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Eternal life for believers and Judgment for disbelievers in Christ
Posted On : Dec. 05, 2013
Eternal life for believers and Judgment for disbelievers in Christ 3: 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who disobeys the Son shall not see life, but the anger of God remains upon him. The gospel of John reflects high Christology. The purpose of John’s gospel is also to manifest Jesus as the Divine Revealer and to confirm eternal life for all those who believed in revealer. This way of presentation of Jesus as the incarnated ‘Logos’ or as ‘divine revealer’ is found throughout the gospel. Scholars today believe that John addresses in his gospel the polemical situations and the tensions that existed during his time between his community and the synagogue or between those who believed in Jesus as the Son, as the Messiah and those who did not believe in Jesus. The present verse which I have taken from the gospel touches mainly on theological themes of belief and disbelief, present eschatology and present Judgment. Faith and eternal life and judgment are all connected to the confession in the ‘Son’ or non confession in the ‘Son’. This verse invites believers to confess in Jesus in order to gain eternal life. I would like to explain in the present seminar paper how these theological themes that evangelist addressed are connected with Christology and how the evangelists stresses unique role of the ‘Son’ for the faithful to be saved or judged. I also would like to enumerate scholarly comments and arguments on the themes mentioned in the verse and ask whether they are exclusive to Johannine thought or his thought y was influenced by the background ideologies from Hellenistic writings, Gnostic literatures, Rabbinic literature in writing this verse 36 in the his theological summary of third chapter and of the whole gospel. Faith lies in confessing Jesus as the Son of God, Messiah, the revealer of the Father and the confession of faith helps in receiving eternal life in the ‘Son’. The main purpose of the evangelist to write his gospel and particularly this verse is to admonish members of his community that Jesus had come to witness what he had seen and heard and reveal the father to people and to encourage people to believe in him. This confession in Jesus as the Son of God and revealer of the father, sent from above is present from the beginning of the gospel. Verse 36 in John’s Christological Pericope; After having spoken about the descending redeemer, about the earthly nature, about Jesus’ witness to the truth, about God’s love for the ‘Son’, about the authority of Jesus handed down in full measure by father in John 3:31-35, the evangelist sums up his theological reflection with a choice for the believers and disbelievers ether to be saved or to be judged by their faith in Messiah. Hence we can understand this verse as the theological summary of the whole chapter. Before I delve into explanation of the verse, I would like to present different shifts that scholars have taken regarding the placement of 31-36 and the speaker of the pericope. This verse is the last verse in the 3rd chapter of the gospel of John, which is also the theological summary of the chapter. Some scholars like Rudolf Schnackenburg considers it as the summary of the whole gospel of John, consisting of important themes of the gospel, considers it as an answer to unanswered questions of Nicodemus which ends at verse 12 of the chapter and reckons it as the explanations or interpretations of the doctrines dealt earlier in the beginning of chapter. Along with him, Rudolf Karl Bultmann reckons it as following V.12 and also as the explanations given by the evangelist to the questions of Nicodemus about eternal life assured in the ‘Son’. According to these scholars, it is likely that the evangelist was influenced by Hellenistic thought and Gnosticism in giving these explanations in the culminating pericope of the chapter. Principal Scholars have also doubt regarding the speaker of this verse, whether is it the John the Baptist or the evangelist or Jesus addressing in the pericope? John Ashton says that majority of the mainstream scholars like Raymond Edward Brown, Rudolf Karl Bultmann, Rudolf Schnackenburg accept that it is the evangelist who is addressing in the verse. John F. Mahugh also shares similar view in his commentary about the scholarly consensus regarding the writer of the verse and says that most of the scholars like Bengel, Westcott and Langrange agree that evangelist had written them. Rudolf Schnackenburg, Rudolf Karl Bultmannn and Bernard agree that these words are addressed by evangelists for Jesus. Others scholars like H.J. Holtsmann, Wellhausen, Schmiedel and Julicher consider this verse as the exposition of the faith of the evangelists’ generation uttered by Jesus. This verse also has got echoing elements in other chapters of John’s gospel. The themes belief and disbelief are also found in previous passages of third chapter in verses 15-16 and especially in 17 where the evangelists expresses the similar content of the verse 36. Raymond Edward Brown, and C. H. Dodd think that this verse has its variation also in 12: 