John 2: Johannine Christology

Johannine Christology

The Johannine Christ has been claimed to be both the most human and the most docetist of the representations given by the evnagelists. On the one hand Jesus is most human: he feels tired, he eats and drinks by the well, he loves Lazarus and grieves at his death. On the other hand he is omniscient (he sees Nathaniel under the fig-tree; cf. 6.6, 64; 7.14-31) and is the ladder of communication between the divine and the human, 1.35-51; he openly claims equality with God (5.19), speaks of his own pre-existence (6.64; 9. 49-50; 12.4 since Isaiah saw his glory in the Temple); he knows the thoughts of his oopponents (7. 14-31); he has the power to take up his own life again, and so is active even in death, 10.17-18.

Hence some useful quotations:

'The fiction that we are listening to the historical Jesus talking to his contemporaries has worn very thin indeed' (A.T. Hanson, The Prophetic Gospel, p 263). Hanson also speaks of the superimposition of two negatives, and compares the situation with protraits of Napoleon by David, which represent him as he should have been! And Hanson is convinced that Jn speaks always from the standpoint of the post-resurrection Church, especially in the Farewell discourses, with Jesus present in this Church.

'The fourth gospel is a perpetual theophany, where the scene of the Transfiguration cannot be maintained, having no reason to exist' (Loisy, le 4e Evangile, p. 105-6). Compare Raymond Brown, 'In Jn the glory of Jesus is manifested to his disciples in his first miraculous sign, so that a transfiguration would be otiose' (p. 122).

E. Haenchen regards the Johannine Christ as no more than a forerunner of the Spirit (p. 109).

C.H. Dodd says he ' is a stranger to the world' (Interpretation, p. 261).

The relationship between Jesus and God is one of the major preoccupations of Jn. In the synoptics Jesus preaches the Kingship of God, but in Jn it seems as though he is concerned far more to teach about himself. The same is true of the recognition of Jesus: in the synoptics recognition is slow and hard-won; in Mark the first human being to recognise him as son of God is the centurion at his death; in Jn the titles are all accorded in the first week. Many of the means by which this is done, however, are grounded in teaching which already occurs in the synoptics, themes which are merely immensely developed in Jn. Similarly, Jn is careful to remove any impression of limitation in Jesus, of knowledge (6.5-6), or choice (6.70-71), or power (11.41-42), or life (10.17-18).

1. The Prologue

The prologues of Mt and Lk are, at least in form, historical; Jn's is theological and sets the tone for the Christology of the gospel, giving full expression to many of the theme which reappear in the course of the gospel.

a. Logos The prologue combines Jewish traditions about the Logos and Hellenistic traditions about divine Wisdom.

In the OT the Word often represent God at work in the world. He creates all things by his Word (Gn 1.3; Ws 9.1) and continues to work by his Word (Is 55.1-11). Particularly God's Word in the Law is a treasured revelation of himself, giving knowledge of himself to his people as well as guidance in conduct, a light for my steps (Ps 118). This therefore is an appropriate image for God's revelation of himself in Jesus.

This is combined with the speculations in the Wisdom literature about Wisdom. In the later Wisdom literature the figure of Wisdom is personified and the relationship to God is described in images portraying identity in separate existence, 'the breath of the power of God, the reflection of the eternal light, the mirror of God's active power, and image of his goodness' (Ws 7.27). Philo, attempting to gain credit for Judaism in a hellenistic world, where the Logos was one of the popular catchwords, repeatedly attempts to show that what is meant by Wisdom is none other than the hellenistic Logos. Wisdom is also the revealer of God and the source of knowledge about God, thus leading them to life. This is echoed of Jesus in Jn (Prov 4.13; 8.32-35; Sir 4.12; Jn 3.18-19). Similarly the idea of living water (Prov 9.5; Jn 6.35).

Therefore in Jn's prologue the Logos is an appeal to this background in the OT, to show that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God to his people and also this mysterious figure of Wisdom, which is God without being God.

The anarthous is carefully, as well as poetically framed. It does not claim that the Logos was , the designation reserved for . It ascribes the quality of to the Logos; NEB aptly translates/paraphrases 'What God was, the Word was', indicating identity of quality.

b. Light This concept is also applied to Wisdom, a light for my steps, and in rabbinic literature the Law is frequently called 'or shel 'olam. The effusion of light will be a sign of the messianic times in Is 9.1; 49.6. It is also partially a divine hint, for God is light (Ps 36.9). In the Qumran literature particularly the ultimate conflict will be between the sons of light and the sons of darkness, and light has a special religious value.

c. The glory of the Son of the Father. Glory is properly a divine quality and , the weight of God's glory, is an awsome concept, e.t. in Ex 34 or Is 6. In Jn it is a concept which runs through the gospel, for the revelation of Jesus' glory by the first of the signs at Cana (2.11) which precisely brings the disciples to faith. Jesus' glory is at the same time God's glory (13.31; 14.13; 17.1-4), and both are achieved by the final act of Jesus' glorification at the passion and resurrection. this is underlined by the stress in the passion narrative on the Kingship of Jesus, and the underplaying of any elements which connote humiliation. Glory is, therefore one of the concepts by which the union between Father and Son is demonstrated.

d. Comparison with Moses. This first surfaces in the final verses of the Prologue, but returns at intervals thoughout the gospel. There is no polemic against Moses, but rather Moses is one of the chief witnesses to Jesus. Raymond Brown plausibly ascribes the importance of the Moses-theme as opposed to the Davidic-Messiah-theme to the Samaritan tradition in Jn, since the Samaritans rejected the Davidic Messiah and concentrated on the Taheb, or Moses-Prophet.

