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‘Some were saying, “He is good”’ (John 7.12b): ‘Good’ Christology in John's Gospel?*

  • Jane Heath (a1)
Abstract

Far from being the banality suggested by commentators, John's use of the vocabulary of ‘goodness’ for Jesus (ἀγαθός and καλός) is christologically significant. It points to Jesus' unity with God. The Johannine treatment of Jesus' ‘goodness’ and interpretation of the Shema contrasts with and complements the Synoptic treatment of these themes in the rich man pericope (Mark 10.17–22 parr.).

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1 Possibly outside the Temple itself: cf. Ulfgard H., The Story of Sukkot: The Setting, Shaping, and Sequel of the Biblical Feast of Tabernacles (BGBE 34; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998) 135, 177 on Neh 8.16; 11QT cols. 42 and 44.

2 On the Feast in general, see esp. Ulfgard, Story of Sukkot. Other literature includes: Daniélou J., ‘Les Quatre-Temps de Septembre et la Fête des Tabernacles’, MD 46 (1956) 114–36;MacRae G. W., ‘The Meaning and Evolution of the Feast of Tabernacles’, CBQ 22 (1960) 251–76; Brown R. E., The Gospel According to John (AB 29; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966) 326–7; Ulfgard H., Feast and Future: Revelation 7:9–17 and the Feast of Tabernacles (CBNTS 22: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1989) 108–30.

3 Martyn J. L., History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel (2nd rev. ed.; Nashville: Abingdon, 1979) 60–8.

4 Martyn, History and Theology, 61.

5 Polycarp: Polyc. Mart. Pol. 12.2; it is also plausible that the ‘Ben Stada’ of rabbinic literature was a Christian persecuted on this charge, see j. Sanh. 25c, d; b. Sanh. 67a with discussion in Martyn, History and Theology, 82.

6 Martyn, History and Theology, 61-8; cf. Barrett C. K., The Gospel According to St John (2nd ed.; London: SPCK, 1978) 314; Schnackenburg R., The Gospel According to St John, Vol. 2: Commentary on Chapters 5–12 (HTCNT 2; London: Burns & Oates, 1980) 143–4. Other commentaries find ‘He is good’ similarly bland, and some do not comment at all: Godet F., Commentaire sur L’Évangile de Jean (3 vols.; 3rd rev. ed.; Neuchatel: Attinger, 1885) 3.15; Bultmann R., Das Evangelium des Johannes (KEKNT 2/12; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1952) 222 n. 3; Haenchen E., Das Johannesevangelium: ein Kommentar (Tübingen: Mohr, 1980) 347; Carson D. A., The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary; Leicester: Intervarsity; Grant Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991) 308; Witherington B. III, John's Wisdom: A Commentary on the Fourth Gospel (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1995) 171; Ridderbos H. N., The Gospel According to John: A Theological Commentary (Grant Rapids, MI/Cambridge: Eerdmans, E.T. 1997) 260; Schenke L., Johanneskommentar (Kommentare zu den Evangelien; Düsseldorf: Patmos, 1998) 160; Keener C. S., The Gospel of John: A Commentary (2 vols.; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003) 1.710.

7 E.g. καλόν vs. πονηρόν (Gen 2.9, 17; 3.5, 22; Lev 27.10 (twice), 12, 14, 33; Num 24.13; Josh 23.15; Ps 34.12; Amos 5.14-15; Mic 3.2; Mal 2.17; Isa 5.20; Matt 7.17–18 etc.); ἀγαθόν vs. πονηρόν (Gen 50.20; 1 Sam 25.21; 2 Sam 13.22; 14.17; Neh 2.10; Eccles 12.14; Sir 13.24; 14.5; Isa 7.15-16; Ezek 36.31, Matt 5.45 etc.). κακόν is also quite often used as the opposite of ἀγαθόν (Num 14.23; Deut 30.15; Mark 3.4 etc.).

8 H. Wankel, ‘Kalos kai Agathos’ (PhD diss.; Julius-Maximilians-Universität zu Würzburg, 1961); Grundmann W., ‘καλός’, TDNT 3 (1965) 538–40; Donlan W., ‘The Origin of καλὸς κἀγαθός’, AJP 94 (1973) 365–74.

9 E.g. Jos. Ant. 10.188; 15.373; Tob 7.6; 9.6; 2 Macc 15.12; 4 Macc 1.10; 3.18; 4.1; 11.22; 13.25; 15.9; Luke 8.15; Cl. Al. Strom. 7.3.15. Weaver J. B., ‘The Noble and Good Heart: καλοκὰγαθία [sic] in Luke's Parable of the Sower’, Scripture and Traditions: Essays on Early Judaism and Christianity in Honor of Carl R. Holladay (ed. Gray P. and O'Day G. R.; NovTSup 129; Leiden: Brill, 2009) 151–71.

