Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer in John 17 is divided mainly into three parts: first, Jesus’ prayer for himself (vv. 1-5); second, Jesus’ prayer for the disciples (vv. 6-19); and third, Jesus’ prayer for the future believers/the world at large (vv. 20-26). As a High Priest from the line of Melkizedek, Jesus intercedes for the believing community (Heb 5:6; cf. 4:15). Jesus’ greatness and uniqueness as a High Priest for the believing community are at the foreground here. As we focus on vv. 6-19, we attempt to explore the prayer of Jesus for the disciples. The following ten things are important to note.

First, Jesus made known the name of the Father (v. 6). As Jesus made the name of God the Father known to the disciples, the Gospel functions as a revelatory document. Yahweh revealed His name to Moses as “I AM WHO THAT I AM” (Exo 3:14). Through his programmatic “I AM” statements, Jesus revealed his unique identity as God himself (6:48; 8:12; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11; 11:25; 15:6; 15:1). In the world, Jesus revealed the identity of God to the disciples through his very life and ministry.

Second, Jesus shared the words that the Father given to him (v. 8). During the public (chaps. 1-12) and the private (chaps. 13-17) ministerial involvements, Jesus shared with the disciples the words of eternal life. Through the means of dialogues, monologues and sign performances, Jesus shared with them the words of hope, love, and comfort. As a result, though unknowing and misunderstanding in nature, the disciples believed his words.

Third, Jesus asked the Father on behalf of the disciples (v. 9). As the disciples are the possession of the Father and at the same time they are given to the care of Jesus, the Son stood as an intercessor or mediator between the Father and the believing community (see 1 Tim 2:5). Jesus as one who draws the disciples and their concerns near to God (Heb 7:25), an eternal communion is demonstrated through the oneness of the Father, the Son, and the children of God.

Fourth, Jesus glorified himself in the disciples (v. 10). While Jesus revealed the glory of the Father/Himself during the public and private ministries, the disciples remained as the witnesses of the divine glory and later on as the medium of the glory revealed in the world (2:11). The believing community is the means for God/Jesus to reveal the heavenly glory in the world below. People of this world can understand Jesus and the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God through the believing community.

Fifth, Jesus prayed for the unity of the believers (v. 11). Jesus prayed: “Let them be one as we are one” (v. 21). For Jesus, the unity of the believers is a great concern. The standard he set in front of them was the eternal unity of the Father and the Son. In order to shatter the human-made hierarchy among the disciples, Jesus washed their feet and exemplified the servant-leadership model (13:1-20). Paul conceives it profoundly in Gal 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Jesus came to establish unity, equality, and fraternity among humanity.

Sixth, Jesus exemplified his duty of protecting and guarding (v. 12). As Jesus exemplified his model of ministry by protecting and guarding humanity, he is identified as a Good Shepherd over against the counterfeit shepherds or hirelings of this world (10:11). Jesus’ signs and eternal words provided both physical and spiritual protection to many. By sending “another comforter” into the world (chaps. 14-16), Jesus continues the ministry of protection even after his departure. Thus, Jesus stood tall as a paradigmatic teacher and guardian.

Seventh, Jesus completed the joy of the believers (v. 13). The Father’s joy is the joy of Jesus; the Son’s joy is the joy of the believers. As Jesus came to fulfil the mission of God, he accomplishes the joy of the believing community. By turning water into wine in Cana, Jesus brings back the lost joy of the family (2:1-11). He completes the joy of the Royal man (4:46-54), the Samaritan woman and her fellow villagers (4:1-45), the invalid person (5:1-18), the man born blind (9:1-41), the family of Lazarus (11:1-12:8), and many others. Jesus reveals that only through him people can enjoy the joy of salvation (14:6).

Eighth, as Jesus did not belong to this world, the believers do not belong to this world (vv. 14-15). The followers of Jesus are given a new identity as the children of God (1:12). The Johannine community was not identified as a distanced group like the Qumran community. John’s community was instructed to be distinct in the world rather than being distanced from the existent life situations. As Jesus became flesh and dwelt among humanity (1:14), the followers of Jesus are supposed to reveal the glory of God in their own life situations.

Ninth, Jesus prayed for the sanctification of the believers (vv. 17, 19). Believers can be sanctified through the name of Jesus, his words, and the initiative of “another comforter” (i.e., the Holy Spirit). As the pandemic Covid-19 is widespread, people pay attention on external sanitization. In God’s presence, both the external sanitization and the internal sanctification are important requirements. God’s commandment is: “Be holy, as I am [God is] holy” (1 Pet 1:15-16; cf. Matt 5:48).

Tenth, Jesus sent them into the world (v. 18). The resurrected Lord says: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (20:21). As God fulfils the heavenly mission through sending Jesus (3:16), the Son sends his disciples for the global mission. Jesus’ imperatives are made obvious as he sends the disciples for universal mission (Matt 28:16-20). In Mark 16:15, Jesus commands: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” Though God sends his Son from the heavenly setting, Jesus sends his disciples in the earthly setting.

During this Lent season, Jesus’ prayer for the disciples can be considered as a paradigm for our spiritual and practical rejuvenation. Jesus’ prayer was not merely a verbal delivery, but it was an action-oriented prayer. The death of Jesus on the cross was the epitome of his action-oriented prayer. By accepting the prayer of Jesus, we can revitalize our lives for radical transformation. By making known the name of God, sharing the words of God to the world, glorifying God’s name, standing in unity with one another, protecting and guarding the world, completing the joy of God, being distinct in the world, standing as sanctified, and moving to fulfil the mission of God, we can actualize the prayer of Jesus here and now. Let us go and redeem the oppressed, clothe the naked, satisfy the hungry, uplift the humble and thus fulfil the mission of God and complete the joy of salvation and liberation.

Johnson Thomaskutty

Dean of Biblical Studies

Union Biblical Seminary

Pune, India

[Presented during the Memorial Service of Rev. Dr. T. G. Koshy, Founder President of Faith Theological Seminary, Manakala, Kerala, India, organized by the FTS Alumni Association]

Rev. Dr. T. G. Koshy (affectionately called as “Achayan”) is the founder principal of Faith Theological Seminary (FTS), Manakala, Kerala, India, and the former president of Sharon Fellowship Church. He was one of the stalwarts of biblical spirituality, leadership, and missional and ministerial engagements. FTS was founded in 1970 and in the academic year 2019-2020 the seminary celebrated its Golden Jubilee year. It is respected as one of the premier Pentecostal theological institutions in India affiliated to the Senate of Serampore College (University) that offers Bachelor of Divinity (BD), Master of Theology (MTh), and Doctor of Theology (DTh) degrees. The seminary administration under the dynamic leadership of Achayan strove hard to fulfill the motto of the seminary, ‘Perfecting to make perfect in Christ.’ FTS reached its highest glory under Achayan as about 4000 graduates from the seminary serve the church and the community in various capacities all across India and beyond. The institution exists to equip men and women for the mission and ministry of the church as per the Great Commission of Jesus (Matt 28:16-20). FTS exists as a hub of Biblical spirituality in the Indian context.

Achayan was a Christ-centered and Biblically-based personality. In his reading of the Bible and hermeneutical engagements, he focused on the moral and spiritual dynamics of the Scripture that instills holistic transformation among the listeners. The ethos-logos-pathos rhetoric and its dynamic integration find significance in his life and ministry: the ethos of Achayan was demonstrative of his discipline, ethical and moral leadership, and value-oriented lifestyle; the logos of him was based on the Biblical characters, the cross of Christ, and the lifestyle of Jesus and the apostles; and the pathos that emerged among the people out of his ethos and logos was enormous. As per the Aristotelian rhetoric, one who presents her/his oral delivery should demonstrate her/him through the actions in life. Only then, a speaker can present her/himself a paradigmatic person to energize people’s pathos. In Achayan’s lifestyle, he always attempted to walk his talk. Thus he was a persuasive personality and a paradigmatic figure for others.

As a preacher of the Bible, Achayan focused on the characters like Moses, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Anna, Daniel, David, Jesus, Paul, Peter, Mary, and others. As a mission-oriented preacher of the Scripture, Achayan analyzed the biblical characters and foregrounded their moods, ethical and moral behaviors, and movements for the edification of the church and the society. Mostly, his sermons were based on a conglomeration of multiple characters and passages to guide the hearers toward the hard realities of their life situations. He attempted his best to highlight the life situations (Sitz im Leben) of the Biblical characters in closer relationship with the contemporary aspects. Achayan had his own method of reading the Bible by taking into consideration the people around him and their spiritual needs, missional and ministerial requirements, and the emotional and sentimental aspects. As a straight-forward interpreter of the Bible, he used colloquialisms and local styles in order to manage the immediate context. In that sense, he was demonstrating his identity as a contextual interpreter of the Scripture.

As a leader of the church, he was keen in maintaining biblical axioms in his lifestyle before implementing them in the public spheres. Achayan’s voice was seemingly rough just like that of John the Baptist, actions were coherent and mission-oriented like that of Paul the Apostle, emotions and mentality were soft-hearted and affectionate like that of Elijah, and his lifestyle was simple and down-to-earth like that of the Apostles of Jesus. His life and ministry were similar to that of some of the biblical characters. His leadership was influential among the poor and the rich, uneducated and educated, women and men, young and elderly people, and nationals and internationals. He accepted the hard realities of life as a minister of God and stood tall as a servant-leader.

As a visionary, Achayan executed the mission and ministry of Jesus in a Biblical way. The Sharon Fellowship Church as a Bible-centered church has about 2000 congregations in different parts of India, Nepal, Gulf countries, United States of America, Canada, Australia, Europe, and in other parts of the globe. Achayan encouraged the members of the congregations, pastors, missionaries, and evangelists to live a Biblical model of lifestyle and leadership. He exemplified a simple, ardent, prophetic, and long-sighted lifestyle for others. His vision was spreading the good news of salvation among varied walks of people irrespective of caste, color, gender, and nationality. Achayan was willing to cross the human-made boundaries to propagate the message of the Kingdom of God. As a prophet of God, he visualized a liberated community that can bring change in their own life situations.

As a Biblical student and now a teacher, I learned the preliminary lessons of the Bible while I was a Sunday School student at Sharon Fellowship Church, Chakkuvarackal, Kerala. Immediately after my 10th Grade, I was appointed by my church as a Sunday School teacher and the secretary of Christian Evangelical Movement (CEM). After my Bachelor of Arts (BA) Degree, I joined FTS for my BD studies in 1993 and completed it in 1997. As a person who was grown up with Sharon Fellowship Church and Faith Theological Seminary, I have a great regard for Achayan and his leadership style. After my BD studies from FTS, I had the privilege of ministering God as a Bible teacher at Faith Bible Training Center (FBTC [an Auxiliary ministry of FTS] in Sector 23, Faridabad, Haryana) and as a church pastor in Haryana and Delhi areas of the SFC. My two years of ministry with FBTC and SFC enabled me to develop my biblical vision with a lot of impartation from Achayan, all my teachers at FTS, and all the pastors of the SFC.

I considered Achayan and all the teachers of FTS as my biblical models to transform my life and ministerial activities even when I served Serampore College, Serampore, West Bengal (2001-2004) and Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, Maharashtra (2008-2021) as a member of the biblical faculty. FTS ignited my interest in Biblical Studies and that further helped me to complete higher theological degrees from Gurukul Lutheran Theological College, Chennai (MTh; 1999-2001), Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey, USA (ThM; 2004-2005), and Radboud University Nijmegen, Holland (PhD; 2010-2014). The influence went further when I did post-doctoral works at Fuller Theological Seminary, California; Tyndale House and Cambridge University, UK; and SAIACS, Bangalore. The persuasion I received from Achayan and the faculty members of FTS still continues in my life as I develop my journey of Biblical vision.

