Book review: The Word of Life, a Theology of John’s Gospel

by Craig R. Koester


Koester is relatively conservative; his treatment of John won’t offend traditional Christians by travelling down esoteric or Gnostic highways. Nor does he present many original ideas. This is a book that covers the basics of John’s theology from a Christian viewpoint, and does so very well. That doesn’t hide the fact that John marches to the beat of his own drum. The fourth Gospel is very different in tone from the first three, and Koester is faithful in presenting John’s unique theology. Some examples …

On the meaning of sin: John’s Gospel portrays little interest in moral failings. Instead, “sin” is almost universally tied to belief. Sin means not seeing Jesus for who his is, believing in him. This leads to …

On the meaning of belief: Unlike Mark, there is no Messianic Secret in John. Instead, from its very beginning, John embarks on a crusade to help us believe. And what we are to believe is that Jesus is the Messiah.

On the meaning of life: What does “born again” really mean? “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me … has crossed over from death to life.” John alternates between future eschatology (eternal life to come) and present eschatology (eternal life is ours now) to the point of leaving us bewildered. Koester takes the conservative stance that John meant both; we have abundant life in human form, with the promise of eternal life to come.

On the meaning of the crucifixion: Jesus planned his death from the very beginning, and all signs led up to that “hour” when he would be “lifted up in glory.” This means lifted up on the cross, and it is the climax of Jesus’ victory over Satan.

As mentioned, I don’t think you’ll find many new revelations in this book, just solid research, focusing carefully on the text of the Gospel itself. It’s a book quite worth reading.

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