10 E.g. Philo Leg. Gaj. 5; CH XI.3; see further: Grundmann, ‘καλός’, 542-3; Lampe G. W. H., ed., A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1961) 699.

11 Cf. Eccles 5.17; Zech 9.17.

12 Cf. 1 Tim 5.10.

13 E.g. καλὰ ἔργα (Matt 5.16; 21.10; Mark 14.6; 1 Tim 3.1; 5.10, 25; 6.18; Tit 2.7, 14; 3.8, 14; Heb 10.24; 1 Pet 12.2); ἀγαθὰ ἔργα (Job 21.16; Acts 9.6; Rom 2.7; 13.3; 2 Cor 9.8; Eph 2.10; Phil 1.6; Col 1.10; 1 Tim 2.10; 2 Tim 2.21; 3.17; Tit 3.1). See further: Str.-B. 4.559-610; Grundmann, ‘καλός’, 545-8; and below, p. 23.

14 Lattke M., Einheit im Wort: Die spezifische Bedeutung von ἀγάπη, ἀγαπᾶν und ϕιλεῖν im Johannesevangelium (SANT 41; Munich: Kösel, 1975) 11.

15 My thanks to Yong Shin Jung for pointing out these comparanda.

16 Barr J., The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford: Oxford University, 1961) esp. 206–62.

17 The main discussions in Aristotle are in EN I, esp. 6.1096a11-8.1099b8; EE I.8.1217b16-1218a32 cf. 1217b2325; 1218a33-38. Other passages are identified and concisely discussed in Cooper J. M., ‘The Magna Moralia and Aristotle's Moral Philosophy’, AJP 94 (1973) 338–42. On the relationship between τὸ καλόν and τὸ ἀγαθόν in ethics, see EN III.5–IV.9 with Palakuk M., Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: An Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2005) 153–6.

18 Grundmann W., ‘ἀγαθός etc’., TDNT 1 (1964) 1015; Grundmann, ‘καλός’ 542-3; and n. 10, above.

19 van Kooten G. H., Paul's Anthropology in Context: The Image of God, Assimilation to God, and Tripartite Man in Ancient Judaism, Ancient Philosophy and Early Christianity (WUNT 1.232; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2008) 99101.

20 Windisch H., Paulus und Christus: Ein biblisch-religionsgeschichtlicher Vergleich (UNT 24; Leipzig: Hinrich, 1934) 71. Cf. Nero appears as ‘the good god’ (ἀγαθῷ θεῷ) on a votive inscription: Deissmann A., Light from the Ancient Near East (London: Hodder & Stoughton, E.T. 1940) 349.

21 Similarly: Aristotle, EN 7.1-2.1145a19-24.

22 Van Kooten, Paul's Anthropology, 124–80.

23 For the debate: Branwick V. P., ‘The Sinful Flesh of the Son of God (Rom 8:3): A Key Image of Pauline Theology’, CBQ 47 (1985) 246–62; Bell R., ‘Sacrifice and Christology in Paul’, JTS 53 (2002) 127.

24 The ‘Johannine Question’ continues to be much debated, but some form of relationship is now widely accepted. See esp.: Denaux A., ed., John and the Synoptics (BETL 101; Leuven: Leuven University, 1992), esp. the contributions of Neirynck and Barrett; Smith D. M., John Among the Gospels: The Relationship in Twentieth-Century Research (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992); Labahn M. and Lang M., ‘Johannes und die Synoptiker: Positionen und Impulse seit 1990’, Kontexte des Johannesevangeliums: Das vierte Evangelium in religions- und traditionsgeschichtlicher Perspektive (ed. Frey J. and Schnelle U.; WUNT 1.175; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004) 443516.

25 The history and meaning of the Shema is another major debate, but its citation here is likely: see esp. Tan K. H., ‘The Shema and Early Christianity’, TynB 59 (2008) 203–6; cf. Athanasius Orationes tres contra Arianos 26.336.13-17.

26 An article that deserves more attention than it has received is O'Neill J. C., ‘“Good Master” and the “Good” Sayings in the Teaching of Jesus’, IBS 15 (1993) 167–78.

27 Taylor V., The Gospel According to St. Mark (London: Macmillan, 1952) 426–7; O'Neill, ‘“Good” Sayings’, 167–8.

28 E.g. Beare F. W., The Gospel according to Matthew (Oxford: Blackwell, 1981) 394; Davies W. D. and Allison D. C., The Gospel According to Saint Matthew (3 vols.; ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988–97) 3.42.