As a student at FTS, I was unable to pay even the minimum annual fee of rupees 600. I was not able to bear even rupees 600 as I was from a financially challenged family situation. Because of God’s faithfulness in my life, I was able to complete my studies with a lot of considerations from the seminary. I completed reading Bible multiple occasions and developed my understanding of the Scripture, narrative artistry and theological perspectives while I was in FTS. The Bible-centered and Christ-focused sermons I heard from the chapel equipped me to unlock the grand narratives of the Bible. Achayan’s ethically-oriented, missional and ministerial interpretations of the scripture equipped me to serve the church and the community at a wider level.

FTS gave us abundant opportunities and braveness to preach the biblical truths out in the mission fields. Inter-textuality was used as a prevalent hermeneutical method as we were addressing the Hindu and Muslim audiences. The theoretical lessons of interpretation we learned in the BD classes and the practical demonstrations in the public arena helped us enormously to understand, exegete, and preach the Bible with confidence. Achayan and the entire administration of the seminary facilitated such opportunities. FTS under the strong leadership of Rev. Dr. T. G. Koshy taught us the biblical values like how to pray, fast, engage in worship, prostate in the presence of God, being under the control of the Spirit of God, and interpreting and preaching the Scripture. We learned from the seminary that Bible has a paradigmatic message in the socio-religious and politico-cultural contexts of India and beyond. The Dalit, Tribal, feminist, ecological, and other contextual interpretations we learned from FTS inspire us to go on with a broader biblical and theological vision.

In short, we salute before this Bible-centered figure and a great man of God. As a Christ-centered and Spirit-filled man of God, Achayan demonstrated esteemed Biblical spirituality. He was a mission-oriented interpreter of the Bible, an able leader of the church of God, and a great visionary of God’s work in India and across the globe. May his soul rest in peace.

References

https://ftseminary.wordpress.com/, accessed on 24 February 2021.

Johnson Thomaskutty

Dean of Biblical Studies

Union Biblical Seminary

Pune, India

The Gospel of John is considered as one of the significant writings of the NT that appeals to the Indian spirituality and the Asian ideals in multifarious ways. The Gospel has unique features as a gnomic or a universalistic literary masterpiece that encompasses the feelings and the aspirations of Asian communities from a universal perspective. The Gospel’s genre dynamism, features of setting, ideological constructs, character traits, plot structure, and point of view reflect and reveal its assimilative power to reverberate the situational aspects of the Asian communities, with a special impression on the Indian contextual realities. In the current essay, first of all, an attempt is made to see the preliminary concerns such as authorship, audience, date and place, structure, and the outline of the Gospel in a succinct fashion. In the latter part of the essay, we attempt to place the Gospel in the Indian/Asian context in order to derive an interpretative dynamism that takes into account the diverse religious and cultural aspects.

You can access and download the Hindi version of my book on John’s Gospel below.

At present, people suffer as they are in social isolation and in quarantine. The same is true with the animals and the birds. When human beings suffer, the environment suffers alongside. In the global scenario, people would have never experienced a prolonged social isolation as it is tangible now. People suspect the ‘other’ and keep safe distance from one another. In an honor-and-shame socio-cultural context in Asia, people flee away from the ‘other’ in order to avoid a shameful future.

At present, there is no obvious distinction between the rich and poor, men and women, and white and black. All are engrossed in suspicion and attempts to avoid the ‘other.’ The effect of Corona/Covid-19 in an honor-and-shame context is rather more severe. Today, in the Asian context, all categorizations are summed up into two: the shameful ‘covidized’ and the honorable ‘non-covidized.’

Something similar is at view in the Israelite context. Nicodemus, as a socially influential, financially affluent, and religiously learned person, considers Jesus and his newly formed movement as shameful in comparison to his honorable Jewish status. He develops an interest in Jesus based on four grounds: first, his eloquence and rhetoric are reminiscent to a Rabbi; second, his status as “a teacher who has come from God”; third, his performance of miraculous signs; and fourth, God’s presence with him (3:2).

At least in two ways Nicodemus comes closer to Jesus: first, he has the status of a ‘Rabbi’; and second, he is a “teacher of Israel” (3:10). But as an honorable person, he avoids all sorts of public associations with the leader of a ‘shameful group.’ In reality, he is trapped between his recognition concerning Jesus and his own honorable status as a Jew. He finds the shadows of night as the best time to converse with Jesus.

Later on, Jesus levels his sharp criticism to him: “everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that her/his deeds will be exposed” (3:20). On the one hand, Nicodemus attempts to keep social distancing/isolation to the Jesus movement, on the other, he is persuaded by the status, words, and deeds of Jesus.

Nicodemus acknowledges the miraculous signs of Jesus; but his honorable position does not permit him to appreciate Jesus in public. Jesus says to him that he should be “born from above” and “born of water and Spirit” in order to see/enter the Kingdom of God (3:3, 5). The experiences of birth from above and birth by water and Spirit are requirements to be part of the newly formed community.

Jesus asks Nicodemus to turn away from his fleshly nature and to get involved in the spiritual affairs (3:6-8). Though a teacher, he emerges as a misunderstanding character (3:10); though an honorable Jew, he lags behind in believing (2:12). That means, though Nicodemus has a claim that he is an Israelite teacher and an honorable Jew, Jesus weighs him down as a shameful human.

The criterion for becoming an honorable is stated in 3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). For Jesus, an honorable person is: first, one who understands that God loved the world through Jesus; second, one who has faith in Jesus, the Son of God; and third, one who is counted among the living, not among the perishing (3:16, 18). There are only two options: either be a “son/daughter of light” or be a “son/daughter of darkness.”

All other social stratifications are purely based on human-made criteria. Retrospect and find among us whether we are ‘honorable’ human beings or we are ‘shameful’ persons? Our status, either as honorable or as shameful, cannot be determined in relation to Corona/Covid-19. It can be determined only in relation to Jesus.

Johnson Thomaskutty

Dean of Biblical Studies

Union Biblical Seminary

Pune, India

Differences are obvious between the First century CE Palestinian context and the Twenty-first century Indian situation. We live in an age of scientific and technological advancements. While the conveyance of Jesus was made possible either by foot or by means of donkeys, our travel is facilitated through postmodern means and methods. Without the means of physical conveyance, we can communicate and reach out people even in the remote parts of the world. Jesus as a teacher par excellence was living in a culturally enriched context. As an itinerant teacher, Jesus followed a peripatetic (a walking teacher as in the Aristotelian school) style and gained many disciples from different parts of the Palestinian geographical territory. The content, form, and function of the teaching of Jesus were distinct from that of his peers. Jesus never implemented a method of teaching based on literary knowledge, but rather he focused on oral, natural, and divine wisdom that was imparted on him from above. Even Nicodemus, one of the great teachers of his day, was in amazement of the wisdom and knowledge Jesus had (John 3:2). Jesus was a proponent of divine knowledge and he endeavored hard for the liberation of humanity.

In human history, a good number of teachers remained as agents of liberation. Some of the classical Gurus influenced people without contributing any literary masterpieces and some even after writing their own masterpieces mostly known through their oral deliberations. Gautama Buddha, Socrates, Jesus Christ, and Sri Ramakrishna were influential teachers who communicated their pedagogical messages through the means of orality. As an exception, Confucius remained as a teacher who contributed both through oral and written expositions. Ancient teachers never restricted their role and function among their students who were placed under them; but rather they influenced the society at large through their intellectual knowledge and exemplary lifestyle. During ancient times, India was well-known for the Gurukul method of teaching. Even in the western context, teachers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others used teaching methods similar to the Gurukul system. Later on, Christian educational centers also implemented such methods in schools, catechetical academies, and theological seminaries. One of the core aspects of the ancient educational system was its teacher-centered and student-focused methods. Within that functional set up, teachers had a larger role to play in educating and correcting the students and the extended society from all sorts of ignorance and injustices.

In the Gurukul system, a student was expected to learn the lessons in direct interaction with the teacher and it was done apart from the means of pen, ink, paper, and books. Some of the ancient Gurus were occupied with the affairs of a large number of disciples. A teacher who had 1100 students was popularly known as a Kulapati. As a teacher placed above 3000 students, Confucius was called a Mahakulapati. In that sense, Jesus’ Gurukul was one of the largest in the world. In the Gospel narratives we read that more than 5000 people stayed with Jesus and learned in direct interaction with him. As a teacher, Jesus was not simply attempting to fill their intellectual vacuum; but rather he taught his followers lessons to their intellectual, physical, material, emotional, ethical, religious and behavioral needs and demands. He shared the heavenly wisdom with earthly implications.

One of the natures of the Gurukul learning was to equip the students in the moral and ethical living through the means of dynamic and natural methods. The students had to learn the lessons from the mouth of the teacher at a natural terrain. This phenomenon created a long-lasting effect in inculcating a teacher-and-student dynamism in the society. Jesus explored the natural phenomenon at its best as he used the sea shores, plains, mountains, and public places as the settings of his teaching. His Sermon on the Mount is one of the transformative lessons ever delivered by a teacher. As ‘Son of the Soil,’ Jesus created his parables out of the realities of the nature. The parabolic and metaphoric expressions of Jesus demonstrate his esteemed status as a teacher who was ‘Schooled in Nature.’ He encouraged his disciples to cherish right cognition and liberative praxes. While Jesus endeavored to attune his disciples to the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God, the disciples were expected to obey his commandments. In that sense, Jesus used the guru-sishya interaction as an apex means to impart heavenly wisdom among the disciples. Moreover, Jesus taught them practical lessons on multifarious occasions.

In modern times, reading and writing are some of the most significant means of education. While learning through the means of literary works remains as a mechanical method, the oral methods are considered closer to the core realities of the people. While the written knowledge is considered as an elegant type, the oral knowledge is more to do with the flesh and blood aspects of the people. This aspect is more obvious from the teaching methods of Gautama Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, and Jesus Christ. In the Gurukul system, as the disciples were expected to follow the teacher, the teachers were also expected to do likewise. The teacher was expected to watch and understand the student at a very personal level before imparting knowledge. Majority of the disciples of Jesus were from the ordinary life situations and there emerged a close-knit relationship between the master and the students. Within this purview of their relationship, Jesus advised the disciples through the means of one-on-one conversations and provided them instructions to keep them out of dangerous circumstances.

In today’s context, teachers are not expected to be experts in comprehensive and wholistic knowledge. In Gurukul system, teachers were expected to be experts in wholistic understanding of all subjects. It was believed that knowledge is indivisible. The students were expected to progress in their educational career without having doubts. As a teacher par excellence, Jesus was teaching his disciples with a wholistic outlook of knowledge. While he was teaching in the temple, people were astounded at his wisdom and knowledge (Matthew 13:54; John 7:14-15). Moreover, he responded to the questions of the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Scribes in clear and convincing terms. The Jewish religious leaders were attracted to the wisdom, pedagogical methods, and rhetorical skill of Jesus. They considered him as a Sadguru (i.e., True Teacher) and addressed him as a Mahaguru (i.e., Great Teacher). Some of them even expressed their desire to follow Jesus (Matthew 8:19; 12:38; 22:24). One of the priests among the Pharisees addressed Jesus as a Guru (Matthew 22:35). Judas the betrayer addressed Jesus as Rabbi (Matthew 26:25, 49).

