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The Christology of the Fourth Gospel: Its Unity and Disunity in the Light of John 6.

This work is a revised and expanded version of a doctoral thesis written under the supervision of John Riches at The University of Glasgow.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I contains an analytic survey of research on the Christology of the Fourth Gospel and of approaches to the question of unity and disunity of John 6. Part II continues the discussion of the problem of the unity and disunity of John 6, and deals with the aspects of stylistic unity and disunity, of the relationship between sign and discourse, Of the question of a eucharistic interpolation, and of the dialectical character of the chapter. In Part III Anderson presents his own interpretation of John 6. He states that John 6:I-24 is not an attesting miracle, but a `testing' sign, John 6:25-66 is an exhortation of the `Two Ways', and finally, the main idea of 6:67-71 is the returning of the `Keys of the Kingdom' to Jesus. In the Introduction the options relative to John's christological unity and disunity are identified. The Conclusion of the book carries the metaphoric heading `On "Seamless Robes" ... and "Left-Over Fragments"'. Some appendices are added. The book has a systematized bibliography followed by indexes of references, names and themes.

In the Foreword, Professor D. Moody Smith has characterized the dissertation as `at once one of the most concentrated and intensive exegetical studies and one of the most wide-ranging and suggestive essays on Johannine Christology that I have seen'. Anderson states that the `purpose of this work is to explore the origins and character of the unity and disunity of John's Christology'. The tension within john's Christology has many facets; there seem to be both elevated and subordinationistic Christologies. Regarding the signs, they are, on the one hand used to evoke faith; on the other hand the evangelist blesses that faith which is independent of the need to see miraculous signs. There is, moreover, a tension between present and futuristic eschatologies.

Focus is placed upon the interrelationship between one's view of John's Christology and one's assessment of the literary structure of the Gospel. One approach which takes into consideration a variety of these issues is the critical source analysis suggested by Rudolf Bultmann. He ascribes the christological tensions to literary sources. The Christology of the Offenbarungsreden-source is that of a Gnostic Redeemer-myth; the Christology of the signs-source is that of the theios aner; the evangelist incorporates other christological emphases, but he believes that the existential significance of Jesus' words and works is the priority of faith; finally, the Christology of the redactor reflects his ecclesiastical concerns. He therefore adds sacramental and futuristic themes.

The interplay between christological ideas and Bultmann's source analysis is seen in his exegesis of John 6. From the signs source there are the feeding of the five thousand and the walking on the water; from the Offenbarungsreden-source there are the Bread of Life discourses and other material, and the redactor added the `eucharistic interpolation' and the futuristic eschatology of the last day.

Anderson agrees with P. Borgen, R. E. Brown, B. Lindars and others, who have demonstrated that the Johannine Bread of Life Discourse is a written record of early Christian homily (or homilies) expanding on the meaning of the feeding for later audiences. Nevertheless, according to Anderson, analyses of the unity and disunity of John 6 must wrestle centrally with Bultmann's treatment of it; he has identified unevennesses in the text and theological tensions with such sensitivity that these interpretive insights provide fundamental material for alternative constructs. Anderson's own thesis is that because the Johannine Bread of Life Discourse is an exhortative, homiletical unit which connects the ministry of Jesus with ongoing crises affecting the Johannine community of faith, an investigation into the rhetorical thrust of its message will illumine the evangelist's understanding of the Johannine situation and of its evolving context.

Some points from Anderson's interpretation of John 6 need to be outlined. A comparison with the synoptic parallels of the feeding miracle and jesus' appearance on the sea suggests that the evangelist in John 6: I -24 enters into a dialogue with his tradition. The section betrays the literary characteristics of an oral tradition reproduced in written form. The underlying Christology of John 6 is the Prophet-like-Moses-Christology based on Deut. 18: 15-24. The evangelist understands the motivation behind Jesus' action to be one of `testing' Philip and others, and this motif runs throughout the rest of the chapter. A new literary unit begins in John 6:25 ff. Here the initiative passes from Jesus as the agent of God to his audience. John 6:25-66 may be considered the exhortation of the `two ways', as responses to Jesus' words and works are sketched in terms of food which perishes and food which endures into life eternal (v. 27). The questions and statements of the crowd, the Jews and the disciples together with Jesus' responses involve the effective use of irony by the evangelist. Parallel to Psalm 78(LXX77), the manna motif is used by the crowd in John 6 as a secondary text, a rhetorical trump, in order to convince Jesus to provide more barley loaves. Jesus `over-trumps' the highest card of his discussants, however, by describing the manna as inferior and death-producing in contrast to the life-producing Bread, which Jesus gives and is.

