion echoes the debates concerning Jesus’ origin which took place be-
tween Jesus and “the Jews” on the feast of Tabernacles. (Jn 7:41, 8:14-19,
23-4) In asking Jesus to name His origins, Pilate shows himself as igno-
rant of the Father as the unbelieving “Jews.” (Jn 8:14-19) Despite his
ignorance, however, Pilate nevertheless seems to fear that in Jesus he con-
fronts a noumenal divine presence.
Jesus responds to Pilate’s question about His origins with the same si-
lence as in the synoptic gospels. (Mk 14:61, Mt 26:62, Lk 23:9) Jesus
answered Pilate when the governor questioned Him concerning Roman
law. To this theological question, however, Jesus has nothing to say to the
pagan governor. By dabbling in religious matters, the Roman governor
has exceeded his jurisdiction.
Pilate warns the silent Jesus: “You will not speak to me? Don’t you
know that I have the power to release you, and the power to crucify you?”
(Jn 19:9) Jesus responds to this threat by confronting Pilate with the
guilt which he will incur by conspiring with the high priests in His ex-

You would have no power over Me unless it had been give you from above;
therefore (dia touto) the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.
(Jn 19:11)

Jesus reminds the governor that all authority, including secular author-
ity derives from God. Implicitly, then, Jesus warns Pilate that he must

32. Cf. David W. Wead, “We Have a Law,” Novum Testamentum, 11(1969), pp.
138 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

answer to God for the way in which he exercises that authority. As we

have already seen, in Johannine theology the Father has handed over all
judgment to the Son. Jesus’ statement about the origin of Pilate’s author-
ity, therefore, counters Pilate’s threat with a different kind of warning.
One day, Jesus, as eschatological judge, will stand in judgment over Pilate.33
Jesus, however, seems to indulge in a non sequitur. Even if all authority
derives from God, why should it follow that those who have delivered
Him to Pilate, namely, the chief priests, stand convicted of a greater sin?
If one sees in Jesus’ statement about the origin of authority an implicit
warning to Pilate that he will one day face Jesus as the eschatological
judge, then that warning endows the “therefore (dia touto)” with a kind
of meaning. The fact that Pilate must face Jesus as eschatological judge
implies that so must the chief priests. In that context, Jesus assures Pilate
that the priests stand convicted of greater guilt than he.
One need not, in my judgment, read into Jesus’ statement about the
greater guilt of the chief priests an exoneration of Pilate as the secular
instrument of “the world” which he represents, although some exegetes
have done so. For one thing, one belongs to the world by choice. More-
over, in the evangelist’s judgment both Pilate and the chief priests belong
to “the world.” Instead, Jesus seems to refer to exonerating circumstances
which mitigate Pilate’s guilt, circumstances already mentioned by the
evangelist in the course of his narrative. Those circumstances include the
following: 1)The chief priests claim to worship the one, true God and
ought, therefore, by rights to recognize His Son when He confronts them.
Pilate, the skeptical pagan, makes no such claim. His ignorance mitigates
his failure to recognize Jesus. 2) Pilate, the pagan skeptic, is seeking to
release Jesus rather than to condemn Him, while the chief priests, who
should know better, press relentlessly for His crucifixion. 3) Pilate will
eventually yield to the priests but only under pressure.
Jesus’ response leaves Pilate all the more eager to seek His release. (Jn
19:12) At this point, however, the chief priests, as we have seen, play
their trump card. They challenge Pilate’s allegiance to Caesar unless he
condemns Jesus as an insurrectionist. Jesus has made Himself into a king
and set himself in opposition to Caesar; if Pilate releases Him, the gover-
nor will support Jesus’ messianic claims against Caesar. (Jn 19:12)
Pilate has already made it quite clear that he does not look upon Jesus
as making secular, messianic claims. Confronted, however, with the pos-
sibility of having to answer to Caesar for having abetted rebellion, the
governor decides to condemn Jesus to crucifixion, but on civil, not on
religious grounds.

33. Cf. Dieter Zeller, “Jesus und die Philosophen vor dem Richter,” Biblische Zeitschrift,
37(1993), pp. 88-92.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 139

The conflict between Pilate and the chief priests now reaches its ironic
climax. The chief priests have successfully manipulated the Roman gov-
ernor into violating his conscience by condemning Jesus for a crime which
Pilate does not believe Jesus has committed. The chief priests have also
forced the skeptical Pilate to face the religious implications of his con-
demnation of Jesus. In the process, however, they also caused the gover-
nor to proclaim Jesus publicly as king of the Jews. In doing so, Pilate
confers on Jesus the messianic title which befits Him, but not for the
reasons Pilate asserts. Pilate presents Jesus as a secular messiah, whereas
the evangelist has made it clear that Jesus’ messianic dignity flows from
His union with the Father. Moreover, Pilate in passing judgment on Jesus
forces the chief priests to choose between Him and Caesar. The chief
priests opt, as we have seen, for Caesar over Jesus, thus revealing that they
do indeed belong to this world, to the kingdom of Satan, and to the
forces of darkness.
Ironically, then, at the very moment when Jesus finds Himself judged,
the forces of darkness which pass judgment on Him make the choices
which place them under the judgment of God, a judgment which Jesus
Himself, as eschatological judge, will one day pronounce over them. In
other words, from the evangelist’s theological perspective, the judges, by
condemning Jesus, themselves stand condemned in the sight of God. (Jn
The evangelist writes: Pilate “brought Jesus (êgagan exô Iêsoun) out and
sat down on the judgment seat (kai ekathisen epi biêmatos)....” (Jn 19:13a)
Unfortunately the English language cannot reproduce the grammatical
ambiguities of the Greek verb “ekathisen.” It can mean either to sit down
or to seat someone. If it means to seat someone, the verb “kathizein” has
a direct object. In principle, the noun “Iêsoun” could function as the ob-
ject of both the verb “brought out (êgagen exô)” and “sat down (kathisen).”
In other words, one could grammatically translate the passage in either of
the following ways: 1) “He [Pilate] sat on the judgment seat,” or 2) “He
[Pilate] made Jesus sit on the judgment seat.”
As we have seen, the evangelist has on other occasions taken advantage
of grammatical ambiguities in order to assert more than one truth simul-
taneously. One finds here another instance of the same stylistic ploy. If
one takes “ekathisen” literally and historically, then Pilate mounts the seat
of judgment to condemn Jesus; but, if one understands the judgment of
Pilate in the light of the evangelist’s theology of judgment, then Pilate
enthrones Jesus as eschatological judge. As a consequence, Pilate himself
and the chief priests become the ones judged in virtue of the very con-
demnation of Jesus which Pilate now pronounces at the chief priests’
140 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The evangelist identifies the precise place where the judgment occurred:
at a place called “the Pavement: “lithostrotos” in Greek, “Gabbatha” in
Hebrew. (Jn 19:13b) Scholars have to date failed to identify the place
with archeological certitude; but the evangelist’s reference to the precise
place of judgment forms a piece with his knowledge of first-century Pal-
estinian topography.
John also notes that Pilate pronounced judgment on Jesus at noon of
the Day of Preparation which preceded Passover. At noon of the Day of
Preparation, the slaughter of the paschal lambs began in the temple. At
that very moment, Pilate sets in motion the process which will kill the
Lamb of God, whose death, glorification, and sending of the Breath will
take away the sins of the world.34
As in narrating Jesus’ trial, the fourth evangelist endows his account of
Jesus’ crucifixion with a chiastic structure. The introduction (Jn
19:16b-18) and the conclusion (Jn 19:38-42) correspond. In the intro-
duction Jesus is raised on the cross, in the conclusion He is taken down
from the cross and buried. Between the introduction and conclusion, the
evangelist describes five scenes. The first and the fifth correspond. In the
first (Jn 19:19-22) Pilate denies the request of the chief priests to reword
the charge nailed to Jesus’ cross; in the fifth (Jn 19:31-37) Pilate grants
their request to have the bodies removed from the crosses before Passover.
The second and fourth episodes also correspond. In them Jesus’ execu-
tioners do something. In the second scene (Jn 19:23-24) they divide Jesus’
clothes among them by lot; in the fourth (Jn 19:28-30) they offer Jesus
wine. The third scene lies at the heart of John’s crucifixion narrative. In it
Jesus gives the Beloved Disciple to His mother to take as her son. As in
the trial of Jesus, the scene at the heart of the chiasm defines its focus.
Besides endowing his narrative with a chiastic structure, the evangelist
sets off each scene with a Biblical inclusion. Each scene begins and ends
with the same word or phrase. The verb “to write” sets off the first scene.
The noun “the soldiers” sets off the second scene. A reference to Jesus
“mother” sets off the third scene. The verb “to finish” sets off the fourth
scene. The final scene, the piercing of Jesus side, begins and ends with a
reference to the soldiers.

34. Cf. NJBC, 61:314-221; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 843-876; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, p. 175-188; Ignace de la Potterie, “Jésus roi et juge d’apres Jn
19, 13: Ekathisen epi bêmatos,” Biblica, 41(1960), pp. 217-247; L.-H. Vincent, O.P.,
“Le lithrostos evangelique,” Revue Biblique, 59(1952), pp. 513-530; Pierre Benoit,
O.P., “Prétoire, Lithostrotos et Gabbatha,” Revue Biblique, 59(1952), pp. 531-550;
Joseph Bonsirven, “Hora talmudica,” Biblica, 33(1952), pp. 511-515; L. Pujol,
C.M.F., “In loco qui dicitur Lithostrotos,” Verbum Domini, 15(1935), pp. 180-186;
John J. O’Rourke,” Two Notes on St. John’s Gospel,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly,
25(1963), pp. 124-128; A. Kurfess, “Ekathisen epi bêmatos (Io 19, 13),” Biblica,
34(1953), p. 271.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 141

The introduction to the passion states with stark detachment that the
soldiers led Jesus out of the Jerusalem to a place called Golgotha and
there crucified Him between two bandits. (Jn 19:16b-18) The rest of
John’s account of the crucifixion probes the saving significance of Jesus’
horrible death on the cross.35
As we have seen in reflecting on Jesus’ relationship to the chief priests,
Pilate’s refusal to change the wording of the charge nailed to Jesus’ cross
has the effect of proclaiming Him to Jew, Greek, and Roman as the mes-
sianic King of the Jews. In effect, Pilate proclaims to the world what he
has already proclaimed to the chief priests in Jesus’ trial. (Jn 19:19-22)
That universal proclamation in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek foreshadows,
as we have seen, the universal proclamation of Jesus not only as messianic
king but as risen Lord and God. It also dramatizes the inability of the
dark powers to quench the Light of the world.
In the second scene of the crucifixion, the soldiers divide Jesus’ clothes
among themselves. When, however, they come to His tunic (ton chitona),
they discover that it has no seams. Rather than rend it, the soldiers cast
lots in order to determine which of them gets to keep it. (Jn 19:23-24)
The Jewish high priest wore a garment called a “chiton.” (Ex 39:27) More-
over, Josephus tells us that this vestment consisted of a single woven cloth.
(Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, III, vii, 4; #161)
The evangelist, then, uses the incident of the division of Jesus’ gar-
ments in order to remind the reader of the priestly character of Jesus’
sacrificial death. At the end of His high priestly prayer, Jesus had conse-
crated Himself for this sacrifice so that His disciples might in turn be
consecrated in truth: i.e., dedicated to the divine service and worship by
their consent to the truth which Jesus embodies. (Jn 17:18) Now as Jesus
dies in sacrifice, the priestly character of His death reminds the disciples
that the truth which consecrates them to God includes faith in the sav-
ing, sacrificial character of Jesus’ death.36
The evangelist also points to this incident as the fulfillment of Ps 22:18:
“They divided my garments among them and for my raiment they cast
lots.” This verse occurs in the same psalm which Mark and Matthew
place on the lips of the dying Jesus. The psalm begins with the verse: “My
God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
As we have seen, in this psalm the innocent poor man bereft of all
support but God prays in the midst of suffering and persecution for vin-

35. Cf. Martin Hengel, “Mors turpissima crucis: Die Kreuzigung in der antiken Welt und
die ‘Torheit’ des ‘Wortes des Kreuz’” in Rechtfertigung: Festschrift für Ernst Käsemann,
edited by J. Friedrich et al. (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1976), pp. 125-184.
36. Cf. Michel Aubineau, “La tunique sans couture du Christ; Exegèse patristique de Jean
19: 23-24” in KYRIAKON: Festschrift für Johannes Quasten, Edited by P. Granfield and
J.A. Jungmann (2 vols.; Münster: Verlag Aschendorff, 1970), I, pp. 100-127.
142 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

dication at God’s hand. He receives it. As in the synoptics, the fourth

gospel in citing Ps 22 portrays Jesus as the innocent poor man who clings
to God in the face of torture and death, while looking to God for ulti-
mate vindication. By alluding to Ps 22, the evangelist also implicitly re-
minds the reader of Jesus’ assertion that despite His abandonment by His
disciples, the Father stands with Him in His passion. (Jn 16:32)
As we have seen, Jesus’ gift of the Beloved Disciple to Mary as her son
also has saving significance. The disciple symbolizes any believer; and
Jesus’ gift of the Beloved Disciple to Mary transforms her into the new
Eve, “the woman” par excellence of the new creation, the mother of all
who believe. As we have also seen, that gift implicitly reveals Jesus as the
new Adam. (Jn 19:25-27)
Here, however, we need to reflect on the centrality of this scene in the
Beloved Disciple’s crucifixion narrative. Its central location in the chiastic
structure of that narrative endows it with central significance for the un-
derstanding of Jesus’ passion. The gift of the Beloved Disciple to Mary
points to the saving consequences of Jesus’ sacrificial death. His elevation
in suffering and in glory will transform Him into the last Adam, into the
universal savior and head of the new humanity which His glorification
begins. Moreover, the last Adam relates to all who believe in Him as brother
and sister. They share the same mother as He and in the new creation
remain bonded to one another with a special bond of intimacy. More-
over, the last Adam reveals the saving power of His death by creating a
new humanity on the very hill of Calvary.
After giving the Beloved Disciple to His mother as her son, Jesus real-
izes that the end is at hand. Having begun the new creation, Jesus has
completed His saving work in this life. The evangelist observes that, in
order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus at this point said, “I thirst.” (Jn 19:28)
Both Matthew and Mark record that the soldiers offered Jesus some
common wine to drink before He died.37 (Mk 15:36; Mt 27:48) The
fourth evangelist now records a similar incident; but he gives it his own
theological interpretation. In the fourth gospel Jesus initiates the soldier’s
action by asking for something to drink. Some see in His request another
instance of Johannine irony: the source of the living water dies in thirst.
The suggestion has some textual foundation; for, as we have seen, in the
sign of the blood and water which follows immediately upon this inci-
dent, the evangelist calls attention to the fact that Jesus will soon give the
living water of the Breath.
Which scriptures does Jesus fulfill? Some scholars point to Ps 69:22 as
the only Old Testament prophecy which some action of Jesus has yet to
fulfill. Ps 69:22 reads: “For my food they gave me gall, and for my thirst
37. Cf. Eb. Nestle, “Zum Ysop ben Johannes, Josephus, und Philo,” Zeitschrift für die
Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 14(1913), pp. 263-265.
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 143

they gave me vinegar to drink.”. Having fulfilled this prophetic text, Jesus
will have completed the work given Him by the Father. One can, how-
ever, take the evangelist to refer to the same obscure scripture text which
Jesus cited at the feast of Tabernacles: namely, “From within him shall
flow rivers of living water.” (Jn 7:38) The fact that the Johannine Jesus in
dying hands over His Breath as a foreshadowing of the Breath-baptism
which He will effect on Easter morning lends plausibility to the latter
interpretation. Thus understood, “I thirst” means that Jesus thirsts for
those whom the living water will claim as God’s children and as members
of the new creation.
The soldiers offer Jesus a wine-soaked sponge on a sprig of hyssop. A
small shrub, the hyssop would not have produced a branch capable of
sustaining the weight of a wine-soaked sponge. The allusion to hyssop
has, however, symbolic meaning. The passover ritual required the use of
hyssop to sprinkle Jewish doorposts with the blood of the paschal lamb.
(Ex 12:22) The Beloved Disciple’s allusion to hyssop as Jesus dies recalls
the blood of the paschal lamb as a way of reminding the reader that the
“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” is shedding His
blood in loving forgiveness.
Jesus drinks the sour wine, says, “It is finished,” bows His head, and
dies. (Jn 19:29-30) Jesus’ final words express resignation and trust in the
Father. They also suggest that He must declare His mission complete
before death can claim Him. In that sense, Jesus’ dying words also recall
the Johannine notion that the Father has given Jesus power to lay down
His life and to take it up. John’s Jesus decides with sovereign authority
when the time has come for Him to die; but He does so only after having
completed the mission entrusted to Him by the Father.
Moreover, instead of saying that in dying Jesus gave up the ghost, the
fourth evangelist says that He “handed over the Breath (paredoken to
pneuma).” Jesus’ final breath on the cross prepares and foreshadows His
gift of the Breath on Easter morning. She will come to take away the sins
for which His death has atoned. Easter and Calvary coalesce into a single
saving event.38

38. Cf. G. Bampfylde, “John xix 28: A Case for a Different Translation,” Novum
Testamentum, 11(1969), pp. 247-260; Robert L. Brawley, “An Absent Complement
and Intertextuality in John 19:28-29,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 112(1993), pp.
427-443; Bruce Longenecker, “The Unbroken Messiah: A Johannine Feature and its
Social Functions,” New Testament Studies, 41(1995), pp. 428-441; Roland Bergmeier,
“Tetelestai, Joh 19.30,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 79(1988),
pp. 221-243; Ulrich B. Müller, “Zur eigentumlichkeit des Johannesevangeliums. Das
Probelm des Todes Jesu,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 88(1997),
pp. 24-55; Y. Simoens, S.J., “La mort de Jésus selon Jn 19,28-30,” Nouvelle Revue
Théologique, 119(1994), pp. 3-19; Donald Senior, C.S.P., “The Eloquent Meaning of
Jesus’ Death in the Gospel of John,” Chicago Studies, 37(1998), pp. 37-46.
144 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

In considering Jesus’ relationship to the Beloved Disciple, I have al-

ready reflected on the significance of the sign of blood and water. Here
one need only recall the major points of that analysis.
1) The blood and the water which flow from Jesus’ side foreshadow
Christian baptism and eucharist. They also link both rituals to the saving
death of Christ.
2) The water flowing from the side of the dead Savior reveals Him as
the temple of God from whom the living water of the Holy Breath will
soon flow in order to give life to the land through the forgiveness of sins.
3) The rubrics for preparing the paschal lamb forbade the breaking of
its legs. The fact that the soldiers pierce Jesus’ side rather than break His
legs, reveals Him as the paschal lamb whose blood seals a new covenant.
The assimilation of Jesus to the paschal lamb also recalls that He is “the
lamb of God.” As the lamb of God, Jesus in His death confronts the
reader as both the suffering servant and as the victorious lamb of Jewish
apocalyptic. The former atones for sin; the latter triumphs over it.
4) The evangelist also underscores the saving character of Jesus’ death
by assimilating Him to the “pierced one” of Zech 12:10, whose death
brings about the salvation of Jerusalem.
For the fourth evangelist, then, the sign of blood and water combines
with other prophetic texts from the Old Testament in order to reveal the
saving significance of Jesus’ physical death on the cross.39
39. Cf. Laurence Dunlop, M.S.C., “The Pierced Side: Focal Point of Johannine
Theology,” Bible Today, 86(1976), pp. 960-965; Gustaf Dalman, D.D., Jesus-Jeshua:
Studies in the Gospels, translated by P.P. Levertoff, (New Yori, NY: Ktav Publishing
House, 1971), pp. 211- 222; J. Ramsey Michaels, “The Centurion’s Confession and
the Spear Thrust,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 29(1967), p. 102-109; Hartwig Thyen,
“Aus der Literatur zum Johannesevangelium,” Theologische Rundschau, 44( 1979), pp.
97-134, esp. 118-127; Eduard Schweizer, “Dan Johanneische Zeugnis zum
Herrenmahl,” Evangelische Theologie, 12(1952-1953), pp. 341-363.
A passage in the first Johannine letter further illumines the meaning of the sign of
blood and water. The passage in question teaches that the threefold witness of Breath,
water, and blood inspire an authentic faith which overcomes the world:
Who then is it who conquers the world if not the one who believes that Jesus
is the Son of God? Jesus Christ is that one who came through the water and
the blood and the Breath; not in the water only but also in the water and in
the blood; and the Breath is the witness, for the Breath is the truth. Three
then are testifying: the Breath and the water and the blood, and the three are
in agreement. (1 Jn 5:5-9)
We find here a clear allusion to the testimony of the Beloved Disciple to the sign of
the water and blood which flowed from the pierced side of the crucified Christ. (Jn
19:31-5) The author of the letter regards that testimony as Breath-inspired. As we have
just seen, the water which flowed from Jesus’ pierced side not only revealed His physical
body as the temple of God but foreshadowed the outpouring of the Breath on Easter
which His dying Breath presaged. The same Breath, therefore, as inspired the Beloved
Disciple’s testimony to Jesus also inspires the baptismal faith of Christians, whose
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 145

Pilate makes one last appearance in the passion of Jesus, when, as in the
synoptics, he gives permission for Joseph of Aramathea to bury Jesus’
body. (Jn 19:38b) John, in contrast to Mark and Luke describes Joseph as
a secret disciple of Jesus. The description assimilates Joseph to Nicodemus,
who only in the fourth gospel assists Joseph in burying Jesus. John also
differs from the synoptics in omitting any reference to women witnesses
of the burial. Moreover, instead of describing the burial as hastily accom-
plished in the manner of the synoptics, John depicts it as reverentially
and thoroughly done. As we shall see, the Beloved Disciple assimilates
Jesus’ burial to the interment of kings.40

confession of Jesus includes not only pneumatic enlightenment but also faith in the
saving efficacy of His blood.
The author of the letter is contrasting the orthodox faith of his own community with
the heterodox “faith” of the dissidents. They presumably baptized and seemingly
claimed the enlightenment of the Breath; but they did not acknowledge the saving
character of Jesus’ death. The only testimony of faith which qualifies as true must
confess both the enlightening presence of the baptismal Breath and the atoning efficacy
of Jesus’ physical death.
As a final buttress to his community’s faith, the author of the letter stresses the divine
authority which resides in the Breath’s testimony to the saving character of Jesus’ death.
Divine authority takes clear precedence over any human authority. (1 Jn 5:8-9)
Moreover, the author of the letter repeats the same argument which he used in
attacking the dissidents in the opening of his letter: whoever denies the saving efficacy
of Jesus’ death makes God into a liar, since God Himself has testified to the contrary.
God’s testimony assures us that He gives us life through His Son. Implicitly, the author
of the letter is asserting that risen life proceeds from the whole paschal mystery: from
the death as well as from the resurrection of Jesus. Those who accept the divine
testimony have eternal life; those who deny it do not. (1 Jn 5:9-12)
The letter concludes with a reassertion of the author’s purpose in writing: “I have
written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may
know that you have eternal life.” (1 Jn 5:13)
Cf. NJBC, 62: 30; Brown, Epistles, pp. 569-603; Klauck, op. cit., I, pp. 283-317;
F.-M. Braun, O.P., “L’eau et l’Esprit,” Revue Thomiste, 49(1949), pp. 5-30; Oscar S.
Brooks, “The Johannine Eucharist: Another Interpretation,” Journal of Biblical Litera-
ture, 82(1963), pp. 293-300; Georg Richter, “Blut und Wasser aus der durchbohrten
Seite Jesu (Joh 19, 34b),” Münchener Theologische Zeitschrift, 21(1970), pp. 1-21;
Manuel Miguens, O.F.M., “Tres Testigos: Espiritu, Agua, Sangre,” Studii Biblici
Franciscani Liber Annuus, 22(1972), pp. 74- 94; M. del Alamo, “Los ‘Tres Testificantes’
de la primera Epistola de San Juan, V.7,” Cultura Biblica, 4(1947), pp. 11-14; A.
Jaubert, “O Espiritu, e Agua e o Sangre (1 Jo 5,7-8)” in Acutalidades Biblicas, edited
by S. Voigt and F. Vier (Petropolis, Brazil: Voyes, 1971), pp. 616- 620.
40. The fact that the risen Jesus, unlike Lazarus, leaves behind Him the burial cloths in
which Joseph and Nicodemus bound Him could suggest that the resurrection made
their ministry to His corpse superfluous. Cf. NJBC, 61:222-228; Brown, The Gospel
of John, II, pp. 897-931; Hänchen, Commentary on John, II, pp. 188-202; Joseph A.
Fitzmyer, S.J., “Crucifixion in Ancient Palestine, Qumran Literature, and the New
Testament,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 40(1978), pp. 493-513; Maurits Sabbe, “The
Johannine Account of the Death of Jesus and its Synoptic Parallels (Jn 19, 16b-42),”
Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis, 70(1994), pp. 34- 64.
146 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology
The Analogy of Christological Knowing
As in the case of the chief priests, the struggle between light and darkness
and a Johannine theology of judgment color the Beloved Disciple’s han-
dling of the figure of Pilate. By eliminating Herod from his narrative, the
Beloved Disciple transforms Pilate into the sole symbol of secular oppres-
sion in his gospel. By replacing Jesus’ formal trial by the Sanhedrin with
a decision prior to the passion to kill Him, the evangelist focuses narra-
tive attention dramatically and symbolically on Jesus’ trial by the gover-
nor. Read in the light of a Johannine forensic theology of judgment, Jesus’
trial and condemnation by Pilate functions in John as the culmination of
the struggle between light and darkness. They also exemplify ironically
God’s judgment on the dark powers.
John goes out of his way to blame the chief priests for Jesus’ death; but
he does not exonerate Pilate, who condemns Jesus with full knowledge
that he could indeed be unjustly condemning the incarnate Son of God.
The fact, moreover, that both Pilate and the chief priests drag one an-
other down into the pit of guilt during Jesus’ trial also dramatizes the
victory of light over darkness.
By portraying Jesus’ trial as God’s judgment on Pilate and on the em-
pire whose oppressive power crucified Jesus, the Beloved Disciple includes
both in the host of dark powers over which Jesus has already triumphed.
Though expulsion from the synagogue made the Johannine community
vulnerable to persecution under Roman law, the divine judgment pro-
nounced over Roman oppression in Jesus’ trial exhorts the Johannine
community to stand firm in their commitment to divine truth.
Each of the four evangelists views Jesus’ passion from a different theo-
logical angle. Mark portrays Jesus’ crucifixion as the culminating conflict
between God and the eschatological forces of evil, although his narrative
also endows Jesus’ suffering and death with saving significance. Matthew’s
crucifixion narrative dramatizes the saving power of Jesus’ death with
cosmic, apocalyptic signs and with the multiple resurrections which fol-
low upon it. Luke portrays the crucifixion as the supreme embodiment
of divine forgiveness. Only the Beloved Disciple explicitly portrays the
crucifixion itself as a revelation of divine glory.
The Beloved Disciple’s theological interpretation of Jesus’ death almost
certainly targets the Johannine dissidents, who could apparently find no
saving significance in physical death. In response to such dualistic skepti-
cism, the Beloved Disciple uses rich imagery as well as chiastic ordering
in order to proclaim that the divine glory and saving power fully revealed
in Jesus’ resurrection already stands proleptically revealed on Calvary it-
This chapter has examined the distinctive way in which the Beloved
Disciple describes Jesus’ conflict with the forces of evil. The chapter which
Chapter 3: Negative Dramatic Linkages in John 147

follows ponders the fourth evangelist’s account of Jesus’ ambiguous dra-

matic relationships. As in the synoptic gospels, the Johannine Jesus en-
joys an ambiguous relationship with both the crowds and the disciples.
148 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Chapter 4
Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John
As in the synoptic gospels, the Johannine Jesus stands in a positive rela-
tionship to the crowds and to His own disciples. They, however, relate
ambivalently to Him. This chapter divides, then, into two parts. Part one
examines Jesus’ relationship with the crowds. Part two ponders His rela-
tionship with His disciples.

In the fourth gospel the crowds tend on the whole to react more nega-
tively to Jesus than they do in the synoptics. In the end, however, their
relationship to Him remains an ambiguous one.

Jesus and the Crowds

In the cure of the cripple at the pool of Bethsaida, the crowds do not
interact with Jesus but allow Jesus to slip away from the cured man in
anonymity. (Jn 5:13) In the bread-of-life discourse, however, the crowds
become more active. Impressed by His miracles, crowds follow Jesus to
the other side of the Sea of Galilee. (Jn 6:1-2) After He feeds the crowds
miraculously by multiplying the loaves and fishes, the crowds proclaim
Him the promised prophet like Moses and seek by force to crown Him
messiah. (Jn 6:14-5; cf. Dt 18:15-8) The crowd’s attempt to transform
Jesus into a Davidic king betrays the superficiality of their response to
His miracles.
As in the synoptics, after the miracle of the loaves, Jesus walks on the
water, invokes the divine name, and crosses to the other side of the Sea of
Galilee with the disciples. The abandoned crowds puzzle over Jesus’ dis-
appearance, since He had no boat. Eventually, they too recross the lake in
boats and discover Jesus in the synagogue in Capernaum.1 (Jn 6:22-6)
When the puzzled crowds ask Jesus at what time He returned to
Capernaum, Jesus rebukes their lack of faith in Him. He suggests that
they have followed Him to Capernaum because they want their bellies
filled again. The crowds, Jesus warns, have not “seen” the signs He has
performed. (Jn 6:26)
The crowds have indeed seen Jesus’ signs with their eyes; but here as
elsewhere the evangelist intends a deeper meaning for the word “see.”
The crowds have not seen deeply into their significance. If the crowds
had, they would do the one work pleasing to God: namely, believe in
Jesus. (Jn 6:28-9)
1. Cf. NJBC, 61: 86-87; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 231-256; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 269-283.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 149

As the bread-of-life discourse proceeds, many in the crowds make it

clear that they in fact have no intention of believing Jesus’ testimony.
Their persistent failure to “see” appears at once in their demand that
Jesus renew the gift of the manna as a proof of His messianic mission. (Jn
6:30-31) Had the crowds truly “seen” the multiplication of the loaves for
what it signified, they would have recognized in it a sign of the eucharis-
tic bread and wine which Jesus will give as His body and blood. They
would also have recognized its superiority to the original manna, which
lacked the power to give everlasting life. The eucharistic bread, by con-
trast, offers food which endures to eternal life. (Jn 6:11, 27) It does so by
embodying pneumatic worship. (Jn 6:62-63; cf. 4:31)
The crowds ask Jesus to give them always life-giving bread, but some
immediately show their lack of faith in Him when He claims to have
descended from heaven. They point to Jesus’ human father and mother
as proof that He did not in fact descend from heaven. By their unbelief,
the skeptics show themselves as “the Jews,” unbelieving and hostile. (Jn
6:41-2) In their hostile unbelief the crowds reject outright Jesus’ promise
to give them His body to eat and His blood to drink. (Jn 6:52) The
skeptics, as we have seen, include many of Jesus’ disciples. (Jn 6:59-60)
Jesus rebukes the crowds’ lack of eucharistic faith as a sign that they do
not possess the Breath of God or share in the life, the divine pneuma,
which She imparts. (Jn 6:63) As a consequence, they cannot worship in
“pneuma and in truth.” (Jn 4:24) Jesus assures the unbelievers, however,
that His coming glorification will embody an ever greater mystery than
the eucharist. (Jn 6:62) The crowds’ unbelief also betrays the fact that
they do not number among those whom the Father has drawn to Jesus
and gives to Him. (Jn 6:65)
The ultimately skeptical crowds in the Bread of Life discourse prob-
ably symbolize, then, two hostile constituencies: 1) heterodox Christians
who denied Jesus’ real presence in the eucharist and whose lack of faith
made them indistinguishable from 2) the unbelieving and hostile syna-
At the feast of Tabernacles the crowds stand divided for and against
Jesus. The hostility of the Jewish authorities endows the crowds’ debates
about Jesus with a guarded character. Some recognize His goodness, oth-
ers reject Him as a charlatan. (Jn 7:12-13) As the conflict between the
2. Cf. NJBC, 61: 90-103; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 260-304; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 284-308; B.J. Molina, The Palestinian Manna Tradition
(Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1968), esp. 94-106; Bertil Gärtner, John 6 and the Jewish Passover
(Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup, 1959); Roger Le Déaut, “Une aggadah targumique et les
‘murmures’ de John 6,” Biblica, 51(1970), pp. 80-83; Roland Bergmeier, “Glaube als
Werk? Die ‘Werk Gottes’ in Damaskusschrift II, 14-15 un Johannes 6, 28-29,” Revue
de Qumran, 6(1967), pp. 253-260; John Painter, “Tradition and the Interpretation in
John 6,” New Testament Studies, 35(1989), pp. 421-450.
150 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

light and dark intensifies, the crowds find themselves forced to choose
either for Jesus or against Him. Some of the crowds regard Jesus as the
promised prophet like Moses, while others name Him messiah. Those
opposed to Him reject His messianic claims on the basis of His Galilean
origins. (Jn 7:40-42) Some view Jesus as a lunatic. (Jn 7:20) In the end
the crowds cannot agree whether to put faith in Jesus or not. (Jn 7:43)
Jesus, for His part, accuses some of the crowds of wanting His death. By
the end of the feast of Tabernacles, Jesus proves Himself correct on this
point. Unbelieving disciples join “the Jews” in seeking to stone Jesus.3 (Jn
7:19, 8:59)
Despite these hostile encounters, the Johannine crowds eventually be-
gin to put faith in Jesus. The chief priests, like the Pharisees, begin to fear
that the crowds are beginning to take Jesus seriously. In their heart of
hearts, the priests have no regard for the truth of what the people may or
may not think. They regard the masses and their opinions with contempt.
(Jn 7:49)
The raising of Lazarus only intensifies that fear. Jesus prays before re-
storing Lazarus to life in order to inspire faith in the crowds. (Jn 11:42)
When many begin to believe in Jesus because of Lazarus, the chief priests
decide that the time has come to destroy both Jesus and the man whom
He has raised from the dead. (Jn 11:45, 12:9-10)
The raising of Lazarus also causes the crowds to gather for Jesus’ trium-
phal entry into Jerusalem. Those who have heard of the miracle want to
see Jesus, while those who have seen the miracle keep testifying to it.
Moreover, their testimony inspires dismay in the Pharisees.4 (Jn 12:10,
Not all in the crowds, however, put their faith in Jesus. Some dismiss as
a thunderclap the Father’s testimony to Jesus during His Jerusalem min-
istry. Others call it an angelic voice. (Jn 12:29)
Finally, however, when Jesus promises that His lifting up in suffering
and glory will draw all people to Himself, the crowds respond in skepti-
cism and derision. They object that the messiah must remain forever. If,
then, Jesus faces crucifixion, He cannot be the messiah. (Jn 12:34) The
crowd’s objection exemplifies another bit of Johannine irony: Jesus’ “lift-
ing up” will in fact insure that He abides forever as messianic Lord. In

3. Cf. NJBC, 61: 104-126; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 304-368; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 5-32; David M. Stanley, S.J., “The Feast of Tents: Jesus’
Self- Revelation,” Worship, 34(1964), pp. 20-27; C.W.F. Smith, “Tabernacles in the
Fourth Gospel and Mark,” New Testament Studies, 9(1962-1963), pp. 130-146.
4. Cf. NJBC, 61: 127-160 passim; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 419-464 passim;
Hänchen, Commentary on John, II, 33-94 passim. Edwin D. Freed, “The Entry into
Jerusalem in the Gospel of John,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 80(1961), pp.329-338;
D. Moody Smith, “John 12;12 ff. and the Question of John’s Use of the Synoptics,”
Journal of Biblical Literature, 82(1963), pp. 58-64.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 151

addition, the skeptics among the crowds challenge Jesus to explain to

them who the Son of Man is. (Jn 12:34) The challenge, of course, only
reveals their lack of faith.

The Analogy of Christological Knowing

Like the synoptic evangelists, the Beloved Disciple uses the crowds as
backdrop to Jesus’ ministry. The Johannine crowds, however, also serve
the evangelist’s theological ends. In the bread-of-life discourse, the crowds
probably symbolize both the Johannine dissidents who reject Jesus’ real
eucharistic presence and the hostile synagogue. During the feast of Tab-
ernacles, the crowds dramatize the struggle between light and darkness in
their debates about Jesus’ identity. Unbelieving disciples join “the Jews”
in seeking to murder Jesus for blasphemously claiming oneness with the
Father. Those who begin to put faith in Jesus after He raises Lazarus
foreshadow those who will eventually believe in Him. The absence of the
crowds from Jesus’ trial heightens the conflict between Jesus, on the one
hand, and Pilate and the chief priests, on the other.
This section has reflected on Jesus’ relationship to the crowds in John.
The section which follows meditates His ambiguous relationship to His

In the synoptic gospels Jesus calls His first disciples from their fishing
nets and promises to make them fishers of men. (Mk 1:16-26; Mt 4:18-22;
Lk 5:1-11) Nothing of the sort happens in the fourth gospel. Except for
Philip, Jesus issues no prophetic call to the first disciples. Instead, they
gather spontaneously around Him, drawn first by the witness of John the
Baptizer, then by their own enthusiasm for Jesus. In the synoptics, Peter
at midpoint in Jesus’ ministry confesses faith in Him as messiah. (Mk
8:27-30; Mt 16:13-20; Lk 9:18-21) In the fourth gospel, the disciples
have no doubt from the beginning about Jesus’ messianic identity.

Jesus and His Disciples

In dealing with the Johannine Jesus’ relationship to His disciples, I have
tried as much as possible not to repeat materials already covered in my
discussion of the Johannine Jesus’ relationship to the Father and to the
Breath. Since, however, both relationships engage the disciples relation-
ship to Jesus and through Him to the other members of the divine triad,
the reader would do well to recall some of the more important themes
developed in that earlier analysis before perusing the reflections which
True disciples abide in Jesus and in His words. (Jn 8:31-32) This abid-
ing communion ensures that they will never die (Jn 8:48-51) because
through faith in Jesus they have access to the divine Breath, the living
152 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

water which slakes human thirst for endless life. The living water slakes
that thirst by communicating a share in Jesus’ resurrection. (Jn 4:10-14)
The Breath dwells in Jesus in eschatological abundance because, as risen
Christ, He imparts Her in eschatological abundance to all who believe.
(Jn 1:32-34; 3:34)
The Breath of Jesus illumines His teachings and allows the disciples to
appropriate it. (Jn 14:26) She reveals to the disciples the meaning of the
Father and Son’s mutual indwelling by giving the disciples an experience
of dwelling in the risen Christ as branches on the vine of the new Israel.
The disciples’ obedience to Jesus, the shepherd of the new Israel, insures
that they abide always in Him. (Jn 10:14-15) Moreover, the disciples’
mutual indwelling in faith and love also draws them into communion
with all three members of the divine triad. (Jn 15:1-2)
Rebirth in water and the Breath introduces the disciples into the king-
dom of Jesus. (Jn 3:3-6) It also inspires authentic eucharistic worship in
Breath and truth, a worship which acknowledges Jesus’ real eucharistic
presence. (Jn 6:29) Such worship purifies and replaces temple worship.
(Jn 4:21-24)
Faith consecrates the disciples to the Father as His children in Jesus’
image. (Jn 17: 9, 14, 16) Faith teaches the disciples to recognize Jesus as
the way to the Father because He alone incarnates in His own person
divine truth and divine life. (Jn 14:16-17) Indeed, those who see with
the eyes of faith see the Father in seeing Jesus (Jn 14:6-7), because the
perfection of His obedience to the Father reveals the latter truly. (Jn 14:6-7)
The Breath with which Jesus baptizes His disciples sends them forth in
His image to proclaim the forgiveness of sins (Jn 19:21-23); but, because
Breath-baptism consecrates the disciples to the Father in Jesus’ image, it
simultaneously separates them from a sinful and unbelieving world. While
the disciples remain in the world, they nevertheless belong, not to the
world, but to Jesus and to the Father through the indwelling Breath. (Jn
17:9, 14, 16)
The disciples’ fearless confession of Jesus in the image of the healed
blind man consecrates them to God even in this world by drawing them
into Jesus’ passion. (Jn 17:17) The Father who judges the world through
the mission, death, and resurrection of His Son (Jn 5:25-29) will prolong
that judgment in the disciples’ witness to Jesus. The divine Breath, the
“other witness” like Jesus, will testify in the disciples’ testimony to Him.
(Jn 14:16-17)
In fulfilling their mission, the disciples must trust in the Father as Jesus
did (Jn 14:1); and that trust will teach them to yearn for the heavenly
mansions to which Jesus has preceded them in order to prepare a dwell-
ing place for them. (Jn 14:2-4) Finally, just as Jesus revealed the Father’s
glory in the world through the perfection of His obedient witness, so too
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 153

will the disciples by their testimony to the risen Christ. They will do so
by abiding in Jesus through faith (Jn 15:8-12) and through mutual love.
(Jn 15:15-16) They will also manifest the Father’s glory through the effi-
cacy of their prayers made to the Father in Jesus’ name. (Jn 15:16-17)
All these insights into the disciples’ relationship to Jesus derive from
meditation on those texts which describe His relationship to the Father
and to the Breath. As one ponders them, one wonders what the Beloved
Disciple might have to add to them, given their richness and depth of
insight. Nevertheless, the fourth evangelist has much more to say on the
subject of discipleship. The reflections which follow examine those texts
which dramatize the relationship between Jesus and His disciples more
immediately and directly.
In the priestly account of creation, it takes God a week to create the
heavens and the earth. (Gen 1:1-2:4) In the fourth gospel, it takes a week
for the first disciples to gather around Jesus. In other words, the call of
the first disciples occupies the first week of the new creation. This first
week, moreover, foreshadows the final week of Jesus’ ministry, which cul-
minates in the Paschal mystery. (Jn 12:1) On Calvary Jesus will inaugu-
rate the new creation proleptically by giving the Beloved Disciple, the
type of those who believe in Jesus without seeing Him in His risen glory,
to Mary, to new Eve and mother of all believers, in order to cherish as her
son. The first week of the new creation which opens John’s gospel also
foreshadows the week of apparitions of the risen Christ which culminates
in Jesus’ confrontation with the doubting Thomas.5 (Jn 20:1, 19)
On the first day, the Baptizer testifies to Jesus. (Jn 1:19-28); and on the
second day John points Jesus out as the Lamb of God and Breath-baptizer.
(Jn 1:29-34) On the third day, Jesus begins to gather His disciples. (Jn
1:35-49) On the fourth day, Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael and pro-
claims Himself the saving link between heaven and earth. (Jn 1:43-51)
On the seventh day, Jesus turns water into wine at Cana. (Jn 2:1-11)
The fourth evangelist links the beginning and the end of Jesus’ minis-
try in other symbolic ways. The first two disciples, one of them Andrew,
the brother of Simon, follow Jesus out of curiosity, when, on the third
day of the first week, the Baptizer for a second time points Him out to

5. Not everyone who divides the opening events of the Johannine Jesus’ ministry into
seven days does it in the same way. Given the disagreement, some also question the
textual justification of a hebdomadal division. The division suggested here rests on the
evangelist’s explicit textual references to the passage of time. Cf. M.-E. Boismard, Du
baptème à Cana (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1956); Thomas Barrosse, C.S.C., “The Seven
Days of the New Creation in St. John’s Gospel,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 21(1959),
pp. 507-516; L. Paul Trudinger, “The Seven Days of the New Creation in St. John’s
Gospel: Some Further Reflections,” Evangelical Quarterly, 44(1972), pp. 154-158;
Harold Saxby, “The Time Scheme in the Gospel of John,” Expository Times, 104(1992),
pp. 9-13.
154 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

them as “the Lamb of God.” (Jn 1:35-6) They follow Jesus at a distance.
When Jesus asks them what they are looking for, they respond: “Rabbi,
where do you dwell (pou meneis)?” Jesus replies: “Come and see.” (Jn
Both the question and the answer have double meanings. The pro-
logue has already informed the reader that the incarnate Word “set up
His tent” among humans. (Jn 1:14) The Son of God dwells only tempo-
rarily on earth but dwells permanently in His Father’s heavenly mansion.
(Jn 14:1-2) In asking Jesus where He dwells, the disciples ask for more
than they realize.
The verb “meneis” also endows the question of the disciples with other
suggestive connotations. The fourth evangelist stresses the indwelling of
God. The Breath comes to Jesus to dwell in Him. (Jn 1:33) Jesus, the
Father, and Breath all dwell in one another and in the believing disciples.
(Jn 15:1-10, 17:20-3) The disciples will know fully where Jesus dwells
when they experience Him dwelling in them through the power of His
Breath. Then they too will dwell in Him. (Jn 16:12-15)
Jesus’ simple invitation to “come and see” also conceals depths of mean-
ing. His invitation will find its fulfillment when the disciples behold His
risen glory. After the disciples have gathered around Him, Jesus promises
them, as we have seen, that one day they will behold in Him the privi-
leged link between heaven and earth. They will see the heavens rent in an
apocalyptic manner and the angels of God ascending and descending
upon the Son of Man whose simultaneous possession of heavenly and
human characteristics makes him an apt mediator between God and hu-
manity. (Jn 1:51)
The final and full revelation of Jesus as apocalyptic Son of Man, as final
judge of the living and dead, and as the privileged link between heaven
and earth comes, of course, with the full revelation of His divinity in the
resurrection. (Jn 20:28) When, therefore, the fourth evangelist describes
the disciples’ encounter with the risen Christ, he focuses his narrative on
the different ways in which each disciple comes to “see” the risen Christ
with the eyes of faith.6 (Jn 20:1-29)
The evangelist mentions that the first two disciples encountered Jesus
at “the tenth hour,” or about four o’clock. Some think that the Beloved
Disciple is referring to the onset of the Sabbath rest and that the disciples
stayed with Him from Friday to Saturday evening. The gospel text, how-
ever, makes no mention of the sabbath rest; and it portrays the disciples
6. Cf. Friedrich Wulf, S.J., “Meister, wo wohnst du? (Jo 1.38),” Geist und Leben,
31(1958), pp. 241-244; Heinrich Zimmermann, “Meister, wo wohnst du? (Jo 1.38),”
Lebendiges Zeugnis (1962), pp. 49-57; Craig Kœster, “Hearing, Seeing, and Believing
in the Gospel of John,”,” Biblica, 70(1989), pp. 327-348; Klaus Scholtissek, “‘Mitten
unter euch steht er, den ihr micht kennt,’” Münchener Theologische Zeitschrift,
48(1997), pp. 103-121.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 155

as active the following day. John’s reference to the setting sun could, as
others have suggested, possibly symbolize that the day of the Baptizer is
ending and that the day of Jesus is about to dawn. Certainly, however, the
reference to sunset marks the end of one day and puts the events which
follow on the next day, the third of the first week of Jesus’ ministry.
The following day, one of the two who had followed Jesus, Andrew,
brings his brother Simon to Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel, Simon does not
acquire the name Peter until he confesses Jesus as the messiah. (Mt 16:18;
cf. Mk 3:16) In John’s account, Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter at
their first encounter. Moreover, while in Matthew, Peter acquires his new
name as a reward for confessing Jesus as the messiah and Son of God
before any of the other disciples, in the fourth gospel, Andrew informs
Peter that he has found the messiah even before Peter confronts Jesus. (Jn
Peter’s association with Jesus comes on the third day of the new cre-
ation. The following day, Jesus calls Philip, who informs a skeptical
Nathanael that he and the other disciples have found “him of whom
Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth.” (Jn
1:43-4) Even before they witness the Father’s testimony to Jesus in the
signs He works, the disciples put their faith in the testimony of the wit-
nesses who support the truth of Jesus’ own testimony to the Father: namely,
Moses and the prophets. They have already heard and apparently accepted
the Baptizer’s witness that Jesus is “the lamb of God.” Their ability to
believe in these witnesses to Jesus will soon contrast with the unbelief of
Jesus’ adversaries. (Cf. Jn 5:46)
Nathanael, like doubting Thomas at the end of the gospel, proves ini-
tially skeptical. He asks: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn
1:47) Philip’s confession of Jesus as the one who fulfills the Old Testa-
ment implicitly points to Him as the messiah. As we have seen, later on
Jesus’ enemies will use his origins in Nazareth to discredit His messianic
authority. (Jn 7:52) Nathanael here anticipates the objection.
Philip counters Nathanael’s skepticism with the same invitation which
Jesus has given to the first two disciples: “Come and see.” (Jn 1:46) The
invitation has the same symbolic meaning on Philip’s lips that it had on
Jesus’, as the encounter between Jesus and Nathanael will soon make
When Philip presents Nathanael to Jesus, He calls Nathanael an “Isra-
elite without guile.” Jesus then proves his messianic identity to Nathanael
by displaying preternatural knowledge of someone he has never met. Jesus
tells Nathanael that he saw him “under a fig tree.” Jesus’ reply could al-
lude to Zech 3:10, which also involves a calling and a fig tree. If so, the
evangelist is implicitly pointing to Jesus as the messianic “Branch” who
reigns as king. (Jn 1:49-50; Cf. Zech 3:10 and 6:12) Nathanael’s response
156 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

to Jesus tends to confirm this interpretation. Nathanael immediately con-

fesses Jesus as “Son of God” and “King of Israel.” (Jn 1:49) Nathanael has
begun to “see.” He now recognizes Jesus as messiah and names Him with
two messianic titles. Jesus, however, assures Nathanael that he hasn’t “seen”
anything yet. One day he will behold in Jesus the apocalyptic link be-
tween humanity and the Father.7 (Jn 1:50-1)
Three days later, on the last day of the first week of the new creation,
the disciples witness Jesus’ first sign, the transformation of water into
wine at Cana. In the following chapter I shall consider in greater detail
the meaning of each of the signs. Here it suffices to note that the presence
of Mary at Cana links this miracle to Jesus’ death on the cross and to the
sign of blood and water which follows His death. (Jn 2:1-6, 19:25-37)
As we have already seen, Jesus’ death, glorification, and sending of the
Breath fulfills the meaning of the first sign; for it reveals Him as the
divine bridegroom faithful in love to a sinful humanity despite rejection,
humiliation, and a cruel death. The disciples, moreover, recognize in this
first sign a revelation of the divine glory which the paschal mystery will
manifest in its fullness. (Jn 2:11) Cana completes the call of the disciples
and closes the first week of the new creation by foreshadowing the pas-
chal mystery which will enable the disciples finally to “see” Jesus.
The disciples also witness the cleansing of the temple. Moreover, the
redactor uses their presence there in order to make it clear that this first
Passover event will also derive its full meaning from the third and final
Passover when Jesus is lifted up in suffering and in glory.8 When Jesus
drives out the money changers and merchants, the disciples recall Ps 69:9.
The evangelist, however, changes the tense of the verb in the verse of Ps
69:9 from past to future and has it read: “Zeal for your house will con-
sume me.” The change in tense points, of course, to the passion and
names the cleansing of the temple as one of the important reasons why
the chief priests decided on Jesus’ death. (Jn 2:1-17)
The evangelist, as we have also seen, links the cleansing of the temple
to the resurrection by having Jesus justify His authority to purify the
temple with the promise: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will
raise it up.” (Jn 2:18) The future faith of the disciples plays a significant

