2011 Johannine Literature

Session 1

Another Son of Man in the Gospel of John?

In this short paper, I will expand two particular points in my review of J. Harold Ellens’ The Son of Man in the Gospel of John (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2010), which will appear in the Bulletin for Biblical Research. Firstly, I will examine Ellens’ conclusion that “There seems little reason to conclude that the Synoptic Gospels influenced the Johannine notion of the Son of Man or that the author of John’s gospel was aware of Mark, Matthew, and Luke-Acts” (176). Ellens does not explain adequately the unique motif of the Son of Man as the Suffering Servant, attested both in John (3:14-16; 8:28; 12:23-25) and in the Synoptic Gospels (see his chart in p. 85 and pp. 134-136). The author of John may or may not have been aware of the Synoptic Gospels, however, he most likely was aware of at least some traditions behind them. Secondly, I will examine Ellens’ conclusion that “the Son of Man in John will not exercise his function as Eschatological Judge, but will rather deploy his role and exercise his exousia in the world as the forgiver of sins and the divine savior (3:13-18)” (176). Ellens also claims, “There is no eschaton, no final judgment, and hence, no parousia [in John]” (174). While judgment is not as prominent a theme in John as it is in the Synoptic Gospels, it is clearly present in the book. For example, in John 12:48, Jesus says ὁ λόγος ὂν ἐλάλησα ἐκεῖνος κρινεῖ αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ (“on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge”). While the Son of Man sayings in John are unique from those in the Synoptic Gospels, Ellens’ view that the Son of Man in John has no function as Eschatological judge seems unwarranted. In this short paper, I will explore the relationship between the Synoptic Gospel traditions and the Gospel of John, using the Son of Man sayings in the latter as a case study.

Session 2

Gijsbert van der Hout (Spurgeon's College)

Litmus test, what is the identity of the opponents in 1 John? Gnostic or Docetic? Comparison of 1 John with some Gnostic and Docetic texts

After WWII until ca 1990 most scholars identified the opponents in view in 1 John as Gnostics or Docetists. But almost no one read Gnostic or Docetic texts against 1 John to search if this identification is possible. In this paper I will compare 1 John with second century texts such as the Gnostic Gospel of Truth, the Gospel of Philip and the Docetic parts of the Acts of John. Some attention will be paid to the often mentioned Cerinth. The outcome will be that it is possible that the opponents were Gnostic, but more likely Docetic. 1 John could have influenced Gnostics or Docetists. Or it is the other way around, Gnostics or Docetists could have provoked 1 John, depending on the dating of 1 John (but that is a question I will not address in this paper).

Session 3

Mike Sommer (University of Oxford)

Is 'Christianity' Really Necessary? Reading the Fourth Gospel and 1John as Intra-Jewish Polemic

Their canonical status has caused the Johannine writings to be regarded unquestioningly as Christian literature and, perhaps because of its pre-eminent position in later Christian theology, John’s Gospel is traditionally regarded as the core doctrine of a putative ‘Johannine School’, with the Epistles (especially 1John) being accorded a supporting role.

But this assumption has left a number of challenging questions with less than satisfactory answers. Why for instance does the supposedly dependent 1John show no awareness of the Gospel’s main narrative themes (eg Jesus’ ministry, his miracles, his confrontations with the religious and political authorities or his consequent execution for sedition)? Why is obedience to God’s commandments and the avoidance of sin regarded as an internal regulator for the community addressed by 1J but disdained as the preoccupation of the opponents of 4G? How should we account for the differing roles of the uniquely Johannine Paraclete in these two texts? How is Jesus’ messianic role to be understood: as a priestly mediator between God and the community, as in 1J; or as a royal-divine being on a par with God himself, as in 4G?

This paper will propose that these and other problems are largely artificial because they are viewed through a specifically Christian lens, that is to say via inappropriate categories. Such ill-defined categories (‘the Church’, ‘the Synagogue’, ‘orthodox Johannine Christianity’, ‘heresy’, ‘proto-Gnosticism’) developed in later doctrine and alien to the texts themselves, are imported purely for the purpose of explication and in the course of time become reified in scholarship to the point where they attain the status of real historical data. These interpretative conventions, I argue, obscure the struggle for entitlement to God’s ancient promises to Israel which lie at the heart of the Johannine disputes – ie the ‘intra-Jewish polemic’ of my title. I seek to demonstrate that by opening a new hermeneutical window on these disputes – ie by recognising their essentially Jewish orientation – several well-known interpretative difficulties are more easily resolved.