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John, Gospel of (II. Contents)

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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JOHN, GOSPEL OF (II.: Contents).—

1. Character of the Gospel.—The interesting fragment of Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica vi. 14), quoted from the lost ‘Outlines’ of Clement of Alexandria, gives us the earliest view which was taken of the Fourth Gospel. ‘John, last, having observed that the bodily things had been set forth in the [earlier] Gospels, and exhorted thereto by his friends, and inspired by the Spirit, produced a spiritual Gospel.’ The word ‘spiritual,’ or ‘pneumatic,’ is here, as usually with the Alexandrians, opposed to ‘bodily,’ or ‘somatic.’ And what the difference was, as regards the records of the past, is shown admirably by Origen’s comment on John 2:12. He says that if all the four Gospels are to be believed, the truth of them cannot be in their ‘bodily characters,’ but in their spiritual meaning. The Gospels, he says elsewhere (de Prine. 4), contain many things which are said to have happened, but which did not happen literally; and in one place of his Commentary on St. John he says that when the writers of Holy Scripture were unable to speak the truth ‘at once spiritually and bodily’ (i.e. at once literally and with a deeper symbolical or allegorical meaning), it was their practice to prefer the spiritual to the corporeal, ‘the true spiritual meaning being often preserved in the corporeal falsehood’ (σωζομένου πολλάκις τοῦ ἀληθοῦς πνευματικοῦ ἐν τῷ σωματικῷ ψευδεῖ). So Epiphanius says of St. John’s Gospel: ‘most of the things spoken by him were spiritual, the fleshly things having been already attested’ (Haer. li. 19).

These passages are very important for the study of the Fourth Gospel. They are evidence, not, of course, for the author’s method of composition, but for what was thought of the Gospel in the latter part of the 2nd cent. and the first half of the 3rd, that is to say, as soon as it was widely known. It was accepted as ‘a spiritual Gospel,’ and by spiritual was meant, not devotional, ethical, and philosophical, but allegorical as opposed to barely historical.

The distinction between the two modes of treatment was familiar at Alexandria, and had been familiar long before the Fourth Gospel was written. Philo compares the literal meaning to the body, and the spiritual to the soul. He applies this exegetical principle to the OT narratives with great thoroughness. To the literal truth of ancient sacred history he is very indifferent. Particular events are important only in proportion to their universal significance. To grasp the truth of a narrative is to see its relation to universal spiritual law or fact. He would have considered the laborious investigation of historical detail to be merely learned trifling, worthy only of a grammarian or a pedant. Moral edification and gnosis were the only objects for which it was at all worth while to trouble about the records of the past.

We have, of course, no right to assume that the 2nd cent. was right in classing the Fourth Gospel as a ‘spiritual’ work. We shall have to consider its allegorism in detail before we can pronounce on its relation to history. But it should be perfectly obvious that its author did not mean it to be studied as a plain historical narrative. He would probably have said that he had a higher aim than to record trivial details, some of which had no spiritual meaning. The Gospel is, and claims to be, an interpretation of our Lord’s Person and ministry, an ideal construction which aims at producing a certain impression about the Person of Christ. This impression is to be the true interpretation of the historical Jesus—the author is infinitely anxious about this. He is writing no mere historical romance, like the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, which was afterwards concocted as a rival to the Gospels. He is no Docetist, as is shown by several passages in the Gospel, and more categorically in 1 John, which, if not by the same author, is in closest connexion with the Gospel. But a very slight critical investigation is enough to show that he allows himself a free hand in manipulating the facts on which he is working. It is perfectly honest history, as history was understood by the ancients. But even the most scientific of ancient historians did not scruple to put his own views of the political situation into the mouths of the chief characters in his period; and among the Jews the composer of a haggâdah had no fear of being branded as a romancer or a forger.

The plan of the Gospel is clearly stated in John 20:30-31, an impressive passage which was intended to be the conclusion of the book, and was so until the appendix was added. The object here avowed is strictly adhered to throughout. No other book of the NT is so entirely dominated by one conception. The theology of the Incarnation, taught in the form of a historical narrative, with an underlying framework of symbolism and allegory, which, though never obtruded, determines the whole arrangement and selection of incidents—this is the topic of the Fourth Gospel. And unless it is read in the light of this purpose, and with a due recognition of the peculiar method, the seven seals of the Apocalypse will remain set upon the ‘spiritual Gospel.’

Different opinions have been held as to the readers whom the writer has mainly in view. Réville thinks that ‘the author has wished to prove to his contemporaries who had remained in the liberal and philosophical Judaism of the Diaspora, that, in Jesus Christ, the revelation of the Logos, admitted by them in the OT, has its full and definitive fulfilment.’ But the Gospel is not an apologia written for the Jews. The extremely unconciliatory tone, used throughout in speaking of them, is enough to disprove this hypothesis. There is a subordinate element of apologetic, but the main object is clearly to edify and teach the faithful, not to convert the unbeliever. The author never descends to his opponents’ ground, but remains throughout on his own. His aim is didactic, but not exactly dogmatic. He wishes, not to prove a theological thesis, but to confirm and perfect the believer in his adhesion to Christ as the Incarnate Word, the principle of spiritual regeneration, and the nourishment of ‘eternal’ life. This is the foundation of his own faith, and the characteristic Johannine ideas are the intellectual form of this faith, which is centred in the unio mystica. There is no sign of a polemic against Docetism, Ebionism, or against Cerinthus. Still less is he writing against liberalized Judaism, as Réville seems to suggest. Whatever was his attitude towards Philo (and the question is not an easy one to answer), it was not one of conscious antagonism.