7. Cf. NJBC, 61: 27-39; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 73-92; Hänchen, Commentary
on John, I, pp. 157-168; Amos B. Hulen, “The Call of the Four Disciples in John 1,”
Journal of Biblical Literature, 66(1948), pp. 153-157; F. Lamar Cribbs, “St. Luke and
the Johannine Tradition,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 90(1970), pp. 422-450, esp.
433-435; Craig R. Koester, “Messianic Exegesis and the Call of Nathanael (John
1.45-51),” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 39(1990), pp. 23-34; C.E. Hill,
“The Identity of John’s Nathanael,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament,
67(1997), pp. 45-61.
8. In the original gospel, the cleansing of the temple probably occurred after the triumphal
entry during Jesus’ final Passover.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 157

part in John’s narrative. The evangelist notes that the disciples did not
understand the meaning of Jesus’ words until His death and resurrection.
The sign of water flowing from Jesus’ pierced side as He hangs on the
cross will reveal Him as the temple of God from which flows the living
water of God’s sanctifying Breath. (Jn 19:34-37)
Moreover, John notes that the cleansing of the temple not only illu-
mines the meaning of this teaching of Jesus but that it also makes sense
out of the whole of the Old Testament. Resurrection faith understands
both the Old Testament and the cleansing of the temple from the stand-
point of the paschal mystery.9 (Jn 2:18-22)
The fourth evangelist portrays Jesus as conferring a baptism on His
early followers, much in the manner of John the Baptizer. Moreover, the
disciples join Jesus in conferring the ritual and apparently persist in it
even after Jesus abandons the rite. (Jn 3:22, 4:1)
A redactor or scribe seems to have inserted into the text of the gospel
the observation that Jesus Himself at some point stopped baptizing. The
redactor, possibly for polemic reasons, wanted to make it clear that Jesus
did not simply mimic John the Baptizer. The redactor could also have
desired to call attention to an historical fact: namely, that during most of
His own Galilean ministry Jesus did not in fact baptize His followers.
Certainly, the synoptic gospels never describe Jesus baptizing anyone. In
its final form, then, the text of the fourth gospel gives the impression that
Jesus began by baptizing but then abandoned the practice, although the
disciples continued to administer the rite.10

9. Cf. NJBC, 61:42-45; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 114-125; Hänchen, Commen-
tary on John, I, pp. 181-193; A.M. Dubarle, “Le signe du temple (Jo II, 19),” Revue
Biblique, 48(1939), pp. 21-44; Cecil Roth, “The Cleansing of the Temple and
Zechariah XIV 21,” Novum Testamentum, 4(1960), pp. 174-181; Jean Giblet, “Le
temple et l’ éternelle alliance,” Égilse Vivante, 9(1957), pp. 122-125; Simon Marcel,
“Retour du Christ et reconstruction du Temple dans la pensee chrétienne primitive”
in Aux sources de la tradition chrétienne (Paris: Delachaux & Nestle, 1950), pp.
247-257; Xavier Léon-Dufour, “Le signe du temple selon saint Jean (Jn. 2:13-22),”
Recherches de Science Religieuse, 39(1951-1952), pp. 155-175; François-Marie Braun,
“In spritu et veritate,” Revue Thomiste, 52(1952), pp. 245-247; Francis J. Maloney,
S.B.D., “Reading John 2:13-22: The Purification of the Temple,” Revue Biblique,
97(1990), pp. 432-452; Odo Schnelle, “Die Tempelreinigung und die Christologie
des Johannesevangelium,” New Testament Studies, 42(1996), pp. 359-373.
10. Cf. NJBC, 61: 54; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 150-156; Hänchen, Commentary
on John, I, pp. 208-212; Michel Cambe, “Jésus baptise et cesse de baptiser en Judeé
(Jean 3, 22- 4, 3),” Études Théologiques et Religieuses, 53(1978), pp. 97-102; Marie-Émile
Boismard, “Aenon près de Salem: Jean III, 23,” Revue Biblique, 80(1973), pp.
The fourth evangelist may have included information about Jesus’ use of the ritual
as a way of alluding to the origins of Christian baptism. If so, however, the fact that Jesus
seems to have abandoned the practice at best transforms His institution of it into a
half-hearted one.
158 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

As Jesus returns to Galilee after the first Passover, He stops exhausted at

Jacob’s well while the disciples go to the nearby Samaritan town of Sychar
in order to purchase food. (Jn 4:8) On their return the disciples experi-
ence shock on discovering Jesus in deep conversation with a Samaritan
woman; but they fear to rebuke Jesus for what they perceive as a serious
impropriety. In their own minds, however, they wonder why Jesus is speak-
ing to a woman and a Samaritan and what He hopes to accomplish by
such strange, even shocking, behavior. (Jn 4:27)
The evangelist notes specifically that the woman’s sex especially offended
the disciples. Rabbis never took women disciples, and some of them even
counseled against speaking to a woman in public. Jesus breaks this taboo
as a way of dramatizing the inclusiveness of His mission and message. It
embraces men and women alike.
The inclusion of women in the kingdom seems to have preoccupied
the fourth evangelist; women play a particularly important role in his
gospel. Mary, Jesus’ mother, as we have seen, appears as the new Eve. (Jn
2:1-5, 19:25-27) The Samaritan woman evangelizes the Samaritan people,
an act which foreshadows their future Christianization. (Jn 4:39) Martha
confesses Jesus as messiah, although, like Peter in the synoptics, with
imperfect insight. (Jn 11:21-27) Mary Magdalene functions as the apostle
to the apostles. (Jn 20:17-18)
The disciples also take umbrage at the fact that Jesus feels no qualms
about conversing with a Samaritan. (Jn 4:9) Jesus has escaped the hatred
which traditionally divided Jews and Samaritans. Just before the disciples
return, He tells the woman that one day the kingdom will embrace both
ethnic groups. (Jn 4:21-22) Jesus further demonstrates His lack of preju-
dice by staying at Sychar and catechizing the Samaritans for two days.
Moreover, at the end of those days the Samaritans acknowledge Jesus as
“the savior of the world.” (Jn 4:39-42)
One finds no traditions about Jesus’ ministry to Samaritans in the
synoptics. The fact that such traditions seem to have existed in the Johan-
nine community suggests the presence in it of a Samaritan contingent.
The Samaritans’ confession of Jesus as “savior” smacks of post-resurr-
ection Christian faith and foreshadows its universality.11
11. Cf. Margaret Pamment, “Is There Convincing Evidence of Samaritan Influence on
the Fourth Gospel?” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 73(1982), pp.
221-230; John Bowman, “The Fourth Gospel and the Samaritans,” Bulletin of the John
Rylands Library Manchester, 40(1957-1958), pp. 298-329; Normand R. Bonneau,
O.M.I., “The Woman at the Well, John 4 and Genesis 24,” Bible Today, 67(1973), pp.
1252-1259; David Daube, “Jesus and the Samaritan Woman: The Meaning of
sygchraomai,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 69(1950), pp. 136-147; D.R. Hall, “The
Meaning of sygchraomai in John 4.9,” Expository Times, 83(1971-1972), pp. 56-57;
Robert Gordon Maccini, “A Reassessment of the Woman at the Well in John 4 in the
Light of the Samaritan Context,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 53(1994),
pp. 35-46.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 159

The disciples make no mention of their shock and disapproval. In-

stead, they urge Jesus to eat the food which they have brought from the
village. Jesus replies: “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” (Jn
In speaking to the Samaritan woman, Jesus has just endowed the image
of drink with deep religious meaning by promising the living water which
quenches the human thirst for immortality. (Jn 4:7-15, 7:37-38) Now in
speaking to the disciples, he does the same with the image of food. Sym-
bolic food and drink foreshadow the bread-of-life discourse.
Typically, the disciples misunderstand Jesus’ remark about food and
wonder if someone has brought Jesus something to eat in their absence.
(Jn 4:33) Like the synoptic evangelists, the Beloved Disciple often uses
the obtuseness of Jesus’ audience as a literary device for getting Him to
explain the deep meaning of what He says. Moreover, on this occasion in
explaining the symbolic meaning of the “other food” which nourishes
Him, Jesus addresses the disciples’ unspoken disapproval of His social
contact with the Samaritan woman.
Jesus tells the disciples:

My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His
work. Do you not say, “There are yet four months, then comes the har-
vest.” I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white
for harvest. He who reaps receives wages and gathers fruit for eternal life.
For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you
to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you
have entered into their labor. (Jn 4:34-8)

John’s Jesus seems to have preternatural foreknowledge of the response

of faith which He will soon elicit from the Samaritans. He therefore uses
two peasant proverbs in order to catechize the disciples about the univer-
sal scope of their apostolic mission. The first proverb asserts: “There are
four months yet, then comes the harvest.” After citing the proverb, Jesus
contradicts it. The disciples need not wait the four months traditionally
needed for the harvest to ripen. The grain stands already ripe for the
sickle. (Jn 4:35-36)
Jesus assimilates the immanent evangelization of the Samaritans to a
harvest. He also links the mission He has received from the Father with
that evangelization. In effect, then, Jesus is asserting that the Father has
sent Him to work a universal salvation which breaks down the sinful
barriers traditionally dividing people from one another. In so speaking,
Jesus rebukes His disciples’ ethnic and sexist bigotry.
Jesus promises the disciples that their own ministry to enemies and to
outcasts, to men and to women, will earn them the rich wage of eternal
life. Indeed, they will share in the same reward of eternal life as Jesus
160 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Himself; and they will celebrate with Him an eternal harvest festival. (Jn
Jesus sees the involvement of the disciples in His own mission from the
Father as an illustration of a second peasant proverb: “One sows, another
reaps.” (Jn 4:37) Quite possibly, the proverb in its original meaning al-
ludes to the heavy taxes which the Palestinian peasantry paid to both the
empire and the temple. Those taxes probably gobbled up two-thirds of
every peasant income.
Jesus, however, transforms the proverb into a description of the dis-
ciples’ involvement in a work which “others” have begun. “Others” refers
most obviously to Jesus and to the Father. Some have argued, however,
that the antecedent of “others” also includes the Baptizer or even the Old
Testament prophets who prepared the coming of Jesus; but Jesus and the
Father provide the only antecedents explicitly mentioned in the text. (Jn
4:34) The disciples find themselves engaged in the same mission of uni-
versal salvation as the Father has entrusted to the incarnate Son.
Jesus uses the aorist tense (egô apesteila) to speak of His commissioning
of the disciples. (Jn 4:38) In fact, He does not send the disciples until He
rises from the dead and breathes into them a sanctifying Breath. Once
again, the evangelist, by using a past tense in order to describe a future
event, endows that event with inevitability of a fait accompli. The same
tense usage also exemplifies the Johannine Jesus’ tendency to speak from
the standpoint of the paschal mystery.12 (Jn 20:19-23)
We find no mention of the disciples in the healing of the man at the
pool of Bethsaida; but, as in the synoptic accounts of the multiplication
of the loaves and fish, in John, the disciples play an active role in this
miracle. The fourth evangelist names the disciples initially involved: Philip
and Andrew. The same two disciples will play an active role during Jesus’
Jerusalem ministry when they report to Jesus that “Greeks” desire to see
Him. (Jn 12:20-22)
In the fourth evangelist’s account of the miracle of the loaves, Jesus
knows that He is about to perform a miracle, but He tests Philip’s reac-
tion by asking him where they shall buy food to feed the multitude. (Jn
6:1-6) As in Matthew, Jesus’ question recalls the dismay of Moses at hav-
ing to feed a multitude of people in a deserted place. (Cf. Num 11:1, 7-9,
13, 22) The question therefore suggests the parallel between Jesus’ miracle
and the gift of manna in the desert, a theme which the bread-of-life dis-
course immediately develops in detail. The evangelist notes that Jesus
asks the question in order to test Philip because, in his telling of the story

12. Cf. NJBC, 61: 57-65; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 166-168 passim; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 213-237 passim; John Bligh, “Jesus in Samaria,” Heythrop
Journal, 3(1962), pp. 327-346; Elian Cuvillier, “La figure des disciples en Jean 4,” New
Testament Studies, 42(1996), pp. 245-259.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 161

the Beloved Disciple avoids any hint of ignorance on Jesus’ part concern-
ing what will soon happen.
Andrew informs Jesus that a boy in the crowd has five barley loaves and
two fish; but Andrew despairs of feeding the crowd with such skimpy
fare. (Jn 6:8-9) Jesus takes the food, blesses it, and distributes it to the
people seated on the plentiful grass. In the synoptics Jesus gives the food
to the disciples to distribute. In the fourth gospel he seems to do it per-
sonally. (Jn 6:10-1; cf. Mk 6:41, 8:6; Mt 14:19, 15:36; Lk 9:16) The
fourth evangelist does not say that Jesus broke the bread; but Jesus’ action
has eucharistic overtones which the bread-of-life discourse will expound.
After all have eaten, Jesus sends the Twelve to collect the left-overs.
Each apparently carries a basket for that purpose; and each fills the bas-
ket. (Jn 6:13) The bread-of-life discourse closes with a reference to the
Twelve. (Jn 6:71) Their participation in the miracle of the loaves marks
their first appearance in the gospel of John.13
The crowds, as we have seen, convinced by the miraculous multiplica-
tion that Jesus is a prophet like Moses, try to crown Him king by force.
Jesus, however, eludes them and retires to the mountain alone. (Jn 6:15)
Jesus will have nothing to do with secular messianism.
For no clear reason, the disciples decide to depart without Jesus. As in
the synoptic accounts, they find themselves beset by a fierce storm which
slows their progress. They then see Jesus walking on the water. The sight
fills them with terror.
John, like the synoptics, treats this event as a theophany. Jesus calms
the disciples’ fears by saying: “I AM. Do not fear.” (Jn 6:16-20) As we
have seen, in the fourth gospel Jesus invokes the divine name many times
as a way of asserting His unity with the Father. Here He manifests His
divinity to His disciples. During the feast of Tabernacles, which follows,
He will proclaim it to the unbelieving “Jews.” The more public procla-
mation of Jesus’ divinity causes the light which Jesus embodies to spread.
Although Jesus initially directs the bread-of-life discourse to the skepti-
cal and unbelieving crowds, when He reaches the eucharistic section of
the discourse, some of the disciples repudiate His promise to give them
His body to eat and His blood to drink. The dissident disciples com-
plain: “This is a hard saying. Who can hear it?” (Jn 6:60)
As we have seen, the defecting disciples probably symbolize the
Johannine dissidents. (1 Jn 2:18-22) Jesus rebukes their unbelief and chal-
lenges them to recognize that His words offer pneuma and life itself. (Jn
6:61-62) Those who worship God in pneuma and truth will understand
the meaning of what He is saying. (Jn 4:23) Jesus explains to the faithful
disciples that those who abandoned Him for proclaiming His real eucha-
13. Cf. L. Th. Witkamp, “Some Specific Johannine Features in John 6.1-21,”Journal for
the Study of the New Testament, 40(1990), pp. 43-59.
162 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

ristic presence had attached themselves to Him without the Father call-
ing or drawing them. (Jn 6:65; cf. 1 Jn 2:19) By implication, had the
Father drawn them to Jesus, they would never have defected from Him.
Moreover, John’s Jesus once again shows preternatural prescience by know-
ing in advance not only who believes in Him and who does not but also
which of the Twelve will betray Him. (Jn 6:64, 71)
Peter speaks for the orthodox disciples by confessing in their name
faith in Jesus’ words. When Jesus asks the Twelve if they too desire to
abandon Him, Peter says: “Lord (Kyrie), to whom shall we go? You have
the words of eternal life; and we believe and have come to know that you
are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:66)
In the fourth gospel this confession of faith in the truth of Jesus’
life-giving eucharistic doctrine corresponds to Peter’s confession of Jesus
as messiah in the synoptic tradition. The title “Lord” has post-resurrection
connotations. The title “Holy One of God” has messianic connotations
and designates Jesus as one specially consecrated by God. Hence, the
second title foreshadows Jesus’ priestly prayer in which He will conse-
crate Himself as a sacrificial victim so that His disciples might themselves
know consecration to God through faith in the truth Jesus incarnates.
(Cf. Jn 17:19)
Jesus replies reproachfully to Peter’s confession of faith, “Did I not choose
you, the Twelve, and one of you is a devil?” As we have seen, when the
time comes for Judas to betray Jesus, Satan will enter into him. Now
Jesus in virtue of His extraordinary prescience, foresees Judas’s treach-
ery.14 (Jn 2:25)
During the feast of Tabernacles, false disciples play a significant role in
the struggle between light and darkness. As the struggle intensifies, it
causes those who profess hypocritically to believe in Jesus to reveal that in
fact they would rather see Him dead than accept His identity with the
Father. Racially proud, the false disciples claim the freedom and dignity
of the Abraham’s children; but they lack Abraham’s faith. Their actual
conduct reveals them as children of Satan by betraying the unrepented
violence in their hearts. That violence blinds them to the truth which
Jesus incarnates and causes them to reject utterly Jesus’ divinity. (Jn
8:31-59) Having rejected Jesus’ real eucharistic presence, the false dis-
ciples now reject the incarnation as well.
In this polemic passage, the evangelist targets in part dissident mem-
bers of his community who professed to believe in Jesus at some level,
perhaps as a prophetic figure, but who refused to acknowledge Him as
divine. The struggle between light and darkness forces these false dis-
ciples to reveal their murderous malice and unbelief. They show them-
14. Cf. Ludger Schenke, “Das Johanneische Schisma und die Zwölf (Johannes 6.60-71)”
New Testament Studies, 38(1992), pp. 105-121.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 163

selves indistinguishable from unbelieving “Jews” who also repudiate Jesus’

divinity.15 (Cf. 2 Jn 7-10; 1 Jn 2:18-22)
The disciples witness the cure of the man born blind. Moreover, they
assume that either the man himself or his parents must have sinned for
him to suffer the affliction of blindness from birth. Jesus, however, cor-
rects this popular misconception. Disease and suffering need not result
from sin. In the case of the man born blind, his blindness has a providen-
tial purpose: namely, “that the works of God might be made manifest in
him.” (Jn 9:1-3)
As we have seen, “the works of God” about to occur include not only
the physical healing of the man born blind but his coming to faith in
Jesus. In virtue of his faith and fearless confession of Jesus despite his
expulsion from the synagogue, the man born blind functions, as we have
also seen, as a type of the believing disciple.
Like the trial of Jesus before Pilate, the trial of the man born blind
before the Pharisees unfolds chiastically. In the preface to the trial Jesus
cures the blind man to the astonishment of the man’s neighbors. (Jn 9:1-7)
In the conclusion, Jesus evokes an act of faith from the man born blind
and rebukes the unbelief of the Pharisees. The trial itself proceeds in three
scenes. In scenes one and three, the Pharisees cross examine the cured
blind man. (Jn 9:13-17, 24-34) In the central scene of the trial the Phari-
sees cross-examine the former blind man’s parents.
As we have seen, in structuring Jesus’ trial and execution chiastically,
the Beloved Disciple endows the central scene with special revelatory sig-
nificance. One would expect him to do the same in structuring the trial
of the cured blind man. In fact, the central scene contrasts the timidity of
the man’s parents and with his courage in testifying to Jesus. The parents
identify the man and confirm his blindness from birth; but, out of fear
that the Pharisees will expel them from the synagogue, they refuse to say
anything about Jesus. Their timidity contrasts with their son’s boldness
of faith. The contrast rebukes those members of the Johannine commu-
nity who fear to confess Jesus publicly lest they incur excommunication
by the Pharisaical leaders of the local synagogue.
By situating this scene at the heart of the former blind man’s trial, the
Beloved Disciple dramatizes an important dimension of discipleship. It
demands the fearless confession of Jesus, no matter what the consequences.
Only by courageously joining Jesus in His opposition to the dark powers

15. Cf. NJBC, 61: 85-103; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 230-304 passim; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 268-308 passim; Roger Le Deant, op. cit.; Peder Borgen,
“Observations on the Midrashic Character of John 6,” Zeitschrift für die
Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 54(1963), pp. 232-240; Andre Feuillet, Le discours sur
le pain de vie (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1967); B. Gärtner, John 6 and the Jewish
Passover (Lund: C.W. Gleerup, 1959).
164 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

which the Pharisees embody, does the blind man come to faith. Jesus’
disciples will also “come into the light” by fearless testimony to Jesus
under persecution.
The blind man sees more and more deeply into the person of Jesus as
he testifies fearlessly to Him. He first confesses Jesus a prophet. (Jn 9:17)
When he ironically asks the Pharisees: “Do you too want to become his
disciple?” the former blind man as much as confesses his own disicpleship.
(Jn 9:27) Moreover, when accused by the Pharisees of discipleship, the
man does not deny it. Then the man confesses Jesus’ true origin: Jesus
comes “from God.” (Jn 9:32) In the end, the man suffers expulsion from
the synagogue for his faith which he eventually professes to Jesus Him-
self.16 (Jn 9:34-38)
In the synoptics Jesus instructs His disciples about His coming martyr-
dom during His final journey to Jerusalem. The Johannine disciples be-
gin to glimpse the inevitability of the passion in the raising of Lazarus.
When Jesus decides to respond to the appeal of Martha and Mary and go
to Lazarus, the disciples remind Him of the danger He is risking, since
He has twice barely escaped death by stoning. (Jn 11:7; cf. 8:59, 10:31)
When Jesus persists in His decision to approach Jerusalem again, Tho-
mas bravely exhorts the other disciples: “Let us go, that we may die with
Him.” (Jn 11:16) This brave protest exemplifies Johannine irony; for,
when push comes to shove, Thomas, like all the other disciples except the
Beloved Disciple, will abandon Jesus. (Jn 16:32, 18:15, 19:25-27)
In the wake of Lazarus’s resurrection, the high priests decide on Jesus’
death. Jesus therefore withdraws temporarily from Jerusalem with the
disciples. (Jn 11:54)

The Disciples in the Jerusalem Ministry

The final week of Jesus’ ministry begins with his anointing at Bethany.
The fourth evangelist identifies the woman who anoints Jesus as Mary,
the sister of Lazarus. Moreover, unlike the unnamed woman in the
synoptics who anoints Jesus on the head in a gesture which proclaims His
messianic dignity, Mary, like the woman who was a sinner in Luke, anoints
Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair. (Jn 12:3; cf. Mk 14:3-9; Mt
16. Cf. NJBC, 61: 127-133; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 369-382; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 33-42; G. Bornkamm, Geschichte und Glaube (Munich:
Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1971), pp. 65-73; James Louis Martyn, History and Theology in the
Fourth Gospel (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1979), pp. 3-62; Karlheinz Müller, “Joh 9,7
und das Jüdische Verständnis des Siloh-Spruchs,” Biblische Zeitschrift, 13(1969), pp.
251-256; John P. Comiskey, “‘Rabbi Who Has Sinned?’ (John 9.2),” Bible Today,
26(1966), pp. 1808-1814; Donatien Mollat, S.J., “Le guérison de l’aveurgle-né,” Bible
et Vie Chrétienne, 23(1958), pp. 22-31; John Bligh, “Four Studies in the Man Born
Blind: I,” Heythrop Journal, 7(1966), pp. 129-144; D. Bornkauser, “Meister, wer hat
gesündigt, dieser oder seine Eltern, dass er ist blind geboren? Joh 9,2,” Neue Kirchliche
Zeitschrift, 38(1927), pp. 433-437.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 165

26:6-13; Lk 7:39-50) The fourth evangelist says that she used a pound of
extremely expensive ointment, called nard, in order to anoint Jesus. Its
smell fills the house.17 (Jn 12:3) The Beloved Disciple could conceivably
have conflated the two stories. In the conflated version, however, one
finds no hint that Mary has sinned. Instead, the story focuses on the
opulence of her gift.
In recounting this event, only the fourth evangelist names the person
who objects to the woman’s gesture: Judas the traitor. Judas asks: “Why
was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the
poor?” (Jn 12:4-5) The evangelist also notes that Judas, who managed
the disciples’ and Jesus’ finances had no concern for the poor and in fact
stole from the common purse. (Jn 12:6)
As we have seen, in the synoptic tradition, practical faith in the Father’s
providential care frees the true disciple to share the physical supports of
life with the poor and needy. Although, as we have also seen, the fourth
evangelist does not stress this dimension of Jesus’ teaching as much as the
synoptics do, the Johannine letters offer evidence that care for the poor
had high priority in the Johannine community. (1 Jn 3:17-22) The cu-
pidity of Judas suggests that he had failed to absorb this central teaching
of Jesus. His clandestine thievery also suggests that as Jesus’ death ap-
proached, the unfaithful apostle set himself to feather his own nest at the
expense of the poor.
Jesus rebukes Judas in the fourth gospel in much the same way as he
rebukes the critics of the unnamed woman in the synoptics: “Let her
alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have
with you, but you do not always have me.” (Jn 12:7) Instead of saying
that Mary has anointed Him for burial as He does in the synoptics, John’s
Jesus says that Mary can use the rest of the ointment for his interment. In
both the synoptic and Johannine traditions, however, Jesus on this occa-
sion foresees his immanent demise.
As in the synoptic tradition, Jesus alludes to Deut 15:1-11, which teaches
that poverty would not plague Israel if people cared for the needy as the
Law requires. Since, however, with moral inevitability, poverty will dog
the lives of some, those with greater means should always show the poor
an open hand. Far from endorsing or justifying poverty, the phrase “the
poor you always have with you” reminds the disciples that they must
always give the poor a special place in their practical concern.18
17. Some see in the good odor which emanates from Jesus, who will rise from the dead,
a contrast with the stench which emanates from Lazarus’s rotting corpse. Cf. Nuria
Calduch Benages, M.N., “La Fragrancia des Perfume en Jn 12,3,” Estudios Biblicos,
48(1990), pp. 243- 265.
18. Cf. NJBC, 61: 157-159; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 447-454; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 82-89; Edward F. Glusman, Jr., “The Cleansing of the
Temple and the Anointing at Bethany: The Order of Events in Mark 11/John 11-12,”
166 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

When Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph mounted on a young ass, the

fourth evangelist cites the same Old Testament text as Matthew: namely,
Zech 9:9. Like Matthew, the Beloved Disciple interprets the text as a
prophecy of the entry. The evangelist modifies the original text to read:
“Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on an
ass’s colt.” (Jn 12:15) As we have seen elsewhere, Zechariah prophecies
the coming of a peaceful king who will banish violence from the land.
His riding on an ass rather than on a war horse, symbolizes not so much
His lowliness as His irenic reign.
The fourth evangelist notes that at the time of the triumphal entry the
disciples did not realize that Jesus was (perhaps quite deliberately) fulfill-
ing this messianic prophecy. Only after His resurrection did they realize
what Jesus had done. One finds an analogous reflection in John’s account
of the cleansing of the temple, which prior to the gospel’s redaction prob-
ably followed the triumphal entry, as it does in the synoptics. (Jn 12:16)
The evangelist is in effect saying that the full revelation of Jesus as the
king of peace prophesied by Zechariah arrived with the paschal mystery
when Jesus established His peaceable kingdom by suffering the violence
of others in forgiving love and by rising and sending the Holy Breath to
forgive sins. That forgiveness establishes His peace by reconciling people
to one another and to God.19 (Jn 18:33-8, 20:19-23)
SBL Seminar Papers, 1(1979), pp. 113-117; J. Duncan M. Derrett, “The Anointing at
Bethany,” Studia Evangelica, 2(Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1964), pp. 174-182; Antoine
Lemonnyer, O.P., “L’onction de Bethanie: Note d’exegèse sur Jean XII, 1-8,” Recherches
de Science Religieuse, 18(1928), pp. 105-117; Manfried Weise, “Passionswoche und
Epiphanie Woche im Johannes-Evangelium: Ihre Bedeutung für Komposition und
Konzeption des vierten Evangeliums,” Kerigma und Dogma, 12(1966), pp. 48-62;
T.W. Bevan, “The Four Anointings (Mt xxvi. 6-13; Mark xiv. 3-9; Luke vii.36-50;
John xii. 1-11),” Expository Times, 39(1927-1928), pp. 137-139; J. Edgar Burns, “A
Note on Jn 12,13,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 28(1966), pp. 219-222; André Legault,
C.S.C., “An application of the Form-Critique Method to the Anointing in Galilee (Lk
7, 36-50) and Bethany (Jn 12, 1-8),” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 16(1954), pp.
131-145; Charles H. Giblin, “Mary’s Anointing for Jesus’ Burial-Resurrection (Jn
12:1-8),” Biblica, 73(1992), pp. 560-564; J.F. Coakley, “The Anointing and the
Priority of John,”Journal of Biblical Literature, 107(1988) pp. 241-256; Ingrid Rosa
Kitzberger, “Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala: Two Female Characters in the
Johannine Passion Narrative: A Feminist, Narrative-Critical Reader-Response,” New
Testament Studies, 41(1995), pp. 564-586; Cullen Story, “The Mental Attitude of
Jesus at Bethany: John 11/33-38,” New Testament Studies, 37(1991), pp. 51-66.
19. Cf. NJBC, 61: 160; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 455-464; Hänchen, Commentary
on John, II, pp. 82-91; Edward O. Freed, “The Entry into Jerusalem in the Gospel of
John,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 80(1961), pp. 329-338; D. Moody Smith, Jr.,
“John 12.12ff. and the Question of John’s Use of the Synoptics,” Journal of Biblical
Literature, 83(1963), pp. 58- 64; Hermann Patsch, “Der Einzug Jesu in Jerusalem:
Eine historische Versuch,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, 68(1971), pp. 1-26;
Francis J. Moloney, S.B.D., “A Sacramental Reading of John 13:1-38,” Catholic
Biblical Quarterly, 53(1991), pp. 237-256; M.J.J. Menken, “Die Redaktion des Zitates
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 167
The Disciples at the Last Supper
Apart from his instruction in Samaria about the bountiful harvest, John’s
Jesus directs only one major discourse exclusively to His faithful disciples:
namely, His last discourse. As we have seen, Luke’s gospel contains a brief
final discourse at the last supper (Lk 22:21-38); but we find nothing in
the synoptics comparable to the extended instruction which the Johannine
Jesus gives the disciples at their last meal together. That Jesus would have
postponed catechizing His disciples in any significant way until the night
before He died lacks any historical plausibility. By situating most of Jesus’
instructions to His disciples in the last discourse, however, the Beloved
Disciple makes it theologically clear that one must understand the prac-
tical demands of discipleship in the context of the paschal mystery.
As we have seen, the disciples who abandon Jesus in the bread-of-life
discourse and who turn on Him at Tabernacles never really put their faith
in Him. The last discourse targets the faithful disciples exclusively. I have
reflected about Jesus’ relationship to the Father in the last discourse. Here
I focus on those sections of the last discourse which deal with the de-
mands of discipleship.
The evangelist marks the beginning of the Book of Glory with a sol-
emn preface. The preface insists on Jesus’ foreknowledge of His passion
and glorification. It also presents both as the supreme expression of His
love for His disciples. (Jn 13:1-2)
The foot washing which begins the last supper exemplifies the total
self-forgetfulness which the divine love incarnate in Jesus embodies. Fully
aware of His equality and identity with the Father and fully aware of His
immanent betrayal by Judas, Jesus nevertheless performs a menial service
normally reserved for slaves: He washes His disciples’ feet, including,
apparently, the feet of Judas. (Jn 13:2-5, 11)
When Jesus reaches Peter, the disciple protests: “Lord, are you going to
wash my feet?” The title “Lord” underscores the extreme condescension
of Jesus’ action and has, of course, post-resurrection connotations. Jesus
replies that Peter does not presently understand why Jesus is acting in this
way but that he will understand “later.” This “later” has a double mean-
ing. “Later” refers to Jesus’ explanation of His action which follows im-
mediately in the Johannine account; but “later” also connotes the new
knowledge of Jesus which the paschal mystery will work in Peter, even by
conforming Him to Jesus’ passion. (Jn 21: 18-19)
When Peter replies that Jesus will never wash his feet, Jesus demands
that Peter submit to the libation: “If I do not wash you, you will have no
heritage with Me.” (Jn 13:6-8) Jesus’ demand has both literal and sym-
bolic meaning. Literally, Jesus is telling Peter that, if he refuses submit to
aus Sach 9:9 in Joh 12:15,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 80(1989),
pp. 193-202.
168 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

the foot-washing, then Peter must renounce his discipleship, since as Jesus
will soon explain, He is giving the disciples an example of how they should
relate to one another. In other words, Jesus’ response to Peter makes mutual
service in His image a fundamental condition for discipleship. Taken sym-
bolically, however, Jesus’ words “If I do not wash you” allude to Christian
baptism, to rebirth through water and the Breath. So understood, the
“heritage” to which Jesus refers means a share in risen glory. (Jn 3:3-15)
Since baptism conforms one morally to Jesus through the empowering
illumination of His Breath, I find nothing to choose among a sacramen-
tal, a soteriological, and an ethical reading of this text. Exegetes have
defended all three interpretations.20
Peter replies over-enthusiastically to Jesus’ warning: “Lord, not just my
feet, but my hands and head.” Jesus replies ironically to this bit of excess:
“One who has bathed does not have to wash anything but his feet and he
is completely clean. You are clean, but not all.” (Jn 13:9-10)
Again Jesus’ words have both a literal and symbolic meaning. Taken
literally, Jesus is saying that one who has bathed on entering the house
needs only to wash the dust from the unpaved road from his feet. No
need therefore for Jesus to wash Peter’s head and hands. The sentence
“You are clean, but not all” taken literally simply repeats the same idea.
The evangelist, however, calls attention to Jesus’ deeper symbolic intent.
Jesus is alluding to the treachery in Judas’ heart which excludes him from
the ranks of those cleansed, just as “deadly sin” will in the Johannine
community exclude one from the ranks of the baptized.21 (Jn 13:11; cf. 1
Jn 5:16-17)

20. Cf. M. Sabbe, “The Footwashing in Jn 13 and its Relations to the Synoptic
Gospels,”Ephemerides Theologicae Lovaniensis, 58(1982), pp. 279-308.
21. Cf. NJBC, 61: 172-178; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 549-580; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 102-114; N.M. Haring, “Historical Notes on the
Interpretation of Jn 13:10,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 13(1951), pp. 355-375; W.K.
Grossouw, “A Note on John XIII 1-3,” Novum Testamentum, 8(1966), pp. 124-131;
M.-E. Boismard, O.P., “Le lavement des pieds (Jn XIII, 1-17),” Revue Biblique,
44(1935), pp. 22-23; B.W. Bacon, “The Sacrament of Footwashing,” Expository
Times, 43(1931-1932), pp. 218-221; Edouard Cothenet, “Gestes et actes symboliques
du Christ dans the IVe évangile” in Gestes et paroles dans les diverses familles liturgiques
(Rome: Centro Liturgico Vincentiano, 1978), pp. 95-116; Robert Eisler, “Zum
Fusswaschung am Tage vor dem Passah,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische
Wissenschaft, 38(1939), pp. 94-96; Ernst Lohmeyer, “Die Fusswaschung,” Zeitschrift
für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 38(1939), pp. 74-94; Georg Richter, Die
Fusswaschung im Johannesevangelium (Regensburg: Verlag Friedrich Pustet, 1967);
Johann Michl, “Der Sinn der Fusswaschung,” Biblica, 40(1959), pp. 697-708; Herold
Weiss, “Footwashing in the Johannine Community,” Novum Testamentum, 21(1977),
pp. 298-325; P.Aelfrid Kassing, “Das Evangelium der Fusswaschung,” Erbe und
Auftrage, 36(1960), pp. 83- 93; M.J.J. Menken, “The Translation of Psalm 41.10 in
John 13.18,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 40(1990) pp. 61-79; Michal
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 169

Jesus then resumes His outer garments and explains to the disciples the
significance of what He has done. If He, their teacher and Lord, conde-
scends to serve His own disciples like a slave, they should take His ex-
ample and similarly serve one another in His image. (Jn 13:12-5) This
admonition counts as the first of several “commandments” which Jesus
will give the disciples in the course of the last discourse. Later, Jesus will
make keeping His commandments the condition for loving Him.
Jesus appends three arguments for obeying this initial command. First
of all, the difference in dignity which separates Him from the disciples
remains much greater than the difference which separates the disciples

Wojciechowski, “La source de Jean 13. 1-20,” New Testament Studies, 34(1988), pp.
135-141; J.C. O’Neill, “John 13:10 Again,” Revue Biblique, 101(1994), pp. 67-74.
The postscript to the first Johannine letter makes the following points. The first
letter has insisted that the true children of God do not sin. (1 Jn 3:5-6, 9) In the
postscript, the author of the letter makes it clear, however, that he recognizes that even
believers occasionally commit minor offenses. When that happens, the community
needs only beg that God will forgive the lapse; and the efficacy which attends the prayer
of the believing community will insure divine forgiveness. In insisting that true
believers do not sin, therefore, the author means that they avoid what he calls “deadly
sin.” Deadly sin, serious violation of the commands of God, precludes reconciliation
with the community. Hence, the community should not pray for the reconciliation of
those guilty of such heinous offenses. They should, however, pray for the forgiveness
of peccadillos, with the confident expectation that God will answer such a prayer
uttered in faith. (1 Jn 5:14-7)
With this qualification, however, the strict moral dualism which separates those who
belong to God from “the world” still obtains. God protects those who belong to Him
from serious sin; for serious sin entails domination by the Evil One and by the world.
Such sinless lives embody the knowledge of the true God and insure that those who live
such lives also live in His Son. Living in the Son means present possession of eternal
life. (1 Jn 5:18-21) The postscript, then, does little more than repeat and clarify a point
which the author already made at the beginning of the letter, when he asserted that Jesus
intercedes with the Father for the forgiveness of minor offenses committed by those
who believe in Him. (cf. 1 Jn 2:1)
Cf. NJBC, 62: 32-34; Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John (The Anchor Bible:
New York, NY: Doubleday, 1982), pp. 607-641 [I shall hereafter refer to this work as
Epistles.]; Hans Josef Klauck, Die Erste, Zweite, und Dritte Johannesbrief (2 vols.;
Zürich: Benziger, 1992), I, pp. 321-347; O. Bauernfeind, “Die Fürbitte angesichts der
‘Sünde zum Tode’” in Von der Antike zum Christentum (Settin: Fischer & Schmidt,
1931), pp. 43-54; A.H. Dammers, “Hard Sayings—II: 1 John 5: 16ff.,” Theology,
66(1963), pp. 370-372; S.M. Reynolds, “The Sin unto Death and Prayers for the
Dead,” Reformation Review, 20(1973), pp. 130-139; D.M. Scholer, “Sins Within and
Sins Without: An Interpretation of 1 John 5:16-17” in Current Issues in Biblical
Interpretation, edited by G.F. Hawthorne (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), pp.
230-246; J.-L. Ska, “‘Petits enfants, prenez garde aux idoles’ 1 Jn 5,21,” Nouvelle Revue
Théologique, 101(1979), pp. 860-874; P. Trudinger, “Concerning Sins, Mortal and
Otherwise. A Note on 1 John 5, 16-17,” Biblica, 52(1971), pp. 541-542; Julian Hills,
“Little children, keep yourselves from idols: 1 John 5:21 Reconsidered,” Catholic
Biblical Quarterly, 37(1989), pp. 285-310; M.J. Edwards, “Martyrdom and the First
Epistle of John,” Novum Testamentum, 31(1989), pp. 164-171.
170 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

from one another. They relate to Jesus as subordinates: as servant to mas-

ter, as one sent to the sender. Their diminished dignity should, then,
make it easier for them to serve one another. In other words, mutual
service among the disciples should flow from the humble recognition of
one’s subordinate status. (Jn 13:16) Second, the disciples will find a life
of mutual service a source of real blessing. (Jn 13:17) Third, in welcom-
ing one another in obedience to Jesus and in imitation of His humble
service, the disciples will in fact welcome both Jesus Himself and the
Father who sent Him; for both Jesus and the Father identify with each
person to such an extent, that They take what is done to any individual as
done to themselves. (Jn 13:20) Jesus’ willingness, despite His divine sta-
tus, to serve the disciples as a slave stands in continuity with His willing-
ness to lay down His life freely for their sakes. One finds analogous in-
sights in the synoptics. (Mk 10: 41-45; Mt 20: 24-28; cf. Lk 22:24-27)
In a parenthetical remark, Jesus acknowledges that what He is saying
about the blessedness of service does not apply to Judas, who has already
betrayed Jesus in his heart. Jesus assures the disciples, however, that the
treachery of Judas fits into a providential plan foretold by the Scriptures.
(Cf. Ps 41:9) That fact plus Jesus’ own foreknowledge of His betrayal
should enable the disciples to continue to believe in His divinity in spite
of what He is about to endure. (Jn 13:18-19)
Jesus then announces that one of the Twelve will betray Him, and re-
veals to the Beloved Disciple and to Peter the identity of the traitor by
giving him a morsel of food to eat. Jesus even covers Judas’s exit by saying
to Judas as he leaves: “Do quickly what you are about to do.” The remark
makes the other disciples believe that Jesus is sending Judas, the keeper of
the purse, either to purchase something needed for their supper or to give
money to the poor. On Judas’s consumption of the morsel, Satan enters
into him. Judas breaks bread with Jesus but experiences no saving conse-
quences. Instead, he disappears into the night. The forces of darkness are
massing for their final attempt to quench the light which Jesus embod-
ies.22 (Jn 13:21-30)
Having given the disciples a commandment to serve one another as
slaves serve their masters, Jesus now gives a second related command. As
He prepares to leave the disciples and return to the Father, He gives them
the “new commandment” to love one another just as He has loved them.
Indeed, mutual love in Jesus’ image will mark His true disciples. (Jn

22. Cf. NJBC, 61:179-180; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 605-616; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 115-118; Wilfred L. Knox, “John 13.1-30,” Harvard
Theological Review, 43(1950), pp. 161-163; Antonio Garcia-Moreno, “Agapê (Amor
Christiano) en los Escritos Joanicos,” Estudios Biblicos, 51(1993), pp. 353-392.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 171

The newness of the command flows from the fact that Jesus as the
unique way to the Father embodies the love which He enjoins on His
disciples. (Jn 14:6) The newness also flows from the paschal mystery which
gives ultimate expression to Jesus’ love through His willingness to lay
down His very life for His friends. (Jn 15:12-15) Obedient love of Jesus
transforms the disciple into a friend of Jesus who appropriates and there-
fore reincarnates in turn the love and truth which Jesus embodies. (Jn
In a sense, the “new commandment” circumscribes the love command-
ment as one finds it in the synoptics. It circumscribes it by focusing Chris-
tian love on the members of the Christian community: “Love one an-
other.” Nowhere in the fourth gospel do we find Jesus counseling His
disciples to love their enemies. The radical ethical division which sepa-
rates believers from the world, the light from the dark, diverts the Be-
loved Disciple’s concern from the radical inclusiveness of the love com-
mand which the synoptic tradition stresses.
The “new commandment,” however, also intensifies the love command-
ment by focusing it on the paschal mystery. In his death for sinners, Jesus
embodies the fullness of divine love and provides the disciples with the
pattern of self-sacrifice they should show toward one another.
John’s Jesus also makes it clear that His love embraces the disciples even
in their sinfulness. When Peter protests that he will follow Jesus any-
where, even to the point of dying for Him, Jesus predicts the rash disciple’s
triple denial. (Jn 13:36-38) By implication, then, the love which the new
commandment enjoins on the disciples cannot make sinlessness in an-
other disciple the condition for loving that person. Rather Jesus is com-
manding the disciples to love one another with the same kind of forgiv-
ing, atoning love as He Himself embodies.23

