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The thesis of this study is that because the Johannine Bread of Life Discourse reflects an exhortative homiletical unit, connecting the ministry of Jesus with ongoing crises affecting the Johannine community of faith, an investigation into the rhetorical thrust of its message will illumine—and be illumined by—one’s understanding of the Johannine situation and its evolving context. More specifically, as the central exhortative thrust of the discourse is “Work not for food that is death-producing, but for the food that is life-producing—eternally, which the Son of Man shall give you” (v. 27), the misunderstanding dialogues between Jesus and four groups of discussants actually betray four distinctive crises within the history of Johannine Christianity. These crises are also suggested by the Johannine Epistles, the writings of Ignatius and other historical markers in the contemporary situation. Before launching into such an exploration, however, one’s findings regarding critical literary, historical and theological issues should be stated.


Originally published in Critical Readings of John 6 (ed. by Alan Culpepper for the Biblical Interpretation Supplemental Series #22. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1997, pp. 1-59; reprinted in 2006, Atlanta: SBL). Revised from the printed version.