We started our journey of learning together from the Gospel of John in June 2013. When the eight student-friends in my company (of Master of Theology in Old Testament, New Testament, and Christian Theology) are preparing for their final exam, I requested them to write a paragraph about their learning experience all through the academic year 2013-2014. We started our learning experience by reading the Gospel chapter-by-chapter with the assistance of several commentaries of Raymond E. Brown, Rudolf Schnackenburg, Craig Keener, Andreas Köstenberger, Francis Moloney, C. K. Barrett, C. H. Dodd, Rudolf Bultmann, Leon Morris, Bernabas Lindars, Mark Stibbe, Alan Culpepper, Jan van der Watt, Paul Anderson, Moody Smith, Loius Martyn, and others. We discussed the gospel from diverse angles, i.e., from historical-critical, literary and narrative, and liberational perspectives.
In the second half of the academic year, the eight students were assigned to present two papers each (thus sixteen topics). The following were the sixteen topics we discussed in the class: (1) The Thought-World of Johannine Literature; (2) The Johannine Community Aspects; (3) The Similarities and the Differences between the Synoptics and the Fourth Gospel; (4) Christology of the Gospel of John; (5) The Nature and Function of Signs; (6) Johannine Dualism; (7) Eschatology in John; (8) Metaphors in John; (9) Paraclete in John; (10) Johannine Sacramentalism; (11) The Sources and the Character of Johannine Passion Narrative; (12) The Formation and the Development of Johannine Resurrection Narrative; (13) The Use of the Old Testament in the Gospel of John; (14) Feminist Reading of John; (15) Dalit and Tribal Perspectives in John; and (16) Ethics in the Gospel of John. Moreover, they all attended my CMS Consultation presentation entitled “Glo[b/c]alization and Mission in the Gospel of John.” Now, you can read what the eight student-friends reflect in their own language below:
[One] M. Supongnungla, Department of Old Testament: “In the past several months of Johannine class I have been influenced by a New Testament lecturer who by his first class, taught a lot about what the book of John is all about/what I failed to see in John. I was fascinated by his vast knowledge about the book of John and at the same time awe struck at how precisely he quoted verses. I learned a mosaic of lessons from John’s literary devices and his style of writing (which kept me browsing through the text and for a time inspired me to think, write, and speak in literary terms). I never noticed that the book of John was in the style of a drama with a protagonist, antagonists and interlocutors. What’s more? The drama has a narrator, an audience, it has props, and it has dialogue and monologue which was spoken in performative language. I liked the style of double meaning, misunderstanding and clarification. The Gospel of John from Dalit/Tribal perspective? I never coupled them because I didn’t picture that the book of John could be read from Dalit and Tribal perspectives. It unlocked my mini brain to change the way I read the Bible. I also had a shift from the traditional understanding of Thomas as I knew him as the doubting Thomas and never looked at him out of the doubting box. Furthermore, I learnt that ‘Christ’ is the centre in John and ‘love’ is the centre of his ethics. To love inclusively, to be humble and to be the voice for the marginalized and the oppressed are some ethical traits I learned in Johannine literature. Finally, one peculiar thing about John is the way in which one can relate the Gospel to the Indian cultural background. The mysticism and the thoughts that are related to Indian religion are incredible. I will not forget the day when my lecturer told the class that the Gospel of John is considered as a Gospel with Indian spirit and that the best commentary can be written only by an Indian (I said to myself, ‘I wish and pray it’s you, Sir’). Besides all this, every class was a learning day for me (a new vocabulary, a new look at the passage, a new insight, a new inspiration). It has motivated me to think anew and enlarge my territory of knowledge and perspective. I thank my lecturer for his one hour forty minutes a week, for now I am inspired by the Gospel of John.”
