The Gospel of John

“The spiritual, poetic, complex gospel, accessible to both beginning Bible scholars and those who are more experienced.”

Since the second century, John has been known as the “spiritual” gospel.  The three synoptic gospels share many similarities but John is quite different in several ways.  Two of the most important differences are:  a three-year time span for Jesus’ ministry compared to a one-year journey presented in the other gospels; Jesus’ speeches are complex and symbolic in John as compared to the pithy parables we learn to understand as Jesus’ messages.  There are some stories in John which are also included in the other gospels but there are also some stories which appear only in John.

John is the most poetic and complex literature of the four gospels.  For some, studying John seems difficult and challenging.  However, the beautiful and complex Jesus presented can be appreciated on so many levels.  Our Yale scholars are a great help in accessing this powerful description of Jesus, his oneness with God and his human nature.

The power of the Gospel of John is accessible by the beginner in Bible study as well as the advanced learner.

Meet Our Professors

Harry Attridge

Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament

Harry Attridge has made scholarly contributions to New Testament exegesis and to the study of Hellenistic Judaism and the history of the early Church. He has published numerous books, authored book chapters and articles in scholarly journals, and has edited 11 books, including Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, First-Century Cynicism in the Epistles of Heraclitus, The Interpretation of Biblical History in the Antiquitates Judaicae of Flavius Josephus, Nag Hammadi Codex I: The Jung Codex, and Psalms in Community. Dean Attridge has been an editorial board member of Catholic Biblical Quarterly, the Harvard Theological Review, the Journal of Biblical Literature, and the Hermeneia Commentary Series. Before coming to Yale, Dr. Attridge was Professor of New Testament Studies and Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame. He has served as president of the Society of Biblical Literature since 2001. He holds degrees from Boston College (A.B.), Cambridge University (B.A., M.A.), Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Harvard University (Ph.D.).

David L. Bartlett

David L. Bartlett was the J. Edward and Ruth Cox Lantz Professor Emeritus of Christian Communication at Yale Divinity School and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary. An ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches, USA, Bartlett served as the senior minister of congregations in Minnesota, Illinois, and California. From 1990 to 2005, Bartlett served at YDS on the faculty as well as in administrative roles including Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Dean of Academic Affairs. Bartlett has published numerous books and scholarly articles. It is with great sadness that we note his passing in late 2017.

 

 

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The Gospel of John

Introduction

The Gospel According to John, or the “Fourth Gospel,” has long been a favorite of Christian readers of scripture. Ancient readers, like the second- century teacher, Clement of Alexandria, called it the “spiritual gospel,” more focused than Matthew, Mark, and Luke on the spiritual significance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The Gospel’s presentation of the life of Jesus is distinctive. Unlike the other “Synoptic” gospels, John suggests that Jesus had a public ministry that spanned three Passover festivals rather than a single year. It portrays Jesus as speaking in lengthy, sometimes highly symbolic, discourses, rather than the pithy aphorisms and parables that mark his speech in the Synoptics. Some stories, such as the multiplication of the loaves and fish, overlap with stories in the Synoptics, but others, such as the changing of water to wine at Cana and the raising of Lazarus, appear only in John.

The theological perspective of the Gospel is also remarkable. While the other gospels portray Jesus as speaking of the coming Kingdom of God, he here speaks primarily about himself, as the one who reveals and represents God to the world. The evangelist wrestled with what it meant to affirm that Jesus plays that role. On the one hand, for anyone like our evangelist, who was raised in a Jewish environment, it meant that Jesus played, in a definitive way, the roles that had been associated with the Jewish Scripture, the Torah, and with the center of Jewish liturgical life, the Temple. Much of the gospel’s symbolism revolves around these traditional focal points of Jewish life, all of which now somehow point to Jesus.

If Jesus is, in the Gospel’s view, the ultimate revealer of who God is and what God means, a reader might think it possible to convey the content of that revelation in a clear and succinct way. The Gospel, however, refuses to conform to that expectation. For much of its carefully wrought narrative, it cycles back, time and again to Jesus as the content as well as the conveyor of revelation. It reinforces this insistence on Jesus as revealer in a dramatic way by insisting that it is through his death on the cross that the revelation takes place.  That is the moment of his paradoxical “glorification,” in which he draws all people to himself and therefore to his Father.

