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Book Review: The Gospel of John: A Universalistic Reading – Johnson Thomaskutty

A Brief Review of the Book

The Fourth Gospel functions as a literary masterpiece that facilitates a narrative beyond the time and space aspects. The Gospel’s linguistic phenomena and stylistic aspects are peculiar as they attune the attention of the reader toward a dramatic and ideological world of its own. The connection between the narrator and the historical/implied/contemporary reader is established from an eternal vantage point as the narrator directs the reader toward atemporal and universal realities.

The author as a classicist encompasses the socio-cultural and religio-political realities of the Greco-Roman world, incorporates the hope of the Jewish society, foregrounds the contextual realities and the struggles of the Johannine community, and fulfils the various demands and requirements of the future generations of readers and believers. The peculiar linguistic and idiosyncratic techniques of the narrator have the power to absorb the attention of the reader not only from a ‘there and then’ and ‘here and now’ senses but also from an ‘everywhere and ever’ perspective. In that sense, the Fourth Gospel functions as a gnomic and universalistic artistry.

John’s Gospel can be considered as a commentary in its own terms. The extended episodes of the Fourth Gospel, different from the Synoptic style of pericopes, foreground the ideas of the author through the exchange and episode developments. The Logos-Christology and the poetic demonstration of the coming of Jesus (1:1-18) reveal its universalistic aspects. John interprets history in the form of a quasi-poem, an interpretation, or ultimately a commentary in its own way. This style of the Gospel is designed with a gnomic perspective.

The Fourth Gospel’s ‘vertical’ and ‘realizing’ eschatology and the ‘ever-continuing’ present aspect support its gnomic and universalistic development. The Gospel’s pre-existent Christology and the emphasis on life/eternal life take the reader’s attention toward the everlasting perspective. The maxims like the “I AM Sayings” and the symbolic presentation of the Signs attune the attention of the reader toward the universal significance of the Gospel. The narrator and the implied reader dynamism of the text enable the modern reader to understand the narrative world of the gospel.

The contemporary readers find the unique dynamism of the text as an interpretative means to get engaged with the text. The purpose statement of the Gospel (20:30-31; cf. 21:25) makes the implied reader aware of the logic behind all the events and the coherence of the discourses units. The narrator is fully concerned to inspire readers in/with the text to believe/continue to believe in Jesus that he is the Messiah and the Son of God and that through believing they may receive ‘eternal life’ and be saved. Thus from the soteriological point of view, the Gospel promises eternal guarantee and protection.

The dialogues as active voice and direct speech units influence the reader to be a ‘believer’ and to be saved. This feature of the dialogue enables it to be a performative act in itself. It provides pleasure to the reader and helps her/him to be persuaded, provoked and transformed. Thus the text works with all the characteristic features of rhetoric. The text, in that sense, cannot be reckoned as a ‘passive’ treatise rather as an ‘active’ counterpart to the modern reader. It happens only when the narrator takes extra effort to tell the story dramatically through the means of showing and telling (cf. Quintilian, Inst 10.1.19-27, 10.2.1-2, 10.2.27).

The fifteen essays in this book analyse some of the key ideas and characters with a universal perspective. In that process, the Gospel as a whole is treated as a timeless and space transcending narrative that encompasses the feelings and aspirations of the people from an eternal and universal perspective. The fifteen essays of the book are dived into three sub-sections like “Universalistic Linguistics and Literary Characteristics in John,” “Universalistic Nature of Themes and Characters in John,” and “Dynamic Localization: Johannine Texts and the Contexts.”

The pre-existent Christology is engraved within the general, simple and deep structures of the Fourth Gospel with a focus on people’s response. The family metaphor of the Gospel portrays the integral connectivity of the Triune God in the affairs of the Johannine community and that in turn enables the reader to associate its story with the contemporary realities. The literary devices and the figures of thought provide an impression and aesthetic to the modern realities of the reader.

