John’s Prologue: Beyond Some Impasses Of Twentieth-Century Scholarship -- By: Stephen Voorwinde

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 64:1 (Spring 2002)
Article: John’s Prologue: Beyond Some Impasses Of Twentieth-Century Scholarship
Author: Stephen Voorwinde


John’s Prologue:
Beyond Some Impasses Of Twentieth-Century Scholarship

Stephen Voorwinde*

[*Stephen Voorwinde is Lecturer in New Testament at Reformed Theological College, Geelong, Australia.]

During the twentieth century the prologue seems to have been a source of abiding fascination for Johannine scholarship.1 Prologue studies during this period were characterized by three dominant concerns:

(a) The authenticity of the prologue: Does it possess integrity as it stands, or should at least parts of it be regarded as secondary?

(b) Its relationship to the rest of the Gospel: Are the two parts independent or do they form a coherent unity?

(c) Its structure: Does analysis of the prologue yield a convincing underlying structure, or have all such attempts proved futile?

I. The Question of Authenticity

Until the 1970s historical criticism was the dominant discipline in Gospel studies. Whether it came as source, form, or redaction criticism, the key to interpretation, according to this methodology, lay in the world behind the text. Hence it was the critic’s task to uncover various layers of composition within the text before him. In the case of John’s prologue, this school of thought may be exemplified by two of its most illustrious exponents—Bultmann and Schnackenburg.

In the introduction to his commentary on John, Bultmann states quite unequivocally: “The Prologue most plainly of all enables us to see how the Evangelist has taken up an already existing composition and commented on it by his additions.”2 In his analysis of the prologue Bultmann detects a rigid form where “even minor details are governed by strict rules.”3 Wherever such rules are broken and the rhythmic cadences interrupted, Bultmann detects secondary additions to the text. An obvious example, he suggests, can be found in vv.

6–8, 15 ( John’s testimony) which were introduced “with a clearly polemical purpose.” 4 Because of their parenthetical nature these verses can be regarded as the Evangelist’s own comments. The same can also be said of vv. 12c, 13, 17, and 18. From this analysis Bult...

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