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  • Writer's pictureProfiles in Catholicism

Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel

by Sandra M Schneiders

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism

This book invites the reader to accept the invitation of Jesus in the Fourth Gospel to “dwell in my word” in order to know the liberating truth that he is and that he offers. Intended not only for scholars specializing in the Gospel of John but also for educated lay believers seeking to nourish their faith, the book supplies the necessary background material to make the highly symbolic and theologically rich text accessible to the serious reader. The purpose of the book parallels that of the Gospel itself, which claims that “these things were written that you may believe…and that believing you may have life in his name.”

The first three chapters, unlike a traditional introduction to the Gospel, do not constitute a systematic march through the background questions of author, date, place of composition, structure, themes and so on. Rather, they offer three synthetic treatments of the Fourth Gospel as a whole from three different points of view with the intentions of plunging readers into the Johannine world, immersing them in the powerful literary techniques, unique perspective on Jesus, community ethos, theological stance, and spiritual sensibility that pervade this Gospel so that the develop a “feel” for this very different Gospel.

Two issues come to mind from this approach. First, readers will be very well repaid if they take the time, before approaching the studies in parts 2 and 3 of this book, to do an attentive, unhurried reading of the whole of the Fourth Gospel from beginning to end in order to develop a feel for its language, rhythms, themes, characters, and issues many of which are repeated again and again throughout the Gospel. Second, it would be well worth their while to choose a good commentary on John, to read the “Introduction” section, which will deal in some detail with such questions as date, place, authorship, history of interpretation and other areas of dispute, and to keep the commentary handy for consultation when they are unsatisfied with the scope or content of Schneider’s presentation or are curious about the current state of scholarship on an issue.

In chapter 1, the author, deals, segment by segment, with the Fourth Evangelist’s stated intent in writing the Gospel given in its conclusion. John 20: 30-31, namely, that it function for the reader as Sacred Scripture, This provides the opportunity to present some of the central themes and concerns of the Gospel and to familiarize the reader with some of the vocabulary of Johannine scholarship that will be used in the rest of the book. In Chapter 2, the author discusses three topics that help to situate this Gospel as literature within the New Testament as a whole, within its own historical setting, and theologically. In discussing the uniqueness of the Gospel of John in relation to the other three Gospels the author takes up first its particular content, structure and language. Special attention is given to the last category, the very striking linguistic features of John which contribute both to the difficulty some people encounter in reading this Gospel and to its immense power to engage the deepest spiritual dynamics of the reader. Second, the author takes up the pervasive influence in the Fourth Gospel of the composition and historical setting of the community out of which this Gospel emerged. Third, the author briefly indicate certain theological traits that characterize the Gospel, which are taken up in greater detail in the third chapter.

The interdisciplinary approach, which will be seen in each chapter, involves historical criticism, literary criticism, theological analysis, and ideology criticism from a feminist perspective. Historical critical questions bear on such issues as the concerns of the Johannine community to which the periscope responds, the agenda of the evangelist insofar as this can be discerned, the tradition history of the periscope, and the relation of the periscope t historical facts. Literary criticism involves a very close reading of the text with attention to structure, vocabulary, form, and rhetoric as these function to engage the reader at the level of faith. Theological analysis is especially concerned with situating the periscope under discussion within the theological framework of the Gospel as a whole and in relation to the Old Testament, which is a kind of background music running through the whole Gospel. Finally, there is a continuous concern to detect and expose gender bias in the text and/or the history of interpretation and to highlight the liberating potential of the text, especially when it has been blunted or veiled by patriarchal interpretation.

Dr. Schneiders pours her scholarly heart and soul into giving us a deeper understanding of the Fourth Gospel. She asks and answers deep and penetrating questions and devotes Chapter 6 to “Women in the Fourth Gospel”. She states: “Encounter with the Nicodemus text is a perennial challenge to be born again, to enter ever more fully into the mystery of divine revelation and this to appropriate anew our identity as disciples. The path for this new birth for us as for Nicodemus , is the doing of the truth insofar as we can grasp it. Perhaps in our day part of that which is demanded if we are to come to the Light is the integration of the feminine into our God experience and the full inclusion of women in the church that this implies.” Each paragraph read with intensity brings us meaningfulness and clarity. Read it and share it with someone else.

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