Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community

By Craig R. Koester | Go to book overview

8 Symbol and the Knowledge
of God

Our study of Johannine symbolism began with a problem that lies at the heart of all theological reflection: How do people know God? The Fourth Gospel assumes that God is “from above” and that people are “from below”; but if no one has ever seen God, how can God be known? The Gospel writer recognizes that people do not have unmediated knowledge of God, but he also relates that God made himself known through the Word that became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, who called upon things that could be seen, heard, touched, and tasted to bear witness to the God who sent him (see pp. 1–3).

The theological dimensions of our study of Johannine symbolism can be brought together by focusing on a passage that we have not yet explored: “I Am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This passage refers to people “coming” to God, which in the immediate context means knowing God and believing in God. After identifying himself as the way by which people “come” to the Father (14:6), Jesus shifts to the verb “know”: “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him” (14:7). Then he shifts from “knowing” to “believing”: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…. Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (14:9). Coming, knowing, and believing are overlapping expressions for human relationships with God in this passage (cf. 1:10–12; 6:35, 68–69; 7:37–38).l

Calling Jesus “the way” also takes us back to the second question that introduced our study, which is how revelation given at a particular time and place can have broader, even universal, significance. The particularity

1. On the Johannine vocabulary of faith see Painter, Quest, 327–33.

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Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel: Meaning, Mystery, Community
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface to the Second Edition xi
  • Preface to the First Edition xiii
  • Abbreviations xv
  • 1- Symbol, Meaning, and Mystery 1
  • 2- Representative Figures 33
  • 3- Symbolic Actions 79
  • 4- Light and Darkness 141
  • 5- Water 175
  • 6- The Crucifixion 207
  • 7- Symbol and Community 247
  • 8- Symbol and the Knowledge of God 287
  • Appendixes on Special Topics 301
  • Bibliography 317
  • Index of Subjects 339
  • Index of Authors 343
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