Written by Thomas G. Weinandy
Reviewed by Thomas Haviland-Pabst
Weinandy is a Roman Catholic priest and theologian who has written a number of books. With this volume we have the second installment of his three-part series, Jesus becoming Jesus. The first volume (Jesus becoming Jesus: A Theological Reading of the Synoptic Gospels [Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2018]) provided a theological reading of the synoptic gospels. This second part offers a theological interpretation of the first thirteen chapters of the Gospel of John.
Weinandy explains that he aims “to discern the theological and doctrinal content of the Gospel of John” and, as such, he chooses not to treat these subjects as “textual and formal criticism” nor to employ ” historical critical method”. With regard to the theological starting point of his interpretation, he specifies that he is trying “to apply the teaching of the Second Vatican Council”, that is to say that Scripture must be interpreted in the light of “the living apostolic tradition”, the conciliar teaching” and “the subsequent theological tradition” (p. x). In a nutshell, Weinandy’s offer is a Catholic theological interpretation of John 1–13.
The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 consists of two chapters and covers John 1 in depth. Part 2 consists of twelve chapters, which cover John 2–13. The conclusion briefly summarizes some of the main highlights of the body of the book.
A number of thought-provoking ideas or at the very least statements emerge from Weinandy’s reading of John 1–13. Commenting on the first half of John 1, Weinandy writes,
What we will see throughout the Gospel of John is the mutual glorification of the Father and the Son, a mutual glorification that is rooted in their eternal being as Father and Son. that comes from the Word… can we live in the light. (page 17)
He helpfully argues that the theological significance of “the Word became flesh” in John 1:14 is best understood as “came to exist as a man” (p. 26, original italics), which he argues preserves the fact that neither the Word nor the humanity of Christ is altered; that is, the Word remains God and the humanity of Christ remains true humanity. Later, Weinandy makes the intriguing suggestion that the baptism of Jesus by John was understood by John the Baptizer “to be the preeminent act by which Jesus is made known, for in this baptismal act Jesus reveals himself to be the Son of God anointed by the Spirit”. (p. 61). This suggestion is based on Weinandy’s (perhaps exaggerated) assertion that the Gospel of John as a whole is a theological interpretation of the earlier Synoptic Gospels and, therefore, it “provides a deeper or more reflective theological interpretation of the” synoptic tradition (p. xii) . From this, Weinandy dubiously concludes that the theological reading provided by John offers a “deeper” perspective on “the words and deeds of Jesus” (p. 434) than the perspective offered by the Synoptics.
There are a few points on which Weinandy’s interpretation is questionable. For example, after suggesting that for all the gospels, “Peter…is and will be the rock of faith on which the future church will be built”, he writes that “Peter stands alone at the epicenter of all the gathering” in John 1:35ff (p. 71). One wonders if he would draw this conclusion without his aforementioned theological commitments. Likewise, in his discussion of the wedding at Cana in John 2, he writes that it is not “merely the celebration of the betrothal of a man and a woman”; rather, it is “the contextual graphic image of the saving engagement of Jesus with the Church, the ecclesial woman, personified in Mary” (p. 107). One wonders if it is really likely that John’s intention was to place this level of theological significance on Mary in his account? Additionally, as one might suspect, Weinandy understands John 6 primarily as a “Eucharistic discourse” with John 6:52-58 strongly supporting the notion of transubstantiation (i.e. bread and wine becoming literally the body and blood of Jesus).
Despite these and other shortcomings, Weinandy provided a very useful theological interpretation of the Gospel of John. He really draws substantial theological insights from the text while at the same time writing with lucidity and even devotion. Moreover, the thematic links he establishes as well as his comments on the relationship between the synoptic gospels and the Johannine gospel give the reader at least food for thought and at times his arguments are convincing. It must be emphasized that this is not a normal commentary that the busy pastor or NT scholar might consult to find Weindandy’s commentary on a particular verse, since he is discussing blocks of texts rather than provide verse-by-verse exegesis. Further, while exegesis is unavoidable on some level, as promised, his work is primarily theological and not exegetical, and as such will not be useful to anyone interested in scientific analysis of the gospel. of Jean. However, I hasten to add that his deep and often precise and thought-provoking theological reading should appeal to a wide audience. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in an explicitly theological reading of John 1-13 atypical of a normal commentary, or for the reader desiring a nuanced yet devotional-rich theological approach to the Gospel of John.
Asheville, North Carolina, USA