The author, then, is writing for Christians. But for what Christians? It has often been maintained or assumed that his object is to teach a philosophy of religion—that he is, in fact, the author of the formula ‘Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah of the Jews, is the Incarnate Logos of God.’ But this view is untenable. There is no systematic philosophy in the Gospel—not even in the Prologue. And besides, the Logos theology was not new. It is not propounded as new in the Gospel; and it exists in substance in St. Paul’s Epistles, as well as in the Hebrews. There can be little doubt that Apollos, the learned Jew of Alexandria, made this identification in his preaching, which was so mightily convincing. For at this time ‘Logos’ was as familiar a term to all educated persons as ‘Evolution’ is to our own generation.

The Gospel is not a philosophical treatise. Is it, then, an attempt to mediate between two parties in the Church, between the advocates of ‘Faith’ and ‘Knowledge,’ of Gnosis and Pistis? The conflict between these two parties was acute at the end of the 2nd cent., as we see from the caution imposed upon Clement of Alexandria by conservative prejudice, and on the other side by the diatribes of the obscurantist Tertullian against philosophy? At that period Gnosticism had gained a footing within the Church, and orthodoxy had become alive to the dangers which threatened the Christian religion from this side. The intellectualists were even strong enough to drive Montanism out of the Church. During the first quarter of the 2nd cent. the great Gnostics were outside the Church, and the chief danger was that the party of ψιλὴ πίστις, ignorant and superstitious, with materialistic notions of religion and hopes of a coming reign of the saints, might make the position of the Christian philosopher impossible, and drive him into the arms of the Gnostics. Moreover, at the time when the Gospel was written, the inadequacy of both presentations of Christianity was becoming apparent. The primitive revivalism was decaying; the hopes of a Parousia were growing faint; while, on the other hand, Docetism and the fantastic schemes of the Gnostic party were visibly tending to discard the Gospel in favour of a barbarized Platonism. The author of this Gospel interposed his powerful influence to save Christianity from being either swamped in a mythology or sublimated into a theosophy. ‘The Jews’ demanded miracles, ‘the Greeks’ a philosophy; this Gospel, like St. Paul, presents both with ‘Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). The author addresses himself chiefly to the Faith-party, who most needed teaching. He tries to recall them to real history, by subtly spiritualizing the miraculous narratives, to which they attributed too much importance, and bringing out their ethical and spiritual significance. He never makes the slightest attempt to rationalize a miracle.—on the contrary, the miracles which he records are more startling than anything in the Synoptics,—but no stress is laid on any physical portent as momentous in and for itself, or as evidence, apart from its symbolical value as a type of the Person, work, and office of Christ. This design of spiritualizing the tradition is kept in view throughout; but it is carried out so subtly and quietly that it has often been overlooked.

A glance at one of the old-fashioned ‘Harmonies’ of the four Evangelists makes us realize how few of the events of our Lord’s life, before the last few days, are recorded by the Synoptists and also by St. John. And even the few common elements are employed differently, and in different settings. There are notable and irreconcilable differences in the chronology, including, as is well known, a discrepancy as to the date of the Crucifixion. The development of Christ’s mission is differently conceived, the Johannine Christ making the most exalted claims to equality with the Father near the beginning of His career, and in the presence of His enemies ( 2:19, 6:40, 8:58 etc.), whereas in the Synoptics the question and answer at Caesarea Philippi are clearly intended to be of crucial importance (Matthew 16:13 ff. ||). The form and substance of the discourses are also very different, the Christ of the Synoptics speaking as a man to men, as a Jew to Jews; conveying His message in pithy aphorisms, easily understood and remembered, and in homely parables, adapted to the comprehension of country folk. These discourses are directed rather to bringing men to the Father, and to righteousness and consistency of life, than to inculcating any doctrines about His own Person; sometimes He expresses His attachment to the Law, and repudiates any intention of abrogating it. Our Evangelist, on the other hand, represents Jesus as taking part in long polemical disputations with ‘the Jews,’ who are as much His enemies as they were the enemies of the Christian Church 80 years later; the parables have disappeared, and their place is taken by ‘proverbs’ or symbolic language; and, above all, His whole teaching is centred upon faith in and devotion to Himself. The emphatic ἐγώ occurs 15 times in St. Matthew, 117 times in St. John. Many facts to which our Evangelist attaches great importance are completely strange to the Synoptic tradition. Such are: the marriage in Cana of Galilee, with which the public ministry opens; the conversation with the Samaritan woman; the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda; the incident of the man born blind; the raising of Lazarus, which in St. John’s Gospel appears to have been the immediate cause of the plot against the life of Jesus; the washing of the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper; the conversation with Pilate at the trial; the presence of the beloved disciple and Mary at the Cross; the appearance to Thomas after the Resurrection. On the other hand, the writer of the Fourth Gospel omits the genealogy and the birth from a virgin, because it could be of no interest to him to prove that Jesus (or rather Joseph) was descended from king David, and the Incarnation of the Logos is a far grander conception than a miraculous birth by the operation of the Holy Ghost; he omits the Baptism of Jesus, of which notwithstanding he shows knowledge, because, again, the true Baptism is the Incarnation of the Logos in Jesus, and also partly, perhaps, because he is anxious to discountenance the Adoptionist views of the Person of Christ which were prevalent at the time when he wrote; he omits the Temptation, because it is no part of his plan to exhibit Jesus as experiencing any temptation or weakness; he omits the Transfiguration, because in his view the whole life of Christ on earth is a manifestation of His glory, not by visible light but to the spiritual eye; he omits the institution of the Eucharist, because he has already given his sacramental doctrine in his discourse about the Bread of Life (John 6:26 ff.), following the miracle of the 5000, and does not wish the truth of the mystical union to be bound up too closely with the participation in an ecclesiastical rite; he omits the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the cry, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,’ because the impression which he wishes to convey of the complete voluntariness of Christ’s sufferings and death, and of the ‘glory’ which was manifested by His humiliation as well as by His triumph over death, might be impaired by incidents which seem to indicate human weakness and hesitation; and, lastly, he omits the Ascension and the descent of the Paraclete, because he does not wish the withdrawal of Christ’s bodily presence, and the continuation of the Incarnation in another more spiritual form, to be associated with physical portents, or to be assigned to particular days.

