Exploring Johannine ethics : a rhetorical approach to moral efficacy in the Fourth Gospel narrative.


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Facilitating a fresh approach to the long-standing "problem" of Johannine ethics, this project utilizes rhetorical analysis to explore the ways of thinking and living that the Fourth Gospel narrative would likely have engendered. The study addresses the scarcity of explicit ethical material in John by demonstrating how participation in the bios genre suggests an implicit ethic. Attention to the Fourth Gospel’s use of encomiastic topics reveals an elevated Christology that complicates simple approaches of imitation ethics, while analysis of its metaleptic elements presents Jesus’s unity with God and response to God’s mission for the world as the imitable elements of the narrative. Finally, examination of the Gospel’s rhetorical structure demonstrates that the Gospel’s one explicit ethical command, “love one another,” does not promote an exclusive stance toward outsiders or a focus on spirituality to the neglect of material welfare. Rather, the macro-level narrative of the Gospel reveals that the goal of the prescribed mutual love is to extend the community to the world outside and thus join in God’s mission for the world. Our study found that Johannine ethics engages the audience in moral deliberation rather than delivering explicit ethical propositions. The Fourth Gospel presents an elevated hero whose direct actions may not be imitable, but who provides an example of unity with God that extends to believers; this unity becomes the foundational element of Johannine ethics. The macro-level narrative works to break down the dualistic framework in the Gospel and to build up a community that would bring God’s love to the world. Herein lies the Johannine moral efficacy: through John’s story, the Gospel audience is invited into unity with God and charged to complete God’s mission. With this larger mission in mind, interpreters can articulate the ambiguous and implicit Johannine ethic. With its elevated Christology, the Fourth Gospel offers an identity-making narrative for a community in crisis. With its elusive ethics, the Fourth Gospel engages and empowers the struggling audience to join in a mission bigger than their own suffering.



Fourth Gospel. Ethics. Rhetoric. John. Genre. Encomium. Progymnasmata. Metalepsis. Chain-link. Prologue. Love command.