Gospel of John - The Logos Christology
[For use in TH6332 - Christology - ONLY]

General Characteristics

With the Gospel of John we enter, what we might call a 'new phase' of NT Christology. Certainly there is a new 'more Greek' theme introduced (logos) as a descriptor of Christ that foreshadows the Christological controversies of later centuries. The functional Resurrection Christology of the Synoptics while present [one cannot help but remark on John's extended and detailed passion narrative], John also introduces a more speculative ontological note to his presentation of the meaning of Christ [for example, the ego eimi texts in addition to the Prologue ]. Also in comparison to the earlier Synoptics, there is a clearer 'controversialist' intention in the sense of a clearer, more direct confrontation of heretical or (perhaps better at this date, heterodox ) views. As well there is in John more clearly than in the other Gospels an underlying 'doctrinal' intention in which John's Christology plays a key role. So understanding NT Christologies requires some careful attention to the Christological themes of this book.

Dating John

There is little question that John is the latest Gospel. There are controversies concerning its dating, but it must have been written after the Synoptics. It is attributed to John, the Son of Zebedee, and there is good evidence that this could be in fact true. However, John would have had to have been quite old to be the author.

There are some affinities with Luke (portrait of Mary [and empathy for women], role of the Spirit, Jesus' self-consciousness).This suggests a date after 75 A.D. and perhaps after 85 A.D. The most cautious dating puts it at 80 A.D. Others date it well into the 2nd century. However, it must be dated prior to 130 A.D., since the earliest John fragment dates from 130 A.D. Without cutting it too fine, we can say the text was written in 90 A.D., probably by John son of Zebedee i.e., John the Disciple of Jesus, from [in all likelihood, Asia Minor [Ephesus via Antioch?]

This concern for dating is important. [The probable] late date [90 A.D.] means that John abuts the "sub-apsotolic age" when theology as dogmatic orthodoxy [i.e., 'right belief'] is starting to preoccupy the Church. By the end of the 1st century we also see the emergence of what I have called the dogmatic Christ - the Christ of dogmatic confession - the meaning embodied in standard confessions, liturgical formulae, and rudimentary catechism.

There is some controversy about John purpose, audience and emphases. John claims he wrote he Gospel [Jn 20:31] "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." [Notice the interesting elements here: First, 'belief' is that [a content] Jesus is Messiah and Son of God - person - believing [act, confidence] you receive life IN HIS NAME [person]. The ontological affirmation precedes the functional. [Remember the formula is reserved in the Synoptics in the 'deed' one recognizes the person - here in the person one recognizes the possibility of the deed.] So second, John Christology is a high Christology one which precedes from Jesus' person as revelation/word of God to enter/descend into history to accomplish divine salvation. [This is not what God does through/by Jesus for us but who God is in Jesus to us.]

Because John's reflection is more clearly on the meaning of the event of Jesus that a recount of the events constituting Jesus, we might call John's Gospel [as Clement of Alexandria did] the spiritual Gospel.

Clement characterizes John in this way:" Last of all John perceiving that the external facts [lo somatikoi] had been made plain in the Gospel, being urged by his friends and inspired by the Spirit, composed a spiritual [pnematikos] Gospel."

What Clement means by pneumatikos is an 'allegorical' or 'mystical' narrative of events. We might say there underlying meaning, or 'deeper' meaning in common English. Certainly one of the characteristics of John is a delight in symbols and the meaning of symbols as sign of a meaning not obviously revealed by the symbol. [light-dark, water-life, vine-branch, etc]

Like all of the Gospels understanding "the who" Jesus is requires putting the portrait of Jesus into the context of John's intention. This is found later in the book. John 20:30-31: "Now Jesus did many other things in the presence of the disciplines, which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believe you may have life in his name."

John tells us some very important things in this text.

John's throughout his Gospel makes is clear that it was precisely in the consciousness of Jesus that he was sent by God to accomplish an unique work, and in his certainty that the will of His Heavenly Father and His were essentially the one will. In this sense we told more about Jesus' inner life than in any other Gospel.

So we see that John's purpose is not to provide a narative of events but a reflection on the meaning of the events. This perhaps more than another feature distinguishes John from the Synoptics. Though it must be kept in mind that John's Gospel has been characterized as a long passion narrative with a short preface. Note [entry to Jerusalem 12:9 (of 21 chapters). Even earlier events (5 ff. are in vicinity of Jerusalem).] This shows that John is in continuity with the Synoptic portrait of Jesus whose meaning rests on or is focus by the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. So that while there will be features of John that yield a characteristic Johannine Christology, - what is called the Logos Christology and while this Christology bear definitive resembable to the dogmatic Christology of the early patristic period (which will carry forward in history until relatively recently - this Christology is in essential continuity with the Resurrection Christology of Paul and the Synoptics. That is, John does not 'break' with the Resurrection Christology but a new note or developing strand in the meaning of Jesus. So, we affirm that John is continuous with earlier Christological reflection.