There can be no question that these omissions are deliberate, and not the result of ignorance. Those who wish to discredit any of the narratives which appear in the Synoptics, cannot rightly draw any inferences from St. John’s silence. Such features of the Christian tradition as the Birth at Bethlehem and the Ascension must have been well known by any well-instructed Christian at the beginning of the 2nd cent., and there are no signs that our Evangelist wishes to correct his predecessors from the standpoint of one who has had access to better information. Not only are incidents like the Baptism referred to incidentally (John 1:32), but an attempt is made to provide substitutes for several of the omitted narratives. Instead of the Davidic ancestry of Joseph, we have the eternal generation of the μονογενής; instead of the Lord’s Prayer, taught to the disciples, we have the High-Priestly prayer of ch. 17, in which almost every clause of the Lord’s Prayer is represented, though in each case, except the last (‘Deliver us from the evil one’), the petition is changed into a statement that the work has been done, the boon conferred. The institution of Baptism is represented by the discourses with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman; that of the Eucharist by the miracle in ch. 6 and the discourse on the Bread of Life which follows it. The Transfiguration is represented by the voice from heaven in John 12:7; John 12:28; while the preceding verse (which should be printed as a question, ‘Shall I say, Father, save me from this hour?’) is intended to compensate us for the loss of the Agony in the Garden. Lastly, the words to Thomas in John 20:29—the last beatitude—more than reconcile us to the loss of any description of the Ascension.

The number of miracles is much reduced; but those which are given are representative, and in some cases are more tremendous than those of the Synoptics. The healing of the son of Herod’s official (John 4:46 ff.) is the only miracle which has the true Synoptic ring; in the others no ‘faith’ is required in those who are to benefit by the sign, and the object seems to be to manifest some aspect of Christ’s Person and work. In the marriage at Cana, the feeding of the multitude, the healing of the blind man, and the raising of Lazarus, the Evangelist himself tells us the spiritual meaning of the miracle, in words spoken either by the Lord Himself or by some one else.

There is, however, a great deal of symbolism in the Gospel which is unexplained by the author, and unnoticed by the large majority of his readers. The method is strange to us, and we do not look out for allegories which would be at once understood by Alexandrians in the 2nd century. A few examples are necessary, to justify the view here taken that symbolism or allegorism pervades the whole Gospel. In John 1:29 John the Baptist designates Christ ‘the Lamb of God,’ with clear reference to the Paschal sacrifice. The prophetic type of the Paschal lamb dominates the whole of the Passion narrative in St. John. Even the date, it would appear, is altered, in order that Christ may die on the day when the Paschal lambs were killed. The change of the ‘reed’ of the Synoptics to ‘hyssop’ seems to have been made with the same object, when we remember the ritual use of hyssop at the Passover. The Gospel abounds in enigmatic utterances, such as ‘Thou hast kept the good wine until now’ (John 2:10); ‘It is expedient that one man should die for the people’ (John 11:50); ‘Judas went immediately out, and it was night’ (John 13:30); in which the reader is plainly meant to see a double meaning. The symbolism is often in three stages. The text presents an apparent sense, which is in figure a second, which in turn points to a third and still deeper signification. Especially in the narrative, a prophetic utterance quoted from the OT is sometimes the intermediate stage in this allegorical construction. The type of the Paschal lamb comes as it were between the literal feeding of the 5000 and the idea that Christ gives His life to take away the sin of the world, and that He may be our spiritual food and sustenance. The words quoted from the Psalms, ‘the zeal of thy house shall eat me up,’ come in like manner between the cleansing of the Temple at Jerusalem and the idea of the glorification of Jesus as the building of the true Temple, the body of Christ, the Church. There are, we might venture to say, three temples in the mind of the Evangelist—the material temple built by Herod, the temple of Christ’s natural body, which was to be destroyed and raised up ‘in three days,’ and the temple which is the spiritual body of Christ—namely, the Church. Similarly, in John 7:38, the quotation, ‘out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water,’ comes, as it were, between the thrust of the lance and the effusion of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and the Church.

