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Read the Gospel according to John, On the way to the mission

"the Gospel according to John is often illustrated by an eagle, representing both the book itself and the evangelist. This is because the latter, in his text, gains height."

Perhaps you had never before thought of the Gospel of John as a story whose aim is to prepare its readers for the mission... However, John gives pride of place not only to the mission of Jesus , but also to that of his disciples following Jesus. For Nicolas Farelly, this is not trivial: the author of the gospel sets up a narrative strategy which, by strengthening the believing reader in his faith in Jesus Christ, also gives him the tools he needs to become witness to Christ in the world. “Mission” is therefore at the heart of this gospel and its aim. This work is not an introduction to the Gospel of John like the others. It does not present the usual thoughts on questions of canonicity, authorship, date, etc. (even if these questions can be mentioned here and there). Rather, it is a gateway into this marvelous gospel, offering readers avenues for reflection and other reading keys which will allow them to best understand its riches. Nicolas Farelly is pastor of the Federation of Evangelical Baptist Churches of France (FEEBF) and associate professor of New Testament at the Free Faculty of Evangelical Theology of Vaux-sur-Seine.

Contents :

  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • The portrait of Jesus
  • The disciples of Jesus
  • The intentions of the story and the circumstances of its recipients
  • God's plan for the world and the trial metaphor
  • A trial that continues
  • Readers trained for testimony in “their” world
  • Conclusion: The community of faith and the mission according to John
  • Bibliography
Introduction The Gospel of John is often illustrated by an eagle, representing both the book itself and the evangelist 1 . This is because the latter, in his text, gains height. His account of the life and ministry of Jesus is very theological, addressing sometimes mysterious questions and themes of great depth. In ancient times, the eagle was considered the only animal capable of looking the sun in the face. Now John 2 , like the eagle, seems to have captured the thought of God like no other. From his prologue (1.1-18), he speaks "from above", presenting a global vision on his subject, Jesus, the Logos incarnate. Even more, his eye is so “piercing” that he is able to express truths about Jesus and other characters in an omniscient way 3 . Of course, as Proverbs 30:19 says, the eagle's trail in the sky is astonishing and beyond us. This is also the case of the Gospel according to John. Behind its apparent simplicity, it is a terrain littered with numerous obstacles and difficulties 4 . In what follows, we will not be able to solve all the enigmas it contains, but we will try to offer an enriching and enlightening reading on certain points. John wrote his gospel to make his readers “better” disciples of Jesus Christ. Disciples better prepared for life in the world, for witness and for mission. Will we also allow ourselves to be transformed for this purpose?

1. Richard A. BURRIDGE, Four Gospel, One Jesus? A Symbolic Reading, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1994, p. 23-32. This symbolic presentation comes from the vision of Ezekiel 1.10, during his calling, as well as from Revelation 4. In these two visions, the creatures around the throne of God are represented with the four images of a human face, a lion, an ox and an eagle. Very early on, these four images were used to represent the four Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

2. The author identifies himself as “the beloved disciple” in 20.24, but remains anonymous throughout his account. We will call him "John", because tradition has perceived that it is the apostle John who hides behind the beloved disciple and that the title "According to John" is the one by which our gospel is still today known, but exegetes and historians still debate on this subject.

3. R. Alan CULPEPPER, Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel. A Study in Literary Design, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1983, p. 21-26.

4. For a good introduction to the Gospel of John, in terms of its many riddles, see Paul N. ANDERSON, The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel. An Introduction to John, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011.