This is affirmation is important because there are interrpetations of John that argue for a discotninuity with the specualtive doctines of the Logos found in John. I think, however, that it is essential to understand that John - even with his speculative and mystical theme - preserves the notion that (1) God was/is active in the history of his people and that (2) the historical Jesus is a key moment in that history when the presence of God 'irrupted' time and transformed human possibilities in time (see notes on Paul).

Here we can follow Rudolph Schnachenberg: "The Gospel of John is at the same time the most mature and yet most controversial products of early Christianity. It took sometime for its orthodoxy to be recognized, because its language had some affinities with the dualistic and even Gnostic ways of expression. Having originated in Palestine, Johannine tradition absorbed elements of Hellenistic Judaism in its passage through Antioch, before reaching Ephesus, in Asia Minor,where it was fixed and edited. (vol. 1 St John, p. 155).

Summary of our results

In John's Gospel, Jesus appears insistently as a human person whose activity on earth is described by precise annotations regarding place and time. At the same time, the person and story of Jesus Christ clearly transcend the historical situation to which they are referred by conrete threads. But the historical Jesus is central and irreplaceable since Jesus' words and deeds express the Word itself.

While one must exercise care in what one approrpiates from Bultmann exegesis, I think he does identify the general Christological theme of John. According to Bultmann, John's theme is the impact on the world of the Word. Before the coming of the REVEALER darkness existed, as well as death and untruth. But they were situations of temporary character, a period of expectation. When Jesus comes, however, everything becomes definitive (12:35-36). Henceforth, those who do not beleive the REVEALER choose darkness instead of light, falsehood instead of truth, death instead of life (3:18); 5:24 8:51). The appearance of the REVEALER initiates a process of autenticity. Will it confirm one's full acceptance of God or reveal one's intent belonging to the opposite camp? The presence of the REVEALER constitutes a continual 'interpellation,' a challenge to verify one's true standing before God.

"Seeing" for John is very important, but 'seeing' is not purely human: it penetrates beyond the appearances to discover the true reality God's presence in Jesus, The object of the Johannine vision is Christ. Having come as the REVEALER, he had to publicly manifest himself, in the clarity and the concreteness if history. He spoke openly (7:26, 18:20); everybody saw his signs (11:47-48) and his works (5:20, 10:32), His death is an 'elevation' (3:14, 8:28, 12:32). Pilate presents him to the masses "Here is the Man" (19:5), the king (19:14). The reason for his death is affixed to the Cross in three languages (19:19f), for the whole world to know what happened.

But 'listening' is also important. Jesus had come to "bear witness to what he had seen and heard (3:22). He had heard the "truth from God (8:40, and made known to the disciples as his friends all that he had heard from God his Father (15:15). He himself is constantly listening to his Father. So should his disciples with respect to Christ. The voice listened to is the voice of the Son of God (5:25), of the transcendent Son of Man (5:27-29), of the Shepherd (chapter 10) of the King who bears witness to God's truth (18:37). Christ's voice does more than pronounce words: it "calls" as to gather the sheep (chapter 10); it commands the dead back to life (5:27-29), 11:43). Mary of Bethany appears as a model: she listens to his teaching and answers promptlyo his call (John 11:29).

Distinctive or typical Johannine Christological themes.

  • 1:1-18 The Word or Logos
  • 1:27 behold the Lamb of God
  • 4:42 Savior of the World
  • 5:27 Th Son as Judge
  • 6:69 Holy One of God
  • 8:40 anthropos, including the ego eimi (I am) sayings
  • The problem of erroneous belief [the problematic of heresy and heterodoxy]

    Before we embark on a close analysis of some Johannine passages I would like to deal with the problem of heresy or heterodoxy in John.

    There is very little doubt by the time of the writing of John' Gospel that there was much erroneous teaching being given in the Church but which claimed to be Christian. A very early and persistent tradition states that John the Evangelist, was consciously opposing the Ebonite doctrine of a certain Cerinthus. This doctrine, which flourished in Asia at the end of the first century, taught that the Son of God had no existence prior to His birth from Mary). [Ebonitism is a type of adoptionism that denies the divinity of Jesus in favor of his 'adoption' as divine by God.]

    Ebonites were known as the 'poor-ones' because their poverty-stricken doctrine affirmed that Jesus was only a human being on whom the Spirit descended for a season and then left him. In other words, Ebonites denied the divinity and pre-existence of Christ. This explanation is interesting in helping us perhaps to understand the content and position of the Logos Prologue of the Gospel.