23. Cf. Frank Stagg, “The Farewell Discourses,” Review and Expositor, 62(1965), pp. 459-
472; L. Cerfaux, “La charité fraternelle et le retour du Christ,” Ephemerides Theologiae
Lovaniensis, 24(1948), pp. 321-332.
The second part of the first letter of John portrays the Christian life as a life of love:
“This is the message you heard from the beginning (ap’ archês), that we love
one another.” (1 Jn 3:11)
In the context of the letter, “from the beginning” probably refers to the Johannine
community’s first evangelization; but it also refers implicitly to the beginning of Jesus’
proclamation of the gospel. The author of the first epistle formulates the love command
in the same way as the author of the gospel. Both formulations focus love primarily on
the members of one’s own faith community.
The author of the letter, however, explains in considerable detail the implications of
the Jesus’ command in the fourth gospel: “Love one another as I have loved You.” (Jn
15:12) The explanation clusters a variety of moral and doctrinal themes from the gospel
as a way of drawing out its meaning. At the same time, the author of the letter
introduces new insights of his own.
172 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

In his own way, however, the Beloved Disciple does inculcate love of
enemies. Jesus’ love for a sinful world exemplifies such love; and in the
paschal mystery Jesus models for the disciples the perfection of love. The
fact remains, however, that in speaking of the demands of discipleship
the fourth evangelist does not assert love’s universality as explicitly as the
synoptic tradition does. Besides ethical dualism, concern with internal
divisions in the Johannine church no doubt motivates the Beloved
Disciple’s stress on mutual love in community.
Jesus has given the disciples two commands: mutual service in His im-
age and the new commandment of atoning love. To these two command-
ments He now adds a third: belief in Him and in the Father He reveals.
Johannine orthopraxis, as we have seen, includes orthodoxy. (Jn 14:1)
Faith in Jesus has an eschatological dimension; for it includes the convic-
tion that in departing from the disciples, Jesus actually goes to prepare a
place for them in the Father’s house and will one day return to welcome

The familiar themes which echo the gospel include the following: 1) A life of love
distinguishes those who belong to God from those who belong to Satan. (1 Jn 3:12)
2) It gives assurance of the ultimate possession of risen life with Christ by translating
those who love in the present from the realm of death to the realm of life. (1 Jn 3:13-4)
3) In what concerns eternal life, those who refuse to love remain dead. (1 Jn 3:13-5)
4) The world’s hatred for those who obey the love command imitates and prolongs
historically the murderous hatred of the enemies of divine truth which the gospel
proclaimed. The first letter compares those enemies to Cain, the child of the Evil One.
Cain hated his brother Abel because of the very goodness of his brother’s actions. (1 Jn
3:12-4) Persecution for the sake of love ought, then, only to confirm one’s determina-
tion to live the love command which transforms one into a true child of God. 5) God
will certainly hear the prayers of those who live the love command. (1 Jn 3:21-2) 6) The
love command goes hand in hand with authentic faith in Jesus as the Son of God. (1
Jn 3:23) 7) For the believing Christian, the saving death of Jesus for sinners offers the
ultimate motive for mutual love in community. That Jesus gave His life for His
disciples must teach them to give their lives for one another. (1 Jn 3:16) 8) Faith and
love together ensure the divine indwelling. (1 Jn 3:24) 9) The Breath of the risen Christ
inspires both faith and love. (1 Jn 3:24)
Developed insights peculiar to the first letter include the following: 1) Love must
spring from the heart, for hatred kills love as effectively as an overt act of murder. Those
who love must, therefore, do more than avoid physical acts of violence. Rather they
must purify their hearts of all hatred. (1 Jn 3:15) 2) Genuine love demands the concrete
sharing of the physical supports of life. When the more affluent refuse to share with
those more needy then themselves, the affluent simply manifest that they do not in fact
love God. (1 Jn 3:17) 3) Practical love for the needy rectifies the conscience before an
omniscient God and absolves those who practice it of any fear of divine judgment. (1
Jn 3:19-21)
Cf. NJBC, 62: 26-27; Brown, Epistles, pp. 439-484; I. de la Potterie, “Aimer ses
frères et croire en Jesus Christ,” Assemblées du Seigneur, 2nd ser.; 26(1973), pp. 39-45;
J. Dupont, “Comment aimer ses frères (1 Jn 3, 13-18),” Assemblées du Seigneur, 1st ser.,
55(1962), pp. 24- 31; C. Spicq, “La Justification du Charitable (1 Jo 3, 19-21),”
Biblica, 40(1959), pp. 915-927; H.H. Wendt, “Zum ersten Johannesbrief,” Zeitschrift
für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 22(1923), pp. 57-79.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 173

them into that extensive heavenly dwelling place. (Jn 14:1-3) Faith also
has an inherently incarnational character because it recognizes Jesus as
the embodied revelation of the Father.
The co-equality and mutual indwelling of Father and Son manifest
themselves historically in Jesus’ testimony to the Father and in the Father’s
testimony to Jesus. The Father, as we have seen, testifies to Jesus in two
practical ways: 1) by teaching Him to do the miracles which manifest the
truth of what He teaches and 2) by empowering Him to rise from the
dead. (Jn 14:4-11)
Christian faith also has a practical, expectant character: the disciples
should expect that whatever they ask the Father in Jesus’ name He will
give them. The disciples can then expect to do in Jesus’ name even greater
miracles than Jesus Himself, miracles which will manifest the Son’s di-
vine glory. (Jn 12:29-30, 13:31-32, 14:12-13)
These dimensions of faith all re-enforce one another. The expectation
of answered prayer buttresses the expectation of God’s final answer to
prayer in the second coming and vice versa. Similarly, incarnational faith
requires faith that God has in fact entered history in a radical, new way
and therefore has the power to transform history through answered prayer.
Moreover, as we have also seen, Jesus’ incarnation grounds His authority
as final eschatological judge.24
24. Cf. B.W. Bacon, “‘In my Father’s house are many mansions’ (Jn xiv. 2),” Expository
Times, 43(1931-1932), pp. 477-478; Robert H. Gundry, “In My Father’s House are
Many Monai (Jn 14:2),” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 58(1967),
pp. 68-72; Rudolf Schanckenburg, “Johannes 14:7” in Studies in New Testament
Language and Text, edited by J.K. Elliot (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1976), pp. 345-356.
The author of the first Johannine letter proposes three concrete tests for discerning
true from false religious beliefs.
1) One cannot claim truly to know God while living a life which violates the
commandments of God. (1 Jn 2:3-5) This first norm of discernment makes it clear that
the author of the letter regards Christian faith as inherently practical. Authentic faith
recognizes the practical consequences of belief in Jesus Christ and lives out those
2) One cannot claim to abide in God unless one lives as God incarnate lived:
“Whoever claims to abide in Him [God] must himself walk as He (autos) walked.” (1
Jn 2:6) In the first epistle, the term “That One (autos)” repeatedly designates the figure
of Jesus. (Cf. 1 Jn 3:3, 5, 7, 16; 4:17; Jn 2:21, 19:35)
The author of the letter justifies this second principle by appealing to the “new
commandment” which Jesus gave His disciples in His last discourse. (Jn 13:34-5)
Because the “new commandment” simply repeats the authentic Christian tradition, it
may strike the true believer as “old hat,” as something proclaimed “from the begin-
ning.” (1 Jn 2:7) “From the beginning” means here the same as it did in 1 Jn 1:1. “The
beginning” refers to the beginning of the self-revelation of God in Jesus, especially in
His ministry, death, and resurrection. Implicitly, therefore, the author asserts that
Jesus’ entire ministry embodied the love command.
Nevertheless, the love command enjoys a perpetual “newness” which derives from
the paschal mystery and its consequences. For any human life to conform in love to the
174 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Jesus has given His disciples three interrelated commandments: believe

in the Father and in Me, serve one another as I have served you, love one
another as I have loved you. He now sums them up under the love com-
mand: “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.” (Jn 14:14)
Faith in Jesus and in the Father as well as mutual service must always
express and embody love. Moreover, those whose obedience to Jesus’ com-
mands manifests their love of Him will find themselves the objects of
Jesus’ and of the Father’s love.25 (Jn 14:21)
divine love incarnate in Jesus endows it with a newness which reveals the decisive
victory of light over darkness accomplished in the paschal mystery. (1 Jn 2:8; cf. 2 Jn
3) No one can claim authentic enlightenment while hating another believer. Hatred
breeds scandal by leading another down the false path which leads into darkness. It
therefore reveals the darkness and the blindness of heart from which it proceeds. Love,
by contrast, never causes scandal and never causes one to sin. (1 Jn 2:9-11)
The author of the letter cites the enmity of the dissidents toward the orthodox as a
refutation of their claim to religious enlightenment. The letter will assert later that the
fact that the dissidents broke fellowship with the orthodox by leaving the community
proves that from the beginning they never functioned as real members of the
community. (1 Jn 2:19)
Once again the criteria for discerning authentic religious enlightenment build
cumulatively upon one another. If faith proves itself in Christian practice, then anyone
who fails to love with the forgiving, atoning love of Christ acts from some other motive
than faith. Hence, the hostility of the dissidents toward the orthodox and their
violation of communion (koinonia) demonstrates that some other motive than genuine
faith inspires their lives.
Cf. NJBC, 62: 18; Brown, Epistles, pp. 246-377; Klauck, op. cit., I, pp. 111-129; Paul
Jouon, “1 Jean 2,16: hê alazoneia tou biou: La présomption des richesses,” Recherches
de Science Religieuse, 28(1938), pp. 479-481; J. Edgar Burns, “A Note on John 16, 33
and 1 John 2, 13-14,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 86(1967), pp. 451-453; Antonio
Vincent Cernuda, “Enganan la oscuridad en el mundo: la luz era y manifesto lo
verdadero,” Estudios Biblicos, 27(1968), pp. 153-175, 215-232; Noel Lazure, “La
convoitise de la chair en 1 Jean II, 16,” Revue Biblique, 76(1969), pp. 161-205; Duane
F. Watson, “Rhetorical Analysis of 2 John According to Greco-Roman Convention,”
New Testament Studies, 35(1989), pp.104-130.
25. In his final exhortation to mutual love, the author of the first Johannine letter bases
his argument on the fact that “God is love” just as “God is light.” (1 Jn 4:8; cf. 1:5)
Because love defines the very reality of God, all love comes from God. Hence, all those
who love one another in the very act of loving know God and manifest the divine origin
of their love. (1 Jn 4:7-8)
The incarnation of the Son of God and His death for sin reveals historically the fact
that “God is love.” The supreme historical revelation of divine love in the incarnation
and death of God’s own Son embodies the utter gratuity of divine love. The author of
the letter explicitates an idea implicit in the gospel when he insists that God’s love for
us in Christ takes saving precedence over our love of God.
The love of God revealed in Christ creates our love for God and for one another.
Indeed, mutual love in community embodies authentic love for God; for one cannot
love a God one has never seen if one refuses to love a brother or sister with manifest
needs. Even more, mutual love in community brings to perfection the love which God
revealed in sending His Son to save us; for the saving love of God revealed in Christ
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 175

As we have seen, obedient love of Jesus will cause both the Father and
Son to dwell in the disciples. (Jn 14:23) As Jesus begins to speak of the
Breath’s action in the disciples, He develops the notion of mutual ind-
welling in considerable theological detail.
To faith in the Father and Son, Jesus now adds faith in the Holy Breath,
the “other witness” whom He will send the disciples. She will dwell for-
ever with and in the disciples. (Jn 14:15-17) She will communicate to
them the life of the risen Christ and empower them to “see” the risen
seeks to evoke in us a similar mutual, Christlike love. The Breath of the risen Christ
comes, in fact, to inspire that love. (1 Jn 4:9-12)
The idea that Breath-inspired Christian love “perfects” the revelation of divine love
in Christ goes beyond anything which one finds explicitly stated in the fourth gospel.
Moreover, the author of the letter stresses even more than the evangelist the intimate
connection between faith in the incarnation and Christian love. The incarnational
character of Christian love makes love and authentic faith inseparable, since the divine
love incarnate in Jesus ultimately motivates the mutual love of Christians. One must,
then, profess faith in the incarnation and in the saving death of Jesus in order to love
authentically as a Christian. In other words, Christological knowing includes the “deed
of faith,” heartfelt assent to the divine reality incarnate in Jesus. Authentic faith and
love coalesce and together manifest the divine indwelling which the Breath of God,
who inspires both, effects. (1 Jn 4:13-6)
Incarnational faith inspires mutual love in community by teaching one to recognize
that faith in Jesus Christ transforms one into a child of God. Those who truly love God
will, then, also love God’s children, as God does. In the end, therefore, the victory of
faith and the victory of love coincide. (1 Jn 5:1-4)
The author of the first letter offers two practical criteria for authenticating Christian
love: 1) Those who love face the day of final judgment without fear, because divine love
drives out all fear. Those, therefore, who fear the punishment of God, betray by their
fear their own lack of love. (1 Jn 4:17-9) 2) Authentic love of God manifests itself in
the practical care of the needs of one’s fellow believers. Anyone who claims to love God
without loving one’s fellow believers simply lies. (1 Jn 4:20-1) The author of the letters
like the author of the gospel stresses mutual love in community more than universal
love and probably does so for the same reasons.
Both the second and the third letters of John also take the same practical view of faith
as one finds in the gospel. The dissidents, in their denial of the incarnation, have
violated not only the truth but the love command as well, which demands that one live
according to the commands of God. (2 Jn 5-6) As we have just seen, in the gospel of
John, the love command functions as an omnibus command which includes among
other things the command to believe in Father, Son, and Breath. Those who destroy
the communion of faith manifest by that very evil act that they never really knew God.
(3 Jn 11)
Cf. NJBC, 62: 29; Brown, Epistles, pp. 512-568; Klauck, op. cit., I, pp. 245-264;
Celestin Charlier, “L’amour en esprit (1 Jean 4, 7-13),” Bible et Vie Chrétienne,
10(1955), pp. 57-72; D. Dideberg, S.J., “Esprit Saint et charité: L’exegèse augustinienne
de 1 Jn 8 et 16,” Nouvelle Revue Théologique, 97(1975), pp. 97-109, 229-250; C. Spicq,
O.P., “Notes d’exegèse johannique: La charité est amour manifesté,” Revue Biblique,
65(1958), pp. 358-370; M. de Jonge, Jesus: Inspiring and Disturbing Presence, trans-
lated by J. E. Steely (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1971), pp. 110-127; Roland Sheutz,
Die Vorgischichte der johanneische Formel: ho Theos agapê estin (Göttingen: von Hubert
& Co., 1917).
176 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Jesus truly with the eyes of faith. (Jn 14:19) Through Her indwelling in
the disciples they will come to understand the mutual indwelling of Fa-
ther and Son because the Breath will effect the mutual indwelling of the
risen Christ and His disciples. (Jn 14:23) Presumably, the disciples’ ind-
welling in the risen Jesus will yield an analogous insight into His indwell-
ing in the Father.26
The Holy Breath of truth will empower the disciples to appropriate in
a new and intimate way the truth which Jesus embodies. She will remind
the disciples of Jesus’ teachings and disclose to them its meaning. (Jn
14:26) The indwelling of the Breath in the disciples will transform their
witness to the risen Christ into the Breath’s own witness. (Jn 15:26)
That witness will draw the disciples into conflict with the same dark
forces as crucified Jesus. Like Jesus, the disciples will find themselves per-
secuted, expelled from synagogues. Their enemies will imagine it their
duty before God to exterminate them. (Jn 15:20-23, 16:1-4) By Her
testimony in the disciples, the Other Witness will despite all opposition
prove the world guilty of sin and of unrepentant self-righteousness. (Jn
The divine Breath will also disclose to the disciples the dawning
eschatological future. She will teach them new truths which Jesus never
spoke to them. In doing so, She will act in obedience to the risen Christ
just as His teachings embodied His obedience to the Father. (Jn 16:12-15)
In other words, the enlightenment of the Breath will encompass the
whole of history: past, present, and future. It encompasses the past: She
will enable the disciples to recall Jesus and all His teachings. It encom-
passes the present: through their witness She gives ongoing witness in an
unbelieving world. It encompasses the future: She will call the world to

26. Cf. M.E. Boring, “The Influence of Christian Prophecy on the Johannine Portrayal
of the Paraclete and Jesus,” New Testament Studies, 25(1978-1979), pp. 113-123; C.K.
Barrett, “The Holy Spirit in the Fourth Gospel,” Journal of Theological Studies,
n.s.1(1950), pp. 1-15; Otto Betz, Der Paraklet: Fürsprecher in häretischen Spätjüdentum,
im Johannes-Evangelium in neu gefundenen Gnostischer Schriften (Leiden: E.J. Brill,
1963), pp. 117-124; W. Bartlett, “The Coming of the Holy Ghost According to the
Fourth Gospel,” Expository Times, 37(1925-1926), pp. 72-75.
In describing Jesus’ intercession for sins the author of the first Johannine letter calls
Him a “paraklêtos with the Father.” (1 Jn 2:1) Curiously, then, the first letter applies
the term “paraklêtos” to Jesus, but not to the Breath. In the gospel, as we have seen, both
Jesus and the Breath function as witnesses who testify to the divine truth. In the gospel,
both testimonies occur on earth. After Jesus departs to the Father, the Breath comes to
testify to Him and to the Father in the testimony of the disciples.
The first letter uses the term “paraklêtos” in a different sense in order to depict Jesus’
perpetual intercessory office in heaven. The author of the letter suggests that by
testifying to the Father perpetually about His atoning sacrifice for sins, Jesus ensures
that the prayers for minor offeneses committed by Christians will in fact receive the
Father’s forgiveness. (cf. I Jn 5:14-21)
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 177

judgment and will disclose the shape of the future by revealing the full-
ness of divine truth.27
The Breath will glorify the risen Christ by empowering the disciples to
do in Jesus’ name even greater works than Jesus Himself. (Jn 14:12-13)
27. Cf. Kurt Niederwimmer, “Zur Eschatologie im Corpus Johanneum,” Novum
Testamentum, 39(1997), pp. 105-116.
The author of the first Johannine letter looks to “the anointing of the Holy One” to
give every member of the Johannine community knowledge. (1 Jn 2:20) The author
of the letter parallels the knowledge yielded by this anointing with the truths handed
down within the community of the orthodox. If the truths handed down to them abide
in them, then they will abide in the Father and the Son. (1 Jn 2:24)
To whom does the title “the Holy One” refer? The anointing of which the letter
speaks suggests that the “Holy One” refers to the sanctifying, sin-forgiving Breath who
proceeds from the risen Christ. (Jn 20:21-23) Since, however, the Breath also comes
to the disciples from the Father through the Son, the term “Holy One” could also
designate either the Breath or all three. (Jn 14:15-16)
Scholars with univocal minds who do not understand the workings of the intuitive
imagination seem to imagine that “the Holy One” can only designate a single referent.
Given the propensity of Johannine rhetoric to read multiple meanings into the same
phrase, however, it seems entirely possible that “the Holy One” refers in the first
instance to the sanctifying Breath of the risen Christ, in the second instance to the risen
Christ from whom this sanctifying Breath proceeds, and ultimately to the Father who
sends both Son and Breath. Every member of the community of believers “knows”
through the enlightening anointing of the Breath who proceeds from both Father and
That “the Holy One” refers in the first instance to the Breath of the risen Christ finds
re-enforcement from the kind of enlightenment to which the author of letter refers. He
characterizes the anointing in question as “abiding” and as yielding knowledge of “all
things.” (1 Jn 2:17) In the gospel of John the same traits characterize the enlightenment
of the Holy Breath. (Jn 14:16-7, 16:13) In claiming that faith discloses all things, the
author of the letter does not claim omniscience for believers but only that they live in
permanent possession of the font of all enlightenment and of all saving truth. Since the
enlightenment of the Breath gives them access to the truth incarnate in Jesus and in the
Johannine tradition, they “have no need for anyone to teach you.” (1 Jn 2:27)
The truth which abides in the Johannine community has roots not only in the
Breath’s enlightenment but in the historical revelation of God’s incarnate Son. That
truth coincides with what they heard “from the beginning.” (1 Jn 2:24) Here “from the
beginning” would seem to refer to the Johannine community’s first encounter with the
gospel. “Initial,” however, also probably refers also to the first proclamation ever of the
good news, namely, to Jesus’ own proclamation of the gospel.
The author of the letter also alludes to a promise (epaggêlia) made to the community
that those who have the truth proclaimed by Jesus abiding in them will abide in the
Father and in the Son. This promise, the author notes, coincides with “eternal life.” (1
Jn 2:24-5) Some see in the promise a present reality; some, a future, eschatological
reality. I find no reason in principle why the promise in question, which clearly roots
itself in the promises of Jesus in the fourth gospel, might not encompass past, present,
and future.
Cf. NJBC, 62: 22-24; Brown, Epistles, pp. 329-377; Klauck, op. cit., I, pp. 160-177;
Ignace de la Potterie, “Anointing of the Christian Faith” in The Christian Lives by the
Spirit, edited by I. de la Potterie and S. Lyonnet (Staten Island, NY: Alba, 1971), pp.
178 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

She will impart the abiding gift of eschatological peace by effecting the
forgiveness of sins which reconciles humanity to God and to one an-
other. (Jn 14:27, 20:19-23) The disciples’ commissioning by the risen
Christ in the power of the Breath expresses their prior call and election by
Him.28 (Jn 15:16, 20:19-23)
The paschal mystery involves, then, both the absence and presence of
Jesus. His death and glorification will put an end to His physical pres-
ence among the disciples; and that will cause them sorrow. (Jn 13:33,
14:18-9, 28-31, 16:4b-5) Yet, despite His temporary separation from the
disciples, Jesus will return to them in a way which fills them with joy, a
joy born of the knowledge of Him in His risen glory. (Jn 16:20-2, 20:20b)
They will rejoice too at answered prayers made in Jesus name. (Jn
16:23-24) Answered prayers manifest in their own way the presence of
the risen Christ in the midst of His disciples.
Despite His physical absence, the risen Christ will nevertheless abide
with His disciples through the indwelling of the Breath. He will dwell in
them and they in Him. They will draw their life from Him as branches
from a vine; and that mutual indwelling will cause the disciples to bear
much fruit. (Jn 15:1-5) Even the purification of suffering, the pruning of
the branches by the Father, will cause the disciples to bear even more
fruit. (Jn 15:2) Paradoxically, then, the paschal mystery will make the
absent Jesus mysteriously but really and intimately present in His dis-
ciples through the mutual indwelling which the divine Breath will ef-
In His priestly prayer, Jesus acknowledges each of His disciples as a
personal gift to Him from the Father. They have put their faith in Him
and accepted Him and His testimony to the Father. (Jn 17:6-8) Jesus
prays that after His death and glorification the Father will keep the dis-
ciples true to Himself by their abiding in the words which Jesus has spo-
ken to them. (Jn 15:6-8, 14, 18:25-26) Given a Johannine interpretation
of mutual indwelling, for the disciples to abide in Jesus’ words, the words
must abide in them. Fidelity to Jesus’ words will “consecrate them in
truth” by dedicating the disciples to God through their possession of di-
vine truth. (Jn 17:17-19)
Jesus does not pray that the disciples leave the world. Instead, He prays
that, in the midst of the world’s wickedness and hostility, the disciples

28. Cf. Chr. Dietzfelbinger, “Die grösseren Werke, (Joh 14.12f),” New Testament Studies,
35(1989), pp. 27-47.
29. Cf. NJBC, 61:188-198; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, 658-738; Hänchen, Commen-
tary on John, II, pp. 129-146; M.-E. Boismard, “L’évolution du thème eschatologique
dans les traditions johanniques,” Revue Biblique, 68(1961), pp. 518-523; Richard
Kugelman, C.P., “The Gospel for Pentecost,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 6(1944), pp.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 179

will not yield to the temptations of the Satan. (Jn 15:14-5) Jesus also
prays for the perfect union of His disciples with one another, from gen-
eration to generation. That loving union among them will make mani-
fest the indwelling of Father and Son in them. It will also manifest the
risen Christ’s love for His disciples. (Jn 17:21-3) By implication, those
pseudo-disciples who break Christian communion belong, not to Christ,
but to the Evil One. Finally, Jesus prays that the disciples’ present share in
divine glory through the indwelling of the Breath will one day culminate
in risen glory with Him in heaven.30 (Jn 18:24; cf. 14:1-4)

The Disciples in the Passion

Judas appears in the passion only at Jesus’ arrest; but the reader already
knows that he will come to no good end. (Jn 17:12) In the arrest, Judas,
as we have seen, personifies Satan, who has already taken possession of
the unfortunate disciple. (Jn 13:27) Paradoxically, then, through his very
participation in the arrest, Judas helps reveal Jesus as the last Adam who
conquers the prince of this world by His faithful obedience to the Father.
(Jn 17:1-3, 5; cf. 14:29-31)
As we have seen, when Peter cuts off Malchus’s ear Jesus rebukes him
for his violence. Instead of resisting violently, Jesus obediently accepts the
cup of suffering which the Father has given Him to drink. (Jn 18:10-1)
Peter and “another disciple” follow the arrested Jesus to the house of
Annas. (Jn 18:15) In all likelihood, the reader should recognize in the
other disciple the Beloved Disciple whom the evangelist habitually asso-
ciates with Peter. (Jn 13:23-24, 20:2-9, 21:7) The Beloved Disciple’s pres-
ence at the foot of Jesus’ cross also suggests that he followed Jesus through-
out His passion. The fidelity of the Beloved Disciple in following Jesus
even to the end implicitly contrasts with the infidelity of Peter, who in
fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction will soon deny His master three times. (Jn
The fourth evangelist tells the story of Jesus’ interrogation by Annas
with an irony which highlights Peter’s infidelity. The Beloved Disciple
knows the high priest personally and gets Peter admitted into the court-
30. Cf. NJBC, 61: 199-205; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 738-782; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 147-160; Mark L. Appold, The Oneness Motif in the Fourth
Gospel: Motif Analysis and Exegetical Probe in the Theology of John (Freiburg: Mohr,
1976); Jean Delorme, “Sacerdoce du Christ et ministère (à propos de Jean 17):
Semantique et theology biblique,” Recherches de Science Religieuse, 62(1974), pp.
199-219; Clinton D. Morrison, “Mission and Ethic: An Interpretation of John 17,”
Interpretation, 19(1965), pp. 259- 273; Jean Cadier, “The Unity of the Church: An
Exposition of John 17,” translated by Collette Preis, Interpretation, 11(1957), pp.
166-176; Jean Giblet, “Sanctifie-les dans la verité,: Bible et Vie Chrétienne, 19(1957),
pp. 58-73; Rudolf Schnackenburg, “Strukturanalyse von Joh 17,” Biblische Zeitschrift,
17(1973), pp. 67-78, 196-202; Boris Bobrinsckoy, “Die theologischen Grundlagen
des gemeinsamen Gebetes für die Einheit,” Una Sancta, 22(1967), pp. 25-37.
180 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

yard. As the maid admits him, Peter denies for the first time that he
belongs to the number of the disciples. (Jn 18:16-7) Peter joins those
warming themselves in the courtyard around a charcoal fire. A similar
fire will burn when, after the resurrection, Peter atones for his triple de-
nial by a triple avowal of love. (Jn 21:9)
In the meantime, the high priest questions Jesus about His teaching
and disciples. Jesus assures the high priests that His disciples will testify
to everything which He has said publicly if only the high priest will ques-
tion them. (Jn 18:19-21) At the very moment when Jesus is placing full
confidence in His disciples’ courageous willingness to testify on His be-
half, Peter with narrative irony publicly repudiates Jesus for the third
consecutive time.31 (Jn 18:25-27)
As we have seen, the fourth evangelist, like the synoptic writers, testi-
fies to the fact that Joseph of Aramathea secured Jesus’ body from Pilate
and buried it. (Jn 19:38; Mk 15:42-43; Mt 27:57; Lk 23:50) The fourth
evangelist, however, embellishes the story of Jesus’ burial with a number
of symbolic details.
In the fourth gospel, Nicodemus joins Joseph of Aramathea. His pres-
ence transforms him into a symbol of the secret Jewish Christian whose
dedication to doing the truth finally forces him to come out into the
light and confess Jesus openly. (Jn 19:39; cf. 3:21) Nicodemus began to
abandon the darkness of night for the public proclamation of Jesus when
he rebuked the Sanhedrin for passing judgment on Jesus without trying
Him. (Jn 7:50-52)
Now, at the height of the conflict between the light and darkness,
Nicodemus publicly testifies to his faith in Jesus by a symbolic gesture.
Nicodemus shows up with the equivalent of seventy-five pounds of myrrh
and aloes for use in Jesus’ burial. (Jn 19:39) Some commentators on John
have wondered, whether the huge amount results from a scribal error;
but it probably exemplifies the evangelist’s penchant for using exagger-
ated numbers in order to symbolize messianic plentitude. If so, then, the
abundance of myrrh and aloes parallels the abundance of the messianic
wine which Jesus provided at Cana and the abundant catch of fish which
will occur after His resurrection. (Jn 2:6, 21:11) One can see in the huge

31. Cf. NJBC, 61:209-211; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 819-842; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 160-174; Robert Tomson Fortna, “Jesus and Peter in the
High Priest’s House: A Test Case for the Question of the Relation between Mark’s and
John’s Gospels,” New Testament Studies, 24(1977-1978), pp. 371-383; Maurice
Goguel, “Did Peter Deny his Lord? A Conjecture,” Harvard Theological Review,
25(1932), pp. 1-28; Eta Linnemann, “Die Verleugnung des Petrus” Zeitschrift für
Theologie und Kirche, 63(1966), pp. 1-32; Günther Klein, “Die Verleugnung des
Petrus,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche, 58(1961), pp. 285- 328; Charles Masson,
“Le reniement de Pierre: Quelques aspects de la formation d’une tradition,” Revue
d’Histoire et de Philosophie Religieuse, 37(1957), pp. 24-35.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 181

catch of fish of all kinds a foreshadowing of the large numbers of people,

both Jew and Gentile, who will respond to the apostles’ testimony to the
risen Christ. The huge outlay of spices has its own symbolism. It ensures
that the crucified Jesus receives a royal burial. Even in death, Jesus enjoys
royal, messianic homage.
Joseph and Nicodemus bury Jesus in a garden. (Jn 19:41-42) Jesus’
burial in the garden serves as a biblical inclusion and recalls His arrest in
a garden. As we have seen, the garden imagery implicitly designates Jesus
as the last Adam. (Jn 18:1-12) The two men also lay Jesus in a new tomb,
where no other body had ever rested. (Jn 19:41) When linked to the
garden imagery, the newness of the tomb suggests the newness of the
creation which the risen Christ will begin.32

The Disciples “See” the Risen Jesus

Mary Magdalene first discovers the empty tomb and informs Peter and
the Beloved Disciple. They run to see what Mary has discovered. The
Beloved Disciple outraces Peter but waits deferentially for Peter to arrive
before entering the tomb. The Beloved Disciple looks into the tomb,
however, and spots the linens used to wrap Jesus. When the Beloved Dis-
ciple sees the linen cloth which had been bound around Jesus’ head lying
there, he “sees” the risen Christ with resurrection faith. (Jn 20:1-8) As we
have seen, his ability to believe without actually encountering the risen
Jesus transforms him into the type of every Christian who believes with-
out seeing the risen Jesus face to face. (Jn 20:29) Once again, the Beloved
Disciples shows Peter up. Peter sees the empty tomb but can make noth-
ing of it. He will have to encounter the risen Christ before he can see in
the same way as the Beloved Disciple.33 (Jn 20:19-23)
After Peter and the Beloved Disciple depart from the tomb, Mary
Magdalene remains outside the entrance weeping. She looks into the burial
chamber and sees two angles, one at the head of the tomb and one at the

32. Cf. NJBC, 61: 226-228; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 932-962; The Death of the
Messiah, II, pp. 1258-1278; Hänchen, Commentary on John, II, p. 196; J. Spencer
Kennard, “The Burial of Jesus,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 74(1955), pp. 227-238;
Jeffrey L. Staley, “Subversive Narrator/Victimized Reader: A Reader Response Assess-
ment of a Text Critical Problem, John 18:12-24,” Journal for the Study of the New
Testament, 51(1993), pp. 79-98; Dennis D. Sylva, “Nicodemus and His Spices (John
19.39),” New Testament Studies, 34(1988), pp. 148-151; Jean-Marie Auwers, “La nuit
de Nicodème (Jean 3.2; 19.39) ou l’ombre du langage,” Revue Biblique, 97(1990), pp.
481-503; Jouette M. Bassett, “Mixed Signals: Nicodemus in the Fourth Gospel,”
Journal of Biblical Literature, 108(1989), pp. 635-646.
33. Cf. William E. Reiser, S.J., “The Case of the Tidy Tomb: The Place of Napkins of
John 11:44 and 20:7,” Heythrop Journal, 14(1973), pp. 47-57; Basil Osborne, “A
Folded Napkin in an Empty Tomb: John 11:44 and 20:7 Again,” Heythrop Journal,
14(1973), pp. 437-440; Robert Mahoney, Two Disciples at the Tomb: The Background
and Message of John 20. 10 (Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1974).
182 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

foot. (Jn 20:11-12) The positioning of the angels has symbolic meaning.
Two angels also flanked the mercy seat of the altar in the Jerusalem temple.
The mercy seat symbolized the presence of Yahweh. During the rite of
atonement the chief priest sprinkled it with blood as a sign of the re-
stored bond of life uniting God and His people. Now Jesus’ tomb has
become the new mercy seat. The temple has ceased to function as the
center of worship, just as Jesus had promised the Samaritan woman at the
well.34 (Jn 4:21-22; Ex 37:9; Lev 16:1-16)
Mary Magdalene learns to “see” Jesus differently from the other dis-
ciples. When the angels ask Mary why she is weeping, she replies that she
grieves the theft of Jesus’ body. Mary turns and sees the risen Jesus in the
garden, but at first she cannot “see” Him in faith because of her preoccu-
pation with His cadaver. She will truly “see” Jesus when she learns that
resurrection involves the transformation of His physical body in a way
which changes radically Mary’s former relationship to Him. (Jn 20:11-15)
Mary recognizes Jesus in His risen glory when He pronounces her name.
(Jn 20:16) This touching scene reveals Mary as one of the true disciples
of Jesus, one of His sheep who hears the good shepherd’s voice and, on
hearing it, recognizes Him. (Jn 10:3, 14, 16)
The risen Christ tells Mary not to cling to Him. (Jn 20:17) The mild
rebuke suggests that Mary has either grasped at Jesus’ body or is trying to
do so. Jesus warns Mary not to preoccupy herself with His body. Nor
must she try to relate to Him as she had prior to the resurrection. His
transformation in glory requires a new kind of relationship in faith.35
Jesus then commissions Magdalene as the apostle to the apostles:

Do not cling to Me; for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my
brethren and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.” (Jn 20:17)

Jesus’ glorification in the resurrection has already begun His ascent to the
Father. That suggests that the fourth evangelist may have imagined each
resurrection appearance as a descent from heaven and a return to the
The phrase “My Father and your Father, My God and your God” also
has interesting theological connotations; for it suggests that Jesus’ rela-
tionship to the Father, while analogous to the disciples’ relationship, nev-
ertheless differs from it profoundly. As Son of God Jesus shares in the
Father’s very being and name, while He makes His disciples into the chil-
34. Cf. Philippe Simenel, “Les 2 anges de Jean 20/11-12,” Études Théologiques et
Religieuses, 67(1992), pp. 71-76.
35. Cf. Carmen Bernabe, “Transfondo derasico de Jn 20,” Estudios Biblicos, 49(1991), pp.
209-228; Edouard Delebecque, “Retour sur Jean XX, 9,” Revue Biblique, 96(1989),
pp. 81-94.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 183

dren of God by an act of gratuitous grace, as the prologue to John’s gospel

teaches. (Jn 1:14-8) The risen Jesus therefore refers analogously to the
disciples as “brethren.” The paschal mystery transforms them into adopted
children of God in Jesus’ image. (Cf. Jn 1:12)
Mary becomes the apostle to the apostles when she testifies to them: “I
have seen the Lord.” (Jn 20:18) She formulates her testimony in a way
which suggests an official apostolic witness to the risen Christ. Moreover,
Mary announces her encounter with the risen Christ to the apostles
(aggellousa) as a formally commissioned messenger. In other words, the
fourth evangelist seems to have regarded Mary as one of the apostolic
witnesses to Jesus.36
The Beloved Disciple believed in the risen Christ without seeing Him.
Mary Magdalene had to learn to see the risen Christ by recognizing that
resurrection transforms the disciples’ former relationship to Jesus. On
the evening of Easter day, ten apostles (the Eleven minus Thomas) come
to resurrection faith by confronting the risen Jesus face to face. They have
locked themselves indoors out of fear of “the Jews,” but suddenly the
risen Christ stands in their midst.
The person who confronts them retains the wounds of His crucifixion.
That fact not only proves His identity but also reveals the passion and the
resurrection as a single saving event. (Jn 20:19)
Jesus then confers on the Ten the gift of abiding eschatological peace
which He had promised His disciples in His last discourse. The gift, as
we have seen, takes the form of the sin-forgiving Breath. Her descent
upon the Ten plus Jesus’ formal commissioning transforms them into
official witnesses to His resurrection.37 (Jn 20:19-23, cf. 14:27-28)
The appearance of the risen Christ to Thomas exemplifies yet another
way in which a disciple can come to the vision of faith. In the case of
Mary Magdalene misunderstanding has blocked vision. In the case of

36. Cf. NJBC, 61: 229-233; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 979-1017; Edward Lynn
Bode, The First Easter Morning (Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1970), pp. 72-86;
Paul S. Minear, “We don’t know where....John 20,2,” Interpretation, 30(1976), pp.
125-139; A. Feuillet, “L’apparition du Christ à Marie-Madeleine (Jean 20, 11-18):
Comparaison avec l’apparition aux disciples d’Emmaeus (Luc 24, 13-35), Esprit et Vie,
88(1970), pp. 193-204, 209- 223; Bruno Violet, “Ein Versuch zu Joh 20.17,”
Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 24(1925), pp. 78-80; Ingrid Rosa
Kitzberger, “Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala: Two Female Characters in the
Johannine Passion Narrative: A Feminist Narrative-Critical Reader-Response,” New
Testament Studies, 41(1995), pp. 564-586; Gerald O’Collins, S.J. and Daniel Kendall,
S.J., “Mary Magdalene as a Major Witness to Jesus’ Resurrection,” Theological Studies,
48(1987), pp. 631-646.
37. Cf. A. Feuillet, “La communication de l’Esprit Saint aus apôtres (Jn XX, 19-23) et le
ministère sacerdotale de la réconciliation des hommes avec Dieu,” Esprit et Vie,
82(1977), pp. 2- 7.
184 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Thomas, stubborn unbelief at first prevents him from seeing as the Be-
loved Disciple had.
Thomas commits the sin of testing God, of personally setting the con-
ditions for believing in the deity. Absent at the appearance to the Ten,
Thomas refuses to believe that they have seen the Lord until he probes
the nail wounds in Jesus’ hands with his own finger and puts his own
hand into the wound in Jesus’ side. (Jn 20:24-25)
A week later, the risen Christ compassionately meets doubting Thomas’s
conditions and calls him to faith. Thomas responds with the confession:
“My Lord and my God.” (Jn 20:27-28) The confession brings us back to
the prologue of the gospel, which had informed us that the Word who
exists eternally with God is Himself “God.” (Jn 1:1) Thomas’s confession
also provides a clear narrative affirmation that those who saw the risen
Christ experienced the vision as a theophany, as an encounter with God.
The gospel closes with Jesus’ blessing on all those who, like the Beloved
Disciple, will believe in Him without seeing Him face to face. The words
of Jesus play upon the notions of seeing and believing. He tells Thomas:
“Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who
have not seen and yet believed.” (Jn 20:29) Face to face encounter has
brought Thomas to the vision of faith; but those who, like the Beloved
Disciple, believe without seeing the risen Christ nevertheless see Him
with the eyes of faith through practical assimilation to Him in the power
of His Breath.38
Although the disciples come to the vision of faith differently, in the
end they all nevertheless “see.” The appearance narratives which close
John’s gospel disclose therefore the deeper meaning in Jesus’ invitation to
the disciples at the beginning of John’s gospel: “Come and see.” (Jn 1:39)
The narrative order of the fourth gospel also suggests a pattern in the
disciple’s graced progress in John. Discipleship begins with a call from
38. Cf. NJBC, 61:234-235; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 1018-1052; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 203-217; Reginald Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrec-
tion Narratives (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1971); A. Feuillet, “Les christophanies
paschales du quatrième évangile sont-ils des signes?” Nouvelle Revue Théologique,
97(1975), pp. 577-592; M. McNamara, M.S.C., “The Ascension and Exaltation of
Christ in the Fourth Gospel,” Scripture, 19(1967), pp. 65-73; Lihane Lupont,
Christopher Lash, and Georges Levesque, “Recherche sur la structure de Jean 20,”
Biblica, 54(1973), pp. 482-498; J.R. Mantey, “The Mistranslation of the Perfect Tense
in John 20.23, Mt 16.19, and Mt 18.18,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 58(1939), pp.
243-249; Léon Vaganay, “La finale du quatrième évangile,” Revue Biblique, 45(1936),
pp. 512-528; Thomas Matus, O.S.B., “First and Last Encounter,” Bible Today,
42(1969), pp. 2893-2897; Thomas Suriano, “Doubting Thomas: An Invitation to
Belief,” Bible Today, 53(1971), pp. 309-315; Felix Perles, “Noch einmal Mt 8.22, Lk
9.60, sowie Joh 20.17,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 25(1926),
pp. 286-287; Gert Hartmann, “Die Vorlage des Osterberichte in Joh 20,”Zeitschrift für
die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 55(1964), pp. 197-220; Barnabas Lindars, “The
Composition of John XX,” New Testament Studies, 7(1960-1961), pp. 142-147.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 185

Jesus. (Jn 1:35-51) Call culminates in incorporation into the kingdom

through baptism in water and the Holy Breath. (Jn 3:3) That incorpora-
tion empowers one to worship God eucharistically in Breath and truth.
(Jn 4:23, 6:1-59) The conflict between light and darkness draws the dis-
ciples into the passion of Jesus. (Jn 7:1-9:42) The passion, however, cul-
minates in vision, in seeing God.39 (Jn 20:1-29)
The fourth gospel in its original form ended with Jn 20:30-31. In these
concluding verses, the evangelist acknowledges that he has not recorded
everything Jesus did. What he has written, however, has a single purpose:
“that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that
believing you may have life in his name.”40 Chapter 21, however, narrates
a third apparition of the risen Christ to several disciples. It functions as
an appendix to the gospel.
As we have seen, the fourth evangelist links the figure of Peter to the
Beloved Disciple, but to Peter’s disadvantage. The appendix to the gospel
rehabilitates the figure of Peter and asserts his pastoral responsibilities in
the apostolic Church.
The appendix situates the third apparition on the shores of the Sea of
Galilee. Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, and John decide at Peter’s sug-
gestion to go fishing. As in the call of Peter in the gospel of Luke, they
fish all night without catching anything. (Jn 21:1-3; Lk 5:1-11) Luke’s
narrative, of course, happens during Jesus’ ministry, while the story in the
appendix happens after the resurrection. As we have seen, however, in
other respects, it resembles analogously the Lukan narrative.
The risen Christ appears on the shore at daybreak, with the dawning of
the light. Jesus addresses the disciples familiarly as “(paidia).” One could
translate “paidia” as slang, as roughly the equivalent of “lads.” Since, how-
ever, in the Johannine letters the same term designates believers as “chil-
dren” of the Church, the term probably points symbolically to the dis-
ciples as believers.41 (1 Jn 2:14, 18; 2 Jn 1-2)
39. Cf. Scott Gambrill Sinclair, The Road and the Truth: The Editing of John’s Gospel
(Berkeley, CA: Bibal Press, 1994); Raymond F. Collins, “Characters Proclaim the
Good News,” Chicago Studies, 37(1992), pp. 47-57.
40. Cf. L. Cardellino, “Testimoni che Gesu il Cristo (Gv 20,31) affinche tutti credano
di’autou,” Rivista Biblica, 45(1997), pp. 79-85.
41. The first Johannine letter calls the members of the orthodox community “children
(teknia, paidia),” “fathers (pateres),” and “young people (neaniskoi).” (1 Jn 2:12-14)
Some commentators interpret these terms as referring to three distinct groups in the
Johannine community. It probably makes sense, however, to take the first term
“children” as a designation of the community as a whole, whom the author of the
Johannine letters regards as the children of the “elect Lady,” the Church. (2 Jn 1; cf.
1 Jn 5:21) In that case, “fathers” and “young people” would designate two sub-groups
within the community. In the epistles the author uses “paidia,” “teknoi,” and “teknia”
interchangeably. (Cf. 1 Jn 2:12, 14, 18; 3:1-2; 5:21; 2 Jn 1-2)
If one accepts this interpretation of the letter’s terms of address, then in the mind of
its author the members of the Johannine community as a whole derive their identity
186 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Jesus asks the disciples if they have caught anything. When they say
that they have caught nothing, he tells them to cast on the other side of
the boat. (In Luke’s account of the miraculous catch, they launch the
boats a second time at Jesus’ behest.) The disciples cast on the left and
pull in a huge quantity of fish. (Jn 21:4-6)
At this point John’s narrative takes a different turn from Luke’s. The
Beloved Disciple, always more perceptive than Peter, recognizes the risen
Lord and informs Peter of that fact. Peter puts on his outer garment,
apparently in order to prepare himself to greet Jesus with greater propri-
ety, jumps into the water, and makes his way to the shore which lies
about a hundred yards away. (Jn 21:7-8)
The other disciples eventually recognize the risen Lord even though
His glorification has changed Him. (Jn 21:12-13) Jesus’ changed appear-
ance suggests both the reality of the change which resurrection makes in
Him and the changed character of the disciples’ relationship to Him.
On the shore the disciples find Jesus with a charcoal fire which recalls
the charcoal fire at which Peter stood when he denied Jesus. (Jn 21:9; cf.
18:18) They also find bread and two fish roasting on the fire. Jesus in-
vites them to breakfast and tells them to bring some fish from the enor-

from two sources: 1) They (in contrast to the dissidents) acknowledge that their sins
have been forgiven in the name of Jesus. (1 Jn 2:12) The Johannine tradition, as we have
seen, links the forgiveness of sins with the gift of the divine Breath. (Jn 20:22-3) It also
links the gift of the Breath with the rebirth effected by Christian baptism. (Jn 3:5) 2)
The members of the Johannine community (in contrast to the dissidents) know the
Father. (1 Jn 2:14) Moreover, as we have seen in reflecting on the gospel of John, one
cannot know the Father without acknowledging His incarnate Son as the one who
reveals the creator God as Father.
The term “fathers” probably refers to the “elders” in faith who led the Johannine
community. (3 Jn 1) In that case, the author of the first letter characterizes authentic
Christian leadership as inspired by faith in “the One from the beginning (ton ap’
arches).” (1 Jn 2:13-4) The phrase “the One from the beginning” almost certainly refers
to the eternal Son of God who took flesh. Faith in the Son’s eternity, however, implies
both His co-existence with the Father and, therefore, the Father’s existence “from the
beginning” as well. Hence, the phrase, “the One from the beginning” probably
designates both Father and Son. In other words, authentic Church leadership must
conform to the norm of orthodoxy and confess the eternal co-existence of Son and
Father. (Cf. 1 Jn 2:22)
“Young people” would then designate the other members of the community who are
making progress in faith and love. The author of the letter characterizes them as
endowed with a strength which enables them to triumph over “the Evil One,” i.e., over
Satan and his minions. (1 Jn 2:13-4) In other words, they live in communion with
authentic Church leaders and make progress in the faith by resisting the Antichrist,
whom the author of the first letter will soon identify with the dissidents. (1 Jn 2:18-20)
Cf. NJBC, 62: 20-23; Brown, Epistles, pp. 329-377; Klauck, op. cit., I, pp. 130-164;
Duane F. Watson, “1 John 2.12-14 as Distributio, Conduplicatio, and Expolitio,”
Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 35(1989), pp. 97-110.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 187

mous catch they have made, one hundred and fifty three fish in all. (Jn
As we have seen the size of the catch could symbolize the fruitful
apostolate of the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection; but some scholars who
invoke rabbinic gemetria 42 in order to interpret the number 153 suggest
that the number computes to signify “the church of love.” Some see in
the meal which Jesus shares with the disciples a foreshadowing of the
Christian eucharistic love feast. Others invoke gemetria to have the num-
ber read “the children of God.” In this reading the number alludes to the
rich harvest which will result from the apostolic preaching and which the
abundant catch of fish symbolizes. Still others scholars discover in the
number 153 a gemetriacal allusion to the Greek letters iota, chi, and
theta. In that case the number symbolizes very cryptically indeed Jesus
Christ God, since the letter iota starts the name Jesus in Greek, chi starts
Christ, and theta starts the Greek word for God (Theos). The fact that the
nets do not tear despite the enormous number of fish caught underscores
the extraordinary character of the catch.43 (Jn 21:11)
In a gesture which recalls the multiplication of the loaves and fishes,
Jesus breaks the bread and gives it to the disciples. (Jn 21:13; 6:1-15) The
association of that miracle with the eucharist endows the present meal
with eucharistic symbolism. That symbolism has ecclesial connotations
and re-enforces a symbolic reading of the term “paidia.”
After breakfast Jesus asks Peter three times whether or not he, Peter,
loves Him. The evangelist uses two different verbs for love: agapan and
philein. Some exegetes argue that the two verbs mean fundamentally the
same thing: “to love.” Others argue etymologically and find different con-
notations in each verb. They trace “agapan” to “agapê,” the Greek word
for charity, the highest form of love. They trace “philein” to “philia,” or
friendship. They then argue that friendship constitutes a noble but lesser
love by comparison with charity.
If one accepts this distinction of meaning, in His first two questions to
Peter, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him with the love of charity: “agapas
me.” Peter replies that he loves Jesus with the love of friendship: “philô
se.” (Jn 21:15-16) In such a reading of the two verbs, Peter at first pro-
tests a more modest love than the one Jesus requires of him.

