Book Reviews

Love in the Gospel of John

Francis J. Moloney Grand Rapids 2013-11-19

The theme of love lies at the heart of the Fourth Gospel, pervading every aspect of the book. The Synoptic Gospels focus on the theme as well, but in John’s Gospel Jesus directs his disciples to love God and their neighbor, based on Deuteronomy 6:4–5 and Leviticus 19:18. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’s only command for his disciples is to love one another (15:12), and he assures the reader that God loves those who keep his commandments (14:21, 23). John points to Jesus’s death as an example of the type of love that Jesus expects his disciples to have (cf. 3:16; 15:13). Love in the Gospel of John argues that to understand John’s concept of love requires understanding more than what Jesus taught in the Gospel. It requires understanding his actions and their implications, even in episodes that do not use terminology for love. Love in the Gospel of John brings the reader into the literary and theological world of the Gospel to show how John’s various themes culminate in Jesus’s death—the perfect example of love.

The first theme Moloney highlights is Jesus’s mission statements—to do the works of the Father and make him known (4:34; 5:36; 17:4), which are motivated by the love that the Father has for the world (3:16). All of Jesus’s works ultimately culminate at the cross, where Jesus states that it is finished (19:28; cf. John 4:34; 5:36; 17:4, 23). A second theme is that Jesus will be “lifted up” (3:14; 8:27–28; 12:32), which alludes to his death, but also refers to the point of his exaltation. A third theme is that Jesus’s “hour has not come” (cf. 2:4; 7:30; 8:20). John indicates that the “hour” refers to his death, distinguishing his ministry from the point of his suffering (12:23). A fourth theme is that believers will be gathered at the point of Jesus’s death. Jesus, the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, will gather them to himself (10:15–16). In the upper room discourse, Jesus states explicitly that he will draw all people to himself when he is “lifted up” (12:32). The fifth theme is that the Gospel looks forward to a time when Jesus will be glorified. In John’s Gospel this occurs after his death, though the Son is glorified through the cross (11:4). Moloney summarizes: “The glory of God shines forth from the cross, as Jesus makes love known. However, the glorification of the Son takes place through the cross” (p. 96).

The upper room discourse plays a significant role in defining love in the Gospel. Moloney notes that Jesus acts love out through washing the feet of the disciples (13:1–38), discusses it with his disciples (15:12–17), and prays for it (17:1–26). This provides context and definition for Jesus’s death as an act of love. The discourse also connects Jesus’s ministry to the disciples—they are to love in the same manner as Jesus (15:12). The shocking feature of the section is Jesus’s love for Judas, who will go on to betray him. Jesus washes his feet and shares a piece of bread with him (13:26). This is the pattern of love that Jesus expects from his disciples, to love even those who hate them (3:16; 15:18). Moloney ends with a chapter on the Johannine letters, which were written after the Gospel in response to the community’s failure to love in the same manner as Christ. Moloney concludes that “the command to make God known to the world by loving as Jesus had loved them was easier to talk about than to live” (p. 210).

Love in the Gospel of John should be commended. Moloney shows how John brings God’s love for the world to bear on the various aspects of the Gospel. A student who relies on a concordance to study John’s concept of love will be just as confused as many of the people in the book who misunderstand Jesus. To grasp John’s concept of love, one must enter his literary world. He consistently makes the point that God loves the world, that his Son died for it, and that Christians should exemplify this type of love. But much of the time this comes through subtle themes. Moloney, a Johannine expert, has provided an excellent volume to help show how the artistry of the Gospel unfolds.

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