Re: Synonyms in John 21; imagery

From: David B. Gowler (
Date: Fri Jun 28 1996 - 21:42:15 EDT

Greg Carey:
> > Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, and he never achieves full illumination.
> > The Samaritan woman meets Jesus at noon, and she winds up bringing her city
> > to Jesus.

Jonathan Robie:
> These both claim to be factual stories. In neither case does the text dwell
> on or even mention the imagery you allude to.

I would beg to differ with these latter comments in a number of ways,
but let me mention just two:

First, concerning the claim that these are "factual" stories. Even
if that claim is true -- and I would beg to differ there as well; see
the end of John 20, for example -- even so-called "factual" stories
(i.e., a relating of "facts") involve selection, arrangement, and
interpretation. The authors of John were not just interested in
"facts"; they were also interested in "persuading." They also
crafted an intricate narrative at various levels.

Second, I would argue that you have to place the stories to which
Greg refers into their narrative contexts. From the Prologue on,
Jesus is the "Light of the World," and the imagery to which Greg
refers is used as an integral part of the entire narrative. It is
more explicitly seen in places like John 9, where a blind man "sees
the light" in numerous ways, but such imagery is critical for the
entire narrative.

We truly enter a different "world" when we read the Fourth Gospel, a
Gospel filled with wonderful imagery and irony, as well as a few
troubling matters for modern readers. Perhaps the best place to
start would be to read Raymond Brown's commentary on John and Alan
Culpepper's *Anatomy of the Fourth Gospel.* Both will lead you to a
closer examination of the imagery in the Fourth Gospel. Several
other more recent works may be of interest as well.


David B. Gowler
Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs
Associate Professor of Religion
Chowan College

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