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Rabu, 21 Maret 2012

The Characterization of God in the Fourth Gospel by D. Francois Tolmie

Many Johanine scholars have put much attention to the theme of Christ and not to God, because it is seen almost insignificant. Tolmie sees that christology is actually becoming the central theme of the Gospel, but it does not mean that the theme of God is not important. The Christology theme will be important, only in relation to the theology. Jesus, the main actor in the gospel can not be seen apart from His Father. By using narratological approach, He tries to analyze its theology, that is the way in which God is portrayed and the process whereby God is characterized. So, the central in this article is the characterization of God in the Fourth Gospel.Before discussing the way in which God is characterized, Tolmie gives us a few theoretical issues dealing with narratological approach he uses. First, his investigation presupposes a comprehensive narratological framework which has been developed for narrative in general. In this approach we will encounter either “implied author” or “implied reader”. He uses the concept “implied author” to refer to the organizing principle in the text, responsible for the total arrangement thereof. The concept “implied reader” will be used to refer to the intratextual literary construct that functions as the counterpart of the implied author. Second, he demands us to realize that all the narratives in the New Testament are all dominated by an ideological perspective. So, they are narrated to convince the implied reader of a specific idea. The main ideology in this gospel, according to him, concerns the Jesus’ identitiy as the Son of God and humankind’s reaction to it. In this context, the purpose of the gospel is presenting Jesus in order to make people believe in His name and become His disciples. Third, in categorizing the characterization he does not follow what has been developed by E. M. Forster, that is classification model that divides characters in term of “round” or “flat” character, but he adopts Chatman’s model which sees character in paradigm of traits. So, every section of this article will focus to characterization of God’s trait in relation to Jesus and to humankind.

Tolmie divides the Fourth Gospel into the three sections and investigating which traits are associated with God in each. However, he sees that there is a basic massage which can be found in all sections where God is seen as a Father – more specifically the Father of Jesus and the Father of the believers. The theme of fatherhood of God is not something new at all since it can also be found in many parts of the New Testament, but Tolmies believes that the way God is presented as Father in this gospel should be distinguished from the other sections because it is so specific. Following what is stressed by P. W. Meyer, he points out that John’s presentation of God aimed primarily at presenting Him as “Vindicator” and “Authorizer” of Jesus (pg. 61).

1. The characterization of God in the Prologue (Jn. 1:1-18)

The prologue of John is a comprehensive introduction consisting of an ideological perspective in the Gospel as we have just seen above. This ideological perspective provides an understanding of Jesus’ identity and humankind’s reaction to it. If we read it at glance, the impression about neglect of God’s role will appear. The implied author seems prefer to talk more about Christ and his people than God. But, Tolmie stresses that the implied author also uses the prologue to help the implied reader to form a view on some of the other ‘secondary’ aspects of the gospel – one of which is characterization of God. In this regard, the prologue maps out the two most important ways in which God will be characterized in the rest of the Gospel.

First, this section shows the relationship between God and Jesus who is identified as Logos. In v.1, we find this statement: “En arkhe en ho logos”. It does talk nothing about God, because Logos is the subject of such a statement who becomes preexistent figure. The changing happens when it is followed by next statement in verse 2 that declares that “kai ho logos en pros ton Theon”. Here we see that “Theou” is brought into the relationship with Jesus, for Logos itself is linked to God. Based on the second verse, there is an indication that the implied author tries hardly to convince the reader that Logos is to be equated with, yet also to be distinguished from, God. What is important in terms of the theme of this essay, is that God is characterized here in terms of the relationship between Him and the Logos. The same idea also occurs in other verses of this prologue, that is in vv. 6 and 14-18. In sixth verse, John the Baptist is described as a man who sent by God. It is clear when the author narrates, “apestalmenos para Theou”. It implies at least two conclusions, God is characterized as the One who initiated the coming of the Logos since He sent the Baptist to witness to it, and God himself sanctioned His coming by preparing the way for that coming. In vv. 14-18, the author not only shows the relationship between God and the Logos as well in vv. 1-2, but also describes them in a special relationship when God is mentioned as ”Pater”, the Father. In v. 14 the glory possessed by the Logos is described as the glory belonging to the unique Son from the Father. In v. 18 this close relationship between the Father and Jesus is described even more vividly, since Jesus is described as “monogenes Theos” (literally ‘the unique, God’) who is the bosom of the Father.

