Does the Gospel of John Have a High Christology?

in Horizons in Biblical Theology
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John’s gospel is often presented as having a “high” Christology but are alternative readings possible or even more credible? In this essay I re-evaluate the foundations of the purported high Christology of John’s gospel in light of recent Johannine scholarship. I will argue that some conventional readings of John are precarious and common proof texts, when read properly, are more indicative of a low Christology. I will also acknowledge that some passages might indicate a high Christology and warrant further study. If the Gospel of John has, in fact, a low Christology then this has implications for both the dating of the gospel and its relevance for the quest for the historical Jesus.




M. Hengel, “The Prologue of the Gospel of John as the Gateway to Christological Truth”, in The Gospel of John and Christian Theology (eds. R. Bauckham & C. Mosser; Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2008) 268.


Cullmann, Johannine Circle, 52.


M.M. Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001) 134-5.


Hengel, “Prologue”, 272.


Barrett, Essays on John, 23-25.


Barrett, Essays on John, 26-27; Hengel, “Prologue”, 269; Van der Watt, Johannine Gospel, 48. Barrett’s own solution to the “problem” of subordinationism is by way of analogy to the “messianic secret” in Mark—just as it was expedient for Jesus to conceal his messiahship, so it is expedient for Jesus to downplay his deity “majesty veiled in humility” (Barrett, Essays on John, 30-32).


R.E. Brown, The Gospel according to John (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1982) 367. Also “it is not necessary to suppose that they saw in ‘I am’ the Divine Name, though no doubt the evangelist would have his readers note the allusion” (J.N. Sanders, A Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint John (Adam & Charles Black, 1968) 236n).


R. Bultmann, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1971) 327n; cf. Thompson, God of John, 92.


H. Balz & G. Schneider (eds.), Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994) 393; Bauckham, Beloved Disciple, 246; Thompson, God of John, 89


C.H. Williams, “ ‘I am’ or ‘I am he’?: Self-Declaratory Pronouncements in the Fourth Gospel and Rabbinic Tradition” in Jesus in Johannine Tradition (eds. R.T. Fortna & T. Thatcher; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001) 344, citing 2 Sam 2:20 lxx; Mark 14:42; John 9:9; Test. Job 29:4; 31:6; cf. b. Ketibbot 63a (Aramaic).


Bauckham, Beloved Disciple, 245.


Bauckham, Beloved Disciple, 246.


Ball, ‘I am’, 196.


M.L. Coloe, “Like Father—Like Son: The Role of Abraham in Tabernacles, Jn 8:31-59”, Pacifica 12 (1999) 1-11.


A. Perry, Before he was born (Tyne & Wear: Willow, 1995) 170-2.


Hengel, “Prologue”, 268.


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