Text, Context And The Johannine Community: A Sociolinguistic Analysis Of The Johannine Writings -- By: David A. Lamb

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 63:1 (NA 2012)
Article: Text, Context And The Johannine Community: A Sociolinguistic Analysis Of The Johannine Writings
Author: David A. Lamb


Text, Context And The Johannine Community:
A Sociolinguistic Analysis Of The Johannine Writings1

David A. Lamb

This thesis examines the social context of the Johannine writings from the perspective of sociolinguistic theory of register. In particular, it considers the validity of the Johannine Community model.

The idea of a distinct Johannine community lying behind the production of the Gospel and Epistles of John has become, to use Thomas Kuhn’s terminology, a paradigm within Johannine scholarship over the past fifty years. The key works in establishing this paradigm were the two large Anchor Bible commentaries on the gospel published by Raymond Brown in 1966 and 1970, and the slim volume published by J. Louis Martyn in 1968, History and Theology in the Fourth Gospel. Other scholars, from Wayne Meeks and his 1972 essay ‘The Man from Heaven in Johannine Sectarianism’2 onwards, have used sociological insights to depict the Johannine community as a sectarian group, opposed both to wider Jewish society and to other Christian groups.

However, in the past twenty years or so the very concept of a Johannine community has been increasingly challenged from a variety of perspectives. So, in view of these recent challenges to the paradigm, it is important to examine how scholars have moved from the texts of the Gospel and Epistles to the context of a Johannine community and, specifically, of a sectarian group outside of mainstream early Christianity. For, apart from a few references to the patristic writings, it is only the Johannine texts themselves that scholars use to construct

this community. And once constructed, the community then serves as a major tool in the interpretation of these texts.

One reason for the challenge to the community paradigm lies in the shift away from traditional historical-critical exegesis in favour of synchronic approaches which emphasise the Johannine texts in their final form (as much as that can be established), and which draw on a variety of insights from literary and cultural studies. However, illuminating though such readings of the Johannine writings have been, I question whether words can ever be divorced from their socio-historical contexts. Indeed, it is the contention of the discipline of sociolinguistics that language is a social phenomenon: just as we learn and use language in social situations, so our spoken or written communications always betray some trace of particular socio-historical situations. Thus, if...

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