Jesus taught his disciples with the divine authority from above (Mark 1:22). As the authoritative Son of the heavenly God, Jesus even washed the feet of his disciples and taught them the virtue of humility. Hence, he was able to ask the disciples “Who do people say that I am?” (Mark 8:27) and received good testimony from them (Matthew 16:15-16). In short, Jesus was one among the greatest teachers ever lived in human history. As a Sadguru and as a Mahakulapati Jesus imparted his knowledge, delivered his teachings, and exemplified his actions above and beyond the levels of all other teachers in human history. As the Word became flesh and lived among humanity, Jesus followed the axioms of God. Jesus was a teacher of teachers and the Son of the Great Teacher called the heavenly Father.

In human history, teachers were honored with high esteem as agents of liberation. Jesus as a teacher with holistic transformation as his method ushered a ground-breaking mission and ministry in the world. He introduced radical changes in the world with heavenly ethos. As the only begotten Son of the heavenly Father, he became a friend of the oppressed, brother of the orphaned, liberator of the downtrodden, healer of the diseased, and comforter of the wounded. He never attempted to impart his knowledge through the means of mere intellectualism; but rather he did his level best to make known his knowledge as per the life situations of the people. As a praxis-oriented teacher, Jesus was an agent of universal liberation and transformation. As we are agents of God’s kingdom, we should do as Jesus has done to us.

Johnson Thomaskutty

Dean of Biblical Studies

Union Biblical Seminary

Pune, India

We are in 2021. As the year begins, we have a lot of new hopes and aspirations. How do we understand the theme of “newness”? The Gospel of John introduces a list of new things in the early Christian context. As John stands out as a rhetoric of difference, the story-teller magnifies certain aspects to transform the novice Christian community as a distinct group. We shall look at the following aspects of “newness” in John chaps. 1-6.

First, while the old Israel prepared tabernacle by the efforts of the community members and thus invited the glory of God among them (Exo 25-27; 36-39; 40; Num 9:15; Lev 8:10), in John, we notice that the Son of God tabernacled among humanity and made a new community that enjoy the glory of God (1:14). The arrival of Jesus marked the beginning of the eternal glory shining among humanity. While the old Tabernacle increased people’s nationalistic hope, the new Tabernacle through Jesus was a universalistic arrangement for human salvation.

Second, Jesus attends a wedding in Cana in Galilee alongside of his mother, brothers, and the disciples (2:1-12). The Jews considered ‘wine’ as a synonym for ‘joy.’ In a wedding place, when there is ‘no wine’ gives the meaning that there is ‘no joy.’ In the context of the lack of wine, the family members and the invited guests experienced a situation of frustration. Mary the mother of Jesus brings the concern before Jesus and He acts as per the hour of the heavenly Father. The Master of the wedding testifies the superior quality of the wine that Jesus provided. Jesus’ intervention was instrumental in bringing a ‘new’ and superior wine and the resultant joy. This incident led many people to believing in Jesus.

Third, Jesus visits the temple at Jerusalem and makes a whip of cords to drive out those who were selling and buying in the temple premises (2:13-22). As a revolutionary, He overturns their tables and scatters the coins of the money changers. In the temple, Jesus proclaims: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The hearers (including the disciples) misunderstand the double meaning statement of Jesus. They responded to him: “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple.” While speaking in the temple, Jesus was not stating about the literal Jerusalem temple; but the new temple [Jesus Himself] that is tabernacled among humanity.

Fourth, a dialogue is at view between Jesus (a teacher “from above”) and Nicodemus (a teacher “from below”) in 3:1-10. Jesus advises Nicodemus to be born “from above.” His concern here is attuning his interlocutor with the “from above” ideology. Nicodemus’ misunderstanding is obvious through his statement “How can a man be born when he is old?” While Jesus speaks from a metaphorical sense to reveal a spiritual truth, Nicodemus takes Jesus’ speech in a literal sense. When Jesus invites Nicodemus to the experience of “new birth,” His concern was to attune his interlocutor to the spiritual and heavenly truths.

Fifth, there is a conversation develops between Jesus and a Samaritan woman on the theme of water (4:4-26). Jesus speaks to her who is racially, sexually, and morally at the margins. She comes to fetch water from a public well and is proud of the one who gave them the well (forefather Jacob). While she offers literal water to Jesus, Jesus in turn offers her “living water.” Jesus finds a distinction between the water from Jacob’s well (literal water) and the water he provides (spiritual “living” water, 4:13-14), and thus affirms his superiority over Jacob. Jesus as the giver of living water (a “new water” that satisfies people eternally) transforms the life of the woman and her villagers and directs them to the heavenly realities.

Sixth, the story of the Royal official is dramatic with a lot of twists (4:46-54). The man comes to request Jesus to come down and heal his son. Jesus rebukes the man as he is a representative of conditional belief (4:48). The punchline statement of the story is emphasized in vv. 50a and 53b: “Your son will live.” The event introduces a transformation in the family of the Royal official as his son was brought back to life, he came to a matured faith, and the whole family believed in Jesus. Though the story begins with a death-like situation, it ends with a spiritual transformation of the family. The theme of “new life” is at the core of the event here.

Seventh, John chap. 6 demonstrates some of the Exodus imageries. When Jesus says that he is “the bread of life,” it takes us back to the question of the disciples: “Could someone have brought him [Jesus] food?” (4:33). Jesus is introduced here as the provider of food (6:1-15), one who enjoys “spiritual food” through his works (4:34-38), and the “eternal bread” from heaven (6:35, 41, 48, 51). As the “bread of life,” Jesus proved his superiority over Moses who gave the people of Israel Manna in the desert (6:49, 58). While those who ate Manna died in the desert, those who eat Jesus shall live forever. As the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea and saved themselves from Pharaoh, Jesus crosses over the Sea of Galilee to bring transformation in human life (6:16-22). Thus, the motifs of “new bread,” “new Moses,” and “new Exodus” are put together here.

As we begin the year 2021, we need to renew our spiritual and moral commitments. Jesus as a new Tabernacle can encamp among us and protect us from all sorts of exploitation, dehumanization, and pandemics like Covid-19. As giver of renewed joy, Jesus enables us to see a bright year ahead with a lot of possibilities and prospects. His presence as the “new temple” motivates us to enjoy the continuous blessings and divine fellowship from heaven. As born “from above,” we are invited by Jesus to enjoy the heavenly realities. As the Samaritans drank from the well of God and recognized Jesus as “truly the Savior of the world,” we are invited to drink from the eternal well of God. Through his interaction with Jesus, the Royal official turned away from the valley of death to the eternal life experience. Those who cling on to Jesus shall eat the bread of God and be saved. It is assured that a transformed, liberated, and eternal living is possible through Jesus. Let’s enjoy the “newness” of God on a day-to-day basis throughout the year 2021.

Dr. Johnson Thomaskutty

Associate Professor and Dean of Biblical Studies

Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

As the Christmas season has already approached, I wish all my students, colleagues, relatives and friends across the world a Warm and Merry Christmas. Irrespective of the Pandemic Covid-19 situations God has brought us thus far. We need to celebrate the divine protection and guidance even in the midst of the difficult times in 2020. Below read my Christmas message derived out of the life experiences of Joseph of Nazareth.

Matthew chapter 1 is mainly divided into two parts: first, the genealogy of Jesus (1:1-17); and second, the conception and birth of Jesus (1:18-25). The Matthean narrative is framed in a literary device called inclusio with the assurance of the imminence of God in the world. At the outset of the Gospel, the narrator states that Jesus is Immanuel (i.e., “God with us,” 1:23). Similarly, at the close, Jesus states that: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (28:20). Jesus’/God’s imminence is the most important aspect that the world should cherish during the occasion of the Christmas and the New Year. Often Mary the mother of Jesus is given significance during the Christmas season. Here I would like to see the characterization of Joseph, who is considered as the earthly father of Jesus (1:18-25). The following three things are significant to note concerning the character of Joseph.

First, Joseph was confused of the things happening around him (vv. 18-19). Though Mary was pledged to get marry Joseph, she was pregnant even before they came together. Becoming pregnant without having association with the engaged man was punishable to stoning until death. As a righteous man and from the lineage of the Hebraic Fathers, Joseph was in a puzzlement between the oracles of the Law of Moses (Exo 20:2-17; Deut 5:6-21) and the events that were happening around him. Though he was not willing to expose Mary to public disgrace, he was attempting to divorce her quietly. He was bewildered of the following things: (1) as one who was not aware of Holy Spirit’s work in the womb of Mary, he was unable to understand the divine mysteries behind her pregnancy; (2) as per the Law of Moses Mary is punishable to death (Exo 20:2-17; Deut 5:6-21), but Joseph was unable to figure out the things and expose her to the public; and (3) in an honour and shame context, he was perplexed between the public disgrace and his private life with her.

Second, Joseph was confirmed about the divine plans (vv. 20-21). While he was almost settled in his confusions, the angel of the Lord appears in a dream and gives him confirmation about the divine plans through his family. As Jesus was addressed, Joseph is also considered as “son of David” (vv. 1, 20). He gathers braveness and takes Mary home. Joseph was confirmed with the divine realities in the following ways: (1) the appearance of the angel brings him into greater clarification of many things; (2) the work of the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb is attested by his testimony; and (3) Joseph, as a righteous man and a follower of the Mosaic commandments, realized the heavenly intervention in his family.

Third, Joseph’s commitment to fulfil the divine oracles (vv. 22-25). He realized that the things happen in his family are according to the prophetical oracles (v. 23). He commits himself to the work of the Lord: (1) he did what the angel of the Lord commanded him; (2) he took Mary home as his wife and protected her; (3) he led a sacrificial life without having a union with her until the birth of Jesus; and (4) he gave him the name Jesus as the angel commanded him (v. 21). Thus Joseph was moved far away from all the confusions and came to a confirmation about the heavenly plans in his family. The confirmation he had through divine oracles led him to a greater commitment to the will and purpose of God. During this Christmas season, let us redeem ourselves from all sorts of confusions and come to a greater confirmation about the salvation we received through Jesus. Such a confirmation shall help us to commit ourselves to the task of God placed ahead of us.

Dr. Johnson Thomaskutty

PhD (Nijmegen, Holland)

Associate Professor of NT

Union Biblical Seminary

Pune, India

CAA-770x433Jubilee is one of the most significant themes in the OT that envisions an ideal nationalistic kingdom for the people of Israel. Luke quotes Isa 61:1-2 in 4:18-19 as Jesus’ programmatic pronouncement of the Gospel. The Third Gospel as a whole orchestrates its ideological framework based on the Nazareth Manifesto of Jesus. But in Luke, Jubilee demonstrates a meaning beyond the traditional and nationalistic understanding of it. The Lukan narrator takes the message of Jubilee from the OT and reinterprets it for his new Sitz im Leben that comprises of the poor and the oppressed communities. In that sense, the Lukan understanding of the New Jubilee, as a gnomic and universalistic concept, can encompass the feelings and the aspirations of all people in everywhere and ever contexts. In today’s Indian scenario, the New Jubilee concept introduces a new paradigm that can transform the existent realities.

The Lukan concept of New Jubilee can be considered as a paradigm to the contemporary Indian context. Milgrom foregrounds Jubilee as a “rallying cry for today’s oppressed.” The Nazareth Manifesto (Luke 4:18-19) stands out as a persuasive artistry that moves the entire discourse of the Gospel forward as a rhetoric. Jesus, as one who was endowed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and as an anointed one, proclaims the programmatic pronouncement with efficacy. As the statement rightly elaborates, his main concern was proclamation of good news to the poor. As the Lukan community was in an expectation of a transformative and liberative voice, Jesus’ utterance inaugurates a new paradigm that focuses on the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, and the oppressed communities of his time. Mija states that, “The poor belongs to the Kingdom now.” In that sense, the socially, religiously, and politically marginalized communities of the Indian society can take advantage of the New Jubilee message.