The misunderstanding dialogues between Jesus and the discussers betray three aspects of a crisis within Johannine Christianity: (a) the obsolescence of the synoptic (Petrine) interpretation of the feeding and sea-crossing narratives; (b) the struggle between the Johannine community and the Synagogue; (c) the centrifugal consequences of docetizing tendencies within Johannine Christianity. The evangelist appeals for solidarity with Jesus and his followers in the face of persecution. To participate in the resurrection one must also share in Jesus' suffering and death, and figuratively 'eat and drink the flesh and blood of the suffering Son of Man'.

In John 6:67 Jesus again assumes the initiative, and this evokes a response from the disciples. Comparing the function of Peter's answer in John 6 with the function of his confession in Matthew 16:16-19 a contrast appears. According to Matthew, Jesus gives Peter the keys of the kingdom, while Peter, according to John, returns the authority (the `keys') to Jesus. Thus the means of Christocracy is not the succession of Jesus by Peter or by a human institution or hierarchy, but by the ongoing eldership of the Paraclete, who will lead the community of faith.

On the basis of this analysis Anderson gives the following answer to the question of the christological unity and disunity:

1. Some aspects reflect the dialectical process of theological reflection in keeping with contemporary examples in the early church, such as the tension between a present and a future eschatology and the apparent tension between determinism and free will.

2. The tension between subordinationism and egalitarianism between the Son and the Father is a reflection of the evangelist's agency Christology.

3. The evangelist's ambivalence toward Jesus' signs is due to his reflective dialogue with his tradition, in which he continues to find new meanings in the significance of Jesus' words and works.

4. The tension between the flesh and glory is the result of an encounter theology. The theophany on the lake is a prototypical example of such an encounter.

5. By means of local and extended irony, misunderstanding dialogues and discourses, and by portraying the stories of other people who encounter Jesus in the narrative, the evangelist seeks to engage the reader in an imaginary conversation with Jesus.

According to Anderson, ultimately the tensions within John's Christology must be explored as internal to the dialectic thought of the evangelist. Here Anderson draws on the categories of psychology of religion suggested by the theologians J. Fowler and J. Loder. Fowler's research deals with the stages of faith in human development, and Loder analyses the transforming effect of convictional experiences.

Anderson's dissertation has many merits. He formulates a relevant problem in Johannine research, and with energy and creative analyses he works through secondary literature and primary sources. In a fruitful way he points to the interplay between, on the one hand, one's understanding of John's distinctive unitive and disunitive Christology and on the other hand, one's understanding of the literary sources. Instead of analysing the Gospel as a whole he has chosen to make a detailed study of John 6 which he regards as a compositional unity. This concentration on John 6 has made it possible for him to discuss general Johannine questions as they are reflected in a specific text.

It is fruitful that in agreement with D. M. Smith, he does not follow Bultmann in suggesting that the tensions within Johannine Christology can be explained by locating the various aspects in different sources; he nevertheless finds that Bultmann's observations about these tensions must be faced in present research. Moreover it is impressive that he is able to tie together into his solution of the problem insights gained from the research of C. K. Barrett (the dialectical character of john's thought), of C. H. Dodd (oral tradition), of B. Lindars and P. Borgen (homiletic use of tradition and Scripture), of R. E. Brown and J. L. Martyn (a situation of tension within a synagogal context), and of E. Kasemann (anti-Petrine understanding of the church).