Second, in vv. 12-13 the theme of God’s relationship to the humankind appears. It is said that human being can become “tekna theou” only if they accept the Logos. The relationship between them is now considered as a result of our accepting act toward Jesus. However, this impression is not too strong as well what is stressed by the author concerning Jesus’ identity as a Son of God. It will be strongly indicated in the third section of Tolmie’s article.


2. The characterization of God in Jn. 1:19-12:50

Chapter 1:19-12:50 is narrated to reveal Jesus’ identity before the arrival of the hour of glorification. This identity invites many reactions to Jesus, either positively or negatively. Tolmie does not intend to discuss it here, but he tries to point out Jesus’ relationship to the Father in such a context and starting from that point he categories God’s characterization. He emphasizes that the Fatherhood of God is the central message of this chapter construction. That God is to be regarded as the Father of Jesus and Jesus is to be regarded as the Son of God is emphasized continually. Tolmies puts much attention at this point and then return to see other traits of God in the rest of the chapter. The main idea appears in the following chapters (pgs. 64-68); (1) Ch. 2:16. Here Jesus calls God as His Father for the first time. When He appears in the temple, we criticizes the people not to turn His Father’s house into a market place, (2) Ch. 3:35. In this chapter, God is seen again as the Father who loves the Son. (3) Ch. 4:21&23. It is the discourse between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. The discourse leads Jesus to confess God as His Father. (4) Ch. 5:17-47. If in the first three chapters, God is seen as the Father in a positive context, here it changes. In the context of opposition against Jesus that is more and more increasing, Jesus has to face with the Jews who question His identity and quality as Son of God. He still declares God as His Father. He says, “My Father has been working until now, and so I am working too”. (5) Chs. 6 and 8. In this chapters, the Jews request for a sign (similar to the manna given to their ancestors in the desert), but Jesus says, ‘It’s my Father who gives you the real bread from heaven’ (6:32). This causes their negative reaction to Jesus. In 8:12-59, God is seen so. (6) Ch. 10. Here God is continuously characterized as the father of Jesus: the Father and Jesus know one another (10:15), the Father loves Jesus (10:17), the Father has given Jesus the command to lay down his life (10:18), the Father gives Jesus the authority to perform works (10:25,32,38), the Father is greater than all, the Father and Jesus is one (10:30), and the Father sanctified Jesus (10:36). (7) Ch. 12. Here is the section where Jesus’ public ministry is narrated and the beginning of the hour of glorification is announced. The common theme of the God’s Fatherhood still becomes the central issue here. In vv. 27-28 He decides that He will not ask the Father to save Him from the hour but instead says, “Father, glorify your name”.

All these examples above show how important of traits of God’s fatherhood in Jn.1:19-12:50. Other characterizations are also found in this section, such as God is seen as an initiator who sent Jesus to the world. Here Tolmie tries to emphasize what has been told by Miranda who says that there is an expression using to convey the idea that God has sent Jesus to be His authorative representative on earth.

Tolmie sees that Jn. 1:19-12:50 is indeed indicating the relationship between Jesus and God as the Father, but he not refuses that it also indicates God and human beings relationship. This theme appears in Jn. 3 when God is seen as a King in His kingdom that can be accesed by them only if they are reborn from water and the Spirit (3:5). In the same chapter another trait of God is introduced, namely that God loves the world (3:16-21). In 3:21, everyone who does the thruth comes to the light in order that it may be revealed that their deeds are performed in God. Here, God is characterized as One who wants people to perform deeds according to His will (One who sets the standards for human conduct). There are many examples could be found here, but the two chapters have just mentioned is clear to indicate such issue. However, their special relationship in term of “being children of God” is not emphasized yet by John, for it will appear in next section. It is merely about the possibility to be so.


3. The characterization of God in 13:1-21:25

According to Tolmie, this section is narrated in the context of before and after Jesus’ crucifixion which he mentions as hour of glorification. He then divides it into two sub-sections; 13:1-17:26 and 18:1-20:31.

a. 13:17-26 (Jesus’ Farewell)

This sub-section tells us about the situation before his crucifixion, that is on the evening. The comprehensive ideological perspective of discipleship is now broadened here. The characterization of God in this part is influenced in two ways by the context. First, there are some events are drawn within an intimate atmosphere, and this also indicates what kind of God’s characterization is. Second, this Jesus’ Farewall narration refers to His hour of glorification, and it is becoming the vital importance to establish the relationship between God and human beings. The most important thing in narrator’s thought here deals with the theme of ‘”discipleship”. Up to previous section, the possibility of human beings becoming children of God was described by means of general statements indicating the possibility of and requirement for becoming children of God, but in 13:1-17:26 the statement regarding the possible relationship between God and human beings are directed at a specific group of character, that is disciples. However, there is also the idea about His relationship to Jesus as it occurs in 13:3; 17:2; 13:3,20; 15:21; 13:31,32; 14:6-11; 14:10, 16, 28; 15:9; 17:6,9,10,11,21-22 which reveal God’s identity as Jesus’ Father.

