Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community

By Craig R. Koester | Go to book overview

Preface to the Second Edition

SYMBOLISM IN THE FOURTH GOSPEL IS A STUDY OF JOHN’S GOSPEL AS A whole. Using symbolism as its focus, it explores the Gospel’s literary dimensions, social and historical context, and theological import. One question that shapes the study concerns how people know God, since symbols are earthly images that bear witness to transcendent realities; and a second question is how particular things can have broader or even universal significance. In the chapters that follow we will make our way through John’s richly textured narrative, asking how this telling of the story of Jesus enables readers “from below” to know and believe what is “from above.”

For this new edition, many portions have been rewritten and new sections on theological issues have been added to most chapters. Chapter 1 establishes a framework for interpretation, proposing that the Gospel addresses a spectrum of readers, who have somewhat differing points of view. It also considers how a single image can encompass multiple dimensions of meaning and explores how the Gospel might help readers distinguish valid from invalid interpretations of its imagery. Chapter 2, which deals with representative figures, includes a fresh treatment of Johannine Christology, a new section on Judas, and a final piece on the Gospel’s understanding of human life in relation to God. Chapter 3 offers revised treatments of the Gospel’s signs and discourses, with special attention given to the way the narrative engages conflicting points of view. Themes of light and water are taken up in chapters 4 and 5, each with new material. The treatment of the crucifixion in chapter 6 explores the different layers of meaning in John’s presentation of Jesus’ death, and a new concluding section connects each layer to John’s focus on divine love. The discussion of Christian community in chapter 7 explores the social dimensions of the Gospel’s symbolism in light of divergent points of view, giving fresh treatment to the image of the vine and its branches. Chapter 8, which is entirely

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