But the most remarkable part of the allegoric method is that connected with numbers. There can be no doubt, in the opinion of the present writer, that the Philonic method of playing with numbers had a strong fascination for our Evangelist. The examples are far too numerous to be accidental. The number 7 recurs in the number of the miracles (omitting ch. 21 from our calculations), in the number of solemn declarations beginning ‘I am’; in the number of ‘witnesses’ borne to Christ, and perhaps in other places. The officer’s son is healed at the seventh hour; the paralytic on the seventh day. It is thoroughly in accordance with the method of the Evangelist, that he avoids the word ἑπτά, just as he avoids the two crucial words γνῶσις and πίστις, which had become watchwords of parties. As for the number 3, perhaps too much ingenuity has been shown in cutting up the whole Gospel into arrangements of 3; but unquestionably the book does lend itself very readily to such classification, and the fact that it is concealed rather than obtruded is in accordance with what seems to have been the method and design of the writer. With regard to higher numbers, the extreme precision of the Evangelist must excite suspicion of an allegorical motive; and when we find that 38, 46, and 153 can be plausibly explained on Philonic principles, the suspicion becomes almost a certainty. For example, the 153 fish may be the ‘fulfilment’ of 10+7; 1 + 2 + 3 + … + 17 = 153; or, as Bishop Wordsworth suggests, it may be the square of 12 + the square of 3. It is said that 200 (Peter is 200 cubits from the land) signifies, in the Philonian lore, repentance. The ‘forty-six years’ since the beginning of the building of the Temple may possibly be connected with the age assigned to Jesus (‘not yet fifty years old’); it has been suggested that the Evangelist wishes to make Him seven times seven years old at the Crucifixion; but this is very doubtful. The frequent use of number-symbolism in the Gospel is more certain than the correctness of particular interpretations. These interpretations would occur readily to the ‘Gnostic’ of the 2nd cent.; to us they must be guesswork.

Some critics, such as Renan, have objected to this discovery of allegorism in the Fourth Gospel, that the allegorist always tries to attract attention to his symbols, whereas St. John clearly does not, but conceals them so carefully that the large majority of his readers do not even suspect their existence. This sounds plausible. But the question really is whether the Evangelist has not done all that he need have done in order to be understood by those among his first readers who knew his method. It is not suggested that the Johannine symbolism was meant for all to understand. There is abundant evidence that those who valued the ‘Gnosis’ were agreed that it must not be profaned by being explained to all. We find this conviction in Philo, and very strongly in Clement of Alexandria, who, as a Christian, is important evidence. He says that to put the spiritual exegesis before the common people is like giving a sword to a child to play with. He will not write all that he knows, because of the danger that it may get into wrong hands. There are some religious truths which can only be safely imparted orally. There is reason to think that he abandoned his project of putting the coping-stone on his theological works by a book of an esoteric character, because a published treatise cannot be confined to those who ought to read it. Since, then, the existence of the symbolic method, and the obligation of concealing it from the ordinary reader, are both proved, there is nothing strange in the veiled symbolism which we have found to characterize this Gospel.

The Evangelist writes throughout for two classes of readers—for the simpliciores, who would be satisfied by the narrative in its plain sense, and for the ‘Gnostic,’ who could read between the lines without difficulty. And yet he wishes all his readers to rise towards a spiritual understanding. Again and again he puts the key in the lock—in such solemn utterances as ‘I am the Bread of Life—the Light of the World—the Resurrection and the Life.’ His own word for the allegoric method is ‘proverb’ (παροιμία). Up to the end of the last discourse, Jesus has spoken to His disciples in proverbs; but the time was coming (after the withdrawal of His bodily presence) in which, through the medium of the Paraclete, He should no more speak to them in proverbs, but should show them plainly of the Father. The proverb is different from the Synoptic παραβολή, which is a story with a religious and moral application—a story which has a complete sense in itself, apart from the lesson, which is generally conveyed by the story as a whole, and not by the details. St. John, however, tries to keep the historical parabolic form in which Jesus actually taught. Yet, in spite of himself, he half substitutes the Alexandrian and Philonic allegory for the Synoptic parable. The double sense runs all through the narrative. Whenever the Johannine Christ begins to teach—whether His words are addressed to Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, ‘the Jews,’ or His own disciples—He nearly always begins by enunciating a proposition which contains, under a sensible and symbolic image, a religious truth. The auditor regularly misunderstands Him, interpreting literally what should have been easily perceived to be a metaphor. This gives Jesus an opportunity to develop His allegory, and, in so doing, to instruct the reader, if not the original hearer of the discourse, whom once or twice (as in ch. 3) the Evangelist seems to have quite forgotten. The Johannine Christ loves words which, at any rate in Greek, have a double sense, such as ἄνωθεν, πνεῦμα, λόγος (cf. esp. John 10:31-38). Whether the very numerous cases where a verb may be indicative or imperative are intentionally ambiguous, it is not easy to say. The symbolism reaches its height in some of the discourses to the Jews; the last discourses to the disciples are more plain, and in ch. 17, which is the climax of the teaching of the Gospel, the mystical union is expounded with much directness.

One of the most difficult problems in connexion with the classes of readers for whom the Gospel was intended is presented by certain explanations introduced by the Evangelist. The chief of these are John 2:21, John 6:64-65, John 7:38, John 8:27, John 12:33, John 18:9. These explanations seem to us at times superficial and unworthy of their context. We cannot be surprised that they have given force to partition-theories like that of Wendt, who maintains that the discourses are on a higher intellectual and spiritual level than could he within the compass of the author of parts of the narrative. The difficulties in the way of partition-theories seem to be insuperable. A more plausible hypothesis is that the Evangelist deliberately introduced these childlike observations for the benefit of the simpliciores, trusting to the educated reader being able to divine his purpose. But this theory is not very satisfactory. We have seen that St. John is able to see as many as three meanings in a simple occurrence. And so he may have felt that ‘the Temple’ might mean Christ’s natural body as well as the stone building and the Church of Christ, which last must have been mainly in his mind when he foresaw the downfall of the Jewish sanctuary and all which it represented.

