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Citation for John: Reading the Book

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Senior, Donald and Pheme Perkins. "John." In The Catholic Study Bible. Oxford Biblical Studies Online. Sep 29, 2020. <http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780195282801/obso-9780195282801-div1-128>.


Senior, Donald and Pheme Perkins. "John." In The Catholic Study Bible. Oxford Biblical Studies Online, http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780195282801/obso-9780195282801-div1-128 (accessed Sep 29, 2020).

Reading through John

In reading John, we must be sensitive to the use of symbols, irony, and misunderstanding. The characters who interact with Jesus in the story are at different levels of understanding as to who Jesus is. The disciples begin with faith that Jesus fulfills the messianic promises to Israel, but this faith is not yet knowledge of Jesus as the revelation of God. Their faith must be completed by the post‐Resurrection process of coming to understand Jesus, the perspective which the evangelist shares with the readers ( 16, 25 ). Jewish sympathizers and the crowds have a vague idea that Jesus might be “from God” or even be the Messiah. John often divides the opinions of the crowd in two. One opinion is wrong or literal‐minded; the other is partially correct ( 12, 27–29 ). Unlike the Jewish crowds, who sometimes accept Jesus, John also uses the expression “the Jews” to represent religious authorities hostile to Jesus. They reject all testimony to the truth that Jesus comes from God, and they are the ones responsible for his death.

Signs and Faith in the Fourth Gospel

The symbolic perspective influences John's account of miracles (see introduction). Taken literally, they cannot lead a person to faith ( 2, 23–25 ), but seen as “signs” pointing to Jesus' identity with God, his “glory” ( 2, 11 ), they may serve as the beginning point for faith. John embeds four of the miracles in discourses, which interpret their symbolic meaning. The symbols of life, light, and bread point to Jesus as the source of eternal life for all who believe.

Today, people continue to wonder whether they should “believe in miracles.” There is no doubt that Jesus was well known for his ability to heal. The Gospels insist that Jesus used his healing power to bring people closer to God. He never used miracles to enrich himself or to gain popularity. Even though miracles can be a sign that God is working through Jesus, they can also be a trap. Sometimes people think they can bargain with God. If God will just heal them of disease or help them out of a jam, then they will become faithful Christians. John reminds us that our faith is not based on miracles. Our relationship with God is based on what Jesus has shown us about God's love for the world. It is not wrong to seek healing through prayer. Sometimes God will express love by a miraculous healing, but we should not think that miracles are anything more than a small sign of God's greatness.

Dualism in the Fourth Gospel

The Gospel uses a number of dualistic expressions, such as light/dark, life/death, from above (heavenly)/from below (earthly), not judged/ condemned. They illuminate a process of division that occurs within the story. Persons confronted with Jesus' word either believe and become children of God who will inherit eternal life, or they reject Jesus and are condemned by God. This dualism gives John a certain harshness. There is no middle ground between belief and unbelief ( 12, 44–50 ). Believers are united with Jesus and the Father. They may even experience the larger world as hostile ( 15, 1–27 ). Dualistic imagery and a negative picture of the nonbelieving world often appears in sectarian groups. The notes in the NAB point out significant parallels between Johannine symbols and those used by the sectarian Jewish community at Qumran.

Belief and Eternal Life

Christians usually think of salvation or eternal life as a reward that comes in the future when they join Jesus in heaven ( 14, 2f; 17, 24 ) or when Jesus returns to judge the world ( 5, 27–29 ). John retains this traditional language but introduces a new perspective on salvation. Belief brings persons into unity with Jesus. Therefore, they can be spoken of as already having passed through death to life ( 5, 24–26; 3, 16–21 ). Those who reject Jesus are already condemned. Judgment really occurs when Jesus, who has come into the world as light, is accepted or rejected. Though various witnesses provide testimony—the Baptist, Scripture, and the deeds which Jesus does—the believer must accept Jesus' word about God. Only Jesus comes from heaven to reveal God ( 3, 31–36 ).

Jesus as God in the Fourth Gospel

The Gospel presents Jesus “from above” by identifying him with the Word, which is always present to God and through which God created the world ( 1, 1–5 ). John defends the claim that Jesus is equal to God in functional terms: (1) Jesus makes God known; (2) Jesus exercises functions attributed to God, giving life and judging; (3) humans ought to respond to Jesus with the honor appropriate to God. John also emphasizes the special Father/Son relationship between Jesus and God. Jesus is obedient to the mission the Father has given him. Jesus' death will be a sign of God's love for humanity. The disputes between Jesus and “the Jews” (chapters 5–12 ) turn on the issue of Jesus' relationship to God. This section ends with the ironic fact that Jesus' opponents seek to kill the source of life.

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