The Divine Name in the Gospel of John

Significance and Impetus

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Joshua J. F. Coutts
  • Tübingen, Germany: 
    Mohr Siebeck
    , November
     2017.
     259 pages.
     $100.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9783161551888.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The great exegete of the Patristic age, Origen, once described the Gospels’ place in sacred scripture as the “first fruits.” The Gospel of John held pride of place as the first of the first fruits due to the depth of the Fourth Evangelist’s theological genius. It is no easy task to adequately draw out the layers of meaning contained in John, but to do so is ultimately rewarding. Joshua J.F. Coutts does a fine job of peeling back these layers in relation to John’s use of the divine name concept in the revised version of his dissertation, The Divine Name in the Gospel of John. Coutts examines the divine name concept from the heart of the Jewish tradition in which John is writing to locate the impetus for John’s use in the Prophet Isaiah.

Recognizing that John is indebted to Isaiah for his own use of the “I am” sayings and the concept of “glory” in relation to Christ, Coutts explores these “clusters” in the latter half of Isaiah (40-66) to discover an eschatological-revelatory character to them that is associatively linked to the Servant of Isaiah 52-53. He concludes from this that, “John’s own glory concept should be understood in this interpretative context, wherein glory language is a shared category by which God is associated with a distinguishable figure” (52). Thus, in the Gospel of John, Jesus’s own glorification is associated with the glorification of God’s name. Coutts finds support for his conclusion among the Septuagint and other texts contemporaneous to the time of John’s Gospel (i.e., Qumran, 1 Enoch, Philippians, etc.) that see the divine name as a “shared concept by which YHWH and his Servant” are associated (53). Coutts shows more than convincingly that the Fourth Evangelist applies the insights derived from his reading of Isaiah to characterize the relationship between Jesus and the Father.

To solidify his argument, Coutts appeals to the socio-historical context of the Fourth Gospel to show that this context is combined with Isaiah to provide an impetus for John’s use of the divine name concept as a polemical tool. Two social factors contributed to moving John to make use of the divine name concept in his Gospel: the charge of blasphemy from Jewish detractors of Christianity and the need to explain the supposed delay in Jesus’s parousia. In the face of Jewish animosity, the association of Jesus with the divine name served as an apologetic for Jesus’s declaration of oneness with the Father. Further, the association of Jesus’s name with his disciples in John’s Gospel serves as a pastoral measure for reassuring the Christians that they are being kept in Jesus’s name, and so also the name of the Father, and that theirs is a time of eschatological fulfillment, even if they have not seen Jesus. Coutts’s appeal seems to be adequately corroborated by the text of John.

One minor criticism I have is the absence of an engagement with the divine name concept in relation to the Fourth Gospel’s revelation of Jesus as the true Temple. It is alluded to at certain places, but Coutts provides no extended treatment. It seems to me that this would be a fruitful area for further study.

What Coutts has accomplished is the broadening of the understanding of the divine name concept in the Gospel of John beyond merely referring to the Tetragrammaton or to Jesus himself, and to awaken the exegete to the context in which John employs name language. The result is that the divine name is intimately connected with Jesus’s revelatory mission of making known the Father as the “Father of the Son” and vice versa, revealing Jesus as the “Son of the Father.” In the words of Coutts, “John is both defining Jesus in terms of the Jewish God and (re)defining the Jewish God in terms of Jesus” (200). The trinitarian implications of this study are profound. For this, his book is a welcomed contribution to Johannine studies.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Daniel M. Garland, Jr. is a doctoral candidate in Systematic Theology at Ave Maria University.

Date of Review: 
March 8, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Joshua J. F. Coutts is lecturer in New Testament at Regent College, Vancouver.

Keywords: 

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