    In addition to the heresy of the Ebonite, which was polytheistic in character, there was also prevalent at the time of this Gospel the false teaching known as Docetism which might be described as pantheistic. Those who professed it maintained that the humanity of Jesus was only apparent (hence the name dokei = to seem or appear). Docetism was a variant form of Gnosticism which regarded matter - the material world- as inherently evil. So for docetists the humanity of Jesus (his material form) was a phantom - only appearance in the sensible world. That is, the humanity was not real.

    Again, this explanation clarifies the intention of the Prologue with its forceful emphasis on the "Word being made flesh and dwelt among us." The use of 'flesh' rather than body makes is clear that the sensible presence of Jesus was real not illusion or fantasy. His nature is TRUE HUMAN BEING. [See also 6:52]. It is interesting to note that this Gospel emphasizes that human nature. Jesus was weary and thirst, his disciples had to urge him to eat (4:6-8, 31) He spits on the ground when he heals the sight of the man born blind (9:6). He weeps at Lazarus death (11:35). His human spirit is disturbed when he contemplates his passion (12:27) and when he must tell his disciples that one of then is a traitor (13:28). Blood and water flow from his dead body when a spear is thrust into it (19:34).

    So Ebionitism and Docetism represents distorted solutions to the 'double nature; problem. Ebionite affirm humanity with loss of divinity. Docetists affirm divinity with loss of humanity. In either case, the reductionistic solution renders salvation as accomplished by Jesus problematic.

    Let's apply to the Resurrection Christology of Christ's death and resurrection as the paradigmatic salvific event. If God (not human being) suffered and die [as argued by the Docetism, then the resurrection is 'of God' not 'of man' and there is no assurance (confidence) that Christ's resurrection is the first fruit of a universal resurrection. On the other hand, if man and not God died and was raised, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus is [possibly] merely the death and suffering which we will all endure - that is, in what sense is it redemptive of us all [as God 'paying the price of redemption'] would be universal and not merely particular.

    Jesus himself emphasizes his humanity. For example 8:40 Jesus says that "he is a man that has told you the truth." The Son of Man passages emphasize the humanity too.

    What do we conclude? Jesus was not 'like a man' but was in fact a man. His humanity is real not apparent.

    This emphasis reaches it apex 'the Son of Man' texts. Jesus is not only 'a son of man' but THE Son of Man. Not just human by representative of all human being - the one in whom all the potential of being human was gathered up. It was THE son of Man, despised, humiliated, an rejected who is exalted and lifted up (3:13,14; 12:34). In the REAL-ity of the incarnation the justice and loving-kindness of God 'dwelt among us.'

    It was as the Son of Man that Jesus had the authority to judge the types of human being. He was able to pass judgment on humanity precisely BECAUSE as THE son of man he had truly been himself, sharing the nature of those who will stand before him when the Last Judgment is held (5:27). But the ultimate reason why the Son of God became the Son of Man was to rid human men and women of all fear of that judgment. He came into the world not to condemn it but to save it. He came to offer the food which abides forever, the bread of life - not as a demigod of superman but as one who has known our weakness and testing (6:27-53).

    Whether or not John is addressing himself directly to Ebionitism, Docetism or Gnosticism is in the last analysis irrelevant - interesting but not essential. The point is that John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is formulating the key, core doctrine of the two natures in one person that would only fully develop some centuries later.

    This detour was necessary for two reasons. First, there is a risk and danger - especially given John's Logos Christology - of undermining the true humanity of Jesus. To do so gives us a 'fictional'; that is, fantastic or unreal, picture of who Jesus is and so of misunderstanding completing the meaning of his work for us and our salvation.

    A Savior who was Son of God without being the Son of Man is a bargain basement Savior whose work of salivation could not fill our hearts and minds. That God might suffer and triumph over sin and death and through his work offer sin and death is not offering anything that 'I' sinful and condemned to die can appropriate. However, a human being who suffers and dies offers a meaning to life that is genuinely meaningful.

    Secondly, we need to consider something of the meaning of heresy and erroneous teaching as a prelude to our consideration of the dogmatic Jesus that goes forward in later Christian history. Refer back to your lecture notes on 'the hierarchy of truth and teaching'.

    What is going forward here is a process of progressively eliminating views that distort the meaning of Christ's person (the who of salvation) using the criterion of the requirements for salvation (the what/the work of the person).

