"Life" in Johannine writings: A study of the meaning of life for the Johannine community

David Asonye Ihenacho, Marquette University


The bulk of Johannine scholarship of the 20th century tends to show a substantial agreement along two main trajectories. First, the main Johannine documents, namely, the Fourth Gospel and the Epistles, are widely held to be products of communal conflicts. Second, many scholars agree that the Johannine writings contributed immensely to the doctrine, ecclesiology and spirituality of the early Church. C. K. Barrett, Raymond Brown, Robert Kysar, among others, maintain that the Johannine writings serve as a bridge between the beginning of Christianity in Jesus and the orthodox faith which was institutionally defined at Nicaea. In the face of these two almost mutually exclusive trajectories, at least two questions are crying out for answers. What was the nature of the conflict that dominated early Johannine Christianity? And how could such a highly beleaguered community have survived its trauma as to stamp its authority on the emergent institutional Church? In view of the fact that the popular hypothesis of J. L. Martyn which explains the crisis with a putative expulsion of the community from the synagogue has been shown to lack adequate literary foundation, I suggest that the origin of the Johannine community crisis be sought in the nature of the community itself. In my view, the Johannine community comprised multi-ethnic nationalities with differing ideologies and competing loyalties. This "proto-ecumenical" character of the Johannine community clearly posed a tremendous challenge not only to the leaders of the community but even moreso to their conservative Jewish opponents from the synagogues. Adopting the methodology of a four-level reading of the texts, this work argues that in composing their literature, the Johannine evangelist and redactors had their work cut out for them. The challenge was that of forging a strong Johannine community from the disparate groups of their membership. I have therefore posited that the Johannine authors found an answer to their critical situation in the theme of life. This is clear not only from the fact that the two main Johannine documents present this theme as their main purpose and project (John 20:30-31; 1 John 5:13), but also because of the integrative character of the Johannine concept of life. The Johannine authors seem to have appropriated the theme of life from the tradition of Jesus' sayings as a unifying concept for their community. The importance and distinctiveness of this concept are seen in the way the community's kerygma is built around it. It is also my conclusion that the Johannine authors theologically expanded on the theme of life so as to address questions bordering on the ultimate concerns of all human beings.

Recommended Citation

Ihenacho, David Asonye, ""Life" in Johannine writings: A study of the meaning of life for the Johannine community" (1999). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9945505.