Johannine Bishops?

The Fourth Evangelist, John the Elder, and the Episcopal Ecclesiology of Ignatius of Antioch

In: Novum Testamentum
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  • 1 Cranmer Hall, St John’s College, Durham University, UK
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Though the Gospel and Letters of John are widely understood as textual embodiments of an insular, “low church” community resistant to leadership structures, the later episcopal ecclesiology of Ignatius of Antioch is actually compatible with Johannine theology. Ignatius envisions the office of bishop as deriving from participatory reciprocity, an ecclesial dynamic demonstrated in the fourth evangelist’s narrative portraits of the disciples collectively and individually of Peter and the Beloved Disciple. After a reconsideration of the supposed tension between these two Gospel characters, the article will briefly reassess standard interpretations of another pair of antagonists—Diotrephes and John the Elder—whose tension is regularly attributed to Johannine anti-institutionalism. Even if the traditions behind the Gospel and Epistles of John had promoted an egalitarianism disinclined toward hierarchical leadership structures, the Johannine themes of reciprocity and participation may have contributed to the episcopal models of church orders that became established in 2nd century Christianity and beyond.

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