Yet what Jesus reveals is not simply the fact that he reveals. In the latter half of the gospel, from chapter 13 through the account of the Passion and Resurrection, Jesus does reveal God’s love, by his example, by explicit command, and by traditional proverb. In Jesus, claims, the gospel, is revealed the love that God has for the whole world. That love is, moreover, manifest in the absence of Jesus by the presence of his spirit in the community created by his resurrection, a community in which forgiveness is the norm.

The Gospel’s reflection on the significance of Christ is couched in a literary form that combines simplicity of expression with consummate literary artistry. Conventions of Greek rhetoric and drama appear alongside techniques of scriptural interpretation known from contemporary Jewish sources. Some elements of the Gospel evoke the piety of sectarians such as the Jews who produced the Dead Sea Scrolls. Other elements evoke the philosophical sophistication of Jews like Philo of Alexandria (40 b.c.e. – 40 c.e.), who combined a piety focused on Jewish scripture with deep familiarity with Plato and the Stoic philosophers.

This intricate reflection on the meaning of the life, death and teaching of Jesus was composed some time in the latter half of the first century. Most scholars argue for a date later in the century or even early in the second century. The text may well have been the product of community reflection over time, although it is too easy a theory to explain away tensions in the text as results of editorial activity.

Tradition identifies the unknown author as the disciple of Jesus, John the son of Zebedee. He may lurk behind the figure of the Beloved Disciple who appears four times in the text, but the identification is not explicit. The character of the Beloved Disciple plays some clearly literary roles, whether or not there was a historical figure who inspired the account.

The circumstances in which the Gospel was written are also a subject of speculation. In its canonical shape, the gospel may, as tradition suggests, have been composed in Asia Minor, in an environment where followers of Jesus and more traditional Jews competed for attention and adherents. Whatever its initial audience, the text has constantly challenged and inspired Christian readers to reflect on their own commitment to God and to his Word Incarnate.

Further Reading:

Basic:

Harold W. Attridge, “Johannine Christianity,” in Margaret M. Mitchell and

Frances M. Young, eds., The Cambridge History of Christianity, Vol. 1: Origins to Constantine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) 125-44 [PDF or hard copy available.]

David L. Bartlett, “Interpreting and Preaching the Gospel of John ,”Interpretation 60,1 (January 2006) 48-63.

Raymond Brown, The Community of the Beloved Disciple (New York: Paulist Press, 1979)

More challenging:

Harold W. Attridge, “Genre Bending in the Fourth Gospel,” Journal of Biblical Literature 121 (2002) 3-21.

 

 

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The Gospel of John

I. Prologue

Like the “hypothesis” that introduces an ancient Greek drama, the Prologue to the Gospel introduces important themes that run through the Gospel. The opposition of light and darkness sets the stage for the dramatic confrontations that drive the plot. The promise of new birth, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of man” holds out a hope of new life. The reference to God’s creative word offers a cosmic framework for understanding the significance of Jesus and provides the readers information that the characters in the text do not share, a situation that is ripe with dramatic irony. What many view as the central affirmation of the Prologue, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” (v. 14) provides a model of “incarnation” that shaped much of the Christian theological tradition that struggled to understand the relationship of Jesus to God. The conclusion of the prologue articulates nicely what it is that the evangelist thinks that Jesus does: he “explains” who God is. He is the “Revealer” par excellence.

Much of the prologue is in quasi-poetic form, with clauses in balanced parallelism, interconnected in a climactic fashion by key words that build in climactic fashion. Between sections so structured there are elements that have a more prosaic quality. These contain references to John the Baptist, who will dominate the first scene of the Gospel as the first witness to Jesus and the Spirit that dwells in him.

Further Reading:

Basic:

Peder Borgen, “‘Logos was the True Light’: Contributions to the Interpretation of the Prologue of John,” Novum Testamentum 14 (1972) 115-130, repr. in David E. Orton, The Composition of John’s Gospel: Selected Studies from Novum Testamentum (Leiden/Boston/Cologne: Brill, 1999) 107-22.

John Ashton, “The Transformation of Wisdom: A Study of John’s Prologue,” NTS 32 (1986) 161-86.