44-50. From the perspective of Craig L. Blomberg, who studied John’s gospel from historical point of view, we understand that this verse as the theological reflection of the evangelist, in a prose form. He says that the evangelists had comprised the major theological themes of his gospel in the prose form of this chapter 3:31-36. He also says that John writes this from a comprehensive perspective looking into the Christ event that was actualized. Basing on the discussions of these scholars regarding their claims about the author of the verse, we can say that the evangelist is either warning the members or he is giving a choice for the members of his community either to be saved or to be condemned. We can presuppose that John wrote this verse as there were believers and disbelievers in the divine revealer. Scholars also think that Nicodemus was the person who represented the Jews who had seen the signs of Jesus and yet had not believed in the divinity of Jesus. By this verse, the evangelist conveys that belief in the Son is the prerequisite for the salvation. The main issue why John writes his gospel is Christology. John conveys to us by his writing that the main focus of the gospel is Christ and Christ’s revelation of Father and of the Son who is giving eternal life. Thus we can say that the present verse is the summary of the whole pericope which is addressed by the evangelist and which gives the believers, the invitation or warning to be saved or to be lost by accepting Jesus in faith or by rejecting Jesus in unbelief. Understanding of Faith in the Gospel of John and its Extensive Usage: When we analyze the grammatical usage of ‘???????’ in John, we come to know that it is used continuously in the verb form, it is used without an object (implied object is Jesus), with object (Believing into), with impersonal object (me, Moses, scriptures etc…..,) and with demonstrative object (which demonstrate the creedal formulations coming from the mouth of Jesus, from the evangelists, from disciples and from people). This kind of using the word by the author is found in almost all the chapters. The word ‘believing’ in all these instances implies trusting in the person of Jesus and his revelation, confessing that Jesus is the Son of God, or confessing and accepting his divinity and accepting the eternal life. Belief is always connected with confession of Christological identity of Jesus. We find in the gospel that there were people who believed in Jesus and who have not believed and this is found in the entire gospel. The very fact that John used the word ‘pisteun’ 97 times in his entire gospel, it implies that he was trying to persuade his Christian community, Jews and gentiles which had believers and disbelievers in Jesus. As Raymond E. Brown mentions in his commentary on the gospel of John, that some scholars argued that John wrote his gospel to strengthen the faith of the Christians. He was confirming the Christians in their faith. Hence this verse can be seen as the invitation of John to his community, Jews and Gentiles to believe in Jesus and attain eternal life. Scholar’s comments on Faith or belief in verse 36 of 3rd chapter: Analysis of this theological theme ‘believing’ which is used with a proposition ‘in’ according to scholarly comments, will tell us how important Christology is and belief in Son. Donald A. Carson comments that all the believers will have life eternal in this life itself. He says that disobedience is unbelief in the ‘Son’ and all those who do not believe or confess in the ‘Son’ as the messiah or as the ‘Son of God’ will not gain the kingdom of God or life. He comments that believers are already enjoying the salvation in the coming of Messiah and also experiencing anger of God by rejecting Messiah who had come to witness the father from what he had seen and heard cf., John 3.32. We can understand in his comment that faith is the essential element for eternal life. Rudolf Schnackenburg too explains the similar view that faith in Jesus, the revealer, mediator of divine life is the prerequisite to attain salvation but only faith in the Revealer himself. In his perspective, faith is showing obedience in Jesus, in his commandments and following him. He explains faith in relation to synoptic understanding of faith and in contrast to the Gnostic understanding of faith. He says that synoptic gospels emphasized on repentance and belief in the ‘Son’ and Gnostic emphasized only on ‘knowledge’. Where as in John faith means the believing community embracing the person of Jesus. According Rudolf Schnackenburg, it is this unity with Jesus which results in the salvation here on earth. He says that it’s all because the definitive time has already begun in the descending of Jesus into this world. Leon Morris understands believing as trusting in God who is revealed, trusting in the person as ‘he is’ without looking for facts and giving our entire self to the person whom we believe. He states that faith in John’s gospel is an activity which requires from the part of people to renounce themselves and become one with Jesus. He says that John used this word to explain the importance of trusting in God in order to understand the religion of Christianity. He also