Theology and History in the Fourth Gospel
Tradition and Narration
257 pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in
- Published: November 2018
The Fourth Gospel is deeply shaped by its remarkably high Christology. It depicts the earthly Jesus, the incarnate one, as fully divine. This unrelenting Christology has led interpreters, both ancient and modern, to question the historical value of John’s Gospel. For many, the Gospel is just theology. It is to the vexed relationship between history and theology that Jörg Frey turns in Theology and History in the Fourth Gospel.
John’s theological obsession with Christology might suggest that history counts for little in the Gospel. But, as Frey argues, the Gospel’s clear and central claim is that John narrates the story of Jesus of Nazareth, his ministry, and his death, as "factual," and that this narrated "history" is foundational for the Christian message. Frey traces the Gospel’s use of the available historical tradition by chiefly drawing from Mark and the Johannine community. Even if the Gospel of John used this received witness in a remarkably free manner, replotting and renarrating traditional episodes and even creatively staging new episodes, Frey contends that the historical life and person of Jesus remain central to John’s enterprise.
In the end, Frey warns that Johannine interpretation will miss the intention of the Gospel and the interpretive perspective of the evangelist if it remains preoccupied merely with questions of historical accuracy. The interpretive goal is to "let John be John," and, as Frey shows, readers will always yield to the priority of theology over history in the Fourth Gospel. In John's telling of the Christ story, the significance of history lies precisely in its disclosure of theological meaning, just as the significance of the historical Jesus is only understood in the theological language of Christology.
Addressing two of the central questions in Johannine scholarship over the decades, Jöerg Frey both clarifies and complexifies. His reversal of the sequence of J. Louis Martyn’s classic, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel, is programmatic. Without neglecting the question of history, Frey moves from Christology, to theology, illustrating how—with remarkable freedom—John’s theology leads to renarrating, replotting, and reimagining the ministry and death of Jesus. Now, students of the Gospel will have to reimagine, and find new ways to narrate, the interaction of history and theology in the Fourth Gospel.~R. Alan Culpepper, Dean and Professor of New Testament Emeritus, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University
In his Shaffer Lectures presented at Yale Divinity School, Jörg Frey addresses a selection of the significant questions that have occupied Johannine scholars in recent times: the Gospel’s Christology and Theology, the quest for the Jesus of history and the historical traditions of the Fourth Gospel, and John as a spiritual or theological Gospel. The discussion is wide-ranging, rich, and insightful as Frey engages both the Gospel itself and contemporary discussions about it.~Warren Carter, Professor of New Testament, Brite Divinity School
Jörg Frey has been deeply involved in Johannine studies throughout his important academic career, and this volume provides an excellent summary of how he views three major contemporary developments in the field. Each of the chapters provides a useful compendium of the state of play of a particular topic, but with Frey’s own critical assessment of it. I commend these Shaffer Lectures as a useful introduction to several major trends in current Johannine scholarship and, more importantly, as Frey’s reflections on their significance.~Stanley E. Porter, President and Dean, Professor of New Testament, and Roy A. Hope Chair in Christian Worldview, McMaster Divinity College
Jörg Frey provides a view of the landscape already mapped out by previous interpreters and then shows the way forward into new and uncharted territory. Long recognized as one of the most important scholars on John in the world, Frey here offers one of the most important books on John in many years.~George Parsenios, Associate Professor of New Testament, Princeton Theological Seminary
Those interested in the quest for the "Historical Jesus" will find it invaluably insightful and tremendously helpful.~Jim West, Reading Religion
Frey’s book is a must read, and a must have for libraries, and I would add graduate students and scholars of John. Its strength is the obvious breadth of knowing the literature, the major issues in the interpretation of John, and Frey’s ability to synthesise this scholarship.~Mary Coloe, Australian Biblical Review
The tensions between history and theology in the Fourth Gospel comprise one of the greatest riddles in modern biblical studies, and Yale’s 2018 Shaffer Lectures, delivered by one of Europe’s leading New Testament scholars, offer a welcome way forward. In Jörg Frey’s new book, the Gospel of John is seen as reflecting an independent tradition rooted in fact and memory, but developed rhetorically and theologically, claiming the authorization of the Spirit. Clearly and thoughtfully written, this book makes an important contribution to present inquiries.~Paul N. Anderson, Professor of Biblical and Quaker Studies, George Fox University