[Two] Imlongchaba, Department of Christian Theology: “The study of the Gospel of John was very informative and helpful. First, to know the art of reading the text from various approaches such as reader-centered or author-centered approaches has helped me to approach the text in a grand new way. Importantly, the way of reading the text as a drama with different plots and with tragic and comic characters was something new that I have learnt from the study. Second, lessons on the techniques employed in the text such as the use of literary devices and other stylistic features were insightful. Third, the perspective in which the gospel was written is much clearer now and this has helped me to understand John’s theology in a new light. Fourth, the topics covered in the study were helpful in understanding the whole scheme of John’s theology – from academic as well as faith perspectives. Topics on the Feminist perspective, ethical, Tribal and Dalit approaches, and Christological understanding were very helpful in reflecting on the contemporary issues. Fifth, emphasis on methodological precision in presentation of the papers has helped me to develop and improve in writing skills. Last, the study has not only helped me to learn lessons for academic exercises but it has also helped me to live a life of dedication and commitment represented by Jesus in John.”
[Three] Stephen Pangamte, Department of New Testament: “I have learnt many new things in the study of the Johannine Theology. Here are some points that I would love to mention: First, John writes his gospel from a post-resurrection point of view whereas Synoptic writers focus on the resurrection point of view. This was something new and important that I learnt in this very class. Second, in our Reading Assignment the employment of all those methods such as the use of literary devices, thematic development, plot structure, point of view, form, structure, and textual interweaving and many more which were new to me and all those helped me to know the text more meaningfully. Third, I have learnt concerning the thought-world of Johannine literature, Johannine community, and several themes such as Christology, signs, dualism, eschatology, metaphors, ethics, passion and resurrection. All the above mentioned topics have their own uniqueness within the Johannine narrative framework and provide more insights to reflect upon. Fourth, the contemporary reflections on John such as feminist/Dalit/Tribal readings persuaded me with more insights and knowledge to bring out the true meaning of the text and to contextualize the message in response to the contemporary challenges. Last but not the least, the study of Johannine Theology not only shaped me in my academic career but also strengthened my faith and gave better insights to share and witness the true gospel to the world.”
[Four] S. Dhane Zhemai, Department of Old Testament: “The Gospel according to John is quite different in character and form from that of Mark, Matthew and Luke. It is highly literary and symbolic. To a much greater degree, it is the product of a developed theological reflection and it grows out of a different circle and tradition. The most logical reason as how John’s Gospel differs from the Synoptic Gospels is that John focuses on his message, primarily on Christ’s deity not on his kingship and kingdom. The prologue proclaims Jesus as the pre-existent and incarnate Word of God who has revealed the Father to us. The language of John’s Gospel is intentionally antagonistic at times toward Jewish tradition and toward Jewish sensitivities. The idea of the Passover of course is very Jewish but John tends to turn some of those ideas in a much sharper way against Jewish tradition. John’s Gospel is a witness to Christian traditions that move farther away from the Jewish traditions. The Gospel also attempts to reconcile varying religious traditions. In the Gospel Jesus declares, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (14:16). The author of the Gospel also takes pain to reveal that women are not inferior to men in the Christian community: the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4) is presented as a prototype of a missionary (John 4:4–42), and the first witness of the resurrection is a woman (John 20:11–18). In conclusion I would like to say that Ray Bystrom is correct in saying that John’s Gospel is like a river in which a Lamb may bathe and an Elephant swim – it’s both shallow and deep at the same time. As a consequence, both the new convert and the mature disciple will profit from a careful reading of the Gospel.”