The style of the Fourth Gospel is as different from that of the Synoptics as the matter. Instead of the variety which we find in them, we have a small number of essential thoughts repeated again and again under a small number of images. From this results a strange impressiveness, common in mystical writings, which often share this peculiarity, though to some readers the monotony appears tedious and inartistic. The discourses of Christ have a sweet and melancholy charm, with an indescribable dignity and grandeur; over them all hangs the luminous haze of mysticism, in which mystery seems clear, and clearness itself is mysterious. The phraseology is Hebraic, not Greek; in the Prologue we have a species of rhythm which recalls the old prophets, and in many places we find the parallelism of Hebrew poetry. The arrangement is that of the writer’s own thought, not chronological. The appearance of detailed accuracy is not, as has often been seriously argued, a proof of first-hand knowledge, but is due to the vividness of the Evangelist’s mental images. The numbers, as has been said, seem often to have a symbolic meaning; the figures, such as Nicodemus and the Greeks who asked for an introduction to Jesus, disappear from the writer’s mind as soon as the point is made. No difference can he detected between the style of the various speakers, or between the discourses of Christ and the Evangelist’s own comments.

2. Theology of the Gospel.—The first question which meets us is the relation of the Prologue to the rest of the Gospel. Harnack, whose antipathy to the Logos theology apparently influences his judgment, suggests that the Prologue was merely prefixed to the narrative in order to predispose the Greeks in favour of the views which the author was about to propound, views which do not really at all correspond with the Logos philosophy as they understood it.

‘The Prologue brings in conceptions which were familiar to the Greeks, and enters into these more deeply than is justified by the presentation which follows; for the notion of the incarnate Logos is by no means the dominant one in the Gospel. Though faint echoes of this idea may possibly be met with here and there in the Gospel,—I confess I do not notice them,—the predominating thought is essentially that of Christ as the Son of God, who obediently executes what the Father has shown and appointed Him’ (ZThK [Note: ThK Zeitschrift f. Theologie u. Kirche.] ii. 189 ff.).

This strangely perverse judgment has evoked protests from several critics who understand the Gospel better than Harnack, among others from Réville, who has certainly no bias in favour of traditional views. It would be easy to show that every one of the dogmatic statements in the Prologue is reasserted in the body of the Gospel. For the pre-existence of the Logos, beyond time, in personal relation to, and in essential union with, God, cf. John 6:62, John 8:58, John 14:10, John 17:5; John 17:24. For the Logos as the Agent in creation, and its life-giving and sustaining principle, cf. John 5:26, John 8:12, John 9:5. (From the nature of the subject-matter, there is not much cosmological teaching in the Gospel; but what there is, is in full accordance with the Prologue). For manifestations of the Logos before the Incarnation, by revelations and by His immanent presence, cf. John 8:56 and John 9:5, ‘whenever I am in the world,’ etc. There is thus chapter and verse in the Gospel, and in Christ’s own words, for every statement in the Prologue; and though Jesus never calls Himself the Logos, this sublime conception of His personality pervades the whole narrative. The stumbling-block to Harnack and others has been what some critics (e.g. Beyschlag and Réville) have called the ‘contradictory double theology’ of the Gospel. By the side of a conception of Christ’s Person which seems to class the Evangelist as a speculative mystic or Gnostic, we have statements which seem to belong to the school of Christianity which was dominated by Jewish positivism. Such doctrines are the actual ‘becoming flesh’ of the Logos, as opposed to a theophany under human form; and the repeated mention of ‘the Last Day,’ a conception with which, as Reuss says, ‘mystical theology has no concern.’ But the Evangelist does not write or think as a philosopher. The supreme merit of his book as a Gospel is that he does not write the life of Christ as a Christian Platonist might have been tempted to write it, but keeps a firm hold on the historical Jesus, and on the concrete facts in His teaching. There is, undoubtedly, a double thread of the kind indicated. In some parts of the narrative we feel that ‘tabernacled among us’ is a truer description of the character of the Johannine Christ than ‘became flesh.’ There is an aloofness, a solitary grandeur, about the central figure which prevents Him from seeming fully human; while in other places there is an approximation to the Synoptic portrait. But it is only to the minute critic that these difficulties become apparent. To the religious consciousness of Christendom there has never been any hesitation in recognizing the profound agreement between the Synoptic and the Johannine presentations of Jesus Christ. See, further, art. Logos.

The intense ethical dualism of the Fourth Gospel is another perplexing phenomenon to those who look for philosophical consistency in a religious treatise. Christian Platonism, into which the Logos theology passed as its most important ingredient, seems to leave no room for a personal devil, or for human beings who are children of the devil. It seems rather to favour the conception of evil as mere privatio boni. St. John, however, is quite unconscious of any such difficulty. Although the Logos is the immanent cause of all life, so that ‘without him nothing whatever came into being,’ the ‘darkness’ in which the light shines is no mere absence of colour, but a positive malignant thing, a rival kingdom which has its own subjects and its own sphere. Some critics have even been reminded of the metaphysical dualism of Manichaean speculation. This last, however, is in too flagrant contradiction with the Logos theology to effect a lodgment in the Evangelist’s mind. The Logos is the true light which lighteth every man as it comes into the world. But since the philosophical problem is not present to the mind of the writer, he is not careful to draw the line between the ethical dualism which was part of his religious experience, and the metaphysical dualism which would have subverted the foundations of his intellectual system. The sources of this ethical dualism may be found partly in the spiritual struggles of an intensely devout nature, but to a greater extent, probably, in the furious antagonism of Judaism to nascent Christianity, a hostility which, to a Christian, must have seemed really diabolical. The temper of his own age was unconsciously transferred to the ministry of Jesus, who certainly could not have adopted the attitude of uncompromising antagonism to ‘the Jews’ which we find in this Gospel. But it is worthy of note that some of the devotional literature of later times, which shows the closest affinity with Johannine ideas,—the Theologia Germanica is a particularly good example,—displays the same extreme ethical dualism as the Gospel. Stöckl, in criticising the Theologia Germanica from the standpoint of modern Romanism, finds in it the ‘Gnostic dualism’ which, with equal justice, he might have detected in parts of the Fourth Gospel. In neither the one nor the other does the distinction correspond with the Gnostic division of mankind into pneumatic and psychic, with an impassable gulf between them. Compare, e.g., the Evangelist’s use of ‘the world’ in John 15:19.