says that the word ‘believing’ is similar to that of the verb ‘abiding’ used in chapters 12 and 15 and says that both connote the same meaning. He says in John believing does not require intellectual assent but only personal trust for eternal life. He comments that John’s use of the verb ‘believing in’ in his gospel implies Christ himself. He states that believing and Christ are one and the same thing. He substantiated this thinking with example of Blind man who answered to Jesus not ‘as I believe in him but I believe’, when he inquired about whether he had known the person who healed him. He mentions in his commentary that both faith and character are necessary for the believer to attain life. Leon Morris thinks along with Rudolf Schnackenburg in saying that John was very much considerate about the continuous trusting in the person of Jesus. Frederick Fyvie. Bruce also shares similar view that faith is important aspect to gain eternal life. He comments that faith requires obedience and trusting in the person of Jesus. If the believers disobey and reject the person of Jesus, they subject themselves to divine judgment. Kraig S. Keener sees in this verse the influence of Jewishtic teaching and says that faith is deciding line between the believers and disbelievers. Commenting on the fate of belief and disbelief he says that obedience (in other words faith) is the practical aid to get salvation. From the scholarly discussions and from their analysis, we understand that the evangelist emphasized on ‘belief in the Son’ as a necessary means to receive eternal life. Paul N. Anderson, in his book The Riddles in the Fourth Gospel explains this ‘belief’ or ‘Faith’ as a response to apologetic thurst. He also says that this verse falls under the first edition of John and its main emphasis was inviting people to believe in Jesus as the Messiah for gaining eternal life. In most instances of the use of the verb ‘pisteon’ it is used in perfect tense which invites everyone to show their truthfulness continuously. We can also study this verse where belief is stressed, in relation to the concluding verse of the John’s gospel 20:31. In the first concluding verse of the gospel, people are invited to believe in Jesus after having witnessed to his sings and wonders. But in the current verse which we are studying, the evangelist is inviting all those who have seen signs and have not seen signs to show faith in ‘Son’ and be saved or judged. The evangelist writes this verse may be to encourage all those, who have seen the signs of Jesus and believed and who have not taken it seriously and those who have not seen them. We can also understand this verse where the evangelist is writing to defend the faith of his community in the ‘Son’ against those who have not believed. Not many believed in Jesus during his time. Hence John particularly emphasizes that faith in this ‘Son’ gives eternal life. Hence we can say how the theological summary of the final verse in the chapter is connected to Christology in gospel of John. Believing has to be understood in relation to Christology. The focus and subject of ‘believing in’ is Jesus himself. Christology and Eternal life- present and future Eschatology: There have been arguments among the scholars regarding the eternal life that Jesus is giving to all those who are believing in him. Because of the contradicting existence of the texts here in verse 3:36 and 3:14, where one text conveys the present eschatology and another text presents future eschatology. Schnackenburg says that this verse speaks about the present eschatology and the decisive reason for the present eschatology is Christology itself. He says that believer receives new life in Christ not by sacraments but by being untied with Christ. He comments that believing is continually trusting in Jesus. This trust in Jesus leads one to possess Christ. This possession of Christ according to Rudolf Schnackenburg is the enjoyment of eschatology from the moment one begins to trust. Raymond brown comments about the actualized eschatology in the verse. Jerome biblical commentary states that John does not negate the future eschatological teaching of New Testament by addressing about present eschatology. It says that believer already begins to experience eternal life if he had decided to trust and follow Christ and also already begins to experience condemnation from the time he does not believe. He mentions that experiencing eternal life here and now is the sign of Son of man in whom both heaven and earth meet. C.K. Barrett says that eternal life is potentially present in the work and person of Jesus and also says that John was not influenced by Hellenistic writings or Jewishtic ideas but purely Johannine expression when he was addressing. Morris shares similar view that believers get eternal life by their trust the person of Jesus. By this trust people are born anew. He thinks that though they die the gift remains. He also says that believing in the person of Jesus is continuing attitude of trusting in the person of Jesus. Leon Morris reflects upon the eternal life as the life that believers possess in this age itself. He informs us that life believers enjoy is the life with Christ and God. From