2018 Johannine Literature

Session 1

The Beloved Pupil at the final Symposium: The Self-Authentication of John’s Gospel and Plato’s Symposium

George H. van Kooten 

University of Groningen

This paper looks at the way the author of John’s Gospel authenticates himself by embedding his own person in the Gospel’s narrative, and particularly by situating himself at the last Symposium. Rather strikingly, Plato’s Symposium is authenticated in a rather similar way, as the key informant, from whom the whole report of the Symposium eventually derives, is similarly located at the symposium “of Agathon, Socrates and Alcibiades” (172a-b): Aristodemus of Cydathenaeum (173b-174e), “one of the chief among Socrates’ lovers at that time” (173b, cf. 218a-b), is the eyewitness at the symposium and informant of Apollodorus (173a-b), who mediates his story to the readers. The description of Apollodorus’s exchange with his companions makes up Plato’s Symposium. In this paper, a full comparison will be drawn between the self-authentication of John’s Gospel and Plato’s Symposium, exploring whether our insight in the authentication of the latter provides some heuristic insights in the modus operandi of the author of John’s Gospel.

Indicators of Reality and Construction of Authenticity in John’s Narrative Historiogaphy

As “there is no history outside of the text, but through the text and as text” (R. Zimmermann) a dualistic differentiation between historiography and fiction cannot be adhered to – fictional elements are part of any historiographical narration, but historiography and narration are not equivalent to fiction. Historiographical texts, like John’s Gospel, are identifiable through ‘indicators of reality’ or ‘indicators of authenticity’. This paper focuses on the distinction between fictional and factual narrative in ancient narrative historiography and proposes that John’s Gospel advocates a conception of historiography, which bases its authentic depiction of the Jesus-story on a distinctive set of idicators of reality in order to construct authenticity: The narrative historiography in John’s Gospel operates with the help of a number of literary strategies like historical referentiality, eyewitness testimony, metalepsis etc., which serve to inscribe the (hi)story of Jesus into ancient history. At the same time these indicators of reality in John’s Gospel are counteracted by strategies of fictional literature, that integrate this-worldly history into a symbolic, metahistorical framework, yet are not to be perceived as detrimental to the facutal reception of the text. This paper seeks to identify ways in which referentiality and authenticity are created and counteracted in the Johannine Gospel text and to describe forms and functions of these literary strategies in order to get a clearer picture of the conception of history in John’s Gospel narration. Relevant concepts employed are e.g. the theories of “reality narratives” (C. Klein/M. Martínez, 2009) and of the “reality effect” (R. Barthes, 1968).

Session 2

The New Perspective on John: Ethics, Mission, Theosis

This paper is based on Mike Gorman’s new book Abide and Go: Missional Theosis in the Gospel of John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2018). The Gospel of John would seem to be both the ‘spiritual gospel’ and a gospel that promotes Christian mission. Some interpreters, however, have found John to be the product of a sectarian community that promotes a very narrow view of Christian mission and advocates neither love of neighbor nor love of enemy. Recent developments in Johannine studies, however, suggest that while John promotes spirituality, even theosis, it also contains implicit ethics and fosters a holistic mission. This paper briefly reviews some of these developments—a ‘new perspective’ on John—and then summarizes my just-completed monograph on John. I argue that John has a profound spirituality that is robustly ethical and missional, and that it can be summarized in the paradoxical phrase ‘Abide and go’ (cf. John 15). Disciples participate in the divine love and life, and therefore in the life-giving mission of God manifested in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As God’s children, disciples become more and more like this missional God as they become like his Son by the work of the Spirit. This spirituality, I argue, can be called missional theosis. Hence the book’s title: Abide and Go: Missional Theosis in the Gospel of John.


Andrew J. Byers: Cranmer Hall, St John’s College, Durham

Paulus de Jong: University of St Andrews

Session 3

Interpreting Scripture and Composing Scripture: Applying Citational Structure to the Beloved Disciple

