Savior of the World
A Theology of the Universal Gospel
- ISBN: 9781481309950
- Published By: Baylor University Press
- Published: September 2019
In the history of interpretation of John’s Gospel, sectarian readings have tended to command much of the scholarly attention in the modern era. These readings conceive of John’s original readers as a discrete and alienated community of Christians; in this way, the Fourth Gospel serves to reinforce this sectarian mentality, with little interest in the world beyond Judaism. In view of this, Carlos Raúl Sosa Siliezar in Savior of the World: A Theology of the Universal Gospel offers “a new reading of a major Johannine theme,” which traces John’s concept of universalism through a close sequential reading of the final form of the text. The pervasiveness of this theme, according to Siliezar, supports the universal significance of Jesus, which invites readers to approach the Fourth Gospel with “a new set of questions and answers about the place and significance of Christianity in the global world today” (xii).
The book unfolds in three parts: part 1 covers the prologue and Jesus’ public ministry (John 1–12); part 2, the Farewell Discourse (John 13–17) and the passion and resurrection narratives (John 18–21); and part 3 offers a discussion on the literary features and rhetorical strategies of John’s universal language. In chapter 1, Siliezar demonstrates in the prologue, the testimony of John the Baptist, and the temple incident that Jesus is presented as the owner of creation with a universal mission. In John 3–4, Jesus’ use of universal language in his interactions with representative individuals (Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, and the official) coheres with the cosmic scope of Jesus’ significance introduced in the prologue. In chapter 2, Jesus’ controversies with the religious leaders (John 5–9) serve as the point of departure to further indicate that Jesus has received authority from the Father to give life and execute judgment at the resurrection. This comprehensive scope of ministry is then illustrated in the raising of Lazarus (John 11) and cued by the arrival of a group of Greeks who wish to see Jesus (John 12). Finally, Jesus’ public ministry concludes with a climactic cry in which he reiterates that he came into the world as light (12:46).
In chapter 3, Siliezar examines the Farewell Discourse (John 13–17), where Jesus expands on his cosmic significance in his private encounter with the disciples, and he is depicted as using several instances of universal language to explain his earthly ministry and impending death. Moreover, the universal mission of the Son is passed on to the disciples through the bestowal of the Spirit. The Spirit is a witness to a “different world” and empowers the disciples to continue Jesus’ universal mission. In John 17, Jesus’ final prayer envisions the unity of all believers present and future as he is one with the Father. In chapter 4, Jesus’ kingship and exaltation is depicted ironically through his interrogation with Pilate and eventual crucifixion. The resurrection, then, serves as the climactic expression of his universal significance, with the worldwide mission of the disciples initiated by Jesus’ act of breathing (John 20:22), which signifies his role in creation (see Genesis 2:7).
In chapter 5, Siliezar draws together several literary features (point of view, narrative, and plot) and rhetorical strategies (use of the Old Testament, geography, and irony) to demonstrate how “John was consciously and skillfully producing a text that can be called ‘universal’” (165). In the closing chapter, he concludes by explaining that a universal perspective “was intentionally crafted by a careful artificer who used Jewish tradition, particularly the Old Testament, in his depiction of Jesus vis-à-vis the world” (193). This “rhetorical move” (i.e., John’s use of the Old Testament) provides the basis for John’s portrayal of Jesus. Furthermore, John’s universal perspective has the potential to shed fresh light on debated lines of interpretation concerning Johannine Christology, the Fourth Gospel in early Christianity, and John’s political dimensions.
Overall, Siliezar offers a compelling reading of the Fourth Gospel by tracing the use of John’s universal language throughout the entirety of the evangelist’s narrative. Against strict sectarian readings, he successfully demonstrates how a narrative-critical approach to John’s Gospel can “cast new light” on lingering historical questions. He persuasively argues that John’s depiction of Jesus as the rightful owner of creation suggests that John’s original readers were not an isolated community. Additionally, he makes an important contribution to Johannine scholarship on methodological grounds. A proper reading of John’s Gospel must take full account of all Johannine motifs. In so doing, John’s universal language, as Siliezar demonstrates, has the potential to reconfigure understanding of Johannine Christology and reception and should fuel engagement with the global community.
James A. Roh is an adjunct instructor at Multnomah University.James A. RohDate Of Review:January 31, 2022