Lukan Jesus proclaims the message of release. In the Gospel, the God of solidarity and God’s way of solidarity through Christ are at the foreground. As God is in solidarity with the oppressed communities, the Lukan poor is at the focus of his mission. God expresses his solidarity through the means of healing, comforting, encouraging, empowering, and leading to liberation/salvation. The ‘poor’ in the Indian context is not merely an economic category, but also those who are spiritually, socially, and physically vulnerable. The ‘prisoners’ is a broader category as they are captives—ideologically, structurally, that can be political, religious, cultural, and social in nature (Luke 4:1-5; 7:36-50; 11:37-53; 20:20-26). The existent realities of the Indian context seeks a paradigmatic touch through the New Jubilee message. It can bring peace and harmony to transform the society.

The ‘blind’ constitute not only physically blind people but also those who are blind to the broken realities of others and the true values of life. The ‘oppressed’ refers to those who are subjugated by the dominant in particular contexts. In the contemporary Indian scenario, the poor, Dalits, Tribals, Adivasis, women, and children undergo various socio-political and religio-cultural stigmas on a continuous basis. As a gnomic/universalistic Gospel, Luke has the power and potential to engage with the contemporary realities of the Indian society. As Luke and the Lukan Jesus envision a New Jubilee in the theological focus, the Lukan message has the potential to establish an egalitarian community within the social, economic, religious, political, and cultural realities of our country. In that sense, the Nazareth Manifesto is embedded within the wider text with a potential to transform human cultures.

The Lukan framework does not treat Jubilee in the old perspective, but rather in a renewed and contextually pragmatic manner by looking at the core realities in the socio-political and religio-cultural contexts. The current Government of India does not emphasize the minority rights as they exist as proponents of a majoritarian propaganda. The Ghar Wapsi issues, holy cow ideology, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), the National Population Register (NPR), and the National Register of Indian Citizens (NRIC) are used to stabilize a majoritarian propaganda that curbs the freedom and security of the minority religious communities of the country. This is the context in which the New Jubilee ideology can bring forth a radical transformation.

The CAA/NPR/NRIC agenda violates some of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution. While CAA excludes people based on their national and religious identities, New Jubilee is inclusive of all sorts of people irrespective of their citizenship or immigrant status. While the message of the New Jubilee embraces community formation and solidarity with the oppressed, the CAA scatters the community based on various national, ethnic, and religious factors. While CAA divides the community and puts the life of many into panic, the New Jubilee restores life and thus exists as a life-sustaining ideology. The message of New Jubilee fosters basic Human Rights to live and make life possible. While the CAA curbs the Human Rights of the Muslims, Christians, and other minority communities of the country, New Jubilee gives a new hope to the hopeless and the ostracized. Thus the New Jubilee ideology exists as a paradigm in the contemporary socio-political and religio-cultural situations of our country.

In India, a large number of farmers commit suicide as they lack Governmental support to manage their lands and yield profit. Displacement of the Adivasis and their misfortune to become landless in different parts of our country is yet another concern to be dealt with. Women are raped, nakedly paraded, and brutally murdered in different parts of our nation due to their distinct identity. It is also reported that child labour is rampant in today’s Indian context. Many live under the shadow of fear of death and spend their life in seclusion. It is in this context, the message of the New Jubilee can bring a positive change. Through the New Jubilee movement, the right to speech and freedom of life can be enhanced in the community living. The New Jubilee, as a “Freedom Movement,” proliferates freedom and deals with Human Rights issues. As the CAA targets the Muslims and the minorities of the nation, millions of the inhabitants live in jeopardy. The discriminatory acts of the Indian Government does not guarantee the rights, privileges, opportunities, and benefits of the citizens in the mode of righteousness and justice. Majority of the rules and laws are made to protect the majoritarian rights and subsequently to side-line the minorities, the refugees, and the migrants. This is the context in which the Lukan New Jubilee guarantees life and protects the Human Rights. As Jesus was envisioning a paradigmatic and egalitarian society in the First Century CE context, the same ideology can be implemented with a renewed thrust, rhetorical punch, and practical implication in order to redeem the divisive, accumulative, dehumanizing, and communal tendencies of the elites.

In recapitulation, the Lukan ideology of the New Jubilee can be considered as a gnomic or universalistic concept that brings forth multifarious initiatives in community building and social transformation. It is brainstormed as an ideology that takes into account everywhere and ever realities to show solidarity with the ostracized communities. As a message of hope to the poor, the captives, the oppressed, and the blind, it can be considered as an inclusive concept to transform human cultures. The Lukan Jesus takes side with the oppressed and begins his mission and ministry with a programmatic pronouncement in 4:18-19. On the one hand, the narrator takes insights from the Old Testament idea of Jubilee, but on the other hand, he goes above and beyond the Pentateuchal and Isaianic understanding of the concept for a wider efficacy. As the Old Testament concept is mostly a space-bound and time-bound idea in its execution, the Lukan idea crosses the traditional boundaries, creates a contextual and ideological constellation with the Old Testament, the Sitz-im-Leben Jesu, and the Sitz-im-Leben Kirche, builds a dialogical relationship with the Lukan poor, and leads the discourse toward a “third space.” This quality of the Lukan rhetoric unravels myriad possibilities for creating interpretative avenues for the Indian poor. As Luke takes the attention of the reader toward the subjugated sections of the society, an Indian reader can build her/his hermeneutical spectrum to encompass the feelings and the aspirations of the Indian masses. This quality of the Gospel of Luke demonstrates its esteemed rhetorical power.

As the Third Gospel as a whole builds a rhetorical strategy by way of absorbing the contemporary realities, the Nazareth Manifesto foregrounds the New Jubilee ideology to build the narrative texture of the Gospel. An Indian reader of the Gospel can witness a paradigmatic function of it as it curbs many of the existent realities of the country. A re-reading of the Gospel in the face of the mirror realities of our country takes into account the poor, the captives, the oppressed, and the blind sections of the society for liberation and transformation. The poor, the Dalits, the Tribals, the Adivasis, the women, the children, and all other subjugated sections can build hope and identify justice once when they adopt and implement the New Jubilee ideology. In a context in which the CAA/NPR/NRIC, the Ghar Wapsi, the holy cow ideology, and the anti-conversion issues are discussed, the New Jubilee ideology enables the people to have a new smile on their faces. In sum, the Lukan ideology of the New Jubilee can be considered as a paradigm for holistic development in the nation of India and elsewhere.

Johnson Thomaskutty

Union Biblical Seminary

Pune, India

Serampore Mission imageThomaskutty, Johnson., ed. Serampore Mission: Perspectives in Contexts. Delhi: ISPCK, 2019. ISBN: 978-93-88945-06-6. Pages: i-xxviii, 1-310.

Reviewer

Thawng Ceu Hnin (PhD)

Faculty of New Testament Studies

Hindustan Bible Institute

Chennai, India.

The title Serampore Mission: Perspectives in Contexts is a new book edited by Johnson Thomaskutty who is a New Testament professor at the Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India. Published in 2019, this book can be considered as one of the most recent books dealing on the topic of the Serampore Mission. It consists of 15 articles examining the contributions of the Serampore Missionaries. This book examines “the biblical, historical, hermeneutical, theological, missional, ministerial, and contextual disciplines of the movement” from multiple perspectives. It also aims to link the historical gap between the contexts of the Serampore Mission in its own Sitz im Leben and the 21st century Christianity in India. Primarily, this book deals with three significant aspects: first, “the influence of the Serampore Mission and the paradigm shifts that brought into the missional and the ministerial developments in the Indian scenario”; second, understanding the “significance of the Serampore Mission and its educational and theological contributions in the contemporary India”; and third, “the role of the Mission and its engaged and holistic tasks in the pluralistic Indian contexts.”

In his essay A Theo-epistemological Reflection on William Carey and the Serampore Mission, Songram Basumatary traces the theo– and missio-epistemological framework of the Serampore Mission. In that process, he poses many thoughtful questions such as “Are we theologizing Serampore Mission?” Whether to consider William Carey as a mere Missionary or he was also a socialist? Whether he was a pioneer of the praxis theology or was he also the father of the modern mission? Having asked the aforementioned questions, the author provides various factors that influenced Carey. In his essay Important Documents of the Serampore College and Their Significance to Higher Education in India, Subhro Sekhar Sircar attempts to underscore the historical value of four of the important educational manuscripts documented by various people: first, the First Prospectus of the College (1818); second, the Royal Charter (1827); third, Statutes and Regulations (1833); and fourth, the Serampore College Act (1918). In doing so, Sircar examines the contributions of these four documents to the Indian educational system. The author gives a short historical visit to the genesis of the Serampore College and its contextual relevance to the contemporary church.

In his essay The Impact of the Bible through the Protestant Reformation and the Protestant Missionary Movement, Prakash Abraham Mathew studies the tremendous impacts of the Protestant Reformation and the Serampore Mission which were founded and led by Martin Luther and William Carey. Mathew helps us to comprehend several factors such as: the ways Luther and Carey initiated their movements based on the Bible, the challenges they encountered in the process of accomplishing their tasks, their impacts upon the renaissance of Germany and India, and the historical significance of the Bible in transforming the lives of the people. In his essay William Carey’s Bible Translation Principles: Prospects and Challenges, Stanly Jones investigates the theological significance of the Bible translation, revisits Carey’s principles of the Bible translation, and underlines his challenges in accomplishing the task in the Indian vernacular languages. The author projects the salvific and holistic transformative nature of translating the Bible into Indian vernacular languages.

In his essay Re-reading the Gospel of John in the Light of William Carey’s Linguistic Methods, Johnson Thomaskutty examines Carey’s linguistic methods in the context of Bengal as well as in the wider Indian contexts. The author explores Carey’s linguistic principles for interpreting the Bible, implements some of his linguistic methods in the “narrative framework of John’s gospel,” studies the “sociolinguistic matrix of the Fourth Gospel for interpretive avenues,” and finally, brings forth a new hermeneutic or an indigenous hermeneutic for understanding the Bible. In her essay Educational Principles of the Serampore Mission and Its Implications for Contemporary Education, Annie George revisits the educational principles of the Serampore Trio/Quartet. The author enables us to see how the Serampore Trio/Quartet used education as a missionary tool and formulates various educational principles for the current education.

In his essay The Contribution of the Serampore Mission towards the Ecumenical Movement: A Historical Perspective, Woba James attempts to present the historical contribution of the Serampore Trio to the modern ecumenical movement. James perceives that the Serampore Mission is ecumenical in nature because it welcomes all regardless of their caste, race, color or even religion. He concludes that ecumenism was brought in various forms: by bringing together different theological institutions under one umbrella, by bridging the colleges together under one platform for “common theological vision and mission,” and by extending its ecumenical mission towards the people of other faiths. In his essay Reading the Life of Abraham and William Carey from a Missiological Perspective, Shiju Mathew makes a logical parallelism between Abraham and William Carey and demonstrates that they were two servants of God who lived once in the history of humanity. Mathew beautifully writes, “Both Abraham and Carey received the title ‘Father,’ Abraham as ‘Father of many nations’ and Carey as ‘Father of Modern Missions.’” The author considers these two prominent historical figures from a missional perspective and draws its relevance to the contemporary mission of the church.

