some thoughts on John’s presentation of Jesus

I’m mulling over the way Jesus is presented in John’s Gospel — and especially how he’s presented in relation to God. Let’s start with the following points culled from Dunn’s Christology in the Making (pp 258-265):

  • Jesus’ designation as the Word and Wisdom (and Shekinah) of God in 1.1-18 adds depth to his portrayal as the Son of God and Son of Man in the rest of the book.
  • Despite its very ‘Greek’-sounding cadences, John’s presentation of Jesus is not entirely unJewish, bouncing off the ways First Century Jews already spoke of God as both near and far, immanent and transcendent.
  • At the same time, John constantly foregrounds the relation between Father and Son in a manner that almost suggests we’re dealing with two beings here.

Placing all these things side by side results in a variety of apparent anticipations of later orthodox confession about Jesus and his identity of being and activity with God the Father. Such is the sophistication and clarity of John’s presentation of Jesus.

All of which is more or less uncontroversial. But I keep wanting to ask: What about the elusiveness of Jesus? The lack of recognition he constantly meets, the hostility and division his arrival produces?

Sunrise over Mt Sinai

Now I suppose we probably persist in privileging John like this because it seems to tell us what the other Gospels merely show us. But I suspect we’re in danger of forgetting that John’s language only sounds explicit (and compelling and powerful) from the perspective of later orthodoxy.

What’s more, we’re in danger of underplaying the shock and difficulty — even the mind-bending paradox — of what has become so comfortable and familiar to us: speaking of Jesus as the ‘Word become flesh’, etc.

We just need to do better at reckoning with the fact that almost every time it looks like we get something approaching the high formulations of later orthodoxy Jesus sidesteps any unambiguous identification with God (which is what happens in John 5.16-30 for example).

John may pose the question with unusual directness and clarity (to our ears). But rarely are his answers as cut and dried as we might imagine.

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