42. Gemetria signifies the rabbinic equivalent of ancient numerology. Like its pagan
counterpart it assigned numerical values to the letters of the alphabet.
43. This bewildering variety of interpretations leaves one somewhat skeptical of the
accuracy of readings based in gemetria. Cf. Antonio Pitta, “Ichthys ed opsarion in Gv
21,1-14: semplice variazone lessicale o differenza con valore simbolico,” Biblica,
71(1990), pp. 348-364; Paul Trudinger, “The 153 Fishes: A Response and a Further
Suggestion (John 21:11),” Expository Times, 102(1990), pp. 11-12; Kenneth Cardwell,
F.S.C., “The Fish on the Fire: Jn 21:9,” Expository Times, 102(1990), pp. 12-14; O.T.
Owen, “One Hundred and Fifty Three Fishes,” Expository Times, 100(1988), pp. 52-54.
188 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

In the third question and answer, however, the verbs switch. Jesus uses
“philein,” while Peter uses “agapan.” In other words, Jesus seems to call
into question whether Peter loves Him even with the love of friendship.
The doubt saddens Peter and forces him to up the ante by protesting that
he loves Jesus with the highest form of love, with the love of charity. (Jn
The first time Jesus asks: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more
than these?” (Jn 21:15) Exegetes debate to what or to whom the phrase
“than these” refers. Does it designate Peter’s possessions: his boat and
nets? Does it designate the other disciples? If the latter, then the question
makes an ironic reference to Peter’s protestation of special devotion to
Jesus at the last supper. (Jn 13:37) In that case, Peter’s claim to offer Jesus
friendship only would reveal a chastened disciple. The repentant Peter
makes no boast of special devotion. His weakness has taught him better.
After each protestation of love on Peter’s part, Jesus gives Peter a com-
mission. First, Jesus says “Feed my lambs (boske ta arnia mou).” (Jn 21:15)
The second time He says, “Tend my sheep (poimaine ta probata mou) (Jn
21:16) The third time He says, “Feed my sheep (boske ta probata mou).”
(Jn 21:17) Despite the difference in the Greek words used to designate
Peter’s flock, the three commands probably mean fundamentally the same
thing. Jesus is handing over to Peter the responsibility of shepherding His
Church in the image of Jesus, the good shepherd, who gives His life for
His sheep; but the Johannine text does not justify attributing to Peter any
special juridical power over Jesus’ flock. (Jn 10:11-13) Presumably, the
sheep to which Jesus alludes include those “other sheep” whom He also
desires to include in His flock. (Jn 10: 16) As Jesus’ encounter with some
“Greeks” in Jerusalem has suggested, those “others” include Gentile Chris-
tians. (Jn 12:20-36) The image of fishing which opens the story could
connote apostolic outreach; the image of pastoring which closes it could
connote Church building.
The fact that Jesus asks Peter three times whether he loves Him sad-
dens Peter. (Jn 21:17) The number of times seems to provide the chief
motive for Peter’s hurt, since it recalls his triple denial of Jesus. If, how-
ever, one accepts the difference in meaning between agapan and philein,
then Peter would also feel hurt that Jesus seems to question even his friend-
ship. Jesus, however, is giving Peter the opportunity to undo his three
denials with a triple protestation of love.
Jesus underscores the fact that Peter, as a true shepherd, must in imita-
tion of Jesus Himself lay down his life for his sheep. (Jn 10:11-3) Jesus
makes this point by prophesying Peter’s martyrdom after the third com-
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 189
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and
walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your
hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to
go. (Jn 21:18)

The evangelist explains that Jesus is cryptically foretelling Peter’s death,

possibly by crucifixion. (Jn 21:19)
Jesus then charges Peter, “Follow Me.” (Jn 21:19) It would seem that
Jesus wishes to draw Peter aside; but the command also has deeper pro-
phetic meaning. In exercising pastoral leadership, Peter must imitate Jesus
and walk the way both of discipleship and of martyrdom.
Peter then asks Jesus what will happen to the Beloved Disciple, who as
usual is accompanying Peter. Jesus replies: “If it is my will that he remain
till I come, what is that to you? Follow Me.” (Jn 21:22) The final redac-
tor adds this detail as a way of countering a rumor in his community that
Jesus said that the Beloved Disciple would live until the second coming.
The redactor insists that Jesus made no such prediction. (Jn 21:23)
The passage treats the Beloved Disciple as an historical individual rather
than as a type of all believers. The gospel closes by naming the Beloved
Disciple as its author and by protesting that, if anyone attempted to write
all that Jesus did, the world could not contain all the books. (Jn 21:24-25)
The rehabilitation of Peter in the appendix makes it clear that the Be-
loved Disciple claims no superiority to the great apostle to whom Jesus
entrusted pastoral responsibilities and who followed Jesus even to mar-
tyrdom. The triple commissioning of Peter bears an analogous resem-
blance to Jesus’ promise in Matthew that He would build His church on
the rock of Peter (Mt 16:18-19). In the fourth gospel, however, Jesus
confers no “keys” on Peter. In Matthew, the keys, as we have seen, make
Peter into the chief rabbi in the new Israel. The Johannine Peter func-
tions more as a shepherd who proves his pastoral care by dying for his
44. Cf. NJBC, 61: 237-244; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 1066-1132; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 218-238; Savas Agourdes, “The Purpose of John 21” in
Studies in the History and Text of the New Testament in Honor of Kenneth Willis Clark,
Ph.D. (Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press, 1967), pp. 127-132; J.B. Bauer,
“‘Oves meae’ quaenam sunt?” Verbum Domini, 32(1954), pp. 321-324; Bishop
Cassien, “John XXI,” New Testament Studies, 3(1956-1957), pp. 132-136; B.W.
Bacon, “The Motivation of John 21. 15- 25,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 50(1931),
pp. 71-80; Peter R. Ackroyd, “The 153 Fishes in John XXI. 11—A Further Note,”
Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 10(1959), p. 94; Robert S. Grant, “‘One Hundred
Fifty-Three Large Fish’ (John 21:11),” Harvard Theological Review, 42(1949), pp.
273-275; Lionel S.K. Ford, “St. John xxi. 23-25,” Theology, 20(1930), p. 229; Henry
Kruse S.J., “Magni Pisces Centum Quinquaginta Tres,” Verbum Domini, 38(1960),
pp. 129-148; M.-E. Boismard, O.P., “Le chapitre XXI de saint Jean: Essai critique
litteraire,” Revue Biblique, 54(1947), pp. 473-501; Otto Glombitza, “Petrus—der
Freund Jesu,” Novum Testamentum, 6(1963), pp. 277-285; Mathias Rissi, “Voll
190 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology
The Analogy of Christological Knowing
The disciples play an important part in the fourth gospel; but they func-
tion there very differently from the disciples of the synoptic tradition. In
the synoptic gospels, Jesus spends a significant part of His public minis-
try catechizing the disciples in the moral demands of life in the kingdom.
The Johannine Jesus remains virtually silent about the kingdom during
His public ministry. Moreover, the Beloved Disciple locates most of Jesus’
instructions to the disciples in the last discourse. Had no other gospel but
the fourth survived, one would have the impression that Jesus spent most
of His public ministry proclaiming His divinity to unbelieving Jews and
that He turned to the disciples almost as an afterthought prior to His
own death.
Theological concerns explain the historical implausibility with which
the Beloved Disciple handles the disciples. During Jesus’ ministry they
chiefly witness the signs He performs. They also hear the discourses which
Jesus addresses to the confused and faithless crowds. As we shall see in
greater detail in the next chapter, Jesus’ discourses in John develop the
meaning of the signs, which in turn derive their ultimate meaning from
the paschal mystery. In other words, the Beloved Disciple focuses on the
paschal mystery because he regards it as the key to understanding Jesus’
person. That focus also explains why the evangelist locates virtually all
His instructions to the disciples in the Book of Glory. Discipleship roots
itself in the paschal mystery and has an inherently eschatological charac-
In Johannine theology, the paschal mystery also provides the correct
lens for understanding the practical demands of disicpleship. The Be-

grosser Fische, hunderteinundfünfizig, Joh 21,1-14,” Theologische Zeitschrift, 35(1979),

pp.73-89; Joseph A. Romeo, “Gematria and John 21:11—The Children of God,”
Journal of Biblical Literature, 97(1978), pp. 263-264; Alan Shaw, “The Breakfast on
the Shore and the Mary Magdelene Encounter as Eucharistic Narratives,” Journal of
Theological Studies, 25(1974), pp. 12-26; John F.X. Sheean, S.J., “Feed My Lambs,”
Scripture, 16(1964), pp. 21-27; Stephen S. Smalley, “The Sign of John xxi,” New
Testament Studies, 20(1973-1974), pp. 275-288; J.M. Thompson, “Is John XXI an
Appendix?” The Expositor, 8th ser., 10(1915), pp. 139-147; Alan Shaw, “Image and
Symbol in John 21,” Expository Times, 86(1975), p. 311; William J. Tobin, “The
Petrine Primacy: Evidence of the Gospels,” Lumen Vitae, 23(1968), pp. 27-70; Arthur
J. Droge, “The Status of Peter in the Fourth Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature,
109(1990), pp. 307-311; Timothy Wiarda, “John 21:1-23: Narrative Unity and Its
Implications,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 46(1992), pp. 53-71; W.
Schenk, “Interne Sturkturierungen im Schluss- Segment Johannes 21: Syggraphe +
Satyrikon/Epilogos,” New Testament Studies, 38(1992), pp. 507-530; Udo Schnelle,
“Johanneische Ekklesiologie,” New Testament Studies, 37(1991), pp. 37-50; Frans
Neirynck, “John 21,” New Testament Studies, 36(1990), pp. 321-336; J. Neville
Birdsall, “The Source of Catena Comments on Jn 21:25,” Novum Testamentum,
36(1994), pp. 271-279.
Chapter 4: Ambiguous Dramatic Linkages in John 191

loved Disciple boils down gospel living to three basic commands: believe
in the Father, Son, and Breath; serve one another in Jesus’ image; love
one another as Jesus has loved you. All three commands derive their mean-
ing directly from the paschal mystery. The passion, resurrection, and send-
ing of the Breath reveal the divinity of Jesus. Moreover, Jesus’ love in
dying for His friends exemplifies Christian service and love. The Beloved
Disciple summarizes all three commands in the omnibus command of
love, which incorporates orthodoxy into orthopraxis.
The last discourse develops all three commands at some length, and it
illustrates how they all coalesce into the love command. During the last
discourse Jesus instructs the disciples at length concerning His relation-
ship to the Father and the new relationship which the disciples will have
toward Him when the Breath of truth, the “other witness” arrives. Their
witness to Jesus will draw them into His passion and thus teach them
how to love and serve in the image of the Crucified.
In both Johannine and synoptic theology, faith, then, remains inher-
ently practical. The synoptics interpret the practical demands of faith by
recalling Jesus’ historical proclamation of the kingdom. The Beloved Dis-
ciple interprets the demands of faith in the light of the paschal mystery
which radicalizes faith, love, and service. The paschal mystery radicalizes
the gospel by demanding that one practice it even unto death.
The synoptics also recognize that the confession of Jesus may lead to
martyrdom. In the end, therefore, the synoptic and the Johannine tradi-
tions offer complementary rather than contradictory accounts of Christo-
logical knowing. In both traditions, one comes to know Jesus through
practical assimilation to Him in the power of His Breath. The synoptic
account of the practical demands of life in the kingdom do not contra-
dict the more abstract Johannine commandments of faith, love, and ser-
vice. Rather, those demands render the four Johannine commandments
morally specific.
This chapter has examined the ambiguous dramatic linkages in John’s
gospel. The chapter which follows ponders the special way in which the
Beloved Disciple develops his thematic and allusive linkages.
192 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Chapter 5
Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John
As we have already seen, in the course of describing Jesus’ relationship to
the other actors in His story, the fourth evangelist develops a variety of
doctrinal themes: Jesus’ pre-existence and equality with the Father, mu-
tual indwelling, the living water of the Breath, the role of the Breath as
the “other witness” to Jesus, etc. These doctrinal developments provide
important thematic linkages which tie together the story of Jesus.
This chapter examines three other sets of Johannine thematic linkages:
the signs which Jesus works, the discourses which comment on the signs,
Jesus’ last discourse to His disciples, and the theme of open messianism.
As we shall see, the Beloved Disciple makes his most characteristic use of
literary allusion by developing doctrinal themes incrementally across the
This chapter divides into four parts. Part one examines the “signs” which
Jesus works in John. In part one I shall argue that the signs unify John’s
gospel by deriving their ultimate significance from the paschal mystery.
Part two reflects on the narrative purpose of the Johannine discourses. In
part two, I shall argue that the Beloved Disciple weaves together the mes-
sage of the discourses by using allusion in order to develop important
doctrinal themes in his gospel. As we shall see, the fourth evangelist sub-
ordinates allusion to doctrinal development more systematically than the
synoptic writers. Part two deals simultaneously, therefore, with two kinds
of linkages: the thematic linkage of the discourses and the way in which
allusive linkages develop doctrinal themes across the discourses.1 Part three
contrasts the open messianism of the fourth gospel with Mark’s messianic
secret. Part four ponders the doctrinal challenge of Johannine Christo-

As we have seen, the narrative of the fourth gospel divides into the Book
of Signs and the Book of Glory. While all the evangelists endow the
miracles of Jesus with a symbolic significance derived from the paschal
mystery, the fourth evangelist develops the symbolic meaning of Jesus’
signs differently from the synoptics. John narrates fewer miracles than
Matthew, Mark, and Luke; but the ones which the Beloved Disciple nar-
rates all develop important doctrinal themes.

1. Cf. R.H. Strachan, “The Development of Thought within the Fourth Gospel,”
Expository Times, 34(1922-1923), pp. 228-232.
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 193
The Six Signs
In the fourth gospel, Jesus works six signs in all: 1) He transforms water
into wine at the wedding at Cana. (Jn 2:1-12) 2) He cures the royal
official’s son at Cana. (Jn 4:46-54) 3) On a sabbath He heals a cripple at
the pool of Bethsaida in Jerusalem. (Jn 5:1-14) 4) At Passover time, He
multiplies the loaves and fish and walks on the water. (Jn 6:16-24) As in
the synoptics, these two miracles cast light on one another and function
as a single, complex sign. 5) Between Tabernacles and Dedication, Jesus
cures the man born blind. (Jn 9:1-41) 6) Before His own death and res-
urrection, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. (Jn 11:1-44)
The signs (semeia) in John have an explicit revelatory purpose. They
motivate faith by revealing Jesus’ divine glory. John’s Jesus therefore works
miracles in order to evoke faith in the divinity of His person and in the
divine origin of His ministry. Moreover, in the fourth gospel only faith
allows one to recognize the revelatory significance of Jesus’ signs. Jesus’
enemies throughout the gospel miss the revelatory significance of His
miracles because their unbelief blinds them, keeps them from “seeing”
the deep significance of His mighty works. The synoptic Jesus, by com-
parison, makes somewhat more modest claims. The synoptic Jesus, as we
have seen, regards His miracles as evidence that the kingdom which He is
proclaiming has already arrived in a preliminary fashion in His person
and ministry.2
Three of the Johannine signs fulfill and replace important feasts of the
Jewish liturgical calendar. The cure at Bethsaida reveals Jesus as the one
who fulfills the Jewish sabbath by disclosing His divine, eschatological,
judicial authority. (Cf. Jn 5:15-8) The sign of the loaves and fishes and
the sign of walking on water together reveal Jesus as the one who fulfills
the meaning of the Passover. (Jn 6:4) The cure of the man born blind
fulfills the meaning of the feast of Tabernacles by revealing Jesus as the
light of the world. (Jn 7:2, 10:22) Moreover, extensive discourses of Jesus
accompany these signs and elucidate their meaning.
Three of the signs, however, have no elucidating discourses: the two
miracles at Cana and the raising of Lazarus. The book of glory spells out
the meaning of the raising of Lazarus, which reveals Jesus as “the resur-
rection and the life.” (Jn 11:25) In other words, everything described in
the Book of Glory, including the last discourse, clarifies the meaning of
the final sign which Jesus gives.

2. Cf. Robert T. Fortna, “Source and Redaction in the Fourth Gospel’s Portrayal of Jesus’
Signs,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 89(1970), pp. 151-166; Loren L. Johns and
Douglas B. Miller, “The Signs as Witnesses in the Fourth Gospel: Reexamining the
Evidence,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 56(1994), pp. 519-535; Allan Mayer, “Elijah
and Elisha in John’s Signs Source,” Expository Times, 99(1988), pp. 171-173.
194 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

Events also clarify the meaning of the first sign: the transformation of
water into wine at Cana. Because this miracle anticipates Jesus’ “hour”
when He will be lifted up in suffering and in glory, like the last sign, the
first also looks explicitly to the events of the passion and resurrection in
order to fulfill its meaning. (Jn 2:4) In addition, however, other events
clarify the meaning of this first sign. The final redactor brackets these
elucidating events between the two miracles performed at Cana. Let us
then begin to reflect on the signs and on the events and discourses which
interpret them.
As we have seen, the transformation of water into wine at Cana occurs
on the last day of the first week of Jesus’ ministry. We have also seen that
the hebdomadal imagery connotes the new creation which Jesus, as the
second Adam, begins. The first week of Jesus’ ministry, therefore, fore-
shadows and anticipates the week-long events which surround the pas-
sion and the week of resurrection apparitions which close the gospel in its
original form. These associations plus the reference to Jesus’ “hour” in
His conversation with Mary at Cana make it clear that one cannot inter-
pret the meaning of this first sign without taking into account the saving
significance of both Jesus’ passion, resurrection, and mission of the Breath.
The sign which begins Jesus’ ministry, therefore, already signifies its end-
ing and consummation in the Book of Glory.
Johannine irony holds the key to the significance of this first sign. Jesus,
Mary, and the disciples all attend a wedding at Cana in Galilee; but in the
course of the festivities the wine gives out, to the intense embarrassment
of the young couple and their families. Mary calls Jesus’ attention to the
lack of wine. (Jn 2: 1-3)
As we have seen, Jesus in calling Mary “Woman” anticipates her revela-
tion as the new Eve, when she accepts the Beloved Disciple as her son at
the foot of the cross. At Cana Jesus says: “Woman, what to me and to
you? My hour is not yet come.” (Jn 2:4) As we have also seen, one might
legitimately translate Jesus’ colloquial response as: “Woman, of what kind
of wine do you speak? My hour is not yet come.”
In effect, then, Jesus sees a double meaning in Mary’s compassionate
remark: “They have no wine.” The crisis facing the married couple (and
implicitly all Jews) does indeed lie in the fact that they have no wine.
They lack the messianic wine of Jesus’ blood which He will give them in
the eucharist. Moreover, that eucharistic wine foreshadows the wine of
messianic victory, the superabundance of messianic wine which Jesus will
supply in the final, eschatological banquet which celebrates His ultimate
victory over the powers of darkness.
Mary, as we have also seen, seems to sense that Jesus is expressing reser-
vations about the symbolic meaning of her request, without denying the
request outright. Hence, she tells the servants: “Do whatever He tells
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 195

you.” Jesus tells the servants to fill six stone jars with water. The jars
provide water for ritual washings of purification and contain twenty to
thirty gallons each. Jesus, then, proposes to provide miraculously from
one hundred and twenty to one hundred and eighty gallons of wine for a
modest provincial wedding celebration. The superabundance of the mi-
raculous wine foreshadows the abundance of the messianic wine which
He will provide eucharistically when His hour of suffering and glorifica-
tion arrives. It also foreshadows the final messianic banquet. (Jn 2:6-7)
Finally, the evangelist underscores the miracle’s special link to Jesus’ own
glorification. The Beloved Disciple does so by insisting at the end of the
story that in performing this miracle Jesus manifested His glory in a pre-
liminary fashion to His believing disciples. (Jn 2:11)
At Jesus’ command the servants take the miraculous wine to the stew-
ard for tasting. The story reaches its climax when the steward complains
to the bridegroom that they should have served this more excellent wine
first and kept the inferior wines they had actually served until the guests
had gotten tipsy. (Jn 2:8-11) Ironically, the steward complains to the
wrong bridegroom; for the miracle anticipates Jesus’ revelation in the
paschal mystery as the true bridegroom, as the divine bridegroom who
loves Israel and humanity as a whole with an unshakable love despite
their malice and sinfulness. As the story of the sign indicates, Jesus will
bring that revelation to completion when His “hour” of suffering and of
glorification comes.3
The redactor follows the first miracle at Cana with a series of incidents
which cast further light on its meaning. He links these incidents to the
first miracle at Cana by bracketing them between it and a second Cana
miracle: namely, the cure of the official’s son. The bracketed events, in-
cluding the second cure, illumine the first miracle at Cana by introduc-
ing important themes which develop its theological significance. These
themes and incidents, like the first sign itself, all derive their ultimate
significance from the paschal mystery. As a consequence, they also cast
light on one another. The themes all undergo theological development as
the Beloved Disciple’s narrative unfolds.
The final testimony of John the Baptizer to Jesus relates most obvi-
ously to the first sign because it explicitly presents Jesus as the true bride-
groom. John, the friend of the bridegroom, plays second fiddle to Jesus
3. Cf. NJBC, 61: 40-41; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 97-111; Hänchen, Commentary
on John, I, pp. 169-179; Jean-Paul Michaud, Le signe de Cana (Jean 2, 1-11) dans son
contexte johannique (Montréal: Les Éditions Montfontaines, 1963); W. Nicol, The
Semeia in the Fourth Gospel (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1972); A Feuillet, “La signification
fondamentale du premier miracle de Cana (Jo. II, 1-11) et le symbolisme johannique,”
Revue Thomiste, 65(1965), pp. 517-535; A. Geyser, “The Sêmeion at Cana of Galilee”
in Studies in John Presented to Professor J.N. Sevenster on the Occasion of His Seventieth
Birthday (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1920), pp. 12-21.
196 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

and rejoices to hear His voice. (Jn 3:22-30) The Baptizer’s final testi-
mony underscores the ironic truth which endows the sign at Cana with
its revelatory significance: namely, that Jesus is the divine bridegroom faithful
in His love despite the worst which human sinfulness can do to Him.
The cleansing of the temple which follows the first sign, focuses fur-
ther attention on the paschal mystery. Jesus’ initial cleansing of the temple
foreshadows His death and resurrection (Jn 2:17, 19-22). It also fore-
shadows His revelation in His “hour” as the living temple of God. (Jn
2:21) As we have seen, the sign of blood and water on Calvary foreshad-
ows Jesus’ full revelation as the temple of God from whom the living,
life-giving water of the divine Breath flows. (Jn 19:33-6) That water Jesus
bestows when, as risen Christ, He communicates the sin-forgiving Breath,
the living water, to the disciples on Easter. (Jn 7:39, 20:19-23)
The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman further ex-
plains how Jesus purifies the temple. Jesus foretells the coming of the day
when both Jew and Samaritan will worship, not in temples, but in Breath
and in truth. (Jn 4:19-25) Eucharistic worship will finally effect the prom-
ised purification. (Jn 6:63-4) Eucharistic worship also fulfills the gift of
messianic wine which the first sign at Cana promised. In other words,
eucharistic worship completes the purification of worship which the cleans-
ing of the temple begins.
The exchange with Nichodemus introduces two other themes whose
ultimate meaning the paschal mystery illumines: 1) rebirth in water and
the Breath and 2) judgment. Both themes also cast light on faith in Jesus
as the divine bridegroom. Let us reflect on how this occurs.
When at the end of John’s gospel the risen Christ breathes the
sin-forgiving Breath into the apostles, He fulfills the Baptizer’s prophecy
of a Breath-baptizer. (Jn 1:33-4, 20:19-23) The encounter with
Nichodemus, however, makes it clear that Christian initiation effects
Breath-baptism. Through ritual washing with water one is “reborn through
water and Breath.” (Jn 3:1-8) One could develop these insights in greater
detail. Here it suffices to note the connection between the encounter
with Nichodemus and the first sign which Jesus gives His disciples at
Cana. After His own rejection by Jew and Gentile alike and after His
desertion by most of the disciples, the risen Jesus will respond by sending
the sin-forgiving Breath. That act reveals Him finally and fully as the
divine bridegroom who loves humanity faithfully and unconditionally
despite its sinfulness. In other words, in Johannine theology, Jesus’ com-
plete revelation as divine Bridegroom and as Breath-baptizer coincide.
Moreover, Christian initiation gives access to Breath-baptism by effect-
ing rebirth in water and in Breath.
The redactor introduces the theme of judgment in his comment on the
conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. The judgment which Jesus
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 197

effects also reaches revelatory fullness in the paschal mystery. (Jn 3:16-21)
The paschal mystery, as we have seen, brings to a culmination the struggle
of light and of darkness. In that culminating struggle, the forces of dark-
ness condemn Jesus only to find themselves judged by God for their sin
against the light which Jesus embodies. (Jn 7:1-10:42) Paradoxically, then,
the revelation of Jesus as the divine bridegroom in his passion and resur-
rection also coincides with divine judgment upon the dark powers. (Jn
19:12-6) Only those who accept the revelation of God’s forgiving love in
Christ escape judgment by welcoming the gift of the sin-forgiving Breath.
(Jn 20:21-23)
Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman and His evangelization
of the Samaritans introduce still other themes and ideas which the pas-
chal mystery fulfills. Jesus’ promise of the living water to the woman at
the well finds its fulfillment in the paschal gift of the divine Breath (Jn
4:7-15; 20:19-23), and the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to the woman to
replace temple worship with worship in Breath and truth foreshadows
Breath-filled eucharistic worship. (Jn 4:16-26; 6:60-71) The universal
salvation foreshadowed in the evangelization of the Samaritans finds its
fulfillment in the disciples’ commissioning to proclaim a universal for-
giveness to sins in the power of the Breath. (Jn 20:19-23) Moreover, all
these events also reveal Jesus as the divine bridegroom, as the God who
loves the world even in its sinfulness and seeks to bestow upon it the
eschatological gift of peace.
The second miracle at Cana, the second sign which Jesus gives the
disciples, also finds it fulfillment in the paschal mystery. The fourth evan-
gelist transforms the healing of the official’s son into a polemic against
the need to see signs as a condition for faith. (Jn 4:46-54) This miracle
story bears an analogous resemblance to the healing of the centurion’s
servant in Matthew and in Luke. (Mt 8:5-13; Lk 7:1-10) In the synoptic
accounts of this distant healing, Jesus shows immediate readiness to heal
the ailing man. In the fourth gospel He greets the request for healing
with the rebuke: “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”
(Jn 4:48)
When the official begs Jesus earnestly to come heal his son, Jesus de-
mands of the official faith without sight: the man must believe that Jesus
has in fact healed his son without seeing the cure. He must rely on Jesus’
word alone that the cure has occurred. When the father hears that his son
began to improve at the very moment that Jesus pronounced him cured,
“he believed, and all of his household.” (Jn 4:49-54)
The second sign anticipates the blessing with which the evangelist ends
the gospel in its original redaction. Jesus says to the converted Thomas:
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who
have not seen and yet believed.” The Beloved Disciple functions, as we
198 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

have seen, as the prototype of all those who believe without seeing the
risen Christ. (Jn 20:29) The faith without sight demanded of the official
anticipates, then, the faith of the Beloved Disciple. (Jn 20:8) Faith with-
out a direct encounter with the risen Christ also enables God’s children
to see and acknowledge Jesus as the divine bridegroom.
One can, then, read the events in the Cana-to-Cana section of the book
of signs as an elucidation by event of the symbolic significance of the first
sign. That elucidation requires, however, that one read both the first sign
and the events which follow it in the light of the paschal mystery to which
the first sign clearly alludes and to which the subsequent elucidating events
more or less explicitly allude.4 (Jn 2:4)
In His third sign, Jesus cures the man at the pool of Bethsaida. The
cure occurs on the occasion of an unnamed feast. (Jn 5:1) The cure,
however, derives its liturgical and theological significance from the fact
that it occurs on a sabbath. (Jn 5:15-8)
As we have seen above, in the fourth gospel Jesus’ sabbath healings
signify that, as Son of God, Jesus judges the world on the sabbath just as
the Father does. Even more they reveal that the Father has placed all
judgment in the Son’s hands and has bestowed on Him the key of life
which only God wields, the power to grant risen life to whomever He
chooses. (Jn 5:19-30) Moreover, in Jesus’ sabbath healings, the Father
witnesses, along with John the Baptizer, Moses, and the prophets, to the
truth of Jesus’ message. (Jn 5:31-47)
Because Jesus’ sabbath healing discloses in a preliminary fashion Jesus’
union with the Father (Jn 5:18), its full significance will appear only with
the paschal mystery. Only Jesus’ lifting up in suffering and in glory will
disclose His divinity finally and fully. (Jn 8:28) Through His suffering
and glorification Jesus will finally draw all to Himself. (Jn 12:23-32) The
paschal mystery also reveals Jesus as eschatological judge. (Jn 19:12-6)
By revealing both Jesus’ saving power and judicial authority, the paschal
mystery manifests fully the significance of Jesus’ sabbath healings.5
The three Passovers in the fourth gospel link the fourth sign, the mul-
tiplication of the loaves and walking on the water, to the paschal mystery.
On the first Passover, Jesus cleanses the temple. (Jn 2:13-22) On the
second, he performs the fourth sign: the miracle of multiplication and of
walking on the water. (Jn 6:1-21) Both of these earlier Passovers, how-
ever, look to the third Passover, the Passover of Jesus’ “hour.” (Jn 13:1) As
4. Cf. NJBC, 61: 42-64; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 112-198; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 180-238; Francis J. Moloney, S.D.B., “From Cana to Cana
(Jn 21- 4:54) and the Fourth Evangelist’s Concept of Correct and Incorrect Faith,”
Salesianum, 40(1978), pp. 817-843.
5. Cf. NJBC, 61: 72-77; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 204-211; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 239-260; A. Duprez, Jésus et les deux guérisseurs: A propos
de Jean V (Paris: J. Galbalda, 1970).
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 199

a consequence, the events of all three Passovers illumine one another. In

the first, Jesus begins the purification of worship. In the second, He ad-
vances it by the promise of the eucharist. In the third, He completes the
purification of worship by dying, rising, and sending the sin-forgiving
Breath who inspires authentic worship in Breath and in truth.
As in the synoptics, Jesus’ walking on the water and invocation of the
divine name symbolizes Jesus’ victory over the forces of chaos which
threaten His disciples. This preliminary disclosure of His possession of
the divine name will also find its fulfillment in the full disclosure of His
divinity to His disciples in His resurrection. (Jn 8:28, 20:28-9) Together
the two miracles of multiplication and of walking on the water foreshadow
the scope of authentic eucharistic worship, which demands faith both in
Jesus’ divinity and in His real eucharistic presence.6
The cure of the man born blind, the fifth sign, reveals Jesus as the light
of the world. That revelation fulfills the liturgical symbolism of the feast
of Tabernacles with its nocturnal illumination of the streets of Jerusalem
by flaming torches. The miracle discloses Jesus as the light of truth shin-
ing in a world darkened by sin and unbelief.
As we have seen, the story of the healing of the man born blind has a
chiastic structure. The interrogation of the cured blind man’s parents lies
at the heart of the story. (Jn 9:18-23) During their interrogation by the
Pharisees, the beggar’s parents confirm his identity and his blindness from
birth; but they refuse to say anything about his cure for fear lest “the
Jews” expel them from the synagogue. Their fearful reticence contrasts
with the increasingly fearless testimony of the cured blind man. That
testimony leads in fact to the former beggar’s expulsion from the syna-
gogue. The trial of the man born blind by the Pharisees foreshadows
Jesus’ trial by Pilate. Both trials advance the gospel’s unifying forensic
metaphor. (Jn 9:24-39)
The cure of the man born blind reproduces the same dynamic as marks
the events during Tabernacles, which it terminates. In the struggle be-
tween light and darkness, the revelation of the truth which Jesus incar-
nates and divine judgment on sinful unbelief coincide. As the blind man

6. Cf. NJBC, 61:85-89; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 231-256; Hänchen, Commen-
tary on John, I, pp. 268-283; M.-F. Merrouard, “La multiplication des pain et le
discours du pain de vie (Jean 6),” Lumière et Vie, 18(1969), pp. 63-75; Bertil Gœrtner,
John 6 and the Jewish Passover (Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup, 1959), Francois Quievreux, “Le
récit de la multiplication des pains dans le quatrième évangile,” Recherches de Science
Religieuse, 41(1967), pp. 97-108; G.H. Boobyer, “The Eucharistic Interpretation of
the Miracles of the Loaves in Mark’s Gospel,” Journal of Theological Studies, 3(1952),
pp. 161-171; John Paul Heil, Jesus Walking on the Sea (Rome: Biblical Institute Press,
1981), pp. 144-170; Cullen I.K. Story, “The Bearing of Old Testament Terminology
on the Johannine Chronology of the Final Passover of Jesus,” Novum Testamentum,
31(1989), pp. 316-324.
200 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

comes into the light of faith, the Pharisees incriminate themselves by

their stubborn unbelief. Like the other signs, this fifth sign also finds its
fulfillment in the paschal mystery when those the dark powers stand fi-
nally revealed in their sinful unbelief and when those who relate to Jesus
in faith finally “see” Him for what He is. (Jn 19:13-16, 20:1-31)
Both Tabernacles and Dedication intensify the struggle between light
and darkness. By situating the fifth sign between the two feasts, the Be-
loved Disciple suggests that it fulfills the liturgical significance of both.
The feast of Dedication develops pastoral imagery. In rejecting Jesus as
the light of the world, Israel also repudiates it divine shepherd.7
7. Cf. NJBC, 61:127-133; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 369-382; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 33-42; Günther Bornkamm, Geschichte und Glaube:
Gesammelte Aufsätze (4 vols.; Munich: Chris Kaiser Verlag, 1971), IV, pp. 65-72; John
Bligh, “Four Studies in John: The Man Born Blind,” Heythrop Journal, 7(1966), pp.
129-144; Donatien Mollat, “La guérison de l’averugle-né,” Bible et Vie Chrétienne,
23(1958), pp. 22-31; J. Duncan M. Derrett, “John 9:6 Read with Is 6:10, 20:9,”
Evangelical Quarterly, 66(1994), pp. 251-254.
The first part of the first epistle of John develops the theme that “God is light; there
is no darkness in Him at all.” (1 Jn 1:5) As the author of the letter develops this theme,
it becomes clear that both he and the dissidents lay claim to divine enlightenment. In
the judgment of the letter’s author, however, the dissidents claim something which
they do not in fact possess. They propound false doctrine and therefore confuse the
light with the darkness.
The author of the letter first examines three false claims of the dissidents and
contrasts them with true and authentic doctrine. 1) The dissidents claim to live in
union with God; but in fact they dwell in darkness. (1 Jn 1:6) 2) The dissidents claim
to exist in a sinless state; but in fact they live in sin. 3) In the very act of claiming never
to have sinned, the dissidents sin by calling a liar the God who sent His Son to purify
from sin those who believe in Him. It would appear, then, that the dissidents claimed
an enlightenment which manifests their righteousness in the eyes of God, a righteous-
ness which absolves them from the need of redemption through the blood of Christ.
The three false boasts of the dissidents cast light upon one another. The dissidents
claim to live in union with God; but they ground that claim in an illusory sense of
innocence which leads them to deny a fundamental fact of divine revelation: namely,
the saving, atoning death of Jesus Christ. To claim an enlightenment which sets one
in opposition to the truth revealed in the paschal mystery only manifests that one walks,
not in the light of Christ, but in the darkness of unbelief.
The dissidents’ claim to impeccability seems to have taken the moral dualism of the
gospel in directions which the author of the first letter regards as extreme and
heterodox. The epistle’s author himself teaches that in Christ “there is no sin.” (1 Jn
3:5) The phrase asserts not only the sinlessness of Christ but the liberation from sin
which possession of His Breath effects. (1 Jn 3:6)
The dissidents may well have decided to move this doctrine in deterministic
directions which claimed an impeccability grounded in the possession of the Breath
rather than in Christ’s atoning death. In that sense, they would have recognized that
Christ came in water only, i.e., with a baptism which guarantees subsequent sinlessness.
They would, however, have simultaneously denied that Jesus came in both “water and
blood.” (1 Jn 5:3-8) In other words, they would have dissociated the resurrection and
the gift of the Breath from the saving death. The gospel of John, as we have seen, goes
out of its way to assert their inseparable unity.
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 201

The raising of Lazarus, as we have seen, discloses Jesus as “the resurrec-

tion and the life.” (Jn 9:25) This culminating sign alludes to the cure of
the blind man, since in Johannine theology life and light coincide. The
blind man’s illness has resulted from no sin but has as its purpose the
revelation of God’s saving action in him. (Jn 9:3) In the same way, Lazarus’s
sickness unto death brings about “the glorification of God.” (Jn 11:4) In
the case of the man born blind, the work God accomplished in him in-
cluded, as we have seen, both his physical cure and his coming to the
light of faith. In the case of Lazarus, his participation in the risen glory of
Christ includes a share in Jesus’ passion. (Jn 12:10-1)
The evangelist links symbols of light and of life in another way. Before
raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus indicates that this miracle also re-
veals Him as light of the world. When Jesus suggests that He and the
disciples return to Judea to come to Lazarus’s aid, the disciples remind
Him that His enemies in Judea were just trying to stone Him. Jesus re-

Are there not twelve hours of daylight? If a man goes walking by day, he
does not stumble because he can see the light of this world. But if he goes
walking at night, he will stumble because he has no light in him. (Jn

The light of this world refers most obviously to the sun, which, in
ancient Jewish optometry, filled the eye with light and thus enabled it to
see. Jesus’ allusion to the light of the world, however, also clearly points
to His own person. It recalls as well, what Jesus said before curing the
man born blind: namely, “We must work the works of Him who sent me
The author of the letter, for his part, not only insists that the death of Christ effects
the forgiveness of sin; but, both in the text of the letter and in its postscript, he makes
it clear that even the possession of the Breath does not guarantee the believer total
freedom from minor offenses. Even after baptism, one may, then, need to claim the
forgiveness effected by Jesus’ atoning death. (1 Jn 2:1, 5:14-21)
To these false boasts of the dissidents, the author of the first epistle contrasts
authentic Christian faith: 1) Those who truly live in the light share a fellowship which
flows directly from the atoning death of Jesus. (1 Jn 1:7) 2) Far from claiming a false
innocence, the true believer acknowledges the fact of personal and collective sinfulness
and claims the forgiveness of God revealed in Christ. Moreover, true believers look to
God to purify them from sin. (1 Jn 1:9) 3) Authentic faith trusts in the saving, atoning
death of Jesus as the source and revelation of divine forgiveness. His sacrificial death
takes away the sin of the world and reveals that He abides now eternally in heaven, in
the presence of the Father, interceding for sinners for whom He gave His life. The true
believer, therefore, clings to the Crucified as the source of forgiveness for sins
committed before and after one has achieved the light of faith. (1 Jn 2:1-2)
Cf. NJBC, 62: 15-17; Brown, Epistles, pp. 191-246; Klauck, op. cit., I, pp. 53-110;
Zane C. Hodges, “Fellowship and Confession in I John 1:5-10,” Bibliotheca Sacra,
129(1972), pp. 48- 60; O. Schäffere, “‘Gott ist Licht’ (1 Joh 1, 5),” Theologische Studien
und Kritiken, 105(1933), pp. 467-476.
202 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in

the world, I am the light of the world.” (Jn 9:5)
Both the cure of the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus allude
to the passion of Jesus as a temporary eclipse of the light. As Jesus pre-
pares to go to Lazarus’s aid, He assures the disciples that, as long as He
remains among them as the light of the world, they have nothing to fear.
That assurance itself has a double meaning. Most obviously it means that
while Jesus remains physically with the disciples, they have no cause for
fear; but John’s Jesus’ also alludes to His presence among the disciples
after His glorification through the illumination of the Breath. The Breath
makes the risen Christ present, and that presence too will dissipate the
disciple’s fears.8 (Jn 16:13-4) These allusions to Jesus as the light of the
world at the beginning of the story of the raising of Lazarus make it clear
that Jesus’ revelation as the light of the world and His revelation as the
resurrection and the life coincide. In fact, they coincide in the paschal
mystery when the risen Christ imparts the enlightening gift of the divine
Breath, the Breath of truth, who will lead the disciples into the fullness of
truth by imparting the living water of imperishable divine life. As we
have seen, no clarifying discourse accompanies this sixth and culminat-
ing sign. Instead, it foreshadows the Book of Glory as a whole from which
it derives its ultimate significance.
The fact that all six signs foreshadow the paschal mystery means that
they each call attention to a different facet of that mystery. The paschal
mystery reveals Jesus as the divine bridegroom of the first sign. The pas-
chal mystery requires a faith which consents to the person of Jesus as
risen Lord, even though one has not seen the risen Christ face-to-face. In
other words, one must believe, not only like the Beloved Disciple, but
also like the official of the second sign, who foreshadows the Beloved
Disciple’s faith. The third sign reveals Jesus as eschatological judge, and
the paschal mystery both begins and prolongs the final judgment by de-
manding that humanity choose in the face of this final and full revelation
of divine love in Jesus. The paschal mystery also completes the purifica-
tion of temple worship begun on the first Passover of John’s gospel by
empowering authentic eucharistic worship in Breath and truth, the wor-

8. Cf. NJBC, 61: 145-152; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 420-437; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 53-72; Brian McNeil, “The Raising of Lazarus,” Downside
Review, 92(1974), pp. 269-275; Léopold Sabourin, “Resurrectio Lazari (Jo 11, 1-44),”
Verbum Domini, 46(1968), pp. 350-360; Gerhard Lass, Die Auferweckung des Lazarus:
Eine Auslegung von Johannes 11 (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1967);
Wilhelm Wilkin, “Die Erweckung des Lazarus,” Theologische Zeitschrift, 15(1959), pp.
22-39; Mark W.G. Stubbe, “A Tomb with a View: John 11.1-44 in Narrative-Critical
Perspective,” New Testament Studies, 90(1994), pp. 38-54; Delbert Burkett, “Two
Accounts of Lazarus’ Resurrection in John 11,” Novum Testamentum, 36(1994), pp.
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 203

ship foreshadowed by sign four. Finally, the paschal mystery reveals Jesus
as simultaneously the light and life of the world, as the fifth and sixth
signs signify.
Because each of the signs highlights a facet of the paschal mystery, each
of them provides only a partial, proleptic disclosure of that saving event.
By focusing all the signs on the paschal mystery, the evangelist endows
them ultimately with a unity of meaning which makes it almost irrel-
evant which sign one chooses to contemplate first. Because every sign
points to the paschal mystery, every sign also illumines every other.9
This section has considered the signs and their significance. The sec-
tion which follows ponders the unique narrative use which the Beloved
Disciple makes both of Jesus’ discourses and of the literary device of allu-

This section examines how Jesus’ discourses develop the revelatory sig-
nificance of the signs. In the Book of Signs discourses expatiate on the
significance of three of Jesus’ signs: 1) the healing of the cripple on the
sabbath, 2) the multiplication of the loaves and fish and walking on wa-
ter, and 3) the cure of the man born blind. This section first reflects on
the correlation between sign and discourse. Next, it analyzes the incre-
mental development of basic themes across the discourses. In the course
of that analysis, I also examine the way in which the Beloved Disciple
uses allusion in order to develop Christological doctrine. Because I have
already considered the text of Jesus’ discourses in some detail in the pre-
ceding chapters, I content myself here with summarizing the results of
that earlier analysis.

The Discourses
As we have seen, the discourse following the healing of the cripple on the
sabbath develops the theology of judgment enunciated in Jesus’ encoun-
ter with Nicodemus. It interprets Jesus’ power to heal on the sabbath as
His wielding the divine keys of life and of judgment. Jesus’ ability to
impart life through physical healing also reveals proleptically His divine
power on the day of judgment to raise from the dead those who put faith
in Him.
The discourse divides into two parts. In the first part, Jesus proclaims
that His sabbath healings manifest His authority to give life and to judge
on the sabbath. The judgment which Jesus’ sabbath healing effects pre-
pares the final judgment when, on the last day, He as Son of God will
impart risen life to those who believe in Him. (Jn 5:19-31) The second

9. Cf. Robert T. Fortna, “Source and Redaction in the Fourth Gospel’s Portrayal of Jesus’
Signs,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 89(1970), pp. 151-166.
204 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

part of the discourse, as we have also seen, develops Johannine forensic

imagery and links it to the theme of judgment. In the second part of the
discourse, Jesus defends His right to heal on the sabbath by appealing to
three legal witnesses: the Father, who empowers the signs Jesus performs,
John the Baptizer who testifies to Him prophetically; and the Mosaic
scriptures which foretell His coming. Those who refuse to respond in
faith to this triple testimony stand under divine judgment.10 (Jn 5:31-47)
With the bread-of-life discourse, the light and the darkness begin to
separate. In the course of this discourse, Jesus’ faithless disciples refuse, as
we have seen, to recognize that feeding on the bread of divine wisdom
means acknowledging Jesus’ real eucharistic presence. The discourse in-
terprets the miracle of multiplication as a sign that Jesus embodies the
bread of divine wisdom and that He will one day give the eucharistic
bread of wisdom to those who believe in Him. Jesus’ identity with divine
Wisdom descended from heaven also makes sense of His power to walk
on water, as only God can do, and to invoke the divine name as His own.
His gift of the eucharist reveals the revelatory significance of the miracle
of multiplication and requires incarnational faith for its authentic cel-
The bread-of-life discourse also divides into two parts. In part one,
Jesus first promises to give bread from heaven. Then He presents Himself
as the bread of divine wisdom which has already descended from heaven.
When unbelieving “Jews” question that Jesus has a heavenly origin, Jesus
rebukes their unbelief in the light of the theology of judgment developed
both in His conversation with Nichodemus and in His first discourse.
(Jn 6:32-50; cf. 3:17-21, 5:19-30)
Verse 51 of the bread-of-life discourse marks the transition to the sec-
ond part of the discourse. In verse 51, Jesus announces: “....the bread
which I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.” This causes “the
Jews” to question Jesus’ power to give them His flesh and blood as food
and drink. Later the reader learns that these “Jews” include Jesus’ own
disciples. (Jn 6:59-66) The second part of the bread-of-life discourse
equates the divine wisdom with faith in Jesus’ real eucharistic presence.