Julia Lindenlaub 

University of Edinburgh

While Johannine scriptural citations are widely acknowledged as clustered in groupings of gegrammenon and plerothē introductory formulae, discerning more detailed substructures within these divisions remains a proposal yet fully explored. This paper posits one such substructure that offers a new perspective on the Beloved Disciple, as prospective relationship between the gospel’s citations and the Beloved Disciple's “authorship" of these citations merits deeper investigation. Structuring of the gospel's plerothē citations connects the authorial interpretation of Scripture’s fulfillment with the Beloved Disciple’s authorial testimony in composing this narrative fulfillment. In the context of Jesus’ first plerothē citation, the Beloved Disciple receives an exclusive explanation pertaining to the citation’s meaning (13:18–26). The next citation, again delivered by Jesus to the disciples, is framed by instruction to testify (15:25–27), as the Beloved Disciple does in writing the gospel (19:35–37, 21:24–25). Finally, the Beloved Disciple specifically witnesses Scripture’s completion at the crucifixion (19:28), and his introduction at the scene is bookended by the gospel’s final citations (19:24, 36–37). Witnessing this glorification that enables scriptural interpretation (2:17–22, 12:14–16), the Beloved Disciple is uniquely qualified to interpret Scripture as part of his testimony (19:36–37). The resultant authorial testimony interprets Scripture in order to produce belief for the gospel's recipients (19:35), and composes a new scriptural text sharing this purpose (20:30–31). In this way, the proposed “citational structure” takes in tandem the Beloved Disciple’s testimony with the authorial interpretation of Scripture; the idealised author’s testimony is substantiated by his interpretation of Scripture in a substructure of citations. This application of the Johannine use of Scripture to the figure of the Beloved Disciple thus serves as an informative case study for further exploration of Johannine citational structure carefully crafted by the authorial hand of the Beloved Disciple.

The Passover in the Gospel of John: A Neglected Social Function?

Matthew N. Williams 

Durham University

It is often noted that the Gospel of John displays little sign of the social teaching that characterises the Jesus of the Synoptics, especially Luke. At the same time, John displays more interests in the festal activity of Jerusalem, especially the Passover, than do the other three Gospels. Generally explained in terms of theological symbolism, this apparent prioritisation of the cultic aspect of Second Temple Judaism over its concern for the poor would nonetheless place John in some tension with the opposite emphasis in early Christianity, classically expressed by Paul in Galatians (2:10). Likewise, John’s maintenance of the term ‘Messiah’ shorn of any reference to ‘good news for the poor’ would, as William Loader has recently noted, appear to remove crucial historical elements of Jesus’ teaching. But what if it is the social (and particularly socio-economic) significance of the feasts is actually operative in the Johannine narrative? This paper begins by drawing attention to the few pericopes in the Gospel of John that engage with socio-economic issues and seeks to describe the importance of the one feature they have in common, namely their colocation with references to the Passover. The discussion will proceed by considering the light that can be shed on these passages by the connection between ‘cultic’ observance and concern for the needy in the Jewish milieu within which the Gospel has its place. Finally, one trajectory of this reading of John will be explored in relation to recent work by Christian ethicists William Cavanaugh, Luke Bretherton and Daniel M. Bell on the social function of the Eucharist.

Breath of the Gods: Divine Breathing in Ancient Mediterranean Thought and in John 20.22

Justin L. Daneshmand 

University of Manchester

There is more continuity between concepts of divine ‘breathing’ or ‘breath’, ‘spirit’, and ‘wind’ in ancient Mediterranean thought than has been addressed by biblical scholars, especially in relation to Jesus’ breathing action and conveyance of the Holy Spirit in John 20.22. I argue that Jesus’ breathing action accompanied by the disciples’ reception of the Holy Spirit in John 20.22 is in continuity with traditions of divine breathing or divine breath and wind for purposes of vivification, empowerment, influence, or sustenance in ancient Mediterranean thought. I begin with linguistic and literary analyses of divine breathing examples from Ancient Near Eastern, Jewish, Graeco-Roman, and some early Christian thought previously suggested by scholars as well as passages of my own before considering these traditions as a background for the Gospel of John. The Johannine association of ‘spirit’ and ‘wind’ (John 3.8) is in company with several texts exhibiting comparable notions. I suggest that an ancient divine breathing or breath trope seems to have been familiar in the ancient Mediterranean world, in which these Johannine passages were composed. Philo of Alexandria, in particular, not only might display an awareness of divine breathing traditions, but also demonstrates a conceptual linkage of breath with pneumatic ideas in his comments on the Genesis anthropic creation accounts (i.e., Gen 1.26–27, 2.7 in Philo, Opif. 134–35; Leg. 1.31–42). I entertain the possibility that John 20.22 makes use of a familiar ancient Mediterranean divine breathing or breath trope which implies that Jesus’ disciples will be under the divine influence and empowerment of God who will vivify and sustain them. Furthermore, I examine the implications of this John 20.22 reading considering the possible Johannine allusion to Gen 2.7 often suggested by scholars, and thus the likely inference of a ‘new creation’ by divine breathing.