The God – human beings relationship is strongly emphasized. God is not only characterized much more often in terms of his relationship to human beings, but also the benefits of this relationship, as John points out in the following chapters:

- There is adequate space for them in His house (14:2)

- He will send the Paraclete to them (14:16,26, etc)

- He will love them (14:21, etc)

- He will come and stay with them (14:23)

- He will prune the branches in order that they bear more fruit (15:2)

- He will grant their requests (15:16; 16:23)

- He will protect them from the Evil One (17:15)

- He will enable them to be one (17:21-22)

These stamentents of Jesus indicate that human beings status as the children of God is not merely a possibility as shown in the previous chapter, but it now becomes a reality. Without disciples ever being called ‘children of God’, and this relationship is unique.

b. 18:1-21:25

The climax of the revelation of Jesus’ identity seems clear within this sub-section. Such a revelation occurs when (1) he is arrested (18:1-11) and says the divine words ‘I am’, (2) Peter’s refusal toward Jesus (18:12-27), and (3) the trial before Pilate (18:28-19:26). In the third event, we can see that narrator tries to describe identity in terms of his kingship. It is clear that Jesus is regarded as a king, but his kingdom is totally distinct nature. Narrations concerning his crucifixion stress this: Jesus is crucified as a king, acts like a king on the cross, and finally dies in a royal and triumphant way, uttering the words “it’s finished’. Concerning the characterization of God, Tolmie writes that God is mentioned only a few on these four chapters: in 18:11 (Jesus is obedient to the Father) ; 19:7; 20:17 (He is the Son of God), 20:21 (He was sent by the Father), 20:28 (He is equal to God) and 21:19. However, according to him, the most important development in the characterization of God in 18:1-21:25 can be perceived in 20:17, where Jesus tells Mary to tell his brothers, I am ascending to my Father, to my God and your God. It is the first time in the narrative world God’s fatherhood is linked to characters other than Jesus. God who is the Father of Jesus is now the Father of those who accept Jesus, His Son. Childhood of God could only become a reality as a result of the events during the glorification of Jesus, the Son of God. During the hour of glorification God’s Fatherhood of Jesus could be extended via Jesus to everyone who believes in him. Here Jn. 20:17 is indeed the climax of the characterization of God in the Fourth Gospel.

Critical Responses to Tolmie

This article aims primarily to characterizes God, particularly in his relationship to Jesus the Son and to human beings. It is the basic idea which is stressed by Tolmie. The characterization of God, including his identity and quality can not be apart from other characters in the Gospel. D. Moody Smith also states that the fundamental question of the fourth Gospel is the question of God, but it is not about whether a god exist or not but who is God and how God reveals himself. It makes the central issue of the Gospel is dealing with the nature of revelation[1]. Discussing about God in this article demanding us to put our attention to Jesus in one side, and human beings in other side. Jesus could be said as a Revealer and human being as the reason for such a revelation. By emphasizing this, Tolmie tries to put them as the main characters in the gospel. As the main characters, they have a special relationship, and in this relationship their own roles either God and Jesus or human being could be perceived. I absolutely agree for such an idea, but I think that there is a strong impression here that Tolmie wants to see Jesus as the central figure of the gospel, that is the manifestation of God which John identifies as the Son of God. In other words, he fosuses only on the person of Jesus. David M. Ball states that questioning characterizations in John’s Gospel need to focus not only on the person of Jesus but on how Jesus is shown to be who he is[2] (it is dealing with my second critical respons below). However, without Jesus and his role that culminates in the crucifixion event, God could not be perceived. The God’s godhead is revealed to the world only in and by Jesus alone. Not only God, but also human beings. They will never reach the identity as the children of God, if they have not a special relationship with Jesus. They will not see God, if they do not accept Him as the Son of God. In this context I have a critical response to Tolmie.