29 But cf. Deut 32.4. Thanks to Markus Bockmuehl for these references.

30 Hase K. von, Geschichte Jesu nach akademischen Vorlesungen (Leipzig : Breitkopf & Härtel, 1876) 422; cf. A. Denaux, ‘The Q-Logion Mt 11,27 / Lk 10,22 and the Gospel of John’, John and the Synoptics (ed. Denaux) 163-200.

31 Bengel J. A., Gnomon (ed. Bengel E. and Steudel J. C. F.; 3rd ed.; Tübingen: Ludov, 1850) 1.222–3.

32 Barrett C. K., ‘The Old Testament in the Fourth Gospel’, JTS 48 (1947) 161–2.

33 Brown R. E., An Introduction to New Testament Christology (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist, 1994) 174. Discussion of the Synoptic verse was significant in the Trinitarian debates of the fourth century: Athanasius De Sancta Trinitate XXVIII, 1133.28-53; 1136.22, 41-4; 1141.1.

34 Hoskyns E. C., The Fourth Gospel (ed. Davey F. N.; 2 vols.; London: Faber & Faber, 1940) 1.188–9.

35 Cf. Norden E., Agnostos Theos: Untersuchungen zur Formengeschichte Religiöser Rede (Stuttgart: Teubner, 1956) 177239. On the relationship between the so-called ‘covenant formula’ and the Shema: Aurelius E., ‘Der Ursprung des Ersten Gebots’, VT 100 (2003) 121.

36 E.g. Cant. passim; Isa 49.18; 62.5; Jer 2.2, 32; Ezek 16; Hos 1–3.

37 Cana is likely to have been a Zealot stronghold in the war of 66–70 ad: Jos. Vita 86 with Geyser A., ‘The Semeion at Cana of the Galilee’, Studies in John: Presented to Professor Dr. J. N. Sevenster on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday (ed. Geyser A.; NovTSup 24; Leiden: Brill, 1970) 13, 21.

38 Hengel M., Studies in Early Christology (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1995) 315. On materialism in Jewish eschatological hope: Weinfeld M., ‘Jeremiah and the Spiritual Metamorphosis of Israel’, ZAW 88 (1976) 47 n. 110.

39 Brown, Gospel, 1.32-4.

40 Ferreira J., Johannine Ecclesiology (JSNTSup 160; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1998) 142.

41 For John's use of both lxxand Hebrew scriptures, see Barrett, Gospel, 27-30.

42 Some scholars think the blood and water from Jesus’ side at the cross recall the water made wine at Cana. This is plausible but not certain and is often associated with a strongly sacramental reading of John. See, e.g., Brown R. E., ‘The Johannine Sacramentary Reconsidered’, TS 23 (1962) 199201.

43 Ulfgard, Story of Sukkot, 258–61.

44 Cf. Lincoln A., Truth on Trial: The Lawsuit Motif in the Fourth Gospel (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2001) 24–5, 33, 175.

45 E.g. Wis 6.22; 7.21; 2 Macc 12.41; Wacholder B. Z., ‘The “Sealed” Torah versus the “Revealed” Torah: An Exegesis of Damascus Covenant V, 1–6 and Jeremiah 32, 10-14’, RevQ 12 (1986) 351–68; Shemes A. and Werman C., ‘Hidden Things and Their Revelation’, RevQ 18 (1998) 409–28. The pair is picked up in Christianity: Matt 6.4-21; Mark 4.22 // Luke 8.17; Rom 2.28-29; 1 Cor 4.5; 14.25; 2 Cor 4.2; Eph 5.12-14; Col 1.26; 3.34; Iren. Adv. Haer. 1.2 (Harvey Praef. p. 5).

46 E.g. Deut 1.25, 35; 3.25; 4.22; 6.18; 8.7, 10; 9.4, 6; 11.17; 31.20-21.

47 A similar nuance is plausible in John 2.10 in the light of other resonances of the verse.

48 For the allusion to glory at Tabernacles, see above, p. 16.

49 The one exception of which I am aware is Neyrey, ‘Noble Shepherd’. Neyrey claims that καλός has a substantially different nuance from ἀγαθός here, and is to be considered an assertion of Jesus’ ‘nobility’ in a culture keenly concerned with issues of guilt and shame. I argued against Neyrey's sharp differentiation between καλός and ἀγαθός above (p. 4); his analysis of John 10 is also problematic as he paraphrases John's text in order to find there the categories of the progymnasmata, and in doing so he substantially alters its nuances, e.g. ‘justice’ (δικαιοσύνη) is not mentioned in John 10, but Neyrey analyses the shepherd's knowledge of his sheep, love and other characteristics as marks of the duty or virtue of justice.

