Sunday, September 21, 2008

IVP "Black Dictionary" on the Gospel of John

John, Gospel of in The IVP Dictionary of the New Testament: A One-Volume Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship [originally published in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels]. pp. 566-83.

This entry was written by Marianne Meye Thompson, the George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament (Fuller Theological Seminary). One of the great values of Bible dictionaries is the opportunity to be introduced to new authors. I have been trying to broaden my reading habits by introducing myself to new authors, and the IVP dictionaries have been a great help in this regard. M. M. Thompson is a new name to me and I was initially curious to know more about whom she is and what contribution(s) she has made in the field of Johannine studies. On her faculty page, Thompson identifies the Gospel of John as one of her areas of expertise. To date she has written a handful of articles on or related to the Gospel of John as well as the following books:
  • The God of the Gospel of John. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001. 296 pages. [Amazon | CBD // Google Book Search | A "must read" Review by Andreas J. Köstenberger posted at Biblical Foundations]
  • The Humanity of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988. [Amazon]
Note, also, her contributions in these books:
  • Introducing the New Testament by Paul J. Achtemeier, Joel B. Green and Marianne Meye Thompson. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2001. 544 pages. [Amazon | CBD]
  • The Promise of the Father: Jesus and God in the New Testament. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000. 200 pages. [Amazon | CBD]
Unlike the DOT:WPW which splits up the book articles (see my review here), it appears that the earlier dictionaries offer one lengthy article for each book. The article on the Gospel of John covers the following sub-topics:
  1. Origin of John
  2. Structure of John
  3. Genre and Character of John
  4. Theology of John
Section 1, Origin of John, is subdivided into three sub-sections:
1.1. Authorship
1.2. Date and Place
1.3. The Life Setting and Purpose of the Gospel.
Thompson makes it very clear that this Gospel, along with many other ancient documents, is anonymous. The attribution of this Gospel to John, the son of Zebedee, is a product of both External Evidence (1.1.1.) and Internal Evidence (1.1.2.). Thompson evaluates all of the evidence, repeatedly reminds the reader that most of it is ambiguous at best, and settles for a position that sees the Beloved Disciple as a witness to the teachings of Jesus, but not an eyewitness. Furthermore, Thompson holds that the Beloved Disciple is not at all the author of this Gospel, but rather that one of the Beloved Disciple's disciples "preserved, shaped and interpreted the witness of his master, the Beloved Disciple" (568).

This is a non-traditional position, at best, among evangelical scholarship. Carson and Moo deal with the issues surrounding the authorship of the Gospel of John in their An Introduction to the New Testament (2nd edition; also in French), which presents the majority position among conservative evangelicals. I would also recommend Andreas J. Köstenberger's dealing with this issue in Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John's Gospel (NSBT, IVP, 2008 [WTS | Amazon | CBD]) and in a brief post on his blog entitled "Who Wrote John's Gospel?".
I understand that the following two titles are of significant help here, too:
  • Andreas J. Köstenberger, "Early Doubts of the Apostolic Authorship of the Fourth Gospel in the History of Modern Biblical Criticism," in Studies in John and Gender: A Decade of Scholarship (New York: Peter Lang, 2001), pp. 17-47 [Amazon | Eisenbrauns]
  • Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel: Issues and Commentary (Downers Grove: IVP, 2002) [WTS | Amazon | CBD]
With regard to the date of the Gospel, Thompson offers the available options and interacts with the work of J. A. T. Robinson, but seems to settle with those who place the date of the Gospel after A.D. 85.

Building upon the repeated contrasts and conflicts presented in the Gospel between "the Jews" and Christians, and the thrice repeated mention of "expulsion from the synagogue (Jn 9:22; 12:42; 16:2)" (569), Thompson argues that the Life Setting of this Gospel has to do with "second-generation and subsequent believers who were not eyewitnesses" who "had experienced hostile conflict with the Jews of the synagogue, to the point of ostracism and alienation" (570). Further, Thompson identifies the purpose of this Gospel: "to tell the story of Jesus in such a way that his identity as Messiah and Son of God is made known to later generations" (571). In other words, Thompson does not view this Gospel as being intentionally "evangelistic" but rather as intending "to encourage and strengthen believers in their faith in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God" (570).