(1) In explaining human being’ relationship to God as a result of their acceptance of Jesus, Tolmie does not explain the terms “believe” or “accept” which he uses as quotation from the Gospel. Is it refer to their effort to understand God? Is it another synonym of having faith in Him? Or is it also a knowledge of Him? If this is so, what kind of faith, believing, and acceptance does John refer to? I think that it is necessary to be explained in detail because the concepts of faith or acceptance in the Gospel of John is specifically performing an active “act” and so unique. He has already mentioned it in the second section, but it is not so deeply. What has to be emphasized is not other than the way people follow what has performed by Jesus when he appeared. Tom Jacobs shows that there are more than ninety times John uses that word to describe “the true faith” and also “the false faith”. He says that the faith within the Gospel refers to our acceptance of Jesus and then it grows as a living faith. Such a faith, according to him, is what John shows in 7.7, that is “do what Father wants to do”[3]. From the pluralism point of view, we have to interpretate these words in term of praxis, that is those who believe and accept Him is those who act as what he has been done. We have not to limit it in terms of identity, neither religion nor ethnic. “Those” in this context refers to the whole creation who understand and believe in Him practically. I think that it is more essential in understanding such concepts. I will give an example to explain this. If we read Jn. 1:1-18 we will find Jhon’s critic toward God’s own people who do not accept the Logos (v.11). On the contrary, he appreciates “all who received Him” (v.12). We can see that those who attributed “God’s own people” are those who believed not in Him. Identity is now not the most important thing as a requirement of being children of God, but our praxis attitudes as a sign for our acceptance and believing. Dealing with the characterization of God, I think that this issue can help us to construct the idea about God who prefers those who accept His Son practically, that is God who is selective in choosing his children. He still becomes Father to not only Jesus, but also to human beings, but only those who become Imitatio Christi.

(2) Tolmie entitles his article with “the characterization of God in the Fourth Gospel”. He then classify this in the context of relationship between Father and Jesus, but also with human beings. In term of ‘relationship’, God is characterized as “Father”. I think that it implies that as if God only has role as the Father. Is God’s characterization within the Gospel only reveals his position as Father? I think that there are other characterizations of God in the Fourth Gospel. In the prologue of John’s Gospel that is seen by Carson as an extraordinary introduction[4], the idea of God as a Creator has occurred. The theme of God ‘s relationship to Jesus can indeed be found, but it is not directly dealing with the idea of God’s fatherhood. It concerns only to Christ who shows himself to be one with the Creator[5]. Pollard explains this by saying that the role of Jesus in God’s activity is only as a Mediator[6]. So, I think that the relationship pattern made here is “Creator – Mediator – Creation”, and not “Father – Son “relationship. According to me, the theme of creation has to be considered to characterized God in an universalistic character as indicated in the prologue.

My idea about this second critical response to Tolmie could be strengthened if we see the construction of the Gospel he divides. According to his construction, I think that Tolmie seems forgetting many narratives of Jesus’ miracles that should be divided in independent section in order to understand God. The miracle stories are so unique as the way John uses to describe Jesus and God, so it also consists of an unique and characteristic view of God. Within the stories, we found not only a description of God’s relationship to Jesus and human beings, but also implicitly perform His godhead authority and quality . Only these which insist God’s role as the true God.

(3) Another important point Tolmie does not touch is the idea of the Holy Spirit. This theme also becomes important in John’s gospel. George Wigram shows that in this Fourth Gospel, John uses this word more than twenty times[7]. Some of them deal with God, such as 4:23 (worship the Father in Spirit), 4:24 (God is a Spirit), etc. By using this consideration, I think that the characterization of God could not be excluded from the role of the Holy Spirit. So, Tolmie should consider this in constructing the idea of God within the Fourth Gospel.


[1] D. Moody Smith. New Testament Theology: The Theology of The Gospel of John. Cambridge: 1997, pg. 75

[2] David Mark Ball. ‘I am’ in John’s Gospel: Literary Function, Background and Theological Implications.England:1996, pg. 51

[3] Tom Jacobs. Siapa Yesus Kristus Menurut Perjanjian Baru. Yogyakarta: 1982, pg. 157

[4] D. A. Carson. The Gospel According to St. John. New York: 1991, pg. 13

[5] Maurice F. Wiles. The Spiritual Gospel.Cambridge: 1960, pg. 43

[6] T. E. Pollard. Johannine Christology and The Early Church. Cambridge: 1970, pg. 20

[7] George V. Wigram. The New Englishman’s Greek Concordance of The New Testament. London: 1844, pg. 633

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