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.

Endorsements

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).

Contents

Foreword, Paul N. Anderson

Preface, Johnson Thomaskutty

Introduction

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

Bibliography

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

Links

Gospel of John in Historical Inquiry – a book note

Front cover: The Gospel of John in Historical Inquiry

It is not often I recommend a book that book that retails new at £120, but when this one landed on the sorting table a Book Aid last week I thought its contents significant enough to do so.

James H. Charlesworth with Jolyon G.R. Pruszinski, editors, Jesus Research. The Gospel of John in Historical Enquiry. T&T Clark Jewish and Christian Texts Series 26. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2019. ISBN-13: 978-0-5676-8134-8. Hbk. pp.371.

Table of Contents (partial)

  • Paul N. Anderson, Why the Gospel of John is Fundamental to Jesus Research
  • Dale C. Allison, Jr., Reflections omn Matthew, John, and Jesus
  • Harold W. Attridge, Some Methodological Considerations Regarding John, Jesus and History
  • George L. Parsenois, How and in What Way Does John’s Rhetoric Reflect Jesus’ Rhetoric?
  • Urban C. von Wahlde, The First Edition of John’s Gospel in Light of Archaeology and Contemporary Literature
  • R. Alan Culpepper, John 2:20, “Forty-Six Years”: Revisiting J.A.T. Robisnon’s Chronology of Jesus’ Ministry
  • Craig S. Keener, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel’s Depiction of the Baptist
  • James H. Charlesworth, Can Archaeology Help Us See Jesus’ Shadows in the Gospel of John?
  • Jan Roskovec, History in John’s Portrayal of Jesus
  • Michael A. Draise, Jesus and the Historical Implications of John’s Temple Cleansing
  • Petr Pokorny, Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospel of John

Most experts who seek to understand the historical Jesus focus only on the Synoptic Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke. However, the contributors of this wolume come to an important consensus: that the the Gospel of John preserves tradition that are independent of the Synoptics, and which are often as reliable as any known traditions for understanding the historical Jesus. As such, the contributors argue for the use of John’s Gospel in Jesus research.

From the back cover.

So, if you are fortunate to have access to a research library I would recommend this as an addition to your reading list.

Please note that I cannot make any part of this book available on-line, because it is in copyright.

Book Review: Can We Trust the Gospels by Peter J. Williams

Can We Trust the Gospels by Peter J. WilliamsThe writings of Dr Bart Ehrman have undoubtedly had a very negative effect on the faith of many. It is widely reported that many young Christians, exposed to his teachings, have abandoned their faith by the time that they graduate from Colleges or University. Christian scholars have responded with numerous books offering both answers to Ehrman’s objections and  new research which serves to demonstrate the credibility of the Gospel accounts of Jesus. I have previously reviewed another book in this genre, The Heresy of Orthodoxy, and was delighted receive a pre-publication of Peter J. Williams book, Can We Trust the Gospels? from the publisher.

This is a very short book (153 pages including indexes), but one that covers a tremendous amount of ground, at the same time condensing a huge amount of scholarly research. This book is not just a good summary of a complex subject, but adds new insights along the way, based on first-hand research, as I will mention again later.

The book is laid out as follows:

  1. What do Non-Christian Sources Say?
  2. What Are the Four Gospels?
  3. Did the Gospel Authors Know Their Stuff?
  4. Undesigned Coincidences
  5. Do We Have Jesus’s Actual Words?
  6. Has the Text Changed?
  7. What about Contradictions?
  8. Who Would Make All This Up?

1. What do Non-Christian Sources Say?

Chapter 1 discusses the importance of the writings of Tacitus (pp.18-24), Pliny the Younger (pp.24-31) and Josephus (pp.31-35), and demonstrates how quickly the Gospel spread across the Empire. It also notes how key teachings of the early Christians, such as belief in the Deity of Christ, were recognised at an early date by non-Christian observers (pp.28-31).

2. What Are the Four Gospels?

Introduces the Gospels, their dating, interdependence, and traditionally ascribed authorship. Arguments supporting the traditional authorship is presented in later chapters. I particularly liked the argument for Matthew the Tax Collector based on that Gospel’s unique interest in financial matters (pp.82-83). Here, as throughout the book, the judicious use of footnotes allows interested readers to find further information. In this chapter I found the reference to Brant Pitre’s book, The Case for Jesus (p.43, n.9) particularly helpful, having repeatedly been assured by people, who ought to have known better, that the Gospels were all originally anonymous.

