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Australian Biblical Review


ISSN 0045-0308

BOOK REVIEW  Published in Volume 67, 2019

JÖRG FREY, The Glory of the Crucified One: Christology and Theology in the Gospel of John (trans. Wayne coppins and Christoph Heilig; BMSEC; Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2018). Pp. xxxi + 455. Hardback. US$69.95.

I am delighted to have this abridged translation of Jörg Frey’s massive volume, Die Herrlichkeit des Gekreuzigten (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2013). Frey is a prolific author and a significant scholar of the Johannine Literature, but his work is largely unknown to English-only readers. Seven of the eleven chapters in this work appeared in the German volume, three were published as essays in other German edited collections and one article was published in JBTh 28 (2013).

The volume begins with an introduction, “My Journey with John.” This is not simply a biographical review, but it succinctly traces the history of Johannine research and the various methodological approaches: the history-of-religion, the quest for context and background, the quest for theological claims, followed by a summary of the following chapters.

Chapter 1 examines a variety of interpretive approaches: the theological approach stretching from the ancient Church to the modern era; the historicising approach seeking to find historical information about the time of Jesus; the search to find the time and situation of the Johannine author/community; the search for sources and models of how the Gospel developed; and the increasing influence of narrative analysis. Frey identifies four difficulties that can hinder the interpretation found in a range of commentaries, before presenting the approach he took in his interpretive work described as Literary-Historical-Theological.

This first chapter is followed by a section entitled, “The Character of John’s Gospel.” This section addresses important hermeneutical perspectives when reading the Gospel. There is the issue of “the Jews” and the historical awareness and sensitivity of how this term needs to be read. Frey examines the four approaches: ascribing the anti-Jewish statements to a secondary source; limiting the meaning of oỉ Ι̉ουδαîοιοί to the Jerusalem authorities, or to those Christians still clinging to the Law of Moses or to the Judeans; then reading the anti-Jewish statements in a post-70 Pharisaic-Rabbinic context. Frey then offers his approach, first looking at the function of oỉ Ι̉ουδαîοιοί within the drama of the Gospel, then the possible historical context of tension with the synagogue, also considering the high Christology of the Gospel. Ultimately there is no easy solution but Frey concludes with the caution: “it is indispensable that we make recourse to the context and conflicts of the Johannine communities in the most precise possible way if our goal is to handle the texts responsibly, i.e., to perceive their theological interpretive achievement, while hindering an unwanted continuation of their anti-Jewish statement” (72). The next chapter looks at “the fusion of horizons” and the interplay between the historical time of Jesus, and the time of the community, or in Frey’s words, “the past of his [Jesus’] history—and the eschatological present” (99). The fourth chapter examines the background and narrative function of Johannine dualism. Frey argues that the dualism addresses the troubled situation of the readers over against the revelation of Christ and his convincing exaltation over the world, the darkness, and eschatological adversaries. This chapter places emphasis on God’s universal love for the world.

These first chapters lay the groundwork for the next section, “Death, Resurrection, and Glory,” the central theme of this book. Frey examines four motifs present in the Gospel’s interpretation of the meaning of Jesus’ death, with no single motif dominating the narrative: a noble death, an effective death, a vicarious death and a salvific death. This chapter is followed by “Bodiliness and Resurrection,” which emphasises the facticity of the bodily death of Jesus and the personal identity of the risen Jesus recognised in the bodily signs. The final chapter in this section, “The Glory of the Crucified One,” examines the relationship between σάρξ and δóξα as well as the difference between the δóξα of God, and the δóξα of Jesus.

The fourth section, “Christology and Theology” explores the meaning of John 1:14: “the Word became flesh.” What does this say about Jesus? What does it say about God? The final section is a single chapter making the bold claim, “Johannine Theology as the Climax of New Testament Theology.” This chapter follows from the previous discussion of what this Gospel reveals about God in the language of Father, Son and Spirit, which laid the foundation for later Trinitarian discussion.

I consider this to be essential reading for Johannine scholars and students. Frey brings to this book years of research and a wide breadth of New Testament scholarship. As the titles of sections and chapters indicate, this book is a feast of Johannine scholarship for scholars and graduate students, as it raises the critical concerns in Johannine studies and presents an excellent overview of previous studies and approaches before presenting Frey’s arguments for his Literary-Historical-Theological approach.

Review by
University of Divinity, Melbourne