The Cosmic Cathedral

Understanding God in the Word and the World

The Dualism of John’s Gospel: Part 8 — Dualism in Motion

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Dualism in John's Gospel
Essay Posts

In my previous two posts I having briefly examined two of the prominent dualisms within John’s Gospel, above/below and light/darkness. I am now able to explore the unique way this imagery functions within John’s gospel. I began this series by asking if the dualism of John’s gospel was synonymous with other dualistic philosophies of its day or if John was subverting the dualistic language available to him to a unique end. Hopefully by now we are equipped to better answer that question.

I have called the dualism of John, using the terminology of Barton, a moderate, eschatological, cosmic dualism. To summarize, this means a) it sees a primary principle (God/Logos) in conflict with a secondary principle that is neither co-eternal or co-equal with the primary principle (here evil, darkness, etc.), b) The evil principle will be ultimately overcome at the end of the age in an eschatological event, and c) while the world is the location of the conflict, the world itself is not evil or de facto an agent of the negative principle.  Further, using Frey, I have identified the primary forms these instances of dualism fall into, spatial  (separating the world into two separate spatial segments) and cosmic (dividing the world into opposing forces of good and evil) dualism respectively (though in my last post I mentioned some overlap with other forms).

To begin giving definition to the uniqueness of John’s dualism, we will first look at the way in which non-Johannine Dualism might envision the world:[1]

Conflict in Radical, Dialectical, (Anti)Cosmic Dualism

Figure 8.1: Radical, Dialectical, (Anti)Cosmic Dualism

Figure 8.1 above imagines the dualities of John’s gospel as existing in radical dualism where the co-eternal, co-equal principles (Good/Evil) are in continual opposition with each other. Imagining dialectic dualism, reality is eternally defined by this conflict between these opposing forces. The physical world is, in the cosmic view, the local where forces (both good and evil) carry out their conflict or is, in the anticosmic view, actually one of the opposing forces seeking to overtake the good.

The uniqueness of John’s dualism is best understood through the language of the prologue. In 1.5, as we have examined before, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” In the last post I argued “light”  in John’s gospel is synonymous with the Logos. So the light’s shining is correlated to the coming of the Logos into the world, and “The Logos became Flesh,” (1.14), is correlated to the beginning of the Logos’s ministry. Particular to this dualism is the entrance of light into darkness, giving it a decidedly “soteriological and christological thrust.”[2] Instead of the light remaining in mere opposition to the darkness, it is rather shining, pushing into the space of darkness, and functioning as the light, showing the darkness for “what it is.”[3]

Using this unique feature, Figure 8.2 below then shows us the way in which John’s gospel uses the language of dualism.

Dualism in Motion in John’s Gospel

Figure 8.2: Johannine Dualism in Motion

In Figure 8.2 above we can see that John’s moderate dualism sets the creator God in primacy over the “no things,” with, uniquely, the Logos coming into the world in contrast to the evil. Incorporating an eschatological dualism John’s gospel envisions an ultimate end to the domain of evil by the agency of the preexistent Logos. Yet, per cosmic dualism, this end does to come by means of the destruction of the created cosmos but rather by the creator acting within it. By this dualism the Logos moves into the realm dominated by (yet not intrinsically) evil and initiates salvific movement from the sphere of the “no-things” into the sphere of the good. (i.e., become children of God [1.12]).

This is, as Barrett has called, a “dualism in motion.” He understands the primary dualism of the text to be the above/below language of 3.31 and 8.23 which we have focused on. Expanding the scope from just the rare noun forms of τὰ ἄνω (above), τὰ κάτω (below, each used once in 8.23) to the frequent use of the verbs, ἀναβαίνειν (to go up; 1.51; 3.16; 6.62; 20.17), καταβαίνειν (to go down; 1.32-33, 51; 3.13; 6.38; 41-42, 50, 58), the role of ascent and descent within the Gospel comes into focus.

As mentioned previously, we see this movement at work in 3.13 “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man,” which is followed by another use of lifted up imagery with, “just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”[4] As Ashton states “The gap between heaven and earth is constantly being bridged, sometimes by theophanies, sometimes by angelic or human messengers, prophets conceived as sent directly from the heavenly court.” In his task to bring light, life, and salvation Jesus serves as the last of these emissaries, the Logos, to bridge the gap between above and below.[5]


[1] Though  the chart lists “Below/Earth/ of this World” under “No Things” this is not in the general sense of the physical universe, but rather in the specific sense of John in which uses World/Earth as synonymous with darkness and the evil deed of humanity who has rejected Jesus.

[2] Barton, “Johannine,” 12.

[3] Ibid 13.

[4] Barrett, Essays, 108.

[5] Ashton, Understanding, 207.

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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.

13 thoughts on “The Dualism of John’s Gospel: Part 8 — Dualism in Motion

  1. I just treated Dualism from a worldly perspective. If you are interested, please drop by!

  2. …also, I would highly recommend an article by Peter Jones where he rips and claws at dualism in a very amazing way:

    http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/49/49-4/JETS_49-4_713-737_Jones.pdf

  3. Pingback: Part 1- Immaturity and Maturity « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

  4. Pingback: Part 1- Immaturity and Maturity (turning away from evil) « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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

  6. Pingback: The Dualism of John’s Gospel: Part 7 — The Dualism of Light and Darkness « The Cosmic Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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

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

  13. Pingback: “what should not be” as the foundation of distress and mental illness « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

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