his comments on John’s prologue and comments on the ‘Lifting of the son of man’, we understand that John used this word ‘eternal life’ which is already present in Jesus from the beginning and until the end. He says that eternal life has to be understood temporally. According to him eternal life is life in Christ which replicates man’s earthly status. He feels that John was influenced by the Jewish understanding of time while presenting about eternal life. Like the above mentioned scholars, Frederick Fyvie Bruce also shares the similar view that believers in Jesus, who show faith in him, experience eternal life here and now (98). From the ideas of Paul N. Sanders who treated this verse stemming from earlier tradition of John which accentuates the here and now eschatology, we can understand that this verse deals the aspect of present eschatology. Though Christians and Pharisees shared futuristic eschatology, Craig S. Keener comments that John used present eschatology to address Jews who have not believed in the beginning of Messianic era or who have not believed in the descent of the Savior into the world. Keener mentions that the gospel presents the real teaching of Jesus and hence it also inaugurated the eschatological time in the person of Jesus and in his teachings. From the explanations of above discussed scholars, we conclude that the eschatology that the evangelist presents is the Christological eschatology. Eschatology or kingdom of God or eternal life is possible only because of the decisive descending of the ‘Son of Man’ into the world. From the scholarly contributions, we can understand that there were a few influences of other teachings but ultimately we learn that the verse is a typical Johannine origin and John emphasized belief in the Son is the only way for the present eternal life. Judgment and Christology C.k Barrett comments that the Judgment of God is based on each ones relation with Jesus. If the believer’s relation is of faith, the believer enjoys it here and now and if his relation is of unbelief, he experiences the wrath of God in the present life itself. He says that judgment is not something that Christ imposes but the disbeliever imposes on himself by rejecting the reveler. Just as the believer experiences the eternal life in the present life so also he experiences the God’s wrath currently by his unbelief. Leon Morris feels that many scholars have avoided interpreting the wrath of God since it seems to connote negativity of God. Morris says that wrath of God is the opposition of Jesus’ holiness and support for the evil. According to him Judgment is what believers experience here and now by their belief or unbelief. Raymond Brown studies the God’s wrath experienced here and now in contrast to the wrath of God which comes at the end. He says that John in this verse speaks about the judgment that has already arrived in the person of Jesus and among all the disobedient believers. Frederick Fyvie Bruce thinks that disobedience and disbelief in the person Jesus leads the people to incur the wrath of God. Rudolf Karl Bultmannn comments that the unbeliever is judged by his unbelief in the revelation of God. He informs us that judgment is based on faith or unbelief of the believer. According to him faith means to accept the ‘Son’, unbelief is to reject the son and incur the anger of God. Rudolf Schnackenburg feels that God is not judging the people but it is the unbeliever who incurs the wrath of God by his unbelief. He also says that disbelievers are experiencing this judgment here and now by the very fact of rejecting the eschatological savior. J.N. Sanders comments that judgment for the disbelievers is the consequence of coming of the ‘Son’ into the world and he also says that it is the individual who draws this judgment upon himself by rejecting the son of man. According to Jerome H. Neyrey, S.J., the judgment is understood as the judgment that the individuals decide over the person of Jesus. For him neither God nor Jesus is judging the individuals. It’s the people judging themselves based on their faith and unbelief in the Son. Commenting in the context of the present verse 36, he says that all those who have accepted Christ are praised and all those who do not accept are blamed. From the comments of the scholars on this verse regarding judgment, we can understand the evangelist’s positive thinking that even the disbelievers have chance to be saved if they accept the Son as the divinely revealer. We can also interpret the text in the 36 verse of the evangelist in comparison to the exhortations of the prophets in the old testaments. Prophets too to some extent promised God’s chosen people the hope of being saved here and now if they believe in YHWH and turn from evil, repent and keep the law and if they are not faithful to the treaty of God they will be surely punished. May be the evangelist has also the influence of these prophetical writings while writing this verse. We can also see in this verse that the evangelist is not influenced by the Hellenistic usage of the son of God. The title son of God was given to the kings and rulers of the kingdoms during the Persian, Hellenistic and Romans ruling periods. Alexander the great