The Identity And Composition Of Οι Ιουδαιοι In The Gospel Of John -- By: Cornelis Bennema

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 60:2 (NA 2009)
Article: The Identity And Composition Of Οι Ιουδαιοι In The Gospel Of John
Author: Cornelis Bennema

The Identity And Composition Of Οι Ιουδαιοι In The Gospel Of John

Cornelis Bennema


This article examines the referent of the term οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John. The debate is whether the term refers exclusively to the religious authorities, to a religious party, to the religious authorities and common people, or simply to the Jews in general. This article makes three contributions to the debate. First, Second Temple Judaism already knew of the term οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι as a broad reference to the adherents of the Judaean religion transcending the earlier ethnic-geographic sense, and John had this particular religious group in mind. Second, οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι is a composite group with the chief priests rather than the Pharisees as its leaders. Third, within οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι, John portrays a shift in hostility from a religious-theological conflict with the Pharisees in the middle of Jesus’ ministry, towards a religious-political conflict with the chief priests later in Jesus’ ministry.

1. Introduction

Any study on οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι in the Gospel of John today needs to be justified as there exists a plethora of material on this subject.1

Undoubtedly Rudolf Bultmann’s commentary The Gospel of John2 and James Louis Martyn’s History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel3 have had most influence on Johannine studies (including our subject) in the Twentieth Century. Bultmann saw οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι as theological symbols, representing the unbelieving world in general in its hostility towards Jesus.4 Martyn’s contribution was to give οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι flesh, i.e. a historical context, by identifying them as the Pharisaic rabbis of Yavneh.5 As D. Moody Smith puts it, ‘Whereas Bultmann’s John hung in the air and its Jews were ciphers for unbelief, Martyn gave the Gospel a home and identified its Jews as real people.’6 Therefore, while Bultmann defined the ‘sense’ of οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι, Martyn focused on its ‘referent’.

As John Ashton has stressed, the distinction between ‘refe...

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