Jesus, Judas, and Peter: Character by Contrast in the Fourth Gospel -- By: Tom Thatcher

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 153:612 (Oct 1996)
Article: Jesus, Judas, and Peter: Character by Contrast in the Fourth Gospel
Author: Tom Thatcher

Jesus, Judas, and Peter: Character by Contrast in the Fourth Gospel

Tom Thatcher

[Tom Thatcher is Instructor in Biblical Studies, Cincinnati Bible Seminary, Cincinnati, Ohio.]

This article explores the narrative relationship between three key figures in the Gospel of John: Jesus, Judas, and Peter. As these characters interact, patterns of contrast gradually emerge.

A literary “character” is the sum of “external signs” presented by a text that “correspond to and reveal an otherwise hidden inner nature.”1 Literary characters are therefore complexes of personal traits that correspond to the readers’ experience of individuals in the “real world.” Booth’s influential book, The Rhetoric of Fiction, discusses two means by which narratives reveal character: “telling” and “showing.”2 “Telling” occurs when the narrator makes direct evaluative statements or gives information not normally available in the readers’ experience. “Showing” occurs when the narrator offers selective information about the actions of the characters and allows readers to draw conclusions from them. By combining “telling” and “showing” the author enables readers to develop “both intrinsic and contextual knowledge” of the characters.3

The kind of “telling” a narrator can offer is related to the narrator’s perspective on the story. The narrator of the Gospel of John is “omniscient,” which is important in relation to his

knowledge of the inner life of the characters portrayed in John.4 Modern “historical” narratives generally note the internal processes of characters only as these may be deduced from their actions, giving an aura of greater “objectivity.” An author may, however, grant the narrator access to the minds of the characters, allowing direct exposition of their thoughts and motives. The Gospel of John exercises the latter option, frequently stopping the action to specify the nature or significance of events in “asides,” direct statements to the audience.5 This invites the audience to evaluate the characters’ actions based on the internal thought processes that provoked them.

The narrator reinforces direct “telling” statements by “showing” the readers how the characters respond to each other and to various situations. Booth and Harvey provide a matrix for analyzing the actions of characters by “contrast.” Booth describes the effect of “dis...

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