addressed himself as the son of God. The evangelist in this verse uses the word ‘Son’ to emphasize Jesus unique relationship with the father. This is a typical Johannine usage of the word Son. My critical remarks and Conclusion: The very focal point of this verse is Christology. The evangelist, taking into consideration the whole gospel in general and in particular her in the current verse ends the chapter which began with nocturnal dialogue between the Nicodemus (who represented disbelieving Jews in the ‘Son’) with a theological conclusion that only faith in ‘Son’ assures them eternal life. Faith in Jesus gives us eternal life. This life is present for all the believers at the present moment itself. The experience of the eternal life in this world by the believer is because of the Jesus coming into the world. This verse also explains that the relationship of belief or disbelief of the believers is the basis for experiencing the present eschatology and wrath of God. With the presence of dualism of belief and disbelief in this text, we understand that the evangelist is giving choices to his community, Jews and gentiles to have faith in Jesus and be saved. By the emphasis about the theological theme ‘belief in the unique Sonship of Jesus’ as giver of eternal life, we understand that John might have used this verse to address the believers who doubted the unique ‘Sonship’ of Jesus. Since people considered Jesus only to be like one of them, they were doubting his unique relation of the Son with father. In order to stimulate them that Jesus is the one who descended to the earth and to give eternal life to those who believe in him, the evangelist might have written this text. The evangelist conveys in this verse the truth that the one who believes not from the head level but from the heart level is being saved, is being born anew. The truth is that it is not knowledge and ritual that gives new life but faith in the person of Jesus. This truth was not understood by Nicodemus and the truth which is explained in this verse forms the summary of this chapter. From the above explanations of the scholars, we learn that belief in Jesus is enough for the people to get new birth, eternal life and do not require any sacrament. Hence the ‘kerygmatic’ invitation of John is universalistic and not particular and it is an open invitation for everyone to be saved. Analyzing the scholarly comments, we can say that John in this verse enumerates about the present eschatology and Judgment in contrast to synoptic presentation of future eschatology and Judgment. According to John, believers experience eternal life in the present moment because of the Son. We can also say that John was not influenced by the synoptic understanding of the eschatology and Christology and the verse is exclusive formulation of the evangelist. Bibliography: Ashton John. Understanding of the Fourth Gospel. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Barrett, Charles Kingsbury. The Gospel according to St John: An Introduction with Commentary and Notes on the Greek Text . 2d ed. London: SPCK, 1978. Blomberg, Criag L. The historical reliability of John’s Gospel: issues and commentary. Illionis: InterVarsity Press, 2001. Brown, Raymond E. The Anchor Bible- The Gospel According to John, Vol I –Introduction, Translation and Notes. London: Doubleday & Co, 1966, 1975, 1978. Bruce, Frederick. Fyvie. The Gospel of John: Introduction, Exposition and Notes. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids-Michigan, 1983. Rudolf Karl Bultmannn, Rudolf The Gospel of John A commentary, translated by G. R. Beasley-Murray and Edited by R.W. N. Hoare and J.K. Riches. Basil Blackwell: Oxford, 1971. Carson, Donald A. The Gospel according to John. England: Leicester: Intervarsity, 1991. Just, Felix. "Believing" in the Fourth Gospel, http://catholic-resources.org/John/Themes-Believe.html (accessed on December, 2012). Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of John: A Commentary. 2 vols. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003 McHugh, John F. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on John 1–4. International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. London and New York: T&T Clark, 2009. Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to John: The English Text with Introduction, Expansion and Notes. Grand Rapids: William B. Eardman Publishing Company, 1971. Neyrey, Jerome h. The Gospel of John, NCBC The New Cambridge Bible Commentary. England: Cambridge University press, 2007. Paul, Anderson N. The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel; An Introduction to John. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011. Sanders, J.N. and B.A. Mastin. A Commentary on the Gospel Accoriding to St. John. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1968. Schnackenburg, Rudolf. The Gospel According to John: Introduction and Commentary on chapters 1-4. Vol. 1. New York: The Seabury Press, 1968. Vawter, Burce. “The Gospel According to John” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Vol II- The New Testament and Topical Articles. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1968.
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