More challenging:

Thomas Tobin, “The Prologue of John and Hellenistic Jewish Speculation,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52 (1990) 252-69. Available as HTML: < http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=4&hid=2&sid=6b511cc0- e6e3-4720-94bf-b13145a90afd%40SRCSM1> and on ATLA < http://search.atlaonline.com/pls/eli/ashow?aid=ATLA0000827654>

Questions for Reading:

  1. In the reference to “In the beginning” is there a recollection of Genesis? Are there other such recollections in the Prologue?
  2. What do the metaphors of “light” and “life” evoke?
  3. Would you characterize the Prologue as “poetic”? If so, why?
  4. Is there a climactic moment in the Prologue? If so, where?
  5. What does the expression “grace upon grace” in v 17 convey?

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What does the image of the divine “Word” convey?
  2. What kinds of distinctions are being drawn in the reference to different kinds of “birth”?
  3. How does the Prologue function in connection with the narrative that follows?
  4. Does it introduce themes that run through the text? If so, where are they found? Are there elements of the Prologue that do not appear later in the text?
  5. Some interpreters have argued that the Prologue represents Jesus as a “revealer” who explains who God us. How do we understand “revelation”?
  6. What is the key affirmation about Christ in the Prologue?

 

 

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The Gospel of John

II. Nicodemus

A striking encounter by night evokes images of a painting by Carrevagio, with a dramatic contrast between darkness and light. Nicodemus, a respected Pharisaic elder, comes to Jesus, perhaps out of conviction, perhaps out of curiosity. He may evoke the stance of many of the Jewish interlocutors of the evangelist. In his dialogue with Jesus he encounters a mysterious answer to his curiosity. Jesus tells him that he must be “born again/from above” (the Greek word anothen means both). Misunderstanding this utterance in the crudest, material form, a puzzled Nicodemus evokes further responses from Jesus that point the way in which heavenly “rebirth” occurs, by focusing with eyes that truly see on a sight that heals, the Son of Man “lifted up” like the serpent in the desert at the time of the Exodus. Through that experience, and perhaps through a ritual action (water and the spirit), a human life can be transformed, light can break into darkness.

Further Reading:

Basic:

Patricia Farris, “Late Night Seminar,” Christian Century 119.3 (2002) 19 ATLA <http://search.atlaonline.com/pls/eli/ashow?aid=ATLA0001285753>

More challenging:

Alan Culpepper, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983) 99-148.

Questions for Reading:

  1. What do you make of the setting of the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus?
  2. Is there any significance to the description of Nicodemus as a teacher of Israel?
  3. Where do the breaks in the chapter occur? When do we begin to hear the voice of the narrator?
  4. What does the image of the “son of Man” likened to the serpent on the staff of Moses convey?

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What is the role of misunderstanding between Jesus and Nicodemus?
  2. What is the relationship between “water” and “spirit” in the discourse? How do these terms relate to other treatments of “water” and “spirit” in the gospel?

 

 

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The Gospel of John

III. A Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well

A setting in Samaria evokes one of the major religio-ethnic divisions of the day in the Land of Israel. The animosity between Judeans and Samaritans is well known to readers of the New Testament, especially of the Gospel of Luke and its parable of the “Good Samaritan.” The scene also evokes the shared heritage of Judeans and Samaritans. Both look to their ancestor Jacob (= Israel, the man who saw God), whose well is the focal point of story. To that well comes a tired Jesus, left by his disciples who are off finding a meal. He is joined by an unnamed woman of Samaria who has come to fetch water. The dialogue between them has some of the same dramatic features as the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, different layers of meaning and dramatic misunderstanding about the nature of “living water” that can permanently quench thirst. Such metaphors evoke traditional language of the Jewish Wisdom tradition, that equated true teaching with food and drink and the Gospel resolutely builds on that tradition.

But more is at work in this carefully crafted story. The encounter at the well recalls the many stories in the Pentateuch were a patriarch encounters his future wife at a well. The scene is erotically charged for anyone familiar with that Biblical background. Here, however, the erotic is transformed. Jesus, who according to convention, should be the suitor, becomes the sought. The woman, who has a checkered marital past, falls in love anew with a person who reveals to her who she really is. Jesus, like Aristotle’s god, moves by being an object of desire, and the woman becomes not a lover on the physical level, but an emissary of her new love, brining to him the people of Samaria.

The One whom she serves and the One reflected in the thirsty Jesus is, as Jesus says, Spirit, who wants all to worship him in spirit and in truth.