3. Did the Gospel Authors Know Their Stuff?

I have to admit that, having heard Peter William’s Bible and Church Lecture in London a few years ago, I was particularly interested to see the argument he presented there written down and developed and was not disappointed. There are numerous charts demonstrating the Gospel writers intimate knowledge of Palestinian geography (pp.52-57), hydrology (pp.57-58), roads (pp.58-61), and even Gardens (pp.61-62). Here I liked the point about the writers’ descriptions of Galilee. While Matthew, Mark and John all call it a sea, Williams points out that…

Luke is rather different. It uses the word sea only three times and never to reference a particular body of water. If, as is traditionally thought, Luke came from Antioch on the Orontes, not far from the Mediterranean, he certainly would not have thought of the tiny Sea of Galilee as the sea. He just calls it “the lake”. [p.58. Underlining italics in original]

The next section is based on Richard Bauckham’s research on personal names [pp.64-78, esp. p.64, n.28), showing how the Gospels’ use of disambiguation correlates very closely with the relative popularity of names in 1st Century Palestine, but not outside of that time or location. Combined with further arguments based on the writer’s knowledge of Jewish customs (pp.78-81), botany (pp.81-82), finance (pp.82-83 – already referred to above) and languages they make a strong cumulative case for authenticity.

4. Undesigned Coincidences

Williams then turns to Lydia McGrew’s development of J.J. Blunt’s Undesigned Coincidences, giving several examples of how the Gospels include incidental details that someone without eyewitness information could not possible have known about. It discusses Mary and Martha’s personalities (pp.88-91), the feeding of the 5,000 (pp.91-94) noting the significance of the grass. Having worked in Nepal, where grass withers very quickly after the rains stops, I appreciated the argument here. The final coincidence covers the account in the Gospels and Josephus concerning Herod Antipas (p.94-96).

5. Do We Have Jesus’s Actual Words?

Here is discussed the difference between 1st Century and modern ideas of what constitutes an accurate quotation and it is argued that the disciples of Jesus would have been quite capable of passing on accurate traditions about him. The languages in which Jesus spoke are discussed (pp.106-109). He notes:

Language contact means that a Jew speaking in Greek to a Jewish audience would plausibly be able to use specificly Aramaic words as recorded in Matthew 5:22 (raka) and 6:24 (mamona), both of which occur in the Sermon on the Mount. Also, by the time of Jesus many Greek words had been loaned into Aramaic. If Jesus originally told the parable of the prodical son in Aramaic, there is no reason why he could not have used some of the very vocabulary found in our Greek version, such as the Greek word symphonia (“music,” Luke 15:25), which by then had been adopted into Aramaic. Jesus presumably would have spoken Greek to the Greeks in John 12:23, with the Centurion in Matthew 8:5-13, with a  Greek woman in  Mark 7:26, and possible also with the Herodians in Mark 12:13.” [p.109. Underlining italics in original]

6. Has the Text Changed?

In this chapter, Williams draws, not for the first time (p.81, p.52), on his own research and work in textual criticism to argue for the veracity of the Greek text of the Gospels. Again, the rapid spread of the church throughout the gospels is said to make it impossible for major doctrine changing textual variants to be deliberately introduced (pp.120-122).

7. What about Contradictions?

This chapter is very brief and focuses on formal contradictions in the text. These are deliberate and “…show that the author is more interested in encouraging people to read deeply than in satisfying those who would find fault.” (p.127).

8. Who Would Make All This Up?

The final chapter concludes that the simplest and best solution that explains the Gospels as we now have them is that they are what they claim to be.

Who Should Read This Book?

I think that anyone who has been challenged by the work of critics such as Bart Ehrman would find this book of great help. It would also be good to place it in the hands of non-Christians who are considering the claims of Jesus and have doubts about the Gospels. Personally, I found myself encouraged to dive into the suggested further reading (p.13, n.1), but most of all to read the Gospels again with a fresh appreciation of their depth, accuracy and sophistication.

Book Details

Peter J. Williams, Can We Trust the Gospels? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018. Pbk. ISBN-13: 978-1-4335-5295-3. pp.153.