Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Love On John's Terms (part 3)

Combined, the remainder of the New Testament letters make mention of “love” in some variation an additional seventy-four times.  This means that, outside of the Johannine texts (this excludes Revelation, which appears to have a different author than the Johannine works), there are one hundred fifty eight words variously translated as “love,” “loved,” or “loving” (133, 22, 3).  Added to the seventy-two instances to be found in the Gospel and Epistles of John, “love” appears in the New Testament texts two hundred thirty times.  Nearly a third of the total number of uses are located in the Johannine texts.  While it should be noted that not all of the uses of “love” are presented in a positive sense, there is little reason to wonder at the reason that the doctrine of love became foundational for the life of the Christian community.

One can observe the development of the doctrine as it take center-stage for the followers of Jesus.  Over time, and as the writings of the New Testament era are generated, love begins to define the life of the community, as Christians attempted to put into practice what they believed was implied by the Resurrection and the inauguration of the Creator God’s kingdom on earth.  Putting aside the letters, the majority of which pre-date the written forms of the Gospels, it is worthwhile to make note of the use of “love” in the earliest Gospel, which was that of Mark.  Mark makes use of “love” only three times.  Matthew and Luke, both of which rely heavily upon the Markan narrative while also drawing on other sources (both oral and written), expand the usage of “love,” with Matthew offering up ten instances of the term, and Luke employing the vocabulary of love on twelve occasions.   

By the time that the Gospel of John is composed (by the “disciple whom Jesus loved”), with the letters bearing the name of “John” most likely being roughly contemporary with the Gospel, it is love that has taken the field as the driving force that underlies the living out of the life of allegiance to the claims of Jesus and the response to His Resurrection and His kingdom.  That is evidenced by the narrative of the life of Jesus, who is recognized from the beginning of the Gospel as the embodiment of the Creator God, that has been constructed by the author of the Gospel of John.  It is reinforced by the sensibilities of the Johannine-related community which are revealed by the Johannine letters. 

It is patently obvious that the controlling ethic of love has taken center-stage for the Christian community to which the John writings are directed (and perhaps for the wider Christian community as well), and this is reflected by the narrative of the global Christian community that has been passed down through the centuries.  It is also possible that the author wanted to push the community in the direction of love, but with the growing presence of “love” in the synoptic Gospels as they are developed, it seems more likely that John’s structure is a response to a direction that has been previously taken.     

At the time of the writing of John, it seems clear that the high Christology of the Creator God in the person of the Christ has been worked out quite fully.  This would be, in no small part, due to the efforts of men such as the Apostle Paul, whose preaching, teaching, and letters had been a major influence in the development of what could be referred to as Christian orthodoxy.  It was the love of the Creator God, demonstrated by His grace and mercy while being firmly rooted in His faithfulness to His covenant and His creation, with all of this happening in and through Jesus, that best explained the whole of the Christ-event (incarnation, ministry, death, Resurrection, ascension).   

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