(1) Doctrine of God the Father.—According to the logic of the system, it has often been said, God should always manifest Himself through the Logos. No man hath seen or heard God at any time (John 1:18, John 5:37, John 6:46). So Philo holds that there can be no immediate communication between God, who is transcendent and unknowable, and the world. Nevertheless, it is impossible to impose this philosophical idea upon St. John. His God is not the unknowable ‘One’ of the later Platonism. He is Spirit (John 4:24), that is, on the negative side, He is non-material, not appreciable by sense, spaceless and timeless. Yet He is not darkness, but Light; and light includes the ideas of radiation and illumination. Further yet, He is Love. He loves the world. As loving the world, He is the principle of action, the principle of the activity of the Logos. He is the Father, who ‘draws’ men to Himself. Several other passages (e.g. John 5:7; John 5:21, John 9:29) imply independent direct action by the Father. Still, we must not over-emphasize this as a proof of the Evangelist’s disagreement with Philo. Philo, no doubt, could not acknowledge an Incarnation; but the idea of theophanies was naturally very familiar to him from his OT studies. There is nothing un-Philonic in the ‘voice from heaven’ (John 12:38). Philo, too, speaks of ‘a voice formed in the air, not coming from any animate body.’

(2) Doctrine of the Holy Spirit.—The dualism of Flesh and Spirit in St. John is one expression of the ethical dualism of which we have spoken above. It is very clearly set forth in the conversation with Nicodemus, when Christ says that no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he be born from above (or afresh). This He explains by repeating that unless a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. ‘That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is horn of the Spirit is spirit.’ This regeneration by water and the Spirit is the birth from above, not a simple moral renovation, but a real communication of the Divine Spirit. Natural generation is only a feeble image of this supernatural generation, which, says Loisy (perhaps too boldly, in the absence of any expression of this thought in the Gospel), ‘is attached to the same order as the Incarnation of the Word.’ St. John does not draw this comparison; but he says of the elect that they ‘were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God’ (John 1:13). The sphere of the Spirit forms a world absolutely opposed to the world of the flesh. What, then, is the content of this world of the Spirit? Since God is Spirit, the world of Spirit is the world of God, and partakes of the Divine attributes. It is absolute and indestructible; the Father ‘hath life in himself,’ and has given this absolute life to the Son also. Even so the Son can transmit it, ‘quickening whom he will.’ The Spirit quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing: it was to communicate to men a life which they have not naturally, that the Word became incarnate. This gift of spiritual life is figured as ‘the bread from heaven’ and ‘the living water,’ symbols which, as the Evangelist was far from forgetting, are the outward and visible signs in the two great Sacraments. The Divine gift is also typified as Light and Truth, words which imply an illumination of the intellect. So in John 17:3 life eternal is defined as the knowledge of (or rather, the process of knowing) the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom He sent. This advancing knowledge is the highest form of life. Those who ‘are of the truth’ listen to the words of Christ; but the contemptuous or careless question of Pilate, ‘What is truth?’ receives no answer. The truth also ‘makes us free’; it breaks the yoke of sin. In opposition to this higher world, St. John develops the idea of the cosmos, which is the direct opposite of the Spirit. It has only the appearance of life; he who has been redeemed from it ‘has passed from death into life’ (John 5:24). It is therefore possible to call the devil the prince of this world; although the passage from the kingdom of the world to that of the Spirit is open (John 3:17; John 3:17). Jesus Christ, who has full possession of the Spirit, is come to raise men from the sphere of the world into that of the Spirit. Thus, the Johannine soteriology contemplates an enrichment, not a restoration, of human nature. The Evangelist regards sin as essentially a failure to recognize the Divine in the world. Those to whom the light has not been brought are blind, but not guilty: those to whom it has appeared, and who turn their backs upon it, are the typical sinners. From henceforth, these lovers of darkness are doomed to destruction (ἀπώλεια), when Jesus shall ‘overcome the world’ as a triumphant conqueror.

The relations of the Spirit to the Logos are difficult to define. What, for example, was the office of the Spirit in the world before the Incarnation? Life, as we know, was immanent in the Logos: there seems to be no room for another πνεῦμα ζωοποιοῦν. The descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus at His baptism is referred to in St. John, but not described. To him, the Baptism could have no such importance as it appears to have in the Synoptic record. The Spirit was given to Christ ‘without measure’ from the first.

During the ministry we do not hear much of the Spirit. St. John tells us bluntly (John 7:39) that ‘There was as yet no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.’ Instead of the Spirit, we have a quasi-independent power ascribed to the words of the Lord Jesus, which are spoken of in the same sort of way in which Philo speaks of the λόγοι and δυνάμεις. Jesus insists that the words are not His own, but come from God (John 3:34 and several other places). The words are, of course, inoperative, unless they are received and taken into the heart: but if they are so received, they will abide in the heart as a living and spiritual principle (John 15:7, John 6:63). ‘He that keepeth my words shall never see death,’ says Jesus (John 8:51); and St. Peter exclaims, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life’ (John 6:68): that is to say, not words about eternal life, but words which confer eternal life, as in John 8:51. Of the disobedient, He says, ‘The word which I have spoken will judge him at the last day’ (John 12:48): and to His disciples, ‘He that heareth my words hath passed from death unto life’ (John 5:24); ‘Now ye are clean through the word that I have spoken unto you’ (John 15:3). The word or words would thus seem to exercise all the functions of the Paraclete. But they must not be identified; for the words were addressed to all who heard them; the Paraclete was given only to the faithful disciples. Moreover, the ministry of the Spirit, properly speaking, begins only after the glorification of Jesus Christ. Remembering that the Johannine theology implies a Trinitarian doctrine of equality and oneness between the three Persons of the Trinity, we may still say that the office of the Son, during the period of His sojourn on earth, was to reveal the Father, while the office of the Holy Spirit was, and is, to reveal the Son.

