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“The World” as Character in the Gospel of John (Part Two)

August 1, 2011

Despite the previous criticism of their work (see last paragraph of this post), both Lars Kierspel and Cornelis Bennema provide, at the very least, a satisfactory foundation for treating the Johannine kosmos as a character. They note that in the gospel, the world is described as having human emotions and responses to Jesus; even though the reader is never formally introduced to the world as a character, the narrator’s depiction of the world establishes its impact upon events and other characters in the story.[1]

This series of posts will plow a narrow swath through the text of the Fourth Gospel, focusing specifically on those places where the world, as a character, represents a human race that is at odds with the plan of God as inaugurated by Jesus. In what follows, I will argue that kosmos, when used of humanity, is macrocosmic, and that it refers to all humanity within John’s story world, and to individual Johannine characters in particular. Next time I will look at kosmos in the Johannine Prologue; then I will use a narrative approach to isolate and discuss five examples in John that illustrate the relationship between Jesus and ho kosmos: (1) the world hates Jesus and his followers (7:1-7; 15:18-21; 17:14-15), (2) the world follows Jesus in ignorance (12:19), (3) the world rejects the spirit of truth (14:15-17), (4) the world rejoices at Jesus’ departure (16:20), and (5) the world does not know the Father (17:25). I will use these passages to illustrate the promise and unfulfilled hope displayed by the world in the Fourth Gospel.

[1] At first glance it might seem strange to treat “the world” as a character alongside other “established” Johannine figures such as Peter, Mary, Martha, and Nicodemus. In recent years a handful of studies have appeared that examine other entities in narrative literature and consider their role as characters. The best example of this recent approach in Johannine studies is Stan Harstine, Moses as a Character in the Fourth Gospel: A Study of Ancient Reading Techniques (JSNTSup 229; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002). Harstine treats Moses as a legitimate character, though he only appears in references to OT passages and in metonymical references to Torah.

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