2016 Johannine Literature

Session 1

Cornelis Bennema (Union School of Theology)

Moral Transformation in the Johannine Writings

This paper focuses on the concept of moral transformation in the Johannine writings. Since the 1970s, Johannine ethics has only featured at the periphery of scholarship but a crucial breakthrough came in 2012 with the first collection of essays on Johannine ethics: Jan G. van der Watt and Ruben Zimmermann (eds), Rethinking the Ethics of John: “Implicit Ethics” in the Johannine Writings (WUNT 291; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012). This seminal work provided a doorway for scholars to explore afresh the ethical horizons of the Johannine writings. In this paper, I will argue that the Johannine writings (i) present a moral narrative world; and (ii) envisage people’s moral transformation. The first segment lays the groundwork for the more substantial second segment, which is the main focus of the paper. I use the term ‘moral transformation’ to refer to the change in character and conduct when a person understands, embraces and lives out the beliefs, values and norms of God’s world. As a child of God, the believer has been transferred from the immoral world ‘below’ to the moral world ‘above’ through a new birth and is expected to think and live in line with this new environment. This socio-religious relocation initiates a process of moral transformation. I will outline the moral values and moral reasoning John envisages will shape the believer’s new identity and behaviour. In order to model and promote moral thinking and behaviour among his audience, John presents various characters as potential change agents. I seek to develop my case specifically against the backdrop of Graeco-Roman virtue ethics.


Andrew Byers (Durham University)

Johannine Bishops? Peter, the Beloved Disciple, and the Development of Episcopal Ecclesiology in Early Christianity

Though Johannine ecclesiology has been dismissed as virtually non-existent (Bultmann) or as awkwardly aberrant (Käsemann), it is possible that major themes in the Gospel and Epistles of John actually gave shape to the monarchical episcopate that developed in 2nd and 3rd century Christianity and became normative for major ecclesial traditions in the Mediterranean world. Calling into question the standard reading of the Johannine writings as textual embodiments of an insular, "low church" community resistant to sacraments and leadership structures, this paper presents evidence from the Fourth Gospel's characterizations of Peter and the Beloved Disciple showing that the episcopal ecclesiology first found in Ignatius of Antioch is compatible with Johannine theology. As a seminal writer articulating a leadership model that became known as monepiscopacy, Ignatius envisions the office of bishop as deriving less from apostolic succession—an ecclesial principle associated with Matthew's Gospel—and more from participatory reciprocity, an ecclesial dynamic emphasized in the Johannine literature and demonstrated in the narrative portraits of Peter and the Beloved Disciple. Even if the fourth evangelist had indeed promoted an egalitarianism disinclined toward hierarchical leadership structures (as regularly assumed), the Johannine themes of reciprocity and participation may have become so influential that they eventually contributed to an ecclesial model widely embraced in early Christianity and still in force today.    


Session 2

The Function of “Narrative Asides” in the Gospel of John: A Literary and Linguistic Analysis

Many commentators have noted the frequent use of ‘narrative asides’ (or what Brown labels ‘explanatory notes’) in the Gospel of John. There have been various articles on the subject of these ‘asides’ (Tenney, O’Rourke, Hedrick, Thatcher) as well as the full-length work by van Belle published in 1985, Les parenthèses dans L’évangile de Jean: Aperçu historique et classification texte grec de Jean. It seems evident that these ‘asides’ have a significant function in the Gospel, but there is considerable variation amongst scholars regarding their number, from the 21 bracketed phrases in the NRSV to the several hundred considered by van Belle, and their significance. Are they merely editorial glosses than can largely be ignored or are they central to the interpretation of the Gospel and important indicators of its intended readership?

This paper will review the existing literature and consider the following issues: terminology, definition and categorization; the place of ‘asides’ in the process of composition; and their role in the relationship between the narrator and reader and the author and reader. It will then look at a number of case studies of some of the more significant ‘asides’, before reaching some conclusions on the overall function/s of the ‘asides’ in the Gospel of John.


Session 3

Peter Phillips (Durham University)

Seeing, Believing, Abiding: Experiential, Conceptual and Post-Conceptual notions of Faith in the Fourth Gospel

This paper picks up concepts in John’s Gospel about how characters in the Gospel come to faith in Jesus. An initial survey of the Gospel will assert that there are multiple ways to see Jesus, encounter Jesus and know Jesus with an experiential encounter often leading to a conceptual development of faith confirmed through some form of anagnorisis moment (Larsen, 2008; Tam 2015). So, Tam proposes a series of phases: First Encounters, Subsequent Encounters, Deepening Apprehension, Climactic Apprehension. How do we engage with Jesus, befriend Jesus, enter into community with Jesus? (Reinhartz 2001, Pazdan 2007). Such studies explore the role of seeing, hearing, knowing and believing as aspects of faith development. However, each aspect is problematized within Johannine studies and within the Gospel itself – for example the role of remembering, believing and seeing in the final chapters of the Gospel (Blanchard et al 2005). In these studies, the role of “abiding” is often seen as a fruit of faith commitment rather than as a metaphor for faith commitment itself. This paper will reflect upon the presence of “abiding” as a metaphor for faith commitment throughout the Gospel (Lee, 2010, Latz, 2010), but especially in the final discourse (Segovia, 1991), as an image for post-conceptual faith commitment, moving beyond Enlightenment polarities and which “dissolv[es] the subject-object relation between divine and human…and extends also to the inter-relationship between human beings” (Lee, 2010). The paper will explore abiding as faith commitment in the Johannine narrative and reflect on some potential applications for such “abiding faith” (Cowdell, 2010) in contemporary society.


Elizabeth Corsar (University of Edinburgh)

John and Plutarch: An assessment of the ways in which sources were used in the 1st century Hellenistic world

The aim of this paper is to argue that John used the gospel of Mark as a source for his gospel. This argument is based upon the strong correlations between the ways that John used his Markan source, and the ways his literary contemporary Plutarch used his sources. Plutarch is recognised as a writer who wished to portray his protagonists in such a way as to draw out positive or negative moral lessons for his readers. In light of this, he did not slavishly copy his sources, but rather employed a significant level of freedom and creativity when he worked with his source material. This paper suggests that John wrote his gospel within the parameters of this prevailing Hellenistic literary culture. As it would seem that he wished to portray his protagonist Jesus in such a way as to communicate his theological message to his readers, and in order to do this he adopted compositional practices similar to those of Plutarch.

In Plutarch’s Lives, where his sources are extant, it is possible to see that he has adapted his source material in a number of different ways. This paper will illustrate three main techniques used by Plutarch; addition, omission, and alteration. The use of these techniques will then be explored in selected pericopae from chapters 1-2 of John’s gospel, with the aim of demonstrating that John made use of similar techniques when he worked with his Markan source. It is from these observations that the paper will draw the positive conclusion that John used Mark as a source.