50 E.g. Barrett, ‘Old Testament’, 163; Beutler J., ‘Der alttestamentlich-jüdische Hintergrund der Hirtenrede in Johannes 10’, The Shepherd Discourse of John 10 and its Context (ed. Beutler J. and Fortna R. T.; SNTS.MS 67; Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1991) 1832; Zimmermann R., ‘Jesus im Bild Gottes: Anspielungen auf das Alte Testament im Johannesevangelium am Beispiel der Hirtenbildfelder in Joh 10’, Kontexte des Johannesevangeliums: Das vierte Evangelium in religions- und traditionsgeschichtlicher Perspektive (ed. Frey and Schnelle) 81116.

51 Esp. Sabbe M., ‘John 10 and its Relationship to the Synoptic Gospels’, The Shepherd Discourse of John 10 and its Context (ed. Beutler and Fortna) 7593.

52 Hayward C. T. R., ‘“The Lord is One”: Reflections on the Theme of Unity in John's Gospel from a Jewish Perspective’, Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism (ed. Stuckenbruck L. T. and North W. E. S.; JSNTSup 263; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2004) 138–54.

53 Similarly, the Nash papyrus associates the Ten Commandments with the Shema. See: Albright W. F., ‘A Biblical Fragment from the Maccabaean Age: The Nash Papyrus’, JBL 56 (1937) 145–76.

54 See further: Hirsch-Luipold R., ‘Prinzipiell-theologische Ethik in der johanneischen Literatur’, Jenseits von Indikativ und Imperativ (ed. Horn F. W. v. and Zimmermann R.; Kontexte und Normen neutestamentlicher Ethik / Contexts and Norms of New Testament Ethics I; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009) 289307.

55 The diction of John 10.24b also resonates with the good shepherd's language of ‘putting [down]’ and ‘taking up’ his own life (10.11, 15, 17-18).

56 Above, pp. 2, 16-17.

57 Above, p. 5 with n. 13.

58 Luke 9.59 cf. Matt 8.21-22, discussed in Grundmann, ‘καλός’, 547.

59 Grundmann, ‘καλός’, 549 n. 47; Rengstorf K. H., ‘σημεῖον etc.’, TDNT 7 (1971) 249 n. 328.

60 Thanks to Ruth Edwards for pointing this out to me.

61 The only remaining time that καλ– vocabulary is used for Jesus is in John 18.23; however, the expression καλῶς λαλέω refers to ‘true’ or ‘right’ rather than to ‘good’ speech (cf. John 4.17; 8.48; 13.13), so it is appropriate to omit this adverbial use from the present discussion.

62 Hengel, Studies, 322, citing John 3.1f.; 4.47ff.; 6.15; 11; 18.15; 19.38-41.

63 lxx: ἄκουϵ Iσραηλ κύριος ὁ θϵὸς ἡμῶν κύριος ϵἷς inline-graphic

ϵ̓
στιν καὶ ἀγαπήσϵις κύριον τὸν θϵόν σου inline-graphic
ϵ̓
ξ ὅλης τῆς καρδίας σου καὶ inline-graphic
ϵ̓
ξ ὅλης τῆς ψυχῆς σου καὶ inline-graphic
ϵ̓
ξ ὅλης τῆς δυνάμϵώς σου

64 Hayward, ‘“The Lord is One,”’ 146, citing 1QS col. vi, ll. 13-23; Sifre Deut. 32; m. Ber. 9.5; Targ. Ps-J and Targ. Neof. of Deut 6.5.

65 Among modern scholars, e.g. Brown, Gospel, 1.CXXII–CXXVII, 328-9; Dunn J. D. G., ‘Let John Be John: A Gospel for its Time’, The Gospel and the Gospels (ed. Stuhlmacher P.; Grant Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991) 330–3; Fishbane M., ‘The Well of Living Water: A Biblical Motif and Its Ancient Transformations’, Sha'arei Talmon: Studies in the Bible, Qumran, and the Ancient Near East presented to Shemaryahu Talmon (ed. Fishbane M. and Tov E.; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1992) 316, esp. 10-13; Ringe S. H., Wisdom's Friends: Community and Christology in the Fourth Gospel (Louiseville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1999); Bennema C., The Power of Saving Wisdom: An Investigation of Spirit and Wisdom in Relation to the Soteriology of the Fourth gospel (WUNT 2.148; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2002). The association of John with Wisdom is much older: for the medieval cult, Hamburger J. F., St. John the Divine: The Deified Evangelist in Medieval Art and Theology (Berkeley/London: University of California, 2002) 95164.

66 This point was kindly brought to my attention by Reinhard Feldmeier and Rainer Hirsch-Luipold.

* Earlier versions of this paper were presented in 2009 for the John Seminar at the British New Testament Society Conference and for the New Testament Seminar at the University of Aberdeen. I am grateful to both audiences and to the editor of this journal for very helpful feedback. Errors and infelicities remain my own.

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