10. Cf. NJBC, 61: 78-84; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 212-230; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, I, pp. 239-267; Feliks Gryglewicz, “Die Ausssagen Jesu und irher
Rolle in Joh 5, 16-30” in Studien zum Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt, 5, edited
by Albert Fuchs (1980), pp. 5-17; Eduard Lohse, Die Einheit des Neuen Testament
(Göttingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 1973), pp. 62-72; M.J. Moreton, “Feast, Sign,
and Discourse in John 5,” Studia Evangelica, 4, (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1968), pp.
209-213; Urban C. von Wahlde, “The Witnesses to Jesus in John 5: 31-40 and Belief
in the Fourth Gospel,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 43(1981), pp. 385-404;Wolfgang
Kraus, “Johannes und das Alte Testament: Überlegungen zum Umgag mit der Schrift
im Johannesevangelium im Horizont biblischer.Theologie,” Zeitschrift für die
Neutestamentlsiche Wissenschaft, 88 (1997), pp. 1-23.
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 205

(Jn 6:51-58) Eucharistic worship which incarnates such faith exemplifies

worship in Breath and truth. It communicates risen life. It will one day
replace all forms of temple worship.11 (Jn 6:63; cf. 4:21-24)
As we have already seen, during the feast of Tabernacles, the division
between the light and the darkness which began in the bread-of-life dis-
course intensifies. The dialogic character of the discourse at Tabernacles
causes it to resemble a legal cross-examination as Jesus’ enemies pose ob-
jection after objection to His teaching. The cross-examination culmi-
nates in the dark powers’ decision to quench the light by stoning Jesus.
The discourse at Tabernacles originally divided into two parts. Part one
spanned the feast’s week-long celebration. (Jn 7:10-36) Part two took
place on the final day of the feast. (Jn 7:37-53, 8:12-52) In the gospel’s
final redaction, the story of the woman caught in adultery divides the
second part of the discourse into two subsections. As in the case of the
bread-of-life discourse, the discourse at Tabernacles begins dialogically
but expands into longer speeches of Jesus to his adversaries.
The first part of the discourse advances through a series of increasingly
bitter exchanges between Jesus and unbelieving “Jews.” Jesus once again
insists that He teaches only what the Father tells Him to teach. He argues
that the selflessness of His testimony vindicates the truth of what He
says; and He traces the unbelief of His adversaries to their refusal to obey
the Law of Moses. (Jn 7:16-19) The reference to Moses links the dis-
course to the theme of judgment which Jesus’ discourse after His sabbath
healing developed. Those at Tabernacles who refuse to hear Moses’s testi-
mony to Jesus fall under the divine judgment. (Jn 5:45-47)
As the first part of the discourse at Tabernacles comes to a close, Jesus
rejects His adversaries’ claim to know His origins. (Jn 7:28-29) He warns
them that time is getting short. The day is fast approaching when Jesus
will go where His enemies cannot follow. (Jn 7:33-36) Jesus, of course,
refers to His return to the Father, as He explains to the disciples in the last
discourse. (Jn 13:33-14:3) His enemies cannot follow Him to the Father
11. Cf. NJBC, 61: 90-100; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 260-294; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 487-303; Peder Borgen, “The Unity of the Discourse of
John 6,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 50(1959), pp. 277-278;
Jean Noel Aletti, “Le discours sur le pain de vie (Jean 6): Problems de composition et
fonction des citations de l’Ancien Testament,” Recherches de Science Religieuse, 62(1974),
pp. 169-197; G. Bornkamm, Geschicht und Glaube 2 (Munich: Chr. Kaiser Verlag,
1971), pp. 51-64; Peder Borgen, Bread from Heaven: An Exegetical Study of the Concept
of Manna in the Gospel of John and the Writings of Philo (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1965); “The
Unity of the Discourse in John 6,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft,
50(1959), pp. 277-278; Andre Feuillet, Le discours sur le pain de vie (Jean, chapitre 6),
(Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1967); Bertil Gärtner, John 6 and the Jewish Passover (Lund:
C.W.K. Gleerup, 1959); N. Mondula, La puissance vivicatrice de la chair du Christ selon
l’évangile de S. Jean (Rome: 1978); F.L. Steinmeyer, Die Rede Jesu in der Schule von
Capernaum (Berlin: Wiegandt & Grieben, 1892).
206 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

because they refuse to recognize that He comes to them from the Fa-
The final section of the discourse at Tabernacles opens with Jesus’ prom-
ise of the living water whose gift will reveal Him as the promised
Breath-baptizer. The living water of the Breath will slake human thirst
for everlasting life. (Jn 7:37-39; cf. 1:33, 3:32-36, 4:13-14) Jesus then
proclaims Himself the light of the world. (Jn 8:12) Jesus’ promise and
proclamation disclose different facets of the same mystery, since in
Johannine Christology life and light coincide. (Jn 1:4) The divine Breath
who confers risen life will also function as a principle of enlightenment;
and the enlightenment of faith gives access to risen life. (Jn 14:15-21)
The promise of the living water and the proclamation of Jesus as the light
of the world therefore illumine one another. Jesus becomes the light of
the world when He breathes His divine Breath into His disciples. She in
turn functions both as a principle of enlightenment and as a source of
risen life. Since the same divine reality functions simultaneously as the
source of resurrection and enlightenment, it would appear that resurrec-
tion brings the enlightenment of faith to its culmination and comple-
The section of the discourse at Tabernacles which follows the story of
the adulterous woman takes the literary form of an embittered argument
between Jesus and His enemies. Jesus begins by recapitulating themes
from His earlier debates during the feast: His origin from the Father, His
selfless witness to the truth, His divine authority to pronounce judge-
ment, the forensic testimony of other witnesses (the Father and the Bap-
tizer) to the truth of His message. (Jn 8:14-18)
The rest of the discourse develops into a debate over origins. Jesus not
only reasserts that He takes His origin from God; but He also spells out
the soteriological implications of faith in His heavenly origin. That ori-
gin sets Him apart from His enemies whose sinful unbelief makes them
citizens of the world over which Satan presides. The time for them to face
judgment will arrive when Jesus is lifted up in suffering and glory. Unless
His adversaries judge correctly about Jesus, they will find themselves pow-
erless to follow Him in His return to the Father. (Jn 8:21-29)
The debate about origins takes a new turn when “the Jews” claim the
freedom of the children of Abraham. Jesus counters this claim with the
charge that His adversaries’ sinful hostility and unbelief manifest that
Satan has sired them, not Abraham. (Jn 8:34-47) The crowds then accuse
Jesus of demon possession. (Jn 8:48-54) Jesus claims instead that He

12. Cf. Gerard Rochais, “Jean 7: une construction litteraire dramatique, at la manière
d’un scenario,” New Testament Studies, 39(1993), pp. 355-378.
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 207

possesses the divine name. “The Jews” anticipate the judgement soon to
be passed on Jesus’ in His passion by seeking to stone Him.13 (Jn 8:54-58)
Jesus’ discourse during Dedication develops further the debates during
Tabernacles. The discourse at Dedication divides into two parts. In the
first part Jesus, in response to a challenge that He avow His messianic
pretensions, proclaims the parable of the sheep and the shepherd. In ex-
plaining this pastoral metaphor, Jesus announces that His unity with the
Father transforms Him into the divine shepherd of Israel. (Jn 8:25-30)
This claim leads to a second stoning attempt. In the second part of the
discourse, Jesus again invokes the forensic argument of the Father’s testi-
mony in sanctioning the works which He performs. Jesus also proclaims
the dynamic, mutual indwelling which makes Him one with the Father.
Jesus’ fearless reaffirmation of His divinity triggers a futile attempt to
arrest Him.14 (Jn 10:25-39)
The story of the man born blind follows the discourse and further dra-
matizes the separation of light and darkness during Tabernacles and Dedi-
cation. The blind man sees Jesus with the eyes of faith, while the Phari-
sees, who expel the man from the synagogue, persist in the darkness of
unbelief. The expulsion foreshadows, of course, the Johannine
community’s excommunication by the Pharisaical leaders of the local syna-
gogue as well as Jesus’ own condemnation by the dark powers.
Except for the last discourse, I have summarized each of the Johannine
discourses. In what follows, I shall argue that the discourses relate to one
another in a manner analogous to the way in which the signs do.

The Johannine Use of Allusion

As the discourses unfold, the Beloved Disciple repeatedly uses allusion in
the service of doctrinal development. This narrative strategy especially
characterizes the last evangelist’s narrative style. As we saw in the last
volume, among the synoptics, Mark clusters most of his literary allusions
around the two miracles of the loaves. Matthew characteristically uses
literary allusion in order to focus the story of Jesus on the Great Commis-
sion which terminates his gospel. Luke most characteristically uses liter-
ary allusion in order to tie together his two-volume study of Christian

13. Cf. NJBC, 61: 108-114; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 310-331, 339-368;
Hänchen, Commentary on John, II, pp. 9-20, 32-32; David M. Stanley, “The Feast of
Tents: Jesus’ Self- Revelation,” Worship, 34(1964), pp. 20-27; Charles W.F. Smith,
“Tabernacles in the Fourth Gospel and Mark,” New Testament Studies, 9(1962-1963),
pp. 130-146.
14. Cf. NJBC, 61: 134-144; Brown, The Gospel of John, I, pp. 383-412; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 43-52; Wilhelm Jost, “Poimên”: Das Bild vom Hirter in der
biblschen Überlieferung und seine christologische Bedeutung (Giessen: Kindt, 1939);
Otto Kiefer, Die Hirtenrede: Analyse und Deutung von Joh 10, 1-18 (Stuttgart:
Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1967).
208 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

origins. In the process, Luke assimilates Peter to Jesus and Paul to Peter.
The Beloved Disciple uses allusion very differently. In the fourth gospel,
as we have seen, all of Jesus’ signs anticipate the paschal mystery, while
the discourses endow the signs with their doctrinal meaning. Literary
allusion links passages in the discourses which develop incrementally the
same doctrinal theme. Typically, the Beloved Disciple repeats in a later
discourse ideas enunciated in an earlier discourse and then appends to
them new ideas which advance doctrinally beyond the earlier discourse.
In Johannine narrative theology, this gradual exposition of the truth about
Jesus dramatizes the incremental dawning of the divine light which He
incarnates. It also explains the repetitiousness of Johannine narrative style.
The I AM passages in John illustrate the incremental use of allusion
which the evangelist employs more systematically in the discourses. Jesus
first proclaims the divine name to the disciples while doing something
only the God of the Bible can do: namely, He walks on the waters and
claims the divine name, I AM, as His own. (Jn 6:20-21) The first part of
the bread-of-life discourse explains this miraculous sign when it portrays
Jesus as the incarnation of divine wisdom.15
In the discourse at Tabernacles, the Beloved Disciple links Jesus’ use of
the divine name to the theme of judgment. By claiming the name I AM,
Jesus proclaims His divine pre-existence and identity with the Father to
His unbelieving adversaries and faithless disciples. He simultaneously
warns His enemies that, unless they recognize His right to claim the di-
vine name, they will die in their sins. (Jn 8:23-24) His enemies dramatize
their intransigent lack of repentance by seeking to stone Him. (Jn 8:57-59)
Finally, in the garden where Jesus is arrested, He invokes the divine
name once again. He does so in order to vanquish His enemies before
freely submitting to the ordeal of the passion. (Jn 18:5-9) In the garden
Jesus enemies include both Jews and Gentiles. (Jn 18:3, 12)
Each time Jesus invokes the divine name, the struggle between light
and darkness intensifies. After Jesus proclaims Himself I AM to the dis-
ciples, the faithless among them refuse to recognize that assent to Him as
divine wisdom incarnate includes confessing His real eucharistic pres-
ence as well. During Tabernacles, Jesus’ use of the divine name consoli-
dates His enemies’ opposition to Him. Finally, Jesus invokes the divine
name at the beginning of His “hour,” in order to vanquish the dark pow-
ers gathered for their final futile attempt to quench the light.
Each time Jesus claims the divine name the light spreads. Jesus first
announces to His disciples His right to use the sacred name of God.
Then at Tabernacles He proclaims it to the Jewish people. Finally, in the
garden He extends its proclamation to Jew and Gentile alike. (Jn 18:3)
15. Cf. Bruce Grigsby, “The Reworking of the Lake Walking Account in the Johannine
Tradition,” Expository Times, 100(1989), pp. 295-297.
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 209

As the light shines more brightly, it simultaneously reveals with propor-

tionately greater clarity the hypocrisy and violence of unbelief.
The I AM passages in John illustrate how the evangelist uses literary
allusion in order to develop the same doctrine incrementally over a series
of texts. In what follows I shall reflect on how the Beloved Disciple uses
literary allusion incrementally in order to tie the discourses together doc-
trinally.16 As we shall see, the Beloved Disciple develops incrementally
the following theological themes across the discourses: 1) judgment, 2)
Jesus’ relationship to the Father, 3) pneumatic rebirth, 4) universal salva-
tion, and 5) the revelation of divine glory. Let us reflect on each of these
themes in turn.
The theme of judgment enhances and develops the fourth gospel’s fo-
rensic metaphor for Jesus’ ministry. In Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus,
the evangelist explains that God judges the world by revealing His un-
conditioned love of sinners and by demanding simultaneously that they
choose in the face of that revelation. Only those who refuse to accept
16. The Prologue announces a number of fundamental Johannine themes which the
discourses subsequently develop. Those themes include the following: 1) Jesus exists
with the Father before the beginning of the world. (Jn 1:1-3) 2) Jesus enjoys a unique
relationship to the Father. (Jn 1:1) 3) Jesus is God. (Jn 1:1) 4) Jesus embodies a
life-giving light which the forces of darkness struggle ineffectually to suppress. (Jn
1:9-11) 5) Jesus transforms those who believe in Him into God’s children through their
pneumatic rebirth. (Jn 1:12-13) 6) The incarnation of the Son of God manifests the
divine glory. (Jn 1:13-14)
The testimony of John the Evangelist and the call of the first disciples introduces
other themes which later discourses develop in greater detail. 1) Jesus alone baptizes
with the divine Breath. His power to do so manifests His divine, messianic identity. (Jn
1:24-34) 2) Jesus is the “lamb of God”: the lamb of the paschal sacrifice, the lamb-like
suffering servant, and the victorious messianic lamb of apocalyptic literature. (Jn 1:36)
3) One can “see” Jesus fully only with the eyes of faith and by dwelling with Him. (Jn
As we saw above, the Cana-to-Cana section of John functions as a commentary by
event on the first sign. It introduces new themes for subsequent commentary in the
discourses. It also develops themes already introduced. 1) The cleansing of the temple
introduces and the conversation with the Samaritan woman develop the theme of the
purification of temple worship. (Jn 2:13-22, 4:22-24) 2) The conversation with
Nichodemus introduces the theme of pneumatic rebirth through water and Breath and
enunciates the Johannine understanding of judgment. (Jn 3;1-21) It also introduces
the theme of Jesus’ “lifting up.” (Jn 2:13) 3) The final testimony of the Baptizer
develops the symbolic image of the bridegroom introduced in the first sign. It also
associates receptivity to the gift of the divine Breath with the theme of judgment. Those
who accept the Breath escape judgment, those who refuse Her stand judged by their
unbelief. (Jn 3:27-36) 4) The conversation with the Samaritan woman introduces the
theme of living water and develops the theme of the purification of temple worship. (Jn
4:9-17) 5) The conversation with the disciples in Samaria introduces the theme of
universal salvation. (Jn 4:31-42) 6) The cure of the nobleman’s son introduces the
theme of the importance of believing in Jesus without seeing the risen Christ with one’s
own eyes. (Jn 4:43-54)
210 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

God’s offer of salvation and forgiveness fall under divine judgment. (Jn
The first discourse, which follows Jesus’ sabbath cure of a cripple, as-
serts that the Father, although possessed of the divine authority to judge,
has entrusted all judgment into the hands of His incarnate Son by send-
ing Him to proclaim the truth to the world. (Jn 5:24, 27) Jesus’ procla-
mation of divine truth effects judgment because one stands judged by the
way in which one chooses to respond to Him. (Jn 5:22) Moreover, those
who assent to the truth to which Jesus testifies also consent to the wit-
nesses who corroborate Jesus’ testimony: 1) the Father who sanctions,
Jesus’ testimony by the works He performs, 2) the Baptizer, and 3) the
Mosaic scriptures. (Jn 5:31-47)
The bread-of-life discourse, delivered at the second Johannine Pass-
over, dramatizes Johannine judgment as Jesus’ faithless disciples reject
Him message of wisdom and real eucharistic presence. Their rejection of
the truth which Jesus incarnates places them under divine judgment. (Jn
6:41-66) The discourse at Tabernacles prolongs that judgment as “the
Jews,” who again include Jesus’ faithless disciples, repudiate Jesus’ divin-
ity. (Jn 7:31-36, 8:12-58)
The discourse at Tabernacles recalls a forensic theme from the discourse
on the sabbath: namely, that those who consent to the testimony of those
witnesses who corroborate Jesus’ witness will consent to Jesus’ own testi-
mony as well. (Jn 7:19, 8:16-19) The discourse then embellishes the theme
of judgment with new insights. It proclaims that those who refuse to
believe in Jesus judge by appearances and by human standards only. As a
consequence, they fail to see deeply into the mystery which He embod-
ies. (Jn 7:24, 8:15) [The Sanhedrin exemplifies this kind of obtuseness
when it unjustly condemns Jesus. (Jn 7:45-52, 9:39)] The discourse at
Tabernacles also asserts that Jesus could pass judgment on His adversaries
but that He refrains from doing so at present in obedience to His Father,
since He comes to save, not to judge, the world. (Jn 8:15-16; cf. Jn
3:14-21) The Father, however, who cares for Jesus’ glory, pronounces ul-
timate judgment on Jesus. Jesus’ enemies do not, then, pass final judg-
ment on Him. The Father “judges” Jesus by empowering Him to lay
down His life and to take it up again. The Father’s judgment reverses the
judgment of Jesus’ adversaries. (Jn 10:17-18)
The discourse after Jesus’ sabbath miracle enunciates another theme to
which the Beloved Disciple gives incremental doctrinal development:
namely, Jesus’ relationship to the Father. Jesus’ sabbath miracles manifest
the perfection of His obedience to the Father. They reveal that the Father
has entrusted the Son with the keys of judgment and of life. The perfec-
tion of Jesus’ obedience to the Father ensures the justice of the final judg-
ment He will pass on those who reject Him. (Jn 5:19-30)
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 211

The discourse on the bread-of-life embellishes these same themes with

the following four points. 1) The Father, who seals the Son’s testimony by
empowering the signs which Jesus performs, sends the Son as the bread
of life and as the embodiment of divine wisdom. Consent to that wisdom
frees one from a final judgment of repudiation and guarantees a share in
risen life. (Jn 6:35-40) 2) Jesus’ testimony to the Father expresses His
unique knowledge of heavenly events which in His divine pre-existence
He Himself personally witnessed. (Jn 6:46-47) 3) Jesus’ power to impart
risen life reveals the fact that He himself draws His own life from the
Father. (Jn 6:57) 4) The Father draws to the Son all those who consent to
Him in faith. (Jn 6:44)
The discourse at Tabernacles further develops the theme of Jesus’ rela-
tionship to the Father. The discourse first reasserts that Jesus’ mission by
the Father manifests that Jesus draws His life from the Father and knows
the Father with a privileged intimacy. (Jn 7:28-29) The discourse then
develops Jesus’ relationship to the Father in the following new ways. The
selflessness of Jesus’ obediential testimony to the Father manifests the
truth of what He says. Jesus risks His very life for the truth which He
proclaims. (Jn 7:16-19) Jesus’ return to the Father will also manifest the
truth of His testimony to the Father. (Jn 7:33-36, 8:14-15) Jesus’ origin
from and with the Father sanctions His personal invocation of the divine
name I AM. (Jn 8:23-24, 58) So does His “lifting up” on the cross and in
glory. (Jn 8:23-24) The Father glorifies the Son. (Jn 8:54)
The discourse at the feast of Dedication adds the following insights
into Jesus’ relationship to the Father. Jesus’ unique obediential knowl-
edge of the Father empowers Him to die for His sheep and therefore
reveals Him as the divine shepherd of Israel. (Jn 10:7-16) The Father
loves Jesus, the good shepherd, for His willingness to die for His sheep.
(Jn 10:17) The Father raises Jesus by empowering Him both to lay down
His life freely and to take it up again freely. (Jn 10:17-18) The mutual
indwelling of Father and Son, which Jesus’ selfless obedience to the Fa-
ther manifests, guarantees the truth of the judgment accomplished in the
Son’s proclamation of divine truth. (Jn 10:36-38)
The discourse at Tabernacles also illumines Jesus’ relationship to the
Father by introducing the theme of Jesus’ return to the Father. The dis-
course links faith in Jesus’ origin from the Father to the theme of His
return to the Father. It does so in the following ways. 1) Only those who
consent to Jesus’ origin from the Father and consequent unity with the
Father will be able to follow Him in His return to the Father. (Jn 7:28-36,
8:23-24) 2) Unbelief blinds one simultaneously to Jesus’ divine origins
and to the destiny of union with God which His return to the Father
reveals. (Jn 8:14-15) 3) Those who refuse to believe in Jesus’ divine ori-
gin (and, therefore by implication, in His divine destiny) have Satan as
their father. (Jn 8:42-47)
212 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The Beloved Disciple also develops the theme of pneumatic rebirth in-
crementally and allusively across the discourses. As we saw above, the
idea of baptism through water and the Breath develops the theme of
adoptive sonship introduced in the Prologue. One becomes a child of
God through rebirth in water and the Breath. That same Breath-baptism
also fulfills Jesus’ promise of the living water. (Jn 1:12-13, 24-34, 4:9-17)
The other two discourses develop these themes further. The bread-of-life
discourse links the gift of the Breath to the purification of temple wor-
ship by pointing to eucharistic worship as the Breath-inspired prayer which
replaces temple liturgy. Breath-inspired eucharistic prayer also consents
to Jesus’ real eucharistic presence. (6:59-63) The discourse at Tabernacles
links the gift of the living water to the outpouring of the Breath effected
by the risen Christ. (Jn 7:37-39, 20:21-23) As we shall see, the last dis-
course will portray Her as the presence of the risen Christ.
The discourse at Tabernacles develops slightly the theme of universal
salvation. As we saw above, Jesus’ instructions to the disciples in Samaria
introduce the theme of universal salvation. The discourse at Tabernacles
develops this theme ironically. The discourse hints that, after Jesus’ re-
turn to the Father, He will “teach the Greeks.” In fact, He will do so by
pouring out upon them the enlightening Breath of God. (Jn 7:35-36)
This cryptic hint foreshadows the attempt of “Greeks” see Jesus during
His final Jerusalem ministry. (Jn 12:21-22) The discourse at Tabernacles
also proclaims that the universality of the salvation which Jesus brings
also results from the fact the He has come in order to illumine the whole
world. (Jn 8:12)
Finally, two Johannine discourses give incremental allusive develop-
ment to a Johannine theology of glory. In John’s prologue, the incarnation
makes the divine glory (doxa) manifest. (Jn 1:14) The first sign begins
the public revelation of that same divine glory. (Jn 2:11) The raising of
Lazarus prolongs its initial revelation. (Jn 11:4-40) By implication, so do
all of Jesus’ signs.
Two discourses in the Book of Signs develop the theme of glory: the
bread-of-life discourse and the discourse at Tabernacles. The bread-of-life
discourse contrasts human approval (doxa) with the glory (doxa) which
comes from God. One must prefer the glory of God to human approval.
(Jn 7:18) The discourse during Tabernacles makes the following three
points. 1) Jesus seeks only the glory of the Father. (Jn 7:18, 8:54) 2) The
Father for His part glorifies the Son. (Jn 8:54) 3) When Jesus Himself
experiences glorification, He fulfills His promise of the living water by
pouring forth the divine Breath. (Jn 7:37-39)
I have traced five doctrinal themes developed across the discourses in
the Book of Signs: 1) judgment, 2) Jesus’ relationship to the Father, 3)
pneumatic rebirth, 4) universal salvation, and 5) the revelation of divine
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 213

glory. Allusion links these themes to one another. It also links them to the
last discourse, which develops them still further and applies them specifi-
cally to the disciples. Moreover, as one might expect, the last discourse,
which occurs in the Book of Glory, develops at some length a Johannine
theology of glory. In what follows, I shall first consider the structure of
the last discourse. Then I shall reflect on its use of literary allusion in
order to develop specific doctrinal themes.

Allusive Linkages in the Last Discourse

The last discourse, as we have seen, underwent redactional amplification.
In its original form, the last discourse fell into two distinct but interre-
lated parts. In part one, Jesus reflected on the saving significance of His
departure. In part two, He promised the “other witness” who would guide
the disciples in His absence. Part two also described the activity of the
“other witness” in the disciples and ended with the promise of the
eschatological gift of peace. (Jn 15:1-16:33)
The supplement to the last discourse endows the entire discourse with
a rough chiastic structure. The final section of the supplement (Jn
16:16-33) develops the same theme as the first part of the original dis-
course (Jn 13:31-14:14): namely, Jesus’ departure and eventual return to
the disciples. The supplement’s second section (Jn 15:18-16:15) devel-
ops the same themes as the second part of the original discourse (Jn
14:15-31): namely, the coming of the “other witness” and Her activity in
the disciples. At the heart of the chiasm lies the parable of the vine and
the branches and the importance of mutual indwelling through love. (Jn
The expanded discourse concludes with Jesus’ priestly prayer. The prayer
divides into three parts. In part one, Jesus beseeches the Father to reveal
His Son’s divine glory and to do so as a reward for Jesus’ own glorification
of the Father in the course of His ministry. (Jn 17:1-5) In part two, Jesus
asks the Father to protect His disciples as they confront a hostile world.
Jesus also consecrates the disciples to share in the priestly sacrifice of His
own passion. (Jn 17:9-19) In part three, Jesus then prays for all of those
who will believe in Him because of the disciples’ witness. Confronted
with a badly divided community, the Beloved Disciple has Jesus pray
especially that future believers will live united to one another in a way
which manifests the loving union of Father and Son. Finally, Jesus prays
that, by reverencing the divine name which both He and the Father share,
the disciples will one day also share in His risen glory.17 (Jn 17:20-26)
17. Cf. NJBC, 61: 170-205; Brown, The Gospel of John, II, pp. 605-782; Hänchen,
Commentary on John, II, pp. 115-159; John L. Boyle, “The Last Discourse (Jn 13,
31-16:33) and Prayer (Jn 17): Some Observations on Their Unity and Development,”
Biblica, 56(1975), pp. 210-222; Henri van den Bussche, Le discours d’adieu de Jésus:
Commentaire des chapitres 13 à 17 de l’évangile selon saint Jean, translated by C. Charlier
214 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The last discourse embellishes four themes already developed across

the preceding discourses: namely, judgment, Jesus’ relationship to the
Father, pneumatic enlightenment, and especially the revelation of divine
glory. Let us ponder each of these doctrinal themes in turn.
I begin with the theme of judgment. The book of signs concludes with
a brief account of Jesus’ final Jerusalem ministry. It includes Jesus’ trium-
phal entry (without a concomitant cleansing of the temple) and the story
of the Father’s verbal testimony to Jesus. In explaining the Father’s testi-
mony to the crowds, Jesus announces that His lifting up on the cross and
in risen glory will pass judgment on the world and its sinfulness. That
announcement links the revelation of divine glory to the theme of judg-
ment. (Jn 12:31-32)
The doctrinal appendix to the last discourse also reflects on the theme
of judgment. The parable of the vine and the branches, which, as we have
seen, provides the total discourse with its chiastic center, discloses the
fate of those who stand under divine judgment: namely, they will be con-
sumed when confronted with the fire of divine holiness. (Jn 15:5-6) The
supplement also names the Breath of the risen Christ as the one who will
carry on the judgment begun in Jesus’ ministry. By inspiring the dis-
ciples’ testimony to Jesus, She will reverse the false judgment which the
world pronounced on Him. She will proclaim the world’s sinfulness in
condemning Jesus as a sinner. She will unmask the world’s injustice when
it passed false judgment on God’s Son. Instead, the divine Breath of truth
will reveal Jesus as the source of divine justice. Finally, in reversing the
world’s judgment on Jesus, the “other witness” will make it clear that in
God’s eyes the world itself stands condemned before the judgment seat of
God for its violence and unbelief. (Jn 16:8-11)
The parable of the vine and the branches develops a second theme:
namely, the theme of the mutual indwelling of Jesus and His disciples.
That mutual indwelling engages Jesus’ relationship to the Father. Jesus’
obedient love of the Father manifests the perfect, mutual indwelling of
Father and Son. In like manner, the disciples’ loving fidelity to all of

and P. Goidts (Tournai: Castermann, 1959); Charles Hauret, “Les adieux du Seigneur
(Jean XIII-XVII): Charte de vie apostolique (Paris: J. Gablada, 1952); Joseph Huby, Le
discours de Jesus après le Cène; suivi d’une étude sur la connaissance de foi dans Saint Jean
(Paris: Beauschene, 1933); Wilhelm Oehler, Das Wort des Johannes an die Gemeinde:
Evangelium Johannes 15-17; Johannes Briefe und Offenbarung des Johannes (Gütersloh:
C. Bertelsman, 1938); H. Leonard Pass, The Glory of the Father: A Study of S. John
XIII-XVII (London: A.R. Mowbray, 1935), Henry Barclay Swete, The Last Discourse
and Prayer of our Lord: A Study of John XIV- XVII (London: Macmillan, 1914); Jürgen
Becke, “Die Abscheidsreden Jesu im Johannesevangelium,” Zeitschrift für die
Neutestamentlische Wissenschaft, 61(1970), pp. 215-246; Odo Schnelle, “Die
Abschiedsreden im Johannesevangelium,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentlische
Wissenschaft, 80(1989), pp. 64-79.
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 215

Jesus’ commandments insures that Jesus dwells in them and they in Him.
(Jn 15:5-13) The fruitfulness of the disciples’ lives glorifies the Father, as
did Jesus’ own testimony to the Father. (Jn 15:8, 17:4-5) The Father for
His part has already pruned the disciples through the words which Jesus
has already spoken to them. That pruning ensures their fruitful witness
to Him and to His divine glory. (Jn 15:1-5, 16-17) Loving obedience to
all of Jesus’ commands will, then, draw the disciples into the experience
of mutual indwelling which Jesus and the Father share. That mutual ind-
welling will also reveal the Father’s glory and will express itself in an-
swered prayer. (Jn 15:7-8; cf. 14:11-13)
The first and last sections of the expanded discourse deal with Jesus
return to the Father. Jesus’ return engages another important dimension
of Jesus’ relationship to the Father. The first and last sections of the last
discourse develop the following doctrinal points. 1) Jesus’ return to the
Father will effect His own glorification at the Father’s hands. (Jn 13:31-32)
2)Jesus’ return to the Father does not threaten the disciples with judg-
ment; but it does threaten His unbelieving adversaries. (Jn 8:21) 3) As
for the disciples, Jesus’ return makes imperative their obedience to the
new commandment of love; for mutual love makes them disciples. (Jn
Jesus’ return to the Father has very different consequences for believers
and for unbelievers. Jesus’ departure will sever His connection with those
who do not believe in Him. (Jn 21:8) Those, however, who do believe in
Him will suffer only a temporary separation, because Jesus goes to pre-
pare a place for them in the Father’s heavenly mansion and will return to
conduct them there. (Jn 14:1-4) Jesus’ return to the disciples after a brief
separation will, moreover, more than make up for the sorrow which His
temporary departure and absence caused. In fact, Jesus’ return will re-
verse the positions of the disciples and the world. The world which re-
joiced at Jesus’ death will find itself grief-stricken, while the disciples will
recognize in the grief they suffered at Jesus’ temporary disappearance the
birthing of new and indestructible life. Jesus’ return in risen glory will
therefore suffuse the disciples with a joy which nothing can take from
them. (Jn 16:16-22) Jesus Himself embodies the disciples’ way to the
Father because He both incarnates divine truth and functions as the source
of divine life. (Jn 14:6-8)
The theme of Jesus’ return to the Father also blends with the theme of
pneumatic enlightenment. Jesus’ departure to the Father prepares the coming
of the “other witness.” Indeed, unless Jesus departs, She cannot come
because Jesus’ resurrection effects the mission of the divine Breath in
eschatological plentitude as the Breath of the risen Christ. (Jn 16:4b-7)
In other words, Jesus’ return to the Father transforms Him into the
Breath-baptizer and effects pneumatic enlightenment.
216 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

The last discourse describes the action of the Breath in the following
terms. As the “Breath of truth,” the “other witness” will teach the dis-
ciples to appropriate Jesus’ teachings. Hence, Jesus’ return to the Father
will inaugurate a time of more perfect instruction for the disciples. (Jn
16:23-25; cf. 14:16) Knowledge of the divine Breath will result from
receiving Her in faith and from Her divine indwelling in the disciples.
(Jn 14:17) That indwelling will cause the disciples to dwell in one an-
other through love and will reveal to them the mutual indwelling of Fa-
ther and Son. (Jn 14:20-21) The Breath’s indwelling will also inspire the
obedience of faith and will thus cause both Father and Son to dwell in the
disciples. (Jn 14:23-24)
Only dwelling in Jesus through obedience to His word insures the dis-
ciples’ fruitfulness. Cut off from Jesus and therefore from His words and
from His Breath, the disciples can only wither and die. (Jn 15:1-6) Dwell-
ing in Jesus will bear fruit, among other things, in answered prayer. (Jn
15:7-8) The fruitfulness of the disciples which manifests the divine ind-
welling also reveals their prior divine election in Christ. (Jn 15:16-17)
The “other witness” will enliven the disciples by the gift of risen life. (Jn
14:19; cf. 3:13-14, 7:37-39) She will also impart an eschatological peace
which the hostility of the world will have no power to disturb. (Jn
14:27-31) Finally, besides inspiring the disciples’ testimony before the
world, the “other witness” will also disclose to them the eschatological
future. She will speak only what the risen Christ tells Her to speak, just as
Jesus Himself spoke only what the Father told Him to speak. (Jn 16:12-15)
In its original form, the last discourse focused on the relationship of
the “other witness” to the disciples. Those sections of the expanded dis-
course which deal with the “other witness” focus more on Her confronta-
tion with the world. That confrontation, however, involves the disciples,
since She confronts the world by inspiring the disciples’ witness to Jesus.
She witnesses in their witness.
In this context, the expanded discourse makes the following doctrinal
points. Because discipleship unites one to Jesus, it attracts the world’s
violent hostility. The world persecuted Jesus unjustly and without rea-
son. Hence, His disciples can expect no better treatment. (Jn 15:18-27)
The “other witness” will, however, confirm the disciples’ faithful witness
to Jesus in the face of hostility, ostracism, and persecution, even unto
death. (Jn 15:25-16:4) By setting the disciples in opposition to a violent
and hostile world, their Breath-inspired testimony to Jesus causes them
to share in His passion and sacrificial death. (Jn 17:15-19)
Finally, the last discourse develops at some length a theology of divine
glory as the historical manifestation of divine splendor. The Beloved Dis-
ciple introduces the theme of glory in the preface to the last discourse.
The “hour” of Jesus’ return to the Father coincides with the Father’s glo-
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 217

rification of the Son “in Himself.” (Jn 13:1, 31-32) The appendix to the
original discourse further develops the same theme. The fruitfulness of
the disciples which results from their dwelling in Jesus gives glory to the
Father. (Jn 15:8) The testimony of the “other witness” in and through
the disciples’ own testimony to Jesus will also manifest His divine glory.
(Jn 16:14)
The theology of glory developed in the last discourse also makes the
following additional doctrinal points. The Father glorifies the Son in the
resurrection so that the Son can continue to glorify the Father through
the mission of the divine Breath. (Jn 17:1-2) The risen life which the
Breath will impart communicates a share in the divine glory. (Jn 17:1-2)
Risen life takes the form of an empowering enlightenment which enables
people to recognize the divine glory embodied in Jesus and in His testi-
mony to the Father. (Jn 17:2-4)
The paschal mystery brings the historical revelation of divine glory to
its culmination. Jesus’ glorification of the Father on earth took two forms:
a) His proclamation of the Father’s words to the disciples and b) their
acceptance of that word in faith. Jesus’ words glorify God by manifesting
that He comes from the Father and speaks in the Father’s name. (Jn 17:4-8)
The divine glory revealed in the resurrection manifests Jesus’ heavenly
glory which He possessed with the Father even before the creation of the
world. (Jn 17:4-5)
The coming of the “other witness” prolongs the revelation of the divine
glory begun in Jesus. Moreover, the Breath-inspired disciples will do greater
works than Jesus Himself. Those works, their faith, and their testimony
to the risen Christ will all manifest His glory, just as His teaching and
performance of the works given Him by the Father manifested the Father’s
glory. (Jn 14:12-16, 16:14-17, 17:9-11) The mutual indwelling in love
of all believers manifests the glory which Jesus ever possessed in heaven
before the creation of the world. (Jn 17:20-23)
The gospel of John abounds in other allusive linkages. In this section,
however, I have focused on the Beloved Disciple’s most distinctive use of
literary allusion: namely, in order to develop the same doctrine incre-
mentally across the discourses. I have argued that such incremental doc-
trinal development dramatizes the waxing of the light in its struggle against
the forces of darkness. I have also suggested that it exemplifies the Be-
loved Disciple’s most characteristic use of literary allusion. The section
which follows ponders another important thematic linkage in the fourth
gospel: namely, the theme of “open messianism.”
218 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology
As we have seen, the theme of the messianic secret plays an important
role in Markan narrative Christology. It repeatedly reminds the reader
that through the gift of faith, he or she is really in the know about Jesus’
true identity as Son of God, messiah, and suffering servant. The revela-
tion of the messianic secret also dramatizes the inevitable disclosure of
the full truth about Jesus: namely, His identity as both Son of God and
suffering servant. The other synoptic evangelists, as we have seen, assimi-
late, attenuate, and reinterpret the Markan messianic secret. In none of
the synoptic gospels, however, does one find the kind of open messianism
which characterizes the fourth gospel.
In the fourth gospel, the Baptizer’s failure to recognize Jesus depicts the
latter initially as a hidden messiah. (Jn 1:31) Once, however, the Baptizer
sees the Breath of God descend on Jesus and testifies to its significance,
the messianic character of Jesus’ mission enters the public record. (Jn
1:32-34) The disciples acknowledge Jesus as the messiah from their very
first contact with Him. (Jn 1:35-51) Jesus in talking to the Samaritan
woman tells her explicitly that He is the messiah. (Jn 4:26) After Jesus’
sojourn in their midst the Samaritans have no doubt about His messianic
identity. (Jn 4:29, 42)
The Johannine Jesus proclaims His messianic identity and authority
publicly and openly. (Jn 10:24-5) During the feast of Tabernacles and in
His final Jerusalem ministry, Jesus’ adversaries debate whether or not He
is the messiah; but their refusal to acknowledge it clearly places them on
the side of the forces of darkness. (Jn 7:26-31, 41-2; 12:34) During the
trial of the man born blind, his confession of Jesus as messiah merits the
former beggar’s expulsion from the synagogue. (Jn 9:22) In the course of
the gospel narrative, three people—Nathanael, Peter, and Martha—con-
fess publicly Jesus’ messianic identity. (Jn 1:49, 6:68-9, 11:27) Finally,
the Beloved Disciple narrates the trial of Jesus before Pilate in such a way
as to transform it into the ironic, public avowal by His enemies of His
royal messianic claims. (Jn 18:28-19:22)
In both the synoptic and Johannine traditions, Jesus possesses a special
gift of discernment, an uncanny ability to read human hearts accurately.
(Mk 2:8; Mt 9:4; Lk 5:22; Jn 2:23-25) Moreover, on one occasion in the
synoptic gospels—namely, when He gives His disciples instructions for
preparing the passover meal—Jesus exhibits something like ESP. He shows
an extraordinary and accurate knowledge of events before they happen.
(Mk 14:12-16; Mt 26:1-5; Lk 22:1-6) The Beloved Disciple, however,
gives even more narrative prominence to Jesus’ foreknowledge of events.
In the Johannine tradition, Jesus’ not only unusual but almost preter-
natural knowledge of future events reveals His messianic identity. (Jn
1:47-51; 4:15-9, 39; 6:70-1) That foreknowledge includes Jesus’ advance
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 219

knowledge of the “hour” of His passion and glorification. (Jn 2:4; 7:30;
8:20; 12:23-7; 13:32; 17:1)
In this context, I find it interesting that for all his open proclamation
of Jesus as the messiah, even the Beloved Disciple feels compelled to make
it clear that Jesus Himself repudiated secular, Davidic messianism. To
Nathanael’s profession of messianic faith, Jesus replies that the disciples
have only begun to see into the mystery of His own person. That mystery
embodies depths of truth which utterly transcend Davidic messianism.
(Jn 1:51) After the multiplication of the loaves and fish, Jesus refuses to
allow the enthusiastic crowds to make Him king. (Jn 6:15) When the
Johannine Jesus enters Jerusalem, as in the synoptics, He orchestrates the
event in a way which dramatizes the fact that He comes, not as a
bone-crushing, warlike Davidic messiah, but as a humble prince of peace.
(Jn 12:14-5) Finally, in His exchange with Pilate, the Johannine Jesus
makes it quite clear that the kingdom He proclaims has nothing to do
with either worldly kingdoms or power politics. His kingdom rests in-
stead on the proclamation of the divine truth incarnate in His person.
(Jn 18:33-38a)
Paradoxically, then, in its own narrative fashion the fourth evangelist’s
open messianism makes many of the same points about Jesus’ messianic
identity as does the Markan messianic secret. Jesus confronts the reader
of the fourth gospel as messiah, but not as a Davidic messiah. His messi-
anic dignity flows rather from the divine truth which He incarnates and
to which He bears witness. As in the synoptics, in Jesus’ person the fig-
ures of messiah and suffering servant blend. The kingdom Jesus estab-
lishes has nothing to do with worldly kingdoms founded on coercion
and violence. Instead, Jesus confronts the reader as prince of peace who
establishes His peaceable kingdom by sending the sin-forgiving Breath to
reconcile humans to God and to one another.18

This first section of volume three has argued that the gospel of John
marks a significant shift in New Testament narrative Christology: the
shift from moral to doctrinal concerns. Both John and the synoptics see
faith and practice as intimately linked. Both narrative traditions seek to
advance Christological knowing through moral assimilation to Jesus in
the power of His Breath. The synoptic writers, however, tend to present
doctrinal beliefs as the given context for moral transformation in Jesus’

18. Cf. M.W.G. Stibbe, “The Elusive Christ: A New Reading of the Fourth Gospel,”
Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 44(1991), pp. 19-38; John Painter, “Quest
in John 1-4,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 41(1991), pp. 33-70; “Quest
and Rejection Stories in John,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament, 36(1988),
220 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

image through baptism in His Breath. In the synoptic narratives, there-

fore, rhetorical emphasis falls on moral transformation in faith rather
than on the faith which contextualizes that transformation. The fourth
gospel switches rhetorical emphasis to doctrine. Doctrinal orthodoxy pre-
occupies the Beloved Disciple. Orthopraxis in Johannine theology ex-
pands to include orthodoxy much more explicitly than in the synoptics.
One must do the deed of faith. The Johannine Jesus harangues his unbe-
lieving adversaries again and again about His unity with the Father, His
divine pre-existence, and His right to use the divine name I AM. His
disciples assent to that truth and thus perform the deed of faith.
In the Johannine letters, the dissidents’ violation of the law of love by
departure from the community of orthodox faith proves their hetero-
doxy and lack of faith. Had they believed the truth Jesus incarnates from
the beginning, they would never have departed.
Do the doctrinal preoccupations of the fourth evangelist cause him to
write a “higher” Christology than the synoptics? In the first volume of
this study I suggested that Christologists should replace the terms “high
Christology” and “low Christology” with “good Christology” and “bad
Christology.” Good Christology takes into account all the pertinent reve-
latory evidence in formulating a Christology. Bad Christology does not.
Hence, a “high” Christology which fails finally to do justice to Jesus’
humanity qualifies as bad Christology. So does a “low” Christology which
fails to do justice to His divinity.
We need to abandon the terms “high” and “low” Christology for an-
other reason: their vagueness. Popular usage of both terms has transformed
them into “weasel words” which blur a spectrum of different meanings.
Vague terms betray the human mind into badly muddled thinking, be-
cause one cannot verify or falsify a vague hypothesis until one clarifies
what it means. All too often, however, contemporary Christologists rest
content with vagueness.
If by a “high” Christology one means a Christology which affirms the
divinity of Jesus, then Johannine Christology ranks no “higher” than syn-
optic Christology. The two traditions use a variety of narrative strategies
in order to assert Jesus’ divinity; but both make the assertion, including
the gospels of Mark and of Luke. If, however, by a “high” Christology
one means a narrative Christology which insists explicitly and strongly
on Jesus’ divine pre-existence prior to becoming human, then Johannine
Christology obviously ranks “higher” than synoptic Christology.
As we saw in volume one, the encounter with the risen Christ revealed
Him as Breath-baptizer and therefore as divine. Those who saw the risen
Christ experienced His divinity directly, through a graced and empower-
ing enlightenment. The first Christian theologians had, however, to infer
his pre-existence from His divinity. The synoptic tradition did not make
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 221

that inference explicitly; the Johannine did. So does any “good” contem-
porary Christology.
If, moreover, by “high” Christology one means a Christology which
projects into Jesus’ humanity traits which would seem to belong properly
only to God, then Johannine Christology again ranks “higher” than syn-
optic Christology. This aspect of Johannine Christology causes, however,
more problems than it solves.
In both the synoptic and Johannine traditions the humanity of Jesus
reveals His divinity. In the synoptics, Jesus in his cosmological miracles
does what only God can do: He calms the waters of chaos and walks
upon the waves. Jesus does the same in the Johannine tradition; but, in
addition, the Johannine Jesus throughout His ministry displays an ex-
traordinary human awareness of His personal divinity and of His
pre-existence with the Father. The Jesus of the fourth gospels speaks ha-
bitually from the atemporal standpoint of the paschal mystery. He also
exhibits a more detailed knowledge of the future than does the Jesus of
the synoptics. These shifts in narrative rhetoric reflect the Beloved Disciple’s
passionate concern to vindicate Jesus’ divinity.
I shall consider these doctrinal issues in the following section when I
examine the question of Jesus’ human consciousness. Here it suffices to
note that the fourth gospel raises in a narrative context a speculative ques-
tion which narrative theology itself cannot solve: namely, the question of
“the communication of traits (communicatio idiomatum).”
The question of the “communication of traits” asks: Can one predicate
of the humanity of Jesus traits which belong properly only to the divin-
ity? By the same token, can one predicate of the divinity traits which
belong properly to the humanity? It would take generations for the fa-
thers of the Church even to formulate this question with any logical clar-
ity. It would take theologians even longer to come up with a plausible
Narrative Christology cannot answer the question of the communica-
tion of traits because the question raises a logical issue. Narrative Christo-
logy, however, eschews logical thinking for intuitive thinking. It there-
fore lacks the speculative tools to answer a very vexing question which
Johannine Christology by its narrative structure begins inchoately to raise.
When narrative patterns of thinking raise logical questions which they
themselves cannot answer, then they have reached the theological limits
of what narrative can accomplish. Appropriately, then, the fourth gospel
brings this consideration of New Testament narrative Christology to a
In the following section, I shall reflect inferentially on Christological
doctrine. There I shall address the issue of the communication of traits.
Its satisfactory resolution, however, presupposes the prior satisfactory reso-
222 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

lution of a host of other doctrinal issues of extraordinary complexity.

