Francis J. Moloney writes about his New Book “Love in the Gospel of John”

Posted: March 23, 2014 in General

moloneyAfter reading his commentary and other writings on John’s Gospel, I wrote a word of appreciation to Father Francis J. Moloney. His response to my short write-up was persuasive. He wrote: “Dear Johnson Thomaskutty, Thank you so much. I am delighted that I have done something to make John speak again and again. I wonder if you have seen my latest book ‘Love in the Gospel of John’. I follow your postings, but am too busy (and may be too old) to become actively involved in everything that is going on. Blessings!” The above statements of a celebrated Johannine scholar are more than enough for me to be inspired for the upcoming years. I requested him to write a few paragraphs about his new book and he sent the following write up that was already published in the Baker Academic Blog. I wish Father Frank Moloney a very warm birthday (today the 23rd March).

[[From my earliest encounters with the Gospel of John it became clear to me that this story might be about the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus, but its message was really about what God has done in and through Jesus.  Reading the Prologue (John 1:1-18) left me in no doubt, as it begins in God (vv. 1-2), and ends informing the reader (but not the characters in the story) that no one has ever seen God, but the Son, who always has his gaze turned toward the Father, has told the story of God (v. 18).  The remaining 20 (21) chapters are that story.  If the reason why the Evangelist wrote this Gospel was so that readers and hearers of the story might have life through belief in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God (20:30-31), then words found in the prayer of Jesus involve God again: “This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (17:3).

As time went by I became further fascinated by the question of “what sort of God” does Jesus make known.  That was easy, I thought.  The great sporting sign in the USA makes it clear: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish bit have eternal life” (3:16). God loves so much that the later Letters would declare: “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).  Jesus’ command that his disciples must love one another as Jesus had loved them was but a logical, and even missionary, consequence of Jesus’ task to make known a God of love (see 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; 17:21-26).

Only lately have I become aware that the loving process from God to Jesus to the disciple was all too easy.  I began to run into a strong critical rejection of the long-held admiration among Christians for John’s development of the theme of love.  Indeed, a veteran and highly esteemed Johannine scholar (Wayne Meeks) has suggested that the Gospel of John has only enjoyed its position as a much-loved book in the Christian tradition because it has been misinterpreted for almost a thousand years!  I was part of that history of misinterpretation.

9781441245748An increasing number of scholars, especially (but not only) in the USA began to see that the Fourth Gospel’s message on love was increasingly introspective.  Jesus, and then Matthew, Mark and Luke, teach love for God, for neighbour, and even for one’s enemies!  There is none of this in John, where the believer is never commanded to love God, neighbour or enemy.  Believers must love Jesus, and one another.  Only when this is in place, will they be swept into the love that has always united Jesus and his Father (John 17:24-26).  The Gospel of John was thus judged as the first and clearest indication that early Christianity was tending toward sectarianism.  We only look after one another.  Believers have a mission – to draw outsiders to belief … but not into a relationship of love.  As Jack T. Sanders puts it: “‘If you believe you will have eternal life,’ promises the Johannine Christian, while the dying man’s blood stains the ground” (Ethics in the New Testament: Change and Development [London: SCM, 1985], 100).

It was time to look again; Love in the Gospel of John is the fruit of that long, hard look.  Years of association with the Johanninestory led me to look beyond what Jesus teaches and commands about love in the Fourth Gospel.  All those words (and there are a lot of them) have their place within a narrative.  The problem with so much analysis of the Gospel of John (and biblical texts in general) is that we often forget the whole story as we focus upon particular words and commands.  I was as guilty of that as anyone, as I had been trained that way.  But love is best communicated by loving actions, not by loving words.  We all know that!  I have thus tried to interpret what the Fourth Gospel teaches about love by situating the words within their narrative context.  Both words and actions must go together.  In the end, actions really count when it comes to making love known.

This intuition has produced a study that features the unique Johannine message of the revelation of God in the lifting up of his son, so that all who gaze upon him may find love and life (see 19:37).  “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (15:13).  Christians and non-Christians experience loving self-gift most days of their lives.  Perhaps it is there that we should be seeking the face of God.]]

For more details about the book go here:

For buying the book through Amazon:

For reading the posting at the Baker academic blog:

Posted by Johnson Thomaskutty, Union Biblical Seminary, Pune, India

  1. Has anybody written about justice in the Gospel of John?

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