The Gospel has the power and potential to absorb the local realities (like Indian, Nepali, and Bangladeshi) through its peculiar situational details and characterization. Thus an interlocking between the narrator and the reader is demonstrated through the narrative annals from a gnomic and universalistic perspective.


Just as the Fourth Gospel spoke powerfully across faiths and cultures two millennia ago, it continues to speak to audiences today in globalizing and localizing ways. Along these lines, Johnson Thomaskutty’s new book furthers a growing number of internationalizing biblical studies, lifting our understandings of ancient texts beyond their western interpretations, which have all too often missed the sociological and grounded nuance of a passage. Especially within the contexts of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, as well as other nations, John’s cross-cultural and multivalent thrust of Jesus and his ministry is especially welcome.

Paul N. Anderson, Professor of Biblical and Quaker Studies at George Fox University, Newberg, Oregon, USA; Extraordinary Professor of Religion at the North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Afric

This collection of essays on the Fourth Gospel will provide interesting reading to anyone who appreciates the distinctiveness of the portrait of Jesus found in it. The chapters are wide-ranging, and Johnson Thomaskutty seeks to delve into John’s material from various perspectives—its literary and linguistic features, deeper exegetical insights and its contextual relevance here in South Asia and beyond. So we have in this book a rich mine of information on the Fourth Gospel, ready to be excavated by all who want to gain a deeper understanding of its message. I warmly recommend it to all serious readers of the Word.

Brian C. Wintle, former Professor of New Testament and Principal of Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India; former Regional Secretary (India) of Asia Theological Association, Bangalore, India

About the Author

Johnson Thomaskutty, Ph.D., Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, Holland, teaches New Testament at the Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India. Formerly, he served as Lecturer of New Testament and College Chaplain at the Serampore College, Hooghly, West Bengal. He is the author of Saint Thomas the Apostle: New Testament, Apocrypha, and Historical Traditions (New York/London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2018) and Dialogue in the Book of Signs: A Polyvalent Analysis of John 1:19-12:50 (Leiden/Boston: E. J. Brill, 2015). His forthcoming works include An Asian Introduction to the New Testament (Fortress Press), India Commentary on the Gospel of John (Fortress Press), and Asia Bible Commentary on the Gospel of John (Langham Press).


Foreword, Paul N. Anderson

Preface, Johnson Thomaskutty


I. Universalistic Linguistics and Literary Characteristics of John

1. Universalistic Language and Literary Style of the Fourth Gospel

2. Re-reading the Gospel of John in the Light of William Carey’s Linguistic Methods

3. Dialogical Nature of John’s Prologue

4. Dialogue as a Literary Genre in the Book of Signs (John 1:19-12:50)

II. Universalistic Nature of Themes and Characters in John

5. Glo[b/c]alization and Mission[s]: Reading John’s Gospel

6. Missional-Pneumatology of the Fourth Gospel

7. Explorations of Prosperity in the Fourth Gospel

8. Characterization of Thomas in the Fourth Gospel

III. Dynamic Localization: Johannine Texts and the Contexts

9. Biblical Interpretation in the Global-Indian Context: Reading John 4:1-42 as a Paradigm

10. Religious Freedom and Conversion in India Today: Reading John’s Gospel as a Jewish-Christian Conflict Narrative

11. Johannine Women as Paradigms in the Indian Context

12. The Event of Foot Washing in John 13:1-20 as a Paradigm for Witnessing Christ in the Indian Context

13. Faith and Theology in the Johannine Community and in the Reformation: A Paradigm in the Indian Context

14. Reading John’s Gospel in the Nepali Context

15. Reading John’s Gospel in the Bangladeshi Context


Ancient Texts Index

Author Index

Product Details

Paperback: 322 pages

Publisher: Christian World Imprints

Edition: First Edition (1 January 2020)

Language: English

ISBN: 978-93-5148-400-4 (HB)

ISBN: 978-93-5148-401-1 (PB)

Price: Rs. 1250 (HB); Rs. 450 (PB); £18


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