(1) Jesus is the Prophet like Moses, announced in Dt 18.18: 'we have found him of whom Moses wrote in the Law' (1.45). This is popular opinion, 'He is the Prophet' (6.14; 7.40). There is the same theme of speaking not of himself but as God sent him (Exod 4.12; Nb 16.23; Jn 8.28; 12.49-50), to speak God's Word; he brings life, as Moses did (Dt 30.19-20; Jn 5.24, etc); he works signs, especially three numbered signs, to occasion belief (Ex 4.1-9; Jn 2.1-11). The two crucified with Jesus are in Jn not called thieves, but are simply one on either side, as the supporters of Moses as he prayed to save his people in battle (Ex 17.8-13; Jn 19.18).

(2) Moses is the witness to Jesus in the trial scene which takes place throughout 5 (especially vv. 45-47, elsewhere the Father is the chief witness).

(3) Jesus' gift is superior to that of Moses. The Law through Moses, grace and truth through Jesus Christ (1.18). Moses gave bread in the desert, but Jesus is the true Bread from Heaven (6); he gave water from the Rock, but Jesus is the living water. In chapter 7 the emphasis is on teaching: Jesus completes the Law, which Moses taught only partially. The Jews must finally make a choice between being followers of Moses or of Jesus (9.28).

Moses, threfore, is one of the chief means by which Jn shows who Jesus is, or what he means.

2. Relationship of Son to Father

'The Son' is used typically by Jn, 29t, of which 20 are on Jesus' lips (Synoptics 3 times [Mt 11.27; 28.19; Mk 13.32 par], Paul only 1 Cor 15.28). Perhaps the emphasis is not so much on the affection and intimacy as on the agents of the Father's revelation and salvation: 3.16-21; 3.34-36; 5.26. The question of equality or subordination cannot be avoided: 'The Father and I are one' (10.30), but 'the Father is greater than I' (10.28).

a. Shaliah Peder Borgen has shown that the clue to several of the ways in which the Johannine Jesus describes his relationship to God is that of an agent, one who is sent as a representative. The relationship of agent to sender described in rabbinic literature corresponds to that between Jesus and his Father.

- an agent is like one who sent him, 12.44-45; 15.23

- an agent ranks as the sender's own person, 5.23

- an agent carries out the mission of the sender, 6.38

- sender transfers his legal rights and property to agent, 17.6

- agent reports back to sender, 13.3

- agent can appoint agents in his turn, 20.21.

The most powerful image of the work-relationship between Father and Son is in 5.21ff (two sets of parallel sayings, with inclusio 5.19-31). Raymond Brown consider the background of this image to be father and son working at the same trade in the same workship, with the same techniques and skills. It depicts a dynamic rather than a static relationship (powers, not natures).

b. Judgement In the OT judgement is a divine prerogative. In Jn there is a curious shimmering: the Father has given all judgement to the Son (5.22); the Son judges no one (8.15), yet his judgement is true (5.30; 8.16). The resolution of this is perhaps in 12.48, 'the word which I have spoken will judge him'. Judgement occurs through the gospel by the reaction to Jesus of those who meet him, climaxing in the trial-scene:

- Cana: belief of the disciples

- Cleansing: opposition from 'the Jews'

- Nicodemus: good will, but puzzlement

- Samaritans: acceptance by outsiders

- The basilikos at Cana: slow belief

- Pool of Bethesda: opposition from the authorities

- Bread of Life: defection by some disciples

- Feast of Shelters, Man born Blind, Lazarus: deepening opposition from Jewish authorities, ending in decision to liquidate Jesus

- Trial before Pilate: Jewish authorities think to condemn Jesus, but in fact condemn themselves by declaring 'We have no king but Caesar', as Jesus ? sits on judgement-seat (19.1-3).


This important expression is used in two ways, without and with predicate:

a. Without predicate (8.24, 28; 13.19). This is commonly regarded as a divine claim, related either to the revelation of the divine name on Ex 3 or to Deutero-Isaiah. Barrett (Essays in John, 'Symbolism', 1982) argues that the first of these is illegitimate, since the LXX translation is a different phrase, . The allusion is rather to the frequent usage in Dt-Isaiah, echoing especially Is 43.10 (in order that you may know and believe that ), cf. 45.10. Especially in 18.5, 8 the expression superficially seems to be a mere self-identification, but the reaction is appropriate to a divine declaration.

b. With predicate

By this phrase Jesus makes claims which appropriate some of the most important religious values of the OT:

6.35, 51 The bread of life - Jesus is being considered the fulfilment not only of the Manna in the desert, but of the invitation to the Wisdom-banquet.

8.12 The light of the world - Wisdom is the reflection of the eternal light (Ws 7.26), and God is the fullness of light (1 Jn 1.5-7).

10.11, 14 the Good Shepherd - possibly an allusion to the imagery of God as shepherd in Ps 23 and Ezek 34.

11.25 Resurrection and Life.

14.6 the way, truth and life

15.1, 5 the true vine - the true Israel, Jesus replacing in his own person the feasts and institutions of Judaism.

Rather than Jn teaching a ditheism which would be incompatible with Jewish monotheism, it would be better to say that Jn stretches the concept of God, so that it may be seen to embrace also the phenomenon of Jesus.


J. Ashton, The Interpretation of Jn, especially essay by P Borgen (1968)

CK Barrett, Essays on Jn (1982)

John W. Pryor, Jn, Evangelist of the Covenant People (1992)

Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to NT Christology (1994)

M-E Boismard, Moses or Jesus (1993)