Chief among them, of course, ranks the question of the hypostatic union
and what it might mean in a contemporary context.
Here perhaps it suffices to note what the Beloved Disciple’s doctrinal
preoccupations have done to gospel narrative. The synoptic Jesus with
considerable historical plausibility calls people to repentance and to sub-
mission to the practical demands of life under God’s reign. The Johannine
Jesus, by contrast, spends His entire public career discoursing to unbe-
lieving “Jews” about the doctrinal issues which divided the Johannine
community and which caused its expulsion from the synagogue. As a
consequence, the Johannine portrait of Jesus loses historical credibility
through anachronism. The historical implausibility of the Johannine por-
trait of Jesus dramatizes, as a consequence, the awkwardness of using
gospel narrative in order to resolve post-resurrection doctrinal debates.
The same awkwardness nudges the theological mind to abandon intui-
tive forms of thinking for inferential reflection on Christological and
trinitarian doctrine.
The fourth gospel brings one to the threshold of patristic theology in
yet another way. It dramatizes the intimate connection between Christo-
logical and trinitarian thinking.
In the first volume of this study I suggested that the current Christo-
logical crisis results in part from theologians’ failure to pursue Christo-
logy and trinitarian theology simultaneously. These two doctrinal strains
developed in tandem during the patristic era. As a consequence, no refor-
mulation of either does justice to the Christian tradition unless it suc-
cessfully coordinates both doctrines. In the doctrinal section of this study
which follows, I shall attempt to overcome this particular deficiency in
contemporary Christological thinking.
Nor can one do justice to Johannine theology unless one coordinates
Christological with trinitarian doctrine. Johannine narrative deals bril-
liantly with both. The Christomonism of contemporary theological think-
ing has focused far too narrowly on the alleged “highness” of Johannine
Christology. Commentators have misinterpreted that “highness” to mean
that among the four gospels only the last asserts the divinity of Jesus
unambiguously. In fact, all four evangelists assert the divinity of Jesus
clearly to anyone attuned to intuitive, narrative forms of expression. The
Beloved Disciple differs from the synoptic evangelists, not in asserting
Jesus’ divinity, but in insisting that Jesus’ divinity necessarily implies His
divine pre-existence.
Anyone who equates these two statements needs to study logic because
they confuse a premise with its conclusion. The divinity of Jesus func-
tions as the premise. That divinity entails as its logical consequence Jesus’
divine pre-existence. The apostles experienced Jesus as a divine reality in
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 223

His resurrection appearances; but the apostolic Church had to infer Jesus’
pre-existence because in this world one has no experiential access to it.
As I have already indicated, the Beloved Disciple insisted on Jesus’
pre-existence because he recognized the need to co-ordinate Christological
and trinitarian faith. Besides vindicating Jesus’ divine pre-existence, how-
ever, the fourth evangelist also hammered out terminology for talking
about the unity and trinity of God which anticipated some of the best
insights of patristic trinitarian theology.
The Beloved Disciple recognized the presence in the Christian Godhead
of three distinct personal realities: the Father, the Son, and the Breath,
whom he also called “the other Witness.” The fourth evangelist also de-
veloped a language for speaking about the unity of the members of the
divine triad. They all qualify as “God”. They share an identity of life
which John calls “Breath (pneuma).” One becomes a child of God when
the indwelling Breath communicates to one a share in that same divine
The fathers of the Church will replace these Johannine terms with more
abstract philosophical categories. They will call Father, Son, and Breath
“hypostaseis,” and they will replace the terms “God” and “Breath” with
“ousia.”The fourth evangelist, however, first made these theological dis-
tinctions, even though he used Biblical language in order to do so.
Moreover, in what concerns trinitarian theology, the Beloved Disciple
did more than recognize the need to find a way of talking both about
three distinct realities in the Christian God. He also formulated a theo-
logical explanation for the divine unity. Divine unity results from the
mutual indwelling of Father, Son, and Breath. Moreover, the Beloved
Disciple seems to have derived this explanation from reflection on the
indwelling of the risen Christ in the Christian community through His
mission of the “other witness.”
Maximus the Confessor and John of Damascus would call that ind-
welling “perichoresis.” The council of Ferrara-Florence would canonize it
as a legitimate way of conceiving the unity of the trinity. (DS 1331) Nev-
ertheless, the fourth evangelist first thought up the idea. Substance phi-
losophy finds the idea of mutual indwelling virtually unintelligible, since
substances by definition cannot exist in one another as in a subject of
inhesion. Nevertheless, in what follows I shall argue that “mutual ind-
welling” provides the best way of conceiving the unity of the trinity. As
we shall see, the mutual existence of the divine persons in one another
effects in them an identity rather than a mere similarity of life. Moreover,
I shall show that mutual indwelling becomes thinkable when one shifts
from a metaphysics of substance to a relational metaphysics of experi-
224 Part 1: The Transition to Doctrines: Johannine Narrative Christology

I shall return to these doctrinal considerations in the section which

follows. Here it suffices to note that the Beloved Disciple recognized be-
fore any other Christian thinker the need to coordinate Christological
and trinitarian thinking. He also effected that coordination with genuine
brilliance. In Johannine theology, the incarnation reveals the trinity at
the same time that the trinity contextualizes the incarnation. Moreover,
the Beloved Disciple articulated a Biblical language for speaking consis-
tently about both mysteries.
These Johannine insights mark a significant doctrinal advance over syn-
optic Christology. As a consequence, Johannine narrative Christology
forces doctrinal Christologists to face at an inferential level the insights
which the Beloved Disciple reached intuitively. Doctrinal Christology
must find a logically consistent way of speaking both about the Word
made flesh and about the divine, triune reality which He reveals. To these
complex issues I turn in the section which follows.
Chapter 5: Thematic and Allusive Linkages in John 225

Part 2
Doctrinal Christology

Chapter 6
Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology
In the third chapter of volume one, I proposed testing the capacity of
foundational theology to provide an adequate speculative basis for re-
solving the current Christological crisis. Foundational theology derives
its criteria for doctrinal orthodoxy from a strictly normative insight into
the forms and dynamics of conversion.
Conversion, as we have seen, comes in five forms. Affective conversion
seeks to make intuitive beliefs psychologically responsible by promoting
healthy emotional development. Intellectual conversion measures the truth
or falsity of both intuitive and inferential judgments about reality as well
as the adequacy or inadequacy of the frames of reference in which the
mind reaches those judgments. Personal moral conversion measures the
extent to which decisions about interpersonal relationships respect hu-
man rights and duties. Socio-political conversion measures the decisions
which shape institutional policy by the extent to which they promote the
common good. Religious conversion measures human responses to the his-
torical self-revelation of God by their conformity to the demands of that
self-revelation. Christian conversion finds the reality of God normatively
but not exhaustively revealed in Jesus and in the Breath He sends.
Both a metaphysics of experience and the five forms of conversion struc-
ture the argument of the foundational Christology developed in these
three volumes. Foundational Christology asks: How does commitment to
Jesus Christ as the normative historical self-revelation of God transvalue in
faith the other four forms of conversion? One form of conversion transval-
ues another by causing one to re-evaluate it in the light of a novel frame
of reference. Christian conversion transvalues the other forms of conver-
sion in the frame of reference created by faith in the God historically
revealed in Jesus Christ and in His Holy Breath.
As Christian conversion transforms an initial global commitment of
religious faith into a psychologically responsible, intuitive perception of
the future, Christian conversion infuses into human experience the theo-
logical virtue of hope. Volume one derived a normative insight into
Christological hope from Pauline theology and from the book of Revela-
226 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

As Christian conversion transforms an initial global faith into the in-

tuitive and inferential beliefs which intellectual conversion renders meth-
odologically responsible, Christian conversion infuses into human expe-
rience the theological virtue of faith. The narrative Christology devel-
oped in volume two and in the first part of this volume studied the intui-
tive dimensions of Christological faith.
The doctrinal Christology developed in this section endows Christo-
logical hope and faith with inferential precision. Like narrative Christo-
logy, therefore, doctrinal Christology deals with religious beliefs. Doctri-
nal Christology, however, advances beyond intuitive expressions of Christo-
logical faith by coordinating felt intuitive judgments about the God re-
vealed in Jesus Christ with logically formulated inferential judgments
about the same divine reality.
Traditionally, doctrinal Christology treats two interrelated issues: the
person of Jesus and His saving work. Doctrinal reflection on the person
of Jesus must deal one way or the other with Chalcedonian Christology.
Doctrinal Christology must also coordinate its account of Jesus’ person
with its account of the triune God whom Jesus and the paschal mystery
The first three chapters of this section deal with the doctrine of Jesus’
person. The remaining chapters deal with the doctrine of His saving work.
As we shall see, when one approaches the work of Jesus with pragmatic
logic, it clarifies the doctrine of His person and renders it practical.
Any fallible, rational Christological hypothesis requires validation. Be-
fore one can verify or falsify any hypothesis, one needs to clarify it by
explicitating its operational consequences. A Christological hypothesis
seeks to interpret rationally and inferentially the proper object of all foun-
dational Christological reflections: namely, the nature of Christological
of knowing. By “Christological knowing” I mean the insight into Jesus
Christ which results from practical assimilation to Him in the power of
His Breath.
The logical, inferential interpretation of Christological knowing requires
two kinds of verification. One must verify such a theological hypothesis
both historically and morally. Let us try to understand why.
Christological knowing assimilates one to an historically revealed reli-
gious reality. Hence, logical Christological doctrines must find scholarly
verification in the historical and eschatological reality of Jesus and of the
paschal mystery. This section of volume three deals primarily with the
historical and eschatological verification of doctrinal Christology.
Christological doctrine, however, interprets a unique kind of knowing.
One knows Jesus Christ with Christological faith through practical as-
similation to Him in the power of His Breath. An historically verified
Christological doctrine insures that one has correctly interpreted the his-
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 227

torical, personal, eschatological, religious norm to which Christological

knowing assimilates believers practically. The ultimate verification of a
Christological hypothesis consists, however, in the lived embodiment of
the practical consequences of this or that Christological doctrine. The
third and final section of this volume examines how one ought to go
about verifying Christological faith practically, through moral assimila-
tion to Jesus in faith and in the power of His Breath.
The historical verification of any Christological doctrine requires the
logical explicitation of its operational consequences. Its lived verification
requires putting those consequences into practice. As a consequence, the
historical verification and the practical verification of Christological doc-
trines both have an intimate relationship to one another. The historical
verification clarifies the doctrine’s operational consequences and makes it
liveable. The living of those consequences, however, provides founda-
tional Christological doctrine with its ultimate justification when it proves
that the doctrine in question does indeed foster Christological knowing.
The intimate connection between these two forms of verification drama-
tizes the inseparability of doctrinal from practical Christology. As a con-
sequence, one can interpret Christological doctrine adequately only when
one employs a sound pragmatic and relational logic of consequences.
I summarize here the Jesusology developed in volume one for two rea-
sons. First of all, having used these three volumes as Christological texts,
I know well that by the time most people reach this point in a lengthy
argument, they have largely forgotten the methodological presupposi-
tion and philosophical components of the account of Jesus’ humanity
which I developed in volume one. Second, that method and metaphysics
form an integral and constitutive part of the doctrinal argument about to
unfold. Those readers who feel that they have mastered the method and
metaphysics to which I refer may, then, prefer to skip the section which
follows. Others, I expect, will find it helpful.
This chapter, then, prepares the way for the experiential construct of
the hypostatic union developed in the following chapter. It does so in
two ways. First, it summarizes the Jesusology developed in volume one.
Second, it analyzes dialectically issues in post-Chalcedonian Christology
with which any systematic Christological doctrine must deal.
The Jesusology formulated in volume one proposes a scientifically plau-
sible, philosophical construct of Jesus’ humanity. No other Christology
in the entire history of Christian thought has ever invoked a scientifically
plausible, philosophical construct of Jesus’ humanity. That fact alone
speaks volumes about the reasons for the contemporary Christological
crisis. The Jesusology developed in volume one marks, then, an impor-
tant first in the evolution of Christological thinking. Moreover, even
though it deals with Jesusology rather than with Christology as such, a
228 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

scientifically plausible, experiential, philosophical construct of Jesus’ hu-

manity makes an important contribution to Christological doctrine:
namely, it supplies doctrinal Christology with a fallibilistically verified
understanding of Jesus’ human reality. That reality doctrinal Christology
must re-interpret inferentially in the light of the paschal mystery.
This chapter prepares the inferential formulation of an experiential
Christology in a second way: namely, it analyzes dialectically historical
issues with which an inferential interpretation of Christological knowing
must deal. In what follows, I shall examine four sets of issues: 1) those
raised by theological attempts to explain Chalcedon; 2) those raised by
rationalistic, Enlightenment Christologies; 3) those raised by neo-orthodox
Christologies and by contemporary New Testament Christology; and 4)
those raised by contemporary philosophical Christologies.
This chapter’s argument, then, divides into five parts. Part one summa-
rizes the Jesusology developed in volume one. Part two examines dialecti-
cally issues in the development of post-Chalcedonian Christology. Part
three reflects on questions posed by Enlightenment Christologies. Part
four ponders the Christological issues which Protestant neo-orthodoxy
and contemporary New Testament theology raise. Part five analyzes the
philosophical Christologies of Karl Rahner and of Edward Schillebeeckx.
The chapter which follows this one invokes criteria derived from a strictly
normative account of conversion in order to authenticate Chalcedonian
Christological doctrine. In a subsequent chapter, I propose an experien-
tial construct of the hypostatic union coordinate with the Jesusology de-
veloped in volume one. That construct will argue that in Jesus one en-
counters the finite human experience of being a divine person.
Since the incarnation reveals the trinity, chapter nine in this section
coordinates the construct of incarnation proposed in chapter eight with
an experiential construct of the trinity. Subsequent chapters in this sec-
tion deal with different aspects of Jesus’ saving work viewed as the his-
torical revelation of His person and mission.

I begin this chapter by summarizing the Jesusology developed in volume
one. I contextualized that Jesusology by pondering the issues raised by
Logos-anthropos Christology. Logos-anthropos Christology insisted that the
incarnate Son of God possesses a complete humanity. It responded to a
heterodox Logos-sarx Christology in which the divine Logos replaced Jesus’
human soul. As a result, in Logos-sarx Christology, Jesus’ humanity con-
sisted only of a physical body.
As we saw, Arius endorsed a heterodox, Logos-sarx understanding of the
incarnation. In response, the Logos-anthropos Christology developed by
the Cappadocian fathers and by other patristic thinkers reappropriated
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 229

and developed Origen’s insight that Jesus possessed a complete human

nature: a human soul as well as a human body. Among the Latin fathers,
Hilary of Poitiers, Jerome, and Gaius Marius Victorinus developed simi-
lar doctrines. Hilary, however, began the doctrinal divinization of Jesus’
humanity which would one day culminate in the inflated Christologies
of the middle ages.
The council of Chalcedon, as we saw, endorsed the general thrust of
Logos-anthropos Christology. It taught that Jesus has a complete human
nature (physis). In the incarnate Son of God’s person (hypostasis) the hu-
man nature co-exists with the divine nature (physis) without blending
into some kind of third reality.
The council of Chalcedon was groping for a creedal formula which
would heal the rupture in the Church which resulted from the excom-
munication of Nestorius, the patriarch of Antioch. At the council of
Ephesus, Cyril, patriarch of Alexandria, led the attack upon Nestorius. A
council of reconciliation, Chalcedon deliberately avoided endorsing any
particular philosophical understanding of the key terms of its Christo-
logical creed: namely, hypostasis and physis. Nor did the council explain
how the hypostasis brings together divinity and humanity without blend-
ing them into a third reality. The council’s vagueness invited further specu-
lation on the precise significance of its teachings.
Chalcedon, then, contented itself with setting general linguistic pa-
rameters for future discourse about the incarnation. It demanded that,
however one may choose to define “hypostasis” and “physis,” Christologists
who claim to express the shared faith of the Church must speak of only
one subsistent divine reality in the Word made flesh. The council also
required that orthodox Christology portray that subsistent reality as both
fully divine and fully human. Finally, Chalcedon prescribed that
Christologists in the future avoid blending divinity and humanity into
some fictive “theandric” reality, as indeed the monophysites had.
Chalcedon, in other words, left it to subsequent theological speculation
to clarify the meaning of the catechetical formulas it endorsed.1
Some of the theologians who propounded a Logos-anthrôpos Christo-
logy displayed more philosophical ambition. I suggested in volume one

1. Cf. R.V. Sellers, The Council of Chalcedon: A Historical and Doctrinal Survey (London:
S.P.C.K., 1953); Marcelo Merino, “El Articulo Christologico del Simbolo
Constantinopolitano en los Credos Orientales de Siglo IV” in Christo Hijo de Dios y
Redentor del Hombre, pp. 477-498. For the post-Chalcedonian theological reflection
which culminated in Constantinople II, see: Eugene M. Ludwig, O.F.M.,
Neo-Chalcedonism and the Council of 553 (Berkeley, CA: Doctoral Dissertation/The
Graduate Theological Union, 1983). Constantinople II asserted more explicitly than
Chalcedon the identity of the hypostatic reality incarnate in Jesus and the second
person of the trinity. See also: G.L.C. Frank, “The Council of Constantinople II as a
Model Reconciliation Council,” Theological Studies, 52(1991), pp. 636-650.
230 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

that the Platonic account of human nature toward which patristic Logos-
anthrôpos Christology gravitated endorsed five philosophical fallacies which
any contemporary account of the human must avoid:
1) Logos-anthrôpos Christology tended to acquiesce in substantial dual-
ism. Like good Platonists, patristic theologians tended to understand
humanity as two essentially distinct kinds of substance mysteriously united
into a single subsistent reality: a spiritual substance, or soul, and a mate-
rial substance or body. A credible contemporary account of Jesus’ hu-
manity must avoid this and all other dualistic patterns of thinking. Dual-
ism exemplifies a logical fallacy because it so conceives of interrelated
realities as to render their relationship to one another unintelligible.
2) The defenders of Logos-anthrôpos Christology understood Christo-
logical doctrine soteriologically. They saw that the historical incarnation
of God reveals simultaneously two things: the reality of God and the way
humans must live if they hope to experience saving union with the divine
reality. Unfortunately, however, the fathers in question tended to inter-
pret the reality of God in the light of the cosmic dualism which Platonic
thinking popularized. They conceived of God as essentially spiritual and
immaterial. They therefore tended to perceive saving union with God as
the spiritualization of human nature.
In volume one, I argued that a credible contemporary account of Jesus’
humanity must avoid sundering spirit dualistically from matter. In the
account of Jesus’ humanity, therefore, I avoided altogether the terms
“spirit” and “matter.”
3) The philosophical conception of the human which the proponents
of Logos-anthrôpos Christology popularized lapsed into yet a third kind of
dualism: namely, operational dualism. This third form of dualism im-
plied the other two. Having divided humanity into a spiritual soul and a
material body and having defined the reality of God as essentially spiri-
tual, Platonizing patristic theologians tended to endow the essentially
spiritual powers of the soul, the intellect and the will, with privileged
access to God.
I argued that a plausible, contemporary understanding of humanity
needs to avoid operational dualism along with cosmic and substantial
dualism. With hints from the North American philosophical tradition, I
sidestepped dualism by conceiving the humanity of Jesus in relational
philosophical categories; and, as I just indicated, I also deliberately avoided
using the terms “spirit” and “matter” in describing human experience. In
what follows, I shall also avoid them in describing the reality of the triune
4) The proponents of Logos-anthrôpos Christology failed to develop an
adequate understanding of the meaning of “person.” They used the term
“hypostasis” in order to designate the particular subsisting reality we call
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 231

Jesus, the Son of God and second member of the divine triad; but they
left the term deliberately vague. The vagueness reflected in part a pro-
found suspicion of the rationalizing tendencies which had produced the
Arian heresy and which marked Arian polemic. Orthodox theology, even
when informed by philosophical presuppositions, tended by contrast to
insist on the ultimately mysterious character of the central realities of
Christian faith. Such insistence demanded that theologians approach
Christian doctrine contemplatively and reverently, not rationally and ar-
Any sound Christology needs, of course, to approach the mystery of
the Word made flesh reverently and prayerfully. In the end, however, any
adequate, contemporary, doctrinal Christology needs to come up with a
plausible inferential account of the meaning of “humanity” and of “di-
vinity.” It must also propose a credible descriptive definition of “person”;
for until one clarifies the meaning of these key Christological terms, one
cannot even begin to formulate an account of how humanity and divin-
ity relate to one another in the person of Jesus.
As we have already seen, much of the muddle in contemporary Christo-
logical thinking results from the lack of such terminological precision. It
also flows from logical muddle: namely, from half-baked hypotheses whose
unacceptable consequences go unexplored by those who formulate them.
5) Finally, the authors of Logos-anthropos Christology all tended to en-
dorse the philosophical fallacy called “essentialism.” They did so because
they thought like Greeks and because Greek philosophy, especially
Platonism and Aristotelianism, projected a world-view which assumed
that reality must resemble an unchanging idea, or essence.
I argued in volume one that an adequate contemporary understanding
of humanity must avoid all forms of philosophical essentialism. The con-
struct of human experience which I developed recognized the existence
of essences but refused to confuse them with principles of being. Rather
an “essence” means an evaluation abstracted from the reality evaluated
and the one doing the evaluation. Essences, in other words, function in
the way in which one perceives reality; they do not constitute the “what”
of perceived reality. Tendencies and decisions do.
I also proposed in volume one that, besides avoiding the fallacies of
Logos-anthropos Christology, any contemporary reformulation of the
meaning of humanity needs to avoid the extreme pessimism of classical
Protestant interpretations of human nature. It also needs to repudiate the
extreme optimism of a neo-Thomistic construct of the human.
Classical Protestantism erred in endorsing Augustine’s pessimistic doc-
trine of human nature. According to Augustine, sin so vitiates human
choice that one lacks the freedom to desire anything good or virtuous
without divine grace. Augustine insisted on the liberating effects of grace.
232 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

By that he meant that grace alone empowers one to choose the good; but
he left it vague whether or not a human nature determined to vice by its
corruption or to virtue by grace still enjoys freedom of choice.
Systematizing Augustinians, both Luther and Calvin insisted that an
Augustinian understanding of human nature in fact ruled out in prin-
ciple all freedom of choice. In classical Protestantism, either grace or the
devil rides the will and determines its choices. Moreover, Calvin made
the total depravity of human nature into the only legitimate lens for view-
ing theologically the incarnation of the Son of God. Only an incarnation
of God could undo the ravages of sin and purify through the action of
divine grace a fallen and completely polluted world.
During the Reformation, Catholics and Protestants agreed on the utter
necessity of grace; but they conceived human nature very differently. They
therefore also disagreed about how nature and grace relate. The council
of Trent eschewed Augustinian pessimism and endorsed the more mod-
erate medieval view that human nature, left to itself, can, despite its sin-
fulness, nevertheless perform some morally good acts.
As we saw in volume one, for a variety of historical reasons, Catholic
theology has tended to endorse a Thomistic formulation of medieval an-
thropological optimism. Transcendental Thomism especially has devel-
oped that optimism to indefensible extremes. Transcendental Thomism
finds in the spiritual power of the active intellect an insatiable craving for
Being, for Goodness, for Truth. As a consequence, the human intellect
allegedly enjoys a virtual infinity which endows it with an “unrestricted
desire to know.” Transcendental Thomism interprets theologically the
virtual infinity of the spiritual intellect and will either as “a natural desire
for the beatific vision” or as “a supernatural existential.”
In volume one, I argued that any adequate philosophical construct of
humanity needs to interpret the results of contemporary scientific inves-
tigations of the human. Those results belie virtual intellectual infinity.
Instead, they tend to substantiate the radical finitude of all human cogni-
tion. Ego inertia rather than an insatiable thirst for Truth and Being typi-
fies human cognitive behavior.
A Thomistic portrait of humanity also endorses two indefensible dual-
isms: operational and cosmic dualism. Operational dualism characterizes
some human powers as essentially spiritual and others as essentially or-
ganic and material. As a consequence, operational dualism cannot ex-
plain the sensory origins of spiritual knowledge. Cosmic dualism defines
eternity and time in such a way as to make their relationship to one an-
other inconceivable. Moreover, despite Thomistic metaphysical insistence
on the act of being, a Thomistic metaphysical anthropology still sub-
scribes to an indefensible Aristotelian essentialism.
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 233

In what concerns Christology, the inflated understanding of human

nature promoted by Thomism gave rise in the middle ages to a corre-
spondingly inflated Christology in which grace “divinized” the humanity
of Jesus in unacceptable ways. In a Thomistic account of the incarnation,
the human intellect of Jesus, like all other human intellects, has a natural
desire for perfect union with God. Aquinas also fallaciously endorsed the
Augustinian identification of the second person of the trinity with the
mind or intellect of God. He therefore concluded that the immediate
personal union of Jesus’ human intellect with the subsisting divine intel-
lect meant that from the first moment of His conception Jesus enjoyed
the beatific vision. As I have already indicated in the first volume, con-
temporary theologians generally reject this inflated account of Jesus’ graced
human experience.In my judgment, a defensible contemporary account
of human nature needs in addition to claim the middle ground between
classical Protestant pessimism and classical Thomistic optimism.
I found a genuine, if flawed, insight in the theological understanding
of human nature defended by Jonathan Edwards. This American theo-
logical genius distanced himself from classical Protestant pessimism by
arguing that human nature, left to itself, can indeed choose naturally
good things; but he also argued that without the assistance of God’s Breath,
human nature, left to its own resources cannot love in fact with the uni-
versality which the gospel requires, even if it aspires to the ideal of univer-
sal human benevolence. While I disagree with the logical terms on which
Edwards argued this position and with its deterministic, predestinationist,
and rigoristic connotations, such an understanding of human nature and
of the practical workings of divine grace nevertheless rings true to my
experience and accords with results of social psychology. Humans tend
spontaneously to care for their own; but they do not spontaneously reach
out to the alien and the stranger. Nor do they spontaneously love and
forgive their enemies. They do not spontaneously welcome the suffering
demanded by embracing the atoning love of Christ.
The violence in the streets of the United States, the contempt of
right-wing conservatives for the suffering of the poor, the genocide in
Bosnia-Herzogovina, the tribal massacres in Rwanda, the prevalence of
racism, classism, sexism, and other such perennial human follies in every
human culture tend, to my thinking, to bear out the truth of Edwards’s
suggestion. Accordingly in volume one, I proposed that we understand
human nature, not as virtually infinite, but as radically finite. The hu-
man heart can indeed love limited natural goods; but it cannot love with
the universal love of charity without the help of divine grace. Contempo-
rary children of Adam and Eve forgive their enemies, real or imagined,
no more spontaneously than Cain.
234 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology
Toward an Experiential Christology
Foundational Christological method requires a contemporary Christo-
logy to advance in an inculturated manner. Inculturated thinking pro-
motes the enactment of Christianity in the symbol systems derived from
the particular culture which Christianity addresses. Inculturated theol-
ogy uses the gospel to challenge the sinfulness of that culture. Finally, a
balanced inculturated theology acknowledges the contemporary interna-
tionalization of culture and enters into dialogue with other cultural ex-
pressions of the faith propounded elsewhere in the Church universal.
I responded to the need to develop an inculturated Christology by pro-
posing a construct of human nature broadly derived from the North
American philosophical tradition. In the development of classical North
American philosophy, “experience” functions as a central, unifying cat-
egory. I therefore proposed that we understand Jesus’ humanity in the
broader philosophical context of a fallibilistic metaphysics of experience.
The American philosophical tradition has produced two irreconcilable
philosophical constructs of experience: one di-polar, subjectivistic, and
nominalistic; the other, triadic, social, and realistic. The “turn to experi-
ence” in contemporary theology tends to endorse di-polar nominalism.
Di-polar nominalism cannot, however, account for human religious ex-
perience because it reduces the object of all knowledge to concrete sensibles.
Because of its subjectivism, experiential nominalism also fails finally to
account for the social dimensions of experience. These inadequacies point
to another fallacy which any sound philosophical anthropology must
avoid: namely, nominalism in all of its speculative expressions.
In what concerns Jesus of Nazareth, volume one argued for the legiti-
macy of invoking a triadic, realistic, social construct of experience in or-
der to interpret His humanity. I defined experience as a process com-
posed of relational elements called feelings. I suggested that in the higher
forms of experience one can detect three kinds of feelings, or relation-
ships: evaluations, or particular intentional relationships; decisions, or
concrete, social and environmental relationships, and tendencies, or the
continuously spreading, general, habitual inclinations to decide or to evalu-
ate in a particular manner. Habitual tendencies orient the acting self to-
ward its future at the same time that decisive environmental impact con-
stitutes its immediate past.
I then developed a descriptive, philosophical phenomenology of hu-
man experience. First I explored the realm of evaluation. Human evalua-
tive responses begin in sensations, which by their emotive coloring, give evi-
dence of grasping, however vaguely, the vectoral tendencies present in things.
Evaluation becomes conscious when humans distinguish between their
own bodies and their surrounding environments. When that distinction
fades from consciousness, we go to sleep. Conscious evaluation focuses
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 235

finite human awareness; but it also shades into pre-conscious and uncon-
scious perceptions.
As human evaluative response to reality develops, the emotive dimen-
sions of experience disclose more adequately the nature of perceived ten-
dencies. They do so in an initial way in cognitive emotional responses
like fear, joy, anger, love, affection. They do so eventually in judgments of
feeling which terminate imaginative and deliberative forms of thinking.
Memories, images, and creative fantasy endow intuitive thinking with
greater scope and clarity. The lyric voice communicates personal responses
to reality. The narrative voice grasps reality through story.
Intentional continuity links intuitive, imaginative perceptions and in-
ferential thinking. Inferential thinking begins with constructing hypoth-
eses; and hypothetical thinking advances imaginatively and intuitively
even though it concludes to the initial logical classification of data in
need of rational explanation. That classification assumes that the behav-
ior of the data in question obeys certain laws which justify the definitions
one assigns when one hypothesizes. Columbus, for example, allegedly
inferred the roundness of the world from the way in which masted ships
appeared on the horizon.
Deductive inference reasons that, if one has classified the data in ques-
tion correctly, then other facts, not yet in evidence will appear if the law
which grounds one’s initial hypothesis holds true in reality. Hypothesis,
then, concludes to a way of classifying things. Deduction concludes to
predicted facts. Columbus, for example, inferred deductively that, if the
laws of nature had made the world round, then he could reach the “ori-
ent” by sailing west.
Inductive inference argues that the appearance of deductively predicted
evidence justifies belief in the reality of the laws which grounded one’s
original hypothesis. Induction, then, concludes to the reality of a ten-
dency in the nature of things. Those, for example, who first circumnavi-
gated the globe finally proved that, in conceiving the world as round,
Columbus had correctly understood how the laws of nature operate in
shaping planet earth.
Deliberative reasoning takes aesthetic, practical, and prudential forms.
One deliberates about possible decisions. Those decisions can fix either
intuitive or inferential beliefs. Then the mind deliberates aesthetically
(and intuitively) or speculatively (and inferentially). Decisions can also
and often do respond physically to some decisive environmental stimu-
lus. Then the mind deliberates either practically or prudentially. Delib-
eration can engage both inferential and intuitive beliefs; but in the end it
reaches a felt, intuitive judgment of feeling about the best way to deal
with a concrete situation.
236 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

The creative imagination holds the key to human evaluative response.

Imaginative creativity inspires healthy, flexible living, art, and literature.
It creates new speculative hypotheses. It brings confused or conflicted
situations to satisfactory, creative resolution.
Human evaluation exhibits, therefore, a continuum of human inten-
tional responses which expand from sensation, to emotion, to imagina-
tive thinking, to the three forms of rational inference, to deliberation.
Evaluation also endows experience with presentational immediacy. By
that I mean that evaluation defines the way in which the mind become
experientially present to its world and the world to it.
As a consequence, evaluation grounds the human experience of real
time. Sensations make the impact of the world upon the human organ-
ism initially present to it and the human organism present to its world.
Emotional response perceives more or less clearly, more or less vaguely,
the tendencies present in things. They therefore endow intuitive forms of
thought with a perceived, possible future. Imagination clarifies intuitively
what emotions perceive vaguely. Memories make the past present. Hypo-
thetical inference endows intuitive perceptions with initial logical preci-
sion; and in the process hypothetical thinking makes one present to real-
ity in a new way. In deductive thinking the hypothetical present becomes
a predicted future. In the verification or falsification of a deductive pre-
diction, the anticipated future either itself becomes present or yields to a
different kind of present reality. Deliberation makes possible futures real
and actual.
Having explored the realm of evaluation descriptively, I next attempted
to describe the realm of fact, or of decisive activity. I argued that deci-
sions express the evaluations they terminate. Hence, evaluation defines
the character of a decision. In the experiences of living things, which
exhibit habit-taking powers, decisions also either create new habits of
behavior or re-enforce old habits. Decisions also link experiences envi-
ronmentally and socially.
Decisions exhibit a transactional, collaborative, or coercive character.
Transactions involve decisive give and take. Collaboration focuses the
decisions of a group on a common goal. Coercion forces decisions on
others irrespective of their own desires. Decisions, then, reshape the world
either in life-enhancing or in oppressive ways.
Habit, the generalized tendency to act in a specific way, defines the
reality of the emerging self viewed philosophically as a developing experi-
ence. Autonomously functioning tendencies qualify as selves. By “au-
tonomy” I mean the capacity to initiate one’s own activity. Selves, how-
ever, do not have habits; they consist of a developing, continuously spread-
ing complex of habitual tendencies. In other words, each finite self exem-
plifies an historically and environmentally conditioned complex of ten-
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 237

dencies to react or to respond in identifiable ways. Living, habitual com-

plexes grow incrementally and continuously through decision, which ei-
ther creates a new habit or re-enforces an old one. Persons have the ca-
pacity to act with self-conscious responsibility. Things do not. One reacts
to things. One ought to respond to persons as persons.
Evaluations enjoy particularity, since every evaluative response simply
is what it is; but evaluations become individual, partially generalized, or
universal through intentional use. Actions endow experience with con-
creteness. They make it this rather than that. Tendencies endow experi-
ence with real generality. They orient it toward a future. Since particular-
ity, concreteness, and real generality defy descriptive reduction to one
another, the three modes of experiencing exemplify irreducible but inter-
related realms of experience.
Different kinds of experiencing selves exhibit different kinds of ha-
bitual behavior. Emerging, finite selves which act with self-conscious re-
sponsibility experience conversion. We call such selves “human persons.”
I define a person as a specific kind of autonomously functioning reality.
“Autonomy” is an adverb metaphorically transformed into a noun. “Au-
tonomy” describes, not a thing, but the way a habit or tendency operates.
A tendency functions autonomously if it initiates its own behavior.
The possession of autonomy transforms a tendency into a self. Dogs,
cats, minerals, and trees all qualify as selves because they initiate their
own activity. The chemicals which make up the bodies of dogs, cats, and
trees do not, however, function autonomously. Instead, they function as
integral parts of the autonomous reality we call a dog, a cat, or a tree.
Dogs, cats, and trees qualify as selves; but they do not qualify as persons
because they do not act with the kind of self-conscious responsibility
which characterizes converted personal behavior.
Autonomy qualifies the realm of tendency. Moreover, autonomy re-
mains incommunicable. No one can decide or evaluate for me. No one
can do my physical growing or learning for me. I must make my own
deliberative choices and live with their consequences. I need to do these
things, otherwise they will not happen. The incommunicability of autonomy
will become extremely important when we try to understand the hypostatic
The tendencies which constitute a personal human self endow it with
real and vital continuity within development. The habits learned in child-
hood continue to condition the way in which the adult behaves.
Besides autonomous functioning and vital continuity, human persons
also manifest a capacity for critical, self-conscious activity. They can re-
flect on what they have done and measure their actions by norms, prin-
ciples, and ideals which they have interiorized. The five forms of conver-
sion mediate such an interiorization.
238 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

Humans become fully personal only through relationship with other

persons. Children must grow to personal, adult maturity in families which
nurture them. We tend to learn mimetically, by imitating others although
we learn in other ways as well. Interpersonal relationships exemplify the
relational character of experience.
The irreducibly social character of experience makes the institutional-
ization of experience inevitable. Institutions consist of groups of people
habitually acting in socially sanctioned ways. Through social interaction,
institutions exist within personal experience and condition the way in
which people respond to reality. They therefore help create and consti-
tute the emerging person.
Conversion perfects the personalization of experience. One converts
when one passes from irresponsible to responsible behavior in some realm
of experience. In volume one I described five forms of conversion: affec-
tive, intellectual, personal moral, socio-political, and religious. Christian
conversion exemplifies one kind of religious conversion.
In each form of conversion one takes responsibility for a different realm
of experience and measures it by different norms. Affective conversion
measures intuitive perception by psychological and aesthetic norms. In-
tellectual conversion measures intuitive as well as inferential beliefs by
methodological norms of truth and adequacy. Personal moral conversion
measures human interpersonal relationships by respect for rights and duties
in community. Socio-political conversion measures public policy and
practice by the common good.
I have identified seven dynamics within the total process of conver-
sion. Affective conversion animates the other forms of conversion. Intel-
lectual conversion informs and orders them. The two forms of moral
conversion help orient the other forms of conversion to realities and val-
ues which make ultimate and absolute claims. Socio-political conversion
deprivatizes the other forms of conversion at the same time that the other
four forms of conversion help authenticate socio-political conversion by
providing it with norms for measuring institutionalized justice and injus-
tice. Initial Christian conversion mediates between affective and moral
conversion by putting them in a new relationship with one another. On-
going Christian conversion transvalues the other forms of conversion in
The existence of seven dynamics within conversion implies the exist-
ence of seven counterdynamics. Each counterdynamic negates the posi-
tive fruits of the dynamic which it contradicts.
On the basis of the preceding descriptive analysis of personal experi-
ence, one can hazard a descriptive definition of the term “person.” I de-
fine a person as a dynamic, relational, autonomous reality imbued with
vital continuity and with the capacity for responsible self-understanding, for
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 239

making decisions which flow from that self-understanding, and for entering
into responsible social relationships with entities like itself.2
In volume one I distinguished between personal and communal aware-
ness. Individual human persons come to initial consciousness when they
distinguish between their own bodies and the surrounding environment
in which they act. Individual consciousness grows by distinguishing things
and seeing their relationship to one another. Unconscious human responses
fail to distinguish between the responding self and its world. The uncon-
scious mind helps organize, therefore, an interiorized world.
Communities of persons grow in consciousness by much more com-
plex processes of interpretation. When communities reach a consensus
concerning the event which founds them and the history which links
them to that event, they reach an initial sense of self-identity. Then on
the basis of that shared self-understanding communities need to decide
the ultimate and proximate goals which they want to realize together.
Having done so they must then mobilize all the gifts of those who belong
to the community in order to achieve those corporate goals. Communi-
ties will achieve such self-awareness only if they agree in advance to for-
give those members who betray it; for the refusal to forgive fragments
society and therefore destroys community. Finally, the presence or ab-
sence of conversion in a community and in the institutions which express
its shared life will also condition its level of responsible self-awareness.
Besides personal and communal awareness one must also distinguish
between autonomy and freedom. “Autonomy,” as we have seen, means
the bare capacity to initiate one’s own activity. Freedom means the ability
to act or not to act, to do this rather than that.
“Freedom” like “autonomy” exemplifies an adverb transformed into a
noun. Just as autonomy qualifies the realm of tendency, so too freedom
qualifies the way in which the realm of evaluation develops. Most funda-
mentally freedom results from the ability to distinguish consciously and
realistically among alternative modes of acting.
Evaluation specifies decision; and decision specifies in turn the tenden-
cies which it creates. Hence, the capacity to distinguish realistic alterna-
tive options determines the degree of freedom with which decisions and
tendencies develop. In other words, the kind of freedom one enjoys and
exercises derives causally from the modality of one’s evaluative response
just as autonomy, the ultimate capacity to act at all, exemplifies the way
in which tendencies shape an experience causally. A cause gives rise to
some particularity, actuality, or reality.

2. Cf. Donald L. Gelpi, S.J. The Divine Mother: A Trinitarian Theology of the Holy Spirit
(Lanham, MD: University Press of American, 1984), pp. 103-123; A. Grillmeier,
“Nature-Person-Hypostasis,” Theologia, 51(1980), pp. 734-738.
240 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

Like consciousness, on which it depends, freedom flickers. It also comes

in different kinds, depending on the specific habits one has chosen to
cultivate. One can distinguish three generic kinds of freedom. In its most
elementary exemplification freedom consists in the ability to act or not
to act, to do this rather than that. Personal conversion at an affective,
intellectual, moral, and religious level transforms elementary human free-
dom into responsible personal liberty by enabling one to live for the beau-
tiful, the good, and the true, including transcendent goodness, beauty,
and truth. Socio-political conversion further enhances human freedom
by creating environments which foster conversion at every level. Since
environments condition freedom, socio-political conversion seeks there-
fore to create social institutions which maximize responsible freedom for
both communities and individuals by institutionalizing conversion.
A finite created reality necessarily enjoys only conditioned freedom.
Environmental variables condition freedom by limiting or enhancing the
number of things among which one may choose. Conceptual variables
condition freedom because one must distinguish options evaluatively
before one can choose them freely. Perspectival variables condition free-
dom because the ability to see things from a variety of points of view
enhances one’s ability to deal with reality in a variety of ways. Habitual
variables condition freedom because one cannot choose to do something
without first learning how. Decisive variables condition freedom because
they determine the kind of satisfactions one chooses to cultivate and there-
fore the kind of freedom one opts to have.
The distinction between freedom and autonomy and their ultimate
grounding in different realms of experience will also function in an ex-
tremely important way in the explanation of the hypostatic union which
I shall soon develop. The reader should, then, keep these distinctions
carefully in mind in assessing the consistency and validity of the Christo-
logical argument developed in the following chapter.
In a metaphysics of experience, experience defines the nature of the
real and divides into what is experienced and the way in which one expe-
riences what is experienced. “Experience” transforms itself from a psy-
chological to a metaphysical category when one allows that experienced
realities stand within experience and not outside it. What is experienced
includes both decisive actions and the tendencies which ground them.
Those tendencies include both selves and persons. One’s evaluative re-
sponse to the decisive acts of experienced selves endows an experience
with its “how.”
Understood metaphysically, all experience has a symbolic structure. By
a “symbol” I mean whatever mediates the evaluative grasp of significance.
Events signify. By that I mean that they consist in actions and the ten-
dencies, the selves, which they disclose. Those selves have a dynamic rela-
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 241

tional constitution which the mind can grasp evaluatively if the mind
takes to trouble to think clearly about them. Events qualify as expressive
symbols because one can by endowing them with meaning through inter-
pretation grasp what they signify. Symbolic events, in other words, pro-
vide the significant reality which other kinds of symbols interpret
Evaluative responses by interpreting events endow them with mean-
ing. Evaluations engage the whole realm of conceptual relationships from
sensation, to feeling, to imagination, to inference, to practical and pru-
dential reasoning. Unexpressed evaluations qualify as interpretative sym-
bols. Decision functions within interpretative symbols by fixing beliefs
and attitudes but without expressing them to other minds. Interpretative
symbols make no attempt to communicate to others one’s evaluative grasp
of significance.
Communications seek to express in ways which others will understand
how one responds evaluatively to events. Decision functions within com-
munication as a physical act which seeks to influence some other mind
through the intentional shaping of some kind of medium. The way we
communicate also conditions socially the way we evaluate.
The symbolic structure of experience renders it potentially social. De-
cisive acts link selves to their environment and persons to one another.
Communication makes experience actually social. Communication also
creates culture. By culture I mean all human behavior conditioned by
symbolic communication.
Institutions result from human cultural development. An institution
comes into existence when groups of persons behave habitually in so-
cially sanctioned ways.

Testing the Construct of Experience

In volume one, I proposed the preceding account of experience not as a
self-evident truth but as an hypothesis in need of testing and of verifica-
tion. I tested it philosophically in an initial way by arguing that it avoids
all the of the fallacies which have in the past led to confused thinking
about Jesus’ humanity. Specifically, it avoids substantial dualism, opera-
tional dualism, essentialism, and nominalism. When the time comes to
reflect on the trinity as a divine experience, I shall argue that this same
construct of experience also avoids cosmic dualism.3
I attempted to verify initially the construct of experience which I had
proposed by testing its ability to interpret and contextualize the results of

3. This metaphysical construct also avoids subjectivism and individualism. It avoids

subjectivism by including the object of experience within experience and by espousing
a perspectival realism. It avoids individualism by conceiving the self, its activities, and
its relationships as environmentally grounded, social, and inherently symbolic.
242 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

close scientific and clinical studies of human experience. I concluded that

the construct could do both. Moreover, in the process of verifying the
construct I was able to amplify it descriptively and reach some tentative
conclusions about Jesus’ human development.4
I drew the following conclusions about the way in which the human
experience we call “Jesus of Nazareth” plausibly developed. Among the
following numbered conclusions, one through five describe Jesus’ per-
sonal development. Numbers six through ten describe His social devel-
1) The same biological processes which underpin human development in
other persons certainly grounded and limited Jesus human development.
2) Jesus’ human mind probably developed through the cognitive stages
described by Jean Piaget. He therefore probably advanced from sensory-
motor thinking to transductive, or imaginative, thinking, and finally to
concrete operations.
The results of developmental psychology make it harder to say whether
or not Jesus developed a fully operational human mind in Piaget’s techni-
cal sense of that term. By that I mean that on the basis of present evi-
dence we find it very hard to know whether or not Jesus would have been
able to solve the kinds of rational puzzles which in Piaget’s psychology
exemplify operational thinking.
3) One can plausibly suppose that Jesus would have passed through the
first five stages of emotional development described by Erik Erickson. By
the time of Jesus’ public ministry, it also seems plausible to suppose that
He was living at stage six and was wrestling with issues of intimacy vs.
isolation. As death approached, he may well have had to struggle with
emotional issues surrounding the integrity and meaning of His life.
4) In what concerns Jesus’ moral development, one can plausibly sup-
pose that the rules of children’s games functioned for Him in His child-
hood as a symbol of larger social relationships. One can also plausibly
suppose that as He developed morally He acquired greater sensitivity to
the complexity of human moral situations.
5) One can plausibly assert that Jesus in the course of His human de-
velopment would have passed through the six stages of faith develop-
ment described by James Fowler. In other words, in early infancy, His
relationship to Mary and Joseph would have shaped his religious atti-
tudes unconsciously. Between three and seven He would have exhibited
intuitive-projective faith. Between seven and the onset of adolescence, he
would have advanced to mythic-literal faith. During adolescence He would
have advanced to synthetic, conventional faith.

