Book review: The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel

by Paul N. Anderson


Paul Anderson has done it again. John’s Gospel holds a special fascination for me, and this is simply good scholarship. The book is laid out like a college text, with chapter endings presenting “questions to consider” and “terms to understand.” It’s clearly meant for the classroom. It’s divided into three parts:

1. Outlining the Johannine Riddles. Anderson presents, in tabular form, the theological, historical, and literary riddles that are spread throughout the Gospel.

2. Addressing the Johannine Riddles. Who wrote the Fourth Gospel, when, how, and why? Multiple theories are presented, emphasizing origin and character.

3. Interpreting the Johannine Riddles. Anderson takes a stab at answering John’s conundrums, and calls for a “fourth quest for Jesus” with special consideration for the historical realism of John’s Gospel.

If you’re familiar with Anderson’s work, you may be tempted to skip certain sections, as much has been covered before, but the emphasis on tension and prepared contradictions—what Anderson labels John’s “riddles”—forces you to reexamine familiar texts within a directed theme. Anderson drills into you the dialectical thinking of John. The Fourth Gospel appears to make a point of presenting both sides of every theology. Jesus is both the most human and the most divine in this gospel. He is judge, but he judges not. He is equal to the Father but subjective to the Father. He fulfills all prophecies yet promises a future eschatology. Perhaps most frustrating of all to  me as a scholar of Johannine writings, John’s esoteric, spiritual passages encourage non-literal interpretation, but are liberally peppered with verifiable historical accuracies. These tensions are frustrating but intentional, purposefully forcing you to examine all sides.

My conclusion: This is an important, well-organized book and its careful research demands consideration.

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