John and the Others
Jewish Relations, Christian Origins, and the Sectarian Hermeneutic
Imprint: Baylor University Press
255 Pages, 5.50 x 8.50 in
- Published: September 2021
The Johannine literature has inspired the Church's christological creeds, prompted its Trinitarian formulations, and resourced its ecumenical and social movements. However, while confessional readers find in these texts a divine love for "the world," biblical scholars often detect a dangerous program of harsh polemics arrayed against "the other." In this frame, the Johannine writings are products of an anti-society with its own anti-language articulating a worldview that is anti-ecclesiastical, anti-hierarchical, and, more seriously, anti-Jewish and even anti-Semitic. In New Testament studies, the prefix "anti-" has become almost Johannine.
In John and the Others, Andrew Byers challenges the "sectarian hermeneutic" that has shaped much of the interpretation of the Gospel and Letters of John. Rather than "anti-Jewish," we should understand John as opposed to the exclusionary positioning of ethnicity as a soteriological category. Neither is this stream of early Christianity antagonistic towards the wider Christian movement. The Fourth Evangelist openly situates his work in a crowded field of alternative narratives about Jesus without seeking to supplant prior works. Though John is often regarded as a "low-church" theologian, Byers shows that the episcopal ecclesiology of Ignatius of Antioch is compatible with Johannine theology. John does not locate revelation solely within the personal authority of each believer under the power of the Spirit, and so does not undercut hierarchical leadership.
Byers demonstrates that the "Other Disciple" is actually a salutary resource for a contemporary world steeped in the negative discourse of othering. Though John's social vision entails othering, the negative "other" in John is ultimately cosmic evil, and his theological convictions are grounded in the most sweeping act of "de-othering" in history, when the divine Other "became flesh and dwelled among us." This early Christian tradition certainly erected boundaries, but all Johannine walls have a "Gate"—Jesus, the Lamb of God slain for the sin of the world that God loves.
Introduction: The Other Who Became Flesh
1 Diversity as Enmity: The Sectarian Hermeneutic in Johannine Studies
2 John and Other Jews: Competing Visions of "Israel"
3 John and Other Christians I: Evangelists, Schismatics, Secessionists, and Strangers
4 John and Other Christians II: Ecclesiology and Pneumatology
5 The Other Disciple's Theology of the "Other"
Conclusion: The Johannine Voice: Sectarian or Prophetic?
Andrew Byers is a gifted communicator whose scholarly achievement in this book is committed to challenging stereotypical perceptions of ‘the other’ that fracture social interactions today. In a welcome departure from the sectarian outlook often attributed to the Gospel and Epistles of John, Byers argues that their focus is on ‘oneness’ that recognizes difference, a process of ‘de-othering’ that begins with the Gospel’s declaration that the divine ‘Other’ became flesh. Thus seen as steeped in Israel’s scriptural tradition of the ‘Oneness’ of God, Byers proposes that the Johannine Literature offers ‘theological wealth for societies ancient and contemporary’ in an argument that spans the centuries and deserves to be read.~Wendy E. S. North, Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Theology and Religion, University of Durham
In this timely and thought-provoking study, Andrew Byers argues that the core of Johannine theology is found in an ultimate act of de-othering: the incarnation. In a new turn in Johannine studies, he further claims this theological heart has the potential for ameliorating division and marginalization. What was eclipsed by John’s previous interpreters may well be just the antidote needed in our contemporary times. Byer’s fresh hearing of the Johannine voice offers a scriptural theology of identity and alterity that gives life rather than restricts it. John challenges boundary construction, complicates ‘othering,’ and calls for unifying life ‘in his name.’ Our task is likewise to hear this summons in a new tenor.~Sherri Brown, Associate Professor of Theology, Creighton University
By strengthening identity, biblical texts have the possibility to create otherness. Johannine Literature, with its dualistic language elements, has been both particularly efficient and dangerous in this respect: the concepts of the Jews, the world, and anti-Christs are often still misused by Christians to distance themselves from others with harmful projections. John and the Others: Jewish Relations, Christian Origins, and the Secretarian Heremenuetic challenges our reading of John and the language of otherness. Andrew Byers provides a sensitive and readable up-to-date discussion and points to the complexities in the Johannine texts. The book points to the remedy of inclusion in the Johannine texts as provided by the ideas of incarnation, love, and mission.~Jörg Frey, Professor of New Testament Studies, University of Zurich