Problem Passages In The Gospel Of John Part 6: Those Who Have Done Good—John 5:28-29 -- By: Zane C. Hodges

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 136:542 (Apr 1979)
Article: Problem Passages In The Gospel Of John Part 6: Those Who Have Done Good—John 5:28-29
Author: Zane C. Hodges


Problem Passages In The Gospel Of John
Part 6:
Those Who Have Done Good—John 5:28-29

Zane C. Hodges

[Zane C. Hodges, Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

Few truths are more clearly taught in the Gospel of John than the truth that eternal life is bestowed on everyone who believes in God’s Son (3:15–16, 36; 6:35, 47; and passim). Moreover, as the discourse with the sinful woman at the well of Sychar makes plain, this bestowal is a free gift granted on request (4:10). The reader therefore has little difficulty in concluding that for the Fourth Evangelist faith is the sole condition for eternal salvation (cf. 20:30–31).

Two verses, however, might initially seem to stand against this otherwise transparent conclusion. For in John 5:28–29 the Lord Jesus is reported as declaring that when the hour comes for the dead to be raised, those who “have done good” will come forth to the resurrection of life, while those who “have done evil” will come forth to the resurrection of damnation. That such an assertion might be read as expressing a doctrine of salvation by works is evident.

The problem raised by 5:28–29 within the framework of Johannine thought does not seem to have provoked much discussion in the scholarly literature. Furthermore, such discussion as there has been does not seem to reach very often beyond a surface solution and thus does not wed these verses effectively to the controlling concepts of the Fourth Evangelist. For that reason, careful consideration ought to be given to the theological implications found here in this solemn pronouncement of the Lord.

Proposed Solutions

Given the skepticism of much contemporary literary analysis, it is hardly surprising that some scholars have called the authenticity of John 5:28–29 into question. Thus Bultmann writes:

In any case vv. 28f have been added by the editor, in an attempt to reconcile the dangerous statements in vv. 24f with traditional eschatology. Both the source and the Evangelist see the eschatological event in the present proclamation of the word of Jesus. Yet the popular eschatol...

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