Incarnation as Psychagogy

The Purpose of the Word’s Descent in John’s Gospel

in Novum Testamentum
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In his homilies on John’s Gospel, John Chrysostom refers to Jesus’ actions as reflective of an adaptable psychagogy. Starting with this initial observation, this study examines key aspects of the Gospel through the lens of psychagogy, particularly its christology and its emphasis on revelation. This study proposes an alternative understanding to the mysteriousness of the Johannine Jesus, arguing that mysteriousness does not simply arise out of Jesus’ heavenly origins, but also serves an important psychagogical end: to inspire people to reevaluate their presuppositions about Jesus’ identity and mission.

Incarnation as Psychagogy

The Purpose of the Word’s Descent in John’s Gospel

in Novum Testamentum



  • 2

    M.M. Mitchell“Pauline Accommodation and ‘Condescension’ (συγκατάβασις): 1 Cor 9:19-23 and the History of Influence,” in Paul Beyond the Judaism/Hellenism Divide (ed. Troels Engberg-Pedersen; Louisville: Westminster John Knox2001) 197-214; Clarence E. Glad Paul and Philodemus: Adaptability in Epicurean and Early Christian Psychagogy (SupNovT 81; Leiden: Brill 1995).

  • 3

    G.L. Parsenios“The Jesus of History and Divine Adaptability in St. John Chrysostom’s Interpretation of John 4,” in Methodological Approaches to the Historical Jesus: Proceedings of the Second Princeton-Prague Symposium on Jesus (ed. J. Charlesworth and P. Pokorný; Grand Rapids Mich.: Eerdmans forthcoming). The phrase “adaptable psychagogy” is a modern referent to an ancient topos bringing together several different terms and will be used throughout this paper.

  • 5

    Rudolf K. BultmannTheology of the New Testament; with a New Introduction by Robert Morgan (trans by. Kendrick Grobel; Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press2007) 2:66. This pithy statement is however a poor reflection of Bultmann’s understanding of Christology in John which hints at more positive content in Jesus’ revelation than this memorable quote would indicate.

  • 6

    W.A. Meeks“The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism,” JBL 91 (1972) 181.

  • 7

    See R.A. CulpepperAnatomy of the Fourth Gospel: A Study in Literary Design (Philadelphia: Fortress1983); P.D. Duke Irony in the Fourth Gospel (Atlanta: John Knox 1985); G.R. O’Day Revelation in the Fourth Gospel: Narrative Mode and Theological Claim (Philadelphia: Fortress 1986). Perhaps the most notable example is Stibbe’s attempt to describe John’s narrative christology; M.W.G. Stibbe “The Elusive Christ: a New Reading of the Fourth Gospel” JSNT 44 (1991) 19-37.

  • 8

    See e.g. J. AshtonStudying John: Approaches to the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon1994) 166-183. Typically those who understand John as a sectarian document identify the themes of mysteriousness and secrecy as tools for discerning “insiders” from “outsiders.” For two key examples see Meeks “Man from Heaven”; J.H. Neyrey An Ideology of Revolt: John’s Christology in Social-Science Perspective (Philadelphia: Fortress 1988) esp. 9-15.

  • 14

    See also BultmannTheology2:34.

  • 15

    See P. Borgen“God’s Agent in the Fourth Gospel,” in Religions in Antiquity; Essays in Memory of Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough (IRT 9; Philadelphia: Fortress1968) 137-148; D. Boyarin “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue of John” HTR 94 (2001) 243-284; H.W. Attridge “Philo and John: Two Riffs on One Logos” SPhilo 17 (2005) 103-117.

  • 22

    See for exampleSomn. 62-67 85-96; Migr. 3-6; Fug. 94-105 117-118.

  • 23

    See D.T. RuniaPhilo in Early Christian Literature: A Survey (CRINT 3; Minneapolis: Fortress1993) 132-183; also Mitchell “Pauline Accommodation” 208. Mitchell also notes the possibility that both Philo and the Alexandrian Christians inherited the concept from earlier Jewish interpreters (305 n. 52).

  • 24

    Clement of AlexandriaPaed.

  • 30

    Rylaarsdam“The Adaptability of Divine Pedagogy” 43-47.

  • 36

    E.g. C.H. DoddThe Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1953) 167; J. Ashton Understanding the Fourth Gospel (2nd ed.; Oxford: Oxford University Press 2007) 360-361.

  • 37

    E.g. J. Painter“ ‘The Light Shines in Darkness...’: Creation, Incarnation, and Resurrection in John,” in The Resurrection of Jesus in the Gospel of John (ed. C.R. Koester and R. Bieringer; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck2008) 36-37.

  • 40

    Cf. C.K. BarrettThe Gospel According to St. John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text (2nd ed.; Philadelphia: Westminster1978) 139. Painter 37 notes the important shift in terms in v.17: he uses ἐδόθη when talking about Moses but with Jesus he attaches the verb ἐγένετο pointing back to the creation language used in 1:3 as well as in v. 14 referring to the incarnation. Thus Painter astutely notes a conceptual relationship between creation incarnation and revelation all bound together by the activity of the Logos.

  • 50

    Cf. J.G. van der Watt“Knowledge of Earthly Things? The Use of ἐπίγειος in John 3:12,” Neot 43 (2009) 289-310.

  • 67

    Also noted by F.J. Moloney“The Johannine Son of Man Revisited,” in The Gospel of John: Text and Context (BibInt 72; Boston: Brill2005) 89.

  • 80

    J.M. Bassler“Mixed Signals: Nicodemus in the Fourth Gospel,” JBL 108 (1989) 635-646; Hylen Imperfect Believers ch. 3.

  • 82

    Cf. C.R. KoesterSymbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning Mystery Community (2nd ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress2003) 31; Hylen Imperfect Believers ch. 8.

  • 85

    Translated in George A. KennedyA New History of Classical Rhetoric (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press1994) 85. In a similar vein Maximus of Tyre compares the difficulties Providence allows in a person’s life to enhance the pleasure of life and even virtue in the same way the sorrows of both Odysseus and Achilles made them memorable men; Or. 34.6 8; cf. Or. 38.6.


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