At points questions and criticism might be raised. As for method, a more precise discussion and definition is needed on the relationship between form critical analysis and rhetorical analysis. Anderson's use of Psalm 78(LXX77) may illustrate this point. He indicates awareness of the problem when he writes: `... John 6 is not a psalm, as in Ps 78(77), but the formal differences do not outweigh the rhetorical similarities, especially with regard to the way the manna motif is employed' (p. 214, n. 11).

Anderson's rhetorical analysis of Psalm 78(77) is not quite convincing, however. He outlines the psalm in this way:

A. main point of exhortation: Put your trust in God, Oh my people, and do not be like your forefathers -- a stubborn and rebellious generation (vv. 1,7 f.)

B. Development of point using either/or categories: God did many miracles inviting their trust (vv. 11- 16), but the sons of Ephraim continued to sin, putting God to the test, demanding food they craved (vv. 9 ff., 17-20). Therefore, God's wrath broke out and he sent fire, but they still did not trust (vv. 21 f.)

C. Introduction of manna as a rhetorical trump: God even opened the doors of heaven and rained down manna for people to eat, and he gave them the `grain of heaven'. Mortals ate the `bread of the angels' -- as much as they desired. He also rained down flesh (flying birds as thick as sand on the shore), satisfying all their cravings, but despite all this, they went on sinning. Even as the flesh was between their teeth God's anger rose up against them, putting to death even the strongest of them, and they still put God to the test (VV. 23-41).

D. Continued development and implications: God did miraculous signs in Egypt (vv. 42-51), he delivered them from the oppressor (vv- 52-55), but they still put God to the test (v. 56). Therefore, God was angered. He consumed their young men with fire, put their priest to death by the sword, and rejected the tribe of Ephraim, choosing Judah instead.

E. Reiteration of main point: Therefore, God chose David his servant to be a shepherd to his people, and to lead them with skilful hands (implied exhortation: be thankful for God's provision through David's kingdom, and not ungrateful as the fathers in the wilderness, who craved something more). You saw what happened to the Northern Kingdom ... will you be next? (vv. 68-72).

A comparison with the outline given by A. Schmitt (`Struktur, Herkunft und Bedeutung der Beispielrelhe in Weish 10,' BZ, 21 [1977] 10-11) will prove helpful. In English the main points of his analysis may be rendered as follows:

Vv. 1-2. An opening like the Wisdom psalms. Vv. 3-11. The theme of the psalm: the wondrous deeds of God in the past and the people all the time turning away from Him. V7v. 12-72. This theme is developed from v. 12 and onward in the following units:

1. Jahve's help of His people during the Exodus from Egypt and the time in the desert (vv. 12-16) -- the sin by the people (vv. 17-20) -- and the resulting wrath of God (vv. 21 f.).

2. Jahve's care for Israel during the wandering in the desert (VV. 23-2g) -- punishment by Jahve (vv. 30 f.).

3. Summary of the theme: sin, punishment and Jahve's mercy (vv. 32-42).

4. Jahve's help towards the people during the time of their sufferings in Egypt, at the Exodus, in the desert and during their claim of the land (vv. 43-55) -- the continued unfaithfulness of the people (vv. 56-58) -- punishment of the people (vv. 59-64).

5. The great turning point: Jerusalem and David were chosen (vv. 65-72).

From a form critical viewpoint Psalm 78(77) combines the form of a wisdom psalm with the form of a survey of events from the biblical past. In this way the psalm gives a documentation of the continuous pattern of God's care and wondrous gifts, the sins of the people, the resulting punishment, and yet God was merciful towards them. Events are listed from the people's experiences in Egypt, during the Exodus, the wandering in the desert, the entering of the land and the time of David. Anderson's summaries of the content of the psalm agree with this understanding, although his own subheadings about a rhetorical manna pattern do not do justice to this broad scope of the content. This thought-pattern of God's care, of the people's sin, of God's punishment and yet of His forgiving mercy, is not formative in John 6. And while one biblical event, the giving of the manna in the desert, is mentioned in John 6, in Psalm 78(77) several biblical events are listed from the people's experiences in Egypt, during the Exodus, the wandering in the desert, the entering of the land and the time of David. And in this survey of many events, to select the reference to the manna from heaven as `a rhetorical trump' seems subjective and arbitrary. Anderson writes, `God even opened the doors of heaven ...', but he fails to demonstrate that this event stands out in such a pointed way from among the many other events listed.