Section 2, Structure of John, will prove to be extremely helpful in sermon preparation. Since "Context is King!" it is necessary to know where one's text falls in the logic of the book. Some readers may find Thompson's reliance upon editorial theories to be troublesome, but a discerning reader will be able to manage these references by ignoring the speculation. The greatest value in this section is the careful identification of each major section and sub-section within the Gospel. This opened up the Gospel to me and prepared me well for reading through Köstenberger's Father, Son and Spirit.

Section 3, Genre and Character of John, unfolds the many differences and similarities between the Gospel of John and the Synoptics. Thompson carefully charts the content, vocabulary and chronology. Thompson concludes this informative section by highlighting the fact that the Gospel of John emphasizes the Messiahship of Jesus and by arguing that "John is independent of the other Gospels" (573). Thompson upholds the historical reliability of the Gospel of John and compares its style to the epistles of Paul:
In many respects, John is like one of the Pauline epistles, interpreting the meaning of Jesus' life and death in terms and categories that were not typical or characteristic of Jesus. (574)
The final section is the most lengthy and most helpful to the expositor: 4. Theology of John. Thompson begins with the Gospel's most distinctive theological feature, namely, Christology. Throughout this section Thompson identifies the key titles (Word/Logos, God, "I Am", Son of God, Messiah, Son of Man, and Prophet), surveys the Gospel's usage of these titles, connects them with other significant portions of Scripture, as well as other ANE texts. (Note: Köstenberger's Father, Son and Spirit, moves beyond Christology in the Gospel of John to a full survey of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Following Christology, Thompson draws out the Gospel's interplay between signs and faith. Thompson argues that "A sign is thus properly understood when it is seen as pointing to God's work through the person of Jesus to effect salvation" (578).

Closely associated with signs and faith is the Gospel's presentation of salvation. Thompson identifies the key verse regarding salvation as John 17:3. On the basis of this text, Thompson outlines three elements of the Johannine theology of salvation:
  1. Salvation is restated as "eternal life," "a term found in the Synoptic Gospels but not nearly so it is here in John" (579)
  2. "Eternal life is something that one has in the present" (579)
  3. The Gospel of John emphasizes "the cognitive dimension of salvation:" knowing, seeing, understanding. [Note: Köstenberger takes note of this issue in his review of Thompson's The God of the Gospel of John. The present article is much earlier than the reviewed book. Köstenberger's remarks give me the idea that Thompson has made significant advancements upon some of her views presented in this article.]
Finally, Thompson closes this article with a survey of the Johannine theology of The Community and the Paraclete. Regarding the popular translation of parakletos as "Comforter," Thompson finds this to be inadequate. Rather, the Gospel presents the Paraklete as an accuser of the world and as a teacher to the disciples. Regarding the community, Thompson shows how John contrasts the Christian community to the world (kosmos). "The church's role vis-à-vis the world is to bear witness to the truth through its proclamation and example in order that the world may know its guilt, repent and come to the light and be saved" (582).

I have also noticed that in the Bibliography, whereas the DOT:WPW displays the author names in bold, the IVPDNT: One-Volume does not. Switching to names in bold was a very helpful move!

The key commentaries cited are as follows:
  • C. K. Barrett (1978)
  • G. R. Beasley-Murray (1987) WBC
  • R. E. Brown (1966) AB
  • F. F. Bruce (1983)
  • R. Bultmann (1971)
  • D. A. Carson (1991) PNTC
  • E. C. Hoskyns (1947)
  • B. Lindars (1981) NCB
  • J. R. Michaels (1984)
  • L. Morris (1970) NICNT
  • R. Schnackenburg (1980, 1982)
  • B. F. Westcott (1881; rpt, 1980)
The selection is great, but there have been a number of fine commentaries published since 1991, such as the following:
  • A. J. Köstenberger (2004) BECNT
  • G. M. Burge (2000) NIVAC
  • C. S. Keener (2003)
  • R. H. Mounce (2005) REBC
  • H. Ridderbos (1997)
  • C. G. Kruse (2004) TNTC
  • A. T. Lincoln (2005) BNTC

Thompson's article is definitely written from a conservative-critical perspective. At times her critical eye may overwhelm the more conservative student, however, patience and a willingness to read with discernment will allow the student to mine a great deal of usefulness out of this article. The amount of detail and discussion Thompson was able to pack into this article is fantastic. It serves as a very helpful introduction to the Gospel of John. However, the article, originally published in 1992, is now dated. I hope to see subsequent revised editions of these dictionaries in the near future.