St. John takes no interest in purely speculative or dogmatic questions, and therefore he does not trouble himself about such questions as the office of the Holy Spirit, as distinguished from that of the Logos, before the Incarnation. From the practical point of view it is possible to say, as he does, that ‘there was as yet no Spirit’ before Jesus was glorified. After this glorification, although the action of the Holy Spirit is often represented as that of Christ Himself returning to His own, there is a difference between the mode of action of the Incarnate Christ and that of the Holy Spirit. Not only is the former external, the latter internal; but the Incarnate Christ addressed Himself to all who came into contact with Him, and was obliged to adapt His teaching to the limited intelligence of His auditors. The Paraclete is a principle of spiritual life in the hearts of believers, on whom He acts directly and without intermediary. His work consists in glorifying Christ, bearing witness to Him and continuing His work of revelation. It is quite useless to ask whether, for St. John, the Paraclete is a distinct hypostasis in the Godhead. The category of personality is quite foreign to the Evangelist, as to his whole school, and no answer to such a question can be drawn from his words. The Evangelist does not speculate about the relation of the Spirit to the Father, who ‘sends’ Him. The expression ‘God is Spirit’ (not ‘the Spirit’) expresses, so to speak, the quality of the Divine nature; it does not assert the identity of the Father and the Holy Ghost, any more than θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος in the Prologue asserts such an identity between the First and Second Persons. The Evangelist is much more concerned with the relation of the Paraclete to Christ. This indeed is one of the dominating thoughts of the Fourth Gospel. Jesus ‘baptizes with the Holy Ghost’ (John 1:33); that is to say, the gift of the Holy Ghost is an end of the ministry of Jesus. A very important passage is John 14:17, in which Jesus says that the world cannot receive the Paraclete ‘because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; because he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.’ The words ‘dwelleth with you’ must refer to the presence of Jesus Himself, who has received the Spirit in absolutely full measure, in the midst of His disciples: after His departure the Spirit ‘shall be in you,’ a condition which did not yet exist at the time when the words were spoken. This gift was, in a manner, communicated when, after the Resurrection, Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost.’ But it would be quite foreign to the thought of the Gospel to attach importance to the physical ‘insufflation’ as the vehicle of the gift of the Holy Ghost. The gift would follow in response to the prayer of Christ (John 14:16). He would be sent in Christ’s name (John 14:26). Jesus Himself will send Him (John 15:26). After the gift has come, when the disciples have entered into the sphere of the Spirit, they will still look to Christ as the principle of their life. He will still be the true Vine, of which they are the branches. It is even possible for Him to promise, ‘I will see you again’—certainly not with reference to the appearances after the Resurrection, but to the spiritual vision which has nothing to do with bodily presence (John 16:16-23). So when He says, ‘I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it’ (John 17:26), the intention does not refer to any future discourses with the disciples on earth, before or after His Passion, but to the relations which will exist between Him and them under the dispensation of the Spirit. The expressions ‘we will come unto him, and make our abode with him’ (John 14:23); and ‘I will come again and receive you unto myself’ (John 14:3), have the same meaning, though in the latter passage there may be a special reference to the ‘coming’ of Christ at the death of each believer. There is no reference in St. John to such a picture as that drawn by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. In John 16:13 f. there is a remarkable statement about the Paraclete, that ‘he shall not speak of himself … he shall take of mine and shall show it unto you.’ The relation of the Paraclete to Christ is thus exactly the same as that between Christ and the Father (cf. John 5:30, John 6:38 etc.).

But the special office of the Spirit in the world begins with Christ’s departure from earth. The death of Christ, in St. John, has not the same significance as in the Pauline theology. St. John even shrinks from the idea of death in connexion with the incarnate Logos. ‘The death of Christ,’ says Reuss, ‘in the Johannine theology, is an exaltation, not an abasement.’ ‘The end of the ministry of Christ,’ says Réville, ‘is not, properly speaking, His death. His death is in reality a deliverance.’ The redemptive element in the death of Christ is not His suffering, but His glorification. And yet we must not forget that the idea of sacrifice, and of Christ as the true Paschal Lamb, is frequently in the mind of the Evangelist. It appears not only in the ‘testimony’ of John the Baptist (John 1:29; John 1:36), but in the High-Priestly prayer, where the words ‘for their sakes I consecrate myself’ (John 17:19), have a definitely sacrificial meaning. This doctrine was part of the Christian tradition, which St. John accepts heartily without attempting to bring it into line with his own dominant ideas. It is, however, true to say that it is by His life, and not by His death, that the Johannine Christ gives life to the world. ‘Because I live, ye shall live also’ (John 14:19). The principle of life within them will be the Holy Spirit. As Paraclete, He will be their defender and helper against all adversaries, ghostly and bodily. He will also be their Comforter (we cannot wonder that some have defended this meaning of Paraclete); He will change their sorrow into joy, as a grain of wheat dies only to live again, or as a woman, when she is in travail, exchanges her pain for joy that a man is born into the world; He will guide them into all truth—a word which in St. John has a predominantly moral significance. His action on the unbelieving ‘world’ is one of ‘conviction’ (ἐλέγχειν, John 16:8), a Philonic expression, of somewhat obscure meaning. St. John does not seem to contemplate any direct action of the Holy Spirit, except in the hearts of the faithful: the office assigned to Him in the Anglican Catechism, as the ‘sanctifier of all the elect people of God,’ is quite Johannine; but indirectly He will show in their true colours, and condemn, those who are the enemies of Jesus Christ. See, further, art. Holy Spirit, 14 (b).