In his essay The centrality of Christ and the Hermeneutical Perspectives of the Serampore Mission, George Philip attempts to answer the following question: “How can we understand the centrality of Christ in the activities of the Serampore Trio?” Philip also inquires the “hermeneutical principles of the Serampore Mission” and examines the “hermeneutical paradigms of the current theological education.” Philip writes that the hermeneutical lenses of the Serampore Trio were “proof-text method and literal interpretation of the text.” In his article Serampore Mission from a Botanical and Ecological Perspective, Jangkholam Haokip, as the title suggests, reads the Serampore Mission from a “botanical and ecological perspective.” The author depicts Carey as a botanist who paid special attention to the caring of plants and points out that for Carey, collecting and planting several plants was both religious and missional in nature. The nature is one of God’s creations and Carey vividly understood his role as a steward.

In his essay Serampore Mission and Dalit Theology, Viju Wilson addresses how the Serampore Mission and the Senate of Serampore College have contributed to the Indian contextual theological thinking and to the upbringing of the Indian Dalit theological thinking. Wilson argues that the Serampore Mission and the College have enabled the marginalized communities of India “to celebrate the life in its fullness.” The author contends that the Senate of Serampore College has developed many contextual theologians and they in return brought a holistic transformation among the marginalized sections of the society. In his article Revisiting the Serampore Missions and the Tribal Worldviews: A Postcolonial Reading, Mayang Longkumer interrogates and addresses one of the most significant questions: “Can something good come out of the Serampore missions lensing through the tribal worldview?” The author studies the Serampore Mission and other foreign missionary movements through the eyes of the tribal communities in India using a “post-colonial reading” as his interpretive tool. Longkumer suggests that mission movements should not be ignorant of the socio-cultural context of the target groups and that the approach of the Christian missions should be holistic.      

In his article The Modern Missionary Movement of the Serampore Trio: A Missiological Perspective, James Patole considers the “historical aspects of the Serampore Trio” and studies the missionary works of the Trio from a missiological perspective. Patole has chosen a handful of modes and approaches of the Trio and has brought application to the contemporary missional endeavor.  In her article Beyond the Serampore Mission Historiography: Re-defining Ecumenism from the Context, Kaholi Zhimomi sees the need to re-examine the historical dimensions of the Serampore Mission to address the modern missionary movement and pays a visit to the historical contributions of the Serampore Mission. Considering the Serampore Mission as her base, she redefines the meaning of the term “ecumenism” in the Sitz im Leben of Indian realities. In her conclusion, she suggests a life-centric ecumenism over against the prevailing church-centric and anthropo-centric ecumenical endeavors. The last essay in this book is William Carey’s Approach to the People of Other Faiths, Religious Practices, Caste System, and Conversion, written by Giri K. He considers the various ways through which William Carey approached the people of other faiths, religious practices, caste system and conversion in India.

Unlike any other books on the Serampore Mission, this book stands unique because it is one of the results of the bicentenary celebration in India. All the writers have put their efforts in viewing the Serampore Mission through multiple perspectives and their works bring a fresh light. A suggestion would be the need to address the relationship between the Senate of Serampore colleges and the colleges under the Asia Theological Association since a large number of churches and organizations only value the products of the Senate of Serampore College/s over and above the ATA graduates. Overall, this book is the need of the hour to re-emphasize the holistic mission initiatives of the Serampore missionaries. Abraham was called the “Father of many nations” and William Carey was called the “Father of Modern Missions.” In that sense, who will be called to be the “Father of Post-modern Missions?” It is the need of the hour for the Serampore College/s to consider this question with seriousness. While we celebrate our past glory, let us also work together to transform our students to become people like the Serampore missionaries who will be called the “Father/s [Mother/s] of Post-modern Missions.”

Overall, the editor and the authors together attempt to build a “third space” for witnessing Christ to the future generation of people out of the “first space” of the Serampore missionaries and the “second space” of the contemporary contextual realities. The editorial ventures, layout, research initiatives, marshalling of the evidence, multifarious topics, and the holistic nature of the book deserve special appreciation. For those who search for a book that focuses on the contemporaneity of the Serampore Mission, this book can be considered as one of the best choices.

Buy the Book here: Amazon Page

Buy the Book: ISPCK

Bloomsbury Book PictureJohnson Thomaskutty, Saint Thomas the Apostle: New Testament, Apocrypha, and Historical Traditions (Jewish and Christian Texts in Contexts and Related Studies 25; London/New York: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2018). Pp. xx + 256.

Saint Thomas the Apostle is an excellent study of Thomas traditions in the Gospel according to John, the Apocryphal texts, and the historical traditions in North western and Southern India. The movement of Christianity towards the East is relatively neglected. Many of the traditions and writings were treated more or less fictional and legendary and their historical veracity is often looked down with suspicion. But there are many untold stories of these men and women who were so close to Jesus of Nazareth. The Eastern regions have always maintained their fascinations about these people. One of such figures in the Christian history, a tiny figure amidst the towering figures like Paul and Peter, is Thomas, the Twin. Charlesworth has rightly commented in the Foreword that Thomas has been maligned in the west as the doubting Thomas, because of the misinterpretation of John 20 and therefore Thomas did not make, in the eyes of many, an ideal disciple (p. xi). This study challenges such conventional and stereotyped images and scholarly assumptions regarding Thomas traditions.

This monograph is indeed a remarkable effort to understand the person and work of “Didymus Judas Thomas” (p. 1).  The author’s attempt to reclaim the original image of Thomas as “believing Thomas,” over against the popular image “doubting Thomas,” needs appreciation.  In doing this, the author investigates the development of Thomas literature from its earliest stages, reads those traditions with fresh insights and scrutinizes the Thomas Literature to delineate the character and mission of Thomas. The author builds his thesis furthering the propositions of Charlesworth, as its basis, and cuts its own path employing an interdisciplinary method.

This monograph divides Thomas literature into three categories: canonical references, apocryphal documents, and traditio-historical materials. By interweaving these three layers of documents, the attempt is made to reconstruct the personality of Thomas. This research is structured into three parts. The first part (chaps. 1-4) talks in a detailed way how Thomas is portrayed in the Fourth Gospel. The second part (chaps. 5-8) delineates the person and work of Thomas in the Apocryphal documents and part three (chaps. 9-10) examines the Thomas traditions and attempts to reconstruct the Thomas community. In doing this, a brilliant attempt is made to reconstruct the person of Thomas as a historical and a literary figure.

In the first part, the attempt is to focus Thomas’s character within the narrative framework of the Gospel of John. The author brilliantly explains the “narrative artistry” of Johannine literature with an insightful reading of all four Thomas narratives in the Fourth Gospel (p. 5). The unique placement of Thomas, to the author, communicates something significant about the character and his development within the narrative. The utterances of Thomas is exegetically analyzed with its stylistic and rhetorical effects in the narrative units. In addition, the character of Thomas is brought forward from new directions by analyzing the arrangement of various themes like belief, love, glory and the titles given to Jesus.

The first place where Thomas comes to the forefront of the narrative is in John 11. Apparently, it is the narrative about the death of Lazarus, but at a deeper level it is pointing to the death and resurrection of Jesus. This narrative twist is done through the portrayal of Thomas, in which Thomas’s utterance impacts the whole story of Lazarus. This utterance makes crucial Christological turn in the narrative. Thus, Thomas is presented as one who stands against all odds and stands with the decisions and plans of Jesus and as a key figure in the plot of the story of Jesus (p. 34). The second occurrence of Thomas is in the Farewell discourse (13:1-17:26). By interpreting the question in 14:5 with its rhetorical effects in the narrative, the author brings forth the person of Thomas as one filled with love and concern for Jesus. His questions and utterances in the narrative enhance rhetorical force initiating new revelations. The third occurrence is in 20:1-31. This passage gives the highest Christological confession in the Gospel, the theological climax of the whole narrative. The expression “My Lord and My God” is also ‘rhetoric of resistance’ and therefore it can also be understood from its imperial context and its affiliative-alterity (mimicking and mocking) dynamics. The final appearance is in chapter 21:1-25, which is interpreted as a narrative expansion to stabilize the role and function of Thomas.

The second part of this book analyses the portrayal of Thomas in the Apocryphal documents to see how Thomas traditions continued to exist in the early centuries. It also delineates the significance of Thomas in the post-Johannine context. The Gospel of Thomas is the first document in this category, which is attributed to Didymus Judas Thomas (p. 90). He was identified within the Syrian church as the apostle and twin brother of Jesus. This document helps the reader to understand Thomas’s unique leadership role, his special knowledge about Jesus, and his unparalleled position in early Christianity (p. 101-102). The second document is ‘Book of Thomas the Contender,’ which is a revelation dialogue between Jesus and Thomas (p. 106). This book throws light regarding the engagement of the Thomasine community with that of the ideological and philosophical world of early Christian centuries. Book of Thomas portrays Thomas and his community (Thomasine community) with special attachment to Jesus and ability to comprehend Jesus’ sayings, while the rest of the world is in ignorance. Thus the person and character of Thomas could be seen as an extension of the Johannine tradition.

The Acts of Thomas and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas are the next two documents examined in this study. These documents give further information regarding Thomas’ significance and influence among the communities of faith. In the Acts of Thomas, the Apostle Thomas is described as the Apostle to the East, and more specifically as the Apostle of India (p. 122). This book indicates Thomas’ journeys beyond the Greco–Roman world, to the Eastern Hemisphere, especially to the Indo-Parthian and South Indian regions. This shows Thomas’s character and identity as a disciple with an intimate relationship with and commitment to Jesus and as one who crosses the geographical boundaries, and as one engaging with people from varied walks of life. Just as in the Fourth Gospel, he appears as Jesus’s spiritual twin and proclaims him as “My Lord and my God” (p. 125). The infancy Gospel of Thomas tells the stories of Jesus’ childhood, the stories that were in circulation regarding the earthly Jesus. Thomas was perceived as a philosopher (p. 142), a childhood friend and as a twin brother of Jesus in this document. The author brilliantly reconstructs the growth of Thomas from a “childhood friend” to an “earlier disciple” and later on to a “mature believer” (p. 149).

The third part of this monograph explores the historical traditions related to Thomas. Firstly, there is an attempt to understand the way the nation of India was perceived in antiquity and the possibilities of Thomas’s coming to the Greater Indian provinces. It is an established fact that through trade relationships, India became well connected to the rest of the world, especially the Jewish, Babylonian, Greek, Roman, and Persian kingdoms. Then the patristic evidences are marshaled to prove Thomas’ apostleship to India. Such traditions, for the author, were unanimous, consistent, and reasonably early, and they circulated among the church fathers, travelers, traders, geographers, and historians from a wider geographical area. To the author there is no convincing contradictory evidence stating that Thomas did not go to India.

Author’s analyses of the historical perception of the person and work of Thomas from the tradition- historical material deserve appreciation. Firstly, it is reconstructed from the Synoptic Gospels, Fourth Gospel and Acts of the Apostles. The author argues that the spiritual experiences on the day of Pentecost and in the upper room, the emerging situation of persecution in the Jerusalemite context, and the post-council (i.e., 49 CE) attitude of the mother church toward missions would have challenged Thomas to pursue the task of going beyond the Jewish and Greco–Roman boundaries. The evidences from the records of church fathers, historians, travelers, and geographers are called forth in proving Thomas’s visit to India. Thomas Christianity, though rooted in the Palestinian Jesus movement and connected to Gentile Christianity, kept its own identity as a mystical, ascetic, and esoteric group spread throughout the East Syrian, Persian, Indo-Parthian, and South Indian provinces. The living tradition of Malabar, the tomb of Mylapore, archaeological evidence relating to the kingdom of Gundaphoros, the local traditions of Malabar including the Ramban Thoma Pattu, Margan Kali Pattu, Veeradian Pattu, and other traditions, are indicators of such growth of Thomas Christianity. The author strongly argues that the traditions about Thomas as one of the oldest and strongest traditions in church history.