    The Logos Christology (John 1:1-18)

    There is a strong likelihood that John is adapting an early Christian hymn to his purpose here. The hymn celebrates the pre-existence and incarnation of Christ. John's adaptions of the hymn make it conform to later parts of his Gospel. So for example, John 1:6-8 is a Johannine insertion regarding John the Baptist which prepares the reader for the abrupt beginning of the narrative in verse 19. Verse 15 is also probably an insertion with apologetic and theological purpose ". . .the contemplation of the doxa of the Logos incarnate remains possible even for later believers through the 'testimony' of those who have experienced the event of his historical coming."

    By disclosing the origin and the divine status of the REVEALER the prologue sets as a whole sheds light on the entire Gospel.

    Let's look at the hymn itself. [vv. 1-3, 4-5, 10-12]

    In the beginning was the Word
    and the Word was with God
    and the Word was God.
    He was in the beginning with God;
    all things were made through him,
    and without him was not any thing
    made that was made.

    In him was life,
    and the life as the light of men.
    The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness has not overcoming it.

    In the world he was
    and the world was made through him,
    yet the world knew him not.
    He came to his own home,
    and his own people received him not.
    But to all who received him,
    who believed in his name
    he gave power to become children of God.

    All three strophes begin with 'in' which probably serves a structural function. In the beginning, In Him [i.e., the Word], In the World.

    In the beginning - this strophe proclaims the pre-existence of the Word and its mediation in creation. In the Word - proclaims his manifestation to humanity as life and light. In the world - affirms that the response of the world was rejection but to those who believe there is life.

    The center of attention is the LOGOS. The term itself is Greek. It referred to the principle of order in creation or the cosmos. This use of this term in all likelihood originated with Hellenistic converts to Judaism and related to O.T. motifs concerning Word and Wisdom as found in Jewish Wisdom speculation. For example, the world was created by the divine word - God's speaking. However, working this out is a study of its own which cannot detain us at this point. It suffices to say that both he Greek and the Jewish element would have been present in the terms original meaning. It is interesting that this is the only appearance the term LOGOS in the Gospel.

    What we can affirm that the notion of the fruitful, purposive,, commanding word of God is an important O.T. motif. In large measure it bears the meaning of the ACTS of God in history. Creation is the result of the dabar wa Yahweh. The word is effective. By his word the heavens were made. He sends forth his word and the ice melts. The word goes forth and accomplishes divine intention. His word comes to the prophets and they are constrained to do his will. (Genesis 1:3, Ps 33:6, 142:20 Is 55:11, Je 1:4-9).

    In Hebrew, word and event are the same. So Jesus is THE word. Not a word, not one word among a continuing flow of words but the WORD, the revelation of the speaker and the spoken. The notion that Jesus is the word is not original with John. In Acts 10: 36,37,38 we are told that "The word which he sent unto the children of Israel, preaching good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ. . . . that saying ye yourselves known . . .even Jesus of Nazareth." So in terms of the history of the doctrine of Christ, it is important to recognize that this is not a new departure but a continuing development of the meaning of revelation.

    John's unique contribution here is not that Jesus is the Word but that the Word is not just an attribute of God but is a distinct PERSON within the Godhead, dwelling with the Creator before creation began, and acting with the Creator as the divine agent in creation. [This is perhaps the Greek influence - LOGOS as an active agent].

    Note the prologue speaks not of the Word of God but of the Word who was with God and was God.

    The WORD is the revelation [unveiling, uncovering] of the speaker in HIS WORD [word = promise and person].


    John attached great importance to God the Father (Chapters 6, 8, 10, 14) and yet preserves a throughly christocentric focus, because for John God is the Father of Jesus Christ. Many of the Synoptic themes fall into the background in favor of specifically Christological themes. The 'kingdom' becomes the background of the radiant King. The Vineyard is no longer the field of the Gospel laborers (Mark 12:1ff), but Christ himself and all his disciplines are incorporated into him (15;1-11). The Light is more than a ray illuminated the faces of Christians (Matthew 5;14), it shines forth in the very person of Christ who says "I am the Light of the World." (8:12).

    This is a portrait of a fully transcendent Christ who bridges human being and God because he 'was sent' to be the love of God incarnate.

    Again, however, this is not a choice either from above or from below. Development implies both and the presence of one in the other. They cannot be disassociated in favor of one or the other with risking Ebionitism, Docetism or converting Christian faith to a kind of Gnosticism in which salvation lies in knowledge about Christ or the Church or whatever rather than in Christ himself.

    Given this John makes a nice bridge to dogmatic Christology which take center stage from the 2nd century forward.

    Before we move on you should be able to summarize the NT Christologies

  • Parousia
  • Resurrection
  • Old Adam-New Adam [old man/new man: old creation new creation]
  • Universal Savior
  • Royal Messiah
  • Logos

    and discuss the summary elements.