Moreover, in John 6:31 the giving of the manna is referred to in an explicit quotation, `as it is written, "Bread from heaven he gave them to eat"'. In Psalm 78(77):23-24 there is no such explicit quotation introduced by a formula similar to the formula `as it is written'. Thus Anderson forces his `Manna Pattern' upon Psalm 78(77) when he states that it follows the standard form of manna rhetoric. As for the quotation in John 6:31, it may cite Psalm 78(77):24, as Anderson and others maintain. However, Anderson does not account for the fact that John reads [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] while LXX Psalm 77:24 reads just [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and John 6:41 and 43 read [GREEK TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], which has its closest agreement with LXX Exod. 16:2, [GREEK WORD NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

As for Anderson's general interpretation of John 6, it seems that his discussion of its Christology ends up with an emphasis on anthropology. Here the influence from Bultmann becomes evident, although Anderson draws on empirical insights from the research of Fowler and Loder and not from the philosophical analysis of the structure of human existence. Accordingly, Anderson follows Bultmann's suggestion that John 6:27, `Work not for the food that is perishable, but for nourishment that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you; for it is on him that God the Father has stamped his seal of verification' (Anderson, p. 199), is the main text which serves as the starting-point of the `Bread of Life' discourse. Anderson claims that this verse serves as the pivotal fulcrum of the entire chapter, and it poses two choices for the Johannine audience: the way of death and the way of life. From the viewpoint of anthropology this understanding seems natural. From the perspective of Christology the verse is not the pivotal fulcrum, however, since there is as yet no explicit identification of the food and the Son of man with Jesus. Thus christologically verse 35 is the pivotal fulcrum: `I am the bread of life ...'.

It is then relevant to mention that another scholar, John Painter, in his book The Quest for the Messiah regards John 6:35 as the `text' upon which the Bread of Life discourse is based. What is lacking in this understanding is, however, the realization that the Old Testament quotation in v. 31b and the pronouncement in 35a are tied together in the way formulated in John 5:39: `You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me.' On the basis of this hermeneutical key the pronouncement in John 6:35a, `I am the bread of life', renders the precise meaning of the central term in the Old Testament quotation in v. 31 b `bread from heaven he gave them to eat'. The themes of food and Son of man in vv. 27 ff. and the question raised in v. 30, `Then what sign do you do ...' lead into the scriptural text in V. 31 b, which is intentionally interpreted in the paraphrasing exposition that follows. In this way John exemplifies that the Scriptures bear witness to Jesus in accordance with 5:39. Thus, the biblical quotation in John 6:31 is the main text in the respect that it, together with its exposition has weight and demonstrates that the Scriptures bear witness to Jesus, that is, to Christology. Against this background it would be relevant to look into the possibility that the stories of the feeding miracle and of the walking on the sea in John 6, in a corresponding way, are meant to bear witness to Jesus, in accordance with 5:36: 'these very works which I am doing, bear me witness that the Father has sent me.'

It would lead too far to discuss in detail all parts of Anderson's analysis of John 6. For example, I do not find it necessary here to discuss his statement that the dialectical tension in John's Christology suggests that the evangelist was an eyewitness, since Anderson's overall approach does not depend upon such an understanding. Furthermore, his discussion of texts from Philo of Alexandria calls for such extensive comments on compositional questions in Philo's exegetical commentaries that it would go beyond the limits of this book review.

In general it should be said that the book offers stimulating reading to scholars engaged in Johannine studies. Anderson's basic approach of relating the exegete's views on tensions in John's Christology to the literary understanding of the Gospel seems sound. And many of the observations made by him will help scholars to look at John 6, and the Gospel as a whole, with fresh eyes.
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Author:Borgen, Peder
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1998
Words:3229
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