4. In summarizing the results of the analysis of Jesus’ humanity, I shall not in this volume
repeat the documentation which I provided in volume one.
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 243

At some point before the start of His ministry, Jesus would have ad-
vanced through the other cognitive stages of faith; for, when we encoun-
ter Jesus in the gospels, He seems to have reached the highest cognitive
stage which Fowler describes, namely, universalizing faith. At some point
prior to the events of the gospel, Jesus would have experienced religious
conversion in the sense that he would have taken full adult responsibility
for His relationship with God. In volume one, I argued that Jesus’ con-
version, His personal transition to fully adult responsibility in every realm
of experience, need not have presupposed His sinfulness.
6) One can plausibly suppose that the infant Jesus developed some-
thing like the human self-awareness described by Daniel Stern. In other
words, He would have advanced from a vague sense of Himself as a de-
veloping neonate, to core self-awareness, and finally to linguistic
self-awareness. One can also plausibly suppose that affect attunement
between Jesus and Mary mediated His first stammering efforts to speak
7) One can plausibly suppose that Jesus, like other children, learned to
interiorize the language patterns of His culture. One can also assert with
some probability that he interiorized the oral patterns of thinking of His
fellow Palestinian peasants.
8) One can suppose with very high probability that in His social matu-
ration Jesus started as a lap child, graduated to the status of a knee child,
and advanced to playing like a yard child. One can also plausibly assert
that Jesus as a school-age child received some schooling in Torah, possi-
bly at the synagogue in Nazareth and that he probably learned as an ap-
prentice his human father’s trade.
9) As he matured socially, one can plausibly suppose that Jesus ad-
vanced through something like the stages of social development described
by R.L. Selman. In other words, Jesus would have advanced from a inno-
cent, infantile egocentrism to a realization, reached between the ages of
four to nine, that others saw things from a different perspective from His
own. Between six and twelve, He would have begun to understand how
His own perspective appeared to others. Between the ages of nine and
fifteen, He would have shown the ability to view His interpersonal rela-
tionships from the standpoint of a third party. After twelve, He would
have developed the capacity to cultivate deep interpersonal relationships.
10) One can imagine with some plausibility that the male crisis of the
early thirties in part motivated Jesus’ decision to abandon His father’s
trade in Nazareth in order to listen to the preaching of John the Baptizer.
Having verified in a preliminary fashion and having expanded my con-
struct of experience by invoking the conclusions of developmental and
social psychology, I proposed a strategy for demonstrating the Christo-
logical relevance of a triadic, realistic, social construct of experience. I
244 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

tested that construct’s ability to interpret the results of the new quests for
the historical Jesus. When successful, those quests endow an experiential
understanding of Jesus’ humanity with an environmental context and
with historical concreteness. I first examined the world Jesus entered.
Then I reflected on the way in which He responded to that world.
In the first century the Roman empire cultivated a largely agrarian economy.
The aristocratic elite class and scribes could read and write; but one would
have encountered a literate peasant, like Jesus, much more rarely.
The ruling class stood at the top of the hierarchical social system which
the Roman empire enforced. Perhaps as few as five per percent of the
population, the ruling class controlled most of the imperial income.
The retainer class included imperial bureaucrats, scribes, and the army.
The retainer class as a whole guaranteed and perpetuated the power of
the ruling elite. So did the priestly class which may have accounted for
about fifteen percent of the population. Priests endowed imperial au-
thority with divine sanction.
The empire seems to have contained a small merchant class; but the
peasantry constituted the vast majority of the population. While some
peasants owned small plots of land, the majority probably farmed the
estates of rich landowners. Both classes of peasant carried brutal, insup-
portable tax burdens, and scratched out a precarious survival with the
little left them after the ruling class had taken the lion’s share of what they
produced. The artisan class to which Jesus belonged developed from the
peasantry and probably languished in even greater poverty than the peas-
ant farmers.
Slaves ranked below artisans and on the whole dragged out lives of
misery, brutality, and degradation, although some household slaves with
kindly masters enjoyed a somewhat more humane existence. The degraded
class consisted of prostitutes and unskilled workers, on the one hand, and
of the expendables, on the other: beggars, petty criminals, outlaws, pari-
ahs, and lepers. The degraded class occupied the bottom rung of the im-
perial social hierarchy.
First century Palestine seethed increasingly with social unrest. The Jewish
Herodian aristocracy and the aristocratic high priestly class aided and
abetted the Roman occupation of their homeland and sought to Helle-
nize Jewish faith and worship. The majority of Palestinian Jews, however,
remembered Judas Maccabeus’s successful battles against the Seleucids
and against their Hellenizing Jewish sympathizers. Most Jews longed for
liberation from Roman oppression. That longing took literary shape in
Jewish apocalyptic writings.
The Essenes and Pharisees both reacted against the Hellenizing laxism
of the Jewish priests and aristocrats with a form of religious rigorism. The
establishment of the Essene community predated Jesus. The Essenes or-
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 245

ganized themselves into communities which promoted a stringent read-

ing of the Law, practiced regular ritual baths, embraced celibacy, culti-
vated apocalyptic dreams of messianic revolution, and despised Jews less
rigoristic than themselves. The Pharisees sought to shore up the piety of
ordinary lay people by demanding that, in addition to the explicit moral
demands of the Torah, people adopt a variety of other traditional pious
practices which sought to guarantee the religious observances explicitly
required by the Law.
Most of the aristocratic priestly caste in Jerusalem belonged to the party
of the Sadducees. The Sadducees recognized the binding force of the To-
rah, but they resisted the rigorism of both the Pharisees and Essenes.
They denied the resurrection; and some of them yielded to Hellenizing
Peasant bandits roved the Palestinian countryside like wolf packs, prey-
ing on the rich with the connivance of the peasant poor. Some bandits
developed messianic aspirations. Apocalyptic peasant prophets arose from
time to time proclaiming religious messages to the oppressed masses.
Pilate, the Roman governor during’ Jesus public ministry, displayed an
administrative tendency to vacillate, although he could respond to popu-
lar unrest with acts of extreme violence and brutality. Eventually, his slaugh-
ter of his own subjects cost him his job.
The application of historical critical method to the New Testament
allows one to draw a somewhat detailed portrait of the founder of Chris-
tianity. Born into the artisan class probably about the year 6 or 7 b.c.,
Jesus probably learned His father’s trade of general handyman and prac-
ticed it in Nazareth until he left that city in order to listen to John the
Baptizer. Some evidence suggests that His parents would have inculcated
in Him a piety which scorned Hellenizing laxity. He almost certainly
spoke Aramaic as a first language; and, given the social demands of His
trade as an artisan, He could probably have gotten by in koine Greek. He
also probably learned to read the Torah in Hebrew, possibly in the syna-
gogue in Nazareth. Hasidic influences could conceivably have helped teach
Him to call God “Abba.”
Drawn to the preaching of John the Baptizer, Jesus certainly at some
point submitted to John’s baptism. Until His death Jesus seems to have
regarded John as a prophet. It would appear that John never returned the
compliment. We may take it as at least plausible that, as Luke indicates,
John denounced Herod Antipas’s many acts of oppression as well as his
adulterous marriage.
At the time of Jesus’ baptism by John or shortly thereafter, Jesus’ Abba
experience began to mature into a personal sense of religious mission.
Until the arrest, imprisonment, and assassination of the Baptizer by Herod,
Jesus may have engaged in a parallel baptismal ministry; but, if He did,
246 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

He seems to have abandoned it when He returned to Galilee to begin

proclaiming God’s reign. Jesus’ public endorsement of John the Baptizer
probably earned Him King Herod’s antipathy and could have caused Him
at times to live something like a fugitive existence.
Jesus probably believed that the reign of God which He was proclaim-
ing had already arrived in His own person, teaching, and ministry of
exorcism and faith healing. Entry into God’s reign demanded repentance
and the acceptance of the divine forgiveness which Jesus announced and
embodied. Jesus reached actively out to sinners and certainly practiced
table fellowship with them. The practice put Him on a collision course
with the Pharisees, whose rigorism He rejected. We do not know if Jesus
knew the Essenes; but given His rejection of Pharisaical rigorism and
elitism, it seems virtually certain that He would have also rejected their
more extreme embodiment in Essene piety.
Jesus, in contrast to other rabbis, almost certainly called some of His
disciples to follow Him. Unlike other rabbis, Jesus accepted woman dis-
ciples. Close disciples of Jesus had to renounce their possessions and dis-
tribute them to the poor. Close disciples also shared with Jesus from a
common purse which rich women disciples, who seem to have traveled
about with Him, regularly replenished. Jesus’ acceptance of women dis-
ciples and especially the presence of women followers in His personal
entourage would have scandalized His Jewish contemporaries.
Jesus chose twelve disciples as His close associates. His choice exempli-
fies a symbolic, prophetic act, not an ordination. A lay prophet, rather
than a levitical priest, Jesus never functioned as an ordained priest during
His mortal ministry. Nor does the historical evidence suggest that He
ever ordained anybody. Jesus’ choice of twelve men defined the purpose
of the renewal movement within Israel which He headed. It communi-
cated symbolically the fact that He was seeking to bring into existence a
new Israel, obediently submissive to God’s reign. The Twelve symbolized
the patriarchs of Jesus’ new Israel. Israel had no matriarchs. As a conse-
quence, the prophetic recall of history dictated the gender of the Twelve,
not the desire to exclude women from the Christian clergy, which, need-
less to say, did not even exist during Jesus’ lifetime. Jesus seems to have
involved the Twelve in a special way in His public ministry. He appears
also to have had a special relationship to Simon, James, and John, to
whom He probably gave ironic nicknames. He called the impetuous Simon
“the Rock (Peter)” and James and John “the sons of thunder.”
The reign of God which Jesus announced also demanded the restruc-
turing of Palestinian society on radically egalitarian lines. The reign of
God required that the weakest, most marginal, most oppressed members
of society receive preferential honor and advantage.
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 247

Jesus demanded of His disciples a radical trust in God which freed

them to share the physical supports of their lives with others, especially
with those in greatest need. The kingdom ruled out the selfish amassing
of wealth. It sought to bring into existence an open and completely in-
clusive community whose mutual sharing expressed its members’ mutual
forgiveness. That forgiveness imitated the Father’s forgiveness of sinners
and authenticated the disciples’ prayer. Jesus used parables, or stories which
sought to subvert the familiar world in which people lived in order to
open them to the new possibilities dawning in the arrival of God’s reign.
Jesus almost certainly cultivated personal prayer, although He also prob-
ably refrained from praying ostentatiously in public. He attended syna-
gogue worship and used such worship at times as the context for pro-
claiming God’s reign. He also taught outdoors and in private homes where
women and where people excluded from synagogue worship for their
sinfulness could hear Him.
Jesus, who saw John as a prophet, was Himself perceived as a prophet
and probably claimed prophetic authority for Himself and His ministry.
He seems to have seen His own ministry of proclamation, healing, and
exorcism as an assault on the kingdom of Satan. As prophet of God’s
reign, He seems to have expected to meet a violent death.
Jesus certainly restricted His ministry for the most part to Palestinian
Jews, especially the poorest and most marginal. Nevertheless, occasional
contact with sympathetic Gentiles and Samaritans of faith seems to have
led Jesus to envision the day when God’s reign would expand to include
Gentiles as well.
Jesus rejected secular, Davidic messianism with its sanction of military
violence. He seems to have believed that God’s reign must arrive
non-violently, and He sanctioned non-violent resistance to oppression.
Though perceived by some as a Davidic messiah, Jesus seems to have
resisted all pressure to become one. Jesus did, however, work miracles
and exorcise. Moreover, He probably interpreted both as signs that the
messianic age was already arriving in His own prophetic ministry.
Toward the end of His brief ministry, Jesus decided to confront Israel’s
religious leaders, the high priests in Jerusalem. He summoned them and
the people of Jerusalem to repentance and to submission to God’s reign.
He probably orchestrated His final entry into Jerusalem in order to por-
tray Himself ironically as a messiah with a difference: as a humble, peas-
ant prince of peace rather than as a warrior king.
By driving the vendors from the temple precincts, Jesus protested against
the high priest’s exploitation of the temple in order to line their already
rich pockets at the expense of the poor. He almost certainly at some time,
possibly during this final period of His ministry, prophesied the destruc-
248 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

tion of the temple because of the unrepentant religious intransigence of

Israel and especially of its priestly leaders.
Jesus seems to have foreseen that His final confrontation with the high
priests would end in His own death. At a final meal with His disciples in
Jerusalem, He gave them bread and wine as a prophetic sign of His body
and covenant blood. By that gesture He seems to have intended to por-
tray His impending death as His final self-gift to His disciples. He seems
also to have wanted to communicate to them His trust in the Father to
transform His dying into a life-giving event for them, an event which
would deepen within them their covenant commitment to God, as did
the sacrificial rite of atonement. Jesus expected, then, that His movement
would continue after His death.
As the fourth gospel suggests, the Sanhedrin quite plausibly reached a
decision about the need to get rid of Jesus prior to arresting Him. After
the arrest, the temple priests handed Him over to Pilate who crucified
Him as a messianic pretender. Jesus probably died in 30 a.d. He probably
lived into His middle thirties. His public ministry had probably lasted a
little over two years.
The preceding multi-disciplinary portrait of the humanity of Jesus as a
finite, developing human social experience deals in a systematic way with
two of the doctrinal issues which contribute to the contemporary Christo-
logical crisis. It approaches Christology in a way which takes fully into
account the historical character of Christian revelation by interpreting
history as experiential development. It also offers an historically concrete
understanding of Jesus’ humanity by incorporating the results of the new
quests for the historical Jesus into one’s understanding of that humanity.5
In this section, I have summarized the Jesusology developed in volume
one. The time as come to reflect upon the doctrinal issues raised by the
development of Chalcedonian Christology. To this dialectical analysis I
turn in the section which follows.

Until the emergence of rationalistic Enlightenment Christologies, the
teachings of the council of Chalcedon defined the fundamental doctrinal
presupposition of all Christological thinking. Chalcedon even conditions
Enlightenment Christologies despite the fact that they either deny the
personal divinity of Jesus or fail to give an adequate account of His divin-
ity; for even Enlightenment Christologies ordinarily offer an account of
how the divine and the human relate in Jesus.
In what follows, I shall first ponder the issues raised by the historical
development of orthodox Chalcedonian Christology. Next, I shall reflect
on the issues raised by Enlightenment Christologies. Finally, I shall argue
5. Cf. Wolfgang Beiler, “Der Weg Jesu: Der Verkündiger und der Verkündigte” in Die
Frage nach Jesus, pp. 69-150.
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 249

that contemporary orthodox alternatives to Enlightenment Christology

fail to deal adequately both with the issues which the latter raises and
with the issues posed by the development of Chalcedonian Christology.
Having reflected dialectically on the issues which a contemporary
re-thinking of Chalcedon requires, I shall in subsequent chapters first
authenticate Chalcedonian Christological doctrine and then propose an
experiential construct of the hypostatic union which reformulates
Chalecedon in a contemporary philosophical idiom. That reformulation
will deal with the issues raised by the development of Chalcedonian the-
ology and will correct the deficiencies in Enlightenment Christology. In
yet another chapter, I shall then coordinate an experiential Christology
with trinitarian doctrine.

Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology

As we have seen, Chalcedon requires that one make the divine person of
Jesus into the principle which unites His divinity and humanity without
transforming them into a third reality. Chalcedon, however, left vague
the technical definition of its key terms including the union of divinity
and humanity in Jesus. Patristic and medieval theologians offered a vari-
ety of explanations of how divinity and humanity unite in the person of
Jesus without blending into a third reality.
The principal explanations consist of the following:
1) Enhypostasis and anhypostasis;
2) the blending of hypostaseis;
3) reduction to mystery;
4) perichoresis, or mutual indwelling;
5) union by grace;
6) the substitution of divine for human dignity;
7) the actualization of humanity by divinity;
8) the incommunicability of personal existence;
9) the symbolic self-expression of the Logos in history.
Let us consider each of these solutions in turn.
1) Enhypostasis and Anhypostasis. Until recently, scholars credited
Leontius of Byzantium (485-543 a.d.) with formulating an enhypostatic
Christology. Enhypostatic Christology asserts that Jesus’ humanity de-
rives its hypostatic character from its existence in the second person of
the trinity. Scholars also attributed to Leontius the notion that the hu-
manity of Jesus has no human hypostasis and therefore, viewed in itself,
qualifies an anhypostatic. In fact, both ideas derive from a misinterpreta-
tion of Leontius put forward by a Protestant theologian named Friedrich
Loofs in 1887.6 Loofs’s misreading of Leontius has, however, received
6. See: Friedrich Loofs, “Leontius von Byzanz und die gleichnamigen Schriftsteller der
griechischen Kirche” in Texte und Untersuchungen 3, edited by Oskar von Gebhardt
and Adolf von Harnack (Leipzig, 1887), pp. 1-317.
250 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

widespread scholarly acceptance. Karl Barth, as we shall see, endorsed

Loofs’s flawed interpretation of Leontius; and with less enthusiasm so did
Edward Schillebeeckx. Loofs’s exegetical blunder also motivates many of
Piet Schoonenberg’s objections to Chalcedonian Christology.
Given its extensive influence, a contemporary Christology needs to come
to terms with the issues Loofs has raised, without, however, attributing
the position to Leontius. By “enhypostatos”,7 Leontius meant subsistence
pure and simple, not subsistence in something else. Moreover, despite
Loofs’s assertion to the contrary, neither “anhypostatos” nor “anhypostasis”
occur in Leontius’s writings.
Leontius defended Chalcedon against attacks by Nestorians and
Monophysites. The latter both objected that since, on Aristotelian pre-
suppositions, no nature exists without an hypostasis, then Chalcedonian
Christology logically entails the presence in Christ of two hypostases,
one for the divine nature and another for the human nature.
Leontius replied that all reality manifests unity in diversity. Leontius
recognized two kinds of complex unity: 1) things united by species (or
nature) but distinguished by hypostases and 2) things distinguished by
species (or nature) but united by hypostasis. The fact that individual dogs
all share the same nature illustrates the first kind of unity in diversity. The
fact that a human person has a spiritual soul and an essentially different
material body illustrates the second kind of union. In other words, Leontius
denied the presupposition of his adversaries that every nature requires its
own corresponding hypostasis; and he cited the presence in humans of
two different natural essences—one spiritual, the other material—as proof
of his point. (Cf. PG, 86, 1277C- 1280B)
Loofs erroneously interpreted Leontius as denying that Jesus’ human-
ity had a human hypostasis. Using the alpha privitive, Loofs accordingly
characterized Jesus’ human nature as anhypostatic. On Aristotelian pre-
suppositions, however, no nature exists without an hypostasis. Loofs mis-
read Leontius as saying that Jesus’ human nature acquires its hypostatic
character by subsisting in the hypostasis of the Logos. In other words,
Loofs erroneously interpreted Leontius’s “enhypostatos” to mean “subsist-
ing in,” when in fact it only meant “subsisting.”8
7. Leontius used the adjectival form rather than the more common “enhypostasis.” Cf.
John McIntyre, The Shape of Christology (London: SCM Press, 1966), pp. 95-96.
8. Cf. F. Leron Shults, “A Dubious Christological Formula: From Leontius of Byzantium
to Karl Barth,” Theological Studies, 57(1996), pp. 431-446; Aloys Grillmeier, “Die
anthropologisch-christologische Sprache des Leontius von Byzanz und ihre Bedeutung
zu den Symmikta Zetemata des Neuplatonikers Porphyrius,” in Hermeneumata:
Festschrift für Hadwig Hörner, edited by Herbert Eisenberger (Heidelberg: Carl
Winter, 1990), pp. 61-72; “The Understanding of the Christological Definitions of
Both (Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic) Traditions in the Light of the
Post-Chalcedonian Theology (Analysis of Terminologies in a Conceptual Frame-
work)” in Christ in East and West, edited by Paul Fries and Tiran Nersoyan (Macon,
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 251

Subsequent theological reflection has raised a number of objections to

the position put forward by Loofs. Moreover, theologians have tended to
assume that Chalcedonian Christology logically implies the position which
Loofs mistakenly attributed to Leontius. Those objections include the
following: 1) Hypostasis means substance. Within the context of an Aris-
totelian philosophy of substance, one who denies the hypostatic charac-
ter of Jesus’ humanity renders it insubstantial. 2) Since hypostasis implies
particularity, within the context of Aristotelian essentialism, anhypostasis
seems to deprive the humanity of Jesus of any particularity. That would
seem to transform it into an insubstantial abstraction. 3) Aristotelian sub-
stance philosophy requires that every physis have a hypostasis. Anhypostasis
violates that principle. 4) On the other hand, if one asserts the hypostatic
character of Jesus’ humanity, it would seem to compete with the hyposta-
sis of the Word.
To these objections, Loofs might have replied that the humanity de-
rives its hypostatic character from existence in the hypostasis of the divine
Logos. The hypostatic character of the Logos, therefore, endows the hu-
manity with both its substantial and its particular character. Hence, the
incarnation illustrates the principle that every physis has an hypostasis rather
than violates that principle.
Not all theologians find such explanations satisfactory. The Enlighten-
ment Christologies we shall examine below would, of course, deny the
presence in Jesus of any divine hypostatic reality.
Nevertheless, some modern Christologists continue to endorse Loofs’s
misrepresentation of Leontius’s position. Among them we find, as I have
indicated, major figures like Karl Barth9 and, somewhat less enthusiasti-
GA: Mercer University, 1987), pp. 65-82; Brian E. Daley, S.J., “A Richer Union:
Leontius of Byzantium and the Relationship of the Human and Divine in Christ”
Studia Patristica, 24(1993), pp. 239-265.
9. Barth rejected the position taken by nineteenth-century Lutheran kenotic Christology
by insisting that the Word’s assumption of flesh in no way implied His abandonment
of His divinity. Moreover, not only did Barth regard Chalcedonian Christology as a
sound interpretation of the New Testament witness to Christ; but he also held that the
Chalcedonian settlement implied both an anhypostatic and an enhypostatic interpreta-
tion of the hypostatic union. Anhypostasis and enhypostasis, he argued, imply one another:
anhypostasis correctly denies that Jesus’ human nature subsists in itself, and enhypostasis
correctly asserts that His humanity subsists in the Word and only in the Word.
Barth conceded, however, that Chalcedonian Christology forces the believer to
struggle with the tension which it creates between the incarnation as an event and the
incarnation as a fully revealed divine reality. Barth, moreover, in contrast to Emil
Brunner, not only accepted Jesus’ virginal conception but insisted on its utterly
miraculous character. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, translated by G.W. Bromily and
F.T. Torrence (New York, NY: Scribner’s Sons, 1956), I, ii, pp. 147-159. Cf. Emil
Brunner, Dogmatics, translated by Olive Whon (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster,
1952), II, pp.322-334; Hans Stickelburger, Ipse assumptione creatur: Karl Barths
Rückgriff aus die klassische Christologie und die Frage nach der Selbständigkeit des
Menschen (Bern: Peter Lang, 1979).
252 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

cally, Edward Schillebeeckx.10 In what follows, I shall argue that when

one shifts from a metaphysics of substance to a metaphysics of experi-
ence, one can avoid the objectionable connotations of Loofs’s language
while affirming the apparent intent of his position. I shall also argue that
an experiential construct of the hypostatic union avoids the essentialism
which Leontius’s position tacitly endorses.
2) The Blending of Hypostaseis. Ephraim of Antioch defended
Chalcedonian Christology by proposing the blending of hypostaseis.
Ephraim pointed out that, while Chalcedon denies the blending of the
divine and human natures in Jesus, it does not forbid saying that hypostaseis
can blend. In the hypostatic union, the human hypostasis and the divine
hypostasis blend into a single reality.11 Unfortunately, however, Ephraim
left unexplained exactly how one hypostasis, or substance, goes about blend-
ing with another in order to produce a single subsisting reality.
The position which I shall develop below avoids altogether the cat-
egory “substance” because of its essentialist connotations. Nor does it
endorse even a modified version of Ephraim’s position.
3) Reduction to Mystery. As I have already explained in volume one, the
rationalizing tendencies of the Arians led some subsequent orthodox think-
ers to stress the fundamentally mysterious character of the incarnation.
If, of course, one pushes this line of thinking to its extreme formulation,
then one holds in effect that the incarnation defies all rational explana-
tion. One must simply assent to it in faith.
Among twelfth century essentialist Christologists, Alexander of Hales
(d. 1245 a.d.) insisted on the mysterious and incomprehensible character

10. Schillebeeckx argues that, out of His Abba experience, Jesus assured humanity of a
future with and from God. One can claim that He lived a religious illusion; but
Christians claim otherwise. In the risen Christ, God reveals Himself as a power against
evil. Schillebeeckx holds that one cannot finally separate the objective from the
subjective elements in the resurrection. One needs to overcome empiricism by dealing
with the resurrection; but one also needs to overcome fideism through empiricism.
Unfortunately, Schillebeeckx interprets empiricism in nominalistic, quasi-Kantian
terms by reducing the objects of knowledge to concrete, sensible facts. In my judgment,
Schillebeeckx finally confesses the theological bankruptcy of his philosophical nomi-
nalism when he concedes that theology has finally no over-arching language to relate
the empirical Jesus and the Jesus of faith.
As for his own theological interpretation of the incarnation, Schillebeeckx concedes
that no one can be two persons simultaneously. In this sense, “we accept the
human-cum-personalistic character of Jesus’ being-as-man and starting from enhypostasis
ascribe to him a more or less nominal anhypostasis, since nothing is lost to Jesus of his
real being-as-human.” Schillebeeckx Edward Schillebeeckx, Jesus: An Experiment in
Christology, translated by Hubert Hoskins (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1981), pp.
626-674; Donald L. Gelpi, S.J. The Turn to Experience in Contemporary Theology, pp.
11. Cf. McIntyre, op. cit., pp. 96-101. McIntyre himself prefers the position of Ephraim
to Loofs’s reading of Leontius.
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 253

of the incarnation.12 The mature Martin Luther (1483-1546 a.d.) took

an analogous position. For Luther, the incarnation reveals the transcen-
dence and utter freedom of God. One can know it only through faith;
reason avails nothing.13 In a sense, Neo-orthodoxy endorses a similar
position when it excludes metaphysics from the doing of theology.14
The position which I shall develop below cheerfully concedes the mys-
terious character of the incarnation and that we know it only in faith.
One should not, however, confuse mystery with complete unintelligibil-
ity. The finite human mind finds any reality which it cannot compre-
hend mysterious. Theists, therefore, correctly characterize God as su-
premely mysterious, since God comprehends all things and is compre-
hended by no one except Himself. In other words, even a reality supremely
mysterious to peanut-brains like us exemplifies a supremely intelligible
reality which both understands and comprehends itself perfectly. Nor
would anything prevent in principle that such a God would choose to
communicate some of that intelligibility to finite human minds. In what
follows, I shall propose a philosophical interpretation of the hypostatic
union which I would hope the reader would find both intelligible and
consonant with the revelation which we have in fact received.
4) Mutual Indwelling. As we have seen, the gospel of John speaks of the
mutual indwelling of the Son in the Father and vice versa. Gregory of
Nazianzus (330-390 a.d.) first coined a technical theological term for
this idea: namely, “perichorêsis.” For Gregory, however, the term implied
principally the mutual predication of divine and human traits in Jesus.
(Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 18, 42)
Maximus the Confessor (c. 580-662 a.d.) gave the same term a very
different twist. Maximus, as we shall see, played a major role in the
monothelite controversy. The monothelites denied the presence of a hu-
man will in Jesus. Maximus in defending the presence of both divine and
human wills in Jesus, used the term “perichorêsis,” or mutual indwelling,
to describe the synergy, the dynamic blending, of the divine and human
wills in Christ. (Maximus the Confessor, Epistle 4, 8) I shall examine
Maximus’s position in greater detail below and use it as the starting point
for constructing an experiential Christology.

12. Cf. Walter S. Principe, Alexander of Hales’s Theology of the Hypostatic Union (Toronto:
Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1967), pp. 82 ff.
13. Cf. Marc Lienhard, Martin Luthers christlisches Zeugnis: Entwicklung und Grundzeuge
seiner Christologie (Göttingen: Vanderhoeck & Ruprecht, 1973), pp. 108-114.
14. Barth grounded the objective possibility of revelation in the fact that it had actually
occurred. His Christology, like the rest of his theology, insisted that one approach the
incarnation in faith and with the a prioris of philosophical reason. Revelation discloses
the otherness of God and with it the fact and extent of rational blindness. (Barth,
Church Dogmatics, I, ii, 1-44).
254 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

Eventually, John of Damascus (690-760 a.d.) appealed to the mutual

indwelling of humanity and divinity in Jesus as a way of explaining the
hypostatic union. In John’s Christology, the mutual interpenetration of
the divine and human in Jesus meant that, while the divine operations do
not originate from the humanity, they do proceed through it as heat flows
through a metal held in a flame.
The metaphor of heat penetrating metal absolved John’s use of
“perichorêsis” of the charge of monophysitism, since in the physics of his
day, despite their mutual interpenetration, the heat and iron each retains
its own proper nature. Nor do the two blend into a third thing. The
heated sword does not become the heat which suffuses it; nor does the
heat become the sword. (John of Damascus, De Fide Orthodoxa, II, vii-ix)
The Damascene also argued that idea of mutual indwelling gives con-
crete meaning to the idea of “enhypostasis.”15 (John of Damascus, Ca-
pitula Philosophica, 44)
In dealing with the hypostatic union, I shall argue that a triadic, realis-
tic, social construct of experience makes the positions of Maximus and of
the Damascene philosophically thinkable.
5) Union by Divine Grace. The twelfth century produced, as I indicated
in volume one, a spate of essentialist Christologies. Though flawed by its
acquiescence in the fallacy of essentialism, essentialist Christology pro-
duced two different ways of trying to explain the hypostatic union: namely,
union by supernatural grace and substitution of dignity.
Alexander of Hales, for example, who, as we have seen stressed the
mysterious character of the incarnation, refused to compare it to any
union in nature. One can call it neither predicamental nor accidental. It
differs utterly from the union of a substance with its accidents. Alexander
underscored the uniqueness of the hypostatic union by calling it a “union
through grace (unitas per gratiam).” Moreover, Alexander interpreted the
grace of union in vigorous, efficacious terms. The efficacy with which the
deity unites itself to the humanity of Jesus sanctifies it.16
All orthodox theologians endorse the gratuitous, gracious character of
the union of the divine and of the human in Jesus. In the position which
I shall develop, I shall assert the graced character of the incarnation, but
I shall also argue that the historical revelation we have received yields
some insight into how that union comes about. Moreover, the explana-
tion I shall offer, like Alexander’s, invokes a divine and sanctifying effi-
6) The Substitution of Dignity Other medieval essentialists explained
the hypostatic union differently from Alexander of Hales. William of

15. Cf. Leonard Prestige, “Perichoreô and Perichorêsis in the Fathers,” The Journal of
Theological Studies, 29(April, 1928), pp. 242-252.
16. Cf. Principe, op.cit., pp. 58-119.
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 255

Auxerre, for example, appealed to the concept of “dignity” in order to

explain why one does not find a human person in Jesus, only a human
essence or nature. Like Alexander of Hales, William appealed to the ac-
tion of divine grace in order to explain how divinity and humanity unite
in Jesus. The Son of God acts in and through Jesus; but Jesus does not act
through Himself (per se). As a consequence, Jesus acts with a divine rather
than with a human dignity. Since dignity belongs to the essence of
personhood, the replacement in Jesus of human dignity with a divine
dignity explains why in Jesus we encounter a divine rather than a human
person.17 Philip the Chancellor espoused a similar position.18
In my judgment, the essentialist presuppositions on which both posi-
tions rest renders them philosophically implausible as explanations, even
though Christian faith does discover in Jesus a divine dignity. In what
follows, I shall invoke a metaphysics of experience in order to explain
7) Union by Actualization. As scholastic Christology evolved, one finds
a growing consensus that the concept of “subsistence” holds the key to
the hypostatic union.19 Of all the scholastics thinkers, however, Thomas
Aquinas probably offered the most innovative account of subsistence.
In the Summa theologiae, Thomas Aquinas contrasted Chalcedonian
orthodoxy with the Gnostic notion that Jesus possessed only an illusory
humanity, not a real one. He also rejected the “Nestorian” doctrine that
the incarnation requires the presence of more than one hypostasis in Christ.
Rather, the Son of God who existed in the Godhead from all eternity
became human in time. (Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. xvi,
aa. 1-6)
Aquinas not only endorsed Chalcedon but also advanced Chalcedonian
Christology by suggesting a novel explanation for how the hypostatic
union comes about. Aquinas endorsed Aristotelian hylemorphic theory.
He held that the human soul functions as the form of the body, which he
portrayed as quantified matter. In informing the body the soul makes it
into a human body and endows it with substantial intelligibility. The
soul also animates the body. (Ibid., I, lxxv, 1-7)
Aristotelian substances act and suffer through accidental powers which
qualify the substance. These powers together with the habits which modify
them and the actions which flow from them endow the human substance
with accidental intelligibility. (Ibid., I, lxxvi, 1-8)

17. Cf. Walter S. Principe, William of Auxerre’s Theology of the Hypostatic Union (Toronto:
Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1963), pp. 58-119.
18. Cf. Walter S. Principe, Philip the Chancellor’s Theology of the Hypostatic Union
(Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1975), pp. 52-68.
19. Cf. Wilhelm Breuning, Die hypostatische Union in der Theologie Wilhelms von Auxerre,
Hugo von St. Cher, und Rolands von Cremona (Trier: Paulinus Verlag, 1962).
256 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

Aquinas, however, advanced beyond Aristotle in his account of human

nature by distinguishing clearly between being and essence. Being desig-
nates something’s actuality, that it exists. Essence makes it into what it is.
Substance and the accidents which define the way something exists de-
fine the realm of essence. The act of being gives that essence actuality.
(Ibid., I, iii, 4)
The distinction between being and essence also allowed Aquinas to
distinguish clearly between supposit and nature. “Nature” designates an
essence as something which acts and is acted upon. “Supposit” designates
something as actually existing through the act of being which endows its
essence with actuality.
A person, Aquinas argued, is a supposit with an intelligent nature. In
explaining the hypostatic union, therefore, Aquinas argued that the eter-
nal act of being of the second person of the trinity gives actuality to Jesus’
human essence or nature. Jesus therefore possesses a complete human
nature, a substance endowed with accidental powers to act and be acted
upon; but, the divine act of Being which actualizes that human nature
also personalizes it by transforming it into a subsisting reality. In the in-
carnation, therefore, only one supposit (person, hypostasis) speaks and
acts. That person has, however, two natures. He possesses divinity from
all eternity; He acquires humanity when He actualizes the humanity of
Jesus in history. (Summa theologiae, III, q. xvi, a. 6-q. xvii, a. 2)
In discussing the way in which the hypostatic union unites two distinct
natures in the person of the Son, Aquinas also showed a care to avoid
predicating of one another the essential traits proper to each nature. Christ’s
human nature acts in a manner which expresses His human essence. The
second person of the trinity did use that human nature to work miracles
and to exorcise. Miraculous acts revealed the Son of God’s divine om-
nipotence; but Jesus’ human nature remained essentially finite. In His
humanity, therefore, Jesus lacked the power to create or to annihilate. As
human, He did not therefore enjoy omnipotence. Omnipotence belongs
to Him in virtue of His divine nature.20 (Summa theologiae, III, q. xiii, aa.
20. As we saw in volume one, Aquinas did in a sense “divinize” Jesus’ human intellect by
granting it the beatific vision from the first moment of its existence in the womb and
by attributing to it infused knowledge which readied it for Jesus messianic work. In so
doing, however, Aquinas did not violate his doctrine of the communication of traits
(communicatio idiomatum) in the sense that the quasi-omniscience which Jesus’
intellect possesses in virtue of the beatific vision results from the action of divine grace
rather than from human nature as such. That fact, however, does not render Aquinas’s
position any more psychologically plausible. Cf. Elisabeth Reinhardt, “El Verbo-Imagen
y la Asuncion de la Naturaleza Humana, Creada ad Imaginem Dei, en la Doctrina de
Santo Tomas da Aquino” and Jose Ignacio Saranyana, “La Doctrina sobre el ‘Esse’ de
Christo en los Teologos de la Segun Mitad del Siglo XIII” in Cristo Hijo de Dios y
Redentor del Hombre, pp. 627-635, 637-647.
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 257

In assuming a human body, the Son of God also submitted to all its
physical limitations and defects. By His sufferings He satisfied for sin.
His sufferings manifested the reality of His humanity. (Summa theologiae,
III, q. xiv, a.1)
Divine filiation, however, belongs properly only to the person of the
Son through His eternal generation by the Father. As a consequence,
Jesus’ filial relationship to the Father differs from ours. His divine Sonship
results from the divinity which the Father communicates to Him from all
eternity. Because we share in Jesus’ filial relationship to the Father by
grace, we qualify only as God’s adopted children, not as His natural chil-
dren.21 (Summa theologiae, III, q. xxiii, aa.1-4)
Aquinas’s metaphysical account of the hypostatic union illustrates the
subtlety and creative fertility of his mind. It labors, however, under some
inconsistency. In Aristotelian metaphysics, potency always limits the act
which specifies it. Matter, for example, individuates the human soul which
animates it. Essence limits the act of being which actualizes it by making
it into a specific kind of being. According to strict Aristotelian principles,
then, the humanity of Jesus ought to limit the divine act of being which
actualizes it. In ceasing to enjoy infinite Being, however, the incarnate
Son of God would have forfeited His divine essence.
Aquinas, of course, denied that anything of the sort happened. In his
Christology, the humanity of Jesus does not limit the divine Being which
specifies it. Aquinas, however, failed, in my judgment, to explain ad-
equately from a philosophical standpoint why it does not. In what fol-
lows, I shall also invoke the notion of actualization in speaking of the
hypostatic union; but I shall define that philosophical term very differ-
ently from Aquinas.
8) Incommunicability. John Duns Scotus (1274-1308) rejected Aquinas’s
distinction between being and essence. Accordingly, Scotus denied that
the human nature of Christ existed through the act of being (esse) of the
Word. In the case of living things, he also equated being and life. He
therefore held that Christ’s human nature had its own proper being, or
vital reality (John Duns Scotus, In III Sent., d.6, q.1).
Scotus therefore proposed a very different explanation of the hypo-
static union, one which I find theologically extremely suggestive. Instead
of appealing to metaphysics in order to provide the “how” of the hypo-
static union, as Aquinas had, Scotus probed more deeply into the notion
21. Aquinas also stands out among medieval systematic theologians for his doctrinal
concern to incorporate into his Christology reflection on the mysteries of the life of
Christ. (Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, qq. xxxi-xlv) The quaestio method,
however, caused him to deal with those mysteries under the somewhat artificial rubric
of suitability. The comparative literary analysis of the gospels contained in volume two
of this study and in the present volume provides, in my judgment, a more adequate way
of dealing with those mysteries.
258 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

of “person.” Scotus regarded personal existence as the ultimate actuality

of a rational nature. Unlike Aquinas, however, Scotus did not derive his
explanation of the meaning of person, from Boethius.
Boethius defined “person” as “the individual substance of a rational
nature.” (Boethius, Against Eutyches, II, 1-5, 28-37) In the twelfth cen-
tury, Richard of St. Victor subjected Boethius’s definition of “person” to
a telling speculative critique. Richard did so in the course of writing his
De Trinitate, perhaps the most creative systematic trinitarian treatise to
emerge from the middle ages.
Richard saw that if one defines “person” with Boethius as “the indi-
vidual substance of a rational nature,” then anyone who espouses an Au-
gustinian theology of the trinity (as Richard together with most medieval
theologians did) must logically discover four substances in the triune God;
for, Richard argued, if the divine persons differ as substances, they would
have to do so in the manner of substances, which differ qualitatively.
That would mean that a Boethian definition of “person” when applied
within a trinitarian context demands the presence within the triune God
of four, qualitatively distinct realities. Such a conclusion, however, equiva-
lently denies the co-equality of the divine persons and leads to a quater-
nity of substance in God (Richard of St. Victor, De Trinitate, IV, viii,
Richard, taking his cue from Augustine, viewed persons as relational
entities; but he developed this fundamental Augustinian insight in inter-
esting and suggestive ways. He viewed persons not only as relational but
as ecstatic, social realities. Persons exist (ex-sistere) in the sense that they
not only derive their being from one another but relate socially in a com-
munion of love.
Finally, Richard discovered another trait which characterizes personal
existence, namely, its incommunicability. Accordingly, Richard defined a
divine person as the “incommunicable existence of the divine nature
(existentia naturae divinae incommunicabilis) (Ibid., III, ii-vii, xi-xvii, xxi).
Scotus endorsed all these insights of the Victorine including his defini-
tion of “person.” Accordingly, Scotus argued that an adequate definition
of person must include not only positive traits (like intelligence) but also
the negative trait of incommunicability.
Scotus looked to the incommunicability of personal existence in order
to explain how the hypostatic union occurred. The notion of “incommu-
nicability” implied for him a unique singularity of existence as well as the
negation of all dependence on another person. Given the divine will to
become incarnate as human, therefore, the human nature of Christ
through its existence in the person of the Son ceded its personal incom-
municability to the transcendent incommunicability of the person of the
divine Son.
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 259

Because Scotus conceived the grace of union in dynamic terms, he de-

nied a distinction which earlier essentialist Christologists had defended:
namely, the distinction between the active assumption of human nature
and the grace of union itself. In addition, Scotus argued that the grace of
union differs from habitual grace as cause differs from effect (Scotus,
Opus oxoniensis, d.1, q.1, nn. 1-5, 7, 13, 16).
In the experiential construct of the hypostatic union which I shall de-
velop, I shall argue for the fundamental soundness of the preceding
Scotistic insights.
9) Incarnation as Divine Symbolic Self-Expression. In his early theologi-
cal essays, Karl Rahner explained the incarnation as divine symbolic
self-expression. The early Rahner deplored what he called a dangerous
Christological myth: namely, that the humanity of Jesus symbolizes the
reality of God only extrinsically. Extrinsic relationship implies for Rahner
that the humanity reveals nothing to us about the divine reality itself.
Rahner found this myth exemplified in the Thomistic doctrine than any
person of the trinity could have taken flesh. Citing the Cappadocian fa-
thers as authorities, Rahner argued that only the second person of the
trinity could have become flesh; but he went beyond the Cappadocians
when he suggested an ontological correlation between human nature and
the second person of the trinity.
Rahner’s metaphysics of symbol attempted to explain the precise char-
acter of this correlation. Rahner distinguished real from artificially cre-
ated symbols. Real symbols express the symbolic character of reality it-
self. A real symbol comes into being, according to the early Rahner, when
one reality posits within itself another reality which functions as part of
itself without being the whole of itself. Human actions, for example, func-
tion as real symbols of the persons who originate them.
Invoking this definition of a “real symbol,” Rahner discovered a sym-
bolic structure in the inner life of the trinity. When from all eternity the
Father generates the Son, He posits within Himself a reality both distinct
from Himself and essentially one with Himself. As a consequence, the
Son of God confronts us as a real symbol of the Father.
Similarly, when Father and Son from all eternity spirate the Holy Spirit,
they posit within themselves a reality distinct from themselves but essen-
tially one with themselves. As a consequence, the Holy Spirit confronts
us in Her historical revelation as a real symbol of both Father and Son in
their relationship to one another.
When the second person of the trinity took flesh, He also posited within
Himself a human nature distinct from His own divine person and nature
but a human nature united to His person. As a consequence, that human
nature confronts us as a real symbol of the second person of the trinity.
260 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

In an analogous manner the sending of the Holy Spirit posits the church
within Her as a real symbol of Her divine person, even though the union
of Church and Spirit does not qualify as hypostatic in the way the incar-
nation does.
Moreover, the early Rahner also conceived the relationship between
human nature and the Son of God in dialectical terms which required a
theological re-definition of the term “human nature.” The early Rahner
rejected as “ontic” the traditional Aristotelian definition of human na-
ture as a rational animal. Viewed theologically, Rahner argued, “human
nature” means that reality which comes into existence when the second
person of the trinity expresses Himself in what is not-God, i.e., in space
and time. Rahner’s dialectical reading of the incarnation would, however,
seem to imply that, if the Father and the Spirit had chosen to express
their persons in space and time, in each case a nature different from hu-
man nature would have come into being, one which would express the
specific character of each of the other divine persons.22
In the experiential construct of the incarnation which I shall propose,
like Rahner, I shall portray the incarnation as the symbolic self-expression
of the Son of God in history. I shall, however, rest my argument, not on
his metaphysics of symbol, but on the symbolic structure of experience.
Nor shall I correlate human nature closely with the second person of the
trinity as he does; for, if one posits qualitative differences among the di-
vine persons, as Rahner’s theology of the incarnation would seem to im-
ply, then, as Richard of St. Victor correctly saw, one would seem to com-
promise the divine persons’ essential equality.
In this section, I have pondered some of the significant developments
in post-Chalcedonian Christology to which the experiential construct of
the incarnation which I shall present attempts to respond. Not every
post-Chalcedonian Christology, however, endorses the creed of Chalcedon.
A number of contemporary “low” Christologies call that creed into ques-
tion and replace it with another account of the relation of the divine and
human in Jesus. The “low” Christologies to which I refer seem to me to
acquiesce all too uncritically in the presuppositions of an Enlightenment
rationalism which seeks to force Christian revelation into the procrustean
bed of some pet philosophical system. To an examination of these so-called
“low” Christologies, I turn in the section which follows.

