2015 Johannine Literature

Session 1

Andrew Byers (Durham University)

Characterizing Johannine Theosis: The Fourth Gospel’s Divine Portraits of the Man Born Blind, Peter, and the Beloved Disciple

Understanding Peter, the Beloved Disciple, and the man born blind in John 9 as representative characters in the Fourth Gospel, interpreters have constructed complex historical scenarios of inter-church rivalry and sectarian schism. Peter's assumed subordination to "the disciple whom Jesus loved" has been understood as a textual expression of ecclesial conflict, the proposals ranging from Jewish Christianity versus Gentile Christianity, Apostolic Christianity versus Johannine Christianity, or even West versus East. Similarly, the synagogue expulsion of the man born blind has been identified as the clue for unlocking the Johannine Sitz im Leben. This paper argues that these three characters are to be understood as exemplary models of an ecclesial vision more so than literary representatives of sectarian and ecclesial conflict. Though the patristic language of deification postdates the Johannine literature, it provides a helpful linguistic and conceptual fund for describing the fourth evangelist's communal vision of a new people of God participating within the divine interrelation of Father and Son. Just as Jesus rests within the "bosom" of the Father in John 1:18, the Beloved Disciple is found in the "bosom" of Jesus in 13:23. Just as Jesus mysteriously "signifies" the death he will die as the Good Shepherd (12:33; 18:32), Peter's death is mysteriously "signified" when he is vocationally commissioned to participate in Jesus' shepherding role (21:19). And the only other character to utter an unpredicated “I am” saying besides Jesus is the man born blind. The fourth evangelist regularly presses the figures within his Gospel beyond simplistic modern categorizations of "flat" or "representative," enlisting their narrative roles for broader Christological and ecclesial agendas. For an audience called to be "born from above," Peter, the Beloved Disciple, and the man born blind exemplify in varying ways what it means to participate within the divine family as children of God.

Clement Grene (University of Edinburgh)

'The Devil, the Thief, the Disciple, and his Master': Judas in the Gospel of John

Judas’ characterisation in John 12:1-8 is sometimes seen as an artless attempt to further blacken the outcaste disciple’s name, by making him a liar, hypocrite, and thief as well as a traitor. This is the judgement of William Klassen and Hyam Maccoby among others. In my paper, I will argue that Judas’ characterisation here is not as overblown or exaggerated as it might seem, or as grotesque as later Christian portrayals of Judas (such as that of Papias) would become. In fact, based on evidence from the letters of Paul, the Didache, the writings of Lucian, and other sources, I will argue that the early Christian communities frequently encountered con-men and charlatans employing much the same mock-pious tactics that Judas employs in John 12 in order to secure money, food, and lodging for themselves. John’s characterisation of Judas as such an individual goes beyond simple animosity for Judas the man and is instead linked to a general theme of fear and suspicion of the outside world in John’s Gospel, in the darkness of which both petty greed and cosmic evil are merged. Rather than being a genuine Christian apostate, Judas is a ‘devil’ (John 6:70) who only ever pretended to be part of the movement for selfish reasons. As such, his betrayal of Jesus need not necessitate any questioning of the holiness and completeness of the Christian community, as with the circular reasoning of 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us.”

Session 2

Francis Watson (Durham University)
Eddie Adams (King's College London)
Wendy North (Durham University)

Panel Review and Discussion with Francis Watson of his 'Gospel Writing: A Canonical Perspective' (Grand Rapids, MI/Cambridge, UK: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2013)

Joint Session between Johnnine Literature and Synoptic Gospels Seminars

That there are four canonical versions of the one gospel story is often seen as a problem for Christian faith: where gospels multiply, so too do apparent contradictions that may seem to undermine their truth claims. In Gospel Writing Francis Watson argues that differences and tensions between canonical gospels represent opportunities for theological reflection, not problems for apologetics.Watson presents the formation of the fourfold gospel as the defining moment in the reception of early gospel literature — and also of Jesus himself as the subject matter of that literature. As the canonical division sets four gospel texts alongside one another, the canon also creates a new, complex, textual entity more than the sum of its parts. A canonical gospel can no longer be regarded as a definitive, self-sufficient account of its subject matter. It must play its part within an intricate fourfold polyphony, and its meaning and significance are thereby transformed. In elaborating these claims, Watson proposes nothing less than a new paradigm for gospel studies — one that engages fully with the available noncanonical material so as to illuminate the historical and theological significance of the canonical.

Session 3

Wendy North (Durham University)

John and the Synoptics: The Feeding of the Five Thousand (Jn 6.1-15)

This paper will explore the possibility that John’s narrative of the feeding of the five thousand was composed on the basis of Synoptic equivalents. It builds on a previous study, in which it was proposed that observing how the Fourth Evangelist works with material his readers know provides a useful means of indicating whether or not he could have composed on the basis of one or more of the Synoptics. Following a brief outline of that research, the paper will be largely devoted to a detailed analysis of John’s feeding miracle with a view to understanding how and why he composed it as he did, noting in the process points of contact with the Synoptic versions. Finally, the characteristics of John’s reuse of known material identified in the earlier study will be brought to bear on the results of this analysis.

Hannah Robinson (London School of Theology)

The Eternal Life of the King: Synoptic ‘kingdom of God’ = Johannine ‘eternal life’?

Current scholarly consensus is that the synoptic theme of the ‘kingdom of God’ is equivalent to and interchangeable with the Johannine theme of ‘eternal life’.  This position is held by a whole host of scholars, some of whom see evidence for it not only in John’s gospel but also in the synoptic tradition.  This paper seeks to offer a critique of this current consensus and argues that a better Johannine ‘equivalent’ of the kingdom of God can be found in a consideration of the way in which Jesus’ relationship to eternal life is presented in the Fourth Gospel. 

This paper will begin by examining the background to the common consensus by considering the Hellenistic influence that has been discerned in John’s apparent replacement of ‘kingdom of God’ with ‘eternal life’, before examining the reaction against this view caused by a wide recognition of the Jewish background to much of John’s thought and terminology.  It will then consider how this shift in understanding regarding the background to John’s thought has led to the current consensus that the synoptic ‘kingdom of God’ and the Johannine ‘eternal life’ are equivalent and interchangeable Jewish concepts that are synonyms for the salvation and inheritance of believers. 

The paper will then move on to a critique of this current consensus, arguing that the evidence for seeing these two themes as equivalents in the synoptic tradition is questionable and secondly arguing that current thinking regarding the meaning of ‘kingdom of God’ undermines this current consensus.  Finally the paper will conclude with the proposal of an alternative Johannine ‘equivalent’ to the theme of the ‘kingdom of God’.