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Throughout the ages, one of the primary mistakes committed in studying the Gospel of John has been to read the text monologically instead of dialogically. This error has often led some readers of the Fourth Gospel to “get it wrong,” needing correction by later interpreters. Put otherwise, many an ecumenical council or more nuanced interpretation has restored the tension that had been lost by interpreters who had sided with one aspect of John’s witness without considering another. Likewise, one flaw of modern literary-critical theories is that they have often sought to ascribe the sources of the Fourth Gospel’s theological tensions to sets of imagined literary poles, failing to consider the possibility that the origin of those tensions was been integral to the thinking and style of the Evangelist. John’s material developed dialogically, and it must be read dialogically if its epistemological origin, developmental character, and rhetorical design are to be adequately understood. Indeed, there are different levels and types of dialogical operation underlying the Johannine text—from origins to receptions—and these involve theological, historical, and literary factors that require a polyvalent approach to Johannine interpretation.


Originally published as a chapter in Anatomies of Narrative Criticism: The Past, Present, and Future of the Fourth Gospel as Literature. Resources in Biblical Studies 55. Edited by Stephen Moore and Tom Thatcher (Atlanta/Leiden: SBL Press/E.J. Brill, 2008) 93-119.

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