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Understanding God in the Word and the World

The Dualism of John’s Gospel: Part 7 — The Dualism of Light and Darkness

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Dualism in John's Gospel
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In my previous post I addressed the dualistic language of above/below (heaven/earth; not of this world/of this world). In that post I restated I am using the term dualism in these posts as referring to the moderate, eschatological, cosmic[1] dualism as I laid out in my third post. In this post then I am going to be looking at the use of light/darkness dualism within  John’s gospel.

In my forth post I discussed the relation between John’s gospel and the Qumran texts and  focused primarily on both John and Qumran’s usage of the language of light/darkness dualism. Therefore this imagery needs only touched on briefly here. As I have already mentioned, the light/darkness imagery is a form of cosmic dualism (see my fifth post), dividing the world to two distinct categories, though functions somewhat uniquely in John.

In John’s prologue the light imagery is deeply rooted in the language of creation, as the Prologue functions as an exegesis of Genesis 1.3-5,[1] connecting the light of creation with the light of the Word, shown here in relation with the life resulting from of creation.[2]

The opposition to the light is portrayed in 1.4-5, in the clearest terms possible:

a. in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
b. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…

The used of “life” in line a. is in parallel to “light” in line b. I have briefly mentioned the use of a dualism of life/death in the gospel; here “life” in line a. is used in opposition to “darkness” in line b., perhaps implicitly connecting darkness to death.

In the following verses (1.9-12) the Evangelist connects light and the  Logos’ coming to the world in a similar way.

a. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

b. [The Logoswas in the world,
c. and the world came into being through him;
d. yet the world did not know him.

e. He came to what was his own,
f. and his own people did not accept him.

g. But to all who received him,
h. who believed in his name,
i. he gave power to become children of God.

The use of “true light” in line a. is used synonymously with “the Logos” (gk. he/it was) in line b. The reference to the true light which “was coming into the world,” in line a.  is paralleled to the Logos both being “in the world” in line b. and coming to “his own” in line e.  The sets of lines b., c., and d. are used in parallel to e. and f. In line b. The Logos is seen as being “in the world” which is paralleled in line e. where the Logos “came to…his own.” Yet despite his coming the world, in line d., “did not know him,” which is paralleled to line f. where “his own people did not accept him.”

Using the forms of dualism in Frey which I looked at in my fifth post, John employs in lines g. and h. a soteriological dualism where those who did not know/accept the Logos in lines b. through f. are separated from those who receive/believe him in lines g. and h. This coming of the Logos “into the world” parallels the shining of the light “in the darkness” in v. 5. As such, as we have seen the light/Logos as being synonymous, we can also see in some sense the world and darkness as synonymous. This relationship the writer establishes between the world and darkness runs through his gospel.[3]

Using the same forms of dualism listed by Frey, the moral function the light/darkness imagery serves in John’s gospels is significant, similar to the anchoring of the spatial (vertical) dualism for metaphorically use as a moral dualism[4]. In 3.19, John uses the imagery of the light making known that which is hidden to describe “the judgment” which the coming of the light has caused, namely the exposing of humanity’s love of darkness, here used in close relation to the “evil” of their deeds.[5] By using darkness in relation to their evil deeds John employs a type of ethical dualism where those who come into the light are held in contrast to those who “love darkness” (i.e., their evil deeds), yet the presences of judgment here (cf. 12.31-36, 46-48) denotes also a form of eschatological dualism wherein the final judgment separates the evil from the good.[6] The coming of the light is the inauguration of this eschatological dualism.


[1] Bauckham, Testimony, 131.

[2] Köstenberger. “A Theology.” 283

[3] Ashton, Understanding, 209

[4] Keener, Gospel Vol. 1, 163

[5] Ibid. 571.

[6] Ashton, Understanding, 221

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Author: Kendall Beachey

I am an aspiring Biblical Studies and Theology student living in Kansas City. My goal is to attend seminary and give myself to Christian teaching and Ministry.

8 thoughts on “The Dualism of John’s Gospel: Part 7 — The Dualism of Light and Darkness

  1. Pingback: The Dualism of John’s Gospel: Part 8 — Dualism in Motion « The Cosmic Cathedral

  2. Pingback: The Dualism of John’s Gospel: Part 9 — The Motion of Transformational Dualism « The Cosmic Cathedral

  3. Pingback: The Dualism of John’s Gospel: Part 6 — A Dualism of Above and Below « The Cosmic Cathedral

  4. Pingback: The Dualism of John’s Gospel: Part 5 — The Dualism of Second Temple Judaism « The Cosmic Cathedral

  5. Pingback: The Dualism of John’s Gospel: Part 4 — John and the Qumran Texts « The Cosmic Cathedral

  6. Pingback: The Dualism of John’s Gospel: Part 3 — The Categories of Dualism « The Cosmic Cathedral

  7. Pingback: The Dualism of John’s Gospel: Part 2 — Defining Dualism « The Cosmic Cathedral

  8. Pingback: The Dualism of John’s Gospel: Part 1 — World of Opposites « The Cosmic Cathedral

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