Further Reading:

Basic:

Jo-Ann A. Brant, “Husband Hunting: Characterization and Narrative Art in the Gospel of John,” Biblical Interpretation 4 (1996) 205-23

More challenging:

Harold. W. Attridge, “The Cubist Principle in Johannine Imagery: John and the Reading of Images in Contemporary Platonism,” in Jörg Frey, Jan G. van der Watt, Ruben Zimmermann, eds., with the collaboration of Gabi Kern, Imagery in the Gospel of John. Terms, Forms, Themes and Theology of Figurative Language (WUNT; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2006).

Stephen D. Moore, Poststructuralism and the New Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1994), 43-62

Questions for Reading:

  1. What stories from the Old Testament does the reference to Jacob’s well evoke?
  2. What were the relations between Jews and Samaritans? Do other stories from the Gospels or Acts tell you anything about the subject?
  3. How does the ironic disconnect between Jesus and the woman work? How are they each understanding “living water”?
  4. What does “worship in spirit and truth” suggest?
  5. Does the presence or absence of the disciples of Jesus contribute anything to the story?

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What is the relationship between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman?
  2. Does the character of the woman develop in the course of the story?
  3. In the light of the negative comments in the Gospel about “the Jews” as  enemies of Jesus, what do you make of the remark that “salvation is from the Jews”?
  4. Does the prominence accorded to the Samaritan woman, as woman, reflect a concern of the Gospel generally? What do you think of its treatment of women?
  5. What do you make of the “erotic” dimension of the scene and the “relationship” between Jesus and the woman?

 

 

 

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The Gospel of John

IV. The Bread of Life

John tells a pair of miracle stories familiar from the Synoptic gospels: Jesus feeds a hungry crowd with few loaves of bread and a few fish. Then, in crossing over the Sea of Galilee, he stills a sudden storm, showing a divine mastery over the elements. These deeds evoke among some bystanders an expectation about the royal role of Jesus, something that he assiduously avoids. In telling that tale of the miracles and the reaction of people to them, the evangelist seems to suggest a critical attitude toward “signs” of the Messianic status of Jesus. The miracles attributed to him can easily be construed as proofs or tokens of a belief about Jesus that is not true. The “signs” that point to the significance of Jesus need to be properly understood.

These stories, apparently well known and loved by early Christians, had already suggested deeper layers of meaning. The account of Jesus’ action in multiplying the loaves in Mark already evokes the ritual actions of Christians in their common meal, at which they remembered the death of the Lord until he returned again (See 1 Corinthians 11). John therefore builds on what probably was already a way of reading the stories by turning the first into a discourse by Jesus on true “bread from heaven.”

Jesus remarks begin, like a Jewish homily, with a citation from scripture (Ps 78:24), each element of which receives a new interpretation. Not “bread from heaven” but Jesus himself is the “bread of life.” It is not Moses, but God who gives, and it is not a past act, but something in the present, in the here and now in which true sustenance is to be found. As often in the Jewish interpretation of scripture, another scriptural text plays a role in finding new meaning in a text. Isaiah 54:13, cited at John 6:45 helps to build the case that “eating” the “bread from heaven” is really a matter of being taught the truth.

The discourse takes an unexpected turn when in v 51 and following the focus shifts to the “bread” that is to be eaten in a physical sense and the “blood” that is to be drunk. The allusion seems to be at once to the Christian practice of the eucharist and to the death of Jesus, which that eucharist memorialized and celebrated.

Further Reading:

Basic:

Gail R. O’Day, “John 6:1-15,” Interpretation 57 (2003) 196-98 <http://search.atlaonline.com/pls/eli/ashow?aid=ATLA0001348906>

Or

Gail R. O’Day, “John 6:15–21: Jesus Walking on Water as Narrative Embodiment of Johannine Christology,” in Culpepper, Critical Readings, 149–60.

More challenging:

Joseph Grassi, “Eating Jesus’ Flesh and Drinking His Blood: The Centrality and Meaning of John 6:51-58,” Biblical Theology Bulletin 17 (1987) 24-30

Wayne A. Meeks, “The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism,” in Hilton and Snyder, ed. In Search of the Early Christians (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002) 59-90.

Questions for Reading:

  1. What do you make of the attitude of the crowds to Jesus and his miracles
  2. Are there significant differences between this account of the miracle stories and their parallels in the Synoptic gospels?