The author’s brilliant integration of Thomas’s literary character, historical persona, and theological traits for a comprehensive understanding of his person and work deserves appreciation. The reconstruction of Thomasine community and its development as a unique, concrete, and consistent movement in history, with its expressive forms, especially the Malabar traditions is enlightening and makes this monograph a valuable contribution to the academia. The meticulous examination of the development of this Thomasine movement through the Thomasine Literature indeed evidences the nature of research and its excellence. The quest for the person and work of Thomas and his community through these traditions is indeed a contribution to the theological fraternity across the globe.  With these analyses, the author proposes reasons for a Thomasine School hypothesis. This study of Thomas with the help of an interdisciplinary approach is iconoclastic in nature. With this eclectic reading, the author proves how Thomas stands tall as a unique figure in the history of Christianity. This is an interesting book for all theological students, biblical scholars and researchers on history of Christianity.

Dr. Biju Chacko

New Theological College

Dehra Dun, India.

Bloomsbury Book PictureJohnson Thomaskutty, Saint Thomas the Apostle: New Testament, Apocrypha, and Historical Traditions, Jewish and Christian Texts in Contexts and Related Studies 25 (London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2018, ₤85.00. pp. xx + 265. ISBN 978-05676-7284-1).

This is a monograph with an edge. It emerged from a postdoctoral research project, but its aim was no mundane textual re-examination of early literary texts referring to the apostle Thomas. Instead, this study adopts an interdisciplinary approach to challenge what is seen as the pervasive assumption that the extra-canonical texts referring to Thomas are purely fictive. Thomaskutty frames his research question in the following manner: ‘Are the Thomas references in the Gospel of John, the Thomas compositions, and the early Thomas traditions in north-western and southern India purely legendary as biblical scholars have assumed or do they preserve unexamined historical traditions intermittently as the Thomas Christians in India have believed?’ (p. 1). While Thomaskutty is correct that scholars have tended to see the so-called Thomas compositions as largely fictive, it might be overstating the case to say that biblical scholars have understood these traditions as entirely legendary. The link between the figure of Thomas and eastern Christianity, and perhaps with India itself has occasioned consideration of whether there might be an historical kernel to this tradition. Thomaskutty, however, undertakes a comprehensive study of early Thomas material to provide a more encompassing portrait of the figure of Thomas.

As the subtitle suggests the book is arranged in three parts, dealing in turn with Thomas in the Gospel of John, Thomas in the Apocryphal Documents, and Thomas in the Historical Traditions. In terms of arrangement, the reason for treating the Thomas in the Gospel of John as a discrete section, while examining the other New Testament texts that refer to Thomas (in disciple lists: Matt 10.3; Mk 3.18; Lk 6.5; Acts 1.13) in the third section on historical contexts is not entirely obvious. It is argued that in the fourth gospel Thomas’s portrayal is that of ‘a royal, inquisitive, and developing model, his character advances towards a new level of faith commitment’ (p. 85). In the second section Thomaskutty examines four Thomas texts—The Gospel of Thomas, The Book of Thomas the Contender, The Acts of Thomas, The Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Analysis of these texts leads Thomaskutty to observe the proximity of Thomas to Jesus particularly in terms an attachment to Jesus that results in a deeper comprehension of his sayings. The twin-motif is emphasized (p. 119). However, one may question whether it is present in all these texts (cf. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas). Particularly helpful is the discussion of Thomas Christianity in India (pp. 197-201). Thomaskutty notes that Thomas Christianity possesses ‘a spirituality that focuses on the glorious trinity’ (p. 199). Presumably that aspect of spirituality did not originate with the figure of Thomas in the first century, but may evidence contact between Thomas Christianity and church traditions to the west.

In the end this is an intriguing study, which raises many significant questions. The author is to be commended for marshalling the evidence in a way that lends some support to the ideas being articulated. This volume now stands alongside a growing literature on early Thomas texts and traditions.

By Prof. Paul Foster, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh, UK.

(Published in The Expository Times 129/11: p. 524).

gospel-of-john-logoAfter completing the monographs Dialogue in the Book of Signs: A Polyvalent Analysis of John 1:19-12:50 [BINS 136; Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2015] and Saint Thomas the Apostle: New Testament, Apocrypha, and Historical Traditions [Jewish and Christian Texts Series 25; New York/London: Bloomsbury T & T Clark, 2018], I was seriously thinking of writing a contextual commentary on the Gospel of John. For my surprise, I was approached by Primalogue (Bangalore) and Fortress Press (Minneapolis) for this significant task. I thank Dr. Brian C. Wintle (Series Editor), Mr. George Korah (Publisher), and other editors for this wonderful opportunity. Herewith I request all my friends for your support in multifarious ways.

The India Commentary on the New Testament (ICNT) series aims to give a well-informed exposition of the meaning of the text and relevant reflections in everyday language from contemporary Indian and South Asian context. The intended audience is the theological seminary students and faculty. The commentaries are also ideal for pastors and lay people with an interest in theology or responsibilities for preaching in the local congregation. The commentaries are culturally rooted, and the various applications relating to culture, society, and religious life will help those involved in cross-cultural witnessing and missional engagements. There is no direct equivalent to the ICNT, and hence this is the first Indian commentary serving India, the entire subcontinent (that means, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) and the world. The ICNT is an affordable evangelical commentary series written by respected academics in everyday language, providing a well-informed meaning of the New Testament and practical reflections for modern Indian and South Asian contexts. It will be published by Primalogue (Bangalore) and Fortress Press (Minneapolis).

The rhetoric of John’s Gospel can encompass the feelings and aspirations of people both “there and then” and “here and now.” This unique characteristic of the Gospel is evident as it manifests in particular times and places its gnomic significance, its significance for all times and places, when context-specific issues arise that require context-specific readings. John’s narrative masterpiece takes into consideration both the individual and the corporate aspects of humanity. The gnomic rather than descriptive nature of the text directs our attention to its global hermeneutical significance. The Gospel of John speaks equally to secular Americans and Europeans, to pluralistic Indians, to Hindu Nepalese, and to Muslim Bangladeshis. Its message of peace, love, faith-centered life, holistic salvation, and the mission of God has the potential to liberate and transform diverse communities of the world. In the Indian and the South Asian contexts, a missional hermeneutic that crosses traditional boundaries of interpretation and builds dialogical bridges between the world of the Bible and that of our own time may be very effective. Such boundary-crossing and bridge-building will enable contemporary Indian readers of the Gospel of John to direct their community to a “third space” for dialogue. This should be paradigmatic for the South Asian Christians.

By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India.

13527235_f520Dialogue in the Book of Signs: A Polyvalent Analysis of John 1:19-12:50 by Johnson Thomaskutty. Leiden/Boston: E. J. Brill, 2015. Pp. 540

Dialogue in the Book of Signs is a well-written and fascinating study of the dialogues in the Gospel according to John (1:19-12:50), a literary genre that needed much attention and an area largely remained thus far underexplored in Johannine studies. It is a strenuous task, a book with 558 pages, of which 484 pages deal with the main text, 18 pages for preface, foreword and other details in the beginning, 38 pages for bibliography and the rest for indices (index of authors and ancient sources). These details explicate the dedicated work of a researcher with focus and enthusiasm. The text is neatly printed without mistakes, which indicates many hours of cautious and exhaustive scrutinizing and hard work by the author.  The rich list of bibliography, appendices and the figures and diagrams used in the explanation deserves appreciation. The author also deserves appreciation for taking a challenging task, an under explored area, using a synchronic way of reading. The author limits his study to the Book of Signs (1:19-12:50) and defines his task as to identify the dialogue form people use in their conversation and the narrator’s dialogue with the reader and how the intermingling of these two layers play a vital role in the narrative structure of the Gospel (p. 19).

The methodology employed looks highly sophisticated. The author employs a polyvalent approach to drive his point home. The phenomena of dialogue are discussed at three levels: micro-level (looking for the semantic, syntactic and pragmatic aspects of the exchanges), meso-level (the relation between exchange units and their formation into episodes), and macro-level (taking the Book of Signs as a single unit and delineating the holistic features of the dialogue). In such a sophisticated analysis, the author relies on the genre critical theory developed by David Hellholm and David E. Aune (p. 21), especially the genre elements like “form, content and function” (p. 22). Narrative critical approach is also used as another tool, in which the Book of Signs is understood as a narrative, especially the narrative theory by Seymour Chatman, who explains “story and discourse” as two major elements within a narrative. The rhetorical techniques employed by the evangelist are also analyzed. The author also utilizes a “description and classification” method to unearth the holistic nature and the types of dialogues. Along with this an “analytic and synthetic method” is integrated. Thus, the author employs insights from genre, narrative, rhetorical, dramatic, and reader-response methods to analyze the dialogue texts of John. It describes the polyvalent nature of the method and its interdisciplinary orientation.

The study traces back the dialogues in the ancient world, from various religious traditions (Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Canaanite, and Greco-Roman), in which the conversation between the deities and the human beings were part of the affairs of that world. Such a context helps to explicate the dialogues between Jesus and the Father, between the ‘one from above’ (Jesus) and those ‘from below’ (Jews) and between the word that became flesh and the rest of the humanity. The ancient philosophical traditions are also called for support to understand the existent patterns of dialogue in the first century. At the same time, the study contends that Johannine dialogues must be treated on its own terms. Moreover, it has affinity with dialogues in the Old Testament, especially in its ‘inner negotiation and outer confrontation pattern’ (p. 36). A comparison between the Synoptic Gospels and the Fourth Gospel would reveal that though dialogue was employed by the Synoptic evangelists, John uses this literary genre in a more concentrated way. The author begins with an explanation of two questions at the outset: what is a dialogue in John and how a dialogue is different from a conversation.

11210434_10205374754682319_7096551444197954496_nThe author divides the whole Book of signs into 13 episodes. After giving the dialogue setting, he discusses the exchange units in a dialogue at three different levels: micro-, meso- and macro-. At micro level, the dynamics of exchange between individuals and interlocutors and their interrelation from its semantic, syntactic and pragmatic aspects are analyzed. Thus, the content, form and function of the exchange unit is studied, devices (for example, double meaning, misunderstanding and others) used in the dialogues are explicated and thus the dialogue trends are highlighted. At meso level, it analyses how the exchange units work in relation to one another and how they together contribute in the formation of an episode. By using a polyvalent analysis in the study of dialogues, the author takes all the pain to paint different layers and types (implicit, explicit, and others) of dialogue in the narratives and show their plot structure, characterization, thematic development, rhetoric, revelatory aspects, dialogue tenets (such as forensic enquiry, defense statements, messianic motifs, and the like), and other literary features. By doing this, the author elucidates different textures of the narrative before the readers. At this level, how the dialogue develops towards a common emphasis is mentioned.

At macro level, the study takes into account the features of dialogue in the Book of Signs as a whole. At this level, the details highlighted at micro- and meso-levels are organized. It deals with the relation between the exchanges and the episodes within the extended narrative framework. The author highlights the major dialogue trends such as question-and-answer, request-rebuke-response, challenge-and-riposte, and report-and-defense. This section also discusses the polyvalent connections as well as the rhetorical thrust of the dialogue.   In all these three levels the ‘character dialogues’ and the ‘narrator-and-reader dialogue’ are explained side by side.

