Review: Paul Rainbow on Johannine Theology

A review of Paul A. Rainbow, Johannine Theology: The Gospel, The Epistles and the Apocalypse, IVP/Apollos, 2014.

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I’ve been dipping to Johannine Theology, a new book by Paul Rainbow, Professor of New Testament at Sioux Falls Seminary. Its distinctive contribution is its attempt to create synthesis of John’s theology based on John’s Gospel, the Johannine Epistles and the book of Revelation. This, of course, presupposes that the book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John which is rarely accepted in modern New Testament scholarship. But Rainbow makes a strong cases in the introduction (42-51). He is especially good on the linguistic links across the Johannine corpus and the reasons for any variations.

The synthesis is organised “according to the relationship among the divine persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and the world made up of its various constituents.” (28)

The result is an impressive piece of scholarship. The footnotes reflect a thorough interaction with secondary literature, but these rarely intrudes into the main argument.

It does, however, a feel a little like a pick and mix approach. At no point did I really feel the book gave me a handle on the main message or argument of any of the books under consideration. We are not shown how key themes unfold through the argument of individual books or the Johannine corpus as a whole. I realise Rainbow is attempting a synchronic synthesis, but I’m not persuaded this can be done in isolation from a diachronic synthesis. At times it feels like points are made and then proof-texted. We preached last year through 1 John and the structure of the Epistle is so important to its message. I came to Johannine Theology with particular interest in the book of Revelation because of work I’m currently doing on the book and was disappointed that it added to my understanding. Revelation, more than most New Testament books, requires some sense of how it works as a book before you can distil its theology. Yet, for example, the meaning of the millennium is only dealt with in a footnote (320-321). Perhaps as a result of this, the conclusions are weak. It would be hard to claim they include any distinctive correctives to evangelical theology or lead to clear practical implications or grip the imagination.

Although the introductory material makes of the synthesis across the Johannine corpus, the focus is on the Gospel. Moreover interaction with the book of Revelation focuses on the beginning and the end of the book plus one or two other familiar passages. This, at least, was my hunch reading the book. It appears to be borne out in the index. The Gospel has four times as many entries as the book of Revelation and the five chapters of the First Epistle have one and half as many entries as the 22 chapters of Revelation. And there are no entries at all for chapters 15-19 of Revelation. But then there are no entries for Revelation 2-3 or 14 which are often referenced in the text. So something appears to have gone badly wrong with the indexing.

These disappointments aside, Johannine Theology is a great achievement. There is much to mine here. Rainbow is particularly interesting on the inter-Trinitarian relationships. I’ll leave you with the following quotes.

‘We are not to envisage an act of generation in time like a human birth, bringing the Son into being out of nonexistence. Rather, to have life in oneself, to be characterized by aseity, has been “granted” to the Son by the Father (Jn. 5:26).’ (101)

‘To be θεός, to have life in oneself, belongs to God alone. It belongs to both the Father and the Son, but it belongs to the Father intrinsically and to the Son by gift. Aseity is of the Father, and he communicates it to the Son.’ (102)

The three persons have one point of origin, the Father. Deity is the intrinsic property of the Father (Jn. 17:3; 1 Jn. 5:20; Apoc. 15:4), who stands alone as the “begetter” of the Son (Jn 1:14, 18; 1 Jn 5:18) and as the one from whom ultimately the Spirit proceeds.’ (255)

‘The three exist in a harmonious union of love facilitated by the Holy Spirit. Insofar as the Son is differentiated from the Father, their difference is bridged by the Spirit, who is the agent of intersubjectivity. Since Father and Son must cooperate in granting to the Spirit to have life in himself, the very donation of self-existence to the Spirit establish a bond between the first two … In giving the Spirit to the Son without measure, the Father expresses his supreme love for the Son, and in receiving the Spirit, the Son expresses his love for the Father, cementing the relationship (Jn. 3:34-35).’ (256)


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