3. Scheme of the Fourth Gospel.—After the Prologue begins a section of the Gospel which may be called ‘The Testimony.’ We have first the testimony of John the Baptist, then of the disciples, then of ‘signs’—the miracle at Cana. The Evangelist next describes how Jesus manifests Himself, first in Judaea, then in Samaria, and thirdly in Galilee. But another thread seems to run through these chapters, which also lends itself to the arrangement in triplets. We might call these first chapters the doctrine of Water. First we have the water of the Law superseded by the wine of the Gospel, typified by the changing of the water into wine at the marriage-feast; next we have the water of purification mentioned in the discourse with Nicodemus; and thirdly, the water of life, the nature of which is expounded in the dialogue with the woman of Samaria. In ch. 5 begins the second of the three great divisions of the book, which should be called the Conflict or κρίσις. After two more ‘signs’ a prolonged controversy with the Jews is described, in which the divergence between Christ and the hierarchy becomes more and more acute, till the final catastrophe is seen to be inevitable. The tension comes to breaking point after the final ‘sign,’ and the end of Christ’s public ministry. It is at this point that the unstable ‘multitude’ quits the scene with the significant question, unanswered like that of Pilate, ‘Who is this Son of Man?’ (John 12:34). In these chapters also a subordinate thread may be discovered in the doctrine of Bread (ch. 6), the doctrine of Light (ch. 8), and the doctrine of Life, (the transit through death into life a spiritual law). The third part of the Gospel may be called the Glorification (δόξα). Jesus reveals Himself to His disciples in a series of esoteric discourses, addressed to them only, in view of His approaching departure from them. This section culminates in the High-Priestly prayer (ch. 17). Then follows the narrative of the Passion, conceived throughout as the glorification of Christ through self-chosen suffering. The humiliation and sacrifice, no less than the triumph of death, are part of the δόξα. This part of the Gospel ends with the appearance to Thomas, and the ‘last beatitude.’ Ch. 21 is an epilogue.

4. Characteristic Words in the Fourth Gospel.

(1) Life (ζωή).—In the Prologue an interesting and rather important question of punctuation arises in connexion with this word. Ought we to read with Authorized Version χΩΡῚ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἔν ὁ γέγονεν. ἑν αὐτῷ ζωὴ ἧν, or, with ACD and nearly all the Ante-Nicene Fathers who comment on it, should we put the full stop at ἕν? The former view, which is supported by Chrysostom, has prevailed in modern times, though several authorities, such as WH [Note: H Westcott and Hort’s text.] , put the stop at ἕν. The latter theory seems to give a richer and deeper meaning, and one more completely in accordance with the religious philosophy of the Gospel. ‘All things were made by Him (as the Instrument), and without Him nothing came into being. That which has come into being was, in Him, life.’ The Logos is the vital principle from whom all that lives derives its life. Whatever life exists in the world was, eternally, timelessly, in Him. To have ‘life in Himself’ is an eternal attribute of God the Son; all that appears on this fleeting scene exists, so far as it exists, by participation in His life. In short, the Logos, as life, is a cosmic principle. The idea that all things preexisted eternally in the mind of God, and are, as it were, unrolled as the ages go on, was familiar to Jewish thought. But St. John’s doctrine is more Greek—that the things of time derive whatever reality they possess from a sphere of higher reality beyond time and place. With this accord the other passages in the Gospel where Life is mentioned. In John 6:33-56 Christ is declared to be the Bread of God which cometh down from heaven to give life to the world. Whoso eateth His flesh and drinketh His blood hath eternal life. He who is closely united to Christ—who makes the life of Christ his own—has the principle of life within him. In John 17:3 the knowledge of the Father and of the Son is said to constitute eternal life. This knowledge can be possessed only through the indwelling of Him who is the principle of life. The same idea recurs in John 11:25, and in John 14:6 Christ, ‘in whom all things consist,’ as St. Paul says (Colossians 1:17), is Himself the Resurrection and the Life, and the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Accordingly, the Life is a present possession rather than a future hope. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life (John 3:36, John 5:24). Christ came that we might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10). See Life.

(2) Truth (ἀλήθεια).—St. John’s use of this word cannot be paralleled in the Synoptics, but it occurs in the Epistles of St. James, St. Peter, and St. Paul. Typical examples of the use of the word in this Gospel are John 1:17 ‘grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’; John 8:32 ‘the truth shall make you free’; John 14:6 ‘I am the truth’; John 16:13 ‘the Spirit of truth shall guide you into all truth’; John 17:17 ‘thy word is truth.’ Christ, however, came ‘to bear witness to the truth’ (John 18:37), so that it must have been in the world before the Incarnation. Those that ‘are of the truth’ heard and accepted Him. From these passages we gather that ‘the truth’ is all that really exists in every sphere, and this is why Jesus Christ, as the Logos,

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'John, Gospel of (II. Contents)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​j/john-gospel-of-ii-contents.html. 1906-1918.
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