Questions for Reflection:

  1. In what sense does Jesus become the “bread of life”?
  2. Is there a tension between a metaphorical and literal sense “eating” him?
  3. What kinds of community experience might lie behind the discourse?

 

 

 

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The Gospel of John

V. Man Born Blind

This is one of those stories in John’s Gospel that seems to give us a picture, not only of Jesus’ ministry but of the development of the church in John’s time and community. The text reflects tension between the new community of messianic Jews (the Christians) and the traditional Mosaic Jews. The dispute between the man born blind and his interlocutors may well reflect a dispute between those who believe in Christ as God’s Messiah and those who think that he is an imposter and a fraud.

Notice how the story unfolds as a kind of drama. Characters exit and enter the scene. There is conflict, crisis and resolution. After the leaders of the synagogue cast the blind man out, Jesus seeks him out. For John’s Gospel true sight, true faith seems always to involve both the courage of the believer and the goodness of Christ who seeks the believer.

Notice how the blind man’s understanding of Jesus deepens as the story progresses. Is this a clue to the way the Gospel understands the growth of faith?

And notice how the judgment that Jesus pronounces at the end is judgment for here and now, not just for the future.

Further Reading:

Basic:

John Painter, “John 9 and the Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 28 (1986) 31–61.

More challenging:

Louis Martyn, “Glimpses into the History of the Johannine Community,” in History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (3rd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003) 145-167.

Questions for Reading:

  1. “Blindness,” like thirst and hunger, can have metaphorical senses. What is the major thrust of the use of the motif here?
  2. How does the story progress? What does the man born blind know at the end of the story that he doesn’t get during the story?

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Do the references to tensions between the healed man and his community reflect elements in the history of the Johannine community? In any religious community?
  2. What does Jesus tell about the nature of sin and suffering in his response to the disciples question about “who sinned?” (Jn 9: 2-3) How does that relate to the opponents claim about Jesus that he is not from God and the blind man’s defense that Jesus is no sinner (Jn. 9:16-17).

 

 

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The Gospel of John

VI. Lazarus

In many ways this is the climax of John’s Gospel. It is the most spectacular of Jesus’ signs, and it is the impetus for growing opposition to Jesus on the part of the religious leaders.

Like other narratives in John’s Gospel it provides the opportunity for dialogues (between Jesus and Mary and especially between Jesus and Martha). The dialogues provide the opportunity for Jesus to tutor the sisters in the deeper realities of faith.

It seems that Martha, especially, represents a traditional belief in the resurrection of the dead as a promise for the Last Day. Jesus does not deny this future aspect of resurrection, but even more he insists that he is the resurrection and the life, right in the present.

In some ways Jesus seems very human in this story, but in other ways his reaction is strange (notice how he delays going to comfort the sisters). Some scholars have thought that in John’s Gospel Jesus is more nearly superhuman than human, and this is one of those stories that invites us to think about that question.

Further Reading:

Basic:

Francis J., Moloney, “The Faith of Martha and Mary: A Narrative Approach to John 11,17-40,” Biblica 75 (1994) 471-93

More challenging:

William Wuellner, “Putting Life Back into the Lazarus Story and Its Reading: The Narrative Rhetoric of John 11 as the Narration of Faith,” Semeia 53 (1991) 113–132.

Questions for Reading:

  1. Is there a progressive understanding on Martha’s part in her dialogue with
  2. What does this gospel mean when it talks about the glory of God?
  3. What is the role of “the Jews” in this story? Are they presented more sympathetically here than in the story of the man born blind, for example?

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Do Mary and Martha represent two different responses to Jesus? If so how do they differ?
  2. In this passage, Jesus displays considerable emotion. How does that affect your understanding of his character in this gospel?
  3. What finally does “resurrection” mean in the eyes of John? Is it primarily a future hope or a contemporary experience?

 

 

 

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The Gospel of John

VII. The Last Supper

We do not know for sure whether John knew the story of the Last Supper as we find it in the synoptic gospels and in 1 Corinthians 11. However there is considerable evidence that John had some understanding of Christ’s presence and power in some kind of eucharist—look at John 6, and the reference to the vine in John 15, and—written perhaps a little later than the rest of the gospel—the resurrection meal in John 21.

Therefore what strikes us here is that in his account of the Last Supper John says nothing about the institution of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper. The disciples are there; a meal is served; Judas gets ready to betray his master.

