Table of Contents of Latest Issue
Index of All Issues
Index of Book Reviews
Instructions for Contributors
Subscribe to
Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 61, 2013

NICOLAS FARELLY, The Disciples in the Fourth Gospel: A Narrative Analysis of their Faith and Understanding (WUNT 2/290; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010). Pp. xiii + 260. Paperback. €64.00.

This book is a revised version of Farelly’s doctoral dissertation awarded by the University of Gloucestershire under the supervision of Andrew T. Lincoln. In the introduction Farelly asks a question about the narrative presentation of the disciples in the Gospel of John, a question that guides his research: “if ‘full faith’ leading to life must await the resurrection, how exactly should one consider the faith of those who believed prior to the resurrection?” (1). A broader question entailed by this first question is how the relationship between faith and understanding should be evaluated by scholars of the Gospel. Stating that there is yet no monograph dedicated to the faith and understanding of the Johannine disciples, Farelly proposes to fill this lacuna by analysing the topic from a narrative-critical perspective. Specifically, he determines how the narrative rhetoric operates upon ‘implied readers’ of the Gospel to enable them to identify with the disciples as characters. He also pays attention to the temporal dynamics of the narrative, the notable ‘prolepses’ in the text (cf. 2:22; 7:39; 12:15) and how the merging of time perspectives impacts upon readers’ assessment of the faith and understanding of the disciples.

Farelly’s method of procedure is perhaps a little unconventional, as he acknowledges (12–13). He does not begin with a select methodological ap-proach and then apply it to his reading of the Gospel; rather, he draws literary-critical conclusions from his exegetical work. Consequently, the order of his study is in reverse of the typical dissertation: the first chapter functions as a short introduction, the second and third chapters examine the narrative passages dealing with the disciples as a group and also with significant individual disciples, the fourth chapter evaluates his exegetical findings from a narrative-critical perspective, and the fifth chapter poses broader theological questions related to the key terms ‘faith’ and ‘understanding.’ Although each chapter is well-argued and satisfactorily written, I found the book’s macrostructure made it difficult to gain a comprehensive view of Farelly's argument from the outset. Farelly defines his key terms in the conclusion, when he brings the Johannine concept of faith into dialogue with Bultmann’s “epoch-making” commentary on the Gospel (219). In the earliest stages of the book the words ‘faith’ and ‘understanding’ are used with no qualification, as though the reader should adequately grasp how they function in the Johannine text(s) and vocabulary. Similarly, despite a brief discussion of narratological nomenclature in the introduction, Farelly waits until Chapter Four to explain what he means by the terms ‘implied author’ and ‘implied readers.’ As such, the initial two exegetical chapters read much like a commentary and less like a hermeneutically grounded analysis of the Gospel.

Farelly’s findings are nevertheless sound. He concludes that in the Gospel, faith can be present in a disciple without a complete understanding of the significance of Jesus; in short, misunderstanding does not equate to a lack of faith. On the contrary, a lack of faith can be a stimulus to greater understanding. The fuller understanding that the disciples received in the post-Easter period through the Paraclete qualified them to carry on Jesus’ own task of ‘witnessing’ to the world. Implied readers of the Gospel—who it is assumed, are also believers—are drawn into the narrative and persuaded to identify with the disciples and so partake of their continued witnessing ministry. Finally, Farelly argues that in the Gospel, faith is superior to understanding: it is faith that is necessary to receive ‘eternal life.’

While he manages to make a number of standard issues about the Gospel provocative and fresh (see 74 and 89), there are a few points in this study that could be refined or expanded upon. The lack of philological analysis is telling: Farelly needs to explain why he thinks ‘understanding’ connotes a cognitive and intellectual grasp of propositions and/or realities, and to examine Johannine terms like ginõskõ, pisteuõ, theõreõ and horaõ, among others. Furthermore, I am not convinced by Farelly’s use of ‘implied readers’ (in the plural)—the classic theoretical works in narratology posit a single implied author as a heuristic construct and a correlative implied reader, the latter of which is not a real, intended reader, as Farelly supposes. Otherwise, this work is very readable and engaging and is to be highly recommended.

Review by
Charles Sturt University (Uniting Theological College)