I Mean Both: Double Meanings in John’s Gospel -- By: Gary W. Derickson

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 31:60 (Spring 2018)
Article: I Mean Both: Double Meanings in John’s Gospel
Author: Gary W. Derickson


I Mean Both:
Double Meanings in John’s Gospel1

Gary W. Derickson

Professor of Biblical Studies and Greek
Corban University School of Ministry
Salem, OR

I. Introduction

As we read through the four Gospels, we get to “listen in” on Jesus’ interactions with His disciples, the multitudes, and His opponents. Without a doubt, Jesus’ favorite teaching device is the parable. He uses it to teach His followers truths while hiding those truths from unbelieving listeners (Matt 13:11–15). In addition, He uses ambiguity. He loves to challenge men’s thinking, not only with His disciples but also with the multitudes coming to hear Him teach. He stretches the meanings of words and speaks in such a way that the listener is left puzzling over what He means. In this vein we find that Jesus loves to use words with double meanings, and He intends to mean both things at the same time.

Jesus’ influence on John is evident in that he, too, employs terms in ambiguous ways which force his readers to think long and hard about what he actually intends. Sometimes it becomes evident that he, indeed, intends his chosen term to mean two things at once. We can certainly see this in his Gospel. However, we should also be cautious and not get carried away, finding double meanings where none were intended.

II. Double Meaning Defined

E. W. Bullinger defined the figure of speech amphibologia as “a word or phrase susceptible of two interpretations.” An author or speaker employs it in order to communicate two meanings that are both true and intended. This is in contrast to equivocation which also involves the use of a word with two meanings, but only one of its meanings is true.2

Amphibologia may be accomplished by employing a word that has two or more meanings contained within its range of meaning and use, or through a word that has a single literal meaning but that naturally carries a second figurative sense as well. Andreas Köstenberger adds that the employment of this literary device “often involves misunderstanding and taking a word’s figurative meaning literally.” Further, it “encompasses the notions of misunderstanding, irony, and symbolic or allusive ambiguity.”3

III. Purpose Of Jesus And John’s Use Of Double Meaning

Both Jesus and John give words and phrases double meanings in order to accomplish rhetorical purpos...

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