Cornelis Bennema, «The Sword of the Messiah and the Concept of Liberation in the Fourth Gospel», Vol. 86 (2005) 35-58
This article elucidates the Johannine concept of Jesus’
"sword" as the means of liberation against a background of Palestinian messianic
apocalypticism. It is argued that the Johannine Jesus is depicted as a messiah
who liberates the world at large from the spiritual oppression of sin and the
devil by means of his Spirit-imbued word of truth. In addition, Jesus also
provides physical, social, religious and political liberation. Jesus’ programme
of holistic liberation is continued by his disciples through the transference of
his "sword" in the form of their Paraclete-imbued witness.
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The Sword of the Messiah 57
Our findings have implications for how we understand the Fourth
Gospel. We have not read the Fourth Gospel as a two-level drama, i.e.,
Johnâ€™s retelling of the Jesus-story to match the story of his own
community. Scholars who have gone down this route, paved by
Martyn and Brown, have often depicted a so-called â€œJohannine
communityâ€ that is oppressed or persecuted by post-70 C.E.
synagogue Judaism and (hence) inward-looking or â€œsectarianâ€ (66).
Instead, we contended that Johnâ€™s intended audience was much
wider (but it could nevertheless have included a â€œJohannine
communityâ€)(67). Moreover, the schism in the Fourth Gospel is not
between an inward-looking Johannine community and synagogue
Judaism (as Martyn and his supporters would have it) but between
those who accept Jesusâ€™ word and those who reject it, between the new
â€œIsraelâ€ and the world at large. Hence, our reading discourages a
treatment of the Fourth Gospel as a document from a sectarian
community alienated or withdrawn from the world, which might lead
to a view that the Fourth Gospel has no interest in reaching out to
outsiders and the marginalized (68). Instead, we argued that the Fourth
Gospel challenges believers to reach out to the world at large, cross
social barriers, witness to the truth, and alleviate oppression (69).
South Asia Institute Cornelis BENNEMA
of Advanced Christian Studies
(66) J.L. MARTYN, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (Louisville
2003); R.E. BROWN, The Community of the Beloved Disciple (London 1979);
RENSBERGER, Faith, 25-29; M.W.G. STIBBE, John as Storyteller. Narrative
Criticsm and the Fourth Gospel (SNTSMS 73; Cambridge 1992) 56-58, 150;
HOWARD-BROOK, Children, 20-24, 49-50. Cf. the extensive list of scholars
mentioned by MOTYER, â€œJesusâ€, 72 n. 9; ID., Father, 13 n. 21.
(67) Cf. MOTYER, â€œJesusâ€, 87-88; ID., Father, 212-215; R. BAUCKHAM, â€œThe
Audience of the Fourth Gospelâ€, Jesus in Johannine Tradition (eds. R.T. FORTNA
â€“ T. THATCHER) (Louisville 2001) 101-111. See also T.S. DOKKA, â€œIrony and
Sectarianism in the Gospel of Johnâ€, Readings (eds. J. NISSEN â€“ S. PEDERSEN) 83-
107; T. HÃ„GERLAND, â€œJohnâ€™s Gospel: A Two-Level Drama?â€, JSNT 25 (2003)
(68) So, e.g., RENSBERGER, Faith, 124-130 (but see Motyerâ€™s criticism
[â€œJesusâ€, 73-74]); MALINA â€“ ROHRBAUGH, Commentary, 59-61, 237-245.
(69) Cf. Motyerâ€™s essay â€œJesusâ€.