[Five] Sangeeta Adleena, Department of New Testament: “It was indeed a joy and great privilege to get acquainted with one of the most read and loved book of the Bible, the gospel of John. The journey through the text in the form of reading each chapter academically and discussing sixteen different themes of the text has greatly enhanced the understanding and shaped my thinking concerning the Gospel of John. The most important aspect of the getting to know the real message of the gospel is to know the authentic readers of the gospel. To whom the gospel was written? What was their background and what was the purpose behind the composition of the gospel? Yes, the study of the community behind the gospel- the Johannine community, has been the most beneficial in getting to know the whole essence of the gospel. The very nature of the Johannine community and the study of their internal struggles have greatly helped me in understanding the Christology, ethics as well as the eschatology of the Johannine gospel and the letters to a certain extent. This learning has though contributed to my knowledge so to say a considerable portion of the understanding of this vast book but the amount of interest that has been aroused will indeed go a long way in further digging deep to add to the knowledge of the text and to better interpret and apply it. I am deeply indebted to my teacher as well as my fellow-learners in this journey of Johannine study for their contribution in my learning.”
[Six] Zingyo Phungshok, Department of Old Testament: “The study of the Gospel of John has helped me to gain new insights and to look at the Gospel from new perspectives. First, I came to know that John is not only a simple treatise but also realized that it is complex in its composition and structure. It has enormous amount of literary devices to convey its message rhetorically. Second, deep study of the Johannine thought world, literary features and the community dynamics was enlightening. Third, I learned much about the uniqueness of the John’s Gospel, its vertical understanding of the eschatology, its semiotic function, and the peculiar feature of foregrounding the message beyond the cross. This has helped me to retrospect my faith journey relevantly. Fourth, I also learned how to read the gospel with an eye-view of an Indian Christian. I also learned to apply the perspectival approaches to the Gospel of John. Last but not the least, I have come to learn that John also has his unique teaching on ethics. The whole journey of learning the Gospel of John has helped me not only to learn the literary devices and the theology of the book but it also helped me to learn how to articulate and develop my argument of the studies.”
[Seven] M. D. Johnson, Department of Christian Theology: “Personally I could learn a lot from the ‘Theology of Johannine writings’ class. It provoked my thoughts and developed quest within self to learn further from the Johannine writings, in terms of its theological aspects as well as its relevance to the Indian context. Theologically the Johannine writings stimulated the thinking faculties to focus on God with deep insights. One among such is the ‘Resurrection of Christ’ which formulates core thoughts not only for John but for the entire Christendom’s credibility. Further, the themes such as ‘Passion narratives,’ ‘Christology in John,’ ‘The Use of the Old Testament in John’ and so on developed within me high regard for the gospel and motivated deep faith in Christ who is invisible yet visible in and through the Johannine writings. Finally the teaching methods of our lecturer were effective and informative in fact those added flavour to the ‘Theology of the Johannine Writings’ course. In short a marvellous heavenly dish in a clean Indian bowl satisfies and feels me proud to be a student of the theology of Johannine writings forever.”
[Eight] Lucy Zemy, Department of New Testament: “I would like to thank our lecturer for teaching us the course entitled ‘Theology of the Johannine Writings.’ Through the lectures, I learned a lot of which especially how to read the Bible critically. The lectures and reflections were very simple and informative that helped me to understand the text more clearly. What I learned new from the course are as follows: First, the Fourth Gospel reflects its influence from different thought-worlds/backgrounds, but a careful reading of the text teaches us that John composed the gospel in his own idiom. Second, the gospel shows us tenets of the existence of diverse faith communities side by side around the ethical and moral principles of Jesus. Third, some of the idioms, the narrative techniques, and the dramatic accretion show the unique style of John in comparison to the synoptic evangelists. For example, ‘sign,’ ‘figures of speech,’ ‘Paraclete-theology,’ ‘eternal life/abundant life expressions,’ and the like. Last, I understand that John developed his theology independently from that of the synoptic evangelists. Also I view that the theology of the Fourth Gospel is closer to that of the theology of the Pauline writings than that of the Synoptic Gospels.”
In recapitulation, the above post-Johannine class reflections of my student-friends encourage me to take further steps in my learning and teaching experiences of the Fourth Gospel and also the larger Johannine writings. I thank all of you for taking pain to write these reflections. Moreover, I am indebted to you for teaching me new lessons in the Johannine expedition.
Presented by Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India