The author has made a deliberate attempt to fill the gap in the study of the dialogues, and thus bring to forefront the underexplored dimensions of this literary genre in the Fourth Gospel. It explores the literary and rhetorical character of the Gospel and brings forward the varied textures of the narrative. The study relates the dialogues as an important genre and its polyvalent performative trends in the Gospel. The author successfully brings out the aesthetic elements of the text before the readers.The story of Jesus is presented in the Sitz-im-Leben of John through dialogues, and thus the narrator invites the readers of the gospel to be engaged with the narrator. However, while applying the literary techniques and seeing the story of Jesus in the ‘Johannine life situation,’ the author remains silent on the negotiations of the narrator through his protagonist (Jesus) and the varied characters in the Gospel. This Gospel is a powerful negotiation against Jewish cultural nationalists and also against the presence of the Empire and its operations in the lived experience of the Johannine community (Warren Carter, 2008: 3-15). This study has sufficiently argued and explicated the rhetorical techniques used by the evangelist/narrator. At the same time, it was also a rhetoric of distance (Carter) and thus resistant elements and its negotiations with the power centers needed attention, which may be beyond the scope of this study.  This book is a useful study, challenging all the New Testament scholars and students to engage in interdisciplinary approaches, especially, for Johannine students, this research work is a must read book. Surely, it prompts further research in the field of Johannine studies.This book has strongly argued for a dialogue-centered interpretation than a narrative-centered interpretation, thus contends for a new epistemic center from which the hermeneutical wings of Johannine eagle can spread into higher realms.

Dr. Biju Chacko

Assistant Professor of New Testament

New Theological College

Dehradun, India

Thomas ButlerAn insightful and refreshing approach to the study of the Gospel of John

Johnson Thomaskutty has opened a new window into the challenge of analyzing the structure and content of the Gospel of John by identifying what he calls a polyvalent analysis of dialogue in the tri-partite categories of micro-, meso-, and macro– levels “to bolster a comprehensive interpretation of John 1:19-12:50.” But, Thomaskutty has chosen to limit his analysis to what he and other scholars call the Book of Signs. I find myself wondering why he does not apply his systematic analysis to the parts of the Gospel he does not apply his analytical tool. In his words, including the prologue, the extended passion story or the post-passion and resurrection accounts. There is a historical reason for these extant tri-partite, but often hidden categories, i.e. the Hebrew Scriptures (and the apparent editorials applied to them, especially during and after the post-exilic period in Babylon), the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures, i.e. the Septuagint (and Midrashic commentaries on some parts of it, or all of it if the Fourth Gospel is to be written using signs and oracles in it as a Midrash of the written and oral tradition of Jesus), and finally, the Greek version of the Gospel of John (requiring readers and scholars to find and interpret the deeper meaning of the signs and oracles found the Gospel’s source document, the Septuagint to reveal its deeper meaning). Professor Thomaskutty has not chosen, for example, to consider the Midrash commentary on the first verse of the creation story in the prologue of the Gospel according to John. It is there that the first dialogue occurs in all of history as the Hebrew theologians, certainly including Moses, understood it and described it. God speaks, and the creation comes into being in response to what God commands. The first verse of the Gospel according to John identifies the Word of God, the aspect of God who speaks, “. . . and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” That should certainly qualify as a macro-level in the polyvalent analysis of the Gospel. The refreshed approach that Professor Thomaskutty has identified can surely be used by other scholars toward important insights of the deep meaning to be found there.

-by Thomas W. Butler

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NTA imageNew Testament Abstracts 60/2, 2016

JOHNSON THOMASKUTTY, Dialogue in the Book of Signs: A Polyvalent Analysis of John 1:19—12:50, Biblical Interpretation 136 (Leiden—Boston: Brill, 2015, €186/$241) xviii and 540 pp., 58 figs. Bibliography. Indexed. LCN: 2015020173. ISBN: 978-90-04-30159-7.

[[The revised version of a doctoral dissertation supervised by J. G. van der Watt and accepted by Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen in the Netherlands in 2014, this book investigates the development of Johannine dialogue in the Book of Signs (Jn 1:19—12:50), seeks to understand the peculiar approaches and methodologies of the author/narrator for framing the dialogue, and explores the theological value of dialogue. After a 42-page introduction, it provides micro- and meso-analyses of dialogue in the Book of Signs: a glory-focused revelatory dialogue (1:19—2:12), a challenge and riposte dialogue (2:13-22), a pedagogical dialogue leading to a monologue (3:1-21), a report-and-defense dialogue to a narrative commentary (3:22-36), an interreligious dialogue in a dual-stage setting (4:1-42), and so forth. Then it provides a macro-level analysis with attention to exchange, episode, and narrative developments; dialogue and its polyvalent connections; the content, form, and function of dialogue; and dialogue and the rhetorical thrust of the Book of Signs. Thomaskutty, associate professor of NT and Greek language at Union Biblical Seminary in Pune, India, concludes that the narrator and the implied reader dynamism within the Book of Signs enables contemporary readers to understand the narrative world of the Fourth Gospel.]]

NB: The notice of the highlighted book appeared in NTA 60/2 in October 2016 (@ Boston College). A corresponding record will appear in NTA Online (see www. Ebscohost.com).

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Review One: “Scholarly and well-researched—an essential reading in Johannine studies”

The book Dialogue in the Book of Signs by Johnson Thomaskutty concerns itself with the study of dialogue as a literary category in the Book of Signs. The book predominantly uses a synchronic approach but does not distance itself from the questions of authorship and other “historical” aspects. The study mainly focuses on a fairly “empty spot”—the study of dialogue and its literary and theological significance in the Book of Signs (John 1:19-12:50). The beauty of the book lies in its methodology. With a tri-partite layer of structural analysis combined with a deeply informed and intuitively discussed scholarship of the literary text, Thomaskutty shows that through a discussion regarding the literary category called “dialogue” many new insights in the Gospel of John are possible. His tri-partite methodology consists of a micro, meso and macro analyses of the text that slots the text into various frames that have their structures and gives a detailed analysis of the function as well as nature of the dialogue in these frames. The categories or exchange units that comprises of the dialogue are analyzed individually (micro), in relation to each other (meso) and as a whole (macro).

While constructing these frames, he uses many established scholars in a manner that not only explains their textual categorizations but also inter-reflects within their views to bring out clarity and a sound understanding of the text itself. This work champions the literary critical methods and sets a literary paradigm for studying Johannine literature as dialogue. This paradigmatic understanding is achieved also on the level of the relationship of “dialogue” with the other literary genres found in the text like the ‘I AM sayings’ or the uses of metaphors as well as Platonic and Aristotelian forms of dialogue. Studying dialogue as genre in the gospel as well as its rhetoric in unfolding a drama for the reader, Thomaskutty unearths insights in the content, form and function of the dialogue in the Book of Signs. Thus he calls this multifaceted approach to the study of the Book of Signs as polyvalent analysis, due to the incorporation of multivalent methodological frameworks in his analysis of the text. He has thus achieved a multidimensional literary reading of the Fourth Gospel. The purpose of the entire book is deeply ingrained in the assumption that the phenomena of the text take place between the narrator and the reader. Hence by analyzing ‘dialogue’ in the Book of Signs, Thomaskutty pursues to clarify, augment and amplify the relationship between the narrator and the reader which is accomplished through the means of a final tool that he calls as the ‘rhetorical thrust.’

In conclusion, this book is, in its own unique way, enlightening for students of theology interested in the scholarship of Johannine studies as well as for the ongoing discussions regarding dialogue in Johannine literature.

-by Rohan Abraham

Review Two: “I would highly recommend this book for all those engaged in serious Johannine studies”

Dialogue in the book of Signs is a thoroughly researched and well-written book. In methodology, it is mostly synchronic and at the same time multifaceted. In the Johannine scholarship, the Fourth Gospel’s dialogue has not been treated as a literary genre but rather considered as part of its narration. In his title, Johnson Thomaskutty pays exclusive focus on the study of John’s dialogue arguing that it is a literary genre the author/narrator of the Fourth Gospel uses within its narrative framework. The method that Thomaskutty uses is of polyvalent nature having literary, genre and narrative critical analyses merged with description and classification and analytic and synthetic methods. Using this multivalent approach, he analyzes the varied layers of Johannine dialogue providing setting, form, content, and function of each dialogue within the first twelve chapters of the Fourth Gospel.

Thomaskutty analyzes dialogue at three levels. First, at the micro-level, he discusses the individual utterances of the interlocutors and their dynamic interwovenness and function. It is analyzed alongside the narrative annals of the Fourth Gospel and within the master plan of the exchange units. Second, at the meso-level, he analyzes how each exchange units coherently relate to one another and how they together form the episodes. Finally, at the macro-level, he considers the entire Book of Signs as a ‘single literally whole’ and demonstrates the holistic features of the dialogue. In that process, a dual-layered analysis of the dialogue is elaborated: first, between the characters within the story; and second, between the author/narrator and reader within and beyond the narrative framework. On the one hand, Thomaskutty draws reminiscences between Platonic/Aristotelian and Johannine dialogues, and on the other hand, he brings out the uniqueness of the Johannine dialogue as a unique literary genre and a rhetorical category. At the macro-level, Thomaskutty also expounds the role of the dialogue alongside of other literary elements found within the text.

I would highly recommend this book for all those engaged in serious Johannine scholarship. In the words of Alan Culpepper: “Thomaskutty’s extensive research, eclectic methodology, expanded focus on the functions of dialogue in multiple narrative relationships, and his sheer industry and attention to detail will establish this volume as an important resource for the ongoing study of the role of dialogue within the Fourth Gospel.” I am in total agreement with what Culpepper recapitulates above.

-by Arnon Christian

Review Three: “Great insights through a well-written monograph”

Johnson Thomaskutty’s monograph entitled Dialogue in the Book of Signs (Brill, 2015) is a seriously researched and richly thought-provocative work using a wide range of literary critical methodologies. Focusing chiefly on the use of a polyvalent approach in the Book of Signs, the title makes an extensive terrain in its contribution on dialogue in the Johannine scholarship. Moreover, the book, through the incorporation of a multivalent methodology, helps us in understanding the overall content and rhetorical thrust of the Book of Signs.

Thomaskutty has skillfully brought out the Johannine phenomenon of dialogue at three levels. At the micro-level, the book discusses the dynamics of the individual utterances and their interconnection and role within the narrative framework. It exquisitely brings out on how the semantic, syntactic and pragmatic aspects of dialogue dynamically aligned within the exchange units. At the meso-level, it analyses how the exchange units are stitched together and how they together form the episodes. At the macro-level, it describes the holistic feature of the dialogue within the Book of Signs.

Thomaskutty has also very well brought out on how dialogue establishes polyvalent connections with some of the other narrative elements such as signs, “I am” sayings, metaphors and dramatic movements in addition to its parallelism with the Platonic and Aristotelian dialogues. Overall, Thomaskutty has pretty well done and brought out a broad and comprehensive understanding of the dialogue within the Book of Signs. He has provided us a monograph which significantly develops our understanding on dialogue and in this way serves and illuminates an abnegated area within John’s Gospel from a polyvalent approach and it provides avenues for further research and study.

-by Akumtila Jamir

See the links here:

(1) Brill site; (2) Amazon; (3) Google Books; (4) World Cat;

(5) eBay; (6) Interview-I; (7) Interview-II

Blog Picture

In Wittenberg, Germany, Evangelisch-Theologischer Fakultätentag, Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Theologue and Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD) organized an academic conference with the umbrella theme “Glaube und Theologie. Reformatorische Grundeinsichten in der ökumenischen Diskussion” (“Faith and Theology: Basic Insights of the Reformation in Ecumenical Debate”), during the 500th anniversary of Reformation. The conference was held during 10-12 October 2017. The concept paper of the conference describes the theme as follows:

Since the beginning of Christianity, there has been a fundamental tension between faith and theology (if theology is understood as a rational reflection of faith which is internally coherent and can be communicated in intersubjective discourse). The Reformation, with its principle of sola fide on the one hand and its institutionalization of a Scripture-based academic theology on the other hand, drew particular attention to the tension between faith and theology and suggested new answers to that problem. That effort contributed to a fundamental transformation of academic theology within the faculties of Protestant Theology which emerged as a result of the movement. On the occasion of the anniversary of the Reformation, it is fitting to acknowledge the achievements of academic theology in the Reformers’ tradition.