Nineteenth century Protestant kenotic Christology provides the proto-
type of contemporary “low” Christologies. The kenotic theologians de-
veloped different kinds of Christology; but, in one way or another, they

22. Ibid., 3-14. Cf. Joseph H.P. Wong, Logos-Symbol in the Christology of Karl Rahner
(Rome: Libreria Ateneo Salesiano, 1984).
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 261

portrayed the incarnation as negating Jesus’ divinity. As a consequence,

they moved Protestant Christological thinking away from a Christology
of identity, which asserts that Jesus is God, to a Christology of relation-
ship, which asserts that God is somehow present in the human person
called Jesus of Nazareth.
Kenotic Christology reflects Enlightenment presuppositions by mak-
ing the dialectical logic of German romantic philosophy the measure of
Christian faith. That logic led kenotic theologians to portray the kenosis
to which Paul refers in Philippians as the negation of the Son of God’s

Kenotic Christology
Gottfried Thomasius (1802-1875) created nineteenth-century kenotic
Christology. For Thomasius, in becoming incarnate, the Son of God ceases
to share in the divine creative activity. The incarnation negates the Son’s
eternal likeness to the Father and replaces it with historical dissimilarity.
In the incarnation, Jesus’ sonship expresses itself instead in his human
obedience to the Father. Through his kenosis, then, the Son of God ceases
to function and act as God’s natural Son, so that the Godhead can ex-
press itself in an unfolding history and in an unfolding human conscious-
ness. The Son retains, however, some divine traits, because he continues
to share in the divine saving activity. Through His sinless obedience to
the Father, He restores communion between a sinful humanity and God.23
Thomasius claimed to have written a Christology compatible with
Lutheran orthodoxy. In the end, however, his incarnate God sounds less
like true God and true human and more like half God and half human.
Wolfgang Friedrich Gess (1819-1891), however, made no pretense at
orthodoxy. In becoming incarnate, he contended, the Logos gave up all
divine characteristics and replaced divine omniscience with a finite hu-
man consciousness.24 Johann Friedrich von Hoffman (1810-1877) taught
that the eternal “I” who became incarnate lost His divine nature and

23. Cf. Martin Breidert, Die kenotische Christologie des 19. Jahnhunderts (Gütersloh:
Guetersloh Verlaghaus Gerd Mohn, 1977), pp. 52-72; Joseph Francis Hall, The
Kenotic Theory: With Reference to its Anglican Forms and Arguments (New York, NY:
Longmans Green, 1898).
24. In contrast to Thomasius, Gess showed no interest in reconciling kenotic Christology
with Chalcedonian faith. Instead, he focused on attempting to explain how the
pre-existent Son can have the same “I” as the earthly Jesus. In becoming incarnate, the
Logos gave up all divine characteristics and replaced divine omniscience with a finite
human consciousness. By doing so, the Logos transformed himself into Jesus’ human
soul and thus knew with a developing human self-awareness. Paradoxically, Gess also
held that even during his earthly sojourn, Jesus’ soul remained an eternal Spirit which
rules both humans and angels. In the end, however, Gess could vindicate neither the
complete divinity nor the complete humanity of the incarnate Word. (Cf. Breidert, op.
cit., pp. 115-160.)
262 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

acquired a human nature instead, even though as a person he remained

divine. The acquisition of a developing human nature inaugurates a new
historical mode of existence in the eternal reality of God.25
Johann Heinrich August Ebrard (1818-1888) seems to have held that
in the incarnation the Logos functioned as a human soul and therefore
ceased to be the eternal reality it had been.26 Karl Theodor August Liebner
(1806-1871) and F.H.R. Frank (1827-1894) also developed accounts of
the kenôsis in which the second person of the trinity would seem to forfeit
His divinity by becoming human.27
In a German romantic version of the kenôsis, therefore, the Son of God
loses either all or some of His divine nature. This paradoxical and ulti-
25. Von Hoffman grounded his kenotic Christology neither in trinitarian theology nor
in the human experience of Jesus but in the present faith experience of the believing
Christian. Faith establishes the present relationship of the believing Christian with
God. Christ mediates that relationship by making an eternal reality historically present.
Von Hoffman, however, repudiated Chalcedonian Christology and tried to portray
the incarnation as an historical-trinitarian event. The incarnation of God in a medium
other than God gives God a new shape. Von Hoffman questioned whether the Son
proceeds eternally from the Father, since Scripture says nothing about God’s internal
relationships. Rather, in the incarnation, the eternal becomes temporal. Since the Son’s
divinity consists in a relationship to the Father, the Son does not abandon divinity in
the incarnation. The eternal “I” which is Christ before the incarnation becomes a
person like other human persons through entering history. In Jesus we do not
encounter a divine person with two natures but the union of a divine person with a
human nature. After Jesus’ glorification, the Spirit makes Him present and inaugurates
a new phase in trinitarian life by inaugurating a new historical mode of existence of the
divine reality. (Ibid., pp. 161-184.)
26. Ebrard brought kenotic theology into the reformed tradition. He held that by His
kenôsis the Son of God gave up His divine essence as well as His divine existence. By
“existence” Ebrard meant eternity, lack of conditioning, absoluteness. By “divine
essence” Ebrard meant qualities like divine holiness, wisdom, blessedness, etc. as well
as metaphysical traits like omnipotence, omnipresence, and a divine relationship to the
world. In the incarnation the Son of God exchanged a temporal for an eternal mode
of being; but He turned Himself into a man whose qualities manifested His divinity.
The Logos functioned as Jesus’ human soul. His soul enjoyed supernatural, but not
superhuman powers. Moreover, the human soul of Christ retained a consciousness of being
Son of God even though He had ceased to be the eternal Logos. Ebrard never explained what
happened to the world-ruling Logos, after the incarnation. Ibid., pp. 215- 231.
27. Liebner found in the notion of God as absolute love the key to every theological riddle.
He sought to replace substance philosophy with an ethic of love. Each “I” in the trinity
gives itself to a “not-I.” In the process, the divine persons alienate themselves from
themselves in the absoluteness of their gift. Liebner remained vague on the role of the
Spirit in the trinity. The incarnation reveals the Son’s absolute self-effacement before
the Father, a self-effacement which renders Him insubstantial. Since the trinity is an
eternal process, the incarnation reveals the Son’s role in that process. In the incarnation,
however, the Son loses the Father’s divine infilling. (Ibid., pp. 192-214)
Frank held that in Christ divine consciousness transforms itself into a developing
human consciousness. In His human consciousness, however, Christ knows His divine
consciousness only through faith. (Ibid., pp. 232-277)
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 263

mately heterodox account of the incarnation results in no small measure

from the fascination of kenotic theologians with the philosophical con-
fusions of German dialectical logic. In the end dialectical logic prefers
paradox and speculative groping to inferential precision. A method of
thinking that flawed could not help but breed confusion and error; but,
in the spirit of the Enlightenment, the kenotic theologians preferred to
depart from traditional Christian faith rather than to subject their logical
assumptions to the kind of rigorous criticism they deserve.

Process Christology
As we saw in volume one, both Friedrich Schleiermacher and Paul Tillich
espoused some version of the Unitarian Christ. The reader may examine
their positions in more detail by returning to the first volume of this
study.28 The Unitarian Christ confronts one as a human being of genuine
wisdom and even of prophetic insight, but not as a divine person incarnate.29
Contemporary Protestant process theology also develops “Christologies”
which promote a kind of philosophical unitarianism. Protestant process
theology ends in unitarianism when it tries to make the nominalistic
cosmology of Alfred North Whitehead normative for Christian faith. In
The Turn to Experience in Contemporary Theology, I examined some of the
philosophical contradictions which result from Whitehead’s endorsement
of a nominalistic, di-polar construct of experience.30 I will not repeat
28. Schleiermacher offered a highly rationalized, highly subjectivistic portrait of Jesus and
of the redemption he effected. One finds in his Christology an extreme form of
Arianism. Jesus confronts sinful humanity as a creature like themselves, even more like
them, indeed, than the super-creature whom Arius proclaimed. Schleiermacher’s Jesus
saves sinners by the perfection of the grace which he possesses as a creature. Moreover,
Schleiermacher’s romanticism blended with his pietism in order to transform into a
purely subjective event the work of grace present in Jesus and in those who believe in
him. [Cf. Friedrich Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, translated by R.H. Mackin-
tosh and J.S. Stewart (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1928), pp. 355-473.]
Tillich presented Jesus as a model of religious faith, which the former renamed and
reinterpreted existentially as the “New Being.” The gulf between the infinite Being of
God and finite being which Tillich postulates on philosophical grounds opens such a
gulf between the creator and creation that God can never come to symbolic expression
in any finite reality. Tillich therefore denied the incarnation, the hypostatic union, and
the trinity which the incarnation reveals. One finds a rational consistency in his
thought even though it bears little resemblance to the shared faith of Christians. [Cf.
Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology (3 vols.; Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press,
1967), II, pp. 86-94; see also: “The Religious Symbol” in Symbolism in Religion and
Literature, edited by Rollo May (New York, NY: George Braziller, 1960), pp. 75-77]
29. For a survey of Unitarian reflection on Jesus in the United States, see: Prescott
B.Wintersteen, Christology in American Unitarianism: An Anthology of Nineteenth and
Twentieth Century Unitarian Theologians (Boston, MA: The Unitarian Universalist
Christian Fellowship, 1977).
30. Cf. Donald L. Gelpi, S.J., The Turn to Experience in Contemporary Theology (Mahwah,
NJ: Paulist, 1994), pp. 52-89; Gerald O’Collins, “the Incarnation under Fire,”
Gregorianum, 76(1995), pp. 263-280.
264 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

those arguments here; but a brief survey of Protestant process Christo-

logy will illustrate the way in which much of it tacitly endorses an En-
lightenment rationalism.
W. Norman Pittenger set the tone for subsequent Protestant essays in
Whiteheadean Christology. Pittenger reacted to the fideistic methods of
Protestant Neo-orthodoxy by replacing it with Whiteheadean rational-
ism. Whitehead’s philosophical method requires that philosophy supply
religious faith with its content. Pittenger decided that Whitehead’s cos-
mology should do the same for Christology.
Pittenger rejected as contradictory Loofs’s interpretation of Leontius of
Byzantium which Karl Barth had endorsed. Instead, Pittenger reduced
Jesus to a society of overlapping, actual occasions of experience. In doing
so, he also reduced the presence of God in Jesus to “reversion.” In
Whitehead’s cosmology, reversion explains a novel process. Reversion
happens when a process “prehends,” or experiences, directly and imme-
diately a novel conceptual possibility in the mind of God. The novel
possibility has not yet become ingredient in the prehension in question.
In other words, Pittenger endorsed the questionable ontologism in
Whitehead’s account of process. Whiteheadean ontologism requires that
novelty in the universe result from the immediate “prehension” (i.e., ex-
perience) of one of the “eternal objects” (i.e., particular concepts of pos-
sibility) present in the mind of God.
In Whitehead, reversion advances the ongoing creation of the world.
Pittenger, however, equated reversion with the working of supernatural
grace. In the process, he confused the order of grace with the order of
creation. In thus naturalizing “grace” Pittenger demoted the presence of
God in Jesus to just one more instance of finite creative processing.
Pittenger’s Jesus confronts one, therefore as just one more human person
created by God. God’s presence in Jesus exemplifies “reversion,” nothing
Like Pittenger, David Griffin prefers Whiteheadean rationalism to
Neo-orthodox fideism. Like Pittenger, he ignores the fact that a more
nuanced theological method provides a middle ground between the two.
Griffin, however, cheerfully endorses the Enlightenment view that theol-
ogy and metaphysics coincide. Griffin regards the whole universe as a
revelation of God and recognizes a “subjective” element in revelation, the
“reversion” which exemplifies God’s creative action. Accordingly, Griffin
sees no reason in principle why some other person could not surpass the
revelation of God which took place in Jesus.32

31. Cf. W. Norman Pittenger, The Word Incarnate: A Study of the Doctrine of the Person
of Christ (London: James Nisbet, l959).
32. Cf. David R. Griffin, A Process Christology (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1973).
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 265

John B. Cobb’s process Christology shows more creativity than Griffin’s.

Cobb seeks to reinterpret the Platonizing Logos Christologies of Justin
Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Athanasius in the light of
Whitehead’s process Platonism. Whitehead endorsed the main lines of
Platonic philosophy, but reversed the direction of love. In Plato love drives
toward transcendence; in Whitehead, love (the lure of process) drives to
physical concreteness.
Cobb reinterprets the Logos of both the fathers and of the fourth gospel
as Whitehead’s “creativity/reversion.” He endorses, therefore, the main
lines of Pittenger’s account of the presence of God in Jesus but stresses its
cosmic dimension. Cobb’s Logos grounds creative advance throughout
the universe.
Cobb’s Jesus dons the robes of a philosophe and proclaims, in an utterly
incredible historical anachronism, Whitehead’s doctrine of creativity. Cobb
regards Jesus as the supreme human incarnation of the divine creativity
present in everything; but Cobb never justifies that claim. I personally
find Griffin more logically consistent when he recognizes that on
Whiteheadean presuppositions one ought to regard Jesus as a surpassable
revelation of God.33
In her attempt to elaborate a systematic process theology, Marjorie
Suchocki also reduces the presence of God in Jesus to just another in-
stance of Whitehead’s ontologized account of creativity.34

Other “Low” Christologies

In the first volume of this study, I argued that Rudolf Bultmann’s demy-
thologization of the gospel also exemplifies an acquiescence in Enlight-
enment rationalism. For Bultmann, modern science provides the mea-
sure of gospel credibility and renders Jesus’ miracles unacceptable to “the
modern mind,” whatever that might be. Bultmann’s existential
re-interpretation of the gospel also indulges in philosophical reduction-
ism.35 Among Catholic theologians, the “low” Christologies of Hans Küng,
of Piet Schoonenberg, and of Roger Haight also offer, in my judgment,
an inadequate and finally false account of the relationship of the divine
and human in Jesus.
Hans Küng endorses Bultmann’s call for a demythologized gospel and
makes historical critical method the measure of Christian belief. He as-
serts that the resurrection showed that Jesus was right and His enemies
wrong. The resurrection effects a breakthrough in human history. Küng
concedes that the honorific titles applied to Jesus in the New Testament

33. Cf. John B. Cobb, Christ in a Pluralistic Age (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975).
34. Cf. Marjorie Hewett Suchocki, God, Christ, Church: A Practical Guide to Process
Theology (New York, NY: Crossroad, 1982).
35. Cf. Morris Ashcroft, Rudolf Bultmann (Waco, TX: Word Incorporated, 1972).
266 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

terminate at his person, but Küng denies that these titles define the scope
of Christian faith.
Küng believes that trinitarian faith must espouse monotheism, but he
fails to make it clear whether it must espouse trinitarianism. He ques-
tions whether “modern” Christians need to assert Jesus’ divine pre-existence
and settles for asserting merely that Jesus’ relationship to God existed
from the beginning and had a foundation in God Himself. Küng leaves it
vague, however, whether the relation in question qualifies as real and
personal or only conceptual. He explains the divinity of Jesus by asserting
that God proclaimed Jesus as His delegate and as the crucified one raised
to life.36
Küng’s minimalistic reformulation of traditional faith leaves it vague,
to say the least, whether or not Christological faith terminates at a divine
person. By what he fails to assert Küng seems to imply that faith in Jesus’
personal divinity has become optional because no longer acceptable to
“the modern mind,” whatever that vaguest and most useless of vague
phrases might mean.
Schoonenberg rejects Chalcedonian Christology as contradictory and
indefensible. He seeks to replace it with a neo-adoptionist reading of the
incarnation. Schoonenberg also dismisses the “high” Christologies of the
middle ages as no longer believable. He finds in Jesus Christ a human
person with whom God has identified totally. Schoonenberg believes in
Jesus’ resurrection; but he finally leaves woefully vague what God’s iden-
tification with Jesus implies.
Schoonenberg seems to endorse a vaguely Kantian epistemology when
he describes the resurrection as “unobjectifiable.” He does not naturalize
the divine presence in Jesus as do Protestant process theologians; as a
result, Schoonenberg’s position would seem open to the position devel-
oped by Haight.37
Franz Josef Van Beeck’s rhetorical Christology endorses Schoonenberg’s
position. In so doing, it betrays, in my judgment, its methodological
inability to deal adequately with doctrinal issues.38
Roger Haight’s “low” Spirit Christology has the virtue of drawing at-
tention to the failure of most modern Christologies to attend to the role
of the Holy Breath in Christological revelation. Haight, however, leaves
the personal character of the divine Breath obscure and settles for defin-
ing Her as a Biblical metaphor for the divine immanence. The Spirit was
36. Cf. Hans Küng, On Being a Christian, translated by Edward Quinn (Garden City, NY:
Doubleday and Co., 1974).
37. Cf. Piet Schoonenberg, The Christ: A Study of the God-Man Relationship in the Whole
of Creation and in Jesus Christ, translated by Della Couling (New York, NY: Seabury,
1971). In responding later to Schoonenberg’s position, I shall attempt to answer in
detail all the objections to Chalcedonian Christology which he raises.
38. Cf. Franz Josef Van Beeck, Christ Proclaimed (New York, NY: Paulist, 1979).
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 267

present in Jesus and inspired both his ministry and his Abba awareness.
Haight also finds the Spirit immanent in the early Christian community.
He eschews, unfortunately, repeating what the New Testament has to say
about the Spirit and tries instead to formulate a pneumatology “for to-
Haight misreads the council of Nicea as a Christological council. As I
indicated in volume one, the conciliar tradition failed to discover Christo-
logy as such until the council of Ephesus. Nicea concerned itself, not so
much with the presence of God in Jesus as with the divine co-equality of
Father and Son within the Godhead.
For Haight, moreover, Jesus qualifies as a human person, not as a di-
vine person. In this respect, Haight’s thought echoes Schoonenberg. It
also recalls one strain in Protestant kenotic theology, even though one
finds no indication that the kenotic theologians influenced Haight’s think-
ing directly. Haight discovers divinity present in Jesus only adverbially,
“not ontologically but functionally.” Jesus then embodies the Spirit as a
human person. Haight concedes that one can assert a greater presence of
the Spirit in Jesus than in us; but he questions any qualitative distinction
between the Spirit’s presence in Jesus and in other human persons.
Haight’ Spirit Christology completely ignores the Pauline witness. It
never mentions the resurrection or how that experience might have
changed Christian perceptions of the human reality of Jesus. Haight’s
Christology differs from that of process theologians in that it refuses to
naturalize the presence of God in Jesus and acknowledges instead its su-
pernatural, gifted character. In distinguishing nature from grace, Haight
moves more in the direction of Christian orthodoxy than Protestant pro-
cess Christology; but he never quite reaches it. In the end Haight’s Jesus
confronts us as just another human being, but more fully graced than
While Schoonenberg, Küng, and Haight write theology rather than
philosophy, one can nevertheless legitimately classify them as Enlighten-
ment Christologists because their “low” Christologies remain so low that
they transform Jesus into just another graced human person. Typically,
Enlightenment Christology sacrifices Jesus’ divinity to His humanity.

Among modern Protestant Christologies, the Neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth
and Emil Brunner offers a Protestant alternative to Enlightenment Christo-
Barth, in my judgment makes his most significant contribution to
Christology when he uses it in order to reformulate a Calvinistic doctrine

39. Cf. Roger Haight, “The Case for Spirit Christology,” Theological Studies 53(1992),
pp. 257-287; Jesus the Symbol of God (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1999).
268 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

of predestination. Instead of portraying God predestining individuals to

heaven or hell, Barth portrays Jesus as the sole object of divine election.
Jesus in Barth’s Christology confronts the believer as the elect one in whom
God also elects the rest of humanity. Those elected by God in Christ
experience themselves as chosen to believe in Him, to love Him, and to
have His prayer and His resurrection ever in their minds and hearts. God’s
election of humanity in Christ confronts one, therefore, with divine
omnipotence, righteousness, and mercy. It demands a response of faith.40
I find Barth’s theology of the cross less acceptable; but I shall postpone
reflecting on it until a subsequent chapter, when I shall consider the de-
velopment of atonement Christology. As we shall see, in handling the
meaning of atonement, Brunner does somewhat better than Barth.
In the end, however, Neo-orthodoxy’s expulsion of the philosophers
from its theological republic leaves it bereft of the intellectual tools it
needs to deal with the challenge posed by Enlightenment Christologies.
Nor can it deal adequately with the development of Chalcedonian Christo-
logy. Both problems demand the willingness to think through philosophi-
cal questions clearly, cogently, and validly. That, however, Neo-orthodoxy
refuses to do.

New Testament Christologies

Many New Testament Christologies suffer from an analogous deficiency,
in fact if not in principle. Wolfhart Pannenberg correctly insists on the
centrality of the resurrection in Christological thinking.41 Walter Kasper’s
New Testament Christology correctly characterizes the resurrection ap-
pearances of Jesus as a theophany. He also correctly calls for the develop-
ment of a Spirit Christology, even though he does so almost as an after-
thought.42 Both of these Christologies give insightful summaries of New
Testament Christology. While they do not rule out philosophical think-
ing in principle as Barth and Brunner do, neither do they employ it in
any systematic way. When, however, theology eschews critical philosophi-
cal thinking, it always runs the risk of falling into a dogmatism of taste.
When all is said and done, doctrinal Christological thinking needs to
invoke metaphysical categories because it must offer an inferential ac-
count of both created reality and of the reality of God. One does not find

40. Cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, translated by G.W. Bromiley and F.T. Torrence
(New York, NY: Scribner’s Sons, 1956), II, pp. 94-194.
41. Cf. Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus God and Man, translated by Lewis L. Wilkins and
Duane A. Priebe (London: SCM Press, 1968).
42. Cf. Walter Kasper, Jesus the Christ, translated by V. Green (New York, NY: Paulist/
Burns & Oates, (1984); L. Renwart, S.J., “Portraits du Christ: Chronique de Christo-
logy,” Nouvelle Revue Théologique, 118(1996), pp. 890-897; “Que dit-on de Jésus?
Chronique de Christologie,” Nouvelle Revue Théologique, 119(1997), pp. 573-585.
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 269

such an account in the New Testament or in scholarly summaries of New

Testament thinking.

Philosophical Christologies
I recognize that during this time of fin-du-siècle intellectual decadence,
post-modernist skepticism proclaims metaphysics impossible. Of course,
when one proclaims that reality defies all metaphysical generalizations,
one makes a metaphysical statement about the nature of reality in general
and of the human mind’s ability to know it. Like universal skepticism,
such self-contradictory thinking inevitably deconstructs itself.
Theology cannot abandon metaphysics because it must give an infer-
ential account of God, of the world, of humanity, and of how the three
relate. To formulate such a speculative account requires philosophical
thinking. A logically consistent account of reality in general requires a
systematic philosophical theory of the whole: in other words, a meta-
Instead of abandoning metaphysics, contemporary theologians need,
in my judgment, to teach it modesty. As I argued in volume one, a sound
insight into the logical structure of human inference requires that any
metaphysical theory of the whole aspire to universal applicability at the
same time that it renounces any claims to a priori necessity.
Why does the structure of inference deprive metaphysics of any a priori
necessity? Because one must formulate an hypothesis before one knows
for certain whether or not one has taken into account all the relevant
data. Even an inductively verified hypothesis can require revision if sub-
sequently facts turn up which call it into question or if someone thinks of
a better frame of reference for dealing with the relevant data. Deductive
inference enjoys logical, but not psychological, necessity. Deductive think-
ing, however, only concludes to a possible future.
The inferential mind touches reality at two points: when it formulates
an hypothesis and when it verifies or falsifies one. At both points, fallibil-
ity dogs human thought. It especially dogs theories about reality in gen-
eral. Metaphysical theories need verification in lived human experience,
in the results of scientific investigations of reality, and in the historical
and eschatological data furnished by divine revelation. By failing to in-
voke metaphysical categories, New Testament theologies throw away the
very tool they need in order to construct a systematic account of the
Word made flesh.
Both Karl Rahner and Edward Schillebeeckx recognize the need to pro-
vide philosophical grounding for Christological thinking; but they in-
voke different philosophical presuppositions from those I have endorsed.
I find both philosophies demonstrably flawed and finally indefensible.
270 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

As I indicated in volume one, Rahner fallaciously believes that one can

use Kantian logic in order to formulate a classical metaphysics. Classical
metaphysics claims not only universal applicability but a priori necessity.
Kantian logic can guarantee neither because it recognizes only deductive
inference; and deductive inference, as we have seen, concludes only to a
result, to a possible, but unverified, set of facts. In other words, Kantian
transcendental logic presents a fallible hypothesis as a verified conclusion
at the same time that it calls it a deduction. Rahner’s invocation of this
muddled logic in order to make inflated metaphysical claims of necessity
as well as universality for his metaphysical anthropology leaves him fi-
nally blinded to the fact that close scientific studies of human nature call
into very serious question the dated Thomistic anthropology which lies
at the basis of his entire theology.43
In Foundations of Christian Faith, Rahner cheerfully concedes that his
Christology rests on an a priori understanding of human nature. His a
priori Christology also presupposes an a classical, priori understanding of
God: the divine Word cannot change in Himself, only in His humanity.44
Schillebeeckx, on the other hand, grounds his New Testament theol-
ogy in an indefensible, nominalistic, di-polar construct of experience.
Such a philosophy portrays experience as the subjective interrelation of
particular concepts with concrete percepts. Because it restricts thinking
to what goes on between one’s ears, such a construct of experience cannot
account for the social dimensions of experience. Because it equates reality
with concrete sense data, such a construct of experience cannot account
adequately for religious experience; for, while we do experience the di-
vine touch, we do not perceive it in the same way in which we sense
rocks, chairs, plants, and mountains.
A di-polar nominalism leaves Schillebeeckx unable to account for the
religious encounter with the risen Christ. As a consequence, he searches
for God in the conceptual pole of experience and claims to find him in a
subjective experience of graced salvation. That experience allegedly war-
rants inferring that Jesus must have risen from the dead. The New Testa-
ment, however, describes the experience of the risen Christ as an aston-
ishing interpersonal encounter, not as the conclusion of a rational infer-
ence based on a purely subjective experience of salvation.
Nominalism not only skews Schillebeeckx’s reading of the New Testa-
ment; but, in a work which seeks to lay Biblical foundations for Christo-

43. Cf. Donald L. Gelpi, S.J., “Thematic Grace vs. Transmuting Grace: Two Spiritual
Paths” in Grace as Transmuted Experience and Social Process: and Other Essays in North
American Theology (Lanham,MD: University Press of America, 1988), pp. 67-95.
44. Cf. Karl Rahner, Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of
Christianity, translated by William V. Dych (New York, NY: Seabury, 1978), pp.
Chapter 6: Issues in Post-Chalcedonian Christology 271

logical thinking, it leads him, paradoxically to avoid almost completely

any discussion of New Testament Christology. Schillebeeckx’s Jesus deals
with Jesusology, not with Christology. His second volume deals with New
Testament theologies of grace, although it pays occasional attention to
Christological themes. His third volume summarizes the first two and
appends some wise reflections on democratizing the Church.45
Both Rahner and Schillebeeckx recognize the unavoidability of invok-
ing philosophical categories in constructing a doctrinal Christology; but
a successful doctrinal Christology needs to build on more solid method-
ological and metaphysical foundations than either of these giants of con-
temporary theology has laid.
This chapter has undertaken a dialectical examination of issues in
post-Chalcedonian theology. By dialectic, I do not mean a Romantic con-
ceptual logic of position, contradiction, and sublation. Instead, I mean
the deliberative weighing of the advantages and disadvantages of differ-
ent interpretations of reality and of the frames of reference in which one
formulates those interpretations.
The chapter which follows abandons dialectical for foundational think-
ing. It begins to answer the question: How ought a fully converted contem-
porary Christian to respond doctrinally to Chalcedonian Christology?

45. Cf. Donald L. Gelpi, S.J., The Turn to Experience in Contemporary Theology (Mahwah,
NJ: Paulist, 1994), pp. 1-23.
272 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

Chapter 7
Authenticating Chalcedon
In the preceding chapter, I have summarized some of the major problems
and issues facing anyone who attempts in this day and age to lay system-
atic foundations for a doctrinal Christology. The present chapter argues
that a theology of conversion rooted in a sound metaphysics of experi-
ence allows one to deal adequately and inferentially with these issues.
The foundational Christology which follows avoids the philosophical
blunders which in the past have skewed Christological doctrine: dualism,
the extremes of anthropological optimism and pessimism, nominalism.
A sound foundational Christology eschews the fideism of Neo-orthodoxy
at the same time that it acknowledges the need to verify theological lan-
guage in the historical data of revelation. In invokes a fallibilistic meta-
physics of experience and occupies the middle ground between
neo-orthodox fideism and Enlightenment rationalism. A sound founda-
tional Christology also avoids the logical fallacies of Kantian transcen-
dental method. It replaces Rahner’s flawed metaphysical anthropology
with an understanding of the human supported by contemporary scien-
tific studies of human nature. Finally, it replaces a di-polar, experiential
nominalism with a realistic, triadic, social construct of experience.
The foundational Christology which I shall propose endorses many of
the legitimate insights summarized in the preceding chapter. Like Haight,
I shall propose a “Spirit Christology.” Unlike Haight, however, I shall
endorse Panneberg’s insistence that the resurrection offers the only ad-
equate standpoint for understanding the personal reality embodied in
Jesus of Nazareth. The foundational theology which follows also refuses
to replace doctrinal theology with a summary of New Testament Christo-
logy. Instead, it endorses a systematic metaphysics of experience. That
metaphysics allows one to formulate a testable doctrinal hypothesis about
the New Testament witness to Jesus Christ. Finally, the foundational
Christology which follows offers a defensible re-interpretation of
Chalcedonian Christology. It also deals in a systematic way with the is-
sues raised by the development of post-Chalcedonian Christological specu-
This chapter divides into two parts. Part one analyzes the aesthetic
Christology of Jonathan Edwards. It argues that Edwards identified the
method needed in order to formulate a sound, foundational, Christo-
logical doctrine. Part two invokes a contemporary theology of conver-
Chapter 7: Authenticating Chalcedon 273

sion in order to flesh out Edwards’s seminal insights. In the process of

doing so, it authenticates Chalcedonian Christology.
The next chapter will invoke the Christological insights of Maximus
the confessor in order to propose a experiential construct of the hypo-
static union. It will then test the speculative adequacy of that construct
by its ability to deal with the issues in post-Chalcedonian Christology
analyzed in chapter seven.

How does one go about formulating a doctrinal Christology in the con-
text of conversion? The Christological thinking of Jonathan Edwards
anticipates in an extraordinary way the methods of contemporary foun-
dational Christology. In this section, therefore, I shall summarize Edwards’s
creative approach to Christological thinking as a way of easing the reader
into the foundational Christological hypothesis which this chapter be-
gins to develop.

Aesthetic Christology: The Case of Jonathan Edwards

English Puritanism attenuated somewhat the extreme Augustinian pessi-
mism about human nature which both Luther and Calvin had defended.
Puritan divines continued to use the language of depravity in their pulpit
rhetoric and theological tracts; but the Puritan tradition moved closer to
the position taken at the council of Trent when it acknowledged that
human nature can in fact perform some naturally good acts.1
American Puritanism further modified classical Calvinism by nurtur-
ing the genius of Jonathan Edwards (1703-58 a.d.). Puritan pastor, evan-
gelist of the First Great Awakening, and defender of the Calvinist faith
against the skepticism of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Edwards
put together a fresh theological synthesis which emphasized the aesthetic
dimensions of Christological faith.2
Edwards’s aesthetic Christological vision reflected the conversion expe-
rience which he himself underwent as a young man. Troubled by the
Calvinist doctrine of predestination, as a young adult he passed through
a personal crisis of religious faith which culminated finally in a renewed
religious recommitment. He described his conversion in the following

The first that I remember that ever I found any thing of that sort of in-
ward, sweet delight in God and divine things, that I have lived much in
since, was on reading those words, 1 Tim. i. 17. “Now unto the king eter-
1. Cf. Perry Miller, The New England Mind (2 vols.; Boston, MA: Beacon, 1961), I, pp.
3- 280.
2. See especially: Roland Dellatre, Beauty and Sensibility in the Thought of Jonathan
Edwards (New Haven, CT: Yale, 1968).
274 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology
nal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever
and ever, Amen.” As I read the words, there came into my soul and was as
it were diffused thro’ it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new
sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never any
words of scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought with myself,
how excellent a being that was; and how happy I should be, if I might
enjoy that God, and be wrapt up to God in Heaven, and be as it were
swallowed up in Him. I kept saying, and as it were singing over these
words of scripture to myself; and went to prayer, to pray to God that I
might enjoy him; and prayed in a manner quite different from what I used
to do; with a new sort of affection. But it never came into my thought,
that there was any thing spiritual, or of a saving nature in this.
From about this time I began to have a new kind of apprehensions and
ideas of Christ and the work of redemption, and the glorious way of salva-
tion by Him. I had an inward, sweet sense of these things, that at times
came into my heart; and my soul was led away in pleasant views and con-
templations of them. And my mind was greatly engaged, to spend my
time in reading and meditating on Christ; and the beauty and excellency
of His person, and the lovely way of salvation, by free grace in Him. I
found no books so delightful to me, as those that treated these
subjects....And found, from time to time, an inward sweetness, that used
as it were to carry me away in my contemplations; in what I know not how
to express otherwise, than by a calm, sweet abstraction of soul from all the
concerns of this world, a kind of vision, of fix’d ideas and imaginations, of
being alone in the mountains, or some solitary wilderness, far from man-
kind sweetly conversing with Christ, and wrapt and swallowed up in God.
The sense I had of divine things, would often of a sudden as it were, kindle up
a sweet burning in my heart; an ardor of soul, that I know not how to express.
Not long after I first began to experience these things, I gave an account
to my father, of some things that had pass’d in my mind. I was pretty much
affected by the discourse we had together. And when the discourse was
ended, I walked abroad alone, in a solitary place in my father’s pasture for
contemplation. And as I was walking there, and looked up on the sky and
clouds; there came into my mind, a sweet sense of the glorious majesty
and grace of God, that I know not how to express. I seemed to see them
both in sweet conjunction: majesty and meekness join’d together: it was a
sweet and gentle, and holy majesty; and also a majestic meekness; an awful
sweetness; a high, and great, and holy gentleness.
After this my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became
more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appear-
ance of every thing was altered: there seemed to be, as it were, a calm sweet
cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost every thing. God’s excellency,
his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in every thing; in the
sun, moon and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers,
trees; in the water, and in all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind.3
3. Jonathan Edwards, Personal Narrative, cited in Jonathan Edwards: A Profile, edited by
David Levin (New York: Hill and Wang, 1969), 26-7.
Chapter 7: Authenticating Chalcedon 275

Intense religious experiences such as these—enrapturing glimpses of

the divine “excellence”—profoundly shaped Edwards’s Christological vi-
sion. The term “excellence” had special significance for him. Already as a
young student at Yale College, the young Edwards had endowed the term
with technical meaning. In his “Notes on the Mind,” which he wrote
partly in response to John Locke’s Treatise Concerning Human Under-
standing, Edwards found excellence in harmony, symmetry, and propor-
tion. He defined proportion as equality, or likeness, and deemed that it
resulted from the mutual consent of the parts to the whole and of the
whole to the parts. He found physical consent in graceful bodily propor-
tion; but he discovered the highest forms of excellence in mutual, inter-
personal consent among humans and especially between humans and
For Edwards, the God who is love and who both created and redeemed
the world exemplifies the highest form of excellence, since God alone of
His very nature consents in love to the whole of the creation He has
made. Moreover, only consent to God finally rectifies and orders prop-
erly our finite human consents. As a consequence, only when consent to
God measures and transforms our natural consents do they qualify as
“true virtue”; for consent to God reorders our natural longings by teach-
ing us to desire created goods only in the manner and proportion which
God wills of us. Moreover, consent to God universalizes our natural loves
and expands our hearts to embrace not only God but all created things in
As I have already indicated in the course of this study, I do not endorse
every aspect of Edwards’s account of the workings of divine grace. I reject
the determinism, predestinationism, and rigorism of his thought. I also
repudiate the flawed Ramist logic which allowed him to espouse these
flawed and ultimately heterodox theological beliefs. I do, however, agree
that, given the radical finitude of human nature and of its aspirations,
humans find it for all practical purposes impossible to love with the uni-
4. Cf. Harold P. Simonson, Jonathan Edwards: Theologian of the Heart (Grand Rapids,
MI: Eerdmans, 1974); Robert W. Jenson, America’s Theologian: A Recommendation of
Jonathan Edwards (New York, NY: Oxford, 1988); Clyde A Holbrook, The Ethics of
Jonathan Edwards: Morality and Aesthetics (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan
Press, 1973); Stephen H. Daniel, The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards: A Study in
Divine Semeiotics (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994); Terrence Erde,
Jonathan Edwards, Art, and the Sense of the Heart (Amherst, MA: University of
Massachusetts Press, 1980).
5. Cf. Leon Howard, ed., “The Mind” of Jonathan Edwards (Berkeley, CA: University of
California Press, 1963), 39-47, 71-8, 101, 113; Jonathan Edwards, The Nature of True
Virtue, edited by William K. Frankena (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press,
1969). I am aware that Stoics espoused the ideal of universal benevolence toward
humanity. Edwards, however, is speaking not about conceiving such an ideal but about
actually living it.
276 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

versality to which the gospel calls us. I also endorse Edwards’s assimila-
tion of religious and aesthetic experience as well as his distinction be-
tween the two. I also believe that the aesthetic dimensions of Christian
religious experience help motivate the consent of justifying faith. Finally,
I believe that such an understanding of justifying faith offers a fruitful
context within which to develop a foundational Christology.
Edwards, as we have seen in other contexts, held that we experience
beauty in the conscious consent to excellence and that we perceive the
beauty of God ultimately in the “cordial consent of being to Being in
general.” Edwards understood aesthetic experience as the simultaneous
affective perception of the goodness and truth of being. When we en-
counter excellence, it enraptures the heart most of all and yields a syn-
thetic insight into the mutual consent of created realities to one another
and, ultimately, into the mutual consent of all things in God.6
In Edwards’s theological vision, the revelation of the divine excellence
provided God with His “chief end” in creating the universe. By a “chief
end” Edwards meant that aim on which an agent places greatest impor-
tance. Clearly, if an agent has only one ultimate end in acting, that ulti-
mate end functions also as the agent’s chief end.
Echoing ideas in the thought of Scotus which he found reproduced in
the work of Nicolas de Malebranche (1638-1715),7 Edwards argued that
the divine goodness itself provides God with the only object adequately
proportioned to the divine will. He concluded, therefore, that even in
His dealings with creation God must have Himself as the ultimate object
of what He loves and seeks. If, in creating, God must seek His own excel-
lence, then God must have also created in order to manifest that same
excellence in the world which He made. The self-manifestation of the
divine glory, or excellence, constitutes, therefore, God’s chief end in cre-
ating the universe.8
In writing God’s Chief End, Edwards qualified in some ways the Cal-
vinist doctrine of predestination at least in this sense: he sought in this
posthumously published treatise to reply to the charges of Deists and of
liberal Protestant ministers that in a Calvinist world view, God had cre-
ated the world primarily to serve as a scaffold for His avenging justice.

6. Cf. Delattre, op. cit.

7. Cf. Jean Vethey, Jean Duns Scot: Pensée Théologique (Paris: Éditions Franciscaines,
1967), pp. 77-103; Norman Fiering, Jonathan Edwards’s Moral Thought and Its British
Context (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1981), pp. 1-47,
154, 322- 361.
8. Cf. Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, edited by John E. Smith et al.
(New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), VIII, pp. 405-463 Cf. Donald L.
Gelpi, S.J., “Conversion: Beyond the Impasses of Individualism,” in Beyond Individu-
alism: Toward a Retrieval of Moral Discourse in America, edited by Donald L. Gelpi, S.J.
(Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, pp.1-30.
Chapter 7: Authenticating Chalcedon 277

Not so, Edwards replied: God could have created the universe only for
one reason, namely, to manifest His divine excellence, His glorious real-
ity, in creation in such a way that it left creatures rapt in a graced vision of
I personally find Barth’s Christological reformulation of a New Testa-
ment doctrine of predestination more convincing than Edwards’s; and, as
the argument of subsequent chapters will make clear, I reject the atone-
ment Christology which Edwards inherited from the Protestant reform-
ers. Still, I deem Edwards’s account of the purpose of creation supported
by human religious experience: the grandeur and sublimity, the very ex-
cellence, of natural beauty tends to open the human heart to belief in the
reality of God.
Edwards also argued that, if excellence finds its supreme created em-
bodiment in consent to the divine beauty, then sin, dissent from God,
mars creation and obscures the divine glory. Sin, dissent, fragments the
If, Edwards further contended, God had a single ultimate purpose in
creating the world, God has four fundamental purposes in mind in sav-
ing us: two negative purposes and two positive purposes, although the
positive purposes simply express the flip side of the negative. In the work
of redemption, God seeks negatively: 1) to triumph over His enemies
and 2) to undo the ravages of sin. God seeks positively: 3) to unify all
things in Christ and 4) to glorify the elect. God achieves victory over
Satan, his demonic minions, and over human sinfulness while simulta-
neously restoring the ravages of sin by unifying all things in Christ. More-
over, the process of unification culminates in the glorification of the elect.9
The history of sin narrates the fragmentation of the human race and
the sinful marring of the natural excellence of creation as it proceeds
from God’s hand. God undoes sin through His covenants; for covenanted
consent to God and to the world in ways which conform human wills to
God’s will reverses the dissent of sin.
The new covenant in Christ fulfills everything which the ancient cov-
enants narrated in the Old Testament typified. Indeed, each of the cov-
enants—with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses at Sinai, with the house
of David—manifests the eternal covenant between the Father and the
Son in which the latter freely took upon Himself to atone for human
In the incarnate Son of God, therefore, we encounter the perfect em-
bodiment of created and uncreated excellence: the perfect consent of God
to creature and of creature to God. As simultaneously divine and human,

9. Cf. Edwards, Works of President Edwards, (8 vols.; New York, NY: Burt Franklin, 1968)
V, pp. 13-20.
10. Ibid., pp. 20-192.
278 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

Jesus reveals to us “infinite highness and infinite condescension.” As God

He has no need for anything beyond Himself, and yet He condescends to
embrace and to befriend the smallest, the least, the most outcast and
abandoned. In the incarnate Word, we find the blend of “infinite justice,
and infinite grace.” The Son of God incarnate reveals to us the full extent
of God’s detestation for sin at the same time that He manifests the su-
preme victory of gratuitous divine forgiveness.
Jesus Christ combines, then, the most diverse excellencies: infinite glory
and deepest humility, infinite majesty and transcendent meekness, deep-
est reverence for God with perfect equality with God, infinite worthiness
of good and infinite patience of suffering, perfect obedience and supreme
dominion over creation, absolute sovereignty and total resignation, com-
plete self-sufficiency and total reliance on another.
All these excellencies express the conjunction of divinity and humanity
in Jesus. In addition, Edwards found in Christ “such diverse excellencies”
toward humans, that they defied cataloguing or description. Three such
“excellencies,” however, stood out in Edwards’s eyes: Christ’s justice in
judging sin, His mercy toward the repentant, and the truth He lived and
Edwards found the revelation of these excellencies in both the actions
and sufferings of Jesus: in the poverty of His incarnation, in the humility
of the hidden life, in His miracles of healing and in His cosmic miracles,
in His exorcisms, and in the special manifestations of His glory in His
baptism and transfiguration. Christ’s glory appears more clearly the more
abjectly He suffers humiliation, so that the cross, His self-sacrifice on
Calvary, stands forth as the supreme expression of His love. His holiness
reveals itself best in the very moment of his condemnation before the
Law. His worthiness stands forth in His suffering to be treated as worth-
less. Christ’s extremest sufferings express His greatest love. He triumphs
in victory by submitting to defeat; and His exaltation in glory reveals the
fullness of His divine excellence.12
The excellence revealed in Christ suffuses nature with saving signifi-
cance, as we use symbols from nature to name the excellencies we dis-
cover in Him. Moreover, the excellence of Christ has the power to touch
even hearts corrupted by sin and to teach them to claim the grace and
forgiveness which He came to bring. One appropriates that grace by choos-
ing Jesus Christ as one’s friend and as one’s portion.13

Christ has no more excellency in his person, since his incarnation, than he
had before; for divine excellency is infinite, and cannot be added to. Yet

11. Cf. Edwards, Works of President Edwards, VI, pp. 398-409.

12. Ibid., pp. 409-18.
13. Ibid., pp. 419-26.
Chapter 7: Authenticating Chalcedon 279
his human excellencies are additional manifestations of his glory and excel-
lency to us, and are additional recommendations of him to our esteem and
love, who are of finite comprehension.14

Moreover, claiming as one’s own the excellence revealed in Christ en-

hances the excellence of those who believe by drawing them into an ever
more intimate commitment to the incarnate God. That God saves them
through their ever increasing participation through graced commitment
in the very love of God itself.15
Conversion, inspired by the Spirit of Christ, empowers a heartfelt re-
sponse to the Son of God’s incarnation of the fullness of divine and hu-
man excellence. Edwards gave initial shape to his theology of conversion
in an early sermon entitled “A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immedi-
ately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God, Shewn to Be Both a
Scriptural and Rational Doctrine.” In it he argued for the utterly super-
natural character of the light of faith which motivates conversion.
Graced understanding cannot result from any natural impulse; justify-
ing faith differs from the common grace which God imparts to unbeliev-
ers in order to move them to achieve His historical purposes. The consent
of justifying faith requires by contrast that God act on the natural powers
of the mind in order to transform and sensitize them to the excellence
revealed in the gospel and in the things of religion. The divine touch
manifests to the heart both the truth and the attractiveness of divine
things. This light of faith results from the indwelling of God himself in
the human soul. Moreover, Edwards argued, the supernatural character
of such an enlightenment should appear reasonable to any reflective
Edwards brought these insights into the dynamics of Christian conver-
sion to systematic expression in his Treatise Concerning Religious Affec-
tions. That work stands to this day as a classic treatise in discernment.
Having argued that affections constitute the major part of human reli-
gious experience, Edwards characterized genuine religious affections in
the following terms:
1) As supernatural, gracious affections flow from the Spirit of Christ
whose immediate indwelling in the soul lays a new foundation in the
natural faculties of the mind to perceive the excellence of God revealed in
creation and especially incarnate in Christ.
14. Ibid., p. 426.
15. Ibid., pp. 427-30.
16. Ibid., VIII, pp. 3-20. Hans Urs von Balthasar has developed a theological aesthetic
different from that of Edwards but in some ways convergent with it. Cf. Louis Dupré,
“Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Theology of Aesthetic Form,” Theological Studies, 49(1988),
pp.299- 318; Paul E. Ritt, “The Lordship of Jesus Christ: Balthasar and Sobrino,”
Theological Studies, 49(1988), pp. 709-729.
280 Part 2: Doctrinal Christology

2) Genuine religious affections express selfless love of the divine excel-

lence, since cordial consent to God puts right order into human self-love
by coordinating it with God’s love for His creatures.
3) Graced affections focus on God’s moral beauty, because falling in love
with the divine excellence inspires the desire to imitate it.
4) Graced affections mediate insight into divine things, since genuine
religious affections express not mindless emotion but a heartfelt grasp of
the truth as well as of the attractiveness of the divine excellence.
5) Graced affections ground a conviction of the certainty and reality of
divine things, since through conversion one begins to commune immedi-
ately in divine realities.
6) Graced affections inspire evangelical humiliation by teaching one the
full extent of one’s sinfulness.
7) Graced affections change human nature by inspiring an habitual love
of God and desire for divine things.
8) Graced affections conform one morally to Christ through the cultiva-
tion of love, meekness, peace, humility, forgiveness, and mercy in the
image of Jesus.
9) Graced affections enhance spiritual sensitivity by an ever increasing
responsiveness to the movements of the Spirit.
10) Graced affections produce balance of character through imitation of
the excellence of God revealed in Christ.
11) Graced affections deepen one’s desire for divine things, since the taste
of God, to which the natural person remains blind, increases as one deep-
ens in divine love;
12) Graced affections inspire Christian practice, since the final and deci-
sive test of the authenticity of any conversion consists in the willingness
to live according to the law of Christ.17
I have summarized Edwards’s aesthetic Christology in some detail in
part because by its originality it deserves retrieving in its own right. I
have, however, other motives for summarizing Edwards’s experiential ap-
proach to Christological thinking: namely, Edwards’s aesthetic Christo-
logy exemplifies in its own way how one goes about formulating a foun-
dational Christology. By that I mean that anyone who seeks to develop a
de-objectified, relational Christology, must situate it within a theology of
conversion. Moreover, one needs to show how consent to the person of
Jesus in faith gives practical shape to the kind of commitment which
Christian conversion demands.
This section has summarized Edwards’s aesthetic Christology. In the
section which follows I shall show how