J. Gordon McConville’s forthcoming Being Human in God’s World recently received a starred review in Publishers Weekly. They called it “scholarly, accessible, and beautifully written,” and “a work of literature to be savored.”
The following is an excerpt from Richard Bauckham’s Gospel of Glory.
Luke Timothy Johnson characterizes the difference between the Jesus of John and the Jesus of the Synoptics thus: Jesus “in John appears as more a symbolic than a literal figure. He bears the narrative burden of revealing God in the world.” He means that John’s Jesus in his humanity signifies God in the world, and that John’s Jesus, unlike the Jesus of the Synoptics, explicitly claims this.
However, Jesus’s “symbolic” function, as revelation of God, would be meaningless unless Jesus were also a “literal” figure. To the extent that the symbolic replaces the literal, it is self-defeating. For those who suppose that this happens in John’s Gospel, Jesus reveals only that he is the revealer of God. But then there is no revelation, only an empty tautology.
Only if Jesus retains his human particularity and story—only in his miracles, his human emotions and relationships, his suffering and humiliation in his death, his resurrection: the story that John shares with the Synoptics—can Jesus be the revelation of God. The glory is revealed in the flesh, which could not occur were the glory to overwhelm the flesh or be merely disguised in the flesh.
Thus, the integrity of John’s portrayal of the human character and story of Jesus is essential to his christological project, and a sensitive reading will show that he does not dissolve the literal in the symbolic. The “metahistorical” aspect of John’s story—Jesus comes from God and returns to God—does not deprive the historical of its reality, but interprets its meaning.
John is, however, as I have repeatedly stressed, very selective. Only by reducing the “literal” story to key moments and indispensable sequences—albeit told in relatively lavish detail—has John allowed himself space to expound the “symbolic” meaning of it all. Yet, if we take John’s Christology seriously as exposition precisely of the “symbolic” meaning of it all, then there is no reason why we should not include the more plentiful stories that the Synoptics tell in this “all.”
In this way, which has been the predominant way the church has read the Gospels in the past, we may develop the complementarity of the Synoptics and John that I proposed above into a more comprehensive interrelatedness. The Synoptic abundance of “literal” human particularity will prevent us from taking the Johannine “symbolism” in a docetic direction (a danger not unknown in the tradition), while the incarnational-revelatory Christology of John provides the most all-encompassing theological framework for reading Jesus’s story, in all the Gospels, as the story of God with us.
©2015 by Richard Bauckham. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.
For more information on Gospel of Glory, click here.
Throughout Christian history, the Gospel of John’s distinctive way of presenting the life, works, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus have earned it labels such as “the spiritual Gospel” and “the maverick Gospel.” It has been seen as the most theological of the four canonical Gospels. In this volume, leading biblical scholar Richard Bauckham illuminates main theological themes of the Gospel of John, providing insightful analysis of key texts.
Gospel of Glory will serve New Testament scholars and theologians as a reexamination of the Fourth Gospel by a master of their guild.
“Written in an accessible way, these essays will introduce Bauckham to those who do not know his work as they continue his stimulating contribution to the conversation about the elusive but engaging Gospel of John.” – Harold W. Attridge, Yale Divinity School
“These studies on the Gospel of John combine close attention to the details of the text with an open sympathy for its themes and emphases. They are models of theological exegesis.” – Larry W. Hurtado, University of Edinburgh
“No one interested in Johannine theology can afford to ignore this important collection of essays.” – Andreas J. Kӧstenberger, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Bauckham awakens readers to nuances in Johannine language and concepts of which habit has left us unmindful and makes visible the allusions to prophetic texts veiled by Johannine narrative art.” – Jo-Ann A. Brant, Goshen College
“From this point forward, no complete discussion of John and the Synoptics or Johannine sacramentalism (as well as the other subjects) can neglect this thorough, critical work.” – Gary M. Burge, Wheaton College and Graduate School
“I read Gospel of Glory with great pleasure….The first chapter alone (‘individualism’ in John’s Gospel) is worth the price of the book.” – J. Ramsey Michaels, Missouri State University
“From individual to community, from glory to the cross, from sacraments to dualism, from the call of the disciples to their later witness, Gospel of Glory breaks new ground….Readers of John’s Gospel–and of the others–will want to read this book!” – Paul N. Anderson, George Fox University
Richard Bauckham (PhD, University of Cambridge) is senior scholar at Ridley Hall, Cambridge, where he teaches for the Cambridge Federation of Theological Colleges. He is also a visiting professor at St. Mellitus College, London, and emeritus professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrews. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and the author of numerous books, including The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple, The Jewish World around the New Testament, The Theology of the Book of Revelation, God Crucified, God and the Crisis of Freedom, and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.
For more information on Gospel of Glory, click here.