During this grand occasion, my paper was an attempt to see how faith and theology interact constructively and contextually in the Johannine community, in the Reformation traditions, and in the post-Reformation India. The paper was entitled, “Faith and Theology in the Johannine Community and in the Reformation: A Paradigm in the Indian Context.” The following paragraph introduces the basic questions of the paper.

My paper deals with the relationship between the faith of the believing community and the theology within the academic set up. The Reformation Movement with its emphasis on sola scriptura, sola fide, and solus Christus, attempted to build a bridge between faith and theology. While the Reformers derived their fundamental concepts and theological ideas mostly from the Pauline corpus, in the current investigation I seek to explore the connection between Johannine understanding of faith and theology and its significance in the Reformation context. The following questions are given prominence here: how the Johannine community dealt with the issues of the relationship between faith and theology in their personal and corporate living? How the Reformers followed the ideology of the Johannine community in their interpretative endeavors in relating the faith in the ecclesiastical set up and the theology in the academic circles of their times? How the Reformation movement influenced Indian Christianity and its reinterpretation of faith and theology? How the Johannine community aspects remain as a model to the Reformers and also to the post-Reformation Indian believers/scholars to develop their ideological and theological framework? An attempt is made to analyze the way Christ-centered interpretations at work in the Johannine, in the Reformation, and in the Indian Christian contexts. At the integrative level, we will also explore the analeptic (to the Johannine community) and the proleptic (to the Indian Christian context) connection of the Reformation Movement. The unique feature of the Reformation, as it relates to both the biblical past and the global future, gives us a significant outlook concerning the movement and its growth. The presenter, first of all, as a Johannine researcher, analyzes the aspects of faith and theology within the narrative framework of the Gospel of John; second, as a person with profound influence from the Protestant theology, ponders deep into the connection of these two areas in the Reformation traditions; and third, as an Indian, researches about the impact and influence of the Johannine and the Reformation principles both in the historical and in the contemporary Indian scenario.

By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India.

Bartholomew Picture

This monograph is the first study of the Bartholomew Traditions in the East from an interdisciplinary perspective. The focal question is as follows: Are the Bartholomew traditions in the New Testament, in the apocryphal Bartholomew compositions, and the early Bartholomew traditions in India purely legendary (as biblical scholars have assumed) or do they preserve unexamined historical traditions intermittently? The general tendency of studying the character of Bartholomew from the New Testament, Apocrypha, and historical traditions, independently from one another, led the interpreters far from a broader understanding of the character. The dichotomy of studying the character of independently from the limits of canonical, apocryphal, and historical disciplines created a lot of gaps within the area of Bartholomew studies. This situation persuades us to look at the Bartholomew literature comprehensively to understand the character from a broader perspective. The current study is also intended to address the following subsidiary questions: Did we understand Bartholomew comprehensively by bridging the New Testament, Apocrypha, and historical traditions together? Or did we understand him only through disciplinary perspectives? Are Bartholomew and Nathanael in the gospel traditions one and same personality or are they different characters? How can an interdisciplinary perspective help us to understand the character comprehensively? How was Bartholomew connected to the Eastern Christianity and how does the Bartholomew literature support/not support this connectivity? Can we understand the Bartholomew traditions related to diverse geographical locations with the help of canonical, extra-canonical, and traditio-historical documents? These questions will be adequately dealt with in the process of exploring the Bartholomew literature. The task of the study is threefold: investigate the development of the Bartholomew literature right from the beginning, understand the peculiar approaches and methodologies of interpreting Bartholomew documents, and analyze the Bartholomew literature integratively to understand the character and his mission involvements.

By Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India.

Blog PictureUnion Biblical Seminary’s (Pune, India) Department of New Testament Studies organized a Special Lecture on 25th August 2017 in the Seminary campus. The Resource Person was Prof. Dr. Rekha M. Chennattu, Professor of Biblical Studies at Jnana-Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pontifical Institute of Philosophy and Religion, Pune, India. She has a Licentiate in Scripture from Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome (1996), and holds a PhD in Biblical Studies from the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. (2004). She earned her PhD under the supervision of Prof. Francis J. Moloney. Since 1996, she has taught Scripture in India and abroad and presented papers at various national and international conferences and published more than 90 scholarly articles in journals and books in India and abroad. Some of her articles are translated from English into more than 20 (European and Asian) languages. Among her works, Johannine Discipleship as a Covenant Relationship (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006) is well-known among the Johannine scholars. Her forthcoming monographs include Biblical Women as Agents of Social Change and A New Commentary on John’s Gospel from Indian and Feminine Perspectives.

Dr. Rekha’s lecture was structured under three major sections. In the First Section, she emphasized the challenges of interpreting the Scripture in a context of various paradoxes. Keeping that important challenge in mind, she highlighted some of the hermeneutical principles for Biblical Exegesis (based on her article entitled “The Svadharma of Jesus: An Indian Reading of John 5:1-18,” in Seeking New Horizons: Festschrift in Honour of M. Amaladoss, 317-35). In that process, she explored the following four aspects in details: first, the “author meaning” is not immediately accessible through the text, because of the historical distance and the cultural gap between the ancient author and the modern readers; second, the “author meaning” is not always identical with the “text meaning,” because the written text has semantic autonomy; third, in a Christian interpretation of the Scripture, the “text meaning” should be in continuity with the “author meaning”; and fourth, in a contextualized interpretation of the Scripture, the reading should be sensitive to the local context: the socio-politico-economic situation and the spiritual-cultural mind or worldview.

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In the Second Section of the lecture, she explained in nutshell the experiences of the Indian women in relation to the Principles of Indian Feminist Biblical Exegesis. In that connection, she suggested the following two things: first, a feminist biblical interpretation upholds the dignity of all human persons in general, and the dignity of women in particular; and second, a feminist biblical interpretation upholds the sacredness of the cosmos and our inter-relatedness and interconnectedness. In the Third Section, Dr. Rekha offered a Case Study based on John 4:1-42 (for more details see her article: “Women in the Mission of the Church: An Interpretation of John 4,” Vidyajyoti: Journal of Theological Reflection, 760-73). She argues that:

The Gospel of John presents women positively, and they play significant roles in the narrative. The story of the Samaritan woman is very significant because it not only reflects the socio-cultural reality of the Johannine community but also announces our ideals, aspirations and struggles. Like Jesus, she shows an openness, which transcends her social traditions as she enters into a dialogue with Jesus. She is rooted in her traditions, yet open to receive the revelation from Jesus. But she is not depicted as a passive receiver, accepting unquestioningly all that is said by Jesus. If we understand leadership as an animating role characterized by critical mind, creative initiative and committed action, she is presented as ideal leader of her community. Her religious background, personal interests and spontaneous appropriation of the role of an apostle to bear witness to Jesus in the city are outstanding and significant. Through this story, the Johannine community is also challenged to become a new temple (dwelling place) of God in the world, to become a covenant community of God. In other words, we (the disciples of Jesus) are called to become a community which makes God’s loving presence visible in the world.

The Lecture was followed by a Q&A Section, where several significant biblical and contextual questions were raised. Dr. Rekha responded to all the questions with ease and spontaneity. Her explanation of John’s story from the perspectives of “behind the text” (Johannine Community), “in the text” (Jesus’ own story in John), and “in front of the text” (the contemporary readers of John in India) was one of the highlights of the lecture. The polyvalent and gnomic natures of John were once again revealed through her lecture. The lecture was moderated by Dr. Johnson Thomaskutty, Head of the Department of New Testament Studies at UBS, Pune.

Bloomsbury Book PictureHypothesis

Thomas traditions in John and in the so-called apocryphal works, like the Gospel of Thomas (GTh), the Book of Thomas (BTh), the Acts of Thomas (ATh), and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (IGTh), have long been misunderstood. They have been explained from the perspective of Jesus’ disciples who went to the West, especially to Rome. The so-called apocryphal documents were composed long before there was any canon of the NT, and they must not be branded as ‘non-canonical.’ The present monograph examines all the traditions focused on Thomas from an interdisciplinary perspective. The insights and conclusions have proved surprising and challenge the well-known claim that there is no history in some of these very early traditions. The focal question is the following: Are the Thomas references in the Gospel of John, in the Thomas compositions, and the early Thomas traditions in the North-Western and Southren India purely legendary as biblical scholars have assumed or do they preserve unexamined historical traditions intermittently as the Thomas Christians in India have believed? Thus, this study is an endeavor to understand the person and work of Didymus Judas Thomas from a comprehensive perspective and interdisciplinary methodology.

Thomas appears as one of the most misunderstood characters from the early stages of NT history and interpretation. The nickname ascribed to him (that is, ‘doubting Thomas’) is mostly accepted as a synonymn for doubt, unbelief, and lack of devotion. The usual practice of studying the character of Thomas from the NT, apocrypha and historical traditions independently from one another, kept the interpreters far from a broader understanding of the character. The dichotomy of studying the character of Thomas independently from within the limits of canonical, extra-canonical, and historical disciplines created gaps within Thomas studies. This situation persuades us to review the Thomas Literature (hereafter TL) integratively to understand the character from a broader purview. The current study addresses the following questions: Was Thomas merely a ‘doubting Thomas’ or was he a ‘believing Thomas’? How will a study of Thomas that bridges the NT, apocrypha, and historical traditions provide a broader understanding of the character? How is a disciplinary perspective limited in its scope in the study of Thomas, and can an interdisciplinary perspective enables us to perceive the character comprehensively? How was Thomas connected to Eastern Christianity and how do the Thomas literature support this connectivity? Can we understand the Thomas traditions related to Judea, East Syria, Persia, Indo-Parthia, and South India with the help of canonical, extra-canonical, and traditional-historical documents? These questions have to be dealt with adequately in the process of exploring the TL. The task of the study is threefold: investigate the development of the TL right from the beginning stages, understand the peculiar approaches and methodologies of interpreting Thomas documents, and analyze the TL integratively to understand the character and his mission involvements.

Endorsements

“I find most attractive Thomaskutty’s interdisciplinary methodology. It is both revolutionary and refreshing. He examines the four selected texts [i.e., GTh, BTh, ATh, and IGTh] using textual criticism, biblical criticism, narrative criticism, and theological reflections. He is well read and knows the strengths of the leading scholars. His review includes the so-called canonical texts, the apocryphal compositions, and historical traditions in both collections.” (James H. Charlesworth, George L. Collord Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Princeton Theological Seminary, USA)

“Prof. Thomaskutty offers a comprehensive assessment of the evidence for the Apostle Thomas within the New Testament, in early Christian literature, and in the traditions of the Church, particularly the church in India, which has long venerated the Apostle Thomas as its founder. Thoroughly researched and carefully argued, Prof. Thomaskutty’s treatment will be a valuable resource to scholars of the early church and to anyone interested in the development of apostolic traditions outside the western sphere.” (Harold W. Attridge, Sterling Professor of Divinity, Yale Divinity School, USA)

“Based on careful reading of all the ancient primary sources and attention to the traditions of India, Prof. Thomaskutty has succeeded in bringing the Apostle Thomas to life, in all his complexity. Anyone interested in the Apostle Thomas ‘the Twin’ would do well to start here.” (Charles M. Stang, Professor of Early Christian Thought, Harvard Divinity School, USA)

Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India.