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Evangelist’s voice

01 July 2016

Henry Wansbrough considers a scholar’s thoughts on St John

John, his Gospel, and Jesus: In pursuit of the Johannine voice

Stanley E. Porter

Eerdmans £21.99


Church Times Bookshop £19.80

STANLEY PORTER’s list of publications, articles, books written, and, especially, collections of articles by other scholars is endless. Here, however, is a book that he presents as his own personal quest for the Johannine voice.

Largely built on previous investigations and articles of his own, it forms a coherent group of valuable investigations into St John’s presentation of Jesus. The purpose and importance of each topic is amply detailed in the introduction and again summed up in the conclusion. The collection is not for the faint-hearted: it contains sophisticated discussions of Greek tenses and words, and casually used technical language such as “lexical monosemy” and “ingressive punctilinear action”, not to mention 27 pages of bibliography. So it is a scholar’s quest for the authentic voice of John about Jesus.

Some of the topics discussed constitute important introductory material, such as the date (late first century), the target audience of the Gospel (a “public proclamation” rather than directed to a particular segment), the source of the independent Johannine material (much of which stems directly from Jesus), and the integrity of John 21 with the rest of the Gospel (necessary to round off the Gospel message). There are also some very rich chapters on particular matters, such as the Prologue to the Gospel, which sets the tone for the whole Gospel, and Truth in the Gospel. My favourite chapters are on the 35 instances of “I am” in the mouth of Jesus, showing their varied implications as the heart of the Christology of the Gospel, and on the Passover theme that runs through the Gospel, much more prominently than is normally recognised. Both of these give a significant depth to the message of Jesus.

Less satisfactory is the chapter on the confusing use of “the Jews”, some instances of which might seem anti-Semitic; I am convinced that the varieties of meaning of this term can be solved only by appeal to different editions of the Gospel (as championed by Von Wahlde, whose work is referenced in the book but not used). Nor is the theme of truth and judgement as richly developed as it is in the classic book by Ignace de la Potterie (again referenced but not used). Nevertheless, this is a stimulating collection of essays, which add greatly to the impact of this noble Gospel.


Fr Henry Wansbrough is a monk of Ampleforth, emeritus Master of St Benet’s Hall, Oxford, and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

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