Reviews of

Revelation and Concealment of Christ: A Theological Inquiry into the Elusive Language of the Fourth Gospel

In John, Josaphat Tam, Mohr Siebeck, Saeed HAMID-KHANI on January 24, 2012 at 9:30 am

2012.01.01 | Saeed Hamid-Khani, Revelation and Concealment of Christ: A Theological Inquiry into the Elusive Language of the Fourth Gospel. WUNT 2/120. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000. Pp. xx + 572. ISBN: 3161471385.

Reviewed by Josaphat Tam, University of Edinburgh.

RBECS would like to thank Mohr Siebeck for kindly providing us with a review copy. You can find RBECS on facebook, here.

Very often new and good monographs capture the attention of reviewers and the not-so-new ones would just slip away. The present monograph is one of them. This is the published version of the author’s doctoral thesis completed at the University of Cambridge in 1997, supervised by the late John Philip M. Sweet and examined by William Horbury and the late C. K. Barrett.

The monograph, consisting of 410 pages of main body with 99 pages of bibliography and 63 pages of indices, is relatively long when compared with others in the same series. But there is a wealth of information in the footnotes covering almost every significant issue in the Johannine field up to year 2000. The author sets out to solve the problem of enigmatic quality of the language used in the Gospel of John. His central thesis is to argue that for the author of the Fourth Gospel, “in order to understand the language of the world of Jesus and to perceive its reality, one must be born anew spiritually from above” (p.5). Moreover, the function and purpose of this language is linked to its theology grounded in the Old Testament, namely that Jesus is Christ, the Messiah promised in Israel’s Scriptures.

Hamid-Khani first traces systematically the ambiguity found in John’s language from linguistic and literary perspectives. This is done in chapters 2-3. In chapter 2, he elucidates the idea of ambiguity of the Johannine language by defining different types of ambiguity and substantiates (a) its linguistic fabric (e.g. differentiating double meaning from double reference and introducing the cluster concept); and (b) its literary fabric (e.g. distinguishing metaphor from symbolism; separating figurative from plain speech and O.T. allusions from Richard Hays’ metalepsis). Then, in chapter 3, he argues that the Hebrew Scripture and its subsequent traditions are the dominant conceptual forces behind the language of the Fourth Gospel. He does this by (a) evaluating different proposals regarding the conceptual setting of the gospel (e.g. Gnosticism, Qumran, and Judaism); and (b) analysing the stylistic features of the gospel (e.g. Exodus pattern, word play like double entendre and image).

From chapters 4 to 6, Hamid-Khani elaborates how the function of John’s language is wedded to his purpose such that readers may comprehend the truth via their faith in Jesus. In chapter 4, he discusses the writing purpose of the gospel. He argues at lengths against the majority view that the gospel is written by the Johannine community and for the same community (most notably Louis Martyn, Wayne Meeks and Hebert Leroy). He insists that the gospel is not an introverted sectarian document but rather, has an “evangelistic-apologetic” (and also pastoral) emphasis such that Jesus’ messianic identity could be articulated to the readers. He also opines that the gospel is a record for posterity as well (including both a Jewish and Gentile readership). Based on his views elaborated in chapter 4, he discusses the significance and implications of the language in the context of John’s theology in chapter 5. This involves two issues, namely the function of “the Jews” and the role of O.T. in the gospel. On the first issue, by identifying “the Jews” used in the gospel as referring to the Pharisees, they are not the entire Jewish people but only “the Jews par excellence” (p.245). On the level of Johannine theology, these hostile “Jews” actually represent the unbelieving world. (Thus he does not see the gospel as anti-Semitic). On the second issue, by choosing to appeal to the Scripture of the Jews, the author tried to show that Jesus is the Christ whom their Scriptures spoke of. Thus the direct O.T. citations and indirect allusions, the portrayal of Jesus as the consummation of Jewish religious institutions, the Isaianic influence on John’s ideas of spiritual incomprehension, unbelief, and rejection of YHWH’s servant, and the prophetic lawsuit motif all point to this Christological perspective. All these witnesses function to encourage the secret believers and the undecided to trust in Jesus, to reassure the Christian community to continue in faith, and to show the human inability of the unbelieving world to understand Jesus as he ought to be. Thus Hamid-Khani argues that John’s elusive language is due to these theological concerns. In chapter 6, he further substantiates the relationship of spiritual perception and John’s language used. According to Hamid-Khani, spiritual perception rests on three issues: being born of God, indwelling of the Spirit, and abiding faith (p.332). Yet John’s language is “not a barrier to understanding, neither is it the ‘cause’ of incomprehension. Lack of understanding is simply the outcome of unbelief” (p.337). With one’s faith and the author’s presumed fact of Jesus’ resurrection, one has the promised indwelling Spirit to help them to understand the truth of Jesus as God’s revelation. In light of this, the necessity of spiritual birth is clear. However, not all expressions of faith are deemed to be adequate. A “convenient faith” like that of Nicodemus and a faith that is sustained by miraculous signs are examples of such. Deeper perception, however, belongs to those with an abiding faith who alone see the glory of Jesus. This inevitably leads to “the polarising effect of light shining in darkness,” or revelation versus concealment. Understanding is not for the unbelieving outsiders.

In order to explain the enigmatic character of John’s language, Hamid-Khani rightly questioned the inadequacies of the highly imaginative explanations prevalent in the Johannine scholarship, most notably the sectarian approach to the gospel. His attempt to understand the language from a theological angle does have more explanatory power. John’s dependence on the O.T. remains a more satisfactory way to explain the elusive character of John’s Gospel. Although he seems to have set a dichotomy between the prevalent approaches and his own (p.407-8), it should be noted that his theological approach cannot by itself negate the validity of other approaches. The “balkanization” of Johannine Studies, a term coined by D. A. Carson, will inevitably persist, even as it has been so since the publication of this monograph in year 2000.

At some points, Hamid-Khani’s work leaves the reader an impression of tediousness by overwhelming them with lengthy related discussions and extensive footnotes and information. Also, his overarching line of argument is sometimes obscured by the vastness of issues involved. Moreover, some important publications in the past decade have supplemented to what Hamid-Khani discussed at length (e.g. regarding the Johannine community debate,[1] the lawsuit motif based on Isaiah,[2] and the identity of “the Jews” and “the world”[3]). Nevertheless, Hamid-Khani’s work remains an important contribution to the Johannine scholarship and should not be neglected, even though it is not-so-new by now.

[1] Edward W. Klink, The Sheep of the Fold: The Audience and Origin of the Gospel of John (SNTSMS 141; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Edward W. Klink, ed., The Audience of the Gospels: The Origin and Function of the Gospels in Early Christianity (LNTS 353; London: T & T Clark, 2010).

[2] Andrew T. Lincoln, Truth on Trial: The Lawsuit Motif in the Fourth Gospel (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000).

[3] Lars Kierspel, The Jews and the World in the Fourth Gospel: Parallelism, Function, and Context (WUNT 2/ 220; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006).

Josaphat Tam
University of Edinburgh
josaphat.tam [ at ]

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