But instead of the words about the bread and wine we get another highly symbolic act—the washing of the disciples’ feet—and a command: that they serve one another in the same way.

It may be that the footwashing is a reminder of another fundamental rite of Christian belief—baptism. (See the references to water in the Nicodemus story of Chapter 3 and the blood and water that flow from Jesus’ side in John 19:34).

What is quite clear is that the act of footwashing provides the opportunity for Jesus to declare John’s own version of the great commandment: “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, that you love one another.” (Jn. 13:34)

Notice too that the story of the Last Supper continues for three more chapters as Jesus prepares the disciples for life after he leaves—life with the Spirit he will send.

Further Reading:

Basic:

Frances Taylor Gench, “The Anointing and Washing of Feet” in Encounters with Jesus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007) 94-105.

More challenging:

Harold W. Attridge, “The Restless Quest for the Beloved Disciple,” in David Warren, Ann Graham Brock, and David W. Pao., eds., Early Christian Voices: In Texts, Traditions, and Symbols: Essays in Honor of Francois Bovon (BIS 66; Leiden: Brill, 2003) 71-80.

Jerome H. Neyrey, S. J., “The Footwashing in John 13:6–11: Transformation Ritual or Ceremony?” in L. Michael White and O. Larry Yarbrough, eds., The Social World of the First Christians: Essays in Honor of Wayne A. Meeks (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995) 198–213

Questions for Reading:

  1. How does the story of the foot washing relate to the command to love one another at the end of chapter 13?
  2. What is the role of Peter in this story? Of Judas?

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What do you make of the lack of any account of the “eucharist” in the story of the Last Supper?
  2. Where does the emphasis in the story lie?
  3. Is there a difference between Jesus’ stress here on loving one another and the command in the synoptics to love not only the neighbor but the enemy?

 

 

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The Gospel of John

VIII. Death and Resurrection

Throughout this gospel Jesus has been pointing ahead to his crucifixion. Very often John refers to Jesus’ death as his glorification (7:39; 12:16,23; 13:21,17:1). Whereas in Matthew and Mark Jesus dies crying of abandonment and in Luke Jesus dies commending his spirit to God, in John’s Gospel Jesus dies with a cry of triumph: “It is finished! It is accomplished! We win. From the beginning of the Gospel (maybe from the beginning, period) Jesus mission has been to come from the Father, declare the Father and return to the Father. When he is lifted up on the cross he begins the return home.

If Jesus mission is finished in chapter 19, we wonder why he returns in chapter 20. Of course this is in part because John knows and believes the traditions of Jesus’ resurrection appearances. But it is also the case that the appearances to Mary Magdalene, to the gathered disciples and then to Thomas provide the opportunity for Jesus to show the significance of his triumph for the ongoing life of the church. In different ways Mary Magdalene and Thomas provide the transition from the early disciples who could see to a new generation who will know Jesus because they hear and because they believe.

To Thomas is given the punch line of the gospel—the climactic affirmation toward which our whole story has been moving: “My Lord and my God!.” God’s own Word, made flesh and now glorified again.

Further Reading:

Basic:

Raymond E. Brown, “The Resurrection in John 20–A Series of Diverse Reactions,” Worship 64 (1990) 194–206.

Frances Taylor Gench, “Encounters with the Risen Lord” in Encounters with Jesus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2007) 128-141

More challenging:

Harold W. Attridge, “Don’t be Touching Me: Recent Feminist Scholarship on Mary Magdalene,” in A.-J. Levine, ed., A Feminist Companion to John (2003) 2.140-166.

Questions for Reading:

  1. Take a few minutes to compare the story of the crucifixion in John’s Gospel with that in Mark’s Gospel. What differences do you see, and what might explain these differences?
  2. Throughout John’s Gospel we have noted a number of scenes in which the evangelist helps show us what faith looks like and how the reader might grow in faith. What does faith look like in these resurrection stories…and are there clues for how the readers, too, might grow?

Questions for Reflection:

  1. The Gospel has frequently pointed to the cross as the central event in the story of Jesus. How does the story of the crucifixion relate to the stories of the resurrection and the appearances of Jesus?
  2. What is the role of the disciples of Jesus in the story? Of Mary Magdalene, of Peter, of the Beloved Disciple, of Thomas?